UK Politics

Prime Minister's Questions: The key bits and the verdict

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May Image copyright HoC
Image caption Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May wore badges to mark World Autism Awareness Week

Theresa May went head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons. Here's what happened.

The prime minister began by wishing everyone a Happy Easter before being lobbed a friendly question by one of her MPs that allowed a bit of early local election campaigning.

The Labour leader echoed the Easter greetings before he noted this was autism awareness week and raised the cases of Connor Sparrowhark and Teresa Colvin, who died in 2013 and 2012 while in the care of Southern Health. How confident was the prime minister that these kinds of deaths could not happen today?

Mrs May said there had been significant steps taken to raise awareness of autism and ensure there was support available, but the cases raised "very important questions". She joined Mr Corbyn in paying tribute to the families involved and said the government was backing trusts to be open so they could learn from mistakes.

Mr Corbyn quoted the NHS Ombudsman as saying there were not enough skilled and qualified staff and there was an "overuse of agency staff". Why were there 5,000 fewer mental health nurses than 2010, he asked.

Mrs May said more money was being put into mental health care, noted that the government had given parity of esteem to the treatment of mental health in the NHS - and said that 1,400 more people a day were accessing mental health services. In answer to the staffing and funding points she said that as well as the NHS it was also about wider services in communities, highlighting an initiative to train staff in schools.

Mr Corbyn said funding had fallen by £600m between 2010 and 2016, and said that too often friends, neighbours or police have to deal with mental health crises. He asked why only 6% of mental health funding was spent on children, when they made up 20% of the population and, he said, half of "enduring mental health conditions" emerged by the age of 14.

Mrs May said that the issue of young people's mental health was a very serious one which was why the schools initiative had been launched, adding that there were a variety of ways to deal with mental health issues. She said they were taking more steps than Labour ever took.

Mrs May said she hoped Mr Corbyn would join her in tackling misuse of social media, which could lead to mental health issues - he replied by saying he hoped this meant she would back Labour's digital bill "which will provide proper protections for people". Her reaction suggested the answer would be no.

This was a relatively-rare session where Mr Corbyn focused on one issue for all his questions, rather than covering a broader set of subjects.

His final question began with the observation that "mental health affects us all", adding that it was good that there was "less stigma" attached to it. Mr Corbyn said the NHS was in crisis, particularly in mental health services and that despite legislating for parity of esteem the government had failed to properly fund it. He asked the PM commit to ring-fencing funding for mental health services.

Mrs May responded by saying that there was an "extra £10bn" going into the NHS made possible by the "balanced approach" to the economy which kept debt and taxes down and allowed investment in public services. By contrast "Labour's approach would mean increased debt, less money for mental health services and higher taxes for ordinary working people who would pay the price of Labour."

The other main topic...

The SNP's leader at Westminster Ian Blackford raised the recent allegations about spending during the UK's referendum on EU membership in 2016. He said the claims needed to be fully investigated. Theresa May said there were laws governing the conduct of campaigning and spending, adding that she understood the Electoral Commission had looked into it.

Mr Blackford said "we know that before the EU referendum the DUP received £425,000 from the Conservative-run Constitutional Research Council (CRC)... we know some of the money was given to Aggregate IQ a reported franchise of Cambridge Analytica... the shady business of data mining and undermining electoral law goes right to the heart of the prime minister's party".

Mrs May said that the matter of Vote Leave spending had already been investigated twice by the Electoral Commission. If there were allegations of criminal activity they should be taken to the police and where there were allegations of breaches of campaign funding rules they should be taken to the Electoral Commission.

It was an issue that was returned to by another SNP MP, Alan Brown. Mrs May said she did not recognise his claims and took the chance to reject any idea that any of the claims cast doubt on the result of the referendum itself.

Green MP and co-leader of the party Caroline Lucas also brought up the issue, calling for cross-party talks to kick-start the creation of a system that was up to the challenge of dealing with the digital age. Mrs May said the allegations about Cambridge Analytica were "concerning" and said she hoped those involved cooperated with the Information Commissioner's inquiries. The government was committed to "ensuring this is a safe place to be online".

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Media captionAllegations about Cambridge Analytica show "there's something rotten in the state of our democracy" says Caroline Lucas

The Conservative MP David Morris raised allegations of "serious data breaches" by Labour HQ and urged the prime minister to join him in making sure the Information Commissioner conducts a "thorough investigation". Mrs May said it was important that people had confidence in how their data was used, and said tougher powers were planned.

Other subjects that came up

The DUP MP Jim Shannon asked about Christians persecuted around the world, especially over Easter. Mrs May said Easter was the most important time in the Christian calendar, "a time of new life and hope". She said she stood with persecuted Christians and would look at what more the government could do to support them.

Ged Killen, Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West in Scotland, asked about LGBT rights in Northern Ireland, asking the PM "to stop hiding behind the DUP". Mrs May said she hoped the MP would recognise the government's record on LGBT rights, adding that it was a Labour decision to allow it to be a devolved matter. She said she hoped there would be a Northern Ireland executive in place soon which will be able to address these issues.

Labour's Lisa Nandy called for compensation to be paid swiftly to former child migrants following a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse - Mrs May said an £8m family restoration fund had been established.

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Media captionA report into child sexual abuse of children sent abroad is "damning" and "unequivocal" but no action has been taken says Lisa Nandy

Conservative Ken Clarke asked the prime minister to confirm that there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and that the government would seek frictionless trade with the EU. The long-standing pro-European advocated a customs union along the lines of the existing relationship. Theresa May said the government was working to ensure both that there would be no hard border and that Northern Ireland would be able to trade freely with the rest of the UK.

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Media captionKen Clarke says there is no time to train enough customs staff before Brexit

Conservative Edward Argar asked the PM to confirm that the government would continue to invest in strong defences - allowing Mrs May to announce an extra £600m for the Dreadnought submarine programme.

Conservative Zac Goldsmith asked if the PM shared his "admiration for the brave victims" of John Worboys after they secured a high court victory over a Parole Board decision to release the 'black cab rapist'. Theresa May agreed and welcomed the judgement.

Labour's Jack Dromey said that a hedge fund scam was being used to avoid paying tax on shares that would determine the future of GKN in the takeover by Melrose and asked Mrs May to investigate. Mrs May said it was a commercial decision for GKN, and the Business Secretary Greg Clark was looking into the issues.

The Verdicts

Here is what Daily Politics presenter Andrew Neil made of it:

And here is Laura Kuenssberg's verdict:

What the BBC's Parliamentary Correspondent Mark D'Arcy made of it:

That was probably Jeremy Corbyn's best PMQs performance. The PM entered the chamber with all kinds of good news stories to tell but she faced a well constructed and sustained attack from the Labour leader.

In World Autism Awareness Week (hence all the purple badges on display) he posed six questions on mental health issues, which collectively painted a picture of a struggling, cash-starved service, leaving people waiting in desperate need, and while the PM parried the first couple fairly effectively, her counter-attack ran out of steam by the end.

For once the exchanges went a bit beyond "cuts bad!" - "Labour bad!" and Mr Corbyn kept on coming, and was all the more effective for remarking that he did not doubt the PM's personal commitment to the issue. His choice of subject was astute on several levels. It didn't leave room for the PM to pivot to Labour's divisions on Russia and anti-Semitism, and it wasn't an area where the Conservative attack dogs could easily goad the Labour leader - and it mainlined back to issues around funding local services.

It is also worth noting what didn't happen. In recent weeks there have been occasions when Labour MPs have directly attacked, not the government, but their own leader. (John Woodcock's attack on his line on Russia was perhaps the prime example, but it is far from the only one).

This time there was no glimmer of internal dissent on the Labour side. And only a carefully-pitched Brexit question from Ken Clarke, foreshadowing an issue which will surface in Parliament after Easter, marred the Conservative façade. Both parties may be seething with dissent and rivalry beneath the surface, but it wasn't on parade here.

But the other big issue to recur several times weres the allegations around breaches of the funding rules at the EU referendum and the conduct of the consultancy, Cambridge Analytica. The exchanges didn't go anywhere, but nor did they kill the subject; we will hear more about this.

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