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 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.
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.]
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.