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Speaker’s Statement

Volume 735: debated on Wednesday 28 June 2023

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to John Angeli OBE, Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting, who is leaving the House service at the end of this week. During his 12 years as director, John not only oversaw the expansion of live video coverage to all public proceedings, but delivered the hybrid capability which enabled Parliament to function during lockdown and, of course, made history with President Zelensky being beamed into this Chamber. He has more recently brought live subtitling and British Sign Language to our proceedings. I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole House in thanking John and wishing him all the best for the future. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Today, we will have the Second Reading of the Holocaust Memorial Bill. For decades, survivors such as the late Sir Ben Helfgott showed extraordinary courage in sharing their testimonies so that we would never forget. I hope the whole House will unite today to get this Bill through and put those testimonies at the heart of our democracy for generations to come.

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.

For three years, since I was elected, I have been campaigning to improve health facilities in my community. I am pleased to see significant investment in Leicestershire, with £14 million for a community diagnostic centre in Hinckley and, as part of a £20 billion programme, hospital improvements at the Leicester Royal Infirmary and the Glenfield Hospital. But I am looking for a hat-trick of health in Hinckley—I am looking for a day case unit. The money is already there but it is tied up in red tape. I have raised this issue with the Health Secretary. Will the Prime Minister look to see what he can do, and would he like to come to open the unit next year in Hinckley?

I am delighted that since its opening last month the Hinckley CDC has already delivered more than 300 additional tests to the local community. My hon. Friend will know that it is for the local health authorities to determine how to allocate the NHS budget in their area, but I have no doubt that he will continue to make the case to them for a day case unit in his community.

Mr Speaker, may I join your tribute to John and wish him all the best on behalf of the House? I also join the Prime Minister in his comments about the holocaust memorial. I would also like to wish Muslims across the country a happy Eid.

Last week, the Labour party lost Margaret McDonagh, our first female general secretary and a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Margaret provided guidance, leadership and loyal friendship to so many in the Labour movement. It was not long after I started in this job that Margaret was at my door, and I will be forever grateful for the advice and support she gave me. We will all miss her terribly.

The Prime Minister’s party spent thousands of pounds on adverts attacking plans to build 300,000 new homes a year. At the same time, his Housing Minister says that it is Tory party policy to build 300,000 new homes a year. So is the Prime Minister for building 300,000 new homes a year or against it?

I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of our record since being in office: 2.2 million additional homes; housing starts double the number we inherited from the Labour party; more homes meeting the decent homes standard; housing supply up 10% in the last year for which we have figures; and, also in the last year for which we have figures, we saw a 20-year high in the number of first-time buyers. That is a Conservative Government delivering for this country.

It was not a difficult question. Can he point to a single person, in housing, construction or anywhere, who thinks that he will actually hit his target of 300,000 new homes a year? Anyone?

The record is that in the last three years we have delivered almost record numbers of new home building in every one of those years. He talks about targets, so let us be clear: I promised to put local people in control of new housing and I delivered on that policy within weeks of becoming Prime Minister. But I am confused by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because first the shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), said “communities should have control”, but then he said that we should bring targets back and disempower local people. I want to give him some advice: I do not think it is local people that are the problem—it’s the Labour party’s policy.

Presumably, if he could have identified a single person who thought he would hit his target, he would have told us. There you have the problem: one minute he says he is for building new houses, but the next he is campaigning against them. The truth is that far from delivering, since he crumbled to his Back Benchers and scrapped mandatory targets, house building has collapsed. He knows it, they know it and every expert is telling them that. Why does he not just admit it? He is not going to get anywhere near his target, is he?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman now claims that he supports house building, especially on the green belt, but unfortunately—

It’s good that he agrees that he does believe that now, but unfortunately for him, the shadow Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), the shadow Minister for Women, the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), the shadow Health Minister, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), the shadow Justice Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), the shadow Minister for Defence, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), the shadow Business Minister, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), the shadow Minister for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), and the shadow Minister for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) are all united against more house building in their areas. I have to say to them that they do not have to worry too much, because he has never actually kept a promise he has made.

You can tell from his answer, Mr Speaker,—his non-answer—and his body language that he has actually given up. His failure is not just shattering the dream of those who desperately want to own their own home; it is also hitting those who already have a mortgage. Because of the Government’s economic chaos, mortgage holders will be £2,900 a year poorer. How can the Government ever look the British people in the eye again and claim to be the party of home ownership?

I do not think he has noticed that his shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Wigan, does not actually agree with his new policy of concreting over the green belt. She has been campaigning against development in her own constituency. She said she wanted to “prevent urban sprawl” and

“provide…green space for local people.”

I think that is quite sensible, but it is classic Labour—saying one thing here and doing another thing elsewhere. You simply cannot trust a word they say.

At least he is not claiming they are the party of home ownership any more, because we are. He’s given up. The Prime Minister says he is “100% on it”, but his definition of “100% on it” is to gently ask the banks to do the right thing. His softly, softly approach, refusing to put mandatory measures in place, risks leaving a million households without support. How many will have to lose their homes before he will stand up for the people his party have pushed into economic misery?

In fact, the vast majority of the mortgage market is now covered by the new mortgage charter that the Chancellor has brought in. That is delivering practical help for mortgage holders, allowing them to extend their terms, switch to interest-only mortgages and saving them hundreds of pounds a month. So instead of scaring them, actually there is now practical support in place.

It is right that he raised home ownership. That is why we, on the Government Benches, introduced a 95% mortgage guarantee scheme. It is why we introduced the first homes and shared ownership schemes to get people on to the housing ladder, and, crucially, it is why we cut stamp duty. Now what we see is the highest number of first-time buyers in 20 years—twice the number that the Labour party ever managed.

It is, “housing crisis, what crisis?”, with this Prime Minister. He must be the only person in the country who thinks that enough houses have been built in the past 13 years. Whether it is those dreaming of getting the keys to their first home, or those already with mortgages, the ambitions of families across the country have been crushed by his failing Tory Government: house building at its lowest rate since the war because he cannot stand up to his own party; a Tory mortgage bombshell because they crashed the economy; and millions left without support because he will not make lenders put families first. Rather than lecturing the rest of the country on holding their nerve, why does he not try to locate his?

As always, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not taken the time to understand the detail of what we are doing, so I am happy to explain it again. It is right that we provide support for mortgage owners, which is why we improved the generosity of the Support for Mortgage Interest scheme. It is why we have introduced the new mortgage charter, which, by the way, goes much further than the Labour party’s policy on protecting mortgage holders. On house building, we are proud to protect the green belt and invest millions more in developing brownfield sites. The simple truth is that that is what I said I would do, and that is what we have delivered. That is the difference between us: I deliver on my promise, the Leader of the Opposition just breaks his.

Q2.   Labour-run Kirklees Council’s local plan is seeing hundreds of homes being built on greenfield sites, but the agreed developer levies, the section 106 agreements, which are supposedly for local infrastructure spending, seem to be disappearing into a black hole. Does the Prime Minister agree that agreed infrastructure levies from developers should not be going into a general slush fund? They should be spent on local roads, local schools and local health services for the communities impacted by those developments. (905668)

My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. That is why the Government are reforming the section 106 payment system to ensure that new development is matched by new infrastructure. The current system sees far too little of developers’ profits going to build new schools, hospitals or transport infrastructure. It is also too slow and plagued by uncertainties and that particularly hampers smaller local developers. It will be replaced by a new, non-negotiable, locally determined infrastructure levy, which will deliver exactly what my hon. Friend and others want to see—investment in local communities.

I wish to start by paying tribute to SNP legend Winnie Ewing and to the former manager of Scotland men’s national team, Craig Brown, who both sadly passed in recent days, and I send best wishes to all Muslims who are celebrating Eid Mubarak.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister patronised the public when he told them that, in the face of ever-increasing mortgage bills, they simply need to hold their nerve. What a nerve! May I ask him, the near billionaire, when was the last time that he struggled to pay a bill?

Mortgage rates are rising because of inflation. That is the root cause, which is why it is absolutely the right policy to halve inflation and reduce it back to target. That does mean that we have to make difficult decisions. That does mean that we have to be patient while those decisions actually have an impact. In the meantime, as I was explaining previously, we are taking practical steps to support mortgage holders across the United Kingdom, particularly through the new Support for Mortgage Interest scheme and the new mortgage charter.

That answer confirms what we already know—this Prime Minister is out of touch and the Tory party is soon to be out of time. What the public really want is change but, in a week when the Conservative party and indeed the Labour party both refused to accept proposals for public sector pay rises, while at the same time accepting the economic damage of Brexit, is it not the case that Westminster offers the people neither real change, nor real hope for the future?

The hon. Gentleman just exposes the complete economic illiteracy of the SNP’s position. His first question talks about the challenges posed to ordinary families by higher interest rates, caused by higher inflation. What does his next question do? Support a policy that would increase Government borrowing and make the situation worse. That just demonstrates, completely candidly, why the SNP’s approach to economic management is simply not fit for anyone in the United Kingdom.

Q3. Local police stations are a key part of communities such as Aldridge in my constituency, which is why I continue to make the case to Labour’s police and crime commissioner for saving and strengthening the role of Aldridge police station, rather than forcing it to close. Does the Prime Minister agree that any such closure would be reckless, and that police and crime commissioners should be working with local communities and local police teams to provide greater certainty, particularly given the extra 1,376 police officers this Government have put into the west midlands? (905669)

I am pleased to hear about the extra police officers the Government have funded in my right hon. Friend’s community, but I am concerned to hear about the planned closure of Aldridge police station. I thank her for raising such an important issue. I know it is one on which she is championing her constituents. As she will know, unfortunately, that is a decision of the locally elected Labour police and crime commissioner, and I join her in urging them to think again.

Diolch yn fawr, Lefarydd. The Prime Minister’s solution to inflation is to push families into poverty while letting corporate profits pile up. Economic illiteracy? The International Monetary Fund said this week that the way to cut inflation is for companies to cut their profit margins. It is corporate greed that is fuelling inflation, not workers’ need for fair play. Can he explain to the one in five people in Wales facing hunger because they cannot afford to buy decent food why they must pay his price for lowering inflation?

Actually, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor met with all the economic regulators this morning and they will be making an announcement later about their plans to ensure fairness of pricing in supply chains to ease the burden on consumers. I am glad the right hon. Lady brought up the IMF when it comes to tackling inflation. The IMF, in its words, strongly endorsed our plan to halve inflation and called our steps “decisive and responsible”.

Q7. As my right hon. Friend knows, I have been liaising closely with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and with the Treasury with regard to the terrible news of Woking Council’s recent section 114 notice. Does he agree that, in this scenario, the vulnerable must be protected and local councillors of all parties must work together to try to put the council’s finances back on the right track? (905673)

I know my hon. Friend is a great champion for his Woking residents. As he knows, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up has intervened in that authority and appointed commissioners to ensure that decisions are taken that provide the best outcomes for residents, including the most vulnerable, and for the public purse. I agree with him that local councillors should be working together with the commissioners to put the council’s finances in order. The commissioners will submit their first report to the Secretary of State setting out progress on the council’s path to improvement and financial sustainability, and I look forward with him to seeing further progress.

Q4.   The Prime Minister has had responsibility for the UK economy now for 1,323 days, and he has delivered—he has delivered the largest national peacetime debt ever, the largest tax burden since the second world war, the highest core inflation since 1991, the fastest interest rate rises since 1989 and the biggest fall in living standards in our history. Will he stop lecturing my constituents about holding their nerve, ditch the lame excuses and admit that he is literally the worst person to be leading this country through a cost of living crisis, because he created it? (905670)

Again, what do we hear from the Labour party? Only ideas that would make the situation far worse. It is as simple as that. The hon. Gentleman has sat there and supported plans to borrow tens of billions of pounds more. That would make inflation worse. He has sat there and said that we should not stand up to unaffordable union pay demands. That would make the situation worse. And he has sat there and supported plans to not exploit our domestic sources of energy, imperilling our energy security. Those are all things that would make the situation worse for British families not just today but for years into the future. This Conservative Government will keep doing the right thing to support them.

Q10.   My constituents rely on many nearby hospitals: Milton Keynes, where the Government have committed to a new women and children’s hospital; Stoke Mandeville, which has just completed the build of a new children’s A&E; but also Wycombe, where infrastructure and maintenance issues in the ageing tower are preventing about 2,000 operations from going ahead every year. My local NHS trust has a plan for a new £200 million clinical centre at Wycombe Hospital. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister work with me and Buckinghamshire colleagues to make that a reality? (905676)

Although, as my hon. Friend knows, we are no longer inviting further schemes to join the new hospital programme, I can tell him that new schemes will be considered through the rolling programme of capital investment in hospital infrastructure. That will secure the building of new hospitals beyond 2030, and it will mean investment to upgrade the NHS estate across the country. Future plans for that will be set out in spending reviews and fiscal events, but in the meantime, I know that he will continue to make the impassioned case for Wycombe Hospital, and I join him in that.

Q5. Hundreds of steelworkers are outside Parliament today, and some are in the Gallery, to call on the Prime Minister to act now to back our vital steel industry before it is too late. Will he confirm today that he will match the ambition of the Labour party, and our international competitors, to deliver competitive energy prices, invest in green steel production, use UK steel in our procurement systems, and protect us from dirty steel imports by introducing climate measures? When will he get on with protecting and supporting the industry? (905671)

We are proud to support the steel industry and value the contribution that it makes to this country. That is why we put in place the energy-intensive industries exemption scheme, which provides hundreds of millions of pounds of support to steel companies for their energy bills; we have also introduced the industrial energy transformation fund so that companies can apply for capital grants to help them with the transition and are taking forward plans in the Treasury for carbon border adjustment mechanisms to ensure a level playing field. That is also why, during the pandemic, I stepped in to support financially a steel company in Wales.

Sadly, despite five years of lobbying, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association international branch will leave the United Kingdom. As you know, Mr Speaker, that is of great concern to the House and, although it is perhaps a little niche for our constituents, it is important. The CPA needs special status, but the Government have not granted that by way of a short Bill or an amendment to an existing Bill. Could the Prime Minister, at this late stage, this month, do something about that because otherwise the association will be gone, never to come back?

The United Kingdom values the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that he does not want the CPA international to relocate. He wrote to it in March to confirm that officials from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office would work with the CPA to find a mutually acceptable solution to the status issue, and I look forward to seeing progress.

Q6.   Mr Speaker, your constituents and mine have been made a promise by the Prime Minister: inflation at or below 5% by the end of this year. So let me ask the Prime Minister what will happen if he fails to meet that promise. Will it be yet more ranting on about the Labour party, or will it be the general election that my constituents crave? (905672)

No, we are sticking to the course of bringing inflation down. What the Labour party needs to understand is that that requires making difficult and tough decisions; it requires prioritising; it requires being able to say no when people come asking you to borrow more money. Those are the types of responsible decisions that I and the Conservative Government will make because they are the right ones for the country.

For over 160 years, Southport pier has been at the centre of our visitor economy, welcoming visitors from far and wide, including from Chorley, Mr Speaker. It has stood the test of time, but the mismanagement of Labour-controlled Sefton Council has closed our pier. Businesses are concerned, and the impact on tourism will be huge. Will the Prime Minister condemn the council’s actions and support my campaign and efforts to work with this Conservative Government to get our pier open?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to the important community assets in his constituency, such as the historic grade II-listed Southport pier. I am pleased that he has succeeded in getting the Government to provide £2 million to undertake improvements as part of the coastal community fund, and that comes alongside the landmark £35.5 million town deal for Southport—the second largest town deal in the country.

Q8. This is my first opportunity to put a question to the Prime Minister for the residents of the City of Chester, so why does the Prime Minister think it is acceptable for sewage to be pumped into the beautiful River Dee, which flows through Chester, for the next 27 years? (905674)

Of course it is not acceptable, and that is why this Government have gone further than any other in tackling the issue, committing to monitor 100% of storm overflows and to an investment programme of £56 billion to upgrade infrastructure, enshrining strict targets in law, and introducing unlimited fines for water companies. But when it came to talking about those policies in this House, the Labour party could not even be bothered to turn up and vote for them.

Later today, Parliament will welcome apprentices from around the UK who work in the aerospace industry, and I am very much looking forward to meeting Callum and Britney, who are apprentices at Collins Aerospace in my constituency. Will the Prime Minister join me in celebrating apprenticeships in the aerospace industry and encourage colleagues to attend and meet their apprentices?

I join my hon. Friend in celebrating everyone doing an apprenticeship and in encouraging everyone to go and meet their apprentices later today. I pay tribute to Callum and Britney in particular. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the aerospace industry, particularly because of our new defence co-operation agreement with Italy and Japan to build a new generation of fighter aircraft, which will create thousands of new jobs across the country, many of which will come through apprenticeships. That is an example of this Conservative Government providing opportunities for the next generation.

Q9. Last year, 1.7 million children missed more than 10% of their schooling, 125,000 were absent more than they were in school, and a further 140,000 were completely missing from formal schooling. This safeguarding and educational catastrophe is happening on the Prime Minister’s watch. Yesterday, the Schools Minister told the Education Committee that primary legislation is required to initiate a national register of children missing from education so that we can find out where they are. Will the Prime Minister commit to bringing forward the necessary legislation as a matter of urgency to combat this crisis for our children? (905675)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that children missing school is a tragedy and is incredibly damaging for educational outcomes, which is why during the pandemic and afterwards we invested £5 billion to help children catch up with lost learning. It is important that we continue to deliver on those plans, and we will of course ensure that we work with the sector to have more children attending school more often.

Economic recovery and reconstruction will be vital to Ukraine when it comes to rebuilding a free and sovereign nation. So will my right hon. Friend help to galvanise the expertise of the UK’s private sector to strengthen Ukraine’s recovery and economic prospects after this devastating war?

Time and again Ukraine has shown its ability to rapidly harness innovation and creativity, and I know that its economic recovery will be no different. My hon. Friend is right to highlight that private sector expertise and investment will be critical to that recovery. I was pleased that over 400 world-leading companies pledged to back Ukraine’s reconstruction at the successful recovery conference that the UK hosted the other week. We are doing our part as well, with a $3 billion World Bank loan guarantee on top of all our other investment. I think the conference showed that there is enormous momentum across the world to support Ukraine’s recovery, and that recovery and ambition are being led by the United Kingdom.

Q11.   A university student in Lewisham East has seen her rent rise by £200 a month due to the mortgage rate increases. She is now at risk of homelessness and cannot return to the family home. She has no choice but to use food banks, even though she has two part-time jobs. Not only is she falling behind in her studies; she is falling further into debt and falling into depression. What does the Prime Minister say to constituents like mine who are paying the dual price of this Government’s cost of living crisis and their mortgage rates crisis? (905677)

We have taken significant action to help families across the country, most notably by taxing the windfall profits of energy companies and using that money to pay around half the energy bill of a typical family, including all of the hon. Lady’s constituents. That support is worth £1,500, and I am pleased that energy bills are forecast to fall by £430 when the price cap resets in a couple of days. Beyond that, there is considerable support for the most vulnerable in our society, including £900 in cost of living payments for those on universal credit and additional support for pensioners and disabled people. That is what we will continue to do.

We are heading into the fifth week of Sandwell Labour’s refuse strikes. We have had flying pickets, reports of the GMB blocking ambulance workers from getting out of their depot as a result of its picket lines, and a police and crime commissioner encouraging the police not to police it. I ask my right hon. Friend to convene a meeting urgently so that we can resolve this, and perhaps he will join me in telling Labour politicians—one in particular—to grow a spine and put people before their paymasters.

My hon. Friend put it very well: he has illustrated exactly the issue. The Labour party is unable to stand up to its union paymasters and back our plans to introduce minimum service and safety levels in critical industries. That is the type of practical action that supports working families, and it is action that the Labour party is not strong enough to support.

Q12.   After the events in Russia at the weekend, it is unclear what the future holds for the Wagner Group, but the catalogue of crimes it has committed across Africa and the middle east and, of course, in Ukraine can never be washed away. Despite all that, the Government do not yet have a permanent Cabinet Office official to co-ordinate all the organs of Government to pursue the criminals in the Wagner Group. Will the Prime Minister appoint one and, crucially, will he fund the collection of evidence of Wagner Group war crimes that have been committed across the world, so that no matter what happens, these criminals can be brought to justice in future? (905678)

We have consistently condemned the Wagner Group, and we carefully monitor its actions in Ukraine and the wider world that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We have designated both the Wagner Group and its leader under our sanctions regime, and we support international mechanisms that hold individual mercenaries in the Wagner Group to account for violations of international law, but I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are also working very closely with our partners to counter the malign use of such proxies, both by Russia and more generally across the continent.

On Monday night, an illegal Traveller encampment was established in Bretton Park. On Saturday, the much-loved Bretton festival is due to take place in that park. This House passed legislation that gives police more powers to tackle illegal encampments. Will the Prime Minister make it clear from the Dispatch Box that he expects the police to use those powers on these encampments, which blight public spaces and public parks in places such as Peterborough?

We absolutely recognise the misery that unauthorised encampments can cause to local communities. That is why we have delivered on our manifesto commitment to give police the powers they need to tackle those people in unauthorised encampments who are causing harm. Of course, how the police use those powers is an operational matter for chief constables, but we would not have legislated for them if we did not expect chief constables to use them. I am told that Home Office officials are liaising regularly with the National Police Chiefs’ Council on this exact matter.

In the past couple of days, yet again we have been reminded that a Member of the other House was appointed contrary to the recommendations of MI5. We learned from a Channel 4 film that even the monarch was asked to be involved because Whitehall officials were so opposed, given that the person was deemed a security risk to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So I ask the Prime Minister: does he agree with MI5, or does he agree with his predecessor that that peer should still be in the other House?

Mr Speaker, for obvious reasons I will talk in more general terms. The House of Lords Appointments Commission vets Cross-Bench and party political life peerage nominations to the House of Lords and, where appropriate, seeks advice from Government Departments and agencies. The House of Lords Appointments Commission has previously undertaken that, were a Prime Minister to recommend a peerage against the commission’s formal advice, it would write publicly to the relevant parliamentary Select Committee.

That completes Prime Minister’s questions. We come now to the urgent question. [Interruption.] If people could stop having conversations in the middle of the Chamber, that would be helpful, Mr Slaughter.