The Secretary of State was asked—
Channel 4 Privatisation
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my Cabinet colleagues and I are committed to ensuring the further success of Channel 4. The Government are determined to support the incredible TV production industry in Scotland, and we believe that in the long run the UK production industry will benefit from a sustainable Channel 4.
Channel 4 is a key commissioner for Scottish independent production companies. It spends about £20 million a year on Scottish productions, supporting about 400 jobs in Scotland. Analysis from Ernst & Young says that privatisation could result in £1 billion being lost from the UK’s nations and regions, so for the sake of Scotland’s creative economy, will the Secretary of State make representations to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to follow the evidence and keep Channel 4 in public hands?
I have had discussions with the Culture Secretary and the previous Culture Secretary. The Government’s position is that we are looking again at the sale of Channel 4, and we will have further details in due course. We want Channel 4 to flourish, and we want independent production companies to flourish and thrive, because we recognise that we live in a challenging and changing media landscape.
I have held a number of discussions with the Levelling Up Secretary and his predecessors on freeports. This Government are committed to delivering two new freeports for Scotland to boost economic growth. The UK and Scottish Governments will be making an announcement shortly.
Five high-quality bids for freeports in Scotland have been received. Only two can be successful in this round. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will work with partners in the unsuccessful three so that they can realise their ambitions through other means?
Before I answer the question, I would like to thank my hon. Friend for his diligent and excellent work in the Scotland Office. He made a huge impact, and I absolutely thank him from the bottom of my heart.
In answering my hon. Friend’s question, the Government are committed to boosting economic growth in all areas of Scotland. We will use all the levers at our disposal to do so, and we will do that in partnership with the Scottish Government, as we are doing with freeports. Hopefully, that will also include investment zones—discussions are ongoing between officials—and I hope that those who are unsuccessful in their freeport bids can apply for investment zone status, which will help them to increase their economic activity, so the answer is yes. Funnily enough, I do not exclude the freeport winners from going for investment zone status, as that is not identical, and there are advantages in their becoming investment zones as well.
Of all the five excellent bids, I know that my right hon. Friend agrees that, given the focus on a North sea revival, the importance of the North sea transition deal to our future energy security, the dynamic and pioneering spirit of business and industry in the north-east of Scotland, and the fact that we will create 30,000 new jobs in my constituency and around the north-east of Scotland, the Aberdeen and north-east freeport bid will be one that he announces as successful.
I admire my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the north-east bid. He is right to be enthusiastic, as he represents that part of Scotland. It is a process, and we are following the metrics, as was done with the English freeports. It is important that we do not make a political decision, and that we make the right decision based on the bids before us. As I say, for those that are unsuccessful, hopefully investment zones will be another route. I have not shown any preference for any bid, and it is right that we do not and do it properly according to the metrics that we set out, because we cannot leave this open to judicial review, which would lead to further delay.
I am glad to hear the right hon. Member say that the Government intend to consider repurposing Scottish green freeports into investment zones. What discussions have been about environmental protection concerns and the removal of EU environmental standards?
There is a full prospectus explaining all that, which we agreed with the Scottish Government. We have put it out to bid. We have five bids, from Orkney down to the Forth and the Clyde, and they all understand the environmental impacts. A lot of it is about reclaiming brownfield land, which is part and parcel of the levelling-up agenda, and I think everyone understands what has to be done environmentally to reclaim brownfield sites.
We have invested £172 million in Scotland in round 1 of the levelling-up fund, which is around 10% of the total UK funding. In March, we published a monitoring and evaluation strategy for the levelling-up fund. Further updates on the strategy will be published in due course, and results of round 2 will be announced later this year.
That is wonderful to hear. In my beautiful constituency of Eastbourne, we are busy working to ensure that £20 million of Government levelling-up funding is energising and growing the visitor economy. [Hon. Members: “Scotland!”] My question is: how is the levelling-up fund doing the same in Scotland—the land of my forefathers—to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom can capitalise on and consolidate the staycation market so much born out of the pandemic years?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Levelling-up measures are all about delivering local priorities and pride in place, which go hand in hand towards creating a sustainable tourist economy. The £150 million community ownership fund is allowing us to put cultural and heritage assets back in the hands of local people across the whole United Kingdom.
What would the impact have been on levelling-up projects if the Scottish Government had followed the advice of the Scottish Conservatives to give these unfunded and catastrophic tax cuts to the wealthiest in our society? Will the Secretary of State now apologise to the Scottish Government for insisting that they follow this disastrous and reckless course of action?
The hon. Member is conflating two issues. The reality is that the levelling-up funds, of which there are £200 million in the current round, are being well received across Scotland. That is real devolution in practice. All local authorities are engaging with the UK Government—and guess what? They are enthusiastic when it comes to applying for money to help local projects.
The Scottish Parliament is one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world and we believe that the devolution settlement strikes the right balance. We continue to work collaboratively with the Scottish Government to implement the Scotland Act 2016. This includes passing secondary legislation to deliver the extensive welfare and tax powers granted by the Act.
The vast majority of people in Scotland support the continued existence of the Scottish Government. Despite the settled will of the Scottish people for greater autonomy and self-rule, some senior Conservatives—there are Secretaries of State among them—are becoming even louder in their calls for the UK Government to claw back powers from the devolved Assemblies. Will the Secretary of State today commit before the House that the UK Government will not under any circumstances attempt to revoke powers devolved to the Scottish Government?
Absolutely. In fact, since we left the European Union, we have given more powers to the Scottish Parliament. Actually, whenever asked, not a single Member of the Scottish National party has come up with one power that has been taken away. It is quite the contrary. We have given more powers and will continue to do that, because, let us be clear, we are the party that is strengthening devolution and the SNP wants to destroy devolution.
I believe that the EU forecasts that the Irish economy will grow by more than 5% in 2022, showing the real potential for growth that exists for smaller nations that are part of the EU. Meanwhile, on the back of the UK Government’s disastrous fiscal statement, mortgage payments for many Scots are rising dramatically and people will struggle to keep a roof over their heads, let alone to feed and keep themselves warm.
Today, the Office for National Statistics tells us that there was a slump of 0.3% in GDP in August in the UK, before that disastrous event. Why will the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues not accept that their fiddling with devolution while the UK economy burns will never be enough to protect the Scottish people he supposedly represents and accept that an independence referendum has to happen so that the Scottish people can protect themselves?
You will not be surprised to hear, Mr Speaker, that I think that that is absolute nonsense. This is not the time. A vast majority of Scots do not believe that now is the time for an independence referendum and that is very clear. The constitution is reserved to Westminster—that is in the process of going through the Supreme Court to be determined now. To me it is very clear that the people of Scotland want this Government to get on. The support we gave during covid, with 900,000 jobs furloughed, the support we have given to households and businesses for their energy costs and our helping to grow the Scottish economy through freeports and investment zones: that is what the people of Scotland want.
Devolution is about Scotland’s two Governments working together and we have seen the success of that with city and region growth deals and with the progress towards freeports. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that language is also really important? When the First Minister said that she “detests the Tories”, she was insulting—[Interruption.] Cheers are coming from the SNP. She is insulting hundreds of thousands of Scottish Conservative voters when she should be representing the whole of Scotland as First Minister.
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. Language is terribly important in politics. We saw the desperate death of David Amess and others before him, and people cannot incite people using words such as “detest”, which, as can be seen in the dictionary, is another word for hate. The irony is that the Scottish Government are bringing forward a hate Bill yet we have language such as “detest”. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to call it out.
Cost of Living
The Government fully recognise that families, households and businesses are worried about rising costs. That is why we have taken decisive action to get families and businesses through this winter and next, and we are focused on growing the economy to raise living standards for everyone.
According to Citizens Advice Scotland, the cost of living crisis is the “perfect storm” that risks sweeping tens of thousands of households across Scotland into poverty, problem debt, and destitution, and nothing could be closer to the truth. Scottish Labour has a plan and is calling for an emergency cost of living Act. Will the Minister raise with Scottish Ministers what both Governments could urgently do, using all the levers at their disposal, to help individuals and families in Scotland through this terrible crisis?
The UK, like Europe and other countries around the world, has been forced to respond decisively to the challenges posed by high energy prices resulting from, among other things, Russia’s weaponisation of energy markets. Because of action taken by this Government, the most vulnerable households will get at least £1,200—some much more—of cost of living support this year on top of the benefit of the energy price guarantee. Of course, the hon. Lady is absolutely right that this Government and the devolved Administrations must work together to make sure that the most vulnerable get the most support.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, if the Government do not uprate benefits in line with inflation, then claimants, many of whom are working, will experience the biggest ever real-terms cut to benefits in a single year. Is it not the case that the Minister’s Government are prioritising growing the wealth of the richest while not doing enough for the vulnerable, including the elderly, in our communities in Scotland?
Again, it will come as no surprise that I do not totally agree with everything that an hon. Member said. The hon. Lady asked about raising benefits in line with inflation. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking at that—as she would do on an annual basis in any case—and will announce in due course the decision on benefits uprating.
According to Joseph Rowntree Foundation figures, 15,378 people in Glasgow Central receive means-tested benefits such as universal credit, and many of them will be working in low-paid jobs. The Scottish Government have done their bit by introducing the leading Scottish child payment, but what representations has the Minister made to his colleague, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to support the uprating of benefits? He has not been clear about what representations he has made for the people of Scotland.
The hon. Lady makes excellent points. On making representations to my ministerial colleagues, having been in this post for a very short time, I have not quite got there yet, but these discussions are happening. Under the agreed fiscal framework, the Scottish Government, through the levers that they have, will receive an estimated £340 million of additional funding as a result of just the basic rate tax cut. It is for the Scottish Government to use that additional funding as they want to, including on increased spending or tax cuts.
In the policy decisions chapter of the so-called “Growth Plan”, line 9 on page 26 shows that reversing the corporation tax increase will cost £68 billion over the next five years. Given the cost of living crisis, did the Minister and his Secretary of State argue for or against a £68 billion subsidy to the biggest, wealthiest companies in the UK?
The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that the Government have committed to reversing the planned corporation tax increase from 19%, so it is staying at 19%, which will attract businesses to Scotland and across the rest of the United Kingdom. It is often missed that the Government have delivered on top of the recently announced energy price guarantee. It means that typical households receiving means-tested benefits will receive £1,200 of support; those on disability benefits on top of that will receive £1,350; low-income pensioner households will receive £1,500 of support; and low-income pensioner households who are receiving disability benefits will receive £1,650 of support. As well as that, the energy price guarantee will mean that a typical household will pay no more than £2,500 on their energy bills.
The shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), has a long-standing family commitment, which is why the privilege of asking questions falls to me today.
The UK Government’s so-called mini-Budget has created a financial crisis—made in Downing Street but paid for by working people all over this country, including in Scotland. Has the Minister’s Department made an assessment of how much worse off Scottish households will be as a result of the Chancellor’s disastrous actions?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place instead of the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). As I said, the energy support put in place means that a typical household will not pay more than £2,500. That is on top of the additional benefits that were announced earlier this year and more recently and which will make sure that many households, including those on the lowest incomes, will actually be better off than they would have been.
The only long-term solution to this crisis is a more sustainable energy policy, which the Government have failed to deliver for 12 years. In 2017, Nicola Sturgeon announced a national energy company for Scotland. Five years on, we are in an energy crisis and that plan has been ditched, so does the Minister agree that the right way forward is through Labour’s plan for Great British Energy, a home-grown, publicly owned company run for and by the people of this country and for the interests of people in this country?
The hon. Member is absolutely correct to point out the Scottish Government’s commitment, made back in 2017, to have created a nationalised energy company in Scotland by now. That has not happened, and quite frankly I do not think that it should. I do not think that Labour’s plans should be implemented either.
The first mini-Budget from this Government required two Bank of England interventions just to stabilise the economy. It tanked the pound and it massively worsened the already brutal cost of living crisis that our constituents are facing. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State, as Scotland’s representative in Cabinet, confirm that any future fiscal event from this Government will neither make further cuts to the Scottish budget nor introduce further cuts to our already crippled public services?
On top of the already record increased block grant of £41 billion that the Scottish Government have already received, measures announced in the Chancellor’s recent fiscal statement mean hundreds of millions in extra money going to the Scottish Government. As I said to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), it is for the Scottish Government to decide whether to spend that on tax cuts or to increase spending.
After 12 years of austerity, which has caused in excess of 300,000 deaths in the UK, this Tory Government have cost the public billions. They have given dodgy covid contracts to their pals. They are scrapping the bankers’ bonus cap. They have forced a hard Brexit on Scotland against its will. They are now helping the richest people in the country, on the backs of millions of people who are choosing between heating and eating. I ask the Minister: is it genuinely a surprise to him and his colleagues to discover why most people in Scotland detest the Tory party and its values?
I must say that I am disappointed that the hon. Member chooses to double down on the hate-filled language of her party leader. I repeat that the Scottish Government have received a record amount of block grant funding—£41 billion—since devolution began, and all the other measures from which people and businesses across Scotland will benefit. Those in the most vulnerable households and on the lowest incomes will particularly benefit from the measures that this Government have taken.
Domestic Energy Costs
The Government’s recently announced energy price guarantee will support households with their energy bills across the whole United Kingdom, including in Scotland. This decisive action will save the typical household at least £1,000 a year for the next two years.
May I follow up on the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) asked about the Scottish Government’s decision to abandon their plans? Will the Minister confirm what discussions he has had with his Scottish counterparts about ensuring that Scotland’s renewable potential directly benefits the people of Scotland and the people of the United Kingdom, given that the cost to the consumer of renewable energy is so much lower?
As I have said, Ministers in the Scotland Office discuss such matters regularly with our colleagues in other Departments. Energy policy is reserved, as I am sure the hon. Member will understand, but we endeavour to work constructively with the Scottish Government on everything that can have an impact on the livelihoods of people and communities in Scotland, as well as businesses.
One of the most critical ways of reducing domestic energy costs in Scotland is by supporting renewable energy generation and carbon reduction efforts. I have raised before at the Dispatch Box the fact that the UK Government chose to sideline the Acorn carbon capture and storage project in the north-east of Scotland. The Scottish Government have refused to provide financing either.
The Secretary of State may be interested to hear that Labour has put forward a fully costed plan to invest in Britain’s infrastructure, which includes providing the funding for the Acorn project. Will the Secretary of State encourage his Cabinet colleagues—[Interruption.]
I believe the Secretary of State and the Minister may have heard the first part of the question, so I will conclude by asking the Secretary of State to encourage his Cabinet colleagues to look again at how the carbon capture and storage project can be supported to enable it to get under way as a matter of urgency.
As the hon. Lady may be aware, the Acorn cluster looms large in my own constituency, so I have nothing but the greatest support for that project. I can also assure her, and the rest of the House, that this Government have stood firmly behind it: we have invested £41 million in the project directly, and it is also the reserve cluster in the Track-1 sequence. Track-2 sequencing for carbon capture and storage across the United Kingdom is coming soon, I am told, and I look forward to that announcement with great interest.
The Prime Minister was asked—
This Saturday marks the first anniversary of the senseless murder of our friend Sir David Amess. David was a superb parliamentarian, who brought colleagues across the House together on a huge range of issues. He represented the best of Parliament as a devoted champion of his constituency. Our thoughts are with his wife Julia and his five children, as well as with the people of Southend, which now stands tall as a city in testament to David’s tireless work.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I knew Sir David, and I share the Prime Minister’s sentiments completely.
Spooking the markets, increasing the cost of borrowing and mortgages, was almost certainly an act of gross incompetence rather than malevolence, but going back on the commitment to end no-fault evictions is an act of extreme callousness. Can the Prime Minister reassure the 11 million private renters in this country that she will fulfil that commitment?
I am very sorry to hear about the situation of young people at York Hospital, but I am pleased to say that this is an issue on which my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has focused in her plan for patients. We are making sure that people can access treatment as soon as possible: we are delivering record staff numbers and record levels of funding.
May I join the Prime Minister in her comments about Sir David? She spoke for the whole House when she made those comments. I know how deeply his loss was felt on the Government Benches, and we extend our best wishes across the House at this important time.
I also want to send my heartfelt condolences to the families of all those who tragically lost their lives in Creeslough last week. Donegal is a special place for my family and me, and across the House. The people there are in all our thoughts.
This morning the Business Secretary toured the television studios arguing that the turmoil in the markets had nothing to do with the Prime Minister’s Budget. Does the Prime Minister agree with him?
We have taken decisive action to make sure that people are not facing energy bills of £6,000 for two years. We remember that the Opposition are only talking about six months. We have also taken decisive action to make sure that we are not facing the highest taxes for 70 years in the face of a global economic slowdown. We are making sure that we protect our economy at this very difficult time internationally. As a result of our action—this has been independently corroborated—we will see higher growth and lower inflation.
Avoiding the question, ducking responsibility, lost in denial—it is no wonder investors have no confidence in her Government. This is why it matters: a few weeks ago, Zach and Rebecca from Wolverhampton were all set to buy their first home. Then the Government’s borrowing spree sent interest rates spiralling and their mortgage offer was withdrawn. I met them last week. They are back to square one: unable to buy, devastated and sick to their back teeth with excuses and blame shifting. Does the Prime Minister understand why Zach and Rebecca are completely furious with her?
The fact is that when I came into office, people were facing energy bills of up to £6,000 per year—[Interruption.] Well, I am sorry; Labour Members are shouting, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is opposing the very package that we brought in with the energy price guarantee. That was the major part of the mini-Budget that we announced. He has refused to confirm whether he backs our energy price guarantee for two years, which protects families not just this winter but next winter. We are seeing interest rates rising globally—[Interruption.] They are rising globally in the face of Putin’s appalling war in Ukraine. What we are doing is helping people with lower stamp duty, helping people with their energy costs, reducing inflation with our energy package and keeping taxes low. I notice that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had a Damascene conversion last night when he backed our cut to national insurance.
The economy is in turmoil. People are really worried. This is really not the time to descend into nonsense attacks about last night. There is no point in trying to hide it; everyone can see what has happened. The Tories went on a borrowing spree, sending mortgage rates through the roof—they are skyrocketing by £500 a month—and for nearly 2 million homeowners, their fixed-rate deals are coming to an end next year. They are worried sick, and everybody in this House knows it. They will not forgive; they will not forget; and nor should they. When will the Prime Minister stop ducking responsibility, do the right thing and reverse her kamikaze Budget, which is causing so much pain?
I am genuinely unclear as to what the Labour party’s policy is on our energy price guarantee. It was the biggest part of our mini-Budget. Are the Opposition saying that they want to reverse it and that they want to see people facing energy bills of £6,000? Is that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying?
The Prime Minister knows very well that, on this side, we voted against the national insurance rise in the first place. She voted for it, so who is doing the U-turn? Honestly.
Last week, the Prime Minister was forced to U-turn on her unfunded tax cut for the super-wealthy. This week, she is beginning to realise that she needs to extend the windfall tax, one step behind the CEO of Shell, but she is still going ahead with £18 billion of tax cuts for the richest businesses, and they did not even ask for it. She has still gift-wrapped a stamp duty cut for landlords, just as renters feel the pinch, and she is still holding out tax cuts for those who live off stocks and shares. Why does she expect working people to pick up the bill for her unfunded tax cuts for those at the top?
I notice the Leader of the Opposition is still not saying whether he supports our energy price guarantee. This is very relevant, because it is the biggest part of our mini-Budget. The fact is that all the Opposition have said is that people should be supported for six months. Does he think that, in March, pensioners should be facing very high energy bills? That is what will happen if he does not support our energy price guarantee.
The Prime Minister is not even attempting to answer the questions now. I gently remind her that the idea of freezing energy bills was a Labour idea that she took on. During her leadership contest the Prime Minister said, and I quote her exactly:
“I’m very clear I’m not planning public spending reductions.”
Is she going to stick to that?
Absolutely. [Interruption.] Look, we have almost £1 trillion of public spending, and we were spending £700 billion back in 2010. We will make sure that, over the medium term, the debt is falling, and we will do that not by cutting public spending but by making sure we spend public money well. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about our spending on the energy price guarantee, which he does not seem to support, but the reality is that he cannot criticise us, on the one hand, for spending money while, on the other hand, claiming we are cutting public expenditure. [Interruption.]
Conservative Members can cheer. I hope they listened very carefully to that last answer, because other people will have listened very carefully. Who voted for this? Not homeowners paying an extra £500 on their mortgage. Who voted for this? Not working people paying for tax cuts for the largest companies. Who voted for this? Not even most of the MPs sitting behind her, who know they cannot pay for tax cuts on the never-never. Does she think the public will ever forgive the Conservative party if it keeps on defending this madness and goes ahead with its kamikaze Budget?
What our Budget has delivered is security for families for the next two winters. It has made sure we will see higher economic growth, lower inflation and more opportunities. The way we are going to get our country growing is through more jobs, more growth and more opportunities, not through higher taxes, higher spending and his friends in the unions stopping hard-working people getting to work.
I want to see more jobs, more opportunities and more homes for local people in Cornwall, which I know my hon. Friend is working towards with her colleagues. I am delighted that we are bringing forward these investment zones, which will give those opportunities to local people.
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the murder of David Amess a year ago? Our thoughts and prayers are very much with Julia and his family. Of course, we also think very much of those in Creeslough, who have been caught up in the terrible tragedy there.
I would have hoped that if the Prime Minister were making public spending commitments today, she would have said that those who rely on social security benefits will get their benefits uprated in line with inflation.
When the Prime Minister last stood at the Dispatch Box, the average two-year fixed-rate mortgage stood at 4.5%. It is now at 6.5% and rising, hitting average families with an extra £450 in mortgage payments every single month, over and above what they were paying. Thirty-seven days into the job, this is literally the cost of the Prime Minister’s incompetence. It is the price households are paying, and all because of the Chancellor she chose. Will she now give up on her desperate plan to save her Chancellor’s skin by scapegoating the Governor of the Bank of England?
The action we have taken has meant that families in Scotland and across the UK are not facing gargantuan energy bills. What the right hon. Gentleman and his friends in Scotland could do to help us out is build the nuclear power stations that are going to help our energy security and help us get more gas out of the North sea, to help deliver on a more secure energy future for all of our people.
If the Prime Minister wants to ask us questions, we can swap places. The reality is that she is ignoring the damage of the chaos of the mini-Budget. She is worrying about saving the Chancellor’s job, but many families are now worried about not just heating their homes, but keeping their homes. The scale of this Tory crisis is frightening: 100,000 households a month are up for mortgage renewals; people cannot afford to pay an extra £4,500 a year in interest, and plenty are already falling behind. The Prime Minister and her Chancellor have completely lost control. The only things growing under this Government are mortgages, rents and bills. Is that what she really meant when she declared herself a “pro-growth” Prime Minister?
We have taken action on helping families to heat their homes. That has been very important, and I would love to see more support on delivering the energy security we need. Interest rates are rising globally— that is a fact—and interest rates are a decision for the independent Bank of England. But I want to do all I can to help families across Britain. The way we are going to help them is by delivering economic growth, and by making sure we have the jobs and opportunities in Scotland and right across the UK. What independent forecasters have shown is that, following our intervention, economic growth is going to be higher than it would have been if we had not acted. That is vital for jobs, opportunities and livelihoods, and helping to make sure that people are able to put food on the table.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about our support for cleaner water. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) has asked from a sedentary position what we are doing about it. The Environment Secretary has increased the fines on water companies 100 times should they discharge sewage into waterways in an illegal way. We have acted.
May I associate myself and my colleagues with the remarks made about the tragic events in Creeslough in County Donegal? Our prayers continue to be with that devastated community.
I welcome the renewed negotiations with the European Union about the Northern Ireland protocol. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the outcome of those negotiations must reflect the objectives outlined by the Government in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, and that that is the key to unlocking the door to political stability in Northern Ireland?
I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman; we need to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. That means making sure that we have free-flowing trade east-west as well as north-south, it means making sure that the people of Northern Ireland can benefit from the same tax benefits as people in Great Britain, and it means resolving the issues over governance and regulation. I would prefer to achieve that through a negotiated solution with the EU, but if we are not able to do that, we cannot allow the situation to drift; we have to proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this health research is vitally important. I know that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is looking at whether and where the scheme can be expanded, and we will be doing further commissioning rounds to look at that issue.
What we have done as a Government is act decisively to deal with the very severe energy crisis we are facing. [Interruption.] We are facing a severe energy crisis. We are also facing a slowdown in economic growth globally due to Putin’s war in Ukraine, and not acting is not an option.
The energy price guarantee is a key part of the growth plan, but too few businesses and households know about it, even if the Labour Party does not support it. Can I urge the Prime Minister to have a nationwide mail-out campaign to communicate what the Government are doing to assess people on reduction of energy and, more particularly, to have a reduction-of-energy campaign for public buildings, so that we do not go down the route of spending too much on consumption?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I know that the Energy Secretary is working on a plan to help companies and individuals use energy more efficiently. We are also working on this across Government. I was delighted to speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) yesterday, and I hope we will be able to start this going in No. 10 straightaway.
First, may I say what a brilliant job our fantastic nurses do across the country? The figures the hon. Gentleman is quoting are simply wrong. The independent pay review body recommended a £1,400 rise on average, and that is what the Government are committed to delivering.
Following the loss of 27 lives last winter in the channel, the UK Government offered joint patrols to the French on the beaches. Can my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirm that she renewed that offer to President Macron when they met and, further, that there will be no new money and no fresh agreement with the French unless they agree to joint beach patrols and joint security across the channel to bring an end to the small boats crisis for good?
The Home Secretary is committed to dealing with this very difficult issue of the small boats in the channel. We do need to sort it out. We are committed to legislating and to getting an agreement with the French Government. I did discuss it with President Macron last week, and the Home Secretary is following up.
I completely understand that families are struggling. That is why this Government acted within a week of coming into office to put in place the energy price guarantee so that people are not facing £6,000 bills. That is why we reversed the increase in national insurance and why we are cutting basic rate tax so that families are keeping more of their own money. We are also making sure that the most vulnerable households get an extra £1,200 of support. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will communicate that to his constituents.
I thank the Prime Minister for her warm words about Sir David Amess, who is sorely missed in this place.
Small and medium-sized enterprises are the lifeblood of our economy and I warmly welcome the expansion of the small business threshold. Does my right hon. Friend agree that only the Conservative party is on the side of enterprise in its determination to unleash the full potential of our great country?
We in the Conservative party understand who pays our wages—it is the people who get up every day to go to work and the businesses that are set up. Those are the people driving our economy and we will be unashamedly pro-growth, pro-business and pro-opportunity.
First, let me offer my best wishes to the hon. Lady on her appointment as chair of the Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust. I can assure her and colleagues around the House that fracking will only go ahead in areas where there is local community support.
Two weeks ago, a bomb in Afghanistan killed 35 girls and young women. They were Hazaras, from the country’s second-largest ethnic minority, who are being massacred under the Taliban. Today, outside Parliament, Hazaras from across the UK, including from my constituency, are gathering to call for international support to stop the slaughter, and we are joined by representatives of the Hazara Committee in UK. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister support the Hazaras in trying to stop the killings and arrange for her Ministers to meet their representatives?
What is taking place in Afghanistan is extremely concerning, I am afraid, with the reversal of women’s rights and women’s opportunities. One of the things we have done is to make sure that we are restoring the aid budget for women and girls, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be very happy to meet the group to discuss further.
I want to correct the hon. Lady, because what we are doing is simply not putting up corporation tax. It is not a tax cut; we are just not raising corporation tax. I feel it would be wrong, in a time when we are trying to attract investment into our country and at a time of global economic slowdown, to be raising taxes, because it will bring less revenue in. The way we are going to get the money to fund our national health service and to fund our schools is by having a strong economy, with companies investing and creating jobs.
I fully support this Government’s growth agenda, but would the Prime Minister agree that that can be achieved while also protecting and restoring our precious nature and ecosystems and working with our farmers, so that we meet our legally binding target to restore nature by 2030? I know she understands that; she has precious chalk streams in her own constituency. Will she agree that, if we get this right, there will be more jobs, skills and opportunities, because every nation in the world depends on its natural environment?
My hon. Friend did a fantastic job promoting the natural environment when she was at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We are going to deliver economic growth in an environmentally friendly way. This is about improving the processes and delivering better outcomes for the environment while making sure we have a growing economy as well. Those two things go hand in hand.
We are pulling every lever to improve our energy supply in Britain, whether that is the North sea and opening up more opportunity there, which those on the Opposition Front Bench are against, whether it is fracking, whether it is more renewables, which I am very supportive of, whether it is more solar panels in the right place or whether it is more nuclear power stations, which are opposed by the SNP. We are doing everything we can, because we can never again be in a situation where we are dependent on authoritarian regimes for our energy.
Over the past week, serious safeguarding failures by the children’s charity Mermaids have come to light, with revelations that the charity sent breast-flattening devices to young girls behind their parents’ backs, promoted harmful medical and surgical procedures to children and hired a trustee with links to paedophile organisations and a digital engagement manager who posted pornographic images online, including of himself dressed as a schoolgirl. For years, despite whistleblowers’ raising the alarm, Mermaids has had unfettered access to vulnerable children. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it has taken far too long for these concerns to be taken seriously, and does she also agree that it is high time there was a police investigation into the activities of Mermaids and its staff?
It is very important that under-18s are able to develop their own decision-making capabilities and are not forced into any kind of activity. On the subject of the investigation that my hon. Friend raises, of course, those matters should be raised and looked at properly.
For my Richmond Park constituents and communities across south-west London, from Wimbledon to Elmbridge, any expansion of Heathrow would be disastrous. A third runway would see over 6 million more tonnes of carbon pumped into the atmosphere every year, and 2 million households would be affected by increased noise levels. Last week, the Transport Secretary said that she supported Heathrow expansion. The Prime Minister has previously stated that she would support a fourth runway. Does she stand by her previous comments, or will she rule out Government support for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow?
I absolutely agree with what the Transport Secretary said. We need to make sure that industries such as the air industry become more environmentally friendly. I support the development of low-carbon technology in those sectors. That is the way that we will help to grow the economy but also serve the environment.
I am delighted to hear that the Prime Minister is such a champion for nuclear. When will the mission and plan for Great British Nuclear be announced? The market needs the confidence to invest in new nuclear, such as at Wylfa in my constituency of Ynys Môn, to help us to achieve net zero, for our energy security, and to get thousands of high-quality jobs.
I can tell my hon. Friend that Great British Nuclear will be set up this year, and it will bring forward new nuclear projects. I am delighted about her support for Wylfa and for making sure that we have nuclear power provided in Wales. I would like to see that right across the United Kingdom.
May I welcome the Prime Minister to her place? I am not sure how to measure a good honeymoon, but after five weeks of a crisis conceived in Downing Street—a crash in pensions, interest rates rising, mortgage market turmoil and complete financial chaos—the country has been left wanting divorce. In two recent polls, 60% of those in this country want an immediate general election. The Prime Minister claims that she is listening mode; will she give way to the public?