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Volume 723: debated on Wednesday 23 November 2022

I know that Members across the House will want to join me in wishing both England and Wales the best of luck in the World cup.

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.

People in places such as Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are not getting the help that they need quickly enough when it comes to mental health. Fellow campaigner James Starkie and I were delighted when the Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor, said he would back our campaign every step of the way to get mental health nurses into GP surgeries. Will the Prime Minister deliver on his promise, back our “No Time to Wait” pilot scheme developed by the Royal College of Nursing and help get people the support that they need?

May I thank my hon. Friend for his continued campaigning on this important issue? I am pleased to tell him that all 1,250 primary care networks in England are entitled to recruit up to two mental health practitioners to work in surgeries. I know that the British Medical Association and the NHS are looking at expanding that, and I look forward to working with him to ensure that his constituents in Stoke get the mental health support and care that they need.

Congratulations to England and Wales on their start to the World cup, and good luck for the rest of the tournament. The World cup does not belong to FIFA, and it does not belong to the host nation; it belongs to everyone who loves football. It is totally unacceptable that, during this tournament, gay football fans are unable to acknowledge who they love, and players have been threatened with suspension if they show solidarity with those fans. Shame on FIFA.

Britain faces the lowest growth of any OECD nation over the next two years. Why?

Since 2010, this country has experienced the third highest growth in the G7; this year, the fastest growth in the G7, and unemployment at a multi-decade low. We are getting on to deliver more growth. We are delivering freeports. We are investing in apprenticeships. We are protecting research and development. If the Labour party is serious about supporting growth, maybe it should get on the phone with its union paymasters and tell them to call off the strikes.

The Prime Minister is in total denial. We are bottom of the 38 OECD countries, which are all in the same boat when it comes to covid and Ukraine, and he wants a pat on the back. It is like a football manager, bottom of the league at Christmas, celebrating an away draw three months ago—it will not wash. [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not like their record—that is the problem. So, let us try another way. Why is Britain set to be the first country into recession and the last country out?

I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Gentleman brought up the OECD report, because it contained three very important points. First, it made the point that in the years following the pandemic we are projected to have almost the highest growth among our peer countries. It also made the point that it was crystal clear that the challenges we face are completely international in nature. Thirdly, it supported our fiscal plan because it is credible and ensures sustainability. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would have known all that if he had actually read the whole report, but he is not interested in substance. He is an opportunist.

In four weeks, I have strengthened the economy, we have put more money into the NHS and schools, and we have delivered a deal to tackle illegal migration. In the same four weeks, all we have—

Order. Prime Minister, when I stand, you have to sit down. You came to me, quite rightly, and said to me, “We want to get through Prime Minister’s questions. I’m going to give short answers.” Please stick to what you said.

There is only one party that crashed on the economy and it is sitting there on the Government Benches. And I noticed this, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister will not say why Britain is set to be the first into a recession and the last out, so I will: 12 years of Tory failure, followed by 12 weeks of Tory chaos. For a decade, they let our economy drift aimlessly, before suddenly cutting the parachute ropes and slamming it to the ground. And because of the changes he has made, a typical household will end up with tax increases of £1,400. [Interruption.] Tory Members do not want to hear about the tax increases of £1,400. Contrast that with a super wealthy non-dom living here but holding their income overseas. How much more—

Order. Mr Young, I do not need anymore—I do not need shouting, I do not need pointing. You are meant to be a good example when you sit on the Front Bench. Just because you are on the second, do not spoil what you are meant to do.

Mr Speaker, I do not think Tory Members want to hear this. Because of the changes the Prime Minister has made, a typical household will end up paying tax increases of £1,400. Contrast that with a super wealthy non-dom living here but holding their income overseas. How much more has he asked them to pay?

Order. As I said to the Prime Minister, so I say to the Leader of the Opposition: I have to get through this list. I need you both to help me and to think of other Members.

Labour had 13 years to address this issue and did nothing. It was a Conservative Government who took action and tightened the rules. The problem with the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s idea is that it would end up “costing Britain money”—not my words, but the words of a former Labour shadow Chancellor. Rather than peddling fairy tales and gesture politics, let us tell him what we are doing to deliver for this country: a record increase in the national living wage; protecting millions from energy bills; and protecting the pensioners’ triple lock. That is what we are doing for this country.

If the Conservatives had grown the economy at the same rate as the last Labour Government, we would have tens of billions of pounds more to spend. It was not a trick question. The answer is that the Prime Minister has not asked non-doms to pay a penny more. He talks about the money. Every year that is £3.6 billion thrown away because he will not make them pay their taxes here. How many extra doctors could Britain afford with that money?

I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Gentleman brought up doctors, because last week we delivered record increases in funding for the NHS—not just more doctors, but more nurses, more scans, more operations. That shows our

“commitment to prioritise to NHS”—

not my words, but the words of the NHS chief executive.

Scrapping the non-dom status would allow us to train 15,000 doctors every year—that is what Labour would do. We can carry on handing out tax breaks to the super-rich, or we can live in a society where people do not have to go private to get a doctor’s appointment. It is that simple.

The Prime Minister also hands Shell 90p for every £1 that it spends on drilling, so it has not paid a penny in windfall tax. You may have seen this week, Mr Speaker, that somebody shredded £10,000 in protest at those propping up an oil and gas giant, but the Prime Minister shreds £10,000 every other minute propping them up. Which does he think is the more absurd?

This is the Government who have actually put in place an economic plan that will deliver confidence and stability to our economy. All I have heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman today is that he has no answers and no substance, because there is no plan. He talks about the NHS; we are delivering record funding for the NHS, but we can only do that on the foundations of a strong economy. You cannot deliver for the NHS unless you have a plan for the economy, and he does not have either.

Every time the Prime Minister opens his mouth, another powerful business voice says that he has not got a plan on growth. The failure of the last 12 years and the chaos of the last 12 weeks are compounded by the decisions he is taking now. He will not follow Labour’s plan to scrap non-dom status—instead, we have an NHS staffing crisis. He will not follow Labour’s plan to make oil and gas giants pay their fair share—instead, he hammers working people. And he will not push through planning reform—instead, he kills off the dream of home ownership. He is too weak to take on his party, too weak to take on vested interest. Twelve long years of Tory Government, five Prime Ministers, seven Chancellors—why do they always clobber working people?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about leadership. This summer, I stood on my principles and told the country what they needed to hear, even though it was difficult. When he ran for leader, he told his party what it wanted to hear, and even now, he says one thing and does the other. He says that he cares for working people, but he will not stand up to the unions. He said that he would honour Brexit, but he tried to have a second referendum. And now he tries to talk tough about immigration, but he promised to defend free movement. You can trust him to deliver for his party; you can trust me to deliver for the country.

Q3.   As we debate how to best help our constituents with their energy costs, 10 million people in Ukraine are without power due to Russia’s barbaric strikes on the country’s energy infrastructure. Will my right hon. Friend set out what support we will provide to our Ukrainian allies to help them to repair the damage and keep their citizens warm this winter? (902413)

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that I spent time discussing that with President Zelensky at the weekend and talking to Ukrainian families about the impact that these awful strikes are having on them. I know that the whole House will be proud to know that we are providing millions of pounds of immediate support, with generators, shelter and water repairs, on top of the 570 mobile power generators that we are donating to power facilities across Ukraine. We are also working with the Government to repair critical infrastructure, with eight projects identified by UK Export Finance to be delivered in the near future.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in welcoming the Moderator of the Church of Scotland to our proceedings this afternoon and in thanking him for his sermon at St Margaret’s this morning.

This morning, the Supreme Court clarified a point of law, but the very point of democracy in this Union is now at stake. And democracy will not be denied, because whether Westminster likes it or not, last year the people of Scotland voted for a Scottish Parliament with the majority and the mandate to deliver an independence referendum. The Prime Minister has every right to oppose independence; he has no right to deny democracy to the people of Scotland. If the Prime Minister keeps blocking that referendum, will he at least be honest and confirm that the very idea that the United Kingdom is a voluntary Union of nations is now dead and buried?

Let me start by saying that we respect the clear and definitive ruling of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and that I am looking forward to seeing the Moderator of the Church of Scotland tomorrow. I think that the people of Scotland want us working on fixing the major challenges that collectively we face, whether that is the economy, supporting the NHS or indeed supporting Ukraine. Now is the time for politicians to work together, and that is what this Government will do.

It is right that we respect the decision of the Court, but the Prime Minister cannot claim to respect the rule of law and then deny democracy in the very same breath. If democracy is to matter, if elections matter, then mandates matter. Since 2014, the Scottish National party has won eight elections in a row. Last year, we won a landslide. The Scottish Parliament now has the biggest majority for an independence referendum in the history of devolution. The Prime Minister does not even have a personal mandate to sit in 10 Downing Street. What right does a man with no mandate have to deny Scottish democracy?

When it comes to Scottish democracy, I am pleased that the Scottish Government have one of the most powerful devolved assemblies anywhere in the world. I was pleased, very shortly after becoming Prime Minister, to be the first Prime Minister in over a decade to attend the British-Irish Council and sit down with the First Minister to explore ways in which we can work together with the Scottish Government to deliver for the people of Scotland, whether that is delivering our growth deals, delivering freeports or ensuring that the £1.5 billion of extra Barnett money can go towards supporting public services. That is what we are committed to doing in Scotland.

Q6.   Last month, Just Stop Oil clambered up the Dartford crossing, causing chaos for days. It then attacked artworks, the M25 and anything else it could to cause misery and mayhem. These people are not protesters; they are criminals. Will the Prime Minister therefore consider making Just Stop Oil a proscribed organisation so that it can be treated as the criminal organisation it is? (902417)

The kinds of demonstrations that we have seen recently disrupt people’s daily lives, cause mass misery for the public and put people in danger. The police have our full support in their efforts to minimise this disruption and tackle reckless and illegal activity. The Public Order Bill will give them the powers they need. I look forward to seeing the support that the Bill receives from every part of this House.

My constituent Vanessa has contacted me in floods of tears. Her mortgage payments have risen by £500 a month. She and her husband were already struggling with high energy bills and high food bills; now, like one in four mortgage holders across the country, they fear losing their home. “We are out of options and heartbroken,” says Vanessa. Will the Prime Minister introduce a new mortgage protection fund, paid for by reversing his tax cuts for the banks? Will he help Vanessa to keep her home?

I am deeply sorry to hear about Vanessa’s circumstances. I want her to know that the plan that the Chancellor announced last week will help families like hers up and down the country, because it is the right plan to tackle inflation, limit the increase in mortgage rates and ensure confidence in our economy. There is specific help that the Chancellor announced, offering low-interest loans to homeowners on benefits to cover interest on mortgages of up to £250,000. The Chancellor is also meeting mortgage lenders in the coming weeks. We will continue to do all we can to support those homeowners who are struggling with their payments.[Official Report, 1 December 2022, Vol. 723, c. 10MC.]

Q8. I recently took part in the Pitching In campaign, which promotes grassroots sport and celebrates the volunteers who make it possible every week. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking those volunteers for their incredible work? With top-flight football taking a bit of a break at the moment because of the World cup, will he also join me in reminding people that this is the perfect opportunity to go out and support their incredibly welcoming local non-league football teams, including Atherstone Town community football club, Bedworth United and Coleshill Town in my constituency? (902419)

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in praising all his local teams. He makes an excellent point that volunteers have a vital role to play in community sport and the delivery of major events. I join him in thanking them for everything that they do. Sport accounts for over half of volunteering in the UK, and every one volunteer generates the capacity for at least eight more people to participate in sport. I know that the whole House will join me in praising their efforts.

Q2. Since 2014, the SNP has won eight elections. We now have more councillors, Members of the Scottish Parliament and MPs in this place than any other Scottish political party. Every one of those elected Members was elected on a manifesto and clear mandate for Scottish independence. What democratic right do the Government have to deny Scottish democracy, refuse an independence referendum and keep us shackled and imprisoned in this involuntary and unequal Union against the will of the Scottish people? (902412)

Again, we respect the decision of the Court today with regard to the referendum and we are getting on with the business of working constructively, collaboratively and in partnership with the Scottish Government to deliver for the hon. Member’s constituents. Indeed, the Ayrshire growth deal is investing over £100 million to make use of his region’s strong industrial heritage, potentially making more use of renewable energy. That is the kind of positive project that we should be focused on, and that is what we will keep on delivering.

Q9. The Prime Minister has rightly promised to recruit a successor to Lord Geidt as his ethics adviser promptly, but does he accept that threats to integrity are often broader than the job description of the Prime Minister’s adviser on the ministerial code, and will he therefore commit to introducing the additional measures in the new five-point integrity plan on topics such as lobbying and conflicts of interests, developed with organisations such as Transparency International and Spotlight on Corruption, to show that he will walk the talk and put party integrity and Government integrity at the heart of our democracy? (902420)

I thank my hon. Friend for his comprehensive and thoughtful suggestions. As he acknowledged, I have committed to appointing an independent adviser on ministerial interests, and I very much look forward to studying his other proposals in proper time.

Q4. Just three months ago, this appointed interim Prime Minister said in Scotland: “We live in a Union, which is of course there by consent and by democracy, and I accept that”. By their consent and by democracy the Scottish people have already voted by a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament to have their say through a referendum on an independent future for Scotland. It begs the ultimate question: can the Prime Minister tell us whether he accepts Scottish democracy and, if so, how that is compatible with today’s Supreme Court ruling, which clearly exposes the myth that the UK is a voluntary Union and is upheld by consent? (902414)

At a time such as this, the Scottish people want to see their Governments working together on the things that matter to them. I believe that that is possible. The hon. Member should know that in his own constituency we have been able to support culture and tourism, working together to bring the V&A to Dundee. That is an example of a positive project. It demonstrates the benefits of the Union, and that is what we will keep on delivering.

Q10. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government provide slim financial support across five firms for small modular reactors. A few other countries have woken up and are seriously investing in SMRs. As Sizewell will not be running until 2031 at the earliest, should we not be doing the same? (902421)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Hopefully he was heartened to hear what the Chancellor said last week: that we want to crack on with our overall nuclear programme. My hon. Friend is right to acknowledge that small modular and advanced nuclear reactors have the potential to play a key role in that nuclear programme, alongside projects such as Hinckley and Sizewell. That is why we have allocated £385 million to support them. Like him, I am keen to see progress as soon as possible.

Q5. During the 2014 referendum, we were told that Scotland was an equal partner in a family of nations, yet the disaster that is Brexit was forced on Scotland against our will, and we have seen devolution wound back by legislation such as the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. So if the Prime Minister still claims that the UK is a voluntary Union, can he explain the democratic route by which the people of Scotland get to make a choice over their own future? (902416)

The UK is a collaborative and constructive Union that is delivering for the people of Scotland, even in Ayrshire itself, where we are working collaboratively with the Scottish Government to invest in aerospace, advanced manufacturing and space. Those are the types of activities that will bring tangible benefits to the people in the hon. Lady’s region, and that is the right focus for the Government.

Q11. As a North Yorkshire MP, my right hon. Friend will know how crucial bus services are to our communities. Last month, Arriva stopped the only bus between Selby and Doncaster, meaning that 40 Selby College students had to find alternative transport at very short notice. Thankfully, the college itself stepped in to resolve the situation. Additionally, across North Yorkshire around 80 other bus services are now under threat. Can my right hon. Friend advise what action he will take to ensure that essential services are not withdrawn at short notice, and to ensure that they continue to be operated across the Selby district and wider North Yorkshire? (902422)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He knows that I share exactly the same challenge in our rural areas of making sure that our constituents have access to the bus services they need. I am pleased that the Chancellor has allocated funding for extra bus services across the country, and I look forward to working with him to ensure that that money finds its way to rural areas such as North Yorkshire to provide the connectivity that is so important for people to have opportunity and get access to public services.

Q7. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Tomorrow marks one year since 32 people lost their lives in the channel. New evidence suggests that the boat reached British waters and that the French and British authorities knew that it was in distress for a very long time. Families are still waiting for answers from the marine accident investigation branch. Why has this investigation taken so long? Will the Prime Minister commit to a full public inquiry afterwards, and does he concede that this would not have happened if there were safe and legal routes into the UK? (902418)

Every life that is lost in the channel is a tragedy, but that is why it is so vital that we break the cycle of criminal gangs that are exploiting people and trafficking them, and that is what the Home Secretary is focused on. We have accepted more than 380,000 people over the past few years, because this is a place where people can seek refuge and sanctuary, but we must be able to do that in a sustainable way, and that is why it is right that we tackle illegal migration.

Rising energy bills are a challenge for all of us. My constituents are grateful for the support that has been given by the Government, but with temperatures this week falling below freezing in Lincolnshire, those living in park homes are particularly concerned about when they will receive their support. Can my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister tell me when and how people living in park homes will receive the £400 to which they are entitled?

My hon. Friend has consistently and rightly championed her rural constituents, making sure they get access to the energy support that we are providing. This is something that the Chancellor prioritised in last week’s autumn statement, and I will ensure that we get the money out as quickly as possible. My hon. Friend should also be reassured that the cold weather payment system provides extra financial support to those vulnerable constituents when temperatures drop below a certain point.

Q12. Did Scotland vote for Brexit? No. Did Scotland vote for austerity? No. Did Scotland vote for the Tories? No. What we did vote for—[Interruption.] Don’t shout me down—[Interruption.] Don’t shout me down; I have listened to all of you. What we did vote for, only last year, was the right to choose our own future. With that in mind, and given the previous non-answer by the Prime Minister, can he tell this House—tell us all, in fact—how a nation can leave this so-called voluntary Union? (902423)

The challenges we face right now are those that require co-operation between our Governments: tackling the economy and supporting the NHS. I am pleased that last week’s autumn statement means that the Scottish Government will receive £1.5 billion in extra funding to deliver for public services in Scotland, and that is what we will continue doing.

Scotland is a proud nation with a unique heritage. It is a valued member of our family of nations—a Union of people bound through the generations by shared interests. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this morning’s Supreme Court decision gives the Scottish nationalists—the SNP—the opportunity, for once, to put the people of Scotland first and end their obsession with breaking us apart?

Q13. The Prime Minister will not answer, but it is obvious that the route to Scottish independence is now elections, and we know there will be many of them.Inequality has a cost. In France, middle earners earn 20% more than those in the UK, and low earners earn 25% more. This inequality is why the cost of energy and the cost of living are hitting people worse in the UK —incidentally, that is why I am for independence, so that we can choose a better path. In the meantime, in my constituency there are both more off-grid fuel customers and a higher rate of fuel poverty than in Northern Ireland. Will the Prime Minister do the right thing and extend the £200 payment that is going to Northern Ireland to the off-grid customers in my geographically distinct constituency in the Hebrides on the basis of fairness—yes or no? (902424)

Last week’s autumn statement announced £55 billion to support families and businesses across the United Kingdom with their energy bills. The Chancellor paid particular attention to off-grid customers in rural areas by doubling their support to £200, which will help many people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and across the United Kingdom.

Mr Speaker, I am sure that this weekend we will both be celebrating what we consider to be one of the best days of the year: Lancashire Day. May I thank you personally for hosting the event in Parliament? Will the Prime Minister, although he represents a Yorkshire constituency, join me in welcoming our Lancastrian local leaders and businesses to Parliament today, and will he join us in supporting our proud history and bright future by levelling up what we consider to be the best county?

I offer my best wishes to my hon. Friend, and indeed to you, Mr Speaker, for Lancashire Day. I can put local rivalry aside on this occasion to join my hon. Friend in thanking Lancastrians for their contribution to our country, and I wish her the very best for today’s event.

Q14. What we have heard from the Prime Minister today is, in essence, that no matter how Scotland votes, Westminster will decide, but democracy demands differently. The late Canon Kenyon Wright said:“What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, ‘We say no, and we are the state’? Well we say yes—and we are the people.”It is the people in Scotland who have to be heard. This place cannot stand in the way of democracy. If this Prime Minister with no mandate thinks it can, is he seriously telling us that this is a voluntary Union of equals? (902425)

We are focused not on the SNP but on the people of Scotland; that is who we are delivering for. I am happy to meet the First Minister, as I continue to do, to deliver for the people of Scotland, including in the hon. Lady’s constituency through the growth deal, and also by moving civil service jobs, creating freeports and providing extra funding for public services. This is a Government who will deliver for the people of Scotland, and we will do it constructively and collaboratively.