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Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 14 July 2021

While Sunday’s result may not have been the one we were all hoping for, I know that the whole House will want to congratulate Gareth Southgate and the England squad on their fantastic achievements over the last month. The nation is proud of each and every one of them.

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.

I second the Prime Minister’s support for our outstanding England team and players, but it is perhaps a pity that it did not come sooner from him and the Home Secretary. We all know the importance of double vaccination, especially against the delta or Johnson variant of the virus, but in Hammersmith and Fulham, despite the hard work of our local NHS, council and volunteers, only 36% of adults have been double-jabbed, so will the Prime Minister think again before recklessly removing all barriers to infection and transmission on 19 January? Will he keep the regulations on mask wearing and, like the Mayor of London, keep fighting the virus until it is beat?

If we had followed the hon. Gentleman’s precepts—he campaigned vehemently to stay in the European Union—we would not have achieved the fastest vaccine roll-out of any European country or vaccinated a higher proportion than any European population. That is the reality. As for his criticism of the road map, I respectfully point out to the hon. Gentleman that the month is July, not January.

It should be obvious that the Cabinet is as inclusive as the English football team, and I think that some of these criticisms are misplaced. Mr Speaker, I welcome your words at the beginning of Tuesday’s debate and the Prime Minister’s first paragraph on the Treasury minute from Monday. Can we agree that a vote in this House does not amend an Act of Parliament passed by both Houses? Are we expecting a similar debate in another place? Can I suggest to the Prime Minister that, instead of leaping from 0.5% to 0.7% at some stage in the future, we step towards it, because a 40% increase in one year would be ludicrous? Perhaps the Chancellor could consider going to 0.55%, 0.6%, 0.65% and then 0.7%.

I thank my hon. Friend very much for his opening point. On official development assistance, of course I can give him the reassurance that we will continue to follow the law, and he will have heard clearly what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor had to say from this Dispatch Box and what I have said. We want to return to 0.7% as fast as we can, and when fiscal conditions allow.

I start by thanking the England football team for everything they have given this country over the last six weeks. I am so proud of this young, diverse and humble team and everything they represent. They are the very best of modern Britain and everything I know this country can be.

Does the Prime Minister think it was wrong to criticise the England team’s decision to oppose racism by taking the knee as “gesture politics”?

I agree very much with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says about the England team, and I repeat that I want to thank each and every one of them for what they did and the incredible campaign they ran during the Euro 2020 championship. They represent the very best of our country, and I repeat that I utterly condemn and abhor the racist outpourings that we saw on Sunday night.

Today we are taking practical steps to ensure that the football banning order regime is changed, so that if a person is guilty of racist online abuse of footballers, they will not be going to the match—no ifs, no buts, no exemptions and no excuses.

I am sorry, but that just will not wash. It rings hollow.

Let me remind the Prime Minister and the House. On 7 June, his spokesperson said:

“On taking the knee, specifically, the Prime Minister is more focused on action rather than gestures.”

On 14 June, the Home Secretary said:

“I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture politics.”

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith), a Conservative MP, called it a “ridiculous empty gesture”. There is no point pretending these things were not said.

The England footballer Tyrone Mings said—[Interruption.] I heard “a Labour party member” shouted out. Is that really the response? Is that it? Tyrone Mings said, and the House might want to listen:

“labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’”

served to “stoke the fire” of racism and hatred. Those are powerful words from someone who has been subjected to racist abuse. He is right, isn’t he?

I reiterate our total support for our fantastic England team, and I support them in the way they showed solidarity with their friends who faced racism.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the Home Secretary, let me remind him that she has faced racism and prejudice all her career of a kind that he can never imagine. She has taken practical steps to get black and minority officers into the police in record numbers, of which I am very proud. [Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the Prime Minister. If his own side do not want to hear him, I am sure the Tea Room will accommodate them. It is very important to listen to what the Prime Minister has to say.

Let me be clear. I totally condemn all racism, including that directed at the Home Secretary, but she has got this wrong. The whole country knows it and the Prime Minister’s own MPs know it. In the last few days, everybody has seen that England’s black players have been the target of disgusting racist abuse following Sunday’s match—disgusting.

This is really simple, either the Prime Minister is with the England players in their stand against racism or he can defend his own record, and that of his Ministers and some of his MPs, but he cannot have it both ways. Can he tell the House whether he now regrets failing to condemn those who booed England’s players for standing up to racism? Yes or no.

We made it absolutely clear that no one should boo the England team. Following the racist abuse that our players sadly suffered on Sunday night and thereafter, we are now taking practical action. In addition to changing the football banning order regime, last night I met representatives of Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram and I made it absolutely clear to them that we will legislate to address this problem in the online harms Bill. Unless they get hate and racism off their platforms, they will face fines amounting to 10% of their global revenues. We all know they have the technology to do it.

The online harms Bill has been promised for three years. I am not sure a 15-minute chat at a garden party moves things forward that significantly. But I want to take the Prime Minister up on what he said about being absolutely clear, because here I have the headline, “Boris Johnson refuses to condemn fans booing England taking the knee”. That is the story and that is the headline, from 6 June. That is absolutely clear, but it is not quite what the Prime Minister is implying today. The story goes on to quote the Prime Minister’s spokesperson saying that the Prime Minister

“fully respects the right of those who choose to…make their feelings known”.

This is about booing; it says that he fully respects their rights. The Home Secretary said that booing was

“a choice for them quite frankly.”

So no condemnation there and no absolute clarity there. When senior Government Ministers and Conservative MPs defend the booing of an anti-racist message, who do they think they are defending, Prime Minister? And why are they defending it?

Nobody defends booing of the England side. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman continues to attack the Home Secretary—[Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the Prime Minister. I want to know the answer, and I expect the Opposition to listen to the answer.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We love and admire the England side and what they did. They represent the best of our country. Nobody defends booing the England side. But what the Home Secretary has been trying to do all her life is not just fight racism, but take practical steps to advance the cause of black and minority ethnic groups, which she has done successfully, notably in the police. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is chucking this kind of thing around, may I ask him now to retract this leaflet I have here that was produced by the Labour party during the Batley and Spen by-election, which was condemned by his own MPs as “dog-whistle racism”?

The Prime Minister is not kidding anyone in this House, he is not kidding the public and he is not even kidding his own MPs. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), a Conservative MP, has said:

“The painful truth is that”

Tyrone Mings

“is completely right.

Very uncomfortable with the position we Conservatives are needlessly forcing ourselves into.”

So, Prime Minister, behind you they don’t believe you, and neither do we. We can all see what has happened here. The Government have been trying to stoke a culture war and they have realised that they are on the wrong side and now they hope that nobody has noticed. Why else would a Conservative MP boast that he is not watching his own team? Why else would another Conservative MP say that Marcus Rashford spends too much time “playing politics”, when he is actually trying to feed children that the Government will not? And why will the Prime Minister refuse time and time again, even now, to condemn those who boo our players for standing up against racism? What is it that this England team symbolises that this Conservative party is so afraid of?

The House will judge for itself the quality of the question that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just put. I think the whole House is united, including our distinguished Members from Scotland, in admiration of the England team—of every single member of that squad and what they did. We stick up for them, and what we are doing is taking practical steps to fight racism, changing the football banning order regime and fining the online companies. By the way, we will use more legislation if we have to, just as we used the threat of legislation to stop the European super league. We will get on with delivering for the people of this country. We will get on with vaccinating the people of this country, while the Opposition continue to vacillate. We will continue to immunise the people of this country, while the Opposition improvise and dart around. I do not want to engage in a political culture war of any kind; I want to get on with delivering for the people of this country—he simply wants to get on with dithering.

He does not want to engage in a culture war and point scoring—give me a break. Football is a game and racism is not, Prime Minister. That is why many of us have been involved in the charity Show Racism the Red Card for years. Far from giving racism the red card, the Prime Minister gave it the green light. I will tell you the worst kind of gesture politics, Mr Speaker: putting an England shirt on over a shirt and tie while not condemning those booing is the worst kind of gesture.

Finally, I want to ask the Prime Minister about the reported amnesty for crimes committed during the troubles in Northern Ireland. I worked in Northern Ireland for six years with the Policing Board and the police and I have prosecuted terrorists as the Director of Public Prosecutions, so I know how difficult and sensitive the issue is. But a blanket amnesty, including for terrorists, is plain wrong.

I was in Northern Ireland last week, and it is absolutely clear that the Government’s amnesty is not supported by the political parties in Northern Ireland and it is not supported by victims’ groups. Last Thursday, I spoke to victims of terrorism at the WAVE Trauma Centre in north Belfast; they have not even been properly consulted on the proposal. If things are to move forward in Northern Ireland, any discussion has to start with the victims. Politicians in London cannot simply draw a line under terrorism and other crimes and then force it on those most affected. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister looks up; let him look up and let him hear, because I want to quote Julie Hambleton. Her sister Maxine was among the 21 people killed by the IRA in the Birmingham pub bombings—that is Julie Hambleton, Prime Minister. She says:

“Tell me Prime Minister, if one of your loved ones was blown up beyond recognition, where you were only able to identify your son or daughter by their fingernails…would you be so quick to”

grant their murderers an amnesty and propose

“such obscene legislation”?

What does the Prime Minister have to say to Julie—she is listening—and other victims like her?

I think that the whole House will acknowledge the suffering of victims like Julie and their families. Of course, nothing I say or can do now can in any way mitigate her loss. That is clear. But it is also true that the people of Northern Ireland must, if we possibly can allow them to, move forwards now.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the proposals that are being introduced—the House will hear about them in more detail later from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—are measured, balanced and have a wide degree of support, if I may say so, from former Labour Prime Ministers and former Labour leaders who are of considerably more distinction than the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He will recall that it was under a Labour Administration that many terrorists were unfortunately given, effectively, an amnesty. They were allowed to escape the full consequences of their crimes, as he knows very well. That is the reality.

This is of course no consolation to people like Julie, but the sad fact remains that there are many members of the armed services who continue to face the threat of vexatious prosecutions well into their 70s and 80s and later. We are finally bringing forward a solution to this problem to enable the Province of Northern Ireland to draw a line under the troubles and to enable the people of Northern Ireland to move forward. Someone with greater statesmanship and clarity of vision would have seen that and given the proposals a fair wind.

The scandalous situation with the noxious gas emissions at Walleys Quarry landfill in my constituency continues. To date, there has been no apology from the operator, Red Industries, and no credible explanation for the odour that is blighting the lives and health of so many of my local residents. What assurances can the Prime Minister give me today that every effort will be made to speed up the works that have been mandated by the Environment Agency, that we will get a deadline for when we can expect the awful situation to be resolved, and that those responsible are held fully to account? (902751)

I yield to no one in my admiration for the Environment Agency, but in this case I thank my hon. Friend because it is not, in my view, sorting the problem out fast enough. I am fed up with this issue being raised with me. We must stop the stink, and I want the air around Walleys Quarry to be of alpine freshness before too long.

Let me begin by congratulating the England team on reaching the final, which was an incredible achievement, but the tragedy of the tournament was the undercurrent of racism that was ultimately targeted at three young men: Rashford, Sancho and Saka. Wherever there is racism, it falls on all of us to face it down and to call it out, and it is shameful that it took until last night for the Prime Minister to meet with the main social media companies and finally wake up to the fact that those who publish and promote vile racist online abuse need to be faced down and sanctioned. Can the Prime Minister tell us what sanctions he thinks would be appropriate for someone who publishes racist context—it is shocking even to have to say this out loud—describing Africans as “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”?

I have commented many times about the words that I have said in the past, and I think the House understands how we can take things out of context. [Interruption.] I do think people understand that. What they also understand is that there is a chance now to hold these internet companies to account and to make sure that they face fines running to 10% of their global income if they fail to take hate and racism off their platforms. I hope that the Scottish nationalist party will support that.

There is still no contrition, still no apology. The truth is that the Tory party does not sanction those who publish that kind of racist content; it promotes them to be Prime Minister. The legacy of this Prime Minister’s dog whistling has followed him into No.10 Downing Street and it is now at the heart of this Tory Government. As the England international Tyrone Mings has so powerfully stated, this Government

“don’t get to stoke the fire…and then pretend to be disgusted”

when it happens. They do not get to condemn the racism of others, but deny the racism that they have even provoked. In March, this UK Government’s own report on racism, the Sewell report, said that there was no “systemic problem” in the UK. I think the England men’s football team would beg to differ.

After the shocking racism on show over the past week, does the Prime Minister still stand by his Government’s belief that systemic racism is not a problem that exists in the United Kingdom?

I do think that racism is a problem in the United Kingdom, and I believe that it needs to be tackled and stamped out with some of the means that I have described this morning. When he attacks my party, I am afraid that he has the wrong target. This is a party that has not only had the first ever Muslim Secretary of State for Health and Social Care—and he is the former Chancellor, of course—but two female Prime Ministers. It has the most diverse Cabinet in the history of this country. It has the most diverse Government in the history of this country. If you are a young person growing up in a black or ethnic minority group in this country, we are the party that represents hope and opportunity. That is the reality about the Conservative party today.

The UK is packed full of incredible innovation-led businesses capable of leading entire industries, not least in Hertford and Stortford, where we are at the heart of the innovation corridor. I know that this Government want to ensure the best possible access to venture funding over multiple rounds to catapult and scale up businesses full of potential into world-beating companies. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss how we can best make venture work for the scale-up community and transform some of our best ideas into some of the world’s biggest businesses? (902753)

I thank my hon. Friend, who knows a lot about the subject that she mentions. This is a fantastic opportunity for this country, because we do indeed produce a great many tech breakthroughs and we are very much looking at how to scale up fast, but we must not forget that, as I speak, there are three countries in the world that have scaled up tech breakthroughs to 100 unicorns worth more than a £1 billion. Only three countries have 100 unicorns. They are the United States of America, China and the United Kingdom.

Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd.

For more than seven years, Plaid Cymru has been calling for the gargantuan HS2 railway to be treated as an England-only project, so that Wales gets our fair share. Not a single inch of track will be in Wales, but we are footing the bill. Today the Welsh Affairs Committee backed our call, calling the UK Government’s categorisation of HS2 in relation to Wales “unfair and biased”. Will the Prime Minister today right this wrong, respect the Welsh Affairs Committee and ensure that Wales, like Scotland, receives our fair share from HS2?

I normally have a great deal of respect and interest in what the right hon. Lady says, but in this case she has missed what the Government are doing for transport connectivity in Wales and to Wales—something about which I know she is as passionate as I am. Look at what we are doing in the Union connectivity review with the A55, the north Wales railway corridor into Liverpool and the M4. Never let it be forgotten that it was the Welsh Labour Government—not the right hon. Lady’s fault, of course, because she is Plaid—who spent £144 million on a study and then did not even do the diversion.

The circumstances of Jewish burials around the world are a sensitive and important issue to my constituents and, as such, to me. In January 1942, the Nazis built two concentration camps on British soil, on the island of Alderney. Conditions were appalling, with multiple deaths. However, there are just 397 recorded graves on Alderney, just 6.6% of a total population of 6,000 internees. In 1961, a British delegation undertook an inquiry into the atrocities that occurred on Alderney. Today I ask the Prime Minister to authorise the release of all documents and information residing in the archives into those investigations, so that we know what happened to thousands of people on the island of Alderney during world war two. To quote Elie Wiesel,“to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” (902754)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the victims on Alderney. We must never forget those on the Channel Islands who suffered under occupation between 1940 and 1945. I am told that the documents in question have been transferred to the National Archives, but I will ensure that the relevant Minister meets my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

There are currently 800,000 students self-isolating, and even after the reforms to the bubbling system, the Government’s failure to get the delta variant under control means that infections rising over the summer will mean that the autumn term in our schools will be very severely affected. If the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation says that it is safe and appropriate for adolescents to receive the vaccine, will the Prime Minister promise that every single adolescent will be offered the vaccine over the summer and parents given all the information they need to make an informed decision, so that schools can return and not continue to be affected by the bad policy making of this Government and their failure to get the delta variant under control? (902746)

The hon. Gentleman seems to want us to relax our rules on self-isolation that are protecting people from coronavirus. I do not think that is the right thing to do at this time. He also calls for us to go against the JCVI. The point he raises is a matter for the JCVI.

With the economy rebounding and a great many job vacancies currently available, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a tremendous opportunity emerging now to build a stronger British labour market post Brexit and post covid, and that we need to help employers create jobs with better pay, more security, and more opportunities for skills and career progression? Is that not one of the keys to levelling up and ending the blight of in-work poverty? (902755)

Yes. I know how much my right hon. Friend cares about this matter. This is not only one of the reasons why we are rolling out our massive plan for jobs, but why I am proud that under this Government we have increased the national living wage by a record amount, to £8.91 per hour.

The communities of Leslie, Markinch, Pitteuchar, Thornton, Woodside and East Wemyss in my constituency are all either losing or have already lost their post offices since 2019. In addition, constituents in Coaltown of Balgonie, Windygates, Cadham, Methil, Buckhaven and Methilhill have all had the disruption of temporary closures or relocations, and the post office at Glenwood is currently closed until further notice. Given that the Post Office is 100% owned by the Prime Minister’s Government, what exactly does it take for him to admit that the current trading model for the Post Office is not working for the people who rely on its services? (902747)

The treatment of the postmasters and sub-postmasters in the recent computer malfunction was, I am afraid, appalling, and I have made that clear. When it comes to protecting and supporting post offices, particularly rural post offices, which I think is what the hon. Gentleman was driving at, this Government will do everything they can to protect them.

Too much noise, too much air pollution and too much time wasted sitting in traffic is impacting productivity. The A3 as it narrows through Guildford has been a cause of frustration for decades. According to Highways England, there are no more sticking plasters, which is why I am calling for the A3 to be tunnelled under Guildford. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as we build back better after the pandemic, investment in major road infrastructure solutions will be an important part of delivering on the levelling-up agenda across the whole country? (902757)

I thank my hon. Friend. I know the stretch of road that she refers to very well, as I am sure many Members across this House do. I will not be able to click my fingers and say that we can tunnel under Guildford; all I can say, in all candour, is that we will certainly look at it. But hon. Members should be in no doubt that we are spending record sums—£27 billion on improving England’s strategic roads following £640 billion for the biggest, best-ever package of infrastructure investment in this country.

Many people are aghast at the potential consequences of trashing English covid regulations in a triumphalist prime ministerial crash attack. Wales’s regulations, to be announced today, are expected to take a cautious and measured approach. Will the Prime Minister make it clear that those visiting Wales this summer must stick to Welsh laws and that on covid regulations he can only speak for England? (902748)

Yes, of course. I think that people should stick to the rules and the guidance wherever they are, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about a cautious and measured approach.

The Prime Minister will have seen that two recently published Government-commissioned reports, mine on competition policy and that of the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform, both make the same two recommendations to inject fresh energy into our better regulation regime so that we can deliver our Brexit ambition of replacing ponderous EU regulations with simpler, digital and less burdensome UK equivalents without reducing quality standards in the process. Will he take this opportunity to unleash a big post-Brexit better regulation dividend by declaring his enthusiastic support for a strong new one-in-two-out regime with no loopholes or exceptions, right here today?

Yes. It is obvious that the UK has a massive amount to gain not just from my hon. Friend’s report, which I much enjoyed, as I told him—I thought it was excellent—but from the bigger report from the taskforce on reducing regulation. I thank them for that, and he and the taskforce will be seeing a lot more in the next few weeks.

Yesterday, at the Prime Minister’s instigation, 333 Conservative Members of this House, including some of its wealthiest, voted to deprive some of the world’s poorest children of clean water, while education for girls programmes that we guaranteed will be slashed, and polio eradication schemes too. Most people go into politics to make the world a better place, but the Prime Minister seems to be an exception. As he reads of the anguish his decision has caused, and as the father of a young child, does he not feel the merest hint of shame? (902750)

I think the people of this entire country should be immensely proud of what the UK is doing abroad, whether it is educating millions of girls, with an increase in support for female education, helping countries around the world to tackle climate change with £11.6 billion of investment, or helping refugees in Yemen, Syria or Ethiopia with £900 million. We are spending £10 billion a year on overseas aid alone, to say nothing of what we are doing with vaccines. The whole country should be immensely proud of what the UK is doing in spite of this pandemic.

Mr Speaker, I am sure you will know the Green Man festival, an incredibly popular international music event which takes place in Crickhowell in my constituency. The festival organisers have gone to great lengths to ensure that the event is covid-secure, but the Welsh Government refuse to give them the green light to go ahead as a test event, unlike similar events in England. So will my right hon. Friend help us by giving the Green Man festival his full support, and encourage the Welsh Government to get behind the festival at long last?

Well, I have not been invited to attend the Green Man festival, but it sounds great. My hon. Friend is obviously a big fan. I will do what I can to pass her message along. I thank her for campaigning for Wales and for the Green Man festival.

My constituent Jacqui Davies was diagnosed in April with a type of blood cancer that prevents her immune system from developing antibodies against covid. Jacqui wants to live as normal a life as possible, and to do everyday things like going shopping, but she is terrified and she thinks that the rapid lifting of restrictions on Monday is putting her at risk. With the delta variant about to spike due to the Government’s decision to lift restrictions, particularly the requirement to wear masks in public places, what is the Prime Minister’s message to people in Jacqui’s situation? Will he rethink the reckless gamble of lifting all these restrictions on Monday? And yes, Jacqui did support staying in the EU. (902752)

My message—I am sorry, obviously, for the condition that Jacqui suffers, and I think that the Labour party obviously needs to work out whether it is in favour of going ahead with step 4 or not, because that is not at all clear from what the hon. Gentleman has said, or what the Leader of the Opposition has said. They do not have a clue. But what I can say to the hon. Gentleman, and to Jacqui, is that we expect and recommend everybody to wear a face covering in a confined space where they are meeting people they do not normally meet, and that is quite right.

Last week I met with the Reading Agency, which is about to launch its annual summer reading challenge and hopes to reach 1 million primary school children this year. What a great excuse to go to one of our brilliant libraries and take part in the big covid education catch-up. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging every child across the nation to take part in the summer reading challenge? Pick up a book and read back better!

I thank my hon. Friend. She is quite right; there could not be a better campaign for the summer. We have put £1.9 million of support into the reading scheme that she mentions. But of course there is £200 million going into the holiday activities fund, and there could not be a better, more useful, happier way of occupying your time on holiday than reading a good book.

Can I just gently say to all leaders that in the end I have had to cut off quite a few Back Benchers because of the amount of time that has been taken up at the beginning? Can we think about those as well? It is so important that they get their questions heard.

There will be no points of order now. I am now suspending the House for a few minutes, to enable the necessary arrangements for the next item of business to be made.

Sitting suspended.