Ministers risk Lords defeat over plan to help housebuilders by axing river pollution law

Here is the PA Media story on PMQs.

Rishi Sunak has been branded “inaction man” by the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, as the government grapples with crumbling schools, Chinese espionage, and a prisoner on the run.

Starmer urged the prime minister to call a general election, as he accused the government of failing to heed warnings which led to a series of crises for ministers over the last week.

But Sunak hit back, claiming the Labour leader cannot be trusted due to his “principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership”.

At PMQs Starmer told MPs: “Probation, prison, schools, China… yet again Inaction Man fails to heed the warning and then blames everyone else for the consequences.”

In recent weeks, Sunak’s government has had to deal with the escape of former solider Daniel Khalife from Wandsworth prison, crumbling concrete in school buildings, and reports of Chinese espionage in Westminster.

The prime minister became personally embroiled in the row about reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete [Raac] after suggestions that, when chancellor, he approved 50 schools to be rebuilt per year, rejecting an application for 200 to be given the same treatment.

Pressing Sunak, Starmer said: “On Sunday, the home secretary celebrated her first anniversary in post – that is if you overlook the six days she missed when she was deemed a national security risk. In that year, 40,000 people have crossed the Channel on a small boat, and the taxpayer is now spending £6m a day on hotel bills. He is failing to stop terrorists strolling out of prison, failing to guard Britain against hostile actors, he has completely failed to stop the boats. How can anyone trust him to protect the country?”

Sunak responded by accusing Labour of leading plans to block housing reforms in the government’s levelling up and regeneration bill, which is currently being considered in the House of Lords.

The PM said: “He talks about trust, he tried in this house to talk the talk on housebuilding, but at the first sign of a cheap political hit, what did he do? He has caved in. Rather than make the right long-term decisions for the country, he has taken the easy way out. It is typical of the principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership that he offers. Flip-flopping from being a builder to a blocker. The British people can’t trust a word he says.”

Calling for a general election, Starmer went on: “No one voted for this shambles. No one voted for him. So how much more damage do the British public have to put up with before he finally finds the stomach to give them a say?”

But Sunak responded: “We are getting on for the British public, just in the last week announcing a new landmark deal for British scientists, attracting £600m for new investment for our world-leading auto industry, and wages now rising at the fastest rate on record. Where has he been this week? Locked away with Labour’s union paymasters, promising to give them more power and scrap the laws that protect British families and their access to public services. It is clear it is only the Conservatives that are on the side of the hardworking British public.”

Filters BETA

These are from Full Fact, the fact-checking organisation, on Rishi Sunak claiming at PMQs that there are 1.7 million fewer people in poverty now than in 2010. (See 12.04pm.)

At #PMQs, Rishi Sunak said there are “1.7 million fewer people in poverty today than 2010”. This is correct based on one measure of poverty, but others offer a different picture. (1/3)

This figure appears to be based on the number of people in absolute poverty after housing costs, which has fallen by 1.7 million since 2009-10. The number in relative poverty after housing costs, however, is up by 900,000 over the same period. (2/3) https://buff.ly/3r3Wsn7

We wrote more about the different ways of measuring poverty in this fact check about a different claim back in June. (3/3)

Downing Street has also hit back at Keir Starmer over his jibe about Rishi Sunak being “inaction man”. Asked to repond, the PM’s press secretary told journalists:

The PM’s a man of action. If you look at his record on stuff – the Windsor framework, the Aukus deal, Atlantic declaration, Horizon deal, long-term energy security package, toughest legislation ever on immigration.

[The Starmer comment] comes from someone today … who is literally doing something to play politics in Westminster with 100,000 new homes when he claims to be the leader of a party that wants to back the builders. So, he might want to get a mirror.

At PMQs Rishi Sunak twice said that the government “introduced and remains committed to the triple lock” for pensions. That did not sound like the sort of thing a leader was saying if he was planning to drop it altogether in the manifesto, but he has not committed to going into the election promising to maintain it for the next parliament.

Asked about this at the post-PMQs lobby briefing, the PM’s press secretary told reporters:

The government is committed to the triple lock – you just got the PM’s words in the chamber.

You wouldn’t expect me to write the manifesto here, but you can take the PM’s words and judge us on our record on that.

We’ve taken 200,000 pensioners out of poverty, provided an additional £300 of cost-of-living support and, of course, inflation hits pensioners hard, so that’s why it’s so important to halve it as part of our priorities target.

Ministers have already suffered two defeats in the House of Lords on the levelling up and regeneration bill, PA Media reports.

Peers voted for an amendment demanding planning authorities are barred from granting permission for homes to be built on functional floodplains or areas at high risk of inundation. This was passed by 177 votes to 146 – a majority 31.

And within the last few minutes the government lost another vote as peers voted for an amendment to require planning authorities in England to consult the secretary of state before granting planning permission for developments affecting ancient woodland. That was passed by 189 votes to 145 – majority 44.

The debate on the nutrient neutrality amendments is coming later.

Here is the PA Media story on PMQs.

Rishi Sunak has been branded “inaction man” by the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, as the government grapples with crumbling schools, Chinese espionage, and a prisoner on the run.

Starmer urged the prime minister to call a general election, as he accused the government of failing to heed warnings which led to a series of crises for ministers over the last week.

But Sunak hit back, claiming the Labour leader cannot be trusted due to his “principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership”.

At PMQs Starmer told MPs: “Probation, prison, schools, China… yet again Inaction Man fails to heed the warning and then blames everyone else for the consequences.”

In recent weeks, Sunak’s government has had to deal with the escape of former solider Daniel Khalife from Wandsworth prison, crumbling concrete in school buildings, and reports of Chinese espionage in Westminster.

The prime minister became personally embroiled in the row about reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete [Raac] after suggestions that, when chancellor, he approved 50 schools to be rebuilt per year, rejecting an application for 200 to be given the same treatment.

Pressing Sunak, Starmer said: “On Sunday, the home secretary celebrated her first anniversary in post – that is if you overlook the six days she missed when she was deemed a national security risk. In that year, 40,000 people have crossed the Channel on a small boat, and the taxpayer is now spending £6m a day on hotel bills. He is failing to stop terrorists strolling out of prison, failing to guard Britain against hostile actors, he has completely failed to stop the boats. How can anyone trust him to protect the country?”

Sunak responded by accusing Labour of leading plans to block housing reforms in the government’s levelling up and regeneration bill, which is currently being considered in the House of Lords.

The PM said: “He talks about trust, he tried in this house to talk the talk on housebuilding, but at the first sign of a cheap political hit, what did he do? He has caved in. Rather than make the right long-term decisions for the country, he has taken the easy way out. It is typical of the principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership that he offers. Flip-flopping from being a builder to a blocker. The British people can’t trust a word he says.”

Calling for a general election, Starmer went on: “No one voted for this shambles. No one voted for him. So how much more damage do the British public have to put up with before he finally finds the stomach to give them a say?”

But Sunak responded: “We are getting on for the British public, just in the last week announcing a new landmark deal for British scientists, attracting £600m for new investment for our world-leading auto industry, and wages now rising at the fastest rate on record. Where has he been this week? Locked away with Labour’s union paymasters, promising to give them more power and scrap the laws that protect British families and their access to public services. It is clear it is only the Conservatives that are on the side of the hardworking British public.”

That was a difficult PMQs for Rishi Sunak. Quite how and why was illustrated by contributions from two people who weren’t even there, or at least did not speak.

The first was Jeremy Corbyn. It has been a while since Sunak has raised Corbyn (and Keir Starmer’s support for Corbyn) at PMQs, but we got the full spiel today in response to question 4. When Corbyn was actually Labour leader, denouncing him as a pacifist, anti-Nato Russophile was a line that worked rather well for the Tories. But it has never been particularly effective as a critique of Starmer (the public aren’t daft – they know that MPs have to support their party leaders in public, even if they don’t agree with them), it works less and less as time goes on, and today, as Sunak pushed the Corbyn button, it came across as indicative of desperation. He was doing this because it was the only attack line he had left.

This is a sign of how, on a whole range of security issues – defence, foreign policy, policing, crime, even small boats to an extent – Labour under Starmer has closed down all or most of its vulnerabilities. Interestingly (perhaps by chance, but more probably as part of a coordinated effort) two Labour backbenchers asked questions criticising the government for being insufficiently supportive of the military. They sounded like Tories haranguing a Labour PM.

The other ghost at the banquet was George Osborne. Much of PMQs at the moment consists of Sunak trying and failing to defend things happening in the public services as a result of Osborne’s austerity regime – most of which was implemented before Sunak even became an MP. Sunak might have been in a stronger position to see off some of this if he had had a bold reset moment when be became PM, disowning the Tory public spending record, but he didn’t, and now it’s too late.

Predictably, Sunak cited the Labour nutrient neutrality decision (see 9.25am) as evidence of Starmer being inconsistent. He said:

[Starmer] talks about trust, he tried in this house to talk the talk on housebuilding, but at the first sign of a cheap political hit, what did he do? He has caved in. Rather than make the right long-term decisions for the country he has taken the easy way out. It is typical of the principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership that he offers. Flip-flopping from being a builder to a blocker. The British people can’t trust a word he says.

But he got off to a poor start with evasive answers on Wandsworth prison and China, and overall his performance was underpowered and reductive. Because of the state of politics, Starmer always arrives at PMQs these days with a much stronger hand of cards, and he had the best line of the session, telling Sunak:

Probation, prison, schools, China, yet again inaction man fails to heed the warning and then blames everyone else for the consequences.

Richard Graham (Con) asks about government work promoting democratic values abroad.

Sunak says a white paper on international development is coming, and it will cover promoting democracy.

That’s the end of PMQs.

Lilian Greenwood (Lab) asks why the government is going ahead with cuts to the army.

Sunak says the government has put record sums into the armed forces. It is for the armed forces to decide how they spend the money, he says.

Brendan Clarke-Smith (Con) asks about the closure of Wilko stores. It has been mismanaged for years, he says. Recenty £77m has been paid out to shareholders. Will the government do all it can to support those affected by the closures?

Sunak says some of these are commercial matters. The government stands ready to support those affected.

Philip Davies (Con) says the government should ensure that any prisoner who assaults a prison officer cannot be released early.

Sunak says people who assault prison officers should face full consequences of their actions.

Florence Eshalomi (Lab) asks if there is Raac in military buildings. Can the PM guarantee the safety of people in the armed forces?

Sunak says people are following guidance on this across the public sector. The government has invested record sums in defence, he says.

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