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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2022


The Secretary of State was asked—


I am honoured to take my first questions as Secretary of State. I ask the House to remember that Friday will mark the 56th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, which, even with the passage of time, remains searingly painful. We will never forget, and we will still mourn, all those who lost their lives.

My Department has worked alongside the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that the freeport offer works for Wales. Over the summer, we successfully agreed a prospectus for Wales with the Welsh Government, which was launched in early September. This takes us one step closer to investment, growth and long-term prosperity.

May I be the first to welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to his place and to align myself with his comments about the Aberfan disaster? I remember being taught about it in school as a child of roughly the same age: it made a deep, profound and lasting impression on me.

By making it easier and cheaper to do business, freeports drive not only local and regional growth, but national growth—growing the pie, as we have learned to call it. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give further details on how freeports in Wales can help to level up local areas and help their prosperity?

We are committed to establishing at least one freeport in Wales by the summer of next year, with £26 million in seed funding. The bidding process is still open; I am sure that we will see some excellent bids. The estimates for the Teesside freeport and Freeport East initiatives are that they will both create more than 18,000 jobs and provide a £3.2 billion boost to their local economy. I anticipate a similar boost to the Welsh economy.

I have just returned from the World Trade Organisation in Geneva as a rapporteur for the Council of Europe. There is some concern there about how freeports might undermine internationally agreed labour standards and might be a safe haven for carbon-intensive production. What meetings has the Secretary of State had with the WTO about the matter? Will he meet me about it? Can he give an assurance that there will be no reduction in labour standards and no dirty production in these freeports?

I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have enjoyed lively exchanges over the years. I assure him that in the prospectus he will see a specific reference to the Senedd’s Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Along with giving assurances as to our UK Government’s standards, I can assure him that the sort of concerns that have been outlined are unfounded and that he will find encouragement in the green initiatives that I am sure will thrive with the freeports project.

May I say on behalf of the Labour party, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), that we are all thinking of the community of Aberfan this week?

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new role. He must be very pleased, following his summer U-turn, that the Prime Minister has been taking daily lessons from him. The Welsh Government’s Minister for Finance and Local Government, Rebecca Evans, is now dealing with her sixth Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Can the Secretary of State explain how it is possible to progress the Welsh freeports prospectus with such an appallingly chaotic and unstable UK Government ahead of the 31 October Budget announcement?

I assure the hon. Lady that the time that I have had as Secretary of State has been time well spent. Throughout the summer, I made sure that the prospectus process for the freeports initiative was maintained. I worked with the then Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), to make that so.

I assure the hon. Lady that we have not lost a beat in my time in office. The fact that there may be changes in personnel does not change the Government’s growth strategy, which remains on course and which I think deserves the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The Budget has been ripped up and the manifesto has been ripped up, but there we go. The UK Government’s original approach was to ignore devolution and impose a freeport on Wales; the Welsh Government put a stop to that and to the harm to the environment, to workers’ rights and to Wales’s finances that it would have caused. The UK Government’s latest version of freeports appears to be investment zones. Has the Secretary of State actually seen any evidence that proves his Government’s claim that they create growth, rather than just displace it?

I find it concerning that the hon. Lady does not share my enthusiasm for freeports and investment zones. I think of examples from the past in Wales, when inspirational Secretaries of State such as the late Lord Crickhowell, Peter Walker and Lord Hunt of Wirral demonstrated that, through enterprise zones and, for example, the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, the economy could be transformed and regenerated. I am confident that our approach to investment zones will ensure that Wales shares in the growing prosperity that we want to see throughout our United Kingdom. I believe it will generate more investment and grow that economic pie, which is the aspiration of this Government.

This Government have been forced to U-turn on their fundamental ideology that slashing taxes magically leads to economic growth. That same ideology underpins freeports and investment zones. Both will shrink the UK Government’s tax revenue and, in turn, the Welsh Government's budget, which is already facing a £4 billion shortfall. With inflation now over 10%, what is the Secretary of State doing in the Cabinet to protect Wales’s budget?

I yield to none in my admiration for the right hon. Lady, but she has just laid bare Plaid Cymru’s ideological approach. Her party believes that there should be an ever-shrinking share of wealth, which means that our public services would decline. We on this side of the House believe that the way in which to pay for public services is to grow our economy, and it is through initiatives such as the freeports and investment zones that we will do just that. I hope that the Welsh public will note Plaid Cymru’s ideological opposition to growth.

The Secretary of State is on record as saying that he believes it is right to make cuts in public spending—and that was before last week's multiple U-turns. According to the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, the last Tory austerity experiment led to 335,000 excess deaths. How many excess deaths is the Secretary of State prepared to justify this time round?

I am sorry, but hyperbole from the right hon. Lady does not help her case at all. We are not talking about so-called austerity; we are talking about ensuring that the money allocated in the public spending round that was agreed last year is spent efficiently and wisely. I said that it was right for each Department to look carefully at its priorities to ensure that frontline services—the sort of services in which I know she and I believe—are maintained for the benefit of the citizens whom we serve.

Cost of Living Crisis: Devolved Budget, Households and Businesses

2. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on (a) the devolved budget, (b) Welsh households, and (c) businesses in Wales. (901665)

5. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on (a) the devolved budget, (b) Welsh households, and (c) businesses in Wales. (901668)

11. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on (a) the devolved budget, (b) Welsh households, and (c) businesses in Wales. (901674)

15. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on (a) the devolved budget, (b) Welsh households, and (c) businesses in Wales. (901678)

We have taken action to support households and businesses across Great Britain, including Wales, through schemes such as the energy bill relief scheme and the £400 energy bill rebate. The Welsh Government have been very well funded to deliver their devolved responsibilities, with the largest ever block grant of £18 billion in the 2021 spending review.

The Secretary of State’s U-turn during the Tory leadership election was indeed truly eye-catching, but the U-turn about which people in Wales are most concerned at the moment is the Government’s U-turn on properly protecting benefits and pensions against skyrocketing inflation. Will the Minister be U-turning on that commitment as well, or will he fight the good fight in favour of proper uprating?

This Government will always be committed to supporting the least well off, which is why we have come forward with schemes such as the £650 payment for those on benefits, the £300 for pensioner households and the £150 for those who are disabled. If the hon. Gentleman is really worried about the cost of living, perhaps it is time he persuaded his Government to start supporting new nuclear and the new oil and gas fields that we so desperately need for the energy that people want.

I have just come from chairing the all-party parliamentary group on poverty, which has heard that the cost of living crisis will exacerbate the digital divides experienced by so many people in poorer communities. Will the Minister agree to meet the APPG to discuss how that affects people in Carmarthenshire, in Carmyle, and throughout these islands?

I meet stakeholders who are dealing with poverty all the time, but if the hon. Gentleman is interested in dealing with poverty, perhaps he will be able to find out from his own Scottish National party Government why poverty levels in Scotland are rising, and why even the Labour party in Wales is making a better job of dealing with child poverty than his Government.

The Secretary of State loves to tell a good story, does he not? The UK Government have already slashed devolved budgets by billions this financial year, and on Monday the Chancellor announced that plans for the millions of pounds that were meant to go to devolved nations for cost of living support were now to be abandoned. How does the Secretary of State think that slashing devolved budgets supports the supposed levelling-up agenda?

The hon. Lady gave me a bit of a promotion there; I am the Minister, not the Secretary of State. I am not telling stories. The figures about child poverty in Scotland come from Audit Scotland, which is responsible to the Scottish Government. I suggest that she takes a look at the other figures, which show that far from cutting Wales’s devolved budget the UK Government have increased it every single year, and did so by £2 billion in the last financial year.

Hundreds of thousands will find themselves in fuel poverty should average energy costs rise next April to the estimated £4,347 a year, as a result of the Government rowing back on their own proposals. How can the Minister claim that his party is fighting the cost of living crisis, when his Government are cutting back on the few measures that they have announced before they are even implemented?

I am afraid that I did not hear all of the question, but I believe the hon. Gentleman mentioned fuel poverty. I remind him again that the Government are doing everything possible to ensure that people in this country can access the cheap gas, cheap electricity and cheap petrol that they need. It is members of his Government in Scotland who are doing their best to prevent that from happening.

In welcoming the contributions from our friends from the Scottish National party to Wales questions, may I politely remind them that in March 2020 the Government stepped in to save thousands of businesses in every single one of our constituencies, protecting hundreds of thousands of jobs? Does that not demonstrate the value of staying part of a strong United Kingdom, and that the Government do not walk away from serious challenges but meet them head on?

My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I could not put it better myself. The Government will stand up for the Union, and for the least well-off in society.

Nearly 60% of my constituents on Ynys Môn rely on off-grid energy for heating. The average cost of filling an oil tank has almost doubled in the last year. On behalf of my constituents, will the Minister look at more targeted support for those on off-grid heating and liquefied petroleum gas?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Government have already come through with a £100 payment for those who are off-grid, but I believe that there are genuine issues there, and she makes a very good point. I am sure that our colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury will look carefully at what she has said.

The Minister referred to the significant increases in the Welsh block grant over the past 10 years, which equate to £120 for every £100 spent in England. In spite of that very fair settlement, accepted and recognised by the Welsh Government, health waiting lists are longer, education standards are falling compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, and the economy is growing at a much slower pace. Does he agree that the Welsh Government need to focus on the right priorities: investing in public services and getting value for money?

My right hon. Friend was responsible for ensuring that the Welsh Government got a more generous package than they had previously—£1.20 for every £1 spent in England. It is therefore very hard to understand why, under a Welsh Labour Government, health service waiting lists and ambulance response times have got longer. People have lower standards of healthcare in Wales than they do under a Conservative-run NHS in England, and Welsh Labour needs to take responsibility for that.

Rail Infrastructure Funding

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on funding for rail infrastructure in Wales. (901666)

The Secretary of State and I regularly engage with Cabinet Ministers on a range of transport measures. Over £340 million has already been provided for rail enhancements in Wales, including at Cardiff Central station and for the electrification of the Severn tunnel.

Will the Minister explain why Wales is not receiving the £5 billion of consequential funding from HS2 that it is entitled to under the Barnett formula, and will he review that decision, as the Welsh Conservative party is also calling for?

HS2 is of course a UK-wide project, which is partly being brought forward in order to enable the maximum number of people to get out of their cars and on to the trains, to use public transport, which I hope the Liberal Democrats would fully support. At the same time, the UK Government have been spending money to improve not only the rail service in Wales but rail services for travellers who go from Wales into England, such as through the Severn tunnel electrification. The UK Government have an extremely good record on supporting railways in Wales.

Avanti trains sometimes trundle along the rail infrastructure of north Wales, but these days it is an increasingly infrequent occurrence. Avanti has provided a shockingly poor service to the people of north Wales, and many of my constituents were deeply unhappy when the Department for Transport decided to extend its franchise for a further six months to give it a further chance. Will my hon. Friend please urge his counterpart in the Department for Transport to make sure this is Avanti’s last chance?

A number of colleagues from north Wales have discussed Avanti’s performance in colourful terms, and I am sure Avanti will have listened to what my right hon. Friend has had to say, as will the Department for Transport, which I can confirm will be assessing Avanti’s performance before any further contracts are given out.

It seems that rewarding failure is this Government’s guiding principle, and even Conservative Members agree. Avanti West Coast is the worst performing operator on the rail network, but Ministers spent an eye-watering £4 million of taxpayers’ money on bonuses to company executives for

“customer experience and acting as a good operator.”

Does the Minister agree that this is simply not good enough for the businesses and people of north Wales?

I have already said that I accept many concerns have been raised about Avanti’s performance, but it all goes to show why it is important to modernise the rail network across the whole of Wales. That is exactly what the UK Government are doing at the moment.

Mortgage Interest Rate Rises

4. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of rising mortgage interest rates on households in Wales. (901667)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of topics. Of course, interest rates are rightly a matter for the independent Bank of England. We have announced unprecedented support for households and businesses. Through our cut to stamp duty, the Welsh Government are expected to receive £70 million, enabling them to follow suit with cuts to land transaction tax in Wales.

At the weekend, I met a young couple in their early 30s who are coming off a five-year fixed mortgage rate. Their mortgage is going up by more than £300 a month, and they squarely blame the Government and the Prime Minister’s poor mismanagement of our economy. It is the Conservative Government’s U-turn that caused economic chaos, it is the Conservative Government who caused mortgage rates to go through the roof and it is the Conservative Government who are causing mortgage firms to withdraw all their support. Will the Secretary of State now apologise to my constituents and people across the land who are being crippled by huge mortgage increases every single month due to this Conservative failure?

It is a Conservative Government who, through Help to Buy, have helped more than 361,000 first-time buyers on to the housing ladder. It is a Conservative Government who led to unemployment at record lows. It is a Conservative Government who have increased the national living wage to £9.50 an hour. And it is a Conservative Government who will lead to interest rates being controlled, which will help mortgage holders, too. The hon. Gentleman’s hyperbole does not serve him well.

Domestic Energy Costs: Differential Between Wales and Rest of UK

6. What recent estimate he has made of the differential in domestic energy costs between Wales and the rest of the UK. (901669)

Most recent data demonstrates that households in Wales pay a price broadly on par with the average across Great Britain for variable unit costs and standing charges for gas and electricity. Our energy price guarantee will save households hundreds of pounds this winter compared with current wholesale cost projections.

My constituent Mr Evans in the town of Kidwelly cannot benefit from a lower tariff for the electricity he uses in off-peak times because, as the engineers have explained to him, the smart meter he needs will not function owing to the almost non-existent mobile phone signal in the area, which is due to the UK Government’s failure to roll out mobile phone technology, while allowing smart meters that work only on mobile phone signals. Will the Secretary of State now have urgent talks with ministerial colleagues to put it right and end this discrimination?

I will be interested to take up that case in more detail with the hon. Lady. However, the Government, in acting radically on energy price intervention and with our Energy Prices Bill, which seeks to break the link between electricity and gas prices, are taking the sort of action that is absolutely necessary to help households such as her constituent. Of course, I will be happy to talk further about the particular disadvantage that her constituent faces.

Cost of Living Rise

7. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on helping people in Wales with the rising cost of living. (901670)

I have frequent discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of matters, including the cost of living. As I have previously said today, we are supporting households and businesses across Wales with the cost of living challenges, including on energy costs.

People in Carmarthenshire who are off the gas grid have seen huge increases in heating costs—for oil, LPG and solid fuels. The alternative fuel payment of £100 does not seem to be equivalent to the cap for gas. Will the Minister write to Welsh MPs outlining the methodology used by the British Government to calculate the AFP rate?

I am sure that my Treasury colleagues will be able to help with that, but there is one thing that the hon. Gentleman could do as well if he wants to support people on the cost of living challenges in Wales: persuade his Plaid Cymru colleagues to vote against Welsh Labour’s proposals to revalue council tax bands in Wales, which are going to be catastrophic for the finances of hundreds of thousands of people across Wales.

Police Funding

8. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the adequacy of levels of police funding in Wales. (901671)

The four Welsh police forces are adequately funded and will receive combined funding of up to £826.7 million in 2022-23, an increase of up to £45.1 million on the previous financial year. Gwent’s funding will be up to £159.1 million, an increase of £9.1 million on the previous financial year.

South Wales police’s area contains Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, yet it gets no extra resources for the extra responsibilities that comes with that. Will the Secretary of State make representations to his Government colleagues to address this anomaly?

South Wales police’s funding will be up to £352.5 in 2022-23, an increase of £19 million on the previous financial year. If the hon. Gentleman wants to do something to support police forces in Wales, may I suggest that he talks to the Welsh Labour Government about their failure to hand over the apprenticeship levy, which is being held back by them and should be passed on to police forces so that—[Interruption.]

Order. When somebody is answering the question, will Members please wait until it has been completed? Mr Davies was answering Mr David’s question. I call Selaine Saxby.

Floating Offshore Wind Locations in Celtic Sea

10. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of establishing floating offshore wind locations in the Celtic sea. (901673)

Floating offshore wind projects in the Celtic sea will contribute to our net zero ambitions and our energy security, and will generate economic growth and create highly skilled jobs in our coastal communities. I regularly meet the Crown Estate to discuss progress on bringing forward the ambition of 4 GW of projects by 2035.

In order to realise the full potential of the Celtic sea, we need a timely consenting process from the Welsh Government. What discussions has my right hon. and learned Friend had with his Welsh counterparts on the consenting process for the development of floating offshore wind sites?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her consistent advocacy for projects in the Celtic sea as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the Celtic sea. The necessity for securing timely consents is an imperative, and I will continue to work with the Welsh Government and all stakeholders to ensure that the huge opportunities that this presents are capitalised upon.

North Wales Growth Deal

The Wales Office has been fully supporting the north Wales growth deal as it begins to deliver projects on the ground, and my officials will work closely with all partners in north Wales to ensure that the deal continues to deliver growth and investment across the region.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Perhaps inevitably, not all projects initially identified for delivery through the north Wales growth deal can be progressed, and that applies to the Bodelwyddan key strategic site. Will he encourage a flexible approach to diverting the £10 million of funds that had been earmarked to Bodelwyddan to other economic development projects within Denbighshire?

Obviously, it is for Ambition North Wales to bring forward projects for the UK Government and the Welsh Government to approve, but we have taken a very flexible view of the whole thing. I assure my hon. Friend that despite the international financial problems, which all countries are facing at the moment, this Government remain absolutely committed to support jobs, driving growth and levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom, including in his constituency.

Investment Zones: Impact on Welsh Economy

13. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of investment zones on the Welsh economy. (901676)

Investment zones will be created right across the UK, and our intention in Wales is to design and deliver the policy by working with the Welsh Government and local agencies to increase growth.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Is it not incumbent on the Welsh Government to co-operate fully with the UK Government in order to ensure success for all the people of Wales?

My hon. Friend puts it extremely well. We have a good example with freeports. I very much hope that the Welsh Government step up to the plate on investment zones.

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

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

When the penny dropped for the Prime Minister on Monday and she realised that her Budget was responsible for crashing the economy, she should have come to this House to explain herself and to apologise to the millions of people who will now be paying hundreds of pounds extra a month on their mortgages because of her mistakes. Now that she is here, can she tell us, given the absolute chaos that her Government have created, why the previous Chancellor lost his job but she kept hers?

I have been very clear that I am sorry and that I have made mistakes, but the right thing to do in those circumstances is to make changes, which I have made, and to get on with the job and deliver for the British people. We have delivered the energy price guarantee, we have helped people this winter, and I will continue to do that.

Q3.   Does the Prime Minister agree that local people and local councils are best placed to decide how many houses they need and where those houses should go? If she does, will she end the top-down approach to housing targets and reduce, or preferably remove, the powers of the Planning Inspectorate? (901716)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we will abolish the top-down housing targets. We want decisions about homes and infrastructure to be driven by local people, not by Whitehall, and that is why we are setting up new, locally driven investment zones.

A book is being written about the Prime Minister’s time in office. Apparently, it is going to be out by Christmas. Is that the release date or the title?

I have been in office for just under two months, and I have delivered the energy price guarantee, making sure that people are not paying £6,000 bills this winter; I have reversed the national insurance increase; and I have also taken steps—and we will be taking steps—to crack down on the militant unions. I think that is more of a record of action than the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his two and a half years in the job.

Last week, the Prime Minister ignored every question put to her. Instead, she repeatedly criticised Labour’s plan for a six-month freeze on energy bills. This week, the Chancellor made it her policy. How can she be held to account when she is not in charge?

Our policy is to protect the most vulnerable for two years. I had to take the decision, because of the economic situation, to adjust our policies. I am somebody who is prepared to front up. I am prepared to take the tough decisions, unlike the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who has not done anything on businesses and who has done nothing to say he will protect people after one year. He has got no plan.

Last week, the Prime Minister stood there and promised absolutely no spending reductions. Conservative Members all cheered. This week, the Chancellor announced a new wave of cuts. What is the point of a Prime Minister whose promises do not even last a week?

I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that spending will go up next year and it will go up the year after, but of course we need to get value for taxpayers’ money. The Labour party has pledged hundreds of billions in spending pledges, none of which it has retracted. He needs to reflect the economic reality in his policies.

Those spending cuts are on the table for one reason and one reason only: because the Conservatives crashed the economy. Working people will have to pay £500 more a month on their mortgages, and what is the Prime Minister’s response? It is to say that she is sorry. What does she think people will think and say: “That’s all right; I don’t mind financial ruin, and at least she apologised”?

I do think that there has to be some reflection of economic reality from the Labour party. The fact is that interest rates are rising across the world and the economic conditions have worsened. We are being honest and levelling with the public, unlike the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who simply will not do that. What is he doing about the fact that train workers are again going on strike? The fact is that he refuses to condemn the workers. We are bringing forward policies that will make sure our railways are protected and that people going to work are protected. He backs the strikers; we back the strivers.

The Prime Minister is asking me questions because we are a Government in waiting and they are an Opposition in waiting. There is no getting away from this. Millions of people are facing horrendous mortgage repayments and she has admitted that it is her fault. She should not have conducted an economic experiment on the British public. But it is not just her; Tory MPs put her there. They are keeping her there. Why on earth would anyone trust the Tories with the economy ever again?

I notice that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not actually objecting to a single economic policy that the Chancellor announced on Monday. He is refusing to condemn the strikers. We are on the side of working people. We will legislate to make sure that we keep our railways open. The right hon. and learned Gentleman refuses to do anything.

The only mandate that the Prime Minister has ever had is from Government Members. It was a mandate built on fantasy economics and it ended in disaster. The country has nothing to show for it except for the destruction of the economy and the implosion of the Tory party. I have the list here: 45p tax cut—gone; corporation tax cut—gone; 20p tax cut—gone; two-year energy freeze—gone; tax-free shopping—gone; economic credibility—gone. Her supposed best friend, the former Chancellor, has gone as well. They are all gone. So why is she still here?

I am a fighter and not a quitter. I have acted in the national interest to make sure that we have economic stability—

Order. I am going to hear the Prime Minister. I suggest that all Members need to hear the answer.

I am a fighter, not a quitter. We have delivered on the energy price guarantee—[Interruption.] We have! We have delivered on national insurance. We are going to deliver to stop the militant trade unions disrupting our railways. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has no idea. He has no plan and he has no alternative.

I call James Grundy. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Order. I must say he is obviously a most popular choice. Come on, James Grundy—you have a future.

Q4. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Leigh Centurions rugby league team on their recent promotion to the super league, bringing millions to the local economy? Furthermore, will she guarantee that our excellent women’s Euros team, including Ella Toone from Tyldesley in my constituency, will receive the No. 10 reception that they so deserve? (901717)

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Leigh Centurions on their return to the super league. I had the huge privilege of meeting the Lionesses last week—a fantastic team who won a major tournament for us—and we will host a Downing Street reception as soon as their training programme makes them available.

I look forward to a rugby league invite as well.

Let us now come to the leader of the SNP, Ian Blackford.

After 10 U-turns in two weeks, we are left with a Prime Minister in office but not in power, and families are paying through the teeth for her mistakes. Her latest broken promise has put pensioners in the frontline of Tory cuts. Can she perhaps turn to her Chancellor right now, get permission to make another U-turn and commit to raising the state pension at the rate of inflation?

I honestly do not know what the right hon. Gentleman is talking about. We have been clear in our manifesto that we will maintain the triple lock. I am completely committed to it and so is the Chancellor.

It is not surprising that the Prime Minister’s approval ratings are collapsing with an answer like that. She has the worst polling result for any Prime Minister in history. She has just thrown 12 million pensioners under the Tory bus, and it is not just pensioners feeling the pain. In the last week alone—[Interruption.]

It is not just pensioners feeling the pain. In the last week alone, inflation has risen to a 40-year high, mortgage rates are at the highest level since the financial crash and people’s energy bills are about to rise to more than £5,000. Can the Prime Minister answer one simple question: why does she expect everyone else to pay the price for her failure?

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can take yes for an answer. I have been clear that we are protecting the triple lock on pensions. If he is concerned about the economy, why does he continue to advocate for separatism, which would plunge the Scottish economy into chaos?

Q5. Over the last couple of years, thousands of homes have been proposed or built in the Birmingham, Northfield constituency, putting a huge strain on GP and dentist appointments. Does my right hon. Friend agree that more needs to be done in the planning process to ensure that, when we have large-scale developments, we have more capacity in those vital services? (901718)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When we build new houses, we need to make sure there are GP surgeries, schools and infrastructure. That is why we are introducing a new infrastructure levy to make sure that more of the money from developers goes on supporting local communities.

Millions of family carers have been forced to cut back on food and heating. One told Carers UK:

“My son is incontinent… if we don’t wash him in warm water several times a day this will cause him to physically decline. So how do we pay for the gas to heat the water if we are currently at max budget?”

Vulnerable people and carers are struggling enough already in this cost of living crisis, so will the Prime Minister guarantee that support for the vulnerable, including carer’s allowance, will rise by at least today’s inflation rate of 10.1%?

People are struggling. It is difficult at the moment. That is why we put in place the energy price guarantee to make sure the typical household is not paying more than £2,500. It is why we have supplied an extra £1,200 of support to the most vulnerable. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will always support the most vulnerable. They will be our priority.

Q7.   Brecon and Radnorshire has a proud military footprint, not least the Cambrian Patrol exercise, which I visited last week. It is considered the Olympic gold medal in infantry training, attracting teams from across the world to compete in a 60 km march over two days in the Brecon Beacons. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating all who took part, not least the team of Gurkha soldiers from the Infantry Battle School in Brecon, who took home a coveted gold medal, further cementing Brecon’s special place in the UK armed forces? (901720)

I join my hon. Friend in thanking everybody at Brecon barracks, which organises Exercise Cambrian Patrol each year. It is a world-class training exercise. I congratulate Brecon’s Gurkha soldiers on their fantastic achievement of a gold medal—well done!

Q6. It took just five working days for the Prime Minister to crash the pound, damage pension funds and send people’s mortgage costs spiralling. Her new Chancellor may have reversed almost all of her policies, but the damage has been done, and we now face yet another round of Tory cuts and austerity. I would like to ask the Prime Minister and those sitting behind her: why is she still at the Dispatch Box, and when will voters get their say on this disastrous Government? (901719)

We are facing very, very difficult economic times. I took the decision I had to in the interests of economic stability. What is important is that we work together, including with the SNP, to get through this winter and grow the economy.

Q8. The Prime Minister is to be commended for securing the passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through this House without amendment before the summer recess. Can she confirm that it is the Government’s intention that the Bill should remain unamended, and, in particular, that the European Court of Justice should have no jurisdiction in any part of the United Kingdom? (901721)

I am completely committed to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. It deals with the very specific issues we face in Northern Ireland, the free flow of trade and making sure that the people of Northern Ireland are able to benefit from being part of the United Kingdom. I can tell my right hon. Friend that any negotiations will reflect the same position that is in the protocol Bill.

Q11. We understand that this afternoon’s vote on fracking is deemed a confidence vote in the Prime Minister. Can she give us any reason why her own Back Benchers or anyone in this country can have confidence in her after her policies have caused chaos in the markets and wrecked the economy? (901724)

We do face very difficult economic times. I have been honest about the mistakes I have made, but what I do not apologise for is the fact that we have helped households through this winter with the energy price guarantee, the fact that we have reversed the national insurance rise and the fact that we are taking action to get our railways running rather than being disrupted by the militant trade unions that the hon. Lady supports.

Q9. There have been a number of low points recently, including the Republic of Ireland’s football team singing pro-IRA songs in the changing room. We should never forget the sacrifice of those who paid the price to maintain the peace during the troubles. Closer to home, recent events have meant that spending will be more constrained than originally thought. May I encourage the Prime Minister to ensure that we retain compassion in politics in these decisions, including maintaining the link between benefits and inflation? Will she do that? (901722)

We are compassionate Conservatives. We will always work to protect the most vulnerable, and that is what we did with the energy price guarantee. We are going to make sure that the most vulnerable are protected into year two, and I am sure that the Chancellor has heard my hon. Friend’s representations on the contents of the medium-term fiscal plan.

Q13.   Like the public at large, I have supported the Government in the actions they have taken to support Ukraine, not least because of what is at stake there, but right now, as the public deal with rising prices, inflation, mortgage costs and much else, Ukraine fatigue is a real and present danger. I am afraid to say to the Prime Minister that she is now an active driver against the public support that has so unified many of us to do what needs to be done. In a time when resolve needs to be steeled, will she commit from the Dispatch Box that the economic, military and political support for Ukraine will not be another casualty under this Prime Minister? (901726)

One of my first acts in office was to make sure that the military support we give to Ukraine equals the military support we gave this year. We must make sure that Ukraine wins. It can win, it will win, and it must win.

Q10.   I thank the Prime Minister for sticking by her words and giving communities in Fylde the final say on fracking, but as always the devil is in the detail. Will the Prime Minister assure me that local consent will be measured independently and transparently, that in no circumstances will fracking companies be directly engaged in assessing local consent, and that if people in Fylde say no, that view and that decision will be respected and acted on by this Government? (901723)

I agree very strongly with my hon. Friend. I know he cares deeply about this issue. I assure him that we will consult on a robust system of local consent and give clear advice on seismic limits and safety before any fracking takes place. The consultation will consider all the relevant people—the regional Mayors, the local authorities and parishes—and the concerns of those who are directly affected. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will say more about this later today.

Q14. Privatisation does not work. It does not work for our national health service—we have another amber alert in the NHS blood service, which this week’s Chancellor sold when he was Health Secretary. Nor does it work for our postal service—Royal Mail Group took £758 million in profit last year, yet our universal service obligation is at risk, and workers’ pay and conditions and 10,000 jobs are under threat. Will the Prime Minister continue to let obscene amounts of profit be made while services are cut and stamp prices rise, or will she launch an inquiry into the gross mismanagement of Royal Mail? (901727)

What we need is an efficient postal service that delivers for people across this country. That is what I am focused on, not making ideological points.

Q12. When I was in business, it was a real privilege to employ many talented, bright young people. I always found that when we believed in somebody and gave them opportunity, they went on to thrive in their career. That is why tomorrow in North Norfolk, I will be launching my new scheme, the 100 Apprenticeships Challenge, to drive 100 new apprenticeships all over my rural constituency. Will the Prime Minister please thank not just my Department for Work and Pensions office and Julia Nix, who has been fantastic, but district councils, county councils and the many stakeholders who have worked for more than six months to deliver this fantastic scheme to drive growth and jobs for young people across my constituency? (901725)

I thank Julia and her team for the fantastic job that they are doing, and my hon. Friend as the local Member of Parliament. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for people to learn and gain experience, and I am proud that we have created 5.1 million apprenticeships since 2010.

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff is in hot water after lobbying on behalf of a Libyan warlord and big tobacco. It turns out that he has also lobbied for personal protective equipment giants Sante Global. Is it wise to have a lobbyist at the centre of Government?

All appointments in Downing Street are properly checked through the propriety and ethics process. That is the way that we do it in a completely impartial way.

Q15. When my right hon. Friend was Foreign Secretary, I know that she was acutely aware of the importance of British soft power acting in our national interest. Will she confirm today the promise we both made in 2010, when the Conservative Government first came into office, that she will not balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world? (901728)

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the fantastic work that he did as International Development Secretary. I am proud that we have rebalanced our international development budget to focus more on humanitarian aid and more on women and girls. No doubt more details will be set out in due course.

The last Tory Prime Minister was forced out after a series of dodgy dealings and failing to take responsibility for any of it, so what is this Prime Minister getting the boot for—her plan that crashed the economy or forcing fracking on communities that do not want it? Will she do the decent thing and go, and call a general election?

I have taken responsibility and I have made the right decision in the interest of the country’s economic stability.

Every single Member of this House will have constituents waiting for treatment in the covid backlog. The Health and Social Care Secretary’s priorities are absolutely right, including her B—tackling the backlog. Can the Prime Minister reassure me that the Government are committed to the series of elective hubs that we have promised, including at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in my Winchester constituency?

My right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary has set out her plans to deliver on dealing with the covid backlog. She will continue to work on that and make sure that we deal with what was a massive pandemic that created a backlog. We will deal with it.

Since the mini-Budget, thousands of my constituents have been in mental anguish and despair. I recognise that the Prime Minister has faced a week of mental anguish and despair herself. People have been angry with her and people have mocked her. Having had that experience, what will she now do to improve the mental healthcare for people in this country, so that the anguish that they face in the coming months is properly responded to and dealt with?

My right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary has set out a clear plan of how we are going to deal with the backlog created by covid, how we are going to make sure that people get timely GP appointments, and how we are going to improve the services in our hospitals, including mental health services.

The Government are facing tough choices, but people living with dementia face unlimited care costs, and that is not a choice. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that she is committed to social care reform to end that worry and relieve pressure on the NHS?

It is always better to see a Prime Minister at her desk rather than underneath it. Now that she is here, can she tell us why, next week, this House will discuss legislation that will abolish vital protections on pension payouts, our right to watch the Olympics free of charge and airline consumer laws? How is any of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill in the British interest?

I think we have yet another example of somebody who does not want to support the British public’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016. Is it not quite incredible that, six years after people voted to leave the European Union, there are people who object to taking EU law off our statute books? Now, I am a democrat. I respect what British people voted for. I suggest the hon. Lady does the same.

Thirty years ago, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy was created out of the war in Bosnia so that democracy could flourish, and freedom and prosperity come with it. This evening, in your rooms, Mr Speaker, we celebrate that anniversary by hearing directly from our country representative in Ukraine, the chair of the Taiwanese foreign affairs committee and the leader of the opposition in Uganda—a good example of the range of contacts that this great cross-party body, funded by Government, is working with. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a vital contribution by our Government and our people to democracy around the world, and will she encourage Members around the House to join us this evening?

The Westminster Foundation for Democracy does a fantastic job, and I think we know from what has happened in Ukraine—the appalling war perpetrated by Vladimir Putin—just how precious democracy is and how much we need to do to work with our friends and allies to protect democracy around the world. I do encourage colleagues from all sides of the House to attend the event tonight.