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Volume 717: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2022

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.