New Labour’s old mantra was “Education, education, education.” Its new one seems to be “Tax education, tax education, tax education.” Does the Deputy Prime Minister share my disgust at Labour’s plans to tax education of choice, which could lead to 40,000 pupils being sent into the state sector, with a cost to the taxpayer? A number of English language schools in my constituency are concerned that this will also apply to them, as well as to out-of-hours tuition and sports training. Does the Deputy Prime Minister object to those measures as strongly as I do?
Once again, we have seen the Labour party putting the politics of envy above the interests of children in this country. As my hon. Friend rightly highlights, recent analysis shows that it could lead to over 40,000 pupils leaving the schools they are in, placing further burdens on existing schools and costing £300 million.
I call the deputy Leader of the Opposition.
I know you are a keen historian, Mr Speaker, so I looked up the last time a Prime Minister missed two sessions in a row for other engagements. It was March 1996. I am very proud to be filling the boots of Lord John Prescott, but I think it is safe to say that the Deputy Prime Minister is no Heseltine. John Prescott asked, why is it that in Tory Britain, tens of thousands of families are facing repossession, negative equity and homelessness? Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us, 27 years later, why I am having to ask the same question?
Clearly, the right hon. Lady did not listen to my previous comments. The Prime Minister is at NATO. Of course, that would not be a problem if she had had her way. Her old boss wanted to abandon Ukraine, abolish the Army and withdraw from NATO, and he certainly would not be going to any summit. When it comes to house building, I will take no lectures from the Labour party on home ownership. My parents would not have been able to buy their own home if it were not for Margaret Thatcher and the reforms introduced by her Government, and this Government are building on those with record house building.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is taking lessons from the former Prime Minister on telling the facts. The last Labour Government worked hard to dramatically reduce the number of children in temporary accommodation, but under the Tories the number of homeless children has risen by 75%. I am proud of our record on tackling child poverty. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel ashamed of his?
I will tell the right hon. Lady what this Government have done: we have lifted 400,000 children out of child poverty; we have introduced the national living wage, something the Labour party totally failed to do; and we have increased the national living wage by the largest amount ever, meaning £1,800 for working people and cutting their taxes by doubling the personal allowance. That is the surest way to ensure we lift people out of poverty, and it would never have happened under the Labour party.
It is like the ghost of Prime Minister past. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that he should be careful about the stats he uses, because the Children’s Commissioner warned the other Prime Minister about peddling false narratives on child poverty around those figures. The truth is that rising bills, soaring mortgages and plummeting real wages are pushing more and more families to the brink. Those already struggling are being hit hardest by the Tory mortgage bombshell and rising food costs, so can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many primary school children have been pushed into poverty since his Government took power?
I say to the right hon. Lady that it was this Conservative party, not the Labour party, that extended free school meals to all five, six and seven-year-olds—something the Labour party failed to do—and that sits alongside many measures we are taking to help people with the cost of living. We paid half of families’ energy bills last winter, funded by our 75% windfall tax, and we are freezing fuel duty, helping families with childcare and delivering on our pledge to reduce the debt. It may come as a surprise to her, but balancing the books means more than working out how many more millions to take from her union paymasters.
Once again, the right hon. Gentleman talks about balancing the books. His party crashed the economy and he seems to be completely oblivious to what it is like for working people in this country at the moment. New research out today shows that 400,000 more primary school-age children are growing up in poverty since his Government came to office. Why does he think that is?
I will take absolutely no lectures whatsoever from the Labour party about how we help children in the most need. It is record investment from this Government in education—£2 billion more this year, £2 billion next year—which is giving those very children the best possible start in life, ensuring that we have the highest reading standards in the western world. I have to say to the right hon. Lady, her leader says he hates tree huggers, but they seem very keen on hugging that magic money tree.
The right hon. Gentleman does not even acknowledge that child poverty is rising, let alone explain why. What hope has he got of solving it? Let me try a simpler question: how many kids do not have a permanent address today compared with when Labour left office in 2010?
We can exchange all these numbers across the Dispatch Boxes, but these are the numbers that matter. There are 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty under this Government, 400,000 fewer children, 200,000 fewer pensioners and 1 million fewer people of working age, because the single best route out of poverty is a job, and record numbers of people—4 million more under this Government—have got a job. That is the difference between this Conservative party and the Labour party, which always leaves office with unemployment higher.
What matters is what people feel every single day at the moment—going to work yet they cannot afford their mortgage, their rent or their Bills, because of this Conservative Government. There are 55,000 more children without a permanent address today compared with when the Tories took office 13 years ago. We have gone from a Labour Cabinet focused on tackling child poverty to Tory Ministers who will not even admit the problem. Just as in March 1996, they can offer only excuses, not answers. John Prescott asked Michael Heseltine that day:
“How can the right hon. Gentleman be so complacent in the face of the sheer misery created by the Government’s policies?”—[Official Report,
Vol. 273, c. 147.]
Twenty-seven years on, why are we asking the exact same thing?
I know there is an Opposition reshuffle coming up, but this audition for John Prescott’s old job is getting a little bit hackneyed. It is this Government who have lifted 400,000 children out of poverty. I hear the right hon. Lady claiming that Labour is the party of working people, but under their policies people cannot even get to work. They support Just Stop Oil protesters blocking our roads, they support their union paymasters stopping our trains, and of course they support the hated ultra-low emission zone stopping cars across our capital. While Conservatives get Britain moving, Labour stands in everyone’s way.
Given that the Mansion House compact does not encourage our pension funds to invest specifically in British companies, what more can the Government do to encourage greater investment in our companies, especially climate technology start-ups, which increasingly are going abroad to find the funding they require, to the benefit of our competitors?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about both start-up capital and ensuring that we get more money to high-growth companies. The Chancellor’s pension compact is a very important step forward, which will unlock £75 billion of additional investment. I am quite confident that large amounts of that will go to UK companies, and it sits alongside measures such as the Edinburgh reforms to financial services, which will help improve financial services in this country and unlock money for those industries.
I call the SNP deputy leader.
Last month, the Deputy Prime Minister dismissed warnings from the SNP Benches that mortgage rates were nearly back to where they were after the disastrous mini-Budget. This week, mortgage rates have surpassed those levels. How high do they need to go before he and his Government take this seriously?
The hon. Lady knows—people around the world know—that the driver of higher mortgage rates is higher inflation, and higher inflation is caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and by the post-covid supply chains. What we have to do is make sure that we halve inflation. It is only by getting inflation under control that we will be able to get mortgage rates down, and that requires discipline—discipline on spending, on public sector pay and on energy supply, all of which are lacking from the SNP.
The Bank of England predicts that mortgage payments will rise by at least £500 for a million households. The Prime Minister says that people need to “hold their nerve”; the Chancellor said just last night that mortgage holders should just “shop around”. Speaking of his own party, Sir Gary Streeter said:
“If the circus doesn’t stop by Christmas, it’s over”.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister understand that people cannot afford to wait until Christmas and that they need help right now?
The fundamental thing that we have to do is to halve inflation. That is an approach that the International Monetary Fund “strongly endorses”, because higher inflation drives higher mortgage rates. But that is not all we are doing: with the mortgage charter, signed up to by 90% of mortgage providers, we are giving people help to extend their terms, to go interest-only and to reduce their monthly payments. That action is supported by Martin Lewis, a real money-saving expert, unlike the big spenders on the SNP Benches.
Last year, I visited Abbeyfield House in Wednesfield and was impressed by the model of assisted living for older people that gave them the independence of a self-contained flat but the ability to eat and socialise together. I was deeply concerned to hear that a consultation is under way to close Abbeyfield House in Wednesfield. I went back there to speak to older people, and they unanimously want to stay there. Abbeyfield is a charity—His Majesty the King has been a patron for 40 years now—and it cannot meet the cost of updating the estate to meet environmental standards. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to see what support the Government can offer to Abbeyfield so that residents do not have to leave the homes they love?
I am of course very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I note that we have provided £7.5 billion of additional funding for social care and discharge. On energy specifically, we have an energy advice service to support smaller businesses and we have been piloting new audit and grant schemes that may also help.
In January, Emily booked an appointment with her local dentist in Chard, Somerset, for
The right hon. Gentleman may have missed it, but our NHS workforce plan is investing an extra £2.4 billion into training and retaining crucial NHS staff, including dentists and GPs. The number of dentists will rise by 40%. I say to people across that constituency that the best way they can ensure better services for their NHS is to vote for Faye Purbrick, the Conservative candidate.
Will the Deputy Prime Minister let us know when we can expect allocations from round 3 of the levelling-up fund? When it comes, will it be true to the Prime Minister’s pledge that all parts of the country will benefit, including the south-east and, most particularly, the very deserving town of Andover?
As well as my right hon. Friend having been an excellent Minister, I know how committed he is to the town of Andover. We will shortly announce the new approach to the third round and further details will follow shortly.
There are things we encounter in political life that are certain to horrify, appal and sicken us, but I do not think I have ever seen anything quite so grotesque as the painting over of a children’s Mickey Mouse mural, as the Home Office did at a detention centre in Kent. No Minister has, so far, roused the necessary compassion or concern to speak out about this. Will the Deputy Prime Minister look into the deeper recesses of his soul and simply condemn it?
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what real compassion looks like: stopping the vile people-smuggling trade across the channel that is condemning women and children to death. This Government are taking action to deal with it through our “stop the boats” Bill, which the Scottish National party shamefully voted against 18 times last night.
As the party of aspiration, we know the importance of home ownership. According to a recent estimate by Barclays, it now takes eight years for the average first-time buyer to save for a deposit, and in parts of London and the south-east it can take longer. What are the Deputy Prime Minister and the Government doing to improve the prospects for younger people who want to own their own home?
I know my hon. Friend is passionate in championing this issue. Almost 850,000 households have been helped to purchase a home since 2010. In 2021, the number of people getting on to the property ladder for the first time was at a 20-year high, thanks to initiatives such as First Homes and the Help to Buy scheme. Of course, that stands in contrast to the Labour party, which oversaw the lowest level of house building since the 1920s.
With rising ticket prices, many of my constituents find they can get the best-value fare by going to the staffed ticket office at Lancaster station, which is perhaps why so many of them have signed my petition to save staffing at the station. Is the closure of ticket offices just yet another cost of living bombshell hitting my hard-working constituents?
It is important that the railways continue to reform after the record amount of money we gave them during covid. If the hon. Lady is concerned about her constituents getting anywhere on the railways, I gently say that she should condemn the totally unjustified strikes that close them down week after week.
Four summers ago, the unprecedented climate change-driven heatwave caused irreparable damage to Chelmsford’s flyover. Since then, people from across Essex have been getting stuck in Chelmsford’s traffic jams, which are wasting time and hitting our economic growth. We badly need a new junction at the Army and Navy, but the funding decision has been stuck in Whitehall. Will my right hon. Friend use his cross-Cabinet convening power to get the Treasury and the Department for Transport to agree to the money so that we can deliver a new junction, stop the traffic jams and get Chelmsford moving again?
My right hon. Friend has been making a powerful case for this scheme, and she does so once again. The Chancellor is sitting next to me and will have heard her. I understand that the outline business case submitted by Essex County Council is being considered by Ministers right now, and all relevant Ministers will have heard her injunction.
Scottish Ambulance Service statistics show a more than 30% increase in hypothermic call-outs across Scotland last winter, including a staggering 84% increase in the north in December. Although fuel prices have fallen slightly, food and other costs have risen exponentially. To end the perversity of energy-rich Scotland seeing a third of Scots freezing in fuel poverty, when will the Government bring in a social tariff to ensure that the poor and vulnerable can get through this winter without calling out the ambulance service because they are freezing?
May I remind the Deputy Prime Minister and the House that yesterday was National Remembering Srebrenica Day? May I particularly point out a little-known fact? British soldiers took about 2,000 civilians out of Srebrenica in April 1993. Those British soldiers were from B Squadron 9th/12th Lancers. It is not widely known, but, under my command, they saved a huge number of lives by taking those people out of Srebrenica. They, too, should be remembered for their very gallant actions, because it was very dangerous.
I pay tribute to my right hon. and gallant Friend and to all those whom he commanded in the 1990s. We must honour the memory of those killed, and pay tribute to the extraordinary courage shown by their families, survivors and all those members of our armed forces, who served so gallantly in that situation.
In the Welsh Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) asked the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about the varying comparability factors for Wales of Crossrail, Thameslink and HS2. His answer began:
“you are dragging me into quite complex technical details.”
Then, he gave no complex technical details. I am sure that the people of Wales would be delighted to tackle any complex technical details were the Deputy Prime Minister to explain to the House why we are paying £5 billion for a white elephant in HS2,which, by now, comes nowhere near our country.
It is thanks to the strength of our United Kingdom that record sums are going to Wales under the Barnett consequentials. Indeed, in the spring Budget we increased devolved Administration funding by £630 million, which included £180 million for the Welsh Government. We are ensuring that resources are going to Wales, so that they can enhance their transport infrastructure.
If it were not so serious, it would be comical, but in Horning on the Norfolk broads, a whole area is to be totally cut off from a mobile signal until—wait for it—August, because of nesting seagulls taking up residency in the new telecoms mast. Gulls are protected and the nest cannot be moved, but if a family holidaying on the broads gets into distress this summer, they will not be able to make an emergency call. That could be life-threatening, so will the Deputy Prime Minister please help me by calling on Natural England to be sensible and make sure that, for public safety reasons, we can get a mobile phone mast working in a prime holiday location?
We all love the diversity of wildlife in this country and particularly on the North Norfolk coast, which my hon. Friend represents. He makes a strong point about the balance between that and ensuring that people have access to modern communication facilities, and I shall certainly take that up with Natural England.
Day in, day out, the public and businesses are hit by endless chaos and confusion across Government Departments—for them, clearly, Britain is not working. Paraphrasing what the Deputy Prime Minister said earlier, we know there is a Government reshuffle coming up. So will he tell us: is this down to obstruction and incompetence in the civil service, or is it, rather, that so many of their Ministers are just not up to the job?
We can see from the record of this Government, whether on cutting NHS waiting lists, or on providing record funding for our schools and hospitals, that we have an excellent team who will continue to serve.
Last week, we all celebrated the 75th anniversary of the NHS, but hon. Members may not be aware that it is also the 75th anniversary of Newton Aycliffe, a new town in my constituency designed by William Beveridge. Will the Deputy Prime Minister ask the Prime Minister to come and visit me, as his constituency neighbour, and celebrate these 75 years, and indeed the 60 years of the community newspaper provided by the Howarth family?
The day I had to phone my bank to tell it that I was having difficulty paying my mortgage was one that has lived with me for years. I found that because my income was so low at the time, ironically, I was not eligible to switch to an interest-only mortgage or get any help. I never want my constituents to feel the terror and abandonment that I felt that day. Can the Deputy Prime Minister understand that? The complete lack of empathy in his responses to the deputy leader of the SNP group suggests not. I welcome the temporary measures, but they are temporary. This mortgage crisis has been two years in the making. Do he and the Prime Minister really think they are going to fix it in 12 months?
It is deeply disturbing, upsetting and worrying for anyone to contemplate losing their home. That is exactly why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has introduced the mortgage charter, which 90% of the mortgage market has now signed up to and which will provide support to people. In addition, after three months, people on universal credit can apply for further support.
A Government survey has shown that 75% of British businesses support improvements to the UK’s sick pay system. Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland launched a report, alongside WPI Economics and the Centre for Progressive Change, with ideas about how that could be done. Will my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister ensure that we get a meeting with the Chancellor, ahead of the autumn Budget, to see what ideas can be developed? They could provide an economic boost of £4 billion to the UK economy.
As ever, my hon. Friend has made a strong case. The Chancellor is sitting next to me and I am quite sure he would be delighted to meet with him.
The forced isolation of people in care homes or hospitals from their loved ones from the beginning of the pandemic, and its terrible consequences, as well as the many who died alone, has left a profound trauma. We have learned the hard way that the care of a loved one is not an optional extra; it is an essential part of dignified care. My Care Supporters Bill would guarantee that fundamental right. While the Government recognise that there is a problem, their recently announced consultation relates to visiting and not a legal right to a care supporter at all times. Would the Deputy Prime Minister speak to the Prime Minister about bringing forward legislation in the next King’s Speech?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the need for care supporters to be able to have that kind of access. I will take away the points he has raised, and raise them with my ministerial colleagues.
Mr Speaker, you know the value of inter-parliamentary relations and, in particular, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which was founded nearly 135 years ago in this place. We are honoured this week to be joined by the president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Mr Duarte Pacheco. Would my right hon. Friend join his campaign to get the USA to rejoin this important international organisation?
As my right hon. Friend knows, the United Kingdom was a founding member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I would very much like the United States to rejoin and I am happy to help make that case.
Not a day goes by without serious sexual harassment allegations in organisations up and down the country. My private Member’s Bill on workplace protections from harassment could go a long way to address some of these serious issues. Indeed, the Bill has full Government support. It is currently stuck in the other place, but a compromise is now in sight, so that the Bill can pass through the House of Lords. Our rules require that any amendment made in the House of Lords needs to come back to the House of Commons. Will the Deputy Prime Minister ensure that a small amount of Government time is made available in this place, between now and the end of the parliamentary Session, to ensure that this important Bill will become law?
As the hon. Lady knows, we have supported the Bill and we are working on it. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the measures further.