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Prime Minister

Volume 712: debated on Wednesday 20 April 2022

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

Kettering General Hospital Redevelopment

Q3. If he will ensure that the NHS new hospital programme team (a) provide feedback to the local NHS trust on the strategic outline case for the redevelopment of Kettering General Hospital so that the subsequent outline business case can be submitted in July 2022 and (b) enable the drawdown of the £46 million of funding awarded in October 2019. (906436)

I thank my hon. Friend, who is an excellent champion for Kettering. We are fully committed to the delivery of the new hospital for Kettering. The release of funding will be subject to the usual business case assessment process.

The redevelopment of Kettering General Hospital is the No. 1 local priority for residents in Kettering and across north Northamptonshire. Will my right hon. Friend please be kind enough to facilitate a meeting with the Health Secretary for the three local Members—myself and my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Corby (Tom Pursglove)—together with the hospital chief executive so that we can trigger the start of the drawdown of the initial £46 million of funding?

Yes; my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has told me that he has met those individuals before and he is happy to meet them again.

Plaid Cymru has been calling for 15 years for a law to ban politicians from being wilfully misleading. New polling by Compassion in Politics shows that 73% of people support such a law. Will the Prime Minister support a lying in politics Bill?

It is well known that the rules of this House demand that we tell the truth in this House, and that is what we all try to do.


Q10. Prime Minister’s questions is a wonderful opportunity for a constituency MP like me to ask the Prime Minister for a new hospital for Doncaster, and to ask for Doncaster to be the home of the Great British Rail headquarters. Sadly, there is a more pressing issue, and that is that men are dying so much younger than they should be. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the merits of having a Minister for men, and the benefits of a men’s health strategy? That way, the next time I am fortunate enough to get a PMQ, I can lobby the Prime Minister for a new hospital for Doncaster, and for Doncaster to be the home of the Great British Rail headquarters. (906443)

I thank my hon. Friend for his work in this area, and we are determined to tackle all the health conditions that he describes and cares about, particularly mental health and suicide prevention. I note his plea for a new hospital, and I know it is shared by many of my hon. and right hon. Friends. This Government are funding that and making it possible, thanks to the decisions we have taken allowing our economy to grow, which would not have been possible if we had listened to the Opposition.

Q4. In the Labour party, we believe not only that law breakers cannot be law makers, but that tax raisers should be taxpayers. When people in powerful positions pick and choose where they pay their taxes, it is an insult to everyone else who does not have that luxury. May I ask the Prime Minister how many members of his Cabinet have ever been involved in a tax avoidance scheme? (906437)

What we try to do in this Government is cut taxes for the whole country, and I am proud to say that what the Chancellor did in the recent spring statement, by lifting the threshold for national insurance contributions, was to have a tax cut of about £330 for most people in this country. That is a fantastic thing.

Q12.   Mr Speaker, if you live in north Wales and want to watch international sport, you will have to travel four hours to Cardiff or Swansea. The Wrexham Racecourse, with its historic Kop stand, is home to Wembley-bound Wrexham football club. It is the oldest international stadium in the world, and forms part of our levelling-up fund bid. Does the Prime Minister agree that round 2 of the levelling-up fund offers an excellent opportunity to level up access to sport? (906446)

There could be no better campaigner for Wrexham and for the interests of Wrexham sport. I will do what I can, but my hon. Friend will know that £121 million from the first round of the levelling-up fund was awarded to Wales, and I am sure that Wrexham has every chance of success in the future.

Q5. The Prime Minister has been asked about the sodium valproate scandal previously, but Shaun Lintern at The Sunday Times this weekend revealed that campaigners were blacklisted, including my constituent Emma Murphy, who is here in the Gallery today. Advice from the Cumberlege report has been ignored, warnings are still not on medication as of a couple of weeks ago and a redress scheme is still not forthcoming. Will the Prime Minister meet me and campaigners such as Emma to discuss what can be done to right this incredible wrong? (906438)

I thank the hon. Member very much for raising the point. I understand that we have had a review already of the issue, but I will make sure that he has a proper meeting or that he and the campaigners he mentions have a proper meeting with the relevant Minister in the Health Department.

My constituent Aiden Aslin has served in the Ukrainian armed forces for four years. Last week, he was captured by the Russian army in Mariupol. Yesterday, a video emerged of my constituent handcuffed, physically injured and being interviewed under duress for propaganda purposes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a flagrant breach of the Geneva convention, that treating any prisoner of war in that manner is illegal, that the interviewer—Graham Phillips—is in danger of prosecution for war crimes and that any online platform such as YouTube that hosts propaganda videos of that kind should take them down immediately?

I thank my right hon. Friend very much, and I think everybody will want to urge the Russian state to treat his constituent humanely and compassionately, because in my view, although we do not encourage people going to that theatre of conflict—in fact, we actively dissuade them from doing so—I understand that he had been serving in the Ukrainian forces for some time, and his situation is very different from that of a mercenary. I hope that he is treated with care and compassion. I thoroughly echo the sentiments that my right hon. Friend has expressed about those who broadcast propaganda messages.

Q6. This Conservative Government are raising taxes on working people in the middle of a cost of living crisis. May I press the Prime Minister on whether he agrees that it would add insult to injury if his Chancellor or any other Government Ministers were to benefit from overseas tax havens in their personal tax affairs? (906439)

Good point, Mr Speaker, but we are responsible for cutting taxes for everybody, which is what we are actually doing.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is receiving over £50 million of Government investment into our high street and the high street of Kidsgrove in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), but it is all being overshadowed by the ongoing environmental disaster at Walleys Quarry. In January, the operator was hit with three category 1 breaches by the Environment Agency. My constituents are utterly sick of it, and it has been going on for far too long, Prime Minister. We need to see tougher enforcement and we need to see the permit taken away. What hope can he give my constituents? How can we stop the stink?

My hon. Friend has raised this issue before and I know how infuriating it is for his constituents. That is why the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has now ordered action against the site operator, and I can tell my hon. Friend that permanent capping will begin on site next month, which will improve things for thousands of residents in his constituency. If it is necessary to take further action to remove those malodorous vapours, we will do so.

Q7. With details of the Sue Gray report trickling out, a flood of photos of partygate yet to be released and any number of fixed penalty notices liable to be leaked, this is a Prime Minister who is not fit to run a bath never mind this country. It is time for him to stop this ridiculous charade that he believes no rules were broken. Will he commit to making public every fixed penalty notice he receives; will he publish the party photos taken by the official photographer; and will he ensure that Sue Gray’s report is published at the earliest opportunity? We have a right to know the truth. (906440)

On my own fixed penalty notice, I have been transparent with the House—and will be—and I have apologised. On the rest of it, I really think, as I have said before, that the House should wait for the conclusion of the investigation when Sue Gray finally reports.

Long ago in a far off place, thousands of British servicemen sailed into what was for them the unknown as they witnessed the early tests of nuclear weapons. They have lived with the consequences of that service to our nation ever since. Following a question to the Prime Minister from the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), he agreed to meet us and those veterans. Will he now assure the House that he will take personal charge of the decision on whether to grant the remaining servicemen—for there are few left—the service medal they so richly deserve?

I thank my right hon. Friend very much for campaigning on this issue, which I know attracts support across the House. I will certainly take personal charge of the matter and make sure that the veterans receive the recognition they deserve.

Q8. My constituents across Blaydon knew the rules and stuck to them, nurses and teachers included—no after-work drinks for them. The Prime Minister set the rules. Night after night, he was on national television to exhort us to stick to the rules for everyone’s sake, but he continues to say that he does not think he broke any rules. My constituents are angry that while they stuck to the law, the Prime Minister broke it. Trust in his Government is broken: when will he go? (906441)

I understand the feelings of the hon. Lady’s constituents and I continue to express my apologies for the FPN that I received, but the Government will get on with tackling the issues that face this country and delivering for the British people. That is my priority.

Like many others across the country, one of my constituents has been helping directly with the humanitarian effort in Ukraine and the region. He received the most troubling message from a resident of the city of Kherson only days ago, which said that

“there are no green corridors for evacuation. People are trying to flee the city at their own risk, under fire. The Russians are living in our homes, they are plotting terror, robbing, harassing, kidnapping and killing our people, doing whatever they want.”

What more can my right hon. Friend and the international community do to ensure that Putin and those who do his bidding are brought to justice for their crimes?

My right hon. and learned Friend makes an incredibly important point. The savagery that the Russians are unleashing on Ukraine knows no limits and is clearly authorised from the very top. He asks what more we can do. What we need to do is make it clear to serving officers in the Russian forces that if we can proceed with the international criminal prosecutions that we want to see, they will eventually face justice in the way that those who participated in massacres in Bosnia faced justice in the past. I hope that that will have a chilling effect on their current appalling conduct.

Q9. Every week, examples emerge of Government waste during covid, and last year the former Health Secretary told me that there had been no profiteering and no cronyism. Does the Prime Minister still agree with him? (906442)

I am sad to say that I think a lot of people made money out of covid in a way that perhaps they should not have done. We deplore that and we are trying to recoup as much as we possibly can, but I remind the hon. Gentleman of the constant clamour from the Opposition and from the country for us to equip our country with PPE and medicines as fast as possible, and that we did.

Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking the brilliant staff and volunteers at Watford General Hospital for their tireless work for our community over many years? Does he agree that we should get started as soon as possible on the ambitious plans put forward by West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust as part of the new hospital programme to transform healthcare across our whole community, so that staff and patients can access world-class health services and facilities fit for the 21st century? I will add, if I may, that these ambitious plans are truly shovel-ready, and I will gladly go and buy a shovel today to get started.

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Watford. I know, because I have been to see him several times, that he has been campaigning to get this hospital in Watford ever since he was triumphantly elected, and he is going to be successful, because there will be a new hospital scheme in his local area as part of our plan to deliver 48 new hospitals in this country by 2030.

Q11. The Prime Minister’s fundamental political problem at the moment is not about parties, or fixed penalty notices, or cake. It is about the lack of trust, integrity and credibility at the heart of Government, which he himself now personifies. When is the Prime Minister going to realise that people do not want to hear any more glib, half-hearted non-apologies, or hear him witter on about getting on with the job? They just want this Pinocchio Prime Minister to pack his bags and go. (906444)

Sorry, Mr Speaker. When are the Scottish people going to hear an ounce of sense from the Scottish nationalist—

Order. Prime Minister, we cannot both stand up at the same time. I am trying to be helpful. We have got to be more moderate in the type of language used. “Pinocchio” is not acceptable. I am sure the hon. Member wishes to withdraw it quickly.

Sorry, Mr Speaker, but I do not know what the question is, because the hon. Gentleman has withdrawn it. The answer is that we are going to get on with the job, and it would be nice to hear an ounce of sense from the Scottish nationalist party, or see some competent government.

The London Borough of Barnet is surrounded by Labour councils, all of which have higher council tax and have abandoned weekly bin collections. Will the Prime Minister urge everyone to come out on 5 May and vote Conservative in order to keep council tax lower than Labour would and to protect our weekly bin collections?

Quite right—Conservative councils fix four times more potholes, recycle twice as much, and charge less.

Q13.   The ministerial code states that Ministers have a “duty…to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life.”The Prime Minister has broken the law and repeatedly shown contempt for the British public. Conservative MPs seem content to decry the principles of honesty and integrity, as they unashamedly defend him. The public want him gone. We want him gone. When will he do the right thing and resign? (906447)

I know why they want me gone. It is because we are going to get on and show that this Conservative Government are going to deliver for the British people—fixing our cost of living issues, making sure that we solve our long-term energy problems, and delivering everything we promised—and they have absolutely no plan. That is the difference.

On the Conservative Benches, we were elected to make the most of our Brexit freedoms—[Interruption.] They don’t like it, Mr Speaker, they don’t like it. That includes tackling illegal immigration, securing our borders and cracking down on the evil people-smuggling trade. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our groundbreaking partnership with Rwanda will do just that?

It is a part of the solution. It is something that, as I said just now, was advocated in 2004 by the then Home Secretary David Blunkett, a Blairite Home Secretary. It is now attacked in the most ludicrous terms by the current Labour Opposition, who are obviously, as I just said, Corbynistas in Islington suits.

Q14. I wonder what the Prime Minister makes of this quote:“When a regime has been in power too long, when it has fatally exhausted the patience of the people, and when oblivion finally beckons…across the world you can rely on leaders of that regime to act solely in the interests of self-preservation, and not in the interests of the electorate”.His words, Mr Speaker: The Daily Telegraph, 28 February 2011. Does he still agree: yes or no? (906448)

All I can say is that I am delighted that the hon. Lady is a reader of The Daily Telegraph. What she needs to do is keep going to the end of the article. That is my advice to her.