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Volume 669: debated on Wednesday 15 January 2020

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.

Last Thursday, we received the devastating news that more than 350 steel jobs will be lost in Sheffield, Rotherham and Newport—yet another blow for steelworkers, their families and their communities. When will the Government bring forward a comprehensive plan for the steel industry that tackles high energy costs and business rates and ensures that steel is at the heart of all infrastructure plans? Action is needed now. Will the Prime Minister stay true to his word and repay the trust of communities that voted for him only last month?

I thank the hon. Lady, and I can assure her that the Government are indeed embarking on a plan to do everything we can to make sure steel made in this country has all the competitive advantages we need. She makes some excellent points. In the particular case of Liberty Steel, I understand that whatever happens —it is a commercial decision for that company—all those affected will be offered an opportunity to remain within the GFG Alliance by joining a new company.

Q2. The Conservative manifesto promises in relation to the roll-out of broadband and mobile phone signal are incredibly welcome, but does my right hon. Friend agree that rural constituencies like mine, wherever they are in the United Kingdom, should not be left behind? Does he agree that these vital technologies should be rolled out, and will he set a firm timetable for their roll-out? (900186)

Yes, the Cotswolds needs broadband and the Cotswolds is going to get gigabit broadband. That is why we are putting £5 billion into the roll-out of gigabit broadband. My hon. Friend asks for a deadline and he will get it—2025.

May I just put on record our pleasure at the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly and, hopefully, the restoration of the peace process in Northern Ireland? I know there is a statement coming on this after Prime Minister’s Question Time.

Will the Prime Minister let the British people know why, after almost 10 years of Tory Government, patients are waiting longer for essential NHS care, whether it is in A&Es, on waiting lists or for a GP appointment?

We are investing record sums into the NHS. Indeed, I think the House should be very proud today that we are passing the NHS Funding Bill, which will guarantee such funding not just this year but into the future.

Well, passing legislation that will guarantee underfunding of the NHS, yes. The number of patients waiting more than four hours in A&E is now at its highest on record for the second month in a row. We have had months of promises, but people need action. There probably is not a family in the United Kingdom that has not been affected in some way by cancer, yet last year we saw one in four patients waiting more than two months for the start of their cancer treatment. How many more patients will face life-threatening delays because our NHS is understaffed and underfunded?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is a massive demand on the NHS, which, as he also knows, is doing a fantastic job, particularly in oncology, where tremendous progress has been made. He is right to signal the delays that people are facing. They are indeed unacceptable. That is why we are investing in 50,000 more nurses, that is why we are investing in 6,000 more GPs, and that is why this Government are investing record sums in the NHS. We will get those waiting lists down.

Twenty thousand of those 50,000 already work for the NHS, actually, Mr Speaker.

Delays in cancer treatment can reduce a patient’s chance of survival. The target of 85% of patients being seen within two months was last met four years ago, in December 2015. Action is needed urgently.

Last week, we heard of the heart-rending case of a 92-year-old RAF veteran in Leicester who had to go through the indignity of waiting almost 12 hours on a hospital trolley because there were no beds available. I want the Government to apologise to him and many others and to explain why, despite the extraordinary efforts of NHS staff all over the country, over 2,000 patients had to wait more than 12 hours before they could get into a hospital bed last month alone.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the case of the RAF veteran, and I think everybody in this House will have every sympathy for people who have a bad and unacceptable experience in the NHS. We all share that. On the other hand, I would say that most people in this country—most patients of the NHS—have a fantastic experience of our healthcare, and we should pay tribute to our nurses and our staff. The hospital he mentions, Leicester, is one of those that, as he knows, we are rebuilding under this programme, with 40 new hospitals and 20 upgrades under this Conservative Government.

The A&E has already been rebuilt in Leicester, actually, as I understand it. The problem is that the Prime Minister promised 40 hospitals. In reality, it was 20 and then it became six. The issue of people waiting on trolleys is a very serious one. The number doubled in December and it is now at the highest ever level on record. The Prime Minister promised to put the Conservative party’s inadequate NHS funding pledge into law. Can he explain why it is necessary to cement into law a pledge that the Health Foundation has said is

“below the amount needed to maintain current standards of care”?

It is only under this Conservative Government that we have the resources that will enable us to invest in our NHS, and it is because of our stewardship of the economy, after the wreckage that Labour left when it was in office, that we have been able to make those colossal investments. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that not only was it this Conservative Government who rebuilt the A&E, as he correctly points out, but it is this Conservative Government who will be rebuilding the entire hospital in Leicester. We are putting more money into the NHS as a direct result of our careful management of the economy.

Well, I understand that another hospital has been closed to pay for it. The question is: why would the Government need to put into law an inadequacy of funding for our national health service? Health professionals have said that the NHS needs more money than the Government are saying in order to keep patients safe.

It has now been almost three years since the Government promised a Green Paper on social care and seven months since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and said he had prepared a clear plan to fix the crisis in social care. Well, what is the hold-up? Where is the plan?

I am delighted by the right hon. Gentleman’s constructive attitude, because as he knows, we intend to begin cross-party talks to build a consensus. I think there is a growing consensus in this country on the need to tackle the issue of social care, so that everybody has dignity and security in their old age and nobody has to sell their home to pay for the cost of their care. We can do it, and we will do it. With the help and co-operation of the Labour party and other parties in this House, we will go ahead with a fantastic plan for social care. I look forward to his support, but I point out to him that it is thanks to the Conservatives’ stewardship of the economy, and indeed the mandate of the people that we have, that we are now able to tackle a problem that was shirked not just by the Labour party, but Governments for decades after decades. We are going to do it now.

I do not know if the Prime Minister had a chance to read the Labour manifesto in the election, but we made it very clear that we have a plan—a very clear one: free personal care, more funding and support for carers. I am very happy to send him another copy of our manifesto so he can read it.

The Prime Minister said many times that he is going to put the NHS funding issue into law, but all this gimmick means is even longer waiting lists, more delays for cancer patients and more A&E departments bursting at the seams, while patients continue to suffer while he continues to provide excuses. If he is really committed to fixing the crisis that his Government have created over the last decade, he should end the empty rhetoric and back our proposals to give the NHS the funding it needs, rather than putting into law an insufficiency of funding. The NHS is our most precious national institution. Fund it properly so that everyone can rely on it—those that cannot afford private healthcare.

I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is still fighting on the manifesto he submitted to the attention of the British people at the last election. It was pretty clear what they thought of it and of the credibility of the promises he made. It was also clear what they thought of what we were going to do. They see that we are the party of the NHS and that it is this Government who invest in hospitals, in schools, in policing and in bringing down crime. That is because the Government’s careful stewardship of the economy has led to record employment and record low unemployment, which is what delivers the tax revenues that enable us to pay for it all. Whenever Labour are in office, they wreck the economy, make unemployment higher and make us less able to pay for great public services. We are taking the country forwards; they would take it backwards.

Q3. Despite the clear improvement in educational standards and funding, white working-class boys massively underperform at every stage of the education system compared with their better-off peers. Given the exciting infrastructure projects on the horizon and the high-value apprenticeships that will be unleashed, does my right hon. Friend agree that reforming the apprenticeship levy and investing in apprenticeships will allow us to ensure that white working-class boys climb the skills ladder of opportunity? (900187)

Apprenticeships play a vital part in the progression of the kids my right hon. Friend is talking about, and it is right that we should follow his advice—he has been on this for a while now—and reform the apprenticeship levy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will be updating the House in due course on our proposals.

I congratulate all the parties in Northern Ireland on reforming the Northern Ireland Executive.

The Prime Minister sent a letter to the First Minister of Scotland rejecting the democratic right of the people of Scotland to have a choice over their own future. This was not a surprise: the Prime Minister is a democracy denier. I say to the Prime Minister that, as his colleagues privately admit, this position is undemocratic, unacceptable and completely unsustainable. He has shown utter contempt for Scottish democracy, for Scotland’s Parliament and for Scotland’s people. Does he accept that, by ignoring Scotland, by imposing Brexit and by his pursuance of cruel and punishing policies, he is strengthening the case for Scottish independence?

It was not only the right hon. Gentleman, who leads the SNP in this House, but Alex Salmond and his protégée, Nicola Sturgeon, who said at the time of the referendum that it was a once-in-a-generation event. He said it, they said it. They were right then. Why have they changed their minds? He is the denier of democracy.

The Conservative party signed up to the Smith commission, which recognised the right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future. That is the reality.

The Prime Minister lives in a fantasy land, but people across Scotland know the reality of his broken Brexit Britain. The truth is, the only union he is truly interested in is his union with Donald Trump—a partnership that threatens to sell off our precious national health service. Only yesterday, the Prime Minister called for the replacement of the Iran nuclear deal with, as he put it, a “Trump agreement”. The public deserve the truth. What backroom deals are being done with Donald Trump? Why is the Prime Minister putting our NHS at risk? Repeatedly during the election campaign, he promised that the NHS was not for sale. Will he now commit to supporting the SNP proposal for an NHS protection Bill? Without that commitment, what price will he make us pay for his toxic Trump deal?

Actually, the SNP welcomed our statement on the JCPOA yesterday; but, seriously, this is the problem with the SNP. Scotland under the SNP is the highest-taxed part of the UK. Its deficit is six times the UK average. Maths and science in schools in Scotland, unlike any other part of the United Kingdom, is going down in the PISA rankings. That is no fault of the pupils of Scotland, by the way. It is the fault of the Government of Scotland, under the SNP, who are not giving them the chances that they deserve because they are obsessed with breaking up the United Kingdom. Change the record!

Q5. Investment in superfast broadband is an excellent way of levelling up the whole United Kingdom, boosting British business and reducing carbon emissions, but can the Prime Minister reassure rural residents of West Sussex, many of whom have little or no access to broadband today, that the Government’s scheme to guarantee minimum broadband speeds is on track and ready to be launched in March this year? (900189)

My hon. Friend speaks well for the interests of his constituents, and he is absolutely right. As I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), of course we are rolling out superfast broadband—gigabit broadband. We have put in £5 billion, the legislation is on track, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has given me every assurance that Arundel and South Downs will be very well catered for.

Q4. Research published by Oxford University this week shows that our oceans are heating up at an alarming rate, that the process is accelerating, and that it will lead to more incidents of extreme, catastrophic weather. The Government are on track to miss most of their environmental goals in 2020, and that record looks set to get worse in future years. The Government make the right noises, but fail to come to the right conclusions. Will the Prime Minister commit himself to legally enforceable targets, and give the new Office for Environmental Protection powers to fine the Government if they fail to live up to their promises? It is the Government who should be under scrutiny, not the protesters who expose their shortcomings. (900188)

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the new Office for Environmental Protection will have powers to hold the Government to account, but let me draw his attention to the record of this Conservative Government. Under this Government, we have seen carbon dioxide emissions fall by 42% from 1990 levels, despite a 75% increase in GDP. On some days, most of our energy now comes from renewable sources. We will be leading the COP26 summit, where we will introduce enforceable limits not just for this country, but for the whole world.

Q7. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his endeavours to get Brexit done, but, as he knows only too well, something else needs to be got done. In an exchange with me on 25 July, he said that Southend would become a city. Before all that happens, however, will he join me in thanking the religious orders of Nazareth House in Southend for caring for vulnerable people for 147 years, and will he meet me and others to ensure that its caring mission continues on that site? (900191)

I thank my hon. Friend for everything that he does for Nazareth House. I saw the good work that it does when I was Mayor of London, and I am happy to support it. As for the “citification” of Southend, it continues at a pace set by my hon. Friend.

Q6. There are 1,200 people living with dementia in my constituency, and there are 850,000 across the United Kingdom. Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK today. Will the Prime Minister commit himself to supporting the recommendations of the report published by Alzheimer's Research UK, and the aim to find cures and new treatments for all forms of dementia? Will he also support the call from the Alzheimer's Society for dementia care to be fixed as a matter of urgency? (900190)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on what she has done personally to support that campaign. She is absolutely right to stress its vital importance for the whole country. Dementia is one of the biggest challenges that we face, which is why we are doubling funding. As my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has said, we want to make a moon-shot effort to isolate the causes of dementia, and to cure it if we possibly can.