I know that Members across the whole House will wish to join me in offering our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Michael Martin, latterly Lord Martin of Springburn, who died earlier this week. He served as Speaker for nearly nine years, and I am sure Members will remember his sense of public service, his commitment to his constituency in Glasgow and his good humour. I particularly remember him for the courtesy he always showed me.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Upskirting is the vile practice of taking a photo under a woman’s skirt without her consent. It is neither a specific nor a sexual offence under the current law in England and Wales. I have been working closely with Gina Martin, who has been campaigning for months to change that, and her lawyer to produce a private Member’s Bill to make upskirting a specific crime under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. They have both joined us here today.
Does the Prime Minister agree with us that the law in England and Wales should be reformed so that, in all circumstances, women like Gina and, indeed, the Prime Minister herself will be protected from upskirt images being taken without their consent?
May I first say to the hon. Lady that I share the outrage at this intrusive behaviour that she has referred to and the distress it can cause to victims? We are determined to ensure that victims do have confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously. It is possible currently to bring prosecutions, but my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is examining the state of the law at the moment to make sure it is fit for purpose and, as part of that work, he is considering her Bill in detail.
We absolutely share my hon. Friend’s concern about ensuring that we are supporting local communities, and that we are delivering better infrastructure in those communities and maximising the potential of our country. The housing infrastructure fund is an important part of that. We need to build more homes across this country, but we also need to ensure that the infrastructure is there to support those homes and help those local communities. That is exactly what we are doing.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Michael Martin, the former Labour MP for Glasgow, Springburn and later Speaker of the House. He worked in the engineering industry in Glasgow and was active in the then Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. He and I first met when we were fellow organisers in the National Union of Public Employees in the 1970s, campaigning for decent public sector pay and a national minimum wage. Michael loved the community he represented and loved his family, and our deepest thoughts and sympathies go to his family at this time.
Did the Prime Minister feel the slightest pang of guilt when the Home Secretary was forced to resign due to the failures of her predecessor?
I think it might be helpful if I first update the House on the actions the Government have taken and are continuing to take in relation to the Windrush generation. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be addressing the House on this later today. We all share the ambition to make sure we do right by members of the Windrush generation, which is why he will be announcing a package of measures to bring transparency on the issue, to make sure that the House is informed, and to reassure Members of this House but, more importantly, to reassure those people who have been directly affected. Speed is of the essence and my right hon. Friend will be commissioning a full review of lessons learned, independent oversight and external challenge, with the intention of reporting back to this House before we rise for the summer. The review will have full access to all relevant information in the Home Office, including policy papers and casework decisions.
This was a crisis made in the Home Office by successive Home Secretaries. Only a week ago today, the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), then Home Secretary, was denying there were any targets, in front of the Home Affairs Committee. On Monday, the Prime Minister told the media:
“When I was Home Secretary, yes, there were targets”.
One wonders why the Prime Minister didn’t tell her Home Secretary about that. The pain that has been caused to the Windrush generation needs to be resolved very rapidly, with full compensation paid as quickly as it can possibly be done and an understanding of the hurt that they feel. But this is not the only failure of this Government or of their policies. The Government used to talk about a “long-term economic plan”, but now we have the slowest growing economy in the G7. The Chancellor, sitting two places along from the Prime Minister, told the House that he had a “positively Tiggerish” view of the British economy, yet it has the worst economic growth figures for five years. What plans do the Government have to change course to ensure we do get economic growth?
First, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman, on the Windrush generation, I was Home Secretary when some of these decisions were taken and mistakes were made about individual cases, and I have apologised for that. The former Home Secretary also apologised for that. The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that these are decisions that have been taken under successive Home Secretaries, including under the last Labour Government, and if he wants to talk about the economy, let’s just look at what we have seen in our economy in recent weeks: day-to-day spending in surplus for the first time in 16 years; the lowest net borrowing in over a decade; exports of goods and services at a record high; employment at a record high; and real wages up. That is a Conservative Government delivering an economy fit for the future.
Four facts about the economy: more people in debt, more people using food banks, more people sleeping on our streets, and more children in poverty. The consequences of decisions made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are that the NHS is suffering the longest funding squeeze in history. It has sent our health service into an all-year-round crisis. Will the Prime Minister apologise to NHS patients waiting longer than ever for the worst A&E waiting times on record?
I gave the right hon. Gentleman some facts about the economy; I can give him some others: more people in work, and actually fewer children in absolute poverty under this Government. When it comes to the national health service, since November my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced £10 billion extra for the national health service. I have also said that we want to ensure that the national health service is able to operate on a long-term plan. That is why we are conducting a review to produce that long-term plan, with sustainable multi-year funding. That is the sensible approach to take—not just to say that this is all about money, but to say, “How can we ensure that the NHS is the NHS that will deliver for people in the future?” That is about funding. It is also about reforming the NHS to make sure that patients get the right treatment.
Not only was March the worst month on record in A&E departments; it was also the worst month for cancelled operations. There are 100,000 vacancies for NHS staff—and the Prime Minister personally intervened to overrule the Health Secretary and the previous Home Secretary when they asked for a relaxation of visa rules in order to recruit staff to work in our NHS.
But it is not just the NHS where the Government are damaging our public services. In January, the Education Secretary promised that no school would see a cut in its funding. Last week, he was invited to repeat that pledge, and refused. I wonder why. Will the Prime Minister now tell parents, teachers and students the truth—that the schools budget is in fact being cut in real terms all over the country?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. What we are doing is ensuring that there is more money available to schools. We are ensuring that we are protecting that core budget, because we want to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, gets the education that they need and the education that fulfils their potential. That is why, once again, it is not just a question of the money you put in; it is about how you spend the money you are spending. That is why I am pleased to say that 1.9 million more children are in good or outstanding schools under this Government and education standards are going up under this Government. That means more opportunities for our young people.
It is quite astonishing that the Education Secretary has been corrected by the UK Statistics Authority. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that schools budgets are being cut, and the Prime Minister still appears to be in denial. It is not just in the NHS and education that this Government are damaging our public services; it is also about police budgets. The previous Home Secretary claimed there was no link between police numbers and serious violent crime; yet Home Office civil servants said there is a link. Who does the Prime Minister think is right?
First, on crime and police budgets, we are of course this year making available £450 million more for police forces across the country. We have been protecting police budgets, which is in direct contrast to what it was suggested to me I should do by the former shadow Home Secretary and Labour Member who is now Mayor of Manchester. He suggested 5% to 10% cuts could be made in police budgets.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the relationship between police numbers and crime. His own shadow Police Minister has said in terms that there is not that relationship between police funding and the number of crimes that take place. Once again, it is about how we ensure we are dealing with these issues. It is about ensuring about that the police are able to deal with the challenges and crimes of today, and that is what we are doing with our serious violence strategy and our National Crime Agency—taking action across the board to ensure that our police are able to keep people safe.
Our shadow Police Minister was pointing out that there has been a £2.3 billion cut in police budgets in the last Parliament, and it is the Prime Minister’s Government who are underfunding our police force: 21,000 police officers have lost their jobs since 2010, and 6,700 police community support officers lost their jobs. Meantime, violent crime is rising and, sadly, there are deaths from knife crime on the streets of most cities, particularly in London.
The economy is slowing, homelessness is rising, more children are living in poverty, the Home Office is in chaos and the Government are making a complete shambles of the Brexit negotiations. They are damaging our NHS, damaging our children’s schools and cutting police as crime soars, and they claim to be “strong and stable”! With council tax rising by more than 5% all over the country, is not the truth facing voters tomorrow that with the Tories you pay more and you get less?
More funding going into the NHS, more funding going into our schools, more funding going into social care, but if the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about council tax and its impact on local residents, I suggest he go to Hazelbourne Road in Clapham. On one side of the road in a typical home someone will pay nearly £1,400 in council tax. Now that, of course, is in Labour-run Lambeth. On the other side of the road, someone in a typical home will pay just over £700 in council tax. That is in Conservative-run Wandsworth. No clearer example can there be that Conservative councils cost you less.
A young mother in Coatbridge; a grandmother who has lived here for 50 years; a former cook in this Parliament—just three examples of people who have been wrongly told to leave the United Kingdom. Then there are numerous people wrongly detained or deported, lives turned upside down and irreparable damage to families. The Prime Minister said in this Chamber on 22 October 2013,
“deport first and hear appeals later.”—[Official Report, 22 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 158.]
Will she now withdraw those remarks?
The right hon. Gentleman is referring to changes to the legislation that later became the Immigration Act 2014. He is right; and I have apologised not just for the anxiety that has been caused to people in the Windrush generation, but to those who have found that the wrong decisions have been taken about their situation. The Windrush generation are British and they are part of us, which is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is making sure that the taskforce that has been put in place is dealing with cases expeditiously and is giving people reassurance about their status here. We need to ensure that we are a welcoming country for people who want to come here and contribute, but that we take action against those who are here illegally, who break the rules and try to play the system.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister failed to remove these insulting remarks. It is easy for her to change her Secretary of State—she does it frequently —but she needs to change her policies. An estimated 120,000 undocumented children are currently entitled to UK citizenship by law, but only if they register at the cost of £1,000. This is a new Windrush generation, who will be unable to secure jobs and rent properties. These children, who are entitled to citizenship, should not be charged to exercise their rights. How can she possibly justify these policies?
Members of the public want to ensure that we have a fair immigration system and that we have rules that people abide by, and that is why we make a very clear distinction. I want people who come here legally, who do the right thing and contribute to our society, to feel that this is one of the most welcoming countries in the world. On the other side, we need to ensure that we have a system that deals with those who break the rules, play the system and try to jump ahead of others. That is what people expect from us. They want us to have a system that is fair and sets out rules, and for us to ensure that people are abiding by those rules.
We very much value the work done by the explosive ordnance disposal units of 33 and 101 Engineer Regiments. The veterans strategy recently launched by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is groundbreaking. There will be a Government taskforce from Departments across the whole of Whitehall that will focus on exactly the sorts of issues that my hon. Friend raised. It will be assessing how we can help veterans to meet the financial demands of civilian life, crucially ensuring that mental and physical wellbeing is maximised and offering the best possible advice to veterans on housing. These are key issues for veterans and they are exactly what we will be focusing on in the strategy.
We have been rolling out universal credit at a pace that ensures we have been able to hear from those who have been affected by it and to make changes—and changes have been made in the way that universal credit is introduced in this country. We have ensured that we have reduced the seven days’ waiting time, for example. But what lies behind universal credit is the belief that the important thing to help to sustain families is to get people into work. The evidence on universal credit is that it is doing just that: it is helping people into work. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman should welcome a policy that helps people to get into the workplace.
First of all, I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the return of commercial flights to Carlisle airport, which will allow more people to access the borderlands region. He talks about support for the borderlands. Of course, the borderlands growth deal that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor committed to is an important part of that. I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent appointment as borderlands growth deal champion. I am sure that he will be doing all he can to ensure that that Government support is there and that the borderlands continue to thrive.
We have been very clear that we will not see a border down the Irish sea. We have been clear about that in the joint report that was issued by us and the European Commission and adopted by the European Council in December. When the European Commission made a proposal for dealing with the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland that would have meant a border down the Irish sea, I was clear that neither I nor any British Prime Minister could accept that.
I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance that he is asking for. He is right that we are supporting the NHS in Boston and Skegness. Any decision taken by the trust about the services available will of course be made to ensure that the provision of services is safe for patients. The trust is continuing to try to recruit paediatricians to support the service. It wants to continue to provide paediatric services at Boston, and every effort will be made to ensure that that can continue.
The hon. and learned Lady might have listened to the answer that I gave earlier in Prime Minister’s Question Time. She might also have listened to the answers that I gave last week, and I was very clear in my apology to those of the Windrush generation who have been caught up in this issue. She talks about what has happened here. What has happened is that people who are here legally and who are British have found themselves caught up in this, and as I said, I apologise for that. What has also happened is that over the years, Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments have successively been taking action to deal with illegal immigrants, which is a different issue. This is an issue that has been dealt with by Governments of all colours.
May I take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) on his appointment to the Home Office, which is such an important Department in terms of not only security but ensuring we have a safe and fair immigration policy? The UK threat level remains at severe. Last year we had five terrorist attacks that got through, and 36 innocent people were killed. May I invite the Prime Minister to share our admiration for the extraordinary work and bravery of our counter-terrorism police, our emergency services and our security services, for which I know we are all grateful?
First, I am pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and the work she did as Home Secretary. She did valuable work across all elements of the Home Office, including on issues like modern slavery and domestic violence. The work that she did with the internet companies to keep people safe on the internet was groundbreaking. I share her support and admiration for the work that all in our emergency services, our police, our counter-terrorism police and our security and intelligence agencies do to keep us safe, and I commend her for the work she did following the terrorist attacks last year to set in train action to ensure that we continue to give those services the support they need to continue to keep us safe.
What my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said was that he absolutely shares the need to differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants. He also said that there was a certain phrase he was not going to use—a phrase that was first used by Labour Ministers in government. Across Government, we are clear that we are working hard to support and help those of the Windrush generation who have been caught up in this issue recently and across time, but we are also ensuring that we have a fair immigration policy which ensures that people who break the rules, play the system and try to jump ahead of others are not able to carry on being here in this country in the same way as those who play by the rules, are hard-working taxpayers and contribute to our society. That is only fair.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If those who are taking part in council elections tomorrow and making those decisions look up and down the country, they will see that it is Conservative councils that support local communities, provide good local services and keep council tax low. The message is very clear: if that is what you want, vote Conservative tomorrow.
We are very clear that we are going to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. We will be leaving the customs union, and we want to ensure that we can have an independent trade policy. We also want to ensure that we deliver—we are committed to delivering—on our commitment to having no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that we have as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union. There are a number of ways in which that can be delivered—[Interruption.] There are a number of ways in which that can be delivered, and if the hon. Lady is so interested in the whole question of a customs border, she might like to ask her Front Benchers to come to a decision on what the Labour party policy actually is on this.
The European Scrutiny Committee, which I have the honour to chair, has invited Mr Olly Robbins to appear before the Committee on several occasions since February, but so far this has not been arranged. Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to use her charm to ensure that Mr Robbins does appear, as have already the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Sir Tim Barrow?
As my hon. Friend will know, it is not normally the case that any request to a civil servant to appear before a Committee is automatically accepted; decisions are taken about the levels at which civil servants should appear before Committees. As he said, he has had a number of my right hon. Friends appear before his Committee—I remember, I am not sure I can say with fond memory, the time when I appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee when I was Home Secretary—but I will certainly look at the request that he has made.
It was precisely to identify this sort of disparity in public services that I launched the race disparity audit when I became Prime Minister. In some areas that does make for uncomfortable reading for our society, but it is absolutely right that we have done it and it is absolutely right that we then address the issues that it has raised.
The hon. Lady talks about the interaction of people with mental health problems and the police. This is not something that I waited to do something about until the race disparity audit; I did something about it when I was Home Secretary. We have significantly reduced the number of people with mental health problems who are being taken to a cell in a police station as a place of refuge, and we have ensured that there is health support available for the police. As a result, people who are in a mental health crisis are getting better treatment than they did previously. There is more to do, but we have already started to take action.
The hopes of the 464 survivors of thalidomide in the United Kingdom, the Thalidomide Trust and the all-party group on thalidomide, which I chair, were significantly depressed at the weekend when we saw the media coverage, particularly in The Sunday Times, suggesting that the German Government are seeking to resile from their verbal pledge to make good the promise to compensate the UK survivors whose mothers were prescribed and took the German-manufactured drug thalidomide. Their lives are shortening, and they need support. Will my right hon. Friend use her good offices to augment the work of the Foreign Office in making the case for UK thalidomide survivors to the German Government so that they can finally get the justice they have for too long been denied?
I fully recognise why the survivors of thalidomide were so concerned at the reports that they saw because, although back in 2012 the Department of Health announced an £80 million grant for thalidomide survivors, they of course have been able and are able to apply to the German Contergan Foundation for Disabled Persons for funds. In relation to the particular point my hon. Friend has raised, I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas met representatives of the Thalidomide Trust towards the end of last year to discuss this. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is remaining in contact with the trust, and it is pursuing its discussions with the German Government on this point.
The hon. Lady sets out what is obviously a very sad and tragic case in relation to her constituent. I am happy to look at the background of what led to that particular outcome. We all want to make sure that patients are able to be treated in the NHS when they need that treatment, and get the appropriate treatment. That is why we have been putting extra money into the NHS, but, as I say, it is a very sad case that she has outlined, and I am happy to look at the details of it.
As voters go to the polls tomorrow, could the Prime Minister confirm that a green future is at the heart of our local government policies? Would she agree to meet me and others to look at our aspiration for the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty to become a national park so that we can increase the opportunities afforded for open-air recreation on London’s doorstep?
We are protecting our natural environment. We want to leave a cleaner, greener Britain for our children. That is not just something that Conservatives in national Government want to do; it is what Conservatives in local government want to do as well. That is why we launched our 25-year environment plan. I know the beauty of the Chilterns; I enjoy walking in the Chilterns, and I am happy to meet my right hon. Friend and others to discuss her proposal.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been very clear that the blanket 1% cap that has taken place over recent years on public sector pay is not an approach that we are taking in the future. Obviously, Departments are funded at a certain level, and it is for Departments then to come forward with their proposals in relation to pay within their Department.
Today, council tax, on average, costs less in real terms than it did in 2010. Under 13 years of Labour in government, council tax doubled. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the council tax referendum principles that this Government have put in place have been a resounding success?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the facts that he has set out in relation to council tax. That is a result of decisions that have been taken by the Government to have that council tax referendum in place and of Conservative councils actually making decisions to freeze or to lower council tax, or to ensure that it is kept lower than in Labour councils. Conservative councils, on average, cost a typical family £100 less in council tax than councils run by other parties. That is important, and the Government have played their part with the council tax referendum.
This afternoon, the Treasury Committee will take evidence from TSB about the recent IT failures, which have left thousands of customers unable to access their accounts and unable to pay their bills, with some very severe consequences. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a robust and reliable banking IT infrastructure is essential in the modern economy? These failures are unfair to businesses that cannot pay in their takings, they are unfair to vulnerable customers, and they are particularly unfair when many banks are still closing branches.
I agree that a robust, safe and reliable IT system is essential to underpinning today’s world of modern banking. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and the Treasury Committee will ensure, through the evidence they take, that they get to the bottom of what happened in TSB.
Last Saturday night, an 83-year-old woman had a fall at home and was bleeding from a head wound. She waited for an ambulance for nearly three hours. Will the Prime Minister apologise to my constituent and promise the rest of the country that no one else’s elderly mum will suffer like that?
If the hon. Lady would like to provide more expansive details, I know the Secretary of State for Health will look very closely into the case that she identifies. I am sorry to hear of the circumstances of her constituent, but we will look into the case.
Last night at 9.08 pm, two men were shot outside Queensbury station on the edge of my constituency. One is dead and the other is in a critical condition. Queensbury station is an important transport hub for the people of Harrow East and Brent North. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the police for their prompt action in securing the area and for the messages of reassurance they are giving to the community today? Will she also take every necessary step to remove guns and knives from society to prevent reoccurrence?
I recognise the importance that is attached to Queensbury station, and I join my hon. Friend in commending the actions of the police and emergency services in response to this and other such incidents. He is right on the importance of dealing with offensive weapons, which is why we announced, under my right hon. Friend the previous Home Secretary and taken forward by the current Home Secretary, plans to introduce an offensive weapons Bill. It is why we launched the serious violence strategy and the serious violence taskforce, which brings Ministers and representatives from across this House together with police and others to deal with this issue. It has met for the first time and it will continue to meet to address this important issue.