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Commons Chamber

Volume 626: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2017

House of Commons

Wednesday 5 July 2017

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Public Sector Pay

1. If he will hold discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on bringing forward proposals to review public sector pay. (900232)

Public sector pay policy has always been designed to strike the right balance between being fair to our public servants and fair to those who pay for them. The Government will continue to assess that balance.

I thank the Minister for that answer, and I ask the House to note that my wife is a primary school teacher in Scotland. According to an academic report published this week by the UK Government, average public sector earnings have fallen in the last decade by 6%, or up to £3 per hour for some people. With that in mind, will the Minister advise us on whether he supports, and wishes this Government to follow, the lead that the Scottish Government have taken in ending the 1% cap for public sector workers? Or does he support what the former Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday: that it is “selfish” to campaign for an end to the cap?

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman brings up Scottish education, which is, as he knows, the responsibility of the Scottish Government. I point out that in England, where this Government have responsibility for education, there are 15,500 more teachers than there were in 2010. As he knows, the Government have asked independent public sector pay review bodies to recommend what should happen in their respective professions each year, and the House may be interested to know that the Government have accepted every recommendation made by a public sector pay review body since 2014.

The Gray family have a monopoly on Question 1. Of course, we all have every sympathy with public sector pay bodies, and it is right that we listen to what they say. Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to accede to every request, we will have to pay for it by either decreasing spending or increasing taxation? Which would he prefer?

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid point. Everyone in this House wants to be fair to public sector workers, but Conservative Members also want to be fair to taxpayers. It is very important that we strike the right balance. If we do not strike that balance, we will wreck the economy, which is what would happen with the Labour party’s ridiculous uncosted policy proposals.

While cutting the real-terms pay of nurses, the police, fire officers and others, the Prime Minister has broken her own £72,000 cap that she advocated for the salaries of political appointees. A third of all her special advisers earn more than that, and her two ill-fated chiefs of staff earned almost double that amount. How can the Minister justify pay restraint for nurses when there is no restraint in No. 10? Will he put an end to the pay cap in the public sector by changing the guidelines that the Government give to the pay review bodies? Finally, will he reject the former Prime Minister’s disgraceful slur that wanting to earn a decent income in the public sector is somehow selfish?

Let me answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions. I hope he recognises that, as I have just said, the Government have accepted every recommendation made by a public sector pay review body since 2014. Striking the right balance between being fair to public sector workers and being fair to taxpayers must be the right way forward. The suggestions that were made during the election campaign, and clearly continue to be made, by the Labour party would lead to the situation that the Greek people have had to suffer: precisely because of irresponsible commitments made by their Government, they have had to slash their public services. Public services get worse under the sort of economic policy advised by the Labour party.

Prompt Payment Code

Since 2015, we have worked closely with the Government’s major strategic suppliers to encourage them to sign up to the prompt payment code. I am pleased to say that all 32 strategic suppliers that we targeted in 2015 have now signed up.

Will my hon. Friend explain to me exactly how we are speeding up payments to companies? Cash flow from Government contracts is so important. Also, is there a way to make sure that Government contracts are of a size such that small and medium-sized companies are more able to bid for them?

We know how important prompt payment is to smaller businesses, and we are committed to making further improvements to payment practice. We are working to remove all barriers facing small and medium-sized enterprises bidding for Government contracts, and we are committed to increasing spend with SMEs, both directly and through the supply chain. We have also opened the free-to-use Contracts Finder website for suppliers to advertise subcontracting opportunities.

Cash flow is vital to small businesses in Chichester and throughout the country. What are the Government doing to ensure that they lead the way and pay their suppliers properly?

I welcome my hon. Friend to the House. The Government are committed to paying our suppliers promptly. All public sector buyers must include a 30-day payment term in new public sector contracts, pay undisputed invoices within 30 days, and require that this payment term be passed down the supply chain. Our own payment performance is published quarterly, and the Government are doing brilliantly well in meeting our targets.

When my party becomes the Government of this country very soon, we will declare war on late payments, requiring companies bidding for a public sector contract to pay their suppliers within 30 days, and going beyond that with heavy fines for late payers. Will the Conservatives in opposition support us in passing the necessary legislation?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his optimism. In fact, this Government have made sure that undisputed invoices are paid within five days in many cases, and 96% of all contracts are paid within 30 days when the invoices are not disputed.

The prompt payment code simply has not done enough to address the scourge of late payment, with £26 billion owed and an average of 72 days being taken to pay invoices across the country. May I say to the Minister that she should stop paying lip service to the problem and take the action needed for smaller businesses, which just want to be paid on time?

The hon. Gentleman is of course right to point out what a problem this is for small business in particular. However, I want to draw his attention to the Government’s mystery shopper service, which has secured a positive outcome for the vast majority of companies that have brought disputed payments to our attention, and indeed to the signatories to the independent Prompt Payment Code Compliance Board, to which we would encourage all those who have not been paid on time to report such cases.

Electoral Fraud

The Government believe that electoral fraud is unacceptable on any level. We have a clear path to building a democracy that is both clear and secure, and we will work closely with key partner organisations to deliver a comprehensive programme of work for reforming our electoral system and strengthening electoral integrity.

Is the Minister aware that there is now clear evidence that many students boasted on social media of voting twice—once at university, and once by post at home? Surely this is straightforward electoral fraud.

The offence of double voting that my hon. Friend mentions is completely unacceptable. Indeed, it is nothing less than an abuse of our democracy. I am meeting Sir John Holmes, the chair of the Electoral Commission, this afternoon, and I intend to raise this with him as a priority. Let all of us in this House be clear: this is a crime. If anyone has any evidence of people voting twice, they should report it to their local returning officer and the police, who must take this issue seriously.

Will my hon. Friend provide more information about how the introduction of individual electoral registration has assisted in preventing electoral fraud? What checks are in place to ensure that a person is eligible to vote when they register online?

The IER digital service operated by the Cabinet Office checks the details provided by the applicant, including their national insurance number, against government data before passing on the application to the relevant local electoral administration teams.

It has been highlighted that all someone needs when they go to vote is a name and an address. In theory, someone could get hold of a telephone directory and vote all day in different polling stations. Does the Minister agree that it is time to use photo identification to prevent electoral fraud?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People deserve to have confidence in the security of our democratic system of elections. Voter ID has been in place in Northern Ireland for decades, and the use of photographic ID was introduced in 2003 under the previous Labour Government. The Electoral Commission has consistently called for use of ID in polling stations to protect the integrity of the polls. The Government will conduct voter ID pilots in the local elections in May 2018 to enable us to learn what works best, and to ensure that we develop a system in which there is full public confidence.

Are we not supposed to have policy driven by evidence, and is it not significant that the Minister gave not one shred of evidence in his reply? Quite frankly, in every election there are one or two cases of people being convicted of fraud, out of tens of millions of voters. This is straight out of the Donald Trump disinformation playbook, because Ministers are again trying to suppress voter participation. The Minister cannot come up with any evidence—if anyone has such evidence, they should take it to the police—and he should be ashamed of himself.

I missed the last part of that rant, but this idea has the backing of the Electoral Commission and electoral authorities, so that we can deliver a secure democracy that has the confidence of the public. The last Electoral Commission report on the subject shows that 38% of people felt that electoral fraud was an issue. Since 2010, 2,394 alleged cases of electoral fraud have been reported to the Electoral Commission.

Electoral fraud, whenever it occurs, is a serious business. The fact that there were two successful prosecutions in 2016 shows the size of the problem. Does the Minister agree that the bigger crime is having 7 million people off the electoral register?

When it comes to the size of the electoral register, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will share my delight that we have the largest electoral register since records began, at 46.9 million people. A record 3 million people registered to vote at this election. The Government believe in a democracy that works for everyone. Tackling electoral fraud means making sure that people are not disenfranchised by losing their vote, and protecting the most vulnerable communities, such as those in Tower Hamlets.

But surely the time has come for automatic electoral registration. How can it possibly be fair that, according to the Office for National Statistics, in my inner-city Nottingham constituency, less than three quarters of adults are on the electoral register, but in the Minister’s constituency, over 97% of adults are? Is not the real electoral fraud those policies that stand in the way of citizens exercising their democratic rights?

The introduction of the individual electoral registration website has seen 27 million people register to vote using that system. We want to ensure that registering to vote is as easy and effective as possible, but voting and registering to vote have individual responsibility at their heart. We need to protect the integrity of the polls and, equally, all MPs have a duty to encourage registration in our constituencies.

In Eddisbury there was clear evidence of double registrations, even within the constituency. Does the Minister agree that we should have a central system that flags up people who are double-registered, wherever they are in the country?

The electoral register is held by 380 electoral registration officers. It is right that that remains locally accountable to communities. We do not intend to introduce any central registration system, which would cost upwards of £80 million, but we are interested in looking at this issue, which is a serious one. As I said, I am meeting the Electoral Commission and look forward to taking forward proposals in due course.

This new ministerial team would be wrong to pander to the near-obsession of their own Back Benchers with the idea that the principal problem of our electoral system is voter fraud. In fact, the biggest thing that undermines our parliamentary democracy is that more than 14.6 million of those who were registered to vote did not do so four weeks ago. Will the Minister make good on the promises, which I have received twice already in this Chamber, to bring forward proposals to increase democratic participation in our country?

The hon. Gentleman mentions a 14 million figure, and we heard a 7 million figure earlier from a Labour Member. What we know from the data is that there is a specific churn of people moving properties, particularly renters and home movers. The Government want to address that to make sure that we have better data, so that we understand where people are registering and why they are registering. That is why we will bring forward a democratic engagement strategy to ensure that we have a democracy that works for everyone.

Democratic Engagement

4. What discussions the Government have had with electoral administrators on promoting democratic engagement. (900235)

We have worked closely with electoral administrators across the country to make use of their experience and expertise when consulting on promoting democratic engagement. With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the whole House, to thank our returning officers and registration officers for their hard work in ensuring that the recent general election ran so smoothly. They are the unsung heroes of our democracy.

British citizens living abroad want to engage in our democratic process here in the UK, but currently they lose that right after 15 years. What is my hon. Friend doing to deliver on our manifesto promise to give such people votes for life?

The Government’s principle is clear: participation in our democracy is a fundamental part of being British, however far people have travelled. We are committed to scrapping the 15-year rule in time for the next scheduled general election in 2022. Although the manifesto commitment to legislate for votes for life was not in the 2017 Queen’s Speech—the manifesto was a programme for the Parliament, not just for this first Session—we are determined to ensure that British voters, wherever they are, have the right to have their say.

In terms of democratic engagement, we had unprecedented problems in Newcastle-under-Lyme during the general election with late and missing postal votes, and with people being turned away from polling stations over registration issues. I have written to the First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office about that, an investigation is under way, and I will apply for an Adjournment debate. In the meantime, will the Minister urgently remind council chief executives and returning officers of their responsibility to resource electoral services sufficiently to carry out their legal responsibilities?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will report that specific point on Newcastle-under-Lyme to the Electoral Commission, which will produce a review of the general election that the Government will look at closely. The Cabinet Office has provided funding for local authorities and registration officers over a five-year period. We are looking at those claims, but he is absolutely right that our elections are a centrepiece of local democracy, and local authorities should take this seriously.

Democratic engagement must be safe. Will my hon. Friend provide more information on the work being done to support sufferers of domestic violence in registering to vote?

Indeed. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote, and the 90th anniversary of women getting the equal right to vote, but there are still some women and groups in society who, by virtue of their circumstances, are unable to vote. Survivors of domestic violence are unable to register because they do not want to put their safety at risk. We are determined to take forward legislation to ensure that we expand the range of attesters and documentation to give those women the chance to vote in our democratic elections.

A Lancaster University study found that 24% of people with learning disabilities had registered to vote, but that only 9% of them used their vote. The survey also found that some voters were turned away from polling stations by clerks who perceived their learning disability to be the reason why they were not allowed to vote. What are the Government doing to ensure that all voters, regardless of their disability, have their right to vote in elections?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. The Cabinet Office has established an “accessibility to elections” working group; its members include Mencap and the Royal National Institute of Blind People. I am concerned to ensure that in the 21st century, disability and sight loss are not barriers to voting. We will look at bringing forward proposals to ensure that we make our elections as accessible as possible.


6. What steps the Government are taking to ensure the cyber-security of public and private sector organisations. (900237)

10. What steps the Government are taking to ensure the cyber-security of public and private sector organisations. (900241)

14. What steps the Government are taking to ensure the cyber-security of public and private sector organisations. (900245)

Our world-leading national cyber-security strategy, supported by £1.9 billion of transformational investment, sets out measures to defend our people, businesses and assets; deter our adversaries; and develop the skills and capabilities we need. Our experts in the National Cyber Security Centre provide advice and guidance to help both public and private sector organisations be more resilient to cyber-attacks.

There seems to be a misleading impression that IT and cyber-security are of interest only to boys. What are the Government doing to encourage women to take part?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Only 10% of the global cyber workforce is female. That represents a huge pool of untapped talent. As part of our ambitious plans to transform the nation’s cyber capabilities, we have launched new initiatives, such as the incredibly successful CyberFirst Girls competition to encourage young women to pursue a career in the industry—it has more than 8,000 participants. We also want business to do more to encourage women into that exciting and rewarding sector.

What steps can we take to ensure that we train young people to tackle the cybercrimes of the future?

I agree that it is important that our young people have the skills they will need to support the nation’s future security and economic prosperity. We are working with industry experts and organisations such as Cyber Security Challenge to reach out and inspire children, parents and teachers through a range of extracurricular activities, mixing teaching with real-world challenges and hands-on work experience.

Many of my constituents are served by Southport and Formby district general hospital, which was affected by the recent cyber-attack on the NHS. What steps are the Government taking to protect our health service from such attacks happening again?

My hon. Friend raises a really important issue. The impact of WannaCry was felt by the NHS as a result of a legacy of some unsupported IT systems and inconsistent software patching. NHS Digital is taking a proactive approach to ensure that security patches are applied promptly, and the National Cyber Security Centre has provided expert guidance to CareCERT and is supporting individual NHS trusts and organisations in their migration from unsupported systems.

The Cabinet Office rejected a Public Accounts Committee recommendation that it should set out a detailed plan for how the National Cyber Security Centre will enable those under attack to get help. We heard evidence from many people in large organisations who were very confused about where to go for that help. Will the Minister now reconsider the rejection of that requirement and look again?

Our advice is very clear: we have funded a substantial national cyber-security programme, which goes alongside expertise from the National Cyber Security Centre. That is directed specifically towards improving the cyber-security of Government and the wider public sector. Our collective focus is on ensuring we have the most secure systems, and that public services and buildings are kept up to date so that our information is safe.

Cyber-security is, of course, only as strong as it is policed. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure the police have the resources to enforce cyber laws without having to sacrifice neighbourhood policing?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my comments about the National Cyber Security Centre. It is really important that we have specialists in place to address what is a very particular and high-tech crime.

Topical Questions

In their 2015 manifesto, the Government committed to sign up their major suppliers to the prompt payment code. This voluntary code commits signatories to fair payment terms across all UK transactions. Prompt payment can make a real difference to small businesses, boosting their cash flow and allowing them to invest in growth. Since 2015, we have worked closely with the Government’s strategic suppliers to encourage them to sign up. I am pleased to confirm that all the suppliers we targeted in 2015 have now signed up to the code.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that transparency is an effective way of changing the culture around prompt payments? What are the Government doing to ensure that businesses that regularly pay their suppliers late can be identified?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We recently introduced a new statutory duty for large companies to report on a six-monthly basis on their payment performance and practices. It is important that this protects small and medium-sized enterprises. We encourage businesses to report any instances of poor payment practice in public sector contracts to our mystery shopper service.

The House will be aware that we are currently having the first parliamentary by-election of this Session. It is happening over in the other place; it is the hereditary peers by-election, with just 31 electors. Does the Minister agree that that is a farce in a modern-day democracy?

The Government have been clear, in the previous Parliament and in their manifesto, that reform of the House of Lords is not an immediate priority. However, a Lord Speaker’s Committee in the other place is looking at the size of the House of Lords and we are determined to consider its recommendations. The situation relates to legislation passed by a previous Labour Government in 1999. We are determined to ensure, above all, that the House of Lords is an effective revising Chamber.

T5. Will Ministers assure the House that all relevant Government Departments will be consulted to ensure that the domestic implications of Brexit are properly considered? (900213)

The Cabinet Office plays an important role in ensuring that Government business is effectively co-ordinated, including on important issues around Brexit. Cabinet Office Ministers are working closely with colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union and others across Whitehall to ensure that we get the best deal for the whole United Kingdom.

T2. The Government’s coalition of chaos extends, unfortunately, as far as cyber-security, with responsibility shared between the Cabinet Office, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Can the Minister tell me the prevalence of XP machines in the Government estate, the public sector and the private sector, and what she is doing to reduce it? (900210)

We have made good progress on reducing dramatically the number of XP machines in the Government cyber-estate. The hon. Lady will know that the National Cyber Security Centre takes the lead on this issue and is co-ordinating work across government.

T7. Further to my earlier question about students fraudulently voting twice, may I ask whether, when my hon. Friend meets representatives of the Electoral Commission, he will ensure that the police are involved as well? (900215)

When it comes to the issue of electoral fraud and double voting, I will ensure that we involve all our electoral partners, including the police.

T3. If the Government are really committed to modernising the electoral register, will the Minister confirm that they will allow universities to block-register students during enrolment and re-registration, and ensure that schools and further education colleges give details of people who are approaching voting age to the electoral registration office? (900211)

No. We do not agree with block registration. What the Government have done is to ensure, through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, that universities have a duty to encourage registration. We will publish ministerial guidance on the issue in 2018.

Now that the Local Government Finance Bill has been suspended, will the Minister tell me what additional revenue-raising powers mayors such as mine in devolved areas like Cambridgeshire will have?

I know my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that, through the devolution deal with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the Government have pledged up to £770 million of new funding to support local economic growth. I look forward to working with the excellent James Palmer, the new mayor, to support growth in Cambridgeshire.

T4. At the last general election, the Government made very little attempt to ensure that voting registration and participation took place, and large swathes of the electorate were unable to vote properly. Will the Minister outline the steps that will be taken to ensure—[Interruption.] (900212)

Will the Minister outline the steps that will be taken to ensure that people living with visual impairments are able to vote, and that voting is fully accessible both to them and to those with learning disabilities?

A record number of people are now on the electoral register. We have a democracy in which more people are participating than ever before. I shall be delighted to work with the hon. Lady on the question of visual impairments, which I believe is a cross-party issue, and we look forward to presenting proposals to ensure that elections are accessible to visually impaired people.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Today marks the 69th anniversary of the NHS, and last week saw the 80th anniversary of the 999 service. I know that Members on both sides of the House will join me in paying tribute to the incredibly dedicated men and women who work tirelessly to save and improve lives day in, day out.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today. Later this week I will attend a meeting of the G20, where I will discuss the global economy, counter-terrorism and sustainable development with my fellow leaders.

Her face smashed with an iPad, her body beaten, and forced to abort a baby girl: that is only some of the domestic abuse that my constituent Lola Ilesanmi has suffered from her estranged husband because she has refused to allow the genital mutilation of her daughter. Lola is educated, has a mortgage, and had a good job with Royal Bank of Scotland until the Home Office revoked her right to work. I have been writing to the Home Office since March, and have got nowhere. Will the Prime Minister now intervene to prevent the family from being deported, and to prevent that three-year-old girl from being subjected to genital mutilation?

The Home Secretary has obviously heard the case that the hon. Lady describes. The issue of female genital mutilation is one on which I think all of us, throughout the House, are agreed. It is an abhorrent activity; it should not be taking place. Great efforts have been made in recent years in strengthening the law on female genital mutilation, getting information out about the issue, and trying to support people in communities where FGM is practised. The message must go out from the House today that we will not accept FGM in this country.

Q2. In the last few days Iraqi security forces, assisted by coalition airstrikes, have made significant progress in eradicating ISIL fighters from Mosul. That is a significant step forward in the military conflict against ISIL in Iraq, but does the Prime Minister agree that the United Kingdom and the United States, in a broad international alliance, need to work with the Iraqi Government to ensure that there is reconstruction in places such as Mosul, and also to ensure that they are sufficiently strong to withstand the poisonous ideology of ISIL as we seek to defeat it? (900218)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: in order to keep the streets of Britain safe, we must continue to attack Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and the UK is playing its part as one of the 71 members of the coalition. The RAF has conducted over 1,400 strikes, and over 500 British soldiers are on the ground providing further assistance, but he makes the very important point that it is not just about the military action that takes place; it is about how we ensure there is sustainable reconstruction and rebuilding afterwards. Our troops have helped to train over 55,000 Iraqi security forces personnel, and we are providing more than £169.5 million in humanitarian aid and a further £30 million to help Iraq to stabilise these liberated areas. Together, we must also work not just in Iraq but internationally to ensure that the hateful ideology of extremism is not able to poison the minds of people.

May I start by wishing everyone a very happy Pride month, especially those taking part in the Pride march this Saturday and similar marches around the country? We should also be aware that a survey taken by Pride in London found that half of LGBT people in London had experienced hate crime in the past 12 months.

I join the Prime Minister in wishing the NHS a very happy birthday, but I was hoping that she was going to say a bit more about NHS staff and their pay during her birthday greetings, because after a week of flip-flopping and floundering, we thought we had some clarity from Downing Street at last. On Monday, the announcement was that the public sector pay cap at 1% remains, and a rare moment of agreement between Nos. 10 and 11 was seen, but yesterday we heard news that firefighters will be offered 2% this year and 3% next year, so can the Prime Minister confirm whether the public sector pay cap will remain for all other public servants until 2020?

First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman in wishing everybody who is going to take part in Pride London on Saturday an excellent day? I am sure it will be a very good occasion, as it always has been. May I also say that I and all Members of this House value the incredibly important work done by our public sector workers, including—[Interruption]—yes, including those in the national health service and others?

I understand why people feel strongly about the issue of their pay, but perhaps I can just set out—[Interruption.] For the information of the House, perhaps I can just set out what the current position is. Three public sector pay review bodies reported in March—they covered doctors and dentists, NHS staff including nurses, and the armed forces—and the Government accepted the recommendations of all three. The firefighters’ award is not determined by the Government—it is determined by the employers—and is not subject to a pay review body. There are outstanding pay review body reports that cover teachers, prison officers, police officers and those on senior salaries. The Government will consider those reports very carefully and respond to them, but while we do that, we will always recognise that we must ensure that we take decisions with regard to the need to live within our means. The right hon. Gentleman and I both value public sector workers and our public services; the difference is that I know we have to pay for them.

The public sector pay cap causes real shortages in nursing, teaching and many other professions, as well as real hardship. I had a letter last week from a teacher called David—[Interruption.] It’s all right: he is a teacher; he is doing a good job—all right? He says:

“I have been teaching for 10 years. I have seen my workload increase. I have seen more people leave the profession than start, and no form of pay increase in seven years. The only thing holding the education system together is the dedication to struggle on for the students and staff.”

He goes on to say that that dedication is “starting to run out”. I say to the Prime Minister that what we are doing through this pay cap is recklessly exploiting the good will of public servants like David. They need a pay rise.

The Leader of the Opposition refers to the number of nurses and teachers working in the public sector. Of course we now have more nurses in our hospitals than we had in 2010, and we have more teachers in our schools. But let me remind the right hon. Gentleman why it has been necessary for us to exercise restraint in public spending, including by capping public sector pay. It is because we inherited the biggest deficit in our peacetime history. We have acted—[Interruption.]

Order. I noticed earlier, Mr Mahmood, that you seemed to be in a very hyper condition today. I recommend that you take some sort of soothing medicament or go and lie down for a little while. You will feel better at the end of it.

We acted to bring the deficit down by a quarter and then a half, and it is now down by three quarters. At the same time, we have seen the economy grow and record levels of people in employment. Our policy on public sector pay has always recognised that we need to balance the need to be fair to public sector workers, to protect jobs in the public sector, and to be fair to those who pay for it. That is the balance that we need to strike, and we continue to assess that balance.

We have had seven years of tax cuts for the richest and tax breaks for the biggest corporations. Last year, there was a net loss of 1,700 nurses and midwives to the NHS, and in the first two months of this year alone, 3,264 have left the profession altogether—not a great birthday present for the NHS, is it? Last week, the Chancellor said:

“We all value our public services and the people who provide them to us.”—[Official Report, 29 June 2017; Vol. 626, c. 797.]

He went on to laud his own economic record by saying that we had a “fundamentally robust economy”. The Prime Minister found £1 billion to keep her own job; why cannot she find the same amount of money to keep nurses and teachers in their jobs? After all, they serve all of us.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the number of nurses. In fact, I think he was talking about the number of nurses who are registered in the United Kingdom. There are about 600,000 nurses registered in the United Kingdom; about half of them—300,000—work in the NHS in England. Contrary to what he says, we have 13,000 more nurses working in the NHS today compared with 2010. I understand that it has been hard for people who have been working hard and making sacrifices over the years as we have been dealing with Labour’s mismanagement of the economy, but let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of what happens when you do not deal with the deficit. This is not a theoretical issue. Let us look at those countries that failed to deal with it. In Greece, where they have not dealt with the deficit—[Interruption.] What did we see with that failure to deal with the deficit? Spending on the health service cut by 36%. That does not help nurses or patients.

I hope that the Prime Minister is proud of her record of controlling public sector pay to the extent that hard-working nurses have had to access food banks in order to survive, and of frozen wages for teaching assistants, paramedics and council workers. But this is not just in the public sector. Across the economy, wages are rising by 2.1% while inflation is at nearly 3%. Six million workers already earn less than the living wage. What does the Prime Minister think that that tells us about seven years of a Conservative Government and what they have done to the living standards of those people on whom we all rely to get our public services and our health services delivered to us?

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what has happened over the past seven years. We have seen record numbers of people in employment—nearly 3 million more people in work. We have seen the introduction of the national living wage—never done by Labour, but introduced by a Conservative Government. We have seen 4 million people taken out of paying income tax altogether and a cut in income tax and a change in the personal allowance that is the equivalent of £1,000 a year to basic rate taxpayers, including nurses. That is a record of good management of the economy—you only get that with the Conservatives.

Order. We have plenty of time. I am quite happy to run on for some considerable period of time. People who are making excessive noise should try to calm themselves and perhaps just give a moment’s thought to whether they would like to be viewed by their constituents shrieking their heads off. It is very downmarket.

There is a low-pay epidemic in this country, and it has a terrible effect on young people. Those in their 20s will earn £12,500 a year less than the generation before. They are the first generation to be worse off than the last. They are less likely to be able to buy their own home, more likely to be saddled with debt, and more likely to be insecure, low-paid work. Except for more misery, what do the Prime Minister and her Government actually offer the young people of this country?

To echo the words of my colleagues, we offer young people more jobs, more homes, and the opportunity to own their own home. Let me just tell the right hon. Gentleman what is not fair: it is not fair to refuse to take tough decisions and to load debts on to our children and grandchildren; it is not fair to bankrupt our economy, because that leads to people losing their jobs and their homes; and it is not fair to go out and tell people that they can have all the public spending they want without paying for it. Labour’s way leads to fewer jobs, higher prices and more taxes. Labour’s way means that everyone pays the price of Labour.

When Tories talk of tough choices, we know who suffers: the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Young people employed on zero-hours contracts are more likely to have worse mental and physical health. Students who have worked hard at university graduate with £57,000 of debt that will stay with them until they retire. Let me spell it out to the Prime Minister: this is the only country in which wages have not recovered since the global financial crash; more people are using food banks; 4 million children are living in poverty; there is record in-work poverty; young people see no prospect of owning their own home; and 6 million people are earning less than the living wage. The low-pay epidemic is a threat to our economic stability. Will the Prime Minister take some tough choices and instead of offering platitudes, offer some real help and real support to those in work and to young people, who deserve better and deserve to be given more optimism, rather than greater inequality?

We actually now see that the proportion of people in absolute poverty is at record lows. The right hon. Gentleman asks for help for those who are low paid, and I reiterate to him the help that we have given to people who are low paid: we introduced the mandatory national living wage—the lowest earners’ fastest pay rise in 20 years; we have cut taxes for basic-rate taxpayers and taken people out of paying income tax; and we are doing what is important for this country, which is ensuring that there are jobs and an economy providing those jobs for people, because the best route out of poverty is being in work. I know that he has taken to calling himself a “Government in waiting”. Well, we all know what that means: waiting to put up taxes; waiting to destroy jobs; and waiting to bankrupt our country. We will never let it happen.

Order. I understand that the House is excited about hearing the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan).

Q4. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I know that the Prime Minister and her Ministers, and many other Members of this House, are committed to better mental health care for everyone. I am a founder of the Loughborough Wellbeing Project, and I recently visited the CAMHS––child and adolescent mental health services—eating disorder service in Leicester. As a result of this Government’s careful financial management, £1.4 billion more is going into mental health services. How can the Prime Minister ensure that that money is getting to frontline NHS services consistently? (900220)

First, let me commend my right hon. Friend on the work she has done in setting up the Loughborough Wellbeing Project, and I am happy to join her in paying tribute to the work of the eating disorders service in Leicester. As she says, it does incredibly important work, and we must do more to transform the mental health services that we provide for young people and mental health in general. That is why, as she says, we are putting more money into mental health, and our spending on mental health reached a record £11.6 billion last year. We do need to make sure that that funding gets through to frontline services. One example of that is the work we are doing to ensure that teachers and staff in schools are trained to better identify and better deal with mental health problems when they are present in children. I saw that when I visited Orchard School in Bristol last week, where excellent work is being done, really improving the quality of services for young people with mental health problems.

As we meet here today, the funeral is taking place at St Peter’s Free church in Dundee of the former leader of the Scottish National party and Member of Parliament for Dundee East from 1974 to 1987. I am sure the House would like to join me in commemorating the life and contribution to politics of the late, dearly missed friend and colleague Gordon Wilson.

The UK government have not announced any measures to address rising inflation and slowing wage growth, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies has described as “dreadful”. As workers face more than a decade of lost wage growth, and endure the worst period for pay in 70 years, does the Prime Minister think she is looking out for the “just about managing”?

First, may I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I did last week, that I am sure all Members of this House will wish to offer our condolences to the friends, family and colleagues of the late Gordon Wilson, and recognise the role he played in politics in the United Kingdom, including in this House.

I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have said to the Leader of the Opposition, that what is important is that we ensure that we have an economy that is increasing the number of jobs, because the best route out of poverty is for people to be in work. That is what we are doing. We have seen nearly 3 million more jobs being created over recent years. That is important for people. We also help people by, for example, cutting taxes—that is exactly what we have done for people who are lower paid—and introducing the national living wage. Those are measures that are giving people real help.

Of course it is the forecast of a rise in in-work poverty that should concern us, in particular the likely increase of young people in poverty over the lifetime of this Parliament. Since the 2010 general election, the FTSE 100 has risen by 39.6%. Monetary policy, not least quantitative easing, has helped to drive up financial assets, while workers have paid the price for austerity. Workers will earn no more by 2021 than they did in 2008. Will the Prime Minister give workers a pay rise?

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman, particularly with his background, would have recognised the role played by monetary policy, including quantitative easing, in ensuring that we have the jobs in the economy that are so important to people.

Q5. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what steps the Government are taking to drive value for money and efficiency in the aid budget, to ensure that that taxpayers’ money is used to promote global peace and security in the national interest? (900221)

I am proud that the Government are committed to honouring our international commitments on aid. That is important for this country, because that money is saving lives and building a more stable and prosperous world, and that is firmly in our UK national interest. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to make sure that the money we are spending is being spent properly and efficiently. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is driving value for money and efficiency in the aid budget, focusing on greater transparency, boosting payment by results, and driving value for money from DFID suppliers. In 2011, we set up an independent aid watchdog, together with stronger systems and controls in DFID. It is important not only that we are committed to that money, but that we make sure it is spent well.

Q3. My young constituent paid a £300 house-reservation fee to Pattinson estate agents, but the agents will not refund it after their landlord client withdrew from the contract because my constituent refused to pay 12 months’ rent in advance. She faces having to pay another agent non-refundable fees of £650 to secure a different property. When will the Prime Minister act to put an end to these rip-off fees and stop these agents capitalising on young people and others? (900219)

The hon. Gentleman should look at the Queen’s Speech, in which we referred to what we are doing in this area. We recognise these issues—[Interruption.] He says “When?”, but he will recognise that in this House we need to ensure that we get right any legislation that we introduce, so that it actually works. We recognise the problem and we are going to do something about it.

Q6. In 2008, I tried to amend the Animal Welfare Act to extend sentences for cruelty to animals from weeks to years. Will my right hon. Friend see what can be done to ensure that people who are wilfully cruel to animals are punished far more severely? (900222)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We all share a high regard for animal welfare and it is important to have in place strict laws to ensure that we deal properly with people who are not looking after animals. Anyone who is cruel to an animal or does not provide for its welfare needs may be banned from owning animals, given an unlimited fine or, as he says, sent to prison. My hon. Friend is right that sentencing is an issue, which is why the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regularly holds discussions with the Ministry of Justice on sentencing policy for animal welfare offenders.

Q8. With the civil service reportedly having to explain in crayon to the Cabinet that there is no “have your cake and eat it” Brexit option, will the Prime Minister come clean and admit that she is prioritising her own absolutist red lines, not people’s jobs and wages? (900224)

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman and others will have heard the answer before: we want to negotiate the best possible deal for the United Kingdom that ensures we have a comprehensive free trade agreement, that we can continue to trade with our European partners, that we have a new deep and special partnership with the European Union, and that we are growing our economy. But it is not just about our relationship with the European Union; it is about the trade deals that we will do with countries around the rest of the world and it is about ensuring sound management from a Conservative Government.

Q7. Looe harbour commissioners have highlighted to me the valuable contribution that retired police sergeant—and now special constable—Russ Hall has made to maritime policing. Does my right hon. Friend believe that joined-up working with other agencies is essential and can make a positive contribution to beating crime in small harbours and helping to protect our borders? (900223)

I join my hon. Friend in recognising Special Constable Russ Hall’s contribution in her constituency. She makes an important point; indeed, when I was Home Secretary I brought together various agencies—the police, the Border Force and others—to look at how we deal with protecting our borders. That joined-up working can make a real and positive contribution. As she will know, what matters is not only how we do that but ensuring that we have an impact—and crime has fallen by a third since 2010, to a record low.

Q12. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for advising me about my blood pressure. When I go to the hospital to see my consultant on Monday, I am sure that he will give me the same advice. My blood pressure rises when I go into hospitals and see all those nurses who are overstretched, overworked and underpaid, and having to use food banks. The Prime Minister pays lip service to them and will not look at ending the public sector pay cap. I now make a plea to her; she should listen not to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, but to those nurses and do something about the public pay sector cap. (900228)

I set out my position in response to an earlier question by the Leader of the Opposition. People may not realise that there is not only the overall public sector pay increase, but, for many nurses, increments or progression pay as well. A typical band 5 nurse will receive 3.8% over and above the 1%.

Q9. It is a strong economy that powers this Government’s investment in the NHS and a strong economy that allows this Government to create 1,500 new medical school places and some new medical schools. Does the Prime Minister agree that Lincolnshire’s unique rurality and sparsity makes a compelling case for a new medical school in this great county? (900225)

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that we can pay for our public services only if we have that strong economy. That is absolutely the basis of it. As he said, we will train 1,500 new doctors every year to ensure that the NHS has enough doctors to continue providing that safe compassionate care that we all want to see. The Department of Health is currently looking at how to allocate these places, and will publish its consultation response shortly. It is also looking at the possibility of new and aspiring medical schools bidding for those places. I am sure that, as he has always been a champion for his constituents and his constituency, he will continue to make an excellent case for Lincolnshire.

Q14. On Saturday, the shadow Chancellor and I joined staff from Picturehouse Cinemas outside the Ritzy in Brixton who are striking because their employer refuses to pay the London living wage and has outrageously sacked their trade union representative. Will the Prime Minister join me in calling on Picturehouse Cinemas, which made a profit last year of more than £80 million, to pay its staff the London living wage and to reinstate the local reps immediately? (900230)

That is about a relationship between employers and their employees. Overall, what is of importance is that the Government are taking the right decisions to ensure that we are growing the economy and providing those jobs for people in the first place.

Q10. I thank the Prime Minister for taking time during the general election to come up to Banchory and campaign in my constituency where we did rather well. Does she agree that it is utterly shameful that the Scottish Government have, for the second year in a row, had to go pleading to the European Commission for an extension to the farm payment deadline? Is that not proof, if further proof were needed, that the Scottish National party is failing rural Scotland? (900226)

Order. We are fascinated to hear the answer, but I should just say that, although I am very interested to hear the answer and we will, the Prime Minister is not responsible for the Scottish Government.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his place in this House. I very much enjoyed my visit to Banchory during the election campaign. What he says is absolutely right. Time and again in this Chamber, we hear the Scottish nationalists demanding more powers for Scotland, yet what do we see? We see that they are failing to deliver for the Scottish people with the powers that they already have. Yet again, Scottish schools are now outperformed in every category by schools in England, Northern Ireland, Estonia and Poland. Powers are kept in Edinburgh rather than being devolved to local people and, as he says, yet again we see farmers waiting months for their subsidy payments. The simple fact is that the SNP’s policies are not in the best interests of the people of Scotland.

Order. I say to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), who persists in gesticulating in an extremely eccentric manner, that he seems a little discombobulated from the world he inhabits, which is a very unhappy state of affairs that cannot long continue.

Q15. The Southern rail dispute is causing real damage to the economy of Eastbourne and the south-east. My constituents have had a dreadful time, with a shocking service provided—or not provided—over the past 18 months. This simply cannot go on. Will the Prime Minister enlighten me, my constituents and the House as to why the Department for Transport and the rail operator will not meet the unions at the same time and in the same room together to negotiate a deal? (900231)

I recognise the problems that have been experienced by Southern rail passengers—the matter has been raised by a number of colleagues in the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who raised it last week. I am very disappointed that ASLEF and the RMT have called more industrial action, which is completely unnecessary; all that it will do is cause more disruption and frustration for passengers. The recent independent Gibb report said that the main cause of widespread disruption on Southern rail has been union action, so I urge the unions to call off the strikes, work with the operator and deliver the services that passengers need.

Q11. Businesses across my constituency will be cock-a-hoop to hear that their calls for better broadband are being answered by the digital infrastructure investment fund, which will unlock about £1 billion for full fibre service and help them create jobs, particularly in rural areas. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is exactly the sort of infrastructure spend we need to get our Brexit ready? (900227)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. This country is already a digital world leader, and we are committed to ensuring that we remain so. We already see 93% of the UK accessing superfast broadband, and we are on track to reach 95% by the end of the year, but we want to see more commercial investment in the gold-standard connectivity that full fibre provides, which is why we have launched the digital infrastructure investment fund. Companies across the UK, including in Brentwood and Ongar, will be able to apply for match funding for projects and see fibre delivered right to the doorstep. Yesterday we also announced 100% business rate relief for those businesses rolling out new fibre. This is important. We want to continue to be a world leader in digital, and the actions that the Government are taking will ensure that we will be.

Police officer numbers in Wales have dropped by 10% since the Prime Minister’s party came to power. If policing were devolved, as it is in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Welsh police forces would have extra funding worth £25 million at their disposal, which would more than replace those lost officers. What justification is there for refusing to devolve policing?

We have been around this discussion before. Let me address the central issue of what the hon. Lady is talking about, which is police budgets and the number of police officers. We have been protecting police budgets since 2015, as I believe is acknowledged across the House. We are also ensuring that the police have the capabilities they need to deal with new types of crime, by creating the national cybercrime unit and the National Crime Agency. Those are all important steps to ensure that the police can do their job of cutting crime, and crime is at a record low.

Q13. I thank the Prime Minister for introducing the trade, agriculture and fisheries Brexit Bills in the Queen’s Speech, which will be welcomed right across the west country. However, we are facing significant challenges with our rural post office network at the moment, with the transition from community branches to community village stores and community buildings. Some of those moves have been smooth and some have not. Will she take a look at that to see whether there is anything more the Government could do to help my constituents? (900229)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is right that we recognise the role that post offices play in rural communities, and not only in places such as Camelford and St Minver in his constituency, but in the constituencies of other hon. Members. We have invested more than £2 billion in the network up to 2018. The number of post offices is actually at its most stable for decades. But he is absolutely right. I urge the Post Office to make it as easy as possible for shops that want to take over postal services to be able to do so.

Some 2,400 people have died as a result of the NHS contaminated blood scandal—more than Hillsborough and all the other disasters over the previous few decades put together. On 25 April, the former right hon. Member for Leigh presented compelling evidence to Parliament of a criminal cover-up on an industrial scale, so will the Prime Minister now do the right thing and order a public inquiry for the whole United Kingdom?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I know that Members’ thoughts will be with all those who have been affected by this terrible tragedy of contaminated blood. Serious allegations have been made, and Ministers at the Department of Health will obviously look at information that has been brought to the House. If any hon. Member has any further information or evidence that they believe is important, it should go to Ministers so that they can properly investigate it. We are providing more compensation than any previous Government, and we committed £125 million extra funding last July for those affected by the contaminated blood tragedy. The Department of Health will look at any new evidence that is brought forward.

Rather than celebrating the NHS, the Labour party has rather shamelessly tried to weaponise it as a mere tool for political campaigning. Will the Prime Minister assure me that decisions on services such as the 999 service will be clinical decisions, not those of politicians who are trying to weaponise our public services?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very important that decisions relating to services provided by the NHS are taken on a clinical basis by those who understand the needs and requirements of people in different areas. That is why we set up NHS England, which has a plan for developing services in the NHS over a five-year period. It is important that politicians allow clinicians and others in the NHS to make the decisions they need to.

I know that the House will be thinking of my constituents Connie Yates, Chris Gard and Charlie at this incredibly difficult time. It is clear that if Charlie remains in the UK no further treatment is available and life support will be switched off. There are differing views about the chances of the nucleoside bypass therapy, which other children—albeit with less severe forms of Charlie’s conditions—have benefited from. I understand that the chances of improvement for Charlie are low, but the doctors would be able to say within three months whether Charlie was responding and whether that change was clinically beneficial. If there is any room for discretion in the court rulings for Great Ormond Street to allow Charlie to leave and to transfer his care to doctors at Columbia University, and if he is sufficiently stable to receive treatment, would the Prime Minister do all she can to bring the appropriate people together to try to make this happen?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the concerns of her constituents in this matter. I am sure that the thoughts of all Members of the House are with the family and Charlie at this exceptionally difficult time. It is an unimaginable position for anybody to be in, and I fully understand and appreciate that any parent in these circumstances would want to do everything possible and explore every option for their seriously ill child. I also know that no doctor ever wants to be placed in the terrible position of having to make such heartbreaking decisions. The hon. Lady referred to the fact that we have that court process. I am confident that Great Ormond Street hospital has considered, and always will consider, any offers or new information that have come forward along with the wellbeing of a desperately ill child.

When the Prime Minister and I left our comprehensive schools to go to university, we entered a privileged elite. Will she confirm that as a result of tuition fees, introduced by Labour and improved by the coalition, more young people from working class and poor backgrounds are now going to university than ever before? Some people say that there are fewer. Are they right or are they wrong?

I am very happy to join my right hon. Friend in recognising that she and I left comprehensive schools and went to universities at a time when the number of people going to university was significantly lower than it is today. I am also grateful to her for reminding the House that, actually, it was the Labour party that said it would not introduce tuition fees and then, when it got into government, introduced tuition fees. Under the current system, we are seeing more young people than ever going to university, and crucially—to address the point she raised—disadvantaged 18-year-olds are 40% more likely to go to university now than they were in 2009.

The Prime Minister herself commissioned Bishop James Jones to report on the experience of the Hillsborough families. Given the painful evidence before us that parts of the state still do not know how to treat bereaved families or the survivors of catastrophe, will she now give me the date when she will publish Bishop Jones’s report?

I have not myself yet seen Bishop Jones’s full report. I am not able to give the hon. Lady a date when I will publish it, but she raises a very important point. The reason why I asked Bishop James Jones to undertake this work was precisely because I was concerned about the way in which the bereaved families at Hillsborough had been treated over far too many years, and obviously we have seen the result of the Crown Prosecution Service decisions last week. This is why we have committed in the Queen’s Speech to introducing an independent public advocate who will be able to act on behalf of bereaved families in cases of public disaster. It is important that they are able to have that support alongside them, because too many families have to fight over many years to get justice, as we have seen in Hillsborough. I want to ensure that they have help and support in doing that.

Given the Government’s record on freezing fuel duty, will the Prime Minister resist recent siren calls to raise it, because this hurts the lowest paid the most? Will she also do everything possible to make sure that when the international oil price falls, that price is properly reflected at the pumps so that we can have a Britain that works for every motorist?

May I first commend my right hon. Friend, who has been championing this issue for all the years that he has been in the House? The work that he has done as a great campaigner on this and, indeed, other issues has been recognised by the Government in changes the Government has made. As he knows, I am pleased that we have been able to do what we have done in relation to holding down fuel duty. I think he is trying to tempt me down a path which I will not go down, because, as he knows, decisions on these matters are taken at the time of fiscal events.

Public Sector Pay Cap

(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement outlining the Government’s policies with regard to the public sector pay cap.

We all recognise that public sector workers do a fantastic job. Over the past seven years, we have seen major improvements in our public services. Crime is down, with a greater proportion of police on the frontline. More children are achieving higher standards at school and going on to apprenticeships and university. Our NHS is looking after more people than at any time in its history.

Government pay policy is designed to be fair to public sector workers, who work so hard to deliver these strong public services, but we must also ensure that we are able to provide those public services on a sustainable basis for the future. In many services, workers have received pay additional to the 1% national increase. Teachers had an average pay rise of 3.3% in 2015-16. More than half of nurses and other NHS staff had an average increase of over 3% in 2016. Military service personnel also saw an average additional increase of 2.4%. Salaries in the public sector remain comparable to those in the private sector. In addition, many people benefit from higher pension entitlements. They also benefit from the rise in the personal allowance, worth £1,000 to a basic-rate taxpayer.

We are currently completing the pay review process for 2017-18. We have accepted the pay review body recommendations made for doctors, the NHS and the armed forces. We will be looking very carefully at the recommendations on the remainder and making determinations in the usual way. As the Chancellor said on Monday, our policy on public sector pay has always been designed to strike the right balance of being fair to our public sector workers and fair to those who pay for them. That approach has not changed, and the Government will continually assess that balance.

I welcome the right hon. Lady to her post, but when we ask a question of the Chancellor, we would expect the Chancellor to respond to that question. We simply wanted clarity on whether the pay cap is still in force. That is all we asked for.

The response that we have seen today confirmed what most commentators are now saying: this is not a Government; it is a Cabinet of absolute chaos. Let me explain that the existing Government policy, as set out in the comprehensive spending review 2015, due to be ratified today in the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, is still a 1% pay cap, and this is the diktat to which the various pay review bodies are still working. In fact, they are written to and told that their proposals have to reflect

“the Government’s policy on public sector pay awards”.

Yet over the last week we have seen, to be frank, absolute confusion in government—total disarray. The question we are posing is, “Who actually speaks for the Government on this issue?” On the day of the Queen’s Speech, No. 10 was briefing out the end of austerity and the relaxing of the pay cap, only to be contradicted by an incandescent briefing from No. 11. Daily fearful of a putsch, No. 10 then backs down. For the Prime Minister it must be tough, living next to a disruptive neighbour you can’t stand, you try to get rid of, and you can’t get on with.

We then receive in the press the wisdom of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who, according to a spokesperson,

“supports the idea of public sector workers getting a better pay deal”.

This is followed by his past campaign manager turned political assassin, the new Environment Secretary, who supports the putsch against the Chancellor. Then the whole process degenerates into farce when we have David Cameron, earning £100,000 a speech, telling us that the people who want more than 1% are “selfish”. The Chancellor has called for a grown-up debate. I agree. What we have seen are Cabinet Ministers scrapping in the school playground. Cut off from the real world that most people live in, the Chancellor has no understanding of why our public sector workers are so angry. They are angry because they have had enough of seeing tax cuts to the rich and corporations while their pay is being cut.

Can the Chief Secretary to the Treasury clarify how the Government’s estimates 2017-18, as per the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill on the Order Paper today, will accommodate the reported offer to the fire and rescue services, which, we are told, is subject still to Government funding? Moreover, if we are to see another Government U-turn, which in the case of public sector pay we would welcome, can the Government confirm how they will fund the £5 billion needed that they say would be saved by the 1% pay cap? Or are we being confronted with yet another uncosted commitment within weeks of a Parliament commencing? It’s the magic money tree again.

The Government’s own report on Monday showed how much doctors’ and nurses’ pay had fallen. Does the Chancellor think that is fair? Given that 20% more nurses left the nursing register than joined it this year, does the Chancellor agree with the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing that

“For every day…the cap remains in place”

the profession is “haemorrhaging”?

Finally, given the chaos on the Government Benches over this policy, can the Chief Secretary tell us when an actual decision will be made about the future of the pay cap? Will public sector workers have to wait until the next Budget before finding out whether they will have decent pay for the next two years? Should not the Chancellor now write formally to the pay review bodies to say that they are free to do what is right by public servants and pay them a fair pay award this year?

I do not know whether to be disappointed or delighted that the shadow Chancellor does not want to see me at the Dispatch Box, but I am here today to answer his questions because I am responsible for this policy area, and I think that is entirely appropriate.

As has been outlined by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor already, our policy on public sector pay remains in place, because it is the responsible thing to do. It is the responsible thing to balance the importance of recruiting and retaining high-quality people in our public services with making sure that our public finances remain sustainable so that we can continue to see the improvements in our public services that we have seen under this Government.

Some of the shadow Chancellor’s comments were disingenuous. He did not reflect the fact—

Order. I know these matters pretty well by now. The right hon. Lady must resume her seat. I am sure that she has got a very versatile vocabulary, and she must deploy some other term. She cannot accuse a Member of being disingenuous; that is an imputation of dishonour. She has been in the House long enough to know that she should not say that. It is very simple, no debate required—a simple withdrawal. Thank you.

I do withdraw that, Mr Speaker, and apologise for it.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken in what he said, because in 2015-16 we saw teachers get 3.3% worth of progression pay, we saw more than half of nurses and NHS workers get over 3%, and we saw military service personnel receive 2.4%. I therefore suggest that he include those facts in the figures next time he speaks. As for the fire service, he knows perfectly well that those pay policies are set independently and are covered within the local government budget.

I think it is wrong that we are hearing the Opposition talk down our public services when we are seeing huge improvements, we are seeing more people attracted into our public services, and we are seeing the best performance ever in our education system and our health system. As for uncosted commitments, the right hon. Gentleman has £60 billion worth.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the pay review process. Well, the process is very simple. We have received recommendations from pay review bodies already this year. They make decisions based on the individual circumstances within those sectors. We have followed all of their recommendations. We will look at the further recommendations we need to make decisions on, and we will look at the balance between affordability and making sure that we retain and recruit high-quality public sector workers. This is the right approach. It is not saying that we are going to open up the cheque book, bankrupt our public services and see people lose their jobs, which is exactly what has happened in countries like Greece that took that approach and took their eye off the public finances. The right hon. Gentleman needs to take a more balanced approach in the way that he looks at this issue.

During the rather fractious proceedings to date, one Member has been the embodiment of calm and serenity. That Member should be imitated by others, and will now be called to contribute—Mr Kenneth Clarke.

Those are not adjectives that have been applied to me throughout my political career, Mr Speaker, but I am grateful to you for that credit. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on straightforwardly restating the Government’s sensible policy on this issue? It is necessary as part of our ensuring, in this post-Brexit world, that we keep the economy on track; that steady, sustainable growth continues; and that we steadily eliminate the problem of debt and deficit that we inherited.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if she were to give way to this week’s lobbying on the subject it would be a political disaster, because the Government would be accused of a U-turn and a surrender? It would set off a wave of pay claims across the entire public sector, which the Opposition are obviously looking forward to taking part in if they can provoke them. It might also be an economic disaster, and it would not be in the interests of the many people in the public and private sectors who are having economic difficulties in these times, and who want to look forward to a much more prosperous future as we get our economy back to health.

My right hon. and learned Friend has a huge amount of experience in this area. He is correct to say that we need to take account of the sustainable, long-term financing of public services. We need to look at the specific issues in each sector where we need to recruit and retain staff, and we also need to look at fairness with the private sector. At the moment, public sector and private sector salaries are roughly comparable. As a country, we need to improve our productivity and our growth rate. That is the way to ensure that everybody benefits. The Government have a fantastic record when it comes to getting people into work, and unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975. We need to make sure that we continue with that.

I welcome the Chief Secretary to her place. We had all hoped that today would bring some commitment and certainty from the Government on public sector pay. Instead, our public sector workers continue to be stonewalled from the Dispatch Box, while members of the Cabinet have apparently abandoned collective responsibility to brief for an end to the cap. Perhaps that says more about those Ministers’ desire to undermine the Chancellor and the Prime Minister than it does their commitment to public sector workers. According to The Times, the Prime Minister wanted to announce something today but could not get her Ministers to agree a line.

This week, a report by academics from University College London was published quietly by the UK Government’s own Office of Manpower Economics. The report showed that average hourly public sector wages fell in real terms by 6%—or, for some, by up to £3 an hour—in the past decade. That is perhaps part of the reason why the past decade has been the worst for wage growth in 200 years, and why in-work poverty continues to rise. With that in mind, can the Chief Secretary advise our dedicated police, firefighters, nurses and others—who put their lives on the line and make great sacrifices for us—what they have to do to earn a fair pay rise, as they will do in Scotland? Or does the Chief Secretary support former Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments from Seoul yesterday, when he said that it was “selfish” to campaign for an end to the pay cap?

As I have outlined, pay is determined by a very clear process. Independent pay review bodies make recommendations on areas such as pay for the police and nurses. We will look very carefully at those recommendations to balance fairness for public sector workers, and recruitment and retention of the best possible people, with affordability for the public finances. That is a responsible approach to take, and it will ensure that our economy grows and unemployment continues to move in a positive direction.

Since 2010, 13,000 more nurses have been employed in the NHS. I am worried that the Labour party’s unfunded proposals for public sector workers could lead to a cut in the number of nurses, given the £68 billion black hole in the financing of the party’s manifesto. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that when she looks at pay for nurses, she will not only consider what is a fair level of pay, but ensure that we remain able to afford to employ more nurses in the NHS? Will she also ensure that we continue to focus on sound finances and a strong economy to pay for our public services?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that, by having this balanced policy, we have protected jobs in the public sector and we have protected important services. The Office for Budget Responsibility outlined in its report that our policy protects the jobs of 200,000 public sector workers. That is important for those people, but it is also important for our constituents who receive those public services and who are seeing improvements in our schools and hospitals, and a reduction in crime. It is important that we take that balanced approach.

Does the Chief Secretary not accept that there was a fundamental difference between the economic conditions when the 1% cap was introduced, when there was a fear of large-scale unemployment and deflation, and the economic conditions of the present day, when there are chronic labour shortages throughout the public sector and salaries have been eroded by rising inflation? Will she not lift the cap to reflect basic economic reality?

First of all, public sector pay is comparable with private sector pay. In addition, public sector pensions are set at a higher level, on average, than private sector pensions. The pay review bodies have a remit to look at retention and recruitment when they make their independent decisions. Of course, I will look at all their recommendations when they come out. The right hon. Gentleman has made an omission that was also made earlier; a lot of those roles have pay increments independent of the 1% cap. Teachers’ pay increased by 3.3% in the last year for which we have records, so it is not right to talk solely about the 1% cap. In fact, public sector workers are rewarded in a number of different ways.

A recent Office for National Statistics study shows that public sector productivity fell by 5.7% in the long period from 1997 to 2014. Is not the way forward better pay for smarter working? Do we not want pay awards that give something for something, so that the taxpayer wins, the service user wins and the employee wins?

My right hon. Friend is correct to say that we want improvement in our public services. I have highlighted education, where more children are going to good and outstanding schools; and I have highlighted our health service, which is dealing with more patients than ever before. School pay policy is set by individual academies, for example, so we are giving more freedom over pay and pay determination. It is important to look at the public finances as a whole, and to ensure that, overall, we are living within our means as a country.

Right now, 130 workers at Annesley Department for Work and Pensions office are being told that their place of work will be closed and their jobs relocated up to an hour’s drive away. Have these public sector workers not suffered enough from the seven-year pay cap? Is not the last thing that they need to be told that they need to find more money to pay for their travel to and from work?

The hon. Lady refers to a specific issue with a jobcentre in her constituency. I am sure that the DWP is looking at how those people can be assisted, and it is certainly something that I am happy to raise with the Work and Pensions Secretary on her behalf.

In Chelmsford, we are very proud to be home to one of the places where nurses are trained—the great Anglia Ruskin University, which I visited just last week. It is good to hear my right hon. Friend speaking about how nurses have benefited from pay progression, and also from lower taxes, through the increment.

Part of increasing the prosperity of public sector workers is the provision of an increasing number of training opportunities. There is great excitement in my constituency not only about the introduction of degree apprenticeships and being one of the first places in the country to build a new medical school, but about affordable housing and people having more money in their pockets. Can the Chief Secretary confirm that increasing prosperity is not just about pay, but about having a strong economy to deliver more houses, more training and more skilled opportunities?

My hon. Friend is right that we need to look at what is included in the wider package that people receive, whether that is support for their pension, additional flexibilities or additional elements of pay and training, because training and progression are extremely important. I remember visiting Chelmsford prison in her constituency, which was looking at training opportunities for prison officers. We are looking at that throughout the public sector, because job satisfaction derives from many things, and although pay is of course important—I would not deny that—job satisfaction is also about working conditions and about people on the frontline feeling empowered to do their jobs well and knowing that they are making a contribution. Being a public servant is incredibly important, and we need to show that we are giving people on the frontline the ability to make decisions and really improve people’s lives for the better.

As a public sector worker, how much has the right hon. Lady’s own pay increased since 2010 and how much has her productivity increased since 2010? Can the country afford her pay increase, and if so, does she agree with me that Britain deserves a pay increase?

I would answer the hon. Gentleman by saying that my pay has gone both up and down since 2010, but my pay is set independently. The important point is that the pay of public sector workers is determined by the pay review bodies, whose recommendations I take very seriously, and that is how we should approach this issue. Rather than trying to politicise the issue and saying that we should have a blanket approach, we have set public sector pay review bodies the remit to make such decisions themselves.

When will the Government introduce the £95,000 cap on exit payments for public sector workers? The legislation is on the statute book, but it has not been implemented. Will it be implemented soon so that we do not have any more payments such as the £390,000 paid earlier this year to the chief executive of Bournemouth Borough Council to leave?

The rise in inflation, the recommendations of pay review bodies and the closing of the gap between private sector and public sector pay have quite rightly focused attention on the whole issue of the current pay policy. Does the Chief Secretary agree that rhetoric about austerity and uncosted and unfinanced amendments to the Queen’s Speech in this House are no substitute for looking at the tax and borrowing implications and the implications for other parts of the public sector of a review of pay policy?

We need to look not only at the important issue of fairness for public sector workers and the issue of recruitment and retention, but at the overall health of the British economy, so that we can make sure we carry on having low unemployment rates and growth in our economy and carry on dealing with the debt that is a result of the great depression that we suffered as a country. We need to pay down the debt and get the deficit further down so that we can continue to enjoy high-quality public services.

As someone who has worked as a nurse during the period of the pay cap and pay freeze, may I just say that that is very difficult to do as a public sector worker? The issue is greater than just a pay rise; it is also about the pay structure. When Labour introduced the “Agenda for Change” system, it created an increment system under which people have to wait five, six or seven years to get the pay they actually deserve. The increment system is not working, and it also gives trusts the opportunity to downgrade people, with a sister in one hospital on band 7 while another somewhere else is on band 5. The pay structure is not working, and that needs to be looked at as urgently as the pay cap.

My hon. Friend’s great expertise as a former nurse is shown by the detailed question she has asked. We need to make sure that we reform public services and give people the opportunity to progress and be trained in the roles they fill. One of the roles of the pay review body is to look at such structures, as well as at rates of pay. During the processes they go through, those bodies certainly take evidence from frontline workers, unions and experts in the area, and I hope that they will take such issues into consideration.

The Chief Secretary referred to productivity increases in the public sector. We recently saw firefighters racing into Grenfell Tower, paramedics and police racing into the Manchester Arena after the bomb, and doctors, nurses and other medical professionals working around the clock to save people’s lives. What advice would she give to her hon. Friends on the Government Benches about productivity increases by those people, who have served the people of this country?

Those firefighters, police and others in the emergency services have done a tremendous job, and I am sure we are all extremely grateful to them for regularly putting themselves on the line of danger. The hon. Gentleman is right to point that out.

What does productivity mean? I talked earlier about empowering people on the frontline to be able to make decisions and do things more quickly. When I talk to nurses and teachers, they sometimes say that they want less bureaucracy so that they can get on with the real jobs that they have been employed to do, and that is why more police are spending more time on the frontline. Productivity means giving people more job satisfaction—spending more of their time doing the job that they have come in to public services to do—and that is why we are reforming public services and seeing improvements.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that the Government should continue to balance fairness for public servants and fairness for taxpayers who pay for public services?

We need to ensure a continual balance in being fair to the people working in public services—giving them the training and opportunities they deserve, and paying them fairly—while at the same time making sure that they will be able to continue to work in those public services in the future. If we look at what happened in Greece when the deficit got out of control, we can see that there was a 36% reduction in spending on the health service. [Interruption.] Members on the Opposition Front Bench may groan, but they should look at the facts about what happens when unfunded spending commitments are made. Let us be clear: the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that Labour’s spending plans would lead to the highest levels of taxation we have ever seen in peacetime Britain. Theirs are not moderate but extreme proposals that would lead to people losing their jobs.

The Chief Secretary quite rightly outlined that there is more to the package offered to public sector workers, including pensions, but will she confirm that the average pension for a local government worker is less than £80 week? What message does it send when, on top of that, their wages are supressed and their workloads have increased twofold? Is not the truth that this Government know the cost of everything and the value of absolutely nothing?

We care about how well our public services are serving the public, and we want to have highly motivated people working in our public services who feel valued and properly remunerated. That is why such decisions are made by independent bodies.

Members on both side of the House want strong wage increases for those at the bottom end, whatever sector they are in. Will the Chief Secretary tell us what our new national living wage will do to the incomes of those at the bottom end, and will she confirm that it will give us one of the strongest minimum wages in the world?

My hon. Friend is right and I congratulate him on the role he had in that policy. We are raising wages for those on the lowest incomes and taking more people out of tax. Basic rate taxpayers have seen a £1,000 reduction in their tax bill. That is important in dealing with the cost of living and in making sure that it always pays for people to go into work.

In a very readable book, “Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea”, Professor Mark Blyth charts the fact that austerity always fails, either at the ballot box or with people waking up to the failing nonsense that is austerity. If the Government instead concentrated on growth, the deficit would take care of itself. Is it not time that public sector workers, who pay taxes, are given the money to spend in the economy and create that growth?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that Labour’s proposal would cost £9 billion a year, which is more than double the amount the party estimated in its manifesto. That would involve significant borrowing. Our interest bill is £50 billion a year. Does the Chief Secretary to the Treasury agree that that is £50 billion less to invest in our public services?

That is right. Future generations will pay for the services that we are enjoying today, and that is wrong. We need to live within our means and make sure that people are properly rewarded. We need to make sure that things are fair between the public and private sectors. That is what the Government’s balanced policy is achieving.

My union Unison represents workers across the public sector. The hard-working nurses, teaching assistants, cleaners and local government workers in my constituency of Enfield, Southgate who are not subject to increments have been asking me when they will get fair pay for the hard work they do for all of us. Does the Chief Secretary agree with me and some of her colleagues that in the light of the increases in inflation and the cost of living, the public sector pay cap must end now?

I have already said that our policy balances the need to make sure that people are remunerated properly—that is what the pay review bodies look at—and the need to make sure that public services are sustainable in the long term, because as well as making sure that people are paid properly and that the wider package is as good as possible, we need to make sure that those jobs are protected and secure in the long term.

Does the Chief Secretary agree that as a result of Labour’s economic mismanagement in 2008 to 2009, average wages—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Lady’s question must be heard. Everybody in this Chamber must be heard. Let us hear Rachel Maclean.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. As a result of Labour’s economic mismanagement in 2008 to 2009, average private sector pay fell significantly, while public sector pay remained stable. Does the Chief Secretary agree that it is important, when we look at the pay review bodies’ recommendations, to recognise the challenges faced by small businesses when they are outpaced by public sector earnings? Given that small businesses, as employers, create the majority of the jobs in this country, will she ensure that the pay review bodies take into account the views of small business people?

We have got to the position where public sector pay is comparable with private sector pay, and public sector workers often have pension entitlements on top of that. It is fair to get to a position where pay is comparable, for the skills people have. That is fair for the businesses that we need to create wealth in our country, so that we can fund public services. It is fair for workers in both the private sector and the public sector. Nothing is more important than getting people into work and giving them a sense of pride and responsibility, and the ability to earn for themselves and their family that come with it. The Government should be proud of what we have achieved: the lowest level of unemployment since 1975. The idea that we should put that at risk by making our public finances unsustainable or by pricing small businesses out of the market is very dangerous.

I see that the Father of the House is leaving the Chamber, but I hope that the calm and serenity that he brought to the Chamber will linger with us for some time to come.

This issue is also about fairness—a word I have heard repeatedly. Liverpool clinical commissioning group paid themselves increases of between 15% and 81%, with a non-executive getting £105,000. An NHS investigation has confirmed that that is far outside the rules, yet the accountable officer and governing body have not been held to account. Does that send a message from the Government to the NHS that people can do what they want, that anarchy rules and that the pay cap will be applied selectively and is not fair?

I draw the House’s attention to my declaration of interest as a working NHS doctor. My right hon. Friend has talked rightly about the effect that increments have on progression pay, and the staff affected have received an increase in their pay. However, in the NHS half a million staff are at the top of their pay scale and have received a real-terms pay cut over the past few years. They work incredibly hard, above and beyond the call of duty. They are the people who gave up their days off to go in when the terrorist attacks happened in London and Manchester. Those people do need a pay rise. Does she recognise that many of those staff are now turning to agency work? The locum and agency bill in the NHS is £4 billion and rising. Does she recognise that part of dealing with the cost of locum and agency staff must be to increase the pay of permanent staff?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that doctors and other medical staff do a vital job and have faced real challenges. We are reducing the agency spend in the NHS over time. It is important that we look overall at the affordability for the public sector. That is the remit of the independent pay review bodies. They hear evidence from the experts on the frontline and make their recommendations. We accepted the recommendation for doctors that was put to us. We accepted the recommendation for nurses and other NHS workers as well. We respect that pay review body process.

Put simply, does the Chief Secretary think it fair that the public sector workers who face a cap also face a rise of around 5% to 7% in energy prices when the chief executive of SSE this year had a 72% increase in his pay, taking it to £2.9 million?

The Government are taking action on energy costs. We are also making sure that public sector workers receive increments in addition to the 1% that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. We are taking action as a Government to raise the tax threshold, so that people on the basic rate are now paying £1,000 less tax. He needs to take account of the whole package; I think that he is cherry-picking some bits.

Is the Chief Secretary to the Treasury aware that the Scottish Government set pay for 485,000 public sector workers, which is close to 90% of all public sector workers in Scotland? Does she agree with the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport on 10 May in the Scottish Parliament, when the Scottish Government voted against a pay increase for NHS staff, that

“we believe that there can continue to be value in the independent pay review process”?

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Nuffield Trust report that highlights that the Scottish National party’s deep cuts to the health budget in Scotland are seriously harming the NHS?