The Secretary of State was asked—
What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the Union. (914669)
We can assess the strength of the Union every day, as we see the number of people vaccinated across the country continue to rise, as we see the number of jobs we have protected and as we see our vital, ambitious plans to rebuild our economy. I am surprised the hon. Gentleman is asking about recent assessments, because the one thing we learned this week is that his boss, Nicola Sturgeon, has made no recent assessment of her plan to rip Scotland out of the United Kingdom and the damage that would cause.
If the Secretary of State is so confident in the Union, why is he stopping the Prime Minister coming to Scotland to campaign for it? Have the dubious donations for renovations made that impossible? The contracts for contacts? The disgraceful comments about bodies piling high? Or is it simply that the Prime Minister represents a fundamental problem for Scotland being in the Union, with year after year of Prime Ministers, parties and policies that Scotland would not vote for in a million years?
As of yesterday, 61.3% of Scots aged 16 or over have received at least one dose of covid vaccine, compared with just 24.3% of people aged 18 or over who have received a vaccine in the European Union. Does the Secretary of State agree that the outstanding efforts of our NHS staff, our British armed forces and our vaccination volunteers have been possible here in Scotland only because of the success of the UK vaccination programme, and that Nicola Sturgeon’s claims that, somehow, an independent Scotland within the EU would have done it differently are complete rubbish?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Just once, on something as important as live-saving vaccines, it would be nice to see the First Minister congratulate the Prime Minister and the United Kingdom Government on our highly successful UK-wide vaccine procurement programme.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to pay tribute to everyone who is commemorating on International Workers’ Memorial Day today, and also to wish the Secretary of State a very happy Ed Balls Day, which is also today.
On “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, the First Minister admitted that there has been no analysis done on the impact of separation on incomes—that is wages, livelihoods and, of course, pensions. It follows a long list during this election campaign where the SNP has avoided answering questions on currency, EU accession, jobs, deficit, debt, public spending, the parallels with Brexit and, of course, the spectacle of senior SNP MSPs saying last week that a border with England would be “desirable” because it would create jobs—a rare honest admission about a border with our largest trading partner. For two days in a row, respected think-tanks have warned that leaving the UK and giving up our share of UK resources means supercharged austerity.
Surely one of the strongest positive cases for the Union is the reality of separation. If proponents of separation continue to refuse to answer critical questions that fundamentally impact on people’s livelihoods, incomes and futures, what can be done to inject some much-needed honesty, integrity and truth into this debate, for the benefit of all Scots?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that independence would have a whole series of negative consequences for the people of Scotland, not just on their pensions and benefits but on currency, border issues and armed services. The list is endless. There has been no assessment of those things, as I said earlier.
This is the time when we should be coming together for covid recovery and to rebuild our economy, not even considering an irresponsible independence referendum. I would very much welcome it if the Labour party, and the other political parties, showed a willingness to come together to work on how we can strengthen our Union.
Anas Sarwar has said throughout this campaign that we need to unite the country to deal with this global pandemic.
Talking of honesty, integrity and truth, will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the Prime Minister for his “let the bodies pile high” comment, when so many have lost loved ones due to covid? There have been more than 800 deaths in my city of Edinburgh alone. While he is apologising, perhaps he can tell us, if the Prime Minister has nothing to hide, who funded the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat. Does he think the endemic sleaze in his Government, with continual questions about the personal conduct and integrity of the PM, strengthens or weakens the Union?
What I would say on the bodies remark is that in every conversation I have had with the Prime Minister in the past year his desire, at all levels, has been to save lives and protect the NHS; we have had many conversations, in Cabinet Committees, in Cabinet and in private, and I have no recollection of him being anything other than totally focused on saving lives and protecting the NHS. He has been entirely focused on this pandemic all the way through. He has not been distracted, as others have, for example, the nationalists, with Nicola Sturgeon admitting that she took her eye off the ball. He has not taken his eye off the ball. He has been focused on the pandemic. He has tackled vaccines and the programme, and he now wants to lead our economic recovery. Those are the things we should hold him to account for; those are the things that strengthen the United Kingdom.
There has been much reckless chat from Scottish National party politicians about creating a hard border between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. My constituents in the Scottish border area want to see the threat of a border—and the threat of another referendum—removed. Does the Minister agree that the voters of Scotland have an opportunity to remove that threat next week in the Scottish elections by depriving the SNP of a majority and that the best way of doing that is by voting Scottish Conservative?
You will not be surprised to hear, Mr Speaker, that I do agree with my hon. Friend. I note with astonishment the comments of the South Scotland MSP Emma Harper that a border would be a good way of creating jobs, despite the fact that 60% of our trade is with the rest of the UK. All I would say is that if the SNP thinks that a border is such a good idea for jobs, I am surprised it does not want to go the whole hog and propose building a wall.
Particularly as we rebuild after covid, we have an opportunity and a need to make radically different economic choices. After a week of troublesome allegations about the Government and the Prime Minister, it should be no surprise that many in Scotland want to take a different, independent path to that of this Government. If that request is reflected in the upcoming Scottish Government elections and a majority of pro-independence MSPs are elected, will the Minister and his Government respect that as a mandate for a second independence referendum?
First, let us not take the outcome of the election for granted at this stage. Let us recognise that the focus for Scotland must be on pandemic recovery. We have saved lives through the vaccine procurement, and it is now time to save livelihoods and to rebuild as one United Kingdom.
I did not hear an answer to my question there. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives was asked multiple times on recent media, “What would be the democratic path for Scotland to an independence referendum?” He could not answer the question, so can the Minister tell us what the path is?
I say to the hon. Lady that in 2014 there was a referendum; it had been many years since the question had been asked, and that was with the consent of both Scotland’s Governments and all the main political parties. I am glad to say that in Scotland people shared my opinion in 2014 and consented to continue being members of the UK.
There is only one sure-fire way for the Union to be strengthened in the next week and that is to get the Prime Minister to Scotland and on the campaign trail. The Secretary of State surely knows that there will be throngs of happy Scots rejoicing in the Prime Minister’s sleaze-free presence, helping the Electoral Commission with its inquiries and sharing anecdotes about bodies piled high on the streets—what could possibly go wrong for the Scottish Tories? Can the Secretary of State and I start working on the itinerary? Surely Scotland deserves to see its Prime Minister before he inevitably has to resign.
The UK Government’s approach to welfare is to recognise the value and importance of work, make work pay and support people into work, while giving extra help to the most vulnerable in society. On that basis, we consider that a universal basic income is fundamentally the wrong approach.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I know that he is committed to devolution and the respect agenda and would want to take very seriously the outcome of the election result in Scotland. Given that all the main parties in Scotland—representing 80% of Scottish voters—except the Conservatives have indicated support for trialling the concept of UBI, does the Minister accept that if indeed those parties are elected in the next Parliament, there will be a mandate and going ahead with trials would just be a matter of respecting devolution?
I make two points in response to the hon. Gentleman. First, if he looks around the world at where UBI has been trialled—in Finland and Canada, for example—it has not been a success. Indeed, the Finance Minister in Finland has scrapped it and is instead looking at something along the lines of our universal credit system. Secondly, the Scottish Government already have substantial powers over welfare.
Although I share the determination of the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for a universal basic income as the way ahead and his disappointment that it is not being trialled in Scotland, does the Minister share my disappointment that the SNP Government at Holyrood were not able to get their processes in shape in time to adopt the powers over welfare in the Scotland Act 2016 that might have given them more influence over the situation?
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady’s point that the Scottish Government still have much to do to unlock the full potential of the powers devolved to them in the Scotland Act 2016. We are committed to working closely with them to allow them to implement those powers. It strikes me that the separatists are always quick to demand more powers or more money to shift the blame away from their failures in office on delivering on the issues that matter to the people of Scotland.
I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, as well as industry stakeholders, on the opportunities that COP26 offers across Scotland. The COP26 devolved Administration ministerial group brings together the COP26 President, territorial Secretaries of State and devolved Administration Ministers to support the delivery of an inclusive and welcoming COP26 summit that is representative of the whole United Kingdom.
Last year, the SNP Government missed their own legal emissions targets, with source emissions in Scotland actually increasing by 1.5% in 2017-18. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as we approach the crucial COP26 summit in Glasgow later this year, the Scottish people deserve a Government who are 100% focused on a green recovery, not on another divisive independence referendum?
I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, that it is not for me to answer for the failings of the Scottish Government. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the UK Government are absolutely focused on achieving a green recovery, as set out by the Prime Minister in his 10-point plan last year. This Government are also focused on safeguarding the Union, and I agree with my hon. Friend that a divisive referendum on Scotland’s separation from the UK at this time would be an irresponsible distraction from the necessary work required towards that green recovery.
I welcome the ambitious new target that the Government set last week to cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 78% by 2035. Does my hon. Friend agree that in the run-up to the crucial COP26 summit later this year, it is more important than ever for all parts of the UK to work together so that we can meet that target and build back better and greener from the pandemic?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Our proposed world-leading target marks a decisive step towards net zero by 2050 and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035, compared with 1990 levels. Through this year’s COP26 summit, we will urge countries and companies around the world to join us in delivering net zero globally. We continue to work together throughout all parts of the UK to achieve our net zero ambitions and a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic.
The Minister should be embarrassed that renewables generators in Scotland face the highest locational grid charges in the whole of Europe. Ahead of COP26, we need to see a route to market for pumped-storage hydro and for wave and tidal, the go-ahead given for Acorn carbon capture and storage and a contract for difference for hydrogen. What capability does the Scottish Office, working with Cabinet colleagues, have to get those matters resolved?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I share his enthusiasm for all things related to energy renewables, but he will know as well as I do that, by law, transmission charging is a matter for Ofgem as the independent regulator. I imagine that he will also be aware that Ofgem is currently considering some aspects of transmission charging arrangements through its access and forward-looking charges review.
The SNP Scottish Government have committed to doubling their climate change justice fund if re-elected next week. This £21 million fund is used to help combat the effects of climate change in the global south while we tackle carbon emissions at home. In the year of COP26, will the UK Government follow Scotland’s lead and commit to a comparable climate justice fund to help those affected by climate change?
Not only will we commit to a comparable financial commitment, but the recent spending review committed to spending £12 billion on green measures to support the 10-point plan and boost the UK’s global leadership on green infrastructure and technologies, not just ahead of COP26 this year, but beyond as well.
The United Kingdom is and will remain a research superpower, with research and development spending at the highest level for four decades. The Government have committed to investing nearly £15 billion in R&D in 2021-22, much of which will be used to fund the work being led by our world-class universities.
Both Aberdeen and St Andrews universities stand to lose £2.5 million each as a result of official development assistance cuts. Among the ongoing projects at risk at Aberdeen is a £1.8 million research initiative into the spread of infectious diseases between rodents and humans. Given that we have recently been reminded of the importance of long-term, well-funded research in responding to a global crisis, what steps are being taken to ensure that these cuts do not impair Scotland’s ability to respond to future crises?
The first point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that I am always willing to discuss individual programmes with specific universities and I have done that through the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) in the case of St Andrews. The second point is that all the universities that he has listed have benefited from significant investments either directly through UK Research and Innovation or through our city and regional growth deal programmes, looking at R&D initiatives such as clean energy and sustainable farming.
It is strange, because Universities Scotland says that the ODA funding cut is unprecedented and egregious, yet the Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says that it is okay because the universities get funding from other sources. Universities Scotland says that it amounts to a 70% cut in overseas funding for the development of projects across universities in Scotland. Can the Minister explain how these cuts are reconciled with the Conservative Government’s idea of their post-Brexit ambition to build a global Britain?
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), I am more than happy to discuss individual programmes with the universities concerned, but if we look at R&D investment from this Government in the round, it is significantly up, and Scottish universities are punching above their weight in securing a share of that.
The defence industry in Scotland is strong, thanks to sustained UK Government spending. My Department has a close, positive relationship with the industry and the UK armed forces in Scotland, including on the implementation of the recent integrated review: defence Command Paper and the defence and security industrial strategy.
Shared expertise and infrastructure are key to supporting jobs across our United Kingdom, such as at Warton in my constituency and those north of the border at the BAE Systems site at Clyde. What estimates does my right hon. Friend make of the positive impact the UK Government’s defence manufacturing has on job opportunities for the people of Scotland?
The Royal Navy shipbuilding programme will provide a pipeline of work and sustain valuable jobs and skills for shipyards around the United Kingdom, including those in Scotland, in Rosyth and the Clyde, which are currently constructing the new frigate fleets. The Ministry of Defence has spent £2.7 billion with Scottish industry in 2019 and 2020 alone, and that has supported 12,400 jobs.
The integrated review published last month made it clear that our strongest asset is the capabilities, expertise and skills we have across the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the same expertise and skills, shared across the country, that has enabled us to spend billions of pounds over the next decade on shipbuilding in Scotland?
Yes; I wholeheartedly agree. We saw a fine example of Scotland’s contribution to the UK’s defences this week with the deployment of our new aircraft carrier strike group, which was built in yards around the United Kingdom, but was constructed in Scotland. Her Majesty’s Ship Queen Elizabeth will fly the flag for global Britain right around the world.
Last month’s Budget provides continued UK-wide support and security to manage the ongoing impacts of covid-19. One in three jobs in Scotland has been supported by the UK Government’s employment support package; Scottish businesses have benefited from more than £3.4 billion of loans and support; and we have provided a much needed boost to the Scottish tourism and hospitality sector with our UK-wide extension of the VAT reduction.
Scotland’s Auditor General recently said that the Scottish Government had received an extra £9.7 billion from the UK Government during 2020-21 to tackle covid, yet it only made £7 billion-worth of spending announcements in response to the pandemic up to the end of 2020. The Auditor General said that that left £2.7 billion unallocated. Does my hon. Friend agree that this highlights the need for transparency and scrutiny of Scottish Government spending, as people in Scotland have a right to know how much money is being spent to help Scotland to deal with the pandemic?
My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to this alarming finding. People in Scotland want to know that the money that this Government have provided is reaching them and their businesses, and it is of great concern that Audit Scotland has identified this shortfall. I absolutely agree that there must be maximum transparency on this matter.
I regularly discuss with my Cabinet colleagues opportunities for Scotland arising from the signing of trade deals. This Government have already struck deals with 67 countries around the world worth £218 billion a year, including with Canada, Japan and Singapore—with many more to come. This will create new markets for Scotland’s exporters, including our world-leading food and drink sector.
My hon. Friend is right about that and he is right to welcome the breakthroughs over the past few days with the Australian Government. Businesses in Scotland exported goods worth over £352 million to Australia in 2019, and reducing tariff barriers for our world-class food and drink industry could bolster Scotch whisky exports to Australia. As the Secretary of State for International Trade made clear at the weekend, this deal will be based on fair competition, maintaining our high standards and providing excellent, exciting opportunities for British products.
The UK Government work with the Scottish Government on a daily basis on a range of constitutional matters, including delivering on our devolution commitments through the Scotland Act order programme. I would have thought that a more interesting question would have been to ask what discussions his new party has had with the First Minister on an unnecessary and divisive further referendum on separation.
The hon. Gentleman is being rather presumptuous about the outcome of the elections next week, so let us wait and see what the people of Scotland decide. I would have thought they would be more interested in keeping the protections of the pandemic in place, helping businesses to recover and helping children to catch up on the education that they have missed over the past year.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know that the thoughts of Members across the House are with the people of India. We are supporting India with vital medical equipment and we will continue to work closely with the Indian authorities to determine what further help they may need.
I also welcome last week’s Court of Appeal decision to overturn the convictions of 39 former sub-postmasters in the Horizon dispute—an appalling injustice. Sir Wyn Williams is leading an ongoing independent inquiry that will report this summer.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I will have further such meetings later today.
I join the Prime Minister in his remarks about the humanitarian disaster we are witnessing in India. I know the UK has already committed some support, but given the scale and gravity of the disaster, I hope the Foreign Secretary will set out today what more the UK will do to help the Indian people in their hour of need.
I also join the Prime Minister in his remarks about the Post Office case—an ongoing injustice. Of course, today is International Workers Memorial Day. This year, after all the sacrifices our frontline workers have made during the pandemic, it is even more poignant than usual. I join in solidarity with all those mourning loved ones today.
It was reported this week, including in the Daily Mail and by the BBC and ITV, backed up by numerous sources, that at the end of October the Prime Minister said he would rather have “bodies pile high” than implement another lockdown. Can the Prime Minister tell the House categorically, yes or no: did he make those remarks or remarks to that effect?
No, Mr Speaker. The right hon. And learned Gentleman is a lawyer, I am given to understand, and I think that if he is going to repeat allegations like that, he should come to this House and substantiate those allegations and say where he heard them and who exactly is supposed to have said those things. What I certainly can tell him—he asks about the October decisions—is that they were very bitter, very difficult decisions, as they would be for any Prime Minister, because no one wants to put this country into a lockdown, with all the consequences that means for loss of education, the damage to people’s life chances, and the huge medical backlog that it entails. But it was thanks to that lockdown—the tough decision that we took—and thanks to the heroic efforts of the British people that we have got through to this stage in the pandemic where we find ourselves rolling out our vaccine, where we have done 50% of the population and 25% of the adult population have now had two doses. Lockdowns are miserable. Lockdowns are appalling things to have to do. But I have to say that I believe that we had absolutely no choice.
Well, somebody here is not telling the truth. The House will have heard the Prime Minister’s answer, and I remind him that the ministerial code says:
“Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.
I will leave it there for now. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!] There will be further on this, believe you me. Who initially —and “initially” is the key word here—paid for the redecoration of his Downing Street flat?
When it comes to misleading Parliament, the right hon. and learned Gentleman may recollect that it was only a few weeks ago that he said that he did not oppose this country leaving the European Medicines Agency—a fact that he was then forced to retract—and that leaving the European Medicines Agency was absolutely invaluable for our vaccine roll-out. Actually, it was just last week that he said that James Dyson was a personal friend of mine—a fact that James Dyson has corrected in the newspaper this morning. As for the latest stuff that he is bringing up, he should know that I paid for Downing Street refurbishment personally. Any further declaration that I have to make—if any—I will be advised upon by Lord Geidt.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about housing costs. The people of this country can make their own decision in just eight days’ time, because on average, Labour councils charge you £93 more in band D than Conservative councils, and Liberal Democrat councils charge you £120 more. That, I think, is the issue upon which the British people would like him to focus.
Normally when people do not want to incriminate themselves, they go, “No comment.” Let us explore this a bit further. Let me ask it a different way. This is the initial invoice, Prime Minister. Either the taxpayer paid the initial invoice, or it was the Conservative party, or it was a private donor, or it was the Prime Minister. I am making it easy for the Prime Minister—it is now multiple choice. There are only four options. It should be easier than finding the chatty rat. I ask him again: who paid the initial invoice—the initial invoice, Prime Minister—for the redecoration of the Prime Minister’s flat?
I have given the right hon. and learned Gentleman the answer, and the answer is that I have covered the costs. Of course, the Electoral Commission is investigating this, and I can tell him that have I conformed in full with the code of conduct and the ministerial code, and officials have been advising me throughout this whole thing. But I think people will find it absolutely bizarre that he is focusing on this issue, when what people want to know is what plans a Labour Government might have to improve the lives of people in this country.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about housing again. I would rather not spend taxpayers’ money like the last Labour Government, who spent £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on the Downing Street flat. [Interruption.] Yes they did, tarting it up. I would much rather help people get on the property ladder, and it is this Conservative Government who have built 244,000 homes in the last year, which is a record over 30 years. This is a Government who get on with delivering on the people’s priorities, while he continually raises issues that most people would find irrelevant to their concerns.
The Prime Minister talks of priorities. What is he spending his time doing? This is a Prime Minister who, during the pandemic, was nipping out of meetings to choose wallpaper at £840 a roll. Just last week, he spent his time phoning journalists to moan about his old friend Dominic Cummings. He is telling the civil service to find out who paid for the redecoration of his flat—the Cabinet Secretary has been asked to investigate who paid for the refurbishment of the flat. Why doesn’t the Prime Minister just tell him? That would be the end of the investigation.
It has been widely reported that Lord Brownlow, who just happens to have been given a peerage by the Conservative party, was asked to donate £58,000 to help pay for the cost of this refurbishment. Can the Prime Minister, if he is so keen to answer, confirm: did Lord Brownlow make that payment for that purpose?
I think I have answered this question several times now, and the answer is that I have covered the costs. I have met the requirements that I have been obliged to meet in full. When it comes to the taxpayer and the costs of No. 10 Downing Street, it was under the previous Labour Government that I think Tony Blair racked up a bill of £350,000. I think what the people of this country want to see is minimising taxpayer expense. They want to see a Government who are focused on their needs and delivering more homes for the people of this country and cutting council tax, which is what we are doing. It is on that basis that I think people are going to judge our parties on 6 May.
Answer the question! That is what the public scream at their televisions every PMQs: “Answer the question!” The Prime Minister has not answered the question. He knows he has not answered the question. He never answers the question.
The Prime Minister will be aware that he is required to declare any benefits that relate to his political activities, including loans or credit arrangements, within 28 days—[Interruption.] Twenty-eight days, Prime Minister, yes. He will also know that any donation must be recorded in the register of Ministers’ interests, and that under the law any donation of over £500 to a political party must be registered and declared, so the rules are very clear. The Electoral Commission now thinks that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred. That is incredibly serious.
Can the Prime Minister tell the House: does he believe that any rules or laws have been broken in relation to the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat?
No, I don’t. What I believe has been strained to breaking point is the credulity of the public. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has half an hour every week to put serious and sensible questions to me about the state of the pandemic, about the vaccine roll-out, about what we are doing to support our NHS, about what we are doing to fight crime, about what we are doing to bounce back from this pandemic, about the economic recovery, about jobs for the people of this country, and he goes on and on about wallpaper when, as I have told him umpteen times now, I paid for it.
Can I remind the Prime Minister of the Nolan principles, which are meant to govern the behaviour of those in public office? They are these: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. Instead, what do we get from this Prime Minister and this Conservative Government? Dodgy contracts, jobs for their mates and cash for access. And who is at the heart of it? The Prime Minister. Major Sleaze, sitting there.
Meanwhile—the Prime Minister talks about priorities—crime is going up, NHS waiting lists are at record levels and millions of people are worried about their jobs, including at Liberty Steel. Do not the British people deserve a Prime Minister they can trust, not a Government who are mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal?
Last week, the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to this Chamber and he attacked me for talking to James Dyson about ventilators, when we are now sending ventilators to help the people of India, and the following day—the following day—Labour Front Benchers said that any Prime Minister in my position would have done exactly the same thing. It was only a few months ago that they were actually attacking Kate Bingham, saying she was a crony when she helped to set up the vaccine taskforce that delivered millions of vaccines for the people of this country and is helping us to get out of the pandemic.
This is a Government who are getting on with delivering on the people’s priorities. We are rolling out many more nurses, with 10,000 more nurses in the NHS now than there were this time last year, and 8,771 more police officers on our streets now than they were when I was elected, with tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent criminals, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposed. And, by the way, I forgot to mention it but last night our friends in the European Union voted to approve our Brexit deal, which he opposed. That enables us not just to take back control of our borders, but to deliver free—[Interruption.] It does, which he fervently opposed, enabling us, among other things, to deal with such threats as the European super league. It enables us to deliver freeports in places like Teesside. Above all, taking back control of our country has allowed us to deliver the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, as he well knows, which would not have been possible if we had stayed in the European Medicines Agency, which he voted for.
Week after week, the people of this country can see the difference between a Labour party that twists and turns with the wind and thinks of nothing except playing political games, whereas this party gets on with delivering on the people’s priorities, and I hope the people will vote Conservative on 6 May. [Interruption.]
The UK is indeed a world leader in covid-19 vaccination. May I thank the Prime Minister for the swift action he has taken to deliver this for our country, and will he join me in thanking the many local volunteers, such as Kirsty Griffiths who has been volunteering at the Marlow vaccine centre, and Guy Hollis and Paul Bass who have been volunteering alongside Denham community health centre? And thank you for the vaccine roll-out in South Bucks. (914990)
My hon. Friend should thank everybody involved, and it has been a fantastic national effort, led by the NHS—led overwhelmingly by GPs, but also by many others, including local council officers and officials and the Army, and of course huge numbers of volunteers in her constituency and elsewhere, and I thank Kirsty Griffiths, Guy Hollis and Paul Bass very much for everything they have done.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the humanitarian crisis in India and the injustice in the Horizon issue at the Post Office?
Over 127,000 people have died from covid in the United Kingdom. People have lost their mothers and fathers, their grandparents and even their children. NHS staff have given their all, fighting to keep people alive. That is why so many people find the Prime Minister’s remark that he would rather let the bodies pile high in their thousands than go into lockdown utterly, utterly sickening. The BBC and ITV have multiple sources confirming that this is what the Prime Minister said. People are willing to go under oath confirming that the Prime Minister said these exact words—under oath, Mr Speaker. Parliamentary rules stop me saying that the Prime Minister has repeatedly lied to the public over the last week, but may I ask the question: are you a liar, Prime Minister?
I am grateful, Mr Speaker, but what I would say to the right hon. Gentleman is that if he is going to relay that kind of quotation, it is up to him in a place like Parliament to produce the author—the person who claims to have heard it— because I cannot find them. He says that they are willing to go on oath; perhaps they are sitting somewhere in this building; I rather doubt it, because I did not say those words.
What I do believe is that a lockdown is a miserable, miserable thing, and I did everything I could to try to protect the British public throughout the pandemic—to protect them from lockdowns, but also to protect them from disease. The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the wretched toll that covid has brought, and I know the whole House grieves for every family that has lost a loved one. It has been a horrendous time, but it is thanks to that lockdown combined with the vaccine roll-out that we are making the progress we are, and I may say that we are making progress across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and of course it is the Prime Minister’s behaviour which is not in order. This is a Prime Minister who is up to his neck in a swamp of Tory sleaze. We have seen contracts for cronies, texts for tax breaks and cash for curtains. The Prime Minister has dodged these questions all week, and he has dodged them again today, but these questions simply are not going to go away. When exactly was money funnelled through Tory HQ into his personal bank account, when did he pay back this money, was it an interest-free loan, and who are the donor or donors who originally funded it? Is the Prime Minister aware that if he continues to fail to answer these questions, the Electoral Commission has the powers to prosecute him? Will the Prime Minister publish these details today, or is he going to wait until the police come knocking at his door?
As I have said, I look forward to what the Electoral Commission has to say, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that, for the rest of it, he is talking complete nonsense. The only thing I will say is that it is thanks to our investment in policing that we are going to have 20,000 more officers on the streets of our country, which is fantastic, and we will be making sure that that gets through to Scotland as well. What we want to see is a Scottish nationalist Government stopping obsessing about breaking up our country, which is all they can think and talk about, and instead talking about tackling crime and using that investment to fight crime, which is what I think the people of Scotland want to see.
If the Prime Minister was to walk down Bristol Road South in Longbridge today, he would see a small army of JCB diggers levelling out the old MG Rover West Works site to provide one of the biggest levelling-up projects locally, with 5,000 extra jobs and an industrial site. But people also want to see the regeneration of Northfield High Street, with a proper plan and money on the table, so does the Prime Minister agree that we need people such as Andy Street—driven and energetic Mayors—delivering for the west midlands, working with me and local Conservative councillors to deliver on this plan? After all, teamwork makes the dream work. (914991)
Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd. I think it is worth repeating the ministerial code’s seven guiding principles: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The Prime Minister has spent the week ticking them off his “don’t do” list. At the same time, he tries to play down allegations that he said “let the bodies pile high”. Given that the sole judge on questions relating to the conduct of Ministers and the conduct of the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister himself, what happens when a Prime Minister goes rogue?
The people of this country have the chance to make up their own minds on 6 May. When they look at what is happening in Wales, they have a chance to make a choice between, I am afraid, a continually failing Welsh Labour Government or a Welsh Conservative Administration in Cardiff who I believe have a fantastic vision: 65,000 high-skilled, high-paid jobs; finally addressing the problems of the A55; 5,000 more teachers; getting 3,000 more nurses into the Welsh NHS; and solving the problems of the M4, which I have spoken about so movingly many times in this Chamber. I hope that people will avoid voting for Plaid Cymru and that they will vote for Welsh Conservatives on 6 May in Wales.
As probably the only former sub-postmaster in Parliament, I know that last Friday’s ruling was the beginning, not the end. Yes, it will cost a lot of money, and yes, it will take time and more compensation is needed, but does the Prime Minister agree that only a proper, judge-led public inquiry can really bring justice to the victims of this horrendous accounting scandal and hold to account those involved behind the scenes? (914994)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his expertise in this matter and thank him for what he has just said, because he is totally right. What happened to those Post Office workers—the postmasters and sub-postmasters—was appalling. It was one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in our history, and we are indeed looking at the issues involved. The former High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams will be making recommendations about what further actions—what further apologies—we need to make.
The PM just raised the matter of the Welsh general election. In March last year, this United Kingdom Conservative Government intercepted a deal between Wales and the Roche pharmaceutical company for 5,000 daily covid tests, instructing the company to “reserve all additional Covid tests”to England. Those tests would have been crucial to saving thousands of lives in Wales. As we go to the polls next week, will the Prime Minister tell us why Welsh lives meant so little to him? (914992)
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in what he says about tests, but he is right about one thing, which is that Wales has made an amazing contribution to our national fightback—our UK fightback—against covid. It was incredible again to go to the Wockhardt factory in Wrexham. It is Wockhardt, working together with Oxford Biomedica, that has enabled us to roll out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that has made such a difference. I want to say a massive thank you, again, to those Welsh scientists and all those people working in that factory, because they have helped to save countless lives across the UK.
The integrated review confirms the vital role that the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire will play in our future nuclear capability. I want to pay tribute to the establishment, particularly the senior female employees who have won a slew of national awards for their work in defence science, engineering and nuclear security. Given the Government’s significant investment in all those sectors, will my right hon. Friend say how he plans to improve women’s participation in these fields, where historically they have been underrepresented, and may I invite him to the AWE to illustrate our success? (914996)
I would be honoured to take up my hon. Friend’s invitation as soon as I can. In terms of female representation in that sector, she will know that Alison Atkinson became the chief executive officer and managing director of AWE in May 2020, and there are huge numbers of opportunities for women to join our armed services, thanks above all to the biggest uplift in defence spending since the end of the cold war.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment last week to include aviation and shipping in our emissions target, but surely he knows that we will miss that target if we proceed with a third runway at Heathrow, and, furthermore, that that would undermine the progress that the Government hope to make towards net zero. Will he therefore take this opportunity to commit to amending the airports national policy statement in the light of those commitments? (914993)
The third runway at Heathrow, as the hon. Lady knows, is a private sector venture, and it is up to them to produce the capital to do it. I do not see any immediate sign of that particular project coming off. I think what we should look at instead, and what we are looking at, is the prospect of jet-zero aviation and flying without emissions, or with far lower carbon emissions. It is in that area that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Transport are working together with manufacturers so that this country leads in guilt-free flying.
Right now, in every part of the country, levels of business optimism are higher than they have been since the start of the pandemic, with many firms planning to hire more staff and create more apprenticeships for our young people. There is one factor, more than anything else, that underpins that optimism—the success of the UK vaccination programme. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has never been a more important moment for voters in Scotland and Wales to reject the negativity and divisiveness of the nationalists, and instead look forward to a brighter and stronger future as one United Kingdom? (914998)
Absolutely. I do not know why the Leader of the Opposition’s PPS, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), is shaking her head, because surely she would agree with that. We want to work together across the whole of the UK, and I pay tribute, as I have just said, to the incredible work of the Wockhardt factory in Wales, but there is also the Valneva factory in Scotland, and the whole of the United Kingdom coming together, represented by our armed services and, above all, by our NHS helping to deliver that vaccine roll-out to protect the country and take it forward.
It is absolutely shocking that we have heard that the Electoral Commission is investigating funding of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat, saying that there are “reasonable grounds to suspect…an offence”. Why does the Prime Minister think that all these stories about sleaze, corruption and dishonesty keep happening to him and his Conservative Government? (914995)
I tell you what, Mr Speaker, I think it is because people are absolutely determined to find anything they can hang on to talk about, except the vaccine roll-out, except our plans to unite and level up across the country, except our plans to fight crime and give people the opportunity to buy their own homes; because they do not want to discuss those issues, because they cannot win on those issues, because they have absolutely nothing to say, and that is what has become clear over the last year.
Before I ask my question, may I first ask the Prime Minister to join me in thanking all the staff at Doncaster Royal Infirmary and the emergency services for dealing swiftly with a major water leak yesterday? Fortunately, no one was hurt and all patients have been moved safely to other wards. However, to return to my original question, local elections are only days away, so will the Prime Minister offer his full support to the Doncaster Conservative mayoral candidate, James Hart? Like me, James is a local businessman and will shout out for our town and work closely with me on delivering the Government’s levelling-up agenda. (915001)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. [Interruption.] Hang on. He is right to want to thank all the staff of Doncaster Royal Infirmary for what they did for the emergency services in dealing with the incident last night, and I am glad to take the opportunity to do that. I am also glad to take the opportunity to support him in his campaign for James Hart. I do hope that the people of Doncaster will go out to vote and support him on 6 May.
The Prime Minister promised in a series of texts to “fix” a tax issue for his mate Sir James Dyson. At the Dispatch Box last week, the Prime Minister promised to publish those texts, but of course he has not made good on that promise. When will he publish them? (914997)
I promised to publish the account of my dealings with James Dyson, which is exactly what I have done. I cannot believe that the Opposition do not learn their lesson. They attacked the Government last week for having any kind of discussions with a potential British ventilator maker, and the following day they did a U-turn and said that any Prime Minister would do it. They have now done a W-turn, and they are trying to bash me again. Which is it? Do they believe the Government should be supporting British manufacturing in delivering ventilators—yes or no? That is the question for Labour.
My constituency is best known for the battle of Bosworth, but we also have many other attractions, such as Twycross zoo, Mallory Park racecourse, Burbage common and Thornton reservoir. These attractions all support superb cafes and pubs. With the bank holiday weekend coming up, does the Prime Minister have any plans, and does he want to pop up to Bosworth? More importantly, what are the Government doing to support these attractions and domestic tourism as we go into the summer? (915002)
I thank my hon. Friend. No matter how many pints I joined him in lifting in the pubs of Bosworth, it could not do as much for the economy of Bosworth as what we are already doing with the £56 million welcome back fund, which is probably even more welcome than my presence in Bosworth, I venture to suggest—that is hotly contested, perhaps. We have extended the cut in VAT for tourism and hospitality to 5% right the way through until the end of September.
Is not the truth behind all of this—the sleaze, the scandals, the jobs for your mates, the cash for curtains —that the Prime Minister thinks that rules, laws and decency are for other people? He thinks they are for the sort of people who shop at John Lewis, Ikea or Argos and who do not have wealthy donors to fund their lifestyles, not for people like him and his Ministers. (914999)
I think that what people think is that the Labour party is losing all the arguments across British politics, that it has nothing to say, and that it has no plan for our future and no vision for our country. People see a Conservative Government who are getting on with uniting and levelling up, with the most ambitious agenda any Government have had for generations, and I think that is what they are listening to.
Next week, residents here in Nottinghamshire will go out to vote for the first time since that incredibly successful 2019 election, where they elected a broad slate of Conservative MPs across every constituency in this county. Despite that success, many areas, such as Mansfield, in much of the new blue wall across the midlands and the north still have mainly Labour councillors at a local level. Does my right hon. Friend have a message for Nottinghamshire voters, who have the opportunity next week to elect a Conservative local team who can work with our MPs to deliver for Nottinghamshire? (915003)
I do, and I thank my hon. Friend for all the wonderful work that he does for his constituency. My message would be, yes, I hope that the people of Nottinghamshire will get out and vote Conservative. It is we who share their priorities on crime, on the NHS, on investment in infrastructure and on levelling up across our country, so I hope they will vote Conservative on 6 May.
I first was made aware of the plan for a European super league on, I think, the Sunday night, and we acted decisively using the arsenal of legislative freedoms that we now have thanks to leaving the European Union, which the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) opposed, of course. We acted decisively to make clear that the UK Government took a dim view of this matter. [Interruption.] And the same goes for my chief of staff.
My constituency of Stroud recently won the title of best place to live. There is much to visit there, including an historic lamp standard that was erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Next year, our own Queen will mark 70 years since her accession to the throne. Will the Prime Minister join me in supporting the gift being proposed by Parliament to mark Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Next week, we will elect our first Mayor of West Yorkshire.
Does the Prime Minister agree that for far too long Labour has taken our northern heartlands for granted? On Thursday 6 May, we have the opportunity to elect patriotic, hard-working northerners such as Matt Robinson, Ben Houchen, and Jill Mortimer in Hartlepool. They will be strong voices and champions for infrastructure, housing and jobs. We must seize the chance to build back better after the pandemic, and only the Conservatives will deliver on that. [Interruption.]
Well, Mr Speaker, they don’t like that sort of thing, do they? They don’t like focusing on the issues that actually matter to the British people and the people of West Yorkshire.
I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. I hope that on 6 May the people will get out and vote for a party that believes in supporting our NHS; that believes in fighting crime, not being soft on crime; and that will bring jobs and regeneration across the country. I hope that they will vote Conservative on 6 May.