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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2023


The Secretary of State was asked—

Food Supply Chains

This Government want to ensure that farmers and food producers get a fair price for their products by tackling unfairness that exists in food supply chains. We are currently pursuing contractual reform in the dairy and pork sectors and we have a new review of the egg sector. This will ensure resilience and fair supply chains across the country.

My constituents in Edinburgh West, like so many others across the country, are finding it increasingly difficult to source affordable nutritious food. The situation has been made worse by flooding in Scotland and by international pressures such as the war in Ukraine, energy prices and Brexit. There are enterprises such as Lauriston Farm in my community that can provide good local food. What are the Government doing to support projects such as those and to offset the impact on our food producers of the recent flooding?

I recognise the points that the hon. Lady makes about the pressures on the food supply chain. The UK Government are closely monitoring the impact on the agricultural sector of the flooding caused by storms and we are working with the Environment Agency to resolve that. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can provide financial assistance to the farming sector to cover uninsurable losses incurred as a result of exceptional flooding by activating the farming recovery fund. I would encourage the hon. Lady to contact the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore), the excellent new water Minister at DEFRA, for more information.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to be here, although I have to say that there was not particularly stiff competition for the role from Scotland.

Inflation might be slowly coming down, but food inflation in Scotland still stands at more than 10%, forcing families to choose between being able to eat or heat their home, or, given the increasing levels of destitution, neither. Thousands of people in Scotland are turning to food banks not as a one-off last resort but as a means of getting by week after week. It is clear that both our Governments should be working together much better to tackle this, so what specific steps will the Minister take to work with the Scottish Government and the food industry to ensure that food prices do not continue to rise at unaffordable rates? Does he really believe that the autumn statement will give families any confidence that the Government understand how difficult it is for people in Scotland right now?

I welcome the hon. Member to his new position. I recognise the points he makes about stiff competition, but nonetheless I very much welcome him.

This Government are absolutely committed to tackling the rising prices that households are facing, which is why the Prime Minister has an absolute focus on reducing the levels of inflation, but the hon. Member is right to say that both Governments should be working together to alleviate pressures on household budgets. This Government have demonstrated that through the huge support that has been put in place to support households with energy prices, and through other measures to ensure that financial help is in place to support hard-pressed households.

Post Office Branch Closures

2. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact of post office branch closures on the delivery of Government services in Scotland. (900318)

12. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact of post office branch closures on the delivery of Government services in Scotland. (900328)

The United Kingdom Government continue to provide significant support to the national post office network, adding up to more than £2.4 billion over the last 10 years. This funding enabled 98% of individuals in rural areas to live within three miles of their nearest post office in 2022, with the overall network as large today as it has been for five years.

Our rural branches of the post office are at the very core, the very heart, of our rural communities. At present, His Majesty’s Government provide certain services to the public via the post office network. Does the Minister agree that it would be a good notion to encourage the Scottish Government to go down the same route and provide as many services as possible in that way, thus ensuring the future of those branches?

I agree with the hon. Member. I recognise the vital importance of post offices for constituents in rural communities such as his own and also in my own constituency in the Scottish Borders. It is of course for the Scottish Government to assess how to make their services available to people across Scotland, considering accessibility as well as value for money for the taxpayer. However, I would be happy to facilitate a meeting with my colleagues in the Department for Business and Trade to see what further encouragement we could give the Scottish Government to use the post office network for the delivery of their services.

Scotland has seen the closure of 40 post offices in the past two years, yet as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) pointed out, the communities that still have post offices are losing access to Government services, particularly in rural areas. Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency services are due to cease being available at post offices from the end of next March. What conversations has the Minister had with the Department for Business and Trade about keeping DVLA services available from post offices?

I should start by correcting the hon. Gentleman in that the post office network is not in decline. More post offices have been opened than closed over the past year. We do see fluctuations in different parts of the country, with many postmasters running a franchise business in their own right. Many face the same challenges as other high street businesses. The DVLA and the Post Office extended their contract until 31 March 2024. The post office network operates commercially at arm’s length from the Government and is responsible for taking decisions on commercial matters such as the DVLA contract.

Devolution in Scotland

With devolved powers, the Scottish Government can tailor policy in areas such as health, education and justice, as well as in tax and welfare through additional powers in the Scotland Act 2016. The UK Government are working with local government and local partners to deliver on their needs and wishes. That is real devolution in action.

Climate change talks at COP28 begin tomorrow, and one of the most important issues to be agreed is the climate loss and damage fund. The Secretary of State will know that Scotland has led the way on that, becoming the first country in the global north to pledge financial support to address loss and damage, but he and his Conservative colleagues are intent on limiting the Scottish Government’s international engagement. Can he tell me why he wants to silence Scotland’s voice and prevent us from providing that global leadership?

It is very straightforward. We understand that there will be environmental engagement overseas by the Scottish Government, and that is a devolved matter. What we have tried get a grip on is the Scottish Government travelling overseas, meeting Ministers, discussing reserved areas such as constitutional affairs and foreign affairs, and straying away from the portfolio of matters that are devolved to them. That is our position.

It is obvious that in order to cement a sense of economic resilience Scotland requires a population growth strategy, but the devolution settlement, unfit as it is, will not come anywhere near that, and the Government continue to set their face against it. Can the Secretary of State explain why?

If the Scottish Government want more people to settle in Scotland—and immigration is at a record high—they need to build more housing, have lower taxes and better public services, and make Scotland more attractive to people.

Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that the SNP-Green Scottish Government continue to use the devolution settlement as a platform to pursue constitutional grievances? In reality, would not achieving the best outcome for the people of Scotland and our constituents mean the two Governments working together on a project, for example the A75? If the Governments work together, that will actually be delivered.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. The A75, along with the A77, came up as a vital route in the Union connectivity review by Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill—Sir Peter Hendy as he was at the time. We are finally working with the Scottish Government, and the UK Government are funding a feasibility study for the upgrade of the A75. I am delighted that progress is being made.

Is it not the case that the Scottish Government have consistently strayed outside the limits of the devolution settlements, so it is very difficult to take the SNP seriously as a defender of devolution when it has so little respect for the current settlement?

My hon. Friend is right. Everyone forgets that the Scottish Government get up every day and go to work to destroy devolution and the United Kingdom. The defenders of devolution and the strengtheners of the United Kingdom are this Government.

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Michael Shanks) not only on his vast—and fast—promotion to the shadow Front Bench but on the 20.4% swing from the SNP that brought him the by-election victory.

The announcement of the closure of the refinery at Grangemouth is a hammer blow. Too many communities are still living with the devastation of being left behind after coalmine closures in the 1980s. That must not be allowed to happen again. Grangemouth’s owner is buying football clubs and investing in plants elsewhere, while the workers lose out. The Prime Minister has decided that a culture war on the environment trumps getting the UK into the global green energy race by backing Labour’s green energy superpower plans. The devolution settlement demands that both Governments work together, but they certainly do not. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Scottish Government to protect jobs at Grangemouth? What impact will the closure have on the Acorn carbon capture and storage project?

First of all, it is a very worrying time for those whose jobs are at risk at the Grangemouth refinery. This morning, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), and a Minister from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero met Neil Gray from the Scottish Government, and yesterday my hon. Friend had a meeting with the local authority. Work is going on. It is ironic that the Scottish Government want to shut down oil and gas, because when that happens, people suddenly realise the need to manage a transition and take us gradually to net zero while protecting people’s livelihoods.

On Acorn and the Scottish cluster, I have spoken to the chief executive of Storegga, which is pulling the project together. He told me that the refinery closing has little impact on its project, because Grangemouth was supplying the blue hydrogen to the refinery and others, and the emissions from that were being put into the North sea.

It is the 25th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament next year—one of the Labour party’s proudest achievements. However, recently it has been riven by failure and scandal, from one in seven on NHS waiting lists to ferries, iPads and camper vans. Much has been made about the dual role of the Government-appointed Lord Advocate, who sits in the Scottish Cabinet while presiding over prosecutions in Scotland. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Scottish Government about Anas Sarwar’s idea to split the dual role of Scotland’s top law officer, to maintain the separation of powers between the Government and the judiciary?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Director of Public Prosecutions in England is appointed by a panel, which removes the risk of perceived interference by Government. Many learned friends have expressed their concerns to me about the structure in Scotland and the closeness between the judiciary and the Government, and I find their concerns understandable. It is vital that the public perception is that the prosecution service is very independent from Government.

I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that his mission to constrain and bypass the Scottish Parliament has been an absolute disaster for devolution. Relationships across the UK have never been as such a low level. Will he acknowledge that his version of aggressive Unionism has utterly failed? As he is leaving his office, will he pledge to abandon it entirely?

I am not entirely sure what I have done that has been a failure, to be honest. This Government protect devolution and the settlement. If he is referring to the section 35 order that I used, that was in the Scotland Act 1998 and was voted for at the time by SNP MPs. It is there to protect devolution when a devolved Administration legislates on Great Britain or UK matters.

Employment Law: Devolution

4. If he will have discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of devolving employment law to the Scottish Government. (900320)

The UK Government have no intention of devolving legislative competence for employment rights to the Scottish Parliament. Employers and employees benefit hugely from a single, simple system where employment rights are the same across Great Britain, whether in Derby or Dundee. We do not see any benefit from changing that arrangement.

Devolution of employment law is supported by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Trades Union Congress, workers’ rights groups, a majority in the Scottish Parliament and the public. It would benefit workers by having their Governments compete to give them better rights and preventing a race to the bottom. What is not to like? Why will the Secretary of State’s Government not consider it?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to my original answer. We believe it is right to have a simple system that works across the United Kingdom, whether one is in Derby or Dundee.

Does the Secretary of State agree that to have different employment laws either side of the border of the two nations would be a mistake, because it would increase the regulatory burden on companies and deprive British companies of our excellent tribunal system?

I completely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, who absolutely makes the right arguments.

Scottish Work Visa Scheme

5. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of devolving the power to introduce a Scottish work visa scheme to the Scottish Government. (900321)

11. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of devolving the power to introduce a Scottish work visa scheme to the Scottish Government. (900327)

14. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential merits of devolving the power to introduce a Scottish work visa scheme to the Scottish Government. (900330)

The United Kingdom Government have introduced a single, flexible immigration system that works in the interest of the whole United Kingdom. A separate visa system would create an economic migration border between Scotland and the rest of the UK, which would be harmful for employers and far less attractive for workers.

Last week, the CBI conference raised the serious issue of a lack of people to do vital jobs that we need filling, especially in hospitality and food production. Both the Fraser of Allander Institute and the highlands MSP Kate Forbes have suggested localised worker visa solutions to boost the economy. Why is the Secretary of State not listening to those smart voices, and why is he not acting in the best interests of the Scottish economy?

Because we have a specific Scottish occupation list for shortages, which gives us flexibility. The salary rate is set at £20,960. We believe that the best way is for stakeholder bodies to make representations to the Home Office to add to the shortage occupation list.

Five years ago, the Migration Advisory Committee said that the current system was failing remote communities. Recently published figures show that my Argyll and Bute constituency is suffering further depopulation, with the town of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute particularly badly affected. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Government still insist that the current system delivers for all parts of the UK. Will the Secretary of State explain how a one-size-fits-all policy, simultaneous catering for the vastly different needs of densely populated urban areas and Argyll and Bute, can deliver equally for both?

Argyll and Bute is a beautiful part of the United Kingdom, but what it lacks is infrastructure, public services and affordable housing, because the Scottish Government have failed in all those areas. What it also has, with the rest of Scotland, is the problem of being the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. That is the problem the Scottish Government have to address.

The UK Government said that post-Brexit domestic employment would fill labour gaps, but the executive director of UKHospitality Scotland has said that the gaps left by excluding EU workers have not been filled, leaving huge numbers of specialist vacancies, such as for chefs and managers. When will this Government accept reality and stop destroying Scotland’s economy in the name of a purist Brexit ideology?

I think the hon. Lady lives in a parallel universe. We have the highest net migration to the UK since records began, far higher than when we were in the EU. As I say, if we want to attract people to Scotland, we must stop making it the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State has correctly identified that there are some who want to use immigration policy to enforce a hard border between England and Scotland as part of their aim to break up the Union. Does he agree, and in his assessment did he identify, that we need to ensure that immigration policy is not used as an alternative to offering the rewarding packages that key workers deserve?

Absolutely. We are one United Kingdom. We have no physical border. It is important that we treat immigration equally across the whole United Kingdom and give everyone equal opportunity.

Let me be clear: we are talking about the administration of work permits for people from overseas who wish to work in Scotland on a temporary basis. Just about everyone thinks it would be better administered in Scotland, but the Secretary of State insists that it should be centralised by his Government in Westminster. His argument would be plausible if the UK demonstrated that it is managing the migration service well but, given the catastrophe that is the UK immigration system, when will he wake up and realise this would be better done in Scotland, by the people who live there?

I point the hon. Gentleman to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. That is 45,000 people, with the ability to flex it up to 55,000. Those people come to work in a flexible system across the United Kingdom, and it has proved to be a huge success.

The Secretary of State is standing against everyone. He is standing against experts, against academics, against representatives of industry and even against the people of Scotland, only 28% of whom think immigration is too high. More than six in 10 think more immigration would benefit the country. When is he going to stop being the Secretary of State against Scotland and be the Secretary of State for Scotland?

It is good that the hon. Gentleman’s lines are written by Mike Russell. That is an old one, and not a very good one.

The reality is that Scotland is the most taxed part of the United Kingdom, which is not attractive for people to work there. We have the highest ever net migration. If the Scottish Government focus more on good public services, good infrastructure and lower taxation, hopefully those high net migration figures will see more people settle in Scotland.

Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on developing carbon capture, utilisation and storage in Scotland. (900323)

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage is a vital component of our journey to net zero. The Acorn project represents a huge opportunity for the north-east of Scotland. As would be expected for any multi-billion pound project, due diligence must now be followed.

Under Westminster rule, Bathgate, Linwood, Methil and Irvine are all no more. Grangemouth now risks being added to that sorry list, and with it the hope of its developing carbon technologies. The Minister is quick to attack a Scottish Government with limited powers, but responsibility for the robbery and ruination of Scotland’s energy sector, and the continued denial of substantial funding for carbon capture, rests squarely with the UK Government. What is his office doing to protect energy sector jobs and livelihoods in Scotland, and what is his Department’s excuse for utterly failing the people of Scotland?

I had the pleasure of meeting the Cabinet Secretary from the Scottish Government this morning, together with the leader of Falkirk Council, to discuss the situation at Grangemouth. The Scottish Government and the UK Government are working together, hand in hand, to protect as many jobs as possible. The Scottish cluster is expected to include at least one project located in Grangemouth, which is welcome news.

Productive Forestry Planting

8. Whether his Department has had recent discussions with the Scottish Government on supporting productive forestry planting in Scotland. (900324)

I very much welcome this question, which is timely in National Tree Week. Reforestation is a crucial way for us all to reduce carbon emissions and improve biodiversity across the country. Although this policy is devolved, the UK Government continue to work with the devolved Administrations to deliver UK-wide change in tree planting and establishment.

Conifers, which are the main species planted for productive forestry, account for just under half the area of UK woodland. Does my hon. Friend agree that there should now be a UK-wide target for 60% of new planting to be productive forestry, allowing Scotland to lead the way in delivering a secure supply of raw materials to support British manufacturing and construction?

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent question. There are high ambitions across the United Kingdom to increase forestry planting. I agree that we must secure a steady supply of the raw materials needed to support Britain’s construction and manufacturing industries.

Last week—[Interruption.] I do not normally get such a cheer.

Last week, the Government announced that there will be a new national park and a new national forest in England. Do the Scottish Government, or the Minister, have any intention of doing something similar for Scotland?

There are great ambitions for an additional national park in Scotland, and my Scottish Conservative colleagues are pushing very hard for that. If the hon. Gentleman needs more information, he should please write to me. I will respond with the required detail.

Promoting Scotland's Interests Abroad

9. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on promoting Scotland’s interests abroad. (900325)

The UK Government work tirelessly to promote Scottish interests around the world through our extensive diplomatic network, forging business links, and generating trade and investment. Our response to the Scottish Affairs Committee’s recent inquiry on Scotland’s international promotion highlights the extensive efforts we undertake to achieve this.

As one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, it is always my pleasure to be championing British business overseas. From whisky to satellites, Scotland is home to some of the UK’s most important exports. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what work the Scotland Office is doing to support these important sectors in the international market?

First, I thank my hon. Friend for his service as a trade envoy, and tell him that last month I had the pleasure of travelling to Vietnam to boost Scotland’s trade interests and celebrate diplomatic links. Vietnam already offers huge opportunities for Scottish businesses and in the light of the UK’s recent joining of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—that is easy for you to say, Mr Speaker— I am keen to highlight further trading opportunities for Scottish businesses in the Indo-Pacific region.

Will the Secretary of State clarify what he was saying earlier and whether he thinks it is legitimate for Scottish Government Ministers to be able to travel overseas to promote the work of the Scottish Government?

I have always been very clear that Scottish Government Ministers can go overseas to promote areas that are devolved, but the reserved areas, such as the constitution and foreign affairs, are a matter for the UK Government and those Ministers should not be using our embassies and consulates to promote their plans for separation, or their different views on the middle east or anything else.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, let me remind Members of an important courtesy that we should all observe: giving notice to colleagues if we are visiting their constituencies on official business. Colleagues in Lancashire ought to think about that when they are going to others’ constituencies and let people know when they are doing so—I believe that did not happen on this occasion. I have heard of a number of examples in other areas of this discourteous way of behaving towards colleagues, which is not acceptable. I would rather we did not have to deal with such matters by points of order, so please try to give notice before visiting each other’s constituencies.

I also say to everybody that temperate and moderate language is what I want in this Chamber. Let us now move on to PMQs.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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

Last year, Scotland exported 19 trillion Wh of electricity, worth £4 billion, to the UK grid, yet not only do Scottish generators pay the highest grid connection charges in Europe, but Scots pay among the highest standing charges while London’s are by far the lowest. Our heating and lighting is switched on a lot earlier and off a lot later than the south of England’s. Should Scottish households be forced to shiver in the dark this winter to subsidise the richest part of the UK?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, standing charges are a matter for Ofgem, the independent regulator. Last week, it launched a consultation asking for views about standing charges. He will know that because of geographic factors, the UK Government already provide an annual cross-subsidy worth £60 to a typical household in Scotland, but on top of that we are providing considerable support to everyone across the UK with their energy bills this year.

Q3. Abigail Mor Edan is four years old. Released from Hamas captivity last weekend, Abigail is an orphan, after her parents were brutally executed in front of her during Hamas’s rampage on 7 October. To secure the freedom of Abigail and some other hostages, Israel is taking a huge risk, releasing convicted terrorists, including would-be suicide bomber Israa Jaabis, imprisoned for detonating a gas cylinder in her car in 2015. Hamas also seem to have broken the ceasefire, by activating three explosive devices. What steps is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister taking to continue his welcome, steadfast support for Israel in its fight against not only Hamas, but other Iran-backed terror groups? (900403)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising such an important issue. My thoughts and the thoughts of the whole House will be with Abigail.

As I have said before, we support Israel’s right to defend itself, to go after Hamas and to free hostages, to deter further incursions and to strengthen its security for the long term. We welcome the extension to the agreement to pause fighting, increase humanitarian aid and release further hostages. Negotiations are ongoing and highly sensitive, but this has been a welcome first positive step. We will continue to hold Iran to account for any further escalation from these groups, as well as continuing to work with partners to disrupt and deter Iran’s destabilising activities in the middle east.

In an effort to hide from his failures, the Prime Minister spent this week arguing about an ancient relic that only a tiny minority of the British public have any interest in—but that’s enough about the Tory party. In 2019, they all promised the country that they would control immigration, saying “numbers will come down” and

“the British people will be in control”.

How is it going?

Let me be crystal clear. The levels of migration are far too high and I am determined to bring them back down to sustainable levels. That is why we have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review certain elements of the system. We are reviewing those findings and will bring forward next steps. Earlier this year, we announced the toughest action ever taken to reduce legal migration. The effects of that action are yet to be felt, but will impact 150,000 student dependants. Forecasts show that migration is likely to drop as a result. Up until this moment, all we have heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman on this topic is a secret backroom deal with the EU that would see an additional 100,000 migrants here every year.

Never mind the British Museum—it is the Prime Minister who has obviously lost his marbles. The Greek Prime Minister came to London to meet him: a fellow NATO member, an economic ally and one of our most important partners in tackling illegal immigration. Instead of using that meeting to discuss those serious issues, the Prime Minister tried to humiliate him and cancelled at the last minute. Why such small politics, Prime Minister?

Of course we are always happy to discuss important topics of substance with our allies, like tackling illegal migration or strengthening our security, but when it was clear that the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss substantive issues for the future but to grandstand and relitigate issues of the past, it was not appropriate. Furthermore, specific commitments and assurances on that topic were made to this country and then broken. It may seem alien to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but in my view, when people make commitments, they should keep them.

I discussed the economy, security and immigration with the Greek Prime Minister. I also told him we would not change the law regarding the marbles—it is not that difficult. The reality is simple: the Prime Minister has no plan on boat crossings and migration is at a record high. His policy is that companies can pay workers from abroad 20% less than British workers and that has contributed to those record high immigration levels, has it not?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the boat crossings but has failed to notice that illegal boat crossings are down by a third this year, thanks to all the actions we have taken, which he opposed every single time they were raised. No one will be surprised that he is backing an EU country over Britain. Just last week, he was asked which song best sums up the Labour party. What did he come up with? He showed his true colours and chose “Ode to Joy”—literally the anthem of the European Union. He will back Brussels over Britain every single time.

Let me get this straight: the Prime Minister is now saying that meeting the Prime Minister of Greece is somehow supporting the EU, instead of discussing serious issues. He has just dug further into that hole that he has made for himself. Rather than dealing with the facts, he is prosecuting his one-man war on reality, and that reality is stuck. Under this Government, a bricklayer from overseas can be paid £2,500 less than somebody who is already here, a plasterer £3,000 less, and an engineer £6,000 less. The list goes on. It is absurd. Labour would scrap his perverse wage-cutting policy. Why will he not do so?

As I have said, we have taken significant measures and will bring forward more. Indeed, as the Office for National Statistics itself said, more recent estimates indicate a slowing of immigration as a result of the things that we are doing. But I am surprised to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman now taking this new position. I have a quote here from a pushy young shadow Immigration Minister, who said to this House—I directly quote this person—that limits on skilled migrants are

“a form of economic vandalism”.—[Official Report, 7 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 19WH.]

Who could possibly have taken such a bizarre position only to U-turn? It will come as no surprise to anybody that it was him.

There is only one party that has lost control of the borders, and its Members are sitting right there. This is a Government who are not just in turmoil, but in open revolt. The Immigration Minister thinks that the Prime Minister is failing because, apparently, nobody will listen to his secret plan. The former Home Secretary thinks that he is failing because of his “magical thinking”. The current Home Secretary thinks that he is failing. He even took time out of his busy schedule of insulting people in the north-east to admit that he agrees with Labour. The Prime Minister seems to be the only person on the Tory Benches without his own personal immigration plan. Clearly, his own side do not have any faith in him. Why should the public?

It is really a bit rich to hear about this from someone who described all immigration law as “racist”, and who literally said that it was a mistake to control immigration. We have taken steps and we will take further steps, which is why recent estimates show that immigration is slowing. It is why, next year, the immigration health surcharge will increase by more than two thirds. It is why immigration fees are going up by up to 35%. One of his own Front-Bench team said that having a target is not sensible. It is no surprise to have people like that, because, while we are taking all these measures that he opposes, this is the person who stood on a platform and promised to defend free movement.

On this Government’s watch, migration has just trebled, and the Prime Minister is giving the House a lecture about targets. He is lost in la-la land. There can be few experiences more haunting for Conservative Members than hearing this Prime Minister claim that he is going to sort out a problem. First, he said that he would get NHS waiting lists down; they went up. Unabashed by that, he said that he would get control of immigration; it has gone up. Following that experience, he turned his hand to bringing taxes down. And, would you believe it, the tax burden is now going to be higher than ever. It is ironic that he has suddenly taken such a keen interest in Greek culture when he has clearly become the man with the reverse Midas touch: everything he touches turns to—perhaps the Home Secretary can help me out—rubbish. [Interruption.] We might have to check the tape again, Mr Speaker.

Will the Prime Minister do the country a favour and warn us what he is planning next, so that we can prepare ourselves for the disaster that will inevitably follow?

At the beginning of the year, we said that we would halve inflation and this Government have delivered, easing the burden of the cost of living for families everywhere. We know about the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s plans—all the way through that, what did he do? He backed inflationary pay rises and talked about welfare—no controls for welfare—and about borrowing £28 billion a year that would just make the situation worse. He mentioned tax: just this past week, we have delivered the biggest tax cuts since the 1980s for millions of people and businesses, and increased pensions and benefits. And this week, we secured £30 billion of new investment for this country. So he can keep trying to talk—

Order. Can I just say to the shadow Foreign Secretary—[Interruption.] Order. Just a little bit quieter, please. I want to hear.

Q5. The Government have rightly responded to the shocking and unacceptable rise in antisemitism, and we saw extra funding in the autumn statement. I note that 44% of religiously aggravated offences last year were against the Muslim community, yet in the autumn statement there was no funding to deal with Islamophobia. The Government’s independent adviser on Islamophobia role has been left vacant for over one year. As the Prime Minister knows, we discussed these matters over a year ago, yet no action has taken place. Prime Minister, enough is enough with regards to tackling anti-Muslim hatred. Will the Government now finally take action? (900406)

We will not tolerate anti-Muslim hatred in any form, and expect it to be dealt with wherever it occurs. I actually recently met Tell MAMA, a service that provides support to victims of anti-Muslim hatred, which we have in fact supported with over £6 million of funding since its inception. We are in regular dialogue with it. We have also doubled the funding for protective security measures through the protective security for mosques scheme, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep our Muslim community safe.

In good news for kids in Aberdeen this morning, it was snowing; when they looked out of the kitchen window, they would have been filled with delight. But many of their parents who looked out of the kitchen window this morning would have been filled with dread—dread from knowing that they simply cannot afford to pay their energy bills. In that context, does the Prime Minister regret offering no financial mechanism whatever for families this winter?

It is simply not right to say that there is not support for families this winter—there has been considerable support this year for energy bills. This winter, pensioner households, for example, will receive up to £300 alongside their winter fuel payment. They are some of the most vulnerable households, and it is right that they get that support at a difficult time.

I appreciate that it is difficult for the Prime Minister to empathise when he quite clearly cannot understand, but to be clear to him and, indeed, the whole House: this is not a matter of energy production. Scotland produces six times more gas than we consume and around two thirds of our electricity already comes from renewable resources. This is a consequence of decades of failed energy policy here in Westminster. Those of us on the Scottish National party Benches believe that Scotland’s energy wealth and energy resource should benefit the people of Scotland. Why doesn’t he?

The entire energy grid infrastructure in this country is integrated, which brings benefits to people in every part of our United Kingdom. When it comes to supporting people with energy bills, earlier this year we increased benefits to the highest rate on record. It is why we provided cost of living payments worth £900 on top of regular support. It was right not to wait until the last moment to give people that support; we gave it to them earlier this year so that they would have the security they need going into winter—as I said, on top of the money for pensioners. When there are cold snaps, we have cold weather payments that kick in and the warm home discount, which provides an extra £150 to the most vulnerable households. All that is the most considerable action taken by any Government to help people with their energy bills.

Q7.   The £400 million redevelopment of Kettering General Hospital is the No.1 investment priority for local residents. The first part is a £50 million new energy plant to power the expanded and improved hospital. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister please do all he can to ensure that the Department of Health gets spades in the ground on time next spring, so that we can get the construction of our redeveloped, much loved local hospital fully under way? (900408)

I thank my hon. Friend for continuing to champion the new hospital in Kettering. We are absolutely committed to delivering the scheme for Kettering General Hospital. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the new energy centre is vital to the delivery of the new hospital, and we expect that work to begin in the first quarter of next year. The new hospital programme is working closely with the trust to ensure that the plans are deliverable.

Three years ago, the Government made a commitment to 40 new hospitals and significant upgrades to hospitals in most need, but today many schemes are badly delayed. The Royal Berkshire—stuck at the development stage, with not a single pound transferred for construction. Harrogate District Hospital—still waiting on £20 million for urgent upgrades after reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete was discovered. There are 25 more such schemes. Will the Prime Minister explain why his Government are happy to let patients, doctors and nurses suffer for years in such unfit and unsafe conditions?

We are delivering 40 hospitals by 2030. Good progress is already being made, and that programme is being backed by over £20 billion of investment. Three schemes are already open, two are opening this year, and 16 are in construction, or work has begun to prepare the site. It is absolutely right, though, that within that we prioritise RAAC hospitals. That required a reprioritisation, but that was the appropriate thing to do to ensure safety. Patients and staff are already benefiting from some of the improvements that we have made, which come on top of the largest capital programme for the NHS in its history, rolling out community diagnostic centres, urgent treatment centres and surgical hubs right across the country.

Q9. As disturbed as I was to learn that British politicians are being debanked by the National Westminster Bank, the Prime Minister can imagine my horror to find that an entire town—Bakewell in the Derbyshire dales—is being debanked by the National Westminster Bank. In the whole of the Derbyshire dales and the Peak district, there is not a bank left. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern, as we are the major shareholder, that the National Westminster Bank is ignoring my vulnerable elderly constituents, and my businessmen? Bakewell is a big, thriving market town. (900410)

My hon. Friend is right that all customers, wherever they live, should have appropriate access to banking and cash services. That is why we have legislated to protect access to cash, and the Financial Conduct Authority has issued guidance that seeks to ensure that branch closure decisions treat customers fairly. I know that there has been an assessment of access to cash in her area, and the financial services sector will provide a new cash deposit service for her community. Also, everyone can access the post office for regular banking services.

Q2.   Yesterday, Cancer Research UK’s manifesto “Longer, better lives” set out a road map to save 20,000 lives a year by 2040. Research is key to that, and it has identified a funding gap of over £1 billion. Cancer Research UK has told me that, excluding research funded by industry, charities fund 62% of cancer research compared with the Government’s 38%. Is the Prime Minister ashamed of that, and what will he do to address the gap? (900402)

Of course the Government must do more to continue preventing cancer deaths in our country. That is why we are focused on fighting cancer on all fronts—prevention, diagnosis, treatment, research and funding. Crucially, cancer is now being diagnosed at an earlier stage more often, with survival rates improving across all types of cancer, including the most common cancers, and through our treatment record we are rolling out community diagnostic centres everywhere to ensure that we can reach those people as quickly as possible.

Can I thank you, Mr Speaker, on behalf of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, for hosting today’s reception to honour the incredible contribution that Sir Elton John has made to the fight against AIDS? I very much welcome today’s announcement of further funding for HIV and hepatitis B and C opt-out testing in hospital emergency departments as a critical step in fighting those diseases. I ask the Prime Minister to join me, and I am sure the whole House, in praising Sir Elton and his AIDS foundation for pioneering this work.

Sir Elton John has been a powerful voice for change in the UK and the world. Through the brilliant work of his foundation he has raised awareness of HIV, reduced stigma and saved lives. I am very pleased that that will be celebrated tonight at the HIV and AIDS all-party parliamentary group event. Ahead of World AIDS Day on Friday, I would also like to reaffirm this Government’s commitment to ending new transmissions within England by 2030. I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will have more to say at tonight’s event about the expansion of our recent pilot initiative on screening.

Q4. Pearl Melody Black was 22 months old when a car rolled off a private drive on to a highway and hit a wall, which fell and killed her while she was holding her daddy’s hand. Her parents, my constituents Gemma and Paul, South Wales Police and the Crown Prosecution Service were all frustrated that no charges could be brought in the case due to a loophole in the law. My ten-minute rule Bill, the Driving Offences (Amendment) Bill, sought to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988, but it fell as it did not get parliamentary time. I know that colleagues across the House have had similar issues, so I ask the Prime Minister to meet me and meet my constituents to assist in finding a way forward. (900404)

I am incredibly sorry to hear about Pearl. My thoughts and, I know, those of the whole House will be with Gemma and Paul. I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman gets a meeting with the relevant Minister on the legislation as quickly as possible.

We know the Labour party has an aversion to white van man, but does the Prime Minister share my concerns that, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph today, Labour-run Westminster Council is increasing parking charges for small electric vehicles by up to 1,800%, demonstrating that it does not support small businesses or tackling climate change?

My hon. Friend is right to raise those concerns. It seems that Labour in London is yet again penalising hard-working people. First we had the ultra low emission zone, and now it seems Labour is hiking parking charges on white van drivers and small businesses. I join her in urging the Labour-run Westminster Council to rethink those damaging proposals.

Q6.   I quote: “Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s okay”. That was reportedly the Prime Minister’s view of covid during late 2020, as recorded by the then chief scientific adviser in his diary. It came to light last week in the covid inquiry and I was shocked that Downing Street did not categorically deny it. I ask the Prime Minister today how it is that people who were closest to this issue, whom he worked with day in, day out at the top of Government, got the impression that the Prime Minister was okay with people in our country dying— (900407)

As the hon. Lady knows, there is an ongoing inquiry into covid. It is right that that is followed and I look forward to providing my own evidence. If she had taken the time to read the evidence submitted to the inquiry, she would have seen that the person she mentioned, the chief scientific adviser, confirmed that he did not hear me say that—and that is because I did not.

That 1.3 million migrants over a period of two years is a catastrophe for Britain is obvious to everyone apart from guilt-ridden bourgeois liberals and greed-driven globalists. Given that the same kind of people are stymieing the Prime Minister’s “stop the boats” campaign, will he bring urgent measures forward to deal with legal migration, and will he ensure that the Bill he has promised is in exactly the form recommended by his own Immigration Minister?

I am pleased to have my right hon. Friend’s advice and support on all on our measures to tackle legal and illegal migration. As I said, we are reviewing the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee and we will be bringing forward measures on top of the very significant restrictions that we have already announced on student dependants. When it comes to stopping illegal migration, I have been crystal clear that we will bring forward legislation that makes it unequivocally the case that Rwanda is safe and there will be no more ability of our domestic courts to block flights to Rwanda. That is what our legislation will ensure.

Q8.   Last week, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), the Prime Minister claimed that the “best way” to stop children living in poverty is for them to have parents who work, but over 70% of poor children already live in a home where someone goes out to work. So I will give him another chance: can he explain why reports say that, in 2022, 1 million of our children experienced not just poverty but destitution? (900409)

No child should grow up in poverty. That is why I am pleased that, because of the measures we have taken, 1.7 million fewer people are living in poverty today than in 2010. I would also say to the hon. Lady that it is crystal clear that children growing up in workless households are four or five times more likely to be in poverty. That is what the facts say; that is why our efforts are on getting people into work and ensuring that work pays. The actions in the autumn statement to raise the national living wage to record levels and provide a significant tax cut will do an extraordinary amount to continue lifting children out of poverty.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for welcoming my constituent John Farringdon to Parliament this morning. At 110 years of age, John is among my more experienced constituents, and I know that he would want me to ask the Prime Minister to join us in thanking the staff of Cubbington Mill care home for looking after him so well. May I also ask my right hon. Friend to try to find a moment or two to speak to John when he comes to Downing Street this afternoon? It may be a useful conversation for those who are obsessed with the opinion polls, as John, I think it is fair to say, has some experience in surviving against the odds.

I very much hope that I have a chance to meet John later on. I join my right hon. and learned Friend in paying tribute to John’s care home for the incredible care that it provides. It is great that John is here and I am sure that everyone will enjoy meeting him later today.

Q10.   The Prime Minister may already be aware from his colleagues of the exceptional contribution that my constituent Dr Hadoura has made during a 30-year career in our health service. He may also be aware that, for the past six to eight weeks, she has been frantic with worry about her 83-year-old mum, who is trapped in Palestine with a number of family members and no way out. Will he agree to work with the Foreign Office and the Home Office, during this time of some hope in the middle east, to find an urgent way to get vulnerable people, such as Dr Hadoura’s mum, out of danger and into a safe place of refuge while we can? Tragically, once the ceasefire ends, so too will the chance of survival for too many people in Palestine. (900412)

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent for her long service in the health service. I assure him that we are doing everything we can to ensure the safe passage of British nationals out of Gaza. I will ensure that the Foreign Office gets in touch with him. All British nationals who have been registered with the Foreign Office have had significant interaction, and we have successfully ensured the safe passage of well over 200 people already. We will continue to do everything we can for those who remain, and I will ensure that we are in touch with the hon. Gentleman and his constituent.

Thanks to this Conservative Government, the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch has received nearly £19 million of investment, and we are boosting training places at the Three Counties Medical School. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is the perfect time to back my campaign to bring back services, so that local mums can once again give birth in their home town and all children can be seen at the hospital, no matter the illness they are experiencing?

I know that my hon. Friend campaigns passionately for the delivery of first-class healthcare for her constituents. Like her, I welcome the investment that the Alexandra Hospital has had in recent years in a range of different services. She will know that reconfigurations of services are, of course, clinically led local decisions following the appropriate engagement with patients and stakeholders, but I know that she will continue to make her case on behalf of her community.

Q11.   In June, the Canadian Prime Minister claimed that the Indian Government may be linked to the killing of Canadian Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada. Now, it is reported that the US Government thwarted a second assassination attempt on a Canadian-American citizen on US soil, so will the Prime Minister reassure my Sikh constituents—who have raised their safety concerns with me—that this Government are taking the matter very seriously, and will he raise my constituents’ concerns with his counterpart in India? (900413)

I have already made statements on this matter, but crucially, of course, we ensure the safety of all communities in our country. That is the first duty of government, and we will continue to do that, not just for the Sikh community but for every community here in the UK.

With both the Office for Budget Responsibility and the ONS confirming that the British economy is now substantially larger than they estimated even a few months ago, does my right hon. Friend agree that the economy has once again proven the detractors wrong and, because unemployment is a corrosive social evil, will he do all he can to ensure that we retain record employment?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. A year ago, not just the OBR but the Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund and the OECD were all predicting that we would fall into a recession this year, but thanks to the actions of this Government and this Chancellor, we have grown the economy. We saw that momentum carry on just in the past week with Nissan’s announcement of record investment in its new plant in Sunderland, safeguarding the future of thousands of jobs in the north-east and ensuring the transition to electric vehicles. We also saw it in the summit we hosted, which attracted £30 billion of new investment into the UK. As my hon. Friend said, crucially, that investment will support thousands and thousands of jobs in our country.

Q12. There are 2,500 disused coal tips in Wales. The Welsh Government previously asked the Treasury for £600 million to make them safe, and ahead of the autumn statement sought an initial £20 million, but this Tory Government provided nothing. Rhondda Cynon Taf has the most high-risk coal tips of any local authority, and the spectre of Aberfan looms large over our communities. Does the Prime Minister think it is right that the UK took the economic benefit from Welsh coal, but will not fund the safety of its legacy? (900414)

The UK Government are investing in Wales, with record investment in electrification of the north Wales line and record investment in communities up and down the country. It is important to recognise that just recently, the UK Government invested hundreds of millions of pounds to safeguard thousands of jobs at Tata Steel. The Welsh Government have had access to the largest set of Barnett consequentials on record over the past couple of years, and have the resources they need.

Thanks to this Conservative Government, the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke will see over £200 million to fix our broken roads, the reopening of the Stoke to Leek line, and over £30 million to bus back better by introducing fairer fares and smarter routes to better connect our communities. However, residents who have a free bus pass are being denied the use of it before 9.30 am by Labour-run Stoke-on-Trent City Council, meaning that people cannot get to their GP appointments or to work. Will the Prime Minister back my campaign to end that unfair policy, which is being imposed on my residents?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of high-quality bus services. That is why we have capped the cost of travelling on buses at £2 until the end of 2024 as a result of our decision on HS2, and why we have supported councils with £1 billion of funding. I urge all councils to ensure that people see the benefit of that investment, and I wholeheartedly back my hon. Friend’s campaign.

Q13.   NHS England has awarded £330 million to Palantir, a controversial technology firm, to help it recover from its pandemic backlog despite deep concerns among many healthcare professionals about privacy, ethics and the safety of patient data. In light of the Government’s recently commissioned report on unifying health data in the UK, can the Prime Minister confirm that no attempts will be made to force the Scottish Government to release the personal data of Scottish residents to any centralised system? (900415)

As the hon. Lady knows, healthcare is devolved, but we will look for every opportunity to improve patient care and reduce waiting lists in England. That is what we are doing in developing new technology that has a proven track record of bringing down waiting lists and improving the optimisation and efficiency of how theatres are scheduled. That is the type of thing we need to do to ensure that patients get the care they need, and that we can get efficiency in the NHS.

The increasing proliferation of AI-generated disinformation and deepfakes poses a clear and present danger not only to our democratic process, but to the administration of justice itself. What further steps will my right hon. Friend take, following the Bletchley summit, to strengthen our domestic law when it comes to this threat to democracy, and to take international action to provide the guardrails that I believe are essential if we are to maintain integrity in the administration of justice?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for all the work he has done in this incredibly important area. He is right that we need to have guardrails around the successful exploitation of this technology, which is why the Online Safety Act 2023 gives the regulator significant new powers to regulate the content on social media companies, including some of the ones that he mentioned. We are also working internationally, following on from the summit, to ensure that we can all get the benefits of this technology, but in the process safeguard our democracy, which is so crucial to the functioning of our country.