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House of Commons Hansard
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17 January 2018
Volume 634
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Q1. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 17 January. [903348]

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This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

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The Government must take responsibility for their role in the mess now left by Carillion. Thousands of staff face unemployment, and small and medium-sized suppliers face going bust, but I am concerned for the 1,400 Carillion apprentices, some of whom I have met locally. It is not good enough to pass the back to CITB—the Construction Industry Training Board—so will the Prime Minister guarantee today that every one of those apprentices will be able to complete their training and will be paid?

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I recognise that this has been a difficult time for a number of people, who are concerned about their jobs, public services and their pensions. I want, first, to provide reassurance to all employees working on public services for Carillion that they should continue to turn up to work, confident in the knowledge that they will be paid for the work they are providing. But of course the Government are not running Carillion; the Government are actually a customer of Carillion, and our focus has been on ensuring that we are providing the public services—that they are continuing to be provided uninterrupted; on reassuring workers in those public services that they will get paid; on reassuring the pensioners and making sure the support is there for them—

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What about the apprentices?

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Yes, I am coming on to the apprentices, but it is important that government is undertaking its role to ensure that the services it provides are continuing to be provided. I assure the hon. Lady that we are aware of the issues around apprentices, which is why the Minister with responsibility for that will be looking very carefully at what action can be taken.

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Q5. What better way to start the Year of Engineering than by seeing manufacturing output at its highest level in a decade and productivity on the up? May I invite my right hon. Friend to commit her Government to securing and supporting UK manufacturing and the important exports it delivers? [903352]

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I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that commitment from the Government. He is absolutely right: it is very pleasing to see the figures the Office for National Statistics produced last week, which showed that production has now grown for eight months— the longest streak since 1994—and manufacturing output is at its highest since February 2008. And earlier this month, we saw that productivity growth has had its best quarter since 2011. That shows that our economy remains strong and that we are continuing to deliver secure, better-paid jobs. We will continue to do that and support our manufacturing sector.

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In the last six months, the Government have awarded more than £2 billion worth of contracts to Carillion. They did so even after the share price was in freefall and the company had issued profit warnings. Why did the Government do that?

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It might be helpful if I just set out for the right hon. Gentleman that a company’s profit warning means it believes it will not make as much profit as it had expected to make. If the Government pulled out of contracts, or indeed private sector companies pulled out of contracts, whenever a profit warning was issued, that would be the best way to ensure that companies failed and jobs were lost. It would also raise real issues for the Government about providing continuing, uninterrupted public services. Yes, we did recognise that it was a severe profit warning, which is why we took action in relation to the contracts that we issued. We ensured that all but one of those contracts was a joint venture. What does that mean? It means that another company is available to step in and take over the contract. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that this was not just about the Government issuing contracts; actually, we see that the Labour-run Welsh Government issued a contract after the profit warning last July, and only last week a public sector body announced that Carillion was its preferred bidder. Was that the Government? No—it was Labour-run Leeds City Council.

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For the record, Leeds has not signed a contract with Carillion. It is the Government who have been handing out contracts. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that Carillion is properly managed.

Between July and the end of last year, Carillion’s share price fell by 90% and three profit warnings were issued. Unbelievably, the Government awarded some contracts even after the third profit warning. It looks like the Government were either handing Carillion public contracts to keep the company afloat, which clearly has not worked, or were just deeply negligent of the crisis that was coming down the line.

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I am very happy to answer questions when the right hon. Gentleman asks one. He did not.

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I asked the Government whether or not they had been negligent. They clearly have been very negligent. [Interruption.] Tory MPs might shout, but the reality is that as of today more than 20,000 Carillion workers are very worried about their future. For many of them, the only recourse tonight is to phone a DWP hotline.

The frailties were well known: hedge funds had been betting against Carillion since 2015, and the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland was making provision against Carillion last year. The Government are supposed to protect public money through Crown representatives, who are supposed to monitor these powerful corporations that get huge public contracts. This is a question that the Prime Minister needs to answer: why did the position of Crown representative to Carillion remain vacant during the crucial period August to November, when the profit warnings were being issued, the share price was in free fall, and many people were very worried?

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I am afraid I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that of course—

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Just answer the question!

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I will indeed answer the question, but I know that the shadow Foreign Secretary has herself praised Carillion in the past for its work.

To answer the right hon. Gentleman, there is obviously now a Crown representative who has been fully involved in the Government’s response. Before the appointment of the Crown representative to replace the one who had previously been in place, the Government chief commercial officer and the Cabinet Office director of markets and suppliers took over those responsibilities, so it was not the case that there was nobody from the Government looking at these issues. That is standard procedure, and it ensured that there was oversight of Carillion’s contracts with the Government during the appointment process for the Crown representative.

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Well, they clearly were not looking very well. Carillion went into liquidation with debts that we now understand to be £1.29 billion and a pension deficit of £600 million. At the same time, the company was paying out ever-increasing shareholder dividends and wildly excessive bonuses to directors. From today, 8,000 Carillion workers on private sector contracts will no longer be paid, but the chief executive will be paid for another 10 months—one rule for the super-rich, another for everybody else. Will the Prime Minister assure the House today that not a single penny more will go to the chief executive or the directors of this company?

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First, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that this is obviously a situation that is changing as decisions are being taken, but my understanding is that a number of facilities management contractors have now come to an agreement with the official receiver that means that their workers will continue to be paid. It is important to say that the official receiver is doing its job and working with those companies.

The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of bonuses, and people are of course concerned about the issue and are rightly asking questions about it. That is why we are ensuring that the official receiver’s investigation into the company’s business dealings is fast-tracked and that it looks into not just the conduct of current directors, but previous directors and their actions. In reviewing payments to executives, where those payments are unlawful or unjustified, the official receiver has the powers to take action to recover those payments. It is important that the official receiver is able to do its job.

What is also important is that the Government’s job is to ensure that public services continue to be provided, and that is what we are doing. The right hon. Gentleman said earlier that it was the Government’s job to ensure that Carillion was properly managed, but we were a customer of Carillion, not the manager of Carillion— a very important difference. It is also important that we have protected taxpayers from an unacceptable bail-out of a private company.

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When Carillion went into liquidation, many contractors were still unpaid. The company was a notorious late payer, taking 120 days to pay and placing a huge burden on small companies. That is four times longer than the 30 days in the prompt payment code that Carillion itself had signed up to. Why did the Government allow a major Government contractor to get away with that? Will the Prime Minister commit to Labour’s policy that abiding by the prompt payment code should be a basic requirement for all future Government contracts?

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Of course we look at the behaviour of companies that we contract with in relation to payments. The question of prompt payments has been brought up in this House for as long as I have been in this House, and work is always being done on it, but the right hon. Gentleman has raised an important point about the impact of Carillion’s liquidation on small companies. That is why the Business Secretary and the City Minister held a roundtable with the banks this morning to discuss credit lines to small and medium-sized enterprises and to make it clear that SMEs are not responsible for Carillion’s collapse. The Business Secretary has also held further roundtables today with representatives of small businesses, construction trade associations and trade unions—workers’ unions—to ensure that we are on top of the potential effects on the wider supply chain. It is right that we look at those very carefully and that we take action. It is also right that, through the Department for Work and Pensions, we put in place support for any workers who find themselves no longer employed as a result of this.

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It is a bit late for one subcontractor. Flora-tec, which was owed £800,000 by Carillion, has already had to make some of its staff redundant because of the collapse. This is not one isolated case of Government negligence and corporate failure; it is a broken system. Under this Government, Virgin and Stagecoach can spectacularly mismanage the east coast main line and be let off a £2 billion payment, Capita and Atos can continue to wreck lives through damaging disability assessments of many people with disabilities and win more taxpayer-funded contracts, and G4S can promise to provide security for the Olympics but fail to do so, and the Army had to step in to save the day. These corporations need to be shown the door. We need our public services to be provided by public employees with a public service ethos and a strong public oversight. As the ruins of Carillion lie around her, will the Prime Minister act to end this costly racket of the relationship between Government and some of these companies?

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I might first remind the right hon. Gentleman that a third of the Carillion contracts with the Government were let by the Labour Government. What we want is to provide good-quality public services delivered at best value to the taxpayer. We are making sure in this case that public services continue to be provided, that the workers in those public services are supported and that taxpayers are protected. What Labour opposes is not just a role for private companies in public services but the private sector as a whole. The vast majority of people in this country in employment are employed by the private sector, but the shadow Chancellor calls businesses the real enemy. Labour wants the highest taxes in our peace-time history, and Labour policies would cause a run on the pound. This is a Labour party that has turned its back on investment, on growth and on jobs—a Labour party that will always put politics before people.

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Q13. I thank the Prime Minister for visiting Cheam on Saturday where she heard from local residents about the poor services provided by the complacent Lib-Dem council. People should not have to settle for second best. Does she agree that we need to unlock the potential of Sutton, and indeed of London, on 3 May by giving residents across London the opportunity to get great services and value for money by voting Conservative? [903360]

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I was very happy to join my hon. Friend on the doorsteps in Cheam and to hear from people about the issues to do with Liberal Democrat services in Sutton and Cheam, particularly those around rubbish bins. I believe that there are now up to six bins per household. I am beginning to think that the council is trying to go for one bin for every Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. He is absolutely right: the evidence is that Conservatives deliver better services at less cost to the council tax payer. While we are talking about costs to the council tax payer, only last week the then shadow Fire Minister announced that Labour policy was to put up council tax on every average house and typical home by £320. People should know that a vote for Labour is a vote to pay more.

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Can the Prime Minister tell the House what official advice she has had on the impact of the UK economy from leaving the EU single market and when she requested any such advice?

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Of course, as we go through the Brexit negotiations, we are constantly looking at the impact that decisions that are taken will have on our economy. What we want to ensure is that we maintain good access—a good comprehensive free trade agreement —with the European Union and also, as we leave the European Union, that we get good free trade agreements with other parts of the world.

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Nineteen months after the EU referendum, the Prime Minister has not a shred of economic analysis on the impact of leaving the single market. On Monday, the Scottish Government published their second analysis paper revealing some horrifying facts: leaving the single market will cost each Scottish citizen up to £2,300 a year. How many jobs have to be lost and how much of a financial hit will families have to take before the Prime Minister recognises the folly of leaving the single market?

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The right hon. Gentleman asks me for economic analysis. Well, I will give him some economic analysis. We saw the figures this morning for GDP growth in Scotland. In the third quarter, GDP in Scotland grew by 0.2%. In the rest of the United Kingdom, it grew by 0.4%. Over the past year, GDP in Scotland—under a Scottish National party Government in Scotland—grew by 0.6%. In the United Kingdom as a whole, it grew by 1.7%. My economic analysis is that 1.7% is higher than 0.6%; you’re better off with a Conservative Government than an SNP one.

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Q14. Will the Prime Minister look at the case of my late constituent, Ann Banyard, who was badly injured by a fleeing shoplifter? She recently died, partly because of those injuries, at the young age of 70. Her claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority has been delayed and the family fear that it may lapse completely. Will the Prime Minister join me and our local paper, the Lynn News, in supporting this case, and will she make it clear that the rights of victims should always be at the heart of our criminal policy? [903361]

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My hon. Friend is right to put the case for the rights of victims, and he is absolutely right that we should always remember victims. I am very sorry to hear the case of his late constituent, Ann Banyard, and I know that the whole House will join me in offering condolences to her family in this tragic case. As my hon. Friend knows, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority administers the criminal injuries compensation scheme and applies the rules independently of the Government, but I am sure that the Justice Secretary would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the case.

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Q2. After the internationally embarrassing news of the Tory council leader from my neighbouring Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and his deplorable attitude to the homeless regarding the royal wedding, and the recent put-downs to the Prime Minister and our Government by President Trump, will the Prime Minister confirm whether she actually wants an invite to be extended for the royal wedding and a state visit to the “very stable genius” from the United States who, by the way, seems to be copying all the buzzwords from this not so “strong and stable” Government? [903349]

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The hon. Gentleman knows that we have a special and enduring relationship with the United States. An invitation for a state visit has been extended to President Trump, although I have to say that I am not responsible for invitations to the royal wedding. The hon. Gentleman referenced the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council. He should be aware that it has taken a number of actions to support vulnerable residents, including those who are homeless, with the establishment of an emergency night shelter that is open 365 days a year; a day service attached to that, providing support services to vulnerable residents; and a comprehensive seven-day-a-week service for the homeless or those at risk of homelessness. The council also applied the severe weather emergency protocol and offered accommodation to, I think, 32 homeless people on the streets, of whom 21 took up the accommodation and 11 did not.

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Q15. Cancer can strike anyone, no matter where they live in the UK. The Sunrise Appeal in Cornwall has raised £3 million since the year 2000 to fund equipment and buildings for cancer care, but proposals by the NHS could see radiotherapy services move from Cornwall to Devon. This would mean many constituents having to travel hundreds of miles to access treatment many times a week. These proposals are unacceptable to my constituents and the vast majority of people in Cornwall. Does the Prime Minister agree that travel times should be taken into account when making these decisions, and will she join me in encouraging the people of Cornwall to respond to the NHS consultation? [903362]

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. We want to ensure that patients get the best cancer services and that they get access to treatment in a timely fashion. Of course, the length of time it takes patients to travel to that treatment is an important issue. We are establishing radiotherapy networks, which will review access issues and service provision on a regular basis and address any shortcomings in the area. That is backed up by £130 million for new and upgraded radiotherapy machines. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that these decisions should be taken primarily at a local level, and I join him in encouraging the people of Cornwall to respond to the consultation.

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Q3. Last week, my constituent Carol’s son had a mental health crisis. He was admitted to the nearest available psychiatric adult bed—in West Sussex, a 450-mile round trip from his home and family in Manchester. The lack of mental health beds is a national crisis and scandal, so when will Prime Minister turn her warm words on mental health into action to solve the crisis? [903350]

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Obviously I am sorry to hear of the experience of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. We are turning our words on putting a priority on mental health into action. Is there more for us to do? Yes. That is why we are continuing to put an emphasis on this. We do see more people being able to access mental health services every day. We have increased the number of people having access to therapies. We have increased the funding that is available for mental health. There is more for us to do, but we are putting more money in and we are taking more action on mental health than any previous Government.

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rose—[Interruption.]

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Order. The right hon. Gentleman is extremely alert, and I am alert to what he is going to say.

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A question keeps me awake at night: how will companies be encouraged to follow the Prime Minister’s lead in the way that Iceland has done?

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I am very pleased to say that this week Iceland has made a commitment to be plastic-free. We have seen other companies make commitments to ensure that any plastics they use are recyclable over a number of years. I am very happy to join my right hon. Friend in saying that we will be encouraging companies to follow Iceland’s lead. We will also be consulting on how the tax system or the introduction of charges could further reduce the amount of waste we create. We are launching a new plastics innovation fund, backed up by additional funding that the Government are investing in research and development to ensure that we really do reduce the amount of plastic that is used and leave the environment of this land in a better state than we found it.

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We can all learn about brevity, myself included, from the right hon. Gentleman.

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Q4. Margo Laird has profound mental health difficulties. She was put on to universal credit in January 2016 and subsequently received a 276-day sanction. A judge recently ruled that that sanction was wrong, and it has been overturned. Will the Prime Minister agree to look into Margo Laird’s case, but above all, will she apologise to Margo? [903351]

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Obviously I am sorry to hear of the case that the hon. Gentleman has set out. I am very happy to ensure that that case is properly looked into.

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Following Transport for the North’s announcement on Northern Powerhouse Rail, will the Prime Minister confirm her Government’s commitment to investing in northern transport infrastructure and ensuring that the northern powerhouse materialises?

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I am very happy to give that commitment to the northern powerhouse and to giving the great cities across the north the transport infrastructure that they need to be able to develop the northern powerhouse. We are spending a record £13 billion to transform transport across the north. We have made Transport for the North the first ever statutory sub-national transport body and backed that up with £260 million of Government funding. It has published its draft strategic plan for consultation. I would hope that all Members with an interest in this issue engage in that consultation and make sure that their views and their constituents’ views are heard.

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Q6. His Holiness Pope Francis has this week condemned hostility to migrants, saying that communities across Europe must open themselves without prejudice to the rich diversity of immigrants. As a committed Christian, would the Prime Minister agree with Pope Francis that hostility to migrants is a sin? [903353]

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This country has a fine record, over not just decades but centuries, of welcoming refugees and ensuring that people can come to this country and make their home in this country, and that is what we will continue to do.

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John Worboys is likely to be one of the worst sex attackers our country has ever known. When he was in court, he denied his guilt; he was continuing to deny his guilt up until two years ago; he dismissed his crimes as “banter”; and only last year he was deemed too dangerous to be put into open release conditions. The short sentence he has served is an insult to his victims and shows a contempt for justice. Does the Prime Minister agree that the decision must now be judicially reviewed and that the police should immediately reassess those cases which were not tried in court?

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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this. This case has rightly raised deep concern among the public, but also among Members across this House. As my hon. Friend will know, the Parole Board is rightly independent of Government, and even in sensitive cases such as this, we must ensure that that independence is maintained and we do not prejudice decisions. It has decided to approve John Worboys’s release, with stringent licence conditions, but my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary has made it clear that he is taking legal advice on the possibility of a judicial review of that decision. It is also the case that the Justice Secretary has said he will be conducting a review to look at options for change and at the issue of the transparency of decisions by the Parole Board. Public protection is our top priority. I think people are often concerned when they see decisions of the Parole Board being taken and they are not aware of the reasons behind them. There may be limits to what can be done, but I think it is right that we look into this case and question the issue of transparency.

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Q7. A constituent of mine has informed me that she was repeatedly raped and beaten by her ex-partner, requiring an injunction. Much to her horror, her bank would not close their joint account unless she attended with the perpetrator. When banks are left to their own discretion, women’s lives are put at risk. Will the Prime Minister ensure policy to protect survivors is included in the pending domestic violence Bill? [903354]

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The hon. Lady clearly raises a very distressing case. We want to ensure that we give proper support to all those who have been subject to domestic violence or to abuse of the kind to which the hon. Lady has referred. The Home Secretary will be issuing a consultation shortly on the proposed domestic violence legislation and that will be an opportunity for issues such as this to be raised.

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A brutal attack occurred in my constituency over the weekend in which Cassie Hayes, a young woman, tragically died. Will the Prime Minister extend her sympathies to the family of Cassie and pay tribute to the hard work of the emergency services who attended the scene?

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My hon. Friend told me about this very distressing case last night. It is a horrific case. I extend my sympathies, and I am sure the whole House extends its sympathies and condolences, to Cassie’s family and friends following her tragic death. I also congratulate the emergency services on the action that they took. From the description that my hon. Friend gave me last night, I think we should also have some thought and care for all those who, sadly, were witnesses to this particular incident—through no fault of their own, other than happening to be in a particular premises at a particular time.

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Q8. The Prime Minister will be aware that Northern Ireland has not had a Government now for over a year, and decisions need to be taken to protect our health service, education and local communities. Does she agree that, in the absence of a Government being formed, it is imperative that her Government take the decision to appoint direct rule Ministers as soon as possible, so that a budget can be put forward to deal with this urgent problem? [903355]

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We are committed to re-establishing a fully functioning, inclusive devolved Administration that works for everyone in Northern Ireland. I do not underestimate the challenges that remain involved here, but we still believe that a way forward can be found and an agreement can be reached. I would say it is imperative, therefore, that the parties re-engage in intensive discussions aimed at resolving the outstanding issues, so that the Assembly can meet and an Executive can be formed. We do recognise, however, that we have a responsibility to ensure political stability and good governance in Northern Ireland. Obviously, as I say, our priority is ensuring that we can work with the parties to re-establish the devolved Government in Northern Ireland, but we recognise the need to ensure that Northern Ireland can continue to operate and that public services can continue to be provided.

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I thank the Prime Minister for her response to my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). NHS England and this Government are investing a further £130 million in radiotherapy treatment for rare and less common cancers, but will she confirm, and reassure my constituents, that there is no need for existing good radiotherapy services in the Sunrise centre to be moved in order to deliver cancer treatment for rare cancers?

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As I said in response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), we recognise the importance of ensuring that people have access to the treatments that they require, and we recognise the issues that people sometimes face in relation to travelling to the centres where those services are available. This is primarily a decision to be taken at local level and, as I did earlier, I encourage people to take part in the consultation and to respond to it so that local views can truly be heard and taken into account.

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Q9. My constituent, Chris Robinson, has to wait 52 weeks for her pain relief treatment, instead of the 18 weeks that a properly funded national health service would deliver. How much longer will it take for the Prime Minister to sort things out? [903356]

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We are putting more money, as the hon. Gentleman knows, into the national health service. In the autumn Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer put a further £2.8 billion into the national health service, but if we are looking at the issues of treatment across the national health service, we have to be very clear that, while Labour’s answer is always just more money, it is about ensuring that all hospitals across the NHS operate and act in accordance with best practice. We have world-class hospitals in our NHS—we want to ensure that they are all world class.

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I understand that London has been mentioned as a potential host for the Bayeux tapestry. Given that visitors to London who wish to see two sides chucking things at each other are well catered for in the Public Gallery, may I ask the Prime Minister to put in a very good word for Battle abbey in East Sussex, where viewers could not only see the tapestry but look through the window and see the rolling East Sussex countryside where sadly the Normans gave the Saxons six of the best?

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It is very significant that the Bayeux tapestry is going to come to the United Kingdom and that people will be able to see it. I hear the bid that my hon. Friend has put in, but from a sedentary position on the Front Bench my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who represents Hastings, put in a bid on that particular issue. I am sure that we will look very carefully at that to ensure that the maximum number of people can have the benefit of seeing the tapestry.

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Q10. The Prime Minister pledged to consign slavery to the history books. However, the National Audit Office says that the Home Office has not set out how a reduction would be measured; it does not set clear anti-slavery activity; it does not know what activity is going on across Government; and it does not monitor business compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Is the Prime Minister satisfied with that analysis of her flagship policy, and what action will the Government take? [903357]

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It is this Government, and I in my former role of Home Secretary, who introduced the Modern Slavery Act. It is this Government who improved the response to victims and the response of the police in catching perpetrators. More cases have been brought to prosecution, and more victims are willing and able to come forward, and have the confidence to do so. Have we dealt with the problem? Of course there are still problems out there, but we want to ensure, as my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary said in International Development questions, not just that we take action in the United Kingdom but that we work with countries where women are trafficked into this country and with other countries to eliminate modern slavery across the world, and that is exactly what we are doing.

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Members across the House have sung for Syrians. Last week, in Idlib, a clinic and kindergarten that we support were bombed by Syrian Government destroyers. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the bravery of the staff of the Hands Up Foundation who continue to work there and in reassuring ordinary Syrians that in the seventh year of this terrible war we have not forgotten them?

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My hon. Friend has been a great champion of charities working in Syria, particularly Singing for Syrians, and I am very happy to join her in praising the bravery of all those working for the Hands Up Foundation as well as others working for other charities in the region doing valuable and important work. We continue to make every effort to achieve our goals in Syria, which of course include defeating the scourge of Daesh but also ensuring that we achieve a political settlement that ends the suffering and provides stability for all Syrians and the wider region. We also continue to provide significant humanitarian assistance—£2.46 billion to date.

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Q11. Can the Prime Minister tell me why the failed Wakefield Cities Academy Trust was allowed to take over schools in Bradford, even though concerns about it were raised as far back as 2015, and will she give me an assurance today that the hundreds of thousands of pounds taken from schools in my constituency, which is one of the poorest in the country, will be returned immediately? [903358]

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We of course have a priority to ensure that children across the country, whether in the north or the south, receive a great education. Of course, seven of our 12 opportunity areas that are providing that support are in the north or the midlands. That is the frontline of our approach to tackling inequality in education outcomes. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about northern schools. We are taking forward recommendations on the northern powerhouse schools strategy. We are putting record levels of funding into our schools and have announced increased funding over the next two years.

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In Market Harborough, I and local charities will be holding a meeting to discuss how we can fight the problem of loneliness in our community. At the national level, what is the Prime Minister doing to implement the important recommendations of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness?

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My hon. Friend raises an important issue. He is absolutely right that for too many people loneliness is the sad reality of modern life, and we know that loneliness has an impact not only on mental health, but on physical health. Later today I will be pleased to host a reception at No. 10 Downing Street for the Jo Cox Foundation to look at the issue. I think that the work that Jo Cox started, which has been continued by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) and the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), is very important. I am pleased to say that the Government have appointed a Minister for loneliness. This is an important step forward. Of course there is more to do, but it shows that we recognise the importance of the issue. I pay tribute to all Members of the House who have championed the issue.

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Q12. Universal credit was meant to remove benefit traps, but the Department for Education wants to base eligibility for free school meals on an income threshold, so if a family earning just below the threshold gets a small pay rise or an increase in hours, they will immediately lose the benefit of the free school meals and end up much worse off. It is a far worse benefit trap than anything in the old benefits system. Surely one Department should not be torpedoing the Government’s aim of getting rid of benefit traps in that way. [903359]

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As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we believe that universal credit is a better system because it is simpler than the benefits system it replaces, it encourages people to get into work, and it ensures that the more they earn, the more they keep. Our proposals mean that once universal credit has been fully rolled out, 50,000 more children will be eligible for free school meals than were under the old system.

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May I welcome the great speech that the Prime Minister made on the environment last Thursday? It is right that she, and indeed the Conservative party, support companies that promote sustainable growth, but does she also agree that any commercial development must now take into account the needs of the environment?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments on the speech, which was about the 25-year environment plan that the Government have published. It is an important step that we have taken to ensure that we leave our environment in a better state than we found it. I agree that all too often people see economic growth and environmental protection as opposites; they are not. It is absolutely possible for us to ensure that we protect our environment while producing economic growth, not least because of the innovative technologies that we can develop to ensure that environmental protection.

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Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. The people of Wales have been taking back control since 1999, but the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will put our powers back under lock and key in Westminster. My colleague Steffan Lewis AM is today proposing a Welsh continuity Bill to ensure that our powers are at liberty. When this Plaid Cymru Bill wins a majority in our Assembly, will the Prime Minister support it and respect Wales’s sovereignty?

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The hon. Lady’s portrayal of what is happening in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is simply wrong. We are working with the devolved Administrations to deal with the issues that have been raised about clause 11 and the question of powers that need to remain at UK level to secure our internal market, and extra powers will be devolved to the devolved Administrations. We continue to work with the devolved Administrations on this and we will be bringing forward amendments in the House of Lords to clause 11. We want to ensure that it meets the needs of the UK and of the devolved Administrations.