The Secretary of State was asked—
Welfare reforms in Wales are working. Since 2015, 54,000 more people have been employed; 25,000 fewer people are unemployed; and 25,000 fewer people are economically inactive. This demonstrates that welfare reforms are transforming lives across the country. As research shows, universal credit claimants spend more time looking and applying for work than those on previous benefits.
In January, the Wales Audit Office produced a report saying that the Government’s welfare reform policies were contributing to homelessness in Wales. What does the Minister think is causing homelessness in Wales?
We have been taking time to roll out universal credit and have responded to some of the needs and suggestions put forward, which is why people now get two weeks’ extra housing benefit, but I would add that not every council has used its discretionary payments for housing.
If universal credit is such a good thing, why is the Minister’s Government denying some Welsh-speaking people the right to apply for it?
I have already written to my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about this because I recognise the importance of claimants being able to access the service in the Welsh language. That is exactly why the roll-out has been delayed in areas with a high proportion of people who speak Welsh. In addition, Welsh speakers can access some services via a freephone line.
Some 13% of adults in Wales received treatment for their mental health in 2015, and one in four of the wider Welsh population are thought to live with a mental health condition. Many suffering with mental illness are too ill to work. Last year, I was told by the Government in a response to a parliamentary question:
“No psychologists or psychiatrists are currently employed by Centre for Health and Disability Assessments to conduct work capability assessments.”
Will the Minister join me in requesting a meeting with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to discuss reviewing this policy and ensuring that those suffering from mental illness are properly assessed by professionals and not denied the welfare to which they are entitled?
We have been very careful to consult a wide range of experts—people working for disability charities and medical professionals—to make sure we get these assessments right. The hon. Gentleman is right that mental health needs to be looked at very carefully, and I will take up his invitation: I will meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
Network Rail: Electrification
Network Rail’s budget for investment in the Wales route is more than £1.3 billion—record investment in Wales’ railway infrastructure. Passengers in south Wales are also directly benefiting from our £5.7 billion of investment in the new intercity express trains operating from west Wales through Swansea to London.
The Secretary of State knows that Wales has 5% of the population and 6% of the railways yet less than 2% of the investment. Network Rail has just cut £1 billion from its projects, and £700 million has been cut from rail electrification. Will he now promise to support the Swansea bay electrified city metro scheme, alongside alignment, which would reduce the time between Cardiff and Swansea and result in faster, greener connectivity for Swansea bay?
The hon. Gentleman well knows that Wales does not operate in isolation. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), for example, has been campaigning for the Halton curve, which is in England but of course would serve north Wales and link it better with Merseyside, demonstrating how the rail network in Wales does not operate in isolation. I have met Mark Barry, the proponent of the Swansea bay metro. He is undertaking a host of work on it, and we will happily look closely at it, but I point the hon. Gentleman to the need for a decent cost-benefit ratio.
On the subject of electrification of the line to Swansea, is my right hon. Friend aware that the South Wales chamber of commerce, in Swansea, is a darned sight more concerned about there being an old Labour Government in this country destroying industry than about shaving two minutes off a journey time?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The political grandstanding by some Opposition Members does nothing other than undermine potential investment in Swansea. Nor will we take any lectures from a party that left Wales in the same league as Moldova and Albania in not having a single track of electrified railway line.
There is considerable disagreement about the total amount saved by the cancellation of electrification to south Wales—the figures range from £430 million to £700 million—but, irrespective of the total amount saved, does the Secretary of State not agree that there is a compelling case for reinvesting any funds saved by the cancellation in the Welsh network?
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. There are opportunities for new railway investment in Wales. The Department for Transport’s strategic outline business case includes a range of options, one of which is improving access to west Wales; that would be transformed by a Swansea parkway railway station, for which there is a growing demand. We are well aware of the Welsh Government’s interest in linking Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, and I think that those schemes would be complementary.
Before I ask my question, Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to mention Tecwyn Thomas, a stalwart of Welsh Labour for many years, who has sadly passed away. He was my agent, and the agent of many Labour candidates in Wales. My colleagues and I send our condolences to Tecwyn’s widow Iris, and to his family.
According to a report from the National Audit Office, the Transport Secretary knew that bimodal trains would not provide the equivalent of electrification and that no trains exist that could deliver the timetable. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Transport Secretary acted against the advice that he was given when he cancelled electrification to Swansea, and that that has resulted in poor execution of Network Rail’s electrification work in south Wales?
Let me also pay tribute to the late member of the Labour party whom the hon. Lady mentioned.
A report from the Public Accounts Committee, to which I refer the hon. Lady, said that the plan for electrification between south Wales and Paddington should be reassessed on a stage-by-stage basis, and that is exactly what we did. Electrification would provide no practical journey time saving between Cardiff and Swansea; passengers would sit on the same train. I think we need to get over that issue. I am seeking to attract investment to Swansea, and constantly criticising the cancellation of a plan that would deliver no practical benefits to passengers does nothing to help that.
In the Transport Secretary’s statement of 20 July 2017, which cancelled the electrification of the line of Swansea, it was proposed that a new pipeline service be established for rail enhancement schemes. However, details of the process, and mechanisms for the development and delivery of the schemes, have not been forthcoming, and no Welsh scheme has yet entered the pipeline. Will the Secretary of State explain what the Transport Secretary is doing to prioritise the funds that Welsh projects so desperately need through that pipeline service?
As I have said, there are a number of options in the strategic outline business case, and it is important for us to use that to assess the merits of the study. The increase in the costs of electrification projects throughout the United Kingdom has naturally caused alarm—I mentioned the report of the Public Accounts Committee earlier—but I am excited by the proposals in the business case. I have already mentioned the potential, and the growing demand, for a Swansea parkway station, as well as a new station at St Mellons. There is a host of opportunities.
UK Administrations: Co-operation
I was always optimistic that discussions with the Welsh Government would result in agreement on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The agreement that has been reached is testimony to the close intergovernmental working that has taken place and to the spirit of co-operation, and I am still hopeful that the Scottish Government will sign up to it as well.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the agreement—announced last week—between the Welsh Government and the UK Government in respect of clause 11 of the Bill shows what can be achieved when Governments work together constructively for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom and all its peoples?
My hon. Friend has made an extremely important point. I think the agreement demonstrates the maturity of the relationship between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. The Welsh Government recognised the merits of providing certainty and security for businesses and communities. I am still hopeful that we can underline the benefits of the scheme to Scottish businesses and communities, and that we can attract the support of the Scottish Government.
The heavy hand of the Treasury is still delaying investment in north Wales. Will the Secretary of State commit to real devolution, as we in north Wales want the freedom to invest and attract investment ourselves, to improve our infrastructure?
I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the north Wales growth deal that we are currently negotiating between the authorities and businesses in north Wales. I met Ken Skates, the Economy Minister, just last week to discuss it. We are anxious to see greater devolution, but some Assembly Members do not want that, because some areas of north Wales have traditionally felt as isolated from Cardiff Bay as from Westminster.
Will my right hon. Friend extend to the Welsh Government the thanks of many hon. Members of this House for accepting the UK Government’s sensible and pragmatic proposals for resolving the issue of the repatriation of powers, thereby reflecting the fact that Wales voted to leave the European Union in 2016?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question, because he rightly focuses on the practical benefits and the outcomes. I believe that so long as we are focusing on an environment in which business can continue to invest, employ and represent communities in the way we have negotiated with the Welsh Government, that will put us in the strongest position to get the best benefits for every part of the UK.
I am sure that, in the interests of co-operation, the Government would not want to do anything that undermines the devolution settlement. Do they not recognise that the Conservatives are isolated in the Scottish Parliament, where there is a cross-party consensus that the EU withdrawal Bill is not fit for purpose? Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that the House of Lords is not asked to consider the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on Third Reading until all the devolved Assemblies have had a chance to pass a legislative consent motion?
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) highlighted, so long as we focus on outcomes—and the Scottish Government focus on outcomes and delivering for Scottish businesses—I am confident we can reach an agreement. The Welsh Government clearly would not undermine the devolution settlement as far as Wales is concerned, and I hope the Scottish Government will see the merits of the certainty and security that we can offer Scottish industry and Scottish business with this agreement.
The Government understand that police demand is changing and becoming increasingly complex. That is why, after speaking to all forces in England and Wales, we have provided a comprehensive funding settlement which will increase total investment in the police system by over £460 million in 2018-19.
Cardiff hosts more than 400 major events a year—civic, political and royal—as a UK capital city, and on top of the Government’s police funding cuts, my constituents are having to find money to pay an extra £3 million for the annual cost of policing those events, which is the equivalent of 60 police officers. When are the Government going to recognise South Wales police as a capital city force, with proper funding to match?
As I said earlier, we have consulted all the police and crime commissioners and chief constables, as they are ultimately best placed to understand their local needs. Following the police funding settlement, most PCCs have set out plans either to protect or to increase frontline policing this year. I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s point on Cardiff; that is part of a national formula, but I will be happy to meet her if she wants to discuss it further.
Does the Minister agree that policing is not just about budgets and money, although they do matter, but about leadership, strategy and organisation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I saw an interesting statistic recently: if we increase productivity through the better use of digital technology, we could save each police officer an hour a day, when they could be on the frontline. That would be the equivalent of 11,000 extra police officers a year on the streets of the country.
I, too, extend my condolences to the family of Tecwyn Thomas. He was well known, and was ready to work with other parties, including mine, to the benefit of his area.
Police forces in Wales pay £2 million a year towards the Government apprenticeship levy, yet get virtually no financial support towards training. Skills and education are devolved competences, but this levy was imposed by Westminster—cue entirely predictable confusion and buck-passing. Where was the consent decision to impose a 0.5% tax on major Welsh employers?
In the conversations I have had with many businesses around north Wales, they have welcomed the apprenticeship levy—
Not the CBI.
Well, I have been round a number of businesses, and they welcome the levy. The fact is that training in Wales is devolved, as the hon. Lady has said, and the amount of money that the UK Government have given to the Welsh Government exceeds the amount that the Welsh Government are spending on training.
I am sure the Minister shares my concern that the word “Orwellian” is overused in contemporary politics, but does he also share my concern that the Orwellian concept of doublespeak is epitomised in what now constitutes devolved consent agreement—namely, consent as agreeing to consent, consent as disagreeing to consent and consent as refusing to consent? How can Wales possibly say no?
There have been extensive discussions with the Welsh Government, and they have recognised that the UK Government have come a long way and that the levy is beneficial to the whole United Kingdom. I hope that other Governments will follow suit.
Order. If the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) wants to come in briefly on this question, he can, but he is not obliged to do so.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the responsibility for overseeing NPAS lies with its strategic board, which is made up of police and crime commissioners and chief constables, including the Dyfed-Powys PCC. Both NPAS and the National Police Chiefs Council have already announced that they are undertaking work to address the issues that he has raised, and Mark Burns-Williamson has said that many of the areas identified in the report have already been recognised and they are doing work to address them.
Rail Links with England
The Secretary of State and I hold regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and the Welsh Government on modernising cross-border rail connectivity. Improving connectivity drives economic growth and spreads prosperity to our communities on both sides of the border.
The western rail link to Heathrow—a 4-mile track between Slough and Heathrow—could mean a two-hour journey from Heathrow to Cardiff and Newport and a journey of around three hours to Swansea, not to mention huge economic and environmental benefits. The Welsh Government are in favour of this, the UK Government themselves committed to it in 2012, and yesterday an all-party parliamentary group on the western rail link to Heathrow—co-chaired by the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and myself—was launched to remind the Government of their commitment. Will the Minister tell us when the link will finally be built, or are we to be subjected to further sluggish studies and Government procrastination?
I was about to be very complimentary and say that the hon. Gentleman had been a doughty campaigner on this issue, as have many people across the House. The western rail link to Heathrow would significantly improve rail journey times, and it is named in Network Rail’s enhancement pipeline. Network Rail is progressing the design and development of the link, and a final consultation on the proposed alignment is expected to commence this month.
Since the Secretary of State for Transport has agreed to give the power to award the next Cardiff to Manchester rail franchise to the Welsh Assembly, will my hon. Friend give the English MPs through whose constituencies—which include the beautiful towns of Church Stretton, Craven Arms and Ludlow—this line passes some indication of how we can hold the Welsh Government to account on this matter?
It is a line that I have used many times myself, and my hon. Friend is right to say that parts of his constituency are very beautiful. We have ensured that there is an agency agreement between the UK Government and the Welsh Government, so that English passengers—and Members of this House—can go to the Secretary of State for Transport and he can raise their questions directly with the Welsh Government.
There are significant opportunities for Wales from the industrial strategy, particularly in relation to innovation, where there is a commitment to raise the total research and development spend to 2.4% of the economy. This is already benefiting Wales, with almost £6 million committed to 17 Welsh partner projects.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but will he outline how he is ensuring that research and innovation, which is a key part of the industrial strategy in Wales, is recognised across the world?
My hon. Friend is a key campaigner for the steel industry, and I draw his attention to the Swansea bay city deal and the industrial strategy, which has established a new national Steel and Metals Institute, not only offering long-term viability to the industry in Wales, but complementing his constituency’s interests.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answers so far. Does he agree that the combination of scrapping the Severn tolls and the cross-border commitment to the industrial strategy represents a significant boost for south Wales, mid-Wales and even south-west England?
My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to our commitment to scrap the Severn tolls by the end of this year, which will benefit south-west England and his constituency, as well as the south Wales economy. We are developing a new economic region and the industrial strategy commits to cross-border growth corridors. There is a great deal of excitement in south Wales and the south-west.
In view of the lack of news about a sector deal for steel—[Interruption]—coupled with looming trade disruption caused by US steel tariffs, what is the Secretary of State doing in Cabinet to press for action to get the UK—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Lady has been overwhelmed by just how popular she is. We will just have to hear the question again from start to finish.
In the light of the lack of news about a sector deal for steel, coupled with the looming trade disruption caused by US steel tariffs, what is the Secretary of State doing in Cabinet to press for action to get the UK steel sector a more sustainable future? When is the next Steel Council?
I have already referred to the national Steel and Metals Institute at Swansea University, which is important for the sustainability of the steel sector. On the US trading arrangements on steel, the UK and European exemption was extended last week, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade has travelled to the US specifically to discuss the matter. I have also raised the matter with the US ambassador here, and we are optimistic.
It is not possible to be more grateful to the Secretary of State.
At the heart of the industrial strategy is a commitment to 5G connectivity for businesses in Wales. Most businesses across Wales, including in my constituency, have little or no connectivity and slow connections. The Secretary of State has been warned by the CBI that the industrial strategy must be achievable. Is all this not just pie in the sky for businesses that are not connected at the moment?
I point to the commitment to the Swansea bay city deal and to our ambition for Cardiff to be a 5G testbed, and we are excited for the opportunities that they will bring. As for connectivity, the Welsh Government have a significant responsibility and, although they have recently committed more money, I ask them to look at their planning rules. The highest that a mast can be in Wales is 15 metres, whereas masts can go to 25 metres in England.
Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon
I have regular discussions with Ministers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on energy matters pertaining to Wales, including the potential role that tidal could play in our energy mix. As I have said previously, it is an untried technology, so it is quite right that we take time to consider both the opportunities and challenges that it presents.
Will the Secretary of State now make a statement on the timetable for a decision on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon? Has he asked his colleagues in BEIS to commit to such a timetable?
I have regular discussions with my colleagues in BEIS and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the project. We would like it to go forward, but it must provide value for money, so it is right that we take time to consider the matter. Data has been shared with the Welsh Government, demonstrating the partnership approach that we are determined to take, but no one should want the project to go ahead if it does not represent good value for money for the taxpayer.
Leaving the EU: Welsh Economy
The agreement reached between the UK Government and the Welsh Government on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will ensure that we exit from the EU with the certainty and continuity that businesses and communities across Wales have called for.
Will the Minister reassure the House, and businesses across Wales, by confirming that arrangements will be put in place to ensure that new trade deals negotiated after we leave the European Union do not undermine devolved policies?
I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman is looking at the opportunities that leaving the European Union provides. Obviously, exports from Wales to the rest of the world are expanding at a much quicker rate than exports to the European Union, which demonstrates that businesses are already looking to those new opportunities, and more Members are looking to those opportunities as we have them.
My constituent Damian Harris owns a cycle shop in Cardiff North but is struggling because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit. Twenty-nine of the 30 bikes he stocks come from the EU and, at the very least, he needs a customs union to have any sort of viable future. We are now hearing that 60 Tory MPs are plotting to sink their own Government to force the Prime Minister to abandon any form of customs arrangement. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will work with the Welsh Government and speak up against that decision? A low-skilled workforce and—
Order. We are grateful for the hon. Lady’s thoughts but, unfortunately, one has to take account of the situation in the Chamber. The question needed to be a bit shorter.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is absolutely clear that we will be leaving the customs union but, of course, we are keen to negotiate to allow for the most frictionless trade possible with the European Union. We are also keen to take the new opportunities that leaving the European Union provides. We are keen to strike trade agreements right around the world, and to strike free trade agreements in due course.
My right hon. Friend will know that Labour’s economic development spokesman in the Welsh Government, Ken Skates, has spoken of the fact that Wales is receiving record amounts of inward investment. He said that Wales is “punching above its weight” at the moment. Is it not time that Labour Members started to listen to their own economic development Minister in Wales and stopped talking down the Welsh economy, which is booming under this Government?
Having met international investors from Japan, Qatar, the US and elsewhere over recent months, I am excited and optimistic about our prospects outside the European Union. Yesterday it was a privilege to be part of the inaugural flight from Qatar to Cardiff, which demonstrates that the industrial strategy, and the wider approach taken by the UK Government in seeking new markets, is already working.
Continuing the success of the “Wales reducing reoffending strategy”, the Prison Service in Wales, working with the Welsh Government, recently launched a joint framework to support those at risk of offending in Wales by focusing on early intervention to reduce the number of people entering the criminal justice system.
Does my hon. Friend agree it is vital that prison governors prepare offenders for life outside prison? For that purpose, will he therefore draw on the lessons from the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which has already been implemented in England?
My hon. Friend knows more about the Homelessness Reduction Act than anyone, and I congratulate him on the hard work he did to introduce the Act. He will be pleased to hear that the Ministry of Justice recently reached its target early to recruit 2,500 additional prison officers so that prisons can start to introduce a key worker model. This new model will mean prisoners have a dedicated officer to help them access services, many of which are devolved in Wales.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know that Members across the whole House will wish to join me in offering our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Michael Martin, latterly Lord Martin of Springburn, who died earlier this week. He served as Speaker for nearly nine years, and I am sure Members will remember his sense of public service, his commitment to his constituency in Glasgow and his good humour. I particularly remember him for the courtesy he always showed me.
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.
Upskirting is the vile practice of taking a photo under a woman’s skirt without her consent. It is neither a specific nor a sexual offence under the current law in England and Wales. I have been working closely with Gina Martin, who has been campaigning for months to change that, and her lawyer to produce a private Member’s Bill to make upskirting a specific crime under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. They have both joined us here today.
Does the Prime Minister agree with us that the law in England and Wales should be reformed so that, in all circumstances, women like Gina and, indeed, the Prime Minister herself will be protected from upskirt images being taken without their consent?
May I first say to the hon. Lady that I share the outrage at this intrusive behaviour that she has referred to and the distress it can cause to victims? We are determined to ensure that victims do have confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously. It is possible currently to bring prosecutions, but my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is examining the state of the law at the moment to make sure it is fit for purpose and, as part of that work, he is considering her Bill in detail.
We absolutely share my hon. Friend’s concern about ensuring that we are supporting local communities, and that we are delivering better infrastructure in those communities and maximising the potential of our country. The housing infrastructure fund is an important part of that. We need to build more homes across this country, but we also need to ensure that the infrastructure is there to support those homes and help those local communities. That is exactly what we are doing.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Michael Martin, the former Labour MP for Glasgow, Springburn and later Speaker of the House. He worked in the engineering industry in Glasgow and was active in the then Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. He and I first met when we were fellow organisers in the National Union of Public Employees in the 1970s, campaigning for decent public sector pay and a national minimum wage. Michael loved the community he represented and loved his family, and our deepest thoughts and sympathies go to his family at this time.
Did the Prime Minister feel the slightest pang of guilt when the Home Secretary was forced to resign due to the failures of her predecessor?
I think it might be helpful if I first update the House on the actions the Government have taken and are continuing to take in relation to the Windrush generation. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be addressing the House on this later today. We all share the ambition to make sure we do right by members of the Windrush generation, which is why he will be announcing a package of measures to bring transparency on the issue, to make sure that the House is informed, and to reassure Members of this House but, more importantly, to reassure those people who have been directly affected. Speed is of the essence and my right hon. Friend will be commissioning a full review of lessons learned, independent oversight and external challenge, with the intention of reporting back to this House before we rise for the summer. The review will have full access to all relevant information in the Home Office, including policy papers and casework decisions.
This was a crisis made in the Home Office by successive Home Secretaries. Only a week ago today, the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), then Home Secretary, was denying there were any targets, in front of the Home Affairs Committee. On Monday, the Prime Minister told the media:
“When I was Home Secretary, yes, there were targets”.
One wonders why the Prime Minister didn’t tell her Home Secretary about that. The pain that has been caused to the Windrush generation needs to be resolved very rapidly, with full compensation paid as quickly as it can possibly be done and an understanding of the hurt that they feel. But this is not the only failure of this Government or of their policies. The Government used to talk about a “long-term economic plan”, but now we have the slowest growing economy in the G7. The Chancellor, sitting two places along from the Prime Minister, told the House that he had a “positively Tiggerish” view of the British economy, yet it has the worst economic growth figures for five years. What plans do the Government have to change course to ensure we do get economic growth?
First, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman, on the Windrush generation, I was Home Secretary when some of these decisions were taken and mistakes were made about individual cases, and I have apologised for that. The former Home Secretary also apologised for that. The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that these are decisions that have been taken under successive Home Secretaries, including under the last Labour Government, and if he wants to talk about the economy, let’s just look at what we have seen in our economy in recent weeks: day-to-day spending in surplus for the first time in 16 years; the lowest net borrowing in over a decade; exports of goods and services at a record high; employment at a record high; and real wages up. That is a Conservative Government delivering an economy fit for the future.
Four facts about the economy: more people in debt, more people using food banks, more people sleeping on our streets, and more children in poverty. The consequences of decisions made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are that the NHS is suffering the longest funding squeeze in history. It has sent our health service into an all-year-round crisis. Will the Prime Minister apologise to NHS patients waiting longer than ever for the worst A&E waiting times on record?
I gave the right hon. Gentleman some facts about the economy; I can give him some others: more people in work, and actually fewer children in absolute poverty under this Government. When it comes to the national health service, since November my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced £10 billion extra for the national health service. I have also said that we want to ensure that the national health service is able to operate on a long-term plan. That is why we are conducting a review to produce that long-term plan, with sustainable multi-year funding. That is the sensible approach to take—not just to say that this is all about money, but to say, “How can we ensure that the NHS is the NHS that will deliver for people in the future?” That is about funding. It is also about reforming the NHS to make sure that patients get the right treatment.
Not only was March the worst month on record in A&E departments; it was also the worst month for cancelled operations. There are 100,000 vacancies for NHS staff—and the Prime Minister personally intervened to overrule the Health Secretary and the previous Home Secretary when they asked for a relaxation of visa rules in order to recruit staff to work in our NHS.
But it is not just the NHS where the Government are damaging our public services. In January, the Education Secretary promised that no school would see a cut in its funding. Last week, he was invited to repeat that pledge, and refused. I wonder why. Will the Prime Minister now tell parents, teachers and students the truth—that the schools budget is in fact being cut in real terms all over the country?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. What we are doing is ensuring that there is more money available to schools. We are ensuring that we are protecting that core budget, because we want to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, gets the education that they need and the education that fulfils their potential. That is why, once again, it is not just a question of the money you put in; it is about how you spend the money you are spending. That is why I am pleased to say that 1.9 million more children are in good or outstanding schools under this Government and education standards are going up under this Government. That means more opportunities for our young people.
It is quite astonishing that the Education Secretary has been corrected by the UK Statistics Authority. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that schools budgets are being cut, and the Prime Minister still appears to be in denial. It is not just in the NHS and education that this Government are damaging our public services; it is also about police budgets. The previous Home Secretary claimed there was no link between police numbers and serious violent crime; yet Home Office civil servants said there is a link. Who does the Prime Minister think is right?
First, on crime and police budgets, we are of course this year making available £450 million more for police forces across the country. We have been protecting police budgets, which is in direct contrast to what it was suggested to me I should do by the former shadow Home Secretary and Labour Member who is now Mayor of Manchester. He suggested 5% to 10% cuts could be made in police budgets.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the relationship between police numbers and crime. His own shadow Police Minister has said in terms that there is not that relationship between police funding and the number of crimes that take place. Once again, it is about how we ensure we are dealing with these issues. It is about ensuring about that the police are able to deal with the challenges and crimes of today, and that is what we are doing with our serious violence strategy and our National Crime Agency—taking action across the board to ensure that our police are able to keep people safe.
Our shadow Police Minister was pointing out that there has been a £2.3 billion cut in police budgets in the last Parliament, and it is the Prime Minister’s Government who are underfunding our police force: 21,000 police officers have lost their jobs since 2010, and 6,700 police community support officers lost their jobs. Meantime, violent crime is rising and, sadly, there are deaths from knife crime on the streets of most cities, particularly in London.
The economy is slowing, homelessness is rising, more children are living in poverty, the Home Office is in chaos and the Government are making a complete shambles of the Brexit negotiations. They are damaging our NHS, damaging our children’s schools and cutting police as crime soars, and they claim to be “strong and stable”! With council tax rising by more than 5% all over the country, is not the truth facing voters tomorrow that with the Tories you pay more and you get less?
More funding going into the NHS, more funding going into our schools, more funding going into social care, but if the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about council tax and its impact on local residents, I suggest he go to Hazelbourne Road in Clapham. On one side of the road in a typical home someone will pay nearly £1,400 in council tax. Now that, of course, is in Labour-run Lambeth. On the other side of the road, someone in a typical home will pay just over £700 in council tax. That is in Conservative-run Wandsworth. No clearer example can there be that Conservative councils cost you less.
I am tempted—[Interruption.]
Order. I do not think we are in any danger of not hearing the question, but we must hear the answer.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we will be leaving the European Union. I am tempted to say to his request, how can I refuse?
A young mother in Coatbridge; a grandmother who has lived here for 50 years; a former cook in this Parliament—just three examples of people who have been wrongly told to leave the United Kingdom. Then there are numerous people wrongly detained or deported, lives turned upside down and irreparable damage to families. The Prime Minister said in this Chamber on 22 October 2013,
“deport first and hear appeals later.”—[Official Report, 22 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 158.]
Will she now withdraw those remarks?
The right hon. Gentleman is referring to changes to the legislation that later became the Immigration Act 2014. He is right; and I have apologised not just for the anxiety that has been caused to people in the Windrush generation, but to those who have found that the wrong decisions have been taken about their situation. The Windrush generation are British and they are part of us, which is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is making sure that the taskforce that has been put in place is dealing with cases expeditiously and is giving people reassurance about their status here. We need to ensure that we are a welcoming country for people who want to come here and contribute, but that we take action against those who are here illegally, who break the rules and try to play the system.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister failed to remove these insulting remarks. It is easy for her to change her Secretary of State—she does it frequently —but she needs to change her policies. An estimated 120,000 undocumented children are currently entitled to UK citizenship by law, but only if they register at the cost of £1,000. This is a new Windrush generation, who will be unable to secure jobs and rent properties. These children, who are entitled to citizenship, should not be charged to exercise their rights. How can she possibly justify these policies?
Members of the public want to ensure that we have a fair immigration system and that we have rules that people abide by, and that is why we make a very clear distinction. I want people who come here legally, who do the right thing and contribute to our society, to feel that this is one of the most welcoming countries in the world. On the other side, we need to ensure that we have a system that deals with those who break the rules, play the system and try to jump ahead of others. That is what people expect from us. They want us to have a system that is fair and sets out rules, and for us to ensure that people are abiding by those rules.
We very much value the work done by the explosive ordnance disposal units of 33 and 101 Engineer Regiments. The veterans strategy recently launched by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is groundbreaking. There will be a Government taskforce from Departments across the whole of Whitehall that will focus on exactly the sorts of issues that my hon. Friend raised. It will be assessing how we can help veterans to meet the financial demands of civilian life, crucially ensuring that mental and physical wellbeing is maximised and offering the best possible advice to veterans on housing. These are key issues for veterans and they are exactly what we will be focusing on in the strategy.
We have been rolling out universal credit at a pace that ensures we have been able to hear from those who have been affected by it and to make changes—and changes have been made in the way that universal credit is introduced in this country. We have ensured that we have reduced the seven days’ waiting time, for example. But what lies behind universal credit is the belief that the important thing to help to sustain families is to get people into work. The evidence on universal credit is that it is doing just that: it is helping people into work. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman should welcome a policy that helps people to get into the workplace.
First of all, I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the return of commercial flights to Carlisle airport, which will allow more people to access the borderlands region. He talks about support for the borderlands. Of course, the borderlands growth deal that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor committed to is an important part of that. I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent appointment as borderlands growth deal champion. I am sure that he will be doing all he can to ensure that that Government support is there and that the borderlands continue to thrive.
We have been very clear that we will not see a border down the Irish sea. We have been clear about that in the joint report that was issued by us and the European Commission and adopted by the European Council in December. When the European Commission made a proposal for dealing with the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland that would have meant a border down the Irish sea, I was clear that neither I nor any British Prime Minister could accept that.
I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance that he is asking for. He is right that we are supporting the NHS in Boston and Skegness. Any decision taken by the trust about the services available will of course be made to ensure that the provision of services is safe for patients. The trust is continuing to try to recruit paediatricians to support the service. It wants to continue to provide paediatric services at Boston, and every effort will be made to ensure that that can continue.
The hon. and learned Lady might have listened to the answer that I gave earlier in Prime Minister’s Question Time. She might also have listened to the answers that I gave last week, and I was very clear in my apology to those of the Windrush generation who have been caught up in this issue. She talks about what has happened here. What has happened is that people who are here legally and who are British have found themselves caught up in this, and as I said, I apologise for that. What has also happened is that over the years, Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments have successively been taking action to deal with illegal immigrants, which is a different issue. This is an issue that has been dealt with by Governments of all colours.
May I take this opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) on his appointment to the Home Office, which is such an important Department in terms of not only security but ensuring we have a safe and fair immigration policy? The UK threat level remains at severe. Last year we had five terrorist attacks that got through, and 36 innocent people were killed. May I invite the Prime Minister to share our admiration for the extraordinary work and bravery of our counter-terrorism police, our emergency services and our security services, for which I know we are all grateful?
First, I am pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and the work she did as Home Secretary. She did valuable work across all elements of the Home Office, including on issues like modern slavery and domestic violence. The work that she did with the internet companies to keep people safe on the internet was groundbreaking. I share her support and admiration for the work that all in our emergency services, our police, our counter-terrorism police and our security and intelligence agencies do to keep us safe, and I commend her for the work she did following the terrorist attacks last year to set in train action to ensure that we continue to give those services the support they need to continue to keep us safe.
What my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said was that he absolutely shares the need to differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants. He also said that there was a certain phrase he was not going to use—a phrase that was first used by Labour Ministers in government. Across Government, we are clear that we are working hard to support and help those of the Windrush generation who have been caught up in this issue recently and across time, but we are also ensuring that we have a fair immigration policy which ensures that people who break the rules, play the system and try to jump ahead of others are not able to carry on being here in this country in the same way as those who play by the rules, are hard-working taxpayers and contribute to our society. That is only fair.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is only under the Conservatives that you get decision and vision? That is why Maidstone Borough Council needs to turn blue on 3 May.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If those who are taking part in council elections tomorrow and making those decisions look up and down the country, they will see that it is Conservative councils that support local communities, provide good local services and keep council tax low. The message is very clear: if that is what you want, vote Conservative tomorrow.
We are very clear that we are going to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. We will be leaving the customs union, and we want to ensure that we can have an independent trade policy. We also want to ensure that we deliver—we are committed to delivering—on our commitment to having no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that we have as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union. There are a number of ways in which that can be delivered—[Interruption.] There are a number of ways in which that can be delivered, and if the hon. Lady is so interested in the whole question of a customs border, she might like to ask her Front Benchers to come to a decision on what the Labour party policy actually is on this.
The European Scrutiny Committee, which I have the honour to chair, has invited Mr Olly Robbins to appear before the Committee on several occasions since February, but so far this has not been arranged. Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to use her charm to ensure that Mr Robbins does appear, as have already the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Sir Tim Barrow?
As my hon. Friend will know, it is not normally the case that any request to a civil servant to appear before a Committee is automatically accepted; decisions are taken about the levels at which civil servants should appear before Committees. As he said, he has had a number of my right hon. Friends appear before his Committee—I remember, I am not sure I can say with fond memory, the time when I appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee when I was Home Secretary—but I will certainly look at the request that he has made.
It was precisely to identify this sort of disparity in public services that I launched the race disparity audit when I became Prime Minister. In some areas that does make for uncomfortable reading for our society, but it is absolutely right that we have done it and it is absolutely right that we then address the issues that it has raised.
The hon. Lady talks about the interaction of people with mental health problems and the police. This is not something that I waited to do something about until the race disparity audit; I did something about it when I was Home Secretary. We have significantly reduced the number of people with mental health problems who are being taken to a cell in a police station as a place of refuge, and we have ensured that there is health support available for the police. As a result, people who are in a mental health crisis are getting better treatment than they did previously. There is more to do, but we have already started to take action.
The hopes of the 464 survivors of thalidomide in the United Kingdom, the Thalidomide Trust and the all-party group on thalidomide, which I chair, were significantly depressed at the weekend when we saw the media coverage, particularly in The Sunday Times, suggesting that the German Government are seeking to resile from their verbal pledge to make good the promise to compensate the UK survivors whose mothers were prescribed and took the German-manufactured drug thalidomide. Their lives are shortening, and they need support. Will my right hon. Friend use her good offices to augment the work of the Foreign Office in making the case for UK thalidomide survivors to the German Government so that they can finally get the justice they have for too long been denied?
I fully recognise why the survivors of thalidomide were so concerned at the reports that they saw because, although back in 2012 the Department of Health announced an £80 million grant for thalidomide survivors, they of course have been able and are able to apply to the German Contergan Foundation for Disabled Persons for funds. In relation to the particular point my hon. Friend has raised, I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas met representatives of the Thalidomide Trust towards the end of last year to discuss this. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is remaining in contact with the trust, and it is pursuing its discussions with the German Government on this point.
The hon. Lady sets out what is obviously a very sad and tragic case in relation to her constituent. I am happy to look at the background of what led to that particular outcome. We all want to make sure that patients are able to be treated in the NHS when they need that treatment, and get the appropriate treatment. That is why we have been putting extra money into the NHS, but, as I say, it is a very sad case that she has outlined, and I am happy to look at the details of it.
As voters go to the polls tomorrow, could the Prime Minister confirm that a green future is at the heart of our local government policies? Would she agree to meet me and others to look at our aspiration for the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty to become a national park so that we can increase the opportunities afforded for open-air recreation on London’s doorstep?
We are protecting our natural environment. We want to leave a cleaner, greener Britain for our children. That is not just something that Conservatives in national Government want to do; it is what Conservatives in local government want to do as well. That is why we launched our 25-year environment plan. I know the beauty of the Chilterns; I enjoy walking in the Chilterns, and I am happy to meet my right hon. Friend and others to discuss her proposal.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been very clear that the blanket 1% cap that has taken place over recent years on public sector pay is not an approach that we are taking in the future. Obviously, Departments are funded at a certain level, and it is for Departments then to come forward with their proposals in relation to pay within their Department.
Today, council tax, on average, costs less in real terms than it did in 2010. Under 13 years of Labour in government, council tax doubled. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the council tax referendum principles that this Government have put in place have been a resounding success?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the facts that he has set out in relation to council tax. That is a result of decisions that have been taken by the Government to have that council tax referendum in place and of Conservative councils actually making decisions to freeze or to lower council tax, or to ensure that it is kept lower than in Labour councils. Conservative councils, on average, cost a typical family £100 less in council tax than councils run by other parties. That is important, and the Government have played their part with the council tax referendum.
The hon. Gentleman has raised an issue I have not seen the details of, but I will ensure that my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions look at the issue he has raised.
This afternoon, the Treasury Committee will take evidence from TSB about the recent IT failures, which have left thousands of customers unable to access their accounts and unable to pay their bills, with some very severe consequences. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a robust and reliable banking IT infrastructure is essential in the modern economy? These failures are unfair to businesses that cannot pay in their takings, they are unfair to vulnerable customers, and they are particularly unfair when many banks are still closing branches.
I agree that a robust, safe and reliable IT system is essential to underpinning today’s world of modern banking. I am sure that my right hon. Friend and the Treasury Committee will ensure, through the evidence they take, that they get to the bottom of what happened in TSB.
Last Saturday night, an 83-year-old woman had a fall at home and was bleeding from a head wound. She waited for an ambulance for nearly three hours. Will the Prime Minister apologise to my constituent and promise the rest of the country that no one else’s elderly mum will suffer like that?
If the hon. Lady would like to provide more expansive details, I know the Secretary of State for Health will look very closely into the case that she identifies. I am sorry to hear of the circumstances of her constituent, but we will look into the case.
Last night at 9.08 pm, two men were shot outside Queensbury station on the edge of my constituency. One is dead and the other is in a critical condition. Queensbury station is an important transport hub for the people of Harrow East and Brent North. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the police for their prompt action in securing the area and for the messages of reassurance they are giving to the community today? Will she also take every necessary step to remove guns and knives from society to prevent reoccurrence?
I recognise the importance that is attached to Queensbury station, and I join my hon. Friend in commending the actions of the police and emergency services in response to this and other such incidents. He is right on the importance of dealing with offensive weapons, which is why we announced, under my right hon. Friend the previous Home Secretary and taken forward by the current Home Secretary, plans to introduce an offensive weapons Bill. It is why we launched the serious violence strategy and the serious violence taskforce, which brings Ministers and representatives from across this House together with police and others to deal with this issue. It has met for the first time and it will continue to meet to address this important issue.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Order. Points of order come after statements, as I think the hon. Gentleman knows. He has been in the House for quite a while now. We look forward to hearing from him later.