As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland remarked to the House earlier this morning, this Sunday marks a tragic day in our history, one of the darkest days of the troubles: the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. I echo his call to learn from the past, to reconcile and to build a shared, peaceful and prosperous future.
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 associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks on Bloody Sunday.
Did the Prime Minister agree to the Chancellor of the Exchequer writing off £4.3 billion of fraud? That is £154 from every household in the country that went directly into the pockets of fraudsters.
No, of course not. We do not support fraudsters or those who steal from the public purse, but what I can tell the hon. Lady is that everybody in this country should be very proud of the huge effort that was made by Lord Agnew and others to secure ventilators and personal protective equipment. At the time, Captain Hindsight and others were calling for us to go faster.
Yes, of course. I thank my hon. Friend, and I am pleased that so many of the volunteers and staff at George Eliot Hospital have been recognised in the Queen’s new year honours list. I have seen the medal that the hospital is proposing, and I think it is lovely. As I have told the House before, we are establishing a UK commission on covid commemoration to consider how we can commemorate everything that we have all been through, and the commission will also consider how we can recognise the courage of frontline workers.
I join the Prime Minister in his comments in relation to Bloody Sunday.
The ministerial code says that:
“Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.
Does the Prime Minister believe that applies to him?
Of course, but let me tell the House that I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman is inviting a question about an investigation on which, as you know, Mr Speaker, I cannot comment, and on which he, as a lawyer, will know that I cannot comment. What I am focused on is delivering the fastest recovery from covid of any European economy, the fastest booster roll-out, and 400,000 more people on the payrolls now than there were before the pandemic began. We are launching a policy tomorrow. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about people being out of work—in my case, I understand why he wants it. We are launching a plan tomorrow to get half a million people off welfare and into work. It is a fantastic idea, and I hope he supports it.
I think the Prime Minister said yes, he agrees that the code does apply to him. Therefore, if he misled Parliament, he must resign.
On 1 December, the Prime Minister told this House from the Dispatch Box, in relation to parties during lockdown, that
“all guidance was followed completely in No. 10.”—[Official Report, 1 December 2021; Vol. 704, c. 909.]
He looks quizzical, but he said it. On 8 December, the Prime Minister told this House that
“I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party”.—[Official Report, 8 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 372.]
Since he acknowledges that the ministerial code applies to him, will he now resign?
No. But since the right hon. and learned Gentleman asks about covid restrictions, let me just remind the House and, indeed, the country that he has been relentlessly opportunistic throughout. He has flip-flopped from one side to the other. He would have kept us in lockdown in the summer. He would have taken us back into lockdown at Christmas. It is precisely because we did not listen to Captain Hindsight that we have the fastest-growing economy in the G7, and we have got all the big calls right.
This is the guy who said that, in hindsight, he now appreciates it was a party. We have discovered the real Captain Hindsight, have we not? Let me spell out the—[Interruption.] They shout now, but they are going to have to go out and defend some of this nonsense. Let me spell out the significance of yesterday’s developments. Sue Gray reported the matter to the police, having found evidence of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence. Prime Minister, if you do not understand the significance of what happened yesterday, I really do despair. The police, having got that material from Sue Gray, subjected it to a test to decide whether to investigate. That test was whether it was the “most serious and flagrant” type of breach in the rules. The police spelled out what they meant by that: that those involved knew, or ought to have known, that what they were doing was an offence and that there was “little ambiguity” about the
“absence of any reasonable defence”.
Does the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]
Having got the material from Sue Gray, the police had to take a decision as to whether what they had before them were the “most serious and flagrant” types of breaches of the rules—[Interruption.] If Members want to laugh at that, they can laugh. The police spelled out what they meant. They decided, from the material that they already had, that those involved knew, or ought to have known, that what they were doing was an offence, and that there was “little ambiguity” around the
“absence of any reasonable defence”.
Does the Prime Minister really not understand the damage his behaviour is doing to our country?
I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman understands that, although the issue he raises is important, there is simply no way—as he knows, as a lawyer—that I can comment on the investigation that is currently taking place. He talks about the most serious issue before the public and the world today. It is almost as though he was in ignorance of the fact that we have a crisis on the borders of Ukraine. I can tell him that in the Cabinet Room of this country, the UK Government are bringing the west together. Led by this Government and this Prime Minister and our Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary, we are bringing the west together to have the toughest possible package of sanctions to deter President Putin from what I think would be a reckless and catastrophic invasion. That is what this Government are doing. We are getting on with the job, and I think he needs to raise his game, frankly.
Order. I say to both sides that our constituents are watching this. Tensions are running high, but we need to allow the people out there who are bothered about their futures to hear what is said on both sides. Please, let us give our constituents the respect they deserve.
The Prime Minister’s continual defence is, “Wait for the Sue Gray report.” On 8 December, he told this House:
“I will place a copy of the…report in the Library of the House of Commons.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 374.]
His spokesperson has repeatedly stated that that means the full report—not parts of the report, not a summary of the report and not an edited copy—so can the Prime Minister confirm that he will publish the full Sue Gray report as he receives it?
What I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that we have to leave the report to the independent investigator, as he knows. When I receive it, of course I will do exactly what I said. In the meantime, the people of this country want to hear what we are doing to tackle the issues that matter to all of us: fixing the cost of living; helping people across the country by lifting the living wage; helping people with their fuel costs, as this Government are doing; and cutting the tax of people on universal credit by £1,000. The party opposite is committed to abolishing universal credit. That is their policy.
Cutting the tax? [Laughter.]
The police say the evidence meets the test. Frankly, the public have made up their minds. They know the Prime Minister is not fit for the job. That is what really matters here. Throughout this scandal, the Tories have done immense damage to public trust. When the leader of the Scottish Conservatives said that the Prime Minister should resign, the Leader of the House called him “a lightweight”—English Conservatives publicly undermining the Union by treating Scotland with utter disdain. How much damage are the Prime Minister and his Cabinet prepared to do to save his skin?
Well, I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman was offering yet more general criticism of what has been going on in Downing Street, so let me just remind the House of what has been going on in Downing Street. We have been prioritising the covid backlogs, investing massively in 9 million more scans, so that people get the treatment that they need and that they have been waiting for, and making sure that we have 44,000 more people in our—[Interruption.] They say it is rubbish, but they did not vote for it; they do not support it. We have 44,000 more people in our NHS now than in 2020, and we are fixing social care, which Governments have neglected for decades, with Labour doing absolutely nothing. They have no plan at all to fix the NHS or to fix social care. Vote Labour, wait longer.
The reality is that we now have the shameful spectacle of a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom being subject to a police investigation, unable to lead the country and incapable of doing the right thing. Every day his Cabinet fail to speak out, they become more and more complicit. What is utterly damning, despite the huff and puff, is that this is all happening when petrol prices, the weekly shop and energy bills are going through the roof. Three months ago, Labour suggested cutting VAT from energy bills. Still the Government have failed to act. Instead of getting on with their jobs, they are wheeled out to save his. Whatever he says in his statement later today or tomorrow will not change the facts. Is this not a Prime Minister and a Government who have shown nothing but contempt for the decency, honesty and respect that define this country?
No, we love this country and we are doing everything in our power to help this country. Of course he wants me out of the way. He does, and—I will not deny it—for all sorts of reasons many people may want me out of the way, but the reason he wants me out of the way is that he knows that this Government can be trusted to deliver, and we did. We delivered on Brexit. He voted 48 times to take this country back into the European Union. We delivered the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, and we will deliver on our plan to unite and level up across the whole of the UK.
Crime down 10%, job vacancies at a record high, colossal investment—we are delivering, and Labour has no plan. Tech investment in this country is three times that in France, and twice as much as Germany. We have a vision for this country as the most prosperous and successful economy in Europe, because we are going to unite and level up. The problem with the Labour party today is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is lawyer, not a leader. That is the truth—
I thank my hon. Friend very much, and what pleasure it gives me to address the Member for Clwyd South, where I tried unsuccessfully so many years ago. I am delighted that a Conservative Government are now investing so massively in levelling up in Clwyd South and across the whole of Wales.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister about Bloody Sunday?
I am sure that you and the entire House will want to commemorate tomorrow Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remember the 6 million Jews who lost their lives at the hands of the regime of Hitler, and of course, we remember other genocides, not least more recently in Bosnia—we all pray for continued peace in that country.
At the heart of this matter, we have a Prime Minister who is being investigated by the police for breaking his own laws—it is absolutely unprecedented. This is a man who demeans the office of Prime Minister. This is the latest in a rap sheet that is already a mile long: illegally proroguing Parliament; misleading the House; decorating with dodgy cash; and partying while the public suffered. Every moment he stays, he is dragging out the agony for families who remind him of the sacrifices they made and dragging his party further through the dirt. The public know it, the House knows it, even his own MPs know it—when will the Prime Minister cop on and go?
I want to join the right hon. Gentleman and echo his sentiments about Holocaust Memorial Day, where I think he is completely right.
I must say that the right hon. Gentleman made the same point last week, and he was wrong then and he is wrong now. It is precisely because I enjoy co-operating with him so much, and with all his Scottish colleagues, that I have absolutely no intention of doing what he suggests.
Every moment that the Prime Minister lingers, every nick in this death by a thousand cuts, is sucking attention from the real issues facing the public; Tory cuts, Brexit and the soaring cost of living have pushed millions of families into poverty. The impending national insurance tax hike hangs like a guillotine, while they eat cake. This is nothing short of a crisis, and the only route out—the only route to restore public trust—is for the Prime Minister to go. How much longer will Tory MPs let this go on for? How much more damage are they willing to do? It is time to get this over with—show the Prime Minister the door!
I once had a memorable swim in the Wye—I think at about 5 o’clock in the morning—and it tasted like nectar. I understand the problems that my right hon. Friend raises: it is important that our beautiful rivers should be clean. My right hon. Friend the Environment Minister will visit the Wye area shortly, with or without his swimming trunks, and we are urging the Welsh Government to take the matter as seriously as this Government are.
The Prime Minister will know that many families throughout the United Kingdom are struggling with the increased cost of living and rising energy costs, but in Northern Ireland that is compounded by the protocol. The cost of bringing goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland has increased by 27%—when we can get access to those goods. It is costing business £2.5 million every day, which is almost £1 billion a year. That is the cost of the protocol. The Prime Minister talks about uniting this nation and levelling up; he could do that by removing the Irish sea border and fully restoring Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
I support passionately the right hon. Gentleman’s indignation. Yes, I never thought, when we negotiated, that it would mean 200 businesses would stop supplying Northern Ireland, foods being blocked and Christmas cards being surcharged. Frankly, the EU is implementing the protocol in an insane and pettifogging way. We need to sort it out and I completely support what the right hon. Gentleman says.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman, in everything he said just now, plainly does not know what he is talking about. What I can tell him and his constituents is that, irrespective of what they want to focus on—and I understand why they do—this Government are going to get on with the job and deliver for the people of this country.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has the meeting he wanted. We have already changed the law to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis products where clinically appropriate, but we are very keen to support this, provided that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is happy as well.
The hon. Lady talks about racism and Islamophobia. She should look at this Government; look at the modern Conservative party. We are the party of hope and opportunity for people across this country, irrespective of race or religion. We do not care what religion people affirm. All we care about is whether they are interested in ideas of aspiration and opportunity; that is what we are about.
My right hon. Friend the policing Minister has assured me that we will be introducing a new funding formula before the end of the Parliament, but I am pleased that Bedfordshire police have already recruited 100 additional officers as part of our uplift programme. That is part of the 11,000 more officers that this Government have put on the streets.
There has never in the history of this country been such a bonanza for buses. I am personally a bus fanatic. We are putting £5 billion into buses and cycling during this Parliament, and there is £355 million of new funding for zero-emission buses—and yes of course we want to see the benefits of that funding spread right across the whole of the United Kingdom.
What a joy it is to welcome my hon. Friend to his place; the joy seems a bit confined on the Opposition Benches. I thank him for his work and support for everybody at Queen Mary’s Hospital, which he and I campaigned for, for many years. Last year Queen Mary’s received £800,000 of funding and I hope that it will benefit further from the £1 million funding awarded to Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust to improve technology services across its estate.
I do not think there was a question there. There was an invitation for me to do what of course the Labour party wants me to do, but I am not going to do it. We are going to carry on with our agenda of uniting and levelling up across the country, and they fundamentally know that they have no answer to that. We have a plan and a vision for this country; they have absolutely nothing to say, and that is the difference between our side and their side.
I thank my hon. Friend. The Chinese military flights that have taken place near Taiwan in recent days are not conducive to peace and stability in the region. What we need is a peaceful and constructive dialogue by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. I know that that is what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and all colleagues are working for.