COMMONS

Today's House of Commons debates - Wednesday 01 March 2017

Version: Uncorrected | Updated 17:07

Oral Answers to Questions

Scotland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Taxation Powers

1.

What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on taxation powers.[908898]

11.

What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on taxation powers.[908908]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Ellison):

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended a Joint Exchequer Committee with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Constitution in November. They discussed the ongoing work between both Governments to implement these and other powers. There are, of course, regular and ongoing discussions between officials from both Governments.

Edward Argar:

Does my hon. Friend agree that these taxation powers, coupled with other powers that have been devolved to Holyrood, make it one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world? Does she also agree that, quite rightly, they make the Scottish Government accountable for their actions in respect of taxation, and that the Scottish Government are responsible for making Scotland the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom?

Jane Ellison:

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The new devolution settlement does indeed deliver one of the most powerful and accountable devolved Parliaments in the world, and the people of Scotland will look to their Government to use those tax powers wisely to make Scotland as competitive and attractive a place as possible in which to do business. We obviously want the Scottish Government to use those powers to deliver that and it is for them to choose how they use them, but they do have to account for their use to the people of Scotland.

Simon Hoare:

Does my hon. Friend share my confusion that the Scottish Government prefer the narrative of whinge, whine and waffle to using the powers that this Parliament has given them to prove their competence in running the country?

Jane Ellison:

As I am sure many hon. Members also know, I am very aware from many of my conversations with businesses—particularly those thinking about their plans for the future, especially since the referendum last year—that they often see competitiveness through the prism of tax and that they want to know the Government are entirely focused on creating the conditions in which businesses can grow and thrive. I really think that all of us need to focus on pursuing our plans to make our respective countries very competitive. In Scotland, the Government have to understand that the decisions they take about using their powers are part of such a package for businesses.

Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP):

The Tories at Westminster are facing rebellion on their Back Benches on business rates. What advice are they taking from the Government in Scotland, who have listened to local businesses and put on a cap of 12.5% for businesses in the hospitality sector and particularly those in Aberdeen that have been hard hit by the oil price?

Jane Ellison:

I think that is just an attempt to make a political bragging point. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government have made it quite clear that they will have more to say about that. They are listening carefully to the concerns of particularly the smallest businesses and of those hardest hit by business rates in England.

Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP):

Will the Minister explain to me how, simultaneously, the Scottish Government can, first, be not using the taxation powers they have, and secondly, be the highest taxed part of the country, particularly when neither of those statements are in fact true?

Jane Ellison:

It is for the Scottish Government to account to the Scottish people for their plans. These points might be interesting ones to bring to Westminster and knock about in this Chamber, but real people are looking at the impact of those plans on their family income and the Scottish Government will have to account to them for those plans. It is far more than just a debating point.

13.[908910]

Does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government’s decision to make Scotland the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom will reduce the country’s competitiveness and ultimately make Scotland a less attractive place in which to live, work or do business?

Jane Ellison:

These are all very important points. It is for the Scottish Government to use the powers that have been devolved to them and to account to their people for using them, but there is no doubt that people look at the competitiveness of tax regimes, whether personal or business, and that those regimes are important in the key decisions that people make about competitiveness and other things.

Leaving the EU: Trade

2.

What assessment he has made of trade opportunities for Scotland after the UK leaves the EU.[908899]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell):

Following the EU referendum, Scotland Office Ministers have regularly met representatives of Scottish industry and business. What comes out clearly is the appetite to seize and make a success of the opportunities afforded to us by leaving the EU, forging a new role for ourselves in the world to negotiate our own trade agreements and be a champion for free trade.

Heidi Allen:

I am a bit scared to ask my supplementary question because I think my Scottish National party colleagues have had three Weetabix this morning. My question is about exports, of which Scotland has made a fantastic success, particularly in food and drink. How confident or worried should we be if we come out of Europe that those markets will be damaged, and what can the Government do to support them?

David Mundell:

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight food and drink as Scotland’s top manufacturing export, accounting for £8.9 billion in 2015. Leaving the EU offers us the opportunity to negotiate new trade deals across the globe and create even more opportunities for Scotland’s world-renowned food and drink.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP):

Agriculture and fisheries are key parts of the Scottish economy and Scotland’s export sector. Powers for both are devolved to the Scottish Government. Under the Secretary of State’s Government’s plans, will all decisions on agriculture and fisheries be taken by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government after Brexit?

David Mundell:

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have confirmed in the White Paper that all the powers that the Scottish Parliament currently exercises in relation to agriculture, fisheries and all other issues will continue. We wish to have a dialogue with the Scottish Government, the other devolved Administrations and stakeholders about what happens to powers that are currently held in Brussels and where they will rightly rest after the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

Angus Robertson:

Anybody watching this will realise that the Secretary of State did not answer the question. During the Brexit referendum campaign, people were told that decisions currently taken in Brussels on agriculture and fisheries would revert to the Scottish Parliament. The Secretary of State has not given a clear answer to the question, which really matters to our rural industries, our rural economy and Scotland as a trading nation. Let me try the same question again, and I would be grateful if the Secretary of State answered it. Under his Government’s plans, will all decisions on agriculture and fisheries be taken by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government after Brexit—yes or no?

David Mundell:

This Government’s plan is to engage with the Scottish Government and with the other devolved Administrations to discuss those serious issues. It is not to go out and tell the people of Scotland that the devolved settlement is being undermined by Brexit, which will lead to the Scottish Parliament exercising more powers. I can give the right hon. Gentleman an absolute guarantee that, after the United Kingdom leaves the EU, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers will have more powers than they have today.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab):

Before I ask a question, I take the opportunity to send my condolences to the family of my great comrade, Gerald Kaufman, a genuine parliamentarian.

On 12 October, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and said

“whatever support is put in place for businesses in the north of England will apply to businesses in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c.287.]

That was in relation to the deal struck with Nissan. Does he stand by that promise?

David Mundell:

I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Gerald Kaufman. He was a near neighbour of mine in the previous Parliament and I always found him to be the perfect gentleman.

I made it clear in previous answers that the Government’s approach will be consistent across the United Kingdom.

Mr Anderson:

While some businesses and workers are aware of that welcome reassurance, I have yet to meet any businesses in Scotland that know about the commitment to give them the same deal as was done with Nissan. Why has the Secretary of State not been more public about the commitment? Why is it the best kept secret in Scotland?

David Mundell:

I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman how the UK Government are approaching the Brexit negotiations and how we are fully engaged with businesses in Scotland to ensure that we understand their concerns. We can go forward on a basis that will ensure that Scotland and the whole United Kingdom get the best possible deal from the UK leaving the EU.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP):

Scotland’s international exports have increased by 41% since the Scottish National party Government came into office in 2007, which is a fantastic success story for Scotland. Will the Secretary of State therefore explain why the UK Government failed to negotiate any geographical indications for Scottish produce in the EU-Canada CETA trade deal?

David Mundell:

I hope the hon. Lady’s approach on the EU-CETA trade deal is more consistent than that of her parliamentary group. On the Monday of the week when the Canada deal was discussed, SNP Members voted in favour. By the Wednesday, they somehow found that they were against.

Scottish Government: Draft Budget

3.

What recent discussions he had with the Scottish Government on their draft budget for 2017-18.[908900]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Ellison):

As I have mentioned, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has regular engagement with the Scottish Government’s Finance Minister. They discussed matters relating to the Scottish Government’s budget for 2017-18 at a joint Exchequer committee in November, and at a Finance Ministers’ quadrilateral in February.

Seema Kennedy:

What does my hon. Friend believe will be the consequences of the Scottish Government using their new powers for the Scottish economy to make Scotland the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom?

Jane Ellison:

Colleagues are rightly focused on tax and competitiveness. The increased tax powers delivered through the Scotland Act 2016 mean that the Scottish Government have responsibility for raising more of what they spend. It is for them to decide how to use those tax powers to shape Scotland’s economy, growth and jobs. I might not like their plans to make Scotland a higher-tax nation—it is up to them—but they have to explain those plans to the people they represent.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP):

The publication of this year’s draft Scottish budget had to be delayed because the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not make financial information available until the autumn statement. What impact will the move to the autumn Budget have on the Scottish Government’s ability to plan effectively for their budget process?

Jane Ellison:

There are many good reasons for moving to a single fiscal event in the autumn—allowing for longer-term planning is one of them. On the subject of planning for the long term and increasing certainty, I would add that taking the threat of a second referendum off the table is the single biggest thing that the SNP and the Scottish Government could do for certainty and confidence among the business community.

Leaving the EU: EU Nationals in Scotland

4.

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU on the status of EU nationals living in Scotland after the UK leaves the EU.[908901]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell):

I have regular conversations with the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU on a number of issues. The UK Government have made it absolutely clear in their White Paper that securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and of UK citizens in the EU is one of our top priorities in the Brexit negotiations.

Ian Murray:

The Secretary of State’s answer is not very reassuring given the speculation about a potential cut-off date for EU nationals later this month. The other place will vote on an amendment today that will secure the residency rights of EU nationals. If that is passed, will the Secretary of State urge his colleagues to end this disgraceful uncertainty on residency rights for EU nationals, who contribute so much to the Scottish and UK economies? If he does not, he will send out a very strong message that he is willing to use the lives of EU nationals as a bargaining chip for a hard Tory Brexit.

David Mundell:

I agree with one thing the hon. Gentleman says: EU citizens in Scotland, and indeed in the whole United Kingdom, make a significant contribution to civic life and the economy of our country. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear, we want those people to stay. She has sent out a very clear message, and it is clearly set out in the White Paper. We do not believe that the Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50) Bill is the place to set it out.

Mr Speaker:

I call Mr Shailesh Vara.

Mr Speaker:

The hon. Gentleman has a very similar question and I rather assumed he wanted to come in.

12.[908909]

I will certainly bear it in mind that it is a similar question, Mr Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that the business community in Scotland shares a far more positive and optimistic outlook, rather than the forever-negative comments from the Scottish Government?

Mr Speaker:

Order. This is on the importance of the rights of EU nationals. I am sure that that is what the hon. Gentleman meant.

David Mundell:

I know that businesses across Scotland value the contribution that EU citizens make to their businesses, and I am clear with them that even when the UK leaves the EU, it will be important for EU citizens still to come to Scotland and play an important part in our economy.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP):

A recent report from the British Medical Association shows that 40% of European doctors might leave the UK after Brexit because of the Government’s shameful inaction on giving a clear guarantee to EU nationals. Why will the UK Government not do the right thing and give a clear guarantee to EU nationals, who are a valued part of our society in Scotland, that they have the right to remain?

David Mundell:

I am absolutely clear about the importance we place on the role of EU nationals in the economy and the health service, but I would take the hon. Lady’s comments about encouraging doctors and other medical professionals to come to Scotland a lot more seriously if her Government had not decided to tax them more than any other part of the UK.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con):

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as well as safeguarding the role of EU citizens in the UK after we leave the EU, it is vital that we safeguard Scots people who have gone to live in other parts of the EU?

David Mundell:

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is vital that we secure the position of UK citizens in the EU, many of whom are Scots, and it is perfectly legitimate to take forward that issue in conjunction with securing the rights of EU citizens in Scotland and the rest of the UK. I am hopeful that that can be dealt with very early in the negotiations.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab):

It is clear that the Government are happy to play political football with these people’s lives. It shows contempt for 12,000 people working in our health and social care service in Scotland and for 20,000 people working in the food industry, which the Secretary of State has just bragged is the most important part of Scottish industry. When will he stop treating these people this way and give them the guarantee they need to live a happy and secure life in Scotland?

David Mundell:

I have made it absolutely clear, as has the Prime Minister, how much we value the contribution that EU nationals make in Scotland to both the economy and civic society. We want them to stay, but we also want UK nationals elsewhere in the EU to be able to stay where they are.

Joint Ministerial Committee

5.

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Joint Ministerial Committee.[908902]

10.

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Joint Ministerial Committee.[908907]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell):

The Government are committed to getting the best deal for Scotland and the UK in the negotiations with the EU. The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations was established to facilitate engagement between the UK Government and devolved Administrations and has had substantive and constructive discussions in monthly meetings since November.

Ben Howlett:

At the last meeting of the JMC, the Prime Minister committed to an intensified engagement with the Scottish Government on their EU proposals. Can he update the House on that process?

David Mundell:

When I appeared last week before the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, I was able to tell it that in the two weeks since the plenary meeting of the JMC, six substantive meetings had taken place between senior officials so that both Governments could discuss the proposals set out in the document, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. We regard this as a serious contribution to the debate and continue to engage with it.

Mr Jenkin:

May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has been taking a great interest in the inter-institutional relationships within the UK, that we produced a report in December on this subject, which I commend to him, and that the main thrust of the recommendations are not about structures and institutions but about natural adversaries sitting down together and developing relationships and bonds of trust and understanding?

David Mundell:

Obviously, I very much take my hon. Friend’s work seriously. Despite what often appears in the media, it is possible for the two Governments to engage in a constructive way. We are already in agreement on many issues in the Scottish Government’s document.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP):

It is not just a matter of trying to keep the EU nationals who are currently in our health and social care service. The workforce is the biggest challenge that NHS Scotland faces, so will the Secretary of State support Scotland having the powers to attract EU nationals in future, not just keeping the ones who are here now?

David Mundell:

I have said previously from this Dispatch Box that I do not support the devolution of immigration powers to the Scottish Parliament, but I do support arrangements that will ensure that the vital workers needed in depopulating areas, skilled areas and in areas that rely on seasonal workers can come to Scotland.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP):

Earlier, the Secretary of State refused to confirm that Scottish fishing and Scottish agriculture would become the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. When will his Department present to the Joint Ministerial Committee a list of powers that will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament after Brexit, or will he refuse to do so and simply follow instructions from No. 10?

David Mundell:

What I want to do and what I have attempted to do is engage in a constructive discussion and dialogue with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament about how we repatriate powers from Brussels. I do not try to make a serious and wrong political point that this is an attempt to destabilise the Scottish Parliament, because I know that when the process is complete, the Scottish Parliament will have more powers than it does today.

UK Single Market and Scotland’s Economy

6.

What assessment he has made of the importance of the UK single market to Scotland’s economy.[908903]

7.

What assessment he has made of the importance of the UK single market to Scotland’s economy.[908904]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell):

Sales from Scotland to the rest of the UK are worth nearly £50 billion, a figure that has increased by over 70% since 2002 and that is four times greater than the value of exports from Scotland to the EU. There is no doubt that the United Kingdom is the vital Union for Scotland’s economy.

Dr Offord:

Does the Secretary of State agree that we must not create barriers or do anything to impede the functioning of the UK domestic market as we leave the EU, given its vital importance to the economy of Scotland?

David Mundell:

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I find it strange that those who make such a fuss about the EU single market seem to have a complete disregard for a market that is four times as large to Scotland’s economy.

Maria Caulfield:

Given that Scottish whisky is the largest net contributor to the UK’s balance of trade and goods, is the Secretary of State encouraged by the fact that if we move from the single market to World Trade Organisation arrangements, Scottish whisky will have a zero tariff?

David Mundell:

It is important to note that there is a zero tariff for Scotch whisky under WTO rules. As to our future relationship with the EU, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that we want to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU, which would be enormously to the benefit of the Scotch whisky industry.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):

All this UK single market business is quite interesting, but is the Secretary of State trying to suggest that a Brexitised isolated UK, desperate for friends and any trading partners, would not trade with an independent Scotland?

David Mundell:

What I am suggesting is that if an independent Scotland were to put up tariffs and barriers with its vital largest trading partner, which provides four times as much economic development as the EU, that would be a disastrous series of events.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con):

How is job creation in Scotland affecting the Scottish economy?

David Mundell:

It is vital that both the UK and the Scottish Governments work together to maximise the number of jobs created, but it is clear that the one thing the Scottish Government could do to help job creation in Scotland most is take the suggestion of a divisive independence referendum off the table.

8.[908905]

The Secretary of State previously told the Scottish Affairs Committee that he attends Cabinet Brexit meetings based on whether he thinks the agenda items are important to Scotland. Will he tell the House which Brexit policy areas he thinks are important to Scotland and which areas he thinks are not important?

David Mundell:

I also made it clear to that Committee that it was not appropriate to give a running commentary on the Government’s internal discussions on Brexit. What I am committed to do is delivering the best possible deal for Scotland in these Brexit negotiations.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1.[908983]

If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 1 March.

The Prime Minister (Mrs Theresa May):

I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in wishing people in the UK, and across the world, a happy St David’s day. I am also sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to our former colleague, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who died over the weekend. He was an outstanding parliamentarian and a committed MP who dedicated his life to the service of his constituents. As Father of the House, his wisdom and experience will be very much missed right across this House. I am sure that our thoughts are with his friends and family.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Andrew Bridgen:

I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks, and assure the many relatives and friends of our former colleague that they are very much in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.

Does my right hon. Friend believe that last week’s historic by-election victory in Copeland was an endorsement of her Government’s plans to maintain a strong economy, bring our society together and ensure that we make a huge success of leaving the European Union?

The Prime Minister:

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. First, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend, the new Member for Copeland, and look forward to welcoming her to this House very shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) is absolutely right that last week’s historic result in Copeland was an endorsement of our plans to keep the economy strong and to ensure that places such as Copeland share in the economic success after years of Labour neglect. It was also an endorsement of our plans to unite communities where Labour seeks to sow division and of offering strong, competent leadership in the face of Labour’s chaos.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab):

May I join the Prime Minister in wishing everyone in Wales, and all Welsh people around the world, a very happy St David’s day. May I also express the hope that, today, the workers at the Ford plant in Bridgend get the assurances that they need about their job security and their futures.

I echo the Prime Minister’s tribute to Gerald Kaufman who served in this House since 1970 and was the longest serving Member. He started in political life as an adviser to Harold Wilson in the 1960s. He was an iconic, irascible figure in the Labour party and in British politics. He was a champion for peace and justice in the middle east and around the world. Yesterday at his funeral, Mr Speaker, the rabbi who conducted the service conveyed your message on behalf of the House to his family, which was very much appreciated. Afterwards, I spoke to his family and to his great nephews and great nieces and asked them how they would describe Gerald, and they said that he was an “awesome uncle”. We should remember Gerald as that, and convey our condolences to all of his family.

Just after the last Budget, the then Work and Pensions Secretary resigned, accusing the Government of

“balancing the books on the backs of the poor and vulnerable.”

Last week, the Government sneaked out a decision to overrule a court decision to extend personal independence payments to people with severe mental health conditions. A Government who found £1 billion in inheritance tax cuts to benefit 26,000 families seem unable to find the money to support 160,000 people with debilitating mental health conditions. Will the Prime Minister change her mind?

The Prime Minister:

Let me be very clear about what is being proposed in relation to personal independence payments. This is not a policy change—[Interruption.] This is not a cut in the amount spent on disability benefits, and no one is going to see a reduction in their benefits from that previously awarded by the Department for Work and Pensions. What we are doing is restoring the original intention of the payment agreed by the coalition Government, and agreed by this Parliament after extensive consultation.

Jeremy Corbyn:

Extensive consultation is an interesting idea, because the court made its decision last year, the Government did not consult the Social Security Advisory Committee and, at the last minute, sneaked out their decision.

The court ruled that the payments should be made because the people who were to benefit from them were suffering “overwhelming psychological distress”. Just a year ago, the then new Work and Pensions Secretary said:

“I can tell the House that we will not be going ahead with the changes to PIP that had been put forward.”—[Official Report, 21 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 1268.]

The court has since made a ruling. The Prime Minister’s colleague the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) said:

“In my view, the courts are there for a reason. If they have come up with this ruling, which says that the criteria should be extended, then I believe we have a duty to honour that.”

Is she not right?

The Prime Minister:

First, on the issue of these payments and those with mental health conditions, the personal independence payment is better for people with mental health conditions. The figures show that two thirds of people with mental health conditions who are claiming personal independence payments and in receipt of it are awarded the higher daily living rate allowance, compared with less than a quarter under the previous disability living allowance arrangements.

This is the second time that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested that somehow the change was sneaked out. It was in a written ministerial statement to Parliament. I might remind him that week after week he talks to me about the importance of Parliament; well, we accepted the importance of Parliament and made the statement to Parliament. He also referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee, and it can look at this matter. My right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary called the Chairman of the SSAC and spoke to him about the regulations on the day they were being introduced; he also called the Chairman of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions and spoke to him about the regulations that were being introduced; and he called both offices of the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, but there was no answer and they did not come back to him for four days.

Jeremy Corbyn:

Calling—[Interruption.] Calling the Chairs of two Committees and making a written statement to the House does not add up to scrutiny, and as I understand it no call was made to the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), the shadow Secretary of State.

The reality is that this is a shameful decision that will affect people with dementia, those suffering cognitive disorders due to a stroke, military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and those with schizophrenia. Will the Prime Minister look at the effects of her decision to override what an independent court has decided, and think again?

The Prime Minister:

The issues and conditions that the right hon. Gentleman raises are taken into account when decisions are made about personal independence payments. The court said that the regulations were unclear; that is why we are clarifying the regulations and ensuring that they respect and reflect the original intention that was agreed by this Parliament.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the support being given to people with disabilities, I say to him that this Government are spending more than ever in support for people with disability and health conditions, and we are spending more than ever on people with mental health conditions. What we are doing with personal independence payments is ensuring that those who are most in need get most support.

Jeremy Corbyn:

The Government have overridden an independent court decision, and they should think long and hard about that. The Prime Minister’s hon. Friend, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), said this week that the Government have to

“make it very clear that physical and mental health has the same priority”.

In 2002, the Prime Minister made a speech to the Conservative party conference. I remember it very well; I was watching it on television. She described her party as the “nasty party” and said:

“Some Tories have tried to make political capital by demonising minorities”.

This week, her policy chair suggested that people with debilitating conditions were those who were

“taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety”

and were not “really disabled”. Is that not proof that the “nasty party” is still around?

The Prime Minister:

My right hon. Friend has rightly apologised for the comments that he made, and I hope that the whole House will accept his apology. The right hon. Gentleman asks me about parity between mental health conditions and physical conditions. It is this Conservative Government who introduced parity of esteem in dealing with mental health in the national health service. How many years were Labour in government and did nothing about it? Thirteen years!

Jeremy Corbyn:

It was a Labour amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill that resulted in parity of esteem being put on the face of the Bill. I am surprised that the right hon. Lady has forgotten that; she could have taken this opportunity to thank the Labour party for putting it forward. The Prime Minister made a speech earlier this year supporting parity of esteem for mental health, and I am glad she did so. However, 40% of NHS mental health trusts are having their budgets cut, and there are 6,600 fewer mental health nurses and 160,000 people with severe mental health conditions who are about to lose out on support. Can she not recognise that parity of esteem means funding it properly and not overriding court decisions that would benefit people suffering from very difficult conditions? We should reach out to them, not deny them the support they need.

The Prime Minister:

As I say, we are spending more than ever on mental health—£11.4 billion a year. More people each week are now receiving treatment in relation to mental health than previously. Is there more for us to do on mental health? Yes, there is. I have said that in this Chamber in answer to questions that I have received—

The Prime Minister:

The shadow Foreign Secretary shouts, “Well, do it” from her normal sedentary position—[Interruption.] We are doing it. That is why we are putting record amounts of money into mental health. That is why we are seeing more people being provided with mental health treatment every week under this Government. There is one thing that I know: if we are going to be able to provide that extra support for people with disabilities and health conditions and provide treatment for people with mental health conditions, we need a strong economy that enables us to pay for it. And the one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain.

Jeremy Corbyn:

That is rich, coming from a Government who, by 2020, will have borrowed more and increased the national debt by the total borrowing of all Labour Governments.

The mental health charity Rethink has said:

“The Government has spoken forcefully about the importance of parity esteem between physical and mental health, yet when presented with the chance to make this a reality...it has passed on the opportunity”.

As a society, we are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable. The respected mental health charity Mind has said:

“This misguided legislation must be reversed”.

Will the Prime Minister look again at the decision of the court and its consequences, withdraw this nasty decision, accept the court’s judgment and support those who are going through a very difficult time in their lives? That is how we will all be judged.

The Prime Minister:

The way we are dealing with disability benefits is to ensure that payments are going to those who are most vulnerable. What we are doing in relation to personal independence payments is ensuring that the agreement of this Parliament is being put into practice. The right hon. Gentleman talks about funding and he talks about borrowing. I understand that today—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker:

Order. We cannot have a constant debate while the Prime Minister is answering the question. The question has been put and was heard, and the answer must be heard without a constant hubbub in the background.

The Prime Minister:

The right hon. Gentleman talks about accepting the court’s decision and paying for that. When asked how Labour would pay for the increase if it was put in place, I understand that the Labour shadow Health Secretary said today, “Err, we’ve not outlined that yet.” That just sums up the Labour party and the Labour party leadership. After the result in Copeland last week, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) summed up the by-election result by saying that it was an “incredible result” for the Labour party. I think that word describes the right hon. Gentleman’s leadership: incredible.

Q3.[908985]

On Monday, I chaired a seminar at the Royal Society looking at the priorities for the science community as we start our Brexit negotiations, and a report of the meeting will be launched here in Parliament on 21 March. While I of course understand that the Prime Minister may be too busy to attend, will she meet me once the report is published so that I can present to her in person the collective concerns of the science community, particularly those around collaboration and people?

The Prime Minister:

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, which he is right to raise. We want the UK to be the go-to place for innovators and investors across the world, and we want to secure the best possible outcomes for the UK research base as we leave the European Union. Indeed, one of the objectives that I set out for our negotiations with the European Union relates to science and research. We already are a leading destination for science and innovation, and we would welcome an agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners. I am interested in what my hon. Friend has said, and I am sure that that report will be looked at carefully by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP):

We on the SNP Benches join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party in extending our condolences to the family and friends of Sir Gerald Kaufman. We also extend our best wishes to the people of Wales on St David’s Day.

In Scottish questions just prior to PMQs today, Ministers were unable to answer basic questions about the Government’s plans for agriculture and for fisheries. Those are important industries for the rural economy and are devolved to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. With Brexit ending the role of Brussels in those areas, will all decisions about agriculture and fisheries be made at Holyrood—yes or no?

The Prime Minister:

The right hon. Gentleman knows well that we are discussing with the devolved Administrations the whole question of the UK framework and devolution of issues as they come back from Brussels. The overriding aim for everything that we do when we make those decisions is to ensure that we do not damage the important single market of the United Kingdom, a market which I remind the right hon. Gentleman is more important to Scotland than the European Union is.

Angus Robertson:

That is a very interesting answer because people in Scotland, including those working in the agriculture and fisheries sectors, were told during the Brexit referendum that farming and fisheries powers would be exercised fully by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. Judging by the Prime Minister’s answer, however, it seems that that will not be true. Will the Prime Minister confirm today—she has the opportunity—that it is her intention to ensure that UK Ministers will negotiate and regulate over large areas that impact on Scottish fisheries and agriculture post-Brexit?

The Prime Minister:

The right hon. Gentleman seems not to have understood this point, so I will repeat it. We are in the process of discussing with the devolved Administrations the whole question of which of the powers that currently reside in Brussels will be returned and will remain at a UK level for decisions and which powers will be further devolved to the devolved Administrations. That is the discussion that is taking place at the moment. He asks about the Brexit negotiations with the European Union, and it will be the UK Government that will be negotiating with the European Union, taking full account of the interests and concerns of the devolved Administrations and, indeed, of all the regions of England.

Q8.[908990]

Does the Prime Minister agree that, when tickets to a teenage cancer charity gig by Ed Sheeran are being resold on the viagogo ticket website for more than £1,000, with none of that money going to the charity, and tickets to the hit musical “Hamilton” are being touted for upwards of £5,000 when viagogo knows only too well that resold tickets are invalid for entry, it is unfair and not indicative of a market that works for everyone? What will the Government do to ensure that genuine fans are not fleeced by ticket touts and rogues?

The Prime Minister:

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, which I know he has been working on for some time. He is absolutely right to identify circumstances where websites are acting in that way and causing those problems for people who genuinely believe that they are able to buy tickets for what they wish to attend. I understand that he recently met my right hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture to discuss the issue. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 introduced new rules on ticketing and a review of online ticket sales. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will shortly respond to the independent report by Professor Michael Waterson on this issue, but as a Government we are looking at the general issue of where markets are not working in the interest of consumers.

Q2.[908984]

I add my condolences to those already expressed about the former Father of the House, and I welcome my new hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) to his place.Young black men who use mental health services are more likely than other people to be subject to detention, extreme forms of medication and severe physical restraint, and, in extreme cases, this has led to death, including that of my constituent Seni Lewis. Too many black people with mental ill health are afraid to seek treatment from a service they fear will not treat them fairly. Will the Prime Minister meet me and some of the affected families to discuss the need for an inquiry into institutional racism in the mental health service?

The Prime Minister:

I am happy to welcome the new hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) to this House.

It is precisely because of concern about how various people were being treated within our public services that last year I introduced a racial audit of the disparity of treatment within public services. As Home Secretary, I saw this when I looked at the way that people, particularly black people with mental health issues, were being dealt with by the police and in various forms of detention. That is exactly the sort of issue that we are looking at. I am very happy for the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) to write to me with the details of the particular issue that he set out.

Q9.[908991]

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating my West Suffolk College, all its staff and, in particular, its principal, Nikos Savvas, on winning the prestigious teaching and learning initiative award for the whole country at last week’s Times Educational Supplement further education awards by combining the teaching of maths, art, religion and science? I am sure the Prime Minister will agree that that initiative drives forward inquisitive minds and grows the skills that future generations will need to succeed.

The Prime Minister:

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating West Suffolk College on being given that award for best teaching and learning initiative for its MARS initiative. The college has put in place a really interesting initiative, and I congratulate all its staff. This award is a sign of the dedication of the staff and students at West Suffolk College. All colleges across the country should be aspiring to reach these standards, and she is absolutely right that we need to ensure that young people have not just a skillset but an inquiring mind that enables them, as they look forward to what may be different careers throughout their life, to embrace new skills and change.

Q4.[908986]

My constituent Joanne Good’s 16-year-old daughter, Megan, tragically died after drinking half a three-litre bottle of Frosty Jack’s cider, which is 7.5% and, at under £4 a bottle, contains 22 vodka-shot equivalents. Does the Prime Minister accept that cheap, super-strength, white cider is a health hazard and should be banned or at the very least carry a much higher duty per unit?

The Prime Minister:

First, I am sure that Members from across the whole House will want to join me in offering our deepest sympathies to the family of this 16-year-old constituent—former constituent—of the hon. Lady. She raises an important issue, which is why the Government recognise the harm associated with the problem consumption of alcohol. We have taken action through the duty system, so that high-strength ciders and beers are taxed more than equivalent lower-strength products. We have also, of course, taken action on the very cheap alcohol by banning sales below duty plus VAT. But another element is involved, too, which is making sure that young people are aware of the dangers and harms of alcohol misuse. Public Health England and the NHS have run campaigns offering advice and support to young people, and they also work with charities and in schools to help to raise that awareness. I think that is an important part of this.

Q11.[908993]

We are rightly proud that young people can study at our colleges and universities regardless of race, creed or colour, yet this week Jewish students are being subjected to intimidation, fear and anti-Semitism as the result of the so-called Israeli apartheid week. What action can my right hon. Friend take to make sure that chancellors and principals ensure that anti-Semitism is not allowed to prosper on campuses?

The Prime Minister:

First, I want to assure my hon. Friend that higher education institutions have a responsibility to ensure that they provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students. We expect them to have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, and to investigate and swiftly address hate crime, including any anti-Semitic incidents that are reported. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has recently written to remind institutions of these expectations, and he has also urged them to follow the Government’s lead in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.

Q5.[908987]

There is a flaw in the legislative reform order with which the Government are seeking to create private fund limited partnerships, which allows criminal-owned Scottish limited partnerships to convert easily to these new types of partnerships. Will the Prime Minister step in and delay the LRO until such time as the current Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy review on SLPs is completed?

The Prime Minister:

We have taken important steps to tackle money laundering, terrorist financing and other economic crimes; I oversaw the establishment of the economic crime command in the National Crime Agency. On the question the hon. Gentleman raises on SLPs, I understand that BEIS consulted last year on further transparency requirements for SLPs and will be publishing proposals soon, and that my right hon. Friend the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary is gathering evidence which may lead to further reform.

Q13.[908995]

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concerns about the new business rates. Although there is a welcome from many of the businesses in the High Peak that will be taken out of business rates, there is a concern among those who have seen an increase—in one case one of as much as 85%. Can she give me an assurance, and give those businesses an assurance, that we will do all we can for these people, who work incredibly hard to be the engine room of our economy, as a rise of this size may threaten their livelihoods?

The Prime Minister:

As my hon. Friend will know, business rates are based on property value and it has been seven years since property values were last looked at, so I think it is absolutely right that we update them. But of course, as I recognised last week, there are different impacts on different businesses, and it is important that we have already put significant sums into transitional support for businesses so that we help the companies that are facing increased bills. As I said in this House last week, I have asked my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Communities and Local Government Secretary to make sure that the support that is provided is appropriate and is in place for the hardest cases. I would expect my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to say more about this next week in the Budget.

Q6.[908988]

A recent National Audit Office report exposed massive Government overspend on new free school sites, and the Department for Education estimates that it will need to spend a further £2.5 billion on land for these schools. Schools throughout my constituency are reporting chronic levels of underfunding. Will the Prime Minister please review the plans for new free schools and provide existing schools with the investment they need?

The Prime Minister:

I am happy to say to the hon. Lady that we have, of course, protected the core schools budget in real terms. Yes, we have had free schools—I understand that she raises a concern about them—but we have seen the programme of free schools and academies continue under this Government to ensure that we are creating more good school places throughout the country. That is what we want to do and that is what our policy will continue to do.

Q14.[908996]

I join the Prime Minister in wishing Wales a happy dydd Dewi Sant—St David’s day. The Secretary of State for Wales has been working with colleagues across Government to send out to the world the message that Wales is one of the best places in the United Kingdom to live, work, visit and trade with. Does the Prime Minister agree that Welsh interests must remain at the heart of our United Kingdom? As we leave the European Union, the future of the UK Union has never been more important.

The Prime Minister:

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is absolutely right to raise the importance of Wales. My right hon. Friend the Wales Secretary is doing important work to remind the world that Wales is one of the best places in the UK to live, work and trade with. In the forthcoming negotiations we are committed to getting a deal that works for all parts of the UK, including Wales. The best way to achieve that is for the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to continue to work together. I am pleased to say that I am going to be hosting a St David’s day reception in Downing Street tonight to celebrate everything that Wales has to offer. I once again wish all Members of this House dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus.

Q7.[908989]

Congestion, journey times and connectivity between Bradford and Leeds are among the worst in the country. Will the Prime Minister support the campaign to ensure that Bradford is part of the High Speed 3 network? Will she commit to delivering the investments we so desperately need for our West Yorkshire powerhouse?

The Prime Minister:

I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I missed the first part of her question. I think she was talking about investment in infrastructure in her area. [Interruption.] HS3, right. The Government have obviously already set out the commitments we have made on infrastructure. As she will know, we believe infrastructure plays an important part in encouraging the growth of the economy and ensuring that we see increased productivity around the rest of the country. Over time, we will of course be looking at further projects that can do just that.

Q15.[908997]

When I was canvassing in Copeland recently, people there wanted to talk about the future of their local maternity unit; it was just like being at home in Banbury. Rather than politicise the NHS, would the Prime Minister agree to a review of maternity services, encouraging care that is not just safe but kind and close to home?

The Prime Minister:

My hon. Friend makes an important point about local maternity services. As I have said, I am looking forward to welcoming the new Member for Copeland to this House very shortly. During the recent campaign, she made it very clear that she did not want to see any downgrading of the West Cumberland hospital services. She also did something else. She put forward a powerful case for what my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) has just suggested: a review to tackle the recruitment issues that affect the maternity services up there. A professionally led review seems very sensible, and I know that the Health Minister is looking into it.

Q10.[908992]

A 19-year-old constituent of mine faces being discharged by the Tees, Esk and Wear Valley mental health trust for a second time because the trust has neither the skills nor the cash to provide the support he needs. What is the Prime Minister’s message to him?

The Prime Minister:

I am sorry, but I obviously do not know the full details of the individual case raised by the hon. Gentleman. We are ensuring that more money is being—and will continue to be—put into mental health conditions over the year. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health will look into that case, if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to him about it.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con):

As a leader who wants to spread wealth and opportunity as widely as possible, will the Prime Minister ensure that we end the practice of developers buying freehold land on which they then sell new houses on a leasehold basis? Many first time buyers on Help to Buy feel that they are being ripped off by this practice and look to the Government for help.

The Prime Minister:

I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning that issue, which he has raised with me previously. I know he is concerned about it and working on it. Our housing White Paper clearly sets out that developers should be building homes for people to live in. That means that we will act to promote fairness for the growing number of leaseholders, but we will consult on a range of measures to tackle unfair and unreasonable abuses of leasehold, as the Housing Minister has said. Other than in certain exceptional circumstances, I do not see why new homes should not be built and sold with the freehold interest at the point of sale.

Q12.[908994]

May I add my condolences to the family of Gerald Kaufman, who was one of my friends in this place?I received an email yesterday from a local pharmacist who, since the Government announcement in October last year, has had to implement cost-cutting measures, including to staff and services. This week he received a notification of the payment for prescriptions dispensed in December last year, and has had a reduction of nearly £9,000, which represents an 18.8% cut—well beyond the 4% that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat)—the pharmacies Minister—spoke about in October. Will the Government commit to revisit community pharmacy funding as a matter of urgency?

The Prime Minister:

We all recognise the important service that pharmacies provide, which is why spending on them has actually risen in recent years. There has been an increase of more than 18% in the number of pharmacies over the past decade. The system needs to reform so that NHS resources are spent efficiently and effectively. Let us look at some of the figures: two fifths of pharmacies are within 10 minutes’ walk of two or more other pharmacies; the average pharmacy receives roughly £220,000 a year in NHS funding; and most pharmacies receive the £25,000 establishment payment, regardless of size or quality. We looked at this concern when it was raised last summer, and made changes to ensure that greater support was available to pharmacies in particular areas.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con):

One of David Cameron’s greatest legacies was his effort to fight human trafficking under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Last year, this country looked after 800,000 children in Syria or the surrounding countries for the same investment as looking after 3,000 in this country. By doing that, we help to defeat human trafficking. Will the Prime Minister confirm that we will continue with that policy?

The Prime Minister:

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to David Cameron. I was pleased that he supported the Modern Slavery Act when I proposed introducing it. We are, indeed, committed to continuing our policy in this area. I have set up, and chair, a modern slavery taskforce at No. 10, bringing together various parties to ensure that we are doing what is necessary across Government to break the criminal gangs, deal with the perpetrators and provide the necessary support for victims.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP):

May I, on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing condolences to the family of the late Father of the House? He will be greatly missed.

The Prime Minister cannot fail to have noticed the recent intervention in the Brexit debate by two former Prime Ministers; I am sure they were very helpful. I am sure that she will know what they and everybody else mean by “hard Brexit” and by “soft Brexit”, but we are all now wondering what is meant by a “soft coup”, when it might be triggered, and when, indeed, we will know whether it has been triggered. Perhaps the Prime Minister will elucidate on that since she has been so helpful in many other ways. Will she take the opportunity today, however, to make it clear that, whatever former Prime Ministers or Members of the unelected upper House may say, the reality is that her plan to trigger article 50 by the end of March is now clearly on track?

The Prime Minister:

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. It is, indeed, my plan to trigger by the end of March, and when I refer to that, I refer, of course, to the triggering of article 50, rather than attempting to trigger any coup, soft or otherwise, that might take place. It is still our intention to do that. It is important; the article 50 Bill, of course, does respond to the judgment of the Supreme Court, but it also ensures that we are responding to the voice of the United Kingdom, when people voted to ensure that we do leave the European Union, and that is what we will do.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con):

Mr Speaker, perhaps you, like many other hon. Members here today, took a shower this morning—[Laughter.] I am sure you were very careful to check whether the shower gel contained microbeads. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”]

Mr Speaker:

Order. We must hear the thrust of this fascinating question. Mrs Pow, let’s hear it.

Rebecca Pow:

Shower gel products containing microbeads can result in 100,000 microbeads or microplastics being washed down the drain every time we use them—into the water system, and then into the marine environment, damaging these precious habitats. Would the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the steps this Government are taking to introduce a ban on microbeads used in cosmetics and personal care products, with the consultation ending just a few days ago?

The Prime Minister:

I think I should say for clarity to Members of this House that I am not in a position to know whether or not you took a shower this morning, Mr Speaker.

My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. It is completely unnecessary to add plastics to products like face washes and body scrub, where harmless alternatives can be used. As she said at the end of her question, our consultation to ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products closed recently. We are aiming to change legislation by October 2017, and we also ask for evidence of what more can be done in future to prevent other sources of plastic from entering the marine environment, because we are committed to being the first generation ever to leave the environment in a better state than when it was inherited. I am sure that, together, we can all work to bring an end to these harmful plastics clogging up our oceans.

Mr Speaker:

I think both Philip and Sally are very reassured by what the Prime Minister has just said.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab):

Along the M4 corridor in south Wales, over 1,000 families woke up this morning deeply worried about potential job losses at Ford in Bridgend. Families in Ogmore and Bridgend are particularly frightened—frightened that Ford is not going to be able to bring new contracts into the factory, with the uncertainty of Brexit ahead. Can I have an assurance from the Prime Minister that she will arrange for her Ministers to meet Ford and Unite the union to see what can be done to support Ford to ensure continuity of engine production in the Bridgend plant?

The Prime Minister:

Can I reassure the hon. Lady that our automotive sector is one of the most productive in the world? We want to see it going from strength to strength. That is why Ministers in this Government have been engaging with various companies within the automotive sector, including Ford and other companies. Ford is an important investor here; it has been established here for over 100 years. We now account for around a third of Ford’s global engine production, and Bridgend continues to be an important part of that. We have had, as I said, dialogue with Ford; we will continue to have a regular dialogue with Ford about the ways in which Government can help to make sure that this success continues.

New Member

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:

Trudy Lynne Harrison, for Copeland.