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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2023


The Secretary of State was asked—

Inflation and Public Spending

May I say how sorry I was to learn of the death of Baroness Kinnock? I met her when I was an intern in the European Parliament many years ago, and I have never forgotten how fearless, remarkable and determined she was. I send my deepest condolences to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and the wider Welsh Labour family, who also mourn the death of Allan Rogers, who served in this House as the Member for Rhondda for 19 years.

The UK economy has outperformed expectations this year, and the Prime Minister has delivered on his pledge to halve inflation. Following the Chancellor’s announcement at the autumn statement, the Welsh Government will receive £305 million in additional funding, which can be used to support public services in Wales.

Tory inflation and austerity mean that the Welsh budget is worth £900 million less than it was when it was set, and the autumn statement consequentials do not make up for that. The Institute of Welsh Affairs has called the autumn statement “a return to austerity” with

“tax cuts at the cost of cuts to public service delivery.”

It is the people of Wales who are suffering poverty and cuts to public services, so I ask the Minister: instead of the autumn statement tax handouts to the wealthy in London and the south-east, will the Secretary of State not urge the Chancellor to tax the wealthy to better protect Welsh public services?

The House will not be surprised to learn that I completely disagree with the hon. Lady’s assessment. It is not the amount of money the Welsh Government are receiving but the way in which they are mismanaging public services that is the problem. The 2021 spending review delivered the Welsh Government a record settlement of £18 billion a year, so I think that she needs to recognise that the problem is on her own side in Wales.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her role and thank her for her tribute to Baroness Kinnock and to Allan Rogers. Glenys Kinnock was an inspiration to our Labour movement, to her many friends and colleagues around the world, but most of all to her family. As the Kinnock family grieve, we send them our love and deepest sympathy.

On public spending in Wales, the Prime Minister promised, when abandoning HS2, that the north Wales main line would be electrified, at a cost of £1 billion. In the past eight years, construction costs have increased by 7% a year, because of the Government’s economic mismanagement. Will the Minister confirm that the last time any cost assessment was done on electrification was in 2015 and that the scheme will now cost between £1.5 billion and £1.8 billion?

I join the hon. Lady in her comments about the Kinnock family.

It is important to recognise that this Government are the first in many decades to commit to that project. I am sorry that she appears to agree with her colleagues in the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff Bay, who seem to say that this is not a priority; Conservative Members feel that electrification and economic growth in north Wales is a priority, and I am sorry that she cannot agree with that.

If it is such a priority, why has nothing been done since 2015, when the cost assessment was undertaken? The hon. Lady’s Government promised to electrify the south Wales main line, but they did not do so. They promised to improve journey times and connections between south Wales and London, but they did not do that either. She has not given an answer on whether the Government will fully fund electrification, so how can she stand there and claim to the people in north Wales that this project has any prospect whatsoever of being completed by this hapless Government?

I say again that the hon. Lady’s party has already dismissed this project as not a priority. I also say again that north Wales is a priority for this Government; we are determined to level up right across this country and especially to focus on areas that the Welsh Labour Government, in south Wales, have completely ignored.

I add my condolences and those of my party to the Kinnock family on their sad loss.

Wales’s public services, assailed by inflation and austerity, now face the further difficulty of recruiting the skilled migrants who have become so vital to caring for our ageing population, as the family threshold is to rise to £38,700. That is £8,000 higher than the average wage in Gwynedd, with many of my constituents earning significantly less. Will the Minister tell me what representations she—or, rather, the Secretary of State—has made to the Home Secretary on the effects of the new threshold on Welsh public services?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Secretary of State has regular discussions with his Cabinet colleagues about the issue. It is absolutely vital that we take tough measures to make sure that we sustain sensible levels of migration. That is exactly what the Home Secretary has announced this week.

The change in the salary threshold will affect real people with real families and real people receiving care. My constituent Daniel Griffith was due to marry his Brazilian partner next year. They intend to make their home in Wales, but it is far from clear at present whether they will be able to do that under the new income rules. Why should Daniel, unlike the Secretary of State, the Minister and everyone else in this Chamber, have to choose between his wife and his country?

Some of the policies put in place by the Welsh Labour Government, aided and abetted by Plaid Cymru under the co-operation agreement, are disadvantaging Wales, putting off investors from creating investment and jobs in Wales. Again, I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is his colleagues in Cardiff Bay who need to have a look at what they are doing.

Narrow Gauge Railway Tourism

2. Whether he has had discussions with the Welsh Government on promoting and supporting narrow gauge railway tourism in Wales. (900417)

Narrow gauge and heritage railways are important for our tourism sector. Although tourism is, of course, devolved, the UK Government have demonstrated their support for the sector. The Secretary of State saw that at first hand on 2 June, when he opened Corwen station, which was partly funded by the UK Government’s levelling-up fund.

First, I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box; it is a pleasure to see her there.

A little while back, a friend of mine from Rouen, Thierry Fontenay, came over to Tywyn in Gwynedd. I asked myself, “How can I amuse him?” I took him on the Talyllyn railway, and we went from Tywyn to Abergynolwyn. He was over the moon—he took photographs of the engine and went on to the footplate. He told me that there are no narrow gauge railways like that, if at all, in France. What can we do to promote in Europe these wonderful narrow gauge railways that we have in Wales?

My hon. Friend is, of course, right: Wales’s narrow gauge railways are part of our unique tourism offer, so it is vital that they are marketed to the world. That is why Visit Britain works to ensure that Wales’s brand values are reflected in the broader GREAT campaign. Let me do Visit Britain and Visit Wales’s job for them and warmly invite Monsieur Fontenay to come and see the premier narrow gauge railway—the Brecon Mountain railway.

Impact of Autumn Statement

The autumn statement set out the UK Government’s plans to grow the economy and incentivise work so that economic growth can be felt throughout the United Kingdom. That will include a national insurance tax change from January, which will put £324 back into the pockets of 1.2 million workers across Wales.

North Wales has always been the poor relative to south Wales, where the Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff fund their voter bases. However, thanks to the foresight of this Conservative Government, money is now flowing from Whitehall to Wrexham—£13 million from the levelling-up fund, £20 million from the towns fund, £24 million from the shared prosperity fund and the prospect of a £160 million investment zone. We are working on a civil service hub. Does the Secretary of State agree that, after 20 years of neglect from the Welsh Labour Government, this Conservative Government have put Wrexham firmly on the map?

I am absolutely delighted to agree with my hon. Friend: the UK Government are putting Wrexham on the map. I was, of course, delighted with the £160 million investment zone across Wrexham in Flintshire, which was marked by a visit from the Chancellor to the area. The £20 million towns fund for Wrexham will ensure long-term certainty and investment for the area and for the growth deal. I believe that the freeport in north Wales will also benefit my hon. Friend’s constituents.

According to research from the Bevan Foundation, nearly one in four Welsh children have reported having recently been worried about being cold, and around one in eight have worried about being hungry. What are the Government going to do about that?

The UK Government have spent £96 billion on measures to help the least well off across the United Kingdom throughout the difficult times brought about by the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine. On top of that, in the autumn statement we were able to announce a cut in national insurance, which will put more money into people’s pockets. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be talking to his constituents, who are no doubt hit by the highest taxes in the whole United Kingdom as a result of the policies of the Scottish National party Government.

May I join others in paying tribute to Glenys Kinnock, who was much loved by us all?

Earlier this year, the Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) that his Government would prioritise helping the most vulnerable, yet Welsh households still face the consequences of 13 years of his Government’s economic failures, with a historically high tax burden and his own constituents paying on average £240 more each month on their mortgages. Can he explain, then, why his Conservative colleagues in the Senedd are calling for the Welsh Government to withdraw their £40 million mortgage support scheme for those at risk of repossession?

The UK Government have already brought forward a mortgage charter to support anyone getting into difficulties. I hope that the hon. Lady agrees that the fact that the Government have delivered on their pledge to halve inflation over the past year will mean that everyone in Wales is better off; that the cut to national insurance will mean that everyone in Wales is better off; and that the increase in the living wage as well the Government’s commitment to ensuring that pensions and benefits are uprated in line with inflation will mean that everyone on low salaries is better off.

Tourism Sector Visitor Levy

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the potential financial impact of proposals to implement a visitor levy for Wales on the tourism sector. (900419)

The UK Government are investing in Wales and in the Welsh tourism industry, which has been evidenced most recently by the decision to allocate £500,000 to the Hay Festival—a project championed by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. It is a pity that the Welsh Government are not taking the same view about the importance of the tourism industry and are introducing a tax that signals that Wales is closed for business.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. It is no surprise that hitting tourists with a tax is likely to deter them from wanting to visit Wales, despite the natural beauty of places such as Snowdonia and the attractions of visiting locations such as Anglesey. Alongside highlighting the folly of this move from the Welsh Labour Government, will he ensure that anyone advocating for a tax on tourism anywhere else in the UK is reminded of the negative impact that it would have on our tourism sector?

I can assure my hon. Friend that not only will I be reminding the Welsh Labour Government about the importance of supporting the tourism industry and the folly of introducing a tax, but my Conservative colleagues in the Senedd will also be making that point. I hope that the Welsh Labour Government will listen to them and also listen to the Wales Tourism Alliance, which has said that this tax will be a tax on jobs and a tax on an industry that employs one in 10 people in Wales.

Rural Communities: 20 mph Speed Limit

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the potential impact of the 20 mph speed limit on rural communities. (900420)

14. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the potential impact of the 20 mph speed limit on rural communities. (900429)

All of us support speed limits in places where there is a risk to life. I have supported speed limits outside schools, hospitals and other places in my constituency, but the Welsh Labour Government’s policy of bringing in a 20 mph speed limit on all 30 mph roads—a blanket speed limit—is damaging for the economy. By their own figures, they have suggested that it could create a £4.5 billion hit to the Welsh economy. They need to think again.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. More than 8,700 people on Ynys Môn and almost half a million across Wales have signed the Senedd petition to rescind and remove the disastrous 20 mph law. In fact, more people have signed the petition than voted for Labour in the last Senedd election. Unlike the Welsh Labour Government, will the Secretary of State listen to people across Wales and join me in calling for the Welsh Labour Government to reverse this new, disastrous 20 mph law?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and call on the Welsh Labour Government to rescind the policy of a blanket 20 mph speed limit across Wales. At the same time, I call on them to rescind their policy of building no new roads ever again in Wales, and I call on them to scrap their policy of bringing in road charging for using the motorway network. Is it not interesting that not one Labour Member present is willing to stand up to defend their own Senedd Government policy?

We have already heard about the importance of tourism to the Welsh economy. Has my right hon. Friend made any assessment of the impact on tourism, which will disappear from Wales as a result of this blanket ban?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. People will now not only have to pay extra money to come into Wales as a result of the Welsh Labour Government’s tourism tax, but find it a lot slower to get around Wales as a result of the Welsh Labour Government’s speed limits. In my constituency of Monmouthshire, the Labour council has recently decided for the first time ever to bring in charges for people who want to use the shops on a Sunday over the Christmas period, meaning that it wants us to slow down, but not to stop.

Local authorities in Wales have had the opportunity to exempt roads and villages from the blanket application of a speed limit. Devon County Council has had less discretion. In May this year, 105 parishes in Devon applied to the county council to have a 20 mph limit, but only six applications were granted. Does the Minister accept that an opt-in system for 20 mph zones depends on local authorities having enough funding to exercise discretion?

The hon. Gentleman’s party is in charge in Powys—I am not sure whether he is aware of that. The reality is that local authorities across Wales need more funding to implement such policies, which have cost £30 million. The Welsh Labour Government are diverting money from local authorities so that they can spend it on their pet schemes, including extra Senedd Members.

Impact of Autumn Statement

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of the autumn statement on households in Wales. (900421)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues regarding UK Government support for households in Wales, so I was absolutely delighted that in the autumn statement the Chancellor announced a 9.8% rise in the national living wage, providing an extra £1,800 to the annual earnings of full-time workers.

We are all thinking of the lovely Glenys Kinnock and her family, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), at this sad time.

The number of emergency food parcels distributed by the Trussell—[Interruption.]

Order. Does it occur to hon. Members when they are conversing in a normal speaking tone, rather than whispering, while a Member is asking a question that it is really rude and discourteous?

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The number of emergency food parcels distributed by Trussell Trust food banks in Newport West is on the rise. In 2018, the number of parcels distributed was 1,971. In the same period this year, over 3,000 were distributed to families. There was nothing in the autumn statement that would make that situation better. Why not?

With respect, I disagree with the hon. Lady. The fact that inflation has been halved will be of benefit to anyone receiving food parcels. The fact that there has been a cut in national insurance will be beneficial for people. The fact that there has been an increase in the living wage will be beneficial for people. The fact that pensions and benefits are going up in line with inflation is going to be beneficial for people in her constituency. What is not going to be beneficial for her constituents is the Welsh Labour Government wanting to spend over £100 million creating extra Senedd Members.

The Minister will be aware that he UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly has been meeting in Westminster this week. It was made clear by the co-chair, Natalie Loiseau MEP that Glenys Kinnock had made a huge contribution in the European Parliament, particularly in advocating for women’s rights. That was something that she wanted to record, so it is not just in this Parliament that Glenys Kinnock will be remembered for her role in politics.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cut in national insurance contributions, the improvement in the national living wage and the cutting of inflation are crucial to Welsh households, as they are across the UK?

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend on all those points—first, that Glenys Kinnock made an enormous contribution to politics in this country, as has her husband, to whom we send our condolences, and as does her son who, at this very moment, is working hard to support steelmaking in south Wales. It is a pleasure to work with him on the transition board in Port Talbot, even though we have disagreements from time to time on political matters. May I add to the tributes and support everything that my right hon. and learned Friend said?

I agree that the recent changes in the autumn statement will be beneficial for people in Wales.

Floating Offshore Wind: Celtic Sea

7. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on expediting the development of floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea. (900422)

I have regular—in fact, frequent—conversations with Cabinet colleagues and stakeholders to support the floating offshore wind industry, which will create high-quality jobs in Wales. The Government fully support plans for up to 4 GW of floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea, and we are working to bring forward an additional 12 GW through the 2030s, with the potential to bring forward up to £20 billion-worth of investment.

Previous offshore wind developments on England’s east coast have shown that appropriate planning is needed to minimise disruption to communities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the development of floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea should mean single-cable corridors—one to his side of the water, and just one to the north coast of Devon or Cornwall—to reduce environmental and societal disruption?

I know that the electricity systems operator is currently reviewing the design of connections for offshore wind projects. Last week—or possibly earlier this week—I met the Crown Estate, and I have been meeting National Grid to discuss some of the issues around cabling and the reconfiguration of the grid. The decision as to where the cables will go and how many of them there will be is a fairly technical one that I fear I am not qualified to take a view on, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Crown Estate and National Grid would be more than happy to talk to her about that.

Any onshore and offshore wind in the Celtic sea will affect fishermen in Northern Ireland as well. Can the Secretary of State assure me that, when it comes to plans for offshore wind, the fishing organisations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will all have input on where it happens, so that fishing will not be affected?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In sparking a floating offshore wind industry, certain challenges need to be dealt with together with various other Government Departments—he has made reference to one challenge. I can assure him that I have already had informal discussions about that, and will be looking to have more such discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other Government Departments to ensure that we overcome all the challenges and create a vibrant, sustainable industry for the future.

Energy Bills

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a variety of issues, including the cost of energy bills. The Government recognise the challenges posed by cost of living pressures, which is why we are providing on average £3,700 per household from 2022-23 to 2024-25 to support households and individuals with the cost of living.

The Minister may not be aware of the very successful Warm Wales programme in the noughties, which saw tens of thousands of homes have their cavities and lofts insulated, saving residents in Neath, Port Talbot and Wrexham hundreds of pounds every year. Do the Government recognise that concentrated schemes of that nature have a major impact on fuel poverty, and will Ministers steal our plans, which would see hundreds of thousands more households benefit?

I am well aware that there are a number a renewable energy schemes that could have a positive benefit on householders in Wales, which is why the UK Government have been so supportive of the potential for floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea, and why, in the last round, we arranged higher strike prices for tidal energy. We are looking at a wide range of renewable energy systems that can bring benefits to people in Wales. At the same time, in recognising the cost of living pressures, the UK Government ensured that we were paying around half the average fuel bills for homeowners during the last winter period.


Last week, I had the pleasure of talking to farmers at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society winter fair, and at livestock markets in Sennybridge and Talybont in my constituency. The UK Government are committed to backing Welsh farming, most notably by allocating more than £900 million to the Welsh Government. That delivers on our manifesto commitment to maintain funding for farmers and land managers at 2019 levels.

Farmers across the UK—from those in the country of Wales to those in the village of Wales in Rother Valley—face increasing pressures. The Minister will know that I am holding my next farmers’ forum with the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), early next year in Rother Valley. What is my hon. Friend doing to support farmers in the country of Wales, farmers in the village of Wales in Rother Valley and farmers across the whole of the UK?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work to ensure that the voice of farming is heard by the Minister. Like me, he understands that farmers across this country are the beating heart of the rural economy, driving growth in rural constituencies such as mine. I must say, that attitude stands in stark contrast to that of the Labour party in Wales, which has already cut £37 million from the Welsh agriculture budget. We wait with trepidation to see what damage Labour will do to Welsh farmers next week.

I call Stephen Doughty—[Interruption.] Order. That just proves the point: Members are not paying the least bit of attention to a colleague who is about to speak—he could not even hear his name being called. It is rude to keep talking when someone is trying to ask an important question.

Rail Infrastructure

12. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the adequacy of rail infrastructure in Wales. (900427)

Thank you for your generosity, Madam Deputy Speaker. I, too, pay tribute to my very good friends in the Kinnock family after the loss of Glenys, who was a dear friend to all of us, and note the sad death of the former Member for Rhondda.

I ask the Secretary of State—

The UK Government are committed to building a strong rail infrastructure network across Wales, which will improve connectivity and drive economic growth.

My constituents want the parkway station to be built at St Mellons. That will require important work on the south Wales main line for relief lines. Will the Minister meet me and colleagues, with the rail Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman)—to ensure that this important national investment is made, so that the station can go ahead?

I will be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that and the investment that the UK Government are already putting into rail infrastructure in Wales.

The Secretary of State and the Minister should know that I have campaigned for years to close the dangerous level crossing in Pencoed in my constituency. No levelling-up funding or transport bid funding has been approved for any of the applications. Will the Minister please talk to Department for Transport officials to resolve this, rather than allowing DFT officials to keep announcing more and more rail services, which means closing the crossing more by stealth? That is not acceptable to my constituents.

I worked well with the hon. Gentleman when I was in the Government Whips Offices and I very much look forward to doing so again. I will write to him to offer a meeting about that.

Before we proceed to Prime Minister’s questions, many colleagues have asked me to pass on their best wishes to Mr Speaker in his absence. I am happy to inform the House that, although Mr Speaker has tested positive for covid and therefore cannot be present in the Chamber, he is rapidly getting better. Just as soon as that little test shows negative, he will be straight back here in his Chair.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

West Midlands: Economic Growth

Q1. Whether he has had recent discussions with the Mayor of the West Midlands on economic growth in that region. (900527)

I welcome you to your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that the whole House wishes Mr Speaker a speedy recovery. Before I answer my hon. Friend’s question, I also know that the whole House will want to join me in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Alistair Darling, Glenys Kinnock and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. They each made an enormous contribution to public life and will be deeply missed.

The Hillsborough families have suffered multiple injustices: the loss of 97 lives, the blaming of the fans and the unforgivable institutional defensiveness of public bodies. I am profoundly sorry for what they have been through. Today, the Government have published their response to Bishop James Jones’s report to ensure that the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated. I am immensely grateful that they shared their experiences. I hope to meet them in the new year, and the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will make an oral statement after PMQs.

Turning to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), the Government continue to work closely with the Mayor of the West Midlands to develop fully his plan to deliver growth.

I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the Hillsborough families.

It is thanks to Margaret Thatcher and her robust treatment of militant trade unions in the west midlands, and to her contribution of £10 billion at today’s prices to the motor industry in the west midlands that iconic names such as Jaguar and Land Rover still exist. Does the Prime Minister share my boundless joy that on the road to Damascus and in recognition of her great heritage and all that she achieved, another fanboy has joined in her great belief—the Leader of the Opposition?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for his area, and because of the pro-business policies of this Government, I am delighted to see that Jaguar Land Rover has invested billions of pounds in its move towards electrification in the region. He is absolutely right: I am always happy to welcome new Thatcherites from all sides of this House, but it says something about the Leader of the Opposition that the main strong female leader that he could praise is Margaret Thatcher, not his own fantastic deputy.


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

The Government are set to close the household support fund in March, cutting off crucial free meals for 12,000 of Rotherham’s children in the lowest-income families. With the Government’s cost of living crisis in full swing and energy prices about to increase again, how does the Prime Minister justify taking food from the mouths of my poorest children?

What we are doing is ensuring that no child should grow up in poverty. That is why we have not only provided considerable cost of living support this year, worth over £3,000 to a typical household, but provided more support this winter for pensioners, a record increase in the national living wage, and a full indexation and uplifting of welfare for the next financial year. When it comes to children and food, not only do we fund free school meals for almost 2 million children, but we introduced the holiday activities and food programme. That programme provides not just food but enriching activities to deprived children up and down the entire country, including in the hon. Lady’s local authority.

Q2.   If there is one place where everyone should feel safe, it is in their own home, but the reality is that for some of the most vulnerable people, home is precisely where they can be most at risk. They are terrorised by criminals who target them, move in, take control, and set up a base camp from which they sell drugs or facilitate prostitution in a horrendous form of exploitation known as cuckooing. It has happened in Eastbourne, and it is happening across the country. It is not an offence, but it should be; it was not cited in the Criminal Justice Bill that we debated last week, so will my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary meet with me and concerned colleagues to further discuss the issue? (900528)

I agree with my hon. Friend that cuckooing is an abhorrent practice that often preys on the most vulnerable in society. As part of the Government’s antisocial behaviour action plan, the Home Office engaged with relevant stakeholders about whether a new criminal offence was necessary. The results of that engagement demonstrated that a range of existing powers can be used to disrupt that activity, but of course I will ensure that the relevant Minister meets with my hon. Friend and updates her on the work we are doing to share effective practice to tackle this abhorrent problem.

It is very good to see you in your place, Madam Deputy Speaker. We wish Mr Speaker a speedy recovery.

This week, we lost two giants of the Labour family, and I thank the Prime Minister for his comments. Alistair Darling was a man of unassuming intelligence, warmth and kindness. He brought a calm expertise and, in private, a cutting wit, and his devoted love of his family was ever present. Our thoughts are with Maggie, his wife, and Calum and Anna, whom he loved so dearly.

Glenys Kinnock was a passionate campaigner for social justice who changed lives at home and abroad. She was a loving and supportive partner and mother, and her death is a huge loss to all of us. We are thinking of Neil, Stephen, Rachel and all the family. I also echo the Prime Minister’s comments in relation to Lord Douglas-Hamilton.

In relation to the Hillsborough families, they deserve justice. In a previous capacity, I worked with the families. They waited a very long time for the findings, thanks to people in this House, and they have waited a long time for this response, but I am glad it is now coming.

If the purpose of the Rwanda gimmick was to solve a political headache of the Tories’ own making—to get people out of the country who they simply could not deal with—then it has been a resounding success. After all, they have managed to send three Home Secretaries there—an achievement for which the whole country can be grateful. Apart from members of his own Cabinet, how many people has the Prime Minister sent to Rwanda?

As I have been clear before, we will do everything it takes—[Interruption.] We will do everything it takes to get this scheme working so that we can indeed stop the boats. That is why this week we have signed a new legally binding treaty with Rwanda, which, together with new legislation, will address all the concerns that have been raised. Everyone should be in no doubt about our absolute commitment to stop the boats and get flights off, because—this is the crucial point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not understand—deterrence is critical. Even the National Crime Agency has said that

“you need an effective removals and deterrence agreement”

if you truly want to break the cycle of tragedy that we see. What we heard this morning from his own shadow Ministers was that they would scrap the scheme even when it is operational and working. Once again, instead of being on the side of the British people, he finds himself on the side of the people smugglers.

When the Government first announced this gimmick, they claimed Rwanda would settle tens of thousands of people—tens of thousands of people. Then the former Deputy Prime Minister quickly whittled it down to mere hundreds. Then the Court of Appeal in June made it clear there is housing for just 100. The current number of people sent there remains stubbornly consistent—zero. At the same time, article 19 of the treaty says:

“The Parties shall make arrangements for the United Kingdom to resettle a portion of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees in the United Kingdom”.

So how many refugees from Rwanda will be coming here to the UK under the treaty?

The treaty, as I have said, addresses all the concerns of the Supreme Court, but it is a point of pride that we are a compassionate country that does welcome people from around the world. Let me just get the right hon. and learned Gentleman up to speed on what we are doing: we have reduced the number of illegal arrivals from Albania by 90%; increased the number of illegal working raids by 50%; and because of all the action we have taken, the number of small boat arrivals is down by one third. But what is the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s plan? What it comes down to is that he simply does not have a plan to address this problem. [Interruption.] No, no, I am probably being unfair, because he does have a plan: it is to cook up a deal with the EU that would see us accept 100,000 illegal migrants.

Migration has trebled on the Prime Minister’s watch, and all he can do is make up numbers about the Labour party. It is really pitiful. I am not actually sure the Prime Minister can have read this thing. Article 4 says the scheme is capped at Rwanda’s capacity—that is 100. Article 5 says Rwanda can turn them away if it wants. Article 19 says we actually have to take refugees from Rwanda. How much did this “fantastic” deal cost us?

As the Home Secretary was crystal clear about, there is no incremental money. [Interruption.] There is no incremental money that has been provided. This is about us ensuring that the concerns of the Supreme Court have all been addressed in a legally binding treaty that will allow us to operationalise the scheme. But I am glad the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised the topic of legal migration, which I agree is absolutely far too high. That is why this week we have outlined a plan, bigger than that of any other Government before, to reduce the levels of legal migration by 300,000. It is an incredibly comprehensive plan, so if he cares so much about it, the simple question for him is: does he support the plan?

He clearly hasn’t read it. Annex A says that, on top of the £140 million he has already showered on Rwanda, when we send people there under this treaty, we will have to pay for their accommodation and upkeep for five years. And that is not all: a Minister admitted this morning that anyone we send to Rwanda who commits a crime can be returned to us. I am beginning to see why the Home Secretary says the Rwanda scheme is—it was something to do with bats, wasn’t it?

What does the Prime Minister think first attracted Mr Kagame to hundreds of millions of pounds for nothing in return?

I have slightly lost the thread of the question. The simple point is that if you believe in stopping the boats, as we on this side of the House do, you need to have effective deterrence and a returns agreement. It is as simple as that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not interested in stopping the boats, which is why he is not interested in the Rwanda plan. In fact, we know they do not want to tackle this issue, because even when this Government were trying to deport foreign national offenders from this country, they opposed it. Multiple shadow Front Benchers signed a letter to me to that effect, but I do not need to tell him that, because he signed it too! [Interruption.]

I would say that this treaty has more holes than a Swiss cheese, but I do not want to wind up the Prime Minister by talking about a European country again.

I have to give credit to the Rwandan Government. They saw the Prime Minister coming a mile off. I can only imagine their delight and sheer disbelief when, having already banked £140 million of British taxpayers’ money without housing a single asylum seeker, the Prime Minister appeared again with another offer they cannot refuse—a gimmick will send taxpayers’ money to Rwanda and refugees from Rwanda to Britain, and will not stop the boats. There was mention of Margaret Thatcher earlier—[Hon. Members: “More!”]

Order. There is understandable excitement about the mention of the name, but the House must listen to the Leader of the Opposition.

When it comes to this European thing and Margaret Thatcher, this is the week that the shadow Foreign Secretary did not rule out rejoining the European Union. The Leader of the Opposition can roleplay Margaret Thatcher all he wants but, when it comes to Europe, his answer is the same: “Yes, yes, yes.”

Forget the private jet; the Prime Minister is obviously on a private planet of his own. Daily Mail readers learned this week that he has begun to feel sorry for himself. He has even been heard comparing his plight to his beloved Southampton football club. I think that is a bit harsh, because the Saints have been on an 11-game unbeaten run while, as the song has it, the Prime Minister gets battered everywhere he goes.

If we want the perfect example of how badly the Tories have broken the asylum system, last week the Home Office admitted that 17,000 people in the asylum system—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

If we want the perfect example of how badly the Tories have broken the asylum system, last week the Home Office admitted that 17,000 people in the asylum system have disappeared. These are its exact words, and they are hard to believe:

“I don’t think we know where all those people are”.

Now, you might lose your car keys, you might lose your headphones, you might lose your marbles, but how do you lose 17,000 people?

On the topic of football teams, the right hon. and learned Gentleman used to describe the Rwanda policy as immoral, yet his football team have a “Visit Rwanda” badge on the side of their shirts. In the week when he made his big economy speech, we are still waiting to hear how he is going to borrow £28 billion and still cut taxes and reduce debt. It is the same old thing: the sums do not add up. While the Opposition are struggling with their calculator, we are getting on and delivering—a new treaty with Rwanda, the toughest ever measures to cut legal migration, our schools marching up the tables, and tax cuts for millions. Whether it is controlling our borders or lowering our taxes, just like the Saints, the Conservatives are marching on.

Q5. I am getting fed up of sitting in traffic jams in my constituency caused by contractors digging up roads, involving lane closures and temporary traffic lights, often invoking utility company emergency powers when it turns out not to be an emergency and often with no sign of anybody doing any work, particularly over weekends. I set up a campaign to name and shame these inconsiderate contractors, but it turns out that when they cause all this chaos and breach the rules of their permit, the maximum penalty is an £80 fixed penalty notice. Will the Prime Minister back my campaign and support better enforcement and realistic levels of fines? (900531)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We have set aside £8 billion as a result of our plans on HS2, which is enough to resurface over 5,000 miles of road to improve journeys—a cornerstone of our plan—but we are also introducing a range of measures, as my hon. Friend says, to reduce congestion from roadworks. Contained in the plan for drivers is a scheme for greater fines and penalties to ensure that works finish on time. I will make sure that we look at his suggestion, and I wholeheartedly back his campaign.

Is the Prime Minister worried that he is projected to be the first Conservative party leader to lose a general election to a fellow Thatcherite? [Interruption.]

Order. We really must hear the Prime Minister, and we have a lot of questions to get through. [Interruption.] It is not the Prime Minister’s opponents who are giving him trouble.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that Margaret Thatcher’s view was to cut inflation, then cut taxes and then win an election, and that is very much my plan.

Of course, it is not just in relation to Margaret Thatcher that the Tory and Labour leaders appear to agree; the same is true of the Government’s latest migration policies. Those of us on these Benches are not afraid to say that we believe migration is a good thing. It enriches our communities, it enriches our economy, and it enriches our universities, our schools, our health service and, of course, our care sector. Why does the Prime Minister think it is acceptable to ask people to come to these shores to care for our family members, while we show complete disregard for theirs? What has become of this place?

That is completely wrong. As we have already said, we have a proud track record of welcoming those who are most vulnerable around the world—over half a million over the past few years from Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Hong Kong and elsewhere—and that is what this country will always do. But at the same time, when it comes to economic migration and other forms, it is absolutely right that we take strong action to curb the levels that we have seen, because they are simply far too high and place unsustainable pressure on our public services. I make no apology for saying that or, indeed, for saying that it is important that those who come here contribute to our public services.

Q8. I welcome the Government’s significant funding increase for two-year-olds’ pre-schooling in 2023, but the illustrative 2024-25 Department for Education funding to Dorset Council for two-year-olds’ pre-schooling looks to be a net 17p per hour less than it is today, and that is giving West Dorset preschools some nervousness about their sustainability. Will my right hon. Friend support me to ensure that educational funding formulas will take into account the challenges of rural living and allow excellent preschools to— (900534)

In a couple of years’ time, we will have increased spending to over £8 billion every year on free hours and early education, which will help working families with childcare costs; indeed, it is the single biggest investment in childcare in England ever. But my hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and that is why we will ensure that there is a discretionary supplement in the local authorities’ local funding formula for rural communities to account for the smaller economies of scale, so that they can continue to deliver their vital work.

Nine months on from the Windsor framework, I thank the Prime Minister for his ongoing efforts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. However, if and when the institutions are restored, they will still be plagued by the same structural weaknesses that have seen repeated collapses and unfairness on things such as designations. This week, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee published a report calling for a review of the Good Friday agreement. Many architects of the agreement, such as Tony Blair, John Major and Bertie Ahern, have recognised the case for reform. Will the Prime Minister commit to an early review of the agreement to improve its stability, effectiveness and fairness?

I recognise the hon. Member’s campaigning on this issue and I have great respect for his position. Indeed, we have spoken on a number of occasions both here and on my visits to Northern Ireland. My focus right now is on getting the institutions up and running, and my overarching priority is to get public services in Northern Ireland back on track, which I know is an ambition that he and I share. Any reform of institutions is best dealt with with the support of all parts of the community. When it comes to restoring the current institutions, the Government are doing everything they can to support efforts, and I know that the Secretary of State will be in touch for engagement with the parties imminently on that point.

Q12.   Yesterday, 13 men died by suicide; today, 88 men will die of heart disease; tomorrow, and every day, 90,000 men will wake up in prison; and today we have 2.2 million boys living at home with no dad. Thankfully, we have an excellent Cabinet Minister for women, and an excellent Minister for Women. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the merits of a Minister for men and boys? As Warren Farrell has said, when one sex loses, “both sexes lose”. (900538)

My hon. Friend should be commended for his tireless campaigning on this issue. He is particularly right to focus on suicide, and I am grateful for his engagement with the suicide prevention strategy, which sets out the actions that we will take to reduce suicides in the coming years. It was thanks in part to his campaigning that on International Men’s Day we announced that we are appointing the first men’s health ambassador and launching a men’s health taskforce. I look forward to continued collaboration with him so that we can represent his concerns adequately.

Q4. Convicted criminals are being held in police station cells across West Yorkshire because the Government have completely failed to deliver more prison places. Two thirds of prisons are overcrowded, criminals are let out early—if sentenced at all—only 2% of rapists reach court, serious violence is up by 60%, knife crime is up by 70%, and nearly 65,000 cases are waiting to be heard. How can the Prime Minister reassure the residents of Wakefield that they are safe on our streets? (900530)

We have a clear plan to protect victims, punish criminals and cut crime. We are in fact investing £400 million more in prison places on top of the £4 billion that I announced as Chancellor, which is delivering 20,000 new cells. We are also making sure that rapists serve every day of their sentences and ensuring that life means life for the worst offenders—something that I hope the Labour party will be supporting soon.

My constituents Ceri and Frances Menai-Davis, who are in the Public Gallery, lost their son after a long battle with cancer, during which they visited him in hospital every day. They have set up a charity called It’s Never You to help parents in that situation, and on Monday I intend to present a Bill that will ask the Government to report on what support can be given to those parents. I hope the Prime Minister might ask Ministers to discuss that with me so that we can find a way forward to help parents in that dreadful situation.

May I express my sympathies to my right hon. and learned Friend’s constituents for what they have been through, and commend them for setting up the It’s Never You charity? I will ensure that he and the organisers get the appropriate meeting with the Minister to discuss its important work. He is absolutely right that parents who are in that situation should have all the support they need, and we will make sure that that happens.

Q6. One in five of my residents lives in fuel poverty and, according to Cornwall Insight, this winter looks to be the most brutal yet, with the current trajectory in energy prices expected to be the new norm for the rest of the decade. As the Prime Minister will know, one of the best ways to support households is through the introduction of a social tariff. He promised a consultation by summer this year, but we are still waiting. When will the consultation be released? (900532)

We have also provided considerable support in the here and now for households with their energy bills: £900 of direct cost of living support this financial year on top of a record increase in benefits, along with winter fuel payments of up to £300 this winter for pensioners, because they are particularly vulnerable. We will continue to look at all the support we have to ensure that those who need it are getting the help they deserve.

During COP28, will the Prime Minister salute South West Bedfordshire’s contribution to our nation’s energy security for having had the tallest wind turbine in England, the largest battery in Europe and now the most powerful wind turbine in England, which has local support? Can we also ensure that my constituents now get cheaper energy bills for hosting this vital infrastructure?

We are looking exactly at how local communities can benefit when new infrastructure is in their vicinity, as part of our new plan for increased energy security. May I commend my hon. Friend’s local area for the contribution it is making to our clean energy transition? It is a great example of this country’s fantastic track record in delivering net zero and decarbonising faster than any other major economy, not something we will hear from the Labour party, but something that those of us on the Government Benches are very proud of.

Q7. The Government failed in their legal duty to publish a report on spiking by April, stating that they were reconsidering whether their rationale for not introducing a specific offence for spiking was sound. Will the Prime Minister clarify when and if the spiking report will ever be published? Does he agree with me and colleagues right across the House that the only sound approach to this issue is to create a specific criminal offence for spiking? (900533)

This issue has been reviewed by legal police colleagues. My latest understanding is that existing laws did cover the offence of spiking, but I am happy, of course, to ensure that the hon. Lady gets a letter that explains the position.

Not content with being the third-most indebted council in England, with a debt of £670 million, Liberal Democrat Eastleigh Borough Council recently refinanced its failed One Heaton Heath housing project to the tune of £148 million, with no houses built and interest payments of £386,000 per month. Will the Prime Minister now ask the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to intervene and independently investigate the development? May I ask for a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss this terrible decision by Eastleigh Borough Council?

I am aware that some local authorities, including the one my hon. Friend mentions, have taken excessive risks with borrowing and investment practices. That is why we have taken a range of measures to strengthen the regulatory framework to prevent that from happening. They include new powers that make it quicker and easier for the Government to step in when councils take on excessive risk through borrowing. I will ensure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to raise his concerns, because his constituents deserve better.

Q9.   National Energy Action says that 13% of North Tynesiders are in fuel poverty, 3,000 homes have legacy prepayment meters and we are in the bottom 5% for energy efficiency, but the Chancellor announced no new funding to help people this winter. We are now in advent, so what Christmas message does the Prime Minister have for my constituents who are freezing in their homes? (900535)

As I outlined, we have provided considerable support for particularly vulnerable families this year and through this winter. We are also investing record sums in improving the energy efficiency and insulation of vulnerable homes through our home upgrade scheme and the warm home discount, which on average can save people hundreds of pounds on their energy bills when they receive that support. We are expanding those programmes across the country, including in the north-east.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan KC, has concluded his first visit to Israel and Palestine, and has said:

“We must show that the law is there, on the front lines, and that it is capable of protecting all”.

What support will Britain offer the International Criminal Court to enable it to conduct investigations of the conduct of all parties in Israel, Gaza and the west bank before and since 7 October?

As is well known, we are a strong and long-standing supporter of the International Criminal Court. When it comes to the situation in Gaza, we have been consistent in saying that international humanitarian law has to be respected. All parties must take every possible step to avoid harming civilians, and I can say that I stressed that point specifically just yesterday to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Q10. The Prime Minister is aware that the household tax known as the television licence fee is due to rise in April in line with inflation. Given the ongoing household budget constraints with which all our constituents are faced, such as increasing childcare costs, as well as ongoing unresolved staffing issues at BBC Northern Ireland, national BBC television and national BBC radio, is this really the right time to proceed with an even larger £3.7 billion licence fee budget, enhanced yet again? (900536)

We have already agreed a fair settlement with the BBC that will see the licence fee remain frozen until 2024. However, the hon. Member has raised an excellent point. I have been clear about the fact that the BBC needs to be realistic about what is possible in an environment like this, and the licence fee should rise only at a level that people can actually afford. The Culture Secretary has said that “we are looking at” this issue right now, and she will set out more details in due course.

Longton, the largest town in my constituency, has not benefited from future high streets funding, from town deals, or from the latest long-term plan for towns. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that it can have some investment from the Government, and does he agree that some of the latest National Lottery Heritage Fund award to Stoke-on-Trent should definitely be invested there?

My hon. Friend is a tireless champion for his local community. I know that there has been considerable investment in his area over the past few years in plenty of ways, but he has made an excellent point about making sure that no one misses out on the considerable resources that are being invested in Stoke, and I will ensure that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities takes his concerns very seriously.

Order. We are running way over time. I appreciate it would be a great disappointment to Members whose names are on the Order Paper if they were not called, so I am trying my best to call them all, but may I please make a plea for brevity?

Q11. When the Prime Minister is taking a dip in his pool or is on the beach at his place in California, he does not have to worry about swimming in sewage. The rest of us do not have it so good, so why will he not back Labour’s plans for criminal liability for water company bosses who fail to clean up their act? (900537)

We have already brought in regulations that ensure there can be unlimited fines for water companies, and there have been dozens of criminal prosecutions. I would also say, however, that when we had a debate in the House on exactly a plan that would do all this, who did not show up to vote? It was the Labour party.

In recent weeks I have seen at first hand the extraordinary work conducted by specialist care staff in accident and emergency units. As politicians, we are often guilty of using the NHS as a political football, but when it becomes personal, one is reminded that what we have in the UK is very special. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking our superb NHS staff in Bracknell, across Berkshire, in neighbouring Basingstoke and Frimley Park Hospitals, and beyond?

NHS staff are at the heart of what makes our health service work. There would not be an NHS without them—without their skill, their expertise and their dedication. I was delighted I could pay them my thanks last week in person. I join my hon. Friend in thanking NHS staff not just in his constituency but across the country for their dedicated hard work and public service.

Q13. It is now six years since Bishop James Jones published the Hillsborough report, and only today, finally, do we get the Government’s response. When will the Government introduce not just a voluntary charter, an independent public advocate or a code of ethical policing, but a full Hillsborough law to force those in public office to co-operate fully with investigations, and to guarantee fairer funding to enable those affected by a major tragedy to challenge public institutions? (900539)

As I have said, I am profoundly sorry for what the Hillsborough families have been through, and my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will be making a full statement immediately after PMQs.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Having worked as a junior doctor, I understand that it is a demanding job and have sympathy with the challenges they face. However, the strikes that are planned for the festive period threaten public safety and will delay treatment. Causing patients suffering in the pursuit of more money for oneself is, in my view, morally indefensible. What concrete steps is the Prime Minister taking to prevent the strikes, and will he bring forward minimum service legislation to protect patients in case they do go ahead?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and speaks from a position of experience on this issue. The Government have now reached settlements with every other part of the public sector, including, most recently, consultants, and I am grateful to them for their constructive engagement with the Government. The junior doctors are taking action in the face of a recommendation from an independent body of a 9% pay rise, on average—the highest increase across the entire public sector. The Government have gone beyond that in conversations with them, but they have still decided to take damaging strike action. It is wrong, and that is why we have introduced minimum service levels, to ensure that we can guarantee a safe level of care for patients across the NHS. It would be good to hear from the Labour party, at some point, whether they will get off the fence, condemn these strikes and back these minimum service laws.

Q14. Universal credit is broken. One constituent told me that the Department for Work and Pensions is refusing to reimburse her childcare payment because it was four days late due to a phone being broken. She is down £1,200 and is unable to pay for childcare. She has lost her job and will likely have to move house. With three weeks to go before Christmas, she is extremely anxious and distressed. Does the Prime Minister realise the real consequences for real people of this broken system? (900540)

I am sorry to hear about the circumstances of the hon. Lady’s constituent. If the hon. Lady writes to me, I will make sure that we get specific support in place for her constituent and ensure that she can access what she needs. When it comes to universal credit, I strongly disagree with the hon. Lady. It was only because of the actions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) that universal credit was implemented, and the only reason we were able to get support to millions of vulnerable people during the pandemic was that we had replaced the legacy system with universal credit, and that was opposed at every step by the Labour party.

It is always a pleasure to work closely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) in delivering important projects, such as the Llanymynech-Pant bypass on the border with north Shropshire, and today is another example of our partnership. He is unfortunately unable to ask a question, given his role as the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, so will the Prime Minister join me in highlighting my right hon. Friend’s work with the Famers Union of Wales in organising the terrific celebration of Montgomeryshire Day in the Jubilee Room straight after Question Time?

My hon. Friend is an excellent campaigner for his constituents, as indeed is my right hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams). It is fantastic to see these local projects being delivered in their area—and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for teaching me how to pronounce “Pant-Llanymynech” for my first Budget. I am delighted to declare from the Dispatch Box that today is now officially Montgomeryshire Day, and I look forward to everyone celebrating in the Jubilee Room straight after Question Time.

Q15. I beg your indulgence briefly, Madam Deputy Speaker, to wish my constituent who was attacked in yesterday’s serious incident in Aberfan a speedy recovery. I thank the emergency services and school staff for their swift and professional response.Britain is getting smaller on the world stage on this Prime Minister’s watch. His climate failures mean that our children and grandchildren will bear the brunt of the costs. His plans are undermining Britain’s energy security and bills are still sky high for working families, yet he is hiking the tax burden and real living standards are falling by more than 3%. Tinkering with a reset just does not compensate for 13 years of failure, does it, Prime Minister? (900541)

First, can I say that my thoughts are with the victim and her family after the awful incident that took place on the streets of Aberfan? We wish them a full and speedy recovery, and I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking the emergency services for their immediate response.

The hon. Gentleman talked about leaving our children and grandchildren with costs. He is right to raise that because it is important that we do not do that. The question, then, for him and the Labour party is: why do they want to embark on a green borrowing spree of £28 billion a year that will just mean higher taxes for our children and grandchildren and higher mortgage rates? It is the same old story: reckless borrowing and the British people paying the price.