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Volume 732: debated on Wednesday 3 May 2023

I know that the House will join the nation and the Commonwealth in sending our very best wishes to Their Majesties, the King and Queen, ahead of the coronation. This will be a moment of extraordinary national pride, a demonstration of our country’s character and an opportunity to look to the future in the spirit of service, unity and hope.

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.

At Question Time last week, in column 725, the Prime Minister referred to

“record numbers of people in work”.—[Official Report, 26 April 2023; Vol. 731, c. 725.]

In fact, as he knows, the number of people in work at the moment is still less than it was just before the pandemic—122,792 less, according to the latest official figures. Will he reassure the House that he is not slipping into the bad ways of his predecessor but one, and will he properly correct the incorrect statement that he made last week?

That clarification has already been made in Hansard, but there are near record numbers of people in work and in payroll. That is thanks to the actions of this Government—a record of which we are very proud.

Q4. Non-compliant hand car washes seem like a cheap and quick way to have our cars washed but, unfortunately, behind this £1.8 billion industry is hidden money laundering, fraud, drug dealing, prostitution, labour abuse, modern-day slavery, tax avoidance and many other sinister crimes. An estimated half a billion pounds is lost in tax revenue. It is a pull factor for illegal migration and the pollutants often used damage the environment. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is time to step away from the voluntary scheme and have a mandatory scheme to protect people? (904764)

We expect all businesses to follow the law, including providing fair pay and working conditions for their employees. We are tackling exploitation in the labour market, especially by increasing funding for enforcement bodies to more than £35 million a year, and we will continue to keep the position of hand car washes under close review.

I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the coronation. Across the House, we are all looking forward to the celebrations this weekend.

Does the Prime Minister know how many mortgage payers are paying higher rates since the Tory party crashed the economy last autumn?

Our record on home ownership is crystal clear. Because of our tax cuts, 90% of first-time buyers now do not pay any stamp duty at all. Last year, we saw the largest number of people buying their first home in 20 years. That is a Conservative Government delivering on people’s aspirations to own their own home.

The question was how many people are paying more on their mortgages each month, and the answer that the Prime Minister avoided giving is 850,000. Nearly 1 million people are paying more on their mortgage each month because his party used their money as a casino chip. That is why George Osborne called them economic “vandals” who created a “self-inflicted financial crisis”—not for the Prime Minister and his “non-dom thing”, not for the super-wealthy that the Conservatives gave tax cuts to, but for mortgage holders all across the country. Does the Prime Minister know how many more people will be joining them on higher mortgage rates by the end of this year?

Thanks to the actions we are taking, the Bank of England is showing that public expectations of inflation have now eased to a 15-month low. Consumer confidence is at the highest level since Russia invaded Ukraine and, because of our stewardship of the public finances, we can see a clear way to reduce debt and bring interest rates down. The right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps up his habit of quoting former Chancellors. We know that our plans will deliver lower inflation and lower interest rates, but we know that his plans just mean more debt, “year after year after year”. Those are not my words, but the assessment of the former Labour shadow Chancellor.

The question was how many more people this year will be paying more on their mortgages. The answer, which the Prime Minister again avoided giving—he knows these answers; he has the stats there in front of him—is 930,000 people. I know they do not want to talk about it—that is why he will not answer the questions—but by the end of this year, nearly 2 million homeowners will be counting the cost of the Tories’ economic vandalism with every mortgage payment they make.

It is not just those who already own their home who are counting the cost of Tory recklessness. The average deposit for a first-time buyer is going up to £9,000. Does the Prime Minister even know how long it will take an average saver to put that sort of money aside?

That is why we have introduced a 95% mortgage guarantee scheme. It is why we are helping people in social housing to own their own home through our first homes and shared ownership schemes. Those things are working. As I said, last year we had a record number of first-time buyers, the highest number in 20 years. That was twice the number of first-time buyers that Labour ever managed. While Labour failed homeowners, the Conservatives are delivering for them.

Every week, whatever the topic, the Prime Minister stands there and pretends everything is fine across the country, and every week that he does so, he reinforces just how out of touch he is, because £9,000—[Laughter.] It is not “Ha, ha!”—would take four years. The Conservatives think it is funny that it would take four years for the average saver to save £9,000. To put it a different way, in terms the Prime Minister will understand, it is roughly the annual bill to heat his swimming pool. But for most people, four more years of scrimping is a hammer-blow to their ambitions. Now he is kicking them when they are down, because his decision to scrap housing targets is killing the dream of home ownership for a generation. Why does he not admit he got it wrong and reverse it?

I promised to put local people in control of new housing, and I am proud that that is what I delivered within six weeks of becoming Prime Minister. The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to impose top-down housing targets, concrete over the green belt and ride roughshod over local communities. Previously, he is on record as saying that local people and communities should have more power and more control. Now he has U-turned—just another in a long list of broken promises.

The only power the Prime Minister has given to local communities is not to build houses. We know why he will not change course; he admitted it last month: his councillors simply do not want to build the houses that local people need, so he has given them a way out. Picture the scene as he explains this to a family: mum and dad paying four grand extra on the mortgage because the Tories tanked the economy; their eldest paying hundreds more in rent; their youngest still stuck in the spare room because they need an extra £9,000 for a deposit. Then along comes the Prime Minister, who merrily tells them, “Sorry for crashing the economy—but we don’t want to talk about that. Sorry I can’t help you through house building, but my councillors do not like it. Oh, and before I go, here is a massive council tax increase for your troubles.” Why does he not stop the excuses, stop blaming everyone else, and just build some houses instead?

Our memories are not that short. We all know what happened when Labour was last in power: there was “no money left” for the country. Let us talk about the Labour record on house building. In London, the former Conservative Mayor built 60,000 affordable homes in his first five years in office. How many has the current Labour Mayor managed? Half of that. In Wales, we need 12,000 new homes a year. How many has Labour built in the last year? Half of that. As ever, Labour talks and the Conservatives deliver.

With debt doubled since 2010, growth down, tax up, the economy crashed, the Government are going to need a bigger note.

It is right that, week after week, we debate the issues in this place, but looking beyond the elections tomorrow, we also have a hugely significant weekend coming up, with the King’s coronation. For most, it will be the first time that they have seen a monarch crowned. I hope, as will Members across the House, that people across the country enjoy the ceremony, the street parties and, of course, the extra day off. Some 300 million people will tune in. The world will see our country at its best, celebrating the beginning of a new chapter in our history. But it will also be a reminder of the loss of our late Queen, Elizabeth II, and another chance to remember all that she gave our country through her dedicated service. Will the Prime Minister join me in honouring our late Queen and wishing the new King a long and happy reign?

As I said at the outset, we are all very much looking forward to the coronation. It will be a very special moment in the history of our country, and I know that we will join the country in celebrating it. But before we get to the coronation weekend, we have an important day tomorrow. The choice before the country is clear: when they go to the ballot box, they can see a party that stands for higher council tax, higher crime and a litany of broken promises; meanwhile, we are getting on with delivering on what we say, with lower council tax, lower crime and fewer potholes. The choice is clear: vote Conservative.

Q5.   Labour-run Kirklees Council has, as you know, Mr Speaker, reneged on a deal to house the national rugby league museum at the George hotel. It has also declared a climate emergency, but has one of the worst recycling rates in the country. It is building on green fields and now on green belt. It is demolishing Holmfirth indoor market. We are blighted by litter and fly-tipping. Now it is proposing to chop down mature trees in urban areas— (904765)

Order. Sit down a moment, Mr McCartney. I presume you are going to ask a question. You have made a great statement; now ask a quick question.

Does the Prime Minister agree that local people can have their say on Kirklees Council’s appalling record by voting Conservative this week?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is typical Labour: saying one thing and doing the other. It is only the Conservatives who will protect the green belt; the Labour party will concrete over it. That is why, in Kirklees and elsewhere, people should vote Conservative tomorrow.

In 2010, David Cameron convinced Nick Clegg to adopt his pledge on university tuition fees. Does the Prime Minister intend to take the credit for convincing the leader of the Labour party to do likewise?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. It is hard to keep up with the list of broken promises, but on tuition fees I will say that under this Government, a record number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university. That is because of the efforts we have made to put more money into supporting those people and communities to fulfil their aspirations, alongside fantastic new apprenticeships in every part of our country.

For the avoidance of any doubt, the Liberal Democrats do not believe in abolishing tuition fees, the Conservatives do not believe in abolishing tuition fees, and of course the Labour party, now having its own Nick Clegg moment, does not believe in abolishing tuition fees either. Is it not the case that the main Westminster parties do not offer young people any hope at all?

I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that, actually, somebody from a disadvantaged background is far more likely to go to university in England than they are in Scotland.

Q8.   The Conservative police and crime commissioner in Dorset has delivered 174 new police officers, quadrupled the rural crime team and made Dorset the sixth safest county. Given that recorded crime is 34% higher under Labour police and crime commissioners, does the Prime Minister agree that only Conservatives can be trusted to keep local communities safe and to make sure that offenders face the justice they deserve? (904768)

My hon. Friend is right. It is a simple statement of fact: crime is lower in areas that have Conservative police and crime commissioners. I am delighted that Dorset has been selected as one of the areas to pilot our new immediate justice scheme, which will deliver swift and visible punishment, so that victims of antisocial behaviour know it will be treated seriously and with all urgency.

This Government’s vile and immoral refugee ban Bill and the toxic language coming from the Home Office are not even dog-whistle politics; they are a giant hard-right foghorn, blasting out a poisonous “them and us” narrative. The Government plumbed new depths last week when the Minister for Immigration claimed that people trying to come to the UK

“tend to have completely different…values to those in the UK”.

Can the Prime Minister explain what he thinks is so different about the values held by the people of war-torn Sudan, and what values are preventing him from creating a Sudanese family visa scheme, like he did for the people of Ukraine?

This country has a proud history of welcoming almost half a million refugees over the past several years, and we will always continue to do so, but our ability to do that is absolutely hampered when we have tens of thousands of people illegally crossing the channel every year. It is precisely because we want to help the most vulnerable people, whether they be in Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan or elsewhere, that we must get a grip of the problem, break the cycle of the criminal gangs, and target our resources and compassion on those who most need them.

Q9. Thanks to this Conservative Government and £1.8 million from the brownfield land release fund, Conservative-led Solihull council is getting on with regenerating Kingshurst village centre, creating space for new businesses and new homes. When it comes to economic regeneration, none of the Opposition parties has a viable plan—not the Greens, not the Liberal Democrats and not the Labour party—and a Labour candidate has gone so far as to scare local people into thinking that the development will not go ahead, despite the spades in the ground. Does the Prime Minister agree that while the Opposition talk down opportunity and job creation, when it comes to investing in our community, it is only Conservative-led Solihull council that delivers for our people? (904769)

I agree with my hon. Friend and I am so glad to see the local Conservatives delivering for the people of Solihull, with dozens of new family homes, new flexible commercial space and a new integrated health, social care and community hub. As he says, it is clear that for his local area, only the Conservatives can deliver.

Q2. Mr Speaker, imagine seeing the car in front of you swerving erratically or braking suddenly for no reason, risking your car slamming into the back of it and endangering those daft enough not to wear seatbelts. These are not the actions of a drunk or reckless driver, but my constituent’s experience of using a Tesla in autopilot mode—software that is still in beta phase, but is deemed suitable for cars on our public roads. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the issues with Tesla’s autopilot, and will he instigate an urgent critical safety review of its suitability for operation and the licensing of it? (904762)

I am sorry to hear about what happened to the hon. Member’s constituent. I will ensure that he gets a meeting with the Transport Secretary to discuss the safe regulation of autonomous and self-driving vehicles.

Q11. Labour-run City of Lincoln Council has destroyed the 40-year reputation of our city’s Christmas market and the Christmas cheer that Lincoln benefits from annually. The dereliction of its role, in choosing to take the easiest option by cancelling the market behind closed doors and in secret, shows Labour’s neglect and disregard for small local businesses, charities and entrepreneurs, and for voters. Labour councillors in Lincoln should be ashamed of their actions, and have rightfully been likened to the Grinch. (904772)

Order. Mr Brennan, I do not need you shouting from the back row. I have always offered a cup of tea to Government Members, but there is equally an opportunity for you to take one.

Tomorrow, the people of Lincoln will have the chance to remove from office the anti-business socialist Scrooges and elect local Conservatives. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that for better-run local services—

Order. In fairness to the Prime Minister, I think the text went out, and I think he has got the answer. Come on, Prime Minister.

I share my hon. Friend’s disappointment that after a decision taken by the Labour-run council behind closed doors, there will no longer be a Christmas market in Lincoln, ending its 40 years of history. Lincoln deserves better, and I urge the people of the city to vote Conservative.

Q3. Ahead of tomorrow’s local elections, I have been campaigning in Medway and Swindon. The word on the doorstep is that people are ready for a change, and will be switching their votes from the Conservatives to Labour. However, I am concerned that only 4% of those without valid ID have applied online for a voter authority certificate. Will the Prime Minister commit to a post-election review of how many people have effectively been disenfranchised by his Government’s response to the virtually non-existent problem of voter fraud? (904763)

Mr Speaker, 98% of people already possess a suitable form of voter ID, and the Government made available free alternative ID for those who do not have it. The pilots have demonstrated that it has not significantly impacted turnout, and indeed, this was a policy that was introduced by the Labour party in Northern Ireland all those years ago. It is common in European countries, it is common in Canada, and it is absolutely right that we introduce it here too.

Q14.   Ever since being elected in 2019, I have been inundated with correspondence from my constituents in South West Hertfordshire, rightly complaining about huge speculative developments on our beautiful green-belt land. Lib Dem-controlled Three Rivers District Council continues to dither and to delay its local plan. Does the Prime Minister agree that the choice tomorrow is simple: vote Conservative to protect our green belt, or vote Lib Dem for massive developments on unspoilt land? (904775)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is always the same with Liberal Democrats, saying one thing and doing the other—we have all seen it. It is the Conservatives that are the party of local decisions taken by local people, and it is only the Conservatives that will protect the green belt.

Q6. Unable to secure an NHS dental appointment, my constituent Ray was forced to go private. It was then discovered that he had a large, aggressive tumour in his face and jaw, and 16 hours of gruelling surgery was required to remove it. If he had not been able to afford it, Ray might not be with us now. This is yet another chapter in the horror story that is the decay of dentistry on this Government’s watch, so does the Prime Minister accept that NHS dentistry is in crisis, and will he meet me and the British Dental Association to ensure that no one loses their life because they could not get a dental appointment—yes or no? (904766)

I am sorry to hear what happened to the hon. Lady’s constituent. That is why the NHS has recently reformed dental contracts to improve access. We now invest more than £3 billion a year, and there are more than 500 more dentists working in the NHS this year than last year. Discussions are ongoing between the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS around dentistry, and DHSC is planning to outline further reform measures in the near future.

Every single young person who gets on the housing ladder under a Conservative Government makes our communities more sustainable. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order to build the right type of housing and speed it up, we need to fund planning authorities properly through innovative funding?

My hon. Friend, as ever, makes an excellent point. That is why the reforms that we introduce will provide incremental resources to planning authorities to make sure that planning decisions can be taken quicker. Also, we have strengthened the ability of local communities to put in place local plans. That is the best way for our towns, cities and villages to have control over development in their area and to make sure that it happens in the way they are comfortable with, and I know he is supportive of that too.

Q7.   The recent ITV documentary, “Life and Debt: Stories from the Edge”, followed Halifax mum Izzy. Her prepayment energy bills have tripled, and she relies on a local primary school, Ash Green, which is providing free breakfasts, budget cooking classes and a hardship fund for its families. When headteacher Mungo Sheppard is asked whether he worries about the children at his school when he goes home at night, he says:“All the time. It never leaves you”. Does the Prime Minister think it is right that things are so bad that schools are having to become the fourth emergency service for the families they support? (904767)

Because of the actions we have taken, a typical family, including those like Izzy’s, will be seeing half of their energy bills paid for by the Government. That support is worth £1,500, and it was extended in the most recent Budget. For the most vulnerable in our society, there is additional support, with £900 for those on welfare. Through the holiday activities and food programme, there is support for families with costs and food during the holidays. What I would say to Izzy and others who are in particular need is that they should talk to their council, because the Chancellor has provided more than £1 billion of funding to the household support fund. It is there to help families like that who need a little bit of extra assistance during this time.

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, today is World Press Freedom Day. At a time when the need for professional and factual journalism has never been greater, will he reaffirm the Government’s commitment to defending media freedom worldwide? Will he redouble the efforts of the Government to obtain the release of Evan Gershkovich and Vladimir Kara-Murza in Russia, and of Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong?

The Government are committed to defending media freedom worldwide, because thriving independent journalism is one of the cornerstones of democracy. We absolutely condemn the politically motivated sentencing of journalists across the world, and our embassies and missions work every day to protect media freedom where they are based. I know that my right hon. Friend has been a right champion of that throughout his career, and I look forward to his continuing to champion it from a different perch, as I take rather fewer questions from him over the next few months from this position.

Q10.   I want to thank our police forces, who I know will be working hard across the country this weekend to support the coronation events, but police numbers in the north-east are down 8% since 2010. I know that the Prime Minister is keen on his maths, so here is a sum: if Northumbria police has lost 1,000 police officers since 2010, but gained the funding to put back 615, by how much have the Conservatives short-changed the north-east? (904770)

As we saw last week, there is now a record number of police officers across the country thanks to the actions of this Government, and crime is 50% lower than it was when we took office. The hon. Lady talks about investing in the north-east. When we invested £20 million of the levelling-up fund in her constituency, she said it was “transformational”. She said it would play

“an important role in rejuvenating”

her local area. That is this Conservative Government delivering not just for the north- east, but for her constituents too.

I was pleased to welcome the Secretary of State for Transport to Newsham recently to see the progress on the Northumberland line. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Conservative Government—this Conservative Government only—are committed to the development of that line, keeping levelling up on track?

My hon. Friend has been a fantastic champion for the restoration of the line. Indeed, it was one of the first deliveries from the restoring your railways fund. It will be fantastic for his local communities because that connectivity will provide jobs, opportunity and employment, particularly for young people in his local area. After years, if not decades, of neglect, it is this Conservative Government who are delivering for the people in his local area.

Q12. Over 3.6 million women born in the 1950s had their pension age increased without their knowledge. Many, like my constituent, unknowingly gave up work at 60, only to realise they had no income, they could not pay their bills and some have even lost their homes. My constituent asks the Prime Minster: will he commit to the fair and fast payment of any compensation that is recommended by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to 1950s women for the injustice they have suffered due to maladministration by the Department for Work and Pensions? (904773)

This issue has been long discussed in this place. Obviously, the hon. Lady knows that there is an ongoing process, which I cannot comment on, but rest assured that of course we will respond appropriately to any recommendations that come our way.

As asbestos awareness month comes to a close, I draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the dangers of asbestos in workplace buildings. Please will he back the “Don’t Let the Dust Settle” campaign from the Mesothelioma UK charity in my constituency by setting up a register of all workplaces in the country that contain asbestos and determine a timetable for the eradication of this terrible substance?

May I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue? The law does require duty holders to assess whether asbestos is present, what condition it is in and whether it gives rise to a risk of exposure, and they must draw up a plan to manage that risk, which must include removal if it cannot be safely managed where it is located, but I commend her for her continued campaigning on this important issue.

Q13. Nick swims regularly in the Thames at Shepperton, but after a recent dip, he found himself hospitalised with cellulitis for 13 days. His doctors think this was caused by polluted water. What caused that polluted water? Well, Thames Water dumped filthy sewage nearby just days earlier. Will the Prime Minister tell Nick and everybody else: why does he think that it is okay for water companies to keep polluting our rivers for another 25 years? (904774)

It was just last week that it was clear that only one party will protect the environment, and that is the Conservative party. That is why we have given the Environment Agency more powers of enforcement, that is why we are moving to unlimited fines, and that is why we have a clear plan to increase investment and increase monitoring of sewage overflows. It was the rank cynicism and hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats that they could not even show up to support those plans.

Newton Abbot constituents face hosepipe bans after torrential spring storms, and they are asking me why water catchment plans have not prevented this. Reservoirs, desalination plants and other natural catchment structures require siting where geography and geology allow. Is there a national strategy and implementation plan to increase water catchment and enable cross-water company water transfer to match regional demand to supply?

Water companies publish water resources management plans, which show how they will continue to provide a secure supply of water for customers. I understand that they have been consulting on their latest drafts of those plans. In my hon. Friend’s area of Devon and Cornwall, where temporary use bans are in place, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the water regulators are working closely with South West Water to ensure that the company is taking all appropriate precautionary action to ensure that water supplies remain resilient this year.