I know the whole House will wish to join me in remembering all those who lost their lives and were affected by the Aberfan disaster 50 years ago this week. It claimed the lives of 144 people, the vast majority of them children. It caused devastation to the local community. It is right that we pause and reflect on this important anniversary, and recognise the solidarity and resilience of the people of Aberfan to overcome this powerful tragedy.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I will have further such meetings later today, in addition to my duties in this House.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister? I am of an age that I can remember the terrible black and white film of this tragedy. It affected everyone. We in this House pass on our thoughts to the people of Aberfan today.
Mr Speaker, as you might know it is my birthday today. The Prime Minister has already given me a huge birthday present by letting everyone know that we will be out of the European Union no later than 31 March 2019. May I press her for another present? Her excellent policy of closing Victorian prisons and opening modern ones is spot-on. Will she support the reopening of Wellingborough prison as part of this excellent programme, or would she rather just sing happy birthday?
I am very happy to wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday today: many happy returns! I hope that Mrs Bone is going to treat the occasion in an appropriate manner. [Laughter.]
Order. I want to hear what is coming next.
Calm down, Mr Speaker.
On the serious issue about prisons, I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend applauds the policy we are following of closing out-of-date prisons and building new ones. I hear the lobbying he has made for Wellingborough, and I can assure him that Wellingborough is one of the sites that is being considered. The Secretary of State will look at the issue very carefully and make an announcement in due course.
I join the Prime Minister in commemorating the disaster at Aberfan all those years ago when 118 children along with many adults died. Many in that community are still living with that tragedy, and they will live with it for the rest of their days. As a young person growing up at that time, I remember it well, particularly the collections for the disaster fund. The BBC documentary presented by Huw Edwards was brilliant and poignant, and serves to remind us all of what the disaster was about.
One in four of us will suffer a mental health problem. Analysis by the King’s Fund suggests that 40% of our mental health trusts had their budgets cut last year, and six trusts have seen their budgets cut for three years in a row. Is the Prime Minister really confident that we are delivering parity of esteem for mental health?
First, like the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), I am of an age when I can remember seeing on television those terrible scenes of what happened in Aberfan. I did not see the whole of Huw Edwards’ documentary, but I thought the bits that I happened to see last night were very poignant, as the right hon. Gentleman said. Interestingly, what it showed again was the issue of those in power not being willing to step up to the plate initially and to accept what had actually happened, but the inquiry was very clear about where the responsibility lay.
It is right that we are introducing parity of esteem for mental health in our national health service. We have waited too long for this, and it is important that it is being done. We are actually investing more in mental health services—an estimated record £11.7 billion. In particular, we are increasing the overall number of children’s beds to the highest number for mental health problems, which I think is important. There is, of course, more for us to do in looking at mental health, but we have made an important start and, as I say, that funding will be there.
I received a letter from Colin, who has a family member with a chronic mental health condition. Many others, like him, have relatives going through a mental health crisis. He says that the
“NHS is so dramatically underfunded”
that too often it is left to the underfunded police forces to deal with the consequences of this crisis. Indeed, the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall has this month threatened legal action against the NHS because he is forced to hold people with mental conditions in police cells because there are not enough NHS beds. I simply ask the Prime Minister this: if the Government are truly committed to parity of esteem, why is this trust and so many others facing an acute financial crisis at the present time?
May I first of all say to Colin that I think all of us in this House recognise the difficulties people have when coping with mental health problems? I commend those in this House who have been prepared to stand up and refer to their own mental health problems. I think that has sent a very important signal to people with mental health issues across the country.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the whole question of the interaction between the NHS and police forces. I am very proud of the fact that when I was Home Secretary I actually worked with the Department of Health to bring a change to the way in which police forces dealt with people in mental health crisis. That is why we see those triage pilots out on the streets and better NHS support being given to police forces, so that the number of people who have to be taken to a police cell as a place of safety has come down. Overall, I think it has more than halved, and in some areas it has come down by even more than that. This is a result of the action that this Government have taken.
The reality is that no one with a mental health condition should ever be taken to a police cell. Such people should be supported in the proper way, and I commend the police and crime commissioners who have managed to end the practice in their areas. The reality is, however, that it is not just Devon and Cornwall suffering cuts; the Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust has been cut in every one of the last three years.
I agree with the Prime Minister that it is a very good thing for Members to stand up and openly discuss mental health issues that they have experienced, because we need to end the stigma surrounding mental health conditions throughout the country. However, NHS trusts are in a financial crisis. According to NHS Providers, it seems to be the worst financial crisis in NHS history: 80% of acute hospitals are now in deficit. There was a time, in 2010, when the NHS was in surplus. What has happened?
Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman what has happened in relation to NHS funding. We asked the NHS itself to come up with a five-year plan, and we asked the NHS itself to say what extra funding was needed to deliver on that. The NHS came up with its five-year plan, led by Simon Stevens as its chief executive. He said that £8 billion was needed. We are giving £10 billion of extra funding to the NHS. I might also remind the right hon. Gentleman that at the last election, it was not the Conservative party that was refusing to guarantee funding for the NHS; it was the Labour party.
In six years, the NHS has gone from surplus to the worst crisis in its history. A total of £3 billion was wasted on a top-down reorganisation that no one wanted, and Simon Stevens made it very clear to the Select Committee yesterday that he did not believe that NHS England had enough money to get through the crisis that it is facing.
May I offer an analysis from the Care Quality Commission, which seems to have quite a good grasp of what is going on? It says that cuts in adult social care are
“translating to increased A&E attendances, emergency admissions and delays to people leaving hospital, which in turn is affecting the ability of a growing number of trusts to meet their performance and financial targets.”
Will the Prime Minister also address the reckless and counterproductive adult social care cuts that were made by her predecessor?
The right hon. Gentleman quoted what had been said by Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England. At the time of the autumn statement last November, he said that
“our case for the NHS has been heard and actively supported.”
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of social care, and the interaction between healthcare and social care. More than £5 billion extra was put into the better care fund in order to deal with precisely those issues, and local authorities are able to raise 2% of council tax to deal with the social care costs that they face. What is important, however, is for the health service and local authorities to work together to ensure that they deliver the best possible service to people who require that social care. I saw a very good example of that at Salford Royal on Monday, and I want to see more examples throughout the national health service, delivering for patients. We have put in the funding, which the right hon. Gentleman’s party would not have done, so that the NHS will receive better care for patients.
We all want local government and the NHS to work closely together, but the problem is that local government funding has been cut, and 400,000 fewer people are receiving publicly funded social care as a result. The NHS is having difficulty coping with the crisis that it is in, and unfortunately there is bed-blocking. Acute patients cannot leave, because no social care is available for them somewhere down the line. The issue is a funding crisis in both the NHS and local government. Figures published by NHS trusts show that the total deficit is £2.45 billion, but the chief executive of NHS Providers says that the figure may be even bigger. The Government are disguising the extent of the crisis through temporary bailouts. [Interruption.] They are bailing out trusts in a crisis. That is, of course, a good thing, but why are the trusts in a crisis in the first place?
Next month, sustainability and transformation plans are going to be published. Many people across the country are quite alarmed by this because of the threat to accident and emergency departments. Will the Prime Minister deal with this issue now by quite simply saying there will be no downgrades and no closures of A&E departments in the statement coming out next month?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that over the course of this Parliament, the Government will be spending over half a trillion pounds on the national health service. That is a record level of investment in our national health service. There is a key difference between the way the right hon. Gentleman approaches this and how I approach it: Conservative Members believe that people at a local level should be able to make decisions about the national health service, and that decisions about the national health service should be led by clinicians—it should not be a top-down approach, which is typical of the Labour party.
Wow! Well, top-down was what we got. It cost £3 billion for a reorganisation that nobody wanted at all.
I started by asking the Prime Minister about parity of esteem. All this Government have produced is parity of failure—failing mental health patients; failing elderly people who need social care; failing the 4 million on NHS waiting lists; failing the five times as many people who are waiting more than four hours at A&E departments—and another winter crisis is looming. The Society for Acute Medicine has it right when it says that this funding crisis and the local government funding crisis are leaving the NHS “on its knees”.
What has happened in the NHS over the past six years? More patients being treated, more calls to the ambulance service, more operations, more doctors, more nurses—that is what has been happening in the NHS. But let us just look at the right hon. Gentleman’s party’s approach to the national health service: a former shadow Health Secretary said that it would be “irresponsible” to put more money into the national health service; and a former leader of the Labour party wanted to “weaponise” the national health service. At every election the Labour party claims that the Conservatives will cut NHS spending; after every election we increase NHS spending. At every election Labour claims the Tories will privatise the NHS; after every election when we have been in government we have protected the NHS. There is only one party that has cut funding for the NHS: the Labour party in Wales.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are right to invest in infrastructure such as the A303. That can make a real difference to local communities, but it is important that local communities embrace those opportunities. I know that my hon. Friend has been putting together ideas for a vision for Yeovil and I am sure he will share them with my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary.
I join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party in remembering the Aberfan disaster. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by that.
Thousands of innocent civilians have now been killed by Saudi air strikes in Yemen. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that those civilians have not been killed by Paveway IV missiles partially manufactured in Scotland that are under licence from her Government to Saudi Arabia?
First, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his election as deputy leader of the Scottish National party?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have one of the toughest regimes in the world in relation to arms exports. When allegations arise, we press—I have pressed in the past and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has pressed—the Saudi Arabia Government to properly investigate the issues and to learn lessons from them.
I thank the Prime Minister for her kind wishes but, to return to the subject of my question, it is beyond doubt that Saudi air forces are bombing Yemen. Planes made in Britain are being flown by pilots who were trained by Britain and dropping missiles that are made in Britain. I asked her a direct question and she could not answer it, so I will try a second time. Can she give the House an assurance that civilians have not been killed by Paveway IV bombs being dropped on Yemen that are partially manufactured in Scotland under license by her Government? If she does not know the answer to that question, how can she possibly, in good conscience, continue selling them to Saudi Arabia?
In response to the right hon. Gentleman, the point that I made was very simple: we press for proper investigations into what has happened in those incidents before we reach a decision or a conclusion. We have a very strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is important for this country in terms of dealing with counter-terrorism and a number of other issues, but what matters, when incidents happen about which there is concern, is that they are properly investigated.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I am sure that he is not the only Member of the House who has had that experience, and he is certainly not the only person who has been affected, as Members will know from their constituency mailbags. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 introduced a review of online ticket sales. Professor Mike Waterson’s independent report on online secondary ticketing makes a number of recommendations, including some whereby the industry itself could better protect itself from the problem. The Government will look very carefully at those recommendations to see what can be done to address the issue.
I recognise that the hon. Lady has taken a particular interest in this issue. I am sure that she will recognise, as I hope other Members do, why it was that I set up the inquiry. For too long, people who had been subjected to child—[Interruption.]
For too long, the voices of people who had been subjected to child sexual abuse went unheard and they felt that they were not getting justice. That is why it is very important that the inquiry is able to continue and to find that justice for them.
I have to say to the hon. Lady that one of the important aspects of this is that, over the years, too many people have had concerns that those in positions of power have intervened to stop them getting justice. There were stories around about the inquiry and about individuals related to the inquiry, but the Home Secretary cannot intervene on the basis of suspicion, rumour or hearsay.
The hon. Lady refers to the statement that was made in this House yesterday about information being discussed with a director general at the Home Office. She will also have noted that it was asked that that conversation would be confidential, and it was, as far as I am aware, treated as such. It is important for us to recognise that when the Home Office was officially informed of issues, it acted. It is now for the inquiry to get on and deliver for victims and survivors.
As a former Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend is well aware of the impact of the Aberfan disaster on south Wales and those local communities. As I said in my opening remarks, the events were absolutely tragic and the thoughts of the whole House are with those affected by them. I can give the commitment that she is asking for to Wales and to working with the Welsh Government. I am clear that this Government will deliver a country that works for everyone, and that means every part of the United Kingdom. Of course, the Wales Bill will put in place a historic transfer of powers to the Welsh Assembly. It will allow the Welsh Government to focus on the job of transforming the Welsh economy and, of course, we are talking to the Welsh Government about how we go forward with negotiations for leaving the EU.
Order. Progress today has been very slow, so I appeal to colleagues to speed up. I call Stephen Pound.
Everybody in this House recognises the role and contribution of community pharmacies up and down the country, but it is also right that we look at how we are spending NHS money. That is why the Government are looking carefully at this whole issue. If the hon. Gentleman supports community pharmacies, perhaps he ought to have a word with the Leader of the Opposition, because his right hon. Friend’s policy is to nationalise the health service completely, lock, stock and barrel—GP surgeries, Macmillan nurses and community pharmacies.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, and he is absolutely right. This month, the Government will take a decision on the appropriate site for extended airport capacity in the south-east. The subject has been debated, discussed and speculated about for 40 years; this Government will take a decision, but then a formal process has to be undertaken. The Government will identify their preferred site option. That will go to a statutory consultation, and then the Government will consider the results of that consultation and introduce an airports national planning statement on which the House will vote.
I recognise the strength of the hon. Gentleman’s view. No decisions on Fort George or other locations have been taken and the Ministry of Defence will engage with all parties impacted by any such decisions, including in Scotland.
My right hon. Friend has expressed reluctance to submit to the House even broad plans for our negotiations with the EU because of worries that to do so might weaken her Government’s negotiating position. She might have noticed that, this week, one or more Brexiteer members of her Cabinet have been briefing the newspapers copiously on every proposal being put forward in papers to the relevant Cabinet Committee by their colleagues and launching political attacks on Cabinet colleagues who seem to disagree with them. Will she take firm action to stop this process? Does she also agree that the proper approach should involve parliamentary scrutiny of the broad strategy, once her Government have reached agreement on what it should be?
The Government are very clear that the vote on 23 June was a vote to ensure that we had control of movement of people from the EU into the UK. Also, we want the best possible access for businesses for trading in goods and services, and for operating within the European market. That is what the Government will be aiming for, and we will be ambitious in that. Parliament will have its say. There are going to be lengthy negotiations over the course of the two years and more, and Parliament will have its say in a whole variety of ways, not least in relation to the great repeal Bill.
The hon. Lady raises an issue that is a matter of concern to Members across the House. I am making sure that those who are being assessed are being assessed properly and that the right decisions are being taken. The Department for Work and Pensions is looking at the whole process of what should be done and how those assessments should be undertaken. I hope that she welcomes the fact that this Government have said that those with long-term conditions that are not going to improve will not be put through the regular assessments that they had under her Labour Government.
The first nuclear science degree apprenticeship, with apprenticeships with EDF at Hinkley Point and with the Ministry of Defence, has just been launched at Bridgwater and Taunton College. This is at the forefront of the Government’s apprenticeship reform policy. The course combines academic study with practical work experience and it is paid. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is exactly the kind of business-led course that the nation needs if it is to forge ahead?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I commend Bridgwater and Taunton College for the steps it is taking to work with businesses to ensure that its courses are what business needs. That is exactly what we want to see. We also want a regeneration of our expertise in the nuclear industry.
I am sure that the hon. Lady knows that we have transitional arrangements in place and that action was taken by the Government to ensure that the period of time for the pension age change would be no more than 18 months compared with the previous timetable. For 81% of women affected by the 2011 change, it will be no more than 12 months.
The employment figures that have come out today are of course fantastic news, but I am wary about the economic volatility that could result from Brexit, with the potential for inflation to rise and the cost of living to go up for people on very modest wages. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to keep as many people in employment as possible? We have made the right decision on tax credits. May I urge her personally, ahead of the autumn statement, to look at the cuts that are still embedded in universal credit to ensure that she understands what they will do to people who are trying to get into work?
My hon. Friend is right to talk about the importance of getting people into work, which has a benefit not just in terms of families having an income. I am proud of the Conservative Government’s record over the past six years of getting more and more people into work so that hundreds of thousands fewer households now have no work income coming in. That is extremely important. The point of universal credit is to ensure that the transition from benefits into work means that people do see a benefit if they get into the workplace. The previous system meant that some people said that they were better off on benefits. We want to see people in work and that is what the system is there to encourage.
We have been clear that women who have a third child as a result of rape would not be subject to the limit that is being considered in relation to benefits. I absolutely recognise that the hon. Lady’s point addresses concern about dealing with individuals who have been through the trauma of rape, and that is why the Government are taking their time to consider that. We are consulting at the moment and looking at how to ensure that we do this in absolutely the right way.
Given the increasing relevance of the Commonwealth for trade, will the Prime Minister give her personal support to the first ever meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers here in the UK next year? When she goes to India next month, will she commit to persuade Prime Minister Modi to attend the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in the UK?
I am happy to encourage all leaders to attend CHOGM when it takes place here in the United Kingdom. I assure my right hon. Friend that we are indeed looking at the possibility of trade deals in relation to the Commonwealth. I applaud that first ever meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers, which is an important step as we look to forge a new global role in the world, ensuring that we make a success of leaving the EU and trading our way around the world.
I recognise that this is not the first time that the hon. Gentleman has raised concerns about West Cumberland hospital. The point of how we are approaching this is that decisions are taken at and generated from the local level. It is the local area that will be looking at the services that people need, and at ensuring that they can be provided and are safe for his constituents and those in other parts of Cumbria.
The tragic murder of one prisoner and the critical wounding of two others at Pentonville prison last night brings home the stark decline in safety in our prisons. Will the Prime Minister give the Secretary of State for Justice her full support in commissioning an immediate, thorough and complete review of the operation, management, capacity, leadership and resourcing of the National Offender Management Service, which has singularly failed to arrest this declining situation?
My hon. Friend raises a matter that was one of the first issues that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice raised with me: violence and safety in prisons. That is why my right hon. Friend is looking across the board at the action that needs to be taken. She has already announced extra money for more staff in prisons and recognises the importance of this particular issue.
I want to see every child getting the education that is right for them. I want every child to be able to get on as far as their talents and hard work will take them. That is why we need to increase the number of good schools in this country. If we look at the gap in attainment in grammar schools between those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who are not, we see that it is virtually zero—that is the not the same in other schools. I just say to the hon. Lady that it is wrong that we have a system in this country where a law prevents the opening or expansion of good schools. That is what we are going to get rid of.
Will the Prime Minister work with her Ministers and Secretaries of State to champion a reduction in the ivory trade and in the trade in the organs of endangered species throughout the world so that this country tries to lead by example?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. This is something the Government have been taking up, and I can assure her that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has not only heard her representations, but promoted this as an issue that the Government will take up.
I am very pleased to welcome the renaissance in the ceramics industry that the hon. Gentleman refers to. His constituency, of course, has a long-standing history of and tradition in ceramics. What are we doing? As we go through the negotiations for leaving the European Union, we will be ensuring that this country has the best possible access to trade with and operate within that European market. That is what people want and that is what we will deliver.
Many constituents have contacted me to express concern about anti-Semitism. I am sure that every Member of this House can agree that we should show zero tolerance of anti-Semitism, but does the Prime Minister also agree that we must ensure that all parties do not allow a situation to arise in which it appears that an environment is created where anti-Semitism is tolerated?
Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that this House should send a very clear message that we will not tolerate anti-Semitism. I have been concerned about the rise in the number of incidents of anti-Semitism in this country. We should very clearly ensure that those incidents of anti-Semitism are properly investigated and dealt with, and that we give the clear message that we will not tolerate it. But that does have to be done by every single political party in this Chamber, and I say to the Leader of the Opposition that given the report of the Home Affairs Committee about anti-Semitism and the approach to anti-Semitism in the Labour party, he needs to think very carefully about the environment that has been created in the Labour party in relation to anti-Semitism.
We are now just one month from the start of the new inquest into the Birmingham pub bombings. West Midlands police has set aside for itself a legal fund of £1 million, but as of today, the bereaved families have no legal funding. Prime Minister, this is a shameful state of affairs. Please intervene and show the Birmingham families the same compassion as was shown to the Hillsborough families.
The right hon. Gentleman might be aware that the Birmingham families have been encouraged to apply—I believe they have applied—to the legal aid fund for exceptional funding. That was, as I understand it, what happened after the 7/7 bombings. The Home Secretary has made clear her expectation that funding will be provided. We are waiting for the decision from the legal aid fund, and we are hopeful that it will be a positive one.
Why attempt to build a new runway at Heathrow when we could deliver one at Gatwick in half the time, for half the cost and with a fraction of the environmental impact?
I assure my right hon. Friend that no decision has been taken on the site of airport expansion in the south-east. As she will know from her previous background, the Davies commission said that airport capacity in the south-east should be expanded and the Government accepted that argument. The Davies commission identified three sites, all of which it said would be credible and deliverable, and the Government will take a decision this month.
It is fitting that we finish with a question from Mr Gerald Jones.
May I thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other Members for their comments about the Aberfan disaster, and about the resilience and quiet dignity shown by the people of Aberfan? At 9.15 on Friday morning—the anniversary of the disaster—the people in that community and communities across Wales will mark the disaster with a minute’s silence. As the disaster affected communities right across the country, if not the world, will the Prime Minister support that minute’s silence being marked across the UK as well?
I know that the Secretary of State for Wales will be attending the memorial that will take place in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency on Friday. It is appropriate that we all show our respect for those who lost their lives and for the families who suffered as a result of the Aberfan tragedy 50 years ago. As we said earlier, it was a terrible tragedy not just for individual families, but for a whole community, and it is right that we recognise that and mark it.