I am sure that Members throughout the House will wish to join me in marking Holocaust Memorial Day this Saturday and in remembering all those who endured such appalling suffering in the holocaust.
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. Later, I will travel to Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum and—who knows?—I might even bump into the shadow Chancellor while I am there.
Mr Speaker, as you and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will know, last week saw the successful launch of the Year of Engineering campaign, which is aimed at changing the perception of engineering and inspiring the next generation of engineers. I know that the Prime Minister is personally committed to the campaign, so may I invite her to join me and 80,000 young people at this year’s Big Bang fair, to reinforce the message that engineering is a great career that is open to everyone, regardless of their background, ethnicity and gender?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue of engineering, and particularly the need for more women to see engineering as a career, is something that I have promoted for many years now. Engineers are vital to our economy, which is why we want to see everyone, whatever their background—this is about not only gender but background and ethnicity—having a chance to build a good career in engineering. The Year of Engineering gives us a great opportunity to work together with business to do exactly that. If my diary allows, I would be happy to attend the fair to which my hon. Friend referred.
I join the Prime Minister in commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day. Many Members will be signing the book of remembrance and attending the event tomorrow. We have to teach all generations that the descent into Nazism and the holocaust must never, ever be repeated anywhere on this planet.
Does the Prime Minister agree with the Foreign Secretary that the national health service needs an extra £5 billion?
As I recall, the right hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber for the autumn Budget speech delivered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he announced that we will be putting £6 billion more into the national health service.
The only problem with that is that it was £2.8 billion, spread like thin gruel over two years. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister told the House that
“it is indeed the case that the NHS was better prepared this winter than ever before.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 315.]
Sixty-eight senior A&E doctors have written to the Prime Minister about what they describe as
“very serious concerns we have for the safety of our patients.”
They say that patients being treated in corridors are “dying prematurely”. Who should the public believe—the Prime Minister or A&E doctors?
It is right that the NHS was better prepared for this winter than it ever has been before. We saw 3,000 more beds being brought into use over the winter period; we saw the use of the 111 call system leading to a significant reduction in the number of call-outs and the number of people having to go into hospital; and we saw the changes made in accident and emergency, with GP streamlining, helping to ensure that people who did not need to go into hospital did not go into hospital. Overall, we saw 2.8 million more people last year visiting accident and emergency than did so in 2010. Our NHS is indeed providing for patients. There are winter pressures; we were prepared for those winter pressures. We will ensure, as we have done every year under this Conservative Government, that the NHS receives more funding.
Since 2010, we have lost 14,000 NHS beds. The King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and the Nuffield Trust all agree that the NHS needs another £4 billion. In December, the month just gone, NHS England recorded its worst ever A&E performances, with more patients than ever waiting more than four hours. Now the UK Statistics Authority says that the numbers may be worse because the figures have been fiddled. Can the Prime Minister tell the House when figures calculated in line with previous years will be published?
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the NHS is open in publishing a whole variety of figures in relation to its targets. We are putting more money into the NHS, year in and year out, and we are continuing to do that. If he wants to talk about figures and about targets being missed, yes, the latest figures show that, in England, 497 people were waiting more than 12 hours, but the latest figures also show that, under the Labour Government in Wales, 3,741 people were waiting more than 12 hours.
The Prime Minister is responsible for the underfunding of the Welsh Government and the needs of Wales. Despite that, the overall Welsh Labour Government health budget has grown by 5% in 2016-17. It is Labour Wales that has a problem of underfunding from a Conservative Government based in Westminster. So far this winter, 100,000 patients have been forced to wait more than 30 minutes in the back of an ambulance in NHS England, for which she is responsible, yet still she refuses to give the NHS the money that it needs. Can she tell us how many more patients will face life-threatening waits in the back of ambulances this winter?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that of course we want to ensure that people are not waiting in those ambulances, but the only answer that he ever comes up with is on the question of money. The question—[Interruption.] No, the question is this: why are there some hospitals where the percentage of patients waiting more than 30 minutes is zero and other hospitals where the percentage of patients waiting more than 30 minutes is considerably higher? If he wants to talk about funding, perhaps we should look at what the Labour party promised at the last general election last year. [Interruption.] It is all very well shadow Ministers shouting about the comparison of money. The point is that, at the last election, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said this:
“Labour and the Conservatives are pretty much on the same page…there’s not much to choose between them in terms of the money they’ll put into the NHS.”
A Labour Government would not be underfunding the NHS. A Labour Government would not be privatising the NHS. A Labour Government would not be underfunding social care. A Labour Government would be committed to an NHS free at the point of use as a human right.
According to a whistleblower, as many as—[Interruption.] Hang on, hang on. According to a whistleblower, as many as 80 patients were harmed or died following significant ambulance delays over a three-week period this winter. This is a very serious situation, and the Prime Minister must be aware of it. What investigation is the Department of Health carrying out into these deeply alarming reports?
When we hear reports of that sort, of course they are very alarming. That is why the Department of Health makes sure that investigations take place. That may be undertaken by the Department of Health or by the particular trust involved—the ambulance trust or the hospital. These issues are properly investigated, because we do not want to see this happening; we do want to see people being properly cared for. If there are lessons to be learned, then they will be learned, because our support for our NHS is about providing it with the funding, the doctors, the nurses, the treatments and the capabilities that it needs in order to be able to deliver for patients. That is why we are backing the NHS with more funding. It is why we are ensuring that it gets the best treatments; survival rates for cancer are higher than they have ever been before. It is why we are ensuring that we have better joined-up services across the NHS and social care so that people who do not need to go into hospital are able to be cared for at home. And it is why we are ensuring that we are reducing waste in the NHS so that taxpayers’ money is spent as effectively as may be on patient care. That is a plan for the NHS, but it is a plan that puts patients first.
The Prime Minister must be aware of ambulances backed up in hospital car parks, with nurses treating patients in the back of ambulances. Ambulance drivers and paramedics desperate to get on to deal with the next patient cannot leave because the patient they are dealing with at that moment cannot get into the A&E department. It has been reported that a man froze to death waiting 16 hours for an ambulance. Last week, a gentleman called Chris wrote to me, saying:
“My friend’s 93 year old father waited 4 hours for an ambulance after a fall.”
These are not isolated cases; they are common parlance all over the country. It needs money, it needs support, and it needs it now.
The Prime Minister is frankly in denial about the state of the NHS. Even the absent Foreign Secretary recognises it, but the Prime Minister is not listening. People using the NHS can see from their own experience that it is being starved of resources. People are dying unnecessarily in the back of ambulances and in hospital corridors. GP numbers are down, nurses are leaving, the NHS is in crisis—[Interruption.] Tory MPs might not like it, but I ask this question of the Prime Minister: when is she going to face up to the reality and take action to save the NHS from death by a thousand cuts?
There is only one part of the NHS that has seen a cut in its funding—the NHS in Wales under a Labour Government. This is a Government backing the NHS plan, putting more money into the NHS, recruiting more doctors and nurses, and seeing new treatments come on board which ensure that people are getting the best treatment that they need, because this is a Government who recognise the priorities of the British people: to ensure that our NHS remains a world-class healthcare system—indeed, the best healthcare system in the world—to build the homes that people need, and to make sure that our kids are in good schools. This is a Government who are building a country that works for everyone, and a country in which people can look to the future with optimism and hope.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on a very good council by-election result in Hulton, where the Conservatives took a seat from the Labour party?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue about strengthening our electoral process and enhancing the confidence people have in our democratic processes. We are shortly going to be running pilot schemes in five local authorities to identify the best way to implement voter ID and nationality checks. Tower Hamlets, Slough and Peterborough are going to be piloting measures to improve the integrity of the postal and proxy vote process. Our democracy matters, but it is important that people can have true confidence in it.
May I wish you a happy Burns day for tomorrow, Mr Speaker?
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister about Holocaust Memorial Day? We should never forget the horrible tragedies and the price that people had to pay. However, we should also remember the genocide that has happened in many territories since that time as well, and we all must work to eradicate that scourge from our society.
Earlier this week, the Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive officer, Ross McEwan, admitted—in a leaked memo—that closing 22 local branches would be “painful” for customers. Thirteen towns in Scotland are to lose their last bank. Prime Minister, I will give you one other opportunity: as the majority shareholder, will you meet RBS and make the case to keep the bank branches open?
The right hon. Gentleman has asked me this question on a number of occasions, and I have made the point in response to every one of those questions—and the answer is not going to change today—that these are commercial decisions for the banks involved. We do have a duty as a Government: we look at how the market is working for people, and that is why we established the access to banking standard that commits banks to carry out a certain number of steps before closing a branch. It is also why we welcome the fact that the Post Office has reached an agreement with the banks that will allow more customers than ever before to use post office services, so about 99% of personal customers are able to carry out their day-to-day banking at a post office as a result of that new agreement. That is the Government making sure that people are covered by the services they need.
I would simply say to the Prime Minister that we own RBS: it is time that you took your own responsibilities. By closing these branches and replacing some with mobile banking vans, which do not provide disability access, the Royal Bank of Scotland appears to be in breach of the UK Equality Act 2010. Wheelchair user Sandra Borthwick has described her experience of banking outside as “degrading”. Does the Prime Minister agree that RBS has a legal responsibility to offer equality of services to disabled customers, and will she hold RBS to account on this issue?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that, of course, we all want to see that all customers are able to access the services that they need—that is, both customers who are disabled and customers who live in remote areas. As I have said to him, this is a commercial decision that has been taken by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Banks are closing branches—other banks are closing branches—because what they see is actually less use being made of those branches. As the right hon. Gentleman has been talking about matters financial, I am sorry that he was not able to stand up and welcome the fact that today’s trade figures for Scotland show that their biggest export market remains the rest of the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend is right in drawing attention to the impact of infrastructure when it is developed in various parts of the UK. On the specific point of the lower Thames crossing, I know that is going to unlock opportunities and economic growth for the region and the country, and will offer better connections, new connections and better journeys. It is, of course, part of the biggest investment in England’s road network in a generation.
As my right hon. Friend knows, Highways England has announced the preferred route; it did that last year. I recognise this has raised some concerns in affected constituencies, but may I assure him and other Members that there are going to be further opportunities, for both those who support these proposals and those who do not, to give their views and to have their say? But he is absolutely right: new infrastructure developments such as this can make a huge impact not only on jobs during the development of that infrastructure, but on the economy, locally and nationally.
I have said this on many occasions and I am very happy to repeat it: leaving the European Union means that we will be leaving the single market. We will no longer be members of the single market or the customs union. We want to be able to sign and implement trade deals with other parts of the world, as part of an independent trade policy. We are looking forward to the negotiations for a bespoke deal—a comprehensive free trade agreement—between the UK and the European Union for the future. We will be looking for as tariff-free and frictionless a trade agreement as possible.
My hon. Friend has raised a very important subject. In July the Government initiated the national security capability review, in support of the ongoing implementation of the 2015 national security strategy and strategic defence and security review, to ensure that we do indeed have the capabilities, and the investment in those capabilities, that we need in our national security, and that that investment and those capabilities are as effective and joined up as possible.
I agreed the high-level findings of the review with ministerial colleagues at the National Security Council, and I have directed that the work should be finalised, with a view to publishing a report in late spring. It has been a significant piece of work and it will help to ensure that we have the right capabilities. As part of that, we recognise that more work is needed on defence and on modernising defence. We want to ensure that the defence budget is being spent intelligently and efficiently, and that we are investing in the capabilities we need to keep our nation safe. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will update the House in due course.
This is an important issue and obviously we need to look at it. Although, as the hon. Lady will know, crimes traditionally measured by the independent crime survey have dropped by well over one third since 2010, we need to consider the root causes of violence—particularly among young people, and especially knife crimes. The nature of crime is changing; it is important that we remain adaptable and resilient, but we need to understand that. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be happy to meet the hon. Lady to talk about youth violence and the causes of youth violence.
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about this event and the tragedy that happened. First, we should recognise that all those who deliver our ambulance services work hard and regularly go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure our safety, but concerns have been raised about the provision of services in the East of England Ambulance Service trust, including, obviously, this very, very worrying, tragic case.
As I said earlier in response to the Leader of the Opposition, we take these cases very seriously—any claims that patient safety has been put at risk are taken seriously. The Department of Health and Social Care has received assurances that these reports are being investigated by the trust, in conjunction with its commissioners, as a serious incident. This is also an issue that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Health has discussed with the chief executives of NHS England and NHS Improvement.
The hon. Lady raises an important matter. Over the past six or seven years a significant number of homes have met the decent homes standard, but the conditions in which people live is an important concern, and I will ask the Leader of the House to look at the issue that she has raised about her Bill.
Cumbria is celebrated internationally for its lakes and mountains, and it is known for nuclear excellence. This afternoon, Parliament hosts “A Taste of Cumbria”, showcasing our fine food and drink. May I extend a warm invitation to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Prime Minister, to pop along and join us to sample some of our finest fare?
I am afraid that my diary does not permit me to attend “A Taste of Cumbria” this afternoon, but if I can drop my hon. Friend a hint, I understand that there was a taste of Lincolnshire event recently, and my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) sent me some Lincolnshire products after the events. I am not hinting at anything, but—
The whole House was saddened to hear of Baroness Jowell’s diagnosis, but I am sure it was encouraged by the positive approach that she has taken. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary says that Baroness Jowell’s speech this morning was very moving. I am sure that everyone across the whole House sends her their very best wishes.
Cancer treatment is a priority for the Government, and we want to make sure that the best treatments are provided. We will consider investing in anything that improves that. We have accepted 96 recommendations in the NHS cancer strategy, but we need constantly to look at this. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is happy to meet the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) and Baroness Jowell.
I am only just beginning, Mr Speaker.
The Prime Minister will know of the devastation, debt and despair caused by fixed-odds betting terminals, which are now widespread—a far cry from the charm of the bingo hall, the pools coupon or the style of the sport of kings. Given the fact that there is a review, will she meet me and others to discuss how the maximum bet on those terminals can be reduced, and will she take the chance simultaneously to plan a crackdown on online gambling sites that target young children? The stakes are too high to gamble with our children’s futures.
We are clear that the fixed odds betting terminals stakes will be cut to make sure that we have a safe and sustainable industry where vulnerable people and children are protected. As I suspect my right hon. Friend knows, the consultation that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport launched on this closed yesterday, so a final decision will be made in due course. He will know, with regard to the specific point about children—this is important—that there are in place controls to prevent children and young people from accessing online gambling. The Gambling Commission has asked the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board to examine the wider relationship between children and gambling. I think it is important, as we take these decisions, that we all recognise the potential threats and dangers, but that we ensure that we have the best information possible in order to be able to act.
I send my condolences—I am sure the whole House does—to Amber’s family on this terrible thing that has happened. Look, the smear test is hugely important. Sadly, what we see, even for those women who qualify today to have the smear test, is that too many women do not take it up. I know that it is not a comfortable thing to do, because I have it, as others do, but it is so important for women’s health. I first want to encourage women to actually have the smear test. Secondly, the hon. Lady raised an issue about the availability of that test. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to look at this issue. It is a question that has been raised before for those who are under the age of 25. Of course, action has been taken in terms of the vaccine that has been introduced for teenagers. There have been some questions about that—I have had people in my constituency raising questions about it. We need to address this issue in every way possible, so we will look at the question of the age qualification for the smear test. My overall message is, please, those who are called for a smear test, go and have it.
I am happy to endorse what my right hon. Friend says about sport, and indeed to join him in congratulating Bexley rugby club on this significant anniversary. I am sure that over all those years it has given many young people and others an introduction to the joy of sport and the way that sport can be both good for the community and for society, and for the individuals, so I am happy to endorse his claim.
As the hon. Lady will know, we made changes to the operation of universal credit, which were announced in the Budget, including changes that mean that the availability of advance payments has increased and that the size of those advance payments has increased. But I am sure, if she would like to write in with the details of the case, that we can look at it and make sure that it is properly considered.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the Government are making further progress in reducing the deficit. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be reckless to change course now in favour of a policy of renationalisation, which would burden taxpayers such as those in Erewash with an estimated bill of over £170 billion?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. It has not been easy reducing the deficit in the way we have. We had to deal with the biggest deficit in our peacetime history, which was left to us by the Labour party, but by decisions the Government—[Interruption.] Yes, yes. Labour might not like hearing that, but it is what happened. It is by the hard work of the British people and by decisions the Government have taken that we have been able to reduce the deficit. Adding to it an extra £170 billion to meet the ideological desires of the Leader of the Opposition would saddle people up and down this country with higher debt, and ordinary people would pay the price.
The DWP does not give details of individuals with whom it deals, and that is absolutely right; what it does is ensure we have a welfare system that provides support to those who need it and increasingly encourages those who can to get into the workplace, because we continue to believe that work is the best route out of poverty.
In a December press release, the Bank of England described the UK’s financial system as both “a national asset” and “a global public good”. Does my right hon. Friend think it unreasonable that the UK financial services sector, which pays billions of pounds in taxes, wants to hear the Government’s ambition to ensure that the City of London remains a global pre-eminent financial centre, in the same way they set out their ambition for other sectors last summer?
I have said in this Chamber and outside that we retain the ambition of ensuring the City of London remains a global financial centre, and that is indeed what we are working on. I was very pleased to welcome a number of senior representatives from the financial services sector to No. 10 Downing Street only a few weeks ago and to sit down and talk to them about how to do exactly that. London’s place as a financial centre for the world is not just a benefit to the UK; it is a benefit to the global financial system and to the EU.
I believe that there is very strong cross-party support for the western rail link for Heathrow. The hon. Gentleman has expressed his support, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) has also been supporting it. It would reduce journey times for passengers in the south-west and could support the Thames valley economy as well. I myself, as a Thames valley MP, have looked into it previously. Development funding has been committed for the project and the Department for Transport will provide further detail on the timing in due course.
I congratulate the Prime Minister and the parties in Northern Ireland on the resumption today of talks at Stormont. What more can be done to ensure that the Executive are restored and the nightmare of direct rule avoided?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The people of Northern Ireland need strong devolved government and political leadership, and cannot continue to have their public services suffer from the lack of an Executive and Ministers to make key policy and budget decisions. We are determined to re-establish a fully functioning, inclusive devolved Administration that works for everyone in Northern Ireland. We believe that a basis for a deal exists, and that is why, as he has said, today my right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary has started a set of political talks to restore the Executive. I believe that this is very important, and I would strongly encourage all parties to come together and focus on the job of restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland.
I applaud all those who have given their time voluntarily and raised money through their activities across the board. The hon. Lady has given a specific example of the work of people in Newcastle. I commend people who raise money for causes, but, as she knows, I cannot discuss an individual case at the Dispatch Box. I think it important for us to have a system that works properly and fairly, and I am sure that if she wishes to raise the individual case with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, it will be looked into.
The Prime Minister will know that the welcome introduction of the national minimum wage has created an as yet unresolved difficulty for the care sector, specifically relating to 24-hour care for those with significant learning difficulties. The issue is connected with sleep-in shifts and money owed to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Will she agree to meet me, and a number of concerned colleagues, so that we can discuss how we can best find a way out of the impasse?
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue that is of concern to a number of organisations and Members of Parliament, and I should be happy to meet her to discuss it. The Cabinet Office has been working with the relevant Department—now called the Department of Health and Social Care—to try to resolve it, and measures have been taken to defer the implementation of certain aspects. However, we continue to work on it, and are happy to look into it further.
No one has been charged over Poppi Worthington’s death, although the 13-month-old was probably anally penetrated in the hours before her death at home. Poppi was not known to social services, despite a staggeringly troubled family history. Will the Prime Minister respond to our cross-party calls for a public inquiry, so that we can learn lessons from this and make children safer throughout the country?
Everyone in the country who is aware of the horrific abuse that was carried out has been shocked and appalled by it, and, obviously, by the tragic circumstances of Poppi’s death. I am sure that all Members will join me in offering condolences.
I understand that the Crown Prosecution Service has announced that it is considering the coroner’s decision in liaison with the Cumbria constabulary. I think it right for us to allow that process to continue and to await the outcome before deciding whether any further action is needed. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I—along with, I think, all other Members—am well apprised of the significance of the issue and how appalling this tragedy was, and of the need for us to ensure not only that there is justice but that lessons are learnt.