House of Commons
Wednesday 20 July 2022
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The President of COP26 was asked—
The UK is working closely with Egypt and other partners to ensure that the commitments made by countries at COP26 are delivered. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the UK will hold the COP presidency until COP27 in November, and in the remaining four months we will continue to urge nations to implement the promises that they made in Glasgow.
The outgoing Prime Minister’s commitment to taking tangible climate change action has always seemed rather suspect, and, rather worryingly, the contenders to replace him seem to be even less committed. The President of COP26 himself, in a weekend interview with The Observer, described the commitment as “lukewarm”. Will he tell us who exactly he had in mind for that soubriquet?
Let me say first that the Prime Minister has been totally resolute in pursuing the net zero agenda, which is about delivering not just an environmental benefit but jobs and economic growth across the country. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Conservative party leadership; certainly from what I have seen and heard, all three of the remaining contenders are fully committed to that agenda.
My right hon. Friend has raised this issue with me before. It will of course be up to the new Prime Minister to see how he or she wants to strengthen the structures of government, but the key aim is for us to deliver on the commitments that we have made , and that is what we will be judged on at the next election.
The long-term effectiveness of COP26 outcomes derives at least in part from the credibility of pledges made in Glasgow and the serious implementation of climate policies at home, especially while we still hold the presidency. Does the President of COP26 share my concern about yesterday’s High Court ruling that the UK’s net zero strategy was unlawful because it failed to meet the Government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008? Is he worried about the message that that sends to other countries, and will he use his best offices to ensure that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy does now fulfil its obligations as it is required to do?
Obviously, I saw the judgment as well. Let me first emphasise that the net zero strategy itself remains Government policy. That is not what has been squashed. The judgment was about providing information on the percentage of emissions reductions coming from individual policy elements. Of course BEIS is looking at this, and it will have to respond in due course.
Does the President of COP26 agree that the extreme hot weather this week serves as a stark reminder of the realities and danger of climate change, and the need for the UK and the rest of the world to strengthen their resolve to achieve the objectives set at COP26?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. What we have seen over the last couple of days here is what many millions of people across the world experience on a regular basis. That is why it is so important to ensure that the commitments that have been garnered internationally are delivered on, but of course we also need to ensure that we do that ourselves.
In the last two days, we have seen that the climate emergency is here and now, with wildfires raging across our country, tracks and runways melting, schools closing and the government under-prepared, and yet some people aspiring to the highest office in the land have suggested that tackling the climate crisis is a luxury that can be delayed—an indulgence, a niche project. Such people would put the safety of our citizens at risk. They are deeply irresponsible and they are economically illiterate. Does the President of COP26 agree that, given the demonstrable threat that we so obviously face, there is no place in serious political parties for such dangerous folly?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I did make an intervention at the weekend. As I have said, from what I have seen and heard, all three of the remaining contenders for the leadership of the Conservative party and to be our next Prime Minister are committed to the “net zero by 2050” agenda, and also to the near-term policy commitments to get there. The final two will have an opportunity to set out further details over the coming weeks.
The President of COP26 was so appalled by his own party’s leadership contest that he threatened to resign, and it is no wonder. He says that all the candidates are committed to the net zero agenda, but only this morning the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), the frontrunner in the leadership race, said that he would double down on the onshore wind ban because of the “distress and disruption” that onshore wind causes.
What is causing distress is the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. What is causing disruption is the most extreme weather in our country’s history. Onshore wind is a vital tool in tackling these crises, but the bizarre state of the Tory party means that the former Chancellor panders to the fanatics and sides with the sceptics. Will the President of COP26 now repudiate that position and condemn it for the dangerous nonsense that it is?
I am not really in a position to repudiate anybody else’s proposals—[Interruption.] I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we have a clear plan for expanding offshore wind. There is another 32 GW—[Interruption.] I will come on to that. Another 32 GW is effectively in the pipeline. In solving the energy security strategy, we need to keep everything on the table. There is already 14 GW of onshore installed across the country, and where communities are positively welcoming of onshore in return for reduced bills, that is an issue that we should keep on the table.
The recent Climate Change Committee’s progress report concludes that the UK Government’s net zero strategy contains warm words but little tangible progress, and that it will not be fully credible until the Government develop contingency plans such as encouraging reduced consumer demand for high carbon activities. It also recommends carrying out a net zero tax review to see how that might best support the transition by correcting the distortions that often penalise low-carbon technologies. Do the Government intend to take action on these specific recommendations, and what will the President do to ensure that the next Prime Minister and Chancellor urgently act on all the Committee’s recommendations?
Obviously, the Government are looking at a response to this. Let me make a general point, which is that I believe the current Prime Minister has shown leadership on this issue. These policies work if there is leadership right from the top, so I will certainly want to see from any future Prime Minister a laser-like focus on ensuring that we are delivering on our policies on net zero emissions but at the same time pushing forward on more jobs, more growth and more inward investment, which we have seen coming in.
Finance for Loss and Damage
In June at the Bonn intersessional meeting, the Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage was launched to discuss the funding arrangements for addressing loss and damage. This will continue to be a critical forum to discuss practical ways in which finance can be scaled up and effectively delivered.
This week’s record-breaking temperatures across the UK show that climate change is on our doorstep, but many of the world’s poorest countries have been dealing with this climate crisis for years. The cost of not acting on climate change is spiralling out of control, so can I ask what specific steps the right hon. Gentleman is taking to put Scotland’s world-leading approach to funding loss and damage on the agenda for COP27?
As the hon. Lady knows, at COP26 we agreed a way forward with the Glasgow dialogue, and that took place in Bonn. I am quite sure that the issue of loss and damage will feature highly at COP27, in whichever forum. It is vital that we also support developing nations to make clean energy transitions, and that is something we are doing through the just energy transition partnerships with South Africa and other countries such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Senegal.
COP Presidency: Objectives
The Glasgow climate pact was a historic agreement that the United Kingdom forged among almost 200 countries. Our presidency year has been all about getting nations to deliver on the commitments they made at COP26 across the areas of mitigation, adaptation and finance, and we will continue this work up to COP27.
The heatwave this week shows the need to take serious and immediate action on climate change. The Glasgow call for a phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies is one prompt way in which the Government can swiftly work towards delivering net zero plans. Does the Minister agree that instead of fossil fuel subsidies, the Government should focus on home-grown, cheap, clean energy sources that guarantee our energy security?
The Government are focusing on that, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to the energy security strategy that was published a few weeks ago, and also to the recent contracts for difference auction process for offshore wind, which delivered a price for offshore wind that is almost 70% lower than in 2015 and four times less than the current gas price. The future has to be green energy.
Our schools often set a great example in raising awareness of the climate emergency. On my recent visit to Ysgol Rhyd-y-Grug in my constituency, the pupils told me of their concerns about deforestation in the Amazon and about the 1 million species at risk of extinction. We must urgently halt and reverse this loss, so will the right hon. Gentleman support the call, led by my hon. and right hon. Friends on the shadow Front Bench, for a “net zero with nature” test to align all public spending and infrastructure decisions with our climate and nature commitments?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we got an agreement at COP26 from more than 140 countries, representing more than 90% of the world’s forests, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. We now need to make sure this is delivered, and we are looking at mechanisms to keep this issue on the table so that countries are seen to be delivering on their commitments on an annual basis.
The COP26 President will have been as struck as I was at COP26 by the plight of low-lying island nations, and he will have been moved by how they are doing everything they can to protect themselves through nature-based solutions. Above all, they need the large, developed countries to tackle climate change. Will he redouble his efforts to persuade some of these large, developed countries to do better?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The small island developing states face a very acute climate emergency that is putting many millions of lives and livelihoods at risk. Yes, we need every country to come forward and deliver on its commitments, and particularly the biggest emitters: the G20.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published some excellent new targets for incineration in March. Will the COP26 President follow through on that and make a moratorium on waste incineration one of his objectives for the remainder of his presidency?
Last month the Climate Change Committee issued a scathing annual progress report warning of “major policy failures” and “scant evidence of delivery” on net zero. This week, as we have heard, the Government had to be dragged to court to be told their climate plans are so woefully inadequate that they are unlawful and must be revised.
What kind of leadership does it set if the country holding the COP presidency cannot get its own house in order? I know the COP President will say that the Conservative party’s leadership candidates have paid lip service to net zero, but does he really have any confidence that things will get better?
The Climate Change Committee has described the net zero strategy as “ambitious” and
“the world’s most comprehensive plan to reach net zero”.
I have discussed the legal findings, but the principle is right. We need to do everything we can to make sure we deal with this issue. The last few days have been a real wake-up call for everyone in this country, and it is what many millions of people across the world experience on a regular basis. We have to deal with this issue.
Climate Targets: Energy Efficiency
Buildings are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in our country, accounting for around 22% of total UK emissions. Energy efficiency measures are, indeed, a vital lever to drive down emissions, energy demand and, ultimately, bills.
Increasing the number of energy-efficient homes will help us to meet our climate targets and reduce bills. Around 70% of homes in Luton have an energy performance rating of band D or below, and these homes are more likely to include our town’s most deprived households. What discussions has the COP26 President had with the latest Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about ensuring the green rhetoric on homes is equitable so that everyone can benefit from an energy-efficient home?
The Government are making £6.6 billion available over this Parliament to improve energy efficiency, and nearly half the homes in England are now rated band C or above, compared with 14% in 2010. On the wider point, we need an even bigger focus on energy efficiency in homes and buildings, as it will also help our energy security by driving down demand and bringing down people’s bills.
The Government have had a series of failed programmes on home insulation: the green new deal failed, and the recent green homes grant scheme failed, as the Public Accounts Committee has repeatedly reported. Does the Minister have any confidence that the Government will listen and tackle this major cause of emissions? If it is not tackled, it will put a serious dent in achieving the target of net zero by 2050.
The COP President will know that the bulk of buildings that are around today will still be around in 2030 and 2050. Most of them are grossly inadequately insulated; even new buildings are not being built to an acceptable standard. When are we going to see some action on this crucial agenda?
I have set out the amount of funding the Government are providing over this Parliament—£6.6 billion on energy efficiency. I very much share the view that we need to be doing even more on this, particularly as we face energy security issues and energy prices are so high; more insulation in homes will deliver lower bills for households.
On energy efficiency, decarbonising in-home heating remains one of our biggest challenges in reaching our net zero 2050 target, so will the Minister join me in welcoming plans for a hydrogen village by 2025? Will he also have a chat with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary to encourage him to back our plans for one in Redcar and Cleveland?
As has been pointed out, previous programmes to improve insulation in homes, under either this party or the Labour Party, have not delivered what any of us would have hoped. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if this was targeted effectively at the homes of those who suffer most, many of whom will also be paying unacceptable increases in their energy bills, we could have a very effective way of improving insulation, reducing energy use and improving energy efficiency?
One way we could improve energy efficiency is by ensuring that new homes are energy-efficient. Will my right hon. Friend put pressure on developers to ensure that they are called to follow modern efficiency standards rather than the old ones?
On this day, I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his domestic and international leadership on tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. He has championed both during his time as Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, and he charmed, cajoled and corralled his international counterparts to ensure that more than 90% of the global economy is now covered by net zero targets. Under his premiership, the UK forged the historic Glasgow climate pact, bringing together almost 200 countries, and he has been the driving force to deliver a net zero emissions economy. He has championed the creation of well-paid green jobs, bringing in billions of pounds of private sector investment in the UK. In all these areas, he leaves a legacy to be proud of.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Whitetail project in Teesside, where an Allam cycle electricity generating plant will burn either gas or coal in pure oxygen, with zero carbon emissions? Does he agree that projects such as this ought to be fully compatible with not only our net zero commitments, but improved energy security, and that they could therefore form a long-term and permanent part of our future energy generating needs?
I am indeed aware of that project. My hon. Friend will know that the Government’s innovation funding has supported the development of Allam cycle power generation technology since 2012. Almost £5 million has been provided to fund research and development, and £1.3 million has been provided for technical studies.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Green technologies and innovations will help us to achieve the net zero target He made reference to gene editing, and I would also reference the recent CFD auction, which has delivered record renewables capacity in this country.
As my hon. Friend knows, support is being provided to help households. In particular, the most vulnerable households will receive at least £1,200 pounds of support. Of course, we also need to look at further energy-efficiency measures, and I am sure the new Prime Minister and Chancellor will look at all of that.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his amazing service as COP26 President. Will he make it his objective to ban the sale of Chinese lanterns across the UK? Across our tinder-dry land they are simply acting as unguided flamethrowers.
The recent Carbon Tracker report set out the exposure of each financial sector across the world to stranded assets—over $1 trillion in total. Will the COP President be engaging with each of the heads of the financial sectors—such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the London stock exchange—to ensure that they cope with that problem?
The private sector is very focused on the issue of the move to net zero. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in Glasgow, $130 trillion of assets were signed up to net zero. Anyone investing in assets that might end up being stranded has to be very clear about the financial decisions they are taking.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that establishing a price for carbon would give the free market the signal it needs to invest in low-carbon alternatives across the economy? Does he also agree that a carbon border adjustment mechanism is a necessary first step to achieve that?
I know my hon. Friend has raised this issue previously. Tackling carbon leakage is a vital matter. As he is aware, Her Majesty’s Treasury will be launching a consultation later this year and setting out a range of carbon leakage mitigation options, which includes looking at a carbon border adjustment mechanism.
Am I allowed to say to the COP26 President that many of us on the Labour Benches think that he has done a darned good job? If he survives the present wrangling in the Conservative party, will he make every effort to come back and “grassroot” what we are trying to do about climate change in every town, city and community? Let us have 500 sustainable towns and cities in this country. Does he agree with that?
Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.
I would also like to welcome Lord Mackay, who is retiring today. He served many distinguished years as Lord Chancellor.
Before I call Kim Leadbeater to ask the first question, it is only fitting to note that this is likely to be the final time that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) addresses the House as Prime Minister. I wish him and his family all the best for the future. We have been through many dark times in this House, and none more so than through the pandemic. That will always be remembered because of what this House did and because of the way that you conducted those duties during those dark times, Prime Minister.
I understand that Members will have differing views about the Prime Minister’s performance and legacy, and those views will be sincerely and passionately held, but I remind Members that our constituents and others around the world watch these proceedings. Let us conduct them in a respectful manner, focusing on issues and policies rather than personalities. I take this opportunity to remind Members of the words of Erskine May that
“good temper and moderation are the characteristics of the parliamentary debate.”
I expect to see that reflected today in the proceedings.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the bombings in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park. Tomorrow sees the 50th anniversary of Bloody Friday. Such terror by the Provisional IRA was barbaric and shameful, bringing untold grief to countless families. Our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones during the troubles. We as a Government remain determined to help build a better shared future for all the people of Northern Ireland.
I spoke to the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council last night and this morning about the heroic work of firefighters in recent days. I know the whole House will want to thank them and all our frontline services who have been working hard to keep us safe. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be making an oral statement later.
I know colleagues will wish to join me in wishing England’s Lionesses well in their quarter-final match against Spain in Brighton this evening. I also know the House will want to congratulate Jake Wightman, who produced a stunning run to take gold in the 1,500 metres at the world championships in Oregon.
As you rightly say, Mr Speaker, last week I told the House that last week’s PMQs was possibly my last. This week probably—certainly—will be my last PMQs from this Dispatch Box, or any other Dispatch Box. This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I will have further such meetings later today.
Summer recess gives all parliamentarians an opportunity to reflect on our ability to uphold the seven principles of public life: selflessness, openness, objectivity, honesty, integrity, accountability and leadership. Those are fine principles, but public trust in politicians is at an all-time low. Will the Prime Minister be using the next few weeks to personally consider why that could be? As the unedifying fight for his job continues, if those who are vying to replace him were to draw on his wise counsel—and why wouldn’t they?—what advice would he give to ensure that the people we serve receive far better than they have from this Government?
I am afraid I did not quite catch the last part of the hon. Lady’s question, but I will be using the next few weeks to do what I think the people of this country would expect: to drive forward the agenda on which we were elected in 2019 and on which I think the Labour party particularly fears the Conservative party, and that is the agenda of uniting and levelling up, and making sure that we invest in places that for decades were betrayed by Labour and left behind. That is what the Conservatives are going to do, and that is why we are going to win again.
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question. The accession of both countries will be good for them and make all our allies safer, and I think it will make the whole Euro-Atlantic security area stronger. I am proud of the role the UK has played in that accession.
I start by saying to the Prime Minister that I know that the relationship between a Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition is never easy, and this one has proved no exception to the rule, but I take this opportunity to wish him, his wife and his family the best for the future.
I put on record our gratitude to the fire and rescue services for all their courageous work yesterday in extreme temperatures. All our thoughts are with those affected by the fires, particularly those who have lost their homes. I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the bombing in Hyde Park and the other IRA bombings.
I also join the Prime Minister in his comments about the Lionesses. The coverage starts at 7.30 tonight on BBC One, and I am sure the whole country will be roaring them on. For anyone who does not fancy football, “EastEnders” is on, so if they would rather watch outrageous characters taking lumps out of themselves, they have a choice: Albert Square or the Tory leadership debates on catch-up. On that topic, why does the Prime Minister think those vying to replace him decided to pull out of the Sky News debate last night?
I am not following this thing particularly closely, but my impression is that there has been quite a lot of debate already, and I think the public have ample opportunity to view the talent, any one of which—as I have said before—would, like some household detergent, wipe the floor with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Today happens to be just about the anniversary of the exit from lockdown last year, and do you remember what he said? He said—[Interruption.] No, I am going to remind him. He said it was “reckless”. It was because we were able to take that decision, supported by every single one of those Conservative candidates, opposed by him, that we had the fastest economic growth in the G7 and we are now able to help families up and down the country. If we had listened to him, it would not have been possible, and I do not think they will be listening to him either.
Well, I am impressed the Prime Minister managed to get through that with a straight face, actually. I think the truth is this: they organised a TV debate because they thought it would be a great chance for the public to hear from the candidates first hand, then disaster struck because the public actually heard from the candidates first hand.
But I am interested in what the Prime Minister makes of the battle for his job, so let me start with a simple one. Does he agree with his former Chancellor that plans put forward by the other candidates are nothing more than the “fantasy economics of unfunded” spending “promises”?
Well, Labour know all about fantasy economics, because they have already committed to £94 billion of extra tax and spending, which every household in this country would have to pay for to the tune of about £2,100. It is thanks to the former Chancellor’s management of the economy—thanks to this Government’s management of the economy—that we had growth in May of 0.5%. We have more people in paid employment than at any time in the history of this country. I am proud to be leaving office right now with unemployment at or near a 50-year low. When they left office, it was at 8%. That is the difference between them and us.
Every Labour pledge made under my leadership is fully costed. Those vying to replace him have racked up £330 billion of unfunded spending commitments.
But I do note that the Prime Minister did not agree with his former Chancellor, so what about his Foreign Secretary? She was withering about the Government’s economic record. She said:
“If Rishi has got this great plan for growth, why haven’t we seen it in his last two and a half years at the Treasury?”
That is a fair question, isn’t it, Prime Minister?
I think that everybody would agree that what we saw in the last two and a half years was because of the pandemic, with the biggest fall in output for 300 years, which this Government dealt with and coped with magnificently by distributing vaccines faster than any other European Government—faster than any other major economy—which would not have been possible if we had listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. That is why we have the fiscal firepower that is necessary to help families up and down the country, making tax cuts for virtually everybody paying national insurance contributions. There is a crucial philosophical difference between Labour and the Conservatives: under Labour, families on low incomes get most of their income from benefits; under us, they get most of it from earnings, because we believe in jobs, jobs, jobs. That is the difference.
Inflation is up again this morning and millions are struggling with the cost of living crisis, and the Prime Minister has decided to come down from his gold-wallpapered bunker for one last time to tell us that everything is fine. I am going to miss the delusion.
But his Foreign Secretary did not stop there. She also said that the former Chancellor’s 15 tax rises are leading the country into recession—and the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) was even more scathing. She said that
“our public services are in a desperate state…we cannot continue with what we’ve been doing because that clearly isn’t working.”
Has the Prime Minister told her who has been running our public services for the last 12 years?
Again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing this—it is completely satirical. This is the Government who are investing £650 billion in infrastructure, skills and technology. He talks about public services; what really matters to people in this country right now is getting their appointments and their operations, fixing the covid backlogs—that is what we are doing—and fixing the ambulances. That is what he should be talking about. That is why we voted through and passed the £39 billion health and care levy, which Labour opposed. Every time something needs to be done, Labour Members try to oppose it. He is a great pointless human bollard. That is what he is.
I appreciate that Conservative Members may not want to hear what their future leader thinks of their record in government, but I think the country needs to know. If only it were satirical, Prime Minister; it is what the candidates think of the record. Among the mudslinging, there was one very important point, because the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) claimed that she warned the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) that he was handing taxpayer money directly to fraudsters in covid loans. She says that he dismissed her worries and that as a result, he “cost taxpayers £17 billion”. Does the Prime Minister think she is telling the truth?
This is one of the last blasts from Captain Hindsight, at least to me. They were the party, I remember, that was so desperate for us to be hiring their friends—they wanted a football agent and a theatrical costumier to supply personal protective equipment. Do you remember, Mr Speaker? We had to get that stuff at record speed. We produced £408 billion-worth of support for families and for businesses up and down the country. The only reason we were able to do it at such speed was that we managed the economy in a sensible and moderate way. Every time Labour has left office, unemployment has been higher. The Opposition are economically illiterate, and they would wreck the economy.
I think the message coming out of this leadership contest is pretty clear: they got us into this mess, and they have no idea how to get us out of it. The Foreign Secretary says we cannot go on with our current economic policy. The right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) bemoaned:
“What we’ve been doing is not good enough”,
and the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) probably put it best when she simply asked:
“Why should the public trust us? We haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory”.
Those are their words—their future leader’s words. They have trashed every part of their record in government, from dental care and ambulance response times to having the highest taxes in 70 years. What message does it send when the candidates to be Prime Minister cannot find a single decent thing to say about him, about each other or their record in government?
What does it say about the right hon. and learned Gentleman that no one can name a single policy, after three years, of the Opposition apart from putting up taxes? He is one of those pointless plastic bollards you find around a deserted roadworks on a motorway. We got Brexit done; he voted against it 48 times. We got this country fast out of covid, in spite of everything, when he would have kept us in lockdown. We are fixing social care, when the Opposition have no plan and no ideas of their own. We are now bringing forward measures, in the face of strikes, to outlaw wildcat strikes.
I can tell the House why the Leader of the Opposition does that funny wooden flapping gesture—it is because he has the union barons pulling his strings from beneath. That is the truth—£100 million.
We have restored our democracy and our independence. We have got this country through covid. I am proud to say that when it comes to tackling climate change or sticking up for Ukraine, we have led the world on the international stage. I want to thank my friends and colleagues on these Benches for everything they have done.
Mr Speaker, may I join you in wishing all the best, at his impending retirement, to—James Mackay and Beth, who are here. He has been a friend to many of us across the House, and we congratulate him on his service. I also join the Prime Minister in congratulating Jake Wightman on his success overnight in winning the 1,500 metres at the world athletics championships. What a fantastic achievement.
This week has seen historic records set across the United Kingdom, but let us look at the Prime Minister’s record-breaking efforts in office. His Tory Brexit slashed £31 billion from the economy—the biggest fall in living standards since the 1970s. People’s pay in real terms is falling at the fastest rate on record, and we have the worst economic growth forecast in the G20 outside Russia, and the highest inflation in 40 years.
Personally, I would like to thank the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister for the Union, for driving support for independence to new heights. Westminster is holding Scotland back. The economy is failing, and this Prime Minister has driven us to the brink of a recession. Has not the Prime Minister’s legacy of catastrophic mismanagement paved the way for the end of the Union?
That is not what I observe. The right hon. Gentleman talks about records; I point to the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, the lowest unemployment for at or near 50 years as I have said, the lowest youth unemployment, and the fastest growth in the G7 last year, in spite of everything. As for the Scottish nationalists’ record, look at where they are. I am afraid to say that Scottish school standards are not what they should be, because of the failure of the SNP. It is failing people who are tragically addicted to drugs in Scotland, and the people of Scotland are facing another £900 million in tax because of the mismanagement of the SNP.
The Prime Minister might believe that nonsense, but the people of Scotland do not. They know the reality—that our NHS is the best-performing in the United Kingdom, and education standards under the SNP are moving in the right direction. [Interruption.] That is a good look, to the people of Scotland—the disdain that the Tories show for our country.
I hope that the Prime Minister will, with all his newly gained spare time, reflect on his conduct in office, and I genuinely hope that he finds some peace of mind. The fact is that as a well as being a record-breaker, the Prime Minister is a rule-breaker—illegally shutting down Parliament, partying through the pandemic, handing out PPE contracts to cronies, and unilaterally changing the ministerial code. Let us not forget that the Prime Minister is still under investigation because he cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Shameful, disgraceful, and a complete waste of Scotland’s time—that is how the people of Scotland will remember this Prime Minister. Should not the Prime Minister and his Government have had their last day a long time ago? Quite simply, Downing Street is no place for a law-breaker.
On the personal abuse stuff, I think the right hon. Gentleman is talking a load of tosh, but when he has retired to his croft—which may be all too soon—I hope that he will reflect on his long-running campaign to break up the greatest country in the world. I hope that he will reflect on the pointlessness of what he is trying to do, and think instead about the priorities of the people of Scotland, which are all the issues that he thought were trivial: education, crime, and the burden of taxation that the SNP is unnecessarily placing on the people of Scotland.
As the Prime Minister leaves office, I am sure that the whole House is looking forward to him completing his book on Shakespeare. We wait to read what he really thinks about tragic figures brought down by their vaulting ambition, or scheming politicians who conspire to bring down a tyrannical leader. The candidates now plotting to take his place all profess that they will bring a fresh start—a clean break from his Government—but does the Prime Minister not agree that a fresh start and a clean break would require a new mandate from the British people, and that before they strut and fret their hour upon the stage, there should be a general election?
Polonius—that’s who the right hon. Gentleman is; he needs more matter with less art. The only thing we need to know is that if there were to be a general election, the Liberal Democrats would rightly get thrashed, because that would be the moment when the public looked with horror at what the Liberal Democrats’ policies really are and all those rural voters would discover the massive green taxes that they would like to apply. The only risk is that there could be some kind of crackpot coalition between those guys on the Labour Benches, the Lib Dems and the Scottish nationalists to put that into effect. That is what we must prevent.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work to tackle regional inequality in this country through his levelling-up agenda. As he rightly reflects with pride this summer on the work of both himself and his Government, will he urge all candidates in the leadership election and all colleagues in the House further to drive forward the levelling-up agenda to tackle inequality wherever it is found in the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend rightly paid tribute to our hard-working firefighters, who have been dealing with the fires over the past few days in this unprecedented weather. Will he take action to make sure that more fires can be prevented, by getting rid of disposable barbecues and Chinese sky lanterns?
Actually, we increased the living wage across the whole of the UK by £1,000, we made sure that people on universal credit got their tax bills cut by £1,000, and over the last couple of weeks we have cut national insurance contributions by an average of £330. It was because of the Union that we were able to support families up and down the country, in Scotland, with the furlough and other payments, to the tune of £408 billion.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to Scotland and the entire United Kingdom over his years in Downing Street? I also thank him and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for improving and increasing the visibility and involvement of the UK Government in Scotland over the past three years. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that whoever takes his job, and whatever comes next, the United Kingdom will always be stronger together than it ever would be apart?
Actually, I think more people have got compensation. I renew my apologies to the Windrush generation for what they have suffered, but we have greatly increased the compensation available. We have paid out, I think, more than £51 million. We are working with voluntary groups to ensure that people get what they are entitled to. I may say that Labour has never apologised for its own part in the Windrush scandal.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for all the work he has done for Scunthorpe, but I give particular thanks to him for the work that he has done for steel. He has shown his understanding both of the challenges that steel faces and of its importance to this nation. He has kept every promise he has made to me on steel, and I thank him very much for his work on that. Does he agree with me that the future of steel is always safest under a Conservative Government?
I completely disagree with that. The whole objective of the Northern Ireland (Protocol) Bill that we have passed is to support the balance and symmetry of the Belfast/Good Friday arrangements. I was very pleased that the Bill advanced to the House of Lords with no amendments.
In recalling the situation that the Prime Minister inherited in July 2019, of a Parliament with a majority determined to frustrate the result of the 2016 referendum, led by a Speaker who was just slightly partial—the seemingly impossible situation he found—does my right hon. Friend understand that he has the gratitude of my constituents, who can identify the wood from the trees, and of myself, for his leadership over the last three years?
I think the people of Scotland do not, frankly, want to be talking about constitutional issues and another referendum when the issues before the country—the cost of living, the educational issues we discussed, drugs and crime—are far more pressing.
The Prime Minister spoke earlier about the atrocities carried out by the IRA. For decades, many men and women had the courage to put on the Queen’s uniform and uphold law and order in Northern Ireland on Operation Banner. One of the Prime Minister’s undoubted achievements is that he brought in the Northern Ireland (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, so that those people who served their country can finally sleep safely in their beds. Thank you for that, Prime Minister, if I may be so presumptuous on their behalf. You kept your word to them.
I thank my old friend for everything he did to campaign on that issue for so long. I am glad that this Government were indeed able to fulfil their promise not just to veterans, but to their families as well. I renew my thanks to the security services, who do so much to keep us safe, and to all those who put on the Queen’s uniform.
The UK had the fastest growth in the G7 last year and we will return to the top of the table soon because we came out of covid fastest. We had 0.5% growth in May. Do not forget that the people of Scotland, like the people of the whole of the UK, are supported by the massive fiscal firepower of the UK Treasury, and that is a great advantage.
May I place on the record my thanks particularly to the firefighters of Cornwall, who were also extremely busy and courageous yesterday?
I thank the Prime Minister for his support and enthusiasm for Cornwall and the people of Cornwall over the last few years, and not least for the hosting of the G7 last year. I also thank him for the investment of £132 million from the shared prosperity fund, from which, with the national average at £17 per head, Cornwall receives £233 per head? Does my right hon. Friend agree that his enthusiasm for levelling up every part of the UK needs to carry on in the future?
This is the country that secured furlough and that delivered the vaccine across the whole of the UK, while the SNP gets on with overtaxing to the tune of £900 million—that is how much they are overtaxing in Scotland. And we had a referendum in 2014.
I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the importance of the seafood processing industry to the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area. However, there is one cloud on the horizon: the recently imposed 35% tariff on white fish, which is causing industry leaders considerable concern even though they recognise the importance of maintaining sanctions on Russia. Will my right hon. Friend arrange meetings with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) with the appropriate Ministers, so we can discuss measures to mitigate the impact on the industry?
I will make sure that my hon. Friend gets a meeting as soon as possible with the relevant Minister, but it is very important that we encourage our great fish and chip shops in Grimsby, Cleethorpes and elsewhere to make sure they are not just using Russian fish for their fish and chips.
I thank the Prime Minister for his support for the new city of Southend. Our brilliant hospital turns 90 next Tuesday, but our heroic NHS staff are hampered by the size of the A&E department. Conservative-led capital funding of £8.4 million to expand the A&E department was promised five years ago but has not quite arrived. Will my right hon. Friend encourage the new Health Secretary to give us the best birthday present ever and, in the words of Cuba Gooding Jr, “Show me the money”?
There are 3.7 million people who face 7% interest rates from September, as well as the inflation on heating and eating and rent, when mortgages are at 2%. Will the Prime Minister help those people in need, or will he help the City people—his friends—who are making all this money out of the cost of living crisis?
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what students want. They want to have a system where they do not pay back more than they borrow, and that is what we are putting in. They also want to make sure that they have a jobs market that will take them on with high-wage, high-skill jobs. The difference between Labour Members and us is that we get people into high-wage, high-skill jobs. They are prepared to let them languish on the dole, and that is the difference.
On behalf of the House, may I thank the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] On behalf of the House, may I thank the Prime Minister for his three-year record of service? On behalf of some of the most vulnerable people in the country, can I thank him for his insistence on rolling out the AstraZeneca jab, which has saved thousands of lives around the world? On behalf of the 17.4 million people who voted Brexit, may I thank him for restoring people’s faith in democracy? On behalf of northern towns, may I thank him for his commitment to levelling up? And most of all, on behalf of the people of Ukraine, may I thank him for holding high the torch of freedom and ensuring that that country is not a vassal state? For true grit and determination, keep going and thank you.
I thank my right hon. Friend, and I want to use the last few seconds to give some words of advice to my successor, whoever he or she may be.
No. 1: stay close to the Americans; stick up for the Ukrainians; stick up for freedom and democracy everywhere. Cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can to make this the greatest place to live and invest, which it is. I love the Treasury, but remember that if we had always listened to the Treasury, we would not have built the M25 or the channel tunnel. Focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror. And remember, above all, it is not Twitter that counts; it is the people that sent us here.
And yes, the last few years have been the greatest privilege of my life. It is true that I helped to get the biggest Tory majority for 40 years and a huge realignment in UK politics. We have transformed our democracy and restored our national independence, as my right hon. Friend says. We have helped—I have helped—to get this country through a pandemic and helped save another country from barbarism. Frankly, that is enough to be going on with. Mission largely accomplished—for now.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to thank all the wonderful staff of the House of Commons. I want to thank all my friends and colleagues. I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). I want to thank everybody here. And hasta la vista, baby. [Applause.]
I would like to make a statement on this week’s heatwave. Coningsby in Lincolnshire broke records yesterday when it registered a provisional reading of 40.3°C. According to the Met Office, no fewer than 34 locations around the United Kingdom exceeded the country’s previous highest temperature of 37.8°C, which was set in 2019.
We have seen a collective national endeavour to prepare for and manage the effects of the heat, from town hall to Whitehall and across various industries, to keep people safe and infrastructure functioning. From water companies and rail engineers to public servants across the land, everyone has pulled together, with members of the public responding in a responsible way that took the pressure off vital public services.
Our national resolve has been exemplified by our fire and rescue services, for many of which yesterday was the busiest day since world war two. They were undoubtedly stretched, but coped magnificently. The systems in place to make sure that the fire services can operate nationally as well as locally worked well. In tinderbox conditions, they have dealt with dozens of wildfires around the country over the past 24 hours. Fifteen fire and rescue services declared major incidents and handled emergency calls the length and breadth of the country.
Sadly, at least 41 properties have been destroyed in London, 14 in Norfolk, five in Lincolnshire and smaller numbers elsewhere. On behalf of the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and, I am sure, the whole House, I would like to pass on our sincere condolences to those who have lost their homes or business premises. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is working closely with local authorities to provide support to them.
Throughout recent days, the Prime Minister has monitored our work and has been specifically briefed on a number of occasions; we briefed him again this morning. The Prime Minister was briefed during the wildfires by Mark Hardingham—the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council—and the civil contingencies secretariat. He has passed on his thanks to all the brave firefighters who have sought to control the flames in such debilitating conditions. I would also like to pay my tribute to the fire control staff, officers and support teams for their essential work and to the other agencies that have made such tremendous efforts in recent days: the NHS, our emergency call handlers, the police and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, among many others.
Hon. Members will be relieved to know that some pressure on these services will now ease as the fiercest heat has subsided. Many incidents are now being scaled back. Thunderstorms are likely this afternoon, but for much of the country, more clement, dry conditions are the pattern for the coming days. The Met Office, however, stresses that the summer is likely to bring further hot weather and wildfire risk remains elevated. That is why we are treating this heatwave as an exacting test of our national resilience and contingency planning. As always, there is no room for complacency.
We have seen over the past few days what we can achieve when we prepare properly and then work closely together. Owing to the technical expertise of the weather forecasters who predicted with admirable precision the peak of the heatwave and how high the temperatures would be, the Government were able to launch an advance campaign of comprehensive public advice. Our early data shows how, well before the heatwave arrived, people were taking on board that advice from the UK Health Security Agency, the NHS, the chief and deputy chief medical officer, emergency services and key agencies on the ground.
Because of our established local networks and colleagues in the devolved Administrations, we had people spread across the UK ready to step in when it mattered. I am particularly grateful for the co-operation and support that we received from the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. We all need to manage these events together.
I would like to give some examples of how people taking the right action helped to mitigate the effects of the extreme weather, starting with the heeding of advice. Fully five times as many people accessed NHS England internet pages on how to manage the symptoms of heat exhaustion in the critical week beginning 11 July. We had feared that our vital 999 call services would come under untold pressure, yet as the mercury climbed inexorably on 18 July, fewer 999 calls but more 111 calls were made than the week before. That suggests that the public had heeded the advice to avoid 999 except in emergencies.
With travel, once again people were playing for the team. The public stayed at home to avoid the heat, not venturing far. The data bears that out: on Monday, footfall at major London stations was at approximately 35% of normal post-pandemic levels. Network Rail reports that passenger train numbers yesterday were approximately 40% down on the previous week. We did not forget those who cannot easily leave their homes; we asked people to look out for the elderly and for vulnerable family members and neighbours.
Tragically, 13 people are believed to have lost their lives after getting into difficulty in rivers, reservoirs and lakes while swimming in recent days; seven of them, sadly, were teenage boys. I would like to pass on our sincere condolences and those of the whole House to the families of the victims for their terrible loss.
Of course, we have still to work through the longer-term consequences of the heatwave. The true picture will not come until all incidents are analysed, all emergency teams are debriefed and all incident logs and data are reconciled. A great deal of data has yet to come in from colleagues in the devolved Administrations and from local authorities and agencies around the country. We recognise that we are likely to experience more of these incidents, and that we should not underestimate their speed, scope and severity. Britain may be unaccustomed to such high temperatures, but the UK, along with our European neighbours, must learn to live with extreme events such as these.
The Government have been at the forefront of international efforts to reach net zero, but the impacts of climate change are with us now. That is why we have a national adaptation programme under the leadership of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As we have seen in recent days, we will continue to face acute events driven by climate change. It is the responsibility of Cabinet Office Ministers to co-ordinate work across Government when those events take place.
The Government will continue to build our collective resilience. To that end, the national resilience strategy, about which I was asked on Monday, will be launched at the earliest possible opportunity by the incoming Administration. In the meantime, I will continue to co-ordinate the work of teams across Government in building resilience to make sure that the country is ready to meet the challenges of the autumn, the winter and beyond. In that spirit, I commend this statement to the House.
The events of the last few days have been incredibly traumatic for communities across Britain. Individuals and families have had their homes destroyed and, as the Minister said, lives have been lost. As the mother of teenagers, I reiterate that they must not swim in our rivers—it is too dangerous.
Farmers and businesses have seen their livelihoods go up in smoke. We saw horrifying images of the A2 on fire yesterday. I join the Minister in paying tribute to the incredible bravery of our fire services and those whose job it is to head straight into danger as the rest of us escape it. Sadly, four firefighters have been hospitalised in South Yorkshire and over a dozen have been injured in London. I know that the whole House will give them our gratitude and wish them well, but for too long our public servants have been underappreciated and undervalued by this Government. The Minister mentioned our fire services; over the last 10 years, the funding and staffing of fire and rescue services has been cut, and response times have gone up by 8%. Yesterday, no mutual aid was available to services facing literal firestorms.
Mr Speaker, this statement is far too late. The impact of this heatwave was completely predictable, so why the delay in coming to this House? It has literally taken the country going up in flames for the Minister to turn his focus to this emergency. Climate change will cause more and more national emergencies like this, from heatwaves to fires, floods and pandemics, but as we have seen over the past week, the leadership contenders are doing their hardest to outbid each other on how they would cut action on climate change. They will leave us vulnerable to more freak natural disasters.
The caretaker Minister says that it is his job to chair Cobra meetings, but it should be the job of the Prime Minister to lead. Yesterday, the remaining Cabinet gave the Prime Minister the complete volumes of Sir Winston Churchill as a leaving gift—but he is no Churchill. He has been missing in action. Can the Minister tell us where the Prime Minister was as the country burned? Where was he when Cobra was called last weekend? Has he attended any talks with Ministers or senior officials in the days since? Is the truth not that the Prime Minister and his entire Government have gone missing while Britain burns?
We might have cooler temperatures today, but another heatwave is inevitable as our climate heats up. Britain cannot continue to be so unprepared. The Minister tells people to drink water and wear a hat. It is just not good enough. We need a long-term emergency resilience plan for the future, so can the Minister answer these questions? Where is the plan for the delivery of essential services? How will people be kept safe at work, on transport, in hospitals and in care homes? Where is the guidance for safe indoor working temperatures?
The Minister now says that the Government’s national resilience plan will be published in due course, by the new Administration. It is already 10 months overdue. Why should the British people be forced to wait for a whole year? It is the primary duty of any Government to keep the public safe, and Britain deserves much better than this. Labour already has a resilience plan for the long term. We would implement a Department-wide approach and appoint a Minister for Resilience. We would give local government the resources that it needs to plan and prepare for emergencies. Local government has been on the frontline, and I pay tribute to its response to this crisis—and to what it did during the pandemic—but its resilience has been eroded by 12 years of cuts and austerity at the hands of this Government.
Finally, Labour would empower businesses and civil society organisations to strengthen our response. Homes have been destroyed, our brave firefighters have been hospitalised, and lives have been ruined and lost. Enough is enough. If the Minister is not willing to take the action that is needed, we on this side of the House are.
What a shame that—notwithstanding the loss of some homes and some tragic deaths in water-related incidents—the right hon. Lady did not take the opportunity to recognise that by and large the system worked, and that, owing to our planning and the resilience that we built into all the public services and, indeed, public servants whom she lauded, the country got through this particular extreme weather event in pretty good shape. We obviously recognise that there were some unfortunate incidents—as I said, a number of homes were set on fire—but the fact that we kept the damage to a minimum and the vast majority of the population got through this difficulty well was not recognised by the right hon. Lady at all, and I think that that is a real shame.
The right hon. Lady claimed that no mutual aid was available. That is not correct. One fire and rescue service, Norfolk, called for national mutual aid, and mutual aid was provided from other parts of the country. The system that we have for flexing the use of the fire service throughout the country worked extremely well, as the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council was able to confirm to the Prime Minister last night and, indeed, this morning.
The right hon. Lady seemed to claim that this was the first time I had turned up in the House to discuss this issue. It is not; it is the second time I have done so, and we have been working on this since the weather forecasters notified us that an extreme weather event was likely to occur. It is, however, the first time the right hon. Lady has turned up in the House. [Interruption.] You were doing a radio interview.
Being in your office is not being on the Front Bench. “Present but not involved” is, I believe, the claim from the Labour party. Before the right hon. Lady starts flinging stones and claiming that others are not doing their job, perhaps she should polish the glass in her house.
As for the involvement of the Prime Minister, he has been kept in touch with our work throughout, either through personal briefings from me or, last night and this morning, through briefings from the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. As the right hon. Lady will, I am afraid, never know—because, I hope, she will never be in the Government—No. 10 and the Cabinet Office work together very closely when emergencies such as this arise and we need to establish plans and specific co-ordination work to ensure that we all understand what the picture is.
As I have said, the resilience plan is in progress and will be launched as soon as we have a new Administration in No. 10, but the right hon. Lady should not mistake the question of the publication of a national resilience plan for our not having any plans at all. As we saw in all manner of elements of the function of our country, the plans that we had in place worked well, the capacity that we stood up flexed, often brilliantly, to deal with an ever-changing situation, and, as I have said, most of the country got through it in good shape.
As for the appointment of a Minister for Resilience, I am afraid that we already have one: it is me. The job of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is to look after the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, whose purpose is to deal specifically with issues of resilience and ensure that the system works, as it did—largely—yesterday.
Yesterday, wildfires in my constituency destroyed properties in Brancaster Staithe and also destroyed habitats and wildlife on the famous Wild Ken Hill estate, which is well known for hosting the BBC’s “Springwatch”. Let me put on record my constituents’ immense thanks to Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service and the other emergency services, as well as all those in the local community who helped to tackle those blazes in such awful circumstances: they will recover and rebuild those community areas. May I also ask the Minister to reinforce our commitment to achieving net zero so that we are better protected from climate change?
My hon. Friend is right: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service was severely tested yesterday. As I said earlier, it received mutual aid—from, I believe, as far afield as Merseyside—to help it in that battle, and I understand that those services will remain in situ to ensure that Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service can get back on its feet and deal with any event that may arise over the next few days. My hon. Friend is also right to suggest that, while we are very focused on the continuing elevated risk of wildfires, the long-term work enabling us not only to make our own contribution to the battle against climate change but to lead the world and challenge some of its biggest polluters to change their habits and their uses of fuel is critical, and I know that in Parliaments to come he will be at the forefront of that fight.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and
I thank the Minister for prior sight of this statement.
Let me begin by paying tribute to those in all the emergency services who, once again, have gone above and beyond to help their fellow citizens in a time of crisis. Let me also extend our sympathy to the people whose homes and businesses have been destroyed in the fires that raged across parts of England.
We may not have known anything like this before, with record temperatures being set in three of the four nations of the UK and the symbolic 40°C barrier being broken in England, but, sadly, I predict that this—or something like it—is here to stay. We are all going to have to live with it, and Governments are going to have to prepare for it in the future. Climate scientists have been warning us for decades that this day was coming, and it would be disingenuous in the extreme for anyone to claim that it was a one-off freak event or dare to compare it with the summer of 1976. This is the climate emergency. This is exactly what we were told would happen if we did not change our ways. This is what COP26 was all about, and that is why those who are still part of the Tory leadership race cannot, and must not, renege on the commitment to achieving net zero in return for securing votes from the party’s base.
Can the Minister tell me where is the plan to increase and bolster resilience so that the Government’s response to the guaranteed future heatwaves is more co-ordinated and strategic than what we have witnessed on this occasion? Given the melting roads, buckling rail tracks and dissolving runways, what plans are being considered to make our critical infrastructure more resilient to this type of heat? Finally, does the Minister agree with me—and, I suspect, the vast majority of the country—that the optics of the Prime Minister’s decision to party while parts of the UK literally burned showed a complete lack of self-awareness and a complete dereliction of duty?
First, let me join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating our firefighters. It is a remarkable form of public service to run towards an inferno in all circumstances, and particularly in the case of wildfires, which I know can be very challenging for firefighters to address, not least because they often cover a much wider area than, say, house fires. It was, I understand, particularly difficult yesterday because the ambient temperature was so high: firefighters have to wear very heavy clothing and equipment, so it was particularly debilitating for them physically.
As for building resilience into our infrastructure, I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that we have a national adaptation plan. As we go through periods like this particular heatwave, we shall need to learn the lessons and adjust that plan accordingly. For example, over the last 24 hours there has been much debate about the impact on the rail system—a wide impact, obviously—and the tolerances to which we build our railways. We need to learn from our European partners in this regard. While it may be possible to stress a railway to enable it to deal with high temperatures, that stressing may not accommodate very low temperatures—in Scotland, for instance—and uniformity across the country is critical.
The hon. Gentleman alluded to attendance at Cobra. Let me gently point out to him that the First Minister of Scotland did not attend either. Happily, the Deputy First Minister and other Cabinet Members joined us, and they were able to function perfectly well in Cobra, as I am sure the First Minister would have done.
I associate myself with the comments made by all the hon. Members who have paid tribute to the emergency services who fearlessly tackled the challenges, particularly the fire at Wennington, which generated a smoke cloud that spread across the whole of east London and Thurrock. That showed just how challenging it was. I would particularly like to draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the River Thames. He mentioned drowning incidents, and for many years it has been challenging for the Port of London Authority to encourage local authorities to do their bit on drowning prevention by raising awareness of just how dangerous the River Thames is as a waterway and also by ensuring that there is sufficient safety equipment. Will he take this opportunity to remind local authorities to work collaboratively with the PLA to address that?
One of the lessons for all of us—not least in Scotland where the school term has finished—is the need to underline the dangers inherent in bodies of water to people who live by them or want to use them. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the Thames might look like an innocent retreat from the heat, but beneath the waves there are strong currents and we often see people get into difficulty therein. She raises a good point about the PLA and I will take that away and see what more we can do to co-ordinate the work of the PLA and the riparian authorities.
The men and women of the fire and rescue services were quite simply awe-inspiring yesterday, as they regularly are, but they cannot continue to work miracles. The impact of 12 years of cuts and austerity on the fire and rescue services has been an absolute disaster. They quite simply need much more critical investment if we are to tackle climate change correctly. The morale within the fire and rescue services is at an all-time low, but this week the Government offered their members a paltry 2% pay increase. It is absolutely outrageous to offer 2% to the men and women who, as the Minister says, were running towards the inferno yesterday. It is time we stopped clapping the great members of our fire and rescue services and started paying them.
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, the pay of firefighters is not within the control of the Government. It is set by a body that involves both employees and employers, many of which are Labour-controlled local authorities. He may have strong views about the percentage that has been offered to the firefighters, but this is a challenge that he has to put down to some of his own colleagues, not to the Government. As he knows, the fire service has been remarkably successful over the last decade or so—or longer—in driving down the absolute number of fires with which it has to deal. Much of that is about its prevention work, which has been brilliant, but it is also about technology changes, not least in furniture composition. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is also aware that there is a White Paper on fire reform out at the moment, and I hope that he will make a useful contribution to it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, and I thank him and those in his Department and across Government who are working on planning and resilience in these unprecedented weather times. I also thank our emergency services, people in the public services and in the NHS on the frontline, people in fire and rescue, the police, our local authorities and our transport networks and people at large: our community volunteers. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to those people in Cumbria and right across the UK for all that they have done, and continue to do, to keep people safe?
That is a very welcome question from my hon. Friend, and I am more than happy to join him in thanking all those people who played on the team to get us through in such good shape. There were obviously some tragedies, but the fact that we were able to minimise the number was a tribute to the work of all the organisations he has mentioned.
While I am answering, I also want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to my staff in the civil contingency secretariat who have worked round the clock over the last few days, in particular working closely with the Met Office, as we sought to predict and to prepare the country, co-ordinating across Whitehall and all the other agencies. It has been a really remarkable effort and, notwithstanding the terrible tragedies that we have seen, the fact that we got through in good shape was down to all of their work.
I think that this is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new role. We shall miss scrutinising him on the Home Affairs Committee. Can I also add my thanks to the emergency services for everything they did yesterday to save property and lives? As the Minister has said, there is a White Paper out about the fire and rescue services, and its consultation has a deadline of 26 July, which I think is Sunday. In the light of the fact that the Home Affairs Committee will be looking at this in the autumn, I wonder whether it would be sensible to extend that deadline. The events of this week show that there is clear evidence of climate change-driven volatility, which will have serious implications for the fire and rescue services. This might be a good time to reflect on that before submitting to the consultation, so if the deadline could be extended, that would be helpful.
I have certainly enjoyed being constructively challenged by the right hon. Lady during my three years in the policing job. I hope I made a small difference to the safety of the public during those years, but obviously that will be for others to judge. The timing of the White Paper is not within my remit, but I undertake with her to raise it with the Minister concerned and make the point that she has made.
I also congratulate the emergency services on their excellent work, but is it not a fact that while we have been pursuing a policy of decarbonisation and spending huge amounts of money on it—£50 billion to the energy industry in the last 20 years, with another £50 billion estimated by the Office for Budget Responsibility in the next three years—it is having little effect on our own climate or the world’s? We can wave our puny fists at the forces of nature, but the fact of the matter is that it is not working. Instead of spending money on expensive attempts to decarbonise, would it not be far better to spend that money on adapting to the inevitable changes in our climate, to make people safe when we have extreme flooding or extreme heat?
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree that we should do both. We should adapt, and we have a national adaptation strategy, but I urge him to be more optimistic about the impact that human ingenuity can have on solving the world’s problems. We have seen throughout our history that the invention of technology in this country, once established and proven to work, often accelerates progress in other parts of the world, whether it was with the invention of the spinning jenny and the loom or the silicon chip and the smartphone. The iPhone was invented less than 15 years ago, and just over a decade later pretty much the whole world has one. These things often start slowly, but once they accelerate they make a huge impact.
Bobby Seale wrote a campaigning book called “Seize the Time”. Can I ask the Minister to seize this time and this opportunity? Many of us have been campaigning on climate change and global warming for a long time. A really pivotal moment was when I read and reviewed Professor Steve Jones’s book “Here Comes the Sun” about four years ago. We are all campaigners in this place, and the truth is that we know when a particular incident is suddenly going to change the public mood and the public mind in terms of urgency, priority and the dramatic need for action. Will the right hon. Gentleman please say to his Ministers, to future Ministers and to the future Prime Minister that this is the time to capture the imagination and really get the public behind this?
The hon. Gentleman is correct that incidents such as these often serve to underline the importance of our collective mission on climate change. As somebody who has campaigned and been an enthusiast for the hydrogen economy for over 20 years now, I am always keen to welcome more people to the cause, but as we have seen in the debate elsewhere over the last couple of weeks, we have to take care that as we seek to progress and fight climate change, we bring the population with us. We need to illustrate to them that the work we are doing will not only make their lives better but, critically, make their children’s lives better, rather than characterising it as purely a cost today.
I am interested in what the Minister says about taking the public with us. Surely, following the past few days, the public are well aware of the impact of climate change and see the heatwave here in the United Kingdom and the five heatwaves across Europe as a consequence of inaction, or of being too slow to react to climate change. I am concerned about the contradiction between what he has said today and what we hear from his party’s leadership candidates about climate change and the action to combat it. Can he assure us that the Government are committed to continuing the fight to reach net zero as quickly as possible?
An illegal net zero strategy, no national resilience strategy, 15 areas declaring major incidents, 11,500 firefighters cut since 2010 and a 2% pay offer on the table. Does the frontline of the climate emergency not deserve better?
As I said earlier, the hon. Lady needs to pose that question to her colleagues in local government. As she knows perfectly well, and as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines)—she is here on the Front Bench—knows perfectly well, pay awards for firefighters are not within the Government’s control and are settled by a body that includes both employers and employees.
I pay tribute to South Yorkshire fire and rescue service, which did amazing work yesterday in very difficult conditions to keep communities safe in my part of the world. I am sure the Minister will be aware that the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy is conducting a timely inquiry into critical national infrastructure and climate adaptation. What plans does he have to follow suit?
As we deal with these incidents, both in the last few days and over a summer in which the forecasters tell us the risk remains elevated, we will learn exactly the lessons that the hon. Gentleman is asking us to learn, and obviously we will review the Joint Committee’s report. He will know that we pay constant attention to the resilience of our critical national infrastructure. As the climate changes, so should we.
I, too, commend the work of NHS staff and North Yorkshire fire and rescue service, which is currently facing cuts. I urge that those cuts do not go ahead.
Having dealt with a lot of flooding, I know what a resilience plan looks like, and yesterday there just was not a resilience plan. There were no checks on the most vulnerable people in our community, and no rest rooms or cool spaces for people who do not have such facilities. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster go back and instruct all resilience areas to put in place a proper integrated resilience plan?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is in close touch with the resilience forums and, indeed, attended the meeting of chairs earlier this week. These are very good challenges and questions for the hon. Lady’s local resilience forum, and I would be happy to arrange for her to meet the lead body on the resilience forum in York so she can reassure herself that it has the right plans in place.
I thank the Minister for his statement. Yesterday was the busiest day for London firefighters since the second world war, and I thank firefighters across the UK for keeping us all safe.
I also express my deepest condolences to the families of those who have died in recent days after getting into difficulty in the water. What support are Ministers giving to organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and campaigns such as Respect the Water to raise awareness of the dangers of open water swimming on hot days?
I echo the hon. Lady’s thanks to the fire services, and I know that all of us, particularly the fire Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales, have been watching in awe as the firefighters did their job over the past 48 hours.
There has been a strong communication campaign, in co-ordination with the devolved Administrations, not least in Scotland where the schools are not open at the moment, to illustrate the dangers of young people specifically, but all of us generally, diving or jumping into water about which we know very little. One of the lessons that has come out of the last couple of days is on our need for more targeted communication. As we review what has happened over the last three or four days, we will make sure this is one of the key things we examine.
It is always a pleasure to hear the Minister, and I thank him for his statement. I also thank all the fire and rescue services for their endeavours and for the vital work they do across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Have there been any discussions with the Ministry of Defence about using our armed forces personnel to police our lakes and rivers as the heatwave pushes people to swim in unsafe areas? As the Minister said, 13 people are believed to have lost their lives, and I add my condolences to all the families who are grieving with an empty chair in their house. I think of them all.
Does the Minister believe the Government can increase public safety to prevent further tragic loss of life such as we have seen over the last few days?
In contemplating any civil contingency situation, we examine whether we have the capacity needed to deal with it and, therefore, whether we need to seek it elsewhere. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will remember the worst pictures we saw during the extensive wildfires on Saddleworth moor and Winter hill in the north of England in 2018, when the armed forces were deployed to assist the emergency services. That was not deemed appropriate this time. In fact, our judgment that the emergency services would cope proved to be correct.
On the hon. Gentleman’s challenge on whether we can do more to educate people and to target bodies of water that might prove dangerous, and as I said to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), that is definitely something we will need to take away and consider. Obviously, we urge parents to take responsibility by understanding where their children are and by warning them about the dangers, as we did through our health messaging on looking after elderly neighbours. We all have to work together to keep our young people safe. We will examine what more we can do as we learn the lessons from this incident.
Women’s Health Strategy for England
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the women’s health strategy for England.
I know that many hon. and right hon. Members will agree that, for too long, women’s health has been hampered by fragmented services and women being ignored when they raise concerns about their pain. On too many occasions, we have heard of failures in patient safety because women who raised concerns were not heard, as with the Ockenden review into the tragic failings in maternity care and the independent inquiry into the convicted surgeon Ian Paterson. I also remember the outstanding work of my constituent Kath Sansom and her Sling the Mesh campaign where, once again, the response was too slow when women raised issues with their care.
We are embarking on an important mission to improve how the health and care system listens to women’s voices and to boost health outcomes for women and girls, from adolescence all the way through to later life. This is not only important for women and girls; it is important for everyone. This work is already well under way.
Last month we announced the appointment of Professor Dame Lesley Regan, one of the country’s foremost experts in women’s health, as the first ever women’s health ambassador for England. On top of this, we are investing an extra £127 million in the NHS maternity workforce and neonatal care over the next year, and we are creating a network of family hubs in local authorities in England.
Today we are announcing the next step. We are publishing the first ever women’s health strategy for England, which sets out a wide range of commitments to improve the health of women and girls everywhere. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the almost 100,000 women who took the time to share their stories with us, as painful as it may have been. Your voices have been heard and were vital in shaping this strategy.
I will now set out the key components of the strategy. First, we are putting in place a range of measures to ensure that women are better listened to in the NHS. Indeed, 84% of respondents to our call for evidence recounted instances where they were not listened to by healthcare professionals. We need to do more to tackle the disappointment and disillusionment that many women feel. We are working with NHS England to embed shared decision making where patients are given greater involvement in decisions relating to their care, including when it comes to women’s health.
Secondly, we want to see better access to services for all women and girls. Women and girls have told us that the fragmented commissioning and delivery of health services can impact their ability to access them. That means they have to make multiple appointments to get the care they need, adding to the NHS backlog. There are better ways to deliver women’s health through centres of excellence in the form of women’s health hubs, designed specifically to holistically assess women’s health issues and where specialist practitioners can be more attuned to concerns being raised. We are encouraging the expansion of those hubs, and indeed I visited Homerton University Hospital this morning to see the benefits these local one-stop clinics bring, enabling women to have all their health needs met in one place.
Thirdly, it is essential that we address the lack of research into women’s health conditions and improve the representation of women’s data in all types of research. Currently, not enough is known about conditions that only affect women, as well as about how conditions that affect both men and women impact them in different ways. The strategy sets out how we will tackle the women’s health data gap to make sure that health data is broken down by sex by default.
Fourthly, we will provide better information and education on issues relating to women’s health. Our call for evidence showed that fewer than one in 10 respondents feels they have enough information about conditions in areas such as the menopause and that many people wanted trusted and accessible information about women’s health. The NHS website is currently a trusted source of health information for many people, and we will transform the women’s health content to improve its existing pages and add new pages on conditions that are not currently there. But we know that the NHS will not be everyone’s first port of call for health information, so we will expand our partnerships, such as the one between YouTube and NHS Digital, who are working together to make sure that credible, clinically safe information appears prominently for UK audiences. It is also important that medical professionals have the best possible understanding of women’s health, and I am pleased that the General Medical Council will be introducing specific assessments on women’s health for medical students, including on the menopause and on gynaecology.
Fifthly, our strategy sets out how we will support women at work. In the call for evidence, only one in three respondents felt comfortable talking about health issues with their workplace, and we also know that one in four women has considered leaving their job as a result of the menopause. So we will be focusing our health and wellbeing fund over the next three years on projects to support women’s wellbeing in the workplace, and we will be encouraging businesses across the country to take up best practice such as the menopause workforce pledge, which was recently signed by the NHS and the civil service.
Sixthly, we will place an intense focus on the disparities in women’s health. We know that although women in the UK on average live longer than men, they spend a significantly greater proportion of their lives in ill health and disability than men. Even among women there are marked disparities and our strategy shows our plans to give targeted support to the groups who face barriers accessing the care they need, for example, disabled women and women experiencing homelessness. It also shows how we are putting an extra £10 million of funding towards 25 new mobile breast screening units that will target areas and communities with the greatest challenges on uptake and coverage.
Finally, as well as these cross-cutting priorities, the responses to our call for evidence also highlighted a number of specific areas where targeted action is needed. Those include fertility care, where we will be removing barriers that restrict access that are not health-based but based, for example, on whether someone has had a child from a previous relationship, and making access to fertility services much more transparent. Another of our priority areas is improving care for women and their partners who experience the tragedy of pregnancy loss. At the moment, although parents whose babies are stillborn must legally register the stillbirth, if a pregnancy ends before 24 weeks’ gestation there is no formal process for parents to legally register their baby, which I know can be distressing for many bereaved parents. So we will be accepting the interim update of the independent pregnancy loss review and introducing a voluntary scheme to allow parents who have experienced a loss before 24 weeks of pregnancy to record and receive a certificate to provide recognition of their tragic loss.
This is a significant programme of work but we cannot achieve the scale of change we need through central Government alone. We must work across all areas of health and care. We will need the NHS and local authority commissioners to expand the use of women’s health hubs; the medical schools, regulators and Royal Colleges to help us improve education and training for healthcare professionals; the National Institute for Health and Care Research to help make breakthroughs that will drive our future work; and many others to play their part. I would like to finish by thanking everyone involved in the development of this important strategy, including the Minister of State, Department for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who is on the Front Bench with me today, for the determination she has shown in taking this strategy forward. I would also like to pay tribute to my predecessors, my right hon. Friends the Members for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) and for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), the latter of whom is in his place, for their commitment to this important issue, even during the pressures of the pandemic. This is a landmark strategy, which lays the foundations for change and helps us to tackle the injustices that have persisted for too long. I commend this statement to the House.
Let me begin by thanking the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement and adding my thanks to the Minister of State, to his predecessor as Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who is sat opposite, and to officials in the Department for the work they have done. I am genuinely glad that this work is out of the door when so much else has been in hiatus because of the wider political change afoot in the Government. I join the Secretary of State in recognising the campaigning efforts of his constituent Kath Sansom, as well as the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the menopause and has been a driving force for change on behalf of women everywhere.
For too long, women's health has been an afterthought, and the voices of women have been at best ignored and at worst silenced. Four out of five women who responded to the Government’s survey could remember a time where they did not feel listened to by a healthcare professional, and that has simply got to change. In recent years, we have seen a string of healthcare scandals primarily affecting women: nearly 2,000 reported cases of avoidable harm and death in maternity services at Shrewsbury and Telford; more than 1,000 women operated on unnecessarily by the rogue breast surgeon Ian Paterson; thousands given faulty PIP— Poly Implant Prothèse—breast implants; and many left with traumatic complications after vaginal mesh surgery. Meanwhile, every woman who needs to use the NHS today faces record high waiting times. The NHS is losing midwives faster than it can recruit them. Gynaecology waiting lists have grown faster than those for any other medical specialty. The number of women having cervical screening is falling. And black women are 40% more likely to experience a miscarriage than white women. That is the cost for women of 12 years of Conservatives mismanagement, so I want to address each part of the strategy in turn.
The strategy promises new research, which is of course important. Studies suggest that gender biases in clinical trials are contributing to worse health outcomes for women. There is evidence that the impact of women-specific health conditions such as heavy menstrual bleeding, endometriosis, pregnancy-related issues and the menopause is overlooked. So of course what the Secretary of State has said today about improving data is so important, but will he also set out how exactly the Government intend to make use of this new data to improve outcomes for women?
Improving the education and training of health professionals is essential, because when we do not do that, there are consequences. Almost one in 10 women has to see their GP 10 times before they get proper help and advice about the menopause, and half of medical schools do not teach doctors about the menopause, even though it affects every woman. I challenge the Secretary of State to go further than the proposal he outlined to train incoming medical students and incoming doctors. What plans do the Government have for clinicians who are already practising? We need to upskill the existing workforce, not just the incoming workforce. However, let us be clear: informing clinicians is no good if we do not also improve access to hormone replacement therapy, so where is the action in the strategy to end the postcode lottery for treatment?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, and the NHS offers regular breast cancer screening to women aged between 50 and 70. That can prevent avoidable deaths by identifying cancer early, when it is more treatable and survival is more likely. Yet, fewer women in the most deprived areas than in the most affluent areas receive regular breast screening. Even before the pandemic too many women with suspected breast cancer were waiting more than the recommended two weeks to see a specialist. How will the programme announced today make a difference to outcomes for patients if, once diagnosed, they just end up on a waiting list that is far too long and they cannot access the treatment they need?
I welcome what the Secretary of State said about removing barriers to in vitro fertilisation for women in same-sex couples. For far too long they have faced unnecessary obstacles to accessing IVF, for no other reason than that they love another woman. It is high time that we put that right.
I also want to mention endometriosis. Tens of thousands of women provided testimony to the Government about the issues they face with diagnosis and treatment. Will the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that every woman who is treated for this disease will have equal access to specialist services from day one? Will he make sure that they do not have to fight to get the diagnosis in the first place?
On polycystic ovary syndrome, what will the Secretary of State do to make sure that we equalise access to a range of treatments, not least for women for whom the pill is simply inappropriate? We must make sure we end the division between those who receive a prescription on the NHS and those who go private, receiving better treatment.
I also want to raise some points about what has not been mentioned today. In addition to the appalling figures on black maternity deaths, a quarter of black women surveyed by Five X More felt that they received a poor or very poor standard of care during pregnancy, labour and post-natal care. Women who live in deprived areas are more likely to suffer a stillbirth than their richer counterparts. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), the shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, has pledged a new race equality Act to tackle the structural inequalities in our society, including in healthcare. However, the Government are more interested in stoking culture wars than in acknowledging that these inequalities even exist. Surely that has to change when there is a new leadership of the Conservative party.
In conclusion, the reality that faces women in this country is this: breast cancer waiting times are through the floor, half a million women are waiting for gynaecology treatment, black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth, and too many women still cannot get HRT when they need it. This strategy simply will not solve the depth of the crisis in women’s healthcare after 12 years of Conservative mismanagement. Every day this Conservative Government remain in office is another day when women will have to wait far too long for the care they desperately need.
I do not want those on the Opposition Front Bench thinking that their points have not been addressed.
I think there is much common ground on both sides of the House on the importance of this strategy and the need for a culture and system change in the NHS to address many of the concerns raised in past debates in the House on issues such as mesh, Paterson and Ockenden. I also think there are a lot of areas where colleagues on both sides of the House will work together to encourage commissioners in our constituencies to reshape services in a way that better reflects the needs set out in this strategy.
The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) is right to highlight the fact that many respondents felt they had not been heard in the past. That is why we have taken the first step of appointing a women’s health ambassador—Professor Dame Lesley Regan, who is an extremely respected figure in women’s health—to better champion women. It is also why I signalled in my statement the importance of data and of breaking it down by sex by default to better target our research on conditions that impact women differently from men or that affect only women and that are often not as well researched as they should be. Again, I think there is common ground on both sides of the House on the issue of research.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to improve training for existing clinicians as well as for those new to the profession. That is why I signalled in my statement our desire to work with the royal colleges and others to make sure that that continuing professional development is there.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of access to HRT. He will be aware that we have put prepayment certificates in place from April next year so that someone will pay only the equivalent of two prescription charges for their HRT supply. Officials in the Department have done considerable work on supply chain issues to tackle some of the difficulties that were there in the past.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about how we address outcomes for patients, I saw a good illustration this morning at Homerton. Redesigning services avoids the need for invasive and more expensive theatre treatment, and the use of new equipment allows a better service to the patient. In the strategy, Professor Dame Lesley Regan makes the point that the irony is that we could deliver services that are far better for the patient but also cheaper for the taxpayer if we embraced a women’s hub model of the sort we see in Homerton. I very much look forward to taking the data we have forward in conversations with other commissioners around the country.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman recognised and welcomed the removal of barriers to IVF, as will Members on both sides of the House who have seen the challenges that that issue presents in constituency cases.
On speed of service, community diagnostic centres have an important role to play. The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of ethnic minorities. We have put in place a maternity disparities taskforce, and ministerial colleagues have already met three times as part of that taskforce, so the characterisation that Ministers are not engaging on the issue is, I am afraid, wide of the mark.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned breast cancer. He will have noted from my statement that an additional £10 million has been targeted specifically at that issue, with a further 25 mobile units. Again, that is about addressing the disparity in women’s health data in different parts of the country.
Overall this is an important strategy. We have listened to the very large number of responses to the consultation, and that is reflected in the strategy. I think this is an area on which there is much common ground on both sides of the House.
There was a time when I would follow right after the shadow Secretary of State, but not any more. However, I am very pleased to follow my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I welcome him to his new role. He has the privilege of running a fantastic Department that is so important to the British people. He has excelled in every role he has held in Government so far, and I know he will do so again.
I strongly welcome the women’s health strategy—as we heard, it is the first published by any Government. I congratulate everyone involved, including all the officials and especially the excellent Minister of State, Department for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who is sitting on the Treasury Bench, and the previous Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries).
Does the Secretary of State agree that, when it comes to women’s health, early diagnosis is essential? I absolutely welcome the commitment in the strategy on mandatory training in women’s health issues for new doctors, but will my right hon. Friend say a little more about what can be done on training for existing doctors and clinicians?
The work on this strategy was done before I arrived in the Department, so it was down to my right hon. Friend and to the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield). It is great to have this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor for all that he did to drive this agenda forward. He is absolutely right about the importance of training and early diagnosis. That is why addressing the issue of fragmented services is so important. As a respondent said, where women raise concerns, they often feel like a lone voice in the wind—that was a phrase in the strategy that really resonated with me. Having hubs, centres of excellence and the ability to look at that data and identify it early, alongside the other initiatives in which he played a major role as Secretary of State, such as the diagnostic hubs, are all a key part of the delivery of this strategy.
I rise to speak specifically on the menopause services included in the strategy. As co-chair of the Government menopause taskforce, I broadly welcome the strategy but feel that it falls short in some places.
Although better menopause training for doctors of the future is essential, there is not much in the strategy now in terms of upskilling GPs or prescriber medics, such as pharmacists or women’s health nurses. With only 14% of women accessing hormone replacement therapy and menopause care, through medical lack of awareness in diagnosing and prescribing, training medical professionals of the future does nothing for women today.
With 50% of women not even discussing their symptoms, we need a public awareness campaign—outside the one being run by the media and by grassroots and celebrity activists—to ensure that all women get the memo, as it were. We need a commitment to a national formulary for HRT to end postcode lottery in quality, quantity and availability of body identical hormone replacement therapy—I emphasise body identical.
As for HRT costs, I am delighted that my private Member’s Bill that I negotiated with the Government last October now appears as part of the strategy, but I am bitterly disappointed that the timeframe for that once annual charge is delayed until April 2023— 18 months after it was promised—demonstrating to me a lack of urgency in dealing with women’s health issues that affect 51% of the population.
As we are talking about delays and women not being listened to, I am still waiting on responses to six letters to either this Secretary of State or to his predecessor dating back to 5 May asking to discuss all the issues that I have raised today. I would be grateful to have a meeting to discuss them further.
The hon. Lady says that she is not being listened to, but my understanding is that she is co-chair of the menopause taskforce, which has been set up to look at these issues. Indeed, she has also had meetings with officials on the subject of HRT. It is slightly remiss of her to suggest that she is not being listened to when Health Department officials are meeting with her and when we have a taskforce under way. There is much consensus around the points that she raises. She has highlighted, quite rightly, the importance of HRT, and we have acted on that. Part of the reason for the delay until April is that the IT systems need to be put in place. I well recall, when I was a Treasury Minister, being asked to move at pace in response to covid, because of the cash-flow pressures on businesses, and sometimes having the same colleagues complaining that forward controls and other issues had not been put in place. We need to put the right IT in place. We will do that for April, and the work is under way. The issues that she raises are being addressed, but in an effective way.
As I said to the shadow Secretary of State, we will work with the royal colleges to address the issue of training. It is a perfectly fair point, and I do not think there is disagreement in the House on that. On the wider issue of addressing disparities, that is exactly what the taskforce is about. That is why we have such a relentless focus on data, why we have a women’s health ambassador to give greater voice to these issues, and why we have brought forward specific measures, such as the family hubs and mobile breast screening units, to better address those disparities.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and its recognition of the need to have specific strategies to make sure that women have equal access to services. However, it is silent on the biggest healthcare injustice that women face in our country—that abortion is still treated under Victorian criminal law, with the most draconian laws in the world. Seventeen women in the past eight years have been subject to criminal investigation, including simply because they suffered the appalling issue of stillbirth. This strategy should stop that by expanding the Government’s own change in the law in Northern Ireland to ensure that abortion is an issue between women and their doctors, and that every woman is protected from criminal investigation at a time when what they need from us is care and compassion.
My right hon. Friend is right that there is a need for care and compassion, and she highlights an extremely important point. She will be aware that the sexual health review is currently being conducted. That will report later this year and will look into the issue that she raises.[Official Report, 5 September 2022, Vol. 719, c. 2MC.]