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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 717: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2022

Scotland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Shipbuilding Sector

As you were notified, Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State is unable to attend today as he has long-standing commitments in Scotland. However, I am very pleased to be joined by the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), and the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands).

We published our updated shipbuilding strategy in March, and it sets out a comprehensive package of Government support to further a shipbuilding renaissance for the whole UK. There will be well over £4 billion of investment in UK shipbuilding over the next three years alone, including a range of opportunities for Scottish shipbuilders.

The UK Government’s refreshed national shipbuilding strategy commits £4 billion to deliver 150 new naval and civil vessels over the next 30 years, in stark contrast to the Scottish Government’s squandering of £250 million on ferries that do not float. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when it comes to shipbuilding, it is the UK Government who are delivering for the sector in Scotland?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. SNP Members are usually only too keen to tell us about what the Scottish Government are doing and how the UK Government should follow suit. That clearly does not apply in the case of shipbuilding, on which the Scottish Government’s record is shameful. It is the UK Government who are delivering for Scotland, not just on shipbuilding but on levelling up, energy security and transport connectivity. We are taking the lead.

The SNP has not built any of the planned replacement ferries announced in its 2012 ferries strategy and, since it came to power, the average lifespan of these lifeline vessels has soared from 17 to 24 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government need to address this as a matter of urgency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only are the two overbudget ferries languishing in the yard, but the head of CalMac’s engineering division has revealed that the existing vessels could fail at any time. At the weekend, he said that there are no spare ferries, so stand-ins are deployed from other services when one goes out of action, and that has a knock-on effect on other routes. The ships are so basic

“we do not have time to do deep maintenance.”

It was reported that more than a third of CalMac’s fleet is beyond its 30-year design life, making breakdowns more likely. These are the issues on which the Scottish Government should be concentrating, rather than an unnecessary and unwanted rerun of the independence referendum.

Does the Minister agree with the Minister for the Armed Forces, who went on the record last week to confirm that the record of warship building in Scotland is based on engineering excellence, outstanding quality and the role of higher education in defence manufacturing in Scotland? It is not charity or any kind of gesture politics; it is about skill and ability.

Scotland has a long and proud history of shipbuilding. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the biggest threat to future orders is his party’s plan to break up the United Kingdom.

I come from a shipbuilding community and I saw the decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde, but my constituents in Edinburgh West are concerned about building up our industries and creating jobs. Does the Minister agree that moves to improve shipbuilding are far more important than money wasted on vanity projects, ferries that do not work and a referendum that the majority of people in Scotland do not want—[Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the question. If Members do not want to hear it—[Interruption.] I would not challenge me.

Unfortunately, in Scotland we are used to the SNP shouting down people with whom it does not agree.

Does the Minister agree that the people of Scotland would be far better served by addressing these problems, assisting the UK Government in rebuilding our shipbuilding industry and helping constituents such as mine in Edinburgh West, rather than by wasting £20 million on a referendum on an issue we do not want to discuss again?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. Our shipbuilding strategy gives a long-term vision and yards in Scotland and the supply chain confidence to make the investments and deliver the ships, whether for military or civilian use, that we want.

Carbon Capture and Storage

2. What recent steps he has taken with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to support carbon capture and storage in Scotland. (900698)

The Government recognise the importance of Scotland in achieving our goals on carbon capture utlilisation and storage. We have supported Scottish CCUS projects through the industrial decarbon-isation challenge fund, and regularly meet project developers and stakeholders.

I am glad to hear about those regular meetings. During COP26 in Glasgow, both the UK and the Scottish Governments rightly spoke of the importance of doing everything we can at home to reduce our emissions. Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon re-announced her plans for an independence referendum, so action on the environment, the cost of living crisis, kickstarting the economy and upgrading the health service have taken a back seat to greater constitutional division. Has the Department estimated what impact a divisive referendum would have on investment in carbon capture and storage in Scotland?

I thank the hon. Member for her question and I agree with her sentiments. We are engaging continuously on CCUS with the Acorn cluster and other possibilities. I agree with her on the impact that the SNP would have on energy policy. The SNP is anti-nuclear and anti-oil and gas. It is hard to see where it thinks it is going to get its energy from in the event of independence; perhaps it has some idea of a future deal with Vladimir Putin.

Carbon capture and storage is critical for the production of blue hydrogen and, therefore, in helping us to reach the Government’s 2030 hydrogen target. What opportunities does the Minister see for the potential of the hydrogen economy in Scotland, Teesside and the rest of the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend, the chair of the all-party group on hydrogen, for his continuing support for hydrogen-related and CCUS-related projects. We see that as offering opportunities for the whole of the UK. Teesside will play a big part in it, as will Scotland and other parts of England and Wales. We see it as a big whole of the UK effort, crucial to levelling up and to the Union.

Union’s Impact on Scotland

The United Kingdom is the most successful political, economic, social and cultural union the world has ever seen, and is the foundation on which our citizens and businesses are able to thrive. This Government are committed to protecting and promoting its combined strengths, building on hundreds of years of partnership and shared history, because when we work together collaboratively, as one United Kingdom, we are safer, stronger and more prosperous, better able to draw on the skills of our great shared institutions and better able to respond to challenges, such as the pandemic and supporting families with the cost of living.

Last year, the Scottish Tory manifesto stated that a vote for them was a vote to stop an independence referendum, yet they achieved only 22% of the vote. Does the Minister accept that the people of Scotland have a right to have a vote on 19 October 2023 because their campaign message has failed?

The constitutional issues were so far down the list of people’s priorities when that poll took place. What the people of Scotland want are their Governments, whether that is local, Scottish or UK, to be working together on addressing the issues that matter to them and responding to the big challenges we face as a country and a world.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I am sure the Minister would wish to join me in congratulating the Bridge café in Gilmerton in my constituency on winning café of the year yesterday and the Rotary Club of Braids on its 50th anniversary. We have had some wonderful achievements locally, and good luck to Andy—no relation— Murray at Wimbledon this afternoon.

In the latest poll in Scotland, the Prime Minister has a net approval rating of minus 71. Included in that negative figure of course are the Scottish Conservative leader and every Conservative MSP and Scottish MP —except for the Secretary of State. So does the Minister think that the threat to the Union posed by the Prime Minister clinging to his job is a price worth paying?

First, I would be delighted to congratulate the café in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and when I am next in Edinburgh I will endeavour to pay a visit.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. This Government and this Prime Minister are focusing on the big issues that face Scotland and the whole United Kingdom: keeping the west safe from Russian aggression; dealing with the global economic challenges from the pandemic and the war; and addressing the long-term challenges such as energy security and climate change. That is what we are focusing on.

The very fact that the Minister has to read that list tells its own story. The simple truth is that the Prime Minister puts the Union at risk every single day that he clings on. The country knows that, his party’s Back Benchers know it and even the First Minister knows it—which is why she wants him to stay. Yesterday was nothing more than an attempt by the First Minister to deflect from her horrendous record in government and to hinder the prospect of a future Labour Government replacing the Prime Minister’s Government. That is what she fears the most. The only thing that matters to Nicola Sturgeon is, of course, independence—not soaring NHS waiting times, hungry children, drug deaths, increasing poverty, a widening educational attainment gap or Scots worried about their bills. Why will the Minister not recognise that the Prime Minister is nothing but a gift to the SNP and put the future of the UK ahead of his blind loyalty to the Prime Minister?

I do agree with one part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, and that is about the real focus of the Scottish Government: it is, as he says, not about addressing the real challenges in Scotland; it is about appeasing the hard-liners in the separatist party. We are not going to be deflected from getting on with the job we were elected to do.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Minister when he says there are multiple priorities that should be at the forefront of the attention of the First Minister and SNP Members in this House. All of those are very challenging, but one simple thing the Scottish Government could do is adopt the UK Government’s approach to genetic technology and precision breeding. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be a simple way to meet the priorities of Scottish farmers, food producers and research institutes?

The gene editing of crops is an important issue, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. There is a widespread view in the agriculture sector in Scotland that it is a good move and would improve crop yields and resilience, which are part of our food security. It is only the dogma of the SNP Government that prevents Scotland from joining the rest of the UK in adopting this important technology. The door is open for them to put aside their blind adherence to EU laws and join us in developing this important technology.

Given that the UK wields the most control over the Scottish economy, my question is pretty simple: why is it that independent countries similar to Scotland are wealthier and more productive and have higher social mobility, lower poverty levels, a smaller gender pay gap and lower inequality? In other words, can the Minister not see that, when it comes to Scotland, it is this Government and this Union that are holding us back?

Before I answer the hon. Lady’s question, may I congratulate her on her recent wedding? Although we will disagree on many subjects, on this one I hope we can agree that a union is better than independence.

On the substance of the hon. Lady’s question, this Union has been one of the most economically productive in history. Only the separatists could believe that creating a hard border between Scotland and England, when 60% of Scotland’s exports are to the rest of the United Kingdom, would be in our economic and social interests.

I welcome the Minister’s warm words, but I remind him that unions have to be voluntary as well. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has changed his view on the Prime Minister three times in six months, so why do this Government refuse to let people in Scotland change their view after eight years?

The Union is, of course, voluntary. The question in the referendum was put and decisively answered. Of all the comments recently, the most revealing was from Cabinet Secretary Angus Robertson, who basically said that, even if there was another referendum and Scotland voted to stay part of the Union, the SNP would keep going—it would be a neverendum. That uncertainty and chaos would be bad for Scotland and bad for the United Kingdom. We want to level up the country and address the challenges; the SNP wants to divide Britain and divide Scotland.

Union Connectivity

I regularly discuss important issues on improving Union connectivity with ministerial colleagues. Earlier this year, for example, I co-chaired a roundtable discussion with Transport Ministers and Scottish stakeholders.

The Union connectivity review provides a boost for regional airports and domestic aviation by suggesting ways in which public service obligations could be reformed to support regional flights. Does the Minister agree that restoring commercial passenger flights between Blackpool airport and locations in Scotland would boost economic growth and help to create jobs and investment in both locations?

Scotland’s love affair with Blackpool has existed for decades and is well known. The more Scots who can visit my hon. Friend’s lovely constituency, the better. We of course recognise the importance of maintaining a thriving and competitive aviation sector in the UK. I know that he is a strong campaigner for more air services to and from Blackpool, and we will continue to consider whether there are further opportunities to utilise public service obligations to meet our Union connectivity and levelling-up objectives.

The Union connectivity review recommended that the UK Government work with the Scottish Government on an assessment of the east coast transport corridor to include improvements to the east coast main line and the A1. Can my hon. Friend update the House on progress in bringing forward that recommendation?

The Government are grateful to Sir Peter Hendy for his work and we are considering his recommendations carefully. The Prime Minister has welcomed, and intends to accept, the proposal for the creation of UKNET, a strategic transport network spanning the entire United Kingdom. The funding that the UK Government have set aside for this review will put us on the right path to strengthen and maintain our transport arteries for people and businesses across the UK.

Connectivity between Scotland and England matters, especially for the area that I represent in Cumbria, and south-west Scotland. Does the Minister share my concerns that the Scottish Government are not helping to deliver the investment, especially with regard to the Borders rail feasibility report and roadbuilding generally?

Yes. I was pleased to be able to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and see the value of the levelling-up projects in his area as part of the growth deal in and around Carlisle station. I am keen to see the feasibility study work commence on extending the Borders rail line. I have recently met the Minister of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), to progress that project.

Belfast harbour has reported levels of trade and an increase in turnover and profits of 17%, to £73.3 million, for 2021, so improving Union connectivity for Northern Ireland, even with a tweaked protocol. Why will the Secretary of State’s office not campaign for Union connectivity with the greatest booster of our economy, the European Union?

What we are focusing on in terms of the trade from Northern Ireland to Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom is that part of the Union connectivity recommendations on upgrading the A75 and the A77. We want to do that. I have been very keen to meet the Scottish Transport Minister, who continues to refuse to meet me or my ministerial colleagues. Perhaps the hon. Member could have a word with her to get that meeting in place.

The decision to leave the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service satellite programme last year has had catastrophic implications for the reliability of lifeline air services, and even the Air Ambulance Service, across the highlands and islands. We were told at the time that it was done on the basis of cost, but we now know that, for every pound spent on EGNOS, there is a £2.60 benefit to the UK economy. This was one of Dominic Cummings’ madder ideas. Is it not time to admit as much, rejoin EGNOS, and improve air services in the highlands and islands?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I am aware of the EGNOS issue and discussed it with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), some time ago. I am aware that Loganair has written to the Secretary of State for Transport, pointing out additional evidence. I would be very happy to meet him to discuss that further, but I do know that my colleagues in the Department for Transport are working with the industry to deliver a good replacement.

We were promised a bridge to Northern Ireland, which everybody knew would not happen, but we have not seen the money for that. We were promised that High Speed 2 would run to Scotland on day one. Not only is it not running on day one, but the Government have now taken away the Golborne link. Is it not the case that this UK Government are running a scorched-earth policy on Union connectivity and the Union overall?

The hon. Gentleman is, I am afraid, completely wrong. Scotland will be connected to HS2 from day one and the project will deliver enormous capacity and journey time improvements. On the specific issue of the Golborne link, Sir Peter Hendy’s review found that it was not the optimal way to connect the high-speed line to the classic network, but we are looking at better alternatives to deliver that increase in capacity.

Freeports: Economic Impact

5. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential economic impact of building two freeports in Scotland. (900701)

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Scotland Office are delighted that the UK Government’s freeport programme is being extended to Scotland. UK Government funding of up to £52 million for two new green freeports will boost Scotland’s economy by regenerating communities, creating high-quality jobs and supporting the transition to a net zero economy.

The UK Government expect the existing confirmed freeports to add £24 billion to the UK economy. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that all political parties get behind the green freeports initiative to maximise the benefits they will bring to Scotland and the whole UK, rather than a divisive, costly and unwanted referendum on Scottish separatism?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have received five competitive bids for Scottish green freeports and the two Governments are working closely together to assess the proposals. I am confident that we will announce two outstanding winners that will create highly paid jobs, help to regenerate the areas around the ports and become global and national hubs of trade, innovation and investment.

There are five excellent bids from across Scotland for the two proposed green freeports. Each of the bids is of such high quality that it would be a great shame not to support the local economies in Inverness and Cromarty, Orkney, the Forth, the Clyde, and Aberdeen City and Peterhead. Will the Minister’s Department consider what support can be given to unsuccessful areas, and whether that support can be widened?

We will certainly look at that. Of course there is intense competition for the freeports, which will create huge benefits not only for the local area, but for all of Scotland.

High Speed Rail 2

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the effect of High Speed Rail 2 on Scotland. (900703)

As I just said in answer to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), Scotland is set to benefit from the boost in connectivity and huge economic benefits that HS2 will bring. Scotland will be connected to the HS2 network from the day it opens, and further work will be done in the years ahead to optimise the journey times and capacity. In addition, I am very pleased that 100 permanent jobs will be created at the new HS2 Annandale depot in Dumfries and Galloway.

On the day of the confidence vote in the Prime Minister, the Government tried to sneak out the news that the HS2 Golborne link, a £2 billion rail link between Glasgow and the north-west of England, had been scrapped. How can the Minister say that Scotland will benefit from connecting to HS2 when the Government are secretly trying to get rid of lines linking the north of England with Scotland and reducing the overall connectivity between the nations of the United Kingdom?

As I have just said to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, the removal of the Golborne link was because Sir Peter Hendy’s connectivity review had found that it was not the best way to address the capacity constraints between Crewe and Preston. However, we are looking at better options for it; we are committed to HS2, and I believe the line will help connectivity between Scotland and England and encourage a modal shift to more environmentally friendly forms of transport.

With millions of tonnes of soil being moved across Lichfield, roads closed and the canal obstructed because of HS2, perhaps we can help Scotland by giving them our bit of HS2?

I know my hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner against HS2, but we have had that debate, I am afraid. I am always happy to discuss with him how we can optimise the building work. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, who is sitting next to me, has heard his representations. I am an enormous believer in the potential of high-speed rail links to transform the economic potential of this country.

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

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda and the G7 leaders summit, and today he is at the NATO summit in Madrid.

I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the family and friends of Dame Deborah James following the news of her death. I lost my father at a young age to cancer and I know first hand the pain that her family must be feeling. But we also know that Dame Deborah was a huge inspiration to so many and raised millions to help others affected by cancer.

Nationally, 52% of disabled people are in work compared with 81% of non-disabled people. Disability Action Yorkshire, which is a charity based in Harrogate, works to close that gap, and it has highlighted the success of the Access to Work scheme. For example, one young person, having been told he would never work, is now, thanks to the targeted support available, a trainee brewer at Rooster’s brewery. Will my right hon. Friend consider how we can boost awareness of the Access to Work scheme among employers and also consider how we can simplify the application process so that more disabled people do not get deterred and will embrace it?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the work of Disability Action Yorkshire, which is doing terrific work in his constituency. I can reassure him that the Department for Work and Pensions is committed to improving awareness through campaigns and partnerships with employers, but also disability organisations. It is also working specifically on a digital service that will make the scheme more accessible and more visible.

I share with the Deputy Prime Minister his deepest condolences and his personal experiences as we mourn the loss of Dame Deborah James, who fearlessly campaigned to inspire so many and, I am absolutely sure, saved the lives of many more. I also think of the family of Zara Aleena, who was tragically murdered this week on the streets of Ilford.

I want to congratulate the two new hon. Members who won in the by-elections last week, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood). Last week the Government lost two by-elections in one day, for the first time in three decades. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister has fled the country and left the Deputy Prime Minister to carry the can. The people of Wakefield and Tiverton held their own vote of no confidence. The Prime Minister is not just losing the room; he is losing the country. But instead of showing some humility, he intends to limp on until the 2030s—so does the Deputy Prime Minister think the Cabinet will prop him up for that long?

I thank the right hon. Lady, and I gently point out to her that we want this Prime Minister to go on a lot longer than she wants the leader of the Labour party to go on. We have a working majority of 75. We are focusing on delivering for the British people. Record low unemployment would not have happened if we had listened to the Labour party. We have more policing and tougher sentencing enforced this week through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. She voted against both; so did the Labour party. We will protect the public from these damaging rail strikes when we have the scene of Labour Front Benchers joining the picket lines.

Here we go again. The truth is that what I want for my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition is not to be the Leader of the Opposition but to be the Prime Minister of this country—and to be honest, it could not come quickly enough. Britain cannot stomach this Prime Minister for another eight years. His own Back Benchers cannot stomach him for another eight minutes. If they continue to prop him up, I doubt the voters will stomach him for even eight seconds at the ballot box.

Now, let us imagine that the Prime Minister is still clinging on into the 2030s. Under this high-tax, low-growth Tory Government, at this rate by 2030 the British public will have endured 55 tax rises. How many more tax rises will this Government inflict on working families before the Deputy Prime Minister says enough is enough?

I think the right hon. Lady was right the first time. I will tell the House what we are doing: we have near-record levels of youth employment and 3.8% unemployment; we are cutting taxes next month on national insurance by £330 million; and we are delivering for families through the difficult times with the cost of living. What about the Labour party? We heard yesterday what its plan is: its plan is no plan. The leader of the Labour party said he is wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch. He has only been in the job two years. Sir Tony Blair, who has some experience of winning elections, has said there is a “gaping hole” in Labour’s policy offer, and all the while—there is a smile creeping over her face—the right hon. Lady is revelling in it. We are getting on with serving the people of this country; she is just playing political games.

I would revel in the opportunity for the people of this country to have more than just by-elections to show what they think of this Government. Call a general election, and see where the people are. The Deputy Prime Minister is a man who once said that high levels of government taxation were “hurting UK competitiveness”. Now, he is backing the Prime Minister, who wants to put taxes up 15 times. At this rate, working people will be paying £500 billion more in tax by 2030. How high does he think the burden on working people should get before he says enough is enough?

We are the ones helping working people with a tax cut of £330, with support for those on the lowest incomes, with the £650 support for 8 million people on the lowest incomes and with, frankly, record levels of investment coming into this country, from the £1 billion by Moderna for vaccines to the highest level of tech investment in Europe, according to Atomico. We are the ones with the plan for low unemployment and a high-wage, high-skill economy. For Labour, it is back to year zero.

The Deputy Prime Minister pretends to empathise with those struggling with the Tory cost of living crisis, when he himself once said that food bank users are not in poverty, but simply have “a cashflow problem”. He does not; he has spent more than £1 million in nine months on private jets. It shows how out of touch this Government are, but at this rate, by 2030, a million more people will be using food banks. How many more working people will be pushed into poverty by his Prime Minister before he says enough is enough?

If the Labour party and the right hon. Lady want to help working people, they should be clear in standing up against these militant, reckless strikes by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. The right hon. Lady has flip-flopped all over the place when it comes to these strikes. First, she said they were “lose-lose”. Then, she tweeted that

“workers were left with no choice”.

When she was asked by the BBC the straight question—she is normally a straight-shooting politician— of whether she liked the RMT, she said, “I am going to have to go now, I have a train to catch.” She talks about working people, but where was she when comrades were on the picket line last Thursday? Where was she when the Labour Front Benchers were joining them, rather than standing up for the public? She was at the Glyndebourne music festival, sipping champagne and listening to opera. Champagne socialism is back in the Labour party.

Well, well; that says a lot about the Conservative party. I will tell Conservative Members a few things about militancy. It is this Government who are acting in a militant way. While they should have been at the negotiating table, they were at the banqueting table getting hundreds of thousands squeezed out of their donors, instead of dealing with the crisis. The Deputy Prime Minister talks about trains. No one can get trains, because of his failed Transport Secretary. I will say that the Deputy Prime Minister has a stronger stomach than his—[Interruption.]

Order. I think we will have a little quiet. I want to hear the question, and hon. Members will also want to hear the answer.

Mr Speaker, I think it is rather ironic that you have to intervene because of the baying mob here, when the Government, through their noisy protest laws, have people being stopped after protesting out on the street. The thing is, they do not like it when the public say what they think of them. The right hon. Gentleman has a stronger stomach than his colleagues behind him—[Interruption.]

Order. Honestly, I want to hear the question and I want to hear the answer—and, I hate to say it to hon. Members, but so do their constituents. Think about them for once, instead of yourselves.

When Conservative Back Benchers were asked about the absent Prime Minister’s plans to stick around until 2030, one said that he had “lost the plot” and another said that

“anyone with half a brain”

would realise how dire things are. A former Conservative leader said that

“the country would be better off under new leadership.”

Now the Prime Minister is at war with his own Defence Secretary after confirming that he will break his manifesto pledge to increase defence spending. Under this Government, Britain is set to have less troops, less planes and less ships. The only thing the Prime Minister is interested in is defending his own job. Just how many more troops have to lose their jobs before the Deputy Prime Minister finally says enough is enough?

In fact, there is a £24 billion increase for our armed forces. Spending on the armed forces is rising to 2.3% of GDP—again, making us the largest military spender in Europe. Frankly, we will take no lessons from the right hon. Lady when it comes to the security of this country. The first thing she did when she became an MP in 2016 was to vote against Trident, leaving us exposed, and she campaigned for the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who would take us out of NATO, to be Prime Minister.

Talking about NATO, where was the right hon. Gentleman during the situation in Afghanistan? On a sun lounger; that is where he was. I take no lectures from him when it comes to doing my job. The Prime Minister said that he felt no shame over the by-election defeats and that the Government have been “quite exceptional”. Well, I agree that they have been exceptional, all right—an exceptional record on stagnant wages, rising poverty and broken promises. The Prime Minister wants to drag this out until the 2030s. How much more can the Deputy Prime Minister stomach before he finds the guts? How many more tax rises, how many more families driven into poverty, and how many manifesto pledges broken? For the sake of the British public, I hope that we never find out. When will he finally grow a backbone and tell the Prime Minister that the game is up?

I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Lady is auditioning for the leadership contest on her side of the House, and not really referring to anything that is happening on this side. [Interruption.] She has the support of the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). I will tell her what we are doing: we are putting in place the policies to grow our economy, to help—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Murray, we have already had Scotland questions. They are not continuing; it is not your debate.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh South was just announcing his support for the right hon. Lady in the forthcoming—[Interruption.] We are putting in place the economic plan to help people with the cost of living; the Labour leader is getting ready for year zero. We are the ones supporting Ukraine with sanctions on Russia and military support; she voted to abolish Trident. We are the ones making the streets safer with more police and tougher sentencing under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which came into force this week; she voted against both. The Opposition have no plan. They are not fit to govern.

Q2. The Eden Project North has been five years of my parliamentary life. We have gone through three Prime Ministers, four Chancellors and a plethora of Ministers, but we have now got to a point where the levelling-up bid is going in very shortly. We have a shovel-ready plan and full planning permission. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it is money worth spending in Morecambe? (900783)

There is no greater or more tenacious campaigner for his constituents than my hon. Friend. He will know that I cannot discuss the details of any specific bids, but the next round of funding allocations will be announced in the autumn, so he will not have to wait too much longer.

I associate myself with the remarks of the Deputy Prime Minister and the deputy leader of the Labour party at the sad death of Dame Deborah James? Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this trying time, and we thank her for all that she has done to raise money for anti-cancer work.

Scotland’s First Minister has set the date and started the campaign. Our nation will have its independence referendum on 19 October 2023. The reality is that Scotland has already paid the price for not being independent, with Westminster Governments we did not vote for imposing policies that we do not support, breaking international law, dragging Scotland through a damaging Brexit we did not vote for, and delivering deep austerity cuts. Contrast that with our European neighbours, which have greater income equality, lower poverty rates and higher productivity—why not Scotland? In the weeks and months ahead, we will make the positive case for independence. Will the opposition, if they can, make the case for continued Westminster rule?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. It is always good to see him in his place. [Laughter.] No, genuinely, it is good to see him in his place. It is not the right time for another referendum given the challenges we face as one United Kingdom. He referred to some of the challenges in Scotland, but I think actually the people of Scotland want their two Governments to work together, and we are keen, willing and enthusiastic to do so.

There is no case for the Union, as we have just heard from the Deputy Prime Minister, because the harsh reality is that the Tories might fear democratic debate, but they do not have the right to block Scottish democracy. As the late Canon Kenyon Wright said:

“What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, ‘We say no, and we are the state’?”

His answer:

“Well, we say yes—and we are the people.”

Just last year, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross)—the leader of the Scottish Conservatives no less—put it, in his own words, that

“a vote for the SNP is a vote for another independence referendum.”

You will not often hear me say this, Mr Speaker, but I agree with him, and so do the Scottish people. Scottish democracy will not be a prisoner of any Prime Minister in this place. So why are the UK Government scared of democracy, or is it simply that they have run out of ideas to defend the failing Westminster system?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he is rather airbrushing history with that long soliloquy. He mentioned the problems that Scotland faces: a huge tax burden imposed by the SNP; Scotland’s record on science and maths under the international PISA rankings has now dropped below England and Wales; and the SNP has presided over the worst drug death rate in Europe—the highest since records began. I think the people of Scotland expect their Governments in Holyrood and in Westminster to work together to tackle the issues facing them in their day-to-day lives. That is what they want.

Q3. Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Laughter.] Mr Speaker, my sincere apologies.There are, Mr Speaker, great opportunities to create exciting new jobs in low-carbon energy along the East Anglian coast, and East Coast College is up for the challenge of providing local people with the necessary skills. However, it and other colleges are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain teachers in such work as fabrication, engineering and construction. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government come up with a cross-departmental strategy to address this staffing crisis in our further education colleges, which could undermine the levelling-up agenda? (900784)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why we are investing nearly £52 million to support the sector in recruiting and retaining excellent staff, and in particular looking at and focusing on the experience and skills that we often find in industry, to train the next generation of technical experts.

Mr Speaker,

“No country that values its independence, and indeed its self-respect, could agree to a treaty that signed away our economic independence and self-government,”—[Official Report, 25 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 1458.]

and

“Ultimately, membership of any union that involves the pooling of sovereignty can only be sustained with the consent of the people.”—[Official Report, 4 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 746.]

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with the Prime Minister and his predecessor—yes or no?

That is why we had the referendum a few years ago. The people of Scotland have spoken, and we think it is not the right time to be relitigating that issue.

Q6. Having spoken to Lord Ahmad yesterday, I thank the Government for listening and now allowing high-risk British Council contractors still in Afghanistan to be processed immediately on their application to the citizen resettlement scheme, rather than having to wait a further two months until the application window closes. With taxation at a 40-year high, when will the Government be bolder in cutting taxes, given that all the evidence the world over shows that lower taxes increase prosperity, raise living standards and better enable the Government to help the less fortunate—even if such a policy means cutting spending such as HS2? (900787)

My hon. Friend makes an important point about driving growth and the economy, which is why we are cutting taxes with the 130% super-deduction for capital investment. That will create not just good jobs, but well paid and better paid jobs, by boosting productivity. That is why we are increasing the employment allowance, which represents a tax cut of £1,000 for half a million small businesses, and that is why we have provided business rate relief of £7 billion over the next five years. Of course, just next month we are cutting national insurance, worth £330 for a typical employee.

Q4. As Tory MSP Murdo Fraser points out, Scotland has a third of Britain’s land mass, half its territorial waters, over 60% of UK fishing zones, 98% of oil reserves, 63% of natural gas, a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind resources, and 90% of the UK’s fresh water. Will the Deputy Prime Minister explain whether his opposition to Scottish independence is because he fears the loss of those invaluable resources? (900785)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right in what she just said. There are huge assets right across Scotland, and that is why we think we are stronger together in delivering for the people of Scotland.

Q7. The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that in North East Hertfordshire we have some of the best farmland in the country. At a time when there are concerns about food production and food security, and when the Government are considering rural land use, is it time to ensure that our productive farmland is not covered in solar plants, and that those are instead positioned on brownfield sites, buildings, and low-grade agricultural land? (900788)

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a powerful point, and our 2023 Land Use Framework will set out our priorities for land use across the country. He is right that we must protect the most versatile agricultural land, and any plans for ground-mounted solar installations will have to take that into account. His point is well made.

Q5. So far this year, 52 women have been killed in the UK. Our rights to free speech, safe spaces, fairness in sport, and even the words we use to describe our own bodies, are all under threat. Will the Deputy Prime Minister send a clear signal, as some of his Cabinet colleagues have done this week, that Britain respects the rights of women? Will he accept the cross-party amendment to the Bill of Rights Bill, which would enshrine in law a woman’s right to choose? (900786)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and let me say at the outset what huge respect I personally have for her and for the way she has stood up for women’s rights despite, frankly, the appalling, harassment, trolling and bullying she has faced. As she knows, the position on abortion is settled in UK law and it is decided by hon. Members across the House. It is an issue of conscience, and I do not think there is a strong case for change. With the greatest respect, I would not want us to find ourselves in the US position, where the issue is litigated through the courts, rather than settled, as it is now settled, by hon. Members in this House.

Q8. In February 2019, the House passed my excellent Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019, mandating the Government to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, enabling marriage records to include mothers’ details and requiring the Justice Secretary to produce a report empowering coroners to investigate stillbirths. The first two have come into force successfully, but, two and a half years on, despite further shocking revelations about deaths of babies at several hospitals, no report has yet been published; nor are there regulations to give coroners the powers they need. Why not? (900789)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. Stillbirth is an appalling tragedy that has the most devastating impact on families across the country. The Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Care have jointly consulted on proposals to provide coroners with new powers in that regard. I have looked at that personally, and we will publish the Government’s response to the consultation shortly.

Q11. Threatened, terrified and alone. That is how survivors of sexual violence told me they felt when they were pressured into signing non-disclosure agreements and gagging clauses by their universities. No victim of sexual assault or harassment should ever be coerced into silence by the very institutions that are meant to protect them—not at university, not at work, not anywhere. Will the Government back my Non-Disclosure Agreements Bill to ban the use of NDAs in cases of sexual harassment, bullying and misconduct? Will the Deputy Prime Minister consider meeting me in his role as Justice Secretary to discuss how we will put a stop to this deplorable practice once and for all? (900793)

I will look carefully at any particular proposals that the hon. Lady has. We have got to do everything we can to protect women and girls in this country and to make them feel more confident in the justice system. That is why I am relieved—but restless to go further—that in the last year the volume of rape convictions is up by two thirds. In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which came into force this week, we took extra measures. For example, we have: extended the time limit for reporting domestic abuse; and criminalised taking photos of a mother breastfeeding without consent. I will certainly look at her proposals.

Q9. This year, we are investing nearly £190 billion in the NHS, and yet many of us see disturbing deficiencies within NHS management, no more so than in the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. In 2018, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) and I secured £312 million for a major A&E modernisation in our local hospital trust, but, four years on, construction has still not started. What message can the Deputy Prime Minister give to the people of Shrewsbury as to how the Government can intervene to break the gridlock and finally allow the £312 million that we secured to be used to benefit the people of Shropshire and mid-Wales? (900791)

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents, particularly on NHS services. The DHSC recently received the strategic outline case for the transformation of A&E services in Shrewsbury and Telford. It is still being processed, but I can tell him that the trust is aiming to present the full business case in 2023, with construction starting in the same year.

Q12. When the Deputy Prime Minister announced his Bill of Rights last week, he said that it would strengthen our UK “tradition of freedom” Freedom? That is shameless from a Government whose contempt for the rule of law and devolution can be judged in equal measure. They are scrapping Welsh law against our will and denying Scotland the right to choose its own future. That is not freedom. Will he prove me wrong by enshrining self-determination in his Bill of Rights? (900794)

The right hon. Lady was deft in getting that in. Across the Benches, we have all heard the case for reinforcing free speech, whether that is about judge-made privacy laws or how people are shouted down when they express legitimate opinions. The people of Wales—this is true across the country—will also want to join us in making sure that we can deport more foreign national offenders. That is the reality for the people in Wales and across the United Kingdom. The Bill of Rights will strengthen our tradition of freedom while curbing those abuses and making sure that we inject a bit more common sense into the system.

Q10. Derriford Hospital in my constituency is part of the new hospital building programme announced by this Government; work on the new emergency department starts this year. That is a significant investment for the amazing staff there and the brilliant chief executive, Ann James, who works so hard. Given the incredible pressures on real estate in Derriford, will my right hon. Friend consider prioritising capital investment in that part of the UK to ensure that we can accelerate these plans—particularly in digital—so that people in Plymouth get the world-class healthcare they deserve? (900792)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is the largest hospital building programme in a generation, and his constituents are going to benefit very directly. I can tell him that there will be a new integrated emergency care hospital scheme for University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust at the Derriford emergency care hospital. On tech, he is absolutely right: the facilities will be at the cutting edge of modern technology, and that will really help drive up the quality of patient care.

Q14.   The victims of black cab rapist John Worboys were able to challenge the police’s failure to investigate his appalling crimes only because of the Human Rights Act. They would not have been able to do so under the Deputy Prime Minister’s new so-called Bill of Rights. Why does he want to stop women like the victims of John Worboys from making sure that police protect them from rape and sexual assault, and getting the justice they deserve? (900796)

I thank the hon. Lady for the opportunity to say that it was not the result of litigation that addressed the problems with the Worboys case. If she wants to look after victims in such cases, the Labour party should join us in supporting not just the Bill of Rights but our parole reforms, which will make sure that dangerous offenders are not released and that we protect the public.

Q13.   My constituent Joel Lindop has suffered the abduction of his young children to Poland. His is one of many families in the UK who go through a similar experience every year. Despite repeated judgments in his favour in the courts in Poland, he has been unable to persuade the Polish authorities to fulfil their obligations under international law and return those children to their family. Will my right hon. Friend intercede so that my constituent, and the many other families who face this challenge, can ensure that their children are returned safely and in a timely fashion in the future? (900795)

I cannot imagine how appalling that situation must be for any parent to find themselves in. My hon. Friend will know that we are committed to the 1980 Hague convention on child abduction, which provides a mechanism. He is right that that has to be driven through the courts. That is not something that we can directly interfere in, but I will speak to the Foreign Office and see whether there is anything further that Ministers can properly do to support my hon. Friend’s constituent.

I have a serious question about the conduct of the Government as regards free trade agreements. I cannot overstate the fury of the International Trade Committee this morning, which led us to unanimously empty-chair the Secretary of State for International Trade. The Government have broken their word to the Committee, to the House and to you, Mr Speaker, on scrutiny of the Australia trade deal by triggering the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process and endangering a Committee report. It is the unanimous view of the Committee—Tory, Labour, SNP and DUP—that the CRaG process should be delayed to allow proper scrutiny, as was promised. Will the Government deliver on their promise and therefore delay the CRaG process?

I understand that the Secretary of State for International Trade has agreed to go back and address the Committee just as soon as possible.

I was privileged last week to attend the malaria summit in Kigali. Even today, malaria remains the biggest single killer of mankind ever, and 1.7 billion people live every day under its shadow of misery. But we are on the cusp of something really special: recent advances, education and our world-leading British vaccines can now eradicate it forever. Can my right hon. Friend please confirm that the UK will fulfil its full commitment to the Global Fund?

I know from working in the Foreign Office just how powerful the Global Fund is; it is a very high-performing international organisation. My hon. Friend will know that since 2002 we have been the third largest donor, so we have stepped up to the plate. The UK has not yet determined our pledge for the seventh replenishment, but the Foreign Secretary will have heard loud and clear my hon. Friend’s advocacy in that regard.

In its efforts to pursue a hostile environment, the Home Office routinely tears families apart and breaks human rights and equalities legislation. It is reported to be sending another deportation charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana. In Pride month, it will deport LGBT asylum seekers fleeing homophobia as well as grandmothers and mothers of British children who have lived in this country for more than 25 years. Given that the Home Office repeatedly gets it wrong and ends up having to take people off such flights, will the Deputy Prime Minister tell me how many people have been removed from that flight already and when the Home Office will stop these inhumane deportation charter flights?

The hon. Lady is right in one respect at least: of course, people who come here need to be treated decently and humanely. We are absolutely committed to that. We also need to make sure that we cut down illegal routes and that those who are here who have committed serious offences can be returned home. The crucial thing—I am working on this with the Home Secretary—is to ensure that we do both those things. We cannot allow illegal routes into this country to flourish—otherwise, we will just attract more people—and we cannot allow people who commit serious offences in this country to stay and continue to pose a threat to the public.