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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2023


The Secretary of State was asked—

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

1. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill on Scotland. (903683)

11. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill on Scotland. (903693)

14. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill on Scotland. (903696)

I realise that many colleagues on the Benches diagonally opposite are somewhat preoccupied with the contest to become the leader of the Scottish National party and Scotland’s First Minister. In my view, this is a real opportunity for a new First Minister to reset the relationship with the United Kingdom Government, to work constructively with us and to make life better for the people of Scotland. We need a First Minister who puts Scotland’s interests above the nationalists’ interests. My offer to all those running in the contest is this: the United Kingdom Government stand ready to work with you, and that will be the real win for improving the lives of people in Scotland.

My assessment is that retained EU law reform will have a positive impact on Scotland by boosting the competitiveness of the economy while respecting devolution and maintaining high standards. Reform will ensure that regulations meet the needs of the United Kingdom, and will provide the opportunity for us to become the best regulated economy in the world, encouraging prosperity, business innovation and—

Order. May I just say to the Secretary of State that Scottish questions are short enough without his taking up all the time?

I thank the governor-general for that long-winded response.

According to a report by the Economics for the Environment Consultancy, lower standards just in chemical regulation, water pollution, air quality and the protection of habitats will cost the British Government £83 billion over the next three decades. Does the Secretary of State believe it is right for Scotland to face yet another billion-pound price tag for a Brexit that it did not vote for?

I do not recognise that analysis. We are respecting and raising environmental standards. Where matters are devolved we respect that, and the Scottish Government are able to deal with those matters under retained EU law as they see fit. Where there is overlap, we have frameworks and we will work together.

“What utter drivel” is, I think, the parliamentary terminology.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has warned not only that the Bill threatens economic harm, but that weakened safety standards on construction and other work sites risk the loss of life and limb. It states that that we might as well adopt the motto, “Saving time and costing lives”, for the Bill. How many Scottish workers’ lives does the Secretary of State believe are a worthwhile price to pay for the Brexit race to the bottom?

When it comes to utter drivel, it should not be a competition, but the hon. Member has taken it to a new height. What utter drivel that was! Workers’ rights are entirely protected; in fact, they are being enhanced by this Government, and they are not dependent on EU membership.

The negative impacts of Brexit are already visible, with food prices up 6% and a third of the companies that formerly exported to the EU giving up, owing to customs paperwork—and that includes companies in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that it is Brexit that is causing more red tape for businesses, and that diverging from EU standards further under this much-criticised Bill will further exacerbate trade friction between the UK and the continent?

No, because I believe that we have a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU, and we are working out and ironing out the problems. We have been very successful in doing that, particularly for the fishing industry. We also have before us huge opportunities: not just the trade deals with Australia, New Zealand and others, but the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which will cover almost half the world’s trade and will provide a huge opportunity for Scotland’s food and drink industry.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be ideal if the new First Minister put as much focus on the powers that the Scottish Government already have as on retained EU law? Was he as disappointed as I was to find that, once again, the Scottish Government were unable to take over the devolved powers on welfare that they were given in 2016, and that it now seems that those powers will not come into place until 2026—10 years after the Scotland Act 2016?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I know that he was in the Scotland Office when those powers were devolved in 2016. Some of them will not come into operation until 2026. That is because, while we want to work with the Scottish Government—we are working with them—and we hope we will deliver those programmes at the Scottish Government’s pace, the pace could be moved up if they spent more time focusing on the day job and less time on their obsession with separation.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs alone has identified more than 1,700 pieces of retained EU law, with the majority in devolved areas such as agriculture, forestry and fishing. What happens if the Scottish Government want to maintain some of the EU standards that the Secretary of State’s party wants to ditch? Does he think it would be right for UK Ministers to change regulations in devolved matters without consent? How does that respect devolution?

We are working constructively and collaboratively with the Scottish Government on those retained EU laws. Where we have agreement on a cross-UK piece of policy, we will legislate on behalf of the devolved Administrations. Where it is in a devolved area, we will respect that and allow the Scottish Government to do as they see fit. If they want to remain in line with EU regulations, they can. There is a retained EU law—REUL—working group for the Bill and their officials have been on that since March 2022. We are making good and steady progress.

Because of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2022, goods made in the rest of the UK cannot be kept out of Scotland, even if they do not meet future Scottish standards on quality, safety or environmental impact. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that the combined effect of both pieces of legislation will drastically increase the degree of direct rule by Westminster and drive a coach and horses through devolution?

That is not true. We are respecting the devolved settlement. If we look at precision breeding and gene editing, for instance, the Scottish farming industry, the National Farmers Union of Scotland and all the other farming unions in the UK want to be part of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, but we have respected the Scottish Government saying that they do not want to be part of it. Their dogma desires them to carry on with the EU rules and we respect that. As regards the UK internal market, it is absolutely right that trade can continue seamlessly across the United Kingdom, because 60% of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Allegations of Impropriety in Public Life

2. What assessment he has made of the implications for his Department’s work on strengthening the Union of allegations of impropriety in public life. (903684)

3. What assessment he has made of the implications for his Department’s work on strengthening the Union of allegations of impropriety in public life. (903685)

The UK is one of the most successful political and economic unions in the world. Our collective strength means that we are better able to tackle big problems such as the cost of living, lead the international response against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, grow our economy and deliver freeports in Scotland.

Last month, the then Tory party chairman was sacked when it was revealed that he had allegedly attempted to hide his multi-million pound tax settlement with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs after failing to properly declare income. That is not to mention partygate and various other scandals. Does the Secretary of State think that a Tory Government in Westminster who are mired in sleaze will strengthen or weaken our Union of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister put integrity at every level in this Government when he came in, and he acted decisively in appointing an independent ethics adviser. When he received the report on the incident the hon. Gentleman refers to, he acted immediately.

In Scotland and across the UK, Parliament is being dragged down by Tory and SNP sleaze and impropriety. In Holyrood, Committees have been ignored, processes have been run over roughshod, and the responsibility to be truly accountable to both Parliaments, the press and the public has been ignored by Ministers of both Governments. Does the Secretary of State not agree that we need a reformed and renewed constitution across the country that is fit for a democratised United Kingdom?

I did not catch all of that, but I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave earlier. There is a ministerial code that sets standards of behaviour for Ministers, and Ministers are personally responsible for how they conduct themselves. Ultimately, the Prime Minister is the judge and I think he is a man of integrity. I trust him to make the right decisions.

Controversial, expensive and barely afloat, the SNP Government in Scotland have wasted £500 million of taxpayers’ money on two ferries that do not work. Does my right hon. Friend agree there should be an urgent inquiry so that Scottish voters can have faith in the way that Holyrood uses their money?

I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State and the Government on what they are doing to strengthen the Union, whether it is the £220,000 they are forking out to the former Prime Minister for his legal fees, the disgraceful financial arrangements around the chair of the BBC, the bullying allegations, the tax affairs or the Prime Minister’s second fixed penalty notice. The Prime Minister said he would fix Tory sleaze once and for all. How does the Secretary of State think he is getting on with that?

As I said, the Prime Minister appointed an ethics adviser, and he has acted decisively on everything brought forward to him to date. I have full confidence in the Prime Minister, in his integrity and in the decisions he will make.

Levelling-up Fund

4. What recent assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the effectiveness of levelling-up funding in Scotland. (903686)

The Government are tackling geographic inequalities across the UK through their ambitious levelling-up agenda. We are investing almost £2.3 billion in levelling up across all parts of Scotland. Without the leadership of the UK Government, there would be no long-term investment in the Scotland-wide city region and growth deals, which are putting investment in the hands of local leaders, nor would there be investment in transformational local projects, such as a new ferry for Fair Isle or the restoration of Kilmarnock’s historic Palace Theatre, through the levelling-up fund.

The all-party parliamentary group on new towns, which I chair, has completed a report on the specific infrastructure needs of new towns such as my constituency of East Kilbride, which was built after the second world war. Many specific infrastructure and investment needs have been established, so will the Minister encourage new towns in Scotland, such as my constituency, to apply for levelling-up funding to address those important needs?

Yes, is the short answer. The Government’s levelling-up agenda is benefiting communities right across the UK, including new towns. It allows communities to address local needs in order to create jobs and boost economic growth. For example, the new town of Cumbernauld in North Lanarkshire successfully secured over £9 million in the first round of the levelling-up fund recently, which will enable transformational developments of the town centre. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady’s group to discuss how we might support new town investment.

It has been a momentous week in Scottish politics, and I am sure the whole House will want to wish Nicola Sturgeon all the best in whatever she does next in politics. I also pass our deepest sympathies on to everyone at Hibernian football club, who lost their owner, Ron Gordon, suddenly yesterday.

According to the Together Through This Crisis initiative, which is a coalition of charities, almost a quarter of people across the country regularly run out of money for essentials. At the same time, BP and Shell have made more than £1 billion a week in profits, while avoiding a proper windfall tax because of the loopholes the Prime Minister created in his scheme. Will the Minister listen to those charities, recognise the impact the cost of living crisis is having on working people and put in place a proper windfall tax to help them?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the cost of living support provided by the Government is worth over £26 billion in 2023-24. As a compassionate Government, we have taken appropriate steps to support the most vulnerable households across the UK through additional cost of living payments, including £900 for households on means-tested benefits, £300 for pensioner households and £150 for disabled people. When it comes to taxing energy companies, the Government have raised the rate of tax on companies such as BP and Shell to 75%, which we consider fair, given the current circumstances.

The Minister says he runs a compassionate Government. He should tell that to the parents who are going without food to feed their children. Scots are being hit hard by the cost of living crisis, which has been made worse by the state of Scottish public services. The NHS is on its knees while the Cabinet Secretary for Health is focusing on other things and Scottish local government is having its funding decimated again by the Finance Secretary, who is seemingly intent on offending every minority group in Scotland. Does the Minister agree that, in the midst of such a serious crisis, it is frankly absurd that failed Scottish Ministers are fighting among themselves for the top job, when too many Scots are worrying about how to pay their bills?

It does seem that the SNP has decided to provide the country with compelling drama now that “Happy Valley” has ended. However, there is a serious point here. While the SNP indulges in the most savage infighting since Labour’s Blair-Brown civil war, Scotland is crying out for attention to be given to things that really matter: the economy, the health service and the education system. The people’s priorities are the priorities of the United Kingdom Government. We can only hope that the new First Minister will move away from the SNP’s obsession with independence and focus on the things that really matter to the people of Scotland.

Cost of Living

5. What assessment he has made of the impact of increases in the cost of living on people in Scotland. (903687)

12. What assessment he has made of the impact of increases in the cost of living on people in Scotland. (903694)

Like many countries around the world, the UK faces the challenge of high inflation, which is why the Prime Minister has made tackling inflation a key immediate priority. As was outlined in the Chancellor’s autumn statement, the Government are committed to supporting the most vulnerable households across the UK with £12 billion-worth of direct support in 2023-24. Alongside that, the energy price guarantee is saving a typical household in Scotland about £900 this winter.

The former viceroy made reference earlier to social security powers. The current deputy assistant junior viceroy will be aware that we have the best start grant in Scotland, whereas it was reported at the weekend that in England baby formula has been put behind the tills in Co-ops. Will the Minister outline what has gone wrong with the UK welfare state, when we have got to a stage where baby formula has to be put away because of fears of theft?

As the Chancellor set out in the autumn statement, we have taken the appropriate steps to help the most vulnerable households in Scotland and across the UK. I have set out already some of the payments being made to support households this winter. The Government continue to explore new ways of tackling poverty and helping to protect the most vulnerable, and we will continue to do so.

Scotland is a net energy exporter, but, as a consequence of being in the UK, people in energy-rich Scotland face electricity costs that are 30% higher than those in the Netherlands and Germany. Does the Secretary of State think it right that Scots face the highest bills in Europe while the UK Government allow energy companies to make billions in profit?

As I have set out during this session, the Government are putting in place tax arrangements to ensure that excessive profits made by BP, Shell and others are taxed at 75%. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s further analysis about the situation in Scotland; this Government have put in place measures to support households during this difficult winter period and we will continue to assess what other measures we can take to do so.

Strengthening the Union

The Government’s commitment to Scotland is best demonstrated by what we are doing on the ground. We are investing more than £2 billion to level up across Scotland and working with the Scottish Government to deliver growth deals and freeports in Scotland.

Scotland is a world leader in food and drink production, especially in higher-end products such as Scotch whisky and seafood—something I have been proud to promote in my role as one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys. As the UK Government continue to strike new trade agreements, what benefits will the removal of trade barriers have for Scotland?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important matter and for his efforts in this area. The latest statistics on exports of Scotch whisky and salmon underline how much demand there is for these premium products. The UK Government have an ambitious programme of free trade negotiations that will include India and the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. We will continue to build relationships with trading partners around the world.

The Secretary of State has Bladnoch distillery in his constituency, and I have Glenmorangie, Clynelish and Old Pulteney in mine. Is it not crazy that the proposed ban on advertising is going to damage distilleries in our constituencies and, more importantly, could impair employment in rural parts of Scotland? These are vital local jobs.

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is just another example of how anti-business this Scottish Government are—the SNP and its coalition partners, the Greens. The deposit return scheme that is coming down the tracks is just another example of how anti-business they are.

Scotland’s Economy

Like many countries around the world, the UK has been buffeted by global economic headwinds driving high inflation and slowing growth, but we have taken decisive action to protect households and businesses. The Government know there is more to do, which is why the Prime Minister has pledged to halve inflation this year, deliver sustainable growth and start reducing debt.

We know that a stronger economy begins in the heart of our communities, but local authorities across Scotland have been forced to cut back on essential services and consider up to 7,000 job losses or hikes in council tax because of the impossible situation in which the Scottish Government have put them. Does the Secretary of State think that Scottish people should have to pay more for poor-quality services?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. The Scottish Government have received a block grant settlement this year of £41.6 billion—the highest in real terms since devolution began. Their behaviour towards local authorities completely contrasts with that of the UK Government. We are working with Scottish councils, delivering funding directly to them to help them with the projects that matter the most to their people. I would say that that is real devolution, not SNP centralisation.

The Scottish Government’s delayed and botched deposit return scheme has turned into total chaos: businesses want to redesign it to make it work; the public do not know about it; and MSPs want it delayed again. The scheme has been a shambles from day one, with a former SNP Minister describing it as “the Titanic heading for an iceberg”. Does the Minister agree that this process needs urgent reform, and will he encourage his Cabinet colleagues to make sure that any UK-wide scheme learns from the pitfalls of the Scottish Government process?

Yes. I have had legitimate concerns raised with me by businesses across Scotland and by stakeholder groups and I have urged the Scottish Government to pause the scheme. There is no doubt in my mind that the scheme is not just bad for businesses, but bad for stakeholders and consumers. Anecdotally, Aldi will sell 12 bottles of Scottish water for £1.59. Under this scheme, that will become £3.99. If that is not inflationary, if that is not adding to people’s cost of living, I do not know what is. Furthermore, we have not been asked for an exemption for this under the rules of the UK Internal Market Act 2020 by the Scottish Government—no request for an exemption has come. The exemption bar is very high indeed, otherwise what is the point of the UKIM?

Renewable Energy

8. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for renewable energy in Scotland. (903690)

The UK Government are fully committed to supporting Scotland to realise its significant renewable energy potential. Scotland has benefited greatly from the contracts for difference scheme, the Government’s main mechanism for supporting new low-carbon electricity generation projects in Great Britain. Indeed, Scotland has received 27% of all contracted projects to date.

I thank the Minister for his response. Scotland has huge potential for green investment, but all that is being put at risk by an exodus of capital, given what Joe Biden is doing with the Inflation Reduction Act 2022 in the US. What is the UK Government’s response to the Inflation Reduction Act so that we can secure investment in Scotland and in the rest of the UK?

I agree with the hon. Lady’s comments about Scotland’s potential in the renewable sector. I will allow my colleagues in the Treasury to respond to the point that she made about the US policy. In relation to other opportunities for Scotland, I am very keen to work in my role in the Scotland Office to develop that. If the hon. Lady wants to join me in doing that, I would be very happy to engage with her further.

Scottish Fishing Industry

9. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of Government support for the Scottish fishing industry. (903691)

This Government provide wide-ranging support to Scotland’s fishing industry. The processing and preserving of fish was recognised as an energy and trade intensive sector in the Government’s energy bill discount scheme, and almost half the £20 million already awarded through the UK seafood fund for infrastructure projects will be spent in Scotland.

I welcome the response of my hon. Friend. I also welcome the UK Government’s decision to include seafood processing in ongoing energy support beyond April. However, even before last year’s increases in energy costs, brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there was already support for energy intensive industries to other food processors, such as pork, poultry and milled grain, but not fish. Will my hon. Friend agree to join me—ideally in my constituency of Banff and Buchan—to meet representatives of the seafood processing sector to discuss this shortfall?

May I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in championing the seafood sector in Scotland? I look forward to visiting his constituency next month to chair the Scottish Seafood Industry Action Group where I will meet industry representatives. The UK Government’s energy intensive industries compensation scheme supports industries exposed to significant risk of carbon leakage and is targeted at the most electricity-intensive sectors that are competing in international markets. Any industries not included in this scheme can still benefit from the Government’s energy bill relief scheme and the energy bill discount scheme.

To progress the structure for fisheries in Scotland, surely we have to move on from devolved Scotland to independent Scotland? I am sure the Minister can see that in Ireland there is independent Ireland in the Republic, and devolved Ireland in Northern Ireland. Which does he think is delivering better economically and for fisheries in Ireland: the devolved version or the independent version? Across Europe and across the world, everybody knows the answer—does the Minister?

I am very confident that for all fishing communities across the United Kingdom it is this Government who are delivering best. I am clear that none of the fishing communities in Scotland wishes to go back into the common fisheries policy, which the SNP advocates.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation is available on I am also pleased to announce that, as part of our efforts to make our activities as accessible as possible, live subtitles are also now available on for all proceedings in this Chamber.

I welcome some special guests who are observing our proceedings today, Madam President of the German Bundestag and the deputy Mayor of Kyiv and colleagues. You are most welcome.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am delighted that we are joined today by a delegation from Kyiv. This coming Friday there will be a national moment of reflection, which will give us the opportunity to pay tribute to the courage of the Ukrainian people and demonstrate our solidarity with Ukraine. 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.

I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about the bravery of the Ukrainian people. Labour has asked his Government on three occasions to commit to a police response to every domestic abuse call. To date, no answer has been forthcoming. Can the Prime Minister provide a response today?

Just this week we announced new measures to tackle violence against women and girls. This is the Government that introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which is rolling out specialist advisers for those who suffer and putting in more funding to support victims. We will continue to do everything we can to make sure that women and girls are safe everywhere in our country.

Q2. The warm welcome given to Ukrainian refugees by so many is extremely heartwarming. Does the Prime Minister understand, though, how upset my constituents are to have had bookings for weddings and other special family events cancelled when the Home Office took over a much-loved hotel, and will he redouble his efforts to put an end to that practice? (903599)

My hon. Friend’s constituents and indeed the whole country can be proud of the welcome they have given to people from Ukraine over the last year. I can assure him we are committed to reducing the number of asylum seekers living in hotels at vast cost to taxpayers and considerable disruption to communities. I am grateful to the leadership of the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister in finding a sustainable solution; the Home Secretary will make a formal update in the coming weeks on progress in standing up alternative sites for accommodation.

I join the Prime Minister in his comments on Ukraine. I had the privilege last week of seeing first-hand the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people. We must continue to stand united in this House in support of Ukraine. The thoughts of the whole House, and I am sure the whole country, will also be with the family of Nicola Bulley at this very difficult time. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Ashley Dalton) to her first PMQs.

The Labour party is proud to be the party of the Good Friday agreement and peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. We welcome attempts to make the protocol work more effectively. Does the Prime Minister agree that it has been poorly implemented, and that the basis for any deal must be removing unnecessary checks on goods?

Let me welcome the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Ashley Dalton) to her place, and associate myself with the remarks of the right hon. and learned Gentleman about Nicola Bulley’s family. Our thoughts are, of course, with them.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we are still in active discussions with the European Union, but he should know that I am a Conservative, a Brexiter and a Unionist, and any agreement that we reach needs to tick all three boxes. It needs to ensure sovereignty for Northern Ireland, it needs to safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in our Union, and it needs to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses. I will be resolute in fighting for what is best for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

We all agree that the protocol can be improved, but there are trade-offs and we need to face up to them. The Prime Minister’s predecessor told businesses that there would be

“no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind”.

That was absolute nonsense and it destroyed trust. In the interests of restoring that trust, will the Prime Minister confirm that to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, the deal he is negotiating is going to see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU law?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is jumping ahead. We are still in intensive discussions with the European Union to ensure that we can find an agreement that meets the tests that I set. Those are sovereignty for Northern Ireland; Northern Ireland’s place in our precious Union; and to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses. I have spent time engaging and listening to those communities, businesses and political parties in Northern Ireland. I have a good understanding of what is required, and I will keep fighting until we get it.

The Prime Minister is biting his tongue, but at some point the irreconcilables on his Benches are going to twig, and they are going to come after him. The former trade Minister says there can be no role for the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland. Will the Prime Minister be honest with them, and tell them that is not going to happen?

Again, we need to keep going to secure an acceptable agreement. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about a deal that he has not even seen, that we are still negotiating and that is not finalised. It is his usual position when it comes to the European Union—give the EU a blank cheque and agree to anything it offers. It is not a strategy; that is surrender.

It is not my questions he is avoiding; it is Conservative Members’ questions he is avoiding. The Prime Minister’s predecessors wasted months pushing the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. If implemented, it would tie us up in battles with the EU, the United States and others, at precisely the time we should be building common ground to boost our economy and show unity against Putin. The Prime Minister clearly wants a closer relationship with the EU, so can he confirm that if there is a deal he will pull the protocol Bill?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to put the EU first; I want to put Northern Ireland first. On these questions, he said he would respect the result of the referendum, and then he promised to back a second one. All the while he was constantly voting to frustrate Brexit. I know what the British people know: on this question, he cannot be trusted to stick up for Britain—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker, the sound you hear is Conservative Members cheering the Prime Minister pulling the wool over their eyes. It is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement and the 30th anniversary of the Downing Street declaration. Tony Blair and John Major both recognised that politics in Northern Ireland is built on trust, not telling people what they want to hear, and on the need to take seriously the concerns of both communities—nationalists and Unionists. It is vital their voices are heard. Can the Prime Minister confirm that whatever deal he brings back, this House will get a vote on it?

Of course Parliament will express its view, but what is crucial here is that this is not about the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s desire to play political games with this situation in this House; it is about what is best for the people and communities of Northern Ireland, and that is what I will keep fighting for.

I take it from that that this House will get a vote, and I look forward to that vote in due course. Everyone knows that the basis of this deal has been agreed for weeks, but it is the same old story: the country has to wait while the Prime Minister plucks up the courage to take on the malcontents, the reckless and the wreckers on his own Benches. I am here to tell him that he does not need to worry about that, because we will put country before party and ensure that Labour votes to get it through. He should accept our offer and ignore the howls of indignation from those on his side who will never take yes for an answer. Why does he not just get on with it?

What I am doing is talking and listening to the people of Northern Ireland. That is the right thing to do—to make sure that we can respond to and resolve the concerns of the Unionist communities and businesses in Northern Ireland—and that is what I will keep doing.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about his plans, and we have heard that tomorrow he is going to announce five missions, but we already know what they are. They are uncontrolled immigration, reckless spending, higher debt, softer sentences; and the fifth pledge, as we all know, is that he reserves the right to change his mind on the other four.

Q4. Last year, the coroner determined that content promoting self-harm and suicide which was promoted to Molly Russell contributed to her death, but they were able to make that determination only after years of campaigning by the Russell family and coroners to gain access to that information. Does the Prime Minister agree that other families should not have to suffer as the Russell family have suffered, and that data relevant to the death of a child should be more readily available both to families and to the coroner service? (903601)

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Russell family for their tireless and dignified campaigning on behalf of all families who have been bereaved in such tragic circumstances. Coroners already have statutory powers to require evidence to be given or produced for the purposes of their investigation, but the Government are listening carefully to the concerns of parliamentary colleagues and to bereaved families. The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology are leading those discussions to ensure that we have the right set of procedures in place.

Wholesale gas prices have fallen by 75% since their peak, yet in just a matter of weeks the British Government—the Westminster Government—intend to increase energy bills by a further £500. What would motivate a Prime Minister to do such a thing?

What we are doing is providing tens of billions of pounds of support for people with their energy bills, particularly the most vulnerable. What we are also doing—opposed by the SNP—is investing in producing more home-grown gas here in the UK and the North sea. I notice that one of the hon. Gentleman’s own Members of Parliament said this week that if the SNP were a pizza company, its products would be slow, wrong and costly. I say to him that it is time to focus on the issues that matter to the people of Scotland, and producing more energy is absolutely one of them.

I am not sure that implying that energy bills do not matter to the people of Scotland is a winning strategy for this Prime Minister. Let us get real: the fact that wholesale gas prices have fallen by 75% means a windfall to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of around £15 billion, so what they are saying is that they intend to raid the pockets of ordinary Scots while lining the pockets of Westminster. It is time to set aside any notion of an energy price increase, but instead to protect households and perhaps to reduce bills by £500. Does the Prime Minister not agree?

We are saving households across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland, £900 on their energy bills as a result of our energy bills guarantee. In the coming years, we will spend £12 billion protecting particularly the most vulnerable families and pensioners across the United Kingdom. But the best way to reduce people’s bills is to halve inflation, as we have promised to do, and to produce more home-grown energy here in the United Kingdom. That is something that this Government support; maybe the hon. Gentleman could confirm whether the SNP supports it.

Q5. The Prime Minister will be well aware of the dogged campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) for a rebuild of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn. That hospital is constructed from failing aerated concrete, and its ceilings are now supported by more than 3,000 wooden and metal props. Is the Prime Minister also aware of the strength of feeling locally in support of the rebuild, not just in North West Norfolk, but in Broadland, North Norfolk, Norwich North, Mid Norfolk, South West Norfolk, Huntingdon, North West Cambridgeshire and South Holland and the Deepings, whose populations are all served by that hospital? Will he support our campaign? (903602)

I thank my hon. Friend and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild), because I know that they are great supporters of this project. I know that over the last year or so the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has been allocated over £50 million to address the most immediate issues at the site. I also know that they have expressed their interest in being part of the new hospital programme—the Department of Health and Social Care is looking through all those bids. My hon. Friend will know that I cannot comment on specific bids, but the selected hospitals will be announced in due course.

I thank the Prime Minister for his efforts in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol. It is unacceptable that Northern Ireland has been put in this place, with a protocol imposed upon us that harms our place in the United Kingdom. It must be replaced with arrangements that are acceptable and that restore our place in the United Kingdom and its internal market. Does he accept how important the constitutional and democratic issues are in relation to getting a solution? Does he agree that it is unacceptable that EU laws are imposed on Northern Ireland with no democratic scrutiny or consent? Will he assure me that he will address those fundamental constitutional issues, not just by tweaking the protocol but by rewriting the legally binding treaty text?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and for the role that he has played in recent months in articulating Unionists’ concerns. I have heard him loud and clear when he says that he wants and needs those issues resolved so that he has a basis to work with others to restore power sharing, and I know that that is genuine. He raises the question of practical issues, and it is vital that those are addressed. But he also raises a vital question about the constitutional and legal framework in which those arrangements exist. I can assure him that I agree: addressing the democratic deficit is an essential part of the negotiations that remain ongoing with the European Union. Just as he has been consistent, so have I, and I can assure him that that is at the very heart of the issues that must be addressed.

Q8. The Prime Minister has made fixing illegal immigration across the channel one of his key top priorities. He has also said that legislation will be required to stop it, and I completely agree. So can he tell us when we can expect to see that legislation come forward—because time is of the essence—and can he explain why sorting out this issue did not feature in the Home Office permanent secretary’s stated top three priorities for his Department? (903608)

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She is right: illegal crossings put people’s lives at risk, divert resources away from those in genuine need, and are unfair on those who migrate here legally. That is why one of our five pledges to the British people is to stop the boats. We are working at pace on the legislation—it is important that it works—and in the meantime, our deals with Albania and France are already yielding benefits. What I can tell her is that we want a system whereby if someone arrives in our country illegally, they will not be able to stay. Instead, they will be detained and removed to a country that they come from or to a safe third alternative. That is a system that the Home Secretary and I are working hard to put in place, and that is what our legislation will deliver.

Q3. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s policies, we are now afflicted with the highest tax burden and the biggest drop in disposable income since the second world war. To make matters worse, tens of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was wasted on a “world-beating” test and trace system and personal protective equipment that was not fit for purpose—not to mention the endless list of crony covid contracts that went to Tory chums who profiteered from other people’s misery. When will he help us to recover some of that lost money, so that striking nurses, teachers and other public servants can be paid the decent wage that they so richly deserve? (903600)

I am pleased that the Government are in intensive talks with the Royal College of Nursing to find a way forward. As I have always said, we are keen to discuss the terms and conditions, and I am glad that those conversations are now happening. If the hon. Gentleman really cares about the impact on working people, perhaps he and his party should stand up to their union paymasters and back our minimum service laws.

Q11. I thank the Prime Minister for supporting the launch of the new regulatory reform group. Will he commit to working with our group on two specific areas: first, to improve the accountability and responsiveness of our regulators to stakeholders and Parliament; and secondly, to improve the economic potential in key growing areas of the economy, such as financial services, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing? (903611)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and he is right about the importance of getting our regulatory framework right in order to drive growth and prosperity. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out an extensive review of retained EU law in five key growth areas, including life sciences, green industries and digital technology. The Government’s chief scientific adviser is also leading work to consider how the UK can better regulate emerging technologies to enable their rapid and safe introduction.

Q6. It was a pleasure to meet the delegation from Kyiv before Question Time and to confirm that hon. Members across the House are united in our support for Ukraine and its brave heroes. The Conservative manifesto promised 40 new hospitals, but after three years most do not even have planning permission yet. Communities feel betrayed and taken for granted. As ITV showed yesterday, St Helier Hospital in south London is literally crumbling, but there is still no plan to save it, and Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire has sewage leaking into its wards and a roof that could collapse at any moment. Does the Prime Minister agree that no patients, doctors or nurses should have to put up with those conditions? Can he tell the House—[Interruption.] (903603)

I am proud that we are investing record sums into the NHS under this Government, including record sums into NHS capital, which are going on not only upgrading almost 100 hospitals and developing 40 large-scale developments, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, but investing in more scanners and more ambulances across the board so that we can deliver vital care to people. I am very pleased that the most recent statistics on urgent emergency care show considerable improvement from the challenges we faced in December, and we are now on a clear path to getting people the treatment they need in the time they need it.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to tackling illegal migration, particularly the issue of small boats. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the Government’s proposal to relocate approximately 500 single male asylum seekers to Beaconside in Stafford? Will he meet me urgently to discuss it, given the huge number of objections that I have received from constituents on the issue?

First, I welcome my hon. Friend back to her place. I know that this issue concerns her and her constituents, which is why we must absolutely stop the boats and stem the tide of illegal migrants to relieve this pressure on our local communities. I will ensure that she meets the Home Secretary as soon as possible to discuss her concerns—hopefully we can arrange that meeting in the coming days.

Q7.   This month, the Scottish child payment marks its two-year anniversary. In a cost of living crisis, that policy has been a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland. Will the Prime Minister therefore follow the leadership of the Scottish Government by introducing an equivalent child payment? (903604)

The best way to ensure that children do not grow up in poverty is to make sure that they do not grow up in a workless household. That is why I am proud that, under the record of the Conservative Government, there are almost 1 million fewer children growing up in workless households and hundreds of thousands fewer children in poverty. That is because this Government are on the side of parents and will make sure that they have the jobs they need, because ultimately the best poverty strategy is to have everybody in work.

Mr Speaker, I have previously called out in this House the appalling level of service that my constituents and yours receive from train operator TransPennine. Last month, TransPennine had the largest number of cancellations of any service provider in the UK, but it turns out that even that figure was fiddled, because TransPennine had cancelled over 1,000 trains before 10.30 the night before so that they would not show up in the statistics. Does the Prime Minister agree that this practice is totally unacceptable, as is TransPennine’s level of service?

I agree with my right hon. Friend: the current service levels are unacceptable. The Rail North partnership, which is managing the contract, is working with the company on an improvement plan. The Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), is having weekly meetings with the Rail North partnership to monitor its progress, and although the TransPennine contract expires in May and we are working on a new contract, if Ministers conclude that the operator cannot be turned around, other decisions may have to be made.

Q9. Of the 40 promised new hospitals referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), 11 are in the south-west of England. Three of them—in Barnstaple, Dorchester and Taunton—surround my constituency, but none has planning permission. It has been reported that staff at Eastbourne District General Hospital were told that their town would not get a new hospital, and that it was a “barefaced lie”. Given that the Prime Minister claims his mandate rests on a manifesto that promised 40 new hospitals, when will we see them? (903609)

The Government are committed to building 40 new hospitals as part of the new hospital programme. In the south-west, eight out of the 11 schemes do have full outline planning permission approved, and the remaining three schemes would not be expected to have planning permission at this stage, due to when they are due to be delivered. We are working with the trust to go through that process, so everything is on track, and we will bring those hospitals to the people in the south-west.

I am grateful for the £3 million that the Government have sent to Wolverhampton to trial the new Better Health app, which will support Wulfrunians to make better choices about their diet and fitness. Will the Prime Minister welcome this, and also celebrate our grassroots sports clubs in Wolverhampton, especially Wednesfield Aces cycle speedway club, which celebrated its diamond jubilee last year?

I join my hon. Friend in commending all her local sporting organisations for the job they do. She is absolutely right that prevention is better than cure, and ensuring that we can support people to live healthy, fulfilling lives is absolutely part of our plan. That is why we are investing in football pitches, tennis courts and youth facilities right up and down the country, and I am glad that my hon. Friend’s constituents are benefiting.

Q10. Not only have the Government broken their promises on new hospitals; they have also broken their pledge to have 6,000 more doctors, with the number of qualified GPs having actually fallen. GPs in Shropshire are seeing 400 more patients each than they were in 2016, which is one of the biggest rises in the country. Places across the country—East Sussex, Devon, Cambridgeshire and Hampshire—have also seen their number of qualified GPs fall. When will the Prime Minister end his and the Government’s neglect of local health services, and recruit and retain the GPs we need? (903610)

The facts are these: there are 2,200 more GPs in general practice today, there are 15,000 more doctors in the NHS, and there are 30,000 more nurses. That is because we are putting record funding in, backing the NHS and getting patients the care that they need.

I commend my right hon. Friend for grasping the nettle and seeking to negotiate an agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol. Does he share my frustration with the expressed views of people who are commenting on a deal that has yet to be reached, and does he agree that the best way to reduce or even end the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union is through treaty change itself, not through domestic legislation in this Parliament?

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right that we need to keep going, but he is also right that we need to find enduring solutions to the challenges faced by the people of Northern Ireland. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) mentioned earlier, it is absolutely right that we address the constitutional and legal framework of our arrangements and ensure that we can put in place new arrangements that secure Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

Q12. The Prime Minister is no stranger to paying fines. The £2.3 billion he paid last week to the EU after the UK Government allowed Chinese fraudsters to flood Europe with cheap goods is the worst waste of public money. My question is simple: if he can find £2.3 billion to pay a fine, why can he not pay NHS workers and others the pay increases they deserve? (903612)

The hon. Gentleman may not have seen that the Royal College of Nursing is now in talks with the Government about resolving the disputes, and I am grateful to it for entering those talks with a constructive attitude, and for calling off its strikes next week. I urge him and his colleagues to be on the side of working people—that is, to back our laws to introduce minimum safety levels across the NHS and transport, because that is the best way to demonstrate you are on the side of hard-working families.

I wholeheartedly support my Prime Minister’s priority of stopping the boats, so can he please bring in the small boats Bill next week?

I thank my hon. Friend for his support. I share the same desire to stop the boats, for all the reasons we have discussed. He should rest assured that the Home Secretary and I are working intensely and as quickly as possible to bring forward that legislation, because I want what he wants: to ensure that those people who come here illegally will simply not be allowed to stay.

During recess, my community in Warrington was rocked by the murder of 16-year-old schoolgirl Brianna Ghey. What support will the Prime Minister offer to our community, and to our local schools, so that they can support Brianna’s classmates and her family as we try to heal from this appalling tragedy?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue, and express my sympathies to Brianna’s family and friends for what has happened. I know the hon. Lady will be playing her part in her local community in supporting them at this difficult time. I know that the Home Secretary is shortly due to visit the area, and she will be able to discuss with the hon. Lady what support can be provided for the community at this time, and she should know that she will have what she needs from the Government.

I cannot ask the Prime Minister to stop time or tide, but I might ask him to offset their effects, because in south Devon, the Slapton line is being eroded away, and I need him to help me lobby the Department for Transport and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to see that we get the repairs done. Natural England is standing in the way and stopping us from doing what we need to do for this vital link. Will he support me?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic campaigner and advocate for his constituents. I know that this particular issue is causing frustration and concern in his community. He is absolutely right to raise it, and I will ensure that he gets the appropriate meetings he needs with the Ministers in question, so that we can work with him to try to find a resolution.