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Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 8 December 2021

In view of the harm caused to political stability in Northern Ireland and to our economy by the Northern Ireland protocol, noting the lack of progress in removing the Irish Sea border, and recognising that Unionist consent for the protocol is not forthcoming, what urgent steps do the Prime Minister and his Government intend to take to honour his commitment to restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK internal market and to safeguard the political institutions in Northern Ireland?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. He and I have discussed this extensively, and he knows that we share a view that the protocol is not working in the way that it needs to in order to guarantee the Belfast-Good Friday agreement. I do not believe things need to be that way. I think it could be worked differently. We want our EU friends and partners to understand that and we will continue to work with them to get them to see things in the way that people on both sides of the Irish sea see them. In the meantime, we do not remove the possibility of invoking article 16 to protect trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Q7. This week thousands of my Hindu constituents and millions worldwide start the celebrations of the birth centenary of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj. His life was given over to people of all castes, races and religions. He was of course the inspiration behind the world-renowned Neasden temple and hundreds of other temples. Will my right hon. Friend join me in that celebration and in giving good wishes to all Hindus across the world? (904649)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this, and I thank the Hindu community for their amazing contribution to this country. I was delighted to visit the Neasden temple last month to hear about all they have done during the pandemic. I wish everybody in that community and all those celebrating all the very best.

Q3. The chaos of this Government is a distraction from the serious decisions they should be taking. We all know that the Chinese Government deny basic human rights to China’s minority religious communities. The repression of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur population in Xinjiang has been condemned as an act of genocide. In the face of these abuses, President Biden has decided that US diplomats will boycott the Beijing Olympics. New Zealand and Australia have followed suit. It is international Human Rights Day on Friday, so will the Prime Minister raise his eyes from his chaos and commit the UK to joining the diplomatic boycott, or does his desperation for trade deals trump human rights? (904645)

No, because we make all those points regularly to the Chinese. Indeed, I did to President Xi when I talked to him recently. As I have said before, we do not support sporting boycotts, but there are certainly no plans for Ministers to attend the winter Olympics.

Q9. Many of my constituents in Sleaford and North Hykeham are struggling to access an NHS dentist, leading to pain and suffering, in particular for children, military families and veterans. My right hon. Friend has invested a record amount of money in the NHS. Does he agree that some of this money must be used to level up dental care provision? Does he share my surprise that there is no dental school in the east midlands, and will he back my campaign for a dental school in Lincolnshire? (904651)

Health Education England is working extensively in Lincolnshire to improve the recruitment and retention of dentists. I understand that it agrees with her about the uneven distribution of dental schools throughout the country, and I am sure that as it considers its next steps, it will have heard her appeal.

Q4. Storm Arwen left thousands of people in Bearpark, Ludworth, Sherburn and Waterhouses without heating or electricity, yet it took five days for a ministerial statement to be made and a week to send in the Army. My constituents were not just left without power; they were left without a Government who care. Can the Prime Minister look me in the eye and honestly say that he did everything he could, as soon as he could, to help the people of Durham? (904646)

Yes, I can. I can tell the hon. Lady that I was in contact with representatives of the local authorities, of the Army, of Northern Powergrid and others to see what more we could do to assist them in restoring power. I sympathise very much with the families who lost power for an unconscionably long period, and the House will have heard the explanation of the various electricity companies about why that is so. We must learn the lessons from Storms Arwen and Barra and ensure nothing like that happens again.

Q10. I know we all agree that our vaccination programme has been a tremendous success. Vaccinations are the frontline of defence against all variants of covid, and the booster jab is a vital component of that, but in rural areas like mine, our booster centres are often few and very far between, and two thirds of housebound people—those perhaps most vulnerable, most susceptible and most in need—have not yet received their booster. Can I ask my right hon. Friend what steps the Government are taking to ensure that more centres are available, particularly in rural areas? Will he ask the Health Secretary to meet me with some urgency to ensure that my constituents can get their boosters and stay protected this winter? (904652)

Among the heroes of the vaccine roll-out are pharmacists up and down the country, as my hon. Friend rightly says. We have 1,500 community pharmacies vaccinating people near where they live. I know that the NHS is considering the need to support more pop-up clinics where there is a need. I am happy to arrange a meeting with him and the vaccines Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), to discuss this further.

No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.

Q14. We know that booster vaccines are essential in our fight against covid. Speaking to clinical colleagues, one of the biggest hindrances is the 15 minutes that people have to wait post-Pfizer. If we could reduce that or take that away, it could release thousands of hours of clinicians’ time. Will the Prime Minister ask the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to look to see whether it is safe to do so, particularly for those receiving their third Pfizer booster? (904656)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I can tell him that we are in the process of reviewing the 15-minute waiting requirement for both booster doses. We continue to be guided by the JCVI and the MHRA.

Q8. My constituents are having to resort to performing DIY dentistry, including on their children. In the catch-up money, nothing has been allocated to NHS dentistry, so can the Prime Minister explain why my constituents cannot access an NHS dentist? (904650)

We are putting record funding into the NHS, including NHS dentistry. If the hon. Lady would like to write to me with the cases that she has mentioned, I would be happy to take them up with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Q15. On many occasions, the Prime Minister has spoken to primary age children about careers and the opportunities ahead of them. Does he agree that every child should have the chance to meet adults from different professions and backgrounds to be inspired for the future? That could play a major part in delivering the levelling-up agenda. (904657)

I thank my hon. Friend. It is absolutely true that, through our careers strategy, we have so far invested £2 million to support career-related learning in primary schools. As Members of the House will know, we get the most extraordinary questions from primary school children and they are often very ambitious for their futures.

Q11. The father of Jane Roche from Erdington, Vince, died of covid. Five days later, her sister died of covid. She is devastated and appalled by the recent revelations as to what has gone on in Downing Street. She asks this question of the Prime Minister: does trust in British politics matter? (904653)

Yes, it does. That is why it is absolutely vital that we should get to the bottom of whatever may or may not have taken place on 18 December last year, but we need to focus on what is happening this year. I urge the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and everybody else to get their booster jab and to look after themselves.

At the moment, indecent exposure or flashing is illegal offline but not online. I welcome the Prime Minister’s support for that to change when he spoke to the Liaison Committee in November. Will he support outlawing cyber-flashing and other forms of sexual image abuse online when the forthcoming Online Safety Bill comes to the House?

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the phenomenon of cyber-flashing. It is one of the issues being addressed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in the online harms Bill.

Q12. Last year, I asked the Prime Minister what progress had been made on delivering his pledge to buy 4,000 zero-emission buses by 2024. The Budget and the spending review confirmed that the UK Government’s planned investment will not reach that target. As vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the bus and coach industry, I tell him that bus manufacturers have no orders from the ZEBRA—zero emission bus regional areas—scheme. Production lines in Falkirk, Ballymena and Scarborough are desperate to start orders and deserve better. Why are the Government failing to deliver those orders and that pledge? (904654)

We are absolutely committed to delivering 4,000 zero-emission buses and we are also committed to supporting UK bus manufacturing.

The Prime Minister has already been asked about the winter Olympics, but having listened to his answer, I have to say that, sadly, it was not strong enough. I support the request that the UK Government now act against the dictatorial brutal Chinese regime that is persecuting everybody from Christians to Tibetans and terrorising the Uyghurs. Will they follow the suit of the Americans, the Australians and even the Lithuanians and please—I beg of him—give a lead to human rights and make a diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympic games?

It is clear from what I said earlier on that the Government have no hesitation in raising these issues with China, as I did with President Xi the last time I talked to him. There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympics in Beijing. No Ministers are expected to attend, and no officials, but what I can tell the House is that I do not think that sporting boycotts are sensible, and that remains the policy of the Government.

Q13. The Prime Minister will be aware of the recent National Audit Office report on bounce back loans and the eye-watering levels of fraud and criminality uncovered. In the interests of the taxpayer, will the Prime Minister initiate a great British bounce back fraud squad to recover this public money and prosecute where appropriate, even if the crime was committed more than a year ago? (904655)

Of course, we will take action against anybody who has defrauded any of the covid loans, bounce back loans or otherwise.

There are media reports of a Cabinet meeting and press conference this afternoon to initiate covid winter plan B without reference to this House. Covid passes will not increase uptake of the vaccine but will create a segregated society. Is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister aware that very few will be convinced by this diversionary tactic?

This country is angry, and understandably so. Last Christmas, while we were in lockdown, millions of people were unable to be with their families; thousands of people waved through their care home windows at the loved ones wishing them a merry Christmas from the side of the road; people died without that last touch from their daughters, their sons, their wives; working in intensive care, I wept behind my mask as three children talking to their dying mother on an iPad begged her to wake up; and countless children are now growing up without parents—while parties were held at No. 10. This is disgraceful. This is an insult to everyone who followed the rules. It is an insult to everyone who was not allowed to say their final goodbye. This happened on the Prime Minister’s watch, so my question is very simple: how does the Prime Minister sleep at night?

I want first of all to repeat what I said earlier on about what happened a year ago, or what may not have happened. I share and understand the hon. Member’s grief and her feelings. I thank her for her service in the NHS. I know how much this country has been through and I know how difficult it has been. If you ask me how I sleep at night, the answer is that of course I take full responsibility and personal responsibility for everything that this Government have done, but I must say to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House that the way forward for this country now is to focus on the position we are in and, above all, to get our vaccinations as fast as we possibly can. We are in a much better position this year than we were last year, and that is thanks to the vaccination roll-out. I urge every Member of this House to join that campaign and that great British vaccination effort.

Order. There are lots of points of order, but I will take the parliamentary leader of the SNP first.