I know that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to Jack Dromey. His working life was devoted to his trade union members and, in recent years, to his constituents in Birmingham, Erdington. I was deeply saddened to hear of his death, and my thoughts are with Harriet, the family and all those who knew him as a friend.
Mr Speaker, I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish that they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives and unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love. I know the rage they feel with me and with the Government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.
Though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know that there were things that we simply did not get right, and I must take responsibility. No. 10 is a big department, with the garden as an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus. When I went into that garden just after 6 o’clock on 20 May 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event, but with hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way—people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside—and to them, and to this House, I offer my heartfelt apologies. All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others, so that the full facts can be established. I will of course come back to this House and make a statement.
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.
My constituent Carol Ridgway faces eight weeks of stress and worry as she waits for an urgent appointment at the local breast clinic in north Wales. Despite the pandemic, 85% of patients in England wait only two weeks for their urgent suspected cancer referrals. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure equality of healthcare across Britain?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am sorry about the case that he raises. Health of course is a devolved matter, but I thank our NHS colleagues across the whole of the UK. I point out that the Welsh Government will benefit from an additional £3.8 billion of funding this year, plus a further £270 million to support the response to covid.
I join the comments about Jack Dromey. We will, I think, be doing tributes in due course in relation to Jack.
Well, there we have it: after months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road. The Prime Minister’s defence that he did not realise that he was at a party is so ridiculous that it is actually offensive to the British public. He has finally been forced to admit what everyone knew—that when the whole country was locked down, he was hosting boozy parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?
I appreciate the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making about the event that I attended. I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event. I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening, as I have said, and I take responsibility and I apologise. As for his political point, I do not think that he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry. He will have a further opportunity, I hope, to question me as soon as possible.
Well, that apology was pretty worthless, wasn’t it? Let me tell the Prime Minister why this matters. Yesterday in this Chamber, hon. Members told heart-wrenching stories about the sacrifices that people across the country were making. The House and the whole country were moved by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) as he talked about his mother-in-law dying alone. He was following the rules while the Prime Minister was partying in Downing Street. Is the Prime Minister really so contemptuous of the British public that he thinks he can just ride this out?
I heard the testimony of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I echo the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s sentiments. It was deeply moving; nobody who heard that could fail to have been moved. I know that people up and down the country made huge sacrifices throughout the pandemic and I understand the anger—the rage—that they feel at the thought that people in Downing Street were not following those rules. I regret the way that the event I have described was handled. I bitterly regret it and wish that we could have done things differently. I have and will continue to apologise for what we did, but he must wait for the inquiry that will report as soon as possible.
When the Prime Minister’s former Health Secretary broke the rules, he resigned and the Prime Minister said he was right to do so. When the Prime Minister’s spokesperson laughed about the rules being broken, she resigned and the Prime Minister accepted that resignation. Why does the Prime Minister still think that the rules do not apply to him?
That is not what I have said. I understand the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes. As I have said, I regret the way things happened on the evening in question and I apologise, but if I may say to him, I do think it would be better if he waited until the full conclusion of the inquiry—until the full facts are brought before this House—and he will then have an opportunity to put his points again.
This just isn’t working, Prime Minister. Everyone can see what happened. It started with reports of boozy parties in Downing Street during lockdown. The Prime Minister pretended that he had been assured there were no parties—how that fits with his defence now, I do not know. Then the video landed, blowing the Prime Minister’s first defence out of the water. So then he pretended that he was sickened and furious about the parties. Now it turns out he was at the parties all along. Can the Prime Minister not see why the British public think he is lying through his teeth?
It is up to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to choose how he conducts himself in this place, and he is wrong—[Interruption.] He is wrong. I say to him that he is wrong in what he has said—[Interruption.] What he said is wrong in several key respects, but that does not detract from the basic point that I want to make today, which is that I accept that we should have done things differently on that evening. As I have said to the House, I believe that the events in question were within the guidance and were within the rules, and that was certainly the assumption on which I operated, but can I say to him that he should wait—he should wait—before he jumps to conclusions, and a lawyer should respect the inquiry? I hope that he will wait until the facts are established and brought to this House.
So we have the Prime Minister attending Downing Street parties—a clear breach of the rules. We have the Prime Minister putting forward a series of ridiculous denials, which he knows are untrue—a clear breach of the ministerial code. That code says:
“Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.
The party is over, Prime Minister. The only question is: will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out, or he will he do the decent thing and resign?
I just want to repeat: I know it is the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s objective and he is paid to try to remove me from office—I appreciate that and I accept that—but may I humbly suggest to him that he should wait until the inquiry has concluded? He should study it for himself, and I will certainly respond as appropriate and I hope that he does, but in the meantime, yes, I certainly wish that things had happened differently on the evening of 20 May, and I apologise for all the misjudgments that have been made, for which I take full responsibility.
The Prime Minister is a man without shame. The public want answers to their questions. Hannah Brady’s father Shaun was just 55 when he lost his life to covid. He was a fit and healthy key worker. I spoke to Hannah last night, Prime Minister. Her father died just days before the drinks trolley was being wheeled through Downing Street. Last year, Hannah met the Prime Minister in the Downing Street garden. She looked the Prime Minister in the eye and told him of her loss. The Prime Minister told Hannah he had “done everything he could” to protect her dad. What Hannah told me last night was this: looking back, she realises that the Prime Minister had partied in that same garden the very day her dad’s death certificate was signed. What Hannah wants to know is this: does the Prime Minister understand why it makes her feel sick to think about the way that he has behaved?
I sympathise deeply with Hannah and with people who have suffered up and down this country during the pandemic. I repeat that I wish things had been done differently on that evening, and I repeat my apology for all the misjudgments that may have been made—that were made—on my watch in No. 10 and across the Government, but I want to reassure the people of this country, including Hannah and her family, that we have been working to do everything we can to protect her and her family.
It is thanks to the efforts of this Government that we have the most tested population in Europe, with 1.25 million tests being conducted every day. We have been working to ensure that this population—our country—has the most antivirals of any country in Europe. It is because of the efforts of the Government, and of officials and staff up and down Whitehall, that we have driven the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe and one of the fastest in the world. That is the reason that we now have one of the most open economies, if not the most open economy, in Europe and the fastest growing economy in the G7. Whatever the mistakes that have been made on my watch, for which I apologise and which I fully acknowledge, that is the work that has been going on in No. 10 Downing Street.
We are investing in education up and down the country. I am delighted that Burnley College was successful in its proposal to become an institute of technology, and that Burnley is home to the growing University of Central Lancashire campus, which makes it a fantastic place to study in Lancashire.
May I add my remarks to those already made about Jack Dromey? He was a feisty fighter for workers’ rights, and an inspiration to many of us on both sides of the House because of the way in which he conducted himself. We will miss him, and I send condolences to Harriet and to the rest of the family.
The Prime Minister stands before us accused of betraying the nation’s trust, of treating the public with contempt, of breaking the laws set by his own Government. A former member of Her Majesty’s armed forces, Paul, wrote to me this morning. His father died without the love and support of his full family around him, because they followed the regulations, Prime Minister. Paul said:
“As an ex-soldier, I know how to follow rules but the Prime Minister has never followed any rules. He does what he wants and gets away with it every time”.
The Prime Minister cannot “get away with it” again. Will he Prime Minister finally do the decent thing and resign, or will his Tory MPs be forced to show him the door?
It is an open and shut case: this was an event that should not have taken place. It broke the law, Prime Minister.
What is so galling about that response is that the Prime Minister feels no sense of shame for his actions. The public suffered pain and anguish at being kept apart from their families, and all the while the Prime Minister was drinking and laughing behind the walls of his private garden. The public overwhelmingly think that the Prime Minister should resign. Trust has been lost; the public will not forgive or forget. If the Prime Minister has no sense of shame, the Tory Back Benchers must act to remove him. They know that the damage is done. This weak and contemptuous Prime Minister can no longer limp on.
The message from the public is clear: remove this unfit Prime Minister from office, and do it now.
Again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his political advice, which I will take with a pinch of salt since it comes from the Scottish nationalist party. I think that most people looking objectively at what this Government have delivered over the last 18 months would agree—and I renew my contrition for the mistakes that have been made—that we have delivered the fastest vaccine and the fastest booster roll-out in Europe, and the result is that across the whole of our United Kingdom we have a record number of people back at work.
Yes, we are certainly looking at reducing the isolation period, and we hope to bring you more about that, Mr Speaker, as fast as possible. We will certainly look at all MACA requests, but more fundamentally what we can do to alleviate the pressures in my hon. Friend’s hospital is to fix the health and social care divide. That is what this Government are also doing, after a generation of neglect.
Today’s apology is too little, too late. If the Prime Minister were sincere, he could have apologised at any stage over the past 18 months, rather than waiting until he was found out. My constituents in North Down, and people across the UK, feel betrayed by the Prime Minister. We have had more than 150,000 deaths from covid over the past couple of years, and we have seen standards in public life trashed. For once, can the Prime Minister do the honourable thing and resign, for the sake of the public health message, and for standards in our democracy?
I can only repeat what I have said: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s feelings about the effect of this pandemic on the country, and I certainly grieve for everybody who has died and who has suffered. On his political point, can I propose that he waits for the inquiry to report?
Yes indeed, and I thank my hon. Friend for that. It is notable that the Opposition do not like to dwell on these points, but it is an astonishing fact that we have 420,000 more people in work now than before the pandemic began, and youth unemployment is at a record low.
The Colne Valley regional park runs through my constituency and that of the Prime Minister. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the volunteers who tirelessly work to preserve that precious green space, and will he work with me to create better protections for that park moving forward?
No, Mr Speaker, because I immediately said in my answer to the question that of course we have to be concerned about inflation at all times. What I said, I think on TV, was that some of the predictions then about inflation had not proved well-founded, but clearly inflation is a serious risk. It is going up, we need a strategy to tackle it, and that is what we have.
My constituent Grant Bailey went back to Afghanistan in September. He disappeared in December, around Christmas time. We think the Taliban have him. Can my right hon. Friend advise me and his family whether he knows anything about this man, who has him, and what is being done to get him home?
This Friday, my private Member’s Bill, the BBC Licence Fee (Abolition) Bill, gets its Second Reading. It will abolish the BBC licence fee and require the BBC to be funded by subscription. In this day and age it is ridiculous to have a state broadcaster, it is ridiculous that people are forced to pay a fee just because they have a television, and what is totally wrong is that people who believe the BBC to be institutionally biased have to subsidise it. Will the Prime Minister, if he is free on Friday, come along and support the Bill?
I welcome the point that the hon. Gentleman makes in the partisan spirit with which I think it was intended. I do not agree with him, but can I suggest respectfully that he waits until the inquiry is concluded, which I hope will be as soon as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his campaign. I believe that we should tackle microplastic pollution, and I am glad that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking at the introduction of legislation for microfibre filters on washing machines as a cost-beneficial solution. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs keeps him informed of how we are doing.
I believe the hon. Member does a serious injustice to the efforts of local councils up and down the country to look after people coming from Afghanistan and I think he does an injustice to the efforts of the UK. We are proud under Operation Pitting to have already evacuated 15,000 people from Afghanistan. We have allocated £286 million in assistance for people in Afghanistan and we are continuing to offer safe passage to this country from Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister will be aware that Eastleigh was formed as a railway town and, from producing locomotives and carriages to building gliders for the D-day landings, Eastleigh has a proud railway heritage. Given that pedigree, its excellent transport links and the need to level up the south, does he agree that Eastleigh would make the perfect home for the new headquarters of Great British Railways?
One of the first things that I did when I became Prime Minister was to uprate local housing allowance so that people on social rent would be able to afford where they live more easily, as a key component of tackling the cost of living. We are also building record numbers of homes. I was very pleased to see a huge increase in the number of people able to get the homes that they need, but the hon. Member’s point about renters is also very important, and that is why we are tackling the rights of renters as well.
£56 million through the levelling up fund and £40 million through transforming cities—that is just some of the investment that we have recently secured for Stoke-on-Trent. Will my right hon. Friend agree that, after decades of neglect, this Conservative party is the only party that is levelling up opportunities in Stoke-on-Trent?
What we are doing is offering financial and technical support to businesses, which are responding magnificently. As we come out of the pandemic, as I said to the House earlier, we are seeing record numbers of people in work and youth unemployment at a record low.
The motto of England’s smallest county, Rutland, is “multum in parvo”—much in little—and never has that been more true than in the last two weeks, with the greatest Roman discovery in 200 years and the discovery of an ichthyosaur, the greatest fossil discovery in 100 years. Will my right hon. Friend please support us to build a new tourism industry and two heritage museums in Rutland to preserve these amazing discoveries in our county?
We are supporting measures to retrofit homes up and down the country to improve insulation. We are also supporting people with the costs of their fuel, and we will continue to do that through the warm homes discount, the winter fuel allowance and all the other payments we make.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is indeed talking to his counterparts in the Welsh Government about establishing a freeport in Wales. I urge our friends in the Welsh Government to agree those plans as a matter of urgency.
We will do everything we can to support people throughout the recovery from the pandemic, we will support disabled people and we will continue to increase our support for families up and down the country. The hon. Lady requests that we publish the research, and we will do so as soon as we can.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his continued support for new nuclear. Following the Third Reading of our landmark Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill this week, will he put his weight behind my efforts and those of my Cumbrian colleagues to bring large and small new nuclear to Cumbria?
My hon. Friend is right that one of the disasters of the Labour Administration was that, over 13 years, they allowed a total collapse in our nuclear power, which is one of the reasons why we have a shortage of energy. That is why we are now investing in small modular reactors, as well as investing in the big projects.
I am grateful, as ever, to the hon. Gentleman—I think a former member of the Conservative party, as I understand it—for his party political advice. I do not agree with him. I have come to this House to make amends, to explain what happened on 20 May and to apologise. I really think, with all humility, I must ask him to wait for the result of the inquiry, when he will have abundant opportunity to question me again and to make his party political points again. Until then, I am going to ignore his advice.
Hundreds of respondents took part in the Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke Bus Back Better survey, in which 80% said they would use the bus more if services were improved. The Conservative-led Stoke-on-Trent City Council has submitted a fantastic Bus Back Better bid for £90 million to improve our infrastructure and our services, so will the Prime Minister make our day in Stoke-on-Trent and announce that that money is coming soon?
I thank my hon. Friend for his fantastic championing of Stoke-on-Trent. I also thank him for volunteering to serve as a teacher again during the pandemic—a wonderful thing to do. I will certainly see what we can do to satisfy his request for more buses in Stoke as fast as possible.
I join the tributes to Jack Dromey, an outstanding trade unionist and Member of this House.
After another shameful week for the Prime Minister’s Government, this has been a shameful attempt to apologise to the House today. Can the Prime Minister explain why the only person to have resigned so far following this scandal is Allegra Stratton, a woman, while he, the man who sanctioned and attended at least one party in 10 Downing Street, still sits in his place? Advisers advise and Ministers decide. So will the Prime Minister, for the good of the country, accept that the party is over and decide to resign?