I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in wishing people in the UK, and across the world, a happy St David’s day. I am also sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to our former colleague, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who died over the weekend. He was an outstanding parliamentarian and a committed MP who dedicated his life to the service of his constituents. As Father of the House, his wisdom and experience will be very much missed right across this House. I am sure that our thoughts are with his friends and family.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks, and assure the many relatives and friends of our former colleague that they are very much in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.
Does my right hon. Friend believe that last week’s historic by-election victory in Copeland was an endorsement of her Government’s plans to maintain a strong economy, bring our society together and ensure that we make a huge success of leaving the European Union?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. First, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend, the new Member for Copeland, and look forward to welcoming her to this House very shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) is absolutely right that last week’s historic result in Copeland was an endorsement of our plans to keep the economy strong and to ensure that places such as Copeland share in the economic success after years of Labour neglect. It was also an endorsement of our plans to unite communities where Labour seeks to sow division and of offering strong, competent leadership in the face of Labour’s chaos.
May I join the Prime Minister in wishing everyone in Wales, and all Welsh people around the world, a very happy St David’s day? May I also express the hope that, today, the workers at the Ford plant in Bridgend get the assurances that they need about their job security and their futures?
I echo the Prime Minister’s tribute to Gerald Kaufman, who served in this House since 1970 and was the longest serving Member. He started in political life as an adviser to Harold Wilson in the 1960s. He was an iconic, irascible figure in the Labour party and in British politics. He was a champion for peace and justice in the middle east and around the world. Yesterday at his funeral, Mr Speaker, the rabbi who conducted the service conveyed your message on behalf of the House to his family, which was very much appreciated. Afterwards, I spoke to his family and to his great nephews and great nieces and asked them how they would describe Gerald, and they said that he was an “awesome uncle”. We should remember Gerald as that, and convey our condolences to all his family.
Just after the last Budget, the then Work and Pensions Secretary resigned, accusing the Government of
“balancing the books on the backs of the poor and vulnerable.”
Last week, the Government sneaked out a decision to overrule a court decision to extend personal independence payments to people with severe mental health conditions. A Government who found £1 billion in inheritance tax cuts to benefit 26,000 families seem unable to find the money to support 160,000 people with debilitating mental health conditions. Will the Prime Minister change her mind?
Let me be very clear about what is being proposed in relation to personal independence payments. This is not a policy change—[Interruption.] This is not a cut in the amount spent on disability benefits, and no one is going to see a reduction in their benefits from that previously awarded by the Department for Work and Pensions. What we are doing is restoring the original intention of the payment agreed by the coalition Government, and agreed by this Parliament after extensive consultation.
Extensive consultation is an interesting idea, because the court made its decision last year, the Government did not consult the Social Security Advisory Committee and, at the last minute, sneaked out their decision.
The court ruled that the payments should be made because the people who were to benefit from them were suffering “overwhelming psychological distress”. Just a year ago, the then new Work and Pensions Secretary said:
“I can tell the House that we will not be going ahead with the changes to PIP that had been put forward.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 1268.]
The court has since made a ruling. The Prime Minister’s colleague, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), said:
“In my view, the courts are there for a reason. If they have come up with this ruling, which says that the criteria should be extended, then I believe we have a duty to honour that.”
Is she not right?
First, on the issue of these payments and those with mental health conditions, the personal independence payment is better for people with mental health conditions. The figures show that two thirds of people with mental health conditions who are claiming personal independence payments and in receipt of it are awarded the higher daily living rate allowance, compared with less than a quarter under the previous disability living allowance arrangements.
This is the second time that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested that somehow the change was sneaked out. It was in a written ministerial statement to Parliament. I might remind him that week after week he talks to me about the importance of Parliament; well, we accepted the importance of Parliament and made the statement to Parliament. He also referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee, and it can look at this matter. My right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary called the Chairman of the SSAC and spoke to him about the regulations on the day they were being introduced; he also called the Chairman of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions and spoke to him about the regulations that were being introduced; and he called both offices of the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, but there was no answer and they did not come back to him for four days.
Calling—[Interruption.] Calling the Chairs of two Committees and making a written statement to the House does not add up to scrutiny, and as I understand it no call was made to the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), the shadow Secretary of State.
The reality is that this is a shameful decision that will affect people with dementia, those suffering cognitive disorders due to a stroke, military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and those with schizophrenia. Will the Prime Minister look at the effects of her decision to override what an independent court has decided, and think again?
The issues and conditions that the right hon. Gentleman raises are taken into account when decisions are made about personal independence payments. The court said that the regulations were unclear; that is why we are clarifying the regulations and ensuring that they respect and reflect the original intention that was agreed by this Parliament.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the support being given to people with disabilities, I say to him that this Government are spending more than ever in support for people with disability and health conditions, and we are spending more than ever on people with mental health conditions. What we are doing with personal independence payments is ensuring that those who are most in need get most support.
The Government have overridden an independent court decision, and they should think long and hard about that. The Prime Minister’s hon. Friend, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), said this week that the Government have to
“make it very clear that physical and mental health has the same priority”.
In 2002, the Prime Minister made a speech to the Conservative party conference. I remember it very well; I was watching it on television. She described her party as the “nasty party” and said:
“Some Tories have tried to make political capital by demonising minorities”.
This week, her policy chair suggested that people with debilitating conditions were those who were
“taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety”
and were not “really disabled”. Is that not proof that the “nasty party” is still around?
My right hon. Friend has rightly apologised for the comments that he made, and I hope that the whole House will accept his apology. The right hon. Gentleman asks me about parity between mental health conditions and physical conditions. It is this Conservative Government who introduced parity of esteem in dealing with mental health in the national health service. How many years were Labour in government and did nothing about it? Thirteen years!
It was a Labour amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill that resulted in parity of esteem being put on the face of the Bill. I am surprised that the right hon. Lady has forgotten that; she could have taken this opportunity to thank the Labour party for putting it forward. The Prime Minister made a speech earlier this year supporting parity of esteem for mental health, and I am glad she did so. However, 40% of NHS mental health trusts are having their budgets cut, and there are 6,600 fewer mental health nurses and 160,000 people with severe mental health conditions who are about to lose out on support. Can she not recognise that parity of esteem means funding it properly and not overriding court decisions that would benefit people suffering from very difficult conditions? We should reach out to them, not deny them the support they need.
As I say, we are spending more than ever on mental health—£11.4 billion a year. More people each week are now receiving treatment in relation to mental health than previously. Is there more for us to do on mental health? Yes, there is. I have said that in this Chamber in answer to questions that I have received—
Well, do it!
The shadow Foreign Secretary shouts, “Well, do it” from her normal sedentary position—[Interruption.] We are doing it. That is why we are putting record amounts of money into mental health. That is why we are seeing more people being provided with mental health treatment every week under this Government. There is one thing that I know: if we are going to be able to provide that extra support for people with disabilities and health conditions and provide treatment for people with mental health conditions, we need a strong economy that enables us to pay for it. And the one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain.
That is rich, coming from a Government who, by 2020, will have borrowed more and increased the national debt by the total borrowing of all Labour Governments.
The mental health charity Rethink has said:
“The Government has spoken forcefully about the importance of parity esteem between physical and mental health, yet when presented with the chance to make this a reality...it has passed on the opportunity”.
As a society, we are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable. The respected mental health charity Mind has said:
“This misguided legislation must be reversed”.
Will the Prime Minister look again at the decision of the court and its consequences, withdraw this nasty decision, accept the court’s judgment and support those who are going through a very difficult time in their lives? That is how we will all be judged.
The way we are dealing with disability benefits is to ensure that payments are going to those who are most vulnerable. What we are doing in relation to personal independence payments is ensuring that the agreement of this Parliament is being put into practice. The right hon. Gentleman talks about funding and he talks about borrowing. I understand that today—[Interruption.]
Order. We cannot have a constant debate while the Prime Minister is answering the question. The question has been put and was heard, and the answer must be heard without a constant hubbub in the background.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about accepting the court’s decision and paying for that. When asked how Labour would pay for the increase if it was put in place, I understand that the Labour shadow Health Secretary said today, “Err, we’ve not outlined that yet.” That just sums up the Labour party and the Labour party leadership. After the result in Copeland last week, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) summed up the by-election result by saying that it was an “incredible result” for the Labour party. I think that word describes the right hon. Gentleman’s leadership: incredible.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, which he is right to raise. We want the UK to be the go-to place for innovators and investors across the world, and we want to secure the best possible outcomes for the UK research base as we leave the European Union. Indeed, one of the objectives that I set out for our negotiations with the European Union relates to science and research. We already are a leading destination for science and innovation, and we would welcome an agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners. I am interested in what my hon. Friend has said, and I am sure that that report will be looked at carefully by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
We on the SNP Benches join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party in extending our condolences to the family and friends of Sir Gerald Kaufman. We also extend our best wishes to the people of Wales on St David’s Day.
In Scottish questions just prior to PMQs today, Ministers were unable to answer basic questions about the Government’s plans for agriculture and for fisheries. Those are important industries for the rural economy and are devolved to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. With Brexit ending the role of Brussels in those areas, will all decisions about agriculture and fisheries be made at Holyrood—yes or no?
The right hon. Gentleman knows well that we are discussing with the devolved Administrations the whole question of the UK framework and devolution of issues as they come back from Brussels. The overriding aim for everything that we do when we make those decisions is to ensure that we do not damage the important single market of the United Kingdom, a market which I remind the right hon. Gentleman is more important to Scotland than the European Union is.
That is a very interesting answer because people in Scotland, including those working in the agriculture and fisheries sectors, were told during the Brexit referendum that farming and fisheries powers would be exercised fully by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. Judging by the Prime Minister’s answer, however, it seems that that will not be true. Will the Prime Minister confirm today—she has the opportunity—that it is her intention to ensure that UK Ministers will negotiate and regulate over large areas that impact on Scottish fisheries and agriculture post-Brexit?
The right hon. Gentleman seems not to have understood this point, so I will repeat it. We are in the process of discussing with the devolved Administrations the whole question of which of the powers that currently reside in Brussels will be returned and will remain at a UK level for decisions and which powers will be further devolved to the devolved Administrations. That is the discussion that is taking place at the moment. He asks about the Brexit negotiations with the European Union, and it will be the UK Government that will be negotiating with the European Union, taking full account of the interests and concerns of the devolved Administrations and, indeed, of all the regions of England.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, which I know he has been working on for some time. He is absolutely right to identify circumstances where websites are acting in that way and causing those problems for people who genuinely believe that they are able to buy tickets for what they wish to attend. I understand that he recently met my right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture to discuss the issue. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 introduced new rules on ticketing and a review of online ticket sales. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will shortly respond to the independent report by Professor Michael Waterson on this issue, but as a Government we are looking at the general issue of where markets are not working in the interest of consumers.
I am happy to welcome the new hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) to this House.
It is precisely because of concern about how various people were being treated within our public services that last year I introduced a racial audit of the disparity of treatment within public services. As Home Secretary, I saw this when I looked at the way that people, particularly black people with mental health issues, were being dealt with by the police and in various forms of detention. That is exactly the sort of issue that we are looking at. I am very happy for the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) to write to me with the details of the particular issue that he set out.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating West Suffolk College on being given that award for best teaching and learning initiative for its MARS initiative. The college has put in place a really interesting initiative, and I congratulate all its staff. This award is a sign of the dedication of the staff and students at West Suffolk College. All colleges across the country should be aspiring to reach these standards, and she is absolutely right that we need to ensure that young people have not just a skillset but an inquiring mind that enables them, as they look forward to what may be different careers throughout their life, to embrace new skills and change.
First, I am sure that Members from across the whole House will want to join me in offering our deepest sympathies to the family of this 16-year-old constituent—former constituent—of the hon. Lady. She raises an important issue, which is why the Government recognise the harm associated with the problem consumption of alcohol. We have taken action through the duty system, so that high-strength ciders and beers are taxed more than equivalent lower-strength products. We have also, of course, taken action on the very cheap alcohol by banning sales below duty plus VAT. But another element is involved, too, which is making sure that young people are aware of the dangers and harms of alcohol misuse. Public Health England and the NHS have run campaigns offering advice and support to young people, and they also work with charities and in schools to help to raise that awareness. I think that is an important part of this.
First, I want to assure my hon. Friend that higher education institutions have a responsibility to ensure that they provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students. We expect them to have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, and to investigate and swiftly address hate crime, including any anti-Semitic incidents that are reported. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has recently written to remind institutions of these expectations, and he has also urged them to follow the Government’s lead in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.
We have taken important steps to tackle money laundering, terrorist financing and other economic crimes; I oversaw the establishment of the economic crime command in the National Crime Agency. On the question the hon. Gentleman raises on SLPs, I understand that BEIS consulted last year on further transparency requirements for SLPs and will be publishing proposals soon, and that my right hon. Friend the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary is gathering evidence which may lead to further reform.
As my hon. Friend will know, business rates are based on property value and it has been seven years since property values were last looked at, so I think it is absolutely right that we update them. But of course, as I recognised last week, there are different impacts on different businesses, and it is important that we have already put significant sums into transitional support for businesses so that we help the companies that are facing increased bills. As I said in this House last week, I have asked my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Communities and Local Government Secretary to make sure that the support that is provided is appropriate and is in place for the hardest cases. I would expect my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to say more about this next week in the Budget.
I am happy to say to the hon. Lady that we have, of course, protected the core schools budget in real terms. Yes, we have had free schools—I understand that she raises a concern about them—but we have seen the programme of free schools and academies continue under this Government to ensure that we are creating more good school places throughout the country. That is what we want to do and that is what our policy will continue to do.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is absolutely right to raise the importance of Wales. My right hon. Friend the Wales Secretary is doing important work to remind the world that Wales is one of the best places in the UK to live, work and trade with. In the forthcoming negotiations we are committed to getting a deal that works for all parts of the UK, including Wales. The best way to achieve that is for the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to continue to work together. I am pleased to say that I am going to be hosting a St David’s day reception in Downing Street tonight to celebrate everything that Wales has to offer. I once again wish all Members of this House dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus.
I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I missed the first part of her question. I think she was talking about investment in infrastructure in her area. [Interruption.] HS3, right. The Government have obviously already set out the commitments we have made on infrastructure. As she will know, we believe infrastructure plays an important part in encouraging the growth of the economy and ensuring that we see increased productivity around the rest of the country. Over time, we will of course be looking at further projects that can do just that.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about local maternity services. As I have said, I am looking forward to welcoming the new Member for Copeland to this House very shortly. During the recent campaign, she made it very clear that she did not want to see any downgrading of the West Cumberland hospital services. She also did something else. She put forward a powerful case for what my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) has just suggested: a review to tackle the recruitment issues that affect the maternity services up there. A professionally led review seems very sensible, and I know that the Health Minister is looking into it.
I am sorry, but I obviously do not know the full details of the individual case raised by the hon. Gentleman. We are ensuring that more money is being—and will continue to be—put into mental health conditions over the year. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health will look into that case, if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to him about it.
As a leader who wants to spread wealth and opportunity as widely as possible, will the Prime Minister ensure that we end the practice of developers buying freehold land on which they then sell new houses on a leasehold basis? Many first time buyers on Help to Buy feel that they are being ripped off by this practice and look to the Government for help.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning that issue, which he has raised with me previously. I know he is concerned about it and working on it. Our housing White Paper clearly sets out that developers should be building homes for people to live in. That means that we will act to promote fairness for the growing number of leaseholders, but we will consult on a range of measures to tackle unfair and unreasonable abuses of leasehold, as the Housing Minister has said. Other than in certain exceptional circumstances, I do not see why new homes should not be built and sold with the freehold interest at the point of sale.
We all recognise the important service that pharmacies provide, which is why spending on them has actually risen in recent years. There has been an increase of more than 18% in the number of pharmacies over the past decade. The system needs to reform so that NHS resources are spent efficiently and effectively. Let us look at some of the figures: two fifths of pharmacies are within 10 minutes’ walk of two or more other pharmacies; the average pharmacy receives roughly £220,000 a year in NHS funding; and most pharmacies receive the £25,000 establishment payment, regardless of size or quality. We looked at this concern when it was raised last summer, and made changes to ensure that greater support was available to pharmacies in particular areas.
One of David Cameron’s greatest legacies was his effort to fight human trafficking under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Last year, this country looked after 800,000 children in Syria or the surrounding countries for the same investment as looking after 3,000 in this country. By doing that, we help to defeat human trafficking. Will the Prime Minister confirm that we will continue with that policy?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to David Cameron. I was pleased that he supported the Modern Slavery Act when I proposed introducing it. We are, indeed, committed to continuing our policy in this area. I have set up, and chair, a modern slavery taskforce at No. 10, bringing together various parties to ensure that we are doing what is necessary across Government to break the criminal gangs, deal with the perpetrators and provide the necessary support for victims.
May I, on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing condolences to the family of the late Father of the House? He will be greatly missed.
The Prime Minister cannot fail to have noticed the recent intervention in the Brexit debate by two former Prime Ministers; I am sure they were very helpful. I am sure that she will know what they and everybody else mean by “hard Brexit” and by “soft Brexit”, but we are all now wondering what is meant by a “soft coup”, when it might be triggered, and when, indeed, we will know whether it has been triggered. Perhaps the Prime Minister will elucidate on that since she has been so helpful in many other ways. Will she take the opportunity today, however, to make it clear that, whatever former Prime Ministers or Members of the unelected upper House may say, the reality is that her plan to trigger article 50 by the end of March is now clearly on track?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. It is, indeed, my plan to trigger by the end of March, and when I refer to that, I refer, of course, to the triggering of article 50, rather than attempting to trigger any coup, soft or otherwise, that might take place. It is still our intention to do that. It is important; the article 50 Bill, of course, does respond to the judgment of the Supreme Court, but it also ensures that we are responding to the voice of the United Kingdom, when people voted to ensure that we do leave the European Union, and that is what we will do.
Mr Speaker, perhaps you, like many other hon. Members here today, took a shower this morning—[Laughter.] I am sure you were very careful to check whether the shower gel contained microbeads. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”]
Order. We must hear the thrust of this fascinating question. Mrs Pow, let’s hear it.
Shower gel products containing microbeads can result in 100,000 microbeads or microplastics being washed down the drain every time we use them—into the water system, and then into the marine environment, damaging these precious habitats. Would the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the steps this Government are taking to introduce a ban on microbeads used in cosmetics and personal care products, with the consultation ending just a few days ago?
I think I should say for clarity to Members of this House that I am not in a position to know whether or not you took a shower this morning, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. It is completely unnecessary to add plastics to products like face washes and body scrub, where harmless alternatives can be used. As she said at the end of her question, our consultation to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products closed recently. We are aiming to change legislation by October 2017, and we also ask for evidence of what more can be done in future to prevent other sources of plastic from entering the marine environment, because we are committed to being the first generation ever to leave the environment in a better state than when it was inherited. I am sure that, together, we can all work to bring an end to these harmful plastics clogging up our oceans.
I think both Philip and Sally are very reassured by what the Prime Minister has just said.
Along the M4 corridor in south Wales, over 1,000 families woke up this morning deeply worried about potential job losses at Ford in Bridgend. Families in Ogmore and Bridgend are particularly frightened—frightened that Ford is not going to be able to bring new contracts into the factory, with the uncertainty of Brexit ahead. Can I have an assurance from the Prime Minister that she will arrange for her Ministers to meet Ford and Unite the union to see what can be done to support Ford to ensure continuity of engine production in the Bridgend plant?
Can I reassure the hon. Lady that our automotive sector is one of the most productive in the world? We want to see it going from strength to strength. That is why Ministers in this Government have been engaging with various companies within the automotive sector, including Ford and other companies. Ford is an important investor here; it has been established here for over 100 years. We now account for around a third of Ford’s global engine production, and Bridgend continues to be an important part of that. We have had, as I said, dialogue with Ford; we will continue to have a regular dialogue with Ford about the ways in which Government can help to make sure that this success continues.