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.
Two years ago, I raised the case of a Norwich Army veteran who was in such agony that he was forced to pull out 18 of his own teeth because he could not get access to a dentist. The grim fact is that despite repeated promises from the Prime Minister, Norwich and Norfolk remain dental deserts. Dentists excel at extracting rotten teeth, so does the Prime Minister agree that the only way my constituents will see results is when this rotten Government are extracted from office and replaced with a Labour one?
I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are record sums going into dentistry and indeed 500 more NHS dentists working today. Because of the contract reforms that we have put in place, 10% more activity can happen, and the Department of Health and Social Care is currently talking about reforming the dentistry contract with dental practices to increase activity further.
My constituent Gordon has, unfortunately, been receiving cancer treatment at Mount Vernon Hospital, which will soon fall within Sadiq Khan’s new ultra low emission zone boundaries. As Gordon continues his daily treatment, he will now be expected to pay a £12.50 charge or buy a new, compliant vehicle. Does the Prime Minister agree that the British people already have enough on without Labour’s London Mayor stretching household budgets further, just so that he can cover his mismanagement of Transport for London’s finances?
I am sorry to hear of my hon. Friend’s constituent Gordon, and I send him my best wishes. He will now that transport in London is devolved to the Labour Mayor, who is expanding the zone against the overwhelming views of residents and businesses. What is more, his plan to raise costs for hard-working families is totally backed by the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps he can now tell us why.
I do not think he is responsible for answering the questions.
We come to the Leader of the Opposition.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank all those who took part in the coronation celebrations over the weekend, and I also take this chance to wish all the very best to my brilliant and talented constituent Mae Muller, who is representing the UK at Eurovision in Liverpool this weekend. The whole country is behind you, Mae.
This time last week, the Prime Minister had to correct the record on misleading claims he made about employment numbers. Can he provide a further update now that he has cost 1,000 Tory councillors their jobs?
Let me pass on my best wishes to Mae as well for this weekend’s Eurovision. With regard to the local elections, perhaps I can offer the right hon. and learned Gentleman a tiny bit of advice from one of his predecessors, Tony Blair. I was reading what he said the other day. He said:
“The right hon. Gentleman can be as cocky as he likes about the local elections;
come a general election, policy counts.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 460, c. 152.]
We know that the problem for the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that he does not have any.
The Prime Minister said he was going to lose a thousand seats, and then he managed it. After 13 years, a Tory promise they have actually not broken! This is the Prime Minister who has had to fight for only two things in his life. Last year, he lost a Tory beauty contest to Elizabeth Truss, who then lost to a lettuce. Last week, when he finally came into contact with voters, he lost everywhere. No matter who the electorate are, the Prime Minister keeps entering a two-horse race and somehow finishing third. Given his track record, who does he think he has actually got a mandate from?
It is a bit rich to hear about mandates from the person who has broken every single promise he was elected on. Going through the list, we have nationalisations, NHS outsourcing, universal credit and now tuition fees—the right hon. and learned Gentleman was for them all before he was against them. He is not just Sir Softie; he is Sir Flaky, too.
I can understand why the Prime Minister is trying to wish away his terrible results, but peddling nonsense just does not work. Up and down the country, people want the Government to focus on the cost of living, but he has got no answers. Is he planning to carry on as if nothing happened, and ignore the message he was sent last week, or will he do what a Labour Government would do and announce an immediate freeze in council tax bills?
I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has rightly asked his Labour councillors to focus on the cost of living. Perhaps they could start by reducing council tax to the level in Conservative-run areas. We are getting on with halving people’s energy bills and freezing fuel duty to help them with the cost of living. What is stopping him from having a plan is that unfortunately his shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, recently said that she has discovered that she has a problem: she realised that she actually—shock horror!—has to say where the money is going to come from. With a £90 billion black hole in her plans, she has a lot of work to do.
There is only one party that broke the economy, and they are sitting right there. To quote one of the Prime Minister’s more electorally successful predecessors, “nothing has changed”. He is still blaming other people, still refusing to take the necessary action and still not listening to the country. On council tax, it is quite simple: a Labour Government would give every council the grant they need to freeze those bills, fully paid for by ending the handouts he is giving to oil and gas giants. I ask him again: now that his plan has been utterly rejected, why will he not do the same?
Just a quick history lesson for the right hon. and learned Gentleman: while he was busy softening sentences 13 years ago, we inherited from Labour the largest deficit in the G7, higher unemployment and coffers that were totally empty. It did not stop there: after that, Labour Members wanted a longer lockdown, and now they will not even oppose the picketers and the protesters. Even in opposition, they are damaging the economy.
The Prime Minister is just not listening, is he? Even after the entire country, from the Peak District to the garden of England, rejected his Government last week, he still thinks that protecting oil and gas profits is more important than freezing bills. I am sure that the Prime Minister must finally have met some working people in recent weeks, but did any of them understand why he insists on protecting his precious non-dom tax status, rather than scrapping it and using the money to train thousands of doctors and nurses?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that this money would fund the NHS workforce, but that plan was looked at by one of his colleagues recently, who said that it would
“discourage…doctors and nurses…from coming”—[Official Report,
Vol. 464, c. 171]
here, and that there was a “£2 billion” shortfall in his sums. Who said that? It was Alistair Darling. He might remember those days—it is when Labour bankrupted the economy.
That is the definition of nonsense. This is the price of having a tired, worn-out Government, fronted by a Prime Minister who boasts he has never had a working-class friend. He is smiling his way through the cost of living crisis, gloating about success while waiting lists grow. He is pretending that crime, house building, schools are all just doing fine, while handing the country 24 tax rises, all with his name on them. How does he think the Tories can possibly provide the answers that Britain needs when the whole country has already told him that they are the problem, not the solution?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right: we all do say some silly things when we are younger; I was a teenager. He will know what I am talking about, because I think in his 40s he was still talking about abolishing the monarchy.
It is the same old guff from him every week—all politics and no action. We are getting on with halving people’s energy bills, freezing fuel duty, cutting the costs of childcare and boosting pay. While he is busy plotting coalitions, we are getting on and delivering for the British people.
This Saturday is Surrey Day, which is a chance for locals and visitors to celebrate everything wonderful about our county, including our beautiful, historic High Street in Guildford with its independent shops. However, empty shops are frequently raised with me. High rents with high business rates make it difficult for independent retailers to compete with national chains. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Government must do everything they can to support our high streets as part of our plan to boost economic growth?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of high streets for local communities—not just in Surrey, but around the country. That is why we are abolishing business rates for hundreds of thousands of eligible businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector, and investing billions of pounds through the high streets fund and our towns fund to support local communities up and down the country.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
May I first put on record my thanks to the police for all their hard work over the weekend, ensuring that the coronation was a success?
On this issue, we believe the police should have powers to make sure that they can protect the public from unnecessary and serious disruption. I respectfully recognise that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with our position. I guess the question for both of us is: what does the Leader of the Opposition think about this, because it is quite hard to keep up?
What we are talking about here is that nurses strike, doctors strike, firefighters strike—or protest—and of course republicans protest as well. They do so because it is a fundamental right within our democracy to be able to protest. So is the Prime Minister seriously saying that, moving forward, you can have your rights, but only on his terms?
It is also the right of the British public to be able to go about their ordinary day-to-day lives without undue serious disruption. That is why it is right that the police have extra powers. I respect that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with that, but we think it is right. Every day on TV, people see lives being disrupted, people not being able to get to school, to hospital appointments and to work. They should be able to do that, and the police should have powers to stop those who are preventing that.
It was an honour to welcome the Australian Prime Minister last week so that he could meet some of our fantastic apprentices, see the submarine programme and reaffirm his commitment to the AUKUS programme, which will deliver thousands of jobs in my constituency and keep our nation safe. What was a national endeavour is now an international one, and it is going to require a whole-of-Government approach to get it over the line and deliver it well. With that in mind, may I invite my right hon. Friend to Barrow to see the programme for himself and meet me to see how we can best leverage these opportunities for the people of Barrow for generations to come?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for his local industry and community. He is right: the SSN-AUKUS submarines will be built in Barrow, the home of the British submarine industry. It will create thousands of new jobs not just in Barrow but across the UK. That is why the Government are investing billions to modernise the enterprise, and I look forward to taking him up on his invitation.
Last week, many lifelong Conservative voters turned to the Liberal Democrats to be their strong local champions. They delivered their verdict on the Government’s failure to hold water companies to account for dumping raw sewage into our rivers and on to our beaches. Last year, water bosses were paid £15 million in bonuses—rewarded for destroying our precious natural environment. Three of those executives have now turned down their bonuses, but they should never have been entitled to them in the first place. Will the Prime Minister ban these sewage bonuses so that the dumping actually stops?
I struggled to hear the full question. [Interruption.] In one sense, that does not really matter, because we all know that the Liberal Democrats say one thing here and another thing locally anyway. No wonder he is attracted to the Labour leader these days. Political opportunism and a broken promise on tuition fees—it must be like looking in the mirror.
May I take the opportunity to highlight some success, with Mansfield District Council having more Conservative councillors than at any point in my lifetime after last week’s local elections? I am very proud of our local team, but one thing we heard on the doorstep was a frustrated expectation that the Government need to deliver on key pledges. There has been a commitment that our part of the world will be given the clout and investment to catch up with other regions which historically have had more than we have had, so will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to reiterate his commitment and reassure my constituents that he will support growth and investment in the east midlands?
My hon. Friend is a tireless advocate for the east midlands. In particular, I welcome the devolution deal agreed among the four local authorities in the region, which I know he has campaigned for. Like him, I look forward to those new devolved institutions being established as soon as possible to drive economic growth in his community.
The Prime Minister has previously declared
“my…daughter…is the climate change champion in our house.”
I wonder if he has asked her what she thinks about Rosebank, the biggest undeveloped oilfield in the North sea, which would blow climate targets, create more emissions than 28 of the world’s poorest countries combined, involve the obscene transfer of £4 billion of taxpayers’ money to a Norwegian energy firm—Equinor—and do nothing for energy security since the vast majority of the oil will be exported. If he gives Rosebank the green light, will he be able to look his daughter in the eye and honestly say that he has done everything in his power to give her and all other young people a liveable future?
As the independent Climate Change Committee has acknowledged, we will need fossil fuels for the next few decades as we transition to a greener future. During that period, it makes absolutely no sense not to invest in the resources that we have here at home and not to create jobs here but to import foreign fossil fuels at twice the carbon emissions of our local resources. It is an economically illiterate policy—but that is what we would expect from the Green party.
Last June, the Government committed to bringing forward a horticulture strategy to identify ways to expand British production of horticulture. The importance of that was underlined by some of the supply-chain challenges that we saw earlier this spring, but in the past week there has been speculation that the Government might be abandoning that strategy. Can the Prime Minister give us any reassurance that the Government remain committed to expanding this important British industry?
I thank my right hon. Friend for all his work championing this area. We are delivering for the horticulture sector, which will benefit from the £168 million investment to drive innovation and support food production. That is also why we passed the new Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act 2023, taking advantage of our Brexit opportunities to unlock the potential of new technologies. I look forward to discussing that and other ideas at our new upcoming food summit.
Our farmers provide our food and our countryside’s future, but there is concern among some Oxfordshire farmers that the new schemes under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ agricultural transition plan are not ready for farmers to access and make up the shortfall from the basic payment scheme. Will my right hon. Friend push his colleagues in DEFRA to roll out the rest of the sustainable farming incentives standards as soon as possible, and consider double-stacking SFI and countryside stewardship payments to ensure that Oxfordshire’s farmers get the support they need?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course, we want to make sure we continue to support farmers to produce healthy nutritious food. We are pressing ahead with the environmental land management scheme, fine tuning it to make sure it works even better for farmers. We want to make sure there is enough flexibility in the sustainable farming incentives. That is why DEFRA designed the schemes with farmers in mind, enabling them to do more and ensure they can use countryside stewardship schemes on the same plots of land. I look forward to discussing that with him and other colleagues.
In Stirling, we have a potentially very exciting development at Forthside on former Ministry of Defence land. Sadly, the development has got a bit stuck over a dispute about the cost of the decontamination of that land. I will work with anybody to get a result for Stirling. Will the Prime Minister meet me and representatives of Stirling Council to get the development unblocked and make the progress we all want to see?
We have invested in Stirling previously to unlock investment and drive growth. I will ensure the hon. Gentleman gets the meeting he needs with the relevant Minister to make progress.
The Prime Minister and I share a profound optimism about the power of technology. In particular, AI—artificial intelligence—has the power to revolutionise public services and our private sector as well. But does he agree that it comes with risks and that, while there are unrealistic calls to pause research into it altogether, it is crucial for us to work with our allies around the world so that the global norms that emerge in this important area reflect our values?
My hon. Friend speaks with experience and knowledge on this issue and I absolutely agree with the thrust of his question. It would be implausible and wrong to halt the development of this technology, but it is right that we ensure appropriate guard rails are in place as we look to exploit the opportunities. Those are the conversations we are having, not just with the companies involved but with our allies around the world. He can expect further progress in the coming weeks and months.
Following on from the Prime Minister’s earlier answer, as he knows, an eat out to help out scheme was introduced in August 2020. It increased demand for eating in restaurants by some 216% compared with 2019. With figures now showing that over 17,500 retail chain stores closed in 2020 alone, affecting nearly 35,000 employees, has the Prime Minister considered a similar scheme for bricks and mortar retail—bricks versus clicks, if you like—as part of a wider plan to regenerate local high streets and town centres?
The way we are supporting high streets and town centres is through making sure we cut business rates in England—obviously, the Scottish Government will receive Barnett consequentials from those actions—and now hundreds of thousands of local businesses on our high streets do not pay any business rates at all. On top of that, through the levelling-up fund, towns fund and others, we are investing directly in local communities, including the hon. Gentleman’s own, where council leaders described our investment of £90 million as very welcome and a real boost for economic recovery.
My right hon. Friend recently scored a very rare own goal by backing Stockton Town football club in a northern premier league east play-off final, which eventually saw Long Eaton United win on penalties. In the interests of good sportsmanship, will he congratulate Ian Deakin and his team on their resounding victory, wish Long Eaton United luck and every success in the league for next season, and join me at Grange Park to cheer them on?
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating her local football team and all involved in their stunning success. I am not sure if I will be able to join her in the immediate future, but I look forward to seeing them go from strength to strength, much as the fortunes of my own team, sadly, are not in the place I would like them to be.
The Prime Minister may well have seen the astonishing sight of a former Scottish Government Minister standing up in the Scottish Parliament Chamber and tearing up—literally, ripping into pieces—the Scottish Government’s highly protected marine area proposal. The proposal is deeply controversial all over Scotland, and has even been compared with the second highland clearances. Is now not the time for the UK Government to step in and work with the devolved— Mr Speaker, I will not be silenced, because this matters deeply to my constituents. Is it not time for the UK Government to step in and work with the devolved Administrations, to come up with a conservation scheme that works and is acceptable to our fishing communities all around the UK?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point and is a passionate champion, as he should be, for his local fishing communities. He is right to highlight the concerns that have been raised not just by them but by members of the SNP about the potentially damaging impact of plans to introduce the highly protected marine areas in the way that they are. I would encourage the SNP Government to continue working with the Scottish fishing industry and coastal communities to understand their concerns. As we have seen them recently U-turn on other poorly thought-out decisions, hopefully they can re-look at this one, too.
The United Kingdom has a strong, deep, multidimensional relationship with Pakistan. There are over 1.5 million British Pakistanis here and many of them are dual nationals, as am I. The Prime Minister will have seen the scenes coming from Pakistan—the civil unrest where people have lost their lives due to the detention of Prime Minister Imran Khan. There are real concerns about the circumstances of his detention and the right to a fair trial. In the past, the United Kingdom has sent observers to hearings around the world to ensure that natural justice is done. Has the Prime Minister considered that? If not, will he consider it?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The UK of course has a long-standing and close relationship with Pakistan—this weekend especially, as Commonwealth partners. The arrest of the former Prime Minister is an internal matter for Pakistan. We support peaceful, democratic processes and adherence to the rule of law, and we are monitoring the situation carefully.
A little boy has gone to school today in shoes that do not fit him, because his parents cannot afford new ones. A little girl had water on her cornflakes because her mum had no money for milk. Those are real stories from Faith in Families, a charity in my constituency that deals with poverty every day. Poverty that is causing prolonged shame and leading to a mental health crisis. Faith in Families is worried about these kids. I am worried about these kids. If the Prime Minister is worried about these kids, what is he going to do about it?
We do not want any child to grow up in poverty. That is why I am proud that there are 1.7 million fewer people living in poverty today than in 2010, because of the actions of this and previous Conservative Governments. That includes hundreds of thousands of children. We are providing incredible support to the most vulnerable in our society as we speak. Just last week, the first of our cost of living payments went out—£900 to help the most vulnerable families in our society. Those are our values. We will keep supporting them as inflation remains high.
Earlier, the Leader of the Opposition sought to draw attention to council tax rates and increases, offering some crocodile tears in the process. I draw to the Prime Minister’s attention that, whereas we have seen a 43% increase in council tax rates since 2010 in England, the increase in Wales has been a staggering 67%. Therefore, is it not the case that we should be looking at what Labour does rather than what Labour says?
Over the last two years, the Drax power station in Yorkshire has burned an average of nearly 20,000 tonnes of trees every single day, releasing an equivalent amount of carbon into the atmosphere. During that time, while our constituents have struggled with their heating bills, the private company running Drax has received £1.5 million of subsidy through the Government’s energy policy every single day. That is set to continue until 2027. Will the Prime Minister step in and review this grotesque distortion of energy policy, which incentivises deforestation while making no contribution to tackling the climate emergency?
While I cannot comment on the contract details of one particular company, what I can comment on is our record on this issue. Since the benchmark was established, emissions in this country have fallen by nearly 50%, and we have also grown the economy by two thirds—although I know the SNP Government are not as focused on that as we are. At the same time, because of the way in which we regulate new and renewable energies, we have seen the price of renewables such as offshore wind decline from £140 an hour to about £40. That shows a regulatory system that is working in delivering lower-cost, renewable energy to British families.
Plastic pollution is a scourge of modern-day society. My Microplastic Filters (Washing Machines) Bill—a ten-minute rule Bill—seeks to ensure that microfibre, microplastic filters are fitted in all commercial and domestic washing machines, and France, among other countries, has already passed such legislation. Will the Prime Minister, who has already done an enormous amount to tackle plastic pollution, organise a meeting between me and the stakeholders—particularly washing machine manufacturers —and the Secretary of State to discuss this very important issue?
We want to tackle microplastic pollution wherever possible, which is why we introduced a microbeads ban and a tax on plastic bags. I am aware that my hon. Friend has campaigned for filters in washing machines, but, as he will know, they can be costly to install. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has outlined plans for the use of more filters, but I will ensure that my hon. Friend gets the meeting he needs with the relevant Minister to discuss this important matter further.
The ditching of the Government’s pledge to recruit 6,000 more GPs is yet another example of the Tories’ overpromising and underdelivering. With teacher recruitment targets missed and housing pledges shelved, why does the Prime Minister think that the only target he has actually met was the loss of 1,000 Tory councillors last week?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us which of the many promises that the Leader of the Opposition made to him when he was campaigning he is happiest that he has U-turned on.
It is through Lincolnshire’s roads that foodstuffs grown in our fine county are transported across the nation, but the highways authority struggles to fund the roads because of the skewed funding formula devised by a previous Labour Government. So many of our public services suffer in the same way, policing included. Will the Prime Minister agree to review the local government and police funding formulas as a matter of urgency so that Lincolnshire can have a fair deal?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right to stand up for the particular needs of his rural community. Like him, I recognise that the costs of providing services are often higher in rural areas, and it is right for us to reflect that in funding formulas where we can do so, but I will ensure that he, too, gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss this important matter further.
A total of 13,450 prepayment meter vouchers with a value of over more than £887,000 have gone unclaimed in my constituency, while £16.5 million is unclaimed across Scotland. The Prime Minister’s energy bills support scheme is failing if money that could be helping our vulnerable constituents is resting in his Government’s account. I recall that he is not very familiar with the way in which prepayment meters work, but what will he do to ensure that every single penny goes out of the Government’s coffers and into the meters of those who really need it?
I am grateful that the hon. Lady, for a change, acknowledged the support that the Government are providing to families up and down the country. In designing those schemes, particular attention was given to how to get support to people with prepayment meters. Ministers are always engaged with stakeholders to make sure that there is awareness of those schemes, and I will make sure that we keep up those efforts so that people get the help that they need and deserve.
It is very interesting that the Leader of the Opposition talks about keeping council tax low, when the Labour party voted to increase Morecambe Town Council expenditure from £200,000 historically to £2 million. On that basis, I would like to meet the Prime Minister to see if we can find Government time to discuss a cap on parish councils to stop them from this sort of abhorrent behaviour.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that council tax in Labour areas is higher than that in Conservative areas, which is not right at a time when there are pressures on the cost of living. I look forward to meeting him to discuss his plans to keep British families’ household bills as low as they can be.
Dozens of Sudanese doctors, who have been working in the NHS, were stranded and not allowed to return here. Last week, the Minister for Development and Africa, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), told us here that the Prime Minister took the decision to get them back. Why had such a straightforward decision not been made much earlier by the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary? Is it because the Prime Minister is an obsessive micromanager? Or is it that his Ministers are just not up to the job? Which one is it, Prime Minister?
The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong to describe as straightforward a complex and dangerous evacuation in a war zone. Actually, everyone involved deserves enormous credit for conducting what was the longest and largest evacuation from Sudan by any western country. During that process, it was right that we moved deliberately and carefully, to ensure the security of everyone involved and to prioritise British nationals and their dependants. Now that the operation is complete, we can look back and thank everyone for what was an incredibly successful operation.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some 40% of all crime is now fraud. It is damaging for people’s wellbeing as well as harming their finances. That is why the Home Secretary and I recently launched a new plan to combat fraud, with significant new investment, hundreds of new officers to tackle it and action on social media companies to empower people to take action and stop fraud happening in the first place. It represents the most comprehensive plan to tackle this issue and it will make a big difference to families everywhere.
Order. We have to be careful as this case is sub judice, so please do not go into detail.
Children are terrified to go to school, their parents are frightened to let them and the teachers are at their wits’ end. They have asked me to come here today, Prime Minister, to beg you to make the epidemic of youth crime in our country a national priority. Will the Prime Minister meet me and representatives from my local community to talk about how we can get the mental health and mentoring support these young people need, so that every young person in our country has the future they deserve?
I know the whole House will join me in expressing our sympathies and condolences to Renell’s family for what happened. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we should do everything we can to tackle violence and the murder of young people, in particular. I am pleased that knife crime has fallen by almost 10% and serious youth violence has fallen by 24% in the last few years. That is because we are giving the police the powers they need, whether that is stop and search, increasing jail terms or confiscating around 90,000 weapons. Of course, we will always look to do more to make sure that our streets are safe for our young people.