Skip to main content


Volume 748: debated on Wednesday 17 April 2024

We are joined today in the Gallery by postmasters caught up in the Horizon IT scandal. It is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our history, which is why we have introduced a Bill to quash convictions, delivered schemes to ensure swift compensation, and established an independent inquiry.

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

Does my right hon. Friend agree that towns such as Barnstaple—the main transport hub in North Devon, serving hundreds of square miles—should have a fully functioning bus station? Liberal Democrat-run North Devon Council has not reopened ours since the pandemic, leaving residents out in the cold with no public facilities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as people start to feel the difference as a result of tax cuts and falling inflation, we should be making it easier for people to use the bus, come to town and support Barnstaple’s local economy? Will he join me in calling on the Lib Dems to get on with reopening the bus station?

We know how vital bus services are for communities right across the country. That is why we are providing Devon with £17 million to deliver better bus services, and we introduced the £2 fare bus cap. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport recently visited my hon. Friend and saw the benefits of reopening Barnstaple bus station, and it is clear that the local Liberal Democrats should just get on and do it.

I, too, welcome the postmasters in the Gallery, in their quest for justice.

This week we marked 35 years since the disaster at Hillsborough, and the enduring courage and determination of the families must be marked by the passing of a Hillsborough law.

We also lost Lord Richard Rosser, a lifelong member of the Labour party. He will be greatly missed, and our thoughts are with his wife Sheena and his family and friends.

I am privileged to be the proud owner of a copy of the former Prime Minister’s new book. It is a rare unsigned copy; it is the only unsigned copy. It is quite the read. She claims that the Tory party’s disastrous kamikaze Budget, which triggered chaos for millions, was the “happiest moment” of her premiership. Has the Prime Minister met anyone with a mortgage who agrees?

All I would say is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to spend a bit less time reading that book, and a bit more time reading the Deputy Leader’s tax advice. [Interruption.]

We have a billionaire Prime Minister, and a billionaire—[Interruption.] Both of whose families have used schemes to avoid millions of pounds of tax, smearing a working-class woman. [Interruption.] The former Prime Minister has a long list of people to blame for the economic misery. Conservative Members do not want to hear it, but they made her Prime Minister, and millions of people are paying the price. She blames the Governor of the Bank of England, the Treasury, the Office for Budget Responsibility. The American President is blamed at one point. We even learn that the poor old lettuce was part of the “deep state”. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is actually much simpler than that? It was the Tories’ unfunded tax cuts—tens of billions of pounds of unfunded tax cuts—that crashed the economy and left millions paying more for their mortgages, wasn’t it?

Everyone knows that two years ago I was not afraid to repeatedly warn about what my predecessor’s economic policies would lead to, even if it was not what people wanted to hear at the time. I was right then, but I am also right now when I say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s economic policies would be a disaster for Britain. He would send inflation up, mortgages up and taxes up, and working people would pay the price.

I appreciate the Prime Minister having the stomach to say that out loud, but everyone knows that it is the Tory party’s obsession with wild, unfunded tax cuts that crashed the economy. We know it, he knows it and his party knows it, and the whole country is living it. When is he finally going to learn the lesson from his predecessor’s mistakes and explain where the money is coming from for his own completely unfunded £46 billion promise to scrap national insurance?

When my predecessor was running for leader, I did have—to use the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s words—the stomach to argue out loud about her economic policies. I had the conviction to say that they were wrong—not once, but twice. He tried to make his predecessor Prime Minister, despite him opposing NATO and Trident, ignoring antisemitism and siding with our enemies. It is clear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman did: he put his own interests ahead of Britain’s.

Actually, when the Prime Minister was running for leader, he explained how he was funnelling money from poor areas to pay it into richer areas. We know what his record is.

I notice the Prime Minister is not denying the £46 billion promise to scrap national insurance, but he is refusing to say where the money will come from. We have been trying for months to get to the bottom of this, so now is his chance. No more spin, no more waffle, no more diversion—I know that will be difficult. This is the choice: either he can cut the state pension or the NHS, which national insurance funds—that is route one—or he can put up income tax. Which one is it?

We have just cut taxes by £900 for a typical worker. We have delivered the biggest tax cut for businesses since the 1980s. But while we are cutting taxes, Labour is already putting them up. In Wales, it is putting up taxes right now for small businesses. In Birmingham, it is putting up council tax by 21%. In London, the Labour Mayor has put up taxes by 70%. This is just a glimpse of what they would do if they got into power. A few weeks ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman finally admitted it to The Sun. What did he say he would do? He said, “We would put up taxes.” It is always the same: higher taxes, and working people paying the price.

No single politician has ever put tax up more times than the Prime Minister has. But hang on, he was just given the chance to rule out cutting the NHS or state pensions to pay for scrapping national insurance. I was a lawyer long enough to know when someone is avoiding the question, so I am going to give him another chance. Will he now rule out cuts to the NHS, cuts to the state pension or putting up taxes to pay for his unfunded £46 billion promise to scrap national insurance? Which is it?

I make absolutely no apology about wanting to end the unfairness of the double taxation on work. The NHS is receiving record funding under this Conservative Government. Pensioners have just received a £900 increase under this Government. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to talk about tax, let us have a look at what Labour’s brand newly appointed tax adviser has to say. This adviser thinks that supporting pensioners is “a complete disgrace”. He believes their free TV licences are “ridiculous”. If it was not bad enough, this adviser has called for increases in income tax, national insurance and VAT. It all makes sense now—that is who the shadow Chancellor has been copying and pasting from.

This is genuinely extraordinary: two chances to rule out cuts to state pensions, cuts to the NHS, or income tax rises to fund his promise to abolish national insurance—[Interruption.]

This really matters. The Prime Minister has had two chances to rule out cuts to the NHS, cuts to pensions or tax rises. This matters to millions of people watching who will want to know what is going to happen to their NHS and pensions—[Interruption.] It really does matter to millions of people who are watching, so I will be really generous now and give him one last chance. It is very simple and very clear. Is his £46 billion promise to abolish national insurance being paid for by cuts to the NHS, cuts to the state pension or yet another Tory tax rise?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has really got to keep up. It is this Government who have just delivered a £900 increase to the state pension. It is this Government who have already committed to the triple lock for the next Parliament. He has had six opportunities, but I do not think I heard him say that. When it comes to the NHS, you would much rather be treated in the Conservative-run NHS in England than in the Labour-run NHS in Wales. It is another week where all we have heard is political sniping. Not a word about their plans for the country. He has failed to acknowledge that since we last met, taxes have been cut by £900, the state pension has gone up, free childcare has been expanded, wages have risen for nine months in a row and just today, inflation is down again, to 3.2%. Our plan is working and the Conservatives are delivering a brighter future for Britain.

Q4. Mr Speaker, you will not be surprised to learn that I very much welcome the £20 million allocated to Carlton in my constituency as part of the long-term plan for towns. I am eager to see that this money is spent according to local wishes. I know that there will be consultations following the setting up of the town board, so will my right hon. Friend join me in urging Carlton residents to take part in those forthcoming consultations to make sure that their voices are heard and to ensure that this money is spent on what the people want? (902246)

I thank my hon. Friend for his tireless campaigning on behalf of the residents of Carlton. Our long-term plan for towns means that 75 towns across the country including Carlton will benefit from £20 million each to invest in their local area. Crucially, as he has said, it will be in the hands of local people to decide on their priorities for the place where they live. Whether it is regenerating local high streets, investing in parks and green spaces or tackling antisocial behaviour, we are levelling up across the country and he deserves enormous praise for his role in securing that investment.

This week, a former Prime Minister who oversaw a financial crash before being unceremoniously turfed from office told the public the truth—and I am not referring to that one, Mr Speaker. On Monday, Gordon Brown told the people of these isles that

“the forces pulling Britain apart are greater than the forces holding it together”.

Maybe the Prime Minister can find some time this afternoon to agree with just one of his predecessors?

Where I do agree with my predecessor very strongly is that Scotland would be far stronger inside the United Kingdom.

Gordon Brown was also correct in stating that Scottish independence is not simply off the agenda. Those remarks were echoed just yesterday by the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, who stated that it remained an unresolved issue—[Laughter.] Conservative Members may laugh at her, but she went on to say:

“That can be a very dangerous place to end up in when you are not allowing people to express their wishes in a democratic manner.”

Does the Prime Minister welcome the fulsome, wholehearted and warm support of the Labour party in denying the people of Scotland the opportunity to have a say over their own future?

We did have a democratic vote on that topic, but I would suggest to the SNP that, rather than obsessing about independence, and wasting time cracking down on free speech and trying to lock up J. K. Rowling, he should focus on what the people of Scotland care about: schools, hospitals, jobs and our new tax cuts.

Q5. I abhor a two-tier policing system, and we must ensure that everyone is treated equally under the rule of law. The Labour police and crime commissioner who investigated the beergate scandal handed their police chief constable a new three-year contract while the investigation into the Labour party leader and deputy leader was ongoing. Now, two former MPs are overseeing the force due to investigate the Labour deputy leader. Does the Prime Minister agree that complete transparency throughout this investigation is of the utmost importance? (902247)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. A key principle of our country is that there are the same rules for everyone. On this topic, the Labour leader should show some leadership: stop reading the legal advice; simply publish it and get a grip of the situation. It says a lot about his priorities that, with his famed legal expertise, he is more than happy to help defend Hizb ut-Tahrir but refuses to help his deputy.

The recently published Kenova report makes it clear that the IRA was riddled with British agents from top to bottom. Those agents were involved in the abduction, torture and murder of British and Irish citizens. The British Government—successive British Governments—knew all about it and did nothing. The report also calls for an apology from the Government to those victims. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to make that apology?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the report is an interim one. As the Secretary of State has laid out, we cannot comment on the findings until we get the final report, but we would never condone wrongdoing where there is evidence of that. I will also say, because it is not said enough, that the overwhelming majority of the police, armed forces and intelligence services served with great distinction. They defended democracy in the face of some horrendous violence, and without their service and their sacrifice, there would have been no peace process. They helped ensure that the future of Northern Ireland will never be decided by violence but by the consent of its people.

Q6. Does my right hon. Friend agree—we do not agree on everything—that anyone who want to see why the Government introduced strong Mayors need look only at Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley? From saving our airport to introducing our freeport to bringing steelmaking back, Ben delivers. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that the best thing is that Ben has done this without charging any mayoral tax, which his Labour opponent would need to do to fund his unfunded spending plans? (902248)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the great work of Ben Houchen. I share his concerns about the pledges of the Labour candidate—over £130 million of unfunded spending, showing that Labour cannot be trusted. We see the results in Labour-run Birmingham, with taxes going up by 20%. The story of Labour in local government is one of working people paying the price. That is exactly why my right hon. Friend and I completely agree that the people of Teesside should vote Ben Houchen and vote Conservative.

Q2. Last year, in Shropshire, 10,000 people waited for more than 24 hours in A&E. That is 10,000 people over 65 waiting on hard plastic chairs or on trolleys in our accident and emergency department. The Prime Minister tells us that he has got a plan for the NHS, but people in North Shropshire want to know how long they will have to wait for him to get on and fix the issues where we are. (902244)

With the record funding that we are putting into the NHS, our urgent and emergency care plan is delivering more ambulances and more beds, with faster discharge through our hospitals to speed the flow, and that plan is working. Of course there is more to do, but this winter we saw ambulance and A&E waiting times improve from the year before for the first time in many years, and if we stick to the plan, we will continue to deliver improvement for the hon. Lady’s constituents and everyone else.

Q7. In 2010, somebody earning £15,000 a year paid £1,700 in income tax. Today, somebody earning £15,000 a year pays less than £500 of tax. Does the Prime Minister agree that this has helped to create jobs, growth and self-reliance? (902249)

My hon. Friend is quite right. Because of our plan, the economy has, after a tough few years, turned the corner. Inflation has fallen from over 11% to 3.2%, and it is forecast to return back to target in just a few months—a year ahead of expectations. That is why we have been able to cut people’s taxes. As he mentions, the tax cut is worth £900 for an average worker. That is part of our plan to end the long-term unfairness of the double taxation on work.

Q3. Four years ago, my constituent Juliana was drugged and raped by her then boyfriend. After his conviction, Juliana was advised that reading a transcript of his trial would help her to come to terms with her experience. But when she requested that transcript, she was told that she would have to pay more than £7,000. Astonishingly, Juliana is not alone. I have heard about victims who have been quoted fees of up to £22,000 just to read trial transcripts that are part of their own story. Justice should not have a price tag. The Liberal Democrat amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill would give all victims the right to read sentencing remarks and summings-up free of charge. Julian is here in the Gallery today, and she asks whether the Prime Minister will support that amendment. Will he look her in the eye and say yes? (902245)

I am extremely sorry to hear about Juliana’s case, and my sympathy is with her and her family. We are committed to improving victims’ access to court transcripts to help them move on and rebuild their lives. We already offer a free service to families of homicide victims, for example. That is why we have already committed to a one-year pilot to help identify the current demand and to inform our next steps. Alongside this, we are actively looking at other options to immediately reduce the costs.

Q8.   Bracknell Forest Council has a particular challenge with special educational needs, and I am keen to support it. I am grateful to the Government for the recent SEND review, the significant increase in resources and the bespoke safety valve programme for Bracknell, but additional school places are needed now. Will the Prime Minister please agree today to release the funding for our new SEND units at Sandhurst and Edgbarrow schools, and commit to fully funding up front our new SEND school in Crowthorne? (902250)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting how Bracknell Forest Council has worked positively with the Department for Education through the safety valve programme. As part of that agreement, the council will receive £16 million in extra funding over the next few years to provide the vital education that his constituents deserve. I am told that the Department is still reviewing capital bids for the safety valve programme, but it will be in touch with local authorities directly as soon as possible.

Q14. In earlier exchanges, we did not hear much of a defence from the Prime Minister of his predecessor. Could he tell the House what he considers to be her greatest achievement? (902256)

While the Labour party was busy trying to take us back into the EU and reverse the referendum result, my predecessor was signing trade deals around the world that have seen Brexit Britain overtake the Netherlands, France and Japan to become the fourth largest exporter in the world.

Q9. My constituent Claire Massey and one of her two children almost lost their lives in a fire at her home in February 2023. Since then, Claire has been a victim of bullying by aggressive claims handlers, and of negligent and unprofessional conduct, including violating a policy and withdrawing alternative accommodation, by the insurer Policy Expert—part of the Accredited Insurance (Europe)— and Trinity Claims. Claire has raised institutional failings with the Financial Conduct Authority, which appears toothless. She has also successfully raised individual issues with the financial ombudsman, but the delaying tactics of the insurers mean that she is no closer to a resolution. Claire is here in the Gallery today and asks whether the Prime Minister will meet her and me to look at how we can better protect consumers against bad practices in the insurance industry. Does he agree that it is time to establish on “Office of the Whistleblower”? (902251)

My hon. Friend is an excellent campaigner on behalf of her constituent, and I extend my sympathy to Claire and her family. While I cannot comment on individual cases, as I am sure she will understand, I know that the Financial Conduct Authority has the powers it needs to take action against firms that breach its rules. Further, customers can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service, whose decisions are binding on insurers. I will immediately ensure that the relevant Minister meets my hon. Friend to look more closely at this specific issue and the case that she raises.

Q15. Ukrainian Member of Parliament, Mykola Stefanchuk, is in the Public Gallery this afternoon. I am sure we all wish to welcome him and wish Ukraine “Slava Ukraini”. Mykola has told me that Ukraine has the people and the courage, but does not currently have the weapons and the air defence to secure her freedom. In light of the Russian attacks on Chernihiv this morning, which have killed at least 10 people and injured many more, will the Prime Minister respond to President Zelensky’s statement that this “wouldn’t have happened” if Ukraine had received sufficient air defence equipment? (902257)

It was a pleasure to address Members of the Ukrainian Parliament when I visited Ukraine earlier this year. Indeed, it was my first foreign visit of the year; I was the first foreign leader to visit Ukraine and President Zelensky to demonstrate our strong support for the Ukrainian people at their moment of struggle against Russian aggression. We have increased the amount of support we have given to Ukraine this year— the first major country to do so—and a big part of that support concerns air defence. Where we have led in supporting Ukraine’s efforts, we will continue to do so and continue to encourage other countries around the world to step up and match our leadership, because we all want to see a future for Ukraine based on freedom from tyranny.

Q10.   On a recent visit to Pimlico, in my constituency, the Prime Minister heard directly from local people concerned about the eye-watering rise in violent crime and robbery. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the London Labour Mayor has failed to take advantage of extra Government funding to recruit more police, and that on 2 May Londoners can send him a very clear message that he has let them down? (902252)

Sadiq Khan is failing London. While burglary is down across England, it is up in London. Violent crime is down across England, but up in London. The Labour Mayor is the only one of 43 police and crime commissioners to have missed his police recruitment target. Londoners will have the chance to speak when they cast their votes on 2 May. I hope that they kick him out because we all know they will be safer with Susan Hall.

My local community is reeling from the discovery of 35 bodies and unidentifiable cremated ashes at a local funeral home. The pain was made worse when people realised that the funeral plans they had used their life savings for were fake. Does the Prime Minister agree that in these unique and limited circumstances banks should offer discretion when deciding if chargeback applies to payment refunds?

I express my sympathies to the families affected by the case that the hon. Lady raises. I believe the Ministry of Justice is urgently looking at the matter. I will ensure someone gets in touch with her as soon as possible.

Q11. Robotic surgery allows laparoscopic surgery to be performed with increased precision, flexibility and control. This can result in reduced patient complication rates, reduced lengths of stay in hospital and reduced hospital readmission. However, there is currently no robotic surgery provision in Cornwall. As a result, residents of Cornwall must travel to Devon for robotic procedures, a journey of more than 80 miles for those from west Cornwall and 120 miles for those from the Isles of Scilly. Will the Prime Minister commit to ringfence capital funding for Cornwall to establish a robotic surgery service, and address the health inequalities our constituents have lived with for far too long? (902253)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the potential of this innovative technology for patient care. I am delighted that more generally Cornwall is benefiting from our new hospital programme, providing a new women and children’s hospital at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, in the centre of Cornwall, which he and I discussed when I was last with him. NHS England is actively exploring opportunities to expand robotic-assisted surgery. Any decisions on funding new allocations will factor in health inequalities, such as areas with less access to robots to date. I will ensure that the current access to robotic surgery in my hon. Friend’s local community is appropriately considered by the relevant health Minister.

The Prime Minister told us on Monday that he was off to make a telephone call to Mr Netanyahu, to urge restraint on a Government that have killed and maimed well over 100,000 people in six months, 72% of them women and children. Will he tell us how the telephone call went? What will he do if his advice is not taken and an unrestrained war begins?

I was pleased to speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who thanked the UK for its support of Israel’s security over the weekend. We discussed the situation and how Iran is isolated on the world stage. I also made the point to him that significant escalation is not in anyone’s interest and that it is a time for calm heads to prevail. I also reiterated our concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. I welcome the statements and commitments that the Israeli Government have made about significantly increasing aid into Gaza, and now we need to see those commitments delivered.

Q12. Residents in Smalley and Denby now face two huge solar farm applications. There is only a 500-metre gap between them and both sites are wholly in the green belt. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should change planning guidance to make it absolutely clear that productive farms in the green belt are not the right place for solar farms, and that the investment and the time being spent should go on sites that might be appropriate, such as car parks, brownfield land or roofs of industrial buildings, rather than wasting people’s time and causing fear? (902254)

My hon. Friend is right that, particularly at a time of increased geopolitical risk, we must protect our nation’s food security and therefore our most valuable agricultural land. We do want to see more solar, which is one of the cheapest forms of energy, but, as he said, on brownfield sites, rooftops and away from our best agricultural land. That is why our recently published national infrastructure planning rules set out the requirement for solar not to be placed on what is described as the best and most valuable versatile land where possible. The Secretaries of State for Energy Security and Net Zero and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are ensuring that developers and planning authorities strike the right balance so that we can deliver what my hon. Friend wants, which is more British food grown here at home.

I went out recently with Chris McEwan, the mayoral candidate in Teesside. It was clear that residents are really worried about crime. Levels in Tory-run Teesside are among the highest in the country. The residential burglary rate is 52% higher than anywhere else in the country. When will the Prime Minister realise that he has lost control not only of his party, but of crime in this country?

Mr Speaker, what a joke! We have police and crime commissioner elections across the country, and the hon. Lady really should look at the record. Under this Government, crime has been cut by 50%, and we have 20,000 more police officers. Let me give her the facts, because this is why it is so extraordinary to hear what she said. People with a Labour police and crime commissioner are more likely to be victims of burglary and twice as likely to be victims of robbery. The facts completely speak for themselves, so people should vote Conservatives for safer streets.

Q13. Every month in my constituency, the Labour-run Warrington Borough Council spends nearly £4.5 million on interest payments to cover its £1.8 billion debt. It has used borrowing to spend on an energy company that went bust, offices in Birmingham and Manchester, and even a business park that it purchased through an offshore company, presumably to avoid paying tax. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is time to send in the inspectors? Warrington Borough Council has gone too far in its money-making schemes. Local councils should be focusing on delivering great services, and the way to achieve that is by voting Conservative on 2 May. (902255)

This year, the Government announced a further £600 million in extra funding for local councils—a real-terms increase, as has been the case in every single year of this Parliament. But we all know what happens when Labour is in charge—whether it is racking up debt in Warrington, as my hon. Friend said, increasing council tax by 21% in Labour-run Birmingham, slashing services in Nottingham, or, as I have just said, higher crime on average in each Labour police and crime commissioner area. It is crystal clear that, whenever Labour is in charge, it is working people who pay the price.

While 64,000 people are on the waiting list for a council house in the west midlands, families are living in hotels, cold and damp homes and mouldy flats. The Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, has built 46 social homes in eight years. Does the Prime Minister think that that is good enough?

Andy Street is absolutely delivering for the west midlands. Unlike the Labour Mayor in London, he has delivered on all his housing targets. It is the Labour-run council in Birmingham that is imposing on the hon. Lady’s constituents and others a 21% council tax rise, and what are they getting in exchange? Six hundred job losses and cuts to services. On some streets, they are even turning off the lights. What Labour has done to Birmingham the Conservatives will never let it do to Britain.

I ask the Prime Minister to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for holding further meetings with Hitachi this morning—and, indeed, with the union representatives. We were all glad to see what happened with Alstom yesterday, but it is important that we do the same to support the factories up at Hitachi in Aycliffe.

I thank my hon. Friend for his role in championing the rail industry in the UK. As he rightly said, the Department for Transport and the Secretary of State have been actively engaged with companies to ensure that we have a robust supply chain. As my hon. Friend knows, we are investing record amounts in rail, particularly in the north, and we are pleased to see that that is being delivered.

The Prime Minister is no doubt aware of the collapse of SSB Law, and many constituents, including hundreds in my constituency, have been affected and have bills of up to hundreds of thousands. One constituent had to sell his wedding gifts, and his father had a heart attack with the stress. People are having to raid their pension pots; they are getting bills, and bailiffs are knocking on the door. Will the Prime Minister meet me and my constituents’ representatives on the collapse of SSB Law, and make sure that the Government respond to this injustice that has happened to people across the country?

I am sorry to hear about the situation impacting the hon. Lady’s constituents. I will be more than happy to make sure that the right Minister looks into it and that we get back to her as soon as possible.