Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 659: debated on Wednesday 1 May 2019

House of Commons

Wednesday 1 May 2019

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Venezuela

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to pay a brief tribute to Dr Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, who was working for the World Health Organisation to fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when he was killed in an attack on 19 April. Richard was working in the frontline of the response to save lives, and I am sure that the whole House will want to send our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time and to reiterate that health workers are not a target.

The UK’s humanitarian assistance is underpinned by strict principles of neutrality and impartiality, and it is targeted to meet the needs of those affected by the crisis.

I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s remarks in supporting all those who are fighting the battle against Ebola in Africa.

After last night’s disturbing scenes on the streets of Caracas, what does my right hon. Friend say to those who retreat to their ideological comfort zone, blaming US imperialism rather than calling out the socialist Venezuelan regime for the humanitarian disaster that it has inflicted on its own people?

I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend. Let me be clear that this is a man-made crisis, caused by years of reckless mismanagement by the regime. Yesterday evening, while my right hon. Friend and others in this House were watching those terrible scenes of armoured military vehicles slamming into civilian protestors, I understand that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) was defending Maduro and his regime.

Is it not now clear that there needs to be maximum solidarity internationally—from European Union countries, the United States and Latin American countries—with Juan Guaidó and the people of Venezuela, as the final days of the Maduro regime approach?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has been consistent in his condemnation of the regime. We are working through the Lima group; it is absolutely right that we should give support to the region as well as Venezuela in particular. I call on all Members to support and call for swift presidential elections so that we can let the country move on.

The emergency £6.5 million UK emergency aid package to Venezuela was announced in February. Will the Secretary of State outline the priorities for that, especially given reports that up to 80% of Venezuelan households are without a reliable food source and the World Health Organisation’s suggestion that there has been a stark increase in maternal and infant mortality, and in malaria, tuberculosis and many other infectious diseases?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are prioritising healthcare and nutrition needs. We will keep monitoring the situation, as those needs will change over time. This is an emergency, and people are in life-threatening situations.

Development Co-operation: EU

2. What progress the Government have made in determining the future relationship of the UK and the EU on development co-operation. (910641)

The political declaration recognises our shared commitment to tackling global challenges and achieving the sustainable development goals. We have proposed a future development partnership that allows the UK and the EU to work together to maximise development impact, where it makes sense for us to do so.

I thank the Secretary of State for her response. Bearing in mind that our leaving the European Union could result in fundamental changes to development, is she aware of the concerns of organisations such as Bond, which say that they are not involved enough in what the future arrangements might look like? What more could the Government do to ensure that such organisations are indeed involved?

The EU’s development programmes will be the poorer for not being shaped by the UK and not making use of British and UK non-governmental organisations. I have provided a guarantee to all British suppliers, whether in the private or charitable sectors, so that they can continue humanitarian work on EU programming that has already been put in. I encourage the Commission to lift its eyes and enable us to co-operate on development. That is what we want to do; it is the block to that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when we leave the EU, it will be easier for us to strike trade deals with developing nations around the world—creating jobs for those nations, thus enabling their economies to grow, as well as ours?

I do agree. We should remember that we must ensure that we deliver on the referendum result. It is not just going to offer new opportunities for us and our trading relationships; it could also be a catalyst for changing the way the world trades and helping developing nations trade themselves out of poverty.

The UK has long played a leadership role within the European Union in shaping its development and humanitarian response. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that even outside the European Union we will maintain close co-operation, so that the world’s poorest do not suffer as a result of Brexit?

I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. We want to continue to co-operate with our European partners. We would like to have a sensible development partnership with the EU going forward. Currently, the EU is not as keen on that as us and other nations outside the EU. I hope its programming in the future will be open.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that across the world the UK is seen as a development superpower? Does she agree that our leaving the EU will have no effect on that?

That is quite right; it will have no effect on our ability to be able to do things and to work with partners. I hope that the European Commission, and in particular its legal department, will see sense and recognise that 20% of the non-governmental organisations it currently uses are British because we are world-class. Its programming will be poorer if it does not continue to use world-class organisations.

With time running out, the Government need to arrange a large volume of trade deals in a short period of time—deals they said would be easy but are not. There is a concern that to do so they may promise aid spending as an inducement to a favourable trade deal. Will the Secretary of State today commit to aid spending continuing to be untied and always being based on need alone, rather than for our own commercial and trade ends?

Climate Change

Tackling climate change is a priority for the Government. We have committed £5.8 billion to help developing countries to reduce emissions and to manage the impacts of climate change. To date, our support has helped 47 million people cope with the effects of climate change and supported 17 million people to gain access to clean energy.

The latest round of funding for the Darwin Initiative has committed £10 million of funding for 52 international projects. Can the Minister confirm that those projects will support and enhance biodiversity and the natural environment right across the globe?

I welcome the way in which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has allocated that money. Of course, it is overseas development assistance money that helps to support and enhance biodiversity in countries that are eligible for overseas development assistance.

It is very welcome that the Government are doing more to help developing countries with climate change, but the reality, as I have seen for myself, is that the Chinese are leaving a very large carbon footprint in African countries. What more can the Government do to persuade the Chinese to do better in Africa?

I know that my hon. Friend is an aide to the Chancellor and I know that the Chancellor was in China this week emphasising in his remarks the importance of taking into account the sustainable development goals in development projects. I am very pleased to see that 78 countries, including China, have issued green bonds here in the City of London, with eight different currencies raising $24.5 billion towards sustainable development. The UK has really shown leadership on this initiative.

Further to that question by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), does the Minister concede that we must all do what we can to reduce the impact of climate change, but that very significant pressure must be applied to those at the very top in that regard, such as China and some African countries?

It is really important that we all recognise that the world has signed up to sustainable development goals. Part of that sustainability means that any new investments should avoid fossil fuels as much as possible. We have shown leadership on that recently. For example, the recent round of bids from the Green Climate Fund, which we helped to fund, has led to a lot of renewable energy projects in Africa and elsewhere.

Given the growing climate crisis, should it not be the Department’s top priority to ensure sustainable development, diversification, the end of deforestation, public transport, clean energy and everything else?

Of course that is a very important priority. Humanitarian assistance continues to be what we spend most on, but the emphasis of that can also be sustainability. We do a great deal to ensure that. The £5.8 billion that we have so far contributed to international climate finance gives an idea of the level of our commitment to this issue around the world.

I have seen for myself how Tearfund’s programme of providing solar technology in countries such as Bangladesh has transformed the lives of young people, so I am pleased to hear that DFID will extend those efforts into Africa. Does the Minister agree that young people having the chance to study under light at night will help to improve their life chances significantly?

It is so important that we recognise access to electricity and that we encourage it to be through renewable sources, including off-grid. We recently held a big event here in London for African Energy Ministers, to show them their options on things such as sustainable and clean mini-grids. The UK can do a huge amount in offering both technical and financial expertise.

We all heard amid last week’s climate change protest that low to middle-income countries will be hardest hit. The UK Government continue to tell us that they are world-leading in helping those countries to tackle climate change. However, in 2017-18, fossil fuels made up not 60%, 70% or even 80% but a shocking 99.4% of UK Export Finance’s energy support to those countries, locking them into dependency on high-carbon energy. Does the Minister agree that all this talk of commitment to cutting greenhouse gases is nothing more than simply hot air?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to raise questions about UK Export Finance when he has the chance to question our colleagues from the Department for International Trade. DFID’s focus is very much on encouraging access to electricity from renewable sources. So far some 17 million people around the world have gained access to clean energy thanks to our investment.

I wonder whether the Minister will today commit to auditing and publishing UK aid spending on fossil fuels through the CDC, the prosperity fund and multilateral organisations?

I am pretty sure that a lot of that information is already in the public domain. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman my understanding that the CDC has made no new investments in fossil fuels since 2012.[Official Report, 8 May 2019, Vol. 659, c. 8MC.]

The Labour party has committed to divesting DFID of all fossil fuel projects, which directly undermine the global goals on climate and sustainable energy.

“It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on…general wellbeing.”

Those are not my words but David Cameron’s. GDP is a crude indicator that tells us nothing of people’s wellbeing, inequality levels or the health of our planet. However, this Secretary of State seems concerned only with increased competition and mobilising private finance to deliver the global goals. Is it not time that the Government woke up to the need for new policies and measures that focus on people and planet?

In that case, I am sure the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is the human capital champion at the World Bank. He will be aware of the extensive impact that our spending has on both health and education around the world. We are taking part in the voluntary national review of the sustainable development goals. I am sure he will welcome that, according to a recent UN study, the UK has actually become a happier country and has increased its happiness in the world.

Tibetan Refugees

5. What support her Department provides to Tibetan cultural programmes for Tibetan refugees living outside China. (910645)

DFID provides funding to the UN Refugee Agency, to prioritise the greatest humanitarian and protection needs of refugees globally. This includes Tibetan refugees in need of urgent life-saving assistance.

I hope to attend the seventh world parliamentary convention on Tibet together with the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), which will mark 60 years of the invasion and oppression of the Tibetan people, the 1 million lives lost and the oppression of the culture, language and human rights of those people. Many are refugees in Dharamsala and in desperate need of our help to keep the spirit of Tibet alive. Can we do more to help those refugees through the culture and education programmes that they value so much?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Clearly, DFID’s funding is very much focused on education; but it is also focused on humanitarian assistance and support for refugees. I undertake to talk to my colleagues in both the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Foreign Office to see what more we can do to support culture and heritage for the Tibetan people.

I am very glad that the Secretary of State is taking an interest in Tibet, but can I urge her, reflecting on an earlier question, to look at the impact of climate change on what is often dubbed the third pole—on the melting of the Himalayan glaciers? It is having a huge impact on the Tibetan area but is overlooked when we talk about climate change.

It is absolutely right that the hon. Lady should raise that point. Of the areas where Britain can contribute most to the 17 global goals, I personally think that some really stand out: the key three being healthcare, climate change and partnerships. The hon. Lady knows that the Prime Minister, who is the UN Secretary-General’s climate resilience champion, will be doing much more on this in the coming months.

Plastic Pollution

6. What steps her Department is taking to tackle plastic pollution throughout the developing world. (910646)

DFID is committed to helping developing countries tackle the problem of plastic pollution. We are spending up to £39 million to help poorer countries find practical ways to improve waste management and identify ways in which manufacturing processes can reduce plastic pollution.

Does the Minister agree that we should increasingly put sustainability at the core of all our funding, particularly around plastics? For example, Tearfund is running projects that enable people to earn a living while cleaning up the planet. This is the direction we should be going in.

Of course, all our work is designed to achieve the sustainable development goals, so sustainability is crucial. Tearfund has done some amazing projects, and I am delighted today that we are announcing that we will match fund a WasteAid project in Cameroon that will help with exactly what my hon. Friend refers to—people earning a living from cleaning up plastic and stopping it going into our oceans.

UK Companies: Contracts

7. What proportion of contracts her Department has awarded to UK companies in each of the past five years. (910647)

One of the achievements this Conservative party can be most proud of is its aid budget and the fact last year Britain was the only member of the G7 to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid—an astonishing £13.9 billion. Of course, this attracts criticism in some quarters. Does the Minister agree that one way to negate some of the criticism of the perceived largesse of taxpayer money would be to encourage proactively more British companies to win some of those contracts, without of course contravening state aid rules?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this point. In fact, I think we are the only country in the world to have put that 0.7% figure into statute. He will see from the numbers that in open competition 80% of our contracts have been awarded to UK-registered firms, but of course we would like to see more and smaller companies, and our procurement team has been out on a range of regional tours across this land to encourage more people to bid for our contracts.

Occupied Palestinian Territories

8. What assessment her Department has made of the effect of restricted humanitarian space on the work of non-governmental organisations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (910648)

DFID recognises that restrictions on humanitarian space can impede the work of NGOs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly Gaza.

I think the Secretary of State will be aware that the Government of Israel are attempting to deport Omar Shakir, the country director of Human Rights Watch, for highlighting the impact on the welfare of Palestinians of doing business with illegal Israeli settlements. I welcome the fact that the UK is a party to a statement made to the UN Security Council on Monday asking Israel to allow Human Rights Watch and Mr Shakir to carry on their work unimpeded. Will she echo that call?

I am happy to echo it. The UK did sign and endorse that statement at the United Nations Security Council, and, as a friend of Israel, we continue to make it clear that a strong, vibrant civil society is in its own interest.

Hamas recently launched a crackdown on dissent against its regime in the Gaza strip. How can we ensure that the human rights of human rights defenders in Gaza are protected?

Both my Department and, in particular, the Foreign Office do a tremendous amount of work to support human rights defenders. At the recent Bonn conference, DFID published a paper on how we can support civil society and the governance that surrounds it.

Topical Questions

This is World Immunisation Week, and polio is on the brink of becoming the second human disease in history to be eradicated. The United Kingdom remains committed to that effort, helping countries such as Pakistan to reach every child with life-saving vaccinations. I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing deep sadness at the recent attacks on polio workers in Pakistan, which resulted in the deaths of two police officers and one polio vaccinator. Those tragic deaths highlight the immense personal bravery displayed by the people who deliver immunisations, and their commitment to ensuring that every child can be protected.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent Unathi Ndlwana on setting up the Funda Trust to improve educational opportunities for young people in South Africa, in memory of the loss of her child? Following the excellent meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa, any help that the Department could give us would be excellent.

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in commending the work of the trust. My hon. Friend the Minister for Africa has told me about that meeting, and the Department will be in touch shortly to talk to him and the trust about how we can support its ongoing work.

T2. There is real concern that not enough is being done to help the people of Mozambique, particularly now that Cyclone Kenneth has struck. What is the Minister doing to ensure that global communities step up their response to the first cyclone relief fund, and do all that they can to remedy this humanitarian disaster? (910656)

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, but I think we can be very proud of the work that the UK team in Mozambique is doing to deal not only with Cyclone Idai but, now, with Cyclone Kenneth. The team has been at the forefront in providing practical and financial assistance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State held a meeting at the World Bank the week before last to look into attracting other donors to make longer-term reconstruction investments in Mozambique.

T3. It was World Malaria Day last week. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the UK’s contribution to the global fight against this preventable disease, which kills hundreds of thousands of children every year? (910658)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his leadership in this area. He has personally visited victims of malaria, and I know that he champions the UK’s leadership role and the £500 million a year that we are spending on preventing this terrible disease, which leads to the death of a child every two minutes in our world.

T4. Is the Secretary of State proud of the fact that the Home Office has denied a visa to the father of the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, which means that he cannot travel from Afghanistan to see his son receive an honorary doctorate at the University of Glasgow? What message is sent to developing countries and developing democracies when the UK routinely denies visas to people who want to contribute to our society and tackle poverty around the world? (910659)

If the hon. Gentleman would like to give me the details of the case I should be happy to look into it—I think it is often possible to resolve such cases by talking to the relevant Minister.

T5. On a recent trip to Jordan, I was lucky enough to see a fantastic British-funded project at the UNESCO world heritage site of Jerash, where a stonemason from Barnsley was training Jordanians and Syrian refugees to restore ancient monuments. Does the Secretary of State agree that cultural aid, including continued support for UNSCO, is an important part of her Department’s budget? (910660)

I absolutely agree that supporting culture and heritage matters is incredibly important, not least because it helps generate and support a tourism economy and provides nations with further ways to alleviate poverty and grow their economies. The Department has a new initiative called Great Partnerships, which is pairing British expertise, as my hon. Friend outlined, with those who can benefit from that, and he has given a great example.

T6. With the continuing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is vital that the pledges of aid from Gulf countries and others that have been made are delivered. Will the Secretary of State do all she can to ensure that these notoriously bad payers actually cough up? (910661)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I regularly have discussions with counterparts in those nations to encourage them to disburse funds, most recently with my Emirati opposite number; I had discussions with her about precisely that point this week.

A large number of Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organisations pursue partisan and divisive agendas in the west bank, many of which exacerbate tensions for their own ends. Does my right hon. Friend agree that NGOs that advocate boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, which the Government have taken firm action on, should be opposed?

We want to ensure that any partner we work with is exhibiting all behaviours needed to get good things to happen, so, absolutely, that is our policy and it is the policy of the organisations we work with.

T7. Mr Speaker, I am sure you are aware that the newly elected President of the Gambia is an avid Arsenal fan, but can the Secretary of State tell us what country-specific direct support she is giving to help the Gambia rebuild its economy and democracy? (910662)

Many Presidents across many African countries support a range of different teams, and this is a huge part of the work we do because it touches on so many young people as well. In the light of Soccer Aid last year, I pay tribute to the President of Gambia. Of course DFID has a range of programmes in Gambia, but through Soccer Aid we were able to raise lots of money from football fans, and I think everyone should welcome that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to draw attention to the dangers of the anti-vaccination campaigns. In addition to thanking health workers across the world for their bravery in countering them, will she ensure the UK leads a vigorous response internationally to turn back a tide that is threatening not only those who would be vaccinated themselves but the communities around them, as we all depend on vaccination for our common safety?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend and would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for leading the humanitarian work in my Department and for his tenure as Minister for the Middle East. I recently commissioned new programming to look at how we can help communities have trust in immunisation programmes. We are so close to eradicating polio from the earth and it would be appalling if we pulled back and rolled back from that now.

The medieval guardianship system, whereby a woman is owned by her closest male relative, means women in Saudi Arabia cannot travel, play sports or do a whole range of things we take for granted without permission from their male “owners”. Given that women who seek any level of gender equality and human rights face unprecedented danger and abuse in Saudi Arabia, will the Secretary of State condemn Saudi Arabia for treating women as mere chattels?

It is absolutely right that we call out behaviour that does not support or empower women or enable them to make the choices they want to in their lives. I am proud of the work that not only my Department but other Departments have done on that, and we will continue it. I call on all nations to make sure that at every opportunity we ensure women’s rights are in summit communiqués and absolutely everything else, and are a core part of every activity we do.

Order. The students and staff of Fitzwaryn School in Wantage, which I had the pleasure of visiting recently, are attending Prime Minister’s questions today and I feel sure that Members across the House will want to welcome them. In particular, I extend a very warm welcome to Charlie Butler and his twin brother Tom, who celebrate their 13th birthday this Sunday.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I am sure that Members across the whole House are always pleased when young people take an interest in and attend the proceedings of this Chamber, as those from Fitzwaryn School are doing today.

I am sure that Members across the House will also want to join me in sending my best wishes to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), and her husband Sandy, following the birth of their daughter Rosamund. I also congratulate everyone who took part in the London marathon on Sunday, including Members of this House, parliamentary staff and Lobby journalists. I would particularly like to congratulate my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), who completed the marathon with the fastest time of any Member of Parliament—[Interruption.] Just for those who are suggesting otherwise—no, I was not chasing him at the time.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments, and I promise to train much harder for next year.

On this day in 1707, Scotland and England came together to form the United Kingdom. Does the Prime Minister agree that this Union has served our country well? Most people in Scotland agree with that. Does she further agree that, rather than obsessing over independence, Nicola Sturgeon should get on with her day job and end her neglect of Scotland’s NHS, schools and economy?

First of all, I congratulate my hon. Friend on running the London marathon and on all the money he raised for Marie Curie on his run. I also thank him for highlighting this anniversary. I am sure that all Members across the House will want to join me in marking it. He is absolutely right to say that under the Scottish National party in government in Scotland, we are seeing public services getting worse because the SNP is focusing on holding another independence referendum. As my hon. Friend says, it is time the SNP stopped ignoring those millions of Scots who do not want another independence referendum and got on with the day job of focusing on the issues that matter to people, such as schools and the economy.

I join the Prime Minister in congratulating all those who ran the London marathon. I think that the shadow Health Secretary getting a personal best shows just how fit the Labour Health team is.

I should like to take this opportunity to wish the House and people across the country a very happy May Day on International Workers Day.

Tomorrow, many people across England will go to the polls to vote in local elections. For many of them, the Government have delivered nothing but failure. On her first day in office, the Prime Minister promised to fight against the “burning” social “injustices” that plague our society. Yesterday, an independent Government body confirmed that inequality was entrenched in our society from birth to work. Will the Prime Minister now admit that her Government have completely failed to take action to tackle the burning injustices?

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity to welcome the anniversary of the Union between Scotland and England. I have to say that I think this is the first time that he has not welcomed or congratulated a union in this House.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about social mobility, so I remind him that Dame Martina of the Social Mobility Commission said yesterday in relation to the report that she sensed that there is a “real commitment” in Government to try to make a difference in this area. I want everyone to have the opportunity to reach their potential whatever their background, and that is why we are improving education, helping to create higher-paid jobs and boosting home ownership. What would the right hon. Gentleman’s party offer young people? Failed policies, broken promises and piles of debt—just a millstone around their neck.

The reality is that social mobility is going backwards and things are getting worse under this Government. I will give an example: life expectancy in Britain is falling for the first time since 1945. Where does the Prime Minister think this Government have gone wrong when we have reached the point where people now expect to live shorter lives than others did in the past?

It is not the case that people now expect to live shorter lives than in the past. We have been ensuring that we provide for people at every stage of their lives. For young people in particular, we are ensuring that they have the opportunities to lead full and healthy lives into the future. That is why all the actions we are taking across the board are ensuring that there are jobs for people, ensuring that those jobs are better, ensuring that people are encouraged to get into the workplace, and ensuring that we provide for them not just through the welfare system but with our long-term plan for the national health service. At every stage of life, we are ensuring that we as Conservatives are improving people’s lives. In so many of those areas, the right hon. Gentleman has done nothing but vote against the policies that this Conservative Government have produced.

Life expectancy has fallen by six months, and infant mortality is up and rising. This month, we also learned that a record 1.6 million food parcels were given out last year alone. Under this Government, things are getting worse. Does the Prime Minister agree with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that this Government’s policies have meant that, in one of the richest countries on earth, food banks are now handing 14 million meals a year to people, some of whom are in work, who simply do not have enough to eat?

Order. The House must calm itself. We are at an early stage. The question has been put, and the answer from the Prime Minister must be heard.

The best route out of poverty for people is to be in the workplace. We want to ensure that more, better-paid jobs are being created for people in this country, and that is what we are seeing under this Government. Record numbers of people are in employment, real wages are rising for the first time in a decade, and this Government are taking decisions that are helping people to keep more money in their pockets. Tax cuts for 32 million people, an increase in the national living wage, and a freeze in fuel duty have all been of major benefit to people, and what did the right hon. Gentleman do? He voted against fuel duty freezes and tax cuts over a dozen times.

Many of those people receiving food parcels, the number of which has increased by 600,000 in four years, are actually in work, and that is down to their low wages. Indeed, wages have been frozen for many over the past 10 years. Even the Prime Minister’s own Secretary of State admitted that universal credit has caused people to rely on food banks.

The number of older people now not getting the care they desperately need has risen to 1.4 million. Think about that—1.4 million people in need of social care. Things are getting worse. Does the Prime Minister agree with Labour’s plan to fund social care properly or with her former deputy, who wants to tax the over-50s and take away their benefits?

As I have said on a number of occasions in this House, we agree that we need to ensure there is a sustainable, long-term future for social care, and we will be bringing forward proposals in relation to that. We have given councils access to nearly £4 billion more for adult social care this year, which means a 9% increase, in real terms, in funding for adult social care between 2015-16 and 2019-20. But it is not just about the funding that goes into social care—[Interruption.] Lots of Labour Members are saying, yes it is. Actually, no, it is about ensuring that best practice is seen across local authorities and NHS trusts. That is why this is not just about funding for social care and local authorities. It is also about our long-term plan for the national health service—the biggest cash boost in the national health service’s history—stability for the NHS, improving social care and providing for people in their old age.

The Prime Minister seems to have her head in the sand. The reality is that £7 billion has been cut from adult social care since 2010. The system is teetering on the brink of collapse as care companies go into administration, and the stress on the residents of those homes and their families is unbelievable. We need a serious strategy that ensures people get the social care they need when they need it.

Under this Government, things are getting worse on our streets, too. Violent crime is up by 19%, robberies are up by 18%, knife crime is at the highest level on record and 2.3 million criminal investigations have closed because the police were unable to identify a suspect—I believe because they have insufficient staff to do it.

Does the Prime Minister accept there is a violent crime epidemic that has arisen on her watch and is tearing our communities and our families apart? It has to be addressed by investment in our communities.

May I first say to the right hon. Gentleman—he made a reference to care companies at the beginning of his question, with a suggestion that this is a worrying time for all those who are in provision provided by those care companies—that, of course, it is a concerning time for them, for their families and for the employees of the company concerned? I think he was referring to Four Seasons. The Care Quality Commission is absolutely clear that there is no risk of service disruption at this time, and there should never be a gap in care for an individual. The Care Act 2014, introduced by the Conservatives in government, places a duty on local authorities to intervene to protect individuals where their provider is unable to carry on their care because of business failure.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the issue of crime. First, we see from the crime survey that, overall, crime is down by a third. He quotes the figures from police-recorded crime. He has previously been hauled up by, I think, the UK Statistics Authority for failing to quote the crime survey and for only quoting police-recorded crime. He talks about more money being available to the police and there is around £1 billion more money available to the police this year. Police and crime commissioners plan to recruit 3,000 more police officers. But, to tackle knife crime and serious violence—yes, we are concerned about it, which is why we brought forward the serious violence strategy—we also need to deal with drug crime, turn young people away from violence and ensure that the police and others have the powers to do their job.

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I will take no lectures on this from somebody who voted against more money for the police and voted against tougher laws on knife crime, because that is not helping the police or our citizens.

If the Prime Minister does not believe me, perhaps she will believe her own Home Secretary. He said in March:

“Serious violence is on the rise. Communities are being torn apart and families are losing their children.”—[Official Report, 4 March 2019; Vol. 655, c. 667.]

Twenty-one thousand fewer police officers is a pretty obvious connection: there is likely to be a rise in crime and disorder as a result.

Under this Government, things in this country are getting worse. Their cuts and incompetence have left communities struggling and pushed public services into crisis. They have cut council budgets by 50%, poverty is up, waiting times are up and violent crime is up, all under a Government who seem to care more about pushing their very damaging austerity agenda than tackling the burning social injustices. Ahead of tomorrow’s elections in England, can the Prime Minister explain why, from social care to crime and from life expectancy to poverty, things are getting worse under her Government?

We have seen the biggest cash boost to the NHS in its history under this Conservative Government, more people in work than ever before and more children in good and outstanding schools getting opportunities for their futures. And what do we see from Conservative councils up and down the country? Conservative councils give better services, they recycle more, they fix more potholes and they charge lower taxes. A vote for Labour is a vote for mismanagement, worse services and higher taxes. It is Conservative councils that give better services and charge you less.

Q3. Would the Prime Minister confirm her support for Transport for the North’s strategic transport plan, which will help to create an additional 850,000 jobs and £100 billion of economic growth by 2050 by connecting the key cities of the north through Northern Powerhouse Rail and improving key trunk roads, such as the A64, which runs through the beautiful and economically stifled constituency of Thirsk and Malton? (910627)

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of Transport for the North. We are giving the great towns, cities and counties of the north more say over transport investment through Transport for the North, enabling the north to speak with one voice on its vision for transport over the next 30 years. It has made significant progress in finalising its strategic transport plan, and I welcome that. We are committed to reversing decades of underinvestment in northern transport, and we will have invested a record £13 billion in the region by 2020.

In regard to the A64, I understand that Highways England has undertaken considerable work on the performance on the A64. That will inform decisions that it will take on strategic road investments in the next period, between 2020 and 2025, as part of the second road investment strategy. I am sure that Highways England will have heard my hon. Friend’s passionate plea for his constituency.

Scotland’s First Minister has pledged to match free EU student fees through to 2021. Will the Prime Minister follow that example, or is she determined to build a bigger hostile environment?

We have made clear the position for EU students in this year, and we will make the announcements in good time for students in future years. I think I am right in saying that the Scottish Government have actually said that EU students can have free tuition up to 2024, but English students will have to pay.

Quite remarkable, because it is the Tories who have introduced fees for English students. When it comes to leaving the EU, the Prime Minister’s vision is blinded by ideology. In a no-deal scenario, her Government intend to curb EU student visas to three years. Scottish university courses are generally for four years. The Scottish Government and Scottish universities have asked repeatedly for this simple change to be made to reflect our circumstances. Will the Prime Minister confirm today that her Government will extend visas to four years to allow for Scottish university students, or will she once again completely ignore the wishes and interest of Scotland, as she has done right through this whole shambolic Brexit process?

I understand that the situation is not quite as problematic for those students as the right hon. Gentleman sets out, given the ability to convert visas. He started off his question by saying that the Government should not be driven by ideology. This is from the SNP! If the SNP is worried about students in Scottish universities, it needs to ensure that it spends more time improving the quality of education in Scotland and less time obsessing about independence.

Q4. A number of faith leaders and individuals across East Renfrewshire, particularly from the Catholic community, have raised concerns about recent changes to the immigration rules for preachers coming to the UK on short-term supply placements. The new tier 2 visa is double the cost, making it unaffordable for many parishes. Given the huge benefits that congregations and wider communities derive from these placements, can the Prime Minister look again to make sure that we are not putting up unnecessary barriers to continuing these long-standing and very positive opportunities? (910628)

I agree with my hon. Friend in his recognition of the valuable part that ministers of religion from all faiths play in their local communities. We want to continue to be able to welcome those who want to come to the UK in accordance with our immigration rules. I understand that, as part of its extensive programme of engagement around the future borders and immigration system, the Home Office will talk to representatives of a range of faiths and community groups, and those discussions will include the future visa arrangements for ministers of religion.

Q2. Last week, in a public meeting in Stockton South, I heard a community that is fed up with rising levels of crime and antisocial behaviour. I heard about a lady in her 90s who is terrified in her own home. Residents in another part of my constituency have taken to carrying out their own street patrols. Cleveland police, my local force, have to contend with the fourth highest crime rate in the country, but have lost 500 officers because of cuts. My constituents have asked me to come here to ask the Prime Minister to look again at the funding needs of Cleveland police—will she do so? (910626)

First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, who I understand was another of the London marathon runners on Sunday.

We are making more money available to local police forces, and around the country a number of police and crime commissioners are recruiting more police officers, but dealing with crime and antisocial behaviour is not just about policing. It is about how we ensure that we turn young people away from such behaviour and away from violence. That involves a wider range of activities, which is why, together with the Home Secretary and other Secretaries of State, I held the summit on serious violence and knife crime last month. That brought together people from all organisations—from community organisations and charities, as well as police forces and others—to ensure that we can tackle what is a whole-of-Government and whole-of-society issue.

Q8. In 2017, my constituent Rebecca Kruza tragically took her own life. She had her whole life ahead of her but suffered from post-natal depression. Her son will now grow up never knowing his mother. Many mothers who return to work suffer mental health challenges while seeking to juggle the demands of work and parenting. Today is World Maternal Mental Health Day. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to do more to support the mental health of parents and mothers when they return to work? Will she back Rebecca’s family’s campaign for more specialist mother and baby mental healthcare units in Kent and throughout the country as a whole? (910633)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising a very important issue. I send our condolences to his constituent’s family, particularly that young son who will grow up without his mother. The issue of post-natal depression and people returning to work and balancing childcare and work responsibilities is important. We are looking into a new returners programme to help those who are returning to the workplace. My hon. Friend the Minister for Mental Health is doing some good work on the whole question of mental health provision, particularly for mothers with young babies. It is right for my hon. Friend to have raised this area of concern, which the Government are looking at in a number of ways. We will aim to ensure that nobody else suffers in the way that his constituent and her family did.

Q5. The Prime Minister will not be surprised to learn that I would like her finally to spill the beans on Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ visiting Downing Street. For more than a year now, I have been asking why these shadowy organisations were invited into the heart of her Government, and she has been refusing to answer. When I write to her, a junior Minister responds and says there is nothing to reveal—most recently they said that no meetings took place—but I now have a written answer from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office saying that Ministers and officials had a series of meetings with Cambridge Analytica. Will the Prime Minister finally come clean? Which of her Ministers, special advisers and officials have met AIQ or Cambridge Analytica; where and when did those meetings take place; and what was their purpose? (910629)

The hon. Lady has consistently stood up and asked me about meetings that took place in No. 10 and she has had answers about meetings that took place in No. 10. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Constitution has written to her about this matter. We routinely publish information about Ministers’ and senior officials’ meetings with external organisations, and the correct information has been published in the transparency returns for my meetings. She might like to know that the UK Government actually publish far more transparency data than the Scottish Government.

Q13. I have told the Financial Conduct Authority that one of the companies on its approved register owes millions of pounds, including money to the FCA itself. In the light of the collapse of another FCA-approved company a few weeks ago, leaving thousands without their life savings, will the Prime Minister find out what exactly the FCA actually does to regulate the companies on its approved register? (910638)

My hon. Friend raises an important issue and I am very happy to write to him with more detail in relation to the actions of the Financial Conduct Authority as it looks at those companies on its approved list. I think that it would be more helpful to him if I were able to give him a more detailed reply in writing.

Q6. May I be lucky enough to be one of the 27% who get their question answered by this Prime Minister? Payday loans disproportionately affect the vulnerable and the Motherwell postcode has the largest payday loans per head in Scotland. As this Government’s universal credit system is forcing people to turn to these high-interest lenders, will she halt the roll-out of universal credit and take action on the vultures in these companies who prey on the most desperate in our society? (910630)

On the issue of universal credit, this Government have changed the way it operates in rolling it out. We have ensured that somebody moving on to universal credit can get 100% advance payment where that is necessary for them. May I also remind the hon. Lady that the Scottish Government now have extra powers in relation to welfare, which, so far, they have been reluctant to use?

May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for asking Fitzwaryn School in my constituency to Parliament today? It is an excellent school with excellent pupils and outstanding teachers. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Education Secretary on allocating £6 billion to high-needs schools, an increase of £142 million on the year before, and will she continue to focus relentlessly on the needs of schools such as these, particularly in rural areas, and the need for more sixth form places in high-needs schools?

I join my right hon. Friend in congratulating the Education Secretary on the action that he is taking, on the attention that he is giving in ensuring that that funding is available across the school sector and that those schools where there are particular needs are able to be supported properly, and on recognising, as we have done, the particular needs of schools in rural areas.

Q7. During the general election, the Prime Minister gave a manifesto commitment to retain free TV licences and bus passes. Does she still stand by that? (910632)

We do stand by the commitments that we made. Of course, we are changing the arrangements for the TV licences—that is going to the BBC—but there is no reason why the BBC, with the money available to it, is not able to continue that.

Will the Prime Minister welcome the first ever training session in the House of Commons on understanding autism, which is being held today and for which 59 colleagues have signed up? Each of us has around 1,000 people in our constituency who are on the autistic spectrum, so it is vital that Members of Parliament understand what life can be like for people with autism and that they can provide their constituents with even better services with that understanding.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that matter. She has raised the issue with me in the past, when I think I welcomed the suggestion to have these courses available to Members of Parliament. It is very important and I congratulate the 59 Members who have signed up for the course today. It is important that we are all able to provide that support and to understand rather better for those who come to our surgeries and whom we meet in our constituencies the challenges that they face.

Q9. Will the Prime Minister commit herself here and now to fly the flag and to build the three Royal Navy supply ships in British yards, including on the Tyne, by reversing the unpatriotic decision to put this out to international tender? (910634)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have taken shipbuilding in the United Kingdom incredibly seriously by publishing a shipbuilding strategy, which aims to ensure that we can enhance the capabilities of shipbuilding yards. Individual decisions are taken in relation to Royal Navy ships, but it is important that we have an overall strategy to encourage shipbuilding around the country.

My terminally ill constituent Jacci Woodcock started the Dying to Work campaign to create security in the workplace for people who have been given a terminal diagnosis. As of this week, over 1 million employees are covered by the voluntary charter. Is it not now time that the Government took this issue on and addressed the anomaly in the law?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue and championing the campaign; I know that she has met Ministers to discuss it. We all agree that terminally ill people should not have to worry about their job, which is why the Dying to Work charter is so important and such a good example of supporting terminally ill workers. I am pleased to hear that the number of employees covered by the charter has now reached the 1 million mark. Employers are making commitments to their employees by signing the charter—that they will not be dismissed and that their families’ financial security will not be put at risk. I will ask a Minister to write to my hon. Friend about the related aspects of the disabilities Act and about looking at the issue in relation to legislation.

Q10. In March 2014, my constituent Jadwinder Singh Bhogal went on holiday to Dubai and never came home. He was arrested, made to sign a confession in Arabic and convicted of cocaine possession, despite no drugs or evidence of drugs being found on him. He is now serving 25 years in a Dubai jail. We applied, under the prisoner transfer agreement, for him to serve his sentence in the UK so that his elderly, frail mother could see her only son. This application was refused, as it appears all other applications have been since the PTA was signed by the United Arab Emirates in 2013. Is that PTA worth the paper it is written on? (910635)

I recognise the hon. Lady’s concern about the case she has raised. I will ask Ministers in the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign Office to look at the issue and get back to her on it. When these PTAs are signed, we expect that they will do the job that they are intended to in enabling prisoner transfers, but I will ask that the relevant Minister write to the hon. Lady on her specific case.

Apart from an extraordinary leak, which I will not go into, the decision being discussed in many parts of the world is the possibility that we will be nesting a dragon in the critical national infrastructure of the UK by allowing Huawei to build the cyber-network that will power 5G. This decision is frankly extraordinary, given the advice of the National Security Agency in the United States and the Australian Signals Directorate. Could the Prime Minister explain why she feels that ignoring two of our closest intelligence allies and putting in danger a 70-year intelligence-sharing relationship that has underpinned the security of the UK is worth it for Chinese commercial gain?

We are committed to taking decisions, supported by a hard-headed, technically-informed assessment of the risk. We discuss security issues very closely with our allies. We have put in place a review of the 5G supply chain to ensure that we have a secure and resilient roll-out of 5G, and the decisions of that review will be announced in due course. Our priorities for the future of telecommunications are stronger cyber-security practices, greater resilience in telecoms networks and diversity in the market, and those priorities drive our thinking.

Q11. Three weeks ago in this Chamber, I informed the Prime Minister that nearly 8,000 children in Preston are living in poverty—a significant amount of which is due to the roll-out of universal credit last year. In her response, the Prime Minister used the hackneyed phrase that families where both parents are in work are “five times less likely” to be in poverty. That is not an answer; it is a misleading statistic. Both parents working is not a guarantee that the family will not be living in poverty because of low pay. And what if only one parent is working, or it is a one-parent family? The Prime Minister knows that universal credit is not working for thousands of people in my constituency and millions of people up and down the country, and I believe the truth is that she does not care. (910636)

The reference I made to the impact of poverty on children living in a household where both parents are working is a correct one—that is a fact. What is also the case is that there are more people now receiving the full benefit to which they are entitled as a result of universal credit being introduced. We see disabled people in the household actually having access to more funding as a result of universal credit. Universal credit is ensuring that people not only get encouraged into the workplace, but when they are in the workplace they are able to keep more of the money that they earn. This is in direct contrast to a legacy system from Labour that meant that over a million people—1.4 million people—were left on benefits for nearly a decade.

On the way up here this week, I received a telephone call from Dennis Hutchings. Dennis is 77 years old and he lives near Plymouth. He has just been charged with attempted murder from an incident in Northern Ireland 42 years ago. Dennis Hutchings is not alone; we have Soldier B and we have Soldier F. What is happening is in direct contradiction to what the Prime Minister herself personally promised on our conference stage two years ago. Could she inform people like Dennis of exactly what she has done, and what she is doing, to end this process, which is abhorrent to so many people in this country?

Order. I absolutely respect the sincerity and public-spiritedness of the hon. Gentleman, but in general terms it is not desirable to refer to sub judice cases, and therefore I know the Prime Minister will want to take into account that consideration in her response. But the hon. Gentleman has said what he has said and the Prime Minister will say what she wants to say.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I say to my hon. Friend that we have been clear that the current system for dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past is not working well for anyone. As I have said before in this House, around 3,500 people were killed in the troubles. The vast majority were murdered by terrorists. Many of these cases require further investigation, including the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. The system to investigate the past does need to change to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the troubles, but also to ensure that our armed forces and police officers are not unfairly treated. That is why, across Government, we are continuing to work on proposals on how best to move forward, but the Ministry of Defence is also looking at the wider issue of what more can be done to ensure that service personnel are not unfairly pursued through the courts in relation to service overseas, including considering legislation.

Q12. Frustratingly, this is now the third Prime Minister’s questions in which I have raised the plight of fellow parents of premature and sick babies. Last time, the Prime Minister told the House that the Government were undertaking “a short, focused internal review of provision for parents of premature, sick and multiple babies to obtain an understanding of the barriers to participating in the labour market.”—[Official Report, 20 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 1467.]So when will the Government publish the findings of that review and finally take action for us? (910637)

First, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, because I understand that he was another of the Members who ran the marathon on Sunday? I understand that he did it in support of Glasgow Girls football club and raised money for that very good cause.

Officials in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are undertaking a short, focused internal review of provision for parents of premature, sick and multiple babies. They are looking at the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised—at the barriers to returning to work and staying in work that some parents can face. They have been working with organisations such as Bliss, The Smallest Things and Tamba to better understand the issues for parents. I am sure that a Minister will be happy to meet him in due course when these conclusions are reached.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has now been in prison in Tehran for more than three years, deprived of the presence of her family. Will the Prime Minister join me in assuring her, and all those who are unjustly imprisoned overseas, as the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) mentioned earlier, that they are not forgotten in this House? Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what measures are being taken to ensure that Nazanin can come home as soon as possible, and, in the meantime, get the medical treatment she so desperately needs?

Let me first give the general reassurance that my hon. Friend asked for that these cases are not forgotten—that they continue to be worked on by Ministers and officials. Nazanin’s case and others, in relation to Iran, I raise whenever I see President Rouhani. I raise these issues and the Foreign Secretary raises them with his opposite numbers. We are constantly raising these issues, but we are also ensuring that, in terms of our presence in Iran, people are working with the Iranian authorities as far as possible to ensure that the necessary medical assistance is provided to Nazanin, and indeed that others are supported in the way that they need to be. I can assure my hon. Friend that these cases are not forgotten. We continue to work on them and continue to raise them regularly with the Iranian authorities.

Q14. I know that the Prime Minister understands the importance of women attending their cervical smear tests, and I am sure she is aware that, because of a recent public health campaign, our cervical smear laboratories are overwhelmed. Would she care to comment on the recent tendering process for cytology services in England, which will see the number of laboratories reduced from 46 to nine? (910639)

The question is, what capability—what capacity—will there be for the cases to be properly dealt with? The Department of Health and Social Care and those who are undertaking this are well aware of the requirement in terms of numbers. Like the hon. Lady, I welcome the public health campaign on cervical smears. This is very important. I want to see more women going to have their smear, because it can save their lives.

While Arsenal may be chasing a Champions League spot, Ilkeston Town are celebrating their promotion to the Evo-Stik League division one east. Will my right hon. Friend outline what the Government are doing to support grassroots football, which is so vital to our communities, and will she join me in congratulating the Robins and wish them every success next season?

First, I congratulate Ilkeston Town on their promotion, and I wish the Robins all the best for the next season. That is a good example of how grassroots football can benefit local communities, and it is important that we are putting more money in. Over four years, almost £100 million of public money is being used to help build and upgrade artificial and grass pitches, encourage greater participation and enhance coaching programmes. That includes creating new and improving existing community football facilities through the Football Foundation. We are committed to playing our part in improving and strengthening grassroots football in this country, and the Robins are playing their part in showing the benefit that has for local communities.

Does the Prime Minister accept that the growing warnings about a climate emergency require a fresh approach to highly polluting but rapidly growing sectors such as aviation? In particular, should not the control of carbon emissions and air quality take precedence over the expansion ambitions of the commercial owners of Heathrow?

Of course, we take issues around emissions, and climate change generally, incredibly seriously. We have consistently said that climate change is one of the greatest challenges that the world faces. That is why I am proud of this Government’s record on dealing with climate change. Since 2010, we have been decarbonising our economy faster than any other G20 economy. We are at the leading edge of industrialised nations in dealing with these issues, and we will continue to do so.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Music Man Project for people with learning difficulties on their triumphant performance at the Albert Hall, as well as the news that they will now go to Broadway? I am glad that a number of colleagues were present. Is that not yet another reason that Southend should become a city?

First, I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Music Man Project on their performance and wishing them all the best for their trip to Broadway. Opportunities like that are very important for musicians with disabilities, and they are paving the way and showing the excellent work that can be done, and the enjoyment and excitement that those musicians can get through those performances. I do not think that my hon. Friend has asked me a single question in the House that has not mentioned Southend becoming a city.

I think we might need more than B&Q, if my hon. Friend gets the reference. He has been campaigning resolutely, and I am sure he will diligently continue to do so on behalf of his constituents.

Yesterday saw the first harrowing testimonies of those who were infected in the infected NHS blood scandal. Since the Prime Minister announced the public inquiry in July 2017, one victim has died every four days. Delay is not acceptable. In the Republic of Ireland, it was accepted that it was known that there were risks, and in the 1990s it paid full compensation. Why can we not do the same in the United Kingdom?

First, may I commend the hon. Lady for the work that she has done with others in this House to ensure that that inquiry is taking place? It is of course an independent inquiry. We are ensuring that the inquiry is provided with all the resources that it needs—that the chairman of the inquiry requires and identifies as being needed for that inquiry. She is absolutely right that this is something that should have taken place earlier and, as she said, there are those who have died since the start of the campaign to ensure that this inquiry could be held. It is important that we get to the bottom of this issue, and that is why we are ensuring that the inquiry is not only independent, but does have the resources it needs.

British Steel: EU Emissions Trading Compliance

I am grateful for the opportunity to make this statement to the House today. I wish to inform the House of a commercial agreement that the Government entered into with British Steel on 24 April. As you know, Mr Speaker, I wanted to update the House at the first available opportunity now that the market-sensitive elements of the resulting transaction have concluded.

The agreement with British Steel relates to its obligations under the EU emissions trading scheme. The ETS requires heavy industry and power producers to obtain and surrender allowances equal to their level of carbon emissions on an annual basis. Companies that are the most exposed to international competition are allocated a proportion of free ETS allowances annually. For years, many companies have used these free allowances to comply with their obligations for the previous year.

Just over four months ago, in December 2018, the European Commission suspended the UK’s ability to auction ETS allowances until the withdrawal agreement is ratified. This was decided in order to maintain the integrity of the European carbon market in the event that the UK left the EU without a deal on 29 March this year. This position means that free allowances for 2019 have not yet been issued.

The withdrawal agreement negotiated with the European Union allows for full and continuing membership of the EU ETS until the end of December 2020. Therefore, once ratified, we will have the full legal basis immediately to issue free 2019 allowances. However, the decision of this House not to vote in favour of the withdrawal agreement means that it has not yet been possible to proceed on this basis. This has meant that UK businesses have unexpectedly, since December, been left without access to 2019 free allowances. All members of this House should reflect on the real-world impacts of decisions that we make in this place, or the lack of them, on the businesses on which many thousands of jobs and whole towns depend.

Despite the continued uncertainty, all UK installations have now met their 2018 obligations in full—before yesterday’s compliance deadline of midnight last night. My Department reminded all participants that they still had a legal duty to meet their obligations for 2018 and that the UK is committed to upholding our environmental standards and continuing to comply fully with European law while we remain a member of the EU.

However, until this week, British Steel had not complied with its obligations. British Steel, as many Members know, employs 4,200 people directly in the UK—in Scunthorpe, Skinningrove and Redcar—and thousands more in its associated supply chains. As the second biggest steel maker in the UK and one of only two integrated steel-making sites in the UK, the assets at Scunthorpe and in the north-east are of significant importance to the UK. They are a major supplier to rail networks across Britain. As the only UK steel plant that produces the rails used on our tracks, they provide almost all those procured by Network Rail, as well as supplying ScotRail, Transport for London and Translink in Northern Ireland, and they export a large volume of their product across Europe.

British Steel approached my Department earlier this year to explain that the absence of the expected 2019 free allowances left it unable to comply with its 2018 obligations. If it had failed to do so by last night’s deadline, it would have attracted an immediate and unremovable fine of £500 million, on top of the continuing liability of about £120 million, putting the company under significant financial strain.

The Government were therefore left with a choice: either to see British Steel be unable to comply with its legally binding obligations, creating a liability of over £600 million; or to consider whether there was a path to allow it to comply within the strict bounds of what is possible under domestic and European law. After careful consideration, the Government took the decision to enter into a short-term bridge facility, valued at about £120 million, under section 7 of the Industrial Development Act 1982, at an interest rate of LIBOR plus 7%.

The effect of this agreement is that the Government have, in the last week, purchased the necessary emissions allowances on behalf of British Steel. In return, under a deed of forfeiture, ownership of the company’s 2019 allowances will now be transferred to the Government once they are released. Through the subsequent sale of these 2019 allowances, we expect the taxpayer to be repaid in full. The 2019 allowances are more than are needed to fulfil the 2018 obligations, and all of them will come to the Government.

The terms of the deal ensure that if the price of allowances were to rise, the taxpayer would receive half of any financial upside once the allowances are sold back into the market. To ensure the taxpayer is protected in the event that allowances were to fall, under the terms of the deal, British Steel has been required to underwrite any shortfall and is covering the cost of arranging the facility. The price of carbon allowances has been rising over the past two years, and the Exchequer received £1.4 billion from auctioning allowances in 2018, up from £533 million in 2017.

In the unlikely event that we leave the EU without a deal, we are engaging with the Commission about the implications for our continued participation in the EU ETS. However, should an agreement not be reached, the Government are able to implement a domestic scheme that provides security against the loss of EU-derived allowances. I can confirm to the House that, following the purchase of the necessary allowances, British Steel has been able to comply with its 2018 EU ETS obligations in full.

I want to be clear with the House that the agreement reached with British Steel is a unique one in exceptional circumstances. My Department’s assessment, which has been agreed with the Treasury, shows that the deed of forfeiture offers value for money to the taxpayer, with benefits exceeding the costs—meeting the accounting officer test. This is set against the alternative of British Steel failing to comply and causing a business with an annual turnover of £1.4 billion to have an instant £600 million financial pressure.

This position was supported by the independent Industrial Development Advisory Board, which assessed the proposal in its statutory role and agreed with the value-for-money assessment. I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses a copy of my accounting officer’s letter to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General, and I have written to the Chairs of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and of the Treasury Committee. I have been advised that the arrangement is fully compliant with the state aid rules that apply to the steel sector, which require its terms to be commercially comparable.

While this was an unenviable situation to face, the Government believe that the agreement reached with British Steel to ensure that it could comply with its legal obligations represents a responsible course of action. I hope this is a view that Members across this House will also support, and I commend this statement to the House.

A number of industry voices have welcomed this announcement. As Unite the union has commented today, British Steel workers and those in the supply chain will be breathing a sigh of relief at this loan. However, it is regrettable that the Government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations has brought us to this point. The Government have been warned about the uncertainty over the EU ETS for over two years, and the Prime Minister’s threats of a no-deal Brexit for over two years have caused significant uncertainty for the steel sector. UK Steel, the body representing the sector, warned in January that a no-deal Brexit was nothing short of a disaster for the sector, but despite the warnings, the Prime Minister ploughed on and the risks to the viability of our manufacturing sector have been plain to see.

This has had an impact on British industry, as it continues to fight off uncertainty. That is why it is imperative that we continue in this House to work across parties for a solution that will reach a consensus; I know that the Secretary of State is committed to that. But he must also note that this is part of a long track record of this Government standing by as our manufacturing faces increasing pressures, both domestically and internationally.

When Donald Trump imposed a 25% tariff on our steel, the Government’s response was lukewarm at best, and the Prime Minister’s refusal to fight for the sector was telling. The Government’s Trade Bill is set to make the sector even more vulnerable to steel dumping. The Government have been woefully silent on the steel sector deal proposals from industry and unions about the issues that are stifling competition, such as electricity prices: UK industries pay up to 50% more than their European counterparts. Furthermore, the Trade Remedies Authority has been described by the Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance as possibly the weakest in the world.

Will the Secretary of State provide some clarity for the steel sector today by describing the measures that his Government will take to ensure that the UK’s low carbon infrastructure, such as offshore wind turbines, and other projects, such as the Royal Navy’s new fleet solid support ships, are built using UK steel? Will he confirm what action he is taking on publishing a steel sector deal and incentivising both public and private investment in the sector? Will he also confirm what action he is taking on business rates and energy costs right across the sector?

This is welcome news, but as I have said it is not enough on its own to provide the certainty and assurances that workers and businesses right across the steel sector need. I know that the Secretary of State shares my belief that steel is one of the jewels in the crown of British manufacturing, and I hope he can assure the House today that this is just the first step in a long list of policies dedicated to supporting the sector going forward.

I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome for the steps that we have taken. She is absolutely right that if a Brexit deal had been agreed, this would not have been necessary: the deal that has been proposed and voted on three times in this House would have made this statement unnecessary. I gently point out to her that the company itself, British Steel, wrote to constituency Members in December last year, when the agreement had been reached in the European Council, saying in terms:

“We believe the deal that has been tabled and agreed with the EU is within the best interest of UK business”

—British Steel—

“and we urge you to think about voting in favour of the deal.”

Unfortunately, there was not a majority in the House for the deal, and part of the problem was that Opposition Members did not vote for it. I welcome the constructive discussions that the hon. Lady and I have been having to now come to an agreement, but had Opposition Members voted according to the advice of the company, this would not have been necessary.

I also take issue with what the hon. Lady said about standing by. I do not think anyone could describe this initiative as “standing by”—quite the reverse: it is an agile response to an unwelcome situation, and I would have thought that she would commend it. She was not in the House at the time, but I remember well when the steel making on Teesside was substantially closed down, mothballed, during the last Labour Government, without such a response to do what we could to keep it in operation.

On energy prices and suchlike, I should say that under the last Labour Government steel production and employment in steelmaking in this country fell by 50%.

Well, history is important in this because one of the reasons why our electricity prices have been high compared with others is that in the last five years of the previous Labour Government, industrial electricity prices rose by 64%. What we have done since then is provide £291 million in compensation for energy-intensive sectors, to correct some of the inflation that took place during that time.

As the hon. Lady knows and has acknowledged, my firm view is that in a world where manufacturing in this country and its opportunities around the world are undergoing a revival, there is absolutely no reason whatever why British Steel should not make a major contribution to that, right across the country. I am keen that we should conclude a sector deal with the steel sector. There have been important discussions. All sector deals require co-investment from the Government and the companies. No one is keener than I am to conclude one: as I hope is evident from my statement today, I am prepared to act in support of a sector that is important—not just for the economy, but for the towns across the country in whose lives it plays such a prominent role.

If the Government had kept their word and taken us out on 29 March without the withdrawal agreement but tabled a comprehensive free trade agreement, we would not be in this mess. What are the Government going to do to have a proper industrial strategy, which can work only if there are more adequate supplies of much cheaper power?

What my right hon. Friend has said is not the case. Our legal obligations for 2018 would be there, and the company would have to comply. Had we left without a deal, the company would be in the position that it is in.

When it comes to the competitiveness of the UK steel sector, it is clear that the markets are international and, especially in the case of British Steel, very substantially across the continent of Europe. It has been very clear that we need to make sure that we continue to trade on terms at least as favourable as we do at the moment with the European Union, which is why both British Steel as a company and the steel sector have been absolutely clear, in terms, that we need to ratify an agreement such as has been proposed, and we need to do it very quickly.

I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. I also put on the record my welcome for the action taken by the Government to protect 4,200 jobs; it is really important that we protect the remaining heavy industry and manufacturing facilities in the UK. That said, questions still need to be answered. The Secretary of State confirms that this is a loan, on commercial terms, to avoid the risk of a fine of half a billion pounds to British Steel. To mitigate that risk of a fine, what was to prevent British Steel from just borrowing from the market, given that it is borrowing from the Government on commercial terms? Why did this go to the eleventh hour? It seems that what is almost a gamble has been taken with British Steel in the discussions with the Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain that? Were the risks identified when the Government were negotiating the extension to article 50?

In his statement, the Secretary of State talked about the need for Members to reflect on the impact of decisions or non-decisions in this place. That seems like another classic attempt to blame other Members for the Brexit mess we are in. It is not our fault—there has been a lack of leadership from the Government. For two years, the Prime Minister was telling us that no deal was much better than a bad deal, then all of sudden, near the end, it was “my deal or no way at all.” That withdrawal agreement suffered the biggest parliamentary defeat in history. Surely, the Government should have reflected on that, instead of coming back here time and again and blaming this House for the Brexit mess.

The situation is further amplified by the fact that the statement says that in the case of no deal the Government are working with the Commission about future participation in the EU ETS scheme. Surely, if the Government had made preparations for a no-deal Brexit those discussions would have already been concluded and a way forward identified.

How do we get transparency and discussions with Government and industry for companies such as British Steel and Nissan, for which back-door deals were done previously? Who misses out? How are these companies identified? Why, for example, was it left to the SNP Scottish Government, rather than the UK Government, to protect Scottish steel?

Finally, this situation proves the need for proper investment in carbon capture and storage. Peterhead has sufficient storage, and it will be ready to be utilised and operational by 2023-24. That would tie in with the Teesside cluster and help the steel industry. If the Government can find £100 million overnight for a loan, why do they not find further money for direct strategic investment, which will help heavy industry and the low carbon position?

The hon. Gentleman started out welcoming the action we have taken and ended up, it seems, withdrawing that support. I will take the first half of his statement at face value and recognise that we have taken action to deal with an unusual and urgent problem, and have done so in a way that I think has displayed some agility. Advice has been taken, which will be fully disclosed to the Committees of the House, on the terms of the agreement and how it can be commercially benchmarked. Clearly, borrowing against allowances with a short period of time before the deadline—it is in the company’s gift and the company’s obligation to comply—requires moving quickly. The judgment we took was that we wanted to make sure we could secure against the possibility of the fine, and do so in a way that was commercially benchmarked. We have done that and it can be scrutinised. The deadline was last night. The fact that I have come immediately to this House to make a statement and publish the accounting officer’s advice I hope illustrates the transparency with which we have proceeded.

On the contingency that this arrangement has had and whether a deal has been approved, I put it as a matter of fact that the reason we had to make this transaction was that we have not, as a House of Commons, agreed a Brexit deal. We have not ratified a Brexit agreement. I said to my opposite number that I welcome the constructive discussions that are taking place. I hope that in the days and weeks ahead, the hon. Gentleman’s party might approach them in the same spirit and try to come to an agreement so that not just the steel industry but every industry in the country can have confidence in the terms of our relationship with Europe in the years to come.

I congratulate the Secretary of State. My experience in government was that the most important things that Secretaries of State do are those least noticed. They are the crises that do not happen. He has, with supreme competence, dealt with what could have been an extraordinarily tricky situation, as all those involved in maintaining British Steel in this country know.

Is the Department taking steps to ensure that when we leave, as I hope, in an orderly way in the relatively near future with an agreement with the EU, there is a proper substitute for the ETS on a domestic basis that will complement the measures that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is taking in a whole realm of cognate spheres?

I am grateful for the endorsement of my right hon. Friend, not least because in the previous Government he played the role he has ascribed to me with some deftness and success on many different occasions. He is absolutely right that agreeing to a withdrawal agreement would allow our continued participation until at least December 2020, giving us the time to put in place different arrangements, which would be in our gift. One reason we felt that it was important that British Steel should comply is that the institutions that drive compliance with emissions reductions targets should be respected. We want to send a clear signal that we expect the targets to be respected and implemented. That will take place while we are a member of the European Union and, as my right hon. Friend indicates, afterwards too.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision. Without it, there would be huge job losses in the industry. This crisis at British Steel has been caused by the uncertainty over our future membership of the EU’s emissions trading scheme. Given that half of steel manufacturing in this country is exported to the EU, our relationship with the EU matters hugely for the future. Why did the Government allow us to get into the position where British Steel had to pay upfront for its allowances, even though we remain a member of the EU today? Will the Government confirm what the liability to the ETS will be of British Steel and other UK steel producers should we leave the EU without a deal?

The position we find ourselves in is through no choice of the UK Government. It was the Commission that took the decision to suspend the availability of allowances. We are having constructive discussions with the Commission about the release of the allowances and that is why this arrangement is described accurately as a bridging arrangement. We want and expect to be able to have access to those allowances. Participation in the ETS is not a matter of entitlement. It is not available to countries outside the European Union without special designation, but the discussions we are having are constructive.

On liabilities and the nature of the transaction, I have written to the hon. Lady in her capacity as Chair of the Select Committee. I am very happy to follow that up and to give whatever evidence she needs to scrutinise the transaction.

I welcome the announcement of the support for British Steel, but with the greatest respect, what is the Secretary of State doing to support other UK-based steel companies that have already paid to meet their commitments and could now find themselves at a commercial disadvantage as a result of the action he has taken? Has he taken account of that and will he be able to offer support to other UK-based steel companies?

We of course make an assessment of the consequences. I think my hon. Friend will see, when he looks at the advice, that it seemed to be the right and responsible decision to ensure that this huge liability of over half a billion pounds did not suddenly crystallise in British Steel. We have a strong relationship with the steel sector. I might mention the industrial energy efficiency fund, worth £315 million. The steel sector is a prime example of how working to improve the efficiency of the technology deployed can help with our emissions reduction targets and reduce the costs of the sector. We are working with all companies in the sector to make that a reality. I know that, in his constituency capacity in south Wales, he takes a big interest in that.

No doubt carbon credits are a useful way of managing carbon emissions, but Brexit or not we need to become carbon-zero in a very short period of time. I wonder whether the Government are actually taking that urgency seriously. What are the Government doing continuing to support the fracking industry, which is a fossil fuel industry? Surely all we do needs to go into renewable energy?

The hon. Lady should know that we have one of the strongest records in the whole world in implementation and delivery of emissions reductions. It is important to acknowledge that mechanisms such as carbon pricing are one of the foundations of that, so it is important that the rules are respected. We are about to have a substantial debate on our next steps. I hope she will contribute to that, as am I. Perhaps we might have some further exchanges later this afternoon.

As important as the continuation of the ETS post Brexit surely is, does my right hon. Friend share the view that the really long-term solution for both heavy industry and a zero-carbon economy is the advent of carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen? What measures are the Government taking to advance those causes?

I agree with that. My hon. Friend gives me an opportunity to respond to what the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) referred to and I neglected to comment on. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is the opportunity for energy-intensive industries that are significant emitters to capture that carbon. We have a competition, which is being run at the moment, and sites such as Teesside have put in very impressive and attractive bids. I and my colleagues in Government want Britain not just to be one of the leading developers of the technology of CCUS, but to implement it to the advantage of our energy-intensive industries.

The term “cliff edge” is probably overused, but there is no doubt that British Steel was taken to the cliff edge on this one, with incredibly last-minute deals and negotiations. What steps will be taken to ensure that lessons are learned from this experience? Could the political declaration on the future relationship be amended to secure a commitment to the ETS? If not, we will end up at another cliff edge at the end of the transition period.

The hon. Gentleman talks about taking us to the cliff edge. It is a legal responsibility on the part of each emitter to comply with its requirements to surrender allowances. Notice was given, and as some of my hon. Friends pointed out, every other company acted on that. We were presented late in the day with a choice I described as unenviable. We responded to that pragmatically, and I detect in the hon. Gentleman’s tone a recognition that this is the right step. To avoid repetition of this situation, the advice from the company and the industry is clear: the House needs to come together, long before 31 October, and agree a withdrawal agreement that would result automatically in the ability to release allowances, not only for this year but for the following year too.

I very much agree with the steps taken by my right hon. Friend. However, is he essentially saying that this whole situation has arisen because the United Kingdom, and specifically our steel industry, is being punished by the European Union, despite our still remaining a member?

I would not put it that way myself. The suspension was put in place because we were liable to leave on 29 March. Given that the year to which the allowances refer is the calendar year from January to December, it was the observation that, as things stood, we were unlikely not to be a member of the scheme for the great majority of that year; now that we have agreed an extension of up to 31 October, that is clearly a different matter. The discussions we have had so far with the Commission have been constructive in recognising our ability to issue new allowances.

To what degree does the Secretary of State agree with the assessment in the Financial Times on 16 April that this situation could have been avoided had the company not sold surplus allowances from previous years, and therefore that this situation is a result of management failure by the private equity firm that owns British Steel for which the public are now expected to pay?

The hon. Gentleman reflects an accurate point: if the allowances had not been sold, they would be available to discharge the liability. This is by no means a unique practice; across industries and firms, it is a fairly common way to proceed. However, it might well command the attention of the House as to whether it is the best way to proceed.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. It will be particularly welcomed by my many constituents who work at the Scunthorpe works, which, as he highlighted, supplies most of the rail network with track, which of course would have to be imported were the Scunthorpe works to close. Does he agree that this highlights that there is a cost to tackling climate change? It is far better that we approach that in a realistic, well-balanced way, such as the Government propose, rather than giving way to unrealistic demands from other groups.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s welcome. I know that his constituents would have faced a worrying time had this liability crystallised on the company. In fact, British Steel has free allowances to cover its emissions. It is not a question of this being, as it were, a punitive tax; because British Steel operates in an internationally competitive sector, it has allowances to cover the costs that it incurs. It is a question of matching up the timing of the new allowances with its obligations. In this case, we found a way to square that circle.

Today’s statement is about specific support for British Steel, and I completely understand the position we are in. However, as the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) said, other companies out there that have incurred significant costs will ask what support the Government might offer to them. What will the Minister say to them?

The hon. Lady will know that, through the industrial strategy and our work with particular sectors, we have a strong record of investing in the future potential of industries. Steel is part of that, but as she will know, we have increasingly deep working relationships—whether with the automotive, life sciences or the creative industries, or other sectors such as construction—to make sure that we capitalise on our strengths in this country, which are innovation and discovery, putting ourselves at the cutting edge. That is available and is being well exploited across the economy. I hope and expect that the steel industry will be part of that investment in the capability and capacity to prosper in the future.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and his support for British Steel. The steel industry, by its very nature, has very high energy costs. What action is my right hon. Friend or his Department taking to reduce those costs and, in parallel, to reduce pollution from the steel industry, which is very important for the future of the United Kingdom?

I mentioned, and as was announced in the spring financial statement, a new industrial energy efficiency fund worth a third of a billion pounds to partner with energy-intensive businesses in changing and upgrading their technology, so that they both consume less energy, and therefore have lower costs, and also produce lower emissions. As I said to the shadow Secretary of State, since 2013 we have provided nearly £300 million to energy-intensive industries in compensation for some of the effects of high costs. However, the way forward is energy efficiency, and that is the commitment that we made and backed in the financial statement.

I welcome this measure but, again, it is a reaction to potential failure, rather than a proper, coherent plan for the industry. That needs to be gripped robustly. Does the Minister accept that there is insufficient capacity within the European emissions trading scheme to provide free credits to companies subject to anti-competitive measures, dumping and distortions caused by firms trading outside the ETS? We need to increase the level playing field available to British Steel operating in that sphere, in which it is subject to distortions caused by firms outside the ETS.

The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to be vigorous in our trade defence mechanisms. Steel is a sector that all Members know is subject, and has been over the years, to dumping by global competitors. Through the G20 forum in particular, at which I have represented our country, we have been vigorous in pressing for the strongest measures against anti-competitive practices such as that, and we will continue to do so in the future.

I apologise for not bobbing, Mr Speaker; my back is showing my age and its abuse on the rugby field over the years, so I waited until the very last moment.

I think the Secretary of State has handled this brilliantly well. There was a danger that we stepped in really early on, as suggested by Opposition Members. The market needs to sort this—companies have obligations—and only as a last resort should taxpayers’ money be brought into the equation.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right, and I do not want to say from the Dispatch Box that I have engaged again in this type of transaction. The obligations are with the company, and it would obviously have been much better had it been able to discharge them itself. However, sometimes we have to take decisions in office based on the evidence of the consequences. I felt, and was supported by advice that I received, that the responsible action in this case was to make this facility available, with the security that we have obtained, and to do so in time to allow the company to meet its obligations by the deadline.

British Steel workers will be glad that the Government have stepped in here, but in Wales 9,000 jobs rely on this whole sector, and many workers and their families in south Wales will be troubled by the wider situation. Can the Secretary of State please confirm whether the new fleet solid support ships will be built with UK steel?

The question of procurement is a very important one. We have changed the rules so that local economic, social and environmental impact can be taken into account in those procurement decisions, and we have also published for full disclosure for every Department and arm’s length body the details of what steel they procure.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we cannot specify under the procurement regulations that the work should go to a particular firm, but we can make it possible to take in local effects and be transparent as to the decisions taken. Within the legal constraints, which the industry and the unions well understand, we are acting to make sure that the process is much more public than it has ever been before.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Four Seasons Health Care provides residential care for 17,000 old and vulnerable people in 322 homes across the country and employs 22,000 staff. Some 80% of Four Seasons residents are in nursing or high-dependency beds, with only 20% of its places in residential care. Yesterday, it was announced that the Four Seasons Health Care group was going into administration. The care homes it runs are now up for sale, which leaves residents and their families facing considerable uncertainty, with no guarantees of what the future may hold.

Despite this collapse and the fragility of the care market, there is still no sign of the Government’s long-overdue Green Paper on adult social care funding, which the Secretary of State pledged to bring forward by April—not May, but April. In the last hour we have seen a written statement, but given the numbers of extremely vulnerable people affected by this situation, hon. Members should have the chance to question Ministers. Mr Speaker, have you been notified of an intention by the Government to make an oral statement to reassure hon. Members about the future care of their constituents who are resident in those Four Seasons care homes and nursing homes?

The short answer is that I have not been so notified. However, this is an extremely serious matter, which I myself of course have seen covered in the media in the last 24 hours. My advice to the hon. Lady is that she pursue the issue with her usual indefatigability. The fact that no ministerial oral statement has been proffered does not mean that the possibility of an oral exchange on the matter in the near future does not exist. There is a possibility of such an exchange, and she might wish to reflect on how she might achieve her objective.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that tomorrow in the local elections voters in Watford, Mid Sussex and North West Leicestershire will be required to take their poll cards to the polling station to cast their vote under the Government’s voter ID trial. You may also be aware that European poll cards have also dropped—before the local elections—in these three authorities. I have had an indication that the European poll cards will not be accepted tomorrow for voters who turn up in these three districts. Have you had any indication that a Minister will attend the House to clarify the situation for voters who perhaps mistakenly take the wrong poll card to the polling station tomorrow and are turned away and denied their right to vote?

I have received no indication that a Minister intends to come to the House to speak about the matter today, but it is very important that there be clarity about the voting arrangements, so I hope that the words uttered by the hon. Lady will have been heard on the Treasury Bench and that they will without delay be conveyed to Cabinet Office Ministers.

Bill Presented

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill

Secretary Michael Gove, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs Andrea Leadsom and David Rutley, presented a Bill to make provision to prohibit the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Tuesday 7 May; and to be printed (Bill 385) with explanatory notes (Bill 385-EN).

Police Officer Training (Autism Awareness)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require police forces to train police officers in autism awareness; and for connected purposes.

There are at least 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. The vast majority are law-abiding citizens, but, from time to time, they may come into contact with police officers—either as witnesses, victims, or alleged offenders—and neither the interests of justice nor those of autistic people themselves are served when there is no real understanding by officers of their difficulties.

Daniel Smith is a 25-year-old autistic man who ran to a police station for refuge after being beaten up in what was essentially a hate crime that occurred while he was chatting to some strangers in a park. He expected to find safety, but instead he found himself handcuffed, locked up for many hours and given two assault charges, despite telling the police officers he was autistic. It was a terrifying and distressing ordeal, during which he was refused contact with either his family, an appropriate adult or a medic, which he should have been allowed. It took a further and anxious six months before his case came to court. Thankfully, he was acquitted of all charges, but he was badly let down and is now, not surprisingly, frightened of the police.

The National Autistic Society told me that a recent survey showed that just 37% of police officers said they had had any autism training, but that 92% said they would find it useful. While there are training duties for health and social care professionals and the Government have just consulted on a new mandatory training programme, the same is not true for our police forces.

An untrained police officer is unlikely to understand the problems that many autistic people face and will probably be unable to imagine what it might be like for someone such as Daniel Smith to be questioned, accused or arrested. They will probably be unable to grasp the autistic person’s difficulties with social communication, such as problems with interpreting words, gestures and tone of voice. Often autistic people will not understand facial expressions, gestures or tone of voice, and they may interpret words quite literally. They often might just agree with what is said to them and so wrongly admit guilt. Police officers will probably be unable to grasp their difficulties with social interaction. Autistic people find it difficult to read other people or recognise or understand their feelings and intentions. As they may also often find it difficult to express their own emotions, they find engagement with society seriously challenging. They may appear insensitive, behave in socially inappropriate ways and generally appear odd in the way they react; they might look guilty.

Police officers will probably be unable to understand difficulties that autistic people have with changes to daily rules and routines. Autistic people may find comfort in daily routines and rules that can be safely followed in a world they perceive as confusing and unpredictable. They may struggle with changes to their routines. Police officers might not understand other things, such as their intensity or even obsessive interest in a particular subject or topic, which can become all-important to them and might sometimes put them in conflict with the law.

There are also all-important difficulties relating to sensory sensitivity. Autistic people are often over or under-sensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain. A busy, crowded room may become unbearable, for example, and unexpected noises can cause extreme anxiety or even physical pain. That can result in challenging behaviour or meltdown—an intense response when autistic people are overwhelmed, resulting in a temporary loss of control, which is very relevant to the conditions in a police station.

All those common characteristics of autistic people can combine to make them victims of crime, unwitting or unknowing offenders, or unreliable witnesses. Contact with the police will often come at a time of heightened anxiety, which is stressful for all of us but amounts to a crisis for someone on the autism spectrum.

It is now 10 years since the passing of the Autism Act 2009, which requires the autism strategy to exist. Although some progress has been made, many of our services still do not understand autism well enough, and that includes the police service. Some police forces have acknowledged this need, and some training takes place in some forces, but much more needs to be done. We believe that mandatory training would have many benefits for autistic people, for their families, and for police officers themselves.

If that happens, autistic people who are victims of crime, or witnesses, will be better understood and helped to explain what has happened to them and assist police with their inquiries. If they are suspected of committing a crime, they can be questioned in a way that enables them to understand what is happening and will not cause them more anxiety. If they are being arrested, a police officer may be able to better prepare them, and avoid dangerous and traumatic physical restraint. Reasonable adjustments such as the provision of a single cell, perhaps in a quieter part of the custody suite, could be arranged at the police station to help to prevent an autistic person from becoming overwhelmed by the sensory environment.

The police will feel more confident in their abilities to support autistic people in their communities. After all, there is one autistic person among every 100 people. Autistic people will be more confident that they and their needs will be understood, and that may make them more willing to come forward to assist police or report crimes.

Perhaps most important of all, inappropriate prosecutions leading to incarceration might be avoided if autism were better understood and recognised in the custody suite. Being arrested can be a sign of an autistic person in crisis—an autistic person whose needs are not being met. We already have far too many autistic people in prison. Some of them have not yet been diagnosed, and they will be diagnosed in very few of our prisons. How much better it would be if more such cases were dealt with through police referral to the liaison and diversion schemes that are now being developed to help offenders to understand their offences and not to repeat the offending behaviour. That would be far better than a prison sentence in some, if not all, cases.

The Bill will oblige the Government to create an autism understanding standard for police officers, outlining what good autism training looks like and what is expected of officers. On that basis, it will require the national policing curriculum in England and Wales, which currently requires training to protect vulnerable people—including people with mental health problems—to include autism, which will ensure that new police officers have the training that they need. It will require each police force to create an autism understanding continuing professional development programme, based on that standard. Establishing that will have a cost, and there will also be the cost of releasing officers to attend training, so the Government should establish a funding scheme.

As the Autism Act approaches its 10-year review, it is high time that the police service was required to make autism awareness training mandatory.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Ann Clwyd, Tonia Antoniazzi, Kevin Brennan, Dr David Drew, Dame Cheryl Gillan, Susan Elan Jones, Jeremy Lefroy, Ian Murray, Sir Mike Penning, Jim Shannon, Nick Smith and Tom Tugendhat. present the Bill.

Ann Clwyd accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed (Bill 386).

Opposition Day

[19th Allotted Day]

Environment and Climate Change

I beg to move,

That this House declares an environment and climate emergency following the finding of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change that to avoid a more than 1.5°C rise in global warming, global emissions would need to fall by around 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero by around 2050; recognises the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on UK food production, water availability, public health and through flooding and wildfire damage; notes that the UK is currently missing almost all of its biodiversity targets, with an alarming trend in species decline, and that cuts of 50 per cent to the funding of Natural England are counterproductive to tackling those problems; calls on the Government to increase the ambition of the UK’s climate change targets under the Climate Change Act 2008 to achieve net zero emissions before 2050, to increase support for and set ambitious, short-term targets for the roll-out of renewable and low carbon energy and transport, and to move swiftly to capture economic opportunities and green jobs in the low carbon economy while managing risks for workers and communities currently reliant on carbon intensive sectors; and further calls on the Government to lay before the House within the next six months urgent proposals to restore the UK’s natural environment and to deliver a circular, zero waste economy.

Today the House must declare an environment and climate emergency. We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now. This is no longer about a distant future; we are talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within the lifetimes of Members.

Young people know this. They have the most to lose. A few weeks ago, like many other Members on both sides of the House, I was deeply moved to see the streets outside Parliament filled with colour and the noise of children chanting “Our planet, our future”. For someone of my generation, it was inspiring but also humbling that children felt that they had to leave school to teach us adults a lesson. The truth is that they are ahead of the politicians on this, the most important issue of our time. We are witnessing an unprecedented upsurge of climate activism, with groups such as Extinction Rebellion forcing the politicians in this building to listen. For all the dismissive and offensive column inches that the protesters have provoked, they are a massive and, I believe, very necessary wake-up call. Today we have the opportunity to say, “We hear you.”

As my right hon. Friend’s constituency neighbour, I congratulate him on, many years ago, giving up his vehicle and on using mainly his bicycle for years as an MP. [Interruption.]

I fear that my hon. Friend has unwittingly provoked lots of strange thought processes among Conservative Members.

At the opposite extreme to my right hon. Friend’s bicycle, the largest source of carbon emissions in the country is of course Heathrow airport. Given that, is it not folly to be going ahead with a third runway at Heathrow? Would not it be a clear indication from the Secretary of State today if he said the Government were not pursuing that course?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Obviously, aircraft emissions are one of the major problems we face in this country and all around the world. Like him and other colleagues, I was opposed to the expansion of Heathrow because I want to promote more surface transport in a more sustainable way, which is mainly on railways.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and fellow cyclist for giving way. Does he agree with the young people who are outside this building that it would be easier and better to tackle climate change if we remained full members of the European Union?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who represents an absolutely wonderful town where environment is at the core of the lives of many people. We are not here to debate the EU or Brexit, about which everyone will be very pleased, but I would say that, under any proposal from my party, we would import into the UK all the environmental regulations the EU has adopted, most of which are very good and progressive, although often they do not go far enough, and there would be a dynamic—

Mr Speaker, you are absolutely the last person I would want to be offensive to, so I apologise. We would ensure that there is a dynamic relationship with those regulations, so I am trying to please both sides at the present time—[Interruption.] Such is the joy of politics when we want to protect our environment.

How the right hon. Gentleman is proceeding with his Brexit policy is interesting and will be noted outside this place. Does he agree that to beat climate change in this country and around the world we have to green our pension funds, banks and stock exchanges, decarbonise capitalism and drive trillions of dollars into the