As this will be the final PMQs of this Session, I wanted to remind the House of what we have achieved. More than 20 Acts of Parliament have been passed, including our National Insurance Contributions Act 2022, which will increase the thresholds from July and be worth an average of £330 a year—the largest single personal tax cut for a decade—and our Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 to respond to Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine. We hope by the end of the Session to have passed our Nationality and Borders Bill, to take control of our immigration system; our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, to make our streets safer; and our Health and Care Bill, to reduce bureaucracy and help to cut the covid backlogs. Only today, new figures show that already, since 2019, we have recruited over 13,500 additional police—well ahead of our 12,000 target. Those police are already on our streets, making our communities safer. We are focusing on delivering the people’s priorities, and there is plenty more to come in the Queen’s Speech on 10 May.
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.
As a proud maritime nation, the United Kingdom has long relied on its coastal communities to help to deliver national prosperity, but today too many of them face shared challenges and disproportionately high levels of deprivation. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that to ensure that beautiful constituencies such as mine—Hastings and Rye—can properly unleash their full potential, a specific and targeted Government strategy focusing on coastal communities is needed; and will he meet me to discuss this?
Yes indeed, and if my hon. Friend looks at the levelling-up White Paper she will find that it is clearly directed at enhancing and improving the lives of people in our coastal communities, tilting resource and attention to those fantastic communities. I will make sure that she gets a meeting with the relevant Minister as soon as possible.
I know the Prime Minister has whipped his Back Benchers to scream and shout, and that is fine, but I hope he has also sent a clear message that there is no place for sexism and misogyny or for looking down on people because of where they come from, in his party, in this House, or in modern Britain.
Next year, the UK is set for the slowest growth and the highest inflation in the G7. Why is the Prime Minister failing to manage the economy?
First, in response to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about sexism and misogyny, let me say that I exchanged messages with the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) over the weekend, and I will repeat what I said to her. There can be absolutely no place for such behaviour or such expression in this House, and we should treat each other with the respect that each other deserves.
On the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s point about the economy, yes of course it is true that there is a crisis of inflation around the world, but this Government are tackling it in all the ways you would expect, Mr Speaker. We are helping people with the cost of their energy—putting in far more than Labour would—and we have a British energy security strategy to undo the mistakes made by previous Labour Governments. Above all, we made sure that we had the fastest growth in the G7 last year, which would not have been possible if we had listened to him—frankly, had we listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we would not have come out of lockdown in July last year. Never forget that no Labour Government have left office with unemployment lower than when they came in.
The Prime Minister sounds like the Comical Ali of the cost of living crisis. He pretends the economy is booming and where there are problems they are global, but in the real world our growth is set to be slower than every G20 country except one—Russia—and our inflation is going to be double that in the rest of the G7. Does he think that denying the facts staring him in the face makes things better or worse for working people?
The facts are, as the International Monetary Fund has said, that the UK came out of covid faster than anybody else. That is why we had the fastest growth in the G7 last year. That would not have happened if we had listened to Captain Hindsight. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman studies its forecasts, he will see that we will return to being the fastest by 2024 and the fastest in 2025. That is what the IMF forecast says—read it. He asks about working people. This is the Government, this is the party that supports working people, unlike Labour, with the biggest increase—[Interruption.] Yes, I will tell them what is going up: the living wage is going up by record amounts, employment is going up by record amounts. Five hundred thousand more people—[Interruption.] They do not want to hear it. Let me give them the figures: 500,000 more people in paid employment now than there were before the pandemic began and youth unemployment at or near record lows. Under Labour, just to remind everybody, youth unemployment rose by 45%.
These must be the Oxford Union debating skills we have been hearing so much about: failing to answer the question, rambling incoherently, throwing in garbled metaphors. Powerful stuff, Prime Minister. Here is the problem: it is not just his words that are complacent; it is his actions as well. The cost of living crisis was blindingly obvious months ago, but he said that worries about inflation were unfounded and he backed a tax-hiking Budget. Does he think that his choice to be the only leader in the G7 to raise taxes during a cost of living crisis has made things better or worse for working people?
As I have just explained to the House, and will repeat once more, this Government and our Chancellor cut taxes on working people. The national insurance contribution went down by an average of £330. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about the health and care levy—maybe that is what he is droning on about—that is what is enabling us to pay for 50,000 more nurses and to pay for clearing the covid backlog. How tragic, how pitiful that the party of Bevan should now be opposed to that investment in the NHS.
The Prime Minister is an ostrich, perfectly happy keeping his head in the sand. Working people are worried about paying their bills. They are spending less and cutting back. That is bad for business and bad for growth. Working people are looking for help, but this week millions will look at their payslip and see a tax rise with his fingerprints all over it. Does he think that his 15th tax rise has made things better or worse for working people?
What we are doing for working people is not only lifting the living wage by a record amount and helping people on universal credit with a £1,000 tax cut, but cutting national insurance contributions and lifting the threshold so that, on average, people pay £330 less. What we are also doing is taking our country and our economy forward, investing in our NHS, which is a priority for the people of this country—unlike for the Labour party—and ensuring that we have record creation of jobs. That is what matters: high-wage, high-skill jobs. Half a million more—[Interruption.] Labour Members do not care about jobs; we do. We believe in high-wage, high-skill jobs and that is the answer for the economy.
It is as if the Prime Minister is only just waking up to the cost of living crisis. And his big idea: fewer MOTs—it actually makes the cones hotline sound visionary and inspirational.
North sea oil producers are making so much unexpected profit that they call themselves a “cash machine”. That cash could be used to keep energy bills down. Instead, the Prime Minister chooses to protect their profits, let household bills rocket and slap taxes on working people who are earning a living. Does he think that that choice has made things better or worse for working people?
What we are doing is making things better for working people than his plans would by a mile. We are putting in more to support people with their energy costs than he would with his new tax on business. We are putting in £9.1 billion, with an immediate £150 cut in people’s council tax. Labour’s thing raises only £6.6 billion, and it clobbers the very businesses that we need to invest in energy to bring the prices down for people across this country. Clean, green energy—the wind farms, the hydrogen that this country needs. What this Government are also doing is reversing the tragic, historic mistake of the Labour party in refusing to invest in nuclear. We are going to have a nuclear reactor every year, not a nuclear reactor every decade, which is what we got under Labour.
So the Conservatives are the party of excess oil and gas profits and we are the party of working people. This Tory Government have had their head in the sand throughout the cost of living crisis. First, they let prices get out of control and then they denied it was happening. They failed to do anything about it and then they made it worse with higher taxes. Because of the Prime Minister’s choices, we are set to have the slowest growth and the highest inflation in the G7.
A vote for Labour next week is a vote for a very different set of choices. We would ask oil and gas companies to pay their fair share and reduce energy costs. We would not hammer working people with the worst possible tax at the worst possible time. We would insulate homes to get bills down. And we would close the tax avoidance schemes that have helped the Prime Minister’s Chancellor—where is he?—to reduce his family’s tax bill while putting everyone else’s up. That is a proper plan for the economy, so why does the Prime Minister not get on with it and finally make choices that make things better, not worse, for working people?
I have listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman over many weeks and many years, and this guy is doomed to be a permanent spectator. We have a plan to fix the NHS and fix social care; the Opposition have no plan. We have a plan to fix our borders with our deal with Rwanda; they have no plan. We have a plan to take our economy forward; they have no plan.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the elections in a few days’ time. Let me remind him that everywhere we look at a Labour administration, it is a bankrupt shambles. Labour-run Hammersmith Council spent £27,000 on EU flags three years after the referendum. Labour-run Nottingham Council—bankrupt because of its investment in some communist energy plan, of the kind that he now favours; he should apologise for it. Labour-run Croydon—bankrupt because of its dodgy property deals. And never forget Labour-run Britain in 2010—bankrupt because of what the Labour Government did, and they said that they had “no money” left.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman looks at council tax—he boasts that he lives in Islington or Camden, or somewhere like that—he should contrast neighbouring Westminster, which has the lowest council tax in the country and better services, too. That is the difference between Labour and Conservative across the country. Vote Conservative on 5 May.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition about the absolutely disgusting misogyny and sexism witnessed by the deputy leader of the Labour party? What has happened over the past few days should shame us all.
This morning, the Trussell Trust confirmed that 830,000 children across the UK are being left to depend on emergency food parcels. Instead of convening a Tory talking shop at Cabinet, the Prime Minister should be acting to help those children and help families through the cost of living emergency. If he is genuinely looking for ideas to tackle this Tory-made crisis, he would be wiser to look beyond his Cabinet colleagues, who, of course, know that he will not be there for very much longer.
As a parting gift, here is an idea for the Prime Minister. The Scottish Government have introduced, and now doubled, the game-changing Scottish child payment of at least £1,040 a year, helping those families who are being hit the hardest. Is the Prime Minister prepared to match that payment across the UK to help families through this emergency?
Of course it is important to do everything we can to help families in a tough time. That is why we have massively increased the funds available to local councils to support families facing particular hardship. The holiday activities fund, now running at £200 million, is there as well. We will do everything we can to support families throughout this period when we are dealing with the aftershocks of the covid pandemic. If I may say so—the right hon. Gentleman may not appreciate my pointing it out, but it is true—I think that this is another example of the vital strength of our economic union, and of the importance of support from the UK Treasury, which is what he gets.
My goodness! We have children facing poverty, and the Scottish Government are responding with the child payment—by the way, it will increase again later this year—but we get nothing but empty words from the Prime Minister. We heard plenty of desperate pre-election waffle, but I will take it as a no: there is no support for hard-pressed families. It is clearer by the day that the Prime Minister’s supposed plan to fight the Tory-made cost of living crisis is not only non-fiscal, but non-existent.
I will try again. Here are three other ideas for the Prime Minister that would help families with their soaring costs right now: scrapping his national insurance tax hike, reversing the Tory cuts to universal credit and matching Scotland’s 6% benefits rise instead of imposing a real-terms cut. Those are three things that would make a difference to millions of people. Has the Prime Minister come to terms with the reality that if he fails to act now, the voters will send him and his sleaze-ridden party a message by voting SNP next Thursday?
We are helping families up and down the country with the universal credit taper. The right hon. Gentleman asks about universal credit; we are tapering it so that working people get another £1,000 in their pocket. We are helping families in the way that I have described, and I remind the House that under this Government there are now far fewer children in workless households than there were before this Government came in. That is because we believe in championing work, championing employment and helping people into high-wage, high-skill jobs. That is what counts—and as for our respective political longevities, I would not like to bet on him outlasting me.
My hon. Friend is running a great campaign, and she is absolutely right: the Government are indeed providing funds to improve autism and learning disability services, but it is also important for people to receive the diagnoses and assessments that they need within 12 weeks, and the measures in our Health and Care Bill will improve local accountability for those services.
The Road Haulage Association has confirmed that the cost of moving goods from this part of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland has risen by 27% in the first year of the operation of the protocol. The Irish sea border is harming our economy and undermining political stability in Northern Ireland. Next week, the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls to elect an Assembly. What hope can the Prime Minister give them that the protocol will be removed and Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market will be restored?
I think the whole House will want to support the balance and symmetry of the Good Friday agreement. That is what really matters, and it is a great legacy for all of us. It is vital for the protocol—or the arrangements that we have in Northern Ireland—to command the support of all sides, and that is what this Government will undertake to ensure.
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Mansfield and, indeed, the wider area. I am delighted that Mansfield was awarded £12 million as part of the towns fund. I cannot endorse any specific project, but the next round is coming up shortly and will be announced in the autumn.
Of course sexual harassment is intolerable, and it is quite right that Members should now have a procedure whereby they can bring it to the attention of the House authorities. I think that that is a good thing, and of course sexual harassment is grounds for dismissal.
I have known my hon. Friend for many years, and this is typical of his creativity. We will be looking at exactly how we could make that kind of measure work. I think it is important for us to proceed with care and get it right, and I will ensure that my hon. Friend has a meeting with the relevant Minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as soon as possible.
I thank the hon. Lady very much; she is absolutely right to speak up for those who are shielding and who are anxious. We are doing everything we can to protect and reassure them. On Evusheld, we are evaluating it at the moment, but I will ensure that she has a meeting as soon as possible with the Department of Health.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much. There is clearly an economic cost to the protocol. That is also now turning into a political problem, and an imbalance in sentiment about it. We need to rectify that balance for the sake of the Good Friday agreement, on which this country depends.
What we have done in just the last few months is put in £22 million to help people with the cost of living. I want to pay tribute to those businesses that are now trying to protect consumers from the impact of the global inflation crisis. The fact is that many, many businesses now have the cash reserves not to take prices, as they put it, but to shield consumers from the impact, and I hope that they do so.
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he and his Select Committee have been doing in this area to tighten the screw on Putin’s regime. UK companies have already shown that they think very carefully about investments and doing business with Putin’s Russia. As my right hon. Friend knows, we banned all new outward investment in Russia, but I am very happy to have a meeting as soon as possible to make sure these further ideas are transmitted to the Government.
My hon. Friend is an avid champion for his constituents. He might have missed what I said earlier, but there are now 13,576 more police on the streets of this country as a result of the actions taken by this Government. There are also tougher sentences, which were opposed by the party opposite. We are cracking down on drugs gangs, whereas the Labour party is soft on drugs. I think the Leader of the Opposition said he would decriminalise drugs and that he did not want people found with class A drugs to face prison sentences—I think I heard him say that.
Of course, we are also cracking down on cross-channel gangs that risk the lives of migrants in the English channel. We are cracking down on them and, as far as I know, the Labour party would scrap the economic and migration partnership with Rwanda. We have a plan; they do not.
Some 4.5 million people pay for their gas and electricity through a prepayment meter. They are already paying more for their energy than direct debit customers, and the number of people who are disconnecting themselves because they have run out of money for the meter is increasing. What is the Prime Minister going to do to ensure that all our constituents have a right to light and warmth?
We are working with Ofgem and all the companies to ensure that we protect people at this difficult time. We are also making sure that we support people, and not just through the cold weather payment and the winter fuel payment. By giving £0.5 billion more to councils, we are making sure that we look after the types of people to whom the right hon. Gentleman refers, who are finding it particularly tough. We will do everything we can to shield the people of this country as we get through the aftershocks of covid and deal with a global inflation problem.
Within the past hour or so, it has been reported that some 287 Members of this House have been sanctioned by the Russian state. I am sure nobody here is rushing to change their summer holiday plans, but perhaps the Prime Minister will assure us that he will continue his excellent relationship with President Zelensky and continue to provide the Ukrainian people and military with the support they need.
It is no disrespect to those who have not been sanctioned when I say that all those 287 should regard it as a badge of honour. What we will do is keep up our robust and principled support for the Ukrainian people and for their right to protect their lives and families, and to defend themselves. That is what this country is doing and it has the overwhelming support of the whole House.
Today, a court has found that the Government acted unlawfully when their policies led to the discharge of untested patients from hospitals to care homes at the start of the pandemic. The court also found no evidence that the former Health Secretary addressed the issue of the risk to care home residents of such transmission, despite the Government insisting at the time that a “protective ring” had been thrown around care homes.
The Government have once again been found to have broken the law. Will the Prime Minister apologise to the families of the thousands and thousands of people who died in care homes in the first half of 2020? Will he also apologise to care workers for the shameful comment that he made in July 2020, when he said that
“too many care homes didn’t…follow…procedures in the way that they could have”?
Of course, I want to renew my apologies and sympathies to all those who lost loved ones during the pandemic—people who lost loved ones in care homes. I want to remind the House of what an incredibly difficult time that was and how difficult that decision was. We did not know very much about the disease. The point I was trying to make, to which the hon. Lady refers, is that the thing we did not know in particular was that covid could be transmitted asymptomatically in the way that it was. I wish we had known more about that at the time. As for the ruling she mentions, we will study it and of course respond further in due course.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt), the Interfax news agency announced less than an hour ago, in Moscow, that the foreign ministry of the Russian Government will now sanction 287 Members and former Members of the House of Commons—from both sides of this House. I am proud to say that both you and I are on that list. Are you able to give any advice to right hon. and hon. Members of the House of Commons regarding this?
Normally I would not, but I think this is an important matter, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me know at the start of questions that he wanted to catch my eye. Although the issue he has raised is not strictly a point of order, I am of course alarmed to hear what he has reported to the Chamber. Rather than give a knee-jerk reaction now, I am sure that the Government will rapidly be assessing the implications of this move. I am therefore asking them to keep me and the House authorities briefed on this very important issue, and I shall make sure that Members are kept informed as appropriate.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am distressed that I am not on the list—I am also slightly surprised. I can assume only that the Russian Federation accepts that everything I have said about President Putin over the past few years is true: he is a barbarous villain and we must make sure that he fails.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) incorrectly claimed that council tax is lower in Conservative councils; according to the Government’s own live figures, the average council tax bill for a Conservative council is £1,642 while the average for a Labour council is £1,313. So, Conservative council tax bills—this is a fact—are £329 higher than Labour council tax bills. May I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, on how to ensure those facts are put on record?
We are not going to continue a debate from an earlier question, and the hon. Gentleman has answered his own question, but I do hope he let the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) know he was going to mention her in the Chamber; if not, I am sure he will drop her a line.