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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 714: debated on Wednesday 18 May 2022


The Secretary of State was asked—

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

1. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund on regional inequality in Scotland. (900000)

Rangers, that great British football club, are in Seville tonight for the Europa league final. I hope that the whole House, including the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), who is an avid Hearts fan, and the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who is an avid Hibs fan, will join me in wishing them a famous victory.

All areas in Scotland will receive an allocation of UKSPF via a needs-based funding formula. Local leaders are empowered to design their own interventions in line with the levelling up missions. We are determined to boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards.

Will my right hon. Friend kindly explain how the allocation of SPF funding in Scotland and across the rest of the UK will help level up those communities more effectively than the previous structural funding?

The UK shared prosperity fund is a central pillar of our ambitious levelling-up agenda for places across Scotland and provides £212 million of new funding for local investment. Local partners have far greater flexibility than before. They can invest in priority areas and target funds where they are needed. Allocations are being made on a needs-based assessment, including a specifically tailored proportion for rural areas in Scotland.

Scotland has been short-changed by the loss of EU funding, leaving a 40% reduction in the funding that we would have received from the EU. It is not only the Scottish Government saying that but the Treasury Committee, the House of Lords Constitution Committee and Bloomberg, so there is clearly no levelling up. What steps has the Secretary of State taken to ensure that Scotland’s shortfall in funding is remedied, and remedied fast?

I seek to correct the hon. Lady: the funding is tapered with UK structural funds. EU structural funds and UK structural funds are tapered. We paid into EU funds, and the EU is still paying into Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, but the advantage of Brexit is that we now have control over that money and can decide how we spend it. The amount of money in total has not been reduced in any way.

For years, Ministers have assured organisations in receipt of EU structural funding that the UK shared prosperity fund would maintain that funding after Brexit. Finally, the Government published the details of their shared prosperity fund and, for organisations such as the world-leading European Marine Energy Centre based in Orkney, it was a brutal blow. The Government broke their promise. As a result, EMEC, a site that has tested more marine energy devices than any other in the world, now faces closure. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that his Cabinet colleagues keep their promise of matching the funding for EMEC and other Interreg projects in Scotland?

Discussions with EMEC are ongoing between my office, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We are making progress, but there is further progress to be made. To that end, I am happy to offer a face-to-face meeting with EMEC.

Future Defence Policy and the Armed Forces

2. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on future defence policy and the role of the armed forces in Scotland. (900001)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and the Ministry of Defence. The integrated review sets out the Government’s ambitions for defence and foreign policy over the next decade. British armed forces personnel in Scotland play a crucial role in defending the whole of the United Kingdom and our allies, and will continue to do so.

For centuries, Scotland and the rest of the UK have had a united defence stance and military bond. Will my right hon. Friend outline what assessment his Department has made of the direct and indirect impacts, including economic, that Scotland benefits from as a result of being part of the United Kingdom?

The benefits are enormous. Scotland plays a crucial role in the defence of the UK and our NATO allies. The UK strategic bases in Scotland, RAF Lossiemouth and the UK’s nuclear deterrent at Faslane, serve to make the whole of the United Kingdom safer. The economic benefits for Scotland as a result of MOD investment are significant. MOD expenditure with industry and commerce in the last year alone totalled almost £2 billion. Defence investment in Scottish shipbuilding will see order books full until the 2030s. Construction is under way to deliver three cutting edge Type 26 frigates at BAE Systems in Govan, five Type 31 frigates at Babcock in Rosyth, and only this week the MOD awarded a £30 million contract to Babcock in Rosyth to maintain the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carriers, securing 300 jobs for the next 10 years.

The Secretary of State will know that the Scottish Affairs Committee, of which the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) is an assiduous member, is conducting a series of inquiries into defence in Scotland. One of the things the Committee has found in its almost concluded report on the military landscape in Scotland is that only 2.5% of total military spending is spent on Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that situation is rectified?

The hon. Gentleman mentions SMEs. The bulk of the spending—literally billions of pounds, worth thousands of jobs—is with British Aerospace and Babcock.

The Secretary of State mentioned the awarding of the contract to Rosyth dockyard, securing 300 jobs in Rosyth, and the frigates and destroyers being built on the Clyde. Does he not agree with me that it is good that at least one of Scotland’s Governments can actually build ships that float?

I think my hon. Friend refers to ferries, and he is absolutely right. I think the ferries float. They just cannot seem to finish them or make them work, or find anything that gets close to resembling a ferry.

During the 2014 independence referendum, the Secretary of State’s Government promised that 12,500 armed forces personnel would be based in Scotland. The current figure is more than 25% below that 2014 promise. With the downward pressure on the armed forces across the board, when will his Government admit that they will never actually meet that target?

Recruitment remains healthy for young Scots, both as regulars and reservists. I am sure the new recruits in Scotland are absolutely buoyed by the First Minister’s new love of the nuclear alliance that is NATO.

Government’s Energy Security Strategy

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect of the Government’s energy security strategy on Scotland. (900002)

13. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effect of the Government’s energy security strategy on Scotland. (900012)

Our recently published energy security strategy will ensure clean, affordable and secure power for generations to come. The strategy sets out how Great Britain will accelerate the deployment of wind, nuclear, solar and hydrogen, while continuing to support the production of domestic oil and gas in the near term.

Nuclear power has proven to be a safe, cleaner and more efficient source of energy. With the Government’s plans for new modular nuclear reactors, nuclear will play an important role in our energy mix and reduce household energy bills. Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that the Scottish Government dug their heels in and refused to get behind the UK Government’s drive for greater nuclear energy capacity?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Nuclear energy is a safe, clean and reliable source of power and it will play an important role in the UK’s energy mix and transition. In particular, the new technology of small modular reactors offers huge opportunities. Scotland has a long tradition of nuclear power and we hope that the Scottish Government will be open-minded about working with us on it.

Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine has highlighted Europe’s dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. Does my hon. Friend agree that Scotland and her access to North sea oil and gas will play a crucial role in safeguarding the United Kingdom’s energy security as we transition to a greener future?

I agree that we must do all we can to end Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas. The North sea has a crucial role to play in that as we transition to cleaner energy sources in the longer run. The Government remain committed to the domestic offshore oil and gas sector, which will continue to keep people warm and strengthen the security of supply.

Scotland has a quarter of Europe’s marine energy potential, but generators in the north of Scotland are charged 15 times the rate to put electricity into the national grid. When will this team, supposedly defending Scotland’s interests, actually get that sorted?

As the hon. Lady knows, that is a matter for Ofgem, which is currently conducting a review into that.

Too often, key Scottish energy projects, such as the Acorn Project in the north-east, get overlooked by this UK Government. If we look further east, the port of Nigg will provide the UK’s only offshore wind turbine manufacturing facility. It is expanding to be a major energy hub, including green hydrogen production and floating offshore wind assembly. Will the Scottish Secretary and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy visit the port of Nigg to see the massive opportunities there?

We are committed to developing the renewable energy sector in a whole range of ways. For example, I recently visited the CoRE—Community Renewable Energy—project in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We are funding that directly through the city and growth deal project. I am more than happy to visit Nigg and any other centre in Scotland that is developing that technology. We are standing four-square behind it.

Improving Union Connectivity

7. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to improve transport connectivity between Scotland and England. (900006)

8. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on improving Union connectivity. (900007)

The UK Government are carefully considering the recommendations set out in Sir Peter Hendy’s Union connectivity review. My hon. Friend Baroness Vere, the Minister responsible for Union connectivity, has discussed the UCR recommendations with Graeme Dey MSP, the former Scottish Government Transport Minister. Sadly, Mr Dey has since stepped down for health reasons. In February, we first requested a meeting with his replacement, Jenny Gilruth. We hope to meet Ms Gilruth as soon as her busy diary allows.

It is regrettable that the Scottish Government refuse to engage with the UK connectivity review. It is also notable that serious concerns remain, even now, about the award management and delivery of the Ferguson ferries contract. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government need to up their game in connecting UK residents?

Yes, and to clarify my hon. Friend’s point, the Scottish Government did refuse to engage with the Union connectivity review, in the form of Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson telling his civil servants not to communicate with Sir Peter Hendy, so my hon. Friend makes a very good point. Scottish National party MPs are only too keen to tell us when the Scottish Government are doing well, how great they are and why the UK Government should follow suit. However, when it comes to ferry contracts, the SNP has shown startling incompetence: they are five years late in delivery and £150 million over budget. Despite the Scottish Government’s incompetence, this Government stand ready to work with them on improving transport links across the United Kingdom, because we believe that that is best for all.

I have taken the west coast main line a couple of times from Preston to Glasgow, which is a wonderful city. It hosted the busy COP26, with its wonderful work, and there is the space industry in Glasgow. However, the train line is absolutely vital. As part of my right hon. Friend’s Union connectivity review, will he make sure that travel from Preston and the other connecting stations to Glasgow is easier and better?

High Speed 2 will transform rail travel in this country. It will build opportunity and boost the economy through national regeneration and the widespread creation of jobs. HS2 will go to Preston from the moment that it opens for operation. That means that facilities at Preston will be upgraded, including a new platform that will also see a direct HS2 service from Birmingham, increasing the frequency of connections to the UK’s major economic centres.

Turning to the east, better connectivity strengthens the economy and strengthens opportunity—Labour’s twin ambitions for Scotland. With York having such a pivotal role on the whole network, what discussions is the Secretary of State having about investing in rail north of York to ensure that connectivity right into the heart of Scotland?

The hon. Lady and I share exactly the same ambition: faster rail to York, which will mean faster rail to Scotland.

Having spent a wonderful weekend in Glasgow and visited the wonderful Rowallan castle in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for a wedding, I completely agree that the scenery and tourism in Scotland should be enjoyed by everybody in the United Kingdom. Can my right hon. Friend confirm what discussions he has had with Ministers in the Department for Transport about enacting all the recommendations in Sir Peter’s review? Can he confirm a timeline for when that might be likely to occur?

The Prime Minister has welcomed—indeed, intends to accept—the proposals for the creation of UKNET, a strategic transport network spanning the entire United Kingdom. The funding that the UK Government have set aside will put us on the right path to developing the best infrastructure investment options to strengthen our main transport arteries for people and businesses across the United Kingdom.

The A68 is one of the main arteries for traffic crossing the border of England and Scotland, carrying thousands of vehicles each way every day. Many pass through the small village of Toft Hill in my constituency. In 2021, the Government finally announced that they would be providing funding to finally complete the much-awaited Toft Hill bypass—[Interruption]—improving the safety of roads for all users, including those travelling into England from Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree that that demonstrates the Government’s commitment to bringing the nations of our UK together by ensuring that the infrastructure works not only for both nations, but for local communities?

I notice that my hon. Friend was being rudely interrupted, but what I think I picked up was that the A68 from Darlington to Midlothian is of great importance to cross-border transport connectivity between England and Scotland. I extend my congratulations to Durham County Council for its success in the levelling-up fund. The rerouting of the A68 at Toft Hill will create a new 1.6 km bypass away from the village centre, which I know my hon. Friend has been campaigning tirelessly for.

Will my right hon. Friend set out his assessment of the impact of devolution on Union connectivity?

Sir Peter Hendy noted in his final report that

“devolution has been good for transport”.

However, he identified that it has none the less led to

“a gap in UK-wide strategic transport planning that has resulted in cross-border schemes…seeming to be a lower priority than other schemes which may provide greater local benefit.”

Through the implementation of UKNET, we are committed to forging and strengthening transport bonds and creating a better-connected United Kingdom.

I do not think the Scottish Government need to take lessons in ferries from a Government who awarded a massive ferry contract to a company that did not even have a boat, but we will leave that to one side just now.

The Secretary of State was kind enough to mention my constituency colleague Jenny Gilruth. Jenny Gilruth has something in common with every single constituency MSP ever elected in Fife: she is not a Conservative. The Conservatives have never won a Scottish Parliament seat in Fife, and its last Conservative Member in this place lost his seat in 1987. In wards entirely within my constituency, the Conservatives managed one councillor, compared with eight from the SNP. Given the very clear expression of anti-Tory sentiment in Fife through the years, what makes the Secretary of State think that he knows Fife’s transport needs better than our local constituency MSP?

The hon. Gentleman misses the very important point that Ms Gilruth is the Transport Minister. We want Scotland’s two Governments to work together, and we believe that if the Scottish Government engage with us, we can work on ways to improve the highways for everyone.

I am here today in the House of Commons, but my heart is in Seville. I thank the Secretary of State for his contribution and wish Rangers, the most successful football club in the world, every success tonight.

In conjunction with his Cabinet colleagues, will he ensure that the connectivity review and levelling up lead to benefits right across the entirety of the United Kingdom?

That is absolutely our intention. I visited Belfast recently to have discussions about connectivity and how we can upgrade the A77 and the A75, and we now want to work with the Scottish Government to achieve that and many other improvements.

Cost of Living

We have regular discussions with the Scottish Government. The Chancellor has already announced £22 billion of support measures, including a tax cut for 2.4 million Scottish workers, worth more than £330 a year for a typical employee. We are committed to financially supporting Scotland. The record block grant of about £41 billion for the next three years enables the Scottish Government to take necessary steps.

While energy costs are skyrocketing under this Government, the Scottish Government are helping to decarbonise the heating of 1 million homes and saving families money while driving the net zero transition. At the same time, households are being hit by record fuel prices. Where they have powers, the Scottish Government are doing what they can by funding record investment in electric vehicle infrastructure and active travel, massively outstripping the UK Government. Why will this Government not match Scotland’s ambitions to drive the move to net zero and reduce living costs for families?

Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that the measures to which he refers are in part possible because of the record funding that this Government are giving the Scottish Government. Let me also point to the measures that the Chancellor has announced to help with insulation, including the reduction in VAT on house-warming measures.

Let me first join the Secretary of State in wishing Rangers football club all the very best in Seville tonight—although I wish them no luck whatsoever for the Scottish cup final on Saturday, when they will play the famous Heart of Midlothian FC.

The Cabinet was asked for ideas on how to deal with the cost of living crisis. So far, we have had “Take on more hours”, “Get a better job”, “MOT your car every two years”, “Buy supermarket branded food”, and even “Learn to cook”, but all that the Chancellor has delivered is “Give taxpayers a loan of their own money to pay their bills.” Although oil and gas company profits are more than the combined increase in everyone’s energy bills, the Government are rejecting Labour’s plan to give all households up to £600 off their energy bills with a one-off windfall tax on those profits. Can the Minister tell us what the Scotland Office team’s contribution has been to these ideas, and which of those ludicrous ideas he favours the most?

I should begin by saying to the hon. Gentleman that the colour of my tie in no way diminishes my support for Rangers in Seville tonight.

As I have said, the Chancellor has already announced £22 billion of support. That includes 5p off a litre of fuel, £150 council tax rebates, and the hardship fund for local authorities, which gives support to the families experiencing the most difficulties. We have made it clear that the windfall tax to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not a simple solution to every problem—we have to think carefully about what it would mean for investment and jobs, and for our transition to clean energy—and the Chancellor made it clear yesterday that he wants the oil and gas companies to invest their profits in those schemes, and if they do not do so, no option is off the table.

That is simply not good enough from this Government. Inflation is at a 40-year high, but in reality, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies this morning, it is much higher for most families. There is the weekly shop, the energy bill, petrol for the car, and taxes all rising to the extent that 150,000 more Scots cannot pay their bills, and today—in 2022—too many children are going to bed hungry or cold or both. The Chancellor keeps saying that he “stands ready to act”, but refuses to deliver an emergency Budget. His actions so far have raised taxes to their highest level in 70 years and dropped living standards by the largest amount since the 1950s.

Scotland has two Governments making decisions that are compounding the cost of living crisis. Can the Minister tell us what he is doing to get the Chancellor to act, if he is not acting now?

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that the inflationary pressures are global, resulting from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other global supply chain problems. This is not an issue unique to the United Kingdom. I have already said that the Chancellor has delivered £22 billion of support for the people of this country; he is keeping a very close eye on the situation, and will intervene where necessary. I should also draw attention to his record during the pandemic, when he stepped in at the right points to support those people.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs advised people in poverty to buy value products, the safeguarding Minister suggested that people should just work “more hours” or get a “better-paid job”, and the Chancellor said that it would be “silly” to help people struggling with the cost of living crisis. Does the Minister have any equally useless advice to add to that of his colleagues for the people facing destitution?

I have already pointed out that the Chancellor has given £22 billion-worth of support to the people of this country. He is keeping a close eye on the situation and will step in when necessary. If the hon. Lady is that concerned about the cost of living in Scotland, I would point out that her Government in Edinburgh have a higher tax rate than here in the rest of the UK.

Apart from the fact that that is not true, let me say that the Scottish Government have already spent over £1 billion mitigating the worst of Tory cuts. We are investing £770 million per year in the cost of living crisis, increasing Scottish benefits by 6%, doubling the Scottish child payment and mitigating the bedroom tax. Does the Minister not agree that it is about time his Department lifted a finger?

My Department is providing the Scottish Government with a record level of support—£41 billion. That is helping them to deliver the policies that the hon. Lady refers to. They might be able to do more if they had not wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on ferries that do not work, or on the First Minister’s independence revival tour of the United States.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out the British Sign Language interpretation of the proceedings is available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.