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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2022


The President of COP26 was asked—

Paris Agreement Temperature Goal

1. What progress he made at COP26 on ensuring the Paris Agreement temperature goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius remains achievable (905158)

The Glasgow climate pact agreed by almost 200 countries is a historic agreement that advances climate action. It was the result of two years of marathon work and a two-week sprint of negotiations, following which the world can creditably say that we have kept within reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° above pre-industrial levels. But to keep 1.5 alive, commitments must be translated into action.

The Minister will be well aware that Northern Ireland has a huge farming and agriculture sector. What funding will his Government give to that sector to allow us to get to net zero much more quickly?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is doing an enormous amount to tackle the issues in respect of net zero. On the COP itself and the joint work we are doing around the world, we have put in place a number of mechanisms that we will continue this year, particularly when it comes to sustainable development.

Given that the Centre for International Environmental Law states that plastic pollution and global warming are linked, does the Minister agree that we need to do far more to tackle the scourge of microplastic and microfibre pollution in our marine environment?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He knows that in some of these policy areas we are leading the world, and he will also know that we have been leading the effort to get countries to make the 30by30 commitment to protect our oceans and, of course, our lands.

The COP President has not set out which countries are his priority for enhanced nationally determined contributions in the run-up to COP27; will he do so?

As the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee knows, all countries have committed to come back to their 2030 emissions-reduction targets by 2022, if necessary. Of course, the G20 is responsible for 80% of global emissions and will have to lead the way.

Important steps were made at COP26 but some were left incomplete. In my right hon. Friend’s remaining time as COP President, until November, on what particular item will he seek to make the most progress?

My right hon. Friend is right: a whole range of commitments were made, some of which will continue beyond the end of 2022. As I said, a key commitment was for countries to revisit their emissions-reduction targets by the end of 2022. We will work with the COP27 presidency from Egypt to ensure that countries deliver.

Two months on from the COP, there is a worrying lack of momentum in this pivotal year, and it could get worse if we learn the wrong lessons from the energy crisis. Does the COP President agree that the lesson is not that, as some in his party would say, we are moving too fast on green energy, but the opposite: we are moving too slowly and our dependence on fossil fuels leaves us vulnerable? The only way, therefore, to keep 1.5 alive and provide energy security is to go further and faster on the climate transition.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the UK wants to have a managed transition to net zero, including in our energy mix. He will also know that under this Government we have led the world in offshore wind and that this Government are delivering investment in nuclear to ensure that we increase our baseload.

Consumers looking at their energy bills will ask, “If it is going so well, why are our bills rocketing and why are we so vulnerable?” We can keep 1.5 alive only if we have an energy policy that is fair at home and abroad. Many of the fossil fuel companies have made billions as a result of soaring prices, yet the Government say we should not tax them further because they are struggling. Is not the truth that we are only ever going to meet the Paris agreement if we stand up to vested interests, including the oil and gas companies, and that the fair and right approach is a windfall tax to help with the real struggles faced by the British people?

We want to see more private sector investment in offshore wind and, indeed, in renewables and the increasing of our green baseload. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen that in the net zero strategy we have set out a plan for an extra £90 billion of investment from the private sector. That is flowing in because of the actions of this Government.

Our young people have led the fight for tougher climate change pledges, so the world at least does not breach 1.5° of warming. To support their activism, Scotland recently hosted the UN Climate Change Conference of Youth ahead of COP26, has unveiled almost £1 million for a programme for young people in the climate conference and legacy activities, and has signed up to the UNICEF declaration on children, youth and climate change, along with countries such as Norway, the Netherlands and Peru. The UK Government have not signed up to that declaration. Will they, and when?

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that we absolutely need to ensure that the voices of young people are heard loud and clear—and indeed they were at COP26, both in terms of civil society and youth groups. For the first time ever, leading into that COP, we set up a civil society youth advisory group that helped us plan for the conference and identify the issues to take forward. We will continue to engage with young people in civil society during our presidency year.

COP26 Commitments: Government Procurement

2. Whether he has had discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential contribution of Government procurement to delivering on COP26 commitments. (905159)

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government put in place a new procurement policy that underlines the UK’s global leadership in tackling climate change. Prospective suppliers bidding for contracts above £5 million a year must now have committed to the Government’s target of net zero by 2050 and have published a carbon reduction plan.

In line with the COP26 goal of adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, what conversations has my right hon. Friend had with colleagues to ensure Government procurement of biodegradable face masks?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. The Department of Health and Social Care is indeed actively exploring the use of reusable face masks, reusable eye protection and reusable transparent masks. I will ensure that the relevant Minister from the Department writes to him with more details.

As the COP26 President knows, the Glasgow climate pact reaffirmed the ambition to limit global heating to 1.5°. He also knows that the International Energy Agency has made it really clear that if we are to meet that target there can be no new oil, gas or coal projects. So will he make the case to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister that the 40 new fossil fuel projects in the pipeline for approval in the UK are plainly incompatible with the terms of the agreement that he presided over?

I wish that sometimes the hon. Lady would praise the work that the Government are doing in terms of pushing forward on renewables. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has set out a consultation on a climate compatibility checkpoint when it comes to future licences, and she should write in and set out her views.

Transition to Net Zero: North Sea Oil and Gas Industry

3. What assessment he has made of the potential role of the North Sea oil and gas industry in the transition to net zero in line with objectives agreed at COP26. (905160)

Through the North Sea transition deal, the oil and gas industry has committed to early targets for offshore production emissions reductions, with 10% reductions by 2025, 25% by 2027 and 50% by 2030, setting out the path to achieve a net zero basin by 2050.

I certainly will praise my right hon. and hon. Friends for their amazing work on renewable energy, and on the transition to net zero, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the net zero challenge is the greatest challenge of our generation, to keep energy bills down and to keep our energy security we must make best use of our oil and gas resources?

My right hon. Friend makes a very strong case. Obviously the answer lies with renewables, but it also makes no sense for us to increase imports of volatile-price fossil fuels, which come to us with higher embedded emissions. That is why we have the North Sea transition deal—not to close down the industry, but to work with the sector to make the transition to the net zero future that we all signed up to.

In a recent written question, No. 98384, the Government were asked if they would explain how individual policies in the net zero strategy, including on North sea oil and gas, would reduce emissions. In a reply dated 14 January 2022, the Minister said that he would publish the information when

“decisions on the design of the associated individual policy intervention are sufficiently advanced”.

How is it possible that the Government published a net zero strategy without an understanding of what the individual policies will mean, and how can we therefore believe their promise that we are on course to meet crucial targets for 2030 and 2035?

Of course the Government are fully aware of these issues; there is no change in the Government’s position. We published the net zero strategy and we are seeing it come through. We are delivering on all of the aspects. My right hon. Friend the COP President just mentioned the climate change compatibility checkpoint. We are delivering on all of these things with haste.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s response and the Government’s ongoing commitment to support the UK oil and gas sector in their role to drive forward the energy transition to net zero. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming yesterday’s High Court ruling to throw out claims by certain environmental activists that UK Government support for the industry was unlawful?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We welcome yesterday’s judgment. I, probably like he, wonder whether the SNP and the Scottish Green Government in Edinburgh would share our welcome. There will be an ongoing need for oil and gas as we reduce demand amid the transition to lower carbon energy, which, in the end, is the solution. I know from my visit to his constituency just last month how important renewables are for delivery in his constituency of Banff and Buchan.

COP26 Commitments: Carbon Capture and Sequestration

4. What assessment he has made of the potential role of carbon capture and sequestration in delivering the UK’s COP26 commitments to reduce emissions. (905161)

The UK can become a world leader in technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere. In the net zero strategy, the UK Government announced their ambition to capture and store 20 to 30 megatonnes of CO2 per annum by 2030, with 10 megatonnes to be delivered by track-2 clusters.

The Scottish carbon cluster site would address Scotland’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters. It would unlock 30% of the UK’s carbon dioxide storage capability and combine hydrogen production, direct air capture and a shipping terminal to serve the rest of the UK in terms of carbon dioxide storage. Why then was the Scottish cluster relegated to reserve status and what representation has the right hon. Gentleman had from the “lightweight” Scottish Tory leader about this disgraceful decision?

As ever, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he knows, Acorn is the first reserve, which means that it met the eligibility criteria and performed well in the evaluation criteria. As for the Scottish Conservatives, I speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, frequently. I also speak to the local MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), and others. The Scottish cluster, Acorn, has a good future. I have also recently met with Storegga, INEOS and Shell to discuss specific aspects in relation to the cluster, which moves ahead.

Zero Emission Vehicles

At COP26, the UK launched a joint statement with more than 100 signatories, committing to work towards all new car sales being zero emission by 2040 globally, and by 2035 in leading markets. Thirty-two per cent. of the global car market is now covered by manufacturer commitments to phase out polluter vehicles.

Cornwall is keen to take the lead in the emergency green economy, in particular looking at local lithium to store electricity. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what action the Government are taking to utilise this important asset and what benefits she sees for the people of Cornwall.

My hon. Friend the Minister for industry visited innovative UK companies Cornish Lithium and British Lithium just last week to see their exciting progress towards producing lithium in the UK. These are great examples of UK enterprise benefiting from Government funding to support jobs and growth in Cornwall and providing a critical mineral to support our green industrial revolution. We are looking forward to working further with industry as we develop our critical mineral strategy later this year.

The UK COP presidency has established the Zero Emission Vehicles Transition Council. That will bring together the Governments of the world’s largest car markets to work towards accelerating this transition. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what role the council will play in the UK’s presidency year, ahead of COP27?

The UK will continue to work through the Zero Emission Vehicles Transition Council for an accelerated and equitable global transition to zero emission vehicles as well as delivery of its 2022 action plan, which includes collaboration on regulations, heavy goods vehicles, infrastructure and support to developing countries. The ZEVTC will be one of the leading initiatives for international collaboration under the Glasgow breakthrough on road transport.

The most pressing issue for a successful roll-out of electric vehicles is grid capacity. The National Grid is a private company. Who will pay for this huge investment in the National Grid?

The ongoing work that the net zero strategy has set forward, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change continues to work on, will help build the new grids that we need, as we know that we are going to be requiring up to four times as much electricity. Also, our use of electricity will be through a much more distributed grid system. That will be ongoing work in the months and years ahead.

What does the Minister think is more likely to encourage greater use of electric vehicles: the Scottish Government’s grant scheme, with up to £28,000 for the purchase of a new vehicle, or her Government’s decision to cut the equivalent grant in England to just £2,500?

The Government are leading the way in supporting the transition that our vehicle manufacturers are making towards zero emission vehicles and through the work that the COP President set out, ensuring that all countries across the world will be part of the zero emissions revolution.

Coal Use Reduction

In the Glasgow climate pact, all parties agreed to phase down the use of coal, the first ever specific mention of coal in the UN climate decision text. The global coal to clean power transition statement gained 77 signatures from countries, sub-nationals and organisations, and the Powering Past Coal Alliance grew to 165 members

I congratulate the COP President on his achievements at COP26. I welcome our move away from the use of coal, and that should include any new exploration for both thermal and metallurgical coal. With that in mind, does he agree that the UK can be a beacon to the rest of the world and we can show a progressive environmental example by not going ahead with the proposed coalmine in west Cumbria?

As my hon. Friend is aware, an independent inspector has overseen a public inquiry into the scheme and a report is now being prepared with recommendations for Ministers to consider. He will understand that it is not appropriate for me to comment at this stage. However, more generally, the UK has shown leadership on coal, not least through the significant reduction over the past decade in coal use to generate our electricity.

It would be entirely appropriate for the COP President to comment on that and to intervene—it is a political decision whether to go ahead with a new coalmine in Cumbria. Should he not cancel it now and instead invest in wind, hydro, marine and tidal energy that can be championed by Cumbrian businesses such as Gilkes, investing in green jobs rather than dirty, old-fashioned ones?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman liked independent processes and that is what is running now.

Topical Questions

I have just concluded constructive visits to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, the respective holders of COP27 and COP28. I met a range of Government Ministers and businesses, and we agreed that we would work closely to ensure the lasting impact of climate negotiations and other climate commitments made in Glasgow.

Just days after the Glasgow COP ended, Tory Ministers were wining and dining with senior fossil fuel executives, including from Shell and BP, apparently to urge them to keep on drilling for oil and gas in the North sea. As COP President, does he not agree that, instead of being in the pockets of fossil fuel giants, Ministers should be following the United Nations’ call for an end to all new fossil fuel projects—[Interruption.]

Order. Topicals are meant to be short and quick. You cannot have a full statement—other people have got to get in.

The hon. Gentleman is definitely making my job harder by the amount of hot air he is emitting—I wonder whether he will offset those emissions. Let me be clear that we have a commitment to have a managed transition in our energy mix, and that is what we are doing.

T3. Will COP26’s Clydebank declaration for green shipping corridors set the course for more zero emission shipping routes? That is particularly significant for air quality for my constituents in Eastbourne and Willingdon, who live alongside the busiest shipping lane in the world. (905152)

It certainly will. The declaration aims to support the establishment of at least six green corridors by the middle of this decade while aiming to scale up activity in the following years. We definitely want to see more such green corridors in operation.

T2. Surely a just transition means not leaving millions to cope with soaring energy prices as inflation hits its highest level for 30 years. Why will the Government not heed Labour’s suggestion to protect them by introducing a one-off windfall tax on North sea oil and gas producers who have profited from the surging prices? (905151)

I am surprised that the hon. Member is pursuing that line of inquiry. Labour’s motion here in this Chamber last Tuesday totally unravelled and was rejected comprehensively. The Government are taking action—we are supporting vulnerable households through winter fuel payments, cold weather payments, the household support fund and so on—but the Labour proposal unravelled tragically last week, Mr Speaker, as you saw.

T4. My right hon. Friend is well aware of my concern about deforestation in the Amazon. As he deals with the Brazilian Government over the coming months, will he put pressure on them to make sure that they not only keep their commitments made at COP26, but stop the illegal deforestation that is taking place now? (905153)

My right hon. Friend raises a really important point, and of course I will continue to work very closely with Brazil on the commitments that have been made to make sure they are implemented. I will be speaking to Minister Leite, the Environment Minister, in the coming weeks to reaffirm those commitments and our view that they should be followed through.

T5. With millions of species at risk of extinction and deforestation accelerating across the globe, it is imperative that we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees to halt this catastrophic decline, so will the Minister now accept Labour’s call for a net zero and nature test to align public spending and infrastructure decisions with our climate and nature commitments? (905154)

If the hon. Member was at COP 26 or was following what was going on, he will have seen the huge commitment to protecting nature. Of course, we also want to ensure that CBD15 is a success.

T6. How does the COP President reconcile his narrative of the global leadership required for COP26 and net zero with the acute reality that we still need to extract hydrocarbons, not least to keep energy costs down? (905156)

Of course, as I said earlier, we want to see an orderly transition to net zero in our energy mix, which includes oil and gas, but the answer to delivering net zero, keeping bills under control and ensuring security of supply is to continue to build out our world-leading offshore wind sector and invest in nuclear and hydrogen, as this Government are doing.

T7. The Government have just upped the risk of climate-triggered wars in the coming decades from medium to high. Our planet is on fire, but this Government are too busy fighting fires in Downing Street instead of showing leadership, and slashing aid for climate-vulnerable communities, locking them into fossil fuel. How long will it be before they stop being embroiled in their own scandals and realise that we are embroiled in a climate scandal? (905157)

The Prime Minister has absolutely been leading on this agenda for years—[Interruption.] He has been leading for years. I would just say that it was a Conservative Government who put in place net zero by 2050, and Members should just look at the commitments we have made under the current Prime Minister, with our nationally determined contribution and our carbon budget 6. We are leading the world when it comes to going green.

The Minister will know that Teesside is the hydrogen capital of the UK, where we already produce more than 50% of our commercially viable hydrogen, so will he consider throwing his weight behind Redcar and Cleveland’s bid to become home to the UK’s first hydrogen village by 2025?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He knows that we are co-operating very closely internationally and domestically on hydrogen. On Redcar’s bid, he is a passionate advocate for all things related to Redcar, and his message has been heard loud and clear by the Government.

Two years ago, Together Energy was providing 350 jobs in my constituency, leading on innovation for small and medium-sized utility companies. Yesterday, it went bust. While his Prime Minister and his Chancellor are missing in action doing other stuff, can the Minister tell me what his Government and Ofgem are doing to support small and medium-sized utility companies deliver zero emissions and deliver jobs in my constituency?

I am not going to take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman. He knows very well that the Government are working very closely with the sector. He knows that we have put in place a price cap, and he knows that, when it comes to jobs, this Government are investing, and we want to see 2 million green jobs created over the coming decades.

Order. [Interruption.] I certainly do not expect any more. For the moment, we have one more question before Prime Minister’s questions.

If the Government had not scrapped the green homes grant last year, they would have saved thousands of households money. When will the Government reform and bring back the green homes grant?

We are supporting the green transition across all sectors through the work we are doing. I am sure that the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change would be delighted to speak to the hon. Lady about the issue she raises.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


The British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on

I will shortly update the House on this country’s fantastic progress in tackling covid-19, including through our booster programme, which is enabling us to ease plan B measures and restore the ancient liberties of this country.

I know that the whole House will be delighted that Her Majesty the Queen has given permission for a special medal to be awarded to all those who were deployed to Kabul. Operation Pitting saw our servicemen and women deliver the largest British evacuation since the second world war. The whole country can be immensely proud of their service.

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.

Last year, we were told by the Prime Minister that there were no Downing Street parties. Then it turned out that there were parties, but we were assured that no rules were broken. Last week, we heard that rules may have been broken, but that he thought it was a work event. Yesterday, from the man who wrote the rules, we heard, “Well, nobody told me what those rules were.” Five weeks ago, the people of North Shropshire were clear, and the people of North East Fife are being clear to me now: no matter the excuse, there is no excuse for taking the British people for fools. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is now time for him to resign?

No, but as I said to the House last week, I apologise sincerely for any misjudgments that were made. The hon. Lady must contain her impatience and wait for the inquiry next week before drawing any of the conclusions she has just asserted.

Q2. The latest evidence and research show that the UK is the most attractive country in the world for young people across the G20. Amid intense soft power competition from other countries, including China, will the Prime Minister assure me and other members of the British Council all-party parliamentary group that the Government will meet the British Council’s funding requirements to ensure that it does not have to close any more offices overseas and that it can commit all its energy to retaining our top spot? (905136)

I entirely share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for the British Council, which is a wonderful institution that we all love. That is why, through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, we are providing £189 million of funding this year—a 27% increase on the previous financial year—in spite of all the difficulties this country is facing. We have also provided a loan facility of up to £145 million to support all the wonderful work the British Council does.

Order. I expect people to listen to the Prime Minister. I certainly do not want the Leader of the Opposition to be shouted down. You might not like the day, but this is the day that we have got.

I am not bothered, Mr Speaker. I assumed it was directed at the Prime Minister. [Laughter.]

Can I start by warmly welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) to his new place in the House and to the parliamentary Labour party? Like so many people up and down the country, he has concluded that the Prime Minister and the Conservative party have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and Government this country deserves, whereas the Labour party stands ready to provide an alternative Government that the country can be proud of. The Labour party has changed and so has the Conservative party. He, and anyone else who wants to build a new Britain built on decency, security, prosperity and respect, is welcome in my Labour party.

Every week, the Prime Minister offers absurd and frankly unbelievable defences to the Downing Street parties, and each week it unravels. [Interruption.]

I have been elected to the Chair. I do not need to be told how to conduct the business. If somebody wants to do some direction, I will start directing them out of the Chamber.

The Conservative Members are very noisy. I am sure the Chief Whip has told them to bring their own boos! [Laughter.]

First, the Prime Minister said there were no parties. Then the video landed, blowing that defence out of the water. Next, he said he was sickened and furious when he found out about the parties, until it turned out that he himself was at the Downing Street garden party. Then, last week, he said he did not realise he was at a party and—surprise, surprise—no one believed him. So this week he has a new defence: “Nobody warned me that it was against the rules.” That is it—nobody told him! Since the Prime Minister wrote the rules, why on earth does he think his new defence is going to work for him?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the rules. Let me repeat what I said to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) across the aisle earlier on. Of course, we must wait for the outcome of the inquiry, but I renew what I have said. When it comes to his view—[Interruption.]

Order. Can we have a little less? I want to hear the Prime Minister like I wanted to hear the Leader of the Opposition. I want the same courtesy from both sides.

If we had listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman about covid restrictions, which is the substance of his question, then we would have been in lockdown after July. This is the truth. If we had listened to the Labour Front Bench in the run-up to Christmas and new year, we would have stayed in restrictions, with huge damage to the economy. It is because of the judgments I have taken and we have taken in Downing Street that we now have the fastest-growing economy in the G7 and GDP is now back up above pre-pandemic levels.

As for Bury South—[Interruption.] As for Bury South, let me say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Conservative party won Bury South for the first time in generations under this Prime Minister, with an agenda of uniting, levelling up and delivering for the people of Bury South, and we will win again in Bury South at the next election under this Prime Minister.

Order. Look, it is important that I hear, and I want to hear both sides. I do not want this continuous chant. If it continues, there will be fewer people on the Conservative Benches, and the same on the Labour side. I expect both sides to be heard with courtesy. [Interruption.]

Order. Did somebody want me to apologise? Somebody shouted, “Apologise”. I hope it was not aimed at me. We will also have less from that corner.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Not only did the Prime Minister write the rules, but some of his staff say they did warn him about attending the party on 20 May 2020. I have heard the Prime Minister’s very carefully crafted response to that accusation; it almost sounds like a lawyer wrote it, so I will be equally careful with my question. When did the Prime Minister first become aware that any of his staff had concerns about the 20 May party?

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for repeating the question that he has already asked. We have answered that: it is for the inquiry to come forward with an explanation of what happened, and I am afraid that he simply must wait. He asks about my staff and what they were doing and what they have told me. I can tell him that they have taken decisions throughout this pandemic—that he has opposed—to open up in July, as I have said, to mount the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe and to double the speed of the booster roll-out, with the result that we have the most open economy in Europe, and we have more people in employment and more employees on the payroll now than there were before the pandemic began. That is what my staff have been working on in Downing Street, and I am proud of them.

So apparently Sue Gray is going to tell the Prime Minister when he first became aware that his staff had concerns about 20 May. His account gets more extraordinary with each version of his defence. If the Prime Minister’s new defence were true, it requires him to suggest that his staff are not being truthful when they say they warned him about the party. It requires the Prime Minister to expect us to believe that, while every other person who was invited on 20 May to the party was told it was a social occasion, he alone was told it was a work meeting. It also requires the Prime Minister to ask us to accept that, as he waded through the empty bottles and platters of sandwiches, he did not realise it was a party. Does the Prime Minister realise how ridiculous that sounds?

I have said what I have said about the events in No. 10 and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to wait for the report. He asks for further clarification. I think lots of people are interested—I say this entirely in passing—in the exact legal justification from m’learned Leader of the Opposition for the picture of him drinking a bottle of beer. Perhaps he can tell the House about that in a minute. What I can tell the House is that, throughout the pandemic, people across Government have been working flat out to protect the British public with huge quantities of personal protective equipment, so we can now make 80% of it in this country, with the biggest and most generous furlough scheme virtually anywhere in the world, and with the fastest—and by the way, if we had listened to the Opposition, we would have stayed in the European Medicines Agency and we would never have been able to deliver the vaccine roll-out at the speed that we did.

If the Prime Minister thinks the only accusation that he faces is that he once had a beer with a takeaway, Operation Save Big Dog is in deeper trouble than I thought!

If a Prime Minister misleads Parliament, should they resign?

Let us be absolutely clear: the right hon. and learned Gentleman is continuing to ask a series of questions which he knows will be fully addressed by the inquiry. He is wasting this House’s time. He is wasting the people’s time. He continues to be completely irrelevant to the—[Interruption.] We have an inquiry, and I am not going to anticipate that inquiry any further. What I can tell him is that because of the judgments that were taken in Downing Street, because of the willingness of the British people to put trust, by the way, in those judgments and to come forward in huge numbers to get vaccinated, which people did—and I thank them for it from the bottom of my heart—and because they listened to our messages, we now have the fastest growing economy in the G7 and youth unemployment, which the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) ought to care about, at a record low.

I know it is not going well, Prime Minister, but look on the bright side: at least the staff at No. 10 know how to pack a suitcase.

Last year, Her Majesty the Queen sat alone when she marked the passing of the man she had been married to for 73 years. She followed the rules of the country that she leads. On the eve of that funeral, a suitcase was filled with booze and wheeled into Downing Street. A DJ played, and staff partied late into the night. The Prime Minister has been forced to hand an apology to Her Majesty the Queen. Is he not ashamed that he did not hand in his resignation at the same time?

We normally would not, and quite rightly, mention the royal family. We do not get into discussions on the royal family.

I have dealt with it. [Interruption.] Order. Prime Minister, we do not want to go through that again. I will make the decisions. The answer is that we are going back to Keir Starmer so that he can ask his final question.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

While the Prime Minister wastes energy defending the indefensible, people’s energy bills are rocketing. Labour has a plan to deal with it: axe VAT for everyone, provide extra support for the hardest hit, and pay for it with a one-off tax on oil and gas companies—a serious plan for a serious problem. What are the Government offering? Nothing. They are too distracted by their own chaos to do their job. While Labour was setting out plans to heat homes, the Prime Minister was buying a fridge to keep the party wine chilled. While we were setting out plans to keep bills down, he was planning parties. While we were setting out plans to save jobs in the steel industry, he was trying to save just one job: his own. Does not the country deserve so much better than this out-of-touch, out-of-control, out-of-ideas and soon to be out-of-office Prime Minister?

I will tell you what this Government have been doing to look after the people of this country throughout this pandemic and beyond. We have been cutting the cost of living and helping them with the living wage. We have been cutting taxes for people on low pay. We have been increasing payments for people suffering the costs of fuel—

Order. Can I just say to everyone here that our constituents want to hear the questions and the answers? The great British public—the members of this United Kingdom whom you are representing—need to hear. Please, let us hear the questions and answers.

We will continue to look after people throughout this pandemic and beyond, but we have also been cutting crime by 10% and putting 11,000 more police officers out on the streets. There was record home building last year—more homes that at any time in the last 30 years. We are building 40 new hospitals. Gigabit broadband has gone up from 9% coverage in our country to 65% already. As I said already—I think three or four times today—we have more employees on the payroll now than before the pandemic began, and youth unemployment is at a record low.

When the history of this pandemic comes to be written and the history of the Labour party comes to be written—believe me, it is history and will remain history—it will show that we delivered while they dithered, and that we vaccinated while they vacillated. The reason we have been able to lift restrictions faster than any other country in Europe, and we have the most open economy and the most open society in Europe, is thanks to the booster roll-out and thanks to the work of staff up and down Whitehall, across Government and throughout the NHS, and I am intensely proud of what this Government have done.

Q3. Following on from the excellent news on the economy and jobs, the Prime Minister will remember my question to him last June about the proposals for a gigafactory in Coventry. Last week, local councils granted outline planning permission to create 6,000 new skilled jobs and secure many thousands of others, to inject £2.5 billion into our local economy and to level up across our region. With fast-rising demand for greener and cleaner electric cars, may I ask him for his support to ensure the swift delivery of this vital project? (905138)

I thank my hon. Friend for campaigning for this wonderful project. We are supporting the electric vehicle industry. We made another £350 million available through the automotive transformation fund, on top of the commitment of half a billion pounds we have already made in a 10-point plan. I know that the campaign for Coventry airport is an excellent one, and I look forward to seeing how it develops.

This week was supposed to be Operation Save Big Dog, but it has quickly become Operation Dog’s Dinner. Over the past two days, we have had more damaging revelations about Downing Street rule breaking, more evidence that Parliament has been misled, and an even longer list of ludicrous—absolutely ludicrous—excuses from the Prime Minister. First he claimed there were no parties, then that he was not present; then he admitted he was at them but he did not know it was a party, and the latest sorry excuse is really the most pathetic of them all: “Nobody told me.” Nobody told the Prime Minister he was breaking his own rules—absolutely pathetic. [Interruption.] What a look—the Prime Minister laughing once again. He is laughing at the British public, taking the public for fools. Nobody believes him. Will the Prime Minister finally take responsibility and resign? Go, Prime Minister.

No, but I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question again. I remind him that there is an inquiry, which is due to conclude. I believe he is wrong in what he asserts, but we have to wait and see what the inquiry says. The most important thing from the point of view of the UK Government is that we are coming out of the restrictions—I am delighted to see that that is happening in Scotland as well—which is largely thanks to the wonderful co-operation that we continue to see across the whole of the UK, although you would not think it to hear him.

Nobody is buying this act any more. There ought to be some respect and dignity from the Prime Minister. Let us remind ourselves: more than 150,000 of our citizens died and he is partying, he is laughing. It simply is not acceptable—the fake contrition, the endless excuses, the empty promises that it will be different if only we give him one last chance. This is a Prime Minister who arrogantly believes that he is above the rules; a Prime Minister who brazenly twists the truth; a Prime Minister who simply is not fit for office.

The Prime Minister’s former chief adviser says that he lied to Parliament, breaking the ministerial code—a resignation offence, Prime Minister. Public trust is haemorrhaging. With every day that passes, this Tory Government lose even more credibility. When will the Tory MPs finally do the right thing? Show the Prime Minister the door.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, but I must say that I disagree with him. When we look at the levels of trust that the British people—people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and across the whole country—have shown in the Government, the single biggest index of that trust has been their willingness to come forward voluntarily, unlike in many other countries in the world, to get vaccinated on a scale not seen anywhere else in Europe. That is because of our ability, and the NHS’s ability, to persuade people that it is the right thing. It is a fantastic thing, and by the way, it is also a tribute to the United Kingdom, because that vaccine roll-out was a UK effort.

Q8. When it comes to exporting, as you are well aware, Mr Speaker, Fylde punches well above its weight. The Prime Minister saw that when he visited BAE Systems’ factory of the future in Lancashire last year. In addition, fantastic local businesses such as Helical Technology, Tangerine Holdings and Natures Aid are doing a great job of flying the flag for Lancashire globally. However, we also have many smaller businesses that are eager to get exporting into new markets. What steps is he taking to help Fylde businesses to make the most of Brexit and maximise their export potential? (905143)

I thank my hon. Friend for all he is doing to champion trade with Latin America. I have no doubt that small businesses such as Squire Hair are eager to get into those new markets, and we will do everything we can to help and support him in his efforts.

As the cost of living crisis deepens, this Government’s priorities get ever more remote from my constituents. Only this week, I learned that a veteran in my constituency, James Scott, took his own life as a result of his struggle with mounting financial pressures. This is a Government who have been found to have acted unlawfully by the High Court over covid contracts and who are now preparing to write off £4.3 billion that had been allocated to those covid schemes. Why can the UK Government find billions of pounds for profiteers and fraudsters but not find the compassion to treat the people with dignity by lifting the benefits cap and reinstating the cut to universal credit?

First, I want to say how sorry I am for what the hon. Gentleman has had to say about James Scott. This Government do as much as we can to support veterans, and that is why we published the veterans action plan only the other day. We are also ensuring that we support people throughout this crisis. In my answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), I mentioned many of the steps we are taking to protect people on low incomes, and we will continue to do more. The hon. Gentleman attacks the contracts for PPE, but actually I think it was an astonishing thing to be able, at great speed, to give this country 17 billion items of PPE. Thanks to the efforts of people across Whitehall, this country is now capable of producing 80% of our own PPE.

Q9. Shortly before Christmas, my constituent Oliver Freckleton was found at home having been stabbed to death on the eve of his 20th birthday. Yesterday, his heartbroken parents held their son’s funeral. Oliver leaves behind a partner and baby daughter, and two teenagers have been arrested for his murder. This tragic event leaves behind a devastated family and friends, and a very worried community. I am grateful for the work that Staffordshire police is undertaking to tackle violent crime in my constituency, and the recruiting of 149 additional police officers is welcome, but does the Prime Minister agree that a multi-stakeholder approach is vital to tackling crimes among our young people? What can the Government do to support not just the police but schools, colleges and local authorities in working to address this issue? (905144)

I am very sad to hear the news of the loss of my hon. Friend’s constituent, Oliver. As is the case with so many victims of violent crime, the answer is not just policing, though that is vitally important and it is why we are investing so massively in 20,000 more police officers and supporting them with toughening the law. But it is also, as she rightly says, important to get all the institutions of the state to work together: schools, colleges, social services, the health service and mental health service as well.

Q4. Why is it so hard for this Prime Minister to admit that he made the rules, so he should know the rules and he should follow the rules? Everyone out there knows that it is as simple as that. If he had any shred of compassion for all those out there who have suffered through this, he would go. (905139)

I entirely understand people’s feelings and I entirely support what the hon. Lady says about someone obeying the rules when they make the rules. She is completely right. On the other hand, I urge her to wait, as I have said to Opposition Members, until next week.

Q10.   The Opposition have been told that there is going to be an inquiry, but they have wasted every single question on one issue while my constituents want us to get on with other things. In January 2021, the Government estimated that at least £800 million would be released from the dormant asset scheme extension. Does the Prime Minister agree that funding through a new community wealth fund would be a catalyst to level up the most left-behind communities and that the Dormant Assets Bill should include specific provision for a consultation on the scope, shape and nature of such a fund? (905145)

We will certainly be legislating to expand the dormant assets scheme to include new financial assets, which would unlock an estimated £880 million. We will be considering how to spend the English portion of that. The community wealth fund that my hon. Friend proposes is certainly an option and I thank him very much.

Q5.   My constituent Anne has told me that a friend saw the ambulance outside the house on the night Anne’s husband died, but she was not allowed to go into the house to comfort her friend. Anne’s husband went to his rest in an almost empty building while scores of his friends stood freezing outside. Anne went back to an empty house to grieve for the rest of the day alone. My constituent Susan was not allowed to go in the ambulance or even to follow the ambulance, blue light and all, after her husband had a heart attack. Other constituents had the heartbreaking realisation that they were not allowed to go into care homes to break the news in person to their relatives that someone in the family had died. In their words, not mine, the Prime Minister is a “charlatan”, a “hypocrite” and a “liar”. What will he now say to my constituents— (905140)

Order. I know that you are repeating what your constituents said, but I want more moderate and temperate language. Prime Minister, you might want to deal just with the general question, and certainly not the end of it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to repeat that I understand the feelings that the hon. Gentleman has relayed to me, as I said last week. I sympathise very deeply with the feelings and I understand why people feel as they do. I thank people very much for everything that they have done. I recognise the enormous sacrifice that people have made. I apologise for the misjudgments that may have been made in No. 10 by me and anybody else, but please can I ask him to wait for the inquiry to conclude?

Q11. I recently attended a debate held by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) seeking a central London memorial for the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit. In it, I referenced my constituent, the Mosquito pilot Mr George Pritchard, who is 98 next week and is one of the last surviving members of the unit. Will the Prime Minister join my hon. Friend, me and Mr Pritchard in backing that fitting and needed memorial? (905146)

I will certainly do what I can to support it, although of course, as my hon. Friend knows, such memorials are a matter for local authorities. What the House and the Government can certainly do is ensure that memorials are not desecrated, as they have been across the country, and that we support legislation that penalises those who indulge in such desecration.

Q6. When a Prime Minister is spending his time trying to convince the Great British public that he is actually stupid rather than dishonest, is it not time that he goes, now? (905141)

Mr Speaker, I think that was a question for you rather than me. Look, I have made my point. I think that the British public have responded to what the Government have had to say in the most eloquent way possible. They have beaten covid so far. They have helped to defeat covid so far with the steps that they have taken by getting vaccinated and implementing plan B, and I thank them.

Q13. Our armed forces have earned the respect and admiration of our nation, not least during the pandemic. On Remembrance Sunday we commemorate their sacrifices, but on Armed Forces Day, 25 June, we will celebrate all that is amazing about our Army, Navy and Air Force. In a normal year we see about 20,000 people at the event in Scarborough, but this year we will finally host National Armed Forces Day, which has been postponed twice. Will the Prime Minister pull out all the stops on land, sea and air to make this truly an event to remember? (905148)

I have no doubt that Armed Forces Day will be absolutely spectacular across the country, and that Scarborough will make a terrific and a notable contribution.

Q7. Last April I asked the Prime Minister whether he agreed with the principle that politicians should not lie. He replied that he concurred“with the basic principle that the hon. Gentleman has just enunciated.”—[Official Report, 14 April 2021; Vol. 692, c. 317.]Would he like to amend the record? (905142)

The vast majority of people, and indeed the vast majority of politicians, across Northern Ireland believe that whatever the question, double-jobbing is not the answer. May I urge my right hon. Friend to listen to the majority and ensure that the Government amendment is not moved in the other place later today?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am advised that the amendment in question will indeed be withdrawn.

Q12. My constituents are rightly angry about the Prime Minister’s behaviour, but while Downing Street fights to save his political life, people across the north-east are worrying about rising food and energy bills, rising unemployment and rising levels of child poverty. He talks about levelling up, but my constituents are seeing opportunities cut. Does he agree that his Government have failed and it is time for him to go? (905147)

No, I really do not agree with the hon. Lady, and I do not think that she can have been following anything that has been said this afternoon. We have unemployment falling to near-record lows, and we have job vacancies at record highs. That is what Conservative Governments do: they create jobs and get the economy moving.

Like many on the Government Benches, I have spent weeks and months defending the Prime Minister against often angry constituents. I have reminded them of his success in delivering Brexit and the vaccines, and many other things. But I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday the Prime Minister did the opposite of that, so I will remind him of a quotation that will be altogether too familiar to him. Leo Amery said to Neville Chamberlain:

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing… In the name of God, go.”—[Official Report, 7 May 1940; Vol. 360, c. 1150.]—[Interruption.]

I must say to my right hon. Friend that I do not know what he is talking about. I do not know what quotation he is alluding to. What I can tell him, as I have told the House repeatedly throughout the pandemic, is that I take full responsibility for everything done in this Government, and throughout the pandemic.

Q14. Does the Prime Minister agree with the Leader of the House that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives is “a lightweight”? (905149)

The Conservative approach to the Union is one that I think is right for our country. We want to keep it together. Conservatives in Scotland do an excellent job, which is why their stout defence of the Union was repaid at the last election. Labour is increasingly endangering our Union in Scotland.

Last week many people welcomed the five-year moratorium on smart motorways. However, the M27 is due to be opened as a smart motorway in a couple of months. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give my constituents, and others in the rest of south Hampshire, that the M27 will be safe, to give them confidence to use it?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are well aware of the risks associated with the smart motorway scheme. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is looking at it right now.