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Commons Chamber

Volume 714: debated on Wednesday 18 May 2022

House of Commons

Wednesday 18 May 2022

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

The House will know that a Member has been arrested in connection with an investigation into an allegation of very serious criminal offences. I understand that the Member has confirmed that he will not attend the House of Commons while an investigation is ongoing. I, the House of Commons Commission and the House Service take the safety of our staff and parliamentary community as a whole very seriously and are ensuring that any necessary measures are taken in respect of MPs’ employees and staff.

All Members and staff have access to the individual sexual misconduct adviser by contacting the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme helpline and they should not hesitate to use it—or, if it is believed that a crime has been committed, please go directly to the police. While the investigation is ongoing, I believe that it would be wholly inappropriate for any further reference to be made to the matter in the House, including any attempt to name the Member concerned. I would appreciate your co-operation on this matter.

I remind Members that the private Member’s Bill ballot book is open in the No Lobby today until the rise of the House, except during Divisions. The ballot draw will be held at 9 am tomorrow in Committee Room 15, where the Chair of Ways and Means will be on hand and drawing out the lucky winners.

Oral Answers to Questions


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.

Foreign National Offender Removal Flights

Foreign criminals who abuse our hospitality by committing serious and violent crimes such as murder and rape should be in no doubt of this Government’s determination to deport them. The British people have shown repeatedly at the ballot box that they want an immigration system that is firm and fair. Our new plan for immigration, underpinned by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, is the first major reform of the system in decades. With that Act now law, we are getting on with the job and operationalising the plan.

It is this Conservative Government who are delivering on the will of the British people. Making our streets safer is our priority. That is why we introduced the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, giving the police the powers they need to crack down on violent criminals. It is also why, despite the challenges of covid, we stepped up the removal of criminals who have no right to be here. Since January 2019, over 10,000 foreign national offenders have been removed from the United Kingdom. In the last month alone, flights have left to Albania, Romania, Poland and Lithuania and now, this morning, to Jamaica—a flight I expect to land while I am on my feet.

It was under a Labour Government that the UK Borders Act 2007 was introduced and passed requiring a deportation order to be made where a foreign national has been convicted of an offence in the UK and sentenced to 12 months or more, unless an exception applies. We apply that law, but it is Labour MPs who now howl, time and again imploring us to halt the removal of dangerous foreign criminals from our streets with letters, questions to Parliament and campaigns on Twitter. We have even seen members of the shadow Cabinet defending criminals, with no consideration for the victims or their loved ones. Too often, Opposition MPs are ignoring the law-abiding majority and, by extension, standing on the side of criminals, including paedophiles, murderers and rapists.

Let me set out some facts of the flight that departed this morning, because I know this is of real interest to many Members of this House. First, the offences committed by individuals on the flight include rape of a minor, sexual assault against children, firearms offences, dealing and importing controlled drugs, and other violent crimes such as actual bodily harm. Between them, these individuals had a combined total of 58 convictions for 127 offences. These are extremely serious offences, which have a real and lasting impact on victims and communities. They are not minor matters, as some would have people believe.

Secondly, the flight to Jamaica makes up just 1% of total enforced returns in the year ending September 2021. Criminals who have no right to be in the United Kingdom are regularly removed to countries across the world, and we will continue to do this to keep our citizens safe. Public safety is non-negotiable. However, many more criminals could have left the UK today. What we have seen over the last 24 hours is more last-minute claims facilitated by specialist immigration law firms, as well as representations from Opposition MPs to prevent this flight from leaving.

It is no surprise that the Opposition voted against our Nationality and Borders Bill precisely because it seeks to address the merry-go-round of last-minute claims and to speed up the removal of dangerous criminals. Labour Members fought tooth and nail to prevent that Bill from becoming law, and votes have consequences. Convicted criminals guilty of heinous crimes, including manslaughter, rape, robbery, child sex offences, drug offences and violent crime, and persistent offenders remain in our country; had the legislation been passed more quickly, with Opposition support, those individuals might have been removed from the UK today. They remain here, and it is a stain on our country that they do. However, I assure the British people that we are taking action, and things are changing as we get on with delivering our reforms.

I make no apology for removing criminals who have abused our hospitality, broken our laws, and have no right to be here. I make no apology for doing everything in my power to make our streets safer and stand on the side of actual victims. We stand with the British people. It is time that the Opposition tried that as well.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.

The first duty of the British Government is to keep the British people safe, and the Home Office has a responsibility to make sure that rules are fairly enforced, but Ministers are failing to do so and they are blaming everyone else for their failings. The Home Office must deport dangerous foreign criminals who have no right to be in our country and who should be returned to the country of their citizenship, which is precisely why the last Labour Government introduced stronger laws to that effect. The Home Office also has a responsibility to get its deportation decisions right. As the Government have themselves admitted, during the Windrush scandal the Home Office made grave errors in both detention and deportation decisions, and it is currently failing on all counts.

The Opposition are committed to the principles of an immigration system that is firm, fair and well managed. First and foremost, it is deeply troubling that a number of expert reports over recent years have pointed to how Home Office failures have resulted in fewer foreign criminals being deported than should be the case. Indeed, in 2015, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration stated that one in three failures to deport foreign criminals was a result of Home Office failure. Fast-forward to 2022, and the latest immigration figures show that the Home Office is still failing miserably in this regard.

Under the current Prime Minister and Home Secretary, there has been a stark decline in the number of foreign national offenders being returned and deported. In the year ending September 2021, 2,732 foreign national offenders were returned from the UK—20% fewer than the previous year and 47% fewer than in 2019, the year before the pandemic began. Foreign national offender returns had already fallen to 5,128 in 2019. Even more staggering is the fact that, according to a 2019 Public Accounts Committee report, the Home Office had to release six in every 10 migrant detainees whom the Department wanted to deport, and it simply could not explain why this was happening.

The PAC also raised concerns about the need for earlier and better legal advice, which would make it more likely that decisions were accurate and robust, rather than being overturned due to poor decisions later in the process. The Minister will know that the Windrush report identified “low-quality decision-making” and an “irrational…approach to individuals”, and the follow-up report stated that

“there are many examples where the department has not made progress…at all”

on this matter. The level of sheer incompetence is not only a threat to our security; it ultimately erodes the confidence of the British public and foreign nationals alike, because the system fails to fulfil the basic crucial principles of being firm, fair and well managed. The Minister refers to rape, but it is this Government who have presided over rape prosecutions falling to a shameful 1.3%.

The Home Office needs to get this right, but the Minister’s statement was long on bluff and bluster but contained absolutely no substance whatsoever. Perhaps he could therefore answer the following questions: how many foreign offenders have absconded in the last 12 months? What specific steps have been taken to learn the lessons of the Windrush scandal to ensure that this shameful episode is never repeated? Does the Home Office actually have a plan that will address the currently shambolic nature of the deportation system?

The British people deserve better than this. Rather than coming to the Dispatch Box to engage in a frankly rather childish and petulant rant, based on the blame game and finger pointing, the Minister should instead be coming to this Chamber to set out what the Government are actually going to do to fix this broken system.

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for his contribution, but let me deal with some facts in responding to it. First, I can be very clear for the House’s benefit that more than 10,000 foreign national offenders have been removed from our country since 2019. [Interruption.] Opposition Members are making lots of gestures, but one thing they will recognise, I am sure, is that we have had a pandemic during the last two years, and I think all Members probably realise and recognise the impact that that has had on business as usual in the returns and deportation space. I can also confirm for the House that the vast majority of removals from our country are to European economic area countries, and of course that applies to enforced returns.

The hon. Member mentioned Windrush. This issue is of course completely unrelated to Windrush. None of those being returned are British citizens or nationals, or members of the Windrush generation. Each person’s return is considered on its individual merits and carefully assessed against a background of relevant case law and in the light of published country information, which covers country-specific issues. The case of each person being returned on a charter to Jamaica is referred to the Windrush taskforce, and it is right and proper that that work is done. I can also add—[Interruption.] Well, it is right that this is done properly. Legal aid was also raised. Of course, people can access legal support in detention in the usual way.

The Blair and Brown Governments took an entirely pragmatic and eminently sensible approach to these matters. [Interruption.] Well, I give credit where it is due. Opposition Members criticise, but I will give credit to former Labour Home Secretaries who did the right thing and were committed to ensuring that our laws are upheld, and it is the UK Borders Act 2007 that governs this.

Often, the Opposition talk tough on serious violence, but when they have the opportunity they want, entirely optionally, to let out those who have committed serious violence on our streets, when there are options available to remove them from our country. Labour had the opportunity to change things for the better, but oh no, as always they carp from the sidelines but never have a plan.

My constituents, and I guess most in the United Kingdom, find it unbelievable that convicted murderers, rapists and paedophiles who are foreign national offenders are not returned immediately to their countries. Can the Minister tell us how on earth last-minute appeals can stop people going on flights? Surely we can at least have a cut-off date beyond which no appeals can be made. Maybe he can also tell the House whether he has been on one of these flights and what the atmosphere is like.

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour speaks with great authority on these matters, and I know the view that people in Northamptonshire take on this. I have been on a removal flight to Poland a few months ago, which was a useful experience for me to understand the end-to-end process. I am grateful for his support for the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which introduces the one-stop processes and priority removal notices that should enable us to break this cycle of endless dither and delay, and constant appeals and claims, so that those individuals are removed from our country more quickly. His constituents can be assured that we are getting on with delivering this.

I, too, thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement, but I do not thank him either for the fact of the statement, which I agree was completely pointless, or for the overblown rhetoric it contained—rhetoric that I more commonly associate with the Minister’s boss than the Minister, who I have a great deal of respect for.

On that note, my first question is, why can we not try to have a sensible, grown-up discussion about this complex policy area? It is frankly nonsense to speak about “sides”. There is a balance to be struck, and it is our responsibility as legislators to debate that sensibly. It is perfectly legitimate for us to question whether the balance is in the right place or to question the disproportionate impact on some communities. As I have pointed out before, in endless urgent questions and on similar topics, Stephen Shaw, the Government-commissioned independent expert, said that the deportation and removal of people brought up here from a young age was “deeply troubling” and entirely “disproportionate”. Yes, of course many deportations are absolutely justified to protect the public, but it is nonsensical to ignore the fact that some are very cruel, particularly when they relate to people who have lived almost all their lives here and have absolutely no connection to the place they are being deported to.

The Government refuse to acknowledge the fact that these decisions can have profound impacts on the family life of the partners, spouses and children of those being deported, and on others, or that it is legitimate to press the Government on that. So let me try a different argument. If someone has been here since they were in infancy, grew up here, was educated here, commits crime here and is potentially dangerous, why is it fair on the country to which they are deported to have to manage that risk, especially if it is possibly far less equipped to do so, rather than this country, where that person was brought up? The Minister talks about letting people out on to the street, but he is letting people out on the street—just not our streets, but those of another country, with which they have absolutely no connection.

What we do as a Government is take responsibility for our returns. We live up to our legal obligations in this space, and that is right and proper, and what the British people expect. But we understandably expect other countries around the world to do the same in taking their immigration offenders and those who have committed criminality in this country and are liable to deportation.

I was slightly surprised to hear the hon. Member say that there has been a lack of interest in these matters in the House. There has been quite a lot of interest, in terms of Twitter commentary and parliamentary questions, and I can certainly vouch for the fact that I have received ministerial correspondence. I also know that Members from across the House have had constituency correspondence on this, so there is certainly interest. On a day when we have had another of these flights—it has attracted considerable media attention, as these matters often do—it is right and proper that I am able to come to the Dispatch Box to set out the steps that the Government are taking. Quite often, Ministers are criticised for not coming to the House to set out such measures. I am here today, I am answering questions from across the House, and I am also here to reassure the British people that we have a plan and we are taking action.

Contrary to the predictable bleating from the Opposition Benches, this is nothing to do with Windrush considerations; the nationality of these individuals is not in question. It is nothing to do with poor prosecution rates; these people have been convicted fairly in a British court. My constituents are sick and tired of this cottage industry of leftie lawyers who are more concerned with keeping serious offenders in the UK than with keeping law-abiding people in the UK safe. Can my hon. Friend tell me the cost of failed deportations, the legal cost of challenges to the UK taxpayer, and the cost of unused tickets for offenders and their chaperones when they are taken off the plane at the last minute—costs that our constituents are having to bear day in, day out?

It is fair to say that there are significant costs associated with these removal operations. As I say, with scheduled flights more readily available in the period ahead relative to the last two years of covid, I hope that it will be easier to facilitate removals from our country more cost-effectively. As a Government, we spend millions of pounds a year dealing with this, but it is right and proper that those with no right to be here and those who commit serious offences on our streets do not remain in the United Kingdom. That is an obligation that we will continue to live up to. As I say, we live up to the requirements of the law on that, as is right and proper, but I will certainly take away my hon. Friend’s wider point and gladly share any information that I can about specific costings.

We all appreciate the need to remove dangerous foreign criminals who present a genuine crime or security risk to our country and should not be here. However, the Government’s record on removing foreign criminals has not been good, and to the year ending September 2021 it was at an all-time low. Many have absconded before they could be removed. With the current pressure on the Home Office—including 100,000 asylum claims outstanding, delays in processing Ukraine visas, delays in visas for marriage and work, and problems with processing passport applications—can the Minister confirm that the announced cut of 91,000 civil servants will not apply to the Home Office and that it will have the resources it needs to carry out the work it has to do?

I am confident that we will have the resources that we need to deal with these issues, but I can absolutely say to the Chairman of the Select Committee that it does not help our day-to-day immigration work in other parts of the business to have to deal with these constant cycles of claims, appeals and deliberate attempts to frustrate removal. I would be absolutely delighted if we could free up resource in the Home Office to focus on processing other, related claims—in the asylum space, for example, or Ukrainian claims or whatever they are. We would be better placed if we could do that. As I have consistently said, the abuses of our immigration system that we have seen and continue to see make it much harder to get on with the day-to-day business and be as generous as we can be. We are generous, but we could be doing more if the system were in a better place.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we speed up deportations and give effect to the new Rwanda agreement without the twists and tricks of those who put their political preference for uncontrolled, open borders above our country’s safety and the safety of those who are considering crossing the channel and putting themselves in the hands of criminal gangs?

It is interesting that Ministers are often challenged about our evidence base for wanting to deliver reforms through the new plan for immigration and the Nationality and Borders Act, because the evidence that my hon. Friend points to—she raises these issues consistently—speaks precisely to why the change is necessary and why we are getting on with operationalising the measures in the Act. That work is happening at pace, and we will not waste a moment in bringing that work to fruition.

My hon. Friend is right to recognise the challenges that the current situation is presenting, and I am conscious of the impacts on Dover in particular. She does a tremendous job in raising them with Ministers, and I am keen that we continue that dialogue.

I have written to, I think, my third Minister about the case of a person who stabbed a constituent of mine—he wanted to murder her—and is still in the country. If I write to the Minister, will he undertake to look at the case again and ensure that that person is deported so that my constituent can live in peace?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that sensitive issue so constructively. If she shares the details with me, I will gladly look at it. Again, I am determined that the requirements of the Act are upheld, and we as a Government are determined that those with no right to be here should leave our country without delay. Of course, those who have committed serious crimes and are eligible for deportation under the Act should be deported.

As my hon. Friend is one of the Ministers in Her Majesty’s Government most able to give a direct answer to a direct question, does he know how many dangerous foreign national offenders were due to be on the deportation flight this morning and, owing to appeals, how many actually left?

It is fair to say that the Chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee always asks incisive questions of his witnesses, and he asks an incisive question of me. There is a public interest in explaining to the House the situation that we have seen overnight. I can confirm that the manifest originally had 112 individuals on it; in the end, only seven left our country on the flight.

The Minister will know that in November 2020 the Home Secretary and her team negotiated an agreement with the Government of Jamaica not to remove people who came to the UK under the age of 12, because they believed that we had some responsibility for those whose lives were shaped here. Will the Minister confirm whether that agreement is still in place?

We debated these matters in the Nationality and Borders Public Bill Committee. A person’s age upon arrival to the UK is not an exception to deportation. The length of time that a person has lived in the UK as well as the strength of their social, cultural and family ties are factors that are considered under the article 8 requirements of the immigration rules. Of course, there is ongoing dialogue with all our returns partners and all such matters are discussed as part of those deliberations and discussions.

The vast majority of the public—and, if truth be known, the vast majority in the House—support what the Minister is doing. The Home Office has a responsibility to keep citizens safe, but does he agree that it also has a responsibility to keep the villagers of Linton-on-Ouse safe, so while it is the right idea, it is entirely the wrong location to put 1,500 young, single men—the vast majority of whom will be law-abiding but some will not—in the middle of a village of 600? Will he look again at the plans and put them on hold until the impact on the community has been properly considered? When the refugee agencies are saying that it is the wrong location, the Home Office must pause, look again and stop the plans completely.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue, which is pertinent to his constituency. I know that he and Members on the Government Benches recognise how important it is that we have a more sustainable accommodation model. We cannot continue to spend about £5 million a day on hotel accommodation in the asylum space. That is not acceptable or sustainable, so we must find solutions to that, including through the accommodation centre model that he is aware of. He raised a number of points and I know that ministerial colleagues in the Department are keen to continue to engage with him and work through those issues.

The Home Office has had the report that it commissioned from Stephen Shaw on immigration detention since 2018. What progress is it making in relation to the implementation of its recommendations?

I will happily write to the right hon. Gentleman with an update on the work that we are doing in detention. Of course, we keep all our facilities, policies and approaches under constant review, reflecting feedback that is received, and I would like to provide him with a full update that touches on all the pertinent and relevant issues, which I cannot do on the Floor of the House.

I very much welcome the statement. A successful deportation programme requires co-operative recipients. Will he name and shame those countries who are not engaging with the Government’s deportation programme—in particular, countries such as Iraq, Iran, Eritrea and Sudan—and say what pressure can be brought to bear on them? Will he consider perhaps denying visas to the nationals of those countries until they engage?

My right hon. Friend raised that point eloquently. There is mixed performance in co-operation on removals and deportations from our country. We continue to have constructive discussions with countries around the world about those arrangements. He will also note that, through the Nationality and Borders Act, we have introduced new visa penalty provisions that should help us to drive forward improvements. It is the responsibility of countries around the world to live up to their obligations and accept their returns as the British Government do.

Deporting extremely vulnerable people when it could lead them to harm, or even their death, is fundamentally wrong. My constituent’s brother has been diagnosed with a severe mental disorder by a consultant psychiatrist. He is in a mental health crisis, and he has attempted suicide. Is the Minister okay to ignore the human rights of extremely vulnerable people in those circumstances?

I remind the hon. Member that we live up to our obligations, as is entirely right and proper, including appropriate human rights law and paying due regard to the UK Borders Act 2007. On the specific issue of vulnerabilities, health and wellbeing is taken into consideration, and proper risk assessments are conducted for all those in scope of removal. It is right that we work through individuals’ circumstances appropriately—[Interruption.]. She can utter that that is not true, but that is a fact.

It is outrageous that anyone should conflate the Commonwealth citizens who have come and contributed directly to this country with foreign nationals who have been convicted in our courts of the most serious offences. I find that reprehensible. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the backlog for removing dangerous foreign offenders and the numbers of those in prison now who are likely to be deported at the end of their sentences? Can they be escorted from the prison gates to the plane and flown out of here?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the terminology and language used when we debate these issues. It is right that the correct terminology is applied to reflect the relevant circumstances of the individuals and their cases. I give him an absolute assurance that top of my priorities is delivering a quickening of the pace of removing individuals from our country who have no right to be here and deporting foreign criminals. The reforms that we are introducing are pivotal to achieving progress in that regard.

I come at this issue as the victims’ Minister, too. When we meet the victims of serious criminality and hear their stories, it is difficult not to be hugely troubled, and the suffering and pain that they feel is only exacerbated if dangerous individuals are in our country when they simply should not be here.

I believe I heard the Minister right that there was a manifest today with 122 people on it who were to be deported, but that only seven were finally deported. Does that not just point to the incompetence and the problem we have with this Government? How did they get to be on that manifest when they were not ready to be deported?

I should correct the hon. Gentleman. The manifest began with 112 people on it and seven ended up on the flight leaving overnight. I think the question his constituents ought to be asking him is this. He complains about problems in the system. He had an opportunity to vote for the solution and consistently refused to do so.

The SNP spokesman said it may be very cruel to deport these criminals who are paedophiles, murderers and rapists, but what is very cruel is the suffering of the victims and their families, and any future victims and their families. Will my hon. Friend tell me what work he is doing with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that processes start while people are in prison, so they can be deported as soon as possible when their sentence finishes?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. It will of course be known to her that I am a Minister who spans both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. I am having discussions with the Minister with responsibility for prisons on what more we can do to ensure that individuals who should not be in our country are no longer here for any longer than is absolutely necessary, and that we create greater awareness around release from prison, and removal and deportation from our country where appropriate for the circumstances of individual cases.

May I say how disrespectful it is that Conservative Members keep talking about lawyers who are, after all, simply protecting people under the laws of this country? It is childish in the extreme that every time we mention that all we hear is, “Lefty lawyers, lefty lawyers.” Who cares what their politics are? They protect people according to the law. One of the people who was taken off the flight because they were protected by a lawyer has severe learning disabilities. In his original trial the judge said he was not a ringleader but had in fact been dragged into it by the ringleader, so he should be protected. Does the Minister class him as dangerous? Does he think that the lawyer was wrong? Does he think the law was wrong to allow that man to stay here? Will he join me in condemning these childish attacks on a very proud profession?

As I alluded to in answering an earlier question, there is a proper process in place that checks for vulnerability and ensures that those cases are dealt with appropriately. I, of course, think it is right and proper that people have access to legal advice and, of course, the legal profession and due process are absolutely crucial to ensuring that these matters are handled sensitively, appropriately and correctly in accordance with the law. We cannot continue to have a completely unbalanced situation where we see abuses of the system and we see that behaviour rewarded. I have to say to you, Mr Speaker, that my eyes water when I see some of the case studies that are put in front of me and some of the instances we are dealing with in the system. It is not acceptable. It is not okay. There is a need for action and that is why we are taking the steps we are.

If the Labour party wishes to make the case as to why convicted foreign national rapists and paedophiles should remain in this country they are very welcome to test drive it in my constituency and elsewhere. Meanwhile, does my hon. Friend agree that, although it is absolutely right and fair since we left the European Union that any foreign national with a sentence of over 12 months will be automatically deported, that does, of course, put the emphasis on the Home Office to make sure that its legal ducks are in a row and that the right people are deported?

That caseworking side of things is so important in processing these cases, ensuring they are handled as expeditiously as possible and there is not needless delay. That is something I am looking at intensively and that is why we have the new plan for immigration and the reforms we are introducing. As I have said, I constantly have at the forefront of my mind the victims of criminality when reaching decisions and considering cases, and reading the representations that are made. When we talk in this House about serious violence, for example, and there are calls for root and branch action to tackle it, it is impossible to divorce what we are talking about today from the work we are doing more widely in Government to tackle that very harm and that scourge on our society.

It is believed that young adults who are being deported arrived in the UK as minors. The Home Office and the courts say that there is no such thing as a homegrown criminal, but at present no weight is being placed on rehabilitation. I am about rehabilitation. Does the Minister believe that weight should be placed on rehabilitation, especially for young people who came into this country as minors and made a mistake and committed a crime?

I, too, think there is absolutely a place for rehabilitation within the criminal justice system. That is right and proper, and something I think we all broadly accept across the House, but what we are talking about here is serious criminality that is a scourge on our society and our communities, and causes real harm to real people and real families in the communities we represent. That is front and centre in the decisions we make, and of course we act in accordance with our legal responsibilities under the legislation as it stands. I have to say that I am hearing a sort of orchestra of suggestion that we are getting decisions wrong. We are getting decisions right on these cases. It is the process that is flawed and we are fixing it.

May I encourage my hon. Friend to come to the Dispatch Box more often, because that was one of the best Government statements we have had in recent times? Residents in the Kettering constituency want foreign national offenders who have committed serious and violent offences to be deported and they will be appalled that, thanks to the intervention of lefty, woke human rights immigration lawyers, 107 of those who should have left our shores this morning remain on British soil. May I urge my hon. Friend to go further and faster, arrange more flights and attach conditions so that those who are deported are never allowed to re-enter the United Kingdom?

It is fair to say that the status quo is thoroughly depressing. I know that, behind people in Corby and east Northamptonshire, Kettering people are very sound and they are right to raise this issue. [Interruption.] And of course people in Wellingborough, too. They are right to demand action. They are right to be impatient for the change we have promised. We will continue to work hard and constructively to deliver the reforms we are making. The issue about people returning in breach of a deportation order is one that I am conscious of. The changes we are making through the Act, particularly around illegal entry, should help us to clamp down on that.

I know from both my own case work and my work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention that the Home Office decision-making process is often flawed and that mistakes are often made. Can the Minister provide an updated figure on the number of cases where somebody has been removed from this country in error and how much compensation the Government have had to pay out to those people as a result?

We are driving comprehensive reform of the whole asylum and migration system through the new plan for immigration. The hon. Lady asks for specific statistics, which I do not have to hand today. I will gladly take away her question and write to her. If I can provide more specific information, I will.

Does the Minister agree that the simple truth is that had the Opposition supported our Nationality and Borders Act and helped us to pass this important legislation into law sooner, some of the dangerous criminals being prevented from removal would not now be on our streets?

Well, rather like for me, some of the dither and delay we saw in getting on and passing that legislation has not escaped my hon. Friend’s attention. I do not think there is any time to waste in getting on and delivering those reforms. The British people have spoken consistently about the need for action. We have a plan. It is the only credible plan that will fundamentally improve matters and that is why we are getting on and operationalising it.

Me and my constituents in Burnley and Padiham are sick and tired of the Labour party approach to this issue—to stand on the side of murderers, paedophiles and rapists. My constituents want to see more deportations of these foreign criminals and more flights, so I urge the Minister to lay on more flights and publicise them, so that people know that we are on the side of the law-abiding majority and the victims of these awful crimes.

It is absolutely right and proper that the British Government live up to their legal obligations around the deportation of foreign national offenders from our country who have committed serious acts of crime that have blighted our communities and that blight communities such as my hon. Friend’s in Burnley. He is right to raise this issue, and he has done so a number of times with me during our conversations over recent months. He is impatient, as I am, for the reform to come to fruition. We will continue to drive this agenda forward because it is the right thing to do to keep people in our communities safe from the harms that these sorts of individuals perpetrate.

I thank the Minister for his statement and for clearly outlining a workable strategy. The Government’s intention to deport criminals, including paedophiles, murderers and rapists, is the right thing to do. The Government’s responsibility is to protect the citizens of this country, and that is where our priorities are. Will the Minister ensure that everything is being done in accordance with the law, and will he outline the steps that are being taken to ensure that human rights for those people are protected not simply during the flight, but as they get off the plane at their destination and in the days that follow, as they attempt to integrate in society, wherever that destination may be?

At all times, the UK Government act in accordance with their obligations, as is right and proper. I have been on a removal flight to see for myself the work that goes on. The teams that carry out the work act with complete respect and dignity for the individuals who are in their care for the duration of that process. They work tirelessly at that. I was hugely impressed by what I saw, by their dedication and commitment to that work, and by the vast experience that many of those individuals have in facilitating removals and deportations from our country every week of the year. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that that work is carried out entirely properly.

The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are delighted that we have shipped off over 10,000 foreign national offenders since 2019, because they do not deserve to have their feet on these great British shores. However, my constituents are flabbergasted that the woke, wet and wobbly lot opposite are on the side of their leftie woke warrior lawyers in making sure that these rapists and paedophiles remain in our United Kingdom, rather than actually standing up for the British people and their safety. But it is no surprise because of Labour Members’ unhealthy obsession with free movement and open borders, thinking that anyone who wants border control is a bigot and that borders are racist. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is about time that the Labour party got on the side of the British people and backed our having safer streets?

I have to say, I had a bit of an inkling of what the views of people in Stoke-on-Trent might be on this issue. My hon. Friend speaks with great passion on behalf of his constituents, who want to see action in this area and safer streets. One of the things that people across the country find slightly frustrating is that some individuals who oppose our plans are not straightforward about their motivations and intentions. If we wish to have a country with no border controls, people should be honest about that fact. That is a perfectly legitimate argument to proceed with, but it is one with which I do not agree.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised the case of someone who undergoes home dialysis, and the Prime Minister stated that the NHS covers the cost of that dialysis. The amount of money that the NHS makes available only partially covers the cost of dialysis and people are reimbursed only after they have paid their bill. That answer misrepresented the position of people who are on home dialysis, and yet again, we find ourselves asking the question: when will the Prime Minister come back and correct the record?

As the hon. Member knows, the answers that are given are not a question for me. However, that is on the record and it is up to individual Members to correct it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although we do not yet know how many candidates there will be for the election of the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, because the nominations close next Tuesday, we know that it will be a contested election and that it will take place next Wednesday. I have received various missives from colleagues who say that they will be away on parliamentary business next Wednesday. Although this is a matter for the House, how can we facilitate the participation in that ballot of Members who will be missing, through a proxy vote or some other voting system?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for notice of his point of order. He is correct that the rules of the House do not allow the use of proxy votes in the circumstances described, unless a proxy vote is already in place. I do not think that it is right to change the procedures on the hoof, but this is an important point that might be looked at before future elections. I am sure that he will have been to see, and had a great conversation with, the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip and, hopefully, that will all have been taken on board.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you please advise me on the remedial action that could be taken to correct the record following the claim that was made at Prime Minister’s questions by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), who asserted that “the Government are slashing the support payments that farmers rely on” before a new scheme is even introduced? That claim is simply incorrect.

It is not for me to ensure the accuracy of what is said by Members. It is their responsibility and, if a mistake has been made, it is that Member’s responsibility to correct the record. We do not want to have a full debate on Prime Minister’s questions either.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to raise the issue of the statement today. The fact that a Minister came to the House to discuss an important issue, and was scrutinised for about an hour, is wholly the way in which this democracy should work. Is there any way that you could get it through to some other Ministers that they should do that on more occasions?

The hon. Member has put his case forward, but I totally agree, once again, that it is helpful that the House hears something first and that it is not heard through the media. I am sure that Ministers will have listened to him and will hopefully take it on board.

Debate on the Address

[6th Day]

Debate resumed (Order, 17 May).

Question again proposed.

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which was addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

Achieving Economic Growth

I inform the House that I have selected amendment (w) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, which will be moved at the start of the debate, and amendments (m) and (s) which will be moved at the end of the debate. I call the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves.

I beg to move amendment (w), at the end of the Question to add:

“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to bring forward immediately an emergency budget to tackle the cost of living crisis or to set out a new approach to the economy that will end 12 years of slow growth and high taxation under successive Conservative Governments.”

We meet today when inflation has hit its highest level for 40 years. Every pound that people had last year can purchase only 91p-worth of goods today; that is what inflation of 9% means. Our country has a cost of living crisis and a growth crisis, with prices rising, growth downgraded and no plan for the future. None of this, though, is inevitable. It is a consequence of Conservative decisions and the direction they have taken our economy in over the past 12 years.

The Government are increasingly a rudderless ship, heading to the rocks, while they are willing to watch people financially drown in the process. Where is the urgency and the action? The time to change course is now. We need an emergency Budget to deal with the inadequacy of the Chancellor’s spring statement, with a windfall tax to help to get bills down and to help families and pensioners to weather the storm. On the day that inflation has reached a 40-year high, the Chancellor is missing in action. As energy bills and anxiety levels soar, the response from the Government diminishes in comparison.

The hon. Lady asks where the action is. Will she accept that today £150 is going into the bank accounts of people in council tax bands A to D from councils across this country?

The action that Labour proposes is a windfall tax to take up to £600 off people’s bills. As the hon. Lady knows, energy bills have gone up 54%, by an average of £693. With all respect, £150 just does not cut it.

Labour first proposed a windfall tax on 9 January, more than four months ago, and what was the first response from a Conservative Minister? It was to insist that a windfall tax would be unfair because Shell and BP were “struggling”. North sea oil and gas producers are making £32 million a day in unexpected profits. Meanwhile, parents trying to pay their bills are going without food so that their children do not miss meals—that is struggling. We now know that each and every day the Conservatives delay introducing a windfall tax, families and pensioners are forking out £53 million more in their energy bills.

Last night, my party supported the amendment relating to oil and gas that was moved by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). The hon. Lady is right: there is a real need to protect our pensioners. This morning, a constituent told me that his brother, a pensioner, sleeps in a sleeping bag to keep warm; another pensioner tells me that she can turn the heating on in her house for only one hour a day. One way of helping our pensioners would be through the proposal that the hon. Lady refers to: a windfall tax on those who are making exorbitant profits.

I thank the hon. Member for speaking so powerfully about his constituents. After years of work and contribution to this country, a pensioner is sleeping in a sleeping bag to keep warm.

The Government got rid of the triple lock, and now they are refusing to implement a windfall tax. Every day, the case for Labour’s windfall tax gets stronger, while the Tory defence for refusing to act gets weaker and weaker, yet last night every single Conservative MP voted against a windfall tax for the third time. People can no longer afford to pay for the Government’s mistakes. The Government should put the national interest first and follow Labour’s advice. It is time to do the right thing; it is time to put the needs of people first; it is time to introduce a windfall tax to get bills down.

Will the hon. Lady clarify one thing? There is a bit of dispute about how much a windfall tax would raise per household. There are about 25 million households in the UK. Will the hon. Lady confirm how much money per household a windfall tax would actually raise?

A windfall tax would raise about £3 billion. That, combined with the extra VAT that the Government are receiving because prices have gone up so much, could go directly towards taking money off people’s bills. It would make a real impact now. Every single day, the energy companies are making £32 million in unexpected profits. This Government increase taxes on working people; a Labour Government would increase taxes on the big oil and gas companies.

The cost of living crisis is being made worse by a wage crisis, as years of Conservative Governments have failed to stand up for working people. At the Conservative party conference last year, the Prime Minister bragged of plans for a high-wage economy. How is that going? Let me update the House. In the six months since then, average real-terms pay has not risen, but fallen. Behind the headline figures, data released yesterday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows not only that workers are experiencing a fall in their real pay, but that the gap between those earning most and those earning least is widening. For the hospital porters, the supermarket assistants, the delivery drivers—the very people who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to keep this country going—wages are in no way keeping up with the rising cost of living.

I just want clarification of the figures, because they are very important. The hon. Lady said that a windfall tax would raise £3 billion; among 25 million households, that is just over £100 each, which is less than the Government are giving. She then said that there would be £600 for each household, but that would cost about £18 billion, which is £15 billion more than the windfall tax would raise. Where would that extra £15 billion come from? Would it come from an increase in Government borrowing?

Our scheme is very clear. We would introduce a windfall tax, use that money to reduce VAT on gas and electricity bills from 5% to zero, and expand the warm home discount from the measly £140 that people get today to £400. We would fund that through the windfall tax, through the additional VAT receipts that the Government are getting in at the moment because prices are so high, and through receipts from the additional corporation tax that the oil and gas companies are paying. The Government will end up doing this. The only question is when they will get on and deliver for their constituents. Oil and gas companies are making record profits and people are paying record bills. It is a question of whose side you are on. The Government are very clear that they are on the side of the oil and gas companies; the Opposition are very clear that we are on the side of ordinary families and pensioners.

The Government have failed to introduce not only the windfall tax, but the employment Bill that has been repeatedly promised. There is a real-world price: allowing scandalous threats of fire and rehire to continue to drive down conditions at work, not just in the appalling P&O case, but in other sectors. Fire and rehire should have been outlawed, but thanks to this Government’s actions it is being encouraged. Employment rights for the modern world of work will not just protect workers, but boost growth and financial security. That makes for a stronger economy with firm foundations, rather than allowing a race to the bottom that takes away dignity as well as eroding family finances.

As well as struggling with rising fuel bills and food prices, many of my constituents are worried about their precarious work, about not knowing from one week to the next what hours they will get, and about being fired by unscrupulous employers. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Queen’s Speech was a missed opportunity to introduce the long-awaited employment Bill, which would ensure that workers get the dignity and security that they desperately need?

The sad truth is that the Government used to agree. Introducing an employment Bill was in their manifesto; in fact, they have been promising it for five or six years. Let us have that employment Bill to protect people at work, so that working people do not have to resort to food banks, and so that they have the security and dignity that work should provide.

April’s International Monetary Fund data show that families in Britain are more exposed to the cost of living crisis than countries such as Germany, France and the US because of depleted savings. Savings are declining and household debt is on the rise, not because millions of people can no longer manage a budget, but because millions of people cannot afford a Conservative Government. Working families are increasingly struggling with their budgets because the Chancellor has failed to act in his Budgets. The Food Foundation believes that since January, 2 million people have not eaten food for at least a whole day, because they could not afford to.

My hon. Friend knows that food banks were used by something like 26,000 people in 2010 and are now used by 2.6 million people—100 times as many. Does she agree that the economy’s growth now contrasts dismally with its 40% growth in the 10 years to 2008 under Labour? The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that if we were on the same growth trend, the average person would be £11,000 better off and could therefore weather the storms that we are suffering because of the Tory Government.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the Tory growth penalty—the effect of the lack of growth in the economy. Average earnings are £11,000 less than if growth had stayed at the same rate as under the last Labour Government.

My hon. Friend mentioned a hundredfold increase in food bank use. This is not normal; it is the consequence of Conservative Governments’ choices. Meanwhile, what have we heard in recent weeks? We have heard suggestions from Ministers about what people can do in their own lives to deal with the cost of living crisis. The Prime Minister thinks that a 77-year-old pensioner who rides on the bus all day to keep warm should be grateful for her discounted fares; the Environment Secretary has lectured people struggling with the cost of food, telling them to “buy own brands”; and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has treated the need for an emergency Budget as if it were an audition for a comedy club. Another out-of-touch Minister has told people, just this week, that if they are struggling financially they should simply work more hours or get another job—as if it were as easy as that. The Chancellor continues to insult the public’s intelligence by suggesting that a compulsory £200 loan—a loan that must be repaid—is somehow not a loan, and now blames a computer system for his decision not to help the least well-off. What planet are they on?

Does my hon. Friend agree that given that wages have been falling for the last 14 years and inflation is now at 9%, or 11% for the poorest families, there is an alternative to people’s wages being squeezed—that the Government could squeeze profits instead? Shell and BP raked in more than £12 billion in the first three months of this year alone, and it is shameful that every Conservative Member voted against a windfall tax yesterday when they had the chance to support it.

Conservative Members voted against the windfall tax not for the first time, not for the second time, but for the third time. Every single Conservative MP opposed what they know is the right thing to do. A Labour Government would tackle the cost of living crisis head-on. We would introduce a windfall tax on oil and gas producer profits to cut household bills by up to £600, a home insulation policy that would save millions of households up to £400 a year, and a discount on business rates for high street firms funded by a tax on the online giants. Perhaps the Chief Secretary can tell us in his speech why the Government will not abolish the unfair, outdated and unjustifiable non-dom tax status, and use that money to keep taxes on working people down.

Finally, Labour would put a stop to the Chancellor’s fraud failures, which allowed £11.8 billion of taxpayer funds to go criminal gangs, drug dealers and worse. We would claw back every penny of taxpayers’ money that we could, because the public are sick of being ripped off and they want their money back.

We are now in the worst of all possible worlds, with inflation high and rising, and growth low and falling—in other words, there is stagflation. This Conservative Government must address the underlying weaknesses in our economy, which are the result of years of Tory failure. Growth has stagnated, not just this year but over the last 12 years, falling from 2% on average under the last Labour Government to just 1.5% a year in the decade leading up to the pandemic.

The Conservatives have failed to work with British industries—employers and trade unions—to create the economic growth that would benefit everyone, and for 12 years that approach has sown chaos and uncertainty, making it impossible for businesses to invest with confidence. Now the UK economy has the worst growth projections of any G20 economy but one: Russia.

The Bank of England has issued a stark warning of a downturn next year, with GDP projected to fall, and it is not set to get much better after that. [Interruption.] The Chief Secretary says, from a sedentary position, that it is set to get better. Oh, yes—growth in the following year is expected to be 0.25%, almost 10 times lower than what the Office for Budget Responsibility predicted in March. Well, done, Tory Government!

We have heard nothing from this Conservative Government about what they will do to change the situation, and if the Chief Secretary is proud of that record, good luck to him. The Government have no plan to provide the catalytic investment that we need to create new markets, no plan to get trade moving again and tackle the supply chain problems facing businesses, and no plan for a new industrial strategy to make the most of Britain’s potential, bringing good jobs to all parts of Britain. The Conservatives have become the low-growth party, and our country is paying the price.

My hon. Friend is making some powerful points about the fall in growth. I am sure she will be as concerned as I am about the statistics which show the decline in business investment, which I think is down by 9%. We are seeing a 34% fall in automotive production, which is a massive hit for the UK economy. The impact on our foreign competitors is less, because those countries have a strategy. Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government seem not to have an industrial strategy—for gaming semiconductor production, for example? Does she agree that that is what is needed, and that is what a Labour Government would do?

The figures from the International Monetary Fund show that investment as a proportion of our economy in the UK is 18%, if we take both public and private investment into account. In other similar economies that the IMF looks at, it is 23%. If we add that up over the next six years—the IMF’s forecast horizon—we see a projection of £1 trillion less investment in the UK than in other countries. These are huge missed opportunities to create the jobs and industries of the future that my hon. Friend wants to see in Warwick and Leamington and all of us want to see in our constituencies.

The Government’s lack of action is felt by businesses. In April, the price of materials for UK manufacturers increased at its fastest rate since records began, with prices up by nearly a fifth on the previous year. When I speak to businesses, they are worried about falling consumer confidence and a lack of spending power, as well as the costs that they are having to face.