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Volume 712: debated on Wednesday 20 April 2022

I know the whole House will want to join me in wishing Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday for tomorrow. 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 will then be travelling to India to deepen the strategic trade, defence and people-to-people ties between our two countries, building on India’s involvement in the Carbis Bay G7 summit. I will be seeing Prime Minister Modi in Delhi, meeting Indian businesspeople investing in the UK and visiting British investments in India.

Challenges with rural transport remain some of the greatest obstacles facing people in Penrith and The Border. I was pleased last year that, on top of the Government’s £3 billion national bus strategy to help areas such as Cumbria, Cumbria County Council received an additional £1.5 million to enhance provision as part of the rural mobility fund. I am sure my right hon. Friend can imagine my disappointment this month, however, when Cumbria was allocated no funding from the latest tranche of bus funding. Can the Prime Minister reassure my constituents that Cumbria can look forward to future funding schemes to improve our vital rural bus services?

I thank my hon. Friend. He is a great champion for rural Cumbria and for bus services. He is right that Cumbria got another £1.5 million for buses. We want to put more into buses—I believe in them passionately myself—and I will ensure he has a meeting with the relevant Minister.

I join the Prime Minister in wishing Her Majesty a happy birthday.

Why did the Prime Minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton have to resign from her job?

I bitterly regret Allegra’s resignation. I think it was very sad. She did an outstanding job, particularly since she was the one who coined the expression “Coal, cars, cash and trees”, which enabled the UK to deliver a fantastic COP26 summit last year.

Allegra Stratton laughed at breaking the rules. She resigned. The Prime Minister then claimed he was “furious” at her behaviour and accepted her resignation. Professor Neil Ferguson broke the rules. He also resigned. The Prime Minister said that was the right thing to do. The former Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), broke the rules. He too resigned. The Prime Minister tried to claim that he sacked him. Why does the Prime Minister think everybody else’s actions have consequences except his own?

I feel the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in some kind of “Doctor Who” time warp. We had this conversation yesterday, and I explained why I bitterly regret receiving an FPN and I apologised to the House. He asks about the actions for which I take responsibility, and I will tell him: we are going to get on with delivering for the British people, making sure that we power out of the problems that covid has left us, with more people in work than there were before the pandemic, fixing our energy problems, and leading the world in standing up to the aggression of Vladimir Putin. Those are all subjects about which I think he could reasonably ask questions now.

These are strange answers from a man who yesterday claimed to be making a humble apology. Does the Prime Minister actually accept that he broke the law?

Yes, Mr Speaker, I have been absolutely clear that I humbly accept what the police have said. I have paid the fixed penalty notice. What I think the country, and the whole House, would really rather do is get on with the things for which we were elected and deliver on our promises to the British people. [Interruption.] You could not have clearer evidence of the intellectual bankruptcy of Labour. [Interruption.]They have no plans for energy, they have no plans for social care—

Order. Prime Minister, sit down. I want to hear what you have got to say, but I cannot hear when you talk in that way. I am here in the Chair: please, if you can help me.

The state of it—the party of Peel and Churchill reduced to shouting and screaming in defence of this lawbreaker. [Interruption.]

Order. Now then, that is the last time. That Peroni that was just asked about—the hon. Member might have to go and take it. I do not want to hear any more, or else they will be drinking it.

Yesterday’s apology lasted for as long as the Prime Minister thought necessary to be clipped for the news. But once the cameras were off, the Prime Minister went to see his Back Benchers and he was back to blaming everyone else. He even said that the Archbishop of Canterbury had not been critical enough of Putin. In fact, the archbishop called Putin’s war

“an act of great evil”,

and the Church of England has led the way in providing refuge to those fleeing. Would the Prime Minister like to take this opportunity to apologise for slandering the archbishop and the Church of England?

I was slightly taken aback for the Government to be criticised over the policy that we have devised to end the deaths at sea in the channel as a result of cruel criminal gangs. I was surprised that we were attacked for that. Actually, do you know who proposed that policy first of all, in 2004? It was David Blunkett—[Interruption.] Yes it was, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will remember. He said that it was a 21st-century solution to the problems of illegal asylum seeking and immigration. The Leader of the Opposition should stick with that. He is a Corbynista in a smart Islington suit—that is the truth.

I think the Prime Minister will find that Mr Corbyn does not have the Whip. I think that is a no, then. It is pathetic. He never takes responsibility for his words or actions. [Interruption.] Conservative Members were all there.

The Prime Minister also accused the BBC of not being critical enough of Putin. Would the Prime Minister have the guts to say that to the faces of Clive Myrie, Lyse Doucet and Steve Rosenberg, who have all risked their lives day in, day out on the frontline in Russia and Ukraine uncovering Putin’s barbarism?

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to join the Conservative party and come and listen to the meetings of the Conservative party, he is welcome to do it, but, as I say, I think he is a Corbynista in an Islington suit. I said nothing of the kind. I have the highest admiration, as a journalist and a former journalist, for what journalists do. I think they do an outstanding job. I think he should withdraw what he just said, because it has absolutely no basis or foundation in truth.

That is how the right hon. Gentleman operates: a mealy-mouthed apology when the cameras roll; a vicious attack on those who tell the truth as soon as the cameras are off. He slanders decent people in a private room and lets the slander spread, without the backbone to repeat it in public. How can the Prime Minister claim to be a patriot, when he deliberately attacks and degrades the institutions of our great country?

Order. Prime Minister, just a second. I want to hear the Prime Minister’s answers. I expect it both ways.

It is an indication of the depths to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is willing to sink that he accuses me—[Interruption.] He accuses me of traducing journalists. What he says is completely without any foundation whatever. I did not attack the BBC last night for their coverage of Ukraine. He must be out of his tiny mind. I said no such thing, and there are people behind me who will testify to that. He is completely wrong. That is the limit of his willingness to ask sensible questions today.

This Government are getting on with the serious problems that require attention, such as fixing our energy supply issues and, by the way, undoing the damage of the Labour Government, who did not invest in nuclear power for 13 years, with a nuclear power station every year. We are standing up to Putin, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have elected a Putin apologist—that is what he wanted to do, and he campaigned to do that. We are fixing our economy, with record numbers of people now in work, productivity back above what it was, and over half a million more people on the payroll than there were before the pandemic began. That is as a result of the decisions—the tough calls—that this Government have made. We get on with the job, while they flip-flop around like flounders on the beach.

Q2. Founded in Hitchin by an inspirational man called Richard Lucas, the Govox mental wellbeing platform was started in 2018, following the sad loss of local young men to suicide. Since then, working with brilliant partners such as NHSX, King’s College London and others, the technology platform and support services have grown to support the mental wellbeing and mental health of over 40,000 young people in more than 10 countries. Today, Govox is launching its campaign to offer its services free to over 1,000 state secondary schools. Will the Prime Minister welcome this initiative and perhaps go to Hitchin and meet the people from Govox? Secondly, will he set out what more we can do to help young people and young men with the problems of mental health and wellbeing? (906435)

I thank my hon. Friend. I am very pleased to hear about the work that Govox is doing to support mental health and wellbeing, and we are putting more money into mental healthcare support—an extra £2.3 billion a year in the next financial year, which of course we can supply thanks to the decisions taken by this Government, which the Labour party opposed.

May I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in wishing Her Majesty the Queen best wishes for her birthday tomorrow?

Last night, the Prime Minister may have convinced his Back Benchers and his spineless Scottish Tories to keep him in place for another few weeks, but the public are not so easily fooled. Eighty-two per cent. of people in Scotland said that they believed the Prime Minister lied to this Parliament, and to the public, about his law-breaking covid parties. Are they right, or should they not believe their lying eyes?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. We had a long conversation about this yesterday. I understand the point of his question, but we are going to get on with the job of delivering for the people of the whole United Kingdom.

If the Prime Minister wants to get on, he should be offering his resignation to the Queen before her birthday. No Government can be led by a Prime Minister who is in a constant state of crisis to save his own skin. What is worse, the UK Government are now led by a tag team of scandal—a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted with the truth and a Chancellor who cannot be trusted with his taxes. Everyone knows that this Prime Minister is on borrowed time until the Tory Back Benchers count the cost of their council election defeat. In the meantime, families are counting the cost of a Tory-made cost of living crisis every day. After yesterday’s farce, is it not finally time for him to accept that neither his party nor the public can afford to keep him around as Prime Minister for one minute longer?

If that were true, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would be calling for my resignation. We are going to get on with the job in hand, and that is to deliver for the people of this country. By the way, he has not answered the point I made yesterday, which is that I think it is incredible that at a time when we need to stand up to aggression from Vladimir Putin, it is still the policy of the Scottish nationalist party to get rid of this country’s unilateral defence.