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Volume 700: debated on Wednesday 8 September 2021

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.

In the run-up to the last election, the Prime Minister said that “clearly it is wrong” that hundreds of thousands of people are forced to rely on food banks to survive. Research released by the Trussell Trust today shows that one in six people fear that they will almost certainly have to use a food bank in just four weeks’ time as a result of the Government’s decision to axe the £20 uplift to universal credit. That is more than 500 families and 1,000 children being forced into food poverty in my constituency of Birkenhead alone. Will the Prime Minister concede that the cut to universal credit is wrong, and will he change course?

Of course I am very grateful to everybody who helps with food banks, and they do a fantastic job. What this Government have done throughout the pandemic is to put the most protection for those who need it most across society, and I am proud of what we have done by uplifting the living wage, and proud of the arm that we put around the whole of the British people.

Q7. Will my right hon. Friend offer me an answer for my constituents of the future, as they sit around a tepid radiator powered by an inefficient and expensive air source heating unit, worrying about the payments on the electric car that they did not want either, while they watch the growing economies of the world going hell for leather building new gas and coal-powered stations? They will be asking me, “Why?” Will the Prime Minister please commit to solutions that are technologically possible to reduce Britain’s CO2, rather than uncosted commitments that—I am sorry—we will be hearing a lot of at COP26? (903346)

Not only has the price of batteries fallen vertiginously, as has the cost of solar power, but I can tell my hon. Friend and the people of Thanet South that they have huge opportunities. The cost of wind power in this country has fallen by 70% just in the last 10 years. What I think the people of Thanet want to see, and I am sure my hon. Friend exemplifies it, is a spirit of Promethean technological optimism.

I want to ask the Prime Minister about the promise he made to the British people to

“guarantee that no one needing care has to sell their home to pay for it.”

Does that guarantee still stand?

What this plan for health and social care does is deal, after decades, with the catastrophic costs faced by millions of people up and down the country, and the risk that they could face the loss of their home, their possessions and their ability to pass on anything to their children. This Government are not only dealing with that problem but understand that in order to deal with the problems of the NHS backlogs, you also have to fix social care. We are taking the tough decisions that the country wants to see. We are putting another £36 billion in. What I would like to know from the leader of the Labour party is: what is he going to do tonight? Silence from mission control and his—[Interruption.]

Order. If you do not want to hear the Prime Minister, I certainly do, and I cannot hear him. It is not acceptable. Prime Minister, have you finished?

I just want to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he is going to vote for our measures tonight.

I noticed that the Prime Minister did not stand by his guarantee that no one will need to sell their house to pay for care. Let me explain why he did not. Under the Prime Minister’s plan, someone with £186,000 including the value of their home—that is not untypical for constituents across the country—who is facing large costs because they have to go into care will have to pay £86,000. That is before living costs. Where does the Prime Minister think they are going to get that £86,000 without selling their home?

As I think everybody understood in the long statement yesterday, this is the first time that the state has come in to deal with the threat of these catastrophic costs, thereby enabling the private sector—the financial services industry—to supply the insurance products that people need to guarantee themselves against the cost of care. What we are doing is lifting the floor—lifting the guarantee—up to £100,000, whereby nobody has to pay anything, across the entire country. We still have to hear from the Opposition what they would do to fix the backlogs in the NHS and fix social care after decades of inertia and inactivity. What would the Leader of the Opposition do?

The Prime Minister’s plan is to impose an unfair tax on working people. My plan is to ensure—[Interruption.] My plan is to ensure that those with the broadest shoulders pay their fair share. That is the difference. [Interruption.]

Order. I say to both sides that I need to hear the question. I also need to hear the answer. If there are some Members who do not want to hear it, I am sure that their constituents want to hear it. It is not good to shout down either side when they are either asking or answering a question. Please, our constituents are interested. I want to hear, and they will want to hear. Keir Starmer.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister’s plan is to impose unfair taxes on working people; my plan is to ensure those with the broadest shoulders pay their fair share. I know Conservative Members do not like that. The truth is that the Prime Minister’s plans do not do what he claims. People will still face huge bills. Many homeowners will need to sell their homes. He is not denying it, when he could have done. The Prime Minister has failed the only test he set for himself for social care. It was in the manifesto—another manifesto promise, Prime Minister.

It is no good shaking your head. And who is going to pay for the cost of this failure? Working people. Under the Prime Minister’s plan, a landlord renting out dozens of properties will not pay a penny more, but their tenants in work will face tax rises of hundreds of pounds a year. A care worker earning the minimum wage does not get a pay rise under this plan, but does get a tax rise. In what world is that fair?

Actually, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed that this is a broad-based and progressive measure. The top 20% of households by income will pay 40 times what the poorest 20% pay; the top 14% will pay half of the entire levy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about his plan. Well, I have been scouring the records for evidence of the Labour plan, and I have found it. In 2018, the current shadow Minister for Social Care, the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), joined forces with Nick Boles and Norman Lamb to promote a new dedicated health and social care tax based on national insurance. Where is she? I can’t see her in her place, Mr Speaker. She said that this was to be the country’s “Beveridge moment”. Is the Labour party really going to vote against the new Beveridge moment tonight?

Mr Speaker, let me tell you what an ambitious young Member for Henley said in 2002 in this House:

“national insurance increases are regressive”—[Official Report, 17 April 2002; Vol. 383, c. 667.]

I wonder what happened to him. If the Prime Minister is going ahead with this unfair tax, can he at least tell us this: will his plan clear the NHS waiting list backlog by the end of this Parliament—yes or no?

I think the whole House, indeed the whole country, can appreciate that we at least have a plan to fix the backlogs and we at least understand that the only way to fix the long-term underlying problems in the NHS and the problem of delayed discharges is to fix the crisis in social care as well, which Labour failed to address for decades. We are going ahead and doing it. What I have just understood from the right hon. and learned Gentleman—out of that minestrone of nonsense has floated a crouton of fact—is that he is going to vote against the measures tonight. They are going to vote against plans to fix the backlogs and to fix social care. Vote Labour, Mr Speaker, wait longer.

It was a yes/no question. You either clear the backlog or you don’t. The Prime Minister cannot even say that he will do that. So there we have it: working people will pay higher tax, those in need will still lose their homes to pay for care and he cannot even say if the NHS backlog will be cleared. [Interruption.] He gesticulates, but they are all breaking their manifesto promises and putting up taxes for their working constituents for this? Tax rises are not the only way he is making working people worse off. Some 2.5 million working families will face a doubly whammy: a national insurance tax rise and a £1,000 a year universal credit cut. They are getting hit from both sides. Of all the ways to raise public funds, why is the Prime Minister insisting on hammering working people?

We are proud of what we have been doing throughout the pandemic to look after working people. We are proud of the extra £9 billion we put in through universal credit. I think people in this House and across the country should know that Labour wants to scrap universal credit all together. We believe in higher wages and better skills, and it is working. That is why we are investing in 13,500 work coaches and £3,000 a year for 11 million adults across this country to train under the lifetime skills guarantee, and it is working. For the first time since 2019, after years and years of stagnation, wages are rising for the lower paid. Labour believes in welfare; we believe in higher wages and higher skills and better jobs.

Higher wages and higher skills, the Prime Minister says. How out of touch he is! [Interruption.] Conservative Members laugh. What do they say to Rosie, because Rosie is the sort of person that this impacts on? Laugh away. A single mother working on the minimum wage in a nursing home, she got in touch with me. She will lose £87 a month due to the universal credit cut—a huge amount to her. She will now also be hit with a national insurance tax rise. She has asked for more shifts and she cannot get them. She is unable to get further help with childcare. What does the Prime Minister—what does the laughter—say to Rosie?

This is a Government who underfunded the NHS for a decade before the pandemic, took £8 billion out of social care before the pandemic, and then wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on dodgy contracts, vanity projects and giveaways to their mates. They cut stamp duty on second home owners, gave super tax deductions for the biggest companies and now they are telling millions of working people that they must cough up more tax. Is this not the same old Tory party, always putting their rich mates and donors before working people?

Very sadly, Mr Speaker, what you are hearing is the same old nonsense from Labour, because they want to scrap universal credit. I have every sympathy for Rosie and I admire her and families up and down the land, but the best thing we can do for them is have a strong and dynamic economy. As I speak, our economy is the fastest growing in the G7, because we have had the fastest vaccine roll-out and the fastest opening up of any comparable country. Never forget that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have kept us in the European Medicines Agency; he attacked the Vaccine Taskforce; and if we had listened to Captain Hindsight in July, we would not have the fastest growing economy in the G7—we would still be in lockdown. [Interruption.] It is true. If we listened to him today, we would not be trying to fix the NHS backlogs and we would not finally be dealing with social care. This is the Government who take the tough decisions to take this country forward.

Q8. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the recent extension of the grace periods for the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is welcome, it does not yet amount to a permanent fix of the Northern Ireland protocol, which Lord Trimble suggests is inimical to the Belfast agreement? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in the continuing negotiations, the Government will draw the attention of the EU to the positive advantages of mutual enforcement, as advocated in the recent excellent paper by the Centre for Brexit Policy? (903347)

Yes, and I thank both my right hon. Friend and the Centre for Brexit Policy for their analysis. It is good that the interim period has been extended, because clearly, the protocol, as it is being applied by our friends in the EU, is not, in my view, protecting the Belfast/Good Friday agreement as it should in all its aspects. We must sort it out.

Yesterday, without consultation, the Prime Minister announced plans to impose a regressive Tory poll tax on millions of Scottish workers. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that around 2 million families on low incomes will now pay an average of an extra £100 a year because of the Prime Minister’s tax hike. Yet again, the Tories are fleecing Scottish families, hitting low and middle-income workers and penalising the young. A former Tory Work and Pensions Secretary called it a “sham”. A former Tory Chancellor has said this is the poor subsidising the rich. A former Tory Prime Minister has called this “regressive”. Prime Minister, is it not the case that this Tory tax hike is once again balancing the books on the backs of the poor and the young?

The right hon. Gentleman says there was no consultation. Actually, I much enjoy my conversations with representatives of the Scottish Administration. One thing they said to me was that they wanted more funding for the NHS. I am delighted that we are putting another £1.1 billion into the NHS in Scotland, while all they can talk about is another referendum. That is a clear distinction between us and the Scottish nationalist party—about what are the real priorities of the people of this country.

That was no answer to the question, because the facts are that this is a tax hike on the poor and on the young. You should be ashamed of yourself, Prime Minister.

We now know the economic direction of this toxic Tory Government: we are going to see furlough scrapped, universal credit cut and more tax hikes for the low-paid. Let us be in no doubt: this is the return of the Tories’ austerity agenda. It is austerity 2.0. On this Prime Minister’s watch, the United Kingdom now has the worst levels of poverty and inequality anywhere in north-west Europe, and in-work poverty has risen to record levels this century. More Tory austerity cuts will make this even worse.

Scotland deserves better. There is clearly no chance of a fair covid recovery under this Prime Minister and under this Westminster Government. Is it not the case that the only way to protect Scotland from Tory cuts and the regressive tax hikes is for it to become an independent country, with the full powers needed to build a fair, strong and equal recovery for the people of Scotland?

Well, I do not think that that is the right priority for this country or for the people of Scotland. I will just remind the right hon. Gentleman of the words of the deputy leader of the Scottish Government, who welcomed it when the Labour Government put up NI by 1p to pay for the national health service. He—this is a guy called John Swinney—said:

“I am absolutely delighted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has now accepted that progressive taxation is required to invest in the health service in Scotland”.—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 18 April 2002; c. 8005.]

I mean, get your story straight! This is more cash for people in Scotland; it is more investment for families in Scotland; it is good for Scotland and good for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Q9. The growing populations of Grantham and Stamford require a long-term integrated healthcare strategy. Can the Prime Minister confirm what action the Government are taking to implement regular reviews of healthcare provision to meet the future needs of my constituency? (903348)

My hon. Friend is quite right; he is a great advocate for the people of Grantham and Stamford. The Health and Care Bill will ensure that there are integrated healthcare partnerships, bringing together local authorities and local healthcare, but there is more to be done, and that will be done in the forthcoming White Paper.

Yesterday’s social care plan forgot family carers, yet we are the millions wiping bottoms and washing and dressing our loved ones, whether they are elderly or disabled, ill or dying. We carers just want a fair deal, so will the Prime Minister raise the carer’s allowance? Will he guarantee proper breaks for carers? Will he change employment law so that we can balance caring with work? Will he ensure that there are enough professional carers to help, starting with a new visa for carers? We carers have a lifetime of ideas to improve our loved ones’ care, so why does the Prime Minister keep ignoring us and taking carers for granted?

I certainly acknowledge, and I think the whole House acknowledges, the massive debt that we owe to unpaid carers such as the right hon. Gentleman. Up and down the country, we thank them for what they are doing. What the plan means is that there will be a huge injection of support, both from the private sector and from the Government, into caring across the board. I believe that that will support unpaid carers as well, since they will no longer have the anxiety, for instance, that their elderly loved ones could see the loss of all their possessions. What we are also doing for carers is making sure that we invest, now, half a billion pounds in their training, in their profession to make sure that they have the dignity and progression in their jobs that they deserve.

Q11. Einion and Elliw Jones from Mynydd Mostyn dairy in my constituency have created a real buzz by offering a self-serve milk facility on their farm for the local community. Sadly, the local council has served them with an enforcement notice, which has led to almost 9,000 locals signing a petition in support of them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that businesses that have done their best to survive and diversify over this horrendous last year should be supported and not threatened by the local authority as they do all they can to grow their business? (903350)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, planning is a devolved matter, but what I can tell him and the House is that we have provided business with over £100 billion of support throughout the pandemic, including 1.5 million bounce back loans to small and medium-sized enterprises such as the one that he describes.

Q2. At a time of widespread concern about the HGV driver crisis, I have been contacted by a number of drivers from Ceredigion who believe that the decision to increase their hours will fail to solve the problem. It is clear to them that a long-term solution requires improved working conditions, action on the 2018 Government report on parking spaces and driver facilities, and measures to reduce waiting times at distribution centres. Will the Prime Minister consider those proposals, and to what timescale are his Government working to fix the crisis? (903341)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his question. We are working with industry to get more people into HGV driving, which is a great and well-remunerated profession, by, for instance, ramping up vocational test capacity and funding apprenticeships for people training to be lorry drivers. As the House heard earlier, the career structure of HGV drivers is affecting countries throughout the European Union. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman take up his proposals directly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.