Mr Speaker, I want to begin by echoing what you have just said about the reports of the fatal shooting in a Texan primary school. Our thoughts are with all those affected by this horrific attack.
Yesterday, I welcomed the Emir of Qatar to Downing Street. It is excellent news that Qatar announced that it will invest up to £10 billion in the UK through our new strategic investment partnership. Not only will that boost local economies and support jobs; it will support our green economy and decarbonisation.
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.
Cambridge is one of the most expensive places in the country to live, but unlike many cheaper places, NHS workers in the city get no high cost of living supplement. NHS workers in Cambridge pay higher rents than NHS workers in outer-London boroughs, such as Redbridge, Croydon, Bexley and Barking, and yet they get paid 15% less. That makes it very difficult for the NHS in Cambridge, including Addenbrooke’s Hospital, to retain and recruit staff. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister work with me to make sure that NHS workers in South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge get paid fairly?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for his constituents and for Addenbrooke’s. We are very proud of our NHS, which is why we are putting in record investment. I hope that the independent NHS Pay Review Body will listen carefully to what he has just said.
My thoughts and, I know, the thoughts of the whole House are with the families of the victims of yesterday’s school shooting in Texas. Nineteen children have died, some as young as seven, as well as two adults believed to be teachers. It is an unspeakable tragedy, and our hearts are with the American people.
Last weekend marked the anniversary of both the Manchester bombing and the murder of Lee Rigby, and we remember them this year as we do every year. Today is also the anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, a reminder that we must all tackle the racism that is still experienced by so many in our country and beyond.
The Sue Gray report was published this morning and I look forward to discussing that during this afternoon’s statement with the Prime Minister. For now, I want to focus on the cost of living affecting the whole country.
Since we stood here last week and I asked the Prime Minister yet again to back Labour’s plans for a windfall tax to reduce energy bills, hundreds of millions of pounds have been added to the bills of families across the country, and hundreds of millions of pounds have landed in the bank accounts of energy companies. It sounds like he has finally seen sense and the inevitable U-turn may finally have arrived, so when can people across the country expect him to use those oil and gas profits to bring down their bills?
There is nothing original about a Labour plan to tax business. Labour wants to tax business the whole time. Every day, the party wants to put up taxes on business. What we are doing is helping people. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks when we are going to help people. We are helping people now. We are putting £22 billion into people’s pockets already, cutting council tax by £150, cutting fuel duty, and cutting national insurance contributions by an average of £330 for people who pay NICs. How can we afford that? We can because we have a strong economy, because we came out of covid fast, which would not have been possible if we had listened to Labour.
Fifteen tax rises and the Prime Minister pretends they are a low-tax Government. It has been four and a half months since Labour first called for a windfall tax on oil and gas profits. I have raised it week in, week out, and every week he has a new reason for not doing it. The Business Secretary said it is “bad”, the Justice Secretary called it disastrous, and even this weekend the Health Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary opposed it. The Prime Minister ordered all his MPs to vote against it last week, and now—surprise, surprise—he is backing it. Prime Minister, I am told that hindsight is a wonderful thing! [Laughter.] But while he dithered and delayed, households across the country suffered when they did not need to.
There is no surprise about Labour’s lust to put up taxes; there is nothing original about that thought. Labour Members get off on it; they absolutely love to confiscate other people’s assets. What we prefer to do is make sure that we have the measures in place to drive investment in our country and drive jobs, and it is thanks to the steps that we took and thanks to the fact that we came out of covid faster than any other European country, which would not have been possible had we listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that we now have unemployment at the lowest—[Interruption.] Listen to this—Labour used to care about this, Mr Speaker. We now have unemployment at the lowest level since 1974. Put that in your pipe.
I actually thought that, with this U-turn, the Prime Minister might get his head out of the sand, but obviously not. The reality is that every day of his dithering and his delay, £53 million has been added to Britain’s household bills. While he is distracted by trying to save his own job, the country has been counting the cost. But complacency is nothing new for this Government: back in October, the Chancellor delivered a mini-Budget that has to be reread to be believed. With inflation already climbing, he said that he understood people were concerned about it, and that the Government were “ready…to act”. Since then, inflation has risen to a 40-year high—the highest rate of any G7 country. If the Government were so ready to act six months ago, why have they not done so?
The Government have acted, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor continues to act. This is the Government who not only put in the living wage—it was a Conservative institution—but have now raised it by £1,000, a record amount. Families on universal credit have another £1,000. Thanks to the £9.1 billion that we have already put in to support people’s cost of heating, we are abating the costs of fuel for people up and down the country, and of course we are going to do more. We are going to put our arms around the people of this country, just as we did throughout the covid pandemic. We can do that because we took the tough decisions to drive the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, which would not have been possible if we had listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Let me take another statistic: youth unemployment—Labour used to care about it—is at or near a record low.
It was not just the Chancellor back in September—the Prime Minister called fears about inflation “unfounded”. He was the last person to spot the cost of living crisis, just as he is the last person to back Labour’s plan to help people through it. It was not just on inflation that they got it badly wrong. In the same speech, the Chancellor boasted about growth, as the Prime Minister does today, and how we would do better than all our major competitors. It was obvious that he was being complacent. Lo and behold, Britain is set to have the lowest growth of any major country except Russia, despite our brilliant businesses and all we have to offer. Why has his Government inflicted on Britain the twin-headed Hydra of the highest inflation and the lowest growth?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman loves running this country down. [Interruption.] How many times did he come to this place and say that the United Kingdom had the highest covid death rate in Europe? How many times? He was proved completely wrong. Did he ever apologise? Absolutely not. Did he ever take it back? Absolutely not. Actually, because of the steps we took, last year we had the fastest growth in the G7, and we will return to the fastest growth by 2024-25, thanks to the decisions that this Government took. [Interruption.] Labour does not care about getting people into jobs. We care about the working people of this country and making sure we have a high-wage, high-skill, high-employment economy, and that is what we are delivering.
The Prime Minister talks about running this country down; he is running this country down! It was not just complacency on Labour’s windfall tax, which he is now backing; it was not just complacency on inflation, which is now through the roof; and it was not just complacency on growth, which is now spluttering along at the back of the pack, because his Chancellor also claimed that people should
“keep more of the rewards of those efforts.”—[Official Report, 27 October 2021; Vol. 702, c. 286.]
Then he put their taxes up. Does the Prime Minister want to explain to hard-working people, whose wages are running out sooner and sooner each month and who are facing astronomical bills and prices, just how his 15 tax rises since taking office have helped them to keep more of their rewards in their pocket?
First of all, what we are doing is making sure that after a huge pandemic we are funding our vital public services, which we can because of the steps that we took. What we are also doing is making sure that we put more money back into people’s pockets through the measures I have outlined today, whether through cutting national insurance contributions, lifting the living wage or lifting universal credit. All that is made possible because we took the responsible and sensible steps to protect our economy throughout covid and then to come out strongly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is completely wrong about this country’s growth performance. He runs it down. He was proved wrong about covid, and he is going to be proved wrong again.
Last week, I raised the case of Phoenix Halliwell, whose kidney condition means he needs daily dialysis and whose energy bill has gone through the roof as a result. I am glad that as a result, Government officials got in touch with Phoenix yesterday, and I hope that will result in more support for people who are vulnerable, but it should not be left to Labour to turn up week after week to make the Prime Minister aware of the consequences of his dither and delay.
I want to raise another issue where the Government are sleepwalking into disaster. With the summer holidays looming, there are reports that the Home Office already has a backlog of 500,000 passports to issue. That is potentially more than half a million people worrying whether they will get away this summer. Can the Prime Minister reassure people that they will not miss out on their holidays due to the failures of his Home Office?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman very much, but I can tell him, actually, that what we are doing is massively increasing the speed with which the Passport Office delivers. To the best of my knowledge, everybody is getting their passport within four to six weeks. That is because we are driving the leadership of this country and we are getting things done that would never have been possible if we had listened to the Opposition. We got Brexit done when he voted 48 times—48 times—to undo the will of the people. We got the vaccine roll-out done when he would have kept us in the European Medicines Agency. We were the first European country to help the Ukrainians resist Vladimir Putin. Does anybody seriously believe for a second that the Opposition would have done it? [Interruption.]
Let me say very plainly: does anybody seriously think for a second that the Labour party would have done that when eight of the shadow Front Bench, including the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who is mysteriously not in his place, voted recently to get rid of this country’s independent nuclear deterrent, and when the Leader of the Opposition campaigned to put Vladimir Corbyn—I mean, sorry, Jeremy Corbyn—in Downing Street?
We get on. We do the difficult things. We take the tough decisions. Social care: we are fixing it. We deliver; they dither. [Interruption.]
As my hon. Friend, who I know has taken a keen interest in this for a while, Evusheld has the potential to reduce the risk of infection. We must look at the evidence before we can make a decision about whether it should be available, but I will make sure that the Department of Health and Social Care keeps him updated on the progress we are making.
I want to join others today in expressing my deepest sorrow at the horrific events in Texas yesterday. Some 19 children and two teachers have needlessly lost their lives. Many of us in Scotland will be remembering the tragic events that took place in Dunblane 26 years ago. The thoughts and prayers of the SNP are with the families suffering today, but we also hope that lawmakers will finally act to bring to an end the scourge of gun violence that plagues the United States.
The reports of the Prime Minister’s and Downing Street’s lawbreaking have been damning: empty bottles littering offices; rooms so crowded people were sitting on each other’s laps; and security forced to intervene because parties were so outrageous. At the centre was the Prime Minister orchestrating it and grabbing a glass for himself to toast the partygoers. For eight months, we have heard every excuse under the sun, but now we have all seen the damning photo evidence. While people stayed at home to protect the NHS, the Prime Minister was engaging in drinking and debauchery that makes a mockery of the gut-wrenching sacrifices that each and every person made. Will the Prime Minister now take the opportunity and resign?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that, much as I appreciate his advice, he will have a further opportunity, which I am sure he will take with his customary length, to debate that matter in the course of the statement that will follow directly after PMQs.
These are serious matters, but it is all a joke to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has lost the trust of the public. He has lost what little moral authority he had left. The Prime Minister has apologised many times, but not because he feels any genuine remorse. He still refuses to even admit that there were parties and that he presided over them. He apologised for one simple reason: he got caught. The reality is that no apology will ever be enough for the families of people who lost loved ones—the families who followed the rules, who stayed at home while their nearest and dearest were dying, and who are now forced to look at photographs of the Prime Minister, surrounded by drink, toasting to a party in the middle of a lockdown.
If the Prime Minister will not accept that he must resign, those on the Tory Benches must act. This Prime Minister, who has broken the law and shown a cavalier attitude to the truth, cannot be allowed to remain in office. Time is up, Prime Minister. Resign! Resign before this House is forced to remove you!
Hear, hear, Mr Speaker—up the Vale!
I thank my hon. Friend for his campaign, and I think he is entirely right. We have adopted the measures that he proposes in the Bill so that those who leave properties derelict unreasonably could face an unlimited fine.
I was pleased to meet the Prime Minister last week in Royal Hillsborough in my constituency. We welcome his commitment to introduce legislation to deal with the protocol and the Irish sea border, and to protect the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That will take some time. In the meantime, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, hard-pressed households in Northern Ireland are suffering from the cost of living crisis. Will the Prime Minister give me an assurance that any measures that are brought forward by the Chancellor in the near future to help hard-pressed households will apply to Northern Ireland, and that the protocol will not be allowed to prevent Northern Ireland citizens receiving the support they need from the Government at this time?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much. As he knows, I have already detailed to the House a package of measures to support families across the whole of the UK. I may say that I also think it would be an advantage to the people of Northern Ireland, in tackling the issues that we all face across the UK, if Stormont were to be restored.
I thank the hon. Member for his excellent question. Rural fuel duty relief is there to compensate motorists by helping retailers in some more remote rural areas where pump prices can be significantly higher. It currently operates on a geographical basis, but I am happy to ensure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister as fast as possible.
Yes, I can. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right that Labour’s instinct everywhere and always is to put up tax, with all its—[Interruption.] Well, Labour Members are bragging about it today—it is ludicrous. What we are doing is not only cutting people’s contributions under national insurance but helping businesses to invest with the 130% super deduction that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor put in. That is helping us to have a high-wage, high-skill economy, with unemployment—yes, I have said this before, Mr Speaker—at its lowest since 1974.
Shockingly, the party has failed to act on the report and still will not explain why. That is why Rotherham child sexual exploitation survivor Sammy Woodhouse has called for an independent investigation into the failure, warning that the Conservative party has
“broken the trust of victims”.
Will the Prime Minister personally back that call and launch an independent investigation into the failure to act so that victims can have confidence that his party will never again turn a blind eye?
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend very much. She and I have talked about this. This is a subject in which I take a direct personal interest. There are things we can do to make childcare more affordable. One issue is that not enough people take up tax-free childcare, so we need to have more take-up of what is on offer. We can also look at ways in which we can reform and improve the system.
Let us be clear: if there is an issue with fire safety in a building, extra steps should be taken and remediation should be made. When it comes to self-evacuation, the Home Office has launched a new consultation to support the fire safety of residents who are unable to self-evacuate, but if the hon. Lady has further representations to make on that point, I will be very happy to ensure she gets a meeting with a Minister in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
What we are doing for the people of Putney, and indeed the people throughout the country, is making sure that we invest now in protecting them, as I have said to the House and I have said repeatedly, not just with the increases in universal credit, the living wage and the warm home discount and cutting fuel bills, but with the £330 cut in NICs. The reason we can do that is that we have a robust economic position and strong employment. That is giving us the revenue to pay and to cushion people at this difficult time. It would not have been possible if we had listened to the Labour party during covid.
This weekend tens of thousands of Huddersfield sports fans are coming down to London. On Saturday, Huddersfield Giants are in their first rugby league challenge cup final for over a decade, and, on Sunday, it is Huddersfield Town in the championship play-off final for a place in the premier league. As well as wishing the best of luck to both Huddersfield teams, will the Prime Minister, agree with me that the best way that Labour-run Kirklees Council can honour the sporting tradition of Huddersfield is by following through with its pledge to house the new national rugby league museum in its birthplace, the George Hotel in Huddersfield, and not pull out of that deal, as it has indicated it wants to do?
Is that the Labour council pulling out of its deal? I am not surprised. All I can say is that I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign for a national rugby league museum and I urge him to take it up with the Arts Council or other relevant bodies.
From furlough onwards everything we have done since the pandemic began has been to get money into the pockets of the working people of this country; those are the people who time and again we have prioritised. I do not for a moment doubt that things are tough—I do not doubt it for a moment—but it is our intention to get this country through it, and we will get through it very well by putting our arms around people as we can, and as we will because of the fiscal firepower we have, but also by making sure that we continue with the high wage, high skill, high employment economy that we have. The best way to get money into people’s pockets is for them to have a job.
Does the Prime Minister agree that when the Leader of the Opposition spins his myth of a low tax Labour party, he clearly needs a memory jog? [Interruption.] May I remind Labour Members that in 2019 they all stood on a manifesto that would have inflicted the highest tax burden on the people of this country in peacetime—and that is probably why there are so few of them over there on the Labour Benches?
Yes, Labour campaigned to put up taxes on business to the highest level this country has ever seen; that was the Leader of the Opposition’s ambition, and that is what they would do again. Be in no doubt, that is what they love to do—we can feel the lust for tax rising off those Opposition Benches—and that is why there has never been a Labour Government who left office with unemployment lower than when they came in.
The Prime Minister will recall that I previously raised with him the plight of 170 British Council contractors who remain in Afghanistan in fear of their lives, 85 of whom are deemed to be at very high risk. I had a positive meeting with the refugee Minister, Lord Harrington, last week, but we face bureaucracy that is preventing the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office from helping these people now courtesy of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. Will the Prime Minister help us cut through that red tape and help these people, as we owe them a debt of obligation and time is running out?
I will see what we can do to help those particular people but I just remind the House that we not only evacuated 25,000 people under Op Pitting, which was a great credit to this country, but since then have supported 4,600 more to come to this country, and we will do what we can to help the people my hon. Friend mentions.
Everybody in work—30 million workers—will get a tax cut in July, on top of everything that we are already doing, but that is not the end of what this Government are going to do to look after people. I told the House before this afternoon that we will continue to use our fiscal firepower to look after the British people through the covid aftershocks and beyond.
On Monday at 3.25 pm, a school bus crashed into a group of schoolchildren in Llanfair Caereinion. Three children were airlifted to hospital, with another child and the bus driver taken by ambulance, and a fifth child was discharged at the scene. Everyone is in a stable condition. Clearly, this is a tragic accident that will stay with the community for some time. Will the Prime Minister join me and, I am sure, the whole House in sending our love and prayers to those in hospital? Will he also praise the teaching staff of both the primary and the high school, Wales Air Ambulance and Dyfed-Powys police for their heroic and continuing response to the community?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this very sad incident. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with those who have been affected. I want to join him, in particular, in paying tribute to the emergency services and, of course, the teachers and staff at the school, who did so much to help.
I begin by saying how grateful I am to the hon. Member for raising that case. I am afraid that I do not know directly about the events that she describes. What she says is very concerning and I will make sure that she gets a meeting with the relevant Minister as soon as possible.