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Prime Minister

Volume 734: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2023

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I know the whole House will want to thank the emergency services for their ongoing response to the shocking incident in Nottingham yesterday. Our thoughts are with those injured and with the families of those who lost their lives. Today is also the sixth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. We remember the 72 people who lost their lives, and remain as committed as ever to ensuring that such a tragedy can never happen again.

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.

May I associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister? Our hearts are with the city of Nottingham. We also remember the 72 people killed at Grenfell and support those still fighting for justice and safe homes.

According to the Office for National Statistics, in January food prices were rising at 16.8% a year. The most recent figures show food prices rising by a whopping 19.1%, making a mockery of the Prime Minister’s pledge to halve inflation. Does he honestly think that people will not notice?

Of course, I acknowledge that the cost of living is rising for families, and that is why my first priority at the beginning of the year is to halve inflation. I am pleased to say that inflation is now falling, and in the latest estimates we remain on track. With regard to food prices, we are not alone in experiencing high food price inflation, like many other countries in Europe. That is why the Chancellor has already spoken to the Competition and Markets Authority, which is looking at the grocery industry. We continue to support families with the cost of living, notably by paying half their energy bills.

Q4. It is a fact that Labour has never left government with unemployment lower than when it came in. Figures released yesterday show that there are now 4 million more people in work than when Labour was last in power. Does the Prime Minister agree that the security of a good job will always be better than Labour’s dependency culture? (905408)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out Labour’s poor record on jobs. Yesterday’s figures showed that the UK economy is resilient, with the number of people in employment now at a record level. We are by no means complacent, but the inactivity rate continues to fall and the unemployment rate remains at historically low levels. That is a Conservative Government delivering for our country.

I join with the Prime Minister in his comments about the terrible attack in Nottingham yesterday, and in tribute to the work of our emergency services. The thoughts of the whole House are with the victims and the people of that great city. I also join him in remembering the 72 people who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire. The victims and their families are always in our hearts, but six years on, the justice they are fighting for is long overdue.

All across the country, people are worried about their bills, the price of the weekly shop and the spiralling mortgage rates, so why has the Tory party spent this last week arguing over which of them gets a peerage?

My points on this are very clear. In line with a long-established convention of previous Prime Ministers having the ability to submit honours, I followed a process to the letter, in convention with long-standing process. It is, by the way, a long-standing convention that Prime Ministers on both sides of this House have followed in the same way that I did.

The truth is that for all his tough talk after the event, the Prime Minister did sign off the honours list. That means that those who threw a Downing Street party the night before the late Queen sat alone at her husband’s funeral will now receive awards from the King. If the Prime Minister is so tough, why didn’t he block it?

As I said, I and the Government followed due process and convention. Prime Ministers of both parties have always upheld the convention of non-interference on political honours. My predecessors may not have agreed with Labour’s choices of Tom Watson or Shami Chakrabarti, but the same precedent stood then as it does now. I would expect a knight like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to understand that.

Order. I think we will have more if we carry on—it will be outside rather than in here. I call Keir Starmer.

Honours should be for public service, not Tory cronies. Is it not the case that the Prime Minister was too weak to block Johnson’s list? That also means that those who spent their time helping to cover up Johnson’s lawbreaking are rewarded by becoming lawmakers for the rest of their lives. Is his message to the British public, “If you don’t like it, tough”?

It is right that we use the honours system to recognise people—almost 2,000 a year—from members of the England Lionesses to the first Asian police officer in Greater Manchester. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about putting people in the House of Lords, so perhaps he could explain why he put forward for a peerage the former Labour MP Tom Watson, who spread vicious conspiracy theories that were totally and utterly untrue, damaged public discourse, and inflicted misery on innocent people.

Order. The Prime Minister should not criticise other Members, and he is not responsible for the other parties. The Prime Minister is answering, not asking, the questions—[Interruption.] Order. Does somebody want to challenge my decision?

I call Keir Starmer.

The truth is that the country is paying the price of this endless cycle of chaos and distraction. The Tory economic crash means that millions of mortgage holders will pay thousands of pounds more next year, and the blame lies squarely at the door of a Government who are more focused on the internal wars of the Tory party than the needs of the country. Does the Prime Minister not think that those responsible should hang their heads in shame?

As I said right at the beginning of the session, our No.1 economic priority is to reduce inflation so that we can restrain the increase in interest rates. One thing we know we need to do is to reduce our borrowing and debt. That is how we will bring interest and mortgage rates down. Last week what did we see? Labour confusion. The shadow Chancellor attempted to water down Labour’s plans to borrow £28 billion more a year, and she was promptly overruled by the shadow Energy Secretary, the former Leader of the Labour party, who said that Labour was “100% not abandoning” its pledge. It really looks like Labour’s offer never changes. It is uncontrolled borrowing and more “Chaos with Ed Miliband.”

There is only one party that broke the economy: they are sitting opposite. They cannot fix the problems facing the country because they never take responsibility for the damage they have done. It is not just Johnson but the Prime Minister’s immediate predecessor who hopes to reward those who made her reign such a rip-roaring success. On her honours list are the masterminds of that kamikaze Budget and the economic extremists of the Institute of Economic Affairs—those whose disastrous ideas crashed the economy and left the country to pick up the pieces. Will the Prime Minister block that honours list, or will he buckle to her as well?

If you want disastrous economic ideas, all you have to do is Labour’s economic policy on energy. It is an energy policy that seeks to ban all new British oil and gas drilling, jeopardising 200,000 jobs and our energy security at a time of international conflict. Despots like Putin are the only people who will welcome such a policy. The Leader of the Opposition’s predecessor once said that he wanted British jobs for British workers—his policy is British jobs for Russian workers.

If the Prime Minister spent as much time focused on the economy, the NHS and the asylum system as he does haggling with his predecessors about who gets honours, the country would be in a far better state, but once again he has lost control, and once again it is working people paying the price. If he disagrees with that, why not put it to the test: end the boasting, the excuses and Tory chaos and see if he can finally find somebody—anybody, anywhere—to vote for him, and call a general election now?

The Leader of the Opposition talked about asylum. Just this week, it was the Labour party that voted against plans to tackle illegal migration. Just this week, it was the Labour party that voted against plans to tackle disruptive protests by its eco-zealot funders. We are getting on and delivering for the country. We are delivering record employment and the fastest wage growth in years. It is clear that only the Conservatives are going to deliver for the people of Britain.

Q5.   Crime is down significantly and falling, and police officer numbers are at an all-time high, but the police funding formula remains elderly and out of date. It penalises counties such as mine, Hampshire, to the tune of many millions of pounds. Previous Administrations made the commitment that a new police funding formula would have been in place by the general election. May I invite the Prime Minister to make the same commitment, please? (905409)

We recognise that the current police funding formula no longer accurately reflects demands on policing. That is why a review is carefully considering local factors for each police force. Our priority is to deliver a robust, future-proofed funding formula, but it is important that we take the time to get that right. I know that the Home Office will continue to keep the House updated on our progress.

I echo the sentiments of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in relation to the terrible incident in Nottingham. Our thoughts are also with all those still reeling from the tragedy at Grenfell all these years later.

During the Prime Minister’s ill-fated leadership bid late last summer, he warned of the perils of mortgage rate rises. He stated:

“It’s going to tip millions of people into misery and it’s going to mean we have absolutely no chance of winning the next election”.

Given that mortgage rates continue to rise, does he still agree with his own electoral analysis?

Which is absolutely why our economic policy sets reducing inflation as our No. 1 priority. By the way, interest rates have also risen in pretty much every developed economy around the world; more so in places like America and New Zealand and similarly in other countries like Australia. But in order to reduce inflation, it is important to have control over borrowing, which is why, unlike the SNP, we are disciplined with regard to the public finances.

Those are the issues that we should be focused on. I saw that yesterday the SNP had a meeting to discuss its future, but the only thing it managed to decide was that it should send Nicola Sturgeon some flowers. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us: did he sign the card?

Respectfully, I think the Prime Minister needs to grow up.

There is an elephant in this here Chamber when it comes to the dire economic circumstances facing the UK, and that is Brexit. Those on the Tory Benches do not want to accept it, and the Labour party does not want to talk about it, but whether it is on food prices, energy prices or indeed mortgage prices, households in Scotland are being shafted by Brexit. Will the Prime Minister apologise for the cycle of misery that Westminster has caused?

While the hon. Gentleman’s party leader calls Nicola Sturgeon the most impressive politician in Europe, we are getting on with delivering for the people of Scotland: paying half of their energy bills, making sure pensions rise, making sure there is direct support with the cost of living for those who need it, and, crucially, ensuring that we secure over 200,000 jobs by supporting Scotland’s North sea oil and gas industry—something opposed by his party.

Q7. Lincoln will soon benefit from £20 million of levelling-up funding to deliver a traffic bridge over the railway to stop the city being permanently gridlocked by the Labour city council’s huge western growth corridor housing development. This is truly levelling up for areas of the north in action. Will my right hon. Friend affirm his commitment, for my Lincoln constituents and businesses, that he and his Government will continue to help level up Lincoln and other areas in the north of our great country? (905411)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for his constituents. I am glad that he and City of Lincoln Council were successful in their £20 million levelling-up fund bid. The scheme will see two new bridges built across the railway line, improving access and reducing congestion. I very much look forward to seeing the plans progress. He and I share an ambition to make sure we level up not just in Lincoln but across the country.

The Leader of the Opposition recently ventured out of London, visiting my constituency to deliver a one nation British Labour vision of Scotland. However, he neglected to mention that he intends to continue London’s plunder of Scotland’s vast energy wealth, just like the Tories; continue the economic vandalism of Brexit, just like the Tories; and deny Scotland’s right to self-determination, just like the Tories. Perhaps the Prime Minister can tell me which London party leader is the greatest threat to Scottish democracy: the Tory to my right or the Tory to my left.

Mr Speaker, I apologise, because I did not hear fully the hon. Gentleman’s question, but from what I could gather, I think he probably agrees with me that the Leader of the Opposition is not the right person to lead our country.

Q9. At a time when so many people are really worried about the cost of living, does the Prime Minister agree that it is completely wrong for Labour to be introducing new ultra low emission zone charges on driving in the London suburbs? (905413)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this important issue. While we are getting on providing significant support to families with the cost of living, the Labour Mayor of London, to whom transport is devolved, is busily putting it up, imposing the ULEZ charge against the overwhelming views of residents and businesses. It is disappointing that he is not listening to the British public and the public in outer London, but what is more, his plan to raise costs on working families is totally backed by the Leader of the Opposition.

Q2. Prime Minister, new data from the End Child Poverty coalition and Loughborough University shows that your Government’s austerity measures have plunged 4.2 million children into poverty, 70% of them in working households. In Liverpool, Riverside, 42% are living in poverty—that is up 7% since 2015. Will the Prime Minister commit to scrapping the cruel and ineffectual two-child limit, lift 250,000 children out of poverty and meet anti-poverty organisations? (905406)

I gently point out to the hon. Lady that there are, in fact, 400,000 fewer children in absolute poverty than in 2010. We know that work is the best route out of poverty for families, so with employment at record levels, as we saw yesterday, I am pleased that there are now over 600,000 fewer children in workless households than in 2010. The specific policy she raises actually ensures fairness by asking families on benefits to make the same financial decisions as families supporting themselves solely through work.

Q12. Earlier this week, the all-party parliamentary group on coalfield communities published its report, “Next Steps in Levelling Up the Former Coalfields”, which I know the Prime Minister has received a copy of in his inbox. As a proud MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, I am delighted with the funding we have had from the Government through the future high streets fund and the town deal, but there is always more to do. Will he commit to reading our report, carefully considering our recommendations and working out what more we can do to level up coalfield communities across the whole United Kingdom? (905416)

I very much welcome the work of the APPG on coalfield communities and, indeed, the breadth and ambition of its policy contributions. We are committed to levelling up the UK by spreading opportunity more equally across the country and by investing in and empowering places that need it the most, including coalfield communities. I look forward to discussing this with my hon. Friend and to hearing from him further.

Q3. A vulnerable constituent of mine whose finances are held in trust was wrongly billed £4,000 by two energy companies that now no longer exist as a result of the energy market crisis. Energy is one of the most basic services, but there is no charter of rights for consumers. This has still not been resolved. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need such a charter? (905407)

I will happily ensure that the appropriate Minister writes to the hon. Lady with a specific response on her constituent, so that we can try to resolve that issue.

Q15. Recently, the independent regulator of social housing issued a notice against Birmingham City Council for the state of its social housing, with 23,000 homes not meeting the decent homes standard, more than 17,000 not receiving asbestos checks, more than 15,000 not having electrical safety checks and more than 1,000 not having fire risk assessments. Refreshingly, honestly and astonishingly, a leaked Labour memo put the blame at the heart of the Labour group in Birmingham. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is time for serious intervention in Birmingham to ensure that people have decent homes to live in? (905419)

The failings identified in Birmingham are wholly unacceptable. The regulator of social housing has made it clear that Birmingham must take immediate action to address those issues, and it will be monitoring the council’s progress closely. I understand that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has requested a meeting with Birmingham City Council and will be holding it to account.

Q6. Ilke Homes built thousands of modular houses every year in its factory near Leeds. Many of them are completely carbon zero, meaning no bills at all for residents. However, today it is facing the prospect of collapse, putting 4,200 future homes and 1,500 current jobs at risk. Given that the Home Builders Federation says that new housing units could drop to just 120,000 next year, does the Prime Minister now accept that his Government’s scrapping of housing targets was the wrong decision? (905410)

It would not be right for me to comment on the circumstances of any individual company, but I make absolutely no apology for respecting what local communities want in their local areas. While the Labour party may want to ride roughshod over the views of local communities, impose top-down housing targets and carpet over the green belt, that is not something that this Government will do.

As we speak, the Royal Air Force is operating the Hercules farewell flypast over all parts of the UK. For more than 107 years, my constituents at 47 Squadron have defended our country, including by operating the legendary Hercules for more than 50 years. As this amazing squadron stands down, will my right hon. Friend join the whole House in paying tribute to its remarkable record of service? They are all men and women who have made their country proud.

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to 47 Squadron. Its association with the Hercules now stretches to 45 years. Although its vital work at the heart of defence has often been unheralded, this squadron has served with professionalism and distinction throughout. I think that the whole House will join me in saying that the personnel and crews can be rightly proud, and they have our full thanks.

Q8.   My constituent Sarah has been let down by this Government. Her elderly father, a veteran living with cancer, has developed a serious heart problem and his next appointment was scheduled for November. In a cost of living crisis, my constituent paid for private care, as he cannot wait five months for an appointment. He has now been diagnosed with heart failure.This is the reality of Tory Britain: elderly and sick patients neglected and turned away. The Conservatives have broken the NHS and they have broken Britain. The British public deserve so much better. Only the Labour party can deliver that, so when will the Prime Minister call a general election? (905412)

I am very sorry to hear about Sarah’s father, and I hope that he speedily gets all the treatment he needs.

We are investing record sums in the NHS, and there are also more doctors, more nurses, more diagnostic scans to identify cancers earlier and elective surgical hubs to get the wait lists down. We are starting to see progress, having practically eliminated 18-month waits, but there is more work to do. I am pleased that the NHS is fully supporting our plan and getting on with delivering it for people.

I thank the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for the recent announcement that Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust can proceed with plans to improve and upgrade St Helier and build a brand-new hospital in Sutton. The NHS trust is further along than other trusts in the cohort, so can the Prime Minister assure me that when the trust is ready to go, the Treasury and the Government will be ready to give it the green light?

I thank my hon. Friend for all his campaigning and focus on this issue for his constituents. We remain committed to the new hospital scheme for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. It will deliver brand-new, state-of-the-art facilities as part of our hospital programme. I know that the Department is working closely with the trust to make sure that we can progress work as soon as possible, and we expect the new hospital to be delivered by 2030.

Q10.   Throughout the war in Ukraine, the largest mobile operator, Kyivstar, has kept its services operating at 93% and it is investing millions in Ukraine’s recovery. Will the Prime Minister use next week’s Ukraine recovery conference to bring together Governments and businesses to invest in Ukraine’s telecoms recovery, and ensure that the people of Ukraine are kept connected with their loved ones throughout the war? (905414)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his thoughtful and powerful question. He is right about the aim of next week’s Ukraine recovery conference summit, which we are proud to be hosting. Indeed, the theme of that summit is how to bring in private capital to help rebuild Ukraine after the devasting war. I join him in paying tribute to all those companies who are providing essential services to the people of Ukraine, in the face of the onslaught they are seeing. They deserve our absolute admiration and support.

Last week, we acknowledged and celebrated carers, of which there are thousands across beautiful Hastings and Rye. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking them all for their priceless value, and congratulate Hastings Voluntary Action and the Isabel Blackman Centre on receiving carers awards for their support for unpaid carers in our community, and the outstanding Care Quality Commission-rated Radfield Home Care in Hastings on winning a national award?

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating carers in her constituency on all their awards. I am incredibly proud of our health and care staff across the country, and recognise their extraordinary commitment. I pay tribute to unpaid carers and young carers for all they are doing in Hastings and across our nation.

Q11. Funding to bring desperately needed in-patient mental health services to Bedford is sitting in the bank account of our local mental health trust, not to be touched because of the Government’s ridiculous capital spending limits. Will the Prime Minister meet with East London NHS Foundation Trust, apply some common sense and find a way to release the cash to get this mental health unit fixed, so that my constituents do not have to travel miles to access services? (905415)

We are investing record sums in NHS capital; I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are putting more money into mental health services and taking more action than any previous Government. At the heart of the NHS long-term plan is the largest expansion of mental health services in a generation. I will ensure that the appropriate Minister writes to him with an update on the conversations with his trust about its local capital plan.

What assessment has the Prime Minister made of the eurozone being in recession and the UK economy experiencing growth?

As we have seen recently, it is not just the Office for Budget Responsibility but the OECD, the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund that have all upgraded the growth forecasts for the UK economy. While the Opposition may want to talk that down, it is the Conservatives that are delivering.

Q13.   Some 39 women have died violently in Northern Ireland since 2017. The police are called to a domestic violence incident every 16 minutes and ours is now one of the most dangerous regions in Europe to be a woman. Stormont officials have consulted on a strategy to tackle violence against women, but there are no Ministers to take it forward. The outstanding Women’s Aid Federation learned last month that its core funding is being taken away. In the demoralising absence of a Government, will the Prime Minister work with me and others to ensure that strategy is enacted and funded, so that we can tackle the cultures and behaviours that are having such a devastating impact on women in Northern Ireland? (905417)

I join the hon. Lady in saying that it is absolutely right that we do everything possible to stamp out violence against women and girls. That is why the Government passed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, set up a 24/7 victims line and quadrupled funding for victim support. She is also right to highlight that the people of Northern Ireland are not getting the local government that they need and deserve. I want to see that as much as she does, and I will continue to work hard to bring it about.

One of the socialist landmines that the Prime Minister has inherited from the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip— I am sure the Prime Minister remembers him: he is the one who said that we should be more Conservative; if only he had had a majority of 80 and been Prime Minister, he might have been able to do something about it—is the banning of “buy one, get one free” and other special offers on products that the Department of Health and Social Care thought were unhealthy. At the best of times that is an idiotic triumph of the nanny state, but during a cost of living crisis it is utterly bonkers. Will the Prime Minister intervene, pursue a more Conservative agenda—as the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip would want him to—and scrap this ridiculous policy?

I thank my hon. Friend, who has long highlighted this policy. As he knows, after I took office, given the concerns that he and others had raised about the impact on the cost of living of this policy, we postponed its introduction. No final decisions have been made, but I will continue to take what he says very seriously in all our deliberations.

Q14.   Those at Citizens Advice Cymru have told me of the soaring numbers of people coming to see them who are struggling to afford housing. Last year, the monthly cost of a new mortgage on an average semi-detached house rose by 61%, and most fixed-rate mortgages that are ending in the current 12-month period were set at interest rates below 2%, so the crisis will worsen for both homeowners and renters. What advice does the Prime Minister have for my constituents who are suffering the consequences of Tory economic chaos? Should they cut back on food, switch off the gas and electricity, or get further into Tory-fuelled, expensive debt? (905418)

Our No. 1 priority is to halve inflation so that we can reduce the upward pressure on interest rates. The hon. Gentleman’s constituents should know that what would make that task absolutely worse is his party’s plans for tens of billions of pounds of unfunded borrowing, which would just exacerbate the situation. What I will say, however, is that homeowners who are worried can ask for help through the support for mortgage interest scheme, which has recently been adjusted. That support is available to them. And my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has spoken to the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure that banks treat all those in difficulty with the fairness and compassion that they need.

Last week I was pleased to deliver my report on the opportunities provided by deep geothermal energy, and I look forward to my visit next week to the opening of the Eden project’s deep geothermal plant, championed by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). Will the Prime Minister join me in meeting Members who want to emulate my hon. Friend by enjoying the benefits of a deep geothermal plant in their own constituencies?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on that report: I know that he is rightly passionate about this area. The Government support the development of geothermal projects in the UK, provided that it can be done at an acceptable cost to consumers and in an environmentally friendly manner, and I will ensure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss his report and ideas further.

Nottingham is devastated by the senseless attacks that took place on our streets yesterday. The thoughts and prayers of the whole city are with the family and friends of those who were killed, and with those who were injured. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see the pictures of Barnaby and Grace, the University of Nottingham students whose young lives, so full of potential, have been tragically cut short. As ever, we thank the emergency services, who acted quickly and courageously to save lives. Will the Prime Minister ensure that his Government provide the police, the universities and others in our city with everything they need to support our constituents following these horrendous events?

Like the rest of the country, I have been moved by the heartbreaking tributes from their loved ones. This is an extraordinarily difficult time and every parent’s worst nightmare. The hearts of the whole country are with the families and all those who have lost their lives. The hon. Lady will, I am sure, understand that I cannot comment further at this stage, given that there is an ongoing situation, but the Home Secretary will be making a statement after Prime Minister’s questions.

My constituents in Ickenham and South Harefield benefit enormously from the work of the police based in the nearby Uxbridge police station, which remains open only because of the campaign by the Conservative-led council to stop the Mayor of London closing it down. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as we invest in more police, those police need good local police stations to work from?

My hon. Friend puts the point very well. Whether it is campaigning to keep open their local police station or opposing the ULEZ charge that would put up costs for hard-working families, it is the Conservatives in Uxbridge who are delivering for their community.