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Commons Chamber

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 1 December 2021

House of Commons

Wednesday 1 December 2021

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

I must inform the House that Yvette Cooper has written to me giving notice of her wish to resign from the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I therefore declare the Chair vacant.

The following arrangements will be in place for electing a new Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. Nominations should be submitted in the Lower Table Office—located in the Reference Room of the Library—or the Public Bill Office by 12 noon on Tuesday 14 December. Nomination forms are available from the Vote Office and the Table Office.

Following the House’s decision of 16 January 2020, only Members of the Labour party may be candidates in this election. If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will take place on Wednesday 15 December from 10 am to 1.30 pm in Committee Room 15. A briefing note with more details about the election will be made available to Members in the Vote Office and on the intranet.

Oral Answers to Questions


The President of COP26 was asked—

COP27: Finance for Loss and Damage

10. Whether he plans to have discussions with the President of COP27 on continuing negotiations for a loss and damage facility. (904497)

12. What steps he is taking to help ensure that there is a loss and damage facility in place before COP27. (904499)

COP26 was the first COP where a section of the cover decisions was devoted to loss and damage. We agreed a new Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage, which will discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage.

The COP26 President will know of the extraordinary anger and sense of betrayal that was felt by the climate-vulnerable countries, in particular, when they saw the finance facility that they had proposed downgraded to just a dialogue. Will he say more about how practically he will use that dialogue to create momentum for a finance facility to be agreed at COP27? Given that from day one of that COP, the UK returns to being a negotiating party, not having the presidency, will he guarantee that the Government will support the creation of that facility in Egypt and that they will follow Scotland’s example by contributing new and additional funding specifically for loss and damage?

I note the hon. Lady’s point, but the fact that we have established a formal dialogue on loss and damage for the first time does demonstrate progress. Ultimately, this will be a party-driven process, as she knows. Parties will have to decide, based on consensus, what the outcome of the dialogue will be.

I stress again that the Group of 77 plus China—the world’s underdeveloped countries—were disappointed, crucially, with the wording on finance. They say that it is weak and have called for greater support, but there have been no specifics on how that should be met. Does the COP26 President agree that resolving that disappointment is vital both for ensuring global success against climate change and for maintaining a balance of power on the world stage?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady on the importance of this issue. I very much hope that we will make progress on the dialogue. I should point out that, in addition to the dialogue, we have also done what we set out to do: to operationalise the Santiago Network, so that technical assistance can be provided. Parties have also agreed that funding will be provided to support the work of the Santiago Network.

As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) mentioned, the first organisation in the world to give a definite financial commitment to a loss and damage facility were the Scottish Government, who, officially, were not even part of COP. They have committed £2 million and, as a result, other organisations—the Government of Wallonia for one—and a number of philanthropic bodies have also committed money. Does the COP26 President agree that, in holding the presidency of COP26, the United Kingdom is in a unique position to encourage others to follow Scotland’s example? Does he also agree that a significant commitment from the United Kingdom would almost certainly open the doors for substantial funding from other wealthy organisations?

Again, I make the point that it is the first time that we have agreed the need for a dialogue. During our presidency year, we will pursue that very actively.

I congratulate the President of COP26 on the excellent work that he has done for this country and for the world. Will he also inform the House what discussions he has had with the Treasury about what we as the United Kingdom Government can do to help the countries that are threatened?

I will ignore that additional comment. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for his very kind words. A number of things have happened in relation to the UK. The Chancellor has set out the conditions to restore the 0.7% commitment and we know that, on the latest forecast, that will be restored by 2024-25. In addition, the UK worked with other countries to ensure that the $100 billion delivery plan also set out when additional funding will be made available to support developing countries.

Whether it is progress in relation to a dedicated loss and damage funding facility, efforts to raise ambition when it comes to national climate commitments, or delivering on climate finance and adaptation pledges, implementing the Glasgow agreement will require the work of our COP presidency not only to be sustained but to be enhanced over the next 11 months. Can the President therefore confirm today that the COP26 unit will be fully funded to deliver on all the work programmes mandated in the Glasgow agreement, and that the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero will continue to receive support from the Treasury throughout the remainder of the UK presidency?

I can certainly confirm that we will be taking very seriously our work during the presidency year, and I will return to the House in due course and set out a written statement on our role during that presidency year.

Civil Society and Youth Groups

2. What steps he took to ensure that (a) civil society and (b) youth groups were included in the COP26 process. (904489)

In the run-up to the summit, I met civil society and youth groups on international visits. We established the COP26 civil society and youth advisory council. I attended a Youth4Climate conference in Milan, and obviously the conference of youth in Glasgow. I can confirm that, at COP itself, we had over 160 youth, indigenous peoples and broader civil society speakers who participated in presidency-themed events.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it is an important feature of this COP event that so many young people’s voices were able to be heard, in particular through digital methods, such as the children of West Lodge Primary School in my constituency, who told me on Monday how much they had valued their opportunity to participate directly?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point, and I want to pay tribute obviously to the children of West Lodge Primary School and also to him for all the work that he does in his constituency. We have an opportunity for all of us to play our part in tackling climate action, and we want to ensure during our presidency year that the voices of young people are integral to driving climate action.

I also pay tribute to the President of COP26 for the incredible work that he did. Has he had any discussions with the Egyptian Government about whether civil society groups can attend the fringe meetings, including very important people such as David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, and also first nations around the world that maybe did not have a seat at the table?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind words. Obviously, we had some initial discussions with Egyptian colleagues at COP26 itself, but I hope to have a conversation with them, certainly before Christmas, and to visit Egypt again in the new year to talk about how we work in our presidency year as we move to COP27.

Outcome of COP26

The Glasgow climate pact, agreed by almost 200 countries, is an historic agreement that advances climate action. It is the result of two years of marathon work and a two-week sprint of negotiations, and I think we can say with some credibility that we have kept the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° within reach.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the pupils of Gig Mill Primary School, Wollescote Primary School and Cradley Church of England Primary School on taking part in my COP26-inspired Christmas card competition? There were some magnificent results. It is all about the environment, it is very green and it is also about recycling, because one of them actually used a potato head as a print to make a reindeer Christmas card. It was very clear to me that the legacy of COP26 is very much alive and kicking in the younger generation.

I congratulate all the primary schools and the students who took part in this Christmas card competition. It is perhaps an inspiration to all of us for our Christmas cards. Undoubtedly, we need to ensure that climate action continues to be raised as an issue, and we all have a role to play.

I congratulate the President of COP26 on his personal dedication, hard work and commitment at the Glasgow summit. Will he confirm that, as a result of the summit, for the first time ever over 90% of the world’s GDP and about 90% of global emissions are now covered by net emissions targets, and that all 197 countries have pledged to revisit and strengthen these targets by the time of COP27 next year?

My thanks to my hon. Friend for his kind words, and he is absolutely right. When we took on the COP presidency, less than 30% of the global economy was covered by a net zero target, but we are now at 90%, and yes, all countries have agreed to look again at their 2030 emission reduction targets and come back on those by the end of 2022 to ensure that they are aligned with the Paris temperature goals.

Following that point, one of the positive outcomes of COP26 was the agreement for countries to revise their emissions targets next year. Will the President explain exactly what he will do over the next 12 months to ensure we get the breakthrough we need at COP27, not only to keep 1.5° alive, but to achieve it?

That is a very fair question, and as I said, in due course I will set out for the House in a written statement precisely what we will do in our presidency year. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a significant number of commitments were made by countries at COP26, and our intention is to ensure that they deliver on the commitments they have made.

No one doubts the Secretary of State’s commitment to delivering on climate change, but can he say what he intends to do over the next 12 months? The pledges that were made at COP26 must have been alarming to him, because with current pledges we are way off delivering on 1.5°, and the achievements that countries will make by 2030 will be way off target. What will he do to step up his activities as president for the next year to ensure that we get back on target to keep 1.5° alive?

As I said, I will set that out in writing. If we consider all the commitments made by countries, including the net zero commitments and long-term strategies, there are credible reports that suggest we are heading to below 2°. Of course this is the start of a decade of action, which is why we need to push forward during this year.

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the current structure of Government is adequate to ensure that the UK can deliver a more ambitious nationally determined contribution at COP27?

The make-up and structure of the Government are obviously a matter for the Prime Minister—I know my right hon. Friend will have raised that issue at the Liaison Committee—but our current NDC is aligned to net zero.

I want to commend the COP President, or should I say No Drama Sharma, for his efforts in Glasgow. He is right that we have to spend the next 12 months maximising the pressure on the big emitters, and we can make a difference with the UK-Australia trade deal. Australia’s 2030 target is consistent with 4° of warming. Will he tell the Secretary of State for International Trade to rewrite that trade deal, and not to water down commitments, which is the current plan, but to make it conditional on Australia, as well as the UK, having 2030 targets that are consistent with 1.5°?

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new role. My only disappointment is that the phrase “shadow COP President” does not appear in his title—that is where he could take some lessons from the deputy leader of the Labour party about how to expand his number of portfolios. On the point about Australia, I confirm that the trade deal will include a substantive chapter on climate change, which reaffirms both parties’ commitments to upholding our obligations under the Paris agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5°.

I know I am shadowing the Department that the right hon. Gentleman would quite like to run, so perhaps that announcement will be forthcoming in the future. I am mildly encouraged by what he says on Australia.

Let me take two other issues where he can show leadership: the Cumbria coalmine, and the Cambo oilfield, which are the equivalent of 18 coal-fired power stations running for a year. He knows that we need to get others to phase out coal, and that we need to phase out fossil fuels. Surely the right way to send a proper signal to the rest of the world ahead of COP27, is for the whole Government to start practising what he is effectively preaching, and put a stop to Cambo and Cumbria.

We have previously had discussions at the Dispatch Box on both Cambo and Cumbria, and the right hon. Gentleman will know that they are being looked at by independent regulators and that pronouncements will be coming forward. We have significantly reduced the amount of coal in our electricity mix. Indeed, there will be no more coal in the UK electricity mix from 2024.

I commend the COP26 President and his team for all their hard work at COP26, but one issue missing from the Prime Minister’s ambition for the conference was fossil fuels generally. It is clear that we need action to tackle the use of fossil fuels globally, but in a way that supports a just transition for workers. Does the COP26 President agree that not having a concrete commitment from COP for a global just transition from fossil fuels is a disappointment, and that following the Scottish Government’s example in delivering a just transition and opposing further oil exploration would set a strong example for the next COP?

We do support a just transition; in fact, the $8.5 billion deal agreed with South Africa will enable decarbonisation and a just transition in that country. We also now have 34 countries and five public finance institutions supporting a UK-led initiative to end international public support for the unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022.

Alternative Fuels

At COP26, leaders of countries representing over 70% of global GDP committed to work together to make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in each emitting sector before the end of this decade.

Teesside is quickly becoming the epicentre of hydrogen technology in the UK; with recent announcements on blue and green hydrogen production, we are confident that Teesside will be able to deliver more than half of the Government’s 2030 hydrogen ambitions. Around 85% of all homes are on the gas network, and domestic heating accounts for over 30% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions. It is clear to me that we will not make net zero without switching our gas network to 100% hydrogen. Will the Minister recognise hydrogen as a fuel of the future, and will he join me in my campaign for the UK’s first hydrogen village in Redcar?

I agree with my hon. Friend that hydrogen is a fuel of the future. As he will know, the idea of a hydrogen village trial was proposed in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, and gas network companies are working with local partners to develop proposals for the trial. I suggest that he speaks to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary to make the case for Redcar.

Climate Change: Indigenous Peoples

6. What plans he has to promote the voices of indigenous people in climate change discussions during the UK’s presidency of the COP. (904493)

Indigenous peoples’ voices were represented throughout COP26, and of course the UK Government funded the indigenous peoples’ pavilion in the blue zone. We will continue to amplify indigenous peoples’ voices during our presidency year.

I am grateful to the COP26 President for his response. The territories of the world’s 370 million indigenous people cover 24% of the world’s land and contain 80% of the world’s biodiversity, including sites of precious natural resources. It is they who protect forests vulnerable to the encroachment of modernity, which has caused climate change. Given that indigenous communities are successful in maintaining control of their territories and traditions against the onslaught of man-made climate change, does the COP26 President agree that it is time for them to be treated as equal partners in decision-making processes, including at the United Nations?

As I said, we will absolutely amplify the voices of indigenous peoples, but as the hon. Member will also know, the UK worked with others to mobilise a pledge of at least $1.7 billion over the next five years to ensure that there is support for indigenous peoples, particularly when it comes to forest tenure rights.

Limiting Global Heating

9. What recent assessment he has made of progress towards the globally agreed aim of limiting global heating to well below 2° C and pursuing efforts to limit heating to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels. (904496)

13. What recent assessment he has made of progress towards the globally agreed aim of limiting global heating to well below 2° C and pursuing efforts to limit heating to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels. (904500)

We can say with credibility that at COP26 we kept 1.5° alive, but as I acknowledged in Glasgow and indeed here, its pulse is weak. That is why we now need to turn commitments from countries into action.

COP26 agreed that the Paris climate agreement must now be implemented to keep global warming below 1.5°, but it has been revealed that the UK has emitted around 50 million tonnes of carbon in the past five years from collapsing peatlands alone. I asked the Minister this last time, and I ask him again: where is the climate leadership in this Government’s allowing two thirds of UK peatlands to be burned while the world is on fire?

As the hon. Lady will know, we have a peat strategy, which I am sure my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would be happy to share with her. More widely, as a country we have decarbonised our economy faster in recent years than any other G7 or G20 nation.

We know the oil of Cambo and the coal of Cumbria have to stay in the ground if we are to keep temperature rises at below 2.4°C. I say 2.4°C because that is the new reality after this year’s COP26. Will the COP President commit to stopping Cambo and the new coalmine in Cumbria, and end the climate hypocrisy that so undermined his presidency at COP26?

I responded to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) earlier on the issue of Cambo and Cumbria. I would just say to the hon. Gentleman, more generally, that I recognise we need to work very hard during our presidency year to ensure that commitments by all countries are turned into action. That is what we will be doing.

Topical Questions

At COP26, we won historic commitments from countries and businesses to act on coal, cars, cash and trees. Countries have also committed to revisit and strengthen by the end of 2022 their 2030 emission reduction commitments to align with the Paris temperature goals. After six years, we have finalised the outstanding rules governing the Paris agreement. Of course, as I have said, we need to ensure that commitments are turned into action.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his incredible work at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Will he continue to work with schools and youth groups throughout the rest of his presidency? Can I invite him to Warrington to meet young people in my constituency?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I commend the work of young people in his constituency and I will ensure that my diary works so I can visit them.

T2. On behalf of my constituent Poppy, who was one of the young people at COP26, what are the Government doing to help to ensure that aid gets directly to those communities most affected by climate change now, such as the Wampis living in the Amazon who Poppy met and whose plight she was deeply moved by? (904540)

The hon. Lady raises an important point. One issue is about the quantum of money; the other is access to finance. That is why we are now launching five pilot projects in developing countries around the world to ensure that access to finance is much better.

T4. My right hon. Friend will know the increasing importance of north Wales in supplying clean and green energy to the national grid. Further to COP26, how would he describe the prospects for tidal range technology in the region? (904542)

My hon. Friend is a great champion for his community on this particular issue. He will know that the Government remain open to considering well-developed proposals for harnessing tidal range energy in the bays and estuaries around our coastlines. Obviously, I recommend that he also speaks to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

T3. According to Friends of the Earth, 33,000 premature deaths a year in the UK are linked to air pollution. During the COP26 climate summit, the Environment Bill passed its final stages in this House. Shamefully, it did not include legally binding targets for air quality, which were called for by so many, including hundreds of my constituents in Liverpool, West Derby. As the UK retains the COP26 presidency, will it lead by example and bring in the extra measures needed to clean up our air? (904541)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, but air pollution has reduced significantly since 2010. Our clean air strategy proposes a comprehensive suite of actions required across all parts of Government to improve air quality.

T5.   Following on from the success of the North Devon climate summit, my constituents are keen to understand how can we empower people to make their own choices on a global scale. (904543)

I commend my hon. Friend and her constituents for the success of the North Devon climate summit. Every Government need to play their part and I am pleased that the UK Government’s “Together for our Planet” campaign provides practical advice on how everyone can go one step greener.

Synthetic aircraft fuels are still in their infancy. Domestically, the Government have a tool, the renewable transport fuel obligation, by which they can mandate the mixing of synthetic fuels with conventional aircraft fuel, thereby starting the process of making synthetic fuels viable. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of any similar mechanisms in other countries, so we can start an international agreement on mixing synthetic fuels with aircraft fuels and driving the route to net zero?

As the hon. Lady knows, the Government are putting funding behind sustainable aviation fuels. I would be very happy to arrange a meeting for her with the Secretary of State for Transport or with a Transport Minister.

I particularly welcome the COP outcome relating to deforestation: 130 countries, representing 90% of the world’s forests, pledged to end deforestation by 2030. How will that be monitored? What steps will be taken if countries do not keep their word?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. The 90% of forests that are covered by the pledge are also being backed by £14 billion of public and private funding, so there will be a mechanism for checks and balances. In addition, we agreed the transparency framework at COP26, so we will be able to see whether countries are meeting the commitments that they have made.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Today, I am wearing a purple tie in recognition of the International Day of People with Disabilities this coming Friday. In July, we published the UK’s first national disability strategy to help to create a society that works for everybody.

I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with those who are continuing to face disruption caused by Storm Arwen. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will update the House on the continuing response to Storm Arwen after Prime Minister’s questions.

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

The Prime Minister and I have a shared commitment to protecting our natural environment and improving our biodiversity across the country. Indeed, that is why I am campaigning to extend the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty towards the south-west of Hitchin. Will my right hon. Friend set out how he plans to strengthen the protections for our countryside, while also ensuring that housing developments are both green and sustainable for the long term?

Yes, indeed. I can tell my hon. Friend that Natural England is considering an extension of the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, and I am sure that it will listen to his passionate appeal very carefully.

May I join the Prime Minister in his words on disability and the victims of extreme weather? May I also mark World AIDS Day? Extraordinary advances mean that people living with HIV on effective treatment can now enjoy normal life expectancy and are no longer at risk of passing on the virus. It is within our hands to end new transmissions in the UK this decade. We must do so.

As millions of people were locked down last year, was a Christmas party thrown in Downing Street for dozens of people on 18 December?

What I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that all guidance was followed completely in No. 10. May I recommend that he does the same with his own Christmas party, which is advertised for 15 December and to which, unaccountably, he has failed to invite the deputy Leader of the Opposition?

Nice try, but that won’t work. The defence seems to be that no rules were broken. Well, I have the rules that were in place at the time of the party. They are very clear that

“you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party”.

Does the Prime Minister really expect the country to believe that while people were banned from seeing their loved ones at Christmas last year, it was fine for him and his friends to throw a boozy party in Downing Street?

I have said what I have said about No. 10 and the events of 12 months ago, but since the right hon. and learned Gentleman asks about what we are asking the country to do this year, which I think is a more relevant consideration, let me say that the important thing to do is not only to follow the guidance that we have set out but, when it comes to dealing with the omicron variant, to make sure that—as we have said, Mr Speaker—you wear a mask on public transport and in shops, and that you self-isolate if you come into contact with somebody who has omicron. Above all, what we are doing is strengthening our measures at the borders. But in particular, Mr Speaker—and I think that this is very valuable for everybody to hear—get your booster!

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is eligible for his booster. I am not going to ask him, Mr Speaker, as I am forbidden to ask him questions, but I hope very much that he has had it.

The Prime Minister says that we should concentrate on what he is asking the country to do. We are asking the country to follow the rules. The Prime Minister does not deny that there was a Downing Street Christmas party last year. He says that no rules were broken. Both those things cannot be true. He is taking the British public for fools.

As for following the rules, Prime Minister, it might be good just to look behind you when it comes to the question of masks. As ever, there is one rule for them and another rule for everybody else.

At the last election, the Prime Minister promised to build 40 new hospitals. It is on page 10 of his manifesto. With waiting lists so high, that is a very important commitment. The Cabinet Office and the Treasury have checked on progress, and it is reported that they have a reached a damning conclusion. I know that the Chancellor will have seen that. They have concluded that the project needs a “red flag” because it is unachievable. Prime Minister, is that true?

No. The right hon. and learned Gentleman plays politics and asks frivolous questions, but we are getting on with delivering on the people’s priorities. We are making record investments in the NHS, on top of the £34 billion with which we began, and then the £97 billion that we put in to fight covid. We are helping to build another 40 new hospitals with an injection of £36 billion of investment, which that party voted against.

Well, this is strange, Mr Speaker, because the Government have not been denying the reports about the red flag and they have not done so since, but now the Prime Minister is. There is obviously some confusion on those Benches over whether the Cabinet Office and the Treasury think he is on course to break yet another promise, this time on the building of new hospitals. He can clear that up this afternoon. If he is so confident in his answer, why does he not publish the progress report in full and let us all see it?

What we are doing is not only building 40 new hospitals—and it is incredible that we have been able to keep going throughout the pandemic—[Interruption.] Yes, it is. We are not only building those hospitals, but making record investments in our NHS. We have more doctors and more nurses working in our NHS than at any time in the history of that magnificent organisation. Rather than running down what they are trying to do and casting doubt on their efforts, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should get behind them and, in particular, he should support our booster campaign.

Well, there we have it. The Prime Minister says, “I deny that my hospital building programme has been flagged red as unachievable, but I do not have the confidence to publish the report.”

The more we look at this promise, the murkier it gets. I have a document here, which was sent to the NHS by the Department of Health and Social Care. It is called “New hospital programme communications playbook”—I kid you not—and it offers

“advice to make it easier to talk about the programme”.

You might think that everyone knows what a new hospital is. I certainly thought I knew what a new hospital was before I read this guide, but it instructs everyone to describe refurbishments and alterations in existing hospitals as new hospitals. We can all agree that refurbishments are a very good thing, but they are not new hospitals. So how many of the 40 are fix-up jobs on existing hospitals and how many are actually the new hospitals that the Prime Minister promised?

You obviously do not always go around building on greenfield sites. You rebuild hospitals, and that is what we have said for the last two and a half years. It is the biggest programme of hospital building this country has ever undertaken. It has been made possible by this people’s Government, and it is in addition to what we are doing with the community diagnostics hubs and in addition to what we are doing in investing in our NHS. I have said it once and I will say it again: the Opposition had the opportunity to vote for that £36 billion but they turned it down. We are getting on with the people’s priorities; they are playing politics.

It is no wonder that so many Tory donors paid so much for that wallpaper last year—the Prime Minister probably told them he was building a new flat. It is the same old story from this Prime Minister, week in, week out: defending the indefensible, and broken promises. His mates were found to be corrupt; he tried to get them off the hook. Downing Street throws parties during lockdown; he says it is not a problem. He promised that there would be no tax rises, then he put up tax. He promised that there would be a rail revolution in the north, then he cancelled the trains. He promised that no one would have to sell their home for care, then along came his working-class dementia tax. He promised 40 new hospitals, but even if we count the paint jobs, his own watchdog says he cannot deliver it. Is it not the truth that any promises from this Prime Minister are not worth the manifesto paper they are written on?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman drivels on irrelevantly about wallpaper and parties, playing politics. By the way, I am told that when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and shadow Secretary of State for the future of work was told that she was not invited, she denounced it as idiotic, childish and pathetic. They are getting on with factional infighting; we are delivering for the people of this country. Today, cutting tax for the lowest paid people in this country. As a result of our universal credit changes, 1.9 million families are getting £1,000 more in their pay packets this year. The biggest programme of rail infrastructure this century, with three new high-speed lines. And we are fixing social care. They have no plan whatever, and don’t forget that their resort to absolutely every problem is either to take this country back into lockdown or to open up to uncontrolled immigration. That is their approach. We are delivering on the people’s priorities, and we have more people in work now, as a result of the balanced and proportionate approach that we are taking, than we had before the pandemic began. If we had listened to Captain Hindsight, we would all still be in lockdown. That is the truth.

Q4. Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister will know that we will not be able to stop the endless waves of illegal migrants crossing the English channel until we break free from the constraints of the European convention on human rights, which impedes our ability to tackle this tragic situation and protects even the most violent criminals from being deported. Does he agree that it is time to take back control and fulfil our 2015 manifesto commitment to get rid of Labour’s Human Rights Act and bring in a British Bill of Rights? (904476)

We will certainly review the human rights system, but in the meantime there is something we can all do next Tuesday and Wednesday, because our Nationality and Borders Bill is coming back to the House after long gestation. The Bill gives us the power to make the distinction at last between illegal and legal migrants to this country, it gives Border Force the power to turn people back at sea, and it gives us the power to send people overseas for screening, rather than doing it in this country. I am not asking the Opposition but telling them: it would be a great thing if they backed our Nationality and Borders Bill and undermined the criminals.

I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks on disability, and of course our thoughts are very much with all those who are recovering from Storm Arwen. Like the Leader of the Opposition, of course we commemorate World AIDS Day.

Mr Speaker, I am sure your thoughts and the thoughts of the House are with the family and friends of Siobhan Cattigan, the Scotland rugby player who unfortunately died over the weekend at the age of 26, having won 19 caps.

It is deeply regrettable that, once again, we are forced to spend so much time in this House discussing the Prime Minister’s misconduct, but when the person in charge so blatantly breaks the rules, it needs to be talked about. Last Christmas the Prime Minister hosted a packed party in Downing Street, an event that broke the lockdown rules that everyone else was expected to follow. He might deny it, but I spoke to the Daily Mirror this morning and it confirmed what happened. The newspaper has legal advice on the potential illegality. At a time when public health messaging is so vital, how are people possibly expected to trust the Prime Minister when he thinks it is one rule for him and another rule for everybody else?

The SNP should concentrate its line of attack more closely. I have said before that the right hon. Gentleman is talking total nonsense. Frankly, he would have been better off saying something about the victims of Storm Arwen in Scotland.

If I did not hear it, he was drowned out by his supporters. We need to work together—the Government of the UK working with the Scottish authorities—to help those people get their power back, and that is what we are doing.

That is a disgraceful answer. The Prime Minister did not even listen, because I mentioned Storm Arwen.

The real reason why all this matters is that we find ourselves at another very difficult moment in this pandemic. This is a time when leadership matters, when truth matters and when trust matters. Only this morning, leaked SAGE advice confirmed that the UK Government’s current international travel restrictions will identify significantly fewer cases. It is exactly the same advice that the Prime Minister received from the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales on Monday, and he has ignored that advice.

Since then other countries, like Ireland and the US, have moved rapidly on international travel to protect their people. Will the Prime Minister finally convene a four-nation Cobra meeting to tighten travel restrictions, or will he continue to ignore the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and his own SAGE advisers and imperil the health of the public of these islands?

Of course we want to work closely with the right hon. Gentleman. There will be abundant opportunities today and in the weeks ahead to concert our activity, but he is simply wrong in what he says about the steps the Government have taken to prevent the seeding of this variant from abroad. This country was actually the first to respond to the 10 countries that are most likely to seed the new omicron variant in this country. We put them on the red list, so people not only have pre-departure tests but they are quarantined. He is not right in what he says, and every other country in the world—[Interruption.] I do not mind if the right hon. Gentleman shouts. I tell him very calmly and quietly that 100% of passengers arriving from every other country in the world must take a PCR test, and they cannot get out of quarantine unless they test negative. Those balanced and proportionate measures are designed to protect the British people from the omicron variant, and that is the right approach to take.

Q5. Britain has some of the most unaffordable childcare in the developed world, which reduces opportunities for working families, particularly single parents, deepens gender pay gaps and makes levelling up much harder. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the proposal in my just-published policy paper “Poverty Trapped” for an immediate review to design out these internationally uncompetitive costs, while still delivering a safe and enriching level of care for our children too? (904477)

I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is completely right about the importance of childcare and the transformative influence it can have, which is why we have spent £3.5 billion in each of the past three years on free childcare entitlements, particularly for the most disadvantaged. I am always happy to meet him and to discuss his ideas further.

Farmers across our country are crucial to our nation’s prosperity, as has been shown, once again through the pandemic, but many are now on the brink. Farmers across the country, in villages such as Hodnet, Baschurch and Woodseaves and countless others, are about to see their payments cut by at least 5%, starting this very month. The Prime Minister promised a new support system, rewarding more sustainable farming, but in the meantime he seems prepared to see many British farms go bankrupt. There is an easy solution: stop cutting the current system’s essential payments until the new scheme is fully rolled out. Will the Prime Minister do that, and help our struggling farmers before it is too late?

British food and farming does an absolutely outstanding job, and it is growing the whole time. Last night, I met representatives of the UK food and farming industry, which we support and continue to support with the same level of payments. But what we are also doing is opening up new opportunities for them around the world. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that in every single embassy there is now a dedicated expert on supporting UK food and farming exports to the rest of the world, which support 4 million jobs in this country and earn this country £21 billion of revenue.

Q6. More needs to be done to tackle the people trafficking gangs that exploit migrants across Europe, promising to get them to this country. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is totally unacceptable that companies such as Facebook allow those smugglers to offer their services on their platforms—not only routes into the country, but the sale of forged British papers in order to aid their access? Does he agree that when this House passes the Online Safety Bill we will have the power to do more to make companies such as Facebook take down content that promotes illegal activity? (904478)

I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is absolutely right to say that too many of these gangs are using social media, which is why the online harms Bill is so important. It will indeed be of assistance to us in taking down that kind of material.

Q2. Women have been left with internal damage and pain that they describe as being like “razor blades inside them”. Many have lost their careers and some have even lost their lives. It is impossible to know exactly how many women are left suffering. So why will the Prime Minister not give these mesh-damaged women the redress that they were recommended in the Cumberlege report? (904474)

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, who raises an extremely important issue about a phenomenon that I know has caused huge distress to many, many women in this country. We published the Cumberlege report, and if there is anything more we can do, I am certainly willing to look at it. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this.

Q8. The levelling-up agenda has already changed so many areas of our country for the better. In my constituency, our town centre in Worksop is in desperate need of regeneration and of finally solving our flooding problems. Unfortunately, my council in Bassetlaw missed the deadline for the latest round of grants. What can this Government do to help support areas such as mine, which have struggled with their bids, in order to make sure they are successful the next time around? (904480)

Step No. 1 is to vote out those dozy Labour councillors. I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent representation of Bassetlaw and can tell him that the second round of bidding for the levelling-up fund will open in spring next year.

Q3. Between 2010 and 2019, West Midlands police lost 2,221 officers. The force should receive an additional 1,200 new recruits by 2023 via the police uplift programme, but that will still leave a shortfall of 1,000 officers. This lack of frontline police has left the force stretched and under significant pressure, with officers telling me that“there are simply insufficient resources to investigate every crime.”Will the Prime Minister commit to providing West Midlands police with a fairer funding deal to ensure that the force can return officer numbers to 2010 levels? (904475)

I thank the police officers in the west midlands, and I thank the hon. Lady for drawing attention to what we are doing to increase the number of police officers—[Interruption.] No, we are on track: of the 20,000 that I pledged on the steps of Downing Street two and a half years ago, we have already recruited another 11,000. I am proud to say that our police officer workforce is more representative of the whole of this country, with more women and more people from ethnic minorities, than ever before.

Q9. Last week, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, the hon. Fabian Picardo, appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee and gave evidence about the continuing negotiations between Gibraltar and the European Union on their future relationship. The Chief Minister made it clear in his evidence that his ambition was that Gibraltar’s future should be “British, British, British”. Will my right hon. Friend say what the Government are doing to support the Chief Minister to achieve that aim and, in particular, to exclude any role for the European Court of Justice? (904481)

Frankly, I cannot really improve on the verdict of my friend Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar: Gibraltar is British, British, British and will remain so. By the way, I see no future role for the European Court of Justice.

Q7. My constituency of Edinburgh West has some of the most polluted streets in our country. An estimated one in 29 deaths in Edinburgh are related to air pollution and we do not meet World Health Organisation guidelines, so will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss whether his Government can support my private Member’s Bill, which would tackle the issue, bring us into line and let us all breathe a little easier? (904479)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue; it is incredibly important, which is why we are now moving to all-out electric vehicles across the whole of the country, faster than any other European country. The World Health Organisation has praised our clean air strategy as an example for the rest of the world to follow. We will set out our evidence-based approach and the targets we are setting, but I would of course be happy to make sure that the hon. Lady meets the relevant Minister to set out her case.

Q11. Last month, the drug company Pfizer announced the successful trial of a new treatment called Paxlovid. The trial showed the drug to be roughly 90% successful, or better, at stopping death. Our current vaccine strategy is an enormous success, but it leads to a never-ending biological arms race against the mutating virus. As a supplement to a vaccine strategy, this treatment will allow Governments around the world to avoid the need for future emergency restrictions. What are the Government doing in the short term to secure supplies of this revolutionary treatment and in the long-term to enable the building of factories to produce it in Britain? (904483)

My right hon. Friend is spot on. The roll-out of Paxlovid in the NHS will of course depend on its approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, but the Government have, as a precaution, already invested in hundreds of thousands of courses of the drug.

Q10. Wales has 11% of the UK rail network, yet receives only 2% of UK rail enhancement funding and, as reported on WalesOnline, will be denied billions of consequential funding from HS2. Having under-delivered on rail in the north, and having under-delivered on rail in Wales, why should anyone trust this Government to deliver on their promises? (904482)

I am afraid that she has completely failed to look at what Sir Peter Hendy set out in his Union connectivity review. It is a fantastic agenda for change and improvement, particularly in Wales and particularly on the north Welsh corridor where the railway links deserve to be improved and will be improved under this Government.

Q13. Getting investment into Gedling is important. At a previous PMQs, I put aside my political differences with Labour-run Gedling Borough Council to champion its levelling-up fund bid, which, like other funding bids that it has made was sadly unsuccessful. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that councils such as Gedling now take stock and learn from this experience and will he confirm that help from Government will be available to do that so that, in future, hopefully Gedling and other councils will be able to make more successful bids. (904485)

Yes, of course, we are very happy to help Gedling and other Labour-run councils to get their act together where necessary and to put in those bids. Just to remind my hon. Friend, more levelling-up fund bids come due in the spring of next year, and I wish Gedling well in its future bids.

Q12. My grandfather, along with thousands of others, came to this country 70 years ago, working seven days a week in squalid conditions to help rebuild this country. Now, the Home Secretary’s Nationality and Borders Bill means that she can revoke our British citizenship and deport us for even the most minor wrongdoings. Given the horrific track record of the Government and the Home Office, with their treatment of minorities, the hostile environment and the Windrush scandal, let me ask the Prime Minister the burning question that is now on the lips of everyone from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background right across the country, “When is he coming for me?” (904484)

The hon. Gentleman should look at the Conservative Front Bench today, and he should withdraw what he has just said—he should withdraw it. What he said was absolutely shameful, and, as he knows full well, the Nationality and Borders Bill does nothing of the kind. It helps us to fight the evil gangs who are predating on people’s willingness to cross the channel in unseaworthy boats and I would have thought that a sensible Labour party would support it.

Q14. This Saturday is Small Business Saturday. I am proud to represent some fantastic local businesses, such as Kays of Grantham, the Stamford Notebook Company and the Bourne Bookshop. This Government have provided unprecedented support throughout the pandemic. Can the Prime Minister assure me that his commitment to our high streets will continue long into the future? (904486)

I thank my hon. Friend for all the support that he gives to Grantham and Stamford. I can tell him that Small Business Saturday is receiving huge support from the Government. We had a kind of festival last night to celebrate it in Downing Street. I encourage everybody to get out this Saturday—safely with their mask on, Mr Speaker, when they are in a shop, but that should be no inhibition on people buying in their shops up and down this country.

Q15. Next week, the 97th victim of the Hillsborough tragedy will receive the Freedom of Liverpool. Andrew Devine passed away earlier this year, aged 55, having defied the odds to survive the injuries that he sustained at Hillsborough aged 22. A coroner’s inquest in Liverpool in July ruled that he was unlawfully killed as a result of the disaster, making him the 97th victim. Following my tabling last week of early-day motion 649 on Hillsborough and the national curriculum, will the Prime Minister agree to meet me to discuss the roll-out of the Hillsborough real truth legacy project, including the addition of the Hillsborough disaster to the national curriculum and help to consign to history the narrative of lies and smears peddled by some elements of the media and the establishment over the past 32 years through the power of education? (904487)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the powerful point that he has just made. Even though 32 years have passed since that devastating tragedy, I know that the wounds remain very raw in Liverpool. The Government are committed, as he knows, to continuing engagement with the bereaved families, and to ensuring that the lessons from that tragedy continue to be properly learned and that the victims of Hillsborough are never forgotten. I am happy to ensure that the hon. Gentleman meets the relevant Minister to take forward an agenda that I think is shared by people up and down the country.

Storm Arwen

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the electricity disruptions as a result of Storm Arwen and how we are working to ensure that power is restored to people’s homes.

Storm Arwen brought severe weather, including high winds of up to 100 mph, rain, snow and ice, causing the most severe disruption since 2005. Many people across the country, but particularly in northern England and Scotland, have been without power for a number of days. Three people have tragically lost their lives in incidents related to the storm. My thoughts—and, I am sure, the thoughts of the whole House—are with those people and their loved ones.

I want to reassure people who are still without power—who are exhausted, worried and angry—that we are all working incredibly hard to ensure that normal conditions return. We have incredibly dedicated teams of engineers, who have been working around the clock to restore the network. The scale of the restoration effort that engineers are facing is enormous. The weekend saw exceptionally strong winds of almost 100 mph, which brought large trees and debris down on to power lines. For example, central Scotland has only seen wind speeds like this twice in the last 25 years. Of course, to add to the complex situation, much of the damage is in remote and hard-to-reach places.

I am glad to say that more than 95% of those affected by the storm—over 935,000 customers—have had their power supply restored so far; I thank the engineers for their hard work and perseverance. However, as of 8 o’clock this morning, there were still 30,000 customers without power. The specific areas most severely affected are: Wear valley surrounding Eastgate and north Northumberland; the north Peak District and the South Lakes areas; and Aberdeenshire and Perthshire in Scotland.

Today, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), is on the ground in Berwick to see at first hand the impact from storm disruption. Yesterday, I spoke with the chief executive officers of Northern Powergrid, Electricity North West, and Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks to seek assurance that restoration is happening as fast as is humanly possible. I am satisfied that these operators are sharing their resources through mutual aid agreements, and putting engineers in the worst affected areas.

I am also grateful to emergency responders, who have been working hard to keep people as comfortable as possible by providing torches, blankets and other necessities, and sorting out alternative accommodation where necessary. Officials in my Department are monitoring the situation closely and are in constant contact with network operators to ensure that customers can be reconnected as quickly as possible.

People who are still experiencing issues or who need further support should contact their electricity network operator by dialling 105 from their landline or mobile phone. This will automatically route them to the right operator, based on their physical location. People are also eligible for compensation on which they can find details on the Ofgem website.

For those who continue to be without power, I know their primary question will be “When will power be restored?” I have been assured that the overwhelming majority of those still without power today will have it restored in the next day or two. I have asked operators to provide named contacts for MPs and I will be sharing those with colleagues.

This has been an extremely difficult week for many of our constituents, and I thank them for their fortitude in the face of these extreme weather conditions. When the power is back up and back to normal, we in BEIS will of course be looking at the lessons that we can learn from Storm Arwen in order to build an even more resilient power system in future.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Let me first join him in sending my condolences to the victims who have tragically died during Storm Arwen and to their families. I express my sympathy to all those who have lost power and are suffering during this crisis. I know from my own constituency, where we had terrible flooding in 2019, the impacts of extreme weather and the traumatic effects it has on people and communities. I also join him in paying tribute to the many engineers, volunteers and emergency service workers who have worked tirelessly to step up and help during this crisis.

We have heard heartbreaking stories of outages leaving residents without power, water and light. There are also many reports that the Secretary of State will have heard of residents being unable to get proper information about what is happening and waiting for hours to get through on phone lines. On behalf of the many who have suffered, I want to ask him a few questions. Does he believe that there is enough support for the most vulnerable on the ground while the power outages continue, including the use of emergency generators, and has he given thought to calling in the Army if necessary to help with that process? He said that power would be restored “in the next day or two” for the overwhelming majority. Can he say how many people he estimates will be left without power and how long it will take to restore power for them?

After terrible storms in 2013—the stormiest winter in 40 years that saw hundreds of thousands lose their power—it was said that lessons would be learned, and I want to probe the Secretary of State a little further on three areas in that regard. First, on communications and information, the Science and Technology Committee recommended that the single national emergency number was put in place. The purpose of that number was that people would not just know who to call but could get information promptly. On the calling of 105, which he mentioned, there are multiple reports of it causing enormous frustration to people who are not getting the information. What is his assessment of whether people have been able to get the information, and if not, why not?

Secondly—the Secretary of State drew attention to this—Ofgem recommended in the wake of those storms that district network operators should share resources and personnel in the event of such a crisis. He said that that has happened, but is he satisfied that it has happened right across the DNO network, and at the scale that is required? Can he give us some further information on that?

Thirdly, after 2015 there was a clear sense of the vulnerabilities of the overhead power network, and agreement that the networks would survey the vulnerabilities that they faced and act. Is the Secretary of State satisfied, at this stage, that that has happened, because the continued vulnerability of power lines seems all too apparent?

Faced with the climate crisis, extreme weather events will sadly become all the more common in future. We cannot be this vulnerable in future. There is real concern that some lessons have not been learned, and on this occasion we must face up to those lessons and learn them.

On the situation with regard to the climate change emergency, the right hon. Gentleman and I have very similar views. Clearly Storm Arwen was an event the likes of which we have not seen for, certainly, 16 years, since the records of the DNOs started. We have to be prepared for similarly extreme difficult weather conditions in future and make sure that our system is resilient in that eventuality.

Turning to the right hon. Gentleman’s specific questions, the 105 line is the one number that people are being asked to call; it has been centralised. He is right to say that there was initial pressure. My understanding is that over the weekend, it took people up to two hours to get through, which is clearly unacceptable, but the storm hit and the companies did not have the communication networks, the call centres or the people there to deal with the situation. When I spoke to the CEOs of the companies yesterday, they said that the waiting time has been reduced to 10 minutes to a quarter of an hour. That is what I was told. If people are finding difficulties, they should definitely get in touch with their MPs, Government and also the distributors.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s second point, the North East South West Area Consortium is a very effective means by which the generating companies can share and deploy engineers across different networks. That is very effective, I am told by the CEOs of the companies, but I will have more calls today with local resilience leaders to ensure that what the generating companies are saying is matched by what people are experiencing on the ground, because, as he well knows, there can be a mismatch between the two.

May I echo the words of my right hon. Friend in thanking all those in our emergency services and the local authority workers who went out over the weekend and have been doing so much to support our communities across the United Kingdom that have been affected? I also thank the people in local businesses who have opened their doors to look after those people who are more vulnerable and need support, such as the Fife Arms in Braemar, where temperatures dropped below zero over the weekend and people lost power and water. Lumphanan, Crathie and Corgarff in my constituency remain without power and do not even have access to a temporary generator. Can he expand on his discussions with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks? What discussions has he had with the Scottish Government to see what the two Governments in this country might be able to do to speed up the response and support those people who are going to their fifth day without any power, heating or electricity in general?

My hon. Friend will accept that we are in an extreme situation. He will also know that I have spoken to Mr Alistair Phillips-Davies, who is the head of SSE. He and I and colleagues in the Scottish Government are apprised of the situation. Generators are being distributed that can take up the slack when important power infrastructure is down, but it is an ongoing situation and I would be happy to engage with my hon. Friend in the next few hours.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. This storm was of incredible strength when it hit us on Friday night, with the north-eastern parts of Scotland and England being especially in the full face of the gale. SSE’s storm models predicted between 60 and 100 high-voltage faults. In fact, it has sustained more than 500 high-voltage faults, with more than 1,000 instances of damage to its network. Sustained winds with gusts in excess of 90 mph were, unusually, from the north-east, affecting trees that do not normally have to yield to those winds. It has resulted in colossal tree damage to the network.

I wish to pay tribute to the fortitude and resolve of the many people facing severe hardship on day five without power, some of whom will not get it back today or tomorrow. It is a tremendous disruption to how we live today, and they are to be in our thoughts at this very challenging time for them. Indeed, as of 9 pm last night, 9,500 customers remained cut off from their supply, including 5,700 in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, 1,500 in Moray, 1,400 in my Angus constituency and 570 in Perthshire. This enduring lack of power would test anyone’s resolve, yet it is telling that people remain mindful of the extraordinary efforts of the engineers and support staff of SSE and its industry partners to restore supplies, and power has been restored to more than 118,000 customers. The UK Government have, I understand, said that they are

“on standby to provide further assistance to the Scottish Government”,

but like the Deputy First Minister in Scotland, I am a little sceptical as to what that is. I would be grateful if the Minister could elaborate on what that assistance would be. If it is financial assistance, is it new money or recycled money?

I was in touch with SSE again this morning, and it has assured me that it has engineers from across its network working in the north-east to repair supplies and also engineers from other networks sharing distribution network operator resources. That enormous recovery effort is hampered by the prolonged scale of the damage, which is compounded by the locations of the damage and the types of equipment that have been damaged. I place on record my thanks to the engineers working in all weathers to restore power supplies to Angus, to the council and to other members of the local resilience partnership who have done so much to help to restore supplies and in humanitarian welfare provision.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and pay tribute, as he does, not only to the fortitude of many of his constituents and other people in Scotland, but to the tireless efforts of the engineers, the voluntary staff and the DNO in this instance, SSE, in trying to deal with an unprecedented situation, as he recognised. He was right to point out that it was not only the high velocity but the direction of the winds that posed a huge challenge.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I speak to counterparts across the border in the devolved Administration frequently; in fact, I was on a panel with the Cabinet Secretary yesterday and it is something that we are talking about all the time. We have not specified the amount of money, if there will be any. I do not think we have reached that conversation, but we are in constant dialogue with his colleagues in Holyrood.

In my constituency and further afield, areas such as Alston, Garrigill, Nenthead, Kirkby Stephen, Matterdale and North Stainmore have been hard-hit by the power crisis. Some of those areas have had their power restored, but others are still without power. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the engineers at Electricity North West, the emergency services, councils and volunteers who have been working so hard? Can he assure my constituents and people further afield that everything is being done across Government to support them, to help to restore power and to put in place contingency measures?

My hon. Friend will know that this is a matter of grave concern and focus for the Government. He will also appreciate that Electricity North West has done a reasonable job in restoring power to 95% of people affected, but clearly we want to work harder to make sure that those 6,000 or 7,000 people who are still off the grid can get their power back as soon as possible.

I, too, send my condolences and pay my respects to those who have lost their life in such awful circumstances, in particular to the family of the man who passed away in Ambleside on Friday. At least 7,000 homes in my constituency have been without power for between three and five nights. I am immensely proud of the way that people in our community have stood up to support one another and their neighbours—they know who they are. I am also grateful to those working on the ground for Electricity North West to try to fix the problem as soon as possible.

In my communities and elsewhere in Cumbria, thousands are still without power. They feel forgotten, but they have not been, I hope, by many hon. Members here. Places such as Killington, Garsdale, parts of Coniston, Orrest Head, Ayside, High Newton, Low Newton, Witherslack, Hincaster, Lambrigg, Bowston, Hutton Roof, Crook, Outgate, Haverthwaite, Spark Bridge, Backbarrow, the outskirts of Windermere and others are facing a sixth night without power. Some people are being told that their connection will not be fixed until 8 December—this time next week.

The hardship caused, particularly to the elderly and other vulnerable people is unthinkable, which is why it is massively disappointing that it took until Wednesday for a Minister to come to the House to address the issue. It is not too late for the Government to act, however, so I ask the Secretary of State to task the Army to provide support to the engineers on the ground in Cumbria to speed up fixing the problem; to then use the Army to ensure that the most vulnerable are contacted and moved to emergency accommodation today; and to ensure that every affected community in Cumbria is given generators to provide at least a temporary fix today so that no one has to spend a sixth night in the cold.

We are contacting local resilience forums, listening to them and getting guidance from them as to how best to tackle the situation on the ground. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that Electricity North West has already provided 150 generators. We will task it to see what more can be done to alleviate the extreme stress and challenging situation that many of his constituents face.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Storm Arwen has left thousands of my constituents without power for several days. It has been heartening to see how people in my local towns and villages have come together, particularly in Upper Weardale, Eastgate, St John’s Chapel, Quebec, Wilks Hill and Maiden Law. I also have a secondary school that is still without power, so several hundred children are not getting the education that they need.

I am delighted that the Energy Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), is in North West Durham today. I thank him for his visit and for what he is doing there. He has contacted several local businesses on my behalf.

I will raise a couple of things with the Secretary of State. First, one of my rural surgeries has lost £10,000-worth of flu vaccines due to the electricity going down and the fridges going off, which will affect its ability to roll that out. Can he speak to the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that the supply is reimbursed as quickly as possible? Secondly, some isolated communities have been told that it may be a long time before they can get full electricity. Will he do everything possible to ensure that they are reconnected well before Christmas? Finally, can he ensure that the Government respond positively to any request from the local resilience forum, including sending in the Army if necessary?

My hon. Friend will know that I am keen to engage with local resilience fora and hear from them what is the best way to proceed. He will also appreciate that we are incredibly conscious of the ramifying effects of the storm, particularly in regard to health and education. He knows that I am taking that up within Government. I take the point about isolated communities extremely seriously and I will be looking at that on a daily basis. I will say publicly that being without power until Christmas is simply unacceptable and I will do everything I can to make sure that that does not happen.

I thank the Secretary of State for the statement, but in my constituency, pockets of people remain without energy, including in Ryton, Blaydon, Wylam—the part that is in my constituency—Victoria Garesfield, Coalburns and Byermoor. Six days on, all those places are still without energy and people are anxious and finding it extremely difficult to get through to find out information. Will he assure me that Members of Parliament will have direct lines and contacts so that we can get detailed information to tell our constituents? I thank the workers who have been out there in all weathers trying to reconnect people.

The hon. Lady is right to point out that there needs to be a way for right hon. and hon. Members to engage with DNOs and constituents, and I will look into that. I picked up on precisely the point about communications with the CEO of Northern Powergrid, the DNO relevant to her constituency, and he said that, having had a slow start at the weekend because the situation was completely unprecedented, they are working very hard to make sure that communications are effective. I reinforce the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) that we will do everything we can to make sure that the generating of electricity happens long before the dates that are being bandied about for when they should be up and running.

I thank the Secretary of State for the statement and for meeting me yesterday to discuss the situation in High Peak where thousands of homes have been left without power since the weekend, including in places such as Buxton, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Wash, Bagshaw, Sparrowpit, Wormhill, Peak Forest, Chinley, Hayfield and more. I put on record my thanks to the engineers at Electricity North West, as well as to Derbyshire County Council, the local resilience forum, the emergency services and our amazing mountain rescue teams for working to not just reconnect power but help the most vulnerable who have been affected. Unfortunately, some homes are experiencing their fifth day without power. I ask him to commit the Government to do whatever is needed and to provide whatever resources the local resilience forum requests to get power back to everyone in the High Peak.

As I have said to a number of hon. Members today, we are absolutely committed to getting power back. I need to reiterate that 95% of people who were affected now have their power back, but if someone is part of the 5% still without power, that is clearly no solace and will not help them in that situation. It is absolutely incumbent on me and my Department to make sure that we do whatever we can to resolve it.

I also acknowledge the heroic efforts of the engineers and emergency workers in seeking to restore power, and of the communities, businesses and residents across my constituency who have stepped up to support the elderly, local care homes and vulnerable people who have been left without power for five days. However, the Secretary of State has some important questions to answer. When the Met Office issued a red weather warning that there was a danger to life, what steps did he take to move basic resources, bottled water, emergency generators, fuel and blankets to the affected areas? What arrangements were made to consider the deployment of the Army—the Royal Engineers—to identify alternative accommodation and establish community reception hubs for those, particularly elderly people, left without power and in need of support? From where I am and my constituents are, the performance has been lamentable. There has been a complete lack of planning and foresight. I am sure that the whole House would welcome answers to those questions.

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of where we are. He will appreciate that, over many years, we have had local resilience fora, which have acted incredibly speedily and with incredible dedication. They are precisely the organisations that know what the situation is on the ground, and I and my Department have been engaging with the people involved. They are responding extremely effectively to this difficult situation.

Storm Arwen hit my constituency, like many others, very hard. Thousands of homes were left without electricity. Thankfully, that is now down to the hundreds, but those people are facing their fifth night without power. I reiterate requests for the Minister to listen to any calls from the local resilience forums to step up Government support.

On lessons learned, so many of my constituents have come to me feeling really dismayed by the fact that they are being pushed online to get information about what is happening and where support is coming from. However, if people do not have power or broadband, they simply cannot access those services. When the Government look at this, can we make sure that we look at how best to communicate with people who have no access to regular communications channels?

The communication point is fundamental. I have spoken to the CEOs of the DNOs and I am speaking to the local resilience fora; we are absolutely committed to having much, much easier and more fluent channels of communication in future. My hon. Friend will appreciate that this issue will not go away. There will be other incidents, and he is right to stress that we need a more resilient system.

This storm was catastrophic; it had a devastating impact, with destruction right across my constituency and in Northumberland as a whole. This is about not just the power, but the destruction of properties, allotments and houses across the piece. People are looking towards some form of financial support from the Government, because this impacts on many people who have not got two ha’pennies to rub together. They will need specific, targeted Government support.

First, I ask the shadow Secretary—sorry, the Secretary of State; I nearly demoted him there—to consider what extra support can be given. Secondly, on isolation and communication, I have in my constituency an old people’s home that lost its electricity at 2 o’clock on Saturday morning and had it restored on Monday afternoon. In between, the lack of communication was unbelievable. Two people in that home were aged 100 years-plus. There were a lot of people with dementia who were frightened and who could not be moved because it would mean extra confusion. This is not acceptable. Will he look at what measures the Government can put in place to make sure that this does not happen again? Communications are very important.

Just before I sign off, I add what a brilliant job Northern Powergrid, its workforce, the engineers, the volunteers in the towns and villages and the council workers are all doing, pulling together to try to ease the effect of Storm Arwen.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right: Northern Powergrid is working very hard to make sure that people get their electricity back. As I said, 95% of the people affected have got the power back. There was an issue with communication on the weekend, I am sad to say. There was a huge surge in demand and not enough infrastructure—there were not enough people in the call centres—to deal with the situation. We will look into that. As Members from the south-east will remember—although there are not many of them in the Chamber today—we had a power outage on 9 August and we did manage to create a more resilient system. I am absolutely determined that this time we will have a more resilient system on the back of these tragic events.

Thousands of my constituents across the Scottish Borders remain without power today after the catastrophic storm at the weekend. I felt the full force of that storm at home in Coldstream on Friday and Saturday. Many old and vulnerable residents have no power and that has been the case for five days. Like others, I pay tribute to the engineers and council workers who have worked so hard to get people connected, but serious questions remain about the failure of ScottishPower Energy Networks to provide accurate information to residents about reconnection times. There are also questions about the support that the Scottish Government provided to local councils across Scotland. What discussions have the UK Government had with ScottishPower Energy Networks and the Scottish Government about the response to the storm, and what more can be done to support my constituents in the Scottish Borders to get them reconnected?

As I said, I spoke to three CEOs of the DNOs. The CEO of ScottishPower was not one of those I spoke to, but I am very hopeful that we can get a call today, and I am looking forward to sharing with my hon. Friend exactly what that distributor is doing.

Some of my constituents in places such as Sherburn Hill, Waterhouses, Bearpark and Low Burnhall are facing a full seven days without heating or electricity. This is a national scandal. I thank the emergency services, the workers, the engineers and all the community groups who have stepped up to help those most in need, but what are the Government doing to help the most vulnerable residents in Durham to get the help that they need—not tomorrow, not next week, but today?

As I said in a number of responses, we are working with the local resilience fora. The job of the local resilience forum, in the first instance, is to find out what is going on and to co-ordinate local responses, and then, of course, the Government are very focused on helping them to get what they need to make the situation much more comfortable than it is.

We have all seen the photographs of the devastation caused by Storm Arwen and experienced it for ourselves—it is absolutely atrocious. When I was speaking to someone from Northern Powergrid a few days ago, they said that it is the worst damage in living memory. I pay tribute to Northern Powergrid, its engineers and all the local authority workers for all their hard work in trying to get this awful damage fixed.

I also thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for the numerous calls and meetings that we have had this week to discuss the damage and what more can be done to support some of the residents who are still without power. In my constituency, unfortunately, the number is still in the thousands. Place such as Langdon Beck, Evenwood and Middleton-in-Teesdale still face an absolute loss of power. However, in times like these, we see the best in our communities as well, with businesses such as Babul’s and Chocolate Fayre providing support to individuals still affected. Support has also been provided by individuals such as Tommy Lowther, Judith Buckle, Kimberley Clarke and others, including Paul Hedley, who responded instantly to calls to provide a generator—it had been sitting in his garage.

I really want the Secretary of State to address that point about emergency generators. After five days of no power, no heating and no light, the smallest things, such as a single lightbulb, a kettle to boil some hot water, a small heater and a little bit of phone charge, can make such a difference to people. What more can the Government, local resilience forums, local authorities and local charities do to work together to find out where these generators are and to get them deployed to some of these communities who could be facing disruption for days, if not weeks?

I thank my hon. Friend for the tireless work that she and other Members, on both sides of the House, have put in to make sure that their constituents are being well represented and to tell us what exactly it is like on the ground. That is how this House of Commons should work and I am very proud of that.

My hon. Friend will know that we are talking with the local resilience fora about generators. The companies—in her case, Northern Powergrid—are making an effort to get generators out to affected communities, and I am getting a regular update on what has been happening in that respect. I am very happy to speak to her, as I am to other Members, about this emergency.

Like other Members, could I add my own thanks for the resilience and fortitude of those who have been left without power for so long and the dedication of the engineers who have been getting them back on grid? I also thank everyone involved in the volunteer response and in the local resilience partnerships.

While the priority has to be about getting those who remain off-grid back on to an electrical supply and supporting those who are not on-grid at the moment as best we can, there will at some point be an examination of how things could have been done better. There is an issue about the resilience of our communication infrastructure as well as our power infrastructure, because broadband went down and mobile phone networks went down, which hindered in many respects, the ability of people to respond. Will the Secretary of State consider, as part of that, looking at the obligations placed upon not just power distribution companies, but telecommunications providers to provide a more secure and robust service in all circumstances, no matter how adverse they might be?

I wholeheartedly agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. It is very easy for us simply to come up with a statement and then hope that the problem goes away, but I have made a firm commitment, as we did, as I have said, on 9 August 2019, when there was a power outage and we spent a couple of months, if not longer, having a proper inquiry as to what went wrong. I am confident that a lot of the measures that we came up with then did provide resilience. It is exactly in that vein that I want to approach this very difficult situation. It will not be the case that we will simply walk away from it; we will be trying actively to learn lessons. We cannot abolish extreme weather—well, we can in the long run, but we cannot do it perhaps as quickly as we would like—but we can certainly learn lessons to build more resilience.

Can I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement today and his commitment, as well as that of the Prime Minister earlier this week, including his commitment to provide any support that the UK Government can in Scotland in particular? I would like to associate myself as well with his remarks and those of other hon. and right hon. Members across the House in recognising the Herculean efforts not just of the power companies, but of local communities who have come out in force to support our neighbours, and friends and neighbours around those communities.

In a spirit of helping the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), the numbers he produced earlier were from I think 9 o’clock last night, but some numbers came out earlier today which show that, from the 9,500 customers who were still looking for power last night, it has come down to 6,400, 3,700 of those being in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, with areas such as Auchnagatt, Forglen, Methlick and New Byth coming on stream overnight. They will be delighted, but of course there are still 3,700 in Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen city for whom that is not much solace, as the Secretary of State said. So can I ask him what conversations he has had with the Scottish Government and the local resilience programmes in Scotland not only to get the power back on as soon as possible, but to make sure that we are focusing on helping the most vulnerable in our communities—those who are not on Facebook or on the internet and who do not have access to the regular updates that we all try to give?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This sort of crisis does not affect everyone equally. There are vulnerable and isolated communities that are particularly affected by this outage and our focus is on that. He will appreciate that the DNO in his area—I think it is SSE—has worked very well in providing support. It is providing accommodation in some instances, hot meals and food, and we are continuing to push that.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his update on the impact of Storm Arwen and my thoughts are with everybody impacted by this terrible natural event. Residents and businesses in Pontypridd were devastated by Storm Dennis in 2020. They were hit by horrendous flooding and, sadly, they are still, even now, feeling the impact of that. Although it is vital that residents and businesses get urgent help in the immediate aftermath, the long-term impacts are still massively impacting these people. Some are unable to get insurance, many have been hit by unnecessarily high insurance premiums and some have not even been pointed to Flood Re. So will the Minister please work with colleagues to look again at Flood Re and ensure that everybody—businesses and residents—can get access to affordable insurance?

I think the hon. Member is right. Many of us across the House have had instances of flooding and extreme weather events over the last 10 years. I myself, in my constituency, had a very extreme case of flooding in 2014 and the issues she raised with regard to insurance and lessons learned are things I am very conscious of. I would be very happy to take this up with her in any subsequent conversation or meeting.

Storm Arwen was an extreme weather event, but we are having more extreme weather events as the climate changes. Already, every winter in this House we have urgent questions and statements on power outages caused by electricity distribution lines coming down, and train disruption caused by electrical lines failing. The long-term fix is to increase the resilience standards of the poles, pylons, wires and connectors on the system. It is not to do with local resilience forums, which are more about responding to crisis; this is about raising the technical standards of the equipment that is deployed. An example is undergrounding electricity lines, which could be as much as 20 to 30 times more expensive than an overhead line, but, especially near more populous areas, that may well be part of the solution. Will the Secretary of State be kind enough to look at the technical standards of the electricity distribution network, because we need to raise those in the face of climate change?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the infrastructure challenges that we are experiencing in extreme weather conditions, which will probably be more frequent given the climate change to which he alluded. He will appreciate that, essentially, a whole new infrastructure not only takes time, but means paying considerable amounts of money, and in the meantime we have to deal with those extreme weather events, so the local resilience forums are very important. He is quite right to say that they do not solve the infrastructure problem long-term, but it is really important that they can act nimbly, because we can improve our infrastructure standards, but we are not simply going to abolish the threat of extreme weather conditions.

The immense disruption caused by Storm Arwen over the weekend demonstrated how vulnerable much of the country is to extreme weather events. Recently, businesses and residents in my constituency were devastated by extensive flooding following torrential rainfall in the space of just a couple of hours. With climate breakdown set to make such events a more frequent occurrence, can the Secretary of State inform the House what steps his Department will be taking in conjunction with his colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to improve the resilience of communities such as Birkenhead to extreme weather?

The hon. Member raises an important point, and he also alludes to the nature of the problem. BEIS is responsible for electricity and DEFRA has been particularly effective in responding to flooding, and he is quite right to suggest that both our Departments are working together, as we do with other colleagues across Government, and are more and more focused on the effects of climate change—and that is what it is—on our infrastructure and our people. We are working together to try to solve that general problem.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I also wish to convey my party’s and my own sincere sympathies to the family of Francis Lagan, who was killed by a falling tree during Storm Arwen in Northern Ireland. Can the Secretary of State outline what support is available specifically for businesses that rely on the internet that may have to wait weeks for its restoration? It was on the news this morning, and it was very clear that businesses in Yorkshire and elsewhere are finding it difficult to reconnect and take bookings. Can the Secretary of State allocate an urgent funding scheme to allow short-term contract mobile hotspotting to take place in the interim—just to help those businesses, as they need it right now?

This is clearly a matter for urgent discussion. The hon. Member will appreciate that, in my role, I cannot stand up such funds immediately. I think a lot of the onus will be on the devolved Administration as well, so I am very happy to take that up with colleagues in Northern Ireland as well as with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Adult Social Care

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on our plans for adult social care.

Today we are publishing our ambitious 10-year vision for adult social care—our White Paper: “People at the Heart of Care”. It is a product of years of work, not only by every level of Government, but by many involved in the sector, including people who give care, people who draw on care, and their families. I wish once again to underline my appreciation and admiration for everyone who works to deliver this most vital of public services, especially through this challenging pandemic.

Those working in social care—both paid and unpaid—deserve our deepest respect, yet they also deserve a system that works for them, and it is fair to say that that has not always been the case. Time and again, we in this House have heard about the challenges: the high turnover in the workforce; the lottery of how people pay for care; unsustainable local markets; the varying quality and safety of care; the low uptake of technology; those carers who are not just unpaid, but under-appreciated; and the complexity of the system for everyone involved. I am sure hon. Members will have their own challenges to add to that list. Make no mistake, these are complex issues—so complex, of course, that successive Governments, over decades, have decided to duck rather than deal with them. This Government, however, are determined to get it right. After all, we cannot be serious about levelling up unless we are also serious about social care.

In September we took a vital first step on the road to fixing this generational problem when the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, and the Secretary of State announced our new health and care levy. The focus on how we must pay for it is absolutely right, but we were clear then, and we are clear now, that there is much else we need to do. The White Paper contains more detail on what we plan to do over the next three years to transform the sector over the next decade. It is underpinned by three core principles: first, that everybody has choice, control and support to live independent lives; secondly, that everyone can access outstanding personalised care and support; and thirdly, that adult social care is fair and accessible for everyone who needs it.

The principles we hold are important, but we know we will ultimately be judged on our actions. I will therefore set out some of those actions before the House. First, giving everyone the choice, control and support to live independent lives requires both physical and digital infrastructure. We are investing £300 million in housing. That investment will support local authorities to increase the range of new supported housing options, because it is vital that people live in homes that meet their needs and give them the independence they require. Moreover, we are setting up a new practical support service to help people with minor repairs and changes, which will help them to live independently for longer. That is in addition to increasing the upper limit of the disabled facilities grant for home adaptations, which includes things such as stairlifts, wet rooms and home technology.

The digital infrastructure we put in place can be equally transformational, because we know that digital tools and technology can support independent living and improve the quality of care. We are therefore putting at least £150 million of funding to drive the greater adoption of such technology, with the ambition to achieve widespread digitisation across social care. We are setting up a new national website, which will explain all the upcoming changes, and we are piloting innovative new ways to help people understand and access the care and support they need.

Our second principle is to ensure outstanding personalised care and support, and at the heart of that is looking after the people who work in care. We are spending at least half a billion pounds on the social care workforce over the next three years. Some of those funds will help us to deliver new qualifications and better career routes in care, which we know is crucial for holding on to our caring and compassionate workforce. We are also directing funds into stronger mental health and wellbeing support for care staff, because colleagues cannot care for people unless we care for colleagues. We are putting funds behind a change in the services we provide to support unpaid carers, and we will find and test what works best for those who are caring under challenging circumstances. Regardless of whether that solution is old or new, if it works, we want to do it. We are also considering funding local areas to support their efforts to innovate around the care they provide, so that they can provide more options that suit people’s individual needs. Those new models of care, including housing with care, have the potential to play a pivotal role in delivering care that promotes prevention, is more personalised, and enables people to live independently.

Our third principle is care that is fair and accessible for everyone. We are introducing a cap on care costs so that no one will have to pay more than £86,000 over their lifetime. That cap will be there for everybody, regardless of any conditions they have, how old they are, or how much they earn. It is a universal cap. Importantly, it will provide everyone with the peace of mind of knowing that the days of unlimited and unpredictable costs are coming to an end. The reforms will also make the existing means test far more generous, compared with both the current system and with previous abandoned proposals. Crucially, the £100,000 upper capital limit will be available to those in home care, and we expect many more people to be in home care. Let me be clear: no one will be worse off compared with the current system, and many, many people will be better off. All the ambitious plans that we are setting out today must be underpinned by a sustainable care market. The £3.6 billion we are giving to reform the social care charging system will help all local authorities to pay a fairer rate for care, and put back into the system the fairness we all want.

Before I conclude, Mr Speaker, allow me to put on record once again my thanks to everybody who has played their part in developing this important White Paper. The reform of social care in this country has been ducked for far too long, but we will do whatever it takes to take on this tough challenge, and we will get it right. Today’s White Paper is an important step on our journey to giving more people the dignified care that we want for our loved ones, setting out important changes that will last for generations and stand the test of time. As a Government we are determined to get this right—I am determined to get this right—so that we can build the healthier, fairer, and more caring country that we all deserve. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement—but really, is that it? There are some things she said for which Labour has been calling for some while, and which we support, such as improving housing options for older and disabled people, and the potential for technology to improve standards of care. However, there are two central flaws to the Government’s approach. Ministers have utterly failed to deal with the immediate pressures facing social care, as we head into one of the most difficult winters on record. They have also failed to set out the long-term vision and more fundamental reforms we need to deliver a care system that is fit for the future.

Last week we learned that a staggering 400,000 older and disabled people are now on council waiting lists for care, with 40,000 waiting more than a year. There are more than 100,000 staff vacancies, and turnover rates are soaring. Because of those shortages, 1.5 million hours of home care could not be delivered between August and October alone, and half of all councils report care homes going bust, or home care providers handing back contracts. Hundreds of thousands of older and disabled people are being left without vital support, piling even more pressure on their families and the NHS at the worst possible time, yet the Minister has announced absolutely nothing new to deal with any of that.

Where was the plan to end waiting lists for care? Unless people get support when and where they need it, they will end up needing more expensive residential or hospital care, which is worse for them and for the taxpayer. The Minister was silent on that issue. Improving access is the first step we need to deliver a much more fundamental shift in the focus of support towards prevention and early intervention so that people can stay living in their own homes for as long as possible. But without enough staff with the right training, working in the right teams, that will never be achieved.

Where was the long-term strategy to transform the pay, training, terms and conditions of care workers, to deliver at least half a million additional care workers by 2030 just to meet growing demand, and to ensure that care workers are valued equally with those in the NHS? Can the Minister tell me why the Government persist in having separate workforce strategies for the NHS and social care when the two are inextricably linked? And can she tell me how some kind of website is going to pay a care worker’s bills or put food on the family table? No wonder staff are leaving the sector in droves.

The proposals for England’s 11 million family carers, who provide the vast majority of care in this country, are frankly pitiful. Unpaid carers have been pushed to the limit looking after the people they love. Almost half had not had a single break for five years even before the pandemic struck, but I understand that the additional funding in the White Paper amounts to just £1.60 a year more for each unpaid carer. Families deserve so much better than this.

What we needed today was a long-term vision to finally put social care where it belongs—on an equal footing with the NHS, at the heart of a modernised welfare state. At its best, social care is about far more then helping people get up and be washed, dressed and fed, vital though that is; it is about ensuring that all older and disabled people can live the life they choose, in the place they call home, with the people they love, doing the things that matter to them most—in other words, an life equal to everybody else’s. That should have been the guiding mission of the White Paper, with clear proposals to make people genuine partners in their care by transforming the use of direct payments and personal budgets and ensuring that the views of users and families drive change in every part of the system, from how services are commissioned to how they are regulated and delivered.

This White Paper falls woefully short of the mark, and the reality of the Government’s so-called reforms is now clear—a tax hike on working people that will not deal with the problems in social care now and will not even stop people having to sell their homes to pay for their care, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised. Under the Conservatives’ plans, if someone owns a home worth £1 million, over 90% of their assets will be protected, but if their home is worth £100,000, they could end up losing it all. Millions of working people are paying more tax not to improve their family’s care or stop their own life savings being wiped out, but to protect the homes of the wealthiest. This is not fixing the crisis in social care, let alone real social care reform. It is unfair, it is wrong, and the Government must think again.

It is not a laughing matter—it certainly is not. Of course, calling for something is much different from delivering something. We are taking steps to fix social care. We are grappling with this challenge, and we will meet it. In 13 years, what did Labour do? Two Green Papers, one royal commission, one spending review—and the result? Absolutely nothing. They are good at calling for things, but they are not very good at delivering things.

The hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) mentioned immediate pressures. It is right to say that there are immediate pressures on all our workforces as we bounce back from the pandemic, but in particular on our health and social care workforces. We have always said that. We have challenges across the winter, and we know that we need to meet those challenges. That is why we put a winter plan in place, and it is why we have given additional funding to the sector. We have given additional funding to the sector all the way through the pandemic. We have given an extra £2.5 billion.

For the workforce specifically, we gave £120 million for January to March this year. That resulted in 7.5 million extra hours in the sector and 39,000 new recruits. As that was a successful intervention, we have repeated it for this period. In fact, that money—£162.5 million—has just started landing in councils’ bank accounts, and that is to take them up to March. We know there are pressures, and we know there is a lot of competition for labour, but we hope that that will be as successful as the previous interventions.

Of course, this is a 10-year vision, and we have to start with that vision. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Lady and Opposition Members will look forward to reading the White Paper and seeing the vision.

It will take long. It is over 100 pages, so it will take a reasonable time if Members are interested in actually finding the solutions.

The hon. Member for Leicester West also asked about workforce strategy and the NHS compared with social care. Obviously, the people in the NHS are employed by the NHS, which is a public body. Social care is largely a private system. There are 18,000 or more businesses. That is why it is a different sector and why we deal with workforce strategy differently. However, we have £500 million to invest in the social care workforce and to make sure that we invest in the knowledge and skills framework, careers options and so on.

There are 1.54 million workers in the sector and they are hugely valued. The hon. Lady said they are leaving in droves. Actually, what we have in the sector is a continual demographic shift in terms of need, and it grows by 1% to 2% every year, so we are always trying to recruit new workers into the sector. Of course, it is very important that these fundamental reforms take place so that we get more people attracted to the sector, more people staying in the sector, more people progressing in the sector and more people providing excellent care all day, every day, providing a lifeline to people across the country.

I thank the Minister for her work putting the White Paper together in a very short period. I know that she has put a lot of effort into it, but it is hard to see it as more than three steps forward and two steps back. The step forward, which we should acknowledge, is the introduction of a cap. Whatever the arguments about what counts towards the cap, having a cap will make a big difference to many people, and that is welcome.

However, these measures do not really give confidence in two crucial areas. The first is the funding to local authorities for their core responsibilities. The White Paper barely gives them enough to deal with demographic change and national living wage increases, and it is a long way off the £7 billion-a-year increase the Health and Social Care Committee called for by the end of the Parliament. It is also hard to see the NHS and social care systems being fully integrated, as they should be, and an end to the workforce crisis, which sees 40% turnover in many companies.

This is a start. The Minister is a very capable new Minister and I personally have great confidence in her, but will she bring forward further measures to deal with those huge problems? Otherwise, we will see hospital wards continuing to be full of people who should be discharged, and older people not getting the care they need because the carers do not exist.

My right hon. Friend is right that this is a start. It is a 10-year vision, and obviously we had a three-year spending review and the spending that we set out was a three-year spending settlement, so of course it is just a start.

On the steps to ensure that local authorities move to a fair rate and a fair cost of care, we are exploring a number of options, and we will set out further detail at the local government finance settlement later this year. Local authorities moving towards a fair rate of care is key to building a solid foundation for the future adult social care system, so we will be working closely with them to shape the best possible approach to implementation across different local markets. We will shortly be engaging with local authorities and providers, and we will publish further guidance in due course.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the workforce. I have never worked in a business where the workforce was not key to anything that needed to be delivered, but in the care sector in particular, it is impossible to deliver anything without the workforce. It is also difficult to look at the workforce structure. As I say, it is the largest workforce in the country, with 1.54 million people working in it, but with 40% churn and very high amounts of zero-hours contracts and of retraining. I have never seen something that has that—[Interruption.] This has been the case for decades, and nobody has done anything to address it. [Interruption.] Nobody has done anything to address it. We do need to address it, and that is what we are here to do today, but—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As was clear from their 13 years in Government, Labour Members are not interested in finding the answer, and they are certainly not interested in listening to my version of giving the answer.

Having 40% churn and such a high degree of insecurity in the workforce is not sustainable, so we need to fix that. We need to put the knowledge and skills frameworks in place. We need to invest in training and learning. We need to ensure it is captured and transferable. We need to have career routes that mean people can progress in the workforce. In my short time in the job, that has been immediately identifiable. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and I worked on professionalising the social care workforce about four-and-a-half years ago, when we set up the all-party parliamentary group on social care. The issue has been recognised. It is not easy to fix. It is a large private sector. There is very large and increasing demand, but we are going to take the steps to fix it and the White Paper starts that process.

The challenges in social care of increasing need and demand are the same across the four nations, but until now the approach has been very different. The Scottish Government have always believed in seeing social care as an investment in allowing everyone to participate in society and live as independent and satisfying lives as possible. I therefore welcome the change in narrative and tone in the statement.

The Feeley review, which was carried out last autumn in Scotland, plans a human rights approach to social care, and sets out a path to developing a national care service to ensure high quality standards right across Scotland for its users, and also fair terms, conditions and career development for staff. As has been said, workforce is absolutely central to all services and social care is delivered by people for people. The Scottish Government pay the real living wage—not some pretendy living wage, but the real living wage. Will the Minister commit to raising pay for social care staff in England to £10 an hour, as the Scottish Government have planned from this month?

Brexit and the loss of freedom of movement have, unfortunately, exacerbated workforce shortages in both the NHS and care systems, with a shortage of well over 100,000 in care. Will the Minister urge the Home Secretary to widen the eligibility of the health and care worker visa to actually include care workers? It is quite bizarre that it does not include care workers.

Scotland is the only nation that provides free personal care, which is now being valued by the UK Government at £86,000 a head. Will the Minister consider, in this redevelopment, providing free personal care to people in England? While the Scottish Government are planning a 25% uplift in social care funding over this Parliament, the national insurance uplift will go largely on tackling the NHS backlog over the next three years. Does she not recognise that the care crisis is right now? The problems in A&E are not caused by people coming to A&E, but by the difficulty of getting patients into beds due to delayed discharges, which are due to the lack of social care provision. Will she state, as has been called for, what funding will go to social care right now to tackle the crisis as we go into this winter?

Many countries across the world are grappling with this issue. We have an ageing demographic and we now live in different ways. We live much longer with more complex needs, and often we are not close to our families as we have increasingly globalised. Many countries are looking to address those challenges, including Scotland. It is important that we build the talent pipeline here. It is important that we not only invest in and train our own people, but that we build sustainability. We cannot always rely on taking workers from many other countries. We have a visa route for senior social care workers and we have reduced salary levels—I think £20,480 is the salary level—so in Scotland that probably fits the minimum hourly rate. Of course, we have had different approaches. We had a commission on adult social care which gave results in 2011. That is what we have used to build the basis of our reforms and I know Scotland has taken a different approach.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on reaching this point, which we all agree is just the first step, but it is long awaited. I welcome the principles she set out, but I hope she can expand in particular on the changes that will allow more people to live in their own homes for longer through technology and home adaptations. That would not just reduce the need for residential care and therefore save money, but cut pressure on the NHS and, above all, improve the quality of life of many, many frail older people. What can we expect to see on that front?

I thank my right hon. Friend for recognising that reaching this point is actually a milestone. It is the first time that any Government have reached this point.

Housing is key. We will increase the capacity of local areas to deliver supported housing. We will increase local expenditure on support services for those living in supported housing. We will adapt more supported housing units to make them suitable for use, as well as incentivising longer-term investment in new supported housing by local areas and housing providers. In the coming months, we will be working in partnership with local authorities, housing providers and others to design and establish our new investment in housing.

I welcome the measures to enable people to stay in their own homes. That is exactly what the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee recommended some years ago in our report into older persons’ housing.

Will the Minister confirm that in the statement there was no money to improve the pay and conditions of the workforce, without which we will carry on getting churn; no money to help companies that are now exiting the social care sector; and no money to deal with the crisis in funding that local authorities are facing, which both the Health Committee and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee recognised? Does she accept that without money for any of those things, nothing at all will change?

There is money to invest in the sustainability and professionalisation of the workforce. Local authorities have a local government settlement for this three-year period. We are exploring a number of options and we will set out further detail at the local government finance settlement later this year. That is when the hon. Gentleman will hear more about the costs that councils will have.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing forward this milestone piece of work. It really is very long awaited. The devil, of course, is in the detail, and I look forward to reading that detail with great interest. I know she recognises that the care cap alone will not solve the adult social care crisis. We need imaginative and bold system reform. We need much better integration, and, above all, a plan to improve how we recruit, retain and value the care workforce and the army of unpaid carers out there. It is a massive task, but I know she is up to it. I am really keen to get her reassurance that once and for all, we have the Government’s commitment to fix this problem.

I thank my hon. Friend for all her work in this area. Obviously, I have just come in at the end of the journey and many, many people have been working on this issue for many, many years. They should all take credit for that work and for reaching this point. She has my firm commitment that the Government are absolutely committed to fixing social care. As I said, we cannot level up without fixing social care, and of course we all have a vested interest in having a very good social care system.

This statement is incredibly thin. It feels as though the Government are trying to fiddle with the light bulbs on the Titanic as it is starting to go down. We have an enormous crisis, where people who need care cannot get it and end up going into ambulances, ambulances are now queueing up outside hospitals, and hospitals cannot discharge patients back into their homes or the community because the care is not there. The statement and the White Paper do not address the fundamental problem of fragmentation and integration. The Minister has already accepted that this is now just a first step. Will she be clear with us today on when she will bring forward concrete proposals for how to tackle the problem of fragmentation and integration between the NHS and care?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the complexity is broad. We have always anticipated that we would have winter challenges to deal with. With the global pandemic, there is a backlog of all kinds of things that people need—diagnosis, operations, electives and so on—plus all the other challenges such as winter flu and new variants of covid, which are still here. That is why we have specifically put a winter plan in place; we have also set out hundreds of millions of pounds of extra funding to look specifically at the winter challenges and the discharge process. It is not easy, because of the absolute growth in demand. We knew that it was always going to be challenging, and we regularly monitor and measure it with our NHS colleagues.

The hon. Lady mentions a fundamental pillar: the integration of health and social care. That will be subject to another White Paper, which will come early next year and will have more details about integration. She is absolutely right that it is another solid foundation on which social care reform will stand.

Obviously I will study the White Paper that has been published today, and I welcome the cap that we are introducing. Opposition Front Benchers may have turned up in force today, although they have scuttled off now, but they did not do anything about the issue in 13 years in government. As far as I can tell from the response today, there is absolutely nothing coming back across the Dispatch Box from any of the Opposition parties.

I think I am right in saying that the upper limit of the disabled facilities grant for home adaptations is being increased. Can my hon. Friend confirm that that will help my Winchester and Chandler’s Ford constituents with things like stairlifts and wet rooms, which are really important to people’s day-to-day quality of life? Will she say exactly when it will kick in, please?

We will commit a further £573 million per year to the disabled facilities grant between 2022-23 and 2024-25. We are also taking steps to ensure that the disabled facilities grant can benefit more people in need. We will consult on some of those steps in 2022.

It has been two and a half years since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to

“fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared”.

I think we can all be forgiven for asking what on earth the Government have been doing during that two and a half years—a time when the social care crisis has got worse. Right now, more than 100,000 vacancies exist in adult social care. Care homes are refusing new admissions because of staff shortages. Providers are haemorrhaging staff to better-paid roles in hospitality, retail and distribution. The sector is on its knees as we head into the harshest winter in living memory.

The Minister’s statement today was completely tone-deaf on the scale of the crisis. Can she say, because it was not clear from the statement, how she expects the sector to get through the winter? What does she have to say to the families who are waiting right now for a care home place that simply does not exist under her Government’s failing social care system?

The hon. Lady seems to be the only person in the whole world who has missed the global pandemic, but it occurred during the same period. To answer her specific question, she is absolutely right that there are pressures right now. There are pressures continually in the system, because there is always a need for growth every year, but right now the winter pressures are challenging. As we bounce back from the pandemic, everything is opening again and there is a lot of competition for labour—there are 1.2 million vacancies in the country.

We have invested £162.5 million, which is on its way—it has probably just landed in most councils’ bank accounts. That investment is there for short-term fixes, similarly to what we put in place for January to March this year, which was very successful; it brought forward 7.3 million extra hours and 39,000 new recruits. We have invested in that funding for the workforce, and we keep it under review—we get data every month through a capacity tracker system. We work closely with the sector and will continue to monitor its needs.

Does the Minister acknowledge that one of the flaws with the increase in national insurance is that only 15% of the additional revenue will flow through to local authorities to improve the quantity and quality of care? The remainder will go to protecting relatively asset-rich families’ inheritances and to the very important task of tackling backlogs in the NHS.

Many councils listening to the announcement today will be very concerned about how they will tackle the demographic changes that they face in the years ahead. What does the Minister have to say to them? In the more substantial White Paper that is to follow, what more can she say about reforming the system to integrate care, which might enable efficiencies to help those local authorities to face the future?

On the latter point, I cannot say much more at this point, but a White Paper is being developed and will be available early next year. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that that is another key part of making sure that councils can deliver on the obligations in the Care Act 2014.

The levy raises £12 billion a year, more or less. For the three-year period, the majority of that sum will go towards catching up with electives in our NHS. There are now 6 million people in urgent care, so that is the right thing to do. However, we know that we will need an increasing share of that fund as we go beyond the three-year period. Many of the reforms in the White Paper and many of the things that we will be working on will help to inform the discussions with the Treasury.

Social care is a vital service that has been in crisis for a decade. What we need is reforms to bridge the funding gap so that unmet needs can be met and more care packages can be delivered; a dramatic improvement in pay and conditions for care staff, to halt the exodus out of care work; and decent support for the 11 million unpaid carers who have done so much extra caring during the pandemic. Sadly, what the Minister has announced falls far short of what is needed. Does she actually believe that these half-hearted measures in any way match up to what the care sector needs to survive?

This is a big reform that needs to take place, and it is based on demographic changes in the population all over the world. It is complex, and it will take a lot of time: it is a 10-year vision. I know that the hon. Lady has not had the chance to read our White Paper yet, but I am sure that she will see that there are a lot of things in it.

If we are actually looking to fix something—if we are looking to put a sustainable system in place that offers independence, choice, a great place to work and a great career—we need to fix a lot of solid foundations. I know that the Labour party always wants to throw money at the problem, but actually we need to make sure that the foundations are in place and that proper and sustainable funding is in place. That is what the White Paper delivers.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the progress that she has made so far. Care is a real challenge in a county such as mine, where we have high costs and a fast-ageing population; I ask her to bear that point in mind as she works on the next White Paper.

Closer to the immediate challenges, very many families are uncertain about whether they will be able to visit relatives in care homes over Christmas. A patchwork of measures is in place among different care home providers around the country. Obviously we are dealing with a difficult situation right now, but may I ask my hon. Friend to ensure that a very clear set of guidelines is given to care homes for the Christmas period, so that families know where they stand and so that the elderly, who are among those who have suffered the most over the past two years, get the chance to see their family where possible?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. My grandmother was in a care home with dementia; the thought of not being able to see family has been one of the very difficult things throughout the pandemic. I pay tribute to all the care workers, who in some cases took the place of family during the height of the pandemic and were there with their loved ones day and night.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is very important that visitors can go into care homes, but of course care homes also have to make sure that they are safe, and we need to get the balance right. We have updated the guidelines for visitors and ensured that there is a named essential care giver who always has access to their loved one in care. We have recently updated that guideline, but obviously we will keep it under review as we learn more about the new variant.

The Minister has talked about a 10-year vision, but most unpaid carers are just trying to see how they can get through the next week, or the week after that, or the week after that. As has already been pointed out, there are 11 million unpaid carers in the country, many of whom depend entirely on carer’s allowance, a legacy benefit. They never gained the additional £20 of universal credit, and they are living in poverty. What is there in this strategy that will assist unpaid carers and lift them out of poverty?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Unpaid carers are an essential part of the system, and I want to pay a massive tribute to all the people who have been offering care, usually to their loved ones, during this period. As the right hon. Gentleman suggests, during the pandemic many vital services on which carers generally rely, such as respite or day care services, have not always been fully open to everyone, so I have urged all local authorities and providers of those services to ensure that they are.

The White Paper provides for money to help local providers to develop the services that carers would appreciate. There is a specific fund for them to work with carers, and there will obviously be input into that as well. We will ensure that we build services to support this vital sector, and, in addition, carer’s allowance will rise to just over £67 in April 2022.