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Volume 735: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2023

I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is attending a service right now in Westminster Abbey to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NHS. Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with your comments? The NHS continues to be a treasured national institution, and I am sure that, during this sitting, colleagues across the House will join you in celebrating its values and achievements and thanking staff for their huge commitment to patients.

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.

Mr Speaker, can I also associate myself with the remarks you made celebrating the 75th anniversary of the NHS? On behalf of my constituents and all our constituents, I thank its staff for the work they do, day in, day out.

Last Friday, I met a group of residents who have raised a petition to keep the last bank in Corringham town open. The viability of our town centres often depends on the presence of a small number of anchor businesses, such as a post office or a bank. Can my right hon. Friend therefore tell the House what action the Government can take to ensure that at least one of those organisations maintains a high street presence to support businesses and residents alike, particularly when they have received significant Government support?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. Banks are a cornerstone of our high streets. Of course, it is ultimately a commercial decision for banks, but I think it is right that they take into account the views of local communities. I am sure the bank in question will have heard his remarks to the House and I trust that it will take appropriate action.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and can I associate myself with and thank you for your opening comments regarding our NHS? I thank all those staff who have worked and continue to work in our NHS today.

I am sure Members across the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Lord Bob Kerslake, a decent and kind man who accomplished so much in both local and national Government during a lifetime of public service. Our heartfelt condolences go to his family.

I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman here today. I think I am right in saying that I have the pleasure again next week—two weeks on the trot. The Government really have given up. Every day, 4,000 families’ mortgage deals expire, with 100,000 more since we last met and millions more next year. Families are sick with worry about the cost of the Tory mortgage bombshell. Do the Tories still claim to be the party of home ownership?

May I begin by associating myself with the right hon. Lady’s remarks about Lord Bob Kerslake? I knew him from my time in Downing Street. He was a stalwart public servant and he will be missed by many on both sides of this House.

It may come as a surprise to the right hon. Lady, but some leaders trust their deputies to stand in for them. When it comes to mortgage rates, I support the independence of the Bank of England in taking the necessary measures to control inflation. Just ask the International Monetary Fund what we have done to support them. It has said that we have taken “decisive and responsible action” to bring down inflation and we will continue to do so. But what is Labour’s plan? It is to borrow £28 billion a year, pushing up inflation; to cut our domestic energy supply, pushing up inflation; and to penalise workers saving into their pensions, pushing up inflation. There we have it from Labour—endless borrowing and higher prices.

We have had 13 years of Conservative failures. Homeowners watching that pathetic answer will be cringing: they are not celebrating the Government’s success; they are counting the cost of their failures. The only thing that is not soaring in price at the moment is the right hon. Gentleman’s gags, which are getting cheaper by the minute. It is not just homeowners who are suffering. Security of renters has been ripped away too, with higher mortgage costs handed directly to them. Given most renters live in homes with a buy-to-let mortgage, can he tell us: are buy-to-let properties included in the mortgage support package—yes or no?

Actually, under this Government, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, we have introduced legislation for the first time to support renters and to give them greater security of tenure. Of course, the Chancellor will take all necessary measures to stand behind mortgage holders and take necessary measures for renters.

We have a choice in this country, and the choice that we have made is to invest in our economy, giving us the fastest growing economy in the G7 for the past two years, creating jobs, with record low unemployment, and increasing people’s wages by providing the national living wage—£1,600—into everyone’s pockets. That is how this Government are supporting people.

I know that the Deputy Prime Minister is not very good on facts, but the Tory party did crash the economy. He will know that, according to his own Government’s data, over 2 million buy-to-let properties are missing out on support. No-fault evictions are up by 116% this year. So will he tell us if the Prime Minister has the spine now to stand up to the vested interests in his own party and finally deliver its promise to ban no-fault evictions?

I do not think the Prime Minister is going to take any lectures on weakness from the Labour party. There is a lot of talk about reshuffle in the air from the Labour party. The last time the leader of the Labour party tried to sack the right hon. Lady, she walked out with a promotion. We will continue to stand behind renters and to support them, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will take all necessary steps.

That answer is pathetic for all those people who are facing homelessness on the right hon. Gentleman’s watch. We will ban no-fault evictions—unlike the Conservative party. Jessica and her four children from Plymouth were evicted from their home in April. They are temporarily living with Jessica’s mother in a cramped house where the two eldest children are sleeping on blow-up beds in the front room, surrounded by their belongings—hardly the decent, secure life that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government promised. Do families like Jessica’s not deserve better?

I will tell the right hon. Lady what we are doing for families like Jessica’s: we are increasing the national living wage. It was the Conservative party that introduced the national living wage, not the Labour party. It is this party that has doubled—doubled—the personal allowance, cutting taxes for those people, and it is this party that has lifted a million people out of unemployment. I am immensely proud of the record of this Government. That is why people will not trust the Labour party not to crash the economy again.

I asked a question about no-fault evictions; I was very clear on what the Labour party would do, but I cannot see us getting through a single one of these encounters without the Deputy Prime Minister blaming the Opposition for his Government’s own record.

When asked yesterday about the record low number of council houses being built, the Housing Minister said she did not recognise that statistic. When asked about support for people in temporary accommodation, she said it was not her brief—the brief of the Housing Minister. If council housing is not her responsibility, whose is it?

The Labour party may have failed to notice that it is actually under this Government that more council houses have been built than when they were in office; it is under this party that we have record levels of housing being built. We stand very proudly on the record of this Government.

But let us look at what we have done more broadly: inflation and waiting lists coming down, growth forecasts up, Albanian crossings down. While we are delivering on our priorities, what have we seen from the Labour party? It has U-turned five times in the last month already. The record is clear: the only thing we can rely on the party opposite to deliver is broken promises.

Talking about broken promises, house building is set to collapse to its lowest level since the war, rents and mortgages are soaring, home ownership is plummeting and over a million people are trapped waiting for a council house. There is one simple solution to this problem, and everyone knows it, so when will the right hon. Gentleman finally stand up for the national interest instead of the Tory party’s interests and build more houses?

The right hon. Lady may not have listened to the answer I gave and just moved straight on to the next pre-scripted question, but we have built more houses under this Government than the Labour party. I am afraid it is the same old thing from her: she stacks up the endless job titles, she takes the union cash and she constantly talks Britain down. That is why we will do everything we can to keep Labour out of people’s pockets, out of their lives and out of Government.

Q3. I might respectfully say to the deputy leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), that if she wants to know what we are doing on rental reform, she can look at the Renters (Reform) Bill that this Government are introducing. (905815)

My question is about the Slapton line in my constituency. Can it be right that Natural England is holding back major infrastructure development in south Devon and not allowing us to keep key infrastructure being developed?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak up for the Slapton line. It is one of the most beautiful roads in the country. I understand that the Slapton Line Partnership, which includes Natural England and the Environment Agency, is working closely with the local community on the plans.

I begin by thanking all the staff in our health services across these isles. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the health services in the UK, I want to reflect on two quotes from two people. The first is:

“it’s about using the private sector more…something that we, actually, should be very comfortable with.”

The second is:

“A number of people do go as NHS patients to the private sector…and we could do more of it”.

Can I ask the Deputy Prime Minister: which quote is from the PM, and which is from the Leader of the Opposition?

May I begin by saying genuinely how sorry I was to hear that the hon. Lady will be standing down at the next election? She and I joined the House at the same time, and I know she has contributed much to her party and to this place. May I also say that I am sure she will wish to join me in celebrating His Majesty King Charles receiving the Scottish regalia, pretty much as we speak?

There is always time for a Damascene conversion.

When it comes to the NHS, I will take no lectures from either the SNP or Labour. It has been there for me. I was born in an NHS hospital, and my children were born in an NHS hospital. It has been there for me and my family, and this Government have put record funding into it.

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his kind words. We did join this place at the same time; I am pretty sure we will be leaving at the same time, too. [Laughter.]

The No. 1 problem that faces the health service across these isles is workforce, and research shows that Brexit has worsened the UK’s shortage of doctors. European nurses registering to work in the UK fell by 90% after the Brexit referendum. What more will it take for both him and the Labour party to admit the damage that Brexit is causing our health services?

It all started off so nicely. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has been listening to what the Government have announced this week, but we announced an additional £2.4 billion for our groundbreaking NHS workforce plan. It is the first time in the NHS’s history that that has happened. If we look at the record since this party came to power, we have almost 40,000 more doctors and more than 50,000 more nurses. Once again, the Conservative party is delivering for the NHS.

Q8. Tonight, at West Lindsey District Council’s planning meeting, the RAF will apply for listed building consent to move the grave of Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s dog. Apparently, the Home Office is content for 2,000 migrants to be cooped up next to 1,000 of my constituents living near or on the base, but the RAF thinks it intolerable that it should leave the grave of a dog that has lain in peace for 80 years. More importantly, will the Home Office start listening to us? If it insists on this proposal on illegal migrants, will it put them on a discrete part of the base and let us get on with £300 million of levelling up with a hundred buildings—many of them listed—a 2 mile-long runway and a spaceport, and let the dog lie in peace? (905820)

My right hon. Friend knows that we have to take action to address the unacceptable cost of housing migrants in hotels. I thank him for the constructive approach he has taken to RAF Scampton playing a role in respect of that. Of course, Home Office Ministers will have heard his broader representations, and I am sure they will respond to him.

May I, on behalf of my colleagues, extend our deep appreciation to all those past and present who continue to be dedicated to our NHS, including our staff in the health and social care system in Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, GPs, nurses, doctors and carers are adversely constrained by a lack of sufficient funding for our health service. The Northern Ireland Fiscal Council has highlighted that our allocation falls beneath need, which compounds the difficulty year on year. Will the Deputy Prime Minister assure me of the Government’s willingness to engage on this issue and ensure that public services get what they need to continue delivering for the people of Northern Ireland?

I am happy to give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. As he knows, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has been allocated £7.3 billion—an increase of £20 million above 2022-23—but of course the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive is exacerbating the severe challenges that the healthcare service in Northern Ireland is already facing. A fully functioning devolved Government is the right way to deliver the reforms needed for the Northern Ireland health service.

Q13. Of the 16,700 cases of melanoma diagnosed in the UK every year, sadly over 2,000 will prove fatal. Regularly applying sunscreen is our most effective weapon against this deadly disease, yet the Treasury remains stubbornly opposed to exempting these lifesaving products from VAT. With a further heatwave expected later this month, will my right hon. Friend assure me, as a melanoma survivor, that he will do everything in his power to remove VAT from high-factor sunscreen to save lives and support the NHS as it celebrates its 75th anniversary? (905825)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the dangers of melanoma. As a fair-headed person with a fair-headed family, I am acutely conscious of the need to wear sun cream. I will not trespass on Treasury decisions in this setting, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard her representations.

Q2.   After 13 years of Tory Government, the Government’s record is pretty dismal. Let us consider it: inflation spiralling out of control; interest rates set to hit 6.5% by the end of the year; energy prices double those in the rest of Europe; food shortages; strikes across the public sector and NHS; and graduates leaving university with mountains of debt and little to no prospect of home ownership. Will the Deputy Prime Minister admit his Tory Government’s failure and urge the Prime Minister to call a general election now? (905814)

Rather than focusing on playing politics, we are actually delivering for the British people. I listened to the hon. Lady’s litany. I was interested to note that her leader has been in power for 100 days, and what has the SNP’s record been? Three failing First Ministers, two unfinished ferries and a failed deposit return scheme. I think we can all agree that the people of Scotland deserve better.

Q14. Conservative Governments have a proud record of supporting the UK’s steel industry. I have—[Interruption.] I do not know why Labour Members are laughing, because steel production halved under Labour. I have stood up many times in the House to talk about the importance of steel not just to my home town of Scunthorpe but to our whole nation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we will always need steel in this country and that, if we cannot make it ourselves, we will have to ship it over from the other side of the world, with all the emissions and environmental and ethical concerns that that will inevitably bring? Will he reaffirm the Government’s commitment to taking further measures to ensure that we have sustainable, long-term steelmaking in this country? (905826)

I am very happy to reaffirm this Government’s commitment to steel manufacturing. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, as I know what a champion she is for steel production in Scunthorpe. Long may she continue to be. We have made meaningful offers of support to Tata and British Steel. The Secretary of State recently visited them to see at first hand the work under way.

Q4.   I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister will be as pleased as I am that work is well under way to construct the Sutherland spaceport; in fact, it is ahead of schedule. Recently, the north coast space cluster has been developed, which involved enterprise agencies and companies. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that that can build massively on the skills built up over many years at Doonreay, and that the establishment of international links with companies in the United States can only be good news for the far north of Scotland? (905816)

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. The development of that new spaceport is a key part of our ambition to grow the UK’s space launch capabilities. In the first three years we are expected to reach £20 million of investment, creating 40 jobs. We are working with the United States, particularly through the technology safeguards agreement, to allow UK companies to exchange technology with it.

Q15. Could I associate myself with your comments about the NHS, Mr Speaker? I pay tribute to all NHS workers both in Newcastle-under-Lyme and across the country. I welcome the new long-term workforce plan, particularly 40% more places in dental schools. Access to dentistry has been an issue for a number of my constituents. Would my right hon. Friend consider the merits of opening new dental schools, not just new dental places? Keele University is one of the best medical schools in the country, and would make an excellent site for a new dental school. (905827)

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a very strong case for his constituency. As a result of the NHS long-term workforce plan, we are currently assessing capacity at existing dental schools to see whether they can accommodate the expansion in training places. Of course, we retain an open mind about whether we need further such education facilities.

Q5. It was a pleasure to join colleagues from across the House this morning for the NHS 75th anniversary parkrun on this special day. However, my joy was short-lived when I returned to my office to find the usual array of emails from desperate constituents who cannot get a doctor or dentist appointment, access to children’s mental health services or proper care for their loved ones. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, as today’s report from three highly respected think-tanks suggests, after a decade of under-investment, our beloved health service faces either managed decline under the Tories, or a Labour Government with a radical new health and wellbeing strategy to put it back on its feet? (905817)

Mr Speaker, it may not surprise you to hear that I do not agree with that characterisation. Let me tell you about this Government’s record on the NHS: record funding; record doctors; record nurses; records scans; and record operations. The only record from the Opposition party is in Wales, where they now have the worst A&E waiting times in the country.

I associate myself with your comments about the NHS, Mr Speaker.

My constituents in Weymouth and Portland and I are getting a little tired of being told that placing a migrant barge in our port is in the national interest. It is neither in the national interest nor in ours. The barge, designed for 222, will accommodate 506 illegal migrants, already testing our overstretched resources. It was imposed on us without any consultation. There are many concerns both about the barge and about what the 506 young men will do, going around a seaside resort at the height of the summer, unmonitored and with little money. Will my right hon. Friend stop it, and ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to do likewise?

I am sure my hon. Friend appreciates that we need to reduce the bill of housing asylum seekers in hotels and that we need to look at different measures to accommodate them. Of course, I am very happy to engage with him, and I am sure the Home Secretary is too, to ensure we can find a satisfactory solution in his constituency that protects his constituents’ interests.

Q6. Last week, the coroner found that the cause of Luke Ashton’s suicide in April 2021 was gambling disorder. Immediately before his death, Luke, bombarded with inducements, placed over 1,200 bets. At no point did the operator intervene. From his previous brief, the Deputy Prime Minister will have extensive knowledge of the harm those inducements cause, so does he agree that the commitments to curb advertising and promotions in the gambling White Paper do not go far enough to reduce harm and prevent more tragedies like Luke Ashton’s suicide? (905818)

The hon. Lady will know from our conversations when I was Digital Secretary that I share her concerns about gambling inducements. Indeed, I pay tribute to her for her campaigning on this issue. I think we have a very good set of proposals in the gambling White Paper. That sits alongside the 2019 “NHS Long Term Plan” which committed to 15 specialist units across England by 2024 to support those with gambling addiction. I think we have good proposals in place.

May I draw the House’s attention to the fact that we have the Chief Minister of His Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar in the Gallery, Fabian Picardo? May I seek an assurance from the Deputy Prime Minister that, as the UK-EU negotiations on the border between Gibraltar and Spain continue, the sovereign, freely expressed opinions of the Gibraltarian people to remain British will be protected, as well as their security and economic interests?

I am very happy to give my hon. Friend, and indeed the First Minister of Gibraltar, exactly that assurance. This Government will always stand up for the people of Gibraltar and their right to determine their own future.

Q7. Sarcomas are cancers that can affect any part of the body, inside or outside, including muscles, bones, tendons, blood vessels and fatty tissues. Sarcoma is rare. In the UK, around 15 people are diagnosed every day and 5,300 a year, including in families in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Awareness is low and as this is Sarcoma Awareness Month, may I ask the Deputy Prime Minister to meet me and families affected so that we can discuss what more the Government can do to raise awareness and vital funds for research going forward? (905819)

I am very happy to give that commitment, I think probably best on behalf of Health Ministers. One of my colleagues in Downing Street who was a Prime Minister’s principal private secretary sadly died of that disease, so I have a great awareness of it and it is important that we continue to raise its profile.

Last week, as an alumni of Durham University, I had the pleasure of going to the installation of Dr Fiona Hill as its new chancellor. Dr Hill started in Bishop Auckland and could not afford a school uniform to go to the high school where she had a scholarship. She finished up working in the White House and is an example of social mobility. That is what she will be championing as the new chancellor. Will the Deputy Prime Minister encourage the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) to work with me and the all-party parliamentary group for left behind neighbourhoods to do everything we can to support her?

I join my hon. Friend in relaying the Government’s congratulations to her. I will ensure the Secretary of State hears the representations he makes.

Q9. Universities in Cardiff and across the UK are home to world-leading research and innovation, but thousands of jobs and huge amounts of expertise are now at risk because of the Government’s dithering in the negotiations over Horizon. The Financial Times reported last week that Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel laureate and head of the Francis Crick Institute, described the delays as “absurd” and “damaging science and damaging the country”. Are the Government still committed to negotiating a deal? If they are, why do they not get on with it? (905821)

Since we agreed the Windsor framework we have had very constructive discussions on Horizon, but the difference between my party and the hon. Gentleman’s party is that we will not accept a deal at any price. We will wait until we get the best deal for the British people and British universities.

I am running a campaign called “A Year of Reasons to Visit the Moorlands”. Each week, for a year, I am focusing on one of the many reasons to visit the moorlands. So far I have included Hetty’s Tea Shop in Froghall, the Heaton House Farm wedding venue, some brilliant artists and Alton Towers, and this week is league club day. May I invite my right hon. Friend and you, Mr Speaker, to visit my constituency to see one of the reasons for yourselves?

I should be delighted to do so. I think that Hetty’s Tea Shop may be more my cup of tea than Alton Towers, but I am sure I can arrange a visit.

Q10. I think everyone in this House can recognise that my city of Dundee is a city to be proud of. It has world-leading universities, pioneering businesses and a determined SNP city council leading the way, and there is a real ambition to deliver for the future. We want to continue our journey, and the potential delivery of a world-class site for the Eden Project in our city will help to cement its reputation, bring further investment and jobs, and boost our local economy. Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that the UK Government will deliver on previous promises and finally commit to supporting capital funding for that project in my city? (905822)

I am a big supporter of the Eden Project, and I hope very much that we can have one in Dundee. Of course the United Kingdom Government always stand ready to support people in Scotland, and to support people in Dundee.

As the child of two NHS doctors, the sister of an NHS doctor and the wife of an NHS doctor, may I, too, say thank you to everyone who works in our NHS? Will my right hon. Friend send particular congratulations to the students at the new medical school at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford, who will graduate as doctors in a couple of weeks? This is the first time we have ever trained doctors in Essex, and it has been hugely successful. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss doubling the size of our medical school?

I am very happy to offer my sincere congratulations to those students, who thoroughly deserve their graduation ceremony. I know what a difficult course is required for someone to qualify as a doctor. Health Ministers would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss exactly that proposal.

Q11. One of my constituents, who was a first-year university student, tragically took his own life in May. He had signed a private sector tenancy for his next year’s accommodation, with his parents as guarantor. The tenancy includes a clause which states that the responsibilities of the guarantor are unaffected by the death of a tenant, and the lettings agency is disgracefully insisting on enforcing that abhorrent requirement. My constituents not only have to live with the devastating loss of their son, but face terrible financial hardship because of this cruelty. Will the Deputy Prime Minister support my call for the inclusion of a clause in the long overdue Renters (Reform) Bill to outlaw that practice and protect bereaved families? (905823)

What the hon. Lady has described sounds totally abhorrent, and I shall be very happy to look into the details and discuss what measures might be brought forward to address it.

At a time of record employment, an unemployment rate nearly half that of the EU average and strong inward investment, can my right hon. Friend explain why every single period of Labour government since the second world war has ended in economic failure, with sterling weaker and unemployment usually higher?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I might add that Labour Governments also spend every last penny in the Treasury. I well remember the note saying that there was no money left when we entered government. We should never allow that to happen to the British people again.

Q12. Our absentee Prime Minister did not turn up for the Owen Paterson vote, he did not turn up for the Boris Johnson vote, he will not stand up to the MPs who called the Privileges Committee a kangaroo court, and yesterday he embarrassed himself by acting like a stroppy schoolboy in front of the Liaison Committee. With NHS waiting lists at a record high and the Tory mortgage penalty hitting my constituents hard, he has bitten off more than he can chew, has he not? (905824)

I am not sure that there was a question in that; I might respectfully say that it was a rant. I will proudly defend this Government’s record. We have grown the economy in the past two years faster than any other country in the G7, with record low levels of unemployment and fewer people in workless households, all of which would be put at risk if the Labour party ever entered power.