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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 18 October 2023

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked—

Crime Prevention

The Government are committed to investing in our police to drive down crime across Wales. That includes an extra 1,127 police officers for Welsh forces under the police uplift programme. Approximately £9 million has been allocated to Welsh forces through the safer streets fund, targeting neighbourhood crime, violence against women and girls, and antisocial behaviour.

Antisocial behaviour has a devastating impact on communities across Wales and in Cardiff North. My constituent, Sarah, suffered a miscarriage due to the stress of repeated antisocial behaviour. She was not entitled to any support, because this Government consider those who suffer from antisocial behaviour to be second-class victims. My amendment to change that in the Victims and Prisoners Bill was rejected by this Government. How can they claim to prevent crime while failing to support victims?

I assure the hon. Lady that victims of antisocial behaviour are as much victims of crime as anyone else. I absolutely stand with victims of antisocial behaviour; it is a matter that we take very seriously indeed. I have not seen the amendment tabled by the hon. Lady, but she must be aware that this Government have brought in longer prison sentences for the most serious crimes, and made it easier for the police to arrest people carrying out crime—matters that the Labour party has voted against.

The chief constable of Dyfed–Powys police recently told the Welsh Affairs Committee that Dyfed-Powys police force now has more police officers than at any time in its history, following the UK Government’s decision to invest in more officers and increase the local number of officers by 154. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Dyfed-Powys police force on reaching that milestone, and on all the hard work it does in helping to make Pembrokeshire one of the safest parts of the country?

My right hon. Friend will be as pleased as I am that the Government have delivered on their 2019 manifesto commitment to recruit 20,000 extra police officers, and I commend the work of police officers in Dyfed-Powys police. I had the privilege and honour to go to one of the passing out ceremonies recently, and I commend the work that it does.

It is not just antisocial behaviour that is wreaking havoc across Wales. Shoplifting in Wales is also soaring, and in the year to March 2023 it was up by 31%. Why will the Secretary of State’s Government not adopt Labour’s plan to scrap the minimum £200-worth of stolen goods rule, which was introduced by his Government in 2014 and allows gangs of shoplifters to escape punishment and puts shop workers at risk?

I agree with the hon. Lady that shoplifting is a serious offence, and repeat shoplifters and those who go out in organised gangs must be dealt with by the full force of the law. That is why I welcome the fact that this Government have brought in longer prison sentences for people carrying out the most serious offences. I do not understand why the hon. Lady will not join the Government in supporting longer prison sentences. Perhaps she should talk to her colleagues in the Welsh Government who seem to be against building any extra prison places.

The Secretary of State knows that the prison estate across Wales is not just full, but that overcrowding is significantly above safe limits. With his Government having to commandeer police cells, with judges being told to jail fewer people, and with criminals—including those convicted of assault—being released early on the instruction of his Justice Secretary, how can the Welsh public have any faith that they will be protected?

The prison population has increased as a direct result of policies that the Government have implemented, to ensure that those committing the most serious offences spend more time in prison. That is something that the hon. Lady should be supportive of. She needs to talk to her colleagues in the Welsh Government, who have stated clearly in writing that they are completely against building any prison places. This Government are building emergency prison places and filling up prisons, because people who commit serious offences deserve to go to prison. The Labour party in the Welsh Government is saying clearly that it is totally opposed to building any extra prisons anywhere.

Economic Links: Wales and the North-west

This Government are committed to strengthening the economy of north Wales and north-west England. We have recently announced that we will invest £36 billion in Network North, including £1 billion to electrify the north Wales main line. That will improve connectivity across the region, bringing many parts of north Wales within one hour of Manchester and Liverpool by rail.

The announcement of the electrification of the north Wales main line will help to improve transport links between this region and the north-west of England, supporting economic growth, tourism and jobs across both areas. Does my hon. Friend agree that residents across Wales and my constituents in Blackpool will see real improvements in their local transport infrastructure as part of their share of this £36 billion that is available?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. North Wales often feels overlooked by the Welsh Government. Indeed, the Welsh Government have said that the electrification of the north Wales line is not their priority. Just as it was Conservative Governments who built key elements of the A55 in the 1980s and 1990s, we now see a Conservative Government investing further in the infrastructure and prospects of north Wales and north-west England.

Connectivity is key to underpinning that economic growth, and the railway line between north Wales, through my constituency in St Helens and on to Manchester should epitomise that, but unfortunately it does not seem to be working at the minute. It is frequently overcrowded, and there are cancellations at the Manchester end and at the Chester end. Will the Minister speak to his colleagues in the Department for Transport as well as Transport for Wales, so that we might make some progress and make sure that my constituents can get to work and this line can deliver economic growth for the north-west and north Wales?

Of course, improving rail is not simply about the rail infrastructure; it is also about the train operating companies and how they operate. The hon. Gentleman is right that Transport for Wales has struggled from time to time. I can reassure him that I do have discussions with it. In fact, I am also meeting the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) later today, when I will reiterate those concerns.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Strong economic links are dependent on the Government actually having an economic plan, but the Conservatives’ track record speaks for itself. They cancelled the electrification of the main line to Swansea, they are spending half a billion pounds but still potentially making up to 3,000 steelworkers redundant and their pitiful semiconductor strategy does not even give us a bit part on the world stage. Why should anyone believe that their latest promises made for north Wales at a desperate party conference are worth the fag packet they are written on?

I welcome the hon. Member to her position. She shares Welsh lessons with me, and I hope she will continue to do so. I urge her to be somewhat more positive about the £1 billion that has been announced for infrastructure development in north Wales by means of the electrification. Also, in terms of the steel industry at Port Talbot, the half a billion pounds has saved many jobs and means that decarbonisation can occur.

HS2 is

“going to benefit Wales, it’s going to benefit people in North Wales who will benefit from better access at Crewe to London.”

That was the Secretary of State’s central argument for withholding billions of pounds from Wales by claiming that HS2 benefits us. Now that the link at Crewe is another casualty of Tory chaos, will Wales Office Ministers stay true to their own logic and urge the Treasury to class HS2 as English-only?

As the right hon. Lady knows, rail infrastructure is not devolved. I would argue that investment in Great Britain’s rail infrastructure is of value to those in north Wales and the rest of Wales. Furthermore, HS2 is an important connection to the west midlands from London. Passengers from London to north Wales are likely to still use that.

We all know that the money that has been committed is illustrative. In a major boost to Plaid Cymru’s campaign, the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales has proposed devolving the Crown estate and reinvesting profits in communities through a sovereign wealth fund. The commission criticised the current system of wealth transfer from the poorest country in Britain to Westminster as “illogical and bizarre”. Whose side is the Minister on: Welsh communities or a system that extracts our natural wealth?

We have had this discussion on previous occasions in various settings, but I would argue that the Crown estate allows this country to share risks and opportunities that it deals with. It does a fantastic job and I simply do not agree.

Cross-border Healthcare: Welsh Government Policy

3. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact of Welsh Government policy on health authorities on cross-border healthcare. (906596)

13. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact of Welsh Government policy on health authorities on cross-border healthcare. (906608)

Of course, I work within the NHS in north-east Wales and west Cheshire and see the stark realities of the disparity in healthcare services between the two. It is concerning that the Welsh Government have missed their target to eliminate two-year waits in most specialties and that more than 27,000 patients have been waiting over two years for treatment in Wales, compared with circa 280 in the whole of England. The Health Secretary has offered to consider requests from the Welsh Government to use alternate providers in England to reduce waiting lists and the distress that they bring.

With the Welsh Labour Government facing cuts to their NHS as a decision of their own, does the Minister not find it extraordinary that they are looking at spending £122 million on new politicians and £33 million on a blanket 20 mph speed limit that nobody voted for in Wales?

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is scandalous that the Labour Welsh Government are prioritising spending on more politicians in Cardiff Bay as well as an unpopular 20 mph default speed limit. Their decisions mean less funding for the NHS, education and other important devolved services. They have the potential instead to invest in important capital projects such as the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Rhyl. They must re-examine their agenda.

It gets worse: the UK Government have twice offered the Welsh Labour Government help in reducing patient waiting lists for important medical procedures, but neither offer has been taken up. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that, in fact, that offer still stands and that patients in Wales who are stuck and suffering on waiting lists have not been forgotten by the UK Government?

Having spoken with the Department of Health and Social Care, I can confirm that the offer still stands. My hon. Friend will find it of interest to know that the Labour Welsh Government did write in response to the latest offer several weeks after that offer was made. Unfortunately, the Minister did not confirm whether they would accept the offer. In the interests of tens of thousands of patients, I strongly encourage them to do so.

Cost of Living

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues, including the cost of living. The Government have made certain that the state pension, benefits and the minimum wage have all risen in line with inflation. Last winter, the Government’s energy support schemes saw them paying about half the average fuel bills for homeowners across the United Kingdom.

The Bridgend food bank and the Baobab Bach food pantry are running out of food. My constituents in Ogmore and those across the Bridgend borough literally cannot afford to pay for the weekly shop. What work is the Secretary of State doing to tackle the significant access-to-food crisis that is impacting constituents in the Bridgend county borough and right across Wales?

As I have already mentioned, the Government have made sure that pensions, benefits and the minimum wage have risen in line with inflation. There have been other payments as well, with £900 to households on benefits, £300 to pensioners and £100 to those in households where there have been disabilities. The Government have made certain at all times to prioritise the least well off. May I respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman should listen to the earlier questions and suggest that the Welsh Government stop spending money on extra politicians and put that back into communities where it is needed?

Polling of 2,000 people by Public Health Wales found that about eight in 10 Welsh citizens are either worried or very worried about the rising cost of living, with almost half saying that it will have a negative impact on their mental health. Similar concerns have been expressed in Scotland. What consideration have the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues given to the SNP’s call for a £400 energy rebate as winter approaches?

As I said, in addition to the Government’s priority on supporting the least well-off and the fact that the Government paid around half of people’s energy bills during the last winter, we will continue to prioritise those who are having difficulties. If the hon. Lady is really worried about a cost of living crisis and the impact on energy, she will do well to revisit her party’s policy of getting rid of the oil and gas industry in the UK, including in Scotland—something that would cost 200,000 jobs and have a terrible impact on energy prices for homeowners across the United Kingdom.

The Wrexham-Flintshire investment zone bid could bring huge benefits to my region, including more and better-paid jobs. An investment zone requires collaboration between the Welsh and UK Governments. There is a possibility that the UK Government could support two zones in Wales, but the Welsh Government have yet to give me a commitment to a second zone. If they do, will the UK Government also commit?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I have made a very strong case to Cabinet colleagues for two investment zones in Wales. She is right that we need the co-operation of the Welsh Labour Government. I suggest that she, and any Members who represent north Wales, write to the Welsh Labour Government’s economic development Minister and suggest that Welsh Government prioritise two investment zones for Wales. We would be delighted to work with them when they get around to doing that.

Strength of the Union

Our United Kingdom is stronger than ever. It is a testament to the strength of the Union that the UK Government have been able to support people across the country, including with £94 billion to respond to cost of living challenges.

At the Welsh Affairs Committee this morning, the First Minister Mark Drakeford blamed the UK Government for not giving adequate financial support to the Welsh Government in times of high inflation and a cost of living crisis. Can the Secretary of State tell us how much his Department is spending on promoting the UK Government in Wales? Why does he think that is a better use of taxpayers’ money than funding services for the people of Wales? I am happy to receive an answer by email if he does not have that information to hand.

First, I can assure the hon. Lady that the Welsh Labour Government are receiving a record-breaking settlement of more than £18 billion, and 20% more per head to spend on public services than is spent in England. Perhaps the First Minister should explain why we have longer NHS waiting lists in Wales and why education standards are lower. As far as spending on public affairs and promotion is concerned, I can assure the hon. Lady that a far greater amount is spent by the Welsh Labour Government than is ever spent by the Wales Office. Frankly, the proof of the strength of the Union is demonstrated by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) has joined the Conservative and Unionist party, and she is very welcome.

I have raised the damaging effect of the UK’s Brexit on the port of Holyhead and the north Wales economy in this Chamber 26 times. Holyhead has been disadvantaged by the lack of a green lane for exports to Northern Ireland. In August, at last, His Majesty's Revenue and Customs confirmed to me that there will now be a green lane for goods travelling from Wales to Northern Ireland through Holyhead and the Republic. I emphasise, as a precaution, that this is not a freeport issue—the Secretary of State is very keen on that. Rather, what specifically is he doing to promote and enable those new procedures for Holyhead?

I did not quite hear all that, but on the port in Ynys Môn, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take some comfort from the fact that the United Kingdom economy has grown more quickly outside the European Union than that of many nations that have remained in it. The Government have shown their absolute commitment to both north Wales and Ynys Môn through their development of a freeport project for the area and the announcement of £1 billion for electrification of the north Wales railway line, which will help to bring jobs and investment into north Wales.

Barry is Wales’s largest town, but it has been ignored by the Welsh Government for decades. It has significant regeneration challenges, like many places. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on awarding Barry towns regeneration status, but can he reassure me that that does not preclude Barry from benefiting from levelling up funding?

Obviously, I welcome the announcement, but my right hon. Friend is far too modest, since he has been knocking on the door of the Wales Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for a very long time to demand extra funding for Barry. He makes a very strong case for that, and I assure him that the UK Government will continue to listen to him.

Cross-border transport links between Wales and England are a key part of the strength of the Union. Does my right hon. Friend agree that cross-border projects, such as the Pant and Llanymynech bypass and the longer term ambition to dual the A483-A5 passing through Clwyd South and North Shropshire, are vital?

The United Kingdom Government are absolutely determined to support infrastructure projects in Wales. We have done so through the levelling-up funds. It will happen again through the shared prosperity fund and it has, of course, been happening through the growth deals. What we do need is a Welsh Labour Government that will support infrastructure. That is why I find it so disappointing that the Welsh Labour Government have ruled out building any new roads ever again. It worries me greatly that that is seen as a blueprint for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Energy Costs

7. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on energy costs for (a) households and (b) businesses in Wales. (906600)

The Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues, including energy costs. The Government spent nearly £40 billion protecting households and businesses from high energy bills over last winter, meaning that between October 2022 and June 2023, a typical household saw half of their energy bills paid for by the Government.

The Government did not listen to the renewable energy sector, which repeatedly warned them that the budget set for this year’s offshore wind auction was too low to attract bidders to develop offshore wind in the Celtic sea. Can the Minister tell the House why that advice was ignored, leading to not a single bid being made?

What I can tell the hon. Lady is that it is an issue of discussion that the Secretary of State and I are engaged with. We understand the importance of floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea and it will progress in due course.

Speed Limits

8. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the potential impact of the Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Wales) Order 2022 on the Welsh economy. (906601)

11. What discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the potential impact of the Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Wales) Order 2022 on the Welsh economy. (906605)

No sensible person would oppose a 20 mph speed limit where there is a case to be made on the basis of safety outside hospitals, old people’s homes or schools, but the blanket decision by the Welsh Government, which has been opposed by over 460,000 signatories to the largest petition in the Senedd’s history, is deeply unpopular, deeply expensive and completely wrong.

Given that more than 450,000 people in Wales have signed an online petition against the Labour Welsh Government’s blanket 20 mph roll-out, does my right hon. Friend agree that devolved Administrations across the United Kingdom should listen to the people and the communities they serve, rather than their own narrow centralised agenda?

I agree completely with what my hon. Friend says. The Welsh Labour Government need to listen to what people have said about this and they need to listen also to all those who are opposed to this ridiculous war on motorists, which is not just about a 20 mph speed limit but a block on any new roads being built and extra road charges.

Can I just say to Conservative Members that the hon. Member was in the middle of asking a question? It is disrespectful to your own side. You should think about what you are doing. People should wait. Just because you want to cheer somebody coming in. Do it at the right time. That is totally inappropriate.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Labour likes to showcase Welsh Labour as its blueprint for the rest of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State not agree that this is yet more evidence of its war against motorists wherever they are: Wales, Dudley North or the rest of the United Kingdom?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We need to be very careful of this blueprint for Britain, which includes a ban on new roads, a ban on meal deals, a tourism tax, road charges, over £100 million being spent on more politicians, a £1,600 minimum wage being paid to some asylum seekers and a ban on news channels in the Assembly that Senedd Members disagree with. That is not a blueprint for Britain; it is a recipe for disaster. I hope the people of Wales will take note and vote Conservative in the next election.

Mortgage Interest Rate Increases

9. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the impact of increases in mortgage interest rates on homeowners in Wales. (906602)

The Government recognise that this is a concerning time for mortgage holders, especially those who are due to come to the end of a fixed deal in the immediate future. We are supporting borrowers who are struggling with their mortgage payments through the new mortgage charter. It sets out the standards that signatory lenders will adopt, including new flexibilities to help customers manage their mortgage payments over a short period.

Throughout Scotland, people are paying the price of the Westminster-made cost of living crisis as a result of this Conservative Government and the actions of the Tories in crashing the economy last year. Will the Government bring forward that mortgage interest relief scheme for my constituents, and perhaps even for those in East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow?

The Government have, of course, provided “support for mortgage interest” loans for those receiving income-related benefits, and the pre-action protocol helps to make repossessions less likely. That is in addition to the action that I have already outlined.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I know that the whole House will have been shocked by the scenes at Al-Ahli Hospital. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we are working independently and with our allies to find out what has happened. I am sure that Members will raise further questions about this during today’s session.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

May I associate myself, and the whole of my party here, with what has been said about the horrors and the unfolding tragedy of last night’s bombing of the hospital in Gaza?

The Rafah border crossing from besieged Gaza into Egypt has been hit by several Israeli airstrikes, causing absolute terror to those who urgently need the crossing to be open in order to escape. Nadia El-Nakla, an elected councillor in my city of Dundee and the wife of Scotland’s First Minister, has had to take calls from her parents Elizabeth and Maged, who, like all others trapped in Gaza, have been describing the horrors of death and indiscriminate killings everywhere. Members of Nadia’s family were hit yesterday by a rocket from a drone, and her mother was saying her final goodbyes this morning, adding:

“last night was the end for me, better if my heart stops and then I will be at peace, I can’t take another night.”

With military action intensifying and the death toll rising rapidly, the Prime Minister’s first responsibility must be to bring British citizens home. Can he please give his personal assurance that every single step is being taken to open the Rafah crossing, both for humanitarian aid and to enable UK nationals like Nadia’s family to flee?

The thoughts of everyone in the House will of course be with the families affected by what is happening in Israel and in Gaza, and I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance: we are doing everything in our power to ensure the safety of British nationals who are caught up in all this. That includes my calls with leaders across the region, particularly the conversations about opening the Rafah border crossing—which is why I made talking to President Sisi a priority last week—and we continue to engage in dialogue with both the Israelis and the Egyptians about the crossing.

Q4. I am proud to live in the most successful multi-racial democracy in the world, but it saddens me, and I think it shames the whole House, that British Jews have been subjected to such vile abuse and hatred in recent days. Antisemitism and all hate crimes fly in the face of British values, and we should not allow events abroad, no matter how horrific they are, to be used to sow seeds of division in our own country. While I welcome all the actions that my right hon. Friend is taking to fight hate crime and to bring people together, may I ask him to consider urgently an immediate and specific policy of revoking the visas of any foreign national who commits an act of antisemitism or any other hate crime? (906572)

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, who has himself done so much over the years to fight antisemitism. The increase in the number of such incidents that we have seen over the past week is utterly sickening, and this Government will do whatever it takes to keep our Jewish community safe. We have provided an additional £3 million to support the Community Security Trust, we are working with the police to ensure that hate crime and the glorification of terror are met by the full force of the law, and under our existing immigration rules we have the power to cancel a person’s presence in the UK if it is not conducive to the public good. We will not tolerate this hatred—not in this country, not in this century.

Can I start by warmly welcoming my hon. Friend the new Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Michael Shanks)? The news last night of hundreds killed at the Baptist hospital in Gaza is incredibly distressing, but it is much worse for the people of Gaza. Their fear that there is no place of safety is profound. International law must be upheld, and that means hospitals and civilian lives must be protected. Last night the Foreign Secretary said that the UK will work with our allies to find out what has happened. I know that this only happened last night, but can the Prime Minister please tell us when he thinks he might be able to update the House on progress with that work?

I know that the whole House will have been shocked by the scenes at Al-Ahli Hospital. Any loss of innocent life is a dreadful tragedy and everyone will be thinking both of those who have lost their lives and of the families they leave behind. We should not rush to judgment before we have all the facts on this awful situation. Every Member will know that the words we say here have an impact beyond this House.

This morning, I met the National Security Adviser and the Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that our intelligence services have been rapidly analysing the evidence to independently establish the facts. We are not in a position at this point to say more than that, but I can tell him that we are working at pace and co-operating and collaborating with our allies on this issue as we look to get to the bottom of the situation. We will also continue all our efforts to get humanitarian aid into the region.

I thank the Prime Minister for his answer. The terrible news last night came as we are still mourning the terrorist attack on Israel last week, with Jews taken hostage, mutilated, slaughtered. Yesterday I met the families of some of the British hostages held by Hamas. Every minute of every hour of every day, they hope for good news but fear the worst. They know that the lives of their loved ones are in the hands of murderers. It is unimaginable agony. Israel has a right—a duty—to defend itself from Hamas, keep its people safe and bring the hostages home, but is it not clear that if Hamas had a single concern for human life, a single concern for the safety of the Palestinian people, they would never have taken these hostages, and that they should release them immediately?

It is important for us consistently to remember that Israel has suffered a shockingly brutal terrorist attack, and it is Hamas, and Hamas alone, who are responsible for this conflict. Our thoughts are rightly with those who have been taken hostage and their families. The distress they are feeling will be unimaginable for all those affected. I will be meeting some of the families and offering them all the support of the British Government to get their relatives home. We are working around the clock with our partners and allies to secure their freedom and, importantly, in among my other regional calls, I spoke specifically with the Emir of Qatar yesterday on this very issue, which we discussed at length. The Qatari Government are taking a lead in working intensely to help release hostages using their contacts in the region, and we are working closely with them to ensure the safe return of the British hostages.

Yesterday I also met charities with staff working in Gaza and heard their accounts of the harrowing humanitarian crisis: children fleeing their homes; hospitals barely able to function. The lights are going out, and the innocent civilians of Gaza are terrified that they will die in the darkness, out of sight. International law must always be followed. Hamas are not the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian people are not Hamas. Does the Prime Minister agree that medicines, food, fuel and water must get into Gaza immediately? This is an urgent situation, and innocent Palestinians need to know that the world is not just simply watching, but acting to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

As I said on Monday, an acute humanitarian crisis is unfolding to which we must respond. It is right that we support the Palestinian people, because they are victims of Hamas too. That is why we have provided a further £10 million in humanitarian aid for people in the region, and we are working on pre-emptively moving aid and relief teams to Egypt, specifically to the el-Arish airfield. We are working with local partners like the Egyptian Red Crescent and the United Nations, primarily, and deploying Navy assets to the region, as well as exploring how we can support logistical requirements.

I have also raised the issue of humanitarian access, as a priority, in all my conversations with every leader in the region. We will continue to work with them to get aid to where it is needed as quickly as possible.

As has been alluded to, since Hamas’s terrorist attack our country has seen a disgusting rise in antisemitism: Jewish businesses attacked, Jewish schools marked with red paint and Jewish families hiding who they are. And we have seen an appalling surge in Islamophobia: racist graffiti, mosques forced to ramp up security, and British Muslims and Palestinians spoken to as if they are terrorists. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that every Member of this House has a duty to work in their constituency and across the country to say no to this hate and to ensure that every British Jew and every British Muslim knows they can live their life free from fear and free from discrimination here in their own country?

All of us in this House can play our part in stamping out those who seek to cause division and hate in our society. We will make sure that we continue funding the Community Security Trust and the equivalent protective security grant that protects mosques and other places of worship for the Islamic community in the UK. That funding was increased earlier this year. We will also remain in dialogue with the police to make sure they are aware of the full tools at their disposal to arrest those who perpetrate hate crime and who incite racial or other religious violence. There is no place for that in our society, and I know this House will stand united in making sure those who do this face the full force of the law.

We do not want this conflict to harm us here at home, and we do not want it to escalate in the middle east, where there has been too much bloodshed, too much darkness, for too long. A two-state solution—a Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel—feels more distant than ever, but it remains the only way through. Does the Prime Minister agree that, because hope is at its thinnest, we must work our hardest to ensure that the voices of division and despair are sidelined and that, however difficult it seems, the hope of a political path to peace is maintained?

It is precisely because it is that vision of a more hopeful, peaceful future that Hamas have tried to destroy that we must redouble our efforts to try to bring that future about. In all the conversations that the Foreign Secretary and I have had with regional leaders, we have emphasised our commitment to making sure that we make progress on all the avenues that will lead towards that peaceful future. That has been a feature of our dialogue, and I am confident there is willingness in the region not to escalate this crisis beyond dealing with Hamas, the terrorist organisation, and to strive very hard towards a future where Palestinians and Israelis can co-exist peacefully, side by side, and look forward to a future filled with dignity, security and prosperity.

This is a crisis where lives hang in the balance and where the enemies of peace and democracy would like nothing more than for us to become divided and to abandon our values. Does the Prime Minister agree that, during this grave crisis, the House must strive to speak with one voice in condemnation of terror, in support of Israel’s right to self-defence and for the dignity of all human life, which cannot be protected without humanitarian access to those suffering in Gaza and the constant maintenance of the rule of international law?

I agree. We will, in this House, speak with one voice in condemning Hamas for perpetrating a shockingly brutal terrorist attack and causing untold suffering for many. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, we stand united in supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, to protect its people and to act against terrorism. Unlike Hamas, the Israeli President has make it very clear that Israel’s armed forces will operate in accordance with international law. We will continue to urge the Israelis to take every precaution to avoid harming civilians, while remembering, importantly, that it is Hamas who are cruelly embedding themselves in civilian populations.

Q7.   May I associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister, and commend him and the Foreign Secretary for the work they are doing to find a peaceful settlement in the middle east? May I also welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to provide £12 billion-worth of funding for east-west high-speed rail lines between Manchester and Liverpool, and his focus on great northern towns as well as cities in the north? Will he ensure that towns such as Warrington benefit fully from this rail upgrade and that a hub station at Warrington Bank Quay linking Northern Powerhouse Rail to the west coast main line remains a key part of the Network North? (906575)

I thank my hon. Friend for his continued campaign to improve rail services in Warrington. He is right: we will be investing £12 billion to better connect Manchester and Liverpool. That would allow for the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail, exactly as previously planned, including high-speed lines, which would provide better rail connections for the people living in northern towns such as Warrington. I know that he will be discussing this further when he meets the rail Minister.

We all continue to unequivocally condemn the abhorrent terrorist attack on the Jewish people and the Israeli state. We fully support the defeat of Hamas and, of course, the safe return of all hostages who have been taken. So, too, I hope, do we all share the same common humanity of protecting civilians and condemning any acts of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. In that regard, many of the images emanating from Gaza in recent days will shock us all to the core, so may I ask the Prime Minister: will he join those of us on these Benches and call for an immediate ceasefire in the region?

We believe that Israel does have a right to defend itself, to protect its people and to act against terrorism and ensure that the awful attack we have seen from Hamas cannot happen again. Unlike Hamas, the Israelis, including the President, have made it clear that their armed forces will operate in accordance with international law. We will continue to urge the Israelis to take every precaution to avoid harming civilians.

My ask for a ceasefire is done with all sincerity, not only in order to protect civilians, but to ensure that we have the safe creation of humanitarian corridors, which will allow not only for food, water and vital medicines to get into Gaza, but for innocent civilians caught up in this terrible conflict to flee. In respect of those who wish to flee, may I ask the Prime Minister what early consideration, if any, his Government have given to the creation of a refugee resettlement scheme akin to those previously put in place for Syrian nationals, Afghani nationals and, of course, Ukrainian nationals?

I am proud that we are already one of the most significant contributors to the United Nations’ efforts to support Palestinian refugees; our funding supports about 5.8 million refugees annually, and on Monday we announced a significant increase in our funding of aid to the region, including to the UN to support refugees. With regard to humanitarian aid, as I said before, we are already working through pre-emptively moving aid and relief teams into the region. But, critically, the most important thing is to open up access for that aid to get into Gaza, which is why our conversations with the Egyptians and others are so critical. We continue to work closely with allies to find every way to get that aid to the people who need it as quickly as possible.

Q8.   Last night, sections of the British media were reporting as fact that it was Israeli rockets that had landed and attacked the Al-Ahli Hospital, relying on information supplied by officials in terrorist-controlled Gaza. The headlines have since been rewritten, but the outpouring of Jew hate on social media overnight was vile. So will the Prime Minister please make the point again that the way that this conflict is being reported has massive implications for our Jewish community and that any information coming from Hamas must be treated with a degree of scrutiny and cross-examination that is, sadly, sometimes lacking? (906577)

I commend my right hon. Friend for his excellent intervention. He is absolutely right that we should not rush to judgment before we have all the facts on the appalling situation that we saw yesterday, particularly given the sensitivity that he raises and the impact on communities here, but also across the region. As I said, it is incumbent on all of those in positions of responsibility in this House and outside in the media to recognise that the words we say will have an impact, and we should be careful with them.

We are working with our allies to establish the truth of what has happened. We will do that robustly and independently, but my right hon. Friend is right to point out that in the same way as we do not treat what comes out of the Kremlin as the gospel truth, we should not do that with Hamas.

I associate my party with the comments made in relation to the deplorable loss of innocent human life in both Israel and Gaza.

Having left the European Union, building links and co-operation across the four nations of our United Kingdom can only strengthen the Union. Will the Prime Minister agree with my proposal for the creation of an east-west council, to bring together all parts of the UK family to discuss and collaborate on trade and the many other opportunities presented by the Union?

The right hon. Gentleman made a powerful case in his conference speech last weekend for a strong, functioning Northern Ireland within our Union. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has had the opportunity to discuss our shared commitment to the Union with the right hon. Gentleman’s party over recent weeks and months, and I am grateful for the constructive approach and tone taken in those discussions. There is considerable merit in the idea of a new east-west council to further strengthen the Union, and I look forward to exploring the issue further with him and his colleagues.

Q9.   Following my right hon. Friend’s decision to reallocate funding from HS2, may I urge him to consider a number of projects that will boost the economy and improve the quality of life for my constituents and others in northern Lincolnshire? In order for access to the Humber freeport to be improved, the A15 between Lincoln and the A180 needs to be dualled. In particular, the A180 causes no end of problems for residents in nearby villages because of its concrete surface, so I urge him to deal with its resurfacing. Finally, Mr Speaker— (906578)

My hon. Friend has been a long-standing champion for Cleethorpes, and particularly for the importance of strong regional transport connections. Network North will see Hull fully connected to the northern powerhouse network, which I know he will welcome, and north-east Lincolnshire will share in a brand new £2.5 billion fund to support local transport connections, perhaps including many or some of the ones he mentions. I know he will have been delighted to see LNER run a test service to Cleethorpes earlier this year, and I can assure him that the Department for Transport is continuing work to see a direct service to London reinstated.

Q2.   Government Members have said the way to fix the economic crisis that they have caused is to cut state spending by £200 billion and to freeze NHS budgets. When will the Prime Minister stand up to the extremists in his party and condemn those ideas? (906570)

Weeks after I became Prime Minister, we announced a significant increase of almost £14 billion for the NHS and social care. We followed that up with the first long-term workforce plan in the NHS’s history, to ensure that we train the doctors and nurses we need for the future. That demonstrates our commitment to the NHS. We also, I am pleased to say, reached a settlement with over 1 million NHS workers, including our nurses, for a full, fair and affordable pay rise.

Q11. Aid poured into Gaza in 2005 when Israel withdrew. Enlightened governance could have made a success of it. It is Hamas that has turned it into hell, is it not? (906580)

I know that this is a subject on which my right hon. Friend speaks with authority, and I thank him for his previous work in the area. With regard to our aid funding, as the Foreign Secretary will outline later, we have very stringent governance in place to make sure that it is spent on the humanitarian needs that we want to address. I also agree with him that there is one person and one person alone that is responsible for the atrocities that we are seeing, and that is Hamas.

Q3.   On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, may I associate myself and my party with all the comments about the protection of innocent civilians today wherever they may be? A whole wing of Seaton Hospital in Devon is earmarked for demolition under this Government. The proposal to demolish this wing is an insult to the communities that raised millions of pounds to help fund the upkeep of services at that hospital. The space was given to NHS Property Services, but, thanks to the charging policy introduced by the Conservatives, that company is demanding £300,000 in rent. Will the Prime Minister let NHS Property Services hand over the space to health charities and community interest groups so that we can stop a wrecking ball going through Seaton Hospital? (906571)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, decisions about hospital infrastructure are a matter for the NHS. I am told that Devon Integrated Care Board is working together with NHS Property Services and local community healthcare providers to establish a future sustainable use for the currently vacant space. May I also take the opportunity to commend the work that my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp) is doing on this topic?

Q12. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his commitment to improve transport links in the north. However, to ensure that a complete strategic approach to rail links is achieved across the region, it should include the much-needed upgrade to the Penistone line running from Huddersfield, through my constituency, to Sheffield—an upgrade that my hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates), who are sat with me, would also like to see delivered. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend commit to including the Penistone line in the Network North plans? (906581)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic campaigner for the Penistone line rail upgrade. I know that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is conducting a corridor development study given the new commitments to services on the Sheffield to Leeds and Sheffield to Hull lines, and, as part of that exercise, will consider enhancing the service on the Huddersfield to Penistone and Sheffield line, and I know that my hon. Friend will discuss this further when he meets the rail Minister.

Q5.   In Bristol South, around a third of children live in poverty, most of them in working households. It is about the same as in Tamworth, where the Conservative candidate for tomorrow’s election made foul-mouthed comments about families struggling to make ends meet. This is the Prime Minister’s Conservative party. Will he condemn that candidate’s comments? (906573)

I am proud of our record supporting people with the cost of living. Thanks to the actions that we have taken, we have paid half of the typical family’s energy bill last winter, frozen fuel duty and boosted the national living wage to record levels, and 8 million people across this country are now receiving direct cost of living payments worth £900. While we are helping people with the cost of living, all Labour’s ideas are doing are costing them a fortune.

Mr Speaker, you may notice that many ladies in the Chamber today are wearing pink for breast cancer awareness, but roughly 15% of those with breast cancer are diagnosed with lobular cancer, a little known strain that is harder to detect, has worse outcomes and has no dedicated treatment. I am working with Dr Susan Michaelis at the lobular moonshot project to campaign for a dedicated research stream for lobular cancer. Will the Prime Minister meet with us to discuss this and how the Government can help us to save more lives from breast cancer?

I thank my hon. Friend for all her work in this area. Early diagnosis of cancer is key and the NHS “Help Us, Help You” campaign is seeking to address the barriers deterring patients from accessing diagnosis and treatment. Thanks to treatments and faster detection, survival rates for breast cancer are now increasing. Last year, more than 1 million scans were carried out, preventing an estimated 1,300 deaths from breast cancer. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I encourage anyone who is invited to take up the offer of breast cancer screening.

Q6.   Of course the sadism of Hamas can only be condemned, and there is no question of Israel’s right to defence and security, but international law is very clear that acting against international law in response to terrorism is unjustified, so in all the packages that the Prime Minister has announced vis-à-vis humanitarian aid, and the military package that he announced last week, can he tell the House how the Government will ensure that international law is adhered to, beyond just statements from Israel’s head of state? (906574)

The hon. Member talked about our military assets. Let me be crystal clear: the assets that we have moved into the region are not there in any combat capacity. They are there for two reasons: first and foremost, to provide surveillance to ensure that this crisis does not escalate and that arms are not being sent to entities like Hezbollah—that is what our surveillance aircraft are currently doing, and indeed the next set of assets arriving this week will also help—but also to provide contingency support for humanitarian assistance as and when required in the coming days and weeks.

On Sunday, Terrence Carney, a 70-year-old Hartlepudlian, was murdered by an asylum seeker. The people are afraid and angry. Every week, my office is besieged by asylum seekers. My staff are intimidated by young men. The fact is that most of them are illegal migrants who should be expelled. My thoughts and sympathies are with Mr Carney’s family and friends, and all my constituents affected by this heinous crime. However, sympathy is not enough. They deserve action, and I am demanding it. Will the Prime Minister take action? Will he make sure that enforcement is delivered? Will he ensure that people who have no right to be here are expelled? Enough is enough. I want these people out of Hartlepool now.

As my hon. Friend knows, I am unable to comment on cases that are currently before the court, but I join her in expressing my sympathies to the families affected. I reassure her that the Government are doing everything that we can to tackle illegal migration and the harm that it causes by removing those with no right to be here in the UK. We have excellent long-standing relationships to return people to many countries. We are returning thousands more people this year than we have in the past, and we will continue to use every avenue at our disposal to ensure that it is only this country and this Government who decide who comes here, and not criminal gangs.

Q10. We have all been horrified by events in Israel and Gaza, and it is right that we condemn utterly the inhuman terrorism of Hamas. That should also be the case for any obscenities and war crimes carried out by the Israeli defence force. Both the UN and Médecins Sans Frontières have described the siege of Gaza and the withholding of water from its people as collective punishment—a war crime under the Geneva convention—yet this week both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have supported Israel’s right to do so. Why? (906579)

Quite simply put, Israel suffered from a brutal terrorist attack at the hands of Hamas, and it is absolutely right that Israel has a right to defend itself, root out terrorism, and ensure that such an act does not happen again. As Israel’s President has said, its military will operate within international law, but the hon. Gentleman failed to acknowledge that it is Hamas who embed themselves inside civilian populations and put innocent civilians in harm’s way. He would do well to remember that.

My right hon. Friend has been absolutely right to lead the nation in reassuring the British Jewish community in the wake of the utterly appalling atrocity visited upon Israel and Jews on 7 October. I understand that my right hon. Friend will be travelling to the region, and he will see for himself the shock and trauma that is through the Israeli nation after this event—shock and trauma that is accompanied by a rage. The enormous danger is that the Israeli reaction, led by a Prime Minister who will be held accountable for this failure of intelligence, is going to amount—is indeed amounting—to a war crime. That will not only be a crime; it will be a mistake. I urge my right hon. Friend: there is now no one better placed to urge Israel to stay within the international rule of law, and to exercise restraint on behalf of us all.

As a friend, we will always urge Israel to take every possible practical precaution to avoid harming civilians, and indeed to act within international law, as Israel’s President has said its armed forces will do, while recognising the incredible complexity and difficulty of the situation on the ground. It bears repeating that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that embeds itself inside a civilian population. We always have to remember that. Israel is taking every possible practical step to avoid harming civilians, and we will do everything we can to provide humanitarian support to the area.

Q13. The Prime Minister will be delighted to know that nuclear veterans like my constituent’s grandad, John, are starting to receive the medals he promised, but John is still not getting his full medical records. His blood tests from Christmas Island, which are crucial to claiming a war pension, are missing, and countless veterans report the same. As the Ministry of Defence has admitted that it holds at least 150 files withheld from national archives referring to blood test and other data, will he review those documents, report back to the House and hold a public inquiry into why medical record omissions have happened, and on whose instruction? (906582)

I start by thanking all our veterans for their contribution to our safety and security. I am delighted to have been able to announce the new nuclear test medal last year and that it is starting to be received by many people, including the hon. Lady’s constituent. She will know that I cannot comment on ongoing litigation in respect of requests for health records, but I can say that anyone can request copies of their own medical data by submitting a subject access request to the Department, and if they are not satisfied with the processing of that request, they can make a formal complaint via the complaints process.

We appear to be on a downward spiral in the middle east, which inevitably will lead to a humanitarian crisis. The role of Egypt will be fantastically important. What can we in the wider international community do to work with the Egyptians to ensure that refugees coming on to Egyptian soil are legitimate refugees who pose no threat to the Egyptian state and are not terrorists in disguise?

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point regarding the Egyptians’ concerns about that border, but we have prioritised speaking with President Sisi and are in continued dialogue with our Egyptian partners to see what we can do to provide reassurances and get humanitarian aid to the region. We are working with local partners, including the Egyptian Red Crescent, and the UN on the ground. There will be a significant logistical challenge in stockpiling aid at the border and then moving it into Gaza, but I assure my hon. Friend and the whole House that the Development Minister is actively engaged in that work as we speak, so that we can play a leading role in facilitating the provision of that aid.

Q14. Thank you, Mr Speaker. The industrial dispute at the Defence Equipment and Support, Ministry of Defence site at Beith in my constituency is dragging on, as workers engage in strike action for parity and fairness in the workplace. These workers are critical to ensuring that necessary supplies to Ukraine are uninterrupted, but all attempts by the workers to resolve this dispute have proved to be unsuccessful in the face of management intransigence. Will the Prime Minister personally and urgently use his influence to ensure that a meaningful offer is made to these workers, so that the matter can be resolved, further strike action can be averted, and supplies to Ukraine can continue without disruption? (906583)

I thank the hon. Member for highlighting the critical role played by non-craft support operatives at Defence Munitions. Different rates of pay for workers with different skills and qualifications are entirely normal practice in both the public and the private sector. This year, as part of DE&S pay 2023, a generous pay award was delivered which significantly improved the base pay of workers engaged in the dispute. I am told that officials continue to be open to talks on a constructive basis with the GMB to resolve the situation.