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Volume 622: debated on Wednesday 8 March 2017

Q7. My Blackpool casework is now full of the anxieties that the DWP and the Home Office are imposing on vulnerable constituents, including officials’ attempts to overturn tribunal decisions protecting benefits and residents. That includes a family settled here for eight years and a man with a severe brain injury. If the Prime Minister wants people to respect the idea that “Brexit means Brexit,” should she not respect the idea that tribunals mean tribunals and not try to block them with grubby regulations affecting 164,000 disabled people? (909127)

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the decision that has been taken in relation to the courts and personal independence payments, as I explained to the House last week, and as has been explained by the Secretary of State, this is about restoring the system to the state that was intended when Parliament agreed it. It was agreed by the coalition Government and by Parliament after extensive consultation.

Q6. In National Apprenticeship Week, it is important to recognise this Government’s commitment to investment, apprenticeships and skills. Will the Prime Minister look at encouraging a greater commitment to degree apprenticeships as part of the Government’s strategy, as championed by businesses in my constituency such as BAE Systems, which has been at the forefront in developing these new programmes through its engineering degree apprenticeship scheme? (909126)

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. As we look to the future, we want to ensure that people here in the UK have the skills they need for the economy of the future, and degree apprenticeships will be an important part of that. Companies such as BAE System, which he referred to specifically, have been right at the forefront of developing these new programmes. I am pleased to say that the apprenticeship levy will take the total investment in England to £2.45 billion, which is double what was spent in 2010. That means more opportunities for young people to gain the skills they need for their future.

Q8. Tomorrow a memorial will be unveiled to those men and women who served our country in Afghanistan and Iraq. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should all pay tribute to their service and commemorate their sacrifice, not just with a memorial but with a commitment to learn from the past and do better in the future? (909128)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The unveiling of the memorial will be a very significant ceremony. I think that all of us across this House should pay tribute to those recognised by the memorial for the sacrifice they made—those in our armed forces and all those civilians who worked to deliver aid, healthcare and education. It is important that we recognise the sacrifices made by our armed forces and by their families. That will be a significant moment tomorrow. We are very clear that we do need to learn lessons from the past, and that is exactly what we will do.

Q11. I was delighted by the Prime Minister’s intervention in mental health in January, which I still feel has not had the attention it deserves. In Plymouth we are completely reconfiguring our mental health services, because we understand that parity of esteem means nothing without parity of provision. Will the Prime Minister visit Plymouth to see some of the pioneering work that we are doing, perhaps during national Mental Health Awareness Week in May, when I am hoping that Plymouth will take a national lead? (909131)

I thank my hon. Friend, because I know that this is an issue that he has championed and that is very close to his area of concern—he has done a lot of work on mental health. He talks about parity of esteem, which the Government have introduced, which is very important. More money is going into mental health provision than ever before. I would certainly be delighted to see the work being done in Plymouth, provided my diary allows for that.

Q9. In my constituency of Burnley, primary and secondary schools are severely underfunded, and maintained nursery schools are struggling to survive. Why, then, at a time when we cannot adequately fund the schools we already have, is the Prime Minister suggesting spending millions of pounds to create new grammar schools that will help only a minority of children? That is unfair as a new funding formula, and will do nothing to help social mobility. (909129)

Let us be clear about what the Government have done. Record amounts of funding are going into education. It was a Conservative-led Government that introduced the pupil premium and it is a Conservative Government that has protected the core schools budget. The new money that will be going into schools as a result of today’s announcements is not about a return to a binary system of grammar schools and secondary moderns. That is not what we are going to do. What we are doing is ensuring that there is a diversity of provision—so, yes, some grammar schools, but also comprehensives, faith schools, university schools and maths schools. I want a good school place for every child and, more than that, the right school place for every child.

Q12. On this International Women’s Day, it is absolutely fantastic that we have the highest female employment rate and the highest percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards on record, that the gender pay gap is at the lowest on record, and that we have an amazing female Prime Minister. However, I am sure the Prime Minister will agree that there is still much more to do, particularly in supporting women back to work after a career break. Will my right hon. Friend outline what more the Government are going to do to level the playing field? (909132)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. When I stood on the steps of Downing Street back in July and talked about a country that works for everyone, I meant that. That is why we are taking a number of measures, including on International Women’s Day today. We are setting up a new fund to help mothers returning to work after a long career break. Returnships are important. They are open to men and women, but we should all recognise that the majority of those who take time out of a career are women who devote themselves to motherhood for a period. Getting back into employment is often very difficult for them; they find that it is closed off. That is why, as well as making economic sense, it is right and fair for those women that we provide for returnships to enable them to get back into the workplace.

Q10. Everyone agrees that early years education is crucial for the welfare and future of our children. However, nurseries in my constituency tell me that the funding for 30 hours of free childcare is not sufficient, and many of them will be forced to close. What steps will the Prime Minister take to ensure that those nurseries do not close? (909130)

The hon. Lady talks about the 30 hours that is being introduced, but let us look at what we are doing on childcare. We have already introduced 15 hours of free childcare a week for all three and four-year-olds, 15 hours of free childcare a week for disadvantaged two-year-olds, help with up to 70% of childcare costs for people on low incomes, and shared parental leave. We will spend a record £6 billion on childcare support by the end of this Parliament. That is a Conservative Government, and it is Conservatives in Government who have a record of supporting parents with childcare needs.

Q15. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is indefensible for the Labour police and crime commissioner in West Yorkshire to be raising the council tax precept when he has £120 million in reserves and underspent this year’s budget by £4 million? (909135)

As my hon. Friend knows, it is of course for the directly elected police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire to decide what to do about the police precept of council tax, as it is in every area that has a police and crime commissioner, but I would always encourage those commissioners to look at ways to introduce efficiencies into their forces before looking to increase local taxes. Over the past six years, we have seen that police forces can find sensible savings and reduce crime at the same time.

Q13. Mr Speaker, you will know that the Royal College of Physicians has found that 40,000 people die prematurely each year from diesel pollution, at a cost of £20 billion to the economy, and that YouGov has found that 45% of diesel drivers are willing to switch, given the right scrappage or tax incentive schemes. Will the Prime Minister commit today to a fiscal strategy and a new clean air Act to put us on a new, cleaner, healthier trajectory and to take global leadership, rather than being dragged into the courts to fulfil basic EU air quality standards? (909133)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are looking at the measures that we need to introduce to improve air quality. There have been improvements in recent years, but we do need to go further, and that is what the Government are looking at across Departments, obviously with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs paying most attention to that, because it is within its remit. We will be bringing forward proposals on air quality in due course.

International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect on how Governments and democracies across the world serve women. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, when it comes to female Prime Ministers, it is 2:0 to the Conservatives?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having pointed that out, which I refrained from doing earlier in response to questions. I think it is very telling that the Labour party spends a lot of time talking about rights for women, giving support to women and getting women on, whereas it is the Conservative party that is the party in this House that has provided two female Prime Ministers.

Q14. Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that any new Scotland Act will be drafted only after full consultation with the people of Scotland and with the consent of the Scottish Parliament? (909134)

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is referring to discussions that are currently taking place about the powers that might be available to the devolved Administrations once we have left the European Union, but she knows full well that we undertake full discussions with the Scottish Government on measures that are reserved matters and on measures where we are negotiating on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom.

Crowdcomms, a business in my constituency, operates out of the small market town of Sturminster Newton; it also has offices in Seattle and Sydney. It employs 24 people, providing high-quality IT jobs, and it avails itself of high-tech, fast rural broadband and mobile telephone communication. That is the recipe for growing our rural economy. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to ensure that her Government do all they can to fill the blackspots in our rural areas?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we very much want to ensure that we are doing that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is looking at our digital strategy and ensuring that broadband is available in rural areas and, indeed, at good speeds in other areas, which might be less rural than my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Finally, Mr Tim Farron. [Interruption.] Order. I do not know whether Members are cheering because it is “finally” or because of the popularity of the hon. Gentleman, but he is going to be heard.

You are all so very, characteristically, kind.

On International Women’s Day, we stand with women and girls across the world and note with resolve that we must not take for granted the progress we have made towards equality over the last few decades.

Yesterday, we heard that hundreds of families of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan have been denied seats at tomorrow’s unveiling of the memorial to our fallen troops. Inviting a relative of each of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan would have taken up fewer than a third of the 2,500 seats at that event. Will the Prime Minister now apologise to those families for what I assume is a careless oversight and rectify that mistake immediately so that bereaved families can come and pay their respects to their fallen loved ones?

May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that charities and groups representing the bereaved were asked to put forward names of attendees, and we look forward to welcoming them so that we can publicly acknowledge the sacrifice that their loved ones made on our behalf? Over half of those attending tomorrow are actually current or former members of the armed forces. No one from the bereaved community has been turned away, and everyone who has applied to attend has been successful, but I have been reassured that if there are any bereaved families who wish to attend, the Ministry of Defence will make every effort to ensure that they are able to do so.