I beg to move,
That this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.
I have no idea why the Leader of the Opposition has insisted that we must have a confidence motion today, when we could be sparing people from online harms—[Interruption.] That’s what he wanted. We could be fixing the defects in the Northern Ireland protocol, ending pointless barriers to trade in our country—[Interruption.]
The Leader of the Opposition wants one, Mr Speaker, and since Labour Members want one and it is the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s constitutional prerogative, we will comply and we will win.
Let me tell the Leader of the Opposition why I believe that this is one of the most dynamic Governments of modern times, not just overcoming adversity on a scale we have not seen for centuries, but delivering throughout adversity. If he wants evidence of the temper and mettle of this Government, I remind him of how we began, when Parliament was deadlocked and he was shadow Brexit Secretary. Labour were the first Opposition in history to be absolutely petrified of calling a general election, and when they finally capitulated and agreed to submit to the verdict of the people, we sent the great blue Tory ferret so far up their left trouser leg that they could not move. We won the biggest Conservative victory since 1987 and the biggest share of the vote since 1979. We won seats they never dreamed of losing, from Wrexham to Workington, and from Bishop Auckland to Barrow. We turned Redcar bluecar, we saw 54 seats go straight from Labour to Tory, and we won by 80 seats. Then we worked flat out to repay that trust. With iron determination we saw off Brenda Hale and we got Brexit done. And although the rejoiners and the revengers were left plotting and planning and biding their time—I will have more to say about the events of the last few weeks and months in due course—we delivered on every single one of our promises.
I will not give way; I am going to make some progress.
We took back control of our money, we took back control of our borders and we installed a points-based system for immigration. We took back control of our laws. We on this side of the House took back the sovereign right of the British people to determine their own laws and their own future in Parliament, and for that I say to colleagues on the Government Benches: your place in history is secure. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: it will never be forgotten that 48 times he tried to overturn the will of the people—48 times he tried to strike down the biggest expression of popular will. It will be remembered in the history of this country. Be in no doubt that if he were ever to come to power with his hopeless coalition of Liberal Democrats and Scottish nationalists, he would try to do so again, at the drop of a hat.
It was only a month or so later that the Government were forced to show their resolve again, when we began to lose thousands of lives in the worst pandemic for a century; a global pandemic whose origins we did not fully understand and were nothing to do with the British people—if anything, they were the result of distant misbehaviour involving bats or pangolins—and whose spread was appallingly difficult to manage. Through wave after wave, this Government never gave up, and thanks to the courage and indomitable resilience of the British people, we protected our NHS and saved thousands of lives.
We were finally rescued by the genius of British scientists, by a vaccine that was licensed faster than any vaccine in the world and by a roll-out that was faster than that of any comparable country—faster, of course, than we would have achieved if we had listened to the Leader of the Opposition. It was so fast that the EU Commission actually tried to expropriate 5 million doses of Astra to try to slow us down, it can be told —[Interruption.] Yes, “shame” is right. And still they failed. In so far as the Opposition came up with any ideas at all, they quaveringly called for more lockdowns. We trusted to British science and the vaccine roll-out. They vacillated, we vaccinated, and we vaccinated so fast that we came out of lockdown quicker than any other European country. When I look at that achievement, Mr Speaker, I tell you I have confidence in this Government and in what they can do.
As a direct result of the actions of the Government, we had the fastest growth in the G7 last year, which is why we are able now to help people across the country with the latest challenge: the global inflation in energy prices triggered partly by post-covid blockages but made far worse by Putin’s vile war in Ukraine. It is because we have sensibly managed the economy that we have the fiscal firepower to give £1,200 to the 8 million most vulnerable households and £400 to help every household with the cost of energy. We can do that because our economic fundamentals are strong, with British companies hiring talent up and down the country, with unemployment at or near a 50-year low, with 620,000 more people in payroll employment than there were before the pandemic began and youth unemployment at or near a 45-year low, and with people coming off benefits and getting into work, including 500,000 just in the six months to June.
That is the fundamental difference between this Government and the Opposition: we believe that the best answer to poverty is not benefits—that is what they think—but the security, happiness and dignity that goes with a job. I am proud of what we have done throughout the last three years to champion working people: lifting the living wage, cutting tax for those on universal credit, and just in the last couple of weeks, the biggest tax cut in 10 years for the vast majority of people on lower incomes who pay national insurance contributions.
I will give you a fact, Mr Speaker. That is why today, under this Government, the poorer households in this country get more of their income from their earnings, and under Labour they got more of their income from benefits. That is the reality of the difference between them and us. There has never been a Labour Government that left office with unemployment lower than when it came in. That is why I have confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I personally think that our party is making the same mistake the Labour party made when it knifed Tony Blair. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the excess death rates in Europe show that, thanks to his early intervention with the vaccine, fewer people died in the United Kingdom than in the majority of other European countries? And thanks to his intervention, Kyiv is still a part of Ukraine and not a part of Russia.
I thank my hon. Friend very much. He is absolutely right in what he says about the record of the NHS and the record of this country in beating back covid. What a pity it was that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, came so many times to this place and said that we had the worst record in Europe. He has never taken it back, Mr Speaker. Perhaps he will do so in the course of the debate to come.
I will give way again in a moment.
In spite of the pandemic, we did not for a moment lose our focus on the huge manifesto commitments we made in 2019, beginning with making our streets safer. With the help of now 13,576 more police—we will hit 20,000 more by 2024—we have rounded up those county lines drugs gangs, 1,500 of them so far, and we will continue. We have taken thousands of knives off the streets of our country using stop and search. I know that people on the Labour Benches oppose stop and search, but I think it is the kindest and most loving thing you can do, when someone is going equipped with a bladed weapon, to take that knife off him. It was by tough policing, giving the police the powers they deserve and putting more out on the street, that we helped to get neighbourhood crime down by 31%.
As we promised, we invested massively in our amazing NHS. We got nurses into hospitals—I think another 10,000 this year on last year—and we are on track to recruit 50,000. We have record numbers of people working now in our NHS tackling the covid backlogs. At the same time, we are getting on with our long-term programme of the improvement of our national health service. The Opposition constantly say that we are not going to build 40 new hospitals. Well, I can tell the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) that we are. They will be done by 2030 and if he is still around in 2024 he will see measurable improvement.
I will tell you something else, Mr Speaker. Seventy-five years after the foundation of the NHS, we have been the first Government to have the nerve and a plan to fix the gulf between the NHS and social care, ending the cruel lottery that brings destitution on families with a member suffering from dementia. Governments promised it for decades; we did it. We are raising the funding to do it, which the Opposition oppose.
Of course, we have been investing massively in our schools and young people, introducing hundreds of thousands of kids—kids who have potential, kids who are in danger of being left behind—to the kind of tutoring that is currently only available to those whose parents can pay for it.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for taking a break from his fantasy tour of this country. Could he take one moment to explain why 14 million people in this country are living in poverty, why there are more food banks than there are branches of McDonald’s, why there is a mental health crisis, why big pharma has made so much out of owning the patents of the vaccines, and why his Government are presiding over the enriching of the richest, the impoverishment of the poorest, and the greatest job insecurity in industry after industry? He has created poverty, inequality and insecurity. That is his legacy.
I am thrilled to be debating again with the right hon. Gentleman. Since our last encounters, I am proud to tell him that we have got unemployment down to record lows. I know that he would rather have people on benefits, but I do not think that is the way forward. He talks about 14 million people, but let me tell him that 14 million voted for this Conservative Government, and this Conservative Government are undefeated at the polls—never let that be forgotten. At the same time—
Just a moment. At the same time, we have been investing massively in schools, making our streets and our communities safer, making our population healthier and ensuring that our kids are literate and numerate at the age of 11—our goal is to get up to 90% by 11, rather than the current 65%.
We have been driven throughout these last three years by a very simple vision: we Conservatives believe that there is genius and talent everywhere and energy and imagination distributed in every corner of this country, but we do not think that is the same for opportunity. Our immense programme of levelling up is driven by the simple mathematical observation that if per capita GDP and productivity were as evenly distributed in the UK as they are in our major competitors, this would be by some way the most prosperous economy in Europe. Of course, it would also be the morally right thing to do. That is why we have kept going with the most colossal infrastructure programme ever seen, with three new high-speed rail lines—and, by the way, how many miles of electrified line did Labour build in its 13 years of office. Does anybody know? Virtually none. We are putting in hundreds of miles of road improvements and massive investments in buses and cycling.
Of course, we gave and are giving people skills, skills, skills. The lifetime skills guarantee means that the Government will support them to get an A-level equivalent skill when they are an adult. We are also giving them the technology to use those skills throughout the country. I am proud to say that gigabit broadband now sprouts through virtually every wainscot. We have gone from 7% to 69% coverage in this brief three years.
It is only by putting in the infrastructure—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) says that they do not have wi-fi in the north. This Government are putting in wi-fi across the whole—[Interruption.] How little she knows of the very area she purports to represent. It is only by putting in the infrastructure that we enable people to live where they want. I am proud that not only have we seen record numbers of homes being built, but last year, there were 400,000 first-time buyers. Unlike the Labour party, we believe in home ownership. We believe in getting people on the property ladder—[Interruption.] You can tell they do not like it, Mr Speaker. The better the infrastructure, the skills and the technology—there were 400,000 first-time buyers—the less intrusive the regulation in our country and the more the investment flows in.
We are seeing huge sums coming in now from the private sector. Every other week, there is another £1 billion unicorn, not just in London, Oxford or Cambridge, but across the whole country. We have more tech investment than France, Germany and Israel combined, and now, in the first quarter of this year, in attracting tech venture capital, we have actually overtaken the Chinese with £12.5 billion coming in.
This Government will continue to make the UK the place to come for the industries and businesses of the future. This year, Newquay will join Cape Kennedy and Baikonur as a functioning spaceport, I am proud to say. For the first time ever, under this Government, a British satellite will be launched into space from Britain. Next year, the spaceport in Shetland will roar into life, thanks to investments from Lockheed Martin and others, as local crofters—I mean humble crofters, almost as humble and local as the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford)—have withdrawn their opposition because they can see that it means jobs and growth for their area.
People in this House may not know it, but this Government have made an investment in low earth orbit satellites—hundreds of them. It was a risk, but it has paid off for the taxpayer. Hundreds and hundreds of them are now circling the earth, offering all sorts of opportunities, including the potential for internet connections for the people of sub-Saharan Africa.
It is highly unconventional for the Prime Minister to put down a confidence motion in his own Government, although I suppose he is an unconventional person, since only an unconventional man would want the opportunity to speak at his own funeral. Is not the essential problem that despite the litany of what he thinks are his fantasy achievements, the bottom line is that this country is supposed to operate on the good chap theory of government, but it does not operate when there is a bad apple at the core?
Look, if the hon. Gentleman is saying that he is going to vote for confidence in this Government, I will certainly welcome his support. What I can tell him is that I believe that the achievements of this Government over the past three years have been very remarkable. As for his personal criticism of me, I am proud of what we have done and I am proud of the way I have been able to offer leadership in difficult times—let me put it that way.
The investment in the low earth orbit satellites has paid off. As I said, people in sub-Saharan Africa now have the chance to get an internet connection. It is a massive, massive success for global Britain. People around the world can now see the renewed ambition of this country, with the record £22 billion that we are investing to become a science superpower again and the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency. At the same time, the scientific solutions that we are providing are helping to solve the fundamental problems facing humanity.
On this sweltering day, let me remind the House that there are very few Governments in the world who could have organised a COP26 summit so far-reaching in its impacts. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) for what he did: committing 90% of the world to net zero by 2050, moving the world beyond the use of coal, moving from fossil-fuelled cars to electric vehicles, planting billions of trees around the world and launching the clean green initiative as we did at Carbis Bay, by which G7 Governments will now leverage the trillions of the private sector to help the developing world to use the clean, green technologies that offer economic as well as environmental salvation.
I think that people around the world can see more clearly than ever before that we have in this country—and, I think, in this House—a renewed willingness as global Britain to stand up for freedom and democracy. There could be no better proof of that than our campaign to help the Ukrainians. If it is true that I am more popular on the streets of Kyiv right now than I am in Kensington, that is because of the foresight and boldness of this Government in becoming the first European country to send the Ukrainians weapons—a decision that was made possible by the biggest investment in defence since the cold war. Although I think that that conflict will continue to be very hard, and our thoughts and prayers must continue to be with the people of Ukraine, I do believe that they must win and that they will win. Although that may, of course, be of massive strategic importance in the face of Putin’s adventurism and aggression, when the people of Ukraine have won it will also be a victory of right over wrong and of good over evil. I think that this Government saw that clearly, saw it whole and saw it faster than many other parts of the world. That is why I have confidence in this Government.
By the way, I have absolutely zero confidence in the Opposition. Eight of them—I never tire of saying this, and everyone must be saying it right up until the general election—eight of them, including the shadow Foreign Secretary, voted to discard this country’s independent nuclear weapon. I do not believe they would have done the same thing in standing up to Putin in a month of Sundays.
Last week I went up in one of our 148 Typhoon fighters, and I flew out over the North sea, over Doggerland. The drowned prairies are now being harvested again with tens of gigawatts of clean green energy. We will have 50 GW of offshore wind by 2050, and thanks to this Government’s activism I am proud to say that offshore wind is now cheaper than onshore wind. I looked down at that ghostly white forest of windmills in the sea, financed with ever growing sums from international investors, and I thought, “This is how we will fix our energy problems; this is how Europe should be ending its dependence on Putin’s gas.” I am proud of the way we have responded to the challenge, with a nuclear reactor every year rather than one every 10 years—or none at all, as was the ridiculous and catastrophic policy of the last Labour Government.
And then the wing commander interrupted me, and for a glorious period I was at the controls of the Typhoon. I did a loop the loop and an aileron roll and a barrel roll, and then—I am coming to the point, Mr Speaker—I handed back the controls. In a few weeks’ time, that is exactly what I will do with this great party of ours. After three dynamic and exhilarating years in the cockpit, we will find a new leader, and we will coalesce in loyalty around him or her, and the vast twin Rolls-Royce engines of our Tory message, our Conservative values, will roar on: strong public services on the left and a dynamic free-market enterprise economy on the right, each boosting the other and developing trillions of pounds of thrust. The reason we will keep winning is that we are the only party that understands the need for both.
Whatever happens in this contest, we will continue to fight for the lowest possible taxes and the lightest possible regulation. The Opposition’s problem is that they would try to fly on one engine, kowtowing to the union barons, endlessly inflicting more tax and more spending, endlessly giving in to the temptation to regulate us back into the orbit of the European Union, and flying round in circles.
Some people will say, as I leave office, that this is the end of Brexit. Listen to the deathly hush on the Opposition Benches! The Leader of the Opposition and the deep state will prevail in their plot to haul us back into alignment with the EU as a prelude to our eventual return. We on this side of the House will prove them wrong, won’t we? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Some people will say that this is the end of our support for Ukraine. [Interruption.] That is exactly the analysis. The champanskoye corks have allegedly been popping in the Kremlin, just as the Islington lefties are toasting each other with their favourite “Keir Royale”. But I have no doubt that whoever takes over in a few weeks’ time will make sure that we keep together the global coalition in support of our Ukrainian friends.
Some people will say—and I think it was the Leader of the Opposition himself who said it—that my departure means the eventual victory of the Labour party. I believe that those on this side of the House will prove the Leader of the Opposition totally wrong, and that in due course we will walk the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras into the capsule at Newquay that I mentioned earlier, and send him into orbit, where he belongs. And I tell the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who speaks for the Scottish nationalists, that it is time for him to take his protein pill and put his helmet on, because I hear it will not be long before his own party is taking him to Shetland and propelling him to the heavens.
This Government have fought some of the hardest yards in modern political history. We have had to take some of the bleakest decisions since the war, and I believe that we got the big calls right. At the end of three years, this country is visibly using its newfound independence to turbocharge our natural advantage as the best place in the world not just to live and to invest but to bring up a family. With a new and incontrovertible spirit of global leadership, I believe that we can look to the future with rock-solid confidence not just in what this Government have done but in what they will do and will continue to do. I commend this motion to the House.
The delusion is never-ending. What a relief for the country that Conservative Members have finally got round to sacking the right hon. Gentleman. In many ways the chaos of the last fortnight is familiar. This is the third Tory leadership contest in six years, the latest bumper summer for graphic designers and brand managers, the latest parade of pretenders promising unfunded tax cuts, the latest set of ministerial jobs handed out on a wink and a shake in return for a nomination, and TV debates so embarrassing that even the contestants are pulling out. Every other year, they switch out a failed Prime Minister. It is like a once-secure premier league side burning through managers as it slides inevitably towards relegation. The end of the season cannot come soon enough.
But besides the déjà vu, things are different this time. David Cameron left office because he lost a referendum. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) left office because her party could not agree on how to leave the EU. There were serious policy and political disagreements, and the Labour party had our own profound disagreements with both former Prime Ministers on how to grow the economy and how to run our public services, but no one seriously disputed that they were fit for office or that they could be trusted to carry out their own—[Interruption.] I suggest that some of those on the Conservative Benches reread their resignation letters. No one seriously disputed that those former Prime Ministers were fit for office, that they could be trusted to carry out their responsibilities, that the information they gave their Ministers was true to the best of their knowledge or that the policies they proposed were the ones that they believed were best for the country. So no one objected to them staying on while a successor was found.
Not at the moment.
There are clearly policy disagreements between the Prime Minister and his party. I know that he spent the weekend throwing another party—obviously a very good party, judging by the last 20 minutes—but can I suggest that he uses catch-up TV to see what they have been saying in the leadership debates? The Foreign Secretary, who has now left the Chamber, said the Prime Minister’s economic policy
“is not going to drive economic growth.”
The Minister for Trade Policy, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), said the Government have left public services in a “state of disrepair.” And the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) said junior Ministers raised concerns about fraud that were ignored and cost the taxpayer £17 billion. This is what that side are saying in the leadership debates. The people behind the Prime Minister are not happy with his record, whatever they say and jeer now.
Unlike his predecessors, this Prime Minister has not been forced out over policy disagreements and, despite the delusions he has fostered in his bunker, he has not been felled by the stampede of an eccentric herd. Instead, he has been forced out in disgrace, judged by his colleagues and peers to be unworthy of his position and unfit for his office. He promoted someone he knew to be a sexual predator. [Interruption.] It might be an idea to listen. And he then denied all knowledge when it inevitably went wrong. He lied to his Ministers about what he knew, and he allowed them to repeat those lies to the country. It is the same pattern of behaviour we saw when he and his mates partied through lockdown, denied it for months and forced his Ministers to repeat those lies until he was found out. He cannot change.
Even last week he was tearing up the rules by insisting that an Opposition motion of no confidence could not be heard. He promoted an ally to the ministerial payroll as she literally gave the public the middle finger. And he appointed a Chancellor with questions to answer about tax avoidance and his personal finances. [Interruption.] They all know—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Chair has been very clear at times about being conscious of language. From my understanding, the Chancellor has denied that accusation. Perhaps you could guide the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) on how to temper his language.
What I will say is that I want everybody to think carefully about what they say in this Chamber and the effect it has on people, which does concern me. Neither the Clerks nor myself can hear a lot of what is being said. Could the House just turn it down so we can hear?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
They all know it cannot go on. Just read their resignation letters. The right hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) went after saying this is
“The last straw in the rolling chaos”.
The hon. and learned Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) had enough of “defending the indefensible.” And the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) simply said the Prime Minister is an
“apologist for someone who has committed sexual assault”.
When the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) resigned, he accused the Prime Minister of not conducting Government “properly, competently and seriously.” I presume he was talking about their appalling joint economic legacy of the highest inflation and the lowest growth in the G7, leaving us with the highest tax burden since rationing and with diminished public services. That is the record, but the rhetoric does not match it. He suggested the Prime Minister is not prepared to “work hard” or “take difficult decisions,” and he implied that the Prime Minister cannot tell the public the truth. They all read the letter, and they know what he said.
But this week, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) is trying to convince us to ignore all that—apparently, he has changed his mind; asked a straight question, he will not tell his party that the Prime Minister is dishonest. Now he is saying that the Prime Minister is actually a “remarkable” man with “a good heart”. It is pathetic; there can be no one worse placed to rebuild the economy than the man who broke it. There can be no one worse placed to restore trust than the man who propped up this totally untrustworthy Prime Minister.
I will make some progress and then I will give way. Instead of rewriting history, Conservative Members need to face up to what they have done—what they have put this country through. Despite knowing exactly who he is, despite knowing that he always puts himself before anyone else, despite knowing that he had been fired from job after job for lying, they elected him to lead their party, and he behaved exactly as everyone feared when he got into Downing Street. He lurched from one scandal to the next; he demeaned his office; and he started to drag everyone and everything down with him. So, belatedly, they found him unfit for office, too untrustworthy for government.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman sounds as though he is describing his own actions. For year after year, he sat there while the Labour party was found guilty of breaching the law by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the antisemitism of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). Why did the right hon. and learned Gentleman not have the courage to stand up at the time for what was right?
We are having this debate because dozens of Front Benchers resigned their posts because they would not serve this Prime Minister. They are sacking him because he is untrustworthy. That is why we are having this debate. Normally in a debate such as this the Prime Minister asks for a vote of confidence so that he can carry on, but this one—[Interruption.]
Order. I am very bothered about where this is going. The use of language needs to be brought into a more temperate manner and we need to calm it down. Let’s see how we can try to progress in a more orderly way, while being more temperate in what we are saying.
So, Mr Speaker, why are they leaving him with his hands on the levers of power for eight weeks? This is eight weeks where the British public must trust the word of a Prime Minister who has been sacked because he can’t be trusted; eight weeks where Britain will be represented abroad by someone who has lost all respect at home; and eight weeks of a caretaker Government led be an utterly careless Prime Minister. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t matter, and that these are just the quiet summer months when everyone goes to the beach, is in denial about the severity of the challenges our country faces.
The war in eastern Ukraine drags on; the Nord Stream pipeline has been shut down; flights are being cancelled left, right and centre; and Britain is facing an unprecedent heat wave, as our climate changes in front of our very eyes. These are serious challenges—[Interruption.] Conservative Members do not think that these are challenges. These are serious issues that will require serious leadership. Hard decisions will have to be made. This is not the summer for Downing Street to be occupied by a vengeful squatter mired in scandal. Every day they leave him there, every hustings they refuse to distance themselves from his appalling behaviour and every vote they cast today to prop him up is a dereliction of duty. It is a reminder that the Prime Minister has only been able to do what he has done because he is enabled by a corrupted Conservative party every step, every scandal and every party along the way.
I know that there has been fearmongering that this motion might lead straight to a general election. Sadly, that is complete nonsense, but you can see why they fear the electorate. After 12 years of failed Tory Government, Britain is stuck—stuck with a low-growth economy; stuck at home, unable to get a passport or a flight; stuck on the phone, trying to get a GP appointment. Our taxes are going up, food and energy bills are out of control, and the public services we rely on have simply stopped working. And every Tory standing to lead their party has given up on trying to defend—[Interruption.] Prime Minister, they have no confidence in you—that is why you are going. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Britain deserves a fresh start with Labour, free from those who got us stuck in the first place, free from the chaotic Tory party and free from those who propped up this Prime Minister for months and months. And here is the difference: under my leadership, the Labour party has changed, and we are ready to do the same for the country—to get our economy growing, to revitalise our public services, and, after this Prime Minister has damaged everything around him, to clean up politics. This House should make a start by voting no confidence in this Prime Minister this evening.
In June 2016, there was a vote of no confidence in the then leader of the Labour party. I do not know whether the present leader of the Labour party voted yes or no. If he can remember, did he vote confidence or no confidence in his predecessor?
In 2019, his predecessor moved a motion of no confidence in the Government, saying that the issue should be put to the people. It was put to the people in the 2019 general election, and the present Government came in with a majority of 80.
I have it on reasonable authority that the deputy leader of the Labour party has said today that Boris was, in effect, the magic that helped. [Interruption.] I am glad that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) has confirmed that.
The issue before the House now is whether people would have any more confidence in the Labour party becoming a Government, and the answer is no.
In June 2016, when the then leader of the Labour party lost the no confidence vote by 172 votes to 40—the 40 may have included the current Leader of the Opposition—20 of the shadow Cabinet had walked out, but the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) walked in. The interesting question is whether the way in which he has spoken today is part of a leadership bid to take over the Labour party properly rather than just in name.
He describes himself as red and green, but mixing red and green together produces an unpleasant kind of brown. Does he accept that the Labour party is not yet trusted by the British people?
By voting confidence in the Government, this House will be saying, as the British people did in 2019, that we prefer us in government, not them.
That is not to say that the Government have got everything right. If I were taking part in the Thursday Sir David Amess debate, I could list the things on which the Government could make changes.
I want them to drop the privatisation of Channel 4, as there is no point in it, and I want them to reconsider the question of whether the Holocaust Memorial should be in Victoria Tower Gardens. There are a number of other issues that I could take up.
The issue today is: do we want to change the party of Government, and the answer is no. I rest my case there.
I see that the Prime Minister is leaving the Chamber. In this particular case, Prime Minister, leave means leave.
We all know that the Government have spent the past week trying to delay, reword, and, ultimately, avoid this debate, but, as is the way these days, the herd has moved. Today, we finally have a chance to cast our verdict on a failed Prime Minister and a Conservative party that is collapsing before our very eyes. I know the Government want to use this debate as some kind of dignified—although I have not seen any dignity from the Prime Minister this afternoon—obituary for the political legacy of the leader that they buried last week. If the Government are determined to debate the legacy of the Prime Minister, let us allow ourselves the opportunity to be that one thing that he singularly failed to be: let us be very, very honest.
Let us reflect on a man who should never have been put in office in the first place—a man who simply should not be here for a minute longer, because he has demonstrated no dignity in office in the highest office in the land, and he has shown no dignity today in departing. Every single Member of this House needs to ask themselves a very simple question: why on earth does the Prime Minister deserve the dignity of a long goodbye and a seven-week chance to rewrite his own legacy? Apparently, the one and only reason being offered up by Tory MPs to justify keeping him in place is that that is the precedent—that is the way that it works down here. It is the Westminster way. But those citing any kind of precedent have clearly forgotten the exact reason we have been brought to this point, which is that the behaviour of this Prime Minister has no precedent.
I am relieved that we can hear the right hon. Gentleman’s speech, and that we no longer have the Prime Minister bawling at those who are speaking as he leaves the Chamber. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that what we want over this period of change is dignity? We want dignity in the House and dignity in the country, and we did not see that from the Prime Minister in his behaviour on the Front Bench today.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, although I have to say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman. This is important. These are matters that are of interest to the public, and we need to treat each other with a degree of respect and dignity.
Let us come back to the Prime Minister. He broke his own laws in office and he broke international law, but the thing that ultimately brought him down was the fact that he could never, ever be trusted with the truth. That is the record, and that is now the Prime Minister’s legacy. He should not be allowed any room to rewrite that record and that legacy—even for seven weeks. It has not escaped anyone’s notice that this Prime Minister has lived his life thinking that the world owes him a living. He has not had the grace to stay today to hear the opening speeches in this debate. That tells us everything that we need to know.
The right hon. Member is making an excellent speech. The Prime Minister today spoke for 30 minutes, and not once in what could be his last speech did he make reference to the real fact that because of the political decisions that he has made, children are living in poverty, working families are using food banks and our communities have been devastated. Does the right hon. Member agree that, in his last speech, the Prime Minister should at least have had the dignity to apologise to the children in our country?
Will the right hon. Member give way on that point?
I do thank the right hon. Member for giving way. We talk about food banks and we talk about poverty, but it is a fact that many households—the Prime Minister referred to them as some of the poorest in the land—including those in my constituency, have no alternative but to use fuel oil, because they are off grid. When I asked the Minister of State for Energy in March whether a cap could be placed on the price, he said no, because there had been some survey in 2011. Today is a very hot day, but winter is coming and it will be cold. May I suggest to the right hon. Member that it is the mark of a civilised and caring Government that these people are helped and that a price cap is put on the cost of fuel oil—domestic heating oil?
I agree with the hon. Member. We both represent highland constituencies. They are beautiful constituencies, but they are constituencies where the rain falls on a regular basis and the wind howls through the windows and the walls of the houses. Indeed there should be equity and fairness for everyone, regardless of where they live. We talk about the heatwave that people are suffering from today in many parts of the United Kingdom, but when I looked at the weather in my own constituency in the Isle of Skye this morning, the temperature was 14°C. People in parts of Scotland will still have their heating on. The fact is that people are being penalised and not being looked after as they should be, for the very simple reason that they have to rely on off-grid heating oil.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
My goodness! The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have respect for him, but there for all to see is the lack of compassion, decency, humanity or recognition that people in highland constituencies are not getting the benefits that other people are getting. That is what happens with this Conservative Government.
Let us come back to the Prime Minister and his sense of entitlement—that he deserved to be Prime Minister, that he deserved to be above the rules and that he deserves the dignity of staying in office over the summer. But this place and the public owe him nothing. Only this weekend, he again showed why he is unfit for office by skipping Cobra meetings to do his favourite thing: attend yet another party. Another party! That is one thing that we might have thought he would learn. After being caught breaking his own laws and being fined by the Metropolitan police—the only Prime Minister in history to be fined in office—he turns his back on his obligations at a time of emergency over the effect of global warming, and he attends parties. That tells us everything that we need to know about the priorities of this Prime Minister. People have suffered enough under this most careless, casual and reckless inhabitant ever to have been entrusted with the office of Prime Minister. He does not deserve another day, never mind another seven weeks.
As well as casting verdict on the Prime Minister, today is also the chance to hold to account those who propped up his Government for so long. With every new candidate and every new campaign video for the Tory leadership, we are bombarded with talk of fresh starts and of hitting the reset button. I hate to break it to those candidates, but it is not lost on any of us that most of that talk is coming from the same people who backed this Prime Minister from day one and sat around his Cabinet table until the very end. Try as they might, they cannot hide the uncomfortable truth that they want us all to magically forget—that their party has been in power for 12 deeply damaging years. Fresh starts, new starts or clean starts simply do not exist after 12 years of the chaos that now defines their time in charge, and definitely not when they have already failed to get rid of the Prime Minister they put in power.
The herd might have moved last week, but it has very quickly fallen back in line and reverted to Tory type, as we have seen this afternoon. The Tories have stayed with this Prime Minister until the bitterest of ends, and today proves that they are staying with him still. Their failure to get rid of him means that we now finally need get rid of the lot of them, because today proves another thing: the only fresh start that will work is a general election—an election that will offer the Scottish people the chance and the choice of an independent future. On these Benches, we relish that campaign and the choice that is coming.
The need to put an end to this Tory Government is underlined by the terrifying spectacle of the leadership race under way throughout this building. No sooner had the race begun than it became clear that it was not just a race to get into Downing Street; it was a race to the toxic right. The policy proposals so far have amounted to tax cuts for the rich at the same time as millions of families are struggling to put food on the table, to watering down our climate targets when we can literally feel temperatures soaring, particularly in this place, and to doubling down on the hostile environment when the Rwanda policy has already gone beyond the point of morality.
The new Tory vision of these candidates is every bit as disturbing as the old one. While they are tearing lumps out of each other in this contest, they are ignoring the very thing that they are all responsible for: the Tory cost of living crisis ripping through every household on these islands. The contest has also exposed that they are completely out of credibility. Never again can those on the Conservative Benches claim economic literacy. During this leadership campaign, the Tory candidates have not just discovered a magic money tree; they have apparently found a magic money forest. The billions in tax breaks for the rich that they are bidding over always come at a price for the poor.
One of the most telling insights of the contest came from the current Chancellor, whose policy is to cut 20% from all public spending. That means 20% cuts to the NHS, to welfare and to our Scottish Parliament. The Tories imposed one decade of devastating austerity, and now it seems the new Tory vision is gearing up to inflict another. If ever there was a reason to vote no confidence today, surely that is it.
Of course, we on the SNP Benches are now well used to our country’s constitutional future being discussed and dictated by Tory politicians and Governments, who Scotland has not voted for or had any confidence in since 1955. The last number of weeks have been no different. It turns out that democracy denial was not just an attitude of the Prime Minister; it is now official Tory policy. The idea of a voluntary union of nations was clearly dead and buried long ago according to the Tory party, because every single candidate for the Tory leadership has fallen over themselves to tell us just how they are going to deny Scottish democracy—and we know why. They have long since run out of ideas and run of road in defending the Union, so now they are running scared of democracy.
I am genuinely sorry to say that the Labour party has now joined in that too. In the space of the last week, the leader of Labour party told us he was ruling out two things. The first was an independence referendum that—let us not forget—the Scottish people have voted for. The second was a return to the European single market and freedom of movement. He did not rule that out for now; he ruled it out forever. So not only will this place and these parties try to deny our right to a democratic vote on our future, but they will forever deny our return to the European Union.
If ever there were two motivating arguments to secure our independence, surely there they are. If that is really the Better Together strategy, it is in worse trouble than I even thought. The crucial point that those reunited Better Together parties need to understand fully is this: not only does Scotland have no confidence in this Tory Government, we have no confidence in Westminster control over our country. The parties here might not like it, they might try to deny it, but that is democracy—and them’s the breaks.
We want a different future—a future where we get Governments we vote for, where our democratically elected Parliament cannot be overridden and undermined, and where we have a secure foundation on which to build the economic and social future that we want. We want a new Scotland at the heart of the European Union. That is the future we can have confidence in. We have lost control in this place; we have lost confidence in Westminster.
The motion before us on the Order Paper is about confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. Since we face this cost of living crisis, war in Europe and all the other challenges, I was rather hoping when I arrived here that we might have a serious debate about how to deal with those issues. Instead, I heard a speech from the Leader of the Opposition that, in terms of vituperation, insult and sheer nastiness, was like nothing I have ever heard before, certainly about a Prime Minister who will be leaving office in a very few weeks.
Where is any sense of kindness or magnanimity? Why do we need to throw these insults around and claim—
I am going to proceed, if I may. Why do we need to claim that this is the worst sort of mass murderer and criminal in political history? It is complete rubbish. The fact is that when this Prime Minister took power, Parliament’s reputation was in tatters.
Virtually everybody in this Chamber had voted to have a referendum, yet many Members were doing their level best to frustrate it. Had we not had this Prime Minister, and had we not delivered Brexit, I believe we would have had a meltdown in political trust. He got Brexit done, though I agree that personally I would have liked to have done a lot more with it, and we will do, given time. That is the first issue, and that is why the Prime Minister was given a majority of 80.
The second issue is the pandemic. We have had all these insults against a Prime Minister who was working on our behalf and nearly died in office. It is a disgraceful attack. He was working flat out to save lives. Our record on the pandemic is frankly second to none. Again and again the Opposition tried to force us into more and more severe lockdowns, but this Prime Minister, with his vaccine roll-out, got us out of that mess, and thousands of people are now alive because of him.
Speaking for myself, I wholly regret the departure of this Prime Minister and I remain completely loyal to him to the very end, as I remained loyal to Mrs Thatcher. I think we will ask ourselves, “What have we done? What have we done to a man who gave us this 80-seat majority?”
The third point is that, but for this Prime Minister—the first western leader to arm Ukraine—Kyiv would now be in the hands of the Russians. We led Europe and the world in saving that country. That is the record of this Prime Minister, and I am proud as a Back Bencher to have given him all the loyalty I possibly could, as I will give loyalty to the next leader.
Of course there are challenges. Anybody would think that we lived in a vacuum—that despite the fact that we had the pandemic and the fact that we have a war in Europe, somehow the Government are to blame for all our ills. That is complete rubbish. When the next leader of the Conservative party—the next Prime Minister—comes into office, within weeks the Labour party will be calling for another general election, as we have already heard from the Leader of the Opposition. They will say, “This new Prime Minister is unelected, or elected by a fairly small number of people.” They never said that about the previous Prime Minister, because he was elected by the people with an 80-seat majority.
The problems are not going to go away .We all know that if the Labour party had been in power, the outcomes of the pandemic may not have been a great deal different. We do not know what will happen with Ukraine or with the economy, but the Conservative party, as the Prime Minister explained, is turbocharged because we believe in the power of the free economy, in freedom and in low taxation, although of course we cannot deliver that now. I say to my friends who are competing for the leadership: be responsible. I know it is popular to call for tax cuts now, but we have record levels of borrowing, and we do not solve the problem by borrowing more and more. It is said that we can put the covid expense in a particular box and forget about it for 50 years, and it does not matter, but we all know in our private life that we cannot say to NatWest, “I’ve got this debt on my car—I want to put it in a different box and I won’t have to pay for 50 years.” Debt is debt.
The Conservative party’s reputation is built on economic competence. We have to be careful with the economy. I personally was very unhappy about the rise in national insurance contributions. I am not in favour of tax rises. I believe that the reputation of a Conservative Government depends on low tax. We want to cut tax, but I say to the leadership contenders that we must be responsible.
In conclusion—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] I am only trying to give a speech loyal to my party, which is surely no bad thing, and to the present leader of my party.
The right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is right that these confidence motions can descend into pointless political attacks, but the reality is that this Government and this Prime Minister, and what they have done, make us oppose today’s motion, which is fundamental for anybody who wants to uphold democracy, defend integrity and restore trust.
It is not just about partygate, dreadful though that was, nor the failed attempt to defend the indefensible behaviour of Owen Paterson, nor the abhorrent culture of tolerating bullying and sexual harassment from political allies; these contribute to a loss of confidence, but they do not stand alone. There is also the endless list of incompetence and waste—taxpayers’ money being tossed around like confetti, with £16 billion fraudulently squandered on covid business support. There are the shameful failures in ambulance waiting times, 6 million citizens waiting for hospital treatment, people unable to travel because of the crippling delays at the Passport Office, and a stream of rail strikes and chaos at the airports.
All that is unforgivable, but it is the creeping culture of corruption and the determination to close down those whose job it is to keep a check on Executive power that makes this Government unfit for office. There is a growing body of evidence of corruption: dodgy Russian money funding MPs and the Tory party; an explosion in illicit finance, with Londongrad now the international capital for dirty money; peerages for pals like Cruddas and Lebedev; jobs for mates, from those like James Wharton to people from the Prime Minister’s City Hall days; and contracts for cronies, with only £0.2 billion of the £17.3 billion in contracts for PPE subject to open competition. This is not the Prime Minister’s money and not the Conservatives’ money. It is our money—taxpayers’ money, earned through hard work—and we expect it to be honestly and efficiently spent.
This Government have no moral compass. Look at their reaction when criticised by institutions that provide a check on their power. When the courts found that the Government had illegally prorogued Parliament, the Government looked to limit judicial review. When international laws prove inconvenient, they break or ignore them. Parliament’s role in holding Government to account has been eroded, with Ministers refusing to appear at Select Committees, the Prime Minister interfering in parliamentary elections, and legislation being rushed through with scant scrutiny. The independence of the civil service has been undermined, with permanent secretaries sacked for speaking truth to power and Ministers appointing their cronies as non-executive directors. Those in the press who dare to criticise the Government get sidelined. The Government tried to keep sections of the press out of No. 10 briefings. Their answer to criticism from Channel 4 is to privatise it, while the BBC’s reward for unbiased public service broadcasting is the licence fee slashed. A free press, a strong Parliament, an independent judiciary and an impartial civil service are essential to a healthy democracy. This Government have undermined these institutions, and it is shameful. This debate is essential to call a halt to the dangerous Trumpian assault on everything we value in our British democracy.
This should not be about Conservatives against Labour. Every MP needs to ask themselves, “Can I have confidence in a Government who mislead with impunity, abuse office to reward friends with jobs and lucrative contracts, put self-interest above the national interest, allow their party to accept cash for access, influence and honours, and whose members indulge in egregious lobbying or sex, bullying and sleaze scandals?” Can any hon. or right hon. Member in good conscience walk through the Lobby and declare their confidence after the litany of bad behaviours that have marked this Government’s time in office? The answer must be no.
I think I can be very confident in predicting that we shall never again hear a Prime Minister describe their phenomenal electoral victory as putting a blue ferret up the trouser leg of the Opposition.
Since this Government entered office in 2019 on the back of the Prime Minister’s historic election victory, the world has been turned on its head. Let us not lose sight of what has been thrown at the Government since March 2020. We have lived through a once-in-a-century pandemic, the first major war in Europe for a generation, and worldwide economic turbulence. Yet at every turn, this Government and the Prime Minister have put their back to the wheel and gone to work for the British public. Of course, by their own admission, mistakes have been made. At every opportunity, the Prime Minister has shown contrition and a desire to get on with a Conservative agenda. However, the mud-slinging and the relentless nature of politics and the media eventually take their toll on even the steeliest character.
The Labour party and some in the media are glad to see the Prime Minister go, as we are losing a political communicator and leader of historic proportions. At the 1997 general election, I stood for Burnley. While I believe I did as good a job as possible in restricting the Labour candidate to a majority of a mere 17,062, I never thought that Burnley would be a Conservative seat. Nevertheless, 22 years later and thanks to this Prime Minister’s leadership, I am proud to see that Burnley has its first Conservative Member of Parliament since 1910—and a very good one at that. The British public put their overwhelming faith in our Prime Minister and his Government to get Brexit done. Finally, we have escaped the grasp of the European Union’s clutches and we have our freedom. Because this Government made the right calls at the right time during the pandemic, we are learning to live with covid. Over 39 million people have received a booster jab across the UK. We had the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe and were the first to unlock and begin our recovery.
On a smaller, no less important scale, some years ago I brought forward a private Member’s Bill to allow motorcycles to use bus lanes. The evidence showed that when motorcyclists were in bus lanes, pedestrians were considerably more careful, and as a result people were no longer hurt or seriously injured. During his tenure as Mayor of London, my right hon. Friend heeded my call and he made it happen, and as a result in London motorcyclists are allowed in bus lanes.
We know that when he was Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister managed to slip his security detail; we do not know why and there were no officials there. Does the hon. Gentleman have any concerns about what meetings the Prime Minister may have had as Prime Minister without officials or security detail?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he not agree that like most of us here, the Government are not perfect? None of us is, and certainly not me. This motion appears to be a genuine attempt to change that approach. While it is not my form, I remind hon. and right hon. Members that kindness and respect in this place is the responsibility of every individual Member. This debate must have that underlying principle at its very core.
I agree that none of us is perfect—if we were, this would be a very dangerous game to be in, because there would be very quickly someone pointing out that we are not. It is helpful for our constituents to understand that it is absolutely right for the Opposition to be able to call a confidence vote in the Government at any time. If they made a mistake last week and therefore we are having it today, like all of us they are fallible too, and we should be very clear that that right is being defended. The hon. Gentleman is right to insist that kindness and respect are fundamental for this job—after all, it is hard enough anyway.
Another aspect of this Government and its leader that cannot be overshadowed is the reach and the likeability. My right hon. Friend remains one of the rare politicians who is on first-name terms with the public; this reflects a rapport with the public that is frankly astonishing, given the extent of smears from all corners of society. Many will never get their head around the fact that the Prime Minister remains immensely popular across the country. He loves his children, he is caring and he is loyal. My in-laws would agree, because he was their MP in Henley. Despite all the horrible things said about him, he is never rude back. Many people would not have been able to handle the vitriol he has experienced over the past few years, but that is a testament to his character. It is a great shame he is going, when he has done so much for the free people of Ukraine. I hope we will all try to live up to that example of protecting freedom, which is so crucial, and that is why I am proud to have supported him. He is right to leave with his head held high.
Like so many of the British people, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches have absolutely no confidence in this whole Conservative Government. This Government have plunged our great country into three serious crises: the cost of living crisis, the healthcare crisis and a political crisis. Before the Prime Minister was forced to resign, there was absolutely no plan to tackle any of these crises, and now the candidates to succeed the Prime Minister are proving comprehensively that they have no idea of the scale of these crises, let alone how to tackle them.
I mention the scale of these crises because it is shockingly evident that the Conservative party is totally out of touch with the financial and healthcare catastrophes facing millions of British families and pensioners later this year. Let us start with the cost of living. Already families and pensioners are struggling to pay their soaring energy, petrol and food bills, and inflation is accelerating away. Energy bills alone were up £700 in April, with an even bigger rise coming in October. So many of our constituents are already asking how they are supposed to pay next month’s bills, and their fear about winter’s heating bills is understandably growing every day. Millions of people are facing a financial catastrophe over the next few months, yet the Conservative party seems blissfully ignorant.
In the so-called debates between the leadership candidates, there is this massive elephant in the room, the energy bill catastrophe, yet they have no serious answer to that. The Liberal Democrats have showed what could be done. For months, we have been calling for an emergency cut in VAT, which would save families £600 a year. Instead, this Government have chosen to raise taxes, to raise national insurance, to freeze income tax thresholds and to hit hard-working families, making the crisis worse, not better.
Then there is the healthcare crisis. Health crises used to occur for a few weeks every winter, but not with this Conservative Government. This Prime Minister has brought healthcare crises for winter, autumn, summer and spring. Just look at the stats: a record 6.5 million people on hospital waiting lists, cancer treatment targets missed by miles, and record long delays in ambulance response times. This Government have ignored the ambulance crisis, hoping it goes away: they have failed to employ the GPs, the NHS dentists and the care staff that the British people need and deserve. Now, leadership candidates argue about how much to slash the NHS budget, which brings me to the political crisis.
It would be easy to blame all the political crisis on the Prime Minister, and he must certainly take a large part of blame—he has debased the high office of the British Prime Minister and he has shattered the public’s trust in our politics—but he did not act alone. For three years, Conservative Members have backed him to the hilt. When he was at the Dispatch Box telling us that there were no parties at No. 10, or claiming that crime had gone down when it had gone up, they were all there behind him, nodding along with every word of it. Conservative MPs defended the indefensible and excused the inexcusable. It is not just the Prime Minister we have no confidence in; it is all of them.
The people of Chesham and Amersham showed that they have no confidence in the Government when they elected my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sarah Green) last year. The people of North Shropshire showed that they have no confidence in this Government in December, when they voted for another of my hon. Friends, the Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan). The people of Devon showed they have no confidence in these Conservatives just last month, when they so wisely elected my hon. Friend the new Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord).
We think it is time we gave everyone across the country the chance to have their say and to end this shameful, shambolic Conservative Government through a general election. When Conservative Members decide how to vote today, I urge them to ask themselves these questions. Do they really have confidence in a Government who have raised taxes by more than £1,000 per family in the middle of a cost of living crisis? Do they really have confidence in a Prime Minister who was fined by the police for breaking his own law, who forgot about serious allegations against his Deputy Chief Whip, and who is now under investigation for contempt by a Committee of this House? Do they really have confidence in a Government who are running our NHS into the ground and taking local communities for granted? I believe that the British people have lost confidence in all of them, and if the Conservatives have any decency left, they will back this motion tonight.
Order. Mr Speaker indicated that there would be an informal limit of four minutes, and that clearly is not quite working. I am not speaking with reference to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), because as leader of his party he is allowed a certain leeway. We now have to have a formal limit of four minutes. I call Mike Wood.
Yes, this House can have confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, because faced with unprecedented challenges over the past three years, it has got far more of the important decisions right than wrong. Have there been mistakes? Of course. I am not aware of any Government, of any nation, even in the most benign times, who could claim to have made none. Of course, these have not been benign times. On the big questions facing the Government, our country is in a better position, with the Prime Minister having been in charge for the past three years, than it would have been in if the Leader of the Opposition had had his way.
On the decision to respect the referendum result, the Prime Minister broke the deadlock over Brexit that threatened to leave the country paralysed with indecision. There are still important issues to resolve, but it is clear that any of the five Conservative candidates to replace him will continue that work, and will secure Brexit, not reverse it. We know what the Leader of the Opposition wanted to do if he became Brexit Secretary in 2019: hold another referendum to overturn the first one. We know what he promised Labour party members in order to become its leader: free movement across the EU. However, he is now telling voters that he would not take us back into the EU internal market. People are bound to ask: who is he telling the truth to? This Government and this Prime Minister called it right.
Going into the global pandemic, the Government recognised that normal procurement and distribution systems would not get personal protective equipment to the people who needed it most urgently. The Leader of Opposition attacked the Prime Minister for putting in place too many checks, being too slow, and not awarding contracts quickly enough. Later, that criticism was reversed; suddenly there were insufficient checks and bureaucracy. Again, the Government called it right and struck the correct balance. They put in place the biggest job and business protection schemes in British peacetime history to make sure that our economy could build back once the need for lockdowns had passed: 9 million workers’ wages were paid; nearly 3 million self-employed workers were helped; and businesses right across our economy were supported. If the Leader of the Opposition had had his way, and the plans of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) had been put in place, bankrupting the nation, we simply would not have been able to borrow the money for that emergency help.
Back when a covid vaccine looked a distant prospect, the Prime Minister and the Government backed a range of potential vaccines, as well as Kate Bingham’s superb taskforce, which the Opposition decried as waste and cronyism. The Opposition were wrong; the Prime Minister was right; and Britain got more vaccines more quickly than any other European country.
I really do not have time.
It was the Prime Minister’s personal intervention—he sent back early drafts of the roll-out strategy—that brought together the NHS, the armed forces and the private sector to get vaccines out quicker than other large countries did.
We can be proud that when Russian troops invaded one of our European partners, our Prime Minister did so much to lead international support for Ukraine. It is simply not credible to imagine that Britain would have stood as firmly against Russian aggression if it had been led by a man whose response to an assassination attempt on the streets of Salisbury was to demand that evidence be sent to Moscow.
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what the right response was: it was to co-ordinate the biggest diplomatic response since the end of the cold war. The Prime Minister, then Foreign Secretary, got more diplomatic responses than have been seen in decades. The Prime Minister has many achievements of which he should be proud. His successor will have a strong foundation to build on, thanks to the decisions that he has taken over the past three years.
We do not currently have a functioning Government; it imploded two weeks ago, when there were over 50 ministerial resignations in 36 hours. The decision of those Ministers to render their Government incapable of governing forced the Prime Minister to concede that the end was nigh, but he did not resign. Shamefully, he was allowed to make over 60 new ministerial appointments to a caretaker Government. Many of those appointees will be Ministers for only three months, in this drift through a national crisis.
The Prime Minister has been told that he must be gone by 5 September. That is 50 days from now—50 days in which the Government will be led by a disgraced Prime Minister, and in which Parliament will be in recess. It is not in the interests of our country or our democracy to allow this discredited Prime Minister to squat in Downing Street one day longer. He is a security risk, having admitted to attending KGB agent Alexander Lebedev’s Italian villa alone, en route home from a NATO summit. He is trying to install more of his cronies in strategic jobs before he goes. He is ending his tenure in Downing Street much as it began—by going AWOL from emergency Cobra meetings; he prefers to party at Chequers instead. Also, there are rumours that he is planning a bumper resignation honours list of 40 Tory peers. Such powers of patronage should not be available to a man driven from office in disgrace by Members on his own side of the House.
If the motion is not carried, it will bring about a general election. It is voters, not Tory Members, who should be given the chance to pass a verdict on this catastrophic Government and their failures of probity and competence. Of course, the Tories do not want to face the voters yet. They are hoping that they can ditch their third leader in a row and crown a new Prime Minister without bothering to ask the country. They prefer to have the next Prime Minister chosen by their tiny and completely unrepresentative party membership—the very same people who chose the disgraced incumbent barely three years ago.
The Tories hope that they can evade any blame for giving a man they knew to be wholly unfit for his great office the keys to No. 10, but they cannot. Tory MPs are as culpable as the Prime Minister for the chaos and catastrophe that he has caused. They gambled with our democracy, and with respect for the law, truth and morality in public life. They lost, and now the voters must judge them. If we are to believe the dangerous pitches of the wannabe Prime Ministers still in the leadership race, the minuscule Tory membership appears to be obsessed with fantasy promises of billions of pounds of unfunded tax cuts, and haunted by the fear of so-called wokeness.
It is crystal clear that the Tories are not addressing any of the real problems and challenges facing this country after 12 years of Tory misrule. They have not addressed the cost of living crisis facing millions of our fellow citizens. They have said nothing about soaring levels of child poverty as they vie with each other for who can concoct the biggest fantasy tax cut. They have left the country weaker and more ill prepared for the future. Their neglect has caused chaos in the NHS, the Passport Office and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, at the border, and in our schools and courts.
As the leadership race lumbers on and more of the 2019 manifesto is ditched, the Tories are shredding our constitution, their manifesto and their mandate for government—and now they will not even debate in public. That is why we urgently need a general election. In evidence last week, John Major said of the Cabinet:
“They were silent when they should have spoken out and then spoke out only when their silence became self-damaging.”
The only democratic way to respond to what has happened is to have a general election now.
I certainly, most emphatically, have confidence in this Government, and no confidence whatever in Her Majesty’s official Opposition, the Liberal Democrat party, the Scottish National party, or any other Rag, Tag and Bobtail. First, I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, who has led on all the historic matters that he has carried through so successfully since becoming Prime Minister a mere three years ago: Brexit, standing up for Ukraine, and covid.
The general election was based on a manifesto that gave us a great democratic majority, and the Labour party a well deserved drubbing. On the handling of covid, from which the Prime Minister nearly died—[Interruption.] Don’t you dare speak like that. With courage and resilience, he battled through. AstraZeneca and the expertise of our great scientists led the way, with the support of our Government under this Prime Minister.
Then there is Ukraine—Putin’s brutal and unprovoked aggression, and the murder and killing of innocent citizens, not to mention even Russian soldiers sent to fight on false pretences—on which the Prime Minister of this country has led the world.
Then there is Brexit, on which the Prime Minister led a democratic victory in 2019, endorsing the vote of the British people in 2016 and freeing us from the subjugation of the European Union, other than with the unfinished business of Northern Ireland. That is now being addressed in the Committee stage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which had a majority of 74 on Second Reading.
Brexit itself, with the freedoms generated by leaving the laws of the European Union and the means to unleash the potential of the British people and their businesses, innovation and worldwide commercial ambitions, will create new horizons in our economic history.
All this is based on stable economic foundations. The fact is that, if we look at the unemployment rate in the other member states we see that, while our unemployment—now we are out—is 3.8%, in Germany it is 5.3%, in Italy 8% and in Spain 13%. The eurozone is imploding and on life support. All these problems of the cost of living were induced by the uncontrollable global and external forces causing inflation throughout the western world.
Under all the strident rantings of Labour Members, this Government have succeeded where, on every count, they would have completely failed miserably. The essential foundations of sovereignty and democracy have now been re-embedded in our national DNA. This success cannot be taken away from the Prime Minister, and it never will be when the history books are written.
Job vacancies are now at a mere 1.3 million in this country, which is far better than in the other member states. The G7 and similar countries are affected in a similar way. Thanks to this Prime Minister, this Government and this party, we have made a success of one of the greatest revolutions in British constitutional history, certainly since we entered in 1973 and stretching back over 400 years.
I have confidence in this Government because they have achieved. Opposition Members have failed every single time they have ever been given an opportunity to do so, and they will do so again.
Well, what a man to follow! [Interruption.] I am not sure that Fran and Anna here quite agree with me on that.
Let me say that we are here debating a confidence motion in the Government, but as has been said by other speakers before me, we do not have a Government. They are a Government in name only. It is essentially now a form of organised Tory hooliganism that squats in these offices of state, squats in these Departments and squats most of all in Downing Street.
One of the canards that is often advanced—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) wants to get to his feet and intervene, he is more than welcome. I am happy to have the extra 60 seconds from him. The canard often advanced by Government Members—people would not know it, but we are only having this debate because they wielded the knife on their leader just a couple of weeks ago—is that the Prime Minister “gets the big calls right”. Let us examine that proposition.
As a few Conservative Members have been asked, did he really get a big call right when, post-Salisbury and straight after a NATO summit, he went to the palazzo in Italy of a former KGB agent? Was that him getting a big call right, and he did not even have the decency to do it properly with security and logging it with his Department. That was when he was Foreign Secretary, and before he even got to Downing Street.
Did he get all the big calls right when he was partying all over the place and our constituents had to adhere to the rules as strictly as they did? Indeed, it resulted in him being the only Prime Minister—the only Prime Minister—to have received a fixed penalty notice while in office.
I have witnessed the Scottish Conservative party at close quarters over the years, as you have, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I always thought, going back to the days of the hon. Gentleman’s old pal the late Sir Teddy Taylor—that tenement Tory of my constituency—that he believed in law and order, but he sits there decrying anyone who draws attention to the fact that we have a criminal in Downing Street who has the keys for another five weeks in office.
Is the hon. Member aware that the Lord Chief Justice himself said, in a case on fixed penalty notices when the payment was made within 28 days, that it was not a crime, that the individual could not be prosecuted and that he had left the court without a stain on his character?
The hon. Gentleman has educated me, because I did not know that, but it does not change the facts. Facts are chiels that winna ding, and those are indeed the facts.
The Prime Minister has presided over a shambles. Two weeks ago, in this very building and not so far from here, we witnessed a Government in meltdown, and yet we are asked to believe that somehow all the MPs, Ministers, Parliamentary Private Secretaries and trade envoys who resigned got it wrong, and this Prime Minister is still fit for office.
Nothing says that quite like the acres of empty green Benches on the Government side of the House tonight, so while they—[Interruption.] Well, it is a Government motion. It is a Government motion brought forward by the Prime Minister himself, and is it not telling that none of the leadership candidates have turned up to defend him here tonight? One could only imagine that several of those who have come here—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) wishes to get to his feet, I am happy to be educated once again.
The hon. Member is making a fantastically farcical speech, but I am enjoying it immensely. It is a little bit rich, when there is an election open now, to have a go at candidates for not being here at this moment. This is a fair place and he knows the process; he has been here longer than I have. This is a six-hour debate, and I think it is fair to give some courtesies in this House.
Not all interventions are best made on your feet, as the hon. Gentleman has showed with great grace.
As far as this is viewed in Scotland, for all that we have heard not just from the leadership candidates, but from the Prime Minister himself—indeed, he was at great pains to name the various red wall constituencies that his big blue Tory ferret paraded through—it is worth noting that in Scotland, his party continues to go backwards any time the electorate face a ballot paper in their constituencies. The Tories have not won an election in Scotland since the 1950s, and the idea that we are frightened of any of these contenders now is for the birds. They will lose more elections in Scotland.
The chaos actually started with David Cameron; it is not all the fault of the current incumbent of No. 10, let us be honest. I can see that the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) at least agrees with me on that. All the chaos that has flowed from the 2016 referendum has only made the case for a strengthening—a strengthening—of Scottish democracy, which I know the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) takes seriously. There will be a referendum on Scottish independence.
The right hon. Member can shake his head as much as he likes. The reason why there will be one is that, like many Government Members, the public are free to change their minds. They are free to give a Government in Edinburgh a mandate, as they did in 2011, to ask that question on Scottish independence again. We rejected this rancid, squalid Brexit, which he sits there smiling about, and that is how we will reverse it in Scotland. Labour has shown us that there is no route to do it via Westminster. The only way to do it is for Scots to take their future into their own hands and create such a path back into the European community, where we belong. We will do that with our independence referendum in 2023, and I look forward to the Scottish people voting for it with enthusiasm.
I rise to declare my confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. There are myriad substantial reasons for doing so, but I am going to focus on just three, because of the time allowed to me.
The first, of course, is the ending of the Brexit impasse, which the dead Parliament of 2017 to 2019 showed itself to be incapable of doing. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Conservative party won a landslide victory at the 2019 general election, when I had the privilege of being elected for the first time to represent my constituents in Orpington.
It is undeniable that a significant reason for the national result was the mandate to deliver on the largest democratic exercise in this country’s history—an exercise that had hitherto been thwarted by arrogant elites, some of whom I see sitting opposite me this evening. On 31 January 2020, Her Majesty’s Government delivered on the will of the people, and we left the European Union. The Labour party claimed that a Conservative Government would not achieve a Brexit trade deal, and yet Her Majesty’s Government announced on 24 December 2020 that Britain and the EU had agreed a post-Brexit trade deal, ending months of disagreement. A clear manifesto commitment that the previous dead Parliament had failed to deliver had been completed within a few weeks of the election. In the months that followed, the Government announced more than 70 trade agreements with countries all around the world.
That is achievement No. 1, and I will now move to achievement No. 2. Shortly after we left the European Union, the worst pandemic in a century hit the entire world. Her Majesty’s Government put their arms around the people, at great pace and under enormous pressure, and introduced a comprehensive package of support for individuals and businesses. Component parts of the support deal, such as the furlough scheme, saved millions of people from being made redundant when businesses could not trade because of the spread of the virus. Although our economy was on life support, it was kept alive thanks to the actions taken by the Government. As a direct result of decisions taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, this country was among the first to begin to emerge from the pandemic.
Her Majesty’s Government made the right call when it came to the vaccine. Thanks to the Government’s quick action to secure the most promising vaccine doses in advance, more than 120 million doses were administered in the first year in the UK alone. It should be noted, however, that the leader of the Labour party wanted Britain to remain in the European Medicines Agency, which would have delayed the roll-out of the vaccine. Countries in the EMA were much slower with vaccine production and roll-out than the UK was. Had Labour remained in power, the vaccine success that we experienced in this country would not have occurred at anything like the speed it did, with potentially dire consequences.
Her Majesty’s Government made the right call when it came to reopening the economy last year—something that, of course, the Labour party disagreed with. Time after time, senior Labour figures called for the maintenance, and even an extension, of restrictions. The Leader of the Opposition even said that he would vote for a circuit-breaker lockdown over Christmas, and then days later pretended he had never backed a Christmas restriction. Had he been in power, it would have been less Captain Hindsight, and more Major Catastrophe.
Finally, this Government and this Prime Minister have led to the west rallying international support for Ukraine. Her Majesty’s Government have kept our country safe. They have led the world in response to the first ground war on the European continent since the second world war, and they have got Brexit done. It is therefore patently obvious that the House should have confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, and I will be supporting the motion.
It is an unusual thing to be in the Chamber listening to all this praising of the Prime Minister from the people who have just got rid of him. I wonder whether they have buyers’ remorse. One reason why our Prime Minister was got rid of, with heartfelt letters from Conservative Members, has been completely forgotten about since the leadership hustings started—it is as if it did not happen. The reason I do not have any confidence in the Government, and the reason I do not have any confidence in the Conservative party, is because of the dreadful record they have overseen on sexual harassment and violence in their own ranks.
Since I was elected to this House, two Conservative Members have gone to prison for perpetrating sexual crimes. In one of those cases, I repeatedly begged various Conservative Members with power, including the Chief Whip, to intervene, to stop and not to give him the Whip back, telling them how serious were the accounts I had heard. Every single time, that was ignored—[Interruption.] If hon. Members would like to intervene on me, I would be more than happy to explain the very fine details.
A victim of child sexual abuse came forward to the Conservative party and said that they had been abused by the candidate in Wakefield, after which the Conservative party lost the complaint, or it went somewhere. That candidate was then elected, and he is now in prison for sexual crimes. This is deeply serious. The hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts)—I have informed all the people I will be mentioning that I will be mentioning them, Madam Deputy Speaker; I imagine there are some Members checking their inboxes right now—was cleared by the Conservative party’s processes. Then the Prime Minister was toppled because he promoted somebody who he knew had undertaken sexually harmful behaviours. While everybody here is now dancing on the head of a pin about how great the Prime Minister was, and how he got all “the big calls right”, they should remember the reason that every one of those Members wrote those letters. Where, from every single one of the candidates—[Interruption.] If the Justice Secretary would like to intervene, I am more than happy to take an intervention.
The Justice Secretary says it is total rubbish. Would he like to get to his feet and tell me what I have said that is total rubbish? No, he would not. Shall I tell him what’s total rubbish? The rape statistics that he has overseen as Justice Secretary. That is what is total rubbish, and it is not a surprise when his political party turns a blind eye.
That is the convictions, but how is the charging, Secretary of State? Again, I am happy to take an intervention. Has the charging gone up or down? Currently, 1.3% of rapes that are brought forward result in a charge. That does not surprise me, when the institution that is currently in government constantly turns a blind eye to sexual misdemeanours.
A lot of people have mentioned antisemitism in this debate, because they are all desperate to make it about something wrong with the Labour party. However, when the Labour party was holding a leadership election, every single candidate was asked, “What will you do to stamp out antisemitism?” and rightly so. It is vital that we were held to account. So what did any one of the candidates do when the Member for—I can’t remember where, but Pincher by name, pincher by—
I would like to know what the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time did when the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) was given that position. I would like to know what the Foreign Secretary did. Did they all sit back? I wouldn’t have. I would never have sat back. I want to know what every one of the candidates who wants to be Prime Minister did when that happened. I want to know what the Conservative party is going to do about its institutional problem, when it cannot deal appropriately and independently with complaints about sexual harassment. I have absolutely no confidence.
Today’s motion is on whether we have confidence in the Government, and obviously I will be speaking in favour of that. I want to register my exasperation with the way that we arrived at having to table this motion, after the botched stunt by the Labour party last week. By attempting to table a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, Labour Members sought to do away with constitutional precedent and decades of convention. Whatever their personal animus towards the Prime Minister—I have listened to the speeches, and I can tell it runs very deep—the office is bigger than any one person, and the institutions around it, and our constitution, are bigger still. To seek to upend that in a fit of petty spite just shows how irresponsible and deeply unfit the Leader of the Opposition is to lead. He is a man who should know better, and a man who, as a lawyer, does know better, but he simply cannot do better.
This is the mother of Parliaments, not a sixth-form debating society. However, that is not what the debate is about. I appreciate this is a popular debate, so I want to touch briefly on why I will be supporting the Government tonight.
Government Members were elected on an ambitious manifesto, which was not just about Brexit, as some would like to claim. It was also about how we use that opportunity to change the way in which our country is working, because frankly, for a very long time in a great number of places, it simply has not been. Areas like mine were left in abeyance, written off, put in the “too hard” basket and subjected to their own passive form of managed decline, and that is not right. It cannot be the case that all the talent and ability is clustered in one part of the country—we know it is not—so why should all the opportunity be focused in a postage stamp-sized area of the country? Our manifesto promised to address that, and we have already made great strides.
That job has undoubtedly been complicated by the pandemic, which nobody’s manifesto contained. The pandemic has meant that it has been necessary to do extremely difficult things, but it was years of making tough choices since 2010—restoring our public finances—that enabled us to put our arms around the nation at the darkest of times. There will undoubtedly be those who want to talk down the pandemic response, but the simple fact is that this country went further and faster than most to protect, vaccinate and unlock. It was not all that long ago that Opposition Members were demanding that we emulate the EU, New Zealand and a host of other countries, only to then see them grappling with surging infections and repeated lockdown measures.
I have always believed that levelling up—or whatever we want to call it—is about different things in different areas. For me in Heywood and Middleton, it meant improving educational opportunities and transport links—seemingly simple things that will open doors that are currently just out of reach of so many. In my borough alone, about £130 million was injected into the local economy to protect lives and livelihoods at the height of the pandemic, and, after a genuine fight to stop the Labour Rochdale Borough Council siphoning most of that into its reserves, we got the money to the people who needed it. During my first 18 months as an MP, I closed more cases than my Labour predecessor did in her five years. That is the level of intensity that this Government have put into supporting the country, and the amount of disinterest shown by my predecessor and her party.
As we emerge from the pandemic, what next? Rochdale borough has bids in for £40 million of levelling-up funding. Greater Manchester has been allocated £98 million from the shared prosperity fund, in addition to over £1 billion earmarked to improve public transport, which is a game-changer. More than £1 million has been given to cultural recovery in the borough, and the Government have designated us as one of their priority education investment areas, with a share of more than £40 million. Despite everything that has happened in the past few years, we are getting on with the job.
I have been extremely proud to sit on these Benches for the past two and half years, and I genuinely believe that what we have done has been with the best intentions—to make this country a true partnership of people, all of them engaged in a common endeavour, and all of us equally able to achieve if we are willing to put the work in—and that is why I will be voting confidence in the Government tonight.
No, I don’t have confidence in this Government, because they have manifestly failed to govern efficiently or effectively. They wasted billions on fraudulent covid loans, unusable PPE and a test and trace system that never, ever worked, and they have completely mismanaged the Passport Office, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the railways.
No, I don’t have confidence in this Government, because they lied about Brexit and they have not got Brexit done.
No, I don’t have confidence in this Government, because they have not got any of the big calls right. When we were warning—when I was warning—about Putin’s Russia, the Prime Minister said the days of tanks rolling across Europe were over, and he cut our Army by 10,000. When covid started, the Government failed to protect people in care homes, sending thousands unnecessarily to early graves. When everyone issued warnings about inflation, the Prime Minister said that it was nothing to get worried about.
No, I don’t have confidence in this Government, because a massive shortage of personnel and skills is holding Britain back. Asparagus and courgettes are ploughed back into the field, strawberries are left to rot and pig carcases are destroyed, all while British families rely on food banks and—worst and most shameful of all—NHS hospitals run food banks for their staff. Many schools have no applications at all for teaching posts, especially in key subjects such as science, maths and modern languages.
No, I don’t have confidence in this Government, because they refused to put Magnitsky sanctions in place for years; because they still have not tackled dodgy Russian money and London’s massive money laundering industry; because they failed to take Putin’s initial invasion of Ukraine seriously enough in 2014; and because their delight in Putin’s bling emboldened Putin.
No, I don’t have confidence in this Government, because they are obsessed with all the wrong things. They spend more time and energy protecting statues than protecting women from domestic abuse. They deliberately drive wedges between people over gender identity and trans rights, and ignore the fact that their own Equalities Minister resigned because he thought the Government were creating a hostile environment for LGBT people, which is why the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) should be ashamed to defend this Government.
No, I don’t have confidence in this Government, because they have no plan for the NHS or social care. England has a backlog of 6.6 million patients, and that excludes patients’ multiple treatments. And no, it is not all to do with covid; we had a 4.8 million backlog before the pandemic.
It is quite bad to have points of order that disrupt debates. The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) has had a chance to speak. I am not sure whether he tried to intervene on the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), but he may go ahead with his point of order.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The occupants of the Chair have consistently talked about temperance of language. I do not think it fits within the ruling given from the Chair to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), as an LGBT man, should be ashamed to defend this Government. Could you just clarify to the House whether that is temperate language?
First of all, that is not a point of order. Secondly, Mr Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means and I have all said that we should try to conduct this debate in reasonable terms. I think we all need to calm down and discuss the important matters before the House. I call Chris Bryant.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
No, I don’t have confidence in this Government, because they play fast and loose with numbers. They boast that they are recruiting 20,000 more police, but they cut police numbers by 20,000. They boast of a single tax cut now but forget that they have increased taxes 15 times in two and a half years, giving us the highest tax burden for 70 years. They boast of the covid vaccination as if they personally developed it in the Downing Street kitchen, but France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Singapore have higher vaccination rates than us, and Wales managed it faster than England.
No, I don’t have confidence in this Government, because not even Conservative MPs really have confidence in this Government. They know that this Government are a massive conceit, an organised hypocrisy, a house built on sand—and the fissures run deep. They are not even very good at being Conservatives these days, tearing up conventions and the constitution like student revolutionaries. Of course, that is not how Conservative MPs will vote today. Oh no—they would not dare risk a general election. But even as they troop through the Lobby to indicate that, yes, they do still have confidence in the Government, they will be privately plotting that Government’s demise. They will be making themselves look foolish today. I do not mind that, but they cannot take the British public for fools as well.
I thank the Prime Minister for his dedication to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, his aspiration for all in this country, and his expectation that we can achieve great things as individuals and as a country. This Conservative Government, working as a team, have delivered hundreds of achievements over the past two and half years. They have delivered and continue to deliver on the people’s priorities: Brexit, for starters. In March 2020, the country faced an alarming health crisis—the covid pandemic—which the Opposition have conveniently forgotten about. The Government have taken decisive action to shield the public from the worst effects of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. It is very easy to criticise, but far more difficult to make tough and hard decisions.
We have delivered the biggest reforms to our railways in 25 years, with simpler, modern fares and reliable services. We have begun the accession process to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, giving UK businesses access to one of the world’s largest and most dynamic free trade areas. We hosted COP26 in Glasgow last year, helping to drive ambitious climate change action around the world, and we passed the world-leading Environment Act 2021, ensuring that the environment is at the heart of this Government’s agenda. We also passed the Agriculture Act 2020, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, the Building Safety Act 2022, the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022, and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. We have seen the plan for jobs, upskilling and reskilling, and a focus on education, giving every pupil in England a funding boost so that all children have the same opportunities to succeed. We have invested in levelling up parts of the country that have been long overlooked and neglected, including through the levelling-up fund and the towns fund deals. Hastings received £24.3 million, leveraging another £85 million in private sector funding. I could go on.
I completely agree. That is why the previous Conservative Government had the northern powerhouse, to try to lift people left behind for generations by the Labour party.
It is a fundamental principle of our constitution that any Government must retain the confidence of the legislature. That is us. The Conservative party won an 80-seat majority. That majority may have been reduced slightly, but the Government operate effectively, as votes on legislation in the last couple of weeks alone prove—healthy majority votes in favour of the Government, backing the Government. The Prime Minister may have lost the personal confidence of some of his MPs, but he has not lost the legislature’s mandate.
I pity those on the Opposition Benches. They have resorted to the petty low of personality politics because they have nothing else. With this Prime Minister gone, what will they do? We can feel their panic seeping across the Floor of the House. Their hate-fuelled moralistic posturing has made them all vulnerable. The Government continue to function as a strong team, and I have full confidence in them to deliver the priorities of the people and businesses in my constituency, as well as in the country. On the Conservative Benches, we keep calm and we carry on in the British way.
The most disturbing aspect of this entire debate is that the Prime Minister is still in office. After all the lies, the rule-breaking and the defence of sexual predators, and after his own Cabinet turned on him, he is still in office. Clearly, this House has no confidence in the Prime Minister.
The reason I have no confidence in this Conservative party is that Conservative Members have enabled the delusion and they continue to enable it. In the Prime Minister’s mind, he thinks he has done no wrong. He probably even thinks that he is the victim.
No, I do not, but if there were, it should certainly be investigated. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to say something, perhaps he should say it and not be quite so coy and insinuating.
What is even more concerning is the manner in which the Prime Minister’s successor is being selected. What started out as a sort of political beauty pageant has become a carnival of reactionary ideas, as the contestants vie with each other to see who can be the most right-wing. The reason is simple. They are not appealing to the Conservative parliamentary party, they are appealing to a narrow and narrow-minded section of the electorate quite unlike the people among whom they live: the Conservative party membership. How else can we explain that, as the country burns, not a single candidate has anything to say about the climate emergency? How else can we explain that they are talking about tax cuts on business profits, rather than action to help ordinary families with the cost of living crisis?
There will be Conservative Members who will hope that that is just an aberration, that those things will disappear once the contest is over and that some of this economic illiteracy, in particular the drivel about small states and tax cuts, will pass into history.
I would just like to point out, for the benefit of the House and the hon. Gentleman, that in fact earlier today every single one of the candidates spoke and was questioned at length by the Conservative Environment Network on precisely the issues he has just described.
My point is that when they set out their stall it was not on their agenda. This was not something they chose to put in their prospectus, because they know who they are appealing to. It is worrisome in the extreme that people who ought to know better are massaging prejudices among the Conservative party membership to gain political office.
Some will hope that this will disappear once the election is over and that much of the drivel about tax cuts and small states, and the economic illiteracy that comes with it, will pass away, but there is a worrying trend here. Some of those ideas may gain traction and may change public policy. I am concerned that the Conservative party is attempting to do that—change public policy in this country, without consulting the electorate. If it does that, that would be undemocratic and illegitimate.
When it comes to Scotland, I am also concerned. I do not expect any new Conservative leader or this Conservative Government to support a Scottish independence referendum, but I do expect—I do expect—a degree of civility and respect when it comes to appreciating Scottish public opinion. It is distressing that what we have seen from quite a number of the candidates, and what now seems to mark the character of the Government, is to ignore it and override it. Hence, we get statements about how the UK Government think that they need to save the Scottish people from the SNP-led Government in Edinburgh. What a monstrous contempt that is of the people who elected that Government just 14 months ago. Surely it is not too much to expect that there should be some dialogue, some respectful conversation? If there is not, that in itself will ensure the destruction of this Union.
This attitude is fuelling the campaign in Scotland for an alternative. We come here, mandated by the communities who sent us here, to say that people in Scotland want another choice on whether they should be an independent country. It is their right, their democratic right, to have that aspiration and to demand that it be listened to. We will not be going away. We will keep coming and we will keep demanding. The more this Government, in whom I have no confidence, refuse, the more the argument for the alternative, a new independent country, will gain ground. I say to the Conservative party and to the Conservative Government: Scotland clearly has no confidence in you. Everything you are doing makes Scotland believe there is a better alternative to come.
Just a few moments ago, one of colleagues of the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) talked about Tory hooliganism. The definition of hooliganism is the SNP trying to smash up the United Kingdom—that is hooliganism.
The motion we are debating tonight asks whether
“this House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.”
Absolutely yes, we have confidence in this Government. Why do I say that? This Government are delivering for British people, delivering for my constituents in Warrington South. We left the European Union. We invested and innovated in life sciences to deliver a vaccine rollout. We supported families and businesses with the furlough programme during the worst health crisis for 100 years. We lifted restrictions, allowing our economy to get back to business. We supported Ukraine in a way that most other European countries failed to do. We put billions of pounds of support into families as the long tail of covid affects the cost of living. This Government are absolutely backing the people of this country.
Our first duty as Members of Parliament is always to our constituents and the areas that we are honoured to represent in this place. What have the Government been doing for the past two and half years for Warrington? We have been levelling up transport, with Warrington benefiting from £42 million of Government investment. We are replacing our entire fleet of buses with 120 new zero-emission electric buses. We have been tackling environmental issues and ensuring that we have cleaner and better air quality. We have been improving services for local people and reducing the cost.
What are we doing on schools? Last week, I had a message from the principal of Penketh High School, John Carlin, who said how thrilled he was to receive £6 million from the Government to rebuild his school. He has been trying to achieve that for the past 10 years. The £6 million rebuilding programme will finally mean that students in Penketh get the facilities that they deserve.
In March this year, I was delighted to welcome the Prime Minister to Warrington to open a brand-new scan centre at Warrington Hospital, funded with £5 million from the Government. It is a fantastic addition, delivering new MRI and CT scanners, and the imaging suites and facilities have been reconfigured. That means that the backlogs that we faced as a result of covid have been almost entirely removed.
While the Government put in place policies and funding to help constituents in Warrington South, we are beset by Labour-run Warrington Borough Council, whose priorities appear to be building huge logistics centres on the green belt and introducing terrible low-traffic neighbourhoods that simply increase the congestion in our town.
For all the Opposition parties’ talk of a general election, let us remind ourselves that we have a parliamentary system, not a presidential one. We were elected on a manifesto to level up the areas of the country that for too long have felt unnoticed and have been left behind. I am incredibly proud to represent my home area in this place, and I am proud to work with this Conservative Government, who have done so much to benefit constituencies such as Warrington South. Tonight, I will vote to support the Government on this motion.
I decided to have a quick look at this Tory Government’s record in order to prepare for this debate. I found that child poverty has gone up by 300,000 since 2010. According to the Government’s records, 860,000 children do not know where their next meal is coming from. That is all before we factor in the cruel cut to universal credit or this year’s inflation rate—so no, I have no confidence in this Government.
Crime is up by 18% and prosecutions are down 18%, and that is just in the past three years. Less than 6% of offences lead to a charge, and that is a record low—so no, I have no confidence in this Government.
The Prime Minister promised 40 new hospitals. Where are they? Ambulance waits are going through the roof. Every single ambulance service has declared a critical incident. People having a heart attack or a stroke are waiting on average 50 minutes for an ambulance, and for many the wait is far longer. One patient waited 24 hours in an ambulance before a space in the hospital was found. These waits are deadly—so no, I have no confidence in this Government.
Let us get to the man in Downing Street. He spent the past years as he spent his whole life, corrupting and destroying confidence in everything he touches. This is not just about the parties, the law-breaking, or whether he misled the House; it is his casual approach to our democracy and our society. He has spent the past six months pretending that everything is going great and we know it ain’t. Inflation is skyrocketing and the economy is on the verge of recession.
What is the plan to deal with the root causes of that? We have workforce shortages blighting our NHS, all our public services and much of the private sector. We have massive trade problems linked to the mismanagement of the Tory Brexit, but all the Tory party leadership knows how to do is pretend that immigration is somehow the problem and that bashing the EU is some kind of solution. Well, it ain’t.
The Tory party has finally done the right thing, but frankly it is too late, and it is superficial. There is not going to be real change. The Tory record of destruction, division and chaos continues. The country is boiling but the leadership candidates will not credibly address climate change. They have said little to nothing about it—I think they must live on a different planet. All they can manage is to argue against the tax hikes that they voted for just weeks ago. When they are not doing that, they are trying to divide our communities based on frivolous nonsense. We would be better off if they talked about stopping climate heating or how to stop the NHS falling apart, but that does not seem to match the priorities of Tory donors.
So do I have confidence in this Government? Hell no. The truth is that our country will be able to recover only once the lot of them are out of office. For that we need a general election. Let’s get on with it.
The manifesto on which the Government were elected was entitled, “Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s Potential”, and the first part of that has been achieved. It has been difficult and protracted but we got there, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on achieving perhaps the most significant single piece of constitutional change in the post-war era. When one sees, for example, unrest in places such as Catalonia, I think we sometimes do not give ourselves enough credit for this country’s ability to effect change peacefully, smoothly and, considering the far-reaching implications of Brexit, at some pace. The Prime Minister achieved that and although his premiership is ending sooner than many would have liked—sooner than I would have liked—his place in history is undoubtedly assured, and he has begun to unleash Britain’s potential.
I welcome the creation of an east midlands freeport that will create up to 60,000 jobs in the region—made possible by Brexit. I welcome the Government’s ambitious vaccination policy—made possible by Brexit. I further welcome the more than two dozen police officers on the streets of Gedling, the plans to overhaul the Queen’s Medical Centre and City hospitals in Nottingham, and the increased school funding in Gedling—made possible thanks to the sound finances that only a decade of Conservative Government can provide. That is the Prime Minister’s legacy, which will be taken forward in the remainder of this Parliament.
The Leader of the Opposition instigated today’s confidence motion. If it fails, there will be a clamour for a general election. So what is his European policy? For starters, he is the man who said no—the man who was happy to tell the people of Gedling, “You may have voted to leave the European Union, but I’m going to ask you to do it again.” To him, the good folk of Gedling put their X in the wrong place on the ballot paper. They were to be admonished and told to correct their mistake.
The Leader of the Opposition is seeking to look like a Prime Minister in waiting. To establish his European credentials, he went to the continent this week, turning up in Berlin where the Bundestag is in recess. He committed what many considered to be a serious faux pas by recording a party political video at a holocaust memorial. In that video, he declared that he wants the Labour party to follow in the footsteps of the German Social Democratic party. Given that the SPD’s position in the opinion polls has fallen by a fifth in the past three months, I wish him well in those endeavours.
As I speak, there are five contenders for the Conservative party leadership—almost as many as for the Labour party leadership—and one of the things that they have in common is that none of them served, or would serve, in a shadow Cabinet led by the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who is hostile to NATO, called for collaboration with Russia after a chemical attack, and is a proponent of a reckless economic agenda. The prospect of a Labour Government led by the right hon. Member scared people in Gedling at the last election. Notwithstanding the many achievements of this Government, of which there are many, it is surely inconceivable that anyone would have preferred, or placed greater confidence in, the alternative Government who might have been elected in 2019 to take us through the pandemic, Brexit and the war in Ukraine.
I will support tonight’s motion because I have confidence in the programme of this Government, I have confidence in the Cabinet, I have confidence in the manifesto, and I have confidence that the Labour party remains unfit to govern.
Well, I certainly do not have confidence in this cobbled-together, bottom-of-the-barrel Government. If we are supposed to be voting tonight on whether or not we have confidence in them, people out there will surely be asking if that is some sort of rhetorical question. When we add all the Opposition MPs, all the Ministers who resigned and all the Tory MPs who voted against the Prime Minister in their vote of confidence, I think we know where Parliament sits on this Prime Minister. It is not a positive report card in any way, shape or form.
Scotland never took this Prime Minister seriously for a minute. I am a testament to that: when it went to the country in 2019, Angus said, “No, we’re not going to have a Tory MP. We’re going to have an SNP MP in Westminster, speaking up for the values of fairness and opportunity and underscoring our mandate for an independence referendum”—and it will happen, I can assure you of that.
I will not miss this Prime Minister talking up the UK economy and gaslighting the people of these islands about it. He makes it sound like a land of milk and honey, but there is £2.2 trillion of sovereign debt in the UK’s name. Let us be really clear: when this Government came to power, there was £0.8 trillion of sovereign debt. We are getting on for three times that figure, which took nearly 100 years to build up; this Government have nearly tripled it in 12 years. The Government have lost complete control of the economy. The term “working poor”, let us not forget, should be a contradiction in terms, but it is not—not in the UK, where two people in one house can go out to work for 40 hours a week and still not have enough money to put food on the table.
The Prime Minister cloaks himself in the NHS in the most shameless, unedifying way possible—it is absolutely abhorrent. Then there are these phantom numbers about building new hospitals, and all the while people cannot get access to an ambulance or make their way up a waiting list for an operation.
The Prime Minister shamelessly exploits the UK armed forces, who should be above politics but have been dragged mercilessly into it by this Prime Minister and his cronies in the Cabinet. Thousands have been cut from the Army on his watch. Nuclear weapons and their delivery systems are getting on for consuming a sixth of the armed forces budget. The Government have cut the E-7 Wedgetail programme to three. The Ajax £5.5 billion debacle has been rumbling on for the entire duration of this Government’s term. Yet they are supposed to be the Government who stand up for the defence of these islands. It is a disgrace.
Worst of all, how dare they deny democracy in Scotland? The people of these islands in Scotland are not confused. They do not vote SNP out of some sort of habit or tradition; they vote SNP because they recognise our values in their values, and they do not recognise the values of the Conservative party, one iota.
Conservative Members are smirking and laughing, Madam Deputy Speaker. Well, laugh up your sleeve, I’ll tell you that, because the people of Scotland are watching you. They are watching the disdain that you have for the decisions—
I would not dream of doing so, Madam Deputy Speaker.
They are laughing up their sleeve. The people of Scotland are recognising that, and they do not like it one iota. We will have our say, and we will divest from this broken United Kingdom once and for all.
You have asked for a more moderate, positive tone, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will endeavour to achieve that.
I have full confidence in this Government, for three reasons. First, no captain is more important than their team, and on the Government side of the House we have a very strong team. Secondly, the Government have delivered for the country as a whole; a lot of my colleagues have rehearsed the arguments about Brexit, covid, Ukraine and, indeed, net zero. Thirdly, this Government have delivered for my constituency of South Cambridgeshire. I was elected to represent the interests of my constituents, and the Government have had a real impact on their lives.
The Government have delivered for healthcare in South Cambridgeshire. We have the new Royal Papworth Hospital—a gleaming, state-of-the-art hospital, the most important heart and lung hospital in the UK. Just a couple of weeks ago, we opened the Heart and Lung Research Institute in South Cambridgeshire, with the biggest concentration of heart and lung researchers in the whole of Europe. More is coming: the Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital will be opened in 2025, and the Cambridge Children’s Hospital—the first such facility in the east of England—will be opened shortly afterwards. It will be the first hospital of its type to combine the mental and physical wellbeing of children.
The Government have delivered for transport in South Cambridgeshire. Cambridge South station will be opening in 2025; it is going through the processes now. The A428 has started dualling, we have finished dualling the A14, and the Government have started looking at the Girton interchange.
The Government have delivered for the environment in South Cambridgeshire. One of the big issues for us is protecting the chalk streams. The Government have set up a chalk stream taskforce and passed new legislation on sewage discharge, which all the Lib Dem MPs voted against. Shame on them—they voted to dump sewage into chalk streams. We have brought in new laws on hare coursing, which is a really big issue in South Cambridgeshire. I had meetings with the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about it, and we finally brought in laws to stop that terrible crime.
Education spending is a really important issue in South Cambridgeshire. Historically, we had one of the lowest levels in the country, but we have had a 21.3% increase in real-terms education funding in Cambridgeshire since 2014. Just in the past two years, there has been a £453 per-pupil increase in education spending, and schools are starting to feel the difference. We need more, but it has already made a difference.
When we had the covid pandemic, the Government delivered support for businesses and individuals. Some 17,000 people were on furlough, with their jobs saved by the Government. There was more than £50 million in funding for businesses. A lot of my small businesses, especially in hospitality—pubs in particular—were saved by the intervention of this Government and the support they gave.
Research is a very big thing in South Cambridgeshire, where we have literally hundreds of research institutes and companies. The Government have increased funding for research and development to £22 billion a year by 2025, which is making a real difference for South Cambridgeshire.
Finally, we now have record numbers of police officers in Cambridgeshire: 1,671 as of March. We have never had more than we have at the moment.
For all these reasons, the Government are delivering for South Cambridgeshire. I have full confidence in this Government.
When I was door-knocking in Newcastle yesterday, a young mum of two told me that she had never found it so hard to manage. The cost of living crisis meant that she could barely afford to get her kids to school. The Government were doing nothing to help, and she and her friends had joked that they would have to start selling their kidneys. That is the gallows humour of a country in crisis; it does not belong in one of the richest nations on earth. I have no confidence in a Government who do not support working families in Newcastle.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I would just like to add that the same issue can be found across the country, in every part of it including the south of England. She is making an excellent point, and I hope that the Government listen to her.
Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I have no confidence in a Government who do not support working families in Newcastle. When people have no confidence in the Government, it drains their confidence in politics and democracy generally. After all that has tested our country—the financial crisis, austerity, Brexit, covid, inflation—it is more important than ever that we have confidence in our leadership. But I have no confidence in this Government, because the Prime Minister repeatedly told Parliament that there had been no parties, and he was then fined for partying.
I have no confidence in this Government, because as our Queen contemplated the loss of her life partner of 73 years, alone, Downing Street partied. I have no confidence in this Government because each and every Minister, whether they resigned or not, is tainted by the support that they gave to the disgraced but still presiding Prime Minister. I have no confidence in this Government, because the Prime Minister does not find formal sexual misconduct complaints against a serving Government Minister to be memorable.
I have no confidence in this Government, because when the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency was asked to justify slashing 91,000 civil servants, he said that technology would enable them to do more with less. The right hon. Member for the middle ages agreed only reluctantly to a digital Parliament and is happy to give the impression that the printing press is a recent and debatable innovation. I have no confidence in the Government, because when giving a valedictory assessment of his meteoric rise and fall, the expensively Eton and Oxford-educated Prime Minister said “them’s the breaks”.
I have no confidence in this Government because they have decided to do without a science Minister, even as they say that science is essential to our economic recovery. I have no confidence in this Government because, as our nation faces a lethal heatwave—one so severe that the rail links between Westminster and my constituency have been severed, and the NHS is braced for a wave of heatstroke victims—the Prime Minister prefers to play “Top Gun” rather than turning up for Cobra meetings. I have no confidence in this Government because the candidates to replace the disgraced Prime Minister are so mired in mud-slinging that they barely mention health, education, jobs or the environment, and have now cancelled further debates because they are so embarrassing. I have no confidence in this Government because they appear to be in an arms race to slash taxes, cut the state, and “postpone”, or abandon, our commitment to net zero carbon emissions.
As we swelter in this country, we should remember that the whole of Europe is less than two thirds the size of the Sahara desert. If we do not meet the climate challenge, the Sahara is coming for us. If the Government think that net zero commitments are “expensive”, they should try costing the retrofitting of air conditioning in every home and school and every other building in the country. That will be but a small part of what it will cost us.
I have no confidence in this Government because they have no ideas and no convictions. They are a zombie Government; worse, they are a vampire Government, effectively dead but still continuing to suck the lifeblood from my constituents. Only a Labour Government can provide the fresh start that we deserve.
May I begin by saying that my colleagues on the Government Benches look very much alive to me?
Looking back over the last two and a half years, I think we can say with confidence that the Government have done a lot of things well. We left the EU when so many said that that was not possible. Our covid response has been one of the best in the world. The furlough scheme, delivered at extraordinary speed, prevented the horror of mass unemployment. Early decisions taken on vaccine procurement saved countless lives, and enabled the UK to leave lockdown sooner than almost any comparable nation. On Ukraine, this Government and our Prime Minister have led from the front, not only in terms of sanctions but in providing military and moral support.
In my constituency, the Government are delivering on our manifesto promises to level up. The towns fund will see £24 million invested in Stocksbridge and Deepcar. Government grants have rescued cultural assets such as the Paramount cinema. A new “fibre in the water” project in Penistone offers the possibility of rolling out high-speed broadband to rural homes. The Prime Minister’s personal intervention on behalf of the steel industry, in particular to keep the steel safeguards, has been a boost for local industry and an important demonstration of this Government’s commitment to areas that were once the powerhouse of this country, and can be again.
No Administration is perfect, and ours has made its fair share of mistakes, but this Government have done many things, nationally and locally, to inspire confidence. Of course, I speak in the context of huge uncertainty at the heart of Government. The Prime Minister has resigned—I have lost track of who has not resigned—and we are in the middle of the process of choosing a new leader. The events of the last six months will be chewed over relentlessly in the coming years, but let us not forget that, despite the Prime Minister’s mistakes and misjudgments, 14 million people voted for our party under his leadership, securing the biggest Conservative majority for three decades. Unlike so many other politicians, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has the ability to inspire, to uplift, and to connect with those who feel that the British establishment does not represent them, their communities or their values.
After 2016, the reputation of Parliament suffered, as ordinary people looked on while “the establishment”—as they saw it—sought to overturn the biggest popular mandate of all time. My concern is that when a coalition of the media, the Opposition and, sadly, some within our party work relentlessly—and, now, ultimately successfully—to destabilise a Prime Minister with such an extraordinary democratic mandate, we may once more be accused of trying to thwart the democratic will of the people.
As we on these Benches are engaged in the process of choosing our next leader, let us consider this. No one is without fault. No one is without a past. No one who has the skills, experience and charisma to lead our great nation will never make a mistake. No one has never lied. We have been told that the Prime Minister had to go because of his lack of integrity and a tendency to change his mind. The previous Prime Minister had to go because she had too much integrity and refused to change her mind. Perhaps, like Goldilocks, we will now find our “just right”. But our party is a broad church, and we have a broad range of candidates vying to lead it. Whoever wins, we must unite behind his or her leadership, and stand firm against attempts to throw us off course. Perhaps the question is not “Who is ready to lead?”, but “Are we ready to be led?”
So yes, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do have confidence in this Government. I have confidence in the British people who put this Government in place, and I wish the new Prime Minister—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
The words of the great Scots poet Rabbie Burns are as resonant now as they were when he wrote them, because if we cannot, as politicians, see ourselves as others see us, we have little hope of governing responsibly or with credibility. I suspect that if the Prime Minister and some others on the Conservative Benches, with their delusions of grandeur, could see themselves as people in my constituency—and in all our constituencies—see them, and could see the damage that their Government have done to those people, they would be, and should be, horrified.
That is the problem with this Government and this Prime Minister. Some have become so used to the privileges, the entitlement and the trappings of government that they have become utterly insulated from reality. Our citizens have the right not to have confidence in this Government, this political system and these political institutions at Westminster, because—as this Government and this Prime Minister have shown—they are utterly broken.
We should not be surprised that we have ended up with a Prime Minister who has gone from one elitist institution to another, from Eton to Oxbridge to the House of Commons. In fact, 50% of Conservatives were privately educated. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) wants to intervene, he is welcome to do so.
The hon. Lady is casting aspersions against people who attended private school. I find it quite disrespectful that my mother and father, who chose to send me to that school and to use their hard-earned money to give me the best start in life—which they unfortunately did not receive themselves—should be insulted in this way.
I think that there is a basic reality here. In a tweet, the academic Taj Ali pointed out that
“Just 7% of Brits are privately educated…43% of the…most influential news editors, 44% of newspaper columnists…are privately educated. A two-tier education system creates a two-tier society.”
That is the point I am making. We have a Prime Minister who is completely divorced from reality. The current leadership race and its navel-gazing narcissism have given us a window into that elitism and privilege. Among the contenders is one of the richest men in the UK, who by his own admission knows literally no one who is working class. Those people left the Government only when they realised that their own reputations would be tainted. Whether it is the Windrush scandal or the Post Office Horizon crisis, there is a litany of chaos behind this Government.
I have no confidence in this Government because they have failed to build proper social housing, failed to fund a health service that was already on its knees before the pandemic, and failed to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Instead, they have cut the financial lifelines of the poorest and most vulnerable, and have sought to balance the books on their backs while vilifying them.
The SNP Government in Scotland are sick to the back teeth of cleaning up the mess of this Conservative Government, and using our precious resources, with one financial hand tied behind our back, to clean up that mess. Mitigating the bedroom tax and lifting the poorest and most marginalised out of poverty without the full basket of financial powers is hugely challenging, but we do it because we understand what it means to govern in everyone’s interest.
This Tory Government have failed because they have failed to quell the river of dirty Russian money flowing through their financial system. I was on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill Committee with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and I saw this Government turn their back on the opportunity to stem the corruption and flow of dirty money. While we are grateful for what they have done in Ukraine, it is an absolute disgrace that this Prime Minister, this Government and previous Prime Ministers did so little.
I have no faith in this Government because they have presided over a right-wing Brexit that has torn our social and economic fabric apart. We understand the notion of credibility. The sooner Scotland can get independence, the sooner Scotland can flourish and the rest of the UK can, I hope, have its own democratic enlightenment and be free from the chaos and corruption that this Westminster system of Government holds.
I have no confidence in this Government because I am sick and tired of hearing Conservative Members talking on television about how, because they had personal experience of those who lost loved ones during the pandemic, we somehow do not have the right to challenge the fact that their Prime Minister partied his way through it. The reality is—[Interruption.] Hon. Members might shake their heads, but I had to stand at the deathbed of one of my team, a dear friend, through a window in her hospice because I was not allowed to cuddle her, while their Prime Minister partied his way through it. And there he is, still sitting in power—
There have been some serious contributions today, and one of them has been quite enlightening. I have often wondered what people see in the Scottish National party Government—a Government that have trashed the economy, trashed the education system, trashed the health system—
They have bankrupted it, and they have one of the worst drug problems in the west. They are the absolute definition of incompetence—[Interruption.] Absolutely not! No more nonsense about the rubbish we have just heard. This is a motion of confidence, and to hear from a party with a record of utter, dismal failure that they intend to criticise this Government is truly laughable.
Can I turn to Greater Manchester—[Interruption.]
Let us turn to the record. We have covered the SNP’s record, so let us see the record of the Labour party in Greater Manchester that my constituents are faced with. With that great political titan, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, what have we had? We have the Greater Manchester police, for which he is the police and crime commissioner, in special measures. We have had the iOPS computer system, which has cost about £800 million—completely wasted. We have mental health services, all under the control of Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, in special measures. What a complete and utter disaster. The cherry on the cake was when he attempted to impose upon people in greater Manchester the world’s biggest green air charging zone. Andy Burnham’s big idea was to charge my constituents anywhere between £10 and £60 for having the temerity to go to work. That is what they are faced with.
The great record of the Labour-controlled council in Bury comes down to this. I can only go through the litany of failure. In the Bury Times today, we see that children’s mental health services in Bury are on their knees because of our Labour-controlled council. The headline in the paper says that it will take 10 years for Labour-controlled Bury Council to get children’s services back to even a “good” rating. This is under a Labour council. The record of the Opposition parties on how they have interacted with our constituents as governing bodies throughout this country is absolutely abysmal.
I wish the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) was still here, because she missed something out when we were talking about rape and serious sexual offending, which has an incredibly serious record. What she never touches on is the abysmal record of the Leader of the Opposition as Director of Public Prosecutions. That is something Labour Members quite rightly never talk about—[Interruption.] Absolutely, and they throw allegations out regarding this Government’s record.
So, what do we have? My Government have spent £10 million on building a new science, technology, engineering and maths high-skill centre in Bury. They have saved Gigg Lane and given my constituents back their 130-year-old football club. They have invested £80 million in transport infrastructure and provided £20 million for a levelling up bid for Bury town centre. Mysteriously, the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) is not here. I know he would want to—
I will withdraw that, Madam Deputy Speaker. All I will say is that within the Metropolitan Borough of Bury we have another levelling-up fund bid in for the people of Radcliffe, a new school coming for the people of Radcliffe and the SEND school providing support services for some of the most vulnerable people in my communities. This is a Government to be proud of and a record to be proud of.
Diolch yn fawr, Madam Dirprwy Lefarydd.
The Prime Minister’s bluster and banter and his stock-in-trade mockery ended today, and they were little more than a pointy finger rhetorical raspberry, not just to us but to everyone who ever made the mistake of holding him to his word and believing what he told them. He is a law-breaking Prime Minister who cannot be permitted to remain in office, even as a caretaker. His dishonesty and abuse of power have together only served to erode trust in politics and our institutions. The House will not be surprised to hear that my party does not have confidence in this Prime Minister or his Government.
To come back to the question of eroding trust, this is why I introduced a private Member’s Bill that will make it an offence for politicians knowingly to lie. They will be given every opportunity to correct the record, but they will be held to account in law so that they use words—our stock in trade—genuinely and honestly to the best of their ability. I have also written to the Conservative leadership candidates inviting them to support the Bill, because they have made truth and honesty core tenets of their campaigns as they attempt to separate themselves from the outgoing Prime Minister, whom they all of course supported. The Bill seeks to ensure that those who deliberately lie are held to account, but also to send a signal that lying and dishonesty in a modern democracy are a blight that must be eradicated.
My party’s lack of confidence goes beyond this Government, besmirched as they are by Westminster scandal. It is driven by the wider deep-rooted problems of the Union. We distrust the Union and lack confidence in the Union. The UK is foundering in deep stagnation from years of Tory austerity and a hard Tory Brexit that is hobbling our economy. It is no wonder that Poland is set to become richer than Britain in 12 years’ time on current growth rates. It will not be ordinary working families who feel the benefit of the tiny growth that is predicted. The TUC estimates that the UK will see the worst wage squeeze of all the G7 economies, with real average wages falling by £1,750 between 2022 and 2023.
In Wales, we seek the macroeconomic tools but continue to be denied the bare necessities to fix Westminster’s chronic tolerance of geographical inequalities. When we look at the place of Wales within the UK, we can see that things are very bad. Since 1998, relative productivity in Wales has hovered between 80% and 85% of the UK level. Once London’s disproportionate weight is accounted for, the figure is still only 90%. Wales has been given the tools to juggle poverty, not to condemn poverty to history. How can we have confidence in a Government and system that perpetuate such gross inequalities? The current UK Government talk of levelling up, but instead of presenting a comprehensive plan for redistributing wealth, they have forced councils to fight over dwindling pots of money.
Today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that this Government’s levelling up agenda does not work for Wales. It says that their ideological insistence on excluding the Welsh Government from decision making has led to worse outcomes for Wales. Despite this, the Conservative leader in Wales recently called for no further powers to be devolved and said that consequential funding for HS2 should—wait for it—be controlled by the UK rather than the Welsh Government. This is a staggering insult to our democracy. In conclusion, we have no confidence in the current Government and we have no confidence in any Westminster Government.
It will not surprise hon. Members that I have confidence in this Government.
I will talk first about some of the policies this Government have pursued. It would be very easy for me to talk about Brexit and how this Government managed to pass it through the dreadful impasse and political paralysis of the last Parliament. Opposition Members did everything they could to block Brexit, but this Government got it done.
It would be quite easy for me to talk about the great effort that led to jabs going into people’s arms and our country opening up, releasing our freedoms once again. I could talk about the millions of people supported through the furlough scheme. It would be easy for me to pour scorn on the political pygmies on social media who say that, somehow, Britain’s place in the world is diminished as a result of Brexit. We need only look at the streets of Kyiv to see that is just not the case.
But what this Government should be congratulated for is providing hope to the 14 million people who voted for the Conservatives, many for the first time, and to the many people who did not vote for us. Many of them were voting for the hope that this Government would break with an agenda that had been pursued for decades, probably starting with the Blair Government. It is a big-city, London agenda that is not for places like Peterborough: a Britain attached to the EU, dependent on mass migration and cheap labour, in which we were happy to write off millions of young people without a job because we could easily import labour from elsewhere. It is very much a liberal agenda that was happy to pour scorn on and laugh at traditional values, national identity, strong communities and strong families.
We again saw scorn being poured on these people during the jubilee. The agenda is one of big business and big cities, but little people and little places like Peterborough were left behind with low-paid jobs, suppressed wages, a sky-high welfare bill, regional inequalities, the negative effects of mass migration—as well as the positives—and high rates of family breakdown and alcohol and drug abuse.
To many people, including many Opposition Members, these people do not matter. They are denounced as bigots, gammons, Karens and many other vulgar terms when they voice their objection to this agenda. That is what this Government are trying to address in creating a high-wage, high-skill economy, and in levelling up and valuing places like Peterborough.
In Peterborough we have built a new university, with students starting in September. We have £23 million for towns fund regeneration and investment. We have new police officers, more money for theatres and more money for our schools. I implore Members on both sides of the House to understand that, when they take their nose away from SW1 and away from their Twitter feed, they will find that real people still support the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Okay, I will read out a quote. I do not have time to go through all of them:
“The current government have best dealt with the pandemic, given circumstances, and also delivered Brexit. It is the only government that can deliver today, tomorrow and future!”
These are the ordinary people of Peterborough. [Interruption.] Members should take their nose away from their Twitter account and realise that the Prime Minister is still very popular. He is a greater man than many of his critics, and it is a sad day to see him go. I still have confidence in this Government.
This place is always interesting, but it has been particularly interesting to listen to all the Conservative Members standing up, time and again, to suggest they will support this motion. They do not even need to listen to us; they need only tune in to the next leadership debate to hear their own candidates talk about the litany of abysmal failures overseen by this Government over the past 12 years. We will not let the Conservative leadership candidates wipe the slate clean after 12 years of Conservative rule. They walked through the Lobby to vote for 15 tax rises, against hungry children getting free school meals and against the windfall tax on the multibillion-pound profits of oil companies, before they adopted Labour’s policy and tried to give it a new name.
There is loads I could mention. People forget that all the leadership candidates supported the Prime Minister through partygate, the Owen Paterson crisis and the dodgy covid contracts—the list is longer than my arm. The failures of this Conservative Government led to record NHS waiting lists and record delays in A&E, delays at the Passport Office, delays in our courts, delays in prosecuting rapists and murderers, delays in issuing driving licences and delays at our airports. There is record neglect in the cities of the north of England such as Bradford, where we have had years of austerity, years of underfunding and years of false promises, including on Northern Powerhouse Rail, none of which have come to fruition.
This Government have completely wrecked this country’s industries—that is their record. We have a skills crisis in this country. There is a crisis with our criminal barristers that is leading to further delays in our courts, a crisis in our care sector, a crisis with HGV drivers, a crisis with train drivers, a crisis with airport workers, a crisis with school teachers and a crisis looming in the civil service. Do Conservative Members really want to stand by this record?
I do not know where to begin on the record of successive Conservative Governments on engagement with Muslim communities. When I saw the front page of the Daily Mail last night and heard about the so-called “dodgy judgment” of the Minister for Trade Policy, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), in meeting a “controversial” Muslim group, I did not expect the meeting to be with a mainstream Muslim organisation that Members on both sides of the House meet on a regular basis.
The Muslim Council of Britain is a mainstream Muslim organisation backed by mainstream British Muslim mosques, organisations and institutions. Yesterday, No. 10’s long-held secret boycott of a mainstream Muslim group was finally admitted on the front page of a tabloid newspaper. This Government’s record is that the Prime Minister’s comments led to a 375% increase in attacks on Muslim women. Previous Conservative Governments refused to form a working definition of Islamophobia, and then they refused to adopt the definition used by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims. They then promised to make a definition of their own, before appointing and then unappointing their own adviser. Almost a decade later, hate crime against Muslims is rising, and what do we have from this Government? Absolutely nothing but a mainstream Muslim organisation boycotted by No. 10.
I am sorry to tell this Conservative Government that the days are gone when they could prop up Muslim organisations with one or two members, funded and supported for the purposes of the Government’s policy agenda. Those days are over. Mainstream British Muslims sit in Parliament and represent our nations in sport. We are the doctors and nurses in our hospitals, and we are the teachers who teach our children and future leaders. We are equally British and must equally be heard. The record of this Government is nothing to be celebrated, and those who vote for this confidence motion are equally responsible because they are endorsing the Government’s actions.
One might think that Her Majesty’s Opposition had better things to do than waste valuable parliamentary time, and one might have thought they would respect parliamentary conventions in the preparation of a motion of confidence, but they failed in doing that, too. No matter, as this Government have again shown them how it is done, hence this debate. Here we are, playing these silly games while we have a war on our hands and several issues to deal with at home and overseas. [Interruption.] We are having this debate because of parliamentary convention, and this is the way to do it.
Much has been said about leadership in recent days, weeks and months, but no leadership has been found emanating from the Opposition, just the usual stone throwing from a party that is so out of touch with the people of this country that it felt its motion—the one that needed to be corrected—was the best way to spend valuable time.
Let us talk about leadership. This Government responded to covid by leading the western hemisphere’s response. Brexit, which Opposition Members all voted against, allowed us to fund and procure a vaccine, and to get it into people’s arms faster than pretty much anywhere else on the planet, saving lives quicker than anywhere else on the planet. What did Labour do? It opposed procurement and then criticised every move, with Captain Hindsight at the helm.
Well, this is great leadership—just listen to this. To be fair, Labour did take a stance on one thing. Labour would have had us in lockdown throughout the whole of Christmas and beyond, destroying more jobs, destroying more businesses and harming lives. That is out there for everybody to see; everybody knows.
Ukraine. I stand corrected. Absolutely. On Ukraine, this Prime Minister and our country are the ones revered most by the Ukrainian politicians and people, and hated most by Putin. That does not happen by chance; it requires leadership. So what have Labour Members to say about defence? They say, “Defund it.” That is what they have always wanted. [Interruption.] They have always wanted to defund it. If the Leader of the Opposition had been successful in electing the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), we all know that we would now be without a nuclear arsenal.
Those are the two huge issues confronted head-on by this Government, in addition to delivering the programme set out in the 2019 manifesto—one that is bringing real change in my constituency. So let us have this vote tonight and let us send a message out to the nation about what the Labour party is all about. I will not say “what the Labour party stands for”, because I do not think anybody really knows.
The leadership of this self-obsessed and profoundly damaging Prime Minister is finally coming to its end, but this charade went on for far too long. He should have gone over his mishandling over the pandemic. He should have gone over the lobbying scandal that he created. And he should have gone because he partied when people died and then, as we put it in this place, “misled” this House. Now he is going, but only because he has been forced out by his Ministers, because they have finally concluded that he will cost them more votes than he wins. So they do not deserve any credit. They knew who he was when they voted for him, they propped him up through every scandal and, together, they have stripped away our rights and made the people of this country poorer.
While the news focuses on the Tory party implosion, supermarkets are adding security tags to cheese, butter and baby formula; we have the highest inflation for 40 years; electricity is fast becoming a luxury good; and millions are no longer paid enough to put food on the table. This hunger, poverty and inequality is all a political choice, and without action people will die. People, particularly disabled people, have already died because of this Government and 12 years of brutal cuts. We need a Government who will tackle the cost of living crisis, but instead we have one who are barely functioning, while the squatter in No. 10 is throwing parties in Chequers.
If anyone had any hope that the next Tory leader would prioritise the cost of living crisis, the contest so far has completely dispelled that. Instead of setting out the bold measures they would take to help working-class people, the candidates to become Prime Minister are obsessed with attacking trans people and cutting corporation tax. So no, I do not have confidence in this Government to tackle the worst drop in living standards since 1956. I do not have confidence in this Government to prevent millions from being forced to choose between heating and eating this winter. And I do not have confidence in this Government, full stop. So on behalf of my constituents who lost loved ones to the pandemic due to this Government’s actions, on behalf of the families I meet who are left with no choice but to turn to food banks, and on behalf of every person in this country who deserves better than a low-pay, no-safety-net safety created by 12 years of Conservative rule, I will be voting no confidence in this Government.
I am proud to stand up on behalf of the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke and express confidence in this Conservative Government. Why is that? It is not just because the 73% who voted to leave the European Union finally had their wishes commanded, despite the Brexit-blockers on the Opposition Benches continually trying to find every way to dodge delivering the mandate those people gave. It is not just because of the fantastic furlough scheme, which meant that people kept their jobs during the biggest global pandemic in 100 years. And it is not just because we had the fastest vaccine roll-out. It is because of what we see if we look at the local story.
In Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke, we have £56 million of levelling-up fund money, which is bringing masses of regeneration and unlocking hundreds of millions more in private sector investment. We are seeing heritage buildings such as Tunstall library and baths regenerated for future generations, adding to the Conservative-led council’s regeneration and revitalisation of Tunstall town hall, which the Labour party was all too happy to allow to sit and rot for 30 years. In addition, we have the £17.6 million Kidsgrove town deal, which is meaning that we are bringing up to 1,700 new jobs to Chatterley Valley West, reinvesting in our high streets in the town of Kidsgrove and making sure we reopen Kidsgrove sports centre, which was shut because the Labour party, which ran the council at the time, could not be bothered to send a single pound coin to save it. We are refurbishing and reopening it, and letting a local community group run it, because they are local people who champion that cause.
On top of that, we have brought in 500 new jobs through the Home Office coming to our great city; we have £29 million from the transforming cities fund; and we have £31.7 million from Bus Back Better, which will see bus fares cut by 33% with the new £3.50 a day flat fare, create new routes and make sure that people can get around and travel—one third of people in the city do not have access to a motor vehicle. We also have the money to look at opening the Stoke to Leek line.
The litany of success goes on and on and on. We have the £7.5 million for Middlehurst School to become a new special educational needs and disability school, there are the family hubs that we successfully got, and there will be fantastic investment going forward.
Let us also have a look at Labour’s dismal, abysmal and unforgivable local record. Let us not forgot that it was a Labour council that spent £60 million on white elephant projects like a new council office, rather than investing in Burslem indoor market, the Wedgwood Institute and the Queen’s Theatre in the mother town of Burslem, which would have brought regeneration to that fantastic town of our city of Stoke-on-Trent.
Let us look at the fact that jobs were leaving the ceramics sector and going overseas to China, and the Labour party did absolutely nothing to prevent it. Let us have a look at the fact that Labour went on strike for more than 70 years, withdrawing their labour and failing to represent the people on Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke because they believe that they have some God-given right to have that seat and the people should get in line. They sneer, snarl and they arrogantly look down and talk down to the people. That is that attitude the Labour party has always had towards the working people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke.
Labour Members believe that borders are racist and anyone who wants border control is a bigot, which is why, despite the fact that we on this side of the House support the Rwanda deal, those in the party opposite snarl at it. That is why when I introduced the Desecration of War Memorials Bill, the party opposite said, “Oh, it is statues you’re trying to protect.” No, it is war memorials to our glorious dead. It is about time the Labour party stood up for our flag and for our country.
I introduced a new law to increase the fines on rogue and absent landlords who allow our high streets and our heritage to rot. At the last minute, my Labour predecessor was standing with a placard pretending to care, despite having had four and a half years to do something about it. Within two years I changed the law and we are taking those rogue and absent landlords to court. It was the Labour party that was found to be institutionally antisemitic and failed to defend my predecessor, despite the abuse she got. The Labour party—
What a rant, Mr Deputy Speaker. We all know that the Prime Minister is unfit for office, but rather than remove him, Tory MPs will tonight be whipped to keep an incompetent, lawbreaker in power, a person who has a problem with the truth.
I do not have confidence in this Government for many reasons, but top of the list is the fact that the percentage of people living in poverty in the Tees Valley, and the percentage of children living in poverty there, has soared to more than 40% in the past 12 years. That is the highest level in the country. The Prime Minister, his former Chancellor and his rotten Government should be thoroughly ashamed. Too many children in the Tees Valley, and many more across the north-east, go to school hungry, and many do not know whether there will be much to eat when they get home at night. Who knows what many of them will do during the extended school holiday period?
Earlier this year, while being grilled by the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister accepted that it is not possible to level up the country without reducing the number of children in poverty. When challenged on why there was not a single mention of child poverty in more than 300 pages of the levelling-up White Paper, he suggested that that was the result of a “purely formal accident”. What the devil does that mean? Whether accidental or deliberate, this was a staggering and unforgiveable oversight on the Government’s part. Last week, I raised the issue of absolute poverty levels with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, but she said that she did not recognise the figures I had quoted. They were her own Department’s statistics. Not only do they not care, but they do not even know their own facts.
Poverty is widely acknowledged to be the leading driver of health, educational and economic inequalities between children growing up in areas such as the north-east and their counterparts in the rest of the country. Research published by End Child Poverty alongside the North East Child Poverty Commission has found that two in five babies, children and young people across our region are growing up poor and having their life chances and opportunities limited as a result. That is as a result of a Conservative Government. This abject failure of children and young people in Tees Valley and the wider north-east will be one of the defining legacies of this Prime Minister, and of anyone who has supported this Government.
Why should any child or young person in the Tees Valley have confidence in the Government when the intolerably high rates of child poverty in our area have somehow been forgotten in the Prime Minister’s flagship policy? Why should anyone have confidence in any of the candidates vying to be the next Prime Minister when not one of them has even acknowledged this fundamental issue, never mind set out any plan to try to tackle it? When one of them, the former Chancellor, showed up in Redcar on Friday in his designer shoes, which cost several times more than most families have to spend on food and other essentials in a month, he had nothing to say about child poverty—nothing.
We have so much talent and potential across the Tees Valley, yet so much of it is wasted as poverty and ill health hold our young people and our population back. Those children and their families need decisive action and a comprehensive joined-up plan to tackle child poverty now, not vague promises of being levelled up in eight years’ time. They need a Government who are willing to put tackling child poverty at the front and centre of their agenda, who are committed to supporting them to thrive and fulfil their potential, not a Government who forget that they even exist.
On behalf of the city of Southend, I absolutely have confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. My wonderful constituency of Southend West is undeniably healthier, wealthier and especially safer.
Labour Members seem to conveniently forget not only that the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—the person they would have put into Downing Street—would have plunged us into the dark days of the 1970s, at the mercy of the militant unions, but that he and eight other Labour Front Benchers would have voted to get rid of our independent nuclear deterrent, fundamentally undermining our national security. That is why the Conservatives won the election so resoundingly three years ago. The British people chose democracy, freedom, security and opportunity over socialism, antisemitism, losing our nuclear deterrent and returning to the European Union.
We have not squandered the 80-seat majority that the British people entrusted to us. Yes, the past three years have been difficult.
I will not, because of the time. We have had to deal with covid, a global energy crisis and Russia’s illegal, barbaric invasion of Ukraine, yet we have never once lost sight of our core manifesto promise. It is this Government who got Brexit done—not finished, but done, none the less. It is because of Brexit that we were able to develop the world’s first approved vaccine, followed by the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, as has been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon).
No, because of the time. The speed and take-up of our vaccine programme allowed us to lift our restrictions quicker than any other country in Europe, restoring freedom to people and benefiting our economy. This has been possible only because of this Conservative Government and because of Brexit, which was totally opposed by the Labour party.
If the Labour party had been in charge, more people would have died while we waited for the EU’s vaccines. We would have been in lockdown for longer, damaging not just our economy but people’s mental health. Also, the NHS would not have been so well funded and would have been less able to cope with covid when it happened—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a fact that over the past 12 years of Conservative rule, NHS funding has been increased by 42% in real terms. We are now spending £177 billion on our health service. We will be spending an additional £22 billion per year by the end of this Conservative-led Parliament—the highest amount spent on the NHS by any Government ever. Let us not forget that every single one of those funding increases was opposed by the Labour party. Only recently, it voted against providing our NHS with an additional £36 billion of funding—money that is now being used to treat our most sick and vulnerable people.
The Conservative Government have also made us feel safer. Thanks to 12 years of Conservative Government, Britain as a whole, and Southend West in particular, is healthier, wealthier and especially safer.
To say that I have no confidence in this Government or Prime Minister must be the greatest understatement ever heard in this Chamber, particularly so when we consider his horrendous tenure. Confidence is not something that should be blindly given; like respect, it is something that must be earned.
How can we have confidence in or respect for a Government still headed by a Prime Minister who has shamed the office he holds? He has no respect us—Scotland’s representatives in this place—and we have no confidence in him or his Government. How can we have confidence in a Government and Prime Minister who have consistently—allegedly—lied to or misled this House? He has no respect for us, and we have no confidence in him or his Government. Who can have confidence in a Prime Minister who has been charged and fined by the police for breaking the very rules that he implemented during the pandemic? He has no respect for us, and we have no confidence in him. How can we have confidence in a Prime Minister and Government who have not only presided over sleaze and scandal, but decided to cover for it and even promote to Government positions those at the very heart of them? We have no respect for or confidence in this Government.
Even those in the Prime Minister’s own party now shudder at the thought of being associated with him, as we have seen in the Tory leadership race. Is that any wonder, given that this a Prime Minister who, despite all the scandal, the desecration of office and the criminality, is still clinging on? Even after all the back stabs and head shots by his so-called allies, he still will not go. He is now a zombie Prime Minister. And why? Not for the sake of continuity, stability or Ukraine, but so he can avoid having to find a new venue for a wedding reception. It is laughable, but it is not funny. We are being laughed at by the entire global community. We no longer have any confidence in or respect for this Government.
The people of Scotland had this Prime Minister’s card marked from the outset, and, regardless of who comes after him, we also know that Scotland’s interest will not be high on their agenda when they take up office in No.10. Albert Einstein was still alive the last time Scotland voted Tory, but we do not need to be a genius to work out where Scotland puts her confidence when she goes to the ballot box. It is not here in Westminster, and it is not in any Tory Government. The people place their confidence and trust in the Scottish Government and in the SNP—the party that has been re-elected consistently by the majority of people in Scotland since 2007, the party that is in administration of the majority of the local authorities across Scotland, and the party that has the greatest number of elected parliamentarians in Westminster and in Holyrood. Regardless of the voting franchise, regardless of the political office, the people of Scotland speak clearly. They place their confidence in Scotland’s national party and in the party of Scottish independence.
Let us not kid ourselves: the next Prime Minister will not be any different from any of the others. In the eyes of most Scots, a Tory is a Tory. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck. The ducklings on the Tory Back Benches all quacked in agreement and, crucially, in defence of everything that the soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister did. When he played fast and loose with the truth, they supported him. When he broke the law, they quacked their support for him. And they will do the same again for the next one. Scotland has no confidence in them and we have no confidence in this Government.
On behalf of the good people—
The past few hours has been—well—an experience, hasn’t it really?
There are two elements to a confidence motion. The first is a lack of confidence in the Government, and the second is the alternative to that Government. I have lived under that alternative, because I live in Sandwell—Labour-controlled Sandwell, socialist Sandwell. Let us take a journey to what life would be like under the Labour party: special educational needs and disability contracts doled out to their mates; dodgy land deals; backhanders to their mates, because they feel like it; dodgy contracts for the council; and no scrutiny. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) does her usual thing. She does not have anything to say, but she chunters from a sedentary position. She failed in Hastings before she went to Luton, because, let us face it, they did not like her there.
The truth of the matter is that I have seen that alternative and it terrifies me. What worries me even more is that Labour Members go along with it. They are all complicit in that corruption in Sandwell, because it is their party that sits there and does it. It is their party that denied the need for commissioners to go in. We now have commissioners controlling that council. It is those young people with special educational needs who are put at risk by them because they failed to do a proper procurement on those contracts. When Labour Members talk about standards in public life, I sit here and I laugh, because it reeks of double standards.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member to accuse Opposition Members who have no connection to the council that he is talking about? He is abusing his privilege to talk about corruption and then pointing at us and saying that it is our fault. It is completely out of order.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As a point of clarity, my understanding is that they are all members of the Labour party. It is the Labour party that controlled that local authority. They are all comrades in arms together. Labour Members could have intervened at any point. They promised that they would get grip on this.
No, I will not.
Labour promised that it would get a grip on this, and it did not. So when Labour Members sit there and talk about standards in public life, I tell them to come to Sandwell. Come to Sandwell. If Members want to see the horror that is the alternative, we can show them.
It will not shock my hon. Friend to hear Members of the Labour party shouting down the fine people of Sandwell and Tipton just as they shout down the people of Kidsgrove, Talke, Newchapel and Stoke-on-Trent North. That is why my hon. Friend will share with us why Labour is going backwards and Conservatives are gaining in his local council as well as in Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council—the No.1 target in the west midlands in May, which Labour lost.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he is right: we are scalping Labour councillors all over the place. As one lady put it to me on the doorstep during the local elections, “I have been Labour all my life. I am Labour through and through, but I cannot vote for that shower.” The truth of the matter is that, when we look at the alternative, it is horrific.
I also want to touch on what this Government have done. What we have is £22.5 million possibly coming into Tipton. We have seen £25 million for Birchley Island in Oldbury dealing with our congestion and transport issues. We have seen £50,000 for the horrendous route between Burnt Tree and Dudley Port, which will mean that, finally, we can start dealing with those horrendous congestion issues and those road safety issues, which is vital to keep people safe. I know from my constituents that they are sometimes spending 45 minutes on our roads, and that messes with their businesses and messes with their standard of life because of how long it is taking them to commute to work and the difficulty that it presents them. It is this Government who have put that money into Sandwell.
It is quite interesting, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I will quite often go to Ministers—my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench—and say, “Look, we need money. We need investment. This is what we want.” They then say to me, “Well, the problem is, Shaun, your local authority has not applied for it.” Then I go to the local authority and say, “What plans do we have on the shelf?” I am referring in particular to the levelling up fund. I then get told, “Oh, well, we don’t have any.” They cannot be bothered. That is the truth with them. They cannot be bothered. For 50 years my communities put their faith in the Labour party, and they were betrayed—it is as simple as that.
I always remember at the general election a man breaking down to me in Tividale in my constituency. He told me he had been Labour all his life, but he realised that the Labour party had lied to him and misled him for most of his life. He felt lied to. He broke down, and that really affected me. When someone feels that their life purpose and their belief system have been mis-sold to them, what do they do? [Interruption.] I am sure there are some quips; Labour Members may find it funny, because Labour has led Sandwell for 50 years. It is their arrogance and their thought process. When I look at the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), he is typical of the Labour privilege that we see. How he can sit there pretending to represent working people is beyond me.
As I round up my comments, the truth is this: my communities have confidence in the Government, because they have seen the difference after 50 years of Labour misrepresenting them. They have seen the investment that has come in, and they have seen the shambles that is the Labour party and the way it has mismanaged our local area. I have total confidence in this Government, and I would not want Labour.
I have no confidence in this Government. The public have no confidence in this Government, and nor do Government Members, 59 of whom put in their own letters to say they had no confidence in this Government. They need to vote with us accordingly tonight.
All political careers end in failure; that is a truism. Unlike past demises, however, this one is based not on policy, but on probity. The degradation and debasement of standards should be about not left and right, but right and wrong. This Government have got all the big calls wrong: we have the highest inflation in 40 years and the biggest tax take in 70, while these leadership contenders who have spent years defending the indefensible now out-vie each other to disown the past 12 years.
The moral is that not every fairy tale has a happy ending. This was not just about ambush by cake; it was about a pattern of behaviour that resulted in the first ever lawbreaker Prime Minister. One misjudgment alone might have been ride-outable, but the cumulative effect of partygate, Paterson, the redecoration of the No. 10 flat, the promotion of an alleged drunken groper to a post that included reporting MPs’ misconduct and the Prime Minister’s saying he had had a memory lapse about that individual’s previous history just proved to be one implausibility too far.
As we have seen today, the PM who as a child wanted to be world king has become King Canute, still defiant and partying to the end, characteristically skipping Cobra meetings—if not quite fiddling while Rome burns, then partying while the country roasts. It brings to mind those suitcases being wheeled down Whitehall on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral. Meanwhile, our fellow citizens face huge challenges: climate change-induced heatwave, looming strikes, inflation, cost of living crisis, energy crisis, record NHS backlog, passports backlog, Home Office backlog, courts backlog—backlog Britain.
If we are trying to define exactly what Johnsonism is, we would have in there the idea that the rules do not apply to those at the top, self-advancement, Government by slogan and, as Dominic Cummings put it, a “shopping trolley” modus operandi. Remember the pro-EU and anti-EU columns, or the one-time fan of an amnesty for illegal immigrants who now wants to ship off asylum seekers to Rwanda? Multiple signs were already there: those costly London Mayoralty vanity projects, the Jennifer Arcuri improprieties, which are still unresolved, with new people appearing out of the woodwork making similar claims, and even indifference to groping and grabbing. It was all part of a pattern. I was in the now PM’s presence in Acton in 2015—there is footage of it out there—and I was grabbed from behind by one of his aides for wanting to speak to him.
If we consider Imran Ahmad Khan, Neil Parish, Charlie Elphicke and Andrew Griffiths, it does not feel as though sexual misconduct is being stamped on, or out. When an entire Government are rotten to their core, all politicians become tainted and tarnished. It is time to call time on the lot. The first step is today’s vote, but the country is crying out for change. There is a democratic deficit if those of us who are not among the small number of Tory party members have no say in our next PM. We need a general election as soon as possible, to have a say on the next, unelected Prime Minister who emerges from that process, and refresh all 650 of us.
I have heard a lot of speeches today from the Opposition. Some have been reasonable and some have been bad, but I do take exception to the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) implying that Conservative Members are privately educated and that there is no working class on the Government Benches. I was brought up on a council estate. I went to a local high school. I had the opportunity to go to university but chose not to; that was my choice. What have the Conservatives done for a working-class kid in Dewsbury? They made me an MP. They made me the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Pakistan and promoted me to a PPS. So if Opposition Members could pass on some advice to the hon. Member for Livingston—
Does my hon. Friend agree that the laugh we just heard from Opposition Members shows their utter contempt for working-class people such as him and me, both from council estates ourselves, who know it was the Conservative Government who gave us the opportunity to be here now?
Absolutely; I totally agree. Opposition Members could do with carrying out their research on Conservative Members, especially the new intake—people like me and my hon. Friend. That is the message I want to pass on.
I am here to make a more positive speech. I am pleased to support a Prime Minister and a Government who have delivered on people’s priorities and stepped up to the plate to support our nation through an unprecedented pandemic. The Government introduced the coronavirus job retention scheme that saved so many jobs by supporting furloughed workers with 80% of their wages, the self-employment income support scheme that paid self-employed individuals up to 80% of their profits, bounce back loans, and the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme—all in support of business. With a business background, I am proud that the Government stepped up to the plate on that one. Further schemes such as Eat Out to Help Out and Kickstart sought to alleviate some of the most pronounced economic effects of the pandemic, supporting citizens and businesses throughout the past two years. As the pandemic progressed, the fantastic network of healthcare professionals and volunteers enabled this Government to deliver a world-class vaccine rollout, the fastest in Europe, to protect our nation’s most vulnerable from the devastating impact of covid.
The Government’s towns fund has helped to regenerate my town centre, where I grew up, with £24.8 million that means we will get back the world-class market that we had before. This was all done under this Government and Prime Minister. I am looking forward to seeing the town being transformed in future.
On education, the Government invested in Kirklees as an educational investment area, with £36 million for schools on provision for those with special educational needs and disabilities. That is amazing for my constituency. As someone who has experienced this personally, I am absolutely proud that we are supporting parents with children from different backgrounds with different issues and difficulties, because we need to level up and give everybody the same opportunity in life.
In summary, the Government have delivered and the Prime Minister has delivered. However, we are looking to replace the Prime Minister with a new leader. I will continue to support this Government and support the new leader as we carry out this crucial agenda.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) even though I am not quite sure what his argument really was.
Most people in this country—in fact, overwhelmingly people in this country; indeed, even in this Parliament—have no involvement in deciding who the next Prime Minister is. However, I will come back to that. It is an important issue whenever a Prime Minister is switched mid-term. At the moment, as many of my hon. Friends have said, we have a massive crisis in the national health service; we have problems with energy costs and how they will affect people’s lives; and we have problems with inflation and how it affects people’s ability to put food on the table. Those things are more important than ever, yet here we are, switching Governments with no prospect, as far as I can tell, of any realistic plan to address those problems.
I will share a quote from Janice Turner, who wrote in Saturday’s Times:
“For the third time in six years, who leads us is being decided by the tiniest sliver of society.”
She refers, of course, to the 150,000 Conservative party members. Margaret from Knowsley made a similar point. She said:
“It is like watching a criminal gang choose its leader. The rest of us have no say in the matter but have to live with the consequences daily in our lives. Except this is about our democracy and who is in charge of our country.”
I think she put it very well.
I have not got time to talk about how we could handle this situation better, but I refer those who are genuinely interested to an article by the noble and learned Lord Sumption that was in The Sunday Times eight days ago. He set out why, without a written constitution in a parliamentary system, this problem must be resolved before we get into this position again, because it threatens to undermine the stability of our democracy.
I still remember the look on people’s faces when I first won my seat back in 2019—it was the look of hope for the future, because they had felt neglected for generations. To tell the truth, that is why I decided to stand for Parliament, represent the people of Blyth Valley and break the chains of Labour.
One of our first tasks as a Government was to deliver Brexit, which we did, and then to support the country through the pandemic, which we did with the massive vaccine roll-out, the furlough scheme and the support to businesses and individuals. Now we are supporting the people of Ukraine.
In Blyth Valley, people are starting to see the shoots of economic growth. The number of jobs set to come to the area is truly amazing, with Britishvolt, JDR Cable Systems, Merit, the Catapult, Tharsus, the offshore wind industry, the port of Blyth and Dräger, and we also have the towns fund and the future high streets fund. This is true levelling up with a Conservative Government, with an expectation of more than 10,000 jobs. Where once stood a coal-fired power station will stand a gigaplant. The 16th largest building in the world will make the batteries to power thousands of electric vehicles up and down the country.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because Britishvolt has its headquarters stationed at MIRA technology park. Is not such levelling up in the midlands and the north-east under this Government exactly why we should have confidence in this Government’s agenda?
I totally agree, and we are levelling up across the country. The gigaplant will be like a phoenix rising from the ashes of neglect. Even today we can see work being carried out on the Northumberland line, which will connect Ashington to Bedlington station, Bebside, Newsham and Seaton Delaval, and will then connect to the Metro system and into Newcastle Central station.
I have every confidence in this Government. I am under no illusions about the fact that Opposition Members will say, “Well, he would. He is the first Conservative Member of Parliament for Blyth Valley”, but I know when I talk to people in the constitu