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Prime Minister

Volume 702: debated on Wednesday 3 November 2021

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.