I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in offering our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Professor Stephen Hawking, who died earlier today. Professor Hawking’s exceptional contributions to science and our knowledge of the universe speak for themselves. As his children have said:
“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.”
Members will also have seen reports of a number of suspicious packages targeted at Muslim Members. I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning this unacceptable and abhorrent behaviour, which has no place in our society. An investigation is under way and steps are being taken to bring the perpetrators to justice.
I will be making a statement following Prime Minister’s questions updating the House on the Salisbury incident.
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.
I thank the Prime Minister for agreeing to meet me to discuss the work of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission. Youth violence is complex and needs long-term solutions, but some things can be done right now, such as legislating to ensure that all knives and sharp instruments in shops are locked away or stored behind counters to ensure that no one can steal and use them. Will she do this?
The hon. Lady has raised a very important issue. As she says, this is a complex problem, and we need to ensure we have long-term solutions. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will shortly be publishing a new serious violence strategy, which will put an emphasis on early intervention with young people. It is important that we have tough legislation on knives, but we also need to work in partnership with retailers. We have recently consulted on new measures, including restrictions on knives sold online, and in March 2016, when I was Home Secretary, we reached a voluntary agreement with major retailers about how knives should be displayed and the training given to sales staff to support action to tackle knife crime. She is right, however, to raise this as an area of concern.
I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we stand by all the commitments we made in December. We have been clear that our preferred option is to deliver on them through our new partnership with the EU, with specific solutions to address the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland if needed. The work we are undertaking with the Commission will include that on the final so-called backstop, which will form part of the withdrawal agreement. That cannot be the text that the Commission has proposed, which, as I have said, is unacceptable, but we stand ready to work with the Commission and the Irish Government to ensure that all the commitments on Northern Ireland made in the joint report are included in the withdrawal agreement.
I, along with the Prime Minister, absolutely condemn the vile messages and threatening packages sent to Muslim Members of the House and also the rise in Islamophobia and the abusive messages being sent to Muslim families all over this country. It has to be utterly condemned by all of us, just as we would condemn anybody who attempted to divide our country by racism or extremism of any form. We have to stand united with any community that is under threat at any time.
I am sure the whole House will join me in supporting what the Prime Minister just said about Stephen Hawking, one of the most acclaimed scientists of his generation, who helped us to understand the world and the universe. He was concerned about peace and the survival of the world, but he was also a passionate campaigner for the national health service. He said:
“I have received excellent medical attention in Britain… I believe in universal health care. And I am not afraid to say so.”
If we believe in universal healthcare, how can it be possible for someone to live and work in this country and pay their taxes, and then be denied access to the NHS for lifesaving cancer treatment? Can the Prime Minister explain?
Let me first join the right hon. Gentleman in saying that there is absolutely no place in our society for hate crime or racism, whatever form it takes. We should stand united against such behaviour and such activities.
I am pleased that we have a good record on cancer provision. More people are surviving cancer in this country than ever before as a result of changes that have been made and developments in the national health service. Of course we continue to work to ensure that the treatments that we make available are the best that we can provide. I am not aware of the particular case that the right hon. Gentleman has raised with me, but we want to ensure that all who are entitled to treatment through the national health service are able to receive it. There are, of course, questions about particular drugs that are made available to individuals for treatment, which we continue to look at.
I will indeed be writing to the Prime Minister about the case about which I am concerned. It relates to a man who has lived in this country for 44 years, has worked and paid his taxes—obviously, he is an older gentleman—and is now being denied cancer treatment. I suspect he is not alone in that, and I urge the Prime Minister to discuss the matter with the Home Office and others.
This week, I received a letter from Hilary, a British pensioner—it is relevant to the point that the Prime Minister just made—who wrote:
“I am now having to pay for my thyroid medication because the CCG needs to save money. I have worked all my life, paid national insurance and… this is not fair”.
Last March, the Health Secretary said that
“it is absolutely essential that we…get back to the 95% target”
for accident and emergency waiting times and that that should happen in
“the course of the next calendar year”.
Well, the calendar year is now up. Can the Prime Minister explain why that is no longer possible?
I look forward to receiving the details of the individual case from the right hon. Gentleman, but let me take this opportunity to remind him that I think he raised a case about Georgina with me last October and has not written to me about that. [Interruption.] As I have said, I look forward to receiving the details of the case that he has just raised.
What we have done in relation to cancer treatment is ensure that more diagnostic tests are taking place. More people with suspected cancer are being seen by specialists, and more people are starting treatment for cancer. That is why I say that we have seen an improvement in the cancer treatment that is available to people in this country.
I am pleased to say that we have more doctors working in accident and emergency departments. We have put more money in—the Chancellor announced this last year—both to deal with winter pressures and to ensure that those working in accident and emergency departments are able to provide the treatment that is right for the patient before them. Some people do not need to be admitted to hospital; they need to see a GP. We are working with the NHS to ensure that the treatment that patients receive is the treatment that is right for them.
My understanding is that Georgina’s case was resolved before the Prime Minister was required to do anything about it—following my raising it here. [Interruption.] If nothing else, Mr Speaker, that proves the power of Parliament.
Key A&E waiting targets have not been met since 2015, and NHS managers are saying that they will not be met until 2019. February was the worst ever month for A&E performance. NHS Providers director Saffron Cordery said:
“This is the first time we have had to accept that the NHS will not meet its key constitutional standards... If we want to provide quality of care, we need the right long term financial settlement.”
The NHS is clearly in crisis, so why was there not a penny extra for it in the yesterday’s statement by the Chancellor?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we did not wait until yesterday’s spring statement to announce more money for the NHS; we announced it in the Budget last autumn. As a result of that, the NHS is getting £2.5 billion more in the forthcoming financial year 2018-19 and more to fund the nurses’ pay settlement, when that is resolved.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about things that were being delivered under Labour, but perhaps he might look at what Labour is doing in Wales on the delivery of the NHS. The latest annual data on 12-hour waits in A&E show that 3.4% of patients waited more than 12 hours in Wales compared with 1.3% in England. If he wants to talk about meeting targets, he should talk to the Labour Government in Wales.
A recent National Audit Office report states that NHS funding will fall by 0.3% in 2019. People’s lives are at stake. Is the Prime Minister really saying that the A&E doctors are wrong, that the NHS managers are wrong and that the royal colleges and the health unions are wrong, and that it is actually only she who knows best about the NHS?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about scaremongering in Wales, but I was pointing out the facts about what is happening in the NHS in Wales. That is why we often see people in Wales trying to get treatment in England rather than in Wales. We are putting more money into the national health service, but in order to do that, we need to ensure that we have a strong economy to provide the money for the NHS. What do we know about Labour’s policies? They would cause a run on the pound, crash our economy and bankrupt Britain, so there would be less money for the NHS.
When people are dying because of overcrowding and long waits in our hospitals, the Prime Minister should get a grip on it and ensure that the NHS now has the money that it needs to deal with patient demand. In a recent interview, the Health Secretary said of NHS staff that
“when they signed up to go into medicine, they knew there would be pressurised moments”.
What they also expected was a recognition of that, with an annual pay rise without cuts in their paid leave, and proper funding for the national health service. When there are 100,000 unfilled posts, there are clearly not enough staff around them to share the burden. We started with Professor Stephen Hawking. Just a few months ago, he said:
“There is overwhelming evidence that NHS funding and the number of doctors and nurses are inadequate, and it is getting worse”.
Does the Prime Minister agree with Professor Hawking?
Once again, I am very happy to point out some facts to the right hon. Gentleman. We have 14,900 more doctors working in the national health service. We have almost 13,900 more nurses working on our wards. Why did we put an emphasis on nurses working on our wards? It was because of what we saw under the Labour Government in Mid Staffordshire. What we need to do to ensure that we can provide the funding for the NHS—we are providing record levels of funding for the NHS—is to take a balanced approach to our economy. That is an approach that deals with our debts, keeps taxes low on working families and puts more money into our public services, such as hospitals and schools. Labour’s approach would increase the debt, and that would mean less money for our schools and hospitals and higher taxes for ordinary working people, because what we know about the Labour party is that it is always ordinary people who pay the price of Labour.
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. It is one that I have obviously given considerable attention to, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary continues to follow that work. We are entirely committed to developing a sustainable funding model for refuges, and I can guarantee that funding for refuges will continue at the same level as today, because I know how critical the support is to vulnerable people at a time of crisis. We will ring-fence the funding for short-term supported housing overall, including for refuges, for the long term indefinitely. That means that no refuge should worry about closing or have any doubts about our commitment to ensuring that we provide a sustainable funding model for them.
I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Labour party about hate crime and Islamophobia, and my thoughts are with the family and friends of Dr Stephen Hawking.
For months, the devolved Administrations have been waiting for the UK Government to table amendments to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. On Monday, the long-awaited amendments were published but without the agreement of the devolved Governments. Will the Prime Minister tell the House why the amendments have been forced on the devolved Administrations?
In one sentence the right hon. Gentleman says that he is waiting for the amendment—the reason why we took time is that we were talking with the Scottish and Welsh Governments—and then when we do publish it he complains that we have published it. He really needs to get his story straight.
I encourage the Prime Minister to listen to the question, because it was about agreement. I am afraid that that answer simply was not good enough.
The Prime Minister famously claimed that the UK was made up of “equal partners”. What an irony that is given that she is overseeing the demolition of the devolution settlement. In 1997, the Tories were happy to oppose the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, and the clothes have not changed. In 2018, they are happy to systematically destroy the settlement that the Parliament thrives on. I call upon the Prime Minister once again: stop this attack on devolution and redouble your efforts in working with the devolved Administrations to find agreement.
This Government have actually given more powers to the Scottish Government and will be giving more powers to the Scottish Government. Significant extra powers will be devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Governments as a result of the decisions that we are taking around Brexit. We have given more powers, including the tax-raising powers, but it is just a pity that the Scottish Nationalists have chosen to use those powers to increase taxes on people earning £26,000 or more.
I commend Horsham for holding an apprenticeship fair; it is important that we give young people the opportunity of an apprenticeship. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we can fund public services only if we have strength in our economy providing the income for us to do so. In the past few weeks, we have seen that manufacturing output has grown for nine consecutive months for the first time since records began in 1968. We have seen the best two quarters of productivity growth since the financial crisis and the lowest year to-date net borrowing since 2008, and employment is near a record high. The Conservatives are delivering a strong economy, new jobs, healthier finances and an economy that really is fit for the future.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Business Secretary has been speaking to both companies on an impartial basis. We will always act in the UK’s national interest; actually, it is under this Government that we have seen the changes introduced to the takeover code to provide greater transparency and give target firms more time to respond. There is a narrow range of scenarios where Ministers can intervene on mergers on public interest grounds, but we will always ensure that we act in the national interest.
That is an important point. As my hon. Friend will know, experienced senior hospital doctors and GPs who become members of the national health service pension scheme benefit from one of the best available defined-benefit occupational pension schemes. We provide generous tax reliefs to allow everyone to build up a pension pot worth just over £1 million tax-free. The issue that my hon. Friend is raising is that although GPs are not penalised if they work after age 55, many may have exhausted the generous allowance for tax relief available by that time. I can say to my hon. Friend that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, of course, listening to the question that he raised.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in wishing all the very best to the Zephyr team in the attempt that they are making. He is right that his constituency plays a crucial role in the aerospace industry. I am pleased to say that we are continuing to work with that industry through the aerospace growth partnership to ensure that we can further enhance the industry. We wish the Zephyr team well.
First, the hon. Gentleman might not have noticed but the wealthiest 1% of people in this country are now paying a bigger share of tax—28%—than they ever did under a Labour Government. If he is referring to the bank levy, may I also say to him that the Conservative party introduced the bank levy, which has raised £15 billion and is predicted to raise a further £11 billion that we can spend on public services. It is the Conservative Government who are changing the way we do it, so that we do it in a better way. We will be raising nearly £19 billion extra from the banks over the next five years—that is £3 billion more from the banks to be spent on public services.
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of food production in this country. I am also happy to commend the work of hard-working farmers up and down the country, and all those who work in our food production industry. As he will know, we now have an historic opportunity as we leave the EU to deliver a farming policy that will work for the whole industry.
I certainly welcome that announcement by Facebook, and I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been working with these companies to ensure that they do more and act more clearly in taking down material of an extremist nature. I am very pleased to welcome the announcement that Facebook has made and I hope other companies will follow.
First, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on her pioneering work in fighting modern-day slavery? However, has she been advised that a central plank of her law enforcement policy is not working, with 65 prosecutions of traffickers abandoned last year because victims feared for their safety and no reparations orders made against convicted traffickers to compensate victims for their ordeals?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. At the meeting of the modern slavery taskforce that I chaired recently—two weeks ago, I think it was—in which I have brought together people not only from across government, but from law enforcement, criminal justice more generally and other areas to look at how we are working on this issue, we were addressing exactly how we can ensure that more prosecutions go ahead in future and perpetrators are brought to justice.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important issue. It has been a concern for a long time that we sometimes see children who have been identified as the victims of slavery and of human trafficking in a position, sadly, of being taken out by traffickers and resubmitted to the horrible circumstances that that brings to them. On the point he is making about asylum and deportation, we do not return unaccompanied children who do not qualify for asylum or humanitarian protection unless we can confirm that safe and adequate reception programmes and arrangements are in place in their home country. If we cannot confirm such arrangements, we grant temporary leave until the child is 17 and a half. Last October, we confirmed our commitment to rolling out independent child trafficking advocates across the country. This is a system we piloted previously, which will give support to those child victims to ensure that they are given the support they need and that they do not fall back into the hands of traffickers.
Like many towns and cities throughout the country, Telford has experienced some distressing cases of child sexual exploitation. The authorities in Telford have now agreed to conduct an independent inquiry to find out what happened and to give victims answers. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating two brave women—campaigner Holly Archer and Sunday Mirror journalist Geraldine McKelvie —on their work in bringing that about? Will she agree to do everything possible to ensure that the inquiry starts without delay and leaves no stone unturned?
We have all been shocked by the horrific case in Telford of some of the most vulnerable in our country being preyed upon by ruthless criminals. Of course, it is sadly not the first example that we have seen in our country. I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Holly and Geraldine on their work. It is not easy, but it is right that they have brought this case to light and that action can be taken. I am pleased that the authorities are now going to conduct an inquiry. As my hon. Friend says, it is important that that inquiry begins its work in order to get to the truth and does so as quickly as possible. I understand that my hon. Friend will meet the Under-Secretary of State for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), to discuss this issue.
We have seen 200,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty under this Government. We continue to take action to ensure that we are helping families to get a regular income by helping people into work. We are ensuring that the lowest paid in our society get a pay increase through increasing the national living wage and we are helping people with their standard of living by cutting taxes for 31 million people.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the inspirational Music Man Project in Southend, which works with people who have learning difficulties, has now set a world record for tinkling the highest number of triangles ever? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is yet another reason why Southend should be made a city? Will she and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), please organise a contest so that Southend-on-Sea can become the first post-Brexit city?
I am happy to congratulate the Music Man Project in Southend on that record in tinkling triangles. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office has heard my hon. Friend’s bid for Southend to become a city. I must say to him that a number of Members will of course put forward their own towns for that accolade in due course. I knew a city had to have a cathedral; I did not know that it had to have tinkling triangles.
The Prime Minister will be aware that this week the notorious rapist John Worboys was released from high-security prison. One of my constituents, who gave evidence at his trial as a victim, wants to know why Worboys was not tested first in open prison conditions and why the Parole Board is not required to publish the reasoning behind its release decisions, including evidence of contrition.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, a case is currently before the courts, and I understand that as part of that case the Parole Board will be required to explain the reasons why it took the decision it did. In terms of the overall issue of Parole Board decisions and their transparency, when this decision became clear, the then Justice Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, called for work to be done to look into the whole question of Parole Board decisions and the transparency around them, and that work is continuing under the current Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
I am immensely proud to have the world-leading research and teaching hospital of Addenbrooke’s in my constituency. Its scale and excellence means that it relies heavily on doctors from overseas, but of late it has struggled to bring some of those doctors in because of restrictions on the tier 2 visa numbers. With applications from the EU also falling, it is becoming a real problem. Can the Prime Minister reassure me and my hospital that she is aware of the challenge and that she has a plan to address it?
Last year, the Prime Minister acknowledged that our social care system is broken and promised to fix it. Since then, two care providers in Crewe and Nantwich have been placed into special measures and another is worried that it may have to close due to a lack of funding. What does the Prime Minister say to providers who say that the local government settlement does not go far enough and that they cannot afford to wait for the Government’s Green Paper?
As the hon. Lady will know, I have always said that there were some short-term, medium-term and long-term measures that needed to be taken in relation to pressure on social care. In the short term, we have provided more funding for local authorities— £2 billion extra was announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and we are seeing more money going into social care in local authorities. In the medium term, we need to ensure that best practice is spread across the whole country and—she mentioned the Green Paper—we also need to ensure that we can develop a long-term, sustainable funding model for social care. That is what we continue to work on.
It is sadly a matter of public record that RBS and HBOS deliberately asset-stripped thousands of potentially viable businesses to benefit their own banks or individual bankers. Evidence before the High Court indicates that Lloyds may also be guilty of the same. Will the Prime Minister consider the calls of the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking—endorsed by the chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, Andrew Bailey—for a full public inquiry into this disgraceful scandal?
This issue is of concern to many. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we need to ensure that we learn the lessons from what happened at RBS and HBOS. As my hon. Friend will know, the FCA has reported areas of widespread inappropriate treatment of firms by RBS, which has apologised and set up a scheme for compensation for victims. There is an ongoing investigation being conducted by the FCA into RBS, and it is also undertaking two separate investigations into HBOS. We will continue to work with the independent regulator and the industry to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses get the support they need.
Just since Christmas, there have been five high-profile gun crimes in Haringey, including one last Thursday when a 19-year-old man, Kelvin Udunie, was shot in the head, the marksman being a pillion rider on the back of a moped, at the entrance to a cinema in Wood Green. We know that our streets are plagued by knife crime. The intent to kill with a gun takes the epidemic to a whole new level. This cannot go on and it must stop. Will the Prime Minister please meet me and community leaders to put an end to this epidemic of gun crime?
I suggest that the hon. Lady meets the Home Secretary, who will shortly publish a strategy in relation to the issue of serious violence. The use of mopeds for mugging has been known for some time, and my right hon. Friend is already looking at and working on that with the police. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be happy to meet the hon. Lady on the issue of gun crime.
I agree entirely with the question from the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). The Prime Minister has done more than anyone in the House to end the terrible issue of modern-day slavery, but we have a problem with the treatment of child victims. They are put in the care of local authorities and, as the hon. Gentleman said, they are then re-trafficked. Can we look at having a system, as we do for adults, in which safe homes are provided centrally, not by local government, so re-trafficking cannot occur?
My hon. Friend follows up the question from the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) with an important point about the child victims of trafficking. I will certainly look at this issue. Having independent child advocates, to whom I referred in my response to the hon. Member for Gedling, is one way in which we can give greater support to child victims in order to ensure that they are not lost to the local authorities and re-trafficked. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is a scandal when a victim goes into the care of a local authority, and somebody is then able to come along, remove them from that care and take them back into slavery.