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Commons Chamber

Volume 731: debated on Wednesday 19 April 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 19 April 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cost of Living

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of topics. The Government are providing total support of more than £94 billion across the UK to help households and individuals with the cost of living, at an average of more than £3,300 a household. That includes extending energy support by keeping the energy price guarantee at £2,500 for the next three months.

Last month, we learned that household incomes are falling at the fastest rate since records began, forcing the people of Wales to work even harder for less in return, but Britain’s leading food retailer has gouged more than £3 billion in profits from its customers over the past two years alone. With food inflation now at 19%, does the Minister agree that we are living through a cost of greed crisis? When will this Government get serious about tackling the excessive profiteering that is driving up prices and causing real pain for families across Wales and the UK?

The Government are serious about dealing with the cost of living crisis, and that is why I am pleased that inflation is shown to be continuing to fall at the moment. This Government are on track to reach our target of halving inflation over the next year. This Government have always supported the most vulnerable in society, which is why I am pleased that we have made sure that pensions, benefits and the minimum wage have gone up in line with inflation.

This Government continue to spend extraordinary sums of money supporting family incomes during this difficult time. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what is not fair to the taxpayer is giving people free cash, including young asylum seekers—no strings attached—through a poorly targeted universal basic income? Is that not what responsible welfare is all about?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It really is extraordinary that the Welsh Labour party not only wants to spend millions of pounds handing out a universal basic income to people including asylum seekers, but then wants to exempt them from having to pay the same legal bills that the rest of us would be subject to. This Government will continue to support the most vulnerable in society, and that is why I am pleased not only with the raising of pensions, benefits and the minimum wage in line with inflation, but with the extra payments made to those most in need.

Last week, in response to the cost of living crisis, the Labour Government in Wales increased the education maintenance allowance to £40 a week. This boost is a lifeline to thousands of students in Wales, and I am proud that we have a Labour party stepping up to help, while the UK Government have turned a blind eye. I am sure that the Secretary of State welcomes the uplift, so can he therefore share what discussions he is having with his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the UK Government can once again follow the Welsh Labour Government’s lead?

I can assure the hon. Lady that there are no circumstances under which the UK Conservative Government would want to follow the lead of the Welsh Labour Government, who are coming forward with policies such as raising taxes by wanting to charge people for using the motorways, bringing in a tourism tax and even scrapping meal deals. How will that help a cost of living crisis?

Just to hammer home the point that has already been made, does the Secretary of State agree that it speaks to the kind of values that the Labour party has that it is prioritising providing huge support for those who have illegally entered our country over maximising cost of living support for Welsh citizens? The same might be the case in England, were a Labour Government ever to be elected.

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The humanitarian response is to disincentivise people from risking their lives by crossing the channel illegally and arriving in small boats. That is why last night I jointly signed a letter that rejects what the Welsh Labour Government are asking for. We are not prepared to see the Welsh Labour Government handing out universal basic incomes to people who should not be in this country in the first place, and then on top of that providing them with legal funding and lawyers, so that they can challenge the decisions being made by the Government. Those are not the priorities of the Welsh people.

Inflation is still over 10%, and last month the Chancellor imposed a stealth tax by freezing personal allowances. Today, as we have heard, the Office for National Statistics has confirmed that food prices have risen at their fastest rate for 45 years. How does the Secretary of State expect Welsh households to afford even the most basic supermarket essentials when those have increased by almost 25% this year?

Of course, the hon. Lady is correct that we have had financial problems, as a result of having to spend £400 billion during the covid pandemic and the inflation that has been caused by the illegal invasion of Ukraine, and that is why the Government have continued to support the most vulnerable in society. However, the fact of the matter is that the Welsh Labour Government’s response to all of this seems to be to squander taxpayers’ money, with £100 million going to create extra Members of the Senedd, £150 million wasted on plans for a relief road that was never going to be built and now more millions of pounds to be spent on universal basic income and legal fees for asylum seekers.

The Secretary of State mentioned inflation earlier, but of course falling inflation does not mean that prices are falling—just that the rate of the price rises is slowing. If Cabinet Ministers cannot get a grip on basics like that, it is no wonder the economy is in such a mess. Is it not the reality that his Government continue to fail households right across Wales, while protecting and rewarding the super-wealthy by refusing to abolish non-dom status and giving a huge pension bung to the top 1%?

First, of course, the so-called top pension bung was for doctors, which is actually something that Labour Members had called for themselves. If the hon. Lady is seriously worried about food prices, perhaps she could explain why the Welsh Labour Government want to scrap meal deals and stop people enjoying a drink and a packet of crisps with their food. The fact of the matter is that we will prioritise our help towards the most vulnerable, while the Welsh Labour Government continue to squander it on people who do not need it.

My constituents Malcolm Atherton and Beth Cluer run a café in Trawsfynydd, and they have had to face making the heartbreaking decision to hibernate their business in the face of cripplingly high energy bills. Small and medium-sized businesses are the beating heart of the Welsh economy and employ 62.6% of Welsh workers, yet they received no additional support with their energy bills from the Chancellor in the spring Budget. To ensure that Malcolm and Beth can one day reopen their café, will the Secretary of State be urging his colleagues in the Treasury to increase the energy support available to small businesses?

The right hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have provided an unprecedented package of subsidies for businesses through this winter worth £18 billion—those were figures set out by the Office for Budget Responsibility—and, in addition, there have been things such as the freeze on fuel duty. I am very sorry to hear about the circumstances that some individual businesses face, but I can absolutely assure the right hon. Lady that supporting businesses through this difficult time remains a priority for this Conservative Government.

Of course, businesses that are off grid have suffered another experience and a lack of support, but with your tolerance, Mr Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to raise another matter with the Secretary of State.

Thames Water wastes 630 million litres of water every day through leaky pipes. Rather than fix this environmentally baffling waste, they are planning on moving vast volumes of water from Wales instead. Our natural resources are being diverted elsewhere without recompense, and without consultation with local people either. He says he is Wales’s man in Cabinet. Will he prove it by activating section 48 of the Wales Act 2017 so that decisions about Wales’s resources are made by the people of Wales in Wales?

Order. Can I just say to the right hon. Lady that I have a lot of people trying to get in and that this is unfair? You do get the two questions. Please do not take advantage of the rest of the Chamber.

I am not responsible for Thames Water, but I have regular meetings with Welsh Water, and this is not an issue it has raised with me. One of the things I am sure the right hon. Lady would agree with is that Welsh Water needs to do more to ensure that there is less sewage and less leakage going into our rivers. Holding it to account is of course something for which the Welsh Labour Government are responsible.

Funding Settlement

The Welsh Government are well funded to deliver for Wales. The spending review provided the Welsh Government with a record block grant of £18 billion a year. As a result of the Budget, Welsh Government funding is increasing by a further £180 million over the next two years. This is all on top of the additional £1.2 billion announced at the autumn statement.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but the UK Government, as he has just alluded to, have recently clawed back £155 million from the Welsh Government Budget, rather than allowing it to be carried forward into the next financial year. I can only assume that, in clawing back these funds, for some bizarre reason the Secretary of State thinks the UK Government are working in the best interests of the Welsh people. Can he tell us if that is so?

The funds were not “clawed back”, and there was no “bizarre” reasoning about it. The money was not spent by the Welsh Government; they managed to fail to spend £155 million in the midst of a pandemic, which is extraordinary. The Welsh Government are receiving £1.20 on the NHS for every £1 spent in the United Kingdom, and that money is not being passed on in full. That is why in Wales, under a Labour Government, we wait longer for our ambulances, longer on hospital waiting lists, and we have less access to the treatment that people are now taking for granted in England.

The Secretary of State is making the case for precisely the kind of financial flexibility that the devolved Administrations require. The reality of inflation and the mishandling of the economy is that the Welsh budget is worth £4 billion less than it was when it was first agreed, and the same thing is happening in Scotland. If the Government will not adequately finance the devolved institutions, why will they not devolve reasonable borrowing powers, so that we can ensure that adequate budgets are set for the benefit of our constituents?

If I ever decide that I want to have lessons in sound management of public finances, I probably will not be asking the Scottish National party. The Welsh Labour Government have had a real-terms increase in spending over the spending review period, and it is for others to answer for why they are unable to deliver the same level of healthcare and education, why they are not building roads, and why they are spending the money they are getting on paying the legal bills of asylum seekers.

Under this UK Government, my constituency has been awarded £17 million from the levelling-up fund to regenerate Holyhead, £20 million to refurbish the Holyhead Gateway, £16 million from the shared prosperity fund, £2.7 million from the culture recovery fund, hundreds of new jobs at the inland border facility, £175 million for the RAF Valley, and now Anglesey has freeport status, with the potential to create 13,000 jobs and £1 billion to the economy. Does the Secretary of State agree that this Conservative UK Government are determined to level up places such as Anglesey in north Wales that have been forgotten by Labour in Cardiff—

Order. Can we try to help? I want to get more people in, and the only way I can do that is with shorter questions.

Others in the House may try to shout down my hon. Friend, but they will not succeed, because she has been unstinting in her support for her constituency. It is no coincidence that the Prime Minister wanted to make Ynys Môn the first place he visited as Prime Minister, to celebrate the announcement of growth deals that will deliver growth and levelling up across the whole of Wales and the United Kingdom.

Many of my constituents, including me, visit Tywyn in Gwynedd. Is my right hon. Friend aware that people need healthcare there, funded of course by the grant, yet Tywyn Hospital has closed its minor injuries unit and its in-patient ward? Will he speak to the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services and discuss how English tourists will get proper healthcare when they are on holiday in Wales?

I am, as ever, grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, but unfortunately I am unable to give a detailed answer because the national health service is devolved in Wales. I very much hope that Welsh Labour Ministers will want to explain why, with all the extra money they are getting, above the money that is given to the national health service in England, they are unable to deliver the same standards of healthcare, or for that matter education, as those we take for granted under a Conservative Government run in Westminster.

Private Rental Costs

3. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of rising private rental costs on renters in Wales. (904532)

The Secretary of State has regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of topics. In England we have committed to tackling issues in the private rental sector, including improving standards through the introduction of the decent homes standard, and providing tenants with greater security by banning “no fault” evictions. However, as the right hon. Member will know, rental issues in Wales are a matter for the Welsh Government.

Low quality, expensive private rented accommodation is a problem not only in Wales but throughout the UK. Does the Minister agree that we need more council housing built to a high standard, and will he join me in praising Flintshire County Council for its excellent programme of council house building? That would be an example to the rest of the country, but we need more investment in that area overall.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. North Wales certainly has a deficit of housing, as do many other areas, and, as he says, that certainly needs to be addressed through building more homes. I would point out that in 2021-22 there were three new homes built in England per 1,000 and just 1.7 per 1,000 in Wales, so there is much work to do.

According to Rent Smart Wales, the number of registered landlords in Wales fell by 328 during the two years to January this year and there were 301 fewer rental properties available. Does my hon. Friend agree that a significant cause of the current worrying state of the private rental market in Wales is the new legislation introduced by the Welsh Government, which imposes expensive and byzantine licensing obligations on landlords? Does he also agree with the Labour cabinet member for housing on Torfaen Borough Council, Councillor David Daniels, who recently told the council’s scrutiny committee that the new law was the straw that broke the camel’s back, because for landlords it has just been one thing too many?

I thank my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour. He is perfectly right to raise this issue. He is referring to the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016. It may be well intentioned, but the fact is that there is a shortage of housing and if we want to keep landlords in the market we need to incentivise them, so the mandatory regulations and costs imposed are really in place at the wrong time.

Private rental costs in Wales increased by 4.2% in the year to February 2023, the highest annual percentage change since the Tories came to power. The Government have accepted the need to uplift benefits in line with inflation, but they have completely failed to accept that the same principles should, at the very least, apply to the local housing allowance. Given that rent is the largest item of a family’s budget, can the Minister explain exactly why this is one area of policy where the Government do not seem to believe that inflation exists?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the local housing allowance rates were raised to the 30th percentile in 2020 and that there is also support through the discretionary housing payment scheme. There is, in addition, the whole array of support that has been provided through the recent cost of living pressures.

Rail Infrastructure

4. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on rail infrastructure in Wales. (904533)

I regularly engage with Cabinet Ministers on a range of transport measures. Over £390 million has already been provided for rail improvements in Wales since 2020, including at Bow Street Station, with the electrification of the Severn tunnel and through Cardiff Crossrail.

Avanti chaos has hit services between Holyhead and Crewe. For communities in north Wales and the north-west of England, the line is an ongoing nightmare. What guarantees will the Secretary of State provide that those services will be restored?

The hon. Lady has a point. A number of complaints have been made about Avanti by Members of Parliament of all parties and I think there is a recognition that things could be a lot better than they are. Avanti is well aware of that and has been told that it needs to improve the service quickly. I can assure her that the Department for Transport is well aware of the problems she raises.

Rail connectivity is crucial to the border communities of Wales and England, such as connections between Wrexham and Merseyside. Furthermore, Merseyside is just as inaccessible for some communities in the north of England as it is in Wales. Skelmersdale in my constituency is a community of 40,000 people, but has been left without access to a train station since 1958. Will the Secretary of State tell me how the Government plan to make sure our communities on both sides of the border have access to rail services?

I welcome that question from the hon. Lady. I am sure the people of north Wales would welcome many more of her constituents coming down to visit and spending money in the local tourism industry, if they can afford the tourism tax imposed by the Welsh Labour Government. To answer her question simply, there will be a rail network enhancements pipeline review out shortly. I believe it will contain good news for rail users across Wales, which will benefit travellers from across the United Kingdom.

With meal deal bans, tourism taxes and road charges, it is no surprise that many Welsh residents will be thinking of getting the train for a holiday in Torbay to avoid all of them. What discussions is the Secretary of State having to ensure that the rail infrastructure between south Wales and the south-west of England will be able to cope with the demand?

I am sure that Torbay is a wonderful place, but I would still recommend that people come to Wales instead to enjoy its coastline. To do that, they would need to go either by train or by car, so it is unfortunate that the Welsh Labour Government have also decided to stop all road building, whereas the United Kingdom Government are getting on with building roads and railways.

One of the most important rail links into mid-Wales is through Shrewsbury. We are proud to be a border community, and of our links with Wales. We are campaigning for electrification of the line from Birmingham to Shrewsbury and beyond to Wales. Will the Minister take an interest in our project to try to electrify this vital artery for residents in mid-Wales?

I will take an interest in that matter, but it is more for the Department for Transport than for my good self. I have taken an interest in the fact that a great deal of work is going on in the Forest of Dean area to ensure that commuters on both sides of the border can enjoy more reliable rail travel.

Spring Budget 2023: Welsh Communities

5. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the Spring Budget 2023 on Welsh communities. (904534)

The spring Budget delivered for Wales. As announced, the Government will provide £20 million to restore the Holyhead breakwater, deliver at least one investment zone in Wales and provide up to £20 billion for the development of carbon capture usage and storage across the UK, which Wales is well-placed to benefit from.

The UK Government prove time and again that they are delivering for Wales, whether through supporting hundreds of thousands of households with the energy price guarantee or through the £20-million Holyhead breakwater. However, does my hon. Friend agree that the Welsh Labour Government are advertising Wales as closed for business, with the recent ban on road building and tax on tourism?

I could not agree more. The Welsh Government’s response to the roads review was more of a roadblock. There has been widespread rejection of the tourism tax from the sector, including UK Hospitality, which has called it “anti-competitive”. The contrast between the approaches of the two Governments is stark: the UK Government are striking trade deals and promoting Britain as open for business, while the Welsh Government seem focused on punishing small business owners.

A little birdy tells me that the Secretary of State has had a meeting about the Rhondda tunnel in the last few days. I hope very much—as no doubt do you, Mr Speaker—that there will be an announcement soon of some money to ensure that the Rhondda tunnel can be opened up, making it the second longest cycle tunnel in the whole of Europe and a great advert for tourism in the Welsh valleys. Will he meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) so that we can explain to him its significant benefits and he can lobby to get that money for the Rhondda tunnel?

The hon. Member is right to raise that question. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tells me that he would be happy to hold a meeting with him, and adds that Rhondda Cynon Taf council should be encouraged to make a levelling-up fund bid.

Healthcare Services

6. Whether he has had recent discussions with the Welsh Government on the adequacy of healthcare services in Wales. (904535)

I have discussions with the Welsh Government about the adequacy of Welsh healthcare services—most recently about Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board being put back into special measures. However, the Department for Health and Social Care regularly engages and collaborates with the Welsh Government to share best practice on achieving better outcomes for patients UK-wide.

The Secretary of State has just told us that the Welsh Government receives £1.20 in health funding for every pound spent in England. Despite that, the Welsh Government are the only Government in the United Kingdom to cut funding to the NHS. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Labour party has proved itself incapable in office of running health services?

I very much share his concern across Wales, especially north Wales. Yesterday, in the latest troubling revelations about Betsi Cadwaladr, we learned that the First Minister was wrong to state that the Auditor General had recommended taking the board out of special measures just prior to the 2020 devolved elections. On funding, the Welsh Government may repeatedly call for more money, but they are the only Government in the UK to cut health spending. In the latest budget they have set out plans to cut day-to-day spending on the delivery of NHS services in real terms this year compared with last year, while the UK Government are providing a real-terms increase.

Devolution Settlement

7. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the adequacy of the operation of the devolution settlement for people in Wales. (904536)

The Secretary of State for Wales has regular discussions with the First Minister on how our two Governments can work together within the current devolution settlement to deliver for Wales. Our recent agreement to establish two Welsh freeports shows what we can achieve when we work together for the benefit of people and communities in Wales.

Given that the Senedd sits for only two days a week and, if yesterday’s reports are anything to go by, that the First Minister is less than truthful with his answers anyway, can my hon. Friend fathom any reason why they need to expand Senedd membership by 60%, at huge cost to the Welsh taxpayer? Does he agree with me that the Welsh people should be asked whether they want more MSs working only two days a week?

The hon. Member is right to ask that question. I fully agree with him that the last thing people in Wales want is more politicians in Cardiff bay. The Welsh Government would be better spending the estimated £100 million that they suppose this would cost on public services. If the Welsh Government and their separatist allies are so confident that these proposals should progress, then I agree that they should seek the agreement of people in Wales through a referendum.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Later today, I will return to Belfast to mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It is an opportunity to thank some of the leading architects of peace for their courage and the pivotal role they played to set the groundwork for a better future for the people of Northern Ireland. We will also commemorate those who are no longer with us.

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.

We are in the middle of a housing crisis, with mortgages soaring, rents rising and house building set to reach a new low. Just last week, in an interview with ConservativeHome, the Prime Minister admitted his disastrous decision to drop housing targets to appease Tory party members. Will the Prime Minister please explain to the House why the views of 1,000 party members are more important than those of families aspiring to be homeowners across the country?

On the Government side of the House we believe in empowering local communities to make the decisions that are right for them and to protect their green spaces. The place where there is most acute need, where house building is not keeping up with need, is in Labour-controlled London.

Q3. It has been reported that the Welsh Labour Government are going to incentivise people smugglers by offering £1,600 of taxpayers’ money every month to asylum seekers. May I ask my right hon. Friend for an assurance that he will never contemplate such a daft idea in our small boats Bill? (904432)

I know my noble Friend Lord Bellamy and the Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), wrote to the Welsh Government yesterday confirming that we would not be undertaking their request. I note that the Labour leader has said that the Welsh Labour Government are his “blueprint”. Unbelievably, as my hon. Friend said, Labour in Wales is trying to pay illegal migrants £1,600. We are stopping the boats; Labour is paying for them.

The Tory party chair says that public services are in pretty good shape. Has the Prime Minister met a single member of the public who agrees with him?

Because of the record investment that we are putting into public services like the NHS, we are now getting waiting lists down. Because of the reforms that we have made to our education system, more children are studying in good and outstanding schools. Because that is what you get with a Conservative Government—more funding, more reform and better outcomes for Britain.

He is living in another world to the rest of us. People waiting more than two days for an ambulance because they broke the NHS. Only one in 100 rapists going to court because they broke the criminal justice system. A record number of small boats crossing the channel because they broke the asylum system. People can’t afford their bills, can’t get the police to investigate crimes, can’t get a doctor’s appointment. Does that really sound like pretty good shape to him?

What is the record since 2010? Since 2010, crime is down by 50% under the Conservative Government. There are 20,000 more police officers, we have given them more powers, and we have toughened up sentencing—all opposed by Sir Softie over there.[Official Report, 24 April 2023, Vol. 731, c. 4MC.]

Order. Our constituents want to hear the questions and the answers. You will progress questions beyond—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister wants to leave early, along with the Leader of the Opposition. Help me to help them!

Either the Prime Minister does not use the same public services as the rest of us or he simply cannot see the damage that the Government have done to our country. In 2019, Arie Ali, a convicted people smuggler, threw boiling water over a prison officer, leaving him with first degree burns. The prison officer said that it felt like acid and his face was on fire. His attacker was found guilty and received a prison sentence, quite rightly in my view. Does the Prime Minister agree?

Our record is clear on sentencing. It was this party and this Government who passed the sentencing Act last year. It toughened up sentences, and the average custodial sentence since 2010 has now increased by almost two thirds. For child sex abusers, it is up by 15 months; for rapists, it is up by two years. When our sentencing Act ended the automatic early release of offenders who pose a danger to the public, it was the Labour party that voted against it.

The problem is, Prime Minister, that Arie Ali’s sentence ended up being suspended. Anyone watching this would wonder why someone who violently attacks a key worker is not behind bars. Well, the Court judgment spelled it out: it is because it took 16 months for the attacker to be charged. That is ridiculous. It took another two years before he was sentenced—completely unacceptable. Cannot the Prime Minister see that because the Government have lost control of the courts service, because they have created the largest court backlog on record, he is letting violent criminals go free?

Here is the record: we are cracking down on grooming gangs, and the Leader of the Opposition is uncomfortable addressing them. We toughened the law on sex offenders so they spend longer in prison; he voted against it. We have increased rape convictions by over 60%; meanwhile, he attended 21 Sentencing Council meetings that watered down punishments. That is why they call him Sir Softie: soft on crime, soft on criminals.

I have prosecuted thousands upon thousands of sex offenders. The Prime Minister has just shown that he does not understand how the criminal justice system works. No wonder he cannot fix it. He thinks that cracking down on crime is suspending a sentence where someone should be in prison. That shows the problem.

Another reason cited by the Court for suspending the sentence in Arie Ali’s case was a letter from the Justice Secretary in February about prison overcrowding. As a result of that letter, courts have been told to have awareness of the impact of current prison population levels when passing sentences. In simple terms, the wrecking ball that the Tories have taken to criminal justice means that thousands of people who should be in prison are not.

The Justice Secretary shakes his head. He should read the judgment.

The Court also said that it is

“for government to communicate to the courts when prison conditions have returned to a more normal state.”

I know that the Justice Secretary has been busy trying to save his own job rather than actually doing it, but has the Prime Minister asked him when he is going to get a grip on the prison system and withdraw that letter, which is allowing criminals to walk free?

We are in the process of building 20,000 more prison places. That is what this Government are delivering. We are toughening up sentencing and putting more people behind bars, and making sure that our most serious offenders spend longer there.

I love it when the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about his record as a lefty lawyer. I have been looking at this, and I have read that people were “really disappointed” that his organisation had been “letting down…victims.” That was not even my assessment; it was that of his shadow Attorney General.

Order. I want to us get through these questions, and so do my constituents. To any Member present who is not interested in his or her constituents, I say, “Please leave the Chamber.”

When I was in office as Director of Public Prosecutions, those on the Benches opposite were my greatest supporters. In 2013, the Home Affairs Committee said:

“ We would…like to commend the work of the Director for Public Prosecution, Keir Starmer… Mr Starmer has striven to improve the treatment of…sexual assault”.

The Committee goes on to say—[Interruption.]

Order. Prime Minister’s Questions matter to our constituents. [Interruption.] I wouldn’t if I were you; it is not the day for it. I want to get through these questions, because I am trying to help the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. You are not being helpful, but we will hear this question, no matter how long it takes.

Order. Ms Stevenson, I have heard you for a few weeks, and this will be the last week. I suggest that you keep quiet, otherwise it is better that you leave.

In 2013, the Home Affairs Committee went on to say that the work I did

“should provide a model to…other agencies”,

and that

“when he leaves the Crown Prosecution Service…he will be missed.”

That report was presented to Parliament by the then Home Secretary and future Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), and the Government—those on the opposite Benches—noted and supported it. It is obviously always a good look to have your work recognised, although they did lay it on a bit thick.

Perhaps the Prime Minister should spend less time trying to rewrite history and more time sorting out the mess that he has made of criminal justice; but the crisis in criminal justice is just a snapshot of public services collapsing on his watch. People can see it wherever they look. Our roads, our trains, the NHS, the asylum system, policing, mental health provision—the Tories have broken them all, and all that they have left are excuses and blame. I know that the Prime Minister would rather talk about a maths lesson than about the state of the country, but perhaps he could solve this equation: why, after 13 years of a Tory Government, are patients waiting longer than ever, criminals walking free and growth non-existent, and why, everywhere we look, does nothing seem to work at all?

I cannot quite remember, but I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman started by talking about the time when he was Director of Public Prosecutions, in 2013. I am actually glad he brought that up, because something else happened when he was DPP in 2013: he got his own special law, and I have it right here. It is called The Pensions Increase—[Interruption.]

It is called The Pensions Increase (Pension Scheme for Keir Starmer QC) Regulations 2013.

We are introducing a transformative policy to help doctors to cut the waiting lists faster. The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to raise taxes on public sector workers. It is, literally, one law for him and tax rises for everyone else. [Interruption.]

Q6. Recently, I presented a Prime Minister’s Points of Light award to Joan Willett, who is nearly 107, for her fundraising for the British Heart Foundation, and two other Hastings and Rye residents, Anthony Kimber and Alastair Fairley, were celebrated as community champions at No. 10. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking all our fantastic volunteers and community champions, not only in Hastings and Rye but throughout the United Kingdom, and will he continue to bring them together in celebration? (904435)

I thank my hon. Friend and I am absolutely delighted that Joan received her Points of Light award. Volunteers and community champions such as Joan, Anthony and Alastair all make important contributions to their local community and we are all grateful to them. Every month, millions do the same thing and they deserve our praise. Their generosity is integral to what makes our country and our communities special, and it is right that we do everything we can to celebrate them.

I am delighted to hear that Members had an equally peaceful and relaxing Easter break, as I did.

Prime Minister, was it their refusal to stand alongside striking workers on the picket line, their acceptance of the economic damage being caused by Brexit, or perhaps their support for denying the people of Scotland the right to choose their own future that led to the leader of the Scottish Conservative party urging voters to back Labour?

What we are doing is not getting distracted by the things that are going on elsewhere; we are focused on delivering for the people of Scotland. We are making sure that we fund public services well, with £1.5 billion extra in Barnett consequentials. We are making sure that we provide support with the cost of living. I know that, at the moment, the hon. Gentleman and his party are focused on other matters. We are just going to motor on with the job.

Let me be clear: we will take no lectures from a party that has not had a mandate to govern in Scotland since 1955, that went through three Prime Ministers in the course of just a matter of months, that crashed the economy, that sent mortgage rates soaring and that has taken energy support away from families most in need. The Prime Minister has been fined by the polis not once but twice, they take donations from Russian-backed donors and they have stuffed the House of Lords with people like Baroness Mone. But let us be clear: what we are talking about is the fact that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives believes that the people of Scotland should return Labour party Members of Parliament to this House rather than Scottish National party Members. So is not the message for the people of Scotland quite clear? Don’t give the Tories what they want.

Actually, the Scottish Conservatives deserve enormous praise for forcing the SNP into abandoning its completely unworkable, fundamentally flawed deposit return scheme. So it is good that the SNP U-turned and listened to the voices of the Scottish Conservatives and to business, and we look forward to working with them on delivering something that actually works to deliver for the people of Scotland. And that is just it, because if the SNP cannot fix the mess that Nicola Sturgeon left the party in, how can it possibly fix the mess that she left Scotland in?

Q8. It seems clear that the junior doctors’ strike is causing a serious risk of loss of life, and certainly causing harm and pain to thousands of our constituents. The first line of the Hippocratic oath is “First, do no harm”. When does the Prime Minister think the British Medical Association abandoned this central tenet of its profession? (904437)

We value the work of junior doctors and are keen to find a fair and reasonable settlement that recognises their role and the wider economic context facing the UK. My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the impact on patient safety, and that is why this Government have brought forward minimum safety legislation to ensure that patients can rely on a core level of emergency service to protect vital patient care. That is something that we on this side of the House support, but I know it is not something that is supported by the party opposite.

Tooth decay is the No. 1 reason that children over the age of four end up in hospital. Regular dental check-ups could prevent it, but too many parents cannot get one for their child. In the East Riding of Yorkshire, there are now almost 3,000 people per NHS dentist. In places such as Herefordshire and Norfolk, fewer than two in five children have been seen by a dentist in the past year. This is a scandal, so will the Prime Minister take up the Liberal Democrat plan to end this crisis and make sure people can get an NHS dentist when they need one?

The NHS recently reformed dentistry contracts, which will improve access for patients. Dentistry receives about £3 billion a year, and there were around 500 more dentists delivering care in the NHS last year than in the previous year. I am pleased to say that almost 45% more children saw an NHS dentist last year compared with the year before.

Q9. At Prime Minister’s Question Time on 4 February 2015, David Cameron said he was determined to do whatever it took to fix the Dawlish railway line—the only route to the south-west. Phase 4 risks losing part of its agreed funding, while phase 5 has fallen foul of a 10-year moratorium on new funding. The line is only as resilient as its weakest link. Will the Prime Minister commit to getting this resilience programme back on track and fully funded? (904438)

We are committed to improving the resilience of this iconic stretch of railway, which provides a vital link for people in the south-west. That is why, to date, we have invested more than £165 million in delivering solutions to protect the line. Network Rail continues to develop the case for further investment, and my hon. Friend will be keen to feed into that.

Q2.   This week, not only has my city of Dundee announced that its flights will connect with Heathrow but the Scottish Government have committed to Dundee being at the forefront of making Scotland a major world economy, bringing investment, jobs and opportunity. However, the UK Government seem to have a problem with this. Scotland’s international engagement is to be reduced. Despite being paid for through Scotland’s wealth and taxes, UK ambassadors and diplomats have been instructed to obstruct the Scottish Government’s international engagement, with every foreign nation told not to deal with the Scottish Government directly. This has already been described as“smacking of a parent trying, and failing, to control a teenager.”Will the Prime Minister assure me and the businesses, the wealth creators and, most importantly, my constituents who want to see Dundee and Scotland prosper that, during this short time that Scotland remains in this unequal Union, Scotland will neither be put back in a box nor bend a knee? (904431)

I am pleased to say that we are supporting the communities of Dundee, which received £14 million from the levelling-up fund to support a green transport hub in the city centre. This demonstrates that the UK Government want to invest in the communities of Scotland and to deliver for Scottish people.

Q10. On Saturday, I joined my 17-year-old constituent Alfie Ford in walking to raise funds for the National Autistic Society. Alfie’s mission is to walk 15,000 steps every day in the month of April to raise awareness of autism and to show that every autistic person deserves the best chance in life. This Saturday, he is walking from Birmingham City football club to Edgbaston stadium and back again. Will the Prime Minister join me in wishing Alfie the very best for his walk, and for his noble mission to change for good how people think about autism? (904439)

I praise Alfie for his fantastic efforts. He is an inspiration not just for his community but for many others, and I wish him the best of luck for Saturday. Our autism strategy sets out our ambition to ensure that autistic people across all parts of the country get the support they need to live fulfilling and happy lives, and I look forward to seeing Alfie’s progress on the rest of his journey.

Q4. My constituent Lisa and her civil service colleagues have worked tirelessly and with distinction during some of the most challenging times, but she is fed up with Ministers patting them on the back while imposing derisory 2% and, now, 4.5% pay rises, despite years of pay restraint and, now, double-digit inflation. She asks simply:“Why should I keep working for a UK government that treats its workers with such contempt?”Will the Prime Minister stop with the myths and excuses, and start negotiating a fair deal with the unions? (904433)

I pay tribute to all our hard-working public sector workers for the job they do. We have a well-established independent pay review body process for making sure that we can have pay settlements that are fair and affordable. I am very pleased that we have reached agreement with many unions on those pay settlements and I hope that those members vote in support of them.

Q11. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who seek to criticise the Conservative record on law and order should look in the mirror and ask, “Who was Director of Public Prosecutions for some of those years?” (904440)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our record is clear. We have halved crime since 2010; neighbourhood crime has fallen by 25% just in the last few years; criminals are spending longer in prison; and, crucially, we, unlike the Labour party, are giving the police the powers they need to tackle violent protests.

Q5. My elderly constituent Anne has been in Turkey for five weeks now after her husband suffered a devastating brain bleed—he is now in intensive care. Their holiday insurance company, Staysure, has refused to pay medical bills and has so far refused to engage with me. This has resulted in Anne being stuck with extortionate medical bills and surgery costs, which she has covered by using their life savings. With finances now running out, they are both stranded and have been advised that they will need to find at least £50,000 to pay for an air ambulance to bring them home. Will the Prime Minister meet me to consider all possible options to support constituents such as Anne and her husband in difficult situations such as that, especially where insurance companies abdicate all responsibility? (904434)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am very sorry to hear about the case that he raises. My thoughts are with Anne and her husband, as I am sure everyone’s will be, at this difficult time. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a meeting as soon as possible with the relevant Minister to discuss and progress this case further.

Q12.   Can I tell a tale of two councils? My constituents who live in Conservative-controlled Wychavon District Council have enjoyed six years of council tax freezes and excellent public services, while my constituents who live in the Malvern Hills District Council area, which is run by a rag-tag-bag of so-called independents and Greens, pay nearly 50% more in council tax for a band D property. Does the Prime Minister agree that the best thing my constituents can do on the cost of living is to vote Conservative on 4 May? (904441)

My hon. Friend is of course right. Right across the country, those who live in Conservative council areas pay lower council tax than those in Labour council areas. The choice at this election is clear: it is the Conservatives who deliver for you and it is Labour that costs you.

Q7.   This week, the Women’s Rights Network published a report by criminologist Professor Jo Phoenix called “When we are at our most vulnerable”. It revealed that, between January 2019 and October 2022, which includes the pandemic lockdown, of course, there were a staggering 6,539 reported rapes and sexual assaults in UK hospital settings. That is an average of 33 incidents every single week. As eight police forces did not provide any data, the real figures are bound to be significantly higher. What can the Prime Minister and his Government do to ensure that all women, staff and patients are safe in Britain’s hospitals? (904436)

First, may I say that I was deeply shocked and appalled, like the hon. Lady, to hear about the cases of sexual assault and abuse in the NHS. I pay tribute to her for her long-standing campaign on these issues. NHS organisations are responsible for protecting their staff and patients from sexual harassment and conduct. They have recently established a domestic abuse and sexual violence programme to build more robust safeguarding processes for protecting patients, and we will work very closely with them to ensure that that is implemented. I know that she will hold us to account for doing that.

Q13. On 2 June, Corwen station on the Llangollen steam railway will be officially reopened, having been closed 60 years ago under the Beeching axe. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the volunteers, the local community and the funders who have made that possible, and take his own share of the credit for granting the levelling-up fund to Clwyd South when he was Chancellor, which has paid for the magnificent new roof on Corwen station? (904442)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his campaigning on this. I am delighted that the levelling-up fund has delivered for Corwen station. It is a huge boost to local ambitions to see trains returning there. I know that a small team of the project’s volunteers have built the majority of the station, and they deserve credit, and that a local company in Wrexham has supplied the new steelwork for the canopy roof, providing a welcome boost to the local economy. I look forward to seeing the station open this summer.

Over recess, I was invited to visit one of the major supermarkets in my constituency to discuss food waste. What struck me most was the experience of shop workers on the frontline. They told me that they expect to suffer a violent assault every single day that they go to work. Although more maths might always be helpful, what is this out-of-touch Prime Minister doing to make sure that people can be safe in their workplace?

Everyone deserves to be safe in their workplace, which is why we are making sure that, through our sentencing Act, we have appropriate sentencing in place and, more generally, that we have police officers and community support officers across the country to help combat crime. We will happily look at future sentencing when we look at reviews of that case.

Q14.   Leadership and teamwork delivered Bolton Wanderers a superb 4-0 victory in the Papa John’s trophy match at Wembley. It is delivering the Bolton College of Medical Sciences and delivered Ayyub Patel’s superb Rumworth by-election victory. What message does my right hon. Friend have for Councillor Patel and all the campaigners, candidates and activists, as we run into this festival of democracy, our local elections? (904443)

I share in my hon. Friend’s congratulations for all those in Bolton, but also offer my commiserations to those in Plymouth, especially to our party chairman who is an avid supporter of the green army. Most importantly, I welcome the election of Councillor Patel and look forward to his joining our other councillors in delivering for their local areas, with less crime, lower council tax and, importantly, filling more potholes.

Last week, the Home Office announced that it would not be setting up a bespoke visa scheme for the fishing industry of the sort that is already available for people working in fish farms and in offshore wind farms. It also told skippers that crew previously employed by them under a temporary scheme had to stop working immediately. As a consequence of that announcement, in fishing ports around the coast today, many fishing boats are tied up unable to go to sea. It is the only time that this Home Secretary has been successful in our stated ambition of stopping the boats. The Prime Minister and his party promised our fishermen a sea of opportunity if they would support them, but what is the point of a sea of opportunity if they cannot get crew to fish in it?

I am not sure that I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s characterisation. We are proud champions of the UK’s fishing industry, not least with our £100 million investment in fishing communities. We are always looking to engage with those communities to make sure that they get the support that they need. Crucially, all the opportunities that are there for them because of Brexit, we are keen to make sure that we deliver.

Q15. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking Lorna and Shirley of the Marios Tinenti Centre and the local churches in Loughborough for all their hard work in establishing a community allotment? Local people use the facility as a great place to get outdoors as well as to relax. (904444)

I pay tribute to Lorna and Shirley for all their fantastic work. Allotments can do wonders not just for, as my hon. Friend said, providing food, but for wellbeing and providing a place of sanctuary for people around the country, and they deserve enormous praise for creating one for the benefit of their community.

Chinese Police Stations in UK

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on secret police stations operated in the UK by the Chinese Communist party.

Ordinarily, the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) would have responded to this urgent question, because it sits within his portfolio. He is in Northern Ireland today, so I have been asked to respond in his place.

The latest reporting in The Times on the so-called overseas police stations are of course of great concern. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security said in his previous statement on the matter in November last year, investigations by the law enforcement community are ongoing, which limits what I can say in the House about a live investigation into a sensitive matter. As Members will appreciate, I do not want to say anything that would jeopardise any operational investigations or indeed any potential future prosecutions.

I will, however, take this opportunity to reassure the House of the Government’s resolve to protect every community in this country from transnational repression. Protecting the people of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance. Any attempt to coerce, intimidate or illegally repatriate any individual will not be tolerated. That egregious activity is part of a wider train of authoritarian Governments—not just China, but others—perpetrating transnational repression in an effort to silence their critics overseas, undermine democracy and the rule of law, and further their own narrow geopolitical interests.

Through our police forces and the intelligence agencies that work with them, we take a proactive approach to protecting individuals and communities from threats. Where we identify individuals who may be at heightened risk we are front-footed in deploying security measures and guidance where necessary.

The upcoming National Security Bill will strengthen our powers to deal with transnational repression and with agents of foreign states more generally. Coercion, harassment or intimidation linked to a foreign power will be criminalised under the new foreign interference offence in that Bill. Existing criminal offences against a person, such as assault, will in future command higher sentences where they are undertaken at the behest of a foreign power through the state threats aggravating factor in that Bill.

The National Security Bill will also introduce a new foreign influence registration scheme, and we will not hesitate to use those new powers to bear down on the activities of foreign entities of concern. The Bill will return to this House in early May and I call on all hon. Members to support it when it does.

It is clear, however, that we can and must do more. That is why the Prime Minister asked my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security to lead a new defending democracy taskforce, a key priority of which is to enhance our response to transnational repression. That work is ongoing and he will provide an update to the House in due course. It builds on the work done by his ministerial predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), who I see is in his place. I am clear, as is the rest of Government, that the repression of communities in the UK will not be tolerated and must be stopped.

It is reported in The Times this morning that a Chinese businessman linked to an alleged Chinese secret police station in London has attended Chinese Communist party political conferences, is linked to the united front work department and has organised Tory party fundraising dinners and attended events with Conservative Prime Ministers. Those very serious allegations raise vital national security questions, and I think the Home Secretary should be here to answer them.

The director general of MI5 has warned about the Chinese authorities both trying to influence our politics and running operations to monitor and intimidate the Chinese diaspora, including forcibly repatriating Chinese nationals. In November, we questioned the Minister for Security about possible secret police stations in Croydon, Hendon and Glasgow. He provided no information, but said he would come back with an update. He has not done so. Nor has he met with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), despite promising to do so.

Other countries have taken visible action. This week, two men were arrested by the FBI in New York for suspected operations, and in the Netherlands similar operations have been shut down. In the UK, however, we have heard nothing—no reports of arrests and no reassurance that these operations have been closed down. Instead, we are told that one key individual has been vice-chairman of the Chinese group fundraising for the Conservative Association in the City of London, and has attended party-organised events with two out of the last three Conservative Prime Ministers.

Can the Minister tell us the full extent of that individual’s involvement with the Conservative party and contact with any Ministers? What actions have Ministers and the party taken? What have the Government done about the alleged secret police stations in Croydon and elsewhere? Have their operations been closed down?

The lack of answers will raise grave concerns that the Government are not addressing the scale of this threat and are not updating Parliament for fear of party political embarrassment because of the connections with the Conservative party. That is not good enough. Party political concerns must never—repeat: never—be put before our national security. The country deserves answers.

The shadow Home Secretary asks a number of a questions relating to the specific individual named in The Times today in connection with his activities in Croydon, which is, as she will appreciate, the borough that I represent in Parliament—this is of great concern to me as well as to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). I can tell the House that I have been briefed today, as one would expect—at short notice, as this is not ordinarily part of my ministerial portfolio—and there is a live investigation of this matter by the law enforcement community. As I said in my opening remarks, I cannot comment on the details of such an investigation while it is live for reasons that will be obvious to all Members of this House. As soon as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security is in a position to provide an update on the results of that investigation, he will do so. I will also ask him to brief privately the hon. Member for Croydon Central as soon as possible.

It is worth mentioning that the Chinese activity in this area is not confined to the United Kingdom. We are aware of approximately 100 alleged stations of the kind we are discussing around the world—they are not unique to the United Kingdom—and, as the shadow Home Secretary said, earlier this week arrests were made in New York in connection to an investigation conducted by the FBI similar to the investigations that we are conducting.

On party politics, all political parties need to be alert to the danger of representatives of hostile states seeking to infiltrate or influence their activities. It is fair to say that other Members of this House have been similarly targeted—those we know about—so I ask all Members of Parliament and all political parties to be alert to that risk. We all owe that to democracy.

May I bring my right hon. Friend back to the real issue? Investigations into individual transgressions are absolutely fine, and they progress. The problem is that we in this House and the Government have known for a considerable time—it has been raised by many of my colleagues—about the activity of the three illegal Chinese police stations. We know that they are bringing Chinese dissidents in, confronting them with videos of their families, and threatening their families in front of them if they do not co-operate, leave and go back to China. We know that. The security services have warned the Government about it. The question today is this: why in heaven’s name have we not acted, alongside the Americans and even the Dutch, to shut those stations down and kick those people out of the country?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and for his long-standing campaigning on this issue and the activities of China more widely, which are rightly of great concern to this Government and to Members on both sides of the House. The activity that he describes—interference with Chinese nationals in this country—is something that we take incredibly seriously. We saw that terrible incident in Manchester not very long ago, where members of the Chinese consular staff dragged someone inside their compound. As a consequence of that, six Chinese officials have now left the United Kingdom.

The activity that my right hon. Friend describes is incredibly serious and unacceptable, and it must and will be stopped, but the three particular locations that he referred to are subject to a live investigation and work by the law enforcement community, so I am afraid that I cannot say any more from the Dispatch Box today. As soon as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security can provide an update, he will do so.

The Scottish National party welcomes the inclusion of a stand-alone China section in the integrated review 2023. I agree with the Minister that we must take this threat seriously, and the Government should be giving as much, if not more, attention to the influence of Chinese state actors as they do to that of Putin’s oligarchs.

This is not the first time that this issue has been raised in this House, so can the Minister provide any update at all on the secret Chinese state police stations? Can he assure us that he is not just waiting for the National Security Bill to go through before taking action? Can he reassure me that he or, perhaps more appropriately, the Security Minister has had communications with counterparts in the Scottish Government and Police Scotland? Given that one of these alleged secret police stations is in my Glasgow Central constituency, may I have an update from Ministers on the situation? The Security Minister has in the past given me a verbal promise of an update, but I have not had one. He is not here today to address that, and I do not want to put the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire on the spot, but I am very concerned about that.

What reassurance can the Minister provide to Scotland’s Chinese community, some of whom may have good reason to fear Chinese state interference and the secret police, who may be operating here? Can he reassure us that action is forthcoming, because it does not feel as though terribly much has been taken thus far?

First, I will, on the Security Minister’s behalf, recommit him to meeting the hon. Lady, along with the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). Given that one of these locations is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), it is important that the Security Minister meets her to discuss it. On his behalf, I make that commitment. I will talk to him later today and reiterate the importance of that meeting taking place, for all the reasons given by the hon. Lady.

I completely agree with the hon. Lady that this kind of activity—intimidation, or potential intimidation, of foreign nationals on our soil, whether by people acting for parts of the Chinese state or, indeed, other states, because we have seen this with other countries as well, with Iran being an obvious example—is completely unacceptable. We have zero tolerance for this kind of activity. It is under active investigation. It is not true to say that no action has been taken. In relation to these particular sites, action is currently being taken, but Members will understand why I cannot go into the details of that work at the moment.

I reassure the House that action can and will be taken under the law as it stands, but the National Security Bill updates and increases the powers available to us. For example, it requires registration and gives us more power to act against people who are acting on behalf of foreign states. I encourage all Members, including those in the other place, to support that Bill so that we can get it through Parliament and on to the statute book as fast as possible, because those extra powers will help us in this area.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that the National Security Bill will make this country safer against state threats and, indeed, make political dissidents in this country—North Korean, Russian and Chinese—safer as well. Does he agree that national security should not be a party political football and that, by definition, ongoing cases should not be discussed in this House, particularly when they have classified elements?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Matters of national security should be tackled on a bipartisan, or tripartisan, basis across the House. All democratic political parties in the wider western world, including the United Kingdom, are at risk from inappropriate influence. All of us must work together to combat and exclude that risk, and we should approach these issues in that spirit of cross-party co-operation.

I am perplexed, and my constituents are very concerned. At the start of November, the Security Minister said in response to an urgent question that there was an investigation and that he would come back to the House as soon as possible to provide a report. He promised to meet me. I have emailed him multiple times and have even texted him, but I have had nothing in response, and now we read that the man in Croydon has links to both the Chinese Communist party and the Conservative party. Was the Security Minister’s failure to respond to me multiple times a discourtesy, or is there something else going on?

That insinuation of party political influence is frankly a disgraceful slur. The hon. Lady is not doing Croydon residents a service by attempting to ask the question in the way that she just did. I do know, because I have asked him, that the Security Minister has never met or encountered the gentleman concerned. He does, however, owe the hon. Lady an update, as I said in response to the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and I will make sure that the Security Minister meets with both the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) extremely quickly to provide an update on this issue.

As a former Police Minister myself, I think it is very important that Parliament stays out of an ongoing investigation—that is absolutely vital—but what I am particularly worried about is that, if we just kick these people out of the country and do not prosecute them and put them in British prisons, when they get back to China they will be given a medal, not the criminal prosecution in this country that they deserve. Can we make sure that if a criminal act has taken place, these people are prosecuted in this country, not just kicked out? The Chinese will love that, and they will give them medals and God knows what else.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in the point he made at the beginning of his question, as a former Police Minister, about the importance of not commenting in this House on particularly sensitive live investigations that are being undertaken. I completely agree with his second point about the importance of prosecuting people domestically in the UK and, if they have committed a criminal offence here in the UK, making sure they serve a sentence here prior to getting kicked out. There needs to be a very clear deterrent, making it clear to the people who are thinking about doing these things that it is unacceptable on our soil—we will not tolerate it.

I was pleased to hear the Minister say that these are matters that should be addressed on a cross-party basis. The Security Minister, whom I hold in the highest regard, said that the defending democracy taskforce would be cross-party, something that was welcomed by the director general of MI5. Can I ask the Minister to confirm that that is still the case? If it is, presumably either the Minister and his Department or the Security Minister will be reaching out to our Front Benchers in the very near future.

I certainly share the hon. Member’s sentiments about the cross-party nature of this issue. I will take that point back to my right hon. Friend the Security Minister and put it to him later today, as soon as he gets back from Northern Ireland.

I am exasperated that, six months after I secured an urgent question on this issue, it is still true that there are four illegal police stations operating in the country that we know of—the one in Belfast seems to be missing from much of the reporting. There is no question that when we are vulnerable at home to Chinese transnational repression, we are weaker on the world stage. [Interruption.] I hope the Minister is listening; does he wish to respond already? This is a transnational crisis, and I have just met with Vahid Beheshti, who is on day 56 of hunger strike outside the Foreign Office because of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps failing to be proscribed, despite the promise to do so. When will the Home Office close the IRGC cut-outs operating in Maida Vale, Willesden and Manchester, as well as the at least four Chinese police operating stations? Other countries have acted, so why have we not?

I assure my hon. Friend that I was listening extremely carefully to what she was saying. She asserted in her question that these locations are still operating. If I may say so, she is making an assumption in doing so—not an assumption that I am going to comment on, because it is a matter that is under live investigation, as she will appreciate. As soon as the Security Minister is able to comment on this matter, he will come to the House and do so.

As my hon. Friend will also appreciate, I cannot comment on the IRGC either, because as she knows, Ministers do not comment on matters around proscription that are being considered. What I can and will say is that this Government take interference with foreign nationals here—transnational intimidation—extremely seriously. It is completely unacceptable, and we will do whatever is necessary to stop it from happening.

Anybody who has the right to be here has the right to feel safe and secure in being here. In the past couple of years, to their credit, the Government have allowed in excess of 100,000 Hongkongers to move to this country, but we know that the intimidation and persecution has followed them. In universities up and down the country, they are shouted down, and they continue to be intimidated. These police stations are part of the infrastructure that enables that. To borrow a phrase from the Foreign Secretary, is it not time that we should be pulling down the shutters on them?

I completely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, particularly in relation to the British national overseas Hong Kong citizens who have come here. We have extended a very warm welcome to those people, who are at risk of repression in Hong Kong now because of the Chinese Communist party’s brutal repression of democratic freedoms and other freedoms there, which this Government abhor in the strongest terms. That is why we have offered refuge here to those people.

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that foreign nationals residing in this country, regardless of their immigration status, should enjoy all the rights and freedoms around free speech and freedom from intimidation that we would expect any citizen of this country to enjoy. I agree with him: it is the duty of Government and the law enforcement services and agencies to ensure that those freedoms and rights are protected, including on campuses. I think the Department for Education is doing some work in that area. Where Chinese nationals are students at universities, they should be free from harassment and intimidation—the same applies, of course, to other groups of people, Jewish students being another obvious example. It is vital that university authorities take robust action to protect their students, whether Chinese, Jewish or from any other group, from any sort of intimidation on campuses, which is totally unacceptable.

I thank the Minister for his robust line, and I thank Ministers for all the work they are trying to do. I think it is true to say that in the past 10, 15 or 20 years, collective Governments have been slow and naive in dealing with these more nuanced, politicised threats from Iran, Russia, China and so on.

I get the fact that the Government are making transnational repression illegal and that there is an ongoing police case, but the point has already been made: repression is already illegal in this country, and has been for centuries. People have the right to the freedoms of this nation, whether they are visitors or citizens. We know who these diplomats are, and we are not going to be imprisoning Chinese diplomats, so we do not have to wait for a court case before we start expelling diplomats who are engaged in these practices. I think that is the point that I and others are trying to make today.

There is no reluctance to ensure that diplomats engaged in inappropriate activity will leave: as I have mentioned already, six officials who were based in the Chinese consular office in Manchester have now left the United Kingdom. The gentleman in Croydon, the subject of the article in The Times today, is of course not a diplomat and is therefore susceptible to prosecution in the normal way, exactly as the former Police Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), described earlier. That is exactly why there is an ongoing investigation that is taking place.

What specific measures will higher education institutions be encouraged to take, or if necessary what legislation will be put in place, to protect BNO passport holders particularly, but also young Iranian, Russian and Ukrainian students who feel under surveillance, and others within the student body who are there under a surveillance pact? We know this has been happening for quite some time, and the Government’s response has been tardy. Will the Minister undertake today to meet with the Higher Education Minister, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), and to share immediate advice following today’s news, so that we can have a reassurance that all international students are safe?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady’s sentiment that international students—indeed, any students—at UK universities should be free from intimidation, a point I made in response to a previous question. Whether those are Chinese students, Iranian students, Jewish students or anyone else, they should not be getting intimidated. I will just repeat the point I made earlier: individual universities, first and foremost, should be ensuring the safety of students on their campuses in the first instance.

In relation to the hon. Lady’s question about action by the DFE, as Members will appreciate, I am already straying quite a long way beyond the limits of my ministerial responsibility by answering this question; going into DFE areas would take me even further beyond them. What I will say is that I will ask the Security Minister to come back to the hon. Lady specifically on that point and update her in writing on what work he is doing with the DFE to ensure the safety of students on campuses. It is a vital question, and it is appropriate that the Government get involved as well as leaving it to universities. I will ask the Security Minister to come back to her on that very important point, but I completely agree with the sentiment of her question.

These illegal police stations form part of a pattern, whereby China is an adversary of freedom the world over. We saw that recently over her intimidation of Taiwan, we see it in her treatment of Hongkongers, and we see it in her actions in Africa to try to act through debt bondage to secure advantage on that continent. When will the Government designate China, as we should, as a formal threat to the interests of the United Kingdom in our security architecture?

I agree with the thrust of my right hon. Friend’s thesis. Clearly, the Chinese Communist party is seeking to project its influence around the world, in a way that often undermines the interests of the recipients of that interest and often undermines the interests of those countries that believe in freedom and democracy. I believe we have a duty in this country, acting with our allies in the free world, to make sure that that influence is circumscribed.

Clearly, we are taking more powers domestically, for example through the National Security and Investment Act 2021, which came into force just over one year ago, to seek to limit influences in the investment and economic spheres. We are doing work with partners around the world, too. We are supporting countries where freedom is threatened, including Taiwan, which obviously we strongly support in its right to choose its own destiny. The question my right hon. Friend specifically raises is obviously a complicated one that is probably better dealt with by higher powers than me, but I have made clear in my answer my feelings on the topic of our relations with China.

On how many occasions have the Government or governmental officials discussed the use of these police stations with the Chinese embassy?

I am afraid that, not being a Foreign Office Minister or the Security Minister, I do not know. However, I am sure that the Security Minister will provide an update on that when he next comes to the House.

I thank the Minister for his answers today. This is a difficult area, and he is constrained because of the ongoing investigation, but can he reassure me that the authorities doing all these investigations have all the resources they need, because that will be reassuring to the people of South Derbyshire?

Yes, I can provide my hon. Friend with the assurance she requires. The Government take this issue incredibly seriously. We do not think the operation of these facilities is remotely acceptable, and neither is the intimidation of foreign nationals on our soil, so the relevant law enforcement bodies have the resources necessary to protect people on British soil, as she and this House rightly expect.

Last month, Coventry hosted a friendship festival to welcome Hong Kong nationals under the BNO scheme. I am proud of the city’s diversity, but the existence of Chinese police stations poses a direct threat to my constituents. The Government’s own Back Benchers have said that this Government are asleep at the wheel when it comes to the threats posed by China. Given that this is a matter of national security, what steps will the Minister take to ensure the safety of my constituents in Coventry North West?

I do not accept the suggestion that the Government have been asleep at the wheel. A whole range of actions are being taken to counter foreign state threats. I have mentioned the National Security and Investment Act 2021; the National Security Bill; the integrated review, which puts national security at its heart; and the defending democracy taskforce, which is chaired by the Security Minister. Those are all designed to keep safe not just BNOs, but others.

On the topic of BNOs, I think that illustrates the United Kingdom at its best. We sometimes hear Opposition Members saying that we do not have safe and legal routes, and that we do not extend a warm welcome. However, we have welcomed more than 100,000 with BNO passports with open arms. We have welcomed 25,000 people from Afghanistan via safe and legal routes. There are the 25,000 who came from Syria under the UK resettlement scheme and other schemes, and the more than 200,000 people who have come from Ukraine. They all illustrate what an open and welcoming country this is and the approach that this Government take to genuine and legitimate refugees.

It is not just nefarious activity from the Chinese Communist party through the so-called police stations in this country and other parts of the world, but their commercial activities and activities in academia that are a threat to our national security. BGI is a company that is harvesting genomic information from people around the world, for example through prenatal tests. Can I have an assurance from the Government that the defending democracy taskforce will be looking not just at the so-called Chinese police stations operating in this country, but all those aggressive acts being carried out by the Communist Chinese state?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to what the Chinese Government are doing in seeking to infiltrate academia and certain sensitive technologies. I saw that at first hand during my time as technology Minister, and I must say to the House that I was deeply concerned by what I saw. The machinery of government for dealing with that is the defending democracy taskforce, and there are various other arms of government dealing with that. The powers that exist under the National Security and Investment Act 2021 give the Government—in the first instance, I think it is through what used to be the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—powers to take action. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are alive to that, and I saw that when I was tech Minister. I can assure him that the Government are vigilant and alert and that action is being taken.

I thank the Minister for his responses. What steps are being taken to secure the safety of Chinese expats who are frightened of the reach of the Chinese Government’s arms in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? I have some constituents who are Chinese expats who have told me that they feel they have been followed. They are pretty sure that their phones have been tapped. What assurance can I give to my Chinese constituents about their privacy, security and safety?

I appreciate the hon. Member’s question. If he is aware of cases where constituents feel that they are being in any way targeted, I strongly urge him and his constituents to contact the police, which I guess would be the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the first instance. The PSNI can then escalate the matter if required. Please report that quickly, and I would say that to any Member of this House. I can assure him that those matters will be quickly investigated and action taken.

My constituency has become home to many people from Hong Kong. Can the Minister reassure my constituents that we take our moral duty to protect political dissidents seriously and that they should be free from harassment on any inch of UK soil? By that, I do not just mean Chinese police stations, but also IRGC cut-outs.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It is a long-standing principle in this country that we will ensure the freedoms and rights of all those who reside on our soil. We will protect them from threats to their freedom by whoever might perpetrate them, including, and perhaps even especially, foreign states. He makes an important point, and he is right to make it.

I thank the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) for tabling this urgent question, although I doubt whether the Chinese community will be thanking her after she made her cheap political point, which rather spoiled the questions she was asking. My right hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that, with regard to foreign actors, it is not just China that is active in this country, but Iran. What does he think he can do to protect journalists who correctly seek to criticise not only the regime in China, but what is happening in Tehran and the rest of Iran?

First, I associate myself with the comment my hon. Friend made at the beginning of his question. In relation to press freedom, it is a long-standing, centuries-old principle in this country that the press is free and should be free from interference, including by foreign states, and that includes Iran. I suspect we are working closely with the Iranian media outlet that was shockingly, shamefully and disgracefully targeted by the Iranian regime, to ensure that it can and will continue to operate from UK soil, as it is perfectly entitled to do.

Infected Blood Inquiry Update

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement to update the House on the infected blood inquiry.

The Government welcome the publication of the infected blood inquiry’s second interim report, and I would like to thank Sir Brian Langstaff and all those who have contributed. The infected blood inquiry has done a huge amount of work on an intensely complex issue, ensuring that victims’ voices are heard. I have been deeply moved by the testimonies outlined in the latest report, and the victims’ bravery in coming forward should not be overlooked.

The issuing of a second interim report specifically on compensation was not anticipated by the Government until we were informed of it by the inquiry in February this year. However, we very much appreciate and welcome Sir Brian taking this approach. The Government are considering intensely the recommendations outlined in this report, and work is under way at pace across all relevant Departments to respond fully.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) announced the infected blood inquiry in 2017 to examine the circumstances that led to individuals being given contaminated blood and blood products in the UK. The inquiry, chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff, commenced on 2 July 2018, and I would like to reiterate our total endorsement of my right hon. Friend’s point that the

“contaminated blood scandal of the 1970s and 80s…should simply never have happened.”

In tandem with the ongoing inquiry, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), then Paymaster General, commissioned Sir Robert Francis KC to produce a compensation framework study in anticipation of a recommendation from the inquiry to set up a compensation scheme. The findings of this study were published in June 2022.

Shortly after that, in July 2022, Sir Brian published his first interim report of the infected blood inquiry. In his report, Sir Brian recommended that the Government make interim payments to infected individuals and their bereaved partners. The Government accepted this recommendation in full on 17 August 2022, and interim compensation payments of £100,000 have been paid to those infected individuals and their bereaved partners registered with existing support schemes.

As I said to the House in December:

“We have much to do, but I wish to assure the House…that this is a priority for the Government and we will continue to progress it.”—[Official Report, 15 December 2022; Vol. 724, c. 1251.]

I would like to assure the House that this commitment absolutely remains.

Sir Brian’s most recent report sets out what the inquiry recommends as an appropriate means of compensating both those infected and affected, and the mechanism for delivering that compensation. In doing so, it sets out the complexity of what is a multi-layered issue. The recommendations in his report outline that those infected and affected should be granted legal support, and infected and affected people and the estates of infected people should be able to claim for categories of loss against five awards: injury impact award, social impact award, autonomy award, care award and financial loss award. This is rather than claiming on an individual assessment of each application. In addition, those dissatisfied with their compensation payments should have redress through an appeal to a structure outside the compensation scheme.

The report has also proposed mechanisms that Sir Brian thinks will ensure the fairness of the compensation scheme. He has recommended that the scheme be administered by an arm’s length body, chaired by a High Court judge or equivalent, and advised by legal and medical professionals, as well as the beneficiaries of the scheme. In addition, Sir Brian has proposed that the route through the courts should still remain open to beneficiaries.

Sir Brian has agreed with much of Sir Robert’s study, but there are also differences in approach. For example, Sir Robert outlined in his study that the scheme should be delivered locally in each of the four nations as this was the preference of the victims. Sir Brian has recommended that the scheme be delivered by a central body, while continuing the support provided by the existing infected blood support schemes, which should be continued and guaranteed for life

“by legislation or secure government undertaking”.

There is also divergence in the consideration of scope of those eligible for compensation payments, including the extension of payments to those with hepatitis B, and not providing payments to the estates of those affected.

Sir Brian’s interim report is detailed, and it is only right that the Government will need to consider the complexities it sets out thoroughly when preparing our response. The House will recognise that health is a devolved matter, and I will be discussing the report with my colleagues in the devolved Administrations.

As I said at the start of my statement, the Government welcome the publication of the infected blood inquiry’s second interim report to assist its ongoing work. However, we do not underestimate the complexity of these recommendations, which do need careful consideration. For example, Sir Brian recommends an arm’s length body in which His Majesty’s Government would have no ongoing role beyond providing taxpayer funds as required by the body. On anything like this scale, this would be a new departure, and it does have implications for Government accountability that will need careful consideration alongside how its financial implications will be managed.

However, I would like to reassure the House that while the Government are progressing work to ensure that we are in the best possible position to respond fully at the end of the inquiry, every recommendation by Sir Brian, including in relation to timing and a further interim payment, is receiving intense focus.

My colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care are aware of issues that Sir Brian has raised in relation to psychological support. Under the current psychological support scheme for England, there is provision for a grant of up to £900 a year, for established beneficiaries and family members, for counselling and talking therapy. The Department of Health and Social Care is undertaking research to look at the psychological support needs so that decisions on commissioning a bespoke service are based on robust evidence and meet the requirement.

In closing, I would like to reiterate the need for pace. People die every week as a result of the impact of the scandal. This Government want to deliver resolution, and we are working at pace across all relevant Departments to consider the recommendations as outlined in this latest report and to ensure that we are best placed to respond to the inquiry’s final report. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Paymaster General for providing an advance copy of his statement. I would like to begin by paying tribute to the brave victims and their families, who, while working through their own personal ill health, grief and trauma, have campaigned tirelessly for justice—without their strength, we would not have reached this stage—and of course to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who has been a stalwart of the campaign.

The continued work of the infected blood inquiry is crucial to ensuring that victims’ voices are heard. I had the privilege of meeting victims of this scandal last month, and their stories will stay with me forever. No one should have to experience the pain and anguish they have faced and are still facing. Justice delayed and its continuing delay is justice denied. While we await the conclusion of the report and inquiry, those who were given contaminated blood products are dying at a rate of one every four days. Families have suffered decades of health issues, financial loss and stigma.

Victims—those affected and infected—will have watched the Minister’s statement today with heavy hearts, disappointment and some degree of anger. There seems to be no commitment from the Minister to respond to the second report until the final report is published in the autumn. The interim report was published so that the Government do not have to wait until the final report to take action. We all understand the complexities of this scandal, but I hope the Minister can see that many individuals directly affected still feel angry and unrecognised. Today’s statement does not provide any certainty for the families or children of victims.

To finish, I have five questions for the Minister. First, does he agree with Sir Brian’s statement in the interim report that

“Time without redress is harmful. No time must be wasted in delivering that redress”?

Can he confirm that the “intense focus” he talked about is to achieve the recommendation in the report that the scheme is

“set up now and…should begin work this year”?

Secondly, how can he provide more reassurance to family members of victims, including parents who lost children and children who were orphaned when their parents died?

Thirdly, the Paymaster General talked about work under way. If the Government plan to accept these interim findings, officials must start verifying and registering directly affected people and their families urgently to understand the size of the group and to speed up the payments. Can he confirm whether that is already taking place? Fourthly, will he commit to more regular updates on progress and the direction of travel on this issue ahead of the inquiry’s final report later this year? We should not have to keep squeezing this information out of the Government, because it compounds the pain of the victims.

Finally, will the Paymaster General agree to meet me and the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), so that we can work together to deliver the justice the victims deserve?

I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks. She was right to pay tribute to many MPs in the House, including the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue over a long time. I am grateful for the work of the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, and some members of the media have also been at the forefront of pushing this issue for a long time.

Above all, the hon. Lady is right to refer to the victims, and I am very conscious that there will be tens of thousands of people watching this statement who are desperate to see a resolution. Every time there is another iteration, or a cause for me to be in this place, it is a source of anxiety, concern and worry. I am sure that there is disappointment every time there is another statement and we do not have the final resolution, but we have travelled a long way. This inquiry was announced six years ago, and Sir Brian started work five years ago. I am very grateful to him for producing this interim report. A lot of it is similar to the report by Sir Robert Francis, but there are differences.

We do need to do the work, and on the points the hon. Lady raised, we have been focused on ensuring that at the conclusion of Sir Brian’s inquiry, we are able to come forward in the best place possible, but that does not preclude doing something earlier if we are able and have the means to do so. Registration is not as yet taking place, but I am mindful that whereas for the previous interim payment there was a defined set of people and bereaved partners, if this recommendation is to be taken forward it will require registration, and that inevitably takes time, as we are all aware.

Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that this statement is no more than an update. I was keen to come to the House to hear the views of hon. Members, and I commit to doing so again as appropriate and as we continue through this process. Work will continue, and of course it would be a pleasure to meet the hon. Lady and the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if they would like to discuss this matter.

In his second interim report, Sir Brian Langstaff makes it clear that the Government have everything they need to implement the compensation framework now. I repeat the pertinent quote that the shadow Minister pulled out from the report:

“Time without redress is harmful.”

I suggest that that is rather underplaying it. During “time without redress”, people are passing away. Currently, the infected blood support schemes make regular ex gratia payments to those who are affected and bereaved partners. Will the Government make that provision statutory?

I do not dispute for a second Sir Brian’s comment that time without redress is harmful, to which my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) referred. We want progress, which is why we are working at pace to deliver it. Sir Brian makes a specific recommendation that the ongoing ex gratia payments should be put on a statutory basis, or receive a similarly strong Government commitment. I am not in a position to respond to recommendations today. It has been eight working days since the report landed, but all the recommendations will be taken seriously.

May I put on record my gratitude for advance sight of the statement, and for the work of the infected blood inquiry? I suspect there will be a considerable amount of consensus in the House on this issue. Over the years, I have been appalled at the personal testimony that I have heard from my constituents about 40 years of struggle, and the realisation that this scandal could have affected any one of us. It is a tragedy that simply should never have happened, and it has been made worse by decades of delay, first in preventing further use of contaminated factor products and identifying victims, and then in delivering compensation.

As we know, the infected blood scandal took place before devolution, while healthcare in Scotland was the responsibility of the UK Government. Financial powers to deliver compensation still lie with Westminster. It is therefore entirely appropriate to have a scheme delivered by a central body, as recommended by the inquiry. Over the years, too many delays and denials have impacted victims and their families. Sir Brian Langstaff is spot on when he says in the interim report—we have heard this a couple of times already, but I make no apology for repeating it—that:

“Time without redress is harmful. No time must be wasted in delivering that redress.”

It is therefore imperative that the recommendations to widen the interim compensation payments are carried out, and that should be done before the final compensation scheme is set up. Will the UK Government accept the inquiry’s recommendation that interim compensation payments are widened and delivered without delay? Finally, when will the compensation system’s independent chair be appointed, and can we have a detailed timescale for that?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his welcome for the concept of a central body. That was not an area of dispute, but there was a slightly difference emphasis in Sir Robert’s report and Sir Brian’s report regarding whether the payments should be delivered locally through each of the four schemes or through a UK scheme. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this happened in the ’70s and ’80s, long before devolution, and there is a clear recommendation from Sir Brian, which I am glad he endorses.

The hon. Gentleman raises two points about the interim compensation payment being widened and there being no delay in its implementation, and about the appointment of individuals. This all depends on the Government’s response to each of the recommendations—he will accept that—but a number of things could be done to speed up the process. If we were to agree with Sir Brian’s recommendation to have an arm’s length body, there are mechanisms whereby individuals could be appointed on an interim basis, prior to the ALB being formally constituted. All that is in the mix as we work through our response to the report.

The main views from the all-party group will come from the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), but we recognise that a great deal of work needs to go into this. As a minimum, may I put to the Minister that he should come back to the House before the summer break to say how far the Government have got in considering the recommendations, and which ones they will accept?

Will he set up a register so that those who think they have claims can put their names forward and be able to receive updates from the Government directly, rather than just through the mainstream media?

The words of former Secretaries of State for Health, that the totality has been a failure by the British state and that the pain and suffering has gone on for far too long, are endorsed across the House and by the country as a whole. We want the action that Sir Brian Langstaff has asked for, which is that the scheme should be set up this year.

I thank my hon. Friend for recognising that there is a great deal of work to be done. I have already referred to the point about the register. Were we to adopt the clear recommendation from Sir Brian about an interim payment that goes more widely than the last scheme, that would require a registration scheme. I appreciate that that would take time, and it needs to be established at an early stage if that recommendation is accepted. I will return to update the House as appropriate, which I hope will certainly be before the summer break.

I thank the Minister for his statement, but really, after thousands have died, decades of campaigning, a five-year public inquiry with more than 500 people dying during that period, a review of compensation frameworks by Sir Robert Francis which was delivered to the Government last February, a first interim report from Sir Brian Langstaff, and now a second interim report from Sir Brian Langstaff setting out the clear case for compensation, enough is enough. Sir Brian Langstaff is clear in his report that the scheme need not await the final report to begin work. He states:

“It will clearly take political will to act quickly but the circumstances here warrant it,”.

Will the Minister explain to me, and to the thousands of people who will be watching this statement, what exactly is the problem? Why is there not the political will from this Government to deliver justice to this group of people?

The right hon. Lady has been a constant and incredibly effective champion for those affected and infected. It was about time, but it was this Government who instituted this inquiry. We have made a huge amount of progress in having an inquiry, and in having clear recommendations on compensation from Sir Brian. We want to act at pace and we want to act swiftly, but it is also vital that this is done properly. There is a huge amount of work. The nature of the report and the recommendations Sir Brian makes are unprecedented for an unprecedented circumstance, but that requires detailed work and detailed analysis. We will bring forward a response as soon as we can. As I say, we are focused on the inquiry’s conclusion, but that does not preclude coming forward before then if we are able to do so and we decide that that is the right course of action.

I add my voice to those thanking Sir Brian Langstaff and the whole team for the work they have done. We all recognise the complexities of delivering a scheme that is effective. I am grateful to the Minister for repeatedly coming to this House and for committing to come to the House again, but will he repeat from the Dispatch Box the moral case for compensation, which has effectively bound the Government to act and to follow the recommendations for compensation? Of course it takes time to put that into practice, but what is vital for people to hear today is that, in principle, the Government are going to make it happen. For many years that commitment was not there and it needs to be repeated now.

My right hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of knowledge on this subject. I am very grateful—I repeat this, as did he—to Sir Brian for producing a comprehensive and thorough appraisal of what the compensation scheme should look like, but we need to go through it in detail. As my right hon. Friend would accept, it needs to be effective and it needs to work, but I am pleased that he has given me the opportunity to reiterate what I said last December in this place: we fully accept that there is a moral case for compensation in this circumstance, absolutely.

As I said in the debate in 2017, I remember, as a young surgeon, when this scandal began to break in the early ’80s. That is 40 years ago. My entire medical career has passed while people have been fighting for justice and recognition. Dragging that out has added financial hardship to the suffering people were already going through. As the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) said, enough is enough. The Minister talked about how long things will take and we recognise that, but when will they start? When will registration of bereaved parents and children start? When will the framework actually start, so that, as Sir Brian Langstaff called for, people can expect to see action this year and not wait any longer?

The hon. Lady is very clear, as is Sir Brian in his report. There is no dispute over what Sir Brian is recommending. I cannot give that commitment now. There are processes across Government, as she will understand. We are working at pace and we are going through the report in great detail. As I say, it has been a short period of time since that report landed with all of us. It is detailed, it is comprehensive and it does need work, but we will be coming back to the hon. Lady and to this House.

My first portfolio as a shadow Minister, in 2006, was health, so I met many of the victims. The situation started in the ’80s, but we did not really know until the ’90s what was creating it—I am no expert, but that is what was coming forward—so I am very proud that the Government have done something that I promised we would do for the victims, but it has taken too long. The moral position is that the victims and their loved ones are still suffering. People have lost their loved ones. It is not just a financial issue; it has broken people’s hearts and minds. Their scepticism might be fuelled by the fact that the Government initiated an inquiry by Baroness Cumberlege into the Primodos debacle and disaster, but they literally ignored their own inquiry, so can the Minister understand the concerns of victims and Members who are a little bit sceptical about delay, delay, delay?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This has been a long, long-term scandal. It started in the ’70s and ’80s, and it has taken many, many years to get to this stage. But the stage we have got to now is that a very distinguished High Court judge has spent five years working through the circumstances. He is at an advanced stage with his inquiry and has produced a thorough report on compensation. As I said to the House and say again, the moral case for compensation is fully accepted by the Government. We need to go through it to work through exactly what the implications are—they are multiple. As I said before, this is an unprecedented circumstance which requires unprecedented means of address and that is what is reflected in the report, but it does require work to go through it.

We had the report set out by Sir Brian Langstaff, which says how the compensation should be delivered and the framework for delivering it. The Minister said that the Government are considering this recent report “at pace”. He also said that he wants to come back and update the House. If we are moving at pace and we have all the detail in place that we need, when will he come back to the House?

It will be a great pleasure to return to the House with more substance when I can. It is important, even though we received the comprehensive report only eight working days ago, to give Members an opportunity to share their views on that interim report at the earliest possible opportunity, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that it does require work to come back substantively to say which recommendations are being accepted and how we will be progressing them.

I welcome the Minister’s statement, but does he agree that, notwithstanding the complexity he outlined in relation to the compensation scheme, two things should happen? First, the Government should move urgently to the design of the compensation scheme. Secondly, in the design of the compensation scheme, there should be engagement with victims or the groups representing them to ensure alignment between the compensation scheme and the expectation of victims.

I totally understand where my hon. Friend is coming from. It is critical that the answers we produce in response to the report are readily understood and have the buy-in of all those who suffered so grievously as a result of these scandals. I am very keen to engage with the victims. Sir Brian has been doing an exceptional job in ensuring that he fully understands, listens to and takes on board the comments made by the victims and engages with them. It is, I think, impossible for any of us who have not suffered from this personally to understand fully the anguish the victims have been put through. Sir Brian has done his utmost to reflect that in the report he has produced.

I, too, would like to thank the Minister for coming here today, and pay tribute to Sir Brian for the work he has done. Not long after I was first elected in 2017, I received a letter from a constituent whose family had suffered as a result of the infected blood scandal. What they have been through is heartbreaking. Although progress has been made and we have the interim report, we are now six years further on and they are no further on in receiving compensation. As others have said today, can we please get on with it and ensure that the suffering of families is put to an end?

I totally understand where the hon. Lady is coming from. We all have constituents in that situation. There are tens of thousands of people who are affected across the whole of the UK. We want to do so at pace. Any scheme we adopt must be effective, must work and must be appropriate. There is work ongoing. We will get there and report back to the House on our response to Sir Brian’s recommendations.

I welcome the Minister’s intense focus on this matter, but I join Members from across the House—not on a personal basis, because I think the Minister is one of the best in the Government—on behalf of my constituents in saying that this has taken a long time. Of course, it has to be thorough—I put on record my thanks to Sir Brian and Sir Robert—but can the Minister assure the House that their difference of opinion on how the compensation may be delivered, whether nationally or through the devolved Administrations, will not cause further delay? Post the final report being published, can he reassure the House that there will not then be a further consultation on whether it is devolved or national?

On children affected who have lost their loved ones and parents, could there be quicker interim payments? Some of them are really suffering financially, let alone from the loss of their parents. On the five categories, the Minister mentioned social impact; clearly, the loss of a parent is the biggest social impact of all.