House of Commons
Monday 21 November 2022
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
The Secretary of State was asked—
Section 21 No-fault Evictions
On behalf of the Department, I would like to wish every good luck to the England and Wales football teams. I have just heard the latest update, and I understand that England are leading 4-0.
In line with the Conservative manifesto, we remain fully committed to ending section 21 to ensure that renters feel secure in their homes and are empowered to challenge poor standards and unjustified rent increases. That is rightly a priority for the Government and we will bring forward legislation during this Parliament.
I thank the Minister for her response and echo her good wishes for the England and Wales football teams.
Three years ago, the Government pledged to ban section 21 no-fault evictions and it is good to hear that they are committed to doing so. During this time, YouGov estimates that 227,000 people in England have been served such notices. I recently spoke to representatives from a local homelessness charity who were concerned about the rising demand for their homelessness prevention service. May I push the Minister a little further and ask her to confirm when in this Parliament the Government will put an end to no-fault evictions and what additional support will they be providing to those working to end homelessness?
We are committed to taking forward this legislation, which is why we published the White Paper in June. Our consultation on the decent homes standard concluded on 14 October and we are currently evaluating the responses to it. We will introduce the legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows. I want to give the hon. Lady a personal commitment: I am very focused on the private rental sector and the issues in it, and I am determined that we will reduce the number of non-decent homes in that sector.
In asking my question, I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The tragic death of Awaab Ishak has highlighted the deadly consequences of poor-quality housing. Many tenants in the private sector face similar if not worse problems with damp and mould, but do not dare to speak up due to fear of being evicted. Is it not high time that the private rental sector is also more tightly regulated and that the tighter inspection regime and penalties that the Secretary of State announced last week should apply to that sector, too?
I wish to give all my condolences to the family of Awaab. Clearly, it is simply unacceptable in today’s world that a young boy can die in that way. I am committed, as I have said, to implementing a decent homes standard and to making sure that the enforcement of it is strict.
We are looking to abolish section 21 at the same time as we strengthen the grounds for landlords to take possession of their properties if they have a good reason to do so—that could be because of antisocial behaviour, rent arrears, or needing to sell the property. The two go in tandem, but it is absolutely imperative that we go ahead with the abolition of section 21.
Later this week, the Department is scheduled to release stats for the second quarter of the year on section 21 evictions. The emerging picture is clear: section 21 evictions are going up. We saw a 26% increase during the first quarter of this year. We are now three years down the track from the publication of the 2019 Conservative manifesto promising to end section 21. I note that the Minister has committed today to ending section 21 in this Parliament, but may I push further and urge the Department to commit to bringing forward emergency legislation early in the new year to end this scandal, working with the Opposition to do so? Will those on the Government Benches accept that, through their inaction, the Department is leaving tenants vulnerable to eviction in the meantime?
Too often, planning permission is granted and building work simply does not start. Through the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill that is currently going through the House, developers will be required to notify local authorities when development starts, and existing powers to serve completion notices will be streamlined. Last week we went even further and tabled amendments to ensure that housing developers will now have to report annually on delivery, and local authorities will have the power to decline to determine applications made by developers who fail to build out at a reasonable rate earlier on the same land.
I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. This issue is important for areas such as mine, where we do not have an up-to-date local plan because the Lib Dem borough council has not sorted it. That leads to a vulnerability in our community to speculative development. Coupling that with the duty to co-operate with Leicester city, which is not building up and out either, results in huge amounts of pressure on our countryside and green spaces. What does the Minister suggest can solve this problem? Will it come forward in the new legislation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the need for local areas to build on brownfield sites. In Leicester, the 35% uplift applies, meaning that as an urban area they ought to be building more. Where an authority is demonstrably unable to meet the needs in full, there remains a duty to co-operate. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill recognises that the duty to co-operate is too stringent a test. The duty will be abolished and replaced by more flexible policy requirements.
Local Service Delivery
The Government hugely value the work of local authorities and make significant taxpayer subsidy available to ensure that the work they do is successful. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that additional funding will be made available for local government in 2023-24, particularly with regard to adult social care, where we know there are pressures.
The Conservative party 2019 manifesto said that we would seek to
“level up…across the whole United Kingdom.”
It went on to say:
“In the 21st century, we need to get away from the idea that ‘Whitehall knows best’…Because we as Conservatives believe you can and must trust people and communities to make the decisions that are right for them.”
Does the Minister agree that now is the time for us to take action on levelling up in places such as Halesowen and Rowley Regis, where communities are crying out for the prioritisation of projects across my constituency? The time has come to stop talking about levelling up and to take action. We need action this day.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that levelling up is hugely important not just for communities in the west midlands but for those all across the country, both in areas traditionally labelled as levelling-up areas and in those with high needs and high deprivation throughout the country as a whole. He is a huge advocate for the work that is being done across the west midlands and in his constituency. I know that it will be successful both there and wherever else we can do something across the country.
Buckinghamshire Council successfully secured £170 million from the housing infrastructure fund in 2020, to enable the delivery of Aylesbury’s long-awaited and much needed link roads programme. It was met by much celebration locally, as the town has suffered traffic gridlock during rush hour for many years. With the costs of construction materials spiralling, it is essential that these roads are built as soon as possible. Will my hon. Friend work with me and the council to help us get a little bit of necessary flexibility on the precise way that the funding is deployed, to ensure that this vital new infrastructure is completed?
The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that infrastructure is in place at the right time. My hon. Friend has worked incredibly hard in in this place in the period he has been here to make clear that the traffic challenges in Aylesbury are because of pressure from new housing, hence this grant. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), who is responsible for this area, and I are happy discuss this issue further with him to help his constituency.
In Clwyd South, Wrexham and Denbighshire councils are enthusiastically embracing the opportunities provided by UK Government funding, including the councils’ central role in ensuring the success of the Clwyd South £13.3 million levelling-up fund bid. Can the Minister ensure that future UK Government funding always contains provision for councils to grow further their own project management skills and resources?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about capacity within local government and the opportunities this Government are making available for local councils to make decisions on how to make their area better over the long term. I know he is a huge champion of his area and I wish him every success in those applications.
The Local Government Association has calculated that councils are facing extra inflation costs of £2.5 billion this year and extra costs of £3.5 billion next year. If we look at the autumn statement, apart from social care there was no mention of any extra money whatsoever for local government. All that will come is a potential £0.6 billion if councils put up their council taxes by the 3%, aside from the social care precept. Surely £3.5 billion versus £0.6 billion means significant cuts to council services or the prospect, as the LGA has said, of some councils going bankrupt next year?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who brings a huge amount of experience from his Select Committee perspective, but the combination of what the Government have offered, which is a substantial increase in funds from the financial year 2023-24, plus a recognition that local councils can make decisions about their council tax bases, plus the usual efficiency savings that every large organisation should be making—[Interruption.] The Labour party seems to have a problem with local councils being as effective and efficient as they can, but I know most councils will respond to that challenge as they see fit.
The Local Government Association has said that,
“Council Tax has never been the solution to meeting the long-term pressures facing services, particularly high-demand services like adult social care, child protection and homelessness prevention. It also raises different amounts of money in different parts of the country unrelated to need”.
Salford is the 18th most deprived local authority in the country. Increasing council tax and the levy by 5% is the equivalent of 1.8% of spending on public services there, whereas in Surrey an increase of 5% is equivalent to 3.1% of that spending. How will Salford pay for the high-demand services it needs when raising council tax seems to be the Government’s favoured solution to local government funding needs?
One of the services the hon. Lady highlights as being under pressure is adult social care. As the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) indicated, there is additional money going into adult social care—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady shakes her head, but it is absolutely the case that there is additional money going in. While acknowledging and understanding the principle and the underlying point that she is making, I struggle with the concept that local tax bases are not important within this discussion. They obviously are and they obviously should make a contribution. It is about trying to find a balance, and part of that balance is providing a lot of additional funds for next year, as we have done through last Thursday’s announcements.
I invite the Minister to come to Bristol to sit down and talk to the council about what it has done over the years to try to ensure it can deliver services. We now face an £87.6 million shortfall over the next five years. We have done absolutely all we can in terms of efficiency savings. Will he come to Bristol to sit down with us and see what the true picture is on the ground?
I was going through Bristol’s documentation on the council website only yesterday; I am happy to talk to any local council to understand the pressures and challenges it faces and the concerns it has. By the same token, however, while local government does a hugely valuable job, one part of that valuable job has to be to ensure that it is providing the most efficient and effective services for ratepayers over the long term.
Being able to raise council tax is a very welcome measure in the autumn statement. Leicestershire County Council is the lowest-funded upper-tier authority in England. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the council to discuss its fairer funding situation?
My hon. Friends from Leicestershire have made that case repeatedly, and as a fellow east midlands MP, I understand the concerns about the challenges that individual councils face. I have already been in a meeting with representatives from Leicestershire County Council, who made their points known, and I would be happy to talk to my hon. Friend further about this matter.
I was pleased to submit a levelling-up bid earlier this year to transform Batley town centre. The proposal would create new shopping and leisure opportunities, support local businesses, attract new investment and reduce dangerous driving and parking through modernisation and pedestrianisation. I know the Secretary of State understands the importance of this bid to Batley, and I thank him for agreeing to visit the town centre with me in the near future. Does the Minister agree that long-overdue Government support is now more vital than ever, given the severe impact of inflation and rising costs on already overstretched local authority budgets?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on making the case for that important campaign and the important changes that she wants. We can already see a successful delivery of levelling-up funds and town funds all across the country. I know that further applications are coming forward, and I hope that they are successful and can make the most of the money as quickly as possible.
I am delighted to see the Secretary of State back in his Department, where I had a very brief summer job this year. I know that he is passionate about making sure that we can get councils where we need them for our funding. As he knows, Great Grimsby secured the first town deal, and we have also had future high streets funding, but we have had some of it for two and a half years now and things are not happening quickly enough on the ground. Will he commit to coming back to Grimsby to make sure we can push the council forward to get things happening on the ground?
My hon. Friend’s constituency is an excellent example of the transformation that is happening as a result of the support that the Department is giving. Although I cannot speak for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I am sure that one of us will be very happy to come to Great Grimsby to support the work that she is doing.
The Minister and the Secretary of State will be familiar with the fact that council leaders in Aberdeen are fairly supportive of the north-east of Scotland’s green freeport bid. Yet despite the bid being launched five months ago, we have had no decision whatever from the UK Government and, indeed, no indication of when that decision will be taken. Can the Minister provide clarity on that, and if he is unable to do so, will he and the Secretary of State meet me to discuss it?
We know that freeports have the opportunity to be transformative for many areas that are ultimately successful in their bids. We know that so many places, including those in Scotland, are looking forward to taking part in UK Government-led activities such as this. The hon. Gentleman has made a strong case for the north-east of Scotland, and I wish him well. We will make announcements in due course.
Before the Chancellor’s statement, the Conservative leaders of Kent County Council and Hampshire County Council wrote to the Prime Minister warning of their likely bankruptcy. Instead of hearing the concerns of local leaders across the country, the Government passed on responsibility to them by forcing councils to raise tax. Not only is that another unfair burden on the British taxpayer, but local government experts have estimated that the Tory plans to raise council tax will bring in more than £80 per household in Surrey but only £39 per household in Manchester and Hull. That sounds dangerously like another Tory failure in the making on levelling up. Does the Minister truly understand the financial emergency facing councils today? If so, how can he justify local residents and businesses having their council tax raised while the Government allow non-doms to avoid paying between £1 billion and £3 billion-worth of tax?
The hon. Lady highlights a number of things that she obviously wants to make a point about. The reality is that billions and billions of additional taxpayer subsidy was made available within the settlement last week. We will come forward with further information in due course. Ultimately, the Labour party’s position is fundamentally that there can be no contribution from local taxpayers. That is a very interesting place to be given that there ultimately has to be a link between services and taxation. That is something that the Government recognise while still providing billions in taxpayer subsidy from the centre to improve lives and services in the long run.
It is because we are concerned about the impact of inflation and increases in interest rates that this autumn statement protected the most vulnerable by uprating benefits and pensions with inflation, strengthening the energy price guarantee, and providing cost of living payments.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would also like to update the House on the score in Qatar: it is now 5-1 to England. I feel it is appropriate for me to do this because the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) has been providing a running commentary on the answers being given from the Treasury Bench, so it is only fair that we provide a running commentary that the country actually wants to hear.
I would have informed the House of that, had the Secretary of State not got there before me. After promising to match EU structural funds in the Government’s manifesto, and then taking £1 billion a year out of them for the replacement shared prosperity fund, how can the Secretary of State claim to be levelling up when his Government have presided over a net loss in funding across the country, including in the north-west, which stands to lose £206 million under the shared prosperity fund, which the Government have failed even to inflation-proof?
It is not just the UK shared prosperity fund, but the levelling-up fund that has seen money go to not just Liverpool city region, but all those areas we are targeting that have been overlooked and undervalued in the past. Specifically, the UK shared prosperity fund has provided £52 million for the Liverpool city region—money that I know will be well invested by Steve Rotheram and others.
May I pay tribute to the Iranian team, who refused to sing their national anthem, which was very brave of them?
In areas such as Lichfield, which have very high property prices, people who hold mortgages will also be affected by high interest rates. Although Lichfield is generally regarded as an area to which others might wish to level up to, we do have areas of deprivation. For that reason, may I urge my right hon. Friend to look at our levelling-up bid because it is desperately needed for Lichfield’s people—not those in expensive houses, but those who are in more difficult positions?
Lichfield is the jewel of Staffordshire, but even the most glittering jewels sometimes have flaws and, as a rough diamond himself, I know that my hon. Friend will appreciate that. I recognise that there is a need to help all those parts of the United Kingdom and the west midlands where, even though there may be prosperity, there is inequality that needs to be addressed.
I welcome the update on the football scores; it foreshadows what we intend to do to the Government side at the next general election. The truth is, before they crashed the economy, they were already struggling. Twelve months; 12 directors not in post; 12 missions going backwards. Only a third of the levelling-up funds has been allocated, and after wasting our time with the short-lived investment zones, the second round is months behind schedule. According to a circular, a local planning department performing at this level would have been put into special measures by now, by the Secretary of State. Can we bring some sense to this madness, end the “Hunger Games”-style competition, and allow all our communities—not just his favourites—to decide how their own money is spent?
I welcome the questions from the Marcus Rashford of the Labour party—the person coming on at the last minute may actually change the fortunes of the team for the better, who knows? I wish the hon. Lady good luck in all future penalty shoot-outs. If it is “The Hunger Games” we are talking about, it is the Labour party leadership contest that is closer to that than any other contest in this House. On the substantive point that she makes, it is important that we look at how we fund local government overall. There of course needs to be competitive funding to make sure we can learn from the best, but we need to look at formula funding as well, and we shall.
I am more than happy to be compared to Marcus Rashford, feeding our kids when the Government let them go starving hungry. We have almost as many funding pots in the Secretary of State’s Department as we have had Ministers in the past 12 months. Can he not see the problem? We both know that the only way out of this crisis is to get local and regional economies growing, so how can it be that the key Department responsible for that was the biggest loser in last week’s autumn statement? It makes no sense, unless the Government have collectively decided to abandon attempts to level up our regional economies. Can he clarify this for the House: when they came for his budget, was he just ignored by the Chancellor, or did he not put up any fight at all?
The autumn statement was at a time of challenging news for the global economy. It was absolutely the right response and, again, not only did we secure a significant, record increase in funding for local government at the previous spending review, but we, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) pointed out, secured billions additionally for adult social care and for children’s services. Once more, local government is securing the funding it needs under a Conservative Government who are putting stability and growth first.
We cannot have houses without services and infrastructure. The national planning policy framework recognises the need for mixed-use developments, including local facilities and transport networks. In addition, the national design guide and national model design recognise the importance of mixed-use development in creating sustainable, active and vibrant places.
The Skegness Gateway project is a 1,000-home development, but it is also home—thanks to the levelling-up fund—to a new college for Skegness and, if all goes well, it could be a significant boon to local NHS services. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the huge contribution of the Sanderson family, some of whom are in the Gallery? Will she also join me in welcoming the prospect of Departments working together, breaking down the silos to deliver the maximum possible potential for such projects all in one hit and at the first opportunity?
I echo my hon. Friend’s praise of the Sanderson family and their commitment to the local area, and I welcome them to the House of Commons today. I am delighted that Government funds are helping Skegness thrive. I know that officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and other Departments continue to work closely with local partners to ensure that, as the Skegness town deal programme enters its important next phase, the vision for the new local college that he mentions and the wider gateway can be realised.
Homes for Older People
I know that my hon. Friend has considerable expertise in this area as a member of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee. As our population ages, we are committed to increasing the supply of specialist elderly accommodation, including housing-with-care. We work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to incentivise supply through capital funding, such as through the affordable homes programme. We have also announced an older persons housing taskforce to examine this area and I hope to have more details of that in due course.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her answer and welcome her to the Dispatch Box in her new role. The “Levelling Up” White Paper, released in February, promised this taskforce to build more homes for people who need care. I wonder when we will see it come into operation and start the important work of providing that accommodation.
One of the stated aims of levelling up is to
“restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging”.
Barnsley does not lack pride or community—we lack resources. After slashing 40% of our council’s budget, rejecting two levelling-up bids and now backing a Budget that places a heavy burden on councils, what are the Government doing to make sure that levelling up delivers a genuine economic boost to areas such as Barnsley?
Ministers meet their counterparts in the devolved Administrations regularly, and on 10 November the Prime Minister and First Ministers met in Blackpool to discuss the economic outlook and working together on the cost of living. The Chancellor of the Exchequer joined that meeting virtually. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury met with Finance Ministers in the context of the autumn statement, and officials in all Departments remain in constant contact in the interests of all of the people across these islands.
This Government like to talk levelling up, but implementation delays have robbed poorer areas of £1.5 billion, with an additional £0.5 billion lost due to spiralling inflation. The Tories de-industrialised west central Scotland in the 1980s. We are bringing it back with the advanced manufacturing innovation district, including the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland and the medicines manufacturing innovation centre in my constituency. When might we hear that this Government will play their part by ensuring that the stand-out Clyde Green freeport bid and the Renfrew community hub levelling-up bid will be successful?
We will announce shortly the details of levelling-up bids and freeport bids. But when it comes to delays in implementation and the industrial investment that the west of Scotland needs, I simply and gently draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the divergence between a UK Government who have recently delivered six new warships on the Clyde and the Scottish Government who in the meantime could not even finish painting the windows on a ferry.
We are supposed to be eternally grateful for the £1.5 billion of Barnett consequentials over two years, but that is easily dwarfed by the £1.7 billion of inflationary pressures on the Scottish budget this year. When the Secretary of State discussed with the Scottish Government Scotland’s needs, such as the need to cover that £1.7 billion inflation cut, the additional money for pay and their other spending priorities, did he just ignore what they were saying?
No, we never ignore what the Scottish Government are saying. We have fruitful relationships with Ministers in not just the Scottish but the Welsh Government. I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that, although he rightly acknowledges the Barnett consequentials—the Union dividend—that the Treasury pays to the people of Scotland, when he talks about inflation, he does not acknowledge that, if we were to follow the Scottish National party’s approach to a separate currency for an independent Scotland, we would see a flight of capital, massive interest rate increases and galloping inflation there. There would be no worse consequence for working people in Scotland than the currency folly that his colleagues put forward.
I am delighted to support the Isle of Anglesey County Council’s £17 million levelling-up bid, which includes excellent representation from the Holyhead Town Council, Môn CF, the Ucheldre Centre and the Church of Wales. Does the Secretary of State agree that the levelling-up fund can transform places such as Holyhead? Can we have an update on timing? Will he accept my invitation to see first-hand how transformational the fund could be to Holyhead?
Yes. Every time I visit Wales, I am continually impressed by the superb advocacy that Conservative MPs bring to bear for their communities, not least in Ynys Môn. I look forward to making that visit, I hope, early in the new year after the levelling-up fund bids will have been confirmed.
It has been quite something to listen to hon. Members on both sides of the House arguing for more powers for councils in England while they conspire to prevent powers for the Scottish Parliament—they are better together. After several tumultuous and wasted months while the Tories fought with each other as households struggled, I welcome the Secretary of State back to his place. During the autumn statement, levelling up did not merit a single mention, yet we are told that it is the Government’s flagship policy. With deeper austerity cuts slated for after the next election, the future of the levelling-up agenda is more in doubt than ever. Does he agree that levelling up requires a long-term commitment and that a levelling-up agenda cannot credibly survive the planned Tory austerity on stilts?
The hon. Lady knows that I have enormous affection for her. As one of the first and most effective advocates for levelling-up funding going to her constituency, alongside the Holyrood representative for that constituency, I look forward to working with her and her colleagues to make sure that the levelling-up fund bids from Scottish authorities, which are enthusiastically supported by many SNP colleagues, are delivered on time. It is wonderful to see so many people in the Scottish National party arguing for more UK Government spending in their constituencies—long may it be so.
Despite what we have just heard, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that there will be a 7.1% fall in real-terms wages over the next two years in the sharpest fall in living standards since the second world war. That is before the Government implement their new rocket-charged austerity agenda, which will reduce living standards significantly more—so much for levelling up. With Scotland short-changed and suffering from a Brexit-inflated recession as part of broken Britain, can the Secretary of State explain if that is why the Government are reduced to seeking to deny democracy to Scotland, because Scots now know that, with all the powers of an independent country, we could do better?
It is certainly the case that there are many talented politicians in the Scottish Government and on the SNP Benches, including the hon. Lady. I gently point out, however, that in England, there has been a devolution of powers to local government, and there has been cross-party consensus between Labour and the Conservatives that we should have that. Sadly, while the Scottish Government have been in power, we have seen no similar devolution of powers to local authorities in Scotland; quite the opposite: we have seen centralisation, with business rates hitting the north-east of Scotland and Police Scotland centralising powers in a way that goes against the spirit of trusting local people. I know from the many conversations I have with people in the north-east, the highlands, the islands and the Borders, that they wish to change the central belt centralisation of the Scottish Government—and I know that she agrees.
As the Chancellor set out in his autumn statement, the Government remain committed to the levelling-up fund and will allocate at least £1.7 billion in the next round to priority infrastructure projects that improve everyday life for residents across the UK. I look forward to announcing the outcome of round 2 before the end of the year.
I thank the Minister for that response, and I welcome the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to their new roles after a three-month hiatus. While we have had the merry-go-round of a revolving door, with Ministers changing and, indeed, Prime Ministers changing, communities such as mine in Horden in the Easington constituency are being starved of investment. We need the Secretary of State and his Ministers to approve our bid so we can address some of the serious issues, including the poor standard of the private sector housing in Horden. It would be marvellous if the Minister could give a date and ensure levelling up remains a Government priority by approving the Easington bid sooner rather than later.
The hon. Member will know that at this stage I cannot comment on the merits of individual bids, but I know how passionately he campaigns for his own constituency and for County Durham from meetings that we have locally, and he will be informed of the outcome in due course.
Could I use this opportunity to make a shameless plug for the Marple active communities hub, which in round 2 must surely be among the strongest applications in my hon. Friend the Minister’s in-tray? Does she agree that it is high time we put health and wellbeing at the heart of levelling up, and her approving this bid, in a totally transparent process, which I know it is, would be just the ticket?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising his bid. Again, I cannot comment at this stage on the merits of individual bids, but I am certainly happy to engage with him further on this. I know what a great champion he is for Hazel Grove, and I know he will continue to push for every levelling-up opportunity for his constituents.
I have heard “shortly” and I have heard “sometime before Christmas”, so I am thinking maybe there is a date in Ministers’ minds here, and I would be grateful if we could have a share of this. In Inverclyde, local government money and Scottish Government money work hand in glove with us to improve the area. We need to know when so that local stakeholders can be involved in this decision process and take the whole thing forward.
Briefly, I say to the Secretary of State that earlier he made a slur on my constituency and the good workforce of Ferguson Marine. If he wants to come to Ferguson Marine with me, and stand toe to toe and make that same remark, I will hold his jacket.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his question, and looking at the Secretary of State I think that point was heard loud and clear.
The hon. Member will know that, in round 1 of the levelling-up fund, the amount that went to Scotland was above the Barnett formula calculations. Round 2 will be coming in due course and I am sure that many people across this House who have been so involved in their bids will have an incredibly happy Christmas.
In Mile Cross in my constituency, healthy life expectancy is below the national average, children’s social mobility is in the bottom 10% of the country, per capita rates of violent crime are double the national average and claims to universal credit are also double the national average. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State throw their support behind the bid in my constituency to improve community facilities around Sloughbottom park to help people on all those counts?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her passion in campaigning for her constituents. Again, at this stage, I cannot comment on the merits of individual bids, but she is a great, passionate advocate for her constituency and we will be announcing the results of levelling-up fund round 2 in due course.
Barnsley town centre is thriving. That is as a result of hard work locally, but also powered by our belief not in a handout but in a hand-up. To that end, can I commend the Barnsley Central levelling-up fund bid to the Minister? It is an excellent piece of work that would make a huge difference to my constituents. I very much hope that the Government will be able to support it.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for his pitch. I was in Barnsley a few months ago—an area very close to where I grew up—and I did have some local people making their own representations on the importance of this particular fund. At this stage I cannot comment on the merits of individual bids, but I heard loud and clear his pitch, and we will be announcing the result in due course.
Will the Minister please confirm as she moves towards the award of these moneys, that she has sharply in her mind the fact that hidden among the averages of the otherwise prosperous south-east, there are some serious pockets of deprivation, not least in those London overspill towns that still ring the capital? Those include Andover in my constituency, which as well as importing an unfortunate number of Arsenal supporters, also brought with it a number of social and demographic problems with which the town still struggles, and towards which the grant award could significantly assist.
I had best keep my comments about Arsenal to myself in this House, but my right hon. Friend is right: levelling up is not something that can be simplified purely by region or by north and south, and there are pockets all over the country that need to benefit from funds such as the levelling-up fund. I know how much of a passionate advocate he is for the Andover bid, and we will be announcing the result in due course.
The autumn statement confirmed that round two of the levelling-up fund is to be frozen in cash terms, meaning that the Government’s inflation crisis has significantly eroded the value of the fund in real terms. The Government must now either reduce the quality and scope of the winning bids, or accept fewer bids—which will it be?
This is an incredibly difficult time for economies across the world, based on global factors—[Interruption.] Right across the world, based on global factors. We are working with local authorities to see how we can help support them to ensure that they deliver their bids to the maximum potential. We have made adjustments to the project adjustment request process, to make it easier for local authorities to take that autonomy and make decisions about what is right for their community.
The House will, of course, be aware that following the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, the chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing stood down at the weekend, but there is still so much more to do to ensure that the lessons from that tragedy are learned. I have written to local authorities and registered social landlords, to ensure that the dangers of damp and mould are at the front of all our minds, and further action will be taken in due course.
Colleagues across the House are eagerly awaiting the results of the latest round of the levelling-up fund, and I obviously want to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to Devon County Council’s bid to cut congestion in Exmouth. Does he agree that levelling up must make a real difference in every region, including mine in the south-west?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his passionate plea. As a former Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department —and a very successful one, if I may say so—he will know that at this stage I cannot comment on individual bids. I am delighted that Devon County Council has put in a bid to the levelling-up fund, and we will be announcing the results of that bidding process in due course.
It is almost five and a half years since the horror of Grenfell, yet the building safety crisis remains unresolved for the vast majority of affected leaseholders. Will the Secretary of State tell the House when the overdue developer remediation contract will be published? When will Ministers finally resolve the problems relating to mortgages and buildings insurance, and when will those leaseholders who are currently excluded from protections learn whether their Government intend to help or abandon them?
Across the House there is a determination to ensure that the terrible tragedy of Grenfell is met with appropriate steps, both legislatively and in regulatory terms, and also that those who are trapped in buildings through no fault of their own are given the opportunity to move on with their lives. We will shortly be publishing the details of those contracts. We are meeting lenders to discuss moving away from the situation in which so many people have found themselves, and we are also talking to the insurance industry about the steps we need to take.
The Government remain committed to our 10-year vision for the reform of adult social care, and we are taking forward proposals in the “People at the Heart of Care” White Paper. As my right hon. Friend will appreciate, following last Thursday’s fiscal statement, Departments are reviewing specific spending plans, and details will be announced in due course.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Bill passing its Second Reading on Friday. This is clearly an important sector and there is no question that we need to put in place the licensing regime, on which I made a commitment that we would lay regulations within 18 months. However, it is critical that the taxpayer gets good value for money.
I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s letter to local authorities over the weekend. It is right and proper that mould should be seen as a serious hazard to health. Does he agree that we also need regulatory powers, with resources to allow local government to implement those powers? Without that, we are simply using words and not action.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We do place responsibilities on local authorities—the letter reinforces that—but they do need to be appropriately resourced. I look forward to working with them to ensure that the personnel and resources are there to keep everyone safe.
I say to my hon. Friend, who is a brilliant advocate for his constituents, that we face a need for economy across the board and, funnily enough, as Opposition MPs have reminded us, the council tax base is often broader in areas that are relatively more prosperous such as those that he represents. Of course, I recognise the strains and pressures faced by his constituents. However, at a time when belts are having to be tightened everywhere, although it is a terrible thing to say, I actually feel sorrier for some people not in Christchurch but in other parts of the country because the relatively wealthy and the relatively older in our country already have it relatively better.
Since I met the Secretary of State, the pace of short-term holiday lets in my constituency has exploded, with the flipping of private rented homes and the hoovering up of homes to purchase meaning that people in my constituency have nowhere to live. When will he bring forward legislation to license short-term holiday lets? Will he support my private Member’s Bill, which aims to do that?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue also raised by Members from North Devon, North Norfolk and elsewhere. Through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and other measures, in co-operation with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we are looking at what we can do to alleviate some of the pressures that her constituents and others face.
We are absolutely committed to making the most of brownfield land. In fact, the national planning policy framework sets out that planning policies and decisions should give substantial weight to the value of using suitable brownfield land in settlements and should prioritise that. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that.
The Secretary of State is well aware of Bell Building Projects and the work it is doing to remove cladding across these islands. What representations has he made to Homes England, which is taking four to five months to pay the invoices of this company and other contractors?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Organisations in the private sector, such as the one in his constituency, are contributing to dealing with the building safety crisis. It is the responsibility of Homes England and indeed my Department to make sure that small and medium-sized enterprises that are making a contribution are promptly paid. I have raised the issue with Homes England and in the Department, and I hope that prompt payment will follow. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for speaking up for small business in his constituency.
The national planning policy framework is clear that a local authority should not propose to alter a green-belt boundary unless there are exceptional circumstances and it can show at examination of the local plan that it has explored every other reasonable option. Any proposal to release land from green belt is subject to rigorous examination by the planning inspector, who is independent and who acts on behalf of the Secretary of State.
Taxpayers in St Albans district are shelling out £3 million a year to subsidise big developers because the Government’s cap on planning fees prevents my local councils from charging the full amount for processing a big application, and last week I tabled the presentation Bill to scrap that cap. Given the enormous pressures on household budgets, will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can urgently address this issue, perhaps through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill?
There is overwhelming evidence that the building blocks for lifelong emotional and physical wellbeing are laid down during the first 1,001 days of human life. Does my right hon. Friend agree that supporting that is the best piece of levelling up we could possibly do? What more can he do to ensure that family hubs and joined-up start for life services are rolled out right across England as soon as possible?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and her impassioned advocacy of better support for children and families in the first 1,001 days of a child’s life has helped to shape Government policy. The wider roll-out of family hubs, support for children’s services and, in particular, targeted intervention when children are at risk of abuse or neglect will, when taken together, help to ensure that we level up opportunities across this country. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all her work on this issue.
European social fund projects in Northern Ireland face a financial cliff edge. Over 1,000 jobs are at risk and over 17,000 service users fear for their future. Can the Secretary of State give me an assurance that there will be an investment plan and a process in place to give those organisations the chance to apply for shared prosperity fund support ahead of next April?
The renters reform Bill will make private tenancy arrangements fit for the 21st century. Will my right hon. Friend set out what steps the Government are taking to ensure that such tendencies are also up to a decent standard? How will that be backed up with monitoring and enforcement?
Awaab Ishak’s death was shocking, and such things should not be happening in our country in 2022. Everybody deserves a warm, safe and decent home to live in. His case shows what happens when people living in social housing are disregarded, as has been the case in my constituency after decades of Conservative control of Wandsworth Borough Council, which has allowed social housing stock to go into decay. What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to assist investment in social housing?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I should say that Wandsworth under Conservative leadership was an outstanding and exemplary council in so many ways, but I understand that she has to make that point—the constituency Labour parties have to be kept happy and so on. The key thing is that all local authorities have an obligation, as do all registered social landlords, and we want to work with them to tackle the issue that she rightly raised.
In Chelmsford we badly need more social and affordable housing. When new housing developments are built, the local authority can set a rule that a certain proportion of the new homes must be affordable. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider enabling local authorities to put in place similar rules when large commercial buildings such as office blocks are converted from commercial to residential properties.
As private sector rents continue to rise in west London, more and more of my constituents on low incomes and dependent on benefits are having to pay rent well above the levels of the local housing allowance. They cannot afford it and are having either not to eat or not to heat their homes. Will the Secretary of State make a statement about the urgent need for the Government to uprate local housing allowance?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about local housing allowance, but I gently remind her that one thing we can do is to improve the supply of housing in west London, and I think I am right in saying that she has not always been an energetic supporter of every development that has come forward in her constituency.
In June, the Prime Minister announced plans to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants to enable them to purchase their own homes. Will my right hon. Friend update me on the progress of this initiative and confirm whether a tenant who has purchased an initial equity stake in a housing association home on shared-ownership terms will be able to use a right-to-buy discount to purchase the remaining equity stake through staircasing?
I have been proud to support a very good levelling-up bid in Oswestry in my constituency. With North Shropshire being such a large rural area, public transport is a really important part of levelling up the whole region, so will the Secretary of State look favourably on both Oswestry’s bid and Shropshire’s bid to improve bus services across the county?
Rutland and Melton councils have put forward a brilliant blueprint for rural innovation in our levelling-up bid, focused on health and transport. The context is an urgent need to put social mobility into funding formulas for those areas of deprivation otherwise hidden by affluence. Will my right hon. Friend do what he said he would do back in February: take up an offer that is too good to be true by coming to Rutland and Melton to discuss the bid and the future of social mobility funding?
What an alluring invitation—and yes. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) pointed out earlier, Leicestershire and Rutland are relatively poorly funded in comparison with other local authorities, which is why the particular plight of deprived communities in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere is at the forefront of our minds.
Recent analysis has found that £1 in every £13 allocated through the two levelling-up funding rounds will be lost to inflation—that is more than £560 million—so how will Ministers ensure that complex bids such as that for the remediation of hexavalent chromium at Shawfield in my constituency do not miss out on funding opportunities as a result?
We will do everything possible to work with local authorities, particularly to make sure that every pound goes further. The hon. Lady quite rightly raises the whole question of bearing down on inflation; I hope that she and others will be in the Division Lobby tomorrow evening to support the Government in the measures we have taken in the autumn statement that will bear down on inflation. I note that Members on the Labour Benches have not yet criticised those measures; they appreciate, as we do, that we need to work together to tame inflation.
After COP26, we were able to say with credibility that we kept the pulse of 1.5° alive. Recent reports from the UN show that even in extremely challenging economic and geopolitical contexts, the Glasgow climate pact is working and we have made some progress. For the first time ever, global energy policies are strong enough for fossil fuel use within this decade to peak if they are implemented. I know that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) for his inspirational leadership as President of COP26 and for his role during COP27.
At the G20, which was attended by the UK Prime Minister, leaders agreed to implement fully the Glasgow climate pact commitments to limit global warming to 1.5° and to accelerate coal phase-down and the transition to clean energy. The Glasgow climate pact remains the blueprint for accelerating climate action in this critical decade. With a difficult winter ahead of us all, more than 100 leaders arrived at the beginning of COP27. The Prime Minister pledged to speed up the transition to renewables, create new high-wage jobs, protect UK energy security and deliver on net zero. He chaired a high-level meeting on forests and announced new support for climate-vulnerable countries. The negotiations concluded in the early hours of yesterday morning, and the Minister for Climate and the previous COP President are both on their way back.
The progress made on loss and damage at COP27 is significant. It has the potential to support the most vulnerable and to increase that support in future. We had to fight to keep 1.5° alive, but the deal in Egypt preserves the historic commitments that countries agreed to last year in the Glasgow climate pact. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we
“welcome the progress made at COP27, but there can be no time for complacency.”
Continuing to drive global ambition and the implementation of net zero commitments is vital to the future of our planet. More must be done.
My first question is: why on earth was this not a Government statement? Why on earth have we had to drag a Minister here to answer an urgent question? Lovely as it is to see the Minister at the Dispatch Box, the subject is not even a central issue in her ministerial brief, as far as I am aware. She mentioned the Prime Minister’s statement at the end of the summit, but it was a 33-word tweet. That is just outrageous after such an important moment.
On loss and damage, the agreement at COP27 on a new finance facility is an historic step forward for climate justice, but to ensure that it does not just become another broken promise, it must be functional and properly resourced. First, what steps will the Government take to support its establishment and ensure that it is adequately funded with grants to help countries rebuild when disasters hit? Secondly, how much will the Government commit, and when, to specific funding for loss and damage—new funding, additional to existing finance? The £5 million already committed to the Santiago Network is for technical support, let us remember, and comes out of the UK’s already dwindling official development assistance budget. Thirdly, will the Minister support innovative sources of funding, particularly Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s Bridgetown initiative?
The final agreement from the summit fails to commit to India’s proposal to phase out all fossil fuels. Does the Minister recognise that in order to keep 1.5° alive and show any credible climate leadership on the world stage, our Government must urgently address their own climate policies? Will the Minister now reject the Rosebank oilfield and rule out any new oil and gas in the North sea? How will the Government maintain the high-level political engagement required to continue to push the COP process forward, given that the UK’s presidency is ending and nobody in Cabinet appears to be leading? Do we not need a special prime ministerial envoy?
Lastly, in his statement on 9 November about COP27, the Prime Minister said:
“With the Egyptian President, I raised the case of the British-Egyptian citizen Alaa Abd el-Fattah.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2022; Vol. 722, c. 260.]
Alaa has faced intimidation, has suffered fainting fits and mental breakdowns, and is currently on suicide watch, yet it seems that the Government are standing idly by. Will they now listen to John Casson, the former ambassador to Cairo, who has said that the time for “polite requests” is over? We need action now.
There are so many important questions there, but as I have said, the fundamental negotiations concluded just yesterday and both the previous COP President and the Minister for Climate are on their way back—it takes a bit of time to get from Egypt to Westminster. The Climate Minister was indeed prepared to offer a statement tomorrow, but the hon. Lady secured a UQ and here we are.
As for providing a fund, COP27 agreed to establish a fund, which was negotiated just yesterday, to respond to loss and damage as part of the wider funding arrangements to mobilise support. The UK’s view is that discussions should consider the widest possible sources of contributions, which will be fleshed out in further negotiations. The UK commitment of £11.6 billion to support that commitment continues, and support will continue for the most vulnerable, who are experiencing the worst impacts of climate change. We will also triple our funding for adaptation, to reach £1.5 billion a year in 2025.
The hon. Lady also talked about new oil and gas licences. The UK remains fully committed to its COP promises, as well as our domestic climate commitments, including the UK’s target to reach net zero by 2050 and to phase out coal by 2024. In the near term, our priority is keeping our domestic production online to help the UK through what could be a difficult winter.
We achieved so much at COP26 in Glasgow, under the leadership of our very own COP26 President. When the UK took on the presidency, just one third of the global economy was committed to net zero. Today that figure is 90%. There is no time to be complacent, but we will continue to campaign, as we always have done, and continue to be leaders in this field.
I want to take a moment to raise the issue of Alaa Abd el-Fattah—and to make sure that my words are accurate, because I know that words matter at the Dispatch Box when we are dealing with this particular issue. Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s family and the UK Government have concerns for his welfare. The FCDO made a statement at the time of the verdict, noting:
“We do not consider this outcome consistent with recent positive steps to improve human rights”.
During COP27, the PM raised the issues of imprisoned writer Alaa Abd el-Fattah with President Sisi and resolving the consular issue. I do not have any further details on that right now, but I know that those words will be incredibly impactful.
Listening to the tirade of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), one would not think that this country had cut its global emissions faster than any other G7 country. We have everything to be proud of. Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the work of the Mayor of the West Midlands and Transport for the West Midlands? Coventry will be the first city in the United Kingdom to have over 300 electric buses, with an investment of £150 million, demonstrating that this country is indeed effective in cutting emissions.
My hon. Friend hits it on the head. When local leadership delivers net zero targets, so much can be achieved. I was the buses Minister in a previous life, so his question is close to my heart. I am so pleased that Coventry will be the first place in the country to be driving forward so many electric buses, with the £150 million grant that has been made available.
I know that the previous COP President said that the 1.5° target was hanging by a thread, but there is so much that came out of COP27 that we should be proud of. The Prime Minister reinforced the UK commitment to deliver £11.6 billion in climate finance and announced a tripling of funding for climate adaptation, to £1.5 billion in 2025. The UK also announced a further £65.5 million for the clean energy innovation facility, which provides grants to researchers and scientists in developing countries to accelerate the development of clean technologies. So not only are we leading with policy; we are also trying to help other countries to be part of the net zero technology revolution.
May I start by echoing the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah? The Government must ensure that his case is not forgotten. He must be released. I also pay tribute to the COP26 President for his service and to his team of civil servants in the COP unit.
Despite the welcome progress at COP27 on support for climate-vulnerable countries, which I acknowledge, we should be clear: on the crucial issue of 1.5°, this summit failed. The planet is hotter than it has been for 125,000 years. We already see the disastrous effects of 1° of warming, but rather than tackle this crisis, too many leaders are fiddling while the world burns. As a result, we are currently on track, according to the UN, for a catastrophic 2.8° of warming. We should tell the truth: unless we do something different and fast, we will leave a terrible legacy. Against this backdrop, no country can be patting itself on the back. As a country that considers itself a climate leader, we have a responsibility and opportunity to set the pace in the year ahead, and our moral authority in the negotiations depends on it.
First, to go further and faster, and to persuade others, too, I urge the Minister to commit, as the Opposition have, to a 2030 zero carbon power system, the new gold standard of international leadership. That means ending the perverse ban on onshore wind and the blocking of solar, the cheapest and cleanest forms of power.
Secondly, we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room: fossil fuel. The COP26 President argued, unsuccessfully, that the conclusions of COP27 should include the phasing out of fossil fuel. If we extract all remaining reserves, we will blow way past 1.5° to 3° and more, but the Government are indulging at home in a dash for new fossil fuel licences, which will not even make a difference to bills, and they refuse to rule out a new coalmine in Cumbria. What kind of leadership is it if we tell others not to have new fossil fuel exploration while saying it is okay for us to do it here at home?
Thirdly, we need to demonstrate to the world that climate leadership means we will not only set stretching targets but meet them, yet the Climate Change Committee says we are off track and our net zero strategy has been found to be unlawful. What will the Government do to put that right?
Finally, the next year, leading up to the 2023 global stocktake, is the last real chance to save 1.5°. In years to come, every Government and politician will be judged on how they responded at this moment of jeopardy for the world. I urge the Government to show consistent leadership, to lower bills, to create jobs and to act before it is too late.
It is true that the COP26 President said 1.5° is on life support, but that does not mean COP27 is a failure. Significant progress was made, especially on providing support for the most vulnerable and increasing that support for the future. We have to keep fighting to keep 1.5° alive, but the deal in Egypt preserves the historic climate commitments agreed in last year’s Glasgow climate pact. It is important to recognise how much was achieved at Glasgow by the COP26 President.
Questions were raised on the further outcomes of COP, but I sometimes feel that, because so much has been negotiated, we do not appreciate how far we have come. During this presidency, there has been extensive lobbying for all countries to assess their 2030 nationally determined contributions to keep 1.5° in reach and to deliver on the Glasgow climate pact. More than 90% of the world’s GDP is now covered by net zero commitments, and 169 countries have put forward new or updated 2030 NDCs, resulting in reductions compared with previous NDCs. Of those, 29 new or updated NDCs have been submitted since COP26.
Full implementation of these NDCs is consistent with about 2.5° of warming, and full implementation of the net zero commitments could see warming as low as 1.7°. Fifty-four countries and parties have submitted long-term strategies so far, and this includes 10 new or updated submissions since COP26.
This remains a priority for the Government, and we not only have a Minister and a Department focused on climate and energy, but it is the Prime Minister’s focus, too. He came to the Dispatch Box just last week to make an extensive statement and to respond to colleagues’ questions. The legacy of COP26 will continue, and we will continue our leadership role, too.
Our energy security has never been more vital, and the bills arriving on doorsteps in East Devon are testament to that. Does my hon. Friend agree that the energy sovereignty we need will ultimately mean lower energy bills for households in Devon?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend is a true champion for his constituents, and I know energy bills are at the forefront of all our minds after spending another weekend at home in our constituencies dealing with the concerns of our constituents. Most of our constituents understand that energy security is now an issue, and they appreciate that the pressure on energy prices is down to Putin and his illegal invasion of Ukraine. This also shows that we have to be opportunistic in ensuring that we invest in the right technologies and the right renewables to ensure we are resilient and sovereign at home when it comes to fuel.
I also associate myself with the comments about Alaa Abd el-Fattah.
I pay tribute again to the role of the former COP26 President, the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), in the negotiations. Demoting him from the Cabinet sent entirely the wrong message, and I commend the dedication and diligence he brought to the position. The SNP very much welcomes the news of the landmark agreement on loss and damage.
The former COP26 President and many others, including our First Minister, have condemned the agreement’s glaring lack of a clear commitment to ending our dependence on fossil fuels. To keep 1.5° alive, we need urgent action. Will the UK Government commit to building a coalition ahead of COP28 to ensure that phasing down and out fossil fuels forms part of the agreement? Do the UK Government acknowledge that, to have any authority in making this argument, they must recognise the weakness of their own climate compatibility check for new oilfields, which seems designed to enable exploitation of fossil fuels rather than to control and drive them down?
Finally, will the UK Government support discussions, as highlighted at COP and by the Bridgetown agenda, on the reform of multinational development banks to better support climate objectives?
I think we all have warm words for the COP26 President and the leadership he has shown. Obviously, he will continue to provide that leadership, and people around the world will be looking at him to see what he says in the future and at what was delivered at COP27.
We are leading a coalition to ensure that we are driving down emissions and investing in alternative renewable fuel and energy. That will ensure that we are resilient and can provide the fuel and energy that our constituents need up and down the country. We need a mix of fuel and energy, which includes offshore and nuclear as well. Unfortunately, the party that the hon. Lady represents is dead set against nuclear energy, which would enable us to have efficient, clean, green, resilient, homegrown fuel, allowing us to have a much healthier discussion when it comes not only to fuel resilience, but to energy prices, too.
Despite the usual doom and gloom and negativity from those on the Opposition Benches and from campaigners glueing themselves to roads, will the Minister confirm that, according to the independent climate change performance index, the UK is the only G7 country in the top 10? We are ahead of Germany, France, the US and China. Perhaps those people glueing themselves to roads and moaning should focus their energies on those other countries that need to catch up with us. They could glue themselves to the roads over there—though, of course, they should not fly to get there.
Once again, my hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. The climate change performance index is not run by the Government; it is an independent organisation that monitors these issues. The UK is the only G7 country to be in the top 10, which shows that we are world leaders. Obviously, I cannot comment on his points about how individuals and political parties with issues about reaching net zero would do better to focus their attention on those other countries that are not doing so well.
Is this Minister aware that, since I read and reviewed Professor Steve Jones’s book, “Here Comes the Sun”, I have been convinced that, unless we do something really radical, life on this planet will be extinguished? That is the level of the challenge. Not one senior Cabinet Minister is here today for this urgent question on the most important thing that faces us all. My party and her party must get their act together if we are not to face the end of life on this planet.
I do not keep a tab on what papers or books the hon. Gentleman reads. I am sorry that he is disappointed that there is not a Cabinet Minister in the Chamber, but, as I have said, they were involved in negotiations at COP and they are now on their way back. The urgent question was granted and here I am. No one is denying the importance of what is happening at COP. We must make sure that we reach net zero. That applies not only to this country, but to countries around the world with which we have to negotiate.
I am anxious that we do not leave this Chamber with a picture of doom and gloom. Negotiations have taken place and there has been some progress, but sometimes we overlook that progress. I know that what matters to my constituents will no doubt matter to the hon. Member’s constituents as well. On the forests and climate leaders’ partnership, for example, 23 countries and the EU are accelerating momentum to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. The UK has also confirmed £150 million to protect rainforests and natural habitats. That is as a result of our leadership. It is not perfect, but we should be so proud of how far we have gone.
The accelerating to zero coalition has also been launched, and it has been announced that the zero emissions vehicle declaration has 210 signatories. Furthermore, the breakthrough agenda will result in tangible actions being taken by countries that account for more than 50% of global GDP. There is much more to do, but there is a lot to be proud of. We should continue moving forward.
Will my hon. Friend explain exactly what discussions took place in Egypt between our Government and Germany on the issue of Germany’s intent to open up lignite mining and use lignite to generate electricity—lignite being the dirtiest form of electricity generation? Is there not something of an issue for us as a country in competing with Germany if it is quite prepared to ignore all the norms and use lignite to generate electricity, while we are reluctant to even open another coalmine?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We often focus on what we are delivering in the UK, and that is important, but we make an argument that other European countries are somehow constantly cleaner and greener. His point is a valid one. That is why global negotiations and global collaborations matter. We must shine a light not only on countries far from home, but on countries closer to home, such as those in Europe, which unfortunately are not leading the way as much as we are.
I add my thanks to the previous COP President and his team. I must also say that other countries being bad is no excuse for being complacent in this country. It is estimated that in eight years’ time the costs associated with loss and damage will range from £290 billion to £580 billion. Those are huge sums, but they are dwarfed by the billions in subsidies that the fuel industry receives on top of its vast profits. When will the Government stop their subsidies to the fuel industry and set out their plan to phase out fossil fuels in this country? The Minister has not answered that question yet.
I have indeed answered that question and focused on the fact that we are aiming to reach net zero. We have to ensure that we have a mix of energy, and we have to phase out at a pace that means that we have a certain level of resilience and access to fuel and energy. We cannot just switch off the tap today and assume someone is going to step in tomorrow.
That the UK is reducing emissions faster than other countries may be true, but it is not sufficient to meet the timescale within which we have to reduce emissions globally to realise 1.5°. Will the Minister tell me today what she is doing in terms of putting new money into that loss and damage fund, and to identify the new money? Much of what she has identified so far has been pre-announced—it is old money. Will she also tell me what she is doing to ensure that the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero will be adequately funded not only by the UK, but by other countries?
The hon. Gentleman has a valid question. The negotiations are so fresh—the agreement was concluded yesterday and the negotiations are still ongoing to flesh out the detail—that I do not have a direct answer. It is still being negotiated. However, the UK contribution will continue to ensure high value for money for the UK taxpayer from that international support, and of course we are dedicated to making sure that we reach our target and our commitment to the loss and damage fund.
While thousands of the great and the good, the chattering classes and the global warming zealots are flying out of Egypt today in their private planes and fleets of airlines, patting themselves on the back that for the 27th time they have saved the world, does the Minister accept that we still need reliable fossil fuel energy to drive our economy and to lift billions out of poverty in the developing world? Does she accept that many people across the United Kingdom who were hit with big tax rises last week will be concerned at the demand for even more billions to pay compensation because we industrialised first? Will she assure us that she will not be taken on some kind of ecological guilt trip and end up committing to pay billions in compensation when we are responsible for less than 1% of CO2 emissions in the world?
There was so much in that question. Rest assured, I am never driven by any guilt trip whatsoever. I am not sure how far I can push the envelope, but there is a certain something about people flying in and out while we are trying to drive down greenhouse gas emissions. There is some hypocrisy there.
We know there is a huge issue at home. We are dealing with fuel bills, and one of the answers to that is making sure that we have a mix of energy. Going forward, we are absolutely committed to offshore and nuclear, which will provide us with a certain level of security and will help to manage our bills. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we have to accept our contribution to global emissions, and even more so our leadership position. We will make sure we honour that.
I was at COP27, and I spoke to people from pacific small island developing states—climate Ministers, speakers and chairs of environment committees—who are suffering the most horrendous effects of climate change: cyclones, rising seas and lack of electricity. In 2009, at the Copenhagen COP, they were promised $100 million a year. That money has not been delivered. When will the money come off the page, so that they can start building houses and seawalls and having new electricity systems? The UK is not delivering for those most at risk from climate change.
I know, from many of my family in Pakistan, of the devastation that has taken place there. Thirty million people have been displaced. There is a huge amount of work to be done to protect those countries and communities. We will make sure that they get back on their feet as quickly as possible, which is why the negotiations and the outcome of COP are so important. I mentioned the funding we have committed—more than £11.6 billion is already in the system. But if money is made available and negotiated at COP, we have to make sure that the international institutions deliver that money quickly to the communities that deserve it the most.
I think the whole House owes a debt to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for securing this urgent question and for raising the issue of human rights in Egypt. The Minister must be aware that Kenya and its five surrounding neighbouring countries have contributed less than 0.1% of greenhouse gas emissions in their existence, yet they are paying the price with climate change, flooding, devastation, and now famine and so much else. Thirty one years ago, Vanuatu asked for restitution from the richest countries in the world in order to help them to deal with the consequences of rising sea levels.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to do two things? Will she welcome the commitment of the newly elected President Lula of Brazil to protect the Amazon rainforest and ensure the biodiversity of his country as a contribution to world survival? Secondly, will she guarantee that no British companies or banks will finance any fossil fuel exploration, extraction or trading anywhere in the world?
The tail end of that question was answered by the Prime Minister when he gave his statement just last week. On the question about Brazil, at COP27 we committed to £90 million to the Congo basin, a part of the £1.5 billion put in place to invest in the world’s forests. I am not sure if I already made the point that the UK is playing a leading role in developing the Indonesia just energy transition partnership, which was announced at the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali and will mobilise £20 billion in the next three to five years. We should take a moment to recognise that the negotiations on Sunday morning will help a number of those countries that do not do as well as us and ensure that they have the support they need.
The Minister says that the Government want to address the energy crisis soon and roll out renewable energy, so will they recommit to onshore wind and solar power development, as supported by a significant majority of the population, including Conservative voters and the last Prime Minister?
Our focus is offshore wind and nuclear because we see them as the best way of ensuring cheaper, cleaner and more secure power. As for onshore wind, I believe that there is a commitment to a consultation to see which communities in England want to host new onshore wind infrastructure. Fundamentally, we are focused on offshore and nuclear.
Over the weekend, with a straight face the Scottish Daily Mail ran a front page, which at the top offered advice on how to battle a blackout while the main story stated that Scotland faces a “new windfarm invasion”. If we are to combat climate change and meet net zero, onshore wind is crucial. Does the Minister agree that that particular invasion as outlined by the Scottish Daily Mail would be one that we should all welcome?
Fortunately or unfortunately, I do not read the Scottish Daily Mail, so I cannot picture what that looked like. As I said earlier, our focus is on offshore wind farms and nuclear power. I find it extraordinary that, as we talk about what one would naturally call green issues, the hon. Gentlemen’s party just cannot come to terms with the fact that nuclear power is a clean, green and resilient form of energy on which we should focus as well.
The Prime Minister said at the end of COP that
“Keeping the 1.5° commitment alive is vital to the future of our planet”,
but the Government plan to accelerate North sea oil and gas production. We need deeds, not words. If the Government are serious about keeping 1.5 alive, should they not reject the application for the Rosebank oilfield, the largest undeveloped oilfield in the UK?
We are committed to 1.5°, which is why we have a net zero strategy and why we hosted and led COP26 and continue to lead at COP27. I have already spoken about the number of programmes, policies and investments that we are making. Between 1990 and 2019, we grew our economy by 76% and cut our emissions by more than 44%, decarbonising faster than any other G7 country. Those are not words; those are deeds.
The hon. Gentleman talks about oil and gas. As I have said, the UK remains fully committed to its COP promises. We will continue to progress the expansion of renewable energy to generate 95% of electricity from low-carbon sources by 2030. No other major oil-and-gas producing nation has gone as far as the UK in addressing the role of oil and gas in their economy. The opening of the most recent licensing round by the North Sea Transition Authority followed the publication of the climate compatibility checkpoint, and it should be seen in the context of the North sea transition deal. That includes emissions-reduction targets consistent with the Government’s net zero strategy, which establishes the UK’s pathway for meeting carbon budget and international targets.
I so enjoyed that question, but I am not the Climate Minister or in line to be the next COP President, so I cannot say what our negotiations will come to, but the point is that we are leading countries both in Europe and internationally. We want to ensure that they can come along with us and are as close as we are to reaching net zero targets. We will continue to provide that leadership.
The Minister might want to remind her Back Benchers that this is not a competition. The whole world is in this together; there is no one-country solution. In that context, how can she stand before the House without addressing how, if we develop oil and gas domestically, we can dictate to others—in the Arab world, for example, or Germany with lignite—that they should not do the same.
I can offer concrete examples of where we can confidently showcase what we are doing compared with other countries. I did not say it was a competition, but every time I offer up how we have moved forward compared with other countries, I am told that we are not going far enough. We have a jet zero strategy, and we know that maritime is a major issue when it comes to the climate, so we have a clean maritime plan—I believe that we were the first country in Europe to produce one. We have led the way on enabling many industries to reach net zero. We are also doing that because we know that there will be more than half a million skilled, green and well-paid jobs in all those industries, and we want to make sure that we provide that sort of support for communities up and down the country.
There is a dangerous loss of momentum around the 1.5° target, and continued fossil-fuel extraction is the greatest problem. Looking ahead to COP28—ironically, it will be in the United Arab Emirates of all places—what lessons have the Government taken from COP27 to better ensure that progress can be made next time around?
The hon. Gentleman challenges me again to put our programme forward before the COP27 delegation has even arrived in Westminster. I would argue that they want to ensure that, where we have not gone as far as we wanted at COP27, we can achieve those ambitious targets at the next COP. As everyone mentioned earlier, the world is watching and we cannot be in the situation of saying that 1.5° is hanging by a thread.
The Minister has not mentioned methane and the disappointing agreement to reduce methane by just 30% by 2030. Why is her Department sitting on a green new deal for BioYorkshire that would put the science in place for global transformation around issues such as methane and fuel transition?
The most peculiar thing is that I assumed the Minister for Climate would be in the Chamber. I did my best to prepare for the methane question, but I am struggling to find the exact answer in front of me. If the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will make sure that she gets a written response from him, if not from me, by the end of the week.
The President of the European Commission described the COP27 deal as
“a small step towards climate justice”.
The Scottish Government established a climate justice fund back in 2012. Now that the Secretary of State is sitting next to the Minister, can she confirm whether the UK Government understand and accept the consequences and concept of climate justice?
The UK Government absolutely understand, which is why we were leading the charge in Glasgow at COP26 and continued to do so at COP27. That is why the President of COP26 had the confidence to deal with the negotiations as they were. We knew that 1.5° was going to be tricky; it is an international negotiation. Considering the international players that were involved, we are in a good place, but we need to move forward. The hon. Member also mentioned the funding that was negotiated just yesterday morning, which is on top of the £11.6 billion. I am not sure it took an intervention by his party; it was a result of international negotiations that have been taking place at COP.
I thank the Minister for her answers. The primary cause of our climate crisis has evidently been the lack of winding down of our fossil fuel use. Disappointingly, we have simply repeated the call to accelerate efforts to phase down our use of coal power, with still little result.
Newport Wafer Fab
On 25 May, the then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy called in Nexperia’s acquisition of Newport Wafer Fab for a national security assessment under the National Security and Investment Act 2021. Following further detailed and thorough consideration, on 16 November, I exercised my powers under the Act to make a final order requiring Nexperia to divest of at least 86% of its shareholding in Nexperia Newport, formerly Newport Wafer Fab.
My decision follows a quasi-judicial process that ensures that all relevant matters are taken into account and that the decision is made fairly. I am sure that the House will understand that I am unable to go into further detail about the national security assessments and implications that informed the decision, nor can I go into further detail about the final order.
What I can say is that the final order requires Nexperia to follow a set process leading to divestment within a specified period. This order has been shared with Nexperia and I published a notice summarising it as well. My officials, with the support of other Departments, will actively monitor compliance with the requirements set out in the final order and ensure that the national security risks continue to be mitigated effectively.
The National Security and Investment Act enables us to continue to champion open investment while protecting national security. Hon. Members can be assured that although we are unashamedly pro-business, the Government will not hesitate to act where there is a risk to UK national security. The UK has a number of strengths in the semiconductor sector, including in south Wales, and the Government aim to set out our semiconductor strategy soon to enable this technology to further support the global economy and national security.
Like many people in Newport West, I am deeply concerned by the decision made by the Secretary of State to order Nexperia to sell Newport Wafer Fab at this time and in this way. Nearly 600 people, with just one month to Christmas, have had the most unacceptable shock and worry heaped on them by this Government. We have heard so much about a commitment to levelling up, but this decision made by Tory Ministers is a disgraceful exercise in levelling down Newport West and south Wales.
Ministers have raised concerns about national security, despite the acquisition being cleared by two previous security reviews, including that by Sir Stephen Lovegrove, the former National Security Adviser. Nexperia, with the interests of its employees driving it, has proactively sought to deliver a range of far-reaching remedies that, if accepted, would fully address the Government’s concerns, but Tory Ministers have chosen not to enter into a meaningful dialogue with Nexperia or even to take the time to visit the site in Newport West.
I have been informed that Nexperia will now challenge the order, and will do everything possible to keep the factory operating and protect its employees in south Wales. They have my support. I am concerned that Ministers have chosen not to listen to my constituents, and have instead taken a decision that now puts their livelihoods and their families, as well as more than £100 million of taxpayers’ money, completely and unnecessarily at risk.
Nexperia has operated in the United Kingdom for nearly 100 years, and it has been at its Manchester site since 1970. Since April 2021, Nexperia has invested £160 million across the Stockport and Newport sites to expand their capacity and introduce new equipment. This is a long-term, well-established relationship, and the Secretary of State has ripped it to shreds. So I would like the Secretary of State to tell us: what discussions has he had with the Welsh Government and Newport City Council about the support Whitehall will provide to mitigate the impact of this decision on our local economy; what assessment has been made about the impact of this decision on my constituents; what specific discussions have Ministers had with the management at Nexperia; and will the Secretary of State publish the security assessment that prompted this decision?
Lastly, I want to pay tribute to the Nexperia Newport staff association, which wrote to the Secretary of State last Thursday. It has made clear its anger and sense of betrayal. Will the Minister agree to meet me and members of the staff association at the earliest opportunity? This decision does not just affect the people of Newport West; its effects will reach all corners of the United Kingdom for years to come.
The hon. Lady is quite right to be a doughty defender of her constituents, and I acknowledge that it will be a concerning time for 500 or so employees. She is not privy to the information that I have had to weigh up to come to this national security decision, which I have done with the utmost diligence and taking all of the factors into account; nor, I am afraid, can I accede to her request to publish that information. I would point her to the fact that the then shadow Business Secretary, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), at the time of this takeover did actually call on the Government to use powers under the National Security and Investment Act to scrutinise the takeover, which I have done. In answer to her question about what the Government are doing, we had last week the £1.6 billion confirmation from the Chancellor for the nine Catapults, of which the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult in Wales is a part.
I welcome the measures that the Government have already taken in the National Security and Investment Act to protect critical national infrastructure companies from overseas control, but does the Secretary of State agree that it is important we do not just shut the stable door, and that where we become aware that companies may have already come under the control of hostile overseas states, we act against those as well?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. The interesting thing is that the National Security and Investment Act did not exist when this original takeover took place, which puts this in an unusual category of being a retrospective piece of work. I believe, on the basis of the information that now comes to us and the ability to use the Act, that we would always take these decisions up front. The difference here is that we have had to look at it through a retrospective process. However, I can assure my right hon. Friend and Members across the House that we take these decisions very carefully and cautiously. We have now looked at nearly 100 such decisions, and it is unusual for us to take action to this extent overall.
I welcome the new Business Secretary to his responsibilities in the House, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) on securing this urgent question and on her tireless advocacy for her constituents on this matter. I welcome the fact that a decision has finally been made on Newport Wafer Fab, but the chaotic process and the lack of strategy from the Government have left workers and businesses facing a great deal of uncertainty that the Government are now honour-bound to rectify.
Nexperia first announced a takeover of Newport Wafer Fab in July last year. It has taken 16 months for the Government to make this decision. In April, the Foreign Affairs Committee was forced to conclude that the review had
“not, in fact, been started.”
Finally, the Government have decided to block the transaction. Meanwhile, jobs have been left hanging in the balance, and the costs of unwinding the deal have risen over that time. We also have to question why we are in this situation in the first place. The south Wales compound semiconductor cluster employs thousands of workers in one of the world’s most strategic sectors, but we are still yet to see the long-awaited semiconductor strategy, which has been 22 months in the making.
Of course, the Government scrapped their entire industrial strategy altogether when the current Prime Minister replaced it with the hastily cooked-up plan for growth. That has already been replaced, because it may have been the sixth plan in 12 years but it was the first to cause a financial crisis. Meanwhile, firm after firm in the semiconductor sector has been sold off to foreign businesses. It genuinely has not been easy even to understand what Government policy in this area is, so may I ask the Secretary of State these questions? First, why has this decision taken so long, when the Government have known everything about the transaction for at least 16 months? Secondly, what is he specifically going to do to secure the future of the jobs in Newport Wafer Fab and ensure we retain this capacity in the UK? Finally, when will the Government come forward with a proper plan for growth, including for key industrial sectors? Decisions such as this, while at times necessary, must form part of a coherent and consistent policy and must be made promptly. All businesses get from this Government is chaos and crisis, and it is not good enough.
I think that is a rather unfair assessment of what has happened for this reason: the National Security and Investment Act 2021 only came into existence this January, so to say that there have been 16 months during which we have not made any decisions is simply untrue. Secondly, nobody would expect us, particularly with 500 jobs at stake, to rush to a decision over something this important. That is what Labour seems to be suggesting it wants to do.
I want to make sure that jobs are protected. We will be working with Nexperia on this sale to ensure that plans are, I hope, put in place that do that. I have already referred to the wider investment in semiconductors, of which a large proportion is coming to Wales, so the Government already have a strategy in this exact area. It is one of the reasons why we have 100 companies carrying out work in semiconductors.
More than five years ago, I visited this business as a Minister. It is an excellent business, with cutting-edge technologies. It employs local people, but also international people in high-quality graduate and PhD jobs. While I agree that national security should come first, I urge the Secretary of State to work across every single Department to ensure that we retain those skills that are so needed in the United Kingdom and in particular in this area represented by the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones).
My hon. Friend will be interested to hear that I think I read a report of his visit to the site. I have taken every opportunity to understand what is happening in Newport, and his experience was helpful. It is also worth the House knowing that, unlike prior to the takeover—I hear some Members still referring to “Newport Wafer Fab”—it no longer does “fab”. What it now does are wafers, and it manufactures purely for Nexperia, and most of that does not end up in this country, unless it happens to be re-imported. The jobs and skills are something we are keen to preserve, and we will be working very closely to ensure that there is a future.
Certainly from the outside looking in, it is very much a case of the legislation doing exactly what the legislation was meant to do when it received support right across this House. Understandably, there will be local concerns in respect of that, and I understand where they come from—indeed, the Secretary of State has appeared to acknowledge them up until now. I guess what it shows in wider terms is the UK’s lack of domestic self-sufficiency in semiconductors. I suppose it is for the Government to outline why we are in the present situation. It is perhaps not just in relation to the actions that the Government have not taken: we also need to look at the consequences of the action that they have taken in respect of the likes of Brexit. Intel, one of the biggest players when it comes to semiconductors, has outlined that it is not looking to invest in the UK because of Brexit.
In among all that, can I ask the Secretary of State to provide a little more detail on when he expects to come forward with his plan for semiconductors and to put a little more meat on the bones for those living in the local area as to how those jobs will be protected?
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport holds the plan itself. It is worth the House and the hon. Gentleman knowing that the UK has several strengths in semiconductors. The sector already includes the design of compound semiconductors and academic research, and south Wales is a very important cluster within that. I have already referred to the additional money that the Chancellor announced from the Dispatch Box as recently as last Thursday, and we know that some of that money will head to Wales. It is also important for the House to know that in this context Newport Wafer was only a very small proportion of output to UK companies directly, and it is important that we make sure that capacity is maintained. It is also important to understand what that business was doing and how it was involved in our supply chain.
Nexperia has operated a manufacturing site in my constituency for more than 50 years, and is a major employer in the Cheadle area, with some 1,000 people working at the Pepper Road site. They are understandably concerned by the Government’s decision. Could the Secretary of State please set out what measures he is taking to ensure that we safeguard Cheadle jobs and maintain the UK’s role in the vital semiconductor industry?