That’s all from our coverage of UK politics for this evening. In case you missed anything, here’s a quick round-up of all the latest from throughout today.
A Labour motion calling on the government to release all documents related to contracts awarded to PPE Medpro, has passed.
It comes after the Guardian revealed that Tory peer Lady Mone appeared to have received millions originating from the company’s profits, allegations she has denied.
Labour leader Angela Rayner said “ministers must now confirm when, where and how this information will be released”.
A further Guardian report has revealed that a second company over which Lady Mone allegedly lobbied ministers in an attempt to secure government Covid contracts was a secret entity of her husband’s family office.
Stephen Flynn, the MP for Aberdeen South, has been elected leader of the SNP in Westminster, replacing Ian Blackford, who resigned last week amid reported disquiet about his leadership.
Paisley and Renfrewshire South MP Mhairi Black was elected as Flynn’s deputy.
Flynn said he would be “relentlessly focused on standing up for Scotland’s interests and our democratic right to decide our future in an independence referendum”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has abandoned his opposition to the opening of new onshore wind farms amid a back bench revolt over the issue.
While campaigning for the Tory leadership over the summer, Sunak pledged to scrap plans to relax a ban on new farms because of the “distress and disruption [they] can often cause”.
Former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke, who led the rebellion, said communities ought to be able to decide for themselves whether they want a wind farm in their area.
Ambulance crews at five ambulance trusts in England will stage a 12-hour strike over pay and staffing from 12pm on 21 December, the Unison union has announced.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has accused the government of allowing NHS strikes to go ahead this winter because wider failures mean “patients are going to suffer” anyway so it wants to use staff “as a scapegoat in the hope that they avoid the blame”.
The chancellor will urge the UK’s largest banks to do all they can to support those struggling to pay their mortgage during the cost of living crisis when he holds his first talks with chief executives on Wednesday.
Jeremy Hunt will host a roundtable with heads of major mortgage lenders, including Debbie Crosbie of Nationwide, HSBC UK’s Ian Stuart and NatWest’s Alison Rose to discuss the impact of rising interest rates and living costs on customers.
Richard Lloyd, the interim chair of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which regulates and supervises mortgage lending, will also be attending alongside bosses from Lloyds, Santander UK and Barclays.
Hunt is expected to tell them they should do everything they can to support borrowers, including through interest-only payments that could temporarily reduce their monthly bills during the economic downturn.
Read the full story here:
Responding to the government’s decision to abandon its opposition to new onshore wind, the Liberal Democrats’ energy spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, accused the Conservatives of having “dragged their feet for years” and said too many barriers to new farms remained.
“Families and pensioners up and down the country could have saved money on their bills by now but sadly this is all too late,” she said.
“Even this U-turn would make it far too difficult to get onshore wind projects off the ground. Renewable energy companies will face having to jump through hoops meaning we risk seeing a de facto ban on onshore wind remaining in place.
“Millions of people are already struggling to heat their homes this winter, and the dismal failure of this government to invest in renewable energy has led to this crisis.
“We need to see rapid investment in renewable energy including offshore wind, to cut energy bills and emissions in the long term.”
Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s new Westminster leader, has said he wants to use the role to “put forward Scotland’s positive case for independence” while holding the government to account.
Speaking to Sky News following his election win, Flynn said: “I’m looking forward to engaging with the prime minister… and making sure that he knows that the Scottish National Party in Westminster mean business.
“We have a clear mandate for that second independence referendum.”
He added: “Let’s not forget this cost of living crisis has not gone away. We have a democratic right to choose, but we also have to hold this UK government to account for their failings”.
Asked why he had sought to replace his predecessor, Ian Blackford, who resigned last week amid reports of disquiet among his MPs, Flynn said that “far too many folk have been watching House of Cards”.
Labour has responded to the news of a deal between the government and rebellious backbenchers that would allow new onshore wind farms to go ahead where local residents are in favour.
Lisa Nandy, shadow levelling up, housing and communities secretary, said:
Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove are in office but not in power. Fresh from rolling over to their MPs on housing targets, they are now being forced into this position because they’re too weak to stand up to another backbench rebellion.
We will need to see the detail, but if it is some sort of fudge that leaves in place a very restrictive system for onshore wind – the cheapest, cleanest form of power – [it] would continue to deny Britain lower energy bills and improved energy security during an energy crisis.
The next Labour government will double our onshore wind capacity as part of our plan to make Britain a clean energy superpower by 2030.
While running for the Tory leadership over summer, the prime minister pledged that the current ban on new onshore wind would remain in place.
The deal comes just a day after he was forced to drop compulsory housebuilding targets because a group of up to 100 of his own MPs threatened to oppose the policy.
Second firm pushed by Michelle Mone was secret entity of husband’s office
A second company that the Tory peer Michelle Mone lobbied ministers over in an attempt to secure government Covid contracts was a secret entity of her husband’s family office, the Guardian can reveal.
Lady Mone’s lobbying on behalf of the company, LFI Diagnostics, which she tried to help secure government contracts for Covid lateral flow tests, prompted a formal rebuke from a health minister who reminded her of “the need for propriety”.
However, it is the revelation that the company was a secret entity of the office that manages the wealth of her husband, Douglas Barrowman, that will deepen the controversy over the Tory peer and her access to ministers.
On Tuesday, Mone’s spokesperson said that she was taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords with immediate effect, adding she was doing so “in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her”.
Read the full story here:
Motion calling for release of PPE documents passes
Labour’s motion calling on the government to release all documents and advice relating to contracts awarded to PPE Medpro has now passed.
Responding to the news, Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said:
The Tories are out of excuses and have finally been shamed into conceding the release of these documents.
Ministers must now confirm when, where and how this information will be released. This cannot be yet another Tory whitewash.
Rishi Sunak was too weak to remove the Tory whip from Baroness Mone, leaving her to finally read the writing on the wall.
This eyewatering waste of public money happened under his watch while he was Chancellor. He must act now to close the loopholes, ban VIP lanes, and give us our money back.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has congratulated Stephen Flynn and Mhairi Black on their election as the SNP’s leader and deputy leader at Westminster, describing them as a “truly formidable team”.
Closing the debate on the Commons motion for the opposition, Fleur Anderson, the shadow paymaster general, says:
The members opposite can either support today’s binding vote to force ministers to come clean or be complicit in the continuing cover up.
The choice is theirs and their constituents are watching.
No-one’s denying [that] we had to have fast procurement. That didn’t need to lead to all procurement procedures being jettisoned.
It’s disappointing that ministers keep on defending [what happened].
If ministers don’t own this [and] admit it was wrong, they won’t make the changes, and it could well happen again.
Stephen Flynn elected new SNP leader at Westminster, with Mhairi Black his deputy
Stephen Flynn has been elected as the new leader of the SNP group at Westminster. Flynn, 34, a former councillor who represents Aberdeen South, will replace Ian Blackford, 61.
It’s an honour to be elected to lead the SNP’s strong and talented team of MPs during such a crucial period for Scotland.
Under my leadership, SNP MPs will be relentlessly focused on standing up for Scotland’s interests and our democratic right to decide our future in an independence referendum.
Families across Scotland are paying a devastating price under Westminster control, with Brexit, austerity cuts and the Tory cost of living crisis hammering household budgets.
SNP MPs will work harder than ever to hold the Tory government to account - and make the case that independence is the essential route to safety, fairness and prosperity for Scotland.
In the election by SNP MPs, Flynn beat Alison Thewliss, the party’s Treasury spokesperson at Westminster.
Mhairi Black, who was standing for deputy leader at Westminster as Flynn’s running mate, has been elected as Flynn’s deputy. She was once the youngest MP in the Commons and, at 28, she is still the youngest SNP MP.
That is all from me for tonight. My colleague Christy Cooney is now taking over.
Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary and the Tory who tabled the pro onshore wind amendment to the levelling up bill that prompted tonight’s government announcement (see 6.23pm) has welcomed Rishi Sunak’s U-turn. He said:
I am delighted that the government has come forward with what is a really sensible package designed to return decisions about new onshore wind to local communities. Poll after poll shows this is what people want to happen. What I and fellow Conservative MPs have said is simply that communities ought to be able to make this decision for themselves, rather than have Whitehall rule it out.
Onshore wind is the cheapest form of energy bar none and it has an important role to play as part of our future energy mix, alongside oil and gas, offshore wind, solar and nuclear. Unlocking its potential will strengthen our domestic energy security and help us to deliver our climate commitments in the fight against climate change.
It is understood that Alok Sharma, the former Cop26 president, was also pressing for the de facto ban on new onshore windfarms to be relaxed, and played a part, alongside Clarke, in negotiating the new policy with Michael Gove’s department.
Under the current rules, which have been in place since 2016, it is very hard to get planning permission for new wind turbines because they require near unanimous local approval. Only 16 new turbines were approved in England in the five years from 2016, a 96% decline in the number in the previous five years.
The consultation on the new policy will run until March 2023, and after that it is expected to be included in the updated national planning policy framework by the end of April 2023.
Sunak abandons opposition to new onshore windfarm development, as Gove acts to see off Tory levelling up bill revolt
Yesterday Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, performed a climbdown over mandatory housebuilding targets, in response to a Tory rebellion led by Theresa Villiers.
Today Gove has seen off another Tory revolt over the levelling up bill, with an announcement that amounts to a Rishi Sunak U-turn on onshore windfarms.
When he was running for the Tory leadership in the summer, Sunak said he was opposed to changing current planning laws for onshore windfarms, which amounted to a de facto ban.
Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, tabled an amendment to the levelling up bill saying new onshore windfarms should be allowed where communities were in favour, and this evening Gove’s department confirmed that will happen.
The levelling up bill is back in the Commons next week and, with these joint announcements, Gove has managed to defuse two legislative grenades that would otherwise have detonated for the Conservative party in the division lobbies – but at some cost to Sunak’s reputation for consistency.
During the summer the Sunak campaign said:
In recognition of the distress and disruption that onshore wind farms can often cause, Rishi has also promised to scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind farms in England, providing certainty to rural communities.”
Instead, his government would redouble efforts on offshore wind in order to meet the UK’s energy needs. Offshore wind turbines are bigger and more productive than their onshore counterparts.
And tonight the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities said:
The government commits to launching a technical consultation to explore how local authorities demonstrate local support and respond to views of their communities when considering onshore wind development in England …
Under the proposals, planning permission would be dependent on a project being able to demonstrate local support and appropriately address any impacts identified by the local community.
The government will also seek views on developing local partnerships for supportive communities, so that those who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure
can benefit from doing so, such as through lower energy bills.
Quince suggests release of PPE Medro papers by ministers in response to Commons motion will be limited and delayed
Quince is now addressing the motion. He says:
The government is committed to releasing information when all investigations are concluded. Our response will necessarily take into account the wider public interest and the commercially sensitive nature of the material.
It is only right that we work with the public accounts committee [PAC] on the terms on which information might be shared, and I understand the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster [Oliver Dowden] will soon begin a dialogue with the chair of the PAC on how we enact those information sharing arrangements.
Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, intervenes. She says that her committee is used to receiving sensitive information, she says it behaves responsibly, not recklessly, but she says it will decide for itself when it wants to publish information.
The Labour motion says the government should provide information about the PPE Medpro contracts to the PAC. (See 4.48pm.) But it does not say when this must happen, and, in saying information would be handed over “when all investigations are concluded”, Quince suggested it could be delayed quite a while.
And his reference to decisions about what to release being affected by “the wider public interest and the commercially sensitive nature of the material” also implied that only a limited amount of information might be published.
As mentioned earlier (see 11.31am), this has happened before when the Commons has passed a motion compelling the government to release confidential information.
Quince says 97% of all PPE ordered was suitable and fit for use.
Where that was not the case, the government is seeking to recover costs, he says.
In instances where there have been allegations of fraud, those allegations have been investigated.
He says only 12% of the 430 bids dealt with through the VIP lane were approved.
But all bids went through the same due diligence process, he says.
Meg Hillier (Lab), chair of the public accounts committee, intervenes. She says MPs knew the government had to procure PPE quickly. But her committee warned at an early stage that risks were being taken.
Quince says the government published details of how the VIP lane worked. The NAO has published three reports, he says. He says the public accounts committee has looked at this, and the Boardman review covered procurement too, he says. So there is accountability, he insists.
Health minister Will Quince says ministers were not involved in decisions to award PPE contracts
Dawn Butler (Lab) says civil servants were begging ministers not to give contracts to some of the companies that did get contracts. She says the government was acting in a '“corrupt” manner.
Quince says that is the first he has heard of that claim. If Butler has evidence for it, she should produce it, he says.
He says only 12% of firms referred to the VIP lane got contracts.
And ministers were not involved in those decisions, he says. He says a team of 400 officials dealt with the referrals, and applied due diligence.
Karl Turner (Lab) asks about a British firm that did not get a sniff of a PPE contract because it was nowhere near a VIP lane. He says Quince should just say sorry.
Quince says Turner forgets the pressure under which officials were working.
He says the British people would not have forgiven the government if it had stuck to conventional procurement procedure while the crisis was on.
Will Quince, the health minister, is responding for the government.
He urges MPs to remember where they were three years ago. Within weeks, Covid pushed global supply chains to breaking point.
Neale Hanvey (Alba) says at the start of the pandemic he asked for an assurance that profiteering would play now part in procurement. But the domestic procurement industry ended up being charged for doing the right thing, he says.
Quince says at the start of the pandemic only 1% of PPE used in the UK was made here. But now three quarters of the FFP masks used in the UK are made here.
Rayner says this government has presided over scandal after scandal that has engulfed their party.
She urges the Tories not to vote for another cover up.
Rishi Sunak promised professionalism, integrity and accountability, she says. But that sounds like more hot air.
She says Labour would set up an office for value for public money.
Let’s end the cover up and start the clean up, she says.
Rayner says businesses that played by the rules lost out as a result of this process.
She says the Welsh government operated an open PPE procurement process. That was in complete contrast to what happened at Westminster, she says.
Labour's Angela Rayner says public deserve to know if 'dodgy lobbying' contributed to vast waste of public money
Rayner says a company was 10 times more likely to get a contract if it was in the VIP lane.
She says one in five of the emergency contracts handed out for PPE have been flagged for corruption.
And she says contracts worth £3.5bn were handed out to people with Tory contracts.
She says the public deserve answers as to whether the “dodgy lobbying” at the heart of this scandal led to vast amounts of taxpayers’ money being wasted.
In the Lords Tory peers recently voted against an amendment that would prevent a repeat of the use of a VIP lane for government procurement.
MPs must decide if they will act to prevent a repeat. Addressing Tory MPs, she says:
Learn your lesson. Don’t let this shameful episode be repeated.
Neale Hanvey (Alba) says the money made in profits in the PPE Medpro case would have been enought to settle the firefighters’ dispute in Scotland.
Rayner agrees that money has been wasted. She says £770,000 is being spent every day on storage for PPE that was never used.
Meg Hillier (Lab), the chair of the public accounts committee, says the government is still trying to resolve disputes relating to 176 contracts, worth a total of £2.7bn. That means the government is trying to recover money owed.
Rayner says these sums are “eye watering”.
Kieran Mullan (Con) says we do not usually find out how Labour would have dealt with a policy problem. But in this case we do know, he says, because Labour recommended some people for PPE contracts, including a football agent.
Rayner says the only MPs who got access to the VIP lane were Tory MPs. No opposition MPs got access, she says.
Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, is opening for the opposition.
She says the motion has a simple purpose: it is a plea for answers.
She says she wants to “end the cover up, and begin the clean up”.
She says £10bn of spending on PPE during the pandemic has been written off because it was unusable, overpriced or undelivered.
Unusable PPE that cost £4bn has been burnt, she says.
Rayner says, while she will not comment on ongoing investigation, PPE Medpro was referred to the VIP lane (which was used to fast track PPE bids for assessment) after being referred by a sitting member of the cabinet.
She is referring to Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, although she does not name him.
Gove was lobbied by another Tory politician, Rayner says. She is referring to Lady Mone, but, again, she does not refer to her by name.
Before the PPE Medpro debate starts, Winterton tells MPs that the general rule saying MPs should not criticise individual members of the House of Lords, unless they are debating a motion naming them (which they are not today), remains in force.
The Labour motion calling for the end of non-dom tax status was passed by 226 votes to 0, because Tory MPs abstained.
Toby Perkins (Lab) makes a point of order, pointing out that in the past the government took motions of this kind seriously. If they opposed the motion, they voted against. But now the government just ignores them, he says. He asks what can be done to get the governmnet to take these divisions seriously.
Dame Rosie Winterton, the deputy Speaker, says it is not for her to tell the government when it must vote.
MPs to debate Labour motion calling for release of papers relating to contracts awarded to PPE Medpro
In the Commons, MPs are voting on the Labour motion calling for non-dom tax status to be ended, with the money raised being used to expand the NHS workforce. After the result is announced, they will move on to the next debate, on the Labour motion calling for papers relating to the awarding of PPE contracts to PPE Medpro, the firm reportedly linked to the the Tory peer Lady Mone (although she has denied this in the past).
Here is my colleague David Conn’s recent story about Mone and her family making £29m from PPE Medpro.
And here is the text of the Labour motion.
That this house –
(a) notes that the Department for Health and Social Care purchased more than £12bn of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in 2020-21;
(b) regrets that the government has now written £8.7bn off the value of this £12bn, including £4bn that was spent on PPE which did not meet NHS standards and was unusable;
(c) is extremely concerned that the government’s high priority lane for procurement during the pandemic appears to have resulted in contracts being awarded without due diligence and wasted taxpayer money;
(d) considers there should be examination of the process by which contracts were awarded through the high priority lane; and
(e) accordingly resolves that an humble address be presented to His Majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to give direction that all papers, advice and correspondence involving ministers and special advisers, including submissions and electronic communications, relating to the government contracts for garments for biological or chemical protection, awarded to PPE Medpro by the Department for Health and Social Care, references CF-0029900D0O000000rwimUAA1 and 547578, be provided to the committee of public accounts
The UK urgently needs to do more to help more than 28 million people in drought-stricken Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, two former secretaries of state for international development and the heads of 14 of the UK’s leading aid agencies have warned in a joint letter to Rishi Sunak.
They say one person is dying every 36 seconds yet British aid to the region is only one-fifth of what Britain provided when the region was struck by a major famine in 2017
More than 7 million children are acutely malnourished across the three countries.
The letter, signed by the former Labour international development secretaries Hilary Benn and Clare Short, warns:
East Africa is facing a catastrophic hunger crisis caused by one of the worst droughts in living memory. It is looking increasingly likely that a fifth consecutive rainy season has failed in the region, leaving millions of families in a desperate situation and facing starvation …
Although a full-scale famine is yet to be officially declared, what we are seeing on the ground is a famine in all but name. Despite the rapidly mounting death toll, the international response is woefully underfunded and the UK has failed to do its bit.
The letter was released ahead of the development minister Andrew Mitchell giving evidence this afternoon to the international development committee on the impact of massive UK aid cuts, and the amounts being spent on housing Ukrainian refugees in the UK.
Despite an announcement by Mitchell of extra humanitarian aid to Somalia on a visit last Friday, the UK has confirmed an allocation of just £156m this year across east Africa, less than a fifth (18%) of the £861m provided in 2017-8 during the region’s last major hunger crisis which helped to avert a widespread famine.
On a visit to western Somalia last week, Mitchell announced an extra £14m in humanitarian aid to Somalia. During his two-day visit Mitchell told the BBC it was “unacceptable” that the world was “neglecting people who are dying in the Horn of Africa” because so much aid money had been diverted to Ukraine.
The UK has given Somalia £62m this year, considerably less than the £101m provided in 2021 and the £232m it gave in 2020. Food inflation in Somalia is currently 15%.
The letter calls for the UK to step up and show leadership in this area again before it’s too late.
Sam Bright from Byline Times has more on Lady Mone’s attendance at the House of Lords.
Streeting claims ministers not stopping health strikes because they expect 'patients to suffer this winter' anyway
MPs are currently debating a Labour motion on the NHS workforce. Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, opened for the opposition and he said the NHS was facing “the worst crisis in its history”. He said:
Seven million people are waiting for NHS treatment and they are waiting longer than ever before. 400,000 patients have been waiting more than a year.
Heart attack and stroke patients are waiting an hour for an ambulance on average when every minute matters. 24 hours in A&E isn’t just a TV programme, it is the grim reality facing patients in an emergency.
Behind those statistics, people are being held back from living their lives, people forced to give up work because they can’t stand the pain.
Young people still bearing the scars of lockdown unable to get the mental health support they need to step into adulthood. Families losing loves for no other reason than the NHS was unable to treat them in time.
It [the NHS] has now fallen over. For the first time in the history of the NHS, people no longer feel certain when they phone 999 or arrive in A&E that they will be seen in time. It’s the first time in our country’s history that people have not felt confident that emergency medicine will be there for them when they need it.
The government … sent the NHS into the pandemic with 100,000 staff shortages. They spent a decade disarming the NHS before sending it into the biggest fight it’s ever faced.
Streeting also claimed that the government was allowing the NHS strikes to go ahead this winter, instead of negotiating a settlement, because that would provide an excuse for wider failures with the service. He told the Commons
Why on earth are they not sitting round the table and conducting serious negotiations?
I will tell you why – they know that patients are going to suffer this winter, they don’t have a plan to fix it, so instead of acting to improve care for patients and accept responsibility, they want to use nurses as a scapegoat in the hope that they avoid the blame.
We can see it coming a mile off. It is a disgusting plan. It is dangerous. And it won’t work. And if I’m wrong, perhaps members opposite could explain why the government is not trying to prevent the strikes from going ahead.
In response, Steve Barclay, the health secretary, said Wales, where Labour is in government, showed why the party could not be trusted on health. He said:
[Streeting] said they have a plan in government. Well let’s look at that plan. More than a fifth of the entire population of Wales are waiting for planned care. Sixty thousand in Wales are waiting over two years. So we can see exactly what their plan in government delivers.
The SNP has joined Labour in saying the Conservatives should have removed the whip from Lady Mone in the House of Lords (see 12.42pm), instead of waiting for her to take leave of absence. Brendan O’Hara, the SNP’s Cabinet Office spokesperson, said:
The reality is that Baroness Mone should have had the whip removed from her a long time ago while a thorough investigation into her business dealings was carried out.
Instead, the Tories have turned a blind eye while presiding over an anything-goes culture that has seen vast sums of money given to friends, family and party donors.
The exact circumstances surrounding Baroness Mone’s case are now the subject of a National Crime Agency investigation, which must be allowed to proceed without hindrance – but it is clearly for her to answer exactly how much money she and her family have made from these contracts, in what circumstances and what tax arrangements were made.
But the bottom line in this whole affair is that the stench of sleaze surrounding this broken Tory government has become simply unbearable.
Five ambulance trusts in England to strike: London, Yorkshire, north-west, north-east and south-west
The Unison union says its members are going to go on strike at five ambulance trusts in England on Wednesday 21 December. The Unison staff will take action in London, Yorkshire, the north-west, the north-east and the south-west, and the strike will last from midday to midnight.
Ambulance staff who belong to Unite and the GMB are also on strike the same day.
Unison members working as nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, cleaners at two Liverpool hospitals – the Liverpool Heart and Chest hospital and Liverpool university hospital – will also hold a 24-hour strike starting at 7.30am on Wednesday 21 December.
Unison also says it is reballoting 13,000 NHS staff from 10 trusts and ambulance services – including the five ambulances services in England where Unison staff are not striking on 21 December – because in the original ballot the turnout was just below the 50% threshold required by law.
In a statement, Sara Gorton, Unison’s head of health, said:
Ambulance staff and their health colleagues don’t want to inconvenience anyone. But ministers are refusing to do the one thing that could prevent disruption – that’s start genuine talks about pay.
Wages are too low to stop health workers quitting the NHS. As more and more hand in their notice, there are fewer staff left to care for patients. The public knows that’s the reason behind lengthy waits at A&E, growing ambulance delays, postponed operations and cancelled clinics.
Threatened NHS strikes in Scotland were called off because ministers there understand higher wages and improved staffing levels go hand in hand. Unfortunately, the penny’s yet to drop for the Westminster government.
Suella Braverman, the home secretary, told colleagues at cabinet the government would be stepping up action to deal with fraud, No 10 said.
The PM’s spokesperson told journalists at the No 10 lobby briefing Braverman said “going further on fraud would be an area of focus”. He said:
We know that fraud now makes up a substantial part of overall crime and it’s an area where the Home Office are focused working with police forces.
In the summary of what was said at cabinet, the spokesperson said:
[Braverman] said overall crime was down 10% since 2019, including fraud, with a 20% reduction in neighbourhood crime and a 30% fall in domestic burglary.
She said that the recruitment of more than 15,000 additional police officers meant that many forces now had the largest numbers of officers in their history.
She said going further on fraud would be an area of focus with a recent operation closing down a website responsible for 3.5m fraudulent calls in 2022, leading to 100 arrests.
The prime minister highlighted the powers given to the police to tackle disruptive protests and referenced his recent meeting with police chiefs where he made clear they would continue to have the powers and resources necessary to take decisive action.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has issued this statement in response to the reports that Lady Mone is taking leave of absence from the Lords and that the Tories will not vote against Labour’s PPE motion. (See 11.31am and 11.41am.)
The Tories are all out of excuses.
Ministers must now set out clear timelines on when, where, and how this information will be released. They can’t keep taking the public for fools by refusing to come clean on what they knew about this dodgy deal.
Rishi Sunak was too weak to remove the whip, and has left it to Baroness Mone to finally read the writing on the wall.
No 10 says it's still committed to legislating for minimum rail services to continue during strikes - but won't say when
According to Downing Street, ministers did not discuss the Christmas strikes at this morning’s cabinet. Instead the main discussion was on crime, with Suella Braverman, the home secretary, telling colleagues overall crime was down by 10% since 2019.
On strikes, the PM’s spokesperson told journalists the government was still committed to bringing in minimum service levels for trains – which would lessen the impact of future industrial action by the rail unions. He said:
We recognise no legislation will be in place to mitigate against the disruption we’re expecting to see next week. We are pushing ahead with minimum service level legislation. That’s the plan whether or not the unions step back from the planned disruption next week.
But the spokesperson would not say when the legislation, which has been promised since 2019, might be introduced. He said it had been held up by the pandemic, and he went on: “It’s something we’re proceeding with as fast as parliamentary time allows.”
And the GMB has said that more than 10,000 of its members who are ambulance workers will go on strike on Wednesday 21 December. The strike will affect nine trusts: South West ambulance service; South East Coast ambulance service; North West ambulance service; South Central ambulance service; North East ambulance service; East Midlands ambulance service; West Midlands ambulance service; Welsh ambulance service; and Yorkshire ambulance service.
There will also be a strike by GMB members who are paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers on Wednesday 28 December.
Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said:
After 12 years of Conservative cuts to the service and their pay packets, NHS staff have had enough. The last thing they want to do is take strike action but the Government has left them with no choice.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay needs to listen and engage with us about pay. If he can’t talk to us about this most basic workforce issue, what on earth is he health secretary for?
Unite leader Sharon Graham says ambulance workers going on strike 'to save our NHS from government'
The Unite union has given more detail of the NHS strike by its members. It said more than 1,600 workers for ambulance trusts in the West Midlands, the north-west and the north-east will go on strike on Wednesday 21 December.
But it said essential emergency cover would continue while the stoppage was on.
In a statement Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, said:
Make no mistake, we are now in the fight of our lives for the very NHS itself. These strikes are a stark warning – our members are taking a stand to save our NHS from this government.
Patients’ lives are already at risk but this government is sitting on the sidelines, dodging its responsibility to sort out the crisis that it has created.
Ministers can’t keep hiding behind the pay review body. They know full well it does not address the desperate need to get huge numbers of NHS workers off the breadline.
Fail to act now to avert these strikes and the blame will rest firmly at the government’s door.
Unite said it was still balloting 10,000 more NHS workers from 38 different employers about strike action, and that in January the strike ballot would be extended to even more NHS staff.
Ambulance workers and other NHS staff to strike on 21 December, GMB, Unison and Unite unions announce
Thousands of ambulance workers and other NHS staff are to strike on 21 December in a dispute over pay, the GMB, Unison and Unite unions announced.
Mone taking leave of absence from Lords 'to clear her name', spokesperson says
A spokesperson for the Tory peer Lady Mone said:
With immediate effect, Baroness Mone will be taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her.
As PA Media reports, the leave of absence means Lady Mone will not attend sittings of the house, vote on any proceedings and will not be able to claim any allowance.
According to Hansard, Mone has only spoken in the Lords on five occasions since getting her peerage in 2015. She last voted in April.
Lady Mone to take leave of absence from Lords
Lady Mone, the Tory peer linked to the PPE Medpro, the firm that won the controversial PPE contracts which are the subject of Labour’s opposition day motion this afternoon (see 11.31am), is taking leave of absence from the Lords, PA Media reports.
In practice, this will have little effect. Mone has not been a regular contributor to the Lords since getting her peerage in 2015.
MPs likely to pass motion forcing release of PPE contract paperwork after Tories reportedly not ordered to vote against
Tory MPs are not being told to vote against Labour’s “humble address” motion that would force the government to release papers relating to the award of PPE contracts to PPE Medpro, the firm reportedly linked to the Tory peer Lady Mone, the Times’ Steven Swinford reports.
That means the motion will be passed, almost certainly unopposed, at 7pm.
And because it is a humble address motion, it will be binding on the government (unlike other opposition day motions, which the government sometimes ignores if they get passed).
At least, in theory the motion is binding. Labour got the Commons to pass a humble address motion earlier this year demanding the release of papers relating to the award of a peerge to Evgeny Lebedev, the son of a former KGB officer. But on that occasion the government only released a tiny amount of routine paperwork, which did not reveal anything new about the decision making process that led to Lebedev becoming a lord. Ministers held back other information, citing security concerns.
Labour received £4.7m in donations between July and September, more than any other party, PA Media reports. PA says:
The sum received by Labour is significantly greater than that donated to the Conservatives, which, according to Electoral Commission data, received £2.9m over the same period.
The Liberal Democrats recorded about £1.7m, according to returns submitted to the Electoral Commission, with more than £11m in total donated to 19 separate UK political parties.
Generally the Conservative party finds it easier to raise money through donatations than Labour. But donations also tend to go up when a party is seen as well placed to win the next general election, and over the summer the Tories were holding a leadership contest, which may have discouraged donors put off by the infighting, or uncertain as to the outcome.
Lynch claims 'perverse' system means rail companies don't lose out from strikes because of government subsidy
And here are some more lines from Mick Lynch’s interview this morning on the Today programme.
Lynch, the RMT general secretary, said the government was to blame for not allowing the train companies to make an offer acceptable to his members. He said:
The government are running the playbook and the strategy for the railway companies and directing what is going on. They have held back even these paltry offers to the last minute.
He also said he had been told by a rail industry figure: “When I make this proposal I know it will be unacceptable but the government will not allow me to make a suitable proposal.”
He claimed the rail companies were not losing out from strike action, because they were subsidised by the government, and he described this system as “perverse and corrupt”. He explained:
They get indemnified for every day of strike action. They are paid the money that they would otherwise have lost, and the only people that lose are my members who lose their wages and the public and these businesses in hospitality who lose their income as well, while the people I negotiate with lose no money whatsoever.
It is the most perverse and corrupt system we have ever seen in British business where those people that are conducting the dispute make no losses whatsoever and the taxpayer subsidises those people by money given directly from the DfT [Department for Transport].
He said the timing of the latest strikes was “unfortunate”, but he claimed the union was forced to act. He said:
We have to respond to what the companies are doing, and they’re doing that very deliberately. They’re seeking to ratchet up the dispute.
He accepted that, although the additional strikes were over Christmas, when rail services were very minimal anyway, they would create further disruption for passengers. In the past Lynch had said the RMT wanted to avoid strike action over Christmas.
He defended the RMT’s decision to object to a move to driver-only trains. Driver-only operation was “less safe”, he said. Women and disabled passengers wanted to see guards on trains, he said, because they felt that was safer and more welcoming. When the presenter, Justin Webb, put it to Lynch that driver-only trains still had another member of staff on board, and that they just did not have a staff member operating the doors, Lynch said that was wrong. He said most of these services did not have anyone else on board, apart from the driver.
Minister urges RMT to call off strike and 'not hold country to ransom'
Nick Gibb, the schools minister, was giving interviews on behalf of the government this morning. He urged the RMT to call off its Christmas strike, and accused the union of holding the country “to ransom”. He told LBC:
I would say to the unions, we do understand, of course, the cost that families up and down the country are facing as a consequence of higher energy prices and the cost of living going up, but this is not the way to negotiate.
They need to get around the table, talk to the employers and come up with a settlement, not hold the country to ransom, not disrupt people’s Christmas plans.
This is the one time of the year when families want to get together and causing this kind of disruption in the cold weather is simply not acceptable and there’s no need for it.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, told the Today programme this morning that the existence of the so-called “VIP lane”, which allowed people with links to government ministers to get their bids for PPE contracts fast-tracked for consideration during Covid, was “a scandal of epic proportions”. She said it enabled some Tories to get rich from the pandemic.
Explaining why Labour has tabled a humble address motion, which would force the government to release paperwork relating to the award of PPE contracts to PPE Medpro, the firm reportedly linked to the Tory peer Lady Mone, Rayner said:
Those documents need to come out and it needs to be out in the open.
PPE Medpro has denied that the kit it supplied was at fault, although Neil O’Brien, a health minister, told MPs recently that the government was trying to recover money from the firm in relation to one of its PPE contracts judged as “underperforming”.
Labour's Angela Rayner claims 'militant government' wants to 'ratchet up' rail dispute
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, was doing media interviews this morning, ahead of the opposition day debate later on a motion that would force the government to release papers relating to the award of PPE contracts to a firm reportedly linked to the Tory peer Lady Mone. Asked about the rail strikes, she said the “militant government” was responsible for escalating the dispute. She told BBC Breakfast:
This is a militant government that is not dealing with the issues and not resolving this strike action and it’s frustrating.
The system is absolutely crumbling without the strikes. Anyone who gets on a train now in the north knows that you’re praying if you’re going to get to where you need to get to. Many businesses are now losing staff because they can’t get to work.
It’s a complete shambles of the government’s making and they really need to get off their hands and resolve this.
When I speak to the trade unions they’re very clear they do not want to go on strike, they want to resolve this dispute. It’s this government that seems to want to ratchet it up and want to attack workers’ rights and cause this disruption.
Gove claims climbdown over compulsory housebuilding targets 'makes government look strong'
Yesterday Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, announced that the government is dropping compulsory housebuilding targets in response to pressure from Tory MPs. My colleague Aubrey Allegretti has the story here.
Labour said this showed that Rishi Sunak was “weak” and “in office but not in power”.
But Gove has claimed that the climbdown, which will take the form of changes to the levelling up bill, makes the government “look strong”. He told the BBC:
I think it makes the government look strong because we are delivering on the planning reform that we promised a year ago.
When I arrived here I said that we wanted to have a planning system that put beauty and local democracy at the heart of our planning system. That is what we have got now thanks to close engagement with MPs who really care about getting the right homes in the right places.
Here is the levelling up department’s summary of the changes Gove is making to the bill after his discussions with Tory MPs.
RMT boss Mick Lynch defends extending Christmas strike plans, saying ‘price of labour’ too low
Good morning. Yesterday the RMT rail union announced further strikes over Christmas, as it advised members to reject a pay offer from Network Rail. My colleague Gywn Topham has the details here.
Rishi Sunak is chairing cabinet this morning and it would be surprising if the strikes, organised not just by the RMT, but by unions in other sectors too, were not a major topic of conversation.
Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, has been giving interviews this morning. On the Today programme he defended the decision to stage more rail strikes over Christmas, saying that unions had a “duty to coordinate” because their members were under attack because “the price of labour” was too low in the UK. He told the programme:
Working people [are] having their wages lowered against inflation, and often their conditions ripped up. You hear in our industry, and in the CWU, the Royal Mail and British Telecom, it’s not just about pay. They’re offering very paltry pay rises in return for chopping up terms and conditions, and changes to working practices.
So it feels like a general attack by the employers and by the government and by organisations that are coordinating what they’re doing. So it would be foolish of unions not to coordinate themselves in response to those attacks.
People are being made poorer, and sometimes impoverished, while they’re working, using food banks and having to live on state benefits.
So the price of labour isn’t at the right price in this country and what the unions have got to do is correct that, because if people are living on subsidy and living on food banks and other support mechanisms, they’re not being paid the right amount of money for their work. And that’s exactly what’s happened in the railways.
So the unions have a duty to coordinate what they do.
I will post more from his interviews shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
Morning: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.
11.30pm: Steve Barclay, the health secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
After 12.30pm: MPs debate a Labour motion on the NHS, calling for the abolition of non-dom tax status to fund an expansion of the NHS workforce.
2pm: Thérèse Coffey, the environment secretary, gives evidence to the Commons environment committee.
2.30pm: Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, gives evidence to the Commons culture committee.
2.30pm: Andrew Mitchell, the development minister, gives evidence to the international development committee.
After 4pm; MPs debate Labour humble address motion that would force the government to release papers relating to the award of PPE contracts to PPE Medpro, the firm reportedly linked to the Tory peer Lady Mone (although in the past she has denied this).
After 6pm: SNP MPs elect a new leader at Westminster to replace Ian Blackford.
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