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Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2023

I am delighted that we are joined today by a delegation from Kyiv. This coming Friday there will be a national moment of reflection, which will give us the opportunity to pay tribute to the courage of the Ukrainian people and demonstrate our solidarity with Ukraine. 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.

I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about the bravery of the Ukrainian people. Labour has asked his Government on three occasions to commit to a police response to every domestic abuse call. To date, no answer has been forthcoming. Can the Prime Minister provide a response today?

Just this week we announced new measures to tackle violence against women and girls. This is the Government that introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which is rolling out specialist advisers for those who suffer and putting in more funding to support victims. We will continue to do everything we can to make sure that women and girls are safe everywhere in our country.

Q2. The warm welcome given to Ukrainian refugees by so many is extremely heartwarming. Does the Prime Minister understand, though, how upset my constituents are to have had bookings for weddings and other special family events cancelled when the Home Office took over a much-loved hotel, and will he redouble his efforts to put an end to that practice? (903599)

My hon. Friend’s constituents and indeed the whole country can be proud of the welcome they have given to people from Ukraine over the last year. I can assure him we are committed to reducing the number of asylum seekers living in hotels at vast cost to taxpayers and considerable disruption to communities. I am grateful to the leadership of the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister in finding a sustainable solution; the Home Secretary will make a formal update in the coming weeks on progress in standing up alternative sites for accommodation.

I join the Prime Minister in his comments on Ukraine. I had the privilege last week of seeing first-hand the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people. We must continue to stand united in this House in support of Ukraine. The thoughts of the whole House, and I am sure the whole country, will also be with the family of Nicola Bulley at this very difficult time. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Ashley Dalton) to her first PMQs.

The Labour party is proud to be the party of the Good Friday agreement and peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. We welcome attempts to make the protocol work more effectively. Does the Prime Minister agree that it has been poorly implemented, and that the basis for any deal must be removing unnecessary checks on goods?

Let me welcome the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Ashley Dalton) to her place, and associate myself with the remarks of the right hon. and learned Gentleman about Nicola Bulley’s family. Our thoughts are, of course, with them.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we are still in active discussions with the European Union, but he should know that I am a Conservative, a Brexiter and a Unionist, and any agreement that we reach needs to tick all three boxes. It needs to ensure sovereignty for Northern Ireland, it needs to safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in our Union, and it needs to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses. I will be resolute in fighting for what is best for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

We all agree that the protocol can be improved, but there are trade-offs and we need to face up to them. The Prime Minister’s predecessor told businesses that there would be

“no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind”.

That was absolute nonsense and it destroyed trust. In the interests of restoring that trust, will the Prime Minister confirm that to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, the deal he is negotiating is going to see Northern Ireland continue to follow some EU law?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is jumping ahead. We are still in intensive discussions with the European Union to ensure that we can find an agreement that meets the tests that I set. Those are sovereignty for Northern Ireland; Northern Ireland’s place in our precious Union; and to find practical solutions to the problems faced by people and businesses. I have spent time engaging and listening to those communities, businesses and political parties in Northern Ireland. I have a good understanding of what is required, and I will keep fighting until we get it.

The Prime Minister is biting his tongue, but at some point the irreconcilables on his Benches are going to twig, and they are going to come after him. The former trade Minister says there can be no role for the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland. Will the Prime Minister be honest with them, and tell them that is not going to happen?

Again, we need to keep going to secure an acceptable agreement. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking about a deal that he has not even seen, that we are still negotiating and that is not finalised. It is his usual position when it comes to the European Union—give the EU a blank cheque and agree to anything it offers. It is not a strategy; that is surrender.

It is not my questions he is avoiding; it is Conservative Members’ questions he is avoiding. The Prime Minister’s predecessors wasted months pushing the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. If implemented, it would tie us up in battles with the EU, the United States and others, at precisely the time we should be building common ground to boost our economy and show unity against Putin. The Prime Minister clearly wants a closer relationship with the EU, so can he confirm that if there is a deal he will pull the protocol Bill?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to put the EU first; I want to put Northern Ireland first. On these questions, he said he would respect the result of the referendum, and then he promised to back a second one. All the while he was constantly voting to frustrate Brexit. I know what the British people know: on this question, he cannot be trusted to stick up for Britain—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker, the sound you hear is Conservative Members cheering the Prime Minister pulling the wool over their eyes. It is the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement and the 30th anniversary of the Downing Street declaration. Tony Blair and John Major both recognised that politics in Northern Ireland is built on trust, not telling people what they want to hear, and on the need to take seriously the concerns of both communities—nationalists and Unionists. It is vital their voices are heard. Can the Prime Minister confirm that whatever deal he brings back, this House will get a vote on it?

Of course Parliament will express its view, but what is crucial here is that this is not about the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s desire to play political games with this situation in this House; it is about what is best for the people and communities of Northern Ireland, and that is what I will keep fighting for.

I take it from that that this House will get a vote, and I look forward to that vote in due course. Everyone knows that the basis of this deal has been agreed for weeks, but it is the same old story: the country has to wait while the Prime Minister plucks up the courage to take on the malcontents, the reckless and the wreckers on his own Benches. I am here to tell him that he does not need to worry about that, because we will put country before party and ensure that Labour votes to get it through. He should accept our offer and ignore the howls of indignation from those on his side who will never take yes for an answer. Why does he not just get on with it?

What I am doing is talking and listening to the people of Northern Ireland. That is the right thing to do—to make sure that we can respond to and resolve the concerns of the Unionist communities and businesses in Northern Ireland—and that is what I will keep doing.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about his plans, and we have heard that tomorrow he is going to announce five missions, but we already know what they are. They are uncontrolled immigration, reckless spending, higher debt, softer sentences; and the fifth pledge, as we all know, is that he reserves the right to change his mind on the other four.

Q4. Last year, the coroner determined that content promoting self-harm and suicide which was promoted to Molly Russell contributed to her death, but they were able to make that determination only after years of campaigning by the Russell family and coroners to gain access to that information. Does the Prime Minister agree that other families should not have to suffer as the Russell family have suffered, and that data relevant to the death of a child should be more readily available both to families and to the coroner service? (903601)

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Russell family for their tireless and dignified campaigning on behalf of all families who have been bereaved in such tragic circumstances. Coroners already have statutory powers to require evidence to be given or produced for the purposes of their investigation, but the Government are listening carefully to the concerns of parliamentary colleagues and to bereaved families. The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology are leading those discussions to ensure that we have the right set of procedures in place.

Wholesale gas prices have fallen by 75% since their peak, yet in just a matter of weeks the British Government—the Westminster Government—intend to increase energy bills by a further £500. What would motivate a Prime Minister to do such a thing?

What we are doing is providing tens of billions of pounds of support for people with their energy bills, particularly the most vulnerable. What we are also doing—opposed by the SNP—is investing in producing more home-grown gas here in the UK and the North sea. I notice that one of the hon. Gentleman’s own Members of Parliament said this week that if the SNP were a pizza company, its products would be slow, wrong and costly. I say to him that it is time to focus on the issues that matter to the people of Scotland, and producing more energy is absolutely one of them.

I am not sure that implying that energy bills do not matter to the people of Scotland is a winning strategy for this Prime Minister. Let us get real: the fact that wholesale gas prices have fallen by 75% means a windfall to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of around £15 billion, so what they are saying is that they intend to raid the pockets of ordinary Scots while lining the pockets of Westminster. It is time to set aside any notion of an energy price increase, but instead to protect households and perhaps to reduce bills by £500. Does the Prime Minister not agree?

We are saving households across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland, £900 on their energy bills as a result of our energy bills guarantee. In the coming years, we will spend £12 billion protecting particularly the most vulnerable families and pensioners across the United Kingdom. But the best way to reduce people’s bills is to halve inflation, as we have promised to do, and to produce more home-grown energy here in the United Kingdom. That is something that this Government support; maybe the hon. Gentleman could confirm whether the SNP supports it.

Q5. The Prime Minister will be well aware of the dogged campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) for a rebuild of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn. That hospital is constructed from failing aerated concrete, and its ceilings are now supported by more than 3,000 wooden and metal props. Is the Prime Minister also aware of the strength of feeling locally in support of the rebuild, not just in North West Norfolk, but in Broadland, North Norfolk, Norwich North, Mid Norfolk, South West Norfolk, Huntingdon, North West Cambridgeshire and South Holland and the Deepings, whose populations are all served by that hospital? Will he support our campaign? (903602)

I thank my hon. Friend and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild), because I know that they are great supporters of this project. I know that over the last year or so the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has been allocated over £50 million to address the most immediate issues at the site. I also know that they have expressed their interest in being part of the new hospital programme—the Department of Health and Social Care is looking through all those bids. My hon. Friend will know that I cannot comment on specific bids, but the selected hospitals will be announced in due course.

I thank the Prime Minister for his efforts in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol. It is unacceptable that Northern Ireland has been put in this place, with a protocol imposed upon us that harms our place in the United Kingdom. It must be replaced with arrangements that are acceptable and that restore our place in the United Kingdom and its internal market. Does he accept how important the constitutional and democratic issues are in relation to getting a solution? Does he agree that it is unacceptable that EU laws are imposed on Northern Ireland with no democratic scrutiny or consent? Will he assure me that he will address those fundamental constitutional issues, not just by tweaking the protocol but by rewriting the legally binding treaty text?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and for the role that he has played in recent months in articulating Unionists’ concerns. I have heard him loud and clear when he says that he wants and needs those issues resolved so that he has a basis to work with others to restore power sharing, and I know that that is genuine. He raises the question of practical issues, and it is vital that those are addressed. But he also raises a vital question about the constitutional and legal framework in which those arrangements exist. I can assure him that I agree: addressing the democratic deficit is an essential part of the negotiations that remain ongoing with the European Union. Just as he has been consistent, so have I, and I can assure him that that is at the very heart of the issues that must be addressed.

Q8. The Prime Minister has made fixing illegal immigration across the channel one of his key top priorities. He has also said that legislation will be required to stop it, and I completely agree. So can he tell us when we can expect to see that legislation come forward—because time is of the essence—and can he explain why sorting out this issue did not feature in the Home Office permanent secretary’s stated top three priorities for his Department? (903608)

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She is right: illegal crossings put people’s lives at risk, divert resources away from those in genuine need, and are unfair on those who migrate here legally. That is why one of our five pledges to the British people is to stop the boats. We are working at pace on the legislation—it is important that it works—and in the meantime, our deals with Albania and France are already yielding benefits. What I can tell her is that we want a system whereby if someone arrives in our country illegally, they will not be able to stay. Instead, they will be detained and removed to a country that they come from or to a safe third alternative. That is a system that the Home Secretary and I are working hard to put in place, and that is what our legislation will deliver.

Q3. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s policies, we are now afflicted with the highest tax burden and the biggest drop in disposable income since the second world war. To make matters worse, tens of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was wasted on a “world-beating” test and trace system and personal protective equipment that was not fit for purpose—not to mention the endless list of crony covid contracts that went to Tory chums who profiteered from other people’s misery. When will he help us to recover some of that lost money, so that striking nurses, teachers and other public servants can be paid the decent wage that they so richly deserve? (903600)

I am pleased that the Government are in intensive talks with the Royal College of Nursing to find a way forward. As I have always said, we are keen to discuss the terms and conditions, and I am glad that those conversations are now happening. If the hon. Gentleman really cares about the impact on working people, perhaps he and his party should stand up to their union paymasters and back our minimum service laws.

Q11. I thank the Prime Minister for supporting the launch of the new regulatory reform group. Will he commit to working with our group on two specific areas: first, to improve the accountability and responsiveness of our regulators to stakeholders and Parliament; and secondly, to improve the economic potential in key growing areas of the economy, such as financial services, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing? (903611)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and he is right about the importance of getting our regulatory framework right in order to drive growth and prosperity. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out an extensive review of retained EU law in five key growth areas, including life sciences, green industries and digital technology. The Government’s chief scientific adviser is also leading work to consider how the UK can better regulate emerging technologies to enable their rapid and safe introduction.

Q6. It was a pleasure to meet the delegation from Kyiv before Question Time and to confirm that hon. Members across the House are united in our support for Ukraine and its brave heroes. The Conservative manifesto promised 40 new hospitals, but after three years most do not even have planning permission yet. Communities feel betrayed and taken for granted. As ITV showed yesterday, St Helier Hospital in south London is literally crumbling, but there is still no plan to save it, and Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire has sewage leaking into its wards and a roof that could collapse at any moment. Does the Prime Minister agree that no patients, doctors or nurses should have to put up with those conditions? Can he tell the House—[Interruption.] (903603)

I am proud that we are investing record sums into the NHS under this Government, including record sums into NHS capital, which are going on not only upgrading almost 100 hospitals and developing 40 large-scale developments, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, but investing in more scanners and more ambulances across the board so that we can deliver vital care to people. I am very pleased that the most recent statistics on urgent emergency care show considerable improvement from the challenges we faced in December, and we are now on a clear path to getting people the treatment they need in the time they need it.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to tackling illegal migration, particularly the issue of small boats. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the Government’s proposal to relocate approximately 500 single male asylum seekers to Beaconside in Stafford? Will he meet me urgently to discuss it, given the huge number of objections that I have received from constituents on the issue?

First, I welcome my hon. Friend back to her place. I know that this issue concerns her and her constituents, which is why we must absolutely stop the boats and stem the tide of illegal migrants to relieve this pressure on our local communities. I will ensure that she meets the Home Secretary as soon as possible to discuss her concerns—hopefully we can arrange that meeting in the coming days.

Q7.   This month, the Scottish child payment marks its two-year anniversary. In a cost of living crisis, that policy has been a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland. Will the Prime Minister therefore follow the leadership of the Scottish Government by introducing an equivalent child payment? (903604)

The best way to ensure that children do not grow up in poverty is to make sure that they do not grow up in a workless household. That is why I am proud that, under the record of the Conservative Government, there are almost 1 million fewer children growing up in workless households and hundreds of thousands fewer children in poverty. That is because this Government are on the side of parents and will make sure that they have the jobs they need, because ultimately the best poverty strategy is to have everybody in work.

Mr Speaker, I have previously called out in this House the appalling level of service that my constituents and yours receive from train operator TransPennine. Last month, TransPennine had the largest number of cancellations of any service provider in the UK, but it turns out that even that figure was fiddled, because TransPennine had cancelled over 1,000 trains before 10.30 the night before so that they would not show up in the statistics. Does the Prime Minister agree that this practice is totally unacceptable, as is TransPennine’s level of service?

I agree with my right hon. Friend: the current service levels are unacceptable. The Rail North partnership, which is managing the contract, is working with the company on an improvement plan. The Rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), is having weekly meetings with the Rail North partnership to monitor its progress, and although the TransPennine contract expires in May and we are working on a new contract, if Ministers conclude that the operator cannot be turned around, other decisions may have to be made.

Q9. Of the 40 promised new hospitals referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), 11 are in the south-west of England. Three of them—in Barnstaple, Dorchester and Taunton—surround my constituency, but none has planning permission. It has been reported that staff at Eastbourne District General Hospital were told that their town would not get a new hospital, and that it was a “barefaced lie”. Given that the Prime Minister claims his mandate rests on a manifesto that promised 40 new hospitals, when will we see them? (903609)

The Government are committed to building 40 new hospitals as part of the new hospital programme. In the south-west, eight out of the 11 schemes do have full outline planning permission approved, and the remaining three schemes would not be expected to have planning permission at this stage, due to when they are due to be delivered. We are working with the trust to go through that process, so everything is on track, and we will bring those hospitals to the people in the south-west.

I am grateful for the £3 million that the Government have sent to Wolverhampton to trial the new Better Health app, which will support Wulfrunians to make better choices about their diet and fitness. Will the Prime Minister welcome this, and also celebrate our grassroots sports clubs in Wolverhampton, especially Wednesfield Aces cycle speedway club, which celebrated its diamond jubilee last year?

I join my hon. Friend in commending all her local sporting organisations for the job they do. She is absolutely right that prevention is better than cure, and ensuring that we can support people to live healthy, fulfilling lives is absolutely part of our plan. That is why we are investing in football pitches, tennis courts and youth facilities right up and down the country, and I am glad that my hon. Friend’s constituents are benefiting.

Q10. Not only have the Government broken their promises on new hospitals; they have also broken their pledge to have 6,000 more doctors, with the number of qualified GPs having actually fallen. GPs in Shropshire are seeing 400 more patients each than they were in 2016, which is one of the biggest rises in the country. Places across the country—East Sussex, Devon, Cambridgeshire and Hampshire—have also seen their number of qualified GPs fall. When will the Prime Minister end his and the Government’s neglect of local health services, and recruit and retain the GPs we need? (903610)

The facts are these: there are 2,200 more GPs in general practice today, there are 15,000 more doctors in the NHS, and there are 30,000 more nurses. That is because we are putting record funding in, backing the NHS and getting patients the care that they need.

I commend my right hon. Friend for grasping the nettle and seeking to negotiate an agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol. Does he share my frustration with the expressed views of people who are commenting on a deal that has yet to be reached, and does he agree that the best way to reduce or even end the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union is through treaty change itself, not through domestic legislation in this Parliament?

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right that we need to keep going, but he is also right that we need to find enduring solutions to the challenges faced by the people of Northern Ireland. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) mentioned earlier, it is absolutely right that we address the constitutional and legal framework of our arrangements and ensure that we can put in place new arrangements that secure Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

Q12. The Prime Minister is no stranger to paying fines. The £2.3 billion he paid last week to the EU after the UK Government allowed Chinese fraudsters to flood Europe with cheap goods is the worst waste of public money. My question is simple: if he can find £2.3 billion to pay a fine, why can he not pay NHS workers and others the pay increases they deserve? (903612)

The hon. Gentleman may not have seen that the Royal College of Nursing is now in talks with the Government about resolving the disputes, and I am grateful to it for entering those talks with a constructive attitude, and for calling off its strikes next week. I urge him and his colleagues to be on the side of working people—that is, to back our laws to introduce minimum safety levels across the NHS and transport, because that is the best way to demonstrate you are on the side of hard-working families.

I wholeheartedly support my Prime Minister’s priority of stopping the boats, so can he please bring in the small boats Bill next week?

I thank my hon. Friend for his support. I share the same desire to stop the boats, for all the reasons we have discussed. He should rest assured that the Home Secretary and I are working intensely and as quickly as possible to bring forward that legislation, because I want what he wants: to ensure that those people who come here illegally will simply not be allowed to stay.

During recess, my community in Warrington was rocked by the murder of 16-year-old schoolgirl Brianna Ghey. What support will the Prime Minister offer to our community, and to our local schools, so that they can support Brianna’s classmates and her family as we try to heal from this appalling tragedy?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue, and express my sympathies to Brianna’s family and friends for what has happened. I know the hon. Lady will be playing her part in her local community in supporting them at this difficult time. I know that the Home Secretary is shortly due to visit the area, and she will be able to discuss with the hon. Lady what support can be provided for the community at this time, and she should know that she will have what she needs from the Government.

I cannot ask the Prime Minister to stop time or tide, but I might ask him to offset their effects, because in south Devon, the Slapton line is being eroded away, and I need him to help me lobby the Department for Transport and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to see that we get the repairs done. Natural England is standing in the way and stopping us from doing what we need to do for this vital link. Will he support me?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic campaigner and advocate for his constituents. I know that this particular issue is causing frustration and concern in his community. He is absolutely right to raise it, and I will ensure that he gets the appropriate meetings he needs with the Ministers in question, so that we can work with him to try to find a resolution.