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Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2022

With Armistice Day on Friday, I know that colleagues across the House will want to join me in remembering those who have lost their lives in the service of our country. 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 people I serve will of course be commemorating Remembrance Day. Bermondsey was the original home of the poppy factory, providing work for injured veterans of the great war over 100 years ago.

Covid restrictions were a necessary but painful experience, and across the country most people made enormous sacrifices, including Charlotte, my constituent, and local councillor Lorraine, who were unable to see their mums in their final days. Those people were betrayed by the Conservatives, who partied their way through lockdown—[Interruption.] Members might not like it, but they can all go and eat kangaroo testicles, for all I care. Those Conservatives covered Downing Street in suitcases of wine, in vomit and in fixed penalty notices. Can this Prime Minister promise today that he will use his power of veto to ensure that no one who received a fixed penalty notice for breaking covid laws is rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords?

What I can say is that this Government, during covid, ensured that we protected people’s jobs, that we supported the NHS to get through the difficult times and that we rolled out that the fastest vaccine in Europe. That is what we did for this country.

Q2. I welcome the commitments made by my right hon. Friend at COP27 this week. If he wants to do something that will really help us get to net zero, improve our energy security and help create new opportunities in places such as Milford Haven, south Wales and south-west England, can I urge him to throw the full weight of his office behind delivering floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea, and crucially to ensure that the decisions now being taken by the Crown Estate and the Treasury mean that the economic value and the jobs of this new industry will stay here in the UK? (902139)

I praise my right hon. Friend for highlighting the incredible potential of floating offshore wind technology to help us move to net zero. He is right about the opportunities in the Celtic sea, and for Wales more generally, and I can confirm that the Crown Estate’s leasing process is expected to deliver more seabed leases for many more projects.

May I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Remembrance Day? We remember all those who paid the ultimate price, and all those who have served and are serving our country.

The Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) told a civil servant to “slit your throat”. How does the Prime Minister think the victim of that bullying felt when he expressed great sadness at his resignation?

Unequivocally, the behaviour complained of was unacceptable, and it is absolutely right that the right hon. Gentleman has resigned. For the record, I did not know about any of the specific concerns relating to his conduct as Secretary of State or as Chief Whip, which date back some years. I believe that people in public life should treat others with consideration and respect, and those are the principles that this Government will stand by.

The Member for South Staffordshire spent years courting the idea that he could intimidate others, blurring the lines to normalise bullying behaviour—it is precisely why the Prime Minister gave him a job. The truth is simple: he is a pathetic bully, but he would never have got away with it if people like the Prime Minister did not hand him power. Does the Prime Minister regret his decision to make him a Government Minister?

I obviously regret appointing someone who has had to resign in these circumstances, but I think what the British people would like to know is that when situations like this arise, they will be dealt with properly. That is why it is absolutely right that he resigned, and it is why it is absolutely right that there is an investigation to look into these matters properly. I said my Government will be characterised by integrity, professionalism and accountability, and it will.

Everyone in the country knows someone like the Member for South Staffordshire: a sad middle manager getting off on intimidating those beneath him. But everyone in the country also knows someone like the Prime Minister: the boss who is so weak and so worried that the bullies will turn on him that he hides behind them. What message does he think it sends when, rather than take on the bullies, he lines up alongside them and thanks them for their loyalty?

The message that I clearly want to send is that integrity in public life matters. That is why it is right that the right hon. Member has resigned, and why it is right that there is a rigorous process to examine these issues. As well as focusing on this one individual, it is also right and important that we keep delivering for the whole country. That is why this Government will continue to concentrate on stabilising the economy, strengthening the NHS and tackling illegal migration. Those are my priorities and the priorities of the British people, and this Government will deliver on them.

The problem is that the Prime Minister could not stand up to a run-of-the-mill bully, so he has no chance of standing up to vested interests on behalf of working people. Take Shell, which made record profits this year of £26 billion. How much has it paid under his so-called windfall tax?

I was the Chancellor who introduced an extra tax on the oil and gas companies. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about working people, but he voted against legislation to stop strikes disrupting working people, and he voted against legislation to stop extremist protesters disrupting working people, because he is not on the side of working people; that is what the Conservatives are for.

I am against all those causing chaos and damage to our public services and our economy, whether they are gluing themselves to the road or sitting on the Government Benches. There was no answer to the question, because the answer is nothing. Shell has not paid a penny in windfall tax. Why? Because for every £1 it spends on digging for fossil fuels, he hands them a 90p tax break, costing the taxpayer billions. Will he find a backbone and end his absurd oil and gas giveaway?

What the Labour party will never understand is that it is businesses investing that creates jobs in this country. On this side of the House, we understand that and we will support businesses to invest to create jobs, because that is how we create prosperity and how we support strong public services, and that is what you get with a Conservative Government.

There is only one party that crashed the economy and they are all sitting there on the Government Benches. It is a pattern with this Prime Minister: too weak to sack the security threat sitting around the Cabinet table; too weak to take part in a leadership context after he lost the first one; and too weak to stand up for working people. He spent weeks flirting with the climate change deniers in this party and then scuttled off to COP at the last minute. In the Budget next week, he will be too weak to end his oil and gas giveaway, scrap the non-dom tax breaks and end the farce of taxpayers subsidising private schools—that is what Labour would do: a proper plan for working people. If he cannot even stand up to a cartoon bully with a pet spider, if he is too scared to face the public in an election, what chance has he got of running the country? [Interruption.]

Order. We want to try to get through on time and I know that some Members want to catch my eye. They are not doing a good job so far.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about judgment and putting people around the Cabinet table. I gently remind him that he thought the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) was the right person to look after our security. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said a lot today, but it is clear that he is not focused on the serious issues confronting our country. We are strengthening our economy; he is backing the strikers. We are supporting people with energy Bills; he is supporting the protestors. We are tackling illegal migration; he is opposing every measure. The British people want real leadership on the serious global challenges we face, and that is what they will get from this Government.

Q3. Eighty-four years ago today in Germany, hundreds of synagogues were destroyed, Torah scrolls were desecrated, and thousands of Jewish businesses and shops were destroyed. Ninety-one Jewish people were murdered, and later 30,000 Jewish men were sent to the concentration camps. So as we commemorate Kristallnacht, let us remember that it was started with anti-Jewish hatred, it became antisemitism and it is still prevalent in society today. So will my right hon. Friend condemn antisemitism in all its forms, but congratulate the holocaust survivors, who give their testimony year after year? In particular, will he congratulate the Holocaust Educational Trust on the brilliant work it does in ensure that we will never, ever forget what happened in the holocaust? (902140)

I thank my hon. Friend for his powerful question and his continued work on this issue. I completely agree that antisemitism has no place in our society, and we are taking a strong lead in tackling it in all forms. We became the first country to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, and the Government’s independent adviser on antisemitism regularly provides advice to Ministers on how best to tackle this issue. May I join my hon. Friend, as I know the whole House will, in praising the work of those survivors who so bravely tell their stories so that we might never forget?

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about Armistice Day? We remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who continue to serve. We should also remember the nuclear test veterans, who continue to seek justice.

Last night, the Prime Minister suffered the self-inflicted loss of his first Cabinet Minister. A couple of weeks into the job, it turns out that this Prime Minister’s judgment is every bit as bad as his predecessor’s. Speaking of which, we now know that the Prime Minister’s former friend, the former Prime Minister, plans to hand out seats in the House of Lords to at least four Tory MPs, including the current Secretary of State for Scotland. So here is another test of judgment for the new Prime Minister: does he think it right to keep in the Cabinet a man who is clearly far more interested in getting his hands on an ermine robe than in playing by the rules of Scottish democracy?

I am obviously not going to comment on speculation around such lists. Any list would of course follow the normal procedures and processes that are in place.

I am afraid that it is not speculation. The Prime Minister clearly does not get how corrupt this all looks to people in Scotland. Not only do we have a UK Government who deny democracy; we now have a Secretary of State who is running scared from it. In the middle of a Tory cost of living crisis, the Scotland Office is now to be led by a baron-in-waiting, biding his time until he can cash in on the £300-a-day job for life in the House of Lords. He should be sacked from the Cabinet and the people of Dumfries and Galloway should be given the chance to sack the Tories in a by-election. The Prime Minister’s judgment is already in tatters. If he has any integrity left, will he now put a stop to his two predecessors stuffing the House of Lords with their cronies?

What the Secretary of State and I are jointly focused on is working constructively with the Scottish Government to deliver for the people of Scotland. I am pleased to be meeting the First Minister tomorrow, because that, I think, is what the people of Scotland want to see.

Q4.   Criminal gangs who are operating to bring people into this country in small boats—an issue that directly affects my constituents of Folkestone and Hythe—are openly using social media platforms to recruit people to use their services. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Online Safety Bill will require social media platforms to take effective action to remove this content, and is it also the intention of the Government to bring the Bill back later this month? (902141)

I thank my hon. Friend for his work in raising awareness of this particular issue. He is absolutely right. I am pleased to give him the reassurance that the Online Safety Bill will require platforms to remove and limit the spread of illegal content and activity online. Assisting illegal immigration is listed as a priority offence in the Bill, which we look forward to bringing back to the House in due course.

Diolch, Mr Llefarydd. The Prime Minister is struggling to rebuild the Tories’ ruined economic credibility after his predecessor scorned the Office for Budget Responsibility, but in a Bloomberg interview just last week, his International Trade Secretary disputed OBR forecasts that trade will be 15% lower because of Brexit. Britain’s economic prospects are worsened by being outside the world’s largest trading bloc. That is a fact. Who does he agree with—the OBR or his Tory Minister?

One of the great opportunities of Brexit is our ability to trade more with countries around the world. I know that the right hon. Lady will want to speak to many of the Welsh farmers who are enjoying selling their lamb to the new markets that we have opened up for them. That is what we will get on and deliver.

Q8. Excessive housing targets are placing greater and greater pressure on councils to approve development that damages our environment. When the Prime Minister came to Finchley over the summer, he said that he wanted to abolish those targets. Will he use the Report stage of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to bring forward Government amendments to do that? (902145)

The Government are committed to making home ownership a reality for a new generation, and we must build homes in the right places, where people want to live and work, but, as my right hon. Friend knows and as I have said, I want those decisions to be taken locally, with greater say for local communities rather than distant bureaucrats. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is happy to meet her to discuss how best to make that a reality.

Q5. Does the Prime Minister remember back in February, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, that I informed him that, due to his incompetence in that job, the children in my constituency were going to bed that night with no food in their tummies and no heat in their homes. What will he now do as Prime Minister to make sure that, in every community in our country, children are not in that situation in this hard winter ahead? (902142)

The absolute best way to ensure that children do not grow up in poverty, which is something that none of us wants to see, is to ensure that they do not grow up in a workless household. The record under these Governments is that 700,000 fewer children are growing up in workless households. That is because Conservative Governments create jobs for people, and that is the best anti-poverty strategy that we have.[Official Report, 14 November 2022, Vol. 722, c. 4MC.]

Q9. On Friday, I visited a bridging hotel in my constituency that currently houses 77 Afghan refugees as local organisations search for permanent accommodation for them following the success of Operation Pitting. Many of the refugees I met held highly skilled jobs back in Afghanistan, including a doctor, an international athlete and Government Ministers. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that our Government will do more to support those highly skilled individuals in entering the UK workforce? (902146)

It is nice to hear from my hon. Friend again this week. I can reassure him that we are completely committed to supporting Afghan refugees into the employment opportunities here in the UK. The Department for Work and Pensions has a full programme in place, and I can also tell him that our Refugee Leads Network brings together refugee organisations and the DWP to connect those refugees with employment opportunities. I look forward to seeing the fruits of that programme with him in the near future.

Q6. Five years ago, the Government belatedly launched a review into the security risk posed by handing thousands of mainly wealthy Russian and Chinese nationals so-called golden visas so that they could live in Britain. They also promised to publish the results of that review. Why have they not? (902143)

We did review and indeed end the visa that the right hon. Gentleman is raising. The Home Office is currently considering the right way to replace that visa with something that is more sustainable and protects our security interests. I will be happy to have the Home Secretary write to him with an update on that process.

Q10. The UK has a workforce shortage, yet millions of parents are unable to work at full tilt and childcare providers are going belly-up due to policies’ being a maddeningly expensive muddle of a mess. Will my right hon. Friend please confirm that, after decades of ineffective tinkering and endless policies, he will be the man to give us proper childcare reform? (902147)

I am pleased to say that we have announced ambitious new plans to improve the cost, the choice and the availability of childcare to benefit hundreds of thousands of parents across the country. That includes measures to increase the number of children that can be looked after by each staff member and making it easier for people to become childminders. We will respond to all those proposals in very short order.

Q7. I know the Prime Minister has been very busy failing to stand up to bullies, but in the real world schools and colleges across the country looking after actual children are struggling to make ends meet. One London headteacher has scrapped plans for mental health counsellors, a headteacher in Twickenham is no longer filling teaching assistant vacancies and another is axing school trips. Will the Prime Minister give pupils and parents a cast-iron guarantee that in next week’s autumn statement there will be no real-terms cuts to school and college budgets? (902144)

We have significantly increased funding going into schools over the next two years, but on top of that it was important to this Government to help those children who were left behind in terms of their education opportunities during the pandemic. That is why we invested £5 billion in helping those children to catch up, including unveiling the most comprehensive programme of tutoring this country has ever seen. It is closing the attainment gap and disproportionately benefiting disadvantaged children, and is something that I know all colleagues will get behind.

Q11. Despite a productive meeting with the Immigration Minister yesterday, the Home Office continues to house over 400 asylum seekers in two neighbouring hotels in my constituency. It is clear from my meetings with GPs and Derbyshire police that that huge influx of people in such a small area is putting local services under immense strain. Before services in Erewash hit breaking point, will my right hon. Friend commit to an immediate reduction in asylum seekers concentrated in one place, and will he intervene to set a timetable for permanent closure of accommodation centres at that location? (902148)

Let me give my hon. Friend my absolute cast-iron commitment that we want to get to grips with this problem. The best way to resolve it is to stop criminal gangs profiting from an illegal trade in human lives and the unacceptable rise in channel crossings, which is putting unsustainable pressure on our system and local services. She has my reassurance that the Home Secretary and I are working day and night to resolve the problem—not just to end the use of expensive contingency accommodation, but for more fundamental reform, so that we can finally get to grips with the issue, protect our borders and end illegal migration.

Under the Prime Minister’s short premiership, he has had one Minister resign and one who urgently needs to be sacked. Can the Prime Minister clarify to the House and the rest of the country when the scheduled programme of integrity, professionalism and accountability will begin?

It is precisely because I want a Government characterised by integrity, professionalism and accountability that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) was right to resign, and it is right that we have an independent process. That is the type of Government I will lead. When situations like this arise, we will deal with them properly, and that is what we have done.

Q12. Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you to my colleagues. Like the Prime Minister, I was fortunate to join the Royal British Legion in becoming a poppy volunteer recently. I joined colleagues in Abbots Langley, and I was part of Les Vertessy’s team, and this week I will be joining Tony Griffiths and his team in the Tudor ward in Watford. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all the poppy appeal volunteers across the country and in my constituency for their work to ensure that we always remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice? Will the Prime Minister or perhaps the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) visit Watford to meet our heroic veterans to whom we owe so much? (902149)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Watford, and it is a pleasure to join him in thanking the Royal British Legion’s poppy appeal volunteers in Watford and across the country. There is no greater sacrifice than those who lay down their lives in the service of our nation, so I am proud, as many others are, to support the poppy appeal and to honour our veterans.

If the Prime Minister or any member of his many households became unwell, would he start ringing the GP surgery at 8 o’clock each morning to not get an appointment, would he go off to accident and emergency and wait 12 hours to be seen, would he call an ambulance that would not come, or would he use some of his £750 million—unearned wealth—to pay privately and see somebody there and then?

Let me put on record my thanks to the fantastic team at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, who have provided excellent care to my family over the years. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the issue of people waiting unacceptably long for treatment that they need. That is why we have put record funding into the NHS to help with backlogs and waiting times this winter, and it is why the Health Secretary and the Chancellor are discussing how best to deliver the reforms we need. I want to make sure that everyone gets the care they need, and we will continue to invest in more doctors, more nurses and more community scans so that we can deliver exactly that.

Q13.   Blackpool is due to benefit from a £300 million private sector-led regeneration project that will deliver thousands of new jobs for my constituents over the years ahead. To deliver this ambitious new project, we need support with a £40 million package to relocate the existing court complex that currently occupies the site. Various Secretaries of State have been supportive of the project so far, so can the Prime Minister give me an update on when we can receive some good news on how we can get this project off the ground? (902150)

May I join with my hon. Friend in recognising the importance of the Blackpool Central regeneration project to the town’s levelling-up ambitions? I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary and the Housing Secretary are in the process of resolving this issue for him and how best we can relocate the court complex. He will not have to wait very long for an update on the plans.

It is a critical time for our steel industry, which is hit by massive energy costs and low demand at a time when we need to support our industry to adapt to build the green technologies we will need. Does the Prime Minister agree that our sovereign capability and our national security are dependent on a strong UK steel industry? If so, will the Government not sit on their hands? What is the Prime Minister’s plan for steel?

I am proud of our track record. Not only were we pleased to support one steel company in south Wales that needed our assistance during coronavirus but we have provided more than £2 billion to support energy-intensive industries, including steel, with high energy bills. Thanks to the work of my colleagues, we have also removed the tariffs on exporting steel to the United States. The hon. Lady has my assurance that we will continue to support steel, because we recognise its importance to our economy and to our communities up and down the country.

Q14.   Supermarkets such as Morrisons are abusing their dominant market position on fuel by charging up to 20p a litre more in Bridport than other towns in the region, thus preventing West Dorset residents from benefiting from the reduction in market price, which is unusual these days. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss what action can be taken against those commercial predators who harm our local residents in that way? (902151)

As Chancellor, I was pleased to cut fuel duty by 5p a litre—the biggest-ever cut—to help motorists in our country. I recognise the concerns that my hon. Friend raises, which is why we asked the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct an urgent review of the market. There are some actions to be considered coming out of that review, and I look forward to meeting him and to working with the CMA to explore its recommendations in more detail.

Tomorrow, I will be delivering food bank collection crates across my constituency, because our food banks are running out of food once more. Does the Prime Minister understand the despair my constituents feel that he, as one of the richest men in Britain, is doing so little—[Interruption.] Conservative Members do not like the truth, Mr Speaker. Does he understand the despair my constituents feel that he is doing so little for the poorest in Britain by refusing to cancel the £3 billion tax break for non-doms who profit from our country but will not make it their home?

I am proud of my and this Government’s track record in supporting the most vulnerable in our society, and that will always continue. It is a bit rich to hear that from the right hon. Gentleman—the first person to remind us what happens when the economy is crashed by a Labour Government. That is no way to help people. We will build a strong economy. That is what enables us to support the most vulnerable and strong public services.

Q15. The British people are relying on our party and the Government to fulfil their promises on levelling up, not just up and down the country but sideways too. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Felixstowe and Harwich freeport plan will be judged as a historic failure unless it succeeds in levelling up a deprived ward in my constituency? Will he join me in Clacton to kick-start that plan? Will he also commit to come to the tendering showcase currently in the Jubilee room until 2.30 this afternoon? (902152)

That sounds like an appealing invitation. I agree with my hon. Friend that levelling up has to deliver for communities in every corner of the United Kingdom, including southern coastal communities. He knows that I am a champion of freeports, and I look forward to working with him to see how we can best realise their benefits in his area.

It cannot relate to PMQs, because you did not ask a question. We will deal with it afterwards.