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Volume 627: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2017

As we approach recess, I am sure that Members from all parties wish to thank the staff of the House for their dedication to our work here in what has been a particularly challenging year. We saw terrorists attack our democracy and our way of life—not just in the Westminster attack, but in the attacks at Manchester, Finsbury Park and London Bridge. It is thanks to the professionalism and bravery of people such as Elizabeth Bryan, an off-duty A&E nurse from Cambridgeshire who ran to help at the scene of the Borough Market attack and who is with us in the Gallery today—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear]—that these attacks will never succeed. We are united in defending the values that define our nation.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Of course the whole House associates itself with the Prime Minister’s words about defending our values. Her schedule does not seem so busy, so could she find time to visit Coventry? I can assure her of a warm welcome from the city’s three Labour MPs, who all doubled their majorities in the recent general election that she called; we were very grateful for that.

On a serious note, is the Prime Minister aware that Coventry is the designated national research and development centre for the controls of driverless vehicles? Would she not consider it an appropriate location to relocate her whole Government to? Then she could see the controls of driverless vehicles in practice.

Well, I am always happy to visit the west midlands. I am particularly pleased to visit the west midlands under its new Mayor, Andy Street, who is doing a very good job. The hon. Gentleman mentioned automated vehicles. This country is a leader in automated vehicles. That is part of building a strong economy and that is what this Government are doing.

Q4. Our national health service was last week judged the best, safest and most affordable healthcare system—better than that of France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. Too often in this House, we focus on the negatives. I have heard the Labour party attempt to weaponise the NHS. Will my right hon. Friend—and, I hope, the Leader of the Opposition when he stands—congratulate NHS staff on their skills and dedication, and on the hard work they have put in to achieve these high standards? (900574)

I am very happy to stand here and congratulate all NHS staff, who are delivering such a fantastic service and who have made the NHS, once again—this is not the first time—the No. 1 health system in the world. We are determined to continue to enable that high level of service to be provided, which is why we will be investing more than half a trillion pounds in our NHS between 2015 and 2020.

I join the Prime Minister in thanking all the staff of this House for all the work they do all the year round. They are fantastic, supportive and inclusive, and they are great with the public who come here. I want to thank them for everything they do.

I also join the Prime Minister in thanking all our emergency services for the way they coped with all the terrible emergencies we have had over the past few months in this country, and I thank those communities, such as my own in Finsbury Park, that have come together to oppose those who try to divide us as a community and as a people. The emergency services were in action again yesterday, protecting the people of Coverack from the flood they suffered. We should always remember that we rely on those services.

The Chancellor said this week that some public servants are “overpaid”. Given that the Prime Minister has had to administer a slapdown to her squabbling Cabinet, does she think the Chancellor was actually talking about her own Ministers?

First, I join the right hon. Gentleman not only in praising the work of our emergency services, but in recognising the way in which after the terrible terrorist attacks, and of course the appalling tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, we have seen communities come together and support those who have been victims of those terrible incidents. I was very pleased, as he knows, to be able to visit Finsbury Park after the attack there and see for myself the work that had been done in that community and the work that he had done that night in working among his constituents to ensure that the community came together after that terrible attack.

On public sector pay, I simply say this to the right hon. Gentleman: I recognise, as I said when I stood on the steps of Downing Street a year ago, that some people in our country are just about managing—they find life a struggle. That covers people who are working in the public sector and some who are working in the private sector, which is why it is important that the Government are taking steps to, for example, help those on the lowest incomes through the national living wage. It is why we have taken millions of people out of paying income tax altogether; and it is why under this Government basic rate taxpayers have seen a tax cut of the equivalent of £1,000. But you only get that with a strong economy, and you only get that with a Conservative Government.

I thank the Prime Minister for what she said about my own community; I am obliged to her for that. However, my question was about whether the Chancellor had said that public service workers are overpaid or not. The reality in this country is simply this: a nurse on a median salary starts on £23,000; police officers start on £22,800; and jobcentre clerks start on £15,000. I had a letter from Sarah who wrote to me this week about her sister-in-law, who is a nurse. Sarah said:

“she has sacrificed her health for the caring of others. She has had a pay freeze for the last five years. Only her dedication and passion for her vocation keeps her going. Why is this happening”.

What does the Prime Minister say to Sarah and those others working in our NHS?

What I say to Sarah and to those working in the national health service is that we recognise the excellent work they are doing. We recognise the sacrifice that they and others have made over the past seven years. That sacrifice has been made because we had to deal with the biggest deficit in our peacetime history—left by a Labour Government. As we look at public sector pay, we balance being fair to public sector workers, protecting jobs and being fair to those who pay for them. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think it is possible to go around promising people more money and promising that nobody is ever going to have to pay for it. He and I both value public sector workers. We both value our public sector services. The difference is that on this side of the House we know that you have to pay for them.

The Prime Minister does not seem to have had any problem finding money to pay for the Democratic Unionist party’s support. The Conservatives have been in office for 84 months, and 52 of those months have seen a real fall in wages and income in our country. In the last Prime Minister’s Question Time before the general election, the Prime Minister said:

“every vote for me is a vote for a strong economy with the benefits felt by everyone across the country.”—[Official Report, 26 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 1104.]

Does she agree you cannot have a strong economy when 6 million people are earning less than the living wage?

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman when you cannot have a strong economy: it is when you adopt Labour party policies of half a trillion pounds of extra borrowing, which will mean more spending, more borrowing, higher prices, higher taxes and fewer jobs. The Labour Government crashed the economy; the Conservative Government have come in—more people in work, more people in jobs, more investment.

May I invite the Prime Minister to take a check with reality on this? One in eight workers in the United Kingdom—that is 3.8 million people in work—are now living in poverty. Some 55% of people in poverty are in working households. The Prime Minister’s lack of touch with reality goes like this. Low pay in Britain is holding people back at a time of rising housing costs, rising food prices and rising transport costs; it threatens people’s living standards, and rising consumer debt and falling savings threaten our economic stability. Why does the Prime Minister not understand that low pay is a threat to an already weakening economy?

The best route out of poverty is through work, and what we now see is hundreds—[Interruption.] Yes, it is.

Order. The question has been asked. The Prime Minister’s answer must—and however long it takes, it will—be heard.

The best route out of poverty is through work. That is why it is so important that, over the last seven years, we have seen 3 million more jobs created in our economy. It is why we now see so many thousands of people in households with work, rather than in workless households, and hundreds of thousands more children being brought up in a household where there is work rather than a failure to have work. That is what is important. But what is important for Government as well is to ensure that we provide support to people. That is why we created the national living wage. That was the biggest pay increase ever for people on the lowest incomes. When did the Labour party ever introduce the national living wage? Never! That was a Conservative Government and a Conservative record.

It was Labour that first introduced the minimum wage—with opposition from the Conservative party.

Wages are lower than they were 10 years ago. The Prime Minister has been in office for just one year, and during that time disposable income has fallen by 2%. The economic consequences of austerity are very clear, and so are the social consequences: life expectancy stalling for the first time in 100 years. Today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasts that income inequality is going to get worse and that child poverty will rise to 5 million by 2022. Does the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]

Order. Members are shouting, and shouting excessively. They must calm themselves. Take some sort of soothing medicament.

I will try to help hon. Members, Mr Speaker. Does the Prime Minister not realise that her talk of a strong economy does not remotely match the reality that millions of people face, with low wages and poverty at home?

The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, wrong in some of the facts that he is putting forward. In fact, inequality is down. Life expectancy is continuing to rise. What we know is that what will not deliver a strong economy for this country is Labour’s policies of more borrowing, more spending, higher taxes and fewer jobs. What the right hon. Gentleman wants is a country that is living beyond its means. That means making future generations pay for his mistakes. That is Labour’s way, and the Conservatives will never do that.

What we want is a country where there are not 4 million children living in poverty and where homelessness does not rise every year. I look along the Front Bench opposite and I see a Cabinet bickering and backbiting while the economy gets weaker and people are pushed further into debt. [Interruption.] Well, they can try talking to each other. The economy is—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) is gesticulating in a distinctly eccentric manner and he must stop doing so. Shakespeare’s county deserves better.

The reality is that wages are falling, the economy is slowing, the construction sector is in recession, the trade deficit is widening, and we face crucial Brexit negotiations. Is not the truth that this divided Government are unable to give this country the leadership it so desperately needs now to deal with these issues?

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the reality. The reality is that he is always talking Britain down and we are leading Britain forward. Let us look at the record of the Conservatives in government: 3 million more jobs, 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether, over 30 million with a cut in their income tax, record levels of people in employment, record numbers of women in work, the deficit cut by three quarters, inequality down, and record levels of foreign direct investment. That is a record to be proud of, and you only get it with a Conservative Government. [Hon. Members: “More!”]

Q5. The black country flag has come under attack from Labour Members in recent days. Will the Prime Minister join me in again congratulating Gracie Sheppard, who designed the flag, reflecting our industrial heritage, when she was just 12 years old? Does the Prime Minister agree that the latest figures showing the west midlands as the fastest-growing part of this country show once again that the black country remains a great place to do business? (900575)

As my hon. Friend says—he is absolutely right—the black country remains a great place to do business. I would like to congratulate Gracie on designing that flag at the age of only 12. I am sure that she and others, including the Express & Star, have been surprised at the attitude from the Labour Benches on this particular issue. I commend my hon. Friend and my other hon. Friends in the black country, and indeed the Express & Star, for the work that they are doing to promote the black country as that great place to do business, to live, and to bring up children like Gracie.

Does the Prime Minister believe that her Government have delivered pension fairness for women who, like her, were born in the 1950s?

What the Government are delivering for women is a better state pension for women so that women in future will be better off under the state pension than they have been in the past. We are equalising the state pension age, and I think that everybody across the whole House will recognise that that is the right thing to do.

The Prime Minister has found up to £35 billion for Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, up to £200 billion to replace the Trident missile system, and £1 billion for a deal with the DUP just so she can keep her own job. She seems to be able to shake the magic money tree when she wants to. Will she now end the injustice for those women who are missing out on their pensions before she herself thinks about retiring?

I am a little surprised, given the hon. Gentleman’s background, that he said what he did about Hinkley Point. Hinkley Point is actually privately funded—this is not money that is coming from the Government to develop Hinkley Point—so I find that a little strange. We have put £1 billion extra into the question of the change in the state pension age to ensure that nobody sees their state pension age increase by more than 18 months from that which was previously expected. I must also say to the hon. Gentleman that the Scottish Government of course now have extra powers in the area of welfare. Perhaps it is about time that the Scottish Government got on with the day job and stopped talking endlessly about independence.

Q8. Businesses in Stafford and other constituencies need as much certainty as possible now about what will happen after we leave the EU in March 2019 for investment decisions they are making in the coming weeks and months. As the Government work on the comprehensive future relationship with our European neighbours, will they also negotiate time-bound transitional arrangements that prioritise the jobs of our constituents and the health of our economy? (900578)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I have said in this Chamber and elsewhere, we want to avoid a cliff edge for businesses, because people want to know where they stand, and to be able to carry on investing in the UK and creating the jobs that we have seen being created. As I have also said before, once we know—once we have negotiated through this two-year period—what the end-state relationship for the UK and the European Union will be in the future, it will then be necessary to have an implementation period when people can adjust to that new end state that is coming in. There will be some very practical things that need to be done during that period. As part of the negotiations, it will be important for us to agree what that implementation period, or periods, is, and what the arrangements will be during that.

Q2. Since Winnie Ewing’s maiden speech 50 years ago this year, SNP MPs and MSPs have been arguing for the voting age to be lowered. In recent elections, young people have proven themselves to be the most knowledgeable and most engaged that they have ever been. I believe there is a majority in this House in favour of lowering the voting age. Will the Prime Minister support giving votes to 16 and 17-year-olds? (900572)

I would say to the hon. Lady that this is one of those issues on which people will obviously have different views. My view has always been and continues to be that 18 is the right age. We expect people to continue in education or training until the age of 18, and I think that is the right point for the voting age.

Q9. In Harrow and up and down the country, young people will be eagerly anticipating their A-level results to see whether they qualify for a university education. Will my right hon. Friend confirm the dramatic increase in the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, and can she think of anyone who should apologise for misleading the British public? (900579)

I think it is very important, as people are thinking about going to university, that they are not misled in any way. It is the case that more disadvantaged 18-year-olds are now applying to university than ever before. I believe the Leader of the Opposition said exactly the opposite, and I think he should apologise for that. I think the Labour party should actually go further. At the election, the Leader of the Opposition vowed to deal with student debt, and Labour were going to abolish student debt; now they say it was not a promise at all. Students know Labour cannot be trusted on student fees.

Q3. The Prime Minister will now know what it is like to have a job but to lack job security. Sometimes it can even bring a tear to the eye. Given her new-found empathy for millions of workers in insecure work, why is she now cutting six Department for Work and Pensions jobcentres in Glasgow and also back-office staff at Springburn in my constituency, where unemployment is twice the national average? (900573)

May I start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his new job in this House? What is happening in relation to jobcentres in Scotland is that the DWP is ensuring it is using the estate properly and to the best advantage. As a result of what is happening, no services are going to be cut. In fact, services to people using jobcentres will be enhanced in future. I think what matters is actually the service that is provided to people attending those jobcentres.

Q11. The brave men and women of our armed forces put themselves in extremely challenging situations in their efforts to keep us all safe. We therefore owe it to them to do all we can to support them and their families when they have completed their service. I warmly welcome the launch of the “Defence people mental health and wellbeing strategy” yesterday, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House how we can co-ordinate this excellent programme with our international allies? May I also wish her a very well deserved break when she finally decides to take it in the recess? (900581)

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Members across the House recognise the importance of ensuring that we provide that support to those who are in our services and our veterans. The issue of mental health and wellbeing is very important, and I welcome the new strategy for mental health and wellbeing in the armed forces. I also pay tribute to the tireless work of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), particularly on mental health, since he came to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) raises an issue that is important not just for us in the UK; we need to see how we can work internationally on it. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence launched the strategy at an international conference yesterday, with counterparts from the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We will all campaign against the stigmas around mental health so that members of our armed forces and our veterans can get the help they need.

Q6. In my constituency of Liverpool, Walton, almost 40% of children are growing up in poverty. With schools closing this week and local support services cut to the bone, austerity bites and kids do not get fed. The Prime Minister says that her mission is to make Britain “a country that works for everyone”.What is she doing now to stop kids going hungry this summer in Liverpool, Walton? (900576)

May I first of all welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place in this House? He is right to say that it is important that we look at the provision made in school for children and at the issue of households and poverty, but as I said to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the best way we can deal with poverty—the best route out of poverty—is for people to get into the workplace and then for us to ensure that other, better-paid jobs are provided for people in the workplace in the future.

Q12. A young woman in Telford who gave evidence in a horrific child sexual exploitation case five years ago is living in fear. The perpetrator, who received a 22-year sentence, is about to be released early. CSE victims are too often overlooked and ignored. Does the Prime Minister agree that CSE victims should be properly consulted on the release of perpetrators and that in this case the perpetrator should not be returned to Telford? (900582)

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We all know that child sexual exploitation is an absolutely horrific crime. It is absolutely right that if victims are going to come forward to report this abuse, they need to know that they will be supported so that they can have the confidence to do so and be confident in their future security and safety. The victim contact scheme is supposed to treat victims properly and ensure that consideration is given to victim-related conditions when looking at an offender’s licence on release. If my hon. Friend would like to write with the details of the case to my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, he will look at it very carefully.

Q7. The interim Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, so may I try again? It was reported over the weekend, by the temporary Chancellor’s own Cabinet colleagues, that he had said that some public sector workers are “overpaid”. Will the Prime Minister tell the House, the country and those public sector workers which ones she thinks are overpaid, which ones she thinks are underpaid and what she is going to do about it? (900577)

As I said earlier, I recognise that there will be people working in the public sector who do find life a struggle and are just about managing, and there will be people in the private sector who are in the same place. I also say to the hon. Gentleman that, as we have seen in the figures released today, there are some people working in the public sector who are very well paid. We need to ensure that, when we look at public sector pay, we balance being fair to workers, protecting jobs and being fair to those who pay for the public sector, and that we also support people by ensuring that they can keep more of the money they earn. That is why we believe in cutting taxes.

The Government are under predictable pressure on public sector pay and public sector spending, which we would all like to respond to if there were some sensible demands. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way in which a responsible Government can increase public sector pay is if we restore to this country strong economic growth and a sensible Government fiscal balance sheet, and that the biggest threats to our achieving either of those things over the next two years are a bad Brexit deal that puts up barriers to trade and investment, or the return of a hard-left, old-fashioned socialist Government?

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. As a very successful former Chancellor of the Exchequer, he speaks with expertise on this issue. He is right that we need to get a good Brexit deal, but he is also right that the policies of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor, were they ever to get the opportunity to put them into practice, would not lead to more money for nurses, our national health service or our public sector; they would lead, through higher spending and higher borrowing, to jobs going, higher prices, higher taxes for people, less money available for our health service and less money available for our nurses.

Q10. Does the Prime Minister know that her universal credit process is failing my constituents? The Salvation Army and Streetlife report that vulnerable Blackpool people are juggling a month’s money without help, that there are unfair sanctions for people with mental health issues, that a six-week wait for money is causing more stress, and that there is a phone helpline that Citizens Advice says can cost claimants 55p a minute and take 39 minutes to answer. Can she start by getting them a freephone number? (900580)

The importance of the universal credit scheme is that it is ensuring that being in work always pays. With the universal credit scheme, we are seeing more people getting into the workplace. The DWP is constantly looking at the scheme and how it is operating around the country to ensure that any problems that people raise are addressed.

Thousands of my constituents and millions of consumers in this country have to pay surcharges when they use their credit or debit card—a highly unfair practice. Will my right hon. Friend outline the impact of lifting surcharges on consumers in this country?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very important that this issue is being addressed. We believe that rip-off charges have no place in modern Britain. That is why card charging abuse is going to come to an end. This is about fairness and transparency. We do not want people to be surprised, when they come to pay for something, that an extra surcharge is suddenly added because they have used a particular card. The total value of such fees in 2010 was estimated to be £473 million. That money will be put back in the hands of shoppers across the country, so that they have more cash to spend on the things that matter to them.

Q13. In her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister said that the UK would be leaving the single market. Will she tell the House whether that red line on the single market also applies to any transitional agreement or implementation period that might be agreed for the period after March 2019? (900583)

We said that we would no longer be a member of the single market because we will no longer be a member of the European Union and, as the European Union says consistently, its four pillars are indivisible. Therefore, the fact that we do not wish to be subject to other issues, like the European Court of Justice and free movement requirements, means that we will no longer be a member of the single market. At the end of the two years, when we have negotiated the end state deal, there will be an implementation period for that deal, but we are very clear that at the point at which we reach the end of the negotiations, we will be out of the European Union.

I welcome the Institute for Fiscal Studies report this week on income inequality in the UK. It clearly shows that, contrary to Labour propaganda that was often repeated during the general election, the income gap between rich and poor in our country has reduced every year since 2010. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that clearly shows that those with the broadest shoulders are bearing the heaviest burden in dealing with the debt we inherited from the last Labour Government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The IFS report clearly shows what he has said today. As we know, the top 1% of taxpayers are bearing 27% of the tax burden. That is a higher burden than in any year under the Labour Government.

Q14. NHS England commissions child and adolescent mental health beds at a private hospital in my constituency, which recently received a damning Care Quality Commission report. The CQC found that the hospital was unsafe not least because, on inspection, it found a young woman with MRSA with open wounds on a ward. Does the Prime Minister share my concern that a shortage of mental health beds risks the NHS placing vulnerable young people in unsafe environments, and will she consider giving NHS England the responsibility for, and the resources to investigate, the quality of care before it commissions? (900584)

The hon. Lady has raised a very significant point. On mental health, of course we are boosting the funding that is going into mental health in the national health service and across the picture, across Government, in terms of dealing with mental health. We are taking a number of steps to improve mental health. She has raised a very particular case, which I am sure everyone in the House will have been concerned to hear, and I will ensure that the Secretary of State looks into the case she has raised.

Daesh’s atrocities have failed to deliver a caliph or a fictional caliphate. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our international partners must provide resources and commitment to apply international law and bring prosecutions against Daesh fighters and those who choose to partner with them, making it clear that wherever a death-cult terrorist hides, we will find them and hold them accountable for their barbaric crimes?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. It is important that those who have committed these horrific crimes are brought to justice. We have done good work as a United Kingdom in helping those in these theatres to see how they can collect evidence that can then be used in prosecutions. We want to do this work internationally through the United Nations and it is an issue that I spoke about to Prime Minister al-Abadi of Iraq yesterday. We want to work with them and others to ensure that we can send the very clear message that my hon. Friend identifies.

Q15. Does the Prime Minister agree that the huge increase in knife crime has tragic consequences for families in constituencies such as mine? What will she do to work with me and other Members on both sides of the House to find solutions to this blight on young lives, including looking again at the budget for policing? (900585)

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place in the House. Her presence has enabled me to appoint a very good chief of staff to my office at No. 10. She raises the very serious issue of knife crime. The Government have been taking a tougher stance on knife crime. We do think this is an issue and we have done this in a variety of ways. Now, if people carry a knife in public they are much more likely to go to prison. But we do recognise that there is more to do in this area. That is why yesterday my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced plans to consult on new offences to toughen up knife crime laws, including restricting the online sale of knives—we have done some of that already, but we think there is more for us to do—and banning possession of dangerous or offensive weapons on private property. The hon. Lady has raised an important issue and the Government have been addressing it. We recognise that we need to do more, and that is what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is doing.

Before the election, the Government committed to removing the faith-based cap for free schools and even included that promise in our election manifesto. Catholic dioceses up and down the country are anxious to open free schools and some have even purchased sites. Will the Prime Minister commit her Government to honouring that solemn pledge in our manifesto?

My hon. Friend will recognise that the reason we put that in our manifesto, and the reason it was in the schools Green Paper that we published before the election, is that we do believe it is important to enable more faith schools to be set up and more faith schools to expand. This is an issue that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is considering and she will publish further details on our overall view in terms of improving school diversity and encouraging the creation of more good school places in the near future.

Last week the Prime Minister refused to make public a report on the foreign funding of extremists in the United Kingdom, despite pressure from Members in all parts of the House and beyond. Last night, survivors of 9/11 also urged her to make the report available. Has she refused to do so simply because the content of the report will embarrass the Government’s friends in Saudi Arabia, or because Ministers care rather more about arms sales to Riyadh than they do about public safety in Britain?

It is absolutely nothing to do with that. There is certain confidential information in the report that means that it would not be appropriate to publish it, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it available, on a Privy Council basis, to Opposition parties.

For signs of the strong economy that the Prime Minister has so eloquently outlined this morning, we need look no further than Taunton Deane. It is a microcosm of the national picture, with record house building, record employment, and record Government investment in road schemes such as the A358 upgrade and the expansion of junction 25. Does the Prime Minister agree that to build on the economic success that this Government have overseen, those key road projects should not just speed up traffic and ease congestion but unlock more jobs, thus further fuelling the rise in productivity?

I am very happy to recognise Taunton Deane as a microcosm of the excellent economy that we see across the country. My hon. Friend has made an important point about the need to invest in infrastructure in order to boost our economy. It is a point that the Government readily understand and accept, which is why, in last year’s autumn statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to announce a £23 billion national productivity investment fund, a considerable portion of which will go into infrastructure. We fully recognise not just the importance of large-scale transport projects such as Crossrail, HS2 and the expansion of Heathrow, but the importance of investing in projects at a more local level if we are to unlock further economic growth in areas like Taunton Deane.

With no legal powers, funds or criteria, and with schools and Parliament not open, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust is once again consulting on the closure of the hospital and the building of a new £400 million hospital in Belmont. There have been five consultations over 18 years, wasting £40 million of taxpayers’ money. Is it not time for the Prime Minister to step in and put a stop to it, and allow this important hospital to get on with the day job?

I understand that Epsom and St Helier Trust is indeed seeking views on future specialist care at the trust, and on how the existing buildings can be improved. I also understand that the discussions are at an early stage, that no final decisions have been made, and that any proposals for major service change will be subject to a full public consultation.

Not only has the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that we have the narrowest income gaps for a decade, but the Office for National Statistics has said that Britain has some of the lowest levels of persistent poverty in Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that this country is governed by the true facts and not by fake news, and that this Government are committed to building a strong economy for all?

Let me start by welcoming my hon. Friend to the Chamber. She is absolutely right: we owe it to our constituents—we owe it to the public—to ensure that when we debate these issues we debate them on the basis of the facts, and not on the basis of the sort of fake news that we hear all too often in the Chamber.

Lakeside children’s centre is a lifeline for often struggling kids and their parents in one of the poorest wards in Britain, giving them the best possible start in life, yet it is one of 26 children’s centres that face closure in Birmingham. Does the Prime Minister understand the consequences of her actions? Does she understand that £700 million of cuts in the city council’s budget are having a devastating impact on the provision of children’s centres? Will she act properly to fund those centres, and to reverse a tidal wave of closures that will otherwise have a devastating impact on the life chances of a whole generation of children?

Obviously, decisions on this issue are being taken by the Birmingham local authority, but it ill behoves any Member of the Labour party to stand up in this House and complain about the issues with public spending that we have had to address, because they are the direct result of the failure of a Labour Government to manage our economy.

The hon. Lady is signalling that she wishes to raise a point of order, but customarily points of order come after urgent questions and statements. If the hon. Lady can hold herself until that point, we look forward with eager anticipation to hearing of what she wishes to unburden herself then.