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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 702: debated on Wednesday 3 November 2021


The Secretary of State was asked—

UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement on Scotland. (903918)

This is an incredibly significant week for the whole planet, as countries from around the world gather in Glasgow to negotiate on climate action. We are facing a climate emergency, with no time to lose; we must keep 1.5° alive. I am sure that the whole House will join me in urging all countries at COP to make a real commitment to change. I know that we will all want to take this opportunity to thank Police Scotland for working so hard to ensure a safe and secure COP26. It is supported in that by 7,000 police officers from other UK forces. I am very pleased that the UK Government have brought COP26 to Glasgow, and I am sure the city will receive a long-term boost from being in the world spotlight.

The UK Government have agreed a deal with the EU that fully delivers for Scotland and the rest of the UK. Our deal provides Scottish businesses with exceptional access to EU markets. It is the first time the EU has ever agreed a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal. I regret that the SNP refused to support that deal.

Brexit-induced labour shortages are having a real impact on several sectors of the Scottish economy, with social care, hospitality, and food and drink among the worst hit. For some, the impact has been catastrophic, with up to a third of Scotland’s harvest of some crops left to rot in the fields. Those are the direct consequences of this UK Government’s hard Brexit deal and their ideological decision to abruptly end freedom of movement. The Secretary of State knows that, and he knows that the EU provided over €1 billion in Brexit support to Ireland, so will he back Scotland’s employers and support a compensation fund to mitigate the Brexit damage inflicted on Scotland against our will?

The hon. Lady will know that I backed the increase in the seasonal agricultural workers scheme from 2,500 to 30,000. The National Farmers Union of Scotland is well aware of that; I led on those negotiations. She will know that the EU settled status scheme has been successful. We were told that fewer than 3 million people would apply but in fact over 6 million have applied. Some of those workers have remained in their countries; they can come to the UK freely, as she knows, but they remained in their countries during the pandemic, and the pandemic has been a factor. We also have the shortage occupations list, which creates lower salary requirements for skilled workers. This Government are doing everything they can, but we have to recognise that there is a pandemic effect on labour shortages at the moment.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the principal export market for most businesses in my constituency is in England. Does he share my frustration that the Scottish Government, rather than supporting those businesses with exports to other parts of the United Kingdom, continue to pursue an independence agenda, which could only mean more barriers for those businesses?

My right hon. Friend is spot on. Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK is three times more than her trade with Europe. It is worth over £50 billion, it is worth over half a million jobs, and it is critical that we keep the border open.

The Secretary of State will remember that Scotland voted to remain part of the European Union, and that despite every compromise offered, this Government ploughed ahead with Brexit, knowing full well the damage that it would do to Scotland and that it was against the wishes of the people in Scotland. Now, the Office for Budget Responsibility has projected that the UK’s economy will be 4% smaller because of Brexit, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs found that Scottish exports were actually higher last year, during the height of the pandemic, than they are this year, after Brexit.

I know that the Secretary of State mentioned the pandemic, but that means that Brexit is having a worse impact on Scottish exports than the pandemic. Although he could have fooled me with his lack of mask, Mr Speaker, I am going to presume that the Secretary of State is not in favour of the pandemic and its effects. Given that the effects of Brexit are worse, why does he support it?

The hon. Lady quotes the OBR. Actually, the OBR prediction was for economic growth to be 4% in March. The reality is that it has corrected that, and its prediction is now for economic growth to be 6.5% in 2021 and 6% in 2022. Actually, our economy is recovering strongly, and it is the fastest-growing economy in the G7.

This alternative reality is an international embarrassment. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) already mentioned, the EU provided over €1 billion to Ireland as a Brexit compensation fund to combat its effects. Since we know that Brexit is damaging Scotland’s economy and since this place clearly thinks itself so superior to the EU, without mentioning existing funds can the Secretary of State tell us when Scotland will receive its Brexit compensation fund and how much will be in it?

We have just had a Budget where the Chancellor has given £41 billion in the block grant, up £4.6 billion and the largest ever block grant received by the Scottish Government since devolution began in 1998. On top of that, this week there was almost £200 million in structural funds support through the levelling up fund, the community renewal fund and the community ownership fund. More money is going into Scotland than ever before to support Scotland as we go through the pandemic. It is a matter of enormous regret that last night, when the Budget vote took place, the SNP did not support all that extra funding for Scotland.

The EU announced earlier this week that it would be removing the tariffs on American whisky, in a further de-escalation of the trade dispute between the US and the EU. Clearly, there has already been positive news for the Scotch whisky industry with the five-year suspension, but will the Secretary of State work with me to encourage the UK Government to remove all tariffs on American whisky, which would further support the distillers in Moray and the industry across Scotland?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I know that there are over 40 distilleries in his constituency, so I understand why he feels very strongly about this issue. I agree with him. We were successful in taking the 25% tariff away, but it needs to be removed completely and not just suspended for a number of years. The way to do that is for us to also remove our tariffs on bourbon. I would be very happy to meet him to discuss that.

Brexit has been nothing other than an unmitigated disaster for Scotland. We now have food shortages, labour shortages, businesses unable to export their products and food rotting in the fields. Is it not about time, instead of all this mealy-mouthed nonsense, that the Secretary of State got to his feet and apologised to the people of Scotland for dragging our nation out of the European Union against its national collective will?

I simply do not recognise what the hon. Gentleman says. We have been through the pandemic and it is far too early to say what any impacts are to make predictions, but what we do know is that our economy is growing. We are doing fantastic trade deals around the world, which will benefit the Scottish economy, and Scottish food and drink. He just needs to get positive about that: stop talking down Scotland’s businesses, stop talking down Scotland, and start to get optimistic about the opportunities we face.

May I just gently say to Ministers that they are meant to speak through the Chair? That was becoming a very personal battle and I am trying to not allow that.

Scottish Fishing Industry

My Department continues to work closely with the Scottish fishing industry. Following the success of our Scottish Seafood Exports Taskforce, which made real progress on issues identified by industry, we are continuing to bring together industry and Ministers through our Scottish Seafood Industry Action Group to continue that productive engagement.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. As a newly independent coastal state seeking this week to negotiate with Norway an agreement on Arctic cod, what is he doing to break the monopoly of the foreign-owned and rather slyly named UK Fisheries, which has had more than its fill from Svalbard and has for decades fleeced the Scottish fishing industry over the UK quota on Arctic cod?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am well aware of the representations the catching sector in Scotland has made over quotas it lost when we were a part of the common fisheries policy. That saw Scottish quotas swapped for the benefit of a foreign-owned vessel. I am sure that being an independent coastal state must mean that we look after our truly domestic businesses first and foremost.

I hope the Minister is aware that the next few weeks will be the most important weeks of the year for businesses exporting fish to continental Europe. Nothing should be done that will affect confidence in the reliability of supply from these shores. These are the same people who were absolutely hammered in the first week of the year as a consequence of the shambolic start to the year. They were promised compensation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at that stage. I have spoken to one supplier in Shetland who has been told that if he had allowed his fish to rot on the quayside, he would have got full compensation, but because he sold it at a significant discount in the domestic market, he will get nothing. Surely that it is not how it was supposed to work?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. If he cares to send me the details of that firm, I will certainly follow that up with my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and make sure that the scheme has been working as it should have been.

Scotland’s Shipbuilding Industry

3. What steps his Department is taking to create jobs and encourage investment in Scotland’s shipbuilding industry. (903920)

13. What steps his Department is taking to create jobs and encourage investment in Scotland’s shipbuilding industry. (903931)

The UK Government’s commitment to shipbuilding in Scotland is unwavering. Over the past 15 years, we have delivered: six Type 45 destroyers, launched from the Clyde; two aircraft carriers, assembled at Rosyth; five offshore patrol vessels, built on the Clyde; and we have ensured a bulging order book for the future—eight Type 26 frigates have been ordered, with three of them already under construction on the Clyde, and five Type 31 frigates have been ordered and are destined for Rosyth.

I am pleased that the first deal has been cut for the Type 31 frigate, HMS Venturer, which is being built at Rosyth. With the fleet’s construction due to support 1,250 jobs and 150 apprenticeships, does my right hon. Friend agree that such projects are integral to the Union?

I absolutely agree: the shipbuilding industry makes a huge contribution to strengthening the Union. It directly supports UK security and prosperity, and it supports 25,200 jobs across the UK and 7,000 direct jobs in Scotland. I was fortunate to visit BAE Systems in Govan recently and I met the excellent workforce building HMS Glasgow; I am assured that she will be a very fine ship.

Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that Scotland’s state-owned shipyard could not even compete for a Scottish ferry building contract, and does he note that the Scottish Government’s failure may cost many shipbuilding jobs?

I do share my hon. Friend’s disappointment that the Scottish Government-owned shipyard was unable to compete in the tenders for two new ferries for Scotland. That disappointment is shared by the whole of Scotland, particularly island communities, who are suffering every day as a result of the SNP’s self-inflicted ferry fiasco.

The Orbital O2 tidal generator was the first marine vessel launched from Dundee in 40 years. Wave and tidal offer massive opportunities for the wider maritime industry in Scotland. All that is required for these technologies to scale up is a ring-fenced pot of money in the forthcoming contracts for difference auction. Will the Secretary of State, given his power, raise this with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to make sure that that happens? I would be happy to meet him.

In 2019, the Scottish Government took shipbuilding company Ferguson Marine into public ownership. The yard was supposed to deliver two ferries by the end of 2019 at a cost of £97 million. The ferries still have not been delivered and the total cost has ballooned to more than double the original budget, leaving islanders without new ferries and taxpayers footing the bill. As we have just heard, rather than now using the shipbuilder to build more ferries, they are sending the contracts abroad to create jobs in other countries. Does the Secretary of State think that that represents value for money for Scottish and UK taxpayers? If he does not, will he raise the issue with Scottish Ministers, because taxpayers really do deserve better?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. The Scottish Government’s incompetence in this area has cost the taxpayer very, very heavily. Eleven organisations responded to the original procurement process. The three chosen to tender were shipyards in Romania, Poland and Turkey. I would have preferred the Scottish Government to show some loyalty to UK shipyards, even if their own one could not fulfil the contract.

Scottish Seed Potato Industry

This Government are continuing to work collaboratively with counterparts in the devolved Administrations on issues affecting seed potato growers. We remain in close contact with the main industry bodies and we continue to press the European Commission to allow imports of our high-class seed potatoes.

The EU continues to block seed potato exports into Europe. It offers no reciprocal trading arrangements and that is harming not only the vital industry in Scotland, but my growers, Solana Seeds, in North Norfolk. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me to explain the situation further and what we are doing to rectify this problem?

I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend. I can tell him that an application has been submitted to the EU to lift the restrictions, based on recognising GB seed potato requirements as equivalent, and is being pursued at both a political and a technical level. We remain committed to finding a solution to allow exports to resume and will continue to press our case with the Commission. In the meantime, the temporary authorisation that allowed imports of seed potatoes from the EU expired on 30 June.

This is just another example of the botched Brexit deal failing to take into account the needs of a small but very important industry. The industry has now completely collapsed; 30,000 tonnes of seed have not been exported and £13.5 million of trade is no longer in place. What is the Minister doing to ensure that an equivalence deal is reached with the EU as soon as possible so that trade can resume?

In addition to the points that I made in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), I point out to the hon. Lady that there is enormous export potential around the world, particularly in China and elsewhere in Asia, for Scottish seed potatoes. I discussed the matter with the industry in Glasgow on Monday evening. There is huge potential, and we will do everything we can to help the industry to realise it.

Government’s Plan for Jobs

5. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s Plan for Jobs in supporting people in work in Scotland. (903922)

Our UK-wide total Department for Work and Pensions spend on labour market support will increase to more than £6 billion, which will give everyone a chance to progress, work and develop the skills that they need for the modern workforce. In Scotland, we have made available more than 15,000 jobs, and approximately 8,000 jobs have already started.

Supporting young people to fulfil their potential is key to levelling up opportunity. Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK-wide kickstart scheme, which has made well over 10,000 Scottish placements available, is yet another example of the UK Government delivering for the people of Scotland?

I absolutely agree. If I can loop my answer back to earlier questions about labour market issues, I hope that the schemes that the Government are putting forward will help to give the next generation the skills to fill these domestic vacancies.

A proper plan for jobs would have Scottish renewables at its heart. There are four simple steps that the Minister could take today to unleash that proper plan’s potential: first, persuade the Treasury to create a pot dedicated to tidal energy in the fourth contracts for difference auction; secondly, instruct Ofgem to reform transmission charges to stop disadvantaging Scotland; thirdly, fund energy interconnectors from the island generators to the mainland; and fourthly, back the Acorn carbon capture and storage project. Those Government decisions would not only transform the UK energy sector, but create a Scottish jobs legacy from COP26. Will the Minister demand that his Cabinet colleagues act now to create a proper jobs plan for Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. Scotland has enormous potential in the renewables sector. I can reassure him that the Acorn project is not dead; it did not get through to the first two, but it is the reserve project and we will be working closely to ensure that it is in a future round. Through my Department, we are funding a number of renewable energy schemes such as CoRE—the Community Renewable Energy project—in East Ayrshire. Tidal energy, which the hon. Gentleman referred to, can form part of the Orkney islands growth deal. More generally, I would be happy to facilitate a meeting with my colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy so that the hon. Gentleman can discuss the wider issues.

I would certainly accept a meeting with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to go over the issues, but I would have thought that the Minister and the Scotland Office would also want to champion them. If one outcome from the conference of the parties is quite clear, it is that we need action, not just words.

The Chancellor’s Budget last week did not have a plan for jobs either; in fact, he barely mentioned it. Despite paying more, Scottish taxpayers are getting much less after a decade of devastating Tory and SNP austerity. It is no plan for jobs to increase taxes on businesses and hard-working people at a time when households and businesses are struggling with rapidly rising costs. Are the Minister—as a Conservative Minister—and his Department comfortable that under his Government, hard-working Scots now face the highest tax burden since the 1950s?

On income tax, the Scottish Government are responsible and it is indeed true that they have higher taxes than the rest of the UK. I will leave the hon. Gentleman to take that up with the Scottish Government.

On his wider point about unemployment and employment, if the hon. Gentleman casts his mind back to the Budget last week, the forecast for unemployment after the pandemic was originally about 12%, but it is going to be less than half that. The changes that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is making to universal credit tapers, for example, will leave more money in the hands of hard-working people.

Turing Scheme: Young People in Scotland

6. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Turing scheme for young people in Scotland. (903923)

The Turing scheme has provided funding for more than 40,000 participants from schools, colleges and universities across the UK to study and work around the globe during this academic year. Education providers in Scotland have received more than £8.2 million in funding under the scheme.

As one of two Members of Parliament representing Milton Keynes in this place, I am especially proud that the scheme is named after one of our local heroes, Alan Turing. Can my hon. Friend and neighbour confirm that the scheme’s organisers will continue to seek global opportunities for our students, in the hope that we can inspire the next generation of codebreakers? Will he also join me in welcoming the fact that there are 28 successful applicants for Scottish projects, and £7.9 million is available for those projects this year?

I absolutely agree with my hon. and close Friend in Milton Keynes. It is a matter of pride that the scheme is named after Alan Turing, and given the work that he did to help the globe, I think it entirely fitting that our global scheme, which goes way beyond the horizons of Erasmus, is proving such a success. I am happy to confirm that, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his Budget last week, funds will be provided to deliver the scheme for another three years.

Scottish Parliament: Legislative Competence

7. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. (903924)

I have frequent conversations with Cabinet colleagues about maintaining and strengthening the devolution settlement and ensuring that the Government’s focus is on delivering for Scotland. It is important that all legislation clearly reflects the competence and roles of Scotland’s two Parliaments and two Governments.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key issue here is the need for the Scottish Government to exercise their existing powers more effectively, rather than asking for new powers or seeking to go outside the realms of the Scotland Act 1998?

As my hon. Friend will know, we routinely engage with the Scottish Government on the use of devolved powers. It is in the interests of citizens across the UK for both Governments to operate within their respective powers, as set out in the Scotland Act. That is why I informed the Deputy First Minister back in March that I felt that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill and the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill contained clauses that were outside the competence of the Scottish Government. Sadly, our warnings and suggestions for changes to the Bills were ignored, so our Law Officers referred the relevant clauses to the Supreme Court. The Court agreed with our views on every count. I hope that the Scottish Government will in future work with us to ensure that their Bills respect the devolution settlement, so that we do not waste any more time and money when enacting important legislation.

Renewables and Green Energy: Onshore Employment

8. What steps he is taking to support onshore employment from renewables and other forms of green energy in Scotland. (903925)

This Government are committed to the transition of the economy to net zero by 2050. We recently published our net zero strategy, which will support hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs and leverage up to £90 billion of private investment by 2030 across the entire United Kingdom.

Communities must have local as well as large-scale projects such as turbine manufacturing, which Scotland is sadly missing out on, but communities such as my own in East Lothian are denied a share of the wealth going ashore. There is a legislative gap to allow community benefit from offshore as opposed to onshore wind. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this to see whether East Lothian and other such communities can benefit from offshore wind, as Shetland has benefited from oil and gas?

I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, but I would point out to him that this Government are investing heavily in offshore wind, as was announced this week by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Scotland clearly has a lot to offer towards our net zero objectives—not least its high-quality wind! Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Acorn carbon capture and storage and hydrogen project is still very much part of the UK Government’s plans for our overall carbon capture, utilisation and storage strategy and our net zero objectives?

The short answer is yes. As I explained a moment ago, that was not successful in the first two but it is a reserve project and we are actively working to ensure that it is there in future rounds.

10. Over 97% of Scotland’s electricity comes from renewable sources. This sector’s expansion is hampered not by potential but by the highest grid connection charges in the UK. COP is an opportunity to reassess such arrangements, so what discussions has the Minister had with Cabinet colleagues on reducing those connection charges? (903928)

I regularly meet Cabinet colleagues to discuss these matters and I will continue to do so. I would point out the investment that my Department is making in renewable energy right across Scotland. This includes the community renewable energy—or CoRE—project in East Ayrshire and tidal energy and offshore wind in Shetland. We are making real investment that will make a real difference to people’s lives and the planet.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of the proceedings is available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


As the House will be in recess next week, I am sure that colleagues will join me in looking ahead to Armistice Day and remembering those men and women who have served and lost their lives in the service of this country. We also thank the members of our armed forces who continue to do so today.

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.

The Prime Minister has been busy preaching urgency this week at COP26, and I hope that he has caught up with his sleep. When he sits down with his grandchildren one day and they ask, “What did you do in that week of COP26?”, will he be able to outline one action that was in his gift that had an immediate impact? Will he be consistent with what he has always said and done and take on the biggest emitter of CO2 in the whole of Europe, which greedily and voraciously wants more? Will he ditch his predecessor’s damaging, daft, pre-levelling up, pre-Zoom and pre-90%-drop-in-demand proposal and have a fresh vote in this House to kill off the third runway at Heathrow?

What this Government are going to do, rather than taking steps to damage the economy of this country, which is what Labour would do, is get to net zero aviation. That is the future for this country: clean, green aviation. And by the way, that has every chance of arriving a lot earlier than a third runway at Heathrow.

Q2. I share my right hon. Friend’s commitment to building back better, building back greener and levelling up, and I have a project that would deliver on all those things: rebuilding the ageing Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn. I have shown him the pictures of the 200 props holding up its decaying roof, so will he make the Queen Elizabeth one of the eight new schemes giving people in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire the hospital they need? (904038)

I know that my hon. Friend does a huge amount of work for his constituents. I have seen the pictures that he describes. I can tell him that the application is in from the hospital in his constituency and that it is under consideration. We aim to make our final decision in the spring of next year.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can I share the Prime Minister’s opening words regarding our armed forces and the tremendous work that they do? I also send my best wishes to all those recovering in Salisbury and give our sincere thanks to the emergency services that responded on that day. I would also like to wish all those who are celebrating tomorrow a very happy and peaceful Diwali.

Let me start with something on which there should be agreement on both sides of the House. The independent standards process found that a Member broke the rules on paid lobbying. Surely the Prime Minister accepts that this is, and should be, a serious offence, yet we have seen reports that he will respond by scrapping the independent process and overturning its verdict. In no other profession in our country could someone be found guilty by an independent process and just have their mates vote them back into the job. Surely the Prime Minister and this Government are not going to do that today.

No, of course we are not going to do that, because paid lobbying, paid advocacy, in this House is wrong. I make absolutely no bones about that. Members who are found guilty of it should apologise and pay the necessary penalties, but that is not the issue in this case or in the vote befor us today.

The issue in this case, which involves a serious family tragedy, is whether a Member of this House had a fair opportunity to make representations and whether, as a matter of natural justice, our procedures in this House allow for a proper appeal, which is something that should be of interest to Members across this House and should be approached properly in a spirit of moderation and compassion.

Let me put it simply. If it was a police officer, a teacher or a doctor, we would expect the independent process to be followed and not changed after the verdict. It is one rule for Conservative Members and another rule for the rest of us.

When a Conservative Member was found guilty of sexual harassment but let off on a loophole, they said the rules could not be changed after the event. So they cannot change the rules to stop sexual harassment, but they can change the rules to allow cash for access. Why is the Prime Minister making it up as he goes along?

All the professions that she mentions have a right of appeal, which is what the House needs to consider. I respectfully say to her that, instead of playing of politics on this issue, which is what Opposition Members are doing, she needs to consider the procedures of this House in a spirit of fairness. Instead of playing politics, we are getting on with delivering on the people’s priorities: 40 more hospitals, 20,000 more police officers and wages up, growth up and jobs up across this country. Those are our priorities. [Interruption.]

It is not about playing politics in this place; it is about playing by the rules. As we can see, it is one rule for everybody else and another rule for the Conservatives. When they break the rules, they just remake the rules. I know Donald Trump is the Prime Minister’s hero, but I say to him in all seriousness that he should learn the lesson that, if he keeps cheating the public, it will catch up with him in the end. While the Conservatives are wallowing in sleaze, the rest of the country faces higher bills, rising costs and damaging tax rises. Can he tell us the projected tax increase per household over the next five years?

What I can tell her is that the recent Budget took cash from those who can afford to pay the most and made very substantial tax cuts for the hardest working and poorest families in this country. We cut £1,000 with the universal credit taper relief for hard-working families in this country—2 million families had a £1,000 tax cut—and we are lifting the living wage across the whole country. We are also ensuring that this country gets on with a high-wage, high-skill, jobs-led recovery, and never let it be forgotten that had we listened to the Opposition we would have none of those things because we would still be in lockdown.

I think the Prime Minister missed out the number, so let me help him out. The Resolution Foundation found that by 2026 taxes will be £3,000 more per household since he took office. My constituents and his are feeling the pinch, and they are worried about Christmas as well. Their bills are going up every week and the Budget did nothing to help them. So can the Prime Minister tell them: how much was the tax cut that he gave to the banks instead?

As the right hon. Lady knows very well, it is the banks and the bankers who are paying far more proportionately as a result of our tax measures to cover the cost of the NHS. It is a very moot point because, of the £36 billion, 50% comes from the 14% who are the richest in this country—overwhelmingly, from the banks and financial services industry—who can pay the most. The astonishing thing is that, when it came to voting for that £36 billion increase—for 48 new hospitals, 50,000 more nurses and looking after our public services—the Opposition voted against it.

According to the Prime Minister’s own Budget documents, it was £4 billion in tax cuts to the bankers and £3,000 of tax rises per household. That is good news for the donor who gave his party half a million pounds—his bank got a bonus of nearly £8 million—but not so good news for the rest of us.

This month, as the Prime Minister said, we remember and celebrate all those who serve our great country, all those who have lost their lives, leaving behind loved ones, and those who have sustained life-changing injuries and live every day with the consequences of their sacrifice. Yet hidden in the small print of the Budget was a £1 billion cut to day-to-day defence spending. So will our servicemen and women face pay cuts, or will there be fewer of them, with less support?

I think it is quite incredible that we are now hearing this from the Labour party, when they would have pulled us out of NATO. I think the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) actually wanted to abolish the Army. The woman sitting next to the right hon. Lady wanted to abolish the Army. What you have got with this Government is spending on defence that is the highest since the cold war; it is the biggest uplift since the cold war and an increase that has restored confidence in this country around the world, in our ability to defend not just our own shores, but our friends and partners. That is what this Government are doing.

The Prime Minister knows that I asked him about the annual defence budget, which his own Budget documents show will drop by £1.3 billion. I hear his fine words, and I am from a military family myself, but I will not take party political lectures from him, because too often the Government’s actions do not match their words. I think of my constituent who fought in Afghanistan, yet was threatened with sanctions because he was unable to physically travel miles to the nearest Department for Work and Pensions office. The Prime Minister’s tax cut for short-haul flights last week cost £30 million—that is 50% more than the Government spend on supporting veterans’ mental health each year. The charity Combat Stress has lost £6 million in funding this year, even as calls to its helpline have doubled. So will the Prime Minister match our proposal to reinvest the £35 million saved from cancelled Ministry of Defence contracts to support our veterans, who surely deserve it?

It is because we have been able to run a strong economy and take our economy out of lockdown that we have been able to invest massively in the NHS, to lift spending on defence to record levels and to keep supporting our fantastic public services. That is what this Government are able to do.

I enjoy my conversations with the right hon. Lady, in spite of the insults and party political points that she directs towards the Government. I do not want to cause any further dissension on the Opposition Benches, but I think you will agree, Mr Speaker, that she has about a gigawatt more energy than the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). I am just putting that out there. But it is the same old Labour: no plan and no ideas. We are getting on with delivering on the people’s priorities and taking this country forward. Growth is up, jobs are up, wages are up and productivity is up. All Labour does is play politics while we deliver.

Q5. I thank the Prime Minister and the Government for securing our fantastic Stoke-on-Trent levelling-up funding. If we are truly to level up opportunities and access to opportunities in Stoke-on-Trent, we must also improve our poor public transport, so will my right hon. Friend agree to look at the possibility of bus franchising in the Potteries? (904041)

As my hon. Friend knows, I am a fanatic about buses. We are putting £1.2 billion more into bus funding, and I know that Stoke-on-Trent has applied for that. I urge my hon. Friend to take up his suggestion immediately with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

As we look forward to Remembrance Sunday, may I, too, commend those who have served and the military and security services that protect us all for the job that they continue to do?

Sir David Attenborough’s powerful opening statement to COP26 told us that the journey to net zero means:

“We must recapture billions of tons of carbon from the air.”

The Climate Change Committee has been clear that carbon capture and storage

“is a necessity not an option”

to achieve the planet’s net zero targets.

This week, Scotland’s world-leading climate targets have received widespread praise from, among others, the UN Secretary-General. Scotland is finding partners around the world to tackle the climate emergency, but in Westminster there is not even a willing partner to deliver the long-promised carbon-capture project. Scotland’s north-east has now been waiting weeks for a clear reason for exactly why the Scottish cluster bid was rejected. There have been no clear answers, and not even clear excuses, so perhaps the Prime Minister will answer this simple question: does he know exactly how much of the UK’s CO2 storage the Scottish cluster could deliver?

I am a massive enthusiast for carbon capture and storage around the whole UK. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Acorn project in Aberdeen remains on the reserve list. He should not give up: we will come back to this issue and, of course, we want to make sure that we have a fantastic industry generating clean hydrogen around the country. The right hon. Gentleman should not despair. In the meantime, we are supporting amazing Scottish plans to get clean energy from wind, hydrogen and all sorts of means. I thank the people of Scotland and the people of Glasgow for the way they have helped to produce what has been, so far, a fantastically well-organised summit.

It is bad enough that the Prime Minister rejected the Scottish cluster a week before COP, but what is worse is that he clearly does not even know or understand what his Government were rejecting. Let me tell him: the Scottish cluster bid would have stored 30% of the UK’s CO2 emissions and supported the creation of around 20,000 jobs in green industries. It was far and away the best bid, Prime Minister. If the decision was based on science alone, it would have been approved on the spot. It is obvious that there was a political decision in Westminster to reject it. With days left at the COP summit, will the Prime Minister now reverse his Government’s massive own goal in rejecting the Scottish cluster?

I am trying to encourage the right hon. Gentleman to be a little bit less gloomy about the prospects of this initiative. I understand exactly what he says, and we are working with the Scottish Government, whom I thank for their co-operation and all their support for COP in the past few days and weeks and for what they are doing. We will come back to this issue. What I think is working well is the spirit of co-operation among all levels of government in this country, and what does not work is confrontation.

Q6. House prices are rising in East Devon, with the dream of home ownership becoming out of reach for too many local people. New-build developments must be affordable, with protections in place to restrict the number of properties becoming second homes. The loophole that allows second-home owners to avoid paying council tax should be closed quickly to help local authorities. Will the Prime Minister meet me and colleagues from across the south-west to discuss this growing crisis across our region? (904042)

I know how strongly my hon. Friend and other colleagues across the south-west feel about this issue. That is why we have legislated to introduce higher rates of stamp duty on second homes. We will ensure that only genuine holiday businesses can access small business rates relief, but I am certainly happy to meet colleagues to discuss what further we may do to ensure that local people get the homes that they need.

In the words of the Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth:

“Scotland is vital for the UK’s energy needs, both currently and in the future…It is also vital for our future offshore wind capabilities, and other low-carbon and renewable energies.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2021; Vol. 701, c. 615.]

As he confirms, it is the rest of the UK that is dependent on Scotland, not the other way round. Does the Prime Minister not realise that his failure to invest in carbon capture and storage at St Fergus in Grangemouth and to feed the potential at Mossmorran in my constituency, is regarded as an act of deliberate economic vandalism, casting himself less as Bond and more as Blofeld the villain, for all the COP26 world to see?

What the COP26 world can see is the astonishing achievements of Scotland and the rest of the UK in developing clean energy sources. I have said to the right hon. Gentleman, the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s party in Westminster, that we will come back to the Aberdeen—[Interruption.] Sorry, forgive me, the hon. Gentleman is a member of a different party, but it has substantially the same agenda. We will come back to this. What I have found encouraging about the past few days is the spirit of co-operation and joint enterprise that I now detect that will enable us to deliver massive carbon cuts across this whole country.

Q7. Darlington station is receiving £105 million thanks to this Government’s plans to make it HS2 ready. I want to make sure that Darlington benefits from high-speed rail, so will my right hon. Friend meet with me and regional colleagues to discuss the eastern leg of HS2 and the reopening of the Leamside line to allow the full region to be better connected? (904043)

I thank my hon. Friend for everything that he has done for Darlington. He should wait for the interim rail plan to come out, but, in the meantime, we are upgrading Darlington station. There are plans in place and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced £310 million of funding over the next five years to transform local transport networks in the Tees Valley.

Q3. The Prime Minister says that he is fanatical about buses, but what about trains, and not just in Darlington? I am talking about the Leamside line. Last Wednesday, I was notified that a joint bid to reinstate the mothballed Leamside line had not been successful in attracting the next stage of the feasibility funding from the Government as part of the restoring your railway fund. Will the Prime Minister tell us what specific plans the Government have to invest in the north-east, in places such as Gateshead and south Tyneside in my constituency, and when will he get serious about levelling up in our communities instead of just using the term as a meaningless, populist slogan? (904039)

The hon. Lady must wait for the integrated rail plan, but the north-east will be the beneficiary of the biggest investment in our rail infrastructure beyond HS2 that we have seen for a century. We will be putting in about £96 billion more, and we want the local and regional authorities to work with us to ensure that we promote the projects that the people really want.

Q11. I want to really thank my right hon. Friend for his support for the early years healthy development review and, in particular, for the half a billion pounds of new money at the spending review last week. He often says that talent is spread equally across our country, but opportunity is not, so does he agree that giving every baby the best start in life is the best possible way to level up across our country? (904048)

Yes, I have listened to my right hon. Friend over many years on this issue and she is 100% right in what she says about the importance of early years. That is why we are investing £500 million to support families and children, including £82 million to create a network of family hubs to bring together services for children of all ages. We are going to continue to invest in children’s early years—for example, the offer of 15 hours of early education for disadvantaged two-year-olds that has already benefited 1.1 million disadvantaged kids since 2013.

Q4. I was recently contacted by a Vauxhall constituent whose mother tragically committed suicide after criminal domestic abuse by her husband, with the inquest into her suicide finding his actions to be a direct cause. Incredibly, her abuser now stands to inherit her pension and entire estate because she was unable to complete a divorce. This has left the family devasted, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending them our condolences. Does the Prime Minister agree that convicted domestic abusers should never be able to profit from their victims, and will he meet my constituent and me to fix this hole in the law? (904040)

The hon. Member describes a truly tragic and appalling case. I am sure that the whole House will share the revulsion that she has expressed at the outcome of the law’s processes. We will certainly need to have a meeting to see what we can do to address that loophole.

Q14. NHS staff performed magnificently during the pandemic, but there are now severe shortages in nearly every specialty. Will my right hon. Friend support an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that is backed by 50 NHS organisations and every royal college to require Health Education England to do regular independent forecasts of the numbers of doctors and nurses that we should be training, so that we can reassure people that, despite the pressure today, we are at least training enough doctors and nurses for the future? (904051)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have to ensure that our NHS has the staff that it needs. That is why there are 50,000 more healthcare professionals in the NHS this year than there were last year—12,000 more nurses. In addition, there are 60,000 nurses in training—[Interruption.] Somebody on the Opposition Benches asks, “Why are there waiting lists?”. It is because we have been through a pandemic. We are fixing those waiting lists with £36 billion of investment, which the Labour party voted against.

Q8. It is a little over a year since I last challenged the Prime Minister over his campaign promises to the 1950s-born women, in which time he has done hee-haw about their pension injustices, so will he tell me today: do his Government have any plans to deliver justice for the women involved? (904044)

This is a very difficult issue, as the whole House knows. The case of the WASPI women is not easily addressed. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the expenditure involved is very considerable and the tax that would have to be raised would be very considerable. We continue to reflect on all the options to ensure that people across this country get fair pensions.

As a mother, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and torment of losing a child. Richard Lee, a constituent of mine and veteran who served with distinction in the British Army, has been living with this pain every day of his life since 28 November 1981. On that day, his daughter, Katrice Lee, went missing from a military shopping complex near Paderborn in Germany. It was Katrice’s second birthday, and her family are still searching. The 40th anniversary of Katrice’s disappearance is coming up at the end of this month. It will undoubtedly be an exceptionally painful event for the entire Lee family. Will the Prime Minister please agree to meet Mr Lee, father to father, and reassure him that Katrice has not been forgotten?

Yes, I thank my hon. Friend for raising this absolutely tragic case. I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with Katrice Lee’s family. Of course I will agree to my hon. Friend’s request and meet Mr Lee, father to father.

Q9. The Epilepsy Society is a charity and world-leading research centre based in my constituency. It started the epilepsy climate change initiative to better understand the effects of global warming on epilepsy, and the impact is already clear. A recent survey showed that in hot weather 62% of those whose seizures were uncontrolled experienced an increase in seizure frequency or severity. Will the Prime Minister join me in endorsing the epilepsy climate change initiative and commit to more funding to research the impact of climate change on human health? (904046)

The hon. Lady raises a very interesting aspect of research into epilepsy. We are funding epilepsy research with another £54 million over the last few years. The issue that she raises of any particular link between hot weather or climate change and epilepsy is certainly one that we will be going into.

Last week, an independent inquiry into Lib Dem-run Sutton Council’s own heat network found that it was set up on false assumptions, including funding that was never obtained and homes that do not exist—and now my constituents are going to be left footing the bill. Does the Prime Minister agree that this latest failure shows that the Lib Dems are just not fit to govern and that those responsible should go?

It is not the first time that the Lib Dems have campaigned on homes that do not exist or will never exist, if I think of their campaign in Chesham and Amersham. I will certainly look into the matter that my hon. Friend raises.

Q10. In a recent ITV interview, the Prime Minister was asked about my constituent Jenni Garratt. Jenni is a victim of the cladding scandal. Just before last Christmas, her building was evacuated because of safety concerns. She has been forced to pay £5,000 for a waking watch and alarms. She has to find £1,200 a year for car parking she can no longer access. The work needed to make her building safe is being blocked by the actions of her freeholder. She does not know the costs she will face, but they are estimated at thousands of pounds. Yet in his interview, the Prime Minister said Jenni had“a frankly unnecessary sense of anxiety”.So will he meet her to hear why she is worried, and do so before the Building Safety Bill completes its passage through the House? (904047)

I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s constituent—[Interruption.] I certainly do. I have every sympathy, but what I think is unfair is that people such as her are placed in a position of unnecessary anxiety about their homes when they should be reassured.

I sympathise deeply with people who have to pay for waking watches and other such things. I think it is absurd. But what people should be doing is making sure that we do not unnecessarily undermine the confidence of the market and of people in these homes, because they are not unsafe. Many millions of homes are not unsafe—and the hon. Gentleman should have the courage to say so.

The new police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands has chosen to cut back on stop and search across the region. Can the Prime Minister confirm that while stops and searches must be proportionate and not discriminatory, they remain an important part of keeping our streets and communities safe?

Yes, I certainly agree with that. It was a point that I raised recently with the Labour Mayor of London. We agreed on many things—he was very much out of line with the current Labour policy on lockdown, for instance—but I certainly thought that he was wrong about stop and search. We need to make sure that stop and search is part of the armoury of police options when it comes to stopping knife crime. If it is done sensitively and in accordance with the law, I believe it can be extremely valuable.

Q12. Prime Minister, we can save the UK taxpayer £200 million and level up south London’s health service. St Helier Hospital is set to lose its A&E, maternity, intensive care, children’s service, renal unit and 62% of beds to healthy, wealthy Belmont, at a staggering cost of £600 million. But there is an alternative: rebuild St Helier, where health is poorest, and save £200 million. Now, it is not my job to help the Prime Minister sort out his budget, but would not this be a good place to start? (904049)

We are investing in 48 new hospitals and rebuilds. What is the hon. Lady’s job, frankly, is to vote for £36 billion of investment in the NHS, which will allow us to take our health services forward. Why would she not do that?

I commend the Prime Minister on his diplomatic efforts in recent weeks and ask him about another serious and grave issue that was raised at the G20 in Rome: the strong likelihood of a nuclear-ready Iran within a matter of weeks or months. What will the UK do with our international partners to tackle that? If it is via an agreement, will it be stronger and more enduring than the last one? If it is not, as many people suspect, what is our plan B?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question on an issue that he knows a great deal about. This is a case of making it clear to the Iranians that there is an opportunity for them to do something that would be massively in the interests of their people and of Iran: to come back to the table and do a further agreement—a son of the joint comprehensive plan of action—and restore the JCPOA at the Vienna talks. That is what needs to happen. That is the posture of the G20 and of our friends and allies around the world.

Q13. The universal credit cut is already hitting people hard. Even before the challenges of the pandemic, 39% of children in my constituency grew up in poverty. Deptford First, a local charity that I chair, has launched a fundraising campaign to support people through the winter months. The Prime Minister is well known for his abilities to attract wealthy donors to the party. Will he use those skills to boost our campaign or—even better—will he cancel the cuts? (904050)

What we have done with universal credit is abolish the old system, which unfairly taxed people on universal credit, and help people with a £1 billion tax cut. What we on this side of the House believe in is rewarding work. That is what the people of this country want to see. That is why we have put the tax cut on those who are on universal credit and that is why we are lifting the living wage. What is the Opposition’s policy on universal credit? It is not nothing; they want to abolish universal credit.

The Mayor of London is refusing to rule out the so-called outer London charge, which would apply to all vehicles registered outside Greater London that cross the Greater London boundary. That would have terrible consequences for my Orpington constituents and those who live in the neighbouring constituency of Old Bexley and Sidcup. Louie French, the excellent local candidate for the by-election, has pledged to fight that appalling proposal. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing Louie French luck with that and ensure that this silly move from the Mayor of London is stopped in its tracks?

I certainly do agree with my hon. Friend, who is an old friend of mine; I have worked closely with him on London issues for many years. I know where Labour’s instincts are. It always wants to put taxes up, particularly on motorists, and I think a checkpoint Chigwell would hit working families. What the Labour Mayor of London needs to do is get a grip on TfL’s finances and stop whacking up the taxes on ordinary people in the capital city.

The Prime Minister is very much aware of my constituent, Jagtar Singh Johal, who was abducted by plainclothes officers while shopping with his new wife in the city of Jalandhar, Punjab, on 4 November 2017. The intervening years have seen allegations of torture overlooked, and ostensibly strong words from the Prime Minister’s Government about the case overshadowed by excitement over a trade deal with the Republic of India.

As we approach the fourth anniversary of Jagtar’s arrest tomorrow with no charges having been brought in the case by the Government of India, can the Prime Minister’s Government grant the smallest of favours to Jagtar’s wife and his family in Dumbarton and declare his detention an arbitrary one?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the campaign that he has been running for Jagtar Singh for a long time. I say to him that the closeness of our relationship with India in no way diminishes our willingness to raise that case with the Government of India. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised it the last time she was in India.

Unlike the Opposition, I welcome the record investment in the NHS announced in the Budget. Will my right hon. Friend support my campaign for a new health centre in the village of East Leake in my constituency, where the current building is no longer big enough to serve the population? It will soon need to accommodate 3,000 new patients from new building.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will do his utmost, in the course of the coming decisions, to oblige my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) in her justified campaign for Rushcliffe and its hospital. How incredible that Labour Members continue to catcall and attack the Government when they voted against the tax rising measures that are necessary to fund our NHS! They are completely inconsistent. They have absolutely no plans and no idea.