– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 17th October 2022.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered e-petition 619781, relating to an early general election.
The petition calls for an immediate general election to end the chaos of the current Government. It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell.
As we gather in Westminster Hall this afternoon, the drama of the current Government is once again playing out in the Chamber and on the news channels. Many Members are keen to question the Prime Minister, who has failed to come to Parliament to account for events, and a Chancellor who was appointed by the Prime Minister just last week to try to sort out the utter chaos. I am sure many more Members would be here to speak if there were not such an important clash with business in the House.
I am particularly disappointed that there are no Government Members here to speak for the petitioners, who would like to hear not only Opposition views on the petition but Government Members’ views. It is no wonder that the petition, which is still open, has been signed by more than 632,000 petitioners—the number is going up as we speak, by about 1,000 signatures an hour. The numbers make this one of the most popular petitions considered by the Petitions Committee to date. As its Chair, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the petitioners and pretty much anyone I have spoken to in the last few days, weeks and months about the state of the country.
The petition is clear in its demand. It states:
“Call an immediate general election to end the chaos of the current government…so that the people can decide who should lead us through the unprecedented crises threatening the UK.”
It goes on to explain:
“The chaos engulfing the UK government is unprecedented. Over 40 ministers resigned leaving departments without leadership during cost of living, energy and climate crises. War rages in Ukraine;
the Northern Ireland Protocol has further damaged our relationship with Europe;
the UK itself may cease to exist as Scotland seeks independence. This is the greatest set of challenges we have seen in our lifetimes. Let the people decide who leads us through this turmoil.”
I pay tribute to Darrin Charlesworth, who set up the petition. Little did he know, I suspect, that the chaos that led him to start the petition would develop further into the mini-Budget U-turns, the market turmoil, the sacking of the now ex-Chancellor and the extraordinary scenes we saw this morning of the new Chancellor reversing the entire platform that the Prime Minister stood on. Perhaps he had the foresight to see how much worse it could get. There were plenty of warnings and, sadly, it is not over.
The scenario facing us when the petition was started was the horror of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, inflation reaching a 40-year high, unaffordable fuel bills, record backlogs in our NHS and a looming winter of struggle ahead. Unfortunately, weeks on, with a new Prime Minister and now a second Chancellor, things have only got worse.
Those who signed the petition were expressing their frustration at a governing party spending a summer focused inwards, choosing themselves a new leader, rather than dealing with these multiple crises. Rather than speaking to and engaging with the country and setting out a vision of what they should expect from a new Prime Minister, those of us outside the Conservative party—99.7% of us—were left looking on, with no input into the process and precious little scrutiny, as planned televised interviews on the BBC and Channel 4 were cancelled. It was far removed from the scrutiny of an agenda for government that would happen in a general election campaign. After recent events, particularly this morning, we can see why such scrutiny matters.
We live in a parliamentary democracy. It is not the first time that a Prime Minister has changed during an election cycle, but we are now on to the fourth Conservative Prime Minister in little over six years. The last three were replaced not by the electorate, but by Conservative MPs and members. That is frustrating for the public, who have no say in who their Prime Minister is or in their programme for government.
The real boost to the number of signatories to the petition came once the new Prime Minister had been chosen. Concern was heightened by the fact that she received the backing of only 31% of her own MPs in the final ballot. By comparison, in 2019, Boris Johnson received 51% of votes in the final ballot, and in 2016, Mrs May received 60%. It did not end well for them, so is a Prime Minister with less support among her parliamentary party destined to fare any better? In the light of recent events, clearly not.
Most of the policy proposals that were set out in the Prime Minister’s leadership campaign and hastily enacted in the disastrous mini-Budget had no mandate whatsoever. The 632,000-plus people who signed the petition represent nearly eight times the number who voted for our current Prime Minister. Some may ask, “Why does that matter? The Prime Minister won under rules set by the Conservative party, which is currently the largest party in Parliament.”
This is not without precedent: in 1976, when Harold Wilson announced his resignation at Prime Minister’s questions, the then Leader of the Opposition asked if there would be an election. She said:
“In spite of the political battles, we wish the Prime Minister well, personally, in his retirement. His decision has come at a time of great financial difficulty and of unprecedented parliamentary events. Is he aware that the best way to resolve the uncertainty and to give the new Prime Minister the authority re-required would be to put the matter to the people for their vote?”—[Official Report,
I do not often find myself agreeing with the late Margaret Thatcher, but on that point I—and the petitioners—do. Lady Thatcher was not wrong about lack of authority; we are seeing its consequences unfolding before our eyes. Weeks into office, any semblance of authority that our Prime Minister may have had has been shattered, along with confidence in her and in this Government’s ability to govern. Over the weekend, one of the Government’s own MPs described her as being like “the chairman” while her new Chancellor would act as “the chief executive”—they were not even trying to hide the fact that she is in office but not in power.
Then, there is the mini-Budget. The then Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, proclaimed that he wanted to “bet big” on the British economy. We have seen just how reckless that was. The question remains: who gave the then Chancellor and the Prime Minister permission to gamble in such a way with our public finances, bypassing the checks and balances that go with such a fiscal event, including the growth forecasts and spending commitments calculated by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility? How on earth was that allowed to happen? Not even the 81,326 Conservative party members who voted for the Prime Minister gave their permission for it.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that the mini-Budget contained
“the biggest package of tax cuts in 50 years without even a semblance of an effort to make the public finance numbers add up.”
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research said that the uncertainty caused by the fiscal event was directly pushing up longer-term borrowing costs. The Government lacked the mandate to make those disastrous changes, and they still lack the mandate to try to clean them up. Although the package has now been scrapped, the damage to the UK will be long lasting: higher borrowing costs, higher mortgage rates and damage to our reputation for years to come. This will never be forgotten.
Many are rightly asking, “What is the point of this Government now that their showpiece policies—all rainbows and unicorns—which they spent the summer waxing lyrical about, landed calamitously and were swiftly withdrawn the moment they met reality?”. When Downing Street cannot govern, it is incapable of stepping up to the significant and pressing challenges our country faces. We desperately need a Government who can.
What is left of the Government’s programme? Although the Budget has been reversed, we still have fracking. Despite the Conservatives’ own 2019 manifesto pledge that they
“will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely” and the fact it is a policy that few can support, the Government are seemingly still intent on lifting the ban on fracking licences without any consultation, assurances on safety or local planning considerations.
Then there is the current debate around benefits uprating.
Without a mandate, Government MPs will find it even harder to justify the lifting of the cap on bankers’ bonuses at the same time as the poorest are set to be punished. Indeed, the lifting of that cap is one of the only other measures in the mini-Budget that is left.
Today marks the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and the start of Challenge Poverty Week. Some 41% of babies, children and young people are growing up in households in receipt of universal credit or legacy benefits; that figure is 52% in my region of the north-east. The failure to uprate benefits with inflation will have a devastating impact on those households, compounding the already shocking levels of child poverty in the UK.
Where is the mandate from the public for this Government to preside over the poorest in our country being made poorer and increasing numbers of children growing up in poverty? Where is the democratic accountability for a Government that have no mandate for the policies they seek to pursue? Why should anyone trust this Government to clean up the mess they have made in the past few weeks? Would we ask a person who started a fire in our house to be responsible for putting it out? Of course not.
Far from a fresh Administration buzzing with new ideas, we have a tired, worn-out and weak Administration, going round in circles and damaging our reputation at home and abroad. The spectacle of our great country being led by Government MPs desperately clinging to power and trying to distance themselves from the past 12 years is embarrassing to watch.
The petitioners have very clear asks: for there to be an end to the chaos engulfing the Government and our country, and for the people to have the chance to decide who should lead us going forward. Will the Minister say how the public can have confidence in the competence of a Government that just days into office took such a reckless, irresponsible gamble with the public finances? After being forced to abandon her entire policy platform just weeks into office and sack her Chancellor, what authority does the Prime Minister now have? When will people on the lowest incomes have confirmation that benefits will be uprated with inflation, as promised by the Government only weeks ago? How can the country have faith in anything the Government say when, over the past few weeks, they have backtracked on most of their promises and appear set to do so again, after warning of “difficult choices” to be made? Most importantly, when will the public have their say on how they want this country to be governed?
It is in the Government’s gift to call an election. Failing that, Government Members can join with Opposition Members to put things right. Whatever Government are elected, they will at least have the support of the British people.
It is not just the 632,000 petitioners who believe that the public deserve a say. In January, the current Business Secretary, Mr Rees-Mogg, stated that
“the mandate is personal rather than entirely party and…any prime minister would be very well advised to seek a fresh mandate.”
Earlier this month, the former Culture Secretary, Ms Dorries, tweeted that
“No one asked for this”,
and that if the Prime Minister
“wants a whole new mandate, she must take to the country.”
Mark Garnier has stated that there should be an election soon because
“we can’t expect people to put up with the psychodrama of the Conservative party indefinitely.”
I could not agree more, but those Members need to put their money where their mouths are on this matter.
Darrin Charlesworth, the petition’s creator, said that the Prime Minister has “torn up” the manifesto that saw the Government elected, and the
“major change in direction and policy requires a general election, regardless of which party happens to be in power.”
He feels that the current situation is a
“dangerous distraction from the business of running the country” and believes
“it needs to come to a decisive end with a general election immediately.”
Aside from the over 632,000 petitioners who agree with Darrin, a poll out today from “Good Morning Britain” found that an astonishing 93% of respondents want a general election. Similarly, Channel 4 found that only 8% believe that the Prime Minister should remain. The situation is completely unacceptable and unsustainable.
Since 2010, our country has faced monumental changes: a coalition Government, a referendum in Scotland, Brexit, parliamentary gridlock, the illegal proroguing of Parliament and a pandemic. The previous Prime Minister oversaw the complete erosion of standards in public life, before being forced from office as scandal caught up with him. Those seismic changes and the ensuing chaos have tested our constitution—and our patience with the Government—to the limit. After their 12 years in office, the country deserves a chance to have its say on this Government and their programme. Today, as with most days, we all woke up to another chaotic day in politics. It is damaging and exhausting, but it does not have to be this way.
This is not about party politics. Many who signed the petition will have voted Conservative at the last election and may do so again. What nobody voted for was this chaos, which is caused by the lack of the clear mandate that any Government would need to have the authority to face up to the challenges ahead. MPs have a duty to the public to govern in the national interest. The petition calls on the Government to do the right thing and put an end to the uncertainty and lack of authority by giving the people their say. If the Government have any hope of rebuilding trust with the electorate, they should do exactly that—today.
It is an honour to speak with you in the Chair, Mr Mundell. I believe that I was the first Member to call for a general election this side of the summer, in the Chamber during Prime Minister’s questions on
Almost 1,000 of my constituents have signed this petition calling for change. Although it was originally set up before the new Prime Minister was even in post, the astonishing scenes this afternoon, with the Chancellor’s stunning reversal of virtually all the Prime Minister’s economic policies, make the wording of the petition more relevant than ever. It rightly notes:
“The chaos engulfing the UK government is unprecedented.”
I don’t know about you, Mr Mundell, but I am sick of living in unprecedented times.
The petition was written before the disastrous events of the Prime Minister’s mini-Budget had even taken place. Make no mistake: the Government are now in even deeper chaos. We are not yet six weeks into the new leadership and a new Cabinet, and collective responsibility has all but disintegrated. Cabinet members are openly briefing against their own leader’s policies in newspaper op-eds, and today, in perhaps the final nail in the coffin, her new Chancellor has completely demolished the ideology of her economic project. Her flagship cut to the basic rate of income tax—gone. Cuts to the dividend tax—abandoned. VAT-free shopping—scrapped. Shamefully, the Government have also chosen to water down their hugely important scheme to cap skyrocketing energy costs for families, which may have actually done some good for constituents, including mine in Pontypridd.
The Government are divided and fractured, and talk of changing to a third Tory Prime Minister in a single year would make a laughing stock of our democracy. The damage is already done. All of us in this place know the truth. The British people know the truth. It is only the Government who are turning a blind eye while the economy continues to spiral out of control. Overnight, people’s pension funds vanished, mortgages skyrocketed and our country was pushed even further into an economic and political crisis of the Government’s own making. This is unprecedented Government incompetence.
Countless residents in Pontypridd and Taff Ely have contacted me to say that they are genuinely worried about surviving the winter because they simply cannot afford to turn on the heating. That is the reality of this crisis: lives are at risk this winter. Is that not a disgraceful indictment of the Government’s failings? It is because of the astonishing fiscal incompetence that I called for a general election during PMQs in September. We need a general election because changing the figurehead at the top of the party is just not enough. As I said in September, I know that residents in my area will never forget that the Prime Minister played a key role in a Government that failed millions.
The governing party in this country is at absolute war with itself and has lost the respect of the British public. For the new Tory Chancellor—the fourth in as many months—to feel compelled to urgently address this House to fully overhaul the Prime Minister’s disastrous mini-Budget shows just how panicked the Tory party is. The Tories have completely destroyed their own credibility, and they know it.
However, it is about not just the incompetence we have seen during the energy crisis, but 12 years of failed Tory rule. The historic failure of this Government to invest sufficiently in renewables and nuclear has exacerbated the energy crisis; the historic failure of this Government to wean our financial systems off of Russian oligarch money has left us internationally exposed to Putin’s posturing as he tries to weaken the west’s resolve; the historic failure of this Government to stimulate any kind of real economic growth in the past 12 years has left our economy weaker and more vulnerable than ever before. Make no mistake: the Tory party is currently the biggest threat to the financial security of thousands of families in my constituency and across the whole United Kingdom.
As the approval ratings of this doomed Prime Minister reach new depths every single day—or hour—I do not think that we have ever had a Government who have failed so spectacularly to command the confidence of their own party, let alone the country. Even worse, the UK Government seem to have forgotten that the decisions made in Westminster have a real impact on local communities across the country. I have genuine concerns that local authorities across the UK, which provide vital services to residents, are feeling the impact of every single U-turn by this Government.
In my constituency, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council is doing as much as it can with extremely limited resources, but more devastating tax cuts and shamefully low levels of investment are putting councils like mine under more pressure than ever before. Shamefully, it is our communities’ most vulnerable residents who depend on those services and will suffer the most when the Tories refuse to act. It is not just about their fiscal incompetence; across the board, sectors that have been crying out for Government action for years have been completely disregarded by a Government who have clearly lost interest in governing. Where is the desperately needed gambling review, which we were promised all the way back in December 2020? Where is the long-awaited and long-overdue Online Safety Bill, which this House needs to change lives for the better? Finally, do not get me started on the Government’s complete disregard for the safety of all people in the UK.
It is clear to me—and increasingly to the Government’s own MPs—that the only way out of this mess is through a general election. Bring it on. Let us have this general election and turn the page on Tory incompetence for good; let the people decide.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Mundell. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in today’s important debate on e-petition 619781. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell for speaking so well and giving voice to so many concerns felt by me and an increasing number of my Newport West constituents.
The state of our nation is far from strong, and it is important that we recognise that the challenges and obstacles faced by the people of our United Kingdom have been caused by the Conservative party and our Prime Minister. This is a Tory crisis, made in Downing Street, and being paid for by working people in Newport West and across the country. This 12-year-old Conservative Government have crashed the economy through enormous unfunded tax cuts; they have left people worried as they face higher mortgages and soaring costs, and have done nothing to show they understand how serious the situation is.
On Friday, Kwasi Kwarteng was fired by the Prime Minister, who is his ideological bedfellow. They were in lockstep over every key element of Government policy announced since
Of course, Government Members, if they were here, would say that His Majesty’s Opposition have to call for an election—it is what we do; that is our job—but we are beyond simply saying it for the sake of it. Indeed, The Sunday Times editorial yesterday called for a change of Prime Minister and a general election, and I quite agree. I feel sure that the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, stands ready to lead.
Our nation is in peril. Our people, from Scotland to Wales and from England to Northern Ireland, are having to decide between heating and eating. Now, with rising mortgages, people across the nation face losing their homes. We are in a disgraceful situation, and not one word from any Minister in this Government reassures me that they understand the challenge before them. They also do not understand the scale of the change required, or the fact that if we do not stabilise the markets through sensible policy decisions we will push our people not just to the edge, but over the cliff.
I was not elected to this place by the people of Newport West to stand by and let this reckless, out of touch and inward looking Tory Government get away with destroying the lives of tens of millions of people. That is the situation we are in, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North made clear, that is why we need a general election. The petition we are considering today has more than half a million signatures; indeed, as my hon. Friend said, there are 630,000 signatures and the number is still increasing. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to give voice to people’s fears, worries, concerns and demands.
I asked one of my constituents, Amanda Bayliss, who lives in Caerleon, for a quote for this debate and she said:
“Dear Ruth, I am appalled and devastated by the actions of this current government. I’m genuinely worried and afraid for my future and that of my children and grandchildren.”
She went on to say that this
“government must be stopped at all costs before there is nothing left of this country, and we reach a point of no return.”
It is not just Amanda in Caerleon; across Newport West, I am accosted by people in the supermarket or on the street, and yesterday even in church, who say, “For goodness’ sake, Ruth, get rid of this Government”. I have to tell them that I do not have the power to do so.
This petition shows the strength of feeling across the United Kingdom. Our United Kingdom is living through a moment of profound change. It needs a Government who can deliver an economy that works for everyone, delivering the jobs and growth of the future. In recent days, we have been reminded of how working people have been left counting the cost of 12 years of Tory Government. The Conservative party’s failure to grow the economy has resulted in stagnant wages and broken public services.
The Labour party has a serious plan for growth and wants to see all our nations and regions benefit from and contribute to the growth and jobs of the future as we deliver net zero. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, is now the de facto Prime Minister, without a single vote being cast by a single person.
We know now that the Prime Minister believes in the failed trickle-down ideology of the past, which has locked Britain out of growth and which will never deliver for working people. My party will deliver for working people, as it is already doing in Wales; Labour, under First Minister Mark Drakeford, is delivering for the people of Newport West and for people across Wales.
Here and in Wales, the Tories are the party of vested interest and their time to go has come. That is why we need a general election, and when it comes Labour will deliver the fairer, greener future that this country deserves.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Mundell. It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate under your chairmanship.
This is a Tory crisis, made in Downing Street but paid for by working people, as my hon. Friend Ruth Jones has said. Changing the Chancellor over the weekend or making a partial U-turn does not undo the damage that has been done by the Prime Minister and the Conservative party, who selfishly used the whole summer for their infighting, rather than focusing on the needs of working families, such as their energy bills. Now look where they have landed us; they have undermined our institutions and trashed our standing on the world stage, damaging the country’s credibility as a place to invest. They need to get on with reversing this Budget in order to reassure the markets. However, the statement that is being delivered in the main Chamber as we speak here in Westminster Hall does not give me much cause for pleasure, because I believe that it will lead to more hardship for working people. Basically, it is balancing the books on the backs of working people, who have played no role in crashing the economy.
The problem is the philosophy of trickle-down economics, which the Prime Minister seemed to promote when she was first elected to the post by Tory party members. However, the confusing thing—for members of the public, the markets and for us as MPs—is that the new Chancellor appears to have turned all that on its head.
The Conservatives crashed the economy for unfunded tax cuts for the wealthiest, causing mortgages to skyrocket and making people worried sick about their pensions. When the Prime Minister was asked to come to Parliament to explain, somehow she sent someone else and was not even able to turn up to apologise for what she had done to wreck our standing in the world and to wreck the economy.
I would be very happy with a general election. I hope that some fresh faces might improve the situation somewhat. The important thing is that, as a representative from Tesco said yesterday on the BBC, the Labour party has a plan. It has the confidence of large groups such as Tesco and others. When Tesco, or another large company like it, agrees with the trade unions that the Government have wrecked the economy, we know it is time for some fresh faces.
We are ready. We have been watching for 12 years. We have been watching as child poverty has skyrocketed. We have been watching as the promise of levelling up—which was a good Tory pledge and a good idea—has utterly failed. We will see that as the Chancellor now announces the cutting back of capital and revenue spend in the poorest corners of the UK.
With the Office for Budget Responsibility not having laid out its view, it is difficult for us to say exactly, in pounds and pennies, what Labour would do. However, we have enough of an outline; we have something that is much more convincing than what the Government will take to the general election. It may not come today and it may not come tomorrow, but we all know that the general election is not far off.
Let us talk briefly about the mortgage situation. We will need a plan for people’s mortgages. The eye-watering mortgage increases will cause homeowners across the country sleepless nights. In the area I represent, where there are very expensive mortgages because the cost of housing is so high in London, those who can buy their own homes are very stretched indeed. One mum told me that she had sleepless nights, saying, “How am I going to come up with £800 as of next spring? I don’t know where that’s going to come from.” Her job is quite well paid, but it does not pay another £800 a month. Those are the sorts of conversations that families are having up and down the country. Mortgage increases will lead to more families breaking up, too. It is a fact that the more financial worries people have, the more that families tend to break up under their weight.
Another thing that is very much on our minds as Labour MPs is the question of benefits, and what will happen to the poorest in our society. The events that we are most often invited to attend in our constituencies are food bank openings. I have been involved in both local and national politics since 2001, and I have never gone to so many food banks. Bounds Green food bank tells me that it used to open at 10 in the morning and close at 1 pm, but it now closes at 11 am, because in one hour all the food is gone, and there are fewer and fewer people who are able to donate. This crisis is doubly unfair on those who need to use food banks.
Working parents, disabled people and the poorest pensioners must have the knowledge that, when we get in, our Government will ensure that they can pay for the cost of living. In fact, once we get in, and there are fresh faces and fresh energy, I believe that the economy will improve a bit—just on the basis that we have more energy and some ideas. In a democracy, any Government tend to run out of ideas. After 12 years, this is a genuine fact: the Government have run out of ideas. We saw that in the summer, when Tory candidates said some nonsensical things and were completely out of touch with what the average person is deeply worried about.
I have another couple of points to make. I am very worried about the treatment of the civil service during the last month. It was not just the fact that the Office for Budget Responsibility was not permitted to give an outline to MPs, journalists, markets and citizens; pushing out the head of the civil service and the Treasury on day one sent a very bad message to all those parties. Over the years, civil servants in our system have held up a non-partisan approach to what the right thing is for the country. That is not to say that there cannot be conflicts or debates between a politician and a civil servant, but sacking the most senior civil servant in the Treasury was one of the most troubling things I have seen since being in this House.
The OBR was not allowed to make its statement, institutions such as think-tanks and the Institute for Fiscal Studies were publicly trashed over the summer, and very negative language was used about the Governor of the Bank of England, when his job is to provide financial stability for the country. Time and again during the leadership election there were subliminal and quite outspoken criticisms of the Governor. The scene was being set for trashing the institutions that basically, through a gentleman’s agreement, hold together our standing domestically and internationally. That was completely detonated when the current incumbent in Downing Street—I assume she is still there—got into power. The judgment of that individual has come into our sight.
Something else has been really bothering me in the last couple of weeks. As we have a couple of minutes up our sleeve, may I be indulged, Mr Mundell, in mentioning that I read in The Guardian that when the Prime Minister moved into Downing Street she moved out of the former Prime Minister’s office—Mr Johnson’s office—and allowed her assistant, Mr Mark Fullbrook, to move into it? Mr Fullbrook is based in Mr Johnson’s office, and apparently the current Prime Minister uses the Cabinet room for her discussions. Fair enough, but it worries me deeply that this individual has a very questionable record on two counts. First, there is a question over who he has advised in a Libyan set-up, and whether he has advised correct people there. Secondly, there is the question of his advice in a gubernatorial race in the USA. Money came into his company so that he could work on somebody else’s campaign, and the FBI has been looking at whether the funding has been correctly transferred from one party to another.
To have somebody who is being investigated by the FBI sitting in Mr Johnson’s former office chills me to the bone, but that is the sort of Government who have finally got into power in this country. Regardless of how many days this Government have left, we urgently need an independent ethics adviser to be appointed. Other Members may be able to clarify this, but my understanding is that the Prime Minister said that that was not urgent, and not particularly necessary. I think it is urgent, but only a new Government can clean up the mess that this Government have got themselves into.
I will talk briefly about constituents who have written to me about the cost of living crisis. They are not necessarily going to food banks currently, but they are finding life very difficult indeed. They have told me how much food in the supermarket has gone up by—real basics, such as milk, butter and chicken. People should be able to put those basics on the table to feed their families. Energy costs and the cost of petrol to go into someone’s car have been soaring; yet what we have been discussing in the House of Commons often does not reflect the pain that many people are going through. We want to see workers getting decent pay, being respected, and having their rights at work respected—not a Government who seek to roll back further the rights of trade unions, or of people who want to protest against what the Government are doing. We are seeing increasing authoritarianism, which seems to go hand in hand with the financial mistakes that the Government have made.
We want the question of the national grid and energy shortages to be addressed with some sincerity and honesty. Last week and the week before, when National Grid warned that there would be blackouts, no one really believed the Government when they said, “We’ll be fine”. We have been told that before and then we have had a crisis. It is deeply distressing to see the lack of honesty. We need the Government to be honest and say, “There could well be blackouts, and if there are, this is what you do: one, two, three.” They should not let people live in fear that that will happen without the correct advice on what to do if it does.
On clean power, which links to the national grid question, the next Labour Government will launch an urgent mission for a fossil fuel-free electricity system by 2030, making the UK a clean energy superpower that will export clean power to the rest of the world. Gas futures price projections show that that would save UK households £93 billion over the rest of this decade, or an average saving of £475 per household every year until 2030. This world-leading commitment would support the creation of more than 200,000 direct jobs and 260,000 to 300,000 indirect jobs.
That kind of vision, plan and investment in skills and the future, with a proper plan for our regions, is giving the likes of the Tesco boss who said that Labour had a plan confidence that we do. The UK would be the first major economy to make that world-leading commitment, alongside smaller European countries such as Austria, Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands. It complements Labour’s plans to increase energy efficiency, including through our warm homes plan to insulate 19 million cold, draughty homes over a decade.
A number of Members have been on local councils. When I was a borough leader in 2010 we had a very good programme for giving away boilers to the private rented sector, and a plan to retrofit draughty Victorian properties. After 2010, it was disappointing to see Mr Osborne decide to trash all spending to councils, including for all the important green programmes to insulate homes. We would have had 30% more warm homes in my constituency if that small amount of funding had been allowed to continue. I am sure that if that had been replicated across the UK, we would spend so much less as a nation on fuel and energy.
Martin Lewis has made his most recent projection of what our fuel bills will look like next year. I am pleased that we will not be opposing the energy price guarantee legislation this evening, but for goodness’ sake, get the money off the companies. Do not put it on to debt, because that will make the markets go crazy again. The Government must listen to the Opposition and accept that we have sometimes come up with some good ideas.
Thank you for your patience, Mr Mundell, as I have been on a circuitous route around the question of a general election. I have laid out some of our good ideas. We will have an energy policy for the future. We will have a plan for working people. We will have a vision for no more food banks, for the building of more affordable homes for our residents, and for enhancing our role in the world. I hope we will look at eliminating our huge trade deficit, which is another area that worries many of us on the Labour Benches. I hope that with some fresh faces and energy through the upcoming general election, which I am sure will come, we will end up with a wonderful team of committed Labour Cabinet members and a Labour team that will restore us as the best country in the world.
It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Mr Mundell. It is a bit of a challenge to prepare for a debate like this, because we are living through the most unprecedented series of political earthquakes, with the ground constantly shifting beneath our feet. It is almost as though we are living in a time when the longevity of a Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer is measured in hours rather than months or years, so please forgive me if I keep an eye on my phone to ensure that Ministers and policies remain the same as they were when I rose to speak. It is good to see this Minister in his place. He is certainly not hiding under any desks, as it may have been suggested that others were.
This short-lived Government have pivoted so many times already—there have been so many U-turns—that we have absolutely no idea what direction we are travelling in, but we are lurching speedily towards a cliff edge. In effect, all the promises and pledges so firmly given by the Prime Minister during the long and tedious leadership campaign and reinforced several times over the last couple of weeks have been abandoned. We have been left wondering whether the notorious mini-Budget was a mere mirage to our collective consciences. The tax cut for the wealthiest, the basic rate cut, the dividend tax cut and the corporation tax cut are all gone—along with the former Chancellor himself. The only positive bit, I guess, was the two-year energy cap, which provided some much-needed certainty to struggling households, but it is also gone; even it is not there now. So what next? Who knows? The Prime Minister might even have gone by the time I finish speaking and sit down, although who would take the poisoned chalice is another matter.
Even for an Opposition Member, it is at times almost too painful to watch this embarrassing farce of a Government limping on. It feels like a particularly shambolic episode of “The Apprentice”, and at this stage I do not think I would be surprised if Lord Sugar suddenly appeared and fired the lot of them. It is certainly beyond any parody that could be imagined in “The Thick of It”. I am sure that a few of us could imagine, or begin to imagine, what might be coming out of the mouth of Malcolm Tucker if he were having to deal with such a situation.
We know that it has gone too far when we can no longer tell the satire from the ridiculous reality, but the gross economic incompetence of it all has deadly serious consequences for millions of people across the UK. There are people who are working 40 hours or more a week and are still unable to make ends meet. Established businesses are at risk of going under because they cannot afford to pay soaring energy bills. Families are going hungry or are afraid of losing their homes.
I held a cost of living event in Gorebridge in my constituency just on Friday past. I had invited the Prime Minister to attend so that she might be able to answer constituents’ concerns directly. However, despite watching out for her, I regret to inform the House that she did not attend—a bit like earlier today. I was hearing harrowing stories from many people struggling simply to make ends meet. They did not know where to turn. We have a fantastic sense of community in Midlothian and we had a great range of partners in attendance, so we were able to point people to some of the right places. But what can people do when the Government fail so spectacularly the people they are meant to serve?
I therefore completely understand where the petition has come from and why it has gathered such a high number of signatures. It is now 633,000 and continuing to rise—I am watching the petition clock up signatures as I stand here. That number includes more than 1,000 people in my own constituency of Midlothian. People are absolutely scunnered by what they have witnessed. At a time of crisis, they want a competent Government of their own choosing, not a Prime Minister chosen by a few.
In response to the petition, the Government argued that the UK’s is not a presidential system. I am glad that they finally acknowledge that, because the Prime Minister and her predecessor—whose paw prints are all over the mess that we are in—do not seem to have much truck with collective decision making. They blatantly disregard evidence and seem reluctant to inform Cabinet colleagues of their latest back-of-a-fag-packet policy. For some time, there has been an unhealthy trend in the UK towards more personality-based politics—something that perhaps needs to be reflected on in calmer times.
Of course, having a Government we did not vote for is not something new for those of us in Scotland; it is the normal state over the last number of years. I am very grateful that we at least have a clear exit route in front of us to escape from this bourach: we have a modern, proportional parliamentary system working well at Holyrood already and a Scottish Government ready with an alternative plan for our future should the people choose it. Independence for Scotland is not a threat to the rest of the UK or the social bonds that we cherish. It is an opportunity for a more equal partnership, whereby Scotland could demonstrate to the rest of these isles the genuine alternative to the status quo.
We could protect the fabric of our communities, look after vulnerable citizens and protect our landscapes and nature. We could build a new, greener industrial base, becoming the renewable powerhouse of Europe and rejoining our European partners in free trade and travel across the continent. We could value everyone, no matter where they come from, and create a fairer, wealthier and more equal society. That will create sustainable, shared prosperity far better than any trickle-down economics—relying on scraps from a rich man’s table—ever could.
In Scotland, we have a cast-iron mandate for a referendum on our future, yet this discredited Government and—disappointingly, I have to say—the official Opposition still seem to block all democratic paths to achieve it. Choice is the key issue here, and that is something that seems to have been forgotten in the corridors of power in this place. The right to self-determination is a fundamental and inalienable right of all people. It is enshrined in international law, the UN charter and the international covenant on civil and political rights. The UK Government support that principle for other countries, but not, it seems, for Scotland. For this chaotic and unpopular Government to continue to say no to a referendum is more like the actions of a dictatorship than those of a democracy, and I hope the next Prime Minister will reconsider that position, whoever they are and whenever they come along.
While I agree with the growing call for a general election, it is not a long-term solution for our broken system. I urge all democrats, whether or not they support independence, to get behind Scotland’s right to choose. Democracy is not a one-time event—the Prime Minister has been able to change her mind on her policies in the space of a matter of days, so why should the people of Scotland not be able to change their mind after eight years of broken promises? The ground has shifted many times. All the big claims from Better Together have been spectacularly wrong: staying in the UK did not keep us in the European Union, it did not protect energy prices, and it most certainly did not keep the economy on a steady course. The future of Scots’ mortgages and pensions has never been more uncertain than it is today. When circumstances change, the people have a right to change their mind, as the current Prime Minister demonstrates again and again with U-turn after U-turn.
Whatever the party of government chooses to do next, we have to remember that the crisis we face did not begin with the current Prime Minister—the one who was Prime Minister at the time of writing, at least—and it will not end when she goes, if indeed she is still in post. We have had 12 years of Conservative mismanagement. We have energy policies that are unfit for purpose, and austerity policies bringing public services to their knees. We have no solution to the continued chaos from Brexit, which has been a disaster for our businesses, public sector, education and research, holidaymakers, travel and cultural life. Sadly, Labour has no answer to that point. Another general election might put a plaster on some of those wounds, but it will not heal the UK’s chronic problems. Independence for Scotland is an idea whose time has come, and it cannot come soon enough.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship in this momentous debate, Mr Mundell. I thank the Chair of the Petitions Committee, my hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell, for fast-tracking this debate and putting the case for a general election so well. She speaks for so many people across this country.
I also offer a huge thank you and congratulations to the more than 633,000 members of the public who have supported the e-petition that secured today’s debate. Over 500,000 people have signed it in the past two weeks alone, and at the moment, over 1,000 are signing it every hour. I believe that today’s debate is being watched by an unusual number of people for a Westminster Hall debate. A staggering number of people have signed the petition since
I congratulate Darrin Charlesworth on launching the petition back in July. Back then, he said that
“The chaos engulfing the UK government is unprecedented. Over 40 ministers resigned leaving departments without leadership during cost of living, energy and climate crises. War rages in Ukraine;
the Northern Ireland Protocol has further damaged our relationship with Europe;
the UK itself may cease to exist as Scotland seeks independence. This is the greatest set of challenges we have seen in our lifetimes. Let the people decide who leads us through this turmoil.”
That is how the petitioner, and the thousands of people who signed the petition, felt back in July. But look at what has happened since. We have had a Prime Minister voted in by the very few. She has launched a new economic strategy with no mandate, prioritising VAT-free shopping for tourists, of all things, and tax cuts for the super-rich. She has tanked the pound, causing the Bank of England to have to step in. She jeopardised pensions and sent mortgage costs soaring, before U-turning on the 45p rate of tax and then on corporation tax. She ditched her Chancellor after 38 days. This morning she ditched the two-year energy price cap, the income tax cut, the freeze on alcohol duties, VAT-free shopping for tourists—fair enough—and the dividend and freelance reforms. Who knows what else is changing as we speak, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer is giving a statement in the main Chamber. I am sure that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North said, many more Members would be present if that were not happening right now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North reiterated that there is no mandate and that people have lost patience with the Government. No one wants to sign the petition and ask for a general election unless it is absolutely essential, and we seem to have no other option. She also said that the polls show that the number of people who want a general election is even higher than the number of people who have signed the petition. The damage being done by not raising benefits, and the damage being done to child poverty levels, surely should be uppermost in our minds.
My hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones outlined the incompetence that we have seen in the last few months and put it into the context of 12 years of Tory rule, local government underfunding and the failure to stimulate growth, which is the biggest threat to families’ financial security.
My hon. Friend Ruth Jones said that she is stopped in the street by people who are worried and afraid. She is not alone; I, too, am often stopped in the street. Just this morning, I went to visit a food bank in my constituency, and so many people told me about their fear. That is why they are talking about calling a general election. We are in unprecedented times.
My hon. Friend Catherine West gave a whole list of reasons why we need a general election, and she started by calling out the failed philosophy of trickle-down economics, which has been laid bare over the last few weeks. The loss of trust of businesses and unions alike, and the issues of benefits, mortgages, food banks and energy provision—the list goes on. There are many reasons why people have signed the petition and are calling for a general election.
I often say that debates in the House are timely, but this is certainly a timely debate—more than most. The petition is highly significant, and I hope that the Minister’s response will reflect that significance, rather than brushing the issue aside and saying that it would be too disruptive to have a general election at this time. People who have signed the petition feel that the disruptive thing to do is to stick with what we have now. We in this House are entrusted with making decisions on behalf of everyone in the country only on the basis of a democratic mandate from those who have elected us to be here.
A pact has arisen with the British people from hundreds of years of history: parties share in their manifestos what they will do, and they are elected on the basis of their manifestos. From the party with the biggest number of elected Members, the Prime Minister is chosen to deliver the manifesto mandate. We are very close to losing the trust of the nation, because that mandate is being broken with every statement and every press conference. It is not just a matter of communication, and it is not just because the new leader was chosen without a clear majority of even her own MPs supporting her. This is a loss of faith with the policies of the Conservative Government, because they are not the ones that were in the manifesto. There is a loss of faith that these policies are in the best interest of people across the country, rather than in the best interest of only the Conservative party.
The markets lost faith in Conservative policies—the pound tanked and mortgage prices soared—but the petition shows that the people have lost faith as well. No one voted for the biggest raft of tax cuts since 1972. No one voted for £45 billion of tax cuts with no fiscal strategy. No one voted for bankers’ bonuses. No one voted for trickle-down economics, with no evidence that it will actually trickle down. No one voted for U-turns on banning no-fault evictions. No one voted for the economy to be plunged into chaos. No one voted to ditch the green homes grant after just a few weeks. No one voting for lifting the moratorium on fracking. No one voted to scrap crucial environmental protection laws, to attack nature or even to turn on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the Ramblers.
No one voted to reduce workers’ rights. No one voted to pull out of the European convention on human rights. No one voted for Brexit chaos to continue. No one voted to jeopardise the trade deal with India or to shelve a trade deal with the US. No one voted to trash our institutions or to bury reports from the Office for Budget Responsibility. No one voted for soaring mortgages and the follow-on that will inevitably result in rent costs increasing at the same time as a cost of living crisis.
No one voted to damage further our international reputation, and no one voted to damage our Union. The fact that the Prime Minister has not even called the First Ministers of Scotland or Wales yet is a scandal. Our Union is precious. It is shocking that the Prime Minister has not even telephoned the two First Ministers. Perhaps the Minister will confirm when those phone calls will take place.
What next? A general election may be a short-term disruption, but the damage to our economy, people’s lives and the Union could be far longer reaching. This Prime Minister is no different from her predecessor, and so it is no wonder that people’s patience has run out. She seems to now be interested only in saving her skin at all costs. The public will not forgive and they will not forget. This is a Tory crisis, made in Downing Street but paid for by working people up and down my constituency and those of every Member present and all other Members.
It is important to put this petition in the context of the last three years. These problems did not start in July, when the petition started, or in September. There have been three years of scandal, sleaze and sloppy governance. Will the Minister confirm when the new ethics adviser will be appointed? We need to win back the trust of the British people. How can we do that if there is no ethics adviser even in place?
Since the last election—not even three years ago—we have had two Prime Ministers, five Chancellors, a slew of scandals, endless errors, and a pile of broken promises. The Conservatives have lost the right to govern. As the petition says loud and clear, the public have lost patience. A change of Chancellor is not enough. The Tories have tried a change in Prime Minister, and it is worse than ever. We do not need, as has been rumoured, a trumped up coronation of a new Tory leader either. We need a change in Government. As the chairman of Tesco said yesterday, there is just one team on the pitch now: Labour has a plan for growth, while the Conservatives do not.
Labour’s approach will be based on working together, with businesses, workers and public bodies all pulling together in a national endeavour to rebuild Britain and seize the opportunities of the future. Labour’s plan to buy, make and sell more in Britain is all about using all the tools at the Government’s disposal to support businesses in this country, bringing jobs back to Britain, sorting out the Government’s supply chain chaos, and last but not least, cleaning up the Tories’ Brexit mess, taking action on the climate and nature emergencies, and getting our economy firing on all cylinders.
If there is a general election and the people choose Labour’s plan for growth over the Conservative anti-growth coalition, we will invest in people, skills and our public services. We will rebalance the books based on fairness and tackling the climate emergency, not on the backs of working people and not by rewarding bankers. No wonder the people who signed this petition want that vision of stability over the current chaos, even if that means calling for a general election. For the good of the nation, we need a general election. Labour is election ready. We are ready for Government. Only Labour offers the leadership and ideas that Britain needs to secure the economy and get us out of this Tory-created mess.
As always, it is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I thank Catherine McKinnell for bringing this debate before us.
The nation and the world face the challenges not just of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, but of recovering from the covid-19 pandemic. Putin’s war has caused a global economic crisis, with interest rates rising around the world. I am sure that nobody in this country would like a general election more than Vladimir Putin.
Families and businesses are feeling the impact across the country, from the cost of their supermarket shop to their energy bills, as hon. Members have mentioned. In these tough times, therefore, the Government are taking decisive action to get Britain moving.
I am sorry to intervene so early, but will the Minister tell us how Vladimir Putin caused mortgage rates to shoot up to such an extent?
We need to look at interest rates around the world, the strength of the US dollar and inflation rates around Europe. Curbing inflation is important to us, and I will come on to that and what the Chancellor is talking about today.
Families were facing bills of up to £6,000 this winter. Tesco, which has been mentioned a lot today, says, “Every little helps”, but we think we can do better than that, because a little is not enough for many families around the country. That is why we took such decisive action with our comprehensive package, so that families would not face that. It has substantially reduced the expected peak inflation that we might have been looking at. We have supported the families who needed it the most, have been dealing with the tax burden and have cut the national insurance contributions of 28 million people as a result.
Global economic conditions are worsening, so we have had to adjust our programme. That is the sign of a pragmatic Government. We are still going for growth, but need to change how we approach it. The Government are committed to investment zones, speeding up road projects, standing up to Russia and increasing our energy supplies so that we are never in this situation again. We are making it easier for businesses to take advantage of Brexit freedoms, so that they may do things more easily, leading to lower costs, lower prices and of course higher wages. The Government are on the side of hard-working people who do the right thing, and it is for them that we are delivering.
We are putting our great country on to the path of long-term success. We are taking on the anti-growth coalition, from Labour and the Lib Dems to the protestors stopping people going to work by grinding roads and rail to a halt, as we have seen outside today. The Government’s focus is on bringing economic and political stability to the country. That will lower interest rates and restore confidence in sterling. We cannot afford any drift to delay that mission. Therefore, the last thing that we need now is a general election.
The Government have several priorities for the remainder of this Parliament. We will use the power of free enterprise and free markets to level up the country and spread opportunity. We will drive reform and rebuild our economy to unleash our country’s full potential. We will cut onerous EU regulations that smother business and investment.
A mandate is one of the reasons we are in Westminster Hall today. The Conservative party was elected with a majority in 2019. Recently, we have been through a process of electing a leader of our party who is committed to delivering that Conservative programme in government. We face significant global events that have changed our economic circumstances. We cannot ignore the impact of covid or Putin’s deplorable war in Ukraine, which has created much of the economic hardship that has pushed up the price of energy, not just for us but for the world. The Government acted immediately to provide energy support for families who needed it the most by laying out a plan for economic growth.
The UK, as mentioned by Owen Thompson, is a parliamentary democracy and does not have a presidential system. Prime Ministers hold their position by virtue of their ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons. Consequently, a change in the leader of the governing party does not trigger a general election.
The fact that a change in the leader of the governing party does not necessitate an election is well established. There is precedent among both Labour and Conservative Prime Ministers in the past. Indeed, five of the last seven Prime Ministers, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Maidenhead (Mrs May), Gordon Brown and John Major, began their tenure in office without the need for a general election.
In many cases the next election followed several years after a Prime Minister had been in office. In the post-war era, that has become very common. Gordon Brown was in office for three years before the 2010 election, and John Major for two between 1990 and 1992. Jim Callaghan held office in the 1970s without holding an election, just as Douglas-Home held office for a year without one in the 1960s. Prior to that, Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister for two years before calling an election in 1959. Famously, Winston Churchill’s wartime Administration were in office for five years, in exceptional circumstances, without an election taking place. I could go on. Chamberlain, Lloyd George, Asquith and Balfour are all relevant examples. My point is that Prime Ministers hold their position by virtue of their ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons. There is no requirement for an incoming Prime Minister to call an election immediately on assuming office.
The Minister is very generous in giving way. He is making an important point that general elections are not always necessary. Does he agree, however, that one of the problems besetting the majority party is that before the 2019 general election, Mr Farage’s party tipped into the Tory party, and that that has resulted in it splitting in two?
The hon. Member makes a good point. Of course, all political parties will at times have disagreements. One of the things that makes me such a proud Conservative is the broad church of our operation, and I believe that it is that broad church that allows many of my colleagues with differing views to come together with shared values. That is why Conservatives, who have been elected and given a mandate, can change leadership but still have a Conservative Government delivering Conservative policies.
Earlier this year, delivering on a Conservative manifesto promise, Parliament passed legislation repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. It was a flawed piece of legislation, which ran counter to the core constitutional principles of our country, and I believe that it had a damaging effect on the functioning of parliamentary democracy. The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 returned us to tried and tested constitutional arrangements for dissolving Parliament and calling elections. It received broad agreement across the House, and I do not believe that a single Labour MP voted against its Second or Third Reading. By repealing the 2011 Act and it opaque provisions, it reaffirmed the convention that the Government hold office by virtue of their ability to command confidence in the House of Commons.
Members are in a privileged position to put views to the Prime Minister and senior colleagues, and I encourage them to do so. We have debates, such as this one, and other appropriate forums. The Government are entitled to assume that they have the confidence of the House unless and until it is shown to be otherwise. That can be demonstrated unambiguously only by means of a formal confidence vote. Thus, the Government, under the new Prime Minister, continue to command the confidence of the Commons.
The Prime Minister can call a general election at any time of her choosing by requesting the Dissolution of Parliament from the sovereign, which, if accepted, leads to a general election. As a result, the decision of when the next election will take place rests with the Prime Minister.
On the appointment of the Chancellor, who is currently giving his statement on the Floor of the House, the Prime Minister asked my right hon. Friend Jeremy Hunt to assume the role. As the Prime Minister has said, he is one of the most experienced and widely respected Government Ministers and parliamentarians. The Prime Minster has asked the Chancellor to deliver the medium-term fiscal plan, and he is giving a statement to the House as I speak. That will explain the support that the Government are giving.
The hon. Members for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and for Newport West (Ruth Jones) mentioned the cost of living. That is very important to us; we want to get this right. We want to bring in the energy price guarantee. We have already given £400 to every household, with £1,200 going to the most vulnerable, and £150 back on council tax, along with other support. We want to help the most vulnerable in society and we want the right targeted packages. Of course, to do that, we need to have sustainable public finances and to show fiscal responsibility. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will talk about that today. We want to bring our debts down; we want to ensure that inflation is low; we want to ensure that interests rates are sensible. We do not set interest rates—the Bank of England does—but we want people to be able to afford their mortgages.
After I had bought my first house, the financial crisis happened—that was a difficult period for homeowners. We want to help people to get through this; we are a nation of homeowners. We want to protect people, including the most vulnerable, and, of course, we want people to be able to pay their energy bills and for their food shopping.
I thank the Minister for the history lesson. I think the people who signed the petition thought that we needed a new Government not because of the change of leader, but because of the policies of the new leader—that is why so many people are signing it. Mortgages are going up by an average of £500 across the country, but that figure will be a lot higher in my constituency. Those homeowners are the ones signing the petition. They are saying, “We’ve had enough of these policies. There hasn’t been any fiscal restraint; it has been really damaging. We need a change of policies.”
The current Prime Minister lost her credibility because her Budget has been thrown out—a new one is coming—so she may need to be replaced. How many changes of Conservative party leader does the Minister think there needs to be before a general election is called?
People want stability and certainty, and that is also what the markets wanted, which is why we have acted decisively. The Prime Minister has been clear and has acted pragmatically. She has appreciated when things have not worked and has changed tack as a result. That is a sign of a strong Government, and I fully support the Prime Minister in those efforts.
The hon. Member for Midlothian said that he also wanted another independence referendum for Scotland. I would argue that Scotland has already had a referendum and that people made a choice. They want the same stability; they want to know what the future holds for them. They made their choice and they see it as being part of that stability. They worry about their interest rates and their houses, and about inflation. We want to govern for the whole Union.
I find this slightly perplexing. A lot of the Minister’s argument has been about the strong decisions of the Government in changing their mind, and about the ability of the Prime Minister to change her mind and take a different direction. He then makes exactly the opposite argument when it comes to Scotland and deciding the constitutional future of our nation. How can the Prime Minister and the UK Government change their mind in a matter of weeks, but the people of Scotland—despite every promise that was made eight years ago during the 2014 referendum campaign—are not allowed to make a different decision?
I bring the hon. Gentleman back to the point that we are in an ever-changing world: nobody expected the covid-19 pandemic or what Vladimir Putin has done in Ukraine. I take the point that circumstances change, but people want stability—they want to be able to support their families and pay their bills—and we believe that supporting the devolved Governments, working together and protecting our Union is the best way to ensure that.
The Minister is, of course, a Minister for the Union. As the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Fleur Anderson, quite rightly said, neither of the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales have received a phone call or any contact from the Prime Minister since she has been in post. If the Prime Minister and the Government are so committed to the Union, when exactly will she be in in touch with the First Ministers, and why has it taken so long?
Over the summer, Members will have heard the Prime Minister speaking with great passion about protecting the Union. The £18 billion of annual funding for the Welsh Government is the largest annual amount in real terms since devolution began, so those were not just words but actions. I can also point to the £121 million in levelling-up funding for 10 projects, the £790 million of investment across four Welsh cities, the £115 million for the Swansea Bay city deal, and the £500 million for the Cardiff city deal. I am sure that the Prime Minister will, in due course, contact those elected leaders to see how we can work closely together.
Fleur Anderson mentioned the ethics adviser. I understand that the Prime Minister is considering that matter and will provide an update in due course.
We are in extraordinarily tough times—there is a global economic crisis—and we must remember where this country was heading only a month ago. Families and businesses were fearing unaffordable energy bills higher than £6,000. Inaction would have been unthinkable and the human cost unforgivable. Businesses would have gone bust and jobs would have been lost, and that is why we took the decision to protect people and businesses from the worst energy crisis this winter.
We were elected in 2019 on a pro-growth, pro-aspiration and pro-enterprise agenda, to be on the side of hard-working people and all those who make our country great, and that is what we will continue to do. Today we have moved to cut national insurance, putting £330 in taxpayers’ pockets, and we are delivering a clear plan to get Britain growing through bold supply-side reform. Growth requires stability, and that is what we are offering. We need to move forward and deliver for the British people. A general election risks sending us back to square one by letting the anti-growth coalition into power. We will do whatever it takes to get through the storm and emerge a stronger and better nation.
I call Catherine McKinnell to wind up the debate. You have approximately one hour and forty minutes.
Thank you, Mr Mundell, and thanks to the hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. As we know, the debate took place at the same time as some important business in the Chamber—an urgent question from the Leader of the Opposition and a statement from the Chancellor—so I am grateful to hon. Members for being here, and for their contributions. I thank my hon. Friends Alex Davies-Jones, for Newport West (Ruth Jones), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and for Putney (Fleur Anderson), who spoke from the Front Bench, as well as Owen Thompson, who spoke for the SNP. They clearly put how untenable this situation is for our country.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He is clearly on a difficult ticket today. I was struck by how powerfully his response made the case for a general election. Indeed, we are in unprecedented times, and he gave us an interesting lesson in history, but all that history will tell him and us that a general election is the only way to get out of this crisis. Nothing he said today will have persuaded anybody watching this debate otherwise. It is disappointing that, despite the Minister being present, not a single member of the governing party came to speak either for or against a general election. Nobody was here to represent the petitioners from those constituencies who wanted this matter discussed. I will leave it to the 632,000 people, and that number is growing, from every part of the UK who signed the petition to speculate why that might be.
We are hearing reports that the events we are missing in the Chamber very much underline the current shambles at the heart of Government. The fact that the Leader of the House had to reassure the Chamber that the Prime Minister was not hiding under a desk shows how low the bar now is, and I guess we should be grateful that she is not hiding in a fridge. The fact that the Prime Minister turned up just in time to not answer any questions, and left before questions started again to the Chancellor, shows how weak and undermined her position is. As the shadow Chancellor clearly said, she is in office but not in power, and that is unforgivable for the people of this country, who need strong leadership and Government—whoever provides it—at this time.
The petition calls for an end to the chaos, because the situation is not sustainable. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, was unable to say how a Government without a mandate, and without authority, will be able to get any of their agenda through Parliament. The Minister made great play of the importance of the Government having the confidence of MPs in Parliament. Whether they have that confidence has not been properly tested, but from what we can see, confidence in the governing party is lacking. That is degrading for our democracy, and unacceptable for the people we are here to serve. Our country faces serious crises. We are living through a cost of living crisis, an energy crisis, a climate crisis and, now, an economic crisis that is entirely of the Government’s making—no matter what they say. Households are already paying the price for that.
The situation is untenable. The Prime Minister’s authority has disappeared. This country cannot function to its greatest potential without a functioning Government. Whatever the governing agenda might be, none of it reflects what was promised in the summer. We will have to wait and see whether it can be delivered through Parliament. The fact that we are even wondering shows how unsustainable the situation has become. A lack of confidence will already be impacting people’s investment decisions and our ability to grow. The only anti-growth coalition at the moment is a Government who are unwilling to ask the public for a mandate to deliver a programme that they believe in.
The time has come. Government Members need to recognise that we are here to serve the public. The public can decide; they can vote to put this Government back in power, or they can choose something different, but that should be a choice for the people in this country, and not for us in this room.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered e-petition 619781, relating to an early general election.