Oral Answers to Questions Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Oral Answers to Questions

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank the hon. Lady for her interest. She is right that it is important to ensure that every person in the country can be connected. That is why we have encouraged social tariffs, which have been rolled out by a large number of operators. Constituents of hers who are on benefits will be able to access those. They cost from £10 a month, bringing cheap connectivity to everybody.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
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For rural businesses, internet connectivity is essential. As we move into the summer, that will be the case for many tourism businesses. Sales can be lost and repeat business not return if tills and card machines do not work because of unreliable 4G and the internet going down. Very often, businesses suffer and do not see many sales. The National Audit Office recently said that the Government’s shared rural network programme is, like everything else, behind schedule. What message does the Minister have for businesses that will struggle to keep going this summer with no internet connection or poor broadband speeds?

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Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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We are enormously blessed in this country with the quality of our universities, so many of which, together with the firms that sponsor undergraduate and postgraduate research, are making magnificent efforts in the important area of diversity in STEM.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State says she wants to ensure that

“brilliant people can contribute and succeed, irrespective of their background.”

That is only right, but given that only 16% of practising engineers are women, it is like trying to play premiership football with half our players barred from the pitch. Can the Minister explain why not one of his major science strategies—the life sciences vision, the national AI strategy, and the UK science and technology framework—features an equality impact assessment? We have no idea whether those strategies are helping to break down barriers or not. The Secretary of State’s war on woke has so far cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds and delivered only damage limitation. Why can the Minister not fight for our scientists and engineers instead?

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Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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Dementia is a crippling disease for so many people, and will touch so many people’s lives. The Health Secretary and I recently hosted the heads of the Dementia Mission at No. 10 Downing Street to announce more funding, and I should be happy to meet the hon. Member and any representatives of dementia organisations in his constituency.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Carol Monaghan Portrait Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP)
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A facility that would allow the production of good manufacturing practice phages would be an asset to many companies working in the field, and would play a key part in tackling antimicrobial resistance. What consideration has been given to repurposing the Rosalind Franklin Institute as a GMP facility for phage production rather than selling it off?

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Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure (Julia Lopez)
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I thank my hon. Friend for his brilliant work on connectivity in the border areas—[Applause.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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As you know, we do not allow clapping, but this is an exception.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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Please allow me to say welcome back to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). What an appropriate way for the new bionic MP to walk in: on science questions.

To answer the question about broadband, my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) has been a fantastic champion for connectivity on the border. There will be contracts covering North Shropshire and parts of Wales as we get the Type C off the ground, so I hope for better connectivity very soon for his constituents.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call shadow Minister Matt Rodda.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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It is good to see the hon. Member for South Thanet back in his place.

Last year, the UK hosted the AI safety summit and set up the AI Safety Institute. However, since then, developers of frontier AI have refused to share information with the Safety Institute, leaving it toothless. Labour has repeatedly called for binding regulation to support safety. With the Secretary of State discussing the future of AI this week, is it not high time for the Government to finally agree to binding regulation?

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Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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That is absolutely right. It is intrinsic to the scientific method that research is impartial, and that it is challenged, public, transparent and open. That is always our commitment, but it is also to fully fund research and to turn this country into the science and technology superpower that it deserves to be.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Before we begin Prime Minister’s questions, I am sure the whole House would like to join me in welcoming back our colleague and friend, the inspirational hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay).

Craig, it is so good to have you back among us. You are the man of the moment. I met your daughter, whose birthday is tomorrow. I say to you and your family that you are an inspiration to the people in this country who have suffered with sepsis. You have shown us the way forward. Thank you for everything—[Applause.] That is the only time I allow clapping.

May I also just mention that we have the Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament and the Premier of the Cayman Islands with us today?

The Prime Minister was asked—
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Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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We are investing in better healthcare right across our country, and I am delighted to see that Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust was recently allocated over £6 million to upgrade A&E and will benefit from a new specialist emergency care hospital in Sutton as part of the programme.

As my hon. Friend says, that is possible only because of the difficult decisions we have taken to bring inflation back to normal and grow the economy. Today’s figures show that the plan is working, and I am sure the whole House, perhaps including the Leader of the Opposition, will welcome the news that inflation is now back to normal.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the Leader of the Opposition.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab)
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I will begin by saying a few words to the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). First, thank you for meeting me privately this morning with your wife and daughter, so I could personally convey my best wishes to all of you. Secondly, on some occasions—there are not many—this House genuinely comes together as one, and we do so today to pay tribute to your courage and determination in not only coming through an awful ordeal, but being here with us today in this Chamber. Thirdly, I want to acknowledge your deep sense of service. I think politics is about service, and resuming your duties as an MP and being here today is an example to all of us of your deep sense of service, and we thank you for it.

I also welcome Figen Murray, who is up in the Gallery, who lost her son Martyn seven years ago today in the Manchester Arena attack. We remember everybody who was lost in that awful attack. She is campaigning for Martyn’s law, which we must make a reality as soon as possible.

The infected blood scandal reflects a profound failure across almost every part of the British state. In our apologies on Monday and on the question of compensation yesterday, this House was united; however, we have too many times heard similar sentiments from that Dispatch Box and this one. There are many hard yards to go. Does the Prime Minister agree that we will make real progress only if we finally tackle the lack of openness, transparency and candour that Sir Brian Langstaff identified as having prolonged the victims’ suffering for decades?

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Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend gives a superb and passionate economic diagnosis. He is right: inflation is now back to normal, and, indeed, lower than that of France, Germany and the United States. Inflation is at its lowest level in years, our economy is growing faster and wages are rising, which is why we need to stick to the plan that is working. He is right to point out the risks of what the Labour party proposes: 70 new laws —70 new laws! Labour has caved in to its union paymasters, and what does that mean? It means that it will cost jobs and damage our economic recovery.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP leader.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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May I begin by also welcoming the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) back to the Chamber? He is indeed an inspiration to all of us.

Mr Speaker, speculation is rife, so I think the public deserve a clear answer to a simple question. Does the Prime Minister intend to call a summer general election, or is he feart?

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Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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It is always nice to see the changed Labour party in action. When it comes to the ICC, this is a deeply unhelpful development, which of course is still subject to a final decision. There is no moral equivalence between a democratically elected Government exercising their lawful right to self-defence and the actions of a terrorist group, and the actions of the ICC do absolutely nothing to get a pause in the fighting, or to get the hostages out or aid in.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Craig Mackinlay.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is an emotional day for me, and if you will indulge me, I will say a few thanks, because a few are due. Apologies are due, actually, as I have caused the breaking of so many rules today: there has been clapping; I have got trainers on because my shoes would not go over the plastic feet; and my jacket would not go over the bionic arm.

First, I thank you, Mr Speaker, for being there for me and for coming to visit. I will tell everybody this little story: the rest of the hospital thought I must be dreadfully ill, because they said, “That guy’s got the funeral director in already.” [Laughter.] But you have been, and you have cared for me throughout, and I thank you for that. The other person in this Chamber I would like to thank is the Prime Minister, who has been with me throughout. He has not advertised it, but he has been to see me multiple times. To me, that shows the true depth of the character of the Prime Minister, and I thank him for that.

I thank my wife, who is in the Chamber, my daughter and other family members—my father and my father-in-law. I thank my wife for being there every single day of those many months in hospital. She could only do that because of the support of family behind her. In the Public Gallery—they cannot quite see me, unfortunately—are many of the staff from the NHS. [Applause.] They took me from where I was, close to death, to where I am today, so I thank them for that. I am not entirely sure I am that happy that the two surgeons who took this lot off are there, but never mind.

There is a question here. Prime Minister, can we please ensure that we embed recognition of early signs of sepsis? It would not have worked for me—mine was too quick and too sudden—but many people do get a few days. If we can stop somebody from ending up like this, I would say that that is a job well done. I would also like to impress upon Health Ministers the importance of allowing the provision of appropriate prosthetics, particularly for multi-limb amputees, at the right time. Thank you, Mr Speaker; thank you, Prime Minister. [Applause.]