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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 700: debated on Wednesday 15 September 2021


The Secretary of State was asked—

Universal Credit Uplift

1. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Welsh Government on the effect of the planned removal of the £20 universal credit uplift on low-income families. (903355)

The House will be aware that today is the 10th anniversary of the mining disaster in Gleision, in which Charles Breslin, David Powell, Philip Hill and Garry Jenkins lost their lives. I know that colleagues across the Chamber will join me in paying appropriate respect at this time, and of course in sending condolences to their families.

We have always been clear that the universal credit uplift was temporary to help people through the economic shock of the pandemic. We are committed to supporting families most in need and planning a long-term route out of poverty by helping people find work.

I echo the words of condolence from the Secretary of State.

More than a third of all those who receive universal credit are in work and will now have to pay an extra £100 a year in national insurance contributions while also suffering a cut of £1,040 per year, and UK inflation has risen to 3.2%—its highest increase since 1997. Will the Secretary of State use his influence to push for the publication of any impact assessment or analysis of the consequence of this cruel cut to universal credit, which research suggests will mean that one in eight people will struggle to afford food?

I know that colleagues across the House have received representations from constituents, charities and other bodies on this subject, so it is one we take extremely seriously, and rightly so. Of course, one of the things the Government are absolutely committed to is to rebalance the economy, both local and national. We have, of course, the plan for jobs, the levelling-up fund, the shared prosperity fund and the community renewal fund. There is a number of ways in which we are attempting to do that, which will of course help those who are not in work, but also those people on in-work benefits. We are very conscious of the hon. Lady’s observations and, as I say, absolutely committed to making sure that every family, not just those out of work, are helped as best we possibly can.

A quarter of a million Welsh families now face the grim prospect of losing over £1,000 a year because of this Government’s shameful decision to slash universal credit. We know that the Secretary of State’s colleague, the Work and Pensions Secretary, seems to think that people just need to work harder, but I would remind him that nearly 40% of Welsh people who receive this payment are in fact in work, many of them key workers. What does the Secretary of State have to say to those families and their children who are struggling to make ends meet now and will be so much worse off as a result of this cut?

I touched on this obviously in the answer to the initial question, especially the temporary nature of the increase and of course the many plans and projects we have that are going to enhance and improve the economy in Wales, which will have a positive effect on the very families the hon. Lady talks about. I think it is just worth pointing out as well that it is this Government who increased the personal threshold on NICs—that was of considerable value to families across the land—and there have been other improvements, such as the increase in the national living wage. I think those things need to be taken into account as well, and I am sure the hon. Lady will do that.

I am not sure that is going to be much comfort to those families who are going to be losing £80 a month. This is not just a blow to Welsh families, but a real hit to Welsh shops and businesses, because we all know that families on low income have to spend their money locally on the very basics of life. This will suck £286 million per year out of the Welsh economy. The Conservative party constantly talks up the sums paid to get this country out of the pandemic, but is not the reality that the Tories are taking money away from Welsh businesses just at the time that so many of them need it most?

I do fundamentally reject that accusation. Having visited numerous companies, large and small, across Wales throughout the pandemic, the message I have had back is one of relief that the UK Government Treasury has been able to step in and offer the levels of help that it has. Particularly in relation to the hon. Lady’s comment about universal credit, what she is suggesting is that none of the remedial measures we have introduced will work. That is clearly not the case, so the families that she and other colleagues quite rightly raise as being concerned about what the future holds should, I hope, be reassured by the fact that the Government continue to be committed not only to companies, but to individual families themselves.

The north Welsh coast, when one goes from Wylfa to Trawsfynydd to Capenhurst, is intimately connected with the north-west of England through Capenhurst, Warrington and all the way up to Sellafield and Moorside. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that those economies work well together to solve problems in the nuclear industry, and that the North West Nuclear Arc is something we should be very proud of?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, particularly because I have been on the receiving end of such compelling arguments from organisations, such as the Mersey Dee Alliance, that recognise the economic region and the economic drivers and recognise that administrative boundaries can sometimes be an impediment to investment. I absolutely share her enthusiasm and her confidence about what may be available in the future.

The Government’s attack on struggling families this autumn will make more than four in 10 families with children over £1,000 worse off. It is no surprise that the Secretary of State is content with plunging thousands of people into poverty, but these families spend their money in high street shops and local businesses. Government policy will be directly responsible for taking £286 million out of the Welsh economy. This is not levelling up; it is hammering down. What assessment has he made of the effect of the £20 cut in universal credit on the Welsh economy?

The right hon. Lady clearly did not listen to my answers to the first and second questions on this very subject, and her statement—rather than question—was predicated on the basis that absolutely none of the Government’s other economic interventions, such as the plan for jobs, the levelling-up fund and the other encouraging initiatives we have been talking about, will have any positive effect at all. That is clearly incorrect and is clearly not supported by businesses across Wales, which leads me to the conclusion that she is determined to talk down the economic prospects of the country she wants to represent.

It is clear that the Government are content that Wales loses almost £300 million. The pattern is clear from the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, trade agreements, the control of state aid and now plans to cut the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 32: the right hon. Gentleman’s Government are taking from Wales and giving to Westminster. Anyone can see that levelling up will only happen when we have a strong Parliament in Wales empowered to do the job and directly answerable to the people of Wales. We all know there is a reshuffle going on; is now the time to reshuffle the Wales Office out of existence?

The right hon. Lady will not be surprised to learn that I am not going to rise to the last of the baits she dangles in front of me, but she needs to make her mind up about whether she wants Westminster representation or not: she complains on the one hand that the numbers might be reduced, whereas in fact they are being equalised to be fairer, and on the other that we should not be here at all.

Rail Infrastructure

The Government have and are funding a number of rail improvements in Wales, including upgrading Cardiff Central station and the Cambrian line and upgrades that are in the pipeline to key lines in north, south-east and south-west Wales. I also recently had the opportunity to visit Pencoed to hear the case for an upgrade to the Pencoed level crossing.

Wales accounts for 11% of the rail network but receives only 2% of rail enhancement funding from this Government. Will the UK Government commit to addressing this underinvestment, and make a start in Newport East by finally allowing the Welsh Government to run more cross-border services under the Wales and Borders franchise and by supporting the new stations fund bid for a walkway station for Magor?

This oft-cited figure comes from a Wales Government report which looks purely at renewals between 2011 and 2015. The very same report on page 20 draws attention to the figure that would apply if one looked at maintenance operations and restoration as well, in which case the correct figure would be 4.37%, not 1%.

I was glad to hear the Minister mention, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), Pencoed in my Ogmore constituency. He will know that the debate about closing the level crossing has been going on since the early ’90s, and I know he is personally supportive and has been to Pencoed to look at the site. However, Bridgend County Borough Council has now put forward cabinet reports to say that the scheme will cost almost £20 million. Department for Transport Ministers cannot keep announcing additional services on the mainline without tackling the safety issues around the Pencoed level crossing. So may I press the Minister to ensure that DfT Ministers back up their announcements with much-needed funding to deal with the problems in my constituency?

I would certainly encourage all partners and stakeholders in this, including DfT Ministers—and also those in the Welsh Government, who are responsible for the highways of course—to engage with the rail network enhancement pipeline in the usual way or consider future rounds of the levelling-up fund. I say, too, that the hon. Gentleman has made a powerful case for that level crossing and the wider strategic benefits that will flow if this problem is sorted out.

I know the Minister shares my disappointment and that of my constituents in Gower at the lack of electrification to Swansea, but is he aware that we have great issues with the Hitachi carriages and fleet? They are costing a lot of money and cracks have been caused because of their becoming hybrid. Can he confirm that he is aware of this problem, and can he say what conversations he is having with his colleagues in the Department for Transport and what it is costing?

I believe that that problem was quite well publicised, so I think we are all aware of it. The rolling stock is being examined. There is no issue around safety. I do not know what the costs are. I understand the hon. Lady’s disappointment about electrification, but she will know, through her sterling work on the Welsh Affairs Committee, that there would have been enormous costs to electrification between Cardiff and Swansea and no benefits for any passengers in terms of decreased time. This Government want to spend that money where it will have the most impact and benefit for rail passengers.

The community in St Athan in my constituency was naturally disappointed, and even angry, that the Welsh Government did not include a new station for St Athan in their application to the Department for Transport’s new stations fund. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that he will listen to the views of Members of Parliament as well as the Welsh Government when considering applications for new stations?

I can absolutely reassure my right hon. Friend on that point. I commend him for the work that he has done in improving rail infrastructure in his constituency. I enjoyed visiting Barry station with him to see the disability access improvements that had taken place sometime last year.

When the Minister listed all the projects that the Government are undertaking, he did not mention the marvellous work being done by Network Rail on the only wooden bridge in the country being used for rail services, between Morfa Mawddach and Barmouth. Will he make a point, together with the Secretary of State, of visiting the bridge and walking across it when it is finally completed and all the wooden piles have been installed? Of course, it is a walkway as well as a railway.

I would be delighted to take my hon. Friend up on what I think is an invitation to visit. I believe that he may even be able to supply a cup of tea somewhere in the vicinity. He is right that I did not mention that particular project. There are so many projects I could mention that Network Rail is responsible for in Wales as a result of UK Government funding. I did not mention, either, the south Wales relief line, the north Wales coast line, the improvements that will hopefully come about to the Wrexham to Bidston line, or a whole host of other projects that are being funded by this UK Government.

One key way we are supporting rail infrastructure across the country is through HS2. Does the Minister agree that HS2 will have a truly nationwide benefit in places such as Port Talbot and Teesside if we use UK steel in its construction?

Of course, many companies in Wales will be tendering for work on the HS2 project, so there will be huge benefits to Wales, huge benefits for the railway industry, and of course huge benefits for the whole United Kingdom. HS2 is also about getting people off the roads and on to the railways, which is something that anyone who supports getting Britain to net zero by 2050 should be in support of.

Manufacturing Industry

I assure the hon. Lady that the UK Government are completely committed to manufacturing in Wales, which is why we have put £3.4 billion into manufacturing and enabled companies to take advantage of the many schemes that were brought forward during the covid crisis.

I thank the Minister for that response. Will he join me in welcoming the Welsh Labour Government’s £20 million commitment to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Broughton, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), which will attract business and boost skills across the north Wales region?

That, I believe, would be a promising scheme that could perhaps be looked at in conjunction with the growth deals. As the hon. Lady will be aware, £790 million has been put forward for growth deals across Wales, and that is exactly the sort of scheme that is being considered as part of that. May I say how strongly I welcome the hon. Lady’s support for the aviation sector, which I hope will be shared by all her colleagues?

Net Zero Emissions Target

Wales’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by close to 31% since 1990. To bring them down to zero, we will be scaling up low-carbon power generation, kickstarting the hydrogen economy and transitioning to zero emission vehicles.

I am grateful for that response. Many parts of Wales are rural like my own constituency in the Scottish borders. These rural areas need a plentiful supply of electric car charging points to encourage people to make the switch to electric cars. How are the UK Government supporting the switch across the four nations of the United Kingdom?

I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s question, because it illustrates a situation very similar to his in Wales. I hope he is as pleased as we are with the £275 million commitment to the electric vehicle homecharge scheme, the workplace charging scheme, the on-street residential chargepoint scheme and a number of other measures, all of which, of course, are UK-wide initiatives.

The drive to net zero presents huge challenges to industry all across south Wales, especially for us in Pembrokeshire where the oil and gas plants support thousands of high quality jobs. What further steps can the UK Government take to help the energy sector to adapt, taking advantage of new opportunities in hydrogen but also plans for floating offshore wind? The truth is that we are going to need significant extra help in Pembrokeshire if we are going to make that transition.

My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. I hope he has taken note of the £20 million commitment to the south Wales industrial cluster. That is driving carbon capture initiatives and similar initiatives. He and I frequently speak to big employers in our area, such as Valero on the Milford Haven Waterway, which are an absolutely critical part of our net zero ambitions in Wales. Of course, the floating offshore wind opportunities in the Celtic sea are well known to both of us and I hope that developers will be able to bid for contracts for difference later this year.

When it comes to tackling the climate crisis, I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that the Welsh Labour Government have led the way: banning fracking, legislating for net zero, establishing a new ministry for climate change, and generating more than 50% of the energy we use from renewable sources, a figure higher than the UK average. Does the Secretary of State also agree that those efforts are undermined somewhat by his own Government’s decision to drop binding commitments on climate change from the free trade deal with Australia? What message does that send to the world ahead of this country hosting the COP26 summit later this year?

I do not acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s challenge in quite the way he would expect me to. I think it has been made perfectly clear that our net zero ambitions are not going to be solved by one country or one Government; it will be resolved by a very serious and joined-up approach to net zero across the UK and beyond. I am very happy, as he knows I am, to work with the Welsh Government to achieve those aims. If we relegate this issue to some kind of political spat, it will make the challenges harder, so I hope he will join me and Welsh Government colleagues in trying to make sure we achieve the mutual aims we claim to share.

Will the Secretary of State look at the recommendation of the Welsh Affairs Committee that Wales should get its fair share of HS2 funding, the same as Scotland, so we can invest in a modern infrastructure and meet net zero, in particular with the Swansea Bay metro, more quickly?

The hon. Gentleman and I share many common ambitions for the rail network in Wales. He knows my views on that. He also knows the Union connectivity review will be published shortly. I do not want to second-guess what is in that, but I suspect that he and I need a conversation shortly after that has been published.

There is great potential for small scale renewable energy schemes in the more rural parts of Aberconwy. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had to ensure that the grid connections are in place to make them viable?

It is fair to say that they are in their early stages. I enjoyed my visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency last week, where these points were raised. He is right to point out that we can come up with all the initiatives in the world, but unless there is a supportive grid to cope with that, our progress will be slower than we would like. Those conversations are in play and I look forward to sharing them with him at the earliest opportunity.

Devolution Settlement

5. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the adequacy of the operation of the devolution settlement. (903359)

8. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the adequacy of the operation of the devolution settlement. (903362)

My discussions with the First Minister and his ministerial team are focused on how our respective Governments can use the powers at our disposal to deliver jobs and economic growth for Wales.

Hijacking pots of money for Wales in the UK Government Departments that have not operated in Wales for 20 years undermines the devolution settlement and, by extension, the Union, but just as damaging is the bureaucratic delay caused by the uselessness of UK Ministers. Why have Welsh councils still not had a response on community fund renewal projects that are supposed to be completed by March 2022? If the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues cannot do the business, they should get off the pot.

In the last 18 months or more, I have spoken to numerous individuals, charities, churches, universities, the private and public sectors, businesses, investors—you name them, we have spoken to them. Not a single one has raised the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises this morning. They are committed to the economic recovery plans that we are talking about, and, as I said in answer to a previous question, if all these question sessions do is relegate these exchanges to some kind of cheap political point scoring, we will not make the progress that he seeks.

The landslips in the Rhondda last year sent a shiver down the spine of the valleys communities, and many of my constituents in Cynon Valley live in fear of future coal tip disasters. Three hundred of the 2,000 coal tips in Wales have been classed at high risk of endangering life or property. We need to know that they are safe and the UK Government have a clear duty to make them safe. [Interruption.] What discussion has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer ahead of the forthcoming spending review to ensure that sustainable funding is provided to deal with the legacy of the coal tips? [Interruption.]

I think I caught most of that question, but the hon. Lady will no doubt recall that the UK Government put over £30 million into coal tip renewal and coal tip safety issues. It was the UK Government who joined forces with the Welsh Government to make sure that that approach was collegiate and addressed all the concerns that were raised, including those that fall into the devolved space just as much as the reserved space. If she wants an example of the UK Government and the Welsh Government working together and the Treasury picking up the tab, that issue is a perfect example.

Respecting devolution cuts both ways. Recently, the Welsh Government published a written statement on the evolution of the national grid. It was very welcome—we need to work together—but clearly, the 132 kV lines are a UK competence. Will the Secretary of State pull Ofgem and the operators together to build and evolve the national grid, with consensus from the people of mid-Wales?

I can go a little further than that, having spoken to the Busines Secretary on this topic only yesterday evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) raises a very important point, especially around where the devolution settlement and reserved responsibilities sit. It is absolutely right to raise that but it is also fair to say that an issue of that significance will require a UK-wide approach and, of course, the views and responsibilities of the Welsh Government will be taken very seriously in those discussions.

If the devolution settlement is to work, the UK Government have to match their rhetoric on the respect agenda. Given that all devolved Governments in the UK have asked the UK Government to cancel the cut to universal credit, can the Secretary of State say that he made that representation to his Cabinet colleagues, or is the post of Secretary of State entirely redundant? [Interruption.]

I barely caught a single word of that, but on the basis that I have heard the hon. Gentleman’s views on this subject before, I will simply repeat my views and observations. Over the past 18 months during the covid pandemic, there has been a very analytical look at what works and what does not work in the devolution settlement by businesses, employers, wealth creators, investors, universities, churches and members of the public. I have to say that this fixation with the niceties of the devolution settlement is not reflected by businesses in Wales at the moment. [Interruption.] If by any chance I have missed the hon. Gentleman’s question, which, by the shake of his head, I suspect I have, we can have a conversation in the Tea Room later.

Apprentices: Wales Office

We fully support the Government’s apprenticeship scheme. We have employed apprentices in the Wales Office, and our most recent apprentice has just been promoted.

Will my hon. Friend set out what he is doing to encourage apprenticeships across Wales? Will he ensure that all new jobs offered in the Wales Office are offered as apprenticeships, not just graduate schemes? Will he ensure that the Wales Office meets the public sector target on apprenticeships?

I can assure my right hon. Friend that we will certainly meet the public sector target—we have been meeting it. We will be taking on further apprentices and we have just taken on a kickstart worker and somebody from the care leavers scheme.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I know that the whole House will want to join me in congratulating Emma Raducanu, Joe Salisbury, Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid on their victories in the US Open. They have made the whole nation proud.

On Battle of Britain Day, we honour the legacy of those brave aircrews who defended our nation.

I am sure that hon. Members will also want to join me in wishing you well, Mr Speaker, for the G7 Speakers and Presiding Officers conference in Chorley later this week.

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 would like to pass on my condolences to the Prime Minister on the sad loss of his mother.

Raising children is very expensive—more so when they are disabled. The children impacted by sodium valproate have suffered physically, mentally and indeed financially. When the Cumberlege report was published, there was real hope that they would get support. However, on the last day before the summer recess, a written ministerial statement indicated that recommendation 4 of that report would not be actioned. May I please ask my right hon. Friend to urge the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to look again at that and give the parents of those children the financial redress that they so desperately need?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her kind words. On her substantive point, she is entirely right to raise the issues investigated by Baroness Cumberlege. We have given the report full consideration, accept its overarching conclusions and are committed to making rapid progress in addressing all the areas that it mentions, including the one that my right hon. Friend covered today.

I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Emma Raducanu—a tremendous success in the US Open—the Battle of Britain and the G7 Speakers conference. May I also offer my condolences to the Prime Minister on the loss of his mother? As I know at first hand, losing a parent is never easy.

How many extra hours a week would a single parent working full-time on the minimum wage have to work to get back the £20 a week that the Prime Minister plans to take away from them in his universal credit cuts?

First of all, I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his kind words. On his substantive point about universal credit, it is absurd, because the Labour party—[Interruption.] I will give you a statistic, Mr Speaker: every single recipient of universal credit would lose their benefits under Labour, because it wants to abolish universal credit. I think that this House and this Government should be very proud of what we are doing and continue to do to support the low-paid. It was another Conservative institution, the living wage, that increased the incomes of families on it by £4,000 a head. What the Labour party wants to do is keep this country in lockdown and keep this country in furlough without moving forward at all.

The Prime Minister did not answer the question. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions seems to think that it is an extra two hours a week, so let me make it even easier for the Prime Minister: is the correct answer higher or lower than that?

What I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that under this Government, for the first time in decades, wages are rising. Wages across the board are rising, and they are 4.1% up on where they were before the pandemic. In fact, I am very pleased to say—[Interruption.] Of course, what the Opposition want to do is continue to take money in taxation and put it into benefits. We do not think that that is the right way. We want to encourage high wages and high skills. That is the difference between this Government and the Labour party. I think it is a good thing, for instance, that Costa Coffee is now paying 5% more than it was before the pandemic—and never forget, Mr Speaker, that if we had listened to Captain Hindsight, Costa Coffee would still be closed.

It wasn’t a difficult question, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] It is silly, they say. “How many hours would someone working full time on the minimum wage have to work to make up for the cut?” is apparently a silly question. I will give the Prime Minister the answer to the question. The number is much, much higher. A single parent—who could be a constituent—working on the minimum wage and already working full time would need to work more than nine hours a week on top of that full-time job just to get back the money that the Prime Minister has taken away from them. They are already working full time. They have kids. How on earth does the Prime Minister think they are going to find the time to work an extra nine hours—in truth, an extra day every week?

I will tell you what we are doing, Mr Speaker, to support people on low incomes. We are supporting them not only with the living wage, but with 30 hours of free childcare, and by freezing petrol duty and extending the heating allowance to 780,000 people across the country—but, even more important than that, for the low-paid we are encouraging measures to see their wages rise. We are investing in their skills. We are investing in work coaches.

There is now a dividing line between this Government and the Opposition. We want a high-wage, high-skills economy with controlled immigration; what they want is low wages, low skills, and uncontrolled immigration. That is what they stand for.

Let us test that right now. We have had three questions and the Prime Minister has not answered one of them, and it is obvious why.

The truth is that these low-paid workers cannot work longer hours to get back the money that the Prime Minister is cutting from them. He knows it; they know it. Millions of working families will be hit hard—very hard—by the Prime Minister’s universal credit cut, and the reason, I tell the Prime Minister, is this. Why would those people have to work an extra nine hours—a full day every week—to get that £20 back? It is because of his broken tax system. He has just said how good it is, so let us test it. After his national insurance rise, for every extra pound that those workers earn, his Government will take more than 75p from them. That is why they have to work for those nine hours—one whole extra day.

The Prime Minister has just said that he is going to raise wages, and what else he is going to do, but that is the situation. Why is the Prime Minister making a bad situation worse for working people by hammering them with a cut in universal credit and a tax rise?

Actually, what we have done with our local housing allowance is increase by £600 the amount of money available to exactly the type of person the right hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned. He has attacked the plan that we announced last week to fix the backlogs in the NHS. I have to say that I thought it utterly incredible that the party of Nye Bevan should have come to the House last Wednesday and voted against measures that would fix the NHS. It is quite clear that ours is now the party of the NHS, and that the Opposition simply do not have a plan. They do not have a plan for universal credit—they want to abolish it—and they do not have a plan to fix the NHS or social care.

An unfair tax rise which will not fix social care and will not clear the NHS backlog is not a plan. The Prime Minister pretends that there is no alternative but to hammer working people with tax rises and universal credit cuts, but that is not true. His approach means that a working single parent who is a qualified nurse would lose £1,143. A supermarket worker could lose £1,093. A teaching assistant could lose £1,081. At the same time, the Prime Minister has wasted billions on crony contracts, cut taxes for people buying second homes and handed out super tax deductions for the biggest companies. That is not taking difficult decisions; that is making political choices. So why is the Prime Minister choosing to take a tax system that is already loaded against working people and making it even more unfair?

It is absolutely ridiculous that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should attack the Government over salaries for nurses when we have put them up by 3% on top of the 12.8% rise that we introduced, when we are hiring 50,000 more nurses and when we are putting another £36 billion into the NHS and social care on top of the £33 billion that this Government invested when we came into office. One in 10 of the people in this country are now on an NHS waiting list. Labour Members know that the NHS backlog needs to be fixed, they know that this Government have a plan and they know that Labour has absolutely nothing to say.

I just wonder what the millions of people on low wages who are facing a £1,000 cut will think of that. This country’s success is built by working people, but the tax system is loaded against them. The Prime Minister may not understand the pressures facing families across the country, but we do. The reality is this. Taxes on working people: up. National insurance—[Hon. Members: “”Up!”] Council tax—[Hon. Members: “Up!”] Energy bills, food prices, burdens on families: up, up, up. The Prime Minister needs to get real and understand the terrible impact of his decisions on working people across this country. This afternoon, he has the chance to change course, to vote with Labour to cancel the cut to universal credit and then to stop clobbering working people with unfair tax rises. Will he do so?

Let me ask you, Mr Speaker, since you are a man of great restraint and taste and judgment: which country has the fastest growth in the G7? Where is employment up? Where are job vacancies at the highest level? And as for wages, they are up. They are higher than they were before the pandemic. I have listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman carefully over the last fortnight, and I am told that he has a 14,000-word essay in gestation. I do not know why he cannot produce it right away. Why does the world have to wait for the thoughts of Chairman Keir? Having listened to what he has had to say—his non-existent plan for universal credit, his non-existent plan for health and social care—I could compress those 14,000 words into four: vote Labour, wait longer. That is what he stands for. Our plan for jobs is working and our plan for covid is working.

Q2. Be it farm workers or lorry drivers, my employers are saying that they want more staff. What more can the Prime Minister do to increase the training and mobility of jobseekers to help them into the jobs they need? (903441)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the problem of lorry driver shortages, which is affecting the whole world, from Europe to North America. What we are doing immediately is working to get out more licences. We are taking advantage of our post-Brexit freedom so that all the young thrusters on the Conservative Benches with a post-1997 driver’s licence can now drive a vehicle with a trailer as well—everybody can drive a vehicle with a trailer as well. But after a long period of stagnation in wages for those in the road haulage industry, we are also seeing a long-overdue increase in wages. That is part of the same phenomenon that this Government are introducing and the Labour party is opposing.

I pass on my condolences to the Prime Minister and his family on the sad loss of his mother the other day. And I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating Emma Raducanu on her fantastic success in New York last Saturday.

Of course, we mourn the anniversary last Saturday of 20 years since the horrors of 9/11. We remember all those who paid the sacrifice in that outrage.

This morning we learned that the rate of inflation has reached its highest level in a decade. For ordinary workers and families, prices are going up at the very moment when they can least afford it. Workers and families need more than just a winter plan for covid; they need a winter action plan to fight a Tory poverty pandemic that is only going to get worse.

Does the Prime Minister know, and can he tell us, how much Tory Government cuts to social welfare will cost the average nurse?

We are protecting people on low incomes up and down the country—[Interruption.] Indeed we are. And we are freezing fuel duty and supporting childcare. We have brought in a huge package of measures, not least the living wage, which has already seen an increase of £4,000 for every family on the living wage.

More importantly, the right hon. Gentleman talks about the income of nurses. We are investing massively in health and social care up and down the country. That will help to fund, apart from anything else, the increase in nurses’ pay that they so thoroughly deserve. I hope he will support that package.

My goodness, my goodness, an increase in nurses’ pay. Either the Prime Minister does not know or he simply does not care. When we take the cuts to universal credit and the increase in national insurance, the figure he was looking for is that the average nurse will lose £1,736. Once again, this Government are cutting the pay of key workers, the very people we are relying on to see us through another difficult winter. The cost of living is spiralling and people are left with a Prime Minister who does not know how much his cuts are hitting key workers and a Secretary of State for Work and Pensions who does not know how universal credit works.

If any Scottish Tories are in possession of a backbone, now would be a good time to find it. Does the Prime Minister expect any MPs from his Scottish branch office to stand against the callous cuts to universal credit, or has he already bought them off with promises of jobs in his reshuffle?

What is actually happening is that we are funding the NHS across the whole of the UK, including in Scotland I am proud to say, with record sums. We have ensured that nurses have access to a training bursary worth £5,000 and a further bursary of £3,000 for childcare costs, and that is before we put up their pay by 3%. That is only possible because of the investment we are making, the measures I outlined last week and the package we are putting forward for health and social care. If the right hon. Gentleman is really saying that the Scottish nationalist party is opposed to that investment, if he is really saying that he would send it back, he would be better off banging on, as he normally does, about a referendum. He is better on that.

Q3. Now that the move to have a domestic identity card for each of Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland has started, what consideration has my right hon. Friend given to how the nationalists will use them to break our Union? (903442)

I am very grateful for the vigilance of my hon. Friend about the matter of ID cards. I can tell him that we have absolutely no plans to bring them in, but I will watch the nationalists very carefully.

I, too, offer my condolences to the Prime Minister on the loss of his mother.

Health waiting lists are through the roof in Northern Ireland and hard-pressed families are being hit by decisions from this Government, but the Democratic Unionist party has been hit by a bad opinion poll so it is threatening to bring down the very institutions of the Good Friday agreement. Will this Prime Minister commit today to fast-tracking the legislation going through this House, agreed at New Decade, New Approach, to stop the institutions coming down if one political party has a petulant strop?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I agree with him that it is very important that the institutions of Northern Ireland should be robust and should continue, but I also think that a responsible Government have to address the issues of the protocol, the lopsidedness and the way in which the European Union has chosen to interpret those issues, which I do not believe satisfies the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That is what we are going to do.

Q4. May I start by expressing my condolences to the Prime Minister? As my right hon. Friend knows, yesterday I led a Westminster Hall debate on the British fur trade and the import of dead animal products from abroad. I know he cares deeply about animal welfare. Will he please join me in denouncing the horrible, cruel and unnecessary slaughter of an average of 1 million animals every year, just for their skin? In a post-Brexit Britain, we can outlaw this horrible practice, one that I am sure he and many, many other British people hate. Will he meet me to discuss my campaign to end the import of fur to Britain and truly make a fur-free Britain? (903443)

I am sure that my hon. Friend speaks for millions and millions of people up and down this country who abhor the fur trade and do not want to wear fur. Obviously, we have banned fur farming in this country for a long time, and we are going to look at what we can do, working with the fur sector, to prevent fur from being imported into Britain.

Q6. By the time my wonderful friend Lynda went to the doctor, the cancer was already so advanced that she had only a few weeks to live. Many hon. Members have been through cancer and they know well that early detection saves lives. Unfortunately, of course, long waiting lists will make it more difficult to save lives. The real problem we have is a massive shortage, in the thousands, in the number of pathologists and radiologists to catch the cancers in the first place, and a massive shortage of oncologists and dermatologists to do the treatment. So regardless of the money, how are we are going to make sure that we have the personnel, not in five or seven years’ time, but now, to be able to save lives? (903445)

First, I want to say how sad I am to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent Lynda. I think her experiences have been shared by literally millions of people in this country during the pandemic, because they have not been willing or able to get the oncology treatment that they need because of the pressure of covid on the system. The system is now coming back, trying to help everybody as fast as possible to fix the backlogs. So yes, it is necessary to hire more nurses and doctors, and there about 10,000 more nurses now and about 6,000 more doctors—

The hon. Gentleman is totally right in what he says about radiologists and pathologists, but may I respectfully say to him that that must be done by means of the big powerful package that we put forward last week to raise the funding necessary? I believe his party should have supported that and it is incredible that it did not.

Q5. Work continues to improve maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. Last week, local MPs heard from those affected—including a former constituent of mine whose baby died only eight weeks ago—in a meeting with the Minister for Patient Safety. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that there is going to be an independent review of local maternity services? Will he join me in asking those affected to come forward to give evidence to that review, so that in future mothers throughout Nottinghamshire get the maternity services that they both need and deserve? (903444)

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter; I know he has campaigned on that issue. The review is going ahead and we will look at what to do once it has been completed, but in the meantime Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust is going to be supported through the national maternity safety support programme.

Q10. Throughout the country, there are children who have not gone back to school because their schools say that they cannot meet their needs. Do the continued delays to the Government’s review of special educational needs and disability mean that the Government have abandoned those children? Will the Prime Minister listen to the concerns of parents and young people and make sure that their voices are heard in the review? (903449)

The hon. Lady raises an important point. When the Government came into office, a key part of the extra £14 billion that we put into education was for investment in special educational needs, to allow local areas to build more SEND schools where they were necessary. We are putting another £780 million into extra SEND education for our kids. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise a particular shortfall in a particular school or area, will she please write to me about it?

Q7. I know that my right hon. Friend wants to see the United Kingdom growing more crops. We are not going to blaze a trail to self-sufficiency by building over our finest agricultural land. That has to stop, now.On this, Back British Farming Day, we are in harvest time, and all is not safely gathered in. In three weeks, Thanet Earth in my constituency, which is one of the largest glasshouse companies in the country and grows tomatoes, has had to trash £320,000-worth of produce because there are no pickers and no drivers. Because of the lack of labour force, the crops are rotting in the fields and on trees. Will my right hon. Friend seek to introduce immediately a covid-recovery visa, so that this year’s crops are not lost? (903446)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says about the importance of buying British and eating British. Our food is the best in the world. He is also right to address the problems that we are currently seeing in the supply chain, but we are taking steps. Of course, it has been a problem for a long time, but we will use the seasonal agricultural workers scheme to ensure that British farms get the labour that they need.

Q11. I express my condolences to the Prime Minister and his family.Does the Prime Minister believe that the burning of fossil fuels will not be a source of energy in the UK in future? (903450)

Yes. Since just 2012, when I think I was Mayor of London—I was—we have cut CO2 massively and we have cut our dependence on coal from 40% to less than 1%. How about that, Mr Speaker?

Q8. Ullswater Community College, which is led superbly by headteacher Stephen Gilby, is a fantastic school in Penrith with 1,500 pupils, more than 200 staff and a 600 square mile catchment area. The school is in desperate need of redevelopment to keep the site fit for purpose. In partnership with Myerscough College, the school is providing a lifeline for land-based education in Cumbria, after the sad closure of Newton Rigg College in July. This is a great opportunity for the Government to level up rural areas, so will the Prime Minister join me in supporting the proposed rebuild of Ullswater Community College. (903447)

Yes. My hon. Friend is a great campaigner for the people of Penrith and The Border, and I can tell him that in addition to our support for 500 school-rebuilding projects in the next decade—we are doing 100 immediately—Cumbria County Council has been allocated £5.3 million for the financial year 2021-22 to improve buildings, including Ullswater Community College.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the impending cuts to universal credit will not just have a devastating financial impact on people, but lead to stress and anxiety and undoubtedly have a hugely detrimental effect on their mental health, which, on top of the pressures of the pandemic, could prove devastating for some?

I have answered that question many times. The answer is no, and, in any case, Labour would abolish universal credit altogether.

Q9. Back in 2004, Scarborough hit the national headlines when rumours of a new dental practice opening led to hundreds of people queuing round the block in the vain hope of registering as NHS patients. Today, while many better-off families continue to enjoy the discounted prices that the NHS offers, many children and vulnerable families still cannot register as NHS dental patients in Scarborough and Whitby. Does the Prime Minister agree that that needs fixing? (903448)

Yes, I totally agree with my right hon. Friend. That is why we are investing in the NHS, and we want the NHS to be a better place for the dental profession. Would it not be a fine thing if this House of Commons voted overwhelmingly—with all Members voting—for our package of measures to support the NHS?

September marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Every day across the UK, 12 children and young people will be diagnosed with cancer, and, of those, two will not survive. My constituent Nadia Majid and her family are campaigning to improve research and funding in this field. Nadia’s son, Rayhan, was only four years old when he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. Rayhan tragically passed away only four months after his diagnosis. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all the doctors, nurses and support staff who work tirelessly to fight against childhood cancer and meet with me to discuss how the four nations can work together to improve research and funding into childhood cancers and to support families like Nadia’s?

I know that the hon. Lady echoes the thoughts of millions of people. There is not a family in this country that has not been touched by cancer. Childhood cancer is particularly tragic, which is why the Government are investing huge sums in research and also in supporting some of the fantastic charities that she mentions, particularly those investigating brain cancers.

Q12. Dr Camilla Kingdon, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, thinks that the routine testing of children without covid symptoms is still interrupting children and teenagers’ school attendance and does not believe that it should continue. She thinks that covid should be treated like other diseases and that only children with symptoms should be dealt with. I agree with her and her colleagues in the royal college; does the Prime Minister agree with them? (903451)

I have great respect for Dr Kingdon as I have for my right hon. Friend. It is one of a number of views in the scientific community, but we continue to think that testing is a very important route for keeping schools open, which is the best possible thing for the physical and mental health of our kids.

My condolences to the Prime Minister on the sad loss of his mother.

I was privileged to be able to take the time off work that I needed to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, but that should be a right for everyone, not a privilege. Far too many people cannot take the time off that they need because, by the former Health Secretary’s own admission, statutory sick pay at £95 a week is not enough to live on. This is a simple question—yes or no? Will the Prime Minister today commit to full sick pay at a real living wage, not the Government’s current age-restricted minimum wage?

As the whole House will know, what we have done is make sure that everybody who gets covid-related statutory sick pay gets it on day one. We have also ensured that most people in this country, when they fall sick or when they need to recover as the hon. Lady has, receive considerably more than statutory sick pay.

Q13. As a Queen’s scout, I am always keen to encourage young people to get into the most successful youth organisation in the world, so last week I was delighted that the Scout Association announced the first new age range in scouting for 35 years—namely, the Squirrels—which allows young people of four and five years old to become part of the scout movement. This is particularly aimed at areas of deprivation and disadvantaged children. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should congratulate the Scout Association, thank the volunteers who give up their time to enable young people to take part, and encourage young people to get involved in a safe environment for adventure and new challenges? (903452)

Yes; I had no idea that the Scout Association was doing that, but I think it is fantastic. Uniformed youth services make a huge difference to outcomes for young people, and it is fantastic that the Squirrels are now starting them off at the age of four.

For more than half a century, the GKN factory in Erdington has produced high-quality parts for the automotive industry. Now, following the hostile takeover by Melrose, the company has announced its intention to close the factory, sack 519 workers, and export jobs and production to continental Europe. There has been some welcome engagement with Ministers on this issue, but does the Prime Minister agree that, in one of the poorest parts of Britain, if the levelling-up agenda and support for British manufacturing mean anything, this factory cannot close? Does he therefore also agree that it would be a betrayal of the British national interest were this great, historic factory to become history?

My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is working with GKN to do whatever we can, but I believe that the future of the UK automotive sector is incredibly bright. That is because—to go back to the question of the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse)—we are the Government who took the historic step, ahead of every other European country, to move towards electric vehicles by 2030. We want this country to be in the lead. We are making sure that we get the investment in the UK that will drive new technology, drive growth, and drive high-wage and high-skilled jobs in this country.

Q14. At a time when our economy desperately needs investment, right now we are missing out on hundreds of millions of pounds of private capital that is flowing into the geothermal sector across Europe, because the UK does not offer a competitive long-term tariff. Geothermal will help us to heat homes, create jobs and level up the UK. We have not yet found time to meet and discuss the subject, but will the Prime Minister find time in his diary in the coming weeks, so that we can discuss the issue and do not miss out on further investment? (903453)

I am sorry that we have not yet found time to discuss this matter properly, person to person. The Government are very much interested in what my hon. Friend says about geothermal projects, so I will ensure that a meeting is arranged as soon as possible.

I am sure that the Prime Minister will be as pleased as I am that the Scottish Land Court has this week given the final green light to establishing a space launch facility in Sutherland. This is great for the UK, and it is time to bury party political differences. On behalf of the delighted crofters of the community of Melness, I extend a warm invitation to the Prime Minister to come to the first launch, where he will be given a delicious highland tea, including some home-made scones.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind invitation. I look forward to taking it up. What we need is a suitable payload to send into space, and I think the hon. Gentleman would do very well.

Q15. On Monday, it was a pleasure to meet the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Leicester as they discussed a zero-carbon future with British Gas. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the development in neighbouring Derby of the modular nuclear reactors can play a major part in this zero-carbon future? What steps are the Government taking to facilitate the roll-out of this technology to the UK and the world, especially this week, which is nuclear week—perhaps in more ways than one? (903454)

I thank my hon. Friend. We are already working with Rolls-Royce. We gave £20 million seed money to the Rolls-Royce-led consortium when this Government first came in to help them to develop their small modular reactor design. As I said to him the other day, we want to see that company coming forward with a fully worked out plan—a fully worked out business case—that we can all get behind.

The Prime Minister has set out today that he wants a high-skill, high-wage economy. He has also been on the record as saying that the tactic of fire and rehire is “unacceptable”. Surely the best way of ensuring that we have a high-wage economy is to work with the proposals in my private Member’s Bill so that we end that tactic of fire and rehire.

The most vivid example of fire and rehire is that conducted by the Labour party. If I recall, the leader of the Labour party himself fired his deputy leader and then rehired her as shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow Secretary of State for the future of work. The future of work under Labour is low wages and low skills driven by uncontrolled immigration. The people of this country have had enough of that; what they want to see is high wages, high skills and controlled immigration, and that is what this Government are committed to deliver.

Will my right hon. Friend come to No. 1 George Street and celebrate great British farming today, can we have public procurement that uses British food, and can we have food envoys all across the world promoting our great British food and farming?

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend, who is the living embodiment of the robustness of British agriculture, and indeed of the benefits of English food—of British food, particularly the beef of Devon, or Somerset. He is right in what he says about food envoys. We have taken that up. Every single embassy across the world has a food envoy.

My constituents in Bridge House, Croydon live in flats covered in dangerous cladding that will cost millions to remove. They are not eligible for the Government’s building safety fund because it is the wrong type of cladding. Can the Prime Minister confirm: do my constituents have to pay the £23,000 each that they are being charged to remove this cladding, or does he have a better plan?

If the hon. Lady’s constituents are being told that they do not have to remove that cladding, then the answer is no. It is very, very important that this House should recognise that too many buildings have been unnecessarily—unfairly, I believe—categorised as dangerous and unsafe. Of course we must remove dangerous cladding, and we are doing that, but I want householders and leaseholders—people living in flats across this country—to have the confidence that they can do so in safety, and that is what this Government are doing.