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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 702: debated on Wednesday 27 October 2021

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Northern Ireland Protocol: EU Negotiations

1. What progress the Government have made on negotiating a permanent settlement on the Northern Ireland protocol with the EU. (903814)

We have been in discussions with the EU since the publishing of the EU’s proposals on 13 October in response to our Command Paper from July. We are seeking to understand the detail of some of the headline claims that the EU has made on issues such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures and customs checks. We continue to work closely with the EU and are hopeful that we will be able to bridge any gaps between our positions.

The law firm Carson McDowell has said that not one business has raised concerns about the European Court of Justice or its role as the court of ultimate appeal under the Northern Ireland protocol, so why are the UK Government prioritising a Brexit purity issue as their key demand in negotiations with the EU when it is completely immaterial to businesses in Northern Ireland?

Actually, a whole range of businesses and business groups, as they are working through the detail of the EU’s proposals, have concerns about whether they cover enough to deal with the issues in Northern Ireland. That is why it is important that we have these negotiations. For us, it is also important, and ultimately important for business, to ensure that the mechanism to deal with any issues is one that is licensed there and more traditional in international agreements and transactions. The role of the ECJ, as we have seen already this year, does not provide that, and ultimately, therefore, does not provide stability for Northern Ireland businesses or indeed the political structure of Stormont. It is therefore important that we make sure that that is resolved to have a proper working solution.

Why has Brussels seen the legal text on the changes that the Government want to make to the protocol but the democratic leaders of Northern Ireland are still completely in the dark? Will the Secretary of State urgently share that text with them?

This is a legal text we have shared with the EU, as we did with the papers we published earlier this year, which sadly we did not have too much feedback from the EU about. This is about engaging with the EU in a confidential manner to allow the space for these private negotiations and discussions to go ahead. It is right that we do that and do those negotiations in a proper, business-like way.

It is quite important that we have feedback from Northern Ireland as well. Not only will the Secretary of State not share that text with those I mentioned, but politicians, communities and businesses in Northern Ireland are completely excluded from the negotiations. Does he accept that it is not sustainable for a Secretary of State to say to the people of Northern Ireland, “We have decided what is best for you—take it or leave it”? Will he therefore move the talks to Belfast and give Northern Ireland’s politicians a seat at the table?

I am happy to let the hon. Lady know that the reality of what is happening is quite different from what she outlined. The politicians in Northern Ireland are involved, and not just here in this House: only yesterday Lord Frost and I engaged with both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, as we are doing on a regular, pretty much weekly, basis. We have also engaged with businesses all the way through, via the Business Engagement Forum—indeed, I met business representatives on Friday last week—so that they, and civic society, are fully involved with feeding into the negotiations, which of course, absolutely, are quite rightly between the UK Government and the EU.

Does the Secretary of State agree that we need to see the removal of the Irish sea border on the movement of goods within the UK internal market between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that tinkering around the edges of the protocol without removing these unnecessary checks and impediments to trade within the United Kingdom is totally unacceptable?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman; he is absolutely right. This is a point about consistency. We need to ensure that we have that free movement of goods—that goods are moving from Great Britain across to Northern Ireland for use and consumption in Northern Ireland—recognising also that we have a responsibility about goods moving into the EU. We are determined to deliver that. Sadly, the Opposition have been quite clear previously that they are happy to see a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are absolutely categorical about the fact that we want to ensure that goods can move freely and goods that are being consumed and used by the people of Northern Ireland can reach them in good order and in good time, as they should do and as we are determined to see happen.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he also agree that in addition to resolving the trading issues and removing the Irish sea border, he and the Government need to pursue the full restoration of article 6 of the Acts of Union, which makes it very clear that there should be no barriers to trade within the United Kingdom and that there should be respect to the principle of consent, which is at the heart of the Belfast agreement?

The right hon. Gentleman will, I know, be aware that this issue is subject to legal proceedings, so I hope he will excuse me being relatively brief in my reply. I reiterate our commitment in the Command Paper that we need to remove the burden on trade and goods with the UK and to ensure that businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland can continue to have full and normal access to goods from the rest of the UK. It is also worth colleagues across this House remembering that not only does New Decade, New Approach ensure that we have that full internal market in the UK, but the protocol that was agreed, in its principles, is very clear that it would not only not disrupt the everyday lives of people in their communities in Northern Ireland, as is currently a problem, but will respect the internal market of the United Kingdom. We are determined to deliver on that objective.

Lord Frost recently said that there could be “no role” for the European Court of Justice in arbitrating disputes around the protocol. If that genuinely now represents the view of the UK Government, in contrast to when they negotiated and signed that protocol, can the Secretary of State tell the House how he would prefer to see disputes arising from the protocol arbitrated and settled? If he cannot share the text with politicians in Northern Ireland or in this House, can he at least give us a clue about what the outline of such a solution might be?

As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, there are different mechanisms for arbitration where there are disagreements between parties about things that have been agreed in international arrangements, including the withdrawal agreement itself. Those are working very well. What we have seen this year is how the EU has used the ECJ, even with the infraction proceedings around the processes we had to take forward in March to ensure that we could continue to get goods to Northern Ireland. It shows a very one-sided approach to this matter. It does not work, including for the stability for the Northern Ireland, and it is right we correct that. We have outlined that in the Command Paper, and that is part of the negotiations we will be having with the EU.

Northern Ireland Protocol: Cabinet Discussions

2. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. (903815)

I meet regularly with Cabinet colleagues to discuss Northern Ireland-related matters, including issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol, where it is vital that we find more productive and sustainable arrangements to deliver more effectively on the protocol’s objectives. It is worth remembering that it is clear that the protocol should protect the integral place of Northern Ireland in the UK’s internal market, minimise the impact on the lives of citizens, maintain the necessary conditions for north/south co-operation, and, importantly, protect the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its strands.

There are high volumes of trade between businesses in Northern Ireland and Yorkshire, including in Harrogate and Knaresborough. Many different business sectors are involved, but food and drink is particularly prominent, and I have had concerning reports of excess bureaucracy affecting trade. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that business and trade flows as smoothly as possible?

My hon. Friend makes an important point that has been echoed by the business community, the hospitality industry and the food and drink industry in Northern Ireland, even just late last week. It is something we need to resolve. That is why it is important we continue the work, as part of the discussions we are having with the EU, to deliver on what we set out in our July Command Paper as a way to resolve the issues over the protocol.

The Northern Ireland protocol is still causing significant damage in Northern Ireland and great anger for those who are impacted by it. Whether Ministers want to believe it or not, we are heading towards a constitutional crisis in Northern Ireland if the issue is not resolved. Does the Minister accept that the only reason we have checks and a debate about the European Court of Justice having a role in Northern Ireland is because Northern Ireland is now subject to EU law? Unless that issue is dealt with, the Northern Ireland protocol problems will not be resolved.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, further highlighting the issues around the European Court of Justice. At present, we have a system where EU laws are imposed on Northern Ireland without the consent of anyone in Northern Ireland—he is absolutely right. The challenges and disputes about these laws are also settled in the Court, only one of the two signatory parties to the protocol, and that obviously came before the wider trade agreement. The CJEU sits at the apex of the system. In addition to causing an imbalance in the equilibrium of east-west and north-south arrangements, we believe the oversight is not necessary. To preserve the structure and the gains that we have seen through the peace process of 23 years in Northern Ireland, we believe they must be replaced by something much more in keeping with the intentions of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and traditional international trade agreements.

Legacy of the Troubles

4. What plans he has to bring forward legislative proposals to address Northern Ireland legacy issues. [R] (903817)

The Government will bring forward legislation to address the Northern Ireland legacy issues very soon, focusing on information recovery and reconciliation.

East Devon is home to many veterans who proudly served their country, risking everything while following orders. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that in his forthcoming legislation, we will stand by our promise to end vexatious claims against those who served in Northern Ireland?

The Government are absolutely committed to fulfilling their manifesto commitments to provide certainty to the many veterans who served courageously to defend the rule of law during the long years of the troubles. I can give my hon. Friend and his constituents the reassurance that we will deliver on our manifesto pledge, but we are also clear that this is about ensuring that we are addressing the needs of victims and veterans at the same time.

I offer my sympathies to the families of Dennis Hutchings and John Pat Cunningham during what must be an incredibly difficult period for them. The last time I raised the forthcoming Bill, I was told that veterans were being consulted. The Secretary of State will therefore be aware that a range of views are held, including in Northern Ireland where many oppose a blanket amnesty. Will he commit to continued close engagement with veterans to fully understand the views of those who served?

I join the hon. Gentleman in offering my condolences and thoughts to those families. As in the rest of our engagement, we have heard a range of views from across the community, particularly on that side of the discussion from the veterans community. We are considering that carefully.

We have always been clear that dealing with the past in Northern Ireland must equally address the needs of victims and veterans. I am happy to restate the answer that I gave the hon. Gentleman previously and say that we will continue to engage closely with veterans groups across Great Britain and Northern Ireland as we seek to bring in legislation to address those important, complex and sensitive issues.

After more than four years, two general election manifestos and a hand-signed promise in The Sun newspaper from the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State has delivered nothing. My question is very straightforward: “Where is your Bill, Brandon?”

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has campaigned on the issue for a long time and he has been forthright in his determination to deliver for the veterans community. We set out our Command Paper in July just before the summer recess. As we said we would, we have been engaging with interested parties in the past couple of months, including not just the veterans community but victims, civic society and, more widely, the political parties in Northern Ireland. As we said in the Command Paper, we are still focused on delivering legislation to the House this autumn.

Can the Secretary of State tell the House clearly which of the groups representing the families of victims that he has met have agreed with his proposals?

As I said when I launched the Command Paper, we appreciate that it is a very sensitive and complex issue that will affect a huge range of people. We have had wide engagement across victims groups and with victims who are not represented by groups. We are taking on that feedback at the moment and we will come forward with proposals very soon.

My constituent Edward Vaughan-Jones’ brother Robert, 2 Para, died at Warrenpoint in 1979. Some 42 years later, the family’s wounds have not healed due to repeated investigations and a lack of conclusion. Can my right hon. Friend outline when Mr Vaughan-Jones will receive a conclusive report on his brother’s death so that he can finally have some sense of closure?

My deepest sympathies are with Mr Vaughan-Jones and the many other families who have waited far too long to get answers about the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths. We are determined that part of the process of information recovery will mean that families get the answers that they have not had. They have waited far too long and we need to resolve that issue soon.

Leaving the EU/Northern Ireland Protocol: Haulage Industry

5. What recent assessment his Department has made of the impact of the (a) UK leaving the EU and (b) Northern Ireland protocol on the haulage industry in Northern Ireland. (903818)

Many of the same supply chain issues experienced in Northern Ireland are seen across the United Kingdom. We are seeing a shortage of HGV drivers across all supply chains. The Government have introduced a range of solutions to ease the pressures across the UK. We are separately in intensive discussions with the European Union to find solutions to the current issues that are being caused by how the protocol is being applied. The haulage sector has been impacted and we continue to engage with it to understand the issues it is facing to ensure that the work we do with the EU gets a resolution that works for it.

Logistics UK, which represents 400 haulage operators in Northern Ireland and is responsible for 90% of goods transferred across the Irish sea, welcomed the EU’s proposals to improve the Northern Ireland protocol as a “leap of faith” and a positive step. Why have the UK Government refused to accept those proposals and instead insisted on sinking the negotiations with ideological demands rather than practical considerations?

Again, I am afraid that I need to correct the hon. Lady’s misunderstanding of the situation. I met representatives of the haulage association on Friday who are clear that having looked at the details of the EU proposal, it does not work and it is not enough. They are much more focused on what we outlined in the Command Paper. We need to resolve those issues and I hope that, in the conversation with the EU—it has moved, which we welcome—we will get enough movement to deal with the issues that have been raised by the haulage industry, even those raised on Friday of last week.

Jobs and Investment

6. What steps the Government are taking to create jobs and attract investment in Northern Ireland. (903819)

12. What steps the Government are taking to create jobs and attract investment in Northern Ireland. (903825)

The Prime Minister has been very clear that our levelling-up ambitions are not about points on a compass but about people and communities throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. We are delivering for Northern Ireland through our plan for jobs, our £600 million city and growth deal programme, and through the new deal for Northern Ireland, which will fund the promotion of Northern Ireland trade and investment globally.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that, for all the Government’s support for enterprise, innovation and new investment in Northern Ireland, they must not be frustrated and deterred by a second, unnecessary layer of bureaucracy?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is absolutely the legitimate interest of the United Kingdom Government to deliver prosperity and opportunity for every part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and we will work in partnership with others, including the Northern Ireland Executive, to do just that.

I welcome the Minister back to the Dispatch Box. Does he agree that the £400 million that we are committing to implement the Northern Ireland new deal will not only boost economic growth and competitiveness but, taken with other recent investment, represents the largest boost from a UK Government in decades?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. On top of the £400 new deal funding there is a swathe of other funding totalling just over £1 billion to small businesses and communities, delivering trader support new technology and the PEACE PLUS programme. This is the largest investment by any Government in Northern Ireland in decades, and it is warmly welcomed by businesses and communities in Northern Ireland.

The Liverpool city region and Northern Ireland broadly share the same population of just over 1.5 million. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, just as Liverpool can benefit from all the economic benefits of a freeport zone, there is no reason why we cannot extend that across the whole of Northern Ireland—and, indeed, across the whole of north Wales—so that we are not just limited to 45 km, and the whole of the UK can benefit from this excellent economic plan?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that freeports are a vital tool in the armoury to boost prosperity, trade and investment, and to attract global investment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are working closely with the Executive and others to find the right freeport model that will deliver for Northern Ireland.

The primary responsibility for job creation in Northern Ireland lies with the Executive, not the UK Government, so how can the Government justify their approach to the shared prosperity fund, which takes away the spending power that the Executive previously had in relation to EU structural funds, and centralises that, stopping the Executive doing any joined-up investment in skills and job creation?

The primary responsibility for job creation is private sector business. It is entrepreneurs; it is people who create products and sell them to customers. What we are doing is making sure that businesses in Northern Ireland, as across the rest of the United Kingdom, have the tools to create the jobs and to create wealth and prosperity across the whole of Northern Ireland.

The Minister will know that sport is an economic driver. He will also know of the bid for the world rally championship to take place in Northern Ireland next year. What encouragement can the Minister and the Northern Ireland Office give to ensure that that is a successful, proactive event that will lead to spin-offs and job creation?

The hon. Gentleman is a huge champion of that project. We are well aware of the proposals that are being worked up, and I understand that the Executive and Tourism Northern Ireland are looking at them. If they come forward with proposals that work they will find a willing partner in the Northern Ireland Office. I will not commit to how many wheels or what part of the vehicles we will pay for, but we will step up to help to make this project a reality.

The director of a Northern Irish retail consortium has said that Northern Ireland has a unique opportunity to become a hub of investment, because it remains within the EU single market. To have access to the EU single market is a boon for Northern Ireland, and UK Ministers who have previously defended the protocol have stated that it is a boon. Why do the UK Government deny such a best-of-both-worlds situation for Scotland, where the people also voted to remain?

The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, Lord Frost and others have made it clear that we need to refine how systems are working in Northern Ireland. It is not working as we want it to work. It is impeding businesses, and it is disrupting communities and trade. That is why the Government at all levels are busily engaged in finding a solution that works for Northern Ireland. I am not sure that I am going to take any lectures from the Scottish National party about holding our United Kingdom together.

I welcome my right hon. Friend and Dorset colleague the Minister of State to his place. I am sure he will agree that political stability is a key element in creating jobs and attracting investment. Will he do all he can to ensure we have a fully functioning Stormont, working hard to improve the economic situation in Northern Ireland?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and that is why the Secretary of State and I were both at this Dispatch Box yesterday for Report and Third Reading of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill, a vital tool agreed under New Decade, New Approach to provide enhanced stability to the institutions in Northern Ireland, but ultimately it is for the parties in Northern Ireland to work together to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.

Agricultural Labour

7. What assessment he has made of the availability of agricultural labour in Northern Ireland and its impact on the profitability and viability of that sector. (903820)

We are moving to a high-wage, high-skilled economy and the Government are encouraging all sectors to rely increasingly on workers from the United Kingdom, but we have listened to the concerns of the sector and 5,500 poultry workers are now eligible to enter the UK for work, on top of the 800 butchers who were already eligible to enter the UK for six months under the skilled worker route.

It is all very well saying they are eligible to come in, but the industry is telling us that its ability to deliver the food needed, particularly for Christmas, is deeply jeopardised by the Government’s failure on both migration and skills to ensure the workers we need in our food processing industry are here. How can a Government who so passionately advocate for Brexit be so ill-prepared to deliver it?

When people voted to leave the European Union, they wanted us to level up the United Kingdom and increase wages for the workforce—including, by the way, the 60% of the hon. Gentleman’s Chesterfield constituents who voted to leave the EU. We are taking the opportunities of that and I wish he would join me in promoting Northern Ireland’s vibrant agri and food sector, including companies such as Kennedy Bacon and Ballylisk Dairies, which I have visited in the last couple of weeks and are excited by the opportunities.

For many years, agriculture in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK has been very dependent on overseas workers, even before the high levels of EU migration of recent years, so will the Minister do everything he can to make sure agriculture in Northern Ireland can still access the overseas and seasonal workers who are so crucial to making sure our food supply is resilient?

My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State speaks with great authority on these matters. There has been extensive engagement with the sector. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I had engagements around the Balmoral Show recently. We have both visited businesses in this sector and are listening carefully to their concerns.

Northern Ireland Assembly

I continue to work closely with the whole of the Executive and the political party leaders on the issues that matter most to the people of Northern Ireland. Obviously, the promise of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement for devolved government locally accountable to the people of Northern Ireland must never be forgotten and is hugely important in making sure we deliver on the promise of a stable and genuinely co-operative Executive, built on respectful relationships and trust. That is where stability comes from and that is what I hope to see continue in Northern Ireland.

Threats to collapse the Assembly hang over Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State is sleepwalking towards a political crisis. Key safeguards have still not reached the statute book 22 months on. Northern Ireland simply cannot afford this, so will the Secretary of State fast track the legislation through the House of Lords and commit to passing it in the coming weeks so there is at least a caretaker Executive in place?

It was disappointing in the summer when one of the political parties tried to bring down Stormont with various threats about what it was going to do. At the moment it is important that we see stability at Stormont. We had the legislation yesterday in the Chamber and I am sad the hon. Lady was unable to join us on something she clearly cares about. It is important that we see stability there, working with all the parties and making sure they are delivering on what the people of Northern Ireland care about. That has to be the main focus and the legislation going through the House at the moment will help with that, but the way we keep stability at Stormont is around not legislation in Westminster but the political parties at Stormont focusing on working together to reform education, healthcare and the other issues that matter for the people in Northern Ireland.

New Decade, New Approach

9. What progress the Government are making on implementing the commitments set out in the New Decade, New Approach agreement. (903822)

The Government are making good progress across their commitments under New Decade, New Approach. As the hon. Gentleman will know, only yesterday, the Secretary of State and I were delivering on the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill from the Dispatch Box while he was enjoying his love-in with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley).

I am glad to welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. One of the commitments that he did not mention was this Government’s commitment to bring in a package of legislation around language and culture. When are they going to do it?

The commitment of the Government to bring forward that package remains undimmed. I would not want to deny the hon. Gentleman his anticipation and excitement by revealing exactly when, but he will not have long to wait.

On another important commitment, on abortion, we are clear that the cycle of inaction must end and we welcome the Secretary of State’s determination on this, but it is a serious matter that the legal obligations are still being ignored. Will the Minister confirm the report today in The Guardian that he intends to instruct trusts to commission services? Will that require primary legislation? When will he act?

As the hon. Lady will know, the Secretary of State is leading on this, and I am sure he would be delighted to talk to her.

I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings for both Prime Minister’s questions and the Budget statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be available to watch on—[Interruption.] I think it is important that people listen to this, so I will say again that the British Sign Language interpretation for Prime Minister’s questions and the Budget statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, during which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor updated the Cabinet on how the Government’s plan for jobs is working, with higher wages, higher skills and rising productivity. He will make a statement to the House shortly setting out how we will build a new age of optimism. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I very much welcome the A66 northern trans-Pennine project from Penrith to Scotch Corner. That £1 billion investment will improve safety and congestion and help to level up our region, supporting jobs, essential services and tourism, but we have to get the project right. Will my right hon. Friend ask his Department for Transport, Ministry of Defence and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to work together pragmatically and reasonably with suggested route amendments to ensure that local communities such as Warcop, Musgrave and Sandford are not left blighted by the current plans?

My hon. Friend is right that the development that he refers to is part of an infrastructure revolution that I think will transform the country, but he is also right that we should consider local feedback from stakeholders and the community when finalising the design, and so we will.

Unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition is isolating, so I call Ed Miliband to ask the questions on behalf of the Opposition.

Order. I presume you all want to get on to the Budget; all you are doing is delaying it. Ed Miliband!

I want to reassure both sides of the House: it is one time only that I am back. [Laughter.]

We all need the vital COP26 summit in Glasgow to deliver next week, because failing to limit global warming to 1.5° will have devastating consequences for our planet. That goal is shared across the House. Does the Prime Minister agree that, to keep the goal of 1.5° alive, we need to roughly halve global emissions in this decisive decade?

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his place. I think the whole House extends its sympathies to the Leader of the Opposition. I hope he returns soon.

It is, of course, correct that COP26 is both unbelievably important for our planet but also very difficult. It is in the balance. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) is right in what he says about the need to keep 1.5° alive. It depends on what happens this decade and it depends on the commitments that are made. All I will say is that, under the UK presidency-designate of COP26, very substantial commitments have already been achieved. We have moved from only 30% of the global economy committed to net zero by the middle of the century to now 80%. Every day, as I talk to international leaders, we hear further commitments to make those solid commitments that the world will need. Whether it is enough, I am afraid it is too early to say.

I applaud the efforts of the UK presidency under the COP26 President-designate, the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). However, I want to direct the Prime Minister’s attention to the issue of this decade. I will come to net zero targets for the middle of the century in a moment, but yesterday he will know that a very important report came out from the United Nations, the United Nations Environment Programme “Emissions Gap” report. On the eve of COP, it warned that far from halving global emissions this decade, we are on course to reduce them by only about 7.5%. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge, because this is crucial for what happens at Glasgow and after Glasgow, how far away we are from the action required in this 10-year period?

Indeed I do, but what I think the House should also recognise is how far we have moved in the space of a few years since the Paris COP summit of 2015, where, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will remember, the world agreed to net zero by 2100, by the end of the century, and agreed to try to restrain global warming by 4°. We are now trying to keep alive the prospect of restricting that growth to 1.5°. Every day, countries are coming through with solid commitments on stopping the output of coal-fired power stations, reducing their use of internal combustion engines, planting millions of trees and investing hundreds of billions of pounds in the developing world. Those are solid commitments. Whether they will be enough, I am afraid it is still too early to say.

I will just correct the Prime Minister on one point: it was the second half of the century that was set out in Paris, not 2100 for net zero. Here is the problem on the question of net zero targets for the middle of the century: it is easy to make promises for 30 years’ time; it is much more difficult to act now. Australia recently announced a 2050 net zero target, but its 2030 target would head the world towards approximately 4° of global warming. Can I urge him not to shift the goalposts when it comes to Glasgow? It is about the emergency we face this decade. It is about the nationally determined contributions this decade. Please keep the focus on 2030, not 2050 and beyond.

The focus is certainly on 2030. We have 122 nationally determined contributions already, and 17 out of 20 G20 countries have made NDCs. The commitments are coming through. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to keep the pressure up. What you cannot do is go in advance of what is truly practicable for the world economy and for what people can do. The Government will go as fast as we possibly can. Labour’s plans, which I think he endorsed, were condemned by the GMB union—its paymasters—for meaning that it would be confiscating people’s cars by 2030 and that families would be allowed only one aeroplane flight every five years.

Let me tell the Prime Minister that what this summit needs is statesmanship, not partisanship, which is what we have just heard from him. He should not be trying to score party political points on such an important issue facing our country and our world. That is never the way I did PMQs. [Laughter.] Let me ask him about the crucial issue of climate finance for developing countries. The reason the Paris summit succeeded was that there was a coalition of vulnerable countries and developed countries that put pressure on all the big emitters, including China and India. The problem is that the world has not delivered on the $100 billion of finance promised more than a decade ago in Copenhagen. The plan is to deliver it maybe in 2023. But I want to ask him about his actions. Has it not made it much harder to deliver on that promise that we are the only G7 country to cut the aid budget in the run-up to this crucial summit?

I thought we were not going to have any partisan points. That did not last long. Actually, one of the first things I did as Prime Minister was go out to my first United Nations General Assembly as Prime Minister and announce a huge £11.6 billion commitment from the UK to help the developed world to tackle climate change. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, yes, of course it is true— [Interruption.] We have not cut that; we have not cut that, Mr Speaker. We are keeping that investment.

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that this country is working flat out to ensure that we do reach the £100 billion commitment from the whole of the world. We are seeing the money come in from the United States, from the Italians, from the French and from the European Union, and it is quite right that it should. We have a way to go. Whether we will get there or not, I cannot say—it is in the balance—but the challenge is there for the leaders of the developed world. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that they need to rise to it.

It is one thing for the Prime Minister not to know what is in the Paris agreement, but another for him not to know what is in his own Budget. He has cut the aid budget; of course he has cut the aid budget. He has abandoned the bipartisan belief in the aid budget across both these Houses, but it is not just on aid where the Government face both ways. They have a trade deal with Australia where they have allowed the Australians to drop their temperature commitments. They are telling others to power past coal while flirting with a new coal mine, and they are saying that we have to move beyond fossil fuels but open the new Cambo oilfield. Is not the truth that the Prime Minister has undermined his own COP presidency by saying one thing and doing another?

No, Mr Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong, and I think he should withdraw what he has just said about the £11.6 billion, because we remain absolutely committed to the £11.6 billion that we are investing to tackle climate change around the world. That is absolutely rock solid.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about Australia. I talked to the Prime Minister of Australia only recently, and Australia has just, with great difficulty, made the commitment to get to net zero by 2050. It is a great thing. I talked yesterday to our Indonesian friends. For instance, Joko Widodo, a good friend of this country, has agreed on coal to bring forward the abolition of coal use in Indonesia to 2040—a fantastic effort by the Indonesians. I talked to President Putin—I think it was yesterday—and he confirmed his determination to get to net zero by the middle of the century. That is what the UK is doing: working with countries around the world to get the outcome we want. It is still too early to say whether that will succeed. It is in the balance.

The thing the Prime Minister has underestimated throughout these last two years is the fact that COP26 is not a glorified photo opportunity; it is a fragile and complex negotiation. The problem is that the Prime Minister’s boosterism will not cut carbon emissions in half. Photo opportunities will not cut carbon emissions in half. I say to the Prime Minister that in these final days before COP26, we need more than warm words. Above all, Glasgow has to be a summit of climate delivery, not climate delay.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about cutting CO2 in half. Well, that is virtually what this country—this Government—has done. Since 1990, we have cut CO2 by 44% and the economy has grown by 78%. That is our approach—a sensible, pragmatic Conservative approach that cuts CO2, that tackles climate change and that delivers high-wage, high-skilled jobs across this country. Our net zero plan will deliver 440,000 jobs. That is what the people of this country want to see, and that is what they are seeing. They are seeing wages up, they are seeing growth up, they are seeing productivity up under this Government. If we had left it to the Leader of the Opposition, who is sadly not in his place, we would still be in lockdown. That is a point that the right hon. Gentleman might bring to the attention of the Leader of the Opposition, wherever he is currently self-isolating.

Q4. The Prime Minister will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson) and I have both lobbied for funding for better training and skills provision for young people in Wolverhampton. The youth unemployment rate was unacceptably high pre-pandemic; now, sadly, it is the highest rate nationally. Will the Prime Minister urgently look at how the Government can level up opportunity so that young people in Wolverhampton can get the skills and the confidence that they need to find work? (903885)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about Wolverhampton; that is why we are working flat out to ensure that young people in Wolverhampton benefit from the kickstart scheme, and we are working with City of Wolverhampton Council to ensure that young people get bespoke support for their return to work.

I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of the entire House will be with Walter Smith—the legend that was the Rangers, Dundee United and Scotland manager—who sadly passed away yesterday. Many of us will not forget the day he led us to victory over France at Hampden.

Naturally, most of today’s focus and attention will turn to the Chancellor’s Budget after Prime Minister’s questions, but before we turn to domestic matters, I think that it is right and important to raise the dire humanitarian situation that is developing in Afghanistan. The World Food Programme estimates that more than half the population—about 22.8 million people—face acute food insecurity, and 3.2 million children under five could suffer acute malnutrition.

Given the history of the past 20 years, it should be obvious that we have a deep responsibility to the country and its people. They are dying, and they need our help. It has only been two months since the allied forces relinquished control of the country, so can the Prime Minister update us on what exactly his Government are doing to end the famine in Afghanistan?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an issue that I know is on the mind of many people in this House and across the country. We are proud of what we have done to welcome people from Afghanistan, but we must do everything we can also to mitigate the consequences, for the people of Afghanistan, of the Taliban takeover.

What we did, as the right hon. Gentleman will recall, was double our aid commitment for this year to £286 million. We are working with the UN agencies and other non-governmental organisations to do everything we can to help the people of Afghanistan. What we cannot do at the moment is write a completely blank cheque to the Taliban Government or the Taliban authorities. We need to ensure that that country does not slip back into being a haven for terrorism and a narco-state.

The fact is that there is a humanitarian crisis and people are in need today. There was nothing there about tangible actions that the Government are taking on the ground now.

The situation is getting worse by the day. In August, the allies ran away from their responsibilities in Afghanistan, and now it very much feels as if this Government are washing their hands of the legacy that they left behind. Not only are the Afghan people being failed on humanitarian aid, but promises made to them on resettlement are being broken. When the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme was announced on 18 August, the Government talked about resettling

“up to 20,000 over the coming years”,

but, more than two months on, we have heard nothing. The Afghan people are being left with no updates and with vague targets.

Can the Prime Minister finally tell us when the resettlement scheme will open? Can he guarantee that 20,000 Afghans will be resettled? When exactly is the deadline for that to happen?

We made a commitment to resettle 20,000 Afghans in addition to those whom we brought out under Operation Pitting, which I think most fair-minded people in this country would think was a pretty remarkable feat by UK armed services. Many of those 15,000 are already being integrated into the UK, into schools and into communities, and we will help them in any way we can.

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in his characterisation of the stance that the UK has taken towards Afghanistan and the changes there. We continue to engage. We engage with the Taliban; this country was one of the first to reach out and begin a dialogue. What we are insisting on—

Just to get to the right hon. Gentleman’s point—while he rather uncivilly calls out—what we are insisting on is safe passage for those who wish to come and settle in this country, for people to whom we owe an obligation, and that is what we are doing.

Q7. As the whole House will know, today is National Cheese Toastie Day. [Interruption.] It is a fact. A massive 4.3 billion toasties were consumed last year—they are the nation’s favourite snack—and glorious Somerset is the home of cheddar cheese. Wyke Farms, in my constituency, is now producing what I think is the world’s first entirely carbon-neutral cheddar cheese. Did my right hon. Friend know that eating cheddar from Somerset can reduce one’s cheese consumption carbon footprint by 55%, and will he support our vital diary industry by committing himself to enjoying a carbon-neutral cheese toastie today? (903888)

My only question is, why is it only National Cheese Toastie Day? Why is it not International Cheese Toastie Day? I hope very much that among its many other achievements, the COP26 summit will bring the entire global community to a better understanding of the Wyke Farms carbon-neutral cheese toastie.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the harm that the Northern Ireland protocol is doing to the political and economic stability of Northern Ireland and the very delicate constitutional balance created by the Belfast or Good Friday agreement. In the Command Paper published by the Government in July, they committed themselves to addressing these issues, and recognised that the protocol was simply not sustainable. Does the Prime Minister accept that the conditions now exist to trigger article 16 of the protocol in the event that the current negotiations with the European Union fail to arrive at an acceptable outcome?

The right hon. Gentleman is completely right, I am sad to say. We are working hard to secure an agreement by negotiation, but we need to see real progress, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the real-life issues on the ground in Northern Ireland have not gone away. As we have been saying for some months, if we cannot see progress—rapid progress—in the way that we spelt out in our Command Paper, I think it will be clear to everybody that the conditions for invoking article 16 have already been met.

Q8. Airedale General Hospital, in my constituency, is made predominantly from aerated concrete, which is known for its structural deficiencies, and is in desperate need of a rebuild. As the Prime Minister will know, the hospital recently submitted to the Government its bid for a brand-new carbon-neutral building. It is fantastic news that this Conservative Government will deliver 48 new hospitals, but may I make an urgent plea to the Prime Minister for the Airedale to be one of them? (903889)

My hon. Friend—indeed, the whole House—will be hearing more about the spending for health in just a few moments, but I can tell him that we have received 120 applications for the biggest hospital building programme in a generation, and that his application will certainly be among those that will receive our most urgent consideration.

Q2. This Government are failing women and girls, from the lack of rape prosecutions and no victims Bill, to letting criminals off the hook. Now women and girls—including my own children—are being targeted with a sinister form of spiking through injections. It is always women and girls who pay the heaviest price. Today they are making a stand and saying “Enough is enough.” How many more women and girls will be hunted or excluded before the Prime Minister himself finally makes a stand? (903883)

The reports of spiking are extremely disturbing, and as the hon. Lady knows, it is already a criminal offence. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked the police to update her on exactly what details they have and what is happening. She wants to give them the space, for the time being, to conduct their inquiries into what is going on, but I would ask everybody with information about such incidents to come forward and contact their local police.

With COP26 imminent, I would like to draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the good work that is being done in Morecambe on the Eden Project. Wes Johnson at Morecambe and Lancaster College has put forward a programme to teach youngsters in Morecambe the international Eden ethos, in order to, shall we say, propagate the goodwill around the world. I would like to invite the Prime Minister to come to the Morecambe riviera to see the Eden Project site at his earliest convenience.

I am delighted to respond in the affirmative to my hon. Friend, because the last time he asked me about this it was to ensure that we got an Eden Project in Morecambe. It sounds from what he is saying that we are making progress in that direction, and that is thrilling.

Q3. I am sure that the whole House will want to send my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition their best wishes. Also, it is good to see a few more Conservative MPs heeding the Health Secretary’s plea to wear a mask. Given that we have had far, far higher covid infection, hospitalisation and death rates than any other western European country for several weeks now, was it a mistake to abandon all those precautions back in July? If not, why are our figures so bad? (903884)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, but the reality is that of course we monitor all the data very carefully every day. We see nothing to suggest that we need to deviate from the plan we have set out that began with the road map in February, that we are sticking to, and that has given business and this country the ability to get on and achieve the unlockings that we have seen and indeed the fastest economic growth in the G7.

My constituent Sophia Dady has composed a song about the positive action we can each take to combat climate change, which emphasises the need to “clean, repair and protect”. Will the Prime Minister join me in encouraging all UK schools to follow the lead of Fairfield Prep School in Loughborough and other schools across the world from Hawaii to Norway in raising awareness of this important issue through learning the song?

Well, yes—do I have to learn the song? I will do my best. I thank my hon. Friend for raising the work of her constituents and her constituents’ school. It is absolutely vital that we not only recycle where sensible but cut down on the use of plastics.

Q5. This week, it was revealed that fossil-fuel companies, interest groups and climate denialists had donated £1.3 million to the Conservative party and its MPs since 2019. So, a simple question, no waffling or dodging the issue: on the eve of COP26, will the Prime Minister demonstrate that he is serious about tackling the climate emergency by paying back that money and pledging that his party will never again take money and donations from the fossil-fuel companies that are burning our planet? Yes or no? (903886)

All our donations are registered in the normal way. I would just remind the hon. Lady that the Labour party’s paymasters, the GMB, think that Labour’s policies mean that no families would be able to take more than one flight every five years and that they would have their cars confiscated.

This week is UK Wind Week, and later this afternoon I will be welcoming some young people from my constituency who see their futures in the renewable energy sector that has done so much to level up the Grimsby, Cleethorpes and north-east Lincolnshire area. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that the Government will continue to invest in the skills and development of our young people in order to benefit the renewable energy sector?

Yes, and I think the whole House should be proud of the fact that the UK still produces more offshore wind—[Interruption.] Not hot air, but energy for the people of this country. It is clean, green energy produced off Cleethorpes in the North sea, and we are going to be massively increasing the volume of that output.

Q6. A thriving steel industry is the foundation of a more productive and resilient Britain, yet bickering between the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is blocking the chance to tackle the sky-high energy prices that our steelmakers have been facing since long before the current price spikes. With the pathway to net zero being dependent on steel firms using more electricity, not less, will the Prime Minister urge his colleagues around the Cabinet table to put in place a wholesale energy price cap, along with long overdue reductions in network connection costs? COP will not work without a cap. (903887)

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point about the high energy costs for energy-intensive industries, and that is why we have abated them with about £2 billion since 2013. The answer is to do what we are doing, which is to make up the long-term baseload needs of this economy by investing in nuclear, as I am afraid Labour failed to do in its 13 lost years, and in renewables.