Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 717: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2022

House of Commons

Wednesday 29 June 2022

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Shipbuilding Sector

As you were notified, Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State is unable to attend today as he has long-standing commitments in Scotland. However, I am very pleased to be joined by the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), and the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands).

We published our updated shipbuilding strategy in March, and it sets out a comprehensive package of Government support to further a shipbuilding renaissance for the whole UK. There will be well over £4 billion of investment in UK shipbuilding over the next three years alone, including a range of opportunities for Scottish shipbuilders.

The UK Government’s refreshed national shipbuilding strategy commits £4 billion to deliver 150 new naval and civil vessels over the next 30 years, in stark contrast to the Scottish Government’s squandering of £250 million on ferries that do not float. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when it comes to shipbuilding, it is the UK Government who are delivering for the sector in Scotland?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. SNP Members are usually only too keen to tell us about what the Scottish Government are doing and how the UK Government should follow suit. That clearly does not apply in the case of shipbuilding, on which the Scottish Government’s record is shameful. It is the UK Government who are delivering for Scotland, not just on shipbuilding but on levelling up, energy security and transport connectivity. We are taking the lead.

The SNP has not built any of the planned replacement ferries announced in its 2012 ferries strategy and, since it came to power, the average lifespan of these lifeline vessels has soared from 17 to 24 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government need to address this as a matter of urgency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only are the two overbudget ferries languishing in the yard, but the head of CalMac’s engineering division has revealed that the existing vessels could fail at any time. At the weekend, he said that there are no spare ferries, so stand-ins are deployed from other services when one goes out of action, and that has a knock-on effect on other routes. The ships are so basic

“we do not have time to do deep maintenance.”

It was reported that more than a third of CalMac’s fleet is beyond its 30-year design life, making breakdowns more likely. These are the issues on which the Scottish Government should be concentrating, rather than an unnecessary and unwanted rerun of the independence referendum.

Does the Minister agree with the Minister for the Armed Forces, who went on the record last week to confirm that the record of warship building in Scotland is based on engineering excellence, outstanding quality and the role of higher education in defence manufacturing in Scotland? It is not charity or any kind of gesture politics; it is about skill and ability.

Scotland has a long and proud history of shipbuilding. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the biggest threat to future orders is his party’s plan to break up the United Kingdom.

I come from a shipbuilding community and I saw the decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde, but my constituents in Edinburgh West are concerned about building up our industries and creating jobs. Does the Minister agree that moves to improve shipbuilding are far more important than money wasted on vanity projects, ferries that do not work and a referendum that the majority of people in Scotland do not want—[Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the question. If Members do not want to hear it—[Interruption.] I would not challenge me.

Unfortunately, in Scotland we are used to the SNP shouting down people with whom it does not agree.

Does the Minister agree that the people of Scotland would be far better served by addressing these problems, assisting the UK Government in rebuilding our shipbuilding industry and helping constituents such as mine in Edinburgh West, rather than by wasting £20 million on a referendum on an issue we do not want to discuss again?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. Our shipbuilding strategy gives a long-term vision and yards in Scotland and the supply chain confidence to make the investments and deliver the ships, whether for military or civilian use, that we want.

Carbon Capture and Storage

2. What recent steps he has taken with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to support carbon capture and storage in Scotland. (900698)

The Government recognise the importance of Scotland in achieving our goals on carbon capture utlilisation and storage. We have supported Scottish CCUS projects through the industrial decarbon-isation challenge fund, and regularly meet project developers and stakeholders.

I am glad to hear about those regular meetings. During COP26 in Glasgow, both the UK and the Scottish Governments rightly spoke of the importance of doing everything we can at home to reduce our emissions. Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon re-announced her plans for an independence referendum, so action on the environment, the cost of living crisis, kickstarting the economy and upgrading the health service have taken a back seat to greater constitutional division. Has the Department estimated what impact a divisive referendum would have on investment in carbon capture and storage in Scotland?

I thank the hon. Member for her question and I agree with her sentiments. We are engaging continuously on CCUS with the Acorn cluster and other possibilities. I agree with her on the impact that the SNP would have on energy policy. The SNP is anti-nuclear and anti-oil and gas. It is hard to see where it thinks it is going to get its energy from in the event of independence; perhaps it has some idea of a future deal with Vladimir Putin.

Carbon capture and storage is critical for the production of blue hydrogen and, therefore, in helping us to reach the Government’s 2030 hydrogen target. What opportunities does the Minister see for the potential of the hydrogen economy in Scotland, Teesside and the rest of the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend, the chair of the all-party group on hydrogen, for his continuing support for hydrogen-related and CCUS-related projects. We see that as offering opportunities for the whole of the UK. Teesside will play a big part in it, as will Scotland and other parts of England and Wales. We see it as a big whole of the UK effort, crucial to levelling up and to the Union.

Union’s Impact on Scotland

The United Kingdom is the most successful political, economic, social and cultural union the world has ever seen, and is the foundation on which our citizens and businesses are able to thrive. This Government are committed to protecting and promoting its combined strengths, building on hundreds of years of partnership and shared history, because when we work together collaboratively, as one United Kingdom, we are safer, stronger and more prosperous, better able to draw on the skills of our great shared institutions and better able to respond to challenges, such as the pandemic and supporting families with the cost of living.

Last year, the Scottish Tory manifesto stated that a vote for them was a vote to stop an independence referendum, yet they achieved only 22% of the vote. Does the Minister accept that the people of Scotland have a right to have a vote on 19 October 2023 because their campaign message has failed?

The constitutional issues were so far down the list of people’s priorities when that poll took place. What the people of Scotland want are their Governments, whether that is local, Scottish or UK, to be working together on addressing the issues that matter to them and responding to the big challenges we face as a country and a world.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I am sure the Minister would wish to join me in congratulating the Bridge café in Gilmerton in my constituency on winning café of the year yesterday and the Rotary Club of Braids on its 50th anniversary. We have had some wonderful achievements locally, and good luck to Andy—no relation— Murray at Wimbledon this afternoon.

In the latest poll in Scotland, the Prime Minister has a net approval rating of minus 71. Included in that negative figure of course are the Scottish Conservative leader and every Conservative MSP and Scottish MP —except for the Secretary of State. So does the Minister think that the threat to the Union posed by the Prime Minister clinging to his job is a price worth paying?

First, I would be delighted to congratulate the café in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and when I am next in Edinburgh I will endeavour to pay a visit.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. This Government and this Prime Minister are focusing on the big issues that face Scotland and the whole United Kingdom: keeping the west safe from Russian aggression; dealing with the global economic challenges from the pandemic and the war; and addressing the long-term challenges such as energy security and climate change. That is what we are focusing on.

The very fact that the Minister has to read that list tells its own story. The simple truth is that the Prime Minister puts the Union at risk every single day that he clings on. The country knows that, his party’s Back Benchers know it and even the First Minister knows it—which is why she wants him to stay. Yesterday was nothing more than an attempt by the First Minister to deflect from her horrendous record in government and to hinder the prospect of a future Labour Government replacing the Prime Minister’s Government. That is what she fears the most. The only thing that matters to Nicola Sturgeon is, of course, independence—not soaring NHS waiting times, hungry children, drug deaths, increasing poverty, a widening educational attainment gap or Scots worried about their bills. Why will the Minister not recognise that the Prime Minister is nothing but a gift to the SNP and put the future of the UK ahead of his blind loyalty to the Prime Minister?

I do agree with one part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, and that is about the real focus of the Scottish Government: it is, as he says, not about addressing the real challenges in Scotland; it is about appeasing the hard-liners in the separatist party. We are not going to be deflected from getting on with the job we were elected to do.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Minister when he says there are multiple priorities that should be at the forefront of the attention of the First Minister and SNP Members in this House. All of those are very challenging, but one simple thing the Scottish Government could do is adopt the UK Government’s approach to genetic technology and precision breeding. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be a simple way to meet the priorities of Scottish farmers, food producers and research institutes?

The gene editing of crops is an important issue, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. There is a widespread view in the agriculture sector in Scotland that it is a good move and would improve crop yields and resilience, which are part of our food security. It is only the dogma of the SNP Government that prevents Scotland from joining the rest of the UK in adopting this important technology. The door is open for them to put aside their blind adherence to EU laws and join us in developing this important technology.

Given that the UK wields the most control over the Scottish economy, my question is pretty simple: why is it that independent countries similar to Scotland are wealthier and more productive and have higher social mobility, lower poverty levels, a smaller gender pay gap and lower inequality? In other words, can the Minister not see that, when it comes to Scotland, it is this Government and this Union that are holding us back?

Before I answer the hon. Lady’s question, may I congratulate her on her recent wedding? Although we will disagree on many subjects, on this one I hope we can agree that a union is better than independence.

On the substance of the hon. Lady’s question, this Union has been one of the most economically productive in history. Only the separatists could believe that creating a hard border between Scotland and England, when 60% of Scotland’s exports are to the rest of the United Kingdom, would be in our economic and social interests.

I welcome the Minister’s warm words, but I remind him that unions have to be voluntary as well. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has changed his view on the Prime Minister three times in six months, so why do this Government refuse to let people in Scotland change their view after eight years?

The Union is, of course, voluntary. The question in the referendum was put and decisively answered. Of all the comments recently, the most revealing was from Cabinet Secretary Angus Robertson, who basically said that, even if there was another referendum and Scotland voted to stay part of the Union, the SNP would keep going—it would be a neverendum. That uncertainty and chaos would be bad for Scotland and bad for the United Kingdom. We want to level up the country and address the challenges; the SNP wants to divide Britain and divide Scotland.

Union Connectivity

I regularly discuss important issues on improving Union connectivity with ministerial colleagues. Earlier this year, for example, I co-chaired a roundtable discussion with Transport Ministers and Scottish stakeholders.

The Union connectivity review provides a boost for regional airports and domestic aviation by suggesting ways in which public service obligations could be reformed to support regional flights. Does the Minister agree that restoring commercial passenger flights between Blackpool airport and locations in Scotland would boost economic growth and help to create jobs and investment in both locations?

Scotland’s love affair with Blackpool has existed for decades and is well known. The more Scots who can visit my hon. Friend’s lovely constituency, the better. We of course recognise the importance of maintaining a thriving and competitive aviation sector in the UK. I know that he is a strong campaigner for more air services to and from Blackpool, and we will continue to consider whether there are further opportunities to utilise public service obligations to meet our Union connectivity and levelling-up objectives.

The Union connectivity review recommended that the UK Government work with the Scottish Government on an assessment of the east coast transport corridor to include improvements to the east coast main line and the A1. Can my hon. Friend update the House on progress in bringing forward that recommendation?

The Government are grateful to Sir Peter Hendy for his work and we are considering his recommendations carefully. The Prime Minister has welcomed, and intends to accept, the proposal for the creation of UKNET, a strategic transport network spanning the entire United Kingdom. The funding that the UK Government have set aside for this review will put us on the right path to strengthen and maintain our transport arteries for people and businesses across the UK.

Connectivity between Scotland and England matters, especially for the area that I represent in Cumbria, and south-west Scotland. Does the Minister share my concerns that the Scottish Government are not helping to deliver the investment, especially with regard to the Borders rail feasibility report and roadbuilding generally?

Yes. I was pleased to be able to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and see the value of the levelling-up projects in his area as part of the growth deal in and around Carlisle station. I am keen to see the feasibility study work commence on extending the Borders rail line. I have recently met the Minister of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), to progress that project.

Belfast harbour has reported levels of trade and an increase in turnover and profits of 17%, to £73.3 million, for 2021, so improving Union connectivity for Northern Ireland, even with a tweaked protocol. Why will the Secretary of State’s office not campaign for Union connectivity with the greatest booster of our economy, the European Union?

What we are focusing on in terms of the trade from Northern Ireland to Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom is that part of the Union connectivity recommendations on upgrading the A75 and the A77. We want to do that. I have been very keen to meet the Scottish Transport Minister, who continues to refuse to meet me or my ministerial colleagues. Perhaps the hon. Member could have a word with her to get that meeting in place.

The decision to leave the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service satellite programme last year has had catastrophic implications for the reliability of lifeline air services, and even the Air Ambulance Service, across the highlands and islands. We were told at the time that it was done on the basis of cost, but we now know that, for every pound spent on EGNOS, there is a £2.60 benefit to the UK economy. This was one of Dominic Cummings’ madder ideas. Is it not time to admit as much, rejoin EGNOS, and improve air services in the highlands and islands?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I am aware of the EGNOS issue and discussed it with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), some time ago. I am aware that Loganair has written to the Secretary of State for Transport, pointing out additional evidence. I would be very happy to meet him to discuss that further, but I do know that my colleagues in the Department for Transport are working with the industry to deliver a good replacement.

We were promised a bridge to Northern Ireland, which everybody knew would not happen, but we have not seen the money for that. We were promised that High Speed 2 would run to Scotland on day one. Not only is it not running on day one, but the Government have now taken away the Golborne link. Is it not the case that this UK Government are running a scorched-earth policy on Union connectivity and the Union overall?

The hon. Gentleman is, I am afraid, completely wrong. Scotland will be connected to HS2 from day one and the project will deliver enormous capacity and journey time improvements. On the specific issue of the Golborne link, Sir Peter Hendy’s review found that it was not the optimal way to connect the high-speed line to the classic network, but we are looking at better alternatives to deliver that increase in capacity.

Freeports: Economic Impact

5. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential economic impact of building two freeports in Scotland. (900701)

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Scotland Office are delighted that the UK Government’s freeport programme is being extended to Scotland. UK Government funding of up to £52 million for two new green freeports will boost Scotland’s economy by regenerating communities, creating high-quality jobs and supporting the transition to a net zero economy.

The UK Government expect the existing confirmed freeports to add £24 billion to the UK economy. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that all political parties get behind the green freeports initiative to maximise the benefits they will bring to Scotland and the whole UK, rather than a divisive, costly and unwanted referendum on Scottish separatism?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have received five competitive bids for Scottish green freeports and the two Governments are working closely together to assess the proposals. I am confident that we will announce two outstanding winners that will create highly paid jobs, help to regenerate the areas around the ports and become global and national hubs of trade, innovation and investment.

There are five excellent bids from across Scotland for the two proposed green freeports. Each of the bids is of such high quality that it would be a great shame not to support the local economies in Inverness and Cromarty, Orkney, the Forth, the Clyde, and Aberdeen City and Peterhead. Will the Minister’s Department consider what support can be given to unsuccessful areas, and whether that support can be widened?

We will certainly look at that. Of course there is intense competition for the freeports, which will create huge benefits not only for the local area, but for all of Scotland.

High Speed Rail 2

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the effect of High Speed Rail 2 on Scotland. (900703)

As I just said in answer to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), Scotland is set to benefit from the boost in connectivity and huge economic benefits that HS2 will bring. Scotland will be connected to the HS2 network from the day it opens, and further work will be done in the years ahead to optimise the journey times and capacity. In addition, I am very pleased that 100 permanent jobs will be created at the new HS2 Annandale depot in Dumfries and Galloway.

On the day of the confidence vote in the Prime Minister, the Government tried to sneak out the news that the HS2 Golborne link, a £2 billion rail link between Glasgow and the north-west of England, had been scrapped. How can the Minister say that Scotland will benefit from connecting to HS2 when the Government are secretly trying to get rid of lines linking the north of England with Scotland and reducing the overall connectivity between the nations of the United Kingdom?

As I have just said to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, the removal of the Golborne link was because Sir Peter Hendy’s connectivity review had found that it was not the best way to address the capacity constraints between Crewe and Preston. However, we are looking at better options for it; we are committed to HS2, and I believe the line will help connectivity between Scotland and England and encourage a modal shift to more environmentally friendly forms of transport.

With millions of tonnes of soil being moved across Lichfield, roads closed and the canal obstructed because of HS2, perhaps we can help Scotland by giving them our bit of HS2?

I know my hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner against HS2, but we have had that debate, I am afraid. I am always happy to discuss with him how we can optimise the building work. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, who is sitting next to me, has heard his representations. I am an enormous believer in the potential of high-speed rail links to transform the economic potential of this country.

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

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda and the G7 leaders summit, and today he is at the NATO summit in Madrid.

I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the family and friends of Dame Deborah James following the news of her death. I lost my father at a young age to cancer and I know first hand the pain that her family must be feeling. But we also know that Dame Deborah was a huge inspiration to so many and raised millions to help others affected by cancer.

Nationally, 52% of disabled people are in work compared with 81% of non-disabled people. Disability Action Yorkshire, which is a charity based in Harrogate, works to close that gap, and it has highlighted the success of the Access to Work scheme. For example, one young person, having been told he would never work, is now, thanks to the targeted support available, a trainee brewer at Rooster’s brewery. Will my right hon. Friend consider how we can boost awareness of the Access to Work scheme among employers and also consider how we can simplify the application process so that more disabled people do not get deterred and will embrace it?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the work of Disability Action Yorkshire, which is doing terrific work in his constituency. I can reassure him that the Department for Work and Pensions is committed to improving awareness through campaigns and partnerships with employers, but also disability organisations. It is also working specifically on a digital service that will make the scheme more accessible and more visible.

I share with the Deputy Prime Minister his deepest condolences and his personal experiences as we mourn the loss of Dame Deborah James, who fearlessly campaigned to inspire so many and, I am absolutely sure, saved the lives of many more. I also think of the family of Zara Aleena, who was tragically murdered this week on the streets of Ilford.

I want to congratulate the two new hon. Members who won in the by-elections last week, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood). Last week the Government lost two by-elections in one day, for the first time in three decades. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister has fled the country and left the Deputy Prime Minister to carry the can. The people of Wakefield and Tiverton held their own vote of no confidence. The Prime Minister is not just losing the room; he is losing the country. But instead of showing some humility, he intends to limp on until the 2030s—so does the Deputy Prime Minister think the Cabinet will prop him up for that long?

I thank the right hon. Lady, and I gently point out to her that we want this Prime Minister to go on a lot longer than she wants the leader of the Labour party to go on. We have a working majority of 75. We are focusing on delivering for the British people. Record low unemployment would not have happened if we had listened to the Labour party. We have more policing and tougher sentencing enforced this week through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. She voted against both; so did the Labour party. We will protect the public from these damaging rail strikes when we have the scene of Labour Front Benchers joining the picket lines.

Here we go again. The truth is that what I want for my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition is not to be the Leader of the Opposition but to be the Prime Minister of this country—and to be honest, it could not come quickly enough. Britain cannot stomach this Prime Minister for another eight years. His own Back Benchers cannot stomach him for another eight minutes. If they continue to prop him up, I doubt the voters will stomach him for even eight seconds at the ballot box.

Now, let us imagine that the Prime Minister is still clinging on into the 2030s. Under this high-tax, low-growth Tory Government, at this rate by 2030 the British public will have endured 55 tax rises. How many more tax rises will this Government inflict on working families before the Deputy Prime Minister says enough is enough?

I think the right hon. Lady was right the first time. I will tell the House what we are doing: we have near-record levels of youth employment and 3.8% unemployment; we are cutting taxes next month on national insurance by £330 million; and we are delivering for families through the difficult times with the cost of living. What about the Labour party? We heard yesterday what its plan is: its plan is no plan. The leader of the Labour party said he is wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch. He has only been in the job two years. Sir Tony Blair, who has some experience of winning elections, has said there is a “gaping hole” in Labour’s policy offer, and all the while—there is a smile creeping over her face—the right hon. Lady is revelling in it. We are getting on with serving the people of this country; she is just playing political games.

I would revel in the opportunity for the people of this country to have more than just by-elections to show what they think of this Government. Call a general election, and see where the people are. The Deputy Prime Minister is a man who once said that high levels of government taxation were “hurting UK competitiveness”. Now, he is backing the Prime Minister, who wants to put taxes up 15 times. At this rate, working people will be paying £500 billion more in tax by 2030. How high does he think the burden on working people should get before he says enough is enough?

We are the ones helping working people with a tax cut of £330, with support for those on the lowest incomes, with the £650 support for 8 million people on the lowest incomes and with, frankly, record levels of investment coming into this country, from the £1 billion by Moderna for vaccines to the highest level of tech investment in Europe, according to Atomico. We are the ones with the plan for low unemployment and a high-wage, high-skill economy. For Labour, it is back to year zero.

The Deputy Prime Minister pretends to empathise with those struggling with the Tory cost of living crisis, when he himself once said that food bank users are not in poverty, but simply have “a cashflow problem”. He does not; he has spent more than £1 million in nine months on private jets. It shows how out of touch this Government are, but at this rate, by 2030, a million more people will be using food banks. How many more working people will be pushed into poverty by his Prime Minister before he says enough is enough?

If the Labour party and the right hon. Lady want to help working people, they should be clear in standing up against these militant, reckless strikes by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. The right hon. Lady has flip-flopped all over the place when it comes to these strikes. First, she said they were “lose-lose”. Then, she tweeted that

“workers were left with no choice”.

When she was asked by the BBC the straight question—she is normally a straight-shooting politician— of whether she liked the RMT, she said, “I am going to have to go now, I have a train to catch.” She talks about working people, but where was she when comrades were on the picket line last Thursday? Where was she when the Labour Front Benchers were joining them, rather than standing up for the public? She was at the Glyndebourne music festival, sipping champagne and listening to opera. Champagne socialism is back in the Labour party.

Well, well; that says a lot about the Conservative party. I will tell Conservative Members a few things about militancy. It is this Government who are acting in a militant way. While they should have been at the negotiating table, they were at the banqueting table getting hundreds of thousands squeezed out of their donors, instead of dealing with the crisis. The Deputy Prime Minister talks about trains. No one can get trains, because of his failed Transport Secretary. I will say that the Deputy Prime Minister has a stronger stomach than his—[Interruption.]

Order. I think we will have a little quiet. I want to hear the question, and hon. Members will also want to hear the answer.

Mr Speaker, I think it is rather ironic that you have to intervene because of the baying mob here, when the Government, through their noisy protest laws, have people being stopped after protesting out on the street. The thing is, they do not like it when the public say what they think of them. The right hon. Gentleman has a stronger stomach than his colleagues behind him—[Interruption.]

Order. Honestly, I want to hear the question and I want to hear the answer—and, I hate to say it to hon. Members, but so do their constituents. Think about them for once, instead of yourselves.

When Conservative Back Benchers were asked about the absent Prime Minister’s plans to stick around until 2030, one said that he had “lost the plot” and another said that

“anyone with half a brain”

would realise how dire things are. A former Conservative leader said that

“the country would be better off under new leadership.”

Now the Prime Minister is at war with his own Defence Secretary after confirming that he will break his manifesto pledge to increase defence spending. Under this Government, Britain is set to have less troops, less planes and less ships. The only thing the Prime Minister is interested in is defending his own job. Just how many more troops have to lose their jobs before the Deputy Prime Minister finally says enough is enough?

In fact, there is a £24 billion increase for our armed forces. Spending on the armed forces is rising to 2.3% of GDP—again, making us the largest military spender in Europe. Frankly, we will take no lessons from the right hon. Lady when it comes to the security of this country. The first thing she did when she became an MP in 2016 was to vote against Trident, leaving us exposed, and she campaigned for the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who would take us out of NATO, to be Prime Minister.

Talking about NATO, where was the right hon. Gentleman during the situation in Afghanistan? On a sun lounger; that is where he was. I take no lectures from him when it comes to doing my job. The Prime Minister said that he felt no shame over the by-election defeats and that the Government have been “quite exceptional”. Well, I agree that they have been exceptional, all right—an exceptional record on stagnant wages, rising poverty and broken promises. The Prime Minister wants to drag this out until the 2030s. How much more can the Deputy Prime Minister stomach before he finds the guts? How many more tax rises, how many more families driven into poverty, and how many manifesto pledges broken? For the sake of the British public, I hope that we never find out. When will he finally grow a backbone and tell the Prime Minister that the game is up?

I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Lady is auditioning for the leadership contest on her side of the House, and not really referring to anything that is happening on this side. [Interruption.] She has the support of the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). I will tell her what we are doing: we are putting in place the policies to grow our economy, to help—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Murray, we have already had Scotland questions. They are not continuing; it is not your debate.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh South was just announcing his support for the right hon. Lady in the forthcoming—[Interruption.] We are putting in place the economic plan to help people with the cost of living; the Labour leader is getting ready for year zero. We are the ones supporting Ukraine with sanctions on Russia and military support; she voted to abolish Trident. We are the ones making the streets safer with more police and tougher sentencing under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which came into force this week; she voted against both. The Opposition have no plan. They are not fit to govern.

Q2. The Eden Project North has been five years of my parliamentary life. We have gone through three Prime Ministers, four Chancellors and a plethora of Ministers, but we have now got to a point where the levelling-up bid is going in very shortly. We have a shovel-ready plan and full planning permission. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it is money worth spending in Morecambe? (900783)

There is no greater or more tenacious campaigner for his constituents than my hon. Friend. He will know that I cannot discuss the details of any specific bids, but the next round of funding allocations will be announced in the autumn, so he will not have to wait too much longer.

I associate myself with the remarks of the Deputy Prime Minister and the deputy leader of the Labour party at the sad death of Dame Deborah James? Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this trying time, and we thank her for all that she has done to raise money for anti-cancer work.

Scotland’s First Minister has set the date and started the campaign. Our nation will have its independence referendum on 19 October 2023. The reality is that Scotland has already paid the price for not being independent, with Westminster Governments we did not vote for imposing policies that we do not support, breaking international law, dragging Scotland through a damaging Brexit we did not vote for, and delivering deep austerity cuts. Contrast that with our European neighbours, which have greater income equality, lower poverty rates and higher productivity—why not Scotland? In the weeks and months ahead, we will make the positive case for independence. Will the opposition, if they can, make the case for continued Westminster rule?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. It is always good to see him in his place. [Laughter.] No, genuinely, it is good to see him in his place. It is not the right time for another referendum given the challenges we face as one United Kingdom. He referred to some of the challenges in Scotland, but I think actually the people of Scotland want their two Governments to work together, and we are keen, willing and enthusiastic to do so.

There is no case for the Union, as we have just heard from the Deputy Prime Minister, because the harsh reality is that the Tories might fear democratic debate, but they do not have the right to block Scottish democracy. As the late Canon Kenyon Wright said:

“What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, ‘We say no, and we are the state’?”

His answer:

“Well, we say yes—and we are the people.”

Just last year, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross)—the leader of the Scottish Conservatives no less—put it, in his own words, that

“a vote for the SNP is a vote for another independence referendum.”

You will not often hear me say this, Mr Speaker, but I agree with him, and so do the Scottish people. Scottish democracy will not be a prisoner of any Prime Minister in this place. So why are the UK Government scared of democracy, or is it simply that they have run out of ideas to defend the failing Westminster system?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he is rather airbrushing history with that long soliloquy. He mentioned the problems that Scotland faces: a huge tax burden imposed by the SNP; Scotland’s record on science and maths under the international PISA rankings has now dropped below England and Wales; and the SNP has presided over the worst drug death rate in Europe—the highest since records began. I think the people of Scotland expect their Governments in Holyrood and in Westminster to work together to tackle the issues facing them in their day-to-day lives. That is what they want.

Q3. Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Laughter.] Mr Speaker, my sincere apologies.There are, Mr Speaker, great opportunities to create exciting new jobs in low-carbon energy along the East Anglian coast, and East Coast College is up for the challenge of providing local people with the necessary skills. However, it and other colleges are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain teachers in such work as fabrication, engineering and construction. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government come up with a cross-departmental strategy to address this staffing crisis in our further education colleges, which could undermine the levelling-up agenda? (900784)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why we are investing nearly £52 million to support the sector in recruiting and retaining excellent staff, and in particular looking at and focusing on the experience and skills that we often find in industry, to train the next generation of technical experts.

Mr Speaker,

“No country that values its independence, and indeed its self-respect, could agree to a treaty that signed away our economic independence and self-government,”—[Official Report, 25 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 1458.]


“Ultimately, membership of any union that involves the pooling of sovereignty can only be sustained with the consent of the people.”—[Official Report, 4 December 2018; Vol. 650, c. 746.]

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with the Prime Minister and his predecessor—yes or no?

That is why we had the referendum a few years ago. The people of Scotland have spoken, and we think it is not the right time to be relitigating that issue.

Q6. Having spoken to Lord Ahmad yesterday, I thank the Government for listening and now allowing high-risk British Council contractors still in Afghanistan to be processed immediately on their application to the citizen resettlement scheme, rather than having to wait a further two months until the application window closes. With taxation at a 40-year high, when will the Government be bolder in cutting taxes, given that all the evidence the world over shows that lower taxes increase prosperity, raise living standards and better enable the Government to help the less fortunate—even if such a policy means cutting spending such as HS2? (900787)

My hon. Friend makes an important point about driving growth and the economy, which is why we are cutting taxes with the 130% super-deduction for capital investment. That will create not just good jobs, but well paid and better paid jobs, by boosting productivity. That is why we are increasing the employment allowance, which represents a tax cut of £1,000 for half a million small businesses, and that is why we have provided business rate relief of £7 billion over the next five years. Of course, just next month we are cutting national insurance, worth £330 for a typical employee.

Q4. As Tory MSP Murdo Fraser points out, Scotland has a third of Britain’s land mass, half its territorial waters, over 60% of UK fishing zones, 98% of oil reserves, 63% of natural gas, a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind resources, and 90% of the UK’s fresh water. Will the Deputy Prime Minister explain whether his opposition to Scottish independence is because he fears the loss of those invaluable resources? (900785)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right in what she just said. There are huge assets right across Scotland, and that is why we think we are stronger together in delivering for the people of Scotland.

Q7. The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that in North East Hertfordshire we have some of the best farmland in the country. At a time when there are concerns about food production and food security, and when the Government are considering rural land use, is it time to ensure that our productive farmland is not covered in solar plants, and that those are instead positioned on brownfield sites, buildings, and low-grade agricultural land? (900788)

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a powerful point, and our 2023 Land Use Framework will set out our priorities for land use across the country. He is right that we must protect the most versatile agricultural land, and any plans for ground-mounted solar installations will have to take that into account. His point is well made.

Q5. So far this year, 52 women have been killed in the UK. Our rights to free speech, safe spaces, fairness in sport, and even the words we use to describe our own bodies, are all under threat. Will the Deputy Prime Minister send a clear signal, as some of his Cabinet colleagues have done this week, that Britain respects the rights of women? Will he accept the cross-party amendment to the Bill of Rights Bill, which would enshrine in law a woman’s right to choose? (900786)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and let me say at the outset what huge respect I personally have for her and for the way she has stood up for women’s rights despite, frankly, the appalling, harassment, trolling and bullying she has faced. As she knows, the position on abortion is settled in UK law and it is decided by hon. Members across the House. It is an issue of conscience, and I do not think there is a strong case for change. With the greatest respect, I would not want us to find ourselves in the US position, where the issue is litigated through the courts, rather than settled, as it is now settled, by hon. Members in this House.

Q8. In February 2019, the House passed my excellent Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019, mandating the Government to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, enabling marriage records to include mothers’ details and requiring the Justice Secretary to produce a report empowering coroners to investigate stillbirths. The first two have come into force successfully, but, two and a half years on, despite further shocking revelations about deaths of babies at several hospitals, no report has yet been published; nor are there regulations to give coroners the powers they need. Why not? (900789)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. Stillbirth is an appalling tragedy that has the most devastating impact on families across the country. The Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Care have jointly consulted on proposals to provide coroners with new powers in that regard. I have looked at that personally, and we will publish the Government’s response to the consultation shortly.

Q11. Threatened, terrified and alone. That is how survivors of sexual violence told me they felt when they were pressured into signing non-disclosure agreements and gagging clauses by their universities. No victim of sexual assault or harassment should ever be coerced into silence by the very institutions that are meant to protect them—not at university, not at work, not anywhere. Will the Government back my Non-Disclosure Agreements Bill to ban the use of NDAs in cases of sexual harassment, bullying and misconduct? Will the Deputy Prime Minister consider meeting me in his role as Justice Secretary to discuss how we will put a stop to this deplorable practice once and for all? (900793)

I will look carefully at any particular proposals that the hon. Lady has. We have got to do everything we can to protect women and girls in this country and to make them feel more confident in the justice system. That is why I am relieved—but restless to go further—that in the last year the volume of rape convictions is up by two thirds. In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which came into force this week, we took extra measures. For example, we have: extended the time limit for reporting domestic abuse; and criminalised taking photos of a mother breastfeeding without consent. I will certainly look at her proposals.

Q9. This year, we are investing nearly £190 billion in the NHS, and yet many of us see disturbing deficiencies within NHS management, no more so than in the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. In 2018, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) and I secured £312 million for a major A&E modernisation in our local hospital trust, but, four years on, construction has still not started. What message can the Deputy Prime Minister give to the people of Shrewsbury as to how the Government can intervene to break the gridlock and finally allow the £312 million that we secured to be used to benefit the people of Shropshire and mid-Wales? (900791)

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents, particularly on NHS services. The DHSC recently received the strategic outline case for the transformation of A&E services in Shrewsbury and Telford. It is still being processed, but I can tell him that the trust is aiming to present the full business case in 2023, with construction starting in the same year.

Q12. When the Deputy Prime Minister announced his Bill of Rights last week, he said that it would strengthen our UK “tradition of freedom” Freedom? That is shameless from a Government whose contempt for the rule of law and devolution can be judged in equal measure. They are scrapping Welsh law against our will and denying Scotland the right to choose its own future. That is not freedom. Will he prove me wrong by enshrining self-determination in his Bill of Rights? (900794)

The right hon. Lady was deft in getting that in. Across the Benches, we have all heard the case for reinforcing free speech, whether that is about judge-made privacy laws or how people are shouted down when they express legitimate opinions. The people of Wales—this is true across the country—will also want to join us in making sure that we can deport more foreign national offenders. That is the reality for the people in Wales and across the United Kingdom. The Bill of Rights will strengthen our tradition of freedom while curbing those abuses and making sure that we inject a bit more common sense into the system.

Q10. Derriford Hospital in my constituency is part of the new hospital building programme announced by this Government; work on the new emergency department starts this year. That is a significant investment for the amazing staff there and the brilliant chief executive, Ann James, who works so hard. Given the incredible pressures on real estate in Derriford, will my right hon. Friend consider prioritising capital investment in that part of the UK to ensure that we can accelerate these plans—particularly in digital—so that people in Plymouth get the world-class healthcare they deserve? (900792)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is the largest hospital building programme in a generation, and his constituents are going to benefit very directly. I can tell him that there will be a new integrated emergency care hospital scheme for University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust at the Derriford emergency care hospital. On tech, he is absolutely right: the facilities will be at the cutting edge of modern technology, and that will really help drive up the quality of patient care.

Q14.   The victims of black cab rapist John Worboys were able to challenge the police’s failure to investigate his appalling crimes only because of the Human Rights Act. They would not have been able to do so under the Deputy Prime Minister’s new so-called Bill of Rights. Why does he want to stop women like the victims of John Worboys from making sure that police protect them from rape and sexual assault, and getting the justice they deserve? (900796)

I thank the hon. Lady for the opportunity to say that it was not the result of litigation that addressed the problems with the Worboys case. If she wants to look after victims in such cases, the Labour party should join us in supporting not just the Bill of Rights but our parole reforms, which will make sure that dangerous offenders are not released and that we protect the public.

Q13.   My constituent Joel Lindop has suffered the abduction of his young children to Poland. His is one of many families in the UK who go through a similar experience every year. Despite repeated judgments in his favour in the courts in Poland, he has been unable to persuade the Polish authorities to fulfil their obligations under international law and return those children to their family. Will my right hon. Friend intercede so that my constituent, and the many other families who face this challenge, can ensure that their children are returned safely and in a timely fashion in the future? (900795)

I cannot imagine how appalling that situation must be for any parent to find themselves in. My hon. Friend will know that we are committed to the 1980 Hague convention on child abduction, which provides a mechanism. He is right that that has to be driven through the courts. That is not something that we can directly interfere in, but I will speak to the Foreign Office and see whether there is anything further that Ministers can properly do to support my hon. Friend’s constituent.

I have a serious question about the conduct of the Government as regards free trade agreements. I cannot overstate the fury of the International Trade Committee this morning, which led us to unanimously empty-chair the Secretary of State for International Trade. The Government have broken their word to the Committee, to the House and to you, Mr Speaker, on scrutiny of the Australia trade deal by triggering the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process and endangering a Committee report. It is the unanimous view of the Committee—Tory, Labour, SNP and DUP—that the CRaG process should be delayed to allow proper scrutiny, as was promised. Will the Government deliver on their promise and therefore delay the CRaG process?

I understand that the Secretary of State for International Trade has agreed to go back and address the Committee just as soon as possible.

I was privileged last week to attend the malaria summit in Kigali. Even today, malaria remains the biggest single killer of mankind ever, and 1.7 billion people live every day under its shadow of misery. But we are on the cusp of something really special: recent advances, education and our world-leading British vaccines can now eradicate it forever. Can my right hon. Friend please confirm that the UK will fulfil its full commitment to the Global Fund?

I know from working in the Foreign Office just how powerful the Global Fund is; it is a very high-performing international organisation. My hon. Friend will know that since 2002 we have been the third largest donor, so we have stepped up to the plate. The UK has not yet determined our pledge for the seventh replenishment, but the Foreign Secretary will have heard loud and clear my hon. Friend’s advocacy in that regard.

In its efforts to pursue a hostile environment, the Home Office routinely tears families apart and breaks human rights and equalities legislation. It is reported to be sending another deportation charter flight to Nigeria and Ghana. In Pride month, it will deport LGBT asylum seekers fleeing homophobia as well as grandmothers and mothers of British children who have lived in this country for more than 25 years. Given that the Home Office repeatedly gets it wrong and ends up having to take people off such flights, will the Deputy Prime Minister tell me how many people have been removed from that flight already and when the Home Office will stop these inhumane deportation charter flights?

The hon. Lady is right in one respect at least: of course, people who come here need to be treated decently and humanely. We are absolutely committed to that. We also need to make sure that we cut down illegal routes and that those who are here who have committed serious offences can be returned home. The crucial thing—I am working on this with the Home Secretary—is to ensure that we do both those things. We cannot allow illegal routes into this country to flourish—otherwise, we will just attract more people—and we cannot allow people who commit serious offences in this country to stay and continue to pose a threat to the public.

Steel Safeguards

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s final decision regarding the UK’s steel safeguards.

A strategic steel industry is of the utmost importance to the UK, especially given the uncertain geopolitical and economic waters that we are all charting. Trade remedies are one of the ways that Government can protect their businesses. Trade remedies tackle issues of dumping, unfair Government subsidies or, as in the case of safeguards, give businesses time to adjust to unforeseen increases in imports.

When we left the EU, the UK rolled over the relevant trade remedies that were already in place. That included safeguards on 19 different categories of steel imported into the UK from the rest of the world. Last year, the Trade Remedies Authority reviewed those measures and recommended keeping the safeguard on 10 categories of steel and removing it on nine. On 30 June 2021, the Government announced that they would extend the safeguard, as recommended by the TRA, on 10 product categories of steel for three years and remove it on four of the remaining nine, but that they would extend the safeguard for one year on five categories of steel to allow further time to review them.

In March this year, we passed legislation to allow the Government to take responsibility for the conduct of transitional reviews and reconsiderations of any transitional review. In March, I called in the reconsideration of the steel safeguards with the new authority. The TRA has since completed additional analysis for my consideration. I have considered its report and findings and have concluded that there would be serious injury, or the threat of serious injury, to UK steel producers if the safeguards on the five additional categories of steel were to be removed at this time.

Given the broader national interest and significance of this strategic UK industry and the global disruptions to energy markets and supply chains that the UK faces, we have concluded that it is in the UK’s economic interest to maintain these safeguards to reduce the risk of material harm if they are not maintained. I am therefore extending the measure on the five steel categories for a further two years until 30 June 2024, alongside the other 10 categories. That means that the safeguard will remain in place on all 15 categories, updated from 1 July to reflect recent trade flows.

The Government wish to make it clear to Parliament that the decision to extend the safeguards on the five product categories departs from our international legal obligations under the relevant World Trade Organisation agreement as it relates to the five product categories. However, from time to time, issues may arise in which the national interest requires action to be taken that may be in tension with normal rules or procedures.

The Government have therefore actively engaged with interested parties—including those outside the UK—on the future of the UK safeguard, and have listened to the concerns raised, including the needs of the many thousands of people employed throughout our downstream steel industry, who play a vital role in the economic life of the UK. Throughout the investigation, downstream users of steel have raised concerns about difficulties in sourcing some steel products in the UK, particularly those classified under category 12. I have listened to those concerns and am acting to protect this vital part of the economy by increasing the tariff rate quota on category 12A to ensure that it better reflects trade flows.

The Government have also decided to suspend the safeguard measure for steel goods coming from Ukraine for the next two years. The Government are clear that we will do everything in our power to support Ukraine’s brave fight against Russia’s unprovoked and illegal invasion and to ensure long-term security, prosperity and the maintenance of the world order from which we all benefit. The Government have already removed all tariffs under the UK-Ukraine free trade agreement to zero to support Ukraine’s economy. This decision means that Ukrainian steel will not be subject to the additional safeguard quotas and duty.

These are unusual times. The aftershocks of the gravest pandemic have combined with the biggest war in Europe since 1945, the spike in energy costs is creating huge stresses on manufacturing, global steel markets are facing persistent overcapacity, and the TRA’s findings provide clear evidence of serious injury or the threat of serious injury to our UK producers. The Government have a duty to use our democratic mandate to the greatest possible effect to protect the interests of the British people and provide leadership in these challenging times. On balance, we have therefore decided that it is in the vital public interest that the Government act to protect the steel sector, which is why we have taken these steps.

We believe that our approach is in the public interest. The decision has been taken collectively and with reference to the ministerial code, noting the conflict that I have outlined. It has been a finely balanced decision. Steel is a vital industry for the UK and is in constant use in our everyday lives, but the global position for steel production is challenging. The use of unfair subsidies contributes to global overcapacity, putting domestic industries at risk around the world, so the measures that I am announcing today will further support our steel industry and those who work in it. They come on the back of the Government’s having secured an expansive removal of section 232 tariffs on imports of UK steel and aluminium products into the USA, which came into effect earlier this month. The tariff-free volumes that we have secured mean that UK steel and aluminium exports to the US can return to levels not seen since before 2018.

It is important to remember that safeguards are a temporary, short-term measure. We will continue to work with international partners, alongside other Departments, to support our domestic steel sector for the long term. I hope that the House will support the Government’s stance in defending our strategically important steel sector. I commend this statement to the House.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her statement and for advance sight of it. The extension of safeguards will come as a welcome relief to the steel sector. It is not anti-competitive to provide a level playing field for our steel industry. I also support the decision to exclude Ukrainian steel.

Labour backs our steel communities up and down the country. Our steel sector is foundational for our economy; we must support it, now and as we transition to net zero. However, it is regrettable that resolution of the issue has once again gone to the eleventh hour, just as it did when the present Foreign Secretary extended the safeguards last year, and that the Secretary of State did not even attend the Select Committee this morning to face scrutiny.

Labour has called on the Secretary of State to extend the safeguards, but also to change the law in advance of this latest decision. When the same safeguards were extended last year, Labour called on the Government to introduce emergency legislation, which we would have supported, so that the national interest could be invoked by Ministers in relation to Trade Remedies Authority advice. It is too weighted towards the interests of importers rather than those of domestic industry, and too narrow in scope in that it does not give sufficient weight to issues such as regional employment and support for nationally important industries, and, indeed, the international context for these safeguarding decisions. The United States and the European Union have such measures, and in the case of the EU, the World Trade Organisation has not found the extension of the safeguards to be in breach of its rules. In short, if there is to be a challenge at the WTO, it will be a mess entirely of the Government’s own making.

Although, of course, I thank the Trade Remedies Authority for its work, there are still issues with its framework.

Ministers appeared to agree with Labour’s analysis when, a year ago, the Government announced a wider review of the Trade Remedies Authority framework “as an urgent priority”, in the words of the then International Trade Secretary—the present Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss). Well, it has not been a priority for Ministers. That review has disappeared into the long grass, leaving the country in the position we are in today. Had the review been completed, with wider factors eligible for consideration by the TRA, the Secretary of State would be in a much stronger position, just like other major economies that have steel tariffs in place and have had no problems at the WTO. Ministers knew that this issue of extending the safeguards was coming, but they did not plan for it properly, either in terms of our domestic law or internationally, by working with those countries that have extended safeguards without any problems.

Let me also put on record that the last-minute rush to extend safeguards in no way makes up for the shortcomings in support for the steel industry from this Government, and that Labour has set out plans to secure the industry’s future for years to come by investing £3 billion in the transition to net zero over the next 10 years.

May I ask the Secretary of State when that wider review of the Trade Remedies Authority framework will be completed? May I also ask whether she intends to introduce further legislation once the review is completed? Will she publish all the TRA papers relating to this decision, and will she tell us what lessons have been learned from the WTO ruling on the EU safeguards that have been extended? Finally, can she reassure steelworkers and their families that the framework will have been fully reformed before this matter is considered again?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming the statement and supporting the Government’s decision to extend the safeguards applying to these five categories of steel, but I do not agree with his claim that this has been done in a rush. The statement has been made today because the rollover is to take place on 1 July, and it was therefore appropriate to make an announcement this week.

The right hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about the EU’s choice to maintain the safeguards after it was found not to be in breach of the rules. I was unable to be present at the Select Committee this morning—frustratingly—because I was indeed dealing with the international part of these processes as much I could. I will continue to do so over the next few days in order to ensure that our WTO partners and friends understand the reasons for my decision, which I am pleased to hear is supported by the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party. Obviously we stand ready to take up any concerns that WTO members may have about the decision, but I am certain that it is the right decision, enabling us to avoid as much harm or risk of injury to our steel producers as we can.

The TRA, as an independent organisation, has done an excellent job in examining the challenges faced by the industry. It is also working apace on many issues brought to it by British companies that have concerns, and I am pleased to see it up and running on a daily basis. I meet its representatives regularly, but its submissions to me are made independently, which allows me to make my decisions more broadly.

Steel is of course a strategic industry, and it is worth remembering that no one in the House or the country can go a single day without needing to use some. I thank my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister for their sensible approach to this issue. They have stood behind steel jobs in Scunthorpe, and they have ensured that we have the right steel safeguards, just like every other country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is beyond any doubt that the future of the UK steel industry is safest under a Conservative Government?

My hon. Friend is genuinely an incredible champion for her constituency, and indeed for her steel constituents. I can tell the House that a week does not go by without her appearing to remind me of the importance of the Scunthorpe steelworks, and that is a fantastic consideration. As a Conservative MP, she never stops doing that, and her voice has been well heard as we have reached these decisions. As she says, we do not spend a day without using steel—I had never thought about that. It is an integral part of our day-to-day lives, and in all the investments we are making through the green revolution and the transport revolutions, steel is at the core of all that. I very much hope that this decision will ensure stability and a reduction in the risk of injury to our fantastic steel producers in Scunthorpe.

Scotland’s whisky producers have already suffered significantly from Trump-era tariffs of 25% and the current 100% tariff imposed by the Indian Government. The prospect of retaliatory tariffs from India and South Korea is alarming, especially when the Asia-Pacific makes up a quarter of Scotland’s whisky export markets. What is the Secretary of State doing to mitigate the likelihood of retaliatory tariffs that will harm Scotland’s whisky industry?

I am not going to repeat the question asked of the Deputy Prime Minister at PMQs today, but could the reason that the Secretary of State is sitting here be that she has managed to avoid scrutiny in the International Trade Committee? The House has known for weeks that the deadline for renewing steel safeguards is tomorrow. Why have the Government waited until the dying hours of this timeline before coming to the House with a decision? This does not paint a picture of a long-term organisation and strategy that is working well within the Department for International Trade. In the light of this move, and of the prospect of retaliatory tariffs from those countries I have already mentioned, the Government must now move fast to ensure that the UK can improve the level of steel exports to the EU to make up for this. Is the Department for International Trade formulating a plan to increase steel exports to EU markets? Finally, can I ask the Secretary of State if she is going to speak to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and look at the price of making steel in this country? That issue has been going on as long as I have been here—seven years—and even before that.

I am slightly disappointed that the hon. Lady does not support us, as she has the Liberty steelworks in her constituency. I will repeat, because clearly I was not heard, that the reason I was unable to make it to the International Trade Committee this morning—we have, I hope, set a date for next week—is that I was dealing with those international relationships and discussions that are necessary to ensuring that WTO members understand why we have taken this decision and will therefore choose not to bring retaliatory charges to any other industry. It is incredibly important that those relationships are maintained. I was at MC12—the WTO ministerial conference—in Geneva two weeks ago, where those relationships were building, as ever, to make sure it was understood that we are defending our British steel interests because of some of the imbalances across the steel sector. I very much hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the decision we have taken, because it will support her own constituency steelworks, and that she will support me in the continuing work that I will be doing at the WTO to ensure that every other member understands why we have taken this decision.

I thank my right hon. Friend to listening to representations from myself and other MPs representing steel industries. Extending the safeguards like this is really great news for the steel industry, and I know that my constituents who work for Speciality Steels in Stocksbridge will agree. The safeguards will ensure that the UK steel industry is protected from market-distorting practices such as dumping, but our industry faces other disadvantages, including unfair energy prices. Will she commit to working with colleagues across Government to address the disadvantages affecting our UK steel industry and making it uncompetitive?

My hon. Friend has been championing her steelworks, and we have worked closely to understand the support needed. There are already a number of examples of supports for the sector. Since 2013, more than £600 million of relief has been provided to the steel industry to help with high electricity costs. The £315 million industrial energy transformation fund is also available, and the £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio is also a really important part of the work that we are going to do. I absolutely hear my hon. Friend and I will continue to work with colleagues across Government, especially the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to support the steel industry, to transform it and to take on the challenges of clean steel, which is part of our net zero challenge.

The Secretary of State will of course know of the cross-party fury of my Committee as regards the constant run-around, with this morning being the tin lid. She also knows that I know that she knew she would be making this statement at least a week ago, which further underlines our fury, but I will leave that there. The UK has no known trade strategy, and it cannot export the famous prawn sandwich to any country in the world without the same, or nearly the same, weight of bureaucratic paperwork going with the said sandwich. Today we are here with the next move on steel tariffs, but the only manufactured good not seeing any tariff removal in the Australian free trade agreement on imports and exports between the UK and Australia is UK steel. Why is that? Did the Government drop the ball or is it because they have no strategy to know what they are doing from one day to the next?

I am at risk of repeating myself, but I will do so for clarity. I was unable to make it to the Committee this morning because I was dealing with those international relationships and having really important conversations. Obviously I was not able to do that until I had made a final determination as a result of those. The information was passed to the Committee yesterday that I would not be able to make it, once we knew that you had granted a statement for today, Mr Speaker. That was the point at which I was able to make a final determination, and then of course I needed to start talking to my WTO friends and colleagues. The timeframe is such that one thing comes from another, but we are always at the disposal of the Chair to determine when those statements are able to be made in the House.

Seven years ago Teesside faced the single biggest event of the industrialisation, with the collapse of the SSI steelworks and the loss of 3,000 jobs overnight. I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Anna Turley, for her work in trying to prevent the closure of that plant. Since this Prime Minister took office, the Government have stood up for our industry with support for British steel protecting 900 jobs in Redcar and Cleveland and extending the safeguards last year and again this year, as we have heard today. Can I urge the Secretary of State to continue her support for the steel sector, recognising how crucial steel is as a strategic national asset?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I also pay tribute to his predecessor, whom I know well and who was a great champion. We have discussed some of the challenges that the steel industry continues to face, and this Government are absolutely focused on finding the right solutions for them. I am pleased that the category 17 safeguard, which we will keep, should at least help the steelworks in my hon. Friend’s constituency to play on a level playing field with the products that it makes.

This is absolutely the right decision, and it will be warmly welcomed by steelworkers and their families in my Aberavon constituency. Unusually for this Government, it actually complies with international law, so the Secretary of State should be congratulated on that as well. However, as the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), said, this cliff edge—this leaving things right until the last minute—creates a huge amount of instability for an industry that is already under a tremendous amount of pressure. In his questions, my right hon. Friend called on the Secretary of State to do a proper review of the framework within which the TRA operates, so that we can have a long-term solution to this and do not end up with the same last-minute scramble next time. Can the Secretary of State please set out what steps she is taking to ensure that that happens?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. I am pleased that we have cross-party support for what I think is an incredibly important decision that we have taken, both as a Government and I would like to say as a country, to support our steel sector at this challenging time for the whole market. I know that his steel mills are busy and productive, and we want to see that continue.

The TRA is an independent organisation, and the Government use our powers to ask for investigations. I use the information the TRA gives me to make determinations, on the Government’s behalf, on what we should do. That will continue to be the case, and I am grateful to the TRA for its work. The TRA team’s investigations are extremely thorough, and in this case it was very comfortable in presenting to me the indications of serious injury or potential for serious injury. I am completely satisfied that the TRA has, indeed, undertaken its responsibilities very effectively in this case.

The single greatest motor of world prosperity is free trade. Although it is allowable to have trade remedies to deal with unfair dumping or subsidies, they must be strictly temporary and must be based on the clearest evidence. Will the Secretary of State proclaim once more that this Conservative Government are fully committed to world free trade?

It is well known that I am a champion of free trade, and I have the extraordinary privilege of going around the world to share the United Kingdom’s perspective on free trade and champion it in multinational fora. This was at the heart of the discussions we were driving forward at MC12 just two weeks ago to make sure, exactly as my right hon. Friend says, that anticompetitive activities such as dumping are found to be unacceptable.

Where there are domestic issues—in this case, a surge of imports alongside the need for our steel industry to find its place after leaving the European Union—the safeguards can run for only a further two years. The safeguards are temporary, which is why we will continue to work with the steel industry across the country to make sure we support it to find solutions, especially to the challenge of high energy use and the clean steel transformation we want to see. As my hon. and right hon. Friends have stated, the reality is that every part of our economy contains steel, so we want to make sure that future generations use clean steel.

I have talked to engineering firms in my constituency such as Tinsley Bridge and Forged Solutions in the last few days, and they use specialist steel that has to be imported because they cannot source it in this country. They have therefore been paying hundreds of thousands of pounds a month between them in tariffs imposed on those imports. The Secretary of State says she is extending the category 12A quota to help this situation, but these firms will still have significant costs because of the tariffs and quotas that have been imposed. Will she agree to meet me, the companies and the Confederation of British Metalforming to consider how the introduction of greater flexibility could help these companies?

I am very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the specifics of those businesses in his constituency. I have met many steel producers and downstream users, and they repeatedly raised the category 12A issue, which is why I decided to extend the tariff rate quota very substantially to create enough headroom to ensure the tariff risks do not affect those businesses. I look forward to discussing that with him more fully.

The Secretary of State will understand that these very complex issues need proper parliamentary scrutiny, and the best way to do that is through the Select Committee process. I completely understand her reasons for not being at the International Trade Committee this morning. I have known her for seven years, and she and her fellow Ministers are not shy of parliamentary scrutiny, but there is no doubt that the relationship between the International Trade Committee and the Department for International Trade is not what it should be. Having been a Minister in the Department, I know that some outstanding civil servants work there, but it needs to be beefed up.

I am the Chairman of the Committees on Arms Export Controls, which have a similar problem with the Department for International Trade. We have to work hard to make sure these relationships work well. Parliamentary scrutiny is important, and we need to make sure we are demonstrably getting it right.

I thank my hon. Friend for his honesty. I am not known for being shy of discussing anything, and I am always happy to do so. I was required to be on the phone this morning to discuss urgent WTO matters, and I very much hope to be able to attend the International Trade Committee next week to discuss the Australia trade deal.

I note that my hon. Friend and other members of the Committee have raised some issues between the Committee and some of my team. We continue to work to resolve those issues and to provide information, at every opportunity, in as timely a manner as possible within the confines of market sensitivity.

I welcome this announcement but, as the Secretary of State says, it just buys her some time. What will the Government do to help the industry invest for the future, particularly at it moves to hydrogen, and to help it with the crippling energy prices it faces today and has faced for many years?

As the right hon. Gentleman says, the safeguards will be in place until June 2024, and we will obviously need to act in concert with our international partners and our domestic steel sector to find longer-term solutions. The energy security strategy that the Government announced a few weeks ago includes an extension and an increase of the compensation for energy-intensive industries, including steel, to help with the current incredibly high electricity prices.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that, as part of the 10-point plan set out by the Prime Minister back in 2020 and the work the Government have continued to do to be at the forefront of solving some of the net zero challenges, of which steel is at the heart of so many, the Government will continue to work with the industry to find long-term solutions both through technological change and through developing clean steel. Hydrogen and other potential energy solutions are currently part of that mix.

I never thought that being a free trader would be such a unique and rare position in the Conservative party. I am fully supportive of supporting the steel industry, but not through protectionist measures. What message does it send to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan or any other country with which we are signing a free trade agreement when we cite national interests above the agreements we have signed?

We have invited the Secretary of State to come before the International Trade Committee eight times to discuss the Australia free trade agreement. She says she could not appear this morning, which I accept, but guess what? We are seeing the TRA this afternoon. Why does she not join us to discuss the Australia agreement and these measures in full? There must be parliamentary scrutiny, but we are not having it. When we come to it, I urge all colleagues to reject the Australia free trade agreement and to extend the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process for a further 21 days.

I am pleased to hear that the independent TRA team will be able to discuss their work with the Committee this afternoon. I look forward to reading the transcript.

Sadly, I must decline the invitation as my diary precludes it today, for pretty much the same reason as this morning. I will be working with international partners to ensure these clear and temporary safeguards are understood by our WTO partners and can be used as a springboard to support our steel industry to think about how it can transform to be important and successful globally.

Protecting British steel from unfair competition is, of course, welcome, but we need more to safeguard the industry itself. Will the Secretary of State explain what the Government are doing to protect the sector as a whole? I am particularly interested in Liberty Steel in my constituency, regardless of the broader issues in the sector.

The hon. Lady, with whom I have worked on many issues, is a doughty champion of all in her constituency, including Liberty Steel. We will continue to work with all steel producers through the DIT and across Government to make sure we drive forward solutions not only on high energy prices, on which there are a number of sources of support for the steel industry, but on making sure we have the best steel we need, produced in the UK, as we move towards net zero. It is a strategically crucial industry for us. Our producers need to be able not only to produce what our downstream users need, but to export some of the finest steel production in the world to the rest of the world, where it is needed. Having been able to remove the section 232 tariffs, we are now going to see some of our high-end steel production back in the US market. That is important to the US, because some of the stuff it imports we make here, and it needs it. So we are going to continue to work to ensure that those flows—imports and exports—are as they should be and are part of the free and fair trade that the steel industry needs to have.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition of the need for support not only for British steel producers, as a strategic national interest, but for downstream users, such as our world-class manufacturers and engineering firms in Dudley South. What assessment has she made of the needs of industry in reaching her decision today?

I have had a number of meetings with various groups of downstream users of steel, where I have learned a great deal about all sorts of things. What came across strongly was that category 12A was where we had a shortage of capacity for our downstream users to use without getting caught in the tariff framework, because we do not produce enough of it here and so it must be imported. As I say, we have set out the change to that tariff rate quota to ensure—I hope—that our downstream users who want to make use of that particular quality of steel will be able to do so without tariff imposition.

As the hon. Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) acknowledged, we all know how the Government abandoned the steel industry on Teesside and failed to provide support in the recent past. Thousands of people lost their jobs as a result. We are, however, being promised a renaissance, with investment in clean green steel. News releases and talk are cheap—where is the action?

As I mentioned, there is a £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio, managed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in which we are seeing the thinking and the projects coming through to help our industries move into clean steel and the clean generation of any number of parts of our economy, so that we can meet our net zero commitments. We have committed to be 78% net zero by 2035—this is one of the highest commitments in the world. That is a huge challenge and every one of our industries needs to be involved, making changes not only to themselves but through their supply chains, so that we can meet that net zero challenge. We are doing that not because we like a big industrial challenge, but because it is incredibly important that we do it, as part of our commitment to the global challenge to bring down our carbon dioxide emissions and because British businesses are designing and coming up with the innovative solutions with which we can help the rest of the world to do it. My Department is proud of, and is championing, all that British innovation is doing with the rest of the world to help it meet those challenges as well.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision. Many of my constituents work at the Scunthorpe plant, and I fully endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft). However, we must acknowledge that the industry still faces many challenges. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State give an assurance that her Department will work with the industry to explore new export markets, as that is vital to its future?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, in managing to remove the section 232 tariffs, we have opened up, once again, the US markets for some of our specialist steel producers. That is a really exciting and much-needed part of those exports. As we champion all that is the best of British and as we go around the world not only with our free trade agreements, but in looking to unlock market access barriers and allow British businesses to bring their goods and services to new markets, the steel industry is going to be at the heart of so many of those things, for the very reason that has been mentioned: steel is in every part of our lives.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the importance of Celsa Steel to jobs and the economy in my constituency, to crucial national infrastructure projects, because of the rebar it produces, and to our construction industry. If the energy price crisis continues or deepens, what new measures will the Government consider taking, particularly for those energy-intensive industries? What more is she going to do to boost procurement? Crucially, it is that procurement chain and those long-term orders from within the UK, using UK-made steel, that will secure those jobs for the future.

I am afraid that I cannot give the assurance, but we have one of the BEIS Ministers, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), on the Bench, he will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s questions and he will be happy to discuss them more fully. We will continue to work with our industries. Of course, procurement is interesting; it has been raised with me by many of the downstream producers. Some of the steels needed in the procurement contracts we do not make here. Many we do. We have discussed at length some of the incredible work. The rebar from his constituency is used in places such as Hinkley Point C and in new nuclear. That will continue to be an important part of our steel producers’ opportunities to make sure that the UK’s new infrastructure is very well and robustly held together by British steel.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. I am sure she will be aware that my constituency is home to several small and medium-sized enterprises, notably engineering companies and manufacturers supplying to the defence, automotive and offshore wind sectors—that is increasingly the case as we move to quadruple our offshore wind output. What steps can she take to remove market access barriers to increase exports for this market segment to countries such as Brazil, which has a potential 700 GW in the near future for offshore wind?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on this. As my Department champions opportunities for green trade exports, particularly in the technologies and manufacturing where the UK is now genuinely a world leader—offshore wind and others that are coming through—we want to make sure that we have the ability to find those routes to market for our brilliant British businesses. In things such as the trade deal with Australia and New Zealand, we have stripped away tariffs on green and environmental goods to ensure that those markets can open as quickly as possible and that we can see the best of British around the world.

As others have said, extending safeguards is, of course, a welcome announcement, but all it does is preserve the status quo for steelmakers such as those in my constituency. With the potential for the targeted charging review to massively increase network costs for steelmakers, what can this Department do, in consultation with BEIS, to bring forward a green steel deal, in partnership with the industry, to make sure that the UK is the best place in the world to make steel?

The hon. Lady is a champion and the BEIS Minister on the Bench will be happy to meet her to discuss more fully the issues that she raises.

North West Durham and Consett have a proud history of steelmaking and, although the blast furnaces closed more than 40 years ago, there are still many small manufacturers working in very high-end specialised production. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine in wiping out the manufacturing of some important steel products and the impact that has had on downstream manufacturers in the UK, especially in terms of cobalt steel? A lot of my constituents work in the high-end manufacturing of that for cutting and mining equipment. If she cannot answer that specifically now, will she write to me and, and if necessary, meet me about it in the future?

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the details of the particular businesses in his constituency that have found that their markets are distorted and disturbed by the illegal invasion of Ukraine. One reason I have decided to strip away all restrictions on Ukrainian steel is that we want to make sure that, as Ukraine, in due course, is able to get back up and running in those industries, its high-quality steel has a route to market in the UK. We wish to continue to be its champion and supporter, and to ensure that that democracy can rebuild its economy as quickly as possible.

I appreciate that it is sometimes necessary in the national interest to impose trade restrictions, but free trade is the way to increase competition, bring down prices and raise living standards. The fact is that energy-intensive industries in the United Kingdom have been shedding jobs for many years now, partly because of the energy price costs that have resulted from the Government’s net zero policy. Does the necessity for today’s decision not give the Government another reason to examine the wisdom of the current net zero policy, given that the priority for our competitors is cheap energy produced from fossil fuel?

As I said earlier, we have provided over £600 million in financial relief to the steel industry since 2013 to address high electricity costs, and the recent security strategy on energy continues to support that. This will be an issue for some time, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy continues to work with all energy-intensive industries to find solutions. However, it is absolutely right to continue pushing forwards on our net zero agenda, because we need to have security of electricity and other energy supplies and to move to clean energy sources as we transition away from hydrocarbons. In that way, we will have not only security but clean energy, and we need the rest of the world to do the same. If we do not do these things, large parts of our planet will no longer be habitable, because of the climate change impacts.

I want to stick with energy costs, because the biggest challenge that steel faces as an energy-intensive industry is having far higher energy costs than our international competitors. Will the Secretary of State say a little more about why, as an alternative to tariffs—which operate against Conservative free market principles and carry the risk of retaliation—the Government have not considered providing UK steel producers with more targeted support to put them on a level playing field with their competitors?

As I said, we have set that out in the strategy. My hon. Friends in BEIS will be happy to discuss the issue in more detail if my hon. Friend wants to raise particular industries. We will continue to work on this issue. Importantly, we want to make sure we move towards clean steel production, because the opportunity to sell the finest, most innovative steels will help the industry and the UK to be a global leader. As the Department for International Trade champions what we do on green trade across the world, we also want to make sure that we lead in this sector.

Leaving it until the last minute to announce the renewal of safeguards denies UK steel producers certainty. Certainty matters if they are to secure investment, and investment matters in an industry that is strategically important for our economic and national security. The Secretary of State has talked a lot about clean steel. If she wants to demonstrate that the Government really do back investment in moving to clean steel, will she tells us whether they will provide the certainty needed by businesses, workers and steel communities and match Labour’s commitment to a £3 billion green steel fund?

The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire, will have heard that question. It is not within my purview to set such a policy, but the Government want to continue to ensure that, as we drive forward our net zero strategy to meet these challenges, every part of our industrial base moves to a net zero position, and that will involve clean steel. We will continue to work across Government to help find those solutions in the long term.

My constituents work at the nearby Corby steelworks, and I see the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), on the Front Bench supporting the Minister. However, I have concerns that we have gone down the protectionism route rather than cut energy costs. I am afraid that the Secretary of State has mentioned net zero more times than she has mentioned cutting energy costs. I am disappointed that we do not have a policy of saving the steel industry. It is no good talking about green steel in the future if we do not have an industry. I hope that the next statement will be about cutting the energy costs to the steel industry.

As I said, these safeguards, which will run for a further two years, are only temporary. They were brought in because, as we transitioned out of the EU, we brought across EU-wide protections, to ensure a fairer balance across a global industry in which there is over-capacity and in which some countries have followed unfair market practices. That has provided assurance, and it has given the industry time to rebalance and think about how it works, so that we manage the shift in imports and exports. As I said, I will continue to work with colleagues across Government to help to tackle the energy challenges we see today. The compensation scheme is obviously in place, and I know that colleagues are happy to discuss that in more detail.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, which is very welcome. It is critical that our manufacturing base is retained, so does she not agree that, given the substantial increase in transport costs, which has seen containers treble in price, the time to help British steel is now? That being the case, will she fund investment in new factories and plants that are built with cutting-edge technology, so that we lessen environmental impacts while retaining the high-quality British steel that we are famed for in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman is right, and we want to see those new, innovative solutions coming through across the UK, including in Northern Ireland, where we are seeing incredible growth in innovation in a number of areas—for example, in high-end engineering, where we continue to see real leadership as those innovative ideas come to fruition. He is absolutely right that the challenge of energy prices affects transport costs, as well as many other areas for businesses, and the whole Government are incredibly focused on finding support for business.

President Reagan once said that there is “nothing so permanent” as a temporary Government subsidy. I therefore gently say to my right hon. Friend that, unless we fix the underlying structural problems, including the energy cost problem, which we have heard about on multiple occasions, she will be coming back here in two years’ time—and again after that, and again after that—to prolong these measures. That will put a very serious dent in the Conservative party’s free trade credentials.

May I, further, press my right hon. Friend on the point in her statement that this decision has been taken with reference to the ministerial code? Given the comments in Lord Geidt’s resignation letter, will she please confirm that this decision is not just “with reference to” the ministerial code but “compliant with” it?

The Department for International Trade has had no contact with Lord Geidt, although I understand that, obviously, the Prime Minister and his former adviser spoke regularly on a number of matters. The Government have a duty to use their democratic mandate to the greatest possible effect to protect the interests of the British people and provide leadership, and the balanced decision I have reached is that today’s course of action is the right one.

To my hon. Friend’s point, these measures are only temporary and can last only a further two years, so the challenges of solving some of the big structural questions are closer to us than ever before—they are not getting further away. We will continue to work closely with the industry, so that, as these safeguards fall away in due course, we support it to move towards becoming the modern steel industry we all need.

May I thank my right hon. Friend on behalf of all those who work for REIDsteel, which is the largest private sector employer in Christchurch, manufacturing and supplying steel structures across the world? However, what will happen in two years’ time? Can she guarantee that REIDsteel will be able to get supplies of clean British steel in two years’ time? If not, will she not need to abandon this net zero doctrine? What is more important than actually being able to supply homegrown steel so that people in Christchurch can manufacture and export their products?

My hon. Friend is a champion for his constituents, and it is great to hear more about REIDsteel. As all downstream users look to meet their net zero commitments and demand cleaner steel, we will see industry changing. A healthy industry, as we see now, has both imports and exports. We export some of our British steel to the US for its defence industry—they do not make that particular specialist steel themselves. As in any good business, we are sharing our expertise with industries abroad. Equally, there are some steels that we do not make in the UK that we therefore import. As regards the category 12 steel safeguard, I have decided to extend the TRQ because downstream users have been clear to me that they need more of that steel. We do not produce it domestically in the quantities that would meet that need, so it is right to ensure that the balance of the market is right for our downstream users. I look forward to seeing REIDsteel continuing to thrive in the years ahead.

Metropolitan Police Service

May I start by expressing my condolences to the family of Zara Aleena? We were all shocked by her horrific killing in the past few days, and our thoughts and prayers are with her loved ones.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Metropolitan Police Service, following the decision yesterday of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services to place the service in the “engage” process, which has been described as a form of special measures.

The public put their trust in the police and have every right to expect the country’s largest force to protect them effectively and carry out their duties to the very highest professional standards. The public expect the police to get the basics right. Although very many Metropolitan police officers do exactly that, it is clear that the service is falling short of these expectations and that public confidence has been severely undermined.

The Government support the action that the inspectorate has taken to escalate the force into special measures and address where it is falling short. The public also elected a Mayor to bring governance and accountability in their name, and I now expect the Mayor of London, as the police and crime commissioner, to act swiftly to ensure that he and the force deliver improvements, win back public trust and make London’s streets safer. We expect him to provide an urgent update explaining how he plans to fix this as soon as possible.

Now is not the time for the Mayor to distance himself from the Met. He must lean in and share responsibility for a failure of governance and the work needed to put it right. Over the past three years, this Government have overseen the largest funding boost for policing in a decade, and we are well on the way to recruiting an extra 20,000 police officers nationally, with 2,599 already recruited by the Metropolitan police, giving them the highest ever number of officers.

By contrast, as many Londoners will attest, the Mayor has been asleep at the wheel and is letting the city down. Teenage homicides in London were the highest that they have ever been in the past year, and 23% of all knife crime takes place in London, despite its having only 15% of the UK population. The Mayor must acknowledge that he has profound questions to answer. He cannot be passive and continue as he has. He must get a grip.

There are many areas of remarkable expertise and performance in the Met, and, in many areas, the Met is understandably the best in the world. However, there have been persistent Met failures on child protection, and, earlier this year, following the catalogue of errors found by the independent panel, which looked at the investigations into the murder of Daniel Morgan, the inspectorate issued a damning report on the Met’s approach to tackling corruption. There have been exchanges of extremely offensive messages between officers, and, of course, we had the truly devastating murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer.

It is reported that the inspectorate has raised a number of further concerns in its recent letter to the Metropolitan police. It makes for sorry reading, I am afraid. The inspectorate reportedly finds that the force is falling short of national standards for the handling of emergency and non-emergency calls, and that there are too many instances of failure to assess vulnerability and repeated victimisation. An estimated 69,000 crimes go unrecorded each year, less than half of crimes are recorded within 24 hours and almost no crimes are recorded when victims report antisocial behaviour against them. The inspectorate has also found that victims are not getting enough information or support.

Other concerns are thought to include disjointed public protection governance arrangements; insufficient capacity to meet demand in several functions, including high-risk ones such as public protection; and a persistently large backlog of online child abuse referrals. The inspectorate also highlights an insufficient understanding of the force’s training requirements, and the list is not exhaustive. This has all undermined public confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service, and we have not heard enough from the Mayor about what he plans to do about it. Blaming everyone else will just not do this time. [Interruption.] I am glad that hon. Members find this amusing, but I am afraid this is not funny.

As I have already said, it is vital that policing gets the basics right and that there is proper accountability for those in charge. Every victim of crime deserves to be treated with dignity, and every investigation and prosecution must be conducted thoroughly and professionally, in line with the victims code. Recent reports of strip searches being used on children are deeply concerning and need to be addressed comprehensively. We have a cherished model of policing by consent. The police force is a service—a public service—and the public must have confidence in it. Plainly, things have to change.

The Government are working closely with the policing system as a whole to rewire police culture, integrity, and performance. Last October, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced an independent inquiry to investigate the issues raised by the conviction of Wayne Couzens for the murder of Sarah Everard. In the same month, the Metropolitan police commissioned Baroness Casey of Blackstock to lead an independent and far-reaching review into its culture and standards. We also welcome the College of Policing’s new national leadership standards, which are aimed at ensuring continuous professional development. Policing is a very difficult job and demands the highest possible training standards.

The process to recruit a new Metropolitan Police Commissioner is well under way and the Government have made it crystal clear that the successful candidate must deliver major and sustained improvements. The whole country, not just London, needs to know that our biggest police force is getting its act together. The Mayor of London, supported by his deputy mayor for policing and crime—a role that I once had the privilege to hold—is directly responsible for holding the commissioner and the Metropolitan police to account. Notwithstanding what Opposition Members think, the Mayor needs to raise his game. He has an awesome responsibility which he has hitherto neglected, in my view.

This is not an insurmountable problem, but it is extremely serious. Trust has not been shattered beyond repair, but it is badly broken and needs strong leadership to fix it. Through the police performance and oversight group, the Government look forward to seeing the Metropolitan police engage with the inspectorate and produce a comprehensive action plan to sort this out, and be held to account by City Hall.

The national system for holding forces to account and monitoring force performance is working well. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and every public service must be held to account. I am grateful to the inspectorate for its work. It now falls to the Metropolitan police and to the Mayor of London to make things right. Given my admiration of so many who work in the Met, it is with some personal sadness that I commend this statement to the House.

May I add my condolences to the family of Zara Aleena after her horrific murder?

I am deeply disappointed with the Minister, who shared with us a statement that included none of the political attacks on the Mayor of London that we have just heard. The statement that we were sent was much shorter, and it contained not a single political attack on the Mayor of London. That is very bad form, as I am sure you would agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, and it is not how things should be done.

Order. I interrupt the hon. Lady to say that this is unusual. I also have a slightly different statement. It is expected that the Opposition have the statement that is actually given. I say this as a reminder for future reference.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Many of us will have heard this morning and last night the dignified and gracious interviews with Mina Smallman following the announcement that Her Majesty's inspectorate is moving the Metropolitan police into what is called an “engage” phase. The way that the disappearance and then the deaths of Mina’s daughters were investigated, and the fact that altered images of their bodies were shared widely by some officers, have come to epitomise the problems within the Met that we, the Mayor of London and London residents have been so concerned about for some time.

We know that tens of thousands of people work in the Met and, of course, we know that so many have that sense of public duty that reflects the incredibly important job that they do. They have been let down by poor leadership, lack of resources and an acceptance of poor behaviour. It is for them, as well as for victims and the wider public, that we seek to drive forward improvements.

The announcement yesterday comes after a long list of serious conduct failures from the Metropolitan police: the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer, the conduct of officers following the murder of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, the strip-searching of children such as Child Q, the conduct unveiled in the report of the Independent Office for Police Conduct into the Charing Cross police station and the

“seemingly incomprehensible failures to recognise and treat appropriately a series of suspicious deaths in the Stephen Port case”.

The list of failings from the inspectorate makes for grim reading and goes way beyond those more high-profile cases: it includes performance falling far short of national standards, a barely adequate standard of crime recording and the quality of basic supervision to officers. All that has undermined public trust, and we all have a role to play in building that trust back up. As the Mayor of London has said, a first and crucial step for the new commissioner will be to start rebuilding trust and credibility in our communities.

The Minister’s announcement about what needs to be done is incredibly weak. He talks about support for victims, but where is the victims’ law that the Government have been promising for years? We know there is a massive increase across the country in the number of cases collapsing because victims drop out—on his watch. He talks about reform to comprehensively address the strip searches on children, but he has totally failed to bring forward the new guidance on strip searches that we have been calling for for months. He talks about reforming culture, but he only refers to two long-term inquiries that may not provide answers, even though we know that action is needed now.

The Minister is right that the system for holding forces to account has worked in this case, but we need change to follow. We need a national overhaul of police training and standards. There is much to be done on leadership. We need a new vetting system. We need to overhaul misconduct cases, with time limits on cases. We need new rules on social media use. We need robust structures for internal reporting to be made and taken seriously, and we need new expected standards on support for victims, investigation of crimes, and internal culture and management. That is for the Home Office to lead.

The Met cut its police constable to sergeant supervision ratio after the Conservatives cut policing, and after the Olympics—when the Minister was deputy mayor—it was cut more than any other force. A police sergeant said this morning:

“I do not have a single officer that I supervise that has over 3 years’ service, so not a single officer that policed pre Covid.”

Does the Minister now accept that, no matter how much he promises in terms of new, young and inexperienced officers right now, the Met and forces across the country are still suffering from the loss of 20,000 experienced officers that his Government cut?

Policing should be an example to the rest of society, and supporting our police means holding officers and forces to the highest possible standards. The concerns today are about the Met, but we know there are problems in other forces, too. Can the Minister confirm how many other forces are in this “engage” phase, and which forces they are? Can he outline what the steps the Home Office is taking now to drive up standards in the police across the country?

The British style of policing depends on public trust. The public deserve a police service that they not only trust, but can be proud of. Victims need an efficient and effective force to get them justice. Our officers deserve to work in a climate without bullying, toxic cultures. We need to see urgent reforms. The Government can no longer leave our police facing a perfect storm of challenges and fail to lead that change.

Madam Deputy Speaker, it is the case that I made amendments to the statement, and I apologise that they were made at the last minute. The reason is that I held the job of deputy mayor for policing myself for four years and I feel very strongly about this issue. I apologise to you. I feel very strongly because, had I been in the position that the Mayor and the deputy mayor are in—I must tell the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones)—I would have considered my position, after six years in control of the force.

I am disappointed in the hon. Member for Croydon Central. We have just heard a huge attempt at deflection, trying to move what is an incredibly serious issue for her constituents, as a London Member of Parliament, away from the local accountability structures that have obviously failed in these circumstances towards a national fog of issues that policing faces, in an attempt to absolve the Mayor of London of his share of responsibility for dealing with the issue.

I am not quite sure what the hon. Lady thinks the 145 members of staff in the Mayor’s office for policing and crime are for, if not for holding the Metropolitan Police to account and trying to identify these kinds of issues before they arise. It is disappointing that this decision seems to have come as a surprise to the Mayor’s office for policing and crime and, indeed, to the Mayor. I do not think the hon. Lady mentioned the Mayor once in her statement; I am sorry that she does not recognise that the primary accountability structure and primary responsibility for the integrity and trust that the people of London have in the Metropolitan Police is the Mayor of London.

Whatever one’s view, I do not think that there are many people in London—I speak not just as the Minister for Crime and Policing but as a part-time Londoner myself, given that I spend half my week in the capital—who do not believe that the Mayor of London has failed on crime in the capital and that he has been far too passive in his approach. I have done my best to step in to that void, and we have pushed the force hard on issues such as serious violence, murder and county lines, where we have offered significant funding. We have put more money into the Met so that, over the past three years, it has built the number of police officers up to the highest level the force has ever had in its history. The past three years have seen extremely good and generous financial settlements. There is no excuse beyond a profound failure of accountability.

Whatever one might think about the rights and wrongs—hon. Members can call it a political attack if they wish—the truth is that the Mayor must lean in. He is elected primarily to do that job; if he is unwilling to do it, that calls into question whether he should have the job at all.

The Government introduced the role of police and crime commissioners to be the voice of the people and hold the police to account. PCCs are responsible for the totality of policing and should aim to cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service within their force area. That is simply not happening in London. This is Sadiq Khan’s second term of office. He has said that he has long known of the problems with the Met, so what has he done about them? He has undertaken one tangible action: to bully the police commissioner into resigning. That left a vacuum of leadership and we are still without a commissioner in London. The decision to place the MPS in special measures is his responsibility and he has failed to protect the public. Will the Minister consider removing responsibility for policing from the Mayor of London and introducing an intervention team to deliver on the first role of elected representatives to keep the public safe?

My hon. Friend reflects in his remarks the seriousness of the situation. He is right to point to the failings of governance. I was the first deputy mayor for policing and effectively the first police and crime commissioner in London. The whole idea was that we should be the voice of those people who elect us and share accountability with the force we govern, and, as he said, that we should focus on cutting crime. Obviously, the removal of responsibility would need primary legislation, but I hope the Mayor will now focus on the task in hand, which is to produce an action plan to sort this situation out and step into his responsibilities in a way I feel he has failed to do thus far.

The catalogue of failings at the Met is rightly a serious concern for the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London. The Home Secretary has said that the Met is just not getting the basics right, but sadly the Home Office is not getting the basics right either. When acting commissioner Sir Stephen House gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in April, he said it was not just a case of “a few bad apples”, but a systemic problem that the Met needed to deal with. As the Met accounts for 25% of policing and has not only responsibility for London, our capital city, but national responsibilities and even international responsibilities, for example around the investigation of war crimes, what consideration has the Minister given not only to issues of performance, leadership and culture, but to whether there should be a review of the responsibilities of the Metropolitan Police?

I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for her question. As she will know, we are in the middle of an inquiry by Dame Elish Angiolini into the first stage of the employment of Wayne Couzens and then more widely into the culture of the Met. Once we have seen that and digested the urgent work required to correct the situations we see presented in this report, we will have to consider what if any further measures may need to be taken to ensure that, as the right hon. Lady says, not only national but international confidence in the Metropolitan Police as our lead force is maintained.

I pay tribute to the thousands of police officers who do a great job in providing service to Londoners, but they need robust and focused leadership, and I think it is clear that we are still in need of that. We are now on our third commissioner in six years, soon to be fourth, but we have had the same Mayor of London and the same deputy mayor for the past six years. Does my right hon. Friend think that there should be more political accountability and that perhaps one of those two characters should think about their role moving forward?

The creation of police and crime commissioners was designed to provide a focused point of accountability for the electorate. They replaced police authorities, which were opaque organisations in which no one person could be held responsible at the ballot box. As I said, if I had been in that job—I had the privilege of holding the post of deputy mayor for policing for four years—and I had had it for six years when this situation occurred, I would consider my position.

The Minister will be aware of the seriousness of the issues set out in the inspectorate’s report. He should also be aware that Londoners do not want to see us in this Chamber passing responsibility between ourselves like some grim game of pass the parcel. Nothing in the inspectorate’s report will come as a surprise to London MPs because, in one way or another, they have dealt with these types of issues, which have affected our constituents. The Minister can try to lay blame where he wishes, but he has not dealt, as all of us have dealt, with people whose lives have been ruined and whose children have been targeted. He has not dealt with those people; otherwise he could not be playing politics with this issue. There is no question but that the Met needs reform, and no doubt that this situation did not come about in a month or two. Will he confirm that the two short-listed candidates for commissioner are Nick Ephgrave and Mark Rowley, and does he accept that it is unlikely that the Met can be reformed by men who have spent almost their entire careers in it? Does he accept that many of us think that the selection process for the commissioner needs to be reopened?

Let me be clear: I am not playing politics; I am telling the truth, and every Londoner knows it. When the Prime Minister and I were at City Hall, we stepped forward and took responsibility for what was happening in London on our watch. We fought crime. We sat with the parents of murdered children and took blame and responsibility for it in a way that the current Mayor does not. Opposition Members can spend all the time they want attempting to deflect and make this a political matter, but that is the truth. Those Members who represent Londoners, on both sides of the House, know inside themselves what Londoners think about the Mayor’s performance on crime. The reason that this situation exercises me so much is that I have been there and dealt with it. Contrary to what the right hon. Lady says, over the past couple of years in this job I have spoken to and dealt with lots of victims of crime in London. In fact, only a few months ago I met four mothers of dead children brought to me by the Met who talked about the failures of dealing with knife crime and their willingness to step forward and help us to improve. So I ask the right hon. Lady, please, not to try to teach me any lessons about dealing with victims of crime. In terms of her wider question, I cannot confirm who is in the selection process, but we can only interview those people who apply.

Order. This is obviously an extremely important statement. We have the main business to move on to, so I remind colleagues that we need short questions, with only one question at a time.

One of the principal problems, bluntly, with the Metropolitan police is the quality of leadership at the very top, which determines the quality of leadership at street level. As the Minister seeks very diligently to find a new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, will he bear in mind the precedent from some time ago of finding a commissioner from outside the police forces, and bear in mind that within the military establishment there is a cohort of utterly brilliant generals and leaders who could bring those skills to bear on behalf of the Metropolitan police?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise the importance of leadership. I am sure he will be encouraged by the significant investment that we have made in the College of Policing leadership programme, which was designed to produce the future policing leaders. I say from a personal point of view that whether outside people with different professions could run a constabulary is open to question. In the reverse case, I am not sure whether, for example, a police officer could command a battalion in the Army. Also, modern policing is a much more complex environment than it used to be. However, we hope that through the work we are doing on leadership we will develop leaders who can drive policing forward into the 21st century.