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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2022


The President of COP26 was asked—

Fossil Fuel Industry

1. What recent assessment he has made of the role of the fossil fuel industry in meeting the UK’s COP26 climate commitments. (900521)

3. What recent assessment he has made of the role of the fossil fuel industry in meeting the UK’s COP26 climate commitments. (900523)

The Government are committed to a managed transition from fossil fuels to green energy as we work to deliver on our 2050 net zero commitment.

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.

My constituency of Bracknell is blessed with several businesses of 10 employers or fewer. How might they be helped and persuaded towards climate neutrality when key decisions may not be in their immediate economic interest?

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

4. If he will make an assessment of the effect of fossil fuel interest groups on the outcomes of COP26. (900524)

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?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point, and I know the COP President will be happy to continue the work that is already under way.

Domestic Renewable Energy

6. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on accelerating domestic renewable energy production to reduce carbon emissions and help ensure delivery of COP26 commitments. (900526)

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.

On local government authorities, has consideration been given to a part-funded scheme allowing refuse vehicles coming near to end of life to be sourced as zero emission, with the cost offset to set the example for other businesses?

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Perhaps I can write to him or get a fellow Minister to do so on this issue.

Topical Questions

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.

T2. Six days ago, the Government approved an application to draw gas in Dunsfold in Surrey, although the council had refused the application twice. Does the Minister agree that this decision by the Government to draw gas from a new gasfield in Surrey flies in the face of the commitment the UK Government made during COP26? (900538)

I refer the hon. Lady to the British energy security strategy, which sets out the very clear direction of travel towards a clean energy future for the UK.

T5. I agree that action is much more important than just straight-forward commitments, so will the COP26 President update the House on the progress made on climate action at the G7 climate, energy and environment meeting? (900541)

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.

T3. As we have heard, the Government have recently given the green light for oil exploration in the Surrey Hills despite their own admission that it will degrade the quality of the setting of the Surrey Hills area of outstanding natural beauty. We have already seen the degradation of the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty in my constituency. Why are such new licences for oil and gas exploration still being issued and why do the Government continue to allow the destruction of our areas of outstanding natural beauty in the name of fossil fuel production? (900539)

Again, I make a wider point that we all need to consider. What is our future policy? Our future policy is all about clean energy. Again, I refer the hon. Lady to the energy security strategy, which sets that out very clearly.

T6. The UK is in the unique position of being able to become a net exporter of energy again. What progress has my right hon. Friend made towards developing green hydrogen, in particular, for the UK to export to the energy market? (900542)

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.

T4. The war in Ukraine, the Freeport LNG explosion and Nord Stream 1 pipeline issues caused a spike in wholesale gas prices overnight at 30%, announced at £2 a therm. Scotland is uniquely placed to assist in the response to this international shortage, but it must be done responsibly and support carbon capture underground storage to meet net zero targets. After a very recent and helpful discussion with the Energy Minister, will the COP26 President meet me to discuss the opportunities in my constituency? (900540)

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.

My right hon. Friend has just told the House that at the G20 meeting of environment and climate change Ministers, the agreement was reached to phase out global coal. Did he support that measure on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government?

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.

T7. Yesterday, RWE announced a partnership with SGN to investigate the provision of hydrogen gas to a number of off-grid small towns in Scotland. They are also investigating the development of a 100 MW hydrogen production plant at Markinch in my constituency, building on the world-leading H100 project in Methil. Will the COP26 President join me in welcoming this confirmation that Scotland leads the world in genuinely renewable energy technologies? (900543)

I think we should all be welcoming the fact that the UK leads the world when it comes to clean energy transition.

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 [Interruption] Not that sign language!

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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

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?

Just to remind the Prime Minister—he seems to have forgotten—it is Prime Minister’s questions, not Opposition questions.

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?

There he goes again, Mr Speaker, running this country down. We have got the highest employment—the highest payroll employment—[Interruption.]

Look, I want to hear the questions and the answers. Whether you like it or not, but I genuinely believe it, the public who watch Prime Minister’s questions also want to hear both.

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.]

Order. It might be helpful if the Prime Minister could speak to me. I am struggling to hear because of the noise on both sides, so please look towards the Chair; it will be easier for both of us.

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.

Q3. Many areas like mine have already had massive new housing development with no commensurate increase in general practice— (900546)

Sorry—a point of order? The hon. Lady has been here long enough to know that points of order come at the end.

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.

Q4. I was honoured to share part of the jubilee celebrations with Cohort 4, an inspirational mentoring and support group that provides life-changing support to a wide range of women, such as those who have, tragically, been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse, or who suffer from mental health difficulties. Sadly, as a result of the pandemic, the need for those services has only grown, so will the Prime Minister join me in thanking Beverley and her team for the incredible work that they do at Cohort 4? Will he also set out what more the Government can do to support these organisations so that they can continue to deliver this vital care to vulnerable men and women across all our constituencies? (900548)

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.

Q6. There are proposals for up to 10,000 housing units on flood-prone greenfield sites to the west of Ifield in my constituency that would also represent intolerable pressure on local services. May I have an assurance from the Prime Minister that as we update planning legislation, we will enshrine the “brownfield first” principle for new developments, and save our environments and our services? (900550)

My hon. Friend is completely right. We encourage the use of suitable brownfield land, and our policy is brownfield first, everywhere and always.

Q2. The Prime Minister will know from my recent correspondence that a Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituent, Ruth Zuccarello, is the sister of Jim Fitton, who is currently imprisoned in Iraq. He has been sentenced to 15 years for collecting some shards of pottery. The judge passing the sentence did not believe that Mr Fitton had any criminal intent. This has obvious and significant implications for Jim and his loved ones. Is the Prime Minister willing to meet me and other MPs who have constituents in Jim’s family to discuss the case, so that we can work in concert to resolve some of the issues? (900545)

I am really grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising Mr Fitton’s case. I have a great deal of sympathy with him. I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman gets a meeting with the relevant Minister as soon as possible.

Q8. One of my youngest constituents, little Nellie Oakshott, is two years old and has been diagnosed with metachromatic leukodystrophy. Her very brave parents, Megan and Tom, are supporting a campaign for MLD to be added to the newborn blood spot test. Had it been included in the test, Nellie’s condition could have been treated. Now the family are squaring up to palliative care and planning to make every day count. Will the Prime Minister give his support to adding MLD to the heel-prick test, so that families can be spared the same heartbreak in future? (900552)

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.

Q5. In just five days, rail passengers across the UK and in the north-east will face huge disruption—[Interruption.] But on the eve of the biggest rail dispute in a generation, it has emerged that Ministers have not held any talks whatsoever since March. I ask the Prime Minister: has he met trade unions and employers in the rail industry to attempt to bring the dispute to an end—yes or no? (900549)

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.

Q10. Today is Pension Credit Awareness Day. Pension credit is currently underclaimed, with about a quarter of those who are entitled to it not claiming it. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging people in Gedling and throughout the country to check their eligibility and make that claim, so that we can get more money into the pockets of pensioners? (900554)

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.

Q7.   Mr Speaker,“Why is it that the worst people often rise to the highest office and stay there?”Not my words about the Prime Minister, but those of his newest appointment—his cost of living tsar. Families across Cardiff North who are crippled with sky-rocketing bills and are unable to afford even the most basic necessities all agree with him, saying, “This Prime Minister has to go.” If even the Prime Minister’s own tsar does not have faith in him, tell me why those who are struggling should. (900551)

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?

Q11. When our family adopted my two brothers in the 1980s, support for adopters, whether that be financial, therapeutic or professional, was minimal. By the time I became a family law barrister in the late 1990s, it really was not much better. Efforts since, particularly the adoption support fund from 2015 onwards, have improved the situation, but, as ever, there is much more that we can do. To that end, will my right hon. Friend look at making self-employed adopters eligible for statutory adoption pay so that they can also have a better and fairer start to family life? (900555)

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.

Q9. We know that, at times of economic hardship, suicide rates are likely to rise too. We saw that after the 2008 crash. As well as doing more to support people through the cost of living crisis, will the Prime Minister commit to doing more to support excellent suicide prevention campaigns such as CALM—the Campaign Against Living Miserably—and also implement Labour’s pledge to let anyone in need of it to be able to access mental health counselling within a month and to end waiting lists? (900553)

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.

Q12. The conflict in Ukraine and the consequent disruption of the supply chain in wheat have highlighted the need for the United Kingdom to become more self-sufficient in food. The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which has its Second Reading this afternoon, will help create the conditions to enable English farmers to produce more food of higher quality. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the drive to self-sufficiency requires a UK-wide effort? Will he urge the devolved Administrations to adopt the provisions of the Bill, so that farmers across Britain can produce the food that the country needs? (900556)

My right hon. Friend is completely right that, currently, the Bill only applies to England. But, in a loving and sharing way, we are going to work with the devolved Administrations so that the whole of the UK can enjoy the benefits.

Q14.   Mental health support is vital for victims of sexual crimes. When a Rotherham survivor, who is here today, reported her childhood abuse to the police, they told her not to go for counselling as it could be used against her in court. Your Attorney General, Prime Minister, is challenging the rules to make it even easier for defence teams to access victims’ counselling notes, which has an immediate chilling effect. Survivors should not be forced to choose between their mental health and justice. Prime Minister, please stop this. (900558)

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.

Q13. My right hon. Friend may be aware that the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust has recently submitted a revised outline business case in support of its £312 million capital allocation made by the Department of Health and Social Care four years ago. Does he agree that, in order to make progress and complete the ambitious hospital building programme, the NHS decision-making processes need to be not only levelled up, but speeded up? (900557)

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. The Chair is not responsible for points made by right hon. and hon. Members, but she has put her concerns on the record, so I suggest we leave it at that.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for raising that point and—not directly, I think—pointing out that vast parts of Devon do not have rural fuel duty relief.

I think this is becoming a continuation of Prime Minister’s questions, so we will leave it at that.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, in Prime Minister’s questions the Prime Minister said that the Leader of the Opposition was a supporter of people traffickers. I think that should be taken out of the record.

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.