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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 703: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2021


The Secretary of State was asked—

Community Renewal Fund

1. What assessment the Government have made of the potential outcomes of the £46 million community renewal fund allocated to Wales. (904157)

Wales is receiving £46 million under the UK community renewal fund, 23% of the funding total, and 165 projects are being funded across Wales, including 14 in Denbighshire worth almost £3 million.

Two weeks ago, as my right hon. Friend says, £2.9 million was announced from the community renewal fund for 14 projects in Denbighshire, including Blossom & Bloom, a charity in Rhyl that can now support 20 more mothers and babies. Of course, the community renewal fund is there to help communities prepare for the introduction of the shared prosperity fund. Will he outline what discussions he is having about that fund and whether capital, as well as revenue, will be available?

My hon. Friend raises a very good question, and I hope he will take into account that we are looking at the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund and the community ownership fund, as well as the shared prosperity fund, in the round, and other potential funding proposals, too. When he sees the detail, I hope he will see that we address both capital and revenue.

Levelling-up Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund

2. What comparative assessment he has made of the equity of allocations from the (a) levelling-up fund and (b) shared prosperity fund to Wales and the rest of the UK. (904158)

4. What comparative assessment he has made of the equity of allocations from the (a) levelling-up fund and (b) shared prosperity fund to Wales and the rest of the UK. (904160)

Wales is benefiting greatly from local growth funding, receiving above its population share from all three funds: 7% in the first round of the levelling-up fund, 9% in the first round of the community ownership fund and a remarkable 23% of the UK community renewal fund.

The principle behind the funds is fine, but the prioritisation of Tory-held seats in both Scotland and Wales reveals them to be just another example of pork barrel politics. Instead of meddling in devolved areas, will the Secretary of State accept that it would be beneficial to the people of the devolved nations to have greater control of decision making to do things for themselves? The Government should devolve more, instead of fiddling in devolved areas.

I hope the hon. Gentleman is able to endorse what I am about to say because, of course, that is exactly what these funds do. For the first time, 22 local authorities in Wales and other stakeholders are having a say in devolution. The Welsh Government do not have a monopoly of wisdom any more than the UK Government do, and we are taking devolution to its dictionary definition. He will probably know this but, under the UK community renewal fund, Labour areas got 44% of the funding, Plaid Cymru areas got 24%, independent areas got 17% and Conservative areas were fourth at 15%.

Let us be clear that independent estimates tell us that, over the next five years, the difference between what the devolved Administrations would have got through structural funds and what they will get through the shared prosperity fund is £4 billion. Will the Secretary of State stop promulgating this myth, this deception, that there will be no difference as a result of leaving the EU and admit that this is just another Brexit broken promise?

We are hearing a Brexit broken record, to be honest. The settlement for Wales has gone from £15.9 billion to £18 billion, plus £120 million from the levelling-up fund, plus £47 million from the community renewal fund, plus the community ownership fund, plus more than £300 million-worth of EU tail-off funds, plus £337 million of agriculture funding. It is impossible to come to any conclusion other than that this has been a fantastic settlement for Wales.

Wrexham was fortunate enough to win one of its two levelling-up fund bids, and Wrexham County Borough Council has committed to redefining the other bid and working with officials. Will the Secretary of State let me and the council know when round 2 of the levelling-up fund will be open for bids?

It will be open in the early part of next year. Any local authority that was not successful in the first round will have a chance to discuss its bid with officials to see how the application can be nuanced to achieve success next year.

Montgomeryshire has not seen such a level of investment for decades. I welcome the Secretary of State’s levelling-up fund and community renewal fund—the list goes on. Mid-Wales has never seen such investment, and I implore him to continue with this proper devolution of working with local councils and asking local people about their priorities, and to get more investment into mid-Wales.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that every single area of Wales has benefited from these schemes, which was not the case under the previous funding arrangements. It has been a joy to have the feedback and contributions we have had from local authorities across Wales, which really welcome and are getting engaged with this process.

You would never guess, would you, Mr Speaker, that the allocation of funding can be quite controversial? However, with meaningful consultation, we can reduce the risk of that. Let us suppose that two thirds of the levelling-up fund was allocated to the one third of seats held by Tory MPs in Wales. We could ensure less risk of things being called political bias. In the light of the Institute for Government’s recommendation that the UK Government should consult the Welsh Government at every stage on the shared prosperity fund, and bearing in mind the scathing report by the Public Accounts Committee on the allocation of the towns fund, what in-depth discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Welsh Government on the shared prosperity fund, and when can we expect more information?

The hon. Lady fixates a bit too much on the shared prosperity fund when there are so many other funding sources out there too. Aside from stressing that there is consultation on a range of these things, and I am hoping to meet the First Minister later this week to discuss them, I remind the hon. Lady that the Welsh Government are not the only game in town; we are engaging with more people, in more parts of Wales, than has ever been the case before, and the funding settlements reflect their priorities as much as anything else. I am astonished that she is not welcoming that.

I am sure the House will be well aware that the Welsh Government have always had a strong relationship with the local government sector in Wales and have always consulted on the sharing out of EU funds. Turning to the amount of those funds, the figures are indisputable: EU funding for Wales would have meant at least £375 million in new money for this year. So with just £46 million for the community renewal fund, the Tories are leaving Wales £330 million worse off, and that is not even counting the £137 million cut in the farm support. So will the Secretary of State now stand up for Wales and pledge that in this transition to the shared prosperity fund Wales will receive not a penny less than we had under EU funding?

I think you would probably reprimand me if I went through all the numbers again, Mr Speaker, so I will have to leave it to the Official Report to enable the hon. Lady to check her figures and work out exactly how well Wales has done with the record settlement. It is beholden on the shadow Secretary of State for Wales to portray a rather more optimistic picture of the future of Wales. If we are interested in attracting investment and creating jobs in Wales, she should be championing our country, not denigrating it at every opportunity she has.

Levelling-up Fund: Project Delivery

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government on the progress of the delivery of projects funded by the levelling-up fund in Wales. (904159)

The UK Government are fully focused on levelling up the whole of the United Kingdom, through programmes such as the levelling-up fund. We are working closely and directly with local authorities and other local partners right across the UK to ensure that those are delivered quickly and successfully.

Is the Minister aware that Barry in my constituency and the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan did not qualify for European funds? Does he therefore accept that the levelling-up fund is a potential game changer for the Vale of Glamorgan? May I draw his attention to the excellent proposal for a marina for Barry, which would also recover some land to make available for appropriate development? May I also ask him to pay particular attention when this application comes in?

My right hon. Friend has long been a doughty champion of this scheme, as he has of many other schemes, including the seven UK community renewal fund projects that are going to be delivered in the Vale of Glamorgan and are worth more than £1 million. I simply say to him that we would encourage as many good-quality bids as possible from the Vale of Glamorgan and other local authorities in Wales.

On climate action, the UK must step up to provide the funding that is needed across the whole of Wales. Despite the lack of the funding that we would have seen from the EU, the Welsh Labour Government are already delivering on renewable energy and sustainable transport and achieving the third best recycling rates in the world. Will the Secretary of State tell us what discussions he is having with his Welsh Government counterparts to discuss more climate investment?

I am delighted to answer that, because in addition to all the many programmes that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has mentioned—the UK community renewal fund, the shared prosperity fund and the levelling-up fund—we also have the growth deals, which are delivering the very kinds of environmental projects to which the hon. Lady has just referred. Of course the growth deals are funded 50% by the UK Government and 50% by the Welsh Government, who will be receiving an extra £2.5 billion next year as a result of the most generous settlement they have ever had.

There is tremendous enthusiasm for the levelling-up fund in both Denbighshire and Conwy, where the local authorities are champing at the bit to put in their bids. So will my hon. Friend please indicate when the second round is likely to open?

I can indeed: it will be in the spring of next year. We look forward to receiving bids from my right hon. Friend’s local authority and local authorities throughout the rest of Wales.

Coal Tips: Safety

5. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the safety of coal tips in Wales. (904161)

Last month, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and the First Minister of Wales co-chaired the coal tip safety summit, to receive an update from the joint taskforce. The taskforce has co-ordinated work to identify and categorise tips in Wales and has undertaken inspections of all the highest-risk tips, providing reassurance to the communities that live nearby.

Just a few weeks ago, my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) asked the Prime Minister for support for coal tip repairs throughout our local authority area; in response, the Prime Minister said:

“This is something that I do want to try to fix”—[Official Report, 3 November 2021; Vol. 702, c. 923.]

and promised to talk to the Welsh Government. Will the Minister provide an update on those conversations? Is the plan for support being put in place, or is it just more empty words?

I am not yet responsible for the Prime Minister’s diary, but I know that he welcomes engagement with the First Minister at every opportunity. With respect to the hon. Lady, coal tip safety is a devolved issue and the Welsh Labour Government do not seem to welcome our involvement in devolved issues. Of course, we have provided the Welsh Government with £2.5 billion of extra funding, so they have the powers and the money to deal with the issue. We urge them to get on and deal with it.

Wales’s dangerous coal tips loom over our industrial communities like spectres from our industrial past and remind us of how our natural resources were exploited, mostly for the benefit of others. Climate change is set to compound the risk posed by coal tips, and we expect rainfall to increase by around 6% over the next 30 years. This month, the COP26 President said it was vital

“that we help at risk communities adapt to the impact of”

climate change. How is the Minister’s refusal to settle the £600 million bill consistent with that statement?

Included in the £2.5 billion of extra funding that will be given to the Welsh Government this year is an allocation of money precisely to deal with the sort of problems to which the right hon. Lady refers. She has often said that the UK Government should not get involved in devolved issues; this is a devolved issue, but we have provided the money for the Welsh Government to deal with it. If there are dangerous coal tips, the Welsh Government have the money and must get on and solve the problem.[Official Report, 22 November 2021, Vol. 704, c. 2MC.]

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, it is an inherited issue. Our industrial communities still bear the scars of the scorched-earth policy inflicted by Prime Minister Thatcher. The green transition must be different.

Last week, the Crown Estate revealed that it is planning to build new wind farms off the coast of Wales. The profits will disappear into Treasury coffers rather than going to the people and businesses of Wales. Will the Minister support my private Member’s Bill, which would ensure that all Crown Estate profits made in Wales are invested in Wales?

In one breath, the right hon. Lady criticises Margaret Thatcher for closing down coalmines; in the next breath, she says that we must not have coalmines because they are bad for climate change. She will forgive me if I feel there is a certain inconsistency there, but I will look with interest at whatever Bill she has introduced.

Electric Vehicle Usage

The UK Government are committed to supporting electric vehicle usage in Wales, as well as across the rest of the UK, which is why we have introduced a ban on the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and introduced the on-street residential charge point scheme.

I welcome the rapid change to electric vehicles but am sure the Minister will agree that we must not let rural areas fall behind. This is an issue for Wales, but it also affects all parts of these islands, including my constituency in the Scottish Borders. What are the Government doing to support the installation of more rapid chargers in rural areas to encourage more people to make the switch to electric vehicles?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the UK Government recently granted £187,000 from the UK community renewal fund to help the project in his constituency to provide electric vehicle charging points across the Scottish Borders. The UK Government will continue to support the installation of electric charge points through various schemes, including the £2.5 billion that has been committed to plug-in vehicle grants and charging infrastructure programmes.

Rising Energy Costs: Impact on Industry and Businesses

7. What steps the Government have taken to tackle the impact of rising energy costs on industry and businesses in Wales. (904164)

The Government have provided £2 billion to help businesses with electricity costs and to protect jobs in recent years. We also have various schemes in place—including the £315 million industrial energy transformation fund—to support businesses with high energy use, including those in Wales, to cut their bills and reduce their carbon emissions.

Seventy per cent. of small and medium-sized enterprises believe that high energy costs will negatively affect the growth of their companies. We know that businesses will already be hammered by this Tory Government’s national insurance hike, so what are the Secretary of State for Wales and his ministerial colleagues doing to help support Welsh and other UK businesses to overcome their energy cost problems, to provide much- needed stability, to help them plan ahead, and to deliver the growth that our economy so badly needs?

I am sorry that we cannot persuade members of the Labour party to support a small increase in taxes to protect the national health service, but that is a matter to which we can return.

The UK Government recognise that, as we transition from energy sources such as coal and gas, there will be a cost challenge, which is why we have committed to minimising energy costs for businesses through, for example, the £470 million that has been given in relief to energy-intensive industries through a combination of compensation and exemption.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that the efforts that the Government are rightly making to decarbonise electricity generation do not unfairly disadvantage high energy industries, because if they do, we will be exporting carbon emissions, not reducing them?

My right hon. Friend is exactly right. The Government recognise that potential issue, which is why, for example, £470 million has been provided to high energy users through a combination of compensation and exemption. It is a very real problem to which she refers, and one that is recognised and being dealt with by the Government.

High energy costs act as a disincentive for investment from international steel and other manufacturing companies and other investors, with the UK seen as a less favourable investment environment than other countries. Other countries with less dramatic price rises are putting in prompt measures to proactively support their industries, so why are this Government so slow to act? Can the Minister outline what discussions he is having with colleagues across Government to follow similar interventions to support the steel and manufacturing industries in Wales?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had, and will continue to have, a range of discussions with colleagues in other ministerial Departments as to how we resolve this problem, but the hon. Gentleman will surely recognise that we are making a revolutionary transition from high carbon emitting sources, such as coal and gas, towards renewable energy, such as wind, solar, and possibly nuclear, and that they do come with costs. They are more expensive. Members across the House will recognise the need to make that transition. The Government are leading that transition, and we are also putting in place schemes to support those who may face challenges as a result.

A5 Between Wales and England

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about cross-border connectivity, including the A5, which is a vital artery connecting north Wales to the west midlands.

The A5 is a really important road joining Wales to England. There are pinch points all the way along, none more so than the most bashed bridge in Britain, right in Hinckley in my constituency. Road investment strategy 3 will be really important for joining up Wales to England, so what conversations has the Secretary of State had with the Department for Transport on decision point 1 for RIS 3 in March?

I used to drive that road regularly when I was working in north Wales years ago. I met the Transport Secretary this week. Cross-border connectivity and this particular road came up in the conversation. We are very conscious of the economic impact of making sure that these things are looked at in a holistic, cross-border way. It has not helped that the Welsh Government have decided to introduce a moratorium on road improvements in Wales. That has slowed down the whole business of economic recovery quite considerably.

Shared Prosperity Fund

9. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the shared prosperity fund. (904166)

11. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on the shared prosperity fund. (904168)

Mr Speaker, the answer will be worth waiting for, I promise you.

I am hoping to meet the First Minister with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in Cardiff later this week to discuss how we can best support jobs and economic growth in Wales, including through the various initiatives announced at the autumn Budget.

I am glad that the Secretary of State is with us and awake; that is always nice to see.

Let me return to the shared prosperity fund, rather than levelling up, because the Secretary of State did not actually answer my question. We have seen months and years of dither and delay, and today we have heard questions from the hon. Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) about when the shared prosperity fund will be delivered and when we will have dates for local authorities so that they can plan. Will the Secretary of State simply set out when the shared prosperity fund will be confirmed, when the dates for bidding will take place and when local government will get the information it needs in order to bid for this long overdue funding?

In my conversations with 22 local authorities, they take a much more benign approach to the funding streams than the hon. Gentleman. He obsesses about the UK shared prosperity fund. We have been clear about when that is coming through, with further announcements this year and into next. He deliberately ignores the levelling-up fund, the community renewal fund, the community ownership fund and all the other funds that have been such a success in Wales. I say to him what I said to the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith): it would be a whole lot better for future investors and job creation if he spent a little more time championing Wales and a little less time criticising it.

Well, the Secretary of State dodged that question, just as he dodged Question 1. He knows that there is a real dearth of information on the Government’s shared prosperity fund, which needy communities across Wales desperately want. The same communities drove real change with the European social fund—probably a better levelling-up fund than the Government could ever deliver. This is the Secretary of State’s second chance: when are we going to get the detail and the dates, so that in Wales and across the rest of the country we can get on with planning to spend the shared prosperity fund?

I have repeated the answer to this question on countless occasions this morning. We are looking at a whole range of funding provisions in Wales. The Chancellor was able to provide a record settlement; this is the best settlement for the Welsh Government and local authorities for 20-plus years, and the hon. Gentleman should be acknowledging that.

We have actually stuck to the timescales that we have set out on numerous occasions in Welsh and other questions. The hon. Gentleman really does need to change the record. We are now witnessing record sums of money going into parts of Wales which never even qualified before; that is something that we should be championing, rather than denigrating.

Levelling-up Fund: Potential Outcomes

10. What assessment the Government have made of the potential outcomes of the £121 million levelling-up fund allocated to Wales. (904167)

Wales will benefit significantly from the levelling-up fund, with projects focused on delivering jobs, promoting growth and levelling up communities. In Denbighshire and Wrexham, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Clwyd South, communities will benefit from over £16.4 million in UK Government investment through round 1 of the levelling-up fund and the community renewal fund.

How would the Minister assess the long-term economic, social and cultural impact of, and benefits arising from, the levelling-up fund in Wales, particularly our Clwyd South bid, which he has mentioned, which will send a great deal of badly needed investment into the world heritage site at the Trevor basin, projects in Llangollen and Chirk, and a steam railway in and around Corwen?

The successful levelling-up fund bid at the Pontcysyllte aqueduct and the canal world heritage centre will obviously maximise tourism in the area and provide significant long-term economic benefits to my hon. Friend’s constituency. However, it is just one small part of a much larger programme including the £121 million levelling-up fund, the £46 million community renewal fund and £2.5 billion extra money in a record block grant for the Welsh Labour Government, showing that this Government are committed to strengthening the Union, supporting Wales, and ensuring that jobs and prosperity flow to all parts of the United Kingdom.

One of the problems that we have in the Rhondda is a large number of disused former coal tips, one of which, as the Minister knows, slid down into the river last year. It cost us £14 million to rectify that, and we have another five similar tips in the Rhondda. Can we please have some more money to ensure that we do not have another Aberfan disaster?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as I said earlier, this is a devolved matter. He will also be aware that more than £2.5 billion of extra money has been provided to the Welsh Labour Government. If there are dangerous coal tips in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I urge him to talk to his colleagues in Welsh Labour, ask them to provide the money and get the problem resolved as quickly as possible.

Transport Infrastructure

12. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Wales on improving transport infrastructure in Wales. (904169)

As I outlined in my previous answer, I am hoping to meet the First Minister later this week to discuss a range of issues. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that the M4 is central to cross-border connectivity, and improvements are well overdue if we are serious about levelling up.

I can see south Wales from my North Devon constituency and I am very keen to secure a ferry crossing from Ilfracombe to south Wales, popular on both sides of the Bristol channel, with visions ranging from a Dylan Thomas literary tour through to a Barry booze cruise. Will the Secretary of State meet me to see how to progress this project?

There used to be a ferry from Tenby to North Devon back in the old days. I would be very happy to see that introduced. Until the Welsh Government honour their 2016 manifesto commitment to improve the M4, the quickest way of visiting each other will be a 30-year-old ferry chugging across the Bristol channel.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the considerable public concern in relation to the impression that significant political donations can help acquire a peerage. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) will publish a Bill later today that will prohibit large party donors from being nominated to the other place for a period of five years. Will the Prime Minister offer full Government support to my hon. Friend’s efforts?

I will study his proposals with care when the Opposition parties commit to stop taking funds from the unions in order to control their politics.

Q2. During a recent visit to Barnet Hospital, I was told that A&E there was routinely seeing twice the number of people for which it was designed. Thanks to the hard work of staff and big funding increases, the NHS is seeing more patients and delivering more tests, treatments and operations than at any time in its history, but what are the Government doing to urgently assist the NHS to tackle spiralling demand for healthcare and a tough winter ahead? (904173)

I thank my right hon. Friend for what she does to represent her hospital, and I thank the NHS staff for the amazing work that they are doing. We are supporting them, as she knows, by recruiting 50,000 more nurses and putting another £4.5 billion into the NHS over the rest of this financial year. The best thing we can do to protect our NHS over this winter is for everybody to come forward and get their booster vaccination.

Trust matters, and after the last fortnight the Prime Minister has got a lot of work to do. A central plank in this Government’s promise to the north of England is a Crossrail of the north with at least an entirely new high-speed rail line between Manchester and Leeds. A Crossrail for the north; an entirely new line—that is the promise. It has already been made, so I do not want the Prime Minister fobbing off the House about waiting until tomorrow; he can say today: will he stick by that promise, yes or no?

He should wait and see what is going to be announced tomorrow, because we will produce a fantastic integrated rail plan—[Interruption.] I am not going to spoil it for them—why would I? We are going to produce a fantastic—[Interruption.]

Order. I expect Front Benchers to behave better than they are doing at the moment. If you do not want to listen to the answer, let me know now. I do, and I cannot hear when you all shout together. We want better politics. I expect better politics from both sides. Let us show a little more decorum than we are seeing at the moment.

When we produce our integrated rail plan tomorrow, people across the House and across the country will see what we are doing to cut journey times to make life easier and better for people in the north-east, in the north-west and in the midlands—across the whole of the north of the country—with the biggest programme of investment in rail for a century. What we are doing is giving people in those communities the same access to commuter-type services that people in the south-east of this country have felt entitled to for more than a century. That is going to be levelling up across the whole of the UK.

That was a lot of words, but it was not a yes, so that is one important promise to the north that he will not stand by. Let us look at another. In February this year, the Prime Minister told this House:

“I can certainly confirm that we are going to develop the eastern leg as well as the whole of the HS2.”—[Official Report, 10 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 325.]

The whole of HS2—that is a new high-speed line, running continuously, no gaps, between Birmingham and Leeds. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he stands by that promise?

I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in danger of getting hoist by his own petard. He needs to wait and see what we announce tomorrow, because I think he will find that the people of Leeds, the people of Nottingham, the people of Sheffield and the people of the whole of the north-west and the north-east of this country will benefit massively from what we are going to announce.

Again, a lot of words, but not a yes. So that is two important promises to the north that the Prime Minister will not stand by. No wonder trust in the Prime Minister is at an all-time low. Across the country, and belatedly across this House, there is now agreement that Owen Paterson broke the rules and that the Government should not have tried to let him off the hook. Many Government Members have apologised— the Business Secretary has apologised for his part, and the Leader of the House has apologised for his part, but they were following the Prime Minister’s lead. Will he do the decent thing and just say sorry for trying to give the green light to corruption?

Well, yes, as I have said before, it certainly was a mistake to conflate the case of an individual Member, no matter how sad, with the point of principle at stake. We do need a cross-party approach on an appeals process. We also need a cross-party approach on the way forward, and that is why we have tabled the proposals to take forward the report of the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life of 2018, with those two key principles: first, that everybody in this House should focus primarily and above all on their job here in this House; and, secondly, that no one should exploit their position in order to advance the commercial interests of anybody else. That is our position. We want to take forward those reforms. In the meantime, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman can clear up from his proposals whether he would continue to be able to take money, as he did, from Mishcon de Reya and other legal firms. [Interruption.]

Order. Prime Minister, as you know, and I do remind you, it is Prime Minister’s questions, not Leader of the Opposition’s questions.

That is not an apology. Everybody else has apologised for the Prime Minister, but he will not apologise for himself—a coward, not a leader. Weeks defending corruption and yesterday a screeching last-minute U-turn to avoid defeat on Labour’s plan to ban MPs from dodgy second contracts. Waving one white flag will not be enough to restore trust. There are plenty of Opposition days to come, and we will not let the Prime Minister water down the proposals or pretend that it is job done. We still have not shut the revolving door where Ministers are regulating a company one minute and working for it the next. There are plenty of cases that still stain this House. There are two simple steps to sorting it out: proper independence and powers for the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, and banning these job swaps. Will the Prime Minister take those steps?

I have called for, as you know Mr Speaker, and as you have called for, a cross-party approach to this. What I think we need to do is work together on the basis of the independent report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life to take things forward and to address the appeals process. What I think everybody can see is that in a classic, lawyerly way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now trying to prosecute others for exactly the course of action that he took himself. What I think the nation wants to know, because his register is incomplete, is who paid Mishcon de Reya and who paid the £25,000? Who paid him for his—

Order. Prime Minister, I do not want to fall out about it. I have made it very clear. It is Prime Minister’s questions; it is not for the Opposition to answer your questions. [Interruption.] Whether we like it or not, those are the rules of the game that we are all into, and we play by the rules, don’t we? We respect this House, so let us respect the House.

That new-found commitment to upholding standards did not last long.

Here is the difference: when somebody in my party misbehaves, I kick them out. When somebody—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Clarkson, Mr Francois—[Interruption.] Order. Look, this is not good. We have lost a dear friend, and I want to show that this House has learned from it. I do not want each other to be shouted down. I want questions to be respected, and I expect the public actually to be able to hear the questions and the answers, because I am struggling to do so in this Chair. I need no more of this.

When somebody in my party misbehaves, I kick them out. When somebody in the Prime Minister’s party misbehaves, he tries to get them off the hook. I lead; he covers up.

Let us try another issue. We know that Owen Paterson was a paid lobbyist for Randox. We know that he sat in on a call between Randox and the Minister responsible for handling health contracts. We know that Randox has been awarded Government contracts worth almost £600 million without competition or tender. Against that backdrop, the public are concerned that taxpayers’ money may have been influenced by paid lobbying. There is only one way to get to the bottom of this: a full, transparent investigation. If the Prime Minister votes for Labour’s motion this afternoon, that investigation can start. Will he vote for it, or will he vote for another cover-up?

I am very happy to publish all the details of the Randox contracts, which have been investigated by the National Audit Office already. But talking of cover-ups, I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but we still have not heard why the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not tell us—[Interruption.]

Order. Prime Minister, sit down! Prime Minister, I am not going to be challenged. You may be the Prime Minister of this country, but in this House I am in charge, and we are going to carry on. That is the end of that. I call Keir Starmer.

I think the Prime Minister just said he is happy to publish all the Randox papers in relation to these contracts, so we will take that and we will pursue it. I remind the Prime Minister that when I was Director of Public Prosecutions, I prosecuted MPs who broke the rules. He has been investigated by every organisation he has ever been elected to. That is the difference.

Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money handed to their mates and donors; Tory MPs getting rich by working as lobbyists, one not even bothering to turn up because he is in the Caribbean advising tax havens—and the Prime Minister somehow expects us to believe that he is the man to clean up Westminster! He led his troops through the sewers to cover up corruption, and he cannot even say sorry. The truth is that beneath the bluster, he still thinks it is one rule for him and another for his mates. At the same time as his Government are engulfed in sleaze, they are rowing back on the promises they made to the north, and it is working people who are paying the price. Is it any wonder that people are beginning to think that the joke isn’t funny any more?

It is plain from listening to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he seeks to criticise this Government while refusing to explain his own position. You have ruled on that, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] You have ruled on that, Mr Speaker, and I hear you, I hear you—but his own “Mishconduct” is absolutely clear to everybody. [Interruption.] His own “Mishconduct” is absolutely clear. Meantime, we will get on, on a cross-party basis—we will get on, on a cross-party basis —with taking forward the business that I have outlined. And we will get on with the business of this Government, which is leading the country out of the pandemic and—

Order. Prime Minister, I am struggling to hear, but if I am correct about what was said, it was about the Leader of the Opposition and misconduct. We cannot accuse somebody of misconduct. [Interruption.] Order. Before the Leader of the House gives me an answer, all I am going to say is that I cannot hear. If it was said, I want it withdrawn. If it was not said, I will accept that. [Interruption.] Just a moment! I call the Prime Minister.

Mr Speaker, I referred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s “Mishconduct”, because that is what he is guilty of.

Order. I do not think today has done this House any good. I will be quite honest; I think it has been ill-tempered. I think it shows the public that this House has not learned from the other week. I need this House to gain respect, but it starts by individuals showing respect to each other.

Q3. The people of Leigh have never accepted our forced merger with the rival town—friendly rivals—of Wigan back in 1973. Will the Prime Minister tell me how we can escape the big government of big Wigan by getting our own council back? (904174)

I thank my hon. Friend for his campaign against local Labour government overtaxing and delivering inadequate services. The local boundary commission will look at the boundary reviews, but in the meantime I will support him in any way that I can.

It used always to be said that the Tory MPs were behind the Prime Minister, but—my goodness—look at the gaps on the third, fourth and fifth Benches. The rebellion has clearly started.

This Tory sleaze scandal has now been hitting the headlines for the past 14 days, yet it is pretty obvious that the Prime Minister spent less than 10 minutes coming up with yesterday’s half-hearted, half-baked, and already half-botched proposals. These so-called reforms do not even scratch the surface. This sleaze scandal runs far, far deeper. Month after month the public have witnessed scandal after scandal: peerages handed to millionaire donors; VIP lanes; gifted covid contracts to Tory pals; dodgy donations for luxury holidays and home renovations. The Prime Minister and his Government have been up to their necks in sleaze. Will the Prime Minister tell us exactly which one of those scandals his proposals would have stopped?

I thank the humble crofter, as the right hon. Gentleman refers to himself, for his question. What I think we can do is pursue a cross-party approach, based on the report of the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life, which has much of profit in it. Among other things it says is that it is important that this House should be augmented with outside experience of the world, and it is important that Members of this House should have experience of the private sector, as he does. On a cross-party basis we should proceed with the couple of reforms that I have indicated.

This is about Tory sleaze and Tory corruption, and the Prime Minister has basically admitted that not one of this Government’s sleaze scandals would have been stopped by his so-called plan. Perhaps we should not be surprised, considering that the Prime Minister has been at the rotten core of all these scandals. The trail of sleaze and scandal all leads back to the funding of the Conservative party. Since 2010, the Tory party has made nine of its former treasurers Members of the House of Lords, and every single one of them has something in common: they have handed over £3 million to the Prime Minister’s party. That is the very definition of corruption. It is the public’s definition of corruption. Will this Government finally accept that this is corruption, or is the Prime Minister the only person in the country who has the brass neck to argue that it was all one big coincidence?

I will not comment on the missing £600,000 from the Scottish National party’s accounts, but what I will say, in all sincerity and heeding what you said earlier, Mr Speaker, is that I think that these constant attacks on the UK’s levels of corruption and sleaze do a massive disservice to billions of people around the world who genuinely suffer from Governments who are corrupt, and who genuinely have no ability to scrutinise their MPs. This is one of the cleanest democracies in the world, and people should be proud of it.

Q4. Will the Prime Minister join me in celebrating the 50th anniversary this year of the formation of the 177-mile path for walkers along Offa’s Dyke, which runs through Clwyd South, and give his support to the recently launched Offa’s Dyke rescue fund to repair and preserve this monument and nature reserve for future generations? (904175)

I had the good fortune to walk Offa’s Dyke very recently. I am delighted that English and Welsh organisations are working together to protect that fantastic national monument, and Historic England has committed to give almost £300,000 more to that great cause.

Ambulance response times are now the worst ever, people are waiting for ambulances longer than ever, and with A&Es in crisis, patients are stuck in ambulances outside hospital longer than ever. Waiting times are not statistics; they are about people—people often in great pain and in danger—so why are this Government closing ambulance stations in parts of our country? Why is the West Midlands ambulance service closing up to 10 community stations, including in Rugby, Oswestry and Craven Arms? With this health crisis for our ambulance services and in our A&Es, injured, sick and elderly people are being hit. When will the Prime Minister deal with this health crisis?

I appreciate that ambulance crews and ambulance services are doing an amazing job, particularly at this time of year, and I thank them for what they are doing. We are supporting them with more cash. Another £450 million was awarded to 120 trusts to upgrade their facilities, and as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are putting another £36 billion into dealing with the backlog, which is fundamentally affecting the NHS so badly at the moment, through the levy that we have instituted, which I do not think he supported.

Q5. Domestic heating accounts for 30% of UK carbon emissions. I support the Government’s incentive scheme to replace old gas boilers with environmentally friendly alternatives. However, now that we are building more homes than we have been for many years, can we build on the success of COP26? What progress is being made on the standards for new-build homes, to make sure that they are fit for the future? (904176)

I thank my hon. Friend, who is totally right to focus on the issue of future-proofing homes and making them low carbon. By 2025, our future homes standard will ensure that new homes produce at least 75% fewer CO2 emissions.

Q6.   Last week I visited a GP practice in my constituency of Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and was horrified to hear about the amount of abuse that staff are currently experiencing. Their workloads are under extreme pressure and this is not helped by the Prime Minister making demands about appointments while he has still failed on his manifesto pledge to recruit 6,000 more GPs. Will the Prime Minister apologise for this broken promise to GPs and their staff, who are on the frontline working under ever increasing pressure and depleted staffing resources? (904177)

First of all, I want to thank GPs for everything they are doing, particularly during the booster roll-out. As well as recruiting as many GPs as we can, we have 10,000 more nurses this year than last year and 25,000 more healthcare professionals altogether. There are more people now working in the NHS than at any time in its history, and because of our investment—the extra £36 billion that we are putting in—there will be even more, and I am afraid that the hon. Lady voted against that investment.

Q7. Following on from COP26, can my right hon. Friend confirm that maximising carbon capture and storage capacity across the whole United Kingdom is a priority for the Government—[Interruption.]despite the doom and gloom, and words of rejection from SNP Members? Will he also confirm that the Acorn carbon capture and storage and hydrogen project in my constituency has a key role to play in this country’s future carbon capture and storage capacity targets to meet net zero? (904178)

My hon. Friend is quite right to champion carbon capture and storage, which has a great future in Scotland in spite of all the gloomstering of the SNP. The Scottish cluster remains on the reserve. We will continue to study it and, we hope, bring it forward in due time.

Q8. The River Tyne, with its world-renowned offshore and subsea sectors, has been repeatedly sidelined by the Government, despite my and others constantly lobbying Ministers for investment that would massively increase employment opportunities and help the UK’s transition to net zero. However, I am very excited to see our voice is now being magnified by a new Tyne taskforce set up by local authorities, the port, businesses and the combined authority. Will the Prime Minister, here and now, commit his Government to work with us to realise the full potential of our great river? (904179)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the River Tyne is a massive economic asset for the whole of the north-east. It has suffered from historic contamination, but we are going to work with the North East local enterprise partnership to invest another £6 million to help to develop clear plans for sustainable economic growth along the whole of the estuary.

Q9.   Crawley constituency was one of the most negatively affected by the covid-19 pandemic, but thanks to significant support from the Government we are seeing recovery. Unemployment is now beginning to come down and we look to a confident future. In that vein, will my right hon. Friend please look favourably on Crawley’s platinum jubilee city-status bid? (904180)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I was not aware until today that Crawley was bidding to become a city—

Q13. Every year, 100,000 babies are born premature or sick in the UK and admitted to neonatal intensive care units. The Prime Minister will be aware that today is World Prematurity Day. There is cross-party agreement in the House to bring forward neonatal leave and pay. Rather than wait for a complex and controversial employment Bill, will the Prime Minister bring forward a standalone Bill to legislate for that, so that next World Prematurity Day the 100,000 babies and their parents do not have to choose between spending time in the hospital or unpaid leave from work? (904184)

The hon. Gentleman is a passionate campaigner in this area. One way or another—I will get back to him on the exact way—we will legislate to allow parents of children in neonatal care to take extended leave, giving them more time during the most vulnerable and stressful days of their lives.

Q10. Further education colleges like Hopwood Hall College in my constituency will play an essential part in building back better. The team at Hopwood have supported over 8,000 learners on courses as diverse as small business management and animal management, as well as six new T-level courses. May I invite my right hon. Friend to come and visit the inspirational team and the students at Hopwood Hall, and, as a special treat, come and see Middleton’s very own flamboyance of flamingos and our endangered potoroos? (904181)

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind invitation. I will certainly keep it mind. The Government are absolutely committed to reforming technical education through new T-levels. That is why we are investing a further £65 million to develop teacher retention, and support and recruitment for teachers in further education. As for the potoroos in his area, are they wild? I will do my utmost to come and inspect them.

Q14. My constituent Laura told me that Remembrance Sunday hurts. It hurts because there have been no medals for her grandad’s service and the thousands of men involved in nuclear weapons tests overseas between 1952 and 1991. It hurts because studies of such veterans have shown increased miscarriages, increased birth defects and the same rate of genetic damage as clean-up workers at Chernobyl. And it hurts because the UK is the only nuclear power on earth that has denied recognition. So I ask the Prime Minister: will he recognise nuclear testing veterans today and agree to meet them? The Leader of the Opposition has. (904185)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing this to my attention. I will certainly make sure that we get a proper meeting with the representatives of the nuclear veterans that she mentions.

Q11. When I was in Greece with Save the Children, I learned that change at any border was quickly communicated down the line. If migrants and asylum seekers knew that they would be directly returned to France or taken to a third country pending application, would they risk a dangerous and illegal crossing and make their way to France in the first place? I ask my right hon. Friend: what further measures are being considered? This is an issue of great concern in Eastbourne, along the coast and across the country, and I am anxious to be able to reassure my constituents that there are plans ahead. (904182)

I thank my hon. Friend very much, and she has much relevant experience from her work for Save the Children in Greece. Our only credible way of fixing this is with our new plan for immigration. That will be made possible with our new Nationality and Borders Bill, which will make it possible for us to distinguish at last between those who come here legally and those who come here illegally. I hope very much that it will command the support of the whole House.

In May, part of Northwich station in my constituency collapsed. I have asked the Transport Secretary to intervene and build back better and fairer to allow access for people with disabilities. He has declined my kind offer, so I ask the Prime Minister to intervene: no bluster, substance, build back better and fairer Northwich station—it is in the north of England.

I am tempted to invite the hon. Gentleman to wait and see what we do for rail funding tomorrow, but I will certainly look at what he had to say about Northwich station with keen interest.

Q12. Over 4,200 servicewomen and veterans used a democratic process to contribute to the Defence Committee’s inquiry into women in the armed forces. A formal response is still awaited from the Ministry of Defence. While the majority of women enjoy a fulfilling career in the military, shocking issues were raised around sexual assault, bullying and harassment. I know that the Prime Minister agrees that our armed forces are the best in the world. Would he also agree that we need to make sure that the British Army is the best place to serve as a woman? (904183)

I thank my hon. Friend; she is campaigning on a very important issue. Too often, we find that our armed forces fail to provide the wonderful women in our armed forces with the support they deserve. That is why I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has secured a parliamentary inquiry into this for the first time. It is vital that we support and encourage women in our armed forces, who make a massive difference to those services.

It has cost businesses in Northern Ireland £850 million to date to operate the failed and suffocating protocol. Lord Frost is today in Belfast. When will the Prime Minister fix this by legitimately activating article 16?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I think the word that I would fasten on in his question is “legitimately”. There is no question but that the use of article 16, which, after all, has been done by the EU Commission to stop vaccines being exported to this country, is something that is perfectly legal and within the bounds of the protocol.

Q15.   I recently visited Humphrey Perkins School in beautiful Barrow upon Soar. The students asked me, “What are the Government doing to engage children and students from all backgrounds to encourage them to aspire to become an MP, or even Prime Minister?” (904186)

What I would say to my hon. Friend and her students is that nothing that is said or takes place in this House—none of the argy-bargy, the repartee and the occasional abuse to which we subject each other—should in any way deter anybody from seeking a career in politics, because it is a wonderful privilege and we are all very lucky to be here.

In my constituency of Edinburgh West, numerous people come to us with delays from the Department for Work and Pensions with pensions and benefits, to add to the delays that others are facing with passports and with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Can the Prime Minister tell us who—among the many jobs being done at the moment—is making sure that the Departments of Government are running smoothly and quickly?

I think that actually the Department for Work and Pensions, under the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), has performed outstanding service. It has performed miracles. Among the things that it has achieved is helping to get millions of people effectively back into employment, in spite of all the difficulties that we have faced. We now have unemployment running at virtually record lows, in spite of all the difficulties we have faced in this pandemic and as we come out of furlough. That is largely thanks to the work of the DWP. Of course there is more that can be done and people can always up their game, but I think that the DWP and its officials working across the country —huge numbers of men and women—have done an outstanding job.

In July 2019, I was in Manchester when the Prime Minister committed to building a new line, Northern Powerhouse Rail, between Manchester and Leeds. That commitment was reaffirmed in our manifesto in November 2019, and last month it was reaffirmed in the Prime Minister’s conference speech in Manchester. Were the voters of the north right to take the Prime Minister at his word?

Yes, and they should wait and see what is unveiled tomorrow, when my right hon. Friend may learn something to his advantage.