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Commons Chamber

Volume 750: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2024

House of Commons

Tuesday 21 May 2024

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

Protecting our Democracy from Coercion


That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, That he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report, entitled Protecting our Democracy from Coercion, dated 21 May 2024.—(Mark Fletcher.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Energy Security and Net Zero

The Secretary of State was asked—

Grangemouth Oil Refinery

1. What recent discussions she has had with trade unions on the future of Grangemouth oil refinery beyond 2025. (902928)

My Department attended the Grangemouth industrial just transition leadership forum alongside Scotland Office Ministers and representatives of Unite the union on 28 March. We remain in close contact with the Scottish Government and the owner Petroineos. My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero met Scottish Government counterparts and Petroineos management on 15 May and raised the importance of working with the unions.

Warm words are one thing; tangible support is quite another. If Grangemouth closes, Scotland faces the possibility—indeed, the probability—of being the only major oil producing nation without refinery capacity, yet €700 million has been found by the UK Government to support an Ineos plant in Antwerp while not a penny is available for Grangemouth. Is it to be a Brexit bonus for Belgian workers and a P45 for those Scots at the refinery?

We are working with the Scottish Government and Petroineos to understand all possible options for the future of the refinery. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservatives are the only major party who are backing the North sea, the biddings it brings in each year and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that it supports, while a new report last week showed that Labour’s plan could lose as many as 100,000 jobs in the next five years.

Net Zero Target

We are on track to reach net zero by 2050, and we will do so in a way that brings the public with us. We overachieved on our third carbon budget by 15%, and we announce today that we will not be rolling that over as we think that we will be able to overperform on carbon budget 4 as well.

I congratulate the Government on us being one of the first major economies in the world to set out the ambition for net zero carbon emissions by 2050. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport with regard to a revenue support mechanism for sustainable aviation, as well as ensuring that feedstock for sustainable aviation fuels takes priority?

I know from experience that my hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his local area and for the aviation sector. My Department is in regular contact with the Department for Transport and the Treasury on aviation decarbonisation and the important role for sustainable aviation fuel in that transition. On 25 April, DFT published a consultation on options for a revenue certainty mechanism alongside details of the SAF mandate, which together will support both decarbonation and the growth of the sector.

Tapadh, Mr Speaker.

There are many criticisms of the Government—I am sure they are aware of them—that they are too slow and indecisive about giving signals to the market for particular technologies, which means that, when they need to commission new energy, they are stuck with only one option: gas, which, as we know, is not exactly the way to net zero. What will the Secretary of State be doing to move things a bit quicker and give the market signals as to which energy path the UK will be taking?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have one of the most remarkable records when it comes to renewable energies. The only country that has built more offshore wind than us is China, we have set out the largest expansion for nuclear, and we are at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies such as fusion, hydrogen and carbon capture.

Meeting our net zero targets, which will be extremely difficult and eye-wateringly expensive, has been enforced on my constituents. Does the Secretary of State agree that we must be more honest and open about the enormous costs of net zero on the British taxpayer? Will the Government commit to publishing a detailed analysis of those costs in advance of my Westminster Hall debate?

There is a balance to be struck, which I believe we are striking, in ensuring that we can make the most of the jobs and opportunities of the energy transition, which will support up to 480,000 green jobs in 2030. But, yes, when it comes to additional costs, we are taking a measured approach because we want to protect households.

In the Climate Change Committee’s latest progress report, it was made clear:

“There continues to be an overly narrow approach to solutions, which crucially does not embrace the need to reduce demand for high-carbon activities.”

So when the Secretary of State goes back to the drawing board to revise the Government’s carbon budget delivery plan, as she now must, will she finally reduce the reliance on unproven technofixes and look instead at demand reduction measures—or, following the recent embarrassing judgment from the High Court, is she aiming for a hat-trick, with her Department’s climate plan declared unlawful for a third time?

I would find the hon. Lady’s questions more credible if she would at least once welcome the fact that we are the first country in the G20 to have halved emissions. On our progress, I am proud that one of the reasons that we have come so far is technological fixes, because of the remarkable progress that this country has made in renewable energy. That is why we overshot on our first, second and third carbon budgets, and we are on track to overshoot on our fourth.

Two weeks ago the Government were found, for a second time, to be in breach of the law over their climate targets. That failure will mean that families across the country will pay higher energy bills. The Court found:

“The Secretary of State’s conclusion that the proposals and policies will enable the carbon budgets to be met was irrational”.

Last time, the Government claimed that their breach of the law was just on a technicality. What is the right hon. Lady’s “dog ate my homework” excuse this time?

Let us be clear: the Court did not question the policies that we have set out, which we have done in more detail than any of our peers. It did not question the progress that we have already made, as the first G20 country in the world to halve emissions, and it did not question the ambition of our future targets, which are among the most ambitious of our peers. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to look at what would smother the transition and private investment in this country, he need only look at his own mad, unachievable 2030 target.

With a defence like that, I can see why the Government lost in court not just once but twice. Buried in the court documents is the confidential memo that reveals the real reason they lost the case—officials were telling Ministers that they had low or very low confidence that half their carbon reductions would be achieved. That is why they were found unlawful. The right hon. Lady comes to the House each month with her complacent nonsense, but the court judgment exposes the truth: the Government are way off track, abysmally failing to meet the climate emergency and pushing up bills for families as a result.

I have learned in this role that the right hon. Gentleman likes to call people who disagree with him names. Last week, representatives from the Tony Blair Institute said that his plans would raise bills and harm our energy security. Are they flat earthers? An industry report said last week said that his plans would see up to 100,000 people lose their jobs. Are those people who are worried climate deniers? When will the right hon. Gentleman admit that his plans are based on fantasy and ideology and are the last thing that this country needs?

Public Ownership of Energy System

3. Whether she has made an assessment of the potential merits of public ownership of the energy system. (902930)

Every family in Britain is paying the price for the Government’s failure on energy, with bills through the roof while oil and gas profits have soared. A publicly owned clean energy company would allow us to take back control of our energy, cutting bills and creating jobs across the UK. Why are the Government letting their ideological stubbornness get in the way of supporting families, when they could follow other, successful countries and set up a publicly owned clean energy company like Great British Energy?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I do not think that consumers will. The TUC itself has highlighted the potential £61 billion to £82 billion cost that will be landed either at the taxpayer’s doorstep or directly on to consumers’ bills, which is nothing to be thankful for.

In 1985, just before privatisation, 4.2% of total consumer spending was on energy bills. Between 2000 and 2020, that dropped to between 2% and 3%. Even last year during the war in Ukraine, it only hit 3.6%. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as he has already said, the suggestion from the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) would wallop consumers?

We have to work with businesses to secure investment. We have secured £300 billion for low-carbon technologies since 2010, as we boost UK energy production, our energy security and, ultimately, deliver cheaper bills for consumers.

When it comes to who controls and benefits from our energy system, why does the Government refuse to put the British people first? As we have heard, foreign-owned firms, whether France’s EDF or Denmark’s Ørsted, reap the rewards of energy produced in Britain. As they benefit British people pay the price, exposed to sky-high energy bills and beholden to volatile international prices. Why is the Minister so opposed to putting power back into the hands of the British people?

There is not a single country around the world that thinks Governments alone can deliver increased energy security. By working with businesses, we can unlock the private investment to do it. And talk about irrational: imagine a career politician, the shadow Secretary of State, running UK energy. Consumer bills would rocket.

The Minister is completely missing the point, so I will use a real-world example. In Bristol, we have set up the 20-year Bristol City Leap project with Ameresco and Vattenfall, a partnership between the public and private sector that will help the city to cut carbon dioxide, bring down bills and deliver green jobs. Actually, the Government are piloting a similar project in York, because it has been such a success in Bristol. But why should it be Vattenfall, a 100% Swedish state-owned firm, rather than a British equivalent, such as Labour’s GB Energy, that benefits? Why can Swedish taxpayers profit from investing in our future, but British taxpayers cannot?

Politicians with zero business experience are high risk. It was not so long ago that the shadow energy security Minister highlighted the success of Robin Hood Energy, backed by Nottingham City Council, which delivered a £38 million loss.

Net Zero: Cost-Benefit Analysis

Our pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach to meeting net zero will capitalise on the opportunities of the low-carbon transition, creating jobs and investment across the UK.

The cost of net zero is being borne by our hard-pressed constituents, at the same time as China increases its carbon dioxide emissions by more than the UK’s total emissions every year. Wholesale electricity prices are currently £65 per megawatt, but we are paying £102 per megawatt for fixed offshore wind, offering £246 for floating offshore wind, £89 for onshore wind, and £85 for solar. Can the Minister explain whatever happened to plentiful, cheap renewable energy?

The hon. Member and I agree that we must champion the importance of delivering cheaper bills for consumers. This does not have to be a binary choice between tackling climate change and delivering cheaper consumer bills. By investing in a cleaner, more efficient energy system, we can do both.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The benefits of renewables cannot come at any cost. In that spirit, I welcome the commitment of the Secretary of State and in particular the Minister to protect food security through the additional protections of versatile and productive agricultural land. Will the Minister also affirm the Government’s determination to protect areas that are particularly affected by energy infrastructure—pylons, wind and solar—such as the Lincolnshire fens, the Somerset levels and Romney Marsh? Food security matters just as much as energy security in the national interest for the common good.

We are proud to have taken renewables from just 7% under the last Labour Government to 47% today, but my right hon. Friend makes a powerful point about the need to tackle clustering. The Secretary of State reiterated clear guidelines and advice for local authorities and planning committees up and down the country to make sure that we safeguard, wherever possible, our key agricultural lands as part of our commitment on food security.

Communities in Westmorland cannot afford for us not to be reducing carbon emissions. I think of communities such as Kirkby Stephen, Appleby and Kendal, all of which are listed as energy crisis hotspots. That means they have below average incomes, but above average energy prices. There are over 10,000 homes in need of loft insulation and 6,940 homes in need of cavity wall insulation in my communities. Will the Minister give resources to the excellent Cumbria Action for Sustainability to meet that need and decrease bills, and also perhaps revise the rules for ECO4 so the scheme better fits older homes in rural areas such as ours?

I thank the hon. Member. As on football, we agree on the principles. The Government are proud to have taken energy-efficient homes from 14% to 50%. Local initiatives can play a key part in that and I would be interested to learn more about the project he highlighted.

Decarbonisation is welcome, but it must be achieved in a way that balances the country’s other priorities, such as food security. I welcome last week’s statement from the Secretary of State about the importance of protecting our best and most versatile farmland, but can the Minister tell me more about how he will ensure that we prioritise solar power on rooftops instead?

The Government are proud to have delivered an additional 43 GW of renewable energy since 2010 alone. We have also introduced planning changes to make it easier to install solar panels on rooftops, including those of industrial buildings, and we can thank consumers for leading the way: an average of 17,000 households a month added solar panels to their roofs last year.

Energy Bills

The price cap has fallen by 60% since the start of last year, and the Government are taking a comprehensive approach to bring down future energy bills for consumers. That includes reforming electricity markets to make them more effective, investing across the energy system to make it smarter, and investing in energy efficiency to reduce costs for households.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but I want her to understand that for constituents such as mine in Romford energy prices are becoming completely unaffordable, and the Government need to do more. My constituents are also very concerned about the cost of net zero, and we need to know what that will cost them in years to come. Surely the Government need to take the British people with them on these policies, but at present there is a great deal of scepticism.

That is certainly one of the Department’s aims. We are very conscious that we must get that energy security while also helping all the vulnerable households—and non-domestic businesses—that need our support.

A significant number of households in my constituency who are experiencing the continued impact of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and unrest in the middle east have received help in the form of the Government’s cost of living support payments. Those payments are welcome, but does the Minister agree that this important support should continue, along with more information about the help that is available and how to gain access to it?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituents, and of course I agree with him about the importance of ensuring that householders know where to obtain information about what they may be able to receive, especially as we are providing them with £108 billion between 2022 and 2025. I recommend that they visit the Help for Households web page on to find out what support they may be entitled to.

Many rural properties on the Welsh borders—including those in Clwyd South and in neighbouring north Shropshire—are not connected to mains gas and therefore use oil or liquefied petroleum gas for heating, and many of the residents are unaware of the support that is available to help with their energy bills. Can the Minister tell the House what support the Government are providing for those residents?

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. We are, of course, helping all those households. The Government supported about 3 million households using alternative fuels with the £200 alternative fuel payments in the winter of 2022-23, and although energy prices, including alternative fuel costs, have fallen significantly since then, we are nevertheless committed to supporting all households with that £108 billion package between 2022 and 2025.

I have just had some solar panels fitted to my roof and I am pleased to report that they are reducing my bills, but what more are the Government doing to encourage people to produce their own electricity by means of renewables, in order to reduce the pull on the grid and also reduce bills?

I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend has had those solar panels fitted. She will be interested to hear that the Government are considering options to facilitate low-cost finance from retail lenders to help households with the up-front costs of installation, and to drive rooftop deployment and energy efficiency measures.

I know of too many cases in which people whose properties are connected to heat networks are paying extremely high energy bills. I welcome the Department’s response to the consultation on heat networks, but the Energy Act 2023 only allows for Secretaries of State to introduce a price cap, at their discretion. Some of my constituents are paying bills that are 13 times the level of the cap. Will the Minister consider a mandatory cap to ensure fair prices for heat network customers?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. Of course, the price cap is an issue for Ofgem. However, I would be interested to hear some of her suggestions and I am always happy to have a meeting on that particular subject.

Fuel and extreme fuel poverty across the highlands and islands is higher than anywhere else in the UK, yet families there are forced to pay the highest electricity standing charges in the UK—50% more than in London, for example. That is despite the region exporting in excess of six times the amount of renewable electricity that it uses. When will the Government introduce a highland energy rebate to ensure fairness for people across the highlands and islands?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have had many conversations about this subject. One of the things that the Secretary of State and I have been doing is talking to Ofgem to make sure that it is looking at the standing charges. That has led to a call for input, which has recently had over 30,000 responses.

My constituent Beverley Scott, who has cancer, suffered from poor work carried out under the Government’s ECO4 scheme. This included leaving her without heating and damaging her internet. She eventually had to go to the small claims court to get redress for shoddy work, and I know of other people who have had to follow the same route. Given that provider companies, enabled by Government strategy, leave vulnerable householders with no option but to go to court, does the Minister not agree that there should be better oversight and a simpler remedy for people like Beverley Scott?

The right hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point. Of course, one of the things that we are determined to do is make sure that those installations are carried out in the correct manner. In fact, we have new regulations in place to make sure that that happens going forward.

The Minister will know that I am concerned about the level of standing charges in my constituency, as I have discussed this issue with her before. One of the problems is that people with pre-payment meters often find that, when they go to add the payment, the standing charges wipe everything out. Can the Government and Ofgem find a way to provide more support for those on pre-payment meters to avoid that problem?

The hon. Lady and I have had many conversations about this issue. One of the things that we have done is make sure that people who are on pre-payment meters are not unfairly penalised.

The Minister and her colleagues have repeatedly said today that they care about cutting bills for families, but a recent report by the Resolution Foundation found that the onshore wind ban has hit the poorest households’ income six times harder than that of the richest. Such households have been forced to pay additional electricity bills as a result of the total failure to build onshore wind in England. How on earth can Ministers continue to sit there and claim that they stand up for working families when they continue to block the cheapest form of clean energy there is, which could cut bills for families who desperately need help? Before she leaves office, will the Secretary of State pledge to put this right so that onshore wind can be built again and customers can save money on their future bills?

That is absolutely not the case. We stand here incredibly proudly as Ministers in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, and we have made a commitment. We are doing more than has ever been done on renewables and offshore wind, and we have done more to help people with the affordability of their bills.

Social Housing: Energy Efficiency

The social housing decarbonisation fund is upgrading to EPC C a significant amount of the social housing stock that is currently below that standard. We have already committed over £1 billion of Government funding, with a further £1.25 billion already committed for 2025 to 2028.

By how much has the Minister increased the level of insulation, and what significance does she attach to it?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his brevity, as always. The amount of social housing that is well insulated has gone up from just 24% in 2010 to 70% today. For housing overall, we have gone from just 14% in 2010 to 50% today.

I welcome, through the Minister, the admission by the Secretary of State last week finally that this flagship scheme is failing, although the words she used were that it has been

“a bit slow on the uptake”.

They have had 14 years to devise the most cost-effective way of reducing carbon emissions and people’s bills, making homes warmer and creating good new skilled jobs. When will we have a scheme that actually works?

I respectfully say to the right hon. Gentleman that we do have schemes that are working. I remind him that the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has launched a £1 billion Great British installation scheme, which aims to upgrade around 300,000 of the country’s least energy-efficient homes.

The Scottish Government are working at pace to replace polluting heating systems and improve energy efficiency in Scotland’s building stock, with £1.8 billion being invested in this parliamentary Session towards heat and energy efficiency measures and £600 million towards new affordable housing. With the Climate Change Committee stating that the Scottish Government’s heat in buildings Bill could become the template for the UK, helping Scotland to decarbonise faster than anywhere else in the UK, would the Minister like to visit the Scottish Government in Edinburgh? I can arrange that for her, so that she can see climate leadership in action.

I reiterate that energy efficiency is incredibly important to us on the Government Benches and to the Government. I would be happy to come on a visit to Edinburgh. Indeed, I have already visited there.

Slightly more enthusiasm might have been welcomed by people living in England in cold and draughty houses. Nevertheless, it is not simply our extensive ambition that leaves the UK behind Scotland, but our delivery, too. Since 2007—[Interruption.] Those on the Government Benches might want to listen to this. Since 2007, per person, the SNP has built 40% more homes than Tory England and 70% more homes than Labour Wales and ensured 65% of the Scottish social rented sector has an energy performance certificate rating of C or above. Insulation levels in Scotland are way higher than in England. It is clear that the UK Government have materially failed to abate the demand side of the energy system to any meaningful extent. What will the Minister do, in the few weeks they have left in office, to atone for this glaring betrayal of bill payers?

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, we have not abandoned our targets, and there has been good progress and improved household energy efficiency. Around half of our homes—48% in England—have now reached the Government’s 2035 target of achieving an EPC rating of C, up from 14% in 2010.

Climate Change

Britain is the first major economy to halve emissions, while growing the economy by 80%. We have more ambitious targets for 2030 than the EU, with the UK aiming for a 68% reduction in emissions, compared with its 55%. We have over-achieved on all carbon budgets to date and remain on track for the next.

At COP28, the UK, alongside nearly 200 countries, agreed to the transition away from fossil fuels. Since then, the Government have recklessly granted new oil and gas licences and pushed legislation through this House to max out North sea fossil fuels. Will the Minister meet the 50 cross-party parliamentarians who last week signed a letter urging the Government to show climate leadership and join the Beyond Oil and Gas Allowance, which aims to phase out oil and gas production ahead of COP29?

I thank the hon. Member for raising that important issue. That is why we are proud that we have already taken 70% out of the oil and gas sector.

Hydrotreated vegetable oil is a good alternative to ripping out heating systems that already exist in rural homes. We have heard today about the cost to rural homes as we try to address the impact of using less fossil fuels. Will the Government get behind the opportunity for HVO in rural communities to give householders a chance to contribute to reducing harmful emissions in their homes?

My hon. Friend has always championed his local constituents to ensure that they get value for money. We must explore all potential options, local or national, to find the best way to deliver energy security and lower bills in future.

District Heating Network Consumers

10. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of financial support for district heating network consumers. (902937)

The evaluation of our energy support schemes will conclude in summer 2025. To ensure their bills were fair, supported heat network customers received an average of £1,200 via the energy discount scheme, which closed last month.

That is rather disappointing. I have more than 100 constituents in the Greendykes area of Edinburgh who get their heating and hot water from a communal district heating scheme. The Government have refused to offer them price protection, saying instead that this should be regulated by the business regulation scheme, but that ended on 31 March, leaving those people with no protection at all and facing increases of up to 500% in their energy bills. My constituents want to know: why did the Government wait until the business scheme finished before considering alternative protection for these domestic customers? Why take a year to get them protected and what compensation are the Government going to offer in the meantime?

I hear the passion with which the hon. Gentleman stands up for his constituents, and rightly so, given the circumstances that they find themselves in. We are introducing regulations with Ofgem powers to investigate and intervene where prices for consumers appear to be unfair, and to ensure that all heat network consumers receive a high-quality service from their providers. I am happy to meet him to discuss this in greater detail.

District heating networks are a good innovation and the Government have a good record of stimulating these projects around the country, but the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) is right to say that the regulation in this area needs looking at. Can I reassert what he has just said and ask the Minister to carefully come forward with protections to ensure that consumers on shared heating networks are not at a disadvantage compared with people who pay their bills directly?

I am pleased to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. As I have said, we are talking to Ofgem right now about introducing regulations to make this much fairer and simpler and to ensure that consumers on heat networks get the service that they deserve.

Berwick Bank Wind Farm

The planning decision is devolved to the Scottish Government. Officials will work together to resolve cross-border matters. The UK Government are committed to effective co-operation with the Scottish Government on this and other issues, supporting our shared energy security and net zero objectives.

I thank the Minister for his answer and for the promise that officials will work together, but he will be aware that this is a 4.1 GW renewables project that could be the largest offshore wind farm in the world, delivering over £8 billion to the UK economy. The only reason that it is not eligible for this year’s contract for difference auction is the Scottish Government’s failure to make a decision on consent for the project. Has the Minister or anyone in his Department spoken to Scottish Ministers about the impact of this decision on investment in our economy, and to ensure that the consenting for offshore wind process is sped up so that we do not miss out on the tens of billions of investment and the thousands of jobs that a project such as this would deliver?

The UK Government work closely and collaboratively with the Scottish Government on a whole host of areas, especially energy security and net zero. However, this is a live planning issue, and whether it is in the jurisdiction of Westminster or Holyrood, we do not comment on live planning cases given their quasi-judicial status.

Nuclear Energy Capacity

The civil nuclear road map reconfirmed the Government’s ambition to deploy up to 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050. The road map sets out plans to make investment decisions concerning 3 GW to 7 GW every five years between 2030 and 2044.

Clearly it is important to have a mixed economy in terms of energy production, and nuclear has to play its part. What action is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that the development of small modular nuclear reactors is enhanced and brought forward, because that is the fastest way to get nuclear energy into our network?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The small modular reactor technology selection process—the fastest of its kind in the world, I might add—continues to progress quickly and is currently in the tender phase, allowing vendors to bid for potentially multibillion-pound technology development contracts. Companies will have until June to submit their tender responses, at which point Great British Energy will evaluate bids and negotiate final contracts. The aim is to announce successful bids later this year.

The Minister is always quick and keen to ensure that all parts of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have advantages. When it comes to the technology to which the question refers, when will Northern Ireland get the same advantage?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am keen to ensure that every part of our great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland benefits from the expansion of nuclear power and the benefits that it can bring, not only for meeting our net zero objectives but for the economies in which these small modular reactors will be built. I would be happy to meet him at any time to explore what benefits can be accrued in Northern Ireland from the expansion of our nuclear capacity here in the UK.

Carbon Budget Delivery Plan: High Court Judgment

13. What assessment she has made of the potential implications for her policies of the High Court judgment of 3 May 2024 relating to the Government’s carbon budget delivery plan. (902941)

The Government are immensely proud of our record on climate change. We have cut emissions faster than any other G20 country over the last decade. The judgment contains no criticism of our detailed plans or the policies themselves, which will keep the UK on track to meet net zero by 2050.

The Government have a legal and moral duty to meet our carbon emissions target. Failure to do so would consign my generation, and generations after mine, to a future of climate catastrophe, so it is beyond a joke that the Government’s carbon budget delivery plan has now been ruled unlawful, not just once but twice. When will the Minister tell the flat earthers sitting behind him to stop trying to make net zero a culture war issue, and instead deliver a transition that both meets our climate obligations and improves people’s living standards?

Our carbon budget delivery plan has over 300 detailed policies. We are recognised as a leader internationally, having already cut emissions by half—the first major economy to do so—with a further ambitious target to get to 68% by 2030, compared with just 55% for the shadow Secretary of State’s beloved EU.

Prepayment Meters: Compensation

15. What estimate she has made of the number of households receiving compensation after being involuntarily fitted with prepayment meters. (902943)

The energy suppliers are responsible for paying compensation. They have carried out 150,000 assessments so far, with 2,500 customers due compensation. A total of 1,502 payments have been made, with 1,000 more planned.

Despite the energy ombudsman ruling that one of my constituents should not have been placed on a prepayment meter due to her vulnerabilities, she has not been awarded a penny of compensation under the scheme. As the Minister has just outlined, only 1,500 people, out of 150,000, have had any compensation awarded at all. That is 1%, so why is the number so small? Could it be that the energy suppliers themselves, overseen by Ofgem, are deciding who is entitled to these payments? Both sat idly by as agents forced their way into people’s homes to install the prepayment meters.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for the opportunity to provide clarity. The forced installation of prepayment meters is clearly unacceptable, and the Government have done everything we can to counteract it. However, I reiterate that 150,000 investigations were carried out, in 2,500 of those cases compensation is due and, instead of 1%, the actual figure on compensation is 60%.

Fuel Poverty

16. What estimate she has made of the number of households that were in fuel poverty in winter 2023-24. (902944)

The policy on fuel poverty is devolved. Statistics for England estimate that 3.17 million households were in fuel poverty in 2023, which is more than 1.5 million fewer than in 2010.

The best way to cut fuel poverty is through a nationwide home upgrade scheme, but the Secretary of State seems unaware of the reality when it comes to home upgrades. Her officials said in recent documents given to the High Court that progress to decarbonise the UK’s building stock has been slow, that policy gaps remain and that the Government are lagging behind. Why will she not admit in public what her Department tells her in private?

This Government are committed to making sure that we not only get energy efficiency but support people with their energy bills.

Thanks to Government grants, a social housing provider in my Chelmsford constituency, CHP, has made some great investments in social housing to help energy efficiency, reduce bills and lower fuel poverty, but it would like to go further. Will the Minister discuss with me the ways in which we can help to share the benefits of those savings so that some of them can be invested in improving energy efficiency and lowering bills in even more homes?

My right hon. Friend makes the important point that energy efficiency is crucial to lowering bills. That is why we have the social housing decarbonisation fund, which supports local authorities and housing associations in upgrading social housing stock below energy performance certificate level C.

Net Zero: Businesses and Investors

17. What recent discussions she has had with businesses and investors on the Government’s net zero targets. (902945)

Our Department’s ministerial team meet regularly with industry, for example through the hydrogen investor forum, the Offshore Wind Industry Council, the solar taskforce, the green jobs delivery group, and the cross-cutting Net Zero Council.

Last week, Stellantis, the owner of the Vauxhall car plant in Ellesmere Port, announced that it would import electric vehicles, despite the fact that we produce some great electric vans in Ellesmere Port and want to move on to producing cars there as well. Does the Minister think that, over the long term, reaching our net zero targets through the import of cheaper Chinese vehicles will be a good or bad thing for the UK car industry?

The hon. Member raises a very important point. One of the Opposition’s main pledges, which is to fully decarbonise the grid by 2030, could be met only by opening the floodgates to cheap Chinese imports—the exact thing he is opposed to.

Many unwelcome applications for large-scale solar farms, such as Lime Down in my constituency, are funded by offshore companies such as Macquarie, which is most famous for letting Thames Water fall to pieces. What meetings has the Minister had with these speculative investors to ensure that the people who build solar farms will be there in 40 years to make sure that they are removed?

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour raises an important point about speculative development. As part of speeding up the grid queue, in which we have somewhere in the region of 700 GW of power capacity coming forward, we wish to prioritise shovel-ready schemes, not speculative schemes.

Topical Questions

Since I was last at the Dispatch Box, we have been building up Britain’s energy security. We have taken the next step in the biggest expansion of nuclear in 70 years, making Britain a producer of advanced nuclear fuel and pushing Putin out of the global energy market. Just today, Rolls-Royce announced that it will invest millions of pounds in bringing new jobs to Sheffield to manufacture small modular reactors. We have overachieved in our third carbon budget, which is keeping us on track to reach net zero, and we are building on our proud record of being the first major economy to halve emissions. We have invested over half a billion pounds to help cut energy costs and bills for schools and hospitals, and we are taking our next steps on PumpWatch to protect motorists from unfair prices.

Latest figures by National Energy Action show that there are still 1,875 homes in my constituency with legacy prepayment meters. What action are the Government taking to remove this costly burden on families?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. During my career, I have looked at the issue of prepayment meters for a long time, and one of the things that I am proudest of is our taking out the premium that people on prepayment meters were paying.

T3. I welcome Ofgem’s ongoing review of standing charges in electricity bills. In the North Wales and Merseyside region, the standing charge is 67.04p per day, compared to an average of 60.10p across the UK. Will the Minister commit to coming back to the House to provide further comment on this geographical variation once Ofgem has published the findings of its review? (902956)

My hon. Friend makes an important point and is right to pick up on this matter. I reassure him that I have encouraged and pushed Ofgem to do more on this issue. Electricity standing charges include network costs, which reflect the cost of maintaining and upgrading the transmission and distribution networks across the country. I am of course happy to meet him to discuss this subject further.

The National Infrastructure Commission said that the Government have reversed some progress on net zero. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said that the Government’s roll-back on net zero has put off investors. A member of the Climate Change Committee has said that we are “not ready at all” for the impact of extreme weather on our national security. Mad, bad and dangerous. Will the Secretary of State finally back Great British Energy and the national wealth fund instead of lurching from crisis to crisis, not having a plan and selling out Britain?

We absolutely will not be backing putting the shadow Secretary of State in charge of UK and British energy companies, piling misery on to consumer bills. We have unlocked £300 billion of public and private investment in low-carbon technology since 2010, with plans for £100 billion more by 2030. Last year alone, we saw an investment of £60 billion; that is up a staggering 71% on the previous year.

T4. I know the Secretary of State understands the importance of safeguarding good agricultural land for food production. Will she update my constituents in Inkberrow and Stock Green on what more she is doing to ensure that solar panels are placed on car park and warehouse rooftops, which we have an ample number of in my constituency? (902957)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to protect the best and most versatile agricultural land in this country. Unlike the Opposition, we respect the views of communities up and down this country, and we will not countenance the industrialisation of our countryside. However, solar power remains very important. We are committed to our 70 GW target. In our forthcoming solar road map, we will set out exactly how we will incentivise the development of rooftop solar, and development on brownfield and other sites.

T2. Private investors are queuing up to make billions of pounds of investment in the green industries of the future, but under this Government, that money has flowed abroad. Under Energy UK’s projections, the UK is now eighth out of eight major countries for renewable investment up to 2030. How have the Government allowed that to happen? (902955)

That is simply not the case; we are leading internationally. Last year alone, there was £60 billion of funding for low-carbon technology; that is up 71% on the previous year. That is why other countries turn to our businesses and supply chain for their expertise—and to us, as we are leading with our policy framework.

T5. The switch to electric cars and vans is crucial for improving air quality and reaching net zero. Will the Government update us on action being taken to deliver charging points in the right places, in consultation with residents? [R] (902958)

The Government have invested in the Faraday battery challenge, a £541 million programme to support the research, development and scale-up of world-leading battery technology in the UK. Since 2022, all new homes and homes undergoing major renovation in England have been required to have a charge point installed. That is why we welcome the year-on-year 49% increase in charge points.

T7. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government have dropped their commitment to consulting on a social energy tariff? If they have not, can we have an update on progress, given that a social energy tariff would lift 2.2 million households out of poverty? (902960)

A social tariff means lots of different things to different people, but what it ultimately means is ensuring that we support all vulnerable people. The hon. Member will be aware that the Government are doing many things to support people; there is the warm home discount, the cost of living payment, which is £900, and a variety of other measures.

T6. While it is important that we support renewable energy sources, does the Minister agree with me that solar panels should go on rooftops, not on farmland? (902959)

As my hon. Friend has heard me say already today, solar power is important, and we remain committed to our 70 GW target. However, food security is as important as energy security when it comes to national security. That is why we are protecting the best and most versatile farmland in the United Kingdom. Unlike the Opposition, we respect the views of communities up and down the country; we will ensure that our countryside is not industrialised, and incentivise companies, individuals and organisations to invest in rooftop solar, and solar on brownfield, not greenfield, sites.

T8. Does the Minister think that a regulator that allows the poorest to pay the highest bills, and that has overseen the doubling of energy bills since 2021 and the collapse of 30 energy companies in the same period, is fit for purpose? (902961)

We are ensuring that energy businesses are able to survive, and not just through the price caps. This is also a matter for Ofgem.

My constituency is home to Scout Moor, one of the largest onshore wind farms in Europe, but the north-west also has amazing potential for offshore wind; an example is the Morgan and Morecambe development off the coast of Lancashire. Such projects require huge amounts of infrastructure to be realised. Notwithstanding the reassurances that my right hon. Friend has already given, will she ensure that community consent is part of any infrastructure projects of this kind?

My hon. Friend raises an important matter. Absolutely; that is part of our forward planning in making sure that we can unlock the huge potential in every region of our United Kingdom.

T9. Under Ofgem’s price cap, which has just come into effect, people with the most poorly insulated rural homes can expect to pay an additional £340 on their annual energy bills. Will the Minister expand insulation schemes, particularly for people living in rural areas? (902962)

The hon. Gentleman’s question covers a few issues. One of the most important things is to look at how the standing charges are made up. That is why we have encouraged Ofgem to answer our call for input. Insulation schemes are incredibly important as well, which is why the Government are committed to supporting so many of them.

Hydrogen is the only viable alternative to natural gas for a balanced, reactive and carbon-zero electricity grid. The UK has 32 gas power plants, all of which could be cheaply and easily retrofitted to burn hydrogen as a natural gas. What is the Department doing to encourage this sort of retrofitting, so that we can allow technologies to decarbonise electricity generation and take advantage of the many benefits of hydrogen?

I thank my hon. Friend for that rather surprising question on hydrogen. The Government recognise the value of hydrogen in supporting a decarbonised and secure power system. We intend to publish soon our response to the December 2023 hydrogen-to-power market intervention consultation, and we will soon legislate for decarbonisation readiness requirements, so that new-build or substantially refurbished combustion power plants are built net zero ready.

In the last 12 months, one in five households, or one in four young households, in energy debt have turned to illegal money lenders to help pay for bills and everyday essentials. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition has stated that the crisis could mean that young households spend years at the mercy of these loan sharks. What assessment has the Minister made of the merits of working with Ofgem and energy suppliers in order to introduce support to alleviate this record-high energy debt?

The hon. Member makes an incredibly important point, and I have had many conversations with her on this matter. I can reassure her that I meet Ofgem regularly to discuss this, as the issue is very close to my heart—hence the call for input. To give her further reassurance, I can tell her that earlier this week, I met energy suppliers, and I also have ongoing meetings with Citizens Advice and other stakeholders.

Like others, I welcome what the Government have already done to extend the permitted development rights for rooftop solar and car park canopies, but may I encourage my hon. Friend to tell others in Government who have responsibility for planning that there are considerable benefits to car park canopies, particularly in hotter summers?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. I urge him to bide his time and have patience, because in the next few weeks we will publish our solar road map, which will expand on exactly how we will work with other Government Departments, and indeed industry, to ensure that we benefit from the huge advantages that we have in the number of rooftops available for the deployment of solar capacity across the UK.

There has indeed been a significant increase in domestic insulation schemes in recent years. However, will the Minister agree to increase the number of conversations with devolved institutions, so that we can see a genuinely nationwide revival of insulation schemes that, individually, can do more to reduce the dependency on high energy costs for those at maximum risk, in social housing and elsewhere?

Clearly, energy efficiency is incredibly important, which means that making sure that we get the correct insulation schemes is also incredibly important. I give the hon. Gentleman my assurance that we are doing everything we can to ensure that that insulation takes place.

Given the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme funding recently awarded to Wales, can the Minister please advise me on when A&P Falmouth, which is to be a vital part of the supply chain for the only successful project in allocation round 4, will be put on the reserve list? The Minister has promised to meet me on several occasions. Can I ask that we expedite that much as possible?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this matter. Indeed, I am determined to ensure that ports that were not successful in the FLOWMIS process can take advantage of the huge increase that we expect in the deployment of floating offshore wind capacity off the coast of the United Kingdom. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and, indeed, any other Member of Parliament who represents a port that was not successful through the FLOWMIS procedure to discuss how we can move this forward.

Community energy can deliver so many renewable energy products and save on energy bills. Last year in Bath, a community energy project putting rooftop solar on schools saved schools £130,000. When will the Government remove the barriers to community energy?

As a result of the Energy Act 2023, we launched a consultation and a multimillion-pound fund to help to support the expansion of community energy across the United Kingdom. It would be great to have the Liberal Democrats’ support in the effort that this party and this Government are making to ensure that the benefits of community energy are felt up and down the length and breadth of the country.

As we go to net zero, surely we also need to retain our sense of human rights. Polysilicon mostly comes from Xinjiang, where it is mined using slave labour. To what extend are we prepared to say that net zero trumps slave labour, and are we checking on slave labour products in the arrays?

I can assure my right hon. Friend that we are indeed ensuring that the extent to which slave labour is used is kept very much at a minimum, if at all, in the supply chain of any of the components coming to advance us towards net zero. The solar road map, as referred to earlier, will set out in greater detail how the Government will work with industry to ensure that there are no slave labour components to any of the parts we are importing to develop our renewable technology.

My constituent from Govanhill is being passed backwards and forwards between Utilita Energy and the Department for Work and Pensions. He receives income-related employment and support allowance and should be entitled to the warm home discount, but neither Utilita nor the DWP is able to give him the money he is entitled to. He applied in September last year. Will the Minister intervene and make sure he gets the money he is due?

I put on record my heartfelt thanks to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Nuclear and Renewables for the action they took last week to put food security, alongside renewable energy, at the heart of local planning decisions. What are the Government doing to ensure that all councils immediately enact that policy, because it is both for local councils and for Government? Will existing soil assessments stand for nationally significant infrastructure projects, or will they be redone?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and her kind words. I am pleased to confirm to the House that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety has written to all local authorities to draw their attention to the statement last week, which underlined our robust policy on solar farms on our best and most versatile agricultural land. Local planners should know this Government are serious about solar being put in the right places, and not on the best and most versatile agricultural land.

Tapadh leat, Mr Speaker. Zonal pricing has the potential to lower bills for households from Sussex to Shetland, from Stonehaven to the great town of Stornoway. Of course some vested interests will be concerned, such as energy generating companies that are benefiting from the constraint payments raised from customer bills. What are the Government doing to stimulate debate and knowledge about zonal pricing?

It was a pleasure on my return as a Minister to attend the hon. Gentleman’s Select Committee, which he chairs so well. This is part of stage 2 of our wider consultation under our review of electricity market arrangements, and we take on board his and his Committee’s constructive suggestions in that meeting.

A key tool in our arsenal against climate change must be sequestering carbon. It was a pleasure last week to see the Morecambe bay net zero peak cluster vision launched, which could decarbonise 40% of our cement and lime industries, securing a gigatonne of carbon under Morecambe bay. Can I encourage my hon. Friend the Minister to meet me to discuss the project further?

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend at any time, and I am happy to discuss this and any other matter relating to the subject.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Now that the Government have recognised the importance of versatile and productive agricultural land in respect of solar, will they recognise too the threat of a monstrous string of pylons stretching right down the east coast of England? We either care about our green and pleasant land or we do not—for, as Keats understood, truth is beauty and beauty, truth.

My right hon. Friend will know that we value taking communities with us and working with them. I am having a number of meetings on this very subject to look at new technologies to see what additional options there could be to support local communities as we rapidly upgrade our national grid network.

Infected Blood Compensation Scheme

Before I call the Minister, I should say that he will take longer than is usual for a statement, and I totally agree with the extra time. I am just letting the other Front Benchers know that there will be some extra time.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement following the final report of the infected blood inquiry.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke about the anguish that the infected blood scandal brought to those impacted by it. I want to reiterate his words and apologise again today. I am sorry. The Prime Minister also spoke, on behalf of the whole House, of our gratitude to Sir Brian Langstaff and his team for completing his comprehensive report—seven volumes and 2,500 pages—and of our appreciation of all those who came forward as part of the inquiry.

It was the greatest privilege of my ministerial career to meet over 40 representatives of the infected blood community, in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Leeds, as we finalised our response to compensation for this appalling tragedy. The whole community’s bravery through immense suffering is what has enabled justice today. I know that many of them will be watching from the Public Gallery. I want to honour their fortitude through their unimaginable pain, as I lay out a more detailed response to Sir Brian’s second interim report on compensation. We will provide the House with a further opportunity to debate the inquiry’s full report after the Whitsun recess. The Government will also respond to each recommendation in full, as quickly as possible, within our comprehensive response to the report.

The Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that the Government will pay comprehensive compensation to those who have been infected and affected as a result of this scandal. I will now set out to the House the scheme that the Government are proposing, and of course, more details of the scheme will be published online today. We are establishing the Infected Blood Compensation Authority—an arm’s length body—to administer the scheme. A shadow body has already been set up, and an interim chief executive officer has been appointed. Today, I am delighted to announce the appointment of Sir Robert Francis at the interim chair of the organisation. The experience and care that Sir Robert will bring to the role will ensure that the scheme is credible and trusted by the community. His support in delivering the scheme will be invaluable.

Those who have been infected or affected as a result of this scandal will receive compensation. To be crystal clear, if you have been directly or indirectly infected by NHS blood, blood products or tissue contaminated with HIV or hepatitis C, or have developed a chronic infection from blood contaminated with hepatitis B, you will be eligible to claim compensation under the scheme, and where an infected person has died but would have been eligible under those criteria, compensation will be paid to their estate. This will include where a person was infected with hepatitis B and died during the acute period of infection.

But, Mr Speaker, Sir Brian could not have been clearer: it is not just the harm caused by the infections that requires compensation. The wrongs suffered by those affected must also be compensated for, so when a person with an eligible infection has been accepted on to the scheme, their affected loved ones will be able to apply for compensation in their own right. That means that partners, parents, siblings, children, friends and family who have acted as carers for those who were infected are all eligible to claim. I am aware that being asked to provide evidence of eligibility will likely be distressing, so I am determined to minimise that distress as much as possible.

I am pleased to confirm today that anyone already registered with one of the existing infected blood support schemes will automatically be considered eligible for compensation. I also give thanks for the dedication and hard work of Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery and the other members of the expert group, who were critical in advising on how the Government could faithfully translate Sir Brian’s recommendations for the purposes of the scheme. In line with our previous commitments, we will publish the names of those experts today.

In his report, Sir Brian recommended that compensation be awarded with respect to the following five categories: an injury impact award, acknowledging the physical and mental injury caused by the infection; a social impact award, to address the stigma or social isolation resulting from the infection; an autonomy award, acknowledging how family and private life was disrupted during this time; a care award, to compensate for the past and future care needs of anyone infected; and finally a financial loss award, for past and future financial losses suffered as a result of the infection. The Government accept this recommendation with two small refinements, informed by the work of the expert group and designed for simplicity and speed, two other principles that Sir Brian asserted.

First, the care award will be directly awarded to the person with the infection, or to their estate. Secondly, the financial loss award will be paid either directly to the person with the infection, or—where an infected person has tragically died before the establishment of the scheme—to their estate and to affected persons who were dependent on them. Sadly, many people have links to multiple individuals who were infected, or were both infected themselves and affected by another’s infection. As such, multiple injury awards will be offered to reflect the scale of the loss and suffering. The scheme will be tariff-based, and we will be publishing an explanatory document on, including examples of proposed tariffs.

However, this is not the end: over the next few weeks, Sir Robert Francis will seek views from the infected blood community on the proposed scheme before its terms are set in regulations, to make sure the scheme will best serve those who it is intended for. Sir Robert has welcomed the Government’s proposals as positive and meaningful, and he will set out more details on engagement with the community shortly.

The inquiry recommended that the scheme should be flexible in its awards of compensation, providing for either a lump sum or regular payments. We agree, which is why the awards to living infected or affected persons will be offered as either a lump sum or as periodical payments. Where the infected person has died, estate representatives will receive compensation as a single lump sum to distribute to beneficiaries of the estate, as is appropriate. We will also guarantee that any payments made to those eligible will be exempt from income, capital gains and inheritance tax, as well as disregard them from means-tested benefit assessments. We will also ensure that all claimants are able to appeal against their award both through an internal review process in the Infected Blood Compensation Authority and, where needed, with a right to appeal to a first-tier tribunal. Our expectation is that final payments will start before the end of the year, and if you permit, Mr Speaker, I would like to return to the House when the regulations are laid later this year to make a further statement with an update on the delivery of the compensation scheme.

I know from my discussions with the community just how important the existing infected blood support scheme payments are to them. I recognise that many people, sadly, rely on these payments, and they are rightly keen to understand what the Government’s intentions are. I want to provide reassurance to all those out there today that no immediate changes will be made to the support schemes. Payments will continue to be made at the same level until 31 March 2025, and they will not be deducted from any of these compensation awards. From 1 April 2025, any support scheme payments received will be counted towards a beneficiary’s final compensation award. This will ensure parity between support scheme beneficiaries regardless of whether they were the first or the last to have their compensation assessed by the Infected Blood Compensation Authority. We will ensure that no one—no one—receives less in compensation than they would have received in support payments.

I recognise that each week members of the infected blood community are dying from their infections. There may be people—indeed, there will be people—listening today who are thinking to themselves that they may not live to receive compensation, so I want to address those concerns, too. Today, I am announcing that the Government will be making further interim payments ahead of the establishment of the full scheme. Payments of £210,000 will be made to living infected beneficiaries—those registered with existing infected blood support schemes as well as those who register with a support scheme before the final scheme becomes operational—and to the estates of those who pass away between now and payments being made. I know that time is of the essence, which is why I am also pleased to say that they will be delivered within 90 days, starting in the summer, so that they can reach those who most need it so urgently.

Before I conclude, I would like to turn to the matter of memorialisation. Many of those who were infected by contaminated blood or blood products have since died—died without knowing that their suffering and loss would be fully recognised either in their lifetime or at all. The lives of most of those who have died remain unrecognised. I note Sir Brian’s recommendations on memorialisation across the UK, and the Government will address those recommendations in detail as part of our wider response to this report.

In conclusion, I know that the whole House will want to join me in thanking Sir Brian and the inquiry for the work that they have done, and pay tribute to all those who have been caught up in this terrible tragedy and who have battled for justice for so long. Yesterday was a day of great humility for everyone implicated in this inquiry, and today I can only hope that, with the publication of the inquiry report and with our firm commitment to compensate those touched by this scandal, the infected blood community know that their cries for justice have been heard. I commend this statement to the House.

Order. Lots of Members want to get in, and all Members will get in. I now come to the shadow Minister.

The infected blood scandal is one the gravest injustices in our history, and a profound moment of shame for the British state. Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition apologised on behalf of Labour Governments of the past, and the Prime Minister did the same on behalf of all Governments and the country. I join them today in saying a deep and heartfelt sorry.

The scale of the horror that was uncovered by Sir Brian Langstaff’s report almost defies belief. That is why I pay tribute to the victims of this scandal, who fought so hard for justice. We thank the charities, and the remarkable campaigning work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), as well as the Father of the House, and the journalist Caroline Wheeler, whose work and book, “Death in the Blood”, did so much to drive this issue forward. I also recognise the significance of the decision made by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), in establishing the public inquiry. I thank Sir Brian Langstaff and all his staff for their forensic work. I also thank the Minister for regularly briefing me, and for his work in government ahead of today.

One of the most powerful conclusions in this report is that an apology is meaningful only if it is accompanied by action, and it is that I turn to now. I welcome the further interim payments that the Minister has announced, and I repeat our commitment to work on a cross-party basis, and help to deliver the compensation scheme and get the final money to victims as soon as possible.

I welcome the further details that the Minister has given, including the appointment of the interim chair. Sir Robert Francis is saying already that he is seeking the views of the infected blood community, and that is welcome, but does the Minister agree that continuing to hear that voice of victims is crucial?

I also welcome payments being made under the five heads of loss to the infected and the affected. Will the Minister confirm that estimates of the total cost have now been made, and that there will be no undue delay in those final payments reaching victims? Time is of the essence: one victim dies every four days. Will the Minister set out more detail about how the personal representatives of estates will be handled as part of the scheme? Will he also confirm that plans are in place to trace additional people who might be eligible for compensation? Will he say a little more about when we can expect a progress report on Sir Brian Langstaff’s other 11 recommendations, beyond the establishment of the compensation body? I add my support, and that of all Labour Members, to the consideration of appropriate and fitting memorials across the different parts of the UK and, as Sir Brian Langstaff recommends, for victims who were treated at Treloar’s.

On potential criminal charges, will the Minister ensure that all relevant evidence is made available for consideration by the prosecuting authorities and any other necessary support provided? Sir Brian Langstaff’s findings on institutional defensiveness, and on putting the reputation of people and protecting institutions above public service, follow on from other scandals such as Hillsborough and Horizon. That is why we must deliver a duty of candour and the political leadership that we need to replace that culture of defensiveness with openness and transparency. Sir Brian Langstaff’s report challenges us all to make progress on his recommendations. That is what we must now come together to do. The victims deserve nothing less.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his collegiate tone and for the constructive approach he has taken throughout our conversations and in his response this afternoon. I totally embrace the need to continue the dialogue with victims. That is why I was pleased that Sir Robert Francis agreed to take on that role, having done the study into compensation. We have obviously met a number of times, and I have explained to him what Jonathan Montgomery and the experts panel did. I am pleased that he has got to a point where he is sufficiently satisfied to move forward in this way.

As the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, there is no restriction on the budget, and where we need to pay we will pay. We will minimise delays and address the recommendations of Sir Brian Langstaff with respect to speed and efficiency, removing as much complexity as possible. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the representatives of different estates and tracing additional claimants. Those will be matters that the interim chief executive and interim chair will look at carefully. I envisage through the month of June an exercise to engage meaningfully with representatives of the communities, to look at some of the assumptions in the work of that expert panel, which will inform the regulations that we are duty bound to bring to the House within three months of the Victims and Prisoners Bill receiving Royal Assent.

Some of the other matters about appropriate memorialisation, criminal charges and duty of candour, on some of which progress is being made in different ways, are probably best left to some of my colleagues at a subsequent point. As I said, I anticipate that we will have an early opportunity to discuss those matters in full, in a debate soon after the Whitsun recess.

The House will understand that my remarks will be subsidiary to those of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson).

It is 36 years since I was with the first of my friends who I knew had been infected, and 33 years since that person died. Friendships got fractured, and families were changed forever.

One point that I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister will put to his fellow Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care regards whether those who are still infected in some way can have a kind of national health service passport, so that when they go to get medical attention they are not asked the same questions that my constituents were asked every time: “How much have you been drinking? Why is your liver the way it is?” and all the rest. It is important that young clinicians understand that when they see haemophilia or a whole blood infection, they can take for granted a lot of things that do not need to be asked. That humanity needs to be spread.

I recognise that my right hon. Friend has built on the work of our right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir Jeremy Quin), and perhaps I may say in a cross-party way that Sue Gray deserves respect for when she led civil servants in that, as do her successors in the civil service who are putting things right.

My final point is this: people are not being awarded lottery sums, although in some way they make up for some of the losses and recognise some of the hurt. For some families who may not have been used to having much money around—indeed, most of them are used to having very little money because of the consequences of infection—there may need to be mediation services in case they do not agree. It would be a good idea if Sir Robert, or others, could consider whether such services could be made available, in the same way that other people who have suddenly come into some degree of money can get some kind of help. Families sometimes do not find it easy to decide how money should be shared.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done and for his constructive engagement with me over the past six months, and over many previous years. He made the point about his friend and the stigma that some of the victims have had to endure, which is why injury and social impact are reflected in the heads of loss under the scheme. He also made some observations about how better awareness of some conditions can be taken forward. I will discuss that with ministerial colleagues—several from the Department of Health and Social Care are in their places today.

My hon. Friend mentioned my immediate predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir Jeremy Quin), but I am aware that a large number of Paymasters General—including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is sitting alongside me today—have done an enormous amount of work to get us to this point, along with many officials, including James Quinault, who has led the work latterly. I want to acknowledge their contribution; this is not about me.

More broadly, my hon. Friend made some wise observations about the need to ensure that, for the communities who will be given significant sums of money—rightly so, and in line with what they would be entitled to if they went through a legal process—the appropriate framework of support is in place to assist them to receive that money in a way that is not destructive to their lives.

Yesterday was an emotional day for many of us. I am privileged to be at Central Hall with my constituents Cathy Young and her two fantastic daughters, Lisa and Nicola. I join the Minister in paying great tribute to the infected blood community. That community gave Sir Brian Langstaff a standing ovation yesterday—a sight that will never leave me. May I echo the Public Gallery’s reaction to the appointment of Sir Robert Francis? It is an excellent appointment. Will the Minister confirm that Sir Robert Francis will be able to meet the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood as well as others in the House?

With regard to the composition of the board of the compensation authority, will the Minister guarantee—I have already raised this with him—that it will include representatives of the infected and affected, and that they will have what we believe is their rightful representation on the board? I welcome his comments in relation to hepatitis B. That has always been one of the issues of contention, and some people with hepatitis B have been missing out on the existing schemes. Will he look to find a way so that those with hepatitis B can access the existing schemes? I know that the Scottish Infected Blood Forum has asked him that question.

On interim payments, the Minister mentioned the living. Will he clarify whether interim payments will be made to the estates of those who have sadly passed away? Some people will raise eyebrows about the fact that the interim compensation is less than that for those in the Post Office scheme. Will he give some explanation as to how the £210,000 figure came about?

I echo the comments of the shadow Minister on looking at criminal charges and a Hillsborough law, and I very much welcome his comments on memorial. Does the Minister agree that there are two other lessons: first, Members of this House, regardless of political persuasion, can get together to deliver justice; and secondly, for the general public the key lesson, as shown by those in the infected blood community, is never, ever to give up fighting injustice?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his engagement and for the points he has made today. I was there yesterday for the two hours of Sir Brian Langstaff’s presentation of his report, which was a moving moment for all of those who have suffered and waited for so long.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his endorsement of the appointment of Sir Robert Francis, which seemed to be welcomed in the Gallery. I recognise that what is absolutely critical for the scheme to be successful is full engagement with the communities and that the explanation of how the scheme has been constructed and any concerns about the wider support that is needed are interrogated fully before the regulations come back to the House. Throughout, the scheme has been about reconciling speed and efficiency with consultation, which is why it has been done in such a way over the past few months.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about hepatitis B and access to schemes. I will be happy to correspond with him separately on that—obviously, there are lots of technical issues. He asked about the £210,000, which he can see is an irregular amount. That is because I was trying to get the maximum amount that could be universally paid, as quickly as I could, to those who are infected and alive without any risk of paying the wrong amount, and that is the amount that I was advised. What is really important is that we get to the examination of entitlements and what that balancing payment is, and get that payment out as quickly as possible. This is not a stalling tactic; it is about trying to reconcile the competing priorities of responsible stewardship of taxpayers’ money and getting payments made as quickly as possible for the most vulnerable in our community.

With regard to memorialisation, on these matters there will need to be wide engagement and I do not want to make binding commitments today. I have said what I have said, and I or another Minister will return to that in due course.

I thank the Minister for what he said and how he said it. I know that he, the Prime Minister and, in particular, the Chancellor, who is sitting next to him, will make this right. Clearly, the majority of Sir Brian’s recommendations are for the health and social care sector, and the Health and Social Care Committee, which I chair, will play its part, working with the Health Secretary—I see her in her place—and NHS England to ensure that all the recommendations are implemented, unlike with some previous accepted patient safety recommendations. May I ask the Minister about the five loss categories? They make every sense, and I note his two small refinements, but will the financial loss award reflect the reality that many infected blood victims, to give just one example, cannot access life insurance?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for his comments. I also thank the Chancellor for his unwavering commitment to resolving this in a timely way, both when I was Chief Secretary and now in this role.

With respect to the five loss categories, my hon. Friend makes a legitimate point about a specific additional burden that is a consequence of these conditions. That matter will no doubt be raised by some in the communities. The structure of the scheme is based around: injuries, social impact, autonomy, care and financial loss. Clearly, social impact and autonomy capture a range of unspecific things—a basket of goods, if you like—that people will not have been able to procure at the same cost. I cannot give him a specific answer on that, but Jonathan Montgomery and his team of experts have done everything they can to look at the law, consider what the entitlement would be in different circumstances and give their best assessment, and those sorts of conversations will happen with the communities in the coming weeks.

I welcome the Minister’s statement today. Reflecting on the fact that he has talked about those infected and affected being fully engaged, I gently remind him of the maxim “No decision about us without us”, and of the lack of transparency so far in the expert panel. It is only today that we will learn the names of the people who have been advising the Government.

May I also welcome the appointment of Sir Robert Francis as interim chair of the infected blood body? It is worth reflecting on what Sir Brian put in his report yesterday about the Government’s failure to respond to Sir Robert Francis’s compensation framework document, which the Leader of the House commissioned when she was Paymaster General, and which the Government promised several times to respond to. That was never published.

Because we have also not had a proper written response to the second interim report from Sir Brian last April, will the Minister set out whether all 18 recommendations are being accepted by the Government? If not, why not? Will he confirm how the Government will ensure that the compensation authority is accountable directly to Parliament, as recommended by the infected blood inquiry?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her observations and for her ongoing engagement since my appointment. I take seriously her point about having no decisions without full engagement. I made a decision, in order to get to this point where we would, in principle, accept the recommendations of Sir Brian Langstaff and move forward with the independent expert panel. As I have said to her previously, I was always prepared to reveal the names of those individuals, but I did not want them to be distracted while they did urgent work to make progress quickly. Their names will be available shortly—today.

Sir Robert Francis and I had a number of conversations about the interaction between Government and the expert group, and the logic that I used to get to the heads of loss and the scheme today. I am delighted that he is prepared to facilitate engagement with the communities.

I have also been mindful of the principle of the Government managing public money while also recognising Sir Brian’s imperative to set up a body that is at arm’s length from Government, in order to generate some trust with a very vulnerable community. Reconciling those two has not been straightforward. The right hon. Lady asked about the accountability of the arm’s length body. These matters will need to be discussed further with respect to the regulations that we must lay before the House.

A number of my predecessors have done a lot of work on this issue. I am pleased that we have made significant progress, but there is an intense amount of work to be done to deliver this over the next three months. I look forward to working constructively with her, as Sir Robert Francis does, to ensure that we get this to the right place as quickly as possible.

We have heard descriptions of institutional defensiveness today, but we should be clear about what we are talking about: this was a grubby secret kept by the Department of Health. The people who suffered as a consequence were treated as an inconvenience to be managed. It flies in the face of what we are required to do in this House: hold Ministers accountable for what happens in their Departments. We need to learn from this, to improve how we behave and to hold the Executive to account in future. If we do not, this incident will shame us all—not just those directly responsible. We need to properly establish a duty of candour for civil servants in the advice they give to Ministers, and a requirement that Ministers must satisfy themselves that they are giving appropriate challenge and consideration to the advice they receive, so that everyone involved in delivering services in future can be held directly responsible, and this place does not continue to be a charade.

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and I agree with her instinctive reaction to what Sir Brian said about the duty of candour. It will be for the Government more widely to determine how we respond to that in a formal and coherent way. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was in a previous role, he moved quite a lot of things forward in the Department of Health, as the hon. Lady knows. When someone spends that amount of time, with that depth of evaluation, and gives a number of insights and recommendations, it is important that the Government look at them very carefully. Sir Brian makes wise observations about how we do government in this country, which we must listen to, heed and apply.

I, too, welcome today’s statement, which has been a long time coming. This is a poignant day for many of my constituents, their families and friends. Reassurance has been called for by organisations such as Haemophilia Scotland that the recommendations will be adhered to, as perhaps they have not been in the past. Does the Minister agree that having the involvement of various groups of infected and affected people will help ensure that happens?

I agree. When I went to Edinburgh I was keen to meet a representative group of Scottish infected blood campaign organisations. I had a very candid conversation with them, in which I set out where we were as a Government and what we were planning to do on this day at a high level. Those conversations need to continue. As I said, the immediate priority is under Sir Robert Francis’s guidance. That engagement will continue throughout June, so that the regulations are informed by the wisdom, experience and views of those we are seeking to support.

Let me start by commending my constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), for her courage, determination and persistence in relentlessly pursuing this matter over the years. I wholeheartedly support her call for the rapid payment of compensation before any more sufferers die, and I know the Minister has that in mind.

The Prime Minister said that a travesty like this should never be allowed to happen again. Like the PACAC Chair, I think that rests on the duty of candour that Sir Brain Langstaff recommended. That means a legally enforceable duty of candour for the entire public service, not just some promise. As it turns out, the Minister has in front of him the opportunity to do that. On Report today in the Lords is the Victims and Prisoners Bill, which includes a clause that imposes a duty of candour in a very limited way. Can my right hon. Friend look at that clause and expand it to cover the whole public sector under all circumstances?

I defer to my right hon. Friend’s considerable experience and wisdom on many matters. I recognise his points, but to move on this matter in that way in this short timeframe would not be the right step. However, it would be right for us to urgently engage with him, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and others to ensure that the Government come up with the right complete response, to deal with a sensible point that Sir Brian made.

I pay tribute to my constituents whose lives were changed for ever and the many campaigners affected by this scandal, who have fought for so many years for truth and justice. From Hillsborough to the Post Office, the infected blood scandal and many more, we have watched the state and institutions cover up wrongdoing and blame the innocent, with no accountability. How long do we have to wait for those in this place to finally act and rebalance the scales of justice, and to deliver a full Hillsborough law? Yesterday’s events show how necessary that law is to begin to end the culture of cover-ups that is shamefully hardwired into our institutions.

I very much respect the hon. Gentleman’s points about Hillsborough. I am not able to answer his question on that, as my remarks are about the compensation scheme, but a number of points have been made about the incidence of public inquiries on a range of issues, and what that says about our state and its failure in different ways. As he said, considerable effort was required of individuals—which it should never have been—to apprehend the state for what has happened. These are wider matters that we will need to come to terms with, but I do not think I can do justice to his remarks today.

I appreciate that today’s statement is about compensation, but there was no opportunity yesterday nor much today to ask specifically about Lord Mayor Treloar College in Hampshire. My constituent Mike Webster sent his son Gary, a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes), to Treloar back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He wrote to me last month to tell me how distraught he was that the school is now trying to paint itself as a victim, when we know that it was in receipt of funds to conduct experiments on children. Will my right hon. Friend give me some assurance from the Dispatch Box that the Government are considering very carefully how the Helsinki declaration may have been breached, and some guidance about what future steps may be taken?

My right hon. Friend very eloquently makes a very important point. In the course of my engagement, I met a number of former pupils from Treloar. I believe that in Sir Robert’s report, one full volume pertains to what happened there. So many individuals underwent medical treatment that was not envisaged by their parents and where consent appears not to have been secured. This is a massive aspect of the work of Sir Brian Langstaff. The Government will need to examine it very carefully, including the implications for who is culpable and how we should most appropriately respond to avoid anything like that happening again. I hope that what I have said today with respect to compensation will give some modest measure of comfort to those I met and those like them who are not here today.

There are not words enough to pay tribute to all the campaigners, infected and affected, including my constituent Lin, who lost Bill, and the Smiths. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and journalists such as Caroline Wheeler. The Smiths lost Colin, aged just seven years old, to AIDS, having been given infected blood from an Arkansas prison at 10 months old. We now know from the inquiry that the risks of giving that blood were known. Lin and the Smiths want “sorry” to turn into something today, for those who die every week. On their behalf, I say to the Minister: make sure we have a proper timeline and that we stick to it; implement the recommendations as fast as possible; put the victims at the heart of decision making; and no more delays. This group of people have waited far too long and have been through far too much already. Finally, the Smiths want their son to have his name back, although they have always made sure that we have never forgotten it. So can I say it today? Colin John Smith.

The hon. Lady makes a moving tribute to her constituents. I can assure her that the Government have heard the pleas that have been made. We have set out today a clear timetable on the journey to the regulations. I will, with Mr Speaker’s permission, update the House in early autumn on where we have got to and the timeline for further detail, subject to the advice of the interim CEO and the interim chair. She makes a point about stigma, which is a massive part of this for so many people I met and for her constituents, including the Smith family. We recognise that as part of the scheme, but the memorialisation process must also recognise in particular those who were so badly stigmatised in the ’80s and ’90s.

The Minister talks about stigma. When I met some of the affected community in Peterborough, I heard about the discrimination they faced and about their lack of trust in public institutions. This all leaves a very long legacy. With that in mind, how confident is he that, despite that long legacy, the scheme will capture and benefit everyone affected or infected? How confident is he that everyone who should be compensated will come forward?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am confident that the scheme will work, and that it will work as quickly as it possibly can. I mentioned today the interim payments of £210,000 to the infected who are alive. The speed with which we process the applications of those affected and infected is very much on my mind as we set up the shadow arm’s length body. I will continue to work with my officials to do everything we can to move the timeline from the right to the left, conscious of how long people have waited.

First of all, I welcome the fact that the Minister has moved so quickly. The sorrow expressed yesterday had to be translated into action. The fact that the authority has been set up, a chairman who will have the confidence of the victims has been put in place, and the payments—at least interim payments—will be made quickly is good. But for people like my constituent Trevor Marsden, who was used as an experiment by people who described children as “cheaper than chimps” and more readily available, justice will be given only when the elite in the civil service and the professionals who cynically abused their position—devised experiments, denied they were happening, tried to destroy the evidence and defended their actions—know they will face criminal charges. That is what they are. Will the Government make sure that all the evidence is made available, so they can be brought to justice?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful representation on behalf of Trevor Marsden and more generally with respect to some of the conclusions Sir Brian made in his remarks. What happened with respect to experimentation was truly shameful. As he will be aware, I am speaking today to the issue of compensation, but it is an urgent matter to isolate who knew what and when, take that from the report and establish what courses of action, across the range of issues raised here in the House today, are the most appropriate to deal with all of those things.

I welcome what my right hon. Friend has set out, particularly the efforts that he and his predecessors have made to remove friction from the process of getting the victims of this unforgivable episode the compensation they clearly deserve. But he will recognise that as the system beds down and begins to operate, there is always the risk of that friction creeping back in. Can he make sure that he and his ministerial colleagues keep their eyes on the process and work with Sir Robert Francis to make sure it continues to be without friction, so that people continue to be able to easily access the compensation they need?

Absolutely. My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very wise point. The need to swiftly expedite payments in full to as many qualifying people as possible is the imperative that has guided me to this point, and will be the imperative that Sir Robert will take forward in his conversations. We must not introduce unnecessary complexity to establish people’s qualification to receive a payment, when that is unnecessary. There is a tension, but we must resolve it to get the payments out. That is why the arm’s length body will need to prioritise in particular the groups who are infected, alive and suffering the most, many of whom I met recently.

Does the Minister understand that as well as a duty of candour, we really need, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) has consistently put before this House, a public advocate to make certain that victims in future scandals have somebody to look after them and take them through processes? That would stop this happening ever again. Will he say something about when he expects all the payments to have been made? He talked about an interim scheme which goes on to the end of this financial year, but also about full payments being made going further forward. When is his deadline for getting this done?

The hon. Lady talks about a public advocate. I am not in a position to respond to that today, but it is clearly one option that is available and I think will be part of the wider response to the report. To be clear, the interim payments of £210,000 to the infected alive which I announced today will be paid within 90 days, starting in the summer. The full payments will begin by the end of the year. I am constrained somewhat because we are setting up an arm’s length body. There is an interim chief executive and I think there will be 20 people employed in that organisation by the end of next week. I cannot account for the processes and the way it will be established, and therefore how quickly, but everything I have said to David Foley, the interim chief executive, is designed to impress on him the need for speed to expedite as many of these claims as quickly as possible in full.

I commend the Minister for his statement. I know from our conversations how seriously he takes his moral duty on this issue. However, I also know from the work done at the Cabinet Office in the summer of 2022 in getting the first interim payments out that one of the most fraught areas of consideration will be wider eligibility, and that is not just a function of complexity but a function of capacity. The Minister mentioned that the arm's length body would have 20 employees in the next couple of weeks, but can he reassure the House that, if Sir Robert Francis comes back in a few months and says, “In order to make quick decisions, I need more capacity and therefore more people”, there will be no quibbling on adequate resource in that organisation to fulfil the Minister’s rightly identified priority of getting the money out as quickly as possible to as many people as possible?

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he did when he was in office to bring forward interim payments and to make progress. As for the business case for the arm's length body and the plans for the number of employees needed, I expect Sir Robert and the interim chief executive to be iteratively working up plans to expedite this as quickly as possible, and to assert what resources they need for it to be delivered as quickly as possible. I will do everything I can to prioritise swift delivery in the decisions that I make.

The timeline in Sir Brian’s report highlights the litany of failures, delays and cover-ups over decades which resulted in the exposure of even more patients to hepatitis C and HIV. While several countries accepted liability and set up compensation schemes in the mid-1990s, UK victims have had to spend another 30 years of their lives not just dealing with ill health but fighting for justice. I welcome the vast majority of what the Minister has announced today, and I am sure that everyone in the House does as well, but the members of the infected blood community who are here today will have been greatly concerned to hear his comments that implied a threat to the ongoing support payments. Does he accept that it is not just a matter of saying that the infected blood community will be involved in the compensation scheme? Will their wishes be listened to?

They will, absolutely. When I was in Edinburgh I had long conversations about the need to understand the integration of the existing infected blood support schemes, which present in a different way and offer meaningful psychological and other support services to the communities in different parts of the United Kingdom. We are talking about two parts of the heads of loss—about past and future care costs, and loss of income past and future. We are consolidating those into a lump sum, but I have made an absolute commitment that no one will be worse off. There are a couple of categories in which there is a potential risk of that, but we will make sure that no one will be worse off. However, the sensitivity in the delivery of this scheme, in terms with which the various communities across the United Kingdom will be comfortable, is at the top of my mind, and will be instrumental in determining the form of the regulations that will guide this into law in the next few months

I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement and, indeed, for the tone that the Government have taken in respect of this most grave scandal. It is striking, is it not, that the chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, has said that his job is not yet done, that he will only regard his terms of reference as fulfilled when the Government respond, within 12 months, to his recommendations, and, importantly, that he will only regard his job as done if he feels that there is nothing more he can do to prevent delay? Given that the Government have to respond to the second interim report and, now, to this final report, can my right hon. Friend assure me and the House, and indeed the wider public, that he and the Government will do everything they can to ensure that Sir Brian’s role is fulfilled as swiftly as possible?