The Secretary of State was asked—
Our commitment to this country’s fishing industry is absolute, and we have defended it resolutely in our negotiations with the European Union. We promised fishermen in Wales, Cornwall and across the United Kingdom that we would take back control of our waters, and that is precisely what will happen.
Transition Period: Business
The Wales Office is engaged with businesses the length and breadth of Wales, with a simple message: “Make sure you are prepared for the end of the transition period, whether or not we reach a negotiated outcome with the EU.”
When I was speaking to sheep farmers in Builth Wells in my constituency at the weekend, they made it clear that they do not want to be a political football. They are keen to embrace the changes that will come, but they want the certainty that their Government will support them come what may. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is working closely with all Cabinet colleagues to ensure that my sheep farmers are front and centre of the UK Government’s mind when transition ends?
Not only my hon. Friend’s sheep farmers but sheep farmers in constituencies across the House can feel confident that the Government are on their side. One way we can demonstrate that is the fact that we have guaranteed the £337 million of funding across the lifetime of this Parliament. People said we would not do it, but we have done it, and we are committed to ensuring that there is a healthy future for the farming industry, particularly livestock in Wales.
Diolch yn fawr, Lefarydd. It was interesting to hear the reference made to Welsh fishing previously, but I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that 90% of the Welsh fleet is made up of small boats, under 10 metres in length, which catch shellfish and non-quota fish species such as bass. Between the prospect of no-deal tariffs to their markets in Europe and the covid closure of hospitality, fishermen such as those in Porthdinllaen near where I live see no Brexit bonanza on the horizon. As Nelson might have put it, “Wales expects that every Secretary of State for Wales will do his duty.” Can the Secretary of State explain how his Government’s vainglorious Trafalgar posturing with warships in the channel helps our small fishing vessels?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her comments. I was rather hopeful that leaving the common fisheries policy and regaining our status as an independent nation state might be something that would appeal to a separatist, but sadly that does not appear to be the case. I can answer her question, perhaps, by referring her to the inclusion in the spending review of £2 million-worth of support for fisheries in Wales in 2021-22 and for the lifetime of this Parliament. We share a common theme, in the sense that I too have those fishing interests off the coast of west Wales and I am very conscious of the problems she raises. That is why we are determined to ensure that they are properly looked after.
I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that there is a consultation going on about how to allocate fishing quotas in the future. If that is done on historical grounds for Wales, it will be very bad news indeed for our fishermen. Turning to the Prime Minister’s latest U-turn on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, it will give a modicum of flexibility to the devolved nations, but it is undeniable that the Bill is a disaster, weakening devolved power and centralising more power here in Westminster. The Conservatives and Labour have been working together this week to let efforts to give our devolved Governments a say in state aid fail. Will the Secretary of State commit to a productive U-turn this time, and assure me that no other powers will be reserved through the internal market Bill?
The fact that the Government have listened carefully to the arguments should not be deemed some kind of act of evil or a U-turn. It shows that we are conscious of the complexities of this legislation and have listened carefully to the arguments. Where the right hon. Lady makes a mistake is in thinking that the contents of the UK Internal Market Bill are somehow a threat to devolution. Actually, they are a means by which we can encourage inward investment into Wales and encourage jobs and livelihoods. We have had this exchange across the House before, and it strikes me as worrying that she always refers to power—it is all about power to Cardiff, rather than jobs and livelihoods in Wales. For a party that argues it is the party of Wales, it seems to be remarkably out of touch with the people of Wales.
One of the findings of our Select Committee report last week on this issue was that the Government have really stepped up their communication with Welsh businesses ahead of the end of the transition period, which is very welcome. The new money that the Government have announced for Welsh ports, including Fishguard in my own constituency, is very welcome too, but will my right hon. Friend say a bit more about what he is doing with the Welsh Government to ensure that the inland checking facilities that will be required ahead of the full implementation of new border checks will be in place, given the very challenging timetables that he is working to?
My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Of course, the devolution settlement poses its own complexities. With Holyhead, we have a Welsh Government-UK Government-HMRC relationship that needs to be managed as we progress towards the end of the transition period, but Fishguard and Pembroke on the coast of west Wales, in the areas we represent, are entirely in the gift of the Welsh Government. However, we have tried to ensure that we work almost on a daily basis with the Welsh Government to ensure that those delivery timetables and objectives are in place.
The Government’s failure to get the Brexit deal that they promised means we still have no clue about the terms on which businesses will be trading from January, and we face the very real prospect of a no-deal exit, risking chaos at our ports and shortages of critical goods. As the CBI and others have said all year, businesses cannot be expected to prepare for a no deal Brexit in the middle of a pandemic, so what is the Secretary of State’s message to those Welsh businesses that now face a Brexit cliff edge in just a few days’ time?
I have been working closely with the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues in Cardiff, hosting joint webinars and seminars. We are also engaging with businesses across Wales in limitless number of ways, and the message I am getting from them is not the same as the message that he has just delivered to the House. They are, by and large, prepared. They are certainly aware of the challenges, but also of the opportunities that this process throws up for them. I would also make the point that, right from the start of this, the hon. Gentleman’s party was saying that there would not be a manifesto commitment about a referendum, but there was, and that there would not be a referendum, but there was. They said that the leave camp would lose the referendum, but it did not. Then they said there would not be a withdrawal agreement, but there was. They said that the Conservatives would not win the election, but they did. Now he is saying there will not be a deal; I think we should wait and see.
I have been speaking to businesses across Cardiff North, and they are doing all they can to protect against the impact of a no deal, but they are deeply worried about supply chain delays, stockpiling and a tariff cliff edge. They are saying that they can put the sandbags down, but that’s it. So will the Secretary of State apologise to the many people in Cardiff North and across the whole country whose jobs and livelihoods he is willing to gamble and play politics with, and tell me whether his Government are preparing to fail or failing to prepare?
After all, it was the hon. Lady’s party that voted against a deal last year, so when she had the opportunity to land this more carefully, she chose not to and therefore increased the risk of getting the outcome that she definitely does not want. Attempting to pillory the Government when actually there has been considerable daily joint working between the Welsh Government, under the control of her own party, and the UK Government over many months to ensure that the risks are minimised, is not just an insult to the House but an insult to her own colleagues in Cardiff who have been devoting a huge amount of time to try to make this work as seamlessly as possible.
Shared Prosperity Fund
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been in regular discussions with Welsh Ministers about the UK shared prosperity fund before and after the announcement of the spending review. Further engagement will take place as further details of the fund are announced.
I thank the Minister for that response. It has been suggested in the other place that the management of the UK shared prosperity fund will involve advisers jointly appointed by the UK and devolved Governments, yet the past few months have shown that this Government do not see themselves as an equal partner to the devolved nations and that they are instead wrongly centralising power to Westminster at the expense of devolution. What guarantees can he give to the devolved nations that they will have a cast-iron equal say on the governance of the UK shared prosperity fund? This is particularly pertinent, given the shocking contempt shown by the Government in trying to railroad through the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.
The Prime Minister is showing his commitment to the importance of powers for the Scottish and Welsh Governments at this very moment in Brussels, where he is standing up against those bureaucrats who are trying to take powers away from the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government. It is this Conservative party and this Government who are standing up for the devolved settlement, and of course the UK Government will be looking forward to working in partnership with the devolved Administrations around the United Kingdom to ensure that the shared prosperity fund is properly spent.
As well as providing no certainty on the trading arrangements in just three weeks’ time, the Government have also ducked and dived on questions about the funding that Wales will receive in future years. Despite the Tory promise that Wales will not lose a single penny, the actual figures tell a different story. Wales alone was due some £350 million of new money for projects next year, but the Treasury is providing only £220 million for the whole UK. With Wales losing not just pennies but millions of pounds, how can the Government say they have kept their promise?
The Government have kept their promise, because, of course, some of the funding that goes to Wales will still be coming from the European Union after we have left the transition period. If we take the total amount of money that is going to be spent, we will find it is the same. The Government have met their commitment to ensure that the same level of funding is spent in Wales, and we will meet our commitment to ensure that the money is better spent and not wasted, as the Wales Audit Office recently reported on agricultural spending, and is used to level up communities across the whole of Wales.
I am not sure whether that is a conclusive answer, but we are now nearly four and a half years on from the referendum and the Government still cannot provide clear answers on funding, so let me ask the Minister about the criteria on which the funding will be allocated. As he knows, the Welsh Government and local councils have agreed a framework for regional investment in Wales, so can he confirm that his Government will support that framework and not ride roughshod over devolved agreements or make up the spending criteria as they go along?
We are certainly not going to make it up as we go along. Of course, the UK Government have been heavily involved in regional partnerships through the growth deals, which have been working very successfully in Wales as a result of funding from the UK Government. We have already demonstrated our commitment to working in partnership not just with the Welsh Government but with local authorities, because we are absolutely determined that the money that replaces European funding is not wasted, as it has been previously, but is spent on the most needy communities in Wales.
The Government are steadfast in their support for Welsh agriculture, and that is why we have provided the same level of funding for Welsh farmers in 2021-22 as they received in 2019: £337 million a year. That meets our manifesto commitment to guarantee the annual budget for farmers, a commitment that applies for the whole of this Parliament.
We all want to see farmers in Wales and right across the United Kingdom prosper outside the European Union, but how can my hon. Friend ensure that farmers in my Eddisbury constituency will be able to compete with Welsh farmers just over the border who will continue to receive their area payments in the early years of the agricultural transition, whereas all English farmers will see their basic payment scheme payments of £230 per hectare halved by 2024?
As a Government who are committed to the devolved settlement, we obviously will not be telling devolved Governments what they can do with the money; we will simply make sure the money is there. Of course, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill has been brought forward to make absolutely certain that we do not see a situation where one part of the United Kingdom is able to compete in an unfair fashion with another part of the United Kingdom, and that is why I hope all Members will support that Bill.
My constituency in the Scottish borders is the second-highest recipient of common agricultural policy payments in the United Kingdom. Indeed, four of the top five recipients are in the devolved Administrations. How will the Government support the devolved Administrations with these payments in the future?
I am sure that my hon. Friend’s constituents, like farmers across the whole United Kingdom, are pleased that the British Government will not implement the 10% cut to agricultural payments, which is being brought about by the European Union. He will be pleased that we have used the most generous exchange rate possible to calculate what those payments will be. If he lived in Wales, he would be pleased to know that the UK Government are providing £1.3 billion of additional funding to the Welsh Government, and we look forward to seeing how much of that will be used on agriculture.
Pub Closures: Covid-19
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the First Minister before he announced the closure of pubs in Wales and asked him to consider a tiered structure for covid restrictions, which would have better targeted areas with a high incidence of the virus. Regrettably, at that time the First Minister chose not to do so. I believe he may now be about to follow my right hon. Friend’s advice.
Before the Welsh Labour Government had the bright idea of bringing in a circuit breaker, the infection rate in Wales was 33 per 100,000 head of population. Since then, Wales has had one of the toughest lockdowns. Pubs have to close at six o’clock and they cannot serve alcohol. Infection rates in Wales are now 423 per 100,000. Have Welsh Government Ministers confided in my hon. Friend the reasons for this raging success, and is it perhaps that people in Wales have been so driven to drink with despair that they have to do it at home without social distancing, rather than in pubs?
It is a sad fact that at the moment Wales has the highest number of cases per 100,000 in the UK, the highest number of deaths per 100,000, and the lowest amount of testing, but I do not think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I wish to make any political point out of that. All of the United Kingdom has suffered. What I think we would welcome is a recognition that the Welsh Labour Government do not have some sort of magical answer to this situation which has eluded everybody else. We would welcome Welsh Ministers sitting down and working with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the UK Government, so we can tackle this pandemic together as one nation.
As we have heard, pubs in north Wales have been closed down by the Welsh Government and their trade is being destroyed, despite the fact that infection rates in north Wales are significantly less than in much of south Wales. When my hon. Friend does speak to Welsh Ministers, can he urge them to adopt a more intelligent and nuanced approach to covid restrictions? Otherwise, many of those pubs will never reopen.
As I have just said to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), we would welcome the Welsh Government working in tandem with the UK Government to bring in a tiered system, so that in areas with a low incidence of the virus fewer restrictions are put in place. I believe that is an approach the Welsh Government are finally going to adopt. We look forward to sitting down and working with them.
Financial Support: Covid-19
The Government have provided a record amount of support to the Welsh Government, including a funding guarantee of an additional £5 billion this financial year. The Welsh Government will also receive an additional £1.3 billion next year, including £770 million to tackle covid-19.
What further pressure can the Secretary of State bring to bear on Cardiff Bay to ensure that the funding going to the Welsh Government as a consequence of the Barnett consequentials formula finds its way to frontline services and is not absorbed in the bureaucratic costs of the Lib-Lab Government in Cardiff Bay?
My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point, particularly at a time when the Welsh Government are sitting on over £1 billion of unallocated Barnett funding, and so many businesses and institutions in Wales are crying out for support. As the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) said, we respect the devolution settlement and it is right that we should. However, if people are concerned, they have an opportunity to change this one-party state at the Senedd elections next May.
The House needs only to look at the £30 million loan we secured for Celsa to see our commitment to Welsh manufacturing industry. We also provided over £2 billion in direct support to businesses in Wales, and our 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution will mobilise £12 billion of Government investment to stimulate manufacturing across the whole of the UK.
The delays in the Brexit deal, alongside the pandemic, have meant that the Welsh steel industry has been hit hard, Airbus has lost 1,400 jobs, Grenadier cars will be produced in France instead of Wales, and even Brains brewery is up for sale. Will the Secretary of State now press the Chancellor for a sector-specific manufacturing strategy, in the knowledge that only UK Governments can borrow in the long term at low interest rates to secure long-term pre-pandemic production levels after the vaccine is deployed and after the deal is agreed?
The Chancellor’s contributions to the companies that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, as well as to Celsa, which I mentioned in my answer, have been second to none. We have had a very good, robust and thorough exchange with all the businesses to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I could not agree with him more that part of the covid recovery programme is there to ensure not only that we get through the next few months but that there are sustainable futures for all those industries, particularly steel. I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises the fact that we were quick off the blocks to rescue Celsa—and 600 to 800 jobs—in that process right at the beginning of the pandemic. That shows beyond reasonable doubt that we are absolutely committed to a steelmaking footprint in Wales.
The Shotton steel plant produces some of the finest quality steel products in the world. The Prime Minister has said that UK steel producers will be
“at the front of the queue”—[Official Report, 24 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 1311.]
when it comes to future infrastructure projects, so will the Government now set targets on procurement? We need action rather than words—all we tend to get from this Government are warm words. Please, do not just blame Europe; can we have a proper answer?
I am not going to blame Europe—or anybody else, for that matter. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have been making big strides as far as procurement is concerned and, of course, after the end of the transition those strides will be even bigger—that does not constitute blame, of course. We have regular conversations in Government, including with the Welsh Government, about making sure that procurement not only offers value for money for taxpayers but taps into the wonderful supply chain that we have in the UK, of which he gave a very good example.
The Government are unwavering in their commitment to the Union as a social and economic partnership. Its strength is demonstrated by the economic support we have provided to Welsh business during the covid-19 outbreak and by the city and growth deals that help to level up communities across the UK.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the strengths of our Union—our great and united Union—is that we can support and help each other in times of crisis? What support are the UK Government giving to the Welsh Government to help them to fight the pandemic, now that Wales has the second-highest death rate per 100,000 in Europe?
My hon. Friend touches on a current and important point: the Union is not a competition; it is a partnership. I sometimes think it gets portrayed as the former, whereas we all know that it is the latter. The UK Government have been able to introduce numerous financial interventions to assist the Welsh Government in fighting this dreadful pandemic. The most recent is yesterday’s joint letter from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to the First Minister saying that where hospitals face real challenges and hardship in Wales, NHS England and the UK Government stand ready to offer whatever support we can and to put down our political differences to make sure that we fight covid as a UK-wide challenge.
The scale of the response to covid in Wales in terms of economic support would never have been possible without the combined strength of our United Kingdom, so will my right hon. Friend emphasise that that strength will help us to ensure that Wales recovers alongside the rest of the United Kingdom as, hopefully, we move on from covid next year?
My right hon. Friend is right. All the businesses in Wales that we have spoken to during the covid crisis have pointed out that they do not recognise political boundaries: they are fiercely Welsh and very patriotic, but they recognise that the economic regions stretch into the far corners of the UK and well beyond. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we do make that commitment. Whether or not we are Unionists in the original sense, we are very much on the same page.
Shared Prosperity Fund
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular discussions with the First Minister and Welsh Ministers on a range of issues, including the UK shared prosperity fund.
Nadolig llawen i chi, Mr Speaker.
We have heard a lot from the Minister about the shared prosperity fund this morning, but I am still none the wiser on the details. What guarantees can the Minister provide that the long-awaited shared prosperity fund will provide no reduction in moneys received by the Welsh Government compared with current structural funding? What guarantees can the Minister provide that it will be the Welsh Government who decide how the money is allocated in Wales?
We have already made the commitment that the amount of money will match everything that came from Europe. Previously, the European Union held the strings and controlled how the money was spent; now, it will be the UK Government working in partnership with local authorities and the Welsh Government to ensure that the money is spent wisely.
The shared prosperity fund will mean more money going into Wales, along with more powers, which will come about as a result of Brexit, going to Wales. We are looking forward to putting our Conservative record before the people of Wales in the elections next May.
If, like the road to hell, this UK Government’s proposals regarding the shared prosperity fund are littered with good intentions, their actions, as with the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, show that they are most interested in accumulating power to themselves. Please can the Minister explain when exactly we will learn what the mechanism will be for involving the Welsh Government in deciding which people, communities and local businesses will receive the necessary funding to enable them to level up, who will be the final arbiter, how much money will be available and when the process will begin?
We have already said that discussions are ongoing, that the money will be matched, and that the shared prosperity fund will deliver our levelling-up agenda across Wales. The Labour party spent a long time saying that there would not be any money and that there would not be any interest in Wales, but the reality is that we have shown that the money will be there and we want to make sure that it is used properly. Those sorts of arguments might raise a few cheers at Labour party conferences, but the people of Wales will be pleased to know that that money is going to come and that that interest in levelling up the whole of Wales will follow.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Yesterday, I made a written ministerial statement updating the House on the latest position on the leak investigation,
as you requested, Mr Speaker.
I am sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing all Members and staff a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Members from across the House will also want to join me in sending our warmest wishes to all our armed forces, both in the United Kingdom and those who are stationed overseas. Members will also, I hope, want to join me in sending our very best wishes to all members of the emergency services, health and care workers, and those who will be working over Christmas.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I join the Prime Minister in those good wishes for Christmas and add my own good wishes to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Prime Minister and hope that you both have a peaceful and safe Christmas period?
Look, on the subject of Christmas, my constituents in Lichfield and Burntwood and those in the rest of the country have had a torrid year with the covid pandemic, and we have this very small break over Christmas. People must use common sense, of course: do not start hugging granny; do not go wild over Christmas; and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister previously said, let us be jolly careful over Christmas. I want to say to my Prime Minister that it would not be helpful if some smarmy lawyer, or somebody now at this late stage, were to argue for a change in the laws. May I ask my right hon. Friend, here and now, who is neither smarmy nor a lawyer—
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is right in many ways, but right to stress the importance of people taking care this Christmas, because although some things are unquestionably going well—I am very pleased to tell the House that we have had a good start with the roll-out of the vaccination programme and in just seven days 108,000 people in England and 138,000 across the whole of the UK have received their first vaccination—we must remember that transmission takes place asymptomatically in so many cases: one in three people are currently asymptomatic with covid. That is why my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we should exercise extreme caution in the way we celebrate Christmas. We can celebrate it sensibly but we have to be extremely cautious in the way we behave.
May I join the Prime Minister in his good wishes to all the staff, the armed forces and our emergency services, and thank you, Mr Speaker, and the House authorities for doing all that you have done this year to keep Parliament safe, and open, in challenging circumstances?
Since this is—probably—the last PMQs of the year, I want to look at some of the decisions that the Prime Minister has made in the last 12 months. Let me start at the beginning of the pandemic, when images from hospitals in Italy and Spain were being shown on our televisions and the infection rates were rising in the UK. Does the Prime Minister now accept that his slowness to respond led to more deaths, a longer lockdown, and deeper economic damage?
No, because at every stage we followed the scientific guidance, and continue to do so. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to draw attention to what is happening across the whole of Europe, and indeed there are spikes now taking place across the whole of the EU. Thanks to the tiering system that we have in place in large parts of the country, and thanks to the heroic efforts of the people of the north-west, the north-east and Yorkshire and the Humber, we are seeing those rates coming down. Yes, it is true that we have spikes now in some parts of London and the south-east, but we will make sure, with our adjustments to the tiering that we conduct over the next weeks, that we will address those issues. That is the right way forward for this country, and that is how we will defeat the virus—with vaccines, with community testing and with tough tiering. I think that what people would like to hear in this season of good will to all men is a little bit of support from the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what the Government are trying to do to beat coronavirus, and perhaps just a little less carping.
If the Prime Minister will not listen to me, let me quote his own spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility. It said that the UK locked down later and for longer than some of its European neighbours and experienced a deeper fall and slower economic recovery. This is not bad luck. It is not inevitable. It is the result of the Prime Minister’s choices. But if the Prime Minister disagrees, perhaps he can tell us why Britain, the sixth-richest country in the world, with all our brilliant scientists and amazing NHS, ends the year with one of the highest numbers of covid deaths in Europe—over 64,000, each one leaving a grieving family—and the deepest recession of any major economy. Why does he think that has happened?
The House will have noted the slight change of tune in the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s criticisms of the UK’s performance. But perhaps he could tell me why the UK is the first to produce a viable treatment for coronavirus in the form of dexamethasone or the first country in the world to roll out a clinically tested stage 3 vaccine. This is a pandemic that has affected the whole of Europe, and this Government have continued to take the tough decisions necessary to beat it. If I may say so, without wishing to cast aspersions on the point of the view of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I would take his criticisms of the UK Government’s decisions a little more seriously, frankly, if he had been able to decide last week, or the week before, whether he even supported the approach we were taking or opposed it. He could not do either: he abstained.
I said two weeks ago at this Dispatch Box that I was very concerned that tier 2 would not be strong enough to hold the virus. The Prime Minister said, “Don’t worry about that. Just support us. Throw away the problems.” Two weeks later, what have we got? The virus rising in tier 2 and tier 3, and I will come back to that. If the Prime Minister thinks that the highest death numbers and the deepest recession is somehow delivering for the British people, he is a long way removed from the truth.
The problem is that the Prime Minister makes the same mistakes over and over again. Two weeks ago, he unveiled the latest covid plan. He told the House, as he has many times before, that his plan would suppress the virus, but the latest figures show the opposite. The Prime Minister talked about spikes here and there. Let me tell the House that in three out of four tier 2 areas, infections are going up. In over half of the tier 3 areas, infections are going up—exactly the concern that I put to the Prime Minister two weeks ago, when he said, “Just back us anyway.” As a result, this morning 10 million people moved into tougher restrictions—exactly what we said would happen: areas going up the tiers. Does the Prime Minister not recognise that his latest plan has once again failed to control the virus and protect the NHS and our economy?
Once again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman criticises the Government’s plans without producing any kind of plan of his own, except I seem to remember that he was the mastermind author of the Labour firebreak in Wales. If we look at what is happening across the country, it is thanks to the efforts of the British people that we are seeing significant reductions in the virus in some of the areas where it was really surging. That is because of the hard work of the people of this country. We will, of course, continue to reflect that as we go forward with the tiering approach, and we will continue to roll out the vaccine and community testing. I think that his time would be better employed supporting those wonderful initiatives, supporting community testing, encouraging people to get a test and encouraging people to get a vaccine, rather than continually attacking what the NHS and the Government are trying to do.
I have encouraged everybody to have the vaccine every time I have stood up and talked about it. The Prime Minister is avoiding the issue. In some places, the infection rate has gone up 70% in the last seven days. Everybody knows that this is a problem. The Prime Minister is yet again pretending that it is not.
Another major mistake of the last 12 months was losing public trust. We all know what the tipping point was: the 520-mile round trip to Barnard Castle and the humiliating way in which the Prime Minister and his Cabinet chose to defend it. Now we learn that, while the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are telling the armed forces, police officers, careworkers and firefighters that they will get a pay freeze, Dominic Cummings has been handed at least a £40,000 pay rise. How on earth does the Prime Minister justify that?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman totally trivialises the efforts of the British people in getting the virus down. He says that none of the lockdown measures have worked. That is absolutely untrue. From 5 November to 3 December, the people of this country came together once again to get the virus under control, and they have made a huge amount of progress. We will continue with that tiering system, and we will get the virus down. That is the best way forward for this country. All he wants to do is to lock the whole country down—he is a one-club golfer; that is the only solution he has—and then, all he does is attack the economic consequences of lockdowns.
Mr Speaker, you could script that from October and November, when the Prime Minister was saying that a lockdown was the last thing the country needed and would be disastrous. Two weeks later, he put it on the table and voted for it—ridiculous! This is exactly the problem: not learning from mistakes. Obviously, we know that for Dominic Cummings, it was not performance- related pay. I think that the British people will find it pretty hard to understand why it is one rule for our key workers and another for his advisers.
It is now likely that the next big mistake will be over the easing of restrictions over Christmas—and it is not smarmy lawyers saying this. Let me tell the House what the British Medical Journal has said. The British Medical Journal said yesterday:
“we believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives.”
The Prime Minister should listen to that advice, not just ignore it as usual. If he really is going to press ahead with this, can he tell us what assessment has been done of the impact that it will have on infection rates and increased pressure on the NHS? What is the impact?
I wish the right hon. and learned Gentleman had had the guts just to say what he really wants to do, which is to cancel the plans people have made and cancel Christmas. That is really, I think, what he is driving at. He is looking a bit blank; I think that is what he is driving at. But I can tell him that, as of today—just this morning—there is actually, as I say, unanimous agreement across the UK Government and across all the devolved Administrations, including members of all parties, including his own, that we should proceed, in principle, with the existing regulations, because we do not want to criminalise people’s long-made plans. We do think it is absolutely vital that people should at this very, very tricky time exercise a high degree of personal responsibility, especially when they come into contact with elderly people, and avoid contact with elderly people wherever possible. That is how, by being sensible and cautious, not by imposing endless lockdowns or cancelling Christmas, as he would appear to want to do—that is the only implication I can draw from what he has said, unless he wants to announce some other idea—we will continue to work together to keep this virus under control, to defeat it and take the country forward.
Here we go again: ignoring the medical advice, and we know where that leads, because we have seen what happened in the last nine months. Whatever the Prime Minister says, there is no escaping the brutal facts that Britain has one of the highest numbers of covid deaths in Europe and the worst economic damage.
This is the last PMQs of the year, and I for one often wonder where the Prime Minister gets his advice from. Well, now I know, because I have here the official newsletter of the Wellingborough Conservative party. It is not on everyone’s Christmas reading list, but it is a fascinating read, because it gives a lot of advice to wannabe politicians. It says this:
“say the first thing that comes into your head… It’ll probably be nonsense… You may get a bad headline… but… If you make enough dubious claims, fast enough”,
you can get away with it. The December edition, includes the advice:
“Sometimes, it is better to give the WRONG answer at the RIGHT time, than the RIGHT answer at the WRONG time.”
So my final question to the Prime Minister is this: is he the inspiration for the newsletter, or is he the author?
I think what the people of this country would love to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman in this season of good will is any kind of point of view at all on some of the key issues. This week, he could not make up his mind whether it was right for kids to be in school or not, and havering completely. He could not make up his mind last week whether or not to support what the Government were doing to fight covid, and told his troops, heroically, to abstain. He could not make up his mind about Brexit, we all seem to remember. We do not know whether he will vote for a deal or not. He cannot attack the Government if he cannot come up with a view of his own. In the words of the song, “All I want for Christmas is” a view, and it would be wonderful if he could produce one.
This Government are getting on with delivering on the people’s priorities, with 20,000 more police, 50,000 more nurses, 48 new hospitals and—although it has been very tough and very difficult, and everybody appreciates the suffering and hardship that the people of this country have been going through—by rolling out the vaccine, by community testing and by tough tiering, which I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman supports, we are going to defeat coronavirus and we are going to take this country forward into a great 2021.
I thank my hon. Friend, who has campaigned nobly in that cause. As he knows, already we have not only set up a points-based immigration system, taking back control of our borders, but we will ensure that—and we have already done many free trade deals—we will use the economic advantages of Brexit, coming out of the European Union, to do free ports, to make this country the most attractive place for investment for business and for enterprise around the world and, above all, to resist the depredations of the socialists opposite, who would destroy that opportunity and do everything they possibly could to take us straight back into the lunar pull of the European Union, which is the true ambition of the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer).
May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and all colleagues, staff, essential workers, health workers, and everyone in these nations all the best for Christmas? I hope everyone does their best to keep everybody safe.
In the past few hours, the President of the European Commission has said that the next few days are going to be “decisive” in the Brexit negotiations. With just two weeks to go, it is a disgrace that businesses and people have been left with that crippling uncertainty, and the real threat of food and medicine shortages come the new year. One year ago, at the general election, Scotland rejected this Prime Minister. It rejected this Tory Government, and it rejected their extreme Brexit. People in Scotland now need to know the price they will be forced to pay. Ahead of any vote in Parliament, will the Prime Minister commit to releasing a detailed economic impact assessment of the cost to the UK of his extreme Tory Brexit plans?
Notwithstanding the slight uncharacteristic air of gloom from the right hon. Gentleman, there is every opportunity—and hope I have—that our friends and partners across the channel will see sense and do a deal. All that takes is for them to understand that the UK has a natural right, like every other country, to want to be able to control its own laws and its own fishing grounds —I would have thought that would be important to the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever happens in the next few days, I know that this country will prosper mightily on the terms that we agree with our European friends, and whatever those terms may be—whether they are Australian or Canadian—he can go forward with a high heart and confidence into 2021, knowing that there are great opportunities for Scotland and the rest of the UK.
I am not quite sure what that was, Mr Speaker, but it certainly wasn’t an answer to the question. I am not surprised, because the Prime Minister did not want to answer the question. He knows that the United Kingdom is poorer and worse off as a result of the extreme Tory Brexit, and the costs continue to soar. The Warwick study estimates that Scotland has already lost £4 billion as a result of Brexit, and Bloomberg Economics estimates that the UK will have lost £200 billion by the end of this year. Scottish Government analysis estimates that every person in Scotland will, on average, be worse off to the tune of £1,600.
Scotland has been completely ignored by Westminster throughout the Brexit process, and we are now being kept in the dark over the devastating price that we will be forced to pay. People in Scotland are not willing to suffer the consequences of this economic vandalism, and 16 consecutive polls have shown a majority for independence—that is little wonder, Mr Speaker. Is it not as clear as day that the only way left to protect Scotland’s interests and our place in Europe is for Scotland to become an independent country?
Again, despite the gloom that the right hon. Gentleman seeks to spread about Scotland and the rest of the UK, the UK currently has the highest youth employment in the G7—I could perhaps have made that point to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)—and lower unemployment than France, Italy, Spain, the United States and Canada. There is a threat to the Scottish economy, sadly, and that is the high tax regime and mismanagement of the Scottish nationalist party. That is the problem that Scotland faces, and I hope that the people of Scotland can see it.
I thank my hon. Friend for everything she does to campaign for Derbyshire Dales and for hospitality. It has been a terrible time for hospitality. We all share the anguish of those who work in the hospitality sector. That is why we have cut VAT overall, as she knows, from 20% to 5% in those sectors until the end of March, and we are going to develop, with her help, a tourism recovery plan to help people come to see the beauties of the Derbyshire Dales in particular.
Last week, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that Northern Ireland would have the “best of both worlds” as a result of the talks with the European Union. For that to be true, we need access to both UK and EU trade deals. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether he is pushing for that in those talks?
Of course, as the agreement with our friends has already made clear, the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, will participate fully in all trade deals that the UK does, and Northern Ireland will continue to have unfettered access to the whole of the UK market.
Yes indeed. I know that my hon. Friend, as a doctor, knows the vital importance of medical research and pure science. That is why this Government are investing record sums in science R&D—£14.6 billion in 2021-22. That is going to support all the life sciences sectors. If anybody wants evidence of why it is so vital to support those sectors, they have only to look at the events of the last few months.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. What the NIC is saying is that there are other things we can do as well, including massively improving the midland main line—I think everybody would want to do that—but the ambition to do the eastern leg, as I have said in the House before, remains absolutely unchanged.
Mr Speaker, the whole of the country and the taxpayers of this country play that role; it is our job to make sure that we spend the money sensibly, and that is what we were doing. I am delighted that, thanks in part to the campaigning by my hon. Friend, his constituency is attracting an average of 3.8% more per pupil next year compared with this year through the national funding formula—a total of £4.8 million more, in addition, of course, to our commitment to pay every teacher a starting salary of £30,000.
The hon. Member is quite right to raise the problem in the hospitality sector. We are committed to doing everything we can. She knows about the £3,000 grant, the additional £2,100, plus the £1,000 for wet pubs. But the best thing of all—in addition to the cuts in business rates and VAT that I have already mentioned—is for areas in the west midlands to work together—
Sorry; forgive me. The best thing is for areas in the north-east to work together to reduce the virus through community testing in the way that Liverpool has succeeded in doing. I appreciate that the hon. Member’s constituency is in in tier 3 and things are very, very tough, but if we all work together, we can get the virus down and get our pubs open again.
Transition Period: Business
In the light of the new opportunities that the end of the transition period will bring, is the Prime Minister aware of the ambitious economic growth proposition developed in Buckinghamshire? Will he back this bold bid for Bucks to ensure that Buckinghamshire continues to increase its contribution to the Exchequer: a win for the businesses of Bucks and a win for the levelling-up agenda?
My apologies, Mr Speaker. I am obviously addressing my question to the Prime Minister. There are obstacles that exist across the United Kingdom to the creation of drug consumption rooms, and those obstacles can be removed at Westminster. Previously the UK Government have held an ideological view that drug consumption rooms encourage drug taking. Will the Prime Minister engage with me and allow me the opportunity to help him do a good thing?
I listened very carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I must say that we do not want to do anything that would encourage the consumption of more drugs, nor do we want to decriminalise the possession of drugs, because I believe that they ruin lives and drive criminality across the whole United Kingdom. I am more than happy to look at the proposals made by the hon. Gentleman one more time, and to pursue the agenda of tackling drugs, but the vast panoply of powers that are needed to tackle drugs and drugs crime are already vested with the devolved Administration in Scotland, and I am afraid that the failures that he talks about are very largely down to them.
It is great to hear my hon. Friend, because he speaks such good sense on this matter; I hope that he is heard up and down the land. It is absolutely vital that people who are offered the vaccine do take steps to get it immediately. They will be protecting themselves and they will be protecting everyone else.
It is very important that all businesses treat their employees with fairness and respect. In that sense, I utterly share the point of view of the hon. Lady, but it is also vital that we have a flexible economy that is able to generate jobs, particularly when we are going to go through a very difficult and bumpy time. We have had a proud record of keeping employment high and unemployment low in this country, and we want to continue with that approach.
I thank my hon. Friend. I will do what I can to fit in his very kind invitation to inspect this sculpture. I admire Mr Gormley’s work greatly, by the way. I am delighted that Kirklees College has opened the Pioneer Higher Skills Centre, providing high level education and skills training for the people of Dewsbury. I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to campaign for that.
I can confidently say that I do not believe that there is another Member of this House who has built as many buses, or caused as many buses to be built, as I have. We are absolutely committed to rolling out, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, 4,000 zero- emission buses and the country’s first all electric bus town. He is right to lobby for the wonderful Alexander Dennis buses that are built in in Falkirk. We will certainly champion them, as well as buses built in Ballymena and elsewhere. He can take it from me that, in a zero-carbon way, we are putting the pedal to the floor until we get to 4,000.
The hon. Lady is of course right to draw attention to the hardship of parents who have had to cope with kids coming home from school because of self-isolation rules. One of the things that we are trying to do now is roll out lateral flow testing on a grand scale for schools, so that we reduce the size of the bubbles that have to self-isolate. We are doing whatever we can to support families throughout the crisis, as she knows, with big uprates in universal credit and all manner of support that we are providing, in addition to free childcare for 30 hours a week.
The best answer for this crisis is to keep our kids in school, to test them and to roll out that programme of mass community testing, which I am sure the hon. Lady supports in her neighbourhood, in order to drive the virus down, allow the vaccine time really to kick in, and protect our elderly and vulnerable so that we can all move forward together as a society. That is what this Government are aiming for, but in the meantime I fully appreciate the problem that she has raised, and we will do our very best to address it.