House of Commons
Monday 15 November 2021
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Ministry of Defence was delighted to support the Royal British Legion’s poppy appeal, in its 100th anniversary year. Members of all three services took part in Poppy Day activities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, selling poppies and collecting donations. I was delighted that all the members of the ministerial team were able to join in acts of remembrance throughout the weekend, demonstrating the central and cherished role of remembrance in our national life.
Will the Minister join me in thanking and congratulating the many volunteers, organisations and veterans across Clwyd South who have worked so hard to raise money for the poppy appeal, including Broughton community council, whose act of remembrance I had the honour of attending yesterday, laying a wreath at Brynteg Memorial Hall?
The fantastic work of the poppy appeal, which raises millions every year for our veterans, is only possible thanks to the hard work of the volunteers and armed forces who take part, giving up their time to ensure that the Royal British Legion’s fundraising efforts succeed. Will the Minister join me in thanking the volunteers and organisers of the Bedworth Armistice Day parade in my constituency, chaired by Ken Whitehead? It celebrated its centenary this year, being the only parade outside London to have taken place every year on 11 November.
My hon. Friend is right to refer to the central role of the Royal British Legion volunteers. They are a magnificent bunch of people, and I particularly commend Ken Whitehead and all the Bedworth Armistice Day team. I also want to record my thanks for all my hon. Friend’s work to support our veterans and forces people in his constituency.
I thank the many Carshalton and Wallington residents who volunteered to raise money for the poppy appeal this year. The appeal helps to fund the Royal British Legion’s work in raising funds for the armed forces covenant, providing support for thousands of service people and their families. What consideration has the Minister given to the Legion’s recent report on the impact of the covenant over the last 10 years?
I have given deep consideration to that excellent report, which I think is a hugely important piece of work. We have come a very long way in the last 10 years, but there is still more to do, and that is why we are putting the covenant into law in the Armed Forces Bill.
Over the past couple of weeks, people across Keighley and Ilkley have been working hard to raise funds for our veterans through the poppy appeal, including Jackie McGinnis and her team at the Keighley branch of the Royal British Legion. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking all my constituents who have worked so incredibly hard to raise money for the appeal, and use this opportunity to reiterate the importance of such funds being raised throughout the calendar year?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in thanking Jackie McGinnis and the Keighley branch of the Royal British Legion. They have done terrifically good work. It is indeed an all-year-round challenge, and that is why we are pleased to have invested £25 million this year in third sector charities that support our veterans and armed forces. I am very grateful for the work that my hon. Friend continues to do in his constituency.
I speak as a great admirer of the poppy appeal. However, when the Minister next meets the national leadership of the Royal British Legion, will he point out that effectively closing down a branch and expelling its officers, as they have done in Leyton, is not the best way to promote the appeal, and nor is sealing and shutting the building so that its members have no access, and removing the base for the appeal in years to come?
I had a friend who signed up at the age of 16 and served for eight years in the Balkans, Northern Ireland and the first Gulf war. About 10 days ago we lost him, after he had battled with mental ill health for perhaps 20 years. The Government talk a great deal about the programmes to help veterans with their mental health, but there does not seem to be anyone who is really reaching out to them. I wonder whether, through the poppy appeal and the Royal British Legion, more could be done to try to reach out to veterans so that they do not feel cast adrift once they leave the services.
I entirely agree with the sentiment expressed by the hon. Lady. We are trying harder than ever before and investing a huge amount of money in Op Courage, which is the bespoke mental health pathway for veterans in the national health service, but really this is about a broader challenge of reducing the stigma of mental health challenges. That is why we are ensuring that, during the time people serve in the armed forces, they see it as their professional responsibility to see mental good health as a question of resilience and capability, not something of which to be ashamed.
This Remembrance Sunday was the first time that LGBT veterans were invited to lay a wreath openly at the Cenotaph. While the route to equality is something we all welcome, can the Minister detail the steps the Government are taking to provide compensation to all LGBT veterans who suffered a loss of earnings and pension as a result of the historical ban?
I am pleased to be able to put on record my acknowledgement of the injustice suffered by gay people who were unjustly thrown out of the military. I have met Fighting With Pride and others, and we are doing good work on this, which will be formally announced as part of a review. I hope to be able to provide further details to the House in the coming weeks.
Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory in Edinburgh has been in operation since 1926, employing ex-soldiers since the very beginning. Over the years it has grown considerably, and now it employs 41 veterans. Will the Minister join me in thanking them for their hard work and dedication in making beautiful poppy wreaths, and encourage other organisations to support veteran employability in the same way?
I am delighted to put on record my thanks to the Poppy Factory, which I have visited: it does magnificent work, and the wreaths it creates are a moving and important part of the Festival of Remembrance. I am also grateful that the hon. Lady picked up the theme of employability, because we will focus explicitly on that in the forthcoming veterans strategy.
As you know, Mr Speaker, the Royal British Legion and the poppy appeal have supported veterans over the decades and over a number of conflicts, not least the Falklands campaign, which my constituency has such strong links with. Can the Minister talk a little about plans to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Falklands campaign next year?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is of particular interest, because my Aldershot constituency was formerly the home of the Parachute Regiment and one of my first engagements as a new MP was to attend the 35th anniversary of Op Corporate. There are significant plans under way, and I look forward to sharing those with her and her Gosport constituents in due course.
Afghan Nationals: Evacuation
We owe a debt of gratitude to locally employed staff who risked their lives along with UK forces in Afghanistan. Around 7,000 principals and their families have so far been relocated under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy. The ARAP scheme, as I have always said, remains open and, in the past seven days, a further 100 Afghan nationals have been relocated from third countries to the UK. Of the 311 people who were called forward before the end of Op Pitting but were unable to leave the country, there are now fewer than 200 individuals remaining.
Correspondence received from the Minister for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), states that a number of my constituents’ family members may be eligible for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme when it becomes available. The wait for the scheme to open has been unbearable for many. Can the Secretary of State confirm what discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues about this and, specifically, when the House will be informed of the date the scheme will open? Will it be before the end of the year, and what support, including legal support, will be available to help constituents to navigate the scheme?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says but, as he knows, that scheme is under the stewardship of the Home Office. I am happy to take his representations and make them, but the policy decisions he is asking for are not made by the Ministry of Defence; they are best pointed at Home Office questions.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that Pakistan, with its deplorable record of support for the Taliban, is a hostile environment for a number of people who have fled Afghanistan and are hiding in Pakistan? If the British Government decide to issue visas to people who are taking refuge or in hiding in Pakistan, will he guarantee that they are safely able to get from Pakistan to the United Kingdom?
I listen to my right hon. Friend’s concerns. However, Pakistan has been, in these incidences, supportive, as have many other neighbouring countries. It plays an influential role in the region and it is necessary for us not only to engage, but to ensure that we work with it for the benefit of many of those people left in Afghanistan and for the wider security areas. However, I hear his points, and we also press Pakistan on areas such as terrorism, Kashmir and so on, ensuring that both parties to that conflict withdraw from any support of violence.
Last week I visited a bridging hotel where it became clear that ARAP evacuees are facing a cliff edge on their immigration status, having been given just six months’ leave to remain when they left Afghanistan. Permanent status is key to building a new life for those who supported our forces, so what steps is the Secretary of State taking with Home Office colleagues to ensure they receive indefinite leave to remain when they were promised?
I have no doubt that the Defence Secretary is straining every sinew, but one fears that bureaucracy and lack of clarity are getting in the way. I understand that almost 200 Afghans who worked with the British Council, and are therefore eligible for the ARAP scheme, are still in Afghanistan in fear of their lives. One sent this email:
“we are now being hunted by the Taliban. We are in hiding, and we have run out of money. We are in very real danger and in fear of our lives”.
What more can the Government do to help these people?
My hon. Friend refers to a scheme that is stewarded by the Foreign Office. I am happy to hold a surgery for colleagues on both sides of the House on the ARAP scheme, for which I am responsible, and I will broaden it by bringing along Ministers from other Departments so that they, too, can answer these questions and deal with individual cases brought by Members. If the House gives me leave, I would be happy to arrange it.
Afghanistan: Reconstruction and State-building Contracts
The Ministry of Defence did not contract private companies to undertake state-building as part of UK military operations in Afghanistan. Reconstruction activity could take many forms and could be commissioned in many ways, both from within the MOD and from elsewhere in Government. Does the hon. Gentleman have a particular company in mind?
The Foreign Office tells me it has spent £54 million with a company called Adam Smith International, but it will not tell me on what the money was spent. Can the Minister assure me that he will provide details of any contracts his Department has with Adam Smith International with regard to Afghanistan? There has clearly been a failure of nation-building in Afghanistan, and this Parliament needs to consider whether that failure is related to the organisations that were chosen to implement Government policy and the programmes they developed on the ground. May I ask for further assurance that the cloak of national security will not be used to withhold information?
As I said, the Ministry of Defence did not contract with companies to undertake state-building activity. I will clarify whether Adam Smith International had any role in anything we might count as reconstruction. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Foreign Office, and his question might be better addressed to colleagues there.
NATO and Euro-Atlantic Security
NATO is the cornerstone of UK and Euro-Atlantic defence. As set out in the recent integrated review of international policy, the UK will remain the leading European ally within NATO, bolstering the alliance by tackling threats jointly and committing our resources to collective security in the Euro-Atlantic region. The UK contribution is substantial and comprehensive, spanning forces and headquarters, money, capabilities and people.
With cross-party members of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I recently visited NATO air command at Ramstein for briefings from the excellent RAF officers based there. Given Russia’s frequent incursions into NATO airspace, its aggression and its threats, does my right hon. Friend agree that the RAF’s involvement is a crucial aspect of NATO’s commitment to constant vigilance and the protection of each and every member of the alliance?
My hon. Friend is right that the RAF is a key component of NATO’s deterrence and defence posture. The RAF preserves the security of alliance airspace through its contribution to enhanced air policing and its commitment of forces to the NATO response force. The RAF also provides high-quality staff officers to NATO headquarters, and it provides air transport, air-to-air refuelling and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance support to NATO exercises and operations.
The Minister knows very well what is happening between Russia and Belarus. He knows how many people are hostage on these borders, and how many children are in danger of dying of cold and starvation. What is NATO actually doing to show Russia that we mean business when it has devious and disgraceful policies such as this?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that what is going on in Belarus—and then into Poland, Estonia and these other countries—is a tragedy and a disgrace, in the way it has treated vulnerable people and clearly brought them over from other parts of the world. I am visiting Poland this week to discuss matters with my Polish counterparts. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the UK has a considerable number of forces in both Estonia and Poland, under the enhanced presence, and I have sent a recce party of Royal Engineers to see what else we can do to help. At the same time, on the diplomatic channels, we must also make sure that we are very clear that this is unacceptable behaviour. It is a hybrid, destabilising method deployed by too many countries, with human beings being the traffic. We should also press on the European Union, which is responsible for the civilian border policing of its Union; that is a very important step for it to take, as it should also be able to step up and complement NATO’s efforts.
Given the extremely concerning situations in not only Bosnia, but Ukraine, will my right hon. Friend please advise as to whether he plans to uplift our military presence to peacekeeping operations in both countries? Will a defence Minister attend the Bosnian Armed Forces Day at the start of December to show our continued support for peace in the region?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about another part of eastern Europe and the Balkans that is currently experiencing destabilising actions, activities and messaging that do no one any good. As she will know, it is a EUFOR deployment in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but there is also a NATO deployment, and I am open to exploring what more we could do in that area. Baroness Goldie will be attending the conference my hon. Friend asks about.
May I offer our very best wishes to David Perry, whose heroic actions in Liverpool yesterday may have prevented a despicable and devastating attack on the city’s remembrance ceremony?
I say to the Defence Secretary that we share his grave concerns about deteriorating security and destabilisation, both in Bosnia and on the Ukraine border. We fully back the diplomatic efforts he mentions to de-escalate tensions, but, as the Chief of the Defence Staff said yesterday, we also
“have to be on our guard and make sure deterrence prevails”.
So may I ask the Defence Secretary to confirm that a war-fighting division is still the bedrock of the British Army and the defence capability Britain offers NATO? When will this division be fully capable for combat operations?
The right hon. Gentleman is correct to identify that a war-fighting division is the bedrock. Obviously, as we reform and invest in new capabilities, the scale and availability of that division will fluctuate, as we re-equip and re-posture. However, that does not prevent our already having a very, very high-readiness battle group available in Estonia, with a matter of hours to move, as one of the best parts of deterrence is readiness, as opposed to simply having just scale on its own. We can have scale, but if we cannot get to the battlefront, we are not necessarily deterring anyone. That is why we are investing in those new capabilities, but he is correct to say that a war-fighting division is obviously part of our cornerstone commitment to NATO.
The Army told the Select Committee on Defence last year that it will not be until the “early 2030s” before it can field a fully equipped war-fighting division, including a new strike brigade. There are serious questions about capacity—or, as the Defence Secretary says, scale—as well as about military capability. Britain’s previous contribution to the UN peacekeeping in Bosnia was about 2,400 troops, and that was when the Army was still 145,000 strong. His current cuts will leave the Army at exactly half that size. So if, in the worst circumstances, our forces are called on in both eastern Europe and the Balkans at the same time, how confident is he that Britain could meet NATO requirements?
I am very confident of that: we have just completed another round of forces allocation within NATO to make sure that we are all able to meet our commitments. We have a new scheme in NATO whereby we can trade different capabilities. For example, we have traded some capabilities for more maritime contribution, so that we can keep our abilities strong and present in the sea as much as we can on land—it will not have escaped the right hon. Gentleman that Russia, for example, is capable of using all the domains to threaten our security.
On the division the right hon. Gentleman talked about, the Chief of the Defence Staff’s comments to the Select Committee represented the situation at the end of the transition, but all the way through that transition the UK’s premier armoured division, 3 Division, will have battle-winning capabilities and the ability to take on Russia as part of a NATO commitment. Only recently, I visited the division on Salisbury plain—it is the single biggest brigade or battle group we have had on Salisbury plain for decades—and saw more than 270 vehicles go through their paces, planning and making sure that they are up to date with the latest equipment.
Helicopter Supply Chain
We recognise the need to understand and manage risk in our supply chains, including rotary wing, and work closely on this with the defence industry, including through the defence suppliers forum. We are also engaged with the cross-Government global supply chains initiative, which is aimed at improving resilience in public procurement.
I was particularly pleased to learn of Leonardo’s £1 billion investment proposition to provide a great future for the site in Yeovil—where many of my West Dorset constituents work—as a global centre of military excellence. Will my right hon. Friend kindly ensure that we in the UK, and the Leonardo business in particular, will secure more transformational industrial innovation, as he envisaged under the defence and security industrial strategy?
Yes. I welcome Leonardo’s investment in West Dorset and in UK manufacturing as a whole. The defence and security industrial strategy will ensure that the UK can continue to have competitive, innovative and world-class defence and security industries. The MOD is investing in emerging technology, utilising the UK’s strong industrial and research base. Through our forward-looking strategic partnerships, we will drive collaboration on cutting-edge information.
I do apologise, Mr Speaker: I mean no discourtesy to you or the House but I am afraid I have pulled a muscle in my back and it is terribly painful for me to bob up and down. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and the fact that I am a proud member of and, indeed, chair of the Unite group of Labour MPs.
To follow up on the Secretary of State’s previous answer, he will no doubt be aware that the Yeovil-based Leonardo helicopter-manufacturing facility has prepared a tender for the Puma-replacement contract. Will the Government deliver on their responsibility to support workers in rural communities and protect skilled jobs in the United Kingdom? Will he assure the House that the Puma-replacement contract will be awarded to a UK-based company?
The hon. Gentleman will have read the defence and security industrial strategy and, indeed, the reforms to the Treasury Green Book that allow me to put a premium on social value, including in respect of priorities such as levelling up and UK skills. I am determined that we make that clear in many of our interactions with industry. As a member of Unite, the hon. Gentleman will know that Unite represents not just workers at Leonardo in Yeovil but no doubt lots of workers in the aerospace industry in my part of the world up in Lancashire. We have a duty to make sure that we listen to all British workers, wherever they are.
On the new medium-lift helicopter contract, we are expecting a competition and will produce details of that for the House sooner rather than later. We expect the new medium-lift helicopter to come in by 2025.
A fortnight ago, the all-party Public Accounts Committee published the most damning report it has ever produced on MOD procurement, including helicopter procurement. The report concluded:
“To meet the aspirations of the Integrated Review, the Department’s broken system for acquiring military equipment needs an urgent rethink, led by HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office.”
Given that not one of the top 36 MOD procurement programmes—worth £150 billion of taxpayers’ money—is fully on track, who, either at Abbey Wood or on the fifth floor of the MOD, is going to accept personal responsibility? When will the Secretary of State bring in the Cabinet Office to clean up the MOD’s mess?
I have read the report and, while it makes some very important points, I am sad to say that it is actually no different from the series of reports that I have read over decades. It is not any worse than some of the ones from 2008 and 2009. There are repeat problems, which is why, in seeking defence reforms, I have been determined to make sure that we get on top of these issues. [Interruption.] I distinctly remember the report that was delivered in 2010, which showed that, in one year under the Labour Administration, they spent £3 billion without even knowing where it was coming from. My right hon. Friend is right that there are lessons to be learned. We will get on it. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss what we think we can do. Many of the programmes referred to not only pre-date me and this ministerial team, but predate my right hon. Friend and his ministerial team and we need to make sure that we get on top of that issue. There are solutions to this, but we must also enforce tight timetables and then we will deliver.
It is welcome news for the British aerospace industry that the Government have published a draft plan to buy between 36 and 44 aircraft under their long-awaited New Medium Helicopter acquisition programme. Like other Members on both sides of the House, we, too, could not let this pass without mentioning the National Audit Office report. The Government have been in power for 11 years. They have overseen a Ministry of Defence that has created a black hole of £17 billion. The Defence Secretary has stood here and said that the helicopter will be ready by 2025. Why, given the evidence that the MOD has difficulty in fulfilling its contracts, is he confident that this will happen? How long will it be before the Ministry of Defence takes these NAO reports seriously, and will it take positive action to bring some positivity around procurement contracts?
The reason why I am confident about the 2025 timetable is that the expected bidders in the new medium-lift helicopter programme are expected to bid mature products that have been in production not only in the United Kingdom, but in Europe and around the world. The only negotiation would therefore be around European content and European build and all the other factors that are very important to hon. Members. I am pretty confident about 2025, but it does of course depend on what extras the services want to have added on. On the issue of 10 and 20-year programmes, it is, as hon. Members who have served in the Ministry will know, that if we change the plans half way through, we incur costs or delays. That has been part of the problem for many, many decades, but it does not change the fact that defence procurement programmes are decades long, which has a greater impact than if we were just going out there and buying a car.
If the defence procurement landscape were a bit more positive, we might have some more confidence in the Secretary of State’s reassurances, but 2025 is not far away. Can he prompt the procurement exercise for the new medium-lift helicopter to replace the ageing Puma fleet, or at least clarify the pedestrian progress of this operational priority to date? Multiple “primes”, including Airbus with its 175M and Leonardo, will be looking to compete for this work as well as US contractors. We need to be able to scrutinise these contractors and their bids sooner rather than later to ensure that, no matter who wins this contract, the economic impact is enjoyed across these islands and not simply, for example, in the south-west of England.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. He will know from the shipbuilding industry in Scotland that there is a huge benefit for shipbuilding in Govan, Scotstoun and Rosyth. I am very keen to make sure that all the prosperity of the defence pound is spread around the United Kingdom. Lots of jobs are attached to all different types of projects whether they are “primes” or supporting contracts through things such as radar and sonar.
Afghanistan: Inquiry into UK Withdrawal
The Ministry of Defence has carried out extensive and robust lessons-learned exercises in response to events in Afghanistan, including for Op Pitting, the non-combatant evacuation operation, and those lessons have already been recycled into our NEO plans. It has also done the same with the decisions to withdraw from Afghanistan in the first place. Moreover, numerous inquiries are already taking place across Government to scrutinise both the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and our campaign in Afghanistan more generally, including the inquiry being undertaken by the House of Commons Defence Committee, which the Secretary of State gave evidence to on 26 October.
Does the Minister accept, though, that there is confusion and contradiction in the UK Government’s portrayal of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, with the former Foreign Secretary saying that the Taliban takeover was “faster than anyone anticipated” while the Prime Minister was saying that it had been “clear for many months” that the situation could change quickly? Army personnel faced the heart-breaking task of turning back thousands of Afghan citizens, including many who worked with groups such as the British Council. Surely this House and our constituents have a right to know what went wrong and why. Does the Minister not appreciate that only an independent inquiry can tell us that?
The hon. Lady conflates two issues. The first is the decision-making process around why British forces left Afghanistan. I do not think there is much to unearth there; the Doha agreement that was signed by President Trump put us in a position where a decision would need to be made this year, either to re-engage the Taliban in full-on fighting or to leave. That was the deal that was done, and we have been very clear with the House about that at every opportunity. As for the delivery of Op Pitting itself, I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s characterisation of what I think was an extraordinarily successful military operation.
I very much agree with the Minister that Op Pitting was a superbly successful operation, no matter what else one might say about Afghanistan. It is only right that we in this House and across the Palace should thank and welcome the people who carried out that operation, and Members of all parties and staff throughout the Palace will be able to do so on Wednesday 24 November, immediately after Prime Minister’s Question Time, when 150 soldiers who carried out that brilliant operation will march through Carriage Gates and halt outside the great north door of Westminster Hall. I hope that all Members will be there to welcome them and thank them for what they did.
There is no question that the bravery and professionalism of UK armed forces personnel certainly got the Government out of a hole when it came to Op Pitting, but one issue that we need an inquiry to look at is why, in May, the French were so much better prepared than the UK to the extent that they commenced evacuating Afghans who supported the French efforts in Afghanistan, along with their families, 90 days before the fall of Kabul. It is quite clear that similar intelligence was available to NATO allies in advance of operations commencing, so what went wrong with the analysis of that intelligence in the United Kingdom? An inquiry must establish whether the UK Government were guilty of rose-tinted assessment, complacency or general dysfunction.
The hon. Gentleman might want to check the date on which the Foreign Office advice to leave Afghanistan was changed to be that, because it was actually very much aligned with the French timeline that he mentioned. From that moment onwards, the resettlement scheme for moving MOD-entitled civilian contractors out of the country had commenced. It is a source of regret, I think, for many who were eligible for the scheme that they chose not to leave at the first opportunity and they waited, but the MOD was not in a position forcibly to remove people from the country. The scheme was open; we were bringing people back. From memory, I think we removed about 1,500 people before Kabul fell. I wish that more had taken the opportunity to leave when the Foreign Office advice was changed, but the Foreign Office advice was changed in a timely way and the MOD capacity to move people was in place from the spring.
Support for Veterans
The Government are committed to delivering a gold standard of care for our veterans. We have made huge progress in recent years, with tangible benefits such as the veterans railcard, the bespoke mental health care pathway, tax breaks for those employing veterans and guaranteed job interviews for veterans applying to join the civil service. But there is more to do, which is why we are putting the armed forces covenant into law and why I will be announcing the veterans strategy next month.
The Veterans Charity, which is based in North Devon, helps hundreds of veterans across the UK each year, and would like to thank the MOD for supporting its routes of remembrance event, which involved many veterans and service personnel around the nation. The Veterans Charity received many referrals from the excellent Op Courage teams. Will the Minister clarify what plans there are for more comprehensive coverage from this service across North Devon and the south-west, where there are many veterans living in remote areas who need and deserve greater mental health support?
I am pleased to put on record my thanks to the Veterans Charity for its amazing work. I was pleased to contribute to the routes of remembrance event and to dispatch a wreath from Aldershot along with the mayor and garrison commander. We are rightly increasing the budget for Op Courage to more than £20 million this year. An important component of that healthcare is the accreditation of local GPs, so I hope that my hon. Friend is exploring that prospect in North Devon.
Last week it was revealed that hundreds of veterans face pension cuts of up to £600 a year due to computer error, with no right to appeal. As the cost of living rises under this Government, what is the Minister doing to support those ex-forces personnel who now cannot afford basics like heating and food due to administrative incompetence?
Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for his question. Our Afghan relocations and assistance policy remains open and a dedicated team at the permanent joint headquarters continue to work with all those eligible to ensure their safe passage to the UK. I recently visited the region to identify what more we can do to support both third-country and in-country applicants, and we are working with a wide range of allies and partners to explore every possible avenue.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his response. I appreciate that much of the information around the Government’s support for those in Afghanistan is sensitive, but can he update the House on whether the Government have made an assessment of how many people still in Afghanistan qualify for the scheme and what steps the Government are taking to ensure that they are able to leave safely?
We estimate that about 800 principals plus their families might be eligible to come to the UK through the ARAP route. However, we should be clear that this is a very difficult process that relies entirely at the moment on the co-operation of third countries, and that regulates flow. We are doing our best to get people here in the biggest numbers that we possibly can, but other countries in the region get a vote. That is why all the ministerial team and our colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office continue to work hard to maintain those relationships and maintain those permissions.
Afghan interpreters who previously settled in Newport East are still waiting to be reunited with their families who have been stuck in bridging hotels waiting for biometric resident permits for some months now. What are Defence Ministers doing to impress upon Home Office Ministers the need to sort this out?
I meet Home Office Ministers regularly, and so does my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, who is leading on the reception of ARAP personnel within the UK. If the hon. Lady would like to write to him with the detail of the people she is representing, we will make sure that that is passed to Home Office Ministers.
Armed Forces: Technological Capabilities
Defence will invest at least £6.6 billion in research and development over the next four years in areas including space, directed energy weapons, and artificial intelligence. This will help to secure our military edge by ensuring that we can adopt modern technologies at scale and produce game-changing advantage.
My hon. Friend asks a very good question that needs to be addressed. I am pleased to confirm that we are producing a defence AI strategy that will cover how we will get an operational advantage. That work is ongoing and it will be published in due course.
Former Service Personnel: Mental Health Services
We are committed to providing veterans with a gold standard of support. This year we increased the budget of Op Courage from £17.8 million to more than £20 million. We are committed to supporting third-sector armed forces charities. That is why this year we are putting a record amount of money—£25 million—into that sector.
Yesterday we honoured our armed forces and their incredible service, but we know that this service comes at a cost. Over the past five years, the number of personnel medically discharged due to mental health issues has doubled. We are not offering them enough support. On the commitment of just £20 million a year, Labour has pledged to increase that by £35 million. Will the Minister match that commitment today?
I think we are putting our money where our mouth is, but I make the broader point that it is about reducing stigma around mental health and ensuring that, during service, service people understand that dealing with their mental health is a professional responsibility. That is why we have introduced an annual mandatory mental health care brief. It is very important that service people see mental health as resilience and professional capability. We are trying to change the entire culture around it.
The Government are currently missing a range of targets for the mental health care of veterans, and sadly veterans continue to face a postcode lottery when accessing services. We know that veterans face a wait of 37 days for face-to-face appointments offered through the transition intervention and liaison service, against a target of 14 days. The average wait time for treatment is 70 days, a jump from 57 days in 2018-19. We also know that there was an increase in the wait time for appointments through the complex treatment service—now at 33 days, up from 18 in 2018-19. The Government have missed targets on mental health care for veterans across all services in England. In light of that, will the Minister commit to reviewing these services to ensure that our former serving personnel get the best standards of care?
I do not accept that characterisation from the hon. Member. Op Courage is very successful. Clearly there is always more to do, which is why we are putting more money into it. Importantly, we are putting veterans themselves at the heart of Op Courage as peer support workers.
Veterans mental health services in Wales could be greatly improved if we had a veterans’ commissioner. We are the only nation in the UK not to have one. The UK Government have agreed to create and fund the post, but the Welsh Government have not yet agreed to recognise it and work with it. Will the Minister join me in urging them to do so, so that veterans in Wales can benefit from the same support as their counterparts in the rest of the UK?
I am delighted that we will have an independent veterans’ commissioner in Wales, and I thank my hon. Friend for the campaigning she has done on this. We look forward to positive working with the Welsh Government to ensure a very positive outcome for veterans in Wales.
In September, I notified the House of data breaches relating to the MOD’s Afghanistan relocations and assistance policy, or ARAP. An internal investigation has now concluded, and I have laid a written ministerial statement of its findings before the House. While the breaches were attributed to human error, they should have been prevented by better operating procedures and training. Significant remedial actions were taken, and I am confident that their application is sufficient to prevent recurrence.
We are not aware of anyone who has come to harm as a result of these breaches, but continue to support all families awaiting relocation to the United Kingdom. As I said earlier, of the 311 ARAP-eligible Afghan families unable to board a flight who had been called forward before the end of Op Pitting, fewer than 200 remain, and we will continue with those relocations. The scale of that task should not be underestimated. More than 89,000 applications have already been received and more than 7,000 people relocated to the UK. I apologise again for the data breaches, recommit to efforts preventing recurrence and thank all those in the MOD whose ongoing work is honouring our debt of gratitude to those Afghan nationals who supported our efforts in the country.
As the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) referred to earlier, and may well be planning to refer to again in a few minutes, we have seen report after report from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee highlighting the fact that the Ministry of Defence does not have an adequately funded and affordable equipment programme. It has weaknesses in its management of major defence projects. There is not even a proper funding mechanism to match the long-term nature of the contracts. This is causing delays in critically important frontline equipment. How much longer will it be before our service personnel can guarantee that they will always be equipped with the best equipment available?
I understand the hon. Member’s concern, but I say to him first that we will publish our equipment programme soon, and that it is not the case that the projects are unfunded—that is an incorrect assertion. Like him, I am absolutely determined to get to grips with some of the issues. That is why we took some decisions to cancel or not proceed with programmes. We took some tough decisions to ensure that the equipment programme is affordable. It is also why the Prime Minister gave us a record capital departmental expenditure limit settlement for our equipment programme, to ensure that we can deliver the equipment for our forces.
Hello, it’s me again.
I will gladly take the Secretary of State up on his offer of a meeting about procurement, but there is an old Army saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is broke—it is official. This is the worst report on MOD procurement in living memory, Ben. We both know it is, so can we please do something about it and put it right?
I understand my right hon. Friend’s frustration; I am equally frustrated. He will know from his time in the Department that one of the biggest challenges was that people’s appetites often outstretched their pockets. We also have to adapt to threats when they change, and that causes an impact, as do things such as dollar fluctuations. There are a lot of factors in complicated procurement, but that is not to say that we do not need a lot of things to go right. I would be delighted to talk to him about some of the simple changes that could make a big difference.
The other issue is ensuring that Ministers are on top of all the detail, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement is on that detail and ensuring that we get a grip of this. It is also about having not part-time but dedicated senior responsible officers—I am not sure why no one has done that for decades. We should then hold those people more responsible.
I was disappointed to get the Defence Secretary’s written ministerial statement on the ARAP data breach and general update just before I left for these questions in the Chamber, which was too late to put to him the many concerns felt on all sides of the House. It should have been an oral statement. I hope that he will consider making such a statement.
The Defence Secretary has pledged to assist investigations into the grave allegations about the murder of Agnes Wanjiru in Kenya nine years ago by a British solider. Why has he not launched an MOD inquiry into the separate serious allegations that the killing was an open secret in the regiment and that senior officers suppressed the information?
While I have not opened a formal investigation, I have absolutely asked the question of the Army to get the bottom of what happened with the original allegations and where we got with that. At the same time, I am respecting the judicial process. The right hon. Member and I will know that we can comment only so far on what is ongoing with that incident and others that appear in the service justice scheme, or indeed on any foreign assistance required.
I assure my hon. Friend that, as he is aware, there is no longer a military requirement for RAF Linton-on-Ouse. The timing of the site’s disposal is under active consideration. There will be an announcement and I will write to him as soon as it is made. I expect to do so shortly.
I cannot comment on that, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as I think he is aware, the MOD looks seriously at that area. In March, we published our sustainability strategy, and we are regarded as a leader in NATO for our work on reducing emissions in military operations. We want to be best in class—that is what we are working towards—and I hope that we will see a further reduction in our carbon emissions in the years to come.
I certainly do congratulate the Royal Marines on this magnificent new facility. I am delighted that this 181-bed block for the rehabilitation of trainees was completed on budget and ahead of schedule. I am really impressed, and I think that does real justice to the magnificent fighting spirit of the Royal Marines.
This June, in Swansea, the British Training Board opened the national armed forces training hub, supported by the Welsh Government, the local authority and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, which provides a full career development programme to veterans, with university qualifications. Does the Minister agree that, thanks to organisations such as the BTB, the majority of service personnel go on to fantastic careers in civilian life? What more can be done to provide our personnel during their military training with the complete range of universally recognised life skills that they need?
The Secretary of State knows that lots of armed forces personnel have suffered brain injuries while they have been on active service. The temptation is always to try to deal with that solely within the Ministry of Defence, but when they leave the services they often have to rely on the Department of Health and Social Care, local government and many other Departments of Government, so is it not time that we had a whole-Government strategy for dealing with acquired brain injury? The good news for the Secretary of State—I am sure he will be answering now I have said that—is that he will be able to join the campaign for a whole-Government approach to acquired brain injury by supporting my Acquired Brain Injury Bill on 3 December.
First, I would be absolutely delighted not only to talk to the hon. Member about this, but to look at his Bill. He is right: obviously some of these brain injuries are with people for life. We should therefore make sure that they are managed when they leave service and are dealt with outside, and make sure that that is a seamless changeover. I would be very happy to look at the Bill, and he can explain the details to me.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Falmouth has always had a vital role in the defence of the UK. A&P Falmouth’s in-service support contract, awarded in 2018, is worth some £239 million over 10 years. Given our strong investment in the Royal Navy, to which she referred, I have no doubt there will be future opportunities.
Can the Secretary of State tell me, first, what contact he has had with the Home Office regarding the murder of Agnes Wanjiru to ensure that at least there has been effective monitoring of a man accused of murdering a woman? An answer from his Department last week stated:
“At present, the sexual exploitation of any person is not recorded as an offence in its own right”.
Can he explain why not, and can he tell the House when it will be an offence for a British soldier to partake in the sexual exploitation of prostituted adults?
The hon. Lady will know that, where a judicial investigation by another police force is going on, we stand ready to support and help them, and we do that. I cannot give this House a running commentary on any investigation for fear of jeopardising that investigation. What I can say to her is that not only have I said that our support is available, but I have even, on a similar type of investigation, told the provost marshal that if there were any barriers I would seek to remove them. I am determined to make sure that both legacy or older investigations and indeed investigations into current offences get all the support we can give—we have extra members of the military police in Kenya to make sure of that—but I cannot give her a running commentary.
On the hon. Lady’s other issue, about exploitation, I have made clear, first, the points about respect for women overall; secondly, that there are already some sanctions in place in the armed forces should people go against that; and, thirdly, that I am absolutely looking at the whole section about prostitution and the exploitation of women.
While an aircraft carrier is the ultimate expression of hard power, does the Secretary of State agree with me that the soft power expressed by HMS Queen Elizabeth and the carrier strike group, through strengthening relationships and reassuring old friends and new friends alike, shows global Britain in action? [Interruption.]
I love listening to Scottish National party Members heckle, when they cannot even run the Ferguson yards and commission their own ships.
The carrier strike group has not only visited and worked with over 44 nations on its tour, but has had visits from 63 Ministers. It is great convenor and a great presence that, made in Britain, definitely does go around the world showing that Britain can do both soft and hard power, and do it with quality.
Prior to entering Parliament I worked for the Career Transition Partnership at its Scottish resettlement centre and saw the vital work done in assisting service personnel prepare for civilian life through training, needs assessment and care support. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that funding for such resettlement programmes does not fall in the period covered by the spending review?
Does my hon. Friend agree that the new AUKUS partnership will not only help keep our people safe by preserving security and stability in the Indo-Pacific but will also help deliver this Government’s ambitions to level-up across the whole United Kingdom, including through the creation of hundreds of jobs in Scotland?
I very much hope so. We spend over £20 billion a year on UK defence and over 10% of that goes to Scotland. We have increased the number of direct Scottish defence jobs by a fifth over the last three years, and that goes right the way across Scotland including Score Marine in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Other opportunities will arise over the next few years and AUKUS is a great basis for the future, not only for defence but for our joint security and for prosperity.
At his last outing before the Defence Committee, the Minister for Defence Procurement would not give a commitment that the future solid support ships would be built in Britain; he just said that the integration would take place here. Can he say today what percentage of the content of those vessels will be UK-sourced to protect not just jobs but technology in the UK?
Hightown barracks in Wrexham is the spiritual home of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Ten years ago it was destined to be a housing estate but now it contains the Defence Mental Health Clinic, a reserve field detachment, cadets, a preparation college, support for transport and an inspiring anti-tank company. So will the Secretary of State agree to visit the barracks with me and thank Colonel Nick Lock and his team?
Thousands of disabled war veterans are being denied the compensation and support they need and are entitled to, so will the Secretary of State say how many people are waiting over a year for a tribunal decision on a war pension or an armed forces compensation scheme appeal, and if he does not know the details, will he write to me?
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the covid-19 pandemic and the life-saving work of our vaccination programme.
If I may, I would like to start by saying a few words about the incident that took place at Liverpool Women’s hospital yesterday. This is an ongoing investigation into what has now been declared a terrorist incident by police so it would not be appropriate for me to comment in detail, but I would like to take a moment to express my thanks to all of the NHS staff and emergency services who responded to the incident. They have shown the utmost professionalism in the most difficult of circumstances and my thoughts—and I know the thoughts of the whole House—are with them and anyone who has been affected.
On covid and our vaccination programme, a year ago today we were in the midst of our second national lockdown, a time when we endured major restrictions on our life and liberty and when we observed a period of Remembrance when we could not come together and pay our respects in person in the way we all would have wanted to. Our country has come so far since then. We have put over 109 million vaccine doses in arms through our world-leading vaccination programme, which means we can approach this winter with the best possible chance of living with the virus because, as the data clearly demonstrates, vaccines work. This month’s figures from the Office for National Statistics show that between January and September, the risk of death involving covid-19 was 32 times greater in unvaccinated people than in those who were fully vaccinated.
But although we have built up this huge protection, this is not a time for complacency. Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation’s Europe director said that Europe was
“back at the epicentre of the pandemic,”
and just this weekend, the Netherlands and Austria put in place partial lockdowns after surges in cases.
We also still face the risk of new variants, just as we have seen with the emergence of AY.4.2, the so-called delta-plus variant. The latest data shows that it now accounts for around 15% of cases in the UK. Although delta-plus may be more infectious than the original delta variant, our investigations indicate that our vaccines remain effective against it. But we all know that there will be more variants in the future, and we do not want to go backwards after all the progress we have made, so we must stay focused on the threat that is in front of us and seize every opportunity to bolster our vital defences as the winter moves in.
That includes our vaccination programme, our primary force of defence. Last week, I announced to the House that health and social care providers in England must make sure that all workers, other than those that are medically exempt, are fully vaccinated against covid-19 so that vulnerable patients have the greatest possible protection against infection. Today, I would like to update the House on more measures that we will be taking to keep ourselves on the front foot.
First, we are expanding our booster programme, which is essential so that we can keep upgrading the protection that we have in this country. Our vaccination programme has given us a strong protective wall, but we need to use every opportunity to shore up our defences. Evidence published this month shows how protection against symptomatic disease, hospitalisation and death from covid-19 gradually wanes as time passes, and that is more likely if someone is older or clinically at risk. Even a small drop in immunity can mean a big impact on the NHS; if protection against hospitalisation dropped just from 95% to 90% in those who are double vaccinated, that would mean a doubling of hospital admissions in that group of people, so topping up our immunity through booster doses is essential to our security for the long term.
Today, the UK Health Security Agency has published the first data on booster vaccine effectiveness in the UK. It shows that people who take up the offer of a booster vaccine increase their protection against symptomatic covid-19 infection to over 90%, and protection against more severe disease is expected to be even higher than that, so we are intensifying the booster programme ahead of the winter. Over 12 million people have now had their top-up jab, and over 2 million were given it last week. We have also made changes to the national booking service so people can pre-book their top-up doses a month before they become eligible. Last Monday, we saw almost 800,000 bookings in a single day in England. That is a new record.
Secondly, we are taking another step forward. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended offering all adults aged 40 to 49 a booster dose six months after their second dose, using either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine. I have accepted that advice, and 40 to 49-year-olds will be able to get their top-up jab from next Monday if they are eligible. The JCVI has also said that in due course, it will be considering whether boosters are needed for all 18 to 39-year-olds, along with whether additional booster doses are required for the most vulnerable over the long term. I look forward to receiving that advice in due course.
Just as we extend protection through booster doses, we are also ramping up our efforts to protect younger people. Our programme for 12 to 15-year-olds is progressing at pace, and yesterday we hit the milestone of 1 million 12 to 15-year-olds being vaccinated in England. We are also offering a vaccine to 16 and 17-year-olds. I would like to update the House on some further steps that we are taking.
In August, we decided, in line with JCVI advice, that all 16 and 17-year-olds should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. That is apart from a small number of those in at-risk groups, who were offered two doses. Now, the JCVI has advised that all 16 and 17-year-olds should also be offered a second dose, and that it is even more confident about the safety and benefits of doses in 16 and 17-year-olds. As Dr June Raine, the chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said this morning:
“As the data has accrued, we’ve become more and more reassured that the safety picture in young people and teenagers is just the same as what we’ve seen in the older population.”
The JCVI has advised that unless a patient is in an at-risk group, second doses should take place 12 weeks after the initial dose, rather than eight weeks. I have accepted that advice. The NHS will be putting that into action. Once again, those jabs will start going into arms from next Monday. This will extend the protection of a vaccine to even more people and strengthen our national defences even further.
Our vaccination programme has paved our path out of the pandemic and given us hope of a winter that is brighter than the last. Today, we are going even further, extending our booster programme and offering greater protection to young people, so we can fortify the defences we have built together and help our nation to stay one step ahead of the virus.
I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Like him, I express my sympathies and thoughts to all those affected by the terrorist incident outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital, and to put on record my thanks to the emergency services who responded so professionally.
The Secretary of State is right to warn of covid rates up-ticking. The Prime Minister, at his press conference a few moments ago, has just refused to rule out a Christmas lockdown. Only last week, when he was asked about the over-65s being banned from public places if they had not had a booster, the Secretary of State said:
“I can’t rule that out”.
I have to say that that is quite a remarkable statement from Parliament’s biggest fan of Ayn Rand. The Prime Minister himself has warned of storm clouds over Europe.
Nobody wants to see further restrictions and they need not be inevitable. If the Secretary of State wants to avoid plan B—we understand why—will he at least consider introducing better sick pay and widening isolation support, so that those who are low paid can isolate themselves should they catch the virus? Will he consider better support for public buildings by putting in place high efficiency particulate air—HEPA—filter systems, because we know the virus is airborne and we need to reduce opportunities for us all to be breathing polluted air?
Will the Secretary of State go further to fix the stalling vaccination programme? I have put it to him for a number of weeks now that there are pockets of the country where the level of vaccination at second dose is nowhere near where it ought to be. For example, here in the Borough of Westminster only 52% of residents have had their second dose. In areas where the Prime Minister imposed a local lockdown last year as part of his whack- a-mole strategy, the second dose rate is: 61% in my own area of Leicester, 67% in Burnley, 64% in Sandwell and 69% in Bolton. There is a similar pattern in other areas. What is he doing to drive up vaccination rates in those areas, because nobody wants to see localised lockdowns?
The Secretary of State talks about children’s vaccination rates, but the Government promised that every child would be offered a jab by half-term. Two weeks or so on from that half-term, only about a third of children have been vaccinated. Why are we so far behind on children’s vaccination coverage? Pfizer has been given the sign-off for younger children. Can he update the House on where we are on younger children and vaccination?
The Secretary of State will know that the levels of infection in society continue to put immense pressure on the NHS. With intensive care unit beds filling up, staff are exhausted. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, just said at the press conference that a number of the women in ICUs are unvaccinated pregnant women, so again, what is the Government’s plan to promote the safety of the vaccine for women who have concerns about fertility?
Some hospitals with the most covid patients, such as those in Birmingham, Leicester and Manchester, are those with the most pressured A&Es. We heard from ambulance chiefs today that 160,000 patients come to harm every year because ambulances are backed up outside hospitals. Thousands of patients will suffer serious harm, with some at risk of permanent disability, and others will die because of the pressures on hospitals. Last week, we heard that patients are waiting, on average, close to an hour for an ambulance when suffering a suspected heart attack or stroke, and all 10 ambulance trusts are on high alert. At what point does the Secretary of State accept that the pressures on the NHS are unsustainable?
After years of flat funding, bed closures, understaffing and deep cuts to social care, does the Secretary of State not accept that the NHS across the piece is in crisis? What is he going to do about it? I know that he will get up and tell us about the extra expenditure and the tax rise that he is imposing on working people, but he failed to secure a new funding settlement in the Budget for the long-term recruitment and training of the staff we need. He failed to secure a funding settlement to fix social care now, when we know that one in five beds is occupied by an older person who could be discharged into social care. As we go into the winter—the “brighter” winter than last year’s, as he described it—can he tell us what his plan actually is to get the NHS through this winter without compromising patient care?
The right hon. Gentleman stated that no one wants to see any further restrictions, and that is absolutely true. As I set out in my statement, one of the best ways that we can all work towards preventing any kind of further restrictions is by making sure that we keep the vaccine wall strong. Although I did not quite hear him say so in his comments, I assume that he welcomes today’s extension of the booster programme, the second doses for 16 and 17-year-olds and the continuing relentless focus on the vaccination programme.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned other things that can help, such as sick pay. That is why we are still offering sick pay from day one; we also have the hardship payments. He is right to point to the importance of ventilation, and there is very clear guidance on other measures, whether that means ventilation or mask wearing in certain circumstances. All of that can help, and guidance is out there to help people and organisations to make sure that they have the very best advice.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the importance of second doses. I think he would welcome the fact that we as a country have got to a place where almost 88% of people who are eligible have had at least one dose and almost 80% have had their second dose. Clearly, there is a gap there, and a huge amount of work by the NHS and others is going into filling that gap. Also, people who have still not even had a single dose remain eligible; our offer of vaccination is evergreen. We are offering the vaccination in vaccination centres, walk-in centres and the temporary vaccination vans, and that is all part of making sure that the vaccines are as accessible as possible. He may well also have noticed the huge communications programme. All the latest data is showing that that is having a huge effect in allowing more people to come forward to access the vaccines if they are eligible.
Vaccination of 12 to 15-year-olds, which he mentioned, is hugely important, and that is why I referred to it in my statement. One million 12 to 15-year-olds out of a total cohort of around 2.3 million, if I remember correctly, have received the vaccine, as have almost 60% of 16 and 17-year-olds, and we have today’s offer of second doses.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the importance of pregnant women in particular coming forward. The MHRA, our independent regulator, could not be clearer about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for pregnant women. It clearly helps to protect them. We could not make that message clearer but I am glad that he raised it, because it gives us another opportunity to say so in the House.
Lastly, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned winter pressures. We can all see that there is significant pressure on the NHS at the moment, especially on A&E and other emergency treatment. Many of the challenges of the winter are still to come. I emphasise the importance of the flu vaccine programme—the largest that this country has ever seen, which is hugely important for getting through the winter—and the extra funding in the second half of this year. There is £5.4 billion in extra funding both for the NHS and for social care, because they are inextricably linked, especially in terms of their funding; for example, hundreds of millions are going into the discharge programme. That is all part of giving the NHS the support that it needs this winter.
I welcome the statement; I absolutely agree with what the Health Secretary has announced.
No one can fault the Government’s political commitment to the vaccine programme, which has had a pretty much unlimited budget and has been a huge priority, but my right hon. Friend will be aware that despite that commitment, we have now fallen behind Spain, Portugal, South Korea, Singapore and other countries in the proportion of adults who have been jabbed twice. I am just worried that our regulators have lost some of their fleetness of foot in decision making. It is great that we are giving boosters to the over-40s, but we must now have the data on the under-40s. It is great that we are giving a second jab to 16 to 17-year-olds, but what about 13 to 15-year-olds?
America has already authorised the Pfizer jab as safe for the over-fives. If we are to have a vaccine-led rather than restrictions-led strategy, we need to be absolutely at the front of the pack with approvals. I fear that we are in the middle of the pack, so what will my right hon. Friend do to turbocharge our regulators and the decisions that they are giving him?
My right hon. Friend will know that our booster programme is one of the most successful in the world, with more than 12 million vaccines already delivered across the UK; 2 million were delivered just last week. I know he will agree that we need to carry on with the programme at pace. Today’s announcement about the extension of the offer will make a huge difference.
My right hon. Friend points to the importance of the independent advice that we receive from the JCVI. It is important that we get that advice in a timely manner and then act on it without delay. I acted on the advice that I referred to in my statement as soon as I could.
My right hon. Friend is also right to ask whether there could be further extensions to the booster programme or the vaccination programme in general. I assure him that the JCVI very much understands the importance of making decisions in the timeliest way possible.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it. He said much today that I can agree with.
Vaccines certainly remain key to our coming out of the pandemic. Research from Scotland shows that vaccines are 90% effective in preventing delta variant deaths and that boosters are 93% effective in reducing the risk of infection, so I am delighted that the Scottish Government will also be following the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to offer booster jabs to the over-40s and second doses to 16 and 17-year-olds.
Excellent though the efficacy of boosters is, however, we must remember that there are many who remain unvaccinated, both at home and abroad. We run the risk of allowing this to become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. What measures are Ministers taking to maximise the uptake of second and first doses for those who have not yet had theirs? What more can be done to further share vaccines globally?
Finally, in the light of the compulsion to have NHS staff in England double-vaccinated, I am concerned that mandating vaccination may increase distrust and harden views, potentially turning those who are vaccine hesitant into vaccine refuseniks. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of that issue? What does he plan to do to overcome it?
First, may I say to the hon. Gentleman that one of the biggest successes of our national vaccination programme is the UK-wide approach, which has really helped to build confidence? The way that Scotland, England and other parts of the UK have moved together to accept advice is really important. I hope it stays that way.
The hon. Gentleman rightly asked about the unvaccinated and what is being done. I know that Scotland will have an approach as well, but certainly in England it has been very much about making sure that access is as easy as possible, with multiple sources, from vaccination centres to grab-a-jab offers and walk-in centres. It is also about communications to remind people not only of the vaccine’s importance, but of its safety and effectiveness.
I think that in his question about mandating, the hon. Gentleman was referring to the requirement in England for NHS and social care workers to be vaccinated. That whole issue was looked into very carefully. There was a consultation, which received more than 30,000 responses, and I have explained in detail how the Government reached the decision. I think it is vital for patient safety, and I hope that Scotland is able to take a similar approach and protect its patients in hospitals and care homes in the same way as England has.
It is excellent that the new vaccines are effective and safe, and I welcome this announcement. On the theme of fleetness of foot, however, will the Secretary of State address two important practical matters? First, when will the NHS certification app be updated to record third doses, given that some countries require that for admission purposes? Secondly, when will it be possible for third primary doses to be booked via the NHS website, rather than, as at present, having to be booked through GPs? We are all aware of some of the pressures that GPs face.
As my right hon. Friend will know, the reason that third doses, or boosters—however they are classified—are not currently shown on the app is that they are not required for domestic purposes to demonstrate someone’s vaccine status. However, I fully understand the significance of my right hon. Friend’s point. I recognise that this is now a requirement in some countries, and I think it important that we respond. I want to reassure my right hon. Friend, and other Members, that we are considering how best to make such information available, and I will have more to say about that shortly.
The booster programme is critical to ensuring that those who are most vulnerable are protected this winter, and to driving down covid infection rates. In Salford, however, partners receive just £12.58 per vaccination for the programme, which they tell me is not enough to cover the costs of the infrastructure needed to run it, such as venue hire, call and recall, logistics, transport and security. Will the Secretary of State look again at that funding, and ensure that local areas are funded adequately to run the vaccination programme and increase the pace of the delivery of booster vaccines?
I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said and I will take that away, but let me give her some reassurances. We work very carefully on the vaccination programme with GPs, local authorities and others. Obviously it is vital to ensure that costs and payments are covered, and we keep that constantly under review.
Pandemics are by definition international, and the UK—along with France, Germany and the World Health Organisation—has rightly called for an international pandemic treaty. Can my right hon. Friend say what form that treaty will take, and within what sort of timeframe? Will it cover, for instance, the availability of personal protective equipment in a timely fashion to those who need it, and the avoidance of the use of vaccines to exert diplomatic leverage, which we have seen in the case of AstraZeneca and the threatened use of article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol?
We do support the proposal for an international pandemic treaty, but it is not yet fully supported by many countries, and some actually object to such a move. Many agree on the need for better international co-operation, but not all agree on the form in which it can be achieved. I would love to give my right hon. Friend more detail in response to the questions he has just asked, but I am afraid that the process, which is inevitably an international process, is not as mature as I would like it to be at this point. However, we keep working hard on it.
Like the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), my constituents are concerned about the fact that the third primary vaccinations and boosters are not appearing on the NHS covid pass. GPs in my area are saying that they still cannot record the third primary jab for the clinically extremely vulnerable on the Pinnacle database, and despite my asking twice, patient groups are still waiting to hear whether the Vaccines Minister will reinstate monthly meetings with them. With less than six weeks to go until Christmas, when will the Government fix these bugs in the system and start listening to patient groups?
I hope I have understood the hon. Lady correctly. She mentioned “bugs in the system”. She made two separate points there. If someone has been given a third jab, whether a third part of their primary dose, a booster or otherwise, it is recorded in the NHS system. The hon. Lady referred to the Pinnacle system, but it is recorded. I am not aware of any problem with recording it or with the NHS making a record of it; if she is, she should please bring it to my attention. The second, separate point she made was the one my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) made, about when those doses can appear in the app. I refer her to the answer I gave a moment ago.
When the Secretary of State made his statement last week about mandatory vaccination for NHS staff, he also published an impact assessment, which says that the Department’s best guess is that 35,000 social care staff will leave as a result of being unwilling to get vaccinated. Its own assessment states that that presents a serious workforce capacity risk and says that the Department
“cannot be confident that the system—even with additional funding—will be able to absorb the loss of capacity”,
resulting from the policy. That matters, because the number of patients in my local acute hospital who cannot be discharged because there is no adequate social care is three times more than the number in hospital with covid. If the NHS is going to be under enormous pressure this winter, it looks to me as though it will be, not from covid, but from inadequate social care. What can the Secretary of State say to put at rest the concerns of my constituents, and indeed of my local authority, which has to deliver social care in Gloucestershire?
As always, my right hon. Friend makes an important point. I will not go through the arguments why vaccination, whether of social care or NHS workers, is so important, although of course patient safety is central to that. However, he is right to ask what can be done about the pressures on the social care system, and to point to the important question of discharge from hospitals, among other issues. We are giving record amounts of support to the adult social care sector. The funding is a huge part of that—not only funding going into the sector to build capacity, but funding going to the NHS through the discharge fund, which is hundreds of millions of pounds it can use to support early discharge into care homes.
When the Secretary of State was appointed, he talked about tackling the “disease of disparity” and the inequalities in healthcare that had been exposed by the covid pandemic. Today, the sickle cell and thalassaemia all-party parliamentary group, which I chair, has published a major report on the care of people with sickle cell. The report exposes major inequalities and disparities, leading to people having to fight for the pain relief to which they are entitled, constantly having to explain their condition and developing a degree of mistrust in the healthcare system that is there to help them. We will send the Secretary of State a copy. Will he agree to meet me and representatives of the Sickle Cell Society to discuss the report’s findings?
Yes; I would be very happy to have that meeting with the right hon. Gentleman, because this is an important issue. While I have not yet read the entire report, I read the summary this morning, and it raises some important issues. If we are to properly tackle the disparities we see in this country, it is important that we look at all the proper research that has been done on them.
My right hon. Friend will recognise that the take-up of the covid vaccine, or any vaccine, depends in part on the public’s confidence that, in the tiny number of cases where people are damaged by the taking of the vaccine, they will be properly and swiftly compensated for their injury. As he knows, the vaccine damage payments scheme is useful, but does not cover all the cases of which I speak. Will he agree to a further discussion to talk about how those cases, which may well lead to good legal claims for further compensation, likely from the Government, can be settled as quickly as possible?
Given the importance of the booster programme and the Prime Minister’s comments of a few moments ago, saying that the booster is just as important as the first and second jabs, why did he not foresee the problem with the app? Why was it so complicated to add the booster jab to the app automatically?
While the Secretary of State is resolving that problem, will he also address the problem of under-16-year-olds? They cannot access their vaccine records at all. Many families will be booking trips to visit loved ones over Christmas and those plans could be ruined by these two shortcomings in his covid policy.
I know the right hon. Gentleman likes to create problems where they do not exist, but we should not always let him get away with it. There is no problem with the app. If he had listened to me carefully, he would know as well as anyone that proof of a third jab, whether a booster or as part of a person’s primary dose, is not necessary for UK domestic purposes. As I said earlier, we fully understand and recognise that it might be needed for international travel or other international purposes, which is why we will do something about it.
The right hon. Gentleman should not undermine confidence in the app. He called it a problem with the app, but there is no such thing.
I refer back to the question posed by the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) on the crisis of vacancies in the social care sector, which I think is currently at 100,000. Will the Secretary of State say something practical about how we will make sure that we have staff in the social care sector for the coming winter, as we know about the knock-on effects for the NHS and the real worry for families across the country?
One practical example is the record funding going into the sector, which I mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). Part of that funding is being used for the largest recruitment campaign the sector has ever seen, and it is already showing results.
The Secretary of State knows I am a firm believer in the vaccination programme, and I support everything he has announced today. That programme includes the booster, of course, but I am increasingly hearing from constituents that they are struggling to get the booster in Winchester itself. Will he help me to get a walk-in centre or a pop-up facility in the city—we have a number of empty shops, so we will find the space if he can provide the jabs—especially given the over-40 cohort, which includes me, that he has accepted into the booster programme today?
My hon. Friend highlights the importance of access, whether through vaccination centres, walk-in centres, pop-up centres or pharmacies. A record number of pharmacies are working on our vaccination campaign. I would be more than happy to speak to him to see what more we can do.
The London Ambulance Service has had to call on volunteers for support in recent months, and it has nearly 90 drivers from the fire service and the Metropolitan police. Is the Secretary of State aware of that? If not, why not? What is he doing to ensure we have an ambulance service that can cope if we have a spike in covid or additional demands due to severe weather, or both?
I am fully aware of the pressure on the ambulance service, A&E departments and the other emergency work done in our fantastic hospitals. It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman that my Department and the NHS discuss this on a very regular basis and take action wherever needed. He will know there is a lot of pressure on hospitals and ambulance trusts, but the funding support and other measures we have taken are undoubtedly helping.
I also welcome today’s statement, which is another important step forward. I will be booking my booster as soon as I can.
It is encouraging news that we have now vaccinated more than 1 million 12 to 15-year-olds against covid-19. As those figures continue to rise, will my right hon. Friend speak to his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education to review the current regime of asymptomatic testing in our schools, which is extremely burdensome, expensive and intrusive, to make sure it does not last longer than needed?
My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that we work very closely with our colleagues in the Department for Education, especially with regard to that particular age group. The issue on asymptomatic testing is something we keep under review and, as soon as we can remove that, we will.
I want to pass on my thanks to the NHS and all its staff for all that they are doing on the covid vaccination programme. I particularly want to thank my local public health team, who called me after I contracted covid 10 days ago. They were incredibly supportive and thorough, which contrasted with the national team, who put the phone down on me; they expected me to pick up after one ring, which I did, but they put the phone down on me. Is the Health Secretary aware that the national Test and Trace team are expecting the local public health department to pick up the slack during the Christmas holidays as that team go on holiday—the public health department is going to have to pick up the slack when they are not doing their job?
The hon. Lady, like so many in this House, is right to point out the phenomenal work the NHS has been doing, particularly on the vaccination programme, the work NHS Test and Trace does and the work of the UK Health Security Agency on the testing programme.
In West Dorset, we were very fortunate to lead the way with the vaccinations in the first and second tiers, and I should say that that was mainly thanks to our many GPs across the county who worked tirelessly. But of course our GPs do not just have to do vaccinations; they have to do many other things as well, and currently my constituents, particularly the older ones, are struggling to get the booster jab. Can I ask my right hon. Friend to support me in getting action to make sure we can get that booster jab to my constituents who are not currently able to get it?
First, my hon. Friend is right to talk about the demand on GP services, which is one reason why I announced, just a few weeks ago, the winter access programme, with a record amount of support, which will undoubtedly help. On the vaccination programme, GPs across the country are doing phenomenal work, but I want to make sure it is working in every part of the country. If there is more we can do in his area, we will, and I would be happy to meet him.
I am delighted to say that I have been boosted, so I am grateful. I am not sure everybody is grateful, but I want to ask about long covid, because there is lots of evidence now that people who suffer from it have had long-term neurological changes and that is sapping the provision of services for other people with neurological conditions. Is it not time we had a strategy for brain injury across the whole of government, including every Department, not just his own?
The hon. Gentleman speaks with great experience on this issue and has talked about it many times in this House. He is right to link this to long covid. I hope I can reassure him. Work is going on in the NHS, in the Department and in some of the research institutes on long covid, which the Government are supporting with millions of pounds, and the NHS is working with people who are suffering from long covid, listening to them about what more we can do.
Last week, while I was on a school visit, I was shocked to hear about the extraordinary abuse a headteacher had experienced from parents opposed to in-school vaccination clinics. I am glad to hear that we are making progress on getting 12 to 15-year-olds vaccinated, but will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging schools to continue to do this and thank them for all the work they have been doing? Can he also tell me what more we can do to reassure parents and students alike that the vaccine is safe, effective and to all our benefit?
That is such an important issue in respect of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. One of the strongest reassurances we can give to everyone is that the decision about whether this vaccine, or any vaccine, is safe and effective is made independently of the Government and Ministers by world-leading clinicians in our independent regulator, the MHRA. They look at the very best evidence available and continue to monitor the data and information. As I mentioned in my statement, when it comes to the vaccination of, for example, 16 and 17-year-olds, one reason why the JCVI was very comfortable in recommending to me that we offer a second dose to that cohort was the continuing close working together of clinicians and the MHRA. I hope that helps to reassure my hon. Friend.
I note that when the Government were trying to extend their vaccine delivery programme earlier this year, they were keen to promote the benefit of mobile units, but they did not figure at all in today’s statement. How many mobile units are currently deployed?
It is all about making access as easy as possible. As well as the national vaccination centres and the grab-a-jab offers, we do have mobile units. I am afraid I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman exactly how many are out at any one time—the number changes day to day and depending on location—but they remain an important part of making access as easy as possible for people.
We have a walk-in vaccination clinic at Longton fire station on Friday, so will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging everybody in Stoke-on-Trent South who has yet to have their vaccination, or who needs their booster, to come forward and come to the walk-in clinic on Friday or book an appointment as soon as possible?
John Fagan from the Runcorn part of my constituency did the right thing and went for his booster jab last week, but when he arrived he was told they had run out of supplies. What reassurance can the Secretary of State and the Department give to me, my constituents and the country more broadly that there will be sufficient supplies for the booster roll-out?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not know the details of that particular situation, but I reassure him and the House that, whether for our boosters offer or the evergreen offer of vaccination, the country—the vaccines taskforce—has more than enough supply.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, the roll-out of boosters to 40 to 49-year-olds and the fact that people will be able to book a booster five months after their jab rather than six months. I declare my interest on both counts and thank the Secretary of State very much. Does he agree that given that the booster increases protection against symptomatic covid up to 90%, it is in my and everybody else’s interest to get it as soon as possible, to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the NHS?
Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend: the facts and figures now speak for themselves. He referred to the latest data from the UK Health Security Agency today that shows there is more than 90% protection when someone has had their booster dose; as he says, that is protection not just for that individual but for their loved ones.
The NHS is under severe pressure. Too many people, including those who are vaccinated, are sick and too many people are still dying. Why will the Secretary of State not meet directors of public health, who are tearing their hair out because although the Government have rightly put so much investment into the vaccine programme, they are not investing in other public health measures that would stop covid becoming a disease of inequality?
The hon. Lady will know that, as I said in my statement, the vaccines are absolutely central to protecting us against this virus, but it would be wrong for anyone to suggest that they are the only thing the Government are focusing on. There is of course a lot more; for example, I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to our recent announcements on antivirals.
The enthusiasm of 16 and 17-year-olds in the Aylesbury constituency for having the jab has been extremely impressive. Given that they are a particularly key age group in our fight against covid, will my right hon. Friend thank them for their contribution to tackling the pandemic and can he let them know how soon they can expect to get the second jabs in their arms?
I thank the Secretary of State for his clear commitment to protecting all citizens in the United Kingdom where the control is. I am a type 2 diabetic. This Saturday, between 2 pm and 3 pm, through my local surgery, I will receive my covid booster, as will other priority cases as well. Can the Secretary of State outline what discussions have taken place to ensure that, before over-40s are able to access their booster jabs, the vulnerable groups of all ages, including diabetics, can access theirs in a timely manner throughout the UK? Decisions taken in this House set the marker for other regions to follow, including Northern Ireland.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, one reason why our vaccination programme has been such a huge success is that it is a truly UK-wide programme. We are able to do that because of the strength of our Union. I work closely with my colleague in Northern Ireland: we co-ordinate together and share resources. When it comes to supply, that supply is for the whole United Kingdom. In terms of making sure that particularly vulnerable people have access, each of the devolved Administrations has a slightly different approach, but we do work closely together to make sure that the supply is there.
Before I begin today’s statement, I would like to say a few words about the sickening attack that took place yesterday morning outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. On behalf of the whole House, I want to pay tribute to the swift and professional response by the extraordinary men and women of the emergency services, who, once again, showed themselves to be the very best among us.
The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has today raised the nationwide threat level from substantial to severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. The police are keeping both myself and the Home Secretary informed on developments and we will, in turn, keep the House updated on the investigation as it continues.
And now, Madam Deputy Speaker, with your permission I should like to make a statement on the United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, which took place in the magnificent city of Glasgow over the past two weeks. It was the biggest political gathering of any kind ever held in the United Kingdom. One hundred and ninety four countries were represented. We had around 120 heads of state and heads of government, 38,000 accredited delegates, and countless tens of thousands more in the streets, parks and venues outside.
It was a summit that many people predicted would fail, and a summit, I fear, that some quietly wanted to fail. Yet it was a summit that proved the doubters and the cynics wrong, because COP26 succeeded not just in keeping 1.5 alive, but in doing something that no UN climate conference has ever done before by uniting the world in calling time on coal. In 25 previous COPs, all the way back to Berlin in 1995, not one delivered a mandate to remove so much as a single lump of coal from one power station boiler. For decades, tackling the single biggest cause of carbon emissions proved as challenging as eating the proverbial elephant—it was just so big that nobody knew quite where to start. In Glasgow, we took the first bite. We have secured a global commitment to phasing down coal. As John Kerry pointed out, we cannot phase out coal without first phasing it down, as we transition to other cleaner energy sources. We also have, for the first time, a worldwide recognition that we will not get climate change under control as long as our power stations are consuming vast quantities of the sedimentary super-polluter that is coal. That alone is a great achievement, but we have not just signalled the beginning of the end for coal; we have ticked our boxes on cars, cash and trees as well.
The companies that build a quarter of the world’s automobiles have agreed to stop building carbon emission vehicles by 2035, and cities from São Paulo to Seattle have pledged to ban them from their streets. We have pioneered a whole new model—an intellectual breakthrough —that sees billions in climate finance, development bank investment and so forth being used to trigger trillions from the private sector to drive the big decarbonisation programmes in countries such as South Africa. And we have done something that absolutely none of the commentators saw coming, by building a coalition of more than 130 countries to protect up to 90% of our forests around the world—those great natural soakers of carbon.
None of this was a happy accident or inevitability. The fact that we were there at all, in the face of a global pandemic, is in itself the result of a vast and complex effort involving countless moving parts. Right until the very end, there was the real prospect that no agreement would be reached. What has been achieved has only come about thanks to month after month of concerted British diplomacy—the countless meetings; the innumerable phone calls; the banging of heads at the United Nations General Assembly, the Petersberg dialogue, President Biden’s climate summit, the Security Council, the G7 and the G20—and the setting of several examples by the UK, because again and again the task of our negotiators was made easier by the fact that the UK was not asking anyone to do anything that we are not doing ourselves.
We have slashed our use of coal so much that our last two coal-fired power stations will go offline for good in 2024. We have more than doubled our climate finance, providing vital support for poor and vulnerable nations around the world. We have made a legally binding commitment to reach net zero—the first major economy to do so. We have set a date at which hydrocarbon internal combustion engines will reach the end of the road. We have shown the world that it is possible to grow an economy while cutting carbon, creating markets for clean technology, and delivering new green jobs that reduce emissions and increase prosperity.
Every one of those achievements was not just great news for our country and our planet, but another arrow in the quiver of our fantastic team in Glasgow—a team led by the COP26 President, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). From the moment that he picked up the COP reins, he has been absolutely tireless in his efforts to secure the change that we need. Although I am pretty sure that what he really needs now is a well-earned break, I do not think that any of us here is going to be able to hold him back as he sets off pushing countries to go further still, and ensuring that the promises made in Glasgow are delivered and not diluted.
But success has many parents, so I want to say a huge thank you to the officials—in our own COP unit, in Downing Street and across Government, in UK embassies around the world and at the United Nations—who pulled out all the stops to make the event work and to shepherd through the agreements that have been reached. I also thank everybody on the ground at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow—security, catering, transport, the relentlessly cheery volunteers, the police from across the whole country who kept everybody safe from harm, the public health authorities who kept us safe from covid—and everyone in the Scottish Government. Above all, I want to say a big, big thank you to the people of Glasgow, who had to put up with so much disruption in their city and who welcomed the world all the same. I say to them: we could not have done it without you.
Is there still more to do? Well, of course there is. I am not for one moment suggesting that we can safely close the book on climate change. In fact, I can think of nothing more dangerous than patting ourselves on the back and telling ourselves that the job is done—because this job will not be complete until the whole world has not only set off on the goal to reach net zero but arrived at that destination: a goal that, even with the best of intentions from all actors, cannot be achieved overnight. While COP26 has filled me with optimism about our ability to get there, I cannot now claim to be certain that we will, because we have seen some countries that really should know better dragging their heels on their Paris commitments. But if—and it is still a massive if—they make good on their pledges, then I believe that Glasgow will be remembered as the place where we secured a historic agreement and the world began to turn the tide. Before Paris, we were on course for 4° of warming. After Paris, that number fell to a still catastrophically dangerous 3°. This afternoon, after the Glasgow climate pact, it stands close to 2°. It is still too high—the numbers are still too hot, the warming still excessive—but it is closer than we have ever been to the relative safety of 1.5°, and now we have an all-new roadmap to help us get there.
Aristotle taught us that virtue comes not from reasoning and instruction but from habit and from practice. So the success of the Glasgow climate pact lies not just in the promises but in the move that the whole world has now made from setting abstract targets to adopting the nuts-and-bolts programme of work to meet those targets and to reduce CO2 emissions. We are now talking about the how rather than the what, and getting into a habit of cutting CO2 that is catching on not just with Governments and businesses but with billions of people around the world. It is for that reason that I believe that COP26 in Glasgow has been a success and that 1.5° is still alive. That is something I believe that every person in our United Kingdom can and should take immense pride in, and I commend this statement to the House.
I join the Prime Minister in extending our thoughts across the House to the people of Liverpool who are in shock at yesterday’s events, and pay tribute to the response of the emergency services.
Let me start by paying tribute to the COP President. Whatever the shortcomings of the deal, his diligence, his integrity and his commitment to the climate are clear for all to see. I also pay tribute to his team of civil servants. Their dedication, expertise and service was never in doubt but always remarkable. They knew that COP26 was the most important international summit ever hosted on these shores. Why? The simple maths of the climate crisis. At Paris we set out the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°. That is the tipping point beyond which the world is set to see billions of people facing extreme heatwaves, countless millions displaced from their homes, and the destruction of natural wonders like the world’s coral reefs. The science does not negotiate and no politician can move the goalposts. To have any hope of 1.5°, we must halve global emissions by 2030. The task at Glasgow was to set out credible plans for delivering that.
Although the summit has been one of modest progress, we cannot kid ourselves: plans to cut emissions are still way short. The pledges made in Glasgow for 2030, even if all fully implemented, represent less than 25% of the ambition required. Rather than a manageable 1.5°, they put us on track for a devastating 2.4°. That is why, according to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the goal of 1.5° is now on “life support”. We need to deliver intensive care, and that starts by being honest about what has gone wrong.
International negotiations are complex and difficult, and those who have dragged their feet the most bear the greatest responsibility, but the summit was held back by the Prime Minister’s guileless boosterism, which only served to embolden the big emitters. The Prime Minister praised inadequate net zero plans. He called the Australian plans heroic, even though their plan was so slow that it was in line with 4° of global warming. By providing this cover, the Prime Minister had little chance of exerting influence over the other big emitters, and we saw many more disappointing national plans.
The Prime Minister also dressed up modest sectoral commitments as being transformational. Earlier in COP, the Government claimed that 190 countries and organisations had agreed to end coal. On closer inspection, only 46 of them were countries. Of those, only 23 were new signatories and 10 do not even use coal. The 13 that remain do not include the biggest coal users: China, the US, India and Australia.
As things moved forward with no public pressure, the big emitters were emboldened. They clubbed together later in COP to gut the main deal’s wording on coal. Only someone who thinks that promises are meaningless could now argue that an agreement to “phase down” coal is the same as an agreement to phase it out.
Then there was the long overdue £100 billion in climate finance. It is still not being delivered, even though that money was promised to developing countries more than a decade ago. Failure to deliver has damaged trust and created a huge obstacle to building the coalition, which can drive climate action, between the most vulnerable developing countries and ambitious developed countries. That coalition was the foundation of the landmark Paris agreement in 2015, creating the pincer movement to maximise pressure on the world’s biggest emitters, including China. It is deeply regrettable that at Glasgow, we did not see a repeat. Instead, developing countries were still having to make the case for the long-promised $100 billion in the final hours of the summit.
Given all that, and the imperative to revive 1.5° from life support, what will be different in the next year in the run-up to COP27? Britain has a special and particular responsibility as COP president. First, we need to reassemble the Paris climate coalition and build trust with the developing world. Cutting overseas aid does not build trust; it destroys it. Will the Prime Minister therefore immediately commit to reversing those cuts?
Secondly, there can be no free passes for major emitters, including our friends. We are doing a trade deal with Australia where we have allowed it to drop Paris temperature commitments. That was a mistake. Will the Prime Minister put it right?
Thirdly, the Prime Minister is right to say that we need to power past coal and phase out fossil fuels, but his ability to lead on the issue internationally has been hampered by his actions at home. It has never made sense for the Government to be flirting with a new coal mine or to greenlight the Cambo oilfield. Will he rewrite the planning framework to rule out coal, and will he now say no to Cambo?
Finally, will the Prime Minister sort out the Chancellor? The Budget was delivered in the week before COP26 as world leaders began to arrive on these shores, but it did not even mention climate change. It gave a tax break for domestic flights and fell woefully short of the investment needed to deliver green jobs and a fair transition.
The Prime Minister has been the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Glasgow has been a missed opportunity—a stumble forward when we needed to make great strides, and more climate delay when we needed delivery—and 1.5° is now on life support. We still have the chance to keep 1.5° alive, but only with intensive care. We must speak honestly about the challenge that we face to rebuild the coalition that we need and to take on the big emitters. We can, and we must, change course.
If I may say so, Madam Deputy Speaker, that was the usual pathetic attempt by the Leader of the Opposition to suck and blow at once. He was trying to congratulate the UK Government on success at COP but somehow attack me, and I think it is pathetic. Let me take the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s points in turn.
On Australia, it has signed up to net zero for the first time ever. On coal, no COP has mentioned phasing out coal before; 65 countries have now committed to phasing it out altogether by 2040, including the four biggest users of coal-fired power stations: Poland, Indonesia and others. He talks about climate finance and the UK Government rescinding their commitments, which is simply untrue. We have doubled our commitments to tackling climate change around the world and helping the developed world, with £12.6 billion, as he knows full well. That commitment way outstrips that of most other countries.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about UK leadership. The UK, throughout the campaign—which has been going on for two years—to get the right result and keep 1.5° alive, has been way out in front under this Government. We were the first major economy to legislate for net zero; 90% of the world has now followed us. At COP, we had one of the most ambitious nationally determined contributions of any country. If it had not been for the UK Government, nothing at all would have been included to do with nature and protecting forests. The world listened to us at COP because they knew that our 10-point plan was not only cutting emissions but helping to generate hundreds of thousands of new high-wage, high-skill jobs. They can see that that programme will enable them to power past carbon and develop their economies.
As a result of everything that we have done at COP, we have been able to keep 1.5° alive. As I listen to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I feel that he is finding it very difficult to reconcile himself to the fact of a United Kingdom diplomatic and environmental success. If he really meant all those fine words with which he began about UK negotiators and the COP, he should stick to that script, because that was the right one.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. May I first echo the remarks made by my right hon. Friend about the appalling attack in Liverpool? The thoughts of everybody in the House are with the people of Liverpool.
I congratulate the UK presidency on the significant commitments made at COP26, notably by Governments on deforestation and methane but also by individual businesses on their work to achieve net zero. I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that there is much more to be done—he said it in his statement. With the COP presidency, the UK has a critical role over the next year in ensuring that the commitments made are delivered on and in bringing the intransigent countries—notably, China, Russia and India—back round the table to raise their sights on what they are willing to achieve. Will he agree with that and set out what the Government’s immediate plans are for that work?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the vital importance of the private sector. I think that this COP was a breakthrough in many ways, but not least because of the emphasis that it placed on getting the private sector in to help developing countries in particular to meet their carbon targets. She is also right in what she says about the role of the COP presidency, because my right hon. Friend the COP26 President continues in his office for a year, and we will use that period—working with our Egyptian friends, who take over for COP27—to hold our friends and partners around the world to account for what they have promised, because it is only if they keep to what they have promised that we will be able to deliver for our children, and that is what we intend to do.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on the terror attack that we saw in Liverpool yesterday? We all stand together against those who would perpetuate such crimes.
Let me thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of his statement, and I am delighted that today the Prime Minister has remembered that COP happened in Glasgow, rather than in Edinburgh, as he said last night. Maybe he could have led more from the front at COP, and he would actually have known which Scottish city the conference was taking place in.
In fairness, however, it is right to acknowledge that there was at least one member of the UK Government who committed themselves passionately to the Glasgow conference, and the UK COP26 President deserves credit and thanks for the role that he has played over the course of the last few weeks and months.
We all know that the Glasgow climate pact is far from everything it should be, but it does contain many positives for us to build on. Whether or not it succeeds now depends entirely on whether countries deliver on the commitments they made, and we need to hold them to those. That is the only way to truly keep the 1.5° C target alive, and we must make sure, ultimately, that we accept all of our responsibilities to deliver on that. If that urgent leadership is to be shown, then the example of that leadership needs to begin at home.
The Scottish Government led on climate justice through-out COP. We were the first country to pledge funds for loss and damage to help those vulnerable countries that have contributed least to climate change but are suffering its worst effects. This is about reparation, not charity, so will the Prime Minister reverse his cuts to international aid, follow our First Minister’s lead, and back and contribute to the creation of a loss and damage facility?
The Glasgow climate pact also contains a commitment to increase nationally determined contributions by the end of 2022, so can the Prime Minister confirm that the UK will urgently update its own NDC commitments?
Meeting our targets also means rapidly increasing investment in green jobs. Prior to recess, the Prime Minister made a commitment to go and look again at the issue of investment in tidal stream energy. Now that he has presumably looked into this, can he today commit to a ringfenced fund of £71 million for tidal stream energy as part of the contracts for difference process?
Finally, on carbon capture and storage—I know that the Prime Minister is expecting a question, and I make no apology for the fact that I will keeping asking these questions until the promises made to Scotland’s north-east are finally delivered—let us not forget that the UK Exchequer has taken £350 billion of tax revenues out of North sea oil, and it is now our responsibility to make sure that we invest in carbon capture and storage. Last week, INEOS added its voice to the growing shock and anger that track 1 status for the Acorn project was rejected by the UK Government, so will the Prime Minister reverse this devastating decision and back the Scottish cluster?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I should say, taking his points in reverse order, that of course the Acorn project remains a strong contender, as I have told him several times from this Dispatch Box. He should not give up hope. It is a very interesting project, and we will look at it.
On our NDCs, the UK is already compliant with 1.5° C, as a result of the pledges we have made, both by 2030 and 2035, so if we can deliver on those, then we believe that we will be able to restrain our emissions.
I have told the right hon. Gentleman before that I am interested in tidal power and contracts for difference for tidal power, and he is right that the Government should invest in making sure we have a tidal power industry in this country, as we have wind power and solar power industries, because all the evidence is that the costs come down, and that is the role of Government.
Finally, on the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the whereabouts of COP, as he will well understand, it would never have been in Scotland at all had Scotland not been part of the United Kingdom.
May I join the warm congratulations to the COP President and his team, and, on the location, acknowledge the role of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) in securing COP in the UK and Glasgow, to give us the opportunity for this great exercise of British diplomacy?
Will the Prime Minister recognise that in the year ahead, as well as holding countries to their contributions, there is the important opportunity to make scientific progress and progress in innovation, which will be at least as important in securing the ambitions that were inked in Glasgow, and will he say a bit about how UK leadership over the year ahead can advance our ambitions on that score as well?
I thank my right hon. Friend. As he knows, the UK has virtually doubled our investment in R&D, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government chief scientific adviser, has said we want to focus on climate change and green technology under the national Council for Science and Technology. That is why we are putting £22 billion into R&D. The opportunities are immense, and the opportunity to reduce the cost to the consumer of heat pumps, electric vehicles and other green technology is also immense.
May I associate myself and my party with the Prime Minister’s remarks on the horrific attacks in Liverpool?
We had all hoped that the UK would lead the world to a bold agreement at Glasgow, to turn the tide on dangerous climate change. Despite the efforts of the COP President and the excellent UK negotiating team, regrettably, the agreement fell short, potentially dangerously so, yet there is still an opportunity for the UK to drive global climate action by cleaning up the City of London. Fossil fuel investors raise billions of pounds in this very city for coal and oil projects around the world. While China and India stopped a better deal on fossil fuels at COP, they cannot stop the Prime Minister showing leadership here in London, so will he stop dirty fossil fuel money for global coal and oil projects being raised here in the City of London?
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that, after UK leadership, we secured at COP an end to the international financing of coal around the world. China has done that, leading to a number of other countries immediately following suit, so progress is being made. As I said in my opening statement, the UK is also abandoning exports of hydrocarbons and we are going to be followed in that by other countries.
It is clear that the COP in Glasgow has gone better than many of us feared, but, as I am sure my right hon. Friend would agree, there are no possible grounds for complacency. Will he use the remainder of the UK presidency to redouble efforts to share excess vaccine doses with developing countries? Quite apart from making us safer in the UK, it will also bolster internationalism and British international leadership in the meetings ahead envisaged in the Glasgow agreement.
Yes, indeed; although vaccines per se were not discussed at COP, there was a long discussion at the G20 in Rome, and the UK has a fantastic record of supporting at-cost vaccines around the world—the 1.5 billion AstraZeneca doses, to say nothing of the huge contributions the UK has made to both Gavi and COVAX to ensure that people around the world get vaccinated, because nobody is safe until everybody is safe.
I thank the Prime Minister for the comments he made about the appalling attack in Liverpool yesterday. Having spent some years on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I am aware that in many attacks, those involved—I know it is too early to say at this point—were on the radar of the security services. If that proves to be the case in this incident, will the Prime Minister undertake to look at how those cases are kept under review?
On COP26, I add my voice to those of others who have said that it is really important that those who are currently standing outside the tent of those who agree are brought into it. Can the Prime Minister give us some indication of his strategy for doing that?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. On his point about picking up potential terrorists earlier, he is absolutely right. He will know from his work on the ISC that the potential for cross-referring between the various data points that we have is, I think, the way forward, and that may help us, if we can do it in a sensitive way, to predict more of the problems that have been cropping up.
As for bringing people into the tent, I think the right hon. Gentleman is referring to ensuring that everybody in the developing world feels that they are being properly represented in these conversations. Is that what—