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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2022

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Hate Crime

1. What recent assessment she has made of trends in the levels of police-recorded hate crimes targeting individuals on the basis of their (a) race, (b) religion, (c) sexual orientation, (d) disability and (e) transgender identity. (901837)

I greatly welcome the fact that people feel more willing to report hate crime. We have seen an increase of 26% in recorded incidents and believe that the biggest driver of it is the welcome improvement in police recording. Let me be clear: hate crime is a scourge on communities and will not be tolerated, which is why we are committed to reducing all crime, including hate incidents, and are on track to recruit 20,000 extra police officers.

According to the Office for National Statistics, nationally we have seen a sixfold increase in hate crime over the past decade. Locally, in the recent efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy inspections of Warwickshire police, criticism was made of the way in which the force supports victims in the aftermath of such crimes. This was felt by a constituent who was physically and racially assaulted; his assailant was charged with physical damage of a phone after Warwickshire police failed to complete a case action plan sent to them by the Crown Prosecution Service. Can the Minister advise us of how frequently she meets her colleagues in the Home Office? What is being done to arrest this rise in violent crime?

As I hope the hon. Gentleman will see, I am personally committed to ensuring the best possible response to these terrible crimes and, indeed, to all crimes. There is an online hate crime hub, True Vision, which police can now directly work with; he mentions a constituent’s case, and victims of online hate can submit reports and get the right support, which is equally important. That is there on both sides—it is for the police also.

In his question, the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) did not include hate crimes committed against women, yet we know that the Nottinghamshire police force is doing some great pilot work on recording misogyny as a hate crime in the incidents it encounters. Will the Minister update us on how that pilot is going and whether there are plans to roll it out further? What progress is the Home Office making on its work and consultation on tackling public sexual harassment, which is one of those significant crimes that impacts women every day?

My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am very interested in both those issues. The consultation on public sexual harassment has been completed and I am currently looking at it. On misogyny as a hate crime, I am aware of the Nottinghamshire police work. It is absolutely right that a number of police forces are choosing of their own volition to record those particular crimes. I will update her further in writing, because there is more to say.

I welcome the new Minister for Women and Equalities to her place.

With reference to the previous question, I should of course say that making misogyny a hate crime is something the Government have stood against until now, when they have been pushed by a Labour police and crime commissioner in Nottinghamshire, but we hope the tide may be turning.

A moment ago, the Minister referred to some statistics on hate crime, but not the most concerning ones. One was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) when he talked about violent hate crime, which is six times higher today than it was 10 years ago. Hate crimes that are reported are up by 269% in England and Wales since 2010. We have also seen the highest number of religiously motivated hate crimes ever recorded this year. What are the Government going to do about this?

The hon. Lady knows that we have some of the strongest legislation to tackle everything that she has mentioned, including religious hate crime. Over the past six years, the Home Office’s places of worship protective security funding scheme has awarded 323 grants of around £8 million with regard to religious hate crime. I will be clear: I am personally committed to the best possible response to hate crime by every force.

Cost of Living: Women in the Workplace

2. What recent steps the Government are taking to help support women in the workplace during the cost of living crisis. (901839)

The Department for Work and Pensions new progression offer will help claimants on universal credit to identify opportunities in their current role or a new role. We have also increased the national living wage, reduced the universal credit taper rate and increased the work allowance to ensure that work pays.

The current Prime Minister famously insulted millions of mums across the UK during the pandemic when he showed a total lack of understanding of the pressure they were under and the discrimination they faced in the workplace. It is probably lost on a billionaire PM, but his Tory Government have overseen the second most expensive childcare in the developed world. According to Pregnant Then Screwed, 62% of parents pay the same or more for childcare as their rent or mortgage. The cost of living crisis will only worsen that. What real actions will the Minister and the new Prime Minister take? Will she and he be in post long enough to actually do anything?

Childcare is an important issue. Since 2010, we have doubled childcare to 30 hours for working parents, with a universal offer of 15 hours, and covering 85% of childcare costs under universal credit. We have also had much discussion in recent weeks about childcare ratios. I will ensure that the relevant Minister writes to the hon. Lady with more detail.

One workplace where women need support is the other place, where an eighth of the seats are reserved for men only. Will the Minister support my Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill and get that anomaly changed?

I thank my hon. Friend for her impressive campaigning on this issue. I was privileged to be in the Chamber when she made some of her speeches about it this year. I will look into the matter and ensure that I write to her about it.

Last month, the new Minister for Women and Equalities told investors in New York that the Government were going for growth in a big way. She said of that economic strategy:

“We know it is bold. We know it comes with risk. But in these volatile times, every option, even the status quo is risky.”

One month on from the catastrophic mini-Budget, will the Minister explain what impact going for growth had on women’s finances?

We have provided lots of cost of living support for families and particularly for women. We will write to the hon. Lady further about the issue.

I am disappointed by that brief response, because today we have found from the latest statistics that women need more than 12 times the average annual salary to buy a home. Our average real-terms wages have plummeted by almost £600 a year since 2010. The Government have simply removed the possibility of home ownership for millions of women. In her speech last month, the Minister for Women and Equalities described the UK as “Europe’s unicorn factory”. Are not her Government Britain’s chaos factory, with working women paying the price through lower wages and lost mortgages?

I completely dispute that characterisation of the Government. We have not only taken comprehensive steps to support people financially this year, targeting support at vulnerable households and families and putting in place an energy price cap, but increased the national living wage and changed the universal credit taper rate. We have taken a number of steps to help people with their finances and we will continue to do so.

This Tory Government have committed to introducing an employment Bill at least 20 times, but it is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, labour market inequalities become all the more acute, especially in the cost of living crisis. The Minister could tell us that she will fix the sick pay system, introduce the day one right to flexible working, improve parental leave and pay and strengthen protections against pregnancy and maternity discrimination, but her Government are making a choice not to do those things. That is a real contrast with the Scottish Government’s recent “Building a New Scotland” paper, which sets out how an independent Scotland would deliver fair working practices. Why do this Tory Government support inequality in the workplace?

The changes in flexible working that we saw during the pandemic have been helpful to women. The Government have taken action in consulting on flexible working. It is a matter for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so I will ensure that the relevant Minister writes to her about that issue.

Women in British Motorsport

3. If she will take steps with Cabinet colleagues to encourage more women into British motorsport. [R] (901840)

This Government and I are absolutely committed to supporting women’s sport at every opportunity, pushing for greater participation, employment, commercial opportunities and visibility in the media. We want to continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that all aspects of women’s sport continue to flourish. I welcome the W Series, as it provides equal opportunities for women to compete competitively in motorsport. I also recognise what organisations such as Motorsport UK and the British Women Racing Drivers Club are taking forward to increase women and girls’ participation within the sport.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. As she said, the all-female W Series championship is another jewel in the crown for British motorsport, won for the third time this year by British driver Jamie Chadwick, but it has sadly had to curtail the season by three races, with the sad reality being that women’s sports such as the W Series have much lower funding available than their male counterparts. Will my hon. Friend commit to working with the W Series to help it continue to support women drivers, engineers and mechanics into motorsports?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for motorsport, and, as he knows, I am more than a little bit of a petrolhead myself. I approach motorsport with an enormous amount of enthusiasm and almost no talent, which is probably the problem. I also add my congratulations to Jamie Chadwick. I did watch the championships and she did a phenomenal drive. It is disappointing that the season was cut short, and we want women’s sports to thrive. The Government are unable to intervene directly, but the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working with the wider support sector on the commerciality of women’s sport and how it can be promoted.

One way to encourage more women into motorsport and, indeed, into every job and every industry is to make workplaces endometriosis-friendly. One in 10 women have endometriosis, and it has a huge impact on the workplace. What encouragement can the Minister give to companies to adopt the Endometriosis UK strategy to make all workplaces endometriosis-friendly?

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. Women’s health issues are coming to the fore in the workplace. Although I do not have the level of detail to commit exact policy, I will get the Department of Health and Social Care to write to her about the matter.

Disabled People: Building Adjustments

4. What her timescale is for the commencement and implementation of provisions in the Equality Act 2010 on reasonable adjustments to common parts of buildings for disabled people. (901841)

We are committed to the commencement of this provision of the Equality Act 2010. Our consultation on the detail of implementation closed on 18 August 2022, and we are analysing responses before taking further steps. We expect to introduce regulations and prepare comprehensive guidance prior to commencement in England and Wales in due course.

I welcome the Minister to her place. Access to public buildings is one of issues that my constituents most often bring to me: those who have a problem with accessibility feel that they are excluded in many ways. I know that, in England and Wales, there are almost half a million wheelchair users who are awaiting the results of the consultation for their own homes as much as for public buildings. I welcome the Minister’s statement, but can she assure us that this matter will not be put aside in the recent chaos?

That is something that we have committed to. Obviously, it is important to properly address the cost implications of implementation given everything that is happening, and we will do everything that we can to further this piece of work.

Higher Education: White State-Educated Children

5. If she will take steps with the Secretary of State for Education to help ensure that the proportion of white state school educated students obtaining a place in higher education is raised to the same proportion as mixed heritage, black, Asian and Chinese students. (901842)

Ensuring that everyone can access world-class education remains a priority. In 2021, we saw record higher education progression rates for disadvantaged white students who had free school meals. The Government are investing £3.8 billion more in high-quality education, skills and training provision, leading to good outcomes for young people and getting them the skills needed for economic growth, whichever good-quality route they choose.

On the Government’s own figures, the percentage of state school pupils getting a higher education place by ethnicity is Chinese 72%, Asian 55%, black 49%, mixed heritage 41% and white 33%. Are the Government concerned about those widening disparities, and if so, what are they going to do to level up university entry?

As a meritocrat, I believe not in positive discrimination, but in a society where people are judged on their character and ability. Access to HE should be based on a student’s attainment and their ability to succeed, rather than their background. As I said, 2021 saw a record high number of white students who receive free school meals progressing on to higher education, but since the publication of the report, “The forgotten: how White working-class pupils have been let down, and how to change it”, we have tasked the Office for Students with refreshing its entire access and participation work and with looking into that.

Cost of Living: Children with SEND

6. What steps she is taking with the Secretary of State for Education to help ensure equality of opportunity for children with special educational needs and disabilities in the context of the cost of living crisis. (901843)

For pupils with complex needs, high-needs education funding is increasing by £1 billion in the 2022-23 financial year, bringing the total funding to £9.1 billion. The Department also provides £27.3 million per annum to deliver grants to support low-income families raising disabled or seriously ill children and young people.

I welcome that support, but constituents who are parents of disabled children often tell me that they feel it is like an obstacle race and there are many hurdles put in their way to get the support they need for their children, both at home and at school. Can the Government make it easier to access essential special educational needs and disabilities support?

My right hon. Friend raises an important question. The SEND and alternative provision Green Paper proposals aim to improve experiences and outcomes for children and young people with SEND within a fairer and more sustainable system. We are investing £301.75 million jointly with the Department of Health and Social Care to transform start for life and family support services in 75 local authorities across England.

As we face the worst cost of living crisis in memory, it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to provide important life experiences for their children. Springfield House in Birmingham is a wonderful SEND school, which many students across Coventry North West attend. For many years it has provided away nights for pupils, giving children the chance to spend time away from home, with their peers, in a safe environment. Because of Government cuts, those away nights are being axed. Will the Minister speak to her counterpart in the Department for Education to ensure that families in Coventry do not lose that much-needed service?

The Government are doing some amazing work, and I point the hon. Lady’s constituents and those of MPs across the House to a fantastic website,, which demonstrates the great services open to people who are having difficulties.

Topical Questions

I am delighted to have been appointed as Minister for Women and Equalities. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, this Government will bring

“compassion to the challenges we face”,

put people’s needs above politics and reach out to communities across the country. My priority will be to deliver our groundbreaking Inclusive Britain strategy, our cross-Government work to improve the lives of disabled people, and to break down barriers to opportunity for people from all backgrounds up and down the UK.

I recently met the chair of the Chesham mosque committee, who had been told that medical examiners in our area will be available only five days a week and not at the weekend. That will cause significant problems for our Muslim and other religious communities who bury their loved ones as soon as possible following a death. Will the Minister meet me and my constituent to find a way forward to ensure that the new system does not infringe the rights of religious communities?

I did not fully hear the question, but if the hon. Lady writes to me in more detail about what she requires, I will be able to follow up in better detail.

T2. Back in the 1990s, a colonel in the Royal Marines said to me that he would rather have a gay Marine alongside him who could shoot straight than a straight Marine who could not. My right hon. Friend will know there was much persecution of gay people in the armed forces. Can she update us on how the LGBT veterans independent review is getting on? (901853)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I can tell him that under Lord Etherton as chair, this important independent review has launched a call for evidence on the experiences of LGBT veterans who served between 1967 and 2000, when LGBT people were barred from openly serving in the armed forces.

T4. Why was the post of Minister for Disabled People demoted? What message do we think that that sends to disabled people, who already feel like an afterthought for this Government, and will the Government reverse that decision immediately? (901855)

This continues to be an important ministerial post in Government. The Secretary of State will have strategic oversight, but let me leave the hon. Lady in no doubt about how important the issue is to this Government. With 1.3 million more people in work, billions more in funding for children with SEND, a new BSL Act, Down’s syndrome Act and special rules for end of life, this continues to be a very important area for this Government.

T3. I am delighted that two entrepreneurs, Janet Percival from Jaspels cider and Stacey Chadfield from Emberwood Creative, will be coming to Westminster as part of the Savvitas MP HERoes initiative. Does my hon. Friend agree that our entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy, particular in places such as Ynys Môn? (901854)

With family on the island running businesses, including my own—businesses based in Llangefni and Aberffraw, a wonderful part of the island—I absolutely support the work that the Savvitas MP HERoes have done to celebrate female-led enterprises across all areas of the UK. I particularly want to take this opportunity to thank Helene Martin Gee for her excellent work in this area. I am also delighted to announce that to date, 40% of start-up loans issued by this Government have gone to female entrepreneurs.

T5. Women’s Budget Group analysis shows that 100,000 lone parents, mostly women, and 200,000 children will be forced into poverty if the Government raise benefits in line with average wages rather than inflation. Will Ministers confirm that they will push the Chancellor to uprate benefits in line with inflation so that women are not forced into further hardship because of the Government’s economic incompetence? (901856)

The hon. Lady will know that we do not make fiscal policy in Equalities questions. She will have to wait for the Chancellor to give a statement to get an answer to her question.

T6. The Government have an excellent opportunity to grant investment zones in South East Cornwall. What work are the Government doing to ensure equality of opportunity for those investors? (901857)

My hon. Friend is a role model to all the female entrepreneurs in her constituency. Whether through investment or expressions of interest by different areas, or making sure they take account of equality of opportunity in their conduct, the Government recognise that a diverse and inclusive business ecosystem is good for investors, entrepreneurs, businesses and my hon. Friend’s society.

T7. It is widely acknowledged that public spending cuts impact most on women. The Chancellor has signalled that he will seek such cuts in an effort to close the £40 billion hole his predecessor recklessly blew in the public finances. Will the Equalities Minister now undertake to publish an equality impact assessment on the 17 November autumn statement, as required by the Equality Act 2010? (901858)

We will undertake all due assessments on fiscal statements, as we regularly do over the course of things.

T8.   The Government rightly want to see more disabled people in employment, but what more can the Minister say about encouraging in-work progression for those with a disability and, most importantly, getting more disabled representation on company boards to drive wider corporate change in business? (901859)

My hon. Friend has always been a passionate advocate for compassionate conservatism. We are looking at the issue very carefully. We are going to accept all the recommendations of the Holmes review of public appointments and I point my hon. Friend in the direction of the DWP progression work that we are doing.

Next week, we come together to recognise National Fertility Week, and yesterday I had the great opportunity to meet Fertility First, a fantastic charity that provides information to everyone who requires fertility treatment. What more can the Minister do to ensure fair and equal access to fertility treatment for everyone in the UK who needs it?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that subject, which I would be happy to meet with her to discuss in due course. As she knows, I returned to this role only a few hours ago, so I do not have a full answer for her now, but I am happy to work with her on this issue.

What is the Secretary of State’s response to the allegations made yesterday, following her appointment, by Ben Cohen of Pink News?

I know everyone wants to start Prime Minister’s questions quickly, but please forgive me, Mr Speaker, if my answer to this question is a tad longer than it ordinarily would be.

I am afraid that this particular individual is one who uses Twitter as a tool for defamation. He has even been sued by people in this House, such as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). As we begin a new era of equalities, I would like to say that the Equality Act is a shield, not a sword. It is there to protect people of all characteristics, whether they are young or old, male or female, black or white, gay or straight. We are running a compassionate equality strategy and we should not be distracted by people who use Twitter as a way to insult or accuse Members of Parliament.

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 I welcome the Prime Minister and call Dr Alan Whitehead to ask the first question.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Order. I just say to hon. Members, cheer the Prime Minister by all means, but do not damage the furniture!

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.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on his new post and as the first Prime Minister of a south Asian heritage, which I think will be a cause of great pride among many of my constituents. I also take some pride in welcoming a fellow Southampton, or Saints, supporter into No. 10.

During the last campaign that the right hon. Gentleman ran to become Prime Minister, he pledged to prohibit any development of onshore wind, which is now the cheapest form of power available to us in this country. Now that he is Prime Minister, will he change his mind?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and look forward to seeing him at St Mary’s—although my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may have something to say about our love of the Saints.

When it comes to energy policy, I stick by what we said in our manifesto. The important thing is to focus on our long-term energy security. That means more renewables, more offshore wind and indeed more nuclear, and that is what this Government will deliver.

Q4.   I am surprised to be asking a question, and I know you are shocked too, Mr Speaker, because I know that, like many others, you thought I would already have been offered a ministerial post. (901863)

Go figure, as Joe Biden might say.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on becoming Prime Minister. He is absolutely the right person for the job and I wish him every success. He knows he has my full support. His two immediate predecessors made levelling up a key part of their agenda. Will he reaffirm his commitment to levelling up and start as he means to go on by approving the levelling-up fund bid for Bingley in my constituency?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his warm remarks. I can confirm that he must be the only person who texted me in the last 24 hours to say that he did not want a job. I can give him my cast-iron commitment to levelling up, particularly in Yorkshire, which he and I share. Obviously, he will know that I cannot comment on individual bids, but by the end of the year, an announcement is expected on the successful ones, and I wish him every luck with that.

May I welcome the Prime Minister? The first British Asian Prime Minister is a significant moment in our national story. It is a reminder that, for all the challenges we face as a country, Britain is a place where people of all races and all beliefs can fulfil their dreams. That is not true in every country, and many did not think that they would live to see the day when it would be true here. It is part of what makes us all so proud to be British.

Was the Prime Minister’s Home Secretary right to resign last week for a breach of security?

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his kind and, indeed, generous welcome to the Dispatch Box. I look forward to Prime Minister’s Question Time with him. I know that we will have no doubt robust exchanges, but I hope that they can also be serious and grown up.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the Home Secretary. She made an error of judgment, but she recognised that, she raised the matter and she accepted her mistake. That is why I was delighted to welcome her back into a united Cabinet that brings experience and stability to the heart of Government. Let me tell you, Mr Speaker, what the Home Secretary will be focused on. She will be focused on cracking down on criminals and on defending our borders, while the Opposition remain soft on crime and in favour of unlimited immigration.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability”, but then, with his first act, he appointed a Home Secretary who was sacked by his predecessor a week ago for deliberately pinging around sensitive Home Office documents from her personal account. Far from soft on crime, I ran the Crown Prosecution Service for five years. I worked with Home Secretaries to take on terrorists and serious organised crime, and I know at first hand how important it is that we have a Home Secretary whose integrity and professionalism are beyond question. Have officials raised concerns about his decision to appoint her?

I just addressed the issue of the Home Secretary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about fighting crime. I would hope that, as we look forward, he would welcome the news today that there are over 15,000 new police officers on our streets. The Home Secretary will be supporting them to tackle burglaries, while the Opposition will be backing the lunatic protesting fringe that is stopping working people going about their lives.

I listened carefully; that was clearly not a “no”. We can all see what has happened here: the Prime Minister is so weak that he has done a grubby deal, trading national security because he was scared to lose another leadership election. There is a new Tory at the top but, as always with the Tories, it is party first, country second.

Yesterday, on the steps of Downing Street, he also admitted what the whole country knows: the Tories have crashed the economy and now somebody has to pay for their mess. I say it should not be working people, who have been hammered time and again by this lot, and those with the broadest shoulders must step up. Does he agree?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about party first and country second. Perhaps he can explain to us why it was that, a few years ago, he was supporting the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). My record is clear. When times are difficult in this country, I will always protect the most vulnerable; that is a value of our compassionate party. We did it in covid and we will do that again.

The Prime Minister says he will protect the most vulnerable. Let us test that. The Government currently allow very rich people to live here, but register abroad for tax purposes. I do not need to explain to the Prime Minister how non-dom status works; he already knows all about that. It costs the Treasury £3.2 billion every year. Why does he not put his money where his mouth is, and get rid of it?

I have been honest: we will have to take difficult decisions to restore economic stability and confidence, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will set that out in an autumn statement in just a few weeks. But what I can say is that, as we did during covid, we will always protect the most vulnerable and we will do this in a fair way. What I can say is that I am glad that the Labour party and the right hon. and learned Gentleman have finally realised that spending does need to be paid for. It is a novel concept for the party opposite. This Government are going to restore economic stability, and we will do it in a fair and compassionate way.

I know the right hon. Gentleman has been away for a few weeks, but he should have listened to what has been going on for the last two months. Anyway, I have to say I am surprised that he is still defending non-dom status. He pretends he is on the side of working people, but in private he says something very different. Over the summer, he was secretly recorded at a garden party in Tunbridge Wells, boasting to a group of Tory members that he personally moved money away from deprived areas to wealthy places instead. Rather than apologise or pretend that he meant something else, why does he not now do the right thing, and undo the changes that he made to those funding formulas?

I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman rarely leaves north London, but if he does, he will know that there are deprived areas in our rural communities, in our coastal communities and across the south, and this Government will relentlessly support them because we are a Government who will deliver for people across the United Kingdom. He mentioned the last few weeks, and I am the first to admit that mistakes were made, and that is the reason I am standing here, but that is the difference between him and me. This summer I was talking and was being honest about the difficulties that we were facing, but when he ran for leader he promised his party he would borrow billions and billions of pounds. I told the truth for the good of the country; he told his party what it wanted to hear. Leadership is not selling fairy tales. It is confronting challenges, and that is the leadership the British people will get from this Government.

I think everyone should watch the video and make up their own minds. In public, the Prime Minister

“claims he wants to level up the North, but…he boasts about trying to funnel vital investment away from deprived areas... He says one thing and does another”—

[Interruption.] Conservative Members are shouting, but those are not my words; they are the words of the former chair of the Tory party, sacked yesterday for telling the truth about the Prime Minister. Even his own side knows he is not on the side of working people. That is why the only time he ran in a competitive election, he got trounced by the former Prime Minister, who herself got beaten by a lettuce. So why does he not put it to the test, let working people have their say and call a general election?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about mandates, about votes and about elections, and it is bit rich coming from the person who tried to overturn the biggest democratic vote in our country’s history. Our mandate is based on a manifesto that we were elected on—to remind him, an election that we won, and they lost—which says we want a stronger NHS, better schools, safer streets, control of our borders and levelling up. That is the mandate that I and this Government will deliver for the British people.

I call Heather Wheeler. [Hon. Members: “More!”] Order. Heather has not even asked her question and you want more? Come on, Heather.

Q6. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my right hon. Friend our new Prime Minister and thank our previous Prime Minister for the straightforward way in which she handled her resignation. I wish her and her family well for the future. Will my right hon. Friend please use his first appearance at the Dispatch Box to make it clear to the General Medical Council and the British Dental Association that, as well as opening up more training spaces, they must allow new doctors and dentists to work in the UK so that the good people of South Derbyshire can get treatment on the NHS? (901865)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is absolutely right. I am pleased that there are 3,500 more doctors and over 9,000 more nurses working this year than last. We are working in particular to simplify registration for dentists who have not trained here so that they can practise here. That is how we will help deliver a long-term workforce plan for the NHS and ensure that everyone can get the care that they need.

I congratulate the new Prime Minister on becoming the first British Asian to hold the office. The significance and symbolism of the achievement is to be warmly welcomed by everyone.

Yesterday, on the steps of Downing Street, the new Prime Minister promised to bring

“compassion to the challenges we face today.”

On his first full day in the job, let us put that to the test. A winter of uncertainty is coming, and next April will see a cliff-edge moment, with millions facing a double whammy when the energy price guarantee is cut off while households are hit by austerity 2.0 and real-terms cuts to the social security benefits that many rely on to survive. If people are to trust the new Prime Minister’s words about compassion, will he reassure people today and guarantee that benefits will rise in line with inflation in his upcoming Budget?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. What I can tell him is that my record is clear. Through the difficult times that we faced in this country during covid, I always acted in a way to protect the most vulnerable. That is because that was the right thing to do, and those are the values of our compassionate party. I absolutely reassure him and give him a commitment that we will continue to act like that in the weeks ahead.

Well, let us test that. As Chancellor, the Prime Minister slashed universal credit and presided over the worst levels—[Interruption.] For the hard of hearing on the Tory side, I remind them that universal credit was cut by £20 a week, and he presided over the worst levels of poverty in north-west Europe. I hope that he has learned from his mistakes and will guarantee that benefits will rise in line with inflation.

Speaking of mistakes, yesterday the Prime Minister appointed a Home Secretary who was forced to resign only last week for breaching the ministerial code and who boasted that she dreamed of sending vulnerable asylum seekers to Rwanda. We all know why he appointed her: a sleazy backroom deal to shore up his own position. Far from being a fresh start, it is a return to the sleaze, scandal and ghosts of Cabinets past. The Prime Minister promised to govern with integrity and humility. If he has an ounce of either, will he admit his mistake and sack the Home Secretary without delay?

I was pleased to have a call last night with the First Minister of Scotland. It was important that I spoke to her on my first day in office, because I wanted to express my desire to work constructively with the Scottish Government so that together we can deliver for the people of Scotland. That is what I plan to do. Indeed, I hope that crime is one thing that we can collaborate on. The right hon. Gentleman will know that violent crime is rising in Scotland and police numbers are falling, whereas we are increasing police numbers here. I look forward to working with the Scottish Government on our shared challenges, because I believe in a strong United Kingdom.

Q8. What a pleasure it was to welcome the Prime Minister to my constituency in the summer. He will know that one of the burning issues in my constituency is the proposed waste incinerator at Westbury. With the Government rightly reviewing their air quality targets, will my right hon. Friend signal his intent to continue promoting public health, net zero and the environment by placing a moratorium on any more unwanted unnecessary toxic waste burners? (901868)

My right hon. Friend is a vociferous campaigner on that issue, as I learnt over the summer. He will know that local authorities determine these issues, but I reassure him that all large incinerators in England must comply with strict emission limits and receive permits only if plants do not cause any damage to human health. Hopefully, that is reassuring for him.

The Prime Minister’s reckless predecessor, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), took a wrecking ball to nature, prompting millions of members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts to rise up in opposition. Yesterday, he promised to fix her mistakes, as well as to uphold his party’s 2019 manifesto. If he is a man of his word, will he start by reversing the green light she gave to fracking, since it has been categorically shown not to be safe, and instead maintain the moratorium that was pledged in that very manifesto he promised to uphold?

I have already said that I stand by the manifesto on that. What I would say is that I am proud that this Government passed the landmark Environment Act 2021, putting in more protection for the natural environment than we have ever had, with a clear plan to deliver it. I can give the hon. Lady my commitment that we will deliver on all those ambitions, and that we will deliver on what we said at COP, because we care deeply about passing on to our children an environment that is in a better state than we found it ourselves.

Q10.   I, too, welcome the Prime Minister to his place. Farmers in my constituency are delighted that after 20 years they are once more able to sell Welsh lamb to the US market. Will the Prime Minister comment on the size and prospects of that market for our world-beating Welsh lamb? (901870)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on that fantastic achievement. I can tell him that that market is worth, I think, something like almost £40 million over the first few years—an enormous boost for our land farmers. I would just encourage the 300 million US consumers to give Yorkshire Swaledale lamb a look-in as well, but if my hon. Friend and I disagree on that, I know that we are united on the fact that we will unequivocally back British farming and British farmers.

Q2. This is certainly a topsy-turvy Tory Government. A few days ago, I was going to put my question to the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), the now former Prime Minister. My inbox has been full of emails from constituents writing to me about their desperate situation. Their wages are simply not going far enough. I am also receiving emails about rents going up, energy prices going up and mortgages going up. And of course, the cost of living is already up. This week, my constituents are writing to me demanding a general election. I absolutely agree with them. Can the Prime Minister tell me and my constituents when there will be a general election? (901861)

We have already addressed that, but as I said in the summer, inflation is indeed the enemy. It makes everyone poorer and erodes savings. That is why it will be a priority of our Government to grip and reduce inflation, and provide support to those who need it as we do so.

Q12. This autumn, I am launching my campaign to extend the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty across thousands of acres of scenic beauty, chalk streams and valuable habitats that happen to surround the wonderful town of Hitchin in my constituency. Will the Prime Minister join me in celebrating areas protected by AONB status and support my campaign to potentially extend them in rural Hertfordshire? (901872)

I thank my hon. Friend. I know this is a matter of great importance to him and his constituents. He is right to highlight the benefit that natural parks and AONBs can bring to our lives and wellbeing. I understand that Natural England is considering an extension of the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, and I know my hon. Friend will be vigorously taking up his campaign with it.

Q3.   I welcome the Prime Minister to his place. A nurse would have to work for over 20,000 years in order to match the vast wealth of the Prime Minister. He knows only too well that the super-rich could easily afford to pay more in taxes, so rather than announcing a new wave of cuts and austerity, would it not be fairer for the Prime Minister to introduce wealth taxes on the very richest in our society? (901862)

We will always support our hard-working nurses. That is why, when I was Chancellor, we reintroduced the nurses’ bursary, provided more training and introduced very strong pay increases. As I committed to previously, as we approach the difficult decisions that confront us, we will do so in a way that is fair and compassionate, because those are our values and that is what we will deliver.

Q13. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s determination to be straight with people about the challenges that we face as a country. Last week, the Care Quality Commission’s report “The state of health care and adult social care in England” showed that our health system is in gridlock. I hear the same from my constituents who are struggling to see a GP or waiting for treatment, so I urge him to make unblocking the NHS a priority for him and his Health Secretary. (901873)

My hon. Friend knows this subject very well from her own experience, and I thank her for the work that she did in the Health and Social Care Department. She is absolutely right about the challenge that confronts us. That is why we have put billions of pounds into busting the backlogs and the elective recovery fund and are delivering funding and staffing to do that. I look forward to working with her to deliver what we said in our manifesto: a far stronger NHS.

Q5.   I add my congratulations on the Prime Minister’s appointment; we might not agree on everything, but I think we can all agree that a more diverse politics can only be to the good. We on the Scottish National party Benches believe that Scotland’s best future is independence in Europe—[Interruption.] Keep it coming. I really would urge Government Members to show a little more respect, because it is not just the SNP—[Interruption.] I will not be shouted down. It is not just the SNP; in the last opinion poll, 72% of the people of Scotland wanted back into the European Union. If the Prime Minister is to maintain any credibility in the eyes of the people of Scotland, how long does he think he can deny Scotland’s democracy? (901864)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He talked about respect, and I gently urge him to respect the result of the referendum that we had on this topic. While we will disagree on that issue, I remain committed to working constructively in partnership with the Scottish Government to deliver for the people of Scotland.

Q14. Last week, I visited worried year 3 and year 6 pupils to hear their suggestions to tackle road safety following a number of serious road accidents outside Boothroyd Primary Academy in Dewsbury. They suggested that the council should do more to help, that their parents should walk them to school to reduce traffic and that commuters should slow down. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and with them that we all have a part to play in ensuring road safety outside our schools? (901874)

It is fantastic that my hon. Friend is engaging with his younger constituents at Boothroyd Academy on such an important issue, and I know that they will welcome his commitment to supporting them. I agree that there are various things that we can do. There is an updated highway code that strengthens pedestrian access; local authorities can introduce lower speed limits; and we are increasing the number of school streets, which restrict motorised traffic at busy times. I look forward to hearing from him about progress on that issue.

Q7. Yesterday, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and said that he wanted to restore trust, yet in the past 24 hours, we have seen that he is prepared shamelessly to swap red boxes for political support. There are serious consequences to all this horse-trading, so I would like him to be clear on this point: did he seek or receive any advice on security concerns about the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) before his appointment to the Government yesterday, given that the right hon. Member was sacked in 2019 for leaking sensitive information relating to our national security? (901866)

The hon. Member is talking about events that happened four years ago. He is right to raise the topic of national security, because four years ago Opposition Members were busy supporting the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who wanted to abolish the nuclear deterrent, leave NATO and scrap our armed forces. We will not take any lectures on national security.

I sincerely congratulate my right hon. Friend and wish him every success. More than three years ago, my constituent Harry Dunn was killed in a tragic road accident. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Harry Dunn’s family on the incredible campaign they have run for more than three years, with huge support from all colleagues across the House, and on finally achieving justice for Harry?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her role and to the former Foreign Secretary and colleagues across the House for the part that they have played in bringing about that outcome. My thoughts are with the family, and I join my right hon. Friend in her sentiment that it is very welcome.

Q9.   West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in my area is still hoping to receive funds from the new hospital programme—the same programme that is supposed to deliver the Government’s so-called 40 new hospitals. There has been a lot of speculation that the new Prime Minister and his Chancellor might seek to cut infrastructure projects, so can the Prime Minister confirm that my local hospital trust, as well as all the other local hospital trusts that are set to benefit from the new hospital programme, will in fact get that money—yes or no? (901869)

The Chancellor will set out our plans in the autumn statement shortly, but this is the Government who put in place plans that will significantly increase capital expenditure. Even though difficult decisions need to be made, I think the country can rest assured that we will continue to invest in our future productivity and, indeed, invest in our public services like the NHS.

In Aldridge-Brownhills, we are at risk of 8,000 new homes being dumped in the constituency. Will my right hon. Friend use this Prime Minister’s question as an opportunity to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to protecting the green belt and adopting a really rigorous “brownfield first” policy?

I can indeed give my right hon. Friend that assurance. She is absolutely right: we must protect our green belt and we are adopting a “brownfield first” strategy. I am pleased that we had a record number of new homes built in the last year, but it is important that we build those homes in the right places.

Q11. While we welcome the new Prime Minister to his place, we remember that lawbreaking was the order of the day in Downing Street during the pandemic. We will never forget that the current Prime Minister was fined by the police for attending a birthday party hosted by his next-door neighbour. As both a witness to and a participant in that lawbreaking, if he is called to give evidence to the Privileges Committee’s investigation into the former Prime Minister, will he fully co-operate? (901871)

Mr Speaker, you will know that I fought hard to bring back Boris. In ’97, I campaigned for Kenneth Clarke and then for Michael Portillo, so I cannot always get it right—but I do know about the west midlands. I know that the West Midlands Mayor very much welcomes the reappointment of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and looks forward to working with our new Prime Minister. May I ask the Prime Minister what his vision is for levelling up?

What I can say is that our desire is to ensure that wherever people live in our fantastic country, they have enormous pride in the place they call home and have every opportunity to succeed—and you know what? It is the fantastic Mayor Andy Street who is delivering that for his constituents in the west midlands.