Rishi Sunak vowed to introduce “tough laws” to clamp down on “unreasonable” strike chaos as he faced MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
Mr Sunak pledged to “take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public” with new legislation to protect people from strike disruption if union leaders “continue to be unreasonable”.
It comes as thousands of workers are preparing to bring chaos to the nation’s key services in strikes leading up to the festive season.
Paramedics announced on Tuesday they will be walking out on December 21 in a row over pay - the latest vital sector to announce a walkout. Unions GMB, Unite, and Unison have said they will respond to life-threatening incidents – known as category one calls – but Health Secretary Steve Barclay said on Wednesday there was “still a question” over whether ambulance services will cover all emergency callouts during strikes.
Meanwhile, rail workers are to bring the country’s rail network to a standstill over the festive period by walking out from Christmas Eve to the morning of December 27.
Two 48-hour walkouts will also take place on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, as part of a long-running dispute on pay, jobs and conditions, and on December 16-17, as well as January 3-4 and 6-7.
Royal Mail workers are also set to strike for six days in the Christmas run-up, including Christmas Eve, while NHS nurses are to walk out in dozens of trusts on December 15 and 20 in their first-ever national action.
PMQs to begin at midday
11:03 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Good morning, and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live politics blog.
We’ll be bringing you everything you need to know from Prime Minister’s Questions, which is due to kick off at midday.
Follow along for updates.
Rail strikes before Christmas will impact maintenance work, warns Transport Secretary
11:06 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said the walkout by Network Rail workers between Christmas Eve and December 27 will cause “more inconvenience to passengers” because it means planned maintenance will need to be rescheduled.
He told the Commons Transport Select Committee this morning: “One of the things that Network Rail is now looking at...[is] that £120 million worth of essential maintenance work, to see the extent to which that’s affected.
“Of course, even though that may not impact passenger services, it absolutely will affect the reliability of the railway.
“Of course it’s done at Christmas because...that is the least busy time. If that work isn’t done at the Christmas period, it means it will have to be done at other times of the year, which will cause more inconvenience to passengers.”
Schools Bill dropped as Government prioritises tackling economic crisis
11:31 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
A flagship piece of education legislation has been dropped after running into opposition in Parliament.
The Schools Bill, which had already been stripped of key elements during its passage through the Lords, “ will not progress”, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said on Wednesday morning.
She told MPs that parliamentary time was being focused on measures relating to the economic crisis, but insisted the Government still viewed elements of the Bill as a priority.
The legislation was originally intended to cover issues including school funding, the regulation of academies, tackling truancy, ensuring the welfare of home-educated children and banning unsuitable teachers.
It had been due for its third reading in the Lords, but the Government stripped out contentious chunks of the Bill that would have given ministers sweeping powers over autonomous academies.
Rishi Sunak pictured leaving No10 on the way to PMQs
11:46 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Starmer grills PM on housing targets
12:08 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
PMQs has begun, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has stood to probe the Prime Minister on the nation’s housing stock.
The Conservative Party promised the country it would build 300k houses a year, but this week wwithout asking a single voter, the Prime Minister broke that promise by scrapping mandatory targets. What changed?”
Mr Sunak responded by accusing Mr Starmer of not taking “the time to read the detail of what we are doing to improve our planning system”.
“So let me just explain what we are doing,” he added. “We are protecting the green belt, we are investing millions to develop brownfield sites, and we’re providing support and protection for local neighbourhood plans.
“Just this morning the shadow housing secretary said, she said, communities should have control over where homes are built and what sort of homes are built. That’s my position. That’s her position. What’s his position?”
Sir Keir describes Sunak as ‘blancmange'
12:11 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Sir Keir branded Mr Sunak “the blancmange Prime Minister”, to which the Prime Minister said the opposition leader was “as ever engaging in the petty personality poltiics, not focused on the substance”.
PM ‘absolutely shocked’ to read allegations surrounding Tory peer Baroness Mone
12:14 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Rishi Sunak said he was “shocked” to read allegations surrounding Tory peer Baroness Mone and it was “right that she is no longer attending the House of Lords”.
Baroness Mone has faced accusations of profiting from the business, but she has long denied any involvement or connection with the firm.
Pressed on this by Sir Keir Starmer, Mr Sunak said: “Like everyone else, I was absolutely shocked to read about the allegations. It’s absolutely right that she’s no longer attending the House of Lords and therefore no longer has the Conservative whip.”
He added “there’s a process in place” to deal with such things, adding: “It’s right that that process concludes. I hope that it’s resolved properly.”
Sunak vows to clamp down on strike chaos
12:32 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Rishi Sunak has vowed to “take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public” if union leaders “continue to be unreasonable” regarding strike action.
Sir Keir urged the Prime Minister to “stop sitting on his hands, get round the table and solve this issue”.
The Prime Minister told the Commons: “Hard-working families right now in this country are facing challenges.
“The Government has been reasonable. It’s accepted the recommendations of an independent pay review body, giving pay rises in many cases higher than the private sector.
“But if the union leaders continue to be unreasonable, then it is my duty to take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public.
“That’s why, Mr Speaker, since I became Prime Minister I have been working for new tough laws to protect people from this disruption.”
He demanded that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer “stand up for working people” and back the legislation.
PM urges parents to learn Strep A symptoms and stay vigilant
12:37 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Labour leader Sir Keir urged Mr Sunak to assure parents over steps the nation is taking to protect youngsters against Strep A - after nine children have tragically died with the infection in recent months.
Mr Sunak said: “My thoughts are of course with the families of the children who have sadly lost their lives. We are seeing a higher number of cases from Strep A this year compared to usual.
“The NHS are working very hard to make sure parents are aware of the symptoms they should be looking out [for], because this can be treated very appropriately with antibiotics.”
He confirmed there are currently no shortage of drugs available to treat the condition, and there are “very establishe dprocedures in place to ensure that remains the case”.
“The UK Health Security Agency are monitoring the situation at pace, and have confirmed this is not a new strain of Strep A,” he added. “There is no reason to believe it has become more lethal or resistant to antibiotics.
“So the most important thing for parents to do is to look out for symptoms and get the treatment that is available to them.”
For more information on Strep A and its symptoms, click here.
WATCH: Sunak vows to introduce ‘tough’ laws to clamp down on ‘unreasonable’ strike action
12:42 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Rishi Sunak urged to back legislation to help keep ATMs open
12:50 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Rishi Sunak has been urged to back a Labour MP’s amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which has cross-party support, that would ensure “that everyone has free access to their hard-earned money”.
Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) told the Commons: “Members across this House know the devastating impact of bank branch closures on our communities. But as banks flee the high streets, our free cash machines disappear with them, cutting the most vulnerable hardest. Surely it cannot be right that a quarter of ATMs charge people to access their own money.
“So, will the Prime Minister join dozens of his own backbenchers today in backing my cross-party amendment and ensure that everyone has free access to their hard-earned money?”
The Prime Minister replied: “This Government is indeed legislating to safeguard access to cash and that’s what the Financial Services and Markets Bill this afternoon will do through a very significant intervention.
“I’m also pleased that we put in place initiatives with the industry to subsidise free-to-use ATMs in deprived areas and almost 50 communities are benefiting from our new shared cash facilities because access to cash is important. That’s what our new Bill will deliver.”
Former minister sacked by Truss cheered as he appears at PMQs
12:54 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Conservative former minister Conor Burns was cheered on by Tory MPs as he rose to speak at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mr Burns was sacked as a trade minister by Liz Truss and lost the whip, but recently had it restored after being cleared of misconduct.
He told the Commons: “Mr Speaker, can I thank you and colleagues across the House for your kindness and encouragement in recent weeks.
“Can I ask my right honourable friend the Prime Minister this afternoon to recommit the Government he leads to our ambition of levelling up communities in every part of our great United Kingdom?
“To that end, can I invite my right honourable friend to come and visit my Bournemouth West constituency and see the latest school rebuild, the multi-million pound rebuild of the Oak Academy, which will stand as a lasting tribute of opportunity to the people I have the privilege of serving in this House.”
Rishi Sunak replied: “Can I say that it’s very nice to hear from my right honourable friend today and he’s absolutely right. There is no better way to spread opportunity around the country than by investing in our children’s future.”
Lively PMQs saw Sunak pledge to protect British public from strike chaos
12:58 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
PMQs has now ended for another week.
Rishi Sunak was pressed by MPs including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, on topics including the nation’s housebuilding, the UK’s deadly spike in Strep A infections, and strike action that is set to bring chaos to key services in the run-up to Christmas.
Crucially, he vowed to introduce “tough laws” and to “take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public” if union leaders “continue to be unreasonable” regarding the strikes.
Asylum backlog partly due to people exploiting ‘rules in our system’, says PM
13:10 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Rishi Sunak has said the asylum backlog is often caused by people who are “able to exploit some of the rules in our system”.
The Prime Minister’s comments came during PMQs this lunchtime, after Labour chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee Dame Diana Johnson said: “Why can’t the Government process asylum claims within six months, thereby saving £5.6 million a day on asylum seekers’ accommodation, granting asylum to those who need it quickly and stopping the abuse of the system, which currently has a backlog of 147,000 asylum claims?”
The Prime Minister replied: “What we are doing is significantly increasing the number of caseworkers, we are on course to double it by next spring with several hundreds already in place and she is right that the process takes longer than it should.
“Often that is because people are able to exploit some of the rules in our system and make sequential claims. That is exactly the type of thing that the Home Secretary and I are working on fixing, and I look forward to having the party opposite’s support when we do.”