Skip to main content


Volume 690: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2021

It will be three years tomorrow since a chemical weapon was deployed by Russian military intelligence on the streets of Salisbury. All our thoughts remain with those affected, their families and loved ones, and we will continue to seek justice for them. I am sure this House will want to pay tribute to the people of Salisbury and Amesbury, and wish them well for the future.

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.

Liverpool is a welcoming city, with the oldest Chinese community in Europe, but in 1946 the British Government ordered the forced repatriation back to China of thousands of Chinese seamen who were living in Liverpool with their British families, causing lasting emotional trauma. Many of their descendants still live in my Liverpool, Riverside constituency. Will the Prime Minister take steps to acknowledge these events, and provide the descendants with a formal apology and the justice they deserve?

I have happy memories of my own visits to Liverpool, and I can tell the hon. Member—[Interruption.] I can tell her that we are certainly very grateful across the country to the Chinese community for their amazing contribution. Her message has been heard loud and clear.

The Pirelli factory in Carlisle employs around 800 people, contributes hundreds of millions of pounds to the local economy and is an exporter. Its location is a consequence of regional economic policy from 50 years ago. Does the Prime Minister agree that, if we are to rebalance the economy and level up the country, we need a modern-day, proactive regional economic policy? If he does agree, will he come to Carlisle to see the old and new in action? (912840)

Of course, I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. He will hear more in just half an hour or so—let us try to keep it to half an hour, Mr Speaker—from the Chancellor about how exactly we intend to make sure we build back better across the whole of this country and unleash the tremendous potential of the whole of the United Kingdom, including of course Carlisle, which he so well represents.

I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the Salisbury atrocity.

Does the Prime Minister agree with President Biden that the sale of arms which could be used in the war in Yemen should be suspended?

Ever since the tragic conflict in Yemen broke out, this country has scrupulously followed the consolidated guidance, of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be well aware.

The trouble is that, while President Biden has suspended arms sales that could be used in Yemen, the UK has not. In fact, we sold £1.4 billion-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in three months last year, including bombs and missiles that could be used in Yemen. Given everything we know about the appalling humanitarian cost of this war, with innocent civilians caught between the Saudi coalition and the Houthi rebels, why does the Prime Minister think it is right to be selling these weapons?

The UK is part of an international coalition following the UN resolutions, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know well and which are very clear that the legitimate Government of Yemen were removed illegally. Those are the resolutions that we follow, and we continue scrupulously to follow the humanitarian guidance—among the toughest measures anywhere in the world—in respect of all arms sales. He talks about humanitarian relief, and actually I think the people of this country can be hugely proud of what we are doing to support the people of Yemen: almost £1 billion of aid contributed in the past five years.

The Prime Minister says the system is very robust in relation to arms sales. It cannot be that robust: the Government lost a court case just two years ago in relation to arms sales. The truth is that the UK is increasingly isolated in selling arms to Saudi Arabia, despite what is happening in Yemen, despite Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and despite the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—a murder the US has concluded was approved by the Saudi Crown Prince. So I have to ask: what will it take for the Prime Minister to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

We condemn the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We continue to call for a full independent investigation into the causes of his death, and indeed we have already sanctioned 20 people in Saudi Arabia. I repeat the point that I have made that the UK Government continue to follow the consolidated guidance, which, by the way, was set up by the Labour party.

To make matters worse, the Government decided this week to halve international aid to Yemen—to halve it. The United Nations has said that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen for decades, and the Secretary-General said on Monday that cutting aid would be a “death sentence” for the people of Yemen. How on earth can the Prime Minister justify selling arms to Saudi Arabia and cutting aid to people starving in Yemen?

It is under this Government that we have increased aid spending to the highest proportion in the history of our country, and, yes, it is true that current straitened circumstances, which I am sure the people of this country understand, mean that temporarily we must reduce aid spending, but that does not obscure the fact that when it comes to our duty to the people of Yemen we continue to step up to the plate: a contribution of £214 million for this financial year. There are very few other countries in the world that have such a record and that are setting such an example in spending and supporting the people of Yemen.

This week the Government halved our international aid to Yemen. If this is what the Prime Minister thinks global Britain should look like, he should think again, and if he does not believe me—if he does not like it from me or the UN Secretary-General—he should listen to his own MPs. Just this morning, the Conservative MP the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) said:

“Cutting support to starving children is not what Global Britain should be about. It undermines the very idea of the UK as a nation to be respected on a global stage.”

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said this was “unconscionable”. Will the Prime Minister now do the right thing and reconsider this urgently?

I repeat: we have given £1 billion since the conflict began; we are in support of UN resolutions; this year we are contributing another £214 million to support the people of Yemen. There are very few other countries in the world that have that kind of record. In these tough, straitened circumstances, bearing in mind the immense cost of the covid epidemic that has affected our country, I think the people of this country should be very, very proud of what we are doing.

Britain should be a moral force for good in the world, but just as the US is stepping up, the UK is stepping back. If the Prime Minister and Chancellor are so determined to press ahead with their manifesto-breaking cuts to international aid—cutting the budget to 0.5%—they should at least put that to a vote in this House. Will he have the courage to do so?

We are going to get on with our agenda of delivering for the people of this country and spending more than virtually any other country in the world—by the way, spending more, still, than virtually any other country in the G7—on aid. It is a record of which this country can be proud. Given the difficulties that this country faces, I think that the people of this country will think that we have got our priorities right.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot work out what his priorities are. One minute he is backing us on the road map; the next week he is turning his back on us. He cannot even address a question on the issues of the hour. He could have asked anything about the coronavirus pandemic; instead, he has consecrated his questions entirely to the interests of the people of Yemen. We are doing everything we can to support the people of Yemen given the constraints that we face. We are getting on with a cautious but irreversible road map to freedom, which I hope that he will support. Very shortly, Mr Speaker, you will be hearing a Budget for recovery.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that when devolution was established in Scotland, there was no separate Scottish civil service created; we have a UK civil service, with UK ministerial oversight. Given the turmoil in Scottish politics, will he confirm that any civil servants who feel pressurised to behave inappropriately have a mechanism to seek redress beyond the Ministers to whom they are immediately answerable? (912841)

I thank my right hon. Friend, and of course we will support all civil servants. By the way, I thank them for the work that they have done up and down the country throughout the pandemic. I think everybody in this House would agree that now is the time, really, for our civil service to focus on working together to build back better together, rather than on measures that might divide our country.

May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on the terrible atrocity three years ago in the town of Salisbury?

The situation in Yemen has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. One hundred thousand people have been killed, 16.2 million are at risk of starvation, and 2.3 million children, Prime Minister, are at death’s door, facing acute malnutrition. The UK Government’s response is not one of compassion; instead, it is to impose cuts. That is what you are doing, Prime Minister—a 50% cut to international aid to Yemen, a move that the UN chief, António Guterres, has described as “a death sentence”.

Since the start of the war, the Tories have shamefully backed the Saudi regime through billions of pounds of arms sales and support, despite evidence of war crimes and of the targeting of civilians. Will the Prime Minister confirm that today’s Budget will force through the devastating cuts to international aid?

I think anybody listening to this debate will have heard me say that this country—this Government—in the last five years has given £1 billion to support the people of Yemen. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, in case he thinks there is any diminution of our efforts, that on Monday we are going to provide cash support to 1.5 million of the most vulnerable Yemeni households, support 400 health clinics and treat 75,000 cases of severe malnutrition. That is the continuing effort of the British people and the British Government to help the people of Yemen.

The reality is a 50% cut to Yemen aid at a time of a global pandemic. The coronavirus has hit poor and vulnerable countries the hardest, threatening decades of hard-won gains while exacerbating existing inequalities. During his leadership race, the Prime Minister made a commitment to stand by 0.7% for aid spending, a position he reaffirmed in June last year at that very Dispatch Box. What followed was yet another U-turn—another broken promise. Why is the Prime Minister breaking his own manifesto commitment, and why are his Government breaking the promises they made to the world’s poorest?

I think most people in this country will know that the Government have given £280 billion to support the people, the economy, the livelihoods and the businesses up and down the whole of the United Kingdom. That has, as you will hear from the Chancellor, Mr Speaker, placed strains on our public finances. In the meantime, we continue to do everything we possibly can to support the people of Yemen, including, by the way, through a massive vaccination programme, to which the people of this country have contributed £548 million—the second biggest contributor in the world.

The Prime Minister will know from his time working in the Black Country how important our green spaces and green belt are. Will he make sure that Dudley Council and our Mayor Andy Street have the powers and resources they need to ensure that development is on brownfield rather than valuable green spaces, and that local people’s voices are clearly heard and taken into account, including where the proposed development is across local authority borders in the green belt surrounding Dudley South? (912843)

Indeed. We will protect our vital green belt, which I think constitutes 12.4% of our land. We can build our homes as my hon. Friend rightly suggests—300,000 of them on brownfield sites across the country.

We are now in the third month of the Northern Ireland protocol and we are fast approaching the end of the three-month grace period. The Prime Minister will be aware of the disruption the protocol is causing to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the damage it is doing to the stability of the political institutions established under the Belfast agreement. What action does the Prime Minister intend to take to deliver on his promise to protect Northern Ireland’s position within the UK internal market and provide us with unfettered access to goods from Great Britain?

The position of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market is rock solid and guaranteed. We are making sure that we underscore that with some temporary operational easings in order to protect the market in some areas, such as food supplies, pending further discussions with the EU. As I have said to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, we leave nothing off the table to ensure that we get this right.

Our British vaccine, finished in Wockhardt in Wrexham, has shown the globe exactly what the UK can achieve. In Wrexham, we have Maelor Hospital, Coleg Cambria, Glyndŵr University and an industrial estate bristling with small and medium-sized enterprises. We are close to the midlands and the north-west. Does the Prime Minister agree that now is the time for our young people to look at and aspire to careers in STEM and healthcare, and that Wrexham is the hub that can take us forward? (912844)

My hon. Friend is completely right. I thank her again, by the way, for her amazing service in the NHS in Wrexham and in returning to the frontline. It was at Wockhardt in Wrexham that I met young female scientists who are helping to make the vaccine that will not only free our country, we hope, from the captivity of covid, but help to liberate the entire world. It was wonderful to see it happening in Wrexham. We want to see many more young female scientists growing up in that part of the world.

I would like to ask about a very important domestic issue. The property tax system in England is broken. Council tax places an unfair burden on people living in the poorest communities without generating the revenues needed to fund local services. Does the Prime Minister agree that a proportional property tax, as proposed by the Fairer Share campaign, would create a transparent property taxation system, generate revenues that local government needs and ease the tax burden on hard-pressed families across the country, including in my constituency of Easington? (912842)

With great respect to the hon. Member, what the country needs are councillors who charge you less while delivering better services. If we look across the country, we can see that it is overwhelmingly Conservative-run councils that do that. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) laughs. Westminster has kept council tax low. In Camden where he lives, it is three times as high. That is the difference.

Last Friday, my constituent Mr Luke Bellfield, who was aged just 18, was stabbed to death just a few miles from his family home. This has been horrendous for his family and friends who have been left behind and my heart goes out to them all. What more does my right hon. Friend think that the police, society and Parliament can do to make sure that there never will be such senseless murders again? (912845)

I sympathise very much with Luke’s family and his friends, and there is nothing I can say that will alleviate their loss. But what we are doing is recruiting many more police officers to fight crime, rolling up the county lines drugs gangs wherever we can and setting out plans to keep serious sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer. I can tell the House that we now have 6,620 of our target extra 20,000 police already recruited.

We know that the Prime Minister is the proud leader of a British nationalist party, and he says that his no to another independence referendum in Scotland is final, so why are his colleagues in Scotland distributing leaflets that say a vote for the Tories is a vote to stop an independence referendum? If a vote for the British nationalist Tories in Scotland must be accepted as a legitimate vote against a referendum, surely a vote for the Scottish National party in May must be respected as a mandate for putting Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands. (912851)

I was delighted to hear a sort of acceptance there that the hon. Gentleman is running a nationalist party, if that is what he was saying, because I am afraid I agree with that; they are not in respect of the whole of this country. But I think that most people will think it extraordinary that they are talking about another referendum—the Labour Chief Whip is nodding quite rightly—when, actually, what the people of this country want to see is us working together as one United Kingdom without further constitutional upheaval, to get through the pandemic and build back better.

May I first say how great it was to welcome my right hon. Friend to Accrington last week? I am sure that he will join me in thanking the staff and pupils at Accrington Academy for making our visit such a welcoming one. As you will know, Mr Speaker, my constituency was at the heart of the first industrial revolution, and we are ready to lead in the new green industrial revolution and level up once and for all. On that note, will my right hon. Friend commit to supporting my campaign to rejuvenate our high streets and town centres across Hyndburn and Haslingden? (912846)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her campaign. It was great to be in Accrington and I hope that she will be hearing even more shortly from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor about what we can do to support the towns fund and other measures to help Accrington and places across the whole country.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I would like to thank you and Members across the House, including the Prime Minister, for your well wishes during my illness.

The Prime Minister previously guaranteed that there was no threat to the Erasmus scheme as a result of Brexit. We now know that charities such as STAND International in my constituency that participate in the programme are set to lose 96% of their funding as a result of the UK Government’s decision to pull the plug on Erasmus+. Can the Prime Minister guarantee that charities will receive match funding under the new Turing scheme, and will he agree to meet me and representatives from STAND International to ensure that no young person in East Dunbartonshire gets left behind as a result of Brexit?

I am sure I speak for everybody when I say how much I welcome the hon. Lady back to PMQs—it is great to see her back. I do give her that assurance, and I think the Turing scheme will be better and will deliver exactly what she wants. If there was a criticism of the Erasmus scheme, it tended to favour higher-income households. We will do everything that we can with the Turing scheme to reach out to give opportunity to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. That is what we intend to do.

My right hon. Friend has taken a strong personal interest in the tragic story of my constituent, Harry Dunn, so will he please continue to do everything in his power to reassure Tim and Charlotte, Harry’s parents, and all their family that he will try to persuade President Biden to deliver justice for Harry? (912847)

My right hon. Friend is completely right to continue to raise the case of Harry Dunn, and we sympathise deeply with his family. It is a case that we continue to raise with the highest level, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has only just raised it with Tony Blinken, the US Secretary of State.

Rhondda Cynon Taf, where my constituency is located, has the third highest covid death rate in the UK, due mainly to inequality, poverty and chronic underfunding. This UK Government have an appalling record on providing Wales with even a fair share of UK spending, let alone the funding needed to level up. Eleven years of Tory austerity cuts have destroyed the capacity of our public services to withstand the pandemic, and now they plan to bypass the democratic structures in Wales. My constituent Lyndon has a question for the Prime Minister. What will it take for him to stop ignoring the south Wales valleys?

I am afraid I disagree profoundly with the implication of what the hon. Lady is saying—and indeed with what her constituent Lyndon is, by implication, asking—because this Government continue to give massive support through the Barnett formula and elsewhere. I think through Barnett alone it is £2.4 billion, and there is now more coming through the levelling-up fund and other means. It is thanks to the UK Government that the furlough scheme has supported 3,400 jobs in her constituency alone. That is one of the advantages of the United Kingdom.

Only this week, the Government once again demonstrated their commitment to energy industry jobs in the north-east of Scotland as a whole, with over £30 million committed to creating a green energy transition zone and a global underwater hub. Will my right hon. Friend therefore go further in supporting this most vital industry? It is vital to developing the energy technologies of the future—based, he will agree, in the greatest part of the country—and transitioning to net zero with the long-awaited energy transition deal, which will help to transform the oil capital of Europe into the green energy centre of the world. (912848)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his last-minute lobbying. He has only a few minutes to wait before he may hear something to his advantage.

Prime Minister, in an interview with Sophy Ridge broadcast on 8 December 2019, you pledged that there would be no checks on goods going from NI to GB or from GB to NI. While this has proven more challenging to deliver in practice, would you wish to take this opportunity to encourage Ministers in Northern Ireland to do all they can—

Order. Unfortunately, I am not responsible and “you” is not something that we should be using.

My humble apologies. Can the Prime Minister make this aspiration a reality and ensure that they act in accordance with section 46 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, which stresses the importance of facilitating the free flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Yes, I certainly can do that. As I said in answer to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson), we leave nothing off the table in order to make sure that we get that done. There is unfettered access NI-GB and GB-NI.

The Prime Minister has been a good friend of East Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. He will know that the Humber is the biggest trading estuary in the country and that it contains the UK’s biggest port. May I therefore encourage him to look closely and favourably at the Humber free port bid as it contains sites in Hull, Goole, Grimsby and the Scunthorpe steelworks, which are really important for the region too? (912849)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has mounted an excellent campaign and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will say more about that shortly.

HS2 reduces journey times from Manchester airport to London from two hours 24 minutes to 59 minutes. With the carbon capture that we would generate and the increased capacity to the west coast main line, what prevents the Government from putting shovels in the ground in the north now?

The answer to that is, as anybody who gets a project done on their home or wherever knows, that starting again midway through I am afraid greatly multiplies the cost, but we will go as fast as we possibly can.

The last time the UK hosted the G7 in 2013, the then Prime Minister launched the social impact investment taskforce to catalyse a market for private capital seeking social outcomes as well as financial returns, and this country now leads the world in the development of financial innovations for public good. Will my right hon. Friend therefore confirm that the social investment tax relief, which was launched after that summit, will continue beyond April? Will he use this year’s G7 to trumpet to the world the benefit of social investment, social enterprise and the social economy in general? (912850)

My hon. Friend has long been a campaigner for the wonderful benefits of social enterprise. I visited some of his own, and if he just waits a little longer, he will receive an update on social investment tax relief.

I am suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.

Sitting suspended.