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Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2022

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Government support for households is greatly appreciated, but high energy costs are causing massive problems for businesses, particularly in energy-intensive manufacturing. Will the Prime Minister support the Repowering the Black Country initiative, which is backed by the local enterprise partnership and by Andy Street, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels? Will he meet me to look at how the Black Country can be a pilot project to decarbonise, reduce costs and protect the region’s manufacturing jobs?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for Dudley and for the Black Country. In addition to the £1,200 for the 8 million most vulnerable households, we are providing £400 to help everybody with the cost of energy. We are supporting the Black Country with cost-efficient energy infrastructure, and the region has already received £1.5 million to develop a cluster plan for decarbonisation.

May I pay tribute to all those who served in the Falklands? My uncle was among them, serving on HMS Antelope when it went down. Thankfully, he made it back, but too many serving in that war did not. We remember them all.

Britain is set for lower growth than every major economy except Russia. Why?

I will tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman: actually, according to the International Monetary Fund and the OECD, in addition to the fastest growth in the G7 last year, we are going to have the second fastest this year, and we will return to the top of the table. The reason that other countries are temporarily moving ahead is, of course, that we came out of the pandemic faster than they did, because we took the right decisions to come out of lockdown—which he opposed. That is why, right now, we have the highest number of people on payrolled employment on record.

The Prime Minister always likes to blame global forces, but global forces are just that: global—everybody faces them. Britain is not under crippling economic sanctions like Russia. No wonder he does not want to answer the question: why is the UK set for lower growth than every other major economy?

I think everybody can see that I have just answered the question. Once again, the right hon. Gentleman is guilty of what m’legal friends call “ignoratio elenchi”: he has failed to listen to what I have actually said. What would be useful, in supporting the UK economy right now, would be if the leader of the Labour party ended his sphinx-like silence about the RMT’s strikes coming up in the course of the next couple of weeks. Will he now break with his shadow Transport Secretary and denounce Labour’s rail strikes?

Just to remind the Prime Minister—he seems to have forgotten—it is Prime Minister’s questions, not Opposition questions.

He is in government. He could do something to stop the strikes, but he has not lifted a finger. I do not want the strikes to go ahead, but he does. He wants the country to grind to a halt so that he can feed off the division.

As for his boasting about the economy, he thinks he can perform Jedi mind tricks on the country—“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”. “No rules were broken”. “The economy is booming”. The problem is, the Force just isn’t with him any more. He thinks he is Obi-Wan Kenobi; the truth is, he is Jabba the Hutt. Last week he stood there and boasted that we would continue to grow the economy. This week it turns out that the economy shrank for the second month in a row. How does it help Britain to have an ostrich Prime Minister with his head in the sand?

There he goes again, Mr Speaker, running this country down. We have got the highest employment—the highest payroll employment—[Interruption.]

Look, I want to hear the questions and the answers. Whether you like it or not, but I genuinely believe it, the public who watch Prime Minister’s questions also want to hear both.

We have got lower unemployment than France, Germany, Italy or Canada. As I have said, we have the highest number of people in payroll jobs—620,000 more—since records began. The right hon. Gentleman might like to know that just in the first five months of this year, this country has attracted, I think, £16 billion of investment in its tech sector. He does not like these European comparisons; let us make them for him. That is three times as much as Germany, twice as much as France. He should be talking this country up, not running it down.[Official Report, 6 July 2022, Vol. 717, c. 12MC.]

That’s the ostrich. He is not just denying how bad things are; he is actively making things worse. His 15 tax rises are throttling growth and the Director of the CBI is so fed up that he is reduced to saying:

“Can we stop Operation Save Big Dog and…move to action stations on the economy?”

We know what the Prime Minister says about British business in private—I think that is pretty unparliamentary —but when did screwing business turn from a flippant comment into economic policy?

I just reminded the House of what is happening in tech week in this country—the massive investment that is coming in, helped, by the way, by the 130% super deduction for business investment that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has put in. Never forget, Mr Speaker, that under Labour, taxes go up on businesses and on people. We are not only putting £1,200 more into people’s pockets; the right hon. Gentleman talks about taxes, and we are having a tax cut worth £330 on average for everybody who pays national insurance. Labour has already made spending commitments, in this Parliament alone, worth £94 billion more than the Government’s. That is £2,100 for every household in the country. No wonder no Labour Government have ever left office with unemployment lower than when they came in.

Fifteen tax rises, and we are saddled with the highest tax burden since rationing. He says the economy is booming when it is shrinking. He is game-playing so much, he thinks he is on “Love Island”. Trouble is, Prime Minister, I am reliably informed that contestants that give the public the ick get booted out.

It is not just low growth. He has also lost control of inflation. He was warned about this last September, and what did he do? He dismissed it; he did not act; he sat on his hands. Now prices are through the roof and we are set to have the highest inflation in the G7. When will he accept that he got it badly wrong when he claimed that worries about inflation were “unfounded”?

We are helping people with the cost of living with £1,200, and on 14 July the money will be going into people’s bank accounts. Why can we do that? Because we have the fiscal firepower to do it and because the economy is in robust shape, with record numbers of people in payroll employment. That is thanks to the steps that we took, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman continuously opposed. I will not say this interrogatively, Mr Speaker, but he has the chance now to clear this up. He can oppose Labour’s rail strikes right now—[Interruption.] He can disagree; I will give him that opportunity. Let him disagree with the union barons who would add to people’s costs in the coming weeks.

I do not want the strikes to go ahead. The Prime Minister does, so that he can feed on the division—[Interruption.] There may be a lot of noise now, but I have a long list of what his MPs really think of him. “Dragging everyone down.” Who said that? Come on! Who was it who said that? “Authority is destroyed.” Come on, hands up! Which of you was it? “Can’t win back trust.” Anybody owning up? You are very quiet now. Hands! Hands!

My personal favourite is this. It is a document circulated by his Back Benchers, in which they call him the “Conservative Corbyn”. Prime Minister, I don’t think that was intended as a compliment. Week after week, he stands there and spouts the same nonsense: the economy is booming, everything is going swimmingly, the people should be grateful. But while he is telling Britain that we have never had it so good, millions of working people and businesses know the reality. Britain’s growth is going to be slower than our competitors, and our inflation higher. A Prime Minister who sounds totally deluded, totally failing on the economy, failing to tackle—

Order. I think we need to get to the end of the question, but I will just remind hon. Members that I will hear the end of the question in silence. Any more noise in this corner of the Chamber, and there will be another early cup of tea if we are not careful.

A Prime Minister who sounds totally deluded, totally failing the economy, failing to tackle inflation, failing to back business, failing to help working people through the crisis, and his big idea is to go back to imperial measurements. He has ’80s inflation and ’70s stagnation; now he wants ’60s weights to complete the set. When is he going to ditch the gimmicks and face up to the reality that, under him, Britain’s economy is going backwards?

A couple of quick points about Mr Corbyn—the right hon. Member for Islington North. First, the right hon. and learned Gentleman tried repeatedly to get him elected as Prime Minister. Secondly, speaking from experience, the right hon. Member for Islington North is relatively dynamic by comparison with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Dynamic and coherent—[Interruption.]

Order. It might be helpful if the Prime Minister could speak to me. I am struggling to hear because of the noise on both sides, so please look towards the Chair; it will be easier for both of us.

What we are going to get on and do is continue to take the tough decisions to take this country forward—decisions that are on the side of the British people. The Opposition are blatantly on the side of the RMT union barons, when there are some ticket offices that barely sell one ticket per hour. We are on the side of the travelling public.

By the way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not mentioned this, but they are on the side of the people traffickers who would risk people’s lives at sea, and we are on the side of people who come here safely and legally. They carp and snipe from the sidelines—that is what they have always done—and we take the big decisions to take this country forward. No matter how much welly the deputy Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), may ask him to apply, or how much welly he pretends to apply, that welly is always on the left foot.

Q3. Many areas like mine have already had massive new housing development with no commensurate increase in general practice— (900546)

Sorry—a point of order? The hon. Lady has been here long enough to know that points of order come at the end.

Many areas like mine have already had massive new housing development with no commensurate increase in general practice capacity. At one of my surgeries, which has double the recommended number of patients per GP, the bowel cancer diagnosis of a 51-year-old father of four was missed and is now terminal. Getting this right is a life and death issue, so will the Prime Minister make sure that parts of the country that have already had massive new housing growth get the commensurate increase in general practice capacity that is only right and fair?

Yes, of course. We have 6,000 more doctors, 1,200 more GPs than this time last year and 11,800 more nurses, but we must make sure that areas with sensitive new development have the infrastructure and services, particularly medical services, that they need. The NHS has a statutory duty to take account of population growth. I know my hon. Friend has met my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, and I will take this up personally to make sure we get a proper approach to this very important issue.

I join you and others, Mr Speaker, in remembering the Falklands conflict of 40 years ago and those like my colleague Keith Brown, the Scottish Justice Minister, who served there. In particular, our thoughts are with those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Yesterday our First Minister started a national conversation on Scotland’s right to choose an independent future. When we look at nations like Iceland, Ireland, Norway and Denmark, it is clear that our neighbours are outperforming the United Kingdom. They deliver greater income equality, lower poverty rates and higher productivity, social mobility and business investment—the list goes on and on. The evidence is overwhelming: Scotland is being held back by Westminster.

Prime Minister, all those countries can use their powers of independence to create wealthier, fairer and greener societies. Why not Scotland?

I do not doubt the right hon. Gentleman’s talents as a conversationalist, but I think there are other subjects in the national conversation right now, including what we are doing to come through the aftershocks of covid with the strongest jobs-led recovery of any European economy. As I said, 620,000 more people across the whole UK are in payroll employment than before the pandemic began.

Another subject of national conversation is investment in our whole country. In Scotland and across the whole UK, as I mentioned, there is great investment in the tech sector, and the whole UK is standing strong together on the international stage and sticking up for the Ukrainians. Those are some of the things the country is also talking about.

Stronger together? Has the Prime Minister seen the pound? I think the financial markets have made their judgment on this Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister can afford to live in his own little world, his own little Britain, but people have to live with the reality of a failing Westminster system: a cost of living crisis that is worse in the UK than in any other G7 country; an inflation rate double that of France; the second worst economic growth forecast in the G20, behind only sanctioned Russia; and now the threat of a trade war with our European friends, triggered by a lawbreaking Prime Minister. That is not a vision for the future of Scotland.

Our nation is big enough, rich enough and smart enough. Is it not the case that Scotland simply cannot afford to remain trapped in the failing Westminster system? Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.

I think the figures speak for themselves. The UK has record numbers of people in payroll employment. That is an astounding thing, when we consider where we were during the pandemic. That was because of the UK working well together, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, on the vaccine roll-out and on the testing, on which Scotland and the rest of the country co-operated brilliantly.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about a trade war. What could be more foolish than a project that actually envisages trade barriers within parts of the United Kingdom? That is what we are trying to break down.

Q4. I was honoured to share part of the jubilee celebrations with Cohort 4, an inspirational mentoring and support group that provides life-changing support to a wide range of women, such as those who have, tragically, been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse, or who suffer from mental health difficulties. Sadly, as a result of the pandemic, the need for those services has only grown, so will the Prime Minister join me in thanking Beverley and her team for the incredible work that they do at Cohort 4? Will he also set out what more the Government can do to support these organisations so that they can continue to deliver this vital care to vulnerable men and women across all our constituencies? (900548)

I thank my hon. Friend, and I want to extend my thanks also to Beverley and everybody in Cohort 4 for what they are doing. The extra support that we are giving includes £140 million of funding for victims’ services and £47 million ring-fenced particularly for organisations such as Cohort 4. I say thank you to Cohort 4 and similar organisations for everything they do.

May I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to our armed forces, and in sending our thanks and gratitude to the veterans of the Falklands war and their families?

Millions of families across our country are suffering because of the cost of living emergency. People in rural areas are especially hurting, bearing the brunt of record fuel price rises. The rural fuel duty relief scheme is supposed to help by taking money off the price of petrol, but some rural counties are not eligible, such as Cumbria, Shropshire and Devon—[Interruption.] The Conservative party does not want to hear ideas to help those people, and I think the people of Devon will take note because there are families and pensioners across rural counties who are missing out on this support. As petrol prices soar, will the Prime Minister accept our idea to help people in rural counties and expand rural fuel duty relief?

We cut fuel duty for everybody across the country by record sums. The right hon. Gentleman talks about pensioners; we are giving £850 more to every pensioner across the country. He talks about the cost of energy; everybody is going to get another £400 to help them with the costs of energy.

The blissful fact about the Liberal Democrats is that people do not actually know what their policies are. They are able to go around the country bamboozling the rural communities—not revealing that they are, in fact, in favour of massive new green taxes, which is what they want, and not revealing that they would like to go back, straightaway, into the common agricultural policy, with all the bureaucracy and all the costs that that entails. They do not say that on the doorstep.

Q6. There are proposals for up to 10,000 housing units on flood-prone greenfield sites to the west of Ifield in my constituency that would also represent intolerable pressure on local services. May I have an assurance from the Prime Minister that as we update planning legislation, we will enshrine the “brownfield first” principle for new developments, and save our environments and our services? (900550)

My hon. Friend is completely right. We encourage the use of suitable brownfield land, and our policy is brownfield first, everywhere and always.

Q2. The Prime Minister will know from my recent correspondence that a Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituent, Ruth Zuccarello, is the sister of Jim Fitton, who is currently imprisoned in Iraq. He has been sentenced to 15 years for collecting some shards of pottery. The judge passing the sentence did not believe that Mr Fitton had any criminal intent. This has obvious and significant implications for Jim and his loved ones. Is the Prime Minister willing to meet me and other MPs who have constituents in Jim’s family to discuss the case, so that we can work in concert to resolve some of the issues? (900545)

I am really grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising Mr Fitton’s case. I have a great deal of sympathy with him. I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman gets a meeting with the relevant Minister as soon as possible.

Q8. One of my youngest constituents, little Nellie Oakshott, is two years old and has been diagnosed with metachromatic leukodystrophy. Her very brave parents, Megan and Tom, are supporting a campaign for MLD to be added to the newborn blood spot test. Had it been included in the test, Nellie’s condition could have been treated. Now the family are squaring up to palliative care and planning to make every day count. Will the Prime Minister give his support to adding MLD to the heel-prick test, so that families can be spared the same heartbreak in future? (900552)

I thank my hon. Friend very much. I know that everybody’s thoughts will be with Nellie and her parents, Tom and Megan, at this very difficult time. The UK National Screening Committee has received a request to look again at the conditions for doing an MLD test, and that is being reviewed right now. I will make sure that my hon. Friend gets a meeting as soon as possible with the relevant Minister.

Q5. In just five days, rail passengers across the UK and in the north-east will face huge disruption—[Interruption.] But on the eve of the biggest rail dispute in a generation, it has emerged that Ministers have not held any talks whatsoever since March. I ask the Prime Minister: has he met trade unions and employers in the rail industry to attempt to bring the dispute to an end—yes or no? (900549)

I noticed that when one union baron was asked about this, he said, “I don’t negotiate with a Tory Government.” That is what he said, Mr Speaker. We all know how much money the Labour Front Benchers take from the RMT. We know why they are sitting on their hands during Labour’s rail strike. They should come out and condemn it.

Q10. Today is Pension Credit Awareness Day. Pension credit is currently underclaimed, with about a quarter of those who are entitled to it not claiming it. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging people in Gedling and throughout the country to check their eligibility and make that claim, so that we can get more money into the pockets of pensioners? (900554)

That is a very worthwhile and important campaign that my hon. Friend supports. Too many pensioners fail to take up their entitlements under pension credit. It can be worth an additional £3,300 a year, and the more we can do to make pensioners aware of it, the better.

Q7.   Mr Speaker,“Why is it that the worst people often rise to the highest office and stay there?”Not my words about the Prime Minister, but those of his newest appointment—his cost of living tsar. Families across Cardiff North who are crippled with sky-rocketing bills and are unable to afford even the most basic necessities all agree with him, saying, “This Prime Minister has to go.” If even the Prime Minister’s own tsar does not have faith in him, tell me why those who are struggling should. (900551)

The hon. Lady has asked that question repeatedly. Let me remind her that this is a Government who get on and deliver on our promises to the people—in particular, on getting Brexit done. I read the other day that she wants to go back into the single market and the customs union. If going back into the EU is the real policy of the Labour party, why will the Leader of the Opposition not admit it?

Q11. When our family adopted my two brothers in the 1980s, support for adopters, whether that be financial, therapeutic or professional, was minimal. By the time I became a family law barrister in the late 1990s, it really was not much better. Efforts since, particularly the adoption support fund from 2015 onwards, have improved the situation, but, as ever, there is much more that we can do. To that end, will my right hon. Friend look at making self-employed adopters eligible for statutory adoption pay so that they can also have a better and fairer start to family life? (900555)

My hon. Friend is a great champion of adopters and all those who help to give children a loving and stable home. He is quite right, we have so far focused on supporting employed parents, but local authorities have the power to provide discretionary payments equivalent to maternity allowance for self-employed adopters as well.

Q9. We know that, at times of economic hardship, suicide rates are likely to rise too. We saw that after the 2008 crash. As well as doing more to support people through the cost of living crisis, will the Prime Minister commit to doing more to support excellent suicide prevention campaigns such as CALM—the Campaign Against Living Miserably—and also implement Labour’s pledge to let anyone in need of it to be able to access mental health counselling within a month and to end waiting lists? (900553)

The hon. Lady is entirely right. We must focus ever more on mental health. That is why we are putting another £2.3 billion into supporting mental health, which includes suicide prevention and the many wonderful charities that help people with their conditions. All I can say is that it would be a good thing if, across the Floor of this House, we had support for the spending that we are putting in.

Q12. The conflict in Ukraine and the consequent disruption of the supply chain in wheat have highlighted the need for the United Kingdom to become more self-sufficient in food. The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which has its Second Reading this afternoon, will help create the conditions to enable English farmers to produce more food of higher quality. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the drive to self-sufficiency requires a UK-wide effort? Will he urge the devolved Administrations to adopt the provisions of the Bill, so that farmers across Britain can produce the food that the country needs? (900556)

My right hon. Friend is completely right that, currently, the Bill only applies to England. But, in a loving and sharing way, we are going to work with the devolved Administrations so that the whole of the UK can enjoy the benefits.

Q14.   Mental health support is vital for victims of sexual crimes. When a Rotherham survivor, who is here today, reported her childhood abuse to the police, they told her not to go for counselling as it could be used against her in court. Your Attorney General, Prime Minister, is challenging the rules to make it even easier for defence teams to access victims’ counselling notes, which has an immediate chilling effect. Survivors should not be forced to choose between their mental health and justice. Prime Minister, please stop this. (900558)

I am very interested to hear what the hon. Lady says, and I will look at the evidence that she has. These are very sensitive and difficult issues, particularly with regard to defence cases. But if she looks at what is happening on rape and serious sexual offences, where we have had similar problems, she will see that we are gradually starting to see an improvement in the prosecution rates. That is because Departments across Whitehall are working together to take account of victims’ needs. I agree that the progress is not everything that I would like, but we are seeing progress.

Q13. My right hon. Friend may be aware that the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust has recently submitted a revised outline business case in support of its £312 million capital allocation made by the Department of Health and Social Care four years ago. Does he agree that, in order to make progress and complete the ambitious hospital building programme, the NHS decision-making processes need to be not only levelled up, but speeded up? (900557)

My right hon. Friend certainly speaks for many in this House in wanting faster decisions on planning and the NHS, and that is what we are doing. We are pushing through, as he knows, 40 hospitals by the—[Interruption.] Forty hospitals we are building, and what that needs is the funding. I tactfully point out again that Members on the Opposition Benches are bellowing away, but they voted against the extra £39 billion that we are putting in.

My constituent Mr Singh’s identity has been stolen. His NHS records are being misused, but he has been advised that there is nothing the Health Secretary can do. Crimes are being committed in his name. The Home Secretary’s Department assured him that that would not affect his immigration status, yet recently he and his wife and children were detained by UK Border Force while travelling for a family holiday. Can the Prime Minister explain who in his Government is responsible for this chaotic incompetence?

I would be only too happy to look at this. I am very sorry for the experience Mr Singh and his family have had. The hon. Lady asks who is responsible: I am responsible, and I take responsibility. I will look at the case and I will make sure that she gets a proper answer from the Home Office and the immigration department.

My constituent Dominique Davies is the niece of Dom Phillips, the British journalist missing in Brazil alongside the indigenous expert Bruno Pereira. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government make this case a diplomatic priority, and that they work to do everything they can to ensure that the Brazilian authorities put in the resources necessary to uncover the truth and find out what has happened to Dom and Bruno?

I thank my right hon. Friend very much for representing the niece of Dom Phillips. Like everybody in this House, we are deeply concerned about what may have happened to him. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials are working closely now with the Brazilian authorities following his disappearance on 5 June. The Minister responsible has raised the issue of the search and rescue effort repeatedly with Brazil’s Minister of Justice and Public Security; what we have told the Brazilians is that we stand ready to provide all the support that they may need.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could advise me on how I can correct the record on the question from the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), who raised the matter of rural fuel duty relief and incorrectly advised that it was not available in Devon. In my North Devon constituency, which I on this side of the House clearly know quite well, fuel retailers in the EX35 postcode of Lynton have had access to the duty relief for some time. How might we address that situation?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. The Chair is not responsible for points made by right hon. and hon. Members, but she has put her concerns on the record, so I suggest we leave it at that.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for raising that point and—not directly, I think—pointing out that vast parts of Devon do not have rural fuel duty relief.

I think this is becoming a continuation of Prime Minister’s questions, so we will leave it at that.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, in Prime Minister’s questions the Prime Minister said that the Leader of the Opposition was a supporter of people traffickers. I think that should be taken out of the record.

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. Frankly, the level of noise during PMQs meant that it was not possible for the Chair to hear everything, but I understand that the Prime Minister did say, as she says, that the Opposition were on the side of people traffickers. That seems to me—and, I have to say, to the Speaker—to fall well short of the good temper and moderation that should characterise our debates. I say to the Prime Minister and to all Members here that we need to refer to each other in this place in more respectful terms, and I am sure that that spirit will be adopted in the statement to come.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Speaking as Chair of the International Trade Committee, it was to the dismay of the Committee that we found out that the Government were to trigger the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process on the Australia-UK free trade agreement before the scrutiny was finished. This is in the light of assurances in a letter to the Speaker of the House, assurances from a Department for International Trade Minister at the Dispatch Box on the Floor of the House on 17 November 2021, and assurances to the Committee itself that scrutiny would be allowed to happen before CRAG was triggered. This has not happened. What is happening is that the UK is opening and rolling out the red carpet to Australian exporters to the UK while Australia is not ratifying. We in the Committee feel that there should be a vote, at the very least, to delay CRAG. Can you advise us, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how best we can achieve that end?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. It did not relate directly to PMQs, so it should actually have been taken later. However, Ministers should obviously stick to commitments that they have made, and I am sure that he will find a number of ways to further the points that he has made.