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Commons Chamber

Volume 736: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2023

House of Commons

Wednesday 12 July 2023

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Conversion Practices: Legislative Ban

The Government remain committed to publishing a draft Bill on banning conversion practices for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses in this parliamentary Session.

It is now over five years since the Government first made a commitment to legislate on conversion therapy, and more recently there was a promise that legislation would be tabled this spring. Can the Minister elaborate on some of the reasons for the delay, and perhaps be more clear about when the legislation will be brought forward?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to introducing the Bill in its draft stage as soon as possible. It is a complex matter. It is something that I have felt very passionately about over many years, but it is right that we get the legislation right. I hope that we will be able to present it as soon as possible.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and, indeed, with the former Prime Minister that conversion therapy is “abhorrent”? If he does agree, does he think it is abhorrent for everyone?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for her question. I absolutely agree that it is abhorrent; moreover, it does not work—that is a serious point. Yes, I do believe that that is with regard to everyone.

Given that the Minister has agreed that conversion therapy is abhorrent, and given what my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) said about five years having passed since we were first told that it would be banned—we were then told that the Bill had been scrapped, then that it would be coming back, and then that it would come back with a loophole about consent—does the Minister agree that that confusion is causing unacceptable stress, confusion and fear among the LGBT community? Will the Government commit to ending the confusion soon?

I do not want anybody in the LGBT community to feel fear—I have had that experience myself and I would not wish it on anyone. That is why we are making sure that the Bill is a good Bill that delivers good law to ensure that we outlaw those abhorrent practices. I recognise that the delay has caused some issues for the community, but I assure them that we are on their side.

Through my personal dealings with the Minister, I know how much he is committed to making sure that this legislation comes forward. Can he reassure me that, despite what some have said, the Bill is not about stopping parents from having meaningful conversations with their children who may be questioning their sexuality?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is why we need to consider the evidence carefully; those conversations that parents have with their children are really important. I will never forget the conversations I had with my mum and dad, who helped me when I was coming out.

Some 1,835 days have passed since the Government first promised to ban conversion practices. That is longer than it takes to make a good Bill—it is longer than it took to build the Empire State Building and the Shard put together. We were told in January that a Bill would be published “shortly”. Seven months later, can the Minister tell LGBT people how many more days, weeks, months, or even years they must wait?

The answer that the Minister gave a moment ago was that we would see something before the end of this Parliament. I am afraid that is not good enough for those LGBT people who have been waiting for too long.

I will ask the Minister another question. We heard from the Government during their consultation on this ban—even that was almost two years ago now—that they would let some of the worst practitioners off the hook by including a consent loophole. Does the Minister seriously think that LGBT people can consent to abuse and, if not, will he end the charade and remove that loophole so that every LGBT person is protected?

I respectfully say to the hon. Lady that she has not seen the Bill yet, so it is a bit early to make those comments. This is exactly why we are making sure that a Joint Committee of both Houses looks at the Bill; it is a very complex piece of legislation. We want to make sure that it outlaws those awful practices, but also ensures that people—clinicians, parents, teachers and so on—do not feel a chilling effect. It is right that we get stakeholders and people from this House engaged in that process, so that when the Bill is presented to the House for debate, it is in the best possible position.

Pension Credit Uptake

2. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on increasing the uptake of pension credit among older people. (905950)

Since April last year, we have been running a substantial campaign to raise awareness and increase take-up. There are strong indications that this campaign is working. Applications for pension credit were around 75% higher in the year to May 2023 than in the same period the year before.

My retired constituents, from Dennistoun to Ruchazie, from Carntyne to Blackhill, and across the north and east of Glasgow, know that I am a champion for their rights. That is why I set up the all-party parliamentary group on pension credit, and why I and my team have sat with hundreds of older constituents and helped them to apply for pension credit, which is after all their right. I choose to do this as a constituency MP, but it is our role to champion the rights of older people, and the Minister is not telling me anything that is giving me any comfort that she is actually going to champion them. When will she start doing that?

I thank the hon. Lady for the work that she does for her constituents. Many MPs use the Help to Claim service or the benefits calculator to assist constituents. I think she will be keen to know that the Minister responsible for pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott), announced the innovative Invitation to Claim trial, which will be held in 10 local authorities across Great Britain this summer. It will involve the Department for Work and Pensions sending letters to 2,600 pensioner households identified by housing benefit data and most likely to be entitled to pension credit. That is on top of the wide-ranging communications we are already doing.

I thank my hon. Friend for the answers she has given. Clearly, there is a reluctance among people who are entitled to this benefit to actually claim it. What action is she taking to break down that taboo, so that people who are fully entitled to this money and desperately need it actually claim it?

I thank my hon. Friend for that point because some people do not come forward. It is in their make-up. We need to help them to be encouraged that they are absolutely entitled to the benefit. I reassure him that the DWP received around 21,000 claims in the two weeks in the run-up to 19 May, which was 171% up compared with the corresponding weeks in 2022, so the actions we are all taking are working.

Equality Act 2010: Public Bodies

3. What steps she is taking to help ensure that public bodies implement the requirements of the Equality Act 2010. (905951)

The Government have published a range of advice and guidance to help public bodies comply with the Equality Act. The Equality and Human Rights Commission also publishes technical guidance on complying with the public sector equality duty. I will shortly be reissuing my December 2021 update to Ministers on how to comply with the public sector equality duty, especially when it comes to completing equalities impact assessments, and I hope that that is distributed widely.

With the Met police force reluctant to investigate murderous threats towards three sitting MPs for their lawfully protected beliefs and characteristics; a convicted criminal calling for violence against women at Trans Pride incoherently defended as freedom of expression by that same force; and broadcasters, journalists, faith leaders and even the Equalities and Human Rights Commissioner for Scotland all having had their bank accounts closed for what appear to be their lawfully protected characteristics, will the Minister meet me and other affected Members to consider how we tackle this dangerous misinformation, rampant homophobia and misogyny being promoted in our institutions by organisations such as Stonewall?

I take the points that the hon. Gentleman has made very seriously, and I would be very happy to meet him. We are a free and fair society, and we must protect free speech and allow open discussion, as long as it does not break the law.

On bank account closures, banks and other payment services, providers occupy a privileged place in our society, and it would be a serious concern if financial services are being denied to anyone exercising their right to lawful free speech. I need to express this: a notice period of fair and open communication with a customer must apply in those situations that relate to termination on grounds other than suspected or actual criminal offences or when otherwise allowed by law. The Government are currently reviewing evidence on whether the existing payment services and account termination framework is operating effectively, or if further clarification is needed.

We were all delighted that the Government appointed an independent inquiry chaired by Lord Etherton to look into the disgraceful treatment of LGBT soldiers, sailors and air people before 2001 and the fact that those wrongs have not yet been put right. That report was given to the Government some three weeks ago now, and I understand that the Government have said they will produce it before the summer. Will they also answer the report at that time, will they give us a date for it and will there be an oral statement in this House, so we can quiz the Government on the report?

I will speak to my ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Defence who have received the report, and ensure that my hon. Friend receives a response.

Female-led Businesses

4. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help increase the number of female-led businesses. (905952)

I am working with Cabinet colleagues to harness the skills, innovation and talent of UK female entrepreneurs, and widen opportunities for the next generation of women setting up businesses. That is why we launched a women-led high-growth enterprise taskforce. Building on the work of the Rose review, it brings together some of the country’s most successful female entrepreneurs, led by the founder of Starling Bank, Anne Boden.

I thank the Minister for her answer. We have brilliant successful female entrepreneurs across Anglesey, including Laurel Knight at Medic 1, Lynne Farr at the Beaumaris Artisan Market, Helen Evans at the Amlwch Artisan Studio, and Jo Weir at Beau’s Tea Rooms. We also have some fabulous successful male entrepreneurs such as Celfyn and Emrys Furlong. They are supported by organisations such as Alison Cork’s Make It Your Business, the British Library’s Business and IP Centre, the Federation of Small Businesses Wales, and Small Business Saturday UK. How are this Government supporting those organisations to broaden their reach and empower even more fabulous female entrepreneurs?

My hon. Friend rightly mentions some of the highly successful initiatives led by entrepreneurs, male and female, across Anglesey, which we fully support. Those are exactly the sort of organisations that we like to see flourish across the UK. Just last week, I spoke to the women and enterprise all-party group, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey). That was attended by female entrepreneurs from across the country, who talked about how the Government are investing in women, and how the Rose review and the high-growth enterprise taskforce are having an impact on their lives and businesses.

Pathways, a new approach for women and enterprise, was commissioned by the Scottish Government. It has begun to implement, along with key stakeholders, including enterprise agencies, the Scottish National Investment Bank and private investors, ways to include under-represented parts of society in the business system. What steps are the UK Government taking to weave inclusivity through the business support system in a similar fashion to that in Scotland?

We believe that businesses are best placed to do that themselves, and we provide as much advice, guidance and support as possible. For example, the British Business Bank has led many schemes and initiatives to promote inclusivity in the workplace. However, if there is something specific where the hon. Gentleman thinks there is a gap in the market, I would be happy to hear about such an initiative.

Under the Conservatives, just 12% of executive directors of FTSE 250 companies are women—a gap that will not close until 2058 at the current rate. Women who want to go into business cannot wait for the Conservatives to get their act together. They need a new deal for working people, a review of the gender pay gap, and a menopause action plan in the workplace. That is Labour’s pro-business, pro-women plan to smash the glass ceiling and break down the barriers. Does the Minister have a plan?

I am afraid that the shadow Front-Bench spokeswoman is confusing all sorts of different things. FTSE directors are not the ones who need support getting into the workplace. She is talking about a menopause action plan, but we have had one, completed and delivered it, while Labour Members are just talking about bringing one in, which shows that they are not paying attention. We are the only ones who will be doing what is right to promote gender equality in the workplace.

Government Equalities Office: Policy Relating to Men

5. If she will hold discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of including policy relating to men on the list of Government Equalities Office responsibilities. (905954)

The Government are already taking action to improve outcomes for men and boys. For example, through the introduction of shared parental leave, men now have more opportunity to take time away from the workplace to care for their children. We continue to work closely across Government to embed equalities policies for both men and women.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but does she believe that there should be a Minister for Men, as there is a Minister for Women?

I thank my hon. Friend for his hard work in this space as chair of the all-party group on issues affecting men and boys. He knows—this is with my health hat on—of the work that we are doing to improve lung cancer outcomes for men, and about the suicide prevention strategy that will be coming forward; we know that middle-aged men are at particular risk. I reassure him that the Equality Hub has responsibility for both men and women to ensure equality for all, and I will speak to the Minister for Women and Equalities so that we can be clearer about how that work impacts on men.

Current legislation requires all public facilities to have sanitary bins in female and gender-neutral toilets. However, as highlighted by the Boys Need Bins campaign, hygiene bins need to be provided in men’s toilets. What steps is the Minister taking to introduce legislation that addresses that issue?

I reassure the hon. Lady that work is going on in that space. My ministerial colleagues from the Department for Work and Pensions are looking at this, and will be updating the House shortly.[Official Report, 17 July 2023, Vol. 736, c. 9MC.]

Gender and Racial Inequality in the Workplace

6. What steps the Government is taking to help tackle (a) gender and (b) racial inequality in the workplace. (905955)

9. What steps the Government is taking to help tackle (a) gender and (b) racial inequality in the workplace. (905958)

The Government have taken numerous steps to tackle gender and racial inequality in the workplace, as seen with the comprehensive actions outlined in our landmark “Inclusive Britain” strategy, as well as various initiatives to support women in the workplace. As outlined in our “Inclusive Britain” report, we are working towards a new voluntary inclusion confident scheme to support employers on clear, manageable advice on effective diversity and inclusion interventions.

Like most things in this place, this Government’s policy on parental leave is in the dark ages. Research by Pregnant Then Screwed shows that better-paid parental leave for all parents would bring better equality in the labour market, yet this Government seem dogged in their determination to stand still. Why are the Government blocking greater gender equality in the workplace?

I completely disagree with the hon. Lady. This Government have done more than any other to promote gender equality in the workplace, including bringing in policies such as shared parental leave. We have also brought in extended redundancy protection for those on maternity leave and introduced carer’s leave, and we are supporting legislation to strengthen the protections against harassment in the workplace.

A new report from the Fawcett Society shows the motherhood pay penalty and how mothers with two children take home 26% less income than women without children, impacting on a woman’s income and earning power throughout her working life. It compounds the effects of the ethnicity pay gap. Will the UK Government tackle that by making flexible working the default and introducing mandatory gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting?

We have just finished a private Member’s Bill that makes the right to ask for flexible working mandatory. That strikes the right balance for business, rather than making it mandatory for people to demand flexible working. Not every business can provide it, and it is not something that will improve equality in the workplace.

When I asked black and minority ethnic residents in Basingstoke about their experience at work, their responses were concerning. I have been working especially with our big local employers, the local education authority and the NHS to tackle the issues. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that public services are exemplars when it comes to race equality in the workplace?

If my right hon. Friend sees the work that we have put into our “Inclusive Britain” strategy, she will see that almost everything that is in action is about the public sector. There is so much we can do to promote racial equality in the workplace, but we need to do that fairly and transparently, as well as universally. The Equality Act 2010 protects characteristics, not groups. If she would like to work with me on any specific initiative, I would be keen to hear more from her about what she has been working on.

There are growing concerns about new technology such as artificial intelligence and automation software being used in recruitment and employment. Studies show that AI perpetuates bias across gender, race, age and disability, as well as dialect and regional differences of speech. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the equalities impact of AI use in recruitment and the workplace? Has she raised that with Cabinet colleagues?

Yes, I have raised it with Cabinet colleagues. In fact, I had a meeting with the Government chief scientific officer just last week on this issue. It is a concern that AI can embed bias, and that means we need to look at the datasets and large language models that are informing the AI being used. Equality impact assessments apply to the public sector equality duty, and much of AI is being done in the private sector. We will do our part, but I am keen to hear from Members about specific initiatives that they think can help.

Topical Questions

In February this year, we announced the STEM ReCharge pilot to support parents and carers back into science, technology, engineering and mathematics roles. Since then, we have recruited and trained the first cohort of engineering and technology returners in the midlands and the north of England. They have received personalised training and support to help to get them back into the workforce, and we are now recruiting a second cohort, who will use insight and lessons learned from the pilot to develop new guidance, so that STEM employers across the UK can benefit from the full wealth of the returning STEM group.

The summer holidays, which are approaching, see a spike in domestic abuse. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that people know there is help available? Will she lend her support to the campaign I am running in Basingstoke with the police and crime commissioner Donna Jones to help to make sure that victims of domestic abuse in north Hampshire know they are not alone and that there is help there?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is important that people know where to go for help when they have experienced domestic abuse. The Government are providing police and crime commissioners with dedicated ringfenced funding for at least 900 independent sexual violence and domestic abuse advisers and will fund an additional 100, bringing the total to more than 1,000 by 2025.

T2. The cost of living crisis disproportionately affects disabled constituents who are reliant on specialist diets and equipment and now face increased food and energy costs. Will the Minister confirm what cross-governmental action the Government can take to better support disabled constituents with those additional costs? (905975)

The Government recognise the challenges for disabled people and those with health conditions. The £150 disability cost of living payment should be seen as one part of the overall package. The benefits calculators on will help people to claim the wider benefits that are out there—that is just one of the payments.

T3. Last week, I hosted the Institute of Physics and its campaign to increase diversity in physics, which is the second most popular A-level for boys but only the 16th for girls. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to encourage more girls to study physics beyond GCSE? (905976)

Studying STEM A-levels such as physics can boost potential earnings and, with a growing demand for students with STEM qualifications in the jobs market, it is important that girls take that opportunity. We are therefore working with the Department for Education in funding the Inclusion in Schools project, which is designed to increase the uptake of A-level physics among students from under-represented groups, including girls.

T4.   Homelessness is on the rise, and it disproportionately affects young LGBT+ people. The youth LGBT+ homelessness charity Albert Kennedy Trust has reported a 58% increase in new referrals over the past four years. Will the Minister work with Cabinet colleagues to better understand the specific challenges that people in the community face with homelessness and look at what more can be done to support them? (905977)

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I am pleased to report that I have met colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and we have held a roundtable to discuss exactly those issues. One of the key elements, which we really need to do, is to gather the data so that we can better understand some of the causes and what the solutions might be to help those people.

T6. How many discussions has the Secretary of State had with Department for Education colleagues about forthcoming guidance on trans-identifying children? (905979)

I have been working closely with the Education Secretary, because it is important that we get the guidance for schools right. It must show schools how to be compassionate to pupils questioning their gender in a way that is compliant with the Equality Act 2010, including ensuring that single-sex spaces are maintained and the safety and wellbeing of all pupils is not compromised.

T5.   Conversion therapy should be banned entirely, not with a voluntary loophole, as this Government intend, which we know means that conversion therapy will be open to coercion. The loophole is so large that it will leave any Bill meaningless. Will the Minister commit to a full ban on conversion therapy, as supported by organisations such as Stonewall and Time for Inclusive Education in Scotland? (905978)

The hon. Lady raised some important points. That is exactly why we have taken considerable care to engage with a whole range of stakeholders to consider all the issues that need addressing. It is precisely because of those points that we are going for pre-legislative scrunty so that all of those issues can be looked at again, to ensure that we present the very best Bill to help people who are subject to these horrible crimes.

GambleAware figures show that the number of women seeking help for problem gambling doubled between 2015 and 2020, with up to 1 million women deemed to be at risk. Data also shows that women are less likely to participate in sports betting; instead, they are more active in online bingo and casino-style games. What work is my right hon. Friend doing with Cabinet colleagues to highlight the risk of online gambling, to reduce stigma and to help women seek treatment?

My hon. Friend raises a really important point. We recently published the gambling White Paper, in which we address a number of those issues. Stigma is a very important one. We want people to come forward and get the treatment they need. We are also introducing a statutory levy on gambling operators to ensure that we have the prevention and treatment needed to help those suffering with gambling harm.

T7.   Earlier this year, the Government cut almost £6 million of funding for a Save the Children programme providing education and other services to girls in Afghanistan, despite a promise to put women and girls at the heart of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s work. Will the Secretary of State work with colleagues at the Department to deliver on the Government’s commitment and reinstate that funding? (905980)

Educating girls is one of the top priorities under the British Government’s international development strategy—indeed, it is the way to change the world. Over the last five years for which figures are available, the British taxpayer procured a decent education for more than 8 million children in the poor world.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Oil Production and Domestic Energy Prices

Q1. Whether he has made an assessment of the impact of a potential reduction in oil production by Saudi Arabia and Russia on domestic energy prices. (905982)

I have been asked to reply.

Global oil prices have remained largely stable this year. This has not changed following the announcement of additional production cuts by Saudi Arabia and Russia. We expect that the impact of the cuts will be mitigated by the increase in supply from other producers and a decrease in global oil demand, as we have seen previously.

If we want to insulate ourselves from future price rises, we need to invest in a greener future. The United States gets it: it has committed $370 billion to net zero energy. The European Union gets it: it is set to match that figure. In Scotland, we get it. We have the ambition to lead the world on renewable energy. We have the energy but not the power. Why is Westminster trying to block Scotland’s path to a safer, greener future?

We of course will continue to invest in renewables, but I say to the Scottish National party that we should also invest in our energy independence, and that means investing in the North sea. If we fail to invest in the North sea, we will be more reliant on foreign producers and we will have higher carbon emissions as we import from elsewhere.


My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Vilnius, attending the NATO summit. It is an opportunity to build on the work we have done over the past year, strengthening NATO and supporting Ukraine. In addition to my meetings in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

New Labour’s old mantra was “Education, education, education.” Its new one seems to be “Tax education, tax education, tax education.” Does the Deputy Prime Minister share my disgust at Labour’s plans to tax education of choice, which could lead to 40,000 pupils being sent into the state sector, with a cost to the taxpayer? A number of English language schools in my constituency are concerned that this will also apply to them, as well as to out-of-hours tuition and sports training. Does the Deputy Prime Minister object to those measures as strongly as I do?

Once again, we have seen the Labour party putting the politics of envy above the interests of children in this country. As my hon. Friend rightly highlights, recent analysis shows that it could lead to over 40,000 pupils leaving the schools they are in, placing further burdens on existing schools and costing £300 million.

I know you are a keen historian, Mr Speaker, so I looked up the last time a Prime Minister missed two sessions in a row for other engagements. It was March 1996. I am very proud to be filling the boots of Lord John Prescott, but I think it is safe to say that the Deputy Prime Minister is no Heseltine. John Prescott asked, why is it that in Tory Britain, tens of thousands of families are facing repossession, negative equity and homelessness? Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us, 27 years later, why I am having to ask the same question?

Clearly, the right hon. Lady did not listen to my previous comments. The Prime Minister is at NATO. Of course, that would not be a problem if she had had her way. Her old boss wanted to abandon Ukraine, abolish the Army and withdraw from NATO, and he certainly would not be going to any summit. When it comes to house building, I will take no lectures from the Labour party on home ownership. My parents would not have been able to buy their own home if it were not for Margaret Thatcher and the reforms introduced by her Government, and this Government are building on those with record house building.

I think the right hon. Gentleman is taking lessons from the former Prime Minister on telling the facts. The last Labour Government worked hard to dramatically reduce the number of children in temporary accommodation, but under the Tories the number of homeless children has risen by 75%. I am proud of our record on tackling child poverty. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel ashamed of his?

I will tell the right hon. Lady what this Government have done: we have lifted 400,000 children out of child poverty; we have introduced the national living wage, something the Labour party totally failed to do; and we have increased the national living wage by the largest amount ever, meaning £1,800 for working people and cutting their taxes by doubling the personal allowance. That is the surest way to ensure we lift people out of poverty, and it would never have happened under the Labour party.

It is like the ghost of Prime Minister past. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that he should be careful about the stats he uses, because the Children’s Commissioner warned the other Prime Minister about peddling false narratives on child poverty around those figures. The truth is that rising bills, soaring mortgages and plummeting real wages are pushing more and more families to the brink. Those already struggling are being hit hardest by the Tory mortgage bombshell and rising food costs, so can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many primary school children have been pushed into poverty since his Government took power?

I say to the right hon. Lady that it was this Conservative party, not the Labour party, that extended free school meals to all five, six and seven-year-olds—something the Labour party failed to do—and that sits alongside many measures we are taking to help people with the cost of living. We paid half of families’ energy bills last winter, funded by our 75% windfall tax, and we are freezing fuel duty, helping families with childcare and delivering on our pledge to reduce the debt. It may come as a surprise to her, but balancing the books means more than working out how many more millions to take from her union paymasters.

Once again, the right hon. Gentleman talks about balancing the books. His party crashed the economy and he seems to be completely oblivious to what it is like for working people in this country at the moment. New research out today shows that 400,000 more primary school-age children are growing up in poverty since his Government came to office. Why does he think that is?

I will take absolutely no lectures whatsoever from the Labour party about how we help children in the most need. It is record investment from this Government in education—£2 billion more this year, £2 billion next year—which is giving those very children the best possible start in life, ensuring that we have the highest reading standards in the western world. I have to say to the right hon. Lady, her leader says he hates tree huggers, but they seem very keen on hugging that magic money tree.

The right hon. Gentleman does not even acknowledge that child poverty is rising, let alone explain why. What hope has he got of solving it? Let me try a simpler question: how many kids do not have a permanent address today compared with when Labour left office in 2010?

We can exchange all these numbers across the Dispatch Boxes, but these are the numbers that matter. There are 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty under this Government, 400,000 fewer children, 200,000 fewer pensioners and 1 million fewer people of working age, because the single best route out of poverty is a job, and record numbers of people—4 million more under this Government—have got a job. That is the difference between this Conservative party and the Labour party, which always leaves office with unemployment higher.

What matters is what people feel every single day at the moment—going to work yet they cannot afford their mortgage, their rent or their Bills, because of this Conservative Government. There are 55,000 more children without a permanent address today compared with when the Tories took office 13 years ago. We have gone from a Labour Cabinet focused on tackling child poverty to Tory Ministers who will not even admit the problem. Just as in March 1996, they can offer only excuses, not answers. John Prescott asked Michael Heseltine that day:

“How can the right hon. Gentleman be so complacent in the face of the sheer misery created by the Government’s policies?”—[Official Report, 5 March 1996; Vol. 273, c. 147.]

Twenty-seven years on, why are we asking the exact same thing?

I know there is an Opposition reshuffle coming up, but this audition for John Prescott’s old job is getting a little bit hackneyed. It is this Government who have lifted 400,000 children out of poverty. I hear the right hon. Lady claiming that Labour is the party of working people, but under their policies people cannot even get to work. They support Just Stop Oil protesters blocking our roads, they support their union paymasters stopping our trains, and of course they support the hated ultra-low emission zone stopping cars across our capital. While Conservatives get Britain moving, Labour stands in everyone’s way.

Q5. Given that the Mansion House compact does not encourage our pension funds to invest specifically in British companies, what more can the Government do to encourage greater investment in our companies, especially climate technology start-ups, which increasingly are going abroad to find the funding they require, to the benefit of our competitors? (905986)

My hon. Friend raises an important point about both start-up capital and ensuring that we get more money to high-growth companies. The Chancellor’s pension compact is a very important step forward, which will unlock £75 billion of additional investment. I am quite confident that large amounts of that will go to UK companies, and it sits alongside measures such as the Edinburgh reforms to financial services, which will help improve financial services in this country and unlock money for those industries.

Last month, the Deputy Prime Minister dismissed warnings from the SNP Benches that mortgage rates were nearly back to where they were after the disastrous mini-Budget. This week, mortgage rates have surpassed those levels. How high do they need to go before he and his Government take this seriously?

The hon. Lady knows—people around the world know—that the driver of higher mortgage rates is higher inflation, and higher inflation is caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and by the post-covid supply chains. What we have to do is make sure that we halve inflation. It is only by getting inflation under control that we will be able to get mortgage rates down, and that requires discipline—discipline on spending, on public sector pay and on energy supply, all of which are lacking from the SNP.

The Bank of England predicts that mortgage payments will rise by at least £500 for a million households. The Prime Minister says that people need to “hold their nerve”; the Chancellor said just last night that mortgage holders should just “shop around”. Speaking of his own party, the hon. Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) said:

“If the circus doesn’t stop by Christmas, it’s over”.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister understand that people cannot afford to wait until Christmas and that they need help right now?

The fundamental thing that we have to do is to halve inflation. That is an approach that the International Monetary Fund “strongly endorses”, because higher inflation drives higher mortgage rates. But that is not all we are doing: with the mortgage charter, signed up to by 90% of mortgage providers, we are giving people help to extend their terms, to go interest-only and to reduce their monthly payments. That action is supported by Martin Lewis, a real money-saving expert, unlike the big spenders on the SNP Benches.

Q6.   Last year, I visited Abbeyfield House in Wednesfield and was impressed by the model of assisted living for older people that gave them the independence of a self-contained flat but the ability to eat and socialise together. I was deeply concerned to hear that a consultation is under way to close Abbeyfield House in Wednesfield. I went back there to speak to older people, and they unanimously want to stay there. Abbeyfield is a charity—His Majesty the King has been a patron for 40 years now—and it cannot meet the cost of updating the estate to meet environmental standards. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to see what support the Government can offer to Abbeyfield so that residents do not have to leave the homes they love? (905987)

I am of course very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I note that we have provided £7.5 billion of additional funding for social care and discharge. On energy specifically, we have an energy advice service to support smaller businesses and we have been piloting new audit and grant schemes that may also help.

In January, Emily booked an appointment with her local dentist in Chard, Somerset, for 14 June, only to be told by a neighbour at the end of May that the surgery had closed in April. Emily no longer has a dentist, all the remaining surgeries are not taking on any new patients, and Emily does not know what to do, so will the Deputy Prime Minister tell Emily and millions of people like her when they can get an appointment with a local NHS dentist?

The right hon. Gentleman may have missed it, but our NHS workforce plan is investing an extra £2.4 billion into training and retaining crucial NHS staff, including dentists and GPs. The number of dentists will rise by 40%. I say to people across that constituency that the best way they can ensure better services for their NHS is to vote for Faye Purbrick, the Conservative candidate.

Q12. Will the Deputy Prime Minister let us know when we can expect allocations from round 3 of the levelling-up fund? When it comes, will it be true to the Prime Minister’s pledge that all parts of the country will benefit, including the south-east and, most particularly, the very deserving town of Andover? (905993)

As well as my right hon. Friend having been an excellent Minister, I know how committed he is to the town of Andover. We will shortly announce the new approach to the third round and further details will follow shortly.

Q3. There are things we encounter in political life that are certain to horrify, appal and sicken us, but I do not think I have ever seen anything quite so grotesque as the painting over of a children’s Mickey Mouse mural, as the Home Office did at a detention centre in Kent. No Minister has, so far, roused the necessary compassion or concern to speak out about this. Will the Deputy Prime Minister look into the deeper recesses of his soul and simply condemn it? (905984)

I will tell the hon. Gentleman what real compassion looks like: stopping the vile people-smuggling trade across the channel that is condemning women and children to death. This Government are taking action to deal with it through our “stop the boats” Bill, which the Scottish National party shamefully voted against 18 times last night.

Q13. As the party of aspiration, we know the importance of home ownership. According to a recent estimate by Barclays, it now takes eight years for the average first-time buyer to save for a deposit, and in parts of London and the south-east it can take longer. What are the Deputy Prime Minister and the Government doing to improve the prospects for younger people who want to own their own home? (905994)

I know my hon. Friend is passionate in championing this issue. Almost 850,000 households have been helped to purchase a home since 2010. In 2021, the number of people getting on to the property ladder for the first time was at a 20-year high, thanks to initiatives such as First Homes and the Help to Buy scheme. Of course, that stands in contrast to the Labour party, which oversaw the lowest level of house building since the 1920s.

Q4. With rising ticket prices, many of my constituents find they can get the best-value fare by going to the staffed ticket office at Lancaster station, which is perhaps why so many of them have signed my petition to save staffing at the station. Is the closure of ticket offices just yet another cost of living bombshell hitting my hard-working constituents? (905985)

It is important that the railways continue to reform after the record amount of money we gave them during covid. If the hon. Lady is concerned about her constituents getting anywhere on the railways, I gently say that she should condemn the totally unjustified strikes that close them down week after week.

Q15.   Four summers ago, the unprecedented climate change-driven heatwave caused irreparable damage to Chelmsford’s flyover. Since then, people from across Essex have been getting stuck in Chelmsford’s traffic jams, which are wasting time and hitting our economic growth. We badly need a new junction at the Army and Navy, but the funding decision has been stuck in Whitehall. Will my right hon. Friend use his cross-Cabinet convening power to get the Treasury and the Department for Transport to agree to the money so that we can deliver a new junction, stop the traffic jams and get Chelmsford moving again? (905996)

My right hon. Friend has been making a powerful case for this scheme, and she does so once again. The Chancellor is sitting next to me and will have heard her. I understand that the outline business case submitted by Essex County Council is being considered by Ministers right now, and all relevant Ministers will have heard her injunction.

Q7. Scottish Ambulance Service statistics show a more than 30% increase in hypothermic call-outs across Scotland last winter, including a staggering 84% increase in the north in December. Although fuel prices have fallen slightly, food and other costs have risen exponentially. To end the perversity of energy-rich Scotland seeing a third of Scots freezing in fuel poverty, when will the Government bring in a social tariff to ensure that the poor and vulnerable can get through this winter without calling out the ambulance service because they are freezing? (905988)

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in his autumn statement, we are exploring the best approach to consumer protection from April 2024 as part of wider retail market reforms. I reiterate that we paid half of energy bills in Scotland last winter, thanks to the strength of our Union.

May I remind the Deputy Prime Minister and the House that yesterday was National Remembering Srebrenica Day? May I particularly point out a little-known fact? British soldiers took about 2,000 civilians out of Srebrenica in April 1993. Those British soldiers were from B Squadron 9th/12th Lancers. It is not widely known, but, under my command, they saved a huge number of lives by taking those people out of Srebrenica. They, too, should be remembered for their very gallant actions, because it was very dangerous.

I pay tribute to my right hon. and gallant Friend and to all those whom he commanded in the 1990s. We must honour the memory of those killed, and pay tribute to the extraordinary courage shown by their families, survivors and all those members of our armed forces, who served so gallantly in that situation.

Q8. In the Welsh Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) asked the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about the varying comparability factors for Wales of Crossrail, Thameslink and HS2. His answer began:“you are dragging me into quite complex technical details.”Then, he gave no complex technical details. I am sure that the people of Wales would be delighted to tackle any complex technical details were the Deputy Prime Minister to explain to the House why we are paying £5 billion for a white elephant in HS2,which, by now, comes nowhere near our country. (905989)

It is thanks to the strength of our United Kingdom that record sums are going to Wales under the Barnett consequentials. Indeed, in the spring Budget we increased devolved Administration funding by £630 million, which included £180 million for the Welsh Government. We are ensuring that resources are going to Wales, so that they can enhance their transport infrastructure.

If it were not so serious, it would be comical, but in Horning on the Norfolk broads, a whole area is to be totally cut off from a mobile signal until—wait for it—August, because of nesting seagulls taking up residency in the new telecoms mast. Gulls are protected and the nest cannot be moved, but if a family holidaying on the broads gets into distress this summer, they will not be able to make an emergency call. That could be life-threatening, so will the Deputy Prime Minister please help me by calling on Natural England to be sensible and make sure that, for public safety reasons, we can get a mobile phone mast working in a prime holiday location?

We all love the diversity of wildlife in this country and particularly on the North Norfolk coast, which my hon. Friend represents. He makes a strong point about the balance between that and ensuring that people have access to modern communication facilities, and I shall certainly take that up with Natural England.

Q9. Day in, day out, the public and businesses are hit by endless chaos and confusion across Government Departments—for them, clearly, Britain is not working. Paraphrasing what the Deputy Prime Minister said earlier, we know there is a Government reshuffle coming up. So will he tell us: is this down to obstruction and incompetence in the civil service, or is it, rather, that so many of their Ministers are just not up to the job? (905990)

We can see from the record of this Government, whether on cutting NHS waiting lists, or on providing record funding for our schools and hospitals, that we have an excellent team who will continue to serve.

Last week, we all celebrated the 75th anniversary of the NHS, but hon. Members may not be aware that it is also the 75th anniversary of Newton Aycliffe, a new town in my constituency designed by William Beveridge. Will the Deputy Prime Minister ask the Prime Minister to come and visit me, as his constituency neighbour, and celebrate these 75 years, and indeed the 60 years of the community newspaper provided by the Howarth family?

I cannot speak to the Prime Minister’s diary, although I will make representations. I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency, if he wishes me to attend instead.

Q10. The day I had to phone my bank to tell it that I was having difficulty paying my mortgage was one that has lived with me for years. I found that because my income was so low at the time, ironically, I was not eligible to switch to an interest-only mortgage or get any help. I never want my constituents to feel the terror and abandonment that I felt that day. Can the Deputy Prime Minister understand that? The complete lack of empathy in his responses to the deputy leader of the SNP group suggests not. I welcome the temporary measures, but they are temporary. This mortgage crisis has been two years in the making. Do he and the Prime Minister really think they are going to fix it in 12 months? (905991)

It is deeply disturbing, upsetting and worrying for anyone to contemplate losing their home. That is exactly why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has introduced the mortgage charter, which 90% of the mortgage market has now signed up to and which will provide support to people. In addition, after three months, people on universal credit can apply for further support.

A Government survey has shown that 75% of British businesses support improvements to the UK’s sick pay system. Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) launched a report, alongside WPI Economics and the Centre for Progressive Change, with ideas about how that could be done. Will my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister ensure that we get a meeting with the Chancellor, ahead of the autumn Budget, to see what ideas can be developed? They could provide an economic boost of £4 billion to the UK economy.

As ever, my hon. Friend has made a strong case. The Chancellor is sitting next to me and I am quite sure he would be delighted to meet with him.

Q11. The forced isolation of people in care homes or hospitals from their loved ones from the beginning of the pandemic, and its terrible consequences, as well as the many who died alone, has left a profound trauma. We have learned the hard way that the care of a loved one is not an optional extra; it is an essential part of dignified care. My Care Supporters Bill would guarantee that fundamental right. While the Government recognise that there is a problem, their recently announced consultation relates to visiting and not a legal right to a care supporter at all times. Would the Deputy Prime Minister speak to the Prime Minister about bringing forward legislation in the next King’s Speech? (905992)

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the need for care supporters to be able to have that kind of access. I will take away the points he has raised, and raise them with my ministerial colleagues.

Mr Speaker, you know the value of inter-parliamentary relations and, in particular, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which was founded nearly 135 years ago in this place. We are honoured this week to be joined by the president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Mr Duarte Pacheco. Would my right hon. Friend join his campaign to get the USA to rejoin this important international organisation?

As my right hon. Friend knows, the United Kingdom was a founding member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I would very much like the United States to rejoin and I am happy to help make that case.

Q14. Not a day goes by without serious sexual harassment allegations in organisations up and down the country. My private Member’s Bill on workplace protections from harassment could go a long way to address some of these serious issues. Indeed, the Bill has full Government support. It is currently stuck in the other place, but a compromise is now in sight, so that the Bill can pass through the House of Lords. Our rules require that any amendment made in the House of Lords needs to come back to the House of Commons. Will the Deputy Prime Minister ensure that a small amount of Government time is made available in this place, between now and the end of the parliamentary Session, to ensure that this important Bill will become law? (905995)

As the hon. Lady knows, we have supported the Bill and we are working on it. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the measures further.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not know whether you are as shocked as I am, but the Deputy Prime Minister had the opportunity to correct the record today after he misled the House on 7 June. He failed to do so.

Mr Speaker, the Deputy Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House, but did not come to correct the record, even though we had made it clear that he had done so. I refer to the idea of £28 billion costing mortgage payers £1,000 a year. The only place that that appeared was in the Daily Mail. He is disrespecting you, Mr Speaker. He is disrespecting Parliament and the House and, according to the ministerial code, he should now resign. Mr Speaker, can you advise me on this? He is in breach of the ministerial code—how can I ensure that he resigns?

I thank the hon. Member for giving me notice of her point of order. As I said last week, the responsibility lies with the Minister to make any necessary correction to the record. It is on the Government to look at themselves. If the ministerial code is not being adhered to, I really think that the rules need to be looked at again so that Ministers—do not forget that elections change Ministers as well—ensure that this House hears the facts. I will leave it at that.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a related point of order. I wrote to the Prime Minister on 17 January to ask him to support my Elected Representatives (Codes of Conduct) Bill, which aims to restore confidence and trust in politics and politicians by, among other things, allowing the independent adviser on ministerial standards to commission their own inquiries. Unfortunately, I have still had no response from the Prime Minister. I followed this up with a letter on 9 June, which included a series of questions about the process by which he decided not to ask his independent adviser to undertake an inquiry into the Home Secretary in relation to her allegedly pressurising officials to assist her with a speeding offence.

I appreciate that we are about a week from recess, so I wonder whether you can advise me, Mr Speaker, on how I can get a timely response from the Prime Minister?

First, let me thank the hon. Member for giving me notice of her point of order. As she will know, this is not a matter for the Chair, but there are clear expectations that correspondence from hon. Members will be dealt with within a reasonable timeframe. I stress that Members deserve early replies on behalf of their constituents. It is the constituents who put MPs in this House. I do not mind which part of the Chamber they come from, but I expect Ministers, who all seem to want the job, to take the job seriously and ensure that hon. Members get the replies in due time.

I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench are making a key note of this to ensure that that reply will be here before the House rises. I am sure, as I know the hon. Member, that she will remind me before the House is up if that reply has not arrived. None the less, I stress that it is time that this Government respect Members from all parts of this House. It is becoming apparent that they are disrespectful and it is not acceptable.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to correct the record. During yesterday’s debate on the Illegal Migration Bill, I inadvertently said that the Minister had reminded us that we had taken 550 million refugees since 2015. It was an obvious error. I want to put it on the record that what I meant to say was that the Minister had reminded us that we had taken 550,000 refugees since 2015—a number of which we can still be proud.

I thank the hon. Member for giving notice of her point of order. I am also grateful that she has come forward to correct the record. I hope that she has set an example for others to follow. I thank her for that.

Primary Care Services (Report)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to appoint an independent reviewer to prepare a quarterly report containing an assessment of primary care services; to require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament each report prepared by the independent reviewer; to require such reports to include the independent reviewer’s assessment of any measures taken to improve general practice services, dental services, community pharmacy services, optometry services, and mental health services; and for connected purposes.

Primary care services across the country are in crisis. People cannot get a GP appointment when they need one, some pharmacies are closing, people are resorting to DIY dentistry, and waiting lists for mental health appointments are sky high. The Government point to their recent long-term workforce plan as evidence that they are taking action, but that plan is only partially funded and will do nothing to increase staff levels now. Perhaps if the Government had not spent a year whipping their MPs to vote against any attempts to put a workforce plan into law, they might have made some progress, but we are where we are and it is legitimate for the British public to expect a Government who can plan for the long term while taking more immediate measures.

To be blunt, it is clear to me that MPs on both sides of the House are losing patience and are worried about the lack of urgency and action from the Government in fixing the front door to our NHS. The Bill seeks to force the Government to come clean about the challenges facing primary care health services specifically, such as GPs and dentists, by appointing an independent reviewer to report on the state and condition of primary care services every three months so that we can hold the Government’s feet to the fire on progress.

The Bill cannot come soon enough for patients. Let me start by detailing some of the urgent problems in GP services using a story that I have received from Gareth in Wimbledon. One morning recently, Gareth developed sudden loss of vision in the entire left field in both eyes, rendering him partially blind. Gareth tried to get an appointment with his GP, but due to a lack of appointments that day and a non-existent online booking system, he was instructed to call at 8 am the following morning. It was not until the next day that he managed to get an urgent referral for a brain MRI scan, which confirmed that Gareth had suffered a small stroke. With all strokes, the first 72 hours are critical to reduce the chance of subsequent strokes. His GP was undoubtedly dealing with hundreds of other urgent cases that day, but for Gareth, losing 24 hours due to a lack of capacity at his local GP could have been catastrophic. That is the real-world impact of the Government’s failure to recruit and retain GPs, and their failure to invest in IT infrastructure.

Let us remember that back in 2019 the Government promised to deliver 6,000 more GPs. Not only did they break that promise, but the number of fully qualified GPs has fallen by more than 900 since they made it. Those falling numbers have hit some areas harder than others. In places such as Somerset, the falling number of GPs is causing a shortage of appointments. Indeed, the number of GPs has fallen by 50 since 2016 in the area, and the number of patients per GP has increased by a massive 400. Shockingly, that is far higher than in the vast majority of England. In my county of Hertfordshire, there are now 2,203 patients per GP. I have heard from Denise, who spent the best part of the day on hold before giving up and trying the online booking system, which again turned out to be non-existent. While she was on hold for hours on the phone to her GP, by contrast it took just two minutes for Denise to book an online appointment at Specsavers. Everybody knows that the technology exists; it just has not been funded for our GP services.

All that is why the Liberal Democrats have pledged to ensure that we will have 8,000 more GPs working in the system within five years, with a campaign not only to train and recruit but to retain experienced practitioners. With that expanded workforce, everyone could see their GP within seven days for a first appointment.

However, it is not just the number of staff that is putting pressure on GP services. The Royal College of General Practitioners’ recent infrastructure report showed that 40% of general practice staff say their premises are not fit for purpose. Even when integrated care boards want to spend money on primary care infrastructure in city centres, for example, outdated Treasury rules do not allow them to—something that is happening in my St Albans constituency, and which I raised in this Chamber again just yesterday. Putting retention measures in place, accelerating improvements in IT infrastructure, fixing outdated treasury rules on investment in primary care infrastructure are just three of the challenges in general practice on which an independent reviewer could report progress to this House every three months until they are fixed.

In dentistry, too, we see Government incompetence at work. Last year, there was a £400 million underspend on the NHS dentistry budget, despite millions of people needing an appointment and thousands of dentists wanting to provide NHS care. It is absurd. Why are we in this position? Because the contract that the Government offers NHS dentists is so badly designed that dentists will not take it on, as they lose money on NHS dental treatment.

The Liberal Democrats have been calling for reform of the NHS dental contract so that it encourages and incentivises dentists to take on NHS patients, meets patient need and demand rather than arbitrary targets and finally puts an end to dental deserts. Just yesterday, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) forewarned the Government that the Health and Social Care Committee, which he chairs, would be publishing its findings on NHS dentistry, and said that they would make for “uncomfortable reading”.

Again, locally, in places such Somerset, the real-world impact is that there is now only one dentist delivering NHS dental service for every 1,773 people. Somerset is among the 10 areas of England that have seen the biggest rise in patients per dentist since 2015, with each dentist now seeing more than 200 additional people.

However, what is truly an outrage is that tooth decay remains the most common reason for hospital admission among young children. It is a question not just of getting children the care they need, but of good use of public funds. The cost of treating a child for tooth decay in hospital far exceeds that of regular check-ups. Supervised tooth brushing training for children and removing the value added tax on children’s toothbrushes and toothpaste, as the Liberal Democrats have called for, would make a huge difference and cost next to nothing in comparison with dental surgery. Those are things the Government could be getting on with right now.

Of course, we know that community pharmacies are in crisis too, and we can see the impact that is having. For example, Peter from Winchester used to go to the pharmacy in Sainsbury’s until this year, when it was closed. The location was perfect, with plenty of space to park, and was easily accessible for disabled people. Now it is closed, Peter must take a special hour-long round trip to the next pharmacy, along heavily congested roads to a car park on a hill with only one disabled parking bay. As someone who is mobility impaired, his access to pharmacy services has been severely limited and his independence curtailed as a direct result of the pharmacy closures now taking place across the country.

This situation is completely unsustainable. The Government cannot just do a Dorothy; they cannot just click their heels together, say “Deliver, deliver, deliver”, and expect that GP and dental services will magically improve. They need to do things, they need to make decisions and they urgently need to improve primary care for patients right around the country. This Bill would in effect be a forcing mechanism, which would enable MPs every three months to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on their actions—or their inaction—on fixing the front door to our NHS. Given the crisis facing our primary care services, it cannot come soon enough.

Question put and agreed to.


That Daisy Cooper, Wera Hobhouse, Tim Farron, Richard Foord and Munira Wilson present the Bill.

Daisy Cooper accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 352).

Opposition Day

[20th Allotted Day]

Automotive Industry

I beg to move,

That this House recognises that the automotive industry is the jewel in the crown of British manufacturing and believes it can have a bright future creating good jobs for people across the UK; regrets that after 13 years of Conservative neglect the UK risks losing this world-class industry, putting thousands of jobs under threat; condemns the Government for its lack of an industrial strategy and the negative impact this has had on investment in the UK’s automotive sector; calls on the Government to urgently resolve the rules of origin changes which are due to take effect in 2024, working with partners across Europe to negotiate a deal that works for manufacturers; and further calls on the Government to adopt an active industrial strategy to build the battery factory capacity needed to secure the automotive sector for decades to come.

It is a real pleasure to open this debate on an issue that I know is close to the hearts of many colleagues and constituents. Many Members present represent some of the most iconic names in UK automotive production. For me, it is very much an issue of huge personal significance. Sunderland, where I grew up, is of course renowned not just for its wonderful football team but for the tremendous success of the Nissan plant. I am very proud to say that many friends from my childhood still work in that plant. Of all the great businesses that I get to visit, that is one of my absolute favourites, and I know that colleagues will feel just as strongly about the parts of the automotive industry that they and their constituencies are associated with.

That industry is full of skilled and committed workers, innovation, export success and huge growth potential. However, we have called this Opposition day debate because even the most ardent defender of the Government could not fail to be worried about the health of the sector as it stands. The British car industry should and could be booming, as should the wider automotive sector, yet production has slumped by over a third under the Conservatives. There are huge concerns about a series of major policy failures, including domestic battery production facilities, trade barriers post Brexit, and higher energy costs and other supply chain issues. Although this is an Opposition day debate, I know that those concerns are shared widely across the House, and I hope that, by having this debate, we are able to express the clear political commitment of this House to that crucial sector.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the world-class Toyota engine plant in my constituency that produces the highest-quality hybrid engines—one of the first plants outside Japan to do so. Does he agree that hybrid is part of the solution, not, as the Government think, part of the problem?

I do not know whether I am supposed to declare an interest, but I drive a Toyota hybrid myself—I have a large family and have to get between Manchester and London, and that is a pretty sound option for doing so. I am aware of the issue that my hon. Friend raises, as is the shadow Transport Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). We must be careful to ensure that there is certainty so that that transition we are all seeking can happen. I know that there are particular issues relating to that sector and that side of the industry. We are alert to those issues, and we will, of course, work with him, his constituents and the expertise in this country and beyond to ensure that that timescale is done properly. For many people seeking to make the transition—we are seeing a huge response from the public on that—that is the option that is currently available, particularly for families. We must bear in mind that the solution has to be something that works for all our constituents, and we must be cognisant of their concerns. I am grateful to him for raising that point at this stage of the debate.

I worry at times that the Government, and maybe especially the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, do not have a great deal of time for industry at all. Artificial intelligence, tech and financial services are all crucial sectors, but we should not for one moment think that there is no role for industry. Nor should we ever believe that there is a false choice between services and manufacturing. Support for the automotive sector is not nostalgia. Many of the plants that we will talk about in the debate are the lifeblood of their communities, providing good work and good wages. However, just as in other crucial industries—steel is another good example—I get no sense that securing the long-term future of the sector and managing the transition to a low-carbon economy are priorities for the Government.

That is not just the view of the Labour party; it is what industry itself has been telling the Government. Mike Hawes of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said at its recent conference:

“We…need a…response urgently”.

Stellantis has warned that:

“If the cost of EV manufacturing in the U.K. becomes uncompetitive and unsustainable, operations will close.”

The automotive industry faces a series of challenges that must be taken seriously. The rules of origin, which are due to come into force from January next year, will require 45% of a vehicle’s value to be made in the UK or the EU or a 10% tariff will be imposed that will destroy most profit margins entirely. Of course, those requirements increase significantly over time. We have a lack of progress on battery manufacturing; Germany already has 10 times the battery-making capacity of the UK. We have wider business challenges, including the highest industrial energy costs in the G7, and rising inflation and borrowing costs.

However, what we have seen from other countries is that none of those challenges is insurmountable. Other countries are pulling ahead. China is home to numerous battery giants such as CATL and BYD, while the United States famously has Tesla. But the EU has also ramped up battery production through initiatives such as the European Battery Alliance and how has 35 battery factories in place. In contrast, the UK is yet to develop a robust battery manufacturing sector, which makes us heavily reliant on imports and risks the long-term presence of automotive production in this country.

I think we all recognise that, over time, vehicles will be built where the batteries are made, not the other way around. We will never be able to match the sheer fiscal firepower of the US Inflation Reduction Act, but we do have advantages—competitive advantages on workforce and skills, and on research and development—and if we had a Government with sufficient political commitment, the future could be very bright indeed.

Last month, I visited the new Caterham Cars production plant in my constituency, to which the company has had to move because its production is insufficient to meet the demand that it has at the moment. It will take on more employees and apprentices, and it will manufacture more of the vehicles for which it is famous. I remind the shadow Secretary of State that that expansion in the industry has happened under a Conservative Government. Does he welcome that news?

I am incredibly happy to welcome that news and the positive story that the hon. Member sets out, but I do not think that any of the success that he has seen detracts from the fact that there are significant policy challenges. The overall number of vehicles has declined, as he will know, and yes, the pandemic and the semi-conductor supply chain issues happened, but that does not remove the need for this House to take seriously the rules of origin, the battery-making capacity and so on. We are not in any way on track. There is also, frankly, the international competitive position. Other countries are simply indicating that they want those industries and that investment much more than we do. It is not so much that the Conservative party has turned up to a gunfight with a knife, but that it is not showing up to the fight at all.

What we need is a plan of action. That is what the Labour party has developed, and it is what we want the chance to implement should we form the next Government. Our plan addresses battery capacity and charging infrastructure, as well as key issues such as planning and grid regulation. We are up front about the challenges that we face, but we are ambitious for the future. Frankly, that is nothing short of what is required. Our plan starts with having an active industrial strategy. I know that some Conservatives do not like that kind of terminology, but I say simply that all countries need an industrial strategy. To go back to the example of Nissan, that was part of an explicit strategy—by even Margaret Thatcher’s Government—to attract automotive expertise to the UK. The absence of any coherent modern industrial strategy is hurting investment into the UK.

Other countries are simply pushing ahead, recognising that the challenges that we are facing have to be met nationally by Governments with skin in the game. Industry is crying out, first, for stability, and secondly, for a partner and some clear policy signals. That is exactly what it will get from a Labour Government. That is why we have said that we would put the new Industrial Strategy Council on a statutory footing, giving some reassurance that the instability of the Conservative years is at an end.

Our green prosperity plan will part-fund the battery-making gigafactories that are so essential to our future. That will be catalytic public investment to unlock the much greater sum of private investment we need. The reality is that no battery factory in the world has been developed without that kind of Government commitment. We know that the Government are in talks with some firms about potential investment decisions, and I say in good faith to Ministers, “That is good. We want you to succeed.” Where those companies need assurances from the Opposition should a change of Government occur, we will of course have those talks. However, it would be far better and a far better deal for the taxpayer to make those offers publicly, and to be negotiating with a range of potential partners to get the best deals for Britain, because domestic battery production is so important.

Could the shadow Minister clarify how many gigafactories this Government have enabled to be built in the UK?

I am more than happy to. My hon. Friend will know that we currently have one facility, which is the Envision facility at Nissan in Sunderland. The overall number will depend on how big those factories are, but broadly we will need three to four in the interim, and by 2040 we will need eight to 10.

Germany, for instance, already has four to five gigafactories up and running. A further four are almost up and running, and it is in talks for a further advance on that position. The sense is that Germany is genuinely 10 times ahead of us in that capacity, and while people might think, “Well, Germany is a country with incredible automotive history, reputation and strength”, there are other countries that we are already losing out to. Spain, for instance, has a very active industrial strategy when it comes to the automotive sector, and eastern Europe has had tremendous success in that area. Because automotive is about regional markets, simply seeing what other countries are doing will have huge consequences for the potential for investment in this country. Crucially, we should be playing to the UK’s strengths in areas such as research and development, like the fantastic programmes at the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Warwick, which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley and I were able to visit recently.

My hon. Friend has rightly talked about producing batteries, but the position with hydrogen is very similar: if we look at what Germany is doing, particularly with buses and bigger vehicles, we are years behind. We really need to invest in that area.

I thoroughly agree—the scale of ambition that I see around the world daunts me when I compare it with this Government’s ambition. There are some incredibly exciting technologies out there, including sodium-ion batteries that would reduce our dependence on lithium and almost certainly cut costs in battery production. Hydrogen is clearly going to be extremely exciting, as are fuel cells, and there are markets for off-road vehicles that could be huge potential markets for the UK. We should also not forget buses: that is an area in which new technology could contribute to things like cleaner air, as well as better transport.

Does the shadow Minister agree that on top of battery innovation and hydrogen innovation, the UK is leading in another field: that of synthetic fuels? However, giving the automotive sector a really strong future in this country involves a whole-system analysis, not just of how the vehicle is manufactured but how the energy that will run it is manufactured. That involves looking again at the zero tailpipe standards that are coming in, because if we have that whole-system analysis, we will get to green technology and greener transport but with a whole-picture effect.

I agree with part of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I agree about the whole-system analysis: many parts of the decarbonisation journey that industry will need to take on will be a much bigger question than simply unplugging one form of old fossil fuel technology and plugging in another. For instance, the steel industry will have to think about scrap if it is to make the conversion to electric arc furnaces; and if we are to move towards synthetic fuels, we will clearly have to look at where the feed stocks are coming from.

However, one of the most defining features of the past 13 years—I say this without any kind of partisanship—has been a series of very ambitious targets from this Government in areas that relate to decarbonisation, but with no real means to deliver them. That target is then pulled away, and confidence in the British state to decarbonise falls apart. I am thinking particularly about the famous “cut the green crap” comments from the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, regarding home insulation. When we talk about changing existing Government policy, we should not underestimate just how little confidence the international business community has in this Government’s promises at times. Broadly, the approach has been very ambitious targets but with no means to actually deliver them, which undermines the case.

My hon. Friend is making a very effective speech. As he is talking about targets, will he come on to the roll-out of charging points? My constituency has three motorways in it and incredibly high levels of pollution. We need to remove all the barriers, both to net zero and to reducing that pollution. Does my hon. Friend agree that constituencies in the north such as mine need that situation addressed? It is shameful that, as I understand it, more chargers were installed in Westminster this year than across the whole of the north of England. We in the north have those issues of pollution, and we need to move faster in addressing them. My hon. Friend may be planning to come on to that point, but it is an important one.

I am incredibly grateful to my hon. Friend for making those points. The approach of the Front Bench—from her, from me on industrial policy, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley on transport policy—must bring those two things together. We need the policies in place that will make this country a world leader in the production of vehicles and ensure that it also works for consumers. She raises the fact that there are more charging points in Westminster—I know my hon. Friend’s constituency, which is not far from mine—and the difference between comparable parts of this country, north and south, in the level, density and availability of chargers is unthinkable, let alone in comparison with Norway, for instance. Not only do we not have enough chargers but grid, maintenance and connection issues often mean they are out of order. I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that when we as a shadow Cabinet and a potential Government think about these issues, both vehicle production and consumers are paramount. Clearly, consumers want to purchase electric vehicles—that is the growth part of the market—but too often we do not have the infrastructure in place. It cannot be some form of novelty. I have driven electric vehicles around Greater Manchester when it was something of a novelty—I could get access to chargers and, at times, preferential parking spaces near Deansgate, which is no small thing—but for mass market usage, neither the policies nor the infrastructure are yet in place. That needs to be widely recognised.

On the international trade position, it was always imperative to have a domestic battery industry, but it has become an existential issue because of the Government’s approach to our trading relationship with the EU. As discussed in relation to regional export markets, eight in 10 vehicles made in the UK last year were exported, so it is widely recognised that the impending cliff edge in the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU on rules of origin is a serious challenge to the future of the sector in the UK. The Government have been far too slow to realise the scale of that danger, and while they may promise that a deal is coming soon, I am afraid that “soon” cannot come soon enough. Major UK manufacturers including Stellantis, Jaguar Land Rover and Ford have all warned that a failure to reach a deal would cost jobs in the UK.

It has been two and a half years since the trade and co-operation agreement was formally signed. That is precious time that could have been used to plan and prepare, but those are two words that this Government often fail to understand. What have they done in that time? They have not secured investment in battery capacity. They have not improved our relationship with our biggest export market, and they certainly have not worked with industry to find solutions.

We know that a breakthrough is needed, and we would use our plans to make Brexit work to ensure that the rules of origin work for British manufacturers. We cannot achieve a compromise without working with our partners in Europe, and I believe that only Labour can be that good-faith partner. Our plan to invest in battery capacity, alongside compromises on the rules of origin, is the sensible way forward to meet our climate objectives and trade obligations and retain our industrial base.

We will make the UK a clean energy superpower by 2030, with net zero carbon electricity lowering costs for the UK car industry by no longer leaving UK industry prone to the volatility of international gas prices, alongside better grid connections and planning reform to ensure that “made in Britain” does not become a thing of the past. That is the prospectus for action we need. Right now, this country needs some optimism. The mantra of this Government—that this is as good as it gets—is as depressing as it is wrong.

There is a news report about a new global company being launched by the French motor giant Renault and the Chinese manufacturer Geely that will invest €7 billion here, creating 19,000 jobs. Is that not exactly the kind of optimism Conservative Members talk about?

I think those companies must have seen the opinion polls and are wondering whether a Labour Government are coming, if there is as positive news as that could be. I would simply say to all Conservative Members that, on any aspect of industrial policy, there is too often on their side a desire to pick individual stories or statistics and try to pretend that substantial and significant issues do not exist. If we talk to anybody reasonably objective in this sector, they will point out—on battery production, rules of origin, charging infrastructure, industrial energy prices—that there are real challenges and they require some serious engagement from the other side, which to date has not been forthcoming.

I would like to add to that comment—my hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, by the way—what was said at the industry conference held by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders a couple of weeks ago. The industry was speaking as one, and I am afraid it was critical of the Government, saying, “All these years on, remember that Baldrick at least had a cunning plan. Sadly, the Government don’t.”

I followed that conference very closely—my hon. Friend the shadow Transport Secretary spoke at the conference, and I have spoken at that conference in the past—and that was absolutely the sentiment. Perhaps humility does not come easily to Conservative MPs, but I ask them to take on board those genuine views from the industry on the situation we find ourselves in.

The automotive sector could be a practical illustration of the transition to new jobs and new opportunities that we all want to see. We have laid out our plan for the sector. Some Conservative colleagues may disagree, but let us have from them some alternative proposals, because the status quo will not do. Our motion is a plan to deliver £30 billion in economic growth in the parts of the country that need it most. It is a plan that could create 80,000 additional jobs—good jobs of the kind that people can raise their family on. It is a plan for Britain that would mean we once again lead the pack and feel confident for the future. I believe the choice is clear—a plan under Labour or further decline under the Conservatives—and I think we all know whom the public would prefer behind the wheel.

What a disappointing opening speech. There was an opportunity to praise, promote and protect the automotive sector—and to talk about all the positive news stories—but all we have heard for the last 10 or 15 minutes was the automotive sector being talked down. I appreciate that the timing of this debate has not gone well for the Opposition: as my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) mentioned, today we have heard about the Renault Group and Geely having chosen the UK as the headquarters of a new company developing ultra low emission engines and potentially investing billions of pounds in the UK—up to €7 billion. That shows not only the confidence of the automotive sector, but its commitment to the UK, and these are the opportunities or the stories we should be talking about.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) constantly referenced the SMMT statistics, but he forgot to mention the ones he should have reported at the Dispatch Box so that we could once again promote how healthy and dynamic the automotive sector is. Car production in Britain rose for a fourth straight month in May. The SMMT has confirmed that a total of 79,046 cars rolled out of the factory gates a few months ago, which is an increase of more than 26%. Passenger car numbers are boosted by a greater appetite for hybrid electric motors built in Britain. The bosses at the SMMT have said that, while there have of course been challenges around the world, manufacturers have

“defied the challenging economic backdrop to fulfil customer demand for the latest British-built models, at home and overseas,”

so that manufacturing and production are indeed up.

This is a positive news story, and any opportunity we have to speak about the automotive sector should be positive, not negative or all about political point scoring. This is a serious topic and a serious industry. I know the hon. Gentleman is keen to be very ideological within the Westminster bubble, but I would suggest he steps a little outside it. I know my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), who is a champion for Toyota, which has the largest manufacturing plant in her constituency, would welcome a visit by Labour Members so they can see how the sector is booming just in her constituency. There are over 2,000 people working at the plant in South Derbyshire and involved in the supply chains, and 80% of the cars manufactured are exported to Europe. Exports are up, by the way, which I will get on to. Toyota continues to innovate and it is at the forefront of producing hybrid cars. It has been cutting emissions for over a decade and takes net zero seriously, having energy from solar panels all around the plant. The point she would want to make is, “Get out of the Westminster bubble, visit South Derbyshire, see what is happening at Toyota”—and at many other firms, as I will go on to say—“and you will see the work is going well.” Our job is to protect, promote and praise, not to talk the sector down.

It is all very well and good talking about optimism, but does the Minister accept the reality facing the automotive industry in the UK today, and the stark warnings given by Stellantis about future job losses if the Government do not sort out the rules of origin problems?

I want to state for the record—and for the hon. Lady, who was obviously sitting there while I was speaking—that that was not optimism. Those were the facts and figures promoted not by Government, but by industry representatives. I had a meeting with Stellantis recently. We know that a number of challenges are reflected globally, not just in the UK, such as being able to recruit into the sector. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde missed another opportunity to talk about the fantastic jobs that are available. Of course, on rules of origin, that is an issue not just in the UK; it is an issue for lots of other countries that want to export and import, too.

The Minister talked about the importance of the Toyota factory. In my constituency, I have the engine plant, which produces quality hybrid engines. Why are this Government opposed to hybrid engines?

This Government have a strong mandate to reach net zero and the consultation has just taken place on said mandate. The right hon. Member will know that I have been spending a lot time with the automotive sector, including taking delegations to meet the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who will be overseeing that. My job—I also chair the Automotive Council—is to champion business, and on occasion to try to remove all the barriers it needs removed for it to manufacture more and export more. I know that the Transport Minister will be speaking more about that later.

I will get on to all points the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde raised, but he mentioned growing up in Sunderland. Just for the record—I can see there is a Birmingham MP here, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood)—I grew up in Birmingham very close to a car plant that employs many members of my family, including my brother Nasim, so this sector is very close to my heart. I have been told not to make any football jokes about Birmingham and Sunderland at this point; I will leave that for the final speech.

Is it on a football point, because I will not be able to handle that? If it is not on a football point, I will take the intervention.

This point is not about football; it is about the debate. To pick up on the Minister’s analysis, she is correct on the statistics she gave about the UK market. She will know that we started from a pretty poor base post the pandemic and that our production was particularly hit, but other countries recovered better. It is an international market that is fighting for investment—I am sure she will accept that—and that is why it is of concern.

It is an international market that is fighting for supply chains. The SMMT was clear that, when manufacturing production was low, that was down to access to products and critical minerals, which I will come on to. As well as taking care of the industry, I am responsible for critical minerals and for supply chains. We are working with the industry, which I met just this morning, to put together a supply chain import strategy, which will be out in the autumn. We need to get a number of things right to make it even easier for the sector to do even better than it already is, but it is in a really good place and I will go on to mention some of the facts and stories about that.

The sector is indeed a jewel in the crown of our economy. It is vital, because of where it is based across the country, to supporting the levelling-up agenda, net zero and advancing global Britain. Our automotive industry employs 166,000 people, adds over £70 billion to the UK economy and is our second largest exporter of goods. The UK is proud to be home to major global manufacturers such as JLR, Nissan, Stellantis, Toyota, BMW and Ford. But that is not the whole of the UK’s automotive eco-system: we have a lot more to be proud of, from our luxury and performance sector, including Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, McLaren and Lotus, to heavy goods vehicles and buses, such as Leyland Trucks, Wrightbus, Alexander Dennis and Switch, as well as the future of mobility, encompassing connected and autonomous vehicles. Those manufacturers are supported by a diverse, resilient and growing UK supply chain that spans a wide range of components and includes companies such as Bosch, NSK, Meritor and Swindon Pressings. These are valued partnerships, and the sector knows that my Department for Business and Trade is the Government’s first port of call to help businesses grow and flourish, and to create jobs, apprenticeships and opportunities around the country.

I thank the Minister for being generous with her time. All the manufacturers that she mentioned face a cliff edge in January 2024, with the 10% tariff. What are the Government going to do about it? It is desperate in terms of those jobs in our communities.

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the rules of origin tariff. That is why we are working hard and negotiating with the EU, and working with our partner representative groups within the EU, so that they can be lobby as well. This is not just an issue in the UK. This is a European issue too, and we are making sure that those voices are heard loud and clear with our partners across Europe.

I have a specific question for clarity: have the Government formally requested a reopening of the rules of origin for 2024?

The Government are working hard to share the challenges that will be faced by all manufacturers in Europe, not just the UK, when it comes to importing and exporting vehicles. This is not just a UK issue, and it is important that not just we but our counterparts in Europe make these arguments loud and clear to the EU. I recently met SMMT and asked that its sister bodies do the same where they reside in European countries, to ensure that those arguments are heard loud and clear.

As I said, there is huge diversity of companies within the supply chain and manufacturing of all automotive vehicles, and the UK has a full automotive eco-system across the UK. The sector is here because it recognises the UK’s unique strengths. Our engineers are world class—it is not for nothing that six out of a total of 10 Formula 1 teams are based in the UK. More broadly, the sector recognises that this Government have its back. We want to use innovation, skills and a competitive business environment to ensure that the UK automotive sector can thrive.

I am grateful to the Minister, because she alluded to the point that I was making about the automotive industry. We have talked a lot about manufacturing, but the UK is the world leader in things such as research and development, as well as in testing—autonomous testing, safety testing; we are literally the world leaders in this stuff. I mainly know that because a lot of it is based in my patch. Does the Minister agree?

I could not disagree with my hon. Friend, who is a champion for all things technology and transport, as well as for his constituency. The investment made in R&D has enabled large manufacturing firms to work closely with our academic institutions, and to de-risk some of the technologies that are now becoming mainstream, and we continue to support that area. That leads on to my next point about the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the automotive transformation fund, which are key in us trying to de-risk and adopt new technologies to drive the sector forward.

On the Automotive Council, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said that he was engaging with the sector, but I am not quite sure where and when. A lot of the comments he made will not go down well with the sector because they were not very positive on all the work it has been doing. I engage directly with firms to see how hard they are committed to the sector, and what they expect from their politicians is support, not to be talked down.

I put on record my thanks to Graham Hoare, the current co-chair, Mike Hawes, Neville Jackson, Ian Constance, Markus Grüneisl, Paul Willcox, Murray Paul, Adrian Hallmark, Michael Leiters, Tim Slatter, Alan Johnson, Richard Kenworthy and many other indispensable members of the Automotive Council. I thank them for all the work they do, considering how challenging times have been not just for us but for our counterparts in Europe. I recently spoke at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Trader’s parliamentary reception, and I welcome its “Manifesto 2030” with its five key priorities: green automotive transformation strategy, net zero mobility, green skills, made in Britain, and powering UK clean tech. There is a lot that we agree on, and I look forward to working with the sector to try to protect and strengthen the whole automotive industry. Car companies want to innovate, and we want to support them to do so. That is why the Government have an overarching goal of making the UK a global hub for innovation, as alluded to by the my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth.

In embracing that innovation—this is further to my intervention on the shadow Minister—the UK is a leader in the development of the synthetic fuel sector. By that, I do not mean fuels made from feedstocks; I mean green hydrogen merged with atmospheric carbon capture, whereby what comes out of the tailpipe is the same volume of carbon that is then recaptured to make the next load of fuel. With whole system analysis, that will be shown to be net zero, but the zero tailpipe mandate gets in the way of that. Does the Minister agree that, to embrace this innovation properly and to give an eclectic future to the automotive sector, we need to embrace those innovators as well?

We do need to embrace those innovators. One of the reasons we have so much investment in the UK in innovation and the automotive sector is that we are often first out of the door in helping to de-risk and test that technology. The Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire, will touch on tailings, but just last week I was at the Lower Thames Crossing, which is putting out a pitch to ensure that all vehicles on the construction site have green hydrogen. The several thousand vehicle movements on and off the site carrying freight will also have green hydrogen. The site is a port, and given the level of construction that is taking place, it may be one of the largest construction sites to get to green hydrogen first. I am not sure, but I think it is pretty well on track to being a world leader in that.

The UK-wide innovation strategy sets out our long-term plan for delivering innovation-led growth. Our primary objective is to boost private sector investment across the whole UK, creating the right conditions for all businesses to innovate, giving them confidence to do so and ensuring that we are leading the future by creating it.

Will the Minister come on to the point that I raised with my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) about the roll-out of charging points? That is an important point. People are making decisions about electric vehicles, and we want them to make the right decisions. There is an absolute dearth of charging points in my constituency and many parts of Greater Manchester, and Westminster has installed more public electric charging points than the whole north of England. The Government are asleep at the wheel. When will they wake up and do something about that?

We are topping and tailing this debate with a Transport Minister and I know he is keen to touch on charging points, but the public charging network is growing quickly, and public charging devices have more than tripled in four years, from 10,300 devices in January 2019, to more than 43,000 in June 2023. The Government expect that around 300,000 charge points will be needed as a minimum by 2030. They are being rolled out at pace, but I do not doubt there will be constituency, case-by-case charge point concerns and the Minister will reflect on those.

One concern that the SMMT and all Members of Parliament who have manufacturing plants in their constituencies regularly raise with me is access to talent. Car companies need highly skilled individuals across the entirety of their business. One reason the UK is attractive is our world-leading universities, with four UK institutions in the global top 10, according to the QS world university rankings. But that is not all. We have supported the automotive sector through the apprenticeship levy, with £2.7 billion funding by the 2024-25 financial year. That will support apprenticeships in non-levy employers, often SMEs, where the Government will continue to pay 95% of apprentice training costs.

We recognise the importance of a level playing field. That is why, at the spring Budget, the Chancellor launched a new capital allowance offer. Businesses will now benefit from full expensing, which offers 100% first-year relief to companies on qualifying new main-rate plant and machinery investments from 1 April 2023 until 31 March 2026, the 50% first-year allowance for expenditure by companies on new special rate assets until 31 March 2026, and the annual investment allowance, which provides 100% first-year relief for plant and machinery investments up to £1 million.

Due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, energy costs have been an issue and a concern for the sector. That is why we have again intervened on behalf of the automotive sector, as well as many others, to ensure that the UK’s offer is competitive. It is why the Government have implemented a range of targeted measures to ensure that energy costs for high energy intensive industries, including battery manufacturing, are in line with other major economies around the world, levelling the playing field for British companies across Europe through the British industry supercharger scheme. In addition, to take just one example, the industrial energy transformation fund, now in its third phase, was designed to help businesses with high energy use to cut their energy bills and carbon emissions by investing in energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies. This Government announced £315 million of funding in the 2018 Budget available up to 2027.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde talked about providing confidence and support for the sector, and I want to flesh out some of the announcements he was unable to bring himself to say at the Dispatch Box in case that was put into Hansard. Companies continue to show confidence in the UK, and we have announced major investments across the UK, including the £1 billion from Nissan and Envision to create an EV manufacturing hub in Sunderland. I was just on the phone to Envision this morning. It is an end-to-end supply chain. We have £100 million from Stellantis for its site in Ellesmere Port, and £380 million from Ford to make Halewood its first EV components site in Europe.

Jaguar Land Rover has also announced that it will be investing £15 billion over five years into its industrial footprint as part of its move towards electrification. That is great news for the west midlands, where JLR has three production sites, research and development facilities, and its headquarters. I am hugely confident that the UK will continue to attract investments large and small to enable the EV transition and deliver green jobs. Those are the stories we should be promoting at the Dispatch Box, not playing down.

The Government recognise the concerns of the sector, and we are dealing with serious global challenges, including rising costs because of Putin’s horrific war in Ukraine, supply chains disrupted by covid aftershocks and countries turning inward towards protectionism, by which, of course, I mean the Inflation Reduction Act. Acknowledging those issues, over the course of the summer I have been holding a series of business roundtables to understand exactly where the challenges in supply chains are most acute, and where the Government and businesses can work together more closely to ensure that the UK’s supply chains are resilient, now and in the future.

Those headwinds have been felt across the globe, and where the UK sector has been impacted, it has not been uniquely impacted. The entire automotive sector is midway through a once-in-a-lifetime shift away from the internal combustion engine towards zero-emission vehicles. That is good not just for our net zero ambitions; it also has the potential to provide wider economic and social benefits. Of course, our competitors know that too, and the race to secure zero-emission manufacturing capacity across the world is fierce. Some countries seem willing to spend eye-watering amounts. We will be offering targeted investment in the future of the auto manufacturing sector. That means focusing on exactly where we know we are ahead of the game internationally, offering targeted and measured support that reflects the size and scale of our outstanding automotive sector.

As I have said, we have more than a chequebook to attract companies to these shores; our highly productive and skilled workforce, focus on innovation and tech and the ease of doing business are key factors in a company’s decision to base itself in the UK. There is a backdrop of intensely challenging constraints on the sector globally, while the sector is undergoing a seismic technological transformation. It is clearly a difficult situation for manufacturers across the world, but there are positives to be considered, especially here in the UK. The SMMT reported that UK commercial vehicle production has just had its best May performance since 2008, growing by 36.9%—I thought the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde might crack a smile for the sector—and year-to-date output is some 47.6% above the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. That is the message we want to send internationally. It clearly shows that the UK automotive sector is strong, dynamic and fundamentally capable. I want the UK to have a thriving automotive industry. As we take on these global challenges, we will take them on together with the sector.

Some mention was made of R&D support, and I will share all the work we have done. Our R&D and capital programmes delivered through the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the automotive transformation fund are positioning the UK as one of the best places in the world to design, develop and build zero-emission vehicles. They are working together to support the creation of an internationally competitive electric vehicle supply chain. In the coming months, after engagement with industry, the Government will build on those programmes to take decisive action and ensure future investment in the manufacture of zero-emission vehicles, as part of our commitment to building a cleaner, greener, more sustainable Britain fit for the world of the future, not the world of the past that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde is fixated on.

The automotive transformation fund supports the creation of an internationally competitive electric vehicle supply chain in the UK. It provides support to late-stage R&D and capital investments in strategically important technologies. That includes unlocking strategic investments in gigafactories, which I will come to, motors and drives, power electronics and fuel cell systems. Our automotive industry has a long and proud history. We are determined to build on our heritage as we invest in the technologies of the future, positioning the UK as one of the best locations in the world to manufacture electric vehicles.

I have spoken previously about the Advanced Propulsion Centre, because it does fantastic work in driving technology forward. It was founded in 2013 as a £1 billion joint venture between the automotive industry and the Government to help the industry meet the challenges of innovation and decarbonisation. It facilitates funding to UK-based research and development projects developing zero-emission technologies. The programme helps accelerate the development, commercialising and manufacture of advanced propulsion technologies in the UK. So far, it has supported 199 projects involving 450 partners. It is estimated to have supported more than 55,000 highly skilled jobs and is projected to save more than 350 million tonnes of CO2—the equivalent of removing the lifetime emissions of 14.1 million cars.

Those projects include the setting up of a joint venture between Unipart and Williams Advanced Engineering to manufacture batteries in Coventry, Danfoss setting up a centre of excellence for hydraulic R&D at its plant in Scotland, and Equipmake increasing the size of its manufacturing plant in Norfolk to meet demand for its electric drive unit. That shows how much work can be delivered and how many jobs created if we work with industry and help it de-risk in adopting new technologies.

I recently visited the Warwick Manufacturing Group, which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde alluded to. I am surprised he did not applaud the work further.

He could have gone further.

I saw at first hand the cutting-edge future mobility research being done in Coventry, the birthplace of British motor manufacturing. While in Coventry, I also had the opportunity to attend the Advanced Propulsion Centre to discuss how we can build on the success of our existing R&D and capital investment programmes. During the visit I met year 6 pupils from Templars Primary School in Coventry who attended the Advanced Propulsion Centre’s STEM day. That is a prime example of outreach activity to inspire the next generation of automotive engineers.

We cannot talk about the automotive sector without thinking about the broader supply chain and one of my particular passions, critical minerals, which I am surprised the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde did not spend more time discussing. He missed out the key point of what is needed to produce electric vehicles. We know that China dominates the EV market, partly due to its grip on the supply chain. It controls much of the mining of crucial raw materials, and 80% of battery making for EVs is controlled by Chinese firms. It is also the world’s top car exporter.

I am not sure whether the hon. Member has had time to read Ed Conway’s recent book, “Material World”, which makes some key points on lithium. We know that reserves of the metal are concentrated in a handful of nations. In his book, he said that lithium reserves are concentrated in “a handful of nations”, so that “while the rest of the world panics about China’s dominance of the battery supply chain, many in Beijing are simultaneously panicking about China’s reliance on the rest of the world’s raw materials.”

We know that an EV car battery contains 40 kg of lithium, 10 kg of cobalt, 10 kg of manganese and 40 kg of nickel, and that is before we consider the graphite that goes into the anode. Those materials have to come from somewhere, which is why we updated our critical minerals strategy in the “Critical Minerals Refresh”—[Interruption.] That was a positive noise from the hon. Member—to ensure we were supporting the sector through the whole supply chain. I encourage colleagues to read Ed Conway’s book. I am not on commission, by the way; it is just a good read.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde talked about not having a strategy, but we are working with industry to make sure it can plan for the future. To do that, we had the “Critical Minerals Refresh”, which came from the integrated review. We are making sure that we are focused on batteries and the EV supply chain here in the UK. Recent good news that the hon. Member also forgot to mention is the joint venture between British Lithium and Imerys, announced on 29 June. That is a massive boost to the critical minerals supply chain in the UK.

By the end of the decade, the development of Cornwall as the UK’s leading lithium hub will supply enough lithium carbonate for 500,000 electric cars a year. To help secure the supply of critical minerals, the Government have not only refreshed our critical minerals strategy, but put in place a task and finish group to work with industry so that it can highlight its particular vulnerabilities and we can provide it with the confidence and resilience it needs in its supply chains.

Most recently, I visited Indonesia, where I met Indonesian Ministers to emphasise that the UK has a lot to offer on critical minerals, particularly in relation to private finance, environmental, social and governance capabilities, and mining services. I also visited key mine sites and met companies that are critical in the battery supply chain and in critical mineral production, including some innovative UK companies showcasing the best of British—I know that sentence would be hard for the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde ever to put on the record.

This year, I have also visited South Africa, where I represented the UK at the Minerals Security Partnership ministerial meeting and confirmed the UK’s intention to host the next such meeting during London Metal Exchange Week in October. I also visited Canada, where I signed the UK-Canada critical minerals statement of intent and launched our critical minerals dialogue with Canada, forging a key partnership with one of the most important global players in the critical minerals ecosystem. The hon. Member will want to have a moment to reflect on and applaud our work internationally and domestically on critical minerals.

So many—too many to list right now.

We also need to look at battery recycling. We want to create a regulatory space that supports the appropriate treatment of EV batteries. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently reviewing existing UK batteries legislation and working at pace to publish a consultation in the second half of 2023. We have also funded the Faraday battery challenge, which has enabled research into the safe and efficient segregation and repurposing of EV battery cell components. Altilium is exploring how to recover the critical metals from old EV batteries and process them effectively so that they can be reused in new batteries. Reblend aims to develop the core processes and capabilities for a UK-based automotive battery recycling industry that can recover cathode materials from production scrap and end-of-life automotive and consumer batteries for reuse in automotive batteries going forward. We are not only trying to get close to host countries and make sure that we are mining ethically, but seeing how we can ensure that we are recycling batteries.

The Minister of State at the Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire, will touch on a few issues about the zero-emission vehicle mandate, so I will quickly touch on rules of origin. To support the transition, we must not only champion innovation but address all barriers to trade with partners and markets all over the world. Our closest trading partner is of course the EU, with whom we share not only climate goals and a trajectory towards electrification, but deeply integrated supply chains. More than 50% of cars manufactured in the UK and exported are destined for EU consumers. For those reasons, I am working closely with the industry to address its concerns about planned changes to the rules of origin for electric vehicles in the trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and EU.

Since signing the deal, unforeseen and shared supply chain shocks have hit the auto industry hard. That has driven up the cost of raw materials and battery components, making it harder to meet the changing rules. That risks industry on both sides facing tariffs on electric vehicles at a crucial time in the transition to electrification. I am determined to seek a solution to this shared problem and will work with the EU to fix it for 2024. The Prime Minister has raised the issue directly with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and I and other Ministers are engaging with our EU counterparts. We will continue to work closely with industry to address any and all blockers to the electric transition so that our great UK auto industry continues to benefit from access to global markets and UK consumers have the best possible options as we make the switch to electric vehicles.

I wanted to touch on hydrogen, but I believe I am running out of time. I was also going to reflect on success in the aerospace sector, which is very much linked to the automotive sector, but I will not because I can see that you would like me to conclude, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Order. For the sake of clarity, there is plenty of time for the debate and the hon. Lady can take as long as she wants. She has so far held the floor for 32 minutes. It is not for me to judge how long she ought to speak for; it is for her to judge the mood of the House.

Well, I think the mood of the House is to be more positive about the automotive sector. I could list even more stories, but I will conclude because I believe that Opposition Members would despair about all the positivity about the automotive sector that we could talk about and reflect on.

We are home to more than 25 manufacturers that build more than 70 different vehicles in the UK, all of which are supported by 2,500 component providers and some of the world’s most skilled engineers. It is incredibly important to reflect how difficult it has been for the automotive sector globally, but of course we have huge success stories here in the UK. In 2022 we exported vehicles to more than 130 different countries and built more than three quarters of a million cars, with the onwards trajectory rising year on year. This is a healthy sector going above and beyond not only to reskill and upskill, but to meet net zero targets.

The Government are supporting the UK automotive industry, and the sector is a stalwart example of innovation and dynamism to the rest of the world. It is a great sector to get into, whether someone joins it as an apprentice or even by taking on a regular job. Of course, there is more to do. There are more opportunities to secure as we transition to zero-emission vehicles and we realise the potential of connected and autonomous mobility. We have already achieved a great deal in partnership with this fantastic sector, but we are determined to do more. We work with the sector—we do not sit in Westminster coming up with plans that we then U-turn on—and that has given the sector the confidence it needs to continue to invest in the UK. The job of those representing the sector is to praise, promote and protect, not to talk the sector down.

Delivery is based on the investment I have reflected on throughout my speech. I look forward to hearing lots of sensible speeches throughout the debate.

I had ample cause to reflect as I listened to the Minister’s speech, replete with positivity as it was, that there are probably not all that many electric vehicles on the market that could not have been charged up to about 80% in the time the Minister was on her feet. I wondered whether she was looking to give her name to a standard unit of measurement that we might adopt for such an infusion of charge into a vehicle.

The debate is of course about an industrial strategy, or the lack thereof. While I was preparing for the debate, I had the opportunity to stumble over a few of the various iterations of industrial strategy we have had under Conservative Governments past and present. We had one called “Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future” dating from 2017, which in most respects seemed to be a pretty conventional industrial strategy in what it set out to achieve and the sectors it sought to develop to do that. That was of course replaced by something called “Build Back Better” under the unlamented premiership of the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which notably promised an “open and dynamic economy” and “World-class knowledge and research”, all the while the Government seemed determined to cut us off from our largest competitors and closest market. It promised

“A stable framework for growth and strong institutions”

and boasted of “low, stable inflation”, which sounds somewhat risible after the experience of the past few months. It also promised levelling-up in terms of people and places, despite the fact that we have seen a significant lack of transparency in the allocations made through that funding stream. I suggest that those allocations will do nothing to recalibrate the grossly disproportionate imbalances of wealth and life opportunities across the nations and regions of these islands.

That takes us to the automotive industry. In many ways, it is something of a surprise that there still is one. Part of the deeply held mythology of the Conservatives in terms of the shape of the post-1979 UK is a tale they like to tell of industrial dysfunction and poor industrial relations. While that certainly took its toll on the automotive industry, I think it is the general lack of care that we have shown for manufacturing and the economic vandalism inflicted over that period as services were esteemed over manufacturing that makes the continued existence of our mass automotive sector in the UK a near miracle. That is not just as a result of the general lack of respect for manufacturing; there was also the general economic policy.

Since being elected to this place, I have always tried to talk more about the future of the North sea oil and gas fields than about their past mismanagement. Successive Governments, Conservative and Labour, were desperate to get the oil and gas pumping as quickly as they could, to reduce the crippling balance of payments deficit. The result was to push up the value of sterling beyond anything sustainable, which made manufacturing exports uncompetitive. Together with what we might call the policy of sado-monetarism that was imposed with high interest rates, manufacturing was driven down even further and unemployment was allowed to spiral later in the decade to above 3 million, leaving scars in the form of decades of lost opportunities and diminished life chances.

Although automotive production rallied later in the decade thanks to significant overseas investment, in recent years those concerns have re-emerged. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has reported that manufacturing decreased every year from 2016 to 2022. I hear what the Minister says about the positive trend of the past four months, but there is a longer-term trend over the past six years that cannot simply be wished away because of the past few weeks. In that time, a number of UK-based manufacturers have announced UK plant closures or reductions in capacity.

Greening the automotive industry will be a key element in the green transition. Personal transportation will be here for good, so it is imperative that we seize fully the industrialising of our green opportunities. We have touched on the importance of gigafactories. Batteries are heavy things by their nature, because of the materials that go into their production. There are lots of regulations on their transport, particularly cross-border. They are hazardous to transport over long distances due to their flammability. That means that there will be a strong incentive to ensure that EV manufacturing is located relatively close to where batteries are manufactured—probably in the same country and region.

For all the promises of factories, Britishvolt and the potential of gigafactories here, the UK is at risk of falling even further behind Europe in battery manufacturing. Capacity in continental Europe is expected to reach nearly 450 GWh by 2030. That is simply dwarfing the scale of the ambition, never mind the scale of delivery, that we are likely to see over the next few years. If those batteries are made in Europe or Asia, there is a simple decision that vehicle manufacturers can take about where to build the electric vehicles of the future.

All that is compounded by rules of origin. The new post-Brexit rules that come into effect in January 2024 will place 10% tariffs on exports of electric cars between the UK and the EU, if at least 45% of their value does not originate in the UK or the EU. We have heard about Stellantis, the world’s fourth largest car manufacturer, which has warned that the commitment to make electric vehicles in the UK is in serious jeopardy unless the Government can negotiate a deal to maintain existing trade rules until at least 2027, to give them a chance to adapt.

I looked at Labour’s Opposition day motion; is my hon. Friend as surprised as me that it does not mention Brexit anywhere?

I was very surprised about that. It seems to be the elephant in the room, and of this discussion. If my hon. Friend is patient, I will come to that towards the end of my speech.

Not just Stellantis makes such warnings; they have been echoed by Jaguar Land Rover and Ford, which have said that if the cost of EV manufacturing in the UK becomes uncompetitive and unsustainable, operations will close. Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the SMMT, warned at a summit recently:

“We can’t afford to have a last minute, 31 December agreement, because business needs to plan its volumes.”

Andrew Graves, a car expert at the University of Bath has warned of dire consequences of the industry, noting:

“you will start to lose the whole of the UK industry, not just Vauxhall and a couple of other manufacturers…it really makes no industrial sense to locate in the United Kingdom.”

The UK Government’s lack of action to ensure that the UK has the capacity to build batteries necessary for EU production—coupled with Brexit, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) rightly raised—has made it virtually impossible for domestic UK production to help us meet our targets on CO2 emissions. As Mike Hawes said:

“We urgently need an industrial strategy that creates attractive investment conditions and positions the UK as one of the best places in the world for advanced automotive manufacturing.”

That must be a priority for the UK Government, but I do not see any indication beyond warm words that it is. To quote someone else who might know what they are talking about, Andy Palmer, former chief operating officer at Nissan and chairman of battery start-ups InoBat and Ionetic, has warned that

“we are running out of time”

to get battery manufacturing up and running in the UK, and that the failure to address the issues also caused by Brexit could lead to 800,000 jobs lost in the UK—basically those associated with the car industry.

On job losses, Madam Deputy Speaker you will remember as well as I do the impact of the closure of Linwood car plant on the town. Many would say that Linwood has still not fully recovered from that closure, when thousands of workers were put on the scrapheap. Is my hon. Friend worried about what will happen to places such as Sunderland and Ellesmere Port if the Government do not get a grip?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern. [Interruption.] There is some sedentary chuntering—if the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) gives me a chance to respond to the intervention, I will gladly give way to him if he has a substantive point to make. We can still see the industrial scars of the devastation reaped by the sudden closure of the Linwood factory in 1981. What we do not see quite so readily but is still every bit as debilitating is the impact on families who lose opportunities to participate fully in the economy. There is a very high price associated with getting this wrong, which goes far beyond simply not seeing factories on greenfield sites.

The motion speaks about a lack of a meaningful UK industrial strategy, which is a fair accusation. It calls for the need to

“urgently resolve the rules of origin changes”

that are looming in 2024. At this point, I am bound to observe that both Labour and the Conservatives make grandiloquent promises about how each would seek to harness the power of the British state to transform the economy and, with it, the lives and opportunities that follow. For the two years in every three over the last century that the Conservatives have had power, or the one year in every three that Labour has had power, neither has done that.

I mentioned the various iterations of Conservative industrial strategy; I have read Labour’s industrial strategy, which carries the signature and many photographs of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). In many ways it is a very fine document, but when it comes to the impact of rules of origin, as with much else, a position promising to make Brexit work means absolutely nothing. I say this as gently as possible: Brexit can never be made to work, either in its current form or in any conceivable variant. As long as making Brexit work is part of the strategy, no matter which party it belongs to—Labour or the Conservatives—it will be left with a slow puncture.

I understand the strength of feeling on that point and how, when we have this conversation, many will revert to that Brexit argument. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman to recognise not the political case but the economic one: we have the lowest business investment in the G7 under this Conservative Government. We want to provide a stable platform for that investment to increase in gigafactories, R&D, hydrogen and all the things we want to see, but reopening that debate—and the independence debate—is not the stable way to realise those opportunities in future. If we spend all our time doing that, we will find that other countries get to a point that we will never be able to catch up with, because we did not focus on the real opportunities at hand.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I could not disagree more. This is not a stable platform. The Conservatives are offering us the stability of decline, and it seems that Labour is embracing that for fear of frightening its former voters in the red wall. It seeks to get them back not with ho