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House of Commons

Wednesday 14 October 2015

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What estimate she has made of the number of people killed by the IRA. [901506]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Ben Wallace): The authoritative chronicle of troubles deaths, “Lost Lives”, estimates the number of people killed by the IRA between 1966 and 2006 at 1,768.

Mr Turner: May I remember Garda Anthony Golden and Kevin McGuigan, both murdered in recent weeks by the IRA, and, of course, my former hon. Friend Ian Gow, who was murdered 25 years ago this week?

We are now told that the IRA has ceased operations. Regardless of whether the IRA exists, does my hon. Friend agree that there is no place in a democratic society for those who undertake criminal or terrorist activities?

Mr Wallace: There has never been a place in United Kingdom politics for terrorism, and nor is there a place in UK politics for people who refuse to condemn terrorism.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The IRA terrorist campaign led to the deaths of 3,750 people. The IRA has stated that it has not gone away, its guns have not gone away, and over the last three months its murderous ways have not gone away, either. Will the Minister confirm the commitment by the Government of the Irish Republic to reduce IRA activity and to catch IRA members involved in murders and criminal activity in that jurisdiction in the past and today?

Mr Wallace: I again place on the record my condolences and those of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the family of Garda Golden, who was brutally murdered last week. I was in Dublin only a few weeks ago, and it is absolutely the Irish Government’s intention to pursue men of violence and terrorists on their side of the border and to assist the UK Government on our side of the border.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): What comfort can the Minister give the House that the police have sufficient resources to fully investigate these most serious of crimes?

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Mr Wallace: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has secured extra funding for the Police Service of Northern Ireland over the last few years, and the Chief Constable is confident that should evidence present itself murders will be pursued to the correct outcome, such as bringing people to justice.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I think the House would like to hear from the Minister what pressure the Government are putting on the Libyan authorities to secure compensation for all those hurt and maimed and for the families of people murdered by Libyan-sponsored IRA violence. It is the morally right thing to do. Will he confirm that the Government will seek compensation as soon as there is a Libyan regime to negotiate with?

Mr Wallace: The Prime Minister has indicated that he is keen to seek further compensation for victims, but of course it is hard to negotiate with a Libyan Government that are not functioning or in existence. I know that a Select Committee of the House is looking at the arrangements made between Tony Blair’s Government and the then Libyan Government.

Northern Ireland Executive: Financial Position

2. Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): What steps she is taking to ensure that the Northern Ireland Executive’s financial position is sustainable. [901507]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Ben Wallace): It is for the Executive to deliver a balanced Budget and sustainable finances. The Stormont House agreement provides a package of measures to help them achieve this. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, it is not extra money that will sort out this crisis; the local parties need to resolve welfare reform disagreements, deal with budgetary pressures and deliver public sector reform.

Simon Hoare: Does my hon. Friend accept that in principle it is not acceptable for any of the devolved Administrations simply to breach spending limits agreed with Her Majesty’s Government?

Mr Wallace: It is not acceptable for any devolved institution, or indeed any Whitehall Department, to breach spending limits agreed with the Treasury. For that reason, I urge the Northern Ireland parties to resolve their differences, implement the Stormont House agreement and take advantage of the economic package we put together last December to ensure that Northern Ireland goes from strength to strength.

Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP): Many areas of Northern Ireland have a particular problem with unemployment, partly as a result of the troubles and their aftermath. Will the Secretary of State make representations to the Chancellor that there is a strong case to be made for welfare reform to be far slower in Northern Ireland than elsewhere and that additional support for job creation should be provided?

Mr Wallace: That case has been made. That is why in the Stormont House agreement we allow flexibilities within Stormont to take measures appropriate to ensure that the troubles are recognised and their impact on the

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people of Northern Ireland mitigated. However, that is a matter for the Stormont House Government. The powers are there; it is time they got on with it.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Does the Minister agree that any Government that cannot set a budget cannot really govern properly? Are not the parties that are preventing the setting of the budget risking the collapse of the whole institutions?

Mr Wallace: I agree with my hon. Friend that unless this impasse is solved, public services will start to be hit as the money runs out. Let us not forget that the people of Northern Ireland deserve that this solution be put in place. We are already seeing the impact on the health service in Northern Ireland—and no doubt on other services, too. There is very little time left before the people of Northern Ireland realise that a non-functioning Stormont will take Northern Ireland backwards, not forwards.

Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) (UUP): Have the parties that rejected the Stormont House proposals from last December put forward any credible proposals to resolve the financial issues?

Mr Wallace: May I refer the hon. Gentleman to his party leader, who has been in the talks over the last few weeks? He may be able to refresh his memory about what proposals have been put forward. The talks are ongoing; they are intense and we hope collectively to come to a resolution.

Political Situation

3. Harry Harpham (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the political situation in Northern Ireland since the murder of Kevin McGuigan Sr in August 2015. [901508]

5. Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the political situation in Northern Ireland. [901510]

9. Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the political situation in Northern Ireland. [901515]

11. Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the political situation in Northern Ireland. [901518]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I would first like to associate myself with the tributes paid to Garda Officer Golden. His death was a tragedy, and my condolences go to his family, friends and police colleagues.

It is essential that the cross-party talks deliver a way to implement the Stormont House agreement and also a means to address the continuing impact of paramilitary organisations. The Northern Ireland parties are engaging intensively, but time is short and a resolution is urgently needed.

Harry Harpham: What progress has been made in the cross-party talks convened by the British and Irish Governments to overcome the current impasse? In particular, what work is being done to rebuild trust between the parties?

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Mrs Villiers: We cannot yet say whether we will have a successful outcome, but my feeling is that all five parties participating in the talks want the institutions to work, so they recognise that they have to fix these problems. It is essential, however, that that includes implementing welfare reform. Without it, there will be no sustainable public finances in Northern Ireland—and without that, as the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has said, we cannot really have a functioning and effective Government.

Sir David Amess: Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the plight of the thousands of families that suffered at the hands of terrorists is not forgotten? Will she also insist that measures in the Stormont House agreement that deal with the past are implemented without further delay?

Mrs Villiers: I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that the needs of victims and survivors of the troubles will always be at the forefront of this Government’s approach to the troubles and the Stormont House agreement Bill. That is why absolutely no provision is made in the Bill for an amnesty, which would be completely unacceptable to victims and survivors, just as it is unacceptable to this House. We will press ahead with measures to implement the bodies on the past in the Stormont House agreement.

Maria Caulfield: Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be helpful to have cross-party agreement in this place on our stance against terrorism in order to show our support for the Northern Ireland Executive?

Mrs Villiers: That is important. For the most part, that view is shared across the House. It is obviously of grave concern that the leader of the Labour party, when asked as recently as this August to condemn IRA terrorism, said that he condemned the actions of the British Army in Northern Ireland.

Mr Bellingham: The Secretary of State will be aware that a lot of Northern Ireland businesses are rapidly expanding. For example, Almac in Craigavon is taking on 300 new people, and Moy Valley is looking to take on another 600 employees across the Six Counties. Does my right hon. Friend agree that businesses expect the political process to be put on track to underpin this wealth creation?

Mrs Villiers: I do agree. The Government’s long-term economic plan is working, and it is reflected in economic recovery in Northern Ireland. One of the reasons why we need a successful outcome of the cross-party talks and implementation of the Stormont House agreement is to open the way for devolution of corporation tax, which will mean even more jobs and prosperity in Northern Ireland.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about there being no amnesty in relation to past terrorist crimes. That is absolutely right, in the view of our party and the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State assure us that there will be no question of the past being rewritten or revised, or of a different narrative emerging from the discussions of the past that are currently taking place as part of the political process?

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Mrs Villiers: I can give the right hon. Gentleman assurances on both those points. As he well knows, the Stormont House agreement makes it very clear that there is no amnesty, and that an amnesty would not be justified. I also believe that it would be completely unacceptable to set up any bodies that would seek to rewrite the history of the troubles. There can never be any equivalence between the police officers who defended the rule of law and the terrorists who sought to destroy it.

Mr Dodds: I warmly welcome what the Secretary of State is saying, and we will work with her to ensure that that objective is achieved in the current talks process. Does she agree that, just as there was never any justification for the terrorists in the past, there can be no justification for their continued existence in the future, and that all their criminality, racketeering, fuel laundering and the rest of it must be addressed by the establishment of a dedicated resource to rid the people of these terrorist godfathers and their criminality?

Mrs Villiers: The British Government will continue to be unrelenting in their action to support those who are fighting terrorism in Northern Ireland, and, indeed, in the rest of the United Kingdom. Sadly, we have seen republican terrorism manifest itself on a number of occasions in recent months, with devices being left in public areas in Lurgan, Belfast, Strabane and Londonderry. The PSNI is doing an excellent job with its security partners in preventing such attacks from causing harm, but it is of course essential that we also do everything we can to crack down on criminality on the part of paramilitary groups.

13. [901520] Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I welcome the publication of the Government’s policy paper setting out proposals for the Northern Ireland Bill which is to be presented in a few weeks, but does the Secretary of State share my concern that Sinn Féin has described the paper as

“unacceptable and a clear breach of the Stormont House Agreement”?

Mrs Villiers: I am concerned about that. It simply does not reflect the contents of that summary of the Bill, which is faithful to the Stormont House agreement.

Discussions continue on the technical details of the Bill. Naturally the agreement does not cover every detail that is needed to produce legislation, and the parties continue to engage intensively in preparation for the presentation of the Bill to Parliament.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Secretary of State will agree that the aftermath of a deplorable murder is not just a test inviting the political parties to demonstrate their own resolve, but a collective challenge to us to prove the resilience of the democratic process. Does she also agree that we can do that best by adopting a whole community approach to eradicating paramilitarism, guaranteeing the stability of the political institutions and standing by the integrity of the new beginning to policing, especially in circumstances in which dissidents are yet again threatening the policing arrangements and those who may be recruited?

Mrs Villiers: I agree that we need a whole community approach to tackling paramilitary organisations and moving to a time when they will disband. I also agree

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that we need a whole community approach to supporting the policing settlement. I do think, though, that supporting the devolved institutions involves another crucial factor, namely sustainable public finances. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman and his party colleagues to find a way to ensure that the agreement is implemented, including the welfare provisions.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): May I begin by associating myself and my party with the Secretary of State’s remarks about Garda Tony Golden, and sending our condolences to his widow and three children?

Let me say at the outset that there is and can be no place for paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. The primacy of the rule of law is fundamental, and there can be no compromise on that principle. Does the Secretary of State agree that, at a time when this and other matters are being discussed in the current talks, it is vital for the House to say loudly and clearly that we have every confidence in the ability of the political leadership in Northern Ireland to secure a successful outcome to the current negotiations, and that we, along with the Irish Government, will play our part in supporting them?

Mrs Villiers: I completely agree that it is not acceptable for paramilitary organisations to exist in a democratic society. They were never justified, they are not justified today, and they should disband. I also share the hon. Gentleman’s confidence in the leadership of Northern Ireland. They have demonstrated many times over the last 20 years that they can achieve phenomenal results and can solve seemingly intractable problems, and I urge them all to repeat that over the coming days. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. There is a growing hubbub of quite noisy private conversations. We are discussing exceptionally serious matters appertaining to Northern Ireland, so I appeal to Opposition Members to give a courteous, perhaps even reverential, reception to the shadow Secretary of State, Mr Vernon Coaker.

Vernon Coaker: The Secretary of State knows that many of the most difficult issues arising from the past are also being addressed within the current negotiations. In order to take that forward, the support of the political parties, the community and, crucially, victims and their families is required. Will she therefore tell the House what agreement there is on the measures announced so far being included in the forthcoming Stormont House agreement Bill?

Mrs Villiers: I do not think it would be wise for me to give a running commentary on every detail of the negotiations, but there is a considerable amount of consensus on the content of the Bill. There remain difficult issues to resolve and there is no doubt that the provisions relating to national security will always be sensitive, but this Government are determined that they will defend their national security interests, because if we were to neglect that duty, that could have a price in lives. We believe that it is very important to ensure that all disclosure provisions are consistent with our article 2 duties and our duty to protect national security.

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Economic Situation

4. Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to strengthen and rebalance the Northern Ireland economy. [901509]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Ben Wallace): The Government’s long-term economic plan has laid the foundation for a stronger Northern Ireland economy. Economic activity continues to grow: there are 33,000 more people in employment today than in 2010, and the growth in jobs is being driven by the private sector.

Fiona Bruce: Ulster University’s economic policy centre has found that there has been more than one new start-up a day in the knowledge economy sector in the past year. Does this not go to show that the public and private sectors can rebalance together with very effective results?

Mr Wallace: I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and what she says is right. Given the right stimulation, it is certainly possible for Northern Ireland’s private sector to grow strongly. That is why I was delighted to see that foreign direct investment in Northern Ireland has created 4,700 jobs—the number is comparably higher than that for the rest of the UK.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that in order to strengthen the economy in Northern Ireland it is imperative that the talks taking place in Belfast are successful, with welfare reform implemented, so that we can get our corporation tax and other financial incentives. If they are not, companies will start to get nervous about investing in Northern Ireland.

Mr Wallace: I could not agree more, and the prize is great. By completing the Stormont House agreement and unlocking the economic pact, Northern Ireland can deliver an enterprise zone and a city deal for its people. Those two things, added to the UK Government’s economic policy, will deliver continued economic growth for Northern Ireland.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The success in growing the Northern Ireland economy is much to be welcomed, but public expenditure per head of population is still significantly more in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK. Will one of the indicators of the improvement in the economy be the narrowing of that public expenditure gap, so that it comes towards the national average?

Mr Wallace: My hon. Friend is right: we are on the right path and going in the right direction. The number of private sector jobs is growing, unemployment is falling and Northern Ireland, by being part of the UK, taking advantage of the recognition it gets because of the troubles, can go from strength to the strength and make sure it strives to succeed on a world stage, as well as a United Kingdom stage.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): There is good news as well in Northern Ireland, and one area we are very proud of is the highly skilled small and medium-sized

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enterprise sector—the beating heart of the Northern Irish economy. What specifically is being done to address the concerns expressed by the SME sector about the impact of the Chancellor’s so-called living wage on small businesses in Northern Ireland?

Mr Wallace: I am quite surprised—I thought the Labour party’s policy was to support a living wage, but in this 24-hour period perhaps it does not support a living wage. Conservative Members believe that highly skilled people and people doing a hard day’s work deserve to be paid the living wage, which is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has brought it forward to make sure that work pays.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): As part of the discussions at Stormont and in view of the need to develop our economy on a geographical basis, will the Minister spell out what further proposals the Government have in mind for the development of enterprise zones?

Mr Wallace: The hon. Lady recognises the importance of enterprise zones, which have been successful all over England and Wales. That is why the Stormont Executive were given that ability in the economic package that accompanied the Stormont House agreement, and why it is even more important that we resolve the issues and allow Stormont to be back and functioning so that it can deliver an economic zone and a city deal.

Terrorist Threat

6. Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): What discussions she has had with the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. [901511]

8. Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): What discussions she has had with the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. [901513]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): The terrorist threat from dissident republican groupings continues to be “severe”. It is being suppressed through the hard work of PSNI, MI5 and their security partners, but the need for total vigilance remains.

Seema Kennedy: Although there is a need to remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism, does my right hon. Friend agree that it should not overshadow the great progress that has been made?

Mrs Villiers: I agree. Life in Northern Ireland has been transformed over recent years. The security situation has been transformed. There is still a lethal terrorist threat, but it is far smaller in scale than it was during the days of the troubles.

Mrs Drummond: There is growing concern about terrorist organisations becoming drug-dealing organisations. Will the Secretary of State assure us that the authorities in Northern Ireland are well supported with funding to combat this?

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Mrs Villiers: It is important that all forms of criminality are combated in Northern Ireland. There is serious public concern about the involvement of some members of paramilitary groups in organised crime, drug dealing and paramilitary activities. This Government are determined to work towards a day when paramilitary organisations disband, and we support the law enforcement agencies in combating all forms of criminality. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. It is a considerable discourtesy to the Secretary of State for her not to be heard when she is answering questions. The answers must be heard and the questions should be heard. Let us have a bit of order.

12. [901519] Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Last week a police recruitment event that was due to take place at the Waterfoot hotel was cancelled because of a bomb being discovered in the grounds. What work is under way to ensure that the PSNI receives the appropriate support to tackle any potential threat?

Mrs Villiers: Over the past two spending reviews we have provided an additional £231 million to support the PSNI in its efforts to tackle dissident republican-related terrorism. That has provided vital support in a campaign against those terrorists and it is one of the reasons why, thankfully, the vast majority of the attacks do not succeed. I know that the PSNI will work hard to find alternative venues so that its recruitment event can go ahead.

Political Situation

7. Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): When she next plans to meet representatives of Northern Ireland’s political parties to discuss the political situation in the Northern Ireland Assembly. [901512]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I continue to chair the talks process and will return to Stormont this afternoon to resume that role. A successful outcome to the talks on both the issues on the agenda is crucial if the Executive are going to function effectively.

Mr Hanson: Will the Secretary of State confirm that of all the options in front of Members from Northern Ireland, direct rule is the worst and should be avoided at all costs?

Mrs Villiers: I agree that we need to do everything we can to try to avoid suspension and a return to direct rule. Devolved government has been approved in two referendums in Northern Ireland. That is why we are working to make the institutions work, but there is a real danger now that those who are taking a hard-line stance against welfare reform could end up collapsing the institutions as collateral damage. No institution can function effectively without a workable budget. That is why in these talks a solution to implementing the Stormont House agreement is vital.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): Does the Secretary of State accept that it is not just about balancing the economy and fixing the financial arrangements for the Treasury, because there is a need to rebalance our economic development and create

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regional balance in Northern Ireland? In other words, we need a prosperity process to go along with other reforms.

Mrs Villiers: I agree that it is vital that we do everything possible to deliver prosperity in Northern Ireland. Our long-term economic plan is helping to do that. The economic pact agreed with Northern Ireland is helping to do that, but we are always open to more ideas about how we work together to spread prosperity in Northern Ireland throughout the whole of Northern Ireland and all its areas.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): When the Secretary of State has her conversations with political parties and the Irish Government, mindful of the fact that a European arrest warrant for bombing offences in Germany was invoked last week in Dublin for James Corry, will she remind them that it does not matter how supportive individuals are of the peace process, it should never frustrate due process and justice for victims?

Mrs Villiers: Of course I can do that. It is essential that the law takes its course without fear or favour, and if there is evidence to justify arrest and prosecution, that is exactly what must happen.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [901521] Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 14 October.

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I know the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Flight Lieutenant Alan Scott of 32 Squadron and Flight Lieutenant Geraint Roberts of 230 Squadron. Both men died along with three other coalition personnel when their Puma helicopter crashed on Sunday in Kabul, Afghanistan. They gave their lives serving our country and making our world more secure, and our deepest sympathies are with their families and friends at this very difficult time.

I also wish to pay tribute to Police Constable David Phillips, who was killed in the line of duty last week. His death is a stark reminder of the very real dangers our police officers face daily and my thoughts—and, I know, the thoughts of the whole House—are with his family and friends during these tragic circumstances.

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

Dr Cameron: The British Medical Association has raised concerns about what it calls the chronic undermanning of Defence Medical Services. We cannot have sufficient medical and mental health provision for the armed forces without properly resourced services. Will the Prime Minister address this issue urgently, prioritise the treatment of our armed forces and lend support to my Adjournment debate this evening highlighting these concerns?

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The Prime Minister: I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing that Adjournment debate and raising this very important issue. Defence Medical Services do an outstanding job. I was just speaking about Afghanistan, and I have seen in Afghanistan year after year what an amazing service they provide. At times it was almost the equivalent of a district general hospital accident and emergency on the back of a Chinook helicopter; it is extraordinary. There is an opportunity for us to look at this whole area in our strategic defence and security review, and we will approach that review with a rising defence budget during this Parliament.

Q3. [901523] Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): Today we have seen the claimant count in Lincoln fall by 20% on last year’s figures, with a 44% drop in those claiming since 2010. Does my right hon. Friend believe this is down to having local job fairs and a clear long-term economic plan to secure our national recovery, and that it would be put in jeopardy by the shambles that is the party led by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)?

The Prime Minister: Let me congratulate businesses in Lincoln on their record in providing people with jobs. The unemployment figures out today are extremely good. We see 140,000 more people in work, we see the employment rate at a record level since records began, unemployment has come down, vacancies have gone up, and youth unemployment and long-term unemployment have both come down. In all of this, yes, the job fairs are important and the apprenticeships are important, but above all what matters is having a long-term economic plan that is about a strong and secure economy and getting the deficit down and running a surplus. That is what we should be focused on, but I am sure the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) will welcome today’s fall in unemployment.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I echo the Prime Minister’s tributes to the two RAF airmen killed in Afghanistan, Flight Lieutenant Geraint Roberts and Flight Lieutenant Alan Scott, and also the sadness at the death of David Phillips in the line of duty, as many police officers do face danger. I absolutely concur with the Prime Minister’s remarks about that.

I am sure the Prime Minister and the whole House would also join me in expressing sympathies and sadness at the more than 100 people who died in a bomb blast in Ankara last Sunday, attending a peace rally of all things, and our sympathies must go to all of them.

I want to ask the Prime Minister a question about tax credits. I have had 2,000 people email me in the last three days offering a question to the Prime Minister on tax credits. I will choose just one. Kelly writes:

“I’m a single mum to a disabled child, I work 40.5 hours each week in a job that I trained for, I get paid £7.20 per hour! So in April the Prime Minister is not putting my wage up but will be taking tax credits off me!”

So my question is: can the Prime Minister tell us how much worse off Kelly will be next year?

The Prime Minister: First, let me welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said and join him in what he said about the terrible bomb in Ankara, where over 100 people were killed. Our thoughts should be with the families

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of those who suffered and with that country as it struggles against this terrorism. Let me answer him directly on the question of tax credits. What we are doing is bringing in the national living wage, which will be a £20 a week pay rise for people next year. Obviously, Kelly will benefit as that national living wage rises to £9—




Sorry, what happened to the new approach? I thought questions were going to be asked so that they could be responded to. Right, so there is the introduction of the national living wage, which will reach £9 by the end of the Parliament. This will benefit Kelly. In April next year, we will raise to £11,000 the amount that you can earn before you start paying taxes. If Kelly has children, she will benefit from the 30 hours of childcare that we are bringing in. I do not know all Kelly’s circumstances, but in addition, if she is a council house or housing association tenant, we are cutting her rent. All those things are important, as is the increase in employment and the increase in wages taking place today.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Prime Minister for that. I can tell him, in case he is not aware of it, that Kelly is going to be £1,800 a year worse off next April, that there are another 3 million families in this country who will also be worse off next April, and that after housing costs, 500,000 more children are now in poverty compared with five years ago, in 2010. On top of that, his new tax credit policy will put another 200,000 children into poverty. Is not the truth of the matter that this Government are taking away the opportunities and limiting the life chances of hundreds of thousands of children from poorer or middle income families in our society? Should he not be aware of that when he makes these decisions?

The Prime Minister: The fact is that since I became Prime Minister there are 480,000 fewer children in households where nobody works. There are 2 million more people in work and almost 1 million more women in work. There are 250,000 more young people in work. The best route out of poverty is to help people get a job. Even though the unemployment figures came out today and we can see 140,000 more people in work, the hon. Gentleman still has not welcomed that fall in unemployment. The point he needs to focus on is this: all these people benefit from a growing economy where wages are rising and inflation is falling, and where we are getting rid of our deficit to create economic stability. It is that stability that we will be voting on in the Lobby tonight.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Prime Minister is doing his best, and I admire that, but will he acknowledge that people in work often rely on tax credits to make ends meet? He and his party have put forward a Budget that cuts tax credits and gives tax breaks to the very wealthiest in our society, so that inequality is getting worse, not better. Should he not think for a moment about the choices that he is making, and the reality that results for the very poorest people in our society?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman talks about the reform of tax credits; let me tell him why that is necessary. Between 1998 and 2010, the bill for tax credits went from £6 billion to £30 billion, yet at the same time in-work poverty went up by 20%. The system of taking money away from people and giving it back to

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them in tax credits was not working. We say it is better to let people earn more and then take less from them in taxes. In this country, we now have 2 million more people in work. The figures that the hon. Gentleman quotes for inequality are simply wrong. There are 800,000 fewer people in relative poverty than in 2010, and there are 300,000 fewer children in relative poverty since 2010. If he wants to know why, it is because we took difficult decisions to get our deficit down, to get our economy growing and to deliver the strongest growth anywhere in the western world. Tonight, Labour Members have a choice. A week ago, they were committed to getting the deficit down and running a surplus, just like us, but for some reason—I know not why—they have decided to do a 180°-turn and vote for more borrowing for ever. Is that now the position of the Labour party?

Jeremy Corbyn: The reality is that 3 million low and middle-income families will be worse off as a result of the tax credit changes. If the Prime Minister wants to change his mind on tax credits, he is very welcome to do so. He will have an opportunity at next week’s Opposition day debate, which is on this very subject. I am sure that he will want to take part in that debate and explain why it is such a good idea to make so many people so much worse off.

I have had 3,500 questions on housing in the past few days. I have a question from Matthew. [Interruption.] This might be funny to some Members, but it is not funny to Matthew or to many others. Matthew says:

“I live in a private rented house in London with three other people. Despite earning a salary well over the median wage, buying even the cheapest of properties will be well beyond my reach for years.”

Does the Prime Minister really believe that £450,000 is an affordable price for a new home for someone on an average income to try to aspire to?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue of housing, particularly the affordability of housing in London. I say to Matthew that we are doing everything we can to get councils to build more houses, particularly affordable houses that he can buy. The hon. Gentleman quotes the figure of £450,000, but what we are saying is that that should be the upper limit for a starter home in London. We want to see starter homes in London built at £150,000 and £200,000, so that people like Matthew can stop renting and start buying. What have we done for people like Matthew? We have introduced Help to Buy, so for the first time we are helping people to get their deposit together so that they can buy a new home. We are also giving people like Matthew the right to buy their housing association home. [Interruption.] That is interesting. We hear groans from the Labour party, but the entire housing association movement is now backing our plan and telling people that they will be able to buy their home. I say to the hon. Gentleman: let us work together and get London building to get prices down so that people like Matthew can afford to buy a home of their own.

Jeremy Corbyn: May I bring the Prime Minister back to reality? The past five years have seen a low level of house building—fewer than half the new buildings that are needed have been built—rapidly rising rents; rising homelessness; and a higher housing benefit bill. Even

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his friends at the CBI say we need to build at least 240,000 homes per year. Will he now address the problem that local authorities face in accessing funds to undertake the necessary and essential building of council housing? The Government appear to have a growing obsession with selling off publicly owned properties rather than building homes for people who desperately need them so that children can grow up in a safe and secure environment, which is what we all want for all of our children.

The Prime Minister: Let me deal with all the hon. Gentleman’s points in turn. First, now that the housing association movement is backing the Right to Buy scheme, there will be up to a million extra homeowners, with the money going back into building more homes. Secondly, over the past five years that I have been Prime Minister, we have built more council homes than the previous Labour Government built in 13 years. [Interruption.] That is a bit of reality that the hon. Gentleman might want to digest. The most important point is that if we want to build homes, we need a strong and stable economy. We will not have a strong and stable economy if we adopt the new Labour position, which is borrowing money for ever. I urge Opposition Members who believe in a strong economy, paying down our deficit, and ensuring that we deliver for working people to join us in the Lobby tonight.

Jeremy Corbyn: It would be very nice if the Prime Minister actually answered the question I asked. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. These proceedings should be conducted in a seemly way, and chuntering from a sedentary position, from either Front Bench, is not helpful. Members must remain calm. Be as good as you can be.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am totally calm, I assure you, and I do not intend to engage in any chuntering.

The question I put to the Prime Minister was this: what is he doing to allow local authorities to build the homes that are necessary for people who have no opportunity to buy and who cannot afford to remain in the private rented sector? I realise that this might be complicated, so I would be very happy for him to write to me about it. We could then share the letter with others.

I want to turn my attention to another subject in my final question. I realise that the Prime Minister might not be able to give me a full answer today, but he might like to write to me about it. As I am sure he is aware, yesterday was secondary breast cancer awareness day. In Brighton last month I met two women who are suffering from terminal breast cancer, Frances and Emma. Apparently the Prime Minister met their organisation in 2010. They raised with him a serious problem with the collection of data in all hospitals across the country on the incidence of secondary breast cancer, its treatment and the success rates, or otherwise, of that treatment. As I understand it, that information is not being collected as efficiently as it might be or centralised sufficiently.

I would be grateful if the Prime Minister could follow up on the promise he made to those women in 2010 to ensure that the data are collected and centralised in

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order to help every woman going through the trauma of not only breast cancer, but secondary breast cancer, knowing that it is terminal, but also knowing that there might be some treatment that could alleviate the pain and possibly extend their lives. Will he undertake to do that and reply to me as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this matter. At my party conference I met the same campaigners whom he met at his, and I had a good discussion with them. We all know people who have had the tragedy of having breast cancer, and one can only imagine what it must be like to survive primary breast cancer and recover, only to find out that one has a secondary cancer, and often one that is completely incurable. The campaigners are asking for better information, not least because they want to ensure that we spread best practice to every hospital so that we really do treat people as quickly as possible. I had a conversation with them and relayed it to the Health Secretary. I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about it. Making sure that people get the right diagnosis quickly and that we then use the information to tackle secondary breast cancer is absolutely essential for our country.

Q4. [901524] Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con): The Prime Minister recently spoke movingly and shockingly about the life of despair that still lies ahead for too many of our looked-after children. Notwithstanding the vital work that has been done in recent years, will he expand on the reforms that he proposes for these, our most vulnerable citizens?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows a lot about this from the work he did in London when working for the Mayor. I think that there are two areas we need to look at most of all. First, we need to speed up adoption processes. We should be reducing the number of children in care by ensuring that they can find loving family homes. We have made some progress, but frankly we have had set-backs, not least because of some of the judgments in our courts, so we need to get the level of adoption back up again. Secondly, we need to take some of the knowledge from our education reforms and use it to reform social services. For example, we need to see the best graduates going into social work. Frankly, those social services that are failing need to be taken over far more quickly.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): We on the SNP Benches associate ourselves with the condolences expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

The UK has been involved in three major military interventions in recent years, and in all cases there have been very severe unintended consequences: sadly, the Taliban control much of Afghanistan again; in Iraq the fanatics of Daesh terrorise about half the country; and in Libya there has been total anarchy and chaos. What assurances can the Prime Minister give that he has learnt the lessons from past mistakes and will not repeat them?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I would make two points to him. One is that, of course, intervention has consequences, but frankly non-intervention can have consequences

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too, as we see from the vast numbers of Syrians fleeing the appalling situation in that country, not least the barrel bomb chemical weapons attacks by Bashar Assad. It is worth making that point.

In terms of the lessons learned, I cannot wait for the Iraq inquiry to come out so that further lessons can be learned, but we have already learned a number of lessons: for instance, setting up the National Security Council, which is working well; making sure that we act on the basis of clear legal advice and the Attorney General attends all the important meetings; and working with allies and local partners. So while what is happening in both Iraq and Syria is frustrating, one of the lessons is to work with local partners. In Iraq, it is Iraqi troops that are the boots on the ground, and that is why we should give them all the support that they need in the war they are fighting against ISIL.

Angus Robertson: More than 450 UK service personnel have died in Afghanistan, but sadly the Taliban are back. The UK spent 13 times more on bombing Libya than on rebuilding the country, and there has been anarchy. The US has just dropped a $500 million programme to support the Syrian opposition, Russia is bombing Syria, and the UK has no plan to help refugees from Syria who are now in—[Interruption.] The UK has no plan to help Syrian refugees who have made it—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I think the right hon. Gentleman is reaching the conclusion of his question, but he must be allowed to do so.

Angus Robertson: It is a shame that Members on the Government Benches do not acknowledge that the UK has no policy to help Syrian refugees who have made it to Europe. There is no surprise that there is growing scepticism about the drumbeat towards war. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that he has learned the lessons of Iraq, of Afghanistan and of Libya, and that he will never repeat them?

The Prime Minister: I would say a couple of things to the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot remember a question with so many errors in it: first of all, there is the idea that Britain is not helping Syrian refugees when we are the second largest bilateral donor to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, in Lebanon and in Turkey, and that is because we are spending 0.7% of our gross national income on aid. We have done more than almost any other country in the world to help Syrian refugees. Frankly, I do not recognise the picture he paints of Afghanistan. The fact is that we have supported an Afghan national army and police force and an Afghan Government who are in control of that country.

The final point I would make to the right hon. Gentleman is that it is all very well standing on his high horse and lecturing about the past, but would he be happier with an Afghanistan that had a Taliban regime, and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Would he be happier with Gaddafi running Libya? Would he be happier with that situation? So, as I said, the consequences of non-intervention are also worth considering.

Q5. [901525] Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): My midlands constituency is already benefiting from infrastructure investment such as the significant improvements to the M5 motorway. Does the Prime

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Minister agree that the recently announced and independent National Infrastructure Commission will play a key role in improving and securing our nation’s long-term economic prosperity?

The Prime Minister: I am delighted that we are establishing the National Infrastructure Commission. I hope that it can put some of these questions about infrastructure beyond party politics; I think that would be a thoroughly good thing. I am delighted that Lord Adonis, who made a great contribution in government, will be running it. I know that my hon. Friend and I will want to make sure that the Cotswold line is looked at very carefully by the infrastructure commission as it does its work. [Interruption.] Someone is shouting out “Labour policy.” Where we find a good Labour policy, we implement it. Funnily enough, do you know what we are doing tonight? We are implementing what was, a week ago, a Labour policy—

Mr Speaker: I call Callum McCaig.

The Prime Minister: Hang on a second.

Mr Speaker: No, we are grateful.

Hon. Members: More!

Mr Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister had finished his answer, for which we are extremely grateful, but progress has been very slow and I want to get Back Benchers in—and I will do so.

Q2. [901522] Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) (SNP): The Scottish Government have estimated that the apprenticeship levy introduced by the Chancellor in the July Budget will raise £391 million from Scotland, with £146 million of that coming from the public sector. As yet, there has been no confirmation that a single penny of that will come to Scotland to fund our distinct modern apprenticeship programme. Will the Prime Minister confirm today that Scotland will receive our fair share of this funding, or are we seeing another pig in a poke from this supposed one nation Government?

The Prime Minister: We have not yet set the rate of the apprenticeship levy or, indeed, set what size a business has to be before it starts paying it. The guarantee I can give the hon. Gentleman is that Scotland will be treated fairly and will get its full and fair share of any apprenticeship levy, but, as ever with SNP Members, they invent a grievance before it even exists.

Q6. [901526] Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): Work has started on site at the Rushden Lakes development at Skew Bridge, which will bring 1,900 new jobs, new shops—such as Marks & Spencer—and new leisure facilities to east Northamptonshire. Does the Prime Minister agree that we simply do not get £50 million of investment without economic confidence, and would he like to join us at the opening in due course?

The Prime Minister: I have already made a visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency to see one of his excellent academy schools, but I look forward to coming back. This does look like a very exciting development. I would make the point that, yes, of course we need a strong and

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stable economy to make sure we get this investment and housing going, but we also need councils to complete their local plans and put them in place, because in that way we can deliver extra housing.

Q8. [901528] Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab): During the general election campaign, the Prime Minister came to my constituency and promised to keep Calderdale Royal’s A and E department open and sort out the financial mess that our hospital was in. Since then, the Government have backtracked on both promises, saying that these are matters for the local NHS trust and for the clinical commissioning group. Will the Prime Minister show that he is a man of his word by meeting me to discuss ways in which he can honour his election promises?

The Prime Minister: We certainly have not backtracked on what we promised. We said we would put more money into the NHS. We talked then about £8 billion; we are actually delivering £10 billion more. We believe that these decisions should be made locally. The Calderdale hospital is an absolutely vital service.

Q7. [901527] Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): Bicester is blossoming into a garden town that welcomes sustainable growth. Does my right hon. Friend, who knows our area well, agree that the promised funding for infrastructure must be provided in step with development?

The Prime Minister: Let me welcome my hon. Friend to the House. She replaces a very good friend, my former neighbour Tony Baldry, who worked so hard for the people of Banbury and Bicester. When people say there are not councils in the south of England that want to build houses and new developments, they should look at Bicester and see the thousands of houses, new schools and new infrastructure being put in place. Of course, investment and infrastructure have to go together, but I think Bicester shows that we can build, and build sensitively, and provide the homes that young people want to live in.

Q9. [901529] Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Can the Prime Minister help to clear up something for the House and the country? It concerns the recent biography of him by Isabel Oakeshott. In it, Lord Ashcroft says that he told the Prime Minister about his non-dom tax status in 2009; yet, in 2010, the Prime Minister said that he did not know the detail of Lord Ashcroft’s tax status. Clearly, someone is telling porkies. Is it him, or Lord Ashcroft?

The Prime Minister: I can think of many better uses of the hon. Gentleman’s time than reading that book. I managed to procure a free copy, and in order not to give anyone royalties, I will gladly lend him a copy, if that is what he would like. I think he will remember that, in this House, Labour and the Conservatives agreed to legislate so that non-doms could not sit in either House—legislation I fully supported, indeed suggested, at the time.

Q12. [901532] Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): I am delighted to tell the House that Burton has set a new record: unemployment is at its lowest since records

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began. Does the Prime Minister agree that a return to the bad old days of more borrowing, more spending and higher taxes would not only put those important jobs at risk, but be a complete and utter shambles?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. There are 2 million more jobs and almost 1 million more women in work in our country. Youth unemployment is down and long-term unemployment is down. That is because British businesses are taking people on. They are doing that in the context of a strong and stable economy. Tonight we will vote on whether, after eight or nine years of strong economic growth, we should have a surplus rather than a deficit. If the Labour party does not believe in having a surplus then, when will it fix the roof when the sun is shining? I say to Labour Members who believe in a strong and stable Government and a strong and stable economy: come and join us in the Lobby this evening.

Q10. [901530] Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Whatever happened to the Government’s proposals for a highly skilled economy? If one looks at further education in Coventry, for example, there will be a 24% cut in the skills budget. The maintenance grant has been abolished and now the Government are even talking about abolishing the disablement grant for students. What will the Prime Minister do about that?

The Prime Minister: What I will do is deliver on the promise of 2 million apprentices in the last Parliament and 3 million in this Parliament. What one can see, because of the changes that we made in respect of skills and higher education, is a record number of students going to our universities, including a record number from low-income backgrounds. We will build on that record in this Parliament as we uncap student numbers and encourage people to study and make the most of their talents.

Q13. [901533] Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): My right hon. Friend will remember meeting my amazing 10-year-old constituent, Archie Hill, who has a devastating condition, Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Archie has campaigned tirelessly to get access through the NHS to a new drug, Translarna, which could help him and about 50 other children with Duchenne. The drug has recently been prescribed in Scotland. With the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence due to make its decision on Friday, will my right hon. Friend assure me that children in England will receive the drug and that Archie’s fantastic campaigning has not been in vain?

The Prime Minister: I well remember meeting Archie, with his incredible spirit and his way of campaigning. As my right hon. Friend says, a decision will be made by NICE on Friday. As well as making sure that such decisions are made by clinicians, rather than politicians, we need to talk to the drug companies about getting the cost of these drugs down. This drug and others like it can cost over £400,000 per patient per year. The cancer drugs fund has helped to reduce the costs that the companies charge. We need to see that in other areas, too.

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Q11. [901531] Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): For many years, pensioners and disabled people in Fleetwood have enjoyed free access to the local tram service that connects the town to Blackpool. That free travel has been withdrawn due to funding cuts. Will the Prime Minister consider extending the national concessionary travel scheme to not just buses, but trams, which are often easier for older and disabled travellers to use?

The Prime Minister: I will look carefully at the point that the hon. Lady raises. We are very proud to have kept all our promises to pensioners, not least the triple lock promise. With such low inflation—the figures out yesterday put it at less than 0%—the triple lock will be vital in giving pensioners a better standard of living. I will look carefully at what she says, but I suspect that it is a decision by Lancashire County Council, rather than a decision for me.

Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con): The brutal murder of Telford teenager Georgia Williams led to a serious case review that was published today. The review makes it clear that there was a catalogue of failings by numerous agencies, including social services, schools and the probation service. We can see from the report that Georgia’s horrific death need not have happened. Will the Prime Minister join me in offering heartfelt condolences to Lynette and Steve Williams, Georgia’s parents, and in asking all the agencies involved to ensure that they learn from this tragic case?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this matter. I send my condolences to the Williams family for the appalling loss and tragedy that they have suffered. What matters now is that the police and the other agencies study the report and learn the lessons so that these mistakes are not made again.

Q14. [901534] Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): Trade union members in Heywood and Middleton and across the country, including school cooks, shop workers and carers, cannot currently cast their votes in a trade union election either at their place of work or electronically. If the Trade Union Bill is passed, will they be able to do that?

The Prime Minister: First, what matters is that we have proper ballots and do not have strikes unless a proper percentage of people support them. I notice that Len McCluskey now supports our position. The problem with electronic voting, which the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy looked into, is that it is not yet clear that we can guarantee a very safe and secure ballot. I do not think it is too much to ask people who are potentially going to go on strike to fill out a ballot paper.

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): Recently, I received a letter from Transport for London, informing me that in the last year it has spent more than £1.4 million with suppliers in Erewash, including Progress Rail Services, which is fantastic news for our local economy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that by investing in Britain’s infrastructure, this Government have re-energised manufacturing and engineering, safeguarding our economic security?

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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Big infrastructure decisions, wherever they are made, can benefit every part of the country with jobs and manufacturing. Obviously, in the past five years London has seen huge investment because of Crossrail—the biggest infrastructure project anywhere in Europe—but I think we will see a better balance in the coming years, not least with the massive electrification and other programmes around the country. That is vital, but we cannot have infrastructure investment without a secure and strong economy, and that is what we will be delivering.

Q15. [901535] Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP): Recently I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are facing real hardship as a consequence of the current payment of child support. It is not compulsory for parents to declare changes that may impact on the amount that they should pay, and if it is found that a parent did not make their altered financial circumstances known, there are no penalties

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and no requirement to make backdated payments. What action will the Prime Minister take to close these loopholes, which have a detrimental effect on vulnerable families in Motherwell and Wishaw and beyond?

Mr Speaker: We are extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, but questions and answers must be somewhat briefer. We are making much slower progress than in the last Parliament.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady raises something that we have all seen in our constituency surgeries and the problems with the system, and we know that the old system with the Child Support Agency also had many imperfections. We have tried to introduce more voluntary arrangements and to encourage parents to seek ways to ensure that fair payments are made, but I will look closely at her question and perhaps I can write to her about it.

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Points of Order

12.38 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled in a case brought by myself and Baroness Jones that the Wilson doctrine has no legal force and is just an ambiguous political statement. That appears to contradict what the Prime Minister told the House last month. Can you advise us, Mr Speaker, on the best way of ensuring that the Prime Minister comes to this House and makes a statement about what he knew, and—crucially—that he brings forward legislation to ensure that the communications of MPs who are undertaking their parliamentary duties are not spied on without independent judicial approval?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me advance notice of her intention to raise a point of order and of its substance, but I fear that she flatters me and somewhat decries herself. It is not for the Chair to proffer advice on this issue, but I will attend, in terms, to the specifics of the matter she has raised. I am, of course, conscious that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal today released its judgment in the case brought by the hon. Lady, and others, on the Wilson doctrine. She will understand and appreciate that at this point I have not read it—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) will patiently await my reply and we will hear his oratory in a moment. In any case, I do not believe that it falls to me as Speaker to respond to such a judgment, or to provide commentary on it.

I am also conscious of the concerns of devolved legislatures that have been conveyed to me by colleagues from the Chairs of those bodies, but it would not be right for me to comment on the Floor of the House from this Chair on such matters. The hon. Lady asks how she can seek advance or clarification on the matter, but she bobs up regularly from her place on those Benches in seeking to question Ministers—even the most senior—and I will be looking out for her, and others.

Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We do like to ask for your advice, because it is based on great experience. You will be aware that a number of your predecessors have taken a close interest in whether the Wilson doctrine applies and protects Members of Parliament.

The Government’s Queen’s Counsel—the lawyer paid by the Government—appears to have said before the tribunal that ministerial statements are characterised by

“ambiguities, at best, whether deliberate or otherwise”.

First, is it not in order, Mr Speaker, to ask, as a newish Member of the House, how we can get an unambiguous answer from Ministers on whether the notice and protection, which used to, up until last year, apply to Members of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament, is still in force?

Secondly, what would the impact be if there was a will across the parties—this is, if anything is, a cross-party matter—to pass an unambiguous substantive motion reasserting an essential democratic protection that has been with us for 50 years and more?

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Mr Speaker: Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman, in response to his twofold inquiry, two things. First, if the right hon. Gentleman wants—I respect this—an unambiguous answer, he should pose an unambiguous question and not rest content until he has an unambiguous answer. If the right hon. Gentleman were to raise his eyebrow and quizzically inquire, either explicitly or implicitly, whether that means he should engage in repetition, I would say yes. The House is no stranger to repetition. It is not a novel innovation in the practice of this place, nor, if I may very politely say so, in the practice of the right hon. Gentleman. That is the first point.

The second point is on the question of a motion. That is not a matter for me, but could a motion, including a cross-party motion, be tabled on this matter and a vote be forced upon it—the right hon. Gentleman knows that it could; just looking around the House, no names, no pack drill—I have a feeling there would be a number of takers.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You are, of course, quite right in what you said at the beginning. This is principally a matter for the Government, but it is also a matter that addresses directly parliamentary privilege. This morning’s judgment ruled, first, that the Wilson doctrine, as we interpret it in its narrowest sense, has no legal basis, but beyond that it has no basis whatever if we are communicating with whistleblowers, campaigners, lawyers, journalists or each other. It seems to me that the original aim of the Wilson doctrine was to protect all those things and to protect Members of this House either from intimidation or from oversight by the Government. Therefore, there is a role for the House. I look to you, Mr Speaker, for guidance on what that might be.

Mr Speaker: I note what the right hon. Gentleman says and I do not demur from it. It is an extremely important matter and he is perfectly properly concerned with the rights of Members. If he wants to know, at this time, my own view on the matter, he can of course consult paragraph 21 of the judgment, which reflects my own view based on expert legal advice. If the right hon. Gentleman feels, as I suspect the right hon. Member for Gordon does, that there is still real ambiguity about this matter, they must use their parliamentary wiles to draw Ministers on the matter. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who celebrates this year, I think, 28 years’ uninterrupted service in the House, is very well familiar with all the options open to him. There are Adjournment debates, opportunities for urgent questions and Opposition days. There is a miscellany of ways in which he can pursue this matter, and I have a hunch that he and others will do so.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I could be wrong, but I believe I was in the House when the Wilson doctrine was set out, and I would be very disappointed indeed if the absolute integrity set out by the then Prime Minister were to be changed in any way. I hope you understand the strength of feeling on this issue. We should not be spied on in any circumstances. This is also not just about us, but about recognising our responsibilities as elected representatives. I hope that you yourself, Mr Speaker,

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can make an input to ensure that the Wilson doctrine is not thrown out, because that would be a grave disservice to Parliament.

Mr Speaker: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Of course, I am conscious that he was here at the time of its formulation. He entered the House in 1966 and he and I have often discussed this matter, so he does speak from some considerable personal experience. The fact that I am concerned about the issue is reflected in my letter and submission to the tribunal, so although I am making the point that it would not be right for the Chair to engage in a debate in this Chamber on the substance of the issue, I do have views. I am protective of the rights of Members and any potential threat thereto, and I do communicate as necessary on the matter. I am very open to hearing the thoughts of colleagues, privately as well as in this Chamber, about the issue.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that I asked the Home Secretary about this very issue and got a complete non-answer yet again. Members across the House have repeatedly tried to get to the bottom of whether MPs’ communications are being intercepted by the state, and I have to say that I think we have exhausted everything we can do. We look to you, Mr Speaker, and ask whether you could reflect on whether there is anything in your powers that would allow us to get to the bottom of what is a wholly unsatisfactory situation.

Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman and take his concerns very seriously. I was here when he asked his question and noted his evident dissatisfaction with the response. The point I would very gently make is that it was, of course, one question and one response. Sometimes, if there is a fuller opportunity to explore such matters—the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the arsenal of weapons available to Members trying to secure a fuller and more thorough interrogation on an issue—some light emerges. If the hon. Gentleman gets the drift of that advice, he may, with other colleagues, wish to follow that course.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: He may even receive some encouragement in it from the shadow Leader of the House.

Chris Bryant: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am glad that you told the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) that he should be indefatigable and keep on going, because there are other means whereby we can make sure that this clear ambiguity, which cannot possibly be in the interests of any Member of this House, should be dealt with. The freedom of Members to be able to speak without fear or favour, and without fear of being spied on by the Government or any other agency, is a vital part of our being able to do our job as representatives, and it strikes at the heart of our liberties. It would, of course, be possible for the Leader of the House to make a statement as a matter of urgency. Obviously, he is present, so I wonder whether he might like to leap to his feet and say that he would be happy to do that tomorrow and clear up all the ambiguity.

Mr Speaker: I am very grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. The Leader of the House is sitting impassively: he does not intend to take to his feet at this

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stage. He may do so subsequently—I do not know—but I simply repeat the thrust of the theme I was developing in response to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) by saying this: if Members feel that this matter has now acquired an urgent character, or even that it might warrant consideration as an emergency, there are parliamentary methods open to them. I do not think I could be accused of being over-subtle or delphic.

Chris Bryant: You’ve never been accused of that!

Mr Speaker: I have never been accused of that—that is true!

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has come to my attention following the liquidation of SSI UK that the Government’s supposed £80 million, a vast majority of it new money, now transpires to be £30 million of existing funds, to which the workforce are entitled anyway as statutory redundancy payments. I now have further information that suggests that further education colleges and training providers in the area have had no further moneys above their existing budgets to provide re-education and economic regeneration programmes for the affected workers and families. We also know that Ministers have informed Teesside Members that they wish that they had mothballed the blast furnace at Redcar. At the very least, there should be a written statement to this House informing the people of Teesside of the Government’s real intentions and of what moneys they are putting aside for those people.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is certainly a most indefatigable representative of the people of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. I simply say to him that this matter was at least partly treated of yesterday, although clearly not to his satisfaction in the light of his comments about what he has heard. If I may politely say so to the House, this is an issue that will inevitably run over a period and it is open to Ministers to make statements and for others, if such statements are not volunteered, to seek to extract them. The hon. Gentleman is a most versatile and dexterous contributor in the House and he will know the options open to him. The Chair wants important matters to be debated. Frankly, if we had not taken so long at Prime Minister’s questions it would have been possible to have questions on the matter but, unfortunately, initial questions and answers were somewhat longer than was the case in the last Parliament.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you saying that the people on Teesside should be putting in for a Standing Order No. 24 debate?

Mr Speaker: I was not as explicit as that. I say to the hon. Gentleman, who has now been in the House for 45 years without interruption, that a Member could make an SO 24 application, or an application for an urgent question is another device that could be used. Those options are open, and the Speaker does not commit in advance as they have to be considered on merit, but they do exist. I think that the hon. Gentleman will testify that they have been used more frequently in recent years. I would not want colleagues to think that there is no chance for these matters to be considered. There is, if they take it. Perhaps we can leave the matter there for now.

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Perinatal Mental Illness (NHS Family Services)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

12.52 pm

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the appropriate level of access to NHS services and accommodation for mothers with perinatal mental illness; and for connected purposes.

The Bill is in addition to my other Bill on the need for accountability and transparency in the commissioning of mental health services. I thank the Minister for Community and Social Care for meeting me and the team from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, led by the president, Professor Simon Wessely. The royal college fully supports the Bills.

We have come a long way in improving attitudes to mental illness over the past few years and I pay tribute to the work of the current Government and the coalition Government for their efforts to improve the quality and provision of care for people with mental ill health. Nowhere is improvement needed more than for women with perinatal mental illness. Perinatal mental illnesses are those that start or are already present during pregnancy and the initial year after birth, which is a time when the risk of mental illness is heightened. Approximately 10% to 20% of women will experience a mental illness in the year after childbirth. In fact, a woman is 33 times more likely to be admitted to a psychiatric ward after giving birth than at any other time in her life. That means tens of thousands of women in England every year.

The consequences of not intervening adequately can be severe. These women might be catatonic or delusional, experiencing hallucinations or suicidal thoughts, and they might be unable to recognise their family or even their baby. Not only is this a traumatic experience for them, but, unsurprisingly, the child’s development can be severely impaired. Tragically, suicide is a leading cause of maternal death associated with approximately 15% of overall deaths in the perinatal period. Although such cases are rarer, some women will kill the child as a result of their illness. Recently, we will all have seen in the media the coroner’s report on the tragic case of Charlotte Bevan, who committed suicide along with her baby. Her parents call for extra perinatal units, and the coroner has called for better services.

Aside from the tremendous human cost, there is an economic cost that far outweighs the cost of providing adequate treatment. A comprehensive economic evaluation conducted last year by the London School of Economics and the Centre for Mental Health calculated that the annual cost of perinatal mental illness to the NHS is £1.2 billion and that the total cost to society is £8.1 billion. Although many cases of perinatal mental illness can be managed by services based in the community, specialised care is required in thousands of cases each year and the mother will have to be admitted to hospital. In such circumstances, typical adult psychiatric wards are inadequate as they are not equipped to allow the baby and mother to remain together and bond. Specialised mother and baby units, which are the subject of the Bill, are designed

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with that in mind, and research shows that women with serious perinatal mental illness will have better outcomes and better relationships with their infants if cared for in these specialised units.

Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence accordingly recommends that mothers who require in-patient treatment for any mental health problem in the perinatal period should be admitted to such a unit with their child. Last month, I had the pleasure of seeing the fantastic work that the specialist units do first hand when I visited the Margaret Oates mother and baby unit in east London. The Scottish NHS is some years ahead of ours when it comes to providing such vital services. Since 2003, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act, which was the inspiration for this Bill, has stipulated that commissioners must provide enough mother and baby unit services so that women with depression who require in-patient admission and their infants can be accommodated together.

There is no similar provision in English law and both NHS England and NICE have acknowledged that there is a significant national shortfall in the provision and distribution of mother and baby units of approximately 60 to 80 beds. As a result, women with serious mental illness are forced either to be admitted without their babies to general adult psychiatric wards or to travel hundreds of miles out of their area to a specialist mother and baby unit. Both have damaging consequences for the mother and baby. Dr Liz McDonald, one of the country’s leading perinatal psychiatrists, calls this

“the bleakest of all postcode lotteries”.

I agree, and the Bill seeks to correct that.

It is important to note that the number of beds needed is not the only consideration. Thought must also be given to where they are located. I recently met Dr Giles Berrisford, a senior perinatal psychiatrist who runs an excellent mother and baby unit in Birmingham. He told me that he has received patients from as far away as Cornwall and that new motherhood, the onset of mental illness and having to travel huge distances for care, being separated from families, friends and communities, are a toxic combination. That is why the Bill will make it a requirement that 95% of the women who need such services should be able to access them within 75 miles. Those figures were recommended to me by experts at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who strongly support the Bill.

The distance element is innovative. I appreciate it might raise an eyebrow or two in the Chamber, but it is just a different way of conceptualising the rights that already exist. For years, patients have had the legal right to access NHS treatment for physical illnesses within a maximum period of 18 weeks. Unfortunately, this 18-week target would not be relevant to acute perinatal mental illnesses, whereas, as I have explained, the problem is with both the shortage and the location of these services. That is why the Bill thinks slightly differently and uses distance, rather than time, as a basis. This is novel for the NHS, but innovation is not a bad thing.

If we can enshrine a time-based right in law, with no ill effects, why not a distance-based one? It is not unheard of. In the United States, Kentucky, Illinois and Minnesota have laws about the maximum distance patients have to travel for care. Moreover, the financial implications

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of the Bill are actually positive. An evaluation by the London School of Economics and the Centre for Mental Health estimates the cost of providing the 60 to 80 beds that NHS England and NICE say are needed to be approximately £7 million. I am pleased that the Government have already earmarked extra funding for perinatal mental services more generally. In the March 2015 Budget, a pledge was made to spend £75 million over five years on improving perinatal mental illness services, but no detail has been forthcoming about what it means in practice.

The Bill complements existing Government spending plans, but importantly would serve to compel NHS England to act and focus its attention on these much-needed mother and baby units. When I have spoken to colleagues about the Bill, some have cautioned that it might lead to legal action being taken if these services are meant to be available but are not. I am pleased to say that these concerns are unfounded. The Royal College of Psychiatrists informs me that it is not aware of the similar Scottish law having led to any such cases.

I have also been asked why these services are a special case, deserving of their own Bill. There is a particularly strong argument for action in this case. As we know, the Government have set the laudable objective of giving mental health parity of esteem with physical health, reflecting the fact that unfortunately mental healthcare has lagged behind physical healthcare for so long, and perinatal mental healthcare has lagged behind other areas of mental healthcare and so has been doubly disadvantaged in many ways. This and the consequences of not getting this care right for mothers and babies justify the Bill and the novel approach it takes. As for whether the Bill will set a precedent, that, as right hon. and hon. colleagues will know, is ultimately within Parliament’s control.

In summary, the Bill reflects current NICE guidance and will result in better outcomes for the mothers and infants concerned—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am extremely grateful.

Rehman Chishti: We have a moral duty to make sure the Bill is fully considered and taken on board by the Government.

Mr Speaker: Order. We have got the thrust of it. I am afraid that people will have to rediscover the habit of staying to time. The hon. Gentleman did so in the last Parliament, but he will need to brush up a little bit. None the less, we are grateful to him.

Question put and agreed to.


That Rehman Chishti, Norman Lamb, Frank Field, Tim Loughton, Fiona Bruce, Tom Brake, Jim Shannon, Valerie Vaz, James Berry, Jeremy Lefroy and Kelly Tolhurst present the Bill.

Mr Rehman Chishti accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 November 2015, and to be printed (Bill 78).

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Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords]

[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee on 12 October 2015,and written evidence to the Committee, reported to the House on 7 and 15 September and 12 October2015, on the Government’s Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, HC 369, the Committee’s FirstReport of Session 2014-15, Devolution in England, the case for local government, HC 503, and theGovernment’s response, Cm 8998.]

Second Reading

Mr Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. [Interruption.] I understand the disappointment of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), but his amendment is on the Order Paper for inspection by colleagues, and will be there for some time to come, and he can show it to his family.

1.5 pm

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I guess we have to get used to rival Opposition amendments these days, but I look forward to hearing the remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen).

The Conservative party promised that if elected it would begin a bold new era of devolution. We made that promise because, as hon. Members on both sides of the House would recognise, over the course of the best part of a century, this country became one of the most centralised in the free world. Our cities, towns and counties became progressively more dominated by Westminster; local leaders had their undoubted dynamism and energy curbed and were made to conform to what Whitehall required; and our economy became unbalanced, its local strengths undermined by over a century of central direction from London.

People who know and love their communities have seen their good ideas frustrated, and the public’s enthusiasm for local democracy has unsurprisingly withered. The damage caused by over-centralisation is not only political; as Members know, seven of the eight largest cities outside London have for some time had a GDP per head below the national average. That stands in contrast to the experience of other European countries, where the major regional centres of their economies power the national economy ahead. If they can do it, we can do it, and we are determined so to do.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Crucial to devolution is who controls the money. We are currently negotiating the new Scottish settlement, which must mean a new settlement for England, and I hope that England will have a strong and sensible voice in that. We will now have a new determination on business rates and councils, so will the Secretary of State explain how the money might work under the new regime?

Greg Clark: I will. The idea that business rates raised locally can be retained by local government, rather than being sent to the Treasury, is a major step forward that

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colleagues in local government agreed and for which many have campaigned over many years. Having made that commitment, it was right to announce it so that our colleagues in local government could help us with the important work of putting in place arrangements to protect authorities that do not collect enough in business rates at the moment to pay for their services. It is right that that be done collaboratively, and the Chancellor announced the arrangements in order to initiate that conversation.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): My right hon. Friend talks about a long campaign and the trend towards devolution, as shown not least in our manifesto and reflected in the Bill, which commands support certainly among Government Members. I caution him, however, that if Sunday trading deregulation is tacked on quickly to the Bill at a later stage, a significant cross-party group of hon. Members will vigorously oppose it on behalf of businesses, families and workers.

Greg Clark: I understand the comments of my hon. Friend, who has been a clear and long-standing campaigner on this issue. As all Members know, there has been a consultation on whether to devolve to local authorities the power to set Sunday trading hours. That consultation has closed and we are considering the results, but I say to him and other Members that I and my colleagues are happy to meet them to discuss their concerns before the Government respond to the consultation.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): Further to that intervention, will the Secretary of State confirm for the record that hon. Members would have an opportunity to debate the matter in a Committee of the whole House, should the Sunday trading hours extension be introduced into the Bill? I, on behalf of the Church of England, and others would want to place on the record our opposition to the extension.

Greg Clark: I can certainly give that commitment. Hon. Members will have seen that the programme motion has the Committee stage being taken on the Floor of the House, as is appropriate.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing forward this Bill and on the hard work he has done over many years in bringing devolution to our cities. Will he accept from me that bringing devolution down from Whitehall to town hall is not enough in itself? Will he look a little further at what we call “double devolution”, or taking devolution down to the communities and neighbourhoods, as we are trying to do in Nottingham at this very moment?

Greg Clark: I will indeed, and I would like to reciprocate the hon. Gentleman’s compliment. Both in his role as Select Committee Chair in the last Parliament and through his personal work in Nottingham, driving the regeneration of what he terms the outer estates in his city, the hon. Gentleman brings and personifies a degree of local knowledge of the problems and of the people, many of whom he has introduced me to on my visits to his city, which it would be impossible to replicate in

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Whitehall. That provides a good example of why we need to devolve in exactly the way that the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): Let me take the right hon. Gentleman back to the subject raised by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)—the issue of where the money comes from to finance devolution. The Secretary of State will be aware of the work of the current Mayor championing full fiscal devolution for London—not just of business rates, but of a series of other local property taxes. Why has the Chancellor resisted devolving control of those additional property taxes?

Greg Clark: I think the hon. Gentleman is being a bit churlish. Part of the Mayor’s campaign was to have 100% retention of business rates. That has been secured, and the mayor was appropriately generous in his praise for the Chancellor for doing so. We are rightly responding to a long-standing campaign to make this devolution work, which is a very important step forward.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The right hon. Gentleman is aware of the feeling of many Members about the Sunday trading liberalisation amendments that could be in the Bill. He will also be aware of the meeting of MPs and constituents over how the obligation to work will affect people’s Sundays. Before any of that happens, we are seeking the opportunity, as others have said, to debate that matter in this House. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance—a cast-iron assurance—that that will happen?

Greg Clark: I would say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, the consultation has not yet been responded to, and the Government will need to take a view on the responses to it. My colleagues and I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and any other Member who wants to influence what happens on this issue. Secondly, if such provisions were to become part of the Bill, it would of course be essential to debate them on the Floor of the House so that the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues have a chance to express their views and influence the debate.

Several hon. Members rose

Greg Clark: Let me make some progress; I will of course take further interventions a little later.

The Bill’s purpose is to give power to the cities, counties and towns of our country and to free them from some of the Whitehall rule. This has been promised in the past by successive Governments of different colours, but often never realised. It is worth asking why well-intentioned Governments have never succeeded before in making a real difference to our country’s devolution settlement. One reason why previous efforts failed is as a result of an approach whereby everything had to change in a uniform way across the country. By contrast, the fundamental approach of this Bill is to enable the Government to give expression to proposals—they may be different proposals from different places—with no requirement that the same arrangements should apply to all parts of the country simultaneously. It is a fundamental tenet of this Bill, in contrast to other reforms debated over many years, that it does not give me or any of my ministerial colleagues the power to

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impose any arrangement on any local authority. All it gives is the ability to give expression to a proposal, if I may put it that way.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I know that the Secretary of State is fully committed to the Bill. He referred to it not imposing anything in a uniform manner on local authorities or combined authorities. Does that mean that he is not going to impose a mayor on a combined authority?

Greg Clark: The Bill does not include the ability to impose any particular form, whether it be a combined authority, a different combination of authorities or a mayor. It provides for the ability to give expression to an agreement made between authorities, which I think is the right approach.

Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that any proposal for devolution needs to be ambitious and bold, both to realise the economic potential and to capture the public’s imagination? A good example might be the Greater Yorkshire devolution bid.

Greg Clark: I commend my hon. Friend’s ingenuity in seeking to elicit an endorsement of that particular proposal. What I certainly can do is to endorse the great efforts and imagination that have gone into a very attractive bid. A number of alternatives for Yorkshire have been put forward to the Government, and I will meet Yorkshire authorities to see whether a consensus can be reached. As my hon. Friend knows, a consensus is required for these arrangements to come into force.

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), the model of elected mayor and combined authority has profound implications for public engagement and public involvement. If this is devolution purely from Whitehall to town hall, and does not actually empower communities, that would be a major problem. This also has profound implications for the role of back-bench councillors who feel potentially marginalised by this model and for the role of Members of Parliament in holding public services to account. What is the Government’s position on the public, back-bench councillors and Members of Parliament in the light of the profound impact of the proposals?

Greg Clark: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. It is important that both back-bench councillors and Members of Parliament have the opportunity to exercise scrutiny of any elected officials, whether they be chairs of combined authorities or members of the cabinets put together by combined authorities or boroughs.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) rose

Greg Clark: Let me finish answering the question from the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis).

Having a prominent and identifiable figure can, I think, help that scrutiny. Both the recent Mayors in London have been prominent individuals, and I dare say that they would both say that they feel pretty well scrutinised by Members of Parliament, elected members and indeed by public opinion. Under the Bill, it is open to different authorities to put arrangements together. In the case of Greater Manchester, strong powers exist for

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the constituent authorities, which have a long track record of working very well together to exercise scrutiny over the elected mayor. Members of those councils, of course, are linked in through that. Different arrangements are possible in different places.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab) rose—

Greg Clark: I give way to the newly right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart).

Ms Stuart: I agree with the Secretary of State’s notion that the devolution process will be asymmetric, so that combinations will have to form themselves. In the case of Birmingham, some components are obvious, but where does the right hon. Gentleman take control to ensure that some parts around it—whether it be Warwickshire, Stratford or whatever—are not left out of the process and can be brought together into some greater framework?

Greg Clark: The right hon. Lady reflects exactly why we need a bespoke approach rather than a single template—because every place is different. As we know, her city of Birmingham is the largest local authority in Europe, and it is very different from other authorities. Greater Manchester is divided into 10 separate authorities, for example. It would be completely wrong to seek to impose a Manchester arrangement on Birmingham and its neighbours. As I have said, and as is reflected in the Bill, arrangements can come forward only if there is a consensus between the local authorities that might want to be partners. That has to be forged locally. I do not have the ability either now or subsequently through the Bill to impose an arrangement on any authority, however much people might desire it.

Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab) rose

Greg Clark: I give way to the hon. Gentleman. I must make some progress, but of course I will give way to Members as I do so.

Mr Campbell: In the north-east of England, it seems that you are imposing a mayor on the leaders, and the feeling in the north-east is that they do not want a Geordie Boris. If this is all about democracy and sharing democracy, why are you imposing a mayor on us?

Mr Speaker: Order. I am not imposing anything. The hon. Gentleman must not attribute to me what he is accusing the Government of doing, or failing to do.

Mr Campbell: You are on the other side of the game, aren’t you?

Mr Speaker: I am on the side of adherence to the rules, a concept that I am sure the hon. Gentleman, in his better moments, robustly supports.

Greg Clark: If the hon. Gentleman studies the Bill, he will see that there is no ability for me to impose a mayor on the authorities of the north-east. They are having discussions about the issue, and they are entirely at liberty not to accept that form of governance if they do not want it.

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I gather that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) has been trying to catch my eye, but because he is sitting behind me, I missed him. I will give way to him before I make some more progress.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I wonder whether I can draw him out a little more. In the west of England, four local authorities—Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset—work closely together as a functional unit. Can he confirm that nothing in the Bill would allow any future Secretary of State to apply a structural arrangement to what is currently a very well-operating unit?

Greg Clark: I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made that point, because it illustrates something that I was saying before I took interventions. Previous approaches involving a template that was imposed on places by Whitehall, including the creation of Avon, were widely resisted—correctly, as I am sure my right hon. Friend would say. They never enjoyed any public identification, affection or support. We have learnt from that experience, and the Bill is the opposite of those previous reforms of local government. All the powers that it contains are geared to allow me to implement the expression of local opinion and not to impose any arrangement in any way, and that certainly includes the authorities mentioned by my right hon. Friend.

Several hon. Members rose

Greg Clark: I am going to make some progress, but after I have done so, I will of course give way to Members who wish to intervene.

That is partly why we have decided to develop bespoke arrangements, but we also respect the fact that every place is very different. Greater Manchester, for instance, is a very different place from Liverpool. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Indeed, the difference is to be celebrated. Vive la différence! They are both proud cities in their own right.

One of my regrets about the periods during which those two great cities, and others, were subsumed into the region called the north-west, which I do not think enjoyed a fraction of the identity, recognition, affection and, indeed, power they had enjoyed, is that they were sublimated, and our approach gives expression to that regret. I have been delighted, but not surprised, by the response of civic and business leaders across the country, and not just in our cities. They have demonstrated their enthusiasm for investing in a greater prominence for cities, towns and counties that can boost the economic prospects of the whole country.

Andrew Gwynne rose

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab) rose

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab) rose

Greg Clark: I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who has been patient, and then to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey).

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Andrew Gwynne: May I return the Secretary of State to the issue of identity? People will obviously not identify with the new office of mayor and the combined authority unless they feel that they have some buy-in. The Local Government Act 2000, which introduced the cabinet system to local government, provided for two important functions. One was the call-in procedure, and the other was the provision that key cabinet decisions must be made public and must be publicly scrutinised. Does the Secretary of State expect the same powers to apply to the office of the mayor and the combined authority?

Greg Clark: Yes, I do. I think that the arrangements we require should have the potential to be equally transparent, although they may not need to be identical. We must consider them, debate them and ensure that they achieve the purpose that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

I will now give way to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington.

Jack Dromey: I am grateful to the Secretary of State.

Yesterday, after nearly two decades of leadership in the city of Birmingham, Sir Albert Bore stood down. In the city of Chamberlain, he was one of its greatest leaders. A man of immense personal integrity, he led the city through tough times, and indeed, working with the Secretary of State and others, he has been a pioneer of the new devolution settlement for England. As Albert stands down, will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to a remarkable man who has made a difference throughout his life to the city that he has served and loved?

Greg Clark: I will do that with all my heart. Sir Albert Bore has given distinguished and devoted service for many years to a city that he loves. He has led the city through some difficult periods, and he has always done so with a calmness, authority and pragmatism that have made it possible for him and me to work very well together, despite our being in different political parties. I think the fact that, under these arrangements, Birmingham is poised to be able to advance and recover some of the civic possibility that was exemplified under the mayoralty of Chamberlain was very much in Albert Bore’s mind, and he will leave a very positive legacy to the city. His stepping aside at this point to allow a new leader to take Birmingham to the next stage is a tribute to his first concern for the city, and I am sure that all Members will wish to join us in paying that tribute.

Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about proud cities, but I know that he will not forget proud counties such as Hampshire, which want to embrace devolution. As he will know, my part of Hampshire has a strong local enterprise partnership, the Enterprise M3 LEP, which has secured significant investment and infrastructure. Will he ensure that any plans for devolution do not diminish that strong role for LEPs, which have such an important part to play in the country’s economic recovery?

Greg Clark: I will indeed. The Enterprise M3 LEP has been particularly successful in attracting high-tech businesses, and creating jobs well into the future. It is very important for businesses to be part of this.

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Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con) rose

Barbara Keeley rose

Greg Clark: I will give way to my hon. Friend and then to the hon. Lady, but after that I must make some progress.

Kit Malthouse: As a former councillor and, indeed, ward colleague of my right hon. Friend, may I express my violent enthusiasm for the Bill? So enthusiastic are councils across the country that I am sure my right hon. Friend will be carried shoulder high into the next Local Government Association conference that he attends. [Laughter.]Does he agree, however, that many of the worries he will hear expressed here today, and in other places, stand in the way of what could be a golden age for municipal and county government? Does he agree that one of the critical things we must all realise is that councillors are not second-class politicians, that they can be trusted to make large and significant decisions about their areas and communities, and that too often in the House we look down our nose a little at councillors and feel that we should retain a little too much power because they cannot be trusted?

Mr Speaker: Order. The jocularity of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention was equalled only by its length. May I gently say to Members that interventions must be brief? We do need to make some progress. The Secretary of State is always generous in giving way, but Members should not abuse that.

Greg Clark: In view of the proposed violence of my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm, I am glad that he is sitting over there rather than closer to me. He was my friend and mentor in local government, and we did a lot together on the basis of our knowledge, as councillors, of our local area. I think that is very much reflected in what we are doing now. For all the discussions we will have, today, in Committee and on Report, this is, for all of us, a big opportunity to do what many of our predecessors sometimes hoped but failed to do: give capable leaders across the country the ability to make a difference to their communities. It is right that my hon. Friend pays tribute to the potential of local leaders.

Barbara Keeley: I hope the Secretary of State will not regret giving way, because I am going to intrude on the somewhat rosy view he is developing about Greater Manchester. There was a sense of shock there about the health devolution and the imposition of an elected mayor. Manchester is not a city; the unit we are talking about is 10 separate places. I represent Salford and I have been a councillor in Trafford, and I know that feelings run high about that imposition. The real concern is about health and the role of MPs once this health devolution goes ahead. The British Medical Association is very concerned that doctors were not consulted before that decision, and neither were MPs in Greater Manchester. We find ourselves too far outside the loop, and there are real concerns about the role of an MP in expressing their constituents’ concerns on health matters in the future. This is not at all clear.

Greg Clark: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. All I would say is that the proposals on health devolution came from the Greater Manchester authorities—they were not proposed by the Government—and reflected

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their feeling that their local knowledge and experience could make a material difference in improving health outcomes for people in Manchester. This is important. Of course, the national health service will always continue to be accountable through the Health Secretary, the Prime Minister and Ministers to Members here, and I encourage all authorities and Members to take the opportunity to work together and not only scrutinise but influence these arrangements. I hope they will do that.

Several hon. Members rose

Greg Clark: I am going to make some more progress and then take further interventions later—I think I have been generous in the interventions I have taken.

Clearly there is much to discuss, but I regret the reasoned amendment—it may be a reasoned amendment but it is not a very reasonable amendment from the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett). I am surprised by that because he is a genial chap normally. He says that the Bill does not offer meaningful devolution, but most civic leaders, of all parties, across the country recognise that this is an important Bill that gives them the ability to take powers that previously have not been made available to them. His approach is rather like St Augustine’s, in that he is saying, “Let us have more devolution, Lord, but not just now.” I hope that in the weeks ahead the conversations that will take place between the Opposition Front Benchers and their civic leaders in local government, who very much welcome these deals and powers, will moderate shadow Ministers’ views on that. I say to him and other hon. Members that it is important to proceed as consensually as we can on this, and if he has suggestions that we can reflect in our arrangements, they are as valid coming from him as from any other Member. He will find that I am open to them, as my colleagues are.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): The point is that we need good devolution and devolution that works. Let me take the Secretary of State back to the health issue because there are real concerns, expressed by the Royal College of Nursing and the NHS Confederation, about fragmenting services and the fact that devolution will not solve the significant financial crisis that our health service and social care service face. Therefore, real safeguards are needed to avoid unintended consequences and to protect the patient.

Greg Clark: The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about that. Far from fragmenting health services, one of the most important things that we need to do, in the interests of all our constituents, is bring together, in closer co-operation, health and social services, because where they are not well aligned and well integrated, patients—our constituents—can fall through the cracks in the system. That is what is behind the Greater Manchester proposals.

Several hon. Members rose

Greg Clark: I am going to make some progress. I have spoken for half an hour and a lot of Members want to speak.

The Bill is intended to honour our pledge to bring prosperity and opportunity to every part of the country. We must address the problem of recent years of how to prevent the strength of London—valuable and desirable

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though it is—from overshadowing the opportunity for other parts of the country to achieve their potential. It is very important that no one and no place shall be left behind. Talking of one nation, as Disraeli said,

“the greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.”

Our local communities are aware of their riches and they want the opportunity to show them, to make use of them and to burnish them in a way that they have been prevented from doing in the past.

Let me say a few words about the progress that was made in the last Parliament.

Mr Gareth Thomas rose

Greg Clark: I want to make some progress and I will perhaps give way a little later.

During the last Parliament, the Government introduced the concept of city deals, pioneering the approach of having a conversation with cities, in the first instance, to see whether there was any common ground—something that might be in the local interest and the national interest, and where agreement could be reached. That was followed by 39 growth deals. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) foresaw my being carried shoulder high at LGA conferences, but my experience at those, having negotiated the city deals, was that the leaders of our districts and counties did not so much carry me shoulder high as pursue me down corridors demanding that they should be able to be part of this devolution, and they were right to do so. That is why we extended our devolution arrangements to the 39 growth deals. It is important that we now take this to the next level and be able to devolve powers that Ministers and public bodies have to local authorities, be they individual authorities, combined authorities or mayoral authorities.

The important point to recognise is that the Bill gives no ability to strip any powers from any existing authority. All their powers continue and all the Bill’s proposals are directed at allowing this House, if it gives its approval, to take powers from Ministers and from national bodies and vest them in local government and local leaders. All the devolution is one way; no change is made to the powers and responsibilities of the constituent councils.

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): I want to contribute later, but I wish to say something about the principle of devolvement. The Trade Union Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to determine whether or not a trade union convenor has more or less time off in Carlisle, 200 miles away. That is not decentralisation. May we have a commitment that that sort of measure in that Bill may be devolved back to local authorities?

Greg Clark: I am fully occupied with the Bill before us, and I am sure my colleagues will debate the hon. Gentleman’s proposals during the scrutiny of that other legislation.

Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con): I warmly welcome this Bill, and I hope to speak today in support of it and further devolution for Hampshire. The Minister has mentioned no impositions in this Bill, and we hope it will work positively with the Localism Act 2011. Where

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authorities have not used their powers to deliver on local plans and neighbourhood plans, as is the case in my constituency, where there is a vacuum of localism, how does he see this Bill working with the Localism Act?

Greg Clark: That goes to the point about double devolution made by the hon. Member for Nottingham North. My hon. Friend is right in what she says, and the Housing and Planning Bill contains provisions to strengthen the ability of neighbourhoods to insist on the development of a neighbourhood plan. I hope she will find that welcome.

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab) rose

Mr Ivan Lewis rose

Greg Clark: I am going to make some progress, but I will give way to the Chairman of the Select Committee and others before I finish.

The Bill has been warmly welcomed by local government, business leaders and local leaders of every hue. Lord Peter Smith, the leader of Wigan Council, said the deal with Manchester was “a momentous moment” for Greater Manchester because

“it gives greater control over our own destiny.”

But the Bill is, as we have been discussing, relevant to rural areas, none more so than the great county of Cornwall, where a group of Members of Parliament—it is a good example to Members on all sides—engaged with their local authorities in developing the proposals. The agreement with Cornwall was described by the leader of Cornwall Council as “brilliant news” and “the first stage”—which it is—“of a longer journey” towards further devolution for Cornwall.

In Sheffield—the constituency of the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), so it is perhaps a good point to give way to him—James Newman, whom he knows well, the chairman of the local enterprise partnership, said that Sheffield’s agreement put it “at the front of the pack” and would strengthen the position of Sheffield as a “world-class centre for modern manufacturing and engineering”, which it undoubtedly is.

Mr Betts: I will not demur in any way from what the Secretary of State has just said. I congratulate him on his efforts over the years to bring about the change that we have seen in the approach to devolution. In a written statement the other day, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the full retention of business rates and the fact that that will mean more resources for local government, but it will require a process of further devolution of powers to take account of the extra expenditure that local authorities will control. Will he say how that will be done? How will local authorities and this House be consulted on the measures to be devolved as part of that arrangement?

Greg Clark: That is a very good question, and I am sure we shall have other opportunities to discuss it. Devolving 100% of business rates is more than the grant that goes to local authorities, so it is an opportunity to devolve more powers with the funding to local government. Again, the point of the transfer announcement at this stage is so that we can have a sensible conversation with our colleagues in local government as to what

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might be the appropriate activities and responsibilities to devolve. I dare say the hon. Gentleman personally and his Committee might have some suggestions to make on that.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) rose

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con) rose

Greg Clark: I will give way to my former colleague.

Robert Neill: I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Bill. On the point about further powers that might be devolved, will he in the course of his speech or during the progress of the Bill give us some more substance about how that would interact with some of the specific grants—for example, the police grant, the better care fund, and the operation of the public health grant?

Greg Clark: That is probably for another occasion, but of course these things need to be discussed and debated.

I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), then I will conclude my remarks, not immediately, but shortly.

Dr Murrison: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. He will know that the biggest challenge facing healthcare in the years ahead will be funding. The models for funding in local government and in the NHS are radically different. How will he reconcile that in a way that will not promote fragmentation in healthcare delivery? Notwithstanding the comments about differences in need in different areas, the big public health challenges are pretty much the same everywhere.

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend has great experience in matters medical. This needs to be done by agreement. There is an opportunity to align these funds, but it should be done only if we can be satisfied that it will improve services for our constituents.

Several hon. Members rose

Greg Clark: Let me make some progress. I will not give way. I want to let other Members contribute, including the hon. Member for Hemsworth

No one can doubt this Government’s commitment to devolution or the incredible enthusiasm that we have met across the country, where local leaders and communities want to take control of their affairs. We have had applications from 38 places across the country—cities, towns and counties making proposals of their own. I look forward to discussing their proposals with them to see if it is possible to make use of the powers in the Bill to their advantage and to the nation’s advantage. I look forward to being in Hampshire next week to do precisely that for the Hampshire authorities.