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Commons Chamber

Volume 733: debated on Wednesday 24 May 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 24 May 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Households in Fuel Poverty

1. What estimate he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the number of households in fuel poverty in Wales. (905019)

14. What estimate he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the number of households in fuel poverty in Wales. (905033)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues. As a result of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, households in Wales have seen their energy bills increase, which is why the Government have provided support totalling £94 billion, or £3,300 per household, to help with higher bills.

A constituent of mine who is a mother and a carer for her disabled son wrote to me recently. She told me that she is watching every penny and is deeply worried about how she will afford energy in the coming winter. She is one of the nine in 10 families with a disabled child who the Family Fund says are struggling to afford simple household bills. What direct advice does the Secretary of State have for my constituent and thousands like her who are in a hopeless situation?

There are indeed many people suffering at the moment, and I feel very sorry for the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. The Government have supported households with the rising cost of living by maintaining the energy price guarantee at £2,500 from April to June 2023, saving households an additional £160. Over the winter, the Government were paying on average about half of people’s energy bills. For those living in households where someone has a disability, there has been an extra payment of £150.

The most recent statistics published by the Welsh Government show that almost a quarter of those in the private rented sector in Wales are living in fuel poverty, compared with only 13% of those who own their homes. Will the Secretary of State set out what additional support those who live in the private rented sector will get from the Government? The reality is that their rents and fuel bills are going up, and the Government seem to be sitting idle and doing nothing to support these people.

The Government are certainly not sitting idly around and not supporting people. The Government do not differentiate between people in private and people in rented accommodation; we have stipulated that those who are the least well off will get the most support. That is why we have ensured that pensions have gone up in line with inflation, the minimum wage has gone up in line with inflation, and those living on benefits have seen their benefits rise in line with inflation.

As fuel poverty runs rampant and families right across Wales are struggling, does the Secretary of State not realise how appalling it looks that Shell is making £61,000 a minute? When will his Government get a grip, close the loopholes worth billions and extend the windfall tax?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Government have extended the windfall tax and are charging very high levels of tax—indeed, about three times the usual level—on companies taking oil out of the North sea. It is extraordinary that those who call for a windfall tax on energy companies do not recognise that we are already levying it and do not want to support the Government in allowing more oil and gas to be exploited from the North sea, which will enable us to raise even more in taxation.

Tory Ministers seem to think that the energy crisis is all over. I am not sure when the Secretary of State last struggled to pay an energy bill, but bills are still almost double what they were before the crisis began, and the Tory Government have scrapped vital support. Does the Secretary of State agree that the way to get energy bills down for good is to back Labour’s policy to retrofit 19 million homes and reach 100% clean power by 2030?

I have no idea who would be paying for the hon. Gentleman’s proposals—no doubt they are among the many things that will be paid for using the same tax about half a dozen times. He will no doubt be pleased that today inflation is down yet again, and the Government are well on course for achieving their target of cutting inflation by half as well as growing the economy.

None the less, food inflation remains above 19%, and it hits the poorest hardest, with the Trussell Trust warning that the past year saw a record 185,000 food parcels provided in Wales. Meanwhile, supermarkets continue to make record-breaking profits—many speak of a greedflation crisis. European Governments have negotiated with supermarkets to cap food prices. Why will the Secretary of State’s Government not do that, too?

I have already mentioned some of the help and support that the Government have given to the least well-off. I remind the right hon. Lady that, in addition to pensions and benefits rising in line with inflation, there are payments of £900 to those on benefits, £300 to pensioners and £150 to those in households with disability. Quite frankly, if she is seriously worried about food inflation, she should be talking to her colleagues in the Welsh Labour Government who are propping up the Welsh Labour Government about their ridiculous proposals to ban meal deals, which would make meals even more expensive for people in Wales.

It is a good job somebody is protecting Wales, because Tory Brexit has served Wales badly. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 have grabbed the Senedd’s powers, and paltry post-Brexit funding is robbing Wales of millions. Enough is enough. The House of Lords recently passed Lord Wigley’s Government of Wales (Devolved Powers) Bill to prevent any change to the Senedd’s powers without a two-thirds vote majority from Members of the Senedd. Will the Secretary of State support Plaid Cymru’s Bill and ensure time for debate, or is he happy to see the people of Wales lose the powers for which they have voted time and again?

Far from taking powers away from the Welsh Government, the Conservative Government have, on a number of occasions, actually increased powers to the Welsh Government. By leaving the European Union, we have repatriated powers from Brussels, where we were being governed by an unelectable elite, and brought them back to both Westminster and Cardiff. If the right hon. Lady wants to stop money being wasted, she should have a word with her colleagues in Plaid Cymru, who are propping up the Welsh Labour Government as they waste hundreds of millions of pounds in the Betsi Cadwaladr health service, hundreds of millions of pounds on an airport with no planes, and over £100 million on plans for a relief road that will never get built.

Mortgage Interest Rates

2. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of changes in the level of mortgage interest rates on homeowners in Wales. (905020)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues. Interest rates are rising across the world as countries manage rising prices due to the pandemic and Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. However, I am very pleased to see that the UK average two and five-year fixed mortgage rates have declined in recent months.

The Chancellor failed to bring in a proper windfall tax in the Budget in March. Does the Secretary of State agree that there are still huge holes in that levy, which mean that billions of pounds that could be used to help Welsh households with the cost of living are being ignored?

The Chancellor and this Conservative Government have brought in windfall taxes on energy companies taking oil and gas out of the North sea. Energy companies are paying around three times more in taxation than other companies. I hope the hon. Lady will be supportive of the companies that want to take more oil and gas out of the North sea, so we can raise even more in taxation to support the least well-off in the United Kingdom.

Since the Secretary of State’s Government’s mini-budget, 43,000 Welsh households have paid an extra £20.3 million in mortgage payments. That is a £20 million Tory mortgage premium in just seven months. His Government’s economic recklessness continues to cause misery for people across Wales, so will he take the opportunity to apologise to them?

The economic policies being pursued by this Government are to bring inflation down, as the news today demonstrates. I very much hope the hon. Lady will want to celebrate the fact that inflation is now falling. This United Kingdom Government are committed to seeing inflation halved. The policies of her party would push inflation through the roof and push us into another financial catastrophe and crisis of the sort we saw the last time it left office.

Nuclear Power Sites

4. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on new nuclear power sites in Wales. (905022)

The Government have established Great British Nuclear to drive forward the UK’s new nuclear programme. GBN will be working with the Government on access to potential sites for new nuclear projects and I will continue to build on the clear cross-party support there is to promote Wales as the destination of choice for one of the first projects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) has been subtly, almost subliminally, making the case for new nuclear in her constituency, but of course with the advent of small modular reactors there is the opportunity for communities across Wales to benefit from clean nuclear energy. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the Welsh Government to make sure Wales is primed to take advantage?

I had a meeting with the Minister for Nuclear, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), and yesterday I met the interim chair of GBN, Simon Bowen. We had a very interesting and informative discussion on this emerging technology, which I think is very exciting and offers huge potential for Wales.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answers thus far. Clearly, Wales has a bright future as part of the new nuclear capability across the United Kingdom. What further measures will he take, for example on fusion, as well as on nuclear energy, which has already been provided?

The Government have set out support for investigating nuclear fusion, but I fear that others might be better qualified to provide the detail on that. What I can say to my hon. Friend is that in all the meetings I have had with various stakeholders, I have made the case for Wales to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds as a place where we can have a new reactor or SMR technology. And of course, I have been encouraged very much by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn, who has been an absolute champion for nuclear technology—not for nothing is she known across Wales as the atomic kitten.

The Secretary of State talks the talk on nuclear, but forgets that the Tories previously pulled the plug on new nuclear in Wales. They have boasted about GB Nuclear, but two years on, nothing at all has happened. Is this not more of the same broken promises from a tired Tory Government who have run out of steam?

It would be tempting, though time will prevent me, to draw attention to the poor record of the last Labour Government on nuclear energy. The fact of the matter is that we are driving forward a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley. We are looking to bring forward a final investment decision on a new nuclear reactor in the next term. The establishment of Great British Nuclear fully demonstrates our commitment to nuclear technology.

In the Secretary of State’s conversations about nuclear with the Welsh, I wonder if he has discussed the pie-in-the-sky nature of small nuclear reactors, the lack of a cogent plan for nuclear waste and the unenviable unit cost in comparison to renewables. Has he indicated that he has a better plan that is not nuclear?

The fact of the matter is that, when one considers all the costs of renewable energy, nuclear comes out very well, not least because it is not possible to predict when exactly the sun will shine or the wind will blow. That is why nuclear has a role to play in our march towards net zero by 2050.

Ferry Services Between England and Wales

5. Whether his Department is taking steps to support potential ferry services between England and Wales. (905023)

The tourism industry in south Wales and south-west England is incredibly important. I understand that councils on both sides of the Bristol channel are in discussions on how to progress this issue. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss it in more detail.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Ahead of that meeting, might my hon. Friend be able to secure an analysis of a passenger ferry service and the benefits to businesses between Ilfracombe and south Wales?

It is important that we grasp all opportunities to level up our economy through tourism. That could include a passenger ferry between Ilfracombe and south Wales. Many of the policy levers affecting the visitor economy in Wales are devolved. It is important that interested parties work closely with the relevant councils on the matter. The UK Government are passionate about tourism, unlike the Welsh Government, who seem more focused on putting in place a tourism tax.

Steel Industry

Steel is vital to the UK. We are actively engaging with our industry to secure a positive and sustainable future. Industrial sectors, including steel, have been able to bid for Government funds worth more than £1 billion to support them to cut emissions and become more energy efficient.

The Governments of the United States and the EU have developed active industrial strategies, with multi-billion-pound investments to support their steel industries as they transition to green steel production. Here in the UK, the cavalry is coming in the form of a Labour Government and our £3 billion green steel fund. What a contrast with the Government party, which is completely and utterly asleep at the wheel on steel. When will the Secretary of State start standing up for our proud Welsh steel industry? When will he get his colleagues in Cabinet to wake up to the fact that we are losing the race for green steel investment?

The hon. Member will be aware that the Secretary of State for Business and Trade visited Tata Steel in Port Talbot only recently. That shows her commitment to it. He will also be aware of the British Industry Supercharger announced only a few months ago, which aims to bring energy costs for energy-intensive industries such as steel production in line with those of other similar countries.

Healthcare Services

7. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the adequacy of healthcare services in Wales. (905026)

Healthcare services are devolved to the Welsh Labour Government. However, it is deeply worrying that only last week the Welsh Government revealed that their target for people waiting more than two years for treatment has once again been missed, with over 31,000 people waiting in pain over two years for their treatment. In England, which has virtually 20 times the population, the equivalent figure is virtually zero.

One of the most important things for improving healthcare systems is the ability to compare data. There is a problem, though, if different legislators use different metrics. Will the UK Government commit to an agreement between the devolved nations to share the same data, so that comparisons can be made adequately?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point: we do need comparable data so that we can see exactly what is going wrong in the health service in Wales. From the data that we have, we already know about the 31,000 people who have been waiting more than two years in pain for treatment. We also know that the Welsh Government have a copy of the EY report into what has gone wrong in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board—a report that they are sitting on and trying to hold secret because it points out that over £100 million was misspent by the health board under a Welsh Labour Government.

Cross-border Transport Connectivity: North Wales

8. What discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Welsh Government on cross-border transport connectivity with north Wales. (905027)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of transport matters. HS2 will benefit people travelling from north Wales to London, with the interchange at Crewe providing shorter journey times to north Wales than is currently possible on the west coast main line.

Chester station is the key that can unlock connectivity between England and north Wales. Connectivity is vital for not only thousands of rail users but businesses on both sides of the border and beyond. Will the Government commit to the rapid electrification of the north Wales train line, which will transform the north Wales and Cheshire regional economy?

That is one of the best questions I have heard from anyone on the Opposition Benches so far this morning. Yes, I think electrification of the north Wales coast line would be a very good idea, or certainly improvements would be. As the hon. Lady will be aware, various improvements to the Welsh railway structure are being discussed in the rail network enhancements pipeline, and I look forward to it being published shortly.

Transport Links: Wales and Rest of UK

9. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on improving transport links between Wales and the rest of the UK. (905028)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues to discuss transport links between Wales and the rest of the UK. Roads are devolved to the Welsh Labour Government, and their opposition to the M4 relief road, and indeed to any kind of road building at all, continues to hold the Welsh economy back—a matter that is of great disappointment to me and my Cabinet colleagues.

The economy of Wales has always worked on an east-west basis, so a journey starting from Bangor in the north takes three times longer to Cardiff in the south than it does to Manchester or to my seat of Rother Valley. Can the Secretary of State offer an explanation, then, of why the Welsh Government have banned all new road development and how that might possibly help the Welsh economy?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. The Welsh Labour Government’s response to the roads review is absolutely extraordinary. Their opposition to road building is going to hold the Welsh economy back, and I urge them to reconsider the impact of banning all road building on the long-term prosperity of Wales.

When he delivered his Budget in 2020, the Prime Minister, who was then the Chancellor, promised a bypass for Llanymynech and Pant in my constituency on the road that links Oswestry and Welshpool. Will that road ever come to fruition, or is it just another broken promise?

I did not hear all of that question, but I think it related to the Llanymynech bypass in mid-Wales. The fact of the matter is that the Welsh Labour Government will continue to receive Barnett consequentials for the road building that takes place in England, and it is for them to decide whether they wish to spend that money on building new roads, which is something I would like to see them do, or to keep throwing it away on white elephants such as the airport that has lost hundreds of millions of pounds over the last few years.

Energy-intensive Industries: Decarbonisation

10. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help support the decarbonisation of energy-intensive industries in Wales. (905029)

11. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help support the decarbonisation of energy-intensive industries in Wales. (905030)

This Government are committed to supporting the decarbonisation of Welsh industry. We have committed £20 billion over the next two decades to the deployment of innovative carbon capture technology. This builds on existing support for the HyNet cluster in north Wales and north-west England and the £21.5 million to develop the South Wales industrial cluster.

The best way to bring down bills in the long term for businesses in Wales and across the UK is to help transition industries away from fossil fuels. That is why Labour is calling for a national wealth fund, so that we can help industries such as steel to win the race for the future. Will the Minister tell the House specifically what steps he is taking to help heavy industry decarbonise?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will of course be aware of the array of measures that are in place to help decarbonisation—the carbon capture, utilisation and storage infrastructure fund, the industrial fuel switching fund, the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre, the competitive industrial energy transformation fund and the industrial strategy challenge fund among others.

The UK is the only country in the G7 whose steel industry is currently in decline. Why will the Government not end their sticking-plaster approach, match Labour’s commitment to a £3 billion green steel fund, and invest in a long-term plan to decarbonise the vital steel sector in Wales?

Let me I repeat what I said earlier. The Secretary of State visited the plant in Port Talbot recently, and is committed to it. We need to see an electric arc furnace, because that is the way to protect jobs and ensure that we have steel production in the UK.

The industrial corridor that runs west along south Wales all the way to my constituency is one of the most important in the UK. It is also one of the most challenging when it comes to decarbonisation. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s policies, the “Powering Up Britain” set of energy interventions and the Celtic freeport that we have secured point the way to a successful decarbonisation strategy for this critically important part of Wales?

My right hon. Friend is, of course, entirely right. South Wales does not have former oil and gas fields in which we can store carbon, but it does have the Celtic freeport, and non-pipeline transport of captured carbon to fields elsewhere will secure decarbonisation for south Wales.

Strength of the Union following the Coronation

The coronation saw people in Wales and throughout the United Kingdom come together to celebrate the monarchy. It was a wonderful occasion, which united our public and demonstrated just how strong our Union is.

Over the coronation weekend I had the pleasure of attending a fantastic coronation church service at Haworth parish church and listening to our brilliant “Yorkshire Harpist”, Fiona Katie Widdop, as well as joining in many of the community events that undoubtedly brought the whole United Kingdom together. I know that my right hon. Friend attended similar events in Wales. What does he see as the legacy of the coronation and that fantastic weekend of community spirit?

I thought it notable that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales spoke of the importance of service and of volunteering being at the heart of the coronation, and encouraged us all to take part in some voluntary work. I was pleased to join the residents of Llanhennock village in my constituency for an afternoon of litter picking on the day after the coronation, which I thought was almost as great an honour as attending the coronation itself.

The celebrations for the coronation in Wales were exceptional, and the celebrations for the coronation in Northern Ireland were equally successful. Does the Minister agree that when it comes to cementing the Union, the fact that all four regions—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England—can be one country is an indication of why royalty is so important to this whole great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Always better together.

Renewable Energy Support

The UK Government are committed to supporting renewable energy generation in Wales—including the innovative tidal stream technologies at Morlais, through our flagship contracts for difference scheme—and supporting the huge potential of our floating offshore wind industry through the £160 million in floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme funding for port infrastructure.

The devolution of the Crown Estate in Scotland has allowed the Scottish Government to have a more coherent supply chain development for renewable energy, and 75% of the Welsh public want to see it devolved in Wales so that it too can benefit from those natural resources. Will Westminster listen to the people of Wales, or is this another case of “Westminster knows best”?

Devolving the Crown Estate would be very risky for Wales, given that at present the revenue spent by the UK Treasury is invested across the whole United Kingdom, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this UK Government will be committed to seeing renewable energy spread across the UK, alongside our other priorities of halving inflation, cutting debt, ending small boat crossings and reducing NHS waiting lists in the areas where we are responsible for doing so.

Anglesey leads the way in renewable energy but it is being let down by poor connectivity. This week the Britannia bridge closed suddenly and, given that there is a 7.5 tonne limit on the Menai suspension bridge, that created chaos. Does the Secretary of State agree that Labour in Cardiff should be focused on building a third crossing?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. The Welsh Labour Government need to start building roads and start building bridges as well.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

Does the Prime Minister agree with his friend the Tees Valley Mayor that the National Audit Office must investigate the Teesworks affair? Will the Prime Minister share details of all conversations he has had on the subject with his former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), and the current Levelling Up Minister, given that they have all received donations from Ian Waller, one of the project backers?

My right hon. Friend the Levelling Up Secretary has already announced an investigation into this matter. This is just the same old, same old—[Interruption.] It is the same old bunk from Labour. That is all we get. After years of neglect, it is the Conservatives who are delivering for Teesside.

Q2. Every- one here has NHS trusts in their constituencies that are grappling with backlogs, so can I highlight the commitment and hard work of the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in bringing down the waiting lists over 18 months ahead of the Government deadline and vastly reducing the over-65s waiting list? Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who imagine that the Opposition have a magic wand up their sleeve to solve these problems need look no further than the woes of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales, which has been under Labour political control for a generation? (905143)

As my hon. Friend says, Gloucestershire in particular has seen a significant reduction in A&E waiting times since December. We recognise that there is more to be done, and that is why we are delivering on our plan to recover urgent and emergency care to ensure that people get the care they need, easier, faster and closer to home.

The new statistics, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, will be out later this week. The most recent statistics we have, as the Office for National Statistics said at the time, contained a set of unique circumstances including welcoming many people here for humanitarian reasons.

The figures are out. A quarter of a million work visas were issued last year. The right hon. Gentleman knows that answer; he just does not want to give it. The new numbers tomorrow are expected to be even higher. The Prime Minister has stood on three Tory manifestos, and each one promised to reduce immigration. Each promise broken—[Interruption.] Conservative Members all stood on those manifestos as well. Why does he think his Home Secretary—[Interruption.]

Order. I am going to hear this question. For those who do not want to hear it, we know the answer to that.

Conservative Members all stood on those manifestos, so why does the Prime Minister think his Home Secretary seems to have such a problem coping with points-based systems?

Just this week we announced the biggest ever single measure to tackle legal migration, removing the right for international students to bring dependants, toughening the rules on post-study work and reviewing maintenance requirements. But what is the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s contribution? There are absolutely no ideas. There are absolutely no ideas, and absolutely no semblance that there would be any control. Why? Because he believes in an open-door migration policy.

If anyone wants to see what uncontrolled immigration looks like, all they have to do is wake up tomorrow morning, listen to the headlines and see what this Government—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Bristow, I think you are going to be leaving. I am asking you to leave now; otherwise, I will name you. I am not having it, and I have warned you before. It is the same people—[Interruption.] And the same will happen on the other side of the House.

The reason they are issuing so many visas is because of labour and skills shortages, and the reason for the shortages is the low-wage Tory economy. Under the Prime Minister’s Government’s rules, businesses in IT, engineering, healthcare, architecture and welding can pay foreign workers 20% less than British workers for years and years on end. Does he think his policy is encouraging businesses to train people here or hire from abroad?

The Leader of the Opposition talks about immigration, but we know his position, because it turns out that Labour would like to see even more people coming to the UK—increasing the numbers. That is not just my view; his own Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), says having a target is “not sensible,” and that the numbers might have to go up. It is clear: while we are getting on with clamping down on illegal migration, listening to the British public, the Leader of the Opposition is perfectly comfortable saying that he wants to bring back free movement.

They have lost control of the economy, they have lost control of public services and now they have lost control of immigration. If the Prime Minister was serious about weaning his Government off the immigration lever, he would get serious about wages in Britain and get serious about skills and training. The apprenticeship levy is not working. It is hard to find a single business that thinks it is, and the proof is that almost half the levy is not being spent, which means fewer young people getting the opportunities they need to fulfil their potential. Businesses are crying out for more flexibility in the levy, so they can train up their staff. Labour would give them that, why won’t he?

It is right that we are talking about education and skills. What the Leader of the Opposition fails to mention is that, in the past week, we have discovered that, thanks to the reforms of this Conservative Government, our young people are now the best readers in the western world—reforms that were opposed by Labour. He also talks about our record on the economy, and I am very surprised, because I have stood here, week after week, when he has been so keen to quote the International Monetary Fund. He seems to have missed its press conference yesterday, at which it raised our growth forecast by one of the highest amounts ever, saying that we had acted decisively to make sure the economy is growing, and crediting this Government with having a very positive effect on future growth.

Is the Prime Minister seriously suggesting that breaking the economy, breaking public services and losing control of immigration is some sort of carefully crafted plan? His policies are holding working people back, and all he offers is more of the same. But fear not, because speeding into the void left by the Prime Minister comes the Home Secretary, and not with a plan for skills, growth or wages. No, her big idea is for British workers to become fruit pickers, just in case—I can hardly believe she said this—they

“forget how to do things”.

Does the Prime Minister support this “Let them pick fruit” ambition for Britain, or does he wish he had the strength to give her a career change of her own?

The Leader of the Opposition talks about public services and the economy. Again, he has failed to notice what is going on. The IMF, which he was very keen to quote just a few months ago, is now forecasting that we will have stronger growth than Germany, France and Italy. What does the IMF say? It says that we are prioritising what is right for the British people. He talks about public service, and as I said, we have the best reading results in the western world. When it comes to the NHS, what did we discover just last week? The fastest ambulance response times in two years. That is a Conservative Government delivering for the British people.

The Home Secretary may need a speed awareness course, but the Prime Minister needs a reality check. This mess on immigration reveals a Tory party with no ambition for working people and no ambition for Britain, just the same old failed ideas, low wages and high tax. Labour would fix the apprenticeship levy, fill the skills gap and stop businesses recruiting from abroad if they do not pay properly. That is because we are the party of working people. What does it say about him and his party that they will not do the same?

I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said this six times, but I do not think we actually know how he is going to do any of these things. That is the difference between us: every week, we hear a lot of empty rhetoric from him, but in the past week we can measure ourselves by actions. What have the Government done? We have introduced new powers to curb disruptive protest; we have protected public services against disruptive strike action; and we have new laws to stop the boats. What has he done? He has voted against every single one of those. That is the difference between us: while he is working on the politics, we are working for the British people.

Q3. We have all witnessed how Putin is carrying out his savage war against Ukraine. He commenced it, he is the aggressor and he cannot be allowed to win. That war is now at a pivotal point, so will the Prime Minister use his friendship with President Zelensky to ensure that whatever military equipment Ukraine needs, it will get, be it missiles, drones or jets? (905144)

It was an honour to welcome my friend President Zelensky to the UK last week. Everyone will be collectively proud of the UK’s leading role at the forefront of supporting Ukraine: we were the first country to provide support for Ukrainian troops; the first country in Europe to provide lethal weapons; the first to commit main battle tanks; and, most recently, the first to provide long-range weapons. My hon. Friend will have seen the powerful scenes coming out of the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week, and I have always been clear that we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

We learned today that the price of milk, cheese and eggs is up by 29%, the price of pasta is up by 27% and the price of a loaf of bread is up by 18%. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is no longer just a cost of living crisis—this is a cost of greed crisis?

It was welcome that inflation has fallen today, but, as the Chancellor said, we should not be complacent because there is more work to do. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the impact of food inflation, which is too high, in common with levels we have seen in other European countries, such as Sweden and Germany. We are providing significant support to help people with the cost of living, and the Chancellor has met companies in the supermarket and food supply chain to make sure that they are doing everything they can to bring prices down.

Let’s get real, because food inflation remains at a near 45-year high. Yesterday, the Treasury indicated that the Chancellor “stands ready” to act, but his actions seems to be predicated on the outcome of a review by the Competition and Markets Authority. So will the Prime Minister enlighten us: when does he expect that review to conclude? Working families cannot afford to wait much longer.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the CMA is independent of Government, but the Chancellor did meet it recently to discuss the situation in the grocery industry. It will be for the CMA to make decisions on that, but we are doing everything we can to help consumers manage the challenges on the cost of living. If the SNP wanted to do its bit, perhaps it could reconsider its deposit return scheme, as it is very clear what people have said. As they have said, it will reduce choice and increase prices for consumers.

Q5. The primary care access plan, published this month, is a welcome and substantive one, and my constituents want to see rapid delivery of it. So how quickly will the Government start providing the £645 million to pharmacists and how quickly will the SAS—specialty and specialist—doctors come to GP surgeries to make prompt access to primary care a reality for my constituents? (905146)

I thank my hon. Friend for his contributions to our primary care plan. He and I know that pharmacies already work to help many people with their health needs, and to help deliver on our priority to cut NHS waiting lists they will be put at the front and centre of our primary care recovery, with £645 million of additional funding. That will be released later this year, as pharmacies start to provide more oral contraception and more blood pressure checks. Crucially, for seven common ailments, such as ear infections and throat infections, pharmacists will now be able to provide people with the medicines they need.

One quarter of the population of Northern Ireland is on a health waiting list, our workers are on strike for fair pay, and our public finances are in a mess. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment that the Treasury will begin work immediately on a public sector rescue package so we can transform the health service and ensure that our public sector workers are given a decent wage—and will he join the people of Northern Ireland in telling the DUP to get back to work now?

As I have been clear, I firmly believe that Northern Ireland is governed best when governed locally. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman that the major challenges he raises can only be properly addressed by the restoration of the institutions, but I also understand the immediate and pressing concerns he raises. That is why we have prioritised health in the Northern Ireland budget for this year, with £20 million more funding. I know that he will be an important contributor to the conversations that the Secretary of State is having, to embark on public service reform and restore the Executive.

Q6. Two weeks ago, I raised with the Prime Minister the issue of artificial intelligence. Just since then, we have had announcements from firms such as BT that tens of thousands of jobs are likely to be lost to this new technology, but many will be created, too. Does he agree that we need to map the jobs and the regions that will be most affected by AI so that we can target the skills to best prepare Britons for the jobs of the future? (905147)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Like him, I believe that AI has the potential to transform our economy and society, but of course it has to be introduced safely and securely. We are investing more in AI skills, not only in top-tier talent but in enabling those from non-science, technology, engineering and maths backgrounds to access the opportunities of AI. I look forward to more recommendations from him for how we can strengthen our investment in skills to make sure that everyone can realise the benefits that AI may bring.

Q4.   While the Prime Minister upgrades his local energy grid to heat his 40-foot swimming pool and hands oil and gas companies—the likes of BP and Shell—£11.4 billion in tax breaks, he scraps the energy price guarantee scheme, plunging record numbers of people into poverty. Is it just a coincidence that those same energy giants funded the Prime Minister’s leadership campaign, or is he simply out of touch? (905145)

What we are doing is taxing the windfall profits of energy companies and using that money to help pay around half of a typical household’s energy bill. That support is worth £1,500—it was extended in the Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor—and we all look forward to energy bills coming down, which hopefully will happen very soon.

Q8.   The Prime Minister will recall the commitment he gave back in January to the building a brighter future plan for major investment at Torbay Hospital. Does that commitment remain unchanged? (905149)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his continued campaign to improve Torbay Hospital. I am delighted to reconfirm the Government’s commitment to major new facilities there as part of our new hospitals programme, and I look forward to further work progressing in the months ahead.

Q7. Under the Conservatives, so much of the UK’s potential is going untapped, with anaemic growth, falling living standards and declining international competitiveness. Just this morning, a solar power company developing an innovation from Oxford University said that the UK is the “least attractive” market in which to base its business due to a lack of incentives. That is a home-grown company that could have provided well-paid green jobs—lost to this country thanks to the Government’s lack of an industrial strategy. Why does the Prime Minister think that each week more and more promising businesses choose to leave the UK? (905148)

The hon. Lady obviously missed the comments by the International Monetary Fund yesterday upgrading our growth performance, she obviously missed the survey of thousands of global chief executives just recently placing the UK as their No. 1 European investment destination, and it sounds like she also missed my trip to Japan last week, when we announced £18 billion of new investment in the UK economy.

Q12. Liberal Democrat-run South Cambridgeshire District Council is the first in the country to put its staff on a four-day week without any reduction in pay, which has led to a reduction in services and an increase in costs. Yet last week the Liberal Democrats decided to extend the trial to a year. Why? Because the staff were happier. Now unions are pushing to spread the four-day working week across the public sector, something that the TaxPayers’ Alliance estimates will cost £30 billion. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the public sector is here to serve the public and that the Liberal Democrats are not working? (905153)

Public servants should rightly focus on delivering for the public and taxpayers. It is disappointing to hear from my hon. Friend that his local Liberal Democrat council is not doing that—instead reducing, as I have heard, staff contact hours and costing residents more. I urge the council to reconsider its decision, because his residents and constituents under South Cambridgeshire District Council clearly deserve better.

Q9. In Lewisham we are gearing up to mark the 75th anniversary of HMT Empire Windrush arriving in the UK. Our deputy mayor Brenda Dacres is co-ordinating our local events and is herself a daughter of Windrush generation parents. Sadly, at the same time, she is organising advice surgeries for families who have been denied their rights and are still waiting for support from the Windrush compensation scheme, four years after it opened. With that landmark anniversary coming next month, will the Prime Minister commit to ensuring that everyone finally gets the compensation they deserve? (905150)

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s constituents for all the work they are doing locally. The Home Office and the Government are delivering on the vast majority of the recommendations from Wendy Williams’s report into the situation. We have already paid out or offered more than £70 million in compensation, I believe, and there are hundreds of engagement events happening to ensure that people are aware of what they are able to access. We will continue that engagement, as we promised.

Q13. Bassetlaw has benefited from the multi-billion-pound spherical tokamak for energy production fusion project and £20 million in levelling-up money for Worksop town centre, and it will now be among the 20 areas selected as part of a new £400 million levelling-up partnership. However, my constituents in Retford feel neglected by the Labour district council, which is yet to apply for any funds for the town and is more concerned with trying to play the two towns off against each other. Can the Prime Minister confirm that there is no reason whatsoever why Retford cannot benefit from that latest investment, and will he accept an invitation to visit Bassetlaw to see the great impact that Government investment is already having in the area? (905155)

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind invitation to visit and I shall certainly ask my office to keep it in mind. As he says, levelling-up partnerships are a commitment to work hand in hand with 20 different places in England most in need of levelling up, to make sure that they can realise their potential and ambitions. They are backed by £400 million-worth of investment so that they can be supported to thrive. I know my right hon. Friend the Levelling Up Secretary is looking forward to working with colleagues in Bassetlaw to identify the best place to focus their work—which could, of course, include Retford.

Q10. In 2016, the Prime Minister told people to vote for Brexit because it would stop “unelected officials in Brussels” having more of a say than his constituents. In 2023, he is asking his MPs to block amendment 42 to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and give unelected officials in Downing Street more say over laws than this Chamber. Given the worries and the warnings from his colleagues, why is he going to let “the blob” have more say over things such as holiday entitlements than the people who were elected to do that? (905151)

That is just simply not the case. It is the elected Government who will be making decisions about what the right regulations are for our country, and it is absolutely right that as a result of Brexit we can now do that. That is why we are repealing and reforming more than 2,000 pieces of retained EU law, making sure that our statute book reflects the type of rules and regulations that are right for the British economy and will deliver growth and cut costs for consumers. That is what our reforms do.

Q14.   A key issue that has haunted Keighley for many decades is child sexual exploitation and grooming gangs. I want to see a full Rotherham-style review of child exploitation across my area, but Bradford Council’s leader and our West Yorkshire Mayor both refuse to back one, because political correctness is getting in the way, simply sweeping the issue under the carpet. Will the Prime Minister, for the sake of victims, work with me to ensure that our local leaders do the morally right thing and instigate a full Rotherham-style inquiry across the Bradford district? (905156)

May I thank my hon. Friend for campaigning on this? As I have said before, we should not let political correctness stand in the way of keeping vulnerable girls safe or of holding people to account. As he knows, it is for authorities in the local area to commission local inquiries, and I have no doubt that he will continue to encourage them to do so. For the Government’s part, we have commissioned the relevant inspectorate to examine current policing practice in response to group-based sexual exploitation of children, and the Home Office will not hesitate to act on its recommendations when they are published this summer.

Q11.   Before I was elected, I worked for a number of years in learning and development in both the police and the private sector. I am sure we can all agree that training is absolutely vital for encouraging innovation and creativity, as well as for compliance. Given that that seems to be a particular issue for the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, will he support my Ministerial Conduct (Training) Bill, which I will present later today? (905152)

As the hon. Lady knows, there are processes and procedures in place for ensuring professional standards across Government. With regards to training, I am pleased that we are rolling out the lifelong learning entitlement to ensure that people can, at any stage in their career, get access to years of Government-subsidised financing. That will ensure that we have a workforce who are fit for the future, and that everyone can realise the opportunities that are there.

Owen Carey died just across the river from here, underneath the London Eye, after suffering a severe allergic reaction while out celebrating his 18th birthday. He had simply eaten a chicken burger at a restaurant. Unbeknown to him, and despite his asking, it had been marinated in buttermilk. Owen’s sister, Emma, who is my constituent, was in Parliament last week with her dad and brother for a debate on food labelling and support for those with allergies. They are fighting for Owen’s law, which is, among other things, a campaign to change the food information regulations on allergy labelling in restaurants. It has attracted huge support. Will the Prime Minister meet me and Owen’s family to see how we can ensure that something positive comes of that tragic loss of a young life?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising Owen’s case, and I know that the whole House will join me in expressing our condolences to Emma and all of Owen’s family for what happened. I will absolutely ensure that my hon. Friend gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss appropriate food labelling so that we can ensure that such things do not happen.

Will the Prime Minister instruct his officials to publish the list of 1,700 veterinary medicines that will no longer be made available to Northern Ireland vets and the agrifood sector after the grace period has ended? Will he explain to the Ulster Farmers Union why that list has not been given to them? Will he meet me and the Ulster Farmers Union, go through that list, and show us how that has removed the border in the Irish sea?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, when we concluded the Windsor framework, we made sure that there was an extension in the grace period for veterinary medicines to give us the time to find a long-run solution to that particular issue. He should take heart, because on human medicines, which I know are important to him and everyone else in Northern Ireland, we achieved complete and full dual regulation of medicines, as well as a dialogue with the EU to resolve the issues in veterinary medicines. I know that he will want to ensure that we engage closely with him and the UFU, which we have been doing, to find a resolution in the time we have. I know that he will also join me in being very happy that we have protected access to human medicines in Northern Ireland, which was a priority for him and his party.

I really look forward to welcoming the Prime Minister to Portman Road for Ipswich Town against Southampton next season. Of course, in addition to Ipswich Town, Ipswich Wanderers have also been promoted, which is great news for the town.

Yesterday, despite the Public Order Act 2023, we saw images of Metropolitan police standing around doing nothing while eco-protesters were wreaking havoc in our capital. Does the Prime Minister agree that the moment those activists stand on the road, they should be immediately turfed off the road, as they would be in many other countries?

On my hon. Friend’s first observation, all I can say is “Ouch!” But thank you: I look forward to the game.

On the second, more substantive matter, this Government have passed the serious disruption order, which will ensure that the police have the powers they need to tackle slow-moving protests. It is a power that the police specifically asked the Government for. We have delivered it and put it in legislation, and my hon. Friend knows what I know, which is that the Labour party tried to block that from happening.

We have 4 million children living in poverty in this country, yet we are the fifth richest economy in the world, so why does the Prime Minister not support universal free school meals for all children, to help end child poverty?

The numbers are actually as follows. Since 2010, there are 1.7 million fewer people living in poverty as a result of the actions of this Government, and that includes hundreds of thousands fewer children living in poverty. Most importantly, like the hon. Lady, I want to ensure that children do not grow up in poverty, and we know that the best way to do that is to ensure that they do not grow up in a workless household. That is why we have reduced the number of children growing up in a workless household by several thousand, and that is the most powerful thing we can do in the long run to give those children the best possible start in life.

Nancy Spencer from Darlington has raised over £35,000 for St Teresa’s Hospice in the last 25 years. Nancy’s next adventure was to do a sky dive, but her doctor refused to sign it off because she has had a pacemaker fitted. However, undeterred, my 80-year-old constituent managed to secure sign-off for a wing walk. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing Nancy well as she takes to the skies this Saturday?

May I join my hon. Friend in thanking Nancy for all her fantastic fundraising work, and of course I wish her the best of luck for Saturday? I wonder if my hon. Friend will be joining her. Many of my own constituents have used St Teresa’s Hospice over the years, so I know what fabulous work it does. More generally, the hospice sector supports more than 300,000 people with life-limiting conditions in the UK every year. I pay tribute to all the staff and volunteers working in palliative and end-of-life care for the incredible work that they do.

Does the Prime Minister agree that it is completely inappropriate for schools to encourage young people under the age of 18 to socially transition, for example by changing their names and pronouns? All this is going on without parental consent or even knowledge, in breach of parents’ human rights. Will the Prime Minister instruct the Department for Education to order schools to stop indoctrinating our children and to concentrate on their duty of care to protect them?

I have been very clear that when it comes to matters of sex and education, and of personal, social, health and economic education, it is absolutely right that schools are sensitive in how they teach those matters and that they should be done in an age-appropriate fashion. The Department for Education is currently reviewing the statutory guidance and curriculum that go to schools, so that we can tackle this particular issue. Cases have been raised with the Government and others, and I do not think that that is acceptable. We must protect our children, and that is what our new guidance will do.

Last year the independent members of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales became so concerned about the board’s finances that they arranged for Ernst and Young to produce a forensic accountancy report, which revealed serious misconduct on the part of several senior board executives, including a conspiracy to falsify accounts. Astonishingly, the response of the Labour Welsh Minister to the scandal was to demand the resignation of those independent board members, while almost all the senior executives in question have been allowed to remain in post, many of them drawing six-figure salaries. Does the Prime Minister agree that this disgraceful state of affairs should be investigated by the police, and does he further agree that it demonstrates why Labour is unfit to run important public services in any part of our country?

As my right hon. Friend knows, I am deeply worried about the Betsi Cadwaladr hospital trust in Labour-run north Wales. It has been in special measures for six of the last eight years and, as he remarked, the official audit said that there was worrying dysfunctionality. I hope that this issue is investigated properly, and I believe that my right hon. Friend is in contact with the Secretary of State for Wales to take it further.

Working people are barred from receiving legal aid if they earn £12,750 a year, so why is the Prime Minister forcing the British public to foot the bill—which I think is currently £250,000-plus—for the inquiry into the alleged lying of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)? Why can the Prime Minister not stand up for the British people? Is it because he is too weak?

It is actually a long-established process across multiple Administrations that former Ministers are supported with legal representation after they have left office to deal with matters that relate to their time in office. That has been the practice for many years, as I say, across multiple political Administrations, both Labour and Conservative.

I welcome the Government’s ongoing engagement to ensure that mental health is treated equally with physical health. In my constituency, Watford General Hospital recently received about £350,000 for improvements to mental health facilities, which will help massively. Given the importance of the issue, will the Prime Minister join me in encouraging colleagues from across the House to attend an event I will be hosting for the Baton of Hope on the Terrace Pavilion after Prime Minister’s questions today, to raise awareness around mental health and suicide prevention?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic campaigner on mental health, and I am pleased to learn about all the work he is doing with the Baton of Hope. I am also pleased that we are putting more Government money into mental health services and taking more action on this issue than any previous Government, investing an extra £2.3 billion a year. I encourage all colleagues to join my hon. Friend in attending the reception on the Terrace Pavilion.

Student Visas

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on the changes to the student visa route.

Net migration is too high, and the Government are committed to bringing it down to sustainable levels. The most recent official statistics estimated that net migration in the year to June 2022 was at 504,000. This is partly due to temporary and exceptional factors such as the UK’s Ukraine and Hong Kong schemes. Last year, more than 200,000 Ukrainians and 150,000 Hong Kong British nationals overseas made use of the routes to life or time in the United Kingdom. Those schemes command broad support from the British public, and we were right to introduce them.

The Government introduced a points-based system in 2020 to regain control of our borders post Brexit. We now need to decide who comes to the UK and operate a system that can flex to the changing needs of the labour market, such as the skills needs of the NHS. However, immigration is dynamic, and we must adapt to take account of changing behaviours and if there is evidence of abuse. The number of dependants arriving alongside international students has risen more than eightfold since 2019, from 16,000 in the year to December 2019 to 136,000 in the year ending December 2022. Dependants of students make a more limited contribution to the economy than students or those coming under the skilled worker route, but more fundamentally, our system was not designed for such large numbers of people coming here in this manner.

Yesterday, we introduced a package of measures to help deliver our goal of reducing net migration. The package includes removing the right for international students to bring dependants unless they are on research postgraduate courses and removing the ability for international students to switch out of the student route into work routes before their studies have been completed. This is the right and fair thing to do. It ensures we protect our public services and housing supply against undue pressure and we deliver on the promises we have made to the public to reduce net migration.

Our education institutions are world-renowned, and for good reason, and the Government remain committed to the commitments in the international education strategy, including the goal of 600,000 international students coming to the United Kingdom each year. But universities should be in the education business, not the immigration business. We are taking concerted action to deliver a fair and effective immigration system that benefits our citizens, our businesses and our economy. We are determined to get this right because it is demonstrably in the national interest.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and while I thank the Minister for his response, it is disappointing that the Home Secretary is not here, and that we have had to ask an urgent question rather than a statement being made to the House.

International students make an invaluable contribution to our economy. According to the Higher Education Policy Institute, last year they provided nearly £43 billion to the UK economy, and in my constituency of Glasgow North West alone the economic benefit was over £83 million. What assessments have been carried out of the economic impact of this change on the university sector, and on university towns? International students enrich our society and have skills that are proving ever more vital in this post-Brexit climate, which has seen the UK deprived of workers across key sectors. There are currently labour shortages in healthcare, STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—and IT to name but a few sectors; how can the Minister fail to recognise that this policy will simply exacerbate these?

The reality is that many students coming to the UK look beyond their studies and want their families to be part of that experience. Without a way for overseas students to bring their families, many will opt to go elsewhere, and any drop in international student numbers will cause further harm to universities that are already facing financial difficulties. This policy makes the Home Secretary’s agenda crystal-clear: she is launching an attack on migrants regardless of the benefits they bring to the UK, and in pursuing this short-term reactionary programme international students are being caught in the crossfire.

In Scotland international students’ contribution to university campuses and our wider society is celebrated, but Scotland will suffer the consequences of this misjudged policy. Once again this is indicative of how out of tune this Conservative Government are with the Scottish people. If the Government are insistent in pursuing their hostile environment, will they now accept that Scotland’s needs, and wants, are different from theirs?

Finally, will the Government now devolve immigration powers to the Scottish Parliament, to allow us to choose a way that benefits our communities and society?

No, we will not devolve immigration policy to the Scottish Government: it is right that the UK benefits from one immigration policy and that is the way it will always continue to be under this Conservative Government.

I am afraid that the hon. Lady was misguided on a number of fronts. First, it was this Government who created the international education strategy, which set a target of attracting 600,000 international students to the UK. We have met that target 10 years early and are likely to exceed it this year. The action we are taking today does not take away from that goal: it ensures that there are no unintended consequences. It was never the intention of that policy to enable a very large number of dependants to come to the UK with those students. It is right that universities attract the best and the brightest and that those who are on longer courses, such as PhDs or MPhils, can bring dependants with them, but it is not right that education is a back door for immigration into the country.

The statistics I quoted earlier show the significant increases in the number of student dependants. In 2019, 16,000 visas were issued to student dependants. Last year, the number was 136,000—an increase of eight and a half times. In 2019, for every 10 Indian students, there was one visa issued to a dependant. Last year, that doubled to one in five. For Nigerian students studying in this country, 65,000 dependant visas were issued in 2022 to only 59,000 students.

We do not want to do anything that would harm the international reputation of our universities, but it is right that we pay particular concern to pressure on housing supply and public services, to integration and community cohesion and to making good on our commitment to the British public that we will bring down net migration, which is what the vast majority of the public want to see done.

When we invite people to our country, it is important that there is good provision of housing, school places and healthcare, but there are huge stresses on the system. Can the Minister give the House some guidance on how much the capital and revenue set-up cost is for a migrant family coming in? When we were in the EU some time ago, it reckoned the cost was €250,000 for a migrant coming to an advanced country.

Obviously that cost varies widely depending on the country of origin and the skills of those individuals. The points-based system is set up in such a way as to encourage higher-skilled individuals to come to the UK for work purposes, but my right hon. Friend is right to say that it is a relatively accessible system, and that has meant large numbers of people entering the UK for a range of different reasons in recent years. We should be acutely concerned about the pressures that is putting on housing supply, public services and integration, particularly in those parts of the country with heated housing markets, such as the one he represents. That is why it is right that we take action of the kind we are taking today.

International students are much-valued contributors to our world-class higher education system, which is a great asset to our country. We and Universities UK recognise that a tenfold increase in the number of dependants joining students in the UK since 2018 creates significant challenges and that enforcement measures are long overdue. Therefore, as the Leader of the Opposition has made clear, our entire Front-Bench team does not oppose these changes for masters students.

However, as usual, the Government have failed to deliver an impact assessment for the new rules and have left many of the details vague. How many people will this change affect, in terms of both students and dependants? What will the actual impact be on the numbers? The Office for National Statistics defines an immigrant as somebody who has been here for more than a year or who is coming for more than a year, yet masters students are typically here for less than a year.

What is clear is that dependants of students are only a fraction of the story. In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives acknowledged that the Brexit vote was a bid to take back control of immigration, but since then net migration has skyrocketed from 226,000 to 500,000, which is a record high even if we exclude Ukrainians and Hongkongers. The number of work visas has increased by a staggering 95%. We are clear that that has happened because for 13 years, the Conservatives have failed to train up Britain’s home-grown talent to fill the vacancies we have and because there are 6 million people on NHS waiting lists in England alone, most of whom wish to return to the workforce.

We want and expect net immigration to reduce, and we have set out plans for how we will get more of Britain’s workers trained up and back to work. Today, the Leader of the Opposition has announced that we will ditch the flawed Government policy that allows businesses to undercut British workers by paying migrant workers 20% less in sectors assigned to the shortage occupation list. Will the Minister commit to scrapping the 20% wage discount on the going rate for shortage occupations? Nothing could be clearer: the Conservatives have lost control of immigration. We are committed on the Opposition Benches to maximising opportunities for Britain’s home-grown talent.

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman has had a damascene conversion to tighter border controls. Unfortunately, I do not think the British public will believe that. It is the same old Labour party—the party that has always believed in open borders. Its own leader campaigned for the leadership of the Labour party saying that he wanted to defend free movement. Only the other day, the chairwoman of the Labour party, the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), said that she expected migration to rise under a future Labour Government. It is the same flip-flopping approach—and the same open door policy.

We want to ensure that we bring net migration down. We consider that to be a solemn promise to the British public, and an important manifesto commitment. This is a significant policy, which I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman support, that will make a tangible difference on this issue. It will reduce very substantially the number of people coming into the country as dependants, but there might be more that needs to be done. We are determined to tackle this issue and to ensure that we bring net migration down.

The Minister is doing a difficult job very well. He has set out the context, and it is notable that the Opposition spokesperson shares that analysis. However, most students are temporary visitors, yet many of them are counted as permanent immigrants. Has my right hon. Friend considered changing the definition to include in the count only those who stay?

I respect my right hon. Friend and his deep knowledge of this area, but I do not think it is helpful to change the way in which the statistics are reported. I do think that we have to consider the fact that anyone coming into this country will place pressure on our housing supply and on public services, particularly if they are bringing dependants, including young children or elderly relatives, into the UK. In the present climate, in which there is significant pressure on public services and significant pressure on housing, particularly in certain parts of the country, that is extremely important.

We have seen, historically, that the vast majority of students leave the country and go back to their home country to continue their careers and lives. It is too early to say whether the graduate route will make a material difference to that. It may be, if individuals come to the UK to study and then spend a period of time here on the graduate route, and certainly if they bring dependants, that we will start to see a significant increase in the number of people staying here, making a life in the UK and not returning home, in which case policies of this kind will become more important.

In a week when universities are celebrating all that international students bring with the “We Are International” campaign, the Home Office is setting about undermining the UK’s place in the highly competitive international education market. I am dismayed that the Labour party is supporting the Government’s measures. Canada, Australia and the US must be rubbing their hands in glee at yet more chopping and changing, which makes the UK less attractive.

Research published by the Higher Education Policy Institute last week shows that, in 2021-22, the benefit to the UK of international students stood at £41.9 billion, with every single constituency on these islands seeing a benefit. When their dependants come with them, those husbands or wives are often working—they are not a burden to the state—and they have to pay the immigration health surcharge as well.

What is the evidence for the policy the Minister has brought forward? The written statement yesterday speaks of issues with agents and of enhanced enforcement and compliance, so what data does he have to suggest that people are abusing what is already an incredibly expensive system? What equality impact assessment has he carried out, because Universities UK International has said that restricting dependants will have a

“disproportionate impact on women…from certain countries”?

Incidentally, those are countries such as Nigeria and India, where the market is growing. Finally, what discussions has he had with the Minister for Higher and Further Education in Scotland ahead of this announcement, and what impact assessment has he carried out on how it will affect institutions in Scotland?

We did think very carefully about this measure and had detailed conversations with colleagues across Government, including of course the Department for Education, and indeed with universities. In my experience, leaders of universities understand the issue we are grappling with here. They can see for themselves the significant increase in the number of dependants who have come to the UK in recent years, and why the Government would feel the need to take action.

The measures we are putting in place will ensure that there will still be a route for student dependants to come to the UK for research courses, such as PhDs, where people will be here for a sustained period of time, but there will not be that route when people are here for short courses. To give the hon. Lady an example, last year there were 315,000 foreign masters students in the UK. These are very large numbers of individuals, and if those people were to bring dependants at scale, it would put pressure on public services and on housing in the UK. I am surprised the hon. Lady does not appreciate that, particularly given the state of some public services in Scotland.

It is obviously right, when we see emerging trends in the immigration system that cause concern, that action is taken. When discussing net migration, we need to be clear about the factors that contribute to it. For example, British citizens returning to the UK and potentially bringing children with them also count towards the net migration statistics, but that is clearly not related to immigration policy.

On the wider system and the rationale behind this move, I suspect the Minister may have wanted to announce something slightly more comprehensive, rather than just to focus on student dependants. Does he agree that we should make sure the immigration system has the appropriate impact on the labour market and look more widely at things such as the salary thresholds throughout the system, as well as making the change that has been announced today?

I do think the package of measures that we have announced will make a tangible difference to net migration. Taken together with the easing of exceptional factors, such as Hong Kong BNO individuals coming to the UK over the next year or two, there is good reason to believe that net migration will fall and that we will be better placed to meet our important manifesto commitment.

However, my hon. Friend is right to say that it is critical that we do so, that we should consider further measures and that we have to think carefully about how migration interacts with the British labour market. It is quite wrong to perpetuate an economic model that is overly reliant on foreign labour, with people coming here and taking jobs from British workers, and not to tackle the core issue, which is the number of economically inactive people in our country.

Our higher education institutions operate in a global market, which is why universities such as Lancaster University attract students from over 100 different countries, many of whom come, study and then return. The Minister raised the issue of pressure on public services, which makes me wonder who he thinks has been in charge for the past 13 years, but my question to him is: what consultation has he had with universities such as Lancaster University about the implications for them in respect of things like the global league tables for universities?

We have given careful thought to this announcement, as I have said, and we have worked closely with the Department for Education, which is of course the bridge to universities. It is important to stress that we have met the Government’s target of 600,000 international students 10 years early and are likely to exceed it this year, so there is no suggestion that the number of international students is going to diminish rapidly.

What we are doing is tackling a particular issue—an unintended consequence of earlier liberalisations—which is the very significant increase in the number of dependants following international students. I would also say that it is not healthy for British universities to become overly reliant on international students. Just a few years ago, only 5% of the income of British universities came from international students. Today, it is 18% and growing. There are obviously benefits to having income from international students, but we should not be overly reliant on it.

When these measures have their effect, surely we will then be able to treat foreign students as the booming export that they are, rather than as immigration.

The education of international students is an important export industry. I believe that it is the UK’s fourth or fifth-biggest export industry, and that is a good thing, and it is supported by the Government. That is why we created the international education strategy that has proven to be so successful. But what we are doing today is ensuring that we do not see unintended consequences and unnecessary pressure on public services as a result.

What impact will these changes have on the number of students from overseas coming to study in British universities, and what will be the financial consequences? Has the Home Office made that assessment?

As I said, we have already met our target of 600,000 students coming to the UK from overseas. That is 10 years early; in fact, last year there were 605,000. We expect the numbers to increase this year beyond 600,000. There is no suggestion that universities will be short-changed as a result, but in the medium term it will obviously involve fewer dependants coming with those international students. For the reasons that I have set out, we think that is a good thing. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not.

This measure is wholly to be welcomed, but the fact is that legal migration is out of control and the British people did not vote for Brexit to replace mass migration from Europe with mass migration from the rest of the world. May I therefore press the Minister on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) that we will never deal with legal migration until we solve the labour problem? Home-grown employers in Britain are paying too low wages and trying to attract people from all over the world. Why do we not raise the threshold so that those who want to come here and get a job need to earn average earnings?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support. He is right that, having left the European Union and taken back control of our borders and migration policy, it is critical that we make good on our promise to bring net migration down, because it does put intolerable pressure on public services and housing, and it does strain community cohesion, particularly when it happens at a scale and speed that is too great for many people in British society.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the workings of the points-based system and the salary thresholds for the shortage occupation list and for general work visas. The Government keep that under review, because we do not want to see employers reaching for international labour rather than seeking to recruit and train domestic labour, reducing unemployment and reducing the number of people who are on benefits.

The Home Secretary makes contradictory statements to different audiences and thinks that nobody notices her sleight of hand. Yesterday, she recommitted to bringing in 600,000 international students per year. Does the Minister now regret the fact that, having completely lost control of immigration figures, she actually expressed her desire to reduce student visas at last year’s Conservative party conference?

The Home Secretary and I are completely at one in our determination to reduce net migration. That is what our party stood on a manifesto to do and that is what we intend to achieve. The Home Secretary and I want to find ways in which we can tackle abuse and unintended consequences within the system, and the package of measures that we have set out this week will do so in this important area and, as Labour appears now to support it, in a clearly significant cross-party way.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As the Minister considers work visas, which have exploded, displacing investment in domestic skills and investment in modern working practices fit for the future, will he also answer this question: why it is right and fair for people studying a research degree to be able to bring their family into the country but not for people who are not doing primary research? Surely if those studying for MAs that do not require research cannot bring their family, no one should be able to do so?

We said in the announcement this week that, with the Department for Education, we will launch a consultation with the university sector to design a longer-term alternative to the system that previously operated, which could be a more nuanced approach. But I think that the determination that we have made this week is the right one, which is that those people coming into the UK to study will be able to bring in dependants only if they are doing those high-value, usually longer-term, research-based courses such as PhDs, and those coming for short courses will invariably not be able to do so. That will cut out some of the abuse that we have seen in the system and will focus universities on their primary responsibility, which is teaching and education, rather than in some cases being a back door to immigration and to work.

Later this afternoon, my much-valued international student Jacqueline will spend the last few hours of her time here before she completes her internship. She has been a massive asset to my office, as were the other London School of Economics interns and other interns I have had the privilege of working with over the last number of years. What should I say to her? Should I say, “Thank you—you have been a boon to this place and these islands” or, “You’re a problem that has to be controlled”?

It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman did not spread misinformation to his researcher or indeed anyone else. It was the Government, through the international education strategy, who created this commitment, which has proven to be so successful that it has led to 600,000 international students coming to the UK—perhaps including the lady he referred to. We also created the graduate route, which has enabled people—potentially including his researcher—to move seamlessly into the workplace here in the UK after their studies rather than having to apply immediately for a work or family visa as used to happen. There is no suggestion of any diminution in our support for universities or international students, but it is right that we get a grip on abuses or unintended consequences. That is what Governments have to do when trying to control an immigration system. Perhaps he does not want controlled immigration. We do, and that is why we have to take these steps.

International students studying high-quality courses at high-quality universities such as Keele in my constituency—the Minister knows it well—add a huge amount to our local economy. But is it not absolutely clear from the figures that the Minister quoted earlier showing the increase in dependant visas that some universities have, wittingly or otherwise, been selling immigration rather than education? Is it not vital that we get on top of that?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Universities such as Keele—I do know that university well—have played a critical role in the economic development of local communities, and we want to encourage that. But it is important that universities primarily focus on education, not creating courses marketed overseas to individuals whose primary interest is in coming to the UK for immigration and work purposes, with those courses being a back door to that.

Is not the truth that, since Brexit, excellent universities such as mine in Exeter have sought to replace those thousands of EU students they have lost with students from other parts of the world who tend, for cultural and other reasons, to bring more family members, spouses and children with them? Are not the Government having to clear up another Brexit mess of their own making? Will the Minister be honest with the House and explain how he will avoid discriminating against countries such as Nigeria and India, from which students do tend to bring dependants, and making us even more reliant on students from China?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a curious argument. Of course, it was as a result of leaving the European Union that we have created an entirely non-discriminatory immigration system that has enabled people to apply to come to the UK, whether for work purposes or as students, from anywhere in the world, rather than making it more difficult for those from outside the EU and having a large number of EU citizens come here. Today’s proposals will tackle this particular unintended consequence of the opening up to international students. I do not see any evidence that it will harm particular nationalities. There are some glaring examples such as the Nigerian one that I mentioned previously, but this will apply to everyone. It is an entirely non-discriminatory policy.

My right hon. Friend is completely right that we must choose who comes here and we must strike out abuse. Wimbledon has many English language schools and English language is a key part of the international education strategy. Given the specific and short-term nature of these students, and that they bring in no dependants and are not a cost on our public services, will he meet me and the leaders of the sector to discuss restoring work visas for this specific group of students?

I would be pleased to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that. As I said earlier with respect to the announcement we made today, we will be carrying out a consultation with the Department for Education that will give universities the opportunity to set out their case and refine the policy if necessary. He highlights one of the other elements of the announcement we made this week, which is clamping down on abuse. There are a small number of unscrupulous education agents who may be supporting disingenuous applications that are selling immigration rather than education. One measure we are taking this week is to clamp down on those with much more targeted and effective enforcement activity.

My constituents do not share the Tory and Labour obsession with net migration. They understand that Scotland benefits from inward migration. In fact, Universities UK research shows that my constituency’s net economic benefit from international students is £170.8 million, which gives the lie to most of what the Minister has said. Continuing as a member of the United Kingdom is damaging Scotland’s universities, including Edinburgh Napier University and Herriot-Watt University in my constituency. First Brexit, now this. The Union has to work for both partners, so why will the Minister not sit down with the Home Secretary and consider devolving immigration policies relating to student visas to the Scottish Parliament?

As I said many times before, we have no intention of devolving immigration policy. On the broader questions, there is no material difference between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of unemployment or economic inactivity, so there is no compelling case for a bespoke immigration system for Scotland versus the rest of the United Kingdom. The sheer scale of the number of international students who have come into all parts of the UK, including Scotland, in recent years suggests that this Government’s policies have increased the number of international students, not diminished them.

Pressures in migration policy ultimately lead back to the efficient processing of everyone UK Visas and Immigration has to deal with. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that this change will help UKVI make more decisions more quickly?

I am pleased to say that UKVI is today a very well-run organisation under the superb leadership of an official in the Home Office called Marc Owen. In every one of the visa categories, it is meeting its service standard or significantly exceeding them. [Interruption.] I know the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) always likes to deal in anecdote rather than statistics, but—I am afraid to disappoint her—it is.

I, for one, am very proud of the international students in my community. Oxford Brookes University and, of course, Oxford University pride themselves on being able to attract the best and brightest. This policy will make that harder. We value them because they bring value. They bring value of, on average, £400 million to the Oxfordshire economy. Why are the Government, and apparently the Labour party, intent on stifling our universities and our economy?

I have affection for the hon. Lady, but she is probably the greatest nimby in the House of Commons today. She always opposes new homes, new development and new infrastructure in and around Oxford, so it is quite wrong for her to say that we should have an open door immigration policy, welcoming more and more people into her community and others, without meeting the demands that come with that in terms of housing and infrastructure.

I am uncomfortable with net migration at current levels, as I believe are most of my constituents. I understand what the Government are doing about one-year taught masters; they seem to be about 95% of this issue. That absolutely makes sense. However, I have some concerns that some universities might try to game the system and re-label one-year taught masters as one-year research masters. I understand why PhDs are treated differently, but will the Minister assure me that that will not happen and we will clamp down on that? Will he also comment on the two-year period I believe that students get after they graduate, where they can stay here even if they do not necessarily have a job?

We believe the changes we are setting out today will make a marked impact on net migration. We will, obviously, monitor them very closely for some of the unintended consequences my hon. Friend refers to. The consultation we will do with universities and the broader sector will help us to refine the policy, should that be necessary.

The Minister has already acknowledged that the vast majority of students return home. In fact, the compliance rate for international student visas is 97.5%, the highest for any UK visa category. Does that not suggest there may be better targets for the Government’s energies?

There is no one single intervention that will solve this challenge, but this is a significant intervention that will make a material difference to net migration. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the overwhelming majority of international students historically have left at the end of their studies, or shortly thereafter. It is possible that the system that has evolved since 2019 will see different trends. In 2020, only 7,400 non-EU students stayed on post study and those numbers will be dramatically higher in the years ahead. It may be that the mix of individuals, the countries they come from and the fact that they are bringing dependants with them in many cases, will lead to a far higher number of individuals staying on post study, but I do not think we will see those trends clearly enough this year. We may see them in years to come.

Many of my constituents continue to be deeply concerned about the levels of net migration, not just over the last few years but over the last few decades. They, along with myself, will welcome the measures outlined by the Minister today. Is he able to update the House on any measures his Department is taking to tackle bogus college placements from students who sometimes come to this country only to disappear into thin air?

Alongside the package of measures today, we are, as I said earlier, taking further targeted enforcement activity against unscrupulous education agents who are selling entry to the United Kingdom, rather than education. We will also work closely with universities and the Department for Education to improve communication, to universities and their affiliates, of the immigration rules, so we can clamp down on the kind of poor practices my hon. Friend describes.

The Minister avoided this question when my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) asked it, so I will try again. What discussions were there between the UK Government and Scottish Ministers on this matter before the announcement was made?

Immigration is a reserved matter. I would just add that I am seeking a meeting with the relevant Cabinet Secretary in the Scottish Government to discuss illegal migration, but her office has so far not offered a meeting.

The statement is right to celebrate the huge growth in international student numbers—I assume that is the bit the Department for Education and the Treasury insisted should go in—but within that there is a welcome diversification in that growth away from overdependence on China. That was a deliberate part of the international education strategy. The Minister talks about unintended consequences, but it was entirely predictable that those coming from other countries for masters courses would come from a different demographic from Chinese students, that they would have families and that, like us, they would not want to separated from them. Our competitors welcome students with families, so there is a real risk that a blanket ban on dependants will undermine the Government’s own international education strategy. The statement commits to consulting with universities in developing the approach, so will the Minister confirm there will be no blanket ban on dependants of postgraduate taught students until that consultation has taken place?

We will implement the policy we set out yesterday, but concurrently we will launch the consultation with universities and, if we need to refine the policy as a result of that, we will do so. To the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I do not think there is any reason why a Chinese student would be less likely to bring dependants with them to the United Kingdom than a Nigerian, a Vietnamese or a Bangladeshi. I do not follow his logic there at all. We want an entirely non-discriminatory approach and that is what we have said to our international counterparts this week. That has always been our approach to this. We welcome international students from any part of the world.

The vast majority of international students access their courses in the north of England through Manchester airport in my constituency. Will the Minister agree to an economic impact assessment on how the policy will impact jobs in my constituency and route development, and the cost to the wider northern economy?

I was pleased to be at Manchester airport on Friday, meeting my Border Force officials and seeing the expansion currently under way. I do not foresee any serious loss of revenue for an airport such as Manchester. The number of international students coming to the UK has risen very significantly in recent years. To the extent that that provides income to airports, they will have benefited from our existing policy and I expect them to benefit in future.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, even if only to expose that we could not put a cigarette paper between Labour and Tory policies on this issue. Scotland has a track record of welcoming international students to our internationally recognised universities. Scotland wants and needs the benefits that they bring. This Government’s continuous refusal to devolve immigration powers to the Scottish Government shows their contempt for Scotland. Why do they not understand and recognise that things are different there? Continual refusal to do what Scotland needs and wants will come down heavy on them in the next election.

At the risk of repeating myself, there is no material difference between unemployment or economic inactivity in Scotland and in the rest of the UK—the hon. Lady is incorrect in that regard. The UK benefits enormously from a single immigration policy and offer to international students in universities in all parts of the world.

In Northern Ireland, our universities are very dependent on international students, particularly in the light of the budget crisis we are facing. Employers cannot access labour without migration, which I am sure is the same for the rest of the UK. Rather than being a burden, our public services depend upon migrants for their basic functioning. Why are the Government so insistent on acting against the core interests of our public services, the economy and our local universities?

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is this Government who established the international education strategy that led to 600,000 international students coming to the UK every year. Indeed, that number is likely to grow next year. With respect to public services, we created the health and social care visa, which last year led to 76,000 applications. Their dependants were able to join them. That was 11% of all the visas issued to individuals wishing to come to the United Kingdom. We are doing everything we can to support public services, but we must address the fact that very high levels of net migration place intolerable pressure on housing, public services and integration.

Our schools are in the midst of such a chronic teacher recruitment and retention crisis that the Department for Education currently offers £10,000 relocation payments to overseas applicants to come and train as language and physics teachers in the UK, on postgraduate taught courses. If they cannot bring their families, they will not want to settle here and use the training that we have provided in our schools, where they are desperately needed. Why are the Government cutting off their nose to spite their own face?

If the hon. Lady is referring to pressure on school places, that would be a good argument for reducing the number of dependants coming to the UK, because the children of the students will be using primary schools in her constituency.

The Minister still has not said what economic impact assessment the Government have carried out on this policy. Will he publish one?

I said that we take a pragmatic approach to this issue. We are balancing our strong desire to bring down net migration with the needs of the economy. That is why we have taken the approach of standing behind the 600,000 target for international students, but making this important tweak to ensure that it is not abused.

Net migration figures also include the number people who leave this country. The Minister’s hard Brexit has made it more difficult for students and others to travel overseas, and that is having an impact on net migration figures. Meanwhile, Glasgow North thrives culturally, socially and economically to the tune of £225.8 million thanks to our lively and diverse international student community. Why does the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spend millions of pounds on overseas campaigns that say that Britain is great, when the message coming from the Home Office is that Britain is closed?