The Secretary of State was asked—
Tax Havens: Developing Countries
Mr Speaker, I start by paying tribute to Rebecca Dykes, the DFID staff member killed in such tragic circumstances last month in Beirut. Becky was passionate about helping others, and through her work has improved the lives of some of the most marginalised people in the world. Becky’s family have set up a charitable fund in her name to advance some of the causes Becky cared about so deeply, and my Department is providing support; we will also hold a commemoration next month to celebrate her life. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this difficult time.
The UK continues to lead efforts to strengthen international tax transparency. DFID supports developing countries to benefit from and influence new international standards which help them to tackle tax avoidance and evasion.
Lesotho has severely underfunded public services, in part due to high rates of HIV and AIDS, yet our Government have just concluded a tax treaty with Lesotho that severely constrains its ability to levy taxes. Does the Secretary of State believe that that is consistent with promoting international development?
One of my first actions, which I set out this week, is to establish a new team to help countries that we are seeking to develop and that are transitioning out of poverty to improve tax collection systems and set up public services. We need to focus on that as well as on alleviating crises and immense poverty. I will be happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Lady, and it will be one of my priorities.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that aggressive tax avoidance involving tax havens can be tackled effectively only by collective global action? Will her Department therefore keep the issue high on the agenda at future G8 meetings and will she do all she can to ensure that the UK continues to take a lead?
Absolutely. The UK is leading on this matter, having put it on the G8 agenda in 2013.
It is vital that developing countries have an effective tax collection system. What bilateral action are the Government taking to support countries to achieve that goal?
As I just said, I think we need to do something more hands-on and more practical, so I am dedicating some resource and a team within my Department to focus on that for every nation we work with.
Will my right hon. Friend commend the work of Conservatives in government to crack down on tax havens, including the leadership shown by David Cameron in making that a centrepiece of the UK’s G8 summit in 2013?
We have made considerable progress—for example, all our overseas territories that have a financial centre are now committed to global standards on tax transparency.
Modern Slavery: Libya
Eradicating modern slavery is a top UK priority. We are helping to build Libyan capacity to tackle this abhorrent crime, and providing humanitarian aid and protection for migrants and refugees, not just in Libya but on the whole route of those travelling to that country. Last year, the UK supported more than 20,000 emergency interventions for migrants and refugees in Libya.
Over 2,000 people in my constituency signed the petition debated last month and the issue is of great concern to us all. What update can the Minister give my constituents on the implementation of the plan agreed by African Union and European Union countries at the end of November? Specifically, how many migrants have been repatriated?
After the debate, I asked the organiser of the petition to come in to my office to see me, and she, one of the supporters of the petition and I had a meeting last week, which gave my officials a chance to talk with her about the huge interest and concern that the petition demonstrated. Briefly, the matter worries us considerably. There is work going on across Government in relation to the criminal aspects of the slave auctions, but at the meeting I was also able to outline what we are doing to build capacity, such as—
Order. Minister, we have quite a lot of questions to get through, so we need shorter answers. Sorry, but we do.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the significant investment from the aid budget that the Department has made available to tackle modern slavery in Libya and across all migration routes from sub-Saharan African into Europe, and will he reaffirm his commitment to this work?
Even though time is tight, I must thank my right hon. Friend for the remarkable support he gave to the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development when he was a Whip and his remarkable contribution to Government over the years.
My right hon. Friend is right. We have a £75 million programme focused on migration along routes from west Africa via the Sahel to Libya. This includes an allocation of £5 million in Libya aimed at providing that aid. He is right to raise this.
I have repeatedly raised in this Chamber the abuse endured by migrants in the camps in Libya, including sexual violence against women, girls and men. Will the Minister confirm that Libya has been designated a priority country under the UK preventing sexual violence initiative? It should have been.
My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary yesterday inaugurated exactly the programme the right hon. Lady mentions. It is a matter of great concern to the UK, and we are in contact with the Libyan Government about it. I had a high-level meeting in Geneva last week about the issues she raises.
Will the Minister commend the work the Church of England is doing on modern-day slavery with its We See You campaign to help us all identify victims, including from Libya, more easily? All too often they are invisible to us.
My right hon. Friend is quite right. Modern slavery is a key part of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s agenda—we have allotted £150 million to it—and the work of the Church of England, in making sure that people see victims and are attuned to their needs, is vital.
I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to Rebecca Dykes. All our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time. I also congratulate the new Minister for Africa on her appointment.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but in truth we must do much more. This is not modern slavery; it is just slavery—pure and simple—alive and flourishing in the 21st century. It is racist and a stain on our humanity. The African Union says that hundreds of thousands are at risk, so repatriating a few thousand will never be enough. Will the Secretary of State address the root courses and re-examine the UK and Europe’s migration policy in the Mediterranean and across Africa?
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks about Becky Dykes, who was part of the middle-eastern team in Lebanon. She, like my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary, spoke for all of us.
The hon. Lady is right to keep the attention on slavery, but I want to do as much as I can to reassure her that we have this very much in focus, although of course there is more to be done. There is a closer connection now between the EU, the UN and the African Union, and we are working with international partners on the whole route and, specifically in relation to Libya, on the criminal aspects. It is complex—Libya is a difficult state to work in; and this is a £150 billion criminal operation moving people around and putting them into slavery. We will continue—
Order. I am sorry, but we must press on; we have a lot to get through. I call Mr Lamont.
Small Charities: Funding
Small charities are vital to the UK’s funding for international development. Last July, the small charities challenge fund was launched to support the work of small, UK-based charities in international development. The fund will enable these organisations to increase the reach and impact of their projects.
Scottish Borders makes a significant contribution to the UK’s overseas aid effort, often in the form of fundraising or volunteering for larger national charities. Local grassroots organisations can play a crucial role in some of the world’s poorest countries, but applying for funding can be challenging, and some worthy organisations might not be aware of opportunities such as the small charities challenge fund. Will the Minister reassure me that the Department is doing all it can to promote these funds and make applying for them as easy as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. I agree that we need and have tried to make the process as simple and streamlined as possible. We have publicised it through a range of different regional events and—importantly—written to every Member of Parliament, because excellent local MPs such as my hon. Friend can publicise these opportunities to the great grassroots charities.
During the Rohingya crisis, the Rochdale Council of Mosques, with its local Bangladeshi roots, made a material difference to our ability to convey aid to the area quickly. Could that be built into the framework for dealing with future disasters and emergencies?
Indeed, and I am grateful for the work that was done in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency to raise money during that appalling crisis. As he will know, it is possible to secure match funding from the Department when local communities are able to do such an impressive amount of fundraising.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Given that larger charities are necessarily more bureaucratic, and given that the UK aid grant scheme was set up to help smaller charities, are Ministers satisfied that the due diligence processes for applications from smaller charities are entirely appropriate and cost-effective?
We do carry out due diligence for small charities, and we have received more than 100 applications to the Small Charities Challenge Fund. The cut-off in relation to size is an annual income of £250,000. I look forward to the announcement of the results of the first round of applications.
Will small charities that are particularly innovative in sub-Saharan Africa, providing clean drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people there, be able to avail themselves of the fund, and will the Minister actively promote it to them?
They will indeed be able to avail themselves of the fund, provided that their annual income is less than £250,000 and provided that they are working in one of the 50 poorest countries in the world. Larger charities can apply to other sources of funding.
The Secretary of State may talk up the £4 million Small Charities Challenge Fund, but the truth is that the Government are failing international charities and the people whom they serve. Civil society funding is being squeezed, the programme partnership arrangements and flexible funding have been scrapped, and the right to speak out has been restricted under the draconian Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. What plan has the Secretary of State to reverse that?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment: we look forward greatly to working with her. We are proud of our track record on the 0.7% commitment, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will announce her strategic priorities shortly.
Occupied Palestinian Territories
I will answer briefly, Mr Speaker.
The UK Government consistently call on the Israeli Government to ease movement and access restrictions in the OPTs. Since 2011, we have been funding the United Nations Access Coordination Unit to work with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinians in the occupied territories face significant barriers to access to healthcare. Some have even died as a result of delays at checkpoints. Will the Minister urge the UK Government to recommend to the working group of the United Nations’ universal periodic review of Israel’s human rights record that Israel lift restrictions on the movement of Palestinian patients and healthcare workers and Palestinian-registered ambulances?
The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to a serious aspect of the difficulties of restrictions. It is much in the UK’s mind, and we will continue to raise it.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The overnight announcement from the United States of the largest cut in aid for Palestinian refugees for 70 years follows the Israeli Government’s ban on 20 international organisations entering Israel, including three from the UK. Does that concern the Government, and what do they intend to do about it?
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has a unique role in protecting and providing essential services for 5 million Palestinian refugees. We are deeply concerned about the impact of potential cuts in US funding on stability in the region, and about the continuity of UNRWA’s vital services. We will go on supporting them.
What action is the Minister taking to ensure that no taxpayers’ money from DFID ever ends up in the pockets of convicted terrorists?
It just does not. We do not give aid to terrorists, and the Palestinian Authority knows that.
What action is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the funds given to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli non-governmental organisations are used to promote peace in the area, so that we can see a peaceful co-existence between Israel and the state of Palestine?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have just this year allocated £3 million to co-existence projects so that those from the Palestinian community and Israelis can work more effectively together. One of the problems in recent years has been a growing divide between communities. We want to find projects that will break down barriers rather than erect them.
Will the Government oppose President Trump’s latest threat to withdraw funding from UNRWA, and will the Government attend a conference of donor countries, convened by the Norwegian Government and the EU, to discuss the imminent crisis that would result?
The answer to the second question is yes, and I am hoping to attend that conference myself. On the first question, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), that is a decision for the United States; we are concerned about the impact but our support for UNRWA will continue.
The US President’s threat this week to withdraw tens of millions of dollars from UNRWA for Palestinian refugees is an act of cruelty towards some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world. It attacks the long-established principle that development and aid cannot await a peace deal. What is the Minister doing to strengthen the resolve of the United Nations and our European counterparts to maintain vital humanitarian work in the region?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position; we look forward to hearing much more from him. I met the head of UNRWA recently in London. Our commitment for next year to its programme budget is £38 million. It assists in the provision of basic education for some half a million children. As I have explained, we are concerned about the loss of funding to UNRWA and our support for it remains clear, but this is another example of how something will not be properly fixed until we get the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that we are all searching for, and we hope 2018 will be a landmark in that.
Yemen: Humanitarian Aid
Donor countries have spent over $2 billion in humanitarian aid in 2017. This does not capture all the aid flows to Yemen, including significant contributions from Gulf countries who channel much of their aid independently. The UK is the second largest donor to the UN Yemen appeal and the third largest donor to Yemen in the world.
The Minister will be aware that the 30-day relaxation of the blockade on Hodeidah port expires at the end of this week, and even while it has been in place, a combination of its temporary nature and the action of intermediaries has pushed up prices so many people have not been able to afford the food, fuel and medicines that have been able to come in. So what can the international community do to ensure that supplies continue to reach people in Yemen and they are able to stave off the famine that still affects over 8 million people?
We are working hard to ensure that commercial and humanitarian access to Yemen remains unhindered. It is vital that both commercial and humanitarian aid gets through. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this, and the UK is working hard to make sure that process continues to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
UNICEF’s report this week highlights the appalling impact on children of the conflict in Yemen. Will the Minister examine the proposal from War Child that at least 1% of humanitarian funding should be devoted to mental health and psycho-social support?
I will be very happy to see that proposal; I have not seen it yet. Looking after psychological and mental health used to be seen as some kind of benevolent add-on in terms of aid and support. Bearing in mind the crisis and trauma that so many youngsters go through, it is very important that it is brought right up front and the UK is a firm advocate of that. I will certainly look at the report.
As we all know, there are no winners in war, and in comments to The Daily Telegraph before Christmas the Secretary of State correctly said that Saudi Arabia has “no excuses” for blocking food and fuel shipments to Yemen. Is it not therefore sheer hypocrisy and simply inexcusable that her Government are providing billions of pounds-worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia when 7 million Yemeni people are facing the worst famine in decades?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development made a significant contribution to humanitarian access by visiting Djibouti and Riyadh just before 20 December, and the resulting decision has improved humanitarian access there. Arms sales are strictly controlled, as the House well knows. We will continue our support for the coalition, which is fighting a serious insurgency and armed support from outside Yemen directed against it, but we will be firm in our determination to see an end to the conflict, which is the only thing that will resolve the humanitarian crisis.
Yesterday I launched the UK’s new action plan on women, peace and security, alongside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. Empowering women and girls and placing them at the heart of our efforts to prevent and resolve conflict helps to bring a lasting peace and a safer, more prosperous world. This is good for developing countries and for the UK.
We obviously work closely with our EU partners on the delivery of international aid. As the Secretary of State makes her plans for working with the EU after we leave, is she working on the assumption that Turkey will be a member state?
I am not anticipating that will happen. I have been clear that we will work with all our European partners. We will be much more focused on the things that matter to us and our strategic priorities as we do so, but we will continue to work hand in hand with many countries in Europe.
As the House knows, we constantly challenge the Palestinian Authority in relation to anything that might encourage or glorify violence. I can assure the House that we ensure that no payments are made to those who have those connections. We do all we can to encourage the Authority to understand that naming places after those who have been involved in terrorism does not contribute to the peace process.
We look very seriously at any such allegations. There is a constant review in the Department to ensure that some of the challenges that come in on religious discrimination are evidenced. I challenge the agencies as well, and we will continue to do this. We do not have evidence of significant discrimination, but we are always on the lookout for it.
Does the Secretary of State agree that DFID money spent on repairing catastrophic hurricane damage in the UK overseas territories, which often hits the poorest the hardest of all, should always qualify as legitimate overseas aid?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. The rules that we are constrained by have not prevented us from coming up with the funds needed to help those areas hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. This is also a lesson that we should continue to invest in our defence capabilities, because we were very reliant on our armed forces to get into those places.
Order. We have got the gist of it.
I think the hon. Lady for her question because it affords me the opportunity to remind the House what these people have fled. They should have a say in what happens to them, and we absolutely agree that those returns must be voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable, but those conditions are far from being met.
Would I be right in assuming that my right hon. Friend will use my International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014, which imposes a statutory obligation on every penny of her Department’s budget, to protect women and children in all matters in Myanmar and Bangladesh?
I absolutely will do that. Yesterday, as has already been mentioned, we launched further policy to strengthen our humanitarian efforts in that respect, and particularly towards women and children. We have also drawn on our defence capabilities to build capacity in the Bangladesh police force to keep everyone in the camps safe.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking about the conditions of life for occupants of refugee camps. I know there is an air of expectation, but I just remind colleagues that we are discussing some of the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalised people on the face of the planet. I ask for due respect.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Many of my Rohingya constituents have family in the refugee camps in Bangladesh who are fleeing persecution and who wish to join their family in the UK, as they are entitled to do. They continue to face obstacles and unnecessary bureaucracy, however, so what are the Government doing in the refugee camps to help to reunite families?
If any hon. Member of this House has individual cases, I would be very happy to look at them. A huge amount of effort is going into not just trying to reunite families but enabling people who have fled for their lives to identify who they are—many of them have lost documents. A very good, methodical programme is doing that, but I would be happy to discuss any cases that hon. Members have.
In relation to the work undertaken by the Department to combat modern slavery, will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to praise our former colleagues Anthony Steen and Sir John Randall for the work they have done?
I am very happy to do that. They have made a huge contribution to an agenda that is one of our Prime Minister’s priorities. We are stepping up our efforts to ask other nations to lean in and follow suit.
I am keen that the myriad health and vaccination programmes funded by my Department yield more than the sum of their parts. We can also use these programmes to set up sustainable healthcare systems in those countries. One of my priorities is to join up the programmes to yield primary care services in the countries with which we work.
Will my right hon. Friend lead an international effort to support developing countries in creating jobs and livelihoods for young people?
I know my hon. Friend wants us to set up a dedicated fund for that cause, and I am looking at options for what we might do. He is right that we need to create more jobs to enable countries to collect taxes and set up public services, and he will see much more of that under my tenure.
Again, as the House knows, arms sales are very carefully controlled. Every case is looked at, and serious scrutiny is provided both by this House and through the law. The coalition, which is backed by the United Nations, is dealing with an insurgency in Yemen, and it faces serious challenges from rockets fired towards its own territories. We are working to apply the law rigidly.
This Government have rightly been at the forefront of the international fight against modern slavery. Does my right hon. Friend believe that we can spread around the world some of the best practice learned here?
My hon. Friend is right. In addition to the leadership we have shown and the work my Department does, there is more we can do to harness the power of technology to prevent people from falling victim to slavery and trafficking.
One short sentence please, Patrick Grady.
There were a couple of semicolons in there!
I speak regularly with the Foreign Secretary about all these issues, and I would be happy to discuss that one. As we look at the footprint we have across this world and wish to do more to engage with more of the world, it is extremely important that we have that oversight of what is happening on the ground. We wish to help developing nations—not just their economies, but their human rights and civil society.
The Prime Minister was asked—
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.
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?
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—
What about the apprentices?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I am very happy to answer questions when the right hon. Gentleman asks one. He did not.
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 freefall, and many people were very worried?
I am afraid I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that of course—
Just answer the question!
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is extremely alert, and I am alert to what he is going to say.
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?
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.
We can all learn about brevity, myself included, from the right hon. Gentleman.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.