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Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2022

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.