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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 692: debated on Wednesday 14 April 2021


The President of COP26 was asked—

Covid-19: Green Recovery

What steps the Government are taking to promote climate action and a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic ahead of COP26. (914039)

What steps the Government are taking to promote climate action and a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic ahead of COP26. (914040)

The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan sets out our blueprint for a green industrial revolution—a plan to invest in green technologies and industries, leveraging in billions of pounds of private sector investment, supporting up to a quarter of a million green jobs and levelling up across the UK. It is a clear plan to build back greener from the covid pandemic.

The UK’s credibility as COP President rests on demonstrable climate action at home. The Government have set legally binding net zero targets but they are currently off track to meet their fourth and fifth carbon budgets, which are calibrated for previous, more lenient targets. Scrapping the green homes grant two weeks ago puts us into reverse. How will the right hon. Gentleman seek to progress local, national and international progress on energy efficiency and specifically on green homes in the run-up to and during COP26?

The UK has decarbonised its economy faster than any other G20 nation since 2000. We have met carbon budgets CB1 and CB2, we are on track to meet CB3, and of course we are pursuing plans to ensure that we meet CB4 and CB5. Ahead of COP26, we will publish a comprehensive net zero strategy.

The COP President has talked confidently about British leadership, but the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan is full of big words and no real detail. The total impact, by the Government’s own admission, is that they will not meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. When we pull back the curtain, there is not much to look at, and we are running out of time. He has just said, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), that there will be a net zero strategy. We need it before the summer recess to make the Government’s word credible ahead of COP26. Does he agree with that, and if so, what is he doing about it?

As someone who was partly responsible for preparing the 10-point plan, may I suggest that the hon. Gentleman actually reads the detail of it? I have discussed the sector-specific points in it with individuals in different sectors of industry, who have found it quite compelling. Of course I agree that we need to be doing more, and that is why I have committed to publishing the comprehensive net zero strategy ahead of COP26.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking, in his extensive discussions with leaders around the world on making progress at COP26, to develop a global standard or taxonomy of climate change impact in financial reporting and in green labelling investment products?

As my right hon. Friend will know, the UK has taken a leading role in climate-related disclosures by implementing a green taxonomy and, very importantly, by making TCFD-aligned disclosures—recommended by the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures —mandatory across the economy by 2025. In the conversations that I have with Governments around the world, I am urging other countries to follow a similar approach on financial disclosures. My right hon. Friend talks about asset owners in the financial services sector, and we are also encouraging asset owners and asset managers to make net zero commitments.

Tackling Climate Change: International Ambition

What progress the Government have made on raising international ambition to tackle climate change as part of preparations for COP26. (914041)

When the UK took on the role of the incoming COP26 presidency, under 30% of the global economy was covered by a net zero commitment. The good news is that that figure has now increased to 70% and of course I am pressing all countries to come forward with net zero commitments. However, as colleagues in this House have acknowledged previously, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s initial “NDC Synthesis Report”, published in February, showed that we have much more progress to make on the 2030 emissions reduction target, and I am pressing countries on that as well.

The UK is a global leader in protecting the ocean, as shown by the success of its Blue Belt and 30x30 programmes, but as my right hon. Friend will know, only 1% of international waters currently have effective protection. Will he commit the UK to taking the lead in pushing for a strong global oceans treaty at the United Nations, to establish an international framework for protecting marine biodiversity in international waters?

My hon. Friend raises a vital issue, and she will be pleased to hear that the UK is working hard to see negotiations concluded this year on a new UN convention for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions. That will enable the establishment of marine protected areas and help to deliver on the 30x30 target.

In a letter to all UNFCCC—United Nations framework convention on climate change—parties this week, the COP President rightly argued that we must halve global emissions by 2030 if we are to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° within reach, yet he will know that recent UN analysis makes it clear that current national pledges will reduce emissions by just 1% by the end of this critical decade. We need the major emitters to do much more if we are to close the gap. That means a need for deep cuts in American emissions and for Chinese emissions to peak by 2025, but it also means a need for tangible progress on the part of India. With the Prime Minister meeting President Modi later this month, will the COP President tell the House what the UK is willing to put on the table, particularly in terms of climate finance and technological support, to help to ensure that India feels able to increase its ambition markedly ahead of the summit?

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman but, of course, all countries need to make much more progress when it comes to ambitious, nationally determined contributions to the 2030 near-term emission reduction targets. I have spoken with large economies around the world. As he knows, I met Prime Minister Modi a few weeks ago and, of course, we are working on a number of initiatives with the Indian Government. When the Prime Minister goes to India, I am sure there will be further announcements.

Virtual Participation in COP26

What plans he has to arrange for remote virtual participation in COP26 in the event of ongoing restrictions due to the covid-19 pandemic. (914042)

We are working very hard to ensure that we deliver an in-person COP that allows all countries to participate on an equal footing. That is incredibly important, as many parties feel strongly that negotiations must be in person. We continue to explore how technology and other innovations can make the summit more resilient, safe and inclusive.

I am grateful for that answer. Many respondents to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s survey of expert views, both academics and former COP attendees, highlighted the value of remote participation for otherwise excluded groups, and for reducing the conference’s carbon footprint. Will the COP26 President explore the possibilities of wider virtual participation at COP, in addition to physical attendance at the conference?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I have said on a number of occasions that I want this to be the most inclusive COP ever. Absolutely, we are looking at how we can expand our digital programmes to allow for more virtualisation. I hope that, at the appropriate time, I will be able to update the House further.

A diplomatic source in the British Government is reported in the papers today as saying about the conference:

“No one in Europe thinks it’s going to happen and the US is increasingly sceptical that it can happen without a delay.”

I support the COP26 President’s aim for a physical conference of national delegations but, of course, many stakeholders are politicians, business leaders, NGOs and others. When will the Cabinet Office produce a contingency plan to give clarity to stakeholders about how engagement can take place in November?

The hon. Gentleman, again, raises an important point. He will have seen the letter I wrote to UNFCCC members on the progress we want to make over the coming months. COP26 has already been postponed by one year, and the urgency of the climate crisis has not abated. I do not sense any desire among parties for a further postponement, and we are working very hard to ensure that we have an in-person, physical COP, taking into account, of course, any covid-related contingencies.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

What steps he is taking to encourage towns, cities and communities to deliver the UN sustainable development goals at local level in the run-up to COP26. (914043)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. That is a new title. I was happy with international champion, but I am sure vice-president is acceptable, too.

The actions we are taking to tackle climate change support the delivery of a range of UN sustainable development goals. Through the Together for Our Planet campaign and Race to Zero, we are encouraging towns, cities and communities to drive climate action at a local level. This is supported by the COP26 UK mayors and regions advisory council, which includes West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Kirklees Council, and it has set itself an ambitious target of being net zero by 2038.

Will the Minister and, certainly, the COP26 President, in whom I have great confidence, support what we are doing in Huddersfield to make Huddersfield a sustainable town and a sustainable community by rigorously pursuing the sustainable development goals? We are building a network of towns across the United Kingdom. We are up to about 20, and we need to get to 50 and 500. What can the Government do to help us, because it is about grassrooting and making sure that COP26 is not cop-out 26?

It is important that we encourage and, indeed, provide the tools—and the Together for Our Planet campaign is one of those tools—to help our constituents, our towns and our cities to understand and take charge for themselves of the impact they can have in helping to meet our Paris agreement challenge. That involves everything from household choices through to changes in how we run our buses and trains. Every council and every community has a role to play.

Green Investment and Public Transport

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on showing leadership on green investment and boosting funding for public transport in the run-up to COP26. (914044)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues about decarbonisation. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is putting a green recovery for transport at the centre of his Department’s decision making in the run-up to COP26 and beyond.

Liverpool city region is developing a project to bring 20 hydrogen-powered double-decker buses to the streets, with the potential for further green investment to scale this up and achieve our ambition of being carbon net zero by 2040. Can the Minister tell us when the £30 billion in planned capital investment as part of the green recovery stimulus will be available to support our ambition?

I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s specific point is taken up with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary. She will know that, last month, the Transport Secretary launched a multimillion-pound scheme to enable local authorities to roll out zero-emission buses. This funding will deliver 500 zero-emission buses, supporting the Government’s wider commitment to introduce 4,000 such vehicles.

There is no joined-up thinking on any issue with this Government, but we would all have hoped for some cross-Department thinking on this issue at least. We are, as usual, disappointed, with even the green homes grant gone after just a few months—so much for building back better.

There is increasing concern voiced internationally, too, about the UK Government’s lack of progress domestically on environmental commitments. Will the right hon. Gentleman show some real leadership and commit today to start seriously lobbying his Government colleagues to join up the dots and start delivering, so that we can look forward to environmentally sound investment, renewed support for a comprehensive charging framework for electric vehicles, real investment in hydrogen technology and marine energy, support for housing improvements and so on? Will he do that, or is he happy to leave us all embarrassed to be hosting COP26 while the UK seems to be striding off in the opposite direction?

I say to the hon. Lady that the role of the COP presidency is to ensure that we are working with all 197 parties to ensure that we are making progress on keeping the 1.5° C limit within reach. The UK, like any other country, needs to see what more we can do. I hope that she will acknowledge that we are seen as a leader in the world and that, since 2010, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 nation.

Biodiversity Loss and Climate Action

What steps he is taking to promote action on biodiversity loss alongside climate action as part of COP26 preparations. (914045)

Climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked, which is why the UK has made nature a core priority of our COP26 presidency. We pioneered and launched the leaders’ pledge for nature in September last year, and we are also driving global action to protect and restore critical ecosystems such as forests and accelerating our transition towards sustainable agriculture while mobilising the finance to support this.

In order to tackle biodiversity loss, the convention on biological diversity, COP15, in May, will support new targets on nature. However, with the Environment Bill delayed yet again, how will the Minister ensure that the outcomes from this conference will feed into COP26 in November?

The Prime Minister and President Xi have agreed that the UK and China should work together, as respective hosts of the United Nations framework convention on climate change COP26 and the convention on biological diversity COP15, to reinforce and amplify those linkages between climate change and biodiversity loss and to achieve mutually supportive and ambitious outcomes at both summits. We are working closely with our Chinese counterparts and with the UN secretariat of the UNFCCC, the CBD and the United Nations convention to combat desertification to strengthen the links between these conventions to deliver the best outcomes for nature.

Highest-Emitting Countries: Policy Objectives

What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in countries that are the highest emitters of carbon on policy objectives for COP26. (914046)

I have so far engaged with Ministers and negotiators from more than 80 countries and briefed all parties to the UN on a number of occasions. This, of course, includes discussions with representatives of countries, including China, the US, the EU and India.

In the light of Germany’s coal phase-out Act, which states that it will not end the use of coal-powered energy until 2038, how does the Minister intend to use COP26 to promote nuclear power, particularly at key UK sites such as Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey, in order to meet the UK’s net zero targets?

My hon. Friend is a consistent and strong champion of both the nuclear sector and the Wylfa site in her constituency, and I commend her zeal. As I have said to her previously, nuclear power clearly has a role to play in our clean energy mix as we work towards net zero emissions by 2050. She will know that, in the 10-point plan that the Prime Minister set out, we are backing large nuclear as well as small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors.

Business Consultation

I have engaged with hundreds of global and UK businesses through a combination of speaking at high-profiles events and bilateral meetings, and my COP26 business leaders advisory group. Businesses have a key role to play in tackling climate change, and I encourage them all to sign up to the Race to Zero campaign.

Derbyshire County Council recently launched a £2 million green entrepreneurs fund for businesses that are interested in green energy and carbon reduction. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an excellent example of local government and businesses working together, and will he share my praise for county council leader Barry Lewis and his visionary leadership on this issue?

I commend both my hon. Friend and the leader of Derbyshire County Council, Barry Lewis, for championing this excellent initiative. This is precisely the type of scheme we want to see—supporting businesses, growth and jobs while cutting emissions.

Civil Society and Youth Groups: Consultation

What steps he is taking to consult with (a) civil society and (b) youth groups in preparation for COP26. (914048)

What steps he is taking to consult with (a) civil society and (b) youth groups in preparation for COP26. (914056)

I want COP26 to be the most inclusive ever. The voices of young people are vital to this process. That is why I have set up an international COP26 Civil Society and Youth Advisory Council, allowing for a regular dialogue with youth activists, NGOs, indigenous people and faith groups as we plan for COP26.

I have a pile of letters on my desk from children at GEMS Didcot Primary Academy and John Blandy Primary School, who have written to tell me what they have learned about climate change and what positive changes they saw in the environment during lockdown, and to give me their ideas of things they think the Government should be doing. Will my right hon. Friend tell me how children and young people will be able to feed into the preparations for COP26?

I thank my hon. Friend for championing the views of young people in his constituency. I pay tribute to the pupils of John Blandy and GEMS Didcot primary schools for their enthusiasm for climate action. I will be delighted to receive their letters and review their ideas; and, through him, I will respond in writing to his constituents.

My right hon. Friend and I both have the privilege of representing seats in Berkshire, where many young people are passionate about climate change and are active in local groups such as the West Berkshire Climate Action Network. This is their first real opportunity to see UK leadership in action. Will my right hon. Friend confirm how those young people can access the youth council that he just described and other mechanisms to feed their ideas into the COP later this year?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she does to promote climate action. I would be very happy to hear from young people and youth groups in her constituency. We will be engaging further with schools in relation to COP26 to unleash the enthusiasm and energy of young people across the UK and tackle climate change.

We all have a stake in protecting our climate, particularly young adults in my constituency, who I hope will be the pioneers of change. As part of the UK-Italy COP26 partnership, what are the plans for the “Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition 2021” event to be held in Milan in September?

From 28 to 30 September, the Youth4Climate event will bring together 400 youth delegates from across the globe to discuss topics under a range of thematic areas. The event will culminate in a declaration and discussion between the youth delegates and Ministers attending the pre-COP26 event.

Topical Questions

If we are to protect our planet from the ravages of climate change, we must support developing countries to respond, but without adequate finance the task ahead is well nigh impossible. That is why on 31 March, the UK presidency convened around 50 developing and donor countries and multilateral institutions to consider how we can get more—and more timely—public finance flowing into climate action. I am pleased that we have secured a range of commitments from the likes of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and donor countries to move this vital work forward. It is our moral duty to protect the most vulnerable communities from a climate crisis that they have not caused.

How does supporting a new Cumbrian coalmine, giving new licences for oil and gas exploration, scrapping the green homes grant and reducing incentives for electric vehicles reflect the Government’s stated commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050—or is this more dad-dancing rhetoric by the Prime Minister, unconvincing and unco-ordinated?

The hon. Lady raises a number of points. In previous answers I have set out the ambition that the UK has and the progress that we have made. Specifically with regard to oil and gas licensing, the UK Government will introduce a new climate compatibility checkpoint before each future oil and gas licensing round to ensure that licences awarded are aligned with wider climate objectives, including net zero emissions by 2050.

Surfers Against Sewage in my constituency are ardent environmental campaigners, particularly on plastic pollution and water quality, and our environment is all the better for their work. The Government have a key role to play on protecting the environment, so can my right hon. Friend assure me that when the world gathers for COP26 in November, protecting and enhancing the environment, particularly for the people of Cornwall, will be at the very top of the agenda? (914089)

The COP26 nature campaign is driving ambitious international and domestic action to protect and enhance our environment, and this will be a high priority at COP26 in November. I commend the work that Surfers Against Sewage are doing on water pollution and water quality, which I hope to see first-hand when I visit Cornwall as part of the G7 summit in June. Protecting the ocean, including through nature-based solutions, provides multiple vital climate change adaptation and resilience benefits.

Last month, the COP President wrote that the world is doing nowhere near enough to limit global warming to 1.5° C, and he is right. A green economic stimulus could make a huge difference to meeting the target, but while we have put it as the top item of the G7 agenda, the sum total of the Chancellor’s measures here in the UK promised just £12 billion of green spending over a decade, and he has already cut £1 billion from that. Our investment is 60 times smaller than President Biden’s green infrastructure plan. Is it not a very significant challenge for COP26 that when it comes to a green stimulus we are telling others to act but not doing so ourselves?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we agree on many of these issues on tackling climate change, but when it comes to Government money, we have also ensured that we leverage in private sector money. It is not just about Government money; it is also about leveraging in private sector money. Ultimately, this is about not just cutting emissions but creating jobs for constituents across the UK.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, as COP26 host, our actions face particular scrutiny, and I think he will know that the international community is increasingly concerned, and not just on green recovery. The Government call on others to power past coal but flirt with a new coalmine; say to others, “Adopt a net zero target”, but are off track on ours; and tell countries to support the world’s poorest but slash aid spending. Rachel Kyte, former special representative of the UN Secretary-General, said this week of our record on climate:

“What the UK is doing is like dad dancing…they are very uncoordinated.”

Is it not time the Government gave up the dad dancing on climate and showed some consistent leadership?

The right hon. Gentleman himself is obviously a very good dancer and therefore unlikely to take part in dad dancing; we should try it together at some point.

Of course every country, including the UK, needs to make more progress on cutting emissions. The right hon. Gentleman makes particular reference to coal. He will know that our energy mix with regard to coal has gone from 40% in 2012 to less than 2% last year, and we have been leading the Powering Past Coal Alliance, to which a large number of countries have now signed up. So we are making progress; of course, there is more that we can do.

What diplomatic steps has my right hon. Friend taken to engage with international partners on preparations for COP26? (914091)

We are working closely at many levels with international partners on preparations for COP26 and to accelerate climate ambitions. The COP26 President-designate has met large numbers of Governments. He is already out and about visiting many countries—15 in the past few weeks—and briefing UN member states on a regular basis. I am working with the most vulnerable countries to make sure that they are supported in their ambitions to meet their resilience challenges.

Converting UK homes to zero carbon heating will be a huge task. Does the COP President believe that heat pumps can adequately replace all gas boilers? If there is a need for supplementary heating, what form does he think it should take? (914080)

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the 10-point plan, which sets out clearly the progress that we want to make on decarbonising buildings and homes, and heat pumps will of course play a part. We have also set out there our plans on the use of hydrogen for home heating.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I know colleagues across the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to our dear friend and colleague, Dame Cheryl Gillan, who sadly died last week. MP for Chesham and Amersham for 29 years, she will be remembered for being a strong voice for her constituents, for being a brilliant campaigner, including her advocacy for autistic people and their families, and for being the first female Secretary of State for Wales. I also want to pay tribute to Baroness Shirley Williams, a pioneer for women in politics and in Government, and to our former colleague Peter Ainsworth, who was passionate about his causes, especially the environment.

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.

Dame Cheryl represented her constituents with considerable effectiveness for nearly 29 years and is already sorely missed in this place, especially by many of the newer Members, as she was so kind to us in our first months in Westminster. One of her passions was the protection of chalk streams, in particular the River Chess, which passes through my constituency of South West Hertfordshire. Many MPs are increasingly concerned about reports of partially treated sewage being released into our rivers, with knock-on health impacts for both humans and animals. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that this Government will actively protect our rivers and streams?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise the concern we fully share about sewage overflow into rivers such as the Chess. That is why we have set up the storm overflows taskforce to address the matter, working with the water industry, regulators and environmental groups. Last month, we announced plans for legislation to address that very issue.

May I join the Prime Minister in his remarks about Dame Cheryl Gillan, who I worked with on a cross-party basis and remember with fondness? Ian Gibson also passed away this week. Both commanded respect on all sides of the House and will be sadly missed.

I also pay tribute to Shirley Williams. She was a great parliamentarian, and a formidable Minister and Cabinet Minister. She loved this House, the other place and, frankly, anywhere she could debate ideas and politics. For many years, she was Labour’s loss, but today she is Britain’s loss, and my thoughts are with her family and loved ones.

Does the Prime Minister believe that the current lobbying rules are fit for purpose?

I join the right hon. and learned Gentleman in what he said about Ian Gibson.

I share the widespread concern about some of the stuff we are reading at the moment, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary shares my concern as well. I do think it is a good idea in principle that top civil servants should be able to engage with business and should have experience of the private sector. When I look at the accounts I am reading today, it is not clear that those boundaries have been properly understood. I have asked for a proper independent review of the arrangements that we have, to be conducted by Nigel Boardman, and he will be reporting in June. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any representations he wishes to make on the subject, he should do so to Mr Boardman.

I know that the Prime Minister is launching an inquiry. That inquiry is not even looking at the lobbying rules; I am not sure it is looking at very much at all. Every day, there is further evidence of the sleaze that is now at the heart of this Conservative Government. [Interruption.] They can shake their heads. Let us just look at the latest scandal. A wealthy businessman, Lex Greensill, was hired as a senior adviser to David Cameron when he was Prime Minister. We have all seen the business card. After he left office, Cameron became a paid lobbyist for Lex Greensill. The next thing we know, Cameron arranged access for Greensill to Cabinet Ministers, Ministers and senior officials, and he lobbied for taxpayers’ money on behalf of Greensill Capital.

We also know that the Chancellor “pushed” officials. We know that the Health Secretary met Cameron and Greensill. We know that senior officials met Greensill Capital regularly, and now, even more unbelievably, we know that the Government’s former head of procurement, no less, became a Greensill adviser while he was still a civil servant. Does the Prime Minister accept that there is a revolving door—indeed, an open door—between his Conservative Government and paid lobbyists?

This is a Government and a party that have been consistently tough on lobbying. Indeed, we introduced legislation saying that there should be no taxpayer-funded lobbying and that quangos should not be used to get involved with lobbying. We put in a register for lobbyists. There is one party that voted to repeal the 2014 lobbying Act, and that was the Labour party in its historic 2019 election manifesto, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has yet to repudiate. It did so because it thought the Act was unfair and restricted people’s ability to make representations to politicians. I think that that is absurd. Will he now say that it is absurd to repeal the 2014 lobbying Act?

The Prime Minister talks of the lobbying Act. Who was it who introduced that legislation? David Cameron. Who was it who voted for the legislation? Half the Conservative Front Bench. We said that it would not be tough enough, and where did that legislation lead? Two years later, David Cameron camping out in a Saudi desert with Lex Greensill, having a cup of tea. I rest my case in relation to that legislation.

Let me try another very simple question. Is the Prime Minister aware of any other Government official who had commercial links with Greensill or any other lobbying role while working in Government?

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any such information, he should of course make it available to Mr Boardman; that is the point of his review. It is an independent review. It will be coming to me by June, and it will be laid in the Library of the House of Commons.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about lobbying. He is being advised by Lord Mandelson of Global Counsel. Perhaps in the interests of full transparency, so that we can know where he is coming from, Lord Mandelson could be encouraged to disclose his other clients.

I have not heard a defence that ridiculous since my last days in the Crown court. It is called the shoplifters’ defence—“Everyone else is nicking stuff, so why can’t I?” It never worked. I remind the Prime Minister that I not only prosecuted shoplifters; I prosecuted MPs over the MPs’ expenses scandal, so I stand on my record. That line just isn’t going to wash with me.

It was a former Prime Minister—and, I suspect, now a former lobbyist—who once said:

“This isn’t a minor issue with minor consequences… government contracts—worth hundreds of billions of pounds are potentially at stake.”

Can the Prime Minister now answer the question that the Chancellor has been ducking for weeks? How was it that Greensill Capital—a company employing David Cameron—got the green light to give hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer-backed loans?

While the right hon. and learned Gentleman was prosecuting MPs, I was cutting crime in London by 23% and cutting the murder rate by 50%. He asks about lobbying on behalf of Greensill. Again, I do not wish to embarrass the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but he does not have far to look. There was one person asking for Greensill bank to be able to use the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, and that was the shadow Defence Secretary.

This just gets weaker and weaker. It does take me back to my defence days in the Crown court —just ridiculous. The shadow Defence Secretary—

It really was not a good point; if you think that is a good point, you have got real problems.

The shadow Defence Secretary was speaking for his constituents and for local jobs. That is a million miles away from being a paid lobbyist texting friends in Government. The Prime Minister says there is going to be an inquiry, but the person he has appointed worked for the same law firm that lobbied to loosen lobbying laws. You could not make it up.

What we need is to overhaul the whole broken system. This afternoon, Labour’s motion calls for a proper parliamentary inquiry into the scandal. If the Prime Minister is so concerned about this, he should welcome the motion. After all, to quote David Cameron, his old school friend:

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

So, will the Prime Minister vote with Labour today for a full, transparent, independent inquiry?

I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been better off supporting the lobbying Act and the Labour party would have been better off not campaigning to get rid of it. It toughens up our laws, and I think that his own proposal is simply to have, yet again, politicians marking their own homework. What the country wants—[Interruption.] That is what it is—a Committee of MPs to look at it. It will not do a blind bit of good. That is why we are having a proper, independent review. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any representations or allegations to make about what has taken place, he should make them to the eminent lawyer who has been asked to do this, who will be reporting to us by June.

The Prime Minister should be voting with us, not blocking a proper inquiry. The Greensill scandal is just the tip of the iceberg—dodgy contracts, privileged access, jobs for their mates. This is the return of Tory sleaze. It is now so ingrained in this Conservative Government. We do not need another Conservative party appointee marking their own homework. Actually, the more I listen to the Prime Minister, the more I think that Ted Hastings and AC-12 are needed to get to the bottom of this one.

We know the Prime Minister will not act against sleaze, but this House can, so can I urge all Members of the House to come together this afternoon to back Labour’s motion, and to start to clean up the sleaze and cronyism that are at the heart of this Conservative Government?

That is why we are putting in an independent review. That is why we have tougher laws on lobbying—a great shame that Labour opposes them. Yes, we are getting on with rooting out bent coppers. We are also appointing and hiring thousands more police officers. We are fighting crime. We are fighting crime on the streets of our cities while the Opposition oppose the police and crime Bill, which would put in tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders—absolutely—and they then encouraged people who went out and demonstrated to “Kill the Bill”. We are getting on with protecting the public. That is absolutely correct. We are getting on with protecting the public of this country from crime of all kinds. We are getting on with the job of running this country, of rolling out a vaccination programme—

It is a year this week since I had the privilege of starting to volunteer at Watford General Hospital, and over that time I have been fortunate and privileged to work alongside some inspirational and selfless volunteers. As the nation reflects this week on the importance of schemes to support young people, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he will meet me to explore the creation of an NHS cadet scheme to pay tribute to those who have volunteered over the past year and also create a lasting legacy for generations to come? (914251)

Yes, indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing. I thank everybody at Watford General Hospital for the support they have given throughout the pandemic, particularly the volunteers, who play a massive part in our vaccination roll-out programme. I fully support the NHS cadet scheme—part of our work to establish a volunteering legacy for young people following the pandemic.

Mòran taing, Mr Speaker. May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about Dame Cheryl Gillan and Shirley Williams?

The Scottish Government have passed landmark legislation embedding the UN convention on the rights of the child into Scots law, a real revolution in children’s rights. Every party in the Scottish Parliament supported it, even the Scots Tories; it has been welcomed everywhere except here in Westminster. Instead of supporting this new law, the UK Government are, shamefully, taking the Scottish Parliament to court in order to strike it down. Apparently, the only basis of the UK Government’s legal case is that the law constrains Westminster powers. So, Prime Minister, can you do everyone a favour by explaining how protecting children’s rights in Scotland threatens the Tory Government in London?

This is complete nonsense. The Government of the United Kingdom ratified the UN convention on the rights of the child 30 years ago. We all supported it. This is nothing to do with the rights of vulnerable children, which we all protect; this is simply an attempt by the SNP to stir up constitutional chaos and create another fictitious bone of contention between themselves and the rest of the country. If they really cared about the rights of the child, they would do much more to improve education in Scotland, where they are so lamentably failing.

The rights of the child—this is an Act passed by the Scottish Parliament and supported by every party, and yet the Prime Minister’s Government are taking our Parliament—our Government—to court. There is nothing technical about this, and the Westminster Government want to strip away the rights of children in Scotland. This is a tale of two Governments: we have an SNP Scottish Government delivering the baby box, doubling the Scottish child payment and providing free school meals to every primary school child; at the same time, this Tory Government are robbing children of their rights in Scotland. Quite simply, the SNP Scottish Government have worked, and will continue to work, to ensure that Scotland is the best place for a child to grow up. This legal challenge threatens that; it is wrong and it is morally repugnant, Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister commit to withdrawing his legal challenge today? If not, we will see you in court.

The best thing the SNP can do, as I have said, for the rights of the child in Scotland is to improve their shameful record on education and to tackle the issues that matter to the people of Scotland: to tackle the tax regime they have put in place; and to do better on fighting crime and drug addiction in Scotland. They should be looking at the issues that really matter to the people of Scotland, but instead they are going into the elections next month yet again on a campaign to break up this country. That is all they can think of: break up this country—destroy our country—and call a referendum, in a way that I think is completely irresponsible at a very difficult time when we want to bounce back stronger together.

The A55 expressway is of huge importance to north Wales, linking the region to the main motorway network. It is also, as was noted in the recent interim report on the Union connectivity review, the principal freight artery for the port of Holyhead. The road is in desperate need of improvement, and has been for many years, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will make it a priority to use their powers under the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 to upgrade the road for the benefit of the people of north Wales? (914252)

My right hon. Friend is completely right. Sir Peter Hendy has rightly identified the potential of the A55, and the best thing the people of Wales can do to guarantee these vital upgrades is elect a Welsh Conservative Government on 6 May.

We now go to Vicky Foxcroft. Vicky, I understand you are going to sign; can you speak and sign at the same time for the benefit of all?

[In British Sign Language] Why is there no interpreter in the room for briefings?If the Prime Minister did not understand that, imagine how those who rely on British Sign Language feel at his press briefings. Some £2.6 million was spent on the new press room, yet there is still no interpreter; what message does he think this sends to disabled people? (914250)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and grateful for the way she has set out her question. I will revert to her as soon as I can.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is thanks to the sacrifice of the British people during lockdown and the great success of the vaccination programme that lots of small businesses across the whole country and in my constituency of Derbyshire Dales, such as Brocklehursts, which supplied clothing to Prince Philip, can remain open? Will my right hon. Friend join me in a campaign to shop local as we come out of lockdown? (914253)

I thank my hon. Friend. Yes, I certainly will encourage her and everybody else to shop local as we come out of lockdown, as I very much hope that we will be able to do. My right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary has announced that £830 million of funding from the future high streets fund has been allocated to areas, including my hon. Friend’s, to encourage that shopping that we all hope and want to see.

May I extend my condolences and those of my constituents to the Queen and the royal family for their sad loss, and to the families and colleagues of Cheryl Gillan and Shirley Williams? Will the Prime Minister tell the House when he last spoke to former Prime Minister David Cameron? (914255)

The honest truth—I cannot remember when I last spoke to Dave, but if the hon. Lady wants to know whether I have had any contact with him about any of the matters that have been in the press, the answer is no.

Those who helped to develop, test, approve and manufacture the vaccines deserve our praise. Will my right hon. Friend also recognise that the successful roll-out of the vaccination programme has been based on the dedication of the NHS staff and the myriad volunteers who have made the process so easy for so many people? (914254)

My hon. Friend is completely right. This has been a colossal team effort. It has been led by the NHS, with GPs very often doing the lion’s share of the work, but they have been supported by the Army, by local council officials, who have also been absolutely magnificent, and, as colleagues have said, by volunteers as well.

The interim findings of Sir Peter Hendy’s Union connectivity review are very much to be welcomed. He highlights the improvements that need to be made to the railways in north Wales, linking up with Merseyside and Manchester, as well as the A55. Those improvements, of course, can help to level up the region. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the projects in north Wales identified in Sir Peter Hendy’s work will receive a fair chunk of the £20 million of development funding as part of the agenda, and will he commit to implementing the findings of Sir Peter Hendy’s final report when it is released in the summer? (914257)

I thank my hon. Friend. We will look at what Sir Peter has to say. He has come up with some very interesting interim proposals, particularly about improving connectivity along the north Wales coastline—the routes into Merseyside. On the A55, I repeat what I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones): there is a great opportunity to do that if people will vote Conservative and vote for a Welsh Conservative Government on 6 May.

In 2007, my friend Adam Price, then the Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, proposed the Elected Representatives (Prohibition of Deception) Bill. At this distance in time, it would be unkind to quiz the Prime Minister on the detail, but he is seen as a big thinker, so perhaps he could tell the House what he thinks of the principle of that Bill, which is that on important matters of public policy, politicians must not lie. (914260)

I have a high regard for the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, remember happy times with his colleague Adam Price. I do not remember the details of his Bill, but I think we would all concur with the basic principle that the hon. Gentleman has just enunciated.

Former police inspector Kash Singh set up One Britain One Nation, otherwise known as OBON, to bring together all communities, all classes, all ethnicities, races and religions to celebrate being British. OBON Day is held in June. However, next week, on 22 April, will be the launch at a school in Bradford. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Kash Singh on his fantastic initiative for all communities to come together in a common pride of being British? Will he also make a message for the launch next week? (914258)

Well, I’ll do my best. I fully support what my right hon. Friend is doing and I congratulate Kash Singh on his work. It is incredible at this time that there are people who want to split our country up, rather than bring us together. That is what the SNP want. It is an absolute tragedy that they still think like that. I think they are going to change, but I wish everybody at OBON all the very best.

Contrary to the conclusions of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, institutional racism still exists. Forty years since the Liverpool 8 uprisings, black communities continue to suffer racial injustice and the report downplays the structural inequalities that still exist. The Resolution Foundation announced today that the unemployment rate for young black people rose by 35%, compared with 13% for their white counterparts. Can the Prime Minister confirm the allegations that Downing Street redrafted the report to change the narrative? Does he agree that the report should now be withdrawn? (914262)

Of course, when we look at and read the report in detail, the Government are not going to agree with everything, but there are some interesting observations and some interesting ways of looking at things. We will be responding in due course, but what we say is that nobody should be in any doubt as to the reality of racism and the struggle that too many people face. We will do everything we can to stamp it out, particularly to help young black people get the jobs and the education they need.

As my right hon. Friend will know, as we build back better we need to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Will he therefore agree to work with EngineeringUK and Big Bang Digital to provide a short online introduction to this year’s event to reinforce the message that a career in engineering is rewarding, creative and can transform the world around us for the better? Will he recognise the extraordinary contribution that engineers have made and are making in our battle against covid? (914259)

Engineers and scientists of all kinds have been crucial in the fight against covid, and this is the moment to become an engineer or work towards being an engineer. We are putting a huge £640 billion investment into the infrastructure of this country over the next few years. We will need skilled young people to go into engineering, and that is why we put in the T-levels. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative, and I will do my best to support him.

Given his ancestry, the Prime Minister will be more than familiar with the phrase “a fish rots from the head down”—it is a Turkish proverb. Put simply, since he became the Prime Minister the sound of Big Ben’s bongs has been replaced by the cash till sound of big donor bungs. There has been a threefold increase in bungs from property developers. Last summer, we had the case of Richard Desmond and the Communities Secretary. More recently, we have had Ministers dishing the dosh between constituencies, and the Health Secretary handing—or involved in—a contract with his pub landlord for £30 million-worth of PPE. Now, we have a Chancellor and Health Secretary who have sought to grease the wheels of involvement with Greensill and David Cameron. What does this say about the Prime Minister’s leadership of his Government? (914263)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is simply wrong in what he says, particularly about my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Health Secretary; I do not believe that he should have spoken in those terms. What I will say is that there is one party in this place that brought in tough rules on lobbying, and another party that campaigned at the last election to get rid of those rules because of its relationship with the trade unions, because it wanted them to continue in the obscure, opaque way in which they were being run, and because it wanted people to be able to continue to lobby parliamentarians in the way that they always did. Look at the Labour manifesto from 2019. If the Leader of the Opposition repudiates it now, why does he not go ahead and do so?

In the past few months, a number of my constituents have taken to the streets to help tackle the problem of littering; I pay particular tribute to constituents in Colsterworth whom I met recently. Will the Prime Minister join me in backing the Grantham Journal’s spring clean campaign? Can he assure my constituents that the Government are doing all they can to tackle littering? (914261)

I share my hon. Friend’s indignation about litter. I think that it is one of the things on which the whole of the country and, I hope, the whole of the House are united. That is why we are doing the Respect the Outdoors campaign to encourage people to follow the countryside code and pick up their litter. Obviously a lot of people are meeting outdoors at the moment because of the pandemic; they must obey the basic laws of respect for other people—pick up their litter. We are putting money into new litter bins and, yes, we are increasing on-the-spot fines for littering. I know there will be many libertarians in this place who think that is unfair and draconian. Personally, I think it is the right thing to do. I abhor litter, and I urge anybody who sees anybody throwing away a crisp packet to tick them off and tell them to pick it up.

I suspend the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.