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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 723: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2022

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was //asked—

National Disability Strategy

1. What recent progress the Government have made on implementing the national disability strategy. (902537)

In January 2022, the High Court declared the national disability strategy unlawful. We have been granted permission to appeal this declaration, but to ensure compliance with the Court’s declaration we are obliged to pause a number of the policies referred to in the strategy or are directly connected with it.

Research from Scope shows that life costs more for people who are disabled, and 91% of those surveyed are worried about energy bills this winter. As this weekend marks the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, would the Minister work with his cross-departmental colleagues to revise the eligibility criteria for the warm home discount to reinstate eligibility for the 300,000 disabled welfare claimants?

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for his question. It is fair to say that this is a Government who have consistently been supporting people during the significant cost of living challenges that they face. Of course, we have the energy price guarantee, which is a significant part of that package, but I am sure that Ministers in Departments across Government would be very happy to engage with him on the particular point he raises about the warm home discount.

We know that a key challenge for many young people with disabilities is getting assessments and getting them funded, so that they and their parents can find out what disabilities they have. I have a constituent who has been told they must wait up to 18 months for an assessment to find out whether they have autism to be completed. Is there an opportunity in the national disability strategy to better enable and fund the accessibility—and accelerate the completion—of those assessments, which can make a life-changing difference to individuals?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important point. The autism strategy is in place, having had a refresh launched in July 2021 and £74 million of funding in the first year. With the first year having concluded, we will publish our second implementation plan to make further progress on delivering the actions in the strategy. As part of the deliberations on that, we will consider the interesting point that he raises.

Violence against Women and Girls

Tackling violence against women and girls is a Government priority. We have made significant progress since publishing the cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy and the tackling domestic abuse plan. That includes launching our national communications campaign “Enough”, resulting in tens of thousands of visits to the website, as well as £55 million of extra funding for CCTV and street lighting to prevent these crimes from happening, with £230 million committed cross-Government to tackling this heinous crime.

New statistics show that just one in 10 victims of partner abuse reported it to the police last year, which means thousands of victims are suffering in silence with no route to justice. The appalling Solihull murders showed just how important the police response to domestic abuse is; where it falls short, the impact can be fatal. Will the Minister listen to Labour and put a domestic abuse specialist in 999 control rooms so that victims who are most at risk can be identified and helped quickly?

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for raising this. I remind the House that it is this Government who have acted in the most robust way possible. The landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 was introduced in April last year, but this is about many things: prevention, education, supporting victims, pursuing perpetrators and doing good old-fashioned police work sensitively. I will take no lessons from the Opposition in relation to this sort of issue.

The levels of racist and sexist abuse uncovered in the London Fire Brigade are truly shocking. The independent review tells of women having to run a daily gauntlet of sexist abuse, and one woman even received video calls from a man exposing himself. Such incidents amount to nothing less than misogynistic hate crimes, so will this finally be the wake-up call that this Government need to class misogyny as a hate crime in law?

I look forward to Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, tackling this issue—he has been rather slow on it. This Government are fundamentally in support of proper education to protect people, including women and all other vulnerable people within the force. The Opposition really need to look at their own leaders first, and this Government will continue to work hard.

In one week it will be exactly a year since the Law Commission recommended that public sexual harassment be made a specific crime. Does my hon. Friend agree with Plan International, the Girl Guides, Soroptimist International, Our Streets Now, and many other organisations, and will she either back the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill, or bring forward her own legislation?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her campaigning and work in this area. I am always impressed when organisations such as the Girl Guides say something, because it usually has merit. I ask her to be just slightly more patient, because I am hoping for some news in this space very soon.

Following White Ribbon day on Friday, we remember all victims and survivors of violence against women and girls. Last year, only 1.5% of reported rape and sexual violence offences resulted in a conviction. The Minister is right: tackling this issue requires multiple actions, but the Government refuse to take those actions and, sadly, in her responses she was instead seeking to pass the buck. May I ask a straight question? Why will the Government not introduce the following three measures: specialist rape courts, rape and domestic abuse specialists in every police force, and the domestic violence register that Labour has called for?

This Government have undertaken a committed review of that area. They have committed to the end-to-end rape review. For example, no adult rape crime victim should be left without a phone for more than 24 hours. We are on track to deliver many of those new initiatives, and that work goes across Departments. The hon. Lady asked about specialist rape courts, and as a practising barrister for 30 years I expect all courts to deal with rape properly. All these issues are serious and will be addressed.

Conversion Therapy: Legislation

3. What the Government’s planned timetable is for bringing forward legislative proposals on conversion therapy. (902539)

The Government are committed to protecting people from these practices. We are carefully considering the responses to the public consultation on banning conversion practices, which closed this year, and we will set out our next steps and the Government’s response in due course.

That is a deeply disappointing answer, because every day that the Minister delays the Bill, LGBT individuals can be subject to abhorrent and deeply damaging conversion therapy. It is now eight months since the consultation closed, and four years since the Government first promised a ban, so I beg the Minister to bring forward a Bill as soon as possible. Will she reassure the House that the Government’s proposed legislation will bring in a comprehensive ban on all forms of conversion therapy, and include the protection of trans people?

This is a very serious issue, and one reason that it is taking so long is that we are being very considered. Many of the things that people asked for when we first started talking about conversion therapy practices are different from what we are looking at now, so the scope has widened. More importantly, I reassure LGBT people that we can tackle these issues with existing law. We are being very careful in our considerations of what will come into the Bill. The answer that the hon. Lady is requesting will follow on from the consultation, and that will come in due course.

A lot of words and no action. In 2018 a promise was made that conversion practices would be banned. Four years and four Prime Ministers later, this disastrous Tory Government are going backwards with some on their Benches actively fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry towards trans people. When will this Tory Government follow the lead of the SNP Government in Scotland, take action to ban conversion practices, and stop putting trans peoples’ lives at risk?

The hon. Lady from the SNP is, of course, talking absolute nonsense. Government Members are legislators and what we are going to do is bring a robust Bill into law, not one that will be helpful for her to send her tweets. This is about looking after vulnerable people and not about social media campaigning.

Does my right hon. Friend understand the LGBT community’s anxiety when it comes to the ban? It has appeared in multiple Queen’s Speeches, yet we are still to see any draft legislation.

My hon. Friend asks a good question. I do understand the anxiety. One of the things that I am trying to do is take a lot of the heat out of the debate. Questions such as that from the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), which seek to inflame anxiety and make people worried about what we are doing, are not helpful. This is something that I am committed to doing. He is right that we have raised it and promised it multiple times. The reason it is taking so long is that it is not as simple as Opposition Members would like it to be. This is a very complex area and, when we do it, we will do it right and permanently.

My constituent Paula Wren is proud to be trans and proud to be a Conservative. She would call straightforwardly for an end to the absurd practice of conversion therapy. It is completely unnecessary for trans people, and the sooner the Government can bring in the Bill, the better it will be.

Last year, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss)—the most recent former Prime Minister—described conversion therapy as an “abhorrent practice” in the ministerial foreword to the Government’s consultation on banning conversion therapy. Some 11% of trans people in the UK report having been subjected to that so-called therapy by their own families, and those individuals who are subjected to the practice are significantly more likely to have attempted suicide than their peers. I am disappointed in what I have heard, which seems like more kicking into the long grass. Does the right hon. Lady understand that conversion therapy is abhorrent? If so, why will her Government not commit to preventing this harm to trans people by banning the practice for everyone?

It is quite clear that the hon. Lady did not hear any of the answers that I have given, because she has asked something that I have answered multiple times. I refer her to the answers I gave to all those hon. Members.

Health Disparities White Paper

5. Whether she has had recent discussions with the Secretary of State for Health on a timetable for the publication of a health disparities White Paper. (902541)

The Department continues to review how health disparities can be addressed. In relation to the health disparities White Paper, further information will be available in due course.

There is a 20-year gap in healthy life expectancy between those who live in the most deprived areas of the country and those who live in the least. In Gateshead, my local authority, healthy life expectancy is 57.9 years for men and 58.5 years for women compared with a national average of over 63 years. The Conservative party promised in its 2019 manifesto to increase

“healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035.”

Will the Minister come clean and admit that, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the Government are not on track to hit that?

This is the first Government to want to tackle health disparities, which have been in place for generations. It is true that a woman born in Blackpool can expect to live eight fewer years than someone in Wokingham, but that is why the levelling up White Paper included a levelling up health mission to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy between local areas by 2030. I refer the hon. Lady to the Core20PLUS5 work done by NHS England that is tackling the five single health indicators that are most expanding health disparities in the 20% most deprived communities.

Does the Minister agree that the health disparities White Paper is fundamentally an equalities White Paper and about levelling up, so areas such as Stoke-on-Trent, where we have significant issues with affordable, healthy food and an obesity emergency, need to know that the White Paper will cover those recommendations put forward in the national food strategy?

Of course, the health disparities White Paper is important, but work has already started on disparities. As I set out, the NHS has already launched the Core20PLUS5, where the 20% most deprived communities are being targeted with interventions in the five most clinically significant areas. Those are maternity, mental health, respiratory disease, cancer and hypertension. Work has already started, and I know that that is of particular interest in areas such as Stoke.

A new World Health Organisation study, published in The Lancet, found that poorer women in Britain have some of the highest cancer death rates in Europe. Income levels should not be the marker of someone’s chances of getting and dying from cancer. Does the Minister recognise that that is not acceptable, and will she commit to a cross-Government strategy that tackles health inequalities?

I refer the shadow Minister to the work that the Government are already doing. Cancer in particular is one of the five core areas in which we are investing significant resources to diagnose people earlier. She may be interested in the lung cancer detection vans, which go to those communities with the highest incidence rates and poorer outcomes for lung cancer. Some 70% of people with stage 1 or 2 cancer are being detected, significantly improving their life expectancy.

Women in the Workplace

I confirm the Government’s commitment to the empowerment of women in the workplace. Over the last few years, the number of women in full-time work has increased and the gender pay gap has fallen considerably. There is more work to be done and we have announced groundbreaking pay transparency pilots, a number of new returners programmes and a taskforce for women-led high-growth enterprises.

I thank the Minister for her answer. The outgoing vice-chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Dame Louise Richardson, says that she has been shaken by the level of threat and harassment experienced by female academics. To be clear, it is not sexual harassment; it is harassment of female academics because of their belief, in particular, that sex matters and their refusal to agree with extreme gender identity ideology. That harassment often comes from students and third parties, and is not confined to universities—it exists in other workplaces. Can the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to address such harassment in the workplace?

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her work in this space, which is vital. I point her to the private Member’s Bill on workplace harassment that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) is promoting, with Government support, which will introduce legal protections giving employers an explicit duty to prevent workplace harassment by third parties. I look forward to working with the hon. and learned Lady on that Bill.

Sexual harassment disproportionately affects women in work. Back in 2020, a Government survey showed that half of those who reported sexual harassment at work were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which effectively silences victims. To support more women in work, will my hon. Friend look at rolling out more widely the Education Secretary’s successful campaign to stamp out the use of non-disclosure agreements in universities so that more women can benefit from the approach the Government have already undertaken?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her work on this issue. I will of course speak to my colleague in the Department for Education about it, but I want to reassure my right hon. Friend that specific legislation about sexual harassment in the workplace is going through the House at the moment with Government support.

Topical Questions

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is key to the advancement of equality in this country, which is why we welcome the United Nations’ recent reaccreditation of it as an “A status” national human rights institution. To support Baroness Falkner and her board, I will shortly appoint new commissioners and deputy chairs to the commission. The new commissioners will bring complementary expertise and experience to support the Equality and Human Rights Commission in upholding and advancing equality and human rights across the United Kingdom.

Early in the covid pandemic, the Welsh Government commissioned a study that showed how health inequalities affected people from black and ethnic minorities far worse, not just for any supposed medical reasons but for many social reasons. What will the Minister do to try to put right the situation where social inequalities lead to health inequalities in the black and ethnic minority population?

The hon. Lady may not be aware of the extensive, 18-month piece of work that I produced on covid disparities. Some of the things that she mentioned were picked up in that report and the recommendations. One was about the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and that work is ongoing. That body will look at many of the issues that she raised.

T5. The Government’s research demonstrates a clear link between viewing violent pornography and violence against women and girls. More and more online pornography depicts gratuitous violence against women and 50% of 12-year-olds have seen it. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the current and future impact of online pornography on the safety of women and girls, and does she think that the Online Safety Bill goes far enough to prevent children from seeing it? (902557)

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, and I agree with her. Protecting women and girls and preventing children from accessing harmful content, such as online pornography, is a priority for the Government. The Online Safety Bill will introduce new protections for women and girls online. Under the Bill, all services will need to proactively remove and prevent users from being exposed to priority illegal content. That includes the appalling illegal content that affects women and girls, such as revenge and extreme pornography.

Qatar’s record on LGBT+ rights, women’s rights and the treatment of migrant workers means that it should never have been awarded the World cup. Although FIFA’s capitulation over the One Love armband has been shameful, the least that our LGBT+ fans could expect from our Government is advice and support when travelling to matches, yet there is no advice from the Foreign Office or the Government Equalities Office for LGBT+ fans, nor—

Qatar has repeatedly committed that everybody is welcome at the tournament. As colleagues are aware, the Minister with responsibility for sports and equalities—my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew)—is in Qatar, and I fully respect his decision to wear the One Love armband.

T6. When performing my physics research during my studies more than 20 years ago, I was fortunate that my supervisor was an incredible female professor, Sue Bayliss. The impact that she had on me and the work that she did has encouraged me to support science, technology, engineering and maths for girls in all areas. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what steps the Government are taking to promote STEM in education and as a career pathway for girls so that, one day, many more millions can inspire people like me? (902558)

I thank my hon. Friend for all his work in this space. I reassure him that, to increase the uptake of STEM education by women and girls, we are funding programmes such as the advanced mathematics support programme, the advanced maths premium, the stimulating physics network and the inclusion in schools programme. We have seen a 50% increase in the number of women taking higher education STEM courses since 2011.

T2. In this cost of living crisis, will the Government commit to an emergency domestic abuse fund—[Interruption.]—so that all survivors can access help with fleeing an abuser and no one is left choosing between ongoing abuse and violence, or poverty and hunger? (902554)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We have set out the multiple ways in which we are supporting vulnerable people. I am afraid I did not get all of her question, but if she wants to write to me or a Treasury Minister about a more specific issue, we can look into it in more detail.

T7. Will the Minister update the House on what the Government are doing to support women starting up small businesses? (902559)

I thank my hon. Friend for her work in this area. It is crucial that we get more women starting up their own businesses. We anticipate that that would bring in £250 billion to the UK economy. The taskforce that we asked Anne Boden to lead will make recommendations to Government in the new year. We know that venture capital is a huge problem stopping women starting a new business: for every pound of venture capital given to a new business, only a penny goes to women, whereas 89p goes to men.

T3. The Equality Act 2010 does not have the legal teeth needed for enforcement of the law. The responsibility falls entirely on the individuals who have been discriminated against to pursue legal redress. Will the Minister meet the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association to discuss its Open Doors campaign and stop the shame whereby nearly three quarters of guide dog owners have reported an access refusal in the past 12 months? (902555)

I would be absolutely delighted to meet Guide Dogs to talk about the campaign. It is an important stakeholder in the disability sector, and we will make sure that that meeting happens.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities will have seen in the news today that between 400 and 500 migrant workers were killed building the stadia in Qatar. Does that not make FIFA’s decision to choose Qatar as a location even more ridiculous? Will she join me in condemning FIFA for the way it has kowtowed to the Government of Qatar in relation to their anti-LGBT bullying?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. Ministers and senior officials have raised the concerns of LGBT visitors with Qatari authorities at all levels and will continue to engage on the issue during the World cup. In fact, the Minister for Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), is out there supporting LGBT people and continuing the engagement to ensure that they are protected.

T4. The number of black and ethnic minority students is proportionately higher in further education colleges, but the number of black and ethnic minority lecturers is small and the number of black and ethnic minority college leaders is tiny. What are the Government doing to address that? (902556)

The hon. Gentleman asks an excellent question. This is one of the issues that we looked at in our Inclusive Britain strategy. The Department for Education and the Government Equalities Office are working to ensure that we get the right proportion and representation of people in the education sector. He is right that there is under-representation; we need to look at ways within the Equality Act, such as positive action, to address that and ensure balance.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am sure that colleagues around the House will want to join me in congratulating England on last night, in commending Wales for inspiring millions and in wishing everyone a happy St Andrew’s day.

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.

In 2014, the Prime Minister’s predecessor David Cameron signed up to the Smith commission, which promised among other things that

“nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country…should the people of Scotland so choose.”

Does the Prime Minister share that view? If he does, in the light of last week’s Supreme Court judgment, will he bring forward legislation to allow that choice to be exercised?

We did have that conversation not so many years ago—it was described as a once-in-a-generation referendum—and we discussed this last week. I think what the people of Scotland want is for us to be working constructively together to focus on their priorities. That is indeed what we are doing in the hon. Gentleman’s own area: we are investing hundreds of millions of pounds in a growth deal and ensuring that with the new concert hall we can enshrine Edinburgh’s reputation as a city of culture.

Q3. I have just returned from the south Pacific and—[Interruption.] I have resisted the All Blacks jokes. I found a deep concern there about the expanding tentacles of communist China. Does my right hon. Friend agree that China is more than just “a systemic challenge”, as he has put it, and is in fact an expanding, serious geopolitical threat? (902524)

China is indeed a country with fundamentally different values from ours and an authoritarian leadership intent on reshaping the international order, but actions speak louder than words. That is why we passed the National Security and Investment Act 2021. Just recently, we used that Act to block the sale of Newport Wafer Fab, and this week, with our announcement of Sizewell C, we ensured that China’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation will no longer be a part of the project. This Government are making sure that we protect our country’s security.

I join the Prime Minister in saying, “Well done England”, and I hope we will be able to say that next week and the week after. I also send commiserations to Wales, who I am sure will be back in the World Cup tournament before too long. And, of course, we mark the fact that tomorrow is World AIDS Day.

Winchester College has a rowing club, a rifle club and an extensive art collection. It charges more than £45,000 a year in fees. Why did the Prime Minister hand Winchester nearly £6 million of taxpayers’ money this year, in what his Levelling Up Secretary has called “egregious state support”?

I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition wants to talk about schools, because we recently announced billions more in funding for our schools. We are helping millions of the most disadvantaged children to catch up with their lost learning, and we are driving up school standards. During covid, the Leader of the Opposition wanted to keep schools closed—but we should not be surprised, because I listen to parents and he listens to his union paymasters.

The Prime Minister’s Levelling Up Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who, after all, was Education Secretary for four years—and I see him down there—has said:

“We could scarcely find a better way of doing that”

—of ending what he described as “burning injustices”—than scrapping these handouts. The Prime Minister talks about driving up standards. Just down the road from Winchester, in Southampton—and he will know this—four in every 10 pupils failed English or maths GCSE this year. Is that £6 million of taxpayers’ money better spent on rifle ranges in Winchester, or on driving up standards in Southampton?

The Leader of the Opposition talks about school standards. It is under a Conservative Government, and thanks to the reforms of the former Education Secretary, that now almost 90% of schools are good or outstanding.

Whenever the Leader of the Opposition attacks me about where I went to school, he is attacking the aspiration of millions of hard-working people in this country. He is attacking people like my parents. This is the country that believes in opportunity, not resentment. He does not understand that, and that is why he is not fit to lead.

If the Prime Minister thinks that the route to better education in this country is tax breaks for private schools in the hope that they might hand some of that money down to state schools, that is laughable. Trickle-down education is nonsense. But it is not just the Levelling Up Secretary; his Education Minister, sitting there, asks, “How much better would it be if Conservatives got rid of these handouts?”

The Prime Minister talks about his record. It is simple: he can carry on being pushed around by the lobbyists, giving away £1.7 billion to private schools every year, or we can put that money to good use, and end the Tory scandal. He talks about his record, while hundreds of thousands of children are leaving school without the qualifications that they need. I have made my choice. What is his?

We are improving school standards for every pupil in this country. It is our reforms that are leading to our marching up the league tables of the programme for international student assessment—PISA—for reading and writing. There are more good and outstanding schools, and there is more investment in every single school. The Leader of the Opposition talks about choice. This is about supporting aspiration, and that is what this Government are proud to do.

The Prime Minister really does need to get out more. He talks about aspiration. They are killing off aspiration in this country, and it is not just about education—why is the dream of home ownership far more remote now than it was when his party came to power 12 years ago?

What have we done in those 12 years? We have the highest number of new homes started in 15 years and the largest number of first-time buyers in 20 years. The Leader of the Opposition talked about the Conservative party coming to power 12 years ago. What did we inherit? The lowest level of house building in a century.

Would you believe it, Mr Speaker? The simple fact is this: every year, the age at which people can buy their first home goes up. At this rate, under this Government, a child born in the UK today would not be able to buy their first home until they were 45. I love my kids, but I do not want to be cooking them dinner in 30 years’ time. I have heard that the right hon. Gentleman is having a relaunch. Apparently it is called Operation Get Tough, so how tough is he going to get with his Back Benchers who are blocking the new homes this country so badly needs?

We are delivering record numbers of new homes under this Government. That is what we are doing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about toughness. He is too weak to stop dozens of his own MPs joining the picket lines. If he wants to support those hard-working families and show some leadership, why does he not confirm right now that no Labour MPs are going to join those picket lines?

Whichever way you slice it, it is always the same: whether it is private schools, oil giants or those who do not pay their taxes here, every week the right hon. Gentleman hands out cash to those who do not need it. Every week he gets pushed around, and every week he gets weaker. But I can help him with this one. He does not need to do another grubby deal. If he wants to defeat that amendment from his anti-growth Back Benchers on national targets for housing, Labour will lend him the votes to do so. Country before party—that is the Labour way. Why doesn’t he try it?

We did hear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is too weak to confirm there will be no one on the picket lines. It is the same old Labour ideas: more debt, more inflation, more strikes and more migration. He tells his party what it wants to hear. I will take the difficult decisions for this country. That is the choice: it is the politics of yesterday with him, or the future of the country with me.

Q4. As hosts of this week’s international Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative conference, the UK again highlighted the need for more action to prevent sexual violence in conflict. Given the heartrending accounts of women in Ukraine being brutalised in this way and the reports that a third of women in conflict zones can be victims, will the Prime Minister champion with me, as his special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, the work being undertaken with young people across the world to stop religion or belief being weaponised, which can later manifest into sexual violence in conflict? (902525)

I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend for her dedicated work in this area. She is absolutely right to highlight the fact that, this week, the UK hosted the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative conference. It was an incredible success and I pay tribute to all those involved. As she said, we managed to reach a new political declaration in the conference where over 50 different countries have agreed to put an end to sexual violence in conflict. She deserves praise for all her work in this area.

I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending prayers and condolences to the wife of Doddie Weir, who sadly passed away at the weekend. He was an absolute giant of a man, an inspirational figure in Scottish rugby and someone who raised £8 million for motor neurone disease charities over the past six years. Our thoughts are with Kathy, with Hamish, with Angus and with Ben.

Let me wish everyone a happy St Andrew’s day. Those who know anything about St Andrew will know that he is not just the patron of Scotland; he is celebrated right across Europe. That is why it is such a sad sight to watch this Prime Minister ram through a Bill that would rip up 4,000 pieces of European law—laws that protect workers’ rights, food standards and environmental protections. And it is an even worse sight watching the leader of the Labour party desperately trying to out-Brexit the Prime Minister, ruling out freedom of movement and any hope of a Swiss-style deal. Brexit is now the elephant in the room that neither the Tories nor Labour are willing to confront. When will the Prime Minister finally see reality and admit that Brexit is a significant long-term cause of the UK economic crisis?

I join the right hon. Gentleman in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Doddie Weir, to whom I pay tribute for his campaign to raise awareness of motor neurone disease, which has made a big difference.

Straightforwardly, I was proud to support Brexit, which was the right thing for this country. It allows us, first of all, to get control of our borders, which is incredibly important, and to reduce migration. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the slight dexterity of the Leader of the Opposition on the topic of free movement, and I know he will join me in reminding the Leader of the Opposition of his promise to defend the free movement of people, which is not something we support. We are also seizing the economic opportunities, deregulating and signing trade deals around the world. That is how we will drive growth and prosperity.

I thank the Prime Minister for his remarks on Doddie Weir.

Once again, what we are seeing on Brexit is “better together”—we are used to that in Scotland. The problem for both the Prime Minister and the Labour leader when it comes to Brexit is that even their own voters do not agree with them. The latest YouGov poll showed that a record 56% now believe it was wrong to leave the European Union, and the figure is 71% in Scotland. One in five people who voted for Brexit have now changed their mind. More and more people across these islands are wise to the fact that “make Brexit work” is just another stupid slogan. Scotland cannot be stuck with a new “Brexit together” coalition of the Tories and Labour, so on this St Andrew’s day can the Prime Minister finally tell people in Scotland what is the democratic path to escape Westminster control and deliver independence so that we can get back to the European Union?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about democracy and votes. The difference between us is that I respect the result of referendums. Let us remember one thing: we had the fastest vaccine roll-out in the world because of our freedoms after leaving the European Union.

Q5. Manufacturing remains a key part of the UK economy, and for the west midlands that means automotive, which is important to my Rugby constituency as we have firms in the supply chain and workers at Jaguar Land Rover. The move to all new cars sold in the UK being electric by 2030 means it is critical that we have a battery manufacturing site. Assembly is already taking place elsewhere in the world where batteries are made, so will the Prime Minister support the bid for a gigafactory in Coventry? (902526)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his efforts to progress this project. We are fully committed to securing investment to grow our electric vehicle supply chain. Although he will know I cannot comment on individual commercial negotiations, we announced £350 million of funding for the automotive transformation fund in the net zero strategy to support the development of that supply chain, and I wish him every success in his bid.

Yesterday, BBC Northern Ireland announced cuts to programming and jobs at BBC Radio Foyle, which in my view will leave the station totally unsustainable. The BBC charter places an obligation on the BBC to allow audiences to engage fully on local issues. This decision is a very clear breach of that obligation, leaving licence fee payers outside the Greater Belfast area without proper local programming. Will the Prime Minister act to defend this very important local public broadcasting service?

I believe very strongly in local public broadcasting, and indeed the Government have taken steps to support local media. I will be happy to look at the specific issue the hon. Gentleman raises, and to bring it up with the BBC when I next see them.

Q8. The people of Guildford tell me they want women and girls to feel safe, and I am delighted to have had some success in getting lights turned back on, including on Yorkie’s bridge on behalf of concerned students at the University of Surrey. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, even in difficult times, we cannot take a single step back from the brilliant work that this Conservative Government are doing to tackle violence against women and girls? (902529)

Like my hon. Friend, the Government are committed to tackling violence against women and girls, and to making our streets safer. We created the safer streets fund, which funds additional patrols, extra lighting and more CCTV. The StreetSafe online tool allows users, including those in her constituency, to pinpoint locations where they feel unsafe so that local police can take appropriate action. I will continue to support her in her efforts.

Q2. Two 16-year-old boys, Charlie Bartolo and Kearne Solanke, were tragically killed in my constituency this weekend, and my heart goes out to the families and friends left behind. We really need to come together across the House to address and tackle serious youth violence, so may I ask the Prime Minister what he is doing to address the knife crime epidemic? (902523)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and join her in expressing condolences to the family and friends of the two boys; I also read about it and it is an awful tragedy. She rightly asks what we are doing to make our streets safer and stamp out the scourge of knife crime. We are boosting the number of police officers; as she will know, with 15,000, on our way to 20,000. We are also giving them the powers they need to get knives off our streets, including by lifting restrictions on stop and search, and introducing new court orders to target known knife offenders. I agree with her that this is something we need to do more on, and she should know that the Government will be fully committed to tackling it.

Q11. When will my right hon. Friend’s Government bring forward any emergency legislation that is needed to deport those migrants who came across the channel illegally in small boats and are now being put up in hotels paid for by hard-pressed British taxpayers? (902532)

We are determined to do whatever it takes to break the business model of the people smugglers, who are causing the needless loss of life of people in the channel and putting unsustainable pressure on our asylum system. Our Nationality and Borders Act 2022, opposed by the Labour party, gives us new powers, which we fully intend to use. We will take further measures as required to properly control our borders and reduce the number of illegal crossings.

Q6. It was sad to see in a video from his Oxford days the future Prime Minister saying that he hadn’t a single friend who was working class. He is not likely to make any soon, because while he sits on a personal fortune he is refusing the reasonable demands of nurses, railway workers and many others who are forced to take industrial action just to make ends meet. Why doesn’t he give them the wage increase they need and fund it by making the rich pay the same rate on unearned income as workers have to pay for their hard graft? While he is at it, why not scrap the non-dom tax loophole that he is all too familiar with, which is costing the public £3.2 billion? (902527)

I have nothing but admiration and gratitude for our nurses for all the work they do, but it is simply unreasonable and unaffordable to have a 19% pay rise. If that is what the hon. Gentleman thinks is reasonable, I am sure the Labour party can explain to us how it would pay for that and the impact it would have on inflation. If he really wants to support working people, maybe he should get off the picket line and end the strikes.

Q12. The train service between Wilmslow in my constituency and London was always hourly, direct and took one hour and 50 minutes. Now, we would be very lucky if we got a direct train and the journey time is often double that. And that is not restricted to strike days; it is day in, day out on Avanti trains. Will the Prime Minister tell my constituents what the Government are going to do to sort this out and get the west coast service back to what it used to be, because the service at the moment is completely unacceptable? (902533)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the unacceptable deterioration in the quality of Avanti’s service. The Transport Secretary is rightly monitoring it and holding Avanti to account. There is a plan to increase the number of trains—with the 100 additional drivers—and restore the full direct service between Manchester and London. But what this plan needs—and I hope the Labour party supports it—is trade union co-operation.

Q7. I am sure that Conservative Members felt a sense of déjà vu watching the Welsh defence during last night’s match—after all, they know what it feels like to have Marcus Rashford run rings around them. Off the pitch, Marcus Rashford has been a tireless campaigner on child hunger, in the face of fierce Conservative opposition. Given that Marcus Rashford delivered on the pitch last night, will the Prime Minister give him the best thanks possible by delivering free school meals for every child living in poverty? (902528)

We are supporting almost 2 million children with free school meals. We also, last year, invested hundreds of millions of pounds in the new holiday activities and food programme, which is broadening that support through the holidays for those kids who need it, on top of our work to roll out breakfast clubs across the country.

Q13.   The pandemic has played havoc with school attendance and the Children’s Commissioner says that almost 115,000 children are now being home-educated, which is 34% higher than before the pandemic, with little if any monitoring of their educational welfare. Even worse, nine in 10 local authorities believe that they have not been able to identify home-educated children. Will my right hon. Friend bring forward the register of home-schooled children so that they are identified and we can ensure that their needs are looked after and they are not falling through the net? (902534)

We support the right of parents to home-educate their children and we know that many do well. However, that is not the case for all, which is why local authorities must seek to identify those children missing education. We have published guidance on the arrangements that they should be following and, indeed, ensured that they have oversight of elective home education.

Q9. After record payouts to shareholders last year, the Royal Mail recently—this year—announced huge half-year losses and plans to cut 10,000 jobs, while threatening the cherished universal service obligation that guarantees a minimum six-days-a-week letter delivery service, in the tradition of the Penny Black from 1840. Why have the Government not yet committed to investigating the cack-handed mismanagement of this iconic British service and to protecting its future and loyal postal workers? (902530)

Again, I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for the hard work of our postal workers, but it is not the right approach to go on strike, and especially to demand pay, as we have heard, that is simply unaffordable for hard-working British taxpayers. The hon. Lady would do well to see that. In the context that we are in, it is simply not possible to give people the type of pay demands that they are making.

Due to the unique geography of Brigg and Goole and the Isle of Axholme, we are one of the most flood-prone areas of the country. Although I welcome the record £5.4 billion of flood defence money, may I ask the Prime Minister, ahead of next year’s Budget, to look at easing the rules around how that money is spent, so that more of it can be spent on maintenance, which is so important to keeping my constituents dry?

I am very happy to look at that for my hon. Friend. He is right to highlight the doubling of the investment that the Government have put into flood defences, but it is right that we get the mix right. I will take that matter away with me.

Q10. The West Midlands Police chief constable has revealed that a vulnerable child was forced to spend two days living in a police station during a mental health crisis because the right specialist help could not be found for them. I know that more and more young people are unable to access appropriate mental health support. Will the Prime Minister accept Labour’s plans to scrap private school charitable status and use the money to fund a mental health professional in every school? (902531)

We have already committed to offer all state schools a grant to train a senior mental health lead by the end of this Parliament. Already six out of 10 are doing so. There is funding for all of them to have it. In addition, we are increasing the support that we give to those with eating disorders, because the hon. Lady is right: mental health does affect young people. This Government are backing those people to get the support that they need.

The number of people crossing the channel is a national emergency. The number of migrants in hotels is a national emergency. Is it not time that we had a Cobra-style Committee, involving the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the Home Office and led by No.10, to tackle this crisis?

I share my hon. Friend’s frustration and I want to reassure him that we will do whatever it takes to reduce the number of illegal crossings to this country and take any new powers that we need to. I look forward to working with him to ensure we can do that, because this is fundamentally about our sovereignty and the proper control of our borders. While the Labour party has tried to oppose every measure we have taken, we will keep going, because we need to ensure that we stop the crossings.

Q14. Last week the UK Government’s Regulatory Policy Committee stated that the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is “not fit for purpose”. The Institute of Directors, the TUC and countless others have urged the Government to scrap the Bill. Businesses across Scotland have already suffered severe economic damage under this Tory Brexit agenda, and they now see the outlook clouded with even more complexity and uncertainty. If the Prime Minister is serious about protecting the economy and looking after small and medium-sized enterprises, why not do the right thing and scrap this disastrous, ideological Bill now? (902535)

Taking advantage of our freedoms is going to drive growth, jobs and prosperity in the UK, whether in life sciences, in reducing the burdens on data for those SMEs or in the financial services industry in Scotland. That is how we are going to create prosperity across this nation and that is why we are going to get on and deregulate post Brexit.

My right hon. Friend and the Chancellor have rightly pointed out that levelling up is for the whole of the United Kingdom. As a Southampton man, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will know that, since the 1970s, Eastleigh has been promised a much-needed Chickenhall Lane bypass. Will he agree to meet me and Hampshire County Council to finally get the project moving?

It is right that we spread opportunity across the country, including in Eastleigh and the south. I understand that it is for Hampshire County Council to bring forward the proposal for the bypass, which I hope it will do at the next funding opportunity, and I will ensure that my hon. Friend and the council have a meeting with a Transport Minister as soon as possible.

Q15. Tory ideology has blocked onshore wind development in Scotland for years. The Peterhead carbon capture cluster has lost out on funding twice and is still only classed as a reserve. Pump storage hydro schemes have been blocked because the UK Government will not discuss a pricing mechanism. If the Prime Minister actually cares about net zero and Scottish jobs, will he at least take action to advance Peterhead carbon capture and storage and pump storage hydro in Scotland? (902536)

Not only are we supporting in this country carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and offshore wind—all new technologies that will help us to get to net zero and will create jobs in Scotland—but we are supporting our transition. That is good for the Scottish economy and good for Scottish jobs, and something the SNP would do well to support.