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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
15 May 2019
Volume 660

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked—

Policing

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1. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of changes to the policing budget since 2015 on the operational effectiveness of Welsh police forces. [910816]

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2. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of changes to the policing budget since 2015 on the operational effectiveness of Welsh police forces. [910817]

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We have been clear that ensuring that the police have the right resources and powers is a Government priority, which is why we are providing more than £1 billion of additional funding to the police in 2019-20, including precept, and additional funding for serious violence. Funding to the Welsh forces will increase by more than £43 million in 2019-20 compared with 2018-19.

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I welcome the Minister to his place, but I wish he would not just regurgitate Tory twaddle. When the National Audit Office makes it clear that central Government funding to police has fallen by 30% in real terms since 2010-11, and when the cross-party Home Affairs Committee makes it clear that the funding structure is not fit for purpose, can we have some action? Can we have some standing up for Wales instead of the vacuous nonsense we get from this Tory Government?

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It has to be said that anyone who wants to hear vacuous nonsense can just listen to those sort of attacks in the Chamber. Let us be clear: in 2015-16, the combined budget for North Wales police was £139.8 million; in 2019-20, it will be £115.8 million. That shows the increase in funding that is going on. Three out of the four forces in Wales are rated good for effectiveness, which is the subject of the main question.

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South Wales police are dealing with nearly 50% of all crimes reported in Wales in an environment of increased domestic violence, knife crime, serious crime and terrorism. Meanwhile, they face a greatly reduced budget and the loss of nearly 1,000 staff. South Wales police are doing a good job; when will the Government give them the resources and the support they need?

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The Government recognise the pressures, for example, in the recent announcement of additional knife crime funding, South Wales police will receive £1.2 million. In 2015-16, South Wales police had a budget of £255.1 million; in 2019-20, its budget will be £290.3 million.

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Will the Minister join me in commending Welsh police officers for some of their recent successes in bearing down on county lines drug operations, which increasingly target rural areas? We welcome the additional money that was announced last week for South Wales police, but does the Minister agree that all police forces in Wales, including my own force, Dyfed-Powys police, deserve extra resources to tackle this evil trade?

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My right hon. Friend perfectly highlights the fact that crime does not stop at political borders. Criminals and gangs in England target victims in north Wales, south Wales and in his constituency. It is a priority and there has been a focus on tackling county lines. That shows the importance of working together across political boundaries to tackle a crime that all our constituents are concerned about.

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Dyfed-Powys police and Gwent police work closely with West Mercia police on county lines issues, drug running and child trafficking. What is the Government’s view of the comments of Lynne Owens, director general of the National Crime Agency, that more funding is required for county lines issues?

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I praise West Mercia police for their work to help tackle cross-border crime, particularly around county lines. The Government will always look to provide the powers and resources that the police need to tackle that, but it is also vital that we have joined-up working. It is also right that, as was touched on in the comments, we look to tackle the kingpins of those organisations, not just the street dealers, who we can see most easily.

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If Welsh policing was devolved as is the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland, there would be a £20 million windfall for Welsh policing. Does it not show how bad the England and Wales grant system is that we were better off under the Barnett formula? Is it not time that the British Government dropped their ideological obsession against devolving policing to Wales?

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I do not recognise the figures that have just been used. As we touched on in answers to two previous questions, crime does not stop at political boundaries. Criminal gangs in the north-west of England target victims in north Wales as much as victims within England. The real political obsession is that of Plaid, which wants to determine things on political boundaries, not on how communities and criminals work.

EU Withdrawal: Welsh Economy

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3. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on the Welsh economy of the proposed withdrawal agreement with the EU. [910818]

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The withdrawal agreement means we can leave the European Union with a deal that honours the referendum result, protects our economy and security and safeguards our Union. The best outcome for Wales and the Welsh economy is for the UK to leave the European Union in a smooth and orderly way.

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What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of non-tariff barriers? They would result in customs procedures and technical barriers to trade, meaning delays and costs that would be particularly damaging to the Welsh economy.

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that further underlines why the deal we have negotiated with the European Union will work in the interests of Welsh manufacturers, Welsh agriculture and other sectors across the whole UK. The political declaration says “as frictionless as possible,” which is the objective we want to achieve.

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The economy of Montgomeryshire is very dependent on the sheepmeat industry. Does the Secretary of State accept that retaining tariff-free access to the EU market is crucial to the future of all of rural Wales where sheepmeat is important? Will he do everything he can, alongside me and many others, to ensure that the withdrawal agreement is passed when it returns to the House?

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My hon. Friend speaks with great authority and expertise, and he has been an extremely strong advocate for rural Wales in all the roles he has conducted, be it on the Development Board for Rural Wales, as an Assembly Member or, now, as a Member of Parliament. He is right about the withdrawal agreement and the support it has received both from the Welsh farming unions and from farmers directly because it will give them access to the European market and will allow them the freedoms that being an independent trading nation delivers, as well as stopping freedom of movement.

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Some 12,000 jobs in the Welsh economy rely on steel. Given the crisis in this sector, how will the right hon. Gentleman work with the Business Secretary to get the steel sector deal over the line?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important point. I spoke to a director of Tata earlier this week and, along with a Minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I will be meeting him next week. This is an important sector of the economy, not only for south Wales but for north Wales and the rest of the UK. The sector is of strategic importance, and we are determined to work to secure a steel sector deal that offers a long-term future.

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Given that the Wales Office has no exclusive responsibility for any of the 300-odd work streams associated with Brexit and that we have had 20 years of devolution under a Welsh Government who have legislative and taxation powers, can the Secretary of State give the House a necessarily brief definition of his role and function?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question. Of course the cross-Government responsibilities in which the Wales Office is active and interested go far and wide. I happily point to the crossings and the Severn toll as one example. Wales is also the only part of the UK to have a city and growth deal in every area.

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer but, just for starters: electrification of the railway west of Cardiff, abandoned; electrification of the north Wales line, a pipe dream; the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, cancelled; the post-Brexit shared prosperity fund, handed to an England-only Department; and, as I said, the Wales Office has no exclusive Brexit responsibilities. Is not his function just to nod through Conservative policies, whatever the cost to Wales?

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The hon. Gentleman should be practical and realistic in what he calls for. He will be fully aware that electrification of the railway to Swansea offers no tangible benefits to passengers. He will also be aware that the Public Accounts Committee called for re-analysis of each section of the electrification, and it was on that basis that we came to the same outcome by delivering the most modern trains, which happen to be hybrid. Is he seeking to support a tidal lagoon that would be three times the cost of an alternative green provider?

Industrial Strategy

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4. What discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) Welsh Government Ministers on the effect of the industrial strategy on the Welsh economy. [910819]

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9. What discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) Welsh Government Ministers on the effect of the industrial strategy on the Welsh economy. [910825]

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I have been working closely both with Cabinet colleagues and with the Welsh Government to ensure that Wales benefits from the industrial strategy. We have already delivered a number of projects in Wales, with Wales receiving £90 million from the industrial strategy challenge fund.

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What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to ensure that the north Wales growth deal actually happens, that the Heathrow logistics hub goes to Shotton and that more Welsh small and medium-sized enterprises work with our defence companies, such as Raytheon? He needs to get a grip on his Department—we have had more junior Wales Ministers than you could wave a stick at.

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There have been countless engagements with local authority leaders across north Wales, and the growth deal is an important project. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, at the last Budget, we committed to funding for that scheme. It is a great example of where the Welsh Government, the UK Government and local authorities are working together. We are optimistic about signing and supporting a number of projects in the near future, but this is of course locally driven, and we are responsive to the demands and the drive of local authorities.

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The Secretary of State will be aware of the negative impact that proposed factory closures and the suspension of major projects has had on my constituency and on north-west Wales. Unemployment is already rising in my constituency, so we need an action plan. What positive steps can the industrial strategy put in place now, and what is the role of the Wales Office in delivering that action plan?

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The hon. Gentleman points to unemployment data, but I would also point to employment rates. Identifying individual months will clearly offer one picture, but I think he would recognise the record numbers of people in work and the trend in falling unemployment, irrespective of what happened last month.

On the industrial strategy, I would point to the thermal hydraulics facility in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which will be world leading. That is just one tangible example, in addition to the active investments we are pursuing elsewhere in the marine environment.

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Will my right hon. Friend update the House on any progress that has been made on the mid Wales growth deal?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the excellent work he is doing in supporting the mid Wales growth deal. The leader of Powys council was in Westminster last week, and I know she has met my hon. Friend. They have been key in co-ordinating and driving some of the themes that are developing from the deal. It is an exciting prospect, and they are working with Ceredigion council and the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), who has shown similar enthusiasm.

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A number of my constituents have set up companies in Cheshire that actually operate in Wales. What research and development grants have there been that benefit companies operating in Wales?

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My hon. Friend raises an important question. I highlighted earlier the £90 million from the strength in places fund that had been made available to the UK’s industrial strategy, making Wales fourth in the UK for the value of grants it receives. That works, absolutely as my hon. Friend highlights, on a cross-border basis, and the industrial strategy deliberately talks about cross-border growth corridors.

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12. Steel is of course the foundation of any successful industrial strategy, so can the Secretary of State explain what he has done to offset the lost opportunities for Welsh steel producers such as Celsa in my constituency as a result of the loss of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon and the electrification to Swansea? What projects has he actually secured to provide procurement opportunities to Welsh steel producers? [910828]

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The hon. Gentleman points to prospects that the tidal lagoon may have provided, but when we analyse the data, it shows that demand from the tidal lagoon would lead to less than a month’s output of steel, so I would suggest that he really look closely at the numbers. Was he advocating supporting a project that is three times more expensive than an alternative? The steel producers in his constituency would be extremely excited to get the go-ahead for the M4 relief road around Wales. The money is available and the planning recommendations are in favour—all we need is a decision from the Welsh Government.

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The UK steel industry is undoubtedly a key part of the industrial strategy, but what benefit will the strategy bring specifically for Welsh steel making, which is important for my constituency, given that coil from Port Talbot is fundamental to tube production?

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My hon. Friend is a strong champion of the steel industry. He recognises how the investments in his constituency will also be important to the investments taking place in south Wales. There has been renewal of the blast furnaces in south Wales, and we are working hard to secure a steel sector deal. Those things will support the industry in north Wales and south Wales, as well as in Corby and elsewhere across the UK.

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Wales is ideally placed to develop pioneering renewable energy projects, especially in wave, tidal and hydro, and that could make an invaluable contribution to achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Will the Secretary of State assure us that Wales will receive sufficient support from the industrial strategy, and in particular the £2.5 billion clean growth fund, to realise its potential, and that Wales will not be left to rue missed opportunities yet again?

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I have already pointed out that Wales is fourth out of any UK nation or region in terms of being successful in gaining grants from the industrial strategy challenge fund. Swansea University’s project for the active home is world-leading, using the latest materials to develop energy-positive properties, and just down the road from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is Pembroke Dock marina. These are exciting areas of policy from which his constituency can develop and take opportunities.

Shared Prosperity Fund

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5. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the design of the UK shared prosperity fund. [910820]

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11. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the design of the UK shared prosperity fund. [910827]

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14. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the design of the UK shared prosperity fund. [910830]

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I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government on a range of issues, including the UK shared prosperity fund. Officials have also already held useful preliminary discussions with their Welsh Government counterparts, and they will of course continue.

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A lot of people in Wales are worried that the shared prosperity fund is just a sneaky Tory plot to steal back a measure of devolution and cut our funds again. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that that is not true? Will he start by telling us whether we will get £370 million in the first year of the shared prosperity fund?

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Ensuring that all parts of Wales benefit from the UK shared prosperity fund is central to our approach. I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees with stakeholders throughout Wales, be they from businesses or local authorities, that there is a better way to deliver regional support than following the current model, which comes from the European Union. The hon. Gentleman seeks to tempt me to pre-empt the comprehensive spending review, which will of course talk about the quantum of the sum available.

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The Secretary of State will be well aware that the £1.3 billion a year from EU structural funds is vital to economies such as those in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the north of England. There is no clarity about what the replacement, the shared prosperity fund, is going to look like, and there has been no consultation whatsoever. Why has there been such a delay in the consultation, which was meant to happen last year?

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Similarly, I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there is a better way of delivering regional support. Wales has received £4 billion over 17 years. We will consult shortly, but even ahead of that formal consultation lots of preliminary work is ongoing. For example, the Welsh Government and the UK Government were recently at St Asaph, where the Welsh Government jointly presented. That demonstrates the joint work that is taking place.

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The Government are talking about awarding the money in Wales on the basis of a competition between different local authorities and areas. Can the Secretary of State quash that rumour? All the money will inevitably end up going to middle-class areas rather than to the areas of greatest need, such as the Rhondda. What is wrong with the fundamental principle of “From each according to his or her ability, to each according to his or her need”?

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The hon. Gentleman is pre-empting the consultation. We will of course work with local authorities, and there are different views among local authorities throughout Wales on how we deliver the UK shared prosperity fund. The hon. Gentleman’s local authority will have some frustrations as well as some successes in relation to the current European structural funds model, on which we have an opportunity to improve.

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Will the Secretary of State confirm that the UK shared prosperity fund will mean that Wales will not lose a penny as a result of leaving the European Union? Will he also confirm that the funding could be used for projects such as the much needed Chepstow bypass?

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The Chepstow bypass is of course a joint responsibility, but there is no doubt that my hon. Friend has campaigned vociferously for it for some time. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales visited the area within days of becoming a Minister, to work with my hon. Friend. I am determined to do everything necessary to ensure that we can deliver on that, but of course we need the Welsh Government to act as well and highlight it as one of their priorities.

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The shared prosperity fund represents a huge opportunity for north Wales. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in designing the fund he will liaise closely with north Wales local authorities, and that he will urge his colleagues in the Treasury to avoid the temptation of simply passing it down to the black hole in Cardiff?

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My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. We are of course already liaising with stakeholders in Wales, and with local authorities in particular. There is a range of views among local authorities on how we should deliver the UK shared prosperity fund. I do not want to pre-empt the consultation, and we will of course consider all the relevant matters. My right hon. Friend and I will want to deliver a scheme that serves all parts of Wales. That is central to our policy to ensure that every part equally can win some investment.

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Much to do and very little time in which to do it.

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May I welcome the new Minister, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), to his place and inquire whether he is on a temporary or permanent contract?

Our manifesto for the European elections states:

“Under Labour, no region or nation would lose out on funding, and power over decisions affecting investment will be taken in Scotland, Wales and in English regions.”

Will the Secretary of State tell us what his party’s European election manifesto says about EU funding in Wales post Brexit?

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I do not need to read any manifesto because I can repeat what I and the Chancellor have said previously. We have already committed to fund any project that has been agreed before our departure from the European Union, even when the funding date falls beyond that point.

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I am still not sure whether the Secretary of State has a manifesto. If he has one, it is incredibly well hidden. I could not find it. It is as well hidden as the UK shared prosperity consultation, which should have started before Christmas—where is it? Will he commit here and now to the principle of not a penny less, not a power lost for the people of Wales, and will he do his job for once and stand up for the people of Wales?

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I will ensure that Wales receives its fair share. Let me point to the record of the hon. Lady’s party in government and my party’s record in government. As a result of the new fair funding settlement, Wales receives £120 for every £100 spent in England, far in excess of anything that her party ever did.

Devolution: Welfare

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6. What assessment the Government have made of the potential merits of devolving the administration of welfare to the Welsh Government. [910822]

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The Silk commission’s analysis in 2014 concluded that social security, including welfare, should remain non-devolved. This recommendation had cross-party support when it was considered under the St David’s Day process.

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Does not the experience in Scotland, where even a limited devolution of social security powers has allowed the Scottish Government to mitigate the worst excesses of Tory austerity and reduce rates of absolute child poverty, show that devolution works, and is it not time to allow the Welsh Government to design a social security system that fits the character and the aspirations of the people of Wales?

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I must say that those who look at the social security system and at devolution in Scotland may draw a different picture from that being presented by our separatist colleagues. The reality is that there were a number of powers devolved in the Scotland Act 2016 that their party in Holyrood has decided not to use. I am afraid that those looking at Scotland will come to a very different conclusion from the one that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

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May I start by welcoming my hon. Friend to his place? As and when welfare powers are devolved, does he agree that it is important that we have devolved Administrations continuing to work with the Department for Work and Pensions to benefit those who most need support, rather than political posturing by those interested in breaking up the United Kingdom?

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As always, my hon. Friend is right to say that it is time that the SNP-run Government in Holyrood focused more on the job of actually governing than on trying to build constitutional grievances. Yes, it is right that the DWP continues to work with all stakeholders across our United Kingdom to ensure that we provide the support that is needed as part of our welfare system.

Pension Credit

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7. What recent assessment the Government have made of trends in the level of pension credit take-up in Wales. [910823]

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I start by welcoming the hon. Lady to her seat and to her first Wales questions. I am sure that she will be as strong an advocate for her constituents as her predecessor, who was a much valued Member of this place.

The Government are committed to ensuring economic security for people at every stage of their life, including when they reach retirement. There were more than 100,000 claimants in Wales in receipt of pension credit in August 2018.

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The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has found that £170 million of pension credit went unclaimed in 2016-17. This is a massive amount of money that could make a real difference to some of the poorest people in Wales. We know that pensioners in Wales are not taking up pension credit, but how are the Government monitoring this to note any recognisable trends, and what are they doing to ensure that pensioners in Wales receive the money that is rightfully theirs?

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I would be concerned to hear of any person not getting the support that this Parliament has voted for them to have. We are engaging with people who may be eligible for these benefits at pivotal stages, such as when they claim state pension or report a change in their circumstances. We are also looking to work with stakeholders such as Independent Age and Age UK to discuss pension credit take-up across Great Britain. I encourage Members of Parliament to play a role in their constituencies.

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Some 120,000 pensioners in Wales live in poverty. Today the Government have worsened their financial position with changes to pension credit for mixed-age couples, which will leave some married pensioners worse off by up to £7,000 a year. Will the Secretary of State meet the shadow Wales team, Citizens Advice Wales and pensioner organisations to listen to the just concerns and grievances of elderly citizens who have paid into the system their entire lives and now feel betrayed and left behind by this Government?

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I suppose it is somewhat apt that a question on mixed-age couples comes to me—for those who know my own background. This is about balancing fairness between the taxpayers who pay for the pension system and welfare system, and those who need to benefit from it, and we do not believe that this change is unfair. However, we do need to ensure that those who are entitled to pension credit take it up and receive it. I am always happy to meet people to discuss how we can do that.

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rose—

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Oh, very well—Mr Ian C. Lucas.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

How many pensioners in Wales will lose out as a result of the Tory Government’s hospital pass to the BBC to take away pensioners’ TV licences?

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The BBC has a strong and good settlement that it actually agreed. When it was last agreed, that settlement included the responsibility for this benefit.

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Colleagues, today Ms Gladys Kokorwe, the Speaker of the Botswanan Parliament, is visiting the House. Indeed, she is with us for the rest of the week, accompanied by a team of colleagues. Madam Speaker, we warmly welcome you to our Parliament; we value our relations with you and your country.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

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Q1. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 15 May. [910901]

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May I start by thanking the Mental Health Foundation for organising this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week? Having good mental health is vital to us all, which is why we are investing record levels in mental health. We want to ensure that people receive treatment and care when they need it.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I will today be joining world leaders and internet companies for a summit in Paris on tackling terrorist use of the internet.

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I also support Mental Health Awareness Week.

Instead of a transplant providing my constituent Pauline Hunt with an improved and extended life, she has tragically received a death sentence after receiving a malignant kidney. Pauline rightly needs answers, and comfort that this will not happen to anyone else. Rather than her having to fight the system to get these answers, will the Prime Minister ensure that NHS Blood and Transplant undertakes a case review to identify why this malignancy was not picked up earlier and why red flags were not identified post-operation?

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The hon. Gentleman has clearly raised a very concerning case, and has given some details here on the Floor of the House. I will ensure that the relevant Minister looks at the issue, because it is obviously a matter of concern if somebody receives something that they believe is going to give them their life but that is actually a malignant organ, as has happened in the case raised by the hon. Gentleman. I will ensure that the relevant Minister at the Department of Health looks into the matter.

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Q3. The Prime Minister has often spoken about how important it is to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance in life, which of course include carers. Will she therefore join me in welcoming the award given to Annette Collier at Friday’s Pride of Rugby awards, run by our fabulous local radio station? Annette is a leader for Rugby Young Carers, and her great dedication, inspiration and enthusiasm is helping youngsters in my constituency to live their own lives. [910903]

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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this issue, because we obviously recognise the importance of supporting young carers. We have published a cross-Government carers action plan that is committing to improve the identification of young carers’ educational opportunities and outcomes, as well as access to support and services. I am very happy to join him in congratulating Annette on this award and thanking her for the amazing work she has done and continues to do to support young carers. I also congratulate Rugby FM on identifying people in the community like Annette who are doing so much help the lives of others.

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I join the Prime Minister in acknowledging Mental Health Awareness Week. I want to send my support to all those campaigning all across the country to raise awareness of mental health, and a message that all of us can do something about it by reaching out and talking to people going through a mental health crisis, and also ensuring that there is proper funding for our mental health services.

I would like to pay tribute to the former Labour MP for Birmingham, All Saints, Brian Walden, who passed away this week. He was a very formidable figure in this House and a very strong political interviewer who every politician really loved being interviewed by at the time—but they only said that afterwards.

I think it would also be only right that the House of Commons pays tribute to a leading Hollywood icon and campaigner for animal welfare, Doris Day, who passed away this week. I am tempted to quote some Doris Day songs, but I won’t. [Interruption.] All right—“Whip-Crack-Away!” [Interruption.] No, no, no. [Interruption.] I do apologise, Mr Speaker—I have obviously started a parliamentary singalong here.

Speaking of icons, it would be right to acknowledge that it is 40 years since my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) were both elected to this Parliament for the first time in the 1979 election.

In the last two years, nine of the UK’s richest hedge fund tycoons have donated £2.9 million to the Conservative party. Is this a Government for the many or one in the pockets of an elite few?

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Let me first respond to some of the tributes that the right hon. Gentleman paid. I am sure that everybody across the House would wish to recognise the sad passing of somebody who gave many hours of entertainment through her films and career—Doris Day.

I would also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) on having been elected into this House 40 years ago and having spent 40 years in this House. I also note that 40 years ago, of course, it was the election of Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Government. It was always said that Margaret Thatcher had enjoyed being interviewed by Brian Walden, who did indeed not only have a career in this House but went on to have a very respected career in television journalism as a broadcaster and interviewer.

The right hon. Gentleman raises issues about fairness and equality, and those who are better off in our society. Can I just say to him that income inequality is down since 2010? As Conservatives, we want everyone to be better off, everyone to have good jobs, and everyone to have a better life. But that is always the difference between us and Labour: Labour wants to bring people down; we want to raise people up.

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The Nobel prize-winning economist Sir Angus Deaton said that the UK risks having extreme inequality levels of pay, wealth and health. Of the G7 countries, only the United States is more unequal than the UK. Is that something the Prime Minister is proud of?

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The right hon. Gentleman talks about income inequality and fairness. As I say, income inequality is down since 2010. The lowest paid have seen their wages grow the fastest since 2015. The top 1% are contributing more income tax than at any point under the last Labour Government, and thanks to the Conservatives, millions of the lowest paid are no longer paying any income tax at all. That is Conservatives delivering for everyone.

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Real wages are lower than they were 10 years ago. How can it be fair that we live in a society where the average chief executive of a FTSE 100 company now earns 145 times the annual average salary in this country? Some of the lowest rates of pay are among young workers. That is why at the weekend, I announced that the next Labour Government will abolish the youth rates, because, quite simply, if you are old enough to do the job, you are old enough to be paid the wage to do the job. Does the Prime Minister agree with that principle?

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The impact of the policy that the right hon. Gentleman has announced is actually that it will cost young people jobs. That is not just what I am saying. The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the policy would

“end up having quite a negative effect on young people.”

But we do not need to rely on quotes to know what would happen to young people under a policy like that. We can just look at the record of the last Labour Government on youth employment. Under the last Labour Government, youth unemployment rose by 44%. Under the Conservatives in government, youth unemployment has fallen by 50%.

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I seem to recall that it was the Conservative party that opposed the national minimum wage in 1997. I seem to recall that it was the Conservative party that predicted millions of jobs being lost because we wanted decent pay for people.

Why do this Government continue to punish our young people? Since 2010—[Interruption.] Well, since 2010, the Conservative party, with its Liberal Democrat accomplices, has trebled tuition fees, abolished the education maintenance allowance and cut child benefit. While wages remain lower than a decade ago and housing costs have soared, more and more food banks are opening up in Britain. In Great Yarmouth, one has just been opened for pupils at a school, and last week the Department for Business established a food bank for its own staff in its building on Victoria Street. Can the Prime Minister tell us what is going wrong in modern Britain when a Government office in the centre of London has a food bank for some of its very low-paid staff to get something to eat?

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As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I think that the best way to ensure that people have a good, stable income for their families is to ensure that they are in work. This is the fourth question he has asked me, and in none of his questions so far has he welcomed the fact that employment is at record levels, and unemployment is down at a record low. The way he talks, you would think that inequality started in 2010.

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It did!

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One of the Labour Back Benchers shouts from a sedentary position, “It did!” Who was it who said that the last Labour Government

“ensured that the gap between the richest and the poorest in our society”

became “very much bigger?” Those are not my words; they are the words of the right hon. Gentleman, attacking his own Labour Government.

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My question was about food banks in a Government office—[Interruption.]

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Order. I am very, very worried about you, Mr Spencer. You used to be such a calm and measured fellow. You are now behaving in an extraordinarily eccentric manner—almost delinquent. Calm yourself, young man, and your condition will improve.

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My question was about a food bank in a Government Ministry, which seems to suggest that in-work poverty is the problem in Britain.

The Trussell Trust handed out 1.6 million food parcels last year, half a million of which went to children. A new report out today by the End Child Poverty coalition shows that child poverty has risen by half a million and is becoming the new norm in this country. The End Child Poverty coalition called on Ministers to restore the link between inflation and social security. Will the Prime Minister do that, to try to reduce the disgraceful levels of child poverty in this country?

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The right hon. Gentleman talks about helping those who are low paid. It is this Government—it is a Conservative Government—who introduced the national living wage. And what do we see? Under Labour, someone working full time on the national minimum wage would have taken home £9,200 a year. Now they take home over £13,700—£4,500 more under the Conservatives for the lowest paid. That is the Conservatives caring for the low paid in our society.

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They may have changed the name, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that child poverty will rise to over 5 million by 2022 at the current rate because of the strategies being followed by the right hon. Lady’s Government.

When the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain has increased by £50 billion in one year, but there is not enough money to properly feed our children or pay workers a decent wage, we have failed as a society. This country is seeing the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, while the Government are in the pockets of a super-rich elite. More children in poverty, more pensioners in poverty, more people struggling to make ends meet: when are the right hon. Lady and her Government going to reverse the tax giveaways to the super-rich and make sure they pay their fair share of taxes, so we can end the scandal—and it is a scandal—of inequality in modern Britain?

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In fact, as I have pointed out, the top 1% are paying more in income tax today than they ever did under a Labour Government. But what have we seen from Labour in just the past week? The Labour party has a plan for a system where everybody in this country would get benefits. That means handouts to hedge fund managers paid for by tax hikes on working people. Labour’s policy—money for the rich, paid by taxes on the poor.

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Q6. As already noted, 40 years ago, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. During her premiership, she convinced people like me and people from modest backgrounds right across the country that it is the Conservative party that is the party of opportunity and aspiration. Does the Prime Minister agree that education plays a pivotal role in unlocking these opportunities and enabling social mobility, and will education and skills funding receive the attention it therefore deserves in the upcoming spending round? [910906]

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Of course, we are already putting record levels of funding into our schools—£43.5 billion. My hon. Friend is trying to tempt me to talk about the spending review that is upcoming, but I can assure him that we are committed to improving education for every child, because I absolutely passionately believe that we should be making sure that how far a child goes in life depends not on their background, their circumstances or who their parents are, but on their individual talents and their hard work. Everybody in this country should be able to go as far as their talents and their hard work will take them.

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I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in welcoming Mental Health Awareness Week.

Mr Speaker, pending your approval, we now know that the Prime Minister’s three-times defeated Brexit deal will return yet again in June. Can the Prime Minister tell us: has a back-room agreement been reached with the Leader of the Opposition to sell out the people of Scotland and to force her shoddy deal through?

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The only party that wants to sell out the interests of Scotland is the SNP, with its bid for independence.

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I am not quite sure what that had to do with the question. You might at least try, Prime Minister, to answer the question. The people of Scotland are none the wiser about what is going on in the secret Tory-Labour talks. Scotland’s people, and the will of the Scottish Parliament, are being ignored. Enough is enough. Why is the Prime Minister so afraid of giving the people of Scotland their say? The fact is, at the European elections next week the people of Scotland will make their voices heard, whether Westminster likes it or not. Next Thursday, the people of Scotland can vote SNP to stop Brexit and to send a clear message that Scotland will not be ignored any more.

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The right hon. Gentleman talks about the people of Scotland not knowing where things stand. Well, the people of Scotland will know where things stand if the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues vote for the withdrawal agreement Bill and ensure that we leave the European Union. If people want to vote for a party that not only is a Brexit party but is a party in government that can deliver Brexit, they should vote Conservative.

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Q12. Can the Prime Minister confirm that, if we were to stay in a customs union and the single market, we would have to pay billions into the European Union, we could not do free trade deals around the world and we could not control our own immigration, and that we will never betray the promise that we made at the last general election that we will deliver the full Brexit—unlike the broken promises from the Labour party? [910912]

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I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that we do indeed remain committed, and not just to delivering Brexit and to securing a majority in this House to do just that; I can reassure him on his specific points. In leaving the European Union, we want to—we will—end free movement, restore full control over our immigration policy, open up new trading opportunities around the world and end the days of sending vast payments to the European Union, and we will not pay for market access. He mentions commitments that were made at the last election. He and I both stood on a manifesto promising to deliver the best possible deal for Britain as we leave the European Union, delivered by a smooth, orderly Brexit, as we seek a new deep and special partnership, including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union. I am committed to those objectives. I believe that we have negotiated a good deal that delivers on those and I am determined to deliver it.

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Q2. This Government say they are committed to tackling climate change, yet too often the evidence suggests otherwise. Take the examples of their support for an oil refinery in Bahrain but their refusal to help award-winning tidal energy specialists Nova Innovation. The reality is, 99.4% of UK export finance in the energy sector goes on fossil fuel projects. If this Government are serious about addressing the climate emergency, will they prove it by investing in the future, not the past? [910902]

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We are investing in the future and not the past. That is why we have been encouraging issues like electric vehicles—the battery technology that is being developed here in the UK. The hon. Gentleman talks about our interest and our support for what we need to do on climate change. Just look at our record. Our renewable energy capacity has quadrupled since 2010; annual support for renewables will be over £10 billion by 2021; 99% of solar power deployed in the UK has been deployed under the Conservatives in government; and we have been decarbonising at a faster rate than any other country in the G20.

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Q13. It is vital for trust in the Prime Minister and the Government for dates to be set and then stuck to. Can we have a definitive and unalterable date for the release of the Green Paper on adult care? [910913]

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to abide by, and will abide by, the Government’s commitment to publish a Green Paper on adult social care. We want to ensure that, when we do that, we are able to bring forward proposals that deliver the answer, or possible answers, to the question we have to ask ourselves, which is how we can ensure that the social care system is sustainable into the future. We will be publishing it at the earliest opportunity and it will set out those proposals to ensure that the social care system is sustainable in the longer term.

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Q4. I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but it is looking a bit threadbare over on the Conservative Back Benches below the gangway. Maybe we should examine the reason why. The Government can barely secure double figures in the opinion polls. The UK is now an international laughing-stock, with the Prime Minister’s Back Bench just wanting her going, as does the nation. She is now going to be bringing back her withdrawal agreement for a fourth tanking, as her Back Bench queue up to say they will not support her. Has the road now just run out, Prime Minister? For the sake of her nation, will she please just go—and let Scotland go too? [910904]

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From the hon. Gentleman’s references to those of us across this House, it is obvious that his charm offensive to become the next Speaker has already started. May I also say to him that it is in the interests of Scotland that it remains part of the United Kingdom, and in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom that we deliver on what people voted for in the referendum and deliver Brexit?

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Q14. In Somerset, 15,200 children are now in good and outstanding schools compared with 2010—great news—but, despite 5.9% more funding per pupil going into Somerset, teachers and parents in Taunton Deane are increasingly coming to me to say that they are under funding pressures. They are in the fifth lowest for secondary school funding and the bottom third for primary school funding. Does the Prime Minister agree that to give our children the very best opportunity in life we must correct that funding injustice in Somerset? With a stronger economy overseen by this Government, we can and should do it. [910914]

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I thank my hon. Friend for her comments about the increasing number of children in Somerset in good and outstanding schools. It is indeed, as she says, our management of the strong economy that enables us to put more money into our public services, such as education. That is why we are putting a record level of funding into schools this year, giving every local authority more money for every pupil in every school. We have introduced the new funding formula to make distribution fairer across schools across the country. We want to keep on improving education for every child so that, as I said in response to an earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), we have the opportunity to ensure that every child can go on and achieve their full potential.

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Q5. As this is Mental Health Awareness Week, does the Prime Minister agree with the Labour party that it is time to scrap tests for pre-teenage children, such as SATS and, in Kent, the 11-plus, which we know cause them to experience stress, anxiety and a sense of failure? [910905]

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What is important as children go through their education is that we make sure they are receiving the right education for them and we make sure that schools are providing the right quality of education. Simple tests that enable judgments to be made about where children are in relation to their learning through their school career are, I believe, right. It is right that they were introduced and it is right that they continue.

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Q15. It is Mental Health Awareness Week and it is also exam time. At Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford, the staff and students care deeply about supporting all those with mental health issues. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister urge the Secretaries of State for Health and for Education to work together to provide a specific fund, so that our universities can develop new and innovative ways to help students with mental health pressures? [910915]

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My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of mental health in universities. It is important and it is a priority for the Government. NHS England is already working closely with Universities UK, through the Mental Health in Higher Education programme, to build the capability and capacity of universities to improve student welfare services and access to mental health services. However, I am happy to ask both the Health and Education Secretaries to consider options to look at the issue further.

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Q7. The Prime Minister is now well aware that I have had the privilege of serving the people of Huddersfield for 40 years, but is she aware that when I came into this House I was a passionate Eurosceptic? I changed my mind because I saw how the European Union delivered prosperity, cleaned up the environment, and kept the peace and our security. That changed my mind about the value to all the people of this country, as well as my constituents, of staying in the EU. Is it not time that the Prime Minister spoke out on the truth about Europe, rather than the big lie of the UK Independence party? [910907]

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This House voted for the referendum. The Government at the time said they would abide by the decision of the referendum. The people voted, the people made their choice, and it is right that the Government deliver on that choice and deliver Brexit.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned his coming into this House and that he has been serving his constituents for 40 years. He mentioned prosperity. Actually, in 1979 it was a Conservative Government that came in and turned around all the problems of a Labour Government and gave this country prosperity.

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On behalf of animal lovers across the country, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on introducing Lucy’s law to stamp out the horrific and barbaric practice of puppy and kitten farming? However, this law applies only to England. With the Welsh consultation closing this week, does my right hon. Friend agree that unless the SNP Government now act to introduce Lucy’s law, there is a real risk of Scotland becoming a hub for unscrupulous puppy farmers? Scotland cannot be left behind.

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. I congratulate him on the work he did on this issue—he raised it regularly and championed the cause. It is ironic that, as an MP for a Scottish seat, he was able to help to change the law here in England and ensure it was brought in, yet the SNP Government in Scotland are not willing to change the law. It is time the SNP Government got on with the day job and started legislating for things that matter to people in Scotland.

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Q8. The Prime Minister says that it is her deal, no deal or no exit from the EU. We voted against her deal, and we voted against no deal for good reasons, but she has not shifted and she is out of time. Will she admit now that all that is left is no exit, or will she go back to the people? [910908]

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The hon. Lady knows full well my response to the question about going back to the people. The people were given the choice as to whether we should stay in the European Union in the referendum in 2016. They voted, they gave their decision, and it is up to not just this Government but this House to respect the decision taken when we as a Parliament gave people that choice.

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At a crucial time, may I take this opportunity to highlight the absolutely vital importance of supporting British Steel and in particular its world-leading special profiles division at Skinningrove in my constituency? It is a profitable business and a jewel in the crown of UK steel making. I urge my right hon. Friend to deliver a productive outcome to the ongoing talks as swiftly as possible.

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My hon. Friend raises an important point about British Steel. Obviously, I cannot comment on the speculation about the future of Greybull Capital-owned British Steel. I realise this is a worrying time for those employed there and their families. As everybody across this House would expect, the Business Department is in regular contact with a wide range of sectors and companies. Of course, last month the Government entered into a commercial agreement with British Steel relating to its obligations under the EU emissions trading scheme, which has provided support to that company.

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Q9. Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister received a copy of the children’s future food inquiry report, delivered to No. 10 by Dame Emma Thompson and six young food ambassadors who all experienced food poverty. The End Child Poverty coalition has found that, on her Government’s watch, half a million more children are having their lives blighted by food poverty than at the start of this decade. Will the Prime Minister meet those young food ambassadors to discuss the #Right2Food children’s charter as soon as possible? [910909]

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I have not seen the charter yet. I will look carefully at it, but, as I have said in response to a number of questions on this issue, what is important is that we have in this country an economy that enables people to get into good jobs. That is what we are delivering as a Conservative party in government. That is what enables people to have that stability in their income, and that is what enables people to be able to care for their children.

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Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the final evaluation of the national bereavement care pathway, which found that nine in 10 parents who had suffered the loss of a child—[Interruption]—felt they were treated sensitively and with respect? [Interruption.]

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Order. The hon. Lady has passed the test with flying colours.

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Not only did the hon. Lady pass the test; so too did the national bereavement care pathway. It also found that eight in 10 healthcare professionals felt supported to deliver good-quality bereavement care. Does the Prime Minister agree that these results are a rallying call to the remaining NHS trusts to adopt the care pathway and ensure that all bereaved parents receive better bereavement care?

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I realise that this issue is close to the hearts of many Members across the House, including my hon. Friend’s. She has spoken most movingly on this subject. I thank the all-party group on baby loss for all its work. We recognise that all bereaved parents should be offered the same high standard of care and support in an appropriate environment. These results show the benefit of the national bereavement care pathway. It has already helped to strengthen support for many bereaved families across the country, and I certainly urge all trusts to adopt this approach.

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Q10. We rightly condemn the denial or abuse of trade union rights in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Colombia and many other countries, so will the Prime Minister agree that the victory by Unite trade union members, who won £1.9 million compensation after major construction firms unlawfully blacklisted and denied them work, is a victory for British values? Does she agree that free and independent trade unions are a valuable part of our democracy? Will she condemn the illegal actions of these construction companies? In an open democracy, will she guarantee trade union representatives a right of access to workplaces to speak to employees about their rights at work? [910910]

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I recognise the important role that trade unions play in our democracy and the work that can be done with them to enhance workers’ rights in this country. That is exactly what the Government are doing. We want to see workers’ rights enhanced and improved and are already on track to do that. I look forward to our continuing to be able to do so in the future.

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A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister about a family in my constituency who desperately needed the life-changing drug Spinraza. This morning we have the wonderful news that it will be made available in England. Will she now press for a managed access agreement to be put in place as soon as possible, because the children who need this drug cannot afford to wait a single day longer?

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My hon. Friend raised a very important issue at the time, and I am very pleased that NHS England and Biogen have agreed a deal that enables NICE to recommend this revolutionary new treatment. As he said, it has the potential to transform the lives of young children with spinal muscular atrophy and their families, and I will certainly ensure that the Department of Health and Social Care acts on his request that it be made available as quickly as possible.

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Q11. Research by the “Victoria Derbyshire” show has revealed that in the last five years four children have been murdered following contact granted by the family courts to known abusers. This morning, more than 120 MPs wrote to the Justice Secretary calling for an independent inquiry into the treatment by the family courts of victims of domestic abuse and violence. Does the Prime Minister agree that there is something wrong with a system that forces contact between children and parents who are known risks to the child? If she does agree, will she commission that independent inquiry today? [910911]

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The family courts system should never be used to coerce or re-victimise those who have been abused, and the child’s welfare must be the paramount consideration of the court in any proceedings. I am pleased that the president of the family division published new draft guidelines just last week that provided greater clarity on issues around the family courts, such as increasing transparency. The Ministry of Justice has not seen evidence to suggest a public inquiry is necessary, but I will ensure that the new Minister of State meets the hon. Lady to discuss the concerns she has raised.

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Will the Prime Minister congratulate the hard-working campaign team in Redditch who secured an increased majority on the borough council in the local elections earlier this month? Will she visit Redditch to find out how they are putting in place plans to unlock Redditch, and will she recommit her Government’s resources to the crucial issue of regenerating towns and high streets up and down the country?

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I am very happy to congratulate all those campaigners—those elected councillors—on their success in the Redditch Borough Council election, and I am pleased to see the council moving forward with its plans to improve the town. Certainly we remain committed: we have allocated sums to ensure that we see improvements in towns up and down the country, and we continue our commitment to that. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the invitation. I will ensure that my diary secretary is aware of it, and we will see whether it is possible.

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My constituent Gerald Corrigan was shot with a crossbow outside his home on Good Friday. This weekend, he died of those severe injuries. I am sure that the House will join me in sympathising with his family, his partner and his friends. The community is in shock. Will the Prime Minister join me in appealing to the public for any information that they may have, and to give that information to North Wales police in confidence? Will she assure me that, in view of the number of such incidents, the law on crossbows will be reviewed, and will she also ensure that the police have enough resources to conduct what is now a murder inquiry?

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The hon. Gentleman has raised a very worrying case, and, as he says, the thoughts of the whole House are with the family, friends and partner of his constituent. It is terrible to hear of an incident such as this. The Home Secretary has heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the law on crossbows, and I absolutely join him in encouraging any member of the public who has any information about what happened to get in touch with the police. There is, of course, the anonymous route, which enables people who may be concerned about giving information to the police to ensure that it reaches them without being identified. If anyone knows anything that could help the police to catch those responsible, I urge them to come forward.

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For more than 20 years I have worked with an incredible group of Conservatives in Wellingborough and Rushden. They raise money for the party, they deliver leaflets and they knock on doors, week in, week out. This Saturday, some 40 of us went out campaigning for the European elections.

Unfortunately, Sir, I have here a letter from those Conservatives, addressed to the Prime Minister. They say that her deal is worse than staying in the European Union, and that they want us to come out now on a no-deal basis. More importantly, Sir, they have lost confidence in the Prime Minister, and wish her to resign before the European elections. Prime Minister, what message have you for those dedicated and loyal Conservatives?

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First, let me thank all members of the Conservative party across the country who campaign regularly in elections of all sorts. We have just heard about the group in Redditch Borough Council who succeeded in getting excellent results in the council election. I thank all those Conservatives for the time and effort that they put into promoting the Conservative cause.

Secondly, let me say to Conservatives up and down the country who are concerned about delivering Brexit that this is a Government who want to deliver Brexit, and have been working to deliver Brexit. Sadly, so far the House of Commons has not found a majority to do that. If everyone in the House of Commons had voted alongside the Government and the majority of Conservative Members of Parliament, we would already have left the European Union.

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The people of Hornsey and Wood Green are completely distraught because a British Council worker, Aras Amiri, has been suddenly imprisoned in Iran. The Foreign Secretary is kindly having a meeting with me and the family on Friday, but will the Prime Minister please condemn this action by Iran, and will she please speak to President Rouhani urgently about this terrible situation?

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Obviously, we are concerned. We are always concerned when any individual is sentenced purely on the basis of their employment with an entirely legitimate institution, as has happened in this case. It is utterly shocking, and I am deeply concerned by the turn of events. My thoughts are with the individual and her family at this time.

As the hon. Lady says, the Foreign Secretary is taking the issue up. The Government will press the case and the concerns that have been raised, but sadly the arrest of this individual shows Iran’s attitude to entirely legitimate organisations that are trying to foster better relations and cultural understanding between countries.

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The Prime Minister is rightly regarded by Scottish Conservatives as a trenchant champion of the Union—and thank goodness for that. Does she agree that the UK shared prosperity fund is an opportunity to strengthen the Union? Will she confirm that the fund will be led by the needs of communities, and will not be Barnettised?

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It is absolutely right that we have an opportunity, with the shared prosperity fund, to ensure that we recognise the ways in which we can reduce disparities between communities and between the nations within the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend said, it is absolutely right that that should be led by the needs on the ground. We should make sure that the money is spent effectively, and that it delivers for people. That is our intention.