Before the debate begins, I have to remind Members that, as “Erskine May” says:
“Good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language. Parliamentary language is never more desirable than when a Member is canvassing the opinions and conduct of his opponents in debate.”
The reason why that matters in this particular debate and does not really occur in other debates is that this debate is on a substantive motion directly relating to the conduct of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson).
In this debate, because it is on a substantive motion of this kind, arguments intended to criticise or defend that conduct are in order. Therefore things may be said that the Chair would not normally permit in other proceedings. However, those speaking in favour of the motion should set out their arguments clearly. Intemperate abuse is as out of order on this motion as much as on any other.
I am quite sure the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) will already have borne in mind all that I have just said.
I beg to move,
That this House censures the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, for frequently violating the sixth Principle of Public Life, for seeking to undermine the recommendations of the Standards Committee on Owen Paterson, for regularly ignoring independent advice on matters such as international treaties and breaches of the Ministerial Code by his ministers, for putting forward proposals to diminish the powers of the Electoral Commission, for ignoring independent advice concerning the granting of peerages to Conservative party donors and nominations to public bodies such as Ofcom; and further calls for his ministerial salary to be reduced by £41,567 per year.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your guidance to the House on conduct in this debate. I am sure you will want to join me in wishing everyone a happy St Andrew’s Day.
Happy St Andrew’s Day to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to all hon. and right hon. Members.
The Scottish National party tabled this motion of censure against the Prime Minister because we believe in a very basic principle, and we believe the public do, too: those in power deserve to face consequences for their disastrous actions, and they need to be held to account.
The charge sheet against the Prime Minister is, indeed, damning. In the past few weeks alone, he ripped up anti-lobbying rules when one of his own was found guilty, he is attempting to restrict the right to judicial review and he is seeking to undermine the independence of the Electoral Commission. But it did not start there, and it definitely does not end there.
Since coming into office a little over two years ago, the Prime Minister has been up to his neck in scandals involving cash for honours, cash for contracts, texts for tax breaks and even cash for curtains. As the motion states, he is constantly breaking the sixth principle of public life, the duty to be truthful.
Month after month, scandal after scandal, the charge sheet gets longer and longer, but not a single person is held to account. If the public are to have confidence in this place, that needs to change, and it needs to change today. Because unless the Prime Minister faces consequences—unless he is censured—he will not just think he has gotten away with the mess he has made over the last few months; he will think he will be able to do it over and over again. Let us be very clear: if the Prime Minister is not properly censured today, it will also be final proof that the Tories really do believe that its one rule for them and one rule for everybody else.
I remind Conservative Members that we have all been witness to events over the past number of weeks. They might want to forget what has happened, but the public definitely have not. The Tories marched through the Lobby—
I will give way in due course. The Tories marched through the Lobby to undermine our parliamentary standards process, to tear up the rule books, all in order to protect a friend of the Prime Minister who was found to have broken the rules. This whole sorry episode showed this Parliament at its very worst—and, trust me, that is saying something. The Government Chief Whip and the Leader of the House are easy scapegoats, but we all know that this was orchestrated by a Prime Minister who thinks he is untouchable, who thinks he can do as he pleases. This is a Prime Minister who thinks he can change the rules at will and who believes that if the rules become inconvenient, they can simply be changed. So the question stands today: how much does it really take for Tory MPs to say enough is enough?
How far standards have fallen is shown by the fact that the charges I have made against the Prime Minister are not even in dispute—they are all matters of public record. The Prime Minister has even admitted that in managing these scandals he personally
“crashed the car into the ditch”.
It tells us all we need to know, though, that he did not even have the decency to admit that in the House of Commons. He only felt the need to admit his mistakes and apologise to his Back Benchers in the Tory 1922 committee, and it was only because they were muttering about mutiny. I am not sure that apology counts if he only did it to try to save his own skin.
But no matter how much the Prime Minister tries to publicly wash his hands of responsibility for his actions, the public have already cast their verdict. The Tories may be sliding in the polls, but it is as nothing compared to the hammering the Prime Minister is taking in the court of public opinion. In the last week, his approval ratings have hit an all-time low, and there is one only simple reason behind it: the public know that that the Prime Minister is at the rotten core of all these scandals.
A natural comparison has been drawn with the Major Government in the early 1990s, but even that comparison fails to properly get to the scale of corruption that has occurred, much of it in plain sight. The difference between this Prime Minister and John Major was that Major took action to address the sleaze and corruption. This Prime Minister is at the centre of the sleaze and corruption—he is orchestrating much of it. I am afraid corruption is the only proper word—the only honest word—for what has been going on. As I said at the weekend, the Leader of the Opposition—I do wonder where Opposition Members are—is now very fond of repeating the line that when it comes to the Prime Minister
“the joke isn’t funny anymore”.
But in truth it was never funny, and we are all now living with the consequences of having a man like this in Downing Street.
It is also important to reflect on just how damaging recent weeks and months have been to the public’s faith in politics. Because each and every one of these scandals erodes standards, erodes trust and ultimately erodes democracy itself.
In the middle of the Owen Paterson scandal, the Prime Minister said:
“I genuinely believe that the UK is not remotely a corrupt country and I genuinely think that our institutions are not corrupt.”
The problem for the Prime Minister is that the public disagree with him: a recent Savanta ComRes poll found that 54% of those asked thought that the UK Government were corrupt. If the Prime Minister wants to know why, he has only to look in the mirror.
In the eyes of the public this is a UK Government who have normalised sleaze and are now trying to normalise corruption. This is the Tory Government’s attempt at a new normal in which no one is held responsible, no one is held to account and no one ever—not ever—resigns. That is exactly why consequences are so important and why this censure motion matters: it can only ever become a new normal if we all put up with it. [Interruption.] This is a debate that matters to people in the United Kingdom. We can hear the behaviour and the catcalling of Government Members and it sums up the attempt to shut down democracy and our right to raise these important matters in this House.
A new normal becomes possible only if we do not hold the Government to account and do not make them answer for their actions. I genuinely ask Government Members, if they have any interest in maintaining some dignity and decency in public life, finally to hold the Prime Minister to account and censure him for his abuse of power.
Let me take one example of that abuse of power: the cash-for-honours scandal. Fifteen of the Tory party’s main treasurers who happened to hand over £3 million to the party were somehow given life peerages in the House of Lords, as if by magic. Twenty-two of the Tory party’s top financial backers all happen to have been given peerages since 2010. In total, this group has stuffed Tory party coffers with £54 million— [Interruption.] “Hear, hear!” That sums it up. The Conservatives see it as a virtue that if someone gives multimillion pounds to the Conservative party, they end up in the House of Lords. My goodness! What price democracy?
Let us take Lord Cruddas, a leading donor to the Vote Leave campaign who, let us not forget, bankrolled the Prime Minister’s Conservative leadership bid. He personally gave up to £4 million in donations to the Tory party and affiliates. His reward? An ermine robe and a seat in the House of Lords. What is worse is that the Prime Minister personally overruled the House of Lords Appointments Commission that advised against his appointment. That was the very first time that the watchdog’s recommendation has ever been ignored. Three days after Lord Cruddas was introduced to the House of Lords, what happened? He handed £500,000 to Conservative central office. I will gladly give way to anyone on the Tory Benches who wants to stand up and justify that level of sleaze.
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope he will be very careful about precisely what he says about any Member of the House of Lords because, of course, any Member of the House of Lords is also a parliamentarian. It is of course in order for the right hon. Gentleman to examine the conduct of the Member who is the subject of the motion, but that does not extend to other Members of Parliament, including those in the Lords.
What I am reflecting on is the behaviour of the Prime Minister that puts Members in the House of Lords, when the House of Lords Appointments Commission has ruled against their appointment. I have given the opportunity to anyone on the Tory Benches who wishes to rise to defend the actions of putting Tory donors in the Lords. It is £3 million for a peerage in the House of Lords. What a price to be able to undermine our democracy!
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. As no Government Member wishes to intervene on him, I wonder whether he might agree with me on this: is it not somewhat ironic that SNP Members demonstrate more probity and more respect for the rule of democracy than does the current Prime Minister, and is this not yet another compelling reason why Scotland should be an independent country, so that we can have a system of governance that is fair, democratic and transparent?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course, he is absolutely correct. We are speaking about the House of Lords. The House of Lords is the second largest parliamentary Chamber in the world. The only Chamber that is bigger is the Communist Congress. My goodness, what an advert for democracy! The fact is that these unelected Lords have a say over our democracy. The juxtaposition—the point that is made by my hon. Friend—is an important one. Today, we are discussing the behaviour of the Prime Minister and why he should be sanctioned. Yet in Scotland, just seven months ago, the people of our country were given the right to have a say in their Government. Crucially, they were given a right to have a say on the future of our country as an independent country, because the SNP made it very clear in that election that it was about a mandate for an independence referendum. Indeed, the Conservatives made it clear that a vote for the Conservatives was a vote to stop Scottish independence, and what happened?
We are talking about democracy and respecting democracy, so let us tell the Conservatives a few harsh truths. In the four elections that we have fought in the Scottish Parliament that we have won, we have increased our vote at every election. We received just short of 48% of the popular vote at that last election. That is a higher share of the vote than any party has had in any election in the United Kingdom for the past 50 years. On the topic of respecting democracy, of respecting the people’s sovereignty, then Boris Johnson must recognise that the Scottish Parliament, where there is a majority for Scottish independence, has the right to call that referendum.
The point is that the Prime Minister must respect democracy. He denies democracy when he stuffs the Lords with his Tory donor friends, but he must respect democracy when people in Scotland have voted for a Parliament that has a right to call a referendum to take us out of this toxic Union and find a way back for us as an independent country in the European Union.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He understands, I think, that a debate tends to be a two-way thing and not just a diatribe delivered to the House.
May I politely suggest that, if he wishes to restore confidence in this House, he could have chosen a subject for debate today that was of relevance to the people of Scotland—global warming, education, health—and not this rather lame subject, which, I suspect, is something of no consequence whatsoever to most people working very hard in Scotland.
Really, really. We are talking about corruption and sleaze—about a Prime Minister who forces Conservative MPs to go through the Lobby to get one of their own off a charge against parliamentary standards, and who rewards those who give money to the Tory party. That is exactly a subject of importance to the people of Scotland.
Not only is it an important subject; how the Prime Minister behaves is fundamental to our democracy and to how Parliament works. [Interruption.] We have a Prime Minister who comes to the House and fails to tell the truth. That is fundamental to how our democracy works, so it is more than important—it is fundamental.
I agree. I will come to the subject of truth and honesty later in my speech. It is noticeable that when the hon. Lady, who speaks with some authority on these matters, is trying to speak, once again the Conservatives try to shout us down. What a look that is to the people watching this debate.
The right hon. Gentleman is being incredibly kind in giving way, particularly on this subject. I just wondered if he might take the opportunity to update us on the missing donations and the fraud investigation into the First Minister’s husband—your party’s chief executive.
Order. Do not shout at the right hon. Gentleman. We all have to hear his answer. While I am on my feet, I would be grateful if the hon. Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) would in future use the word “he” and not “you” when referring to the right hon. Gentleman.
Let me respectfully say to Government Members that I will give a guarantee, a promise and a commitment right here and now that all moneys raised by the Scottish National party for the purposes of fighting an independence campaign—every penny—will be spent on independence campaigning, because that is what we are about. There is a big difference in those who fund the SNP and the independence campaign, because—I will make another promise—not one single member of the SNP who gives to us willingly will end up in the House of Lords; they will be funding the SNP and the independence movement to ensure that we deliver on our promise to take Scotland out of this Union.
There is another important point about how deeply damaging all these scandals are. Every day that the Prime Minster spends concentrating on how he will somehow avoid scrutiny is a day not doing the basics of what his job demands. It is also becoming clearer just how damaging and dangerous it is that chaotic governance now defines Downing Street. That would be bad enough in normal times, but it is totally unforgivable in the middle of a pandemic.
In the real world, away from the shambles in No. 10, people are suffering not only from the pandemic, but from a Tory cost-of-living crisis. Inflation is running at 5%. Rising day-to-day costs and rising household bills are the main focus for families. While all the political stories on sleaze have been going on and taking up time at Downing Street, the political decision to cut universal credit has been hitting homes hardest. The shameful cut to universal credit was not just the wrong policy; it came at the worst possible time for families this winter. We are left with a UK Government who are not only up to their necks in sleaze, but hitting families at the same time. In Scotland, I am proud that we have a First Minister who understands the pressures that family finances are under, and a Government who listen and respond. I am proud that at the very same time that the Westminster Government are cutting universal credit by £20 a week, the SNP Scottish Government are raising the Scottish child payment by £20 a week.
One of the public’s real angers about these scandals is the deep dishonesty that has been so openly on display. The truth and the Prime Minister have always been strangers. I say that in sadness and not in any anger. Let me just take a few examples. On 4 March 2020, the Prime Minister said:
“We have restored the nurses’ bursary”.—[Official Report, 4 March 2020; Vol. 672, c. 829.]
That was completely and factually untrue. On 17 June 2020, the Prime Minister said that there were
“400,000…fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010.”—[Official Report, 17 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 796.]
Both the Office for National Statistics and the Children’s Commissioner have confirmed that that is false. On 7 November 2019, the Prime Minister told Northern Ireland businesses, in person, that the protocol would mean
“no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind”—
once again, completely untrue. It is right to be careful in terms of the language that we use in this House, but when it comes to language it is also right to be accurate and honest. On the basis of all the evidence, I can only conclude that the Prime Minister has repeatedly broken the sixth principle of public life. I can only conclude that the Prime Minister has demonstrated himself to be a liar.
I think there is a misguided sense among those on the Tory Benches that they have gotten past the scandals of the past few weeks. The Prime Minister thinks that, if he blunders on, people might not forgive, but they will forget. Not for the first time, the Tories are badly wrong and badly out of touch, because they just do not get that the depth of anger among the public is very real and is not going away. I know that people in Scotland are looking on at a broken Westminster system that has never felt more remote, more arrogant and more corrupt.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate, and do Conservative Members appreciate, the damage that has been done when to be able to use the word “liar” in this place is now passed as fair comment and accepted, and the damage that that is doing to our democracy?
Order. Let us just be clear about that. It is preferable that such words should not be used in this place but, as I said before the right hon. Gentleman rose to his feet, this is a very specific and particular motion and the right hon. Gentleman is examining the conduct of a Member of this House—indeed, the Prime Minister. Therefore, I cannot stop him from using the word that he has just used. I would prefer it if he put things in different terms, but I do not think that he has strayed past the rules. I think he is perfectly in order. However, it would be better if other Members did not make comments such as those just made by the right hon. Lady because what she said is not actually quite correct. Please, let us just keep it as moderate as possible.
I was dealing with the sixth principle of public life. I have laid out for the House three examples—I could have given many more—of where the Prime Minister has not told the truth. I regret, in the context of where we are, that I had to make that point, which is important, because if we undermine honesty and truth in this place, what are we left with? That is why we have brought this motion today and that is what I am asking hon. Members right across this House to reflect on, because there is overwhelming evidence that the Prime Minister has broken that principle of public life. I am asking each and every Member in this House, particularly on the Government Benches, to examine their conscience on the basis of the evidence and think very carefully before they go through the Lobby tonight. The public are angry at what has happened in this place. The public are angry about the Member I mentioned earlier who had been sanctioned by the Standards Commission and who the Prime Minister sought to get off. There will come a time when the public will judge this House and this House should reflect very carefully on that tonight.
I wholeheartedly agree that this is an issue of conduct, but it is also a question of leadership. We have a Prime Minister in the middle of a pandemic who has failed to learn. At the beginning of this crisis, he boasted about shaking hands with covid patients; now he is mask-less in a hospital and too weak to tell Members of his own party to put on a mask. We desperately need not just an improvement in conduct, but an improvement in clear communication and leadership from this Prime Minister.
I agree with the hon. Member. [Interruption.] Perhaps we should just calm down; there will be opportunities for people to participate in the debate. This issue of leadership and conduct is important. This saddens me, but when we are facing a new variant, and we do not know what the scale of that challenge will be, the obvious thing for everyone to do is to seek to protect themselves, but more importantly to protect others and to lead by example and show leadership. I commend colleagues across the House who are sitting here wearing masks today, but my goodness, there are far too many who still do not get it and do not accept the responsibility they have for each other, and they are even laughing about it as I say that. It comes from the Prime Minister.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Let me just carry on for a second, because this is important. The way we conduct ourselves and interact with others is important. I commend the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), for the courtesies she always showed to Opposition parties, for how the protocols were followed and for the way we had a relationship with No. 10. It grieves me that I can tell the House that we as the third party and, I believe, the Leader of the Opposition have no relationship with No. 10. We are disrespected and disregarded by a Prime Minister who does not understand his obligations to public life, and that is yet another example.
Is it not telling about how complicit those on the Government Benches are that, when my right hon. Friend was reading out the list of untruths peddled by the Prime Minister, there was deathly silence? The only time they were animated was when my right hon. Friend called it for what it was.
I ask Government Members to reflect. Most people in this House are decent people. People come here to provide a public service, and I say to hon. and right hon. Members on the Government Benches that they are being let down, we are being let down and these islands are being let down by a Prime Minister who simply does not know how to behave. On that note, it will be interesting to see how the Scottish Tories vote tonight, and we will be watching. They are a group who never fail to see conspiracy at Holyrood, but somehow always fall deathly silent when it comes to sleaze and corruption overseen by their own Prime Minister.
In truth, this debate is not about the Scottish Tories—I will leave them to explain their own hypocrisy—but what the public expect when standards and rules are so clearly broken by their political representatives. They expect consequences, and they expect censure. Let us also be clear about this: if we fail to censure this Prime Minister today, we will have failed that public duty for accountability. Not only that, but it will reveal something very telling; it will show a Westminster system that is broken beyond repair and a Prime Minister who believes himself to be above the law of the land.
The only comfort I take is that fewer and fewer people in Scotland can possibly look at the broken, corrupt, self-serving Westminster system and conclude that it produces a secure basis for the future of Scotland. We all know that Scotland can do much better than this; we can do better than this broken Westminster system and we can do better than this Prime Minister. We will do so much better when our country chooses independence. I commend the motion in the name of myself and my hon. and right hon. colleagues.
It is a pleasure to start by wishing SNP Members, and the whole House, a happy St Andrew’s Day. It is always an auspicious occasion in the Scottish and British calendar.
I must confess some surprise that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), on this rare opportunity to engage in serious debate with the Government—I have not been to a pantomime in some time—instead opted to launch pantomime season in November, complete with an over-the-top characterisation of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who he clearly wishes would disappear in a puff of smoke. When it comes to fanciful fairy tales, however, the Scottish National party is expert. I venture that neither this House nor the people of the country will appreciate the over-the-top performance, or recognise the absurd depiction of the hugely popular Prime Minister of this country, who returned to the House with an 80-seat majority and who is getting on with the job of building back better.
To take one element of today’s rather long-winded and unfocused motion, improving standards in public life, the Prime Minister has made positive and constructive proposals on the topic in a bid to find cross-party consensus and a way forward. To take another point, the reform of the Electoral Commission, there is nothing in the Government’s plans to reform the regulation of the electoral system that will allow Ministers or Parliament to interfere in the outcome of complaints or investigations, so the motion is also in error in that regard. It is a courtroom tactic in some jurisdictions—not in this country, of course—to throw enough mud that some of it might stick, but I think we know that when we see it.
I will give way more than the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, but not yet.
For my part, I relish the opportunity to set a different scene for the House of what the Prime Minister is achieving for the people who returned him to No. 10, many of whom voted Conservative for the first time. At the election, he made a clear commitment to spreading opportunity more fairly and to uniting our country.
Higher skills, higher wages, higher productivity—that is the United Kingdom that the Prime Minister promised to create and is creating, and SNP Members know it. He got Brexit done. Since, he has been using our hard-won freedoms outside the European Union—the catastrophists on the Opposition side do not want to accept it—to serve the interests of the whole precious United Kingdom with policies that encourage innovation and growth throughout the whole United Kingdom and that deliver for the whole United Kingdom.
The Minister is making a good case. Does he find it strange that SNP Members are posing as defenders of democracy when they would not accept the result of the Brexit referendum in the UK or of the Scottish referendum on staying in the Union?
The Minister is speaking dutifully and gushingly about the Prime Minister; he is painting a picture that nobody in the country recognises. For the sake of completeness, perhaps he will explain, if things are going so swimmingly, why Conservative Back Benchers have sent letters of no confidence to the 1922 committee?
The right hon. Member’s statement is obviously disproven by the fact that the Prime Minister won an 80-seat majority—the biggest Conservative Government majority since the early 1980s.
The fact of the matter is that the Prime Minister is taking care of the people’s priorities, not focusing on the polemics of the SNP. He is looking at what the people care about most—
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am not sure what he was asking me because, over the noise of his colleagues’ barracking, I could not actually hear him. He may have been asking me why we did not choose devolved topics in the Chamber, and I think that that somewhat answers itself.
The Minister speaks about the people’s priorities. I have to say to him that the people’s priorities are not stuffing the House of Lords with unelected donors and cronies, but worrying how they are going to put food on the table because of the cuts his Government are making to universal credit.
This Prime Minister of course takes care of the people’s priorities, looking after what they care about the most and keeping his promises to them, while SNP Members play political games—they are not very good at them either.
This Government are responsible for there being more nurses, more police officers, more money for schools and more money for the pupils in those schools, because people care about their health, they care about their safety and they care about their children’s educations. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is focused on improving our infrastructure, too. He is boosting public services to get us on the road to recovery from the pandemic. What exactly does that look like? It looks like £3.7 billion to build 40 new hospitals, three quarters of them outside London and the south-east; 50,000 more nurses and 20,000 more police officers; and a further £4.7 billion in the core school budget by 2024-25, meaning a total cash increase of £1,500 per pupil by that date compared with 2019-20, so we are actually delivering.
This is not the polemics or the pantomime of the SNP; this Government are delivering. It is not just talk; it is a £36 billion package to reform the national health service and social care, tackling the issues that successive Governments have ducked for decades. Thanks to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, this Government will deliver around £12 billion a year in extra funding for our health and social care services over the next three years. This is in addition to our historic 2018 settlement for the NHS, which will increase its budget by £33.9 billion a year by 2023-24.
I really do thank the Minister for giving way. Can the Minister confirm that he actually understands what devolution means; what matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and are debated there; and what matters should be debated here, such as the motion in front of him?
This Government have proven they know what the people want of this country, and we did so by the 80-seat majority behind me.
We are rolling out the fastest vaccination programme in Europe, allowing us to live with the covid virus, without significant restrictions on our freedoms. Almost nine in 10 people aged 12 and over have now received a first vaccine dose—that is a huge achievement—with eight in 10 having also received a second dose. The latest data shows that vaccines have saved almost 130,000 lives and prevented over 260,000 hospitalisations.
What else? This Prime Minister has launched our plan for jobs, helping people to get back into work, earn more money and gain the skills that our economy needs. This includes our £2 billion kickstart scheme, which has already got 100,000 young people into work, our £2.9 billion restart scheme, helping over 1 million long-term unemployed people find work, and our lifetime skills guarantee, offering 11 million adults a free qualification. And it is cutting taxes and boosting wages. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) should listen: the fact of the matter is it is cutting taxes, boosting wages and helping working families—
Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker, because of course the Scottish National party motion is about the conduct of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I am telling the House and the SNP what the Prime Minister has achieved—his conduct.
Let us look at the infrastructure uplifts: £600 billion into transport and broadband upgrades, including £96 billion for the railways, the biggest investment in our rail network for a century. That is one of the multitude of things that the Prime Minister has delivered—reliable and faster rail journeys across the north and midlands. Thanks to the integrated rail plan, we will build three new high-speed rail lines, electrify or upgrade three existing main lines, improve local services, and integrate them properly with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, all bringing benefits to passengers 10 to 15 years sooner than under previous plans.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is also investing in our local streets so that we can all feel proud of where we live. Again, let me remind Members where the money is going: £4.8 billion via the levelling-up fund to help regenerate town centres and high streets, upgrade local transport, and invest in cultural and heritage assets; £2.4 billion for 101 towns deals investing in local economies—
I gave way last time and it really was not worth it.
There is also the £150-million community ownership fund to protect valued community assets.
In getting Brexit done, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have turned their attention to immigration. The Nationality and Borders Bill will break the cruel business model where criminal gangs exploit.
The Minister accuses SNP Members of not having an answer. It is very interesting that the Minister is going through the Conservatives’ programme for Government and manifesto and is making some fairly ambitious claims about what has been achieved, but we are not debating that: we are debating the character of the Prime Minister. Will the Minister focus his remarks on that please?
The conduct of the Prime Minister is the subject of the debate, and the conduct of the Prime Minister is the maintenance and running of this Government and that is what he has been achieving.
Going back to the point on immigration, we have seen the tragic consequences in the recent incident off Calais and our thoughts are of course with the families and loved ones.
Exactly, Madam Deputy Speaker; thank you.
The principle behind the Bill is that access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers to leave safe countries such as France and Belgium. These are the things that are being delivered, and we have always been clear about the need to do everything we can to prevent people from risking their lives and embarking on these perilous attempts to cross the sea.
Our United Kingdom is the most successful political and economic union the world has ever seen. It is the foundation on which all our businesses and citizens have been able to thrive since 1707. This Government are committed to protecting and promoting its combined strengths, based on those hundreds of years of partnership and shared history.
My right hon. and learned Friend is giving lots of examples of how the conduct of the Prime Minister is helping the lives of the British people. One recent such example affecting Scotland in particular was the COP26 summit held in Glasgow. Does he agree that that is an example of how the Prime Minister is putting the priorities of the people first, and of why this debate is a missed opportunity for the Scottish National party to discuss what matters to the people of Scotland?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—it is yet another missed opportunity by the Scottish National party.
I remind those on the SNP Benches that this Government are committed to investing and levelling up across Scotland. We are delivering, after all, an average funding boost of £4.6 billion per year through the Barnett formula over the spending review period. That will enable investment in transport, schools, housing, health and social care. That takes the total that Scotland receives in Barnett-based funding to £41 billion per year—an increase of 2.4%—to spend on public services, boost growth and support families with the cost of living. In fact, current public spending per person in Scotland is £1,828 higher than the UK average, while revenue per person is £382 lower.
One thing that my right hon. and learned Friend has failed to mention and that I am sure he will want to take the opportunity to celebrate is the Government’s Borderlands deal. That sees people from Scotland and the true north—Carlisle in Cumbria, and Northumberland—coming together to invest together across the borders in their community. As the Minister who had the privilege of negotiating that deal, I found it refreshing to see that the border is of no relevance to many people, because they have friends, family and businesses that cross it. With this Government and the devolved Administration in Scotland, they celebrated that partnership along the border, which strengthens not just our United Kingdom but England and Scotland too.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, of course. He speaks with the authority of an expert on the subject, and the expertise shows.
What the numbers that I have been citing mean is that every person in Scotland benefits from over £2,000 extra in spending than the UK average. I remind the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber that we have confirmed that we will be providing over £170 million through the levelling-up fund for eight Scottish projects, including the new futuristic aerial roundabout in Falkirk and the redevelopment of Inverness castle, not to mention the £1.5 billion of funding for 12 city and growth deals—they don’t talk about that, Madam Deputy Speaker. That includes over £500 million for Glasgow, backing a deal worth around £1.2 billion—one of the largest in the kingdom—that is set to deliver 29,000 jobs over its lifetime. This Government have been levelling up every part of the country since the day we took office.
Indeed, the pandemic has shown clearly that we are at our strongest when we work together towards a common goal. Through both the furlough scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, we protected over 14.5 million jobs and livelihoods across the United Kingdom. Thanks to the Prime Minister, almost 1.1 million Scottish jobs were protected through the peak of the pandemic, supporting livelihoods across Scotland. The UK Government have supported nearly 100,000 businesses in Scotland—SNP Members do not talk about the businesses—with over £4 billion in loans through the bounce back loan scheme and the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. It also goes without saying that the UK Government secured access to the covid-19 vaccine for Scotland, saving lives and stopping the spread of the virus.
In conclusion, we continue to make sure that we will use the broad shoulders of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as a platform to unleash and deliver opportunity across the whole of our precious United Kingdom.
A very happy St Andrew’s Day to all in the Chamber.
I take no particular pleasure in debating this motion, but it is, of course, a pleasure to follow the Paymaster General, the right hon. and learned Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) and the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who opened today’s debate. I have to say that I find it strange to see massed ranks of Conservatives in the Chamber for this debate, when they appeared desperate to flee the Chamber no fewer than two weeks ago for the debate on publishing Owen Paterson’s contracts.
Talking of massed ranks, where are all the Labour Members? I saw on Twitter yesterday a graphic that said Labour was back in business. I am not too sure what business, but it is not the business of this House. Is it not the case that the reason they are not here is that they have no plan, no vision and no credibility to run this country?
I regret that the hon. Member seems terribly confused. I am sorry about that. This is an SNP Opposition day debate. As I will go on to explain, sadly it is his Government who lack a plan and lack, in regard to this motion, the necessary competence and credibility against corruption. If he could answer on those subjects, I would be very grateful, because he was not in the Chamber for the debate on the contracts. He certainly did not speak in it. I suspect he was not willing to do so. Indeed, it seems easier for some to defend the indefensible than to stand up for transparency, probity and the public interest. All I can say is that I really hope, for the sake of Conservative Members in the Chamber, that those in charge of junior ministerial appointments are watching carefully.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that on the Labour Benches we believe that the “Ministerial Code” should be followed, that Ministers should be compelled to come to the House and tell the truth, and that if they do not tell the truth, they should be dealt with as the “Ministerial Code” states they should be. Unfortunately, they are led by the Prime Minister, who is the chief liar in charge.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I will come on to the “Ministerial Code” because it is, sadly, highly relevant to this debate given the appalling way in which it has been treated by the Conservative Government. Indeed, the overall Conservative attitude, that rules simply do not apply to this Prime Minister or his Government, is genuinely dragging our politics through the gutter. I see that the motion references the sixth principle of public life—honesty—but I would have referenced the other principles too: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness and leadership. On those principles, the current Prime Minister is, unfortunately, falling short, the Conservative Government are failing to get a grip, and working people are paying the price.
The major difference between my party and the hon. Member’s is that wherever we in the Labour party see rules being broken and inappropriate action, we act against it. We do not try to change the rules and stitch up the system for our friends—that is the major difference.
In my reading before this debate, I came across quite a curious piece that I am sure many Government Members will have seen: the Prime Minister’s foreword to the “Ministerial Code”. It commits the Government to upholding—I am not making this up—
“the very highest standards of propriety”.
The principles of public life are lauded as “precious” things that
“must be honoured at all times”—
that, from a Prime Minister who tried to rip up the standards system to save one of his friends who was found to have engaged in an egregious case of paid advocacy by the Committee on Standards.
The foreword also states that there should be “no bullying”—that, from a Prime Minister who refused to sack his Home Secretary after an independent adviser on standards found that she had broken the ministerial code because her approach to staff had
“on occasions... amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying”.
The foreword states that there should be “no harassment” —that, from a Prime Minister who imposed a three-line Whip to keep one of his MPs in Parliament after he was found by an independent panel to have sexually harassed a member of staff.
I will, of course, respond to the hon. Member’s comments because, just as I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), when the Labour party finds action that is inappropriate, we act. We have changed our systems. We have made sure that we comply with what is required of us. If the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) wishes to defend his party happily allowing a Member who has been found to have engaged in sexual harassment to be back on its Benches, that is up to him. It is his decision.
In that foreword on standards, again, the Prime Minister states that there should be:
“No misuse of taxpayer money”—
that, from a Prime Minister who gave us the VIP lane for personal protective equipment contracts, with £3.5 billion of taxpayers’ money given to party donors and Conservative cronies who were recommended by Conservative Ministers, MPs and Downing Street officials. Those contracts so often failed to deliver while our nurses and care workers struggled and while many British firms’ offers of help were passed over.
Is the hon. Lady really denigrating the efforts to get hold of PPE, and does she not know the history? The Labour party also put forward proposals and Labour party members and Labour donors also helped in that huge effort to get PPE.
No, because I will respond to the right hon. Member’s point. He asked whether I was aware that Labour MPs and others were making recommendations. I am absolutely aware, because we were all trying to do that to ensure that we had the best response, but the difference was that they were not entered into that VIP lane. One can see that in the list of firms that was recently published. If he wants to state that among that list, there were Labour MPs’ names rather than those of his Conservative colleagues, he must have been looking at a very different list from me.
I am grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight; I hope that after I speak, she will withdraw those comments and that the Labour party will no longer use that argument. The contract with Excalibur Healthcare Services, which is run by a Labour donor, was introduced from a Labour MP through me. The very good man who runs Excalibur Healthcare, in fact, helped to launch the Labour party’s science manifesto in 2005, so she can now withdraw the allegations. What she should say is a big “thank you” to everybody who helped to get PPE when it was so badly needed.
I really regret the fact that instead of responsibility being taken and it being stated that the system will be changed for the future, we are seeing an attempt to rewrite history. I was not the one who stated that Conservative-related actors were more likely to obtain contracts; the National Audit Office pointed it out. Yes, Labour figures were making recommendations to have a better response, as I mentioned a moment ago, but in doing so we were focused on those who could genuinely aid our response. We were not focused on pub landlords, for example, or on others who had had no prior experience in the field.
If I may, I will set the record straight on one further point. I have heard this point about the pub landlord; I just want to tell the hon. Lady and the House and put it formally on the record—after which I hope that the Labour party will stop this slur—that the gentleman in question never got or applied for a contract from the Government or the NHS at all. That is a fabrication pushed by the Labour party—it is a load of rubbish. What was happening, however, was that a huge range of people were helping out with the national effort, including members of the Labour party.
Order. We have had a perfectly reasonable exchange between the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) and the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds). We do not need shouting about it. We are dealing here in facts and good argument, not shouting.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the Government have lost every court case when they have been taken to court in regard to procurement contracts and corruption, does that mean that the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) needs to apologise for what he has just said and withdraw it?
It is indeed the case that facts have been laid out in courts of law; they stand for themselves.
I have to say that at a time when our national health service and our care workers and volunteers up and down the country are yet again supporting the covid effort, I think that it is incredibly important that this Government be transparent. [Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”] I will not withdraw what I have said, but I hope that the Conservative Government will withdraw what they have said about not being transparent—a point that I will come to in a moment.
The foreword written by the Prime Minister says that there will be
“no actual or perceived conflicts of interest”.
Sadly, we know that there have been so many. Peerages have apparently been handed out to anyone who can meet the £3 million entrance charge and agree to a stint as Conservative party treasurer. David Cameron and Lex Greensill were given the run of Whitehall to beg for access to hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. More than half a billion pounds in testing contracts was handed over to a company advised by a Conservative former Minister, without competition and behind closed doors, with a second contract dished out to Randox Laboratories after it had failed to deliver on the first.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) for the comments that he has just made. If he believes in transparency—
Indeed. Well, transparency reveals facts, does it not? I therefore hope that he will encourage his Government to do what this House stated only two weeks ago that they must: publish the minutes from the meeting between Lord Bethell, Owen Paterson and Randox over the award of money-spinning contracts. Parliament decided that that must happen two weeks ago, and the Deputy Speaker reminded Ministers to do it in a timely fashion last week, but they are still dragging their feet. They say that they cannot possibly make the minutes public for another two months. That seems like rather a long time in which to establish the facts, does it not?
If those vital minutes simply do not exist, Ministers should do the right thing and come clean about it here today, rather than pretending to spend the next two months looking for them. I offer the Minister, and indeed those sitting on his Benches, the chance to do that right now. I offer them the chance to intervene and let us know whether the minutes exist or not. No one is meeting my gaze, so it seems clear that we shall have to wait until the end of January to know what is happening about those minutes.
I was not planning to contribute to the debate, but the hon. Lady has been talking about conflicts of interest and timely waits, and she also said earlier in her speech that when the Labour party sees people breaking the rules, it acts. I have written to the hon. Lady twice, and I have written to the Leader of the Opposition a number of times over the last few months, about her former flatmate Ruth George, who has an atrocious record when it comes to anti-Jewish racism. It was she who said, when Luciana Berger quit the Labour party, that she and other members of her group were funded by Israel. Will the hon. Lady respond now to that conflict of interest, and agree that she should not be in the Labour party any more?
Just for the record, as the hon. Member stated in his own letter, those issues have been taken up and dealt with. [Interruption.] He said that in his own letter. Perhaps he needs to go back and reread it.
We surely cannot stand idly by and allow this situation of cronyism to continue. The current regime of standards and rules on the conduct of Ministers relies too much on convention, in these unconventional times. It gives the Prime Minister the power to act as judge and jury even when his own conduct is in question. That is why my party, the Labour party, has come forward with a five-point plan to clean up our politics, to strengthen and uphold standards in public life, and to protect taxpayers’ money from the egregious waste and mismanagement that we have seen during the pandemic.
We would start by banning second jobs for MPs, with only very limited exemptions, to make them focus on the day job, not the one on the side. We would stop the revolving door between Government and the companies that Ministers are supposed to regulate, banning ministers from taking lobbying, advisory or portfolio-related jobs for at least five years after they had left office. We would stop Conservative plans to allow foreign money to flow into British politics, and we would create strict rules to stop donations from shell companies. We would end the waste and mismanagement of taxpayers’ money with a new office for value for money along with reform of procurement. Finally, we would establish a new, genuinely independent integrity and ethics commission to sit across Government, with the power to investigate Ministers, take decisions on sanctions for misconduct, and ban former Ministers from taking any job linked to their former roles for at least five years after leaving office.
I am very confused by what the hon. Lady has said, because I am under the impression that three current Front-Bench Labour parliamentarians in the House of Lords work for lobbying companies. How can you say what you have said at the Dispatch Box—
I regret the fact that the hon. Member is confused. There appears to be a fair amount of confusion this afternoon. Labour has set out those measures for MPs, and we have made it very clear that we would not stand back, as his party appears to be doing. We would take that action because we are determined to clean up politics for the future. Indeed, those measures are urgent and necessary because the current system relies on having a Prime Minister who respects the rules and understands that there must be consequences for breaking them.
Labour set out those radical proposals for reform because it is so urgently needed. When it comes to cleaning up crony contracts, we are insisting on transparency because we have to learn from the mistakes made by the Conservatives, not least during this crisis, and I am afraid that we also have to learn from mistakes made by any party, including the SNP. I regret that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, was not more reflective on the actions of his own party today. The SNP Government had already been criticised for treating journalists and politicians differently in their responses to freedom of information requests when the SNP’s Health Secretary tried to have freedom of information requests suspended. Disturbingly, it has been revealed that an SNP Cabinet Minister then directly intervened to try to prevent the publication of statistics on care home deaths before the Holyrood elections. The Financial Times newspaper has had to battle to force the SNP Government to reveal the total cost of their guarantee to Sanjeev Gupta’s businesses, which appears to be to the tune of more than half a billion pounds. Labour believes that sunlight is the best disinfectant, in Whitehall and in Holyrood.
Rules are there for a reason: to regulate our Parliament and its elected representatives; to uphold standards in public life; and to protect our institutions from the cancer of cronyism and corruption. As the Prime Minister has discovered in recent weeks, ripping up these rules is thankfully easier said than done. But while he fails to take action to strengthen the system, working families in our country continue to pay the price. In response to what the Minister tried to set out before, I say to him that they have been paying the price. They have been paying the price with the longest squeeze on living standards in this country since Napoleonic times, with rising fuel prices and no plan to tackle them, with life expectancy falling in many parts of our country and with 5.5 million people on NHS waiting lists. They are also paying the price with rail in the north being scaled back, and they will pay even more of the price with the Conservatives’ working-class dementia tax. The Minister tried to claim that his Government were delivering what the people of this country wanted, but they do not want the Conservatives picking their pockets, they do not want their incompetence on public services and they do not want their sleaze, graft or corruption either.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and the whole House a happy St Andrew’s day. I have come to this debate today because it strikes me that the SNP motion is pitiful politicking and that the people of Scotland deserve better. They want to see real solutions to real problems. Unfortunately, it is part of a pattern for the SNP to put ideological purity ahead of the interests of the people of Scotland. We heard that from its leader here, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who argued that independence was not the most important thing on the minds of the people of Scotland, but we know why SNP Members have brought this debate to the House today: it is merely so that they can find another way to make the argument for independence, which they lost so comprehensively when it was put to the people of Scotland five years ago.
Today, SNP Members are calling for the censure of the Prime Minister, but what they should be doing is working to improve the lives of the people of Scotland. The flop of a speech from the right hon. Gentleman demonstrated that they are losing this argument. He read out a list of allegations that were comprehensively demolished by the Minister in his excellent speech. At the heart of those allegations was that the Prime Minister is ignoring advice, but the problem with the SNP is that it ignores not only advice but the decisions of the people of Scotland and this country in every referendum that it has seen. The problem is that the SNP has not seen a referendum result that it likes, so it ignores the results and asks for a rematch.
On the substance, I will not go into the SNP’s failures in education, but Scotland once had the finest education system in the world. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber did not even mention covid-19. I will not dwell on the huge economic cost of independence, but one piece of evidence from the Prime Minister’s tenure that completely undermines the SNP’s case is the vaccine programme. Because SNP Members are losing the argument on substance, they focus instead on politicking. Conceived through UK-funded scientific work involving researchers from universities across the UK, and indeed across the world, the Oxford vaccine is a UK success that shows Britain at her best.
Critically, we bought vaccines for the whole of the UK so that everybody in Scotland and the rest of the UK were the first in the world to access them. Even better, it was a joint effort. People who are Scottish and British and in this Union get the best of both worlds: a UK vaccine delivered locally by the NHS in Scotland, working with local councils, and we could bring in the British Army when we needed reinforcements. It was a huge team effort. All four nations rolled out the vaccine together.
I pay tribute to my then Scottish opposite number, Jeane Freeman. She deserves plaudits for putting pragmatism ahead of ideology. Her only problem was when the First Minister of Scotland would get involved and cause all sorts of problems by trying to politic with the programme instead of delivering the programme.
Finally, why do I, as an English MP, care about this? It is because our Union brings together the best for Scotland, England and the United Kingdom, and for my constituents, too. We should get away from this politicking and concentrate on the things that really matter.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock). If he carries on reading out his briefing notes, he might get a job in the Government one day.
There is an old adage in politics: it is not enough simply to win a vote, one needs to win the argument, too. This Government are rather different, though. They will use their majority to win votes, although sometimes they try to avoid those votes, but they rarely put in the effort to win an argument, other than by blunt force and soundbite. This has led to a catalogue of nasty, unnecessary and deeply undesirable decisions. There has been a procession of decision making based on half-truth, anecdote and inaccuracy.
Take the Elections Bill, or more accurately the voter suppression Bill. Up to 3.5 million people may not have suitable identification, and the Government’s own pilots indicated that some 325,000 people could be denied a vote in a GB election. The Government have persuaded nobody of the Bill’s necessity, but they are bashing on regardless.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the difference between winning an argument and winning a vote. Is the 2014 Scottish referendum not an example of the SNP winning neither? Despite that, the SNP continues to bash on regardless, as he says.
We are here. We did not make a unilateral declaration of independence. We have not rushed into a second referendum. What we have done is win another mandate, and we will hold the referendum in line with the wishes of the people, because that is what democracy actually means.
The proposed changes to the Electoral Commission will give this Government unprecedented and unchecked power by allowing Ministers to set the commission’s agenda and purview, thereby enabling them to change which organisations and campaign activities are permitted a year before an election. That is Executive interference in the electoral process, about which we should be deeply concerned.
On a related topic, we have a boundary review that will reduce the number of MPs in Scotland and Wales and increase the number in England. If every single vote were cast the same way, it would not affect the SNP. The polls say we would still return 48 Members, but in England the Tories would go up and everyone else would go down. Looking at the failure to tackle dark money, the boundary changes, the evisceration of the Electoral Commission and the voter suppression Bill, it is no wonder that the public smell a rat.
Then there is cash for honours. When my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) asked the Prime Minister whether such practices should end, he seemed to defend it. Rather bizarrely, he said:
“Until you get rid of the system by which the trades union barons”
whoever they are—
fund other parties, we have to…we have to go ahead.”
There is a world of difference between organisations coming together to campaign for things they believe in, and selling honours for cash, which is illegal. Of course, the Tories always defend their own, trying to get Owen Paterson off the hook and conflating his issue with a general change to the standards process. That was never going to wash.
My right hon. Friend is talking about illegality. We should never forget that it is this Prime Minister’s Government who introduced the phrase into the lexicon—into this House of Commons—that it is okay to break the law as long as it is in a “specific and limited” way.
Limited and specific lawbreaking is still lawbreaking. I was also struck by the fact that the Government almost boasted about their intention to break international law, not by way of the “little Britlander” exceptionalism we are used to, but in a way that would have made the UK an international pariah.
I could add that this Government lost a key battle in the Tory covid cronyism row when the National Audit Office ordered them to name the VIP lane firms given public contracts. I could also talk about the disgraceful but, apparently, routine use of WhatsApp and Signal messaging systems, which have options to make messages disappear and which it appears have been used to avoid scrutiny of decisions made during the covid crisis. I could talk about the fact that the High Court granted a judicial review of the rules regarding the retention of records. But my favourite was when the Supreme Court ruled that the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen that Parliament should be prorogued for five weeks at the height of the Brexit crisis was unlawful. Defeats in the courts, judicial reviews, trying to get Owen Paterson off the hook, cash for honours, voter suppression, weakening the Electoral Commission, ignoring dark money and unlawful prorogation—that is a pattern of self-serving, self-seeking behaviour, and an approach to governance that is grubby to say the least and smacks of dishonesty.
First, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, and all right hon. and hon. Members of this House, a very happy St Andrew’s Day. He is by far and away the best saint, in my humble opinion. But it has not been a very happy St Andrew’s Day for many of my constituents because, as we sit here debating this today, thousands of them remain without power, lights, heating or internet connectivity as a result of Storm Arwen. Hundreds remain without water—
I thank my right hon. Friend for asking that question, because I do think that. I am angry that, while constituents of mine—[Interruption.] SNP Members might heckle and make light of the fact that Scots are freezing in their homes and have no access to services at this time, but I am angry that we are here debating this when people in Finzean, Strachan, Kincardine O’Neil and many other places in my constituency are dealing with a catastrophe and a crisis. It was not outwith the realms of possibility for the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) to table a motion for today to debate how the Scottish and UK Governments might work together to support all those across the UK who have been affected by Storm Arwen, but we are here debating this motion. Indeed, as of earlier this afternoon, the First Minister of Scotland—Scotland’s most prolific social media activist, it would seem—had yet to post any comment—
I will not give way because before I came into the Chamber she had not. The power went off on Friday; today is Tuesday. The First Minister of Scotland had not made one comment in relation to the fact that 72,000 Scots were without power over the weekend. I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for expressing his concern last night and offering the Scottish Government any support that the UK Government could give to support my constituents and, indeed, constituents throughout the rest of Scotland.
When the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber announced at the weekend, in his typical understated fashion, that he would table this motion, he said he would do so to be the “real opposition” and to hold the Government and the Prime Minister to account for our “disastrous actions”. I have to admire the brass neckery, if nothing else. One might suggest that, if SNP Members did not spend so much time playing politics down here at a time of crisis in Scotland, they might have noticed that at home in Scotland the SNP is supposed to be a real Government.
If we are going to talk about disastrous actions by Governments—I just wish I had time to go into them all—let us look at the record of the SNP in government in Scotland over the past 14 years. On drug deaths: failure, with 1,264 deaths in 2019. That is 15 times worse than Germany, 35 times worse than France and three-and-a-half times worse than the rest of the United Kingdom.
On education: failure, with Scotland under the SNP having fallen in the science, reading and maths rankings. We have the lowest scores in maths and science since Scotland started to participate in the programme for international student assessment—PISA—20 years ago. Literacy and numeracy rates are declining, the attainment gap is widening and someone is now more likely to go to university if they are from a deprived background in England than if they are from a deprived background in Scotland. That is a shameful record.
On Scotland’s NHS, 25% of GP practices have unfilled vacancies and 500 consultant posts are vacant in Scotland’s hospitals. I could go on.
The north-east of Scotland: not failure, just abandoned. North sea oil workers have been told that they have no future by the SNP’s partner in government. The First Minister has declared that there should be no more exploration in the North sea and that Cambo is a bad idea. The SNP Government are reneging on their plan to dual the A96 and have failed to deliver the money for improved rail journey times that they promised in two manifestos, and their broadband roll-out is going to be five years late. That is not so much disastrous SNP action; the SNP is missing in action when it comes to the north-east of Scotland.
All that, while more than 50,000 Scots were without power at the weekend and many were without water. While the nation recovers from Storm Arwen; while many people worry about the new strain of covid; while businesses recover from the past two years; while teachers work hard to support those kids who have been left behind; while doctors and nurses slog away to deal with the backlog and support all our constituents; while Police Scotland does more with less; while oil and gas workers worry about their future—what does the SNP choose to do today? Point scoring, petty politics and, frankly, a stunt that is wasting the time of us all. It is little wonder that the First Minister’s popularity ratings are in free fall, support for independence is on the decline and independence now ranks eighth in the priorities of the Scottish people.
This motion is on the conduct of the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson); I just wish I had any confidence in the conduct of the Scottish Government and how they are running my country.
Two weeks ago, I stood in this spot and spoke about how parliamentary time was being wasted by the Prime Minister wanting to save one of his own corrupt former MPs; today, we have the opportunity to stand here and consider why we should put up with this.
We and people outside this place are living in a society of staggering inequality. We have thousands relying on food banks, with wages pitifully low and the cost of living extremely high, yet we have a Prime Minister who oversees the consistent approach of raiding benefits, keeping wages low and increasing taxes for the working poor, yet rewarding big business and those of accumulated wealth while turning a blind eye to wealthy tax dodgers. He is a Prime Minister with his own agenda—a Prime Minister who is a democracy denier, stood on a hill of sleaze. That is exactly why it is right that we have brought forward this motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford).
The Prime Minister’s Government and his leadership have failed—from Brexit lies on buses to gleefully telling of handshaking with covid patients lying stricken in hospital beds. We have seen cash for honours, cash for contracts, texts for tax breaks, cash for curtains—I am trying to fit all this in—and handouts for wallpaper. Time and again, we see who he really is—a natiform metaphor for corruption, collusion and institutional sleaze engrained in this Tory party. We need always to remember that those who hide vast sums of money or hoard their wealth in offshore accounts are not hiding it from the authorities—oh, no, Madam Deputy Speaker—in the UK, they are the authority. The Prime Minister himself registered on his interests his stay at a luxury Spanish villa as being provided free of charge by the family of Lord Goldsmith, who, by mere coincidence the Tories will claim, had been handed a peerage and a ministerial job after an electoral defeat. Yet, at Cabinet Office questions last Thursday, the Minister had the temerity to claim:
“There is no link between party donations and nominations to sit in the House of Lords.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2021; Vol. 704, c. 436.]
In the same session, in relation to the contributions—or lack of—of the Tory treasurer in the Lords, the Minister said that it was about, “Quality not quantity”. Apparently, this is our democracy in action.
Let me make this clear: in my opinion, there is nothing noble about the men and women who are sitting in that place—nothing—and even less so when they buy their place in there and their ermine robe—
Let me clarify, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am speaking about the whole House of Lords and not any individual within it. If anybody has to buy an ermine robe with a £3 million back-hander, I think that says it all. Where is the democracy in that? What happened to true and honest representation? Does anybody with any credibility truly think that we get that from this Prime Minster? He may argue that it is his right to appoint members to the House of Lords and, in this excuse for a democracy, indeed it is, but when will it start being the convention to stand up for those in dire poverty? When will it be this place’s convention to effectively tackle homelessness? When will it become the convention that those sitting in that place have to earn their place on merit, based on the number of votes they receive and not the number of notes in their pockets? I hope that this motion today is the first step in doing so.
At a time when we are dealing with the aftermath of an unexpected global pandemic, a booster vaccine programme to deliver and an economy to keep firmly in recovery, I find it astounding that the SNP has used its parliamentary time today not to further the interests of the Scottish people, but to play party politics with its base.
The leader of the SNP in this place, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), has exposed what his main priority is: to get a news headline for his party conference this weekend. At a time when we have seen the emergence of a new covid variant, the tragedy that we saw last week, the people who have been left without power after Storm Arwen, imagine this being your first choice for a debate. It is nothing but political theatre designed to further an obsession with independence. All that the SNP has achieved today is exposing what the Scottish people already know—the priorities of the SNP could not be further removed from the priorities of the Scottish people.
Just last week, YouGov published a poll that found that the three most common priorities for the Scottish people—indeed these were in line with the priorities of the British people—were the covid recovery, healthcare and the economy. Yet what did we see at the SNP’s annual conference this week? The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber spoke for more than 15 minutes. How many times did he mention the NHS? Not once. How many times did he mention failing standards in Scottish schools? Not once. Yet how many times did he mention independence? Seven times. In his opening speech today, I think he made double digits.
With the eye of the SNP tilted so firmly away from their own delivery of public services, it is little surprise that under their leadership schools have plummeted down the international league tables, A&E waiting times are near their worst level on record, and Scotland has the highest drug death rate in the whole of Europe. All those issues are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and have been under the SNP’s stewardship for 14 years.
I heard SNP Members saying, “Not true”, but they did not intervene on my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) and they are not intervening on my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho). Do they have any answer to her charge sheet?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point.
I think that SNP Members will agree that during the pandemic we have seen the strength that our family of nations, working together, can achieve, including: the procurement of vaccines through Kate Bingham’s much lauded work with the vaccine taskforce; the British Army deploying personnel to help the ambulance service and providing mobile testing units in all the different nations; and the full financial power of the United Kingdom Treasury, pooling and sharing all our resources to stand shoulder to shoulder with the British people across all four nations, and support livelihoods through the UK furlough scheme.
Let us briefly talk about the SNP’s single issue, on which they focus to the detriment of all others: dividing our family of nations. My parents were so pleased to have been welcomed to Britain when they moved here in the 1970s. Like so many others, they viewed these islands as a shining city on a hill—a beacon of optimism and opportunity. With a mum who still works for the NHS in England and a cousin who works for the NHS in Scotland, I know at first hand how the people of Britain are woven together. Our bond is more than constitutional. It is emotional; it is shared family ties.
As we emerge from a difficult couple of years, our focus in this place should be on supporting the people and families of this country, and dealing with their priorities, not on the endless constitutional obsessions of the Scottish National party.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho). I commend her on reading her briefing notes so very well. She says that we in the SNP do not know the priorities of the Scottish people, but I gently remind her that the Tories do not win elections in Scotland.
Over the course of the pandemic, the UK’s economy has shrunk at the fastest rate for a century, and unemployment has grown to one of its highest rates. At the exact same time, Britain created a record number of billionaires. There are now 171 billionaires in this country. While the rich were getting richer, the poor were getting poorer. When this Tory Government should have been lending a hand to the most vulnerable in society, some of those on the Government Benches chose to line their own pockets and the pockets of their rich mates, and the Prime Minister did nothing.
Let us be absolutely clear: the policies that this Tory Government have introduced and continue to implement are none other than an attack on working-class communities. My constituents of Airdrie and Shotts are in continual contact with me, outlining how Tory policies are impacting their day-to-day lives, and they have raised genuine concerns that the Prime Minister simply does not understand the hardships that people face. Rather than looking after his mates, the Prime Minister should be listening to the public. He is not here today, but I want to put on record how his policies are impacting my constituents.
No, I am going to make progress.
A constituent wrote to me saying,
“I am a single woman that has learning difficulties. A £20 per week cut in my income would have a huge impact on me. I have struggled with my bills till the pandemic—the extra money has helped me out a lot.”
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), is in his place and I have a few questions for him. How many people who are on universal credit does the Prime Minister know? And how many people does the Prime Minister know who have donated money to the Conservative party and subsequently joined the Lords?
The hon. Member is making a powerful speech. Government Members seem to forget the subject matter of this debate. Watching the Peter Stefanovic video that has more than 40 million views might help to jog their memory. They might also want to sign my early-day motion 383 about the ministerial code, and watch my “The Big Narstie Show” performance, in which I did a little rap about the Prime Minister.
I thank the hon. Member for her intervention and I highly encourage Conservative Members to go and have a look.
I have previously spoken in this Chamber on the Nolan principles of public life by which we are bound. The Prime Minister’s actions have potential to bring shame on this House, with scandal after scandal bringing it into disrepute. Yet there has been no independent investigation to hold those responsible to account. The deception and dishonesty of this old boys network is entrenched in Government and in the Lords. I simply cannot comprehend that in the Scotland Office we have a Government Minister who in May this year was rejected by the Scottish electorate but, just months later, handed a peerage and a Government role. How is this democratic? [Interruption.] Exactly—it is not. Since the Prime Minister arrived at the Dispatch Box he has created 96 peers in less than two years, so the unelected House of Lords is bigger than the elected House of Commons. I ask again: how is this democratic?
The Prime Minister has frequently violated the sixth principle of public life. His attention should instead be on creating policies that help the most vulnerable in society. That starts by retaining the universal credit uplift and scrapping the two-child limit, along with scrapping the national insurance hike.
The pandemic has worsened household finances. To prevent a generation of people being failed, this UK Tory Government need sustainable and long-term solutions.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Ms Qaisar). I wish hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House a very happy St Andrew’s Day.
It was a slight surprise to see on the Order Paper a motion in the name of the SNP that did not mention independence, but the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) managed to get it in in his perfectly scripted intervention—the first that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) took. I understand why SNP Members have chosen this topic today. I understand why they want to keep making the case for independence—because it is brilliant for their social media clips. It allows them to stand up here, express their faux outrage, and post those clips on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and all the others. But it does not improve the lives of their constituents. Call me old-fashioned, but that is what I came here to do. I came here to represent my constituents of Burnley and Padiham and to make their lives better. My hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) made the point crystal clear when he explained what his constituents are going through right now. SNP Members had the chance to talk about those issues and they chose not to. They chose not to table an urgent question. They chose not to have a debate in the House. They chose to ignore what is happening to people up and down Scotland and the rest of the country.
SNP Members spoke about the Elections Bill. The right hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) said that we had not made the case for the changes being made in the Bill. That is not true. If anyone reads the Conservative manifesto that delivered the majority on this side of the House, they will see that we proposed changes on ID for elections.
I served on the Elections Bill Committee and the evidence we heard from Tower Hamlets, Peterborough and all over the country does make that case very clearly. We took on the arguments made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) in that Committee and defeated them.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, which highlights perfectly my point about faux outrage: all that SNP Members come here for is to do clips for social media. They do not want to be here. I get why they do not want to be here; I understand their desire for independence. But given that they are here, they have an obligation and a responsibility to represent their constituents in the best possible way, and we could have focused this debate on a much better subject.
SNP Members have put forward a number of examples that they sought to use to highlight his conduct, but they were very selective in doing so, so let me give them some other examples. Why do we not talk about the vaccine roll-out, led by the Prime Minister, which was the quickest in the world? Why do we not talk about the fact that the Prime Minister decided he would be the first Minister for the Union? Why do we not talk about the fact that the Prime Minister launched the Union connectivity review, because he cares about linking the four corners of the UK? Why do we not talk about the UK shared prosperity fund? Why do we not talk about the fact that our armed forces are growing and that, as a result of the plans announced by the Defence Secretary, they are growing for the first time in Scotland, too? We could have focused this debate on far bigger issues that matter to people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and it is a shame that the SNP did not.
It is fitting that we are holding this debate on St Andrew’s Day, as he is not just the patron saint of Scotland, but a fisherman. That was yet another broken promise of the Prime Minister, who swindled and betrayed fishermen after the Brexit deal that he barely seemed to have read, let alone understood. He claimed that the UK was an
“independent coastal state with full control of our waters”.
The truth, as always, is sadly very far removed from the rhetoric. The fishing industry was a convenient tool for charlatans to sell Brexit, before the fishermen were sold out and stitched up.
I find it interesting that this debate has seen a defence of a kind of the Prime Minister from Government Members, but I have not yet heard a single one of them challenge any line in the motion as inaccurate. Their desire to change the terms of the debate and talk about anything but what is in the motion only leads me to conclude that they agree. If they disagreed or they could challenge it, they would do so, and that simply is not happening.
We all make mistakes. Anyone can see that and accept that. Where genuine errors occur, they need to be put right at the first opportunity, but we do not see that with this Government. Instead, we have an ever-increasing timeline of misinformation languishing on the record, a failure to stand up for the best possible standards in public life and a Prime Minister who will seemingly do anything he can to adjust the rules to fit the narrative he wants to achieve.
There are channels through which the Government should be held to account, including in this place. This Prime Minister is doing everything he can to avoid that, up to illegally proroguing the House. Under his leadership, we have a Government who have been mired in sleaze, corruption and cover-up. Colleagues have listed a litany of such failures. Government Members have had the opportunity to challenge these points, and they have not. Even Peppa Pig could see what is there in front of them, regardless of how much they might have missed.
As Burns said,
“facts are chiels that winna ding”.
If the behaviour of this Government becomes normalised, the self-regulation of checks and balances that operate in this democracy break down. Those are the depths to which this Prime Minister seems to be willing to take us.
Some might say that the issue in the motion is not a talking point on the doorsteps—I have heard that suggestion from some Government Members—but people in my constituency of Midlothian are absolutely scunnered by the behaviour of this Government. It puts every one of us to shame that this is seen as the top standard that can be achieved. People are dismayed. There seem to be no consequences for appalling behaviour. It would not apply in any other walk of life. In no other job could the actions of the Prime Minister be failed to be held to account, yet in this place, he can just change the rules. This censure motion can begin to put things right. It can be a start on the trajectory to ensuring that we are held in a far higher regard. While sleaze and dishonesty continue to sit at the heart of this Government, these issues will continue to haunt us all.
This has been an interesting and fiery debate. I have listened carefully to every contribution. It has fundamentally been about the approach to governance; the conduct—not the character—and actions of the Prime Minister; and the principles of public life.
When I think about those principles, I think of words, which Members have read out, such as accountability, leadership, probity and transparency. We all agree with those things, but we have to then think about how they are translated in one’s conduct and actions. I put it gently to SNP Members that working hard for the people who elected us is a pretty good way to put in place the principles of accountability and leadership.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will make some progress.
Let us look at the contrast between what the Prime Minister is doing and what is happening in Holyrood. There is a new covid variant. We do not know how serious it will be, but it is right that we should be watchful. The economies of the United Kingdom and of Scotland are on the brink of recovery. In the face of that, the SNP’s priority is an independence referendum. Is that working hard for the people who elected it, bearing in mind the challenges that exist?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for at least trying to address the topic, but I gently say that the First Minister of Scotland went to the Chamber today to address the covid crisis. The First Minister and I, in my speech to the SNP conference, have made it crystal clear that our first priority is dealing with that. The difference is that the First Minister of Scotland went to the Chamber to answer Members. We have repeatedly asked the Prime Minister to make covid statements here, as he should. He does not do that; he does press conferences. He should be accountable to Members, but he has failed to be.
Where I would gently disagree with the right hon. Gentleman is that the position of the Deputy First Minister, Mr Swinney, has explicitly been that independence is the priority. The First Minister has said that, regardless of what happens with covid or the economy, she wants another independence referendum by the end of 2023.
Let us look at another aspect of working hard for the people who elect us and of translating those principles of accountability and leadership and the things in public life that we say we care about. Between 2007 and 2019, the rate of job creation in Scotland increased by about 5%. For the rest of the United Kingdom overall, the increase was about double that. Rather than focus on increasing the rate of job creation in Scotland, the SNP in Holyrood went into coalition with the Greens, whose website—I checked it myself—says explicitly that they want a universal basic income and that they think negative growth is manageable. That is not the action of a Scottish Government who are concerned about working hard for the people who elected them.
Let us turn to another issue, such as drug deaths, which many Members have already mentioned. Scottish drug deaths are the highest in Europe, but the response of the SNP is to decriminalise class A drug possession.
We would all agree that making long-term decisions in the public interest is another good way to implement and translate the principles of accountability, leadership, transparency and probity—all the things that we come to the House to do. What have the Government, led by the Prime Minister, done? On the vaccine roll-out, they opted out of the EU vaccine scheme, which was a brave decision at the time, because lots of people said that it would damn us to being at the back of the queue. In fact, we are at the front. On the green industrial revolution and the 10-point plan, we were lauded internationally at COP26 for our leadership on that issue. On the decision we made on social care, a subject that so many Governments have ducked, I suspect—dare I say it—that the Prime Minister was given advice saying, “Look, this is a really difficult issue. Is it right that we do it?” and the Prime Minister said, “Yes, we need to tackle social care, and we need to come up with a plan that is fairer and better for everybody in this country.” That is what dealing with the long-term interests of the people who elected us is about.
To finish by paraphrasing what the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) said in his speech, even Peppa Pig can see that this Government and this Prime Minister are taking the right actions, and the SNP is not.
I truly wish it was a privilege and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami). Has he heard of the word “mandate”? Actually, the one he knows really well is “deflection”.
I had hoped that the Prime Minister would step up to the mark when he assumed high office. I tell my granddaughters that I am disappointed, not angry, when they conduct themselves badly, but I am truly disappointed and angry, but not surprised, with the current Prime Minister, given his predilection for saying what he thinks people want to hear, and changing his mind and breaking promises when it suits.
I wish Scotland were not part of this Union, but while we are, SNP MPs like me must and should censure the current Prime Minister for dishonourable conduct that reflects badly on the UK both here and internationally. The Prime Minister seems to believe that it is okay to say one thing and do another, or to plough ahead with policies, in the middle of a pandemic, that cause real hardship to ordinary families and even more so to our vulnerable communities. Woe betide any person or organisation that gets in the way of what the Prime Minister and the Conservative party see as their divine right to govern how they like. Their attacks on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and on MPs who disagree are vile and undermine all independent checks, which are supposed to protect us all from abuses of power. The Westminster system is broken, and the sooner Scotland can break free of it, the better.
This Prime Minister thinks he can say or do what he likes without hindrance. We as MPs owe it to our constituents to challenge him and his Government to disabuse them of that notion, hence this motion today. Pork barrel politics is now the norm for this Conservative Government. It is much more likely that a Tory marginal seat will receive Government funding than an area that truly needs and deserves it. Seven out of 10 Cabinet Ministers were in low-priority most developed areas, but first in line for significant funding. As we say in Scotland, they do not even put a face on it. The Good Law Project has mounted a legal challenge to the levelling-up fund allocation to assess whether the funding is based on Tory ministerial bias and toeing the party line on certain issues. The Prime Minister believes in helping cronies and Ministers, and the devil take the hindmost. He enjoys unaccountable power, and can and has dismissed independent advice on alleged breaches of ministerial rules.
I want to focus this speech on how what the Prime Minister has done affects disabled people and families with disabled children. We are still in the middle of a public health crisis and inflation is now running at 5%, energy companies are failing, the cost of heating our homes is even higher and mortgage increases are likely. These things worry people in Scotland and the rest of the UK—I work hard for my constituents, and I challenge this Government on a daily basis to make their lives better—but none of this seems to concern this Prime Minister. What matters to him is money and protecting those who have it. There is yet another case going through the courts raised by two employment and support allowance claimants who are claiming that the Department for Work and Pensions acted unlawfully and discriminated against disabled people by not giving the uplift to those on legacy benefits. This sleazy UK Government, headed by a Prime Minister who does not understand how disabled people struggle to live, must look to the Scottish social security system, which is based on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect.
On this happy St Andrew’s Day I have had haggis, Irn-Bru and an SNP debate; I can recommend two out of the three any time of day.
Since arriving here in Parliament in 2019 it has always struck me that the SNP is just a one-trick pony, ignoring its own failings on health, education and the economy to put its own selfish case forward for independence. But it is losing the argument—we know that by the poll results—so SNP Members have adopted a new tactic: to besmirch the good name of our great Prime Minister. Maybe they should tell us where the missing £600,000 is and explain why senior members of their party stood down from its national executive committee earlier this year. Their own MPs are asking difficult questions yet the leadership remains silent. Maybe they should apologise to the people of Scotland for the state of their education system, which is failing thousands of Scottish children while they bang on about leaving the Union and rejoining the European Union. Maybe they should explain to the people of Scotland why, despite being in power for 13 years, they have the worst health statistics in the world. Frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves, instead of wasting parliamentary time on a pointless debate that will achieve nothing, and they should explain why after 13 years in power Scotland is going backwards.
I am sure the hon. Lady will understand that I am not responsible for what the hon. Gentleman says. I am sure—[Interruption.] Order. I am sure that if he feels he has said anything that is incorrect, he will want to correct the record.
I might make a slight correction here: perhaps I should have referred to the drug deaths, which are the worst in the western world.
What we need to chat about is the Westminster leader of the SNP, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who has been very quiet about the £270,00 he has rinsed from outside earnings since he was elected to Westminster in 2015. It would take the average worker in Scotland 11 years to earn that much money yet he stands over there every single Wednesday talking about poverty when his greedy snout is firmly in the trough; and remember this is on top—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am just trying to create an argument and my closing comments will back up what I am saying now.
The right hon. Gentleman has not even apologised for the drunken loutish behaviour of his own MPs who during a trip to Gibraltar just a few weeks ago were spotted staggering around—
The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. He is straying a long way from the motion. He is also referring to certain Members; I do not know whether they are here or not, but he should have notified them if he was going to refer to them. I suggest he resumes his speech and bears in mind the points I have made, because I would hate to think the public were looking at us and thinking that this has just become a slanging match.
I think I made my views very clear. First, it is very important not to make references to Members who are not here if the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) is accusing them of something; secondly, I hope we can maintain an element of courtesy in this debate—although it is not going well so far in the hon. Gentleman’s speech.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am going to apologise to the SNP, and we can clear this up straightaway. I apologise about the Gibraltar comments. I have spoken to some of my constituents who would like to see some of the MPs breathalysed next time they get off an aeroplane in Gibraltar. That will clear it up straightaway.
Now, all this nonsense from the SNP is in sharp contrast to our Prime Minister, who has got Brexit done by leaving the EU, delivered a £36 billion package to sort out the national health service and social care, delivered the fastest vaccination—
Does my hon. Friend not think it was a bit rich for the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) to start talking about public spending in constituencies served by Conservative Members when we have some of the poorest constituencies in the country voting Conservative these days because the working people trust this Prime Minister?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his sensible intervention. I only have to look at my constituency, Ashfield, one of the poorest in the country, and at neighbouring Bolsover, Don Valley and Rother Valley—all those places have had millions of pounds of investment. The Prime Minister has also launched our plan for jobs, helping people get back into work. We are cutting taxes, we are boosting wages—we are helping working families.
I am going to stop picking on the SNP, because I want to talk about the massed ranks of the Labour party. I am struggling to see them at the moment. Despite pretending to be bothered, they could not be bothered to turn up today. They seem to think that there is a war raging in France at the moment and that it is acceptable for thousands of illegal migrants to cross our channel every single day. They really need to get a grip.
Another sign that the Labour party has lost the plot is that it wants to replace our armed forces with “human security services”—a shift from the classic armed forces to a gender balanced, ethnically diverse human security services tasked with dampening down violence. Imagine that, Madam Deputy Speaker: a peace-loving British tank—
Several weeks ago, during the Standing Order No. 24 emergency debate on standards, Mr Speaker said that he wanted to see the House at its best. Sadly, I do not think we are seeing that today.
We have spent the afternoon listening to a list of instances of poor conduct committed by the Prime Minister, which is the focus of the debate, and I find that I have little to add to that list. Like many Members, I have had correspondence from people who just want this Government and this Prime Minister to behave properly on a variety of issues, and I agree with them. I know that campaigners in North Shropshire are hearing similar on the doorstep.
Previously, I have talked about my children, and the difference between saying sorry because you have been caught and actually apologising for wrongdoing. The fact that we are here yet again just shows that that message has not got through. It is not enough to change the subject when you have made an error of judgment; you must make it right, and not simply because it is politically opportune to do so. True contrition involves not doing the same thing again and taking the right actions.
What actions are those? Let us start with full support for the Standards Committee recommendations relating to the code of conduct, which were published yesterday. Let us talk about proper enforcement of the ministerial code. Let us talk about a willingness to support procedural changes to make this House modern, relevant and democratic in its workings.
Turning back to the motion, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) said at the weekend that in bringing this debate forward, he would be acting as the “real opposition” to this Government, but this is not a formal motion of no confidence and it will, sadly, have no meaningful outcome. Real opposition means taking real action and demanding real answers. I point out that it was not the SNP but myself and Liberal Democrats who secured the debate on parliamentary standards—I acknowledge that that was welcomed by the right hon. Gentleman’s party—that took place immediately following the initial standards vote. That was what forced answers to be given to the House and actions to be taken in relation to those matters.
I think we could have debated this topic today in a manner more likely to bring those on the Government Benches who have expressed displeasure at recent events to a position where some kind of consensus could be reached. That would have been a way of chipping away at the Government majority, which I am sure will be in full force this evening. Digesting the Standards Committee report would be a clear way forward for this House on an issue that affects us all.
There are vital issues that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber could have chosen to debate with his party today. His colleague in the Scottish Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, was just this weekend arguing that his party is the only one that cares about devolution. If that is the case, why are we not discussing that, given how vital the right hon. Gentleman’s counterparts in Holyrood believe it to be? Is it partly because the reality is that the SNP is not really all that fussed about devolution at all, when what it wants to do is end it and cut Scotland asunder from the rest of the UK? Devolution means devolving powers to where they can be best utilised and to the maximum benefit of the public.
The current Scottish Government, led by the SNP in coalition with the Scottish Greens, like to centralise power just as much as those on the Conservative Benches in the UK Government. There is no evidence of any support for real devolution from the right hon. Member’s party. I am a Liberal Democrat, a Scottish Liberal Democrat—a party with a long history of supporting, in over 20 years of the Scottish Parliament, not just devolution but federalism. Powers and funding should be national, regional or local depending on the requirement. But perhaps I am wrong. I hope the right hon. Member and his party will explain why, if his party feels so strongly about devolution, it is not the issue in the motion we are debating.
As the MP for the town of St Andrews on St Andrew’s Day, I think we could have used this Opposition time more productively than what has been afforded to us this afternoon.
I rise today on behalf of the people of Rother Valley to put on the record our strong and unwavering support for the Prime Minister and the transformative work he is doing for our communities and areas like ours across the north and the midlands. There is no doubt that this Prime Minister gets things done. I have been very disappointed by the tone of the debate. SNP Members, in typical SNP fashion, snipe from the sidelines—they are literally doing it now—and make wholly unsubstantiated claims for purely political gain. This Prime Minister, however, focuses on the job at hand of levelling up for everyone. It is clear that he is radically improving public life. To prove that, my constituents would point to a panoply of evidence.
First, and very importantly for those on the Conservative Benches and the people of the country, this is the Prime Minister who got Brexit done where others failed. He achieved Brexit when we were told that we could not leave and there was no deal that we could make. Despite that, he overcame the gridlock and delivered on what the people wanted, Brexit, which was no easy feat. He secured a deal that everyone else said was impossible and negotiated an unprecedented free trade agreement with the European Union, which no other country in the world enjoys. Crucially, he achieved a full and complete Brexit: not some Brexit in name only which was advocated by many of the liberal elite, but a full and proper Brexit.
I am a bit unsure about the hon. Gentleman’s point, because the United Kingdom as a whole voted for Brexit, including a large number of people in Scotland, lest we forget—an awful lot of people. I think we should all obey the will of the people. As we have already established, when we talk about standards, SNP Members do not like listening to the will of the people, whether on Brexit or independence. They are having their cake and eating it.
Another aspect that my constituents—even SNP constituents—care passionately about is the roll-out of the fastest vaccine programme in the world under this Prime Minister. By taking the brave choices and backing myriad horses, almost nine in 10 people aged 12 and over have now received a first dose of the vaccine. Undoubtedly, the Prime Minister’s actions have led to the saving of thousands upon thousands of lives.
The Prime Minister has placed great emphasis on inventing and manufacturing vaccines here in Britain. We must recognise the Prime Minister’s foresight in placing bets on multiple vaccine options, in over-ordering doses, in ensuring the provision of boosters and in backing our British scientists and companies. Not only that, but we have provided vaccines to the rest of the world, leading the way at the G20 on vaccine donation, committing 100 million doses, including the entire Janssen UK supply and half of the UK Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines for countries in need.
Turning to Rother Valley, this Prime Minister has the backing of Rother Valley and is delivering for it. There is his support for the green industries of the future, with visible Government support for ITM Power and Government measures to protect Sheffield and Rotherham steel.
We have heard about the levelling-up fund, from which Rother Valley was pleased to get £11 million. Contrary to what SNP Members claim about the funding going to well-off areas, £4.5 million of that went to a town that they may only have heard of called Maltby. It is one of the most deprived parts of the country—in fact, it is in the lowest 5% for poverty in the entire country. I therefore believe that people there should get that funding. It is right.
The Prime Minister has listened to the people of Rother Valley and scrapped the HS2 2b arm, which is great. The area has received much coronavirus support throughout, including from bounce back loans and the like. On top of that, the Government are delivering the biggest increase in police numbers in 10 years. Government funding and the police precept will mean that, by 2022, police numbers in South Yorkshire will rise by 228—[Interruption.] Despite what SNP Members may be chuntering—there are not many of them, admittedly—by 2023, there will be more police than there were in 2010, so we are overdelivering.
Let us look at the evidence for why the people back the Prime Minister. I point to the local election results in Rotherham this year: the last time we had election results, we got a grand total of zero Conservative councillors, but this time in May, we had 20. That is the biggest increase of any council in the country and the most Conservative councillors that have ever represented Rotherham. In Rotherham, that bastion of socialism since time immemorial, Labour came within 94 votes of losing their majority. If that is not a backing for this Prime Minister, his way of doing things and getting things done, and his action, I do not know what is. Surely the test of all politicians is election results and, in May this year, the electorate gave its resounding support to the Prime Minister.
I believe that this House offers its full backing to the Prime Minister, and that Rother Valley and those areas that need levelling up support him to get things done.
Order. There have been a lot of interventions. As a result, I will have to take the time limit down to three minutes. I have been able to warn the next speaker, but I urge colleagues to be aware that if they continue to take interventions, not everyone will get in.
The fact is that we are here today because we have a Prime Minister who has spent the past two years undermining the very institution of liberal democracy.
On cash for honours, it is one thing to bestow meaningless medieval titles on people but it is quite another when those titles guarantee a seat for life in this building, subject to zero democratic oversight, zero elections and zero accountability—but it was ever thus. In the days of Maundy Gregory and Lloyd George, there was a price list for honours: £10,000 for a knighthood and up to £50,000—£2.7 million in today’s prices, funnily enough—for a peerage. At least that predated the introduction of VAT and kept prices down for eager customers.
When the law finally caught up with Mr Gregory, he was fined £50 and got two months in jail. He is still the only person to have been convicted of selling honours and, even then, he escaped any prosecution over the sale of British honours—instead, he was collared for punting Vatican ones. That fact alone is incredible given all that we know about the past 100 years of the Lords and political honours, but his sentence also tells a tale about the establishment’s attitude to someone caught in the act: they simply are not interested. Not a single person has ever been convicted of selling British honours. If someone believes that that means that honours have not been sold, I have a bridge or two I can sell them—not a garden bridge or a bridge to Northern Ireland, because only a mug would think that those were feasible.
The British establishment, with the Prime Minister at its apex, has shown over decades that the House of Lords is unreformable. The plain fact is that the Lords’ main function is not to revise and amend legislation as part of democracy’s checks and balances, because the only checks that are required for appointment to the House of Lords need to be made payable to Conservative central office.
The Prime Minister has shown himself time and again to be unfit to decide who sits in that place. He is not the first, but he is possibly the worst. He has used his untrammelled powers over honours to stuff what is supposed to be an upper Chamber of Parliament full of cronies and chums. He should be thoroughly ashamed, but it is not even clear that he has the ability to feel shame.
It is time for Scotland to rid itself of this stink and follow a different course. Whatever challenges independence will bring—and there will be challenges—we will at least have a functioning democracy based on accountability and plurality, rather than the absolutely rotten system that we live under today. We will also no longer live under the Prime Minister and his open contempt for democracy.
I must say that I find it utterly bizarre that we find ourselves here this afternoon, once again wasting valuable parliamentary time, all because SNP Members are so desperate to deflect from their own insecurities and failures. It is laughable that they want to accuse our Prime Minister of ignoring advice when the policy of ignoring is precisely what their party stands for. The good Scottish people voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom, but SNP Members will not take the final word of their own constituents as exactly what it is; instead, they seek to overturn it. Theirs is a policy of division.
The SNP nationalists consistently let down Scottish people on healthcare, with accident and emergency waiting times near the worst level on record. Their First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, stumbled and floundered over her devolved nationalist Government’s record on the NHS, covid recovery and the economy in a recent TV interview: all she appeared to do was blame the pandemic. In her time as First Minister, the number of people waiting more than 12 weeks for treatment increased by 427% for out-patients and 1,590% for in-patients.
Who supported the Scottish people, Scottish businesses and the Scottish Government through the pandemic? It was the UK Government, led by our Prime Minister. It was the UK Government who implemented the furlough scheme supporting more than 900,000 individuals. It was the UK Government who supported 175,000 self-employed workers in Scotland, with a total claim on the UK taxpayer of nearly £1.7 billion. It was this UK Government who secured access to the covid-19 vaccine for Scotland, saving lives and stopping the spread of the virus. It is this UK Government who have secured the booster jabs to protect and save lives as we face uncertainties over the omicron variant.
But I do not think that SNP Members care about any of that. They do not care about what really benefits their residents; they care only about holding on to their seats. For them, it is about division. To fuel their own separatist fires, they want English Members in this place to come out berating Scotland and its people. I have news for them: all the colleagues I know love Scotland and the Scottish people. Even Labour MPs, although they are absent today, love Scotland—why, they even had a Prime Minister and a Chancellor who were Scottish.
This personal attack on the Prime Minister is nothing more than an act of political desperation by a party that is covering up its failings. Soon we will have not just painted windows on ferries that it cannot build, but painted images on the Opposition Benches for a party of Christmas past. The SNP is running out of ideas and running out of time.
Madam Deputy Speaker,
“The Scotch—what a verminous race!”
So says a racist poem that calls for the “comprehensive extermination” of the Scots—a poem that the current Prime Minister thought merited publishing when he was editor of The Spectator. We know that he thinks that
“a pound spent in Croydon is far more of value to the country…than a pound spent in Strathclyde.”
That is his view of our place in the Union. We have already heard the hon. Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) telling us to be grateful for what we get.
The Prime Minister has suggested that it is English subsidies that pay for Scottish Government policies such as free personal care and free tuition fees. He has also called for the abolition of the Barnett formula. Not long ago, he told Tory Back Benchers that devolution was Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake” and a “disaster”, so it is both bizarre and pathetic how the Scottish Tories defend this man and his attitudes.
The Prime Minister tried to woo us with the Union bridge, but we did not need the feasibility study to tell us that it was a stupid idea and that it could not be done. Meanwhile, while he kept trying to find money for his vanity project, the Scottish carbon capture cluster—the most advanced such project—has been ditched in favour of two clusters in the north of England that are targeted at the red wall seats. Yet again, that is our place in the Union according to the Prime Minister.
This is also the Prime Minister who helped to inflict Brexit on us—a man happy to be on a bus with a slogan that was a downright lie, with a leave campaign that broke the rules on the use of data and was partly funded by dark money.
The hon. Gentleman may not have been in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate, but the Chairman of Ways and Means made it very clear that, in the particular circumstances of this debate, some language that could not normally be used is allowed because of the nature of the motion.
For the record, the slogan on the bus was a downright lie.
This is a Prime Minister who gave us an illegal prorogation of Parliament, and was willing to break international law. This is a Prime Minister who clearly does not respect democracy, and is seeking to undermine it further. We have the introduction of voter ID, and lifetime votes for expatriates because he thinks that that they are more likely to vote Tory. He has given himself the power to call an election. We have seen the attack on the Electoral Commission, the privatisation of Channel 4, the attempts to install Paul Dacre as chair of Ofcom, and the secret freedom of information clearing house. All those are further levers to manipulate and to hold on to power. Moreover, this a man who once conspired to have a reporter beaten up, and who was sacked from his own job as a journalist for lying in a story. As we have heard, he also continues to stuff the House of Lords with cronies and donors. It is outrageous that he suggested to the Liaison Committee that that was necessary to counteract the power of trade unions.
All this explains why the Prime Minister rushed to the defence of Owen Paterson over paid lobbying. So many of my constituents ask me how I can put up with the antics in this place, but one thing I can tell the Tories is that this is driving people towards independence.
Any member of the public who has the misfortune to stumble across the debate will be appalled that, at the time of a pandemic, a migrant crisis, endless illegal crossings of the channel and numerous other real concerns that are filling up my inbox, SNP Members are indulging themselves with this non-issue in a transparent attempt to generate a few cheap headlines. I am interested in how they alighted on the sum of £41,567. Is that so that the British Prime Minister would make less money than the leader of the SNP in Scotland? I am not sure because in general the job of the Prime Minister, the most responsible role in the country, is already remunerated annually for less than that of countless public sector bureaucrats and managers, many of whom earn twice or even three times the Prime Minister's salary for a fraction of the responsibility. As they are so interested in fairness, SNP Members will presumably be demanding a debate on that anomaly as well—or perhaps not.
The only person who is not justifying his salary is the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who, instead of serving his constituents and allowing the rest of us to do the same, prefers to waste all our time on this infantile debate. That says far more about him than it does about our Prime Minister.
With or without invoking parliamentary privilege, it is sadly fair comment and no libel when we consider the conduct of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and how it has become unbecoming of a Prime Minister. That prompts the question of how and why we have reached this point. Today’s debate should not be partisan and it should not be about the failings of a single man, because this place made him and it has so far enabled his conduct to take place. There needs to be a discussion of how far we are willing to go before we reset the course of a failing ship of state so that it can sail straight.
For too long this place has insulated itself from criticism and failure by burrowing deeper and deeper into the traditions and virtues of history. It remains entrenched in the conventions of a time when landed gentlemen indulged in debating skills, all the while legislating to protect their own vested interests, two sword-lengths apart. You would wonder, would you not, Madam Deputy Speaker, what has changed. Its chronic reluctance to overcome adversarial politics and to modernise means that its vulnerabilities can be, and have been, easily exploited by some for personal or political gain. This place lent itself to that.
We need to do better to remedy the sheer immensity of the challenges that we face. We have all talked about that, but we have been so adversarial about it, haven’t we? We have used it as a pantomime charge to throw against one another. It is a consensual rather than an adversarial politics that lies at the heart of Plaid Cymru’s co-operation agreement with the Labour Welsh Government, which was ratified this weekend. The conduct of this Prime Minister necessitates it. It has brought Labour on board with several key Plaid Cymru pledges, including free school meals for all primary school pupils, the devolution of the management of the Crown Estate, a commitment to take radical action to address the second homes crisis and, yes, long-term reform of the Senedd, to name but a few. This is the politics of the 21st century, and not a museum piece. The behaviour of this Prime Minister has necessitated it.
We want to work with other parties to achieve social, economic and environmental progress, and this agreement does that. It also brings about the stability, consensus and ideas needed in our political system to ensure that we rebuild from the pandemic and act swiftly to achieve net zero. I look forward to hearing support from the Labour Benches here and the parliamentary Labour party for the only place in which Labour holds Government in the United Kingdom.
It could have been so much better today. We had a precious chance to debate the issues that are most important to the people of Scotland, and SNP Members know what those issues are, because every opinion poll tells them that it is not independence. Fewer than 13% of Scots put it in their top three issues. In fact, the top three priorities for Scotland are healthcare, the economy and education, and it is just the same in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are together in this in our United Kingdom. But that is no good, because the job of the SNP is to sow division and to drive a wedge, because it has one issue—independence—irrespective of the views of the Scottish people.
If we look at healthcare, we can see why SNP Members are so silent on it. Any debate on the SNP’s health performance over the past 14 years would be a disaster for it. Even before covid, waiting times for referrals in England averaged 12 days—room for improvement—but in Scotland, waiting times for out-patients were 32 days and for in-patients 45 days. That is not an accident. That is the choice of the SNP. We have already heard about the drugs scandal. If we want to debate a scandal in this House today, we should debate the SNP’s drugs policy.
What about the economy? SNP Members do not want to talk about that either, because of the massive support from the United Kingdom Government for millions of people and businesses across Scotland, including the furlough schemes; the 99,000 Scottish businesses helped through business support; the billions invested in locally driven partnerships and projects from the shared prosperity fund, the levelling-up fund, the community ownership fund and the global Britain investment fund; and of course the Union dividend of £2,800 for every adult and child invested in Scotland every year. So we had better not talk about the economy.
That is before I have even mentioned the third issue: education. The SNP used to want to talk about that. In 2015, Nicola Sturgeon said:
“Let me be clear. I want to be judged on this. If you are not, as First Minister, prepared to put your neck on the line on the education of our young people, then what are you prepared to do? It really matters.”
She was right. It really does matter. But after a decade of devolved power, Scotland has fallen below England in the PISA standards for reading, maths and science. The SNP does not want to talk about that.
So what is left? An obsession with constitutional change and a debate on how much the Prime Minister should be paid. This matters. Just yesterday, the First Minister ordered the Scottish Government to divert resources to prepare for a referendum—
It would be remiss of me not to start my contribution to a debate on the Prime Minister by reflecting on the characteristics of my own toddler back at home. He is fast approaching two, and he is developing a cute personality. He likes to re-enact or imitate the noises that cars make. Sometimes he loses his place, by complete chance, and does not know what he is saying or doing. I think it is adorable. Of course, my toddler is a massive fan of Peppa Pig, although he has not yet been to Peppa Pig World, and long may that continue. The House will imagine my surprise that I have not had a phone call asking whether he can deliver a keynote speech to the CBI, as the Prime Minister did.
On a more serious note, the veneer and the laughter that encapsulate the Prime Minister and that got many Conservative Back Benchers elected are disappearing like snow off a dike. The reason is simple. It is because the Prime Minister breaks his promises, whether it is protecting the triple lock on pensions, protecting the international aid budget or not raising taxes. That breaking of promises breaks trust with the public, which is why his poll ratings continue to plummet. That is before we get to the reality of the corruption and sleaze we have seen in the past few weeks and months, with the VIP lanes for Tory friends, families and donors, the Owen Paterson scandal and the fact that people with £3 million can get themselves a seat in the House of Lords.
It is not just at home that the Prime Minister’s reputation is plummeting; it is plummeting abroad, too. When we needed leadership at COP26, we got Kermit the Frog, belching cows and, of course, our Prime Minister sitting beside David Attenborough without a mask. On Brexit, our relations with the European Union are a complete and utter boorach. Last week, when people were dying in the channel as they tried to get to this country, the Prime Minister sought to do diplomacy via Twitter. That is a lesson in how not to do diplomacy.
I will break from the norm and agree with some Tories. I hope the Prime Minister stays in post because, when it comes to Scotland’s independence referendum, I sincerely hope he is in the vanguard of the push to protect their precious Union.
I would like to say what a pleasure it has been to listen to the single transferable Whip’s speech that seems to have passed from one end of the Tory Benches to the other, but I am comparatively early in my parliamentary career and I have no wish to be hauled up for misleading the House.
Plenty of criticism can be made of policy, but the bit that everyone on the Government Benches, from the Minister to the Back Benchers, seems to have completely missed is that this debate is about the probity and suitability of the current occupant of No. 10 Downing Street to be there and to continue carrying out his duties as Prime Minister.
When I first started taking an interest in politics, I was a student during the tail-end of John Major’s time in Downing Street. There were scandals aplenty then, like now, from the petty and the embarrassing through to the corruption of cash for questions and the outright duplicity of the arms to Iraq affair. It was hard to imagine that the UK might ever again be led by a Government so chaotic, so lacking in scruple, so willing to bend the truth and so willing to hawk themselves around the broadcasting studios to assert that forwards is backwards and black is white, yet here we are. Although we can all no doubt highlight points along that trajectory where things really started heading for the ground, I do not think any reasonable person could dispute that the present holder of the office of Prime Minister has taken us to this nadir of public trust in Government and politics.
It is all part of a pattern of behaviour. If you want a photo opportunity in a hospital but can’t be bothered to wear a mask, just ignore the instruction to wear one. If you don’t like the Electoral Commission investigating who funds your party, your takeaways or your flat renovations, emasculate the Electoral Commission. You don’t like the fact that people without ready access to ID tend not to vote for your party—try to introduce voter ID. You don’t like the fact that voters in devolved nations don’t elect enough representatives of your party to have any influence—try to bypass devolution. You accidentally create a border in the Irish sea—just pretend it does not exist and tell people that black is white.
This Government clearly think the rules do not apply to them; it is one rule for the Government and another rule for everybody else. It comes from the top, led by a Prime Minister who clearly does not think that there are any rules at all or that if there are, they should not apply to him.
Does my hon. Friend agree that for all this talk of the levelling-up agenda, when it comes to Scotland it is clear that it is a scorched earth agenda? Whether we are talking about carbon capture in his part of the country or the Valneva contract to deliver 100 million vaccines, which we need right now, this Prime Minister is not capable of doing the very basics and telling the truth.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and she says it very eloquently and succinctly. We have a crisis of confidence in this country. We have a crisis of confidence in the Prime Minister, who is clearly not fit for the job with which he has been entrusted. This is being aided and abetted by the silence and complicity of far too many Conservative Members, and I cannot wait to see which Lobby the Scottish Conservative contingent, in particular, chooses to go through this evening.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Ministers and Government Members have been trying all afternoon to treat this debate as though it was not serious—as though it was a Westminster bubble story that will go away or in which our constituents are not interested, but that is not the case. Constituents have been emailing me since I came here in 2015, as they have been observing this place and its shenanigans. We are talking about practices and behaviour that would not be allowed or tolerated in the lives of our constituents or in workplaces up and down the country. They see a Parliament led by a Prime Minister for whom rules do not apply and consequences do not exist. They see grubby, manky, tawdry lies repeated again and again. My constituents see the Prime Minister at that Dispatch Box saying things that are not true. Like me, they find it bizarre that this is the only place where calling out a lie gets you in more trouble than telling one.
It is not for the Paymaster General or those on the Tory Benches to tell me what is important to my constituents and what they feel is important. My constituents have contacted me to tell me that they believe the House of Lords—that repository of those who have lost their seats, the donors and the cronies—should be abolished. Constituents have contacted me on the need for an urgent inquiry into the covid-19 scandals, to get the truth of where these VIP lanes have led. They have contacted me angry about the Electoral Commission being undermined by this Tory Government, about the Elections Bill, about voter ID, which will suppress their democratic rights, and about the shameful behaviour of Conservative Members seeking to change the standards to protect their pals.
My constituents care deeply about fairness and democracy. They are increasingly appalled by the behaviour of this UK Tory Government and this Prime Minister, and many of them are now seeking an alternative.
This has been some debate. I have to say at the outset that I did not think our modest little motion would trigger Tory Back Benchers in the way it has done. There have been some amazing speeches in response to what we put forward, in a very reasonable motion about the behaviour and conduct of the Prime Minister. I wish to discuss their speeches, because some of them were truly fascinating and I want to go into some of the details.
First, however, I wish to congratulate my colleagues on some outstanding contributions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) was absolutely right to highlight and list that litany of sleaze and corruption. He reminded us of the Nolan principles of public life. He was right to use the “L” word. I have been 20 years in this House and it has not become commonplace for that to be used here, but today it is the only word that is appropriate—no other alternatives can be found. It is the only way we can describe some of the Prime Minister’s conduct. The Chairman of Ways and Means was absolutely right to make her ruling today because there is no other way to describe what the Prime Minister has said to this House. I am reluctant to use the word, as I have been in this House so long, but lie it is.
There were some great speeches from my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie); from my hon. Friends the Members for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) and for Airdrie and Shotts (Ms Qaisar); from my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson)—that was a fantastic speech; from my hon. Friends the Members for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown); from my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), whose toddler I would rather have addressing the CBI than the Prime Minister any day; from my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson); and from the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts).
Then there were the Conservative speeches. Well, Madam Deputy Speaker, where do you start? First, Conservative Members come here and tell us that we should not be debating this motion and should be debating something else. They said exactly the same thing the previous time we had an Opposition day. Perhaps we should ask the Leader of the House for permission and to tell us exactly what we should debate on our own Opposition days. What a hard neck Conservative Members have: they pockled half a day from our Opposition day so that they could discuss the wearing of face masks in England. If they do not know what pockled means, let me tell them: it means misappropriating, taking away and stealing, which is exactly what they did today.
I thought we were doing Conservative Members a favour: I thought they would all be queuing up and jumping over each other to get to their feet to defend the Prime Minister and tell us what a wonderful character he was, about all his attributes, that he was the most honest man in the world and that he was corruption and sleaze-free. But none of them did it—not one. [Interruption.] There was one, and I think somebody else might have mentioned just how valuable the Prime Minister is to them, but none of the rest of the Conservative Members were even going to prepare to start to defend their Prime Minister. They wanted to talk about absolutely everything other than what the motion is about. They tried to get us to talk about everything else other than the motion, but let me tell them that although they think it is unimportant, it will be their downfall.
Conservative Members actually believe their own rhetoric and that nobody cares about Tory sleaze and corruption, but it is all anybody is talking about. Why do they think their opinion poll rating has dropped by something up to eight percentage points? It is not because the SNP is not debating education or health; it is because Conservative Members are mired in a sleaze and corruption scandal on the scale of those in the 1990s. That is the reality of what people are discussing the length and breadth of the country and that is why their ratings are falling.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. The Intelligence and Security Committee stated recently:
“Russian influence in the UK is the new normal. Successive Governments have welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms, providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance”
“connections…to UK companies and political figures.”
That is corruption at the heart of the British Government, is it not?
Absolutely and utterly. It would take all day—longer than I am allowed—just to list the corruption and sleaze in even the scantiest of detail. Conservative Members are up to their necks in it. They might wish, as they have been doing all afternoon, that the public did not care about it, but the public care very much. I will tell them who they have to blame: the very man mentioned in the motion. It is their Prime Minister who has led them to fall in the polls. I thought they would be rushing to join us this evening—come and roam in the gloaming with us in the Aye Lobby as we censure the Prime Minister—because he has treated them appallingly, almost to the point of cruelty. They are having to defend themselves against their constituents. They are actually having to say to their constituents that Peppa Pig is not a Government Minister, such is the confusion that abounds. They should join us tonight: they know it is the right thing to do. The Prime Minister has treated them appallingly and they should help us this evening.
The Prime Minister has gone from being Conservative Members’ brightest Brexit asset to being their biggest liability. Forget about being led to the top of the hill; they have had to carve out a new gorge and mountain range for the amount of mountaineering they have had to do. That is why they should help us. They thought they would saunter to their next election victory, but the Prime Minister has sorted that.
I have to say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber that I am a bit conflicted by the motion. I am conflicted not in the sense that I do not think we have a disgrace of a Prime Minister—somebody who should not get within several feet of Larry the cat, let alone the No. 10 sitting room—but because this Prime Minister is the best recruiting sergeant that we have for the cause of Scottish independence. What would we do without him? [Interruption.] They are all agreeing with me on the Government Benches. He is! More than anybody else, he has made sure that the cause of Scottish independence has been promoted in the way it has and we have to thank him for that. I have to say to my right hon. Friend that I am a little bit conflicted. I will back the motion because the Prime Minister is useless, because he is corrupt, because he is sleazeworthy, and because he lies to this House, but, by God, what a job he has done for the cause of Scottish independence. For that, we have him to thank.
As I have been thanking people over the course of this debate, it would be lax of me not to also thank the Conservative Back-Bench Members. I thank them for their efforts today—they were absolutely fantastic. Something that they always forget when they get up and make their stupid speeches is that the people of Scotland are watching them. They were enamoured by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson)—he is not in his place, which is really unfortunate—because of his disgraceful speech. People of Scotland watched these speeches and thought, “Why on earth would I want to be in this minging midden with these people speaking about my nation in such a way?” For that, I thank the Tory Back Benchers most sincerely. They have done a stellar job today in ensuring that Scottish independence happens.
There is a whole list of things to talk about, but there is just one issue that I will touch on—[Interruption.] My Tory fans are really backing what I am saying today. There is one issue that we really need to touch on because it has been mentioned so often by my hon. Friends: it is that place down the end of the corridor. What a place! The House of Lords is now Ground Zero of Tory corruption. The fact is that all but one of the last nine Tory treasurers were in that place. I looked up all of them. I was looking for philanthropy, good causes and charities, but the only thing that unites them—the only one defining feature—is this rare ability to be able to give £3 million to Tory coffers.
I will obviously follow your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not referring to individuals. I am referring to that place down the corridor.
Hardly any of the Labour party turned up today; two Back Benchers came along. I say to them all, “Help us! Help us to clean that place out”. They should not accept any more Members of the House of Lords, for goodness sake. We have this one opportunity, with all this Tory corruption going on.
I was listening to the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds). I like her. She is one of these genuine Labour Front Benchers. But there was nobody else from the Labour party today. What is that about? This is serious stuff. This is the behaviour of the Prime Minister. We are talking about his conduct generally and we need to make sure that the Labour party is with us in order to take this on.
We will not stop this. We want out of this House. Scotland will be an independent nation. We will not be here for much longer. The Scottish people are observing how business is done here, and they do not like it one bit. They do not like the speeches from the hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies on the Back Benches. They cannot stand this Prime Minister. More and more, the Scottish people are looking at this place and deciding that what they want is a nation of their own, a country that they can design in their own fashion and not have it determined by a Tory Prime Minister, and they are going to get it.
May I start by wishing you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and colleagues across the House, a very happy St Andrew’s Day. Perhaps after this heated and charged debate, we might all enjoy a little of Scotland’s national drink to toast what unites us and what divides us.
I will endeavour to reply to as many Members as possible in the few minutes that I have. I apologise if I am not able to pick up on everyone’s comments. As it is St Andrew’s Day, it is probably appropriate for me to start by referring to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) who is, sadly, not in her place at the minute, but her seat contains St Andrew’s. She made a couple of important points, but this debate is a wasted opportunity today. If the real concern for the separatists on the SNP Benches was to take forward the debate on standards in public life, we could have had a debate on the Committee’s report and some of the related issues on that, but, no, they chose not to do so. The hon. Lady also suggested that the centralising power of the Scottish Government could properly be examined—issues that really matter to people in Scotland. But no, we did not discuss that.
It is disappointing but not entirely surprising that we have spent our time today responding to the desire of SNP Members once again to engage in the divisive, splitting-up policies that appeal to their fan base in the wake of their recent conference. Perhaps, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) pointed out, it is to give them fresh social media clips to post on Twitter and elsewhere. It was pointed out to me during the debate that SNP command and control was tweeting about this debate using an old photograph of the Chamber, so unless SNP Members have had a complete costume change during the debate, perhaps this is the fresh material that they need.
Of course, I did not expect SNP Members to arrive here with a long list of the ways in which membership of the Union benefits Scotland, or the many ways in which this Government are investing in the future of Scotland as we navigate our way through the pandemic. They want to talk of the Prime Minister’s conduct. I am happy to talk of the Prime Minister’s conduct in securing for Scotland the roll-out of the covid-19 vaccine, saving lives and stopping the spread of the virus. Today, the conduct of the Prime Minister has been to set out how we are going to ramp up the booster programme to give us the best possible defence against the current variant.
The hon. Lady must forgive me; I have to respond to a lot of her colleagues.
We could have been debating the important issue of how we respond sensibly to this new variant. Of course, I would not expect the SNP to highlight the way in which this Government have supported thousands of businesses in Scotland, with more than £4 billion of loans through the bounce back loan scheme and the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. It took 13 minutes only for the reality to be revealed—that this is actually all about separation and the SNP’s desire to achieve it. That is what this is all about, not the real issues that are of importance to the people of Scotland.
Let me turn to the contribution of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds). I do feel some sympathy for her, given the massed ranks of two colleagues with her—two and half perhaps; I am not quite sure where Labour is with that. The hon. Lady said something quite surprising. She said that Labour Members are not here today because it is an SNP debate, as if that exempts them from talking about these issues. Has Labour given up in Scotland? Does it fall solely to the Conservative party to be the defender of the Union? I really think that her colleagues should take a little bit more interest in this matter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) made a hugely important contribution, spelling out the reality amid all the false accusations about the procurement of vital equipment during the early stages of the pandemic. We were in a race against time to get that equipment, and he rightly spelt out what happened. This nonsense about crony contracts is just not fit for purpose. He also made the important point that our vaccine programme was UK-funded, using universities across the UK; that is the reality of the Union.
The right hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), for whom I have a lot of affection—we have worked collaboratively on issues affecting his constituency or nearby—made a number of accusations that I really cannot allow to lie. First, he said that we were engaged in various acts of voter suppression regarding voter ID. I have to reveal to him that we already have voter ID in one part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland—and there is no evidence that it suppresses voter turnout. He also cited the boundary review, as if it was unnecessary. I looked up the electorate in his constituency, which is approximately 66,000. I have nearly 100,000 electors, and is it not a basic point of fairness that we each represent approximately the same number of voters? His final point was to reference a Supreme Court judgment. He seems to have forgotten that the Supreme Court recently ruled against the Scottish Government when they tried to exceed the powers of the devolution settlement—and this is a party that talks about respecting devolution. I have to say it was off the mark.
I am not going to be able to respond to many more contributions, but I do have to respond to the very important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie). At the moment his constituents are without power, heating and basic services. He wants to know how this Government and the Scottish Government can work together to help those people in his constituency. That is what we should be debating today, not partisan red meat to throw at the fanbase to cover up internal divisions over the next steps to independence.
This Prime Minister is passionate about the United Kingdom. He is setting out some of the long-term solutions to the challenges we face, like on social care—an issue that has been ducked by Government for too long. That is the conduct of this Prime Minister. It is a Prime Minister I am proud to serve in this Government, and I urge colleagues to reject the motion before us tonight.