The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Leaving the EU: The Union
The Government are unapologetically committed to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. As the Minister responsible for constitutional issues across the Government and as chair of a number of Cabinet Committees, I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues about such issues.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and for his commitment to our precious Union. He knows that Northern Ireland will achieve a significant milestone on the day after the transition period: its centenary as part of this Union. Will he agree to meet me and some of my colleagues to discuss how best to advance the celebration and recognition of that achievement?
I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, as I am always happy to talk to the elected representatives of Northern Ireland constituencies here. It is important that we find a way to mark that centenary appropriately and do so in a way that is genuinely inclusive and recognises the sensitivities associated with many centenary anniversaries affecting the island of Ireland that have fallen in recent years.
Given that we are leaving the EU, will my right hon. Friend assure this House that he will do everything he can to preserve the single market of the United Kingdom, which is infinitely more important to many Unionist Members than the single market of the EU?
My hon. Friend is right. The United Kingdom’s common market existed well before we joined the European Union, and it will continue to exist after we leave. The living standards of people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland alike benefit from the existence and strength of the internal market of the United Kingdom, and the Government will do their utmost to protect and defend it.
Given that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill places additional and somewhat unwarranted restrictions on Scottish Government Ministers that do not apply to Ministers down here, does the right hon. Gentleman think that that strategy strengthens the Union or puts it at risk?
The withdrawal Bill, in providing for the transfer of considerable additional powers from Brussels to the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales both strengthens devolution and upholds our constitutional settlement.
Does my right hon. Friend share my frustration at the actions and attitude of the SNP Government regarding clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill? While he has been working on an agreement with the devolved Administrations, they have been blocking, frustrating, agitating and doing everything in their power to manufacture a constitutional crisis in our family of nations.
One of the virtues that I have sought to cultivate in this job is patience, as well as endurance, so we continue talking to both the Scottish and Welsh Governments, but the allegations of a so-called power grab are completely unmerited.
Under a previous UK Government, up to 90% of the Welsh fishing quota was sold to foreign firms. This Union now has more than one Government, so what discussions is the Minister having with colleagues in the Welsh Government about the future allocation of the Welsh fishing quota?
One of the tasks that faces us, as the United Kingdom, as we leave the European Union is to devise the appropriate fisheries regime that provides a just result for fishing communities in all parts of the UK. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking forward to discussing that future with the devolved Administrations and with parliamentarians.
Electoral fraud is unacceptable at any level, and vulnerabilities cannot be allowed to continue to undermine the integrity of our democracy, so the Cabinet Office is working with five local authorities to pilot voter identification and with three others to pilot measures to improve the integrity of the postal and proxy vote processes.
What efforts are being made to cross-reference the electoral roll with the immigration and nationality database to ensure that only people with eligible nationalities appear on the electoral roll and can therefore vote?
We entrust electoral registration officers to do that task, and we think it is very important that they do so. Electoral registration officers have the ability to make nationality checks where they believe it is appropriate. Indeed, this House also recently agreed to changes to the registration forms to emphasise to would-be voters that such checks will be made, and we think that is important.
Over 40 leading charities and academics have written to the Minister expressing their concern that these voter ID pilot areas have failed to carry out equality impact assessments adequately. Most participating authorities have identified negative impacts on various groups, such as people with disabilities, Asian and black communities and Travellers, but astonishingly Bromley Borough Council claims the pilot will have no impact on any of those groups. Why is the Minister allowing these pilots to proceed on the basis of such clearly inadequate equality impact assessments?
These pilots are, in fact, very important. They allow us, as a country, to begin to be sure that the people voting in any given election are eligible to do so. I continue to be disappointed that the Labour party seems to think that that is not necessary. Each local authority involved in these pilots has clear plans, first, to be able to communicate with voters to instruct them on what to do on the day and, secondly, to help anybody who might find themselves unable to produce the required ID. Nobody will be left behind in these pilots.
Women and Political Office
The Government Equalities Office has commissioned a review to identify barriers that limit women’s participation in national Government, the aim being to provide political parties with a range of solutions to draw on. We will also launch a consultation this summer on the introduction of a new electoral offence to tackle the intimidation of parliamentary candidates and campaigners.
Can my right hon. Friend suggest what more can be done to counter the often toxic atmosphere on social media that is frequently directed at female candidates?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and he is right. Sadly, it is noticeable that abuse on social media is particularly directed at women. We recently enacted the Digital Economy Act 2017 to help ensure that online abuse is effectively tackled through a robust code; but ultimately, as political parties, we have our bit to do to make sure we give people protection online—robust debate but with respect—and it is very sad that the Labour party has failed to live up to that by bringing forward its own respect pledge.
Meetings held in the evening often create a barrier to women entering politics, particularly local politics. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that women get appropriate time off work and are provided with childcare?
A number of local authorities are looking at how they can vary their meeting times. The Local Government Association, the chairman of which I met just this morning, is looking at how it can advise local authorities on what they can do to encourage more participation. Some local authorities even pay for childcare; but ultimately, we have to make sure that people feel they can conduct themselves in public life with respect and have the space for proper, robust public debate.
Will the Government work with schools and universities to encourage more young women to get involved in standing for political office?
Absolutely. Again, my right hon. Friend makes a good observation. It is important that we encourage people from all backgrounds, including women and young people, to feel that they can get involved and that there are opportunities to get involved, participate and contribute to public life. To do that, they need to feel safe in that environment, and that is largely down to the political parties delivering it.
With local elections taking place in May, it is vital that we have a diverse set of councillors representing our communities. However, only 33% of councillors in England are women, which represents a rise of only 5% in the past 20 years. There is a clear contrast with progress in the House. Does the Minister agree that the progress in improving women’s representation in local government has stalled? What are this Government doing to address that failing?
One of the key things to having more women involved in local government is political parties encouraging more women to get involved. Conservative Members will certainly be doing that, and I hope the hon. Lady will join me in calling for these local elections to have a respect pledge—the Labour party should step up and do that—to make sure that people feel they can have robust debate, but with respect. The Labour party has simply failed to do that.
Clearly, it is important to use the centenary of women’s suffrage this year to encourage participation events across the country, including in my constituency and the north-west. What funding does the Minister have available to ensure that those types of events happen?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is right in this year that we take the opportunity to continue to highlight why it is important that we see more people, particularly women, getting involved in public life. There is £5 million available, and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), will be happy to liaise with her on that. Again, I have to say that we all need to play a part in encouraging more people from diverse backgrounds to get involved and to feel free to get involved in politics.
Political Parties: Donations and Loans
Donations and loans to political parties are subject to transparency rules, as set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Government remain committed to such transparency, recently passing legislation to extend the requirements to donations and loans in Northern Ireland for the first time.
In the light of recent revelations, how much of the hundreds of thousands of pounds donated to the Tory party by Russians will be returned?
The rules on donations are very clear in terms of permissibility and impermissibility: British citizens are entitled to donate to UK political parties and foreign donors are not.
We have a lot to get through. Quick sentences please.
Will my hon. Friend reissue the requirements that all political parties have to honour on donations, so that no one can fall foul of the rules?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s reminder that we all simply have to abide by the law of this country.
Earlier this month, the House approved regulations requiring the Electoral Commission to disclose donations for parties in Northern Ireland, but that was limited to events taking place after 1 July last year. Given the recent disclosures and in particular the allegations about dark money going from the Constitutional Research Council, which is linked to the Scottish Conservatives, to the Democratic Unionist party, will the Minister consider bringing forward a new order to require the Electoral Commission to disclose information relating to the period from 2015?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been clear that, although she does not have any plans to provide for publication of the pre-2017 data, we will look to review the broader framework once those arrangements have bedded in. What I would say is that she and her predecessor took those decisions because the majority of parties in Northern Ireland agreed at the time that it was the right thing to do, and, indeed, the Labour Front Bench team, before it was against it, was for it.
Last month, access to members of the British Cabinet was auctioned off for around £55,000 per Minister—although the Secretary of State for International Trade was worth only £2,000. The Minister’s job in the Cabinet Office is to ensure “propriety, ethics and transparency” in government; does she agree that auctioning off access to Ministers undermines confidence in democracy by giving the impression of a Government for sale? Will she take steps immediately to secure transparency and propriety in all such matters in future?
As I said in answer to a previous question, all donations are registered in accordance with the law. I appreciate that in recent days some points have been raised; indeed, some were raised in the Chamber yesterday, after your decision to grant an emergency debate, Mr Speaker. There are a lot of allegations in the air at the moment, but what the Government have to do is deal with the law as it stands and allow the correct bodies to carry out their investigations.
House of Lords Reform: Hereditary Peers
As our manifesto made clear, we will continue to ensure that the House of Lords remains relevant and effective by addressing issues such as its size and where there is consensus across both Houses for action. We acknowledge the ongoing work of the Burns Committee, which will consider the next steps on reducing the size of the House of Lords.
The Prime Minister wants to reduce the size of the House of Lords, so why not start with the 91 men and only one woman who owe their place there not to their intrinsic merit but to their ancestors? The House is due to debate my private Member’s Bill on 27 April; the Minister could vote for it, or she could vote for Lord Grocott’s Bill, which has been introduced in the other place. Why not do it?
I very much look forward to discussing the right hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill with him and know that conversations are ongoing on this issue in the other place.
Never mind the hereditaries, the House of Lords is stuffed full of people who are too London-centric. When are we going to have more Yorkshire folk and more of the good men and women of Lincolnshire in the House of Lords?
Very soon, I hope.
Government Procurement: Small Businesses
Small businesses are the engine of our economy and we are determined that they should get their fair share of Government contracts, which is why we have set an ambitious aspiration for a third of procurement spend to be with small and medium-sized enterprises by 2022. We will shortly announce further measures to help us to achieve that target.
We understand that High Speed 2 will bring vast benefits to our economy in the west midlands, including £4 billion-worth of economic growth and 50,000 extra jobs, but small businesses in Redditch say to me that they are not sure how to bid for the contracts. What advice can the Minister give them?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Small businesses throughout the country create millions of jobs and it is important that they are able to access large contracts such as HS2. Public sector contracts are advertised on the Contracts Finder website, which is free and easy to use, and bidders can request information as they need it. I encourage businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere to take advantage.
As my hon. Friend will know, small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. It is the Government’s responsibility to make sure that they can compete equally for public sector contracts. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what he is doing to level the playing field?
We are constantly looking into new ways to reduce the barriers to small businesses working with the public sector, which is why we have already scrapped complex pre-qualification questionnaires for low-value contracts. We require public sector buyers to split contracts into accessible chunks for small businesses, and I am pleased to confirm that we will reopen the G-Cloud to new suppliers, which will further help small businesses.
We are very short of time. I sometimes think we have time for the questions but not always for the answers. We need to be pretty dextrous about this.
Small businesses in Dudley South have shown that they can compete with the biggest names in the world. Will the Minister help them to compete for Government contracts by publishing all contracts worth more than £10,000 on the Contracts Finder website?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and all contracts worth more than £10,000 are published on the Contracts Finder website. Indeed, more than 25,000 organisations are currently registered with Contracts Finder, of which 64% are small and medium-sized enterprises.
Public procurement was meant to be one of the Brexit dividends, but it is not going very well with the Passport Office. Will the Minister tell us specifically what will change?
I have to say to the hon. Lady that, as we leave Europe, it is important that we remain an open economy, and I have every confidence in the way in which that procurement was conducted. We should be sending a signal that, just as we expect foreign businesses to be able to bid for contracts here, we have an open system in this country.
I hear that the problem for small businesses is that they are often denied the chance to bid for work, because they are told by various people that it is down to Government procurement rules, so local businesses, in particular, are kept out. What more is the Minister doing to ensure that local businesses get local contracts?
It is very important that local businesses can get local contracts. The first thing that the Cabinet Office is doing is ensuring that as we re-let contracts, we split them into small amounts so that they are easier for small businesses to bid for, and we have extensive engagement before we let the contract to ensure that as wide a range of businesses as possible can access it.
In Brazil, 30% of food for school meals has to be sourced from local or family farms. France has just introduced a similar law on local, organic provision in public procurement. Why can we not do it here?
I know the hon. Lady’s commitment to this cause. As a result of the changes made under this Government, we allow contracts to take into account factors such as the local sourcing of food, as long as it is provided to all businesses.
Today we are publishing the Government’s state of the estate report for 2016-17. That report demonstrates the progress that we have made in transforming the use of the estate and in freeing up property receipts of £620 million to be reinvested in supporting local and national services.
We live in a London-centric country. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what he is doing to ensure that Government Departments are relocated to other parts of the United Kingdom, including, of course, the great south-west?
This Government are committed to locating economic activity outside London and the south-east. Since 2016, 12 new public bodies have been located outside London, and indeed in the south-west to which my hon. Friend refers. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has set up a regional centre in Bristol, which employs 1,600 people.
There are already measures in place. For example, there are improvements to the way that the certificate of visual impairment can be shared with local authorities. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this further.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Cyber-security is a major priority for the whole of this Government, and our world-leading national cyber security strategy is supported by almost £2 billion of investment. It sets out measures to ensure that the public sector, and the wider economy, is cyber-secure.
These matters are always the subject of keen discussion between the business managers of all political parties. I am sure that the hon. Lady will encourage her party’s spokesman to make those representations.
Two weeks ago the Prime Minister launched a £90 million programme to help to tackle inequalities in youth unemployment. That is in addition to targeted employment support already under way in 20 areas across the United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend and I are both so keen to answer that question that we are vying to do so.
The Conservative party manifesto was quite clear that we shall not be doing that, and it was that manifesto that won the general election.
Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. I was always taught that you should listen to a doctor. The hon. Lady is a doctor so the House should listen to her, particularly when she is talking about contaminated blood, which is a very serious matter.
The victims of the contaminated blood scandal have waited decades for answers. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on progress on the inquiry? Is there any room to revisit the decision to deny victims and their families legal aid in order to prepare adequately for the inquiry?
The inquiry launched a consultation on its terms of reference on 2 March. Details are on its website. The deadline for responses is 26 April. Sir Brian Langstaff wants to hear from as many of those who were affected as possible. As with any such inquiry, it is for the inquiry to decide the level of financial support, including for legal representation for the inquiry proceedings. I am very happy to talk to my hon. Friend and other interested colleagues, or for the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), to do so, about how the terms of reference are being handled. Sir Brian wants this process to be as user-friendly as possible.
As the hon. Lady will be aware, we have invested in the balanced scorecard approach. Of course, we will look at extending it to whatever procurements are possible.
Ministers talk a lot about voter fraud, even though there were only two convictions in 2016. Ministers do not talk about the 6 million people who are not on the electoral register. May I have a commitment from Ministers that, when it comes to strengthening our democracy, they will prioritise the many, not the few?
The hon. Gentleman is unaware that the number of people on his own constituency’s electoral register rose, according to Office for National Statistics figures released last week.
What conversations has the Minister had with charities and health workers about raising awareness of changes to anonymous voter registration for victims of domestic abuse?
I really welcome this question, as it gives us an opportunity to remind health workers and the professionals throughout our constituencies who can now help with this. For example, the Royal College of Midwives, with Government support, recently released such guidance.
The Prime Minister was asked—
May I start, Mr Speaker, by wishing you, all Members and everyone who works on the parliamentary estate a very happy Easter?
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.
Under Conservative leadership since last May, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has protected social care and other core services. Will the Prime Minister reject the calls from the Opposition to scrap the council tax referendum lock, which prevents excessive council tax rises?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend, who raises an important point. He also makes a point about the success of Dudley Council under Conservative leadership. People living in the Conservative-led Dudley Council area pay among the lowest council tax in the west midlands. Since taking control from Labour, the council has reversed Labour’s street cleaning cuts, scrapped its plans to charge for green waste collection and maintained the weekly bin collection. It is very clear that if people want to pay less and get good services, they should vote Conservative on 3 May.
I join the Prime Minister in wishing you, Mr Speaker, all Members of the House, and indeed our entire community, a very happy Easter.
This week is Autism Awareness Week, and I welcome the work of the National Autistic Society and others. I hope the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the families of Connor Sparrowhawk and Teresa Colvin for their dignity in campaigning for answers about the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of Southern Health. Last week, the health service ombudsman said that too many patients suffered
“failings in mental health care”
“violations of the most basic human rights of patients.”
How confident is the Prime Minister that deaths like Connor’s and Teresa’s could not happen today?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. First of all, significant steps have been taken in raising awareness of autism and ensuring that there is support available for those who are on the autistic spectrum, but the very sad deaths of Teresa Colvin and Connor Sparrowhawk raise very real questions. I join him in paying tribute to the families for the way in which they have campaigned on this particular issue. Obviously these incidents took place some time ago, and lessons have been learned by the health and social care system as a result of the failings of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. The Government are supporting NHS providers to be open and to learn from mistakes so that they reduce the risks to future patients and prevent tragedies from happening. A comprehensive Care Quality Commission inspection of Southern Health is expected later this year.
The ombudsman, Rob Behrens, also said that
“there aren’t enough skilled and qualified staff, there is a problem in recruiting them and there is an overuse of agency staff”,
so could the Prime Minister explain why there are 5,000 fewer mental health nurses than there were in 2010?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have already committed to improving mental health services on the ground. We are putting extra money into mental health services. I am pleased to say that about 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day compared with when we came into power. And of course it is this Government who have ensured that we have given parity of esteem to the treatment of mental health in the national health service and are increasing the training and recruitment of people to provide those mental health services. This is about the NHS; it is also about services in our communities; and it is also about ensuring that we can intervene at an early stage for those young people who develop mental health problems. That is why I was pleased to launch the initiative for there to be training in schools so that there is a member of staff who is able to identify mental health problems and able to ensure that young people get the support they need.
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 did indeed embed parity of esteem in law, thanks to a Labour amendment introduced in the House of Lords—but sadly the money never followed. The charity Rethink Mental Illness said recently that
“our overstretched services are failing”.
ITV’s Project 84 campaign highlights the horrifying figure that male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, with 84 taking their lives every week. Earlier this month, the Health Secretary said:
“The prime minister and I have made mental health services a personal priority”.
I fully acknowledge and accept the Prime Minister’s very genuine concern about mental health, but mental health trusts have got fewer resources. Why does the analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists show that mental health trusts have £105 million less than they had six years ago?
As I have just said, of course dealing with mental health is not just a question of what is happening inside the health service; there are wider areas of responsibility for dealing with mental health. What have we done on mental health? Yes, parity of esteem is there. As I said, 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day compared with when we came into power. Spending on mental health has increased to a record £11.6 billion, with a further £1 billion by 2020-21. We are ensuring that we are putting more money in. We have responded to the report of the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health in the workplace. [Interruption.] It is all very well Labour Members chuntering about this, but dealing with mental health means addressing it in a variety of ways. We are taking more steps to address the issues of mental health than the Labour Government ever took when they were in power.
Mental health spending fell by £600 million between 2010 and 2015. Far too often, a mental health crisis has to be dealt with by police, friends, neighbours or people in the community, and too many of our fellow citizens suffer alone because there are insufficient staff to help them at a moment of crisis. It is quite clear that the mental health budget is insufficient. The Prime Minister mentioned young people. Can she explain why only 6% of the overall mental health budget is spent on children and young people when they make up 20% of our population?
As I have just said, we are in fact increasing the services that are available to children and young people, but this is not just about what happens in NHS trusts. It is important we look at this in the round. That is why we are ensuring that there is training in schools to help young people. We have committed to ensuring that 70,000 more children and young people each year have access to high-quality NHS mental health care by 2020-21. We have backed those proposals by additional funding for the work we are doing in schools and how they deal with children and young people’s mental health.
We are also taking action in other areas. When I was Home Secretary, one of the issues I saw was the fact that the police found it very difficult to deal with people in mental health crises because they did not have the training to do it. Putting those people, including young people, into a cell overnight was not helping them. We have changed that. We have seen a dramatic reduction in that number, and we have made it clear that young people will never be taken to a police cell as a place of safety.
I fully acknowledge the work the police do in helping people in a mental health crisis. My point is that there should be more mental health professionals to help people in a crisis. Half of all enduring mental health conditions materialise before the age of 14. Spending on child and adolescent mental health should be a priority. Instead, sadly, the number of child and adolescent psychiatrists has fallen by 6.3%. Fully staffing our children’s and young people’s mental health has to be a priority.
I am not aware that there was a question at the end of that, but I will repeat the point. Young people’s mental health is a very serious issue; the right hon. Gentleman is focusing on one aspect. That is why we are ensuring that we start to address this at an earlier stage. He is right about the high proportion of mental health problems that start before somebody is 14. That is exactly why we are doing more in our schools and working to ensure that we have training for teachers.
There is a wider issue here, which I am sure everybody in the House will recognise. When I talk to young people who have developed mental health problems and hear about the problems they are facing, sadly, one of the issues that puts increasing pressure on young people’s mental health today is the use of social media and the bullying and harassment that they get on it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will join me in saying that we need both to help our young people to have greater resilience in dealing with that social media bullying and to ensure that social media is not used in a way that leads to mental health problems that could well be with those young people for the rest of their lives.
I hope, in the light of what the Prime Minister just said, that she will support our digital bill of rights, which will ensure that there are proper protections for people.
A young woman wrote to me this week who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and is regarded as a high suicide risk. She was told to wait three months for an appointment. That was cancelled and she had to wait a further three months. It is very hard to explain to someone why they have to wait all those months for an appointment while they are in a desperate situation.
Mental health affects us all, and it is welcome that there is now much less stigma surrounding it. However, our NHS is in crisis, and the crisis is particularly acute in mental health services. Despite legislating for parity of esteem, the Government have failed to fund it. We have fewer resources for mental health trusts, fewer mental health nurses and fewer child and adolescent psychiatrists. Will the Prime Minister commit to ring-fencing the NHS mental health budget to support those going through a mental health crisis, at a time when they most need our help and our support?
The national health service is receiving extra funding from this Government—extra funding for mental health and extra funding for other services. Since November, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that an extra £10 billion is going into our NHS over the next few years. How are we able to do that? We are able to do that because we take a balanced approach to our economy. That means keeping our debts down, ensuring that we are investing in our public services such as the NHS and mental health services, and actually keeping taxes down for ordinary working people. Labour’s approach would mean increased debt, less money for mental health services and higher taxes for working people—and ordinary working people would pay the price of Labour.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend: we need to get on and deliver Brexit, recognising the vote that was taken. It is a pity that we have seen from the Labour party a track record of trying to frustrate Brexit, rather than trying to make it work. Its MEPs voted against our moving on the negotiations via the European Parliament; the Opposition voted against the Bill that will give us a smooth withdrawal from the EU; and they oppose us spending money to prepare for our exit. It is the Conservatives in government who are getting on and delivering for the voters of North Devon.
The public must have trust in our political process. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that transparency in political campaign spending and the integrity of electoral laws across the UK must be upheld, and will she join me in saying that all allegations of improper spending during the EU referendum must be fully investigated?
We have laws about election spending, and parties are required to abide by those laws. I understand that any allegations that have come forward in respect of spending during the referendum have already been investigated by the Electoral Commission, but it is of course right that allegations are investigated by the Electoral Commission.
We know that before the EU referendum the Democratic Unionist party received £425,000 from the Conservative-run Constitutional Research Council, chaired by Richard Cook, the former vice-chair of the Scottish Tories. We know that some of that money was given to Aggregate IQ, a reported franchise of Cambridge Analytica. We know that Chris Wylie is “absolutely convinced” of a common purpose between Vote Leave, BeLeave, Veterans for Britain and the DUP. The shady business of data mining and undermining electoral laws goes right to the heart of the Prime Minister’s party. Will the Prime Minister issue the full details of the transactions between the DUP and the Scottish Tory-linked CRC?
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the issue of Vote Leave. As I have just said, I understand that this matter has already been investigated twice by the Electoral Commission. He raises questions about inquiries. If there is an allegation of criminal activity, that should be taken to the police. The regulator of election spending is the Electoral Commission, so if there is an allegation of breaches of campaign spending or campaign funding rules, that should be taken to the Electoral Commission. My understanding is that the Electoral Commission does indeed investigate these and will continue to do so when allegations are brought to its attention.
This is an issue on which my hon. Friend has campaigned strong and hard in the interests of her constituents. The NHS in north Cumbria is working on plans for considerable investment in local health services, including the completion of the new build at West Cumberland Hospital and the creation of an academic campus. It is committed to doing all it can to maintain consultant-led maternity services at West Cumberland Hospital. Patient safety is the priority, and the NHS is doing all it can to ensure that a safe and sustainable service can be provided to her constituents and to others.
I would like, first, to look at the report that the hon. Gentleman’s group is providing. What he is saying would potentially fit into the modern industrial strategy that the Government have already launched. We want to build on the strengths of our economy, but also to ensure that people in the UK are skilled for the jobs of the future. I am happy to look at the report and to ensure that he can meet me or the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to look at the results.
As I have said before in this House, it is important that people can have confidence in how their personal data is used and that the Information Commissioner is able to investigate cases that are drawn to her attention. The Data Protection Bill will strengthen the law in this area. We will give the Information Commissioner’s Office tougher provisions to ensure that organisations comply with its investigations. At the heart of the digital charter that we have set out is the principle that personal data should be respected and used appropriately.
The hon. Gentleman talks about funding for local councils. Of course, we have heard in the announcements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that more money is going into local councils over the next couple of years. If the hon. Gentleman worries about what is happening at local council level, he ought to look at the figures that have come out today, which show very clearly that if you live in an area where the council is run by the Labour party, you pay £100 more than under the Conservatives.
I am very happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that promoting home ownership remains a central part of this Government’s policy. We are also introducing a number of measures that will help people who rent their properties. I am pleased, as he said, that the number of first-time buyers has reached its highest level for—he said 10 years, but I think it is 11 years. Of course it is important that we provide funding for Help to Buy, but that cut in stamp duty was also important. The Labour party sometimes talks about homes, but which party was it that voted against that cut in stamp duty? The Labour party.
Order. I do not care how long it takes—I have all the time in the world—but the question will be heard and the answer will be heard. That applies to every single answer and question in this Chamber, no matter how long it takes.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. To conclude my question, I was asking about families earning just £145 a week not receiving school dinners for their children while Members of this House, earning 10 times that sum, are subject to subsidised catering from the taxpayer.
I hope the hon. Lady was not implying that anybody who is currently in receipt of a free school meal will have that taken away from them, because they will not. They will not. She talks about changes that are happening next week. Yes, we will see pensioners getting a boost to their pension next week, 31 million income tax payers will get an income tax cut and 2 million people living on the national living wage will get a pay rise. That is Conservatives delivering for everyone.
I am very happy to wish everyone in Telford, and indeed around the country, a very happy Easter. I am very pleased to welcome, as my hon. Friend has done, the considerable investment announced by the NHS in the hospital that serves her constituents. This is another example of how all we ever hear from the Labour party is the NHS being done down in funding terms, when what we see on the ground is more money coming into the NHS, improving services and serving constituents.
Easter is of course the most important time in the Christian calendar. It is a time of new life and hope. The message of the cross and the resurrection help to support Christians around the world. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the very real persecution faced by too many Christians around the world. I was pleased to meet recently Father Daniel from Nineveh and Idlib, who talked about the very real persecution suffered by his congregations. He presented me with a bible that had been burned after a church had been set on fire. It was rescued and is now in No. 10 Downing Street. We stand with those persecuted Christians. We will be looking to see what more the Government can do to support them.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. This is why, when we look at the issue of mental health problems and mental health difficulties for young people, we need to look widely at the ways in which those problems can be caused and at the origins of those problems. She is right that the sort of abuse that she referred to can have a very terrible effect on the mental health of young people.
On my hon. Friend’s specific point, our Green Paper on transforming children’s mental health services proposes the establishment of new mental health support teams, who will be there, managed by schools, colleges and the NHS. One of the issues that they will particularly look at is supporting young people who have experienced trauma. She has identified a number of cases where those young people may experience that trauma. This is important: it is about young people’s futures.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises this Government’s record in relation to LGBT rights. We have taken up and championed the issue. He will find that previous legislation—I think actually under the previous Labour Government—ensured that it would be dealt with as a devolved matter, and we hope that a Northern Ireland Executive will be in place soon and be able to address these issues.
I am sure that my hon. Friend’s working with those who are looking for a solution will be important and welcomed. I understand that when Church Hill dental practice closes, NHS England will be working with other dental practices in the area to ensure that services are available and that they can increase their capacity. A wider piece of work is being undertaken about dental services in east Kent—the needs and provision of those services—and I am sure, as I say, that my hon. Friend’s contribution to that will be welcomed.
The hon. Gentleman makes certain claims in that question that I did not recognise. I simply say this: if there are those who are trying to suggest that the Government should be rejecting the result of the referendum as a result of these sorts of claims, I say to them very clearly that the referendum was held—[Interruption.]
Order. Calm yourself, Mr Brown. I know you were obviously a very popular figure when you rose to ask your question, but you must listen to the answer—my dear chap, patience.
As I was saying, the referendum was held, the vote was taken, the people gave their view and we will be delivering on it.
I join my hon. Friend in recognising the work that is done by the Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College in his constituency and the skills that it gives young people who wish to enter the armed forces, but he raises an important point about funding in relation to our armed forces. I can announce today that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I have agreed that the Ministry of Defence will have access to £600 million this coming financial year for the MOD’s Dreadnought submarine programme. Today’s announcement will ensure that the work to rebuild the UK’s new world-class nuclear submarines remains on schedule, and it is another sign of the deep commitment this Government have to keeping our country safe. Along with the £200 million carry-forward agreed at the supplementary estimates, that means that the MOD will benefit from an extra £800 million in the next financial year. We continue to exceed the NATO 2% target and remain the second biggest defence spender in NATO.
The Cambridge Analytica revelations suggest that there is something rotten in the state—[Interruption.]
Order. This is very unseemly. [Interruption.] No, I am sorry, it is very unseemly. The hon. Lady—[Interruption.] Mr Pound, your expertise in gesticulation is well known to all Members of the House, but it is not required to be on display at this time. Caroline Lucas will be heard.
The Cambridge Analytica revelations suggest that there is something rotten in the state of our democracy. The current electoral law is woefully inadequate at dealing with the combination of big money and big data, so will the Prime Minister commit to urgent cross-party talks to kick-start a process to ensure that we have a regulatory and legal framework that is up to the challenge of dealing with the digital age?
As I have said previously, clearly the allegations relating to Cambridge Analytica are concerning, because people should be able to have confidence about how their personal data is being used. It is right that we are seeing the Information Commissioner investigating this matter. I expect Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and any others involved to co-operate fully with the Information Commissioner’s Office in the investigation that is taking place. As I said earlier, our Data Protection Bill will strengthen the powers of the Information Commissioner, but it will also strengthen legislation around data protection, as will the other steps that the Government are taking—for example, through our digital charter. This is a Government who are committing to making sure that this is a safe place to be online.
Would the Prime Minister confirm her reported opinion that we are highly unlikely to introduce a new hard border between Britain and Europe by December 2020? Presumably it could take years to train thousands of customs officers and build new lorry parks and other infrastructure at Dover, Holyhead and elsewhere if we tried to, so will she confirm her strongly preferred policy option of frictionless trade in future between the EU and the United Kingdom and an open border in Ireland, in conformity with the Good Friday agreement, and seek a customs arrangement that I personally hope will resemble the existing customs union very closely indeed?
I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that we are indeed committed. We have given that commitment—we gave it in the December joint report and we have given it in the negotiating stage that was completed last week—to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and also to ensure that businesses in Northern Ireland can continue to trade freely with the rest of the United Kingdom and vice versa. We are working to ensure that we have tariff-free trade and trade that is as frictionless as possible. As I am sure he will know, trade between the UK and the EU is not completely frictionless today, but we will ensure that trade is as frictionless as possible in the future. We have put forward proposals and we have started discussing them in detail with the European Commission, and I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that the Home Secretary and others are taking the steps necessary to ensure that we have the arrangements in place for when we come to the end of the implementation period.
It has been four weeks since the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse published a damning report about the treatment of British children sent overseas by their Government. They were physically, sexually and emotionally abused, separated from siblings and wrongly told that their families were dead. Successive Governments supressed information, ignored warnings and continued to send children to harm for decades. The report is unequivocal that compensation is owed and that this is now urgent. Many have died and others are dying, but in the last four weeks the Government have failed to issue a response, to set out any timetable for a response or even to agree which Department is responsible for formulating a response. The Prime Minister commissioned this report. Will she now get a grip on her Government, stand by its verdict and ensure that no more have to die waiting for justice?
I did indeed commission the work that is being done in looking at the treatment of children and the abuse of children in the past. I think that that was important. I said at the time that I thought that many people would be shocked by some of the results, including, obviously, the issue of former child migrants to which the hon. Lady has referred.
I can confirm that the Department of Health and Social Care is responsible for policy on former child migrants. As the hon. Lady will know, we have funded the Child Migrants Trust since 1990 so that it can expand its work in seeking resolution for former child migrants and their families. It has received more than £7 million, and in the 1990s we provided £1 million for travel to help former child migrants to be reunited with their families. At the time of the Government’s formal national apology to former child migrants in 2010, an £8 million family restoration fund was established.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the young British artist Hannah Rose Thomas and the charity Open Doors? Together they organised the current exhibition in our Upper Waiting Hall to draw attention to the plight of Yazidi women, 3,000 of whom are still in captivity and subject to some form of the slavery that my right hon. Friend has fought so hard to combat.
I am very happy to welcome this awareness-raising exhibition, and to commend Hannah Rose Thomas and others who have been involved in bringing the plight of the Yazidi women to the attention of the House and those visiting the House. I know that people felt horror and consternation when they first saw the treatment of the Yazidis, particularly Yazidi women, which is, of course, continuing. As my right hon. Friend says, we must not forget, and we must do everything we can to ensure that those women are freed from what is, as she says, a life of slavery in many cases.
Children at Canal View primary school in Wester Hailes, in my constituency, have just won the ultimate school trip competition, with the prize of a holiday to Mallorca next month. There is just one problem. One of their classmates is a Syrian refugee, and he has been told by the Home Office that he cannot travel with his friends because he does not have the proper documents. The Home Office says that it will take three months for those documents to come through. Will the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary help me to cut through the red tape so that this wee boy can go with his friends to enjoy the holiday of a lifetime?
I congratulate the primary school on winning the competition. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has heard what the hon. and learned Lady has said, and will look into the case.
As the Prime Minister will know, the High Court today overturned a decision by the Parole Board to release the black-cab rapist John Worboys. Does she share my admiration for the brave victims who challenged that the decision in court, does she agree that they should never have had to do so, and does she agree that this gigantic, landmark decision must now provoke a rethink of a criminal justice system in which many of us no longer have confidence?
Let me say first that I have the greatest sympathy with all those who were victims of Worboys, and I know that the sympathies of the whole House will be with them as well in the light of what they have suffered as a result of his horrific crimes.
I welcome today’s judgment which found in favour of the brave victims who brought this legal action. The court’s findings give rise to serious concerns, and it is right that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will be making a statement shortly. One of those findings is that it is unlawful to impose a blanket prohibition on the disclosure of Parole Board information. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary had already been looking into that, and has made it clear that he will ensure that it is dealt with as soon as possible. The decision will now revert to the Parole Board, but the evidence that the board has will be updated, and it will take account of the findings of the court. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is right to say that the case gives rise to serious concerns, and my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will set out the next steps to be taken in his statement later today.
I call Jack Dromey, who I trust will speak with his legendary succinctness.
Some 259 years of GKN history will be decided in the next 24 hours—a hostile takeover, not in the British national interest, that the Government have powers to block. May I ask the Prime Minister this? Disturbing evidence has come to light of a hedge fund scam to buy shares in GKN while avoiding paying tax on shares that will determine the future of GKN. Will she agree to condemn this outrageous practice and investigate as a matter of urgency?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is primarily a commercial decision for GKN. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is in discussion with the parties on an impartial basis and has sought reassurance from them on their plans. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that illegal activity has taken place, that should be reported to the proper authorities.
The first words of the Speaker’s Chaplain this afternoon repeated Jesus’s instruction to love others.
I hope that the Prime Minister and leaders of Opposition parties will help to protect Jews from anti-Semitism and Muslims from Islamophobia.
If the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office and others fail to have an independent inquiry into the recent prosecution of Gurpal Virdi, a Sikh, will the Prime Minister please meet me to discuss the matter?
I know that this is a case that my hon. Friend has taken up and championed for some time, and I believe that he and I have met and discussed it previously. Obviously, I am willing to meet him to discuss the case again. On my hon. Friend’s wider point, there should be a very clear message from all of us in the House that there is no place for racial hatred or hate crime in our society. That should not be part of our society—whether it is Islamophobia or anti-Semitism. That is something we should all stand up against and do our best to eradicate from our society.
I am sure that we all agree that the Speaker’s Chaplain is an example of love, compassion and empathy from which we can all benefit.
Shortly, I will be meeting workers from De La Rue in my constituency who are visiting the House today. Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that no decision or announcement will be made on the passport contract until after the recess, so that the House may discuss the issue?
This House did, of course, discuss the issue earlier this week during an urgent question to my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister. I understand that the final decision has not been taken but that a preferred bidder has been announced. There is then a proper process that gives a length of time, as I understand it, for challenges to be brought forward by others in the process. The Home Office is following exactly the right process to ensure that we have secure passports produced on a basis that gives good value to the taxpayer.
The Government inspector’s report into Northamptonshire County Council makes it crystal clear that there is no reason to further postpone the transfer of the fire service from the county council to the police and crime commissioner. Given that that enjoys popular support and the support of the county’s seven MPs, and is essential to protect investment in the fire service and firefighters’ jobs, will the Prime Minister instruct the Policing and Fire Minister to approve the transfer without delay?
As I think my hon. Friend knows, as Home Secretary I was long a champion of fire services being able to come under police and crime commissioners’ areas of responsibility. Indeed, a former Conservative police and crime commissioner in Northamptonshire was one of the early proponents of that particular move. I have heard what my hon. Friend has said and will make sure that his comments are brought to the attention of the Policing and Fire Minister.