The Secretary of State was asked—
Yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the Enniskillen bombing, one of the most horrific losses of life during the troubles. Our thoughts are with the families who lost loved ones that day and others who are immediately affected by what took place. I will be in Enniskillen this Sunday to pay my respects.
My Department and I hold regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues and Departments—including the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, whose Minister I met with yesterday, and the Ministry of Defence—to ensure that veterans can access support, no matter where they live in the United Kingdom.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will provide certainty to those who served in Northern Ireland by ending the cycle of reinvestigations that has burdened too many for too long?
The Bill, which is continuing its parliamentary passage, seeks to deliver better outcomes for all those affected by the troubles. We have consulted widely on this crucial issue, and much of what we have heard is reflected in the legislation. I obviously concur with my hon. Friend’s view.
I spoke to the Secretary of State beforehand, so he will know about this question. Is the Secretary of State aware of the disgraceful treatment of Royal Ulster Constabulary veterans in the form of the disablement pension, which is being administered contrary to legal judgments in place? Will he make contact with the Department of Justice’s permanent secretary to rectify this despicable situation immediately? People have been waiting for 20 or 30 years for this and it is not sorted out yet.
Benefits of the Union
We believe that the United Kingdom is the most successful political and economic union in history, and the Government are committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland may flourish and prosper as an integral part of it. That is why we are continuing to work tirelessly for Northern Ireland’s people to restore the Executive, support the roll-out of our energy support package and unleash the full potential of the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
I am sure that the Minister’s assessment will have shown that one of the key benefits of the Union for the people of Northern Ireland is the ability to trade with the rest of the UK. Therefore, what progress is he making in fixing the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol, which may hinder that ability?
The Government are engaging in constructive dialogue with the European Union to find solutions to the problems that the protocol is causing. We are also proceeding with the legislation before the House, which aims to fix the problems in the event that we cannot reach a negotiated solution. Of course, it is the Government’s preference to reach a negotiated outcome.
The Social Democratic and Labour party seeks to build a new Ireland by persuasion and consent and with the endorsement of the widest possible number of people in Northern Ireland, but the rational mechanism for constitutional change is set out in the 1998 agreement, in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and in accepted democratic norms. Will the Minister confirm that the Government have no intention of unpicking the principle of consent?
Everyone in the United Kingdom was supposed to get the same support this winter, but two thirds of homes in Northern Ireland are heated by heating oil. So that those families can plan ahead, can the Secretary of State or the Minister tell us precisely when they will get their support?
We look forward to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy making a statement, but I will just take this opportunity to put on record that households in Northern Ireland will benefit from: the energy price guarantee, reducing the per unit cost of electricity and gas, which is in place from November and backdated to October; the energy bill support scheme, a £400 payment to all households; the alternative fuel payment, a £100 payment to households not using gas in Northern Ireland; and, of course, the energy bill relief scheme. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right that people are anxious and I regret that today I cannot give an exact date, but we look forward to BEIS making a statement.
I hope the Minister will encourage his colleagues in BEIS, because it is already winter. Some 60% of homes are being heated by heating oil and they need that support right now. In Britain, heating oil bills have risen from £615 to £1,500, but in Northern Ireland they have risen from £820 to a staggering £1,900. Does he think it is fair that both are getting the same £100 payment?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have taken that up with our counterparts in BEIS. We do so frequently and intensively. My right hon. Friend has just said to me that he met the energy Minister on Thursday. We will continue to press colleagues in BEIS. They are fully aware of the situation and the imperatives, and I think a full answer on the justification for the £100 would meet with Mr Speaker’s disapproval at this moment.
The Minister rightly said that the Union is both a political and an economic union. In the High Court and the Court of Appeal, in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol and its application, the Government’s lawyers argued that the protocol superseded article 6 of the Act of Union itself—the Union with Ireland Act 1800—which is the basis for the economic union. Will the Government and the Minister assure us that, in any negotiations with the European Union, they will strive to restore our full rights under article 6 of the Act of Union and our place in the UK internal market?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to commit that, yes, the Government are determined to restore the constitutional position of Northern Ireland fully within the United Kingdom. That is our intention. I cannot get into the niceties of the legal arguments that were made, but, if I may so, as I understand it, I think they are broadly technical.
Can I also refer to the comments made by the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), and raise the energy support scheme and the £400 that is to be allocated to the electricity accounts of domestic households and non-domestic users—businesses and so on—in Northern Ireland? I have spoken with the Secretary of State for BEIS to urge that the payment is brought forward in good time. Will the Minister assure me that he will continue his efforts with us to ensure that the £400 payment is made to the people of Northern Ireland as soon as possible?
We certainly will continue those efforts together. I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman meeting the Business Secretary. I hope he will not mind my saying, though—I understand the reasons he is not in the Executive and that is why we wish to press forward on the protocol—that matters would be somewhat easier if a functioning Executive were in place.
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
The Government are united around our shared objective of addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past in a way that delivers for those directly impacted by the troubles and helps society in Northern Ireland to move forward. As the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill continues its parliamentary passage, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my officials and I will continue to work closely with colleagues across Government and across the House to ensure that the legislation is effective and durable.
It was good to see that the Secretary of State visited the WAVE trauma centre; I know that will have focused his mind on the perspective of victims. This is a very complex and difficult piece of legislation to get right, but he will know that, as drafted, the Bill does not have the support of any of the parties in Northern Ireland. Given that we now have a new Prime Minister and a new Secretary of State, does he see an opportunity to progress the Bill in a way that will bring people with the Government?
The answer is, basically, yes. The Government understand how important addressing the legacy of the past is for Northern Ireland. We recognise that the Bill is difficult for many, and we continue to engage with stakeholders such as WAVE and across the piece regarding their concerns and how we can address them as the Bill proceeds through Parliament. I hope that the hon. Member recognises, though, that there is no perfect solution to this issue. We are committed to a way forward that deals with Northern Ireland’s troubled past as comprehensively and fairly as we possibly can.
The Government are clear that we will never accept any moral equivalence between those who upheld the law in Northern Ireland and those on all sides who sought to destroy it. The legislation seeks to deliver better outcomes for all those most affected by the troubles. It is important to remember that that includes the families of service personnel, more than 1,000 of whom were killed during the troubles. The Government will continue to engage with those most directly impacted by the legislation about their concerns and how these might be addressed. The Second Reading of the legacy Bill in the House of Lords will take place in a couple of weeks’ time.
Has the Secretary of State accepted the cold, hard fact that to have any legitimacy the final outcome of the legacy Bill needs the support of innocent victims and relatives of those murdered by terrorists, just as in the wider political realm any outcome of the protocol talks needs support across the community or it, too, will be doomed to failure?
Yes, I absolutely understand that point. Everything that we have been doing since I became Secretary of State is about trying to engage and consult more with those who had issues with the legacy Bill. It is never going to be a perfect solution to this particular problem, because no perfect solution exists. However, we will do our best to address all the concerns that people raise with us.
The Bill is welcome and, obviously, complex. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will see it through to the end, and will he confirm that this legislative proposal is very much the last-chance saloon? These are very complex, historical issues and this is the one chance that we have to try to resolve them. However, in the spirit of trying to build compromise and consensus, will he and the Government keep an open mind about cross-party amendments in the other place?
I am quite sure that the Bill is the last legislative vehicle with which any Government will try to address this problem, so it is very important, and it is incumbent on me as Secretary of State, to ensure that we use all the time that we have to improve the Bill, in such a way as my hon. Friend suggests. And yes—I am listening to all parties and all the consultees we talk to, and I am going out to visit victims and victims’ groups in Northern Ireland to try to gauge better what sort of amendments will improve the Bill.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has declared that the Bill is unlikely to be found compatible with convention rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has called it “fatally flawed”. Does the Secretary of State dispute that, or will he make changes to it?
NHS Waiting Times
We are acutely aware of the pressures facing the health service in Northern Ireland. A fully functioning devolved Government is the only way to deliver the necessary reforms to transform healthcare. We have made that point repeatedly to party leaders.
Around one in four people in Northern Ireland are on an NHS waiting list and the role of staff is vital. I understand that the outgoing Health Minister in Northern Ireland wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to implement the summer pay award, as Stormont cannot. Will he take that forward?
The hon. Lady will know that we are deeply concerned about the state of the Northern Ireland Executive’s finances and that officials are working urgently with the Northern Ireland civil service to take things forward. Of course we will keep matters under review, but as health is a devolved matter, I have to say that the best way forward would be the restoration of the Executive.
Two years ago, the Health Minister Robin Swann, who did such a good job, averted industrial action by ensuring comparability between pay for nurses in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales. The Northern Ireland Fiscal Council says that the budget for health will be 2% lower next year than this year. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be money to pay the nurses, without whom there will be no impact on the dreadful waiting lists?
The recommendations of the independent review bodies, which have responsibility for determining pay for health workers, were published in July 2022. The Minister of Health was unable to implement the recommended pay increases because there had not been a wider Executive decision on public sector pay. Pay parity with NHS England was restored after a Northern Ireland-wide strike in 2019-20, but in the Executive’s absence, pay divergence has occurred again.
I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that the UK Government are providing £121 per person for the Executive for every £100 of equivalent UK Government spending over the 2021 spending review period to deliver public services in Northern Ireland. I think his constituents and mine would consider that quite generous funding.
Trade in the UK
The Government are committed to ensuring that businesses can trade freely throughout the United Kingdom, so our approach has two strands. Under the protocol, by the end of the year we will, I am sorry to say, have spent £340 million helping traders to process 2.3 million customs declarations through the trader support service for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That vividly illustrates the problems with the protocol, which is why we are in constructive dialogue to deliver change, as I said earlier, and why we are keeping the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill before Parliament.
Northern Ireland boasts some of the UK’s most innovative businesses. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that Northern Irish businesses are placing environmental, social and governance considerations at the heart of their operations? Does he agree that cementing Northern Ireland’s place as a global leader in ESG will stimulate regional jobs and growth and will turbocharge investment in the Province and across the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that Northern Ireland boasts some of the UK’s most innovative businesses and is a fantastically attractive place to invest. An increasing number of organisations in Northern Ireland report on environmental, social and governance standards. I regularly visit businesses in Northern Ireland, as does the Secretary of State. We will continue to take an interest in their approach to ESG.
What businesses in Northern Ireland want, alongside political stability, is dual market access. As well as working to ensure that businesses have access to the rest of the UK market, will the Minister ensure that access to the European market will be preserved and that the Government will do nothing to compromise it?
We are committed to maintaining dual market access. We hope to negotiate a position with the European Union in which that is possible, while preserving the east-west strand of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We want to restore the constitutional status of Northern Ireland while ensuring that market access; I very much hope that we will do so by negotiation.
May I take the opportunity to associate myself and my party with the Secretary of State’s remarks about the 35th anniversary of the bombing in Enniskillen? Our thoughts are with all those who continue, to this day, to be affected by that event.
Maroš Šefčovič has said that
“if there is political will”,
issues around the Northern Ireland protocol could be resolved
“within a couple of weeks.”
Does the Secretary of State understand the political damage that has been caused by the Government’s failure to begin negotiations on the issue earlier in the year? Will he commit to doing all he can to achieve a negotiated settlement before the year is out?
I shall have to answer procedurally, but of course we understand the political implications of where we are. The most significant, if I may say so, is the collapse of the institutions because of the legitimate concerns of Unionism and of the DUP in particular. That is why the Secretary of State and I have been very clear that we recognise the legitimate interests of all parties, including the European Union and Ireland, and it is why we are resolute in the United Kingdom’s own interests. Of course if we completely conceded our interests we would achieve a deal within weeks, but the point is that this country and this Government are humble in accepting the legitimate interests of the EU and resolute in defending our own. I very much hope that we will reach a negotiated settlement.
I engage regularly with the Northern Ireland parties—indeed, I spoke to all the Executive party leaders only this morning—and I will continue to keep my Cabinet colleagues fully apprised of those discussions.
The Secretary of State told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that he would be calling an election
“at one minute past midnight”
on 28 October, but that did not happen, which has left Northern Ireland in limbo. Reports have since emerged that the Secretary of State was directly overruled by the Prime Minister. Is that true, or did he mean to intentionally mislead a parliamentary Committee?
At this week’s session of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly—which you kindly opened, Mr Speaker—we were able to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland relating to the protocol and the talks. Voices were raised from across Europe, and from all parts of the House, encouraging the Government and the European Commission to reach an agreement, because that is the gateway to co-operation on so many other things. I commend the Secretary of State on having the talks, and I say to him, “Let’s get a decision.”
Cost of Living
The UK Government are providing vital support to households and businesses across the UK to help with the rising cost of energy. This is an issue that the Secretary of State and I raise frequently with colleagues across Government, including the Business Secretary and the Energy Minister. We seek to provide urgent support for households and businesses across Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman will of course understand that these schemes need to be delivered by officials, and that effort has been hampered substantially by the absence of a functioning Executive. We should all acknowledge that without an Executive, these things are more difficult to deliver. As I said earlier, we are well aware of the imperatives, and once again I urge all parties to re-form the Executive so that we can give people the prompt help that they deserve.
Peace and Prosperity
Peace and prosperity are intrinsically linked, and the Government are committed to delivering both in order to help Northern Ireland reach its full potential. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his expert contribution to that end when he served in the Department. We are investing £730 million in the new PEACEPLUS programme, which will support economic growth and community cohesion. The Government also provide significant resources to tackle the threat from terrorism, paramilitarism and organised crime.
I saw for myself that growth and city deals offer a huge opportunity in every part of Northern Ireland to improve economic performance and strengthen society, which underpins the peace process. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to maximise the benefits of those deals, we need an Executive in place working hand in hand with the UK Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that our £617 investment in city and growth deals presents an historic opportunity to generate innovation and growth across Northern Ireland. He is also right to say that we need a functioning Executive to drive forward that delivery.
This morning I met members of East Border Region, a cross-party, cross-border local authority-led organisation delivering peace and prosperity across the border. Will the Minister agree to meet them to discuss the work they have done over the past 50 years?
Northern Ireland Protocol
The Government are engaging in constructive dialogue with the European Union to find solutions to the issues caused by the protocol. We are also proceeding with legislation that aims to fix the practical problems that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland in the event of our being unable to reach our preferred negotiated solution.
Both the trader support service and the movement assistance scheme provide support to traders moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. By the end of this year we will have spent £340 million helping traders to process 2.3 million customs declarations through the trader support service for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but we very much hope that we can find a negotiated solution to the protocol issues that will mean we do not have to spend this money in the future.
The Northern Ireland protocol has resulted in the ripping up of the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent, and the fall of the Assembly. It has also imposed EU law on part of our country, and that law will be imposed by the European Court of Justice. Does the Minister accept that we cannot improve on that and we have to remove it?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Actually, I think there is a negotiated path where we can completely change how we deal with the protocol, which would mean that it dealt with the issues of governance and trade and all the other practical issues that are causing legitimate concerns to the communities he represents.
The Prime Minister was asked—
With Armistice Day on Friday, I know that colleagues across the House will want to join me in remembering those who have lost their lives in the service of our country. 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 people I serve will of course be commemorating Remembrance Day. Bermondsey was the original home of the poppy factory, providing work for injured veterans of the great war over 100 years ago.
Covid restrictions were a necessary but painful experience, and across the country most people made enormous sacrifices, including Charlotte, my constituent, and local councillor Lorraine, who were unable to see their mums in their final days. Those people were betrayed by the Conservatives, who partied their way through lockdown—[Interruption.] Members might not like it, but they can all go and eat kangaroo testicles, for all I care. Those Conservatives covered Downing Street in suitcases of wine, in vomit and in fixed penalty notices. Can this Prime Minister promise today that he will use his power of veto to ensure that no one who received a fixed penalty notice for breaking covid laws is rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords?
What I can say is that this Government, during covid, ensured that we protected people’s jobs, that we supported the NHS to get through the difficult times and that we rolled out that the fastest vaccine in Europe. That is what we did for this country.
I praise my right hon. Friend for highlighting the incredible potential of floating offshore wind technology to help us move to net zero. He is right about the opportunities in the Celtic sea, and for Wales more generally, and I can confirm that the Crown Estate’s leasing process is expected to deliver more seabed leases for many more projects.
May I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Remembrance Day? We remember all those who paid the ultimate price, and all those who have served and are serving our country.
The Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) told a civil servant to “slit your throat”. How does the Prime Minister think the victim of that bullying felt when he expressed great sadness at his resignation?
Unequivocally, the behaviour complained of was unacceptable, and it is absolutely right that the right hon. Gentleman has resigned. For the record, I did not know about any of the specific concerns relating to his conduct as Secretary of State or as Chief Whip, which date back some years. I believe that people in public life should treat others with consideration and respect, and those are the principles that this Government will stand by.
The Member for South Staffordshire spent years courting the idea that he could intimidate others, blurring the lines to normalise bullying behaviour—it is precisely why the Prime Minister gave him a job. The truth is simple: he is a pathetic bully, but he would never have got away with it if people like the Prime Minister did not hand him power. Does the Prime Minister regret his decision to make him a Government Minister?
I obviously regret appointing someone who has had to resign in these circumstances, but I think what the British people would like to know is that when situations like this arise, they will be dealt with properly. That is why it is absolutely right that he resigned, and it is why it is absolutely right that there is an investigation to look into these matters properly. I said my Government will be characterised by integrity, professionalism and accountability, and it will.
Everyone in the country knows someone like the Member for South Staffordshire: a sad middle manager getting off on intimidating those beneath him. But everyone in the country also knows someone like the Prime Minister: the boss who is so weak and so worried that the bullies will turn on him that he hides behind them. What message does he think it sends when, rather than take on the bullies, he lines up alongside them and thanks them for their loyalty?
The message that I clearly want to send is that integrity in public life matters. That is why it is right that the right hon. Member has resigned, and why it is right that there is a rigorous process to examine these issues. As well as focusing on this one individual, it is also right and important that we keep delivering for the whole country. That is why this Government will continue to concentrate on stabilising the economy, strengthening the NHS and tackling illegal migration. Those are my priorities and the priorities of the British people, and this Government will deliver on them.
The problem is that the Prime Minister could not stand up to a run-of-the-mill bully, so he has no chance of standing up to vested interests on behalf of working people. Take Shell, which made record profits this year of £26 billion. How much has it paid under his so-called windfall tax?
I was the Chancellor who introduced an extra tax on the oil and gas companies. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about working people, but he voted against legislation to stop strikes disrupting working people, and he voted against legislation to stop extremist protesters disrupting working people, because he is not on the side of working people; that is what the Conservatives are for.
I am against all those causing chaos and damage to our public services and our economy, whether they are gluing themselves to the road or sitting on the Government Benches. There was no answer to the question, because the answer is nothing. Shell has not paid a penny in windfall tax. Why? Because for every £1 it spends on digging for fossil fuels, he hands them a 90p tax break, costing the taxpayer billions. Will he find a backbone and end his absurd oil and gas giveaway?
What the Labour party will never understand is that it is businesses investing that creates jobs in this country. On this side of the House, we understand that and we will support businesses to invest to create jobs, because that is how we create prosperity and how we support strong public services, and that is what you get with a Conservative Government.
There is only one party that crashed the economy and they are all sitting there on the Government Benches. It is a pattern with this Prime Minister: too weak to sack the security threat sitting around the Cabinet table; too weak to take part in a leadership context after he lost the first one; and too weak to stand up for working people. He spent weeks flirting with the climate change deniers in this party and then scuttled off to COP at the last minute. In the Budget next week, he will be too weak to end his oil and gas giveaway, scrap the non-dom tax breaks and end the farce of taxpayers subsidising private schools—that is what Labour would do: a proper plan for working people. If he cannot even stand up to a cartoon bully with a pet spider, if he is too scared to face the public in an election, what chance has he got of running the country? [Interruption.]
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about judgment and putting people around the Cabinet table. I gently remind him that he thought the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) was the right person to look after our security. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said a lot today, but it is clear that he is not focused on the serious issues confronting our country. We are strengthening our economy; he is backing the strikers. We are supporting people with energy Bills; he is supporting the protestors. We are tackling illegal migration; he is opposing every measure. The British people want real leadership on the serious global challenges we face, and that is what they will get from this Government.
I thank my hon. Friend for his powerful question and his continued work on this issue. I completely agree that antisemitism has no place in our society, and we are taking a strong lead in tackling it in all forms. We became the first country to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, and the Government’s independent adviser on antisemitism regularly provides advice to Ministers on how best to tackle this issue. May I join my hon. Friend, as I know the whole House will, in praising the work of those survivors who so bravely tell their stories so that we might never forget?
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about Armistice Day? We remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who continue to serve. We should also remember the nuclear test veterans, who continue to seek justice.
Last night, the Prime Minister suffered the self-inflicted loss of his first Cabinet Minister. A couple of weeks into the job, it turns out that this Prime Minister’s judgment is every bit as bad as his predecessor’s. Speaking of which, we now know that the Prime Minister’s former friend, the former Prime Minister, plans to hand out seats in the House of Lords to at least four Tory MPs, including the current Secretary of State for Scotland. So here is another test of judgment for the new Prime Minister: does he think it right to keep in the Cabinet a man who is clearly far more interested in getting his hands on an ermine robe than in playing by the rules of Scottish democracy?
I am afraid that it is not speculation. The Prime Minister clearly does not get how corrupt this all looks to people in Scotland. Not only do we have a UK Government who deny democracy; we now have a Secretary of State who is running scared from it. In the middle of a Tory cost of living crisis, the Scotland Office is now to be led by a baron-in-waiting, biding his time until he can cash in on the £300-a-day job for life in the House of Lords. He should be sacked from the Cabinet and the people of Dumfries and Galloway should be given the chance to sack the Tories in a by-election. The Prime Minister’s judgment is already in tatters. If he has any integrity left, will he now put a stop to his two predecessors stuffing the House of Lords with their cronies?
What the Secretary of State and I are jointly focused on is working constructively with the Scottish Government to deliver for the people of Scotland. I am pleased to be meeting the First Minister tomorrow, because that, I think, is what the people of Scotland want to see.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work in raising awareness of this particular issue. He is absolutely right. I am pleased to give him the reassurance that the Online Safety Bill will require platforms to remove and limit the spread of illegal content and activity online. Assisting illegal immigration is listed as a priority offence in the Bill, which we look forward to bringing back to the House in due course.
Diolch, Mr Llefarydd. The Prime Minister is struggling to rebuild the Tories’ ruined economic credibility after his predecessor scorned the Office for Budget Responsibility, but in a Bloomberg interview just last week, his International Trade Secretary disputed OBR forecasts that trade will be 15% lower because of Brexit. Britain’s economic prospects are worsened by being outside the world’s largest trading bloc. That is a fact. Who does he agree with—the OBR or his Tory Minister?
One of the great opportunities of Brexit is our ability to trade more with countries around the world. I know that the right hon. Lady will want to speak to many of the Welsh farmers who are enjoying selling their lamb to the new markets that we have opened up for them. That is what we will get on and deliver.
The Government are committed to making home ownership a reality for a new generation, and we must build homes in the right places, where people want to live and work, but, as my right hon. Friend knows and as I have said, I want those decisions to be taken locally, with greater say for local communities rather than distant bureaucrats. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is happy to meet her to discuss how best to make that a reality.
The absolute best way to ensure that children do not grow up in poverty, which is something that none of us wants to see, is to ensure that they do not grow up in a workless household. The record under these Governments is that 700,000 fewer children are growing up in workless households. That is because Conservative Governments create jobs for people, and that is the best anti-poverty strategy that we have.[Official Report, 14 November 2022, Vol. 722, c. 4MC.]
It is nice to hear from my hon. Friend again this week. I can reassure him that we are completely committed to supporting Afghan refugees into the employment opportunities here in the UK. The Department for Work and Pensions has a full programme in place, and I can also tell him that our Refugee Leads Network brings together refugee organisations and the DWP to connect those refugees with employment opportunities. I look forward to seeing the fruits of that programme with him in the near future.
We did review and indeed end the visa that the right hon. Gentleman is raising. The Home Office is currently considering the right way to replace that visa with something that is more sustainable and protects our security interests. I will be happy to have the Home Secretary write to him with an update on that process.
I am pleased to say that we have announced ambitious new plans to improve the cost, the choice and the availability of childcare to benefit hundreds of thousands of parents across the country. That includes measures to increase the number of children that can be looked after by each staff member and making it easier for people to become childminders. We will respond to all those proposals in very short order.
We have significantly increased funding going into schools over the next two years, but on top of that it was important to this Government to help those children who were left behind in terms of their education opportunities during the pandemic. That is why we invested £5 billion in helping those children to catch up, including unveiling the most comprehensive programme of tutoring this country has ever seen. It is closing the attainment gap and disproportionately benefiting disadvantaged children, and is something that I know all colleagues will get behind.
Let me give my hon. Friend my absolute cast-iron commitment that we want to get to grips with this problem. The best way to resolve it is to stop criminal gangs profiting from an illegal trade in human lives and the unacceptable rise in channel crossings, which is putting unsustainable pressure on our system and local services. She has my reassurance that the Home Secretary and I are working day and night to resolve the problem—not just to end the use of expensive contingency accommodation, but for more fundamental reform, so that we can finally get to grips with the issue, protect our borders and end illegal migration.
Under the Prime Minister’s short premiership, he has had one Minister resign and one who urgently needs to be sacked. Can the Prime Minister clarify to the House and the rest of the country when the scheduled programme of integrity, professionalism and accountability will begin?
It is precisely because I want a Government characterised by integrity, professionalism and accountability that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) was right to resign, and it is right that we have an independent process. That is the type of Government I will lead. When situations like this arise, we will deal with them properly, and that is what we have done.
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Watford, and it is a pleasure to join him in thanking the Royal British Legion’s poppy appeal volunteers in Watford and across the country. There is no greater sacrifice than those who lay down their lives in the service of our nation, so I am proud, as many others are, to support the poppy appeal and to honour our veterans.
If the Prime Minister or any member of his many households became unwell, would he start ringing the GP surgery at 8 o’clock each morning to not get an appointment, would he go off to accident and emergency and wait 12 hours to be seen, would he call an ambulance that would not come, or would he use some of his £750 million—unearned wealth—to pay privately and see somebody there and then?
Let me put on record my thanks to the fantastic team at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, who have provided excellent care to my family over the years. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the issue of people waiting unacceptably long for treatment that they need. That is why we have put record funding into the NHS to help with backlogs and waiting times this winter, and it is why the Health Secretary and the Chancellor are discussing how best to deliver the reforms we need. I want to make sure that everyone gets the care they need, and we will continue to invest in more doctors, more nurses and more community scans so that we can deliver exactly that.
May I join with my hon. Friend in recognising the importance of the Blackpool Central regeneration project to the town’s levelling-up ambitions? I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary and the Housing Secretary are in the process of resolving this issue for him and how best we can relocate the court complex. He will not have to wait very long for an update on the plans.
It is a critical time for our steel industry, which is hit by massive energy costs and low demand at a time when we need to support our industry to adapt to build the green technologies we will need. Does the Prime Minister agree that our sovereign capability and our national security are dependent on a strong UK steel industry? If so, will the Government not sit on their hands? What is the Prime Minister’s plan for steel?
I am proud of our track record. Not only were we pleased to support one steel company in south Wales that needed our assistance during coronavirus but we have provided more than £2 billion to support energy-intensive industries, including steel, with high energy bills. Thanks to the work of my colleagues, we have also removed the tariffs on exporting steel to the United States. The hon. Lady has my assurance that we will continue to support steel, because we recognise its importance to our economy and to our communities up and down the country.
As Chancellor, I was pleased to cut fuel duty by 5p a litre—the biggest-ever cut—to help motorists in our country. I recognise the concerns that my hon. Friend raises, which is why we asked the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct an urgent review of the market. There are some actions to be considered coming out of that review, and I look forward to meeting him and to working with the CMA to explore its recommendations in more detail.
Tomorrow, I will be delivering food bank collection crates across my constituency, because our food banks are running out of food once more. Does the Prime Minister understand the despair my constituents feel that he, as one of the richest men in Britain, is doing so little—[Interruption.] Conservative Members do not like the truth, Mr Speaker. Does he understand the despair my constituents feel that he is doing so little for the poorest in Britain by refusing to cancel the £3 billion tax break for non-doms who profit from our country but will not make it their home?
I am proud of my and this Government’s track record in supporting the most vulnerable in our society, and that will always continue. It is a bit rich to hear that from the right hon. Gentleman—the first person to remind us what happens when the economy is crashed by a Labour Government. That is no way to help people. We will build a strong economy. That is what enables us to support the most vulnerable and strong public services.
That sounds like an appealing invitation. I agree with my hon. Friend that levelling up has to deliver for communities in every corner of the United Kingdom, including southern coastal communities. He knows that I am a champion of freeports, and I look forward to working with him to see how we can best realise their benefits in his area.