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Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 22 June 2022

To mark Windrush Day, today sees the unveiling of a national monument at Waterloo station that acknowledges the Windrush generation’s outstanding contribution to British society and will also be a permanent place of reflection.

As part of Armed Forces Week, I was delighted to host a reception yesterday in Downing Street. Members across the House are immensely proud of our armed forces and we thank them and their families for their service to our country.

I know the House will welcome the deal that we have signed with Moderna, which will see it build new facilities in the UK, including around £1 billion of new investment in research and development.

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. I will be travelling thereafter to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda, and I will then be attending the G7 leaders summit and the NATO summit, Mr Speaker, so a full budget of news for you there.

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments in relation to the armed forces and other comments?

Has the Prime Minister ever considered the appointment of his current spouse to a Government post or to any organisation in one of the royal households? Be honest, Prime Minister—yes or no?

I know why Labour Members want to talk about non-existent jobs in the media—because they do not want to talk about what is going on in the real world. I am proud to say that we now have 620,000 more people in payroll employment than before the pandemic began, which would never have been possible if we had listened to the Leader of the Opposition.

Q2.   The UK is the global leader in social outcomes contracts, which can deliver public services in an array of areas, from healthcare to mental healthcare, employment, education and development aid. According to Big Society Capital, every £1 the Government have spent in this way has delivered £10 in further economic, social and fiscal value, including £3 in direct savings to Government. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time is right for the Government to redouble their focus on this outcomes-led commissioning? (900645)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to champion this type of approach, which makes a real difference to people’s lives and people suffering from mental health issues, helping them to find a route back into work. That is why we are commissioning more initiatives through funds such as the life chances fund, helping those people in society who face the biggest barriers to have happy and productive lives.

Can I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Windrush, and pay tribute to everyone who is serving and has served in our armed forces? Can I also pay tribute to everyone standing for election tomorrow and in particular the plucky Conservative candidate for Wakefield? He is standing, even though his own colleagues think he is so useless that they held a vote of no confidence in him. Does the Prime Minister hold any personal interest in seeing if the public will vote for a Tory who even his own side do not think is up to it?

I have absolutely no doubt that the people of this country, and the people of Wakefield and of Tiverton and Honiton, would much rather vote for a solid Conservative Government than a Labour party and its enablers and acolytes in the Liberal Democrats—the karma chameleons of British politics—when the leader of the Labour party has not even got the gumption to speak out against the rail strikes that have caused so much damage to the people in the north of this country and up and down the country. There is unbelievable silence from the leader of the Labour party.

The Prime Minister has obviously not been to Wakefield recently. He has crashed the economy and he has put everybody’s tax up. The last Tory he sent up to Wakefield was convicted of a sexual assault. That is not much of a pitch, Prime Minister. Talking of people not up to the job, while the Transport Secretary spends his time working on his spreadsheet tracking the Prime Minister’s unpopularity, thousands of families have had their holiday flights cancelled, it takes forever to renew a driving licence or passport and now we have the biggest rail strike in 30 years. If the Prime Minister is genuine—[Interruption.]

Order. Both sides, let us calm down. We have only just started. The problem is, it will go on forever, and nobody wants that, I assure you, whoever is speaking or asking questions.

If the Prime Minister is genuine about preventing strikes, will he tell this House how many meetings he or his Transport Secretary have had with rail workers this week to actually stop the strikes?

This is the Government who love the railways and who invest in the railways. We are putting £96 billion into the integrated railway plan. I am proud to have built Crossrail, by the way, and we are going to build Northern Powerhouse Rail, but we have got to modernise our railways. It is a disgrace, when we are planning to make sure that we do not have ticket offices that sell fewer than one ticket every hour, that yesterday the right hon. and learned Gentleman had 25 Labour MPs out on the picket line, defying instructions—[Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the Prime Minister’s answer, even if some Members do not. I think they ought to show some respect to the Prime Minister.

There were 25 Labour MPs and the shadow deputy leader out on the picket line, backing the strikers, while we back the strivers.

I am surprised the Prime Minister is giving me advice about my team. If I do need advice, let us say, about a £100,000 job at the Foreign Office, I will ask him for a recommendation.

There you have it, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister of this country and his Transport Secretary have not attended a single meeting, held a conversation or lifted a finger to stop these strikes. But I did note that on Monday they found time to go to a lavish ball, where the Prime Minister sold a meeting with himself for £120,000 to a donor. If there is money coming his way, he is there. When it comes to the country, he is nowhere to be seen. Rather than blame everyone else, why does he not do his job, get round the table and get the trains running?

We are making sure that we do everything we can to prevent these strikes. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, it is up to the railway companies to negotiate—that is their job. We spent £16 billion looking after the railways throughout the pandemic. That has cost every household £600. We know why he takes the line he does; we know why he will not condemn the strikes; and we know why, even now, he does not have the gumption to call out his MPs who are going out to support the pickets. The reason his authority is on the line in this matter is that the Opposition take £10 million from the unions. That is the fee that he is receiving for the case he is failing to make.

The Prime Minister cannot help himself. There is a huge problem facing the country, and all he is interested in doing is blaming everyone else. Can he not hear the country screaming at him, “Get on with your job!”? While he blames everyone and anyone, working people are paying the price. This week, his Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that there is a “society-wide responsibility” for people to take a pay cut. At the same time, his chief of staff, the right hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay), is trying to change the law to get bankers’ bonuses increased. So come one, only one of them can be right: is it his Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who says that every worker needs a pay cut, or is it his chief of staff, who says that every banker needs a pay rise?

Actually, under this Government, 5 million public sector workers are getting a pay rise. We have increased the living wage by £1,000 and we have increased universal credit so that people get £1,000 more. Thanks to the fiscal firepower that we have, we are putting £1,200 more into every one of the 8 million most vulnerable households in the country. That is what we can do because of the tough decisions that we have taken. But meantime, what we are also trying to do is cut the cost of transport, which is a big part of people’s weekly outgoings, by reforming our railways. That is what we are trying to do, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is standing with the strikers and lifting the cost of transport for everybody. That is the reality.

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff says that removing the cap on bankers’ bonuses is

“reflective of the new approach”.

Pay rises for city bankers, pay cuts for district nurses—that is the new approach. I did not see that on any leaflets in Wakefield. But this has not come from nowhere, because according to the Financial Times, on 7 June last year, the Prime Minister was directly lobbied for the cap to be lifted. Rather than help working people, he has rolled over on bankers’ bonuses, has he not?

What we are actually doing, thanks to the decisions we have taken, is putting more money into the pockets of people up and down the country—£1,200 more for the 8 million most vulnerable households. The reason we can do that is because we took the tough decisions necessary to come out of the pandemic faster than any other European country. That is why we have unemployment at or near record lows. None of that would have been possible if we had listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We have more people now in payrolled employment than we had before the pandemic began. That is what the British people know, and that is what this Government will continue to deliver.

Fifteen tax rises, high tax, low wages, low growth—that sums the Prime Minister’s Government up. Working people are paying more tax under this Government, and now they are told to take a pay cut. He is having meetings about increasing bankers’ bonuses, but he cannot find time for a single meeting to end the strikes crippling the country.

It is Armed Forces Week. Under this Prime Minister, those serving our country are facing a real-terms pay cut. Why are his Government more focused on increasing bankers’—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr MacNeil, your voice is not quiet—it is like mine; it carries. The best thing to do, if you want it to carry, is to try standing on the Terrace for a while.

It is Armed Forces Week. Under this Prime Minister, those serving our country are facing a real-terms pay cut. Why are his Government more focused on increasing bankers’ pay than the pay of those who are running the country?

How absolutely satirical that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should talk about our support for the armed forces when we have increased our funding for our armed forces by a record sum since the end of the cold war, and when eight of the shadow Front Bench team—eight of the shadow Front Bench—actually want to get rid of our nuclear deterrent, including the shadow Foreign Secretary. [Interruption.] Yes, it is true. We are helping people up and down the country: £1,200 will be coming into the bank accounts of the 8 million most vulnerable households. The cut in national insurance will be coming into their bank accounts as a result of the steps my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has taken. But what we are also doing is reforming our systems so that we cut costs for people up and down the country; reforming our energy markets, building a new nuclear reactor every year rather than one every 10 years; getting people off welfare into work—half a million people off welfare into work—because we have cut the time people are waiting on benefits; and cutting the costs of transport for working people by delivering reforms. We are doing that while they are out on the picket line, literally holding hands with Arthur Scargill. That’s them: it is worse than under Jeremy Corbyn. This is a Government who are taking this country forward; they would take it back to the 1970s.

Q4.   For years in Harrogate and Knaresborough, we had the Labour no-growth Northern rail franchise. We now have new rolling stock, and more and better services. We have, though, seen some lost as the industry has had to suspend some services while it catches up on driver training lost during the pandemic. Strikes just take us back to the 1970s, so will the Prime Minister’s focus on the future ensure that we have apprenticeship schemes focusing on engineering and driver training to ensure that we recover the services lost, and that we have an industry that is focused on efficiency and embraces technology for the future? (900648)

My hon. Friend knows exactly of what he speaks, and we are doing just that. We are reforming train driver training to make entry into the sector simpler, while continuing, of course, to make sure that we meet vital safety requirements.

May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party as we mark Armed Services Week? We thank all our service personnel for the services that they give.

On Windrush Day, we celebrate all those who have made Scotland and the UK their home. My party backs calls for a major commemoration for the 75th anniversary next year so we can properly mark the valued contribution that those who came here have made.

This morning, it was revealed that UK inflation is now at a 40-year high. Families right across these islands are seeing their incomes squeezed as prices rise, bills soar, and Tory cuts and tax hikes hammer home. After 12 years in government, the Tories have left the UK economy in the doldrums and pushed millions of people into poverty, so can I ask the Prime Minister: does he think his Government bear any blame for the fact that the United Kingdom is doing so much worse than our European neighbours?

Actually, as I think the whole House knows and the whole country knows, we have a global inflationary problem, but this Government have the fiscal firepower to deal with it. That is, I think, of benefit to the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, as we have seen throughout the pandemic, and I think it is a matter of fact that taxes are actually highest of all in Scotland.

Well, actually, that is not true. Of course, the Prime Minister can make all the excuses he likes, but the fact is that the UK economy is lagging behind on his watch. If he looks at France, inflation is less than 6% there. This morning’s report from the Resolution Foundation and the London School of Economics is the latest in a string of devastating reports on the outlook for the UK economy. The report could not be clearer. The Tory Government’s disastrous Brexit is driving wages down, pushing inflation up and will make us poorer over the next decade, but instead of reversing course, the Prime Minister is recklessly threatening a trade war at the worst possible time. Will he finally come to his senses and negotiate an economic agreement with the EU, or is he going to wilfully—wilfully—push the UK into recession?

Nobody wants a trade war, nor is there any need for one. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman is underestimating what this country is currently achieving—not just the Moderna investment, but record venture capital investment in this country, which has now overtaken China as a venue for venture capital investment, to say nothing of what we are getting in tech, and of course the benefits of that are being felt throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

Q5. I very much support the Government’s work to level up all parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland and my constituency in the Scottish Borders. For the Scottish Borders, improved transport connectivity is the key to levelling up, so will the Prime Minister reconfirm his Government’s support for improvements to the cross-border A1 road and the feasibility study to extend the Borders railway to Hawick and Newcastleton and on to Carlisle? (900649)

I thank my hon. Friend for an excellent piece of lobbying. Certainly, the Department for Transport is working with Transport Scotland on the possible extension of the Borders railway to Carlisle. On the A1, a decision is to be made later this year.

It has emerged that there is a backlog of 23,000 applications under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, with just two of 3,000 applications for refuge by Afghans who worked for Britain having been processed since April. At the same time, since December, staff working on the ARAP scheme have been slashed by a quarter. This is an incredible betrayal of the Afghan people who put their lives on the line to work for our country. I still have casework, including many people from the Chevening Alumni, for example, who have been promised support since September, so can I send those cases to the Prime Minister? Will he put more resources into the scheme? Will he lift the cap on the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme so that we can finally do our best for the people of Afghanistan?

I am afraid that the hon. Member is underestimating what the country is already doing for the people of Afghanistan. On Armed Forces Day, we should celebrate Op Pitting, which brought 15,000 out. Of course, I am happy to look at the cases that she wants to raise, and we will do our best for them and for their families, but the House should be in no doubt of the generous welcome that we continue to give to people from Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Hong Kong. We have a record to be very proud of.

Q6. My constituents in Chapelford, Penketh, Great Sankey and Appleton all tell me that they want to see more police officers tackling issues such as antisocial behaviour, domestic abuse and burglary. Thanks to the initiatives of John Dwyer, the excellent police and crime commissioner in Cheshire, and sustained recruitment by the new chief constable, the hard work of our police officers is paying off, with an almost 50% increase in arrests for domestic abuse in Cheshire in the last 12 months. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on how many more officers have been recruited in both Cheshire and across the UK since he became Prime Minister? Will he join me in recognising— (900650)

Order. Can I just say that other Members do want to get in and, the longer the question, the fewer of them will get in? Your friendships will dwindle if you carry on like that.

I can tell my hon. Friend very briefly that it is 13,576 more police officers, with 200 more in Cheshire. They are also cutting neighbourhood crime—already by 31%—and our streets are getting safer as a result.

Q3. A clear majority of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly reject the Government’s protocol Bill and the Prime Minister’s rationale for it. Businesses fear its consequences. The Prime Minister has made clear, on multiple occasions, his so-called commitment to all aspects of the Good Friday agreement, and that includes the European convention on human rights being part of domestic law, so how can he stand over that commitment when the Justice Secretary is about to publish a Bill that unpicks and disapplies the Human Rights Act in our domestic law? He cannot have it both ways. (900646)

If the hon. Gentleman will just wait for the Justice Secretary’s statement, which follows shortly, I think he will find that he is in error in what he said.

Q7. High wage, high skilled jobs are at the heart of my campaign to level up Rother Valley and tackle the cost of living crisis. I have personally hosted two jobs fairs, and thanks to an £11 million investment from the Government levelling-up fund, Rother Valley will benefit from a cutting-edge skills and employment village and a leading incubator space for training apprenticeships and start-ups, hosted at the old Maltby Grammar School, in areas neglected under Labour. In light of this, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pledge his support for high wage, high skilled Rother Valley, level up our high streets, and also visit Rother Valley to see levelling up in action? (900651)

My hon. Friend is probably the best Member for Rother Valley we have ever had. I thank him very much and we are going to continue our agenda of levelling up across the whole country, through all the difficulties this country has faced, which will get young people across the country, including in Rother Valley, into good jobs for generations to come. That is our ambition.

Q8.   Tens of thousands of people were marching through London last weekend protesting against this out-of-touch Government, rail workers are on strike, and Royal Mail workers, NHS workers, teachers and even barristers are on the verge of taking industrial action. All workers are struggling to cope with the worst cost of living crisis in history. Ministers are planning to boost City bosses’ pay while demanding wage restraint for everyone else, so can the Prime Minister tell me when he is going to stop giving meaningless soundbites and instead start supporting working people across our country? (900652)

If the hon. Lady wants to support the working people of this country, I suggest she gets off the picket line, has a word with her party leader and supports the travelling public of this country, who want to see a reduction in their transport costs, which this Government are delivering.

Q10.   For much of Britain levelling up means the revitalisation of British industry and the jobs that go with it. Many countries around the world, including Germany and China, get a competitive advantage by burning lignite, the dirtiest form of fossil fuel. Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns about the ethics of holding back British industry and exporting—and magnifying—our carbon emissions overseas, all in the name of net zero? (900654)

We can all be proud of the way we have reduced CO2 emissions in this country, but plainly it makes no sense to be importing coal, particularly for metallurgical purposes, when we have our own domestic resources.

Q9.   The Prime Minister knows that we in Coventry and Warwickshire are proudly the UK’s leading centre for vehicle battery innovation; he knows because he visited the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre just last year. If this Government want this vital sector to survive for the future, the Prime Minister needs to confirm his support: will he give a concrete guarantee for the resources needed for the west midlands gigafactory project to go ahead, so we can deliver much-needed skilled jobs in Coventry for 2025? (900653)

That is probably the first sensible question from the Opposition Benches, and I can tell the hon. Lady that we do actively support gigafactories because I believe they can be a huge advantage for the UK economy. That is why I am proud to see one now in Blyth, and we are working with the authorities in the west midlands, in Coventry, to make sure we also get a successful result there.

Q11.   Hereford Sixth Form College has over 600 students who rely on the trains to get them to their exams this week. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that these young people doing their GCSEs and A-levels are not punished by the train strikers? (900655)

I know how much my hon. Friend cares for the students in his constituency and I can tell him that no exams have been cancelled as a result of the strikes so far. We expect schools and colleges to have contingency arrangements in place to manage disruption. If students arrive late, schools should allow them to take the paper, and exam boards will determine if that paper can be marked based on how late the student has arrived. I am also told that if a student misses an exam completely, the school can apply for their grades to be calculated from the other assessments they have completed in that subject. I hope that is helpful to my hon. Friend.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the problems that arose in Paris at the European cup final. Does he agree that both the French and UEFA authorities’ attempts to blame Liverpool fans for the failure to keep order at the stadium has been comprehensively disproved, and will he ensure that the French failure to police the event is roundly condemned?

I think the whole House will have seen how those initial accounts of what took place were completely debunked and proved to be incorrect in respect of the Liverpool fans, and I think it was right that the French authorities and, I think, UEFA issued a full apology for what had happened.

I think my right hon. Friend should wait for my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister to say a little about that in just a moment, but I can tell him that when it comes to the Rwanda policy that we are pursuing, that policy has not been ruled unlawful by any UK court or, so far, by any international court, and we will continue with that policy.

The father-in-law of my constituent Ibrahim is a former Supreme Court judge in Afghanistan. He successfully prosecuted and put behind bars hundreds of terrorists associated with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS. Seven months after he submitted his ARAP application, there has still been no progress, and he is living in hiding. His only option is a perilous journey to Pakistan, where, if his visa is refused, he will be deported back into the hands of the Taliban. Will the Prime Minister meet me and the former judge’s family to see how we can save the life of a man who I have no doubt has helped to save hundreds of British lives?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that case. It does sound extremely meritorious. I will make sure that she has a meeting with the Ministry of Defence, which runs ARAP, and that we do our best to expedite that application as fast as we can.

Q13. I am proud to represent more than 1,000 park home residents. When will the Government address the injustice of pitch fees determined by the retail prices index, and how will they ensure that all those residents can benefit from the energy grant? (900658)

As soon as parliamentary time allows, we will introduce legislation to change the inflationary index used in the calculation of the annual pitch fees to the consumer prices index. I am told that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has undertaken research on the impacts on residents and site owners of a change in the 10% commission that is currently paid on the sale of a park home.

I am sure the Prime Minister is as thrilled as I am that you, Mr Speaker, signed the Wellbeing of Women menopause workplace pledge last week to show support for women in this place. Will the Prime Minister follow that example and ensure that women in England have better access to treatment by introducing a single annual payment for hormone replacement therapy now, rather than making them wait until April 2023, a full 18 months after the payment was first promised?

I thank the hon. Lady very much for raising a very important issue that is understood keenly in all parts of the House. I know that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is accelerating the work of the HRT taskforce to give people up and down the country the reassurance and the treatment that they need.

I was incredibly grateful to the Prime Minister for coming to Watford to launch my initiative to train 1,000 mental health first aiders in awareness more than a year and a half ago. Since then, it has been delivered successfully by Watford and West Herts chamber of commerce and many amazing volunteers. I know that the Prime Minister understands the importance of mental health and wellbeing, but, sadly, bullying can have a long-lasting effect on it. Today, the Diana Award is raising awareness of bullying in schools and online with its “Don’t Face It Alone” campaign. Will the Prime Minister please join me in encouraging any young person experiencing bullying to speak up and speak out?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his own campaign on this issue. I think everyone understands that bullying is an appalling experience, and something that we should not tolerate in our society. I am delighted to see so many colleagues—so many hon. Members—wearing their blue ribbons today. We should all speak out against bullying, but we should also make sure that we give everyone the courage to speak out against it.