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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 719: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2022

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Devolved Government

Good morning, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to be here this morning in this role. It means that we will not be speaking to each other quite as much as we have done in the past, but I very much appreciate the way that you have interacted with me in my previous role; thank you, Sir.

I obviously intend to continue the excellent work of my two predecessors. I will be speaking to each of the Northern Ireland party leaders and will urge them to form an Executive as soon as possible. I know the House shares my view that Northern Ireland needs a stable, fully functioning devolved Government to deliver on the issues that matter most to people.

My right hon. Friend will know that Northern Ireland is a great place—a wonderful part of our United Kingdom. I warmly congratulate him on his new role. I know that he will do a fantastic job.

The main barrier to the resumption of devolved power-sharing government is, of course, the Northern Ireland protocol, so will he undertake to push that legislation through as quickly as possible and use an Act of Parliament to get it through if necessary?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her good wishes. I think she was the third longest serving Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I hope to emulate her and perhaps beat her record if I am any good at my role. I know the energy and passion that she put into it.

We are committed to resolving the problems in the protocol—ideally through negotiation, but if not, through legislation—so yes.

But there is no prospect of restoring devolved government until the protocol has been resolved. Is that not the case?

The Executive do need to reform. That is very, very important. Whatever issues there are with the protocol, there are very important functions and services that the people of Northern Ireland need to work, so the Northern Ireland parties need to form an Executive as soon as possible. The protocol has put up barriers to trade and other things. We can fix them through negotiation, but if we cannot, we will fix them through legislation.

I welcome the Minister to his new role. We are concerned about his politics, but the SDLP will work constructively with anybody to get solutions. He will be aware of the absence of a fuel poverty strategy and that UK-wide solutions do not account for the fact that 68% of Irish homes run on oil. They are proof that Stormont caretaker Ministers either cannot or will not see Northern Ireland through the cost of living crisis. We are concerned that the only trick up the Government’s sleeve appears to be one that will alienate a majority of Northern Ireland voters and parties, but we ask the Minister to commit to working constructively with all parties, with all identities, to get us through this impasse and see the people of Northern Ireland through the winter.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She had some experience of working with me when I had my Foreign Office role at the beginning of this year. I would like to think that we did work constructively together. I demonstrated that I will happily work with all parties and all communities in Northern Ireland and I intend to continue in that frame as I move forward.

I welcome the new Secretary of State to his place and pay tribute to both of the Northern Ireland Secretaries that we have had since July. I particularly pay tribute to his predecessor, the right hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara), and his predecessor’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis).

Let me ask at the outset whether the Government’s position on getting Stormont up and running is unchanged. To date, we have heard that

“there is no excuse for the DUP not being back in government”,

and also:

“Unless we get an Executive we can’t help those families in Northern Ireland.”

Is that still the case?

We are clear that the protocol is a negotiation between the EU and the UK, but, yes, the position is completely unchanged.

The former Foreign Secretary stopped protocol negotiations back in February. Now that she is Prime Minister, her team has been briefing conflicting reports about her intentions. We have heard that negotiations will restart. We have heard that negotiations will not restart and that article 16 will be used instead, or that the protocol Bill will proceed with urgency, provoking EU retaliation. This issue will have been covered in the appointment conversation that the Secretary of State had with the Prime Minister. It is imperative that he now updates and informs the House which of these will become Government policy.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I had hoped that I had answered that a tiny bit earlier. I am keen that, in sorting out the issues of the protocol, we try to negotiate a solution with the European Union. However, we do have legislation ready. We have discussed it in this House. If we do not get a negotiated solution, we will legislate.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his position and look forward to working with him. I hope that he will be successful in doing what is necessary to get Stormont restored, namely removing the poison of the protocol. Does he understand why Stormont and the Executive could not operate while Unionists are required through the “Ministerial Code” and decisions of the Executive to implement the very agreement that they believe is destroying the Union and damaging the economy? I trust that, in his position, he will work vigorously to have the protocol removed and sensible government restored in Northern Ireland.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. The one thing that was abundantly clear when I travelled to Northern Ireland earlier this year was that the protocol was not working for all communities in Northern Ireland. Everyone had a different solution to the problems of the protocol, but the protocol was not working. I will work with everybody to try to solve those problems, and I will be urging him and his party to go back and form an Executive, because the best way forward for Northern Ireland is for it to have a functioning Executive in the future.

Does the Secretary of State understand that this is not just a Unionist concern? While Unionists are concerned about the constitutional impact of the protocol, the economic impact of the protocol, be it the 25% duty on steel, the 14% increase in the cost of moving goods to Northern Ireland or the reduction of choice for consumers in Northern Ireland, affects everyone in Northern Ireland, whether they are Unionist, nationalist or neither.

The right hon. Gentleman is completely correct. I saw for myself that the problems caused in the supply chain to Northern Ireland affect every single person in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Protocol: Exceptions

2. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of clause 15 of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on the (a) Northern Ireland and (b) UK economy. (901353)

4. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of clause 15 of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on the (a) Northern Ireland and (b) UK economy. (901355)

Clause 15 ensures that the Bill can fully meet its objectives by granting powers to make clear where additional elements of the protocol and withdrawal agreement are excluded, subject to carefully defined purposes. To ensure that that is done only if necessary to meet the Bill’s objectives, that power is limited to a list of specified purposes.

With increased exports, manufacturers in Northern Ireland rank trade arrangements as the least of their post-Brexit challenges, and Office for National Statistics figures show that the protocol has actually protected Northern Irish trade. Despite those facts, the Government seem somehow beholden to the minority views of the Democratic Unionist party. Will the Secretary of State abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill and work constructively with the European Union to prevent a trade war at this time of a cost of living crisis?

There is a point among all that I agree with: it is important that we work together across this House to sort out the cost of living crisis, which affects everybody, especially those in Northern Ireland. However, I humbly suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it is quite rich for the Scottish National party to try to interfere in Northern Irish business.

Follow that! During her leadership campaign, the new Prime Minister said she was determined to deliver the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in full—no matter the consequences, apparently. I appreciate that the Secretary of State is brand new, so I will give him a multiple-choice question. On those consequences, will the Government a) risk a trade war with the EU and its 500 million consumers; b) risk inflaming a potentially volatile situation in Northern Ireland; c) risk people’s livelihoods and perhaps even lives in pursuit of a hard Brexit that has failed already; or d) all of the above, in ploughing on anyway?

I think the hon. Gentleman missed the option of always putting the interests of Northern Ireland first, sorting out the problems of the protocol and getting a negotiated solution—and if not, legislating for one.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for the future of the Northern Ireland economy that goods and services can flow freely from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom and back to Northern Ireland?

I can 100% agree with my hon. Friend. He is completely right. It is important that goods and services that are available in England, Scotland and Wales are fully available in Northern Ireland and that goods and services can flow properly. The problems that the protocol has, probably inadvertently, put in place mean that that is not the case now, and we need to solve that issue.

I take this opportunity to welcome the Secretary of State; I very much look forward to working with him.

The protocol Bill is still to make its way through the House of Lords, despite opposition to it on the Opposition Benches in this House during its passage. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether it is still the preference of the UK Government to reach a negotiated settlement with the European Union over the protocol without having to apply the terms of the protocol Bill? If it is, given that there have been no substantive negotiations since February, when does the Secretary of State plan to initiate those discussions?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my new role; I really do look forward to working with him. Secondly, yes, the new Prime Minister said at every single hustings, I believe, that the preferred option is negotiation to sort out the protocol, but the legislation is there and it will continue through its process.

May I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new duties, and ask him to use his well known diplomatic skills and his deep experience as a referee in his new responsibilities? Does he agree with me, as co-chair of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, that there is obviously a landing zone for an agreement? Both sides say so. In his discussions with the political parties from Northern Ireland, can he press for and redouble efforts on discussions that yield a result in the interests of us all?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question and for the work that he does chairing that assembly. I, too, believe, and thought when I left the Foreign Office in February, that there is a fairly obvious landing zone for the negotiations, and I very much hope and believe that that is the case today. I think that everything can be sorted out by negotiations, but we have legislation that we will use if not.

Northern Ireland Protocol

3. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of political parties in Northern Ireland on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. (901354)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I will be speaking to each of the Northern Ireland party leaders this week on a number of issues, including the protocol and, as I may have mentioned, will be urging them to form an Executive as soon as possible.

As the Secretary of State is probably aware, the leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland has claimed that the Government have until now taken a rather differentiated approach to the parties, and only the Democratic Unionist party was consulted on the drafting of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. Given the crucial importance of the protocol to our future relationship with Europe, to the future of the United Kingdom and to the people of Northern Ireland, will he do everything that he can to ensure that each party is consulted equally?

Forgive me, but I do not think that that is completely correct, because all parties were consulted during the process—but yes, I will talk to everybody as I move forward.

Cost of Living Increases

5. What steps the Government are taking to help tackle increases in the cost of living in Northern Ireland. (901356)

6. What steps the Government are taking to help tackle increases in the cost of living in Northern Ireland. (901357)

14. What steps the Government are taking to help tackle increases in the cost of living in Northern Ireland. (901365)

The Government have taken decisive action to help tackle increases in the cost of living across the entirety of the United Kingdom, including support for the most vulnerable households in Northern Ireland, who will receive up to £1,000, including a one-off £650 cost of living payment. Yesterday, our new Prime Minister, whom we warmly welcome to office, made it clear that the Government will announce further action later this week.

The Conservatives’ low-pay agenda means that public sector pay awards are insufficient, and are pushing millions of people into poverty. Health and local authority workers in Northern Ireland are balloting over poor pay awards, as is happening in Wales. Will this new Conservative Government end their predecessors’ low-pay agenda and provide the two nations with the required funding to provide an inflation-proof pay rise, which people need and deserve?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, and I preface my answer by saying that I welcome the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my friend, to his position. I know that he will engage constructively with everyone and with all political parties in Northern Ireland.

I was discussing the matters that the hon. Lady raised with the head of the Northern Ireland civil service, Jayne Brady, at the weekend. Northern Ireland has received the largest block grant since devolution in 1998, and as my right hon. Friend the new Prime Minister has made clear, we stand ready to make further announcements later this week. However, we also continue to urge the parties in Northern Ireland to get a reformed, devolved Executive up and running in Northern Ireland so that the people who elect politicians in Northern Ireland can hold them accountable for the decisions that impact their lives.

A quarter of all children in Northern Ireland are living in significant poverty—the same proportion as in my constituency in York—but that is about to get worse. It is an indictment of this Government that they have failed to protect children from the cost of living crisis and have failed to invest in their future. What fiscal steps is the Minister calling for from the new Chancellor so that every child can have a warm meal in their stomach each day and a warm home to live in?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the extent of the challenge, but as she is incredibly fair-minded I know that she will acknowledge that Northern Ireland has significant challenges that go back many generations. If, for example, we could get Northern Ireland to the average UK level of productivity, it would be worth some £16 billion to the Exchequer. If we could get the level of economic inactivity in Northern Ireland to the UK average, there would be an extra 50,000 people in work in Northern Ireland. That is the scale of the challenge that will face all Governments as they try to improve the opportunities for all communities across Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is poorer, it is less well, it is more dependent on public sector pay and it is going to be hit much harder by the cost of living crisis, so why do the UK Government not spend the £400 million that has been allocated but is not being spent because Stormont is not sitting directly on the people who need it most, rather than being preoccupied with cutting Northern Ireland off from the single market, which will make things even worse?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the scale of the challenge. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, came to Northern Ireland to meet the Communities Minister and the Economy Minister to seek ways that the UK Government could get help directly to people who need it so desperately in Northern Ireland. We are absolutely clear—the whole House will understand this, and my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State made it clear earlier—that the protocol is a negotiation between the Government of the United Kingdom and the European Union. We have committed publicly and straightforwardly to fixing the challenges of the interpretation and implementation of the protocol, and we believe that while we crack on with that, the parties should crack on with reforming devolved government in Northern Ireland.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will know that the cost of living will continue to be exacerbated by the absence of Stormont and a functioning Executive. Protocol issues are being prayed in aid as an inhibitor to the restoration of Stormont. He has worked his socks off over the summer to try to bring things to a helpful and meaningful conclusion. Is he in a position to update the House on the progress he has made?

The Chairman of the Select Committee asks about an incredibly important point. Getting a restored devolved Government in Northern Ireland will help enormously in delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. We absolutely acknowledge that the protocol—its interpretation and application—is the impediment to the Democratic Unionist party going back into government, and we will fix that.

My hon. Friend is correct that I have spent a very busy period over the summer engaging with the Irish and elsewhere. I would like to place on record in the House today my thanks to the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and the former Prime Minister, Sir Tony Blair, for their assistance in the work that I have done over the summer. This weekend at the British-Irish Association in Oxford, I had constructive and prolonged talks with Vice-President Šefčovič, and I am convinced that if the appetite exists, we can find a way to a negotiated solution to the Northern Ireland protocol in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland and all the people of the United Kingdom—and in the interest of finding a new way of working in partnership with the European Union post Brexit.

I welcome the new Secretary of State. I hope he has had time to savour those moments of ecstatic relief upon realising, as a former Chief Whip, that he no longer has responsibility for the Tory parliamentary party.

Northern Ireland has unique energy needs: a reliance on heating oil, different regulation, a preponderance of small businesses and very low disposable incomes. Will the Minister confirm that in tomorrow’s energy announcement, Northern Ireland will hear not only what will happen to it but when payments will start to be made?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question and I say to him that he is held in deep affection across Northern Ireland. He is right to identify Northern Ireland’s unique energy challenges, which I have seen and heard about myself on visits in recent weeks. I know that the new Prime Minister will be hearing those messages too and will want to update the House as soon as possible.

Let me use this occasion to pay tribute to the wonderful visits team in Northern Ireland, whom my right hon. Friend will remember—Nadine, Kathryn, Nicola, Helena and George. They have supported me so brilliantly on the 277 visits that I have carried out over the last 12 months as Minister of State, 107 of them to businesses.

Yesterday, the Resolution Foundation told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that there had been a disgraceful lack of discussion about the cost of living crisis in Northern Ireland. Ofgem does not exist there, so there is no price cap on energy; 68% of homes are fuelled by oil, so costs went up in February; and a non-functioning Executive means that there is no £400 support payment. Can the Minister tell us why the Government have allowed the people of Northern Ireland to suffer for longer, and how he intends to right that wrong?

I have to say that that would have been an absolutely brilliant question, if the hon. Lady had not listened to any of the answers we have given so far. I have pointed out that the former Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon, was there talking to the Economy and Communities Ministers. We are working with every effort to try to get help directly to the people of Northern Ireland.

I have explained what we are doing in terms of the underlying economic challenges in Northern Ireland. I have not pointed out that, in addition to all that, we have made the largest block grant since devolution with £400 million on the new deal, £617 million on city deals, £730 million on Peace Plus and £2 billion through the New Decade, New Approach commitment negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith). The Government are doing everything they can to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland, as they are for people across the entire United Kingdom.

Justice for Victims

10. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill on access to justice for victims. (901361)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know that I am fairly new to my post so, to be honest, I have not actually made an assessment, but the Government believe that an approach to the past focused primarily on criminal justice outcomes will fail to deliver justice and information to the vast majority of those affected by the troubles. The legislation focuses on information recovery while ensuring that those who do not engage with this process remain indefinitely liable to prosecution.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. During the debates on the Bill, Members from both sides of the House paid tribute to and supported the work of Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, who is conducting Operation Denton, which affects 127 families who lost loved ones in the troubles in Northern Ireland. Regardless of the passage of the Bill, I ask the Secretary of State to look at whether there is a way for that important work to continue, so that families in Northern Ireland can get the answers that they deserve.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to that ongoing work. Of course, I will happily look at that work and come back to him, if I may.

Women’s Rights

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. This Government support any work undertaken in Northern Ireland to tackle issues that disproportionately affect women. In May, my predecessor made regulations that remove the barriers to ensure that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the same access to healthcare as those in the rest of the UK.

Despite the lead taken by the Government and the votes of this House, abortion services are still not being commissioned in Northern Ireland. I ask the Secretary of State to give a timeframe for when that will finally occur.

I will happily write to my hon. Friend with more details about that, but the regulations laid in May take a dual approach. On 20 May, the previous Northern Ireland Secretary wrote to the Health Minister in Northern Ireland requesting that he provide a clear and unambiguous commitment that he will comply with the regulations. There has been lots more action since, about which I will write to my hon. Friend.

On the issue of women’s rights, this week Northern Ireland’s golden girl, Lady Mary Peters, celebrated 50 years since achieving her gold medal at the Olympics. She has inspired young women such as Bethany Firth, Kate O’Connor, Ciara Mageean and a host of others to do likewise. Now that the Secretary of State is in post, what will he do to promote women into sport and encourage them with not only active support but resources for sport?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. He will know that I am a not very good but passionate sportsman in a whole host of sports, and I recognise what getting more women involved in all sorts of sports can do to benefit communities, people, their health and everything else. I will do everything I possibly can using sport as a tool to both get involved in all the communities in Northern Ireland and try to encourage more women into sport at the same time.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome the new Prime Minister to her place—and I know she will want to ensure that any statements will be made in the House first.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am honoured to take my place as Prime Minister in this House and to take on responsibility at a vital time for our country. I am determined to deliver for everybody across our United Kingdom. I will work constructively with all Members of this House to tackle the challenges we face.

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

Can I warmly welcome the Prime Minister to her place? This is her first Prime Minister’s question, and it is also mine.

In a leaked audiotape, the Prime Minister is heard saying that British workers need to put in “more graft” and that they are lacking in “skill and application”. She also wants to take away their basic workers’ rights. In my Erdington constituency, the latest figures from the Commons Library show that children in over 7,000 households are living in child poverty and that 68% of those households have working parents. So does the Prime Minister believe that thousands of working parents on low income in my community should just put in more graft?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her first Prime Minister’s question. What I am determined to do as Prime Minister is to make sure we have an economy with high wages and high-skilled jobs, and the way I will achieve that is through reducing taxes on people across our country and boosting economic growth. That is the way that we will make sure we get the investment and the jobs that people deserve.

Q3. I want to warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on becoming the third woman Prime Minister of this great country. I wish her well with her premiership, and I am going to ask her about pubs today. A pub restaurant in my constituency of Barnet got in touch with me to say they were struggling to find an energy supplier, and the quotes they had got hold of showed that they would be paying a 600% increase in their bill to £320,000. They cannot survive that. Will she ensure her plan to tackle the energy price crisis helps businesses in the hospitality sector, which our communities value so much? (901381)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The hospitality industry is vital, and I will make sure that our energy plan, which will help support businesses and people with the immediate price crisis, as well as making sure there are long-term supplies available, will help businesses as well as helping individual households.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her appointment? When she said in her leadership campaign that she was against windfall taxes, did she mean it?

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his welcome. I hope that we will be able to work together, particularly in areas we agree on. I know that we have had strong support from the Opposition in opposing Vladimir Putin’s appalling war in Ukraine, and I want us to continue to stand up to that appalling Russian aggression, which has led to the energy crisis we face now. I am against a windfall tax. I believe it is the wrong thing to be putting companies off investing in the United Kingdom, just when we need to be growing the economy.

I thank the Prime Minister for her answer. I ask because Treasury estimates are that the energy producers will make £170 billion in excess profits over the next two years. The Prime Minister knows that she has no choice but to back an energy price freeze, but that won’t be cheap, and the real choice—the political choice—is who is going to pay. Is she really telling us that she is going to leave those vast excess profits on the table and make working people foot the bill for decades to come?

I understand that people across our country are struggling with the cost of living, and they are struggling with their energy bills. That is why I as Prime Minister will take immediate action to help people with the cost of their energy bills. I will be making an announcement to this House on that tomorrow, and giving people certainty to make sure that they are able to get through this winter, able to have the energy supplies and able to afford it. But we cannot just deal with today’s problem; we cannot just put a sticking plaster on it. What we need to do is increase our energy supplies long term. That is why we will open up more supply in the North sea, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has opposed, and why we will build more nuclear power stations, which the Labour party did not do when it was in office. That is why we will get on with delivering the supply, as well as helping people through the winter.

I look forward to tomorrow’s statement, but the money has got to come from somewhere. The Prime Minister knows that every single pound in excess profits that she chooses not to tax is an extra pound on borrowing that working people will be forced to pay back for decades to come. More borrowing than is needed—that is the true cost of her choice to protect oil and gas profits, isn’t it?

The reality is that this country will not be able to tax its way to growth. The way we will grow our economy is by attracting investment, keeping taxes low, and delivering the reforms to build projects quicker—that is the way that we will create jobs and opportunities across our country.

So, Mr Speaker, the right hon. Lady’s first act as Prime Minister is to borrow more than is needed because she will not touch excess oil and gas profits. On that topic, how much would her planned corporation tax cut hand out to companies?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is looking at this in the wrong way. The last time we cut corporation tax, we attracted more revenue into the Exchequer because more companies wanted to base themselves in Britain, and more companies wanted to invest in our country. If taxes are put up and raised to the same level as in France—that is what the current proposal is, which I will change as Prime Minister—that will put off investors, and it will put off those companies investing in our economy. Ultimately, that will mean fewer jobs, less growth, and fewer opportunities across our country.

It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister is not only refusing to extend the windfall tax but choosing to hand the water companies who are polluting our beaches a tax cut. She is choosing to hand the banks a tax cut. Add it all together, and companies who are already doing well are getting a £17 billion tax cut while working people pay for the cost of living crisis, stroke victims wait an hour for an ambulance and criminals walk the streets with impunity. Families and public services need every penny that they can get. How on earth does she think that now is the right time to protect Shell’s profits and give Amazon a tax break?

I am on the side of people who work hard and do the right thing. That is why we will reverse the national insurance increase, and that is why we will keep corporation tax low, because ultimately we want investment right across our country. We want new jobs and new opportunities, and that is what I will deliver as Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister claims to be breaking orthodoxy, but the reality is that she is reheating George Osborne’s failed corporation tax plans, protecting oil and gas profits, and forcing working people to pay the bill. She is the fourth Tory Prime Minister in six years. The face at the top may change, but the story remains the same.

There is nothing new about the Tory fantasy of trickle-down economics and nothing new about this Tory Prime Minister who nodded through every single decision that got us into this mess and now says how terrible it is. Can she not see that there is nothing new about a Tory Prime Minister who when asked, “Who pays?” says, “It’s you—the working people of Britain”?

There is nothing new about a Labour leader who is calling for more tax rises. It is the same old, same old tax and spend. What I am about is reducing taxes, getting our economy growing, getting investment and getting new jobs for people right across the country.

I am afraid to say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not understand aspiration. He does not understand opportunity. He does not understand that people want to keep more of their own money. That is what I will deliver as Prime Minister. I will take immediate action to help people with their energy bills but also secure our long-term energy supply. I will take immediate action to ensure that we have lower taxes and grow the economy. In that way, I will ensure that we have a positive future for our country and get Britain moving.

Q9. First, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on her successful campaign to become our party leader and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? It is right and proper that the Government focus their attention on rising energy costs for households across the country, but, as we have heard, businesses big and small are exposed to horrific energy price increases with no restraint provided by the domestic energy price cap and no support so far from Government. For the sake of businesses in west Cornwall and on Scilly, the jobs that they provide and the economy as a whole, what can my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister do to ease the energy costs that our businesses face? (901387)

My hon. Friend is right: we do need to address the issues that businesses face. The package that we will announce tomorrow will do just that.

I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of everyone in the House will be with the families caught up in the terrible shooting over recess in Kyle and Lochalsh, and indeed in Liverpool. I trust that the families will be fully supported.

Let me congratulate the Prime Minister and her family on her appointment, but I am sorry to say that her reputation for straight talking is falling apart at the first PMQs. After nine questions, she has still not told us who will pay for her energy plan. Today, the public are waiting to find out the response to the economic crisis, and they want answers. Will she finally answer two very simple questions? Will she freeze energy prices at their current levels, and will that be paid for by a windfall tax—yes or no?

No, it will not be paid for by a windfall tax. I do not believe that we can tax our way to growth. I want to see us using more of our UK energy supply, including more oil and gas from the North sea and nuclear power in Scotland. I hope I can count on the SNP’s support for that.

The Prime Minister may have changed, Mr Speaker, but it is the same old Tories shouting us down.

On her first full day as Prime Minister, she has failed to rule out a Truss tax on households and businesses. Instead of targeting the profits of massive corporations with a windfall tax, the Prime Minister’s plan appears to be a decade-long raid on the bank accounts of ordinary taxpayers. These costs must not be passed on to consumers and businesses by deferring bills. The Government must announce an enhanced windfall profits tax, making sure that those oil and gas producers pay their fair share from excess profits. Does the Prime Minister understand that her first act as Prime Minister will now define her: a Truss tax that households and businesses will be paying for years to come?

I am not quite sure what the right hon. Gentleman’s position is, because on one hand he does not seem to want oil and gas extraction from the North sea, and on the other hand he wants them to pay more taxes. Why does he not make up his mind?

Q13. May I, too, warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to her seat as Prime Minister? Scottish Power, Bulb and E.ON are just three of the many energy suppliers that say they provide 100% renewable electricity, yet constituents of mine in West Dorset are baffled that the energy regulator allows those prices to rise on a par with oil and gas. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she is on the side of the consumer in her energy policy, which we will hear about tomorrow? (901391)

I certainly am on the side of the consumer. We need to ensure that we deal with all the issues in the energy market and the way that energy is regulated. I will certainly be saying more about that tomorrow.

The Prime Minister should know by now that many people in the north of Ireland are starving and freezing in their homes. We need a tailored solution for Northern Ireland, but that is much harder to achieve because the Democratic Unionist party is refusing to form a Government at Stormont. The new Prime Minister has a choice to make: she can either be on the side of the DUP or on the side of struggling people in Northern Ireland. So whose side is she on?

I want to work with all parties in Northern Ireland to get the Executive and the Assembly back up and running so that we can collectively deliver for the people of Northern Ireland, but in order to do that we need to fix the issues of the Northern Ireland protocol, which has damaged the balance between the communities in Northern Ireland. I am determined to get on with doing that and I am determined to work with all parties to find that resolution.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend and welcome her to her position as the third female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? Can I ask my right hon. Friend why does she think it is that all three female Prime Ministers have been Conservatives?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her fantastic question, and I look forward to calling on her advice from her time in office as I start my work as Prime Minister. It is quite extraordinary, is it not, that there does not seem to be the ability in the Labour party to find a female leader, or indeed a leader who does not come from north London? [Laughter.] I do not know what the issue is.

Q2. I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister on her appointment. Inflation is at a 40-year high; the NHS is on its knees, with 6.6 million people waiting for treatment; thousands of victims of sexual offences and violent crime are waiting for justice—not to mention the passport delays, a summer of chaos in our airports and our beaches covered in sewage. The Prime Minister has served in every one of the Conservative Governments responsible for this mess, so why should the British public trust her to clean up the mess that she has helped create? (901380)

I am determined that we deal with the issues facing us as a nation. We do have problems with our energy supply, due to the appalling war being perpetrated by Putin in Ukraine. That is why I will take immediate action to deal with the energy crisis; my Chancellor will take immediate action to reduce taxes and make sure we are growing our economy; and our new Health Secretary, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, will take immediate action to make sure that people are able to get appointments with their GP and proper NHS services.

All sides of the House should wish to help the Prime Minister to be successful in tackling the problems facing the country.

When I raised one of them in July with the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), he said that I could talk to the Housing Minister, but the Housing Minister retired within 17 minutes of hearing that. [Laughter.]

Will this Prime Minister look at why the Planning Inspectorate is able to overturn councils’ planned protections for green lungs?

And will she look at what is happening to the Goring Gap in relation to the A259 in the Worthing West and the Arundel and South Downs constituencies, because local councils have no role if they cannot protect what matters most to them?

I am a bit concerned about offering my hon. Friend a meeting with the Housing Minister, in case any ill should befall him. But my hon. Friend is right; there is not enough power in local hands at the moment. It is too easy for local councils to be overruled by the Planning Inspectorate, and that is certainly an issue that I expect my Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to look at.

Q4.   According to the Prime Minister’s new Deputy Prime Minister, one of the things that qualified her most for being PM, and was one of her greatest achievements, was the reintroduction of beavers. Now, I am all for the beavers, but given her flip-flopping on Brexit and her inability to understand global affairs, how can constituents of mine, such as Waz Abbas, whose energy prices will go from £7,000 to £37,000 a year, or Broadtex in Livingston—its prices will go from £50,000 to £250,000 a month—have any faith that she can tackle the oncoming humanitarian crisis? Is she going to come out of her den in No. 10 and take real action, or is she going to be as useless and corrupt as her predecessor, who has rocketed off to somewhere in the Pacific? [Interruption.] (901382)

I am determined to tackle the issues we face in energy, and I look forward to the Scottish Government playing their part by building new nuclear power stations.

Order. I want a nicer Parliament and that question was not a good example. I certainly do not want the word “corrupt” being used against the new Prime Minister. [Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) will withdraw that comment.

May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend and welcome her to her place, but may I also wish her the very best with the heavy responsibilities that she now bears? Around 1.5 million households across the countryside rely on heating oil in order to keep their homes warm and cook their meals. They have faced price rises of around 130% in recent months and they are not part of the energy price cap. As rumours abound about what tomorrow’s statement may hold, will she confirm that those 1.5 million households—many of them in rural areas such as my constituency—will be specifically included in any mooted ideas about an energy price freeze?

My hon. Friend is right. Many of my constituents, too, rely on heating oil for their fuel. We need to make sure that we are looking after everybody in this very, very difficult winter that we are facing.

Q5. Hon. Members may be familiar with the work of Bo’ness firm Ballantine Castings, an iron foundry in operation since the 1820s that in recent years has done much work around the parliamentary estate. Without the protection of an energy price cap, this specialist SME is witnessing unaffordable costs, with bills rising from £13,000 to £120,000 per month. Heavy energy users face a disproportionate burden and clearly need more support than other businesses. What will the PM do to protect our strategically important and energy-intensive industries? (901383)

I very strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are strategic industries that use a lot of energy. We need to do all we can to help them become more energy-efficient, but we also need to make sure that they are able to remain competitive in the global marketplace. That is certainly something that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking at in preparing this package.

May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her appointment and tell her that I know my constituents want her to succeed at a difficult time? Outside the immediate challenges of energy and inflation, levelling up remains a priority for them. One way to demonstrate her commitment to levelling up would be to choose a town such as Crewe to host Great British Railways. Will she ensure that levelling up is at the heart of that decision?

Crewe is, of course, a great railway town—my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am not going to prejudge the decision that will be made, but what I will be doing as Prime Minister is absolutely focusing on levelling up and making sure that we are attracting the investment and growth into parts of this country that have been left behind, so that they have their fair share of opportunity.

Q6.   The new Prime Minister is now finally in post, but make no mistake: she does not have the support of the British public. She cannot even rely on the backing of her own MPs, and people in Pontypridd will never forget that she played a key role in a Government who failed millions, so will she now finally do the right and decent thing and call a general election? (901384)

As a country, we are facing a very serious crisis in energy, caused by Putin’s war in Ukraine. We are facing—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) is getting very carried away. I know that as a former teacher he will want to show better behaviour than he is showing at the moment.

We are facing very serious issues as a country, partly as a result of the aftermath of covid and partly as a result of Putin’s war in Ukraine. What the British people want is a Government who are going to sort it out, and that is what I am determined to do as Prime Minister: sort out the energy crisis, get our economy going and make sure that people can get doctors’ appointments. That is what I am focused on.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her position as Prime Minister, but I would also like to thank her for her support for my campaign to keep Doncaster Sheffield airport open. Will she now help further by writing to South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard and Peel Holdings chairman John Whittaker to remind them of their powers, duties and responsibilities to the people of South Yorkshire and beyond? Will she use the full weight of her office on these decision makers to keep our Doncaster Sheffield airport open?

Regional airports, including Doncaster Sheffield airport, are a vital part of our economic growth. I will make sure that the new Secretary of State for Transport is immediately on the issue.

I can tell that she is—she is already contacting people in Doncaster and Sheffield to make sure that we protect the airport and protect that vital infrastructure and connectivity that helps our economy to grow.

Q7. I, too, welcome the Prime Minister to her new post. During her leadership campaign, she said that ambulance waiting times in her rural Norfolk constituency were “appalling”, and I think that many of my constituents would echo that statement. Across Britain, waiting hours and hours for an ambulance has become normal, but rather than the Government focusing on the problem, a Conservative leadership fiasco has seen three Health Secretaries in three months. Will the Prime Minister get a grip on this grave situation, and commission the Care Quality Commission to investigate the causes of, and the solutions to, these ambulance delays before a service in crisis faces the additional pressures of an oncoming winter? (901385)

People should not have to wait as long as they are for ambulance services, and my new Health Secretary is immediately tackling this issue. She has already laid out her priorities, and sorting out the ambulance service is one of them.

May I, too, warmly welcome our new Prime Minister to her role, and indeed all her Front Benchers to theirs?

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and, as my right hon. Friend knows, cancer is still the biggest killer of children under the age of 14. Will she restate her Government’s commitment to publishing a 10-year cancer strategy, and can that strategy embed a childhood cancer mission at its very heart?

Cancer is a devastating disease, and it is particularly heartbreaking when children have cancer. We will certainly proceed with the strategy that my hon. Friend has mentioned, and I know that our new Health Secretary will do all she can to help those children with cancer.

Q8. On the theme of children, the Prime Minister will know from her time as Children’s Minister that children whose young lungs are exposed to cold and damp housing are more likely to fall seriously ill and possibly die. Child poverty has been growing during her time in different ministerial offices. Will she give a solemn pledge—with no evasion—that no child will go to bed in a cold, damp house this winter and beyond because the parents cannot afford to put the heating on? (901386)

This is why it is so important that we tackle the issue of energy. I will make sure that people are able to afford their energy bills, at the same time as dealing with the long-term supply issues to ensure that we are resilient in energy and never get into this position again.

It is standard practice in the European Union that when it cannot get its own way in negotiations with the UK, it plays for time and waits for a new leader who it hopes will take a different view from his or her predecessor. For the sake of clarity, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the UK’s preferred option in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol is a negotiated settlement, but that if such a settlement is not forthcoming, we will proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which is currently going through Parliament?

Let me first thank my right hon. Friend for his service as Northern Ireland Secretary. He is absolutely right: we need to resolve the issue of the Northern Ireland protocol. My preference is for a negotiated solution, but it does have to deliver all the things that we set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. What we cannot allow is for this situation to drift, because my No. 1 priority is protecting the supremacy of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

Q10.   The new Prime Minister tells us that she will deliver on the NHS. Well, that is a turn-up for the books, because after 12 years of Conservatives driving our NHS into the ground, we have record waiting lists, people dying in ambulances outside A&E, and nurses using food banks. Given that the Prime Minister has served in the past three Conservative Governments on that watch, can she explain why we should trust her to deliver? (901388)

I do not agree with the way the hon. Lady is talking down our national health service. The fact is that our health service did brilliantly in tackling covid, in delivering the vaccine roll-out and in getting this country back on its feet, but we do face challenges now with the backlog following covid, and that is why the new Health Secretary is going to work to address those challenges.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment and recognise her determination to address the many urgent and difficult challenges that face us now. Would she accept that one of those challenges is an almost entirely unregulated online space? Would she accept too that no responsible Government can avoid the need for excellent, balanced, sensible regulation in this space? Will she therefore assure me that the Online Safety Bill will come back to this House swiftly for us to consider further and amend if necessary?

I can assure my right hon. and learned Friend that we will be proceeding with the Online Safety Bill. There are some issues that we need to deal with. What I want to make sure is that we protect the under-18s from harm and that we also make sure free speech is allowed, so there may be some tweaks required, but certainly he is right that we need to protect people’s safety online.

Q11. The Prime Minister has been part of a Government who for the past 12 years have been systematically letting down the most vulnerable children in the country. The independent review of children’s social care, published by the Government in May, describes the system as being in need of a total reset. The Prime Minister has said that she wants to deliver. Will she make a cast-iron commitment to deliver for our country’s most vulnerable children, and publish the Government’s response to the independent review and an action plan for delivery, before the end of the year—yes or no? (901389)

I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend and her whole Front Bench, and wish them every success in the new Government. I would particularly like to thank my right hon. Friend for her steadfast commitment to support for the earliest years throughout the 12 years that she and I have worked together for three previous Prime Ministers. Can I ask her now to renew her commitment to rolling out “The best start for life”, to give every baby the best chance of leading a fulfilling life?

My right hon. Friend has done such a fantastic job championing this issue and developing the policies, and I am committed to following through on delivering for children, because we know that intervening early and helping children early is the best way to help those children to have a successful childhood and, ultimately, a fulfilled life.