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Volume 673: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2020

Q4. Last week, Emmy award-winning actor and musician Riz Ahmed released a hard-hitting new album and a short film, “The Long Goodbye”, which powerfully expresses the heartbreak of many British minorities who feel unwanted in Britain, where hate crime is rising and hate speech infects public life. These are also the concerns of Muslims in my constituency. I urge Members of the House to listen to it and watch it. Will the Prime Minister, for once without hiding behind the robes of his Muslim ancestors—yes, we all know he had them—or clinging to the fig leaf with which his ex-Chancellor’s presence in the Cabinet provided him, or resorting to the potentially divisive, tit-for-tat deflection of the very serious issue of antisemitism, and given the 300 complaints of Islamophobia in his party, simply tell me what he is doing to assure Britain’s Muslims that their Prime Minister is not an Islamophobe and takes their concerns seriously? (901454)

I can reassure the hon. Member that there is absolutely no room for hatred or racism in this party—in our Conservative party—and I wish I could say the same of her own party.

Q12. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the news that he and Carrie are expecting their first child. All parents want the best start in life for their children. With the UK lagging behind the rest of the world in the number of diseases that we genetically test for—we test for only nine genetic conditions in this country—does he agree with and will he support my campaign calling for a review of the new-born baby screening programme? (901462)

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I am glad that, starting this year, screening for babies with severe combined immunodeficiency will be evaluated for inclusion in the screening programme, but my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary says he is more than willing to meet her to discuss further how screening could be improved.

Further to the questions posed by my right hon. Friend the leader of the SNP, irrespective of what other countries are doing, policy in this country is the Prime Minister’s responsibility, so what will he do to help the self-employed during this coronavirus crisis?

What we are going to do, obviously, is ensure that nobody is penalised for doing the right thing and that everybody has access to the benefits and support they need. If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will set out more in just a minute.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the mighty Loughborough swim team on their five gold medal haul at the McCullagh international open league last month? The swimmers involved were Luke Greenbank, James Wilby, Abbie Wood, Max Litchfield and Molly Renshaw. Surely, this is the very epicentre of sporting excellence.

Having worked with Loughborough University on the Olympics at the fantastic site in east London, I know its formidable global reputation, and I have no hesitation in congratulating Loughborough swimming team on my hon. Friend’s behalf.

Q8. Can the Prime Minister explain why he is so singularly unpopular in Scotland? He has lost half his Scottish MPs and support for independence is at an all-time high. Is it because he thinks he can say no to a nation, or is it because the blustering buffoonery just jars with the Scottish people? (901458)

I notice that support for breaking up the Union is actually declining in Scotland. Maybe that is because they have a Scottish nationalist party in charge that has the highest taxes anywhere in the United Kingdom, is failing Scottish children in their schools and is not running the Scottish health service in the way it should. Maybe the hon. Member’s bluff and bluster is covering up for the abject failures of the Scottish nationalist Government. Maybe the Scottish nationalists should stick to the day job.

As this is the country that brought railways to the world, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to celebrate their 200th anniversary in 2025? Does he stand with the people of Darlington to prevent the removal of Locomotion No. 1, the world’s first passenger steam engine, from Darlington, where she has resided for over 160 years?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the people of Darlington on the historic role they played in our railway history and heritage, and I will do what I can to support his campaign to prevent Darlington from being despoiled of the iconic Locomotion No. 1.

Q9. The week before Christmas, Luton food bank issued 339 food parcels, of which 124 were specifically for children. The level of child poverty in Luton has risen to a shameful 46%. While Luton’s unemployment rate may be going down, more people are in low-paid, insecure jobs. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is wholly unacceptable that families are in work but children are growing up in poverty? Will he commit to ending poverty pay? (901459)

Not only are we cutting national insurance contributions for everybody, whatever their pay; we are also lifting up the national living wage by the biggest ever increase, which will benefit people across the country to the tune of £4,000 a year. This is a one nation Government looking first at the needs of the poorest families in this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook) makes the case for Birmingham, but in the west midlands, more than 31,000 new homes have been built since Andy Street became our Mayor—smashing his own target of 25,000 new homes. The vast majority have been built on derelict brownfield sites. Will the Prime Minister support me to ensure that we keep the focus on the regeneration and remediation of brownfield sites?

Yes. I congratulate Andy Street on what he is doing, and on his fantastic record on homes. It is always the Conservatives who build the homes. This House will hear more in just a few minutes about what we intend to do to give everybody, and every young person, in this country the chance to own their own home.

Q10. In this financial year, the Government have redistributed funding meant for veterans’ charities. That has resulted in severely reduced services from Combat Stress, a renowned mental health charity serving veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also meant a reduction from 24 to 10 beds in our residential unit in my constituency, and the loss of 50 jobs. Will the Prime Minister show his support for veterans’ mental health today by initiating an urgent review of that redistribution of this critical funding, so that we can stop life-changing and often life-saving services being lost? (901460)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue of veterans and their needs, and that is why this Government appointed a Minister for Defence People and Veterans, and a veterans taskforce—a special unit in the Cabinet Office. He will hear a little more in just a few minutes about what further steps we intend to take to protect and promote the rights of veterans.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Budget is are historic moment for levelling up our economy and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to succeed, especially in Stoke-on-Trent?

Stoke-on-Trent is the crucible in which the future of this country will be forged, as it has been in the past. It could not have a more doughty or valiant advocate. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend said.

Q11. It is vital that the funds announced this morning are distributed effectively to the businesses and self-employed people affected by coronavirus, but the banks must fulfil their responsibilities as well. Businesses are telling me that some banks are shoring up their balance sheets at the expense of business customers and their workforce. Will the Prime Minister make sure that banks that were bailed out by the taxpayer now play their part in supporting businesses and their workers in their hour of need? (901461)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He will have seen what the Governor of the Bank of England has done today to the cost of borrowing overall. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be meeting the banks continually to ensure that they look after the interests of all our people.

Rural areas such as my constituency are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to broadband connectivity and mobile phone signal. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this Government’s £1 billion deal with mobile phone providers will boost 4G right across the country, and especially in mid-Wales?

Q13. This morning, a range of expert mental health organisations, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind and Rethink Mental Illness have called for an urgent inquiry into avoidable deaths linked to failures in the UK social security system. A family in my constituency lost their father and husband to suicide in similar circumstances, and they, like too many others, want answers. When will the Prime Minister instruct such an inquiry to listen to those families, and the experts? (901463)

There are indeed some very hard cases, and some very tragic outcomes. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking at that, and is very happy to work with the hon. Gentleman to make sure that in such tragic cases, the family’s needs are met.

According to The Economist, over the past five years salaries in Dudley have risen faster than anywhere else in the country. As part of his levelling up agenda, will the Prime Minister work with Andy Street to ensure that the west midlands continues to get the investment in skills and infrastructure that it needs to power the midlands engine?

I do not think that I can be accused of anticipating the Budget excessively when I say that there is about to be an infrastructure revolution in this country, which will benefit, among other places, the west midlands, and Dudley in particular.

Q14. As the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) said, statutory sick pay in the UK is among the lowest in Europe. It is less than £95 a week. If the Prime Minister does not think he can live on that, he should not expect our constituents to live on it either, so I urge him to act before it is too late and introduce decent sick pay for every worker in Britain. (901464)

I answered the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) earlier. We will do everything we can to ensure that people get protected throughout this outbreak and nobody is penalised for doing the right thing.

Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the great south-west has a fantastic opportunity to become the first region to become not just net zero but net negative? Will he assure me that that will be a top priority in the levelling-up agenda?

There are already more than 400,000 jobs in the low-carbon economy in this country, and the great south-west is going to play a leading role in the green revolution of the future.

Q15. The Shetland Space Centre, a limited company in my constituency, is working in partnership with Lockheed Martin to build a sustainable space economy in Shetland. Will the Prime Minister give me some assurance that the very welcome Government support for the space industry will be allowed to follow the best commercial and technical options, and confirm that those in companies such as Lockheed Martin are the people best placed to make such judgments? (901465)

We will of course be guided by the best scientific judgments in all these matters. I can certainly confirm that it is our firm determination to have a second spaceport in Scotland, and we are looking for candidates to send into orbit.

Today is the 15th annual day in memory of victims of terrorism throughout Europe. Next week, in my constituency of Warrington South we will commemorate the 27th anniversary of the IRA terrorist attack in my town, which killed two children. Over the past quarter of a century, the Peace Foundation, based in Warrington, has worked tirelessly to provide the national support service for victims of terrorism in Great Britain. Will the Prime Minister join me in commending its work, and agree to ensure that its funding continues?

I certainly commend the work of all those at the Warrington Peace Centre. We will do everything that we can to ensure that funding continues.

I associate my party with the good wishes sent to the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) and, indeed, to anyone who has contracted coronavirus. I welcome the fact that the Government are listening to experts on coronavirus, but given that the NHS has to face the coronavirus challenge with a record shortage of nurses, and the care sector has more than 120,000 vacancies, does the Prime Minister not agree that the three Conservative Governments since 2015 should have fixed the roof when the sun was shining?

I seem to think that the right hon. Gentleman was in that Government, but leaving that point on one side, there is now a record number of doctors and nurses in our fantastic NHS. There are 8,700 more nurses this year than last year, and we are recruiting another 50,000 more. The right hon. Gentleman will be hearing more about what we are doing to support the NHS in just a minute.

Bill Presented

Protest (Abortion Clinics)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Sarah Olney, supported by Dr Rupa Huq, Sir Peter Bottomley, Caroline Lucas, Lisa Nandy, Liz Saville Roberts, Layla Moran, Munira Wilson and Daisy Cooper, presented a Bill to prohibit anti-abortion protests within 150 metres of abortion clinics; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 June, and to be printed (Bill 111).