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Commons Chamber

Volume 737: debated on Monday 18 September 2023

House of Commons

Monday 18 September 2023

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

I can now announce the arrangements for the election of the Chair of the Defence Committee. I declared the Chair vacant on Thursday. Nominations will close on Tuesday 24 October. Nomination forms will be available in the Vote Office, the Table Office and the Public Bill Office. Only Conservative Members may be candidates in this election. If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will take place in the Aye Lobby on Wednesday 25 October between 11 am and 2.30 pm. A briefing note with more information will be made available in the Vote Office.

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Refugee and Asylum Seeker Accommodation

1. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to ensure an adequate standard of accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers. (906413)

The asylum accommodation support contracts ensure the provision of safe, habitable, fit-for-purpose and correctly equipped accommodation for destitute asylum seekers. The contracts also require compliance with the law, local authority licensing and best practice guidance. We have been working with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to minimise the potential impact on homelessness, and have agreed an asylum placement funding for local authorities.

We hear the Government talking about £6 million per day being wasted on hotels, but we do not hear about the billions being forked out on private companies such as Serco and Clearsprings Ready Homes, both of which have seen scores of complaints, including about unsanitary conditions, a lack of safeguarding, and sexual abuse. Does the Home Secretary think that it is appropriate to entrust those companies with taxpayers’ money to run asylum accommodation in hotels and former Ministry of Defence sites?

The safety and wellbeing of asylum seekers in our care is of paramount importance at the Home Office. We expect high standards from all our providers, and we have robust governance frameworks in place to manage the service delivery of asylum accommodation. What we definitely do not do, and do not propose to do, is willingly accept thousands more illegal migrants into the UK from the EU, housed presumably in more hotels across the country, as Labour is proposing. I campaigned for Brexit to take back control of our borders, not for Labour to surrender our sovereignty to the EU.

One of the justifications for using service accommodation such as RAF Scampton was that it was supposed to be cheaper, but we now know the figures: it is more expensive over two years, and over three years the savings are absolutely derisory. The figures are, frankly, being fiddled by overcapitalising the value of the base, and are not based on surveys. The Home Secretary’s officials are now ripping out services. The council has issued a stop order on it. I give notice that I will report the Home Office to the Comptroller and Auditor General for misapplying and wasting public money, because using the base will cost more than hotels. The base is Crown land, so the local authority cannot enter it. Does she accept that she would be acting illegally and is liable to be sued if her officials disobey the stop order?

I have had several discussions with my right hon. Friend about the proposed asylum accommodation at Scampton. I thank him for his very energetic campaigning on behalf of his constituents. I very much appreciate the challenges that this nationwide mission poses for us all. I do not agree with his assessment; we have assessed the proposal at Scampton to be value for money. Ultimately, it is not right that we continue to house tens of thousands of migrants in hotels, in towns and cities across the country, costing the taxpayer £6 million a day. That is why our work to roll out large sites is moving swiftly, and we propose to move asylum seekers on to them as soon as possible.

It has been more than a month since all 39 asylum seekers were hauled off the 500-capacity Bibby Stockholm because of the detection of legionella, but the Home Secretary is yet to give a date for when the barge will actually be ready for use. We still do not know why she chose not to wait for the legionella results before ploughing ahead, and why her Minister was so slow to act once the results came in. We are still yet to hear a denial from the Home Secretary that it is one of the most lethal strains of the bacteria, as reported in the media. Today, will she set out her responses to those questions and confirm the exact cost of the barge? Half a million pounds per month to house zero asylum seekers on this floating symbol of failure feels utterly extortionate. Why is it that the only boat this Government have managed to stop is their own?

I am somewhat surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s change of tune: he is on the record in the media as supporting our use of the barge, so a change of heart is welcome. We have assessed the barge—it has been under constant scrutiny—and we will be re-embarking people on to that barge as soon as is practical and possible. What is clear is that the hon. Gentleman simply has no answers for how to solve the broader problem. The truth is that Labour’s policy has not survived contact with reality: it has been denounced by the EU, its shadow Ministers are making it up as they go along, and the leader has had to backtrack—and it has not even been a week. Only the Conservative party has a plan that is based on reality, deterrence and delivery, and it will stop the boats.

OpenDemocracy recently revealed the extent of self-harm and suicide in immigration removal centres—in particular, Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, where 24 self-harm incidents occurred in March, which is more than over the three previous months combined. Emma Ginn, director of Medical Justice, has said:

“We are not confident that the Home Office considers the value of the lives of those in its care in detention as fully human.”

What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that those in Home Office immigration removal centres do not face such desperate circumstances that they seek to take their own lives?

As I said, the safety of all of those in our care is a priority for the Home Office, and the standard of habitation—whether that is in our asylum accommodation estate more broadly, or specifically in our immigration removal centres—is one that always, as far as the law requires, meets high standards. Those standards are rigorously scrutinised and monitored, and those who have concerns have avenues to make complaints via the migrant helpline.

Police Resources

I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our very sincere condolences to the family of Sergeant Graham Saville, who a week or two ago so tragically lost his life in the line of duty, saving another in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick). Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. He made the ultimate sacrifice, and we are grateful to him.

To answer my hon. Friends’ questions, total police funding this year stands at £17.2 billion, a record level. Frontline policing received an extra £550 million this year compared with last year, and I am pleased to report once again that we have a record number of police officers across England and Wales: 149,566, which is 3,500 more than we ever had under the last Labour Government.

As always, the devil is in the detail. In Durham, we see funding pressure on both police and fire services, which is not helped by our local tax base being so low: we have A to C in most regions. The fire service has a coherent—albeit very challenged—programme, but the Labour police and crime commissioner knew 10 years ago that Newton Aycliffe police station was going to be moved away from the fire station, and she is still scrambling around. Does the Minister agree that good plans help cost-effective delivery, and will he meet me to discuss funding and programme delivery for the police and fire services in Durham that cover my Sedgefield constituency? Does he also agree that electing Robert Potts, the Conservative candidate for the next PCC elections in May, would be a far better outcome for the police in Durham?

I will certainly meet with my hon. Friend, and yes, I do agree. I am very disappointed to hear what he has to say about his Labour PCC’s performance, which contrasts with what Conservative PCCs have done. Only today, PCC Donna Jones in Hampshire announced that she would be opening 10 new police counters, an example of what happens when we have sound Conservative policies in operation.

My right hon. Friend will recall his recent visit to Uxbridge. Will he join me in calling for the Mayor of London to guarantee the future of Uxbridge police station as fully operational, including a full custody suite and a 24/7 front counter for my constituents?

I welcome my hon. Friend to his very well-deserved place. Of course, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had planned to close down Uxbridge police station, along with many others, until my hon. Friend forced him into a humiliating U-turn before he was even elected—that is more than most of us achieved prior to coming to Parliament. I join him in calling on the Mayor of London to keep Uxbridge police station open and to add that custody suite, but also to confirm the future of all those other police stations around London that he had threatened to close just a few years ago.

In my constituency, we have experienced a real escalation in antisocial behaviour and quite violent disorder in recent years, particularly around bonfire night. Last year, police had to deploy 100 officers to just one area of my constituency where local communities were being terrorised. What consideration has the Minister made of additional powers or resources for areas up and down the country that are anticipating further unacceptable disorder ahead of this year’s bonfire night?

The hon. Lady is quite right to raise this issue. Antisocial behaviour concerns everyone. There are a number of powers available to local police, such as community protection notices, and to local authorities—I am thinking in particular of public space protection orders—so I strongly urge her to work with her local authority and, if she is concerned about a particular area, to put in place a public space protection order ahead of bonfire night. Our antisocial behaviour plan envisages strengthening various antisocial behaviour powers. As of next April, we will also be funding every single police force in the country to have antisocial behaviour hotspot patrols. I am not sure whether her force is one of the 10 pilot areas, but every force will have that funding from next April, and the sort of situation that she describes sounds like the ideal use for those ASB hotspot patrols.

The same shops and newsagents on Kilburn High Road in my constituency are constantly targeted by criminals, who shoplift but also intimidate staff. When I raised the issue with the police, they said they receive 1,000 calls a day from central north London alone, limiting their ability to deal with it. What plans does the Minister have to increase the resources to deal with this sort of crime, especially retail theft?

I strongly sympathise with those affected by shoplifting on Kilburn High Road. I was the prospective parliamentary candidate in that constituency in 2010, and I remember walking down Kilburn High Road with Dominic Grieve when a shoplifter ran out of Poundland and straight into our arms. It is a serious issue. The Metropolitan police has a record number of police officers—about 35,000—and I have recently been in discussions with Amanda Blakeman, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead, to increase patrolling in shoplifting hotspot areas and to have a more comprehensive response from the police in terms of investigation, such as always following up CCTV footage where it is available. This is an issue not just on Kilburn High Road but around the country. As I say, we will shortly announce further action, in partnership with police.

Drugs Policy: Scotland

3. Whether she has had discussions with Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on further devolution of drugs policy to Scotland. (906415)

I have not had discussions on the devolution of drugs policy, which is of course reserved to this Parliament, but I do have regular discussions about co-operating with colleagues in the Scottish Government. I had a discussion with the new Minister just a few weeks ago, and I think we are going to be meeting in Cardiff in just a few weeks’ time with Ministers from the three devolved Administrations to discuss how we can work constructively and collaboratively together.

The Minister will know that the Lord Advocate in Scotland has issued a prosecution statement saying that she will not prosecute anyone in possession of controlled substances in any pilot safe consumption or overdose prevention facility that might be established in Scotland. Can he confirm what the Secretary of State for Scotland indicated in the House last week—that the UK Government will not seek to use any administrative or legislative means to frustrate or block the establishment of such a pilot facility?

First, it is important to make it clear that the UK Government’s position on drug consumption rooms in England and Wales is that we do not support them. We are concerned that they condone or even encourage illegal drug use. I want to put that on the record straightaway. Of course, we respect the independence of the Lord Advocate as Scotland’s prosecutorial authority. Providing that that power is exercised lawfully, of course we are not going to stand in the way of it, as my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary set out last week. I understand that plans may involve a strong integration with treatment and some consideration of each case on its individual merits, but we do not plan to interfere with the lawfully exercised prosecutorial independence of the Lord Advocate.

I am glad to hear what the drugs Minister says. The Home Affairs Committee’s report on drugs highlighted good practice in Scotland, in particular with the naloxone roll-out and the medication assisted treatment standards for same-day treatment. Academic evaluation has also found our enhanced drug treatment service, Scotland’s only heroin-assisted treatment service, to have been successfully implemented, in particular with a group with very complex backgrounds. Will the Minister visit Glasgow to hear more about what Scotland is doing to reduce harm and save lives?

As I said to the hon. Lady at the Bar of the House last week, I am due to be in Edinburgh in early December, so I would be delighted to accept her invitation to visit the facility in Glasgow.

Knife Crime

This Government are determined to fight knife crime. We have invested over £110 million in 2023-24 to fight knife crime, including investing in 20 violence reduction units, and funding hotspot policing in the most seriously affected areas.

I welcome the news that the Government are seeking to close the legal loopholes around the sale of so-called zombie knives, but does my right hon. Friend agree that stop and search and the like are powerful tools for the police to get knives off the street and to save lives? Will he also look closely at scan and search to help to detect such weapons?

My hon. Friend is quite right that we are looking to tighten the law. The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 contains a loophole, essentially, which means zombie knives without threatening writing on the blade are not illegal. We are going to close that loophole. I agree with him that stop and search is a vital tactic to keep our streets safe when used, of course, respectfully. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner tells me that about 400 knives are taken off the streets every month using stop and search in London alone, so it is an important power. I also agree with my hon. Friend’s second point. The use of scanning technology has the huge potential to enable officers to scan people for knives at a distance without having to physically stop them and search them manually. The technology is not ready to deploy just yet, but I hope it will be in the relatively near future.

In 2021, two police officers were attacked with machetes in West Bromwich town centre. In the same year, a 19-year-old boy was stabbed and killed in Great Barr. In 2022, a teenager from my constituency was stabbed on his way to college in Birmingham. While the Minister said we have already banned the sale of zombie knives, that has not stopped people purchasing these dangerous weapons, so I thank the Government for taking the next steps to close the loophole. Will this change be brought forward as soon as possible?

The change certainly will happen as soon as possible. Some of it requires primary legislation, but other elements require secondary legislation, and we are definitely going to do that as soon as we can. As for the sale of these knives, once the Online Safety Bill passes Parliament—I hope very soon—the sale of these knives via online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace and Amazon will also be prohibited, addressing my hon. Friend’s point about sales.

We absolutely do need to get a grip on knife crime, which is up by 70% since 2015 alone. Is the Minister content with the fact that only 5% of crimes of violence against the person actually make it to court? If he is not, what is he doing about it?

On the crime statistics, the Crime Survey of England and Wales is the only long-term data series endorsed by the Office for National Statistics. Since the hon. Gentleman asked about data, since 2010—just to pick a date arbitrarily—violence is down by 46%. That is to say, violent crimes were double under the last Labour Government compared with now. Knife-enabled crime was 7% lower in the latest year compared with the year ending December 2019, according to police recorded crime. But we would like to do more, hence the “Grip” hotspot patrols, hence criminalising these remaining zombie knives.

To actually answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, I want that figure for prosecutions be higher, and that is why the Home Secretary and I, together with policing leads, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, announced two or three weeks ago that the police are now committing to always follow all reasonable lines of inquiry where they exist.

Order. I love the full answers, but I am really struggling to get even part-way down the Order Paper.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the sad fact that most MPs have had the tragedy of knife crime in our constituencies. We had a dreadful incident in Huddersfield. Is it not time that we understand more the culture that produces it? This is about the way in which young people communicate on the internet and the fact that we no longer have many youth clubs or youth services. We used to have wonderful police going into schools to talk about these issues. Can we have that back?

I will try to be brief. We have violence reduction units designed to provide those activities. We are also funding research. We have a social media hub in the Met police that monitors social media—it is based in Lambeth, and I have been to it. The things that the hon. Gentleman asks for are being done, because it is essential that we tackle knife crime.

Rapes at knifepoint are at a record high this year. The number of cases has more than doubled since 2015. I am currently supporting a case of a woman violently raped using weapons, and the detective on the case told me that he is the only detective in his team working on serious sexual violence. The Police Foundation describes the current number of detectives as a “chronic shortage”, highlighting a staggering 7,000 vacancies. Is it any wonder that there has been a 60% drop in the overall proportion of crimes being charged since 2015, including almost 1 million violent crimes and 36,000 rapes? The Labour party has proposed requiring all police forces to have a scheme that directly recruits detectives with relevant professional backgrounds, so what are the Government doing about this chronic shortage of detectives and the abysmal charge rate that they preside over?

The rape charge rate is a serious matter, and Operation Soteria Bluestone, which the hon. Lady will be familiar with, has been rolled out around the country under the supervision of the safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines). In the forces that adopted that measure early, rape charge rates dramatically increased by two to three times. As that rolls out around the country, those charge rates will increase, but we would like to go further.

On the question of specialist trained officers, now that we have record numbers of officers across England and Wales as a whole, we will be targeting individual forces with training and recruiting a specified number of specialist officers to make sure that those people are in place to properly investigate these issues, because we want to do a lot more in this area.

Police: Compensation

6. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the adequacy of compensation for police officers injured in the course of their duties. (906418)

16. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the adequacy of compensation for police officers injured in the course of their duties. (906430)

The police injury benefit scheme provides ongoing and one-off payments to former police officers who have been injured or disabled in the line of duty.

I was recently shocked to discover that police officers are entitled to official compensation only if they are injured while taking an exceptional risk, and a risk is considered exceptional only if it would not normally be expected. That sounds strange, does it not? With more than 40,000 assaults against police in the past year, and many officers ineligible for injury compensation because of that rule, does the Home Secretary agree that these guidelines effectively normalise violence against police and must be changed?

We certainly do not want to see violence against police normalised. That is why we legislated to double the maximum sentence for assaults against emergency workers just a year or two ago. My understanding is that the payments under the police injury benefit scheme can go up to 85% of salary, but since the hon. Lady has raised the point, I will take a look at it.

Over recent years, a number of police officers have tragically died in the line of duty, and I acknowledge the service of PC Nicola Hughes, PC Fiona Bone and Sergeant Graham Saville. Labour has supported calls for a posthumous medal for fallen officers. Why will the Minister not do the right thing and acknowledge those who gave their lives to keep us safe?

We do acknowledge that, and it may well be that posthumous awards are made. We obviously do not comment on individual cases and potential awards prior to their being made, but if I say that I strongly sympathise with what the hon. Lady just said, I think she will understand what I mean.

Crime Reduction

Our communities are safer than in 2010, with overall crime on a like-for-like basis down by 54%. We have put 20,000 more police officers on our streets—a record number—which is enabling us to take action across the board to bring more offenders to justice, to better protect victims and to equip our police with the powers they need to prevent crimes.

The fall in crime is welcome, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the police would deter and solve even more crimes, such as burglaries, the use of quad bikes and general antisocial behaviour in places such as Hatfield, Doncaster, Rossington and Thorne in my constituency, if they started putting more bobbies on the beat and stopped promoting unscientific ideologies?

My hon. Friend is quite right. We pay the police to fight crime. Whether that is to focus on the antisocial behaviour, the nuisance bikers or the burglaries he mentioned, they are there to keep people safe. We do not pay them to wave flags at parades, to dance with drag queens or to campaign. That is why I finally ended all association with Stonewall at the Home Office and why I expect all police and crime commissioners and chief constables to focus on cutting crime and rebuilding confidence, not playing politics.

I thank the Home Secretary, who recently came to Warrington to meet the chief constable, Mark Roberts, and our police and crime commissioner, John Dwyer. We are now at record numbers of police officers, and alongside that we are at record numbers of arrests. Cheshire had the second-highest charge and summons rates in England and Wales for all crime in the last 12 months. One of the concerns raised by constituents at a recent surgery was the increase in cyber-crime. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to bolster action against fraud and online scams?

My hon. Friend has been an indefatigable champion for his community, and I very much enjoyed joining him at his local police station to meet his excellent chief constable, Mark Roberts, with the PCC. Cheshire is an example of common-sense policing and protecting the public. With those arrest rates and a focus on domestic abuse, on which Cheshire constabulary has achieved some excellence, it deserves all the praise that it gets.

When it comes to tackling online scams and online fraud, which are a feature of modern-day crime fighting, earlier this year, with the Prime Minister, I announced our fraud strategy. One hundred million pounds from the 2021 spending review has gone towards tackling fraud. A portion of that will fund a new national fraud squad of 400 specialist fraud officers across policing and the National Crime Agency, who will investigate the most harmful fraudsters targeting the UK public.

Since 2015, the proportion of crimes that result in a perpetrator facing a punishment has gone down by two thirds. Is that because the Government had a policy of cutting 21,000 police officers?

I am incredibly proud of the increased resources for policing, the increased powers for policing, with the 20,000 new officers on the frontline that the Government have delivered for the British people—a record number; we are at historic levels—and the overall fall in crime since 2010. Yes, there is more to do, but on all those measures, how did Labour vote? It voted against them and against the British public.

The Home Secretary talks about tackling online and telephone scams, and she is right to do so. Age UK recently came out with research that showed that 43% of people aged over 65 have been victims of online or telephone scams of some kind. Will she talk about how she will use that research and extend the resource she gives to police authorities such as in Cumbria, as well as working with banks and other outfits, to ensure that more people are not victims of this outrageous uptick in scams?

The hon. Member is absolutely right—online crime and fraud has become a grave feature of today’s criminality. That is why our fraud strategy is all about targeting this emerging threat. Whether that is through the national fraud squad that I just mentioned, banning SIM farms, increasing specialism on the frontline, or our police forces working with the National Crime Agency, other agencies and, importantly, the tech and banking sectors, we will prevent fraud from becoming a reality as well as detecting it and enforcing against it further down the line.

The Home Secretary seeks to paint a rosy picture on crime. In reality, retail crime is, as described by the Co-op, “out of control”, and with 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police and police community support officers, that is no surprise. Across all retailers, there are more than 850 acts of violence or abuse every single day. The Co-op also reports that even when it detains someone suspected to have committed a crime, 80% of the time it has to let them go again because the police are stretched too thinly to come and make the arrest. When will the Home Secretary drop this pretence that things are going well and actually stand up for our shop workers?

We take these matters incredibly seriously. That is why my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister met the Co-op and other major retailers recently to discuss this issue in detail. Shoplifting and retail theft have become a challenge for retailers and our community, which is not right. That is why, a few weeks ago, we made a nationwide commitment whereby all police forces have agreed to follow every reasonable line of inquiry. That will mean that CCTV footage, online evidence of resale and other actionable evidence will be followed up by the police, leading the investigations and justice process.

Illegal Motorcyclists

The illegal use of motorcycles can cause distress and be dangerous to the public. The police have all the powers they need to police that, and such use of motorcycles is illegal. The College of Policing’s authorised professional practice provides advice to the operationally independent chief constables, whom I urge to use their powers to the full.

Dangerous motorcyclists are out of control in my area. We have had one death and one life-threatening injury. We now have six year olds riding pillion on motorbikes, and people doing wheelies down roads, pavements and amenity areas, with not a helmet in sight. My police tell me that they need urgent guidance on safeguarding officers who try to apprehend them, and an urgent review of section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2022 on the requirement that officers be present in uniform at the time of offending. Would the Minister get on to those specific issues, please?

I would be happy to look into those specific issues. The police have powers to pursue, even where the motorcycle rider is not wearing a helmet. We had similar issues with mopeds in London four or five years ago. For a time, the police did not pursue them, and moped crime shot through the roof. They now pursue them, and it has gone back down. I urge Bedfordshire police to use those powers, but I will certainly look into the questions that my hon. Friend has raised.

Children in Custody

9. What recent guidance her Department has issued to the police on upholding the rights of children in custody. (906422)

Children should be detained only when necessary, and must be provided with an appropriate adult. The College of Policing provides operational guidance for police, and the concordat on children in custody supports police and local authorities to meet their statutory responsibilities. HM inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services also sets expectations for the treatment of children in custody.

When a child is arrested, they must choose if they wish receive legal advice, just like an adult. But children are not adults, and no one should expect a child aged 10 or above to decide whether to exercise their right to a solicitor. Will the Minister explain why the Government believe that children should be forced to make such a decision?

I remind the hon. Lady that children are involved in crime. Children detained in police custody must have an appropriate adult—statistics shows that that happens in 99% of cases—who can be of assistance. I want that to be 100%. Police custody remains a core part of the criminal justice system. It is critical for maintaining police confidence, bringing offenders to justice and keeping the public safe. We must ensure that adults do not abuse children and are not attracted to making children get involved in criminal activity because the police are too scared to put them into custody if necessary.

Substance Misuse: Harm Reduction Model

10. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of introducing a substance misuse harm reduction model to tackle acquisitive crime. (906423)

We have not had any specific discussions on that, but we have a 10-year drug strategy, which includes spending an extra £582 million over three years on 55,000 extra treatment places. We want to treat people who are addicted, particularly to opioids, to get them off drugs and fully recovered.

A large number of people are being exploited into criminal activity, whether through drug gangs or acquisitive crime. They need help and support from the state. Will the Minister look at how to put a harm reduction model in place for those individuals, rather than criminalising them, so that they can get the support they need to change the direction of their lives?

There is a twin-track approach. There is a comprehensive effort to ensure more addicted people get treatment, being diverted to it from police custody, from the court system and when they leave prison. As I say, there is an extra £582 million over three years. We are in the second of those three years at the moment. But enforcement, particularly against drug gangs and organised criminal gangs, is important at the border and in the case of county lines. It is a twin-track approach: enforcement, together with treatment.

Antisocial Behaviour

On 27 March, the Government announced the antisocial behaviour action plan, backed by £160 million of new funding. Police and crime commissioners are being supported to increase hotspot policing and to run immediate justice pilots. In July, we announced round 5 of the safer streets funding to deliver a range of ASB and crime-prevention measures.

I thank the Home Secretary very much for her recent visit to Southend, where she met the excellent police, fire and crime commissioner Roger Hirst and our excellent chief constable B-J. Harrington. She heard about how Southend’s revolutionary Operation Union has driven down antisocial behaviour across our city by over 50%. That will be assisted by the Government’s steps last week to tackle nitrous oxide—I thank her very much for tackling that menace. However, constituents are raising with me antisocial behaviour in and around pubs, including drug-related incidents, so can my right hon. and learned Friend tell me whether she has any specific plans to help local police deal with that particular problem?

I was very pleased to join my hon. Friend in Southend, and to meet her chief constable and the office of the PCC. She is right that the success of Operation Union has helped to drive down ASB, but there is more to do to tackle the ASB that blights communities. That is why I am pleased that her force, Essex, has the most police officers ever and is doing very well with its progress on the hotspot policing pilot.

My hon. Friend talks about drugs. Part of our plan on ASB is to expand drug testing on arrest, so that police can now test for more substances, class B and C, when they arrest someone on suspicion of drug possession.

Unfortunately, there are instances of antisocial behaviour in the centre of Keighley—mostly around the bus station, but of course there are other hotspot areas. The police and the local community are having to deal with this issue on an ongoing basis. I am very pleased that the Government made extra resources available to our West Yorkshire police via the antisocial behaviour action plan, but will the Home Secretary join me in urging our Labour West Yorkshire Mayor, who is responsible for setting local police strategy and our crime reduction action plan in Keighley, to be more laser-focused on antisocial behaviour, so that we can all ensure that the issue is tackled once and for all?

I urge the PCC to take heed of my hon. Friend’s warning and advice. The Government, through our safer streets fund, have awarded the South Yorkshire police area over £4 million in recent years—funding that has gone towards tackling ASB and reducing crime. It is up to the PCCs to apply in the next round for funding to put forward projects that can have a focus on reducing crime, protecting victims and securing safety for communities.

On occasion, people using Wrexham bus station have been subject to antisocial behaviour perpetrated by a small band of disaffected youths. I would like to compliment Inspector Luke Hughes and the Wrexham city police team for their appropriate use of dispersal orders. Will the Home Secretary join me in praising North Wales police, despite being slowed down to 20 mph by the Welsh Labour Government, for their pragmatic and no-nonsense approach to upholding public safety?

I am afraid the litany of ridiculous policy announcements by Labour is reaching record levels. I mean, we only have to look at the last two days. A period of silence from the Labour party would be welcome. The 20 mph zone is ridiculous. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Dispersal orders are a regrettable but necessary power that the police have at their disposal. We are going even further with our antisocial behaviour action plan by expanding police powers such as public space protection orders and community protection notices, enabling the police to take rapid and effective action to disperse people and to stop nuisance and criminal antisocial behaviour.

Over the summer, I have spoken to many people in Leyland who, although we have managed to get the police station reopened, are still reporting problems involving antisocial behaviour in Broadfield, Worden and Seven Stars. I have been out with the local bobbies, who are benefiting from the Government’s police uplift, to see what is being done to tackle those problems. Operation Centurion—our police and crime commissioner’s attempt to use money seized from criminals to boost local policing temporarily in order to address antisocial behaviour—is about to hit Leyland, but does the Home Secretary agree that we need a whole-agency approach, and that councils should use the powers at their disposal to issue community protection notices and work with the police to end this blight on the people of Leyland?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has been able to work closely with her excellent police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden, who is another example of effective leadership at the police force in Lancashire and whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. It is also good that Lancashire is one of the pilot areas for hotspot policing: it is currently delivering 2,000 hours a month of additional patrolling in antisocial behaviour hotpot areas, and that is set to increase. However, I urge the Labour council to listen to my hon. Friend’s sensible words and ask the police and local authorities to use all the powers at their disposal to tackle antisocial behaviour through, for instance, public space protection orders and community protection notices.

Constituents, including pupils at Lliswerry High School, constantly raise with me the antisocial and dangerous use of e-scooters and e-bikes. I held a debate on this last December, but little has happened since, and legislation needs to catch up with the growth in their sales. Will the Home Secretary talk to Ministers at the Department for Transport to see what can be done to address the problem?

The behaviour of nuisance riders, or boy racers—whatever we want to call them—is antisocial behaviour plain and simple. It is criminal, it can be harassing, it can bring fear to communities, and it can cause criminal damage. The police, working with local authorities, have the necessary powers to end these problems, and forces around the country have organised pilots that have led to success. I encourage the hon. Lady’s local police force to look at the good practice that is currently taking place around the country.

Let us get this exactly right: over the next four years, police numbers in Scotland are due to fall by 2,000. The highlands and islands police chief has said that “something has to give.” I had thought that Barnett consequentials would lead to an increase in Scotland’s police numbers rather than a decrease. When it comes to antisocial behaviour, what a grim message this is for some of the most vulnerable in society.

Unfortunately—it is incredibly tragic—the Scottish National party’s obsession with separatism has led to the highest number of alcohol and drug-related deaths in Europe on their watch. Falling police numbers in Scotland when numbers are rising in England and Wales—that is what the SNP brings us, and only good government from the Conservatives can stop crime and protect victims.

Irregular Migration: Channel Crossings

12. What steps her Department is taking to reduce the number of small boats transporting irregular migrants across the English channel. (906426)

We remain determined to stop the boats and deter people from making these dangerous journeys to the UK, and we are making progress. We have by no means reached the finishing line, but the number of arrivals is 20% down, the legacy backlog has nearly halved, and the number of Albanian arrivals has fallen by 90% this year. While Labour proposes to take thousands of illegal migrants from the EU every single year, letting Brussels decide who comes here, we are determined to stop the boats with our Rwanda plan and our Illegal Migration Act 2023, which Labour opposed.

A hotel in my constituency is housing illegal migrants. They receive local NHS dentistry services and hospital access, and, of course, their living costs are met. Constituents write to me pointing out that they do not have access to all those services. What can my right hon. and learned Friend tell them about how soon the use of hotels for illegal migrants will end?

It is totally unacceptable that too many towns and cities around the country now house the 45,000 asylum seekers who are in hotels, costing the British taxpayer £6 million a day. That is why we are standing up large sites and vessels around the country. We are also maximising the use of hotels, so that we can open fewer hotels. It is not right that the British taxpayer is forking out the cost. What we are not doing is the ridiculous plan set out by Labour Members. They are either grotesquely naive about the problem or they have a betrayal plan to rejoin the EU. After all, most of them wanted a second referendum. Either way, we can all see it for what it is: a plan for open borders, unlimited migration and rejoining the European Union. It is the same old Labour on the wrong side of the argument.

It is good to be back, Mr Speaker. The number of people arriving on dangerous small boats is now 150 times higher than it was five years ago. Meanwhile, convictions of people smugglers are 30% down. Our border security is not working. The Home Office has already spent £140 million on a flawed Rwanda scheme, but would not taxpayers’ money be better spent recruiting hundreds more police and investigators to defeat the criminal gang networks and prevent the dangerous boat crossings?

The reality is that we need a robust and honest approach to dealing with this problem. Opening our doors to thousands of migrants from the EU is not the solution. We need a deterrent, and that is why our agreement with Rwanda will work. It is based on what has worked in other countries such as Australia, and I am confident that we will be able to deliver our Rwanda plan as soon as possible. What is clear is that the Labour party does not even seem to know what its policy is on small boats. Previously, it had no plan; now it has tried to put a plan together, but half its shadow Ministers do not even know how it works. It is only this Government that have a plan, will deliver Rwanda, have delivered our groundbreaking legislation and will stop the boats.

Topical Questions

I will make a short topical statement. The range of threats our country faces is ever evolving, so I want to set out what we are doing to get ahead of it. We have refreshed our counter-terrorism strategy, especially by overhauling the Prevent strand so that it recognises and can counter the driving force of ideology. Our counter-terrorism operations centre is truly world class and fit for the 21st century. However, the security threat is wider than terrorism, and that is why we have passed the National Security Act 2023, which also addresses the evolving nature of the threat and contains several measures to modernise counter-espionage laws. Our comprehensive economic crime plan and legislation have cracked down hard on the Russian oligarchs upon whom Putin relies. We will give our courageous and capable intelligence and security services all the powers they need to keep us safe.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that statement. She will know that there is continuing widespread concern about the threat to our national security from the whole-of-state approach that the Chinese are taking to espionage activities in our country. I urge her to ensure that our response will mirror that, and that China is in the enhanced tier of the foreign influence registration scheme.

National security is our overriding priority as a Government, particularly at the Home Office. As Home Secretary, it is my job to oversee the protection of the UK from all types of threats to our national security. As the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report has said:

“The Chinese Intelligence Services target the UK and its overseas interests prolifically and aggressively.”

I will not shy away from calling out the threats from China for what they are or from making it clear that its agencies regularly engage in hostile activity towards the UK. We are currently reviewing the countries that should go into the enhanced tier of FIRS. There is a strong case to be made for China being put into it, but I do not want to prejudice the process by which those determinations will be made, and—

Order. We really do have a problem, don’t we? Home Secretary, I am talking to you. I am bothered, because these are topical questions and there are people here who want to catch my eye. You cannot carry on making statements to every question. Topical means topical. We are going to be here for some while, so I hope you understand. I call the shadow Home Secretary.

On 7 March, the Home Secretary emailed Conservative supporters saying

“today we’re changing our laws—and bringing the small boat crossings to an end.”

Since then, 20,000 more people have arrived. She is not applying her own law, because it does not work. The use of asylum hotels is up, with no date to end their use, and foreign criminal returns are down. The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration has said:

“This is no way to run a government department.”

He is right, isn’t he? Is that why the Home Secretary is getting rid of him?

I am incredibly proud of the landmark legislation passed by this House, which was opposed by the Labour party every step of the way. This will allow us to detain those who arrive here illegally and remove them to a safe country like Rwanda.

The point is that at least we have a policy. I am not sure that anyone on the Labour Front Bench knows what Labour’s plan is for stopping the boats. Shadow Ministers certainly seem to be making it up as they go along. There were quotas and then no quotas. The EU has made it clear that we would be expected to take thousands more migrants from the EU. Will there be family reunion? We already have a scheme for family reunion. They are making it up because they do not have a plan. I think the British people can see exactly what Labour’s plan is—

Order. I do not think the Home Secretary understands what “topical” means. Could the Whips please explain to their Front Benchers that we have to get through the Order Paper? You are not helping me, and I do not know why.

What the Home Secretary said is total waffle. She has no answer on the inspector because she is afraid of scrutiny. There was no answer on her failure, just invented garbage about Labour. The Home Office’s immigration director, asylum director, borders director and accommodation director are all going or gone because the only people she removes are the people she needs to do the job. There has been a 40% increase in the use of asylum hotels since she became Home Secretary. When will she end the use of asylum hotels? When will she deal with this shambles, stop the gimmicks and get a grip?

The right hon. Lady talks about a shambles, but the last four days have been a great example of a shambles. The EU has called her party “delusional” when it comes to its grand plan for stopping the boats. Labour disagrees with the National Crime Agency on how to solve the problem. The reality is that Labour is on another planet on how to stop the boats. It is not based in reality, it is not grappling with this challenge and it is not being honest with the British people.

T2. Constituents and businesses are being impacted by illegal car racing and meets. The Labour council is dragging its heels on implementing a public spaces protection order and Kent police have been working hard to tackle it, but resources are precious. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at how Kent police are funded? They are having to deal with increasing activity in this area and, being so close to London, we are seeing increasing burdens from criminality. (906439)

I thank my right hon. Friend for her tireless campaigning on behalf of the people of Rochester and Strood. Kent has record police officer numbers at 4,261, which is about 10% more than it ever had under the last Labour Government. We intend to review the police funding formula. I strongly urge Medway Council to get on with putting that PSPO in place.

T3. Since we left the European Union, my constituent—a UK citizen from birth, as was confirmed by the British Nationality (Regularisation of Past Practice) Act 2023—has been repeatedly stopped by UK border guards and had his citizenship questioned. Is this British Government satisfied that the customs and immigration system is so chaotic that their own citizens are being othered by the Department’s officials, just because their parents were born in the EU? (906440)

T6. Over the summer, dozens of Traveller caravans have been illegally pitched in my Warrington South constituency, impacting playing fields in Appleton Thorn, Bewsey and Dallam, and costing thousands to clear up. Warrington’s Labour council has avoided bringing forward proposals, despite having money in its budget. Does the Minister agree that local authorities need to play their full part so that the police can be effective in using the legislation passed by this House? (906443)

Yes, I do agree; local councils should be robust in using the powers this House granted them, as should the police in terms of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The police do have strong powers under the amended Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and I urge police forces up and down the country to use those powers.

We heard a little about retail crime earlier and it is a real issue in Birmingham, where a number of ugly, violent assaults on staff have taken place at Co-op stores in my constituency. I was pleased to hear the Minister’s earlier response. However, with less than 4% of about 8 million crimes actually recorded by the police, when can we expect to see the tougher measures he hinted at earlier?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I met representatives of the Co-op just a week or two ago and his chief constable, Amanda Blakeman, who leads on this for the National Police Chiefs’ Council. At my request, the police are working up a plan to make sure that they always look into the CCTV footage to try to get a facial recognition match, in order to arrest and prosecute shoplifters, and that they patrol a lot more regularly in areas where shoplifting is a problem.

High Speed 2

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the planned route and delivery of High Speed Rail 2.

Before I begin, I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) for her service in government, and to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Redcar (Jacob Young) and for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra) on their elevation.

Spades are already in the ground for HS2 and we remain focused on its delivery. The Minister for rail and HS2, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), is in the Czech Republic today to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Czech Government and tomorrow he will be in Poland to attend TRAKO, supporting UK rail supply chain companies at a major European rail trade fair. For that reason, I am responding on behalf of the Government. Construction continues in earnest, with about 350 active construction sites, and we are getting on with delivery, with high-speed rail services between London and Birmingham Curzon Street due to commence in 2033, with the re-scoped stages following. This will specifically drive the regeneration of 1,600 acres, delivering 40,000 homes and supporting 65,000 jobs in outer London. The benefits of HS2 for Birmingham are already being realised; the area around Curzon Street station is already becoming a focal point for transformation, development and economic growth. The Government provide regular six-monthly reports on HS2 to the House, and we will continue to keep the House updated on the project.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, but if the rail Minister is not available, you would think that the Secretary of State would be bothered to turn up to the House on an issue of this importance.

Here we are yet again: 13 years of gross mismanagement and chaos coming home to roost. First, the Government slashed Northern Powerhouse Rail; then they binned HS2 to Leeds; then they announced that the line would terminate at Old Oak Common for years to come; and now it looks as though they are considering cutting the north of England out in its entirety. If that is true, what are we left with? We are left with the Tories’ flagship levelling-up project that reaches neither the north of England, nor central London: the most expensive railway track in the world, which, thanks to terminating in Acton, will mean a longer journey between Birmingham and central London than the one passengers currently enjoy. What started out as a modern infrastructure plan, left by the last Labour Government, linking our largest northern cities will, after 13 years of Tory incompetence, waste and broken promises, have turned into a humiliating Conservative failure; a great rail betrayal—£45 billion and the least possible economic impact from the original plan, £45 billion and the north left with nothing. But frankly, what else would we expect from a Prime Minister who does not travel through the north of England on rail? He only ever flies over it. Today, communities and businesses do not need yet more speculation and rumour from the heart of this broken Government—they need answers.

Will the Minister urgently explain if the photograph leaked last Friday reflects his Government’s position to slash phase 2 altogether? Will he confirm the commitment his boss made in this House just a few months ago that high-speed trains will reach Manchester by 2041? Are his Government planning for trains to terminate at Old Oak Common for good, detonating the business case and overwhelming the Elizabeth line? Having run our economy, our public services and our railways into the ground, will the country not now conclude that this is proof, once and for all, that the Tories can never be trusted to run our country again?

In response to the hon. Lady’s question, the Secretary of State is on urgent ministerial business with other Government Departments.

At the Department for Transport, we were delighted to see the hon. Lady survive the recent shadow Cabinet reshuffle, albeit she appears to be shadow Secretary of State for Transport in name only, as that job now appears to be covered by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden). Even the Liberal Democrats caught the hon. Lady napping this morning by putting in their urgent question request before she did.

Only yesterday, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East said on “Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg”:

“I want to see what this costs and we’ll make those decisions when it comes to the manifesto.”

That came only two days after a leaked Labour party policy document said that the Opposition are committed to

“deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail and High Speed 2 in full”.

There was no mention of how they will pay for that combined £140 billion spending commitment—same old Labour. While the shadow Chancellor tries to talk up Labour’s “ironclad discipline”, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) goes around the country, promising hundreds of billions of pounds of unfunded spending on rail alone.

We cannot trust a word they say on transport spending, immigration or housing. All have unravelled over the last week, as the Labour party says one thing and does another: on immigration, an open door for Europe’s illegal immigration; on housing, backing the blockers not the builders. [Interruption.] This House will remember the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies back in May—

Order. I granted the urgent question so we could hear the answer, so less shouting. Carry on, Minister.

The House will remember the report by the IFS in May, when its director said that it was hard to see how the Labour party could bring forward any further policy without tax rises, and that Labour’s plans would increase inflation and drive up interest rates. But this Government, under this Prime Minister, have made it a priority to halve inflation by the end of the year. That is why I am proud that buses have introduced a £2 fare to help hard-working families with the cost of living, which the Labour party has not done during the 25 years it has been in charge in Wales.

This Government are getting on with delivering on rail. We have delivered 1,200 miles of electrification over the last 13 years, compared to a pathetic 63 miles under the 13 years of the last Labour Government.

There is more to public transport than trains. Over the last 10 months, I have been around the country supporting new road schemes funded by this Government, from the A303 to the Preston western distributor road. Some £500 million has been invested to protect bus services across the country, while we have delivered on our commitment for 4,000 zero-emission buses. Last week, I announced new funding for HGV truck stops; meanwhile, Labour has expanded ULEZ in London and banned road building in Wales, as well as putting a 20-mile-an-hour speed limit right across that place. [Interruption.] I am proud that this Government are—

Order. The Minister could have made a statement. I did not have to grant the urgent question, so please bring statements forward—I will always support you.

I am proud that this Government are unashamedly on the side of the taxpayer, checking the impact on the motorist, HGV drivers and bus passengers of every single policy that is put forward. Ministers will continue to keep the House updated regularly on HS2, as we have done today.

While one should always take with a pinch of salt newspaper speculation in advance of budgets as to what may or may not be in them, may I put on record that if what has been reported is true, it would be an enormous false economy? Whether people support or oppose HS2 in principle, starting at Old Oak Common and finishing at Birmingham would not realise the full benefits of the line and communities will have been enormously impacted for no great benefit. Old Oak Common does not have the capacity to handle all the services and just a couple of weeks ago Network Rail, in its West Coast South strategic advice, noted that even with HS2 to Manchester, the west coast mainline will not have the capacity in the decades to come. Will my hon. Friend take the message to the Treasury to either do it properly or not to do it at all?

I thank the Chair of the Transport Committee for his comments. I shall certainly take that message away with me.

I hope the Minister has had time to calm down and perhaps take a breath after that astonishing performance. In attacking Labour on costs, he seems to be admitting what we all know, which is that phase 2 is an utter shambles—financially, operationally and politically. First, it was the north-east and Yorkshire that were let down by this Government on HS2. Now it seems to be the turn of the north-west, let alone Scotland and Wales. In a similar timeframe to that of HS2, Spain has managed to install 624 km of high speed rail for a fraction of the cost. This includes tunnels and bridges through far rougher terrain than that which HS2 passes through. Since June 2018, 233 kilometres of this track has come into operational use. What we have is a gold-plated commuter line of just 100 miles between two cities on the south of this island costing nearly £50 billion, while the rest of the country is expected to fight for scraps from the table. When Philip Hammond was Transport Secretary he gave commitments on HS2 infrastructure reaching Scotland, but that infrastructure is barely getting to the midlands. Can the Minister tell me in which decade HS2 infrastructure will actually get anywhere near Scotland? How does any further cancellation, postponement or watering down of HS2 commitments fit with the so-called levelling-up strategy and when will Wales receive its rightful share of Barnett consequentials?

I thank the Member for his question. As he will know, this Government have delivered more than 1,200 miles of electrification—over 20 times the amount delivered in the 13 years of the last Labour Government. I would also say to him that, just last week, I met my third Scottish Transport Minister in 10 months and they did not mention HS2 at all.

It should not surprise people that building a high-speed railway line on a very small island through large, populated areas with lots of infrastructure was always going to be complex and expensive—that should be a surprise to nobody. If these decisions are taking place, may I ask my hon. Friend to remind his colleagues in the Treasury that HS2 also delivers important connectivity infrastructure for Northern Powerhouse Rail, connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and, perhaps the greatest city of the north, Hull. I urge him to remind his colleagues who may be looking at this of that important fact.

I thank my hon. Friend and other colleagues for the work that they did on the Select Committee. I will, of course, take that message back to Treasury colleagues.

Will the Minister give an unambiguous answer to this question: is this Government still committed to building HS2 to Manchester from Euston? People in the north need to know whether they are being abandoned, because it looks like that to me from press reports, which have not been made up by journalists. Is it not the case that the Minister is fronting a Government who will not dare tell the electorate that they are abandoning the north?

There is no question of this Government abandoning the north. We have put in huge amounts of funding, including on buses and new roads. I was in Preston a few weeks ago to open the new Preston Western Distributor road. The Government are hugely investing in the north of England—on rail, on roads, and indeed on our important bus network. As I said earlier, Ministers will continue to update the House regularly on HS2, as we have done throughout.

Even when this project had arms and legs and eyebrows going across the whole country, it was always accepted that the business case was very weak and that, as a nation, we cannot really afford it. I hope the Government do scrap HS2 north of Birmingham and save many more communities from the human misery that my constituents endure every day of the week from the construction. If they do scrap it, it would leave the quite literally legless stump from outside central London to outside central Birmingham. Will my hon. Friend take the message back to his colleagues and to the Treasury that we cannot afford it and that what is left of phase 1 should be scrapped as well.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Spades are already in the ground for HS2, with over 350 active construction sites, and with high-speed services between London and Birmingham Curzon Street due to start between 2029 and 2033. However, I will pass on his comments to Treasury colleagues, as always.

Frankly, it is a real shame that we have to put up with an ill-prepared office junior instead of the boss, because these are really significant decisions. Let us be clear: the case for HS2 was always flawed, but ballooning construction costs and changing business travel patterns post covid now make it unsustainable. I understand that it would be hugely embarrassing for the Government, and for the Minister’s Department, to write off somewhere between 10 billion and 15 billion quid, but surely that is better than spending £100 billion on this ill-fated project.

My constituents have been through absolute misery for 13 years now, ever since the hybrid Bill first started and they tried to defend their own area. Unfortunately, HS2 has not provided continuity of support, has not provided good customer liaison and has not provided proper compensation. People have been made miserable, and their mental health has been severely damaged by this project. They deserve the right answer: is this project going ahead or is it not? My constituency looks like an industrial site right now.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. Spades are already in the ground for HS2, as she well knows, and we are focusing on its delivery. There are already over 350 active construction sites right across the country, including in her constituency. It is going ahead.

HS2 faces death by a thousand cuts. We Liberal Democrats are firmly behind HS2, but the Government’s catastrophic handling of the project’s delivery has meant that the Infrastructure and Projects Authority now rates it as “unachievable”. What will the Government do to fix this mess?

I find it very interesting that the hon. Lady says that the Liberal Democrats are firmly behind HS2, because that is not what their candidate for Mid Bedfordshire said earlier today, or what the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sarah Green) said just a few months ago.

We had a meeting about HS2 with the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), a few weeks ago. It was a very good meeting, led by myself and other Members of Parliament, and various options were put forward. I pay tribute to Trevor Parkin in my constituency for all his work on the matter.

Can we have a straight answer about this white elephant? Will there be a continuation of the line from Birmingham to Manchester, or not? Will the Minister be good enough to let us have a proper analysis, in line with all the reports that have come out showing that, unless the entire project is radically changed or scrapped, it will continue to be a white elephant? People in my constituency have been suffering for far too long, to no good purpose.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has had great engagement on the issue from the Department and from the rail Minister. As I have said, Ministers will continue to keep the House updated regarding HS2, as they have been doing. I am sure that when the rail Minister returns he will be happy to have further such conversations with my hon. Friend.

Ministers will continue to keep the House updated regularly regarding HS2, as they have done to date. As we all know, the first stages are set to be completed by 2033, linking London with Birmingham.

As a member of the Bill Committee, I have had the good fortune to visit a number of sites involved in the construction of HS2, so I appreciate what a major project it is and how many people are involved. Companies up and down the country are reliant on the project for the continuation of their business. The future of hundreds of jobs and businesses depends on it. Can the Minister give an assurance that that will be taken into full consideration in discussions with the Treasury?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. There are thousands of people working on site at the moment, with more than 350 construction sites up and down the country, and companies will be updated. Even from today this project will last well into the 2030s, if not beyond, so those construction jobs will be secure for a long time.

The Minister said that the Government are hugely investing in the north. For Hull, the decade of northern powerhouse saw a privately financed scheme to electrify our railways blocked by Ministers in 2016 and, in the Government’s 2021 integrated rail plan, blocked for the next 30 years. Funding apparently was needed for Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, which are now being cut. Levelling up is not just about being nice to northerners; it is about boosting an essential part of the UK economy. Am I right in thinking that in these ever-shrinking plans we are just seeing the economics of mismanaged decline and an inbuilt vicious circle of stagnation under this Government that is affecting the north?

I remember using Northern Rail under the last Labour Government, which had a zero investment strategy for the railway network in the entire north of England. This Government have already delivered more than 1,200 miles of electrification, 20 times what the right hon. Lady’s party did when they were in government. She should also look at the huge amount of investment we have put into bus networks right across the country, including in Yorkshire, over the past few months.

May I remind the House, journalists and the Chairman of the Transport Committee that the area under discussion is beyond phase 1? It does not end in Birmingham—it goes beyond Birmingham and then joins the west coast main line at a place called Handsacre, just by Lichfield. If HS2 is abandoned at that point, high-speed trains can still run down from Manchester and join the high-speed line at Handsacre. Does that not make good economic sense? Will the Minister please pass that on to the Treasury?

My hon. Friend is quite right; that is exactly what would happen in that scenario. I will pass on the point he makes to the Treasury.

HS2 has just applied for planning permission for works to enable Old Oak Common station to serve as a temporary terminus. “Temporary” previously meant the 2040s, but now it means forever. The works proposed block the eastern access to the station—just one example of a total lack of coordination. Will the Minister commission a report on the implications for HS2 of Old Oak Common’s being the London terminus?

Old Oak Common itself will deliver regeneration of 1,600 acres of London, delivering more than 40,000 homes and supporting 65,000 jobs in outer London. The Government will continue to update the House if anything else changes with HS2.

In order to unlock economic growth and power up northern productivity, our region must have improved connectivity, both to our capital and through a Northern Powerhouse Rail connecting our cities across the North. Our country will only be truly levelled up with our connected northern region reaching its full potential. Uncertainty around phase 2 is unhelpful. I urge my hon. Friend to consider the importance of northern infrastructure commitments to businesses across the region.

As a northerner myself, I certainly take note of my hon. Friend’s comments and I am sure they will have been heard across Government as we reflect on the future.

As I have outlined, the Government will update the House, as we have done consistently, on HS2. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on what is already being delivered, with 350 construction sites already across the country and thousands of jobs. There is a huge amount of transport investment going on, and it is not all about rail. Greater Manchester has received more than £1 billion of city region sustainable transport settlement, which includes potential rail investment.

HS2 is behaving outrageously by not paying my Stafford constituents on time. It is unacceptable that affected residents are paying outstanding bills on behalf of HS2—for their agents’ fees, for example—in order to have representation. Will the Secretary of State for Transport please write to me to clarify that HS2 will treat all my residents fairly, and that we expect compensation claims to be paid in a timely manner?

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I will certainly pass on her request to the rail Minister and the Secretary of State, and I will raise it personally with HS2 Ltd.

The Government’s excuse for denying Wales our fair share of HS2 funding is that the phase 2 connection at Crewe would cut journey times between north Wales and London. We can now only conclude that the Government are planning to scrap the phase 2 connection altogether. Welsh taxpayers are funding this fiasco and getting nothing back. Will the Minister admit that HS2 is an England-only railway project and that his Government owe Wales money?

I do not think the right hon. Lady is reflecting on what the Plaid-Labour Government are currently doing in Wales: costing taxpayers billions with their ridiculous across-the-board 20 mph scheme, and not delivering for the people of Wales. They are even banning any form of new road programme across all Wales.

It is sometimes right to ask our constituents to take local pain for national gain, but does my hon. Friend agree that the national gain of HS2 has always been argued to result from its being a network of high-speed rail lines, not a single line? If it is a single line, are we not in danger of the national gain being extraordinarily limited, and the local pain, including to my constituents, being extraordinarily extensive and long lasting?

A huge amount of work is already going on with HS2 at the moment, creating tens of thousands of jobs and supporting more than 1,700 apprenticeships. There is a huge amount of benefit, right across the country, to the investment going into HS2. I will pass on my right hon. and learned Friend’s broader comments to Ministers in both my Department and the Treasury.

Is this not an example of a very bad national planning process? HS2 does not link up with HS1; all the pain and disruption around Euston will have been for naught; and if it is completed as far as Birmingham, all it will do is join an already overcrowded rail network. Surely we have either a high-speed network or nothing at all. The Minister seems unable to answer any questions at all.

I say to the right hon. Member that a huge amount of investment is already going into HS1, which will deliver transformation, particularly at Old Oak Common, as I have mentioned, where there will be a huge boost to economic growth in quite a deprived area of London as well as that massive investment. I do not know whether he has been down to Curzon Street and seen the transformation happening in central Birmingham. I would have thought that jobs, housing and general prosperity were outcomes that he would welcome.

Let me start by correcting the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), who said that the Prime Minister only flies over the north. He does not; he is a regular user of the Hitachi Azuma on the east coast main line.

For rail and for HS2, it is all about capacity: we need to get capacity into the rail industry. Certainly, in my Sedgefield constituency there was no investment in rail by my predecessors. Whether it is HS2 or regional rail—as with the Leamside line and Ferryhill station—delivery and certainty are necessary for supply-chain businesses. This constant change is not helpful. Will the Minister go back to his Department and encourage certainty and clarity, whether about HS2 or Northern Powerhouse Rail? We need certainty for everybody.

I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for his question. He is absolutely right: the Prime Minister uses those trains regularly—in fact, I think they are made in my hon. Friend’s constituency, or very nearby—to travel right across the country. I welcome my hon. Friend’s continued fighting for his constituents on rail and transport projects not just in his area but across the wider north and north-east of England. I shall take his comments back to colleagues.

We have seen the Government give up on the eastern leg; we have seen them give up on connecting to central London; and we have seen the downgrading of Northern Powerhouse Rail. We are now seeing the Government give up on connecting to the north-west and Britain’s second city of Manchester. Why are the Government giving up on the north?

As I have said in answer to other hon. Members, this Government have put unprecedented investment into our transport infrastructure right across the country. I have no idea at all what Labour’s policy in this area is: it seems to flip-flop from one thing to another daily, making hundreds of billions of pounds’ worth of unfunded spending commitments. We are a responsible Government who are going to make the right decisions in the long-term interests of the country, just as we have in supporting Greater Manchester and the Mayor’s new upgraded bus network, which we have been delighted to invest in over the past few months.

Having chaired the Select Committee on the first phase for 20 months, I always privately had the view that Old Oak Common was a more sensible place to stop, because the Elizabeth line runs straight through Old Oak Common and can deposit people from Heathrow into the city. As for anything to do with Euston, it is a very small site and horrendously expensive. However, the logic of the railway is that it does have to go to Manchester and beyond, otherwise it was not worth starting.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I am sure that the Treasury, No. 10 and the Department will be listening to those wise words from somebody who served on the Select Committee.

Huddersfield is a proud railway town. Is the Minister telling my constituents and the rest of the country that this is an abysmal failure of the country—the country of Brunel and Stephenson, the pioneers of railway building? Is he telling us that the £100 billion was for nothing? Is that what he is saying today?

As my hon. Friend knows, I am proud to host the UK’s fastest-growing ports in my constituency, and one of the things that those ports are investing in is more freight connections to transport more containers by rail, rather than road. Achieving the full potential of those connections absolutely requires HS2 to free up capacity elsewhere on the rail network, so will the Minister assure me that all the implications of any changes to the timetable for HS2 will be considered? It impacts on net zero, the demand on our road infrastructure, and where things will arrive.

I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point—I was delighted to visit some of those freight services in her constituency with her just last week. Getting freight on to rail is obviously an important objective of the Government, as is supporting those on the road network, and I will ensure that that is taken into consideration in any future decisions that the Government take.

What estimate has been made of the cost in contract litigation alone if the Chancellor were to conceive of scrapping phase 2 of HS2?

What I would say is that the Government are putting a huge amount of money into stage 1 of the scheme. Thousands of jobs have already been created, as well as hundreds of apprenticeships, and it is going to deliver transformation to central Birmingham and to a deprived community in outer London. That is investment very well made in those areas.

For the record, the roads Minister is a very good one, who has had to swap lanes today at short notice. How many of the HS2 stations will have ticket offices? Last Thursday in Westminster Hall, there was a train crash of a debate in which not a single Back Bencher from any political party backed the Government’s proposals. As many people have asked the Minister to pass on messages today, could I add one more, in all good faith? “You are under enough pressure on HS2 as it is. Do yourselves a favour and drop the bonkers proposals to get rid of our ticket offices.”

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments—he has always been a champion of our road network, and now he is a champion of our rail network as well. I will certainly take his thoughts back to the Department.

I used to live in Wigan in the north-west of England, and I am very disappointed for my family and friends who are still there that this project is not going ahead—disappointed, like the people in Swansea are disappointed that the electrification never got to Swansea. HS2 is an England-only project, so will the Minister stop talking down the Welsh Labour Government and give us what we are due?

I do not need to talk down the Welsh Labour Government; they do it themselves. They talk down Wales constantly. They have introduced 20 mph speed limits costing tens of millions of pounds a year to the local economy. They are doing no road building—no M4, no Llanymynech bypass, nothing invested in the road network. The Welsh Labour Government have been in office for 25 years. They are not even delivering a “get around for £2” bus fare like we are doing in England.

HS2 is already being built in Buckinghamshire, unfortunately, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is a blight on the lives of my constituents in Aylesbury. Just last Saturday, residents in Walton Court told me that HS2’s contractors are now working well outside their contracted hours. Normally, we would think that was a good thing, but it is causing massive disruption, especially from noise. Will the Minister make it abundantly clear to HS2 Ltd and its contractors that they must comply with the agreements they have made and minimise the harm and distress they are causing?

My hon. Friend is a real champion for his constituents. I will certainly take the message back to HS2 Ltd and, if necessary, arrange a further meeting between him and the rail Minister to discuss the matter.

For over a decade, I have been highlighting in this House how the Welsh taxpayer is being fleeced as a result of HS2. The spurious response I receive from Ministers is that north Wales will be linked via Crewe. Considering that it is highly unlikely that the line will make it north of Birmingham, is it not time for the British Government to ensure that Wales receives its fair funding for phase 1 of HS2?

I just point out to the hon. Member that I think Welsh taxpayers will feel fleeced by the Welsh Labour Government, with the longest waiting lists in the country, no new road schemes and falling school standards right across the board. When it comes to it, the UK Government deliver better value for the Welsh taxpayer than the Plaid/Labour Welsh Government.

Of course it is right that we discuss investment in our rail network in the north and the midlands, but we also have to have a discussion about East Anglia. Time and again, Ely North junction and Haughley junction have been deprioritised. Both those projects would cost a fraction of the cost of HS2 but deliver transformative benefits to the east of England. Will the Minister have discussions with his colleagues and the Treasury to see how we can get those two key projects back at the top of the agenda?

I certainly will. I was delighted to be in East Anglia just last week at the opening of the new A11 road, where there has been £65 million of investment, and I have been delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency on multiple occasions, including to see the investment that is going into his local bus network. I will certainly pass on his representations on behalf of his constituents regarding Ely junction.

We had great news a while ago when the Government said they would scrap the 2b arm of HS2, which would have devastated hundreds of homes across Rother Valley in Bramley, Wales and Aston, but many of those homes are still under safeguarding measures, meaning their owners are stuck in limbo. I know that the Government still want high-speed trains through the area, but the only financially viable way of HS2 getting to Leeds is by using existing track. Why is it taking so long to release the land when everyone knows and accepts that we will not be building a new track through Rother Valley to Leeds? Will the Minister release the safeguarding and release people’s homes?

I know that my hon. Friend has raised this issue multiple times with the rail Minister. I will certainly take it back to the Department and discuss what can be done.

My hon. Friend has received a number of challenging questions from Opposition Members about Barnett consequentials for HS2. Is he aware that the Leader of the Opposition does not support Barnett consequentials for HS2?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. It is sometimes difficult to know what the Leader of the Opposition supports or does not support. We have had a three-way flip-flop in just the last few days. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), from the Opposition Front Bench, raised the fact that I am here today rather than the Secretary of State, given that the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster seems to have a very different opinion from the hon. Lady about what is going on with Labour policy.

Tata Steel: Port Talbot

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall make a statement about Tata Steel’s proposal, which has been agreed with Government, to invest in greener steel making at its Port Talbot site in south Wales.

I can confirm that the Government have agreed on a proposed joint investment package to provide £500 million to Tata Steel as part of its proposed £1.25 billion project to move to low-carbon steelmaking in Port Talbot, subject to the necessary information and consultation processes that will be led by the company. For me it was always about certainty, continuity and security, and through investment in a state of the art electric arc furnace at Port Talbot the deal will support the UK’s efforts to meet increasing demand over the next decade and enable industry to take a significant step towards decarbonisation. It will strengthen our supply chain resilience as well as protect thousands of skilled jobs across south Wales and the UK for the long term.

The Conservative Government have been supporting the UK steel industry for many years. It will be no surprise that the industry has been acutely impacted by recent wider geopolitical and macroeconomic developments that have made traditional blast furnace steelmaking financially unviable. The global steel market has become saturated with heavily subsidised carbon-intensive steel, while Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has dramatically increased energy costs. This Conservative Government will continue to stand by our steel industry and this deal is part of our long-term plan for steel.

This ambitious transformation is the culmination of several years of negotiations between the Government and Tata Steel and it has been backed by a majority investment by the company. The transition will secure continued production of steel at Port Talbot, enable the industry to take a significant step towards decarbonisation and provide a clear pathway towards a long-term financially and environmentally sustainable business model, removing the repeated need for Government intervention.

As well as investment, the Government are enabling the major transformation and modernisation of the steel sector through key policy changes, including delivering the British industry supercharger to make electricity prices competitive for energy-intensive industries, including steel, so that they are line with those charged across the world’s major economies.

Steel is a strategically significant industry that plays a vital role in the UK economy. The sector supports tens of thousands of UK jobs and remains a key driver for local economic growth in regions with proud steelmaking histories, but it is also an industry in urgent need of modernisation. Decarbonising industry is a global challenge to meet the temperature goals of the 2015 Paris agreement. By replacing Port Talbot’s existing coal-powered blast furnaces and assets nearing the end of their effective life with an electric arc furnace, this proposed project is expected to reduce the UK’s entire business and industry carbon emissions by 7%, Wales’s overall emissions by 22% and the Port Talbot site’s emissions by 85%.

As such, decarbonising UK industry is central to the Government’s bold plans for tackling climate change and in doing so placing our country at the forefront of the growing global green economy. We are committed to seeing a low-emission production steel sector in the UK and are also working with global partners to support decarbonisation of steel production internationally.

This agreement with Tata represents the best offer and result for the UK and the people of south Wales. This package represents one of the largest support offers in recent history and will secure long-term jobs not just in Port Talbot but across all Tata Steel sites in England and Wales. It is a deal that not only safeguards jobs but will help to build better resilience in the UK economy and help to create new opportunities in our construction, automotive and energy sectors. We have been working closely with the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to establish a new transition board to help to capitalise on some of the opportunities that it will create. The UK Government will ensure a broad range of support for staff who are affected by the transition, working with the Welsh Government and Tata Steel to provide up to £100 million of funding for a dedicated workforce to support both affected employees and the local economy. We will continue to engage with local MPs and stakeholders in the area to ensure the project is a success.

Of course, any Government funding offered to a private company is subject to extensive scrutiny of detailed business plans, vigorous due diligence and subsidy control assessments. It will include strong conditions around financial probity, governance and delivery. With that in mind, we are delighted that we have reached this agreement on the Government’s role in the proposed project. As part of the proposal, Tata Steel will also release land in Port Talbot for redevelopment and use for new industrial businesses. Alongside the UK Government’s proposal for the Celtic freeport and the land at Port Talbot which Tata expects to release for transfer or sale following the transition from blast furnaces, this investment could help to unlock thousands of new jobs in both south Wales and the wider UK economy.

The landmark proposal builds on other major investments in UK green technology by Tata Group, including the July announcement of a £4 billion battery gigafactory creating 4,000 direct jobs, and represents a major vote of confidence in the UK. The Government are focused on working with business to get on with delivering key investments, creating opportunities across the UK. I commend this statement to the House.

After 13 years of failure, expectations of this Government are not high, but even by their standards, spending half a billion pounds to make thousands of British steelworkers redundant is a truly remarkable feat. Last week, I went to Port Talbot to meet some of the workers affected by this announcement, and like us, they support green steel. They have actually been campaigning for green steel for many years, and those workers were promised repeatedly that they would be a part of the process. They rightly feel betrayed by this announcement and the fact it is being done to them, rather than with them.

I know the Minister will come back to say that more jobs were at risk. I have heard the Government’s line that all the jobs would have gone entirely, but she must be honest: it is absurd even to countenance the UK being the first major economy not to have a domestic steel industry. The UK steel sector is already much diminished compared with when the Conservatives came to power. The transition to green steel should be about more jobs, not less. It should be an optimistic, exciting moment for steel communities, but instead this has caused anxiety and anguish. I say genuinely to Government Ministers and to all on the Conservative Benches that if they allow decarbonisation to become associated with Thatcher-style job losses, it will risk the legitimacy and political support for net zero in a way that courts disaster. Is levelling up not a tacit admission by the Conservative party that the scars of the 1980s deindustrialisation cut so deep that we still feel them today?

Why were the workforce not involved in this process? Why has only one technology—the electric arc furnace—been chosen? What consideration was given to hydrogen and carbon capture possibilities? We already know that this deal was not the company’s opening proposal, so what other options have been considered? Crucially, what will happen to downstream facilities, such as Trostre and Llanwern, that provide packaging and automotive steels that cannot currently be served by an electric arc furnace? Will that steel be supplied from India, with a larger emissions profile than at present, which is what many of the workforce believe?

What is included in this package as regards ongoing industrial energy costs? Crucially, when will a grid connection for an arc furnace be provided? In addition, how will this £500 million of taxpayers’ money be protected? In the absence of any clear and identifiable criteria, how do we know that it represents good value for money? Finally, what does this announcement mean for the rest of the UK steel industry and, in particular, Scunthorpe?

The plan that Labour put forward for green steel was industry-wide, comprehensive and transformative, and it was designed to secure major economic dividends for the UK. We cannot secure the future of UK steelmaking with sticking plasters. We cannot do it on a plant-by-plant basis, and we cannot do it without the workforce behind us. This should have been such a positive announcement. It should have been about creating jobs, strengthening national capabilities and showing that we can do decarbonisation in a way that works for working people. I say to every single steelworker out there that it is clear that they will only get the bright future that they know is out there when they get a Labour Government.

It is unfortunate that the hon. Member decided to politicise such an important sector. It was not me but Gareth Stace for UK Steel, the trade association for the UK steel industry—the voice of the country’s steel manufacturers—who said:

“This is a really important day for our steel sector in the UK, with the Government showing a real commitment to the future of steel making here in the UK. We will get a true transformation of our sector to create steel for the net-zero economy, something which our customers are asking us for. We have the ability to completely transform our sector and boost the net-zero economy in the UK. We can really seize the opportunity to increase production in the UK and increase exports. We all know that a net-zero economy will need more steel, not less.”

The hon. Member is putting on a very poor display over a serious decision that has been in discussion, I am told, for more than a decade. I have spoken to Ministers who have held the portfolio over many years before me, and they tell me that these matters are nothing new.

More importantly, the hon. Member knows that the blast furnaces were at the end of their life. The right decision is to provide certainty, security and continuity, and that is exactly what we are doing. The UK is a world leader in producing steel, but we need to decarbonise, and this is the best way of ensuring and guaranteeing jobs, of which there are 8,000 on the site and 12,000 in the supply chain.

As well as the £500 million, £100 million has been put together for a group to consult and work with the unions, the staff, the Welsh Government and the Secretary of State for Wales to ensure that the transition is as appropriate as it can be and not so challenging for the people who are impacted. The proposal is to go for electric because other energy sources are underdeveloped. If the hon. Member will reflect on what is happening in Europe on hydrogen, for example, he will see that nothing else can work at this scale and within the tight timeframe that we want to work in to ensure that the site continues to be viable not only for manufacturing steel in the UK and supporting all the jobs in the supply chain but to support Wales, too.

The proposal will also transform the Welsh community and the Welsh area. A huge amount of work is taking place with the freeport, and a huge number of businesses and jobs will be coming out of the transformation to green steel. It is unfortunate that the hon. Member cannot recognise that, without this decision, there would have been continued uncertainty, no security for the staff and definitely no security for the UK steel sector.

Have the Government ascertained that there is enough old steel and metal around for the recycling facility? Do their wider plans for steel in the United Kingdom include retaining capacity to produce new steel?

My right hon. Friend is always absolutely hot on these topics. There is enough steel, because we export so much of it and we can now use it on the site. Considering the age of the current furnaces, the reality is that electric arc furnaces are, within the timescale, the best way for us to transition. There is of course a supply chain in place that enabled Tata to put the business plan forward, for it to commit a substantial amount of money, and for us to support its plan.

Madam Deputy Speaker,

“I’m not going to shy away from the fact that this is still terrible news.”

Those are not my words but those of the Wales Secretary, who is sat next to the Minister. How did we get to a stage where £0.5 billion of UK-wide taxpayers’ money is being used to prop up a deal that is classed as “terrible news” by a Government Minister?

We know that we need to decarbonise, but with this level of taxpayer investment we should be looking at proper, green, virgin steel manufacturing and job creation, not the loss of 3,000 jobs, and not settling for lower-grade steel production from recycling. What will the lower-grade steel production mean for Port Talbot’s ability to supply key UK infrastructure programmes? What UK-based supply chain guarantees are being sought for the £1.25 billion of investment that the Government say is coming forward into the plant? Why were the unions not involved in the discussions? Why were the Welsh Government not involved? Is it not hypocritical to propose to involve the Welsh Government in the taskforce for job losses but not to have included them in the initial discussions on options for the plant going forward?

Not that long ago, the Tata Group also received a reported £0.5 billion for a proposed electric battery factory—another deal lacking in transparency at this stage. How can the Tata Group secure £1 billion so easily from the Government? It is the same with EDF, with more than £1 billion allocated to the development of the Sizewell C nuclear power station. Too many deals are done behind closed doors, based on who has got the Government’s ear and where the Government think there is some political capital. Does it not prove yet again that there needs to be a structured, coherent, long-term strategy to address the competition from the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the EU’s green industrial plan? Does it not also prove that in the current constitutional framework and fiscal straitjackets imposed on the Welsh and Scottish Governments, our communities will always be at the mercy of decisions made at Westminster?

There were so many questions, but I will do my best to address the most important ones. Conversations at Port Talbot have been going on for years—one could argue more than a decade. It is not news that the site needed financial support to ensure that it continued to be viable. Steel companies lose more than £1 million a day producing steel, and it is no longer viable without Government support. That is a route that many countries have taken.

The blast furnaces in Port Talbot can be operated for 15 to 20 years only before a major investment decision is reached, either to be relined or to be rebuilt. There was a very tight timeframe; it was important to find alternative energy—electric—to make sure that it would work with the timeframe of the new furnaces coming on site. That is why it is electric, not hydrogen—there are no hydrogen alternatives that can give us the steel that we need on the scale that we need. This is not only a £500 million investment. There is also £100 million to deal with the transition. As I said, the transition board will comprise union members, staffers, the Welsh Government and the Welsh Secretary of State. The conversation will take place, and consultation will occur. Those conversations have been happening for quite some time.

It is important to note that the sector is now secure. In a part of the UK that is incredibly important to us, thousands of jobs will be created—up to 16,000 jobs in the Celtic freeport proposal, which is linked to the renewables at Port Talbot. That will create even more jobs. Any transition that requires a consultation on jobs is always sensitive, which it is why it is important that the transition board will be stood up to provide the support needed. The site needed to make a decision. The best decision was for it to continue to make steel. That is what we will support it to do.

Tata in Port Talbot and British Steel in Scunthorpe are the last two steelworks in this country that have blast furnaces. There is a place for electric arc furnaces, but we need to remember that they melt scrap; they cannot make brand-new virgin steel from scratch; a blast furnace is needed to do that. My hon. Friend made the comment about steel being a strategic industry, and she is right. Does she agree that, for national security reasons alone, we must ensure that we retain the capability to make virgin steel in this country?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on the importance of virgin steel production. She is the best champion for her constituency and her steel plant, which is now uniquely positioned as the blast furnace to make virgin steel. That will be important in line with our mantra of “continuity, certainty and security.” Conversations have been taking place with British Steel, the details of which are commercially confidential. My hon. Friend campaigns incredibly hard for the steel sector both in the constituency and across the UK. Those meetings will continue. She is right that, obviously, we need a place for virgin steel, and that is in her constituency.