The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in congratulating Alastair Cook on his fantastic service to English cricket. As England’s highest-ever-scoring batsman, his incredible career had many highlights, including the magnificent 147 in his last innings, against India. We wish him the very best for his future.
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 know that the Prime Minister appreciates the significance of fishing communities around the UK, not least my own constituency of Banff and Buchan. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to support our fishing communities during the implementation period? Will she look into ways to support the expansion of the catching fleet, infrastructure, processing capacity and other businesses that are reliant on the sector?
I fully recognise the importance of the fishing industry to my hon. Friend’s constituency and to other constituencies represented in this House. I reassure him that we want to secure a sustainable and profitable fishing industry that will regenerate coastal communities and support future generations of UK fishermen. Leaving the EU means taking back control of our waters, setting our own fisheries rules and exclusively determining who fishes what in our seas. It is a priority of the Government to make sure that we have an innovative, productive and competitive food supply chain. Work is under way to consider the long-term future of all funding programmes that are currently managed by the EU.
I, too, join the Prime Minister in congratulating Alastair Cook on a fantastic achievement and both teams on what has been an absolutely brilliant series, which I really enjoyed.
The National Farmers Union, the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Audit Office, the National Housing Federation, Gingerbread and the Royal Society of Arts—does the Prime Minister know what these organisations have in common?
Yes, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that what those organisations all have in common is that, across a variety of areas of activity, they give excellent service, they promote the interests of those whom they represent, and they are bodies with which this Government interact and to which this Government listen.
I am truly grateful to the Prime Minister for that answer, the first part of which I wholly agree with. What they also have—[Interruption.] It’s all right. What they also have in common is that they are telling this Government that their flagship benefits policy, universal credit, is flawed and failing hundreds of thousands of people both in work and out of work. In 2010, the Government declared that universal credit would lift 350,000 children out of poverty. Does the Prime Minister stand by that figure?
We introduced universal credit because we needed a system of welfare in this country that encouraged rather than discouraged people into work, that made sure that work always pays and that was a simpler system than the legacy system that we were left by the Labour party—remember the legacy system of the Labour party. It meant that we had individuals being paid £100,000 a year on benefits—all paid for by hard-working taxpayers earning a fraction of that sum.
The Child Poverty Action Group says that, far from taking children out of poverty, universal credit will now increase the number of children in poverty. Since 2010, half a million more children have gone into poverty relative to that time. The Government know that this policy is flawed and failing. Their own survey on universal credit found that many were in debt, a third were in arrears with their rent and half had fallen behind with their bills. Does the Prime Minister dispute her own Government’s survey, or dispute the experience of the claimants?
Let us look at the experience of some of the claimants. Roberta said, “My work coach helped turn my life around. He tailored his support to my situation and thanks to him I have found my dream job.” Ryan said, “I am happy with the new universal credit. My work coach has been great—I didn’t expect to have a job so soon.” Nayim said, “Universal credit gave me the flexibility to take on additional hours without the stress of thinking that this might stop my benefits straight away.” We have gone from a situation under the Labour party where 1.4 million people spent most of a decade trapped on benefits. We are helping to get people into work, which is why, earlier this week, we saw unemployment yet again at a record low.
We are all constituency MPs, and I think that most of us are well aware of the pain that universal credit is causing when people come into our advice bureaux. Some 60% of families facing cuts owing to the two-child policy are in work. Universal credit is not making work pay; it is taking money away from families and putting more children into poverty. The National Audit Office report found that universal credit is creating hardship, forcing people to use food banks and could end up costing the system even more. Does the Prime Minister dispute the National Audit Office findings?
The right hon. Gentleman talked about constituency cases. I remember—[Interruption.]
Order. We are at a very early stage of the proceedings. We have got a long way to go, but questions must be heard and the answers must be heard, and as usual I want to get through the Order Paper.
The right hon. Gentleman started his question by talking about constituency cases. I remember the single mother who came to see me as her Member of Parliament when Labour was in government who told me that she wanted to get into the workplace and provide a good example to her child, but the jobcentre had told her that she would be better off on benefits. That is the legacy of the Labour party.
My question was about the National Audit Office. The Trussell Trust backs the NAO. It says that food bank usage in areas where universal credit has been rolled out is four times higher than in areas where it has not been introduced. But, without resolving any of those failings in the next year, the Government propose to inflict this on another 2 million people. As part of that transfer, hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and on employment and support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and tax credits will receive a letter telling them that their support will be stopped. They will have to make an application for universal credit. Does the Prime Minister think it is the responsibility of the Government who are changing the system to ensure that people retain the support that they need, or is it down to the individual, many of whom are very vulnerable people who need help and support?
What the Government are doing is delivering a system that does give support to vulnerable people, but encourages people to get into the workplace, because we know that work is the best route out of poverty. However, if the right hon. Gentleman believes that universal credit needed some change, why, when we made changes such as reducing the waiting days for payment and bringing in a housing benefit overlap to help people, did Labour vote against those changes?
It is Labour that has been speaking up for the poorest in this country. It is Labour that has been challenging this Government. It is Labour that wants a decency within our society that this Government are incapable of delivering. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Spencer, I always thought you were a good natured, laid-back farmer. You seem to be a very over-excitable denizen of the House today. Calm yourself, man.
The mental health charity Mind says that there is a real possibility
“that many people with mental health problems could see their benefits stopped entirely”.
It is outrageous that vulnerable people risk losing out because of these botched changes.
The Government’s Brexit negotiations are an abject failure. I can see that by the sullen faces behind the Prime Minister—and that is not just the European Research Group; it is the whole lot of them. But everywhere you look, Mr Speaker, this Government are failing— 1 million families using food banks; 1 million workers on zero-hours contracts; 4 million children in poverty; wages lower today than 10 years ago; and on top of that there is the flawed and failing universal credit. Disabled people at risk of losing their homes and vital support; children forced to use food banks—and the Prime Minister wants to put 2 million more people on to this. The Prime Minister is not challenging the burning injustices in our society. She is pouring petrol on the crisis. When will she stop inflicting misery on the people of this country?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about challenging the burning injustices. That is about setting up the race disparity audit, which says what public services do and how people from different communities in our country are treated by them. It means saying that nobody in this country should be stopped and searched on our streets because of the colour of their skin—that was me as Home Secretary, never the Labour party. We are seeing 3.3 million more people in jobs as a result of our balanced approach to the economy.
And what have we seen from Labour over the past few days? Iranian state TV broadcasting no-confidence votes against Labour Members of Parliament; police investigating anonymous and threatening letters about the deselection of Labour MPs sent to Labour offices; and, most shamefully of all, the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) saying that the Labour party is now an institutionally racist party. That is what the Leader of the Opposition has done to Labour—just think what he would do to this country.
Order. No gesticulation is required, Mr Brake—calm yourself. You are a former Deputy Leader of the House—behave in a statesmanlike manner. [Interruption.] Order. Let us hear the questions and the answers.
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We know that nothing can take away the trauma and distress of being a victim of crime, but we need to ensure that people get the support they need as they rebuild their lives. This is absolutely vital. It is our duty to keep people safe but it is also our duty to ensure that victims are properly protected and listened to. That is why we are taking steps to enshrine their entitlements in law—to strengthen the victims code. This first ever cross-Government victims strategy will ensure that victims of crime receive the care and support they deserve at every stage of their interaction with the justice system. I commend my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, and also the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), for the work they have put into the victims strategy.
A decade on from the financial crisis, the poorest in our society are still paying a price. The bankers were bailed out, but ordinary people paid the bill. Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis shows that real wages are, on average, £800 lower. A decade on and people are poorer: a damning indictment of the UK Government’s leadership. Tell us, Prime Minister: why have you abandoned millions of families—those just about managing?
What we have done is created an economic environment where 3.3 million people are in work. We now see the number of children in workless households at the lowest level ever. We now also see, through what we have done, an increase in the national living wage. We have ensured that we have taken 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether. Over 30 million people have received a tax cut. That is what this Government have been able to do through a balanced approach to the economy, keeping taxes low, putting money into public services, and reducing our debt.
That, I am afraid, simply ignores the reality that people are poorer. It has been the worst decade for wage growth in over 200 years. Households are struggling, and it is reported that a no-deal Brexit will increase the annual cost of living for low-income households by hundreds of pounds. Yet this Prime Minister still wants to walk off the Brexit cliff edge. The Prime Minister is unfit to govern. She is incapable of leadership. We know it, her Back Benchers know it, and the country knows it. Ten years after the economic crash, the poorest are still bearing the brunt. It is as simple as this: the Prime Minister should end her austerity programme or admit that her party is unfit for government.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions Brexit. Of course, we are working to get a good Brexit deal for the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland. I suggest that he might listen to the views of the Scottish National Farmers Union, which said this week that the plan the Government have put forward is one that
“certainly the agriculture and food and drinks sectors can work with”,
and that politicians from
“all sorts of parliaments and assemblies”
should get behind it.
I do indeed remember the visit that I made to Clacton in 2014, where I was very pleased to meet Caroline Shearer and hear about the anti-knife crime work she had done and the charity she had set up in memory of her murdered son, Jay Whiston.
On the issue of rail, Greater Anglia will indeed be introducing a whole new fleet of trains, which will be delivered from the middle of next year. They will be state of the art, with much improved acceleration, my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear. Greater Anglia needs to work with Network Rail to ensure that it can deliver those improved journey times. There are infrastructure constraints on the line, but we will engage with Network Rail to understand what plans it has to renew the infrastructure, so that we can see the improvement on the Clacton branch that my hon. Friend wants to see.
The figures show that the proportion of the workforce on low pay is actually at its lowest level. That is a result of the changes we have made in relation to the economy and the balanced approach we have taken. If the hon. Lady if worried about people living in Grimsby, the answer is not a Labour Government, with £500 billion of extra borrowing, fewer jobs, higher taxes and people suffering the cost.
I am sure we all have doubts about the objectivity of the reporting on Russia Today, which remains a tool of propaganda for the Russian state. Decisions about appearing on Russia Today are a matter of judgment for each individual, but they should be clear that they risk being used as propaganda tools by the Russian state. I know that that view is shared by other Members of this House, including the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who has made clear that he does not think people should appear on that station. The same also applies to Press TV, which has had its licence to broadcast revoked in the UK by Ofcom.
The hon. Lady’s letter has not been drawn to my attention. I do not have—[Interruption.] Following her question, I will ensure that she receives a reply in writing.
We are very clear that we need to have a link between the future relationship and the withdrawal agreement, but we are a country that honours our obligations. We believe in the rule of law, and therefore we believe in abiding by our legal obligations. However, my hon. Friend is right that the specific offer was made in the spirit of our desire to reach a deal with the European Union and on the basis, as the EU itself has said, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Without a deal, the position changes.
I believe that in the provision of energy across the United Kingdom we need to have a diverse range of supplies. That is why, yes, we do support, we have supported and we will continue to support renewable energy, but it is also why we are ensuring, for example, that we have a supply of energy in the future from nuclear and that we look across other forms of energy as well—for example, ensuring that we see an increase in the number of interconnectors with Europe. A diverse supply is what we need in our energy sector.
I have always said to this House that I believe a deal that is right for the UK will be a deal that is right for the European Union. I note not only that President Juncker said what my hon. Friend has commented on, but that he went on to say that
“after 29 March 2019, the United Kingdom will never be an ordinary third country for us…I welcome Prime Minister May’s proposal to develop an ambitious new partnership for the future, after Brexit. We agree with the statement made in Chequers that the starting point for such a partnership should be a free trade area between the United Kingdom and the European Union.”
Let me be very clear: when we leave the European Union, we will be an independent sovereign state—we will have control of our money, our borders and our laws—but I want to say to our closest allies in Europe, “You will also never be an ordinary third party for us.”
It has always been the case, across the planning structure that we have here in the United Kingdom, that there are decisions taken at local level, but there are also decisions—sometimes those local decisions are referred—at a national level.
Strength of the Economy: West Midlands
I was indeed very pleased to be in the west midlands yesterday at the world’s first zero-emission vehicle summit, where I made clear my determination to put our manufacturers in the west midlands and across the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacture of zero-emission vehicles. The midlands has a very strong automotive industry. The growth of high-tech manufacturing across the region continues to drive investment: it is creating high-skilled jobs; it is boosting economic growth. The latest employment statistics, released yesterday, show there are now over 320,000 more people in work in the west midlands than in 2010.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Also based in the west midlands is silicon canal. Silicon canal is like silicon valley, but without the sunshine. It employs some 40,000 people working in computer science and there are some 6,000 different companies—the second largest cluster of its kind in the whole of Europe. With the announcement last week of 5G being based in the west midlands as a test bed, what more will the Prime Minister do to promote high-tech in the west midlands?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the silicon canal. I am sure that, like me, he was delighted that the west midlands bid, which was pulled together by the Conservative metro Mayor Andy Street, was chosen as the winning location of the Urban Connected Communities project. As my hon. Friend mentioned, that will see the development of a large-scale 5G pilot across the region.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is also working closely with the West Midlands combined authority to develop and deliver a region-wide digital skills partnership, which will bring together key sectors in the region, working on improving the digital skills of individuals, small businesses and charities. Ensuring strong Government engagement and support for these sectors will be critical to the success of the Government’s industrial strategy.
To reassure the hon. Gentleman, I should say that the Treasury will be setting that out shortly.
Back in July, in Prime Minister’s questions, I pressed the Prime Minister on the possible publication of Sir Alex Allan’s report on the Windrush affair and she confirmed that the Home Secretary of the time was considering publication very carefully. Two months later, nothing has come from the Home Secretary or the Home Office. Could she as Prime Minister, in the interests of transparency and accountability, which I know she believes in, now personally authorise the publication of this long-awaited report?
I reassure my right hon. Friend that the Home Secretary has been looking at this issue, and the Cabinet Secretary is looking at this. We are committed to publication, but the form of that is currently being considered.
The right hon. Gentleman has raised what was an absolutely devastating case—it was a horrific crime, and devastating for Lisa’s family. I understand that my hon. Friend the prisons Minister has met the family of Lisa Skidmore and apologised for the failings in this case. But as the right hon. Gentleman says, this should not have happened.
I understand that some action has already been taken and that two members of the probation service have been suspended. While nothing can be done to bring back Lisa or minimise the impact that this has had on her family, Dame Glenys Stacey has been asked to conduct an independent review to look at what can be done to prevent such tragedies from happening again—to do as the right hon. Gentleman has said: make sure that this never happens to anybody else.
Cumbria and the Lake district are among the most beautiful parts of the UK, and our farmers play such a unique role in maintaining the landscape. On Back British Farming Day, will my right hon. Friend ensure that our Cumbrian farmers will be able to export their world-class meat after we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise the beauty of the area she represents, Cumbria and the Lake District, and the important role farmers play in that part of the country, as indeed our farmers do elsewhere. When we leave the European Union, we are looking to ensure we have trade deals that enable our farmers to continue to be able to export their very important product, which is enjoyed by people elsewhere. By leaving the European Union, we are able to do something else: come out of the common agricultural policy and develop a policy for farming in this country that is right for our farmers, not for others’.
The hon. Gentleman will know full well that as Home Secretary I stood at this Dispatch Box and led a debate in which we ensured that when we exercised the powers available under protocol 36 we went back into the European arrest warrant. The European arrest warrant is one of those instruments that we have identified in our Chequers plan as one that we wish to discuss with the European Union, with a view to being able to continue to use it.
Leah Aldridge was killed by her father in 2002. After the coroner and Greater Manchester police finished their investigation, the body was returned to the family for the funeral. Last year, the police discovered that they had retained some of Leah’s body parts, and these were returned to the family for a second funeral. Only a few weeks ago, yet more body parts were discovered by the police and the family had to go through the ordeal of a third funeral. They have no confidence that Greater Manchester police or the police and crime commissioner, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, now have finally allowed the family to lay their daughter Leah to rest. Will the Prime Minister hold an inquiry into this matter for the sake of Leah’s family and for other families across Greater Manchester?
This is an absolutely terrible case. I am sure, as my hon. Friend will have felt from the reaction of Members across the House when they heard him set out the details, that we all want to express our deepest sympathy to Leah’s family for the prolonged trauma they have had to endure as a result of the way that this has been handled.
I understand that the deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester has been in touch with the Human Tissue Authority about the case. The authority is advising on ensuring that the establishment concerned does the necessary work to evaluate what went wrong in this case and puts in place measures to minimise the chance that this can ever happen again. Officials in the Home Office will meet both the Greater Manchester police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to further address the issue of historically held human tissue. I will ensure that the relevant Home Office Minister updates my hon. Friend on the outcome of those meetings.
The Home Office, of course, set up a special taskforce to deal with the Windrush cases to provide help and support to the individuals—[Interruption.] Yes, I know the shadow Foreign Secretary is mentioning the DWP. I am coming on to the DWP. What is important for the individuals concerned is that they are able to interact with one Government body that is then able to give them support and take on the issues for them. I believe that the individual concerned should get in touch with the taskforce, and the Home Secretary will make sure that the necessary inquiries are made.
Will the Prime Minister visit my constituency to open Airbus’s new wing integration centre in Filton, which is a £40 million investment that will secure hundreds of jobs and good- quality apprenticeships for the future? Will she join me in thanking and paying tribute to Airbus for its strong and enduring commitment to the UK?
My hon. Friend has issued a very interesting invitation. I cannot give him an instant response from the Dispatch Box, because I will need to look at diary commitments. It is absolutely right that we thank and congratulate Airbus on the commitment it has made to the United Kingdom and the high-quality jobs it provides here. When I went to the Farnborough airshow, I was very pleased to meet Airbus executives to look at and talk about some their latest products.
In a meeting on Monday, the aluminium and steel industry told leaders of Opposition parties—with the exception of the leader of the Labour party, who refused to attend—that thousands of jobs are to be put at risk by the British Government’s Brexit policies and threadbare industrial strategy. Is it not the case that the Prime Minister is prepared to dole out P45s to manufacturing workers simply in order to appease the Brexit extremists in her own party?
The hon. Lady’s portrayal of the situation could not be further from the case. What we have put forward in the Chequers plan is a plan that delivers on the result of the referendum and ensures that we take control of our money, borders and laws, but that does so in a way that protects jobs and livelihoods across the United Kingdom. The Government have given support to the steel industry in a number of ways, and the industrial strategy is about ensuring that we have a healthy manufacturing industry in this country, but also a manufacturing industry for the future, providing the high-skilled jobs and skills for people for the future.
The Prime Minister will be aware of not only my feelings but those of pretty much everyone in this House and the vast majority of this country when it comes to seeing our veterans dragged through the courts in Northern Ireland to appease political differences. What is she as Prime Minister personally doing—how is she personally investing of herself in this process—to bring to an end something that the vast majority of her country find completely abhorrent?
I am well aware of the degree of concern about this issue, which is why I have held a number of discussions about it with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We owe a vast debt of gratitude to the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law and were themselves accountable to it. That is something that has always set them apart from the terrorists, who during the troubles were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. But as I have made clear, the current system in Northern Ireland is flawed. It is not working; it is not working for soldiers, for police officers or for victims—a group, in fact, that includes many soldiers and police officers as well. Although a number of terrorist murders from the troubles are actively under investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other police forces, under the current mechanism for investigating the past there is a disproportionate focus on former members of the armed forces and the police. We want to ensure that all outstanding deaths in Northern Ireland are investigated in ways that are fair, balanced and proportionate.
Since the life-changing spinal muscular atrophy treatment Spinraza was rejected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in its first guidance last month, families affected, including that of young Sam Mckie in North Tyneside, have been left heartbroken. Will the Prime Minister meet me and Muscular Dystrophy UK to discuss the urgent need to make progress on the managed access agreement so that patients can access Spinraza as soon as possible?
I am very happy to look at the specific issue in relation to the decision taken by NICE, and I will ensure that Health Ministers look into it and have a meeting with the hon. Lady to discuss the details.