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Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2021

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.