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Volume 743: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2024

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.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, nearly 5,000 people are currently living with dementia in my Colne Valley constituency, of whom 3,153 have had a formal diagnosis. That figure went up by one this week with my dad’s diagnosis—my dad is my constituent. Will my right hon. Friend pledge to make dementia a priority by driving up diagnosis rates, bolstering dementia research, investing in social care, and improving access to the most innovative diagnostic methods and to new, life-changing treatments?

I send my warmest wishes to my hon. Friend and his father and family. I recognise that a dementia diagnosis can bring worry, both for the person who is diagnosed and for their wider family. He is absolutely right about the timely diagnosis of dementia; it is vital to ensure that those affected can access the care and support they need. NHS England is carrying out a pilot to ensure that we can improve dementia diagnosis in care homes, and our major conditions strategy includes a focus on dementia. Crucially, as he says, we are now doubling the funding for dementia research so that we can help everyone, including his father.

I send my best wishes to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and his father, and to all those suffering in that way.

I cannot let today pass without saying how saddened I was by the tragic death of Bronson Battersby, aged just two, who died in heartbreaking circumstances in Skegness. I know that the House will join me in sending our deepest sympathies to his family.

The Government have been forced to admit that they have lost contact with 85% of the 5,000 people earmarked for removal to Rwanda. Has the Prime Minister found them yet?

What I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that, in spite of him seeking to block every single attempt that we have made, we have now managed, because of our actions, to reduce the number of people coming here by over a third last year, to remove more than 20,000 people from this country back to their home countries, to carry out 70% more illegal immigration enforcement raids, to arrest hundreds of people, to close down thousands of bank accounts and to process more than 100,000 cases—the biggest number in more than 20 years. That is because, on the Conservative side of the House, we want to stop the boats. We have a plan and it is working. With him, we would just go back to square one.

My first thought is, “How do you actually lose 4,250 people?” Then I remember that this is the Government who scrapped High Speed 2, but the costs are still rising by billions; this is the Government who spent £400 million of taxpayers’ money on a Rwanda scheme, yet cannot deport a single person; and this is the Government who waged a week-long war on the Greek Prime Minister for reasons known only to themselves—and suddenly I remember that of course this farce of a Government could lose the people they were planning to remove. The Prime Minister did not answer the question, so I will ask him again: where are the 4,250 people the Government have lost? Where are they?

As I said, we have actually identified and removed over 20,000 people from this country back to where they belong. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks these questions about the Rwanda scheme, but it is important that we get it up and running, because it is important, as the National Crime Agency says, that we have a working deterrent in order to resolve this issue. That is how Australia solved the problem, and that is how Albania has worked for us. He asks these questions about the detail of those things, but we all know that he does not actually care about solving the problem. We know that because the BBC quizzed him, asking:

“If…the numbers crossing the Channel on small boats decline— i.e. so it’s working—would you still reverse it?”

The Labour leader said, “Yes.” It is crystal clear that he does not have a plan and it will be back to square one.

Spending £400 million on not getting anybody to Rwanda while losing 4,000 people is not a plan; it is a farce. Only this Government could waste hundreds of millions of pounds on a removals policy that does not remove anyone. Only this Government could claim that they will get flights off the ground only to discover that they cannot find a plane. Only this Government could sign a removals deal with Rwanda only to end up taking people from Rwanda to here. The Prime Minister still has not answered the question, so I will try again. What progress has he made in locating the 4,250 people his Government have apparently lost? He has dodged it three times. Where are they?

It is the same thing again and again. Here we are, talking about what we are doing, and I am happy to go over it. What are we doing? We have increased the number of illegal immigration enforcement raids by 70%, leading to thousands of arrests, using powers that the right hon. and learned Gentleman sought to block in this House. We have closed down thousands of bank accounts of illegal workers—again, using powers that he sought to block—[Interruption.]

As I said, we have worked through a record number of cases and returned a record number of people back to where they came from. All that is a plan that is working, and we can see that it is working because the number of people coming to this country is down by over a third. Again, it is a bit rich to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman pretending here that he cares about how we actually stop the boats when he has been crystal clear in saying that even if the plan to reduce the numbers is working, he would still scrap it. That is because he has no values, no conviction and no plan. It is back to square one.

The Prime Minister does not have a clue where they are, has he? I can tell you one place they are not, and that is Rwanda—the only people he has sent to Rwanda are Cabinet Ministers. For all the words, the ridiculous thing is that we know the Prime Minister himself does not even believe in this Rwanda gimmick. He had to be talked out of scrapping the whole thing. He did not want to fund it; he did not think it would work. When he sees his party tearing itself apart—hundreds of bald men scrapping over a single broken comb—does he not wish that he had had the courage to stick to his guns?

I have absolute conviction that the plan we have put in place will work, because I believe it is important that we grip this problem. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spends a lot of his time in this House talking about his time as a lawyer, and I would urge him to listen to lawyers, because Lord Wolfson has said that our Bill severely limits the grounds for removal. Four eminent King’s counsels have said that it is undoubtedly the most robust piece of immigration legislation this Parliament has seen, and—[Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear what the Prime Minister has to say, because it matters to my constituents; those who feel that it does not matter to theirs should please leave.

As I said, Mr Speaker, four eminent KCs have said that this is undoubtedly the most robust legislation this Parliament has seen, and a former Supreme Court justice has been clear that the Bill would work. But I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has always been more interested in what leftie lawyers have to say. I even have in my hands the textbook that he authored for them—it is called “European Human Rights Law” by Keir Starmer, so—[Interruption.]

Prime Minister, when I stand up, please sit down. Can I just say that we do not use props in this House? If you need reminding, I will certainly ensure that I do so.

It is such utterly pathetic nonsense. The Prime Minister has been brutally exposed by his own MPs yet again. He has one party chair who says that she hopes the Lords will rip his Rwanda deal to pieces, and two more who had to quit because they do not think it will work—all of them appointed by him, all now in open revolt against his policy, each other, and reality. Is it any wonder that they all think this gimmick is doomed to failure when the Prime Minister himself does not believe in it?

It is rich to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman about belief in something. It will be news to him that it is actually the case that you can believe in something and stick to that position on this side of the House. [Interruption.]

Can I just say to Members on the Government side that this is very important? It is an important day. People want to know what is going on, so I want my constituents, just like yours, to hear what the Prime Minister has to say.

Just this week we had another example of the right hon. and learned Gentleman doing one thing and saying another. This week he backed the Home Secretary in banning the terrorist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, despite him personally using the European Court of Human Rights to try to stop them being banned. You do not have to take my word for it; the extremists’ own press release said, and I quote, “the Hizb ut-Tahrir legal team, led by Keir Starmer”. I know that he does not like talking about them because they have been a client, but when I see a group chanting “jihad” on our streets, I ban them; he invoices them. [Interruption.]

There are eight questions that I think some Members might want to hear answered. I tell you what: some who wanted questions have already gone off the list.

If the Prime Minister stuck to his position, he would be voting with us. His former Home Secretary says that the plan will not work, his current Home Secretary calls it “batshit”, his former immigration Minister does not back his plan, and even the Prime Minister himself does not believe in it. Last week, another of his MPs said that the Tories should admit that things have got “worse” since they came to office, that after 14 years they have left Britain “less united”, and that the country is a “sadder” place. If the Prime Minister cannot even persuade his own MPs that it is worth supporting him, and if he himself does not even believe in his own policies, why on earth should anyone else think differently?

Another week when it is crystal clear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not believe in anything, and he does not have a plan. While he talks the country down, let me update him on what has actually been happening in the past week—inflation more than halved from 11% to 4%, and real wages rising for the fifth month in a row. Last week, rates started falling, and millions of people benefited from a tax cut worth £450. So while he takes us back to square one with a £28 billion tax grab, let us stick with the plan that is delivering a brighter future for Britain.

Q7. It is against the law to silence victims of crime, but that is exactly what the Post Office did through the use of non-disclosure agreements, and this is just the most recent case of NDAs covering up mismanagement, misconduct and even crimes at work. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister consider banning their use in all severance agreements once and for all? (901004)

My right hon. Friend is right to raise an important point. The ability to speak out about things is key to unlocking justice. While NDAs can have a place—and my right hon. Friend is right to say that they should not be used to stop victims of crime in particular getting the justice they deserve—I can tell her that the Ministry of Justice is carefully considering how best to address this issue, including the use of legislation, and I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary will keep the House updated on further progress.

When people woke up today in homes that they cannot afford to heat, with mortgages that they are struggling to pay, to news that inflation is once again on the rise, they will have looked to Westminster for answers, and instead they find a UK Government who are tearing themselves apart over how quickly they can send vulnerable people on a plane to Rwanda. Surely the Prime Minister must understand that the anger that some of his own Back Benchers have towards him is no comparison to the anger that the public have towards his party.

If the hon. Gentleman did care about supporting working families to pay their bills and to pay their mortgage, why on earth is the SNP making Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom, where the average—not the wealthiest, but the average—worker in Scotland is now paying more tax than they do in England.

Of course, when it comes to the Rwanda Bill the reality is that, if you want to stop the smuggler gangs, you should introduce safe and legal routes, but instead the Prime Minister is seeking to weaponise some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is straight out of the cruel and callous right-wing extremist playbook. His time in office is fast approaching its conclusion. Does he seriously want this to be his legacy?

As I said, it is important that we stop the boats because illegal migration is simply not fair. It is not right that some people jump the queue and take away our resources from those who need our help most—and, by the way they are exploited by gangs and many of them lose their lives making these dangerous crossings—so I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The fair and compassionate thing to do is to break these criminal gangs, and that is why we are going to stop the boats.

Q9. Unexpectedly, five months ago, I had a heart attack. Thanks to the swift action of the NHS emergency services, it was caught early. So one stent operation later, I was on a swift path to rehabilitation and recovery, and I am sat here today fighting fit and a bit lighter, too. So along with encouraging everyone to visit the British Heart Foundation website to understand the early warning signs and get fantastic resources to help them, would the Prime Minister also join me in personally thanking everyone who helped to save my life and helped me recover, including the East of England Ambulance Service, the teams at Watford General Hospital and Harefield Hospital, the cardiac rehabilitation teams and everyone who supported me, especially my family and my team, some of whom are in the Gallery today, who help to ensure that I continue to deliver for the great people of Watford? (901006)

I thank my hon. Friend for sharing his story, and I know the whole House will be delighted to hear that he has made a swift recovery. We all wish him good health for the future, as he resumes his excellent campaigning on behalf of his constituents in Watford. I also join him in thanking our fantastic NHS staff for the life-saving work that they do up and down the country. We are backing them with record resources—from our doctors to our ambulance service—and we are all in this House truly grateful for what they do.

Mr Speaker,

“Until the UK Government calls for an immediate ceasefire, it is complicit in the horrors…in Gaza.”

Those are not my words but those of the head of Oxfam who, like every single agency trying to operate on the ground, is clear that aid cannot be effectively delivered while fighting continues. More UK aid is of course welcome but even when it does get through, it can result in what one Palestinian aid worker calls

“bombing us on full stomachs.”

Some 24,000 people have already been killed so what will it take for the Prime Minister to back a permanent bilateral ceasefire?

Of course we want to see a peaceful resolution to this conflict as soon as possible. A sustainable permanent ceasefire with an end to the destruction, fighting and loss of life, the release of hostages and no resumption of hostilities would of course be the best way forward, but in order to achieve that a number of things need to happen: Hamas would have to agree to release all the hostages; Hamas would have to no longer be in charge of Gaza; the threat of more rocket attacks from Hamas into Israel would have to end; and the Palestinian Authority, boosted with assistance, would need to return to Gaza in order to provide governance and aid. That is a sustainable ceasefire that we will work very hard to bring about.

Q11. Today I was unsure whether to raise a national issue such as the desperate need for a Minister for men or a local issue such as Doncaster’s need for a new hospital or Edlington’s for a new leisure centre, but I thought the best thing I could do was ask the Prime Minister to come and have a tour of Doncaster, and while I am showing him around my home town I can press the need for a Minister for men, I can show him the site for a new hospital, and I can introduce him to the people of Edlington so that he can discuss their new leisure centre. Will the Prime Minister accept my invitation? (901008)

Thanks to my hon. Friend’s fantastic campaigning on behalf of his constituents, City of Doncaster Council has received more than £80 million in levelling-up funding to support its regeneration projects and most recently Doncaster has been awarded £20 million in our long-term plan for towns over the next 10 years, which I know he is working very hard to make sure is prioritised for local people. I will be delighted to discuss both projects and his other ideas when I come and visit him as soon as my diary allows.

Q2. Some 71% of requests for funding from the community ownership fund aimed at saving libraries, pubs and village halls have been rejected since 2021. It pits communities against each other and does nothing to address the underlying causes that have led to the loss of these much-loved assets. When will the Government offer more than a simple sticking-plaster for our towns, high streets and communities? (900999)

I set up the community ownership fund when I was Chancellor and it is doing fantastic work funding hundreds of projects across the country, including, I believe, one in the hon. Lady’s constituency—the back on the map scheme. It is there to support local communities, take over assets—whether pubs, village halls or other community assets—and is doing a fantastic job. It is right that there is a competitive process because we want to make sure the money is deployed in the areas where it can make the most difference.

Q14. Over-crowding on Chiltern Railways has become a daily misery for commuters from stations including Haddenham and Thame Parkway and Princes Risborough in my constituency, the root cause of which is an ageing fleet constantly breaking down and shorter trains having to be run. There are proposals on the table for both short-term additional capacity and long-term fleet renewal. Will my right hon. Friend instruct the Department for Transport to fast-track those proposals so we can end overcrowding on Chiltern? (901011)

I agree with my hon. Friend that the performance on Chiltern has not been good enough in recent times. I know that Chiltern has recently begun engagement with the rolling-stock leasing market, which will help reduce overcrowding, but also, together with DfT, it is looking at providing additional capacity at peak times. I know that the rail Minister my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) will ensure that these plans continue to progress and keep my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) updated.

Q3.   What exactly is it about the prospect of deportation to Rwanda that make the Government think it will be such a deterrent to asylum seekers? Do they think that life in Rwanda is somehow less comfortable, secure and safe than here in the United Kingdom? What do the Government think is wrong with Rwanda that means asylum seekers will not want to live there? (901000)

It is not that there is anything wrong with it; it is just that it is not the United Kingdom. And I have to point out to the hon. Gentleman that deterrence works: we know that it works because our scheme with Albania has ensured a 90% reduction in arrivals from that country.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is committed to energy security and the development of renewables, as am I, and that is why Sizewell C started a development consent order this week. However, there are plenty of other developments happening on greenfield sites, where National Grid plans to use compulsory purchase orders to plough up farming fields used for food and tree production when brownfield sites are available that are connected to the network. National Grid is refusing to publish its study on Bradwell and why they deem it not suitable for the connection of offshore wind farms and interconnectors. Will he meet me and other East Anglian MPs to discuss this matter and use the powers of his office to get that study published?

As my right hon. Friend will know, planning applications for new infrastructure are managed independently, so I cannot comment on specific cases, but I agree with her that it is important to listen to the views of local communities, such as those she represents across Suffolk and East Anglia. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) was visiting her area recently to mark the commencement of the project at Sizewell C, and I can assure her that relevant Ministers will continue to pay close attention to her concerns.

Q4.   The Leader of the House last week correctly described the contaminated blood scandal as “on another level” compared with other scandals. Sir Brian Langstaff has announced today the publication of the final report of the infected blood inquiry, and he reminds us: “My principal recommendation remains that a compensation scheme should be set up with urgency. No-one should be in any doubt about the serious nature of the failings over more than six decades that have led to catastrophic loss of life and compounded suffering.”More than 100 parliamentarians wrote to the Prime Minister this week, so can he tell us when those affected will be paid compensation for their loss? (901001)

I am acutely aware of the strength of feeling on this issue and the suffering of all those impacted by this dreadful scandal. I gave evidence to the inquiry last year, and as I said then, I recognise the suffering that thousands have experienced over decades. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) updated Parliament on this matter towards the end of last year. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is a highly complex issue. Interim payments have been made in some cases, and we are absolutely committed to responding to the final report as quickly as possible following its publication.

Last week, Conservative-controlled Bromley Council’s children’s services were rated outstanding by Ofsted in all four areas of inspection. That is only the third time that has happened under the current framework. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the officers and members of Bromley Council and perhaps even visit Bromley and see our new cost-saving civic centre?

It is perhaps not quite on my way to Doncaster, but I will bear it in mind. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Bromley Council and all the officers involved in providing an incredibly important service in their local community and looking after some of the most vulnerable children in our society. They all deserve our thanks and praise for their brilliant efforts.

Q5. HS2 promised to transform intercity travel and my seat, where Old Oak Common will one day be. However, after Leeds and Manchester were ditched, the London end of HS2 is now in doubt. Can the Prime Minister commit today to ensuring that it at least reaches Euston, or is he intent on stopping all transport forms, except perhaps private jets? (901002)

The Leader of the Opposition may have something to say about forms of transportation, and perhaps about HS2 as well—I still have not heard his position on the subject. Old Oak Common is destined to be one of the foremost stations in the country because of the extra connectivity it will have across London and as the initial terminus for HS2 trains. As we said at the announcement, we are working with the private sector, as we have in other developments in London, to raise private money, save the taxpayer money and deliver the connection to Euston as planned.

I have just got back from the inaugural women’s health summit. During the summer, it was announced that specialist maternal mental health services will be available to women in every part of England by March. That is particularly pertinent for me, after one of my constituents, Jessica Cronshaw, passed away while pregnant with her baby Elsie after suffering severe pregnancy sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum. I thank the Government for following through with this important reform and pushing to keep going with the spirit of this reform so that our NHS is fit for women in the future.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. I know that the whole House will want to convey its sympathies to Jessica’s family. I am pleased that the reforms we are making will make a difference to women across the country in the future. We are committed to our women’s health strategy, and I am grateful for her support and, again, her advice and ideas so that we can ensure that it delivers the care that we want it to across the country.

Q6.   Yesterday, the Conservative candidate for the Wellingborough by-election revealed that the Conservative party had offered her a deal to be the candidate if the previous Member—her partner—stood down without a fuss. Just last week, the Prime Minister said that “Candidate selection is done locally”in his party, so would he like to deny that this secret deal was offered? (901003)

Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that a remote rural hotel is the wrong place to house asylum seekers or refugees from their point of view? Will he therefore join me in thanking the Home Secretary for announcing yesterday that the Wiltshire Hotel outside Royal Wootton Bassett is to be returned to its proper purpose in April?

I thank my hon. Friend for the question. He is absolutely right: the use of hotels is unfair on local communities and costs taxpayers £8 million a day. Our plans to reduce the number of people coming have meant that we can close the first 50 hotels across the country, with more to follow. I thank the Home Secretary and his team for their efforts. But, fundamentally, the only way to resolve this once and for all is to implement our Rwanda scheme so that we can have a working deterrent. That is how we will stop the boats.

Q8. I have been contacted by desperate constituents who have rung every single pharmacy within a 50-mile radius of Warrington and still have not been able to access their medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This has been going on for months, and it is not just a Warrington issue: pharmacists are calling it the worst shortage ever, with only 11% of people able to access their full dose this month. ADHD UK has called the Government’s response “pathetic”. It is right, isn’t it? (901005)

I am sorry to hear about the situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency. The Health Secretary heard what she said and is in touch with the relevant drug bodies to ensure that we can have the provision of ADHD medicine for all those who need it.

For about a decade, over 200 of my constituents in the Mill complex in Ipswich have been caught in the cruellest form of limbo. The building has deep structural problems and cladding problems. A few years ago, they got about £15 million in an out-of-court settlement to make a contribution towards cladding costs, but the freeholder, the National Asset Management Agency—an Irish financial entity set up after the Irish banking crisis—ran away with that money, putting my constituents back to square one with little to no hope. Will the Prime Minister talk to the Irish Taoiseach to raise this immoral case and meet me to discuss a way forward for my constituents, who I meet every week?

I am sorry to hear about my hon. Friend’s case. I will ensure that the Government look into the details and get back to him in the shortest order about how we can support him and his constituents.