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Commons Chamber

Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 28 April 2021

House of Commons

Wednesday 28 April 2021

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).

[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]

Oral Answers to Questions

Scotland

The Secretary of State was asked—

The Union

We can assess the strength of the Union every day, as we see the number of people vaccinated across the country continue to rise, as we see the number of jobs we have protected and as we see our vital, ambitious plans to rebuild our economy. I am surprised the hon. Gentleman is asking about recent assessments, because the one thing we learned this week is that his boss, Nicola Sturgeon, has made no recent assessment of her plan to rip Scotland out of the United Kingdom and the damage that would cause.

If the Secretary of State is so confident in the Union, why is he stopping the Prime Minister coming to Scotland to campaign for it? Have the dubious donations for renovations made that impossible? The contracts for contacts? The disgraceful comments about bodies piling high? Or is it simply that the Prime Minister represents a fundamental problem for Scotland being in the Union, with year after year of Prime Ministers, parties and policies that Scotland would not vote for in a million years?

In all the conversations I have had with the Prime Minister—and I have them on a weekly basis, in person, one to one, by telephone—his passion for the United Kingdom and the strength of the United Kingdom burns brightly.

As of yesterday, 61.3% of Scots aged 16 or over have received at least one dose of covid vaccine, compared with just 24.3% of people aged 18 or over who have received a vaccine in the European Union. Does the Secretary of State agree that the outstanding efforts of our NHS staff, our British armed forces and our vaccination volunteers have been possible here in Scotland only because of the success of the UK vaccination programme, and that Nicola Sturgeon’s claims that, somehow, an independent Scotland within the EU would have done it differently are complete rubbish?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Just once, on something as important as live-saving vaccines, it would be nice to see the First Minister congratulate the Prime Minister and the United Kingdom Government on our highly successful UK-wide vaccine procurement programme.

Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to pay tribute to everyone who is commemorating on International Workers’ Memorial Day today, and also to wish the Secretary of State a very happy Ed Balls Day, which is also today.

On “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, the First Minister admitted that there has been no analysis done on the impact of separation on incomes—that is wages, livelihoods and, of course, pensions. It follows a long list during this election campaign where the SNP has avoided answering questions on currency, EU accession, jobs, deficit, debt, public spending, the parallels with Brexit and, of course, the spectacle of senior SNP MSPs saying last week that a border with England would be “desirable” because it would create jobs—a rare honest admission about a border with our largest trading partner. For two days in a row, respected think-tanks have warned that leaving the UK and giving up our share of UK resources means supercharged austerity.

Surely one of the strongest positive cases for the Union is the reality of separation. If proponents of separation continue to refuse to answer critical questions that fundamentally impact on people’s livelihoods, incomes and futures, what can be done to inject some much-needed honesty, integrity and truth into this debate, for the benefit of all Scots?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that independence would have a whole series of negative consequences for the people of Scotland, not just on their pensions and benefits but on currency, border issues and armed services. The list is endless. There has been no assessment of those things, as I said earlier.

This is the time when we should be coming together for covid recovery and to rebuild our economy, not even considering an irresponsible independence referendum. I would very much welcome it if the Labour party, and the other political parties, showed a willingness to come together to work on how we can strengthen our Union.

Anas Sarwar has said throughout this campaign that we need to unite the country to deal with this global pandemic.

Talking of honesty, integrity and truth, will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the Prime Minister for his “let the bodies pile high” comment, when so many have lost loved ones due to covid? There have been more than 800 deaths in my city of Edinburgh alone. While he is apologising, perhaps he can tell us, if the Prime Minister has nothing to hide, who funded the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat. Does he think the endemic sleaze in his Government, with continual questions about the personal conduct and integrity of the PM, strengthens or weakens the Union?

What I would say on the bodies remark is that in every conversation I have had with the Prime Minister in the past year his desire, at all levels, has been to save lives and protect the NHS; we have had many conversations, in Cabinet Committees, in Cabinet and in private, and I have no recollection of him being anything other than totally focused on saving lives and protecting the NHS. He has been entirely focused on this pandemic all the way through. He has not been distracted, as others have, for example, the nationalists, with Nicola Sturgeon admitting that she took her eye off the ball. He has not taken his eye off the ball. He has been focused on the pandemic. He has tackled vaccines and the programme, and he now wants to lead our economic recovery. Those are the things we should hold him to account for; those are the things that strengthen the United Kingdom.

There has been much reckless chat from Scottish National party politicians about creating a hard border between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. My constituents in the Scottish Borders want to see the threat of a border—and the threat of another referendum—removed. Does the Minister agree that the voters of Scotland have an opportunity to remove that threat next week in the Scottish elections by depriving the SNP of a majority and that the best way of doing that is by voting Scottish Conservative?

You will not be surprised to hear, Mr Speaker, that I do agree with my hon. Friend. I note with astonishment the comments of the South Scotland MSP Emma Harper that a border would be a good way of creating jobs, despite the fact that 60% of our trade is with the rest of the UK. All I would say is that if the SNP thinks that a border is such a good idea for jobs, I am surprised it does not want to go the whole hog and propose building a wall.

Particularly as we rebuild after covid, we have an opportunity and a need to make radically different economic choices. After a week of troublesome allegations about the Government and the Prime Minister, it should be no surprise that many in Scotland want to take a different, independent path to that of this Government. If that request is reflected in the upcoming Scottish Government elections and a majority of pro-independence MSPs are elected, will the Minister and his Government respect that as a mandate for a second independence referendum?

First, let us not take the outcome of the election for granted at this stage. Let us recognise that the focus for Scotland must be on pandemic recovery. We have saved lives through the vaccine procurement, and it is now time to save livelihoods and to rebuild as one United Kingdom.

I did not hear an answer to my question there. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives was asked multiple times on recent media, “What would be the democratic path for Scotland to an independence referendum?” He could not answer the question, so can the Minister tell us what the path is?

I say to the hon. Lady that in 2014 there was a referendum; it had been many years since the question had been asked, and that was with the consent of both Scotland’s Governments and all the main political parties. I am glad to say that in Scotland people shared my opinion in 2014 and consented to continue being members of the UK.

There is only one sure-fire way for the Union to be strengthened in the next week and that is to get the Prime Minister to Scotland and on the campaign trail. The Secretary of State surely knows that there will be throngs of happy Scots rejoicing in the Prime Minister’s sleaze-free presence, helping the Electoral Commission with its inquiries and sharing anecdotes about bodies piled high on the streets—what could possibly go wrong for the Scottish Tories? Can the Secretary of State and I start working on the itinerary? Surely Scotland deserves to see its Prime Minister before he inevitably has to resign.

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Prime Minister’s diary is not my concern, and he certainly will not be resigning. I come back to the point I made earlier: in all my discussions with him, his passion for strengthening the UK burns very bright indeed.

Universal Basic Income

What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of trialling a universal basic income in Scotland. (914670)

The UK Government’s approach to welfare is to recognise the value and importance of work, make work pay and support people into work, while giving extra help to the most vulnerable in society. On that basis, we consider that a universal basic income is fundamentally the wrong approach.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I know that he is committed to devolution and the respect agenda and would want to take very seriously the outcome of the election result in Scotland. Given that all the main parties in Scotland—representing 80% of Scottish voters—except the Conservatives have indicated support for trialling the concept of UBI, does the Minister accept that if indeed those parties are elected in the next Parliament, there will be a mandate and going ahead with trials would just be a matter of respecting devolution?

I make two points in response to the hon. Gentleman. First, if he looks around the world at where UBI has been trialled—in Finland and Canada, for example—it has not been a success. Indeed, the Finance Minister in Finland has scrapped it and is instead looking at something along the lines of our universal credit system. Secondly, the Scottish Government already have substantial powers over welfare.

Although I share the determination of the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for a universal basic income as the way ahead and his disappointment that it is not being trialled in Scotland, does the Minister share my disappointment that the SNP Government at Holyrood were not able to get their processes in shape in time to adopt the powers over welfare in the Scotland Act 2016 that might have given them more influence over the situation?

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady’s point that the Scottish Government still have much to do to unlock the full potential of the powers devolved to them in the Scotland Act 2016. We are committed to working closely with them to allow them to implement those powers. It strikes me that the separatists are always quick to demand more powers or more money to shift the blame away from their failures in office on delivering on the issues that matter to the people of Scotland.

COP26

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential opportunities for Scotland arising from COP26. (914671)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential opportunities for Scotland arising from COP26. (914674)

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, as well as industry stakeholders, on the opportunities that COP26 offers across Scotland. The COP26 devolved Administration ministerial group brings together the COP26 President, territorial Secretaries of State and devolved Administration Ministers to support the delivery of an inclusive and welcoming COP26 summit that is representative of the whole United Kingdom.

Last year, the SNP Government missed their own legal emissions targets, with source emissions in Scotland actually increasing by 1.5% in 2017-18. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as we approach the crucial COP26 summit in Glasgow later this year, the Scottish people deserve a Government who are 100% focused on a green recovery, not on another divisive independence referendum?

I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, that it is not for me to answer for the failings of the Scottish Government. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the UK Government are absolutely focused on achieving a green recovery, as set out by the Prime Minister in his 10-point plan last year. This Government are also focused on safeguarding the Union, and I agree with my hon. Friend that a divisive referendum on Scotland’s separation from the UK at this time would be an irresponsible distraction from the necessary work required towards that green recovery.

I welcome the ambitious new target that the Government set last week to cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 78% by 2035. Does my hon. Friend agree that in the run-up to the crucial COP26 summit later this year, it is more important than ever for all parts of the UK to work together so that we can meet that target and build back better and greener from the pandemic?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Our proposed world-leading target marks a decisive step towards net zero by 2050 and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035, compared with 1990 levels. Through this year’s COP26 summit, we will urge countries and companies around the world to join us in delivering net zero globally. We continue to work together throughout all parts of the UK to achieve our net zero ambitions and a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic.

The Minister should be embarrassed that renewables generators in Scotland face the highest locational grid charges in the whole of Europe. Ahead of COP26, we need to see a route to market for pumped-storage hydro and for wave and tidal, the go-ahead given for Acorn carbon capture and storage and a contract for difference for hydrogen. What capability does the Scottish Office, working with Cabinet colleagues, have to get those matters resolved?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I share his enthusiasm for all things related to energy renewables, but he will know as well as I do that, by law, transmission charging is a matter for Ofgem as the independent regulator. I imagine that he will also be aware that Ofgem is currently considering some aspects of transmission charging arrangements through its access and forward-looking charges review.

The SNP Scottish Government have committed to doubling their climate change justice fund if re-elected next week. This £21 million fund is used to help combat the effects of climate change in the global south while we tackle carbon emissions at home. In the year of COP26, will the UK Government follow Scotland’s lead and commit to a comparable climate justice fund to help those affected by climate change?

Not only will we commit to a comparable financial commitment, but the recent spending review committed to spending £12 billion on green measures to support the 10-point plan and boost the UK’s global leadership on green infrastructure and technologies, not just ahead of COP26 this year, but beyond as well.

Research and Innovation Funding: Scottish Universities

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the recent reduction in official development assistance funding to UK Research and Innovation on Scottish universities. (914675)

The United Kingdom is and will remain a research superpower, with research and development spending at the highest level for four decades. The Government have committed to investing nearly £15 billion in R&D in 2021-22, much of which will be used to fund the work being led by our world-class universities.

Both Aberdeen and St Andrews universities stand to lose £2.5 million each as a result of official development assistance cuts. Among the ongoing projects at risk at Aberdeen is a £1.8 million research initiative into the spread of infectious diseases between rodents and humans. Given that we have recently been reminded of the importance of long-term, well-funded research in responding to a global crisis, what steps are being taken to ensure that these cuts do not impair Scotland’s ability to respond to future crises?

The first point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that I am always willing to discuss individual programmes with specific universities and I have done that through the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) in the case of St Andrews. The second point is that all the universities that he has listed have benefited from significant investments either directly through UK Research and Innovation or through our city and regional growth deal programmes, looking at R&D initiatives such as clean energy and sustainable farming.

It is strange, because Universities Scotland says that the ODA funding cut is unprecedented and egregious, yet the Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says that it is okay because the universities get funding from other sources. Universities Scotland says that it amounts to a 70% cut in overseas funding for the development of projects across universities in Scotland. Can the Minister explain how these cuts are reconciled with the Conservative Government’s idea of their post-Brexit ambition to build a global Britain?

As I said in response to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), I am more than happy to discuss individual programmes with the universities concerned, but if we look at R&D investment from this Government in the round, it is significantly up, and Scottish universities are punching above their weight in securing a share of that.

Defence Sector

The defence industry in Scotland is strong, thanks to sustained UK Government spending. My Department has a close, positive relationship with the industry and the UK armed forces in Scotland, including on the implementation of the recent integrated review: defence Command Paper and the defence and security industrial strategy.

Shared expertise and infrastructure are key to supporting jobs across our United Kingdom, such as at Warton in my constituency and those north of the border at the BAE Systems site at Clyde. What estimates does my right hon. Friend make of the positive impact the UK Government’s defence manufacturing has on job opportunities for the people of Scotland?

The Royal Navy shipbuilding programme will provide a pipeline of work and sustain valuable jobs and skills for shipyards around the United Kingdom, including those in Scotland, in Rosyth and the Clyde, which are currently constructing the new frigate fleets. The Ministry of Defence has spent £2.7 billion with Scottish industry in 2019 and 2020 alone, and that has supported 12,400 jobs.

The integrated review published last month made it clear that our strongest asset is the capabilities, expertise and skills we have across the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the same expertise and skills, shared across the country, that has enabled us to spend billions of pounds over the next decade on shipbuilding in Scotland?

Yes; I wholeheartedly agree. We saw a fine example of Scotland’s contribution to the UK’s defences this week with the deployment of our new aircraft carrier strike group, which was built in yards around the United Kingdom, but was constructed in Scotland. Her Majesty’s Ship Queen Elizabeth will fly the flag for global Britain right around the world.

Support for Businesses: Covid-19

What assessment he has made of the adequacy of economic support for Scottish businesses during the covid-19 outbreak. (914678)

Last month’s Budget provides continued UK-wide support and security to manage the ongoing impacts of covid-19. One in three jobs in Scotland has been supported by the UK Government’s employment support package; Scottish businesses have benefited from more than £3.4 billion of loans and support; and we have provided a much needed boost to the Scottish tourism and hospitality sector with our UK-wide extension of the VAT reduction.

Scotland’s Auditor General recently said that the Scottish Government had received an extra £9.7 billion from the UK Government during 2020-21 to tackle covid, yet it only made £7 billion-worth of spending announcements in response to the pandemic up to the end of 2020. The Auditor General said that that left £2.7 billion unallocated. Does my hon. Friend agree that this highlights the need for transparency and scrutiny of Scottish Government spending, as people in Scotland have a right to know how much money is being spent to help Scotland to deal with the pandemic?

My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to this alarming finding. People in Scotland want to know that the money that this Government have provided is reaching them and their businesses, and it is of great concern that Audit Scotland has identified this shortfall. I absolutely agree that there must be maximum transparency on this matter.

Free Trade Agreements

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential opportunities for Scotland arising from new free trade agreements. (914680)

I regularly discuss with my Cabinet colleagues opportunities for Scotland arising from the signing of trade deals. This Government have already struck deals with 67 countries around the world worth £218 billion a year, including with Canada, Japan and Singapore—with many more to come. This will create new markets for Scotland’s exporters, including our world-leading food and drink sector.

A new free trade agreement with Australia is now in sight for the UK. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a tremendous opportunity for exporters of agricultural products, and food and drink producers, across Scotland and Wales?

My hon. Friend is right about that and he is right to welcome the breakthroughs over the past few days with the Australian Government. Businesses in Scotland exported goods worth over £352 million to Australia in 2019, and reducing tariff barriers for our world-class food and drink industry could bolster Scotch whisky exports to Australia. As the Secretary of State for International Trade made clear at the weekend, this deal will be based on fair competition, maintaining our high standards and providing excellent, exciting opportunities for British products.

Scotland’s Constitutional Future

The UK Government work with the Scottish Government on a daily basis on a range of constitutional matters, including delivering on our devolution commitments through the Scotland Act order programme. I would have thought that a more interesting question would have been to ask what discussions his new party has had with the First Minister on an unnecessary and divisive further referendum on separation.

When Scotland opens negotiations for independence following the election of a supermajority on 6 May, will those talks be led by the Secretary of State or the Minister for the Union—should, of course, he still be in post by that time?

The hon. Gentleman is being rather presumptuous about the outcome of the elections next week, so let us wait and see what the people of Scotland decide. I would have thought they would be more interested in keeping the protections of the pandemic in place, helping businesses to recover and helping children to catch up on the education that they have missed over the past year.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I know that the thoughts of Members across the House are with the people of India. We are supporting India with vital medical equipment and we will continue to work closely with the Indian authorities to determine what further help they may need.

I also welcome last week’s Court of Appeal decision to overturn the convictions of 39 former sub-postmasters in the Horizon dispute—an appalling injustice. Sir Wyn Williams is leading an ongoing independent inquiry that will report this summer.

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

Have you got the answer, Prime Minister? Tell us more about PMQs. I am sure the Prime Minister knows the answer. [Interruption.] We will try to come back to that question, and I will go to the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer.

I join the Prime Minister in his remarks about the humanitarian disaster we are witnessing in India. I know the UK has already committed some support, but given the scale and gravity of the disaster, I hope the Foreign Secretary will set out today what more the UK will do to help the Indian people in their hour of need.

I also join the Prime Minister in his remarks about the Post Office case—an ongoing injustice. Of course, today is International Workers Memorial Day. This year, after all the sacrifices our frontline workers have made during the pandemic, it is even more poignant than usual. I join in solidarity with all those mourning loved ones today.

It was reported this week, including in the Daily Mail and by the BBC and ITV, backed up by numerous sources, that at the end of October the Prime Minister said he would rather have “bodies pile high” than implement another lockdown. Can the Prime Minister tell the House categorically, yes or no: did he make those remarks or remarks to that effect?

No, Mr Speaker. The right hon. And learned Gentleman is a lawyer, I am given to understand, and I think that if he is going to repeat allegations like that, he should come to this House and substantiate those allegations and say where he heard them and who exactly is supposed to have said those things. What I certainly can tell him—he asks about the October decisions—is that they were very bitter, very difficult decisions, as they would be for any Prime Minister, because no one wants to put this country into a lockdown, with all the consequences that means for loss of education, the damage to people’s life chances, and the huge medical backlog that it entails. But it was thanks to that lockdown—the tough decision that we took—and thanks to the heroic efforts of the British people that we have got through to this stage in the pandemic where we find ourselves rolling out our vaccine, where we have done 50% of the population and 25% of the adult population have now had two doses. Lockdowns are miserable. Lockdowns are appalling things to have to do. But I have to say that I believe that we had absolutely no choice.

Well, somebody here is not telling the truth. The House will have heard the Prime Minister’s answer, and I remind him that the ministerial code says:

“Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.

I will leave it there for now. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!] There will be further on this, believe you me. Who initially —and “initially” is the key word here—paid for the redecoration of his Downing Street flat?

When it comes to misleading Parliament, the right hon. and learned Gentleman may recollect that it was only a few weeks ago that he said that he did not oppose this country leaving the European Medicines Agency—a fact that he was then forced to retract—and that leaving the European Medicines Agency was absolutely invaluable for our vaccine roll-out. Actually, it was just last week that he said that James Dyson was a personal friend of mine—a fact that James Dyson has corrected in the newspaper this morning. As for the latest stuff that he is bringing up, he should know that I paid for Downing Street refurbishment personally. Any further declaration that I have to make—if any—I will be advised upon by Lord Geidt.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about housing costs. The people of this country can make their own decision in just eight days’ time, because on average, Labour councils charge you £93 more in band D than Conservative councils, and Liberal Democrat councils charge you £120 more. That, I think, is the issue upon which the British people would like him to focus.

Normally when people do not want to incriminate themselves, they go, “No comment.” Let us explore this a bit further. Let me ask it a different way. This is the initial invoice, Prime Minister. Either the taxpayer paid the initial invoice, or it was the Conservative party, or it was a private donor, or it was the Prime Minister. I am making it easy for the Prime Minister—it is now multiple choice. There are only four options. It should be easier than finding the chatty rat. I ask him again: who paid the initial invoice—the initial invoice, Prime Minister—for the redecoration of the Prime Minister’s flat?

I have given the right hon. and learned Gentleman the answer, and the answer is that I have covered the costs. Of course, the Electoral Commission is investigating this, and I can tell him that have I conformed in full with the code of conduct and the ministerial code, and officials have been advising me throughout this whole thing. But I think people will find it absolutely bizarre that he is focusing on this issue, when what people want to know is what plans a Labour Government might have to improve the lives of people in this country.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about housing again. I would rather not spend taxpayers’ money like the last Labour Government, who spent £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on the Downing Street flat. [Interruption.] Yes they did, tarting it up. I would much rather help people get on the property ladder, and it is this Conservative Government who have built 244,000 homes in the last year, which is a record over 30 years. This is a Government who get on with delivering on the people’s priorities, while he continually raises issues that most people would find irrelevant to their concerns.

The Prime Minister talks of priorities. What is he spending his time doing? This is a Prime Minister who, during the pandemic, was nipping out of meetings to choose wallpaper at £840 a roll. Just last week, he spent his time phoning journalists to moan about his old friend Dominic Cummings. He is telling the civil service to find out who paid for the redecoration of his flat—the Cabinet Secretary has been asked to investigate who paid for the refurbishment of the flat. Why doesn’t the Prime Minister just tell him? That would be the end of the investigation.

It has been widely reported that Lord Brownlow, who just happens to have been given a peerage by the Conservative party, was asked to donate £58,000 to help pay for the cost of this refurbishment. Can the Prime Minister, if he is so keen to answer, confirm: did Lord Brownlow make that payment for that purpose?

I think I have answered this question several times now, and the answer is that I have covered the costs. I have met the requirements that I have been obliged to meet in full. When it comes to the taxpayer and the costs of No. 10 Downing Street, it was under the previous Labour Government that I think Tony Blair racked up a bill of £350,000. I think what the people of this country want to see is minimising taxpayer expense. They want to see a Government who are focused on their needs and delivering more homes for the people of this country and cutting council tax, which is what we are doing. It is on that basis that I think people are going to judge our parties on 6 May.

Answer the question! That is what the public scream at their televisions every PMQs: “Answer the question!” The Prime Minister has not answered the question. He knows he has not answered the question. He never answers the question.

The Prime Minister will be aware that he is required to declare any benefits that relate to his political activities, including loans or credit arrangements, within 28 days—[Interruption.] Twenty-eight days, Prime Minister, yes. He will also know that any donation must be recorded in the register of Ministers’ interests, and that under the law any donation of over £500 to a political party must be registered and declared, so the rules are very clear. The Electoral Commission now thinks that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred. That is incredibly serious.

Can the Prime Minister tell the House: does he believe that any rules or laws have been broken in relation to the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat?

No, I don’t. What I believe has been strained to breaking point is the credulity of the public. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has half an hour every week to put serious and sensible questions to me about the state of the pandemic, about the vaccine roll-out, about what we are doing to support our NHS, about what we are doing to fight crime, about what we are doing to bounce back from this pandemic, about the economic recovery, about jobs for the people of this country, and he goes on and on about wallpaper when, as I have told him umpteen times now, I paid for it.

Can I remind the Prime Minister of the Nolan principles, which are meant to govern the behaviour of those in public office? They are these: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. Instead, what do we get from this Prime Minister and this Conservative Government? Dodgy contracts, jobs for their mates and cash for access. And who is at the heart of it? The Prime Minister. Major Sleaze, sitting there.

Meanwhile—the Prime Minister talks about priorities—crime is going up, NHS waiting lists are at record levels and millions of people are worried about their jobs, including at Liberty Steel. Do not the British people deserve a Prime Minister they can trust, not a Government who are mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal?

Last week, the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to this Chamber and he attacked me for talking to James Dyson about ventilators, when we are now sending ventilators to help the people of India, and the following day—the following day—Labour Front Benchers said that any Prime Minister in my position would have done exactly the same thing. It was only a few months ago that they were actually attacking Kate Bingham, saying she was a crony when she helped to set up the vaccine taskforce that delivered millions of vaccines for the people of this country and is helping us to get out of the pandemic.

This is a Government who are getting on with delivering on the people’s priorities. We are rolling out many more nurses, with 10,000 more nurses in the NHS now than there were this time last year, and 8,771 more police officers on our streets now than they were when I was elected, with tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent criminals, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposed. And, by the way, I forgot to mention it but last night our friends in the European Union voted to approve our Brexit deal, which he opposed. That enables us not just to take back control of our borders, but to deliver free—[Interruption.] It does, which he fervently opposed, enabling us, among other things, to deal with such threats as the European super league. It enables us to deliver freeports in places like Teesside. Above all, taking back control of our country has allowed us to deliver the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, as he well knows, which would not have been possible if we had stayed in the European Medicines Agency, which he voted for.

Week after week, the people of this country can see the difference between a Labour party that twists and turns with the wind and thinks of nothing except playing political games, whereas this party gets on with delivering on the people’s priorities, and I hope the people will vote Conservative on 6 May. [Interruption.]

The UK is indeed a world leader in covid-19 vaccination. May I thank the Prime Minister for the swift action he has taken to deliver this for our country, and will he join me in thanking the many local volunteers, such as Kirsty Griffiths who has been volunteering at the Marlow vaccine centre, and Guy Hollis and Paul Bass who have been volunteering alongside Denham community health centre? And thank you for the vaccine roll-out in South Bucks. (914990)

My hon. Friend should thank everybody involved, and it has been a fantastic national effort, led by the NHS—led overwhelmingly by GPs, but also by many others, including local council officers and officials and the Army, and of course huge numbers of volunteers in her constituency and elsewhere, and I thank Kirsty Griffiths, Guy Hollis and Paul Bass very much for everything they have done.

May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the humanitarian crisis in India and the injustice in the Horizon issue at the Post Office?

Over 127,000 people have died from covid in the United Kingdom. People have lost their mothers and fathers, their grandparents and even their children. NHS staff have given their all, fighting to keep people alive. That is why so many people find the Prime Minister’s remark that he would rather let the bodies pile high in their thousands than go into lockdown utterly, utterly sickening. The BBC and ITV have multiple sources confirming that this is what the Prime Minister said. People are willing to go under oath confirming that the Prime Minister said these exact words—under oath, Mr Speaker. Parliamentary rules stop me saying that the Prime Minister has repeatedly lied to the public over the last week, but may I ask the question: are you a liar, Prime Minister?

Mr Speaker, I leave it to you to judge whether the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks were in order, but what I will say to him—

I am grateful, Mr Speaker, but what I would say to the right hon. Gentleman is that if he is going to relay that kind of quotation, it is up to him in a place like Parliament to produce the author—the person who claims to have heard it— because I cannot find them. He says that they are willing to go on oath; perhaps they are sitting somewhere in this building; I rather doubt it, because I did not say those words.

What I do believe is that a lockdown is a miserable, miserable thing, and I did everything I could to try to protect the British public throughout the pandemic—to protect them from lockdowns, but also to protect them from disease. The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the wretched toll that covid has brought, and I know the whole House grieves for every family that has lost a loved one. It has been a horrendous time, but it is thanks to that lockdown combined with the vaccine roll-out that we are making the progress we are, and I may say that we are making progress across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and of course it is the Prime Minister’s behaviour which is not in order. This is a Prime Minister who is up to his neck in a swamp of Tory sleaze. We have seen contracts for cronies, texts for tax breaks and cash for curtains. The Prime Minister has dodged these questions all week, and he has dodged them again today, but these questions simply are not going to go away. When exactly was money funnelled through Tory HQ into his personal bank account, when did he pay back this money, was it an interest-free loan, and who are the donor or donors who originally funded it? Is the Prime Minister aware that if he continues to fail to answer these questions, the Electoral Commission has the powers to prosecute him? Will the Prime Minister publish these details today, or is he going to wait until the police come knocking at his door?

As I have said, I look forward to what the Electoral Commission has to say, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that, for the rest of it, he is talking complete nonsense. The only thing I will say is that it is thanks to our investment in policing that we are going to have 20,000 more officers on the streets of our country, which is fantastic, and we will be making sure that that gets through to Scotland as well. What we want to see is a Scottish nationalist Government stopping obsessing about breaking up our country, which is all they can think and talk about, and instead talking about tackling crime and using that investment to fight crime, which is what I think the people of Scotland want to see.

If the Prime Minister was to walk down Bristol Road South in Longbridge today, he would see a small army of JCB diggers levelling out the old MG Rover West Works site to provide one of the biggest levelling-up projects locally, with 5,000 extra jobs and an industrial site. But people also want to see the regeneration of Northfield High Street, with a proper plan and money on the table, so does the Prime Minister agree that we need people such as Andy Street—driven and energetic Mayors—delivering for the west midlands, working with me and local Conservative councillors to deliver on this plan? After all, teamwork makes the dream work. (914991)

I am lost in admiration for what Andy Street is doing. He is a fantastic Mayor of the West Midlands and he has a fantastic vision for transport, jobs, growth and recovery. I hope everybody votes for Andy Street on 6 May.

Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd. I think it is worth repeating the ministerial code’s seven guiding principles: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The Prime Minister has spent the week ticking them off his “don’t do” list. At the same time, he tries to play down allegations that he said “let the bodies pile high”. Given that the sole judge on questions relating to the conduct of Ministers and the conduct of the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister himself, what happens when a Prime Minister goes rogue?

The people of this country have the chance to make up their own minds on 6 May. When they look at what is happening in Wales, they have a chance to make a choice between, I am afraid, a continually failing Welsh Labour Government or a Welsh Conservative Administration in Cardiff who I believe have a fantastic vision: 65,000 high-skilled, high-paid jobs; finally addressing the problems of the A55; 5,000 more teachers; getting 3,000 more nurses into the Welsh NHS; and solving the problems of the M4, which I have spoken about so movingly many times in this Chamber. I hope that people will avoid voting for Plaid Cymru and that they will vote for Welsh Conservatives on 6 May in Wales.

As probably the only former sub-postmaster in Parliament, I know that last Friday’s ruling was the beginning, not the end. Yes, it will cost a lot of money, and yes, it will take time and more compensation is needed, but does the Prime Minister agree that only a proper, judge-led public inquiry can really bring justice to the victims of this horrendous accounting scandal and hold to account those involved behind the scenes? (914994)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his expertise in this matter and thank him for what he has just said, because he is totally right. What happened to those Post Office workers—the postmasters and sub-postmasters—was appalling. It was one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in our history, and we are indeed looking at the issues involved. The former High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams will be making recommendations about what further actions—what further apologies—we need to make.

The PM just raised the matter of the Welsh general election. In March last year, this United Kingdom Conservative Government intercepted a deal between Wales and the Roche pharmaceutical company for 5,000 daily covid tests, instructing the company to “reserve all additional Covid tests”to England. Those tests would have been crucial to saving thousands of lives in Wales. As we go to the polls next week, will the Prime Minister tell us why Welsh lives meant so little to him? (914992)

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in what he says about tests, but he is right about one thing, which is that Wales has made an amazing contribution to our national fightback—our UK fightback—against covid. It was incredible again to go to the Wockhardt factory in Wrexham. It is Wockhardt, working together with Oxford Biomedica, that has enabled us to roll out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that has made such a difference. I want to say a massive thank you, again, to those Welsh scientists and all those people working in that factory, because they have helped to save countless lives across the UK.

The integrated review confirms the vital role that the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire will play in our future nuclear capability. I want to pay tribute to the establishment, particularly the senior female employees who have won a slew of national awards for their work in defence science, engineering and nuclear security. Given the Government’s significant investment in all those sectors, will my right hon. Friend say how he plans to improve women’s participation in these fields, where historically they have been underrepresented, and may I invite him to the AWE to illustrate our success? (914996)

I would be honoured to take up my hon. Friend’s invitation as soon as I can. In terms of female representation in that sector, she will know that Alison Atkinson became the chief executive officer and managing director of AWE in May 2020, and there are huge numbers of opportunities for women to join our armed services, thanks above all to the biggest uplift in defence spending since the end of the cold war.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment last week to include aviation and shipping in our emissions target, but surely he knows that we will miss that target if we proceed with a third runway at Heathrow, and, furthermore, that that would undermine the progress that the Government hope to make towards net zero. Will he therefore take this opportunity to commit to amending the airports national policy statement in the light of those commitments? (914993)

The third runway at Heathrow, as the hon. Lady knows, is a private sector venture, and it is up to them to produce the capital to do it. I do not see any immediate sign of that particular project coming off. I think what we should look at instead, and what we are looking at, is the prospect of jet-zero aviation and flying without emissions, or with far lower carbon emissions. It is in that area that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Transport are working together with manufacturers so that this country leads in guilt-free flying.

Right now, in every part of the country, levels of business optimism are higher than they have been since the start of the pandemic, with many firms planning to hire more staff and create more apprenticeships for our young people. There is one factor, more than anything else, that underpins that optimism—the success of the UK vaccination programme. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has never been a more important moment for voters in Scotland and Wales to reject the negativity and divisiveness of the nationalists, and instead look forward to a brighter and stronger future as one United Kingdom? (914998)

Absolutely. I do not know why the Leader of the Opposition’s PPS, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), is shaking her head, because surely she would agree with that. We want to work together across the whole of the UK, and I pay tribute, as I have just said, to the incredible work of the Wockhardt factory in Wales, but there is also the Valneva factory in Scotland, and the whole of the United Kingdom coming together, represented by our armed services and, above all, by our NHS helping to deliver that vaccine roll-out to protect the country and take it forward.

It is absolutely shocking that we have heard that the Electoral Commission is investigating funding of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street flat, saying that there are “reasonable grounds to suspect…an offence”. Why does the Prime Minister think that all these stories about sleaze, corruption and dishonesty keep happening to him and his Conservative Government? (914995)

I tell you what, Mr Speaker, I think it is because people are absolutely determined to find anything they can hang on to talk about, except the vaccine roll-out, except our plans to unite and level up across the country, except our plans to fight crime and give people the opportunity to buy their own homes; because they do not want to discuss those issues, because they cannot win on those issues, because they have absolutely nothing to say, and that is what has become clear over the last year.

Before I ask my question, may I first ask the Prime Minister to join me in thanking all the staff at Doncaster Royal Infirmary and the emergency services for dealing swiftly with a major water leak yesterday? Fortunately, no one was hurt and all patients have been moved safely to other wards. However, to return to my original question, local elections are only days away, so will the Prime Minister offer his full support to the Doncaster Conservative mayoral candidate, James Hart? Like me, James is a local businessman and will shout out for our town and work closely with me on delivering the Government’s levelling-up agenda. (915001)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. [Interruption.] Hang on. He is right to want to thank all the staff of Doncaster Royal Infirmary for what they did for the emergency services in dealing with the incident last night, and I am glad to take the opportunity to do that. I am also glad to take the opportunity to support him in his campaign for James Hart. I do hope that the people of Doncaster will go out to vote and support him on 6 May.

The Prime Minister promised in a series of texts to “fix” a tax issue for his mate Sir James Dyson. At the Dispatch Box last week, the Prime Minister promised to publish those texts, but of course he has not made good on that promise. When will he publish them? (914997)

I promised to publish the account of my dealings with James Dyson, which is exactly what I have done. I cannot believe that the Opposition do not learn their lesson. They attacked the Government last week for having any kind of discussions with a potential British ventilator maker, and the following day they did a U-turn and said that any Prime Minister would do it. They have now done a W-turn, and they are trying to bash me again. Which is it? Do they believe the Government should be supporting British manufacturing in delivering ventilators—yes or no? That is the question for Labour.

My constituency is best known for the battle of Bosworth, but we also have many other attractions, such as Twycross zoo, Mallory Park racecourse, Burbage common and Thornton reservoir. These attractions all support superb cafes and pubs. With the bank holiday weekend coming up, does the Prime Minister have any plans, and does he want to pop up to Bosworth? More importantly, what are the Government doing to support these attractions and domestic tourism as we go into the summer? (915002)

I thank my hon. Friend. No matter how many pints I joined him in lifting in the pubs of Bosworth, it could not do as much for the economy of Bosworth as what we are already doing with the £56 million welcome back fund, which is probably even more welcome than my presence in Bosworth, I venture to suggest—that is hotly contested, perhaps. We have extended the cut in VAT for tourism and hospitality to 5% right the way through until the end of September.

Is not the truth behind all of this—the sleaze, the scandals, the jobs for your mates, the cash for curtains —that the Prime Minister thinks that rules, laws and decency are for other people? He thinks they are for the sort of people who shop at John Lewis, Ikea or Argos and who do not have wealthy donors to fund their lifestyles, not for people like him and his Ministers. (914999)

I think that what people think is that the Labour party is losing all the arguments across British politics, that it has nothing to say, and that it has no plan for our future and no vision for our country. People see a Conservative Government who are getting on with uniting and levelling up, with the most ambitious agenda any Government have had for generations, and I think that is what they are listening to.

Next week, residents here in Nottinghamshire will go out to vote for the first time since that incredibly successful 2019 election, where they elected a broad slate of Conservative MPs across every constituency in this county. Despite that success, many areas, such as Mansfield, in much of the new blue wall across the midlands and the north still have mainly Labour councillors at a local level. Does my right hon. Friend have a message for Nottinghamshire voters, who have the opportunity next week to elect a Conservative local team who can work with our MPs to deliver for Nottinghamshire? (915003)

I do, and I thank my hon. Friend for all the wonderful work that he does for his constituency. My message would be, yes, I hope that the people of Nottinghamshire will get out and vote Conservative. It is we who share their priorities on crime, on the NHS, on investment in infrastructure and on levelling up across our country, so I hope they will vote Conservative on 6 May.

When were the Prime Minister and his chief of staff first made aware of the plan for a European super league? (915000)

I first was made aware of the plan for a European super league on, I think, the Sunday night, and we acted decisively using the arsenal of legislative freedoms that we now have thanks to leaving the European Union, which the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) opposed, of course. We acted decisively to make clear that the UK Government took a dim view of this matter. [Interruption.] And the same goes for my chief of staff.

My constituency of Stroud recently won the title of best place to live. There is much to visit there, including an historic lamp standard that was erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Next year, our own Queen will mark 70 years since her accession to the throne. Will the Prime Minister join me in supporting the gift being proposed by Parliament to mark Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee?

I thank my hon. Friend for that wonderful proposal, and I certainly encourage all colleagues to support and contribute to her project.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Next week, we will elect our first Mayor of West Yorkshire.

Does the Prime Minister agree that for far too long Labour has taken our northern heartlands for granted? On Thursday 6 May, we have the opportunity to elect patriotic, hard-working northerners such as Matt Robinson, Ben Houchen, and Jill Mortimer in Hartlepool. They will be strong voices and champions for infrastructure, housing and jobs. We must seize the chance to build back better after the pandemic, and only the Conservatives will deliver on that. [Interruption.]

Well, Mr Speaker, they don’t like that sort of thing, do they? They don’t like focusing on the issues that actually matter to the British people and the people of West Yorkshire.

I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. I hope that on 6 May the people will get out and vote for a party that believes in supporting our NHS; that believes in fighting crime, not being soft on crime; and that will bring jobs and regeneration across the country. I hope that they will vote Conservative on 6 May.

I am suspending the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business.

Sitting suspended.

Government Support for India

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the support the Government are providing to the Indian Government.

The heartbreaking scenes in India in recent days have shocked us all. The pandemic has brought horrific human suffering, and we send our solidarity and condolences to the Indian people at this difficult time. As the Prime Minister has said, we stand side by side with India as a friend and partner in the fight against covid-19.

The Foreign Secretary spoke with his counterpart, Minister for External Affairs Jaishankar, on 26 April. He emphasised the UK’s commitment to provide urgent medical equipment to support our Indian friends at this difficult time. Ministers and officials are in close contact with their counterparts in the Indian Government to follow up on that commitment. The Government of India told us that oxygen has been a particular challenge, so we have moved quickly to provide a package of urgent medical equipment to address that need. The first shipment, of 200 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived in India in the early hours yesterday, and is already being distributed to Indian hospitals. A further 400 oxygen concentrators will follow today and tomorrow. This equipment will boost oxygen supplies in India’s hospitals, which remain under severe pressure, so there is no doubt that the support provided by the United Kingdom will save lives.

I am pleased that other countries are also responding to India’s needs. The pandemic has shown the importance of international action. No one is safe until everyone is safe, so we will keep working closely with the Indian Government to help them to meet the huge challenge they face, and we will continue to show our solidarity with the Indian people.

This response is just a part of the UK’s wider international effort to tackle the pandemic. The United Kingdom has committed up to £1.3 billion of official development assistance funding to address the health, economic and humanitarian impacts of covid-19. We have been at the forefront of efforts to get vaccines to developing countries—we are one of the largest donors to the COVAX advanced market commitment, created to do just that. Our commitment of £548 million will support the distribution of 1.3 billion doses of vaccines to up to 92 low and middle-income countries; this includes India.

Despite the urgency of the current situation in India, this remains an important year in the UK-India relationship. India is a key partner for the UK and the Prime Minister had planned to visit India this week. Regretfully, he had to postpone due to the covid-19 outbreak. He now has plans to speak to Prime Minister Modi via video link in the coming period to take forward key deliverables across trade, defence, climate change, health and migration. We also look forward to the Prime Minister meeting Prime Minister Modi as the UK hosts the G7 summit in June and to welcoming India’s guest participation in the G7 foreign and development ministerial meeting next week. Subject to the covid-19 situation in India, there may also be an opportunity for the Prime Minister to visit in person later in the year.

We stand with the Indian people in this time of need, taking our lead from what the Indian Government advise us is most useful. We face this pandemic together and the UK will continue to support global efforts to overcome the grave challenges that we all face today.

The domestic tragedy engulfing India is now of such a scale that it constitutes a global emergency. India is now afflicted with at least 40% of all new cases in the world. More than 2 million have been confirmed in the last week alone and the peak of this crisis may yet be weeks away. This surely ought to be a priority for the Foreign Secretary, who I expected to have made a statement to this House as the scale of the crisis became clear over the last 10 days.

For more than 1 million Britons with loved ones in India, this is a moment of fear and anxiety. The ties between our countries are woven into the fabric of this nation—something that, through my own heritage, I am personally and acutely aware of. Many Britons of Indian origin will have gone to work today in our NHS and in our care homes, helping to carry us through this crisis, while desperately worried about loved ones in India. We can and must do more.

Can I hear from the Minister today a clear plan to ramp up the delivery of vital equipment? I welcome the 600 pieces of equipment that we have shipped so far, but he will know through his discussions, as I do, that India is still badly short of oxygen cylinders, concentrators, ventilators and therapeutic drugs, especially remdesivir. He must co-ordinate with our global partners. I spoke to the EU ambassador this morning to discuss how we can avoid duplication and get help quickly to where it is most needed. Has the UK been part of discussions at the UN and with the World Health Organisation? The Minister needs a plan for increasing the production and manufacturing capacity for vaccines and to overcome barriers to expanding supply. I was surprised not to hear a commitment to make good on the Health Secretary’s promise to throw open our unique expertise to the world. We are world leaders in genomic sequencing and epidemiology. Tracking mutations and variants would be a major contribution not just to India, but to the world.

It is now almost a year to the day when the UK, steeped in our own crisis, woefully unprepared for the pandemic, was forced to ask the world for help. It was India who stepped forward and approved the export of 3 million packets of paracetamol in an act of solidarity and friendship. There are millions of people in India, around the world and here in the UK for whom this is really a test of the bond between our two nations. I heard what the Minister said. I thank him for his warm words, but words are not enough. Now is the time to step forward with a real plan of action to tackle this domestic tragedy and this global emergency.

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. The Foreign Secretary may very well have answered this question today, but he is in Geneva speaking to the UN, so he is out of the country.

The hon. Lady makes some good points, particularly on the co-operation we saw from the Indian people and the Indian Government specifically around drugs last year. We are very thankful for the support we had in that regard. She references words, not deeds. I think what we have seen over the weekend is deeds, not words. We were the first country to deliver support to the Indian people. In fact, it is absolutely the case—this has been described by the BBC, no less—that the UK has been commended for the speed of its initial package. The BBC described it as

“the first international shipment aimed at stemming a devastating Covid-19 surge.”

I am not entirely sure how much quicker we could have been. We have been working on this late last week and over the weekend. I would like to thank staff across our networks and in the Department of Health and Social Care for all the work they have done in putting together this package. Instead of talking, we were shipping and delivering these vital pieces of equipment there, and there is more equipment and support to come. We are continuing to speak with the Indian Government on what they require, and we will respond to what their requirements are in very short order.

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of speaking to my Indian opposite number, who expressed great gratitude for the UK’s contribution to support the Indian people, and I was very pleased that he said so. However, India is not the only country with which we have a living bridge and a common feeling. We need to make sure that we are prepared to support other countries in the Commonwealth, not just for their benefit, but for ours. Can the Minister assure me that we are ready, that we have the ODA budget available and that we are prepared to act should such a pool of infection arise in any other country, particularly one with which we share such a close link?

I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee, for that question. Of course, we are speaking with our international partners on a regular basis. This is a situation where no one is safe until everybody is safe. We are working collaboratively and a good example of that is vaccines. We are one of the biggest contributors to the vaccine programme, the COVAX programme, which has been set up particularly to support countries in this regard. We will continue to do whatever we need to do to support our international partners. What we had to do, because of the pressing emergency in India, which is one of our closest allies, was react quickly and get the equipment into the planes and on to the ground, and that is exactly what we have done.

The scenes we have all seen emerging from India are truly tragic and our hearts go out to all those who are suffering. There is nothing more tragic than seeing people dying on pavements outside already overstretched and under-resourced hospitals that are full of covid patients, and dead loved ones being lined up for cremation. Sadly, we must recognise that the scenes in India will not be the last of the devastation of covid that we see, and the UK must step up its efforts, not just in India, but across the world.

It is welcome that the UK has been able to offer some support to India, but what assistance is being provided on vaccines to prevent further covid waves across the country? Furthermore, will the UK Government support a waiver to overcome intellectual property barriers, so that developing countries have much-needed access to vaccines and we do not see what is happening in India replicated elsewhere? Finally, given the need for a fully resourced global vaccine roll-out, will the Government finally listen to the experts and retreat from the proposed cut to the UK’s life-saving aid at this critical time?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. It is clear that we have been at the forefront of efforts to get vaccines to developing countries— I cannot think of many countries that have done more. I have mentioned the advance market commitment via COVAX. That was created to deliver exactly that. We will be supporting the distribution of 1.3 billion doses of vaccines to up to 92 low-income and middle-income countries—that includes India. Obviously, we will need to complete our own roll-out and we will be looking at what we do if there are any surplus doses available. We will keep that under constant review. But I am proud of our commitments: the £548 million, and leading last year’s international funding conference on vaccines to help protect those who need our assistance.

As it is in the UK, the impact of covid in India is a human tragedy. I heard from a family friend in Delhi who says that people are terrified, frantically looking for beds and oxygen, with disgraceful profiteering ramping up prices and making support unaffordable for the poor. As we have heard, nearly half of all global covid cases are now in India, and nowhere in the world is safe until we are all safe, so it is absolutely right that the UK has provided ventilators and oxygen, but there are also issues with vaccination logistics and therapeutic supplies. Can I ask what the Minister knows about how Kashmiris in Indian-administered Kashmir are faring, given that there has been no opportunity for an independent visit to the region by parliamentarians or journalists since the revocation of articles 370 and 35A nearly two years ago?

I am not the Minister responsible for those particular countries, but we have regular dialogue. My noble Friend Lord Ahmad, the Minister responsible for that region, speaks regularly with representatives from Pakistan and India, and I am happy to ask him to give the hon. Lady an update.

Many of us have constituents who are deeply worried about loved ones in India. Please will my hon. Friend reassure them that the Foreign Secretary will continue to engage with the Indian Government on the practical help that is needed and how we can provide it?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: in the past few days, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken directly with Foreign Minister Jaishankar on exactly that issue. We are responding to the Indian Government’s requests and listening to what they are telling us. We were the first country to respond and to get wheels on the ground and deliver equipment. A huge emergency is affecting India and we have responded. We will continue to speak to the Indian Government and see what further assistance we can deliver to them.

Given the exceptional budgetary challenges that face the Treasury, the overwhelming majority of my constituents support the decision to temporarily reduce the foreign aid budget. Of course, we will still be spending more money on international aid than nearly every other nation on earth, allowing us to support nations in their hour of need. Nine airline containers full of life-saving equipment have already been shipped out to India. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to engage with the Indian Government to provide any further assistance as required?

My hon. Friend is right to point out the support that we have already delivered to our Indian friends. Our teams worked round the clock and over the weekend to ensure that that first shipment of 200 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators arrived in India yesterday morning. As I said, we were the first to deliver support to India. Given the rapidly changing situation on the ground, we are working closely with our counterparts to ensure that we are co-ordinated, and we are in close contact with the Indian Government in respect of anything else that they need.

What is happening in India is an absolute tragedy, but it is also a stark warning that this virus thrives when we relax—after all, many in India thought that they had beaten the virus. Every time a surge happens, the virus mutates faster, and with every mutation our collective fight goes back a step. There is only one way to beat this virus, and that is to work together in lockstep, across the global community, to keep cases low, minimise the risk of new variants and vaccinate. Will the Minister now commit not only to increasing the money that the UK gives to COVAX—as much as that is, we need to do more—but to starting to share vaccine doses through COVAX now, today?

The hon. Lady is right to ask about vaccine doses, but right now we are moving through the UK prioritisation list—that is what the country would expect us to do, I think—for our domestic roll-out and we do not currently have surplus doses. We do, though, keep the situation under constant review. Of course, I recognise that with this pandemic no one is safe until we are all safe; that is why I am proud that, despite the challenging financial pressures that the pandemic has brought, the United Kingdom has donated more than half a billion pounds to COVAX. We led the international vaccine funding conference last year, and in every conversation that my colleagues and I, as a Foreign Minister, have, we are encouraging our counterparts around the globe to do the same and to contribute to COVAX.

As someone who has family in India, it breaks my heart to see what is happening there. Some of the most worrying stories coming out of India have been reports of a lack of available oxygen for patients in need. Can my hon. Friend confirm that a key portion of the equipment that our Government are delivering is made up of the oxygen concentrators and ventilators that are so desperately needed?

My hon. Friend speaks from the heart. As I have said, I want to thank the teams in the FCDO around the globe for working on this. We have been the first to respond. We are providing the life-saving medical equipment that he refers to, which includes 495 oxygen concentrators and 200 ventilators. That equipment is based on the most acute need, which has been communicated to us by the Indian Government. I understand why people are so passionate about this, and this simply will help to save the lives of the most vulnerable in India.

Given that the population of India is 1.3 billion and the country is currently recording more than 320,000 new covid infections every day, does the Minister agree with a senior Indian health official who described the support that has been received so far as a “drop in the ocean”?

We have been first out of the blocks. We have provided from surplus stocks the ventilators and the oxygen concentrators. Of course, it is a huge country, which is why we continue to liaise with the Indian Government to see what further we can do. We are going to be doing more in terms of equipment, but we have responded quicker than anybody else. We have planes on the ground delivering equipment. There are more planes going out there today and tomorrow with more equipment, and we will continue to work with the Indian Government, listen to their requests and respond.

Our special relationship with India is a bond of kinship and affinity rooted in the living bridge that is the Indian diaspora. As we now seek a transformative post-Brexit UK-India relationship, it is only right that the Government are taking the initial steps to assist India at this unprecedented time. It has been heartening to see 1 billion shoulders to the wheel, be it the Oxygen Express run by the railways or the Indian air force flying back empty oxygen tanks for Indian industry to refill, which has risen to the desperate need. France and Germany have managed to rapidly assist India significantly with the supply of cryogenic oxygen tanks, which can store and transport a much bigger quantity of liquid oxygen. Can my hon. Friend say what steps our Government have taken or are taking to assist similarly, befitting our vision for the UK-India relationship that we seek to build?

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I am not particularly aware of the arrangement that France and Germany have and whether that is a commercial arrangement that the Indian Government have entered into, but it is certainly something we can look into. We have been working incredibly closely with our technical experts in the Department of Health and Social Care on how to respond to the most urgent needs, while ensuring that the equipment sent can be used and will make a difference. Donating oxygen cylinders, as some people have called for, has been rejected, as compatibility issues would prevent them from being refilled within India. We are taking the lead from the Indian Government on what their most urgent priorities are, so that we can ensure that whatever support we provide matches their requests.

The Minister keeps repeating that no one is safe until everyone is safe, but the reality is that 80% of all covid vaccines have been delivered in just 10 wealthy countries, and COVAX is struggling to obtain vaccines. Unless there is greater international solidarity, other healthcare systems like India’s will collapse, and vaccine-resistant variants will inevitably threaten those who live here. Does the Minister not accept that the UK needs to play its part by lifting the ban on exporting vaccines, sharing covid technology with others and increasing, rather than slashing, overseas aid?

I cannot think of many countries that are doing more than the United Kingdom on vaccines for the international community. It was absolutely right that we moved through the United Kingdom’s vaccine priority list for our own roll-out, and, as I have said in answer to a previous question, there are currently no surplus doses. I am proud of the fact that we are one of the biggest donors to COVAX. COVAX will be supporting the distribution of 1.3 billion vaccines across 92 countries that need that support, which includes India.

May I express strong solidarity with my hon. Friend in his words of sympathy with our Indian friends? Would it be possible for Indian citizens, who are living here in the United Kingdom, to travel to India should they so wish, so that they can help their grieving relatives or provide other support? It would surely be unreasonable to prevent people leaving our country who wish to go and help in these circumstances.

Of course, I absolutely get the point that my hon. Friend has made. People will be incredibly worried. I have friends with Indian heritage and they are at their wit’s end about what is happening in India. As for travelling to India, he will be aware that we did add India to our red list. That was to ensure that we protect against variants and other developing variants. The situation in India has deteriorated. Currently, travel abroad is against the law and, until that situation changes, people in the UK need to be mindful of the travel advice.

I have spoken to people at Newcastle’s Hindu temple who have emphasised just how distressing these desperate scenes from India are for those with friends and family living there and, indeed, for all of us. We have known of the concerns for some time now. That is why the Prime Minister cancelled his visit. Given our special links to India, what conversations has the Minister had with counterparts in the United States and the European Union to ensure that international assistance is co-ordinated and effective?

That is a very good question. We are regularly in contact with our counterparts, co-ordinating support. That is why COVAX was set up in the first place for vaccines. I understand that the EU is in the process of co-ordinating support for this emergency. I am not entirely sure when its shipments will arrive, but it is certainly on the case, as is the United States, but rest assured we do speak to our international partners when an emergency such as this flares up.

I think that everyone in the country has been distressed by the images of the reports they have seen in India. I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement about the equipment that we have provided and the speed at which we have done so. Obviously, India is a vastly different size to the UK, but if it is wanted, will we also provide logistical advice from the NHS, the Army and our scientists on the things they have learned about how to best control the spread of this virus and get vaccinations to people as quickly as possible?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We stand ready to provide support in whatever form it comes. That is why we are talking to the Indian Government, asking them what support they require. We need to do that not only to understand what they require, but to ensure that what they require and what we supply are in lockstep. Given this spread of the pandemic, we are working closely not only with our Indian counterparts, but with other countries to ensure that we can co-ordinate and support those with the most urgent need.

I commend the support that the Government are providing promptly to the Indian people during this devastating covid surge, and my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected. Realistically, in order to tackle this issue, do we not need to start providing licences particularly for those countries on the subcontinent, where in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh there are almost 2 billion people who could be dealt with by giving them the ability to produce vaccines themselves and therefore better look after themselves and help to reduce the effects of covid very quickly? Will the Minister look at supporting the people of Kashmir, who have been under lockdown because of the situation in India for the past 18 months, so that they receive their fair proportion of the aid and the vaccines that we are supporting them with?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We are providing support to the Indian Government, but it is for the Indian Government to decide and not for us to dictate where that support goes or how it is rolled out. Of course, as he will know, India is one of the largest manufacturers of vaccine, and those supplies are under pressure, as they are with all manufacturers. However, we will continue liaising with the Indian Government to find out what they require, and if we can match their demands we will supply it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on their offer of help and the provision that has been made to the Indian Government. He will know that at a time of humanitarian crisis, the people of this country are incredibly generous. Members of the Indian diaspora, in particular, are conducting fundraising events via temples and other religious places across the country this weekend, including the world-famous Neasden temple, where people are doing a sponsored static bike ride of 7,600 km—the distance between London and New Delhi. What advice is being given to those religious organisations who are raising money to make sure the money gets to the right place at the right time to assist in alleviating the suffering going on in India?

There are many champions of constituents of Indian heritage in this House, none more so than my hon. Friend. I am being made aware of some incredible fundraising efforts across the country where there are large Indian diasporas, with people raising money through various means. That is really heartwarming to see. It is absolutely the case that that needs to be delivered in the most efficient way. I will find out through what mechanism the advice is being filtered down to those communities. He raises a brilliant point, as ever, and I will make sure that by the end of today he is able to have some information to take to his communities to ensure that they are doing the right thing. I am sure that everybody is doing the right thing; we just have to make sure that it is delivered in the correct way.

Only last week I stood here and questioned this Tory Government’s obscene betrayal of those in need by cutting the foreign aid budget. This week we have perhaps seen the direct consequences of such decisions. I am sure that, along with every Member, they agree with me that the scenes from India are nothing short of devastating and we cannot stand idly by while oxygen becomes a premium and not an easily obtainable necessity. Given the severity of the situation, will the Minister now go on record to say that the UK Government will undertake any and every possible measure of support for India and her people, including the potential distribution of vaccines when we are in a position to do so?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments, apart from his first sentence, which was a mild dig. We will continue to support India. We were the first country to do so when this crisis flared up. We were not talking about it; we were actually getting on with it and doing it, delivering ventilators and oxygen concentrators: there are more in the air now and they are going to land today and tomorrow. So we are continuing to do that work. In terms of vaccines, it would be great if he could point me to who is doing more, as I said, in terms of putting more money into COVAX that is going to help 1.3 billion people. The priority, obviously, is the domestic roll-out of the vaccines that we have, and once we have a clear idea of surplus, we will be in a position to support other countries.

So many of my fellow Wulfrunians have friends, family and other loved ones in India. I thank the Government for their swift response to this heartbreaking situation. What discussions is my hon. Friend having with our international partners, so that we can encourage them to send similar assistance and ensure that the global effort is as effective as possible?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. All hon. and right hon. Members today are speaking up passionately for their constituents in their particular areas. Co-operation on an international level is absolutely at the heart of responding to this pandemic. It is a pandemic that obviously does not recognise borders, so we have been speaking directly with the Indian Government to understand what they need. As I said, we are in regular contact with a range of international partners to ensure that we support, co-ordinate and do everything we can to respond to the needs of India at this difficult time.

The images from India are horrifying—from people gasping for air and dying—[Inaudible]—with hospitals overrun, to seas of blazing makeshift pyres. This is a human catastrophe for India, and, with a virus that does not respect borders, none of us is safe until we are all safe. Vaccine supply is artificially limited by patents, leading to the global vaccine apartheid. At the Word Trade Organisation, India and South Africa have proposed a temporary waiver to vaccine patents, allowing production—[Inaudible]—expand. Public money funded these vaccines, so will the Government put public health before the profits of big pharma and support a waiver of the vaccine patents?

The audio was a bit in and out there, but I think I got the gist of the hon. Lady’s question. As I have said several times in my response, we are doing an immense amount. We are at the forefront of efforts to ensure that vaccines are getting to the most vulnerable countries—to developing countries—as well as being, I think, the second or third largest donor to the COVAX programme. I gently remind the hon. Lady that that support will assist 1.3 billion people in low and middle-income countries across the globe, including India, where we have seen such horrific scenes; our hearts are with them.

Does the Minister agree that the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated more than ever before the absolute need for strong and reliable partners, especially in the interconnected world in which we all live? Will he confirm that the Prime Minister will, in fact, be visiting India as soon as the country recovers from this dreadful outbreak?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. The irony is that the Prime Minister would have been in India had it not been for this latest outbreak. I know that he will be speaking to Prime Minister Modi shortly via video link. We want to ensure that we continue that co-operation on trade, defence, climate change and health, which is absolutely key. We want to finalise a 2030 road map for future India-UK relations that will provide a strategic basis for our relationship in the coming years. We look forward to the Prime Minister meeting Prime Minister Modi as soon as practically possible. Depending on how the pandemic goes in India, there may be an opportunity for the Prime Minister to visit in person later this year.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for securing this urgent question. I have family in India and, like others, I have found the news from the country quite distressing. Do the Government believe that people in low and middle-income countries should have fair and timely access to life-saving covid vaccines and drugs? If so, are the Government willing to reverse their position on opposing the proposal from India and South Africa of a patent waiver in relation to covid vaccines, medicines and medical equipment at the World Trade Organisation?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we agree that low and middle-income countries should have equitable access to vaccines. That is why we are putting over half a billion pounds of UK taxpayers’ money into the COVAX arrangement, and also 1.3 billion people in those countries will be assisted by the vaccines that will be provided.

Over the years, quite a few people—including, I must admit, myself —have questioned aspects of international aid and its efficiency, but I wonder if the Minister will acknowledge that public opinion is changing in the middle of a global pandemic, with international aid being seen not just as a moral duty—we are part of one humanity. If health systems around the world collapse, sooner or later it will come back to bite us. In that respect, can the Minister give a categorical assurance that the recent overseas aid budget cuts will not have affected in any way our ability to help the world’s poorest countries deal with this global pandemic?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. The total amount that FCDO will spend on global health is £1.3 billion and this will be focused on the UK’s position at the forefront of the international response to covid, not just through our commitments with COVAX and the vaccines I have been talking about, but also through the Gavi alliance and the World Health Organisation. Our investment and expertise will be brought to bear on issues where we can make the most difference and achieve maximum impact and value for money.

As many hon. Members have said, the images from India are both difficult to watch and painful for many of our constituents with family there. In light of what is happening, how much of the 1.3 billion that is going into covid relief worldwide is going to India? Might that be reviewed in light of what is happening across the world, with a view to upgrading it?

I think the hon. Lady was referring to the 1.3 billion vaccine doses; perhaps she can nod if that is the case.

Of course, we have made our commitment and our financial commitment to COVAX. It will decide where the vaccines to 92 low and middle-income countries will go; that decision will be taken not by the UK but strategically by COVAX through the advanced market commitment it is operating. However, we have committed the money; we are paying the money and we should be proud of the support that the United Kingdom is giving for international vaccines.

Like the 1.5 million other members of the British Indian diaspora, I have been watching with my heart in my mouth, worried for friends and families in India, over the last few weeks. May I ask the Minister to join me in putting on record our thanks to all the officials, Government Ministers and private-sector businesses that have been involved in our work not only in COVAX—I think we were the largest donor up until December last year—but with AstraZeneca, which is doing crucial work in providing vaccines to the world’s poorest, and for our deliveries of oxygen as well?

I thank my hon. Friend for her thanks in this regard. An extraordinary amount of work has been done, and not just by Government; she was right to mention the private sector, which has stepped up in this pandemic. There has been an incredible international, joined-up effort under extreme circumstances, but I want to commend the work both of the FCDO and across Government in ensuring that the initial shipment got out to India with great speed. We were the first to deliver equipment and there will be more to come. I will certainly ensure that my hon. Friend’s thanks are amplified to the relevant parties.

At a time when India is registering the highest ever recorded cases globally of covid, we must help the Indian people in their hour of need. I have close family there and many of my Slough constituents are extremely anxious about their loved ones, terrified after seeing apocalyptic scenes of people dying on the streets for want of oxygen, a collapsing health system, and crematoriums and cemeteries being overwhelmed, with thousands of people dying every day. I am sure the Minister will join me in commending the incredible work of volunteers, including British-based charities, but, given our close historical ties, will he ensure that the UK is the No. 1 aid donor, especially of medical expertise and equipment, including ventilators and oxygen concentrators?

The hon. Member makes a good point. We are indeed committed to supporting the Government of India—as I have said on a number of occasions here, we were first out of the blocks—and I know international partners will be doing the same. There are close historical ties and family ties with India across the House, and we will ensure that we are at the forefront of that support. We are doing it, there is more to come, and there will be more information when we have concluded our conversations with the Indian Government on what will supply. The hon. Member can rest assured, and the House can rest assured, that the United Kingdom Government are doing their bit to support the Indian people.

I am suspending the House for two minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.

Environment (Regulation)

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

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish an independent regulatory body to monitor and enforce the compliance of public bodies with climate and environmental requirements and targets; to make provision for associated sanctions; to require the regulatory body to assess the environmental effects of potential trade agreements; to make provision about environmental standards, including in relation to animal welfare; and for connected purposes.

I am introducing the Bill because the UK is without meaningful environmental regulation and without any kind of independent environmental regulator. Having left the EU and having promised four years ago to introduce legislation to provide the UK with its own independent regulator, the Government continue to fail to meet that promise. Unregulated and unpoliced, our standards of biodiversity, air quality and animal welfare need to be protected or the Government will allow them to be eroded.

Politicians on all sides have a habit of saying that British farming is the best in the world. That claim happens to be true, but I fear that the Conservative Government do not understand why it is true. We can protect British farming only if we understand it. I am compelled to introduce the Bill, because the Government do not seem to understand it and do not seem to get it.

British farming is the best in the world, mainly for two fundamental reasons: standards and culture: standards, because we have led the development of the world’s most ambitious and comprehensive system of agricultural and environmental regulation alongside our partners on the continent; and culture, because the unit of farming in Britain is the family farm, which has underpinned our reputation for unrivalled care and compassion for livestock, and for a ratio of humans to animals that allows the welfare of those animals to be a priority. Furthermore, the culture of Britain’s family farms is one in which they are not just proud to produce our food but proud to be the stewards of our countryside and environment, to be on the frontline of the fight against climate change and the fight to restore nature. If we lose our world-class regulation and have no effective regulator, and if we allow family farms to be undercut and go to the wall, we fatally undermine British farming and all that is good about it. It is not acceptable for the Government to promise regulation and a regulator, and continually to break that promise, while our farmers are put under increasing pressure and our environment is put at increased risk.

That is why, along with my Liberal Democrat and Alliance colleagues, I am pushing the Bill. There is an urgent need for safeguards to be put in place. We need a regulator that is well resourced, has comprehensive and strong powers, and is completely independent of Government so that it can set and enforce regulation without fear or favour, and have the strength to hold public authorities at all levels to account. We need much more than a body that just points out where the Government are failing. We need an office that can force the Government to comply; an office that can prosecute, and can levy fines and other sanctions to prevent abuse; a watchdog whose bite is as great as its bark. Without powerful, independent regulation or a regulator, we will begin to see more complexities in bureaucracy as food producers seek to comply with traditional, high-quality British standards but simultaneously have to operate with lower production costs as they battle to avoid being undercut by cheap imports.

A huge fear for consumers and farmers alike is that the Government will allow lower quality, cheaper imports into the UK as they seek deals with other countries to provide some compensation for the loss of nearby European markets: countries that do not take care of their animals like we do, which lack animal welfare protections and do not produce food in ways that reduce carbon emissions or take care of the natural environment. Those countries allow their producers to have lower input costs due to those lower standards. Is it right that the UK should have to see an increase in products on our supermarket shelves that have come from inhumane or environmentally irresponsible production methods? Is it right that farmers should be undercut and ruined by those cheaper and morally inferior products? The answer to those questions is absolutely no, yet the Government’s continued failure to step back and allow themselves to be regulated mean that we have no means to ensure that new trade deals do not open the door to food produced in ways that damage the environment, harm animals and put UK farmers out of business.

There is a real fear that the Government will do such deals—perhaps by accident, but quite probably by design. After all, the farming Minister wrote to Conservative MPs a few months ago telling them that if we required imports to meet the same animal welfare and environmental standards as British farmers it would make it very difficult to secure trade deals. In other words, “Please do not tie our hands, because we can only get these trade deals if you allow us to throw British farmers under the bus.” That is why my proposal for a new, powerful and independent regulator is vital to protect British standards and British farmers.

Without a regulator, we will allow the Conservative Government to continue their path of inaction on the natural environment. We see a lack of natural flood protection; loss of British biodiversity at an ever increasing rate; and the tragic, premature deaths of thousands of people every year due to air pollution. In the past five years, this Government have been told by multiple court systems that they need to do much more to tackle the toxic levels of air pollution in this country. Their 2017 national action plan on air pollution was deemed unlawful by the UK High Court, as it was simply not strong enough to enforce change among local authorities. This year, in a case started before we left the EU, the European Court of Justice found this Government to have “systematically and persistently” breached air pollution limits. Without an independent regulator with the teeth to hold our Government to account, they will be even less accountable for their failures to tackle these ecological and human crises. The lack of action from the Conservatives should not be left to the court systems to sort out. It should be dealt with directly by an independent body, just as the Government have promised.

Our lack of environmental protections extend beyond air quality and into the quality of nature in the UK. We are already living in the most nature-depleted country on the planet. Only 14% of our waterways are in good condition, and more than 40% of native species are in decline. This is an embarrassment for us all. We are in the run-up to COP26, and at the moment our likely message to other countries will have to be, “Do as we say but not as we do.” We cannot set a good example when the Government are threatening the livelihoods of farmers across the UK with a lack of regulation on animal welfare and other standards.

The Government are compounding that error by their stubborn and penny-pinching approach to the transition from the basic farm payment scheme to the new environmental land management scheme. The Government insist on forcing many family farms to accept a 50% cut in their income, with no immediate replacement. This plan will inevitably put hundreds of family farms out of business. This matters because without farmers we have no partners to deliver natural flood prevention schemes, to enhance biodiversity and carbon sequestration, and to maintain the stunning landscapes that underpin the tourism economy in places such as the lakes and the dales. This stubborn penny-pinching goes hand in hand with the Government’s failure to ensure a powerful independent regulator. Both those failures seem certain to contribute to undermining British farming and our natural environment, unless we act.

Today, I am giving Parliament the opportunity to act. This Bill aims to unite town and country in favour of a new deal for our environment that values British farmers and enshrines British values. How can we say that we are proud of our animal welfare standards, our environmental protections, and the quality of British farming if we then are happy to sell them out to the highest bidder with the lowest regulation? We need an environmental regulator, as the Government have promised. Given that the Government have failed to deliver that promise, I stand here to deliver it for them. For the good of our farmers and our environment, there is no more time to lose.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Tim Farron, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Wendy Chamberlain, Daisy Cooper, Ed Davey, Stephen Farry, Wera Hobhouse, Christine Jardine, Layla Moran, Sarah Olney, Jamie Stone and Munira Wilson present the Bill.

Tim Farron accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 297).

Fire Safety Bill

Consideration of Lords message

After Clause 2

Legislative proposals relating to prohibition on passing remediation costs on to leaseholders and tenants

I beg to move,

That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 4L.

As I have said on a number of occasions at this Dispatch Box, I want to express my sincere thanks once again to all right hon. and hon. Members for engaging in this important debate. I would like to repeat the message given by my noble Friend the building safety Minister in paying tribute to the fire and rescue services across our country, because in recent days we have seen large fires in Greater Manchester and Shropshire, and they have been dealt with in an exemplary and professional manner. This is a reminder of why we want to get this Bill on to the statute book—to help fire and rescue services do their job to ensure that buildings are properly and thoroughly assessed.

All of us in this House and in the other place agree in the strongest terms that residents have the right to be and to feel safe in their homes. This Government remain steadfast in our commitment to delivering the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report’s recommendations. The Fire Safety Bill is an important first step in our legislative programme delivering these recommendations. I cannot stress enough, as I have reiterated on a number of occasions throughout the passage of this Bill, the vital importance of this legislation and the ramifications if it fails as a result of outstanding remediation amendments, and that is why I move that this House disagrees with Lords amendment 4L.

Without the Fire Safety Bill, legal ambiguity around the fire safety order will continue. Moreover, the updating of fire risk assessments to cover structure, external walls and flat entrance doors will be ignored by a number of negligent building owners, and fire and rescue services will lack the legal certainty to support enforcement decisions. That is a matter that I know will be in the minds of Members today, as it should also be in the minds of Members of the other place.

A number of Members across the House have said to me, “Well, why not simply redraft the Bill?” That might be easier to do with other legislation that already has careful cross-referencing to other Acts and already has detailed secondary legislation to revise regulations, but not so with this small but none the less important Bill. Redrafting it, even if the amendments were not defective, so that it carefully navigates the intricate web of contract law and does not fall foul of such Acts beloved of Members of this House, including many Opposition Members, such as the Human Rights Act 1998, will take considerable time, and we do not have that time.

Following our announcement in February, I am pleased to say that hundreds of thousands of leaseholders will be protected from the cost of replacing unsafe cladding on their homes as part of our five-point plan to end the cladding scandal once and for all, improve the saleability of properties and restore confidence in the housing market. The measures that we announced in February—including our work with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to reduce the need for EWS1 forms; our work with developers to put more of their own money on the table, additional to our tax and levy plans; and our work with lenders to buy into our package of measures to ensure sensible and proportionate value is re-ascribed to homes valued at zero—will allow hundreds of thousands of homes to be sold, bought or remortgaged once again. That will provide certainty to residents and lenders, boost the housing market and reinstate the value of properties. All the amendments we have received, debated and already disposed of would simply reignite uncertainty in the market and risk lenders once again turning to leaseholders saying, “Computer says no: we can’t value your property”.

I find it somewhat ironic that Members are flagging these issues in the context of trying to impede the progress of the Bill, as having an up-to-date fire and risk assessment that considers the external wall system of a building should enable an insurer to take an informed and proportionate approach to risk that considers not only the material and construction of the building but the way in which it is managed.

I agree that leaseholders need stronger avenues for redress. The draft Building Safety Bill, which has already gone through prelegislative scrutiny, will bring forward measures to do this, including making directors, as well as companies, liable for prosecution.

I agree that the industry must also play its part. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), who is in his place, our high-rise levy and developer tax will make sure that the developers with the broadest shoulders pay their way. I reiterate what I said to him yesterday about forfeiture, which is a draconian measure that should be used only as a last resort. We believe this matter should be considered as part of our wider programme of leasehold reform, which we have already indicated we will bring forward.

I also welcome my right hon. Friend’s suggestion, in yesterday’s speech, about the case study from Portishead in his constituency. As I agreed yesterday, I think we can make good use of this opportunity to assess in-depth lessons learned from the systems on the ground. Again, I am grateful to him for his proposals.

The safety of leaseholders and residents will be compromised if we do not ensure that this Bill is placed on the statute book by the end of this Session. We will not help leaseholders, nor will we make homes any safer, by impeding its passage.

Lords amendment 4L lacks clarity, just like the others. Just like the others, it prohibits all kinds of remediation costs from being passed on to leaseholders, which means that were there to be even minor costs as a result of wear and tear, or even where leaseholders themselves are responsible for the damage, they would not be expected to pay. I do not believe, and I do not believe this House believes, that that is a proportionate response.

I will, of course, give way to the Father of the House, as I was unable to do so yesterday due to time constraints.

I am grateful to the Minister, and he knows I am trying to play the ball and not the person. The question is not the small amounts but the large amounts. It is estimated that the cost of remediation may go up to £15 billion. The Government are providing £5 billion, which leaves £10 billion that may fall on the shoulders of leaseholders. We are moving from a situation that might be ironic for some, to one that is irenic for more. The point of the amendment is that it needs to be met by Government, and it needs to be met in good time, or else many people will not be able to meet the demand to pay for the cost of remediation, and forfeiture will follow. That will happen in a shorter timescale than the one talked about by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox).

I certainly accept my hon. Friend’s assurance that he is playing the issue, as he always does, and not the man. As he rightly says, we propose to spend £5.1 billion of public money on remediating the tallest buildings, as directed by the Hackitt report and its recommendations.

We have also said that as a result of our tax on the development industry, which the Chancellor will consult on imminently, we will raise a further £2 billion. We have also said that we will introduce a tall buildings levy. Developers themselves are placing more money on the table. Taylor Wimpey has now placed a further £125 million on the table for remediation, and Persimmon £75 million. The amounts are building up. We have also suggested a very advantageous financing scheme for those buildings below 18 metres that may require some remediation.

I think all Members would agree that the taxpayer should not be paying for every cost associated with the provisions of the Fire Safety Bill, but that is the risk, because the scope of the amendments that have been tabled is far too broad to provide a sensible solution. Lords amendment 4L is also unclear on who should take responsibility for remediation works until a statutory scheme is in place to pay the costs. That would result in all types of remediation being delayed—a really unsatisfactory outcome for leaseholders. Leaseholders also will not thank us for voting through an amendment that will generate lots of litigation that they may need to pay for.

The amendment would prevent the passing on of remediation costs, but it does not define what those costs are. That is a recipe for litigation and a recipe for delay. There is a lack of clarity on the definition of remedial work and what may be attributable to the provisions in this Bill, in other Acts or in none. How would Members suggest that we disaggregate the legislation under which works are carried out and the definition to differentiate between remediation, maintenance or improvement? It is a recipe for litigation and a recipe for delay.

In effect, it may not be possible to relieve leaseholders and tenants from all costs for remedial works attributable to the Bill without breaching subsidy control rules—a form of state aid. Further detailed consideration would be needed about that, too. Practically speaking, drafting legislation is, as many Members will know, a complex matter that cannot be dealt with in the timeframe proposed by the amendment, and to provide an arbitrary deadline is neither helpful nor practical.

There is a common theme uniting these points. The amendments will not work. They will not help leaseholders. They are not detailed enough for a complex and intricate problem of this nature. We have seen the key elements of this amendment time and again, and this House has voted them down time and again. Yet time and again, peers and the Opposition—unintentionally, I trust—seem set on reinjecting uncertainty into the market, which cannot help leaseholders. I respectfully ask the House to reject this amendment, so that we return a further clear and consistent message to the other place.

The Minister has made a lengthy speech on this occasion, perhaps trying to ensure that others have less time to speak. I am glad that he took an intervention from the Father of the House on this occasion—he did not do so yesterday—but unfortunately he did not answer the main point, and therefore we must conclude that the Government are content for the £10 billion of additional cost to be shouldered by leaseholders.

We find ourselves in an extraordinary position. We voted on this only yesterday, and in that debate every single speaker—the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem contributors—pleaded with the Government to support leaseholders. No one spoke in the Government’s favour, and the Government’s majority was halved in the vote. At what point does the Minister question the sense of his approach? At what point does he turn around and think, “Well, all these people who have spoken are sensible and well meaning; perhaps they have a point”? At what point does he consider that he might actually agree with us?

I suspect that the Minister has had those thoughts, and I suspect that he even agrees with us. He knows that the Bank of England is worried about a crash caused directly by the crisis. He knows that hundreds of thousands of people are suffering. But he also knows that his Chancellor and his Prime Minister do not care enough to act. They have other priorities—to their property and development donors. Fourteen separate companies and individuals with links to construction companies using potentially lethal aluminium composite material cladding on buildings have donated nearly £4 million to the Conservatives since 2006. The Prime Minister must have his new curtains, so they turn away from the screams for help from the people hit with extraordinary bills of £40,000, £50,000, £60,000, and the Minister has to bunker down, hold his nose and hold the line. I almost feel sorry for him.

Let me touch briefly on the arguments put forward by the Minister yesterday and today for not accepting these amendments. The argument that they would further delay the implementation of the Grenfell recommendations does not wash and is frankly insulting to the Grenfell survivors. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) read out Grenfell United’s condemnation of the use and abuse of the tragedy to put the blame on leaseholders. It said that the Government’s excuse that amendments to protect leaseholders would delay Grenfell recommendations is “deeply upsetting”, “wrong”,

“and shows they’d rather protect the corporates responsible from paying for the mess they created.”

That argument against delaying the Bill was put to us time and again when we were trying to make amendments to implement the Grenfell inquiry recommendations. On Report, the Minister for Security, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), said that accepting our amendment to implement the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 recommendations would “create uncertainty”. The Minister for Crime and Policing, the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), later said:

“It is not helpful, I have to say, for the House to keep returning to this issue.”—[Official Report, 24 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 950.]

He added that it causes “confusion”. However, after continually voting against our amendments, the Government eventually gave in and made the concession in the other place. It was possible then, even after months of their saying it was not, and it is possible now.

The Housing Minister has the audacity to imply that the supposed delays from new amendments would mean that people were less safe, as if people are not already unsafe living in buildings riddled with fire safety issues. Has he forgotten that hundreds of thousands of people up and down the country are already stuck in unsafe buildings? I say to him again today: if the Government have not managed to work out how to pursue the money from those responsible, why do they not do what is right and stop leaseholders footing the bill now? Labour’s amendment would buy the Government time. It would protect leaseholders while the Government came up with a longer-term plan.

As Lord Kennedy of Southwark said yesterday in the other place, it is unusual to be here again so soon, but this is an unprecedented crisis and the Government should be taking unprecedented measures to sort it out. The Government know that hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to pay to fix fire safety issues that were not their fault. The Government should pay and then go after the building companies and developers who are responsible. Most MPs agree: 95% of all MPs, and 92% of Tory MPs, said that the developers who built the flats should pay to make them safe.

The tragedy is that we know that, at some point, the Government are going to have to act to fix this problem. We know that they cannot leave leaseholders to foot a £10 billion bill. Yet yesterday, many Conservative Members voted against an amendment that would have protected leaseholders. What will they do today? Will they keep voting against their conscience, against their opinions, against the will of their constituents, or will they do the right thing and vote to protect leaseholders?

We have a very short time for this debate, so I am afraid that we have to have a limit of three minutes on Back-Bench speeches.

First, I have agreed with pretty much everything that the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) has said in these debates over the last few weeks, but I disagree fundamentally with her bringing into it this political trope that the reason the Government will not act is that they are all in the pocket of the developers. That does not help this debate, it does not help us move it forward, and it does not help the leaseholders to keep putting in their minds that there is some sort of conspiracy. I agree with the hon. Lady on almost everything, but certainly not on that.

In yesterday’s debate, the Minister said—this was repeated just a few moments ago from the Dispatch Box—that

“all of us in this House agree that residents deserve to be safe, and to feel safe, in their homes.”—[Official Report, 27 April 2021; Vol. 693, c. 264.]

He is correct. We all agree on that. I think we all agree —at least, the Government, from the Prime Minister down have repeatedly said they agree—that leaseholders should not have to pay for historical fire defects.

The Minister reminded us that this Bill was introduced over a year ago. May I remind him that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) tabled the “McPartland-Smith amendment” nearly five months ago? The Minister has repeatedly suggested that our amendments are defective, and he has done so again today, but in five months the Government have done nothing to take our well-intentioned amendment and incorporate it in the Bill. We have less than 48 hours until the end of this parliamentary Session. If the Government and Minister agree that innocent leaseholders should not pay, and if they are now concerned that they have run out of time, should they not have attempted a compromise in the five months since we tabled our amendment?

Noble Lords from the other place have now done the Government’s work for them. They have found a mechanism to save the Fire Safety Bill—which we all want, incidentally—and, at the same time, to insert a requirement for the Government to protect leaseholders from the crippling charges for defects that are not of their making. I cannot repeat this enough—this is not of their making. We have repeatedly asked the Government to compromise, but they have not done so. This amendment allows them to do so now, even at the eleventh hour, and finally secure the future of the Bill and protect those who have been begging the Government for help.

I will support the Lords amendment today, and I hope that the Government and my colleagues on the Government Benches will do so. If they are serious about protecting innocent leaseholders and securing the Bill, they will agree to the Lords amendment or table their own in the other place before the end of the parliamentary Session. I think everyone knows that it is time to take the compromise.

The Minister knows that this problem is not going to go away. Whether it is the Fire Safety Bill today or in the Building Safety Bill, we will keep returning to this. He knows that because what has been done so far is insufficient. He knows it because, as things stand, the length of time it is likely to take to sort this out will be too long for many leaseholders to be able to continue to bear the costs that they are paying at the moment and to contemplate the future costs that hang over them. And the Government know it because, as they said right at the beginning of this crisis—we intend to hold them to this promise—it is not right that leaseholders should be asked to bear the costs of something they were not responsible for.

I really do not understand the Minister’s argument. The uncertainty is not caused by our voting for the Lords amendments; it is the unresolved problem that is causing huge uncertainty. As for his point about drafting complexity, he should give a commitment to go away and draft something and bring it back in the Building Safety Bill, because either his view is that it is complex and no one has drafted anything suitable yet—so go away and draft it—or it is simply a way of trying to resist the idea that leaseholders should not have to pay.

In the meantime, I have a practical suggestion to make. All those involved, including MPs, spend a lot of time going back and forth about practical problems in respect of blocks, difficulties, delays, a lack of communication and so forth. I have had to use parliamentary questions to try to find out what has been happening in respect of applications to the building safety fund for particular blocks in my constituency. I have to say, the replies I have received have been distinctly unhelpful.

A very large range of people is involved: leaseholders of course, freeholders, the fire service, managing agents, building companies, developers, chartered surveyors, local authorities, mortgage lenders, insurance companies, and the Minister’s Department. I know that Ministers and officials meet individual groups and organisations regularly, but I think there would be great merit in bringing together representatives of all these groups to establish what we can call a contact group or an action group, so that the Minister and his officials can sit around a table on a regular basis to share information about what is happening and to progress-chase, iron out problems, test out ideas and find answers to the problems for which there is as yet no plan, but which my constituents in Leeds have to live with each and every day and which weigh so heavily upon them, their lives and their sense of whether there is a future that they can look forward to, because, as things stand, there is not one. I really hope that Ministers will take up the idea and finally acknowledge that only a comprehensive plan is going to bring this nightmare to an end.

Again, we all want the same thing. We want the protection of leaseholders from bills that they cannot afford and should not have been given; we want the protection of taxpayers from a burden that they should not have to carry; and we want the application of the “polluter pays” principle, so that the developers, insurers and builders who are responsible for the problems in the first place are the ones who have to pay the costs of remediation. All of that has become perfectly clear during our various debates on the matter.

I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) said yesterday and today about establishing a study on the ground—similar, in some ways, to that which the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) just mentioned—that would make it possible to talk to real people about real bills, and about why the huge sum of taxpayers’ money that has been set aside is not getting through to them. What rate-limiting steps, and what problems with bureaucracy and the timescales that have been set, make it impossible for that money to get to the people who need it? I very much welcome that idea. I hope that the timescale will be short and the Minister will be able to share the lessons learned with all Members.

Today, the Minister has edged us towards the necessary compromise. If we are willing to make it clear in the Queen’s Speech that leasehold reform will deal with forfeiture, that will remove one of the biggest fears. As the Father of the House said, what about the potential for forfeiture to occur during the time before the passing of that legislation? That does need to be dealt with. If I may say so, my hon. Friend the Minister was clearer about that today than he was yesterday, and that is hugely to be welcomed. I have always thought that the idea that we could not say what would be in the Queen’s Speech sat a bit oddly with the fact that we can read what will be in the Budget three days before it actually happens.

I also welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister said about the scope of the Building Safety Bill and the ability to set out in it the concept of apportionment, which will be a major element. I hope that if we can take these concepts forward in the other place, we might reach a solution to this problem. It seems to me that the building blocks of a solution are there.

As my hon. Friend and Members from all parts of the House have said, we all want certainty, so that lenders can lend, property values can stabilise and homeowners—the very people my party wants to encourage—can sleep soundly in their beds once again, as they have a right to do.

I, too, rise to support the Lords amendment. The amendment is simple; it protects leaseholders and prevents them from being charged crippling, life-changingly colossal bills to make safe properties that are unsafe only because of the actions of developers and a lack of Government regulation.

Here we are: the Government have played to the final whistle, and they are down by the corner flag keeping ball and feigning cramp in the hope that the final whistle will go and we will all move on. Let me be clear. I assure the Minister—and, more importantly, I encourage anxious and distressed leaseholders—that we will not give up. We will not troop off the field, not to play again, once the 90 minutes are up. We will come back next Session and fight the corner of leaseholders who currently face bills that they can never, ever hope to be able to afford, and that are not theirs to pay in the first place.

As has been mentioned, the Government’s stance on this issue sets out starkly whose side they are on. They are on the side of the wealthy developers, some of whom fund their party. They are on the side of negligent officials who allowed this to happen. They are not on the side of those who are working hard to afford a roof above their heads. This is a Britain, it would appear, where innocent householders have to pay to remove dangerous cladding while somebody else pays for the Prime Minister’s new curtains. We believe in a better Britain where there is justice, not crushing, undeserved debt. If we do not win today, then, for the sake of leaseholders across this country, we will be back.

So, here we are again debating the Fire Safety Bill and the Lords amendments to it. The key issue here is not whether we enshrine in law the requirements on fire safety but who ends up paying for them. The reality is, as the Father of the House mentioned, that the £5.1 billion offered by the Government thus far will be insufficient to cover the remediation and fire safety costs identified not only in tall buildings but in lower buildings as well. The key issue, then, is that it is going to take some five years for the work to be carried out, and that leaseholders are receiving bills now of £50,000 or more in order for the work to be carried out. They can ill afford it.

The Government are committed to producing the Building Safety Bill, but we know that it will be announced in the Queen’s Speech and that it will probably take 18 months to two years before it is live and operational. Leaseholders do not have the luxury of that time. They are being charged the money right now. We still do not know the details of the forced loan scheme that the Government are offering for leaseholders in buildings below six storeys. We have been asking to scrutinise it, so we can see whether it is fit for purpose or whether it will even work.

I have had the honour and privilege of serving on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee for the past 11 years. We are publishing a report on cladding and the other issues tomorrow. Obviously I am not allowed to pre-disclose the details, but it is fair to say that we are critical of the way in which the Government are approaching this necessary means. I urge the Minister for Housing, who is a good friend for whom I have every respect, to let us have some commitments from the Front Bench in his answer to this debate, and to tell us what he will do to ensure that leaseholders are prevented from having to bear these unnecessary and unacceptable costs. Let us also have some commitments on when we will see the proposed forced loan scheme. Let us have some commitments on when we can expect to see the Building Safety Bill brought into operation, and some overall commitment to ensure that people living in unmortgageable, unsaleable flats are given appropriate comfort, because, frankly, without that, we will have to support the Lords amendment to ensure that the Government come back with these proposals early in the new Session.

Let us make sure that we send the message to leaseholders out there: you should not have to pay a penny piece to rectify the problems that are not your fault in the first place. I shall be supporting the Lords amendment once again today.

This Bill has been passing backwards and forwards between the Lords and Commons because the Government will not do the right thing and protect leaseholders from the ruinous costs of replacing cladding and remediating internal fire safety defects during construction. By refusing to do so, the Government are making liars out of all the successive Ministers—and, indeed, a Prime Minister—who have told this House that leaseholders should not pay for building defects for which they are not responsible.

Today I want to focus on the impact of the EWS1 regulations and the callous way in which another operator, FirstPort, is treating vulnerable residents in Blackberry Court in my constituency. FirstPort has written to the 27 leaseholders in Blackberry Court, which is a two-storey block of flats, to advise them that the fire safety work will cost more than £20,000. It has not provided a breakdown of costs or issued a section 20 notice, as it is legally obliged to do for any work costing more than £250 per leaseholder. What is most disturbing, however, is that FirstPort has been demanding access to the roof void through the only loft hatch, which is located in the bedroom of my constituent, who is an elderly lady of 94 years of age. FirstPort would brook no objection to this until I intervened to forestall this intrusion and asked it to create new access to the roof void from the common parts of the building. But the fact that it had not yet been able to access the void to survey it means that it must already have been aware that there was no compartmentation in the roof space. Indeed, I have discovered that Blackberry Court, which was built in 2007, never got a completion certificate, despite being covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. That prompts the question of why the company had not acted on this fire safety defect before. Some may suspect that the properties were unsaleable and devalued—unless the work was done—because of the EWS1 form. The Government did change the requirements on the form, but the Minister knows that the banks and the mortgage lenders have not changed their stance, nor have the insurers.

Charitably, EWS1 forms are the Government’s attempt to force a proper assessment of fire safety defects. Less charitably, they appear to be an attempt to outsource the crucial work of assessing dangerous buildings after Grenfell Tower to an unregulated private market. Currently, there is no requirement for a surveyor to hold the minimum qualification—professional registration or certification as to their competence—and nothing to ensure a uniform approach as to how inspectors carry out checks. This means that, in some cases, different EWS1 ratings are being given for the same block.

According to Government statistics, there are around 88,000 residential buildings taller than 11 metres in England, containing 1.2 million leasehold homes. The Government have said that there are currently just 212 chartered fire engineers across the UK registered with the Institution of Fire Engineers. This means that getting an EWS1 form is nigh on impossible, and, in the meantime, leaseholders are left in economic limbo, unable to sell or to move on with their lives. My constituent, at the age 94, simply wants to live out her life in peace and safety in the flat that she bought more than a decade ago. The Government’s refusal—

Order. I have given the hon. Gentleman considerable leeway, but he has far exceeded the time allocated, so we must now go to Sir Robert Neill.

I shall be supporting Lords amendment 4L today with some regret, because I wish the Government had moved to resolve this issue since we last debated it yesterday; it is disappointing that they have not done so. I support the amendment on the basis that I want the Fire Safety Bill to proceed; I want it to be successful. The truth is that, while the fundamental elements of the Bill are worthy, it none the less has, at present, the effect of causing collateral damage to innocent leaseholders. That flies in the face of undertakings that the Government themselves have regularly given. Despite the huge sums of money that has been put in, as is already apparent, it is not enough.

In the meantime, we need to have a scheme that protects leaseholders, and it is the absence of a provision in the Bill to do that which is the problem. If Lords amendment 4L is not satisfactory to the Government, then there is still time for them to produce their own. I very much hoped that the Government would have acted on the proposals in the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) yesterday. That still offers a way forward, but absent that, at least the current amendment from the Lords gives the means of protection in the interim.

At the present time, leaseholders in blocks, such as Northpoint in my constituency, have properties that are unmortgageable. They cannot move. They cannot raise any more money on them. They have already expended tens of thousands of pounds in costs relating to waking watch and greatly increased insurance claims. That is not satisfactory.

We need a provision that bridges the gap in getting those responsible to pay. None of us who supports this amendment wants the taxpayer to be picking up a blank cheque. We want those who are responsible, who were at fault, ultimately to pick up the tab, but it will take some time to pin the financial responsibility on those people. In the interim, we must have a means of protecting the innocent leaseholders. That bridging arrangement is something that only the Government are able to do. I would have hoped that accepting that, together with commitments to move swiftly in legislation in this Queen’s Speech, was not an unreasonable thing to do.

Having served as a Minister myself, I do not buy the proposition that it is beyond the resources of Government to swiftly produce legislation that remedies the alleged defect that the Minister sees in the current amendment and sets the Bill in good order. There is still time to do that. I beseech the Minister to reflect on this and to come back with the Government’s own proposals in the other House before the end of this Session.

Robustness is a virtue, but when it turns into obduracy it ceases to be a virtue. I do not want the Government to get themselves into that situation. There is still time, and this amendment buys them time to resolve that satisfactorily. I urge the Minister profoundly to listen to this.

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill). I agree wholeheartedly with what he said, and indeed with the comments made from the Front Bench by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) and by many other Members across the House. I also support the Lords amendment, not least because of the suffering undergone by my constituents in Cardiff South and Penarth and by many others across the UK.

The Minister talked about uncertainty, but as many Members have pointed out, uncertainty is being caused by the Government’s failure to engage with reasonable proposals made from all parts of the House to provide certainty for the very leaseholders who have been affected.

The Minister’s arguments simply do not wash. Our leaseholders have been dealing with this matter for years—the anxiety, the stress and the financial pressure, not least during the covid pandemic over the past year. That has been intolerable for some of them, and I have met constituents who were crying and in a terrible state because of the situation they have been left in. I simply cannot understand the Government’s continued resistance, not least given the cross-party pressure and support.

I thank the Welsh Government—Housing Minister Julie James, my colleague Vaughan Gething and so many others—for meeting with leaseholders in my constituency. They have put pressure on developers and made a commitment to £32 million in the recent budget, and have already committed £10 million. They have an active programme on leasehold reform and, crucially, are making it clear, which the Government here seem unwilling to do, that leaseholders should not have to foot the bill for fixing these fire safety and building safety defects.

We all want the developers to pay and we all want the resources to come through, but the reality is that we all have to stand up and say clearly, once and for all, that leaseholders should not be the ones paying for the remediation. This is not their fault. I will continue to work closely on the issue with my constituency colleague Vaughan Gething, our local councillors, and a range of residents and leaseholder organisations. We are not going away. Some of the stories of how people have been affected have been told passionately today on BBC Wales—the suffering, the anxiety, the pressures.

I am yet to receive adequate response from the UK Government, who have left the Welsh Government and Welsh leaseholders in the dark on the way forward. There is no need for that unless there is something to hide. As the Minister knows, Welsh Government officials have worked constructively with his Department on the passage of the Bill, and are working on a range of issues relating to the building safety Bill, yet it took the Housing Secretary more than a month to respond to the Welsh Housing Minister on the crucial, very reasonable questions she was asking in an offer of co-operation.

I have raised this matter with the Secretary of State for Wales, the Minister and others, yet the letter that came back from the Housing Secretary over a month later said he is

“not able to confirm the details and timing of budgetary allocations to Wales”,

although he says the Barnett formula will

“apply to that funding in the usual way”.

Why can he not give a clear and unequivocal answer about the money that will be available to Wales, and how the Government will work with Welsh officials on the proposed new tax and the new building levy so that we can finally provide some assurance to leaseholders in my constituency and, crucially, across the country?

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and all the Members who have spoken since the Minister sat down.

Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have said in the House and in the other place on many occasions that leaseholders would not have to pay for fire safety failures not of their making, so why do the Government still disagree with the Lords amendment? The Minister said yesterday and just now that the Government do not have time to draft appropriate amendments to the Bill in the way we seek, yet they have had seven months since Second Reading and five months since Third Reading—plenty of time to try to sort this out.

The safety scandal exposed by the Grenfell Tower fire affects up to 1.3 million flats. Current leaseholders cannot sell, and potential leaseholders cannot get new mortgages until they can prove the homes are safe. Insurance is impossible to come by. Worse, residents of those flats live with the fear of being trapped by a fire in their home. Leaseholders live with the fear of unaffordable costs for the remediation being imposed on them.

The human cost is incalculable. In my constituency alone, at the Paragon estate, built by Berkeley, about 70 homeowners, along with hundreds of assured tenants and students, were evacuated with a week’s notice and cannot return. A fire raged up the cladding of Sperry House in the middle of the Great West Quarter estate built by Barratt Homes. Leaseholders in at least 25 blocks in my constituency that were built by volume house developers face unknown costs, including for waking watch, for the replacement of flammable cladding and wooden balconies and, most expensive of all, to address the lack of fire breaks or proper compartmentalisation.

The building safety fund does not even cover the cost of cladding remediation throughout the country, let alone any of the other failures in these buildings, and it provides loans only for sub-18-metre blocks. Nor does it support housing associations with the cost of rectifying the safety failures that affect the social rented flats for which they have found themselves responsible through planning gain, so they are having to take the repair costs from the funds meant for the building of new social rented housing.

Unamended, the Bill will mean that leaseholders will be forced to pay. They should not have to pay—they did not design or build their flats and they do not own the building their flat is built in. This Parliament, with the support of this Government, could take the burden from leaseholders now, but instead we are told that we have to wait for a different Bill, the content of which is unspecified, as is its timetable. That is unacceptable.

We have heard a lot recently about the Prime Minister’s honesty and integrity. It is important to our democracy that people can trust the word of their leaders, but this debate highlights that issue yet again. As I reminded the House yesterday, on 3 February the Prime Minister told us that

“no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects that they did not cause and are no fault of their own.”—[Official Report, 3 February 2021; Vol. 688, c. 945.]

It was a clear statement of policy—an unambiguous pledge to those who face ruin as a result of fire defects that are the responsibility of developers. Yet the Prime Minister has consistently whipped his Members to oppose amendments to the Bill that would honour his pledge.

I have listened carefully to the justifications from Ministers for opposing the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and by the Bishop of St Albans, and we heard them again yesterday. The Minister described the amendments as “laudable in their intentions” but

“unworkable and an inappropriate means to resolve a problem as highly complex as this.”—[Official Report, 27 April 2021; Vol. 693, c. 264-265.]

His ministerial colleague in the other place, the Minister for Building Safety and Communities, said that it was

“the Government’s view that the Bill is not the right legislation in which to deal with remediation costs.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 April 2021; Vol. 811, c. 2207.]

So, they are not the right amendments and it is not the right legislation.

Surely the Government should embrace the new Lords amendment, because it gives them the opportunity to draft their own proposals in separate legislation and to honour the Prime Minister’s promise to leaseholders. The Minister claimed today that it will take time; the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) rightly pointed out that they have had time. It has been five months since the hon. Gentleman tabled his amendment and three months since the Prime Minister’s promise: if the Minister genuinely felt that the objectives were laudable, he has had time to come up with his own proposals. Those in the Metis building, Wicker Riverside, Daisy Spring Works and other buildings throughout my constituency deserve nothing less, because they face bills of up to £50,000 each to fix the mistakes of others. Unlike the Prime Minister, they do not have access to private donors. They face bankruptcy and ruin, trapped in homes that are unsafe and unsaleable, facing unbearable pressure and unimaginable mental strain.

We have to recognise our responsibility. The leaseholders have been let down by not just the developers but a flawed system of building inspections. They are—as I know Ministers recognise—the victims of comprehensive regulatory failure. The Government have to step in, urgently fix the faults and then recover the funds from those responsible—

Order. Again, I have allowed considerable leeway, but the hon. Gentleman has had his time. I do not understand: when people are speaking from home, can they not see the time limit? I think that might well be the case, so perhaps someone will send a message back. Here in the Chamber we can see the time limit and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I allowed him to exceed it.

I had put on a tight time limit because I had anticipated some vigorous debate and interventions; there has not been a single intervention, which leaves plenty of time for the Minister to respond to the debate.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for that opportunity. I am sorry that I have, unfortunately, interposed on the time that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) might otherwise have supposed to be his own; he was making a careful and passionate speech, as have the other nine right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken from the Back Benches today. I am grateful for their insight and considered contributions. I remind them and both Houses that the Government understand the aims that underpin the objectives that have been sent to us over the last several weeks by the House of Lords.