Skip to main content

Prime Minister

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 22 September 2021

The Prime Minister was asked—


I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. As the House will know, he has been at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he has held meetings with world leaders, in particular leaders from countries vulnerable to climate change. He has also met President Biden for discussions on climate, covid and international security.

GPs have done a brilliant job delivering the vaccination programme. They have had to work very long hours in the most challenging circumstances, and now they are having to deal with a huge covid backlog. As a result, many of my constituents have contacted me, frustrated by how difficult it is to see their GP face to face. Just this week, I have been contacted by someone who was diagnosed with cancer after being taken into hospital. She said to me: “I can’t help but wonder if they’d have caught it sooner if I’d been able to see someone in person, instead of trying to describe my symptoms over the phone.” I therefore ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the Government are doing to tackle the covid backlog and get face-to-face GP appointments back as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend is a huge champion of his local NHS and I know of his incredible work on the reinstatement of breast cancer screening clinics among other things. I join him in thanking GPs for the heroic job they have done in seeing us through the pandemic. Although appointment numbers have returned to pre-pandemic levels, of course patients and the public rightly expect to see their GP face to face when necessary. As my hon. Friend will know, the Chancellor has funded a £36 billion package to deal with the NHS backlog as well as pursuing our plan for social care.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Robert Largan) makes an important point that I think Members across the House are concerned about. I join the Deputy Prime Minister in his comments regarding the work of GPs and our local primary care services.

I begin by offering my commiserations to the Prime Minister after he flew away to the US and made absolutely zero progress on the trade deal that he promised us.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister still believe that British workers are

“among the worst idlers in the world”?

I say to the right hon. Lady that, for a start, it is excellent news that, because of our engagement with the US, it has immediately given us a boost to trade and businesses by reinstating travel from the UK to the US.

When it comes to British workers, I say to her that we have got payroll employment back to levels we saw before the pandemic. We have got youth employment rising, businesses advertising over 1 million jobs—a record high—and the fastest economic growth in the G7 this year.

Mr Speaker, still no trade deal. The words were those of the Deputy Prime Minister in his book, which he wrote alongside the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Business Secretary. His actions speak even louder than those words. Whatever Conservative Members say, their political choices have made it harder for working families to get by. Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us how much his universal credit cut and national insurance hike will take from a worker on £18,000 a year, say a shop worker or a travel agent?

The universal credit uplift was always meant to be temporary. We have paid the wages of nearly 12 million workers throughout this pandemic, and we are coming out with rising jobs and rising wages. We would have done none of that if we had taken the right hon. Lady’s advice and not come out of lockdown. Labour has no plan; our plan is working.

The Deputy Prime Minister has lots of words for “I don’t know”, so let me help him: his Government chose to cut the income of a worker on £18,000 a year by more than £1,100. That is almost exactly the same as an average annual energy bill. Just as energy prices are ballooning, the Government have chosen to take the money that could cover a year’s-worth of bills out of the pockets of working people. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that the solution is for people to work harder, so can he tell us how many days a worker on the minimum wage would have to work this year in order to afford a night at a luxury hotel in, say, Crete?

If the right hon. Lady wants to talk about taxes and easing the burden on the lowest paid, I will remind her that, whenever the Labour party has gone into government, the economy has nosedived, unemployment has soared and taxes have gone through the roof. Under this Government, we have cut income tax, saving every worker £1,200 each year. We have introduced and extended the national living wage, so that full-time workers are £4,000 better off each year. We have doubled free childcare for working parents, worth up to £5,000 for every child every year. When Labour takes office, unemployment goes up and the economy goes down.

The Deputy Prime Minister talks about the economy; he does not even know how much his own holiday cost. Let me tell him: a worker on the minimum wage would need to work an extra 50 days to pay for a single night at his favourite resort—and probably even more if the sea was open.

The very same week that the Government are cutting universal credit, working people face soaring energy bills. The Prime Minister has said that it is just “a short-term problem” and we will leave it to the market to fix. Can the Deputy Prime Minister guarantee that no one will lose their gas or energy supply or be pushed into fuel poverty this winter?

The Business Secretary has made it very clear that energy supplies will continue and that our No. 1 priority is to protect consumers.

Let me remind the right hon. Lady of her words. This was in The Guardian on 11 May, so it must be true. She said that the Labour party must stop

“talking down to people…Working-class people don’t want a handout”,

they want “opportunities”. They are getting those opportunities under a Conservative Government, with catch-up tutoring for more than 2 million children this academic year and hundreds of thousands of jobs for young people under our kickstart scheme, and we are helping more than 1 million people on long-term unemployment under the restart scheme. The right hon. Lady is right: Labour talks down to working people. Under the Conservatives, they get to rise up and fulfil their potential.

I notice that we have a shortage of hot air this week, but although the Prime Minister is not here, the Deputy Prime Minister is doing his best to shore up supplies.

You know what, Mr Speaker? The Deputy Prime Minister talks about opportunities, but the Government have axed the green homes grant, scrapped the zero-carbon homes standard and lost the storage facility that held three quarters of our gas. Their failures paved the way for this crisis, which will hit families and businesses, and as usual it will be the British people who will have to pay the price. Will the Deputy Prime Minister guarantee that none of the workers employed by the energy companies will end up unemployed because of his Government’s failures?

Well, there is no shortage of hot air on the Opposition Benches.

The Business Secretary has been crystal clear: we have seen the challenge of wholesale gas prices rise all over the world, and we will maintain supply this year. He has taken targeted action to support the two critical CO2 plants to ensure that we see through not only energy supplies, but food distribution. The reality is that, for all the Opposition’s cheap political barbs, they have no plan. If we had listened to the Labour party, we would not have opened up, we would not be bouncing back, jobs would not be rising and wages would not be rising.

Maybe the Deputy Prime Minister should go back to his sun lounger and let me take over. The truth is that the Government were warned about the problems and the energy crisis that we face. And there we have it—absolutely nothing to help the people up and down the country who are working themselves to the ground and are still struggling to make ends meet. This is a Conservative party that does not care about working people.

Families across the country are worried about heating their homes, while the Deputy Prime Minister is complaining about having to share his 115-room taxpayer-funded mansion with the Foreign Secretary—the truth hurts, doesn’t it?—just as his Government are making choices that are making working families’ lives harder. A typical family are facing a tough winter this year: universal credit down 1,000 quid, rent up 150 quid, gas bills up 150 quid, taxes up and food prices soaring. Working people will have to choose whether to feed their kids or heat their homes. The choice for the Deputy Prime Minister is whether he will make their lives easier or harder—so what will he choose? Will the Government cancel the universal credit cut?

The right hon. Lady should check her facts, because Chevening is funded by a charity—not a penny of taxpayers’ money.

The most disastrous thing for the energy bills of hard-working people across the country would be to follow Labour’s plan to nationalise the energy companies, which the CBI says would cost as much as £2,000 in bills. This Government are the ones taking action to take the country forward, with a plan for the NHS and a plan for covid, and our plan is working: employment up, job vacancies up and wages up. If we had listened to the Labour party, we would never have come out of lockdown. We are the ones taking the difficult decisions and getting on with the job, and our plan is working.

Q3. Last week, members of the armed forces parliamentary scheme from across the House attended our excellent Defence Academy. What is striking is the number of service personnel from overseas who come to the UK to benefit from its world-class professional defence and security education. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a further illustration that, far from being a fifth wheel on the carriage, the UK is at the heart of ensuring global security, and that the AUKUS pact is one of the best ways to meet emerging threats, particularly in the South China sea? (903565)

My hon. Friend is bang on. The AUKUS partnership is incredibly important for our security. It builds on what we said in the integrated review about promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific. It builds on our free trade agreement negotiations, including the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. It builds on our membership, as a dialogue partner, of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—the first new member in more than 20 years. It will provide huge opportunities for jobs and businesses here at home, as part of the levelling-up agenda.

Across Scotland and the UK, millions of families are seeing their incomes slashed by this Tory Government, with a toxic combination of Tory cuts, tax rises and the growing cost of Brexit. The Prime Minister promised that he would make energy bills more than £60 per household cheaper after Brexit. Instead, they could skyrocket by £550 at the worst possible time. The UK Government are slashing universal credit by £1,040, furlough is ending prematurely and a Tory tax hike will leave the majority of families hundreds of pounds worse off next year. Let us be clear: this is a Tory cost of living crisis, and yet again lower and middle-income families will suffer the most. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is time to scrap Tory cuts to universal credit and to introduce an emergency energy payment for lower-income families, so that no one has to choose between heating and eating this winter?

May I say to the hon. Lady that many of those issues are devolved to Scotland? The energy price cap will save 15 million households up to £100 each year. We are also taking targeted measures to extend the warm home discount; that will be £150 knocked off the bills of 780,000 homes. We are providing seasonal cold weather payments to eligible claimants—an extra £25 a week during colder periods. On top of that, we are giving a winter fuel payment to recipients of the state pension. But the crucial thing is that we have rising employment and rising wages, and that will benefit everyone in Scotland and across the UK.

That is a disappointing and perplexing response from the Deputy Prime Minister, who perhaps needs to go back and look again. I have to say to him: warm words do not heat homes, and unless these Tory cuts are reversed, we will see even more families pushed into hardship and crisis.

Yesterday I met East Renfrewshire Citizens Advice Bureau, who warned of a cost-of-living tsunami hammering families: a universal credit cut, Tory tax hikes, and soaring household bills. Because of this Government’s choices, people are having to choose between heating their homes or feeding their families. For all their empty rhetoric, you cannot level up by making people poorer. So can the Deputy Prime Minister explain why he is stubbornly refusing to consider introducing an emergency energy payment that would help families through a very difficult winter?

As I said, the price cap in place will save £50 million households up to £100 each year. On top of that, because of the approach we have taken with the national living wage, full-time workers will be £4,000 per year better off. But, given the challenges that we understandably face, I think that people expect—including those in Scotland—for us to come together and stop this scaremongering and this sowing of division. That is why I would have thought the hon. Lady would welcome the fact, with some of the challenges that the Scottish ambulance service is facing, that we have the British armed forces helping the people of Scotland.

Q4. [R] The bus and train operator FirstGroup continues to slash our transport services in West Dorset despite receiving millions of pounds of public money with no revenue risk at all, and having the worst rail line frequency in the country on the Heart of Wessex line. Will the Deputy Prime Minister directly intervene to save what little service we have on that three-hourly-frequency line or actively work to get a new operator that will? (903566)

I thank my hon. Friend; I know he is a great champion for the people in his constituency. I understand that the Department of Transport has been engaging with the transport operators in his constituency. I also understand that South Western Railway intends to increase service levels to their pre-covid timetable by May 2022, and it has ambitions for an increase in the train service frequency on the Great Western Railway route. DFT will of course continue to work with GWR, and I continue to support him in trying to champion commuters and passengers on all those services.

Without a green new deal, the Government are struggling to meet their carbon reduction targets under the Paris agreement. At the same time, the international energy industry is making it clear that there should not be any new exploitation of oil or gas fields if the world does not meet the 2050 target for carbon neutrality. Yet the Government are potentially investing in the new Cambo oilfield in the North sea and also supporting other oilwells across the UK. How can the Government have any credibility when they made a pledge to cease funding oil and gas companies yet this is still going ahead?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We launched the landmark North sea transition deal to transform the oil and gas sector in preparation for net zero, so we have a plan. We have also secured record investment in wind power totalling close to half a billion pounds. We have a world-leading hydrogen strategy, and we are the first major economy in the world to set net zero into law. On Monday at the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister announced £550 million of official development assistance that will be allocated to support developing countries to meet net zero. We are leading by example at home and abroad.

Q5. As you know, Mr Speaker, Warrington is one of the fastest growing towns in the north of England, but our hospital, which is mostly Victorian, is creaking at the seams. Over the last year, the hospital has recruited an additional 240 new nurses and more than 100 doctors, but we need more beds. Will the Deputy Prime Minister speak to the Health and Social Care Secretary and ask him to back our bid for a new hospital in Warrington? (903567)

My hon. Friend is a powerful champion for patients and his constituents. We have now received applications to be one of the next eight hospitals in our new hospitals programme and I understand that an expression of interest has been submitted proposing developments across Warrington and Halton hospitals. Notwithstanding the smart way in which he has gone about his intervention, he will understand that I cannot comment on particular applications, but there will be a decision by spring 2022.

Q2. As the Scottish National party’s Westminster COP26 spokesperson, I welcome today’s announcement by Ineos of £1 billion of investment into cutting greenhouse gas emissions at its Grangemouth plant and supporting the carbon capture, utilisation and storage Acorn cluster at St Fergus in Aberdeenshire. It is a big step in the right direction. I must ask the Deputy Prime Minister this. Can he outline exactly what his Government have against the Scottish Government requiring real living wages for Scottish workers and net zero obligations in their green ports? (903564)

Net zero is at the heart of everything that we do and we have raised the national living wage, which will save a full-time worker £400 every year.

Q6. Later today, the Subsidy Control Bill will give us all a welcome chance to replace clunky and bureaucratic EU-derived laws with faster, simpler and more flexible UK rules instead. But does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that subsidies need strong controls so that they are not misused by—heaven forbid—a future Labour Government? Ministers have already committed to make the UK a world leader in subsidy transparency, so will he look carefully at proposals to publish details of more subsidies in future rather than fewer, as the Bill currently suggests? (903568)

My hon. Friend knows that today the House will discuss our landmark Subsidy Control Bill, which will allow us to seize the opportunities from having left the EU. Our new control system will provide quicker and more flexible support to British businesses, but he is right in what he said about transparency. Decisions on subsidies that were previously subject to approval by unelected EU bureaucrats will now be decided subject to the scrutiny and rigour of hon. Members across the House. That will give us the transparency and accountability that he wants.

Q7. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for some time and always got on quite well with him. He represents one of the wealthiest constituencies in the country. Will he assure me that he still believes in the redistribution of income in our country? Does he really believe in levelling up? If he does, will he ensure that Channel 4 stays in Leeds and stays in the public sector? It is essential to the growth of our tech economy in the north of England. (903569)

We put the UK Infrastructure Bank in Leeds because we love Leeds. The hon. Member asks about inequality and levelling up. The levelling-up agenda will of course help those in the midlands and in the north, but it will also help those in London and the south-east by easing the pressure on the economy, easing the pressure on tax revenues and easing the pressure on planning.

Q8. The Government say that, to protect the most vulnerable, they are compelling care workers to be vaccinated against covid-19 even though that is expected to force out 40,000 carers who have been on the frontline throughout the pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend set out why the same approach is not being taken to protect the most vulnerable in the national health service? (903570)

We are very clear: vaccines are saving lives, and they are also boosting the economy because they have allowed us to open up. They are particularly important for the risk to vulnerable people, including carers in care homes. Over 90% of care home staff have received their first dose ahead of the November deadline. We encourage others to get vaccinated, and the Department of Health and Social Care is currently considering whether to make vaccination for not just covid but flu a condition of deployment for frontline workers in health settings and care settings.

Q10. The increase in employers’ national insurance payments will place a huge burden on the public sector from local government to police and fire services. Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House what the financial impact of this will be both north and south of the border and if additional funding will be provided to ensure that there are no cuts to our vital public services? (903574)

Of course the Treasury assesses these measures very carefully. We are supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs for young people under our kickstart scheme. We are taking a range of other measures, including the restart scheme. Of course we look at the tax burden, but I would just remind the hon. Lady that we are the ones who have taken—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question!”] We are the ones who have saved the average worker £1,200 every year. We doubled the free childcare for working parents. Frankly, I say to the hon. Lady that we are of course mindful of the pressure on public services, as with the private sector, and we are doing everything we can, but the SNP opposed coming out of lockdown. The SNP opposed—

Order. Please, we have to try to get through some questions. It is those on your own side you are stopping asking questions, Deputy Prime Minister, with too long an answer.

Q9. A lot of the reason why I am standing in this Chamber today follows a chain reaction of events following the death of my father from a single-punch assault, but my dad is just one of many victims, which is why this week we are marking One Punch Awareness Week. May I ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will join me in showing his support for One Punch Awareness Week, and can I extend an invitation to him, and indeed to all colleagues right across the House, to join me immediately after PMQs in Westminster Hall to show that support? (903571)

Can I say to my hon. Friend that I know how much this campaign means to her personally? I know that hon. Members across the House will be very proud of the tenacious way she is pursuing that campaign. Of course I will join her in Westminster Hall, and I would encourage all hon. Members to do the same.

Q11. Following the ill-informed and partisan comments from President Biden overnight, would the Deputy Prime Minister urge the Prime Minister to point out to those he meets in the US who actually care about political stability in Northern Ireland that, far from defending the Belfast agreement, the Northern Ireland protocol is now the single greatest danger to the political institutions? The situation is now time-critical. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with me that a solution that restores Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom’s internal markets is the only way to avert the collapse of the institutions, and such a solution must be found in weeks rather than months? (903575)

We absolutely agree that having a smart and pragmatic approach is the only way that we will be able to uphold the Good Friday agreement for all communities in Northern Ireland. Notwithstanding what the reporting has said, I know, having been in Carbis Bay with the Prime Minister and the President, that the President understands our view and we have explained our position, as well his taking into account what the EU has said.

The House will know that the River Wye is one of the most beautiful rivers in our country and also a priceless national asset, yet it is being threatened by phosphate pollution. Will my right hon. Friend press colleagues in the Government and in No. 10 to work with us to push the agencies and other interested bodies to a long-term integrated plan to clean up the River Wye?

Of course, the Government understand, and my right hon. Friend champions eloquently, the importance of the River Wye. We will do everything we can to support him with preserving it for future generations.

Q12. With fewer than 100 days until Christmas, many of our constituents will be choosing to shop for children’s toys online. There have, unfortunately, been incidents of young children swallowing small parts, such as batteries and magnets, that require invasive medical intervention. With rogue traders out there, how can consumers be satisfied that the toys they purchase via online marketplaces are safe, marked as age-appropriate and meet the required safety standards? (903576)

I have young children, and I know what it is like at Christmas when, as well as being a time of great happiness, there is also a certain degree of trepidation when they go for the presents in the way the hon. Lady describes. I reassure her that manufacturers and distributers must provide information on the age-appropriate use of toys. The UK Office for Product Safety and Standards will take action to remove products online that pose any risk, and our product safety framework is being reviewed to ensure that it is fit for purpose, that it is updated in line with new products going on to the market and—above all—that it protects consumers.

Stoke-on-Trent has so far received £29 million from the transforming cities fund and 550 jobs from the Home Office, and Kidsgrove has received a £17.6 million town deal. After 70 years of neglect by the Labour party, Stoke-on-Trent is firmly on the map. We also have a £73.5 million levelling-up fund bid. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that Stoke-on-Trent, which is now hungry, gets its just deserts?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituency. He is right to say that we are giving all the support we can, and that the only reason we are seeing that level of prosperity is that we have employment rising, youth unemployment coming up, and rising wages. That is happening under this Government, because the Opposition have no plan whatsoever.

May I thank you personally, Mr Speaker, for the kindness you showed during my recent illness?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that town halls know better than Whitehall when it comes to levelling up? Will he pass on my suggestion to the Prime Minister that he host a cross-party summit in Downing Street with local government leaders and Mayors, to discuss how they can be empowered to unlock that potential?

Whatever our differences, it is fantastic to see the right hon. Gentleman back in the Chamber, contributing and holding the Government to account.

The agenda for levelling up must involve a team effort, with central Government, local authorities and the many metro Mayors across the country. I support the spirit of what the right hon. Gentleman said, and we will do everything we can to work with him.

In Stroud the Nailsworth Climate Action Network held a well-attended retrofit fair to help people learn about the benefits of insulating homes and the options available. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate that group on its constructive approach to this difficult issue, provide the House with confidence that the Government are creating even more solutions for energy efficient homes, and let us know when there will be more details of that work?

I thank my hon. Friend and support all the efforts at a local level that she is pursuing. We are backing that up at a national level, by requiring all new build homes by 2025 to have low-carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. That is on top of the record investment in wind power, and on top of producing a world-leading hydrogen strategy. This is about bringing the world together, because it will require an international solution at the COP26 global climate summit in November.

Some 239 jobs in the Vauxhall plant in Luton South are at risk this week due to the semiconductor chip shortage and furlough ending this month. The Government have failed to safeguard jobs, failed to maintain key strategic supply lines, and failed to support the UK’s capability in areas such as silicon. Will the Deputy Prime Minister outline what No.10 will do to ensure that the UK automotive sector remains competitive globally, and that skilled jobs in towns such as mine, Luton, are saved?

I do not think it quite right to say that the Government have not been supporting workers. We have paid the wages of nearly 12 million workers throughout the pandemic. Clearly that cannot continue indefinitely, but I reassure the hon. Lady specifically that the Government are investing in supporting gigafactories. We will be investing in the technologies of the future that will create the jobs of the future in her constituency and right across the UK.

All hon. Members enjoy the opportunity to eat British food, drink British drink and enjoy British flowers. I am joined by all of Cornwall’s MPs in pressing the Home Secretary to renew the seasonal agricultural workers scheme for next year—that is 30,000 people—and also to allow them to pick daffodils. Will the Deputy Prime Minister please speak to the Home Secretary, to remind her of the urgency of getting that scheme renewed?

My hon. Friend is a powerful champion for his constituency and the region. I will of course pass on his suggestion and advice to the Home Secretary. I believe that she has been lobbied from various other quarters. We are very mindful of the impact on seasonal workers, and we will make sure we get the right balance.

A former junior Minister for courts and justice once told this House that he was

“absolutely committed to doing everything”

he could

“to improve the treatment of victims in the justice system.”—[Official Report, 5 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 20.]

After six years and three manifesto commitments, we are still waiting for the Government to deliver their promised victims Bill and that junior Minister is now the sixth Justice Secretary in that time. Will he commit here today to delivering that long-overdue victims Bill and bringing justice to millions of victims across the country, including my constituent who was left homeless, jobless and traumatised through the court system?

I thank the hon. Lady. I can absolutely make that commitment. On day one, I looked at the plans and expedited the work that we are doing on that. [Interruption.] Well, if she will give me a chance; I have not been in the job a full week.

I can also tell the hon. Lady what we are doing right now with the women and girls victims strategy, which we published in July. We have provided a national police lead who reports directly to the Home Secretary. We have invested £30 million in making streets safer at night, which is particularly important for women so that they have the reassurance they need that there are no no-go areas and no de facto curfews. We have also introduced 24/7 rape and sexual assault helplines.

I gently say to the hon. Lady that, in terms of standing up for the victims of crime, I lament the fact that the Labour party voted against our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, requiring all violent offenders, all rapists, all child rapists, to serve at least two thirds of their sentence behind bars. You cannot stand up for victims unless you stand up for tough sentencing.