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Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2022

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.

The Prime Minister promised integrity, professionalism and accountability in Government. His Home Secretary has leaked information, is overseeing chaos in the Home Office and has broken the law. What will she actually have to do to get the sack?

The Home Secretary made an error of judgment, but she recognised her mistake and took accountability for her actions. She has now set out, transparently and in detail, a full sequence of events in a letter to the Labour Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and offered to share relevant documents with the Chair. She is now getting on with the job: cracking down on crime and defending our borders, something that the Labour party has no interest in supporting.

Q4. My 19-year-old constituent Marie, who has been in care for much of her life, has worked long and hard, by childminding and in other ways, to save £3,600 to help support herself at university. Marie now faces her university studies with no savings and no means of recovering them, because they were all stolen in a few seconds by a heartless scammer pretending to be her bank. What assurance can the Prime Minister give that the Government are working hard to help prevent this all too common type of despicable crime and bring the perpetrators to book? (901984)

I am very sorry to hear about Marie’s case. I know how convincing scammers can be, and the upset and hurt they cause. I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government will shortly publish our fraud strategy, which will establish a more unified and co-ordinated response from Government, law enforcement and the private sector, to block more scams and better protect the public.

We can look at the record on migration policy. Let us look at it. What did we on the Conservative side of the House do? We gave the British people a referendum on Brexit. We delivered Brexit. We ended the free movement of people. That is our record on migration policy. It is not something the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported. He opposed it at every turn and that is not what the British people want.

No one on the Labour side of the House wants open borders. It is the Government who have lost control of our borders. Four Prime Ministers in five years and it is the same old, same old. The Prime Minister stands there and tries to pass the blame. If the asylum system is broken and his lot have been in power for 12 years, how can it be anyone’s fault but theirs?

People rightly want to see us getting a grip of migration and our borders, but let us look at the record. The right hon. and learned Gentleman voted against the Nationality and Borders Bill. He said he would scrap the Rwanda partnership. He opposed the ending of the free movement of people. Border control is a serious, complex issue, but not only does the Labour party not have a plan; it has opposed every single measure that we have taken to solve the problem. You cannot attack a plan if you do not have a plan.

We voted against it because we said it would not work, and it has not worked. The Prime Minister says that he is getting a grip and he has a plan, so let us have a look at that plan: the Rwanda deal was launched in April; it has cost the taxpayer £140 million and rising; the number of people deported to Rwanda is zero. Since then, 30,000 people have crossed the channel in small boats. It is not working, is it? He has not got a grip.

We on the Government side of the House are clear that we want to defend our borders. When the shadow Home Secretary was asked this weekend, she could not answer a simple question about whether the Labour party was in favour of higher or lower migration. It is that simple. The Home Secretary and I, when it comes to tackling and reducing migration, are on the same page. The Labour party’s policy is a blank page.

Blame others, deflect, attack on something else—so much for the new age of accountability. Of all the people who arrived in small boats last year, how many asylum claims have been processed?

We do need—[Interruption.] Not enough is the answer, very straightforwardly, and that is what we are going to fix.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises the question of what we are doing. We have increased the number of processing officials by 80%, and we are putting in an extra 500 by next March. If he really was serious about fixing this problem, he would acknowledge that we need to tackle the issue of people putting in spurious claims—spurious, repeated, last-minute claims—to frustrate the process. That is how we will tackle the system, so why, then, did he vote against the Nationality and Borders Act, which deals with it?

The Prime Minister says, “Not enough”. He can say that again. It is 4%—4% of people arriving in small boats last year had their asylum claim processed. According to the bookies, the Home Secretary has a better chance of becoming the next Tory leader than she has of processing an asylum claim in a year. The Prime Minister talks about numbers. They are taking only half the number of asylum decisions that they used to. That is why the system is broken. There are 4,000 people at the Manston air force base, which is massively overcrowded and all sorts of diseases are breaking out, so did the Home Secretary receive legal advice that she should move people out—yes or no?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is very fond of reminding us that he used to be the Director of Public Prosecutions, so he knows the Government’s policy on commenting on legal advice. But what I can say is the significant action that the Home Secretary has taken to fix the issue, providing, since September, 30 more hotels with 4,500 new beds, appointing a senior general to control the situation at Manston and, indeed, increasing the number of staff there by almost a half. These are significant steps to demonstrate that we are getting a grip of this system. This is a serious and escalating problem. We will make sure that we control our borders and we will always do it fairly and compassionately, because that is the right thing.

The Prime Minister talks about my time as Director of Public Prosecutions. I prosecuted people smugglers; he cannot even get an asylum claim processed. I think the answer to the question of whether the Home Secretary received legal advice to move people out of Manston is yes. He just has not got the guts to say it—weak. He did a grubby deal with her, putting her in charge of Britain’s security just so that he could dodge an election. She has broken the ministerial code, lost control of a refugee centre and put our security at risk.

The Home Secretary did get one thing right: she finally admitted that the Tories have broken the asylum system, with criminal gangs running amok, thousands crossing the channel in small boats every week and hardly any claims processed. So why does he not get a proper Home Secretary, scrap the Rwanda gimmick, crack down on smuggling gangs, end the small boat crossings, speed up asylum claims and agree an international deal on refugees? Start governing for once and get a grip.

Order. Can we just calm it down a little? I want to hear the replies. [Interruption.] Covering your mouth is not helpful to me or you.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly raises the topic of national security, because it is important, but this is the person who, in 2019, told the BBC—and I quote—“I do think Jeremy Corbyn would make a great Prime Minister.” Let us remember that national security agenda: abolishing our armed forces, scrapping the nuclear deterrent, withdrawing from NATO, voting against every single anti-terror law we tried, and befriending Hamas and Hezbollah. He may want to forget about it, but we will remind him of it every week, because it is the Conservative Government who will keep this country safe.

Q6. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Right now we are suffering the worst outbreak of avian flu ever recorded. Hundreds of thousands of birds are being destroyed to stem the spread of this terrible disease. The Government have acted quickly to bring forward compensation for live birds culled to 48 hours after confirmation of disease, but even that short delay is causing significant losses to farmers in Broadland as the disease wreaks havoc on flocks. Dead birds are not compensated. Today is Back British Farming Day. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to back British farmers and agree compensation for all affected birds from the date when disease is confirmed? (901986)

As someone who represents a very rural farming community, it is a great pleasure to support Back British Farming Day and to join colleagues on both sides of the House in doing so. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that outbreaks of avian flu this year are on track to be some of the worst on record. That is why we have toughened up biosecurity measures on poultry farms. I can tell him that we have confirmed that we will now pay compensation from the outset of planned culling, rather than at the end—something that I know he and the farming sector will warmly welcome.

In May, the Prime Minister told this Chamber:

“I can reassure the House that next year…benefits will be uprated by this September’s consumer prices index…the triple lock will apply to the state pension.”—[Official Report, 26 May 2022; Vol. 715, c. 452.]

But last week he repeatedly refused to say whether he would keep to a promise that he made only five months ago. People do not need to hear any more spin about compassionate conservatism; they just need a straight answer to a simple question—will he keep his promise and lift benefits and pensions in line with inflation?

We now have an excellent new Chancellor, and I am looking forward to his autumn statement in a couple of weeks. It would not be right to comment on individual policy measures before then, but I think everyone knows that we face a challenging economic outlook and difficult decisions will need to be made. What I would say is that we will always—as my track record as Chancellor demonstrates—have fairness and compassion at the heart of everything we do.

It was a very simple question. I asked the Prime Minister to reiterate what he promised just five months ago. For the second week running, he still will not give a straight answer to the most vulnerable who require support.

The Prime Minister keeps telling us that difficult decisions need to be made, but austerity 2.0 is not a difficult decision; it is what it has always been—a Tory political choice to hit the poorest hardest. In the week that BP saw quarterly profits of £7.1 billion, why not take the easy decision to bring in a proper windfall tax? Why not take the easy decision to reinstate the cap on bankers’ bonuses? Why not take the easy decision to scrap non-dom tax avoidance? And with all that new revenue, why not stand up today and take the easiest decision of all: to protect those most in need and increase benefits and pensions in line with inflation?

The right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of the North sea. This is a point of significant difference between his party and ours. As Chancellor, I introduced a new levy on oil and gas companies because I believed that that was the right thing to do, but this is the point on which the right hon. Gentleman’s party and ours will always differ: we believe that our North sea producers do have an important role to play in our transition to net zero and are an important source of transition fuels, and we will ensure that we support them to enable them to invest in and exploit those resources for the British people.

Q8. Let me first welcome the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation from Madagascar, whose members are in the Public Gallery. More locally, I am delighted that next year Openreach will roll out ultrafast broadband in Wigginton, in my constituency. However, other rural areas of south-west Hertfordshire, such as Dudswell, are still in dire need of better connectivity. Can the Prime Minister update the House on the progress of the £5 billion Project Gigabit? (901988)

My hon. Friend is right to recognise the role of broadband in providing levelling-up opportunities across our economy. We invested £5 billion in Project Gigabit and 71% of UK premises now have access to it, up from just 5% when we came into office. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that we will be launching a procurement process to provide gigabit coverage for his area in the coming weeks.

The Prime Minister will know that it is Scotland’s energy resources that feed corporate profits and keep His Majesty’s Treasury pumped full of cash, to the tune of £8 billion in the last nine months alone. In return, candidates in the summer Tory leadership contest tried to outdo each other in their contempt and hostility towards Scotland's democracy. Without falling back on the “you’ve had your vote” trope, can the Prime Minister tell me this: is Scotland in a voluntary and respectful union of equals, as was claimed in 2014, or are we hostages in a territorial British colony?

What people across Scotland rightly want to see is both their Governments working constructively together to improve their lives, and that is what we will do on this side of the House. Part of that is actually supporting Scottish energy producers, and the hon. Gentleman is right: they have a vital role to play in enabling our transition to net zero and improving our energy security, and those Scottish companies will have our full support.

Q12. Nearly 40,000 illegal immigrants have crossed the channel so far this year, landing taxpayers with a hotel bill of £5.6 million per day to accommodate them. Is it any wonder that millions of people in this country are furious about the situation? During the summer, the Prime Minister set out a comprehensive 10-point plan to tackle the issue, and everyone on this side of the Chamber wants him to succeed in that aim. When can we expect the firm action that the British people are demanding? (901994)

I know that this issue is, rightly, a priority for my hon. Friend and a priority for his constituents, and I can reassure them that it is also a priority for me and for this Government. Whether through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 or through the further measures that we are planning to take, we will defend our borders, stop the illegal crossings, and ensure that there is fairness and compassion in our system. That is the way to restore trust, and that is what my hon. Friend’s constituents and the British people deserve.

Q2. A constituent of mine is a supermarket worker who is paid four-weekly. Because she receives one double salary payment, there is one month of the year in which she receives no universal credit. Normally that is not an issue, but because universal credit is linked to the cost of living payment, my constituent no longer qualifies for the £320 that could see her through the very worst of a cold, hard winter. What can the Prime Minister do to mend this gap in cost of living support? (901981)

What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that we also provided discretionary funding, which was supplied to the Scottish Government through the Barnett formula, especially to deal with cases like the one that he has raised. If he writes to us with the constituent’s details, we will be happy to look into it, but, as I have said, discretionary funding was made available especially for such cases.

I was visited at one of my surgeries by my constituent, Aaron Horsey. In his arms was his three-week-old newborn baby, Tim. Aaron’s wife Bernadette tragically passed away while giving birth to Tim. Aaron came to see me regarding the disparity that exists over shared parental leave. The current eligibility requirements differ between those for a surviving birthing partner and those for a surviving non-birthing partner. This meant that, in his case, he was not entitled to leave to raise his son. Will the Prime Minister ensure that my constituent and I can meet the relevant Minister to make sure that we move towards a future where parents are not in this position?

I know that the whole House will join me in extending our condolences to Aaron following the tragic loss of his wife, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Employed parents can benefit from statutory support depending on personal circumstances, and I am concerned to hear that that is not happening in this case. I will of course ensure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister as soon as possible to resolve this issue.

Q3. Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning the opaquely funded so-called think-tanks that exert so much influence on gullible politicians that their policies were able to almost crash the UK economy just weeks ago? Open Democracy reports that a former member of the Charity Commission board has called for the Institute of Economic Affairs to be stripped of its charitable status, saying that “the very purpose of the IEA—shrinking the state—is political”.Is it right that this body receives charitable tax status? Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the influence that bodies such as the IEA exert over politicians, including what influence they still have over him? (901982)

Obviously, charitable status is a matter for the Charity Commission, but more generally, we believe in free speech and the vibrant debate of ideas. That is a good thing and we should do absolutely nothing to stamp it out even when we disagree with it.

In the run-up to the autumn statement, will my right hon. Friend do everything he can to persuade the Chancellor to assist those people who took out mortgages in good faith and are now at risk of losing their homes through unaffordable increases?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise mortgage payments. This is why it is absolutely crucial that we put our public finances on a sustainable footing to limit the increase in interest rates, because ultimately that is what puts pressure on people’s mortgage payments, and that is what this Government are determined to do. In the short term, I hope he can direct his constituents to the support available through the welfare system for those with mortgage payments.

Q5. Given the continued Russian invasion and the now illegal annexation of parts of Ukraine, will the Prime Minister recommit his Government to pursuing the full and proper accountability, including through the International Criminal Court, of those who violate international law in territories that they occupy? In particular, will he pursue the rigorous application of the fourth Geneva convention on the treatment of civilian populations in militarily occupied areas? (901985)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which is absolutely right. I can confirm that we will continue with the policy that the previous Government put in place, and we can be proud that we provided, I think, the earliest technical support to gather evidence for future prosecutions at the ICC. We will continue to gather evidence and provide support to the Ukrainians, because the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that what we are hearing is abhorrent and wrong, and those who are conducting these things must be held to account.

My right hon. Friend and I both represent rural constituencies and he will know the difficulty in securing both NHS dentistry and GPs in rural areas. We on this side of the House know that the financial decisions that he and the Chancellor will be taking are going to be tough, but notwithstanding that, may I urge him to ensure that as many initiatives as possible are supported to make GPs and dentists aware that rural areas are attractive places to work and to encourage recruitment and retention?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of healthcare provision in rural areas, which our constituents feel acutely because of the distances they have to travel. He has my assurance that we will continue to prioritise both dentistry and GP recruitment to make sure that everyone in this country has access to the primary healthcare they need and deserve.

Q7. I will not be bullied into silence by anybody in this House.With the highest peacetime tax rates, food inflation running at 11.6%, mortgage rates rising dramatically and a £50 billion hole in the public finances, the Prime Minister knows that Britain is broke. What is it about 12 years of Tory rule and his five years as a Minister that has made such a mess of Britain? (901987)

When it comes to the economy, the hon. Gentleman failed to mention the single biggest causes of the challenges we now face: the aftermath of a global pandemic that has affected supply chains across the world and an illegal war conducted by Putin that is leading to high energy prices. These are the root causes of the challenges we face, which are global in nature. It is wrong to say they are particular to this country, and we will of course do what we always do on this side of the House: deliver a strong economy for the British people.

People across Essex witnessed terrible fires in last summer’s heatwave, and in Ethiopia last month I witnessed the horrific climate change-driven drought that is forcing millions of people across the horn of Africa to the brink of famine. I have discussed climate change with my right hon. Friend, and I know he cares. It is great that he is going to Sharm el-Sheikh. The UK brought the world to Glasgow for COP26, so it is vital that we remain a world leader on climate change. Will he please confirm that this Government will fulfil the promises that the UK made in Glasgow?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her work and the role she has played in championing our fight against climate change. I agree with her that there is no long-term prosperity without action on climate change and no energy security without investment in renewables. That is why I will attend COP27 next week to deliver on Glasgow’s legacy of building a secure, clean and sustainable future.

Q9. The Prime Minister was secretly recorded boasting to friends that he had helped to divert money away from deprived areas such as Coventry towards wealthy areas, but staff at Coventry’s hospital are still paying £600 a year to park at work. When will he stop hammering working people in my community? (901989)

We introduced temporary free car parking during the pandemic, which was the right thing to do, and all NHS trusts that charge for parking have now implemented our free parking manifesto commitment for those in the greatest need, including hard-working NHS staff who work overnight.

On Back British Farming Day, will the Prime Minister join all Members in recognising the important role of farmers, and in recognising that public money for public good means producing food in this country? Will he also recognise the value of our trade deals in allowing us to export our high-quality produce around the world, particularly to Australia, where my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) will be able to enjoy a certain delicate cut in his bushtucker trials?

I agree with my hon. Friend that British farmers are, indeed, the lifeblood of our nation. I join him in celebrating their contribution, and I agree that we need to prioritise food security. He is right to champion free trade deals, which open up new markets and new opportunities for great British produce. We will continue to open up more markets for our farmers everywhere.

Q10. I welcome our first Prime Minister from Yorkshire in a very long time—I am trying to be kind to him. Since he resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer on 5 July, we have had the most turbulent economic and political disaster in our country that any of us can remember. When he reflects on that, will he think about why, when he was Chancellor, he did not help ordinary working people as well as he could? Will he take the opportunity to tax the 70,000 non-doms who are getting away with avoiding tax? And will he bring in a tax on the windfall profits of the gas and oil industries? (901990)

I am very proud of my record as Chancellor in this country. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could talk to the 10 million people who had their jobs saved through furlough. Perhaps he could talk to the millions of those on the lowest incomes who benefited from the changes we made to universal credit. This will always be a fair and compassionate Government who have the most vulnerable at our hearts.

With only two out of 10 autistic adults currently in employment, it is clear that much more needs to be done to realise their potential. Will my right hon. Friend work with me to make sure that business and industry help to close that alarming employment gap?

My right hon. and learned Friend rightly champions this area and knows an enormous amount about it. I look forward to working with him closely to get his recommendations on how we and industry can improve the lives of those who need our help.

Q11. The Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister who broke the asylum system—he dodged the question. The truth is that the backlog is now so great, the decision making so collapsed and the returns so low, at a 10th of what they used to be, that the criminal gangs have a business model to die for. Whose fault is that? (901992)

The reason we are in this situation is the unprecedented number of people arriving here illegally, often from safe third countries. If the Labour party was really serious about this, it would realise that we have to stop illegal migration and stop the exploitation of vulnerable people abroad. But Labour Members have opposed every single measure we have taken. They are not serious about this problem, because they do not think it matters.

Both myself and many of my constituents remember fondly the Prime Minister’s visit to Ipswich when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. We spoke about levelling up and he made it clear to me that levelling up is not just about one part of the country; it is a national mission. Therefore, does he agree that a great way to show that to the people of Ipswich would be by supporting our levelling-up fund bid to get Ipswich active? We are talking about £18 million—£15 million for Gainsborough sports centre, and £3 million for the outdoor lido in Broomhill.

My hon. Friend is right: levelling up is about spreading opportunity in every part of our United Kingdom, ensuring that people have pride in the place they call home. I look forward to seeing his levelling-up fund bid. I know it will be being considered over the course of this year and I wish him every success.