Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2022


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What recent steps the Government have taken to tackle the impact of (a) inflation and (b) increases in the cost of living on households and businesses in Wales. (906143)

10. What recent steps the Government have taken to tackle the impact of (a) inflation and (b) increases in the cost of living on households and businesses in Wales. (906154)

Among a range of measures, the Chancellor recently announced a £200 energy bill discount for households across the whole of the UK, including Wales, as well as £180 million to the Welsh Government in recognition of the council tax energy rebate in England.

About 1.5 million households across the UK depend on heating oil for their domestic energy needs. Last September, households could have expected to pay about £250 for a 500-litre delivery. Last week, those prices had risen to anywhere between £600 and £900 for a delivery of the same volume. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Cabinet colleagues, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, about how that burden could be mitigated for households at the mercy of that unregulated section of the energy market?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised this question. I am in that particular bracket myself, so I know exactly what he is talking about. There have been some interventions already. As far as conversations with the Chancellor and his team are concerned, they have been numerous up to and including this morning, but I think the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I ask him if he can possibly wait till roughly 12.30 this afternoon, when the Chancellor will spell out exactly what his own proposals are.

With rising inflation and a cost of living crisis, a recent YouGov survey of Welsh voters found that 71% felt that their personal financial situation is set to worsen over the next 12 months and 27% said that they will struggle to pay their next energy bill. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Chancellor should turn his energy loan into a grant and reverse the £20 universal credit cut?

Again, I can only say that it would be unhelpful and inappropriate for me to predict and prejudge what the Chancellor will be saying in the Chamber in a matter of minutes. All I can say is that these are conversations—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”] I would like to, but I am not going to. These conversations have been a regular part of—have dominated—the Wales Office’s connection with the Treasury in the last few days and weeks. As I say, the hon. Member has not got long to wait, and I hope he can bear with me.

The boss of oil giant BP said last month that it had more money than it knows what to do with, which is completely the opposite situation to that of households right across Wales that cannot cope with record inflation and astronomical energy bills under the watch of the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, so why will he and the Chancellor not agree to a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producers?

There are two points I would like to make. The first one I have already made, which is not to prejudge what the Chancellor is going to say in his statement in a few minutes’ time, which will address this and I hope numerous other issues that are occupying the minds of Members across the House, in fact. As far as the second point is concerned, I am afraid a slightly well-trodden path of the Opposition is to confront every possible problem by finding somebody and taxing them. We do not believe that is necessarily the answer, because we want energy companies to be part of the solution and also to be part of future and ongoing investment in energy infrastructure, and they will not do that—and will not be able to do that—if all the Government’s responses are simply, as I say, to identify them and tax them. It may be a populist gesture, but it is not actually going to solve the problem that we both wish to try to resolve.

I am afraid the Secretary of State is completely out of touch with public opinion on this. Polling this week, published by 38 Degrees, shows that 69% of the Welsh public say that the Government’s energy bill loan package is not enough to help those struggling with their energy bills, and 67% support Labour’s windfall tax because it would mean £200 off energy bills now and £600 off energy bills for the hardest-hit households in Wales. This would be a tax on the unexpected profits of oil and gas companies, so why is he on the side of those oil and gas companies, not on the side of the Welsh public?

I think that just defaulting to a 38 Degrees petition as if that is some kind of solution to a very complex and long-standing problem is a cheap and populist way out of this. We are taking a more responsible view, as I hope she will hear from the Chancellor later. There have already been numerous interventions—for example, we have provided an additional £180 million to the Welsh Government in this particular context—so I urge the hon. Member not just to press the petition button and think that that is all the Opposition have to do. We have to do a lot more than that if we are serious about addressing the long-term challenges that face us all. None of us is without this: we all have constituents with these problems and we all know exactly the challenges she refers to.


We have had constructive discussions with the Welsh Government on the importance of establishing our freeports programme, and we continue to work closely on that as a matter of urgency.

The east midlands freeport will see nearly £9 billion of new investment, and tens of thousands of new jobs created in our region. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Welsh Government really cared about the people of Ynys Môn, they would support the efforts of our colleagues to deliver a freeport, and bring more jobs and investment to the island?

If nothing else, I think the Wales Office Parliamentary Private Secretary has won a bet in getting her constituency up in lights again on the question of freeports. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about something we have been campaigning on for some time, and this fantastic scheme will create long-lasting sustainable jobs across the whole UK. I hope he will forgive me, however, for not trying to prejudge what that process may conclude regarding the actual venues. We are expecting a number of very enthusiastic bids into the scheme once it is launched. I think we can describe that announcement as “imminent”, so my hon. Friend, and the residents of Ynys Môn, do not have long to wait.

The flow of goods through free trade is a critical priority for prosperity, whether in the village of Wales in Rother Valley, or in the great nation of Wales. What role does my right hon. Friend see for freeports in that, and how might a freeport in north Wales—for example in Anglesey—help to improve the problems associated with a central corridor and the working of the Northern Ireland protocol?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The concept of freeports is indisputably positive, and others who have gone down that route with the launch of English freeports are already able to report inward investment, and good sustainable jobs that will contribute to our economic recovery as well as our net-zero ambitions. As I said, in Wales there will be a number of very high quality bids. We have committed in the manifesto to at least one freeport in Wales, and hopefully we may be able to expand on that over time. The long wait for a decision, and the many months of wrestling with the Welsh Government to reach a conclusion that we can all live with, are nearly at an end.

A freeport in Wales, especially in Anglesey, sounds like a great idea, just like in Teesside, where the UK’s largest and first post-Brexit freeport has already led to the announcement of thousands of future jobs in new green technologies. Does the Minister agree it is vital that we all get behind our freeport policy, which will help to level up and deliver the change we need in our areas?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, which gives me the opportunity to highlight that freeports are already a resounding success in his area. We do not need to go any further than that, because the work that he and the Mayor, Ben Houchen, have done in that area is fantastic. Anyone who had any doubts about what freeports can bring to a region need only look at my hon. Friend’s area to see that they make a serious and positive contribution to future economic prosperity.

The Secretary of State extols the virtues of a freeport in Wales, but will he assure the House that he will not allow DP World, which is responsible for the shameful sacking of 800 P&O workers, anywhere near the construction or operation of any freeport in the United Kingdom?

The hon. Lady raises a timely point, and I hope that the comments made by the Transport Secretary, and others, will reassure her that we are deeply disturbed by the way that action was taken. As she knows, it has been referred to the Insolvency Service, and if there are demonstrable transgressions in that process, that could lead to criminal prosecutions. I can give the hon. Lady the assurance she needs as far as freeports in Wales are concerned.

In the ongoing work and discussions on freeports with the Welsh Government, does the Secretary of State agree with the Welsh Government’s three basic and rather easy requests: parity over decision making; fair funding between freeports across the nation so that Welsh Government funds do not have to be diverted away from vital projects in Wales; and that the ethical standards of the Welsh Government—which are certainly higher than those of the UK Government—will be met if any freeport is delivered in Wales?

I hope I can assure the hon. Gentleman. The fact that we are, I hope, imminently to make an announcement that involves the UK and the Welsh Governments, means that both parties in this long-running negotiation are satisfied. As I said, I do not want to prejudge the announcement or what the bidding process may conclude, but we can absolutely agree that there are a number of important issues. We have taken more than two years to reach this point, and I hope the Welsh Government, and everybody else involved in the process, will be satisfied by the outcome.

The Secretary of State has said that freeports in Wales will create 15,000 jobs, but where is his evidence that any of the economic benefits that flow from that will reach ordinary Welsh workers rather than the usual fat cats, such as DP World?

The answer to that question, if the hon. Gentleman does not want to believe me, comes from port authorities, local authorities, stakeholders and others around Wales—people, including in his constituency, are looking at the evidence for freeports and the kind of upsides that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) mentioned for Teesside a few moments ago. It might be a step too far for the hon. Gentleman to believe me, but he should believe his constituents and his community who believe this to be long overdue and are very anxious that we conclude it as soon as possible.

From welcoming Ukrainian refugees to safeguarding seafarers’ rights, the Government consistently disappoint. The Welsh Conservatives have now joined Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru to call for an expedited visa process to ensure simple, fast, safe and legal routes to sanctuary in the UK and to remove the requirement for Ukrainians to provide biometric evidence prior to leaving Ukraine. The Secretary of State is Wales’s man in the Cabinet: what is he doing to ensure that those jointly agreed Welsh humanitarian aims are achieved?

I hope I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. Numerous conversations have been ongoing between the UK Government and the Welsh Government about the Ukraine refugee position. I stress that this is not a competition. We are working together to try to get the best outcome in a severe humanitarian crisis, and that means that we are putting our political differences to one side, and I hope that he can join us in that endeavour. We are incredibly grateful to local authorities, charities, the public in Wales and, of course, the Welsh Government for making this happen at the pace that it has. I spoke to the Ukrainian ambassador only last week, and he is also incredibly grateful for the way in which Wales, in all its different forms, has stepped up to the mark to try to resolve the problem. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support in our attempt to achieve those ambitions.

Most of the focus on the freeport opportunity has understandably been on maritime ports. Can I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the merits of Barry port? In addition, can I ask him to pay particular attention to Cardiff airport, which is closely associated with Barry port, and assure me that it will be central to his thinking?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that. He is right to point out that freeports are not necessarily confined to coastal areas: some of the best examples of freeports in the UK are inland freeports. They are also not all identical, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for the whole of the UK. We are trying to be as flexible as we can in looking at all the different dynamics, including Cardiff airport, to make sure that when the bids come in we are not too prescriptive and we look at all the issues with the most open mind that we can.

Police Funding

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the level of police funding for Wales on crime. (906145)

On levels of crime, Office for National Statistics data for the year ending September 2021 show that crime levels per capita in Wales are below the national average across England and Wales. As for funding, this Conservative Government will always be the party of law and order, and that is why I am pleased to be able to say that we are putting £820 million into policing next year, an increase of £40 million.

In the nearly 13 years the Government have been in power, police staffing has fallen by 25,000. Across the UK, there are 7,000 fewer police community support officers on the streets than there were in 2010. In Wales, the Welsh Labour Government, which does not have jurisdiction over policing, have stepped in and funded 500 PCSOs and will fund a further 100. Does that not show that the Tories are happy to see rising crime and an increase in victims, and it is only Labour which is taking action to keep our communities safe?

What it shows is that the Welsh Government will have had a record increase in spend of around £2.5 billion over the next couple of financial years. What I can also tell the hon. Lady is that 603 additional police officers are being allocated for Wales, 479 have taken that opportunity and there are still 100 vacancies. As somebody who spent nine years as a special constable, I recommend to anyone who wants to serve their community that they should consider joining a police force in Wales.

English police forces are fully reimbursed by the Government for the cost of training police officers. In Wales, the Home Office has reimbursed only half the cost, leaving Welsh police forces with a shortfall of over £2 million. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State persuade their Cabinet colleagues to meet the historical funding shortfall in full, so that Welsh police forces are no longer penalised and are in future treated equally with English ones?

This is actually a quite complex problem, and far more complex perhaps than we have time for in this forum. The real problem is that the Welsh Government are failing to discuss with the Home Office how the apprenticeship scheme works. I urge the hon. Gentleman to talk to his colleagues in the Welsh Labour Government, get them to recognise the apprenticeships schemes and ensure that police officers are properly trained and police forces fully refunded.

Cross-Border Transport

4. What discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Welsh Government on cross-border transport connectivity with north Wales. (906146)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I discuss regularly with Cabinet members and members of the Welsh Government a range of transport matters. It was a pleasure to meet the hon. Gentleman last week to discuss cross-border connectivity in north Wales. The Union connectivity review recognised the importance of the north Wales transport corridor and the Government are carefully considering the recommendations before reporting back.

I thank the Minister for meeting me last week. He will understand that if north Wales is to get the full benefits of HS2, the line from Crewe to Chester and on to north Wales will need to be upgraded, including work at Chester station. Will he get on to his Transport Department colleagues and get them to get a move on with making a decision on that upgrade work?

Yes. I thought the hon. Gentleman made a very powerful case last week about the importance of improvements in Chester. I think he would agree that improvements to the rail service in some parts of England will benefit passengers in Wales and vice versa. I fully agree with him about HS2. It will have an enormous impact and deliver improvements not just for passengers in England, but for passengers in Wales and especially north Wales.


5. What recent steps he has taken with Cabinet colleagues to help support people living in Aberconwy constituency. (906147)

Levelling up is all about places like Aberconwy. From our investment in a new tourism and innovation hub in Llandudno to improving digital connectivity for over 60 public buildings across Aberconwy, we will give everyone in Wales the opportunity to flourish and ensure that no place is left behind.

I thank the Minister on behalf of residents for his answer and for the UK Government’s interest. The UK Government have funded a book for every schoolchild in the UK to commemorate the platinum jubilee. A bilingual version has been printed for schoolchildren in Wales. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that schoolchildren in Wales and Aberconwy—and even in Ynys Môn—will receive a copy of that book?

My hon. Friend is correct. The UK Government wanted to celebrate the enormous achievement and the enormous commitment to public service that has been made by our monarch, and have produced the book bilingually to ensure that schoolchildren across Wales are able to read bilingually about the contribution made by Her Majesty the Queen. I am sure they all look forward eagerly to receiving their copy. The UK Government are working with the Welsh Government to ensure that that can happen imminently.

Roads Review

6. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the impact of their roads review on transport infrastructure. (906148)

The Wales Office has regular discussions with the Welsh Government on cross-border connectivity. I am afraid that Labour’s plans are more of a roadblock than a road review. I urge the Welsh Government to focus more on investment and on delivering their 2016 manifesto commitments to sort out the M4 relief road and various other vital links.

Five years ago, the A55-A494 network resilience study, commissioned by the Welsh Government, recognised the strategic importance of the route and the fact that it is often above capacity and vulnerable to disruption. How does my right hon. Friend believe the roads review may impact on plans for UKNET, a high-performing strategic transport network for the whole of the United Kingdom?

I know both the roads that my hon. Friend refers to—I travel on them regularly—and I am well aware of their importance to his constituency and the region’s economic future. The UK Government’s contribution to the road infrastructure is second to none. Some liaison is clearly necessary with the Welsh Government about certain aspects of that. We hope that they will publish their strategy soon and look again at their road strategy, because a simple moratorium on road improvements and new roads is not the way to restore economic prosperity in his area or anywhere else.

Steel Industry

The UK Government recognise the importance of the steel industry in Wales and the UK. The £30 million loan secured for Celsa is a demonstration of our commitment to the steel sector. Our response during the pandemic helped to secure more than 1,000 steel jobs in Wales.

While he was campaigning for Brexit in 2016, the Prime Minister told steelworkers in Wales that it was:

“Mad that we can’t cut steel energy costs because of EU rules”.

Now that we have left the EU, is it not madder that the Government have still done little to cut sky-high energy bills, which are a massive burden on our steel producers in Wales?

I thank the hon. Lady, who has been an unbelievably effective campaigner for the steel industry in her area and in Wales more widely. The Business Secretary and I met the steel sector the other day at the Steel Council. The issue she has raised was an important part of that and the Business Secretary was able to offer some reassurance. I do not want to prejudge today’s statement from the Chancellor, but as we have the opportunity, I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in thanking the International Trade Secretary for her overnight success in lifting steel tariffs between the US and the UK. That will make a significant difference to everybody involved in the steel industry in the UK.


9. What steps his Department is taking to support people in Wales in assisting friends and family in Ukraine. (906153)

There have already been more than 10,000 Welsh registrations of interest in the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. Wales is opening its arms to the people of Ukraine, proving that we are all now super-sponsors.

I am glad to have been able to help some families leaving Ukraine and I congratulate the many people and communities in Clwyd South who have been fundraising and giving practical help in the Ukraine crisis. Will the Secretary of State give further details on the Homes for Ukraine scheme, with the 10,000 registrations from Clwyd South and across Wales, and on how that is helping the situation at present?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he has been campaigning on this issue; it is a great example of what Members across the House have been able to do. I repeat my earlier answer about meeting the Ukrainian ambassador last week and expressing his gratitude, as well as mine, to local authorities, charities, the public in Wales and, in particular, the Welsh Government. This has been a joint effort—a superb all-round effort, involving all the stakeholders I have mentioned and more. As I stressed earlier, this is not a competition, but a collaborative effort, in which the early uptake has been superb. I think that we will be able to offer help to the necessary number of people on the timescale that we need because of that level of co-operation. [Interruption.]

I hope that the House will want to listen to this question. Liana, my constituent, is from Ukraine and is in Cardiff on a global talent visa. Liana’s mother-in-law is depending on the kindness of strangers in Dublin for her accommodation, but the Home Office is not letting her in from Dublin even though there is a home waiting for her in Cardiff. I notice that the Home Secretary has joined Members on the Front Bench. Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Home Secretary and ask her to look into why someone who is here on a global talent visa for science cannot bring their mother-in-law to stay with them in Cardiff?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I suspect that many Members have similar examples of people who, sadly, have slipped through the net or are in a difficult position. I absolutely give him an assurance, as I know the Home Secretary will, that we will look at each and every one of those individual cases and, hopefully, we will deliver to him the answer that he needs.

Offshore Wind

11. What steps the Government are taking to help develop floating offshore wind projects in Wales. (906155)

The UK Government are committed to supporting the development of the floating offshore wind industry in Wales, with £160 million of funding available for floating offshore wind ports and factories across the UK. That funding will ensure that Wales capitalises on the huge opportunities that floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea presents.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Celtic sea, may I ask my hon. Friend to detail what steps are being taken to progress floating offshore wind so that the supply-chain benefits are felt all the way around the Celtic sea’s shores, from Pembrokeshire across to North Devon and Cornwall?

I commend my hon. Friend’s commitment to championing this opportunity through her role as chair of the Celtic sea APPG. Under this Conservative Government, with this Prime Minister, we will continue to see huge increases in the renewable energy that we produce and supply-chain benefits that will be felt across the UK.

I hugely welcome offshore wind on the basis that it is not onshore. Will my hon. Friend meet me to ensure that we put more of this wonderful renewable energy offshore and stop industrialising the landscape of Montgomeryshire?

It is always a pleasure to meet my hon. Friend. I assure him that this Conservative Government will continue to support floating offshore wind in a way that will have the support of the public.

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—


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.

The degrading strip-search of Child Q two years ago, in a school that should have been a safe place, at the hands of police officers she should have been able to trust, has caused anger and distress across the country. On Monday, the Minister for Crime and Policing failed to answer four separate questions in this Chamber about when he first knew about Child Q and what urgent action he took in response, so I ask the Prime Minister: when did he first hear about the strip-search of Child Q in her school? Does he believe that the characteristic dither and delay of his Government in responding to this appalling case is remotely acceptable when it comes to the safety of children?

I think that that is a completely ridiculous characterisation of the response of the Government, because of course the reports of the incident are deeply distressing and deeply concerning—everybody shares the hon. Lady’s feelings about that—but the Metropolitan police have rightly apologised and the Independent Office for Police Conduct is investigating. For that reason, it would not be right to comment further.

Q2. People across North East Hertfordshire are coming together to provide support and refuge to families fleeing the invasion in Ukraine. The Baldock and District action committee is about to welcome four families to our community. Does the Prime Minister agree that that shows the open-hearted generosity of the British people? Will he continue to do all he can with the Minister for Refugees to make the process as simple and speedy as possible? (906241)

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend and all those involved in the two big schemes that we have now for welcoming people from Ukraine. The Homes for Ukraine scheme is now open; I think that about 40,000 have already applied and 150,000 families across the country have said that they want to welcome Ukrainians. That is a fantastic thing, and I thank Baldock and District for helping to lead the way.

Eight hundred loyal British workers fired over Zoom, instantly replaced by foreign agency workers shipped in on less than the minimum wage—if the Prime Minister cannot stop that, what is the point of his Government?

We condemn the callous behaviour of P&O. I think it is no way to treat hard-working employees, and I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we will not sit by. It looks to me as though, under section 194 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the company concerned has broken the law, and we will therefore be taking action, and encouraging workers themselves to take action under the Employment Rights Act 1996—and both those Acts were passed by Conservative Governments. If the company is found guilty, it will face fines running into millions of pounds. In addition, we will be taking steps to protect all mariners who are working in UK waters and ensure that they are paid the living wage.

When Owen Paterson was on the ropes, the Prime Minister was prepared to rip up the entire rule book to save his jobs. P&O workers want him to show the same fight in relation to them. The Government had advance warning of these mass sackings—a memo was sent to the Transport Secretary and to the Prime Minister’s office—but they did not lift a finger to stop them. Did the Prime Minister not understand the memo, or did he just not bother to read it?

I think what the right hon. and learned Gentleman needs to rip up are his pre-scripted questions, because I just answered that question. The point at issue is whether or not the Government were properly notified. It is not about what happened previously. I knew about it on the Thursday when it became public, but the company concerned has a duty to notify the Government 45 days before taking action of that kind, which is why we are taking the action that we are taking to protect hard-working people. What we are also doing this month, by the way, is lifting the living wage for all workers across our country by a further £1,000, so it is up by £5,000 since 2015.

I think the Prime Minister just said that he knew about it on the day. I take it from that answer that the Prime Minister did not read his WhatsApp briefing. Let us test his rhetoric. Since he came to office, P&O has received more than £38 million-worth of Government contracts, and the parent company, DP World, is lined up for £50 million of taxpayers’ money under the freeport scheme. The Government are apparently reviewing these contracts, but reviews do not save jobs. Can the Prime Minister guarantee that those companies will not get a penny more of taxpayers’ money, or a single tax break, until they reinstate the workforce?

Yes, we are—against the company concerned, under the 1992 and 1996 Acts. That is the right thing to do, because it seems to me that that the company has broken the law. But if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is asking this Government to do what Labour usually wants us to do and actively pitchfork away investment around the country from overseas, that is not what we will do. We will take ’em to court, we will defend the rights of British workers, but what we will not do is launch a wholehearted campaign against overseas investment, as Labour would want, because that is completely wrong—and wrong for those workers.

Those at DP World must be quaking in their boots. The Prime Minister says how disappointed he is in them, while handing them £50 million.

The Prime Minister has referred to the law. Speaking of hollow reviews, as the law stands it is not illegal to pay seafarers less than the national minimum wage, even if they are working out of UK ports and in UK waters. Two years ago, the Prime Minister’s Government admitted that that was unjustifiable, and promised, two years ago—you’ve guessed it—to review it. Two years on, despite what the Prime Minister says today, nothing has been done, which has left the gate wide open for P&O. British workers do not need another empty review; they need action, so when will the Prime Minister fix that gap in the law?

With great humility, I must ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to listen to the answer that I gave to his first question. That would help him to scrap his third or fourth question and try another one. We are going to address the defects in the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, and ensure that everyone working in the UK exclusive economic zone is paid the living wage as people are in the rest of the country.

The problem is, that is what the Prime Minister said two years ago. It did not happen, and P&O took advantage of the gap left wide open by this Prime Minister. P&O’s behaviour comes off the back of a string of fire and rehire cases, with profitable companies threatening to fire workers unless they accept a pay cut. The Prime Minister keeps telling us just how opposed he is to fire and rehire, but as we saw on Monday, he does not have the backbone to ban it. While he sits on his hands, more and more workers are having their lives turned upside down by this appalling practice. What good to them is a Prime Minister who is all mouth and no trousers?

The most notable practitioner of fire and rehire is, of course, the Labour party itself. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may be interested to know that we will be vindicating the rights of British workers—UK employees—under UK law, but I can tell him that the law that P&O itself is allegedly relying on was introduced as a result of EU directives. Never forget—[Interruption.] He may not like it, but that is the reality. He would have kept us unable to change it and unable to get out of it. He would have made it impossible for us to protect UK employees in the way that we are going to do. What we are doing above all is ensuring that workers in this country have the best protection of all, which is a job. Under this Government, thanks to the steps we have taken and thanks to the stewardship of the economy by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which you will be hearing about a little more, Mr Speaker, we have 600,000 more people in payrolled employment than before the pandemic began.

The Prime Minister can complain all he likes, but on Monday he ordered all of his lot to abstain on a vote to ban fire and rehire. And they all did! Then, to add insult to injury, after the vote his party posted a message saying that, where possible, they will look to find P&O workers new jobs. Pathetic! They do not want new jobs; they want their old jobs back. They do not want a Prime Minister hoisting the white flag; they want him to fight for their livelihoods. There are 82,000 seafarers in this country. I have spoken to dockers, engineers, deckhands and sailors, and they are all worried about what this means for them. This morning, one of them said to me: “If P&O can get away with this, other companies will get rid of us too and replace us with cheap labour from abroad.” Why does the Prime Minister think that they will take a crumb of comfort from his half-arsed bluster and waffle today?

P&O is plainly not going to get away with it any more than any other company that treats its employees in that scandalous way. This is a historic moment for this country, actually, because it is now two years to the day since we went into lockdown. That plunged this country into the biggest, deepest loss of output than we have seen in our lifetimes. Thanks to the Chancellor, who protected the economy, jobs and companies, we have now been able to come out faster and more effectively than any other comparable economy. We have unemployment back down to 3.9%, we have 600,000 more people on the payroll and the best assurance we can give workers around the country is that the economy is now bigger than it was before the pandemic began. We will continue to get the big calls right, as we got the big calls right during the pandemic. Labour got the big calls wrong. They would do absolutely nothing to protect workers, let alone P&O workers, because not only would they have kept us in lockdown, but they would have kept those ships in port, unable to move. That is the reality. There has never been a Labour Government that left office with unemployment lower than when they began. That is the reality and that is their record on jobs.

Q3. I strongly support the Government’s intention to make England smoke-free by 2030, but on the current trajectory we are going to miss that target. It is vital that we discourage young people from starting to smoke and encourage people who already smoke to give up. So does my right hon. Friend agree that it is now time to raise the age of legal sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 and impose a levy on the profits of the big tobacco companies, in order to raise £700 million that we can put into smoking cessation services, on the basis that the polluter pays? (906242)

I thank my hon. Friend very much, and he is absolutely right about smoking; it is the biggest single cause of preventable death in this country. As he will know, Javed Khan OBE is undertaking an independent review of smoking, and I am sure he will want to take my hon. Friend’s suggestions into account.

In a matter of seconds, at 12.16 pm, a Virgin Atlantic aircraft is due to depart Heathrow airport to go to Warsaw to pick up 50 young orphans who have left Ukraine and are coming to spend the next period of their life in Scotland, with the sanctuary we can offer them. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped to make sure that we can offer a new start to these young people, away from the war. I thank the Governments in London and in Edinburgh, and in particular the immigration Minister, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and the refugee Minister in the House of Lords, Lord Harrington. This is a good day for those 50 young people, but let us hope that it is the beginning of something much more significant for many more young people we can offer sanctuary to.

This morning, we have official confirmation that inflation is at its highest level in 30 years, but families do not need official confirmation to know that the cost of food and energy is now at a price they simply cannot afford. The very people who bore the brunt of the health pandemic are now being hammered by the poverty pandemic. This is not just a cost of living crisis—this is an emergency. That is why, in Scotland, the SNP Government are doubling the Scottish child payment and raising the benefits they control by 6%—that is double the rate the Chancellor has proposed for the benefits that he has control over. So this is a very simple question for the Prime Minister: if he truly understands that this is an emergency, will he match the Scottish Government’s commitment and lift all benefits by 6%?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much. We all recognise that global inflation is causing a real cost of living crisis, not just here, but around the world; in the United States, inflation is now running at more than 8%, and we are at the levels in other European countries. We are doing everything we can to help people. The Chancellor has put another £9.1 billion into reducing the costs of energy for families. [Interruption.] I do not know quite what Members are shouting out, but we want to do more. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that Scotland is in the lead in helping this country to solve its energy problems, not just with more offshore wind, but by abandoning the phobia of our own hydrocarbons, which I think are going to be vital for transition and to avoid our being blackmailed by Putin’s Russia.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the orphans, I am grateful to him for his efforts and I thank him. If I may say, without embarrassing him further, it is another example of the burgeoning co-operation between us.

Of course, we want to make sure we open our doors in Scotland and welcome refugees, and that we have that generosity of spirit—but we will leave that there for now.

I say to the Prime Minister that inflation is at 6% and increasing. We need to make sure that those who are the most vulnerable have that increase in benefits that they need in order to pay for fuel. The Chancellor needs to ditch the official photographer and listen to Martin Lewis. Family finances are at breaking point; they cannot tighten their budgets any more. These families have no room to manoeuvre, but the truth is that the Chancellor does. Lower borrowing and increased taxes mean that he is sitting with £20 billion to spend today. But instead this Chancellor is making a political choice: the choice to push people further into hardship by hiking taxes, cutting universal credit, and giving companies free rein to slash workers’ pay through fire and rehire. So the test for the Prime Minister is this: will the Government use the full £20 billion they are sitting on to scrap the national insurance tax hike and put money into people’s pockets, or will he simply make this Tory poverty pandemic even worse?

I just advise Mystic Meg over there that he has only 10 minutes to wait before he will have the answer to that question.

Q5. I warmly welcome the improvements to our national Ukraine refugee response, but in the weeks since these improved measures, numbers fleeing Putin’s invasion have sadly doubled to 3.5 million, and are expected to go even higher. Does the Prime Minister agree that our response must still move much faster, with a shift to processing applications in the UK and cutting the red tape and bureaucracy, so we can match the scale of Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis since the second world war? (906244)

My hon. Friend is right that we will see many more people coming here. He is right that the instincts of this country are to be as generous as possible. That is why we have made sure that applications can now be processed online very quickly, so people can come here with their passports. Under the family reunion scheme alone, I think the numbers are now running in excess of 16,000 people coming here.

While Ofgem can cap rising gas and electricity bills, other fuels such as heating oil, liquefied petroleum gas and solid fuel remain unregulated. Many households in rural Scotland depend on such fuels. There are also areas awash with energy, both on and offshore, yet with huge and rising numbers of people in fuel poverty. Will the Prime Minister regulate and cap such fuels, to alleviate hardship and end the perversity of energy-rich Scotland but fuel-poor Scots?

The hon. Gentleman is right that energy-rich Scotland and the hydrocarbons that we have in this country should be used to help the British people. We should not be needlessly reliant on oil and gas from Putin’s Russia. I think that is the policy of Alba but, unfortunately, is not yet the policy of the SNP.

Q7. I am so proud to represent a vibrant Ukrainian community in Huddersfield and Colne Valley. This Friday, at the Ukrainian club in Huddersfield, they will be collecting medical supply donations to send to Ukraine and the surrounding nations. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all our community in West Yorkshire, who have rallied round their Ukrainian neighbours and friends, and will he continue to put the UK at the forefront of donations of not only humanitarian and medical supplies, but the military aid that is allowing the Ukrainian people to fight so bravely against Putin and his cronies? (906246)

I thank the Ukrainian community in Yorkshire for everything they are doing and, of course, Ukrainian communities up and down the country and the people of this country as a whole. I am proud that we are the biggest bilateral donor, I think, other than the United States, of aid to Ukraine. I am also proud, as I know the whole House is, of the work that is being done continuously to give the Ukrainians the tools they need to defend themselves.

Q4. The Football Association is refusing to move the semi-final between Liverpool and Manchester City from Wembley. There are no trains from the north-west that day, which means 50,000 or 60,000 people will have to go by road—bad for the fans and bad for the environment. Unfortunately, this is typical of the insensitivity of the FA, who thinks that fit and proper people to run our football clubs are Russian kleptocrats and people who are wanted for human rights abuses. Does the Prime Minister agree that now is the time to legislate to set up an independent regulator for football, with fan involvement? (906243)

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much. I am not going to comment on the travel arrangements for the particular match—[Interruption.] The deputy Leader of the Labour party shouts for me to secure her a train. I am sure the FA will have heard the message that the hon. Gentleman has given.

What I can say is that I do agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has just conducted a review on the matter, that we should indeed have an independent regulator for football.

Q12. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is a great champion for steel, and we have just had brilliant news on the removal of the US steel tariffs. Will he reaffirm the commitment he made at the Dispatch Box on 31 January that the Chancellor will bring forward a package of measures on our steel energy costs? If the Chancellor is not able to make good on that commitment today, will he ensure that he does so as soon as he can? (906251)

I agree with my hon. Friend passionately, and I think that it is vital that we undo the damage done by the insane policies of the previous Labour Government, which whacked up the cost of energy for British industry, including steel. I will be bringing forward a British energy security strategy that will address the needs of British steel, British ceramics and the whole of British industry.

Q6.   I am sure the Prime Minister will share my delight that Bradford has been shortlisted to be the UK city of culture 2025 and will want to offer his support for our bid—it would bring immense benefits and kudos to Britain’s youngest city. With over 120 languages spoken across the city, with its unique cultural heritage and diversity and, let us not forget, the amazing food, and as the birthplace of David Hockney and the Brontës, Bradford has it all—apart from Government support. One practical way in which the Prime Minister could help is by reversing the Transport Secretary’s snub to Bradford in the integrated rail plan. So will the Prime Minister look again at this issue and commit to delivering a real northern powerhouse rail, including a stop in Bradford city? (906245)

I congratulate Bradford on being shortlisted in the way that that wonderful city has been, but I think the hon. Lady is wrong about what the integrated rail plan said, because already it commits to cutting the journey times from Leeds to Bradford from 20 minutes to 12 minutes, if I remember correctly. And we continue to look at ways of making sure that high-speed rail goes direct to Bradford.

The horrifying effects of events in Ukraine must be central to our focus, and we should do all possible to stand together in support. A war in Europe also has challenging domestic outcomes, with higher energy costs, rising food prices and effects on supplies and inflation and across the economy in general. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a time when we need to come together as a nation common and that anyone seeking to weaponise Putin’s deliberate and calculated consequences of the war will only undermine the unity of our nation at a time when Europe is in crisis?

I thank my right hon. Friend very much for what he has said. One of the most important things that has confounded Vladimir Putin has not only been the heroic resistance of the Ukrainians but the unity of the rest of the world and, I must say, so far, the relative unity—the important unity—of this House.

Q8. The Prime Minister has been very supportive of nuclear testing veterans, so I am sure that he will be shocked that, today, The Mirror has uncovered 140 pages of data previously hidden in the footnote of a 1988 Government report. There is now concern that the High Court and this House may have been inadvertently misinformed in 2008, when told that only 159 men in UK nuclear weapons tests were exposed to dangerous radiation, when today’s data shows exposure numbers were actually 2,314. Will the Prime Minister urgently investigate this and arrange to meet personally in Downing Street with my constituent, her grandad and other nuclear testing veterans to bring an end to this national scandal? (906247)

I thank the hon. Member very much for bringing those facts—new facts—to the attention of the House, and I know that my office has already been in touch with the group concerned to make sure that we have a proper meeting. I hope very much that she will be there, and we will be able to discuss all the issues that she has raised.

May I begin, as chair of the all-party group on surrogacy, by thanking the Government, and the Home Secretary in particular for her work in bringing Ukrainian surrogates to safety here? Sadly, in my role as chair of the all-party group against antisemitism, the news is not so positive. We have recently heard from Jewish students who are suffering record antisemitic attacks on university campuses, including allegations of their work being marked down by their own professors. This is completely outrageous, and one would expect the National Union of Students to be on their side, but instead of helping the students it has been inviting somebody who is engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories—a rapper—to a conference. Will the Prime Minister do everything in his power to ensure that campuses are a safe place for British Jewish students?

Our universities have, for far too long, been tolerant of casual or indeed systematic antisemitism. I hope that everybody understands the need for change—for rapid and irreversible change—but it is also important that we have an antisemitism taskforce devoted to rooting out antisemitism in education at all levels.

Q9. Last week, the Government did nothing to stop P&O Ferries sacking 800 seafarers on the spot. On the same day, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) was forced to come to the House to announce more than 1,100 DWP job losses and 42 centre closures, risking a further 7,000 jobs, including 1,300 in the north-east. Working people are, once again, being hammered by this Government in the middle of a cost of living crisis, causing genuine suffering. Why will the Prime Minister not act to protect local communities from losing real high-quality jobs? (906248)

I renew my sympathies with the case of the P&O workers, and I have explained to the House what we are doing, and we will do that. What we are also doing is helping the workforce up and down the country to get the coaching they need. We have doubled the number of work coaches, and what we are seeing is employment climbing and vacancies growing. We are helping this country into work, which is what Conservatives do.

I have a growing number of constituents who are struggling to go about their lives or even get to work because their driving licences are stuck at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Will the Prime Minister make it clear at the Dispatch Box that the service from the agency falls significantly below what we expect, and will he ask the Transport Secretary to meet me, and any other Members of this House—we may need a big room—to explain how we can help the agency out of the hole in which it has put itself?

Yes. Like everybody in this House, I have read some surprising things about what has been going on at the DVLA. We need to make sure that it is given every possible encouragement and support to expedite the supply of driving licences to the people of this country.

Q10. It is nice to see the Prime Minister back in his place; I missed him last week. A fantasy castle, perhaps Snow White, too, and certainly girls, girls, girls were promised at a party—less burlesque, more Berlusconi. According to a former Minister, it seems that the Prime Minister has been entertained at these bunga bunga parties, hosted by his close friend, a Russian oligarch. Given that his many weaknesses could leave him open to blackmail, why does the Prime Minister think that MI6 may not entirely trust him? (906249)

Last week, I was not here to benefit from one of the hon. Gentleman’s elaborately confected questions. I admire his style, but I am afraid that I simply fail to detect any crouton of substance in the minestrone of nonsense that he has just spoken.

Wrexham is a town based on brewing, mining and football. It is a town evolving in aspiration, prosperity and creativity while retaining its Welsh identity. Will the Prime Minister congratulate Wrexham on being shortlisted for the city of culture, and on being the first Welsh town to be so?

Not only is Wrexham shortlisted for the city of culture, with all the distinctions my hon. Friend mentions, but it is the city of vaccines. Without the AstraZeneca vaccines bottled in Wrexham, we literally would not be where we are today.

Q11. Former Treasury Minister Lord Agnew has described the Chancellor’s failure on covid fraud as “one of the most colossal cock-ups in recent government management and taxpayers are paying for this”. We now know the Chancellor’s failure has cost the country £11.8 billion—almost exactly the same as the amount that national insurance on working people will increase in the coming year. Does the Prime Minister think it is fair to demand that working people pay the bill for the Chancellor’s failures? (906250)

I remember the hon. Gentleman when he was doing planning at Islington Council, and a complete cock-up he made of that. What I can tell him is that this Government made sure that we got the personal protective equipment and the supplies that were needed in record time. That was absolutely vital, at a time when the Opposition were calling on us to go further and faster. Never forget that under the last Labour Government, there was £23 billion lost in fraud every year.

I welcome the important interim report from Dr Hilary Cass in which she highlights the need for more research into why so many young girls are presenting with gender distress. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and other concerned colleagues to discuss how we can constructively support those young people who are experiencing gender distress?

I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend. This is one of those issues that the whole House is coming to realise requires extreme sensitivity, tact, love and care. We must recognise that when people want to make a transition in their lives, they should be treated with the maximum possible generosity and respect. We have systems in this country that allow that and have done for a long time, and we should be very proud of that, but I want to say in addition that I think, when it comes to distinguishing between a man and a woman, the basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important.

Q13. The Prime Minister met the chairman of P&O owners DP World to discuss setting up a freeport in London. Just last year, the Foreign Secretary also met DP World. DP World runs ports in the UK that employ more than 600 workers. If the Prime Minister wants to remove the latest suspicion of his conflicts of interest, will he tell his Dubai millionaire friends that if they want contracts to run freeports here, they must reinstate P&O workers and guarantee the jobs of DP World workers too? (906252)

I have one overwhelming interest, which is to protect and preserve the jobs and livelihoods of the British people. That is what we are doing. That is what we will do with the P&O workers, but we will also ensure that we continue to attract overseas investment in the record ways we currently are. The Opposition would drive it away—we will not.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, the country where I was born. Under Ted Heath’s Government, people across the country opened up their homes for many of those Asians, who then settled and became part of the fabric of our great nation. That British generosity is again being seen as people open up their homes for those fleeing Ukraine and coming to our country. May I urge the Prime Minister to pick up those files from 50 years ago, wipe off the dust and take on board those positive lessons, so that we can ensure that the Homes for Ukraine scheme has maximum success?

Yes, I think the whole country can be proud of the way the UK welcomed people fleeing Idi Amin’s Uganda. Several Members of the House, including the Home Secretary herself and her family, were beneficiaries of that scheme and that moment. This country is overwhelmingly generous to people fleeing in fear of their lives and will continue to be so.

Eight hundred British workers were sacked over Zoom by P&O, owned by the Government of Dubai, to be replaced with foreign exploited agency workers on less than two quid an hour. The Prime Minister can pass an instrument now to close the loophole so that the national minimum wage applies on UK international routes. Is he going to stand up for British workers or the oil state dictator Dubai?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. I knew he was going to ask it and he was right to ask it. I anticipated his question earlier on. We are going to make sure that everybody working in the UK exclusive economic zone gets paid the living wage, and we will do it as fast as we possibly can with the Opposition’s assistance.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to take legal action to hold P&O Ferries and DP World to account. I again call on them to reverse their action and reinstate the workers. Dover and Kent are already badly affected by this business, including on the roads and in the business community. Will he meet me to discuss specific support for our affected area, including the A2 upgrade for national transport links and an east Kent enterprise zone to cover and include the port of Dover?

My hon. Friend is right in what she says about P&O and about the 800 workers. I will make sure that she gets all the meetings she needs to make sure that we continue with all our fantastic investments in Dover, whether transport, education or otherwise.