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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 637: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2018


The Secretary of State was asked—

Severn Growth Summit

1. What steps he is taking to expand the economic links between south Wales and the south-west of England as a result of the Severn Growth Summit. (904274)

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. Growth corridors are an important element of the industrial strategy for Wales. We are responding to local demand, building on the work undertaken by the great western cities and creating a great western powerhouse. We want to see the skills and expertise of this important region recognised across the UK and internationally.

Does the Minister agree that scrapping the tolls on the Severn crossing—a commitment made by this Conservative Government—will prove an economic catalyst for further investment and significantly expand the links between south Wales and the south-west?

I certainly welcome the abolition of the Severn tolls. It sends a powerful message that we are keen on this economic corridor. It will, I hope, bring about investment for the rest of south Wales, and it will save the average motorist around £1,400 per year.

My constituents want to be able to access work in the south-west, but despite it being plain that demand for rail services is going to grow and grow locally, there are still too few carriages, overcrowding and unreliable rail services. Will the Minister personally talk to Great Western about that?

We are going through a consultation at the moment, and I hope the hon. Lady’s constituents will take part in that. We recognise that investment in rail is important. That is why this Government are investing more than we have done as a country since the Victorian era. The new intercity express programme trains are an investment of more than £5.7 billion, and I hope she will welcome that positive news.

South Wales is one of the key markets for Torbay’s holiday companies and industry. Will the Minister look at improving the direct rail link between Cardiff and Paignton? In particular, will he raise issues with Great Western about the provision of refreshments on that service? At the moment, there are none throughout the whole journey.

I would say that Wales is a good place for my hon. Friend’s constituents to come and visit as a tourist destination, too. Of course we want to make sure that transport is as effective as possible, and we are in constant discussions about improving services. I will make sure we make that point about the food.

One way that we could have real economic growth and jobs prospects for the whole region would be to deliver the tidal lagoon project. It has been more than 18 months since the Hendry review. Can I ask the Minister to get on with it and encourage the Secretary of State to start defending and standing up for Wales in the Cabinet?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State always stands up for Wales in Cabinet and does so very effectively. We are looking at the tidal lagoon carefully to ensure that it is value for money for the taxpayer, too.

Welsh EU Continuity Bill

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the proposal for a Welsh EU continuity Bill. (904275)

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the proposal for a Welsh EU continuity Bill. (904280)

11. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the proposal for a Welsh EU continuity Bill. (904284)

As I have said previously, I do not think that the Welsh Government’s continuity Bill is necessary. The UK Government want to reach agreement with the Welsh Government on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, with a view to securing the National Assembly’s support for the legislation.

Despite that answer, the reality is that on Friday, the Cabinet Office printed a list of 24 devolved competencies that the UK Government are going to snatch back from Wales and Scotland. That proves the need for a continuity Bill. Why is the Secretary of State not defending his devolved Parliament and standing up for it, instead of allowing this power grab?

My relationship with the First Minister and the Welsh Government is a positive one. We do not agree on everything, but we agree on the objective, which is to improve the outcomes for businesses and communities in Wales. There are 64 areas of the devolution settlement with Wales. There are 24 areas that we want to discuss further with the Welsh Government, to come to an agreement on how best to ensure that common rules apply across the UK, so that Welsh businesses are protected and can market their products across the rest of the UK.

Earlier this week, the long-awaited Government amendments to clause 11 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill were published. Despite assurances and promises, they were published without the consent, support or agreement of the devolved Administrations. Is it still the Government’s policy to obtain the consent of the devolved Administrations? If further agreement is reached, will the Secretary of State bring forward further amendments?

The hon. Gentleman is referring to amendments tabled to clause 11 in the other place. Commitments were made that amendments would be tabled, and that is exactly what we have done. If we had not tabled those amendments, we would have been criticised. As I have said in this Chamber and elsewhere, we are determined to work with the devolved Administrations to come to an agreement, but it is the UK Government that have the interest of looking after the whole UK. It is the UK Government that want to act in the interests of businesses and communities to ensure that a Scottish business can sell or buy products in Wales under the same regulations, where a common UK market matters.

One of the reasons why continuity Bills have been brought forward is that there is no agreement in the Joint Ministerial Committee on this blatant Westminster power grab, but that has not stopped the UK Government pressing ahead anyway. Does the Secretary of State agree that no deal can be agreed on new powers unless there is agreement at the JMC?

I am hoping the agreement of the devolved Administrations will come as soon as possible. I am not going to tie it down to any one particular Joint Ministerial Committee meeting, but the one last week was another positive engagement between Administrations. I have been in this position before, when it was predicted that I would not get a legislative consent motion for the Wales Bill as it was progressing through Parliament. This can be done only by constant hard work and engagement, as well as optimism on both sides—acting in the interests of businesses and communities, not in the interests of politicians.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that not only is there not a power grab, but there will be a significant increase in powers to the devolved Administrations as Britain leaves the European Union?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no intention of any power grab. Of the 64 areas that relate to Wales, we have already said that 30 will pass to the devolved Administration without the need for any further agreement, or at the very most only an informal agreement between the UK Government and them, but there are 24 areas in which it is in the interests of businesses in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as in England, to have common practices so that we can protect the UK market; 80% of Welsh output is sold to the rest of the UK.

Does the Secretary of State recall that Wales as a principality and the United Kingdom as a nation voted to leave the European Union and that, rather than talking about EU continuity, we should therefore be focusing on how to strike the best deal for Britain on leaving the EU, particularly to be ready and prepared on day one at the Dover frontline?

The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that Wales voted to leave the European Union, and we have an obligation to act on that instruction from the referendum. This is also an opportunity to highlight that 80% of output from Wales goes to the rest of the UK, and Scotland sells four times more to the rest of the UK than it sells to the rest of the European Union. On that basis, protecting the UK market must be a priority, and acting in the interests of businesses and communities is our priority.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the advantages to Wales of having a common market across the whole United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Much focus is understandably and rightly placed on selling and trading with the European Union, but the most important market to Wales is the UK market—with eight out of 10 lorries of output from Wales and complex supply chains—and this is only right. Only two weeks ago, we recognised that the investment of Toyota in Derbyshire will have major positive impacts on the Toyota plant making engines on Deeside.

I am disappointed that the much-promised UK Government amendment to the power grab in clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, tabled by the right hon. Gentleman’s Government in the House of Lords on Monday, states that UK Ministers will merely consult Welsh Government Ministers, not seek their consent. In so doing, his Government have changed the fundamental principle of the devolution settlement against the settled will of the people of Wales.

I do not recognise the statements made by the hon. Lady. The amendment tabled in the other place is a significant one. It recognises that powers automatically fall to the devolved Administrations, but also introduces the prospect of bringing them in centrally to protect the UK common market, which is in the interests of Welsh business. I have had the privilege of sitting in front of a number of expert panels of industry representatives, and we are acting in the way they are calling for, rather than in the way that some politicians who are more interested in the powers are calling for.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response, but the UK Government have said that the amendment merely creates a temporary place for the 24 powers to be kept—in a freezer—until new arrangements are discussed. If this is a temporary measure, why permanently alter the Government of Wales Act 2006?

Protecting the UK market is absolutely a priority for us. The hon. Lady will have food producers in her constituency who want to sell their products in England according to common practices on food labelling. That is an example of the area of policy on which we are seeking to get agreement. We will continue to work hard with the devolved Administrations to get agreement, but only the UK Government can act in the interests of the whole UK, not some politicians in other areas who are seeking to represent a regional dimension only.

Last week, the Secretary of State published a list explicitly outlining which powers Westminster intends either to hoard or to dole out, as it sees fit. This week, he published a set of amendments to clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill, without gaining the agreement of either of the devolved nations. Will he explain how that is anything other than a power grab?

In the first instance, that list is still subject to discussion, as clearly stated in the headings under the three various sections. I am also pleased to say that the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales recognised that we wanted to publish that list and supported our publication of it, while not necessarily recognising the three elements of it. That demonstrates the positive way in which we seek to work with the devolved Administrations to get agreement. It is only the UK Government who can act in the interests of the whole UK.

Today the Welsh EU continuity Bill will be subject to the first stage of the expedited legislative timetable. If it passes, debates over the power grab will be forced out of this Chamber and into the courts. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether he intends to fight us in the courts?

As I said in my initial answer, I do not think that the continuity Bill is necessary. The Welsh Government have also said that they would prefer not to pursue it. I genuinely believe that there is enough good will between all Administrations to come to an agreement. After all, if we focus on the needs of businesses and communities, we will achieve a positive outcome. It is when politicians focus on the powers rather than on outcomes that things go wrong.

Rail Electrification: Swansea

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the effect on the Welsh economy of the decision not to electrify the mainline to Swansea. (904276)

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the effect on the Welsh economy of the decision not to electrify the mainline to Swansea. (904278)

The UK Government’s record investment in Wales’s rail infrastructure is focused on maximising the benefits to passengers while delivering the best value for taxpayers. The £5.7 billion fleet of modern, intercity express programme trains running on the great western main line to Swansea brings significant time savings to and from London and tangible benefits to passengers in terms of speed, comfort and reliability, without the need for a costly, disruptive programme of electrification.

The failure to fully electrify the line to Swansea means that more people will use their cars. Following the removal of the tolls on the Severn bridge, the Department for Transport said in response to my written parliamentary question:

“No further modelling was undertaken”

on the increase in cars. Has the Minister’s Department assessed the potential further gridlock in north Bristol?

I simply do not accept that not electrifying the line to Swansea will not bring benefits—it will. The train journey times to London from those areas will be reduced by 15 minutes. We have to recognise that the costs have gone up significantly. The benefit-to-cost ratio was extremely low and even the Public Accounts Committee recommended looking at the issue again.

Does the Secretary of State agree that his Government’s broken promises on rail electrification, both in Wales and the wider UK, including Hull, and their unwillingness to provide funding for rail enhancements will damage connectivity and therefore hinder our opportunities for economic growth and development?

I find it very hard to accept a Labour Member talking about rail investment when that party electrified probably only 10 miles of line in 13 years. We are bringing record investment all over the country, particularly in Wales, and we are proud of our achievements.

Is my hon. Friend aware of press reports suggesting that the Welsh Labour Government are now cancelling electrification projects in the valleys? Does he agree that if they were serious about improving transport links, they would get on with building the M4 relief road?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is this Government who have being bringing in the investment in our rail infrastructure, and the M4 corridor really does need solving. Many people and businesses across south Wales have been calling for that for a very long time and, frankly, it is time that the Welsh Government got on with it.

May I urge my hon. Friend to look at the evidence received by the Select Committee on Transport? We heard that the new bi-mode class 800 trains will run to the same timetable, whether they operate on diesel power or on electric, so there will be no loss of service by not having the lines electrified.

My hon. Friend is a great expert in transport matters and he is absolutely right that having those lines above the train will not improve performance. What passengers want is to be able to get to their destination reliably, and that is what we are going to bring back.

Diolch. As we heard from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), the Labour Government yesterday cancelled the electrification of the line to Ebbw Vale using exactly the same arguments as the Secretary of State for cancelling the electrification of the main line to Swansea—I do not know whether they swapped press releases or not. Is it not the case that when it comes to the Welsh railways, the Welsh people have been let down by the Governments at both ends of the M4?

I would not accept that. The fact is that we are investing in the railway. Let us not forget that some of the investment in England will benefit passengers in north Wales. For example, the Halton curve helps passengers from north Wales to get to Liverpool and the north-west of England.

Steel Industry

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the future role of the Welsh steel industry in the UK steel supply chain. (904277)

We are working with the sector, the unions and devolved Administrations to support the UK steel industry to develop a long-term viable solution. We are deeply disappointed by the US announcement and are taking all possible action to support the industry.

The steelworks in Corby is part of a comprehensive steel supply chain that involves sites in Wales. Further to the conversations the Secretary of State has been having in Wales, what discussions is he having with UK Government Ministers about how we can best support the UK steel industry as a whole?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing to support the steel industry. He was at the forefront of the debate two years ago when the steel industry was facing a particular crisis, and it is through his influence, with others, that we have introduced an energy compensation scheme, flexibility over EU emissions targets and 45 trade defence measures to prevent illegal steel dumping in Europe. His influence is pretty strong in this debate.

Is the Secretary of State aware that when President Bush introduced steel tariffs in 2002, it led to 200,000 job losses in the US? What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that American politicians, employers and trade unions are pressing President Trump to drop these utterly self-defeating tariffs?

We have said that we disagree with the statements the President has made. I was in the US just two weeks ago, and I spoke to our ambassador and the UK’s trade commissioner about this issue. I subsequently met the US ambassador here in the UK and I spoke again, just last Friday, to the UK trade commissioner in the US. This is a cross-Government effort. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is travelling to the US as we speak to pursue and raise these issues. There has been a whole cross-Government approach to this issue and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has raised it directly with the President.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the UK leaving the EU and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (904279)

I have regular and constructive discussions with the Welsh Government on EU exit and the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. I look forward to continuing those discussions this afternoon at the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee in plenary, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Does the Secretary of State agree that agriculture, and hill farming in particular, is vital to the Welsh economy? What is he doing to ensure that the EU money currently going into the rural economy continues to do so after Brexit? What discussions has he had on that with his colleague from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?

My hon. Friend is a great supporter of agriculture across the whole UK and he is right to highlight the importance of the agricultural sector to the Welsh economy. He will also be familiar with our manifesto commitment, as well as statements made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to fund agriculture on a similar scale up to 2022.

The US-UK trade and investment working group was set up in July last year. What representations has the Secretary of State made to that group about the impact President Trump’s tariffs would have on the Welsh steel industry?

I mentioned to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) the direct actions I have taken and the whole host of actions being taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade. This is such a priority for this Government that there is cross-Government action to support the steel industry. As someone whose father was a welder in the steelworks in Port Talbot, I recognise the importance of this industry to Wales.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff love nothing more than a long and fuzzy row with Westminster over powers. Does he agree that they would do much better to work constructively and pragmatically with Ministers here to make a success of Brexit, which is, after all, what the people of Wales voted for?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As my predecessor, he took positive steps to get to a positive relationship with the Welsh Government and laid the foundations of the Wales Bill, which is now the Wales Act 2017. That has clarified the devolution settlement and enabled constructive debate to take place. I am optimistic that on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill we can win if we both focus on the outcomes we need to focus on: the interests of our businesses and communities.

I met representatives of Celsa Steel from my constituency yesterday, who made very clear to me the importance of pan-European safeguards to prevent diversionary dumping as a result of the Trump tariffs. Does the Secretary of State not think it ironic that, at a time when we need to be co-operating more than ever across Europe, we are planning to leave the European Union?

I also want to support Celsa Steel, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that Wales voted to leave the European Union, and we have an obligation to act on that instruction. However, he is right about the diversion and the distortion to the market from the risks of the action that is taking place. We are working closely with the European Union to protect the interests of Welsh steelworkers.

Industrial Strategy: Cross-Border Working

8. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the growth corridors set out in the industrial strategy facilitate cross-border working. (904281)

Members across this House recognise that economic activity is not constrained by administrative borders. A perfect demonstration of that is the closeness of the economies of north-east Wales and the north-west of England, supported by the northern powerhouse and the Mersey Dee Alliance. I was delighted to see that growth corridors were formally recognised in the industrial strategy and we will continue to develop these for the benefit of the 50% of the Welsh people who live within 25 miles of the border.

Wales has great access to my constituency thanks to the M4, but has my hon. Friend considered improving connectivity to the south of England by building the M31, for example, which would link the M3 to the M4, and possibly beyond, with the economic benefits that that would bring for everyone?

I completely agree: we recognise that connectivity—particularly cross-border connectivity—is incredibly important. The Department for Transport is gathering evidence at the moment to inform the second road investment strategy, and I hope that my hon. Friend will put a bid forward.

Bristol has been very successful in attracting financial services to its economy. Now that the tolls on the M4 toll bridge are coming down, what opportunity does Wales have to create a financial services powerhouse from Cardiff and Swansea?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Cardiff already enjoys a centre of excellence in finance. The fact that the tolls are going on the bridge will make that opportunity even more available, and we will do everything we can to make sure that it benefits in every way it can.

May I tell my hon. Friend that I had a meeting with commercial property people on Monday? They were telling me that the electrification of the rail line to Swansea is having no effect whatever on investment. What is having an effect is the lowering of tolls on the Severn crossing.

Exactly. We should be talking up the benefits of the investment that is happening in our rail infrastructure to bring about growth for cities such as Swansea. It is disappointing to hear negative comments when we really should be pushing the opportunities that exist for the city.

There are 7 million residents in north-west England and nearly 700,000 in north Wales. Priming and connecting the two economies makes absolute sense. The issue is funding—money. Welsh Governments have already committed hundreds of millions of pounds to these improvements. What new additional funding have this Government committed to date?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have given more moneys to the Welsh Assembly under the new settlement, but I completely recognise that the cross-border activity in north Wales and the north-west of England is incredibly important. That is why I was pleased to meet representatives from the all-party group the other day. We are looking at some of the rail investment that is needed, particularly the Halton curve and the Wrexham-Bidston line.

Investment in the Railway Network

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on future investment in the railway network in Wales. (904282)

I hold regular meetings and discussions with the Transport Secretary and his ministerial team to make the case for investment in Wales’s railway infrastructure. I am determined to drive forward improvements to Wales’s rail connectivity for the benefit of our passengers, commuters and businesses.

I am losing my voice, Mr Speaker. HS2 will cost £56 billion and 20,000 Welsh jobs. For £1 billion, we could build two and a half miles of HS2 or halve the time between Cardiff and Swansea and have an electrified Swansea metro. Why is the Welsh Secretary not objecting to the £1 billion cut from Network Rail to our rail infrastructure and investing in Wales instead?

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that HS2 is a UK scheme and provides an opportunity for significant connectivity benefits with north Wales. He refers to the Swansea metro project, which offers interesting opportunities, and I am happy to say that I am meeting Mark Barry, the project’s architect, in the coming weeks.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recently launched West and Wales strategic rail prospectus contains sensible proposals that would, if adopted, significantly improve rail connectivity in north Wales and that they should receive favourable consideration by the Government?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his hard work in this area, because cross-border connectivity is extremely important. It demonstrates how integrated the network is. There are significant investments already taking place across the north Wales network, including improvements to signalling, as well as the Halton curve, which has already been referred to. Any additions to the debate, however, are interesting, and we will look at them in due course.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

Q4. On the subject of Northern Ireland, does the Prime Minister stand by the commitments made in the joint report of December, and will she confirm that we will accept nothing that will undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom? (904362)

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.

Under Labour, the 18-week target for non-urgent operations was in place. That target has been abandoned by the Prime Minister. When will it be reinstated?

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.

NHS England has abandoned its A&E targets until April 2019, so it is a bit rich for the Prime Minister to be scaremongering about Wales while she is abandoning targets in England—[Interruption.]

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.

Q8. Last week’s launch of a consultation on all aspects of domestic violence will be widely welcomed in Gloucester and across the country. Will the Prime Minister, who has done so much on such issues, confirm today that the Government intend to increase spending, bed provision and, where necessary, the number of women’s refuges, so that those who have survived get the help and safe haven that they deserve? (904367)

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.

Q9. Last week, Horsham held an apprenticeship fair, building on the success that has seen a 70% reduction in youth unemployment since 2010. Nationally, we see increasing exports, increasing productivity and increasing real wages. Will my right hon. Friend again remind the House that it is that sustained economic performance that underpins our investment in our valued public services? (904368)

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.

Q2. Last week, GKN workers came to Parliament—typically 25 and 30 years’ service, their mums and dads before them working for a British engineering icon that is 259 years old. Sat opposite were the three fabulously wealthy owners of Melrose, determined to stage a hostile takeover of the company, break it up and sell it off. I ask the Prime Minister this. She told Parliament that she would act in the national interest; the next 10 days will decide the future. Will she use the powers that she has to intervene and block this hostile takeover in the British national interest? (904360)

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.

Q10. Some 3,157 medical students are going into general practice this year, which is excellent news, but we are still losing too many experienced GPs in their mid-50s due to the tax penalties on their old pension scheme. Would the Government look at a targeted, time-limited exemption on this dedicated group of clinicians, who do so much for the health of us all? (904369)

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.

Q3. This year, 13 April represents the 99th anniversary of what happened at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, India, known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which more than 1,000 peaceful protesters were murdered by soldiers under the command of General Dyer. Will the Prime Minister join me in commemorating the massacre and meet me and others who are campaigning for this shameful episode to be remembered across the UK? (904361)

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very specific issue and a very specific point. I will be happy to look at the question he has raised and respond to him in writing.

Q12. In my constituency, Farnborough, in the borough of Rushmoor, is the birthplace of British aviation and is now home to a thriving range of aviation, aerospace and defence businesses—including Airbus, with its Zephyr. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in extending our best wishes to the Zephyr team as they look forward to making a world-record-breaking attempt for high altitude unmanned aviation? (904371)

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.

Q5. The UK has the lowest growth in the G7. Why is the Government’s answer to that to give handouts to some of the wealthiest bankers, to fund an already lavish lifestyle, paid for by taking the crumbs off the table of those on universal credit, whose children depend on free school meals? (904363)

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.

Q14. Great British food is produced by hard-working farming families in this country. As we produce a new British agricultural policy, does my right hon. Friend agree that supporting food production in this country is a public good? (904373)

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.

Q6. Just minutes ago, Facebook announced that it would be taking down several pages associated with the extremist group Britain First. Does the Prime Minister join me in welcoming that? Does she not also accept that there needs to be a clear role provided by Government to give guidance to social media companies on how they operate in our democracy? (904365)

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.

Q11. Shockingly, in 2017 in this country, 2,120 children were identified as potential victims of child slavery. I know of the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to tackling this issue, but surely we ought to have more data. We have no idea how many of those children go missing. We have no idea how many are deported. We have no idea how many are re-trafficked. In 2018, in this country, a modern democracy, that is simply not good enough. Will the Prime Minister tell us what she is going to do about it? (904370)

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.

Q13. Shortly after the Prime Minister took office, she said that she wanted to put the Government on the side of the poorest in society. She even stood in front of a crumbling sign that said that she wanted “a country that works for everyone”. However, a recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report stated that 37% of children are set to live in poverty by 2022, so what went wrong, Prime Minister? (904372)

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?

I am aware of that particular issue. In the longer term, one of the things that we are doing is ensuring that we can train more doctors here in the United Kingdom, but I am aware of the issue that my hon. Friend has raised and I will look into 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.