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Volume 714: debated on Wednesday 18 May 2022

I know that Members across the House will want to join me in offering our best wishes to Rangers for this evening’s match in Seville. This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

The latest “State of Ageing” report reveals that last year in this country, 9,000 people over the age of 60 died because their homes were too cold. Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that that figure will be lower, not higher, this time next year?

I think everybody has every sympathy with people who are facing difficulties with the cost of heating. That is why the Government have stepped up with an extra £9.1 billion in addition to what we are doing with the cold weather payments and the warm home allowance, and we will continue to support people throughout the aftershocks of covid, just as we did throughout the pandemic.

Q2. Figures released from the Department for Education show that last year, once again, Lib Dem-run Sutton Council became the highest rejecter of children applying for education, health and care assessments in the country. Nearly half the children were rejected, compared with the national average of just 23%. Can the Prime Minister outline how the special educational needs and disability review will help children with special educational needs and their families to get access to the education that they deserve? (900087)

Yes, indeed. I thank my hon. Friend very much for his campaign, and he is completely right. That is why we have a SEND review, and we will ensure that SEND children and young people can get access to the right support at the right place and at the right time across the country.

I, too, send my best wishes to Rangers. It has been quite an extraordinary story for that football club over the last few years.

A one-off tax on huge oil and gas profits would raise billions of pounds and cut energy bills across the country. The Chancellor rightly says there are two camps on this: you are either for it or you are against it. But in which camp does the Chancellor put himself? He says neither. Well, I am in favour of it. This is the question for the Prime Minister: is he for it, is he against it or is he sitting on the fence like his Chancellor?

I remind the House that the right hon. and learned Gentleman struggled to define what a woman is. If he cannot make up his mind on that point, heaven help us. This Government are not, in principle, in favour of higher taxation; of course not. Labour loves it. They love putting up taxes. Dogs bark, cats miaow and Labour puts up taxes. What we want to do is take a sensible approach, governed by the impact on investment and jobs. That is the test of a strong economy, and it is by having a strong economy that we will be able to look after people, as we did during covid and as we will in the aftershocks of covid. I am proud to say it was revealed this week that unemployment has come down to the lowest level since 1974. I do not know how old he was, but I was 10 years old.

Hang on; last week the Prime Minister said he will have a look at the idea, and yesterday he voted against it. Anyone picking up the papers today would think the Government are for it, and now he says he is against it again. Clear as mud. To be fair, it is not like the rest of the Cabinet know what they think, either. On the same day, the Chancellor said it was something he is looking at and the Justice Secretary said it would be “disastrous.” The Business Secretary called it a “bad idea,” but he also said he would consider a Spanish-style windfall tax. One minute they are ruling it in, and the next they are ruling it out. When will the Prime Minister stop the hokey-cokey and just back Labour’s plan for a windfall tax to cut household bills?

Labour’s plan, always and everywhere, is to raise taxes on business. I remember the right hon. and learned Gentleman campaigning in 2019 on the biggest taxes for business that this country has ever seen. That is their instinct. This country and the world face problems with the cost of energy, driven partly by covid and partly by Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine. We always knew there would be a short-term cost in weening ourselves off Putin’s hydrocarbons and in sanctioning the Russian economy. Everybody in this House voted for those sanctions. We knew it would be tough, but giving in and not sticking the course would ultimately be a far greater economic risk. Of course we will look at all the measures we need to take to get people through to the other side, but the only reason we can do that is because we took the tough decisions that were necessary during the pandemic, which would not have been possible if we had listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

He just doesn’t get it, does he? He doesn’t actually understand what working families are going through in this country. They are struggling with how they are going to pay their bills. While he dithers, British households are slapped with an extra £53 million on their energy bills every single day. Meanwhile, every single day, North sea oil and gas giants rake in £32 million in unexpected profits. Does he not see that, every single day he delays his inevitable U-turn—he is going to do it—he is choosing to let people struggle when they do not need to?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that this Government have no sympathy for people who are struggling and working. Let me tell him what we are already doing. We are already spending £22 billion. We are already helping people with the cost of living in any way that we can, but the reason why we can do that is that we took the tough decisions to get this country through covid, to make sure that we came out of lockdown in the way that was necessary, and to have a strong economy with robust employment growth. We will continue—[Interruption.] He talks about cutting taxes. In July, we will have the biggest tax cut for 10 years: £330 in cuts, on average, for 30 million people who are paying national insurance contributions. The reason why we can do that is that we have a strong and robust economy. I am going to look at all measures in future to support our people—of course I am—but the only reason why we can do that, and why our companies are in such robust health, is because of the decisions this Government have taken.

The Prime Minister is still pretending the economy is booming. He still has his head in the sand, in the middle of an economic crisis. He keeps saying that more help is coming, but we have heard it all before. On 13 May, he stood there and said,

“We will do more right now.”

A week has passed, and there has been nothing. On 19 April, he stood there and said:

“we will do more as soon as we can”.—[Official Report, 19 April 2022; Vol. 712, c. 60.]

A month has passed, and still nothing. The Chancellor said, “Wait until the autumn.” At least he is honest that the plan is to do nothing. Does the Prime Minister not realise that working people across the country cannot afford to wait while he vacillates? It is time to make his mind up.

I will tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman what has happened in the past month. We have got 300,000 more people off welfare and into work, on our Way to Work programme. It is because we get people into work that those families, those people, are £6,000 a year better off. It is by getting people into work that we fix the long-term problems of this economy. His answer, in addition to putting up taxes, is to borrow more—we heard it from the shadow Chancellor this morning. She says she wants to borrow almost another £30 billion; that is what she says. Do Members know what that means? It means more pressure on interest rates. It means pressure on mortgages. It means pressure on every family—on every man, woman and child—in this country. That is Labour economic policy. That is why there has never been a Labour Government who left office with unemployment lower than when they came in—that is the reality.

On the day when inflation went to 9%—the highest rate for 40 years—the least the watching public can expect is a Prime Minister who concentrates on the cost of living crisis. Clearly, he just cannot make his mind up, so let us have a look at who is for this and who is against it. On one side, we have the chair of Tesco; the chair of John Lewis; the Chair of the Treasury Committee; the Chair of the Education Committee; Lord Hague; and Lord Browne, the old chief executive officer of BP. They all support a windfall tax. Even the current boss of BP says a windfall tax would not discourage investment. On the other side, we have the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who, when he is not sticking notes on people’s desks like some overgrown prefect, is dead set against it. When is the Prime Minister finally going to get a grip, stand up for the people of Britain and get on the right side of the argument?

Nothing could be more transparent from this exchange than Labour’s lust to raise taxes on business. We do not relish it. We do not want to do it. Of course we do not want to do it; we believe in jobs, in investment and in growth. As it happens, the oil companies concerned are on track to invest about £70 billion into our economy over the next few years, and they are already taxed at a rate of 40%. What we want to see is investment in the long-term energy provision of our country; Labour has signally failed to do this, cancelling our nuclear power investment. The people suffering from high energy prices in this country today have previous Labour Governments to blame for that mistake. Of course we will look at all sensible measures, but we will be driven by considerations of growth, investment and employment. I just remind the House that unemployment has now hit a record low—or for 50 years, I should say—and half a million more people are now in payroll employment than before the pandemic began.

So the Prime Minister is on the side of excess profits for oil and gas companies; we are on the side of working people—there you have it. He clearly does not like me pushing him on this, but the reason why I keep coming back to this subject, and why it is so frustrating that he has not acted, is that so many people are living through this nightmare and feel totally abandoned by their Government.

This week, I spoke to Phoenix Halliwell. A rare kidney condition means that Phoenix has to do dialysis from home, from 10 pm to 7 am, five days a week, just so he can take his daughter Rosie to school. His dialysis is life-saving, so he cannot turn it off. Even though his wife, who is a midwife in the NHS, works extra shifts, during the winter they had to turn their central heating off, and Phoenix skips meals to make ends meet, but their energy bill has still doubled. Phoenix says he feels like he is being “priced out of existence.” And it is not just him: millions of our disabled, elderly and vulnerable neighbours are at the sharp end of this crisis. They simply cannot afford to live with dignity.

The decisions we make here matter. The cost of indecision is enormous. People across the country need action now. The plans are already there; Prime Minister, stop the delay and work with us to put them in place. Do it for households that face bills they cannot afford, and do it for Phoenix, who simply cannot afford to wait.

I would be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could send me the details of that sad case. The NHS does cover the costs of those who are on dialysis. By the way, the Opposition voted against the vital investment in the NHS that this country needs.

I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and the House, of the key point: none of this is possible—the investment in the NHS is not possible, the £22 billion that we have already put in is not possible and the further investment we are going to put in is not possible—without the strong economy that this Government have delivered. It is because we took the tough decisions that I have mentioned that we have record low unemployment —or a record low for the last 50 years. The Queen’s Speech that we have been debating is about putting in the infrastructure, skills and technology that will continue to build the platform for growth and jobs in this country. That is what this Government are committed to doing and that is the best way out of economic problems.

By the way, I thought it was fantastic to see Her Majesty the Queen open Crossrail. That has already delivered 72,000 jobs and will produce £90 billion for the whole of the UK economy. Let me ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman: who was the Mayor of London when Crossrail was first starting to be built? And who was the Prime Minister who completed it? We get the big things done. There has never been a Labour Government who left office with unemployment lower than when they began.

Q3. I thank the Prime Minister for visiting us in Leyland a couple of weeks ago. As he knows, when we knock on doors, we find that crime and antisocial behaviour is a big issue for people locally, and part of the problem is that when the local police are required to respond to calls, they have to come in from Preston or lovely Chorley. Now that Lancashire has 314 more police officers—thanks to this Government—does the Prime Minister agree that we need to use some of them to get Leyland police response open? Will he work with me, the fabulous local police and the police and crime commissioner to make that happen? (900088)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic campaigner for her constituency, as I discovered just the other day. We are recruiting more police officers: 300 more in Lancashire and 13,576 more across the whole of the country. I would of course be happy to arrange the relevant meeting so that we can continue to drive neighbourhood crime—which is already down 33%—down even further.

I am sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing Glasgow Rangers Football Club all the best in the final tonight. It is always a joy to see Scottish clubs get to the finals of European competitions.

People did not need to see this morning’s official statistics to know that we are experiencing the highest inflation in 40 years. They know it because they are living with it. Families cannot afford food; they cannot pay their bills—and we are only at the beginning. As always, under the Tories, the poorest are punished the most. For months, people have been crying out for support, but, month after month, a distracted Downing Street has failed to lift a finger to help. Does the Prime Minister still support his Chancellor’s insulting statement that acting now in this cost of living emergency would just be “silly”?

I support the Chancellor’s work in lifting the living wage by a record amount, in making sure that people on universal credit pay £1,000 less in tax, in putting another £22 billion into supporting people with the cost of living, and in giving £9.1 billion already to help with the cost of energy. Above all, I support what he has done to deliver a strong economic foundation that makes all that possible.

My goodness, talk about an Aesop’s fable! Every day that this Prime Minister remains out of touch, people remain out of pocket. By the way, Prime Minister, £20 a week was taken out of people’s universal credit.

The Prime Minister has just confirmed that he does think it would be “silly” to intervene. The Tories’ only response to this cost of living crisis has been insults and inaction. We have the Tory Back Bencher who thinks that poor people just need cooking lessons, the Tory Minister who thinks that people should just get a “better paid job”, and the Chancellor who thinks it would be “silly” to act now. This is the cost of living crisis from Westminster. For weeks, the Prime Minister has been briefing that it is the Treasury that is to blame for blocking financial support for struggling families. Well, Prime Minister, it is time to stop sniping from the sidelines. If this Chancellor will not deliver an emergency budget, it is time for the Prime Minister to sack the Treasury, to sack the Chancellor, and to put somebody else in office who will act.

The right hon. Gentleman needs to understand. To get back to the crucial point, we have been through covid, and we are facing a spike in global energy prices which has been greatly exacerbated by what Putin is doing in Ukraine. To deal with that, we are putting billions and billions—already £9.1 billion—into supporting people with the cost of energy, cutting fuel duty by record sums, and helping elderly people in all sorts of ways, not least through local councils, with another £1 billion. Everybody in the country knows, though, that we are not through this yet, and everybody can see that. They all know that the Government are going to do more, but they also know that the only reason that we can do so is that, crucially, we have a strong economy with massively high employment figures. That would not have been possible if we had listened to Opposition Members.

Q4. The Prime Minister will be aware of my campaign to have digitally altered images carry a label. Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. There are 1.25 million people with eating disorders and 1 million people using steroids. Eighty-four Members of this House from seven parties signed my open letter to companies asking them to pledge not to alter their images in their adverts. Will the Prime Minister support that pledge? For those who do not take that pledge, will he vow to make sure that we consider labelling digitally altered images where body proportions are affected? (900089)

I thank my hon. Friend for his fantastic campaign. He and I have talked about it at length. Clearly, there is a risk to mental health as young people are given unrealistic expectations about how they should look because of the stuff that they see. His kitemark suggestion is extremely useful, and I will make sure that we follow it up as part of our mental health plan.

May I join other new fans of Rangers and wish them good luck in Seville tonight?

British farmers are the best in the world. They could play a big part in the answer to how families and pensioners can put food on the table during the cost of living emergency. But from Caithness to Cumbria, from Shropshire to Devon, farmers’ input costs are spiralling upwards: animal feed is up 60% and fertiliser prices have more than doubled. Yet instead of helping Britain’s own food producers the Government are slashing the support payments that farmers rely on, sometimes for up to 50% of their income, even before a new scheme is in place. Will the Prime Minister meet me and farming leaders to understand the extreme challenges they are facing, so that our farmers can do their bit to help families and pensioners to afford to put food on the table during this economic crisis?

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I do recognise the challenges that farmers are facing with the cost of their inputs in fuel and fertiliser. That is why we are working so hard to abate those costs—not just cutting duty, but doing everything else we can to ensure that we fix the energy crisis. What we are also doing is championing UK food and farming, which has fantastic export markets around the world and now has 73 trade deals to exploit in a world avid, as he rightly says, for delicious, wholesome and nutritious UK food and drink. I would be very happy to organise the relevant meeting with him.

Q7. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking my Hertford and Stortford constituents who are offering help and refuge to Ukrainians suffering from and fleeing the Russian invasion? Will he also set out how his visit to Sweden and Finland ensured closer co-operation with our allies to secure the long-term stability and security of Europe, as my constituents are rightly concerned about ongoing Russian aggression? (900092)

I thank my hon. Friend’s constituents very much for what they are doing to help Ukrainians fleeing war and aggression. I know that Members up and down the country have constituents who are being incredibly generous; I think we can all be proud of the UK’s efforts. Yes, it is true that the UK signed historic declarations the other day with Sweden and Finland to reinforce our mutual security and to fortify Europe’s defences. That has been a massive step change in our co-operation, a thoroughly good thing, and it has been driven in the cases of both Sweden and Finland by the people themselves, who see the logic of NATO membership.

Q5. The Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Care and others now regularly take six months to respond to letters to Ministers. People with immigration cases wait years to hear anything at all. However, instead of putting resources into fixing this unacceptable problem, the Prime Minister is choosing to fire thousands of civil servants, and his Minister is wandering around Whitehall putting Post-it notes on desks that he thinks look too empty. Will the Prime Minister personally look into this issue and instruct his Ministers and civil servants to give our constituents the attention they deserve? (900090)

I must respectfully disagree with the implication for the civil service that working from home is everywhere as productive as being in the office. I simply do not accept that. I think we will become more productive and more efficient if, on the whole, we find ways to get back to our desks.

Q8. Following my campaign, Witton-le-Wear Primary School is now being granted 350 grand for improvement works by Durham County Council—the only time this has happened, after Labour lost control of the council for the first time in over 100 years last year. Villa Real School, Leadgate Primary School and Consett Junior School in North West Durham are also going to be applying for the condition improvement fund. Can I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that those cases are taken as seriously as possible? Does he, more broadly, agree that education is a cornerstone of levelling up, as is ensuring that more good jobs are available locally in County Durham too, so that it is more than just a place to bring friends for a social evening of beer and takeaway curry, and an even better place to live, work and bring up a family? (900093)

Order. I am sorry, Prime Minister. I have got a real problem. Some people are not going to get in. Have we seen the time now, and we are only on question 16? I want everybody to help each other so that we can speed up and we might get a few more in.

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a massive champion for his constituency of North West Durham. I am delighted that he has been a supporter of County Durham’s city of culture bid—culture in its widest interpretation. I support him in everything he does.

Q6. I am sure the Prime Minister knows that this is Dementia Action Week, and I am proud that the UK Dementia Research Institute now calls Wales home. In 2019, the Tory manifesto promised to double funding for dementia research, but the researchers are still waiting for this money. So can the Prime Minister tell me, in Dementia Action Week, when the dementia moonshot will be delivered? (900091)

We intend fully to deliver the dementia moonshot, but never forget that Labour was the party that voted against £13 billion a year extra for the NHS.

Q9. I know that I am not alone in dealing with many constituents facing delays to renewing their passports and driving licences. In Gedling, there have been cases of family reunions in jeopardy and drivers nearly having job offers withdrawn because of delays to renewals. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that everything possible is being done in Government to address this problem so that we can get the good folk of Gedling back on the road and away for their holidays? (900094)

I am told that driving licences are now being issued faster than they were. I am also told that there are no delays in successful online driving licence applications and that customers should receive their licence within a few days. If I am misinformed about that, I trust that my hon. Friend will let me know.

Q10. Prime Minister, food prices are going up, rents are going up and energy costs are going up. Every day, I have more and more constituents coming to me to say they thought the day would never come—things just cost too much. At the same time, people are anchored to the minimum wage, working two, three, four or five jobs on low wages with in-work benefits. They just cannot afford it. At the same time, we have a Minister, the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), saying that to survive they should take on more hours or get a better job. Does the Prime Minister agree with his Minister, or does he agree with me that we should have an emergency Budget? (900095)

I accept that of course there are economic pressures on our country now caused by the factors that we have mentioned, but that is why we have already increased the minimum wage by £1,000 per year for those who are on it, already increased universal credit by £1,000 a year, and all the other measures—billions and billions of tax that we are putting into supporting incomes. The reason we can do that is that we have strong economic fundamentals, with unemployment—I do not know when the hon. Gentleman was born—at the lowest it has been since 1974. That is giving us the foundation to take our country forward.

Q11. Airedale General Hospital recently submitted its bid to be one of the Government’s new hospitals. This is because the Airedale has an extremely high structural risk profile, with 83% of the building being constructed from aerated concrete. Several wards are closed due to structural risk. The hospital is now over 20 years beyond its original life expectancy. So can the Prime Minister personally assure me that we will be able to deliver a new Airedale hospital that is fit for the future? (900096)

There is a lot of pressure on me to dish out yet another hospital from this Dispatch Box. But I can tell my hon. Friend that we are reviewing all applications for the next eight hospitals in our new hospital programme, which is the biggest in a generation. That is only possible because we have a strong economy. My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for his constituents. We will make a final decision later this year.

Q12. On 26 February, a private charter flight to Moscow was allowed to take off from Inverness airport, in an apparent breach of a UK ban on flights of that nature that had come into effect from midnight the day before. Air traffic control transcripts published this week in the Press and Journal newspaper have revealed that, despite being informed of the intended flight, no attempt was made by the UK Government or their agencies to prevent the plane from taking off. Will the Prime Minister commit to informing the House at the earliest opportunity who was travelling on that flight? Why, despite being informed in advance of the flight, was no attempt made by the UK Government to keep the plane on the ground? What will the Prime Minister personally do to try to prevent any similar breaches of sanctions from happening? (900097)

I do not know the answer to the hon. Member’s question, but as soon as we can get some information about that, I will make sure that the House is properly informed.

Q13. Earlier this week, the Planning Inspectorate waved through a decision by Labour councillors to build a massive logistics hub in south Warrington. The plans are contrary to national policy, entirely in the green belt and have been approved despite more than 1,000 letters of objection. Does the Prime Minister agree that listening to local communities and protecting our precious green belt must be at the heart of planning policy? Will he meet me to see how local residents can have their voices heard? (900098)

Local residents could have no more powerful voice than that of my hon. Friend. The House will have heard him loud and clear. I know that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will have heard him loud and clear and will make sure that he gets the relevant meeting.

Q14. Mr Speaker,“no bullying and no harassment; no leaking…No misuse of taxpayer money and no actual or perceived conflicts of interest. The precious principles of public life enshrined in this document…must be honoured at all times”.Those are the Prime Minister’s own words from the ministerial code. Can the Prime Minister tell me, on a scale of one to 10, how he is doing on keeping to those principles? (900099)

It is 10 out of 10, because we believe in this Government in adhering to the principles of the ministerial code. By the way, and this is an important point, because there are a lot of attacks on MPs and on what goes on in this place, it is always worth stressing that the vast majority of people who work in the House of Commons—Members of Parliament—are doing a very good job and working very hard and are not misbehaving.

Thirsk and Malton has welcomed asylum seekers from all parts of the world, including Syria and Ukraine, but the Government have just announced that, starting from 31 May, up to 1,500 non-detained young, single males from different parts of the world—asylum seekers—will be kept on a base at the centre of a small rural village of 600 people—a village of children all the way through to elderly residents. That is a village without streetlights and without police presence. It will devastate the community. It will devastate house prices, which will plummet, and the residents of that village will not feel safe to leave their homes alone. Will my right hon. Friend please, on behalf of the community, stop these plans?

I thank my hon. Friend very much, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is engaging with him and others locally about the use of the site. I hear loud and clear what he has had to say. Indeed, I am the recipient of many of his intercessions on this matter, and I understand the strength of feeling in his constituency. I am sure there will be further meetings between him and the Home Office about what we can do.