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Commons Chamber

Volume 695: debated on Tuesday 18 May 2021

House of Commons

Tuesday 18 May 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

Justice

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sentencing Reform

On 9 March we introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has been carried forward into the new Session. This legislation will deliver on our manifesto commitments to make punishments tougher for the most serious offenders and to introduce more effective community sentences, and work is also under way on the non-legislative reforms set out in my White Paper last year, which aim to tackle the underlying causes of criminal behaviour and improve the rehabilitation of offenders in the community.

It is essential that the public have confidence in the sentencing decisions reached in our courts. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that an important element in that confidence can come from judges and magistrates explaining clearly the aims their sentences are designed to achieve, recognising that they are about not just punishment but rehabilitation in order to reduce reoffending and then create far fewer victims of crime in the future?

My hon. Friend speaks from experience about these matters, and he will know that by law the court must explain the effect of a sentence and its reasons for deciding on it in clear, ordinary language. The pre-sentence report pilot that I announced in the sentencing White Paper also aims to increase sentencers’ confidence that their determinations will indeed improve outcomes for offenders and reduce reoffending.

Sedgley in my Dudley North constituency has recently seen gangs of youths coming together, throwing stones at passing cars and at people’s property and generally engaging in behaviour seen as very intimidating towards neighbours, so will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the following three things? First, please can we refrain from describing this type of activity as “low-level antisocial behaviour” because victims of these crimes certainly do not see it as such? Secondly, could we ask the police and the judiciary to look at prosecuting and indeed convicting so that sentencing is meaningful and therefore acts as a deterrent? Thirdly, can we please engage with colleagues across Departments to look at investment in schemes for young people that are tailored for them?

I understand, Mr Speaker, but my hon. Friend had to cover a lot there because the question of offending by young people and children raises complex issues. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the way in which we describe this behaviour, and indeed I made that very point in my maiden speech to the House. We should label that criminality as “criminality”, and it will sometimes be in the public interest to prosecute, because we have flexible community orders for children to address their offending behaviour, involving parents and carers in that process, too. But there are alternatives, and it is important to commend restorative action and early interventions to prevent children from getting into the criminal justice process in the first place.

The Government’s 2019 manifesto promised to do “right by victims” and

“to fight crime against women and girls”,

but I have to say to the Secretary of State that nothing seems further from the truth. Women do not need rhetoric; they need legislation, but he appears more interested in silencing protests than giving a voice to victims of sexual crimes—more interested in defending statues than women and girls. Will the Secretary of State show that he cares by working cross-party to implement Labour’s Bill on ending violence against women and girls?

That was not a question; it was a soundbite, which bears no reality to what this Government have been doing. We have passed landmark domestic abuse legislation, we work tirelessly in the fight against violence against women and girls, and we continue to do that in our new Bill, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which presents a golden opportunity for Labour to work together with us. But what did they do? They voted against it on Second Reading; they voted the whole thing down. I will not believe Labour until they truly match their rhetoric with their deeds; so far their record has been dismal and weak.

In 2019 Philip Leece viciously raped a woman on her way home from a night out; she was 26 and soon to be married. Adding insult to injury, he published the name of his victim online and ridiculed her as being too fat and disgusting to rape. For that, he received a pathetic fine of £120. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not commit to implementing Labour’s whole Bill on ending violence against women, will he at least agree to implement Labour’s proposals for tougher sentences for those who name and shame victims of sexual offences?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that distressing case, and he can rest assured that over the years in which I have dealt with the unlawful and criminal naming of victims in that way I have not hesitated to take action as a Law Officer. Indeed we are already making preparations to see what can be done to improve and strengthen the law in this area, because, make no mistake, the naming of victims of sexual abuse—and other types of offending as well where anonymity is an essential part of the process—is not just wrong, it is criminal and we will do whatever it takes to help stamp it out.

Legal Advice Deserts

Legal advice and legal aid underpin a fair, rules-based society. The Legal Aid Agency keeps market capacity under continual review to ensure provision across England and Wales, and legal advice is always available through the Civil Legal Advice telephone service.

In Greater Manchester, we are lucky that the Greater Manchester Law Centre provides an excellent service for people across the city region, but in my constituency of Stockport there are no community legal aid providers; it joins the 78% of local authorities in England and Wales that do not have that service. Does the Minister agree that these legal aid deserts are denying vital support to millions of people, and will he make representations to the Treasury to ensure that there is the necessary funding for every area to have an acceptable number of legal aid providers?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Legal aid is essential, which is why I am delighted that when the law centres sought support from the Government, every penny piece requested was provided—including, by the way, to Greater Manchester Law Centre, which received £140,000. We are standing behind excellent legal aid providers, including those who provide it digitally and remotely, because when it comes to legal advice, what matters most is quality, not necessarily geography.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) is spot on, is he not? The Government must address the vast deserts where no legal aid providers exist. The disabled and vulnerable in most of England and Wales have been denied access to justice due to the Government’s inaction. How can the Minister possibly justify a situation where 37 million people in Stockport, Hull and across the rest of England and Wales do not have access to a community care legal aid provider? He talks tough, he promises all sorts; he does nothing. Get on with it!

It is always a pleasure to hear from the hon. Gentleman. What a shame that when there was a Labour Government, he did nothing to stand up to the Labour Prime Minister who decried “fat cat” legal aid lawyers and said that he was going to

“derail the gravy train of legal aid”.

Where was the hon. Gentleman then? Nowhere. This is the Government who are getting behind legal aid and getting behind the civil legal aid service, and who, by the way, funded the community justice fund, which provided support for the Disability Law Service that he wants to see, and so do I.

Sexual Assault: Naming of Victims

Complainants in rape and sexual offence cases are protected by automatic reporting restrictions. There is a lifetime ban on reporting any matter likely to identify a victim from the moment the offence is reported. As the Lord Chancellor has outlined, we are giving consideration to what more we could do to provide greater deterrence and punishment when an offence is committed.

While we still see instances of victims of sexual assault being named publicly, women continue to be silenced from naming their abusers by civil actions from those who are wealthy enough to take them. I wrote to the Prime Minister in March asking him to take action on this, but the Minister’s reply of 13 April missed this point entirely. Will he now say what steps he will take to prevent victims from being gagged by wealthy and powerful abusers in civil courts?

Obviously, we want to make sure that there is equity before the law, and no matter how rich or powerful someone is, they have to obey the rules as they are laid down. As the Lord Chancellor has outlined, we are giving consideration to what more we can do in this area to make sure that the anonymity of victims in this kind of case is protected and there is sufficient deterrent and punishment for those who name their own victims, or indeed those who are victims in court, so that it does not occur.

Backlog of Court Cases

Prior to coronavirus, outstanding case loads in the Crown court were low by historical standards. However, coronavirus has put huge strain on the court system, in common with so many other public services. The Government have taken decisive action, with 60 Nightingale courtrooms, a quarter of a billion pounds spent on improving the justice system, 290 safe jury trial rooms and 1,600 extra staff. It is thanks to those decisive measures that magistrates court case loads are now 60,000 cases lower than they were at the peak over the summer.

I thank the Minister for his answer and for his previous engagement on the issue of a Nightingale court in Kent. Will he provide an update on when he thinks the court will be established and up and running?

My hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate for a Nightingale court in Kent. My colleague Lord Wolfson is working very actively on that question and I strongly hope we will be in a position to make a positive announcement in the very near future.

The employment tribunal backlog stands at a staggering 51,000, which is 45% higher than pre-pandemic levels. The Minister will blame that on covid, but he knows the system was broken before, with cuts made by his Department. Now, as we see multiple employment claims shooting up and some employers using covid as a cover for fire and rehire or cutting people’s employment rights, we have a tribunal system that is unable to cope. Labour warned about this and called for a package of urgent measures. When will the Minister finally step up and take responsibility for the backlog of cases?

In common with so many other areas of the justice system employment tribunals were profoundly affected by coronavirus, but we have taken decisive action. The number of employment tribunal sitting days is being increased dramatically, and the tribunal is benefiting from the 1,600 extra staff hired across Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and from the enormous investment in technology, which is enabling across the court system, including the tribunal, 20,000 remote hearings a week. Those are the actions we are taking to address the issue the hon. Lady raises.

The Minister is being remarkably complacent, because he must know that much of the backlog was actually caused by massive cuts by the Conservative Government. That was a huge error, impacting not only on very serious criminal cases in the Crown court, but on dealing with the petty crime and antisocial behaviour that is blighting our communities. He also knows that cases are taking years to get to court, with the impact that that has on the availability or willingness of witnesses. When he will he stop putting out this complacent line and get a grip of the problem?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the situation prior to coronavirus. The outstanding case load in the Crown court prior to coronavirus was 39,000 cases—low by historical standards and substantially lower than the 47,000 cases left behind by the last Labour Government. Moreover, under this Government, crime, as reported by the crime survey, has dropped by 41%. There is no complacency. A quarter of a billion pounds has been spent, 1,600 extra staff have been hired and 23,000 extra police are being recruited. There is no complacency here.

I asked the House of Commons Library what was going on in the east midlands pre-pandemic. Interestingly, in Bosworth the number of court cases in the backlog has stayed the same. That is partly because there was an 11% rise in Leicester courts, but a 12% fall in Leamington Spa. Clearly, covid has had a massive impact and I pay tribute to the court staff working tirelessly to clear that, but overall there is a mixed picture. What is the Minister’s Department trying to do to tease out what is covid and what is pre-existing, and, most importantly, to share good practice to try to deal with all those cases?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his interest, of course, in his constituency and his region. There is a great deal we are doing across the country, including in the east midlands. I mentioned the investment of a quarter of a billion pounds. We are also saying that for Crown court cases there will be no constraint on the number of cases listed. We are encouraging the judiciary the length and breadth of the kingdom, including in the east midlands, to be forward-leaning in listing. We have, of course, already opened the Nightingale court in Nottingham and are planning to open a further Crown court in Loughborough in the late summer, which will accommodate large multi-handers—it will be a supercourt. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome that important step, which will benefit his region.

Even the Minister’s own MPs accept that there is a crisis in the court system. There are now a record 57,000 outstanding Crown court cases. Lawyers are concerned that they cannot safely see their clients in cells and facilities in many courts are inadequate for the same purpose. The temporary leases on many of the Nightingale courts will come to an end within weeks. Defendants are spending longer than ever in prison and on remand, and some are wrongly feeling pressured to plead guilty rather than face months and maybe years before their cases will be heard. Will the Minister confirm his plans for the future of Nightingale courts, put a stop to the other planned court closures and tell the House just how long is it going to take to clear this backlog?

I am rather perplexed to hear the shadow Minister talk about planned court closures. There are not any planned court closures and, in fact, as I have said, we have opened up 60 new Nightingale courtrooms and will be looking to continue those as long as they are needed. I already said, in the last answer, that we are planning to open up a new Nightingale court in a number of places in the country, including in Loughborough. The Lord Chancellor has been clear that the judiciary can list at will in the Crown court to encourage the recovery, which we are supporting with money—I have mentioned the quarter of a billion pounds several times already—remote hearings and extra staff. The pandemic has caused enormous difficulties for the court system, as it has for public services. Jury trials and pandemics do not mix very well. We have taken decisive action. That decisive action is delivering results.

Will the Minister look to fast-track rape cases by providing DNA testing hubs requiring immediate testing of the accused on request, like breath tests, and confirm that positive tests, alongside a dated audio recording from the victim’s mobile phone saying that they do not consent to sex, would be sufficient to enable immediate imprisonment through fast-track Nightingale courts to massively scale up the number of rapists taken off our streets and put behind bars? Will he meet me to discuss this?

The hon. Gentleman is raising an extremely important point. Some of the questions that he is raising, to do with DNA testing and disclosure, are being addressed in the rape review that is due to report very shortly. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime and Policing would be delighted to meet and discuss some of these—[Interruption.] He is leading this work and he would be delighted to discuss these points; he gave me that undertaking just a moment ago. We are looking to expedite and ease these matters through, for example, the wider use of section 28 pre-recorded evidence, so people can give their evidence more quickly. On prioritising hearing rape cases, the hon. Gentleman is raising a very important point. Listing is a matter for the judiciary, but I know that judges think very carefully about the kind of points that he made when they decide which cases to prioritise.

Supreme Court Reform

I know that my right hon. Friend has taken a long and keen interest in the Supreme Court. It is entirely legitimate to look, in the wider context of constitutional reform, at the Act that underpinned the creation of that court to see whether it can be improved and updated. I will be open and consultative as that work is carried out, and I will say more at a later date about which aspects of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 I intend to consider.

For 600 years, the House of Lords and, latterly, its Appellate Committee did a superb job of being our Supreme Court. Nobody has ever given a proper cost-benefit analysis of what has been gained by abolishing it, apart from spending so much more extra public money. I doubt that the Government, or any Government, have the guts to abolish this wasteful institution, but will the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor make it clear that we do not have a written constitution? We are not America. The Queen in Parliament —in other words, this House of Commons—is supreme, not the Supreme Court. That is particularly important if the Scottish National party should ever carry out its threat of a unilateral referendum against the wishes of this House of Commons in an Act of Parliament. Will the Secretary of State—

Order. Sir Edward, you should know that it is not supposed to be a speech; it is a question. You have been here so long you should know that.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to decry the rationalist approach that was taken by the then Labour Government to our unwritten constitution. He is absolutely right to warn us against a descent into a United States-style constitutional court, which will do no one, least of all the judiciary, any good. I pay tribute to the members of that august body, but it is right that in the wider context of constitutional reform, we look at all aspects of our constitution to make sure that we get the balance right and to emphasise the point that Parliament is supreme.

The Leader of the House described a Supreme Court ruling on his Government’s plans as a “constitutional coup”, yet we now see the UK Government using the same court to prevent the Scottish Government from implementing human rights legislation. Is the message to judges from the UK Government that they should just stay out of Downing Street’s business, but stand by if needed to prevent the devolved nations from implementing democratically agreed policy? How does the Secretary of State think that that will protect the Union?

Tempted as I am to talk about the particular issue that the hon. Lady raises, there is an ongoing Supreme Court reference. That is a normal use of our constitutional devices to make sure that all parts of the kingdom, including the devolved Administrations, legislate in a way that is consistent with the powers that they have. That is what is happening; it is a very good example of a mature democracy in operation.

With regard to the hon. Lady’s underlying political point about the Scottish Government’s decision to legislate in that way, this country is among the leaders in the world in child safeguarding. No amount of virtue signalling about the incorporation of international conventions that will make no difference to the quality of safeguarding of children in our country will get away from that fact.

Is not one of the key features of our unwritten constitution respect for the independence, integrity and quality of our judiciary? Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that we have no intention of going down the American route with any political interference in the appointment of our judges?

My hon. Friend is absolutely on the nail, as ever. He knows that I have long valued the principle of comity, which is that we as parliamentarians respect the independence and role of the judiciary, and that in their work the judiciary likewise respect the position of Parliament. That is what comity is all about, that is what I believe in, and that is what we will embody in our policies as we develop them.

Crime in Prisons

Reducing crime in prisons is a key priority. We are delivering on our commitment to invest £100 million in bolstering prison security and clamping down on the weapons, drugs and mobile phones that fuel violence and crime behind bars. This investment enhances security at the entry point to prisons, using the latest technology, and strengthens staff resilience to corruption, as well as targeting organised criminals who exploit prisons as a lucrative market.

As the Minister says, many of the crimes committed in prison are related to illegal contraband that finds its way inside. Constituents who live close to Thorn Cross Prison in Appleton Thorn in my constituency have told me about their increasing worry about daylight drops in gardens that border the open prison. Could the Minister tell me what steps he is taking and what residents can do to address that real concern, particularly where children are playing in gardens and their parents are concerned for their welfare?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point on behalf of his constituents. The Government’s £100 million investment to prevent crime in prison has enabled hundreds of security items to be purchased that will assist his constituents, including 176 search dogs, 300 metal detection archways and wands, mobile phone detection technology and 51 X-ray body scanners. We have also developed clear guidance for prisons on managing trespassers within the open estate, including protocols on reporting evidence to the police and addressing the site-specific security risks. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further if that would be helpful.

Office of the Chief Coroner: Provision of Services

What steps his Department is taking with the Office of the Chief Coroner to help ensure timely provision of services by that Office. (900146)

I am grateful to the Chief Coroner, his predecessor and his staff for their work in supporting coroners during the covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 has had an enormous impact on coroners and their staff; it is therefore to their very great credit that in 2020 the average time from a death being reported to the conclusion of the inquest remained at 27 weeks, as it was in 2019.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but my constituents who are served by the Birmingham and Solihull coroner service often express frustration at delays when they are making burial arrangements. It is a particular issue for Muslim and Jewish families, for whom burials should take place as soon as possible after death. What is being done to ensure that coroners’ courts engage with local religious group to address these problems and make sure that religious beliefs are respected and honoured?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Coroners are independent judicial office holders, so they will operate independently. However, I can say that the Government have provided over £4 billion to local authorities to ensure that those coroners who are doing this important work have the resources they need. So far as the Birmingham and Solihull coroner service’s timeliness is concerned, the average time from a death being reported to the conclusion of the inquest in that area was 10 weeks, down from 14 weeks, in 2019. I am pleased to say that that is well below the average in England and Wales.

Prison Officers: Years of Experience

What recent estimate his Department has made of the cumulative number of years of experience held by currently serving prison officers. (900147)

As at 31 December 2020, the cumulative length of service by all band 3 to 5 prison officers was more than 243,000 years. From late 2016 to the end of December 2020, the number of prison officers has increased by more than 3,600. Having experienced staff in prisons is vital to ensuring that they remain safe, secure and decent.

I thank the Minister for his answer to my question. We both know that being a prison officer is a difficult job that takes years of experience to perfect, yet a combined 86,000 years of experience has been lost since 2010. Does he accept that this has had a catastrophic effect on safety, and will he commit to giving prison officers the pay rise his experts recommend to tackle the problem?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for rightly paying tribute to our prison officers. Let us just pause to reflect for a moment. At the beginning of this pandemic, Public Health England estimated that, on a reasonable worst-case scenario, more than 2,500 prisoners could die in prison. Because of the excellent work of our prison officers, that figure—although each one is a tragedy—is closer to 119. It was prison officers who delivered that. I am pleased to say that, even in this difficult financial situation, our prison officers received between 2.5% and 7.5% increases last year. We are also investing heavily in the security equipment needed, including PAVA spray, SPEAR—spontaneous protection enabling accelerated response—training, and body-worn video cameras, that make prisons a better and more conducive environment not only for prisoners but for prison staff.

The Minister must surely recognise that there are consequences to 86,000 years of staff experience being lost since 2010, because what happens when there are not enough experienced staff can be summed up in one word: violence. In 2019, violence was 134% higher than in 2010. Even last year, with prisoners locked up alone, violence was 38% higher. Self-harm has doubled, and assaults on staff have tripled. Experience matters. With further cuts coming, thanks to the Minister’s friends in the Treasury, will he recognise this? How is he going to make our prisons safer?

I agreed with the first half of that but not the second half. It is absolutely right that we have retention. May I reassure the hon. Lady that there are an additional 3,600 prison officers? In fact, I am sorry to say that what she said about the data on violence is wrong. The violence in terms of assaults on prison officers has gone down by 20%. I hope she will also be reassured to know that the leaving rate is down by nearly 3% as well. We are getting behind our prison officers. We are investing in our prisons. We are providing the security, providing the investment and making sure that their brilliant work can continue long into the future.

Pet Theft: Maximum Sentence

What assessment he has made of the potential merits of increasing the maximum sentence for pet theft. (900148)

I recognise the deep distress that the theft of a much-loved pet can cause, which is why laws are already in place to deal with offenders who commit such abhorrent crimes, but more can be done. The Environment Secretary, the Home Secretary and I have had discussions to consider further action, and I have set up a taskforce to investigate and tackle this issue from end to end, looking at prevention, reporting, enforcement and prosecution.

I welcome the setting up of the taskforce, because what is important is not just the sentencing but the deterrent effect, so that we see fewer pets—dogs, particularly—being stolen. The Secretary of State’s answer will be very welcome, but can he say what more can be done? I ask him this on behalf of my two rescue labradors, Sophie and Chase, but also on behalf of the newly elected police and crime commissioner in Gloucestershire, the Conservative Chris Nelson, who made stopping pet theft one of his key election priorities.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I declare an interest, as an owner of a cat. Let us not forget that this applies to a number of much-loved animals, who have, particularly in lockdown, proved an invaluable source of solace and comfort to many millions of people. He is right to talk about the wider issue. Those who minimise pet theft forget that it is often the thin end of a wedge and it might even involve organised crime. We need to take a zero tolerance approach here in order to deal with wider criminality, so we will be looking at the nature of the black market that exists and the rises we have seen with regard to the value of individual animals. All that is very much on the table.

Probate

We have increased resources to handle calls and inquiries relating to probate applications and, as a result, the average time taken to process such an application is running at between four and six weeks. We have also had a big push towards moving the process online—to be digital—and in March more than 75% of grants were done digitally.

One of my constituents applied for probate and was mistakenly sent the wrong will. This was discovered only after they chased it and they discovered that the case had been closed, with no word from the probate office. When the correct will was sent, it was lost and once again my constituent was not informed. It took nine months for probate to be granted from when they first applied. The loss of a friend and a relative is already an incredibly difficult time. Can the Minister tell me and my constituent what he is going to do to improve communications in the probate office so that nobody has to go through a similar experience?

Thankfully, distressing examples such as that are extremely rare. I encourage Members who encounter them to write to us at the Ministry of Justice so that we can make sure they are rapidly resolved. The number of complex cases where there are various queries and difficulties has reduced by two thirds since January—they have gone down from 2,500 to 650. I urge constituents to use the digital system, because for straightforward digital cases we are now issuing probate in one week and, even for stopped cases, where there is a query, it is being done in four weeks. We should all be urging our constituents to use the digital service to make sure this is as fast as possible.

UK Nationals in US Prisons

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on enabling UK nationals imprisoned in the US to serve their sentences in the UK. (900151)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question and letter to the Department on this issue, and we will be providing the response. There is already a mechanism in place to facilitate transfers of sentenced persons to and from the United States. British nationals serving sentences in the US can request to be transferred to a UK prison under the Council of Europe convention on the transfer of sentenced persons.

In the particular circumstance, and given the powerful case I have made in correspondence, can the Minister fix it for my constituent to commence his sentence in the UK?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has fought doggedly on behalf of his constituent. The prisoner transfer agreement that exists between the US and the UK has been in place for 31 years. It does not allow for the so-called “takeover” of sentences. The only way this individual can be transferred is for his constituent to return to the US, commence his sentence and apply for transfer to a British prison. But I can assure my right hon. Friend that, once that application is agreed by the US, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service will endeavour to process the transfer as quickly as possible.

Emergency Workers: Assaults

In 2019, 11,257 cases were prosecuted for an assault against an emergency worker and in that year 9,066 resulted in conviction and sentencing. As you may know, Mr Speaker, the Government are legislating to double the maximum sentence for an assault on an emergency worker from 12 to 24 months. Just this morning, we had Committee proceedings taking evidence on that and the move was widely welcomed by the police chiefs who gave evidence to our Committee.

It sounds as though that was a very well-written piece of legislation in the first place because it seems to be having an effect. However, we do still have large numbers of emergency workers being assaulted and the Sentencing Council still has not produced new guidelines to insist that magistrates must treat simply spitting as a “proper assault”. Especially in the last year, that has become more important than ever before. May I ask the Minister: how many of the people who have been prosecuted have had sentences longer than six months? That is the key to determining whether lengthening maximum sentences to two years will be effective.

I should start by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on the instrumental role that he played in bringing forward the legislation to which I have just referred. On the question of Sentencing Council guidelines, I understand that the Sentencing Council, which is independent of Government, is in the process of looking at the sentencing guidelines. I hope that it will reflect the very strong feelings on both sides of this House about the seriousness of assaulting an emergency worker and that it will bear that in mind when it publishes those revised guidelines. I am afraid I do not have to hand the number of those being sentenced to more than six months; of course many will be. Where the assault is more serious, it will be prosecuted as grievous bodily harm or GBH with intent, which carry much higher maximum sentences. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with those figures if that will assist him.

Reduction of Reoffending

We have innovative and ambitious cross-Government action plans to tackle reoffending as part of our uncompromising mission to cut crime. For example, we are introducing GPS tags for serious acquisitive offenders to track their movements for up to 12 months post release and increasing the length of curfews. In January, we announced a £70 million investment, which included enhancing the Department’s approved premises and providing temporary basic accommodation for prison leavers to keep them off the streets and reduce reoffending.

I thank the Minister for that answer. It is jobs that I am interested in. We know that having a job can reduce a person’s chance of reoffending by up to 50%, so what steps is his Department taking to support young offenders to get on the job ladder? I will give a local example here. We have an excellent “Ban the Box” campaign, which Milton Keynes College supports, to end that cycle of reoffending and offer a chance to young people to turn their lives around.

My hon. Friend has identified, with his usual wisdom, one of the three pillars of success post incarceration: a house, a friend and a job. He is quite right and I congratulate Milton Keynes College on its participation in the “Ban the Box” campaign. The Ministry of Justice has also been pleased to support business in the community at the event marking the remarkable milestone, it tells me, of 1 million roles covered by “Ban the Box” in March this year. We adopted “Ban the Box” in the civil service in 2016 and about 350,000 of those 1 million jobs are now in the civil service. More widely, as part of our approach to revising offender management, we are working very closely with colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that those who leave the secure estate have a fair shake in the job market, which, as he rightly said, will go a long way to cutting reoffending.

Violence against Women and Girls: Support for Victims

What steps his Department is taking to improve support in the justice system for victims of violence against women and girls. (900154)

What steps his Department is taking to improve support in the justice system for victims of violence against women and girls. (900158)

Supporting victims to seek justice is a significant priority for the Government. We are investing in vital victim support services—more than £150 million this year—and a new victims code sets out the level of service that victims can expect to receive from justice agencies, but we must go further. The victims Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech will enshrine victims’ rights in law, hold agencies to account for delivering those rights and set expectations for the standard and availability of victim support.

The Minister talks about a victims Bill. There has been one in every Queen’s Speech since 2016 and we have not seen any concrete action. So can I ask him to remedy that by starting with a particular concrete action? Can he back the amendment that the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) and I are tabling to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to address the fact that 50% of women seeking abortion at clinics face intimidation and emotional distress? We want national legislation put in place to provide clarity for women, police and girls rather than relying on councils all the time, which do not have the bandwidth, resources or time to do this issue justice.

I take the hon. Lady’s rebuke about a victims law, but she should be reassured that we are currently scoping the outline of that Bill with an intention to consult for prelegislative scrutiny later this year. We are firmly of the conviction that the victims code, which became effective on 1 April this year, is worthy and should be enshrined in statute and that is what we are aiming for. As to her amendment to the Bill, no doubt it will be considered as part of the legislation going forward.

At a recent Oldham roundtable on domestic abuse, we heard of the increase in abuse during lockdown and the issues that the victims were facing. In particular, the lack of measures to address wider cultural issues, the fact that poverty is a driver and consequence of abuse, and the lack of availability of appropriately adapted or supported safe accommodation, were all cited as issues with the Government’s new Domestic Abuse Act 2021. What discussions has the Minister had with his counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Act is as effective as we all want it to be? At the moment, it is just a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.

The hon. Lady is quite right that legislation is only half the fight. The implementation of that legislation, and what we actually do physically on the ground for the victims of domestic abuse, are key to ensuring that we reduce the number of victims and increase the number of perpetrators who receive punishment.

When I was Housing Minister, I was pleased to work closely with the supported housing sector, particularly in the area of refuge, to ensure that refuges stayed within the housing benefit regime, rather than moving towards universal credit. One key plank of the argument that we made to Treasury colleagues was that that would enable greater investment by the sector in this area, as it could then be confident on the income stream that will arise from people who are within that kind of accommodation. I have just taken over the brief on victims, so I will shortly be talking with colleagues in MHCLG about what more we can do on supported housing—not just for people in that particular situation, but more widely for those who are seeking either to build a better life post incarceration or to escape victimisation.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

The first duty of any Government is to protect and deliver justice, but justice for victims of violence against women and girls is becoming ever more distant. Rape convictions have fallen by more than 50% in the last two years—a record low, according to the Crown Prosecution Service. Worse still, more and more victims are dropping out of the process altogether. The Government are due to release a violence against women and girls strategy, but Labour’s is ready to go and includes: a fast-track system; a dedicated Minister for survivors of sexual violence; and a survivors’ support package, which would aid victims before, during and after the process. Will the Minister commit to taking these proposals forward now? If not, can he explain to victims why this Government choose further delay and inaction?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment, but I am afraid that I reject her rebuke as to inaction. With my other hat on at the Home Office, I have been working very hard over the last two years to address some of these issues, in particular, for example, by setting murder as one of the key national priorities; a third of all murders are domestic. In order to prevent murders, the police and others have to reach back into the crime types that result in that catastrophe, not least domestic violence and abuse. There is an enormous amount of work going on.

The hon. Lady should not believe that the fact that we have not yet published our rape review—I hope to publish it shortly—means that work has not been under way. For her and other Members’ information, I chair an action group—a taskforce—that brings together the police, the CPS and other partners across Government to focus on this issue, and to see if we can drive better outcomes for victims and better performance in the courts; there is an enormous amount of work going on. Having said that, this issue is not one on which there should be a political divide. If there are good lessons to be learned from the Opposition or, frankly, from around the world, we would be foolish not to have a look at them.

Topical Questions

In the Gracious Speech last week, the Queen outlined this Government’s plans to recover from the covid-19 pandemic and to build back a better country for our future. The justice system has a vital part to play in that—to cut crime, to protect victims, and to guarantee fairness in our society. My ministerial team and I look forward to steering a number of new Bills through Parliament during this Session. As I said earlier, I am pleased that our new pet theft taskforce will now look at how we can better protect people from the awful crime of pet theft and ensure that action is taken against those who perpetrate it and those who organise it.

Will the Secretary of State advise on what is being done to ensure that prisons reopen for family visits as soon as possible? The guidance on the Government website has not been updated since 29 March. Although I am told that prisons can reopen once they reach stage 3 of the national framework, I certainly know of some that have reached that stage but still are not open, which is very upsetting for the families involved, so will he give us an update?

Of course, Her Majesty’s Prison Bristol will be near to or in the hon. Lady’s constituency. I am glad to tell her that the majority of prisons have now reached stage 3 in accordance with the plan that I published last year. The individual decision making is very much up to governors and regional group directors, but I can assure her that Ministers and senior officials are driving forward progress on reopening, allowing visits, and indeed considering moving to the next stage, stage 2, which would further open up the prison environment —consistent of course with public health guidance and the needs and the safety of prisoners.

What a brilliant question! I have always regarded myself as an early adopter of technology as one of the first in my family to own a Sinclair pocket calculator—remember those?—so I am now given the opportunity to early adopt in criminal justice as well. There are lots of ways that we can use technology to decrease offending. For example, I referred earlier to the GPS trackers that we are fitting to a group of criminals post release. Some 50% of those released from prison following, for example, conviction for a burglary go on to reoffend. If we know where they are all the time, then they are less likely to offend, but also, if there is a burglary, the police are able to match their location to the data to eliminate them or make them a person of inquiry. Similarly, Mr Speaker, you will be pleased to know that we are rolling out alcohol abstinence tags, which we fit to the ankles of those who are convicted of a crime where alcohol has driven their criminal behaviour. At the moment, compliance with these tags is well over 95%.

In reply to my earlier question, did the Secretary of State really say that the incorporation of international conventions—we were talking about the UNCRC—will make no difference to the quality of safeguarding of children in our country? I was so taken aback that I have changed my second question. I have to ask: does he actually believe that, and is it just this international convention or are they all as impotent as he appears to think that one is?

As the ban on evictions starts to lift, what preparations has my right hon. and learned Friend made to ensure that the courts can cope with the surge of applications? (900205)

Volumes of possession actions remain significantly low as a result of measures that we took in response to the pandemic. Indeed, although the ban in England on bailiff-enforced evictions will end on 31 May, the requirement for landlords to give extended notice periods to seek possession orders in all but the most egregious cases has really struck the right balance. We intend to taper down these notice periods to pre-covid levels by October, which will help to manage demand in the courts. I pay tribute to senior judiciary for working at pace to develop a case management approach to possession cases.

According to the Government’s own research, 60% of people in the north-east have no up-to-date photo ID and 44% say they are unlikely to apply for local authority ID in order to vote. Will the Justice Secretary update the House on the most recent data on investigation and prosecutions for in-person voter fraud, because without evidence of significant abuse, the Government’s sledgehammer to crack a nut risks undermining rather than protecting the integrity of our elections by unjustifiably preventing many people from voting? (900201)

With respect to the hon. Lady, I think that her concerns are wholly misplaced; I would be kind enough to say that. Some of the objection to this is, frankly, synthetic. The last Labour Government introduced it in Northern Ireland in 2003 without any concomitant reduction in turnout. Countries such as France and Canada and other mature democracies have long had this system in place. We will provide free identification for the tiny minority of people who do not have it. Frankly, the people of this country are wondering why on earth this has not been done before and are bewildered by the Opposition’s confected objections.

I met with TSB last week to discuss fraud and was surprised to find out that there has been a big increase in young people being subject to fraud. TSB’s internal research showed that over 50% of these scams and frauds directly involved social media. What does my hon. Friend believe should be done about that, and what conversations are taking place with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to develop ways to clamp down on this in the light of the online harms Bill? (900207)

My hon. Friend rightly identifies an expanding area of business, sadly, for the courts and the police. He will be pleased to know that just last week, I held a meeting with the National Economic Crime Centre at the National Crime Agency to talk specifically about this issue. He will understand the complexity of online fraud in particular, whereby the offender may well be overseas, laundering money through a third territory and banking it in a fourth. Nevertheless, we need to do more to increase our capacity and capability to tackle this issue, to which we are all, including me, subject.

Far too many women are sentenced by our courts to short or very short prison sentences. The overwhelming evidence is that non-custodial sentences, with properly resourced and properly structured alternatives to prison, work better in preventing reoffending. What are the Government doing to ensure that we invest in these non-custodial options for the courts to use? (900204)

The hon. Gentleman speaks with a lot of experience, not just as a Member of this House but as a former police and crime commissioner. He will be reassured to know that the female offender strategy continues. In particular, with regard to the work that we are doing on pre-sentence reports, we will help courts and decision makers come to conclusions based upon community sentence treatment requirements, whether that is support for addiction or for mental health problems, which are a constructive direct alternative to those short terms of imprisonment that he rightly criticises.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend reassure my constituents of the steps his Department is taking to improve judicial and public confidence in sentencing? (900209)

My hon. Friend is right to hold the Government to account on these issues. He will recall that the White Paper I issued last year set out our plans for a framework that will do just that, by targeting the most serious violent and sexual offenders, ensuring that they serve longer proportions of their sentences of imprisonment in custody, therefore reflecting more appropriately the severity of their crimes and protecting the public, and ensuring that we introduce robust and effective community options for those who commit less serious offences.

There are no black, Asian and minority ethnic Supreme Court judges. Can the Secretary of State explain what decisive action the Government are taking to ensure greater representation of people of colour across our judiciary? (900206)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She will be encouraged to know that the Judicial Appointments Commission, senior judiciary and I work together on that very issue, to ensure that the professions are doing all they can to encourage and support applicants from a black and minority ethnic background. In particular, I pay tribute to CILEX, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, for driving forward that important diversity. There is much more work to be done, and progress for all of us is frustratingly slow, but I will continue to put my shoulder to the wheel to ensure that we see sooner rather than later someone of a black and minority ethnic background sitting in the Supreme Court.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans), the Treasury Committee has been hearing about the explosion in online financial fraud. Could my right hon. and learned Friend explain how the victims Bill will help so many of our constituents who are being preyed upon by these financial fraudsters? (900210)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise an issue that affects many people. One issue is the embarrassment and shame of people who fall victim to such fraud that they could have been tricked in the first place. Not only is supporting victims to overcome that stigma very much part of the victims code that we introduced in the past month or so, working with the sector, but as we develop the consultation into our new law, there will be opportunities fully to reflect the pernicious nature of online criminality. By helping to design out fraud, the financial services sector can make its greatest contribution to the reduction of such heinous crime.

To return to the questions asked earlier by my hon. Friends the Members for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) and for West Ham (Ms Brown) about the loss of prison officer experience due to experienced prison officers leaving the service, will the Secretary of State confirm whether it was the Chancellor himself who vetoed the fair pay rise for frontline prison officers that was recommended by his own experts? (900208)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that in the context of those recommendations, prison officers received rises of between 2.5% and 7.5%. It is right to say that in one specific instance the recommendations of the body were not accepted—we are mindful of our overall duties with regard to the public purse—but I assure the hon. Gentleman that in terms of the recruitment, support and promotion of the vital role of prison officers, the Government will not stint in their unwavering support and encouragement.

Festus Akinbusoye, the inspirational police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire, has championed the use of addiction recovery programmes for low-risk offenders. Will the Minister tell the House what encouragement he is likely to give to police and crime commissioners to expand the role of such programmes? In particular, what encouragement will he give to Festus for his campaigns? (900212)

I join my hon. Friend in celebrating the election of Commissioner Akinbusoye, who is one of the 29 Conservative police and crime commissioners—a full 70% of the available slots were secured by the Conservative party at the elections two weeks ago. My hon. Friend is quite right that police and crime commissioners have a critical role to play in offender management, given that more than half of crime is committed by reoffenders. At the severe end in particular, we know that, on average, all murderers in the country have committed at least seven previous offences. In my role as Policing Minister, I will work closely with police and crime commissioners to make sure that not only as chairs of their local criminal justice board but more widely they can play an important role in driving down reoffending.

Involvement in the criminal justice system can be especially upsetting for children, so will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the Scottish Government’s proposal for a Bairn’s Hoose? The idea is that families and children would all be under one roof and looked after in a way that could be beneficial to families who come out of the criminal justice system. Are the UK Government willing to look at the idea as well? (900211)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion and would be interested to know more about the specific approach being taken. I assure him that south of the border the concept of supported accommodation and a supported approach is very much at the heart of what we are seeking to do, particularly with regard to young offenders. The development of the use of smaller units and diversionary work has been very much at the heart of what we have done over the past 10 years. The hon. Gentleman will see that the number of children now incarcerated has fallen from 3,000 to just over 500 or so in the past year. That is a dramatic improvement, but I am certainly interested to know more about the Scottish Government’s initiative.

Does not the collapse of the Serco fraud trial and the fact that the Serious Fraud Office was prosecuting only mid-level managers rather than the people responsible for defrauding the taxpayer, which they admitted, high- light the need to bring forward a “failure to prevent economic crime” offence at corporate level, and to make it a criminal offence? (900216)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his assiduous campaigning on this important issue. He knows that I have always placed heavy emphasis on the need to examine the law carefully in this area, because I accept that there are loopholes. I asked the Law Commission to undertake an in-depth review of economic crime law and, if necessary, to make recommendations on options for reform. It began its work last November and is aiming to publish an options paper later this year. We will work with the Law Commission to implement any next steps.

The Government’s own review warns that any changes to judicial review should be made only after the most careful consideration, so will the Government listen to themselves and will the Secretary of State rethink his plans to limit individuals’ powers to challenge Government through the courts? (900215)

We commissioned an independent review, which was published after public involvement, and we have now conducted a consultation process, again with full involvement from civil society. We will have plenty of opportunities, in this House and in the other place, to debate and scrutinise any legislation that comes forward. There are ample opportunities for all of us to take part in this important process, and I am sure that the product of those deliberations will indeed be one of quality that enhances the balance between the judiciary, Parliament and the Executive.

I will now suspend the House to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next item of business.

Sitting suspended.

Ministerial Code/Register of Ministers’ Interests

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will make a statement on enforcement of the ministerial code and the publication of the register of Ministers’ interests.

May I start by congratulating the right hon. Lady on her multiple new roles? I apologise for the fact that she has to put up with me for her debut. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is unable to be here, but I know that he is looking forward to working with her.

On 28 April, the Prime Minister appointed the right hon. Lord Geidt, former private secretary to Her Majesty the Queen, to the position of independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. In taking up the appointment, he agreed revised terms of reference for the role, which strengthen its independence. One of his core tasks is to oversee the preparation of the list of Ministers’ interests. In giving evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee last Thursday, he confirmed that it was his intention to publish the updated list on Ministers’ interests by the end of this month.

The ministerial code is clear: there must be no misuse of taxpayers’ money, nor actual or perceived conflicts of interest, but time and again Ministers act like the rules are for other people—none more so than the Prime Minister himself. Last year, he declared £15,000 from a Tory donor for his sleazy jet trip to a private island. This weekend, we read that the real cost was double that, and paid by someone else entirely.

People might ask, “Why is this important?” It is important because it goes to the very heart of our democracy. Who do our Government answer to: the public, or private interests? We learned only from the media that the Prime Minister has blocked the publication of the independent commissioner’s report. Can the Minister tell us why the delay? Does she accept that the rules apply to everyone, even the Prime Minister, and will he accept—

Order. This case is with Standards, and really we ought to keep away from it until Standards has been able to deal with it.

Okay. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The list of Ministers’ interests is also mysteriously delayed, I assume while the Prime Minister tries to remember who paid for his flat, but does the Minister accept that if the Prime Minister can block the independent adviser from investigating he cannot in practice be fully independent, because the code clearly is not preventing actual or perceived conflicts of interests?

When the Home Secretary lobbies on behalf of a former adviser flogging substandard face masks, who lands a £100 million contract without tender and at double the going rate, who cannot perceive that as a conflict of interest? It is something that we know not from the Home Secretary declaring it, but because it was revealed in an admin error. Then there is the Health Secretary, who appears to have ordered an official to recommend a bid that he had not even read from a former Tory MP, who pocketed another £200 million of taxpayers’ cash. Surely the independent adviser must investigate those cases with no prime ministerial veto.

Finally, there is the Prime Minister’s own top adviser, Lord Lister. He concealed being paid by a luxury developer owned by yet another Tory donor, which was granted a record-breaking taxpayer-backed loan by the very public body that Lister chaired—money that was meant for affordable homes, but given out at mates’ rates for luxury flats and private profit. Will the Government release the loan agreement, along with the correspondence on that decision, and hand it to the independent investigator, and when will they publish their report on officials’ second jobs? When Ministers and advisers use the public purse as a personal cashpoint, the public have a right to know.

Order. Before we start, the supplementary was meant to be two minutes. I did interrupt, so I allowed some leeway. I will therefore also allow some leeway for the reply. When we mention Members of the other place, it is meant to be on a substantive motion. I know that seems strange, but these are the rules of the House, which I do not make; the House has made them and adopted them. We must stick to the rules. We do not criticise individual Members of the other House except on a substantive motion.

The right hon. Lady raises issues about the ministerial code, the arbiter of which is the Prime Minister; the work of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is a matter for that Committee; and the role of the independent adviser. She also touches on various reviews that are taking place and matters for the House authorities. As you pointed out, Mr Speaker, these are not things it would be appropriate for me to pontificate on, but I will try to answer the general thrust of the accusations the right hon. Lady makes today, and I shall speak frankly, because I know she appreciates that.

The charge the right hon. Lady makes is that the people she names are somehow on the take. That is the charge she is making here today on the Floor of the House: that they have not been focused over the past 16 months on working their socks off to save lives, to get a vaccination programme up and running and to do the things that the public need us to do, but that they have, unbelievably, entered into politics, made sacrifices and overcome the obstacles that she will be aware of to get into this place not to serve in public life but to do a mate—more accurately, a Tory mate—or someone they vaguely know, or met in a lift once, or perhaps do not know at all, a favour. That is the accusation that she is making today. I am afraid that that is why the Labour line of attack is not getting traction, well rehearsed though it is. It is not getting traction with the public because it is not plausible. It is based not on fact but on speculation, innuendo and smear.

Perceived conflicts of interest are not those that the right hon. Lady has made up. The public care about scrutiny—they do. They care about accountability, transparency and standards in public life. What they see through though is the performance she has given today, which is designed to smear decent colleagues and denigrate British business. I would direct the right hon. Lady to the National Audit Office report, which refutes the accusations she has made about MPs, civil servants, business and members of the public—but I am sure she already knows that. I would suggest to her that an Essex MP is perfectly entitled to forward an offer from the Essex chamber of commerce to help in a pandemic. MPs do it all the time—it is part of our job—but the right hon. Lady already knows this, too, and so does everyone else. The urgent question today has more to do with Labour’s internal politics and divisions than the conduct of Members of this House and enterprises that have been working to help the NHS and to save lives.

The right hon. Lady has made particular accusations today about colleagues, and I want to make a final point, Mr Speaker. If you were to take every single MP she has made an allegation about this afternoon, if you were to look at all the political donations they have received since the pandemic started, since January 2020, and if you were to add them all up and then double them—no, quadruple them—you would just about match what the right hon. Lady herself has received in the same time period. She should thank her lucky stars that we do not play the same games that she does.

The right hon. Lady is in a new position shadowing the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who now looks after some of the most pressing issues facing this nation: the Union of the United Kingdom, devolution, the recovery from this crisis, national security, community resilience and the British brand around the world. That is what we are focused on. I hope that, after her debut today, she will be too, and I wish her well.

The role of the independent adviser is an important one, and I personally was impressed by Lord Geidt’s evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee last week. Ostensibly, the delay in the publication of the Register of Ministers’ Interests was due to the vacancy in that important position that arose after the resignation of Sir Alex Allan. What does my right hon. Friend suggest be done should such a vacancy arise again, so that the register is not delayed in the future?

My hon. Friend makes some very good points. He knows, because I have appeared before his Committee regarding this and other matters, that there have been delays to certain things, in part because of what the Government have had to deal with over the past 16 months, but those appointments are in train now. As he also knows from the evidence his Committee took, the register is due to be published very soon. I am sure that things will be on a much more stable footing as, hopefully, we come out of the pandemic.

Annex B of the ministerial code says it is

“important that when a former Minister takes up a particular appointment or employment, there should be no cause for any suspicion of impropriety.”

Given that David Cameron worked as an adviser for Greensill Capital and is reported to have share options worth tens of millions of pounds, do the 57 messages to senior officials that we are aware of regarding Greensill Capital give any cause for suspicion of impropriety? Will that be investigated by the independent adviser? One of those messages to a senior civil servant said the decision

“seems bonkers. Am now calling CX,”—

the Chancellor of the Exchequer—

“Gove, everyone.”

Is that acceptable? Does that give cause for concern about impropriety and will that be investigated? When the Minister is on her feet, can she tell us what action, when the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster got the call, did he take on behalf of his old boss?

As I said in my opening response to the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), these issues are being looked at—there are reviews in train—and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on those until they have reported. However, I think all Members of this House will want things looked at. They will want to ensure that we get to the bottom of these issues, and I hope, too, that we will look at the wider issues around the Gupta Family Group and the role of the SNP in those matters.

I welcome the appointment of Lord Geidt and also the modest increase in the terms of reference to increase his independence. Do my right hon. Friends accept that it is possible still for us to go a little further to increase the degree of independence of Lord Geidt and his successors, and that it is not too late to add the extra levels of independence that have been suggested by Lord Evans and, among others, me to make sure that the role has extra credibility, without necessarily giving way to some of the extraordinary allegations that seem to prejudge some of the important work being done by independent or cross-party reviews already under way in this important area?

May I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done on these and related matters? It is very helpful when colleagues make positive suggestions. My understanding is that a response has been sent to Lord Evans, but we are keeping all things under review. We clearly want to ensure that we arrive at a situation where we can have the greatest possible transparency and ensure that we retain the trust of the public.

Accepting everything that the Minister says about the probity of her colleagues, does she not think that it would be in their interests for their names and their reputations to be cleared by a system that is wholly independent of the Prime Minister? Complaints against Ministers could be investigated, those investigations would be instigated by someone independent of Government, and thereafter their conclusions would be published. Surely that would be good for her colleagues.

I think I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is in those colleagues’ interests that there is credibility and weight to any investigations. The difficulty is that we have this peculiar and unique relationship between Ministers and the Prime Minister—they are not employees; they are in a particular category—and therefore we have a situation where the Prime Minister is the arbiter and is responsible for the ministerial code. What we are doing in all of these processes is trying to arrive at the condition that the right hon. Gentleman describes, but still stay within the boundaries of what is legal and what is correct.

Thanks to the efforts of this Government at the beginning of the pandemic, at no point did Blackpool Victoria Hospital or other local organisations such as Blackpool Council run out of PPE, despite the obvious global shortages. The public would rightly expect Ministers to do everything within their power to source PPE to keep people safe, so does my right hon. Friend agree with me that the actions taken by this Government were both proportionate and necessary, given the circumstances?

I do, and as well as thanking Members of this House who forwarded information to try to help address the PPE shortages, I should put on record our thanks for the incredible work of the procurement teams in the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care. One criticism the National Audit Office did make was that paperwork was not done on time, but I always remember one of the people who had done an incredible job during that period saying, “I would rather be criticised for late paperwork than a nurse not having gloves.” That is what enabled us to get equipment to the frontline during an incredibly difficult time for supply chains all around the world.

I am not going to comment on any of the individual issues, as that would be wholly inappropriate; I want to ask the Minister why such a long time has passed since the last register of ministerial interests was published. It is not even now an accurate list of Ministers, because so many Ministers have changed. Would it not make far more sense and be more in the interests of the public if the register were published every month, and if all the details that related to an individual Member of this House were also published in our register, so that a member of the public could simply see everything that is relevant to that individual Member?

We have seen all sorts of innovations over the last year given what technology now enables, and the hon. Gentleman makes a very sensible suggestion. It is for Lord Geidt to take these matters forward, and I am sure he will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said today.

Given that the NAO has found “no evidence” that Ministers were involved in any decisions around emergency PPE procurement, does my right hon. Friend agree that throwing unsubstantiated mud like this for party political advantage damages not just the Government but our political processes and is deeply irresponsible?

I agree with my hon. Friend—and it also damages business. Without the efforts of the private sector, whether it be pharma companies or production lines changing to produce what the country needs, we would have been in a really sorry state. Let us be frank, part of this agenda is to discredit the private sector.

If the Prime Minister does not respect the ministerial code how can he be expected to judge the behaviour of other Ministers who may have breached it?

MPs make mistakes from time to time and when that is drawn to their attention they apologise and we are severely admonished for them, but it is extraordinary that the new register of ministerial interests has not been published yet, and when Ministers start to double down and reports are not published, people start to wonder what the Government have to hide. Is the Minister saying to us today that no one has breached the ministerial code of conduct and that this is all just a misunderstanding that will be sorted out when various reports are published?

The hon. Gentleman’s question again betrays what is actually taking place this afternoon. I do not know; I do not have a crystal ball to see into the future. I am in the same position as everyone else, but what I do know is that to make unsubstantiated allegations about people is quite wrong.

Members right across the House received offers of support from businesses right around the country to make a huge contribution during a time of national crisis. Is it not the case that every Member has a responsibility to forward these offers of help and that all these offers were then judged on the same basis independently by the civil service, and to undermine this national effort is actually pretty damaging for the entire country?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. If there is one message I want to get across this afternoon, it is that if we are ever again in the situation that we found ourselves in last year, I would urge British business to step up as it did before. The public do not think the things that the Opposition say. They know that businesses in their communities did an incredible job, and we will stand up for them and thank them for their achievements last year to keep this nation safe.

I do not think anyone is criticising business, but it is quite clear that we need an inquiry into lobbying, procurement, and ministerial and civil service conflicts during the covid crisis. However, experience shows that such inquiries are not effective if requests for information are ignored, so does the Minister agree that what we really need is a judge-led inquiry with the power to order production of evidence and to take evidence on oath, and with the threat of appropriate sanctions for non-compliance and for perjury or equivocation?

In preparing for this urgent question, I had in my pack a list of the inquiries that are going on into one aspect or another, and it ran to something like one and a half pages. My personal view is that I do not think we need any more reviews. We have the Committee on Standards, we have the House authorities, we have the Boardman review; we have all these pieces of work looking at all the issues that hon. Members have raised this afternoon. What I would like to do is focus on the matters of substance that are facing this country and ensure that we take the trust of the public with us in that respect. I would also say to the hon. and learned Lady that I am afraid that part of the agenda is to question business. That is what is going on this afternoon.

The National Audit Office found no evidence that Ministers were involved in any decisions around emergency PPE procurement—or in the procurement of ear pods at £250. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Labour party had spent more time helping us fight the virus rather than banging on about wallpaper and the procurement of PPE, it could have gained back some trust from the British public?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is perfectly legitimate for any Member of this House to raise issues around how we hold people to account and how we scrutinise things, but he has characterised how this is being presented, and he will know from his constituents that the public take a dim view of it.

Paragraph 1.3.c of the ministerial code states:

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

Does that rule still apply, and does it also apply to the Prime Minister?

Of course it still stands; it is the ministerial code. I am sorry to say that this is another question that does not make any substantial allegations or provide any facts or evidence; it is smear and innuendo, and it is not the way to behave.

The National Audit Office found no issues with the PPE contracts. The Labour-led Public Accounts Committee, on which I sit, commended the Government’s vaccine programme as world-leading. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this attempt from the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) has more to do with her bid for votes from the Labour membership than with any concern about public procurement?

I do agree with my hon. Friend. The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne will reflect on what she has done this afternoon, and if she does have ambitions in the leadership department, I would ask her to reflect on whether what she has done today is the hallmark of a leader.

The ministerial code states that the register of interests must be published twice a year. The latest one is five months late, so it has been 10 or 11 months since the last one was published. At the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee last week, Lord Geidt told us that he was determined that a full list of Ministers’ interests would be published

“as quickly as possible…by the end of this month.”

Can the Minister confirm that all Cabinet Ministers have resubmitted their interests and give a more precise date for when the new list will be published, given that the end of the month is during parliamentary recess?

I am sure that the right hon. Lord Geidt will publish the register before the end of this month. That is what he has said; I am sure that he will wish to do it in a way that is helpful to the House and that he will have heard what the hon. Lady has said. I do not know which Cabinet Minister has filled out which form; all I can tell the hon. Lady is that as a Minister of the Crown, I have certainly filled out mine, and I am sure that my colleagues have done so as well.

I thank my right hon. Friend and her colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care for their efforts to ensure that the Cumbria local resilience forum and our North Cumbria health trust were kept stocked with PPE at the height of the pandemic, enabling them to keep my constituents in Workington safe. I remember the pressure that Ministers were under at the time and will forever be grateful for the often late-night correspondence dealing with potential issues. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that Government Ministers did everything that they could to get their skates on, as they were urged to by the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), and pass on all offers from businesses to help to secure vital PPE at a time of national crisis?

I thank my hon. Friend for putting on record the tremendous job that was done in his local patch. He is saying that credit is due to Ministers, but actually credit is due to colleagues across the House. For many months, I took a call every morning at 10 am, sometimes from hundreds of colleagues across the House. People from every single political party put forward offers of help for PPE and all sorts of things that the health service needed. That is part of our job, and people made a huge difference to the effort by doing it.

I wrote on 25 March to the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, about the No. 10 refurbishment. I asked 24 questions on potential breaches of the ministerial code. Two months on, I have still not received an answer. Is this an admin error or do the Government have something to hide? People in Luton North and across the country deserve answers, especially when they are struggling to keep a roof over their head, never mind defending a luxury refurb. Will the Paymaster General please ask her colleague the Cabinet Secretary to respond to those questions?

I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary will respond to the hon. Lady. He takes his responsibilities very seriously. The problem is that the matter is now the subject of a review—it is a subject for someone else to look at. I think, in all honesty, that there is nothing I or the Prime Minister could say at the Dispatch Box that will satisfy people until someone independent says it. I have to say, again, that this is a sideshow. I very much encourage the hon. Lady to return to the matters of substance, which I am sure are the issues that her constituents care about.

I will just say for the record that I expect MPs’ letters to be answered. MPs on all sides have a job to do, and they can only be helped by early answers to their correspondence.

Over the past few weeks, I knocked on hundreds and hundreds of doors in my constituency during the local elections, and not a single constituent mentioned the wallpaper of the Prime Minister or his holidays. What they were concerned about was welcoming the implementation of Brexit, how the Government were handling covid and the success of the vaccination programme. Does the Paymaster General agree that unless the Labour party gets its act together and starts listening to the people and their concerns, it will remain the Opposition party?

I agree; I had a similar experience on the doorstep during the recent campaign. That is not to say that the public do not care about standards in public life and accountability. They do care about those things; they just recognise this for what it is, which is a load of flannel.

The first part of this urgent question is about enforcement of the ministerial code. I have heard a great deal about reviews and recommendations, codified guidelines and inquiries—maybe too many inquiries or the wrong inquiries. I am not besmirching anybody here and I am not alleging anything, but if somebody in the Cabinet Office has broken the ministerial code, what is there to enforce their taking the right action and resigning from their position?

Ultimately, that is one of the responsibilities of the Prime Minister. It is because of the unique status of a Minister—that they are not an employee—that that exists. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question.

My constituents care about scrutiny, transparency and standards in public life. Will the Minister reassure the people of Anglesey that all offers to supply PPE were assessed by independent civil servants using a rigorous eight-stage process to ensure that any contracts awarded delivered not only high-quality supplies, but value for taxpayers’ money?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. There is, I think, a perception that if a business flagged their offer to a Member of Parliament or a Minister they somehow bypassed the system. They did not. They still went through those eight rigorous checks and the National Audit Office has confirmed that.

I have a high regard for the Minister, but I am afraid I struggle with her explanation on this issue. On 22 February, inadvertently or not, the Prime Minister made a misleading statement to the House regarding PPE contracts. He stated that they were all published. They were not. That is based on a High Court ruling and is irrefutable. His lack of apology and correction of the record is clearly a breach of the ministerial code. That this happens with seeming impunity—

Order. A criticism is only on the substantive motion. This cannot be used. It has already been tried earlier. The rules of the House must be obeyed. I know it is not what Members want to hear, but I am in charge of ensuring that the rules are kept to. Unfortunately, we cannot continue with that question.

We all know that Government procurement is a long, clunky and expensive process. It was therefore of clear national importance for the Government to fast-track some procurement decisions, particularly in relation to PPE, to protect people and keep people safe. Does the Minister agree that the recent elections in Teesside, where we gained a new Member of Parliament and a landslide for the Tees Valley Mayor, show that the public support our decisive decision making over the Labour party’s political point scoring?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The British public want us to focus on the issues that matter to them. They want us to recover quickly, both economically and in dealing with the backlog of issues we have in education and healthcare. They want us to get on and deliver. What they do not want is this Punch and Judy politics. They are tired of that. They want some delivery. They want some competence. That is why they are electing Conservatives across the country.

The Government face a slew of allegations over contracts for mates, lobbying, conflicts of interest and influence. Does the Minister think now is the time to exempt a new Government agency, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, with £800 million of public money from existing procurement and freedom of information rules? When faced with sleaze, surely the response is to stop the sleaze, not the scrutiny?

Sadly, again more smear. It seems that anyone who was awarded a contract for PPE or anything else is a Tory mate, even when they turn out to be a Labour party donor.

I welcome the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) to her place—or to one of her many places, I should say—but I cannot really welcome the tone of her questions. I am surprised that she is continuing with these unsubstantiated allegations. Perhaps in all the excitement of the reshuffle and the announcement of her shadow Cabinet, she has forgotten that the elections have already taken place—or perhaps she has another election on her mind. Is not the truth of the matter that since 2010 this Government have strengthened the ministerial code, strengthened the requirements around the publication of Minister’s interests, and introduced the requirement to publish all Government contracts over £25,000? The record of the Governments in the past decade has been to massively increase public scrutiny and transparency.

That is absolutely correct, and I could add to the list the things that we have also done to increase transparency and accountability at a local government level, which we know was an area that needed to be looked at.

The Minister has been deflecting from the fact that whether she likes it or not, there have been breaches of the ministerial code. Does she believe that simply trying to deny it or attacking anyone who tries to raise the issue is a satisfactory response to her earlier assertion that the public care about transparency and scrutiny?

I have said several times this afternoon that the public do care about that and they are right to do so. We should be here to answer questions about those issues. What I am not going to put up with is decent colleagues, decent businesses and members of the public being smeared by innuendo. I think that I have made my views very clear on that, and I hope that Opposition Members, including the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner)—and I do wish her well—reflect on that.

I will now suspend the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.

10-point Plan: Six Months On

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement. Last November, the Prime Minister announced a radical and ambitious response to the economic impact of covid-19. This was, of course, the UK’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. Its aim is to build back better, to use our recovery to level up the country, to scale up new industries and to support jobs throughout the United Kingdom as we accelerate on our path to net zero by 2050.

Six months on, I am pleased to inform the House that we are already seeing this ambition being delivered on. The 10-point plan is projected to create and support up to 250,000 jobs, and mobilise £12 billion of Government investment and up to three times as much from the private sector by 2030. We are investing in the UK’s most important asset—our workforce—to ensure that our people have the right skills to deliver the low-carbon transition and thrive in the high-value jobs this will create. This is the case for the engineers and construction workers who will build the new offshore wind farms and nuclear plants to provide clean power to our homes, to the retrofitters who will make homes more comfortable and efficient. This work of course builds on the strong progress we have already made as a country in decarbonising our economy. Last year, we hit over two months of coal- free electricity generation, which is the longest streak since the industrial revolution. Two weeks ago, we broke a new wind power record, with both onshore and offshore wind turbines generating 48.5% of the electricity in Great Britain. The plan is projected to reduce UK emissions by 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2023 and 2032. I am sure Members are aware that that is equal to taking all of today’s cars off the road for about two years.

Since the 10-point plan’s publication, we have enshrined the UK’s sixth carbon budget in law, proposing in that a target that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels. That is an enormous commitment, but one that we are working extremely hard—flat out, indeed—to achieve. Our Energy White Paper has set out a comprehensive, strategic vision for the transformation of the energy system consistent with delivering net zero emissions by 2050. We have also launched our new, ambitious UK emissions trading scheme, for consultation later this year.

On offshore wind, we have confirmed up to £95 million of Government investment for two new offshore wind ports: Able Marine Energy Park—AMEP—on the south bank of the River Humber, which will receive up to £75 million of government investment; and Teesworks offshore manufacturing centre, on the River Tees, which will receive up to £20 million. Those investments have already been endorsed by business. Since the launch of the 10-point plan, we have seen a 501% increase in British businesses signing up for the UN’s Race to Zero initiative. Rolls-Royce is working on the world’s largest jet engine, which will cut aviation emissions, as part of its £500 million UltraFan engine project. Jaguar Land Rover has announced plans to be all-electric from 2025, with Ford, Bentley, Volvo and Nissan stating that they will do this from 2030. Just today, GE Renewable Energy has announced that it expects to create up to 470 green jobs to support the delivery and operation of all three phases of the Dogger Bank wind farm, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, located off the north-east coast. The impressive growth of the offshore wind sector presents a great example of how delivering net zero will help us level up across the UK. It also demonstrates the confidence that international investors have in our contracts for difference approach and the immense confidence employers have in our people, particularly those in the north-east, where so much of this infrastructure is being deployed.

However, this is not just about energy; each of us has a contribution to make. We are helping businesses and people to go greener every day, by delivering on our commitment to greener business, buildings and transport. In March, we published the UK’s industrial decarbonisation strategy, the first strategy of its kind from any major economy in the world. It sets out clearly how industry can meaningfully decarbonise, remaining competitive and reducing emissions, instead of simply offshoring our industries and pushing emissions abroad.

To that end, the industrial energy transformation fund has already allocated nearly £300 million to 39 projects to help industry transition to a low-carbon future. This month we began the process for deciding the first carbon capture cluster locations in our industrial heartlands, which will be operational by the mid-2020s, with another two set to be created by 2030. All of this increased investment totals £1 billion, helping to support 50,000 jobs, potentially, in areas such as the Humber, the north-east and the north-west, and in Scotland and Wales. We are providing £1 billion of funding to phase 1 of the public sector decarbonisation scheme, which will support up to 30,000 jobs. These jobs will be in building services, engineering and design, low-carbon heating, installation of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures.

The 10-point plan is our commitment on meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Further strategies for sectors of the economy will be set out over the next year. This will include publication of our heat and building strategy, ahead of COP26, to set out our long-term approach to reducing emissions from all buildings in this country. It also includes our hydrogen strategy, which is backed by a £240 million net zero hydrogen fund investment, to support—I stress this point—both green hydrogen produced by electrolysers, and blue hydrogen enabled by carbon capture and storage.

We have also committed a further £20 million to increase the number of on-street charge points for electric vehicles. We will provide £50 million to help people and businesses install these charge points. We will also publish our transport decarbonisation plan as soon as possible, setting out an ambitious pathway to end UK transport’s carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is fully engaged and committed to publishing that.

The impact of those commitments can already be seen. As of March 2021, battery electric vehicle sales stand at 7.7% of the market, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales are 6.1%, which is a huge increase of 88% and 152% respectively from only a year ago. Our acceleration towards low-emission vehicles will not only contribute to cutting our carbon emissions, but strengthen British industry through supporting up to 40,000 jobs by 2020.

All these policies and initiatives are coming together and will be set out in our net zero strategy in the autumn. The strategy will build on the 10-point plan, and it will make the most of new growth and employment opportunities across the UK as we build back better and greener from covid-19.

It will not have escaped hon. Members’ notice that we will be hosting COP26 towards the end of the year, and what we are doing now is setting the scene for that historic event. In that context, our ambition and our leadership are absolutely crucial. The 10-point plan demonstrates our commitment not only to the green recovery, but to the kind of leadership that we want to show in this vitally important year. All these actions bring us a step closer to net zero by 2050, meeting this planet’s greatest threat with ambition and innovation, which is absolutely necessary if we are to hit our goals. I believe passionately and sincerely that a new era of green jobs through Britain’s green industrial revolution has been inaugurated. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The climate crisis is the single greatest long-term challenge we face. As Secretary of State, I was proud to pass the world-leading Climate Change Act 2008 with cross-party support. In that spirit, although we believe that the UK should be going further and faster, we also recognise that our targets for 2030 and 2035 are ambitious by international standards. But the Secretary of State’s central challenge is whether targets are matched by the scale of action required in this decisive decade, and once again, his statement showed that the Government are very good at self-congratulation but perhaps less good at self-awareness. The evidence is that there is a wide gap between rhetoric and reality. Crucial areas are not being dealt with, and the scale of finance is not being delivered, leading us to be off track on our targets.

Let us take a few key issues. The first is buildings, a crucial part of decarbonisation. Last year, the green homes grant—remember that?—was the flagship measure, which the Secretary of State said would

“pave the way for the UK’s green homes revolution.”

Now it is the policy that dared not speak its name in the Business Secretary’s statement, and no wonder—it has been a complete fiasco, with contractors not paid, installers forced to make lay-offs and homeowners unable to get grants. As importantly, when the scheme failed, more than £1 billion was not reallocated but simply cut from the budget. We desperately need a comprehensive plan for the massive task of retrofitting and changing the way we heat millions of homes, with the finance to back it up. It is a big task. The heat and building strategy was supposed to be published last year but has been delayed and delayed. Can the Secretary of State promise that when it is published, it will finally contain the plan and the finance we need?

Next, let us turn to electric vehicles. Again, we were supposed to see the transport decarbonisation strategy last year. Today, the Secretary of State did not even give a date for publication, so perhaps he can tell us in his reply when we will see it. We support the 2030 phase-out date, but the Climate Change Committee says—this is really important—that we will need 48% of the cars sold in the UK to be EVs by 2025, in just four years’ time. Despite the recent progress that he talked about, we are way off that, at less than 15%. We are not financing gigafactories, on which there is a global race. Our charging infrastructure remains inadequate, and the Government have actually cut the plug-in grant. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the Government are not investing enough to make the EV revolution happen in the way that is necessary for our car industry’s future and consumers?

On offshore wind, we should be proud of our world leadership on generation, and I welcome today’s jobs announcement, but according to RenewableUK, only 29% of capital investment in recent projects has been in the UK. Can the Secretary of State tell us when the Government will finally deliver on their pledge for 60% of the content of our offshore wind to be domestic?

On manufacturing, there was no mention of steel in the statement, which seems a surprising omission, given how crucial it is to our country, our steel communities and the green transition. A clean steel fund of £250 million announced two years ago and only to be delivered in two years’ time is, I am afraid, wholly inadequate. The Secretary of State knows it, his Back Benchers know it and our steel industry knows it. Will he acknowledge that, and what is he going to do about it?

On hydrogen, we are investing hundreds of millions, which is welcome, but it is against billions being invested by others. On aerospace, the Jet Zero Council is all very well, but jobs have been lost in aerospace during this crisis, as the Secretary of State knows, and our investment again fails to measure up internationally.

Here is the worry I have about the scale of investment. The Secretary of State talks about investment over the decade of tens of billions, public and private, but everyone from PwC to the CCC says that we need that investment not over a decade but each and every year to get on track for our targets. In that context, the Treasury’s crucial net zero review was due in autumn 2020, and now it has been promised for spring 2021. Well, we are in spring 2021. Can he tell us when it will finally see the light of day? It is a crucial piece of work.

All this means that we are way off meeting our fifth and sixth carbon budgets. Green Alliance estimates that policies announced will only lead to 26% of the reductions necessary to get the UK on track for 2030. Can the Secretary of State tell us how far off track he thinks we are for our fifth and sixth carbon budgets?

The climate emergency is a massive challenge for our country—the biggest long-term challenge we face. There is also a massive opportunity for our country, with our amazing scientists, our brilliant workforce and our world-leading businesses. But to make that future happen, we need a Government with the aspiration and commitment that matches the ingenuity and aspiration of the British people. Instead of a piecemeal 10-point plan, we need a comprehensive green new deal with the scale of investment and commitment that meets the moment and the emergency. I am afraid that I do not believe the Government’s record measures up to the scale of the challenge we face. We will hold them to account on behalf of the country.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of points. The heat and buildings strategy was always due in 2021; I know that because I commissioned it when I was the Energy Minister. I hope it will be published shortly. We also have a hydrogen strategy. He mentioned that our £240 million hydrogen fund was little compared to other countries, but private sector investment has been very successful in the deployment of offshore wind. The reason we have a commanding position—the No. 1 position—in offshore wind deployment is not because of the Government writing cheques; it is because the Government created incentives for the private sector to invest. That will be exactly the way in which we will scale up the hydrogen economy.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned offshore wind and the UK content of the supply chain. We are absolutely focused on that; we potentially have an auction round 4 at the end of this year, and I am committed to increasing—in fact, we have policies to increase—the level of UK content in offshore wind. The GE Renewable Energy announcement in Teesside only a couple of months ago, in which it committed £142 million, is exactly the kind of investment and commitment to the UK supply chain that we want to see.

Point 4 of the 10-point plan refers to the need for large-scale battery factories for electric vehicles—sometimes called gigafactories. They need to be up and running within five years, so will the Secretary of State update the House as to where we are in securing them? Will he also comment on the state of discussions about the future of Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port, with its ambitions to build electric vehicles there?

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend mentions gigafactories and the opportunities that they represent. There are conversations as we speak between people who are making batteries and the car makers; clearly, the dynamic between the auto manufacturers and the people who will be making the batteries is an important one. I hope to make a positive announcement about that soon. In relation to Ellesmere Port, there are very positive discussions with Stellantis. I am very much engaged with this matter, and we are particularly hopeful that we can make some movement in the summer on this too.

I welcome the statement in so far as it goes, but there is need for further clarity. Hydrogen has been mentioned on a couple of occasions. When exactly does the Secretary of State expect the hydrogen strategy to come forward, and how does he expect the business models to operate in practice?

We have concerns not just about hydrogen and the delays in that regard, but in relation to carbon capture and underground storage. The House will be cognisant of the fact that in 2017 the Government pulled the plug on £1 billion-worth of investment in Peterhead. We know that there are plans to have two clusters in place by the mid-2020s. One of those clusters has to be in the north-east of Scotland, linking the north-east of Scotland with Grangemouth, because of course Scotland has contributed more than £350 billion in oil and gas revenues to the UK Treasury. There can be no just or fair transition if the communities that I represent and others in Grangemouth are left behind.

My final point is in relation to an issue that appears to have escaped the notice of the Secretary of State in his statement, and that is transmission charges. He will be aware that our renewables project in Scotland must pay to access the grid, whereas the renewables project in the south-east of England gets paid to access the very same grid. I see that the Energy Minister is in her place. That is important because she wrote to me on 12 April and said:

“On the specific question of grid charging arrangements, it is important to note that this is a matter for Ofgem as the independent regulator.”

However, as the Minister knows only too well, Ofgem’s strategy and policy is determined by the UK Government. Indeed, the Government’s own energy White Paper states, on page 86:

“We will set out our vision for energy as a guide to Ofgem, by consulting in 2021 on a Strategy and Policy Statement for the regulator.”

When will that consultation begin and when will this Government stop holding back Scotland’s renewables potential?

The hon. Gentleman raised three issues. The hydrogen strategy should be coming out in the summer. It is a twin-track strategy, as I described it as Energy Minister. We are committed to the production of both green, electrolyser-produced hydrogen and blue hydrogen, which comes from carbon capture.

That leads me to the hon. Gentleman’s second point. He will know that there are a number of attractive sites for carbon capture here in the UK. We have set out our road map for two clusters by 2025 and two more by 2030, and we are in the process of deciding how to proceed on that. He can rest assured that Acorn is a very attractive project; it is something that I have looked at, and I am sure we will have some more information on that.

On offshore transmission charges, the hon. Gentleman knows that this has been an issue for a long time. I committed to looking at it as Energy Minister, and we will have a consultation on that. He must also appreciate that the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), is absolutely right: this is ultimately a matter for Ofgem, which, as he knows, is an independent regulator.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and I too particularly look forward to the publication of the transport decarbonisation plan. In west Cornwall, we are working up a plan to bring the towns of St Ives, Penzance and Hayle together in a low-carbon transport plan, bringing together the railway, the roads and multi-use off-road tracks. Will the Secretary of State look at how he can help us to achieve that? Also, if it so happens that he is down in my neck of the woods in a month’s time for the summit, maybe he could meet us to hear about our ambitious plans to provide low-carbon transport for all people living in west Cornwall.

I am pleased to say to my hon. Friend that I would be happy to meet him in Cornwall at any time of his choosing, provided, of course, that it fits in with my diary commitments. I am fully aware of the transport decarbonisation plan being absolutely crucial to his constituents—

The right hon. Gentleman asks when. Unfortunately, wide though BEIS’s purview and authority are, my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will have a more accurate perspective on when that strategy will be published.

The Secretary of State knows that how we heat our homes and insulate our buildings is an urgent issue that will affect every house across the entire country. He told the Select Committee a few weeks ago that the heat and building strategy would arrive at the end of Q2. Unless I have misunderstood, that is not before COP26; it is around now. Can he update the House as to why it has been delayed once again?

When I was Energy Minister, I wanted it to appear in the first quarter and I think I made public commitments to that. The hon. Gentleman will understand that many of the issues have been discussed across Government, and I am very confident that the heat and building strategy will be published soon. I cannot, however, give him a firm cast-iron date on this.

I welcome the focus on electric vehicles in the 10-point plan and the £1.3 billion investment in accelerating the roll-out of the grid infrastructure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a comprehensive network of ultra-rapid charging points in order to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles and to get rid of a lot of the range anxiety?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When MPs talk to their constituents, we hear them talk about range anxiety, and it is critical that we have the right charging infrastructure to drive forward the EV roll-out. We have committed public funds to this, but I am very happy to discuss with her, as it is obviously critically important. I feel that we are in a good place, but I would be very interested to hear her ideas.

The 10-point plan announced 50,000 new jobs in energy efficiency, which may or may not have been in addition to the 80,000 new jobs that were due to be created by the green homes grant announced last summer in the Government’s plan for jobs. My repeated written questions to the Department to clarify whether those 50,000 jobs are in addition to the 80,000 have not yet elicited a clear answer, so could the Secretary of State tell me how many jobs in energy efficiency have been created so far, and what plans are in place to create more, now that the green homes grant has been scrapped with no plan to replace it?

The 50,000 jobs related to the green homes grant. The hon. Lady will know that there were three elements to the green homes grant. One related to the decarbonisation of public sector buildings. That was £1 billion deployed through Salix. That has gone extremely well. Of the remaining £2 billion, £500 million was to be disbursed by local authorities for council housing, social housing and people who are vulnerable. That programme is going very well. What has been rejigged has been the half that related to owner-occupied buildings. It was a short-term stimulus plan that was due to run out in March this year, and we are looking at a replacement scheme.

I welcome the ambitious plans that my right hon. Friend has set out to clean up our energy system and support green British jobs as we work to end the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050. However, can he confirm that he will prioritise keeping bills affordable, particularly for lower-income households in Stoke-on-Trent, as we transition towards net zero?

My hon. Friend will know that this is a critical point. There is always a balance between trying to decarbonise and making sure that energy bills are low to protect people. That is why we have a warm homes discount, which has worked very effectively. We have deployed money, and committed to that in the manifesto, with a home upgrade grant of about £2.5 billion. We are always looking at schemes not only to decarbonise, but to keep the costs low for those who are most vulnerable.

One could be forgiven for thinking that COP26 is approaching and the Government need to make some headline announcements. What is missing in the Secretary of State’s statement today is a clear set of metrics against which this House, this country and the world can measure the Government. Will he take on board the thoughtful recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee, which said that he should report properly to this House with clear targets and metrics which we can hold him to? I know that he is a man of intelligence, and a man who is committed to this; if he is that committed, will he open up that scrutiny so that we can really hold the Government properly to account?

Let me declare an interest: I served under the hon. Lady’s chairmanship on the Public Accounts Committee and I am very grateful for the time that I spent on the Committee. Of course, I will treat the Committee with the respect and courtesy that are due it. I look forward, as do my officials, to being asked about any of the Government’s programmes in respect of the net zero agenda.

I welcome the commitment in the 10-point plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but we have very few electric vehicle charging points in Southend and many parking restrictions. We would very much like to see them on new builds and in people’s driveways. With petrol and diesel cars being banned by 2030, will my right hon. Friend please help us to get more of these charging points in Southend before we become a city?

That begs the question, when will Southend become a city? Leaving that to one side, of course I will help my hon. Friend achieve those goals. The electric charging point roll-out is perhaps the most important metric—the most important thing to do— in order to achieve our goals with respect to electric vehicles.

Following on from the question of the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), there were some positive comments from the chief executive of Stellantis yesterday to the effect that things were moving in the right direction but we were not quite there yet. May I take this opportunity to remind the Secretary of State that Cheshire West and Chester Council and the local enterprise partnership have been working very closely with the civil servants over the past few months to make sure that the right deal is in place. They stand ready to do anything else they can to get this thing over the line, which is what we all want to see.

I am conscious of the work that the hon. Gentleman has done, as he put it, to get this over the line. I was gratified to see Mr Tavares’ comments yesterday and I think that we are in a reasonable place. We obviously need to work very hard together to get it over the line, but the situation in Ellesmere Port is moving in a positive direction.