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Volume 717: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2022

I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda and the G7 leaders summit, and today he is at the NATO summit in Madrid.

I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the family and friends of Dame Deborah James following the news of her death. I lost my father at a young age to cancer and I know first hand the pain that her family must be feeling. But we also know that Dame Deborah was a huge inspiration to so many and raised millions to help others affected by cancer.

Nationally, 52% of disabled people are in work compared with 81% of non-disabled people. Disability Action Yorkshire, which is a charity based in Harrogate, works to close that gap, and it has highlighted the success of the Access to Work scheme. For example, one young person, having been told he would never work, is now, thanks to the targeted support available, a trainee brewer at Rooster’s brewery. Will my right hon. Friend consider how we can boost awareness of the Access to Work scheme among employers and also consider how we can simplify the application process so that more disabled people do not get deterred and will embrace it?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the work of Disability Action Yorkshire, which is doing terrific work in his constituency. I can reassure him that the Department for Work and Pensions is committed to improving awareness through campaigns and partnerships with employers, but also disability organisations. It is also working specifically on a digital service that will make the scheme more accessible and more visible.

I share with the Deputy Prime Minister his deepest condolences and his personal experiences as we mourn the loss of Dame Deborah James, who fearlessly campaigned to inspire so many and, I am absolutely sure, saved the lives of many more. I also think of the family of Zara Aleena, who was tragically murdered this week on the streets of Ilford.

I want to congratulate the two new hon. Members who won in the by-elections last week, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood). Last week the Government lost two by-elections in one day, for the first time in three decades. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister has fled the country and left the Deputy Prime Minister to carry the can. The people of Wakefield and Tiverton held their own vote of no confidence. The Prime Minister is not just losing the room; he is losing the country. But instead of showing some humility, he intends to limp on until the 2030s—so does the Deputy Prime Minister think the Cabinet will prop him up for that long?

I thank the right hon. Lady, and I gently point out to her that we want this Prime Minister to go on a lot longer than she wants the leader of the Labour party to go on. We have a working majority of 75. We are focusing on delivering for the British people. Record low unemployment would not have happened if we had listened to the Labour party. We have more policing and tougher sentencing enforced this week through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. She voted against both; so did the Labour party. We will protect the public from these damaging rail strikes when we have the scene of Labour Front Benchers joining the picket lines.

Here we go again. The truth is that what I want for my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition is not to be the Leader of the Opposition but to be the Prime Minister of this country—and to be honest, it could not come quickly enough. Britain cannot stomach this Prime Minister for another eight years. His own Back Benchers cannot stomach him for another eight minutes. If they continue to prop him up, I doubt the voters will stomach him for even eight seconds at the ballot box.

Now, let us imagine that the Prime Minister is still clinging on into the 2030s. Under this high-tax, low-growth Tory Government, at this rate by 2030 the British public will have endured 55 tax rises. How many more tax rises will this Government inflict on working families before the Deputy Prime Minister says enough is enough?

I think the right hon. Lady was right the first time. I will tell the House what we are doing: we have near-record levels of youth employment and 3.8% unemployment; we are cutting taxes next month on national insurance by £330 million; and we are delivering for families through the difficult times with the cost of living. What about the Labour party? We heard yesterday what its plan is: its plan is no plan. The leader of the Labour party said he is wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch. He has only been in the job two years. Sir Tony Blair, who has some experience of winning elections, has said there is a “gaping hole” in Labour’s policy offer, and all the while—there is a smile creeping over her face—the right hon. Lady is revelling in it. We are getting on with serving the people of this country; she is just playing political games.

I would revel in the opportunity for the people of this country to have more than just by-elections to show what they think of this Government. Call a general election, and see where the people are. The Deputy Prime Minister is a man who once said that high levels of government taxation were “hurting UK competitiveness”. Now, he is backing the Prime Minister, who wants to put taxes up 15 times. At this rate, working people will be paying £500 billion more in tax by 2030. How high does he think the burden on working people should get before he says enough is enough?

We are the ones helping working people with a tax cut of £330, with support for those on the lowest incomes, with the £650 support for 8 million people on the lowest incomes and with, frankly, record levels of investment coming into this country, from the £1 billion by Moderna for vaccines to the highest level of tech investment in Europe, according to Atomico. We are the ones with the plan for low unemployment and a high-wage, high-skill economy. For Labour, it is back to year zero.

The Deputy Prime Minister pretends to empathise with those struggling with the Tory cost of living crisis, when he himself once said that food bank users are not in poverty, but simply have “a cashflow problem”. He does not; he has spent more than £1 million in nine months on private jets. It shows how out of touch this Government are, but at this rate, by 2030, a million more people will be using food banks. How many more working people will be pushed into poverty by his Prime Minister before he says enough is enough?

If the Labour party and the right hon. Lady want to help working people, they should be clear in standing up against these militant, reckless strikes by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. The right hon. Lady has flip-flopped all over the place when it comes to these strikes. First, she said they were “lose-lose”. Then, she tweeted that

“workers were left with no choice”.

When she was asked by the BBC the straight question—she is normally a straight-shooting politician— of whether she liked the RMT, she said, “I am going to have to go now, I have a train to catch.” She talks about working people, but where was she when comrades were on the picket line last Thursday? Where was she when the Labour Front Benchers were joining them, rather than standing up for the public? She was at the Glyndebourne music festival, sipping champagne and listening to opera. Champagne socialism is back in the Labour party.

Well, well; that says a lot about the Conservative party. I will tell Conservative Members a few things about militancy. It is this Government who are acting in a militant way. While they should have been at the negotiating table, they were at the banqueting table getting hundreds of thousands squeezed out of their donors, instead of dealing with the crisis. The Deputy Prime Minister talks about trains. No one can get trains, because of his failed Transport Secretary. I will say that the Deputy Prime Minister has a stronger stomach than his—[Interruption.]

Order. I think we will have a little quiet. I want to hear the question, and hon. Members will also want to hear the answer.

Mr Speaker, I think it is rather ironic that you have to intervene because of the baying mob here, when the Government, through their noisy protest laws, have people being stopped after protesting out on the street. The thing is, they do not like it when the public say what they think of them. The right hon. Gentleman has a stronger stomach than his colleagues behind him—[Interruption.]

Order. Honestly, I want to hear the question and I want to hear the answer—and, I hate to say it to hon. Members, but so do their constituents. Think about them for once, instead of yourselves.

When Conservative Back Benchers were asked about the absent Prime Minister’s plans to stick around until 2030, one said that he had “lost the plot” and another said that

“anyone with half a brain”

would realise how dire things are. A former Conservative leader said that

“the country would be better off under new leadership.”

Now the Prime Minister is at war with his own Defence Secretary after confirming that he will break his manifesto pledge to increase defence spending. Under this Government, Britain is set to have less troops, less planes and less ships. The only thing the Prime Minister is interested in is defending his own job. Just how many more troops have to lose their jobs before the Deputy Prime Minister finally says enough is enough?

In fact, there is a £24 billion increase for our armed forces. Spending on the armed forces is rising to 2.3% of GDP—again, making us the largest military spender in Europe. Frankly, we will take no lessons from the right hon. Lady when it comes to the security of this country. The first thing she did when she became an MP in 2016 was to vote against Trident, leaving us exposed, and she campaigned for the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who would take us out of NATO, to be Prime Minister.

Talking about NATO, where was the right hon. Gentleman during the situation in Afghanistan? On a sun lounger; that is where he was. I take no lectures from him when it comes to doing my job. The Prime Minister said that he felt no shame over the by-election defeats and that the Government have been “quite exceptional”. Well, I agree that they have been exceptional, all right—an exceptional record on stagnant wages, rising poverty and broken promises. The Prime Minister wants to drag this out until the 2030s. How much more can the Deputy Prime Minister stomach before he finds the guts? How many more tax rises, how many more families driven into poverty, and how many manifesto pledges broken? For the sake of the British public, I hope that we never find out. When will he finally grow a backbone and tell the Prime Minister that the game is up?

I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Lady is auditioning for the leadership contest on her side of the House, and not really referring to anything that is happening on this side. [Interruption.] She has the support of the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). I will tell her what we are doing: we are putting in place the policies to grow our economy, to help—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Murray, we have already had Scotland questions. They are not continuing; it is not your debate.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh South was just announcing his support for the right hon. Lady in the forthcoming—[Interruption.] We are putting in place the economic plan to help people with the cost of living; the Labour leader is getting ready for year zero. We are the ones supporting Ukraine with sanctions on Russia and military support; she voted to abolish Trident. We are the ones making the streets safer with more police and tougher sentencing under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which came into force this week; she voted against both. The Opposition have no plan. They are not fit to govern.

Q2. The Eden Project North has been five years of my parliamentary life. We have gone through three Prime Ministers, four Chancellors and a plethora of Ministers, but we have now got to a point where the levelling-up bid is going in very shortly. We have a shovel-ready plan and full planning permission. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it is money worth spending in Morecambe? (900783)

There is no greater or more tenacious campaigner for his constituents than my hon. Friend. He will know that I cannot discuss the details of any specific bids, but the next round of funding allocations will be announced in the autumn, so he will not have to wait too much longer.

I associate myself with the remarks of the Deputy Prime Minister and the deputy leader of the Labour party at the sad death of Dame Deborah James? Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this trying time, and we thank her for all that she has done to raise money for anti-cancer work.

Scotland’s First Minister has set the date and started the campaign. Our nation will have its independence referendum on 19 October 2023. The reality is that Scotland has already paid the price for not being independent, with Westminster Governments we did not vote for imposing policies that we do not support, breaking international law, dragging Scotland through a damaging Brexit we did not vote for, and delivering deep austerity cuts. Contrast that with our European neighbours, which have greater income equality, lower poverty rates and higher productivity—why not Scotland? In the weeks and months ahead, we will make the positive case for independence. Will the opposition, if they can, make the case for continued Westminster rule?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. It is always good to see him in his place. [Laughter.] No, genuinely, it is good to see him in his place. It is not the right time for another referendum given the challenges we face as one United Kingdom. He referred to some of the challenges in Scotland, but I think actually the people of Scotland want their two Governments to work together, and we are keen, willing and enthusiastic to do so.

There is no case for the Union, as we have just heard from the Deputy Prime Minister, because the harsh reality is that the Tories might fear democratic debate, but they do not have the right to block Scottish democracy. As the late Canon Kenyon Wright said:

“What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, ‘We say no, and we are the state’?”

His answer:

“Well, we say yes—and we are the people.”

Just last year, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross)—the leader of the Scottish Conservatives no less—put it, in his own words, that

“a vote for the SNP is a vote for another independence referendum.”

You will not often hear me say this, Mr Speaker, but I agree with him, and so do the Scottish people. Scottish democracy will not be a prisoner of any Prime Minister in this place. So why are the UK Government scared of democracy, or is it simply that they have run out of ideas to defend the failing Westminster system?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he is rather airbrushing history with that long soliloquy. He mentioned the problems that Scotland faces: a huge tax burden imposed by the SNP; Scotland’s record on science and maths under the international PISA rankings has now dropped below England and Wales; and the SNP has presided over the worst drug death rate in Europe—the highest since records began. I think the people of Scotland expect their Governments in Holyrood and in Westminster to work together to tackle the issues facing them in their day-to-day lives. That is what they want.

Q3. Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Laughter.] Mr Speaker, my sincere apologies.There are, Mr Speaker, great opportunities to create exciting new jobs in low-carbon energy along the East Anglian coast, and East Coast College is up for the challenge of providing local people with the necessary skills. However, it and other colleges are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain teachers in such work as fabrication, engineering and construction. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government come up with a cross-departmental strategy to address this staffing crisis in our further education colleges, which could undermine the levelling-up agenda? (900784)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why we are investing nearly £52 million to support the sector in recruiting and retaining excellent staff, and in particular looking at and focusing on the experience and skills that we often find in industry, to train the next generation of technical experts.

Mr Speaker,

“No country that values its independence, and indeed its self-respect, could agree to a treaty that signed away our economic independence and self-government,”—[Official Report, 25 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 1458.]


“Ultimately, membership of any union that involves the pooling of sovereignty can only be sustained with the consent of the people.”—[Official Report, 4 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 746.]

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with the Prime Minister and his predecessor—yes or no?

That is why we had the referendum a few years ago. The people of Scotland have spoken, and we think it is not the right time to be relitigating that issue.

Q6. Having spoken to Lord Ahmad yesterday, I thank the Government for listening and now allowing high-risk British Council contractors still in Afghanistan to be processed immediately on their application to the citizen resettlement scheme, rather than having to wait a further two months until the application window closes. With taxation at a 40-year high, when will the Government be bolder in cutting taxes, given that all the evidence the world over shows that lower taxes increase prosperity, raise living standards and better enable the Government to help the less fortunate—even if such a policy means cutting spending such as HS2? (900787)

My hon. Friend makes an important point about driving growth and the economy, which is why we are cutting taxes with the 130% super-deduction for capital investment. That will create not just good jobs, but well paid and better paid jobs, by boosting productivity. That is why we are increasing the employment allowance, which represents a tax cut of £1,000 for half a million small businesses, and that is why we have provided business rate relief of £7 billion over the next five years. Of course, just next month we are cutting national insurance, worth £330 for a typical employee.

Q4. As Tory MSP Murdo Fraser points out, Scotland has a third of Britain’s land mass, half its territorial waters, over 60% of UK fishing zones, 98% of oil reserves, 63% of natural gas, a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind resources, and 90% of the UK’s fresh water. Will the Deputy Prime Minister explain whether his opposition to Scottish independence is because he fears the loss of those invaluable resources? (900785)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right in what she just said. There are huge assets right across Scotland, and that is why we think we are stronger together in delivering for the people of Scotland.

Q7. The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that in North East Hertfordshire we have some of the best farmland in the country. At a time when there are concerns about food production and food security, and when the Government are considering rural land use, is it time to ensure that our productive farmland is not covered in solar plants, and that those are instead positioned on brownfield sites, buildings, and low-grade agricultural land? (900788)

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a powerful point, and our 2023 Land Use Framework will set out our priorities for land use across the country. He is right that we must protect the most versatile agricultural land, and any plans for ground-mounted solar installations will have to take that into account. His point is well made.

Q5. So far this year, 52 women have been killed in the UK. Our rights to free speech, safe spaces, fairness in sport, and even the words we use to describe our own bodies, are all under threat. Will the Deputy Prime Minister send a clear signal, as some of his Cabinet colleagues have done this week, that Britain respects the rights of women? Will he accept the cross-party amendment to the Bill of Rights Bill, which would enshrine in law a woman’s right to choose? (900786)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and let me say at the outset what huge respect I personally have for her and for the way she has stood up for women’s rights despite, frankly, the appalling, harassment, trolling and bullying she has faced. As she knows, the position on abortion is settled in UK law and it is decided by hon. Members across the House. It is an issue of conscience, and I do not think there is a strong case for change. With the greatest respect, I would not want us to find ourselves in the US position, where the issue is litigated through the courts, rather than settled, as it is now settled, by hon. Members in this House.

Q8. In February 2019, the House passed my excellent Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019, mandating the Government to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, enabling marriage records to include mothers’ details and requiring the Justice Secretary to produce a report empowering coroners to investigate stillbirths. The first two have come into force successfully, but, two and a half years on, despite further shocking revelations about deaths of babies at several hospitals, no report has yet been published; nor are there regulations to give coroners the powers they need. Why not? (900789)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. Stillbirth is an appalling tragedy that has the most devastating impact on families across the country. The Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Care have jointly consulted on proposals to provide coroners with new powers in that regard. I have looked at that personally, and we will publish the Government’s response to the consultation shortly.

Q11. Threatened, terrified and alone. That is how survivors of sexual violence told me they felt when they were pressured into signing non-disclosure agreements and gagging clauses by their universities. No victim of sexual assault or harassment should ever be coerced into silence by the very institutions that are meant to protect them—not at university, not at work, not anywhere. Will the Government back my Non-Disclosure Agreements Bill to ban the use of NDAs in cases of sexual harassment, bullying and misconduct? Will the Deputy Prime Minister consider meeting me in his role as Justice Secretary to discuss how we will put a stop to this deplorable practice once and for all? (900793)

I will look carefully at any particular proposals that the hon. Lady has. We have got to do everything we can to protect women and girls in this country and to make them feel more confident in the justice system. That is why I am relieved—but restless to go further—that in the last year the volume of rape convictions is up by two thirds. In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which came into force this week, we took extra measures. For example, we have: extended the time limit for reporting domestic abuse; and criminalised taking photos of a mother breastfeeding without consent. I will certainly look at her proposals.

Q9. This year, we are investing nearly £190 billion in the NHS, and yet many of us see disturbing deficiencies within NHS management, no more so than in the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. In 2018, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) and I secured £312 million for a major A&E modernisation in our local hospital trust, but, four years on, construction has still not started. What message can the Deputy Prime Minister give to the people of Shrewsbury as to how the Government can intervene to break the gridlock and finally allow the £312 million that we secured to be used to benefit the people of Shropshire and mid-Wales? (900791)

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents, particularly on NHS services. The DHSC recently received the strategic outline case for the transformation of A&E services in Shrewsbury and Telford. It is still being processed, but I can tell him that the trust is aiming to present the full business case in 2023, with construction starting in the same year.

Q12. When the Deputy Prime Minister announced his Bill of Rights last week, he said that it would strengthen our UK “tradition of freedom” Freedom? That is shameless from a Government whose contempt for the rule of law and devolution can be judged in equal measure. They are scrapping Welsh law against our will and denying Scotland the right to choose its own future. That is not freedom. Will he prove me wrong by enshrining self-determination in his Bill of Rights? (900794)

The right hon. Lady was deft in getting that in. Across the Benches, we have all heard the case for reinforcing free speech, whether that is about judge-made privacy laws or how people are shouted down when they express legitimate opinions. The people of Wales—this is true across the country—will also want to join us in making sure that we can deport more foreign national offenders. That is the reality for the people in Wales and across the United Kingdom. The Bill of Rights will strengthen our tradition of freedom while curbing those abuses and making sure that we inject a bit more common sense into the system.

Q10. Derriford Hospital in my constituency is part of the new hospital building programme announced by this Government; work on the new emergency department starts this year. That is a significant investment for the amazing staff there and the brilliant chief executive, Ann James, who works so hard. Given the incredible pressures on real estate in Derriford, will my right hon. Friend consider prioritising capital investment in that part of the UK to ensure that we can accelerate these plans—particularly in digital—so that people in Plymouth get the world-class healthcare they deserve? (900792)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is the largest hospital building programme in a generation, and his constituents are going to benefit very directly. I can tell him that there will be a new integrated emergency care hospital scheme for University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust at the Derriford emergency care hospital. On tech, he is absolutely right: the facilities will be at the cutting edge of modern technology, and that will really help drive up the quality of patient care.

Q14.   The victims of black cab rapist John Worboys were able to challenge the police’s failure to investigate his appalling crimes only because of the Human Rights Act. They would not have been able to do so under the Deputy Prime Minister’s new so-called Bill of Rights. Why does he want to stop women like the victims of John Worboys from making sure that police protect them from rape and sexual assault, and getting the justice they deserve? (900796)

I thank the hon. Lady for the opportunity to say that it was not the result of litigation that addressed the problems with the Worboys case. If she wants to look after victims in such cases, the Labour party should join us in supporting not just the Bill of Rights but our parole reforms, which will make sure that dangerous offenders are not released and that we protect the public.

Q13.   My constituent Joel Lindop has suffered the abduction of his young children to Poland. His is one of many families in the UK who go through a similar experience every year. Despite repeated judgments in his favour in the courts in Poland, he has been unable to persuade the Polish authorities to fulfil their obligations under international law and return those children to their family. Will my right hon. Friend intercede so that my constituent, and the many other families who face this challenge, can ensure that their children are returned safely and in a timely fashion in the future? (900795)

I cannot imagine how appalling that situation must be for any parent to find themselves in. My hon. Friend will know that we are committed to the 1980 Hague convention on child abduction, which provides a mechanism. He is right that that has to be driven through the courts. That is not something that we can directly interfere in, but I will speak to the Foreign Office and see whether there is anything further that Ministers can properly do to support my hon. Friend’s constituent.

I have a serious question about the conduct of the Government as regards free trade agreements. I cannot overstate the fury of the International Trade Committee this morning, which led us to unanimously empty-chair the Secretary of State for International Trade. The Government have broken their word to the Committee, to the House and to you, Mr Speaker, on scrutiny of the Australia trade deal by triggering the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process and endangering a Committee report. It is the unanimous view of the Committee—Tory, Labour, SNP and DUP—that the CRaG process should be delayed to allow proper scrutiny, as was promised. Will the Government deliver on their promise and therefore delay the CRaG process?

I understand that the Secretary of State for International Trade has agreed to go back and address the Committee just as soon as possible.

I was privileged last week to attend the malaria summit in Kigali. Even today, malaria remains the biggest single killer of mankind ever, and 1.7 billion people live every day under its shadow of misery. But we are on the cusp of something really special: recent advances, education and our world-leading British vaccines can now eradicate it forever. Can my right hon. Friend please confirm that the UK will fulfil its full commitment to the Global Fund?

I know from working in the Foreign Office just how powerful the Global Fund is; it is a very high-performing international organisation. My hon. Friend will know that since 2002 we have been the third largest donor, so we have stepped up to the plate. The UK has not yet determined our pledge for the seventh replenishment, but the Foreign Secretary will have heard loud and clear my hon. Friend’s advocacy in that regard.

In its efforts to pursue a hostile environment, the Home Office routinely tears families apart and breaks human rights and equalities legislation. It is reported to be sending another deportation charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana. In Pride month, it will deport LGBT asylum seekers fleeing homophobia as well as grandmothers and mothers of British children who have lived in this country for more than 25 years. Given that the Home Office repeatedly gets it wrong and ends up having to take people off such flights, will the Deputy Prime Minister tell me how many people have been removed from that flight already and when the Home Office will stop these inhumane deportation charter flights?

The hon. Lady is right in one respect at least: of course, people who come here need to be treated decently and humanely. We are absolutely committed to that. We also need to make sure that we cut down illegal routes and that those who are here who have committed serious offences can be returned home. The crucial thing—I am working on this with the Home Secretary—is to ensure that we do both those things. We cannot allow illegal routes into this country to flourish—otherwise, we will just attract more people—and we cannot allow people who commit serious offences in this country to stay and continue to pose a threat to the public.