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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 717: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2022

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked—

Passport Application Processing

1. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the adequacy of the passport application processing service for people in Wales. (900867)

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the time taken to process passport applications for people in Wales. (900870)

5. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the time taken to process passport applications on people in Wales. (900871)

Passport applications from Wales may be handled at all Passport Office processing sites throughout the UK. Between March and May, 98.5% of UK applications were completed within the published processing time of 10 weeks.

This Conservative Government are presiding over backlog Britain, with never-ending travel chaos causing misery and havoc for hard-working people’s holiday and travel plans. Many of my Slough constituents have been waiting not weeks but months for their new passports to arrive. I know it is a similar story for the good people of Wales. Can the Secretary of State clarify how many of the promised 1,700 new members of staff the Government have actually recruited to deal with the crisis?

I should add, for anybody who has an interest in this particular subject, that if there are individual cases that are clearly being badly held up, they should please pass them on to the Wales Office and we will do whatever we can to expedite the service. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, 850 additional staff have been brought on since April 2021, with a further 350 arriving this summer.

I simply do not believe the statistics the Government keep on giving, and I think the Secretary of State should push back on them. I have 30 cases outstanding and more coming in to my office every single day of the week. The team in Portcullis House used to be five people, but is now only three, so there is less of a service. Members of staff have to queue for two and a half hours to be able to deal with a single passport case. I have people who have been waiting for 14 weeks, some who have been waiting for 18 weeks, children who have been waiting for 14 weeks—this is simply incompetence. When will the Government get a grip of it?

The hon. Gentleman knows that every MP has examples of their own. I can only restate what I said just now: where there are individual cases, we are very keen to help. Some 98.5% of applications are being dealt with within the timescale. I realise that for the people who are not in that particular bracket it is intensely frustrating, and it is frustrating for Members across the House. The situation continues to improve, but if there are ways we can help the hon. Gentleman and his constituents I am very happy to do so.

Like other Members, I have an inbox full of hundreds of constituents struggling to get their passports. Some are waiting 15 or 18 weeks, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has said. Those people are already struggling with the cost of living crisis, they are having to fork out for the cost of passports, and now they are losing out on their vital holidays, which they have been desperately waiting for for more than two years. What support is available for those people? What economic redress is available? What conversations is the Secretary of State having with the Prime Minister—or is he too bothered with propping him up instead of dealing with people’s actual issues?

As the hon. Lady knows, we in the Wales Office have conversations with all Government Departments, especially on this particular issue. Staff numbers are being increased and the pace at which applications are processed continues to improve: it is at 98.5%. I realise that for people not in that bracket, this is a tough challenge, and I can only repeat what I have said in answer to the hon. Lady’s colleagues: if there are individual examples we can help with, we are very happy to do so.

We are all quite surprised to see the Secretary of State here this morning, but perhaps he cannot leave the disintegrating Government because his passport application is stuck in the queue. People across Wales are sick and tired of the Government’s incompetence. Can he explain to my constituent Jamie Dunkley and others across Wales why their Welsh language passport applications have been sent to Peterborough for processing, causing huge delays, stress and additional cost?

The hon. Lady raises an interesting question; this is the first I have heard of it, to be honest. As I keep saying, at the risk of being boring, I am very happy to look into that if it is causing undue delays. Those can also be resolved by the same means I suggested earlier.

Infrastructure Investment

This Government are committed to levelling up across Wales. That is why we are investing over £340 million in Welsh rail and £120 million through the levelling-up fund in Wales in round one alone, and Wales will benefit from the UK-wide £5 billion Project Gigabit to connect hard-to-reach premises.

It is of the utmost importance that every part of these islands can enjoy investment from this United Kingdom Government. Can the Secretary of State update the House on what he and the rest of the Government are doing to achieve that aim in Wales and across the whole United Kingdom?

I found it quite hard to hear my hon. Friend’s comments, but I can say that we believe there are really positive steps in terms of sustainable job creation in Wales through the various different funding measures, in particular the UK’s shared prosperity fund, which is currently in lift-off. Levelling up is devolution in action. We get a lot of criticism from the Opposition Benches about the Welsh Government’s being bypassed, but we are going to 22 local authorities and stakeholders in a way that has never previously been done.

The Global Centre for Rail Excellence that is being developed in Onllwyn in Neath will become the first and only rail infrastructure testing facility in the UK. It recently secured a memorandum of understanding with an Association of American Railroads subsidiary, US venture MxV Rail, to work together to advance global rail research and technology. The Welsh Labour Government have provided £50 million. When will the UK Government provide the £30 million they promised so that this world-class rail facility can be completed by 2025?

I am delighted that the hon. Lady raises that absolutely perfect example of the Welsh and UK Governments working in tandem, creating new, innovative, sustainable jobs in her constituency and in adjacent areas. It is a £30 million investment and I am delighted that she is welcoming it in the way that we should be.

At the end of the Great Western line in my constituency is Milford Haven, the UK’s most important energy port and the largest town in my constituency. Its railway station is a disgrace. Does the Secretary of State agree that a project to upgrade Milford Haven train station would be an ideal round 2 levelling-up fund bid, and will he look favourably on any such bid from Pembrokeshire County Council?

My right hon. Friend and neighbour has raised the question of Milford Haven station a few times, and I am no stranger to it either. Although I am not allowed to express a preference for individual levelling-up bids, that is precisely the type of infrastructure improvement bid that the levelling-up fund was created for, so if he and the local authority can put together some compelling evidence, I am sure that those who are in a position to judge it will look on it favourably.

Perhaps the Secretary of State ought to tell the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) that he cannot put in his levelling-up bid because the Government portal has broken down. Despite Ministers’ promises on supporting infrastructure investment in Wales, we all know that the reality is very different. He will not challenge his Government’s sleight of hand in denying the consequential of £4.6 billion to Wales from HS2, nor the annual £150 million hit that that will have on the Welsh economy. Because of his Government’s spending review, the Welsh Government’s capital budget will be 11% lower by 2024-25 compared with last year—less money, less infrastructure. Instead of focusing on media appearances defending his indefensible boss, when will he focus on doing his job for the people of Wales?

It is telling that the hon. Lady did not mention the increasing levels—the record levels—of investment that the UK Government have made in Wales, which, from £16.7 billion in 2021, will reach £19.08 billion by 2024-25. Whichever areas of investment we look at, despite her claims to the contrary, they are considerably greater than they have been at any time since the devolution settlement, resulting in extra jobs, extra investment and extra reasons to celebrate what Wales has to offer. It is profoundly depressing for people who are looking to the Opposition for inspiration on investment in Wales that all we get is a litany of negativity.

Birmingham, Crewe, Derby, Doncaster, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and York: that is the shortlist of cities for the headquarters of Great British Railways. The Secretary of State failed to get a single Welsh location as a candidate. Is he not embarrassed at his dismal track record in Cabinet despite being a loyal Government spokesman?

I love it when the right hon. Lady, who is so determined to separate her country from the rest of the UK economy, lists a whole lot of stations and locations in England. There are either separatists or Unionists and I never know with her which side she is batting for. This is about our delivery in Wales, because in a sense she is asking me to choose between the Welsh Government and the UK Government. I am very proud to be part of a Government who have produced £121 million-worth of levelling-up funds, £46 million-worth of community ownership funds, £585 million-worth of shared prosperity funds, the floating offshore wind potential of the Celtic sea, the potential for nuclear at Wylfa, project Gigabit, Airbus investment at Broughton—the list goes on and on. All we get, as I said to the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), is negativity.

The Secretary of State defends an infrastructure that is extractive for Wales and brings nothing back. Time and again, the Secretary of State has been rolled out to defend the indefensible on behalf of the Prime Minister. The outgoing Children’s Minister said that he

“accepted and repeated assurances on Monday to the media which have now been found to be inaccurate.”

Two Cabinet Ministers have gone and the Secretary of State’s Parliamentary Private Secretary has gone—it is not business as usual, is it? When will he be going?

I thank the right hon. Lady for that tempting question. It is business as usual in the Wales Office, and that is why I am proud to repeat what I said just now: we are getting on with the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund and the shared prosperity fund. We have investment across every part of Wales, and despite all her protestations, there is so much evidence that being part of the Union is part of the success of Wales in creating sustainable, long-term jobs. I dearly wish she would come and join us in the endeavour to improve the life of people in Wales, rather than using cheap political opportunities to do the opposite.

Cross-border Healthcare

3. What discussions the Government have had with the Welsh Government on the adequacy of cross-border healthcare provision. (900869)

The UK Government will continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that everyone across the UK gets the healthcare they need. There is a memorandum of understanding with the Welsh NHS, which has been essential in resolving a number of long-standing issues over patients’ rights across the border.

I thank the Minister for that answer, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) is to the left of me. We have been working hard to try to get the Welsh Government and the Department of Health and Social Care together to talk about ambulance times. My constituents are suffering, because if they get into a Welsh ambulance or an English ambulance, they still go to the same district general hospital in Shrewsbury. Will the Minister pull together the two Governments to talk about ambulance waiting times in Shrewsbury?

I would certainly be happy to write to the Department of Health and Social Care. I am afraid that I am not responsible for the Welsh Government, but I would be pleased to see them working harder to ensure that patients in his constituency get access to the healthcare they need. For 21 years, the NHS in Wales has been run by the Labour party, and one in four people are now waiting more than 12 months for treatment, and that is an absolute disgrace that Opposition Members are responsible for.

It is a bit farcical to be asking questions of Ministers when we have no idea whether they will still be at the Dispatch Box by the end of the day, but I will give it a go. Those in Wrexham need to get easily to Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in my constituency for specialist cancer care, and at the moment it is too hard because of the quality of public service. Will the Minister, before he leaves—maybe he is going to stay—give my constituents and people in north Wales an update on progress on the Wrexham-Bidston railway line?

The Wrexham-Bidston line is one of a number of lines that are being looked at, including the south Wales relief line and the north Wales coast line. The reality is that constituents in Wales are fed up with having to wait more than 12 months for treatment, and the reason for that is 21 years of Labour Government running the NHS in Wales. Their record is an absolute disgrace.

Cost of Living

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on providing support with the cost of living for people in Wales. (900872)

8. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the cost of living support for households in Wales. (900874)

My ministerial colleagues and I fully accept that there is a cost of living challenge, but this country has faced some exceptional challenges over the past few years, including a global pandemic and a European land war. We have responded vigorously by providing £37 billion to help households across the UK through these challenges.

Does the Minister agree that the best way to help people in Wales with the cost of living is to deliver our long-term plan to grow the economy, increase productivity and reduce people’s taxes?

I agree completely with my right hon. Friend. Households across the whole United Kingdom will be receiving a cost of living support payment worth £650 this month. By contrast the Welsh Labour Government want to spend £100 million to increase the number of Welsh Senedd Members. Some people believe in levelling up, but I am afraid that Opposition Members believe in leaving people behind and spending more money on further politicians.

Across the UK, 8 million low-income households will get £1,200 in financial support to help with rising electricity and gas bills. Would not the £100 million being spent by the Welsh Government on extra politicians in Cardiff be better directed at helping those families?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Not only will households receive an extra £1,200, but next week, 8 million households on means-tested benefits will get an extra £326 in their bank accounts; in September, 6 million people on disability benefits will receive a £150 payment; and in October, £400 will come off households’ energy bills. There is much more to follow, because the Government believe in levelling up, not in spending £100 million on extra Senedd Members.

In spite of parliamentary questions, we still have no answers about how people who have their permanent residence in park homes or similar in Wales, who receive their energy bills via a third party, can receive the £400 discount. Will the Minister speak to his ministerial colleagues to sort that out so that those people can receive the money in a timely fashion?

The hon. Lady has not actually contacted me about the issue previously, but it is a reasonable one to raise and I would be happy to see any correspondence from her on it.

Unsurprisingly, the UK Government have repeatedly broken their promises to fund Wales to the tune of nearly £800 million, and they are blatantly trying to undermine devolution at every opportunity. Can the Minister tell me how that serves the Welsh people when they are struggling with the cost of living crisis? While he is at it, can he tell us why he is still propping up a broken Government who promote an abuser and then lie about it?

That statement is completely incorrect. Prior to Brexit, Wales received around £343 million a year in structural funds and £337 million a year was spent on agriculture. Post Brexit, the sums will be exactly the same. My question is why Opposition Members are still supporting a Government in Wales who have left us with lower education standards; lower standards in healthcare; and more taxes on business, such as a tourism tax and a tax on wine producers. Why do they now want to spend £100 million of taxpayers’ money on extra politicians? Those are the questions to which the people of Wales would like to know the answers.

The Conservatives’ cost of living crisis is hitting Wales hard. The soaring costs of energy, fuel and food have been compounded by crippling increases in tax and national insurance. The meagre 5p cut to fuel duty has proved wholly inadequate and energy costs are due to rise even further this autumn. It is clear that the Government have run out of not only ideas but Ministers. Will the Minister commit to speaking to whoever holds the post of Chancellor this afternoon about taking immediate further action to tackle the cost of living crisis?

We have already acknowledged that there is a cost of living crisis, which was partly caused by having to spend £400 billion on getting us through the covid pandemic and by a European land war. Of course, we are doing everything we can to support people through these difficult times, which is why we are spending £37 billion on support for hard-hit households and why we have introduced a new 25% energy profits levy on oil and gas companies, which will raise about £5 billion of revenue that will also go to relieving the burden on families.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

7. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of the UK shared prosperity fund for Wales. (900873)

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on how Wales’s £585 million share of the UKSPF will level up communities across Wales. With local authorities, business, the third sector and civil society fully engaged, the UKSPF will mean quicker delivery, better targeting and closer alignment with local priorities than previous EU funding.

The priority of the UK shared prosperity fund is to empower local communities, business and people, with the funding for delivery going directly to local authorities in Wales. Can my right hon. Friend outline the steps he is taking to work directly with local communities in Wales to ensure the delivery of local priorities, and the benefits that that will bring to people, communities and businesses in Wales?

My hon. Friend makes a good point about devolution. Of course, it frustrates Opposition Members that we are taking devolution to its literal limit as far as the funds are concerned; we are going to 22 local authority stakeholders across Wales. I find it absolutely perplexing that for some reason, the Welsh Government think that devolution stops in Cardiff and simply do not trust 22 democratically elected local authorities spread across the whole of Wales to make sensible decisions on behalf of their constituents.

Given the timescale involved, there is a lot of concern among local authorities in Wales that moneys allocated under the shared prosperity fund will not in fact be spent by them, and the money therefore will be clawed back by central Government. Will the Secretary of State say that that will not happen?

I got the gist of the hon. Gentleman’s question. Of course, the shared prosperity fund is an absolute cast-iron commitment. It has thousands of jobs at its disposal. We think it has great potential across the whole of Wales and we are very happy of course, if he has individual examples that concern him, to address them.

The Welsh Government wasted close to £5 billion of the former European aid in west Wales and the valleys. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give me that the UK shared prosperity fund will reflect UK priorities, working with local authorities in Wales—in all of Wales—to ensure that places such as the Vale of Glamorgan benefit, having been excluded by the former European scheme?

My right hon. Friend puts his finger on exactly why the levelling-up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund are so vital. What they do is go straight to local communities. This allows them to make bids and decisions on behalf of their constituents, residents and ratepayers in a way no other scheme has previously enabled them to do. That is why this is innovative and will lead to sustainable jobs.

What type of shared prosperity is it when the UK Treasury plunders capital investment programmes in Wales by refusing to let contractors use red diesel instead of white diesel, further driving up construction inflation to the benefit of the UK Treasury and the detriment of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland?

I do not think that question has any sensible context to it, because the proposals that have been set out—by the Treasury or, indeed, through the levelling-up and shared prosperity funds—make it absolutely clear how those funds will benefit all communities in a way that they have not before. Picking specific examples and saying that this is an anomaly overlooks, I think deliberately, all the criteria that underpin the funding methods I have talked about.

Welsh Product Procurement

9. Whether he has had recent discussions with Cabinet colleagues on their Departments procuring more products made in Wales. (900875)

Yes, it says here. Welsh products and services are some of the best in the world, from Welsh steel used to build Crossrail to Airbus’s cyber-security expertise and Raytheon in Broughton upgrading the intelligent surveillance capabilities of our aircraft.

Wales is being denied billions in consequential funding from HS2. Does the Secretary of State agree that, for Wales to see any benefits from the scheme, which of course needs about 3 million tonnes of steel and new high-speed trains, the Department for Transport should look to procure Welsh steel and, indeed, buy trains from CAF in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) to ensure that Wales finally benefits from the project—or is it simply that the Tories will continue to fail the people of Wales?

I actually agree with a lot in the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. If he looks at some of the projects we are talking about, particularly around defence spending—£850 million of defence spending—the potential around floating offshore wind once the Crown Estate’s leases are in play and the huge potential around nuclear development at Wylfa, he will see that domestic UK procurement of steel is right back on the agenda, and that will result in every steel maker in Wales benefiting.

Tourism Industry

10. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help support the tourist industry in Wales. (900876)

The UK Government are Wales tourism’s biggest fan, and the fact we stepped up with financial help during the pandemic and saved thousands of jobs is testament to that.

Tourism is crucial to Clwyd South, which attracts visitors from all across the world for events such as the Llangollen international musical eisteddfod, which is taking place this week. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the Welsh Labour Government’s plans to introduce a tourism tax, which will do great damage to the tourism industry across the whole of Wales?

I think I can do even better than my hon. Friend requests me to by simply quoting the words of the chief executive of UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls, who said: “The tourism tax is ill thought through and proposed without any impact assessment. Welsh Government does not know why it is needed, what its effect will be on visitors and what damage it will do to businesses and jobs in a sector making up a quarter of the Welsh economy. It is unnecessary, unhelpful and ill considered.” If the House does not believe it from me, it should believe it from the experts in this particular field.

On tourism in Wales, when a previous Tory leader resigned, he not only visited Wales but bought a home in Wales. Can I suggest that one way the Secretary of State for Wales could help tourism in Wales is by encouraging the current Tory leader to follow suit, resign and buy a home, although perhaps not in Wales—perhaps somewhere else?

Perhaps I can encourage the hon. Gentleman to persuade his colleague in Cardiff, the First Minister, to drop his ridiculous plans for a tourism tax and for various other means of punishing successful businesses in Wales. If he did that, perhaps we could create some lasting jobs in Wales rather than simply listening to his political protestations.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Today is a big day—[Interruption]as we implement the biggest tax cut for a decade, increasing national insurance thresholds to make tax lower and the tax burden easier. These changes will benefit 30 million people across the UK and I am pleased to say that two of those people—Mandy Banfield and Alan Calzari—are seated in the Public Gallery. A typical worker will now save £330 per year, with 70% of employees better off as a result. That is real money for real people.

I am sure the House will also join me in wishing the best of luck to England and Northern Ireland, who are competing in the UEFA women’s Euro 2022 tournament, which starts today. I am sure that they will both make the nation proud.

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

Last week, we launched a new approach to combating knife crime in Milton Keynes, which means increased use of stop and search, tougher charging and custody, tougher sentencing, faster youth diversion and more work with parents and communities. Does the Prime Minister agree that if someone carries a knife in Milton Keynes, they should expect to end up behind bars?

I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to campaign for tougher sentences and against knife crime in Milton Keynes. As a result of what the Conservatives have done, adults who are convicted of certain offences involving a knife, including threatening with a knife or a second offence of possession, face a minimum sentence of six months’ imprisonment—and guess who voted against tougher sentences for knife crime?

Today is the start of the women’s Euros, and I know that the whole House will wish the Lionesses the very best of luck in bringing football home.

It has been 40 years since the death of Terrence Higgins. Terrence worked at Hansard by day and Heaven by night before he sadly died of AIDS. The Labour party and the Terrence Higgins Trust are committed to ending new cases of HIV by 2030. Together, we can.

Last week, a Government Minister was accused of sexually assaulting a young man. I want to quote the victim’s account. He says: “He grabbed my arse and then he slowly moved his hand down in front of my groin. I froze.” I accept that that is not easy listening, but it is a reminder to all those propping up this Prime Minister just how serious the situation is. The Prime Minister knew that the accused Minister had previously committed predatory behaviour, but he promoted him to a position of power anyway. Why?

That individual, the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), no longer has the Conservative Whip. He no longer has a job. As soon as I was made aware of the allegation that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just read out—the complaint that was made—he lost his status as a Conservative MP. He is now the subject of an independent investigation by the complaints and grievances panel and that is entirely right. I want to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I abhor bullying and abuse of power anywhere in Parliament, in this party or in any other party.

None of that explains why he promoted him in the first place. And we have heard it all before. We know who he really is. Before he was found out, he is reported to have said, “He’s handsy, that’s the problem. Pincher by name, pincher by nature.” Has the Prime Minister ever said words to that effect? I am not asking for bluster and half-truths—we’ve all had enough of that. Yes or no?

I am not going to trivialise what happened. [Interruption.] Yes, Mr Speaker, because very serious complaints have been raised against the right hon. Member for Tamworth and they are now being investigated. It is true that a complaint was raised when he was in the Foreign Office and the matter was resolved. It is absolutely true that it was raised with me. I greatly regret that he continued in office and I have said that before, but it is now the subject of an independent investigation and that is the right thing. Frankly, I think the people of this country would like also to hear about other jobs that are held by people in this country, not least the 500,000 people we got off welfare into work in the last six months alone. Those are things that are making differences to the lives of people up and down the country and I am proud of it.

No denial. He says the matter was resolved when he means it was upheld. And they are all sitting there on the Front Bench as if this is normal behaviour. When that young man reported his attack to a Government Whip, she asked him if he was gay. When he said that he was, she replied, “That doesn’t make it straightforward.” That comment will sicken anyone who has experienced sexual assault and then been made to feel like they somehow asked for it, or who worry that prejudice means their complaint will not be taken seriously. Will the Prime Minister apologise for those disgraceful comments on behalf of his Government?

I have already said that I regret very much that the right hon. Member for Tamworth continued to hold office after the complaint was made against him in the Foreign Office. It was resolved in the Foreign Office and his apology was accepted, but clearly that was not enough and in hindsight I should have realised that he would not change. However, when it came to Friday last week, and when I was given the information that the right hon. and learned Gentleman read out about the complaint that was made against the right hon. Member for Tamworth, I acted immediately and I took the Whip away from him. We will not tolerate that kind of behaviour in this or in any other party. What we also want to do is to help people up and down the country with the things that also matter to them like cutting their taxes by £330 this year, which is what we are doing.

Doesn’t that just sum up the Prime Minister? Awful behaviour, unacceptable in any walk of life: it is there for all to see, but he ignores it. It was the same when his ally was on the take from lobbyists. It was the same when his Home Secretary was bullying staff. It was the same when taxpayers’ money was being abused, and it was the same when he and his mates partied their way through lockdown. Anyone quitting now after defending all that has not got a shred of integrity. Is this not the first recorded case of the sinking ship fleeing the rat?

Look, the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about—[Interruption.] He should hear what his lot say about him. He talks about integrity; he wanted to install the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) into No. 10. That is what he wanted to do—imagine what our country and what the world would be like now. He talks about integrity; he voted 48 times to overturn the will of the British people and take us back into the European Union. By the way, listening to his muddled speech the other day, that is exactly what he would do again. He talks about integrity, but he has voted time and time again against sanctions on criminals that would put them behind bars. This is the Government who are tough on—[Interruption.] I am sorry—he talks about integrity; he is himself facing a criminal investigation, for which he asked me to resign.

What a pathetic spectacle: the dying act of the Prime Minister’s political career is to parrot that nonsense. As for those who are left, they are only in office because no one else is prepared to debase themselves any longer—the charge of the lightweight brigade. Have some self-respect! For a week, he has had them defending his decision to promote a sexual predator. Every day, the lines he has forced them to take have been untrue: first, that he was unaware of any allegation—untrue; then, that he was unaware of any “specific” allegation—untrue; then, that he was unaware of any “serious, specific” allegation; and now he wants them to go out and say that he simply forgot that his Whip was a sexual predator. Anyone with anything about them would be long gone from his Front Bench. In the middle of a crisis, does the country not deserve better than a Z-list cast of nodding dogs?

When times are tough and when the country faces pressures on the economy and pressures on budgets, and when we have the biggest war in Europe for 80 years, that is exactly the moment when we expect a Government to continue with our work, not to walk away, to get on with our job and to focus on the things that matter to the people of this country. So we are not only cutting taxes today, but putting £1,200 into every one of the 8 million most vulnerable households in the country, thanks to the strength of our economy and thanks to the decisions that we took, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposed at the time.

The only thing that the Prime Minister is delivering is chaos. I started this session with a quote from the young victim in all this—how he “froze” when he was attacked. When I was prosecuting rapists, I heard that from victims all the time. Victims said they froze because “It’s not about sex; it’s about power”. The power that the disgraced Government Minister had was handed to him by that Prime Minister, and he is only in power because he has been propped up for months by a corrupted party defending the indefensible. So it is no longer a case of swapping the person at the top; is it not clear that the only way the country can get the fresh start it deserves is by getting rid of the lot of them?

The difference between this Government and that Opposition is that we have a plan and they do not, and we are getting on with it. They want to focus on this type of issue; we are going to get on with our jobs. We are going to control prices by not giving in to the union barons; they are paid by the union barons and they are proud of it. We were the first European country to arm the Ukrainians; I am proud of that. Those guys, in the Labour party opposite, not only wanted to put the right hon. Member for Islington North into No. 10, but eight of them—the shadow Foreign Secretary, the shadow deputy leader and six others—voted to get rid of our independent nuclear deterrent. Today, we are cutting taxes, we are helping half a million people into work and, thanks to the strength of our economy, we are helping people up and down the country. And we are going to continue to deliver on the mandate I was given.

2. On Monday night, the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill had its Third Reading. With it, we are at the beginning of the end of the long journey to making sure that the service and sacrifice of those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Northern Ireland are not rewritten by those who seek only to line their own pockets. Does the Prime Minister agree that we can never again allow such a gulf to open up between this place and those who serve? Never again must they be made to feel that we are not on their side. Will he redouble his commitment to making sure that this is the best country in the world to serve in the military and to be a veteran or their family? (900918)

I thank my hon. Friend very much for all the work that he has done and continues to do for veterans. The Bill will give veterans the certainty that they deserve. We are fulfilling the manifesto pledge to end the cycle of investigations, but at the same time we are making sure that families can get the answers that they need about what happened to their loved ones.

May I give every best wish to the England and Northern Ireland ladies’ football teams as they approach the Euro championship? There is nothing better than seeing your team in the final.

We commemorate the passing of Terrence Higgins 40 years ago, and of all those who have died from AIDS since then. I am sure that the whole House will also want to join me in passing condolences to the family and friends of the Scottish football goalkeeping legend, Andy Goram, who sadly passed last weekend, far too early. He will long live in memory as the best goalkeeper that many of us have seen.

It is easy to forget that only 10 days ago the Prime Minister was dreaming of a third term. It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, but it turns out that 10 days is truly a lifetime. Let us face it: it is a minor miracle that the Prime Minister has even made it through to Prime Minister’s questions. He really ought to see the faces behind him. Prime Minister, it really is over.

The Prime Minister is desperately clinging on to his own fantasy, but the public cannot afford to put up with this farce of a Government a minute longer. Today we should be talking about the Tory cost of living crisis, soaring inflation and the growing costs of Brexit, but instead it is always about him. How many more Ministers need to quit before he finally picks up his pen and writes his own resignation letter? Perhaps that is what he is doing now.

Actually, I was just jotting down some notes about the right hon. Gentleman’s question, which I thought was excellent when he was talking about the economy, because that is the issue that the country faces. That is where this Government are introducing, I think, the most important decisions—helping families up and down the country, with £1,200 going into their bank accounts right now; cutting taxes for 30 million people, with a £330 tax cut; and helping half a million people into work, through the Way to Work scheme. That is a fantastic thing to be getting on and doing. That is the priority of this Government, and that is what I am going to focus on. I am glad he likes it.

My goodness! Nothing to see, we should all move on—if we live in the world of the Prime Minister.

A few weeks ago, I compared the Prime Minister to Monty Python’s black knight. It turns out that I was wrong: he is actually the dead parrot. Whether he knows it or not, he is now an ex-Prime Minister, but he will leave behind two deeply damaging legacies. I hope that the dishonesty of his leadership will follow him out of the Downing Street door, but the other legacy is Brexit—and that will stay, because I am sad to say that the Labour party now fully supports it.

Scotland wants a different future, not just a different Prime Minister, so if the Prime Minister will not resign, will he call a general election and allow Scotland the choice of an independent future, free from the control of Westminster?

I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman’s remark that the Labour party had given up on returning to the European Union was not greeted with rapture by the Opposition. That was because it is not true: they want to go back in, just as he does. I think that that is a terrible mistake. It would be undemocratic. As for the referendum that the right hon. Gentleman wants, we had one of them—as I have told him before—in 2014.

Clearly, if there were circumstances in which I felt it was impossible for the Government to go on and discharge the mandate that we have been given, or if I felt, for instance, that we were being frustrated in our desire to support the Ukrainian people, or over some major point, then I would. But frankly, Mr Speaker, the job of a Prime Minister in difficult circumstances, when he has been handed a colossal mandate, is to keep going, and that is what I am going to do.

Well, there you have it, Mr Speaker. Once again, the Prime Minister puts political survival before public duty. However, people can see that even if he goes—it is not an if; it is a when, isn’t it?—the same Westminster arrogance will continue to dictate our futures in Wales. Does the Prime Minister want a medal for being the best recruiting sergeant for independence we could wish for?

Actually, whenever I look around the United Kingdom—I had a great talk with Mark Drakeford the other day, as well as talking to Nicola Sturgeon—I see the bonds of our Union being strengthened all the time, and I am confident that that will continue.

8. The Government’s town centre levelling-up funds have been very successful around the country, but a few town centres, such as Waterlooville in Meon Valley, are in desperate straits and have not managed to get a scheme into the current round of funding. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that future funds will be available to help declining high streets to become fit for the 21st century and to survive post pandemic? (900926)

My hon. Friend is a great champion for Meon Valley, and I will ensure that she has a meeting with the Minister for levelling up at the earliest opportunity.

3. The public clearly think that this Government have lost the plot over the cost of living crisis. The Prime Minister may be aware that the average salaries of a nurse and a primary school teacher are £36,000 and £38,000 respectively. They, and indeed working people everywhere, are struggling to pay their rents and their mortgages. Given that they can barely afford a £150,000 mortgage on a new home, can the Prime Minister tell the House how he could afford a £150,000 treehouse? (900920)

What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is this. Rather than talking about fantasy infrastructure, I can tell him about real infrastructure. We are helping to unite and level up the people of this country with £650 billion of investment. We are helping people—helping to lift the aspirations and opportunities of people up and down the country. Thanks to the strength of our economy, we are helping exactly the people whom the hon. Gentleman describes, with £1,200 going into their bank accounts to help them with the cost of living pressures.

10. The Prime Minister knows that while he is Prime Minister, I want him to do all the good that he can. While he is Prime Minister of this green and pleasant land, may I refer him to early-day motion 1082, which concerns the Goring Gap, Chatsmore Farm, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the land above Goring station? That farm in Worthing was fully protected, and it will be fully protected again when a different inspector says that Worthing Borough Council can protect it. May I ask the Prime Minister to tell the Government to withdraw their objection to the council’s appeal against the absurd decision by a planning inspector to allow 482 homes to be built on the green lung between Goring and Ferring? (900928)

I thank my hon. Friend very much. He has campaigned on this issue for some time, and I will ensure that he has a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss the development in Goring-by-Sea.

4. On 21 January, the Government committed £100 million from the automotive transformation fund to BritishVolt for a gigafactory at Cambois in my constituency. As of today, not a penny—not a single ha’penny—has been received by the company. This jeopardises up to 8,000 much-needed jobs. The tensions between the Prime Minister and the former Chancellor have sadly now been much exposed, and I am telling you, Prime Minister, that the betrayal of my constituents cannot be another broken promise by this Government. Prime Minister, give him a nudge. Please instruct your new bestie to make sure a cheque is in the post this afternoon, because who knows who will be in that seat this afternoon, never mind this time next week. (900921)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the passion with which he advocates for investment in BritishVolt. I share his enthusiasm, and I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Ian Levy) as well. He is a heroic campaigner on this issue. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the letter was sent last night with an in-principle offer of support for that project. How about that! Hang on in there. That is what I am going to do.

12. The world is facing a global food crisis, in which the poorest nations face catastrophic consequences. Will the Prime Minister take all possible action to negotiate and facilitate access to the grain stores stranded in Ukraine? We have a limited opportunity to avert famine in developing nations and the UK must play its full part using all the resources at our disposal. (900930)

My right hon. Friend is completely right. There are 25 million tonnes of wheat that are basically being held hostage by Putin. That is the equivalent to the annual consumption of many of the least developed countries, and we are helping to lift that blockade not just by negotiation but by supplying de-mining equipment, insurance for the commercial ships that might be involved and also £10 million to help improve the railway infrastructure that will be necessary to get the grain out by rail.

5. Yesterday the Prime Minister said that he was fed up of people saying things on his behalf. It is not just him who is fed up: so are the British people, and so are his Ministers who are resigning. They are sick of being sent out by him time and again to say things that are not true. Is the real problem him, or them for believing him in the first place? (900922)

I want to be clear. What I want to say, and I say it again, is that I regret the way the appointment happened. I was clear with the House about what I knew at the time, but I want to stress that I take this matter extremely seriously. I am very sorry for the impact it has had on the victims, but the individual in question, the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), is now subject to an independent complaints and grievance procedure. As soon as that began—as soon as a complaint was made, I should say—the Whip was taken away.

Let me just say that we do not know that that is the case. It is confidential, and I think we have to stop referring to something we do not know. I want to put the House on notice that we do not mention it.

13. Just over a fortnight ago, two horrific fatal stabbings took place on a quiet street in East Barnet. With the Metropolitan police now in special measures for the first time in its history, will the Prime Minister urge the Mayor of London to start living up to his responsibilities as police and crime commissioner? The Mayor needs to get a grip on crime, give Barnet its fair share of new officers and abandon his plan to sell Barnet police station. (900931)

I notice that crime has spiked since the previous Mayor of London, and it is the Labour party that voted against stop and search and against increased funding for the police. As for the London Mayor, he would do better to get out of California and take control of crime in his city.

7. According to the NHS Confederation, not a single one of the so-called 40 new hospitals that the Prime Minister promised at the last election will be built by 2024. Two of those “new” hospitals are in my constituency: Hammersmith Hospital opened in 1902, and Charing Cross Hospital opened in 1818. They are not new hospitals and there is no building going on. Like all his promises, they exist only in his warped imagination. As this is likely to be his last Prime Minister’s questions, will he finally tell us the truth? (900925)

Actually, if the hon. Gentleman looks at what we have promised and what we have delivered, we said we would get 20,000 police out on the streets, and we already have 13,500 more; and we said we would get 50,000 more nurses, and we are already on track. He is quite wrong about the pledge on hospitals, as we are going to deliver them by 2030, as was always clear. The only reason we can do that is because we are putting the funding into our NHS that he and his party opposed.

Yesterday, in an attempt to boost morale in the Tea Room, the Prime Minister said to one table, “There were seven MPs in the Carlton Club last week, and one of them should have tried to intervene to stop Chris drinking so much.” As if that was not insulting enough to the people who did try to intervene that night, it is insulting to the victims to say that drink was the problem. Is this not another example of the Prime Minister constantly trying to deflect from the issue? He always tries to blame other people for mistakes. There is nothing left for him to do other than to take responsibility and resign. [Applause.]

Order. Can I just say that Members ought to be embarrassed by clapping? [Interruption.] Order. Mr Esterson, this is not a debating society. This is Prime Minister’s questions. I want to get through the questions because other people want to catch my eye, and the way to do it is not by clapping.

There is a very simple reason why they want me out, and that is because they know that otherwise we will get on with delivering our mandate and win another general election. That is the reality.

9.   The Prime Minister once wrote:“It is a wonderful and necessary fact of political biology that we never know when our time is up. Long after it is obvious to everyone that we are goners, we continue to believe in our ‘duty’ to hang on…to the perks and privileges of our posts…In reality, we are just terrified of the come-down.”For the sake of this great country, will the Prime Minister heed the advice of his former self, get over his terror and do the decent thing? (900927)

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I have just given. When things are tough, of course people turn their fire on the leader of the country. It is my job to get on and deliver our manifesto, which we are; deliver on the mandate on which I was elected; and get this country through tough times, just as we got it through covid. That is what I am going to do.

Around 1,000 delegates from 100 countries are at the freedom of religion or belief international ministerial conference over at the QEII centre today, and there is still time for hon. Members to visit. Does the Prime Minister agree that this significant conference will count for nothing unless it results in concerted global action to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief around the world?

I thank my hon. Friend very much. Freedom of religion or belief is integral to people’s identity, their sense of themselves and their personal security. I thank her for her work as my envoy on this subject, and for the wonderful conference she has organised. It was great to talk to her about it yesterday.

11. Will the Prime Minister join me in expressing my deepest condolences to those injured and affected by the explosion in a block of flats on Redwood Grove in Bedford on Monday that has sadly led to the death of one resident, with others yet to be accounted for? This is a timely reminder of the dangerous work undertaken by the fire service. Will he join me in praising the emergency service workers who were at the scene, and will he reconsider his 2% pay offer when firefighters have endured a 12% real-terms pay cut over the last decade? (900929)

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much, and I share very much his support for the firefighters of our country. They do an incredible job, and overall it is a testament to their work that deaths from fire over a long period have, on average, been decreasing, thanks to the work that they put in. We will look at the public sector pay review body offer and do our best to fund as much as we can, but everybody knows the inflationary pressures that this country is now under. We do not want to have pay increases that are simply swallowed by price increases.

North Moreton, in my constituency, was dubbed “Britain’s kindest village”—[Hon. Members: “Ahh!”] Wait for it. This 160-home village was dubbed “Britain’s kindest village” because it committed to taking 50 Ukrainian refugees, and it has them all there now. In the Gallery today there is a group of those hosts and some of the Ukrainians they are hosting, including two young people who hope to go into Ukrainian politics in the future. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming them to this place and in thanking North Moreton for its efforts?

I thank my hon. Friend very much for what he is doing to host young Ukrainians. I thank everybody in this House who is looking after Ukrainians—a lot of people are doing that. I believe it is the wish of this entire House that those young people should grow up to live in a free, independent, democratic and sovereign Ukraine.

Given that the Prime Minister does not like walk-outs and strikes, what legislation will he be introducing to stop further walk-outs and strikes among his Cabinet colleagues and junior Ministers?

I think that the whole House will have observed the brilliant performance on the radio this morning by the new Chancellor of the Exchequer—that is no disrespect to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. It shows that, in common with many sectors of the UK economy, there is a ready supply of skilled labour in the upper reaches of the Conservative party.

I would like to draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the words he used in response to the earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). Six months ago, I called on the Prime Minister to resign because even then it was clear that his approach to leadership and integrity was already creating a pipeline of problems that would paralyse proper government. Today, I ask him to do the honourable thing: to put the interests of the nation before his own interests, before, in his own words, it does become “impossible” for government to do its job.

I thank my right hon. Friend very much for the point he has made again, but I just could not disagree with him more. Look at what the Government are doing today. We are cutting taxes for 30 million people, we have just completed a programme to get half a million people off welfare and into work, and, thanks to the strength of our economy, thanks to the position we are now in—because of decisions that we took and the Opposition opposed; we should never forget that—we are able to give £1,200 to 8 million of the poorest and most vulnerable families in this country. That is the right thing to do, we are getting on with it and we will continue with our active and energetic programme for the benefit of this country, uniting, levelling up and unleashing the prosperity of the entire nation.

The Local Government Association has told us that more than 400 families who have come to this country from Ukraine under the family scheme have subsequently presented them- selves as homeless to local authorities. Because the local authorities have not got enough accommodation, those people are going to end up in temporary accommodation. There is a simple answer: local authorities could be allowed to contact the many thousands of people who volunteered to provide homes under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The problem is that the Government do not allow families to transfer from the family scheme to the Homes for Ukraine scheme. When will the Prime Minister act to ensure that people who have come thousands of miles to this country are not placed in temporary accommodation and that we take up the generosity of those families who are willing to offer them a home?

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for the very valuable point he has raised, and we will make sure that families are able to cross over from one scheme to another, to simplify and speed up the process. But I do not think that that should take away from the generosity of this country in welcoming Ukrainians; 135,000 visas have so far been issued through our uncapped scheme—both the family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. That is changing the lives of those Ukrainians, and we should all be proud of what we are doing.