The Secretary of State was asked—
Climate Justice: ODA Allocation
Next year, the United Kingdom will proudly host COP26—a clear demonstration of the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change and our desire to secure global action. Development and diplomacy together will be integral to our work. We recognise that there are few global threats more serious than climate change, and its impact will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. It is vital that we build back better from covid-19. We are prioritising activity that delivers clean, resilient, inclusive recovery, and the Government are committed to that task.
One of the greatest achievements of our overseas development aid programme has been working towards improving the position of women, but biodiversity loss has laid extra burdens on women, who, for example, have to walk further for fresh food or water. What steps will the Minister take to mitigate biodiversity loss in developing countries and reduce the burden on women?
The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important and accurate point. The fact that my noble Friend Lord Goldsmith is a Minister across the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office shows the integrated approach that this Government take. Our work on development, our diplomatic work and our work to protect biodiversity and the environment all work together to ensure that women and other people who are vulnerable are not hit harder by changes to our climate.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Minister may talk the talk, but the hypocrisy is staggering. His Government continue to funnel billions into fossil fuel projects, including £1 billion in Mozambique. Their own impact assessment is damning, saying that it would lead to permanent loss of natural resources, food scarcity and displacement, undoing the very resilience that DFID aid is there to help build. Does he agree that this flies in the face of climate justice and undermines the very people it is his job to protect?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. This Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that we build back better, protect the environment and protect the most vulnerable people in the world. Last year, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would provide £1.44 billion over the next four years to the green climate fund, doubling our commitment to the largest international fund dedicated to supporting developing countries to adopt low-carbon, climate-resilient technologies. That makes the UK the largest single contributor in the world to that fund.
Returning to Education after Covid-19
The UK is committed to ensuring a safe return to school for children all around the world. We are taking decisive action through our education programmes and will throw our diplomatic and development weight behind global efforts, including the UNICEF-led campaign to support children’s return to school. On Monday, we announced £5.3 million of new funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to enable over 5,000 teachers to provide education in 10 refugee hosting countries.
The UK is proud to be the largest bilateral donor to the Global Partnership for Education, with a commitment of up to £225 million over a three-year period. As a major education multilateral, it has a key role in tackling the global learning crisis. That is more crucial than ever given the covid pandemic, which is having a profound effect on education systems across the world. The GPE is flexing about £400 million to support education stability, and the UK is keen to play an active part in the 2021 replenishment. We are presently exploring the possibility of how we could co-host that replenishment
IMC Worldwide was commissioned by DFID to build 31,000 classrooms in Pakistan for a fee of £107 million. It renegotiated to only build a fifth but kept 58% of the initial fee. The majority of the classrooms built were substandard and presented a risk to children. By October last year, only a quarter had been retrofitted. Will the Secretary of State put the two DFID reviews into what went wrong in the public domain? Why is the same classroom design being used in other countries? Were any children hurt, and when can they go back to school?
The safety of children will always be our No. 1 priority, and I agree that it is completely unacceptable that children were being taught in tents because buildings funded by UK aid were not being built to the necessary standards. As soon as DFID knew that there was a problem, we took urgent action to ensure that all schools knew that the buildings should not be used, while we worked with the contractor to agree a plan for retrofitting the affected buildings. Covid has caused some delays to that progress, and schools are closed until 15 September, but I understand that the first of the buildings will be handed over shortly, in a state that is considered acceptable. Global education continues to be an absolutely key priority for the Government and, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere, we are working hard to get children back to school.
Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar
The UK Government are committed to protecting the Rohingya. I thank Bangladesh for its kindness towards vulnerable Rohingya refugees. I recently visited—virtually—Rakhine in Myanmar, where the UK has provided more than £44 million to all communities since 2017, including more than £25 million for the Rohingya. In Bangladesh, we have provided £256 million for the Rohingya response since 2017, including support for food, health and women and girls.
In Peterborough, the excellent charity Unite 4 Humanity has been raising money for the Rohingya Crisis Appeal and working with those on the ground in Bangladesh since the start of the crisis. Many others, such as the UK Emergency Medical Team, are there too. Will the Government continue to work with charities and others to help to protect the Bangladeshi and Rohingya communities?
UK aid development work delivered through charities and other organisations will remain a priority, given Bangladesh’s vulnerability to climate and man-made disasters. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the excellent work of Peterborough-based Unite 4 Humanity, which I thank for its work, alongside other charities that have stepped up to respond to the Rohingya crisis. Members may have seen on TV adverts this morning that the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee has launched a coronavirus appeal for vulnerable communities—including the Rohingya—in seven countries. I am pleased to confirm that the UK Government will match funds raised by the UK public, up to £5 million.
The transition to sustainable agriculture is critical to achieving food-security, nutrition and climate objectives. We have ensured that the UK is taking a leadership role through its hosting of COP26 and our support for several bilateral and multilateral initiatives promoting sustainable agriculture. That support includes £176 million invested in the global agriculture and food security programme, which directly addresses climate change through the use of mitigation and adaptation technologies such as resilient seed varieties, more efficient irrigation and increased intercropping.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. As she will appreciate and understand, rain forests are the world’s lungs. Through the Partnerships for Forests programme, the UK supports sustainable agriculture in Brazil, including through support to address deforestation caused by cattle ranching in the Amazon region, as well as through measures to eliminate from the supply chain cattle produced on illegally deforested land. The UK also supports sustainable agriculture in the soya-producing region of Cerrado.
Poverty Reduction: ODA
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, the work of the UK to reduce poverty remains central to the objectives of this Government. The way we use ODA will continue to be guided by our responsibilities under the International Development Act 2002, including our commitment to poverty reduction. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will enhance our ability to be a force for good and partner to countries in need that seek support to help them climb the ladder of the sustainable development goals towards being strong, peaceful, economic states.
This Government cannot be trusted to tackle poverty here in the UK, and nor can they be trusted to tackle poverty overseas. In the middle of a global pandemic that is pushing millions into poverty, this Government have shut down the Department for International Development and dissolved a dedicated parliamentary Committee so that they can avoid scrutiny of aid spending. Will the Secretary of State please inform the House of how aid will be scrutinised from now on?
This Government remain absolutely committed to the 0.7% commitment, which is enshrined in law, and that will continue in the framework of the new Department. On scrutiny, clearly it is a question for Parliament how that scrutiny takes place and what the new framework of Committee assessment might be. However, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are absolutely clear that scrutiny should continue to be an absolute focus. It is incredibly important, and all of us as parliamentarians know just how important it is that we watch over, and can provide insight and broader reflection from all those we talk to, to make sure that Government do their best possible. The Government are continuing to support that, and the Foreign Secretary will set out where he hopes to do that in due course.
It is with great disappointment that this is the last DFID orals, and I want to pay tribute to all those officials in the Department for their work. I want to assure all those who recognise the importance of development and of supporting the world’s poorest that we in the Opposition will not follow the misguided path of the Government.
In recent weeks, we have heard the Secretary of State and hundreds of non-governmental organisations contradict the Prime Minister’s claims that there was
“massive consultation over a long period”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 678.]
of time ahead of his announcement that he would scrap the Department. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether the Prime Minister misled Parliament, whether she misled the Select Committee last week and when an apology will be forthcoming?
I concur absolutely with the hon. Member that all those who serve—now and in years past—have brought a commitment to helping the UK do as much as it can to support poverty reduction. That commitment will continue and those who are making that their life’s work will continue to be part of the FCDO.
The Prime Minister was clear, as I have been, that any announcement is always brought to Parliament first. The ongoing consultation is now working continuously, and Baroness Sugg is leading that. However, consultation with NGOs was going on before that in relation to all sorts of other issues. That relationship with our NGOs and civil society organisations is something we take very seriously, and we will continue to do so.
The decision to axe the Department was done on a whim by the Prime Minister to try to distract from his handling of the pandemic. That is why there are still no details of what the new Department will look like, how it will operate or how it will be scrutinised to guarantee value for money for UK taxpayers who are rightly proud of the work DFID has done in tackling poverty around the world. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that funds will be focused on the world’s poorest and that any cuts to the aid budget come from funds that currently go to middle and upper-income countries or have been found to have limited development impact, such as those outlined in the ONE campaign’s real aid index?
DFID it is world renowned for its focus and programme expertise, and that will continue to be the case. Poverty reduction will continue to be a critical focus on how we spend the 0.7% that the Government continue to be committed to. We enshrined it in law and it will stay: the Prime Minister is absolutely committed to that. Interestingly, I think there is a real challenge with the sustainable development goals—there are 17 of them—and the ability to help a country become self-sufficient and climb up that ladder will absolutely continue. We will continue to commit to the 0.7% target, based on GNI.
Supporting Democracies during Covid-19
The UK must never be afraid to stand up for what it believes in. We have seen this with our support for the people of Hong Kong and the introduction of our own Magnitsky-style sanctions regime. That is why our health and economic responses to covid-19 have also included further support for governance, transparency and freedom of speech. Our development work must support countries to stand strong, and that means supporting democracy.
The Minister is absolutely right to highlight the challenges for democracies from the pandemic and the opportunities for autocracies. In a year when the UK will be in the chair of the G7, the Commonwealth and COP26, does my hon. Friend agree with me that this is an opportunity for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which I have the honour of chairing, to do more work for the combined Department to promote and strengthen democracies around the world?
It is a great pleasure to answer what will be my last DFID oral question from my hon. Friend. DFID and the FCO are strong supporters of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s work. I thank him for his commitment to democracy via his work as chair of the WFD. In 2019-20, FCO funding of £3.3 million and DFID funding of £3.9 million has been allocated. There will be constraints on ODA over the next few months as we respond to covid-19. Via the integrated review, we will examine all options for enhancing UK democracy support. The merger and the establishment of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office presents an exciting opportunity to strengthen the UK’s support for democracy, governance and open societies.
Global South: Covid-19 Funding
The UK has pledged up to £769 million of UK aid to support the global health response and vulnerable countries. As the host of the record-breaking GAVI summit and the world’s top donor to CEPI, the UK is leading the way in finding a vaccine that helps the most vulnerable countries. We have also made sure that new funding goes directly to the immediate response in these countries, and reflects programmes already in place to help people straight away.
As of last week, the Government had given less than half of the money that is committed to support the world’s poorest in the face of this devastating global pandemic. It really is not good enough. Have the Government simply outsourced the responsibility to the various multilaterals? Does the Minister have any idea whatsoever of where UK taxpayers’ money has actually gone?
As I explained, the UK is playing a leading role in the international response to the pandemic, with pledges of up to £769 million of UK aid to help to address the urgent needs in vulnerable countries through research and development, through money to the International Monetary Fund’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust and in supporting the global health response. We are working with the UN to ensure that our contributions are channelled to NGOs and other recipients as quickly as possible.
Both the merger and the integrated review are evidence of this Government’s commitment to a unified British foreign and development policy that will maximise our impact around the world, project our values and be a stronger force for good—they go hand in hand.
The Bond network says that it has not been consulted on this merger and the integrated review has been restarted behind closed doors. Will the Government commit to meeting Bond and other civil society organisations so that those on the frontline can inform the new Department’s aid priorities?
Last week I asked the Secretary of State what partner organisations and non-governmental organisations were consulted prior to the announcement of the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She said that the statement on the merger was first made to Parliament and that there has been ongoing consultation since then. This stands in stark contradiction to what the Prime Minister said previously when he told this House that there had been
“massive consultation over a long period.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 678.]
Therefore, was the Prime Minister aware he had taken a decision without any evidence to support it, or did he mislead Parliament to create an illusion of legitimacy for this ideologically driven, disastrous merger?
This Government are committed to standing up for the right of every girl to 12 years of quality education, building on a strong basis of global leadership, including DFID’s education support for at least 5.8 million girls between 2015 and 2019. The new FCDO will deploy our world-class development expertise alongside the UK’s diplomatic skills, respected around the world, to get every girl into school.
As this is the last oral questions for the Department for International Development, I would like to place on record my thanks, and I know that of the whole House, to all those who serve now and who have served in the Department over the past 23 years. I know that their talent, passion and commitment to help to deliver world-class development programming, policy thinking and humanitarian support to the most vulnerable will be at the heart of the new FCDO and will be critical to its future.
May I place on record my gratitude to the Secretary of State and her team for what she has done in this important Department? I hope that the spirit of what DFID does will continue. She is aware that in Afghanistan and Iraq it is so easy to win the war but lose the peace. Will she agree to meet me, before she loses her job title, to see whether the military can be given funds to create a stabilisation force that can operate in those difficult environments where it is too dangerous for NGOs to function?
I would be very happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss that. The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund exists to do just that and we need to think about how we maximise the use of all our UK efforts to help the most vulnerable, so I look forward to debating with him.
As the hon. Lady is aware, we put £150 million into the IMF emergency fund, and the Treasury continues to lead in the Paris Club discussions and with the G20 to ensure that the right solutions are found for the long-term sustainability that those most vulnerable countries will need.
Ensuring taxpayers’ money is well spent is central to DFID’s work and it is embedded in all our activity and will be at the heart of the new FCDO. Programmes are regularly appraised and monitored to ensure that they are value for money, performing effectively and delivering on manifesto commitments.
I draw the House’s attention to my former role as chair of the Trade Out of Poverty all-party parliamentary group. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the importance of fair trade as well as free trade. Now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union and we are able to define our own trade policy, we will ensure that fairness is at the heart of all the trade that we do around the world.
The United Kingdom is disappointed about the reduction in aid corridors in Syria. We are pleased that the cross-border humanitarian access will continue through Bab al-Hawa, but we are appalled that Russia exercised its veto and restricted aid through Bab al-Salam. The UK remains committed to supporting Syrians, who are the victims of the egregious politicisation of humanitarian aid, and we recently announced £300 million to the Syrian pledging conference.
The UK Government welcome Saudi Arabia’s unilateral ceasefire in Yemen, and we are disappointed that the Houthis have not engaged with that ceasefire. The United Kingdom’s arms control regime is one of the most robust in the world, and we will ensure that we continue to support the people of Yemen and NGOs working in Yemen, as we have done with our recent funding announcements.
The first call that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made when she entered post was to the Education Minister in the Palestinian Authority to register our disquiet over the points that my hon. Friend has raised. We will continue to ensure that Palestinian children are educated with our support through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency—half of them are girls—but we will also ensure that that education does not encourage violence or prejudice against Jewish peoples.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Last week saw the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Britain. As you are aware, Mr Speaker, BAE Systems alone employs more than 10,000 people across Lancashire, supporting the great work of our RAF, and it is taking on more than 250 apprentices in that part of the business this year. Will the Prime Minister come to visit Warton, meet these apprentices and commit to doing all he can to secure these key jobs through support for defence exports and the Team Tempest programme?
I have no doubt that I will be coming to Warton in due course. Let me tell my hon. Friend that 1,800 highly skilled engineers and programmers are already involved in the project, going up to 2,500 next year, and that 800 of those are in his constituency. I look forward to his constituency being at the epicentre of the development of the next UK-led combat air programme.
Over the past few months, we have supported many of the economic measures announced by the Government, but the decision last week not to provide sector-specific support to those most at risk could end up costing thousands of jobs. One of the sectors, aviation, has already seen huge redundancies: BA has announced 12,000 redundancies; Virgin 3,000; and easyJet 1,900. If the Government’s priority really is to protect jobs, why did the Chancellor not bring forward sector-specific deals that could have done precisely that?
No one should underestimate the scale of the challenge that this country faces. That is why the Chancellor has brought forward a range of measures, which, by the way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported last week. They include the job retention bonus and the kick-starter programme for young people. We are also doing a huge amount to support the aviation sector. One of the companies that he mentions, Virgin, has now come out of the Birch process after extremely difficult, but in the end productive conversations. That is the work of this Government: getting on, helping companies through it and helping our people through it. If I may say so, Mr Speaker, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to work out whether he will support or oppose the Government’s programme to get people back into work. Last week, the shadow Chancellor said here in this House of Commons that she supported our programme. This week, he says that he opposes it. Which is it?
This is just such rhetorical nonsense. It is perfectly proper and right for the Opposition to set out the parts of the package that we support the Government on and to highlight where there are problems. The problem with the Prime Minister’s dismissal of this is that, since the Chancellor set this out last week, around 10,000 people have lost their jobs. The Prime Minister should focus on them, not the rhetoric. The Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday projected 3.5 million unemployed next year.
I want to press the Prime Minister further on the situation at BA, which is a huge employer and the national flag carrier. Alongside the 12,000 redundancies already announced, BA is trying to force through the rehiring of the remaining 30,000 workers on worse terms and conditions. That is totally unacceptable and it is a warning shot to millions of other working people. The Prime Minister sent an email to BA staff in which he said: “I have already made it clear that firms should not be using furlough to cynically keep people on their books and then remove them or change their terms and conditions.” That was on 2 June. It is now six weeks on. Will the Prime Minister now personally intervene and make it clear that actions such as those at BA cannot be allowed to stand without consequences for landing slots?
We have been absolutely clear that we want our great companies across the country to support their workers and keep them in employment where they possibly can. I have made that point clear on the Floor of the House just in the past couple of weeks. Let us be absolutely clear: British Airways and many other companies are in severe difficulties at the moment, and we cannot, I am afraid, simply with a magic wand ensure that every single job that was being done before the crisis is retained after the crisis. What we can do—and what we are doing—is encourage companies to keep their workers on with the job retention scheme and the job retention bonus, as well as a massive £600 billion investment programme in this country to build, build, build and create jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what we are doing.
The Prime Minister knows exactly what I am talking about: it is the rehiring of 30,000 people at BA on worse terms and conditions, and he should call it out.
Yesterday, the Government’s expert advisory group published a report on the challenges this autumn and winter. It was asked to do so by the Government Office for Science. The report assessed the reasonable worst-case scenario for this autumn and winter, including a second covid spike and seasonal flu, and it set out strong recommended actions to mitigate the risks. The report was clear: July and August must be a period of intense preparation—i.e., now. Could the Prime Minister make it clear that he intends to implement the recommended actions in the report in full and at speed?
Not only are we getting on with implementing the preparations for a potential new spike but the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the Government are engaged in record investments in the NHS of £34 billion. The House may not realise that, just in the last year that the Government have been in office, there are now 12,000 more nurses in the NHS and 6,000 more doctors. It was thanks to their hard work, and the hard work of the entire NHS, that we were able to prevent our health service from being overwhelmed this spring. We will take steps to ensure that it is not overwhelmed this winter either.
That is the whole point of this report, which sets out the reasonable worst-case scenario and tells the Government what they need to do about it, so I am surprised that the Prime Minister is not committing to fully implementing it. It is vital that the Government learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made and act now to save lives for the future. One of the key recommendations in the report, commissioned by the Government Office for Science, is that testing and tracing capacity should be significantly expanded to cope with increased demands over the winter. The reality is that trace and track is not working as promised, as it stands today, and the report makes it clear that it needs to be significantly expanded to cope with the risks of autumn and winter. What assurance can the Prime Minister give that the system will be fit for both purposes in the timeframe envisaged in the report—i.e., by this September?
Once again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman attacks the test and trace operation, which is working at absolutely unprecedented scale: 144,000 people across the country have now agreed to self-isolate to stop the spread of the virus. He keeps saying that the test and trace operation is failing to contact enough people and failing to get enough people to self-isolate. Actually, it is doing fantastic work: 70% or 80% of contacts are found, and it is getting through to the vast majority of people who have the disease. I can certainly give the House the assurance that our test and trace system is as good as, or better than, any other system anywhere in the world—and yes, it will play a vital part in ensuring that we do not have a second spike this winter. Instead of knocking the confidence of the country in the test and trace system, now is the time for him to return to his previous script and build it up—that is what he needs to do.
The problem with the Prime Minister quoting the 70% of people who are contacted and asked to self-isolate is that that has gone down. It was 90% just a few weeks ago and every week it has gone down, so I would not quote the latest figure, looking at the trend. But I have to ask, in the light of the last few questions: has the Prime Minister actually read this report that sets out the reasonable worst-case scenario and tells the Government what they need to do about it in the next six weeks? Has he read it?
I am of course aware of the report and we are of course taking every reasonable step to prepare this country for a second spike. I may say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is up to him, really, to get behind what the Government are doing or not. He has previously supported our plan. He has previously come to this House and said that he supports our measures. He now says, I think, that he does not support them. I think what he needs to do is build up the confidence of the people of this country cautiously to get back to work and cautiously to restart our economy, which is what we are trying to do, instead of endlessly knocking the confidence of the people of this country: knocking their confidence in test and trace, knocking their confidence in the safety of our schools and knocking our confidence in our transport network. Now is the time for him to decide whether he backs the Government or not.
It is perfectly possible to support track and trace and to point out the problems. Standing up every week saying, “It’s a stunning success” is kidding no one. That is not giving people confidence in the system. They would like a Prime Minister who stands up and says, “There are problems and this is what I am going to do about them,” not this rhetoric about “stunning success” when it is obviously not true.
This afternoon, Prime Minister, I am meeting the families of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, a group of hundreds of families who have lost loved ones. They say this:
“We won’t let the deaths of our loved ones be in vain. And we won’t allow the Government to risk a second wave of deaths without learning from their mistakes.”
They will be listening to the Prime Minister’s answers today, so what would the Prime Minister like to say to them?
I join with, I think, every Member of the House in mourning the loss of everybody who has died in this epidemic. I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and through him the victims and their families, that we will do absolutely everything in our power to prevent a second spike in this epidemic. That is why we are taking the steps that we are. That is why we have set up, as I say, an unprecedented test and trace operation. That is why we are investing massively in our NHS and our frontline staff, as I say, in the last year, recruiting 12,000 more nurses, as part of a programme to recruit 50,000 more, and preparing our NHS for winter. We will do absolutely everything we can to protect our country and to stop a second spike.
What the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to decide is whether he wants to back that programme or not. One day he says it is safe to go back to school. The next day he is taking the line of the unions. One day they are supporting our economic programme. The next day they are saying our stamp duty cut is an unacceptable bung. One day they are saying they accept the result of the Brexit referendum. The next day, today, they are going to tell their troops to do the exact opposite. He needs to make up his mind which brief he is going to take today. At the moment, it looks like he has got more briefs than Calvin Klein. We are getting on with delivering on our agenda for the country, getting this country through this pandemic and taking it forward.
Tomorrow, this Tory Government will publish legislation for their biggest power grab since the Scottish people voted overwhelmingly for the Scottish Parliament in 1997. Westminster’s plan to impose an unelected, unaccountable body to rule on decisions made by the Scottish Parliament will not be accepted. The decisions of the Scottish Parliament must and will be decided by the Scottish people. We also reject any attempts to impose lower standards from one part of the United Kingdom on Scotland. Knowing that this Tory Government are prepared to sell out the food and agriculture industry to his pal, Donald Trump, will the Prime Minister confirm that his Tory Government are once again ignoring the wishes of the Scottish people and launching their hostile agenda against devolution?
On the contrary, what we are doing is possibly the biggest single act of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in modern memory. The right hon. Gentleman should be celebrating the 70 or more powers that are going to be transferred to the elected people in Scotland. What he wants, by contrast, is trade barriers between England and Scotland, and nobody being able to use sterling in Stirling. He talks about unelected and unaccountable people, but what he wants to do is hand the powers that we would give back to Scotland from this Parliament to Brussels, which is neither elected nor accountable.
Of course, the document that we will see tomorrow is going to talk about the benefits of the single market. It is a pity that the Prime Minister does not understand the economic value of the European single market and customs union. This Prime Minister often states the need to respect referendum results. He should respect the decision taken by the Scottish people in 1997. We know that this Government are undertaking a full-scale assault on devolution: a Brexit settlement that Scotland rejected is being imposed on Scotland; an immigration system that Scotland rejected is being imposed on Scotland; and a decade of Tory Government that Scotland rejected has been imposed on Scotland. It is no wonder that the First Minister’s approval rating is three times that of the Prime Minister. Effective leadership and respecting the will of the people, contrasted with the bumbling shambles coming from Westminster. Scotland has the right to have our decisions made by those we elect, not by bureaucrats appointed by Westminster. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that his plans will not be imposed on Scotland, and that Scotland will have the chance to choose for ourselves?
First, I must repeat my point. It is extraordinary for the right hon. Gentleman to attack unelected bureaucrats for any role they may have in Scotland when his proposal is to hand back the powers that this place is going to transfer to Scotland back to Brussels, where they are neither elected nor accountable to the people of Scotland. So I really do not know what he means. As for his point about respecting referendum results, the House will recall that there was a referendum on the issue of Scottish independence and breaking up the Union in 2014. They said at the time that it was going to be a once-in-a-generation event. I think they should keep their promises to the people of this country and to the people of Scotland.
Under this Prime Minister, we have suffered one of the worst death rates in the world and Europe’s worst death rate for health and care workers. Previously, he has refused my demand for an immediate independent inquiry, saying that it is too soon, even though, back in 2003, he voted for an independent inquiry into the Iraq war just months after that conflict had started. If he still rejects an immediate inquiry, will he instead commit in principle to a future public inquiry: yes or no?
As I have told the House several times, I do not believe that now, in the middle of combating the pandemic as we are, is the right moment to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry, but of course we will seek to learn the lessons of the pandemic in the future, and certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened.
I thank my hon. Friend for campaigning on this issue, which is, of course, incredibly important, and has been particularly so during lockdown. Overall, we have massively increased our funding for mental health care to £12.5 billion, but we are also, as he knows, now publishing our national strategy for disabled people, which will cover all types of disability, including physical and mental health.
I can tell the House that we have already taken steps to support local authorities—through another £3.2 billion to support them, a £600 million contribution to fight infection—and we are incredibly proud of what our social care workers do. What this Government have done, in sharp contrast to the previous Government, is not only introduce a national living wage, but increase it by the biggest ever amount.
I have good news for my hon. Friend, because the Department for Transport has received a bid for funding Thanet Park railway station. It is going to be assessed in the third round of the new stations fund, and I hope he will hear good news in the near future.
In addition to the £160 billion of support that the Government have given to people and firms across the country, we have supported areas and cities in lockdown with considerable grants. There was £20 million to Leicester, business rates relief of £44 million and £68 million in spending on business grants. The best thing possible is for areas all to work hard, as Blackburn with Darwen have done, for instance, to get the virus down and to make sure they are able to open up again.
I will examine the idea of a scrappage scheme for old and highly polluting aircraft, but I can tell my hon. Friend that long before then, we are putting £3.9 billion into the Aerospace Technology Institute. As I am sure he knows, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has set up, with the Department for Transport, a joint taskforce to create “Jet Zero”, a zero-emissions passenger plane in which this country will lead the world.
Yes, indeed. In Bradford alone, we have allocated £30 million to help deal with the pressures of the virus. As I said to the House just now, I think we have now put in £4.2 billion in support for local councils across the country. I pay tribute to the work of local councils and their services for helping us to get through this pandemic, and we will continue to support them.
Out and about talking to the good people of South Ribble, I find that they are worried about the economic effects of covid, although they do also say, “Thank God that other lot didn’t get in, because I can’t imagine how much trouble we’d be in right now.” Can the Prime Minister confirm that while there might be tough days ahead, this Conservative Government are throwing the kitchen sink at fixing it?
It is not only the kitchen sink, but every part of the kitchen. We are going to build, build, build our way forward. We are going to be supporting the building of 300,000 new homes a year. We are going to do everything we can to ensure that we get jobs, jobs, jobs throughout this country. Whether by installing kitchen sinks or any other part of the house, we will take this country forward.
Yes, of course we are committing to sharing as much data as we have with councils so that they can get on at a local level, as they have been, dealing with the pandemic. Actually, some of them have been doing an absolutely outstanding job—Kirklees, in particular. We will continue to support councils up and down the land as they engage in local action to make sure that the whole country can start to get back to work.
It is a pleasure to be back, Mr Speaker.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, which is based in my constituency of South Derbyshire, is the leading producer of low emission hybrid cars in the UK. Its aim, like the Government’s, is to achieve zero emissions from its vehicles. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me about the importance of recognising and promoting the role that hybrids can play as we move from the vehicles that we have today to zero emission transport going forward?
Yes, indeed. I know that everybody will sympathise very much with Daniel Caplan and his family. I will do what I can to ensure that the hon. Lady is able to make representations to the Department of Health about ensuring that childhood brain stem cancers are properly understood and properly tackled by this country.
Some people are anxious to return to work and some people find that they are actually as happy and productive at home working as they would be at the office. But does the Prime Minister agree with me that the worst reason for staying at home is to follow blanket Government advice that takes no account of safety? Will he commit to revising that Government advice urgently?
As I am sure my hon. Friend will see from studying the Government advice, we say very clearly that it is important that business should be carried on and that employers should decide, in consultation with their workers, whether it is safe for those workers to come into work or whether they should continue working from home. I happen to think that employers in this country have made huge strides in getting work places safe, and that is the message that we should all be conveying.
I am sure that I speak for many Members in this House when I say that I have had direct representations as a constituency MP from women who have suffered from exactly the conditions identified by Baroness Cumberlege and her committee. I also assure the hon. Lady that the Government take that issue with extreme seriousness. I have absolutely no hesitation in acceding to her request for a meeting, either with myself or the Department of Health, to make sure that she feels that we are addressing the issues in the way she would want.
The Government want green energy. The Government want security of energy supply. The Government want to boost economic development in the regions. The Government want to encourage apprenticeships and youth employment. The Government want to increase innovation investment and to have a dynamic supply chain. That is all on offer in Cumbria. Will the Prime Minister support, with Government financial backing, the building of nuclear power generation facilities in Cumbria?
I know that everybody’s sympathies will be with the family of the victim in the hon. Lady’s constituency, as they are with the families of all victims of knife crime. I think that there are two things we have to do. First, I entirely agree with her that we need a cross-departmental medical approach focused on the needs of the families with the kids who particularly get involved in knife crime, and we need to put our arms around them and stop them being diverted into the gangs that are so often the root cause of the problem.
But we also need a tough policing solution. I have been concerned for the last few years that in London in particular, which the hon. Lady represents, we have not seen the approach that we saw under the previous Mayor, for instance, when there was a significant reduction in knife crime and a significant reduction in murder by dint of having proportionate policing that included the use of stop-and-search to stop young kids carrying knives. We need to have zero tolerance of kids going out on the street armed with a bladed weapon. That is absolutely vital. [Interruption.] An Opposition Member says, “Shocking.” In my experience, the people who are most supportive of taking the knives off kids on the streets of our city are the mothers of those kids who are most at risk of being killed. They support stop-and-search, and I hope the hon. Lady does, too.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).