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Volume 702: debated on Wednesday 27 October 2021

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.