Rishi Sunak grilled by senior MPs at Commons liaison committee – UK politics live
Sarah Champion (Lab), moves onto international development spending. She asks why no budget is ring fenced by the Treasury to support refugees in the UK, adding: “Why is it that you think it’s fine to raid the overseas development assistance budget?”
Sunak says the government provided an additional £2 billion on spending for refugees following the war in Ukraine and says: “We remain one of the leading spenders on international development anywhere in the world.”
Caroline Nokes (Con) asks what will happen to Afghan refugees who helped British troops and might have been eligible under the relocation schemes but instead arrive on small boats.
When Sunak does not answer the question, she asks: “Is it right that an Afghan female judge or MP who arrived on a small boat should be treated differently [than one who arrived before the new policy]?”
Sunak says “the point is we have to break the cycle” of criminal gangs bringing people over by boat and that taking people to an alternative safe country such as Rwanda is “reasonable”.
The committee has moved onto the issue of small boats. Caroline Nokes (Con) asks whether children under the care of the Home Office have the same protections under the Children Act as those in local authority care.
Sunak dodges the question and says he and the government take the welfare of children seriously. He says their policy on small boats treats people humanely and safeguards children’s welfare but also breaks the cycle of criminal gangs.
Childcare is a big issue on the petitions committee website, Sir Bernard Jenkin says.
My colleague Emily Dugan is taking over the coverage now.
Catherine McKinnell (Lab), chair of the petitons committee, goes next.
Q: Would you agree childcare is in crisis?
No, says Sunak. He says there was a big package of measures in the budget.
Q: People have raised safety concerns about the changes to staff/child ratios. And why is the government giving a £600 bonus to people who sign up individually as a childminder, but a £1,200 bonus if they sign up through an agency.
Sunak says he thinks this scheme was designed in consultation with the sector.
Pressed why private agencies are getting more, Sunak says he will look into this.
Pressed again, he thinks recruitment costs are higher for agencies.
McKinnell asks, cryptically, if Sunak has anything to declare.
No, says Sunak. He says all his interests are declared in the normal way.
(She seems to be suggesting that he has money invested in a childcare recruitment agency.)
Q: What do you want the NHS to do differently to tackle economic inactivity?
Sunak says the main focus was on musculoskeletal conditions. He won’t go into the details, he says. But he says the OBR said it was the biggest package of supply side measures.
Work can be helpful to people’s mental health, he says.
Stephen Crabb (Con), chair of the Welsh affairs committee, goes next.
Q: The crown estate will make enormous sums from offshore wind. Should that money be earmarked for port infrastructure?
Sunak says the government is already investing in port infrastructure.
Sir Bernard Jenkin says at the end of the Labour government the aircraft carrier programme was paused to save £150m. But that cost an extra £650m, he says. Has the same calculation been done with HS2?
Sunak says he is sure the transport department has considered this point, but he says he does not have the cost/benefit figures to hand.
Iain Stewart (Con), chair of the transport committe, goes next.
Q: Are you worried that the delays to HS2 will be a false economy?
Sunak says he wants to deliver value for the taxpayer. Given the inflationary pressures, it was right to reschedule, he says.
Q: Will HS2 definitely go to Euston? Some government statements have been ambiguous [implying it could just end at Old Oak Common].
Yes, says Sunak (meaning it will go to Euston). He says this should not be ambiguous. The aim is to deliver the route to Euston along with the rollout to Manchester.
At the weekend Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, said he could not say HS2 would definitely reach Euston.
Meg Hillier (Lab), chair of the public accounts committee, asks Sunak to clarify how much NHS trusts will have to pay to fund the pay rise for nurses and other NHS staff.
Sunak says he has nothing to add to what he told Steve Brine earlier (which did not fully address the question.)
When pressed, he says there will be additional funding, and “reprioritisation, as there always is”.
Q: Will you give the NHS more stability?
Sunak says the government only recently reached a pay agreement.
Sunak says almost everyone can see the junior doctors’ call for a 35% pay rise is unreasonable and unaffordable.
Q: How confident are you about being able to get a settlement with the junior doctors?
Sunak claims the government has always adopted the same approach. It has sought constructive conversations with unions.
Steve Brine (Con), chair of the health committee, goes next.
Q: Where will the funding come for the pay deal for NHS staff?
Sunak says he was pleased to reach agreement on a pay settlement for 1.4 million health workers.
That had to be affordable to the taxpayer, he says. The government “struck the right balance”, he says.
He says the health secretary has provided an assurance today. He says there are always conversations with the Treasury, and they are ongoing.
Q: What is happening to waiting times?
Sunak says the government is on track to eliminate waits for operations lasting more than a year and a half by this spring, although he says the doctors’ strike has had an impact.
The next target is to get rid of waits of more than a year by next spring, he says.
Sunak says the public finances have “undoubtedly strengthened since the autumn”.
Q: Is it really credible to think the chancellor will raise fuel duty in an election year, as the plans in the budget assume?
Sunak says Baldwin has asked this before. He says he will not comment on future budgets.
Baldwin says it is clear that it is a “fiction” to plan on the basis that fuel duty will go up next year. (This matters because it means that the chancellor can plan on the basis of revenue that almost certainly will not be available.)
The committee is now covering the economy, and Harriett Baldwin (Con), chair of the Treasury committee, is asking the questions.
Sunak says the government is making progress towards his targets.
Q: So you are not worried that the latest figures showed inflation going up?
Sunak said those figures showed why the government should not be complacent.
Back at the liaison committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin asks about defence spending.
Q: What is being done to replace weapons supplied to Ukaine?
Sunak says the government has increased defence spending by £5bn, as well as providing Ukraine with support worth £2.3bn last year.
Q: What was your response to Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow?
Sunak says he was glad that China claimed it supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity. But other things they did undermined their credibility as a neutral party, he says.
UPDATE: This is what Sunak said about the depletion of UK missile stocks.
I would not necessarily see it as a negative that our own stockpiles have been drawn down, for the simple fact that if you think about what are those weapons for, they were ultimately there to degrade and deter – primarily – Russian aggression.
They are being used to do exactly that, they are just being used by the Ukrainians.
So, in one sense, even though the stockpiles are lower, they are being used for the purpose for which they are intended and degrading the capabilities of an adversary in the process.
Back in the Scottish parliament, Alison Johnstone, the presiding officer, announces the results. The votes are:
Alex Cole-Hamilton: 4
Douglas Ross: 31
Anas Sarwar: 22
Humza Yousaf: 71
In accordance with the rules (see 2.11pm), Johnstone says Yousaf is selected as first minister.