This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
The Prime Minister will know that yesterday was World Mental Health Day. Mental health problems affect one in four people, but only £1 out of every £8 in clinical commissioning group budgets is spent on mental health services. Newcastle Gateshead CCG is set to cut its budget by a further 1.1% next year, bringing the total spend for mental health to less than 10% of its entire budget. If parity of esteem for mental health is to be achieved, the Government will have to match their words with more strong and stable, ring-fenced funding. With those cuts and with increasing demand, when will the Prime Minister end the talking and promise to increase and ring fence funding for mental health and specialist psychological services?
The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance that we should attach to mental health. Giving that parity of esteem is an important step that this Government have taken, but we are also doing much more on mental health. In fact, more money overall is going into mental health. More people are able to access NHS talking therapies and receive treatment for their mental ill health, but we also need to look at the issue more widely. That is precisely why I have set up a scheme to train staff in schools to ensure better awareness of mental health problems and to enable them to know how to deal with individuals in schools who are suffering from mental health problems. There is more for us to do, but this Government are putting more money in and are taking more action on mental health than any previous Government.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. He is right that we need to build a bridge from our existing partnership to our future partnership to allow time for practical adjustments to be made. That is exactly what we are doing when we talk about the implementation period, which I set out in my speech in Florence, together with our vision for our future partnership. I am sure that my hon. Friend will know that we published a White Paper on our future trade policy earlier this week, and we will continue to publish papers in the coming months.
I hope that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the late Rodney Bickerstaffe, the former general secretary of Unison who died last week. He will be remembered for his warmth and the esteem in which he was held throughout the Labour movement and throughout the community. More than that, he, almost more than anyone else, made sure that the national minimum wage happened in this country. Millions of workers are better off due to the great work that Rodney did during his life. Can we say, “Thank you, Rodney, for everything you did in your life”?
The roll-out of universal credit is already causing debt, poverty and homelessness. Does the Prime Minister accept that it would be irresponsible to press on regardless?
Of course we offer our condolences to Rodney Bickerstaffe’s friends and family on his death. He and I would probably never have agreed on very much in politics, but obviously he played his role with commitment and dedication through his life.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about universal credit. It is perhaps worth our recognising why we brought in universal credit in the first place. What we want is a welfare system that provides a safety net for those who need it, and that helps people to get into the workplace, earn more and provide for their families. The system that we inherited from Labour did not do that. It was far too complicated, there were far too many different sorts of payment and, crucially, too many of those who earned more found themselves with less money in their pockets. Under Labour, too many people were better off on benefits. That is not the system that we want. We want universal credit, which is simpler and more straightforward, and makes sure that work always pays.
I wonder which planet the Prime Minister is on. Citizens Advice describes universal credit as
“a disaster waiting to happen”.
It has made that conclusion based on its work assisting tens of thousands of claimants with debt. Housing associations report an increase of up to 50% in the eviction of tenants in rent arrears due to universal credit. Can the Prime Minister and Department for Work and Pensions not wake up to reality and halt this process?
As I have explained, we have very good reasons for changing the system. Yes, the DWP has been—[Interruption.] We have been listening to concerns raised about the way in which universal credit has operated. Changes have been made; performance has improved, for example. At the beginning of this year, only 55% of people were getting their first payment on time. Now that is more than 80%. Of course there is more for us to do, and that is why the Secretary of State and the Department for Work and Pensions continue to monitor this and to ensure that performance increases. Underlying this is a need to ensure that we have a system that ensures that work pays and that people are not better off on benefits.
The Halton Housing Trust reports a 100% year-on-year increase in the number of evictions. Half of all council tenants on universal credit are at least a month in arrears in their rent. This weekend, the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, described universal credit as
“operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving.”
He is right, isn’t he? It is years behind schedule. It is forcing people to food banks, driving up evictions and leaving families in debt. Can the Prime Minister not see it? If the former Prime Minister can understand it, why can’t this one?
In fact, research shows that after four months the number of people on universal credit in rent arrears had fallen by a third. As I said in my previous answer to the right hon. Gentleman, of course we recognise that there have been some issues to address in the rolling out of this benefit, and that is why we have been taking our time doing it. The underlying reason for moving to universal credit is still the right one. We see more people getting into work on universal credit than on jobseeker’s allowance, and there is the possibility for those people who cannot wait for their first payment to ask for an advance if they are in need, and the number of people getting an advance has increased.
At last the Prime Minister recognises that there are problems. The Institute for Public Policy Research and the Child Poverty Action Group estimate that universal credit is going to put another 200,000 children into poverty. Last month, apparently, a dozen Conservative MPs wrote to the Work and Pensions Secretary calling for a pause. Perhaps they should have listened to people like Georgina, who contacted me this week. She says:
“All summer we were left with no money to survive as it just stopped abruptly. We would have lost everything if it weren’t for my family.”
Others cannot rely on family and are facing eviction. I urge the Prime Minister: show some leadership, pause universal credit, and stop driving up poverty, debt and homelessness, because that is what this does.
First, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I would be happy to look at the case of Georgina if he would like to send me those details?
As I have just said—once again, I referred to this in my previous answer, had the right hon. Gentleman listened to it—it is possible for those who are in need to get advance payments. The number of those getting advance payments has increased from 35% to just over 50%—the majority. So we are seeing the system being improved and performance improving. But let us just think about the Labour party’s record on this whole issue of welfare. Under the Labour party, 1.4 million people spent most of the last decade trapped on out-of-work benefits. Under the Labour party, the number of households where no—[Interruption.]
Order. The Prime Minister’s response must be heard.
Under the Labour Government, the number of households in which no member had ever worked nearly doubled. The welfare bill went up by 60% in real terms, which cost every household an extra £3,000 a year. That is not the way to run a system; that is the way to have a system that is failing ordinary working people.
The last Labour Government lifted a million children out of poverty. Gloucester City Homes has evicted one in eight of all of its tenants because of universal credit. The Prime Minister talks about helping the poorest, but the reality is a very, very different story. Not only are people being driven into poverty but, absurdly, the universal credit helpline costs claimants 55p per minute for the privilege of trying to get someone to help them claim what they believe they are entitled to. Will the Prime Minister today show some humanity, intervene and make at least the helpline free?
I have made it very clear that we continue to look at how we are dealing with this and ensuring that we get this system out in a way that is actually working for people. The performance is increasing, and it is working because more people are getting into work on universal credit than were doing so on jobseeker’s allowance. [Interruption.] I do want people to be able to find work. I want people to be able to get better jobs, to earn more and to get on without Government support. That is why it is so important that we help businesses to create jobs. Perhaps when the right hon. Gentleman stands up he would like to welcome the fact that 3 million more jobs have been created due to a strong economy under a Conservative Government.
Sadly, universal credit is only one of a string of failures of this Government. Everywhere we look we see a Government in chaos. On the most important issues facing this country it is a shambles: Brexit negotiations that have made no progress; Bombardier and other workers facing redundancy; most working people worse off; young people pushed into record levels of debt; 1 million elderly people not getting essential care; and our NHS at breaking point. This Government are more interested in fighting among themselves than in solving these problems. Is it not the case that if the Prime Minister cannot lead, she should leave?
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what the record of this Government is: the deficit is down by more than two thirds; 3 million more people are in jobs; 1.8 million more children are in good or outstanding schools; more people are visiting A&E; more people are getting operations than ever before; there are record levels of funding into the NHS; and there are record levels of funding into our schools. What did we see about the Labour party from its conference? [Interruption.] Wait for it.
Order. Members are becoming very overexcited. The Prime Minister’s response will be heard.
What did we hear from Labour’s conference? What happened at Labour’s conference? First, Shelter said that the Labour party’s housing policy would end up harming people on low incomes; Labour’s flagship Haringey Council rejected another of Labour’s policies; the Equality and Human Rights Commission said that Labour
“needs to…establish that it is not a racist party”;
and the Labour leader of Brighton Council threatened to ban Labour conferences because of freely expressed anti-Semitism. That was all before the shadow Chancellor admitted that a Labour Government would bring a run on the pound and ordinary working people would pay the price. [Hon. Members: “More!”]
My hon. Friend makes the important point about the fundamental benefits of universal credit, but she is of course right, and that is why the DWP is continuing to look at the performance of universal credit and how it is operating. I am happy to meet her to look into the issue. She mentioned the advance payments; as she said, it is important that those who need those payments are aware of them, so it is about not only advertising but making sure that jobcentre staff are trained and are being retrained to ensure that they are aware of what they can do to help people. The advance payments can be with people within five days or, in an emergency, on the very same day. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss them.
If there was another European Union referendum now, I know that I would vote to remain. Why has the Prime Minister not been straightforward about how she would vote?
There is no second referendum. The people of the United Kingdom voted and we will be leaving the European Union in March 2019.
The Prime Minister cannot answer a simple question. [Interruption.] I am quite happy to wait. The reason why the Prime Minister cannot answer a simple question is that she is hamstrung by the parliamentary majority and a divided party of right-wing Brexiteers. This morning—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Kerr, we are not having any pranksters here.
This morning, Chancellor Philip Hammond admitted that a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the UK economy. The Scottish National party is the only party in this House that is united on the issue. We know that crashing out of the single market and the customs union will cost 80,000 jobs in Scotland and £2,000 per person. Now is the time for leadership. Will the Prime Minister come off the fence and recognise that, if we are to save this economy, we need to stay in the single market and the customs union?
Now is the time for the SNP leadership to accept that, to save jobs in Scotland, it needs Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is obviously a very worrying time for workers at BAE Systems, including those at Warton in his constituency. He raises two issues. I can reassure him that the Department for Work and Pensions will ensure that people have all the support they need to look for new jobs. That will include the rapid response service, which will help with CVs, training and information about benefits. We will also continue to promote our world-leading defence industry right across the globe, so that companies like BAE Systems can secure contracts for UK-made equipment. Just last month, my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary signed a statement of intent with Qatar, committing the country to the purchase of 24 Typhoons and six Hawks from BAE. We will continue to promote these first-class products from first-class manufacturers such as those in his constituency. We will also ensure that support is given to those who lose their jobs.
I just point out to the hon. Gentleman that I have made no announcement and have no policy on this matter.
The hon. Gentleman is referring to our announcement that we are putting £2 billion extra into our successful affordable housing programme, bringing it to more than £9 billion, which is dedicated entirely to creating affordable homes. For every pound the Government put in, housing associations raise a further £6, which means that thousands more families get the homes that they need and can afford every single year over the next five years. This is a good announcement from the Government. It means that more people will get the homes that they need. I would have expected him to welcome it.
My hon. Friend raises a very sensitive issue. As he will be aware, health is a devolved matter in Wales. The NHS in England has strict guidelines regarding the prescriptions of these sorts of medications to young people. They can be prescribed only with the agreement of a specialist team after a careful assessment of the individual, and generally only to patients who are 15 or older. I recognise the concern raised by my hon. Friend.
First, let me re-emphasise—I have said this before in this House—that we value the contribution that EU citizens have made in this country and we want them to stay. That is why we made citizens’ rights one of the key issues, and one of the early issues that is being discussed in the negotiations that are currently taking place. We are working to ensure that we get a good deal. If there is no deal, we will obviously have to have arrangements with other member states regarding not just EU citizens here, but UK citizens in those member states. But we are working for the best deal for the United Kingdom. We are very close to agreement on citizens’ rights. We want EU citizens to stay here in the UK because we value the contribution they are making.
On Monday, my right hon. Friend was clear about her negotiations, saying that it remains the Government’s priority to get a very good free trade arrangement with our European friends and partners before we leave. She also made it clear that, alongside that, we would make plans and all necessary arrangements to depart under World Trade Organisation terms should no such agreement be available. Will she confirm, then, that all moneys necessary will be allocated to this project as and when required?
I am happy to give my right hon. Friend that confirmation. We are preparing for every eventuality. We are committing money to prepare for Brexit, including a no-deal scenario. It might be helpful if I update the House. The Treasury has committed over £250 million of new money to Departments such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Transport in this financial year for Brexit preparations. In some cases, Departments will need to spend money before the relevant legislation has gone through the House. The Treasury will write to Departments and to the Public Accounts Committee explaining this process shortly. Where money needs to be spent, it will be spent.
The message that I would like the hon. Gentleman to take back to his constituent’s partner is that we offer our condolences at the death of her partner. We are working to ensure that there is greater consistency in the judgments that are originally given on PIP assessments. We introduced PIP in order to ensure that we are able to focus payments on the most vulnerable. I completely understand how she feels about the position she is in. We offer her our deepest condolences.
HS2 Ltd continues to fail my constituents living along the line of route for HS2, with some being offered tens of thousands of pounds less than the true value of their homes. Will the Prime Minister now personally intervene to ensure that my residents living in the affected areas of Erewash do not lose out as a result of this major national infrastructure project?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point, and it is right that she is speaking up on behalf of her constituents. I know that the Department for Transport is looking carefully at these issues and that my hon. Friend the Rail Minister is determined to see that fair and comprehensive compensation for those directly affected by the route is paid, and it will be paid as if HS2 did not exist, plus the 10% and reasonable moving costs. We are committed, as ever, to infrastructure investment—we are investing in infrastructure—but it is important with a major infrastructure change such as HS2 that we do ensure that those compensation payments for people are being paid properly. As I say, my hon. Friend the Rail Minister is focusing on this issue.
The hon. Lady could not be more wrong. First of all, we are not ramping up a no-deal scenario; we are actively working with the negotiations with the European Union to ensure that we get a good deal—the right deal for Britain—for a brighter future for this country, which is what I believe we can and will achieve. It is what I set out in my Florence speech. I recommend the speech to the hon. Lady.
On the second point, I made very clear—perhaps I need just to explain it again to members of the Opposition—that when we leave the European Union in March 2019, we will cease to be full members of the single market and the customs union. That will happen because you cannot be full members of the single market and the customs union without accepting all four pillars—free movement; continued, in perpetuity, European Court of Justice jurisdiction. During the implementation period, we will be looking to get an agreement that we can operate on much the same basis as we operate at the moment—under the same rules and regulations—but that will not be the same as full membership of the customs union and the single market.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Royal Marines, supported by a specialist amphibious fleet, have served our country with great distinction for many, many years? Does she share my concern that one of the proposals currently being considered by the Royal Navy is to downsize the amphibious fleet? In an uncertain world, is this not both short-sighted and dangerous, and will she please intervene?
First, I absolutely agree that we can commend and applaud the contribution that the Royal Marines and our amphibious fleet have made to the defence of this country and, indeed, the defence of others. It is absolutely right that, as we look at how threats are changing, we look at how we should best spend the rising defence budget to support our national security. We have committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence every year of this Parliament. We are spending £178 billion over the time between 2016 and 2026 on equipment for our armed forces. Naturally, we do not always discuss the specific operational details, but if I might just say to my hon. Friend, I understand that the claims he has referred to our pure speculation at this stage.
First, of course we send our deep condolences to the families and friends of all those students in the hon. Lady’s constituency who have died as a result of contracting meningitis. The point she raises about raising awareness of meningitis is a very valuable one, and it is something that we do need to continue to do. Very often, decisions are taken by the Government, such as on the vaccination that is already in place, and it is very easy to think that that is a job done, but, actually, we need to continue to look to see how we can ensure that we do not see these deaths from meningitis in the future.
I was shocked the other week to hear the shadow Chancellor predicting a run on the pound if Labour took office. For my constituents that would mean an increase in their household bills and in the cost of their weekly shopping. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the biggest risk to this country would be letting the shadow Chancellor into No. 11 Downing Street?
I absolutely agree; my hon. Friend is right that a run on the pound would mean higher prices and that it would make life much more difficult. It would mean job losses, businesses leaving the country and people being poorer. The one thing that we absolutely must do is ensure that the shadow Chancellor gets nowhere near the Treasury. The Leader of the Opposition asked me earlier what planet I was on. Well, we all know what planet he and his shadow Chancellor are on: Planet Venezuela.
When we leave the European Union, we will be leaving the common fisheries policy. As part of the agreement that we need to enter into for the implementation period, obviously that and other issues will be part of that agreement. But when we leave the European Union, we will leave the common fisheries policy.
It has been assumed that triggering article 50 means that on 29 March 2019 we will come out of the EU if there is no agreement, but is it not the case that the negotiations can be extended if the Government and the EU agree to do that? Will the Prime Minister assure the House that under no circumstances will the negotiations be extended?
My hon. Friend is accurate in his interpretation of the treaty, which does allow for an extension of negotiations. I have been very clear that by March 2019 we want not only for those negotiation to have ended but to have an agreement on the future relationship and on our withdrawal, and we will leave the EU in March 2019.
Of course we want to work to see a positive future for the south Wales economy. That is what the United Kingdom Government are doing across the whole United Kingdom: working for that brighter and more positive future. With regard to the tidal lagoon, we will publish our response to the Hendry review in due course.
I recently visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, which was truly harrowing. It can only be described as a humanitarian disaster. I am immensely proud of the work that the United Kingdom Government are doing through UK aid, but what pressure can my right hon. Friend put on the Myanmar Government to end the persecution, so that the Rohingya people can go home?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We remain deeply concerned by what is happening to the Rohingya. We know that there are now over 500,000 refugees in Bangladesh. It is a major humanitarian crisis. We have been providing support through our international development and aid, and we have provided money to the Red Cross in Burma and bilateral donations to support the refugees who have crossed into Bangladesh. We have raised the matter three times at the UN Security Council. The international community has delivered a clear message that the Burmese authorities must stop the violence, allow the safe return of refugees and allow full humanitarian access. We have also suspended any practical defence engagement that we had with Burma because of our concerns.
The hon. Gentleman again raises a very serious case, and our condolences go to the family of his constituent. This is an issue on which, as I have said, we need to raise awareness. He raises the question of the response by medical professionals. This is not just about individuals—about parents—recognising the symptoms, but about ensuring that healthcare professionals are identifying them. I will ask the Health Secretary to meet the hon. Gentleman and people who are anxious about this to hear directly from them their concerns regarding vaccinations.
On Monday, at the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week, this Conservative Government launched 11 pilot projects for a national bereavement care pathway. This groundbreaking pathway will look at support for parents who have lost a child from conception to the age of one. May I ask the Prime Minister to congratulate the parents, the charities and the health professionals who have worked so hard to develop this project, and to make sure that it is rolled out more widely once the lessons from the pilots have been learned?
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating all who have worked so hard on this issue, which, sadly, brings such distress to too many people—including, I know, Members of this House. I am sure that everybody will want to join me in marking Baby Loss Awareness Week. There was a debate on the matter yesterday, and I pay tribute to Members from across the House who spoke very movingly about their own experiences.
I am happy to welcome, as my hon. Friend has done, the pilot of the national bereavement care pathway this week. The Department of Health is also providing funding to Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, to work with other baby loss charities and royal colleges to improve the quality of bereavement care in the NHS. We expect the pathway to be rolled out nationally in October 2018. As my hon. Friend says, it is important to conduct a pilot, so that we can learn from it as we come to the national roll-out.
I fully understand the hon. Lady’s concern about her constituent, who is fleeing domestic violence. We do not want anybody in this country to be subjected to domestic violence and abuse. That is why the Government have actually been putting more money into supporting refuges across the country. It is why we have ring-fenced money for domestic violence support across the country, and it is why we have introduced new legislation. But we are also going to look at what more we can do, through a domestic violence Act, to provide the support that is necessary to ensure that we deal with the perpetrators, support survivors and, as all of us across the House should want to do, end domestic violence.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for her pledge to build hundreds of new free schools? Does she agree that they are critical to drive up standards and increase parental choice, and is it not true that we are committed to creating a school system that works for everyone, while the Opposition want to hold everyone back?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Free schools have performed a very important function in raising standards in education in this country, and I am pleased that we have so many more children now in good or outstanding schools. Free schools have done something else as well, as I see in my own constituency, where one of the free schools is specifically for children who are on the autistic spectrum. That is very important, and it is a service that was not available previously. Free schools have enabled that to happen. They are providing for people up and down the country, and we should welcome them.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I am obviously not aware of the details of the particular services and of the transfer that he has referred to, but the overall point he makes is that people living in Wales are often seeing that they are getting a less good service from the Labour Government NHS in Wales—[Interruption.] Oh, yes. Yes, this is the case. As the hon. Gentleman says, there are people who will travel from Wales to England to get the service that is available in the NHS in England, and the Labour Government in Wales need to take a hard look at what they are doing to the NHS in Wales.