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Volume 638: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2018

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the Westminster terrorist attack. It was a sick and depraved attack on the streets of our capital, but what I remember most is the exceptional bravery of our police and security services, who risked their lives to keep us safe. I know that Members will be attending events tomorrow and over the weekend to mark this tragic anniversary.

I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the Red Arrows engineer who tragically died in the aircraft incident at RAF Valley yesterday.

Members across the House will also wish to join me in congratulating Andria Zafirakou, who recently won the global teacher prize. It is a fitting tribute to everything that she has done, and I look forward to meeting her shortly to congratulate her in person.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I am sure that the whole House will want to be associated with the condolences and congratulations that the Prime Minister has just expressed.

Since 2010, Merseyside police has lost 1,084 police officers. In 2017, crime in Knowsley went up by 18.5%, and there were 21 firearm discharges, one of which resulted in a fatality. Across the force area, there were 94 firearm discharges, with four fatalities. Local MPs have met Home Office Ministers, but no extra resources have been provided. Will the Prime Minister arrange for the Home Secretary to meet local MPs to discuss what additional support can be given to deal with that serious problem?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that with the Knowsley safety partnership with Merseyside police, crime statistics in his constituency have fallen by 9% since the year ending June 2010. He mentioned some incidents that are of real concern, and I am sure that the police are giving their full attention to them. We are ensuring that overall—[Interruption.] He points at the Home Secretary, but my right hon. Friend is ensuring that overall, in the next year, not only will we protect police budgets but we will see, with precept, £450 million extra available to police forces across the country.

Q3. May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s earlier comments? Britain’s ability to trade with the world has been curtailed by the EU for over 40 years, but we have now won the ability to sign our own trade agreements around the world. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is Brexit’s greatest opportunity and ensures that we can embrace the globe as a truly proud international country once again? (904496)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He is absolutely right—I agree with him that this is an important opportunity for the United Kingdom post Brexit, because for the first time in 40 years we will be able to step out into the world and forge our own way by negotiating our own trade agreements and signing trade deals with old friends and new allies alike. We will, of course, be able to do that. As he knows, from next March we will no longer be a member state of the European Union, and in due course we will be able to bring into force new trade arrangements around the rest of the world—a truly global Britain.

I, too, join the Prime Minister in commemorating the attacks that took place in Westminster a year ago, and I, too, will be at some of the events tomorrow. We should all remember this as an attack on democracy within our society.

I also join the Prime Minister in sending condolences to the friends and family of the Red Arrows engineer who sadly died yesterday. We wish the pilot well in his recovery.

I had the pleasure of meeting Andria Zafirakou, who won the global teacher award, just before she went off to receive it, and we should all congratulate her and Alperton School in Brent on the great work that she does there.

Today is the Kurdish new year, Newroz, so can we wish all Kurdish people around the world a happy new year and, particularly for those who are suffering so much in the conflict in Syria, a hope of peace in the year to come?

Does the Prime Minister believe that the collapse of Northamptonshire Council is the result of Conservative incompetence at a local level, or is it Conservative incompetence at a national level?

May I first join the right hon. Gentleman in wishing all those who are celebrating a very happy Newroz?

If we are looking at what is happening in relation to local councils, obviously there has been a report on Northamptonshire County Council, but let us look at what we see across the board in councils. [Interruption.] Yes, yes—if we look at what is happening in councils up and down the country there is one message for everybody: Conservative councils cost you less.

My question was actually quite specific to Northamptonshire. The Tory leader of the council said:

“We have been warning Government from about 2013-14…we couldn’t cope with the level of cuts that we were facing”.

Three years ago, that council bragged that it was pioneering an “easy council” model. It then proceeded to outsource 96% of council staff, and transferred them to new service providers, which were run like private companies paying dividends. Now that council has gone bust. Does the Prime Minister really believe that the slash and burn model for local government is really a good one?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman, first, that it would be helpful if he accurately reflected the independent statutory inspection, which concluded last week. The report was clear that Northamptonshire’s failure is not a case of underfunding. Indeed, Northamptonshire’s core spending power is set to rise by £14.5 million, so the attack he is making—that this is all about the amount of money the Government are providing—is not correct. What we are ensuring is that councils are able to provide good services up and down the country, and that is what we see with Conservative councils up and down the country—they are costing people less than Labour.

But the problem is that Northampton- shire has gone bust, and this is caused by the Conservative Government and a Conservative council. It is a model still being used by Barnet Borough Council, which, until very recently, was run by the Conservatives—they lost control of it this week. Capita holds contracts there with an estimated value of £500 million. What has Barnet done? It has cut council staff every year and increased spending on consultants every year. Government cuts mean that councils across England are facing a £5.8 billion funding gap by 2020. So with hindsight, does the Prime Minister really believe it was right to prioritise tax cuts for the super-rich and big business? [Interruption.]

Order. The House is becoming rather overexcited. I said a moment ago that the Prime Minister’s answer must be heard. The question from the Leader of the Opposition must also be heard, and it will be, however long it takes. [Interruption.] Mr Snell, you are behaving in a most undignified manner—compose yourself, man.

There seemed to be a lot of concern among Conservative Members about my suggestion that the Government had prioritised tax cuts for the super-rich and big business, and put them as more important than funding for social care, libraries, repairing potholes, bin collection or street cleaning.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about bin collection. Well, people living in Birmingham under a Labour-run council saw thousands of tonnes of waste on the streets because the council was failing to collect the bins. He talks about tax, and we all know that the top 1% of taxpayers are paying a higher burden of tax than they ever paid under Labour. And we all know what Labour would mean for council tax payers, because just this week the shadow Communities Secretary—[Interruption.] “Oh”, he says. Could that be because he does not want people to know what he is supporting? He has supported a plan to stop local taxpayers having the right to stop tax hikes; he is supporting a plan to introduce a land value tax—a tax on your home and your garden—and he wants to introduce a new hotel tax. We all know what would happen under Labour: more taxes, and ordinary working people would pay the price.

The shadow Secretary of State supports councils, thinks they should be properly funded and does not think they should be a vehicle for privatisation.

The leader of Surrey County Council, who happens to be a Conservative, has said:

“We are facing the most difficult financial crisis in our history.”

He did not mince his words, because he went on to say:

“The Government cannot…stand idly by while Rome burns.”

Council funding has been cut by half since 2010. Households in England now face council tax rises of £1 billion. The Tory leader of the Local Government Association says that

“councils will have to continue to cut back services or stop some altogether”

due to Government cuts. So as people open their council tax bills, is it not clear what the Conservative message is—pay more to get less?

The average council tax for a band D property is £100 less under Conservative councils than it is under Labour councils. The right hon. Gentleman says that his shadow Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is supporting councils, but I wonder whether he supports these councils: Haringey, where the Labour leader was forced out; Brighton, where the Labour leader was forced out; and Cornwall, where the Labour group leader was forced out. What had these people done? They had supported building more homes, providing good local services and tackling anti-Semitism in the Labour party. The message is clear: if you believe in good local services, want to see more homes built and want to tackle anti-Semitism, there is no place for you in the Labour party.

Order. There is a very raucous atmosphere. I have said it before and I will say it again: Back-Bench Members should seek to imitate the zen-like calm of the Father of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who is an example to us all.

We all admire zen, Mr Speaker.

Pay more for less is the Conservative message. In Leicestershire, the county council is pushing through £50 million-worth of cuts and council tax increases of 6%. Its deputy leader blamed chronically low Government funding. That is the Tory message: pay more to get less. It is not just households: the average small shop will see its rates bill increase by £3,600. Empty shops suck all the life out of our high streets and local communities, so why is the Prime Minister presiding over a Government who are tearing the heart out of our local high streets?

First of all, we have provided extra support for small businesses in relation to business rates. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman talks about Labour councils building homes, but we have seen more council homes being built under this Government than under 13 years of a Labour Government. He talks about what councillors are saying at a local level; I am pleased to say that yesterday two Labour councillors from Ashfield District Council joined the Conservatives, and what did one of them say? He said:

“Both locally and nationally”

the Labour party

“has been taken over by the hard-left who are more interested in fighting internal ideological battles than standing up for the priorities of working men and women.”

Conservatives will always welcome people who care about their local area and we will always stand up for people in their local area.

Half a million businesses will see their rates rise this year, some by 500%. Even Mary Portas, who led the Government’s “Save the High Street” campaign, said that it was simply a

“PR campaign which looked like ‘hey, we’re doing something’ and I hoped it might kick-start something—but it didn’t.”

The Conservative Government have slashed public services. They cut funding and expect councils to pick up the pieces. The result is that children’s centres are closing, schools are struggling, there are fewer police on the streets, older people are being left without care or dignity, and refuges are turning women away. The Tories’ own head of local government says it is unsustainable. Doesn’t it tell us everything we need to know about the Government that they demand that households and businesses pay more to get less?

This Government are spending more on our schools and on our NHS than ever before. We are able to do that because of the balanced approach we take to our economy and because of the strong economy we see under the Conservatives. I notice that in his six questions the right hon. Gentleman did not mention today’s unemployment figures. Employment is at a joint record high. Unemployment has not been lower since 1975. Economic inactivity is at a record low. That is a strong jobs market. Who benefits from a strong jobs market? Labour staffers, Labour council leaders and moderate Labour Members of Parliament.

Q4. I can only assume that the Leader of the Opposition has not read the report about Northamptonshire County Council; I commend it to him. But I want to focus on a different issue today. Worldwide, every minute, millions of throwaway paper coffee cups go to landfill. To solve that, we need industry, consumers and the Government to work together. In that spirit, Amaray, a company in my constituency, has developed a fully recyclable alternative cup; it can be easily recycled, unlike the current option. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming that innovation? Perhaps if she is around afterwards, I might be able to give one to her. (904497)

I am very happy to say to my hon. Friend that, if he would like to come along and see me afterwards, I am very happy to do that. He has raised an important point. As he knows, we are committed to wanting to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. I congratulate Amaray and welcome the innovation that it has shown. This is an important example of working with industry to ensure that we are dealing with this issue of plastic waste. We were clear in our 25-year environment plan that that is what we want to do, and Amaray is a very good example of exactly that.

May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister about the terrorist atrocity in Westminster a year ago? Our thoughts are obviously with those who gave their lives and, of course, with the emergency services. I also want to associate myself with the remarks about the loss of the engineer.

Does the Prime Minister agree that subverting the democratic political process of any country is totally unacceptable?

We certainly believe in ensuring that democratic processes are able to continue and that people see free and fair elections. I think that is what everybody in this House would recognise and would accept.

I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. May I point out to her that the parent company of Cambridge Analytica is Strategic Communications Laboratories? It has been run by a chairman of the Oxford Conservative Association. Its founding chairman was a former Conservative MP. A director appears to have donated more than £700,000 to the Tory party. A former Conservative party treasurer is a shareholder. We know about the links to the Conservative party: they go on and on. Will the Prime Minister confirm to the House her Government’s connections to the company?

The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about two companies: the parent company, SCL, and Cambridge Analytica. As far as I am aware, the Government have no current contracts with Cambridge Analytica, or with the SCL group. The allegations are clearly very concerning, and it is absolutely right that they should be properly investigated. It is right that the Information Commissioner is doing exactly that because people need to have confidence in how their personal data is being used. I would expect Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and all organisations involved to comply fully with the investigation that is taking place. I am pleased to say that the Bill that we are bringing forward on data protection will strengthen legislation around data protection and give the Information Commissioner’s Office tougher powers to ensure that organisations comply. I hope that it will be supported by everybody across this House.

Q7. Some London boroughs are renting houses in Kent, including in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, for use as temporary accommodation for homeless families. My local authorities are then expected to provide those families with the support they need. That is putting a strain on Kent’s schools, hospitals and social services, which receive no extra funding to provide that support. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the London Mayor and the London boroughs should be providing more homes in the capital, so that London families can be looked after by them, instead of placing the burden of care on hard-pressed council tax payers in Kent? (904500)

My hon. Friend is right to speak up on behalf of his constituents on this issue. London authorities must secure temporary accommodation within their own borough, as far as is reasonably practical. We have also changed the law so that councils must take into account the impact that a change in location would have on a household. However, he is absolutely right: we do want the London Mayor and London boroughs to be able to build more homes. Money has been provided to the Mayor of London to build affordable homes. It is a pity that he has not been building as many as we would like.

Q2. School cuts in Portsmouth under this Government will reach £3.3 million by 2019, meaning that classrooms are being starved of the resources that they need, including textbooks and basic stationery. At the same time, approximately 40,000 children in the south-east are relying on food banks. If the Prime Minister were a teacher who had been under a pay cut for eight years, what would she buy a struggling child in one of my city’s classrooms—a textbook or a square meal? (904495)

The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of school funding. As I said in response to the Leader of the Opposition, the amount of money that we are spending on schools is greater than it has ever been before. What matters is the quality of education provided in schools, which is why I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not welcome the fact that over 20,000 children in his area are now at a good or outstanding school; that is 9,000 more than in 2010.

Q8. I am sure that we all recognise and welcome the employment figures announced today, but given the latest report that there are still unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment among ethnic communities in Britain, will my right hon. Friend explain to the House what the new £90 million fund will do to help young people into work? (904502)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We know these figures because of the race disparity audit that I commissioned when I became Prime Minister. The audit shows that there has been progress, but we need to do more because 16 to 24-year-olds in other ethnic groups are twice as likely as their white peers to be unemployed. The £90 million that I announced will help to tackle those inequalities in youth employment. The initiative will be run by the Big Lottery Fund, and it will identify the barriers to employment for those young people and help them to overcome those barriers. That is incredibly important. I was very pleased to visit Street League in Birmingham, which is already doing excellent work in this area.

Q5. The war in Syria has now entered its eighth year. In recent weeks, over 1,000 people have been killed in eastern Ghouta. In Afrin, hundreds of Kurds lie dead and 200,000 civilians are desperately fleeing for their lives; even the hospital has been attacked. What will the Government do to help to bring urgent humanitarian relief for those in such despair? (904498)

We take the situation in eastern Ghouta very seriously indeed, which is why we have raised the issue at the United Nations Security Council. The Foreign Secretary has also raised this matter with others. We have been very clear about what needed to happen to ensure that people could be protected, that humanitarian aid could get in and that safe passage could be given to those for whom it was necessary due to their condition. We will continue to press this case.

Q9. The Select Committee on Education recently interviewed a panel of university vice-chancellors who failed to recognise that their salaries are outrageous, being twice that of the Prime Minister and mainly funded by the taxpayer and student debt. Given that these outrageous salaries are paid in even the poorest performing universities, will the Prime Minister confirm that this situation will be looked at in the post-18 education review? (904503)

My hon. Friend has raised a point that others are concerned about as well. Of course, universities are autonomous from the Government, so it is up to them how they set the pay of their vice-chancellors and what level they set it at, but they should recognise that students and taxpayers are all contributing to our higher education system and expect value for money. The Office for Students, which has now been set up, will be acting to ensure greater transparency in relation to senior staff pay and requiring a justification for the total remuneration package that is awarded to the head of the provider and the provider’s most senior staff, so we will now start to see a light being shone very clearly on the issue that my hon. Friend raises.

Q6. Last week, the Agriculture and Fisheries Secretary and Ruth Davidson said:“The Prime Minister has been clear: Britain will leave the CFP as of March 2019.”Now, the UK is staying in the common fisheries policy but with no say on quotas—the worst deal imaginable. What changed between last week and this week? (904499)

We will be working with the fishing industry, both fishermen and fish processors, to ensure that we do see a bright future for the fishing industry. I want to see three things: we will take back control of our waters, we will ensure that we do not see British fishermen unfairly denied access to other waters, and we want to rebuild our fishing industry. But it is the Conservative party that is committed to coming out of the common fisheries policy; the hon. Gentleman’s party wants to stay in the common fisheries policy.

Q13. Cherwell is really proud to be building three houses a day but construction traffic is playing havoc with our road services. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss what more national Government can do to help with inevitable growing pains? (904507)

First of all, I am very happy to congratulate Cherwell on the homes that it is building, but I recognise that this brings with it other challenges. At Budget, we more than doubled the housing infrastructure fund with another £2.7 billion, and earlier today my right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary, I am pleased to say, announced a further 44 areas shortlisted for funding for major infrastructure projects worth £4.1 billion, with the potential to deliver 400,000 more homes. I recognise the important role that infrastructure plays, and that is why the Government are delivering it.

Q10. The Prime Minister was right to prevent members of the royal family and Government Ministers from attending the football World cup in Russia, but what is being done to safeguard everyday football fans in what was, in my view, already a dangerous place to watch football, even before the incident in Salisbury? What advice will be given to travelling English supporters, many of whom have already bought their tickets, and is she confident that adequate co-operation between our police and the Russian police will protect English fans? (904504)

I recognise the important issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised, because we want British football fans to be able to be safe when they are enjoying watching the England team. We are currently working very closely with the police in looking at what arrangements will be in place to support the England football fans who travel to Russia. The Foreign Office will be carefully monitoring the situation and ensuring that advice is available to football fans, so that they are aware of the circumstances there will be in Russia and what support will be available.

Q14. My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have mentioned Jacci Woodcock, a terminally ill constituent of mine who set up the Dying to Work campaign. Santander, her mortgage broker, has been incredibly helpful in freezing her payments and will take them from her estate when she dies, but now it has gone even further—it is not increasing the interest payments either. Does my right hon. Friend agree that other banks should follow the caring and compassionate example set by Santander and that we should encourage them to look after terminally ill people in the same way? (904508)

My hon. Friend has raised an issue that I know she cares about very deeply. I am certainly happy to join her in congratulating Santander on the support that it has provided to Jacci Woodcock. Obviously, my hon. Friend has raised a wider issue. It is important for employers to be aware of and to fulfil their legal obligations to their employees, including terminally ill employees, and I am sure that others will look at the excellent example that Santander has set.

Q11. The Sunday Times said this week that Bedford’s relatively affordable housing and easy access to London have made it one of the best places to live in the UK, but Bedford constituents are concerned about the school funding cuts, court services cuts, the impending closure of our only walk-in centre, the big increase in homelessness and the loss of fast peak-time rail services to London. My question to the Prime Minister is, why are her Government ruining the prospects of our great town? (904505)

The prospects of the hon. Gentleman’s great town are being improved. They are being improved by the fact that we see thousands more children in good or outstanding schools in Bedford local authority than when we came to power. They are being improved by the fact that extra funding is going into the health service in Bedford. They are also being improved by the fact that this Government are ensuring we have a strong economy, providing jobs for people in his constituency.

Financial services are critical to thousands of my constituents and to the country as a whole. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to update the House on the progress made on ensuring that our future trade deal with the European Union includes an agreement on financial services?

I am well aware of the importance of financial services for the United Kingdom, in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere, and also the important role that the City of London plays in the financial sector for the whole European Union. We are in discussion with the European Union about this matter, and there is a recognition of the significant role that the City of London plays and the importance of ensuring that we maintain access to finance across the European Union.

Q12. Mental health issues affect one in 10 children, who on average have to see their GP three times before a referral, with many waiting up to 18 months for treatment. I acknowledge the Green Paper on this issue, but at a time when national funding in this area is being constantly cut, including a 5% reduction in funding to Lewisham child and adolescent mental health services, is this not another example of the Government saying one thing but doing another with our NHS? (904506)

The Government are putting more funding into mental health provision. We have already committed to making available an additional £1.4 billion to improve children and young people’s mental health services, and we have committed that, by 2020-21, 70,000 more children and young people each year will have access to high-quality NHS mental health care. The hon. Lady rightly raises mental health as an important issue for us to deal with, and particularly the mental health of children and young people, but across the board we need to give more attention to mental health. We are putting money into it, and we are clear that we want to see parity of esteem between mental health and physical health in the national health service. That is something the Labour party in 13 years of government failed to do.

The EU agreement published this week has sadly left my fishermen in Amble and the north-east very anxious. While it is great news that we will regain control of our fishing grounds at the end of the implementation period, there is real concern that our EU colleagues might try to take advantage of our losing our voice in the CFP by altering discard rules or quota rules during the implementation period. Will the Prime Minister consider asking the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to prepare a financial mitigation plan to protect our fleet until 2021 should we need to do so?

The implementation period is there so that people have the certainty of being able to operate on the same basis until we reach the new partnership that we are negotiating. As I said earlier, in that new partnership, we want to take back control of our waters but ensure that British fishermen are not unfairly denied access to other waters and that we can rebuild our fishing industry. That is important. My hon. Friend mentioned quotas. It has been agreed that the stability key will not be changed, so the quotas that British fishermen will be operating under will not be changed. I know that DEFRA is looking actively at how we can ensure that we not only maintain our fishing industry, but enhance and rebuild it after we leave.

This week, every party in Westminster took part in an international summit to challenge violence against women in politics, and online abuse dominated the discussions. Last year, the Prime Minister’s Government considered a statutory code of practice for social media corporations, holding them to account for the abusive content they publish. Will she confirm whether she remains content with a toothless voluntary code, or will she now give us a digital guard dog that both barks and bites?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. On all these issues, we have taken the view that we should first sit down with those in the industry and work with them to see what they are willing to do on a voluntary basis, but they know that if that does not actually work, we will look at legislation. She raises an important point about the abuse that takes place. She refers particularly to the abuse that takes place within political campaigning, and I am afraid we have now reached a very sorry state of affairs in this country. We want to see free and fair elections and people having the confidence to be able to go out and put their views forward without fearing that they are going to be abused for it.

The clinically led Future Fit programme for Shropshire seeks to improve and modernise hospital services across the county of Shropshire. We have been waiting for a decision on this issue for many years. Will the Prime Minister use her good offices to ensure that this vital scheme is supported in the coming weeks, so that we can secure this vital investment for Shropshire NHS?

My hon. Friend is right to speak up for the NHS in Shropshire in the way he has done. He will be pleased to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care heard his comments, and I think will be contacting him about this issue.

The Bercow review made a big difference in improving services for children with communication needs—communication is the key life skill for children to learn and thrive—yet, a decade on, the latest report shows that much more needs to be done. Will the Prime Minister commit to a cross-Government strategy that puts this issue at the heart of policy and gives all our children the best possible start in life?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important issue. We welcome the report, and the Department for Education is going to be considering it carefully. We do not want to see any child held back from achieving their potential, and that includes ensuring that children with speech, language and communication needs are given the support they need. There has been particular training for teachers to support children who require additional help to communicate, and we will be introducing the education, health and care plans to make sure that children with additional needs receive the right support to succeed in school in the future, but we will look very carefully at what the report has said and obviously respond to it in due course.

Unlike the SNP, I do not want to see Britain rejoin the disastrous common fisheries policy, but I do have some concerns about the fisheries aspects of the transitional agreement that has been provisionally agreed with the European Union. Before she travels to the European Council, will the Prime Minister reassure the House, and indeed fishing communities around the United Kingdom, that we will absolutely and unequivocally take back full control of our waters from 2021?

As I said earlier, the point about the implementation period is that it is the period during which people are able to make the changes necessary for the new partnership we will have. It ensures that businesses, fishermen included, do not face two cliff-edge changes in the way they are operating. By definition—because it is maintaining, as far as possible, the status quo, so that people do not have to make those extra changes—I recognise that it is not the same and will not be the same as the end state when we are able to have a future economic partnership and have a new relationship. As I said earlier, one of the elements that we will be looking for in reassuring the fishing industry and providing for the fishing industry is to ensure that we do take back control of our waters.

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the SNP in offering condolences to the family of the Royal Air Force engineer who was tragically killed in my constituency yesterday? The RAF has been part of my constituency for over 75 years, with a tight-knit group of aircraftmen and support staff on the ground. While they are grieving, will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the RAF as it commemorates its century of dedicated service to our country?

I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in saying what a great job the Royal Air Force does for us; of course he sees it at first hand, given its connection with his constituency. We should recognise the valour of all those who are serving in our armed forces—particularly, in this 100th year of the Royal Air Force, those who serve in the Royal Air Force. We thank them for it.

May I welcome the Government’s decision to create a medical school at Canterbury in east Kent, which was fought for by all Kent’s MPs—particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), who has been indefatigable in that fight? Does this not underline the importance of training more doctors and nurses, to ensure that our health services in the regions are well staffed and looked after?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am pleased to welcome the new medical school in Canterbury, but also the four other new medical schools being set up around various parts of the country. He is also absolutely right that this is about ensuring that we are training a workforce for our national health service. We have raised significantly the number of training places—I think it is probably the biggest increase in training places that the NHS has seen for some considerable time.

Given that mesh can shrink, degrade or twist in a woman’s body, may I ask the Prime Minister whether she will support proposals to “sling the mesh”?

I recognise that this is a very real, important issue that has been raised. It is one of a number of women’s health issues that have been raised in this House that are causing concern to women. I will look in detail at it. I am happy to write to the hon. Lady about this, but I recognise the concern that there is about this particular issue. I am happy to write to her about what the national health service will be doing on it.

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the remarkable staff of Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, who have ensured that the hospital is out of special measures today, following a report from the Care Quality Commission? Will she support our campaign for a new hospital to ensure that the staff have a hospital fit for the 21st century?

I congratulate the local hospital in Harlow that my right hon. Friend has referred to on coming out of those special measures. I think that is very important and I know it will give added confidence to his constituents. He tempts me to support a new hospital in his area. As he will know, the Secretary of State has heard his request, but what we do know is that we are putting more money into the national health service to ensure that we do get the best possible services provided to people through our national health service.

Thank you. Before we proceed to next business, I take this opportunity to remind the House that tomorrow we will be commemorating the Westminster terrorist attack of a year ago, reference to which was made earlier. I propose that we begin our proceedings tomorrow after prayers with a minute’s silence in memory of those who died. There will also be, colleagues, a commemorative event in Westminster Hall at 12 noon and services in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft at 10 am, 2 pm and 6 pm. I hope that is helpful to colleagues.

Although points of order ordinarily come after urgent questions or statements, I understand that this inquiry appertains to exchanges with the Prime Minister. I am not sure whether that was today or on a previous occasion, but let us hear from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It does particularly relate to today’s session because police funding was referenced by the Prime Minister today. You may have seen that the UK Statistics Authority issued a statement yesterday reprimanding the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the Home Office for making statements that

“could have led the public to conclude incorrectly that central government is providing an additional £450 million for police spending”

this year. Given that the “Ministerial Code” requires that Ministers correct

“any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”,

would it not have been appropriate for the Prime Minister to apologise to this House and the public for inadvertently misleading us in Prime Minister’s questions?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I confess that I had not seen the UK Statistics Authority communication to which she referred, but obviously her beady eye has focused on it. What I would say to her in respect of the conduct of Ministers is that, as applies to all right hon. and hon. Members, those Ministers are responsible for their own conduct. If they judge that they have made a mistake—communicated incorrect information to the House that has given an incorrect impression—it is incumbent on them to correct the record, but it is not for the Speaker to be the arbiter of whether that is required. To judge by the puckish grin on the hon. Lady’s face, I think she is well familiar with that point, but she has registered her point with her usual force. Doubtless it will be communicated to the people of Sheffield, Heeley and elsewhere.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, and to your wise words and guidance, you will recall that in business questions last week I specifically said to the Leader of the House that there was growing concern that although Ministers are properly accountable to this place and can be called if they have said anything that is not accurate, that does not extend to Opposition Members.

Yet again in Prime Minister’s questions, we have had assertions from right hon. and hon. Opposition Members of facts that are disputed. Mr Speaker, I do not expect you to give any ruling now—you cannot—but would it be in order for the House to consider how we ensure that we report things factually and that any means of challenge extends to the Opposition as well as to the Government?

I shall always profit by the right hon. Lady’s counsels and I am grateful to her for offering them. Off the top of my head, I would say that the assertion of disputable facts is the very essence of politics. The assertion by one Member of something as fact that is contradicted or questioned by another Member is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons. I think we will have to leave it there for today.

The right hon. Lady raised a wider point appertaining to social networking sites, at or after business questions last Thursday, to which I gave a fairly comprehensive reply that can always be consulted by Members in the unlikely event that they have nothing better to do.