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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 731: debated on Wednesday 19 April 2023

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.