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Prime Minister

Volume 736: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2023

The Prime Minister was asked—


The ban on LGBT people serving in our military until the year 2000 was an appalling failure of the British state—it was decades behind the law of this land. As today’s report makes clear, in that period many endured the most horrific sexual abuse and violence, homophobic bullying and harassment, all while bravely serving this country. Today, on behalf of the British state, I apologise, and I hope that all those affected will be able to feel proud parts of the veteran community, which has done so much to keep our country safe.

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 remarks the Prime Minister just made? In the UK, sadly, every 90 minutes someone takes their own life. Indeed, for men under the age of 50 and for women under the age of 35, this is now the biggest killer. When I was the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, I met many brave families and campaigners, and I committed to them that the Government would publish a comprehensive, cross-departmental suicide prevention strategy. That was more than a year ago and still there is no strategy. I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister cares as deeply about this issue as I do; we have discussed it many times. Will he please commit his Government to publishing the strategy within days of Parliament’s return from the summer recess?

When someone takes their own life, the effect on their family and friends is devastating. I know that the loss of my right hon. Friend’s own brother was an enormous source of pain for him. I want to reassure him that we are actively addressing suicide rates, through our national suicide prevention strategy, backed by funding, and, in particular, by rolling out 100 suicide prevention voluntary community and social enterprises. I can tell him that we will publish the new updated national suicide prevention strategy later this year.

Labour in government was proud to repeal the ban on LGBT+ people serving in our armed forces, and today we strongly welcome this apology from the Prime Minister as a recognition of their historic mistreatment. My constituent Ken Wright was a proud RAF serviceman who was forced to leave the job he loved simply because he was gay. I am delighted that he is here today to witness this apology. Although we cannot right the wrongs of the past, the Government should now act on the recommendations of the Etherton review to fix the lives broken by the ban—it is what LGBT+ veterans deserve.

I also know that the whole House will want to send our very best wishes to the Lionesses as they start their World cup campaign this Saturday. Let us hope they continue the brilliant success they had in the Euros.

When the Prime Minister took office nine months ago, the NHS waiting list had 7.2 million people on it. What is the number today?

The reason that NHS waiting lists are higher today than they were then, after actually being stable for the first few months as we put in place new initiatives, is very simple: because the NHS has been disrupted by industrial action. We have put very clear plans in place to bring down waiting lists in urgent and emergency care, primary care, ambulances, out-patient and elective. Those plans were working and will continue to work, but we do need to end the industrial action. So I would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, if he does care about bringing the waiting lists down, does he agree with me that consultants and junior doctors should accept the pay deal that the Government offered?

Order. The Prime Minister likes to get away early, but the longer Members stop me getting on with the questions, the longer I am going to keep him here, so it is up to them.

I am sure the whole House is pleased that the Prime Minister has graced us with his presence today, but we do not get any more answers when he is here than when he is not. He knows the answer: 7-point million people are currently on the waiting lists. That is the highest it has ever been. It means that since he set foot into Downing Street, 260,000 people have been waiting in daily agony for things like hip and knee replacements, while he boasts. Has he figured out why, after nine months, dozens of gimmicks and umpteen broken promises, his Government are failing more patients than ever before?

It is very simple. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman actually looked at what was happening, he would see that earlier this year our plans were beginning to work: ambulance waiting times down, from an hour and a half over Christmas to around half an hour; virtually eliminating the number of people waiting one and half years for treatment; making huge progress on GP access. All those things—all those plans we put in place, all the funding, all the extra ambulances, the extra discharges—are starting to make a difference, but all are held up by one very simple fact: industrial action in the NHS. Again, I will give him a second chance: if he really wants to get people the healthcare they want, will he agree with me that those doctors should accept the recommendations of the independent pay review body? [Interruption.]

Order. This would be a bad time to get thrown out—it is six weeks, so think long and hard. I just say to the Prime Minister: this is Prime Minister’s questions, not Opposition questions.

Mr Speaker, I think that, given his time away, the Prime Minister has slightly forgotten how this works. He talks about his NHS staffing plan, but he doesn’t need to lecture me—[Interruption.]

Order. This might be the last Prime Minister’s questions before recess, but let me just say to somebody that if they really want to go early, it will be very tempting to ensure that happens, so they should think long and hard beforehand.

The Prime Minister talks about his plans, but he does not need to lecture me on that. On the NHS staffing plan, he nicked it from Labour. It is the same old story: they mess up the NHS and look to Labour to fix it. Come the election, the country will be doing the same. The difference is that, unlike us, he has not said how he would pay for his workforce plan. Now is his chance. Where is the money coming from?

Not only is the NHS long-term workforce plan fully funded, but it was welcomed by not one, not two, but 43 different NHS stakeholders. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about our plans and whether they are making a difference, so let us just look at urgent and emergency care. Our plans mean that we will put 800 more ambulances on the road, and there will be 5,000 more beds, faster discharges and more community care. That is why the Royal College of Emergency Medicine described it as “significant” and said that it “would undoubtedly improve conditions”. That is why we have seen A&E waiting times in England the best in two years, while—the Opposition will not like this—the NHS has the worst waiting times in the country in Wales.

When the Prime Minister said that the workforce plan was fully costed, I have never seen the Chancellor look more bewildered. It is less than a year since his party crashed the economy with its unfunded spending commitments, and he has not learned a thing. Let me ask this another way: is his uncosted spending coming from more tax rises, more cuts, or is it just the latest promise to fall from the Tories’ magic money tree?

As I and the Chancellor set out, the plan is fully funded—the right hon. and learned Gentleman will see that at the autumn statement. I am pleased that he is now interested in fiscal responsibility, because that is very welcome. There is an opportunity for us to make sure that this is true conviction. We have just had, in the past week, the recommendations of independent pay review bodies, including for the NHS. I believed that the right thing to do was to accept those independent recommendations, but that involves taking difficult and responsible decisions to deliver those pay rises without fuelling borrowing, inflation, taxes and debt. But, yet again, on this crucial issue, while his MPs are back on the picket lines, he simply refuses to take a position. It is the same old story. He should stop taking inspiration from his friends outside and unglue himself from the fence. [Hon. Members: “More!”]

In that burst of nonsense, what we did not hear was a single word about how the Prime Minister will pay for it. Labour’s NHS workforce plan is fully funded by scrapping the non-dom status that he so adores. You know the one, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.]

Order. I think that one or two of you have asked to catch my eye. You are not going about it in the right way.

Labour’s workforce plan is fully funded by scrapping the non-dom status that the Prime Minister so adores. You know the one, Mr Speaker: the “non-dom tax thing”, as he calls it, that allows some of the wealthiest people in the country to avoid paying tax here. Is that loophole so important to him that he would rather have billions in unfunded promises than simply make billionaires pay what they owe?

That is the same policy that has paid, I think, for five different things at this point. Everybody knows that I am a fan of doing maths to 18, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a very strong case for doing maths all the way to 61. When it comes to the substance of the plan, it is important that we address this. I am aware—I will say this—that he did set out some proposals to train more staff. The problem is that that is all he did. Our plan is much more comprehensive and much more impactful. Not only will we train more staff—[Interruption.] This is important substance. I acknowledge that the Labour party did set out some plans to train more, but that is not enough. You also have to set out plans to retain more NHS staff, as we did, and, crucially, you also have to set out plans for how you reform the NHS, so that you can have a more productive NHS. That is the difference between us: he is only ever focused on the superficial headline, while we are getting on with the actual reform.

If the Prime Minister is so good at maths, he will know that I am 60, not 61. I do not know whether he has found time during the recent by-elections to visit Hillingdon Hospital, where the wards have had to close, staff are working in appalling conditions and patient safety is at risk, and that is simply a snapshot of the wider problem. This week, the National Audit Office set out in detail what everyone already knows: the Government’s hospital programme has, shall we say, some gaps in it. So can the Prime Minister confirm that, apart from the fact that there are not 40 of them, that most of them are not new, and that many of them are not even hospitals, everything is going fine with the 40 new hospitals?

Not only are we going to deliver on our manifesto commitment to build 40 new hospitals across the country by 2030, we are not stopping there; we are also delivering 100 hospital upgrades across the country, and crucially more than 100 new community diagnostic centres to speed up treatment for people, including in the constituency of the deputy Leader of the Opposition, and the constituencies of the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, the shadow Energy Secretary, the shadow Justice Secretary and the shadow Attorney General. That is how committed we are.

Let me end on this. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned Hillingdon Hospital in Uxbridge. I want to help the people of this country. I want to make sure that not only can they get to work but they get the care that they need. Why on earth does he want to charge them £12.50 every time they visit their GP and hospital?

Q3. There was welcome news this morning of inflation falling by more than expected. Businesses in my constituency are trying to plan their pricing for next January and are struggling because of the proposals to introduce the extended producer responsibility. They do not yet have the information on how much it will cost or how it will work. Will the Prime Minister look at pausing and resetting that programme, so that in January we do not see price rises in our supermarkets without the consequent reduction in packaging and increase in recycling that we all want to see? (906107)

This is something that has been raised with me by those in the industry. We are committed to protecting the environment and delivering on our net zero targets, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is continuing to engage closely with manufacturers, retailers and packaging companies on the precise design of the scheme. I know that Ministers will continue to keep this House and my hon. Friend updated.

The two-child benefit cap introduced by the Conservative party has left 250,000 children living in poverty. Does the Prime Minister take comfort in knowing that the heinous legacy of that policy will no longer be protected just by Conservative Members but by Labour Members too?

I welcome the Labour leader’s new-found support for our policy, even though he previously committed to a different approach. What I would say to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), and indeed the Labour Front Bench, is that they do not have to worry too much given the Labour leader’s track record: he has never actually kept a promise that he has made.

Voters in Scotland are used to child poverty under the Tories—they almost expect it—but they do not expect child poverty support from the Labour party. If we look very closely right now, there is a shiver running along the Labour Front Bench looking for a spine. [Interruption.] Does this not tell us something much bigger: that for children living in poverty in Scotland, Westminster offers them no real change and no real hope?

The best route out of poverty is through work, and the best way to ensure that children do not grow up in poverty is to ensure that they do not grow up in a workless household. That is why we are focused on creating more jobs, with 200,000 more in Scotland since 2010 and hundreds of thousands fewer children across the United Kingdom growing up in a workless household. We will always continue to reduce child poverty. I do not want to see a single child grow up in poverty, and we will deliver that in every part of the UK, including in Scotland.

Q9. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if Opposition Members are in favour of illegal economic migration, they should have the courage to say so, rather than claiming that young men in their 20s and 30s, arriving here from safe countries, are actually asylum seekers? (906113)

My right hon. Friend is right that the Opposition do not have a plan to tackle illegal migration. We saw that just this last week, when I think they voted over 70 different times against our stop the boats Bill. That Bill will make it crystal clear that if you come here illegally, you will be detained and swiftly removed to a safe third country. That is the fair, compassionate and right way to deal with this problem, and that is what we believe in.

It is exactly a year to the day since UK temperatures hit a deadly 40°C for the first time, with 3,000 excess deaths last summer. Yet businesses and the Prime Minister’s own climate advisers have said that his climate progress is worryingly slow. He likes to claim that the UK is decarbonising more quickly than the rest of the G7, but since the Paris agreement that is simply not true. He also likes to claim that it is not a top concern for the public, while recent polling shows that that is not true either. Experts, businesses and the public all want bolder climate action, but it is not even one of his top five priorities. Can he tell us why not?

The hon. Lady just makes a completely bizarre point. Because we moved quicker and faster than everyone else, she thinks that somehow that is something we should now not be proud of. It is right that other countries are catching up; it is inevitable that they will have to decarbonise faster now to make up for the fact that over the past two decades they have not followed our example. I am not going to take any lectures from her on this topic, because our track record is a good one. We have decarbonised faster than everyone else and right now we are making the right long-term decisions to make sure that we not only transition to net zero, but do so in a way that brings people along with us and creates jobs in the process.

Q14. Bedfordshire businesses now have apprentices on the factory floor, earning £48,000 a year on qualification, easily beating cost of living pressures. What more can we do to get schools to promote apprenticeships to pupils and parents, as our colleges and institutes of technology are great poverty-busting institutions? (906118)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. One of the practical steps we are taking is to put all apprenticeships on to the UCAS system this autumn, which will make sure that they have parity of esteem in the classroom and increased information for parents and teachers. At the same time, as I announced earlier this week, we are clamping down on university courses that fail to deliver good outcomes. What we should be doing is providing young people with the best opportunities for them to get on in life, and he is absolutely right that that should include apprenticeships.

Q2. Why does the Prime Minister think that Sir Brian Langstaff, who chairs the public inquiry into infected blood, has reopened the hearings and summoned before him the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Leader of the House and the Paymaster General to answer questions next week? (906106)

My thoughts remain with all those affected by this appalling tragedy. The infected blood scandal should never have happened, and that is why the public inquiry was set up by one of my predecessors. I have submitted written evidence to the inquiry and am due to give oral evidence shortly, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this time.

Some 800,000 people work indirectly or directly in our car industry, which accounts for 10% of our country’s exports. I strongly welcome the £4 billion investment by Tata Motors in a battery factory, and the jobs associated with it. Will my right hon. Friend build on that success and pursue a clear plan to get more gigafactories, including in the west midlands, so that we can capitalise on our lead in battery innovation and technology?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of today’s announcement. It is one of the largest-ever investments in the UK auto industry in this country’s history, with billions of pounds and thousands of jobs, and it is a massive vote of confidence in the UK economy.

Q4.   The NHS in England has just had its longest-ever junior doctors’ strike and consultants go on strike tomorrow for the first time in 50 years, yet so far Scotland has had no NHS strikes. That is not by chance; it is because our Health Secretary and First Minister have kept working with the British Medical Association to try to address the pay erosion faced by doctors since 2008. Workforce shortages are the biggest challenge facing healthcare, and the Prime Minister just mentioned the importance of staff retention. Does he really think that refusing even to talk to health unions will stop doctors leaving the NHS? (906108)

We did talk to health unions, but we also respected the independent pay review body process, which is the right way to resolve these issues and means that a typical junior doctor will see a 9% pay rise as a result of this deal. Since the hon. Lady mentioned retention, earlier this year the Government delivered the BMA’s No. 1 ask, which was to remove the cap on pensions tax. That was specifically designed to retain senior doctors in the NHS. The Government have now done our bit, and I urge the unions, “Please get back to the hospitals and treat your patients.”

Does my right hon. Friend share my unease that a bank that has the Government as its largest shareholder should close the account of a senior opposition politician? Will he use the Government’s shareholding to ensure that there is an inquiry into those circumstances, because the subject data access request makes it clear, or certainly indicates, that it is the political views of the person concerned that led to his cancellation? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, however much we may find them tiresome, members of the opposition deserve bank accounts?

It would not be right if financial services were being denied to anyone exercising their right to lawful free speech. Our new Financial Services and Markets Act 2023 puts in place new measures to ensure that politically exposed persons are being treated in an appropriate and proportionate manner, and having consulted on the payments services regulations, we are in the process of cracking down on that practice by tightening the rules around account closures. But in the meantime, any individual can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which has the power to direct a bank to reopen their account.

Q5. I know how it feels to be homeless, squatting from one place to another with your entire belongings in one single black bin liner. Hard-working families, including in Bradford West, are at risk of homelessness because of the Tory mortgage bombshell and the failure to legislate to protect renters. Apart from totally losing grip of the whole situation, what is the Prime Minister doing to stop half a million people becoming homeless? (906109)

Actually, rough sleeping levels were about a third lower in 2022 compared with the peak in 2017. Since our landmark Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force, more than 600,00 households have successfully had their homelessness prevented or relieved, and we are investing £2 billion over the next three years to continue to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

The Prime Minister mentioned our armed forces. May I mention them again? We lost 457 personnel killed in Afghanistan, and several thousand suffered life-changing injuries. So I and some of my colleagues on the Defence Committee were absolutely stunned to see a video posted by our own Chairman lauding the Taliban’s governance of Afghanistan but not mentioning that they are still trying to identify and kill Afghan civilians who sided with NATO forces, nor the fact that they do not like girls to go to school. Can I make it plain that that was not in our name, and can I have the Prime Minister’s assurance that that silly and naive act was not in his name either?

I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to our brave serving personnel and veterans, and I thank them for their service, as we touched on earlier. We have repeatedly called out, and will continue to repeatedly call out, the human rights abuses that we see around the world. He mentions rightly the prohibition on women being educated in Afghanistan, which is something that we have spoken about in the past. We will also continue to have dialogue with regimes. That does not mean that we consider those regimes to be legitimate or that we approve of their actions, but that is all part, as he will understand, of establishing normal diplomatic presence in countries where the situation allows. I will very happily look into the specific case that he raises.

Q6. It is not just the adoption of the disgusting two-child benefit cap; it is the endorsement of a hard Brexit, the tuition fees, the immigration. Does the Prime Minister not agree that there is now no real difference between the two main UK parties? Is it not time that we perhaps rearranged the furniture in this House, had them all on one big Bench and re-titled them the “This is what you get from the UK party”? (906110)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I will leave him and the Labour party to debate the finer points of policy between them. On the substance, because it is important, the track record demonstrates that we are making a difference and reducing child poverty. There are now 400,000 fewer children in poverty than there were in 2010, as a result of the actions of this Government—notably, by moving their parents into work, because that has the single best benefit for those children. That is the right policy and it is one that we will continue to deliver.

Conversion therapy is quackery packaged up by bigots seeking to promote their hate and to profit from it. On 19 January, a Minister promised at the Dispatch Box to bring forward a ban against conversion therapy and ensure that pre-legislative scrutiny was completed before the end of this parliamentary term. How does my right hon. Friend plan to continue that? May I also welcome his statement today and thank those LGBT veterans who are with us? We are so grateful for their service and we seek this ban also in their name.

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I agree with her that conversion therapy is an abhorrent practice, and we need to do everything we can to stamp it out wherever we see it. The Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), will continue to keep my hon. Friend and the House updated on her progress.

Q7. Does the Prime Minister remember seven years ago, when he was a passionate supporter of leaving the European Union, along with his then best friend, Boris Johnson? Is he aware that Sir John Major now says, in every speech he makes, that that decision was catastrophic for the people of this country and living standards, as well as deeply damaging to our role, status and influence in the world? (906111)

I would say gently to the hon. Gentleman that he made the central point at the beginning of his question: it was seven years ago, and we need to move forward. He talked about what has happened since then. Since we left the single market, this economy has grown faster than Germany, France and Italy. He also talked about our standing on the world stage. He obviously was not here for the statement on the NATO summit last week, but nobody can be in any doubt that the United Kingdom is highly respected on the world stage.

Just last week the Leader of the Opposition announced his new flagship policy—the two-child benefit cap. It is very popular on this side of the House, but it is not so popular on the other side. Can the Prime Minister tell the House when the Leader of the Opposition will jump off the bandwagon, be honest with the British public and tell them what he stands for?

My hon. Friend is right. I welcome the Leader of the Opposition now supporting the Government’s policy, but I do not think anyone actually believes that he believes in what he says. That is the—

Order. The Prime Minister need not worry, because he has no responsibility for the Opposition.

Q8. Every single Member of the House is required by law to confirm the true source of a donation before it is accepted or declared. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he followed all the rules all the time before he took £38,500 of free air travel on 28 April? If so, why does his story keep changing about who paid? (906112)

All donations are declared in the normal way. As the hon. Gentleman knows, if there are administrative changes to that they are quickly corrected.

To bring the Prime Minister back to the question asked, rightly, by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg), the opposition politician referred to is Nigel Farage, whose bank account was closed not because he was a PEP—a politically exposed person—or for commercial reasons, but because his views did not align with the values of Coutts bank: thinly veiled political discrimination and a vindictive, irresponsible and undemocratic action. In addition, Nat West also disclosed confidential details about Farage’s account to the BBC and lied about the commercial viability of his account, actions that should jeopardise its banking licence and should certainly worry Nat West’s 19 million other customers. The Prime Minister has told us what he will do in the future, but there are many other people in this circumstance. Will he require every bank with a British banking licence to inform the Treasury of all the accounts that they have shut down for non-commercial reasons in the last decade?

I know that my right hon. Friend has spoken to the Chancellor about this issue, and that he will continue to have those conversations. In the short term, having consulted on the payment service regulations, we intend to crack down on that practice by toughening the rules around account closures. In the meantime, the Financial Ombudsman Service is available for people to make complaints to, but I look forward to continuing the dialogue with my right hon. Friend, as does the Chancellor.

Q10. As a father, the Prime Minister will know how precious children are. Adam Watson, aged nine, and Poppy Ogle, aged 10, from my constituency sadly lost their battle with childhood cancer just last year. Their homes are forever broken. Both families want to see a change in financial support for the 1,600 children diagnosed with cancer across the UK each year. Will the Prime Minister commit to meeting these families to listen to their stories, and to reviewing child disability living allowance payments so that they commence immediately on diagnosis of childhood cancer, whether or not the diagnosis is terminal? The three-month wait for support is just too long. Surely this Government can see fit to wrap their arms around these children and their families in their hour of need. (906114)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for families whose children are being treated for cancer, with everything that comes along with that. I will happily look into the specific issue that she has mentioned and get back to her in all haste. She should know that she has my total support for helping and supporting families who are going through what will be an unbelievably difficult time.