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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2021

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Rape and Sexual Violence in Conflict

1. What steps the Government are taking to protect women and girls around the world from the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict. (904378)

It is grotesque that sexual violence and rape is used as a weapon of war. It is wrong that it is treated less seriously than chemical warfare or landmines. That is why we are working to build a new consensus with friends and allies across the world to condemn it as a red line.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that having women themselves around the policy-making table is crucial for entrenching change? What will she be doing to support more women into those sorts of roles in countries where sexual violence is a reality for so many?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are restoring the development budget for women and girls back to its previous levels, and will shortly be allocating funding for such projects. She is right that we need to ensure that we are using all the talents available on parliamentary benches around the world, and I am delighted that we now have a record number of female Conservative MPs in this House.

Women in the Workplace

To help, support and protect women in the workplace, we intend to build on existing legislation by extending redundancy protections for women after they return from maternity leave, introducing neonatal leave and pay, and introducing one week of unpaid carer’s leave. We are currently consulting on measures to increase the availability and uptake of flexible working.

Earlier this month, I met Kate Seary and Mhairi Maclennan, the co-founders of Kyniska Advocacy, which they set up to campaign for zero tolerance of abuse of women in sport. The growing and welcome professionalisation of women’s sport means that this is no longer just a sporting issue, but an issue of fairness and dignity at work. Does the Minister agree that sports governing bodies have a responsibility to ensure a safe environment for female athletes, and what action are he and the Government Equalities Office taking to ensure that the governing bodies are meeting these responsibilities?

The Sport Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston)—is doing a lot of work to ensure that women in sport, and other people, are not getting abuse in their workplace.

Last week I met Stuart and Daphne Anderson at Farnless bison farm in Sedgefield. They are concerned that the rules of succession for tenancy unfairly discriminate against women, affecting their ability to work in the farming industry. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the issue and ensure that he is clear about those concerns?

My colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are looking at this issue. I will ensure that they hear my hon. Friend’s question and request for a meeting; I am sure that a Minister will be happy to meet him.

As the Minister knows, pay inequality is an intersectional issue—cutting across gender, ethnicity and disability. The Scottish Government are committed to requiring listed public authorities to extend gender pay gap reporting to disability and ethnicity pay reporting, and ensure that these are included in equal pay statements. They will also be required to develop an ethnicity pay strategy, alongside their existing strategies on closing the disability and gender pay gaps. Will the UK Government consider following suit?

So much work has been done on the gender pay gap, as the hon. Lady says, but we are certainly looking at it, and we will report back on what we are doing about ethnicity pay reporting and disability pay reporting.

Diversity and Freedom of Belief: Public Institutions

3. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on diversity and freedom of belief in public institutions. (904382)

I regularly discuss these important issues with other Ministers, as does the Minister for Women and Equalities. Freedom of belief and speech are vital pillars of our democratic society, and no one should be silenced for expressing their legitimately held opinions. Freedom of speech in universities is already protected by law, but there is no effective enforcement mechanism. The Government are therefore taking steps, in line with our manifesto, to strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities in England.

My hon. Friend may be aware that John Cleese recently felt that he needed to pull out of speaking to the Cambridge Union following the revelation that it had blacklisted certain people from speaking. Although the union’s president has now rowed back on the claim that a list of banned speakers exists, will my hon. Friend outline what the Government are doing to promote freedom of speech and belief in our universities to make sure that students are exposed to a range of views even though they may themselves disagree with them?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, John Cleese was quite right to highlight this issue. However, it should not be up to comedians to educate students on core values such as freedom of speech and freedom of belief; the universities themselves should do that. Those that seek to bully, harass and intimidate others because of their views risk undermining our precious freedoms. Such behaviour should not and will not be tolerated on university campuses. That is why we have introduced the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill to strengthen freedom of speech and academic freedom in universities and ensure that individuals can seek redress.

Across the United Kingdom, women in public institutions are being hounded for the belief that sex matters in life as well as in law. I have in mind the case of Professor Kathleen Stock at Sussex University, but there are many other women suffering the same fate who do not have such a high public profile. What support can the Minister offer to such women?

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for bringing that question to me. She is absolutely right. I have been appalled by the disgraceful treatment of Professor Kathleen Stock. I think that we, as a Government, should do more, and I am personally looking into what we can do in terms of workplace harassment and bullying, which a lot of that behaviour falls under. I hope that I will be able to work with the hon. and learned Lady on this issue more closely.

Health and Care System: Women’s Experience

4. If she will take steps with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to improve understanding of women’s experience of health and the health and care system. (904383)

Improving our understanding of women’s experience of health and the health service is a key priority for this Government. That is why in March this year we launched a call for evidence asking women to tell us about their experience. We had nearly 100,000 responses, which we are working through now and which will form the baseline of England’s first-ever women’s health strategy.

Yesterday this House passed a UK-wide ban on virginity testing through the Health and Care Bill, but banning virginity testing will only work if hymenoplasty is banned alongside it. Will the Minister use her good offices to ensure that the Government introduce amendments in another place to ban hymenoplasty and then encourage other countries around the world to stop these practices worldwide?

I am sure that all Members across this House will welcome the Government’s amendment yesterday to ban virginity testing. The evidence for a ban on hymenoplasty is mixed, so the Government have convened an independent expert panel to review all the evidence and look carefully at the issues, and that will report back to Ministers before Christmas.

It is HIV Testing Week in Wales, and yesterday I joined the Terrence Higgins Trust at Fast Track Cardiff and Vale to do my own free home testing kit. In Wales, everybody can get access to a free HIV test at home through Frisky Wales, but in some areas of England free home testing is not available to everyone. Will the Minister work with her Cabinet colleagues to follow where Wales leads and ensure that everyone in England can get access to a free HIV test kit if they wish to?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. Free testing is available across the NHS in England, and same-day test results are often possible. I will look at the specific issue of home testing kits, because it is important that everyone who needs a test has access to it.

One of the times that women most engage with healthcare services is when they are pregnant. My constituent Michelle, a qualified midwife, has contacted me, talking specifically about the importance of retention in midwifery and highlighting the crisis that she says there is. What is my hon. Friend doing to make sure that qualified, experienced midwives stay working at the frontline where we need them?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Maternity care is a top priority for the Government, and earlier this year NHS England announced a £95 million recurrent funding package to support the recruitment of 1,200 midwives and 100 consultant obstetricians. Maintaining both the skill mix and the numbers is key to retaining experienced midwives, who often have to take the pressure when there are staff shortages.


5. What steps she plans to take with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to tackle Islamophobia in sport. (904384)

I am sure the whole House has been appalled by recent reports of racism in cricket, a sad reminder that racial discrimination still exists within sport. There can be no place for it. Sports bodies must take robust action to tackle this behaviour. The Government and our sports councils are committed to ensuring that sport is inclusive for everyone, and will be watching; where action does not go far enough, the Government are prepared to step in.

It seems to me that we have an opportunity here to tackle hate crimes by raising them to the status of aggravated offences. Clearly, training and resources would have to follow that decision, but, while we can all say the right things and be quite correct in what we say about absolutely opposing Islamophobia and antisemitism, unless we do something concrete, we may have this problem for a lot longer than we think.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right: we must ensure that laws are constantly updated and reviewed. That goes for the offline world, but also the online one; I am sure he will be aware of the work we are doing, with cross-party support, on online safety to tackle the important issues he raises.

Ethnicity Pay Gap

We are considering the range of views and experiences outlined in responses to the ethnicity pay reporting consultation, further soundings from employers and the conclusions of the independent report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, and we will respond formally in due course.

Unlike the gender pay gap, there is no legal requirement for companies in the UK to publish their ethnicity pay gap. Research from the TUC has shown that black workers earn 12.8% less on average than their white counterparts, and the gap widens to almost one quarter less when comparing workers with degrees. The Labour party, the TUC, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the CBI are all calling for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. Can the Minister tell the House when the Government will follow suit and rectify this harmful practice?

As I said, we will respond in due course. In the meantime, voluntary reporting by employers exists and we have seen it increase over the past three years. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck, and that is what we are working through with consultation across the board.

Public Sexual Harassment: Legislation

7. What recent discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on gaps in existing legislation on public sexual harassment. (904386)

Public sexual harassment is appalling, and we are committed to tackling it. As set out in the tackling violence against women and girls strategy, we are looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing laws and how a specific offence could address those, while also engaging closely with campaigners.

Some 66% of young women and girls experience public sexual harassment, which has a huge impact on their confidence, their self-esteem and their mental health. It makes them feel unsafe and uncomfortable wearing, doing or saying things in public spaces. Therefore, we should make public sexual harassment a specific criminal offence. Will the Minister meet me and campaigners who want to see that happen, and look at a way forward on this serious issue?

I can assure the hon. Lady that we are taking the views of campaigners on board, and I and other Ministers meet with them regularly. As I have said, we are looking at whether there may be some specific legislative gaps, but it will always be a pleasure for me to meet her.

I thank the Minister for her response, but what specific discussions has she had on the recent increase in spikings that has unfortunately affected women and girls in south Wales?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue on behalf of young women and girls in his constituency. Drink spiking and needle spiking are horrific and frightening offences, and we are taking steps, led by the Home Secretary herself, working with Maggie Blyth, the chief of police leading the response to violence against women and girls across police forces, to ramp up our response and tackle them effectively.

The Minister says that spiking is frightening, but it is actually assault and often leads to further violence. The Government must look urgently at improving forensic provision in healthcare so that we can identify the perpetrators and boost public awareness of the risk of that horrific crime. How will she work with the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care to tackle the threats of spiking?

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the prevalence of spiking, which is why the Home Secretary is leading on action, via the Home Office and with other Government colleagues across the board, to ensure that we have an effective response. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) to the specific funding that the Home Office has put into the safety of women at night fund, which provides drink spiking detection kits and specific training for security staff so that women and young girls going out at night into the night-time economy can feel safe to have a good time, as we all want them to.

Conversion Therapy Ban: Faith-based Settings

8. Whether she plans to bring forward legislative proposals to ban sexual orientation and gender identity conversion therapy that occurs in religious or faith-based settings through prayer healing, faith declarations, religious conversion courses and other non-physical practices. (904387)

There is no place for the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy in our society. Our proposals will ensure that LGBT people can live their lives free from harm, will stop under-18s making irreversible decisions about their future, and will protect freedom of speech and choice.

The national LGBT survey found that 51% of conversion therapy happens in religious settings and Government-commissioned research found that adult victims often undertake religious conversion practices voluntarily, so the Government’s proposal to allow informed consent for conversion therapy will permit that abuse to continue and risks introducing consent defences to other forms of abuse, such as domestic violence. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether a conversion therapy ban will cover non-physical conversion practices in religious settings, including prayer? Will she remove the dangerous consent loophole?

What is important is that we ensure that people are not coerced into conversion therapy, but it is also important to protect freedom of speech, the ability of adults to consent and the freedom to express the teachings of—[Interruption.] I hear Opposition Members asking whether freedom of speech is a good thing. Yes, it is.

Autistic Children: Educational Support

9. What steps she is taking with the Secretary of State for Education to help ensure that autistic children receive appropriate educational support under equalities legislation. (904389)

Education settings are required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled children, including those with autism, under the Equality Act 2010. The “SEND code of practice” sets out detailed guidance on meeting children’s needs. Through the new autism strategy, published in July, the Government set out our vision to make life fundamentally better for autistic people by 2026, including in education.

A recent report from the National Autistic Society said that a quarter of autistic children can wait more than three years to receive the extra support they need. Does the Minister agree that that is an equalities issue? What conversations will he have in the Department for Education to ensure that schools and councils get the funding that they need to carry out special educational needs and disabilities assessments and make the right provision?

As an Education Minister, of course I want every child to fulfil their potential. I am committed to speaking to and working with children, families, parents, carers and SEND experts, including the National Autistic Society, which I met this week as part of a stakeholder roundtable. I am always happy to listen to the voices of sector leaders and I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady.

Topical Questions

I am delighted that Katharine Birbalsingh has begun her new role as the chair of the Social Mobility Commission. By expecting high standards and not indulging in the soft bigotry of low expectations, she produced fantastic results at the Michaela Community School and gave children the best chance in life. We want her to bring that same attitude to the commission and be a loud champion of equality of opportunity by focusing on education, employment and enterprise, levelling up opportunity and unleashing the full potential of our great country.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to tackling disparity in our healthcare, which is particularly important when it comes to maternity care. I ask the Minister to speak to her colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care about Tameside Hospital, where there is a desperate need for capital funding in a new maternity unit and antenatal clinic. The current unit is located in the Charlesworth Building, which was built in 1971 and is poorly insulated, so sensitive clinical equipment often overheats. The capital funding bid badly needs support and I hope that she will work with me on it to deliver better healthcare for the women of High Peak.

Maternity care is a top priority for this Government, and we are making progress. Since 2010, we have seen a 25% reduction in stillbirths and a 29% reduction in neonatal mortality. On the new maternity unit at Tameside, I understand that the Acorn birth centre opened last year and has been well received locally, but I am happy to discuss further improvements with my hon. Friend.

This morning, we learned that domestic abuse-related crimes have doubled in the last five years, but the number of prosecutions has fallen every year in the same period. A few minutes ago, the Foreign Secretary rightly lamented violence against women and girls across the world. When will she get a grip on the catastrophic situation facing many women and girls in our own country?

This Government were the first Government to pass the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to set out for the first time on the statute book protections for women and girls and other victims of domestic abuse. This is a sweeping piece of legislation, and we are working at pace to drive actions to increase prosecutions across the entire criminal justice system, backed up by a significant investment in our courts to address the backlog.

I regret that the Minister does not appear to have seen the figures from this morning. If she had, she would know that her Government’s measures are not working. I thought she would mention additional measures that are required: increasing sentences for stalking and domestic murder; introducing new defences for victims; stopping the social security, family courts and migration systems from failing victims; and making serial abusers subject to special supervision. Labour has called for all of these measures. When will the Conservatives enact them?

I can tell the hon. Lady that the Conservatives are already enacting the vast majority of that long list she has just recited. As I said, we are the first Government to put domestic abuse legislation on the statute book. I would invite her to attend Home Office questions and address the Home Secretary directly to hear about the vast amount we are doing to protect women and girls in this country, which is a personal priority of the Prime Minister.

T3. Does the Minister agree that improving trust in and legitimacy of key public officials and institutions in areas such as law enforcement, immigration and health, particularly in communities where historically they have been low, is absolutely essential, and what steps does she intend to take to level up in this vital area? (904372)

Building trust between different communities and the institutions that serve them was a central theme of the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. We will respond to the report shortly, setting out our plans for building back fairer, and I can assure my hon. Friend that his concerns will be at the heart of our response.

T2. Between March and June this year, self-harm for women in prison grew by a staggering 47%. Is the Minister aware that the best health outcome for women with children is not incarceration in prison, but a sentence in the community? Can the Minister say how she is pursuing this with the Secretary of State for Justice? (904371)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that very important point. I do not have the Ministry of Justice figures to hand, but what I can do is get one of my colleagues in that Department to write to her with a more specific and comprehensive answer to her question.

Does the Minister agree that it is time to better protect women from abuse and harassment, and the vehicle to do this is the Online Safety Bill?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. No one should feel afraid to participate in our democracy. Intimidation in public life can stop talented people, such as my hon. Friend, and those from minority backgrounds from standing for public office.

T4. When it comes to inequalities, young carers very often lose out. Can I invite Ministers to come and look at a wonderful organisation in Wick called KLICS, which really is delivering a service that means a huge amount to young people? (904373)

T5. Dame Laura Cox recently argued:“The macho behaviour and posturing so frequently displayed in our political debates have disproportionately and adversely affected women in public life.” She added that not just politicians but“women journalists, academics, campaigners and political activists have all reported instances of intimidation, abuse and even physical violence.”What does the Minister believe that we can do collectively to change this culture? (904374)

The hon. Lady is right: we do need to deal with the culture in our politics, and we need to make sure that we have rational, reasonable debates. I think we are demonstrating that today.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on [Interruption.] I do not think we need any more interruptions. If Members listen to this next bit, it might help.

I wish to make one further point. There were many reflections on Sir David Amess’s decency and kindness at the very moving requiem mass held yesterday. I sincerely hope that those qualities of kindness and decency are reflected in our proceedings today and in the future.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Thank you, Mr Speaker. This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. [Interruption.] Thank you very much. Immediately following Prime Minister’s questions, I will attend the welcome home march-in to thank all those involved in Op Pitting, our evacuation from Kabul. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I, too, will be attending in a few minutes’ time.

Nikki’s seven-year-old son had 37 seizures a day because of a brain disease he suffered from. He has had surgery now, but it is a struggle every day to get him to stay in school. Nikki is supporting the Acquired Brain Injury Bill because she believes that the Government need a cross-departmental strategy for supporting those who have an acquired brain injury, whether that is rugby players with concussion and dementia, women who have been beaten in the head by their partners, children who have suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning, or soldiers who have been in explosions. I really hope that the Government are going to back the Acquired Brain Injury Bill, but above all we need a strategy to help 1.4 million people in this country. Will the Prime Minister give us that?

I thank the hon. Member for raising this vital issue and for his personal commitment to this cause. I can assure him that we are studying his proposed Bill and working to ensure that people do get support for the acquired brain injuries that they have received. What we can certainly pledge at this stage—I hope this will be of some use to him and the many who care about this issue in the way that he does, as I am sure Members do across the House—is that the Department of Health and Social Care will lead on the development of a cross-departmental Government strategy on acquired brain injury and other neurological conditions. I will be very happy to share details with him shortly.

Q3. In July this year, my constituency, Kensington, suffered devastating flooding, with more than 2,000 homes flooded, a river running down Portobello Road and a lot of residents having to move into temporary accommodation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Thames Water needs to come up with short and long-term solutions, and that it needs to make sufficient investment in infrastructure to prevent such events from happening again? (904332)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise flooding, and she is right about short and long-term solutions. That is why I am proud, among other things, to have helped to instigate the Thames Tideway Tunnel, with the biggest super-sewer in the history of this country, which will help to deal with what happens in London when the Bazalgette interceptors overflow and to deal with flooding throughout the city.

At the last election, the Prime Minister promised that nobody would have to sell their home to pay for care. That is another broken promise, isn’t it?

No, because if the right hon. and learned Gentleman looked at what we are proposing and if he supported what we are proposing—it is fixing something that Labour never fixed in all its years in office. We are saying to the people of this country that we will disregard their home as part of their assets if they and their spouse are living in it. No. 2, you can have a deferred payments agreement if you move out and are living in residential care. Most important of all, by putting the huge investment we are making now in health and social care, we are allowing, for the first time, the people of this country to insure themselves against the otherwise potentially catastrophic costs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Even if you are not one of those people who suffer from those afflictions, we are taking away the anxiety from millions of people up and down the land about their homes.

I think the Prime Minister just described the broken system he said he was fixing. It is certainly not a straight answer. Let us have another go. He used to say—[Interruption.] I see they’ve turned up this week, Prime Minister. [Interruption.]

Order. I do not think we need any further shouting. Yesterday, we had a very good example of the House at its best, in the cathedral. Please, let us show some respect. I want to be able to hear not only the Prime Minister, but the Leader of the Opposition. Shouting each other down does not do you or your constituents any good. We need to hear the questions and I certainly need to hear the answers. And if anybody does not like it, please leave now.

It is not a complicated question, so let us have another go. The Prime Minister used to say that nobody would have to sell their home to pay for their care—it is in his manifesto, right here. On the basis of that promise, he then put up tax on every working person in the country. Has he done what he promised and ensured that nobody will have to sell their home to pay for care, yes or no? It is not complicated.

No, it is not complicated, because what we are doing is disregarding your home as part of the assets that we calculate. If you go down to £100,000, that is the beginning of where we will ask you to contribute, but your home is not included in that. Labour has absolutely no plan. It has spent decades failing to address this. Only a few weeks ago, Labour Members failed to vote for the £36 billion that will enable us to fix this and to help people up and down the country—not just to fix the social care problem, but to pay for people to live in their own homes and receive the care they need in their homes. That is what this one nation Conservative Government are doing. Why will the right hon. and learned Gentleman not support it?

The Prime Minister has had two opportunities to stand by his manifesto commitment and he has not taken them. [Interruption.] He says he just has, so let us test this in the real world. Under the Prime Minister’s plans, a person with assets worth about £100,000, most of it tied up in their home, would have to pay £80,000. They would lose almost everything. How on earth does the Prime Minister think that they can get their hands on that kind of money without selling their home?

I am going to have a third go at trying to clear this up in the befuddled mind of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because it is important. The fact is that the Labour party has totally failed to address this. It has not had the guts to fix this in all its time in office. It is something left over from the Attlee Government and we are fixing it. Let me repeat for the third time: your home is disregarded. No. 2, even if you have a second—if you are in residential care, you have a deferred payments agreement. No. 3, we are allowing you to insure yourself for the first time against catastrophic consequences by capping it at £86,000. He stood on a manifesto to put the cap where? At £100,000!

The question was really simple, and it is the question that all his Back Benchers are asking. If you have a house worth about £120,000 to £140,000, how do you find £80,000-plus without selling your home? It is common sense.

Strip away the bluster, strip away the deflection and strip away the refusal to answer the question and there is the simple truth—and this is why the Prime Minister will not address it: people will still be forced to sell their home to pay for care. Why do they—[Interruption.] Look at the vote the other day to see the answer to that question. People will still be forced to sell their home.

It is another broken promise, just like the Prime Minister promised that he would not put up tax; just like he promised 40 new hospitals; just like he promised a rail revolution in the north. Who knows if he will make it to the next election, but if he does, how does he expect anyone to take him and his promises seriously?

Yet again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises the rail revolution in the north: three new high-speed lines and £96 billion—[Interruption.] Again, nothing like it for a century. Just for the advantage of hon. Members, I did not even know this—I was in a state of complete innocence about this last week—but it turns out that he actually campaigned against HS2 altogether. He said it would be “devastating” and that it should be cancelled. I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that HS2 runs through my constituency as well, and even though it has been very tough for my constituents, I took a decision that it was the right thing to do for the long-term interests of the whole country. How can they possibly trust that man?

I think the Prime Minister has lost his place in his notes again. The only thing he is delivering is high taxes, high prices and low growth. I am not sure that he should be shouting about that.

It is not just broken promises; it is also about fairness. Everyone needs protection against massive health and care costs, but under the Prime Minister’s plans, someone with assets worth about £100,000 will lose almost everything; yet somebody with assets of about £1 million will keep almost everything. It is just like the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto all over again, only this time something has changed: he has picked the pockets of working people to protect the estates of the wealthiest. How could he possibly have managed to devise a working-class dementia tax?

I think I have answered that question three times already. This does more for working people up and down the country than Labour ever did, because we are actually solving the problem that Labour failed to address. We are disregarding your housing asset altogether while you are in it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about jobs and working people. Let me remind him of one key statistic that people should bear in mind. He talks about the economy, and now, almost a month after furlough ended, there are more people in work than there were before the pandemic began. That is because of the policies that the Government have pursued.

There is no getting away from it: working people are being asked to pay twice. During their working lives, they will pay much more tax in national insurance, while those living off wealth are protected. When they retire, they face having to sell their home, when the wealthiest will not have to do so. It is a classic con game—a Covent Garden pickpocketing operation. The Prime Minister is the front man, distracting people with wild promises and panto speeches, while his Chancellor dips his hand in their pocket.

But now the Prime Minister’s routine is falling flat. His Chancellor is worried that people are getting wise. His Back Benchers say that it is “embarrassing”—their word. Senior people in Downing Street tell the BBC, “It’s just not working.” Is everything okay, Prime Minister?

I will tell you what is not working, Mr Speaker: that line of attack. I just want to repeat the crucial point: we are delivering for the working people of this country. We are delivering for the people of this country, we are fixing the problems that they thought could never be fixed, and we are doing things that they thought were impossible. Let me repeat: there are now more people in work in this country—jobs up, with their wages going up—than there were before the pandemic began. That is because of the policies that this Government have followed. Whether it is on rolling out the vaccine, which the House will remember the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposed; whether it is on investment, which he opposed—[Interruption] He did; he did not want to invest in the vaccine taskforce, I seem to remember. Or whether it is making the strategic investments that we have made, if we had listened to Captain Hindsight, we would have no HS2 at all. That was what he stood for. If we had listened to him, we would all still be in lockdown.

Q4. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will use the rest of the UK’s presidency of the conference of the parties to urge countries around the world to make good on the pledges that they made in Glasgow? Does he agree that decarbonisation can create millions of jobs across the UK and around the world? (904333)

I totally agree with my right hon. Friend, who is right about this and many other things. That is why our transition to green jobs is supporting 440,000 new green high-wage, high-skill jobs across the UK. The breakthrough agenda that we endorsed at COP26 will, I believe, support between 20 million and 30 million jobs across the world by 2030—and I think that that is probably a gross underestimate.

I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you will wish to join me and the rest of the House in welcoming the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Lord Wallace, to the Gallery today and thanking him for the sage words of his sermon this morning.

The past few weeks have shown this Tory Government at their very worst: a Tory sleaze and corruption scandal on a scale not seen since the 1990s, Tory cuts and tax rises that will leave millions of people worse off, and a litany of broken promises, from HS2 to carbon capture, social care and the triple lock on pensions. And who can possibly forget the £20 billion bridge to Ireland that evaporated into thin air?

At the centre of it all is one man: a Prime Minister who is floundering in failure. I ask the Prime Minister: with his party falling in the polls and his colleagues briefing against him, has he considered calling it a day before he is pushed out the door?

I think that what the people of this country want to hear is less talk about politics and politicians. They want to talk about what the Government are doing for the people of Scotland—and what the Scottish Government are doing for the people of Scotland, which is not enough.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about infrastructure investment. I can tell him that if he waits until Friday, I think, or later this week, he will hear about what we will do with the Union connectivity review to ensure that the people of Scotland are served with the connections they need, which the Scottish nationalist party has totally failed to put in.

That certainly was not an answer to the question that I asked, but we are used to that. I did not expect the Prime Minister to take responsibility because he never does, but this is not just about the chaos in the Conservative party; it is about the state of the United Kingdom under his failing leadership. While the Prime Minister spends his time hunting for chatty pigs and staving off a leadership challenge from the Treasury, people in the real world are suffering a Tory cost-of-living crisis. Brexit is hitting the economy hard, but the Prime Minister cannot even give a coherent speech to business. The Prime Minister’s officials have lost confidence in him, Tory MPs have lost confidence in him—the letters are going in—and the public have lost confidence in him. Why is he clinging on, when it is clear that he is simply not up to the job?

I might ask the right hon. Gentleman what on earth he thinks he is doing, talking about party political issues when all that the people of Scotland want to hear is what on earth the Scottish national Government are doing. They are falling in the polls—[Interruption.] Yes, they are. Their cause is falling in the polls, and considering their manifold failures on tax, on education, on all the things that the people of Scotland really care about, I am not surprised—and I can see some agreement on the Benches opposite.

Q8. I celebrate the recent successes of Woking College, my local sixth-form college, and I welcome the recent Government investment in a new teaching block, which will allow it to expand. Many colleges and students find BTECs to be a really valuable qualification and course, enabling people to progress to higher education and skilled employment. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should protect student choice, and keep BTECs as an option for students? (904337)

Yes, we will continue to fund some BTECs where there is a clear need for them, but I must stress that we have to close the gap between the things that people study and the needs of business and employers, and that is what T-levels are designed to do.

I rarely agree with the Prime Minister, but last week, when he said that COP26 showed that we could end our reliance on fossil fuels, I did agree with him. That, however, prompts the question of why his Government are pressing ahead not just with the Cambo oilfield, but with 39 other oil, gas and coal developments, which would amount to three times the UK’s current annual climate emissions.

I do not want to hear an answer that is about all the things the Prime Minister thinks he is doing on cars and cash and trees. I want him to tell the House whether he will leave those fossil fuels in the ground. Will he cancel those projects, and does he recognise that if he does not, he will need to ask forgiveness not just for losing his place in a speech, but for losing the future of our children?

Not only are we powering past coal towards the ending of fossil fuel reliance in our energy generation by 2024, which is absolutely stunning, and we are ahead of countries throughout the world—I am glad the hon. Lady is praising me for that, although, as she knows, the Cambo oilfield is a matter for study by an independent regulator—but what we have also done, and led the world in doing, is stop the financing of overseas hydrocarbons. That is a fantastic thing, which the whole world followed.

Q9. Net zero, levelling up and building back better cannot happen without a massive increase in the supply of critical tech minerals such as silicon, copper and lithium, but Beijing controls most of those. In the light of China’s recent tech minerals leverage on Japan, does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of our green industrial revolution hinges on advancing our indigenous silicon valley? Now that we are free of the EU, what fiscal incentives can he provide to make that happen at pace? (904338)

As my right hon. Friend knows, there are some very interesting and potentially very lucrative sources of minerals such as lithium in this country, whose exploration, discovery and reuse we are encouraging. As for the tax point that he rightly raised, we will ensure that we support freeports as hubs for the processing of those critical minerals here in the UK.

In 2014, my constituent’s three-year-old son Freddie Hussey was killed by an unsafe trailer. Every year, 30% of people who take the B+E test fail it, and now the Government are abolishing it, thus unleashing thousands of untrained, untested, unsafe drivers on to our roads. Why are the Government breaking their promise to grieving families to make towing and our roads safer?

I thank the hon. Lady very much for raising this with me, and I am very sorry to hear about the tragic circumstances of Freddie’s death. We want to free up B + E licensing time so that we can get more people qualified as HGV drivers, but that cannot compromise road safety, as she rightly says, so we will review the legislation and its consequences at regular intervals.

Q14. From 2 to 5 December, Lincoln will be hosting its world-famous Christmas market in the grounds of the historic Lincoln castle, and it would be remiss of me not to invite my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and yourself, Mr Speaker, and all other colleagues, even those on the Opposition Front Bench, to come and enjoy the marvellous long weekend of festivities. However, what is less than marvellous for my constituents is the levelling down of Lincolnshire’s highway maintenance grant by 25% on 2019-20 levels. Can my right hon. Friend use his influence to cause the Treasury and the Department for Transport to revisit that unfortunate decision? Restoring the grant to 2019-20 levels is imperative to the safety of my constituents, whether in vehicles, cycling or walking, as I would hope my right hon. Friend agrees. (904343)

I thank my hon. Friend very much for his question and I will do my utmost—he has invited everybody, and I hope that a lot of people will be going to Lincoln. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will have listened carefully to what he had to say.

Q6.   “Inexplicable” is how the former vaccine taskforce chair Kate Bingham described this Government’s decision to cancel their contract with Livingston-based vaccine developer Valneva—a company that the Prime Minister has himself visited. She also noted how shoddily Valneva had been treated and how damaging his Government’s decision had been for UK life sciences, exports and jobs in my Livingston constituency, where a state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing plant now lies unfinished. There has been no apology for the incorrect statements in the House, so will the Prime Minister please meet me and representatives of Valneva, and will he tell me whether his Government have tabled proposals to reach the amicable resolution that was promised from the Dispatch Box? If not, when will they do so? (904335)

I was personally very disappointed when we could not get approval for the Valneva vaccine in the way that we had hoped, and I know how disappointing that was to colleagues in Scotland. I will certainly ensure that the hon. Member gets the relevant meeting. What we are doing is investing massively in this country’s vaccine capability across the country so that we are prepared for the next pandemic, and I very much hope that Valneva will be part of that.

Q15. We know that serious side-effects from the covid vaccines are very rare, but that was not the case for my constituent Sarah Kyte. She suffered a very serious reaction, leaving her in constant pain and losing most of her eyesight. She now cannot work. The Prime Minister has successfully and quite rightly speeded up all the vaccine processes except one: the vaccine damage payments system. Can we now get on with making those payments to people who have suffered these serious reactions, to give them the financial support that they need? (904344)

I want to reassure my hon. Friend, and indeed the House and the country, that cases such as the very sad one that he raises are extremely rare. We are putting in more money to gather evidence for claims such as one that he describes, but I want to repeat what is perhaps the most important message that I can get across today, which is how vital the vaccination programme is, how safe it is and how important it is that everybody who is eligible gets their booster when they are called.

Q7.   The Government’s integrated review has concluded that the Chinese state poses a systemic challenge to our national security, and the Prime Minister has made it clear that when it comes to China, we must remain vigilant about our critical national infrastructure. Can he therefore confirm unequivocally today that plans for China General Nuclear to own and operate its own plant at Bradwell in Essex have been abandoned, and explain to the House precisely how and when his Government intend to remove CGN’s interest from the Sizewell C nuclear project? (904336)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. Clearly, one of the consequences of our approach on critical national infrastructure in the National Security and Investment Bill is that we do not want to see undue influence by potentially adversarial countries in our critical national infrastructure. That is why we have taken the decisions that we have. On Bradwell, there will be more information forthcoming—[Interruption.] What I do not want to do is pitchfork away wantonly all Chinese investment in this country, or minimise the importance to this country of having a trading relationship with China.

The Prime Minister will be very pleased that Shrewsbury Conservatives are doing everything possible to help Neil Shastri-Hurst, the excellent candidate in North Shropshire. He will also know that the No. 1 issue affecting Salopians at the moment is the £312 million that we have secured for the modernisation of our A&E services. This has suffered terrible delays over the past eight years, leading to a worsening of our A&E services for local patients. Will he do everything possible to help us finally get it across the line so that we can provide safe A&E services for all the people of Shropshire and mid-Wales?

That is one of the reasons why we are now investing £36 billion more in our NHS to help cope with the backlog and the extra winter pressures, particularly on A&E. It is also a reason why the booster programme is so vital, because we do not want those beds filled with covid patients and we do not want delayed discharges either.

Q10. The Prime Minister’s Government have found billions for nuclear but nothing for the Scottish carbon capture cluster and nothing for pumped-storage hydro. Now the Government are at risk of failing tidal stream generation, a technology in which Scotland is a world leader. The ask is for a £71 million ringfenced marine port in next month’s energy auction. The Prime Minister has a choice: provide this money and allow continued scaling up and commercial success, based on a UK supply chain, or see the manufacturing jobs move abroad. What is it going to be? (904339)

I am glad the hon. Gentleman asks that question, because I can tell him and the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) that we will be including support for tidal stream to the value of £20 million in the upcoming contract for difference auction—[Interruption.] Come on, that is not to be sneezed at. I have met representatives of Scottish tidal power. What they are doing is fantastic, original and inventive, and we want to support it.

I have been out campaigning with our excellent candidate in the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election, Louie French, and the responses on the doorstep are very good—[Interruption.] The Opposition know nothing, as usual.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to implement our 2019 manifesto by implementing policies to ensure that we build up better for the whole country, including London, as that is what the electors in Bexley want?

Yes, I will. I have happy memories of many years of campaigning with my right hon. Friend in Old Bexley and Sidcup. We are delivering on our agenda for the people of London, putting 20,000 more police out on the streets and making sure they get to outer London boroughs, too. We are also making sure that Londoners do not suffer from the crazed outer London tax that would see motorists penalised by the Labour Mayor for driving into their own city.

Q11. The Cherwell Larder in Kidlington does incredible work to serve nearly 2,000 of my most vulnerable constituents, but there simply is not enough food to go around at the moment. This is a national crisis. The stock of charities such as FareShare is down 30%, in part due to the same supply chain issues that are affecting supermarkets. First, will the Prime Minister help the Cherwell Larder by restoring the funding of FareShare? And what more can he do to incentivise businesses to give away surplus food this winter so that no family need go hungry this Christmas? (904340)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising FareShare and I thank it for what it is doing to support people this winter, and indeed at all times. My experience is that businesses do an amazing job of contributing to this effort. Iceland is one company that springs to mind.

We are addressing the supply chains night and day, and we are seeing some of the problems starting to ease. They are the result of the British economy and the world economy coming back to life, which frankly would not have happened if we had listened to the Leader of the Opposition.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was bang on when he spoke on Monday about ending the unfairness of our high energy-intensive industries paying more than is paid overseas. We know that he is a friend to steel in Scunthorpe, so will he continue to do all he can to ensure that my world-class steelmakers are on a fair footing?

I thank my hon. Friend for everything she does for steel and for Scunthorpe. I can tell her that I do believe British steel has suffered, as a result of decisions taken years and years ago, from unfair energy costs—we need to fix it. This Government are getting on with making another of the long-term changes we are instituting: we are putting in the nuclear base-load that this country has long been deprived of.

Q12. In a couple of weeks’ time I will be introducing a Bill to ban the importing of hunting trophies. Not only has that had widespread public support and support from Opposition parties, but in the past the principle has been supported by Conservative manifestos, the Queen’s Speech and indeed the Prime Minister himself. So on Friday 10 December will the Prime Minister tell his Whips not to block the Bill, but to let it go forward, so that we can work together and end this vile trade as soon as possible? (904341)

The right hon. Gentleman is completely right, which is why we are going to introduce legislation in this Parliament to ban the import of hunting trophies and to deliver the change that we promised. I hope that he will support it.

The Prime Minister cheered all of my constituents up when he came to south-west Hertfordshire and said that we were going to have a new hospital. Sadly, even though the money is there, the local management of our trust have blocked it; they are going to refurbish Watford’s hospital and not give us a brand-new hospital on a greenfield site, which is what we want. Will the Prime Minister meet me and some of my constituents to unblock this and tell the NHS that it needs to build a new hospital for Hemel Hempstead?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I do remember the issue being raised with me when I was with him. I will be very happy to secure a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who I am sure will be able to unblock things, one way or the other.

13. Scots stood slack-jawed with astonishment this week at the news that the Prime Minister has abandoned his DUP bridge to Northern Ireland—perhaps he will offer hot air balloons for the crossing instead, and inflate them himself. We have broken bridge promises to Scotland and broken rail promises to northern England. With buyer’s remorse consuming the Tory Back Benchers, who does he think will be defenestrated first, his hapless Tory leader in Scotland or himself? (904342)

I just want to remind the Scottish nationalist party that they are there to represent the people of Scotland and to deliver better services—better transport and better healthcare. The hon. Gentleman talks about transport, so I will tell him what I said to the leader of the SNP in Westminster: what we are delivering is the first thoroughgoing review of Union connectivity, so that we look properly at all those roads, the A75, the A77 and the A1—all those vital connections for the people of Scotland that have been neglected by the SNP and that this Government are going to fix.

I am absolutely delighted with the half a billion-pounds Start4Life funding that was announced in the Budget. My right hon. Friend knows from personal experience how important those early years are, whether we are talking about parenting advice, access to healthcare or age-appropriate theme parks. Does he agree that rolling out family hubs to 75 local authority areas is a great start? Will he confirm that it if it a successful programme, the Government’s aim is to roll it out across the whole country?

I thank my hon. Friend very much and she is totally right in what she says about Start4Life. I am just looking to see whether my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) is still in her place. She has vanished, but I want to thank her because she has championed this for many, many years. My hon. Friend is right to say that investment in kids’ early years is absolutely crucial. That is why this Government have begun Start4Life and, yes, if it works, we will roll it out across the country.