Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 15 December 2021

Scotland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Renewable Energy Generation

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on supporting renewable energy generation in Scotland. (904684)

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on supporting renewable energy generation in Scotland. (904685)

I regularly discuss issues of importance to Scotland with Ministers, including support for Scotland’s renewable energy sector. Our recently published net zero strategy will leverage up to £90 billion of private investment by 2030 across the entire UK.

Edinburgh based Nova Innovation is a success story in the tidal energy sector. There are plans for tidal energy schemes across the UK, including in the Liverpool city region, with the Mersey tidal barrage. Thanks in large part to the Labour party and the industry, £20 million is now available in the contracts for difference scheme, after years when there was nothing. Will the Minister commit to long-term support for the tidal energy industry, which has so much potential in Scotland, for my constituents in Merseyside and across the UK?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point to contracts for difference, the fourth round of which was announced at the beginning of this week and is bigger than the other three rounds put together. Scotland has punched above her weight, securing 21% of the capacity in the previous rounds, and stands well placed—not just in tidal, but right across the spectrum of renewable energy. We are funding this in the short and long term.

The British Government have not backed the Acorn carbon capture and storage cluster, which is vital to Scotland’s path to net zero, but are maintaining support for the Cambo oilfield, which would dig up more fossil fuels for years to come. Does the Minister agree that the priority should always be supporting renewable energy generation, not fossil fuels?

The hon. Gentleman paints a misleading picture of the support that we are giving. I have just outlined to the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) the long-term support that we are providing to the renewables sector. It is wrong to say that we are not backing Acorn. There was a competitive round for two carbon capture and storage schemes. Acorn was a good project; it is a reserved project. We continue to work with it to ensure that it has a fighting chance of securing the next tranche of the carbon capture and storage schemes.

I welcome the remarks made by my hon. Friend with regard to Acorn in my constituency, which is still very much on the table, despite protestations from Opposition Members. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government also provide the oil and gas industry with vital support for the energy transition through the North sea transition deal?

I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. I pay tribute to the tireless work that he does to champion the energy sector, both as a Minister and as a local Member. He is absolutely right; yes, we need to transition to renewable, but we have to be aware of the fact that we will need oil and gas during that transition period—not just for energy, but for the all the other purposes for which fossil fuels are required, such as the production of medicine.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The post-COP26 message is that Governments have little time to act on climate change. As the Secretary of State is aware, the Acorn carbon capture and storage project has not been given the go-ahead by the UK Government, but it could create 15,000 highly skilled jobs in Scotland and demonstrate that a just transition is feasible. The shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), wrote to the First Minister to encourage her to find a joint solution, but the reply contained more reasons not to work together and grievances than finding a solution for the project. Rather than the UK and Scottish Governments trading insults, will the Secretary of State back the Acorn project by finding a joint funding solution with the Scottish Government?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I look forward to our debates in the weeks and months ahead. I can advise her that she should probably not be too surprised when letters from the Scottish Government are full of grievances—that is par for the course. On Acorn, we do support the scheme. There was a competitive bidding round, where it placed third. It is a reserved project, and we are working with it to ensure that it stands a good chance in the next tranche of the carbon capture and storage scheme.

Alongside renewable energy, we need to accept our current energy mix with the energy transition. Does the Minister therefore share my anger at the Scottish Government’s complete dismissal of the Cambo oilfield, at the expense of oil and gas workers in Scotland and across the country?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I said a minute ago, we cannot just switch off oil and gas immediately. We want a transition, and this Government are investing significantly, with £160 million in floating wind farms, £20 million for tidal stream and the £285 million next round of contracts for difference, but it is important that we do not lose our domestic oil and gas supply not only for energy, but for the whole range of purposes, including medicine and other vital products.

Standards Impropriety: The Union

3. What recent assessment he has made of the implications of allegations of standards impropriety for his Department’s work on strengthening the Union. (904686)

We remain focused on delivering for Scotland within a strong United Kingdom. This can be seen by the scale of our investment, with more than £191 million of UK Government funding being invested directly in community projects across Scotland. This is real devolution in action.

People in Scotland have rejected the Tories for the past 50 years. We decisively rejected the Prime Minister’s Brexit projects, and we rejected them once again at the last election. Some 65% of people in Scotland say that the Prime Minister is totally corrupt and 65% of people in Scotland also believe he should resign. Given that this coincides with a surge in independence, with more than half of the population in Scotland now supporting independence and the Scottish National party, does the Secretary of State agree that the corruption of the UK Government is driving Scots away from the Union? If he were truly interested in saving the Union, should he not be joining the rest of us in calling for the PM’s resignation?

I will stick to the question, which is what we are doing to deliver for the people of Scotland, and I am delighted to answer that question. I will give the hon. Gentleman one example: with the Union connectivity review, there are huge opportunities to improve transport links between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and I am dismayed that Members on the Opposition Benches refuse to support that.

May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), who has left the shadow Scotland team and been significantly demoted in my view to the ministry of fun? I thank him for everything he did in that role. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist). I do not know what she did in her previous life to deserve it, but she will, as the House has already seen this morning, be wonderful in her new role on the shadow Scotland team, and we welcome her very much.

Every day, there are more and more revelations about the Prime Minister and this Government breaking their own lockdown rules. It truly is one rule for them and one for the rest of us. As the country cancelled Christmas last year, the Prime Minister had a party or three. The Government have lost all moral authority to lead this country, with scandal, sleaze and cronyism writ large. The Scottish Conservative leader was asked three times in the media at the weekend whether he could think of any positive attribute for the PM, and even he could not answer. Can the Secretary of State think of any positive attribute for the Prime Minister? Can he tell me any reason why this morally bankrupt Prime Minister is not a bigger threat to the Union than any nationalist?

Absolutely, without any difficulty, I can. The Prime Minister is a man of optimism, he is a man of vision and he is a man who delivered the trade deal running up to Christmas last year when no one said he could. He showed courage. He showed foresight in investing in the vaccine development, and he has gone on to deliver the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his reading ability, and I notice that he did not use the word “honesty”—there’s a surprise. I know the Secretary of State has cancelled his own Christmas party this year, so I look forward to seeing the photographs from it in the press shortly.

A major strength of the Union is of course the pooling and sharing of resources. The First Minister has announced a raft of new covid guidance this week that has devastated the hospitality trade. At the same time, she has offered pitiful financial support and criticised the UK Government for not providing funds. Such sectors want our two Governments to work together: they need our help. A hospitality business in my constituency sent me an email last night, saying:

“my customers have been driven away so we won’t survive these latest restrictions without government support. We always need a good festive season to see us through the winter. Where is the financial support?”

Why can the UK and Scottish Governments not work together to provide the financial support that these hospitality businesses deserve and need?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very serious point. Hospitality is under a lot of pressure across the United Kingdom, not least in Scotland. The Treasury announced yesterday afternoon, just ahead of the First Minister’s statement, that we were giving the Scottish Government certainty over their finances, and that is the first point I would make. What the Scottish Government have failed to do is set out what measures they believe are right for Scotland and how much these would cost, and that is an important thing to understand. They have also failed to explain how they cannot afford to act on their own, given that they have a record settlement this year of over £41 billion of block grant—the highest block grant settlement in real terms since devolution began.

Following on from the shadow Secretary of State, could I ask the Secretary of State whether he was invited to any of these parties in Downing Street and whether he had any knowledge of these parties?

If the hon. Lady had been at the Scottish Affairs Committee last Monday, when I was one of the witnesses—or if she had read the briefing from that—she would know that I was asked that question by the Chairman, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), and I answered very clearly that, first, I had no knowledge of the parties, and secondly, I was not at any of them.

I am sorry for the floundering social life of the Secretary of State, but if I could, I will move on to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) made. We talk about the Prime Minister’s vision, but does that vision not go against what the majority of people in Scotland voted for, given that they are against Brexit, the majority are against the Prime Minister and they are against the Conservatives? So is it not the case that the best chance this Prime Minister has of saving the Union and rebuilding trust in our covid response is by resigning?

Order. I am going to allow that, but we really need to be within the scope of the question. It is party politics, and I do not want us to get into that, but it is Christmas, so I am sure the Secretary of State will want to answer.

You are right, Mr Speaker. I would say again to the hon. Lady, if we are talking about majorities, that the First Minister failed to get a majority in May. Let us be clear that less than a third of Scots voted for her in May. Our focus, and the Prime Minister’s focus, is on fighting this pandemic and then recovery from this pandemic, and on bringing forward great things for Scotland, such as the Union connectivity review, freeports and investing directly with local authorities structural funds.

Cross-border Transport Connectivity

4. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on improving transport connections between Scotland and the rest of the UK. (904688)

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about cross-border connectivity. Sir Peter Hendy’s report, published last month, covers a wide range of solutions spanning all transport modes across the United Kingdom. We will take time to consider carefully all the recommendations in the report, and we will publish our response in the new year.

Investing in zero-emission technologies is essential for future public transport connections. Scotland, as well as other parts of the country, is of course an important manufacturing base for buses. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are working hard to ensure that British manufacturing leads the way in fulfilling our world-leading commitments to introduce zero-emission buses?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. We remain committed to supporting the introduction of 4,000 zero-emission buses and to achieving a zero-emission bus fleet. I think I am right in saying that transport is now the biggest single contributor in this country to carbon emissions, so it is absolutely right that we back our domestic industry to help deliver these zero-emission buses.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can I ask the Minister this question? Now that the bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland has been laid to bed at long last, can the Minister indicate what will be done to improve the roads from Larne to Stranraer and further on, because it is important for us in Northern Ireland, where we have tourism and we have business, that the roads are up to a certain standard? What has been done to improve those?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important question. The thinking behind the connectivity review is that we look at transport connections right across the UK. The A75 from Stranraer and Cairnryan to the motorway network is in desperate need of an upgrade, and that was one of the central recommendations of Sir Peter’s report. We absolutely see that as an important corridor.

Oil and Gas Sector

My ministerial colleagues and I regularly discuss oil and gas with fellow Government Ministers and stakeholders. The oil and gas industry is hugely important to north-east Scotland, and most recently the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my noble Friend Lord Offord attended the North Sea Transition Forum, alongside the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, regulators, and representatives from the oil and gas industry.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In the transition period to our net-zero future, we will still need oil and gas for domestic use. What role does the Secretary of State see for UK domestic production to meet that need, because the Scottish economy is well poised to deliver it?

My hon. Friend is right: we will continue to need oil and gas as we transition to net zero. Developing our own supplies reduces reliance on imports that are produced to less rigorous environmental standards. It will also protect jobs in our oil and gas sector during our transition. Comments by the Scottish Government on this have been, by turn, disgraceful and depressing. As Sir Ian Wood, one of the most respected authorities in the industry said, those Scottish Government Ministers are creating an “adverse investment environment”, to which I would add only this: careless talk costs livelihoods.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the evidence given to the Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee by Professor Stuart Haszeldine, who said that there was no advantage to the Acorn project having been given reserve bidder status, as that merely means “a lot of meetings”, and requires companies to

“run on the spot with very little or no funding”?

Is the professor wrong in his assessment, and if so, would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us why?

Acorn is the reserve for this round, and we would like it to be expedited in the next wave. We have met many of the stakeholders involved in the project, and they have agreed that if we can accelerate it to 2023, they can improve the bid and the Government can include it in the next wave. That is very much our focus.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the complete abandonment of north-east oil and gas workers by the First Minister of Scotland is an absolute disgrace? She did not call for an end just to Cambo; it was to all further exploration in the North sea. Will the Secretary of State confirm that this Government stand full square behind the industry and workers in the north-east, unlike the Scottish Government?

I would add that the remark of the First Minister’s Minister, the Green party MSP, who said that only “hard-right extremists” want to explore oil, was also disgraceful. Even when we get to 2050, we will need oil for 20% of our power, and we will need gas for 15%, and for producing blue hydrogen. We will need that oil not just for power, but for important things such as the petrochemicals industry and for making instruments for the NHS. It is ridiculous to think that we can just turn off the taps and not destroy our economy.

This is not just about what we extract from the North sea; it is also about what we put back in. That is why the Acorn project is fundamental. The Secretary of State mentioned Sir Ian Wood and his views on the oil and gas sector, but he will also be cognisant of Sir Ian Wood’s views about his Government’s decision to turn their back on Acorn. Will the Secretary of State finally admit to regretting the decision of his colleagues?

I have discussed this matter with Sir Ian Wood, and I do not think the hon. Gentleman reflects his views fairly. Sir Ian Wood understands and agrees with us that the bid can be improved. To be clear, the difference between Acorn and Humberside, Teesside and Merseyside, was that Humberside, Teesside and Merseyside have a huge hinterland of industrial carbon. Acorn was bringing the carbon from all parts of the UK and/or Europe to make the bid work. We are working on how to get more industrial carbon into the project, to make it more viable and to expedite it for 2023.

Army Restructuring

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implications for Scotland of plans to restructure the British Army. (904691)

13. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implications for Scotland of plans to restructure the British Army. (904698)

My office and I have regular discussions with the Ministry of Defence on all matters relating to defence in Scotland, including the latest plans to modernise and restructure the Army. I was pleased that the review included plans for the Army to expand its footprint in Scotland; it is going from six to seven units, and Scotland will have a greater proportion of the Army than today.

While I have the opportunity, I would also like to thank our fantastic British armed forces who are currently supporting the booster programme in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Defence announced yesterday that a further 100 military personnel will support the vital booster campaign, and today the MOD has announced that another 80 medics are going to three NHS boards in Scotland. That means that over 400 military personnel are supporting Scotland’s health services.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the “Future Soldier” paper shows just how important defence is to Scotland and Scotland is to the defence of the UK and our allies, and does he share my enthusiasm that it delivers £355 million-worth of investment in the Army estate in Scotland?

Absolutely. Scotland plays a vital role in the defence of the UK. The Army’s future soldier restructuring programme is great news for Scotland. Not only will it deliver £355 million of investment in the Army’s Scottish estate, as my hon. Friend pointed out, but Scotland will gain a major unit and, as I said, we will see a greater proportion of the British Army in Scotland.

Soldiers from Scotland have had a central role in the armed forces over many centuries, from the charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo, to the western front, to helping roll out our vaccine programme. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that proud central role will continue as strongly as ever in Scotland following any restructuring?

Under the future soldier review, the Army’s footprint in Scotland will be stronger than ever, recognising the immense contribution that Scottish servicemen and women make to the British Army. I am pleased that Scottish troops will continue the tradition, and they will lead the new Ranger Regiment, deploying alongside partner forces to counter extremist organisations and hostile state threats.

Scottish Economy: Support

The Budget and the spending review provide the largest annual block grant to the devolved Administration in Scotland since the Scotland Act 1998. Throughout the pandemic we have provided significant support, including through our furlough and self-employment schemes and additional support to businesses, on top of an extra £14.5 billion for the Scottish Government. We are also investing in new local infrastructure and regeneration projects through the levelling-up fund and community ownership fund, alongside the existing £1.5 billion investment in Scottish city and growth deals.

The Scottish Budget last week should have marked the start of an ambitious recovery plan for Scotland, but instead it is a missed opportunity that will not deliver the recovery Scotland needs. Similarly, the UK Government’s Budget offered tax cuts for bankers on business class flights but nowhere near enough for hard-working families across Scotland and the rest of the UK. Does the Secretary of State accept that both the Scottish and UK Governments must go further so we can get the economy firing on all cylinders?

I accept that both Governments need to work together—the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about that—but the UK Government are doing their bit, with a block grant of £41.3 billion, £4.6 billion higher than last year and the highest since devolution began; £14.5 billion of covid funding since the pandemic began; a furlough scheme supporting over 900,000 jobs in Scotland, and grants and loans to businesses totalling over £4 billion. The UK Government are doing exactly what they need to do to support the Scottish economy.

Tidal Power

8. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of support for the Scottish tidal power sector. (904693)

I am delighted that the Government recently announced a new £20 million ringfenced allocation for tidal stream technology as part of the new contracts for difference round. That will enable Scotland to take advantage of the huge potential that exists to develop tidal stream technology.

The Scottish Affairs Committee visited Orkney a few months ago when collating evidence for its report on renewable energy. We were so impressed with the tidal stream technology, which is less expensive than tidal lagoon barrage technology. I am delighted that the renewable energy auction will include for the first time a ring fence for tidal stream power. How will that turbocharge the potential for this type of renewable energy in Scotland?

I am very glad that my hon. Friend and her colleagues on the Committee had the opportunity to visit Orkney. I also visited Orkney in August and was hugely impressed by the innovation that is going on there. The principle behind contracts for difference is that it gives the renewables sector the confidence to invest in these long-term technologies. I believe Scotland as a whole, and Orkney in particular, will be at the forefront of that.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I am sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing you, Mr Speaker, and all members of staff—and indeed all Members—a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Members from across the House will also want to join me in sending our warmest wishes to all our armed forces, all members of the emergency services and all health and care workers, especially those who will be working over Christmas, not least on our national mission to get boosted now.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I congratulate the Prime Minister and his wife on the birth of their baby daughter. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Last week was crime week. Was it a success for you, Prime Minister?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Yes, it was, because last week we showed that we are not only the party that is putting in the resources to fight crime, with 10,000 more police already recruited, but the party that is finally getting tough on the drugs gangs that blight the lives of children and communities up and down this country. We will not tolerate middle-class drug use any more than any other kind of drug use.

Q5. May I start by wishing the Prime Minister and his family a happy Christmas? Last Christmas, I joined the charity Sewa Day in wrapping Christmas presents at Durga Bhawan Temple. I delivered a small number of the thousands of gifts the Hindu community had donated for children and adults across Sandwell. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking Sewa Day, Deepak, Madhu and Reena, who I will be joining again this Friday at West Bromwich Shree Krishna Mandir? (904809)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the work of Sewa Day and all the people of the West Bromwich Hindu community, who make an incredible contribution to this country. I am delighted that the charity is again distributing donated gifts. Thank you to everyone involved, particularly my hon. Friend for her efforts.

Can I also wish you, Mr Speaker, everybody who works in this House and all Members a merry Christmas and a happy new year? Can I also send my congratulations to the Prime Minister and his wife on the birth of their daughter, and join the Prime Minister in supporting our armed forces and all those on the front line?

There were 200,000 omicron infections on Monday. That is doubling every two or three days and the NHS could be overwhelmed, so I want to start by encouraging everyone listening to this session to get their jabs and boosters. It is the best way to protect themselves, the NHS and their loved ones. Given the seriousness of the situation, does the Prime Minister agree that the 100 Conservative Members who voted against plan B measures last night, voted against steps that are necessary to protect the NHS and to protect lives?

The Government are taking a balanced and proportionate approach to dealing with the pandemic. The House voted through plan B with Conservative votes and we will continue with the massive booster roll-out, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a late convert. Since Friday, when I decided that we had to accelerate the booster programme in view of the data about omicron, we have cut the timetable in half. Monday was the biggest vaccination Monday in the history of this country, and yesterday was the second biggest vaccination achievement by the NHS ever. More than 500,000 jabs were delivered and the campaign continues to grow. I thank absolutely everybody involved and I thank all the British public for coming forward to get boosted now.

We all hope that, combined with the booster programme, plan B will be sufficient to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. Nobody wants to see further restrictions, but the Prime Minister has rightly not ruled anything out, so can I take this opportunity to make it clear to him that, if further votes are needed to save lives and protect the NHS, Labour MPs will follow my leadership and we will always put the national interest first? Can I ask the Prime Minister to get his house in order so he can say the same about the Members behind him?

Yes, if further measures are needed, as the House will understand—if further regulation is needed—of course this House will have a further say. As for hon. Members following the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s leadership, they wibble-wobbled over plan B, they wibble-wobbled over quarantine, and if we had listened to him, we would not even have the vaccine roll-out because we would have remained in the European Medicines Agency—[Interruption.] It is true. And we would not have opened up on 19 July; we would have remained in lockdown. That is the reality.

Let me put that straight back in its box: the Labour party showed the leadership yesterday that the Prime Minister lacks. If it was not for Labour votes, his Government would not have been able to introduce the vital health measures we need to save lives and protect the NHS—so weak is his leadership. His own MPs were wrong to vote against basic public health measures, but I can understand why they are angry with him. After all, the Health Secretary said this summer that relaxations of restrictions were “irreversible”. They were not. [Interruption.] Only last week—[Interruption.]

Order. I have been tempted by both hon. Members who are interrupting a little too much. It is Christmas—that is the only reason you are going to remain here.

Only last week, the Government were saying that plan B measures were not required. They are. Just like “the rail revolution for the north”, “no one will have to sell their homes for social care” and “no tax rises”, it is overpromise after overpromise until reality catches up. Does the Prime Minister understand why his own MPs no longer trust him?

There he goes again—the right hon. and learned Gentleman comes to this House pompously claiming that he wants to rise above party politics and support the efforts of the nation in delivering the vaccine roll-out, and then he talks endlessly about party politics and plays political games. What the people of this country can see is that, as a result of what this Government have done, with the tough decisions that we have taken—which he ducked—to deliver the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe and now the fastest booster roll-out, we have the fastest growing economy in the G7 and 500,000 more jobs today than there were when the pandemic began. That is Conservative Government in action. We deliver—they complain.

The only person undermining public confidence is sitting right there opposite me. Here is the problem: his MPs are wrong to vote against basic public health measures, but they are not wrong to distrust him. Last week, the Conservative right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) asked:

“Why should people at home, listening to the Prime Minister…do things that people working in…Downing Street are not prepared to do?”—

a Tory MP. The Conservative hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) last week asked:

“Will he give me any reason at all why I should not tell my constituents to treat these new rules…the same way that…Downing Street treated last year’s rules?”—[Official Report, 8 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 499-500.]

The Prime Minister has had a week to come up with a good answer. Has he done so?

The answer is very, very clear. It is there in what the public are doing, because they can see that the Government are getting on with delivering on their priorities, not just on the economy, but above all on delivering the fastest booster roll-out in Europe. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is fond of these European comparisons, but we have done almost double the percentage of any other European country. We have boosted 86% of the over-80s in this country and 91% of those aged 75 to 79. That is an astonishing achievement. I think that that is what the people of this country are focused on, rather than the partisan trivia that he continually raises when frankly he has a case to answer himself.

I think that is a no: the Prime Minister has not come up with a good answer. For weeks, he has claimed that no rules were broken. He claims that he did not know what was happening in his own house last Christmas. I do not believe him, his MPs do not believe him and nor do the British public. He is taking the public for fools and it is becoming dangerous, because from today, anyone who tests positive for coronavirus faces a second Christmas in isolation. It will be heartbreaking for families across the country.

The message from the Government has to be “We know that following the rules won’t be easy this Christmas, but it is necessary.” Can the Prime Minister not see that he has no hope of regaining the moral authority to deliver that difficult message if he cannot be straight with the British public about the rule breaking in Downing Street last Christmas?

I have repeatedly answered that question before. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, a report is being delivered to me by the Cabinet Secretary into exactly what went on. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might explain why there are pictures of him quaffing beer—we have not heard him do so.

I think that what the British public want us all to do, frankly, is focus on the matter in hand and continue to deliver the vaccine roll-out in the way that we are doing. I think that it is an absolutely fantastic thing that people are now coming forward in the way that they are: 45% of people over 18 have now had a vaccine. I thank our amazing staff, I thank the NHS, I thank all the GPs—

Well, you blocked the investment in them. Labour Members wouldn’t vote for investment in our NHS—they wouldn’t do it.

I thank NHS staff for what they are doing. I can tell the House that we are now speeding things up by allowing people to avoid the 15-minute delay after they have been vaccinated, which I hope will encourage even more people to come forward.

The virus is spreading once again, and lives and livelihoods are at risk. The British public are looking for a Prime Minister with the trust and the authority to lead Britain through the crisis. Instead, we are burdened with the worst possible Prime Minister at the worst possible time. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are shouting now. Where were they in the Lobby last night?

The Prime Minister’s own MPs have had enough. They will not defend him, they will not turn up to support him, and they will not vote for basic public health measures if he proposes them. At this time of national effort, the Labour party has stood up, shown the leadership that the Prime Minister cannot show, and put the health and security of the British people first. [Interruption.]

Order. This is silly, because I cannot hear the question. I will hear the question. [Interruption.] I do not think that we need any more help from the Government Front Bench. I am dealing with this corner first.

I understand that this is the last PMQs and we will not be back till the new year, but I need to hear the question. It may take a long time, but I will hear it. So, please: I want to get through questions and I want you all to get away for Christmas. At this rate, you won’t.

The Prime Minister is so weak that, without Labour votes last night, vital public health measures would not have got through—

The Prime Minister says it is not true—he is so socially distanced from the truth that he thinks that is not true. I do not know where to start. We had better press on. We cannot go on with a Prime Minister who is too weak to lead. Will he take time this Christmas to look in the mirror and ask himself whether he has the trust and authority lead this country?

We won that vote last night with Conservative votes, as I have told the House. I respect the feelings and anxieties that colleagues have, of course I do. I respect and understand the legitimate anxieties they have about restrictions on their liberty and the liberty of people, but I believe the approach that we are taking is balanced and proportionate and right for this country.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about leadership. Let me tell the House about some of the tough decisions that I have had to take. I had to decide to stay out of the European ventilator scheme so that we had our own ventilator channels, which he then ridiculously attacked. I decided to go ahead with the vaccine roll-out, ahead of the rest of Europe, which would have been impossible if we had listened to him. I decided to go ahead with opening up our society and our economy on 19 July, which he opposed.

Never forget that if we had listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman we would not now have the fastest economic growth of the G7. It is because we took those courageous steps that we now have 500,000 more people in work than there were when the pandemic began, and yesterday I saw 1.2 million job vacancies. That is what Conservative Governments do. They create employment and they create business opportunities. Above all, we vaccinate, they vacillate. They jabber, we jab. They play party politics, and we get on with the job.

Order. I am absolutely amazed that some of you wanted to catch my eye. Obviously you do not now. Thanks for that—it is making my life easier. Do not be shocked when I do not call you to put that special question today.

Let us come to the man of the moment, Dr Liam Fox.

Q6. As we look forward to 2022, one of the dates that stands out for me is 21 March, which will be World Down Syndrome Day. In thanking the Government, and indeed all parties in the House, for their support for the Down Syndrome Bill, may I ask the Prime Minister if he will give his personal commitment to ensuring that we get that Bill on to the statute book before World Down Syndrome Day, so that we can be the first country in the world to do so? We talk about global Britain, but that cannot just be about trade and diplomacy; it must also be about values. Would that not be a great place for Britain to start? (904810)

My right hon. Friend is a wonderful campaigner on this issue, and he is completely right about Down’s syndrome people. They can have poorer health outcomes, but I know that the Bill aims to improve life outcomes for people with Down’s syndrome. We are pleased to support it and we will do whatever we can to ensure the prompt progress of this Bill.

Mr Speaker, I wish you, all your staff and all Members of the House a merry Christmas and a guid new year when it comes. I also send my thanks to those on the frontline in the emergency services and armed forces for everything they have done to get us through this year.

The public understand the threat that omicron poses to all our people and to our NHS. As we saw from last night’s vote, the Tories might be privileged enough to live in denial about this danger, but the rest of us have a responsibility to live in the real world. That means increasing public health measures and increasing financial support for businesses and workers.

The Scottish Government are delivering £100 million from our fixed budget to support businesses, but we all know that more is needed. Yesterday, the UK Government put out a press release saying that new financial support was coming, but last night the Treasury U-turned, saying that no new money was available. So, Prime Minister, which is it? Is there any new money to support businesses or was it all just smoke and mirrors once again?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I share some of the views he expressed about the importance of being vigilant about omicron. It is good that he set that out. I think it important that we continue to work with the Scottish Administration, as we do, to help everybody through this.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is more money through Barnett consequentials, and there are also further powers under the existing devolutionary settlement for the Scottish Administration to raise money if they choose to—they have that option—but we will of course continue our discussions with them.

That simply was not an answer, and it just confirms that it is all smoke and mirrors. There was no new money for Scotland. Once again, the Prime Minister cannot trust a word that this Prime Minister says—[Interruption.] Dodgy dealings on renovations and his distant relationship with the truth—all of it has left him weak.

Last night, this UK Government struggled to get measures through the House that Scotland has had for months. A Prime Minister who cannot do what is needed to protect the public is no Prime Minister at all. No one wants further restrictions, but Scotland cannot afford to be hamstrung if the Prime Minister cannot act because he has 99 problems sitting behind him. Will he give the devolved Governments the powers and the financial support that we need to protect our people?

I think we are going to need a bigger waistcoat to contain the synthetic indignation of the right hon. Gentleman, quite frankly. I can tell him that the Scottish Administration have the powers, and, moreover, that we have delivered a record settlement for Scotland of £41 billion. But let me also say, in all friendship with the right hon. Gentleman—with whom I am actually quite cordial behind the scenes—that we will work with the Scottish Government to make sure that we get through this thing together.

Q7. Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the United Kingdom. It is the fourth largest killer. We have made much progress but regrettably, in the last couple of years, key treatments such as thrombectomy, thrombolysis and timely interventions in hospital have stalled and gone backwards. In particular, most stroke survivors receive less than half the recommended levels of rehabilitation. As the Prime Minister knows, that is something that my own family have experienced. Can we urgently look towards upgrading the very good national stroke plan to a fully fledged national strategy for stroke, with a Minister responsible for it and a dedicated team of officials in the Department to roll it out? (904812)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He and I have discussed before his own personal reasons for caring so much about this issue, and I understand and sympathise deeply with what he has said. That is one the reasons why I want to make sure that we do invest enough in this. There are 20 integrated stroke networks in England already, but we want to increase their capacity about tenfold.

I shall be happy to ensure that my hon. Friend has the right meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss the matter. This is why it is so important that we invest now in our NHS in the way that we are—and what a pity that that essential measure could not be supported by the Labour party.

The Prime Minister’s actions over the last number of months have absolutely eroded public confidence at the worst possible time, during a public health crisis. Excusing rule-breaking by his own MPs, ignoring rule-breaking in his own house—he cannot even lead Tory MPs to vote for his public health guidance, so how can he expect to lead anybody else? Surely it is now time for him to do the right thing, the only thing left to him to restore public confidence, and resign.

No, Mr Speaker, I am going to get on with protecting the public of this country, making sure that we get through this pandemic together as one United Kingdom, and making sure that we protect trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the way that I know the hon. Gentleman would want it protected.

Q9. In East Anglia, there are, on the one hand, tremendous opportunities in such sectors as low-carbon energy and sustainable fishing, and yet, on the other hand, significant challenges with deep pockets of deprivation, particularly in coastal communities. I acknowledge the investment that has been made, but there is a concern locally that the Government are yet to comprehend the scale of the opportunity that our region has to be a global exemplar in new and revitalised industries, and in doing so to bring transformative and long-term benefits to local people. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and other East Anglian MPs so that together we can put in place a strategy to realise the full potential of the east of England? (904814)

Yes, but I also want to say that I understand completely the massive opportunity and the potential that exists in those coastal communities. That is why we are already investing £120 million in five new town deals, including for Lowestoft. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up will want to be taking my hon. Friend’s points on board as we bring forward the levelling up White Paper in the new year.

Q2. Does the Prime Minister believe that it is the damage being caused by Brexit, his litany of broken promises, his condoning of Conservative party corruption, or just simply his complicity in lockdown-busting Christmas parties and quizzes that has caused the public to so dramatically, so rapidly, lose faith in his leadership? (904805)

What I observe is that actually it was our freedom from the rules of the European Union that enabled us to deliver the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe and that has enabled us to have the fastest economic growth in the G7. That is of massive benefit to each and every one of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, and I think he should acknowledge that point.

Q10. One of the significant achievements of this Government is the work they have done with local authorities to tackle rough sleeping. Five years ago, 36 people were sleeping rough in the Newbury area; this Christmas, West Berkshire Council has reduced that to zero. But it can only sustain that success with the help of additional support services to tackle the complex causes of homelessness. What action will the Government take through their new 10-year drugs strategy to intercept the link between addiction and life on the streets? (904815)

My hon. Friend is completely right to draw the link between drug addiction and rough sleeping. That is why our drugs strategy is so absolutely vital for tackling this problem. I also want to thank local councils and everybody involved in the Everyone In campaign. Homelessness and rough sleeping are a blight and a disgrace—a shame for our society. I am proud to say that our rough sleeping snapshot shows that levels have fallen by 43% since 2017, although clearly, as we come out of the pandemic in the next year or so, we must make sure that we continue to reduce rough sleeping. It remains an absolute priority for this Government.

Q3. With the emergence of the omicron variant and the rising number of covid infections, more and more people are being asked to self-isolate or stay at home to look after isolating children. I have been contacted by people in Ceredigion who have been excluded from isolation support payments as they are not in receipt of benefits or are above the weekly earnings threshold. Will the Prime Minister act urgently to increase statutory sick pay, which currently stands at a mere £96.35 a week, so that people in this position do not have to choose between following public health regulations and putting food on the table? (904806)

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much. I understand the difficulty that some families will find themselves in. We want to look after everybody throughout the pandemic. That is why we have done things like lifting the living wage in the way we have and increasing the funds available for childcare, but also making sure that councils have an extra hardship fund of half a billion pounds to help families of the kind that he describes through this winter.

Q12. Following confirmation of the Crewe to Manchester leg of High Speed 2, the Alstom factory in Crewe winning an HS2 rolling stock contract and Crewe’s long history at the heart of our railway industry, does the Prime Minister agree that Crewe is a strong contender for the headquarters of Great British Railways? Can he tell me when the process to choose a location for the new HQ will start? (904817)

My brief says I should be very careful of what I say. I have no doubt that Crewe is a strong contender, but further details of the competition will be announced in the coming weeks. Expressions of interest from places such as Crewe will be very welcome.

Q4. After inquest verdicts that the 97 people who died in the Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed, the right hon. Gentleman stood for election to this House on a manifesto that included legislating to introduce a public advocate. Why, then, have his Government repeatedly blocked my Public Advocate Bill, which has cross-party support and would prevent families bereaved by public disasters from ever again having to endure what the Hillsborough families have had to cope with over the past 32 years? Is it an oversight or yet another broken promise? (904808)

I thank the hon. Lady and, no, we do recognise the importance of putting the bereaved, such as the bereaved of Hillsborough, at the heart of investigations. In certain circumstances funding may be available for representation of the bereaved at a public inquiry or interest. We are considering what steps should be taken, and I will ensure she has a meeting with the relevant Home Office Minister as soon as possible.

As we see Russian forces massing on the Ukrainian border, can we be reminded that Russia is also continuing to carry out cyber-attacks, to attempt assassinations, to use gas as a political weapon, to illegally hold territory in Crimea and Georgia, to intimidate the west and to attempt to interfere in western elections? How much do the Government understand that President Putin is conducting a hybrid war against the west, and how are they responding?

I am afraid my hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says. He is right to stress the particular urgency of the situation, and he is right in what he says about hybrid warfare and all the other interventions. We face a particular crisis on the border with Ukraine, where Russian troops have been massing for some time, as the House knows. I told President Putin on Monday that I think everybody in the G7 and more widely is agreed that, if Russia were so rash and mad as to engage in an invasion of the sovereign territory of Ukraine, an extremely tough package of economic sanctions would be mounted by the UK and our friends around the world. Of course, there would also be support for Ukraine, and there would inevitably be a build-up of NATO forces in the periphery regions. As I told President Putin, I believe any such action would be catastrophic not just for Russia and Ukraine but for the world.

Q8. The Prime Minister made an address to the nation on Sunday about covid booster jabs, and he said that every eligible adult“will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year.”That is roughly two weeks away. However, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and our national health leaders have said otherwise. We know that those who deliver our health service were not adequately consulted and that the infrastructure to deliver it was not prepared. Will this be yet another broken promise, Prime Minister? (904813)

Yes, this is a massive national effort and, yes, it will be incredibly hard to achieve, but do I believe that our NHS, our GPs and our volunteers can do it? Yes, I do. That is the spirit in which the hon. Lady and the whole House should approach it. Rather than talking down our approach, I advise all Labour Members and all colleagues in this House to tell our constituents to get boosted now.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), with its emphasis on global Britain and partnership in standing up to autocracies. Does he therefore share my concern about reports that I have just got from the Foreign Office of a staff cut of 10% across the board? How is that compatible with global Britain?

We are investing massively in overseas aid—this country is spending £10 billion a year on overseas aid. I think that if you look at what we are doing on aid, on the Foreign Office and on Defence, we are, at £54 billion, the biggest spender on overseas activities of any country in Europe. My hon. Friend is an expert on foreign affairs, but I am assured by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that the information that has recently trickled into his ears is fake news.

Q11. Transport for London faces serious financial difficulties solely due to the pandemic causing a collapse in fares income. Emergency covid funding to TfL expires the day after tomorrow. Prior to the pandemic, the Mayor of London spent four years improving TfL’s finances after—[Interruption.] (904816)

Order. There will be a nightmare in a moment. Can I just say that we want to get through the questions? I was hoping to get some extra people in, and you are not helping me do so. Come on in, Ruth Cadbury.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Prior to the pandemic, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, spent four years improving TfL’s finances after his predecessor inexplicably bargained away TfL’s £700 million annual Government grant. By failing to meet the Mayor on extending the emergency covid grant, the Government are putting the city’s economy and environment at risk. Rail companies have had additional support. Will the Prime Minister instruct silent Shapps to meet the Mayor immediately so that buses and tubes can continue to keep London moving from Friday?

This happens to be one of the subjects that I know more about than probably anybody else in the House. When I was Mayor and chairman of Transport for London, we had our finances in balance because I ran a responsible fares policy. When I left the mayoralty, we had Crossrail in surplus and our reserves in surplus. Actually, what happened was that the Labour Mayor of London embarked on a reckless, unfunded fares policy, cutting fares recklessly so as to leave a huge black hole in Transport for London’s finances. Yes, we have the greatest capital—[Interruption.] We will of course help the stricken Labour Mayor in any way that we can, but the blame lies fairly and squarely with City Hall.

I wish all our constituents across the country a merry Christmas and a safe 2022. What matters to my Sedgefield constituents is jobs, jobs, jobs. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Hitachi and Alstom on securing the HS2 rolling stock contract? It is a tremendous vote of confidence in the people of Newton Aycliffe and Sedgefield. Will he encourage the Secretary of State for Transport to confirm that the feasibility study for Ferryhill station will be approved at his earliest convenience so that we can get on with levelling up and building back better for Ferryhill, Bishop Middleham, Sedgefield and the Cornforths?

My hon. Friend is a great advocate for Sedgefield, his constituents and levelling up. I congratulate Hitachi and Alstom on securing the HS2 stock order and the proponents of Ferryhill station for completing the initial business case for the scheme. That is part of the £96 billion investment that we are making in our railway infrastructure, which is the biggest in 100 years, dwarfing anything that the Labour party has ever embarked on. We will get on with uniting and levelling up across our country.

I am sure the Prime Minister would like to thank me, as he was kept in the dark about last year’s festivities, for my assistance in lighting the Christmas tree in Downing Street this year. Unlike the Prime Minister, I am not in the dark about what my staff are doing this year: we are serving and delivering over 1,000 hampers and gifts to families across Swansea to ensure that they get a Christmas. Will he join me in congratulating and thanking everyone involved in Everyone Deserves a Christmas? If he would like to come and light a tree in my constituency, I will ensure there is one available for him.

That is one of the nicest things somebody has said to me from the Opposition Benches for a long time. I do want to thank and congratulate everybody in the hon. Lady’s constituency who is helping to bring hampers to those who need them this Christmas. It is a wonderful thing.

My thoughts and I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are with those who loved Star Hobson, who was brutally murdered in Keighley by a monster while Star’s evil mother allowed it to happen. The court heard that numerous referrals were made to Bradford Council children’s services months in advance of Star’s murder, but they were not taken seriously—in fact, the case was closed. The Prime Minister will be aware that this is the latest in a long list of failings at Bradford Council children’s services, where political correctness appears to have been put before the welfare of children. I have no confidence in Bradford Council’s leadership to deliver children’s services. Since the death of Star, I am pleased that the Government have sent in a commissioner—

Order. Sorry, but I am very bothered that we are going into sub judice, which applies till sentencing is finalised. It is very serious and I do not want to cause a real problem. I would ask the Prime Minister to answer without giving any further details. I think we have gone a little bit too far into what the case is at the moment.

I am grateful for your direction, Mr Speaker. I just want to say that I think the whole House will once again be filled with incredulity at the cruelty of people who could perpetrate a child killing such as this, but also sadness and bewilderment that it could not have been prevented. As my hon. Friend knows, we will appoint a commissioner to assess the capability and capacity of the relevant council, Bradford, to improve on its handling, and they will report in January. That will also feed in to the report we have commissioned on the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. I say to those who are responsible in the authorities concerned that we will not hesitate to remove service control if that is what is necessary to drive the improvements we need to see.

That brings us to the end; we will go on to urgent questions. I wish everybody a wonderful Christmas, and let us have a peaceful new year.