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Volume 661: debated on Wednesday 12 June 2019

Q9. May I congratulate the Prime Minister on introducing legislation for net zero? It is a fantastic achievement, and we can all be proud that we are passing on the planet to our children in a better state. Does she agree that whoever follows her at the Dispatch Box—some of them may be sitting on the Front Bench today—must place policies to achieve that at the heart of their programme for government? (911286)

I thank my hon. Friend for her words. I am very proud that we are committing to ending that, to ensure that we make our contribution to dealing with climate change, by today laying the legislation for a net zero emissions target by 2050. This puts us on the path to become the first major economy to set a net zero emissions target in law. Once again, this is the United Kingdom leading on the issue of tackling climate change, and delivering on the Conservative promise to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. This is about long-term climate targets and we are proud of our world-leading record, but I absolutely agree that it is vital to continue this work to ensure that we protect our planet for generations to come.

It is right that today we mark what would have been the 90th birthday of Anne Frank, a young woman who got a diary for her 13th birthday. We should never forget the trials and tribulations of those who paid the utmost price in that genocide and in the genocides that have followed since.

An attack on women’s rights, tax breaks for the rich paid for by raising national insurance in Scotland, closing down Parliament to ensure that a catastrophic no-deal Brexit can be imposed—does the Prime Minister think that any of those policies are respectable, never mind acceptable?

The time will come when the right hon. Gentleman will be able to ask my successor questions at this Dispatch Box. He raises the issue of people paying in Scotland, but I remind him that only one party in Scotland has a policy to ensure that people in Scotland pay more tax, and that is the Scottish nationalists.

You would have thought, Mr Speaker, after the time that the Prime Minister has spent at the Dispatch Box, she would have realised that she is supposed at least to try to answer the question.

The state of politics in this place is humiliating. The Tory leadership race is a total horror show. The EU was clear: use the time wisely. Yet the Tories are obsessing with themselves at the expense of people across these islands; just when we thought that things could not get any worse, they are lurching even further to the extremes. The Prime Minister once described her party as the “nasty party”, but with leadership candidates such as the one announcing today, it is about to get a whole lot nastier. Does the Prime Minister agree that the fantasy fairy stories of the Tory party’s candidates are nothing more than an assault on our common sense? Tonight, will she vote to stop any no-deal madness?

The motion on the table tonight is about whether the Government should hand control of business in this House to the Labour party and the Scottish National party. That is something we will not do. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the need to use this time wisely when he could have been using the time wisely. Had he voted for the deal that we negotiated with the European Union, we would have left the European Union and would have been out with an orderly exit.

Q11. The Prime Minister has led the fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery, and her Modern Slavery Act has led the way in Europe. There are now more prosecutions and convictions of traffickers. However, the scourge of human trafficking continues worldwide. The Prime Minister’s efforts to end human trafficking have been superb. What efforts has she been able to make to encourage other leaders to follow her example? (911288)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for the work that he has done over the years on this particular issue. I was pleased to be at the International Labour Organisation conference in Geneva last night to speak about our campaign against modern slavery and to recognise that 90 countries have now signed up to the call for action against modern slavery which I launched in the United Nations. We see other countries following our legislative example—for example, the Dutch Senate recently, Australia, and President Buhari of Nigeria showing great leadership in sub-Saharan Africa on this issue. I am very pleased to see the impact that the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has had, such that a British citizen has been convicted in British courts for being part of a gang who trafficked Nigerian women to Germany, despite the fact that none of that crime touched the UK. She was a British citizen; she was prosecuted here, thanks to our Modern Slavery Act.

Q2. In the event that a Prime Minister asked Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament against the express wishes of the majority of the House of Commons, whose advice would the Queen be obliged to follow—the advice of her Prime Minister or the express will of this House? (911279)

The hon. Gentleman knows that I will not stand at this Dispatch Box and speak about decisions that Her Majesty the Queen might make. What I would say is that we see a situation this afternoon, in a motion, where the Labour party and the SNP are trying to take control away from the Government of the business of this House. Governments are able to govern by having control of the business of this House, and that is what everybody should recall.

Q15. Last week, I had the privilege of meeting my 109-year-old constituent, Mrs May Willis, who is still living independently in Bexhill. She asked me to pass on her sentiments to the Prime Minister—so from one May to another, as it were. She asked me to express how much she admires the Prime Minister’s dedication to public service and everything she has done in putting her country first and regrets that she has been let down by people in this place—sentiments I share. She is concerned about democracy. I know the Prime Minister loathes this concept, as both she and I voted three times for her deal and also to keep no deal on the table, but at what point in time will we need to put this back to the people to finally deliver Brexit? (911292)

I first ask my hon. Friend to pass on my best wishes and thanks to May for her comments and to congratulate her on a long life and on the interest that she has shown in politics and in what is happening in this country. On the second part of his question, I simply say to him that I have not changed my mind. I believe that we should be working to deliver on the result of the first referendum, where we gave the people the choice and they chose to leave the EU. I continue to believe that we should do that with a deal because I think that is in the best interests of this country.

Q3. This logjammed and underworked Parliament could become one of the best if we chose to work across the parties to fix our broken social care system. Through free votes, good will and hard work, we could design and then enact a new deal for social care that would bring hope for the future to millions. So in her last few weeks as Prime Minister, will she agree to meet me and to establish a cross-party group so that we could bring this social care new deal to fruition? (911280)

We do indeed need to ensure that we can see a sustainable future for our social care system. That is why, at the earliest opportunity, the Government will bring forward a social care Green Paper, and it will be open to all across this House to be able to contribute to the consideration of that.

Does the Prime Minister share the growing sense of alarm both in Hong Kong and internationally at the potentially destructive effects of the new extradition law on civil liberties in Hong Kong? Does she further agree that we in the United Kingdom have a special obligation to Hong Kong and should never be fearful about speaking up for freedom and values on that island?

This is an important issue. We are concerned about the potential effects of these proposals—particularly, obviously, given the large number of British citizens in Hong Kong. It is vital that the extradition arrangements in Hong Kong are in line with the rights and freedoms that were set down in the Sino-British joint declaration. We have been unequivocal in our views. We have been very clear, from the outset, in engaging with the Hong Kong Government and with the members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council and Executive Council—at all levels—about our view on this issue. As I say, it is vital that those extradition arrangements are in line with the rights and freedoms that were set down in the Sino-British joint declaration.

Q4. The Prime Minister has always said that she believes in fairness, so can I ask her: would it be fair to have a taxation policy that massively benefits the top and richest 10% in our country by introducing tax cuts for them? Does she think that is fair? (911281)

What I think is fair is what this Government are doing: under this Government, we have seen the top 1% paying more in income tax than they ever did under a Labour Government. What is more, we have been delivering tax cuts, with over 3 million people taken out of paying income tax altogether and over 30 million people with a tax cut. That is what is fair: more money in people’s pockets. That is what we, as Conservatives, have done for people.

The Prime Minister will remember that, just two months ago, I raised the case of Nicola Morgan-Dingley. Nicola was 36, a marathon runner and a fit and healthy woman when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Just two weeks ago, she came to see the Health Secretary to talk about what more could be done to help women suffering from breast cancer. Sadly, on Sunday, Nicola lost her battle. Charities such as Breast Cancer Now are demanding that women in families with a history of breast cancer should have access to testing earlier. Will the Prime Minister leave a real legacy by ensuring that those women have the opportunity to beat cancer by accessing testing earlier?

May I first extend my deepest condolences to Nicola’s family and friends? The news that my hon. Friend brings to the House is terrible. I am sorry that this has happened, particularly so shortly after Nicola was able to speak with the Health Secretary. I will look at this issue with him. One of the benefits of the 10-year plan that we are putting in place and the cash boost we are giving to the national health service is the ability to put more emphasis on early diagnosis, which is so important. We will certainly want to look at that element.

Q5. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to net zero, but it does not go far or fast enough. It must include aviation and shipping, and it must not shift our problem to developing nations through offsetting. When will we see the urgent and radical steps needed to address this climate emergency? (911282)

We are taking what will be seen by many as a radical, key step in dealing with this issue. We have been making good progress as a Government over the years. It is important that we give this commitment. We are about 2% of the problem across the world, so it is important that others follow our lead. That is what we will be working to see.

There can be little doubt that this Prime Minister knows what a feminist looks like and I would like to thank her for all she has done to progress equality. Does she agree that there is still a long way to go?

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I agree that there is still a long way to go. That is why we continue to take action. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities continues to look at what more the Government can do to help women in the workplace with their responsibilities, to ensure that women are able to take their full place in our society and that as a country we are able to benefit from the enormous talents that lie in our female population.

Q6. The Prime Minister knows that I have tracked her impressive career for 22 years, from the June day when I heard her maiden speech. With her integrity, her experience and her moral compass, will she change her mind about cutting and running? This parliamentary democracy is in crisis. Why can she not stay here and even come on the Back Benches and give some of the people who will take over from her a bit of the medicine that they have given her? (911283)

The hon. Gentleman refers to my staying here. I will indeed be staying in the Chamber of the House of Commons, because I will continue as the Member of Parliament for my constituency. I am a woman of my word. I gave my party my word as to what I would do, and I stand by that. He says that he does not want us to be in this position. I am tempted to say that we would not be in this position if he had voted for the deal.

In the light of yesterday’s Charity Commission report and today’s report by the Oxfam independent commission, does the Prime Minister agree that there is a role for the Government and other major donors in ensuring and enabling a strong, ethical structure for the whole aid sector, with good governance, so that as well as doing good, these important bodies do no harm?

My right hon. and learned Friend has raised a very important issue. The former International Development Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), took action immediately when concerns about the actions of non-governmental organisations first became public, and she and the UK have led the way. I know that the current International Development Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), is looking very closely at the report and at what further action we can take. The action that we as the UK have taken is not just about our interaction with NGOs; we have brought the international community together to look at that issue and we will continue to lead.

Q7. On 16 May last year, the Prime Minister said that she expected a “speedy resolution” to the row between Vertex and NHS England over the cystic fibrosis treatment Orkambi. The Prime Minister is aware of my seven-year-old constituent Oliver Ward, who wrote to her recently. In his letter he pleaded with the Prime Minister:“Why am I still waiting? I need these medicines…before I get too sick.” Will the Prime Minister please meet him and his mother Emma to discuss what she can do personally to end this burning injustice, so that Olly and other CF sufferers can live long and healthy lives? (911284)

The hon. Gentleman has indeed raised this issue with me previously. My thoughts and those, I am sure, of the whole House are with Oliver and his mum, Emma. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary has in fact this morning written to the hon. Gentleman about the issue. Obviously, we have the process whereby NHS England looks at these issues. I understand that NHS England has made a revised and improved offer to Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Vertex should have heard the concerns and very real case studies that have been raised by Members in this House. I believe that Vertex should now accept the offer that NHS England has put on the table, so that this drug does become available to Oliver and others.

Until recently, the probate registry has provided an excellent service, but that is no longer the case. There are extensive delays due to proposed rationalisation, the introduction of new technology and the prospect of increased probate fees. This poor service is causing difficulties to practitioners and distress to families due to the loss of house sales. Will the Prime Minister do everything she can to ensure that the service improves rapidly, and can she confirm that the proposed probate fee increases will now be withdrawn?

I recognise the situation described by my hon. Friend and the delays it must be causing for many people dealing with these issues. I will ensure that the relevant Minister looks very carefully at the issue and responds to him.

Q8. The people of Bolton have suffered years and years of a dreadful train service, made worse by Northern rail and not helped by the Department for Transport. In some respects it is sad to see the Prime Minister stepping down, but as she is going, could she please take the Secretary of State for Transport with her and devolve the running of northern trains to the north? (911285)

We have been clear—I have said it and the Secretary of State has said it—that performance in the north is and has been unacceptable following the timetable changes on 18 May last year. Passengers in the north deserve better, which is why are working closely with a variety of organisations, including Network Rail, Northern, TransPennine Express and Transport for the North, to improve services and punctuality. We have also appointed an industry expert, Richard George, to look at the issue, review the performance and make recommendations to improve reliability. That should drive improvements, but we will not hesitate to take the action necessary.

When I meet constituents over 75 years old, I see a lifetime of contribution to our economy, society and Great Britain. Can the Prime Minister do anything at all to reverse the decision to take away their free TV licence?

I believe that the BBC got a good deal in 2015. Indeed:

“The Government’s decision here to put the cost of the over-75s on us has been more than matched by the deal coming back for the BBC.”

Those are not my words, but the words of the director general of the BBC after the deal in 2015. I think that taxpayers now expect the BBC to do the right thing.

Q10. In February 2018, a homeless man tragically died outside Parliament. Ten months later, another homeless man died in exactly the same place. Will the Prime Minister deal with that terrible Dickensian situation and, in the dying days of her premiership, address the “burning injustice” of homelessness, whereby we have to step over bodies to enter Parliament? (911287)

Of course we are all concerned about homelessness and rough sleeping, and when we hear and see the stories that the hon. Lady cited. The latest figures on rough sleeping show that the number of people sleeping on our streets is down for the first time in eight years. That is because action has been taken. It is a step in the right direction, but of course we need to do much more. That is why we have set up the new strategy to end rough sleeping altogether, which is backed by an initial £100 million. We are determined to make sleeping on the streets a thing of the past.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for the families who have worked hard all their lives to own their own home, like many people in Stoke-on-Trent South, we must resist Labour’s attempts to threaten their livelihoods with a pernicious land tax?

I absolutely agree. Sadly, that is an idea that the Labour party has brought forward in the past. We rejected it wholeheartedly then and we must continue to reject it. As my hon. Friend said, many people in his constituency and others have worked hard to achieve that dream of owning their own home, and we should support them.

Q12. Many people who responsibly recycle plastic are unaware that supposedly recycled materials are shipped to the developing world, where they are stockpiled or burned. The Prime Minister has talked tough on climate change. Will she now leave a true legacy as an environmental champion and follow Canada’s lead in banning single-use plastic? (911289)

Actually this Government have taken a lead on single-use plastics. We have been taking action on plastics and I am pleased to say that we are also encouraging other countries around the world. Our alliance with a number of countries in the Commonwealth on this issue is also seeing action being taken. We are particularly concerned for small island states in relation to marine plastic. We will continue the fight against single-use plastic, but this Government have a record to be proud of.

Our national health service is brilliant because of the people who work in it. The new people plan recognises that and the importance of investing in training staff and truly valuing them, from the top to the bottom of the NHS. Will my right hon. Friend do all she can to ensure that that is put into practice so that our constituents get the healthcare that they need and want?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise the fact that our NHS depends on the excellent people working within it. I would like to thank all the staff across the NHS for all they do day in, day out. The people plan is a very important opportunity to take action now and in the long-term to meet challenges of supply, reform, culture and leadership and to make the NHS a better place to work. The interim plan sets out several practical steps that the NHS will now take to increase the supply of clinical staff, and the final people plan will be published after the spending review. This is a very important element of the 10-year plan for the NHS and I wholeheartedly support the efforts to improve the NHS as a place to work for its staff.

Q13. When researchers recently screened all the women prisoners at Drake Hall prison in Staffordshire for brain injuries, they found that nearly two thirds had a serious brain injury before they committed their first offence and that, of those injuries, two thirds were the result of domestic violence. There is a real danger that we are criminalising the victims of domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill is going through pre-legislative scrutiny at the moment. Would not it be a good idea to change it by adding a clause to provide that all female prisoners will be screened for brain injury, and that all female prisoners who have had a brain injury will have proper neurorehabilitation, so that we can rescue their future and prevent crime? If the Prime Minister has some spare time, will she co-sign that amendment with me, perhaps as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on acquired brain injury? (911290)

We take the issue of prisoners’ brain injury very seriously and, indeed, action is being taken by the Ministry of Justice to look very carefully into the issue. Obviously, I look forward to the debate that will take place—[Interruption.] Well, I have had many invitations across the Chamber in the past. I have never quite had this invitation from the hon. Gentleman and I have to say, I think I will approach the invitation to work with him with caution given some of the arguments that we have had in the past, but I welcome the fact that I will be able to—or expect to be able to—contribute to the debate on that Bill when it goes through this House. It is a very important piece of legislation, which I want to see genuinely transforming what we can do to deal with domestic violence.

I recognise that cancer survival rates are at their highest in this country, but it remains an inconvenient truth that we are failing to close the gap with international averages. The last Government estimate suggested that 10,000 lives are being needlessly lost because we are failing to close that gap. I know that my right hon. Friend recognises the importance of early diagnosis, but when she has the discussions with her Health Secretary, will she look at a key recommendation from the all-party group on cancer, and many others in the sector, to put the key one-year outcome indicator into the heart of our cancer strategy? The only way that we can improve our one-year figures is to diagnose earlier.

My hon. Friend has been campaigning long and hard on that issue and I congratulate him on the passion with which he has done so. As I said earlier, it is right that, in the 10-year plan for the NHS, early diagnosis is one of the elements and, particularly on certain aspects of cancer, they are looking very carefully at what can be done to ensure early diagnosis, so I am sure they will look at my hon. Friend’s proposal.

Q14. We have ambitious plans for Dudley, with the new technical skills centre to provide technical apprenticeships and university-level skills in industries such as advanced manufacturing, digital technologies, low-carbon industries and autonomous electric vehicles. Before the Prime Minister leaves office, will she accelerate the stronger towns fund and enable us to bring new investment, new industries and good, new, well-paid jobs to the Black Country? (911291)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will get an opportunity to ask me another question at PMQs over the coming weeks, but I take this opportunity to recognise the significant work that he has done with the Holocaust Educational Trust. As we recognise that this would have been the 90th birthday of Anne Frank, it is very important that we recognise the work that is done by that trust, and his contribution to it.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the stronger towns fund and he is absolutely right. We have a notional allocation of £212 million for the west midlands. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government met him to discuss the design of the fund when he made a recent visit to Dudley. We intend to publish a policy prospectus on the stronger towns fund before the summer recess, but it is there exactly so that places such as Dudley can harness their unique strengths and grow and prosper.

Has my right hon. Friend found time today to look at the ombudsman’s report on mental health services in my region, with its worrying criticisms of leadership failures? And I have now been involved in 10 leadership parliamentary elections, so will she reflect on the fact that I will be supporting my colleague who respects the referendum result, makes Southend-on-Sea a city and continues to prioritise mental health services?

Ten leadership elections and never a candidate! My hon. Friend has missed his opportunity again. I am sure that all the candidates have heard the point that he made.

I have not had a chance to look at the ombudsman’s report. I am concerned—we have seen over the years a number of parts of the NHS where the mental health services have not been delivering what they should be delivering for individuals. It is important, as we have put mental health as a central part of what we want to see developing and improving in the health service, that we look at not only the money that is being put in, but how, at local level, trusts are operating and delivering services.

The hon. Gentleman might not have been a candidate so far, but he is scarcely at the midpoint of his parliamentary career, and we know not what awaits us, or him, in the future.

On the climate emergency, the Prime Minister will know that I want her to go further and faster, but I congratulate her on facing down the Chancellor by legislating for net zero by 2050. However, if she wants a positive climate legacy, we need deeds, not just words, so there are three things that she could do in the six weeks she has left. Will she cancel the expansion of Heathrow airport? Will she divert the money for more road building into public transport? And will she scrap fracking once and for all? That is the way that she would show us she is serious: will she do it?

I said a few weeks ago that I hoped the day would come when the hon. Lady would welcome action that the Government were taking on climate change and I thank her for her comments on what we have announced today. This decision was taken across the Government and it is supported across the Government. It is an important decision for the future. She says we need action, not just words. She will have noticed that we have not just said that we are going to have this net zero target—we are actually introducing legislation to put that in place. That is action, not just words.

Order. We come now to the statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Dr Greg Clark. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to await a quieter and more appropriately respectful audience, I am happy to play ball with a little bit of judicious delay—[Interruption.] And filibustering, as the Chancellor observes, helpfully and I think good-naturedly from a sedentary position.