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Volume 731: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2023

The UK will continue to work to end the bloodshed in Sudan and to support a democratic Government. We have begun a large-scale evacuation of British nationals, and I pay tribute to all those carrying out this complex operation.

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.

Yesterday, the Opposition grabbed a crude headline about teaching boys to have respect for women—an important issue, as I am sure the Prime Minister will agree—but given that the Leader of the Opposition apparently does not know what a woman is, that he will not stand up to defend women in his own party who voice views on women’s rights and that, according to his own Front Bench, he failed to prosecute rapists when he was Director of Public Prosecutions, does my right hon. Friend think the Labour party is in any position to teach anyone about respect for women? And is irony dead?

Order. I will call the Prime Minister but, in fairness, he is not responsible for answering for the Opposition.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Leader of the Opposition’s record on women is questionable at best. Before Labour starts preaching about this issue, it should work out the answer to one very simple question. I am certain what a woman is. Is he?

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the brave British personnel involved in the evacuation effort from Sudan. The Government must do everything in their power to urgently evacuate UK nationals still trapped in Sudan.

Yesterday, George Osborne said that the Tory party’s handling of the economy makes them “vandals”. He is right, isn’t he?

While we are in the business of quoting former Chancellors and shadow Chancellors, I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition saw yesterday’s remarks by a former Labour shadow Chancellor, who said that our country has faced four once-in-a-century shocks or threats to our economy, and that the fact we have come through that is “a triumph”.

The former Chancellor not only said that they are a bunch of Tory vandals but that the country has faced a “self-induced financial crisis”. That is those vandals. They like to pretend it was all just one week of madness last autumn, but the truth is that it has been 13 years of failure. Real wages—the money in people’s pockets—have fallen by £1,600 per household, and the Prime Minister’s response was to impose 24 Tory tax rises in three years. How on earth does he think his low-growth, high-tax economy is working for working people?

Because of the action we have taken on the national living wage, which is at record levels, on pensions, on universal credit and on yesterday’s generous cost of living payments, almost 8 million households are receiving direct support from this Conservative Government. We are supporting working people. Just this week, in the other place, we have seen the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s party side with protesters and picketers. He should try backing working people.

People are £1,600 worse off. I am genuinely fascinated to know: does the Prime Minister really think that everything is fine? Or is he just clueless about life outside his bubble?

Because of the actions we have taken—[Interruption.] Well, let us just go over it. A single mother working full time on the national living wage this year will get £1,300 more support from this Government. A working couple on a low income with two children will get £1,800. That is what delivering for working Britain looks like. But if the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any actual ideas for the economy, he should say so, because all I hear from the party opposite is more spending, more borrowing, higher inflation and higher interest rates. It is the same old Labour party.

This is Mr 24 Tax Rises; I have never heard anything so out of touch as the answer that he has just given. It is not just about his refusal to take any responsibility for the damage the Conservatives have done through the crashed economy and the hit to living standards; it is also that he refuses to take the action that is needed. He could stop the handouts he is giving to oil and gas giants. He could scrap his beloved non-dom status. He could put that money back in the hands of working people and get the NHS back on its feet. That is what a Labour Government would do. Why doesn’t he do it?

The record is clear. Look at it right now: record numbers of people in work, inequality lower, the number of people in poverty lower, and the lowest numbers on record for those in low pay.[Official Report, 27 April 2023, Vol. 731, c. 8MC.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about this non-dom thing. I think he has already spent the money that he claims he would raise on five different things, because it is the same old Labour party: they are always running out of other people’s money. [Interruption.]

Order. We had enough of this last week and I am certainly not having this continuous noise. Just be aware that somebody will be going for that cup of tea today.

The Prime Minister calls it “this non-dom thing”. Let us be honest about what his refusal to scrap the non-dom status means. It means that at every possible opportunity he has voted to put taxes up on working people, while at the same time taking every possible opportunity to protect a tax avoidance scheme that helps his own finances. Why is the Prime Minister telling people across the country that their taxes must go up so that his can stay low?

The facts are these: the very wealthiest pay more tax and the poorest pay less tax today than they did in any year under the last Labour Government, and we have also boosted the national living wage, universal credit and pensions. Let us look at the rank hypocrisy of it. As we saw last week, when it comes to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s own special pension scheme—I said it last week, but I will say it again—it is literally one law for him and a tax rise for everybody else.

Here is the difference: I would scrap the Prime Minister’s pension giveaway whether it affected me or not. He refuses to scrap the non-dom status that benefits him and his family. I can see why he is attracted to “this non-dom thing”. This Prime Minister is so removed from the country that he boasted that he did not know a single working-class person, so insulated from reality that he proudly told a Tory garden party how he had moved money from poorer areas and handed it to rich ones, and so out of touch that he looks at a petrol pump and a debit card like they have just arrived from Mars. Is it any wonder that he smiles his way through the cost of living crisis while putting other people’s taxes up? Is it any wonder that he doesn’t have a clue how food prices are hammering families across the country? And is it any wonder that under him people are paying more and more, and getting less and less?

Let us look at what has happened just this week to see where Labour Members have put themselves. On Monday, in the other place, they decided to side with extremist protesters. Just yesterday, they sided with polluters—[Interruption.] And tonight, we will see them siding with the people smugglers. Meanwhile, we are in the business of sending back the 1,000 illegal migrants from Albania, we delivered cost of living payments to millions of households just yesterday, and today we have announced that we have put 20,000 more police officers on the street. We are siding with the British people, Mr Speaker. That is what a Conservative Government do.

Q3. Sixty years ago, Golborne Urban District Council wrote to the Government about the urgent need for a bypass for my constituency of Leigh. Forty years ago, the central section of that bypass, the Atherleigh Way, was constructed, but to this day the bypass remains unfinished, leading to daily gridlock in some areas of the community. Will the Prime Minister support my proposals to complete the Atherleigh Way, and will he meet me to discuss them further so that we can get Leigh moving again? (904686)

I commend my hon. Friend for his campaigning on this issue. I know that there have been a number of proposals for road improvements in his area. He will know that it is for the local highway authority to develop those plans, but I know that a meeting is planned in June to move proposals forward and that he will take his energy and enthusiasm for his campaign to that meeting. I wish him well.

Will the Prime Minister outline the safe and legal route available to a child refugee seeking to flee Sudan and come to the United Kingdom?

As I outlined earlier, our priority in Sudan first and foremost was to evacuate our diplomats and their families, and I am pleased to say that we were one of the first countries to be able to do so. Since yesterday, we have been conducting a large-scale evacuation of British nationals. We have some of the largest numbers of British nationals on the ground and, rightly, as I am sure the whole House will agree, it is reasonable, legal and fair to prioritise the most vulnerable families, particularly those with elderly people, people with medical conditions and children. That is what we are in the process of doing, and I pay tribute to all those who are making it possible.

To be clear, and I think everyone in the House is aware of this, children in Sudan are already dying. Whether it is a Tory slogan to stop the boats or a Labour slogan to stop small boats, we need more humanity in this debate, rather than the race to the bottom that we see here today. Now that the Prime Minister has confirmed that there is no safe and legal route, will he confirm that it would therefore be his Government’s intention to detain and deport a child refugee who flees Sudan and comes to the United Kingdom?

In fact, because of the efforts of our aid teams, we have invested almost £250 million in humanitarian support in Sudan over the past five years. The hon. Gentleman always does this, but this country has a proud record of compassionately supporting those who need our assistance. Just over the past few years, we have welcomed almost half a million vulnerable people to our country, including many children. We want to make sure that we continue with that compassion, which is why it is precisely right that we make sure that our system is not exploited by those coming here illegally, and that is what our Bill will deliver.

Q5. Liberal Democrat-run Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council does not have an up-to-date local plan, so every day that goes by, we have speculative housing applications that put pressure on the infrastructure, such as GP surgeries, schools and roads. Locally, the Lib Dems say that it is due to the Government’s 300,000 target, yet the Lib Dems have a target of 380,000. Will the Prime Minister change the law to ensure that communities such as Burbage, Barwell, Markfield and Market Bosworth get the infrastructure and protection they need for the houses that we need? (904688)

My hon. Friend is right to point out the hypocrisy of the local Liberal Democrats on that and to highlight the issue locally. The new infrastructure levy gives local areas the power to deliver the local infrastructure that he supports and wants for his area. He is also absolutely right to point out the importance of a local plan. Having a local plan is precisely what gives communities the power to ensure that development in their area happens the way they want it to, and the council is failing in its duty to do that for its communities by not putting forward the local plan.

Incredibly, any traveller wanting to go by train from north to south Wales has to go via England. Linking Wales north to south would cost £2 billion. The Prime Minister talks about running away with other people’s money, but his Government are depriving Wales to the tune of £6 billion by ruling that north-south England rail links such as HS2 somehow benefit Wales. Will he plead guilty to the great Welsh train robbery?

The right hon. Lady knows how transport matters are handled in Wales. We always want to work co-operatively with the Welsh Government to see where we can deliver jointly for people in Wales. We are actually investing record sums in communities up and down Wales through the levelling-up fund and the community ownership fund. We are happy to continue those conversations and many of those are transport projects. Hopefully, she will join me in saying that what the people of Wales do not need is the Labour Welsh Government’s plan to ban all building of new roads.

Q9.   Will the Prime Minister back our local plans to reopen our much-loved Malvern Hills College, and does he agree that Warwickshire College Group should negotiate the sale in good faith and not resort to using public money to sue our district council? (904692)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I of course recognise the valuable work that all colleges do in meeting local skills needs, and very much welcome local community groups working together to address gaps, as her local area is doing. My understanding is that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is in discussions with the college, and I know that my hon. Friend will continue making representations to her.

Q2. My constituent Ian Greenwood tragically lost his 12-year-old daughter in a road traffic collision that should never have happened. Ian is now campaigning for Leeds Vision Zero, which aims to end road deaths and serious injuries by 2040. We really have to make our roads much safer. Will the Prime Minister commit to giving local authorities sufficient funding to ensure that vehicle collisions can never take a young life again? (904685)

I am incredibly sorry to hear about the tragic loss of Ian’s daughter. Of course we should do everything we can to improve road safety. I know that at the moment we are doing an enormous amount, and the statistics show that it is improving, but we are always happy to look at where we can do more, and I know that the Transport Secretary will look into the suggestions the hon. Gentleman raises.

Q10. The village of Northop Hall in my constituency has about 1,000 residents. Last year, Northop Hall Hotel, on the edge of the village, was bought, and there are now proposals to house 400 single male migrants in the building and in shipping containers stacked around the grounds. The village has one small shop, no transport links and a health board in complete meltdown. Can the Prime Minister facilitate a meeting for me and some local residents with the Home Secretary to hear the concerns of the local residents, who are worried that the Government are just not listening to them? (904693)

The hon. Gentleman raises exactly why we need to take action, because it is not right that our local hotels in all our communities are being used to such a degree to house illegal asylum seekers, not least because it is costing the British taxpayer something like £5.5 million or £6 million a day. We want to put an end to that, which is why we are bringing forward legislation that will enable us to swiftly detain and send back those who should not be here. But I will make sure that he gets a meeting with the Immigration Minister as he needs.

Q4.   Trussell Trust figures out today show that its food banks gave out a record number of meals over the past year: nearly 3 million meals, 1 million of which went to children. The Prime Minister is fortunate that he is a wealthy man, but all these families want is to be able to put food on the table and feed their own children without having to resort to food banks. Does he think that is too much to ask? (904687)

As I have said previously, we absolutely do not want anyone to have to rely on a food bank but, while there are people who do use them, I am very grateful to all those who volunteer their time to make sure they are provided in their local communities. We have put substantial provision in place, not least the infant free school meals and broader free school meals, which are helping almost 2 million children, but also, last year, the investment in the holiday activity and food programme, which provides not just food but activities outside term time. We will continue to do everything we can to help those in low pay, which is why we are raising the national living wage to record levels, and I am pleased to say that the number of those living in poverty today is 2 million lower than when we first came into office.

Q11. E-cigarettes were introduced as stop-smoking devices, but remarkably cheap, brightly coloured vapes, with flavours such as unicorn milkshake, bubble-gum and green gummy bear, have proven remarkably attractive to children, hooking them to a lifetime of potentially harmful nicotine addiction. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to talk about how work across Government Departments can help stop our children becoming hooked on vapes, and will he back my ten-minute rule Bill to ban disposable vapes? (904694)

I commend my hon. Friend for her work in this area. I absolutely recognise the concern that she raises, both on the environmental impact of disposable vapes and on their appeal to children. The Department of Health and Social Care has announced a call for evidence to look at reducing youth vaping, including on vape appearance, flavours and marketing. We have also been clear that all electrical waste should be disposed of properly, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking actively at what changes in legislation might be needed to ensure that the vaping sector foots the bill for the collection and treatment of its used products.

Q6.   As we celebrate the lives of Lily Savage and Dame Edna Everage, Turning Point UK is planning to protest at a drag story time event in my constituency on Saturday for the third time this year. Those events are friendly, inclusive opportunities for children to hear a story and learn about equality. By contrast, Turning Point UK members seek to intimidate our young people. They share misleading images on social media implying that the events are inappropriate. Will the Prime Minister condemn Turning Point UK’s attempts to spread hatred and division in my constituency and across the country? (904689)

I am not aware of the specific allegations that the hon. Lady brings to light, but in general we should treat everybody with respect, understanding and compassion, and people should be allowed to gather and associate freely, within the bounds of the law. But, as we have said, it is important that the material that children are exposed to in classrooms is sensitive and age-appropriate, and that is why we are currently reviewing the relationships, sex and health education guidance.

Q13.   This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s first folio. Not only are his plays a central part of our national culture, but many people around the world see them as a beacon of hope in darkest times. I recently met Professor Nataliya Torkut, the director of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre, who told stories of actors, directors and scholars putting on Shakespeare plays in air raid shelters in Ukraine as an act of defiance against Russian aggression and bombs. Does the Prime Minister agree that, notwithstanding the sound and fury of domestic politics, we have in Shakespeare’s works a force for freedom in a world often dominated by the brutality and tyranny of oppressive regimes? (904696)

I join my hon. Friend in his comments. Coincidentally, one of the first gifts that I gave President Zelensky was an old copy of “Henry V”, so my hon. Friend’s comments are well made. We are training and arming the Ukrainian forces with the equipment that they need to push back Russian forces. I know that the whole House will join me in saying that the people of Ukraine’s incredible strength and inspiring bravery will ultimately defeat tyranny.

Q7. This month marks 23 years since the passing of the late, great Bernie Grant, a former Member of this House and the founder of the reparations movement in the UK. In the last Prime Minister’s questions before his death, he asked for an apology to the people of African descent, living and dead, for our country’s role in slavery and colonialism, but since then Prime Ministers and Heads of State have only ever expressed sorrow or deep regret—not sentiments befitting one of the greatest atrocities in human history—and there has been no acknowledgment of the wealth amassed or of the fact that our country took out its largest ever loan to pay off the slave owners and not the enslaved. Will the Prime Minister do what Bernie Grant asked all those years ago, and what I and countless others have asked since, by offering a full and meaningful apology for our country’s role in slavery and colonialism, and committing to reparatory justice? (904690)

No, what I think our focus should now be on doing, while of course understanding our history in all its parts and not running away from it, is making sure that we have a society that is inclusive and tolerant of people from all backgrounds. That is something that we on the Government Benches are committed to doing and will continue to deliver, but trying to unpick our history is not the right way forward and is not something we will focus our energies on.

Q14. The Prime Minister will recall his visit to Rugby to see our great work in delivering new homes and the new community of Houlton, where 1,000 of 6,000 homes are now occupied. Regrettably, urgent care services at our local Hospital of St Cross are not keeping pace with growth and, as a consequence, 80,000 of my constituents now live more than 15 minutes’ drive from a major A&E unit. Will the Prime Minister return to Rugby to see for himself the need to upgrade our emergency care provision? (904697)

It is vital that people can access the NHS services they need, and particularly emergency care, which is why we are investing an extra £1 billion of dedicated funding to support urgent and emergency care services. My hon. Friend will know that specific provision is a matter for local NHS commissioners and providers, because plans for those things need to be developed locally and take into account the expanding needs of local populations. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to engage with his local NHS trust to ensure that the views of his constituents and communities are well known and adequately provided for.

Q8. Every day, I meet constituents who are struggling to make ends meet, food banks are barely managing to meet the demand, and households and businesses up and down the country are struggling to meet their energy bills, yet the Bank of England has announced that it is likely once again to increase interest rates, which will affect the poorest the most and hike up mortgage rates again. After 13 years of Conservative government, does the Prime Minister agree with the Bank of England’s chief economist that the poorest should just accept being poorer? (904691)

We are doing an enormous amount to support those who most need our help with the cost of living and some of the pressures that they face on energy bills in particular. That is why we made the decision to tax the windfall profits of energy companies and use that money to help pay around half a typical family’s energy bills. That support is worth £1,500 and applies across the United Kingdom. On top of that, direct payments are going to the most vulnerable families in our society. Just yesterday the first of three payments went out, and that £300 went to one in three households, including many in Scotland. That is our Conservative Government delivering for the people of Scotland and making sure that they have the help they need to manage some of the pressures they are facing.

In Yorkshire, we say that a person should be judged by the company they keep. What is the Prime Minister’s view of an individual who can not only bear to spend more than 10 minutes in the presence of Vladimir Putin but refers to him as a “dear friend”?

I think our views on President Putin are well known. His illegal war in Ukraine has caused untold misery for many people. It has caused a humanitarian crisis and is still ongoing, in defiance of international condemnation and sanction. We will do everything we can to bring those responsible for war crimes to justice, continue to support Ukraine militarily, and make sure that we can support Ukrainians all the way to victory. I know the whole House is united in wanting that outcome.

Q12.   The Prime Minister will be aware that, given the chronic lack of capacity in the NHS, community pharmacies can help to deal with minor illnesses. But there is a problem: on average 10 pharmacies close every month in England. Will he take urgent action to prevent further closures and commission a properly funded “pharmacy first” service for minor illnesses? (904695)

There is rare agreement between the right hon. Gentleman and myself: I am a wholehearted champion of and believer in the role that community pharmacies can play. We want to make sure that they can do everything they can to ease some of the pressures in primary care. We are actively talking to the sector about that and will always continue to do everything we can to support community pharmacies. I know at first hand how respected they are in their communities, and I think they can do more for us over time.

After a 15-year break, Wrexham association football club is back in the English football league. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating everyone at the club, including the loyal supporters and the owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, and does he agree that Wrexham is no longer a neglected place but is quickly becoming a jewel in the crown of the United Kingdom?

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating everyone at Wrexham, from the owners to the players, the supporters and everyone in the community. It has been an incredible ride; we have all enjoyed watching them, and we wish them every future success. I join her in saying that they are indeed a jewel in the crown, and she deserves enormous credit for championing them in this place.

Q15. After an investigation ordered by the Prime Minister himself, a senior Conservative MP was found guilty of bullying—found guilty of behaviour that was “persistently aggressive” and “intimidating”. The MP in question then attempted to blame his victims, and a whole string of Conservative MPs queued up to defend him, suggesting that his conduct was not only acceptable but was actually good management practice. What does it say about the Prime Minister’s own values that he has done nothing to distance himself from those comments? (904698)

When formal complaints were made, I rightly initiated an independent investigation, and as soon as it reported, action was taken. That is the right thing to do—to follow due process, and then let the process play out—but I do think it is somewhat odd to be getting lectures on values right now from the SNP.