PMQs: On the sleaze scandal, health crisis concerns, and broken HS2 promises


After a COP related one week absence, PMQs resumed for a highly charged session. Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle was forced to interject in proceedings on multiple occasions, including with Boris Johnson, as MPs either failed to give way or were implored to manage the nature of their discourse.

Sleaze scandal

The session was dominated by the pushback against the ongoing sleaze scandal which refuses to go away and has rightly raised questions around ministerial standards on issue concerning lobbying, second jobs and cash for peerages.

This was the main topic of debate from the onset, with Jonathan Edwards (an independent MP) pressing the Prime Minister on whether the government would back a bill that would bar large party donors from being elected to the Lords for five years in the wake of recent events. The prime minister reacted by saying he would consider the proposals when “the parties opposite commit to stop taking funds from the unions”.

The fallout has engulfed the Conservative party in the past fortnight and Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer called on Boris Johnson to “do the decent thing and just say sorry for trying to give light to corruption.” He went on to describe the Prime Minister as "a coward, not a leader". Lindsay Hoyle promptly told the Labour Party leader to withdraw his remarks. Keir Starmer obliged, but maintained “he is no leader.” Boris Johnson responded by drawing previous links between Starmer and the law firm Mishcon de Reya.

Health Crisis

Conservative MP Theresa Villiers highlighted concerns about the NHS' capacity to manage the winter period, citing "a spiralling demand for treatment". The Prime Minister responded by asking the public to get COVID booster shots and reiterating the government's plan to hire 50,000 nurses and invest an extra 4.5 billion in the NHS before the end of the fiscal year.

The issues raised are timely - In a new report, nursing leaders identified severe pressures facing the NHS and social care, with stress points ranging from increased bed occupancy rates to higher demand for social care services. Worries about healthcare persisted during the debate, with Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davies asking when the Prime Minister would "deal with this health crisis," citing "worst ever" ambulance response times. The Prime Minister praised ambulance crews and services, stating that they are being supported with a £450 million investment in 20 trusts to upgrade their facilities.

While not mentioned during the debate, the ongoing disparities affecting black communities has once again been crystallised in another depressing health outcome. Newly published data from MBRRACE-UK revealed that Black women in the UK faced a significantly greater risk of dying during childbirth and through related complications than women of any other racial group.

HS2 and broken promises

Finally, the Prime Minister was chastised over the possibility of downgrading the eastern leg of HS2 amid fears that the much-touted, but now-delayed, Integrated Rail Plan would not live up to expectations. Earlier this week, leading newspapers started a pan-Northern campaign urging the government to deliver on its railway expenditure plan, which included the construction of a new line between Manchester and Leeds.

In July 2019, the Prime Minister pledged to deliver on his commitment and fund the Leeds to Manchester route. Earlier today, it was revealed that plans for a new high-speed line between Manchester and Leeds will no longer be pursued, with more investment directed into existing routes.

The government maintains that the wider scope of its new Integrated Rail Plan will ensure that "no town or city is left behind."

Mayowa Ayodele

Image credit: Tomas Sereda, GETTY IMAGES, via Canva