Skip to main content


Volume 710: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2022

Never before has this House listened to an address such as the one given yesterday by President Zelensky. I want to tell the House that, working with our friends and allies across the free world, we will be doing even more in the coming days to protect the people of Ukraine. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will set out more details for the House later.

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 son Ben died of an aortic dissection at age 44, leaving a wife and two young children. It is a condition that kills 2,000 every year needlessly—more than those who die on the roads—yet most people do not know anything about it until it devastates their family, as it did mine. So many of these cases are preventable by identifying those at risk and through early and accurate diagnosis. Will the Prime Minister commend the work of the Aortic Dissection Charitable Trust in working with all aspects of the patient pathway for this condition? In particular, will he commit to public funding for research into the diagnosis of aortic dissection and into genetic screening for it?

May I first say to my hon. Friend how very sorry I am, as I am sure the whole House is, for the loss of her son Ben? She is a passionate advocate for this work, and I also thank the Aortic Dissection Charitable Trust. She is completely right that accurate and fast diagnosis and treatment is crucial, which is why I am pleased that the National Institute for Health Research is looking to do further work in this area, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will meet her at his earliest convenience.

The typical energy bill is going up by £700 next month, and that is because of pressures before Russia invaded Ukraine. What is the Chancellor’s solution? A forced £200 loan for every household, to be paid back in mandatory instalments over five years. The big gamble behind that policy was that energy costs would drop quickly after a short spike. That bet now looks certain to fail. When will the Prime Minister force the Chancellor into a U-turn?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out plans to help families with energy costs and unprecedented measures to abate council tax by £150, in addition to all the other schemes that we are putting forward. Yes, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to meet the long-term impacts of the spike in energy prices, which is why I will be setting out an energy independence plan for this country in the course of the next few days, to ensure that we undo some of the damage of previous decisions—not least the Labour Government’s decision not to invest in nuclear—and so that we prepare our people for the long term, with a sustainable, cost-efficient energy supply.

I do not think the Prime Minister understands the mess he is in. Working families are facing a £700 spike in April. They will not even receive their £200 loan from the Chancellor until October. The wholesale price of oil and gas is now ballooning, so by October when the loan finally comes in, household bills are set to shoot up by another £1,000. It is a total mess, so I ask again: when is the Prime Minister going to force the Chancellor to U-turn?

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is asking for the Chancellor to U-turn on the support we are giving families and households, I think that he is absolutely out of his mind. We are going to continue to give people support throughout this difficult period, as we did throughout the coronavirus epidemic, with unprecedented levels of support. We have a £200 discount on bills, a £150 non-repayable reduction in council tax, and £144 million extra to help councils support vulnerable families with their energy bills. Altogether, there is a £20 billion package of financial help that we are giving the British people, and we will continue to do more. A U-turn is the last thing we want.

We will see how long that position lasts. Let me try to help the Prime Minister by coming at this from a different angle. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, North sea oil and gas companies were making bumper profits. BP made £9.5 billion, Shell made £14 billion—in their own words,

“more cash than we know what to do with.”

Since then, the international price of oil and gas has skyrocketed, and so will their profits. When will the Prime Minister admit he has got this badly wrong, put a windfall tax on those super-profits, and use the money to cut household energy bills?

The net result of that would simply be to see the oil companies put their prices up yet higher and make it more difficult for them to do what we need them to do—which, by the way, I think they are doing very responsibly at the moment—which is divesting from dependence on Russian oil and gas. That is the way forward for this country: to take a sober, responsible approach to end our dependence on hydrocarbons altogether, particularly Russian hydrocarbons. We are taking steps to rectify some of the mistakes made by the Labour Government and have a long-term, sustainable, independent energy supply policy. That is what this country needs.

Protecting energy profits, not working people—doesn’t that say it all? Britain cannot afford another crisis like this. We need to improve our long-term energy security. That starts with supporting new nuclear and renewables, but the Conservatives have effectively banned new onshore wind. As a direct result of this short-sighted approach, we are using more gas every year than we import from Russia. That is ludicrous, so will the Prime Minister relax planning laws, end the block on onshore wind, and stop supporting policies that make us so dependent on foreign gas?

It is thanks to the policies that this Government have pursued that we are dependent on Russian gas for only 3% of our gas needs, unlike virtually every other European country. It is thanks to the massive investment we have made in renewables that we are—as I have said many times in this House—the Saudi Arabia of wind power, producing more offshore wind than virtually any other country in the world. By the way, this may be news to some of his party, but I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman just committed to supporting more nuclear power. Great news! There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over a hundred others. Those were the people who cancelled our nuclear efforts during the time they were in power—they did completely the wrong thing. I am delighted to now welcome them into the fold.

Come off it! Labour is pro-nuclear. This Prime Minister cannot get a single brick laid of a new nuclear plant. Energy security is not just about supply; it is also about reducing demand. Our housing stock is the least efficient in Europe. That is why Labour set out a plan to upgrade the 19 million British homes that desperately need it within a decade, saving families £400 on their energy bills and cutting UK gas imports by 15%, whereas all the Government have is a failed policy. Taking all their announcements together, it will take 75 years to deliver the upgrades that we need. That is a lifetime, when we need urgent action. When is the Prime Minister going to get on with it?

I just remind the House that under the Labour Government, our nuclear output fell from about 25% to 10% of our energy needs, and as I recall, that was because of the decisions they took. We are now going to rectify that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the cost of energy bills, and we are helping households with the cost of energy bills to the tune of £9.1 billion. Why can this Government afford to do that? Why can we afford to put huge quantities of taxpayers’ money into supporting households with their energy costs? I will tell you why, Mr Speaker: it is because we have the fastest growth in the G7. Do not forget that if we had listened to Captain Hindsight, we would have stayed in lockdown and never achieved it.

Twelve years in power and that is the best the Prime Minister can do. The Ukrainian people are fighting for democracy. We must stand with them, and that means taking the toughest possible measures against Putin. Let us be honest that there will be costs here at home. We can withstand those costs, and we must, by using a windfall tax to keep bills down for working people and by starting a new era of energy policy, never again at the mercy of a dictator, by supporting new nuclear after years of neglect, sprinting on renewables, including onshore wind, and having an urgent national mission to upgrade homes, ending years of dither and delay. Why is the Prime Minister offering the same failed energy policy that cast us into the security crisis and allowed bills to rocket? [Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the answer. Standing up will not catch my eye; in fact, it has the opposite effect on me.

What we are junking is the failed energy policies that left us without enough nuclear power, and what we will do is go forward with policies that allow this country to be independent in our energy supply, maximising renewables, making sure that we use transitional hydrocarbons and going for nuclear as well. As I say, I am overjoyed that Labour now seems to occupy that position. What we will also do, and here the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been supportive, is ensure that as a House of Commons we work together to maintain our opposition to Vladimir Putin’s vile war in Ukraine. There, together with the toughest possible economic sanctions and by maintaining our military support for the people of Ukraine, I have no doubt that although there will be dark days ahead and difficult times, we will come through it stronger. I have no doubt that Vladimir Putin will fail and we will succeed in restoring a sovereign and independent Ukraine.

Q5. For more than two decades, Thames Water has been trying to build a reservoir in my constituency that would be more than 30 metres high and would cover the equivalent of more than 2,500 football pitches. This has been a shadow over the local community, which does not think that Thames Water has proven the need for this proposal. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if a company seeks to do something like this, it has to show why it is needed, why it is better than the alternatives and what the environmental impact will be? The company cannot behave as though it is inevitable, whether the local community want it or not. (905973)

I thank my hon. Friend. He is a fantastic champion for his constituents in Wantage. As I understand it, the decision on the Abingdon reservoir has not actually been made, but we would expect Thames Water to consult further on the proposal. I know that it will have heard the points that he has rightly made.

We are now 14 days into Putin’s war. In that time, I have genuinely tried to work constructively with the UK Government and I will continue to seek to do that. Nobody should support the Government, however, when it comes to their response to the refugee crisis—760 visa approvals in two weeks is disgraceful.

In that time, Poland has taken over 1.2 million refugees, Hungary has taken over 190,000 refugees, Germany has taken over 50,000 refugees, Italy has taken over 7,000 refugees and Ireland—a country of just over 5 million people—has given sanctuary to three times as many refugees as the United Kingdom. Those numbers do not lie; they tell a devastating truth. Does the Prime Minister find it acceptable that his Home Secretary has overseen one of the slowest, most bureaucratic and incompetent refugee responses in the whole of Europe?

I think everybody sympathises with the plight of refugees. The Government want to do everything we can to welcome them and that is indeed what we are doing. The numbers are almost 1,000 as I speak to the right hon. Gentleman today, and they will rise very sharply. They are uncapped and we expect those numbers to rise to in the region of hundreds of thousands.

As Vladimir Putin doubles down in his attacks, we will go further and there will be routes by which the whole country can offer a welcome to vulnerable people fleeing from Ukraine. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be setting out that route in the course of the next few days. This Government have a proud, proud record. We have done more to resettle vulnerable people than any other European country since 2015.

I do not think the Prime Minister understands the scale of the challenge or the urgency. These are people fleeing war crimes, torn apart from their families as their homes are shelled, and the Home Secretary is blocking them with endless paperwork. That is not just incompetence; this is ideology. In the face of the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war, the UK Government will not set aside the hostile environment. [Interruption.] By the way, we are seeing the hostile environment this afternoon—Conservative Members might quieten down a bit.

We have seen that too many times from a Tory Home Office: the Windrush scandal, the “Go home” vans, and the inhumane Nationality and Borders Bill. The UK Home Office is raising barriers and bureaucracy when we should be offering care and compassion. I say to the Prime Minister that he should not let the history of failure repeat itself. Scotland stands ready to offer sanctuary and refuge, so will he join the rest of the European continent and waive the visa restrictions for refugees fleeing war in Ukraine?

This country has an unparalleled record—[Interruption.] Just since—[Interruption.] Since I have been Prime Minister, look at the numbers we have taken from Afghanistan and Hong Kong. The right hon. Gentleman lectures the Home Secretary, but this is a Government unlike any other: the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are directly descended from refugees. We understand how much refugees have to give to this country and we understand how much this country has to gain from welcoming refugees. We will be generous and we are being generous.

What we are doing is making sure that, in those neighbouring countries, the UK is out in front giving humanitarian assistance and we are in every capital. [Interruption.] SNP Members laugh, they mock, they scoff, but this country is leading in every respect. We are also the single biggest donor of humanitarian aid to the Ukraine warzone—the single biggest donor—and the right hon. Gentleman should be proud of that.

Q6. I commend the Prime Minister’s response to the Ukrainian crisis, but people across the country are genuinely concerned by our response on refugees—by the bureaucracy and the tone of our response. He has shown with vaccines that Government change comes from the very top. I urge him to look again at resetting our policy and taking control of a more humane approach to those women and men fleeing from Ukraine. (905974)

I thank my right hon. Friend very much, and I thank him for all the work that he does in this area, but I hope he will have heard what I just said in my answer to the leader of the SNP, which is that this Government are I think unlike any other in our understanding of what refugees can give and the benefits to this country. We have done more than any other to resettle vulnerable people since 2015. There is a huge opportunity now for us to do even more. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up will be setting out a route by which the British people—not just the family reunion route, which can run into the hundreds of thousands, but a route by which everybody in this country—can offer a home to people fleeing Ukraine. My right hon. Friend will be setting that out in the course of the next few days.

The Prime Minister will be acutely aware of the pressures facing households across the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland, with the rapid increase in the cost of heating homes and running a motor vehicle. Heating a home has more than doubled for many households in Northern Ireland in recent weeks. Will the Prime Minister commit to bringing forward a package of measures designed to help households, including a cut in VAT on home heating fuel and reducing or cutting excise duty on fuel for motorists, and will he ensure that those measures apply to Northern Ireland, where the Northern Ireland protocol once again presents a problem in this Government taking control over the affairs of all of the United Kingdom? Will the decisions that the Treasury takes apply to the whole of the United Kingdom?

We will make sure that we do everything to support the people of the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and we have already extended a further £250 million to help the people of Northern Ireland with the costs of living, particularly heating. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, excise on fuel has been frozen for the last 12 years. We will ensure that the people of Northern Ireland continue to be protected, along with everybody in the UK, from the cost of living crisis, but the House should be in no doubt that the pressures on energy will continue. We need a pan-UK solution, and that is what we are going to be setting out.

Q7. The world has changed. Energy security is vital, but so too is food security. Our food and drink manufacturers and those in the food supply chain proved their worth during the pandemic. Given the importance to our country of this sector and the need to ensure its competitiveness, its resilience and a high degree of self-sufficiency, will the Prime Minister now take the opportunity to review many of the proposed regulatory burdens such as on HFSS—high in fat, salt and sugar—products and the promotional and marketing restrictions that could adversely affect this important sector at this critical time? (905975)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that food security is a crucial issue. It is affected of course by the cost of energy, and the energy inputs into agriculture are certainly something that we need to address. There is also a separate issue to do with childhood obesity. The House passed measures already in the autumn—the ones to which he refers—and we are giving the industry more time to adjust to the impact of those measures.

Q2. In addition to the increase in fuel prices, our constituents are reporting to us that the energy companies are doubling standing charges. In France, energy supply company EDF has had energy price rises to domestic customers capped at 4%, but this Government’s price cap allows EDF to increase prices to UK customers by 54%. My question is: why? (905969)

We have an overall cap, and obviously EDF is incorporated differently in the UK from its incorporation in France. We will do everything in our power to abate the costs of energy across the country, as we already are, but what is needed is a short-term, medium-term and long-term energy strategy so that we have sustainable supplies.

Q9. Soon after I was elected, I found out that, at Shotley Bridge, an eight-bed community hospital in my constituency had been replaced with a zero-bed unit—something some Labour councillors had known about, but said nothing about during the election campaign. After campaigning hard with Ministers and the Secretary of State, and working with my local NHS trust, a new 16-bed unit is now in the final stages of planning, and has been confirmed as part of this Government’s hospital building programme. Can the Prime Minister confirm that this new community hospital is now full steam ahead, and will he commit to coming to Consett to kick off the building works if the plan goes ahead by the end of next year? (905977)

Yes, I am delighted that there will be a new hospital at Shotley Bridge, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he has done to lobby for that. It proves that, in spite of the pandemic and in spite of war in Ukraine, this Government are getting on with the job.

Q3. I have just been to a very harrowing meeting with families who have members of their families in care homes and hospitals who have suffered an unjustifiable denial of access to those loved ones and have been massively restricted. It continues, despite the post-covid environment. Is the Prime Minister prepared to introduce legislation to make access to loved ones in care homes and hospitals a legal right, and not at the discretion of the care home or hospital concerned? (905971)

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much. I think everybody understands the anguish of people who have not been able to see their loved ones during the pandemic, and as he knows, we have relaxed the restrictions in care homes. I would be happy to offer a meeting between him and the relevant Health Minister to discuss his further concerns.

Q11. The Government have already stopped issuing golden visas, so that those cannot be exploited by oligarchs and crime lords. However, some could already be here, living in luxury London penthouse flats that they bought with dirty cash. Will the Prime Minister pledge that anybody who is put on the sanctions list in the coming days and is already in the UK on a golden visa will have it ripped up, so that they can be thrown out? (905979)

Yes. I thank the House for what we have done to accelerate the economic crime measures. We will be able to whip aside the veil of anonymity. Ownership of the luxurious dwellings to which my hon. Friend refers will be exposed and, yes, we will be able to take away the ability to remain in this country.

Q4. As energy costs spiral, I want to raise the issue of people who use extra electricity to charge their electric wheelchairs, or to run ventilators or a stairlift. It is not right that people with a disability or serious medical condition should face unmanageable debt, or go without food, to pay the costs of electricity on which they absolutely rely. They need a real cut to their bills right now. Why is the Prime Minister not looking at drawing on the profits of the North sea oil and gas companies to help the most vulnerable families with those costs? (905972)

I thank the hon. Lady very much and she raises an important issue. Clearly, the spike in energy prices is going to fall most heavily on vulnerable people such as the ones she mentioned, and we will certainly be looking at ways to abate their costs.

Q13. I do not know what I have done to deserve that. Residents in the village of Hamble in my constituency are currently facing the prospect of a quarry being given planning permission, with 144 lorries per day in that congested area and one-road access. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss how we can tighten the regulations on where quarries can be built, to take into account the health implication, our environment, and our local communities? (905981)

I thank my hon. Friend. He is a great champion for Eastleigh. The planning framework is robust and should ensure that quarries do not have an adverse impact on the environment or on health. I will ensure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss his concerns further.

Q8. In recent weeks we have seen how serious and dangerous Russia’s covert influence in Britain can be. We have seen that Putin actively seeks to influence the culture, media, and politics of democratic nations. Our national security is of the greatest importance, and Britain cannot become home to those who prop up Putin and his war. With that in mind, has the Prime Minister ever overruled Security Service advice when appointing a peer to the other place? (905976)

No, and actually the Kremlin has singled out the UK for being in the lead on global sanctions—[Interruption.] Yes it has, and in leading the world in defiance of the odious war that Putin is leading in Ukraine.

Yesterday, President Zelensky drew on the words of Churchill in this Chamber. As we salute the courage of the people of Ukraine, it reminds us that we can meet in freedom today only because of the courage of a generation of men and women who, in the second world war, defended us from annihilation. Among them is my friend Flight Lieutenant Colin Bell DFC, who flew his de Havilland Mosquito in 50 missions over Nazi Germany. Colin Bell is with us today. On Saturday, he celebrated his 101st birthday. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Will the Prime Minister join me in wishing Colin a very happy birthday and thank him for what he did to allow us to be here today?

The whole House will want to join me in thanking Colin Bell and wishing him a very happy 101st birthday.

Q10. People across these islands have displayed remarkable generosity, including in Argyll and Bute, where Oban Helps Ukraine has been overwhelmed by donations of money, clothes and offers of shelter. Sadly, the Government’s reluctance to allow fleeing women and children to come here lags far behind the desire of the people here to provide them with a roof and a bed. Does not the Prime Minister fear that, when this war is concluded, and despite whatever else they may have done, his Government will stand accused of lacking the one thing that the Ukrainian people needed most: basic humanity? (905978)

I really do not think that that question reflects the views of people around the world. Nor does it reflect reality because this Government have done more than any other European country to support people by way of direct bilateral humanitarian aid, and we have two very generous schemes for allowing people to come to this country. This is a Government who believe in welcoming people fleeing from zones of conflict.

The hon. Member shakes his head. Look at our record. Look at what we have done just in the last two years. He should be proud of what we have done.

We were pleased to welcome both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to Blackpool the day after the launch of the levelling up White Paper. Will he meet me to discuss how we can ensure that Blackpool is not just a testbed for innovation in many areas of levelling up but a showcase for the impact that it can have on the community that I represent?

I thank my hon. Friend for his wonderful work in Blackpool for the communities he represents. It was fantastic to be with him and to see the extension and upgrading of the tram network in Blackpool, which will help to drive the economy and help to bring in high-wage, high-skilled jobs, in the way we hope to do across the whole of the UK as we get on with levelling up.

In the months before world war two, the UK took in more than 60,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Over half a century ago, we took in more than 27,000 Ugandans expelled by Idi Amin. Since then, we have taken Tamils escaping civil war, Bosnians escaping genocide and Syrians escaping Assad. But this week, the Home Office turned away hundreds of Ukrainian refugees escaping Putin’s bombs because they did not have the right paperwork. Can the Prime Minister not see that that flies in the face of our country’s proud tradition of providing sanctuary? Since the Home Office is clearly not up to the task, will he send in armed forces personnel to speed up the process so that Ukrainian refugees can come here quickly and safely?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much. The whole House wants to do as much as we can as fast as possible, but what he says about the UK is, I am afraid, completely wrong, because we have visa centres open in Warsaw, Budapest, Prague, Rzeszów in Poland, Chi inău in Moldova, Bucharest and elsewhere. We have already got 1,000 people in under the existing scheme. That number will climb very sharply. Look at what we have done already—15,000 from Afghanistan, 104,000 applications from Hong Kong Chinese, and I think there were about 25,000 from Syria. No one has been turned away. That is simply—[Interruption.] We want to be as generous—[Interruption.] It is important to have checks. Let me make this point to the House because I think people need to understand.

There are some people who would like to dispense with checks altogether and simply to wave people through—[Interruption.] I hear the voices on the Opposition Benches, and I think that that is irresponsible and is not the approach that we should be taking. The Schengen countries have a different arrangement. We must be in no doubt, as I said in answer to a previous question, that the Kremlin has singled out this country for the approach that we are taking, and we know how unscrupulous Vladimir Putin can be in his methods. It would not be right to expose this country to unnecessary security risk and we will not do it. We are going to be as generous as we can possibly be, but we must have checks.

My community in Tipton came together on Sunday to commemorate the 100 years since the devastating explosion at the Dudley Port munitions factory and the 19 girls who were recklessly murdered by the owner of that factory. In the Black Country, it is vital that we acknowledge both the pride and the pain of our industrial heritage. May I ask my right hon. Friend, therefore, to reaffirm his commitment today to the Black Country to ensure that we honour the legacy of those girls from that factory in Dudley Port 100 years ago? The one way that he can do that for my community in Tipton is to come to Tipton to see that beating heart of the Black Country, and we will welcome him with open arms.

Long ago, when I was a reporter, Tipton was on my beat—many years ago—and wild horses could not keep me away from Tipton. I’ll be back.

I have a constituent whose elderly parents are seeking refuge in the United Kingdom from Ukraine. Her parents are both in their 80s. They have made it to Hungary. They went to the visa application centre, as instructed by the Home Office hotline, and they were told, “Come back on 22 March.” Then, and only then, will their biometrics be processed. That is the harsh reality—no spin, no subterfuge. Prime Minister, when will refugees from Ukraine be welcomed into the United Kingdom?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. If he would be kind enough, I would be grateful if he passed me the details of the case that he mentioned and I would be happy to give it to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We are moving heaven and earth, because we understand the value to this country of refugees. We also understand the imperative of helping people fleeing a war zone in terror. That is why the people of this country want to open their arms, and we are going to help them to do it with a new humanitarian route, in addition to the family reunion route that we have already set out. That family reunion route alone could bring hundreds of thousands of people here. I think the whole House understands that; we will do even more through the new humanitarian route.