House of Commons
Wednesday 20 April 2022
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The President of COP26 was asked—
Domestic Solar Energy
Solar is a UK success story, with more than 99% of the UK solar PV capacity deployed since May 2010 totalling almost 14 GW, which is enough to power more than 3 million homes. As the Government’s British energy security strategy sets out, we want to see a fivefold increase in deployment by 2035.
The Government’s British energy security strategy sets out a very ambitious aim to grow solar capacity by five times as much by 2035, yet Xinjiang produces about 45% of the world’s supply of the key components used in solar panel polysilicon. Despite raising that issue countless times, my calls have languished, as the Government continue to import goods that use forced Uyghur labour. Will the Minister set out what steps he is taking to ensure that the expansion of solar capacity in the UK is not tainted by the ongoing Uyghur genocide?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The Government are deeply concerned about the reports of forced labour and the impact on the global solar panel supply chain. He will know that the Government announced robust measures last year to ensure that no UK organisations are complicit in that, and those measures are now being realised. They include strengthening the overseas business risk guidance and introducing financial penalties under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. He will also know that the UK’s main solar industry trade association, Solar Energy UK, is leading the industry’s response through a whole range of measures.
I yield to no one in my determination to see us reach net zero by 2050, but does the Secretary of State not agree that the right place for solar is on buildings, including domestic buildings across the nation, as the question from the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) suggests? We do not want hundreds of acres of prime agricultural land to be threatened, as is happening in Wiltshire, by vast and unplanned solar farms that people simply do not want to see, particularly post-Ukraine.
The COP26 President acknowledges the tremendous contribution that solar has made and can make to the achievement of our net zero goals. I am sure that he also acknowledges that it is now one of the renewables that is cheapest and most quickly installed, so why are the Government ignoring its future development, having devastated the industry a few years back by precipitously withdrawing all support for development, and doing nothing to ease the penal planning restrictions on both domestic and ground-mounted solar installations? He says merely that he expects installations to increase fivefold by 2035, but without providing any support to allow that expectation to become a reality. Is it not time that the Government took seriously the contribution that solar can make to net zero targets?
I respectfully disagree with the shadow Minister; the Government are doing an enormous amount on this issue. In the latest contracts for difference auction process, solar is back in. We have already removed VAT on solar panels to allow installations on residential accommodation. If he looks at the detail set out in the energy security strategy, he will see that there will be a big focus on solar, wind and, of course, nuclear.
Glasgow Climate Pact: Businesses
COP26 was one of the first such conferences to have a significant private sector presence, as well as key corporate commitments to tackling climate change. For example, more than 7,000 international companies have signed up to the Race to Zero campaign, committing them to reach net zero by 2050 at the latest.
According to the Met Office, my beautiful Eastbourne constituency has held the record for sunshine hours recorded in a month since 1911. Arguably, we should be leading the nation in harnessing solar power. On my right hon. Friend’s earlier point, we do not have land readily available locally, but we have acres of rooftops, courtesy of three commercial and retail parks. What work is he doing, including with other Departments, to promote feasibility studies to identify untapped potential for solar generation and to promote financial incentives so that local businesses in my town can play their part in tackling climate change?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and her beautiful constituency is well worth a visit. She makes a vital point about rooftop solar, and she will know from the energy security strategy that our plan for rooftop solar is to radically simplify planning processes, with a consultation on relevant permitted development rights, to help support the deployment of rooftop solar on commercial premises. We will also consider the best way to make use of public sector roofs.
Local energy companies are often well placed to support small and medium-sized enterprises with the transition to net zero. Local authorities, with their insight into local opportunities for things such as solar, are best placed to help with that. What assessment has the COP26 President made of the opportunities that that model may afford?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the role of local energy companies in helping the transition to net zero through the provision of renewable energy. Close to my constituency we have Reading Hydro, a community-financed, built and operated hydro plant that supplies renewable electricity to local businesses. The Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change and I would be happy to meet him to discuss this matter further.
Is it not the truth that business has learned that this Government are entirely inconsistent from one day to the next? The COP26 President talks about solar, but only a few years ago the Government cut feed-in tariffs, which decimated the industry. Business really needs to know that the Government have a strategic plan, such as the Labour party’s green new deal, so that it can make long-term investments and know that the Government will say tomorrow what they are saying today.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have published a net zero strategy that clearly sets out our long-term plans for creating hundreds of thousands of extra jobs. Green jobs get many billions of pounds-worth of private investment. One of the reasons we are not reliant on Russian hydrocarbons is that over the past 10 years we have built the second biggest offshore wind sector in the world, and we want to quadruple the size of that sector.
The only net zero that really matters is the one for planet Earth as a whole, so does the COP26 President agree that there is real potential for shooting ourselves in the foot on energy-intensive industries in this country? I am thinking about James Cropper, the paper manufacturer in my constituency that makes the paper for poppies and Hansard, and paper with medical and military applications. If we tax it too much, or if we allow its bills to be so high that it goes out of business, all we will do is export its carbon emissions to other countries. Will he talk to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about help for our energy-intensive industries in the long run?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are providing support to help energy-intensive industries decarbonise. Through the COP26 process, the breakthrough agenda is working globally to see how we can decarbonise some of the most difficult sectors. There is a global plan as well as a domestic plan.
Will the COP26 President work with the agriculture sector on pursuing his COP26 goals? We have some of the most sustainable farming practices anywhere in the world, and many farmers and growers want to go further in playing their part in protecting nature and safeguarding the climate.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and his Ministers are, of course, working on that. Again, at an international level, we are looking to start an agriculture breakthrough, so that we have a global focus on this issue.
Facebook promoted ads containing outright climate falsehoods and scepticism during COP26, and it is reported that fossil fuel companies and lobbying groups spent an estimated $574,000 on Facebook ads during the summit, resulting in more than 22 million impressions. Many of these ads were directly aimed at undermining efforts to achieve climate progress. Does the COP26 President agree that the best way such businesses can help in the fight against climate change is to put the planet before their profits and come down hard on the climate naysayers? What action has he been taking to address that?
At COP26, probably for the first time at a COP, we saw the business community coming together in force to make commitments on tackling climate change. The business community is, of course, determined to deliver on these commitments. I will happily write to the hon. Lady separately on the specific issue she raises.
Tackling Climate Change
Countries made significant commitments at COP26 on emissions reductions; finance and support for developing nations; and adaptation, loss and damage. We are continuing to press countries to deliver on their promises. Together with the COP27 presidency of Egypt, I will next month be co-chairing a meeting of a representative group of Ministers from around the world, hosted by the Danish Government, to take stock of progress on the delivery of the Glasgow climate pact.
I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to Winchester earlier this month for my “ask the Minister” session, which was attended by hundreds of my constituents and children from many schools across the patch, including Peter Symonds College, and for answering their questions so elegantly and openly. I am sure he would agree that the young people from those schools were so positive and care so much, that they asked searching questions, as they should, and that they are very optimistic about this presidency and the whole agenda. What more can we do to empower them to push forward this agenda during our presidency year?
I very much enjoyed my visit to Winchester and I commend my hon. Friend for all the work he does in his local community. We had some excellent questions from the very many young people at the event and they were positive in their outlook. In the planning for COP26, and in the country visits I continue to make, listening to the views of young people has been invaluable. That is why in the Glasgow climate pact we have urged countries actively to involve young people in climate change processes.
As the Minister knows, the UK accounts for only 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions, yet the steps we are taking to combat climate change will cost businesses and the Government untold billions. Does he agree that while the UK does what is perceived to be the right thing, it is highly likely that other nations will miss climate targets and that the enormous expense and impact on our own economic competitiveness will all be in vain?
Tackling climate change is the right thing to do and it is also economically the smart thing to do. That is why at COP26 we had $130 trillion of private sector money signed up to net zero. It is why our presidency has managed to persuade 90% of global GDP to sign up to net zero. It is why our net zero strategy talks about many hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of inward investments. My hon. Friend talks about costs, but I just say to him: look at what the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates as the unmitigated cost of climate change. We are talking about almost 300% debt to GDP by the end of this century. I know that he is a fiscally responsible Conservative, as I am, and he would not want to burden future generations with that level of debt.
The Minister will of course know that one reason why Britain’s emissions are so low now is that we have exported most of our filthy, polluting manufacturing industries to poorer nations of the world, so those countries are being polluted in order to provide for our lifestyle. It is almost nine years since world leaders agreed to establish a climate change impacts loss and damage mechanism. Last year, the Scottish Government led the world in committing millions of pounds to that mechanism. When do the UK Government intend to follow Scotland’s lead?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, at COP26 we agreed the Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage. That was the first time we had significant text in the cover decision on this issue. That work is going forward, as is work on the operationalisation of the Santiago network.
Of course as we urgently seek to combat climate change it is vital that we do so in a just and fair way, particularly for communities in the north-east of Scotland. Bearing that in mind, does the Minister agree that his Government should do three things: fund the Acorn carbon capture and underground storage project; match fund the Scottish Government’s £500 million just transition fund; and finally, eventually, reform the TNUoS—the transmission network use of system—charging scandal that is happening at this moment in time?
The recent climate assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was deeply worrying, saying that current global policies will lead to warming of more than 3°, but it also offered hope in the dramatic fall in the price of renewables, which means they are now the right choice for cheap energy and to tackle the climate crisis. Given that onshore wind is the cheapest, cleanest, quickest form of power to deliver and is also supported by a large majority of the public in the UK, will the COP26 President explain why the Government persist—including in their recent strategy—with planning policies that in effect block onshore wind in England?
I certainly agree that we need to do more in terms of renewables, which is what the energy security strategy is all about. We already have 14 GW deployed throughout the country and there is another 5.8 GW in the pipeline. On future developments, we have said that we want to work in partnership with supportive communities that will host new onshore wind farms, and in return they will enjoy such benefits as local energy discounts.
The COP26 President knows that the Prime Minister caved in to those who wanted to block onshore wind—and I think the Minister for Energy knows it too.
Let us try another. To tackle the cost of living crisis and the climate emergency, energy efficiency measures are a no-brainer, but the Chancellor steadfastly refused to offer a penny more for energy efficiency in the recent strategy, meaning higher bills for people and more people in fuel poverty. The COP26 President is responsible for holding Departments to account for net zero; is it not time for him to wield some presidential power, knock heads together and sort this problem out?
The cost of living is an issue facing many families in all our constituencies throughout the country, which is why the Government have put forward more than £9 billion-worth of support in respect of the cost of living. On energy efficiency specifically, the right hon. Gentleman knows that we are investing more than £6.6 billion over this Parliament to improve energy efficiency and decarbonise heat. That will of course lead to lower bills, particularly for those most in need.
Forest and Woodland Conservation
The forests declaration is an unprecedented commitment from 141 countries, covering 90% of global forests, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. It is underpinned by $16 billion of public and private finance, by sustainable trade and by support for indigenous people’s rights. We are working closely with the declaration’s endorsers to implement it.
I thank the Minister for recently visiting my constituency. She will know that North Norfolk is blanketed with ancient forests and woodlands. It is very encouraging that woodland coverage is increasing across the UK and that the Government are committed to preventing the loss of forest. Will the Minister update the House on what progress she is making to increase levels of woodland wildlife as well?
It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s wonderful constituency and great, as ever, to hear about the precious ancient woodland in North Norfolk. We are acting on the need to increase wildlife in Britain in many ways: through the Environment Act 2021, the Government have committed to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030; we are using the nature for climate fund to accelerate tree planting that improves biodiversity; and we are increasing funding to bring woodlands into active management, which is fundamental to the enhancement and conservation of wildlife.
We know that deforestation is causing huge issues for indigenous people around the world. What more can the Government do to put pressure on Governments worldwide, and particularly in Brazil, to prevent deforestation from being carried out by companies that operate here in the UK?
The hon. Lady raises a vital point of which we are fully aware, which is why 141 countries signed that commitment in Glasgow to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation. The Government introduced a “due diligence” clause in the Environment Act, so we are making our businesses look at the sustainability of their forest products. We are leading by example, but we have a great deal more work to do around the globe to stop deforestation.
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was published this month, makes it clear that the window to limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5° is closing alarmingly fast. We need to make faster progress, so the UK continues to urge all Governments, but particularly those in the G20, to honour the promises that were made in the Glasgow climate pact. We are also working to get finance flowing to climate action. Last month, I co-chaired a meeting of G7 Ministers, multilateral development banks and the private sector on the expansion of just energy transition partnerships to support developing nations. Today, I will travel to the World Bank spring meetings to drive that work forward.
At COP26, all countries agreed to phase down the use of coal domestically, and we will continue to urge them to deliver on that commitment. As a result of the current energy security and pricing issues, I do believe that we will see an acceleration of renewables and clean energy capacity globally.
I commend my hon. Friend for his work as the UK’s trade envoy to Brazil; he is doing a brilliant job. During my recent visit, I encouraged the Government to formally submit their 2030 emission-reduction targets of 50% under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and they have done that now. We also discussed Brazil’s plan for a significant expansion of renewables, and I offered to share the UK’s experience on expanding our own offshore wind sector.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Floating offshore wind is a key part of the energy security strategy announced by the Prime Minister last week with a 5 GW target ambition by 2030. On securing and improving the UK supply chain, floating offshore wind is still a relatively nascent technology, but I will make sure that I take the point that he raises to the supply chain taskforce.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We need to make sure that we honour the $100 billion pledge, but, as I said earlier, we are also working with countries to ensure that they have funding for clean energy transition, and I am off to the World Bank meetings shortly to take that work forward.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital that we have a North sea transition; that is the purpose of the Government’s North sea transition deal and that is what we are delivering on with the sector. Some Opposition parties want to see an extinction. That would not be in the nation’s interest and would only lead to a rise in imported hydrocarbons, which is also not in our interests at this time.
Does the Minister realise he is guilty of being too nice? We do not just need, “Where’s the plan, Stan?”; we need, “Where’s the money, honey?” Why does he not get into No. 11, shake the Chancellor of the Exchequer until his teeth rattle, and get the money that he should be putting into environmental concerns and saving our planet?
Since March 2021 and through the 2021 Budget and spending review, the Government have committed a total of £30 billion of domestic investment for the green industrial revolution. Not only that, but we are ensuring that many tens of billions of pounds of private investment flows into green transition.
As I have said, we want to see a managed transition. That is not going to happen overnight. My right hon. Friend will also know that we have set out in our domestic energy security strategy that future licensing rounds will have to be compatible with the climate compatibility checkpoint, which will be set out shortly.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know the whole House will want to join me in wishing Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday for tomorrow. 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. I will then be travelling to India to deepen the strategic trade, defence and people-to-people ties between our two countries, building on India’s involvement in the Carbis Bay G7 summit. I will be seeing Prime Minister Modi in Delhi, meeting Indian businesspeople investing in the UK and visiting British investments in India.
Challenges with rural transport remain some of the greatest obstacles facing people in Penrith and The Border. I was pleased last year that, on top of the Government’s £3 billion national bus strategy to help areas such as Cumbria, Cumbria County Council received an additional £1.5 million to enhance provision as part of the rural mobility fund. I am sure my right hon. Friend can imagine my disappointment this month, however, when Cumbria was allocated no funding from the latest tranche of bus funding. Can the Prime Minister reassure my constituents that Cumbria can look forward to future funding schemes to improve our vital rural bus services?
I thank my hon. Friend. He is a great champion for rural Cumbria and for bus services. He is right that Cumbria got another £1.5 million for buses. We want to put more into buses—I believe in them passionately myself—and I will ensure he has a meeting with the relevant Minister.
I bitterly regret Allegra’s resignation. I think it was very sad. She did an outstanding job, particularly since she was the one who coined the expression “Coal, cars, cash and trees”, which enabled the UK to deliver a fantastic COP26 summit last year.
Allegra Stratton laughed at breaking the rules. She resigned. The Prime Minister then claimed he was “furious” at her behaviour and accepted her resignation. Professor Neil Ferguson broke the rules. He also resigned. The Prime Minister said that was the right thing to do. The former Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), broke the rules. He too resigned. The Prime Minister tried to claim that he sacked him. Why does the Prime Minister think everybody else’s actions have consequences except his own?
I feel the right hon. and learned Gentleman is in some kind of “Doctor Who” time warp. We had this conversation yesterday, and I explained why I bitterly regret receiving an FPN and I apologised to the House. He asks about the actions for which I take responsibility, and I will tell him: we are going to get on with delivering for the British people, making sure that we power out of the problems that covid has left us, with more people in work than there were before the pandemic, fixing our energy problems, and leading the world in standing up to the aggression of Vladimir Putin. Those are all subjects about which I think he could reasonably ask questions now.
Yes, Mr Speaker, I have been absolutely clear that I humbly accept what the police have said. I have paid the fixed penalty notice. What I think the country, and the whole House, would really rather do is get on with the things for which we were elected and deliver on our promises to the British people. [Interruption.] You could not have clearer evidence of the intellectual bankruptcy of Labour. [Interruption.]They have no plans for energy, they have no plans for social care—
Yesterday’s apology lasted for as long as the Prime Minister thought necessary to be clipped for the news. But once the cameras were off, the Prime Minister went to see his Back Benchers and he was back to blaming everyone else. He even said that the Archbishop of Canterbury had not been critical enough of Putin. In fact, the archbishop called Putin’s war
“an act of great evil”,
and the Church of England has led the way in providing refuge to those fleeing. Would the Prime Minister like to take this opportunity to apologise for slandering the archbishop and the Church of England?
I was slightly taken aback for the Government to be criticised over the policy that we have devised to end the deaths at sea in the channel as a result of cruel criminal gangs. I was surprised that we were attacked for that. Actually, do you know who proposed that policy first of all, in 2004? It was David Blunkett—[Interruption.] Yes it was, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will remember. He said that it was a 21st-century solution to the problems of illegal asylum seeking and immigration. The Leader of the Opposition should stick with that. He is a Corbynista in a smart Islington suit—that is the truth.
I think the Prime Minister will find that Mr Corbyn does not have the Whip. I think that is a no, then. It is pathetic. He never takes responsibility for his words or actions. [Interruption.] Conservative Members were all there.
The Prime Minister also accused the BBC of not being critical enough of Putin. Would the Prime Minister have the guts to say that to the faces of Clive Myrie, Lyse Doucet and Steve Rosenberg, who have all risked their lives day in, day out on the frontline in Russia and Ukraine uncovering Putin’s barbarism?
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to join the Conservative party and come and listen to the meetings of the Conservative party, he is welcome to do it, but, as I say, I think he is a Corbynista in an Islington suit. I said nothing of the kind. I have the highest admiration, as a journalist and a former journalist, for what journalists do. I think they do an outstanding job. I think he should withdraw what he just said, because it has absolutely no basis or foundation in truth.
That is how the right hon. Gentleman operates: a mealy-mouthed apology when the cameras roll; a vicious attack on those who tell the truth as soon as the cameras are off. He slanders decent people in a private room and lets the slander spread, without the backbone to repeat it in public. How can the Prime Minister claim to be a patriot, when he deliberately attacks and degrades the institutions of our great country?
It is an indication of the depths to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is willing to sink that he accuses me—[Interruption.] He accuses me of traducing journalists. What he says is completely without any foundation whatever. I did not attack the BBC last night for their coverage of Ukraine. He must be out of his tiny mind. I said no such thing, and there are people behind me who will testify to that. He is completely wrong. That is the limit of his willingness to ask sensible questions today.
This Government are getting on with the serious problems that require attention, such as fixing our energy supply issues and, by the way, undoing the damage of the Labour Government, who did not invest in nuclear power for 13 years, with a nuclear power station every year. We are standing up to Putin, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have elected a Putin apologist—that is what he wanted to do, and he campaigned to do that. We are fixing our economy, with record numbers of people now in work, productivity back above what it was, and over half a million more people on the payroll than there were before the pandemic began. That is as a result of the decisions—the tough calls—that this Government have made. We get on with the job, while they flip-flop around like flounders on the beach.
I thank my hon. Friend. I am very pleased to hear about the work that Govox is doing to support mental health and wellbeing, and we are putting more money into mental healthcare support—an extra £2.3 billion a year in the next financial year, which of course we can supply thanks to the decisions taken by this Government, which the Labour party opposed.
May I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in wishing Her Majesty the Queen best wishes for her birthday tomorrow?
Last night, the Prime Minister may have convinced his Back Benchers and his spineless Scottish Tories to keep him in place for another few weeks, but the public are not so easily fooled. Eighty-two per cent. of people in Scotland said that they believed the Prime Minister lied to this Parliament, and to the public, about his law-breaking covid parties. Are they right, or should they not believe their lying eyes?
If the Prime Minister wants to get on, he should be offering his resignation to the Queen before her birthday. No Government can be led by a Prime Minister who is in a constant state of crisis to save his own skin. What is worse, the UK Government are now led by a tag team of scandal—a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted with the truth and a Chancellor who cannot be trusted with his taxes. Everyone knows that this Prime Minister is on borrowed time until the Tory Back Benchers count the cost of their council election defeat. In the meantime, families are counting the cost of a Tory-made cost of living crisis every day. After yesterday’s farce, is it not finally time for him to accept that neither his party nor the public can afford to keep him around as Prime Minister for one minute longer?
If that were true, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would be calling for my resignation. We are going to get on with the job in hand, and that is to deliver for the people of this country. By the way, he has not answered the point I made yesterday, which is that I think it is incredible that at a time when we need to stand up to aggression from Vladimir Putin, it is still the policy of the Scottish nationalist party to get rid of this country’s unilateral defence.
Kettering General Hospital Redevelopment
The redevelopment of Kettering General Hospital is the No. 1 local priority for residents in Kettering and across north Northamptonshire. Will my right hon. Friend please be kind enough to facilitate a meeting with the Health Secretary for the three local Members—myself and my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Corby (Tom Pursglove)—together with the hospital chief executive so that we can trigger the start of the drawdown of the initial £46 million of funding?
Plaid Cymru has been calling for 15 years for a law to ban politicians from being wilfully misleading. New polling by Compassion in Politics shows that 73% of people support such a law. Will the Prime Minister support a lying in politics Bill?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work in this area, and we are determined to tackle all the health conditions that he describes and cares about, particularly mental health and suicide prevention. I note his plea for a new hospital, and I know it is shared by many of my hon. and right hon. Friends. This Government are funding that and making it possible, thanks to the decisions we have taken allowing our economy to grow, which would not have been possible if we had listened to the Opposition.
What we try to do in this Government is cut taxes for the whole country, and I am proud to say that what the Chancellor did in the recent spring statement, by lifting the threshold for national insurance contributions, was to have a tax cut of about £330 for most people in this country. That is a fantastic thing.
There could be no better campaigner for Wrexham and for the interests of Wrexham sport. I will do what I can, but my hon. Friend will know that £121 million from the first round of the levelling-up fund was awarded to Wales, and I am sure that Wrexham has every chance of success in the future.
I thank the hon. Member very much for raising the point. I understand that we have had a review already of the issue, but I will make sure that he has a proper meeting or that he and the campaigners he mentions have a proper meeting with the relevant Minister in the Health Department.
My constituent Aiden Aslin has served in the Ukrainian armed forces for four years. Last week, he was captured by the Russian army in Mariupol. Yesterday, a video emerged of my constituent handcuffed, physically injured and being interviewed under duress for propaganda purposes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a flagrant breach of the Geneva convention, that treating any prisoner of war in that manner is illegal, that the interviewer—Graham Phillips—is in danger of prosecution for war crimes and that any online platform such as YouTube that hosts propaganda videos of that kind should take them down immediately?
I thank my right hon. Friend very much, and I think everybody will want to urge the Russian state to treat his constituent humanely and compassionately, because in my view, although we do not encourage people going to that theatre of conflict—in fact, we actively dissuade them from doing so—I understand that he had been serving in the Ukrainian forces for some time, and his situation is very different from that of a mercenary. I hope that he is treated with care and compassion. I thoroughly echo the sentiments that my right hon. Friend has expressed about those who broadcast propaganda messages.
Newcastle-under-Lyme is receiving over £50 million of Government investment into our high street and the high street of Kidsgrove in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), but it is all being overshadowed by the ongoing environmental disaster at Walleys Quarry. In January, the operator was hit with three category 1 breaches by the Environment Agency. My constituents are utterly sick of it, and it has been going on for far too long, Prime Minister. We need to see tougher enforcement and we need to see the permit taken away. What hope can he give my constituents? How can we stop the stink?
My hon. Friend has raised this issue before and I know how infuriating it is for his constituents. That is why the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has now ordered action against the site operator, and I can tell my hon. Friend that permanent capping will begin on site next month, which will improve things for thousands of residents in his constituency. If it is necessary to take further action to remove those malodorous vapours, we will do so.
On my own fixed penalty notice, I have been transparent with the House—and will be—and I have apologised. On the rest of it, I really think, as I have said before, that the House should wait for the conclusion of the investigation when Sue Gray finally reports.
Long ago in a far off place, thousands of British servicemen sailed into what was for them the unknown as they witnessed the early tests of nuclear weapons. They have lived with the consequences of that service to our nation ever since. Following a question to the Prime Minister from the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), he agreed to meet us and those veterans. Will he now assure the House that he will take personal charge of the decision on whether to grant the remaining servicemen—for there are few left—the service medal they so richly deserve?
I understand the feelings of the hon. Lady’s constituents and I continue to express my apologies for the FPN that I received, but the Government will get on with tackling the issues that face this country and delivering for the British people. That is my priority.
Like many others across the country, one of my constituents has been helping directly with the humanitarian effort in Ukraine and the region. He received the most troubling message from a resident of the city of Kherson only days ago, which said that
“there are no green corridors for evacuation. People are trying to flee the city at their own risk, under fire. The Russians are living in our homes, they are plotting terror, robbing, harassing, kidnapping and killing our people, doing whatever they want.”
What more can my right hon. Friend and the international community do to ensure that Putin and those who do his bidding are brought to justice for their crimes?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an incredibly important point. The savagery that the Russians are unleashing on Ukraine knows no limits and is clearly authorised from the very top. He asks what more we can do. What we need to do is make it clear to serving officers in the Russian forces that if we can proceed with the international criminal prosecutions that we want to see, they will eventually face justice in the way that those who participated in massacres in Bosnia faced justice in the past. I hope that that will have a chilling effect on their current appalling conduct.
I am sad to say that I think a lot of people made money out of covid in a way that perhaps they should not have done. We deplore that and we are trying to recoup as much as we possibly can, but I remind the hon. Gentleman of the constant clamour from the Opposition and from the country for us to equip our country with PPE and medicines as fast as possible, and that we did.
Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking the brilliant staff and volunteers at Watford General Hospital for their tireless work for our community over many years? Does he agree that we should get started as soon as possible on the ambitious plans put forward by West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust as part of the new hospital programme to transform healthcare across our whole community, so that staff and patients can access world-class health services and facilities fit for the 21st century? I will add, if I may, that these ambitious plans are truly shovel-ready, and I will gladly go and buy a shovel today to get started.
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Watford. I know, because I have been to see him several times, that he has been campaigning to get this hospital in Watford ever since he was triumphantly elected, and he is going to be successful, because there will be a new hospital scheme in his local area as part of our plan to deliver 48 new hospitals in this country by 2030.
That is not a withdrawal.
Sorry, Mr Speaker, but I do not know what the question is, because the hon. Gentleman has withdrawn it. The answer is that we are going to get on with the job, and it would be nice to hear an ounce of sense from the Scottish nationalist party, or see some competent government.
The London Borough of Barnet is surrounded by Labour councils, all of which have higher council tax and have abandoned weekly bin collections. Will the Prime Minister urge everyone to come out on 5 May and vote Conservative in order to keep council tax lower than Labour would and to protect our weekly bin collections?
I know why they want me gone. It is because we are going to get on and show that this Conservative Government are going to deliver for the British people—fixing our cost of living issues, making sure that we solve our long-term energy problems, and delivering everything we promised—and they have absolutely no plan. That is the difference.
On the Conservative Benches, we were elected to make the most of our Brexit freedoms—[Interruption.] They don’t like it, Mr Speaker, they don’t like it. That includes tackling illegal immigration, securing our borders and cracking down on the evil people-smuggling trade. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our groundbreaking partnership with Rwanda will do just that?
It is a part of the solution. It is something that, as I said just now, was advocated in 2004 by the then Home Secretary David Blunkett, a Blairite Home Secretary. It is now attacked in the most ludicrous terms by the current Labour Opposition, who are obviously, as I just said, Corbynistas in Islington suits.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On the Conservative Benches, we strongly believe in the BBC and we believe it does a great job, especially on reporting from Ukraine. The suggestion from the Leader of the Opposition that the Prime Minister suggested somewhat different in last night’s meeting, which I attended, is absolutely inaccurate. The Leader of the Opposition should retract that, because he has misled the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that all of us in this House are fair game to the media, and that all of us enjoy many of the political commentators and sketch writers, but this morning’s edition of The Times carried a Quentin Letts article that I believe was sexist, misogynist and totally unacceptable. The way he described my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) was not about what she said; it was about everything but the substance of any speech. It was cruel and it was disgraceful. I do not know what we can do about it, but Quentin Letts specialises in a misogynist approach, especially towards women in the Chamber. Is it time we withdrew his parliamentary press pass?
No, in a nutshell. You have quite rightfully raised the matter; it is not a point of order for the Chair, but you have certainly put it on the record.
It is important that we have tolerance and moderate language, but in fairness we need freedom of the press. I have taken the hits sometimes as well, as you yourself have. What I would say is that there is a level, and we all judge that level. You have judged this to go beyond it, and I accept that that is why you have put the matter on the record. I think, for that purpose, we will leave it there.
Order. May I just say that I am well aware of it? I have had a discussion and I am having a meeting later, but I will certainly not raise on the Floor of the House the issue of security at the moment. I would sooner have that meeting first; if we are not satisfied then, I will come back by all means, but there is some information that I do not want to come—[Interruption.] I would sooner leave the security issue, because it was a worry and it is a problem. I would sooner not air it here until I have met the three Members concerned—there is more than one.
Hereditary Titles (Female Succession)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the succession of female heirs to hereditary titles; and for connected purposes.
On this day, when we join in wishing Her Majesty a very happy birthday, we can note that we have been blessed to live in a new Elizabethan era in which Her Majesty has long reigned over us. We celebrate her platinum jubilee with true devotion.
The Succession to the Crown Act was given Royal Assent in 2013, meaning that henceforth the firstborn child of Prince George will be in line to succeed him. The Act ended male primogeniture for the Crown, but we left undone any wider reform to primogeniture in the United Kingdom. As a result, in this very Parliament, an eighth of the seats in the other place are reserved for men only. Can you believe that, Mr Speaker? I will repeat it, as I find it so shocking: an eighth of the seats in the upper House of this Parliament are reserved for men only, through the system of reserving 92 seats for hereditary peers.
Whatever our views are of the other place or of hereditary peerages more generally—I know that there will be a wide range of views—I hope we can all agree that in the 21st century, that embedded sex discrimination is simply not acceptable. Women are treated unfairly for no reason other than that they are women. That is unacceptable and indefensible, and it has terrible real-world consequences. For example, only 13% of land in the UK is owned by women—in other words, 87% is owned by men—and boys are twice as likely as girls to inherit family businesses.
If we cannot change inequality at the top of our society, we will never be able to change inequality for the whole of our society. Put simply, daughters should be treated the same as sons across society. If it is good enough for the succession to the Crown, it should be good enough for everyone else. The hereditary peerages in the other place should go automatically to the eldest child, but at the moment that very rarely happens.
My Bill would not apply immediately when a son is due to inherit a title, and it would certainly not be retrospective. If there were already a son in the line of succession, that would remain the case. The Bill would affect 803 hereditary peers, including 24 dukes, 34 marquesses, 191 earls, 115 viscounts and 426 barons, and four countesses and nine baronesses in their own right.
Each of them could potentially be one of the 92 hereditary peers, or be on the register to stand as a hereditary peer in a by-election to the House of Lords. I understand that the register of peers for the by-elections has 210 peers on it, only one of whom is female. As that demonstrates, it is already possible to be a female hereditary peer, but clearly, because of the current system, that does not happen as routinely as it does for males, and the system clearly is not fair.
As a Conservative, I stand for equality of opportunity. We want every person born in this country to enjoy the same chance to make a difference, to thrive and to prosper. I cannot rest until this posh glass ceiling is broken. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who tried to introduce the same Bill in March 2019; he is a champion of true equality. I also pay tribute to Charlotte Carew Pole of Daughters’ Rights, who helps to keep this just cause alive in this place.
Let us agree today that we will make this small and symbolic change for our country’s sake, and for the sake of equality between men and women.
Question put and agreed to.
That Harriett Baldwin, Nickie Aiken, Ms Harriet Harman, Philip Davies, Christine Jardine, Mrs Maria Miller, Jess Phillips, Esther McVey, Sarah Champion, Tim Loughton and Sir Christopher Chope present the Bill.
Harriett Baldwin accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 May, and to be printed (Bill 304).
Subsidy ContRol Bill (Programme) (No. 3)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Subsidy Control Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 22 September 2021 (Subsidy Control Bill (Programme)) and 13 December 2021 (Subsidy Control (Programme) (No. 2)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.
(2) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(3) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Subsidy Control Bill
Consideration of Lords amendments
[Relevant Document: Oral evidence taken before the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee on 30 November 2021 on State Aid and Post-Brexit Competition Policy, HC 742.]
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
Let me begin by expressing my appreciation for the shared ambition, across both Houses, to create a domestic subsidy control regime that will work for people and communities throughout the United Kingdom. The rigorous debate in both Houses has resulted in the improved Bill that is before us today, and I hope that the Government amendments passed by the House of Lords will in turn be accepted by this House.
I shall start with Lords amendments 13 to 38, 44 to 47 and 51, relating to the topic of transparency. This topic has been well championed in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who is no longer in his place. First, in place of the higher transparency thresholds that applied to subsidies given under a published scheme, and given as minimal financial assistance or services of public economic interest assistance, we have introduced a single upload threshold of £100,000, which now applies to all subsidies that are subject to the transparency requirements. Of course, there has never been a threshold for regular stand-alone subsidies, which all need to be published. This represents a substantial 80% reduction from the original threshold of £500,000 for subsidies given under the schemes.
Secondly, we have significantly shortened the upload deadlines; for non-tax subsidy awards, we have halved them from six to three months, so that subsidies will be visible on the database far sooner. The third change is that we have introduced new obligations to upload certain permitted modifications of a subsidy or scheme to the database. Public authorities will now be subject to the same obligations to upload even minor changes, with the same upload deadlines as for the original subsidy. This will ensure that the database continues to provide up-to-date information about subsidies or schemes that are modified after they have been granted. Fourthly, we have placed a duty on the Secretary of State to review the transparency database at such intervals as they consider appropriate, thereby ensuring additional quality control.
I thank the Minister for what he is saying. He referred to the fact that there had been thorough discussions in this House and in the other place. I am wondering whether those thorough discussions involved the devolved Administrations, particularly the Northern Ireland Assembly, but also the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. If there is disagreement, how do the Minister and the Government intend to deal with it?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really good point. We tried to work with all the devolved Administrations right the way through the process from beginning to end, and we have continued conversations with each of them over this period. Clearly there are, and will be, differences in the process. This needs to work for the whole of the United Kingdom, so I am keen that we continue the dialogue, whether it is with Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, to ensure that we can do as much as we can to reach agreement, though clearly that will not always be possible; that is the nature of dialogue.
Is the Minister not saying that ultimately, on these devolved matters, the English Government, as represented down here in Westminster, will have a power of veto over the decisions of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments?
No. However, the UK Government have a reserved power over subsidy control, so it is the UK Government who act on that reserved power.
Finally, we have introduced an amendment specifying that the Secretary of State may provide statutory guidance to public authorities on pre-action information requests—that is, the provision of information following a request about a subsidy decision to an interested party that is considering whether to ask the Competition Appeal Tribunal to review the subsidy.
I shall now move on to two amendments related to levelling up. Lords amendment 50 makes it clear that addressing local or regional disadvantage is considered to be an equity rationale for the purpose of assessing compliance with principle A. This puts beyond any doubt that a subsidy to address local or regional disadvantage can be given, provided that the other principles and requirements of the regime are met. Lords amendment 9 exempts from the prohibition on relocation those relocation subsidies that have the effect of reducing social or economic disadvantage. The subsidy must, of course, also comply with the principles and other requirements.
On the issue of levelling up, I know that the Government and the Prime Minister have given a commitment to levelling up all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but I am always conscious that we want to see that actually happen, not just words. Can the Minister give me some assurance that Northern Ireland—where the cost of living is higher, wages are lower and products and consumer goods are higher in price—will, through the Northern Ireland Assembly, receive the levelling up that we should?
Indeed, yes. Levelling up does not exclude any one area of the United Kingdom. It also does not exclude levelling up within regions; that is really important. This legislation only provides the framework; the levelling-up fund, the shared prosperity fund and other measures that can use the framework will, I am sure, benefit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and Northern Ireland as a whole. It is really important that we get this right.
I am happy to report that we produced Lords amendments 1, 5 to 8, 10 to 12, 39 and 40 to respond to concerns about the Bill in the 17th report of this Session by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Lords amendment 1 addresses a concern with clause 10. Parliamentary scrutiny of streamlined subsidy schemes made under clause 10 has been strengthened by giving either House the ability to annul any streamlined schemes after they have been made, by applying the negative procedure.
Lords amendments 5 to 8 replace the direction-making power in clause 16 relating to the designation of marketable risk countries with a power to make regulations for the same purpose. Lords amendments 10 to 12 relate to the powers in clauses 25 to 27 to change definitions in secondary legislation. Those powers will be removed. Finally in this group, Lords amendments 39 and 40 address concerns raised by the DPRRC about secrecy regarding the financial stability direction-making power in clause 47. These amendments make it clear that such directions will need to be published in due course. In addition, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has written to the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Committee to commit to notifying the Chairs of those Committees confidentially about the use of a financial stability direction.
I turn to Lords amendments 41 to 43 and 49, relating to the Competition and Markets Authority and the Subsidy Advice Unit. Although the Secretary of State could already direct the SAU to complete a monitoring report for a specified time period under clause 65(4), these amendments make specific provision in the Bill for more frequent scrutiny in the early years of the new regime. Instead of mandating a report within five years of the implementation of the regime, the tabled amendments require an initial report after only three years, to be followed up with a further report after another three years. After that, reporting will revert to a five-year cycle. The Secretary of State will retain the ability to direct that a report be made at a specified period after the publication of the second three-year report. The sunsetting provisions in clause 87(6) have been extended so that they take effect after the second three-year report. Lords amendments 2 to 4 and 48 are minor and technical in nature. They clarify definitions under clauses 11 and 82.
In summary, this substantial package of amendments represents an improved set of measures that will strengthen the new domestic subsidy control regime and make it more transparent and accountable. There will now be greater transparency of subsidies awarded, and improved oversight and monitoring of the regime by Parliament and the CMA. I am grateful to colleagues in both Houses for their hard work on, and attention to, this important Bill. They have helped to bring about these improvements, which I hope will be endorsed by Members from across this House.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I start by acknowledging all the efforts in the other place, and thank the peers, staff and civil servants who have helped to move the Bill along to this stage. I also thank colleagues on both sides of this House, including all the Opposition parties.
As Labour has outlined throughout the Bill’s progress, we support the principle of a quicker, easier subsidy regime now that we have left the EU. However, we recognise that any subsidy regime must provide sufficient transparency and accountability for the spending of billions of pounds of public money each year. We have also repeatedly raised our concerns that this regime has failed to match up to the Government’s levelling-up rhetoric. We are pleased to see that many of the Lords amendments, including our amendment to Lords amendment 13, will improve the Bill in some of those areas.
I turn briefly to areas in which we would have liked the Government go further, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on these issues. The first is net zero. Labour has been clear that while this is framework legislation, it should not be an empty vessel. The Government should have used the opportunity of an independent subsidy policy to design a regime that supported their wider industrial policy and our national priorities. We were also disappointed that the Subsidy Control Bill was not published alongside a subsidy strategy. Net zero is a good example of this. The climate crisis is the greatest long-term threat facing our country and the world, and we need urgent action to drive down emissions. That is why, in Committee, we called on the Government to support our amendment to hardwire net zero into the principles that public authorities have to consider when awarding any subsidy or designing any scheme. There was cross-party and cross-Bench support in the other place for a similar amendment.
The Government’s response was that the Bill already contains specific principles that apply to subsidies relating to energy and the environment, but that is far too narrow a view of climate impact. Net zero should be a consideration for public authorities on all subsidies, from public transport to supporting R&D in our energy intensive industries. In rejecting both amendments, the Government have missed an opportunity to use subsidy policy as a tool to achieve their net zero targets.
As I turn to the amendments, it would be remiss of me not to mention the recent scandal at P&O Ferries and the Bill’s implications, which I have raised with the Minister. P&O Ferries is owned by DP World, the operator of the Southampton and London Gateway shipping terminals. As of today, DP World is still a partner in the London Gateway freeport and is potentially set to benefit from £25 million-worth of public funding. The senior executives of that company have admitted to the House that they broke employment law. However, they will benefit directly from public funding of the Government’s new freeports.
Beyond freeports, P&O Ferries has received £15 million of Government support since the start of the pandemic, both through furlough and the freight subsidy scheme. As the Minister will know, UK public procurement law contains grounds that bar businesses from bidding for public contracts. To pick one example, a bidder can be excluded because they have breached national minimum wage legislation.
By contrast, the Bill affords no power to the Secretary of State or the public authorities to exclude DP World from the receipt of public subsidies. I would be grateful if the Minister set out in his response how he will ensure that subsidies are not provided to firms that do not meet minimum expectations, including complying with the laws of this country.
Finally on the areas that we have carried over from previous debates, on devolution, it is a disappointment that we have not seen more movement on powers for the devolved Administrations. The Minister will be aware that we will continue to push for that as the Bill becomes an Act and on its implementation.
On the financial thresholds for reporting, Labour has raised concerns throughout the Bill’s progression that the threshold of up to £500,000 for publishing subsidies on the database and the gobsmacking £14.5 million threshold for subsidies to services of public economic interest were far too high. There were cross-party efforts in Committee—including from Labour and colleagues who represent Aberdeen—to introduce greater transparency into the database. I also pay tribute, as the Minister has, to the hon. Members for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for their work in this important area.
In the Commons, the Government resisted calls to lower the monetary thresholds, but we were pleased that, in the Lords, Government amendments 14 and 25 took heed of Labour’s calls and lowered the threshold for publishing subsidies on the database to £100,000. Lords amendments 26 to 30 and 32 lower the threshold for publishing subsidies to services of public economic interest to £100,000. Although we welcome the reductions in reporting thresholds, we are concerned that Lords amendments 22, 33, 34, 35 and 37 allow them to be changed by the Government without good reason. Having accepted the premise of greater transparency, will the Minister explain under what circumstances the Government would seek to change the thresholds? Without a clear explanation, we are concerned about why the Government felt the need to keep those powers in reserve.
I turn to the time thresholds for uploading information on to the database. Throughout the Bill’s progression, Labour has been clear that the six-month deadline for publishing subsidy details on to the database was simply far too long. Without their publication, interested parties have no way of identifying subsidies that may be harmful. Six months is enough time for damaging subsidies to inflict significant harm on competitors and, more broadly, on British competition and investment. We therefore support Lords amendments 17 and 20, which reduce the publication deadline to three months, and Lords amendment 19, which states that any modifications made to subsidies also have to be uploaded within three months. Although Labour would go further in reducing those timeframes, we welcome the amendments.
We also support Lords amendment 16, which sets a three-month deadline for uploading tax schemes on to the database. However, Lords amendments 15 and 18 still provide public authorities with one year to upload a tax subsidy on to the database and one year to upload modifications in relation to tax subsidies. Will the Minister explain why there is still a nine-month difference between the deadlines for publishing tax subsidies and publishing tax schemes? Why are the Government allowing such a long period for modifications in relation to tax subsidies?
On the issue of audit, as well as calling for the publication deadlines to be reduced, Labour called for the Secretary of State to take ownership of the transparency database and what is uploaded on to it. In their White Paper on Companies House reform, the Government recognised the dangers associated with creating a register without a regulator, yet they risk making the same mistakes. The information uploaded and published on the database is crucial to alerting interested parties to potentially damaging subsidies. If the information on the database is not accurate or complete, there is no transparency or accountability.
Lords Amendment 13 goes some way to ensuring that the Secretary of State reviews the database, but we are concerned that that amendment is too vague. It does not make it clear what the purpose of the review is, who will conduct it or how regularly. Labour has tabled amendment (a) to Lords amendment 13, which clarifies that the purpose of the review is for the Secretary of State to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information in the database. Amendment (a) has been tabled in a constructive spirit to clarify the legislation.
Although improvements have been made to the database—as we acknowledge— since the evidence we heard in Committee about its serious deficiencies, practitioners continue to have concerns. The name of the granting authority is currently not included in all entries. That is clearly a major gap, as it is the key piece of information that an interested party wishing to challenge a subsidy in the very short window available to them needs.
I turn to the Lords amendments on the Competition and Markets Authority. Lords amendments 41 and 42 mandate that the CMA lays its first report on the regime three years after the Bill commences and its second report three years after that. I spoke about increasing the frequency of the CMA’s reporting in Committee and I am pleased to see that that has been taken up.
We also support Lords amendments 43 and 49. However, under the Bill, the CMA has the power to report only on subsidies and schemes that are reported to it. As we have heard from experts, that leaves a black hole for accountability where a public authority wrongly concludes that it is not granting a subsidy. Such payments will not be published on the database and interested parties will therefore not be able to challenge them. In Committee, Labour tabled new clause 3, which would have given the CMA the power to investigate subsidies that may be of concern and subsidy schemes on its own initiative. Unfortunately, the Lords amendments have failed to address that issue.
There has been some progress on the issue of regional economic disadvantage during the Bill’s passage in the other place. As the Minister will have heard, there was anxiety from the devolved Administrations and Members across this House about the implications of the loss of assisted areas. The Bill, as introduced, contained no measures to ensure that subsidies could and would be used to reduce economic disadvantage between and within the regions and nations of the UK.
On Second Reading and in Committee, I stressed that the Bill failed to live up to the Conservatives’ levelling-up rhetoric. I am therefore pleased that the Lords tabled Lords amendment 9, which removes the relocation prohibition on subsidies that work to reduce social and economic disadvantages.
Labour also tabled an amendment to schedule 1 that would have explicitly added addressing a local or regional disadvantage as a policy objective that subsidies can pursue. That was voted down in the Commons, but I am pleased it was accepted by the Government in the other place with Lords amendment 50. The more than 300 pages of the levelling-up White Paper do not reference subsidies once, but I look forward to the Government publishing details of how subsidy policy will be used to achieve the White Paper’s objectives.
We support Lords amendments 1 and 4 relating to subsidy schemes and subsidies of interest. We are concerned, though, about when the streamlined subsidy schemes will be put in place. The schemes will be important for granting authorities to avoid unnecessary bureaucratic workloads, so when will the details be published?
Practitioners have expressed concern to us that clause 70(2) is not clear enough on the power to challenge an individual subsidy made under a scheme, or on when the clock starts ticking on that period of challenge. As drafted, the Bill appears to indicate that a damaging subsidy can be made, say, two years after a scheme is set up. As the deadline for challenging the scheme itself would have passed, there would be no mechanism for interested parties to challenge such a harmful subsidy. Is the Minister aware of that problem and is he taking any action to address it?
Finally, we support all the technical amendments—Lords amendments 2, 3, 10 to 12, 5 to 8, 39, 40, 44 and 51 —and the greater scrutiny they add to the Bill. However, Lords amendment 46 allows the Secretary of State to rely on consultation carried out before the Bill receives Royal Assent when issuing guidance. Ongoing engagement with public authorities and business is critical, and I hope the Minister can reassure the House that the Government will not be ducking this obligation.
Labour recognises the need for this legislation, which is necessary to meet our international obligations and, more than that, to protect the UK’s internal market and to ensure public funds are made available to firms, with appropriate safeguards put in place. The Lords amendments may not go as far as we hoped in some cases, including on devolution, but they significantly strengthen the Bill by providing the scrutiny and oversight Labour has called for from the beginning. However, it is regrettable that some concerns, including on the CMA’s powers and net zero, have not been addressed.
Well-designed, proportionate subsidies are a critical part of an effective industrial strategy to grow the sectors of the future and to invest in our transition to net zero. The Government now need to bring forward a plan to make that happen.
It is very good to be here to talk about the Subsidy Control Bill again. The Lords amendments that have been accepted and put forward by the Government do make the Bill better. The Bill is better as a result of almost all the amendments that have been introduced; I accept that that is the case. I feel sorry for the Minister because he had to argue against many of these amendments in Committee and on Report. Now they are in the Bill and he is arguing for them, which is great—I am glad he is arguing for them now—but I feel he has been put in a pretty unfortunate position.
Although the Lords amendments make the Bill better, it still falls far short of where the UK’s subsidy control regime should be. We still have major concerns about a number of significant issues. I recognise the improvements on transparency, particularly through Lords amendment 14, which I drafted in Committee, so I am pleased that the Government have put that forward and that it is now in the Bill. It reduces the threshold for subsidies to be included in the transparency database from £500,000 to £100,000. That is incredibly important.
The database will work, and we will know whether subsidies are working as the Government intend, only if we can see which subsidies have been made. The threshold of £500,000 was too high for us to have a good enough overview, and that is without mentioning people’s inability to challenge subsidies if they do not know they exist. Setting the threshold at £100,000 makes it much less likely that a company will be badly damaged by a harmful subsidy that it is unable to challenge because of the lack of transparency.
I am also pleased that the CMA will report on the regime after three years; the period has been reduced. Again, I moved an amendment on that in Committee. I proposed two years, but we can meet in the middle at three years. I am pleased that that reporting is going to happen. Particularly in the initial period, it is important that we know how the subsidy schemes, the database and the challenges are working. This legislation will work only if it is kept under review, and I am pleased that there is an amendment to that effect.
I am also pleased with the Lords amendment on the Secretary of State’s ability to review the database, as it will move and change. Things will need to be improved because this is not the end of the story on subsidy control. Once the Bill is on the statute book, there will still be a lot of consultation and guidance to come. The shadow Minister mentioned Lords amendment 46, which means that a significant proportion of the consultation will happen in advance of the Bill coming into force. The authorities that will be granting subsidies, those who will be receiving the subsidies and those who might be harmed by the subsidies need to have an idea of what the regime will be before it kicks in. It is important to consult and publish guidance as early as possible, and I urge the Minister to make good on his promises about ensuring that guidance is published in good time so that everyone can make the regime work. It will work only if people know how it works.
People still do not have enough time to challenge, and I would have liked the list of people who can make a challenge by right, without having to demonstrate that they have been individually affected by the subsidies, to include the Scottish Government, Welsh Ministers and Northern Irish Ministers.
It is disappointing that agriculture continues to be included in the Bill.
I am extremely disappointed that the views and concerns of the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the National Farmers Union across these islands, including NFU Scotland, about agricultural subsidies being in scope have been virtually ignored by this Government. They are certainly not reflected on the face of the Bill. Does my hon. Friend share those concerns?
I absolutely do. The Government cannot hide behind agricultural being in the trade and co-operation agreement, because the TCA specifically says that agricultural subsidies can and should be excluded from subsidy control regimes. The Government still have not given a good reason for including agriculture in the subsidy control regime. It works in the EU and in the state aid regime, so it is perfectly workable to exclude agriculture from the subsidy control regime. Including such subsidies will cause problems. The fact that NFUs across these islands have raised concerns shows that it is incredibly serious. I urge the Minister to think again about how the issue of agriculture is treated by the Bill.
The shadow Minister extensively addressed net zero. Granting authorities are required to consider the environmental and net zero impacts of energy-related subsidies, but that is not what net zero is about. This is not the only time we will be thinking about how to reduce our impact on climate change. If a granting authority decides to give a significant amount of money to a bus company, for example, it does not have to consider the climate impact. If it decides to scrap all the buses and replace them with diesel taxis, it does not have to consider the net zero impact, because it is not an energy-related subsidy. I am massively concerned that net zero is included only in schedule 2 and not in schedule 1. If the Government are serious about tackling climate change, they need to be looking at every piece of legislation that comes through this place and ensuring that it does not have a negative impact on our ability to meet net zero; and if it does, they should be ensuring that that is then balanced by further, more dramatic actions in order that we can meet net zero.
In summation, the Bill is better than it was, but it still falls far short. I am still concerned about transparency and massively concerned about agriculture. I am hugely concerned about the lack of importance this Government are giving to net zero—that should go through everything we do.
I thank all hon. Members for their engagement throughout the passage of this Bill and for their contributions this afternoon. I am glad that there has been broad consensus, albeit with some questions, which I will try briefly to address. The importance of that new independent subsidy control regime has been clear throughout the passage of the Bill and it was evident again today, so I thank hon. Members for their broad support.
Let me respond to the question from the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) about P&O and that kind of example. Clearly, we are shocked by the action of P&O Ferries and angered by the lack of empathy and consideration it has demonstrated towards its employees. The Government are continuing to work to establish whether P&O Ferries or DP World are in breach of any requirements of them as partners in the Thames and Solent freeports. Speaking more generally, I can confirm that the Bill ensures that public authorities can recover a subsidy where it has been misused, but it is important to note that the purpose of a subsidy is to achieve specific change in behaviour to facilitate a specific policy objective; it is not to give the Government ongoing leverage over how a company conducts its affairs. It is for other areas of law to set out the limits of what is acceptable corporate behaviour. None the less, because the subsidy is there to have that specific policy objective, we will make sure that that policy objective is met as best we can. However, it is difficult to enforce—
I am grateful to the Minister for his consideration of this point, but will he clarify whether a company that breaks the law and does not meet minimum standards on employment law, on environmental law or in other areas could still be in receipt of public subsidies through the subsidy control regime?
It is difficult to come up with the examples, but in essence a subsidy is there to determine a particular policy objective. We would want to partner with businesses and companies that are most likely to deliver those policy objectives: reliable partners. Clearly, ones that are in breach of the kind of examples that the hon. Lady mentions are less likely to be those reliable partners. Technically, she is correct, but this is about how we enforce something, probably after the event; similarly, had we given P&O Ferries a subsidy last year, we probably would not have been able to get that subsidy back. That is the difficulty with enforcement after the event. None the less, the sentiment is absolutely there: we do not want to be partnering with unreliable companies to achieve our policy objectives.
The issue with that is that if a company is given money to run a freeport and it runs a freeport with that money, it can sack all the staff it likes at P&O and still be eligible for the subsidy. The issue is that there is a gap, which has been well highlighted by the shadow Minister.
We will work out how the subsidy control regime is working; it is part of what I will come back to in a moment about the CMA’s approach to reporting back how the regime is working. We have to make sure that this is watertight—excuse the pun—if we are going to go down the road of making sure that we can recover any subsidies. I suspect that other areas of law will be better suited to approaching that, rather than specifically dealing with it within this framework Bill.
I am conscious of time, but let me make this brief point, for clarity. There is an important distinction between companies or businesses with which the Government may be working to achieve policy objectives, and their eligibility still to receive public subsidies, potentially to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds or millions, where they have explicitly even admitted to this House that they have broken employment law. There is an important distinction here about how public money could be spent and about rewarding those who have behaved badly.
Again, that is up to the public authorities. The whole point about this regime is that it is a loose, permissive framework, rather than something more onerous which adds layer upon layer to recreate the EU state aid system. None the less, I would expect that, again, because of value for money and good governance, any public authority, whether national Government, local government or another public body, would expect to have exactly that kind of criteria—
The Scottish Government asked that the freeports that were going to be in Scotland had green stuff in them and fair work rules, but the UK Government said no. Now the Minister is saying, “Yes, we can totally do that. That definitely should be in it.” The UK Government refused to let us have that in the freeports planned for Scotland.
I am not going to get involved in a wider discussion about freeports; I am talking about a framework Bill, which is exactly why I said that other areas of legislation and of governance will better frame this area, as opposed to having it within this framework Bill. I am going well over time on this issue, because I wanted to cover some of the other areas.
Net zero has been mentioned. Schedule 2 contains a lot of common-sense principles already, which support the UK’s priorities on net zero and protecting the environment. They require subsidies in relation to energy and the environment to meet one of the specified aims, such as increasing the level of environmental protection, and to ensure that subsidies do not undermine the polluter pays principle. We talked about the tax subsidies and the timings. Clearly, within the timings of the tax subsidies a longer period is still necessitated, because of the fact that tax returns and such things take longer to go through the process—as opposed to having the immediacy of sponsorship through a subsidy or more immediate cash assistance.
The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston talked about CMA thresholds and limitations, but ultimately that is what the CMA will be looking at in any case as part of its reporting back on the regime and its overall effectiveness. So we will always be able to look at how those thresholds and limitations are working in practice; we want to make sure that that can be put in place.
I wish to conclude by reaffirming what I set out in my opening remarks: this Bill creates a domestic subsidy control regime that will work for people and communities across the UK, creating a robust yet agile system that allows public authorities to provide subsidies where they are needed most. The rigorous debates in both Houses have resulted in the improved Bill we have before us, so I commend it to the House.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 51 agreed to.
Building Safety Bill (Programme) (No. 3)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Building Safety Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 21 July 2021 (Building Safety Bill (Programme)), as varied by the Order of 19 January 2022 (Building Safety Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement.
(2) The Lords Amendments shall be considered in the following order, namely: 93, 94, 98, 107 to 109, 145, 184, 6, 1 to 5, 7 to 92, 95 to 97, 99 to 106, 110 to 144, 146 to 183, 185 to 191.
(3) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(4) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Alan Mak.)
Question agreed to.
Building Safety Bill
Consideration of Lords amendments
[Relevant documents: Second Report of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2019-21, Cladding: progress of remediation, HC 172; Fifth Report of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2019-21, Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Building Safety Bill, HC 466; Seventh report of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2019-21, Cladding Remediation—Follow-up, HC 1249; Seventh Report of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Building Safety: Remediation and Funding, HC 1063.]
Queen’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 6, 17, 22 to 30, 103, 104, 111 to 113, 116, 120 to 127, 137 and 138. If they are agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
Before Clause 117
Remediation of certain defects
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendment (b) to Lords amendment 93.
Lords amendment 94, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 98, and Government amendments (a) to (c) thereto.
Lords amendment 107, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 108, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 109, and Government amendments (a) and (b) thereto.
Lords amendment 145, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 184, Government amendments (a) and (b), amendment (e), Government amendments (c) and (d), and amendment (f) thereto.
Lords amendment 6, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendments 1 to 5 and 7 to 25.
Lords amendment 26, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 27 to 77.
Lords amendment 27, and Government consequential amendment (a).
Lords amendments 79 to 92, 95 to 97, 99 to 106 and 110.
Lords amendment 111, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 112 to 144, 146 to 183 and 185 to 191.
I must start with a reminder of where this journey started: 72 people lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which was the largest loss of life in a residential fire since the second world war. All our thoughts are with those families who have lost loved ones. The Government are determined to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.
I thank the Members of this House, noble Lords, cladding groups and industry stakeholders who have worked tirelessly on this landmark legislation. I remind Members that the Bill not only creates an improved building safety regulatory system but protects leaseholders, who have become victims in the building safety crisis. We have stuck to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s principles on building safety, which are that we must make industry pay to fix the problems for which it is responsible; protect leaseholders; and restore common sense to the assessment of building safety risks, thereby speeding up the fixing of the highest-risk buildings and stopping buildings being declared unsafe unnecessarily .
I accept that a lot of what the Minister is saying is correct—that those who are responsible should pay and leaseholders should not—but he missed out one group that has been particularly affected by Grenfell: social housing tenants. Why is the Minister not prepared to offer them the same financial support as he is giving to leaseholders?
The Chairman of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee—the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts)—and I have been involved in the prelegislative scrutiny of the Bill and the whole process behind it. Is my right hon. Friend the Minister saying that not only can we pass the Bill today with the Government amendments but he will continue to look to revise the law and to embrace more people in the law through secondary legislation?
The Building Safety Regulator will continue to make sure that all building safety regulations are adhered to. Mention has been made of social housing tenants, social housing and affordable housing; we will consult on that further down the line so that we can be absolutely sure we have got this right. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend.
On 13 April, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to Members to update them on the progress in the negotiations with industry. We will now see the vast majority of developers fix all the buildings that they had a role in developing or refurbishing in the past 30 years. My right hon. Friend announced last week that, in addition to the existing building safety fund, the Government will establish a new cladding remediation scheme, funded by industry contributions, to cover all other unsafe residential buildings of 11 to 18 metres that contain private leasehold properties but a developer has not accepted responsibility for fixing them or cannot be identified.
I thank the Minister for what he is saying. He will be aware that I have had significant issues in my constituency, with many affected developments. In respect of the Celestia development in particular, there have been long-standing challenges in getting answers to the questions that residents are asking. Redrow wrote to the Secretary of State to say that it will now take responsibility for paying, but it has not made clear whether that applies to Wales—the letter refers only to England. Will the Minister clarify whether he understands that such commitments are going to be UK-wide, given that it is a UK-wide issue? If they are not, what pressure will he put on Redrow to make sure that that commitment applies to Wales as well?
I do not know the specifics, to be really honest with the hon. Gentleman. He will know that I have picked this issue up lately, and if he does not mind, I will come back to him with a definitive answer.
The leaseholder protections that were introduced in the other place put our commitments into law. Qualifying leaseholders—defined as those living in their own homes or with up to three UK properties in total in buildings that are above 11 metres or five storeys—will be legally protected from all costs associated with the remediation of unsafe cladding, as will all leaseholders in buildings owned by or associated with the developer. Leaseholders in buildings above 18 metres are already protected by the Government’s £5.1 billion building safety fund for the removal of unsafe cladding. It is the Government’s expectation that developers will pay to fix buildings that they had a role in developing or refurbishing.
The Minister has been a breath of fresh air since he has come to the Department, and the discussions have been very productive. Will he clarify from the Dispatch Box that for leaseholders in buildings under 11 metres, who currently have no protections, the Department would be willing to look at those buildings on a case-by-case basis if support was needed?
My hon. Friend has invested a considerable amount of time in his campaign and I have enjoyed the opportunity to have those discussions with him. I will come to that point shortly, but yes, as a Department we will deal with those buildings on a case-by-case basis. I shall give more details as to why we have come to that conclusion.
We are protecting qualifying leaseholders from costs associated with non-cladding defects, including interim measures such as waking watches. Building owners and landlords will be prevented from passing on the costs to fix non-cladding defects if they are linked to, or are, the developer.
While the Bill was in the other place, the Government made a number of amendments to it that will restore fairness to the system and help those who have been unfairly impacted by building safety issues. I know that many Members wish to speak, so I do not propose to go through each of the amendments made in the other place. The Bill now not only provides for a new regulatory regime but provides an extensive set of tools, in law, to ensure that those who bear the responsibility for defects are made to pay and to protect leaseholders from crippling bills for historic defects. In response to concerns expressed by Members in both Houses and by stakeholders, we have changed how the building safety charge works and removed the legal duty to appoint a building safety manager.
The EWS1 form, which was brought about by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, has caused many problems for people trying to sell their properties. We now have PAS 9980, which will not replace EWS1, but could the Minister say that from his perspective he would rather people look at PAS 9980, as opposed to EWS1?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has also been heavily involved in all this work. Yes, I can confirm that. I will elaborate later in my speech.
Let me turn now to the Government amendments to the Lords amendments. Lords amendment 94 inserts a clause that sets out the meaning of “relevant building”. The clause defines the categories of buildings to which the leaseholder protection measures apply. The Government originally proposed to apply the leaseholder protection measures to buildings containing at least two dwellings above 11 metres in height, or with at least five storeys. Amendments made in the other place extended the definition of “relevant building” to buildings of all heights containing two or more dwellings. We will take a very dim view of freeholders who seek to exploit leaseholders to pay for unnecessary works. The Department is aware of a handful of low-rise buildings where freeholders have been commissioning such works and we are addressing such buildings, as I said a moment ago, on a case-by-case basis, but we must restore proportionality to the system. That is why the Government do not agree with the extension of the scope of leaseholder protections to include buildings under 11 metres. There is no systematic risk of fire with buildings below 11 metres. Low-rise buildings are therefore unlikely to need costly remediation to make them safe. Lower-cost mitigations such as fire alarms are likely to be far more appropriate and proportionate. Assessments carried out in accordance with the new PAS 9980 principles should produce more proportionate responses than costly and, ultimately, unnecessary remediation. The Government have been clear in their view that an EWS1 form should not be required for buildings below 18 metres in height.
I thank the Minister for his generosity in giving way again. What is his advice to leaseholders who believe that they have been wrongly charged for unnecessary works, or works that are not actually required in the way that he is describing? Many residents have raised concerns with me about what has been put forward and whether it was actually required. What should they do? What is the Minister’s practical advice?
My door is always open, so if the hon. Gentleman wants to raise specific cases with me I would be more than happy to take them up and make sure that we get relevant answers for him.
Freeholders and landlords should not be commissioning costly remediation in buildings below 11 metres except in exceptional circumstances, which is where there is no more proportionate option available. They certainly should not be pointing to old EWS assessments to justify those costs. Given the small number of buildings involved, a blanket legislative intervention bringing hundreds of thousands more buildings into scope to deal with an issue affecting just a handful of buildings would be entirely disproportionate. The Government amendments therefore reinstate the definition of “relevant building” as one that is at least 11 metres, or five storeys in height, and contains at least two dwellings.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way. In respect of the point that he has just made, have the Government made an estimate of the number of residential buildings below 11 metres where there may be a case for extensive remediation works? I am just trying to follow the logic of the Government’s position. They say that there is not really a problem with buildings below 11 metres, which is why they do want to include them, but if there is not a problem, surely the Government would not be having to do much in respect of those buildings, because there are very few of them—so the Minister says.
The issue is the proportionate measures that can be made in those buildings to ensure that they are safe. We want to make sure that we get this right, and we will be continuing to look at all of these. If the building safety regulator assesses that further work needs to be done, or that the Government need to look at what needs to be done, we will absolutely make sure that we do that, and I make that commitment to the House.
On that specific point, I am grateful that the Minister has said that he will look at this issue of buildings below 11 metres. As part of that, will he commit to focus especially on those buildings where there are many vulnerable residents—whether that is care homes, shelter buildings or perhaps even schools where there are children with special educational needs or disabilities who might find it harder to escape buildings? Will he commit to look specifically through that lens of risk to the vulnerable adults in those buildings?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her engagement, too. She raised this important point with me yesterday. Yes, absolutely, we have officials looking at that, but also, as I have said, the Building Safety Regulator will be assessing buildings such as those. If this becomes an area that needs further consideration, we will look at what measures need to be introduced.