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Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 12 October 2022

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?

Q2. During a recent visit to the children’s ward at York Hospital, I was shocked to learn that paediatric waiting time targets were the same as those for adult patients. As we know, any delay in treatments for young patients can have a damaging effect on their development and prospects. May I ask the Prime Minister to look at this as a matter of urgency? (901530)

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?

Last night, the Labour party supported bringing down national insurance. Is he really—[Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the Prime Minister. I am sorry if her own party doesn’t, but I certainly do.

Order. We do not want an early bath at this stage. The rugby world cup is coming, but let us not start it too soon. Let us hear the questions and the answers.

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.

Q4. I want to see growth and jobs in east Cornwall, and I believe an investment zone could help. Will the Prime Minister back me and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) in supporting an investment zone for the Liskeard and Bodmin area? (901532)

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.

Q8. The Wey Navigation winds through the heart of Guildford and is a much-treasured part of our local environment. I welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last week that the Environment Agency will be able to increase fines on water companies for serious breaches of the rules to up to £250 million per breach. Will the Prime Minister confirm that no MP voted to discharge sewage into our waterways, and that it is beneath the Opposition parties and their activists to keep repeating that outright lie? (901536)

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.

Q10. Addressing health inequalities is a key part of levelling up, so I welcome this week’s news of £50 million to fund research into health disparities. We know that poor health affects not only life expectancy but prosperity and, more widely, economic resilience and growth. Would my right hon. Friend therefore consider a future expansion of these research schemes to other parts of the north and the Greater Manchester region, to encourage more healthcare research partnerships between our great universities and our local authorities? (901538)

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.

Q3. Prime Minister, you have had a holiday, I think in Birmingham, where you were preaching to the choir—although a few MPs who were there appeared to be singing from a different song sheet. Prime Minister, your Government is now outrageously flirting with disaster, financially and socially. We have just heard that the increase in mortgage repayments will dwarf the rise in heating bills. How will you cope with the resultant increase in homelessness? (901531)

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.

Q5. During the lockdown we clapped them, and then we laid wreaths for healthcare staff who had died on the frontline. How quickly our nurses have gone from the country’s heroes to this Government’s villains—offered a derisory 72p a week pay rise and then painted as militants for daring to have the audacity to ballot for industrial action for the first time in a century. Claps do not pay the bills, and neither does a 72p pay rise. Nurses are leaving the NHS in their droves, feeling abandoned by this Government. Surely even the Prime Minister agrees that the Government have their priorities wrong when they are uncapping the bonuses of the bankers and at the same time offering derisory pay rises to our treasured NHS staff. (901533)

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.

Q6. This Friday, Christine Grahame MSP and I are hosting a community drop-in event on the cost of living crisis in Gorebridge. This will be a chance for local residents to meet with a range of partners to get advice and guidance on what they can do to survive the current crisis. I extend an invitation to the Prime Minister to come to this event on Friday so that my constituents can ask her directly what real-life experience means to her—so that she can address the cost rises that they are facing and apologise to them for the disastrous decisions that her Government are making. (901534)

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.

Q7. My constituents were absolutely delighted that the fracking application in West Lancashire was withdrawn after a moratorium was declared. Since then, we have not seen any new scientific evidence that indicates that fracking would now be safe. Despite that, the Government have decided to reverse that moratorium, committing to granting fracking licences only in areas that have local consent. I would be grateful if the Prime Minister would reassure West Lancashire residents —my constituents—and please explain in detail how she will honour her statement that no fracking licences will be forced on communities that do not want them. (901535)

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.

Q9. The Government’s botched Budget gave unfunded tax cuts to some of the richest companies, while across the country there are hospitals worried that their roofs might collapse at any moment: Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Frimley Park Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which is in the Prime Minister’s own local area. Those are just three of a number of hospitals that together need hundreds of millions of pounds, some of them urgently. Will the Prime Minister promise that every affected hospital will be given the money it needs to fix those dangerous roofs in the next 12 months? (901537)

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.

Q11. The Prime Minister wants us to believe that fracking will reduce our energy bills, but it was not so long ago that her Chancellor said that those calling for fracking’s return “misunderstand the situation”, saying:“No amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price any time soon.”I ask the Prime Minister: is the Chancellor wrong about that? (901539)

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?