The Prime Minister was asked—
I know that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Captain Dean Sprouting, who died in a road traffic accident in Iraq on 31 January. His death was not the result of enemy activity. I know that Members in all parts of the House will want to join me in offering condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time.
One hundred years ago yesterday, women won the right to vote. [Hon. Members: “Some women.”] Indeed: some women. I am pleased to say that universal suffrage did come for women 10 years later, under a Conservative Government. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in marking the heroic and tireless struggle that led to women having the vote, because it forever changed our nation’s future.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
My constituent Natasha Dudarenko suffers from Fanconi anaemia, a debilitating disease that carries a high risk of cancer. Natasha was receiving lifetime disability living allowance, which was removed following an assessment for the personal independent payment. When she appealed, she was told that because she had a degree, she did not need as much support. I am sure the Prime Minister is aware that diseases, including cancer, are no respecters of qualifications. What urgent action will she take to improve the quality and standard of PIP assessments?
Obviously, the Department for Work and Pensions is constantly looking at the standard of the PIP assessments that are being made. I am sorry to hear of the case that the hon. Lady has described. I think that most people will be very concerned after hearing about it, and I am very surprised at the judgment that was made in relation to that individual. I suggest that the hon. Lady sends us the details of the case, and we will ensure that it is looked into.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of UKIP-led Thanet Council’s broken election promise to support the reopening of Manston as an airport. On the basis that the Manston site was to be redesignated as “mixed use”, with thousands of houses, local councillors sensibly rejected the plan, and I salute them for doing so. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that Thanet will now be given as much time as is reasonably necessary—perhaps under a new administration—to get our local plan right?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this matter on behalf of his constituents. I understand that Thanet District Council has not adopted a local plan since 2006, which is why my right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary has written to the district council to begin the formal process of considering intervention. This is a very serious step that shows that the council has not been doing what it should be doing in relation to a local plan. So my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering whether to intervene, and he will make an announcement in due course.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Dean Sprouting from Jarrow on his death and in offering our condolences to his family on the terrible incident that happened.
It is of course the anniversary of women first getting the right to vote in 1918, and I pay tribute to all those who campaigned all over the country to achieve that right. We should understand that our rights come from the activities of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to bring about democracy and justice within our society, and those women who suffered grievously, being force fed in Holloway prison in my constituency, and those who suffered so much need to be remembered for all time. Working-class women as well as many other women fought for that right, and it is one we should all be proud of.
With crime rising, does the Prime Minister regret cutting 21,000 police officers?
May I first say to the right hon. Gentleman that we should be saluting all those who were involved in that struggle to ensure that women could get the right to vote? I was very pleased yesterday to have the opportunity to meet Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, and to see that that memory is being kept going. As I said yesterday in my speech, I heard about the suffragettes’ fight from my late godmother, whose mother was a suffragette and both of whose parents knew the Pankhursts.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of police numbers and crime. What we actually have seen from the crime survey is that crime is now down at record low levels. That is what has been achieved, and it has been achieved by a Conservative Government who at the same time have been protecting police budgets.
Recorded crime is up by one fifth since 2010 and violent crime is up by 20%, and during the period when the Prime Minister was Home Secretary £2.3 billion was cut from police budgets. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary warns that neighbourhood policing risks being eroded and the shortage of detectives is a “national crisis”. Does the Prime Minister think the inspectorate is scaremongering?
The right hon. Gentleman mentions the issue about recorded crime, and one of the challenges we have seen in the police in recent years is ensuring we get proper recording particularly of certain types of crime. I am pleased to say that we have seen improvements over the past seven to eight years in the recording by the police of certain types of crime.
The right hon. Gentleman also talks about the issue of police budgets. As I have said, this is a Government who are protecting police budgets, and I might remind him that the Labour party’s former shadow Home Secretary, now the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, himself said that the police could take an up to 10% cut in their budgets.
The inspectorate also found that the police are failing to properly record tens of thousands of offences, and in addition to cutting 21,000 police officers, the Government have cut 6,700 police community support officers. The chief constable of Bedfordshire says:
“We do not have the resources to keep residents safe... The position is a scandal.”
Too many people do not feel safe, and too many people are not safe. We have just seen the highest rise in recorded crime for a quarter of a century. The chief constable of Lancashire said the Government’s police cuts had made it much more difficult to keep people safe. Is he wrong?
On the issue of recording crime, the right hon. Gentleman mentions HMIC, and when I was Home Secretary, I asked HMIC to look at the recording of crime to ensure that police forces were doing it properly. Indeed, some changes were made as a result, so we now see better recording of crime. We also see £450 million extra being made available to the police. Over the past few years, we have also seen the creation of the National Crime Agency, and our police forces are taking more notice of helping to support vulnerable victims and doing more on modern slavery and domestic violence—taking seriously issues that were not taken seriously before.
If you ask the inspectorate to look at unrecorded crime and it tells you what is going on, the least you could do is act on what it tells you. I want to quote something that may sound familiar to the Prime Minister:
“The first duty of the Government is to protect the public and keep them safe, and I have to say to the Government that they are not putting enough focus on police resources.”—[Official Report, 18 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 5.]
If she casts her eyes to the far Conservative Back Benches, she will see the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), and that is what he said about her Government and what they are doing. Gun crime has increased by 20% in the past year, and the chief constable of Merseyside recently said:
“So have I got sufficient resources to fight gun crime? No, I haven’t.”
Does the Prime Minister think he is crying wolf?
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the fact that the Government are protecting police budgets. In fact, we are not just protecting police budgets, but increasing them with an extra £450 million. We are also ensuring that our police have the powers that they need to do the job that we want them to do. I seem to remember that the right hon. Gentleman does not have that good a record when it comes to increasing the powers for the police to do their job.
Since 2015, direct Government funding to the police has fallen by £413 million, and Chief Constable Dave Thompson of West Midlands police said:
“The current flat cash settlement for policing means force budgets will fall in real terms.”
In addition to police cuts, other public service cuts are clearly contributing to the rise in crime: 3,600 youth workers have lost their jobs; 600 youth centres have been closed and boarded up; the probation service has been cut and privatised; and reoffenders are committing more offences. When it comes to tackling crime, prevention and cure are two sides of the same coin, so why are the Government cutting both of them?
We have put in place various pieces of work on anti-knife crime, on serious violence and on issues such as domestic violence. But I come back to the point I made in my last response: the right hon. Gentleman voted against changing the law so that anyone caught carrying a knife for a second time would face a custodial sentence. He has called for much shorter sentences for those who break the law. He might want to reflect on the fact that knife crime fell when there was a Conservative Mayor in London, but knife crime is going up now that there is a Labour Mayor in London.
I am very clear that crime is of course wrong. The way to deal with it is by having an effective probation service, by community service orders and by the rehabilitation of offenders. What the Prime Minister said goes to the heart of her record: she was Home Secretary for six years, but crime is up, violent crime is rising, police numbers are down and chief constables are saying they no longer have the resources to keep communities safe. After seven years of cuts, will the Prime Minister today admit that her Government’s relentless cuts to the police, probation and social services have left us all less safe? The reality is that we cannot have public safety on the cheap.
The right hon. Gentleman really needs to reflect on what Labour would be doing if it was in government. You can only pay for our public services if you have a strong economy. What would we see with the Labour party? We do not need to ask ourselves what we would see, because the shadow Chancellor’s adviser told us at the weekend:
“We need to think about the obvious problems which might face a radical Labour government, such as capital flight or a run on the pound”.
That is what Labour would do: bankrupt Britain. The police would have less money under Labour than under the Conservatives.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point on behalf of communities across the country, which he does from the unique position of his own experience and understanding of these issues. It is important that we take account of specific requirements of someone’s faith, especially when they have lost a loved one and are grieving. Although, as he will be aware, coroners are independent judicial office holders, I understand that the Ministry of Justice is speaking to the Chief Coroner about this point to see what more can be done. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue further.
Yesterday it was announced that 10 Royal Bank of Scotland branches in Scotland that had been earmarked for closure are to be reprieved. I am grateful for that news, which comes on the back of community pressure and the leadership that has been shown on this issue by the Scottish National party.
On three occasions, I have asked the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions to call Ross McEwan into No. 10 Downing Street. Will she accept her responsibilities, given that we own RBS? Now that we have saved 10 branches, will she call in Ross McEwan and join us in calling for all the branches to remain open?
As I have said before, it is of course important that customers, especially those who are vulnerable, can call on the services they need. Obviously I welcome the Royal Bank of Scotland’s decision, which is a commercial decision for the bank. If the right hon. Gentleman is so keen on ensuring that people, including perhaps those in remote communities, have access to the services that they need, he should ask himself why the Scottish Government have been such a failure in ensuring that people in remote communities have broadband access to online banking. The Scottish Government need to get their act together because, quite simply, Scotland under the Nats is getting left behind.
That was pathetic. The Prime Minister has not lifted a finger; we saved the banks.
Yesterday we celebrated the achievements of the suffragette movement, which was about democracy, equality and fairness for women. However, today in the United Kingdom, 3.8 million women are not receiving the pension to which they are entitled. A motion in this House last November, which received unanimous cross-party support—the vote was 288 to zero—called on the Government in London to do the right thing. Will the Prime Minister do her bit for gender equality and end the injustice faced by 1950s women?
As people are living longer, it is important that we equalise the pension age of men and women. We are doing that, and we are doing it faster. We have already acted to give more protection to the women involved. An extra £1 billion has been put in to ensure that nobody will see their pension entitlement changed by more than 18 months. That was a real response to the issue that was being addressed. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about equality, he has to recognise the importance of the equality of the state pension age between men and women.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this point. I have known Lord Shinkwin for many, many years. He has been a valiant champion of the rights of disabled people over those years. His own experience and his work in public life, particularly in the other place, are a fine example of how disabled people can be standing up, speaking up and ensuring that they take their rightful place in public life.
On the issue of the disability commissioner, the EHRC is an independent body, and it was its decision to abolish the disability commissioner. The question is: what is being done to help disabled people and how can we ensure that we are helping them? That is why we are committed to tackling the injustices that they face. We are spending more than £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions—that is a record high. But, of course, we do want to ensure—I urge the commission to do this—that the EHRC pays proper attention to the needs and rights of disabled people, because that is an important part of its remit.
Obviously, the hon. Lady raises an important issue. I will certainly look at her request and I will also ask the Department for Transport to do so. As she says, too many people suffer loss and tragedy at the hands of learner drivers in these circumstances, and we will certainly look at that.
The Royal Marines do indeed play a vital role in defending our country and I pay tribute to them for all that they do. Protecting the UK is, of course, our priority. As my hon. Friend will know, we have in place a review—a modernising defence programme—that is about ensuring that our defence capabilities meet the rapidly changing and evolving threats that we face. That is the right thing for us to do. Of course, any comments and suggestions that have been made about cuts to defence are purely speculative, and I remind him and other hon. Members that in fact we are committed to increasing our spending on defence.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and this matter is obviously of considerable interest to his constituents. Of course we need to get the right balance between enabling development to take place, and therefore growth, and continuing to protect and enhance our natural environment. The purpose of the planning system is to contribute towards achieving that sustainable development. On the specific issue of logistics parks, I am sure that a Housing, Communities and Local Government Minister—indeed, perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that issue.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is very good news that there are 7,000 more cancer sufferers alive today than there would have been had we simply continued with the way we were in 2010. I am very happy to join him in welcoming that news. Cancer survival rates have increased year on year, but of course we want them to increase even further. Last year, there were 7 million more diagnostic tests than in 2010, and 290,000 patients started treatment for cancer—that is 57,000 more than in 2010. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that although we should welcome the improvements that have been made and congratulate and thank the NHS staff for all they have been doing, there is more for us to do. That is why we are backing up our plans for cancer with a further £600 million to implement the cancer strategy for England.
Obviously I will look at the hon. Gentleman’s request, but those who are concerned about the way in which policing is being undertaken in their area should actually speak to their local police, who make operational decisions about what is happening. We have protected overall police spending and continue to do so. Indeed more money is being put into the police. I remind him that it was a Labour shadow Home Secretary who said that police budgets could be cut by 10%.
The national formula, which is the basis for calculating the funding for clinical commissioning groups, takes into account a large number of factors, including rurality and demographics, which are the factors that my hon. Friend suggests need to be considered. NHS Kernow did see an increase in its funding this year and it will see a further increase next year, taking its funding to more than £760 million. That is part of our commitment to ensuring that we put extra funding into the NHS, but of course we continue to look at ensuring that the distribution of that funding takes account of all the factors that it needs to.
We recognise that we need to take action in relation to rough sleeping, which is why we are putting more money into projects to reduce rough sleeping. That includes projects such as Housing First, which are being established in a number of places to ensure that we can provide for those who are rough sleeping. None of us wants to see anybody rough sleeping on our streets, which is why the Government are taking action.
Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Maastricht treaty, and we have come a very long way. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her approach to the customs union? May I also mention the fact that, in the Liaison Committee last December, I warned her about ultimatums from the EU, as I did again in my urgent question only last week? Will she be good enough to be very robust when discussing these matters in the Brexit Committee, as I am sure that she will be, so that we ensure that we repudiate any of these EU threats?
At the time when the Maastricht legislation was going through this House, I suspect that there would not have been many thinking that my hon. Friend would stand up to recognise the anniversary of the signing of the Maastricht treaty. I suspect that he feels able to do so only because we are coming out of the European Union. I assure him that we will be robust in our arguments. As I have said right from the very beginning, we will hear noises off and all sorts of things being said about positions, but what matters is the position that we take in the negotiations as we sit down to negotiate the best deal. We have shown that we can do that; we did it December and we will do it again.
I would have thought that the hon. Lady should be welcoming the improvements that have taken place in her constituency, welcoming the many more children who are in good or outstanding schools as a result of this Government, welcoming the extra health funding, welcoming—[Interruption.]
Recent reports have suggested that the European Commission is asking that we enter into certain limited, legally-binding agreements in relation to bits of our exit in isolation. Will the Prime Minister confirm that it remains the Government’s policy that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and that we will therefore only enter into a legally-binding agreement in relation to the entire exit agreement, not just parts of it?
My hon. Friend is right. It was reflected in the joint report published in December that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The negotiations that are now taking place are to put greater detail into the definition of the implementation period, and we expect to do that by the March European Council. Alongside side that, the negotiations will look at the legal basis of the withdrawal agreement. Of course, both the withdrawal agreement and the implementation Bill will have to come to this Parliament for agreement in due course. At that stage, I would expect to have the future relationship set out in a way that means people are able to look at the whole package when they come to make that decision.
The Prime Minister knows that one of the key objectives of American trade negotiators in any future deal after Brexit is to secure access for American companies to do business in the NHS. Will she give an absolute guarantee that the NHS will be excluded from the scope of those negotiations? Will she also confirm that she has made it absolutely clear to President Trump in her conversations with him that the NHS is not for sale?
We are starting the discussions with the American Administration, first of all looking at what we can already do to increase trade between the US and the United Kingdom—even before the possibility of any free trade agreement. The right hon. Gentleman does not know what the American Administration are going to say about their requirements for that free trade agreement. We will go into those negotiations to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom.
A recent report by Open Doors highlights the top countries where Christians suffer horrific persecution. We need to take action and send a signal to other nations. These countries are often associated with luxury holidays. Will the Prime Minister consider earmarking a specific fixed percentage of international aid to go towards tackling religious persecution?
I know that this is an issue of concern to many Members of the House. I was pleased, a matter of weeks ago, to meet Father Daniel from Nineveh and Idlib, who talked about the very real persecution that his congregation were suffering and had suffered in the past. He presented me with a bible that was burnt; it had been rescued when a church had been set on fire. This is a real issue. All our aid is distributed on the basis of need in order to ensure that civilians are not discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion. We are working with Governments, the international community and the United Nations to support the rights of minorities and to ensure that our aid reaches those in need. We will, of course, further explore what more support we can give to ensure that we address the persecution of religious minorities.
The Prime Minister will be aware that all free trade agreements involve some customs checks and, therefore, infrastructure at frontiers, which would be completely incompatible with maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. As the Cabinet Sub-Committee will apparently finally get around to discussing this today, will the Prime Minister explain to the House why she is so opposed to the UK remaining in a customs union with the EU? Not only would this be better for the British economy than a vague “deep and special partnership”—whatever that is—but it would help to ensure that that border remains as it is today, which is what we all want.
The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. That means that we are leaving the single market and the customs union. If we were a full member of the customs union, we would not be able to do trade deals around the rest of the world. And we are going to have an independent trade policy and do those deals. The right hon. Gentleman asks about customs arrangements. Well, I suggest that he looks at the paper published by the Government last summer.
The brain injury charity, Headway, says that a family recently had to pay £1,500 over 15 weeks in hospital car parking charges. CLIC Sargent says that families who visit their children who are sick with cancer have to pay hundreds of pounds in parking charges. Despite Government guidelines, 50% of hospitals charge for disabled parking, and staff—from nurses to hospital porters—have to pay hospital car parking charges. Given the unanimous support for the motion in the House of Commons last week, will the Prime Minister address this social injustice and abolish hospital car parking charges once and for all?
I recognise that my hon. Friend has been campaigning on this issue for some time. As he says, we have set strong guidance for hospital trusts on the issue of car parking charges, and we do of course look to ensure that it is being met. Individual hospitals are taking their own decisions on this matter, but it is right that the Government have set very clear guidelines for those hospitals as to how they should approach this.
The Prime Minister has done much to tackle modern slavery. My constituent was trafficked here as a child, sold at least once on the long journey, and then forced to work in the dark in a cannabis factory for years. Now the Home Office is proposing to send him back to Vietnam. Will the Prime Minister intervene not just in this case but in this complex and confused area of the law?
I recognise that, as the hon. Lady says, there are cases that are complex in terms of the legal application. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has heard the case that the hon. Lady has set out and will, I am sure, look at that particular issue—both the individual case and the wider point that she is making. As we know, the best possible solution to this, which we all want to ensure, is for people like her constituent not to be trafficked into the UK in the first place to work in these cannabis factories.
Like many, I am delighted to note the good progress in lifting the ban on beef exports to China. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that we are able to export Scotch beef and other Scottish products such as whisky to other parts and all parts of the world?
I was very pleased that when I was in China last week we were able to work with the Chinese Government towards the opening up of the Chinese market, particularly to beef products and dairy products, which are two key issues for the United Kingdom. I am also pleased to say that the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association was on the business delegation with me, and was doing everything that she does, most ably, to promote the interests of Scotch whisky. Of course, the answer to my hon. Friend’s question is that we are making sure that we can have an independent trade policy, developing trade deals around the rest of the world, which means that good Scottish products, and indeed good products from the rest of the UK, can be sold around the world.
Centuries- old GKN, a world-class company and Britain’s third-biggest engineering company, is facing a hostile takeover by Melrose, leading to break-up, sell-off, closures and redundancies. That would make a mockery of industrial strategy. The Government have the power to intervene because of the defence work carried out by GKN. Will the Prime Minister act in the national interest and block this unwanted takeover?
With one of the largest undeveloped brownfield sites in the country located in my constituency in Stanton, will my right hon. Friend explain to the House how the new housing infrastructure fund will help Erewash residents to buy a new home?
The housing infrastructure fund is a very important development. One of the major complaints that constituents—residents—often have when they see the possibility of development in their area is lack of infrastructure. The housing infrastructure fund enables that infrastructure to be put in place so that it can support developments in a way that helps to support local residents. I am very pleased by the Housing Secretary’s announcement of nearly £900 million last week. We are seeing real interest in the housing infrastructure fund. It is making a difference. It is enabling more homes to be built and more of my hon. Friend’s constituents to buy their own home.
My constituent is 58. She has COPD, four pins in her leg, and a walking frame, and is just out of hospital after having blood clots in her lung. She got a taxi to Bridgeton jobcentre yesterday, only to find the doors locked because the Government closed it on Friday. Will the Prime Minister apologise for not having told my constituents in Bridgeton, or any of the constituents, apparently, whose jobcentres are being closed; will she refund my constituent the £10 she spent on a taxi; and will she apologise for this absolutely ridiculous situation?
I say to the hon. Lady that, yes, we are seeing some jobcentres being closed in Scotland. There is not going to be any decrease in the level of service that is offered to the people of Scotland. We are increasing the number of work coaches across the country. What we are doing is ensuring that we can continue to provide a good service to the people of Scotland.
Intimidation on social media is a growing issue for many people across the country, especially for women standing for election, as yesterday highlighted. Can my right hon. Friend update us on the progress that is being made and does she agree that we should take no lessons from a party whose shadow Chancellor has called for violence against women on this side of the House?
May I say to my hon. Friend that I think this issue is a particularly important one? I said yesterday, as indeed my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said at the weekend, that we are consulting on a new offence of intimidation of election candidates and campaigners. That follows the report from Lord Bew and his committee about the degree to which there was intimidation at the last general election, particularly intimidation of women, BME candidates and LGBT candidates. This is an absolute disgrace and it has no part in our public life. I would urge the shadow Chancellor, once again—he keeps refusing to do this—to apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for saying that she should be lynched.