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Volume 749: debated on Wednesday 8 May 2024

I know the whole House will join me in congratulating John Swinney on becoming Scottish National party leader and Scottish First Minister. I look forward to working constructively with him to deliver for the people of Scotland.

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.

At last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, I highlighted the shocking rise in the number of teenagers trying vaping, and I asked the Prime Minister if he would take decisive action to stop vape advertising on football strips. He declined to do that. Since then, I have had an exchange with the Scottish chief medical officer, Professor Sir Gregor Smith, during a sitting of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill Committee, and he said:

“Where I become very uncomfortable, and I am not supportive, is where the massive attraction of sports companies is used in a way that promotes behaviours that are known to be unsafe or unhealthy.”––[Official Report, Tobacco and Vapes Public Bill Committee, 1 May 2024; c. 80, Q11.]

Can I ask the Prime Minister again: does he still think it is right that vape companies should sponsor football kits?

I am glad the hon. Lady agrees with me and the Government that we should do more to tackle youth vaping, and that is why we are bringing forward measures in the new Bill to restrict the availability and appeal of vapes to children specifically, whether that is flavours or, indeed, marketing. As she knows, advertising of vapes is already heavily restricted by UK regulations, including a ban on advertising on television, radio and most places online. We have seen football take positive voluntary action in the past on issues such as this, but I will say to the hon. Lady that the Government will respond to her specific amendment in the usual way.

Q2. I declare that my daughter is a serving officer in the armed forces. In recent weeks, my right hon. Friend has announced plans to control welfare and get people back to work and to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, and has passed legislation to get flights off to Rwanda. Does he agree with me that these are all issues that real people such as my constituents in South East Cornwall care about, and that the Leader of the Opposition should do the right thing and back them? (902728)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for her local area, and can I also thank her daughter for her service in the armed forces? My hon. Friend is right: I am not surprised that Labour Members do not back our plans to stop the boats and I am not surprised they do not back our plans to get people into work and reform welfare, but I do think that they should do the right thing when it comes to the security of our nation, and that is to back our plans to increase defence spending and give our brave armed forces personnel the resources they need to keep us safe.

May I warmly welcome my hon. Friend, the new Member for Blackpool South (Chris Webb)? After the representation that fine town has had recently, it is good to know that it has a proper champion back at last.

May I also warmly welcome the new Labour MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), to these Benches? If one week a Tory MP who is also a doctor says that the Prime Minister cannot be trusted with the NHS and joins Labour, and the next week the Tory MP for Dover—on the frontline of the small boats crisis—says that the Prime Minister “cannot be trusted” with our borders and joins Labour, what is the point of this failed Government staggering on?

Can I join the right hon. and learned Gentleman in welcoming his newest MP for Blackpool? He looks a lot happier than the Member sitting in that spot last week. Let me also join the right hon. and learned Gentleman in congratulating all new and paying tribute to all former councillors, police and crime commissioners and Mayors across the country. I hope that his new ones do him as proud as I am proud of all of mine, including such great leaders as Andy Street. They leave behind a strong legacy of more homes, more jobs and more investment, in sharp contrast to the legacy left by the last Labour Government, which was a letter joking that there was no money left.

In addition to losing two Tory MPs in two weeks, the Prime Minister has been on the receiving end of some of the biggest by-election swings in history. He has also lost 1,500 Tory councillors, half of his party’s Mayors and a leadership election to a lettuce. How many more times do the public and his own MPs need to reject him before he takes the hint?

This time last year, I reminded the right hon. and learned Gentleman of some advice from his own mentor, Tony Blair, who said at the time that he

“can be as cocky as he likes about the local elections; come a general election, policy counts.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2007; Vol. 460, c. 152.]

One year on from that advice, what has he managed? He has £28 billion of tax rises, 70 new business regulations, 30 U-turns and a deputy leader under a police investigation.

I am surprised that the Prime Minister brought up a police investigation; his record is played one, lost—well, actually it is two, there was the seatbelt as well. His record is played two, lost two in relation to police investigations. The voters keep telling him that it is not good enough. Instead of listening, he keeps telling them that everything is fine, if only they would realise his greatness. He just does not get it, but at least after Thursday night he can go to the many places he calls home and enjoy the fruits of his success. In Southampton or Downing Street, he has great Labour councils. At his mansion in Richmond, he can enjoy a brand-new Labour Mayor of North Yorkshire. At his pad in Kensington, he can celebrate a historic third term for the Mayor of London. Now that he, too, can enjoy the benefits of this changed Labour party, is he really still in such a hurry to get back to California?

I must say that I was surprised to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman in North Yorkshire, although probably not as surprised as he was when he realised he could not take the tube there. I can tell him that the people of North Yorkshire believe in hard work, secure borders, lower taxes and straight-talking common sense. They will not get any of that from a virtue-signalling lawyer from north London.

It was great to be in Northallerton, where they have just voted to reject the Prime Minister’s proposition. He has finally found something in common with the British public: no matter where he calls home, all his neighbours are backing this changed Labour party. They keep rejecting him, because they have sussed him out. They know there is nothing behind the boasts, the gimmicks and the smug smile. He is a dodgy salesman desperate to sell them a dud. Sixteen days ago, when he held a press conference claiming victory on Rwanda, he said:

“The next few weeks will be about action…people want deeds not words.”

Let us test that. How many small boat crossings have there been since he said that 16 days ago?

Actually, just before we get on to that, the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about a changed Labour party—[Interruption.] This is important. He talked about a changed Labour party; he talks about it a lot. He also talked about his Mayor in London. Just this morning, we learned that the Labour Mayor in London believes there is an “equivalence” between the brutal terrorist attack of Hamas and Israel defending itself. Let me be crystal clear: there is absolutely no equivalence between a terrorist group and democratic state. Will he take this opportunity to demonstrate that the Labour party has changed? Will he condemn those comments from the Labour Mayor?

I know that was the last run-out before the general election, but the Prime Minister is getting ahead of himself in asking me questions.

I notice that the Prime Minister did not even attempt to answer the question. He knows the answer: since he claimed victory 16 days ago, there have been a staggering 2,400 small boat crossings. That is a gimmick, not a deterrent, and those 2,400 will be added to the Tories’ asylum perma-backlog, which is forecast to rise to 100,000 by the end of the year. The Prime Minister pretends that he will remove them all to Rwanda, but Rwanda can take only a few hundred a year. At that rate, his grand plan would take over 300 years to remove them all. There are tens of thousands of people with their claims going unprocessed, who will be here for their entire lifetime, living in hotels at the taxpayers’ expense. It is absurd to call that anything other than an amnesty handed to them by the Tory party, isn’t it?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman had the opportunity to condemn the comments of his Mayor—a Mayor who said that there is an “equivalence” between Hamas and Israel—and he did not do that. Everyone will see: that is the changed Labour party right there.

Since I became Prime Minister, small boat crossings are down by a third. That is because we have doubled National Crime Agency funding, increased enforcement rates, closed bank accounts, deported 24,000 people and processed more claims.[Official Report, 14 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 4WC.] (Correction) When it comes to border control, there is a crucial difference between us: the Conservatives want secure borders; the right hon. and learned Gentleman is happy with open borders.

The whole country knows that removing less than 1% of asylum seekers is not stopping the boats; it is granting an amnesty—a Tory amnesty. If the Prime Minister thinks the voters are wrong, that his own MPs who have joined the Labour party are wrong, and that anyone believes any of the nonsense that he spouts, why does he not put it to the test and call a general election?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about removing people—this is a person who campaigned to stop the deportation of foreign national offenders. That shows how out of touch his values are with the British people.

It is yet another week where we have heard nothing about the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s plan to do anything on the issues that matter to the country. Meanwhile, the Government are getting on with reforming welfare and getting people into work—he opposes it. We are controlling legal and illegal migration—he opposes it. And, as we heard, we are boosting defence spending to strengthen our country—he opposes it. That is the difference: he snipes from the sidelines; the Conservatives are building a brighter future.

Q4. When it comes to small boat crossings, there is a lot of talk of human rights, but surely the only human right and life that matters is the life of children who are being taken across the channel. In that respect, will the Government now do the only thing that will actually be a real deterrent and arrest and detain all those who land illegally on our shores and then offshore them promptly so that, once and for all, we can save lives and end this cruel and callous trade? (902730)

My right hon. Friend is right that these crossings are incredibly dangerous and risk people’s lives. Just weeks ago, a seven-year-old girl died attempting a crossing. That is why, as a matter of basic compassion, we must do everything we can to break the cycle of the criminal gangs.

That is why we need a deterrent. That is what the National Crime Agency says, and that is how we dealt with illegal migrants from Albania. It is only by removing people who should not be here that we remove the reason for them to come in the first place. That is how we will control our borders. It is clear that it is only the Conservative party that has a plan not only to stop the boats but to stop the tragic loss of life in the channel, too.

May I begin by also congratulating the fantastic John Swinney on becoming Scotland’s First Minister? Our opponents should be very careful what they wish for.

As we await the imminent Israeli incursion into Rafah, where 1.2 million people are sheltering, including 600,000 children, it has been reported that the United States has paused an arms shipment to Israel. The UK will now follow suit, will it not?

The right hon. Gentleman may not realise that the UK Government do not directly provide or ship arms to Israel. When it comes to the situation in Rafah, I have been very clear that we are deeply concerned about a full military incursion, given the devastating humanitarian impact; I have made that point specifically to Prime Minister Netanyahu whenever we have spoken. I will continue to urge all sides to focus on the negotiations at hand, to bring about a pause in the conflict, to release hostages and get more aid in.

Let us be clear: the confidence that Israel has shown in its military ambitions in Rafah stems from the silence of its allies on the Front Benches in this place and elsewhere across the world. We all know that UK arms and tech are supporting Israel’s activities in Gaza, and will be used in any attack on Rafah. Knowing that, and the devastation that will occur, surely the time has come to end our complicity and halt arms sales to Israel.

Of course we take our defence export responsibilities extremely seriously. That is why we operate one of the most robust licensing control regimes anywhere in the world. We periodically review advice on Israel’s commitment to international humanitarian law, and Ministers always act in accordance with that advice. That is crystal clear for the House to understand. Following the most recent assessment, our position on export licences is unchanged. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will join me in urging all parties to engage in the negotiations, so that we can see a pause in fighting to get more aid in, hostages out and bring about a sustainable ceasefire in this conflict.

Q5. My constituents in rural villages and on the fringes of the Grimsby-Cleethorpes urban area are very concerned about overdevelopment. They recognise that highway infra- structure and public services are already overloaded. Could my right hon. Friend consider amending planning guidance, so that local plans and decisions taken by local planning authorities are not overridden by planning inspectors? They would be greatly encouraged if he would agree to meet me and my colleagues from neighbouring constituencies, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), to discuss this further. (902731)

My hon. Friend is right that sustainable development must be at the heart of the planning system. That is why we are committed to meeting housing needs by building the right homes in the right places, and protecting the environmental assets that matter most. The national planning policy framework is clear that we should be responsive to local circumstances. I know that the local plan in my hon. Friend’s area is due for further consultation later this year, and that he will engage with that process, but I will happily meet him and colleagues to discuss the situation further.

The abuse suffered by 88-year-old Ann King at the hands of staff in her care home was captured on a hidden camera. The footage is stomach churning. Ann died in October 2022, and it took nearly a year for the Care Quality Commission to launch a criminal investigation. Ann’s children are working to protect other care home residents from being subjected to such appalling abuse. Her son came to see me, as his MP, to ask for my help with their campaign. Will the Prime Minister join me in backing Ann’s law, a proposal for measures, including a national register, to professionalise the care workforce and hold abusive staff to account? Will he meet Ann’s family and me to discuss this idea?

Let me first extend my sympathies to Ann’s family for what she went through. Obviously that is not appropriate, and I will ensure that the Department engages with the right hon. Gentleman and Ann’s family on the proposed law. He is right to say that we should have high standards across the care industry, and we are working towards more investment to support our care home staff, making sure that they have training qualifications and development, and that we have a regime that can hold everyone to account for delivering the high standards that we would all expect.

Q6. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest qualities that those on these Back Benches bring to Westminster is plain old-fashioned common sense? Derbyshire common sense led the good people of Ashbourne and surrounding villages to reject the Sadiq Khan ULEZ rules, and even the Welsh 20 mph rules. Will my right hon. Friend join me, and perhaps ask his neighbour the Chancellor if he will pay for the Ashbourne bypass? (902732)

I know that my hon. Friend has been a dedicated campaigner for the Ashbourne bypass. The Government are committed to investing more in the midlands, and in particular to putting every penny of the £9.6 billion from High Speed 2 back into the local area. My hon. Friend is right: we will focus on drivers and their priorities, rather than continuing the war on motorists that is being waged by the Labour Mayor in London, but also by the Labour party in Wales, with both the ultra low emission zone and 20 mph speed limits. It is this party that is unashamedly on the side of the motorist.

Q3. Our cross-party child of the north all-party parliamentary group found that expectant mothers were terminating wanted pregnancies because they could not afford another mouth to feed. Recent figures show that infant and child death rates have increased in the most deprived areas, and 50 children have died alone in unregulated accommodation. Is this the Prime Minister’s plan for a brighter Britain in action? (902729)

Obviously, what the hon. Lady has described is a tragedy. No one wants to see children grow up in those circumstances, and that is why I am proud that since 2010, with a range of measures, the Government have overseen a significant fall in poverty, particularly child poverty. I will ensure that, for the benefit of her constituents, the hon. Lady is aware of all the support that is in place—through the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions, and through local authorities—for the most vulnerable families in our communities.

Q9. Weston-super-Mare is a growing town, so local health services are rightly growing as well. Weston General Hospital is treating more patients for a wider variety of problems than before, GPs’ surgeries are offering thousands more appointments this year than last, and our new diagnostic centre means faster tests and treatments. However, there is a fly in our NHS-prescribed ointment: dentistry is not fixed yet. The new dental recovery plan is very welcome, but when will it mean appointments that Westonians can book? (902735)

Our dentistry recovery plan will make dental services faster, simpler and fairer for patients, funding about 2.5 million more appointments. I was pleased to note that access is improving in my hon. Friend’s area, with nearly 10% more children seeing a dentist in June last year than in the previous year, but we are going further: the new patient premium that was announced last year is ensuring that more NHS dentistry will be provided, and since then, at the end of January, 500 more practices have said that they are now open to new patients.

Q7. It is more than a month since the parliamentary ombudsman delivered the long-awaited report on pension injustices, but women born in the 1950s in my constituency, and indeed in every constituency across these islands, are still waiting to hear whether the UK Government will listen to its recommendations and deliver compensation. I was proud to see the Scottish Parliament support a motion last week calling for compensation to be delivered without delay, but utterly dismayed to see members of both the Conservative party and the Labour party abstain. Can the Prime Minister finally tell us when the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—the WASPI women—will receive the compensation that they rightly deserve? (902733)

I understand the strong feelings across the Chamber about this topic, and the desire for urgency in addressing them. However, following the ombudsman’s five-year investigation, it is imperative that we take the time to conduct a thorough review of the comprehensive findings that have been published. An update will be given to the House once those findings have been fully considered. More broadly, we are committed to ensuring that pensioners have the dignity and security in retirement that they deserve. Most recently, we increased the state pension by £900 a year, thanks to the triple lock.

Q12. Is the Prime Minister as appalled as I am by reports of militant civil servant and trade union political activists seeking to find ways not to implement the Rwanda deportations? Does he agree that if they are not prepared to implement the will of the Government and an Act of Parliament that was passed by both Houses, they should conclude that being in the civil service is perhaps not for them? Maybe they can look for alternative employment at other left-wing organisations that masquerade as being impartial. Maybe they could try the BBC or “Channel 4 News”. (902738)

My expectation is that civil servants will continue to be committed to supporting our priority of stopping the boats, and will deliver, in accordance with the civil service code. My hon. Friend will know that we made specific changes to ensure compliance with that code as we push through with our plans. More broadly, I agree with him that we are the only party that has a plan to stop the boats. We will face down all the obstacles in our way to deliver on this crucial priority for the British people, whoever stands in our way—whether it is the Labour party or others. We will deliver for this country on this vital issue.

Q8.   China has now hacked the data of defence personnel, the Electoral Commission and various other public institutions, and has targeted many Members of this House, yet plans by China’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, Ming Yang Smart Energy, to build its largest European facility right here in the UK advance at pace. The facility is set to be built in Scotland. Given widely shared concerns about the involvement of hostile states such as China in the UK’s critical national energy infrastructure, does the Prime Minister not agree that now is the time for this project to be paused and reviewed by the Government on national security grounds? If not, what message does he think that sends? (902734)

As I have said repeatedly, China is a country with different values from ours, and is acting in a way that is increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad. It is right that we take firm steps to protect ourselves against that, particularly in the area of economic security. This Government passed the National Security and Investment Act 2021 precisely so that we can screen transactions—without commenting on individual ones, of course—to protect this country. We have used those powers, not least to block Chinese investment in a sensitive semiconductor company, but also to ensure that the Chinese state nuclear company had no part in the future of our nuclear plan. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we are alive to the challenges, and have passed laws that give us the powers to protect against them.

Q14. Five-year-old Benedict Blythe was a lovely little boy who attended a primary school in my constituency. Sadly, he died of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. The coroner’s inquest has not yet reported, but on average, two children in every class have a food allergy, and more allergic reactions take place in school than in other setting outside the home. Severe allergic reactions are on the rise and can be fatal, yet there is no explicit legal requirement for schools to have allergy medication and an allergy policy, or for other recommended safeguards to be made available; there is only guidance. Will the Prime Minister meet me and Benedict’s parents, Helen and Pete, so that we can discuss a way forward to ensure that children who suffer from allergies can be safer in school, including by ensuring that schools have an allergy policy, adrenalin pens, and staff who know how to use them? (902740)

First, may I extend my sympathy to Benedict’s family? It is always tragic to hear about the loss of a child. We fully understand the seriousness of severe allergies, and believe that children with medical conditions should be properly supported to enjoy a full education and be safe at school. There is a legal duty on the governing body of schools to make arrangements for supporting pupils, including setting out what needs to be done, symptoms and treatment, but I will ensure that my right hon. Friend gets a meeting with the Health Secretary to discuss how we could further support pupils with serious allergies.

Q10. Yesterday, the Chancellor confirmed that it is Government policy to abolish national insurance, at a £46 billion annual cost, with no indication of where the money will come from. Can the Prime Minister rule out further freezes in tax allowances or an 8p increase in income tax to pay for it? (902736)

That is total nonsense, and of course I rule that out. There is no unfunded policy. What we have said is that we have a long-term ambition to keep cutting national insurance to end the unfairness of the double taxation on work. We will make progress towards that goal in the next Parliament, just as we already have in this one by cutting national insurance by a third in six months, delivering a £900 tax cut, at the same time as increasing investment in the NHS and increasing the state pension. It is increasingly clear what this reveals: the Labour party opposes tax cuts for working people.

Q15. Empowering local pharmacies is a key part of this Government’s plan to cut waiting lists. In Guildford, we have recently lost two neighbouring pharmacies, but there is good news. I am pleased to report that, by working diligently with local pharmacists, concerned residents, the Minister and the integrated care board, I have helped to secure a new pharmacy in Burpham. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming this new pharmacy and does he agree that it is vital that residents should have access to a good, efficient and, above all, local pharmacy? (902741)

I care deeply about the future of our community pharmacies, and I am pleased to hear about my hon. Friend’s success in securing a new one for her constituents, joining the 10,500 others across the country. She is right about the important role that our local pharmacies can play, and that is why we are backing them with £645 million of additional funding through Pharmacy First, so that people can now go straight to their pharmacist and receive treatment for seven of the most common ailments, saving patients’ time and ensuring that they get the care they need quicker and closer to home.

Q11. Last Friday, The Guardian reported major structural deficiencies at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport. Stepping Hill’s major out-patients building, the radiology department and the critical care unit have all been condemned. In March, I met with senior officials at Stockport NHS Trust and they were clear that a sustained lack of capital investment was the root cause of problems at my local hospital. Does the Prime Minister believe that our hospitals quite literally crumbling is the price worth paying for 14 years of successive Conservative failure? (902737)

We fully recognise the need to invest in health infrastructure across the country, including at Stepping Hill Hospital. That is why we are currently spending around £4 billion a year for trusts to spend on necessary maintenance and repairs, on top of the £20 billion new hospital programme and the additional funding that was put aside to deal with RAAC—reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete——maintenance. The hon. Gentleman talks about a legacy of the NHS; all he needs to do is look at his party’s record in Wales, where people are currently experiencing the worst A&E performance and the longest wait times anywhere in Great Britain.

Nottingham City Council is expecting to fall short of its housing target by 6,000 new homes. Last time this happened, Rushcliffe, as a neighbouring authority, was forced to take thousands of homes on top of its own housing target, which led to huge pressures on our green spaces and public services. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me and my constituents that the changes we have made to the planning system will mean that this time we will be protected from Labour’s failure in Nottingham?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. While on this side of the House the Conservatives believe in building the right homes in the right places with local people having a say, all that Labour would do is impose top-down housing targets on areas, decimating our precious countryside. In Nottinghamshire, as she says, we can see the difference between the well-run Conservative county council and the bankrupt Nottingham Council, which has left residents to pick up the bill for its profligacy.

Q13. Untreated sewage was pumped into English waterways for more than 3.6 million hours last year, and into the sea off Sussex beaches three times in the last 24 hours alone, yet since privatisation the water companies have been allowed to rack up debts of over £64 billion and their shareholders have been allowed to pocket £78 billion in dividends. The majority of the public, including 58% of Conservative supporters and 80% of Labour supporters, want to turf out of the profiteering polluters. They want water brought back into public hands. When is the Prime Minister going to listen to them and end the legalised scam of privatisation? (902739)

Our plans to tackle this go further than those of any previous Government. In fact, we now monitor 100% of overflows, up from just 7% under the Labour party; we are investing a record £56 billion into our water infrastructure; and we have enshrined strict targets in law and introduced unlimited fines for water companies, holding them and their bosses to account. It is crystal clear. The record shows that only one party has a clear plan to tackle this issue for the environment: the Conservative party.

Everybody knows that Stockton is a great place with great people and a great football team. My right hon. Friend recently visited the mighty Stockton Town to see the incredible work they do in the local community, and he heard about their promotion battle. I am sure that he will want to join me in congratulating Micky Dunwell and the mighty Anchors on their promotion.

It was fantastic to visit Stockton Town football club with my hon. Friend, who is a brilliant champion for his local community, which I see at first hand on a weekly basis. I join him in congratulating everyone at the club on their well-deserved promotion, and I hope that some of their good luck rubs off on Southampton in the coming weeks.