I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in marking International Women’s Day, as we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women both here and around the world. We are also redoubling our efforts to tackle the problems that women all too often still face.
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 join the Prime Minister in celebrating International Women’s Day. Since 2010, Conservatives in government have a proud record of protecting and supporting both the victims and those at risk of domestic violence and abuse. I saw that myself when I visited my local police, and I thank them for the difficult job that they do. The evil is that far too many women are still at risk and are still suffering. What more can the Prime Minister do to tackle this abhorrent crime?
My hon. Friend raises a serious issue. It is one in which I have taken a particular personal interest, and I attach great importance to the issue. Tackling domestic violence and abuse is a key priority for the Government. What we have already done in government has the potential to transform the way in which we think about and tackle these terrible crimes when they take place. We have already committed to bringing forward new legislation, and I have confirmed today an additional £20 million to support organisations working to tackle domestic violence and abuse. This means that the total funding available for our strategy to end violence against women and girls will be over £100 million in this Parliament.
May I start by wishing all women a very happy International Women’s Day today? I am proud that the Labour party has more women MPs than all other parties in this House combined and a shadow Cabinet of which half the members are women.
A month ago, I raised the question of the leaked texts between the leader of Surrey County Council and Government officials about social care. The Prime Minister’s response was to accuse me of peddling “alternative facts”. Will she explain the difference between a sweetheart deal and a gentleman’s agreement?
First, the right hon. Gentleman references women in this House, and I point out to him that, actually, the Conservative party has recently taken a further measure in relation to women in this House by replacing a Labour male MP with a female Conservative.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the issue in relation to Surrey County Council. The substance of what he asks is whether there has been a particular deal with Surrey County Council that is not available to other councils, and the answer is no. As I have said before, the ability to raise a social care precept of 3% is available to every council. The ability to retain 100% of business rates will be available to a number of councils in April. Let us look at them: Liverpool, Manchester and London. What do we know about those councils? They are all under Labour control. So what he is actually asking me is why a Conservative council should have access to an arrangement that is predominantly currently available to Labour councils.
My question was about the arrangement between the Government and Surrey County Council. A recording has now emerged showing that the leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge, said that there was a “gentleman’s agreement” between him and the Government that meant that the council would not have to go ahead with a referendum. My question is: what deal was done with Surrey County Council? There is an acute social care crisis affecting every council, with £4.6 billion of cuts made to social care since 2010. Can the Prime Minister tell every other council in England what gentleman’s agreement is available for them?
On today of all days, if the right hon. Gentleman could just be a little patient and wait half an hour for the Budget, he will find out what social care funding is available to all councils. If he is asking me whether there was a special deal for Surrey that was not available to other councils, the answer is no. If he is looking to uncover a conspiracy, I suggest he look behind him.
If all the arrangements are so clear and above board, will the Prime Minister place in the Library of the House a record of all one-to-one meetings between the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Chancellor and any council leader or chair of social services anywhere in England? If there is no special deal, can she explain why Surrey is the only county council to be allowed into the business rates retention pilot when it has been denied to others?
The business rates retention pilot will come into force for a number of councils this April, and that includes, as I have already said, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Greater London and others. In 2019-20, it will be available to 100% of councils. Councils will be able to apply to be part of a further pilot in 2018-19, and that goes for all councils across the country.
The text said that there was a memorandum of understanding, and the Prime Minister said that there was no deal. She is now unclear about that. Did she actually know what arrangement was made with Surrey County Council? She is not keen to answer questions about that.
There is another area of deep concern across the whole country. Can the Prime Minister tell us how many new school places will be needed by 2020?
The right hon. Gentleman really should listen to the answers I give before he asks the next question. He said I did not answer the question about a special deal for Surrey; I think that I have now answered it three times, but I shall do it a fourth time: there was no special deal for Surrey that was not available to other councils.
The Prime Minister was also asked just a moment ago about the number of new school places needed by 2020. Perhaps she could explain why we have a crisis in school places and class sizes are soaring, thanks to her Government. What is the answer on the number of new school places needed, Prime Minister?
This Government have a policy that is about not only increasing the number of school places but doing more than that. I want to increase the number of good school places, so that every child has an opportunity to go to a good school. That is what the money we are putting into education is about. It includes money for new free schools, which will be faith schools, university schools, comprehensives, grammar schools and maths schools. There will be a diversity, because what I want is a good school place for every child and for parents to have a choice. What the right hon. Gentleman wants is for parents to take what they are given, good or bad.
The National Audit Office tells us that a very large number of new school places are needed—420,000. Nothing the Prime Minister has said gets anywhere near to that. Instead, she proposes a flagship scheme to build the wrong schools in the wrong places, spending millions on vanity projects such as grammar schools and free schools, while at the same time per-pupil funding is falling in real terms. Is it not time that this colossal waste of money was addressed? It is doing nothing to help the vast majority of children and nothing to solve the crisis of school places and soaring class sizes. That is what every parent wants, not vanity projects from her Government.
It is no vanity project to want every child to have a good school place. The majority of free schools that have been opened have been in areas where there is a need for school places, and the majority have been opened in areas of disadvantage, where they are helping the very children we want to see have the opportunity to get on in life. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that this is about a fairer society. On this Budget day, we see that we are securing the economy; Labour wants to weaken it. We are working for a fairer society; Labour opposes every single reform. We are fighting for the best deal for Britain; Labour Members are fighting among themselves. That is Labour: weak, divided and unfit to govern this great country.
My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. I assure her that the NHS wants to continue to build on the successes of the current stroke strategy. We all recognise that there have been huge improvements in stroke care over the past decade, and we want to deliver our ambition for truly world-leading care. On the particular treatment to which she refers, I understand that the NHS has already approved the use of mechanical clot retrieval in specific cases. The NHS rigorously audits the quality of stroke care throughout the country, so that we can ensure we are delivering on our commitments. We have some of the fastest improvements in hospital recovery rate for strokes and heart attacks in Europe.
On International Women’s Day, we wish all campaigners for equality well, including those from the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign. The cross-party Brexit Committee has recommended that the UK must guarantee the status of EU nationals living in the UK and act unilaterally, if necessary. The Committee went on to say:
“The current process for consideration of permanent residency applications is not fit for purpose and, in the absence of any concrete resolution to relieve the anxiety felt by the estimated three million EU citizens resident in the UK, it is untenable to continue with the system as it stands.”
Given the massive positive contribution that European nationals make to this country, what concrete plans does the Prime Minister have to deal with this matter?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we want to have an early agreement that will enable us to guarantee the status of EU citizens living in the UK, but also we need to guarantee the status of UK citizens living in the European Union. On the process of application, the Home Office is looking at that and at how it can improve the systems and simplify them, which it regularly does.
Since 2010, the Home Office has seen its full-time equivalent staff cut by 10%, so, at current rates of processing applications for permanent residency, it would take the Home Office more than 50 years to deal with 3.2 million European nationals living in the UK. That is clearly totally and utterly unacceptable. Will the Prime Minister tell us how quickly she hopes to be able to guarantee all European nationals permanent residency?
The right hon. Gentleman cannot just stand up and say that because the Home Office is getting more efficient, it will take longer for answers to be given. Yes, the Home Office is getting more efficient at dealing with these things. I do not know whether he has ever heard about technology, but these days people apply online and they are dealt with online.
Again, this is a very serious issue that my hon. Friend has raised. The Government are taking a comprehensive approach to tackling terrorism and violent extremism at source, but also, through our counter-extremism strategy, we are looking at extremism more widely. We want to defeat not just terrorism and violent extremism but extremism wherever it occurs. We will shortly be publishing a new counter-terrorism strategy. In the coming months, we will be responding to Dame Louise Casey’s report on integration. That is backed up by additional investment in our security and intelligence agencies—£2.5 billion over five years—and I am clear that the Government are doing everything they can to tackle issues around integration, extremism and terrorism.
May I first congratulate the hon. Lady on securing a Westminster Hall debate on this important topic? At the end of her question, she refers to the issue of payments. I am sure she realises that the vaccine damage payment scheme is not a compensation scheme, but a one-off tax-free lump sum that is paid to help to ease the burden of those who are disabled as a result of vaccination, and it is part of a range of support that is provided. She has raised a very specific case. Obviously she has had that Westminster Hall debate, but we want to ensure that the process is open and fair at every stage. The Department for Work and Pensions does look at every claim based on its own facts. If she wants to write with the details, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work will look into the specific case that she has raised.