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.
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.
We now come to the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer.
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.
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.]
Order. I also want to hear Mr Blackford.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Yes, we are committed to social care reform. We need to deal with those issues.
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.
That now completes Prime Minister’s questions, and I will let the House clear.