House of Commons
Wednesday 15 June 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—
Fossil Fuel Industry
The UN Secretary-General has called investment in new fossil fuel production and power plants “moral and economic madness”. The European Parliament has objected to plans to include gas in the definition of sustainable energy. Surely the COP26 President must agree that the Westminster Government are making a mockery of their presidency at COP. Not only have they increased support for fossil fuels, but their renewables policy is disguising billions in subsidies for biomass. How does he square the Government’s plans with the UK’s COP26 commitment and with the views of his possible future boss?
I am very happy with my current boss, the Prime Minister. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the British energy security strategy, which was published a few weeks ago, it clearly sets out our commitment to a clean energy future. He knows that our stated aim is to decarbonise the electricity sector by 2035, and we stand by that.
The fossil fuel lobby at COP26, covering more than 100 fossil fuel companies, fielded a larger delegation than the combined delegations of the eight countries worst affected by climate change, and was the single largest delegation with more than 500 delegates. Does the COP26 President not agree that although investment in renewables by fossil fuel companies is a key part of tackling climate change, it would not be appropriate for that situation to be repeated at COP27? The fossil fuel industry should not be given the loudest voice in climate discussions.
The presidency in any one year is not responsible for who attends a particular COP; we are responsible for the presidency platform. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that at COP26, all participating corporates were required to have signed up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign and were committing to reach net zero by 2050 on science-based targets. There were no fossil fuel companies participating on UK presidency platforms in Glasgow.
I encourage my right hon. Friend to continue to get the balance right between marching towards a green future and using whatever fuels we need to use in the meantime to keep the lights on in our hospitals, schools, homes and offices. He has done a great job so far. Will he continue to get that balance right?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have always talked about a managed transition to a clean energy future. It is not about flicking a switch off overnight; I think everybody understands that. As a Government, of course, we have to make sure that we keep the lights on and keep the factories and businesses running.
Does the COP26 President recognise that fossil fuels remain critical in the transition to net zero 2050 and in the production of blue hydrogen, plastics and power through carbon capture, utilisation and storage projects such as Net Zero Teesside?
My hon. Friend makes the same point that this is about a managed transition. We want to ensure that we decarbonise the electricity system by 2035. Hon. Members will know that the energy security strategy is all about transitioning to a clean energy future with a big push on renewables, nuclear and hydrogen.
It has been reported that the COP26 President is in the running to become the executive secretary of climate at the UN. I wish him well, because he would do an excellent job in that post. Part of the reason he won respect at COP26 was for his commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, yet here at home the Chancellor has created a massive loophole in the windfall tax to give away at least £4 billion of public money in new incentives for new oil and gas projects. Can the COP26 President tell us whether he was consulted on that plan? How much does he estimate that it will drive up emissions? Is it not totally at odds with the agreement on fossil fuels that he worked so hard to secure in Glasgow?
The energy profits levy to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is a targeted short-term measure with an effective end date of December 2025. Any company looking to make future energy investments will have to factor in the risks of potentially ending up with stranded assets.
Maybe the COP26 President has one eye on the UN, because that did not sound like a wholehearted endorsement of the Chancellor’s policy, and he is right to think that the Chancellor’s policy does not make any sense. The money will either go to oil and gas projects that would have happened anyway, or incentivise new projects that will make no difference to consumer bills, take years to come to fruition and drive a coach and horses through our climate commitments. What is more, this policy excludes investments in renewables, which are the quickest, cheapest and cleanest form of power. Does that not reveal the truth that on climate, he says one thing on the world stage and the rest of the Government do another here at home? Is it not totally understandable that he wants to jump off the sinking ship?
The right hon. Gentleman will not get rid of me that easily. He needs to look at what the Government have done over the past few years: we have built the second biggest offshore wind sector in the world, which is precisely the reason that we are not dependent on Russian hydrocarbons, as some countries are. We have had a big push on renewables. He talks about the energy profits levy, but he should please have a look—he will have done this anyway, but a detailed look—at the energy security strategy, which sets out a very clear direction to a clean energy future for the UK.
Glasgow Climate Pact: Business
COP26 was one of the first such summits where the corporate sector’s presence and commitments were significant. Over 7,000 international businesses have now signed up to the UN Race to Zero campaign, which commits them to reaching net zero by 2050 at the latest. The private sector will of course be critical to helping deliver on the commitments in the Glasgow climate pact.
In fact, there are many businesses, both large and small, that are committing to cut emissions, because they have understood that it is good for their bottom line and actually gives them a competitive advantage with clients and customers. I refer my hon. Friend to the UK business climate hub, which is championed by the Government and climate groups. Over 3,000 UK small and medium-sized enterprises have already signed up. I am sure that, if small businesses in Bracknell look at the website, they will understand the positive impact of making a climate commitment.
The COP26 President will be aware of concerns raised about aspects of biomass, so how does he intend to ensure that carbon emissions from this sector and businesses such as wood-burning power stations are reflected in the reformed UK emissions trading system? How does he think the COP commitment to protect the world’s forests aligns with existing UK Government policies for burning imported wood and the considerable UK Government subsidies given to this industry?
There are quite a lot of questions there in one. We have a very clear commitment, not only in our legal framework but in the net zero strategy, which sets out how we will decarbonise through different sectors of the economy. The hon. Member mentioned forests, and she will know that at COP26 over 140 countries representing more than 90% of forests made a commitment to reverse deforestation by 2030. I have just returned from Stockholm, where I and other UK Ministers held a meeting to discuss how we can push forward those commitments. They are not just written down; we are actually seeing progress.
Fossil Fuel Interest Groups
I answered this question earlier, but I reiterate that, to participate on UK presidency platforms at COP26, all corporates were required to sign up to net zero commitments. Let me reconfirm that there were no fossil fuel companies participating on UK presidency platforms.
Look, the truth is that the whole process of transition is either stalled or in reverse. We know that there are powerful interest groups in Downing Street saying that climate change is of secondary importance. What is striking is that, when we look at ministerial diaries, we see that Ministers have met representatives of fossil fuel companies nine times more frequently than companies representing renewables. Is it not clear that this Government are in the pockets of the fossil fuel industries and have in effect been captured by those corporations, which explains the asymmetric way in which the Government are operating in relation to the transition?
This Government have not been captured by any interest. Once again, I point out to the hon. Member that, if he looks at the energy security strategy for the direction of travel, he will see that we are looking to quintuple the amount of both offshore wind and solar, and by 2050 we want a quarter of our electricity needs to come from nuclear. As far as I am concerned, if he looks at the detail of that, he will understand that we are focused on a clean energy future, and that is what we are delivering.
Good progress is being made on adaptation, as was clear at COP26, and it is critical that we work on that. We will continue to do that through the global goal on adaptation, which has just had its first workshop, and by focusing on doubling adaptation finance to £40 billion. An example of what we in the UK are doing to adapt to rising tides around the coast is our coastal accelerator programme, which we have just launched.
The reality is that every country, including the UK, will need to adapt to the impacts of climate change, in which nature-based solutions can play a significant role. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to consider the opportunities and policy support needed to implement nature-based solutions across the UK, in ways that deliver for nature, climate and people?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. Nature-based solutions are critical, and about one third of the mitigation that we need to keep up with 2° of warming can be delivered through natural solutions. That is why the Government are focusing so many of their policies on that issue, whether through flood funding, the new environmental land management scheme, our Nature for Climate fund—that is £740 million and focuses specifically on trees—or peatland restoration. All those things will restore habitats, increase biodiversity and, critically, reduce carbon emissions and sequester carbon.
We rightly talk about the adaptation finance gap, but as the Minister will know, according to Oxfam the economic costs of loss and damage could be up to £580 billion a year by 2030, yet rich countries are continuing to drag their feet. Will the Government work to ensure that Egypt succeeds where Glasgow failed, so that the £100 billion in climate finance is not just met but exceeded, and so that a new loss and damage finance facility is established at COP27?
A major focus of COP26 was attracting climate finance, and £126 billion was attracted for the forest and agriculture sector to work on reducing degradation. We are of course focusing on the just energy transition, which is also important, and that remains a key focus, in particular doubling finance for adaptation to £40 billion by 2025.
I very much welcome the Minister’s answer about working with all sectors on delivering on COP26. Before the United Kingdom hosted COP26, the Secretary of State visited the Vatican to meet His Holiness Pope Francis, and to receive a document signed by all faith leaders about their commitments on climate change. The United Kingdom is hosting the international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief, which I had the pleasure of signing off during my term in office. Will the Secretary of State and his Department work with the Foreign Office to ensure that the responsibility of faith leaders on climate change, and their work, is taken forward?
Domestic Renewable Energy
The Government recently published the British energy security strategy, which sets out plans to turbocharge our clean energy transition. As I said earlier, the aim is to quintuple our offshore wind and solar PV capacities by 2030, while also significantly expanding nuclear and hydrogen. We aim to decarbonise our electricity sector fully by 2035.
While I welcome the Minister’s comments, all the evidence points to the fact that we need a drastic shift towards renewables if we are to meet our climate change commitment. What does he say about figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that show a reduction in growth in renewable energy over the past few years, specifically in onshore wind? Will he commit to investing more in onshore wind, and to committing to hydrogen, so that all new housing developments are hydrogen capable when boilers are replaced and central heating systems are introduced?
As the hon. Lady knows, a lot of work is going on with hydrogen, and we published our hydrogen strategy last year. We have announced plans to double our available capacity to 10 GW of hydrogen production by 2030. We already have 14 GW of onshore wind deployed to date, and we have made it clear that we will be consulting this year on developing local partnerships for a number of other supportive communities that wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure. That will, of course, be in return for benefits, including lower energy bills.
With the international energy price so high, will my right hon. Friend help to cut the cost of living by either scrapping the green levies to help people pay their bills, or at least by introducing a downward green escalator, so that when the international energy price is high, the green levies reduce?
Taxation is obviously an issue for the Chancellor, but the Government are providing £37 billion-worth of support right now to help people with the cost of living, including energy bills. On green levies, I think they represent 8% of a dual fuel bill, a significant amount of which is going to vulnerable households through the warm home discount and other mechanisms. The reason energy prices are high right now and wholesale prices have risen by 300% to 400% is in large part due to what is happening with the illegal war in Ukraine.
We need a sprint on renewables, yet Ministers are barely breaking into a limp. In the latest round of contracts for difference, the Government implemented a cap of 12 GW on renewables, despite the industry reporting that 17.4 GW had been cleared for planning permission. That is 5.4 GW of shovel-ready, cheap, clean energy blocked. We are in an energy crisis. Why are the Government not firing on all cylinders to address it?
The Government are firing on all cylinders. If we had not been firing on all cylinders and got the second-biggest offshore wind sector in the world, we would now be reliant on Russian hydrocarbons, which we are not, unlike some other countries. The hon. Lady should welcome the progress that has been made and of course we want to do more.
Zero Emission Vehicles
At COP26, the UK presidency launched the zero emission vehicles declaration. Over 140 parties, including Governments, vehicle manufacturers and businesses, committed to working together towards ensuring that all new car sales are zero emission by 2035 in leading car markets and by 2040 globally. We continue to gather signatories.
The move from internal combustion to electric vehicles will only be successful with good access to infrastructure, but policy on parking at public charging stations rests with local authorities. Does the COP26 President agree that that should be restricted to electric vehicles, and will he join me in regretting that this is not currently the case in Warwickshire?
As my hon. Friend points out, parking policy enforcement is devolved to local authorities. He certainly makes an interesting point and I encourage him to raise it with the Department for Transport. Local authorities can, under a traffic regulation order under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, implement parking restrictions, for example dedicated electric vehicle bays.
Last month, I co-chaired a ministerial meeting with Egypt’s COP27 President-designate, bringing together almost 50 Governments to discuss progress on the implementation of countries’ COP26 commitments. We discussed the commitments to revisit 2030 emission reduction targets, finance, and work programmes on adaptation, loss and damage. While some progress has been made in turning commitments into action, countries need to significantly accelerate the pace of implementation on the road to COP27.
On Friday, I joined the Rugby Green Christian group for a question time event to consider national and local responses to the challenges we face. Does the COP26 President agree that those discussions are essential to building local support for the measures the Government are taking?
I commend my hon. Friend for the work he is doing in this area and he is absolutely right. We can all play a part in tackling climate change. It is vital that we do so to make not only the environmental case but the very positive economic case for climate action.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the need for commitments and action. I can confirm that at the G7 Ministers reaffirmed the key climate commitments that were made at COP26 and we also agreed to phase out the use of domestic coal and end G7 international fossil fuel finance by the end of 2022.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Of course, hydrogen is clearly part of our energy future. We set out our hydrogen strategy last year and, as he will know, in the energy security strategy we have doubled our ambition to 10 GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030. Internationally, we are working with partners through the COP26 breakthrough agenda to ensure that clean technologies such as hydrogen are affordable and accessible for all by 2030.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the North Sea Transition Authority launched the UK’s first ever carbon storage licensing round yesterday. I am very happy to meet him or to ensure that a Minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy meets him.
As my right hon. Friend said, the agreement we reached was for the G7 to phase out domestic coal. Of course, we want to see that happen in developing economies across the world and that is why we are working, as we did with South Africa, to ensure that funding is made available to a number of other countries that are major emitters to ensure that they are able to make that transition to clean energy.
If all the forest pledges made at COP26 are delivered, we will have achieved 10% of the emissions reductions that we need to stay within 1.5°, so nature is critical to achieving net zero. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on his ambitions for biodiversity at the COP15 summit?
We are working very closely on the issue. We want to ensure that there is a new framework for biodiversity. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that COP26 had a big focus on reversing deforestation and supporting biodiversity; we are continuing to press forward on that issue.
Before we start Prime Minister’s questions, I remind Members of the service at St Margaret’s at 1 o’clock today to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of the Falklands war. I hope that as many hon. Members as possible will be able to attend.
I would also like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings on PMQs is available on parliamentlive.tv. [Interruption] Not that sign language!
The Prime Minister was asked—
Government support for households is greatly appreciated, but high energy costs are causing massive problems for businesses, particularly in energy-intensive manufacturing. Will the Prime Minister support the Repowering the Black Country initiative, which is backed by the local enterprise partnership and by Andy Street, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels? Will he meet me to look at how the Black Country can be a pilot project to decarbonise, reduce costs and protect the region’s manufacturing jobs?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for Dudley and for the Black Country. In addition to the £1,200 for the 8 million most vulnerable households, we are providing £400 to help everybody with the cost of energy. We are supporting the Black Country with cost-efficient energy infrastructure, and the region has already received £1.5 million to develop a cluster plan for decarbonisation.
May I pay tribute to all those who served in the Falklands? My uncle was among them, serving on HMS Antelope when it went down. Thankfully, he made it back, but too many serving in that war did not. We remember them all.
Britain is set for lower growth than every major economy except Russia. Why?
I will tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman: actually, according to the International Monetary Fund and the OECD, in addition to the fastest growth in the G7 last year, we are going to have the second fastest this year, and we will return to the top of the table. The reason that other countries are temporarily moving ahead is, of course, that we came out of the pandemic faster than they did, because we took the right decisions to come out of lockdown—which he opposed. That is why, right now, we have the highest number of people on payrolled employment on record.
The Prime Minister always likes to blame global forces, but global forces are just that: global—everybody faces them. Britain is not under crippling economic sanctions like Russia. No wonder he does not want to answer the question: why is the UK set for lower growth than every other major economy?
I think everybody can see that I have just answered the question. Once again, the right hon. Gentleman is guilty of what m’legal friends call “ignoratio elenchi”: he has failed to listen to what I have actually said. What would be useful, in supporting the UK economy right now, would be if the leader of the Labour party ended his sphinx-like silence about the RMT’s strikes coming up in the course of the next couple of weeks. Will he now break with his shadow Transport Secretary and denounce Labour’s rail strikes?
He is in government. He could do something to stop the strikes, but he has not lifted a finger. I do not want the strikes to go ahead, but he does. He wants the country to grind to a halt so that he can feed off the division.
As for his boasting about the economy, he thinks he can perform Jedi mind tricks on the country—“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”. “No rules were broken”. “The economy is booming”. The problem is, the Force just isn’t with him any more. He thinks he is Obi-Wan Kenobi; the truth is, he is Jabba the Hutt. Last week he stood there and boasted that we would continue to grow the economy. This week it turns out that the economy shrank for the second month in a row. How does it help Britain to have an ostrich Prime Minister with his head in the sand?
We have got lower unemployment than France, Germany, Italy or Canada. As I have said, we have the highest number of people in payroll jobs—620,000 more—since records began. The right hon. Gentleman might like to know that just in the first five months of this year, this country has attracted, I think, £16 billion of investment in its tech sector. He does not like these European comparisons; let us make them for him. That is three times as much as Germany, twice as much as France. He should be talking this country up, not running it down.[Official Report, 6 July 2022, Vol. 717, c. 12MC.]
That’s the ostrich. He is not just denying how bad things are; he is actively making things worse. His 15 tax rises are throttling growth and the Director of the CBI is so fed up that he is reduced to saying:
“Can we stop Operation Save Big Dog and…move to action stations on the economy?”
We know what the Prime Minister says about British business in private—I think that is pretty unparliamentary —but when did screwing business turn from a flippant comment into economic policy?
I just reminded the House of what is happening in tech week in this country—the massive investment that is coming in, helped, by the way, by the 130% super deduction for business investment that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has put in. Never forget, Mr Speaker, that under Labour, taxes go up on businesses and on people. We are not only putting £1,200 more into people’s pockets; the right hon. Gentleman talks about taxes, and we are having a tax cut worth £330 on average for everybody who pays national insurance. Labour has already made spending commitments, in this Parliament alone, worth £94 billion more than the Government’s. That is £2,100 for every household in the country. No wonder no Labour Government have ever left office with unemployment lower than when they came in.
Fifteen tax rises, and we are saddled with the highest tax burden since rationing. He says the economy is booming when it is shrinking. He is game-playing so much, he thinks he is on “Love Island”. Trouble is, Prime Minister, I am reliably informed that contestants that give the public the ick get booted out.
It is not just low growth. He has also lost control of inflation. He was warned about this last September, and what did he do? He dismissed it; he did not act; he sat on his hands. Now prices are through the roof and we are set to have the highest inflation in the G7. When will he accept that he got it badly wrong when he claimed that worries about inflation were “unfounded”?
We are helping people with the cost of living with £1,200, and on 14 July the money will be going into people’s bank accounts. Why can we do that? Because we have the fiscal firepower to do it and because the economy is in robust shape, with record numbers of people in payroll employment. That is thanks to the steps that we took, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman continuously opposed. I will not say this interrogatively, Mr Speaker, but he has the chance now to clear this up. He can oppose Labour’s rail strikes right now—[Interruption.] He can disagree; I will give him that opportunity. Let him disagree with the union barons who would add to people’s costs in the coming weeks.
I do not want the strikes to go ahead. The Prime Minister does, so that he can feed on the division—[Interruption.] There may be a lot of noise now, but I have a long list of what his MPs really think of him. “Dragging everyone down.” Who said that? Come on! Who was it who said that? “Authority is destroyed.” Come on, hands up! Which of you was it? “Can’t win back trust.” Anybody owning up? You are very quiet now. Hands! Hands!
My personal favourite is this. It is a document circulated by his Back Benchers, in which they call him the “Conservative Corbyn”. Prime Minister, I don’t think that was intended as a compliment. Week after week, he stands there and spouts the same nonsense: the economy is booming, everything is going swimmingly, the people should be grateful. But while he is telling Britain that we have never had it so good, millions of working people and businesses know the reality. Britain’s growth is going to be slower than our competitors, and our inflation higher. A Prime Minister who sounds totally deluded, totally failing on the economy, failing to tackle—
Order. I think we need to get to the end of the question, but I will just remind hon. Members that I will hear the end of the question in silence. Any more noise in this corner of the Chamber, and there will be another early cup of tea if we are not careful.
A Prime Minister who sounds totally deluded, totally failing the economy, failing to tackle inflation, failing to back business, failing to help working people through the crisis, and his big idea is to go back to imperial measurements. He has ’80s inflation and ’70s stagnation; now he wants ’60s weights to complete the set. When is he going to ditch the gimmicks and face up to the reality that, under him, Britain’s economy is going backwards?
A couple of quick points about Mr Corbyn—the right hon. Member for Islington North. First, the right hon. and learned Gentleman tried repeatedly to get him elected as Prime Minister. Secondly, speaking from experience, the right hon. Member for Islington North is relatively dynamic by comparison with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Dynamic and coherent—[Interruption.]
What we are going to get on and do is continue to take the tough decisions to take this country forward—decisions that are on the side of the British people. The Opposition are blatantly on the side of the RMT union barons, when there are some ticket offices that barely sell one ticket per hour. We are on the side of the travelling public.
By the way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not mentioned this, but they are on the side of the people traffickers who would risk people’s lives at sea, and we are on the side of people who come here safely and legally. They carp and snipe from the sidelines—that is what they have always done—and we take the big decisions to take this country forward. No matter how much welly the deputy Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), may ask him to apply, or how much welly he pretends to apply, that welly is always on the left foot.
Many areas like mine have already had massive new housing development with no commensurate increase in general practice capacity. At one of my surgeries, which has double the recommended number of patients per GP, the bowel cancer diagnosis of a 51-year-old father of four was missed and is now terminal. Getting this right is a life and death issue, so will the Prime Minister make sure that parts of the country that have already had massive new housing growth get the commensurate increase in general practice capacity that is only right and fair?
Yes, of course. We have 6,000 more doctors, 1,200 more GPs than this time last year and 11,800 more nurses, but we must make sure that areas with sensitive new development have the infrastructure and services, particularly medical services, that they need. The NHS has a statutory duty to take account of population growth. I know my hon. Friend has met my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, and I will take this up personally to make sure we get a proper approach to this very important issue.
I join you and others, Mr Speaker, in remembering the Falklands conflict of 40 years ago and those like my colleague Keith Brown, the Scottish Justice Minister, who served there. In particular, our thoughts are with those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Yesterday our First Minister started a national conversation on Scotland’s right to choose an independent future. When we look at nations like Iceland, Ireland, Norway and Denmark, it is clear that our neighbours are outperforming the United Kingdom. They deliver greater income equality, lower poverty rates and higher productivity, social mobility and business investment—the list goes on and on. The evidence is overwhelming: Scotland is being held back by Westminster.
Prime Minister, all those countries can use their powers of independence to create wealthier, fairer and greener societies. Why not Scotland?
I do not doubt the right hon. Gentleman’s talents as a conversationalist, but I think there are other subjects in the national conversation right now, including what we are doing to come through the aftershocks of covid with the strongest jobs-led recovery of any European economy. As I said, 620,000 more people across the whole UK are in payroll employment than before the pandemic began.
Another subject of national conversation is investment in our whole country. In Scotland and across the whole UK, as I mentioned, there is great investment in the tech sector, and the whole UK is standing strong together on the international stage and sticking up for the Ukrainians. Those are some of the things the country is also talking about.
Stronger together? Has the Prime Minister seen the pound? I think the financial markets have made their judgment on this Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister can afford to live in his own little world, his own little Britain, but people have to live with the reality of a failing Westminster system: a cost of living crisis that is worse in the UK than in any other G7 country; an inflation rate double that of France; the second worst economic growth forecast in the G20, behind only sanctioned Russia; and now the threat of a trade war with our European friends, triggered by a lawbreaking Prime Minister. That is not a vision for the future of Scotland.
Our nation is big enough, rich enough and smart enough. Is it not the case that Scotland simply cannot afford to remain trapped in the failing Westminster system? Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.
I think the figures speak for themselves. The UK has record numbers of people in payroll employment. That is an astounding thing, when we consider where we were during the pandemic. That was because of the UK working well together, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, on the vaccine roll-out and on the testing, on which Scotland and the rest of the country co-operated brilliantly.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about a trade war. What could be more foolish than a project that actually envisages trade barriers within parts of the United Kingdom? That is what we are trying to break down.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I want to extend my thanks also to Beverley and everybody in Cohort 4 for what they are doing. The extra support that we are giving includes £140 million of funding for victims’ services and £47 million ring-fenced particularly for organisations such as Cohort 4. I say thank you to Cohort 4 and similar organisations for everything they do.
May I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to our armed forces, and in sending our thanks and gratitude to the veterans of the Falklands war and their families?
Millions of families across our country are suffering because of the cost of living emergency. People in rural areas are especially hurting, bearing the brunt of record fuel price rises. The rural fuel duty relief scheme is supposed to help by taking money off the price of petrol, but some rural counties are not eligible, such as Cumbria, Shropshire and Devon—[Interruption.] The Conservative party does not want to hear ideas to help those people, and I think the people of Devon will take note because there are families and pensioners across rural counties who are missing out on this support. As petrol prices soar, will the Prime Minister accept our idea to help people in rural counties and expand rural fuel duty relief?
We cut fuel duty for everybody across the country by record sums. The right hon. Gentleman talks about pensioners; we are giving £850 more to every pensioner across the country. He talks about the cost of energy; everybody is going to get another £400 to help them with the costs of energy.
The blissful fact about the Liberal Democrats is that people do not actually know what their policies are. They are able to go around the country bamboozling the rural communities—not revealing that they are, in fact, in favour of massive new green taxes, which is what they want, and not revealing that they would like to go back, straightaway, into the common agricultural policy, with all the bureaucracy and all the costs that that entails. They do not say that on the doorstep.
I thank my hon. Friend very much. I know that everybody’s thoughts will be with Nellie and her parents, Tom and Megan, at this very difficult time. The UK National Screening Committee has received a request to look again at the conditions for doing an MLD test, and that is being reviewed right now. I will make sure that my hon. Friend gets a meeting as soon as possible with the relevant Minister.
I noticed that when one union baron was asked about this, he said, “I don’t negotiate with a Tory Government.” That is what he said, Mr Speaker. We all know how much money the Labour Front Benchers take from the RMT. We know why they are sitting on their hands during Labour’s rail strike. They should come out and condemn it.
That is a very worthwhile and important campaign that my hon. Friend supports. Too many pensioners fail to take up their entitlements under pension credit. It can be worth an additional £3,300 a year, and the more we can do to make pensioners aware of it, the better.
The hon. Lady has asked that question repeatedly. Let me remind her that this is a Government who get on and deliver on our promises to the people—in particular, on getting Brexit done. I read the other day that she wants to go back into the single market and the customs union. If going back into the EU is the real policy of the Labour party, why will the Leader of the Opposition not admit it?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of adopters and all those who help to give children a loving and stable home. He is quite right, we have so far focused on supporting employed parents, but local authorities have the power to provide discretionary payments equivalent to maternity allowance for self-employed adopters as well.
The hon. Lady is entirely right. We must focus ever more on mental health. That is why we are putting another £2.3 billion into supporting mental health, which includes suicide prevention and the many wonderful charities that help people with their conditions. All I can say is that it would be a good thing if, across the Floor of this House, we had support for the spending that we are putting in.
I am very interested to hear what the hon. Lady says, and I will look at the evidence that she has. These are very sensitive and difficult issues, particularly with regard to defence cases. But if she looks at what is happening on rape and serious sexual offences, where we have had similar problems, she will see that we are gradually starting to see an improvement in the prosecution rates. That is because Departments across Whitehall are working together to take account of victims’ needs. I agree that the progress is not everything that I would like, but we are seeing progress.
My right hon. Friend certainly speaks for many in this House in wanting faster decisions on planning and the NHS, and that is what we are doing. We are pushing through, as he knows, 40 hospitals by the—[Interruption.] Forty hospitals we are building, and what that needs is the funding. I tactfully point out again that Members on the Opposition Benches are bellowing away, but they voted against the extra £39 billion that we are putting in.
My constituent Mr Singh’s identity has been stolen. His NHS records are being misused, but he has been advised that there is nothing the Health Secretary can do. Crimes are being committed in his name. The Home Secretary’s Department assured him that that would not affect his immigration status, yet recently he and his wife and children were detained by UK Border Force while travelling for a family holiday. Can the Prime Minister explain who in his Government is responsible for this chaotic incompetence?
I would be only too happy to look at this. I am very sorry for the experience Mr Singh and his family have had. The hon. Lady asks who is responsible: I am responsible, and I take responsibility. I will look at the case and I will make sure that she gets a proper answer from the Home Office and the immigration department.
My constituent Dominique Davies is the niece of Dom Phillips, the British journalist missing in Brazil alongside the indigenous expert Bruno Pereira. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government make this case a diplomatic priority, and that they work to do everything they can to ensure that the Brazilian authorities put in the resources necessary to uncover the truth and find out what has happened to Dom and Bruno?
I thank my right hon. Friend very much for representing the niece of Dom Phillips. Like everybody in this House, we are deeply concerned about what may have happened to him. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials are working closely now with the Brazilian authorities following his disappearance on 5 June. The Minister responsible has raised the issue of the search and rescue effort repeatedly with Brazil’s Minister of Justice and Public Security; what we have told the Brazilians is that we stand ready to provide all the support that they may need.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could advise me on how I can correct the record on the question from the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), who raised the matter of rural fuel duty relief and incorrectly advised that it was not available in Devon. In my North Devon constituency, which I on this side of the House clearly know quite well, fuel retailers in the EX35 postcode of Lynton have had access to the duty relief for some time. How might we address that situation?
I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. Frankly, the level of noise during PMQs meant that it was not possible for the Chair to hear everything, but I understand that the Prime Minister did say, as she says, that the Opposition were on the side of people traffickers. That seems to me—and, I have to say, to the Speaker—to fall well short of the good temper and moderation that should characterise our debates. I say to the Prime Minister and to all Members here that we need to refer to each other in this place in more respectful terms, and I am sure that that spirit will be adopted in the statement to come.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Speaking as Chair of the International Trade Committee, it was to the dismay of the Committee that we found out that the Government were to trigger the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process on the Australia-UK free trade agreement before the scrutiny was finished. This is in the light of assurances in a letter to the Speaker of the House, assurances from a Department for International Trade Minister at the Dispatch Box on the Floor of the House on 17 November 2021, and assurances to the Committee itself that scrutiny would be allowed to happen before CRAG was triggered. This has not happened. What is happening is that the UK is opening and rolling out the red carpet to Australian exporters to the UK while Australia is not ratifying. We in the Committee feel that there should be a vote, at the very least, to delay CRAG. Can you advise us, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how best we can achieve that end?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. It did not relate directly to PMQs, so it should actually have been taken later. However, Ministers should obviously stick to commitments that they have made, and I am sure that he will find a number of ways to further the points that he has made.
Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government’s world-leading migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda.
The British people have repeatedly voted for controlled immigration and the right to secure borders. This is a Government who act and hear that message clearly, and we are determined to deliver that. Last night we aimed to relocate the first people from our country who arrived here through dangerous and illegal means, including by small boat. Over the course of this week, many and various claims to prevent relocation have been brought forward. I welcomed the decisions of our domestic courts—the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court—to uphold our right to send the flight. However, following a decision by an out-of-hours judge in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, minutes before our flight’s departure, the final individuals remaining on the flight had their removal directions paused while their claims were considered.
I want to make something absolutely clear: the European Court of Human Rights did not rule that the policy or relocations were unlawful, but it prohibited the removal of three of those on last night’s flight. Those prohibitions last for different time periods but are not an absolute bar on their transfer to Rwanda. Anyone who has been ordered to be released by the court will be tagged while we continue to progress their relocation. While this decision by the Strasbourg court to intervene was disappointing and surprising given the repeated and considered judgments to the contrary in our domestic courts, we remain committed to this policy. These repeated legal barriers are very similar to those that we experience with all other removal flights. We believe that we are fully compliant with our domestic and international obligations, and preparations for our future flights and the next flights have already begun. Our domestic courts were of the view that the flight could go ahead.
The case for our partnership with Rwanda bears repeating. We are a generous and welcoming country, as has been shown time and time again. Over 200,000 people have used safe and legal routes to come to the UK since 2015, and most recently Britons have opened their hearts and their homes to Afghan nationals and Ukrainian nationals. But our capacity to help those in need is severely compromised by those who come here illegally and, as we have discussed in this House many, many times, seek to jump the queue because they can afford to pay the people smugglers. It is illegal, and it is not necessary, because they are coming from other safe countries. It is not fair, either on those who play by the rules or on the British taxpayers who have to foot this bill. We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on accommodation, including hotels. We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities. It makes us less safe as nation, because those who come here illegally do not have the regularised checks or even the regularised status and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other appalling crimes that undermine the security of our country. It is also lethally dangerous for those who are smuggled. People have drowned at sea, suffocated in lorries and perished crossing territories.
The humane, decent and moral response to all this is simply not to stand by and let people drown or be sold into slavery or smuggled, but to stop it. With that, inaction is not an option—or at least, not a morally responsible one. This is, as I have said repeatedly, a complex, long-standing problem. The global asylum system is broken and between 80 million and 100 million people are now displaced, and others are on the move seeking better economic opportunities. An international problem requires international solutions.
The UK and Rwanda have shown the way forward by working together, and this partnership sends a clear message that illegal entry will not be tolerated, while offering a practical, humane way forward for those who arrive to the UK via illegal routes. It has saddened me to see Rwanda so terribly misrepresented and traduced in recent weeks. It is another example of how all too often, critics not only do not know what they are speaking about, but seek to vilify another country that has a good track record when it comes to refugees and stepping up to international responsibilities.
Rwanda is a safe and secure country with an outstanding track record of supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, we are proud that we are working together, proud that the UK is investing in Rwanda and helping that great country to thrive, and proud that those who are relocated to Rwanda will have an opportunity to thrive as well. They will be given generous support, including language skills, vocational training and help with starting their own businesses or finding employment, but I am afraid that the usual suspects, with the blessings of Opposition Members, have set out to thwart and even campaign against these efforts and, with that, the will of the British people.
It would be wrong to issue a running commentary on ongoing cases, but I would like to say this: this Government will not be deterred from doing the right thing, we will not be put off by the inevitable last-minute legal challenges, and nor will we allow mobs to block removals. We will not stand idly by and let organised crime gangs, who are despicable in their nature and their conduct—evil people—treat human beings as cargo. We will not accept that we have no right to control our borders. We will do everything necessary to keep this country safe, and we will continue our long and proud tradition of helping those in genuine need.
Many of us have met refugees, both abroad and on British soil, and listened to the stories that are frankly chilling and heartbreaking. It suits Opposition Members to pretend that those on this side of the House do not care, but as you referred to in the earlier point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, on this side of the House such accusations are a grotesque slur. What is truly chilling is listening to opponents going on about how awful this policy is while offering no practical solutions while lives are being lost.
Helping to develop safe and legal routes to this country for those who really need them is at the heart of this Government’s work. Having overseen efforts to bring to the UK thousands of people in absolute need, including from Hong Kong, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, I am the first to say that controlled immigration, including by refugees, is good and outstanding for our country, but we simply have to focus on supporting those who need it most, and not those who have picked the UK as a destination over a safe country such as France. It is no use pretending that those people are fleeing persecution when they are travelling from a safe country.
Our capacity to help is not infinite, and public support for the asylum system will be fatally undermined if we do not act. The critics of the migration and economic development partnership have no alternative proposal to deal with uncontrolled immigration. As on so many other issues, the Labour party and the SNP are on the wrong side of the argument. With their arguments, we would see public trust in the system only being corroded. That is irresponsible and utterly indifferent to those who we seek to help and support.
I have always said that I will look at all proposals to reduce illegal migration and illegal entry to our country, even those that Opposition Members might put forward, although we are still waiting for them. [Interruption.] Fundamentally, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) and others do not think there is a problem, which is why they do not have a solution. They still stand for open borders—pure and simple. Meanwhile, this Government want to get on with not just delivering what the British people want, but reforming our systems so that they are firm and fair for those who pay for them and those who need our help and support.
This is a shambles; it is shameful, and the Home Secretary has no one but herself to blame. This is not, and never has been, a serious policy, and she knew that when she chartered the plane. She knew that among the people she was planning to send to Rwanda on that plane were torture and trafficking victims, that she did not have a proper screening process in place and that some of them might be children. Can she confirm that the Home Office itself withdrew a whole series of those cases on Friday and yesterday because it knew that there was a problem with them, and that even without the European Court of Human Rights judgment, she was planning to send a plane with just seven people on board, because she had had to withdraw most of the cases at the last minute?
The Home Secretary knows that there is a lack of proper asylum capacity in Rwanda to make fair decisions and that as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says, Rwanda normally deals with only a few hundred cases a year and has only one eligibility officer who prepares the cases. There is also a lack of interpreters and legal advisers to ensure fair decisions. The Home Secretary promised that there would be extra payments to Rwanda for each person transferred, presumably to pay for the extra caseworkers and support, but she has refused to tell us how much. What is she hiding? Will she tell us now how much she promised Rwanda for each of the people she was planning to send yesterday, and how many Rwandan refugees she promised to take in return?
The Home Secretary knows that serious concerns have been raised about Rwandan restrictions on political freedom, the treatment of LGBT people, the fact that 12 refugees were shot by the authorities in 2018 for protesting against food cuts, and the fact that Afghan and Syrian asylum seekers have been returned by Rwanda. She knows that none of those concerns has been addressed.
The Home Secretary also knows that the policy will not work. We need action to tackle dangerous criminal gangs who are putting lives at risk, and she knows that her policies will not achieve that. That is not their objective. If it was, she would not have asked the National Crime Agency, whose job it is to target the criminal gangs, to draw up 20% staff cuts—that is potentially 1,000 people being cut from the organisation that works to tackle the gangs. Can she confirm whether she has asked the NCA to draw up plans for staff cuts?
If the Home Secretary was serious, she would be taking seriously the fact that the Israel-Rwanda deal ended up increasing criminal people trafficking and smuggling and that her plan risks making things worse. If she was serious, she would be working night and day to get a better joint plan with France to crack down on the gangs and to stop the boats being put into the water in the first place, but she is not, because her relationship with French Ministers has totally broken down.
If the Home Secretary was serious about tackling illegal economic migration or cutting the bills from people in hotels, she would speed up Home Office decision making so that refugees can get support and those who are not can be returned home. Instead, the number of decisions has totally collapsed from 28,000 to just 14,000 a year—fewer than Belgium and the Netherlands, never mind Germany and France. She is so badly failing to take those basic decisions that she is trying to pay a country thousands of miles away to take them for us instead. How shameful does that make us look around the world if our Home Office cannot take those basic decisions?
The Home Secretary knew about problem after problem with her policy. She knew that it was unworkable and unethical and that it will not stop the criminal gangs, but she still went ahead and spent half a million pounds chartering a plane that she never expected to fly, and she still wrote a £120 million cheque to Rwanda with a promise of more to come, because all she really cares about is picking fights and finding someone else to blame.
This is not a long-term plan; it is a short-term stunt. Everyone can see that it is not serious policy; it is shameless posturing and the Home Secretary knows it. It is not building consensus; it is just pursuing division. It is government by gimmick. It is not in the public interest; it is just in the Government’s political interest, and along the way they are prepared to trash people’s lives, our basic British values of fairness, decency and common sense, and the reputation of our nation.
Our country is better than this. We have a long tradition of hard work and stepping up to tackle problems—not offloading them—to tackle the criminal gangs who put lives at risk, and to do right by refugees. That is what the Home Secretary should be doing now, not this shambles that is putting our country to shame.
I always look forward to these exchanges in the House, primarily because—[Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members would like to listen.
As a point of education for the right hon. Lady, we are not the only country in the world to be adopting this approach. She may be aware that it is an approach that the EU has adopted through its transfer mechanism to Rwanda. Denmark is also in the process of looking at it.
The right hon. Lady raises a number of points that are factually incorrect. [Interruption.] I will come to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East shortly. The purpose of the work that we are doing is to absolutely break the business model of the people smugglers. It is a shame that Opposition Members run down the National Crime Agency.
You are running it down!
Calm down a second. Actually the UK intelligence community are working together to tackle the people smugglers upstream, and we are investing in upstream programmes to tackle the people smugglers.
I have more to say on this subject, of course. Opposition Members keep speaking about asylum seekers who have travelled from Iran, Iraq and other countries, but of course, they have come from France—a safe country. They have not come from Iraq; they have come from France. In the same way, the right hon. Lady said that people have come from Syria; they have come from France and they have paid people smugglers.
Opposition Members do not claim that it is immoral to send people back to European countries for their claims to be considered there. Their logic seems to be that Rwanda is a wonderful country that is good enough to host international summits and world dignitaries, but not to relocate people there, as our global partnership does.
Opposition Members know that people are dying in the channel, but they simply do not have a single workable solution between them. They are choosing sides while the Government are committed to pioneering a way forward. They are clutching at straws when they speak about money, but of course we cannot put a price on lives being lost. We believe in saving lives and breaking the people smuggling model.
On the legal claims that I think the right hon. Lady was referring to—pre-action protocol and national referral mechanism claims—I do not remember her making those points with that synthetic hypothetical rage when she occupied my seat under a previous Labour Government. That Government brought in Acts and powers, including the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, to remove people with no legal basis to be in this country. These are the same powers that we are using to remove individuals with no legal right to be in this country, and of course these are exactly the same powers that, only recently and again today, she was saying could be used if we had not left the EU.
Yet again, the right hon. Lady talks about the policy being unworkable and extortionate, but it cannot be both, because clearly, as we have said from the outset, this is a partnership based on working with Rwanda. If I may say so, there is nothing more inhumane than turning a blind eye to those who are being smuggled not just across the channel but in lorries, and we have a global collective responsibility to work with international partners, on which the Labour party has clearly shut the door firmly.
Let me say from the outset that I know the shadow Secretary of State very well, and she is much, much better than some of the comments she came out with today.
I say to the Home Secretary that I was a child in school when people came to this country from Vietnam and from Hong Kong, as well as from Africa, but this is different. This Parliament is supreme, and our courts have said this is right. This is what the British people want us to do—control immigration in relation to those coming across in boats—so how is it right that this Court has overruled all our courts and this Parliament?
My right hon. Friend makes some very important points. He speaks of the generosity of our country, and I stand by that. I think this Government’s record speaks very strongly on supporting people from Afghanistan, Syria, Hong Kong, Ukraine, and the hundreds of thousands of people whom we have supported. He rightly speaks about our domestic courts in the same way as I did in my statement, and it is important to note that the courts have not challenged the legality of our policy.
In fact, I use this moment to pay tribute, which the Opposition parties will not do, to our officials in the Home Office, both in-country and here, for their work on developing the programme and on evidencing the legality of the policy, and how they have worked with Rwanda as a country on its capability and capacity to house people.
These arguments have been challenged in the courts and they have been well heard in the courts. If I may make one final point, our domestic courts have been transparent in their decision making and how they have communicated their verdicts from the High Court, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. What is concerning is the opaque nature of the conduct of last night’s appeal by the European Court of Human Rights in the way that it informed the UK Government about one individual. It is now right that we spend time going back to that Court to get the grounds upon which it made its decision.
My party continues to deplore this unworkable, illegal and immoral policy. It does nothing to stop smugglers and it inflicts serious harm on victims, despite the Home Secretary’s cloud cuckoo land description of it. We wholeheartedly welcome the cancellation of this flight, and we condemn the reckless approach that the Home Secretary has taken to taxpayers’ money and, more importantly, to the rule of law.
May I take a moment to commend the lawyers involved for their incredible work in the face of some utterly inappropriate commentary from the top of Government? Will the Home Secretary tell her colleagues to heed the call from the Law Society and the Bar Council, and stop attacks on legal professionals who are simply doing their job?
It is not the lawyers who caused this flight to be cancelled nor any court; this flight was stopped because of the stench of yet more Government illegality. [Interruption.] It was. Even the most ardent supporters of this dreadful policy must recognise that there is, to put it mildly, massive dubiety over its lawfulness. The UNHCR, the guardian of the refugee convention, is clear that this is in breach of it. To seek to press ahead before the courts have concluded that issue either way was a reckless waste of taxpayers’ money and shows again this Government’s total disregard for the rule of law.
The Home Secretary should call this off now, and wait for that Court ruling. That is all we are asking for in the meantime. She should start answering the basic questions that we did not get answers to on Monday, such as about oversight, age assessments, and screening for torture survivors and trafficking victims. This is a dreadful mess.
Inevitably, this pitiful policy failure will now, wrongly, be blamed by the usual suspects on the European convention on human rights, so will the Home Secretary recognise what the Prime Minister previously said about the convention being a “great thing”? Will she recognise its importance for devolution, for the Good Friday agreement and for the trade and co-operation agreement, and call off the agitators in her party who want the UK to follow Russia and Belarus through the exit door and on to pariah state status?
As ever—tone is important, if I may say so, in this debate—we respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman and his party wholeheartedly. As we have heard throughout the debates on this subject previously, but also on the Nationality and Borders Act, as it now is—thanks to the support we have had from Government Members to deal with smuggling and trafficking, and to change our laws—it is quite clear that the SNP would like to see an end to all removals and all deportations, irrespective of their basis, full stop. That is obviously its policy, and it would like open borders.
It is important to put it on the record that the European Court of Human Rights has not ruled that the policy or removals were unlawful, but it actually prohibited the removal of three of those on the flight last night. That was at the end—
And, if I may say so, we have asked for that ruling in writing, so we are waiting for that, but those prohibitions are different from the other claims that came up from lawyers—at the very last minute actually—yesterday.
It is also important to recognise that the first ruling provoked those solicitors involved to then go back to the courts to apply for more injunctions for the remaining people on the manifest. Therefore, before all Opposition parties start to condemn a policy that the courts have not ruled as unlawful, it is important that our approach is absolutely proportionate and measured.
Last November, I stood on Dover seafront and mourned 27 people who had drowned in the English channel. Of those people, who had been travelling in these small boats—these unseaworthy vessels—seven were women, one was a teenager and one was a seven-year-old child. In addition, up to 166 are feared to have lost their lives or are missing across the channel: people who were safe already, in France. Overnight, many of my constituents have been in touch with me anguished at developments that have occurred to stop effective action to tackle the crossings. May I urge my right hon. Friend to continue to do everything possible to bring an end to these dangerous journeys, and ask her what representations she has received from the Labour party supporting action to bring these crossings to an end and save lives?
I thank my hon. Friend for the very thoughtful way in which she has made her points and asked her question. In particular, I want to pay tribute to her and to her constituents, because they are on the frontline. I have spent a great deal of time both in my hon. Friend’s constituency and with her, and with the professionals in her constituency—not just in Border Force or on the frontline on the coast, but in her local authority—who do a great deal of work when it comes to housing, providing sanctuary and providing support. We should take this moment to pay tribute to them, because they are on the frontline day in and day out, it is fair to say. I also want to commend them for the way they work with Home Office officials and our operational teams.
My hon. Friend speaks very strongly and powerfully about the lives that have been lost, and I think the House should recognise that this is not just about those crossing the channel. It is about those crossing the Mediterranean, going through European countries and sometimes even those going through parts of Africa and the Sahel. The conditions are absolutely appalling. On that journey I have just spelt out—from north Africa and the Sahel, crossing the Mediterranean and going to EU member states—the EU member states are safe countries, and this is the model that we have to break.
It is a fact—we know this through intelligence work and the UK intelligence network—that a lot of those gangs are based in European member states. While I cannot speak in more detail about the wider work that has taken place, a lot of good, solid co-operation led by this Government has spurred action in EU member states to deal with the smuggling gangs, go after the smugglers, and ensure they are prosecuted.
The permanent secretary refused to sign off the Rwanda policy on the basis of a lack of evidence of value for money for the taxpayer. That is only the second time in 30 years that the most senior civil servant in the Home Office has had to be ordered by the Home Secretary to implement a policy.
In light of those concerns about wasting public money, will the Home Secretary confirm that on top of the payment of £120 million to Rwanda, the taxpayer will also now be picking up the £0.5 million cost of the flight last night, and all subsequent charter planes, whether they take off or not? Will there be additional payments to Rwanda for people whom Rwanda is expecting, whether or not those people actually arrive?
First, on our accounting officer advice, we should always put this in the context of asylum costs that are soaring across the United Kingdom—and have been for many years because of the number of people coming here illegally—and the costs and strain that that puts on the system, particularly during the pandemic. As Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—this issue has been discussed in the Committee many times, including when it was chaired by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)—the right hon. Lady will know about the impact of covid on asylum claims. She also asked about payments, but we do not speak about operational costs right now—[Interruption.] Yes, it is taxpayers’ money. That is for a range of reasons, but primarily because of commercial sensitivities in terms of how we run our operations.
The House should recognise that when we have mob rule turning up to thwart our charter flights—some of them have ended up in courts—it is right that we keep our commercial operators, and the way they work with the Home Office, confidential. The right hon. Lady asked about payment mechanisms to Rwanda as part of the partnership deal, and we would be happy to drop her a line and share that information with her.
People who are trafficked into this country, or duped or coerced, are exploited for sexual or labour purposes. People who are smuggled into this country willingly pay to be so, and come for economic purposes. The first group are victims and deserve the protection of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The second group are not, and deserve no protection from that Act, which is being abused by people who are coming across in small boats. I hope the Home Secretary can sort this out.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work on this issue, for which he is a committed and passionate advocate, and for the way he has worked with us in the Home Office on many of these challenging issues. There is a difference between trafficking and smuggling, and he is aware of some of the issues that have been materially rising over a number of years, and that thwart the removal and deportations not just of people who come to our country illegally, but also of foreign national offenders. He is referring to the national referral mechanism, and many of the challenges that are now used—with intent, it is fair to say—by some of the specialist law firms in the claims being made.
I look forward to continuing to work with my hon. Friend, because it is clearly in our national interest to ensure that the right safeguards are in place for people who need our help and support. That is what the Modern Day Slavery Act is about, and we cannot allow people to exploit it for the wrong aims.
Why does the Home Secretary say, as she did in her statement, that “It is no use pretending that those people are fleeing persecution” when they are not? She will be aware that Home Office figures state that 98% of those who make the channel crossing claim asylum, and that 64% of asylum applications are granted at first instance, rising to almost 80% after appeal. There are only three options here: either the Home Secretary in demonising those people is making an incorrect statement, or the Home Office figures are incorrect, or the Home Office is granting asylum applications to people who are not fleeing persecution. Which is it?
If I may, there is a fourth option, which is that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong on all counts. The individuals coming over the channel are coming from a safe country, which is France. He will be aware, from debates we have had in the House about our Nationality and Borders Act 2022, about the changes being made to immigration courts and tribunals to stop the repeated claims that go through the courts, and to speed up processes and bring the scrutiny that is needed to stop claim after claim. We have just spoken about the exploitation of our system, which we have to stop. That is part of the measures and changes that this Government are determined to bring in, as well as long-term reform of our asylum system, which the right hon. Gentleman and his party, and Labour Members, voted against.
In the absence of any practical, workable policies on this issue from the Opposition, I absolutely support the Home Secretary’s policy on Rwanda, and on the establishment of reception centres in the UK, rather than asylum seekers being housed in hotels. Does she agree, however, that those reception centres must be in the right location, so that they do not present an unfair or undue burden on any one community, including the 600 people who live in Linton-on-Ouse and who are expecting an intake of up to 1,500 young single men right in the centre of that village? Does she agree that that policy should be reconsidered?
I thank my hon. Friend. We have been discussing this issue for some time and working together on it, and it is incredibly important, particularly for his constituents. He has raised with great candour some of the challenges that he feels his constituents will face, and I have committed to working with him on that. There is no doubt that reception centres are the right way forward, so much so that, as the House will be interested to know, the European Commission has been paying up to €500 million, or even more, for EU member states to build reception centres. We must also have the right provisions and facilities within those reception centres, and that is exactly what we are working to achieve.
Last week I finally received a response to an immigration query that my office sent last August. I have an asylum seeker who has waited 18 months just for an interview, which he still has not had, and many constituents are desperately looking for passports that have failed to arrive. The Home Secretary is spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a policy that is as unworkable as it is inhumane. Why does she not put the work in and fix the issues in her Department of process and resource, instead of hiding her incompetence behind desperate refugees?
I will politely disagree with the hon. Lady, for a change. She asked about the asylum case—bear in mind that the Labour party supported being locked down throughout the pandemic for even longer than the Conservative party did—and she will know perfectly well that asylum decisions were not made during the pandemic, and that interviews were not granted because many of them were face to face. We have now reformed the system to put many more interviews online and things of that nature. That is the nature of the pandemic. We are building on that work, as she will know, and it is a shame that she voted against asylum reforms and the new plan for immigration.
The hon. Lady mentioned passports, and I sure she would welcome the resources in people and staff, the work that has taken place with the Passport Office, and the increase in demand. More blue passports will be issued this year, compared with previous years—[[Interruption.] It is clear that Labour Members like to run down civil servants, and the hard work of people in the Home Office. [Interruption.] Perhaps they can stop the finger pointing. We work together as a team to deliver for the British people, and it is such a shame that Labour Members constantly vote against those changes and measures.
The European convention on human rights was started in the early 1950s, notably with the involvement of British lawyers, for very good reason, but does the Home Secretary agree with me that last night’s decision by the European Court of Human Rights undermined the original purpose of the convention and that the Court stands the very real risk of losing the confidence of the British people as it seeks to undermine our domestic legal structures?
My right hon. Friend makes a very strong and important point. I have touched on the fact that, from the High Court to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, our policy—we know that there will be more legal action—has not been found to be unlawful. There are very, very strong submissions based on the evidence: the work that has taken place in country—in Rwanda—on the efficacy not just of the policy but on the delivery of the policy in country. That is absolutely right. I think the public will be surprised, there is no doubt about that.
It is important to be cautious right now because of legal proceedings. I will just finally say clearly that we are in touch with the European Court of Human Rights, because we want to see its judgment and decision in writing, which we have not had yet. As I said earlier, it is concerning, when the British courts have been so public in terms of providing their summary and their positions, that last night’s decision making was very opaque.
Yesterday, 444 people made the dangerous crossing in small boats, which suggests that the deterrent effect of this policy is not getting through. That is the highest number in two months, since 681 crossed the day after the Home Secretary announced this policy. Does that not suggest that this is not the time for her to be cutting the National Crime Agency? Do we not need a bit of joined-up thinking on dealing with this situation and the illegal traffickers?
This is also not the time to sit on our hands and do nothing. The Government are determined to address these issues and work with all our agencies—intelligence agencies, crime agencies and law enforcement agencies—to go after the people smugglers, which, quite frankly, seems to be a policy the Labour party does not support.
My right hon. Friend is trying to tempt me. He will know my own full-hearted views on taking back control, but also on the need for controlled migration, which is at the heart of the work the Government are bringing forward. With that, of course, we must build on our Brexit opportunities, which quite frankly, as we keep learning day in, day out, the Labour party wants to completely destroy: it wants to take us back into the EU.
The Home Secretary has the gall to talk about a moral response to this situation. The moral response would be to provide safe and legal routes for those people who are exercising their legal right—their legal right—to seek asylum. The Government do not even have a basic monitoring and safety process in place for this ugly policy. The monitoring committee promised in their memorandum of under-standing with Rwanda is still not going to be set up for several months. She is not even exercising the most basic care. Is that because she knows full well that, if she did, no decent committee or procedure would ever agree to trade refugees in this despicable way?
The hon. Lady may like to read the country report, and the work that has been done in country and in terms of the monitoring committee. That work is actually taking place and we have had officials in country for weeks and weeks in the two months, not several months, since we made this announcement.
May I commend my right hon. Friend for her determination to find solutions to the very real problem facing our shores, and for trying to break the model of people smugglers taking advantage of incredibly vulnerable people? Today, I have heard the same old story from Labour: no solutions, not standing up for Britain, and definitely not thinking about what my constituents want. Can she assure me and my constituents that she will continue in her determination to find the solutions to resolve these awful crimes that are happening on our coast?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. She is a Kent MP, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), and I know exactly how strongly her constituents feel about this issue and the impact on constituencies in Kent—I sometimes think Labour Members forget about that. She asks me about our determination. Our resolution is strong. We will continue with not just our work, but our commitment to break up the people-smuggling gangs.
Finally, it is a real shame, but it is worth leaving the House with this point right now. Over the weekend, we have seen mob rule—including, actually, Labour councillors in London engaging in mob rule—to stop people being removed from our country and to stop immigration enforcement action against those with no legal basis to be in our country. We are determined to do the right thing, despite the synthetic outrage we get from many Opposition Members and, quite frankly, some of the appalling protests we have seen involving political activism from the Labour party.
As Home Secretary, the right hon. Lady has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law. She cannot only approve of courts when they make decisions in her favour. Will she take this opportunity to affirm her support for the whole of the justice system, including the European Court of Human Rights and our membership of the European convention? All we have heard from her today are smears and mudslinging directed at lawyers, courts and judges.
I am speaking to the hon. Member directly through the Chair. He may want to calm down his synthetic outrage. I have not made a single slur about our judges or our courts. I have spoken about the processes of the courts and it is right that we do that.
Secondly, as you have heard me say already, Madam Deputy Speaker, there are legal processes taking place right now. It is absolutely right that we wait for the judgments to come forward, so that we work with the courts and our legal counsels in the right way, rather than, if I may say so, participating in the sort of faux and synthetic yelling match that is taking place in the Labour party.
There is nothing more inhumane than evil people smugglers forcing people on to small boats and crossing the busiest sea lane in the world, placing them at risk. It is also inhumane to keep people waiting for months, months and months for a decision. I understand that only 130 individuals were issued with protective notices. May I urge my right hon. Friend to speed up the process and to issue thousands of these notices to put people on notice, and then get people over to Rwanda so that their cases can be resolved?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I agree with him. It is not just about our processes but, as we are seeing now through legal challenges, it is about ensuring that we work in the right way to make sure that, from an end-to-end perspective, everything is joined up. That is, effectively, what we will been doing through the challenges that have come forward. It is important, just as a point of reflection, that my hon. Friend speaks about asylum cases. That is why we are reforming our asylum system. That is what the new plan for immigration was about, supported by those on the Government Benches, supported by the British public, and constantly voted against by those on the Opposition Benches.
It is fascinating that the Home Secretary talks endlessly about refugees travelling from France when it is such a safe country. The memorandum of understanding that the Home Secretary signed makes it clear that the UK will settle some of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees and the Home Office has briefed that that could be up to 50 people. When will those refugees be arriving in Britain and, more importantly, on the basis of the Home Secretary’s argument, why do they need to when Rwanda is such a safe country?
I appreciate that the hon. Lady is speaking in very general terms, but there are specific cases that the Rwandan authorities have raised with us of people fleeing persecution in the region. As we have said, we are always a welcoming country and we look at those who need our help and support. Because of the political situation in the region—there is a difference there—the Rwandan Government have asked us to work with them on specific cases. We will do that, because it is the right thing to do.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for showing the courage to implement this policy. I know that she is awaiting the final adjudication from the European Court, but when that is through, finally, will she show the same courage in making sure that she starts a debate in the Cabinet about leaving the European convention on human rights? Maritime law is predicated on English law, many financial centres around the world use English law and many international disputes come to Britain to use British law. The fact that our Supreme Court decision has been thwarted in this way means that it is now time to consider leaving the European convention on human rights.
My hon. Friend has made an important point about the standing of the UK’s legal system in the world. It is one of the best in the world. If we look at common law, commercial law—you name it—many countries look to us and our legal systems and processes and the incredibly high standards that we have. That is absolutely right.
It would be wrong of me to comment any further, particularly in the context of this debate. It is right that I am in the process going back to the European Court of Human Rights and we will continue to work with the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the High Court, because it is important that we understand their rulings and work with them in any way possible to deliver our policy.
To hear the Home Secretary talk, one would think that the European Court of Human Rights was not part of this country’s legal processes. The reason for that—it is a very good libertarian reason—is, as one of its founders said, that the European Court was set up so that
“cases of the violations of the rights of our own body of 12 nations might be brought for judgement in the civilised world”.
Wise words about protecting citizens from overbearing Governments who seek to deny their most basic rights. Will she just abandon this expensive mess? We know, as she said, that there will be further legal action and further cost to the public purse here in the UK. Will she also stop the attacks on the lawyers who are just doing their jobs in holding her to the law? Or does she think that Churchill was wrong?
I refer the hon. Lady to the comments that I have already made in the House. Specifically, I take issue with her saying that I am attacking lawyers, which is simply not what I have been doing this afternoon—[Interruption.] It is a deliberate misrepresentation, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I think that the hon. Lady might want to withdraw her comments.
Just when you think this place cannot get any dafter, you turn up and listen to the rubbish that the Opposition are coming out with today. Is the Home Secretary aware of the sniggering, smugness and delight shown on the out-of-touch Opposition Benches about the cancelled Rwanda flight? Will she please advise me? I need some travel advice—I am going away this summer. Is France a safe country to go to?
For the benefit of the British people, the public, I have in my hand just four pages with a list of Opposition Members making exactly that point with glee—basically wanting the policy to fail, condemning it and saying all sorts of things without coming up with alternative solutions.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about France as a safe country. This is a fundamental principle of working with our colleagues more broadly—[Interruption.] Those on the Opposition Front Bench have already had their chance to speak. These are safe countries and there are people who are effectively picking to come to the UK. That is something we have to stop by going after the people smugglers and breaking up their business model.
Instead of attacking lawyers who represent desperate and frightened people and attacking courts who give judgment on the European convention on human rights, why cannot the Home Secretary just say very clearly that her Government support the European convention on human rights as a protection of the rights of everybody among the signatory nations and that this Rwanda policy is not just a shame but an utter disgrace? It is a dereliction of duty and it is treating desperate people trying to find a place of safety in a difficult world like chattels that can be sent away somewhere else. Is the policy not just a disgusting example of what the Government are really about where human rights are concerned?
With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, we disagree on many aspects of things. In fact, we have had previously had debates in the House where we have disagreed on various issues. He is absolutely consistent in his approach. I disagree with what he says about our policy and in light of the fact that we are currently going back to the courts to get their judgments, which is the right thing to do, I am not going to comment any further on the European Court and its work. I am in the process of getting that judgment and that is the right thing to do.
This country’s record on human rights is world-leading and this Parliament has passed resolutions in law that say that we must remove people who have entered this country illegally. That has been upheld, as the Home Secretary has said, by our domestic courts, so it is deeply troubling that a supranational court seeks to delay the process. What discussions has she had with the Deputy Prime Minister about a renewed British Bill of Rights?
My hon. Friend has consistently made some excellent points about the removals policy. It is worth reminding the House that Acts of Parliament passed in 1999, 2002 and 2004 clearly enable the Government of the day to remove individuals with no basis to be in this country through removal flights, for example. By the way, those Acts were passed under a previous Labour Government, while Labour is now completely going against them.
My hon. Friend asks a very important question about discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister on the forthcoming Bill of Rights. I can confirm that those discussions are active and that work is taking place—and rightly so. We will continue to deliver, as this whole Government have been doing, on our manifesto commitments, as that is where this stems from. It is right that we do that. As part of delivering for the British people and delivering on Brexit, we will change our laws so that our Government and our laws are sovereign.
This is a new line of attack from the Opposition. I am not making cuts to the National Crime Agency—let me be clear about that. I am resourcing it. Labour might have forgotten that we have the Russia-Ukraine crisis under way right now. The work that we have brought forward with the National Crime Agency on the kleptocracy cell, the resources that have gone into enforcing sanctions and working with the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation is all the work of the National Crime Agency, where we have given it resource and empowered it to go after the people who do harm to our country. Yet again, the Labour party has not supported that.
My constituents in Clwyd South and people across the UK are generous and welcoming to refugees, particularly those from Ukraine and elsewhere, but they have also voted consistently for controlled immigration and the right to secure borders. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have heard no practical solutions from the Labour party to combat the problems of illegal migration?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He knows how much I enjoy visiting his constituency—that part of Wales is beautiful, it really is. I know how strongly his constituents feel about the issue, and rightly so, because they want to see change. That is what this Government are committed to, and clearly the Opposition are not.
Government Ministers, from the Prime Minister down, consistently signal their hostility to the European convention on human rights—this episode is a case in point—but the convention is fundamental to Welsh law, for example in the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. Does the Secretary of State accept that a move away from the convention would undermine Welsh lawmaking, which the overwhelming majority of Welsh people support?
Is this debate not extremely simple? On this side of the House, we believe in saving lives, stopping evil people smugglers and doing something about thousands of undocumented people landing on our shores week in, week out. On that side of the House, they back the ECHR ruling, they do not want to crack down on people smugglers, they support open borders and they have absolutely no plan to deal with this problem.
On the Home Secretary’s watch, the number of people coming to our country through very dangerous routes has increased. She talks about trying to address the issues with people smugglers, but by closing off safe routes she is pushing people into the hands of people traffickers, making everybody’s life more unsafe. When will she recognise the failure of her policy?
I could refer the hon. Lady to my earlier statement, but it is always worth reminding colleagues in the House that for many years now there has been a global migration crisis. That is a fact, and every country around the world is speaking about it, not just in Europe, but over in America—even the American Administration are looking at similar policies. Tackling illegal migration requires new solutions. That is effectively what we are doing, because we know that existing approaches have not worked. It means that we work with all our counterparts, which is the right thing to do; it also means that change is needed. We know that people are dying, and that is what we want to stop.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House as to whether, since the French elections, the French Government have had a more proactive approach to working with the UK Government to tackle the issue at source, at the channel?