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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 726: debated on Wednesday 18 January 2023


The Secretary of State was asked—

Devolved Budget for Wales: Impact of Inflation

1. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of inflation on the devolved budget for Wales. (903082)

14. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of inflation on the devolved budget for Wales. (903096)

The Welsh Government are well-funded to deliver public services in Wales. As a result of the autumn statement, Welsh Government funding is increasing by around £1.2 billion over the next two years. That is on top of the additional £2.5 billion a year on average announced at spending review. The Prime Minister has also been clear that we will halve inflation to ease the cost of living.

The Secretary of State says that the budget is increasing by £1.2 billion over the next two years, but inflation has already eroded the purchasing power of the Welsh Government in the current year by £1 billion. Since the UK Government are responsible for approximately 80% of the resource base of the Welsh Government, what further representations does he plan to make to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that that purchasing power for essential public services in Wales is made good?

The overall funding amounts for the devolved Administrations, including the Welsh Government, have still increased in real terms over the period despite the impact of inflation. If the hon. Gentleman is serious about dealing with inflation, I hope he will support this Government as they propose to halve inflation over the coming year. In doing so, we will need to carefully control public spending in areas such as pay.

The Institute of Welsh Affairs says that budgetary pressures highlight the impotence of Welsh devolution and that tax scheme changes by the Scottish Government are a model that would help Wales’s financial situation. If the UK Government will not provide vital increases to devolved budgets, will the Secretary of State explore devolving similar tax-varying powers to Wales, as in Scotland, to help the Welsh Government mitigate the Tory mismanagement from this place?

I am not quite sure I follow what the hon. Gentleman is saying, because of course the Welsh Government do actually have tax-varying powers. They have chosen not to use them, because the Welsh Government recognise that taxes have already increased as far as is sensible, and that means that all of us have to deal with the constraints that have come about as a result of the very difficult economic situation we face due to covid and the impact of a land war in Ukraine.

Inflation, of course, causes pressure, but it is also true that Wales gets £1.20 per head for public services for every £1 in England. Yet the Welsh Labour-run Government spend less than that on their public services. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that ruinous Welsh Labour Governments should stop wasting money on things like the Senedd expansion and instead spend money where it is needed: tackling backlogs in hospitals and stopping the decline of education in Wales?

I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend; he is absolutely right. Money is being wasted in the Senedd, for example on spending up to £100 million on increasing the number of Senedd Members at a time of economic difficulty. [Interruption.] I hope Opposition Members who are chuntering are listening carefully to what my hon. Friend has to say.

Cost of Living Crisis

2. What recent assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on (a) households and (b) businesses in Wales. (903083)

6. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the cost of living crisis on households in Wales. (903087)

13. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of rising costs on (a) businesses and (b) households in Wales. (903095)

I understand that people across the UK are worried about the cost of living, which is why we have taken decisive action to support households and businesses across the UK, while remaining fiscally responsible. That support includes a £26 billion package for the next financial year, which will be targeted at protecting the most vulnerable.

Almost half of adults UK-wide say the cost of living crisis is harming their mental health, and that rises to 61% of Welsh adults. Devolved initiatives such as the fuel support scheme in Wales help, but inflation and UK Government cuts put such schemes in jeopardy. How does the Secretary of State justify his Government’s repeated refusal to support devolved Governments in tackling the crisis his party has created?

First, I fully acknowledge that there is a cost of living crisis at the moment. It has come about because the UK Government rightly had to spend hundreds of millions of pounds dealing with the covid pandemic. We then saw inflation increase through the roof as a result of a land war in Ukraine. I recognise that there is a cost of living crisis being faced by countries across the whole of the western world at the moment. The UK Government have certainly not cut funding. We have increased funding for the devolved Administrations. We have increased money for the national health service. It is a shame that in Wales that funding is not being fully passed on to the national health service. Frankly, on the NHS, the Welsh Labour Government are getting more money and delivering a lower service.

My constituent Sarah and her children could not celebrate Christmas this year: they were crippled by the fear of bailiffs and of being made homeless in the minus 2° weather. The toll this has taken on her mental health is unimaginable. She said to me, “My children and I will just break.”

A YouGov poll, out this week, shows that this Tory-made cost of living crisis has had a huge impact on people’s mental health in Wales—significantly more than elsewhere. Thirteen years of Tory Government have crippled this country. Cardiff Council is already £23 million worse off. Is the Welsh Secretary going to push my constituents to breaking point?

There is a cost of living crisis going on all over the world at the moment. This Government have acknowledged that and faced up to it. That is why we have prioritised help for the least well-off. That is why this Government have made sure that the minimum wage has risen in line with inflation, that pensions have risen in line with inflation and that benefits have risen in line with inflation. People on benefits will receive a £900 payment, pensioners are getting a £300 payment and households with a disability are getting a £150 payment. At all times through these crises, which have not been caused by this UK Government, we have targeted our help at the most vulnerable in society.

The Government have announced that support for homes and businesses connected to the mains gas grid will be extended for another year, but it seems that the single round of alternative funding announced for off-grid homes will be expected to last for the full 18 months. Notwithstanding the fact that the first payment to off-grid homes is still to be made, will the Secretary of State push colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury for a second round of alternative funding to provide support for off-grid premises ahead of next winter?

The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the UK Government have recognised that those who are off grid are facing an increase in costs. It has not been as sharp as the increase for those who are on grid, and I think that the figures reflect that, but I note the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the fact that full details of the payment have not yet been made fully clear. I am sure that my colleagues in BEIS will have noted his question and will be coming forward shortly with more information about the payment.

This month has seen dreadful news for steel businesses and steelworkers in Wales. Steel is an energy-intensive industry, and its operating costs during the cost of living crisis have rocketed. Thirteen years of Conservative Governments have seen decline, offshored jobs and damaged communities.

Steel is integral to a modern economy. Labour will put Welsh and UK steel at the heart of our wider industrial policy, building wind turbines, railways and investing in carbon capture and storage and in hydrogen infrastructure. Other than creating a cost of living crisis, what is the Government’s plan for our steel industry and for steelworkers’ jobs?

First of all, the news from Liberty in Newport was very disappointing and is very concerning for many people. That has not come about as a result of actions by the UK Government, as I think the hon. Lady will recognise; there are other issues pertaining there.

The UK Government are completely committed to the steel industry. We demonstrated that with a £30 million loan to Celsa during the covid crisis, and we have demonstrated it with the various schemes that have been brought forward to support industries with high energy use. We are developing a scheme that will enable those in the industry, such as Tata, to decarbonise. We are also in discussions with Tata about how we can support it further over the coming years.

Steelworkers need a Government on their side. The industry needs a partner that can provide stability, not sticking plasters. Floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea is a real opportunity for our steel industry and the wider supply chain in Wales. It would also help to mitigate the impact of the cost of living crisis for many Welsh businesses in the supply chain. If the Government do not provide the necessary stability, we will see platforms being built in France and Spain and floated over to the Welsh coast, which would be absolutely unconscionable. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that the Crown Estate leases will use local supply chains in Wales?

I have met the Crown Estate on a number of occasions to discuss the next bidding round for the sites out in the Celtic sea. Obviously we hope to develop the industry. I agree with the brunt of the hon. Lady’s question, which is about the importance of developing a floating offshore wind industry off the coast of Wales. I have been trying to ensure that the supply chain is as local as possible. That is why we have supported the conversations between developers and the Crown Estate; it is also why I have personally visited Pembrokeshire to ensure that the growth deal there supports the new infrastructure at the dock that can allow those projects to be floated out to sea. We are actually doing a great deal to support the floating offshore wind industry in Wales.

For Harlech Foodservice, a key business in my constituency, last week’s news that the UK Government were slashing their energy support for businesses was devastating. The company is already struggling under soaring energy bills and interest rate hikes in coronavirus business interruption loan scheme repayments. Can the Secretary of State clarify the position? Will any support be forthcoming on CBILS repayments, and will any savings made by the Treasury as a result of falling wholesale gas prices be ringfenced for targeted support for small and medium-sized enterprises and vulnerable households?

I hope the right hon. Lady will recognise that over the last year the Government have done an enormous amount to support businesses through the energy price guarantee. They have made it clear that that support package cannot continue at the current level after April, when the next financial year begins, but they have said that they will also make clear, fairly shortly, what the new package will look like. Unfortunately, no Government anywhere in the western world will be in a position to completely underwrite and subsidise energy costs for all businesses for an indefinite period, so we have to confront some realities, but I hope the right hon. Lady will be supportive of the efforts that the Government have made to do more to develop energy security in the United Kingdom. Perhaps she should talk to some of her colleagues in the Scottish National party about their opposition to opening up further oil and gas projects in the North sea.

I would have appreciated an answer about the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme as well.

We all know that extortionate energy costs are part of this Tory winter of discontent, which bookends 13 years of deliberate austerity. Key workers are striking and real incomes are in freefall. Following the last Budget, funding for Welsh public services will be worth £3 billion less over the next three years. Enough is enough, and cutting key workers’ salaries is not the right answer. Will the Secretary of State urge the Treasury to reverse this decline by establishing a truly fair funding system for Wales that recognises our nation’s needs, taking into account age, disability, and poverty levels?

The right hon. Lady will surely be aware that the Welsh Government are receiving £1.20 per head for public services for every pound that is spent in England. That is why it is so difficult to understand why not only are the waiting lists longer in Wales but educational outcomes are lower, after more than 20 years of a Labour Government. Perhaps it is time that Plaid Cymru started to stand up for the people of Wales and hold the Welsh Labour Government to account, rather than propping them up in the Senedd.

Research Funding: Welsh Universities

3. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on research funding for Welsh universities. (903084)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on research funding for universities in Wales. We are committed to making the UK a science superpower, backed by nearly £39.8 billion, the largest ever research and development budget. Last week I was pleased to visit Bangor University—at the suggestion of the hon. Member—and to observe the cutting-edge research being done there. I remain committed to Welsh universities capitalising on the funding opportunities that are available.

The Secretary of State has seen for himself that Welsh universities can and do deliver world-class research, but I think he will accept that their research funding is perhaps less than would be expected. I accept that this is not a simple matter—it is not a matter of counting heads—but what practical help can the Secretary of State give to increase research support in Wales, particularly for new and innovative projects such as those he saw in Bangor?

In terms of practical support, I want to visit every single university in Wales over the next few months. I have already met representatives of UK Research and Innovation to make clear my concern about the relatively low percentage of grant funding that is going to Welsh universities for research projects. I want to bring UKRI and those Welsh universities together at an event at Tŷ Gwydr later in the year, and given the hon. Gentleman’s own commitment to this particular issue, I will try to ensure that he is invited and is able to attend.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain, including Wales, has a proud history of international collaboration? Will he continue to keep up the pressure on the European Commission to allow us to associate ourselves with the Horizon programme, which would make such a difference to the future of British science?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. I would support the Horizon programme, but if that is not possible for any reason, such as intransigence in the European Union, I will be making the case to UKRI that Welsh universities can produce some of the best research in this country and should be receiving a higher percentage of the money that is currently available.

Investment Zones

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the proposed refocusing of investment zone policy. (903085)

Let me first congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his knighthood in the new year’s honours list.

We remain committed to working with the Welsh Government on the delivery of investment zones for Wales. That is alongside the freeports programme, which will facilitate growth and innovation through benefits such as tax relief for businesses.

That is all very well, but the Government have basically completely binned their investment zone policy. I have had a letter from a Government Minister saying that it is all being refocused and is not about housing and planning any more but about productivity, improving growth and job creation. But no details are available, and all the bids have been binned. Is that not further evidence that we do not have a Government in this country anymore, just a bunch of rapscallions squatting in ministerial offices?

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. As he will know, many elements of the policy are devolved in Wales. Therefore, discussions continue with the Welsh Government on those aspects. I would highlight that there are 5,400 similar zones in other parts of the world. We must deliver growth for Britain in a similar fashion.

I echo the congratulations to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) on his knighthood. One of the lessons of industrial policy over the last 30 years in Wales, certainly given the number of failed food parks, science parks and technology parks, is that taxpayers’ money alone does not create economic activity out of thin air. Does the Minister agree that whatever interventions we or the Welsh Government make must work with the grain of the private sector? To that end, does he recognise that the overriding strength of the Celtic freeport bid is that it works with real projects and real industry to deliver floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea?

My right hon. Friend is a strong campaigner for the offshore wind possibilities in south-west Wales. He will know that decisions on awarding freeports are ongoing, with at least one due in Wales and an announcement to be made shortly.

UK Government Funding for Wales

Over the spending review period the UK Government are providing the Welsh Government with 20% more funding per person than equivalent UK Government spending in other parts of the UK. As a result of the autumn statement, Welsh Government funding is increasing by around £1.2 billion over the next two years, on top of the additional £2.5 billion-a-year average over the three-year spending review.

The UK Government shared prosperity fund short-changes Wales by £1 billion over three years, even though the Secretary of State and his predecessors repeatedly promised that Wales would receive not a penny less when replacing EU funds. Those funds were used by the Welsh Government to deliver 5,000 apprenticeship year. Why is the Minister letting down young people in Wales in this way?

The hon. Lady will know that the shared prosperity fund is extremely generous to Wales and replaces all the money that came from the European Union. There have been fantastic announcements in recent weeks about how the fund will progress. She will also know about an array of other funding schemes through UK Government, including the growth deal. I hope to be in her constituency in early February for the groundbreaking, milestone event for Pentre Awel, I hope she will join me at that.

Despite the Welsh Government receiving the largest devolution funding settlement, it has the worst performing Labour-run NHS. Instead of spending on what matters, they plan to spend £32 million on a 20 mile-an-hour blanket speed policy. Such a policy will cost the economy £4.5 billion. Does my hon. Friend agree with me and 94% of my surveyed constituents that that is another example of a Labour waste of money?

My hon. Friend is quite right that the policy is not a good way to spend money, and is not deliverable either. As an NHS GP working in north-east Wales, I can tell her that the delivery of NHS services is shocking in many senses. We need the Welsh Government to improve their performance.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) has just reminded the House, the Secretary of State, the Minister and their predecessors repeatedly promised that Wales would receive “not a penny less” to replace EU structural funds to Wales. Not only have they failed to deliver on that promise, but the record inflation that their Government have presided over has resulted in a double whammy to the Welsh Government’s budget. Is the Minister aware that higher education has been shut out of his Government’s flagship levelling-up process and that hundreds of jobs are now at risk, possibly as many as 600? Why are his Government continually letting down people, including young people, across Wales?

I joined the Secretary of State on a visit to Bangor University last week and it is important that we ensure there are funding mechanisms for higher education. There is an array of schemes through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and it is important that the hon. Gentleman and the Government work on ensuring that the university sector is supported in Wales.

Rail Infrastructure

7. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for rail infrastructure in Wales. (903088)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet members on a range of transport measures. More than £340 million has been provided for rail enhancements in Wales, including at Cardiff Central station and for the electrification of the Severn tunnel.

The Government’s failure to end rail strikes impacts all of us across the UK. Like in Scotland, transport is devolved in Wales, but we need people coming from England into our countries to get much-needed revenue for tourism and hospitality. In Wales, a pay agreement has been reached but its own railways cannot function on strike days because of UK- managed maintenance responsibilities. Can the Secretary of State outline what he is doing to resolve these damaging strikes and get railways up and running again?

I must confess that I failed to hear much of that question, and I apologise for that. I heard the hon. Lady ask what I was going to do to get railways up and running again, but I am not certain which ones she was referring to. This puts me in a slightly difficult position as far as answering is concerned, but I can honestly say to her that we have spent £340 million on railways over this control the period, including £125 million on the core valley lines, £4.7 million on St Clears station, £4 million on the Bow Street station and £2.7 million on the Cambrian line. In addition to that, we have spent money on projects such as the electrification of the south Wales line. The Cardiff capital region South Wales Metro is funded partly by the UK Government through a growth deal, and our commitment to the railways is—

Direct train services between south Wales and Devon are a key part of our rail infrastructure, yet most are operated using older, less reliable rolling stock. What prospect does the Secretary of State see for getting new, more modern trains operating on these routes?

I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that more modern stock is being rolled out on those particular routes, so he will be able to benefit from more comfortable carriages that will also emit less carbon and be better for the environment.

Menai Bridge Closure

8. Whether he has had recent discussions with the Welsh Government on the closure of the Menai bridge. (903089)

Roads are a devolved matter and the decision to close the Menai suspension bridge was therefore made by the Welsh Government. Work has commenced on the emergency replacement of brittle hangers dating back to 1938, and this will be followed by additional maintenance works. Welsh Government Ministers assure me that, subject to safety assessments, the bridge is due to reopen at the end of this month.

The Menai bridge supplies the lifeline of tourism to Anglesey and the wider region. Given Welsh Labour’s negligent handling of the maintenance of the bridge, and now its closure for months, how does my hon. Friend think Welsh Labour is doing on its manifesto commitment to rebuild tourism in Wales?

Quality road infrastructure is vital to unlocking the potential of the north Wales visitor economy. I believe that there are questions to be answered about the specification of the contracted private finance initiative maintenance schedule for the bridge, which was awarded by the last Labour UK Government in 1998, and about the stalled consideration of a third crossing on the Menai strait. I urge the Welsh Government to publish the findings of the roads review and resume the improvement of the north Wales road network.

Investment from England into Wales

9. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on investment from England into Wales; and if he will make a statement. (903090)

I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government on increasing investment in Wales and supporting the Welsh economy. Our plans for at least one Welsh freeport alongside our investment in infrastructure will act as a catalyst for further investment from the UK and beyond.

A number of Welsh nationalists—not all but some—used the opportunity of covid and the closure of the Welsh border to incite anti-English feeling. Now we hear that Plaid Cymru, working with Labour, will introduce a hotel tax and other taxes. What does my right hon. Friend think that will do for English investment in Wales?

I want to see people from England, and from all over the world, visiting Wales, and I am sure that all who do will appreciate the natural beauty and all that Wales has to offer to the tourism industry. I was disappointed that some people appeared to be indulging in anti-English rhetoric during the covid crisis. I hope all Members of this House would condemn such behaviour. I want to do more to encourage tourism, which is why I regret the fact that the Welsh Labour Government are bringing in a tourism tax. A tax on tourism is an attack on the tourist industry.

On the subject of investment between England and Wales, progress on speeding up the Wrexham to Bidston line is about as slow as the trains on the Wrexham to Bidston line. What has the Secretary of State personally done to improve rail connections between north Wales and Liverpool?

I am sure I speak for the whole Government in saying that we are completely committed to better rail connections across the United Kingdom. I am well aware of the line between Wrexham and Bidston. I am also aware that it went through a business case procedure that was not completely positive. I can assure the hon. Lady that a number of projects in the rail network enhancements pipeline will be discussed shortly by the Department for Transport.

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

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I know Members across the House will be as shocked and appalled as I am about the case of David Carrick. The abuse of power is truly sickening, and our thoughts are with his victims. The police must address the failings in this case, restore public confidence and ensure the safety of women and girls. There will be no place to hide for those who use their position to intimidate women and girls, or for those who fail to act to reprimand and remove people who are unfit for office.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

As the project champion for the north midlands manufacturing corridor, next week I am bringing together businesses, leaders and local councillors from across the region in Parliament to set out to Department for Transport officials the importance of the A50/A500 corridor. The Prime Minister understands the importance of investing in our infrastructure and unlocking the potential of our towns and cities, so will he urge Government colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to attend the meeting to hear more about the benefits this investment would bring to our region?

The Government recognise the strategic importance to the midlands of the A50/A500 corridor. Final decisions on the scheme will be made in the third road investment strategy, which will be fully published next year, but I know my hon. Friend will be contacting Ministers in the relevant Departments to invite them to hear her case.

I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the dreadful case of David Carrick.

It is three minutes past 12. If somebody phones 999 now because they have chest pains and fear it might be a heart attack, when would the Prime Minister expect an ambulance to arrive?

It is absolutely right that people can rely on the emergency services when they need them, and that is why we are rapidly implementing measures to improve the delivery of ambulance times and, indeed, urgent and emergency care. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman cares about ensuring patients get access to life-saving emergency care when they need it, why will he not support our minimum safety legislation?

The Prime Minister can deflect all he likes but, for a person suffering chest pains, the clock starts ticking straightaway—every minute counts. That is why the Government say an ambulance should be there in 18 minutes. In this case, that would be about 20 minutes past 12. I know he does not want to answer the question I asked him, so I will ask him again. When will that ambulance arrive?

Because of the extra funding we are putting in to relieve pressure in urgent and emergency care departments, and the investment we are putting into ambulance call handling, we will improve ambulance times as we are recovering from the pandemic and indeed the pressures of this winter. But I say this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman again, because he makes my case for me: he describes the life-saving care that people desperately need, so why, when they have this in other countries—France, Spain, Italy and others—is he depriving people here of that care?

The Prime Minister obviously does not know or does not care. I will tell him: if our heart attack victim had called for an ambulance in Peterborough at 12.03 pm, it would not arrive until 2.10 pm. These are our constituents waiting for ambulances I am talking about. If this had happened in Northampton, the ambulance would not arrive until—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Bristow, I hope you want to see the rest of the questions out. I want you to be here, but you are going to have to behave better.

I am talking about our constituents. If they were in Northampton, the ambulance would not arrive until 2.20 pm. If they were in Plymouth, it would not arrive until 2.40 pm. That is why someone who fears a heart attack is waiting more than two and half hours for an ambulance. That is not the worst-case scenario; it is just the average wait. So for one week, will the Prime Minister stop blaming others, take some responsibility and just admit that under his watch the NHS is in crisis, isn’t it?

I notice that the one place the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention was Wales, where we know that ambulance times are even worse than they are in England. Let me set out the reason that is the case, because this is not about politics; this is about the fact that the NHS in Scotland, in Wales, in England is dealing with unprecedented challenges, recovering from covid and dealing with a very virulent and early flu season, and everyone is doing their best to bring those wait times down. But again, I ask him: if he believes so much in improving ambulance wait times, why will he not support our minimum safety legislation?

The Prime Minister will not answer any questions and he will not take any responsibility. By 1 pm, our heart attack victim is in a bad way, sweaty, dizzy and with their chest tightening. [Interruption.] I am talking about a heart attack and Conservative Members are shouting—this is your constituent. By that time, they should be getting treatment. But an hour after they have called 999 they are still lying there, waiting, listening to the clock tick. How does he think they feel, knowing that an ambulance could be still hours away?

The specific and practical things we are doing to improve ambulance times are clear: we are investing more in urgent and emergency care to create more bed capacity; we are ensuring that the flow of patients through emergency care is faster than it ever has been; we are discharging people at a record rate out of hospitals, to ease the constraints that they are facing; and we are reducing the call-out rates by moving people out of ambulance stacks, with them being dealt with in the community. Those are all very practical steps that will make a difference in the short term. But I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman this again and again, although we know why; the reason he is not putting patients first when it comes to ambulance waiting times is because he is simply in the pockets of his union paymasters.

This is not hypothetical; this is real life. Stephanie from Plymouth was battling cancer when she collapsed at home. Her mum rang 999, desperate for help. Stephanie only lived a couple of miles from the hospital, but they could not prioritise her. She was 26 when she died, waiting for that ambulance—a young woman whose life was ended far too soon. As a dad, I cannot even fathom that pain. So on behalf of Stephanie and her family, will the Prime Minister stop the excuses, stop shifting the blame, stop the political games and simply tell us: when will he sort out these delays and get back to the 18-minute wait?

Of course Stephanie’s case is a tragedy. Of course, people are working as hard as they can to ensure that people get the care that they need. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about political games. He is a living example of someone playing political games when it comes to people’s healthcare. I have already mentioned what has been going on in Wales. Is he confident that, in the Labour-run Welsh NHS, nobody is suffering right now? Of course they are, because the NHS everywhere is under pressure. What we should be doing is supporting those doctors and nurses to make the changes that we are doing to bring care to those people. I will ask him this: if he is so concerned about making sure that the Stephanies of the future get the care that they need, why is he denying those families the guarantee of emergency life-saving care?

So, that is the Prime Minister’s answer to Stephanie’s family—deflect, blame others, never take responsibility. Just like last week, he will not say when he will deliver the basic minimum service levels that people need.

Over the 40 minutes or so that these sessions tend to last, 700 people will call an ambulance; two will be reporting a heart attack, four a stroke. Instead of the rapid help they need, many will wait and wait and wait. If the Prime Minister will not answer any questions, will he at least apologise for the lethal chaos under his watch?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks about the minimum safety levels. We will deliver them as soon as we can pass them. Why will he not vote for them? We are delivering on the people’s priorities. As we have seen this week, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will just say anything if the politics suits him; it is as simple as that. He will break promises left, right and centre. He promised to nationalise public services. He promised to have a second referendum. He promised to defend the mass migration of the EU, and now we are apparently led to believe—[Interruption.]

Order. I expect those on the Front Bench to keep a little quiet. If they do not, there is somewhere else where they can shout and make their noise.

If we are to deliver for the British people, people need to have strong convictions. When it comes to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he is not just for the free movement of people; he also has the free movement of principles.

Q3. On Monday, the independent net zero review was published by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore). Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in welcoming many of its recommendations, particularly to provide clarity and continuity to all those working to decarbonise our economy, especially those supporting the South Shropshire Climate Action group in my constituency? (903170)

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) for his review, and also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) for his work in this area. I am pleased that the report recognised the UK’s leadership in tackling climate change and catalysing a global transformation in how other countries are dealing with it. We have, as the report acknowledged, exceeded expectations to decarbonise, and we will respond to the full range of the review’s requests and recommendations in the coming year.

To promise is ae thing, to keep it is another. Well, the Scottish Government kept their manifesto promise to the people and, thanks to support from Members of all political parties in Holyrood, the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed. Surely in that context, the Prime Minister must recognise that it is a dangerous moment for devolution when both he and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition seek to overturn a promise made between Scotland’s politicians and Scotland’s people.

Let me be crystal clear: the decision in this case is centred on the legislation’s consequences for reserved matters. This is laid out in the Scotland Act 1998, which established the Scottish Parliament—the hon. Gentleman talks about that and, at the time, it was supported by the SNP. This Bill would have a significant adverse effect on UK-wide equalities matters, so the Scottish Secretary, with regret, has rightly acted.

Let me be crystal clear—[Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] This is the Conservative party seeking to stoke a culture war against some of the most marginalised people in society, and Scotland’s democracy is simply collateral damage. On that issue of democracy, let us reflect, because on Monday the UK Government introduced legislation to ban the right to strike, against the express wishes of the Scottish Government; on Tuesday, they introduced legislation to overturn the GRR Bill, against the express wishes of the Scottish Government; and this evening they will seek to put in place legislation that rips up thousands of EU protections, against the express wishes of the Scottish Government. Are we not now on a slippery slope from devolution to direct rule?

No, of course we are not. This is simply about protecting UK-wide legislation and ensuring the safety of women and children; it is not about the devolution settlement. I urge the hon. Gentleman and his party to consider engaging with the UK Government on the Bill, as we did before the legislation passed, so that we can find a constructive way forward in the interests of the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Q10. The care, education and support that children receive in their earliest years has the biggest impact on their future life outcomes; that is why the affordability, accessibility and quality of childcare is so important for families in Eddisbury and right across the country. Yet, despite significant investment by the UK Government since 2010, for too many families the childcare system remains inflexible, complex and expensive. Will my right hon. Friend restate to this House his commitment to addressing this essential and pressing issue so that every child can have the best start in life? (903177)

I know that this is a topic my hon. Friend knows very well from his background. He is right that it is essential to access quality childcare, which is why we provide every eligible three and four-year-old with at least 15 hours a week of free childcare and are considering new plans to improve the cost, choice and affordability of childcare, whether through consulting on ratios or supporting more people to become childminders.

A Transport Secretary implying NHS workers are deliberately putting people in danger, a Health Secretary pitting dedicated nurses against vulnerable patients—does the Prime Minister really expect the public to believe that the very people who have dedicated their lives to saving life and limb are so reckless? Is it not the case that this Government have pushed them to their absolute limit and they have no other option but to strike?

We have enormous respect and gratitude for all our public sector workers, especially those in the NHS. That is why we have backed them with not just record funding, but record investment in more doctors and nurses, with 15,000 more doctors, 30,000 more nurses and more lifesaving equipment that will help them to do their jobs. We continue to want to engage constructively in dialogue with them.

Q11.   Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner has a great many car-dependent older and disabled constituents, many of whom are horrified to read that the Mayor of London may have manipulated the outcome of his own consultation in order to impose a unwanted £12.50 daily charge every time they go to a medical appointment or attend hospital. Does my right hon. Friend agree that any further roll-out of the ultra low emission zone should be paused until those matters have been fully investigated? (903178)

My hon. Friend rightly points out that transport in London is devolved to the Labour Mayor of London. It is disappointing that the Mayor, backed by the Leader of the Opposition, is choosing not to listen to the public and expanding the zone against the overwhelming views of residents and businesses. I urge the Mayor to reconsider properly and to respond to those serious concerns.

Q2. The Prime Minister showed his cards this week by ramming through the sacking nurses Bill—he has literally gone from clapping nurses to sacking them. His Transport Secretary has said that the Bill is unworkable, and the Education Secretary has said that it is not needed. Why does the Prime Minister still want the Bill? (903169)

It was the Labour party that showed its cards this week when it came to backing working people. [Interruption.] What I would say—[Interruption.] What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that if he really cares about supporting patients, if he really cares about children getting the education they receive, if he really cares about working people being able to go about their lives free from disruption, he should join in supporting legislation which is prevalent in many other countries to ensure minimum safety levels in critical public services, and get off the picket lines himself.

Q13. To continue a theme, evidence is now very clear that the London Mayor’s sham consultation has suppressed 5,000 negative responses from members and supporters of FairFuelUK, for which I chair the all-party parliamentary group. What angers me is that this proposal is a tax against my South Thanet residents, it is a tax against Kent residents and it is a tax against all of the home counties. It is true taxation without representation. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do all he can to stop it? This tax is a fill-up for a failed Mayor’s budget and a failed Mayor. (903180)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent and powerful point, and he is right to highlight that the Labour Mayor is imposing that tax on a public who do not want it. Expanding that zone is not something that communities want. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend to urge the Mayor to consider and respond properly to all views and stop that unfair tax.

Q4. During a period of 12 months, two of my constituents—a 10-year-old boy and a senior citizen—lost their lives after being attacked by dangerous dogs. Fatalities have also occurred in other parts of the country. It is clear that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is woefully inadequate. The Government have commissioned studies and debated the subject at length, but they have done nothing. My question is: when will the Government take action on the issue of dangerous dogs? (903171)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important case, and I am very sorry to hear about the specific families he mentions. We recognise that dog attacks can have horrific consequences, and I want to assure him that we take the issue incredibly seriously. That is why we have established a working group between police, local authorities and other key stakeholders to consider all aspects of tackling irresponsible dog ownership. That working group will make its recommendations later this year, and of course, the Government will respond promptly.

Conservative-run Staffordshire Moorlands District Council has an excellent track record of delivering for my constituents while keeping council tax low. We have put in a bid to the levelling-up fund, and I know that that money would make such an incredible difference to my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to encourage the Department for Levelling Up to look on us favourably this week?

My right hon. Friend has been a stalwart champion for her community and, in particular, for their levelling-up fund bid, which I know will make a massive difference to them. I wish her and her constituents every success when we announce the next round of successful bidders for that fund.

Q5.   Many of my constituents are struggling to keep up with their energy bills this winter. When families fall behind, they are too often punished by being switched over to prepayment meters, which are more expensive do nothing to help their financial situation. Will the Prime Minister back our call to ban energy companies from forcibly installing prepayment meters and stop them switching smart meters over to prepayment meters remotely? (903172)

I want to assure the hon. Lady that Ofgem has specific regulations in place regarding the use of prepayment meters and how energy companies should treat those who are struggling with their bills. I am pleased to say that her constituents will receive, at a minimum, around £900 of support with their energy bills this winter as a result of this Government’s actions.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute and giving thanks to the several thousand people at Ministry of Defence Equipment & Support at Abbey Wood in my constituency, who work tirelessly to ensure that the military equipment and supplies that we have pledged to the people of Ukraine are dispatched quickly and efficiently? Does he agree that events in Ukraine are a reminder, yet again, of the need to invest more in our own sovereign defence manufacturing capability?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I am happy to join him in paying tribute to his constituents at the MOD facility. The work they are doing is making a critical difference in the fight to combat Russian aggression in Ukraine. I know it is extremely appreciated, both by the President of Ukraine and his people. My hon. Friend is also right that it highlights the need for more investment, which is why we are putting £24 billion of investment into our armed forces and increasing the amount of kit that we manufacture here at home.

Q6. It is almost a year to the day since the then Business Secretary, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), in a visit to the Britishvolt site in my constituency, promised the company £100 million and proudly boasted to the national media that he could not think of a project that better demonstrated levelling up. Yesterday, the company entered administration having received not a penny in financial support from the Government. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that there is not a single project in the country that better demonstrates the Government’s lack of industrial strategy, failure with levelling up and abandonment of the north-east? (903173)

First of all, let me say that my thoughts are with the company’s employees and families at this time, and we stand ready to support those impacted. Let me just outline to the hon. Gentleman what exactly has happened. We did offer significant support to Britishvolt through the automotive transformation fund—a considerable amount of funding—but entirely reasonably, and this is not something I expect the Labour party to understand, that support was conditional on the company receiving private investment as well, which is a sensible protection for taxpayers. Unfortunately, that did not materialise. It is completely wrong to take from that what else is happening in the north-east. Across the north-east, there is new investment in the new N-Vision and Nissan plant in electric vehicle manufacturing. That is a £1 billion investment in the north-east. Look at what is happening in Teesside on clean energy. This Government are committed to the north-east, and we will deliver more jobs and opportunity under this Conservative Administration.

The Prime Minister has long been a friend to business. As Chancellor, he listened to businesses in Stoke-on-Trent Central about their issues. Stoke-on-Trent has a wide range of manufacturing fabrication and engineering excellence. Does he agree with me that growing these activities is a vital strand of our levelling-up ambitions? May I invite him to re-visit my constituency to meet these businesses?

My hon. Friend is an excellent champion for her constituents, particularly her advanced manufacturing businesses, which I have had the pleasure of visiting with her in the past. It is important that we support those businesses on energy prices, which we are doing through the announcement that the Chancellor recently made, particularly in regard to generous support for energy-intensive industries. Indeed, they can also apply for up to £315 million-worth of capital grant funding to help them make the transition to net zero.

Q7. When I had breast cancer, I had phenomenal nurses. When I had to be rushed to A&E, the ambulance crew looked after me. Unison and GMB are on strike because nobody is negotiating with them. For the first time in the history of the Royal College of Nursing, its members are on strike today after being balloted. I have spoken to the general secretary of the RCN, and she is adamant that she wants to end the disputes; she just needs a meeting with the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister show leadership and meet the RCN? It is a simple yes or no. (903174)

At the turn of the year, the Government wrote to all unions, including the RCN, to invite them for frank, open, honest, two-way dialogue with the relevant Secretaries of State. I am pleased that those meetings are happening in a range of sectors, and I hope we can find a constructive way through this.

As we approach Holocaust Memorial Day, colleagues can sign the early-day motion and the book of commitment, and they can attend the various commemorative services. I have to report some very sad news to the House. The well-known holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper died at the age of 93 in the early hours of this morning. [Interruption.] He was a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Stutthof concentration camps. He spent his life in this country spreading his message of hope to young people. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking Zigi for his life and for his message? It is vitally important as we sit here today: do not hate.

I am very sorry to learn that Zigi has passed away, and my thoughts are of course with his family. I know he was a man with wonderful energy and humanity. I pay tribute to him for his work, and indeed to all holocaust survivors who have so bravely shared their testimonies. We must never forget the holocaust. As my hon. Friend rightly said, I know the whole House will join us in echoing Zigi’s poignant and accurate message: do not hate.

Q8. Will the Prime Minister join his Conservative predecessors in guaranteeing that HS2 reaches Manchester, or does he still believe that investment should be taken from poorer areas in the north and given to the more affluent parts of Kent? (903175)

This Government are investing record sums in transport infrastructure across the country but especially in the north and midlands, with a £96 billion integrated rail plan that will improve journey times east-west across the north and connectivity across the east midlands. It is a record we are proud of, and now we will get on with delivering it.

There has been a 40% increase in patients on roll with GPs in Biggleswade in the past 15 years, but last week, proposals for a Biggleswade health hub were not progressed, despite financial support from the Conservative-controlled Central Bedfordshire Council. Can my right hon. Friend advise me of the status of our manifesto commitment to “infrastructure first”, and will he and his Ministers work with me to bring together the various parts of the NHS to bring the Biggleswade health hub back on track?

I would be happy to organise a meeting for my hon. Friend to discuss how to progress his project. He is right about the importance of primary care. There is more investment going in, but we want to ensure it works for his constituency, so I look forward to arranging a meeting with him and the relevant Minister.

Q9. The Prime Minister is well aware of the injustice of prepayment meters, not least because he commented on it in response to an earlier question. It is long-standing, with higher tariffs and higher social charges. Why, then, has he allowed a situation where hundreds of thousands have been forced into that penury when winter is upon us, prices are rocketing and 8.4 million people are facing fuel poverty in April? All he requires to do is instruct Ofgem, himself or through a Minister, to ensure that there is an equalisation of tariffs between debit and credit, and ensure that his Government take steps to provide a fund for those who have seen debt arise because of his Government’s failures. Will the Prime Minister end the manifest injustice of the poor paying most? (903176)

I think the hon. Gentleman’s proposal would also increase Bills for many millions of families, so I am not sure it is the right approach. What we are doing is providing around £900 of specific support for all families’ energy bills this winter, and there is further targeted support for those who are most vulnerable, which is absolutely the right thing to do. As the Chancellor has already announced, we are also consulting on the best thing to do going forward, including options, as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, such as a social tariff, as part of our wider reforms of the retail energy market.

Every single country in the G7 requires some level of minimum service to be provided when strikes take place in essential public services, often with laws that go much further than that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the British people should be entitled to the same basic level of protection when strikes take place in these services, and does he think the former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair had a point when he said last year that the “big defect” at the birth of the Labour party was its ties to organised labour?

My hon. Friend put that very well. She is right to make the point that what we are proposing is in line with the vast majority of other countries around the world. Indeed, many countries ban strikes in blue-light services altogether, which we are not doing. We are joining countries across continental Europe in having minimum safety laws, as I think the public would reasonably expect a level of emergency life-saving care in the event of strikes. That is a common-sense, reasonable position to take, and we all know why the party opposite cannot bring itself to support it.

Q12. This month, the right hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) was forced to pay millions to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to settle a tax dispute. Was the Prime Minister aware of the investigation when he appointed the right hon. Gentleman to his Cabinet and as chairman of the Conservative party? Will the Prime Minister demand accountability from his Cabinet members over their tax affairs? (903179)

My right hon. Friend has already addressed the matter in full and there is nothing more that I can add.

I begin by putting on record the House’s heartbreak at the tragic death this morning of our friend Denys, the Interior Minister of Ukraine, and his deputy, and all those who were killed in that tragic accident. I am sure the House is united in its feeling on that.

On more local affairs, as many hon. Members have pointed out, I understand that the Government are in the final furlongs of giving out the levelling-up bids. I must ask the Prime Minister to look kindly on building the Borough Market of the midlands and a future meditech hub in Rutland. Can he assure me that not just urban, but rural areas will be levelled up?

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the family of the Interior Minister of Ukraine—our thoughts are with them at this difficult time. I confirm that the Government believe that levelling up should apply equally everywhere across our United Kingdom. Urban and rural communities up and down the country will get the benefit of the investment that they deserve. We will ensure that we spread opportunity and that everyone takes pride in the place that they call home.

Q14. David Cameron said that the Scottish Parliament was “one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world”,yet the Prime Minister continues to block the Scottish Parliament’s clear mandate to allow Scots to choose their own future. On Monday, he sent his MPs through the Lobby to deny Scottish workers the right to strike, despite overwhelming Scottish Parliament opposition. On Tuesday, he sent his Secretary of State for Scotland to block a Bill of the Scottish Parliament that was voted for by 70% of MSPs, including Tories. Does he still think that David Cameron’s ridiculous assertion holds any water? (903181)

Some 347 Acts have been passed by the Scottish Parliament, which is undeniably one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere in the world. In this exceptional case, it is clear that the Bill has adverse consequences on UK-wide equalities legislation. In those exceptional circumstances, the Scottish Secretary has regretfully taken the decision to block passage of the legislation. As I said previously, however, we want to engage in a dialogue with the Scottish Government to ensure that we can find a constructive way through.

The British people rightly expect us to control our borders, so I was pleased that the Prime Minister made the need to stop the boats in the channel one of his five priorities. Can he reassure me and my constituents that we will not only bolster the patrols on the French beaches, but ensure that people who make that dangerous journey and arrive are removed?

My hon. Friend is right that that is a priority for all our constituents, and he is right to highlight our new deal with France, which increases funded patrols on French beaches by 40%. As he said, we must go further to solve the problem once and for all, which means introducing new legislation that makes it unequivocally clear that if someone enters the UK illegally, they should not be able to stay here, but will instead be swiftly detained and removed.

Last night, the BBC revealed that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office knew the extent of Narendra Modi’s involvement in the Gujarat massacre that paved the way for the persecution of Muslims and other minorities that we see in India today. Senior diplomats reported that the massacre could not have taken place without the “climate of impunity” created by Modi and that he was, in the FCDO’s words, “directly responsible” for the violence. Given that hundreds were brutally killed and that families across India and the world, including here in the UK, are still without justice, does the Prime Minister agree with his Foreign Office diplomats that Modi was directly responsible? What more does the Foreign Office know about Modi’s involvement in that grave act of ethnic cleansing?

The UK Government’s position on that is clear and long standing, and it has not changed. Of course, we do not tolerate persecution anywhere, but I am not sure that I agree at all with the characterisation that the hon. Gentleman has put forward.