Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
I call Minister Robin Walker.
Indeed, Chris Skidmore.
I do beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. There is a minor likeness.
It is a mistake commonly made.
The Government published on 27 December their response to the review of electoral fraud by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles). The response sets out clearly the action that the Government intend to take on each recommendation and proposes a comprehensive programme for reforming our electoral system and making our democracy more secure.
I am not sure which of the two of you is the more offended, but my apologies to the both of you.
In December 2008, I was an election observer in Bangladesh. Because of previous voter fraud, photographs were taken of 80 million people, and people were clearly identifiable from those photographs when they went to vote. Have the Government considered doing that? A democracy needs as many people to vote as possible, but we do not want identity fraud when people vote.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about international comparisons. Many countries, including Canada, Brazil and Austria, already require photographic ID to vote at polling stations, and such a scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2003. The Government are taking forward pilots to look at electoral identification in the 2018 local government elections, and we are willing to test various forms of identification—photographic and non-photographic—to ensure above all that no one is disenfranchised.
Just as in America.
Yes. They are putting obstacles between people and the polling booth instead of working to boost our democracy. If voter fraud is such a problem, will the Minister tell the House how many voter fraud convictions there were last year?
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman for somehow claiming that this is a smokescreen. It was a Labour Government that introduced photographic ID in Northern Ireland in 2003. The Electoral Commission and all other electoral administrators have called for ID in polling stations, and we will test its use rigorously in the pilots. There were 481 cases of voter fraud reported to the Electoral Commission, and 184 additional cases were reported to the police. Above all, this is about perception. The Electoral Commission reported last year that 30% of the population believe that voter fraud is an issue in their local area, and we are determined to tackle that perception.
The organisations that the Minister just referred to and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have warned that our voting system is peculiarly vulnerable to identity theft. There is no evidence of voter suppression in the countries that the Minister listed. Does he think that those who talk of conspiracy theories are at grave risk of becoming apologists for electoral fraud?
We are determined to ensure that we have a clear and secure democracy in which voters can have confidence. We have 46.5 million people on the electoral register, and turnout increased from 26.3 million in 2001 to 30.8 million in 2015. We want to ensure that we have voter participation, but if the public perceive that fraud is an issue, that perception can be as damaging as cases of fraud.
Has the Minister made any equality impact assessment of the recommendation to ban the use of any language other than English or Welsh in polling stations?
The issue of language in polling stations is an important part of the package of measures in our response to my right hon. Friend’s report. If electoral administrators are to do their job and be confident that no one is being put under undue pressure or influence when voting, it is important that we look at the question of language. At the same time, the Government’s announcements will be thorough and based on correct analysis, and we will be going through due process to ensure that all the impact assessments are correct.
Voter Identification Measures
In our response to the review of electoral fraud by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), we outlined our intention to run several pilot schemes in a number of local authority areas in 2018, the purpose of which is to test the impact on elections of asking electors to present identification before voting.
Does my hon. Friend agree that voting is one of a citizen’s most important duties, and that introducing proof of ID would bring voting into line with other everyday transactions such as getting a mortgage or renting a car?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. When it comes to voting, there cannot be a more important transaction someone can make over five years than to democratically elect their Member of Parliament or councillor. It is right that that process is respected and that, as for so many other transactions in the modern world, we bring it up to date. It is not acceptable for someone simply to turn up at the voting booth, point out their name and claim that as their identity. That does not happen anywhere else. It is time to bring our democracy up to date.
Voter fraud is unacceptable, and I welcome any measure to secure democracy. Swindon Borough Council has repeatedly been commended for good election practice, so will the Minister consider us for future pilots?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We have had a great deal of interest in the pilot process from local authorities. We are currently conducting a review to decide exactly what form those pilots will take—as I said, some will involve photographic ID and some will involve non-photographic ID. We are determined to ensure that interested local authorities can come forward in good time so that they can participate in a pilot project. On Monday, I addressed the Association of Electoral Administrators at its annual conference in Brighton, and I was struck by the fact that more than 50% of electoral administrators supported the introduction of ID in polling stations.
My hon. Friend the Minister is absolutely right that voter identification is common practice in many sophisticated democracies around the world. What best practice have the Government been taking from those other countries?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We expect that by introducing the pilot schemes, we will provide invaluable learning for strengthening our electoral system, but we also want to learn from international comparisons with countries such as Canada, Austria and Brazil, which require voter identification. As I have stated, voters in Northern Ireland have had to present identification since 1985, and photographic identification since 2003. Further information is available in the Electoral Commission’s report “Electoral fraud in the UK”. We will consider the international comparisons going forward.
The Government are deluding themselves if they think that personation is the main challenge to the integrity of our democratic system. The main challenge to its integrity and credibility is the fact that millions of our fellow citizens who are entitled to vote do not do so. Would it not be better for the Government to spend time and money on pilot projects designed to increase participation, such as a radical overhaul of how we teach democratic rights in schools; on pursuing online voting; and, most of all, on automatic voter registration, so that the ability to vote is not something people have to apply for?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising democratic participation. As I have stated, we now have a record 46.5 million people on the electoral register and turnout at elections is at a record level. Nevertheless, we can and must do more. The ideas of a clear and secure democracy and looking at voter identification pilots are just part of a package of measures. We also have another crucial strand: ensuring that every voice matters. In spring, I will set out our democratic engagement strategy, which will include further pilots of schemes to use civil society groups to encourage voter registration.
Will the Minister give an assurance that the issue of postal and proxy vote applications, which can also be subject to abuse, will be kept under review, in terms of the accurate identification of the person who is supposed to be applying for such votes?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. When we published our response to the report of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar, the top line was obviously ID in polling stations, but there was also an entire package of measures, including looking again at postal vote fraud, banning the harvesting of postal votes by political parties, and limiting the number of postal vote packs that can be handled by family members to two. I entirely take the hon. Gentleman’s point, and we will continue to review those matters.
The Electoral Commission tells us that 3.5 million genuine, legitimate electors do not have the valid photo-identification that would be required in the trials, and risk being denied their votes. Blackburn with Darwen Council recently passed a motion to oppose the trial there, Pendle has called for a rethink, and Burnley is considering a similar motion. When will the Minister abandon his tatty copy of the Republican party’s playbook on voter suppression and listen to the sensible voice of the good folk of Lancashire?
The hon. Lady mentioned the Electoral Commission, but she omitted to say that it has stated that it welcomes the
“full and considered response from the Government and the announcement of its intention to pilot measures to increase security at polling stations.”
The Electoral Commission is indeed in favour of introducing photographic ID for elections. When it comes to the pilots, we want evidence-based policy making, which is why we will have pilots that look at photographic ID and pilots that look at non-photographic ID. When it comes to ensuring that people will be able to vote, I am not going to be denying anyone that franchise. We are protecting those communities that are most vulnerable in casting their votes in a secret ballot. We must protect against undue influence, and I am surprised that the hon. Lady does not take the matter seriously, as the Electoral Commission does.
Public Procurement Guidelines
The Public Contracts Regulations 2015, which govern the conduct of public procurement in the UK, apply in full to all public sector organisations, including local authorities.
Will the Minister confirm that it is perfectly legal for local authorities to be able to set their own procurement rules, taking into account additional factors, such as the suppliers’ human rights record and the environmental impact?
Local authorities must comply with European Union law, which is enshrined in the public contracts regulations. The Government provide guidance on how those regulations should be applied, and I encourage local authorities to take that guidance into account when they are framing their procurement policies.
My enormous departmental team of two comprises one person who has run several small businesses and another who is a sole trader. That is a 100% fulfilment on my hon. Friend’s request. We also have a small and medium-sized enterprise ambassador, Emma Jones, who works with the council to ensure that we do precisely what he wishes, which is to sensitise the civil service and procurement officials to the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Before he quit, a friend of mine empowered Waitrose managers—[Interruption.] I will not name him. He empowered Waitrose managers to go out and procure local product. Can we not give similar encouragement to bodies such as county and district councils?
I commend everything that my hon. Friend’s friend has done in his previous role, and I know that he will bring that expertise, in due course, to the people of the west midlands. Although councils and all public bodies cannot choose according to geographical criteria, what they can and must do is take into account the social value of their procurement policies, which is why there is considerable latitude for them to have a similar approach to the one that his friend conducted at Waitrose.
Ministers have talked a great deal about linking apprenticeships to public procurement contracts, which is a sensible use of public funds to meet both the skills agenda and to help to narrow inequality in society. However, the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission confirmed last week that only 10% of new apprenticeships are taken up by those from low-income families. Given the Cabinet Office’s unique place to promote this agenda, what is the Minister doing to tackle this unacceptable situation?
The hon. Gentleman raises a completely just point. The whole purpose behind our apprenticeship programme is to give opportunities to people who would not otherwise have them. That is why the 3 million target that we have across the economy is so important. The public sector will contribute a significant proportion of that, and I am responsible for the civil service component. We are doing very well on the civil service apprenticeship numbers. Two weeks ago, we launched a set of standards that will apply to some of the civil service apprenticeships. I hope that, in time, we will be able to fulfil exactly the aspiration that we both have in ensuring that that helps social mobility.
Voter Identification Trial
The Government have outlined a variety of photographic and non-photographic types of identification that could feature in our pilot schemes, which will test rigorously the impact of ID on all aspects of elections, including turnout. I note that, in its 2016 report on Northern Ireland, the Electoral Commission said that less than 1% of voters were affected by photo ID, which is why we want to look at photo ID and non-photo ID to ensure that no disenfranchisement is taking place in our pilots.
The Electoral Commission reported in 2016 that 3.5 million electors have no appropriate form of photographic ID. Why is it that the Government are ignoring recommendations to have a voluntary voter card, which would allow those 3.5 million people to vote?
The hon. Gentleman is a fine historian who, like me, believes in looking at the facts and in evidence-based policy making. That is why we have constructed the pilots to ensure that there is photographic identification and non-photographic identification. If there happens to be anyone who has no form of identification, we will make provision for them. Rolling out the electoral ID card across the country would be tremendously expensive and we have no plans to do so.
Civil Service Headcount
Workforce planning is primarily the responsibility of each individual Department, but the civil service headcount reduced by 3,390, or 0.8%, over the past year.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he commit to publishing an assessment of all resources moved over to Brexit priorities and what work streams have been cut as a result?
The hon. Lady will understand that we have worked hard since July to ensure that we have the proper resources in place so that our exit from the European Union is effective and efficient. The public versions of the single departmental plans will have the outlines that she is seeking.
As my right hon. Friend continues to modernise the civil service headcount, will he ensure that the apprenticeship strategy for the civil service continues to lead to a more diverse and skilled workforce to serve our communities?
I can assure my hon. Friend of precisely that and, as he will know, my predecessor started a programme of understanding better the social and economic make-up of the civil service so that we can have a far more targeted approach to ensuring diversity and social equality in our civil service.
Together with Her Majesty’s Treasury, and as part of our joint efficiency review, we are seeking to find savings of £15 billion to £20 billion by 2020. We have achieved £3.3 billion in the past year.
As a councillor on West Oxfordshire District Council, I have seen how the commissioning of services from one provider by different public sector bodies can drive down costs, providing high-quality services at very low cost. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are lessons to be learned for all sectors of government and that programmes such as One Public Estate are an excellent example of how collaborative working can help the public sector to deliver more for less?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question and he is right to point out One Public Estate, which is a Cabinet Office programme ensuring cross-working and efficiency savings as a result. Many of the lessons we can learn are from local government, and it is important that we all learn from each other as regards sharing services and cutting costs.
Will my right hon. Friend introduce reforms so that different parts of the public sector can share data more easily, which will significantly improve efficiency?
The Digital Economy Bill, which is passing through both Houses at the moment, does precisely that.
We are committed to improving public services through technology to transform the relationship between citizen and state. We are doing so through the use of tools such as Verify.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he reassure the House that the Government are doing everything they can to ensure that people can access public services online, particularly hard-to-reach groups such as those in my rural constituency of Bury St Edmunds?
The Government Digital Service has a specific programme to ensure that there is full access to Government digital services for all groups. Of course, by ensuring that we have good broadband connections in constituencies such as my hon. Friend’s we will enable people to access those services online in rural areas.
The Cabinet Office is the centre of Government. The Department is responsible for delivering a democracy that works for everyone, supporting the design and delivery of Government policy and driving efficiencies and reforms to make government work better.
Will the Minister provide an update on any progress in the Prime Minister’s audit to tackle racial disparities? As so much is already known about the devastating consequences of these disparities, should not the Government be getting on with doing a great deal more about them now rather than waiting for an audit?
I find the right hon. Lady’s comments surprising. It was this Government and this Prime Minister who commissioned the racial disparity audit. When the right hon. Lady was in power, her party had 13 years to do that, but did not. I am proud of what the Prime Minister has done. We have committed to publishing the audit in the next few months, and the right hon. Lady will be excited by the possibilities it presents to make things better for everyone in the country.
Although list X is the responsibility of the MOD and the Secretary of State will have heard that question, I have a responsibility for small and medium-sized enterprises in public procurement. I shall certainly take forward my hon. Friend’s concerns and ensure that they are represented.
Since 2010, more than 100,000 civil service jobs have gone. With 300 new recruits and funding of £42.7 million for the Brexit Department, is the Minister really serious about the fact that the UK is properly prepared to enter the most complex negotiations for generations? The reality is that it is an absolute shambles.
I have full confidence not only in that, but in the civil service and the remarkable people who inhabit the Departments across our state.
I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to and interest in combating voter fraud, and for taking those measures. I addressed a conference of the National Police Chiefs Council and the Electoral Commission last Friday, setting out why it is important that the police take the issue of voter fraud seriously. There have been cases where convictions have not been followed through. That is wrong and I hope that the issue will be addressed.
The hon. Gentleman knows that it was this Government who established a far more rigorous understanding of steel content in public procurement policy. I will update the House in due course to give hon. Members an idea of the progress we are making.
As of yesterday, 15,745 companies were registered with Contracts Finder, 59% of which were small and medium-sized enterprises. My hon. Friend could encourage his local businesses to sign up. It is very easy to do so, and the best he can do is to tell them that.
In the measures I have described today, I shall.
I owe Members an apology for this. It is true that some of the telephone numbers in the directory were inaccurate and some were general numbers. The revision is being made quarterly—the next one is in March—and I have instructed all Departments to provide private office numbers, as Members rightly expect.
The Prime Minister was asked—
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.
The Government chose to launch the pupil premium at Spire Junior School in Chesterfield, where 70% of pupils receive free school meals. The headteacher, Dave Shaw, was going to run the great north run for a cancer charity. However, the Prime Minister’s new schools funding formula means that Spire Junior School now faces the biggest cuts in all of Derbyshire. Running for cash is now the only alternative to sacking staff. Will she go to the finish line and tell Dave Shaw how this is a fairer funding formula?
I am pleased to say that, in the local authority that covers the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, we have seen an increase of over 17,000 children at good or outstanding schools since 2010. That is down to Government changes and the hard work of teachers and other staff in the schools. For a very long time, it has been the general view—I have campaigned on this for a long time—that we need to see a fairer funding formula for schools. What the Government have brought forward is a consultation on a fairer funding formula. We will look at the results of that fairer funding formula and will bring forward our firm proposals in due course.
I am sure the whole House will want to join me in praising the bravery and commitment of all those who serve in our armed forces. I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he is doing on the Defence Committee, because, of course, he brings personal expertise to that work. Those who serve on the frontline deserve our support when they get home, and I can assure him of the Government’s commitment to that. All troops facing allegations receive legal aid from the Government, with the guarantee that it will not be claimed back. In relation to IHAT, which he specifically referred to, we are committed to reducing its case load to a small number of credible cases as quickly as possible. On the action that has been taken in relation to the individual he has referred to, I think it is absolutely appalling when people try to make a business out of chasing after our brave troops.
Nine out of 10 NHS trusts say their hospitals have been at unsafe levels of overcrowding. One in six accident and emergency units in England is set to be closed or downgraded. Could the Prime Minister please explain how closing A&E departments will tackle overcrowding and ever-growing waiting lists?
First, I extend my thanks and, I am sure, those of the whole House to the hard-working staff in the NHS, who do a great job day in and day out treating patients. Yes, we recognise there are heavy pressures on the NHS. That is why, this year, we are funding the NHS at £1.3 billion more than the Labour party promised at the last election. The right hon. Gentleman refers specifically to accident and emergency. What is our response in accident and emergency? We see 600 more A&E consultants, 1,500 more A&E doctors and 2,000 more paramedics. It is not about standing up, making a soundbite and asking a question; it is about delivering results, and that is what this Conservative Government are doing.
Congratulating A&E staff is one thing; paying them properly is another. I hope the Prime Minister managed to see the BBC report on the Royal Blackburn A&E department, which showed that people had to wait up to 13 hours and 52 minutes to be seen. A major cause of the pressure on A&Es is the £4.6 billion cut in the social care budget since 2010. Earlier this week, Liverpool’s very esteemed adult social care director, Samih Kalakeche, resigned, saying:
“Frankly I can’t see social services surviving after two years. That’s the absolute maximum... people are suffering, and we are really only seeing the tip of the iceberg.”
What advice do the Government have for the people of Liverpool in this situation?
The right hon.—[Interruption.]
Order. It is bad enough when Members who are within the curtilage of the Chamber shout; those who are not absolutely should not do so. It is a discourtesy to the House of Commons—nothing more, nothing less. Please do not do it.
The right hon. Gentleman referred at an early stage of his question to Blackburn. I am happy to say that compared to 2010 there are 129 more hospital doctors and 413 more nurses in Blackburn’s East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. He then went on to talk about waiting times. Waiting times can be an issue. Where is it that you wait a week longer for pneumonia treatment, a week longer for heart disease treatment, seven weeks longer for cataract treatment, 11 weeks longer for hernia treatment, and 21 weeks longer for a hip operation? It is not in England—it is in Wales. Who is in power in Wales? Labour.
My question was about the comments from Samih Kalakeche in Liverpool and why the people of Liverpool are having to suffer these great cuts. Liverpool has asked to meet the Government on four occasions.
The crisis is so bad that until yesterday David Hodge, the Conservative leader of Surrey County Council, planned to hold a referendum for a 15% increase in council tax. At the last minute, it was called off. Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether or not a special deal was done for Surrey?
The decision as to whether or not to hold a referendum in Surrey is entirely a matter for the local authority in Surrey—Surrey County Council.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of social care, which we have had exchanges on across this Dispatch Box before. As I have said before, we do need to find a long-term, sustainable solution for social care in this country. I recognise the short-term pressures. That is why we have enabled local authorities to put more money into social care. We have provided more money. Over the next two years, £900 million more will be available for social care. But we also need to look at ensuring that good practice is spread across the whole country. We can look at places such as Barnsley, North Tyneside, St Helens and Rutland. Towards the end of last year, there were virtually no delayed discharges attributable to social care in those councils. But we also need to look long term. That is why the Cabinet Office is driving a review, with the relevant Departments, to find a sustainable solution, which the Labour party ducked for far too long.
My question was whether there had been a special deal done for Surrey. The leader said that they had had many conversations with the Government. We know they have, because I have been leaked copies of texts sent by the Tory leader, David Hodge, intended for somebody called “Nick” who works for Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government. One of the texts reads:
“I am advised that DCLG officials have been working on a solution and you will be contacting me to agree a memorandum of understanding.”
Will the Government now publish this memorandum of understanding, and while they are about it, will all councils be offered the same deal?
What we have given all councils is the opportunity to raise a 3% precept on council tax, to go into social care. The right hon. Gentleman talks about understanding. What the Labour party fails to understand—[Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise. Mr Pound, calm yourself—you are supposed to be a senior statesman—and Mr Rotheram, you should reserve your shouting for the stands at Anfield.
As I say, all councils have the opportunity to raise the 3% precept, to put that funding into the provision of social care. What the Labour party fails to understand is that this is not just a question of looking at money; it is a question of looking at spreading best practice and finding a sustainable solution. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that if we look at social care provision across the entire country, we will see that the last thing that social care providers need is another one of Labour’s bouncing cheques.
I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that the Chancellor and the Health Secretary both represent Surrey constituencies.
There was a second text from the Surrey County Council leader to “Nick”. It says:
“The numbers you indicated are the numbers I understand are acceptable for me to accept and call off the R”.
I have been reading a bit of John le Carré and apparently “R” means “referendum”—it is very subtle, all this. He goes on to say in his text to “Nick”:
“If it is possible for that info to be sent to myself I can then revert back soonest, really want to kill this off”.
So, how much did the Government offer Surrey to “kill this off”, and is the same sweetheart deal on offer to every council facing the social care crisis created by this Government?
I have made clear to the right hon. Gentleman what has been made available to every council, which is the ability to raise the precept. I have to say to him—[Interruption.]
Order. As colleagues know, I never mind how long Prime Minister’s questions take. The questions and the answers must be heard.
The right hon. Gentleman comes to the Dispatch Box making all sorts of claims. Yet again, what we get from Labour is alternative facts; what it really needs is an alternative leader.
My question was, what deal was offered to Surrey that got it to call off a referendum, and will the same deal be offered to every other council going through a social care crisis?
Hospital wards are overcrowded, a million people are not getting the care they need, and family members, mostly women, are having to give up work to care for loved ones. Every day that the Prime Minister fails to act, this crisis gets worse. Will she finally come clean and provide local authorities with the funding they need to fund social care properly, so that our often elderly and vulnerable people can be treated with the support and dignity that they deserve in a civilised society?
The deal that is on offer to all councils is the one that I have already set out. Let me be very clear with the right hon. Gentleman. As ever, he stands up and consistently asks for more spending, more money, more funding. What he always fails to recognise is that you can spend money on social care and the national health service only if you have a strong economy to deliver the wealth that you need. There is a fundamental difference between us. When I talk—[Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry, but there is still too much noise in the Chamber. People observing our proceedings, both here and outside, want the questions heard and the answers heard, and they will be.
There is a difference between us. When I talk about half a trillion pounds, it is about the money we will be spending on the NHS this Parliament. When Labour Members talk about half a trillion pounds, it is about the money they want to borrow: Conservatives investing in the NHS; Labour bankrupting Britain.
I am very interested to hear of the important work my hon. Friend is doing in that important area. As he knows, I think we need to put more of a focus on mental health and make progress. I am pleased to say that something like 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day. That is an advance, but more needs to be done. We are putting more money—£68 million—into improving mental healthcare through digital innovation, which sounds as if it fits right into what he is looking at. There will be a focus on that with children’s and young people’s mental health in mind. He might want to look out for the Department of Health and Department for Education joint Green Paper on that, which they will publish in October.
Last night, parliamentarians from across the Chamber and across the parties voted overwhelmingly against the UK Government’s Brexit plans—in the Scottish Parliament. If the United Kingdom is a partnership of equals, will the Prime Minister compromise like the Scottish Government and reach a negotiated agreement before invoking article 50, or will she just carry on regardless?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, when the UK Government negotiate, we will negotiate as the Government for the whole United Kingdom. We have put in place the Joint Ministerial Committee arrangements through various committees, which enable us to work closely with the devolved Administrations to identify the particular issues they want represented as we put our views together. We have said that we will intensify the discussions within that JMC arrangement, and that is exactly what we will be doing.
When the Prime Minister was in Edinburgh on 15 July last year, she pledged that she would not trigger article 50 until she had an agreed UK-wide approach. Given that the Scottish Parliament has voted overwhelmingly against her approach, and that all bar one MP representing a Scottish constituency in the House of Commons has voted against her approach, she does not have an agreed UK-wide approach. As the Prime Minister knows, a lot of people in Scotland watch Prime Minister’s questions. Will she tell those viewers in Scotland whether she intends to keep her word to Scotland or not?
We are ensuring that we are working closely with the Scottish Government, and indeed with the other devolved Administrations, as we take this matter forward. I would just remind the right hon. Gentleman of two things. First, the Supreme Court was very clear that the Scottish Parliament does not have a veto on the triggering of article 50—the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which is going through the House, obviously gives the power to the Government to trigger article 50. I would also remind him of this point, because he constantly refers to the interests of Scotland inside the European Union: an independent Scotland would not be in the European Union.
I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. Our broken housing market is one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today, and the excellent housing White Paper brought out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government sets out the steps we will take to fix it. My hon. Friend is right: it is the Conservatives in government who will support local authorities to deliver more of the right homes in the right places, to encourage faster build-out of developments—I am sure everybody recognises the problem of planning permissions that are given and then not built out—and to create the conditions for a more competitive and diverse housing market. We are calling for action and we are setting out the responsibilities of all parties in building the homes that Britain needs.
I find that a rather curious question from the hon. Gentleman. As it happens, last night I was out of the House between the two votes. I switched on the BBC parliamentary channel and I saw the hon. Gentleman speaking. I turned over to something else. I switched back to the parliamentary channel and he was still speaking. I switched over to something else. I switched back and he was still speaking. He is the last person to complain about filibustering in this House. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Docherty-Hughes, you seem to be in a state of permanent over-excitement. Calm yourself, man. Take some sort of medicament and it will soothe you. We must hear Mrs Villiers.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point that is, I know, of concern to many people in the House and outside. We should be proud that in the UK we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world—indeed, one of the highest scores for animal protection in the world. Leaving the EU will not change that. I can assure her that we are committed to maintaining and, where possible, improving standards of welfare in the UK, while ensuring of course that our industry is not put at a competitive disadvantage.
I am proud that in this country we have strengthened the law on domestic violence and violence against women and girls. We see this as a retrograde step by the Russian Government. Repealing existing legislation sends out the wrong message on what is a global problem. We have joined others in the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in criticising that decision.
This is obviously a very important issue that my hon. Friend has raised. I understand that on the point of basic medication it is not the fact that the NHS pays more for basic painkillers than on the high street: in fact, its prices are lower. In the case of Kadcyla and similar drugs, it is right that difficult decisions are made on the basis of clinical evidence. I understand that NICE is undertaking a comprehensive assessment before making a final recommendation, and in the meantime Kadcyla is still available to patients.
Last month, Sir Anthony Hart published his report on historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. Given the uncertain political situation with the Northern Ireland political institutions, if the Executive is not up and running within a month, will the Prime Minister commit to implementing the report in full?
This was obviously an important review. We have our own inquiry into historical child abuse in England and Wales. I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about looking ahead to the future. The elections in Northern Ireland will take place on 2 March. There will then be a limited period for an Executive to be put together. I fervently hope an Executive can be put together to maintain the devolved institutions, and I encourage all parties to work very hard to ensure that. I do not want the benefits of progress to be undone, but I am sure, looking ahead, that whatever is necessary will be done to ensure that the findings of the report are taken into account and acted on.
I agree with my hon. Friend. When we negotiate as a United Kingdom, we will be negotiating for the whole of the United Kingdom and taking account of all parts of the United Kingdom. We have a real ambition to make the west midlands an engine for growth. That is about growing the region’s economy and more jobs. Money has been put into growth deal funding and, for example, the Birmingham rail hub. The west midlands will of course be getting a strong voice nationally with a directly elected Mayor in May. I believe Andy Street, with both local expertise and business experience, will be a very good Mayor for the west midlands.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman back again to the Chamber.
I’m looking pretty slim as well, Mr Speaker!
I had five months of NHS treatment at the Newcastle Royal Victoria infirmary under the auspices of Professor Griffin, a marvellous surgeon. Seeing as I might have come out with palliative care, I think he has just about saved my life. That is the best side of the NHS. The service I received was absolutely wonderful, but there is a flip side. What we have today is what are called “corridor nurses”, who look after patients on trolleys in corridors. Quite honestly, Prime Minister, that is not the way we want the health service to be run. We want it to be run in the way it saved me. Get your purse open and give them the money they want.
As Mr Speaker said, I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his place in the Chamber. I commend the surgeon and all those in the national health service who treated him and enabled him to be here today and continue his duties. There are, as we know, surgeons, doctors, nurses and other staff up and down the NHS day in, day out saving lives. We should commend them for all they do. The north-east is a very good example of some of the really good practice in the NHS. I want to see that good practice spread across the NHS in the whole country.
My hon. Friend obviously raises an issue that is of concern all across this House. As she says, it is of concern to many individuals outside the House who want reassurance about their future. As I have said, I want to be able to give, and I expect to be able to give, that reassurance, but I want to see the same reassurance for UK citizens living in the EU. What I can say to her is that when I trigger article 50, I intend to make it clear that I want this to be a priority for an early stage of the negotiations, so we can address this issue and give reassurance to the people concerned.
Just two weeks ago, Quamari Serunkuma-Barnes, 15 years old, left school, was stabbed four times and died. Three days earlier, Djodjo Nsaka, 19 years old, was stabbed to death in Wembley. Just a few months earlier, two of my young constituents, James Owusu-Ajyekum, 22 years old, and Oliver Tetlow, 27 years old, were killed in what the police say was a case of mistaken identity. Next week, I am meeting the deputy Mayor of London to discuss this and other issues. Will the Prime Minister meet me, fellow MPs and my borough commander to talk about this issue and the Sycamore project, which we would like rolled out in London and beyond?
First, may I send the condolences of the whole House to the families and friends of all those the hon. Lady refers to who were brutally stabbed and attacked in knife attacks? This is obviously an important issue, particularly in London, and we want it addressed. A lot of good work has been done. I am not aware of the Sycamore project, but I would be happy to hear more details of it.
We have been very clear that we want to bring the net migration numbers down, but we also want to ensure that the brightest and the best are still welcome here in the UK. That is why people want to see the UK Government making decisions about people coming here from the EU. We are clear, however, as I said in my Lancaster House speech, that there will still be immigration from the EU into the UK. We want to ensure that the brightest and the best can come here.
Yesterday, the Brexit Minister claimed that Parliament would have a meaningful vote on the final EU deal. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, under her plans, Parliament will either have to accept what the Government offer or fall back on World Trade Organisation rules and that, in the event of no deal, there will be no vote at all? In reality, is this not just a case of take it or leave it? It is not a meaningful concession; it is a con.
We have been clear on this, but I am happy to reiterate what the Minister said yesterday. We have looked at this matter. I said in my Lancaster House speech that there would be a vote on the final deal, but there were a number of questions about what exactly that meant. We will bring forward a motion; the motion will be on the final agreement; it will be for approval by both Houses of Parliament; it will be before the final agreement is concluded, and we expect—I know that this has been an issue for several right hon. and hon. Members—and intend that that will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement.
My hon. Friend raises an important matter that is on the minds of a number of right hon. and hon. Friends. As I said earlier, the current system of funding is unfair, not transparent and out of date. I want a system that supports our aspiration to ensure that every child has a good school place. In looking at these reforms, I can assure my hon. Friend that we want to get this right, which is why we are consulting and why we will look closely at the responses to the consultation.
Npower has announced a 9.8% increase on dual fuel bills, which even the former boss of Npower, Paul Massara, has described as “shocking”. EDF has announced an 8.4% electricity hike, and it is reported that British Gas is preparing its 11 million customers for a 9% increase. Ofgem has moved to protect those who are on prepayment meters with a cap on their energy bills, so why does the Prime Minister not demand similar protection for the majority of customers, who are being ripped off, as the Competition and Markets Authority has said, to the sum of £1.4 billion a year?
The right hon. Lady may have missed the fact that we have said that where we think markets are not working, we will look at any measures that are needed—and the energy market is one of those we are looking at the moment.
Order, I apologise for interrupting, but the hon. Gentleman must be heard.
Thank you, Speaker.
Finally, does my right hon. Friend share my surprise that certain Opposition Front Benchers have not learned that disagreeing with their current party leader can cause headaches?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I think all of us and everybody in the country wants to unite behind the Government’s work to ensure that we get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union, and I believe that we can get a deal that will be in the interests of both the UK and the EU. I had hoped that I would be able to welcome the shadow Home Secretary to the Front Bench in time for the vote that is going to take place later tonight. Perhaps Labour Members are starting to realise that their only real headache is their leader.
Does the Prime Minister agree with the director general of the World Trade Organisation that if Britain were to leave the EU on WTO terms, it would cost £9 billion in lost trade each year?
What we want to do is to ensure that we negotiate a deal with the European Union that enables us to have the best possible deal in trading with and operating within the European Union single market in goods and services. I believe that is possible precisely because, as I have just said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney), such a deal would be good not just for us, but for the EU as well.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. As I set out a few weeks ago, the Government will be reviewing the operation of CAMHS across the country, because I recognise some of the concerns that hon. Members have raised about it. We want to ensure that children and young people have easy access to mental health at the right time, because of the evidence that a significant proportion of mental health problems that arise later in life actually start in childhood and adolescence. We have made more money available to support transformation in children’s and young people’s mental health, but the shadow Health Secretary—sorry, I mean the Health Secretary is on—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is in his place, as well. I hope the shadow Health Secretary will agree with me that we need to review CAMHS and ensure that we give the right to support to children, young people and adolescents with mental health problems. We will look at the issue that my hon. Friend has raised.
Many hon. Members have recently made the long journey up to west Cumbria for the Copeland by-election, and will all have experienced the parlous state of our roads and our local railways. In fact, it has taken a by-election for Transport Ministers to look seriously at, and show any real interest in, the situation. Is the Prime Minister planning a trip herself, so that she, too, can experience why we need proper investment from this Government in the transport infrastructure in west Cumbria?
The Government are putting more money into infrastructure throughout the country. The Labour party had 13 years in which to improve transport in west Cumbria, and did not do anything about it.
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing our attention to the example of Woodall Nicholson. We are pleased to hear that it has those good plans for the future. As we leave the EU, we will be doing so from a position of strength, and my hon. Friend is right to say that skills and manufacturing are important parts of our economy for the future. That is why, in the industrial strategy, we are looking into how we can develop the excellence that we have in the United Kingdom to ensure that we have a prosperous, growing economy for the future.
Last week, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) pointed out that the Prime Minister’s aspiration to achieve barrier-free, tariff-free trade with the single market, getting all the benefits but paying none of the costs, was akin to disappearing down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. I think that the Prime Minister makes a very interesting choice for Alice, but if she does not manage to achieve that high ambition, will she produce an analysis of what trading on the basis of WTO rules would mean for our economy, so that we, too, can make a proper choice?
I commend my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) for the significant service that he has given to the House and his constituents over the years. He and I have worked well over a number of years—although I should add that, when I was Home Secretary, I used to say, “I locked ’em up and he let ’em out.”
The Government believe that it is possible, within the two-year time frame, to secure agreement not just on our withdrawal from the European Union, but on the trade arrangements that will ensure that we have a strong strategic partnership with the European Union in the future.
When my right hon. Friend met Mr Netanyahu earlier this week, did she impress on him that a lasting peace settlement can only be secured if young Palestinians and young Israelis can look forward to a job, a share in prosperity and a life without fear? Does she agree that that can only be achieved through face-to-face negotiations, and will she join the Israeli Prime Minister in pressing the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority to engage in such negotiations?
My right hon. Friend has made an important point. We continue, as a Conservative Government, to believe that the two-state solution is the right one. It means a viable Palestinian state, but also a safe and secure Israel. Of course, it is for the parties to negotiate: obviously, there are others in the international arena who are doing their work to facilitate an agreement in the middle east, but ultimately it is for the two parties to agree on a way forward.