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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
12 October 2016
Volume 615

Scotland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Economy

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1. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the economy of Scotland. [906389]

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2. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the economy of Scotland. [906390]

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4. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the economy of Scotland. [906392]

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Mr Speaker, may I begin by commending you not only on your attendance at the Davis cup semi-final in Glasgow, but on your obvious enthusiasm and exuberance, which the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and I were witness to? I am sure you will agree that, although the result was not as we would have wished, the event once again confirmed Glasgow’s place as a great international sporting venue.

The UK leaving the EU should be seen as an opportunity for Scotland. Today’s GDP figures are an encouraging sign of growth. However, Scotland is still lagging behind the UK as a whole and that underlines the need for Scotland’s two Governments to work together to take such opportunities.

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The Secretary of State and his daughter did a fantastic job as well, as did the constituency Member of Parliament.

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Given that Brexit continues to be billed as taking back control, will the Secretary of State tell us which of the powers currently controlled by Brussels the UK Government will commit to giving to Holyrood and which will be re-reserved to Westminster?

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It is self-evident that, because the devolution settlements within the United Kingdom are predicated on the basis that the United Kingdom was a member of the European Union, those devolution settlements will be changed by the United Kingdom leaving the EU. Those will be matters that will be subject to debate and discussion.

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I am not entirely certain that the Secretary of State answered that question. Will he categorically rule out powers being re-reserved to this Parliament as a result of the decision to leave the European Union?

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What I can say is that no powers which are currently exercised by the Scottish Parliament will be re-reserved to this Parliament as a result of the United Kingdom leaving the EU.

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With a constituency that has an interest in having an aerospace cluster, an airport and large pharmaceutical production, may I ask what the Secretary of State’s view will be on the single market, the open skies and the European Medicines Agency?

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The Prime Minister made it very, very clear at the Conservative conference that we want to have access to the single market and to ensure free trade. The sectors that the hon. Lady mentioned are very important; they are part of the group of sectors with which we are engaging very closely to identify their specific interests and concerns so that they are part of the UK’s negotiating position.

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12. Is it not the case that there should be a substantial boost for Scottish exports as a result of the depreciation of the pound since the Brexit vote? [906401]

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Sectors in Scotland would acknowledge that they have benefited from the devaluation of the pound. The tourism sector, which saw a record attendance at the Edinburgh festival recently, and the agricultural sector would acknowledge it, but I do not see that as being an end in itself. What we need to do is ensure that we get the best possible deal for Scotland and the UK from these negotiations so that Scottish business can flourish.

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that we are leaving a dysfunctional union—the European Union—and that that is an opportunity for the people of Scotland. Is it not also the case that if we were to follow the Scottish National party’s advocacy and leave the union that works—the United Kingdom—we would land the people of Scotland with a huge public sector deficit and the prospect of either tax rises or cuts in services?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There seems to be a very strange contradiction here: Members on the SNP Benches are rightly concerned about Scotland’s continued trade with the EU, but they disregard the fact that Scotland’s trade with the rest of the United Kingdom is four times as much as with the EU, and that a million jobs in Scotland are dependent on our trade within the United Kingdom—that is the union that matters to Scotland.

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Given the importance of that single market to Scotland, does my right hon. Friend agree that the last thing that the Scottish economy needs is the perpetual uncertainty of another independence referendum?

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If anyone actually listens to businesses in Scotland and, indeed, to the people of Scotland, it is quite clear that people do not want another divisive independence referendum in Scotland—other than individuals who are obsessed with independence. We need to listen to business, take a second independence referendum off the table and concentrate on getting the best possible deal for Scotland and the UK from these negotiations.

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As a result of demands from Nissan, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has suggested that companies that will suffer a loss of profits as result of exiting the EU may be due compensation. Can the Secretary of State assure businesses based in Scotland which will suffer the same loss of profits that they will be entitled to the same deal, and if so has he made an assessment of the costs of such compensation?

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May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on retaining his position as shadow Scottish Secretary? I understand that on the Benches behind him is the Westminster spokesman of the Scottish Labour party, and I am sure that it will emerge during these questions how those two positions interrelate.

The point that I would make in response to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that we will have a common response across the United Kingdom and that whatever support is put in place for businesses in the north of England will apply to businesses in Scotland.

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13. Scotland has a long and proud history of invention, innovation and creativity, and has always looked out to the world. Could the Government do more to rekindle that outlook in Scotland, rather than the First Minister creating uncertainty and constantly talking about independence? [906402]

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I agree that we need to see Brexit as an opportunity, and I was very interested to see yesterday that the leader of Glasgow City Council also took the view that Brexit offered an opportunity for Glasgow to continue to flourish. Rather than doom-mongering, which is the constant refrain of the SNP, let us take a positive approach and seize the opportunities that are out there for Scotland.

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May I remind the Secretary of State for Scotland that he was elected on a manifesto commitment to

“safeguard British interests in the Single Market”,

so will he and his Government work with the Scottish Government, respect the 62% of Scottish voters who voted to remain within the European Union and protect our place in Europe?

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Of course I will do that, but I will also respect the half of voters in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency who voted to leave the EU. He does not make much of it, but a higher percentage of people in his constituency voted to leave the EU than voted for him, so let us respect everybody in this debate. I am committed to working with the Scottish Government. I have met Michael Russell on a number of occasions. The First Minister and the Prime Minister will meet on 24 October, and their engagement will be essential to achieving what we want: the best possible deal for Scotland.

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Yesterday, we learned from statistics emanating from the right hon. Gentleman’s Government that Brexit will cost £66 billion a year. If these statistics are being prepared for the Cabinet Office, surely they are also being prepared for the Scotland Office, so will the Secretary of State for Scotland be candid with the House and with the people of Scotland and tell us how much Brexit will cost Scotland?

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We are not even at the stage of beginning the negotiations. What we are going to see—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister has set out the process for taking those negotiations forward. It is inevitable that, over the next few weeks, months and years, we will see press reports and speculation, leaks and all sorts of other supposition. I want to ensure that we go into those negotiations in conjunction with the Scottish Government to get the best possible deal, and that is my commitment.

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Has the Secretary of State seen the report published yesterday by the NAFC Marine Centre, showing that half of all demersal fish and two thirds of all pelagic fish caught in UK waters are caught by boats from other EU countries? Does he understand why Scottish fishermen see these negotiations as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to undo the damage caused by the common fisheries policy, and will he put their interests at the heart of the negotiations, unlike his Tory predecessors in the 1970s, who saw our fishing industry as expendable?

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I commend the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and others on their approach to the negotiations; they see them as an opportunity, for the very reasons referred to by the right hon. Gentleman and by yesterday’s report. The SFF was quite right to characterise the report as “A Sea of Opportunities”, and it will have my support in realising them.

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Has the Minister included, in his assessment of the impact on the Scottish economy of the UK leaving the EU, the impact of Scotland leaving its biggest single market: the rest of the UK—something that some people are demanding, week in, week out?

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As I said earlier, I find it very surprising that people who declare a great enthusiasm for the European single market are willing to dismiss the United Kingdom single market, which is worth four times as much to the Scottish economy and employs a million Scottish people.

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Today’s GDP figures for Scotland are welcome, as is the major increase in GDP arising from the services sector, probably driven by the financial services sector in Scotland, and in my city of Edinburgh. What specifically is the Secretary of State doing to protect that financial services sector, and can he give the House, and Scotland, an assurance that he will stand by the Conservative party’s commitment in his 2015 manifesto to saying yes to the single market?

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First, we fully recognise the importance of the financial services sector in not just Edinburgh but Scotland more generally. I am determined to ensure that its interests are protected. We are working very closely with it to ensure that it is very much at the forefront as we move forward with establishing the UK’s negotiating position.

Overseas Trade

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3. What discussions he has had with businesses and trade bodies in Scotland on opportunities for overseas trade. [906391]

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6. What discussions he has had with businesses and trade bodies in Scotland on opportunities for overseas trade. [906394]

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7. What discussions he has had with businesses and trade bodies in Scotland on opportunities for overseas trade. [906396]

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Since the EU referendum, Scotland Office Ministers have held over 50 meetings with Scottish Government Ministers, Scottish organisations and trade bodies to discuss the implications for Scotland. We intend to hold further such meetings in the coming months, to ensure that Scottish business interests are fully represented in the negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU and in any future trade arrangements.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that when we negotiate free trade deals outside the European Union, we can remove some of the protectionist tariff barriers that the EU has erected, thereby reducing consumer prices for consumers in Scotland—and, indeed, across the United Kingdom?

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I agree with my hon. Friend, and I believe that this Government and this country can be advocates around the world for free trade. Trade liberalisation between advanced economies can have a positive impact on the consumer, and that is what we want to see in Scotland and across the UK.

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Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that as he is conducting discussions around the world and engaging with British business, he gets the maximum opportunities for Scottish business, uses his opportunities to demonstrate that Scotland is better as part of the United Kingdom, and knocks on the head all this talk of independence that we incessantly hear from the Scottish National party?

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I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is vital that we promote Scotland’s interests in that way, and do so working in conjunction with the Scottish Government. Both Governments have a role to play—in, for example, as the Scotch Whisky Association identified, developing new markets and promoting that product, which is vital to Scotland’s economy.

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I was pleased to read last month that exports of Scotch whisky were up for the first time in three years, with a surge of exports to India. Does my right hon. Friend agree that everyone in the UK should work together to support the export of great British products, including great Scottish products such as whisky?

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I do agree, as I have set out. Bodies such as the Scotch Whisky Association acknowledge and accept that, and want the two Governments to work together in that regard, and that is what I am committed to doing.

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If the Government leave the European Union without a specific trade arrangement with the EU, is the Secretary of State happy to fall back on World Trade Organisation methods?

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I am sure that that is the type of speculation that will constantly be sought from Ministers in the weeks and months ahead. The Prime Minister has set out the process for negotiating our exit from the EU, and at the conclusion of that process I am confident that we will be able to achieve the best possible deal for Scotland and the rest of the UK.

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The Secretary of State has, on many occasions, extolled the trade benefits of the single market for Scotland. Regardless of whether or not the UK is a member state of the EU, does he still believe that it is in Scotland’s interest to have membership of the single market, rather than trying to negotiate third-party access?

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What I have also said on many occasions, as the hon. Lady will know, is that the UK will have a bespoke arrangement with the EU when we leave. It is not appropriate or sensible to see the negotiating process in the context of existing arrangements with other countries or, indeed, the existing structure of the EU. We should seek to get the best possible deal for our businesses.

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Crucial to promoting trade is the need to support apprenticeships. However, training bodes, organisations, businesses and employers in Scotland have told me that they are struggling to get clear guidance on how the apprenticeship levy will work. Will the Secretary of State ensure, unlike his colleague the Business Secretary, that he works urgently with the Scottish Government to give those people the information that they need?

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I am absolutely committed to doing that, and I can confirm that the apprenticeship levy will be discussed when the joint ministerial council meets on 24 October.

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One area in which apprenticeships could work is the oil industry and the decommissioning of oil rigs. We have already seen the loss of 80,000 jobs in that industry, and that will be compounded if we continue, as has happened recently, to lose decommissioning contracts to other countries. Do the Government have any strategy at all to ensure that those crucial jobs remain in Scottish hands?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are committed to the industry, and a £2.3 billion investment and associated tax changes were exactly the support that it asked for. We have also established, along with the Scottish Government, the £250 million Aberdeen city deal, which will have at its heart a new technology centre to ensure that skills and jobs remain in the north-east.

Welfare Powers

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5. What steps the Government are taking to transfer welfare powers to the Scottish Government. [906393]

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A significant number of new welfare powers came into force this September, and give the Scottish Parliament new choices over welfare in Scotland. The joint ministerial working group on welfare, which includes Scottish Ministers, met yesterday to continue its important and constructive work overseeing the transfer of remaining powers.

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With that significant transfer of powers from the UK Government to Edinburgh, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government should get on with exercising those powers for the sake of the welfare of the people of Scotland, rather than wasting time on expensive and unnecessary talk of a second independence referendum?

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I absolutely agree. These are significant powers, which the Scottish Government and the Scottish National party in this House asked for. People around Scotland will want to see how they are being deployed and what process is being used. The message from the people of Scotland generally to the Scottish Government is “Get on with the day job.”

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11. I am sure that at yesterday’s meeting of the joint ministerial working group Scottish Ministers will have stressed their desire to see their employment programmes proceed on a voluntary basis. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that his Government respect that desire? [906400]

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We have made it absolutely clear that we will respect that desire for the programmes to proceed on a voluntary basis. What I think the people of Scotland will want to know is what the Scottish Government intend to do in relation to people who do not volunteer to be part of the programmes.

North Sea Oil and Gas

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8. What discussions the Government have had with oil and gas companies on support for North sea industry. [906397]

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10. What discussions the Government have had with oil and gas companies on support for North sea industry. [906399]

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The Government continue to work closely with industry, both directly and through the Oil and Gas Authority, to drive investment and support jobs in the North sea.

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Revenue from North sea oil has dropped by more than £10 billion over the past two years. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that public services in Scotland do not suffer as a result of this shortfall in public revenue?

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As my colleague rightly notes, there has been a shock in the oil and gas industry resulting from global changes. As the latest public finance figures show, being part of the UK protects living standards in Scotland. The drop in revenues has been offset by a vigorous programme of Government support in tax relief and allowances, as well as in a host of other areas.

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The supply of home-grown feed stocks is vital to the Cheshire chemicals industry and is in part reliant on the success of North sea oil and gas. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue to take steps to support the many jobs in our foundation industries that depend very much on this sector?

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My colleague is absolutely right to highlight this issue. The UK chemicals sector is a vital part of our manufacturing industry and an important contributor to the economy. The Government are working closely with the industry to implement the desire to grow gross value added by £105 billion by 2030, and a key element of that will be delivering competitive energy and feed stock supplies.

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Industry has been crystal clear that more work needs to be done to boost exploration. Will the Government bring forward exploration incentives in the autumn statement to protect employment and boost production?

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Exploration remains very important. The continental shelf is depleting. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have taken some serious steps in Aberdeen with the city deal. I will not comment on the autumn statement, but it is an issue of some focus for the Government.

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Since Question Time began this morning, five Members on the Scottish National party Benches have asked about membership of the European Union, and two have asked about Scottish jobs. Seven Members on the Conservative Benches wanted to talk about Scottish independence. Which group would the Secretary of State describe as being obsessed with independence?

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I can do no better than to refer the hon. Gentleman to the words of Adam Smith, who said that the Union of 1707 was

“a measure from which infinite good has been derived”

for Scotland.

Steel Industry

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9. What assessment he has made of prospects for the steel industry in Scotland. [906398]

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Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. The Minister is a debutante at the Box. He ought to be heard.

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Not quite a debutante, Mr Speaker—we can only hope.

The steel industry in Scotland remains a vital part of the UK steel industry as a whole. The Government continue to engage with steel companies, devolved Governments and trade unions to ensure a sustainable and prosperous steel industry for the UK.

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Liberty House is taking more than 70% of its new workforce from among former Tata Steel employees, which is good news for Motherwell, and it should be congratulated on that. Will my hon. Friend congratulate the company, in particular, on its apprenticeship programme, which is a positive endorsement of Britain’s engineering future?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on the Dalzell plate mill, which opened last month under its new owners, Liberty House Group, with the Government’s support. As this illustrates, we have taken clear action to help the industry, for example by securing state aid to compensate for energy costs and through flexibility over EU emissions regulations and many other areas. I also share his delight in the work that has been done on apprenticeships.

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During recess, I attended the reopening of the Dalzell works in Motherwell. Will the Minister speak to the Scottish Government about how steel jobs can be saved by putting together a package that really works?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady. The Government stand ready to work together with the Scottish Government on any area that can support and protect Scottish jobs and Scottish industry.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

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Q1. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 12 October. [906454]

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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.

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Previously, I worked in an NHS service that the coalition Government gifted to Virgin Care, which is now seeking another contract covering my constituency. Among many unethical practices that I witnessed, Virgin imposed a system of double appointments, forcing patients to have unnecessary extra consultations before surgery, boosting its profits at the expense of the taxpayer and patient safety. Is that acceptable? If not, what is the Prime Minister prepared to do about it?

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Of course, what we want to see in the provision of local services are the best services possible for local people. The hon. Lady talks about outsourcing of services in the NHS; I have to say to her that the party that put greater privatisation into the NHS was not my party but the Labour party.

Economy/Public Services: West Midlands

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Q3. What recent assessment she has made of (a) the performance of the economy and (b) the adequacy of provision of public services in the west midlands; and if she will make a statement. [906456]

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The west midlands economy, I have to say, is in a very positive position at the moment. I am very pleased to say that since 2010 nearly 200,000 more people are at work there, and there are 42,000 new businesses. I saw the strength of the economy when I was in Birmingham last week. Of course, we are giving the west midlands new powers with the devolution deal and the election of a Mayor. Andy Street, with his business and local experience, would be a very good Mayor for the west midlands.

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On the subject of the NHS, 18 months ago my wonderful doctor, Helen Stokes-Lampard, suggested that I have a general “well man” check-up. It is just as well that I did: the blood test revealed a problem with my prostate, despite the fact that I was symptom-free. I was immediately referred to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, whose staff were simply wonderful. After a period of surveillance, I had a prostatectomy back in June.

But hey—I’m now fine! [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] I want to thank the whole team at the QE, including my surgeon Alan Doherty and my excellent specialist prostate nurse Richard Gledhill, who gave me practical advice. But, in the next 10 years, there will be a real shortage of specialist prostate and urology nurses, as many are due for retirement. May I ask the Prime Minister what the Government can do to avert a shortage of these much needed specialist nurses?

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May I say to my hon. Friend that the whole House is pleased to see him back in his position as his normal exuberant self? He raises a very serious issue. I join him in commending not only those doctors, nurses and other health service staff who treated him for his prostate cancer, but those doctors and nurses who, day in, day out, are ensuring that, as we see, cancer survival rates are at a record high.

The Government are putting more money into awareness of cancer problems. We will look at the training of nurses—50,000 nurses are in training—and continue to make sure that the specialisms are available to do the work that is necessary in the health service.

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I, too, join the Prime Minister in wishing the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) well and obviously hope the treatment he got is the same treatment that everybody else gets, because we want good treatment for everybody in our society. [Interruption.] It is not controversial—I am just wishing him well. Is that okay? I am sorry to start on such a controversial note, Mr Speaker. I do apologise.

At the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister said she wants Britain to be

“a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born”,

but the Home Secretary’s flagship announcement was to name and shame companies that employ foreign workers. Could the Prime Minister explain why where someone was born clearly does matter to members of her Cabinet?

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First, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on winning the Labour leadership election? [Interruption.] I welcome him back to his place in this House as his normal self. The policy that he has just described was never the policy that the Home Secretary announced. There was no naming and shaming, no published list of foreign workers, no published data. What we are going to consult on is whether we should bring ourselves in line with countries such as the United States of America, which collect data in order to be able to ensure that they are getting the right skills training for workers in their economy.

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I am most grateful to the over 300,000 people that voted for me to become the leader of my party, which is rather more than voted for the Prime Minister to become the leader of her party. She seems to be slightly unaware of what is going on: first, the Home Secretary briefed that companies would be named and shamed; the Education Secretary clarified that data would only be kept by Government; yesterday, No. 10 said the proposal was for consultation; and the Home Secretary clarified the whole matter by saying,

“it’s one of the tools we are going to use”.

This Government have no answers, just gimmicks and scapegoats.

Yesterday, we learned that pregnant women will be forced to hand over their passports at NHS hospitals. No ultrasound without photographic ID—heavily pregnant women sent home on icy roads to get a passport. Are these really the actions of

“a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born”?

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I have made absolutely clear the policy that the Home Secretary set out. The right hon. Gentleman raises issues around the health service. I think it is right that we should say that we ensure, when we are providing health services to people, that they are free at the point of delivery; that people are eligible to have those services; that where there are people who come to this country to use our health service, and who should be paying for it, the health service actually identifies them and makes sure that it gets the money from them. I would have thought that that would be an uncontroversial view. Of course, emergency care will be provided, when necessary, absolutely without those questions, but what is important is that we ensure that where people should be paying, because they do not have the right to access free care in the health service, they do so.

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Some of the Prime Minister’s colleagues on the leave side promised £350 million a week extra for the NHS. She does not seem to have answers to the big questions facing Britain. On Monday, the Secretary for Brexit, when questioned about the Government’s approach to single market access, replied:

“We…need hard data about the size of the problem in terms of both money and jobs”—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 50.]

It would have been much easier if he had simply asked his colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he would have been able to tell him that the Treasury forecast is a £66 billion loss to the economy—7.5% of the GDP. Can the Prime Minister now confirm that access to the single market is a red line for the Government, or is it not?

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The right hon. Gentleman has asked me this question before. [Interruption.]. He says it is a simple question, and I will give him the simple answer: what we are going to do is deliver on the vote of the British people to leave the European Union; what we are going to do is be ambitious in our negotiations, to negotiate the best deal for the British people, and that will include the maximum possible access to the European market, for firms to trade with, and operate within, the European market. But I am also clear that the vote of the British people said that we should control the movement of people from the EU into the UK, and, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, we believe we should deliver on what the British people want.

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Someone once said that in leaving the single market

“we risk a loss of investors and businesses…and we risk going backwards when it comes to international trade.”

That person is now the Prime Minister, and that was before the referendum.

The Japanese Government wrote to the Prime Minister in September, worried about a shambolic Brexit. Many Japanese companies are major investors in Britain—such as Nissan in Sunderland, which has already halted its investment—and 140,000 people in Britain work for Japanese-owned companies. They have made it clear that those jobs and that investment depend on single market access. What reassurance can she give workers today, desperately worried about their future, their company and their jobs?

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First, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that the biggest vote of confidence that we had in Britain after the referendum vote was the £24 billion investment from a Japanese company, SoftBank, in taking over Arm. Secondly, in relation to what we are doing in our negotiations, he does not seem to get what the future is going to be about. The UK will be leaving the European Union. We are not asking ourselves what bits of membership we want to retain. We are saying: what is the right relationship for the UK to have for the maximum benefit of our economy and of the citizens of this country?

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The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) has said that

“there is a danger that this Government appear to be turning their back on the single market”.—[Official Report, 10 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 46.]

Staying in the single market was, indeed, a commitment in the Conservative party manifesto. The reality is that, since the Brexit vote, the trade deficit is widening, growth forecasts have been downgraded, the value of the pound is down 16%, and an alliance of the British Chambers of Commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, the British Retail Consortium and the Trades Union Congress have all made representations to the Prime Minister demanding clarity. Is the Prime Minister really willing to risk a shambolic Tory Brexit just to appease the people behind her?

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What the Conservative party committed to in its manifesto was to give the British people a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union. We gave the British people that vote, and they have given their decision: we will be leaving the European Union. In doing that, we will negotiate the right deal for the UK, which means the right deal in terms of operating within and trading with the European market. That is what matters to companies here in the UK, and that is what we are going to be ambitious about delivering.

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The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) often has a mot juste to help us in these debates. He simply said—[Interruption.]

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Order. I want to hear about the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe.

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In his own inimitable way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:

“The reason the pound keeps zooming south is that absolutely nobody has the faintest idea what exactly we’re going to put in place.”

Those of us on the Labour Benches do respect the decision of the British people to leave the European Union, but this is a Government that drew up no plans for Brexit; that now has no strategy for negotiating Brexit; and that offers no clarity, no transparency and no chance of scrutiny of the process for developing a strategy. The jobs and incomes of millions of our people are at stake. The pound is plummeting, business is worrying and the Government have no answers. The Prime Minister says she will not give a running commentary, but is it not time the Government stopped running away from the looming threat to jobs and businesses in this country and to the living standards of millions of people?

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Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I am optimistic about the prospects of this country once we leave the European Union; I am optimistic about the trade deals that other countries are now actively coming to us to say they want to make with the United Kingdom; and I am optimistic about how we will be able to ensure that our economy grows outside the European Union. But I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that Labour did not want a referendum on this issue—we, the Conservatives, gave the British people a referendum; and Labour did not like the result—we are listening to the British people and delivering on that result. [Interruption.] The shadow Foreign Secretary is shouting from a sedentary position. The shadow Foreign Secretary wants a second vote. I have to say to her that I would have thought Labour MPs would have learned this lesson: you can ask the same question again; you still get the answer you don’t want.

Engagements

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Q4. Despite several rounds of European regional development funding, the Cornish economy continues to lag about 30% behind the UK average. Does the Prime Minister agree that Brexit provides us with the opportunity to develop our own economic programme, which will be less bureaucratic and more effectively targeted and will offer better value for money for the taxpayer, and will she confirm that her Government will continue to invest in the poorer regions of our country, such as Cornwall, once we leave the EU? [906457]

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I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. What I said at our party conference, and have been saying since I became Prime Minister, is that we want an economy that works for everyone; that means for every part of our country, including areas such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. We have already negotiated a devolution deal with Cornwall, which was signed in 2015; that demonstrates that we recognise the challenges that Cornwall faces. We are open to further discussions on ways in which we can improve Cornwall’s economy for the future.

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The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has found that there are

“a number of areas of concern”

regarding political discourse and hate speech in the UK, as well as violent racial and religious attacks. Police statistics show a sharp rise in Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and xenophobic assaults over the past year. Does the Prime Minister agree that all mainstream Governments and mainstream political parties should do everything they can to oppose xenophobia and racism?

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I have been very clear from this Dispatch Box on a number of occasions that there is absolutely no place in our society for racism or hate crime. It is right that the police investigate allegations of hate crime where they occur. I am pleased to say that as Home Secretary I was able to bring in arrangements that improved the recording of hate crime. We also improved the requirement on police specifically to record hate crime relating to faith, so that we can see when Islamophobia is taking place, as well as anti-Semitism and other types of hate crime. There is no place for such crime in our society. With one voice, from across this Chamber, we should make that absolutely clear, and give our police every support in dealing with it.

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I remind the Prime Minister that when she was Home Secretary she put advertising vans on the streets of this country telling foreigners to go home. At her party conference we heard that her party wishes to register foreigners working in the UK. The crackdown and the rhetoric against foreigners from this Government have led to even UKIP—UKIP—saying that things have gone too far. Across the length and breadth of this land people are totally disgusted by the xenophobic language of her Government. Will she now confirm that her Government’s intention is still to go ahead with the registration of foreign workers, but that we apparently should not worry, because her Government will keep it secret?

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May I say very gently to the right hon. Gentleman that I answered two questions on that earlier? I suggest he should have listened to the answers I gave then.

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Q5. We have empowered local doctors to take real leadership over important reconfiguration proposals. In Shropshire, 300 doctors, surgeons and clinicians have been working on a vital reconfiguration of A&E services in Shropshire and in Wales. When they make their decision on that later this month, it is very important that the Government back them and provide the capital funding required for this vital change to enhance patient safety. [906458]

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. The configuration of services in his constituency and others is obviously a significant issue across the House. I am pleased to say that we are now seeing more people being treated in A&E. We will look at the proposals. The point about how this is being done is that local people should be able to have their voice heard and the decisions taken should reflect the needs in a particular local area. We all want to see that. A&E services are vital, and I pay tribute to all those who work in A&E in hospitals across the country.

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Q2. The Public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General have both warned that the NHS budget is not sustainable. When will the Prime Minister’s Government wake up to the reality of growing demand, avoid the political rhetoric and set a sustainable NHS budget for this year and the future? [906455]

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The Government took a very simple approach. We asked the NHS itself to propose its five-year plan for the NHS. We asked it how much money it required. It said £8 billion; we are giving it £10 billion, which is more than the NHS said. Funding in the NHS is at record levels. The only place where money for the NHS is being cut is under a Labour Administration in Wales.

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Q7. A young man with Asperger’s syndrome awaits extradition to the United States to face charges of computer hacking, and is then likely to kill himself. It sounds familiar, but he is not Gary McKinnon, who was saved by the Prime Minister, but Lauri Love, who faces in effect a death sentence. When the Prime Minister introduced the forum bar to, in her words, “provide greater safeguards for individuals”,surely she expected it to protect the vulnerable like Gary McKinnon, like Lauri Love? [906460]

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My hon. Friend campaigned long and hard for Gary McKinnon, and I obviously took that decision. At that time, it was for the Home Secretary to decide whether there was a human rights case for an individual not to be extradited. We subsequently changed the legal position on that, so this is now a matter for the courts. There are certain parameters that the courts look at in terms of the extradition decision, and that is then passed to the Home Secretary, but it is for the courts to determine the human rights aspects of any case that comes forward. It was right to introduce the forum bar to ensure that challenge on whether cases should be heard here, but the legal process is very clear, and the Home Secretary is part of it.

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Q6. What does the Prime Minister say to British steelworkers who have lost their jobs or whose jobs are threatened, given the news that French steel is to be used for the new replacement Trident submarines? Is that what she means by being a party of the workers? [906459]

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We recognise the concerns of British steelworkers. That is why the Government have worked, under both my predecessor and me, to ensure that we do what we can to promote, encourage and retain a steel industry here in the United Kingdom. A number of measures have been taken. If the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber earlier for Scottish questions, he will have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland setting them out.

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Q8. Doctors and nurses at Kettering general hospital are treating a record number of patients with increasingly world-class treatments, yet despite being located in an area of rapid population and housing growth, owing to an historical anomaly the local clinical commissioning groups are among the most relatively underfunded in the whole country. What can my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister do to help address the situation? [906461]

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As my hon. Friend says, we want to ensure that patients experience the same high-quality care regardless of where they live and wherever they are. That is why, as I understand it, the funding for my hon. Friend’s local clinical commissioning group is being corrected to reflect more accurately the local health need. An investment of more than £757 million will be going into his local area, which shows the Government’s intention to ensure that we see a health service that is working for everyone across the country, but we can do that only with the economy to back up the NHS.

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Q10. The Prime Minister will be aware that the soft border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic was vital in boosting the economy of Northern Ireland. Does she understand the confusion that has set in, and that many of us feel? On the one hand, the Government define their intention tightly to control the free movement of people and labour, yet on the other they assure us that that border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will continue to be open. Does she see the contradiction for many of those directly affected, and whose jobs are affected? [906463]

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I have been clear, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been clear, and the Taoiseach has also said that, on both sides of the border, we do not want to see a return to the borders of the past. It is worth reminding the House that the common travel area has been in place since the 1920s, so it was there well before we were both members of the European Union. We are working with the Government of the Republic, and I have had discussions on this with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that we do not see a return to the borders of the past.

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Q9. Thanks to the Government’s growth deal, the £32 million transformation of Brierfield Mill in my constituency gets under way this week, giving a new lease of life to the largest redundant mill complex in Lancashire. May I thank the Prime Minister for her support and commend Pendle’s other bits in the latest round of the growth deal as a great way to build a country that works for everyone? [906462]

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I commend my hon. Friend for taking his opportunity to support the bids from Pendle. He is absolutely right that the money put in has enabled growth in local projects like Brierfield Mill to be unlocked. We have seen £250 million committed to the Lancashire local enterprise partnership, £2.8 billion to the northern powerhouse through the local growth fund, and the latest round of funding is worth up to £1.8 billion, with good bids coming in from local LEPs. We are assessing the proposals, including those from Pendle. They will be looked at with the seriousness my hon. Friend would expect.

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Q11. This is the first Christmas that Hayley Aldirmaz of Pwllheli will not see her husband Hasan. They have been together for 10 years and married for over four, with two young children. It is evident that they are in a long-term relationship, but Hayley’s Turkish husband was refused a spouse visa in 2012 because she earns less than the Home Office threshold of £18,600. Last year, half the full-time workers of Dwyfor Meirionnydd earned only £293 a week or less. This, I might say, compares with the Prime Minister’s own constituency, where the median salary was £571, or almost £30,000 a year. Can the Prime Minister explain why living in Dwyfor Meirionnydd means Hayley has less chance of a proper family life, and will she please help to unite the family this Christmas? [906464]

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I will not comment on the individual case. I know that the hon. Lady sent me the details of this specific case in writing. I will make sure that she gets a full reply from the Immigration Minister. On the broader issue she raises about the income threshold for those wishing to join a partner here in the United Kingdom, the Government asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the level of the income threshold. The committee suggested a range of figures and we actually took the lowest figure, £18,600, in that range. It recommended that figure because it is the level at which a British family generally ceases to be able to access income-related benefits, and is able to support themselves and integrate into society. We believe it is important that people coming here are able to support themselves.

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Q12. My constituents were delighted to learn this week that Gainsborough’s House, a unique museum and art gallery based in the very building where Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, is to receive almost £5 million of National Lottery funding to become a national cultural attraction. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the director Mark Bills and his team on their success, and does she agree that if in Suffolk we are bold and positive and go for devolution, we can look forward to much more of this sort of transformative investment in the years to come? [906465]

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I join my hon. Friend in commending all those who have been involved in the bid at Gainsborough’s House. Many people will enjoy visiting Gainsborough’s House in the future as a result of the work that will be able to be done. I know the importance of the Heritage Lottery Fund. It supported the excellent Stanley Spencer gallery in my own constituency, so I have seen the impact it can have. He is absolutely right. The point about devolution deals is people coming together with that ambition for their local area to generate the transformative investment he talks about. Suffolk is looking at the sort of deal it might wish to have locally.

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Q14. With Russian and Assad regime war planes bombing civilians in Aleppo at an unprecedented rate, will the Prime Minister join France in calling for those responsible for these war crimes to be referred to the International Criminal Court? Will she re-examine, with allies, the feasibility of a no-fly zone to protect the Syrian people before it is too late? [906467]

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We are very clear that it is for the courts to decide where a war crime is being committed. We co-sponsored a UN Security Council resolution in May 2014 to refer those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, regardless of affiliation, to the International Criminal Court. Of course, that was vetoed by Russia and China. On the issue of a no-fly zone, this has been addressed. People have looked at this over a number of years. The scenes we see of the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians are absolutely appalling. We want to see an end to that, but there are many questions about a no-fly zone. Who is it there to protect? Would it lead to Assad bombing people in the expectation that they would then move to that zone? How would a safe area actually be enforced there? Who would do that enforcement? There are many questions that need to be looked at in those sorts of issues. What we all know is that the only real solution for peace and stability in Syria is political transition, and it is time Russia accepted that: that the future of Syria is a political transition to a stable Syria, free of Assad.

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Q13. At Middlewich High School in my constituency, the most vulnerable pupils and their families are impressively supported, pursuant to the school’s motto of “Achievement for All”. Will the Prime Minister confirm that under her plans for education, and in a country that works for everyone, parents can be assured that there will be the right school place for their child, whatever their ability? [906466]

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I thank my hon. Friend for the example she has given of the work that is taking place in her constituency. The whole aim of the Government’s education policy is to increase the number of good school places, so parents can have the confidence that their child will have a good school place and they will have the school place that is right for them. That is why we want to see universities more involved in schools, more faith schools being opened up and the independent sector helping the state sector where that is sensible and its expertise can help. And yes, we do want to lift the ban that currently says that one type of good new school cannot be opened. It is illegal to open a new good school that is a selective school. We want to remove that ban so that pupils of all abilities get the opportunity.

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The Prime Minister appears to have made a choice, and that choice is to side with the protectionists and nationalists who have taken over her party, as surely as Momentum has taken over the Labour party. She has chosen a hard Brexit that was never on anybody’s ballot paper and she has chosen to turn her back on British business in the process. As a result, petrol and food retailers have warned of huge price rises at the pumps and on the supermarket shelves in the coming days. When will she put the interests of hard-working British people ahead of an extremist protectionism that absolutely nobody voted for?

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The hon. Gentleman asks about who we are siding with. I will tell him who this Government are siding with. We are siding with the British people, who voted to leave the European Union. It is high time the hon. Gentleman listened to the vote of the British people and accepted that that is exactly what we are going to do.

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Q15. Does the Prime Minister share my sadness that the majority of Banbury’s babies cannot currently be delivered, as I was, in the Horton general hospital? Will she join me in using any influence and putting any pressure we can on the trust to encourage it to recruit the obstetricians we need to reopen our much valued unit? [906468]

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I can say that I believe every effort is being made to fill the vacant obstetrics posts at the Horton general hospital. I understand that those mothers who are having a midwife-led delivery are still able to go to the Horton general hospital, but others have to go to the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford. Maternity services are important to people and I believe the trust is actively looking to ensure it can fill those posts. What matters is a safe maternity service for mother and baby.

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Many people across the House will be reassured that the Government accepted the amendment to the Opposition motion to be debated later this afternoon that guarantees that this House is able properly to scrutinise the plan for leaving the European Union before article 50 is invoked. Can she tell us: will that scrutiny involve a vote?

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I have to say to the hon. Lady that the idea that Parliament was somehow not going to be able to discuss, debate or question issues around Brexit is, frankly, completely wrong. Let me provide her with some examples. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has already made two statements—and I believe four hours of questions followed from those. A new Select Committee has been set up, which crucially includes representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom to look at these issues. Only just over a week ago, I announced that there will be a great repeal Bill in the next Session to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. Parliament will thus have every opportunity to debate this issue.

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Every year in the UK, 3,500 babies are still-born, and I commend the Government for setting the target of a 20% reduction by the end of this Parliament and a 50% reduction by 2030. Does the Prime Minister agree that in Baby Loss Awareness Week we must do all we can to provide the best quality bereavement care for those parents who sadly lose a baby?

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I think my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am pleased to say that the Health Secretary will attend the Baby Loss Awareness Week reception, which will be held in Parliament immediately after today’s Prime Minister’s Questions. I encourage other Members to attend it, too. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the loss of a baby must be absolutely devastating; I am aware that some people sitting in this Chamber have been through that tragedy in their lives. What is absolutely essential is that the best possible bereavement care be given to parents at this tragic moment in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable. That is why we have provided money to introduce dedicated bereavement rooms at 40 hospitals, as well as investing more in improving birthing facilities, which are also important. Care and counsel for people who have lost a baby is essential; I think we all accept that.

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On 2 July, the Home Office was given details of the 178 children who are still stuck in the Calais refugee camp, but who had a legal right to be here in the UK with their families to keep them safe and protected. Given the delays in acting, what responsibility does the Prime Minister think this Government have to the 18 of those children who have now gone missing?

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Far from not acting, this Government have been working with the French Government on dealing with those who are in the camps. We have put extra resource into speeding up the process of dealing with the claims of the unaccompanied children, making that process faster and quicker, with more children coming here as a result. That is alongside all the other work we are doing in relation to refugees and unaccompanied minors. Crucially, of course, we are also working to ensure that we deal with the traffickers and the smugglers who are often in the camps; we need to make sure that they do not have access to children in the future. We have speeded up the process and more children are coming here as a result.

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Tomorrow is secondary breast cancer awareness day, and I would like to ask the Prime Minister to join me in wishing these men and women well. Currently, only a third of NHS trusts collect the data in this area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that better data collection can inform diagnosis, treatment and the use of NHS resources across the piece and give better outcomes for all patients?

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I entirely accept my hon. Friend’s point that better information provides greater opportunity to address these issues. I join her in commending and wishing well all those—as she says, both men and women—who have suffered from breast cancer and who have come through that, as I know my hon. Friend has. Other Members and so many people across the country are in the same position; it is important that they receive the right care so that they can come through that and see a bright future.

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Last night, a huge number of MPs presented in this House WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality—petitions from towns up and down the country, so will the Prime Minister now commit to overturning those mistaken arrangements of 2011 and provide justice and transitional arrangements for WASPI women?

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The hon. Lady should know that transitional arrangements are already in place. We did make changes. We committed £1 billion to lessen the impact of the state pension age changes on those who were affected, so that no one would experience a change of more than 18 months. In fact, 81% of women’s state pension ages will increase by no more than 12 months, compared to the previous timetable.

The Department for Work and Pensions informed people of the change in the state pension age after the changes that were made in 2011. Moreover, in the future women will gain from the new pension arrangements that are being introduced. Women’s pensions are a long-standing issue, but there will be better pension arrangements for them in the future because of the changes that the Government have made.

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I gather that the Prime Minister made Chancellor Merkel a gift of Wainwright’s “Coast to Coast Walk”, which describes the fabulous walk that runs through my constituency. Is she aware that the “coast to coast” is not, in fact, an official national trail, and will she meet me to discuss my campaign to give this national treasure its deserved national status?

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As my hon. Friend knows, I enjoy walking as well. There are some fantastic walks across the United Kingdom. I have not yet done the “coast to coast” myself, however; there is not much time for me to do it at the moment.

My hon. Friend probably knows that the decision about the designation of the “coast to coast” is more appropriately one for Natural England, and I am sure that he will do all he can to lobby Natural England on the issue.