House of Commons
Thursday 17 November 2022
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Government food strategy sets out what we will do to create a more prosperous agrifood sector that delivers healthier, more sustainable and more affordable food, including commitments to broadly maintain the level of food we produce domestically and to boost production in sectors with the biggest opportunities. We are also providing support to farmers to improve productivity.
With a greater emphasis on food security as a consequence of Putin’s war in Ukraine, does my right hon. Friend agree that her Department’s response to the independent Dimbleby review, only to maintain broadly the current level of domestic food production, lacks ambition? Will she now bring forward a national food strategy that not only commits to increasing food production significantly here in the UK but gives preference to the production of healthy food to tackle the growing threat of obesity, especially in children?
My hon. Friend is right to flag these issues, particularly Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, which is a reminder of the crucial importance of UK food producers to our national resilience. I do not intend to change the Government food strategy, but I am conscious that we need to ensure that food security, as the heart of our vision for the food sector, is delivered. That is why we will continue to maintain the current level of domestic food production, but there are opportunities, such as in horticulture and seafood, where we can do even better.
Some supermarkets are now rationing eggs and, ahead of Christmas, there is a real concern about the supply of turkeys. The British Free Range Egg Producers Association has said that a third of its members have cut back on production as a result of avian influenza. Can the Secretary of State say what the Government are doing to help poultry farmers through this very challenging time?
I understand that the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), is meeting the industry on a weekly basis. It is fair to say that retailers have not directly contacted the Department to discuss supply chains, although I am conscious of what is happening on individual shelves. Nearly 40 million egg-laying hens are still available, so I am confident we can get through this supply difficulty in the short term.
Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to visit Old Hall farm in Woodton in my constituency to see the excellent work done by Rebecca and Stuart Mayhew who use regenerative techniques to produce high-quality food that both protects the environment and reduces costs to the NHS through more healthy food?
My hon. Friend offers an interesting invitation. Given my diary, I cannot commit now, but his constituents’ work is exceptionally positive. We introduced the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill because we know we need to adapt some of our food production industries to be resilient for the future.
We will produce less food if we have fewer farmers. In just a few weeks’ time, the Government plan to take 20% of the basic payment away from farmers, at the same time that barely 2% have got themselves into the new sustainable farming incentive. Will the Secretary of State consider delaying the reduction in the basic payment scheme to keep farmers farming while she sorts out the mess in her Department on the environmental land management schemes? Will she also meet Baroness Rock at the earliest opportunity to discuss her important tenant review?
It has been well trailed for several years that we will shift from the EU common agricultural policy for distributing money to our farmers and landowners to using public money for public goods. That is why we have been working on the environmental land management schemes and will continue to make sure we get them right. We will make further announcements in due course.
Food production is vulnerable to animal disease, and we have heard about the impact of avian flu on supermarkets, which are limiting the sale of eggs. This week, the Public Accounts Committee highlighted what it describes as
“a long period of inadequate management and under investment in the Weybridge site”
of the Animal and Plant Health Agency. The PAC warned that the APHA would struggle if there were a concurrent disease outbreak. As the Secretary of State well knows, other diseases do threaten. Although staff are doing their very best, what is her plan if we face another disease outbreak, or is it just fingers crossed in the hope that it does not happen on her watch?
I have been at COP27 for the past few days, so I have not read all of the PAC report, but I reject its assertion that our biosecurity is not well done. We should be proud that the United Kingdom is protected against such diseases, and that will continue. That is why the APHA is an important part of what DEFRA does, not only for England but for the UK.
Some of the things that we require to ensure increased food production are good trade deals, and in a rare moment of understated candour, the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has conceded that the much-trumpeted flagship Australian trade deal is “not…very good”, something any of us could have told him if he had been prepared to listen. Why does it take the resignation or sacking of former Secretaries of State to get that type of blunt candour? Does the Secretary of State agree that these rotten deals betray and let down all the sectors that she represents?
Water Industry: Competition and Regulation
I thank my hon. Friend for his independent report, “Power To The People”, which focuses on competition in the regulated sectors. Through our strategic policy statement, we have instructed Ofwat not only to put the environment at the top of the agenda but to promote competition where that would benefit consumers. This year, we also instructed Ofwat to produce a competition stocktake. It published that in July and we are reviewing it.
I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words about my report on competition in all utilities, including the water sector, which was commissioned by the Government but, as she says, is independent. I am pleased to hear that we have now got a statement or a request—a demand, I suppose—that Ofwat introduces more competition. It is essential that we get dates and deadlines on introducing more competition and reducing the regulatory burden. Will she promise me that the Government’s response will aim for those dates and deadlines, so there can be no backsliding in progress towards helping my constituents with their water bills?
By putting competition on the agenda for Ofwat, we have already demonstrated that we mean business on this issue and we will respond to that report. Ofwat has already put an outcomes-based approach in its 2024 price review and it is already enforcing competition for the procurement of infrastructure. That demonstrates that we are going in a direction that I think my hon. Friend may be pleased with.
South West Water, which covers both my constituency and that of the Minister, has been given a one-star rating by the Environment Agency because of water pollution. It is clear that Ofwat cannot properly regulate some of the wayward companies that continue to pay out huge sums in dividends while failing our communities. Does the Minister agree with me that Ofwat should be abolished so that we can create a new regulator that actually has some teeth?
The answer to that is no. We are working very constructively with Ofwat. It can fine a water company that is found to be in breach 10% of its turnover. It has used fines, and Environment Agency fines have significantly increased over the last year as well. I am certain that working with Ofwat, so that it works with the water companies to bring them into line, is the right way to approach the issue, and that is what Ofwat is doing.
We are investing £5.2 billion over the next six years in flood protection to better protect communities across England. Some 35,000 properties have been better protected since April last year. Last week was Flood Action Week and we encouraged many communities to take note of whether they are in a flood area, as many people do not realise that; they can check that on the Environment Agency website. There are steps that we can all individually take. The EA has also taken on more staff, who are all funded and ready to respond whenever necessary.
In the last few weeks, with the weather getting wetter, I have been contacted by anxious farmers and residents in the Winmarleigh, Pilling and Hollins Lane areas of my constituency, all of which fall within the catchment of the River Wyre. What steps is the Minister taking to protect my constituents in Wyre against flooding before it happens and devastation is caused?
Our flood funding is funding 2,000 infra- structure projects across the country. There are three already in the hon. Lady’s constituency: two are about to get under way and one we do not yet have the date for, but all the work has been done. One of the key ways that we work with farmers is on nature-based solutions, so that they can take flood water if they have to do so. I am working closely with the Minister responsible for farming, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), on the environment and land management scheme, so that farms are also catered for to deal with water issues as well as food production.
Residents near Sleaford were horrified to find out that Anglian Water plan to flood a large area near Scredington, flooding their homes, their farms and their businesses. Apparently, this is to create a reservoir to provide water in the south-east of England. It is an entirely unsuitable place for such a reservoir: it is a large concrete-bunded, unnatural-looking structure. Will the Minister meet me so that we can ensure that this reservoir does not happen in this location?
We have already had a conversation on that and I am really happy to follow it up. We need water infrastructure in the right place, but we do need new water infrastructure, because we have to increase our water supply. We also need to tackle leakage and water efficiency. DEFRA is working hard on a combination of measures to make sure that people have the water that they need. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that proposal.
Environment Agency: Enforcement Budget
I feel a bit like a jack-in-the-box this morning, Mr Speaker.
Environment Agency enforcement is at a record high, and its funding is closely monitored to ensure that it can continue to hold polluters to account. Last year, record fines were handed to water companies, making it clear that polluters will pay. The EA’s total budget this year is £1,650 million. I am always bad at reading out numbers and putting them into words. That is nearly 20% of DEFRA’s entire budget, including new ringfenced money for special enforcement activities, such as 4,000 more farm inspections and 5,000 more sewage treatment works inspections.[Official Report, 22 November 2022, Vol. 723, c. 4MC.]
I have been dealing with an Environment Agency complaint from residents near a pig farm in rural Wakefield, which has been operating without the necessary licence for more than a year. However, I have seen delay after delay, with residents getting no anticipated timelines and no commitments to resolve the problem, leaving them none the clearer about when life can go back to normal. Can the Minister set out how she will ensure that the Environment Agency’s enforcement actions are fit for purpose so that it can protect our communities?
I have already heard about that particular incident, but I do not have all the details. I would be very happy if the hon. Gentleman would like to meet me. It has been conveyed that the farm is operating illegally, that the EA is involved, and that he has already met the EA and will meet it again, but I am very happy to have the details.
I understand that there are pressures with the prioritisation of any kind of enforcement, but in my constituency, in the village Borstal, we have been blighted with an illegal waste dump for a number of years. It is totally illegal, causing distress to residents and a blot on an area of outstanding natural beauty. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can get the Environment Agency to take really swift action for something that has gone on for too long?
One never wants to hear examples such as that. Of course I will meet my hon. Friend to see what more can be done. We need to work constructively with the Environment Agency, because there is a protocol for what it does, and to get it involved with practical actions that can help.
It is a pleasure to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) back to her place.
The Environment Agency has a heavy responsibility for environmental protection, especially investigation and enforcement of pollution incidents such as sewage dumping. However, the Government more than halved the agency’s environmental protection budget from £170 million in 2009-10 to £76 million in 2019-20, and that included the three years in which the current Secretary of State was a Minister. Last year, the budget was only £94 million. I know that the Minister had some issues with the number, but that number was mainly around capital spending on flooding, and we have seen a fall in the budget for environmental protection, which is hugely important to people around the country, especially those who live near rivers and seas.
Morale is at rock bottom at the agency, and vacancy rates are as high as 80% in some teams, with many breaches not being investigated or enforced. How does the Secretary of State and the Minister plan to resolve crippling staff shortages and get us back to where we should be?
First, I would like to put on record that we must stop doing down our Environment Agency, which does a great deal of really exceptional work, particularly on the areas I have already mentioned such as flooding. Its staff numbers have been consistent for the last three years at around 10,700 and enforcement is funded from the EA’s environment grant, which the 2021 spending review almost doubled to £91 million.
Coastal Businesses: Sewage
I am still bobbing; I feel as if I am back on the Back Benches.
We are the first Government to tackle storm overflows through the storm overflows reduction plan. We recognise the importance of bathing waters to the economy of coastal areas, with each visit adding approximately £12 to the local economy. Our strict new targets will see £56 billion-worth of capital investment over 25 years and we will eliminate ecological harm from storm sewage discharge by 2050. Our impact assessment on the storm overflows reduction plans provides evidence of the benefits to businesses and society of cleaning up the water.
People in coastal communities have seen for themselves the increasing sewage on beaches during 12 years of Conservative Government. Business owners have faced the consequences, with tourists less likely to visit. Will the Minister admit that cutting the Environment Agency budget was a mistake, and perhaps apologise to Environment Agency staff for those cuts and for making it harder for them to do their jobs? While she is apologising, will she also apologise to coastal communities for the damage done and tell us what the plan is to stop sewage discharges on our beaches?
I take issue with that question. Our bathing waters in England are a massive success story, with almost 95% achieving good or excellent status last year, the highest since the stringent new standards were introduced in 2015. I accept that there are issues, and the hon. Gentleman will know how hard we are working—harder than any Government ever before—to tackle storm sewage discharges, hence our reduction plan and all the targets we are setting the water companies. We will do it.
The Minister will be aware that two or three weeks ago there was a well-publicised spillage at the beach at St Agnes in Cornwall, where a large volume of brown material was expelled into the river. Many campaigners immediately leapt to the assumption that it was a sewage discharge and became very voluble about how disgraceful it was. Had it been sewage, it would have been disgraceful, but it was in fact soil erosion. That is in itself another problem, but we need to urge moderate language when we manage these issues. People should not immediately leap to a conclusion, but allow the Environment Agency and the water company to be clear about what has caused the incident.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that particular issue. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon, assuming that it was sewage, and it was proven not to be. That is why monitoring is so important and why this Government have set in place a comprehensive monitoring and data-gathering programme and project. We need that to sort out those issues, as well as all the other measures we have put in place.
I have recently met both the chair of Natural England, Marian Spain, and the chief executive, Tony Juniper. DEFRA frequently discusses regulatory work with Natural England. Its efficiency and effectiveness is appraised in a range of measures, including 19 key performance indicators, which are published in Natural England’s annual report and accounts.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that response. When she next meets Natural England, will she tell it to stop exploiting the insufficient information loophole, which prevents it from having to respond within 21 days to planning applications as a statutory consultee? Brocks Pine in my constituency is a development that would be on the heathland and inside the green belt. It took Natural England nine months to respond to that, and when it did, it said it had insufficient information. Is that not wholly unsatisfactory?
Clearly, when statutory consultees do not respond promptly, it causes delays and deeper problems for developers and communities. I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and esteemed colleague to discuss what went wrong with Brocks Pine, but I would say that Natural England are making significant progress across a number of measures, from countryside stewardship scheme agreements to the coastal path, national nature reserves and many others. There will be creases to iron out, and I will discuss those when I meet him.
Natural England is a vital organisation that I work with closely to ensure that we meet our environmental targets set out in the world-leading Environment Act 2021. Whether it is working with farmers, local communities or environmental organisations, Natural England is at the heart of everything we are doing.
Air, Water and Biodiversity: Statutory Deadlines
The Government already have existing legal targets driving ambitious action on air and water quality. As the hon. Lady will be aware, bio- diversity was included in the Environment Act 2021, so it is already in primary legislation. When I became Secretary of State, frankly, I was disappointed to discover that we were not in a place to publish these targets, but we are now working at pace, building on the work of my predecessors and the environmental implementation plan.
My constituents will continue to suffer from breathing toxic air because of the Government’s failure to meet the legal deadline to introduce targets under the Environment Act. The Government are also planning to water down standards by committing to cut PM2.5 only by 2040, not by 2030, the target that the EU has committed to, reneging on yet another pledge not to water down standards post Brexit. Will the Secretary of State provide a new date for the publication of environment targets and commit to a 2030 target?
I know that we are in a debating Chamber, but what the hon. Lady said at the beginning of her question is factually incorrect. It is important to say that legislation is already in place. We are actually seeing air quality improving right across the country. Indeed, I remind her that in her constituency, it is of course the Mayor of London who should be driving improvements in air quality. He has all the powers at his disposal to do so and it is up to him to deliver.
May I welcome the Secretary of State to her post? She has been in post for three weeks now, but the crisis of raw sewage turning England into an open sewer can be traced back to her time as an Environment Minister. To undo that damage, will she update the House on when she held a roundtable with all the water bosses and what the outcome of it was?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that warm welcome. It is great to be back at DEFRA, a Department in which I served for three years—I am pleased to be there. Let us be candid about this: we have seen some difficult situations with water companies. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), is already on the case in that regard. I have not yet prioritised the water companies specifically, because other Ministers are doing so and I am prioritising my work to achieve environmental targets to satisfy the legislation set out by Parliament, as well as the preparation we are doing for the Montreal conference. My hon. Friend has already set out to the House some of the work that is under way. We are taking proactive action on sewage spillage.
The Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), may only have been in office for just over a month, but even he met the water bosses for a roundtable on his first day in office. Why, for one of the biggest scandals in her Department, has she not seen that as a priority?
Moving on, in a stunning turn of events, ahead of COP27, the Secretary of State announced that the Government will breach their own self-imposed legal obligations to publish targets on air quality, clean water and biodiversity. How does she expect other countries to take us seriously at COP15 when we cannot even get our own house in order?
I was at the last COP on the convention on biological diversity, COP14, in Sharm El-Sheikh. I just got home from Sharm, from the climate COP, to come back in time for orals today. I assure the hon. Member that we continue to work with countries around the world to ensure that our outcomes in Montreal are as ambitious as they can be, including signing people up to the 30 by 30 coalition, and indeed the 10-point plan for biodiversity financing. I assure him that we are working at pace in the Department on the Environment Act, and the subsequent targets from it that we need to put into legislation, and I hope to update the House in the near future.
The Government are providing £32.7 million a year to enable all four fishing Administrations to deliver funding schemes to support the seafood sector, such as the fisheries and seafood scheme in England. In addition to that, £100 million is being provided through the UK’s seafood fund to support the long-term future and sustainability of the industry, helping to bring economic growth to coastal communities and supporting levelling up.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. I draw attention to my role chairing Renaissance of the East Anglian Fisheries, a community interest company promoting the fishing industry in East Anglia. It is welcome that policy labs in the Cabinet Office are engaging with local fishermen in producing the bass fisheries management plan, and a REAF director recently attended a workshop in Lowestoft. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he is also liaising with the Department for International Trade to confirm that the management plan accords with the trade and co-operation agreement, and will also apply to EU vessels?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tenacious campaigning on this topic. The bass fisheries management plan will manage bass fishing in England and Wales. We are delivering on our commitments in the Fisheries Act 2020. The fisheries management plan will apply to all vessels fishing in these waters, and the Fisheries Act 2020 requires consultation with all interested persons. Our fisheries management plans will comply with the UK’s international obligations, including the trade and co-operation agreement.
I pay tribute to the previous ministerial team, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), on the work that they did while they were Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I have just returned from my fourth climate COP, the UN climate conference in Egypt, where I held productive bilateral meetings with a range of counterparts from India to Japan. Yesterday, I was delighted to announce a new big nature impact fund for our country of £30 million as seed investment to bring in other private investment that will help us to plant more woodland, restore precious peatland and create new habitats, as well as bring green jobs to our communities. We should be proud of what we are achieving, and indeed the work that we are doing to unlock financing around the world, but it is critical that we have a great global effort, so that, as we head into the financial negotiations ahead of the COP15 on the convention on biological diversity in Montreal next month, we come together to ensure that we have ambitions for the future of our planet.
Carshalton and Wallington residents warned the Lib-Dem-run council that the incinerator that it campaigned for in Beddington would one day want to increase its capacity. Sadly, they have been proven right, because it is now seeking to burn more. I know that the waste minimisation strategy calls for the phasing out of incineration, so does my right hon. Friend agree that residents should get involved in the Environment Agency consultation to say that they do not want to see that increase?
It will be no surprise to anyone in this House that Liberal Democrats often say one thing to get elected and then do the exact opposite. We should be aware that generating energy from waste should not compete with greater waste prevention, reuse or recycling. Consideration must be given to the Government’s strategic ambition to minimise waste and our soon-to-be-published residual waste reduction target, and I agree that my hon. Friend’s residents should respond to the consultation in full force.
I am not committing to visiting the hon. Lady’s constituency, but I am very concerned about what she just relayed. I have already asked for the Environment Agency to meet for a deep dive on the flooding budget. There is a frequently flooded fund, which can support constituencies such as hers, and we need to make sure we are delivering effective action. That also goes for councils, which need to make sure they have cleared the gullies, so that we do not get these levels of surface water flooding.
Following consultations on the two schemes my hon. Friend mentions, intensive work is going on in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make all the schemes link up, because these are complicated issues. I can assure him that we are aiming to publish our responses to the outstanding consultations by the end of this year.
It is really important that we make the best use of our land, to have the food security that was referred to earlier. It is also important, when considering land use, that we think about the best place to put renewable energy. By and large, I think most people in this country would agree: let us have good agricultural land for farming, and let us use our brownfield sites for other energy projects too.
I hear that it was a lively debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign. We are actively encouraging more applicants for bathing water status, and I look forward to receiving the application for the River Nidd and discussing it with him. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland said in that debate, it is time to get your Speedos out.
There have been many warm words from successive Secretaries of State on saving nature. Many species may soon be extinct, including the red squirrel, the water vole and even the hedgehog. Two years ago, I was on the Environment Bill Committee, and much was made of new targets. The 31 October date for those new targets was missed. Can the Secretary of State be clear today: what is the date for publishing those targets and taking action on saving nature?
I would like to reassure the hon. Member that we remain absolutely committed to publishing our environmental targets, and I have been meeting partners, including farmers, environmental organisations and the people managing protected landscapes. The most important thing is that we deliver on the outcomes clearly set out in our 25-year environment plan.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She will be aware that planning policy is a matter for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and solar policy is a matter for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but she should be assured that my officials are working closely with those Departments to ensure that we get the right balance between boosting our food production and delivering long-term energy security.
Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the outstanding statutory deadlines we have spoken about on air, water and so forth will be published before COP15, so that we can lead by example? If she cannot guarantee that, does she agree that that bodes incredibly ill for the deadlines in the utterly misguided and reckless Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill? If we cannot meet these deadlines, how will we meet those?
I completely understand why Members of the House are concerned that the Government have not come forward with the secondary legislation as set out in primary legislation, and I have already expressed my disappointment. I assure the hon. Lady that we are working at pace to get those targets in place. I am conscious that we are still working on certain aspects of that, but I hope to try to get them done as quickly as possible.
I thank my right hon. Friend the fisheries Minister for rapidly acceding to the Committee’s request to set up an independent panel to investigate the cause of the mass shellfish mortality off the north-east coast last autumn. When does he expect that panel to be established and when might he expect it to report its findings?
Obviously we want to set it up as soon as possible and we want it to assess all the available evidence. All interested parties want to make sure that we identify the challenge. A number of—if I can use the term—red herrings have been thrown into the mix, so establishing the true facts as rapidly as possible will be the ambition of this rapid inquiry.
Some 80% of UK firms say that they are struggling to trade with the EU because of Tory Brexit red tape. Scots exports to the EU have been slashed by 13%. The cost to households in Scotland as a consequence of Brexit averages £900 a year. Additional Brexit checks for meat exports are being imposed on 14 December that will further hammer the agricultural sector. Where is the promised Brexit dividend for farmers? So far, all they can see from the Tories are restrictions and red tape.
One day, the hon. Lady will have to accept the result of the referendum and the fact that Brexit took place. We are embracing those opportunities in the Department. We are doing trade deals and promoting British products around the world. We are proud of what our British producers produce. We should get on the front foot and big them up, rather than being negative.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place and, hopefully, will welcome her soon to Newcastle-under-Lyme to see Walleys Quarry for herself. As she knows, that major issue has been blighting the community for some time. Although the odour is getting better, we still have no accountability. There are two investigations going on—criminal and regulatory. Does she agree that it is imperative for the Environment Agency to bring those investigations to a conclusion as soon as possible so that my constituents can have justice and accountability?
As my hon. Friend knows, I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, but I can confirm that the EA is continuing to work closely to regulate the operator and to consider appropriate action in compliance with the enforcement and sanctions policy. That includes ensuring that the operator continues to implement all the 20 or more measures that were recommended, which, I think he will agree, are starting to have a real effect.
Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
The commission will publish guidance for electoral administrators on the implementation of the voter ID requirements in phases over the next three months. It was unable to publish detailed guidance before the introduction of secondary legislation, which has been subject to significant delays but is now before the House. It published initial guidance on planning for the implementation of the Elections Act 2022 in August; further detailed guidance will follow on voter ID, which will cover the application process for the free voter authority certificate and polling station processes. It will publish a handbook for polling station staff in early 2023.
Although it is encouraging that the legislation has finally been produced, the delays were clearly lengthy, which has had an impact. We all want to see the smooth running of any elections, so I ask the representative of the Speaker’s Committee what consideration it has given to the impact of the delays in the legislation and the effect that will have on administrators of elections and voters themselves.
The commission has highlighted that delays to secondary legislation leave limited time for electoral administrators to implement new voter ID processes and for voters to ensure that they have acceptable forms of ID. Delays increase the risk of ineffective or inconsistent implementation, which could affect public confidence in elections. The commission will run an advertising campaign and work with local authorities and partners to ensure that voters are aware of the ID requirement and what they need be able to do to vote, but it reports that delays to the legislation have had an impact on its work.
In response to voter ID pilots in 2018 and 2019, the Electoral Commission found that some groups might find it harder than others to provide photo ID, such as the millions of people living with a disability. Has the committee carried out an equality impact assessment of the voter ID regulations to ensure that these groups are not being excluded?
The commission’s research has identified groups, including some disabled voters, who are less likely to have an approved form of voter ID or may need additional support to navigate the voter ID requirement. It is working with the electoral community and partners, including the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Mencap and Disability Rights UK, to reach disabled voters to ensure that they understand what they need to do to be able to vote. Understanding the impact of policies on different parts of society is essential. It is, however, for the Government to assess the impact of their own policies. The commission understands that the Government have carried out an equality impact assessment on the voter ID provisions.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Parish ministry is at the heart of the mission of the Church. The Church Commissioners will distribute £1.2 billion between 2023 and 2025 to support our mission and ministry—a 30% increase on the current three-year period—and the lion’s share of this funding will be used to revitalise parish ministry.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the relationship between a parish priest and his or her congregation is the single most important element of outreach and service for the Church, and as such, its support should be the primary objective of Church funds?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the Church Commissioners continue to fund increasing numbers of ordinands. In 2020, 570 new priests were ordained and there were 580 in training, with only 320 retirements. Innovative ways of attracting clergy from many backgrounds include the fantastic work of both the Peter and the Caleb streams, which I would commend to his parishes.
I can tell my right hon. Friend, who I know takes a close interest in these matters, that by far the largest share of diocesan expenditure goes on parish clergy, and many diocesan secretaries are reducing central costs to support parish ministry. We should remember that hard-working diocesan staff support parishes, church schools and chaplaincies on vital issues such as safeguarding, vocations, ministry training, youth work and social action, none of which I am sure my right hon. Friend would argue with.
I have heard from dozens of voters in Blackburn who will be relying on free voter ID certificates, yet the Government have failed to specify the security features to be included. Can I ask the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission—
I thank the Second Church Estates Commissioner for his reply. Rural communities have been greatly disadvantaged by covid, with Zoom meetings as a method of contact, and attendance at churches has started to lessen as well, so there has to be a new method of reaching out in parish ministry. The hon. Gentleman referred to extra moneys for this process. Within that process, is there more help for those who need cars for travelling out to meet people face to face? That is perhaps how the future of parish ministry will be.
I am grateful to the hon. Member, and I really appreciate his interest in these matters. As I have said, the Church Commissioners are increasing the funding to the frontline by 30% over the next three years —£1.2 billion—and it needs to go on exactly the type of initiative that he suggests.
Coronation of King Charles III
A service of holy communion will be at the heart of the coronation. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Earl Marshal and the coronation committee are planning the service, which will be a moment of great national rejoicing and deep spiritual significance.
I am glad my hon. Friend has emphasised that point. By immemorial custom, the coronation is a deeply religious and spiritual event. Will he convince us that the Church of England will use its influence to ensure that it remains as such, particularly the anointing, and does not degenerate into a kind of dumbed down, wokefest celebration of so-called modern Britain?
I can reassure my right hon. Friend. The anointing of the monarch goes back to biblical times, recognising the outpouring of God’s grace on us all, and the sovereign’s covenant to give his life in service to his people and his God. That is the foundational principle underlying our constitutional settlement.
Rural clergy play a crucial role at the heart of their communities, for which I know my hon. Friend is, like me, deeply grateful. I regularly raise this issue with the Church. In his diocese of Salisbury more than £1.25 million has been invested to support rural ministry in the Renewing Hope Through Rural Ministry and Mission project.
Let me say to my hon. Friend that we have a couple of vacancies in my benefice, and I hope he will feed back on that point. I would be particularly interested to understand what proportion of stipendiary clergy goes to long-established small and rural parishes, versus what proportion goes to more resourced churches, fresh expressions, and other new or novel forms of church.
I can tell my hon. Friend that 24% of the population live in rural parishes, and are supported by 38% of total stipendiary clergy. The figures he asks for are not held centrally as they are decided at diocesan level. I commend to him the Caleb stream, which often enables self-supporting clergy to serve in rural parishes, and of which many bishops are supportive.
I spoke recently to a priest who serves a number of rural parishes in my constituency. He pointed out that church councils are being asked for their views on the vision for the future of the Church, and they feel that they do not have sufficient resources to do that. If they look for guidance from the centre, they fear that church closures will be the outcome. Will my hon. Friend give additional support to parishes to plan for their future?
The Church Commissioners are providing a 30% increase in funding over the next three years. It is important to remember that they provide under 20% of the total funding of the Church, most of which comes from parish giving. In a sense, therefore, it is up to all of us to support our local churches and worshipping communities.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
The commission’s view is that the digital imprints requirement in the Elections Act 2022 will increase transparency by helping voters to understand who is paying to target them online. It could provide further transparency if the requirement was extended to cover all digital material from unregistered campaigners, regardless of whether they paid to promote it. The commission has said that other changes in the Act relating to non-party campaigners will bring limited additional transparency while increasing the complexity of the law. As currently drafted, the Online Safety Bill would introduce new freedom of speech protections for some campaigning content, but it does not include any provisions that would directly affect the transparency of political campaign activities.
Today, openDemocracy and Who Funds You? released an audit showing that the least transparently funded think-tanks raised more than £14 million in the past two years from mystery donors. Those think-tanks appear across the media, such as on the BBC. They have secured hundreds of meetings with Ministers since 2012, and advised the likes of the former Prime Minister on policy choices that were subsequently proven disastrous. What steps is the committee taking to ensure that the funding of such think-tanks is transparent and accountable, and that foreign funding bodies are not able to commandeer our politics?
The commission regulates the spending of organisations campaigning for or against a political party or candidate during the regulated period ahead of an election, or for a particular outcome ahead of a referendum. It also regulates donations to political parties and candidates. Unless an organisation is engaged in regulated campaigning activity, it will fall outside the commission’s area of responsibility. The commission does not have a role in regulating the spending of political activity more generally.
As for foreign money, the commission is committed to ensuring that political funding is transparent and to preventing unlawful foreign money from entering UK politics. It continues to recommend changes to the law to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in political finance in the UK. That includes duties on parties for enhanced due diligence and risk assessments of donations and a requirement for companies to have made enough money in the UK to fund any donations.
There is a long-standing understanding between Government and the electoral administrators that legislation on elections should be clear at least six months before it must be implemented. That will also apply to the introduction of voter ID. The Association of Electoral Administrators has said that the timetable for implementation presents significant challenges.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for South Norfolk, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, was asked—
National Audit Office: NHS Reports
The majority of National Audit Office reports are considered by the Public Accounts Committee. Earlier this month, the Committee took evidence on the NAO’s recent report “Introducing Integrated Care Systems” and will report on that in due course. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that, today, the National Audit Office has published a report on “Managing NHS backlogs and waiting times in England”. The PAC expects to take evidence on that on 28 November.
In 2019-20, the NHS England budget was £124 billion, which has increased this year by 23% to £152 billion. Yet, despite that record extra funding, so far this year the NHS has treated 656,000 fewer patients than during the same period in pre-pandemic 2019—a drop of 5%. Is it the National Audit Office’s view that the NHS has a productivity problem?
Yes, it is. Indeed, the report published by the NAO today states:
“The NHS now has a problem with reduced productivity.”
NHS England has estimated that, in 2021, the NHS was about 16% less productive than before the pandemic. Some of that, of course, relates directly to the pandemic, but NHS England is also examining other potential causes, including reduced willingness to work overtime. Some of NHS England’s new initiatives such as surgical hubs and the transformation of out-patient services are intended to produce greater productivity. No doubt the National Audit Office will want to examine that in due course.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
The UK Government intend that the voter ID requirement for UK parliamentary general elections will come into force from 5 October 2023. Delays to secondary legislation have impacted implementation planning. However, the commission is working to provide support as quickly as possible, including guidance for electoral administrators in England, Scotland and Wales. It will conduct a public awareness activity in advance of any general election to ensure that voters understand what they need to be able to do in order to take part.
Scotland did not vote for the voter ID plan, but it has been forced upon us by this out-of-touch Westminster Government. Where general elections fall on the same day as local elections, will voters be required to show ID for some elections but not others? That is in addition to the already significant concerns about disenfranchising so many people. The UK Government do not listen to those concerns. Is that not just another situation where the best thing to do would be to ensure that nobody needs to be falling foul of this chaos and for Scotland to move forward as an independent country?
The hon. Lady is correct to say that, in the event of a UK general election falling on the same day as, for example, local elections in Scotland, a voter would need to show ID for the general election but not for an election to the Scottish Parliament or for a local government election. Voter ID is not being introduced for any devolved elections in Scotland or in Wales. The commission has highlighted the challenges of different rules being put in place for different elections.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Support over the Winter
The Church Commissioners have provided £15 million to help churches with their energy costs, so that they continue to act as places to worship Jesus but also stay open at other times, if they are able to, to provide practical community support, such as being a warm hub.
I thank the Government for ensuring that churches are included in the package of support that businesses receive to pay their energy bills. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the churches across Wiltshire that have opened their spaces to people in the daytime, providing their traditional role as a place for fellowship, community and support? Does he agree that the churches that have found it easier to fulfil this traditional role are those that have ripped out the Victorian pews, which are such an obstacle to the traditional role of fellowship?
My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for exactly this type of voluntary community action. The Church of England will always be at the centre of such endeavours, which can be facilitated by churches that make possible the type of activity he mentions. I am not yet aware of any warm hubs in Devizes, although I have noticed some in neighbouring towns. I am sure my hon. Friend will be encouraging his local churches to facilitate such schemes in his area.
With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a brief statement on the G20 summit in Indonesia, but first I want to address Russia’s missile attacks on Ukraine this week.
On the very day that I and others confronted the Russian Foreign Minister across the G20 summit table with the brutality of his country’s actions, and on the very day that President Zelensky addressed the G20 with a plan to stop the war, Russia launched over 80 separate missile strikes on Ukraine. The targets were innocent people and civilian infrastructure; the aim, to cast the population into darkness and cold. Once again, Russia has shown its barbarity and given the lie to any claim that it is interested in peace.
During the bombardment of Ukraine on Tuesday, an explosion took place in eastern Poland. The investigation into this incident is ongoing and it has our full support. As we have heard the Polish and American Presidents say, it is possible that the explosion was caused by a Ukrainian munition which was deployed in self-defence. Whether or not this proves to be the case, no blame can be placed on a country trying to defend itself against such a barrage. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] The blame belongs solely to Russia.
I spoke to President Duda yesterday to express my sympathy and pledge our solidarity. I also spoke to President Zelensky on a joint call with Prime Minister Trudeau to express our continued support, and I met my G7 and NATO counterparts at the sidelines of the G20. We will help our Polish allies to conclude their investigation and we will continue to stand with Ukraine in the face of Russia’s criminal aggression.
The Bali summit took place amidst the worst economic crisis since 2008. The G20 was created to grip challenges like this, but today’s crisis is different, because it is being driven by a G20 member. By turning off the gas taps and choking off the Ukrainian grain supply, Russia has severely disrupted global food and energy markets. The economic shockwaves will ripple around the world for years to come. So, together with the other responsible members of the G20, we are delivering a decisive response.
Almost all G20 members joined me in calling out Russia’s actions, declaring that
“today’s era must not be one of war.”
We will work together to uphold international law and the United Nations charter, and we will act to protect our collective economic security. The G20 agreed to use all available tools to support the global economy and ensure financial stability. That means international financial institutions mobilising more resources to support developing countries, it means continuing to call out those who exploit their lending power to create debt traps for emerging economies, and it means tackling the causes of rising inflation head on, including by delivering fiscal sustainability.
We pledged our support for the UN-brokered deal to keep grain shipments moving in the Black sea. I am pleased to say that that deal has now been renewed. Two thirds of Ukraine’s wheat goes to developing countries. With famine looming, it is desperately needed and Russia must uphold its part of the deal.
We agreed action to improve energy security by accelerating the transition to clean energy. We launched a new just energy transition partnership with Indonesia, which will unlock billions in private finance for new green energy infrastructure. Finally, we committed to maintain free markets and free trade and to reform the World Trade Organisation.
Yesterday, I held my first meeting with President Biden. We pledged to redouble our support for Ukraine and to continue deepening our co-operation, including on energy security and managing the challenges posed by China. I met Prime Minister Modi, when we reviewed progress on our forthcoming free trade agreement. I discussed our accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership with the Prime Ministers of Japan, Canada and Australia, and I met almost every other leader at the summit, with the exception of Russia.
In each of those discussions, there was a shared determination to restore stability, deliver long-term growth and drive a better future—one where no single country has the power to hold us back. In just a few moments, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will build on those international foundations when he sets out the autumn statement, putting our economy back on to a positive trajectory and restoring our fiscal sustainability.
By being strong abroad, we strengthen our resilience at home. We will continue to support Ukraine, we will continue to stand up for the rule of law and the fundamental principles of sovereignty and self-determination, and we will build a global economy that is more secure, more stable and more resilient, because that is what the gravity of the moment demands and that is how we will ensure that our country emerges from this crisis stronger than it was before. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement.
What should have been a summit focused on global economic recovery and delivering clear commitments on climate change was sadly overshadowed by the unjustifiable actions of Russia and its illegal war in Ukraine. Civilian infrastructure was targeted across Ukraine and a war of aggression rumbled on as world leaders tried to reach agreement.
Whatever the outcome of the investigation into the missile incident in Poland, it is a stark reminder of the danger that Russia’s unjustifiable war has brought to the border of our NATO allies. We must remain vigilant and united in our opposition to this pointless and brutal conflict. As I have said many times from this Dispatch Box and to the Prime Minister personally, whatever other differences we may have across the House—and there are many—when it comes to the defence of Ukraine, we stand as one.
On behalf of Members across the House, I send our condolences to those killed in Poland. Poland’s measured reaction to the incident and the calm heads that have prevailed over the past two days are welcome. I listened carefully to what the Prime Minister said about that and I agree with him that no country can be blamed for defending itself. We need to get to the bottom of this. Obviously, the investigation is ongoing, but when does the Prime Minister expect those investigations to be finalised?
Russia is losing this war, so I welcome the G20’s communiqué, which set out:
“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine”.
Has further support for Ukraine been discussed among western allies? What efforts are taking place to open a diplomatic road map to rid Ukraine of Russian troops and bring an end to the conflict?
It is crucial that we work to find international unity to further isolate Putin. That will include working with China. We do not underestimate the challenges that China poses to global security and we must defend the human rights of the Uyghur and democracy in Hong Kong, but our approach must be measured, and it is in our interest to work with China on the climate crisis, trade and, most importantly, isolating Putin. I was glad to see constructive dialogue on those issues between President Biden and President Xi. Does the Prime Minister believe that the summit marks a change in west and China relations, and are his Government now taking a different approach from his predecessor to British-China relations?
After a decade of low growth in this country, it is crucial that we open new trade opportunities. The Prime Minister said that he had met Prime Minister Modi, when a future UK-India trade deal was discussed. That deal has previously been put in doubt by his Home Secretary, who indicated that she would not support it. Labour does support a trade deal with India, which we believe can bring new opportunities to promote and create new jobs here in Britain. Will the Prime Minister tell us when he now expects the deal to be completed, and whether measures on visas will be included in the overall deal? If so, can he guarantee that his whole Cabinet will actually support it? Will he also tell us whether in his meeting with President Biden, the UK-US trade deal was discussed—or can we assume that this deal now has no prospect of being delivered any time soon?
Lastly, may I ask the Prime Minister whether the Northern Ireland protocol was raised by either US or EU colleagues? Failure to make progress is hurting British research, development and trade, all at a time when we need to remove barriers for British business. Fixing this issue could lead to a better relationship with our biggest trading partners, an opportunity for our scientists and exporters, and an end to the past two years of unnecessary fights and division; so when is the Prime Minister going to deliver?
Our international alliances have never been so crucial, for global stability and our own stability. We on the Opposition side of the House know that standing up to Russia's aggression will require further sacrifices, but we must make those sacrifices because taking no action is not an option. The message from all of us must be clear: Ukraine will win and Putin will lose. Democracy and liberty will defeat imperialism again.
Let me start by thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his words about the situation in Ukraine and Russia, and for his condemnation of the Russian aggression and steadfast support for the position of the Government and, indeed, the whole House on Ukraine.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was right to ask about the further support that we will be providing. He will know that we have provided £1.5 billion in economic and humanitarian support for Ukraine, alongside, obviously, the military assistance. We are hosting a reconstruction conference in the UK next year, and there is an ongoing dialogue about what further support the Ukrainian Government need from us and others. In the short term, we are in the process of providing 25,000 pieces of winter equipment for the brave Ukrainian soldiers, but also funds to help restore some of the damage done to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, which I know have been warmly welcomed by President Zelensky.
Let me briefly turn to some of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s other questions. On China, I very much supported President Biden in his meeting with President Xi. President Biden and I discussed that meeting at length. I believe that our approach is entirely aligned with that of the United States, and indeed our other allies such as Canada and Australia. Of course China poses significant challenges to our values, our interests and indeed our economic security. It is right that we take the necessary steps to defend ourselves against those challenges, but it is also right to engage in dialogue when that can make a difference in solving some of the pressing global challenges that we all collectively face.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about Northern Ireland. I have discussed this issue with my European counterparts and, indeed, with the President at various meetings, not just at the G20. I remain committed to finding a solution to the challenges posed by the protocol. It is clearly having an impact on families and businesses on the ground in Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland deserve to have a functioning Executive, particularly at a time like this, and that is something that I will devote my energies to bringing about. So far I have had very constructive relationships and discussions about this issue with both the President and our European counterparts, including the Taoiseach last week.
On trade, the broad, overarching comment I would make to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that when it comes to trade deals, whoever they may be with, what I will not do is sacrifice quality for speed. I think it is important that we take the time to get trade deals right. Of course this Government believe wholeheartedly in the power and the benefits of free trade, which is something that we will champion around the world.
I discussed the free trade agreement with India, and both the Prime Minister of India and I committed our teams to working as quickly as possible to see if we can bring a successful conclusion to the negotiations.
The priorities of the US are in a lot of different areas, but with regard to trade—the President and I discussed this—we are deepening our economic relationship. The United States is already our single largest trading partner. We are doing more with individual states to broaden our trade relationships, and we have seen recent action on tariffs with regard to steel, aluminium and agricultural exports. All of that is good for the UK economy.
Of course, we are in the process of some exciting conversations about joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. That is real evidence of our country’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and is supported by the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia and Japan. I hope that we can bring those negotiations to a conclusion in the near future.
Lastly, my reflections on the summit and on attending COP are that the United Kingdom is at its best when we are an engaged and active member of the global community —when we are standing up for our values, defending our interests, spreading prosperity, and alleviating poverty and suffering. I am pleased to have had conversations with so many leaders over the past couple of days that confirmed to me that they very much welcome the UK’s support in achieving all those objectives, and that is what this Government will set about doing.
Dialogue is never weakness, so will my right hon. Friend tell us when he intends to reschedule his meeting with Xi Jinping? It is not an endorsement of the Chinese Communist party, but an opportunity to set out our red lines, particularly on the hostile actions we have seen on UK soil in the last month. We need shortly to see a strategy from the Prime Minister on China.
Will the Prime Minister also inform the House what progress on isolating Russia was made at the G20 with India and other nations that are not as aligned with us on Ukraine, because they are key to global stability and ending bloodshed?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs for her excellent question. She is absolutely right about the importance of dialogue, and she will have heard what I said to the Leader of the Opposition about dialogue. We are in the process of refreshing our integrated review, and no doubt our approach to China will be a part of that. In the meantime, she is right that dialogue also offers the opportunity for us to raise issues of concern, and to defend our values and interests—particularly with regard to areas such as Hong Kong—which we will continue to do as the opportunity arises.
My hon. Friend is right to point out the position of those non-aligned countries. We should all take enormous comfort from the fact that the G20 communiqué was agreed; it was substantive, comprehensive and contained strong language of condemnation about Russia’s aggression. That was by no means assured just a week or so ago, and it speaks to the feeling in the international community —something I saw across the G20 table as many, if not almost all, countries took the opportunity to say something about Russia’s actions, and joined us in condemning it. There is always work to do and we will continue to have that dialogue with those partners.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement.
With the Russian military continuing to fire deadly missiles at civilians right across Ukraine, I sincerely hope that Putin’s Foreign Minister was made to feel the justified anger and disgust by those attending the G20. With that in mind, may I ask the Prime Minister what progress has been made at the summits to further isolate Putin’s regime on the international stage? The whole world must stand together on Russian sanctions, and we must make sure that those responsible for crimes against humanity face justice. What progress has been made to ensure that there is no weakening in the international resolve to stand with Ukraine until it secures victory for its people?
Let me turn to the G20 discussions on the economy. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor keep referring to the global factors to blame for the financial crisis facing families across these islands—it is the excuse they are using to impose austerity 2.0 in today’s financial statement—but if this is really all to do with global factors, will the Prime Minister explain why the UK is the only G7 economy that is smaller today than it was before the pandemic? Why is the UK the only G7 country enacting austerity 2.0? The reality is that this is a political choice.
Finally, on the proposed Indo-Pacific trade deal—the latest Brexit fire sale that threatens to sell out our farmers and crofters—the evidence continues to mount that the Brexit effect is reducing our economy by 4%, a factor that is driving Tory austerity. This week, we heard from the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who retrospectively ripped apart the trade deal with Australia and the damaging impact that it will have on our agrifood sector. I remind Government Members that that deal was endorsed by every single Conservative MP. Can the Prime Minister explain to Scotland’s food and farming industries why he is so committed to pursuing yet another Brexit deal that will deliver a hammer blow to their businesses?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about Russia and Ukraine, and I thank him for them. He should be reassured that in Putin’s absence the Russian Foreign Minister felt the full assault, from allies including the United Kingdom, of the absolute outrage that the international community feels about what is happening. That will continue when Russia attends these fora.
The Government are an absolute champion of British farming and farmers. That will remain the case. We will continue to find opportunities to put great British produce on the tables of many more families around the world.
I will just briefly address the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the economy. He had a few different stats, but it is worth bearing in mind that we have just come from a G20 summit at which two thirds of the G20 members sitting around the table are experiencing inflation rates north of 7%. The International Monetary Fund predicts that a third of the world’s economy is already or will shortly be in recession.
If the right hon. Gentleman takes the time to read the G20 communiqué, he will see that actually the global picture is very clear: countries around the world are grappling with high energy prices, high food prices and rising interest rates. Indeed, many countries around the world, like us, have committed, as does the international community, to ensuring fiscal sustainability as a path to improving those matters. That is absolutely the challenge that we confront, and it is absolutely the challenge that the Chancellor will meet head on. We will make those decisions with fairness and with compassion.
I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s words at the G20 in condemnation of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. I have just returned with the Defence Committee from Odesa, where there is huge appreciation for British efforts in support of Ukraine at this time, but just one fifth as many grain ships have been able to get out since the war.
With Russia’s maritime force severely diminished, Odesa is calling out for a new, more efficient grain deal. Will the Prime Minister meet me to look at securing a UN General Assembly resolution, bypassing the Security Council, to grant Odesa humanitarian safe haven status, along with the formation of a UN-led maritime force so that vital grain ships can be escorted safely out of Odesa?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the grain shipments through Odesa. I am very pleased that, after concerted efforts on our part and from other allies with the United Nations Secretary-General, the grain deal, which just days ago was in some doubt, has indeed been extended. That demonstrates the pressure put on Russia by the international community. My right hon. Friend knows the importance of the free flow of food and fertilisers to the developing world through those ships. I would be delighted to meet him to see what more we can do, but I think for now we should be very pleased that the grain deal is being extended. It is already leading to a decline in wheat prices, which will bring some alleviation to the food inflation that we are seeing, particularly in the African continent.
Putin’s aggression was allowed to prosper for too long—ever since 2008, one could argue—so I completely support what the Prime Minister has said and done in support of Ukraine against the barbarism of the Russian Federation. On China, I understand the realpolitik of the past week, but the concentration camps in the Xinjiang province continue, as does the genocide, and the suppression of human rights in Hong Kong continues. May I ask the Prime Minister to do one thing, which the United States of America has already done: sanction Carrie Lam?
I am pleased that the United Kingdom has led efforts to hold China to account, including by imposing sanctions on senior Chinese officials and mobilising international support to hold China to account at the United Nations. As hon. Members have heard, we will use dialogue as an opportunity to raise the concerns that we have on Xinjiang and other human rights abuses as we see them.
I commend the Prime Minister for this country’s leadership across a range of issues, including on Russia. Does he share my enthusiasm and optimism for our accession to the CPTPP, given this trading bloc represents nearly 15% of the world’s GDP and offers so many opportunities for so many export industries, including the Scotch industry, for which tariffs will fall from 100%, in many cases, to zero? I am sure that is something to which even the SNP could raise a glass when we join.
My hon. Friend puts it very well. He is right about the importance of CPTPP, not only for its very significant economic benefits but for the strategic benefits to the United Kingdom of being an engaged member of the Indo-Pacific community. I discussed this with the Prime Ministers of Australia, Japan and Canada, and there is incredible excitement about our joining. We will continue to conclude those negotiations as quickly as possible.
The Prime Minister will know that the last G20 summit agreed to on-lend $100 billion of IMF special drawing rights to help tackle the crisis of food fragility and climate finance in the global south. To date, we have agreed to share much less of our entitlement than both France and China. The crisis is now. Will the Prime Minister look again at how we can increase our on-lending to this multilateral effort, not least to make good the appalling decision to slash our aid budget?
As Chancellor, I was pleased to usher through the special drawing rights allocation at the IMF, which is providing enormous relief to countries around the world. I met the IMF’s managing director to discuss how we can do more, but remember that the SDR allocation is just one part of our effort to support people around the world. I was recently pleased to announce our £1 billion commitment to the Global Fund, which was warmly welcomed, especially by countries in Africa.
The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on such successful talks with so many world leaders, particularly President Modi. Will he update the House on the matters he discussed with President Modi other than trade, such as granting visas for highly skilled people to fill job needs in this country, the environment and, above all, the issue raised by the Foreign Affairs Committee: India’s stance, as the world’s biggest democracy, on supporting Ukraine?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our relationship and partnership with India is much broader than just a trading relationship. I was pleased to discuss increasing our security co-operation with India. That work began before my tenure, but I am keen to carry it on. We also announced the mobility scheme to enable young people from India to come here and young Brits to go there, which is a sign of what is possible. Such exchanges are positive both for our countries and for the young people who benefit.
At the G20, the Prime Minister agreed with his Indian counterpart to allow an additional 3,000 Indians into the UK every year, which in the fullness of time will inevitably lead to an increase in immigration. At the same time, the Home Secretary has been busy spouting anti-immigrant and anti-refugee dog-whistle rhetoric, including her incendiary remarks against international students that so incensed people in India. Who exactly is in charge of immigration policy? Is it the Prime Minister or the wannabe Prime Minister?
I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman’s comments, because I know he does not believe that. He can take comfort from the announcement, which is good for both Indian students and British students who want to go back and forth—that is a good thing.
The Home Secretary is rightly focused—there is nothing “dog whistle” about it—on clamping down on illegal migration, which the British people rightly expect and demand, and it is something that she and this Government will deliver.
The Leader of the Opposition correctly said that Russia is losing this war. Like a wounded animal, it is now lashing out with weapons from, we believe, Iran and North Korea. Was any consideration given to additional sanctions on those two countries and possibly excluding Russia from membership of the G20?
The G20 is not like the G7. It is a broader grouping of countries that works by consensus, so it is not possible to expel Russia in the same way, but my hon. Friend will take comfort from our using the opportunity to unequivocally condemn Russia’s actions. With regard to sanctions on Iran and others, he will be aware that we have recently imposed new sanctions on Iran that relate specifically to the treatment of protesters in the recent demonstrations. That is the right thing to do as the behaviour of the Iranian regime is not acceptable and we should hold it to account.
Facing the worst drought in 40 years, tens of millions of people in east Africa are going hungry. Children are dying today of malnutrition and the United Nations expects a famine to be declared before the end of the year. Although the UK has already given humanitarian aid, does the Prime Minister recognise that the international community now needs to do more to save lives, not wait for the formal declaration of famine?
The UK is already tackling this issue head on. At the United Nations General Assembly, we announced funding, in particular for famine support in Somalia, and our work on helping to secure an extension to the Black sea grain initiative will make an enormous difference to the people that the right hon. Gentleman rightly cares about, as do I. In addition, countries in Africa were very pleased by our commitment to the Global Fund, because they know that will help to alleviate some of the difficulties they face.
Multinationalism has never been more important given current global pressures and threats, not least in protecting the people of Ukraine. Despite Twitter mainly having a meltdown over flowery shirts, will my right hon. Friend tell us how useful he found his first G20 meeting for relationship building and consolidating joint international working?
Of course these summits are helpful in co-ordinating global action on tackling challenges such as inflation or supporting Ukraine, but they are also helpful in building those relationships with foreign leaders that can deliver tangible benefit for people here at home. We have seen that most recently with the dialogue we are now having with President Macron and the French that has led to a new deal to help us tackle illegal migration. That is an example of why these dialogues and summits matter, and they are delivering real change for people here at home.
Further to his replies about our relationship with India, why are Britons, alone in Europe, currently excluded from the Indian e-visa scheme? That is doing more damage to our hard-pressed travel and tourism sector, as well as creating extreme inconvenience for British families who want to visit relatives in India in the months to come. Did his discussions with Prime Minister Modi give him hope that that ban might be lifted any time soon?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in his conversations with President Biden of the US and his counterparts in the EU, he has made the UK’s intention to preserve the integrity of the Good Friday agreement absolutely clear? Will he also confirm that, in so doing, it is not unreasonable for the UK, an independent and sovereign nation, to be able to maintain its own economic integrity?
I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. Of course the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom is important and must be preserved and that is under some stress, as we have seen in Northern Ireland, as he knows well from his previous role. He has my commitment to the Good Friday agreement, which was something I discussed not only with our European counterparts but also the President. We remain committed to delivering all strands of that agreement, and that is what I will work tirelessly to do.
Were there any discussions at the G20 about the situation in Iran? I have heard from a lot of constituents who want to express their solidarity with the protesters and their outrage at the way the regime is cracking down on them. What steps can the G20 take to support progress towards stability and democracy in Iran?
The protests send a clear message that the Iranian people are not satisfied with the path that their Government have taken. As I mentioned, we have now sanctioned 24 extra people, both political and security officials, for their role in the crackdown on protesters. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently summoned Iran’s most senior diplomat in the UK to make it clear that we do not tolerate threats to life and intimidation of any kind.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Putin was emboldened to attack Ukraine by the continual appeasement from western democracies over many years? Why does he not think that a similar appeasement of the Chinese dictatorship will not result in a similar disaster?
Our approach to China is in complete alignment with the United States, Canada and Australia. It is one that is clear-eyed about the challenges that China poses to our values, interests and economic security, which is why it is right that we take robust action to defend ourselves against that, as we saw just yesterday with the decision on Chinese investment in a sensitive industry in this country.
One of the key global challenges facing the G20 is migration and refugees. I know that this country has a proud history of fulfilling our international obligations to the most vulnerable, including children. Can the Prime Minister confirm that no unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under the age of eight are currently being held at Manston? If the Prime Minister does not know the answer, will he write to me as a matter of urgency?
I would be happy to write to the right hon. Lady. She will know well that we have different processes and procedures in place for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to make sure that they get extra safeguarding protection as they are rightly due. I will get back to her with an update on where we are.
Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure in recent weeks just show the full extent of Putin’s complete desperation. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the UK is providing Ukraine with the energy equipment and the support that it needs to help repair its infrastructure, so that it can keep its lights and heat on in the months ahead?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that particular need of the Ukrainians. It is something that I have discussed a couple of times with President Zelensky, and I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that we are playing our part in providing funding and expertise to help resolve some of the issues. The Ukrainians, I know, are very grateful for that support.
The G20 communiqué urged all parties to finalise and adopt the forthcoming COP15 global biodiversity framework in Montreal. At this crisis time for nature, both globally and at home, the Prime Minister will know the importance of leading by example, so, as well as accelerating the UK’s domestic environmental agenda, will he ensure that he is not forced into another last-minute U-turn as we saw ahead of COP26? Will he commit now to attending COP15 in person and show that leadership?
I do not think that anyone could doubt our commitment to biodiversity and nature. It was something on which the United Kingdom proudly led at Glasgow last year to put it on the agenda. We will have a range of different people attending Montreal. I was very pleased that we ensured that the G20 communiqué reaffirmed the G20’s commitments to the targets that were set at COP. We fought very hard for that, and we should all be proud that it is there in the G20 communiqué.
May I ask the Prime Minister a specific question regarding the conversation that he had with Prime Minister Trudeau? The United Kingdom and Canada have a close relationship through being members of the G7, G20, Five Eyes, NATO and the Commonwealth. Whether it is friendships in Parliament or friendships with world leaders, one needs to know where one stands. Did the Prime Minister ask Prime Minister Trudeau about Canada stepping up to meet the target of 2% of GDP towards NATO, and did the United Kingdom ask Canada to do more in the High North, the Arctic, where we face greater threat from Russia, and where it has specific expertise?
I encourage all members of NATO to make their way towards the 2% target—something that we have proudly done in this country for some years. Our co-operation with Canada is deep. Prime Minister Trudeau was pleased to announce an extension of Canadian support for our programme to train Ukrainian soldiers here—something on which we are working closely together. I would be happy to pick up the conversation on the High North. Again, that would be a feature of our refreshed integrated review.
The Prime Minister knows that the energy charter treaty enables fossil fuel companies to sue Governments that pass legislation undermining their future profits in the name of stopping climate change. That is why Germany and France have announced they are withdrawing from it, as are Poland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain. When does he anticipate the UK withdrawing from the energy charter treaty, or does he put fossil fuel profits ahead of climate change? Will he raise that within World Trade Organisation reform?
The hon. Gentleman mentions a range of other countries in relation to fossil fuels, but it was the United Kingdom that led through COP last year in ensuring that we end climate finance for coal plants—something that other countries need to catch up with us on. We will continue to champion that in all these forums, because it is the right thing to do and it was a commitment we made at Glasgow that needs to be upheld.
Having just returned from Ukraine with the Defence Committee and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary, I must tell the House how movingly grateful the Ukrainians are for all the support we give, and in particular to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his outstanding leadership of this country in fighting the Russian aggression. However, there are shortages of food, ammunition and military equipment. While we and the United States are doing our bit, there is concern that other countries are not. Can he inform the House whether, during the “G19” or G20 meeting, he heard any feedback from other countries that they will step up to the plate as we and the Americans are doing?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the need to continue supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes. That remains a feature of all our conversations with allies. There are many different ways that people can play their part—for example, as I mentioned, the Canadians have recently extended their support for training Ukrainians here—but he is right that we need to keep up the pressure. The UK has shown great leadership on this, alongside America, and we will jointly encourage others to follow our lead and ensure Ukraine is in the strongest possible position to bring an end to this awful conflict.
The United Kingdom took the lead in imposing some of the most stringent economic sanctions on the Russian economy, Russian businesses and Russian individuals. It is pleasing that other countries have followed. We will continue to push other countries to follow our lead on sanctions and we will continue to tighten them where we think it can make a difference.
My hon. Friend knows this area well. It is important that we take our time with trade deals, because services liberalisation, which as he knows is important for our economy, often takes longer to negotiate than simple tariff reductions on goods. Our economy has an incredible services sector; it is important that it benefits from trade deals, and I want to ensure that that happens.
We had a wide-ranging conversation on a range of topics, including climate change. We are committed to our obligations under the COP agreement and we welcome Saudi Arabia’s commitment to be net zero by 2060. There are many different opportunities for Saudi Arabia to play its part as COP president coming up, and we look forward to supporting it in that endeavour.
The last few years have shown us the importance of resilient supply chains. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that a priority for his discussions with allies at the G20 was decoupling our supply chains from authoritarian regimes in key areas such as critical minerals and semiconductors?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am pleased to tell her that just yesterday the Business Secretary made a decision on semiconductors that should give her and others confidence that we take this matter incredibly seriously. I discussed critical minerals with many of our allies around the world and I am pleased to say that Japan, in its G7 presidency next year, will put economic security at the heart of our collective agenda.
On Northern Ireland, it is reported today in The Times that the Prime Minister promised President Biden that the issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol would be solved by next April. Did he give that commitment to President Biden? The people of Northern Ireland face a long hard winter without a Government in place there, so should there not be a greater sense of urgency from the UK Government to sort it out?
As I have said publicly and clearly, I want to see a resolution to this issue as soon as possible. That is why I spoke to my counterparts in Ireland and the European Commission, and others, on almost the first day I took office. I am working very hard to try to bring about a negotiated settlement to the challenges we face, but those challenges on the ground are real: businesses, families and communities are suffering as a result of the protocol. I have made that point loudly and clearly to all our counterparts, and I have urged them to show flexibility and pragmatism in their response so that we can get the situation resolved on the ground and get the Executive back up and running, because that is what the people of Northern Ireland deserve.
I congratulate members of the G20, and its chair, on their final communiqué and its unanimous condemnation of the continued invasion of Ukraine, and the Prime Minister and other western leaders on their work to de-escalate tensions between the west and China. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, apart from the important work that he is doing multilaterally in the trans-Pacific partnership and bilaterally with India on the free-trade agreement, there are other bilateral opportunities with leading Asian countries? Will he encourage their Heads of Government to undertake working visits to the UK?
I absolutely will do that. May I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his reappointment as a trade envoy to Indonesia? It is a region that he knows particularly well. He has done fantastic work in deepening our bilateral relationship with that country, which will play an increasingly important role in the global economy as the third largest democracy, one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, and soon to be a top-five economy. It is right that we have deep relationships within Indonesia, and I thank him for his part in making sure that that is happening.
Water and sanitation are a major global crisis, causing conflict, migration, inequality for women and girls, and poor health outcomes that are easily preventable. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether he had conversations with other G20 members about the water and sanitation crisis, and will he reverse the 80% cuts made by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to water and sanitation projects?
The conversations I had with other leaders were incredibly appreciative of the role that the United Kingdom is playing in helping to tackle suffering, poverty and poor sanitation around the world. What was highlighted in particular was our recent commitment of £1 billion to the Global Fund, as well as our track record of supporting countries to alleviate famine. Those are things that everyone in this House should be proud of and this Government will continue to champion them.
The whole House will welcome the shared commitment to the defence of Ukraine and the rule of law, but my right hon. Friend will know that key to that last element is the work of the International Criminal Court, which in March launched its investigation into war crimes, with an aspiration to issue an indictment by the end of the year. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the UK will continue to do all it can to support that work, including in the difficult task that lies ahead of obtaining custody of Russian military generals so they can stand trial?
Obviously, this is an area that my hon. Friend knows well, and she is right to highlight it. I am pleased to tell her that the United Kingdom was out in front in providing both technical and financial resources for the efforts to gather the evidence. I know that the Justice Secretary is in touch with the British prosecutor as well, and the team will have our full support.
When the Prime Minister met Prime Minister Modi, did he raise the case of Jagtar Singh Johal, who has been held in arbitrary detention for 1,840 days? The Sikh community in Scotland is incredibly concerned about the situation. Was it just handshakes and Instagram photographs, or did the Prime Minister raise that case?
We have consistently raised our concerns about Mr Johal’s case directly with all levels of the Indian Government. I discussed more generally with Prime Minister Modi the issues around extradition, and the Foreign Secretary raised this case with India’s Minister of External Affairs just last month on his visit to India.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the need for sensible alternatives. We tend to work not just bilaterally but multilaterally through things such as special drawing rights recycling at the International Monetary Fund. [Interruption.] The new resilience and sustainability trust was established with UK leadership, and indeed the new debt service suspension initiative is something that I championed as Chancellor. We need to make sure that we deliver on it.
The Prime Minister laid out his approach to trade deals in his statement. He will be aware that while he was at the G20 the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) was describing the trade deal with Australia as
“not actually a very good deal for the UK”.—[Official Report, 14 November 2022; Vol. 722, c. 424.]
Does the Prime Minister agree with the right hon. Member, who was formerly the Environment Secretary, and if so what will the Prime Minister do about it? [Interruption.]
Order. Before the Prime Minister attempts to answer the question, I should point out that there is far too much noise in the Chamber. One would think that people were anticipating something about to happen and chatting among themselves instead of giving their full attention to the important answers that the Prime Minister is giving to important questions.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Maybe not as important as what is about to come from the Chancellor.
All trade deals involve give and take on both sides. The Australia trade deal will open up new markets for 3 million British jobs, which is fantastic, reduce prices for Australian goods and make it easier for young people to move back and forth between the two countries. Going forward, we will ensure that our trade deals work for the UK. That is what we will deliver.
The Prime Minister has reaffirmed the Government’s strong commitment to supporting Ukraine in the face of Russia’s illegal and inhumane invasion, and underlined the leadership that we provided to other countries. Can he confirm that our superb armed forces will continue to provide the appropriate support, especially in training Ukraine’s brave defenders, to ensure that evil cannot triumph and Putin fails, and did he encourage other G20 members to do likewise?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is an issue that he has rightly championed on previous occasions. I can give him that reassurance. The NATO Secretary-General was in the United Kingdom just days ago, visiting the training that we are providing for Ukrainian soldiers. It is looked at favourably by many allies around the world, which is why Prime Minister Trudeau was pleased to confirm when he was with me an extension to Canadian support for that programme. Hopefully many more countries will follow.
It is not so many months ago that any international conference such as the G20 would have been seized with the situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has now gone off the agenda, but the humanitarian crisis there is moving into absolute tragedy as people are facing starvation. Can the Prime Minister tell us what conversations took place about Afghanistan? In any case, will he now reconvene the kind of donor conference that could make a material difference to starvation in that country?
The hon. Member is right to highlight that Afghanistan continues to experience one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. That is why earlier this year we co-hosted a UN pledging summit, together with Germany and Qatar, that helped to raise over $2 billion for Afghanistan, but he is right to put it on the agenda. I will make sure that we continue to do what we can to support the people there.
A free trade deal with India is a tremendous opportunity for both the United Kingdom and India. I agree with my right hon. Friend that we should not sacrifice quality in order to do a deal quickly; however, during his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, what obstacles did the Prime Minister clear so that we can get on with the free trade deal that we all want to see?
My hon. Friend has rightly been a significant champion of this deal and our relationships with India. I am pleased to have his support. Without negotiating all these things in public, I am pleased that the majority of the substantive negotiation conversations were concluded by the end of October. We will now work at pace with the Indian teams to try to resolve the issues and come to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.