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Volume 725: debated on Wednesday 11 January 2023

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

There are no NHS dentists taking on patients in Lancaster and Fleetwood, and those constituents of mine who are lucky enough to have one are waiting months for an appointment. How long did the Prime Minister have to wait for his last NHS dentist appointment?

As a result of the new reformed NHS dentistry contract, there are now more NHS dentists across the UK, with more funding, making sure that people can get the treatment they need. Let me answer the hon. Lady directly. I am registered with an NHS GP. I have used independent healthcare in the past—[Interruption.] I will answer her question. I am registered with an NHS GP. I have used independent healthcare in the past, and I am grateful to the Friarage Hospital for the fantastic care that it has given my family over the years. The truth is, I am proud to come from an NHS family, and that is why I am passionately committed to protecting the NHS with more funding, more doctors and nurses and a clear plan to cut the waiting lists.

Q2. A person is 24 times more likely to become a doctor if a parent is a doctor and 17 times more likely to become a lawyer if a parent is a lawyer, and a lower proportion of dis-advantaged young people are being admitted to degree-level apprenticeships by employers than to degrees by universities. I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend set out last week about education and family, but does he agree that we also need our universities, employers and professions to play their part to improve social mobility? (902913)

Everyone should have the opportunity to succeed, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we all have a part to play. That is why I am pleased that the Social Mobility Commission is working to provide new information to young people about the opportunities available to them as well as a toolkit for employers so that they can also play their part in improving social mobility.

In the 13 years of the last Labour Government, there were no national NHS strikes. If the Prime Minister had negotiated with the nurses before Christmas, they would not be on strike. If he had negotiated with the ambulance workers, they would not be on strike, either. Why is he choosing to prolong the misery rather than end these strikes?

We have always been clear that we want to have constructive dialogue with the unions. That is also why, when it comes to the issue of pay, we accepted in full the independent recommendations of the pay review bodies. The right hon. and learned Gentleman simply does not have a policy when it comes to this question. He talks about wanting to end the strikes. The question for him is simple then: why does he not support our minimum safety legislation? We all know why. It is because he is on the side of his union paymasters, not patients.

When I clapped nurses, I meant it. The Prime Minister’s response to the greatest crisis in the history of the NHS is to threaten to sack our nurses. His Transport Secretary says it is not the solution. His Education Secretary hopes it will not apply in schools. His own assessments say it could increase the number of strikes. The simple truth is you cannot legislate your way out of 13 years of failure. Between 2010 and 2019, before anyone had heard of covid—[Interruption.]—the number of people stuck on the NHS waiting list doubled. Why do patients always wait longer under the Tories? [Interruption.]

Order. This is the new year. I want to start off with a refreshed Chamber, and certainly not with interruption.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the minimum safety legislation. Let us just talk about it a little bit further, because this is a simple proposition. No one denies the unions’ freedom to strike, but it is important to balance that with people’s right to access to life-saving healthcare at the same time. This should not be controversial. The International Labour Organisation supports minimum service levels. They are present in France, in Italy, in Spain. Normally he is in favour of more European alignment—why not now? [Hon. Members: “More!”]

They have gone from clapping the nurses to sacking the nurses, it is that simple. And to add insult to injury, they are the cause of the crisis. The Prime Minister’s Government commissioned a report on waiting times. He knows this: his own report says that this is not a covid problem; it is 10 years of managed decline. As a result, 7.2 million people are now waiting for treatment. He says he wants to be held to account over that, so let us be very clear: is his promise merely to get those numbers back to where they were before covid—that is 4.6 million—or back to where Labour had them in 2010, almost half that? Which is it?

Again, let us just start with the facts. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to completely ignore the fact that not just in England, but in Scotland, in Wales and in many other European countries, covid has had an extraordinary impact on health services. We have a very clear plan to bring the waiting lists down and it is one that the NHS supports. I tell you what the NHS does not need: Labour’s only idea, which is for another completely disruptive, top-down, unfunded reorganisation buying out every single GP contract. Those are not my words. The CEO of the Nuffield Trust said it “will cost a fortune” and it is “out of date”—just like the Labour party.

So, the Prime Minister cannot tell us how much he will reduce waiting lists by or when. So much for the accountability he wants. As ever with this Prime Minister, you scratch the surface and you find there is nothing there. Last month, 1.4 million people waited more than four weeks for a GP appointment. When Labour left Government, you were guaranteed an appointment in two days. When does the Prime Minister expect to get back to that?

We have already eliminated two-year wait lists: that was done last year. We are on track this spring to eliminate waits of 18 months, with a clear plan to go further and eliminate waits of 52 weeks by next spring. We are doing that with record funding, more community diagnostic centres, more surgical hubs and more patient choice. That is why I have made tackling wait lists one of my five priorities. What are the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s? They seem to change every single week. At first he was against NHS outsourcing; now he is apparently in favour of it. It is inconsistent, unprincipled and in hock to his union—

Order. Can I just remind the Prime Minister that this is Prime Minister’s questions, not Opposition questions?

I heard the Prime Minister saying that he is now registered with an NHS doctor, so he will soon enjoy the experience of waiting on hold every morning at 8 am to get a GP appointment. I can tell him that those who are waiting now do not want another round of empty promises or boasting about what he has done; they just want to know when they will be able to see a doctor.

This is not just about routine care. There can be nothing more terrifying than being told you might have cancer: that is why the last Labour Government brought in a guarantee that people would be seen by a specialist within two weeks. Today, 50,000 people are waiting longer than that. Everyone in this House will appreciate the anxiety that they are feeling. When will cancer patients once again get the certainty of quick care that they got under Labour?

Why is there a challenge with cancer times right now? Again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman just has absolutely no understanding of the situation. What happened to cancer referrals during covid? They went down by almost two thirds. That was because of a pandemic. By the way, if we had listened to him, we would still be in lockdown and there would be even more waiting lists. Actually, right now there are record levels of cancer treatment as we catch up with those missed things.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about what is terrifying. [Hon. Members: “It’s you!”] What is terrifying is that right now people do not know whether, when they call 999, they will get the treatment that they need. Australia, Canada and the US banned strikes by blue light services. We are not doing that. All we are saying is that in these emergency services, patients should be able to rely on a basic level of life-saving care. Why is he against that?

There is not a minimum level of service any day, because the Government have broken the NHS. The Prime Minister is not promising that people will get to see a doctor in a few days, like they did under Labour. He is not promising that cancer patients will get urgent treatment, as they did under Labour. He is not even promising an NHS that puts patients first, like it did under Labour. No, he is promising that one day, although he cannot say when, the Government’s record high waiting lists will stop growing—and that’s it. After 13 years in government, what does it say that the best they can offer is that at some point they might stop making things worse?

When it comes to the NHS, it is crystal clear: the Conservatives are on the side of patients, Labour is on the side of its union paymasters. I have laid out my priorities for the country: waiting lists down, inflation down, debt down, growth up and the boats stopped. All the right hon. and learned Gentleman does is flip from one thing to another. That is the difference between him and me. He is focused on petty politics; I am delivering for Britain.

Q9. On behalf of my constituents in Truro and Falmouth, I would like to thank all the health and social care professionals in Cornwall for their hard work in a particularly difficult winter. Everybody comes to Cornwall for their summer holidays, which is brilliant, but it means that there is no respite in summer or winter for our health and social care professionals. In addition, when we try to recruit people into health and social care, which is a vocation, the sector is competing with hospitality. Is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister aware of the extra challenges that places such as Cornwall face in recruitment and retention? (902920)

My hon. Friend is right to shine a spotlight on that issue. Like her, I am incredibly proud of all our social care workers and their commitment to their profession. That is why, this spring, many of them will benefit from an increase of nearly 10% in the national living wage, which will put an extra £1,600 on to their payslips. However, we also want to make sure that they feel valued through professional development training and career progression, and our half a billion pounds of investment in the social care workforce will do exactly that for the workers in my hon. Friend’s constituency and for others.

Given the longest and deepest recession in the entire G7, Brexit, 13 years of Tory rule, the energy price crisis, inflation and high interest rates, if the people of Scotland do the maths—as the Prime Minister so hopes—will they not come to the conclusion that this Union simply does not add up?

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman brought up the subject of energy. He was right to do so. When it comes to the economy, energy is incredibly important to Scotland, and Scotland will play a fantastic part in helping us make the transition to net zero. We now know, however, that the Scottish Government do not want to support the Scottish energy industry and the 200,000 jobs that it produces. I am keen to work with the Scottish Government to support the North sea, because it is something of which we are all very proud in the United Kingdom.

If the Prime Minister wants to talk about the fact that Scotland is energy rich but fuel poor on Westminster’s watch, I am more than happy to do that. For today, however, let us reflect on numbers, and in particular the numbers on which Sam Coates of Sky News shone a light—notably those relating to the Prime Minister’s favourite potential successor, which showed that over four months, for four speeches, he had raked in more than £1 million. Does the Prime Minister not find it utterly perverse that senior members of the Conservative party are feathering their nests in this way, while at the same time seeking to deny working people the opportunity to strike for fair pay?

I do not think we need to talk about our predecessors, but I remember—[Interruption.] If I am not mistaken, it was one of the hon. Gentleman’s predecessors who worked for Russia Today.

The hon. Gentleman talks about priorities. Yesterday the SNP spent time talking yet more about independence at a time when we should be talking about delivering for people across the United Kingdom, focusing on their jobs and improving the NHS throughout the UK, in Scotland and, indeed, everywhere else. That is the kind of thing I want to talk to the Scottish Government about, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will work with me to do that.

Q10. Conservative Governments have a proud record of supporting the UK steel industry, and I thank my right hon. Friend for the work that he has already done for steel. He will know that steel is a vital strategic industry that is essential for everything we do, from defence to growth. Will he do everything he can to ensure that we are always able to make steel in this country, and does he agree that steel is always safest under a Conservative Government? (902921)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for the steel industry, and this Government remain committed to a thriving UK steel industry. That is why our support for steel includes nearly £800 million in relief for electricity costs and steel companies are eligible to bid for up to £1.5 billion in capital grant to speed their transition to net zero steel production.

I am sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing all the best to Gareth Bale, the former captain of the Wales men’s soccer team, who has been a national inspiration and who took Wales to the football World Cup.

This Tory Government attack dedicated health and ambulance staff, but disruption from strikes is as nothing compared with the chronic disruption caused every day by their 13 years of butchering health budgets. Meanwhile, Labour’s Health Secretary in Wales follows the Tory playbook, blaming patients themselves for standards of health. The reality is this: health services in Wales suffer from a combination of mismanagement by Labour and a Westminster funding system that perpetuates poverty. The Prime Minister used to talk about levelling up—[Interruption.]

Let me join the hon. Lady, because as a Southampton fan, Gareth Bale is also a hero of mine and I wish him well. When it comes to funding Wales, it is because of the funding from Barnett that the Welsh Government receive significantly more funding than the NHS in England, but also £1.2 billion of extra funding as a result of the autumn statement. I say what I said to the leader of the Opposition: this is not about political point scoring. The NHS is under pressure in Wales as it is in Scotland and England, in large part because of the impact of the global pandemic. She would do well to recognise that.

Q11. Unlike parties opposite, including the Scottish National party—even the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn)—I know my right hon. Friend recognises the critical role that oil and gas companies and their employees have in not only providing energy security but delivering the energy transition to net zero. Can he confirm this Government’s ongoing commitment to expanding our carbon capture utilisation and storage capacity, including the Acorn project in St Fergus in my constituency? Can he provide an update on the track 2 sequencing? (902922)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion and campaigner for this project. We will invest up to £1 billion to establish carbon capture and storage in four industrial clusters by 2030. We very much recognise the benefits of the Scottish cluster and the role it could play in decarbonisation, and we are progressing track 2 and will set out further details in due course.

Q3. The Times recently reported that schools across the UK are in crisis as the effects of online influencer Andrew Tate’s vile misogyny infiltrates our classrooms and society. Teachers are now having to develop their own resources to re-educate boys who are being brainwashed online by his deeply toxic messaging. The Prime Minister has been too slow to recognise the damage that this is causing. What has he done, and what are his Government doing to tackle this misogyny and incel culture and the radicalisation of young men in this country? Will he commit to giving the teachers the resources that they need to address this problem head on? (902914)

With regard to funding, we announced in the autumn statement £2 billion of extra funding for our schools. I am also proud that this Government have introduced the world-leading, world-first Online Safety Bill, which specifically improves protections for children and puts very strict obligations and penalties on tech companies for enforcing them.

Q12. The building a brighter future project for Torbay Hospital will be the biggest single investment in south Devon’s healthcare services since the NHS was founded in 1948. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government’s commitment to it remains unchanged? (902923)

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for his local hospital and constituents. I am pleased to say that the new hospital scheme for Torbay is part of our plan to deliver dozens more hospitals by 2030. We remain committed to the delivery of that new hospital, and I am pleased his trust is talking to the new hospital programme team about how to progress those plans.

Q4. Taxpayers are set to lose tens of millions of pounds after the transfer of valuable public assets to two Teesside businessmen, all without a full and transparent recruitment process. A relative of one of those people is now benefiting from millions of pounds-worth of scrap from the same Tees work site. Will the Prime Minister launch an inquiry into these crony contracts? While he is at it, will he tell his Environment Secretary to get serious about the environmental disaster in the Teesside estuary, which was linked to the site? (902915)

As the hon. Gentleman will already be aware, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs already carried out a comprehensive, evidence-led investigation, considered everything robustly and concluded that natural causes were most likely responsible for some of the things that we saw. But we recognise that people want a thorough investigation of this issue, and DEFRA has confirmed that an independent panel will be set up to report quickly.

Q13.   Labour-controlled Bradford Council continually neglects the needs of Bingley and other parts of my constituency, as they pour all their money into their inner-city heartlands. Therefore, my constituents look to the Government to put right their failings. That is why the levelling-up fund is so important. Will the Prime Minister insist that the levelling-up fund bid submitted for Bingley, which will unlock millions of pounds of private sector investment, will be successful when the announcement is made in the near future? (902924)

Unlike the Labour council, my hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for his constituents in Bingley. As I have told him previously, I cannot comment on individual bids but I wish him every success and will be following with close interest how it proceeds.

Q5. Does the Prime Minister believe that over 40,000 interactions, either by social media, email or letter, regarding the poor customer service and working conditions at the delivery company Evri warrant an investigation by the relevant Government Department? His Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy think not, but I am sure the Prime Minister would want the general public to believe that he at least is interested enough in this problem to take action. (902916)

I am aware that other Government Ministers have looked into this issue and are currently considering the matter at hand. I will be happy to write to the hon. Lady when we know more about the situation.

Q14. Does the Prime Minister agree that the right way to secure the best future for the British people is to deliver on the people’s priorities and secure a strong economy? Will he confirm that he will not make any unfunded spending commitments that would rack up billions of debt, as the Labour party has done in the last week? (902925)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we want to safeguard the future of our public services and make sure that our young people inherit a strong economy, we must be disciplined on spending and borrowing. She is absolutely right about no unfunded spending commitments, unlike the Labour party, as she says, which at the last count has made £90 billion of unfunded spending commitments. It is the same old Labour: it always runs out of other people’s money.

Q6. Less than half of Wakefield’s children managed to see an NHS dentist last year. My constituent Mr Faqirzai’s six-year-old daughter has never seen an NHS dentist. She has 10 teeth that are black with decay and is often crying in pain. Her father feels helpless. He has called every dentist in Wakefield for a place but has not managed to secure one. More than 25% of five-year-olds in Wakefield already have visible tooth decay, so when will the Prime Minister stop dithering and take action to address our national dental emergency? (902917)

I am very sorry to hear about the case raised by the hon. Gentleman, and I am happy to look into that specific one more closely. As I said in answer to an earlier question, we have recently reformed the NHS dentistry contract, and the hundreds of millions of pounds more funding and more dentists should make a difference around the country, but I will write to him on that specific case.

Scotland’s oil and gas industry supports 90,000 Scottish jobs, but yesterday Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP Government published plans calling for the shutdown of the industry as fast as possible and an end to new exploration. These plans are naive and reckless and were previously described by the SNP leader in this House as “crazy”. Will the Minister reaffirm his support for Scotland’s oil and gas workers and the future of our industry?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We know that we will have to rely on hydrocarbons for decades to come as we transition to net zero, and consuming oil and gas from the North sea means less than half the carbon footprint of importing that same oil and gas, so it obviously makes sense to do it here and in the process support tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland. I can reassure him that the Scottish oil and gas industry has this Government’s wholehearted support.

Q7. The Tory crisis in the NHS includes ophthalmology, the largest and busiest out-patient service. There are more than 650,000 people waiting to see an eye care specialist. Will the Prime Minister back my Bill calling for a national eye health strategy that would ensure that nobody waiting to see a specialist will go without, potentially leading to a complete loss of sight? (902918)

I thank the hon. Lady for her campaigning in this area. We are taking action to improve things. Over the past five years the National Institute for Health and Care Research has invested more than £100 million to support research into eye conditions, but I know there is more we can do and my hon. Friend the Minister is, I believe, sitting down to talk to the hon. Lady in due course. I look forward to hearing about those conversations.

Today, I and others met Sebastien Lai, the son of Jimmy Lai—the ex-owner of Apple Daily who languishes in prison. I remind my right hon. Friend that Jimmy Lai is a British citizen and a British passport holder, and he now faces a trial at the end of the year in which, under the new national security laws, he can be incarcerated for life. And for what? For publishing truth to power.

Will my right hon. Friend please direct his Government, particularly the Foreign Office, to warn the Chinese Government, as the Americans have already done, with the threat that if they persist, the use of common law in Hong Kong will be taken away?

My right hon. Friend speaks with authority, and I thank him for his continued engagement on this critical issue. He knows the actions we have already taken with regard to Hong Kong, not least providing refuge for hundreds of thousands of people and being robust in standing up to what we believe to be Chinese aggression and the undermining of the settlement that we fought so hard to achieve. He has my absolute assurance that I will remain robustly engaged, and I look forward to sitting down with him to discuss this particular issue in more detail as soon as possible.

Q8. Half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or at their place of study. The Government’s own figures show that 41% of them say their perpetrator faced no consequences. Thanks to cross-party and Government support, my private Member’s Bill, which has now passed through Committee, will bring about a culture change to protect workers from harassment and sexual harassment, both from fellow employees and from third-party individuals. Will the Prime Minister join me in celebrating the cross-party work on this important change in the law and, by personally supporting its aims and objectives, will he ensure its continued safe passage through Parliament? (902919)

I thank the hon. Lady for her important work on this issue. Sexual harassment has absolutely no place in the workplace. Everyone should feel safe at work. Of course, we need to make sure that legislation does not have unintended consequences, but I know she is meeting my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities to discuss the Bill further. I look forward to hearing about the progress in that meeting.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the disgusting antisemitic, anti-vax conspiracy theories promulgated online this morning are not only deeply offensive but anti-scientific and have no place in this House or in our wider society?

I join my right hon. Friend in completely condemning, in the strongest possible terms, the types of comments we saw this morning. Obviously, it is utterly unacceptable to make such linkages and to use such language, and I am determined that the scourge of antisemitism be eradicated. It has absolutely no place in our society. I know the previous few years have been challenging for the Jewish community, and I never want them to experience anything like that again.

Q15. My 95-year-old constituent spent 41 hours in A&E. When will the Prime Minister admit that the NHS is collapsing because of 13 years of underfunding and do something about it, instead of blaming the nurses who are striking to save it? (902926)

First, I am very sorry to hear about the experience of the hon. Lady’s elderly constituent. My sympathies go out to her, but this is not about blaming anybody. This is about recognising that the NHS, whether in Scotland, in Wales—where it is run by the Labour party—or here in England, is facing pressure as we recover from the pandemic. The right thing to do is to have a clear plan in place to work with doctors and nurses to ease that pressure. That is what we are focused on doing, and that is what our plan will deliver.