PMQs LIVE: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer in the House of Commons

The PM will face questions from across the House

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The Labour leader has pressed the Prime Minister on the “first-ever nationwide nurses’ strike”, asking him why he will not discuss pay with them.

Sir Keir Starmer opened his first question by saying: “Can I join the Prime Minister, our prayers go out to those who capsized in the freezing waters of the Channel last night. It’s a reminder that the criminal gangs running those routes put the lives of the desperate at risk and profit from their misery. They must be broken up and brought to justice.”

He added: “Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurses’ strike. All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”

Rishi Sunak replied: “We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are but I am glad he’s raised our nurses because they do do incredible work and it’s worth putting on record what exactly we have done for our nurses.

“Last year when everyone else in the public sector had a public-sector pay freeze, the nurses received a 3% pay rise. When the RCN asked for more in work training, we gave every nurse and midwife a £1,000 training budget. And when they asked for nurses’ bursaries, we made sure that every nursing student received a £5,000 grant. That’s because we do work constructively and we will continue to back our nurses.”

Sir Keir Starmer has accused Rishi Sunak of “playing games with people’s health”.

The Labour leader told MPs: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this Government. Instead of showing leadership, he is playing games with people’s health and there is a human cost.

“Alex from Chester has been waiting for a gallbladder operation for nearly six months, he is in so much pain he has been off school since then. His operation has already been cancelled twice. His mum, who I spoke to this morning, is worried sick, when she heard that strikes could be called off she was massively relieved.

“She’s desperate for the Prime Minister to resolve this. All he needs to do is simply meet the nurses. Alex’s mum is listening to this, she doesn’t want to hear him blaming everybody else, she doesn’t want his usual ducking of the question, she is tuned in now because she wants him to explain what is he going to do to resolve the nursing strike.”

The Prime Minister replied: “It’s not just Alex, there are millions of others across this country, millions of others who will have their health care disrupted because of the strike.

“Now the honourable gentleman says to get round the table, but we all know what that means, that is just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.

“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so, if he thinks it’s right that pay demands of 19% are met, then he should say so. What’s weak is he is not strong enough to stand up to the union.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed striking nurses “have been forced into it because the Government has broken the health system”.

Speaking about NHS staff, he added: “They will tell you they don’t have enough staff. 133,000 vacancies.

“There’s an obvious solution – scrap the non-dom status and use the money to bring through the next generation of doctors and nurses. That is what Labour would do, why hasn’t he got the guts to do it?”

Rishi Sunak replied the Government was “already investing billions more in the NHS”.

Echoing an attack favoured by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister added: “If we had listened to him, the backlog would still be growing and that is because we would still be in lockdown.”

Sir Keir Starmer responded: “The reason he can’t choose nurses over non-doms is because he is too weak to stand up to the tax avoiders.”

The Labour leader asked the PM: “For 12 years they haven’t trained enough doctors and nurses so we have the absurd situation of the NHS spending billions on agency workers to fill the gap.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday December 14, 2022.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday December 14, 2022.

“Why should the country have to put up with money that should be spent treating patients being wasted plugging gaps instead?”

The Prime Minister said: “We are actually listening to the independent pay review body, they want to undermine them. We have offered a fair pay deal, they cannot even decide on a number among themselves.

“We are actually protecting the public, they are protecting their paymasters. For working people in this country it is Labour’s nightmare before Christmas”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister “has curled up in a ball and gone into hibernation” while “winter has arrived for our public services”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday December 14, 2022.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday December 14, 2022.

Sir Keir said Rishi Sunak was “pretending everything is fine”, adding: “Try telling that to those on waiting lists or those that can’t afford to pay for a next-day GP appointment.

“After 12 years of Tory failure, winter has arrived for our public services, and we’ve got a Prime Minister who has curled up in a ball and gone into hibernation.

“If he can’t act on behalf of patients or nurses, or everyone who wants these strikes called off, then surely the whole country’s entitled to ask what is the point of him and what is the point of the Government he is supposed to be leading?”

Rishi Sunak said: “He talks about Covid not having the impact – ambulance waiting times for category one… in February 2020 were actually completely on target. Covid has had an impact.

“That’s why, as the chief executive of the NHS has acknowledged, this Government is serious about its commitment to prioritise the NHS.”

He said the NHS in Wales has the “worst A&E times in the country” under Labour.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday December 14, 2022.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday December 14, 2022.

Both Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the Prime Minister expressed unity over solidarity with Ukraine to end their final encounter of the year at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Sir Keir said: “Under the last Labour government we had fair pay for nurses and no strikes. So, I won’t be taking lectures from him about that.”

But referencing it was the last PMQs of the year, he said: “I want to finish this year thinking about our friends in Ukraine. As a result of Putin’s barbaric assault on their freedom, millions will spend Christmas in sub-zero temperatures without heating, electricity or hot water.

“Their suffering is unimaginable, but their bravery is awe-inspiring. So, will the Prime Minister join me in saying that whatever other difficulties and disagreements we have across this despatch box, we are and will remain united in our unwavering support for Ukraine’s freedom, its liberty and its victory.”

Rishi Sunak said: “I appreciate his comments on Ukraine. It has been a point of incredible unity across this House, and indeed the country, something that we can all be proud of in our country that we have stood behind Ukraine at its hour of need.

“This Christmas many families will be laying an extra place at their Christmas table and that speaks to the generosity and compassion of our nation, and long may that continue.”

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday December 14, 2022.
SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday December 14, 2022.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn called on the Prime Minister to “see the error of his ways and follow the Scottish Government’s lead” on dealing with public-sector strikes.

He told MPs: “Thanks to positive and proactive negotiations between the Scottish Government and Unite and Unison health unions, a pay settlement has been reached and strike action averted.

“By stark contrast, the Health Secretary appears completely unwilling to negotiate with unions on pay and strike action is very much still on the table. So, may I ask the Prime Minister, when will he see the error of his ways and follow the Scottish Government’s lead?”

Rishi Sunak replied: “I’m glad the UK Government was able to provide £1.5 billion in extra funding to the Scottish Government for public services.

“The Health Secretary and other ministers have engaged fully, not just with the unions but with an independent pay-setting process which takes the politics out of the process and ensures that we can meet those independent requirements with a fair pay deal.”