Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2022

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Veterans: Protection from Prosecution

1. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on bringing forward legislative proposals to protect veterans from prosecution for actions taken during the troubles. (905208)

2. What discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on when legislative proposals will be brought forward against vexatious claims made regarding veterans who served in Northern Ireland. (905209)

Before we begin, I would like to make some brief remarks regarding the upcoming anniversary of Bloody Sunday. This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. The killing of 14 people on that day began what was the most brutal and tragic year of the troubles in terms of lives lost. I echo the words of the then Prime Minister David Cameron, who, following the publication of the Saville report in 2010, stood at this Dispatch Box and apologised on behalf of the British Government, describing the events of Bloody Sunday, rightly, as “unjustified and unjustifiable.” It is important that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, but remember these difficult moments in our history, and come together to help build a better shared future for all the people of Northern Ireland. My thoughts this weekend will be with all those affected.

The Government collectively believe that any system for addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past must focus on delivering for those most impacted by the troubles, including victims, survivors and veterans. We were very clear when publishing the Command Paper that we would engage intensively and widely with stakeholders, including the Northern Ireland parties, before introducing legislation, and that is what we have done and what we are doing. We are reflecting carefully on what we have heard, and we remain committed to addressing the issue through legislation.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if he reflects carefully on the responses to his Command Paper and if he engages with the professionals who have worked on legacy over many years, there is a landing zone for victims and for veterans that will address the grievance industry that has been built up in Northern Ireland off the back of people’s horrendous experiences and will deliver a lasting legacy agreement so that Northern Ireland can move forward?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I agree with what he says. It is important that we find a way forward that works for the people of Northern Ireland and, as I say, delivers for victims, survivors and veterans; has a lasting ability to move things forward; and ensures that those who still do not know the truth and do not have information about what happened to loved ones will have a chance to get to that truth in a reasonable timeframe.

As a veteran who served in Op Banner, I welcome any legislation that comes forward on this issue. While we wait for that legislation, will the Secretary of State work with the Office for Veterans’ Affairs to ensure that any Op Banner veterans have the support they need?

Yes. Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government are unequivocal in our commitment to deliver for all those most impacted by the troubles, including those who served so bravely to protect life and country for people in Northern Ireland. As part of that process, I assure my hon. Friend that we will work closely—and we are working closely—with the Office for Veterans’ Affairs and my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans; in fact, we will be meeting this afternoon.

Can I welcome the Secretary of State’s words at the outset? Fifty years ago this week, the Parachute Regiment were sent to my city to murder 14 people—people who were unarmed, marching for civil rights—[Interruption.] And I would condemn that as well, as well the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) knows. Last weekend, Parachute Regiment flags were flown on the outskirts of Derry. The Parachute Regiment rightly condemned the flying of those flags as a grossly offensive act against the victims of Bloody Sunday, but they have yet to apologise for and condemn the actions of their soldiers on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972. Does the Secretary of State think they should?

As I have outlined, as the Prime Minister said at the time and as I have said in responding to public inquiries recently, we as the Government must accept responsibility for what has happened in the past. When things are wrong, we need to be clear about that, as we have been. It is right that we have apologised for that, and I have added my own personal apology to that of the Government. We also need to ensure that we all work together to find a way forward to ensure that people are clear that violence is not an answer to anything in Northern Ireland or elsewhere.

The Secretary of State rightly made his comments about Bloody Sunday at the beginning of his remarks, but he will recognise that it took nearly 40 years for the Saville inquiry to clear the innocent victims who were murdered that day and those who were injured. Will he confirm that under the proposals that he will bring to the House a judicial inquiry will still be possible? If not, we condemn victims and their families to the accusation of guilt when an inquiry would prove their innocence.

The hon. Gentleman gives a powerful example. Ballymurphy, which I spoke about at the Dispatch Box not that long ago, is another powerful example of it taking far too long in these situations for families to get answers and to get to the truth. I can be very clear with the House, as I have been before, that I am determined that the legislation we bring forward will allow families to get to the truth and understand what happened quicker than we have seen before. People should not be waiting decades for information.

British soldiers like myself were sent to Northern Ireland to keep the peace, and to put their lives on the line for the peace of everybody in Northern Ireland. I say to the Secretary of State that, while I welcome the Command Paper, we must not have any delay in the functions of Government getting to a conclusion on this, so that veterans—many of them have passed away already—can live their lives in peace, rather than in fear of being dragged before the courts.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point, from the point of view of veterans. He is absolutely right: most people who went out there served their country to protect life, in quite a contrast to the terrorists in Northern Ireland who went out every day to do harm. It is important that we deal with the issue, so that we do not leave it to another generation, and that we do so before we lose a generation who not only have information but deserve to live their final years in peace.

Every life lost in Northern Ireland matters, and we remember the two very courageous Royal Ulster Constabulary officers murdered in Londonderry 50 years ago tomorrow. As a proud former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, I want to ensure that whatever proposals the Government bring forward do not create a moral equivalence between the brave men and women who served in our armed forces and the police service and those who took the law into their own hands, engaged in acts of terrorism and sought to bring Northern Ireland to its knees. Will the Secretary of State be clear that there will be no moral equivalence between our armed forces and police and the terrorists of the IRA and other paramilitary groups?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I can be very clear, and as a Government we are clear, that we will never accept any moral equivalence between those who upheld the law in Northern Ireland—those who, as I say, went out every day to protect life and to do their service—and those who, from any point of view, went out every morning to destroy life and to destroy Northern Ireland. They must never be allowed to win, and there can be no moral equivalence.

In bringing forward proposals on dealing with the legacy of our past, can the Secretary of State advise what discussions he has had with the representatives of innocent victims in Northern Ireland, and will he heed the very clear view, right across the community in Northern Ireland, from those innocent victims and their families that what they want out of the process is access to truth and justice? Justice must not be dispensed with.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As we have said from the beginning, it is important that we engage with a wide range of stakeholders. I have done that myself, as have my Ministers. Indeed, in the last week I have been meeting with the very groups that he refers to—victims groups as well as veterans. It is clear that people have waited far too long for information. We also have to be honest with people about what is achievable and the reality of what we can do, bearing in mind the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 that followed the Good Friday agreement, decommissioning and other things that have happened since then. We must deliver a process and a structure of investigations and information recovery that helps people to get to the truth, while being clear that, as I have said before, there are so many people who did so much to keep Northern Ireland safe.


A stable Northern Ireland needs sustainable devolved institutions. We have progressed the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill to that end. Prosperity is another foundation stone of stability. We have been working with the Executive to deliver the city and growth deals, which my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), is taking forward, and to invest in priority areas such as skills through the new deal for Northern Ireland. We will continue to support stability and co-operation in Northern Ireland throughout this important election year.

We are absolutely right to recall David Cameron’s apology in 2010, and I send my best wishes to the families and the people of Derry/Londonderry. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the measures in New Decade, New Approach to protect sustainability and to keep Stormont running will be put on the statute book at the earliest opportunity?

Yes, absolutely. That is our focus, and we have been taking this through the House. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said a short while ago, and no doubt he will be back here talking about it soon, taking this through is important for Northern Ireland and its people, who want a functioning Northern Ireland Executive.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) brought forward New Decade, New Approach with commitments within it that would guarantee and protect the stability of our institutions. The Secretary of State knows that the commitment to protect the UK’s internal market has not been delivered. He knows that some of the balanced commitments in that document are now being tinkered with, be they on legacy or on language. What steps will he take in the very short term to sincerely protect the institutions?

On the cultural package, what we agreed to take forward is exactly what was agreed between the parties in New Decade, New Approach itself, and we will continue to look at that. It is important that we deliver on all of New Decade, New Approach. We have the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, which is doing that work and has ensured that trade between GB and NI from the NI side is working in an unfettered way. We said we would bring forward further work to develop and deliver that, which we will do, but it is also important—this is why the work on the Northern Ireland protocol is so important—to ensure the same sort of effect in GB to NI as in NI to GB and that it is working for everyone in Northern Ireland.

My right hon. Friend knows that the thuggery and criminality of the self-styled paramilitaries add nothing to stability anywhere in Northern Ireland. What further steps can his Department take to disrupt their activity, in particular through unexplained wealth orders?

We have been making progress in this area. We work in partnership with and support the Northern Ireland Department of Justice in the devolved areas, as well as with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other partners, who are doing phenomenal work. We have seen real success this year, and in the crackdown over the past 12 to 18 months on criminal gangs. My hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee is right: these groups are criminal gangs and should be treated as such. They are nothing more than thugs who threaten people and try to destroy life in Northern Ireland. I support the PSNI and partners in their work to disrupt their activity and bring the people involved to justice.

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s important words regarding Bloody Sunday. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) for skilfully negotiating the New Decade, New Approach in the first place. Part of that was legislation on identity, language and culture. When will that package of legislation be introduced?

We are committed to bringing that forward within the mandate of the period for Stormont, as we said at the time, and that remains our commitment.

The statement to the House last June was that we would have it by October last year. There is a theme: we did not get that by October last year; legacy was promised by autumn, then by Christmas, and it is still nowhere to be seen; and then the Secretary of State introduced double-jobbing to Parliament and, within the same week, withdrew it. A question constantly put to me by people in Northern Ireland is, “What’s the point of Brandon Lewis?” Perhaps he can tell us.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has been over to Northern Ireland once and so is basing his comments on some odd conversation. I find what he just said a bit rich, bearing in mind that he is part of a Labour Front-Bench team who over the past six to nine months have called for us to bring forward dual mandates, then argued against them when we did what we said we would do. They called for us to engage widely on legacy and to take into account what people say; then they complain when we do exactly that. Labour argues that it is a party of the Union, but does not get involved in Northern Ireland and then cannot get its Front Benchers to confirm that it supports the Union for Northern Ireland on live TV. Until Labour decides that it is a party for the Union in Northern Ireland, I will not take any lessons.

The Northern Ireland protocol is clearly causing political instability. Will the Secretary of State agree that it needs replacing, not just a few amendments?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The protocol is not working—that is clear. The feedback we get from businesses across Northern Ireland is that it is not sustainable in its current format. It needs to be dealt with. It needs to be fixed. That is what the Foreign Secretary and I are working on together to ensure we can do that and do well for the people of Northern Ireland.

Balance of Trade with Great Britain and the EU

4. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the balance of trade between Northern Ireland and (a) Great Britain and (b) the EU. (905211)

9. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of trends in the balance of trade between Northern Ireland and (a) Great Britain and (b) the EU. (905216)

We are committed to boosting trade in Northern Ireland with both the rest of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Northern Ireland protocol has, as I just said, impacted businesses. It is creating barriers to trade and causing disruption. It is the Government’s priority to deal with those issues and make the protocol work better for business. That is essential to ensuring Northern Ireland continues to prosper as part of the Union.

Exports from Great Britain to the Republic of Ireland have crashed by more than 20% since Brexit, costing the GB economy more than £3 billion. Meanwhile, Northern Irish exports to the Republic, which are benefiting from still being in the EU market, have soared by 64% in 2021 alone. Does the Secretary of State recognise the overwhelming benefits of being in a market seven times the size of the UK market?

We are seeing 200-plus businesses in Northern Ireland stopping delivering to customers in Northern Ireland, medicines and drugs having issues and challenges getting to Northern Ireland, consumers having reduced choice on the shelves, and garden centres unable to get the plants and seeds they want from the rest of the UK. That is a farcical situation. It is not sustainable. It is not fair or right for the people of Northern Ireland and it is right that we focus on correcting that.

I wonder if I could invite the Secretary of State to actually answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson). The most recent quarterly economic survey by the Northern Ireland chamber of commerce shows that 70% of Northern Ireland businesses believe that their unique trading position of being both within the UK and the EU single markets and the customs union presents opportunities for Northern Ireland. Does he agree with the vast majority of businesses in Northern Ireland? If so, why did his Government not fight for remain-voting Scotland to have the same benefits of dual access as Northern Ireland?

I meet businesses across Northern Ireland representing all sectors of Northern Ireland on a regular basis, as does the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns). They are very clear: the protocol in its current format is not working. It is not sustainable. The EU offer is not good enough. They are very clear about that. That is something we are determined to fix. The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right that if the protocol works in the way it was envisaged, it does create opportunities for Northern Ireland. The problem is that the EU’s requirements for implementation are failing Northern Ireland and we need to see that fixed.

The Secretary of State says the Northern Ireland protocol is not working and he is right. Why don’t we scrap it?

The Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and I are absolutely determined to ensure that we resolve the issues for Northern Ireland. We would obviously like to do that in a sustainable and agreed way with the EU. That is the best way to get legal certainty. That is our focus, but we do not rule out anything from the table to deliver for Northern Ireland.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that reducing barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is not just desirable, but vital to protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom?

Yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to ensure that consumers and businesses in any part of the UK can access products as they would anywhere else in the UK. That is what we are determined to deliver, and that is where our focus and work is.

I take this opportunity to associate my party with the Secretary of State’s remarks about the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Our thoughts are very much with those who continue to grieve and who continue to be affected to this day.

When it comes to trade, the Government have not so much been ambushed by cake as by reality. While the Northern Ireland economy is thriving as part of the single market, the economy of the UK is labouring. Should the UK Government not, with the opportunities presented by the possibility of a change in Prime Minister, realign Great Britain with Northern Ireland in the single market and allow businesses across these islands to flourish?

I encourage the hon. Gentleman to do a little more research. It is very good news that the Northern Ireland economy is moving forward, as is the whole UK economy. Of course, in Northern Ireland there are more factors, not least the scale of the public sector compared with anywhere else in the UK. However, it is also true that the UK is moving forward as one of the fastest-growing economies in the G7, if not the fastest, with employment going up from where it was even before covid. That is because the Government are focused on delivering for people across the United Kingdom. I am sure he understands why, as a Unionist, I support that. He should too.

Platinum Jubilee Celebrations

May I briefly associate myself with the comments of the Secretary of State on the dreadful events in the city of the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) in 1972, the year of my birth in Belfast?

Officials in the Northern Ireland Office are working closely with officials in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the lead Government Department on the jubilee. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my noble Friend Lord Caine are working on a series of events in Northern Ireland to mark Her Majesty’s jubilee, her immense contribution to life in Northern Ireland and to peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.

Will the Minister describe how he will encourage all parts of the NHS across Northern Ireland to celebrate the platinum jubilee as one great, unifying feature of the Union towards another?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Everyone in every part of our United Kingdom is deeply proud of the national health service. People across Northern Ireland, whatever their allegiance, recognise the immense contribution of frontline NHS staff, whom I hope will be recognised in this jubilee year.

Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate our Union far and wide, with people around the Commonwealth and the world joining us in marking the occasion. Will the Secretary of State set out the Government’s plans on using the jubilee to showcase the best of Northern Ireland?

Whatever tradition or belief they come from in Northern Ireland, everyone recognises the immense contribution Her Majesty the Queen has made to this United Kingdom. As I alluded to, Her Majesty’s contribution to reconciliation and mutual understanding on the island of Ireland has been beyond compare. This will be a fantastic opportunity to celebrate her amazing life and achievements.

This summer, Her Majesty will award jubilee medals to members of the armed forces and emergency services and to prison officers. As things stand, frontline paramedics working for ambulance services will rightly be recognised, but those working in hospital A&E departments and private ambulances might not be. Will my right hon. Friend work with ministerial colleagues to ensure that all frontline paramedics get the recognition their work so richly deserves?

My hon. Friend makes his point powerfully, as ever. I am sure it will be heard. If it is not, I will make sure that it is by making it on his behalf to relevant Ministers.

As we begin the 70th year of Her Majesty’s reign, the Northern Ireland protocol still seems to threaten the free movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Will the Minister take urgent action to stand up to the bureaucratic posturing of the European Union and ensure that oak tree saplings can be traded freely between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom for the platinum jubilee?

I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes that point incredibly powerfully. Members from across the House will look forward to planting oak saplings in their constituencies to mark this amazing achievement of Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee. The Foreign Secretary is on the Front Bench. I know her well; I served with her in International Trade. She is on the case. There is absolutely no reason why oak tree saplings should not be planted in Northern Ireland as they are in every other part of the United Kingdom.

The Queen’s Green Canopy is a wonderful way to both celebrate the jubilee and promote the environment. Tomorrow, in Dervock, Bushmills, Ballymoney and Ballymena, a number of primary schools will plant trees to mark Her Majesty’s jubilee. I encourage the Secretary of State, the Minister and, indeed, the Foreign Secretary, who will be in Northern Ireland tomorrow, to take the opportunity to visit one of those schools and encourage young people as they promote the environment, honour Her Majesty the Queen and encourage our country to look positively to its future.

I entirely agree that all Members across the House will look forward to planting trees on the amazing anniversary of Her Majesty’s reign. I was in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency just before Christmas, at my grandfather’s former primary school in Armoy. The event is cross-community and cross-tradition, and we are all looking forward to celebrating it. I will happily accept an invitation, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would, to join the hon. Gentleman in his constituency and plant a tree.

As hon. Members on the Benches behind me know, my wife hails from County Armagh. There is a tremendous link between Scotland and Northern Ireland through music; recently, the Kiltearn Fiddlers from my constituency have played in Northern Ireland as the guests of Ulster University. Would it not be splendid if we could celebrate Her Majesty’s jubilee by having musical events the length and breadth of our United Kingdom?

I totally agree, and what a wonderful, harmonious note on which to end Northern Ireland questions.

People in Newport West and across Northern Ireland know that Her Majesty has always led by example and demonstrated the highest standards in public life, so can the Minister confirm that this Government will be following her example as they mark her platinum jubilee?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that Her Majesty is an example to us all. The House should unite in thanking her for her decades of dedicated service to our country and the Commonwealth.

Engagement with Businesses: Northern Ireland Protocol

6. What engagement the Government has had with Northern Ireland businesses on the Northern Ireland protocol since 1 January 2022. (905213)

My engagement with the Northern Ireland business community is extensive. Just this week I have been in Northern Ireland engaging directly with businesses, as I do every week, to discuss the impacts of the protocol as well as any wider concerns or issues.

The Government published their Command Paper last July, the European Union published four papers last October, and I understand that the Government have tabled a revised legal text in the negotiations. Does the Secretary of State recognise that there is a desire among businesses in Northern Ireland for much greater transparency around the UK Government’s negotiating objectives?

We have been very transparent and clear with businesses. The Minister for Europe and I, and indeed the Foreign Secretary, have met and engaged with businesses, as we will be doing tomorrow, and outlined exactly what our objectives are: to deliver what businesses in Northern Ireland want, which is to rectify the problems that are hampering businesses in Northern Ireland. We need to correct the protocol, and the EU needs to show some flexibility to make that work.

When it comes to negotiations with the European Union, this Government told us that we could have our cake and eat it, but we face a harsh reality: a Prime Minister ambushed by cake while businesses in Northern Ireland are crying out for certainty. When will the Government finally bake off and deliver a veterinary agreement?

I will ignore the cakeism directed from the Opposition Front Bench and just say that it is good to see the hon. Lady finally supporting the UK Government, which Labour has failed to do while we are focused on delivering for Northern Ireland, rectifying the protocol and fixing the problem. Get on board!

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

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

2. My local hospital, the George Eliot, has recently issued all of its staff, helpers and volunteers with a medal in recognition of the work that they have done and continue to do throughout the covid pandemic. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking them all for the incredible work they have done, including the specialist teams such as palliative care, who have had to act as surrogate families for patients whose relatives have been unable to attend because of restrictions? Will he consider following their lead in issuing a national service medal for all our key workers, who have done such an outstanding job in keeping our country going throughout the pandemic? (905271)

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.]

Order. This question will continue, and I will hear the question. Members might not believe this, but our constituents are very interested in the questions and the answers. If some Members do not wish to hear it, please leave quietly.

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.

This was the Prime Minister who went into hiding for five days because of these allegations. He should not talk to me about being around for the allegations—[Interruption.]

Order. I do not want to do this, but I am determined to make sure our constituents can hear. The next person that stops me hearing will not continue in this debate.

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—

Order. I cannot hear what the Prime Minister has to say. He is the Prime Minister from the Government side, so I am surprised that that side does not want to listen to him, because I do.

Mr Speaker, I only wanted to add the point that we have taken the tough decisions, we have got the big calls right and we are, and in particular I am, getting on with the job.

5.   In Clwyd South, the Welsh Government have been dragging their feet on urgent repairs to the Newbridge Road, while in contrast the Prime Minister and his Government have delivered record levelling-up fund investment of £13.3 million along the Dee Valley, from the Trevor basin to Llangollen and Chirk, and on to Corwen. Will the Prime Minister comment on how the next phase of the levelling-up fund will bring hope and prosperity to other communities right across our proud Union of the United Kingdom? (905274)

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 do not know who has been eating more cake. [Interruption.] People do not get this, but behind the scenes the right hon. Gentleman and I co-operate well, and I want to continue to do so.

6.   As the Prime Minister will know from personal experience, the River Wye is one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe, yet its fragile ecosystem is being destroyed by phosphate and other pollution. The river crosses the border between England and Wales, but so far it is has proven impossible to get the Environment Agency, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales even to begin planning a single, integrated, long-term strategy to clean up the river. Will the Prime Minister now press those agencies, and the Welsh Government, at last to come to the table? Will he ask Ministers to look at the idea of a new, ringfenced national rivers recovery fund, using fines paid by the water companies, so that we can clean the Wye and other rivers up properly, once and for all? (905275)

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.

7. Has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister seen the report published earlier this month by the Environmental Audit Committee that makes recommendations about what else should be done, in addition to the welcome measures in the Environment Act 2021, to clean up all our rivers, including the River Wye? One recommendation was that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should give guidance to Ofwat to require water companies to invest much more in water treatment in the next round of capital spending approvals. Will my right hon. Friend encourage his Secretary of State to give that guidance to Ofwat in the strategic policy statement that is expected shortly? (905276)

Yes, my right hon. Friend is completely right, and I welcome the report by his Committee. This Government are going further and faster than any other Government hitherto to protect and improve the health of our rivers and seas.

3. Happy unbirthday to him! Just like the Mad Hatter, the Prime Minister did not need the excuse of a birthday to have a party—but it did help, didn’t it? Given that he had groups of people singing to him when gatherings indoors were illegal and communal singing was banned, my constituents think that he has lied. My constituents think that he lied to this House and my constituents think he lied to them when he was partying and telling them all— (905272)

Order. You can say in passing what your constituents say, but you cannot continue to labour that one point.

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.

8. The great people of Cornwall voted in our Prime Minister on a promise to get Brexit done; he was successful. Faced with the global pandemic, our Prime Minister set out to build a world-beating vaccination programme to save lives; he was successful. He has now lifted covid restrictions against huge pressure not to do so, and he has got the economy back on track. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister continue to deliver on the priorities of my constituents and the millions across the country who voted for him in 2019? (905277)

I really cannot improve on that brilliant question. The people of South East Cornwall are lucky to have my hon. Friend as their representative, and she is right in what she says.

4. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the murder of my constituent Mike O’Leary, whose body was desecrated in an attempt to cover up the crime. Will the Prime Minister meet campaigners and me to discuss the need for a new offence or amended sentencing guidelines to reflect the extra suffering faced by the families of murdered victims whose bodies were concealed or desecrated? (905273)

I thank the hon. Member for drawing this appalling case to the attention of the House. I can certainly assure him that he will be getting the meeting that he needs at the earliest opportunity.

9. On 24 November, I asked the Prime Minister if he would meet me and my constituents to discuss the future—or lack of future—of a new hospital in Hemel Hempstead. When I secured this question today, I thought that I would have to ask the same question, but last night I was offered the meeting—[Laughter.] So on another note, Prime Minister: many children in this country are suffering from a special form of seizure, and medical cannabis prescribed by a consultant helps them to live. Only two children in this country get that free on the NHS. The rest of those children’s families have to beg, borrow and scrape to try to pay for that prescription issued by a consultant. Will the Prime Minister please use the political will—I know that the Health Secretary has the political will—to push this matter forward so that these children live? (905278)

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.

11. Threats and intimidation, bribery and blackmail, racism and Islamophobia: that is the character of the Prime Minister’s Government. Every day, the Prime Minister lurches from scandal to scandal. Meanwhile, his Government have written off £4.3 billion to fraudsters. Instead of writing off loans to fraudsters, why will the Prime Minister not write his resignation letter to the Queen? (905280)

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.

10. The recruitment of 20,000 police officers is a fantastic commitment to law and order by this Government. Bedfordshire, in common with many other police forces, has lost out on about 95 officers as a result of the imposition of damping in 2004. So that we do not have to rely on one-off special grants to stay solvent, will the Prime Minister recommit to the reformation of the police funding formula in this Parliament? (905279)

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.

14. Twice in recent months, I have asked the Prime Minister about his and his Transport Secretary’s commitment to delivering the Prime Minister’s pledge to invest in UK-built ZEBs—zero-emission buses. I did not receive a clear answer. Worrying reports in the media of Treasury cuts to bus-buying plans highlight a conflict between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor. Is the current Chancellor denying the current Prime Minister the right to fulfil his pledge to buy 4,000 zero-emission buses? (905283)

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.

12. Securing extra health services at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup is a key priority for local residents, as it is for me, as the first home-grown MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup. Will the Prime Minister support me in delivering this extra investment for our local hospital and join me in thanking all the staff at Queen Mary’s for their incredible efforts? (905281)

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.

15. A nurse who organised a small socially distanced demonstration against this Government’s pay cuts was fined £10,000. People out there are sick to the back teeth of it being one rule for the Tories and another for everyone else. The Prime Minister, for once, needs to do the decent thing—for God’s sake, resign! (905284)

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.

13. Alongside the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine there are real fears of China invading Taiwan. On Sunday, Beijing staged the largest incursion into Taiwan’s airspace since October. Does my right hon. Friend agree that military aggression and threat of occupation are never acceptable anywhere in the world, and will he confirm that under this Conservative Government the UK will always be at the forefront of standing up forcefully for freedom and democracy, security and stability? (905282)

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.