The President of COP26 was asked—
The UK is working closely with Egypt and other partners to ensure that the commitments made by countries at COP26 are delivered. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the UK will hold the COP presidency until COP27 in November, and in the remaining four months we will continue to urge nations to implement the promises that they made in Glasgow.
The outgoing Prime Minister’s commitment to taking tangible climate change action has always seemed rather suspect, and, rather worryingly, the contenders to replace him seem to be even less committed. The President of COP26 himself, in a weekend interview with The Observer, described the commitment as “lukewarm”. Will he tell us who exactly he had in mind for that soubriquet?
Let me say first that the Prime Minister has been totally resolute in pursuing the net zero agenda, which is about delivering not just an environmental benefit but jobs and economic growth across the country. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Conservative party leadership; certainly from what I have seen and heard, all three of the remaining contenders are fully committed to that agenda.
My right hon. Friend has raised this issue with me before. It will of course be up to the new Prime Minister to see how he or she wants to strengthen the structures of government, but the key aim is for us to deliver on the commitments that we have made , and that is what we will be judged on at the next election.
The long-term effectiveness of COP26 outcomes derives at least in part from the credibility of pledges made in Glasgow and the serious implementation of climate policies at home, especially while we still hold the presidency. Does the President of COP26 share my concern about yesterday’s High Court ruling that the UK’s net zero strategy was unlawful because it failed to meet the Government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008? Is he worried about the message that that sends to other countries, and will he use his best offices to ensure that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy does now fulfil its obligations as it is required to do?
Obviously, I saw the judgment as well. Let me first emphasise that the net zero strategy itself remains Government policy. That is not what has been squashed. The judgment was about providing information on the percentage of emissions reductions coming from individual policy elements. Of course BEIS is looking at this, and it will have to respond in due course.
Does the President of COP26 agree that the extreme hot weather this week serves as a stark reminder of the realities and danger of climate change, and the need for the UK and the rest of the world to strengthen their resolve to achieve the objectives set at COP26?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. What we have seen over the last couple of days here is what many millions of people across the world experience on a regular basis. That is why it is so important to ensure that the commitments that have been garnered internationally are delivered on, but of course we also need to ensure that we do that ourselves.
In the last two days, we have seen that the climate emergency is here and now, with wildfires raging across our country, tracks and runways melting, schools closing and the government under-prepared, and yet some people aspiring to the highest office in the land have suggested that tackling the climate crisis is a luxury that can be delayed—an indulgence, a niche project. Such people would put the safety of our citizens at risk. They are deeply irresponsible and they are economically illiterate. Does the President of COP26 agree that, given the demonstrable threat that we so obviously face, there is no place in serious political parties for such dangerous folly?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I did make an intervention at the weekend. As I have said, from what I have seen and heard, all three of the remaining contenders for the leadership of the Conservative party and to be our next Prime Minister are committed to the “net zero by 2050” agenda, and also to the near-term policy commitments to get there. The final two will have an opportunity to set out further details over the coming weeks.
The President of COP26 was so appalled by his own party’s leadership contest that he threatened to resign, and it is no wonder. He says that all the candidates are committed to the net zero agenda, but only this morning the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), the frontrunner in the leadership race, said that he would double down on the onshore wind ban because of the “distress and disruption” that onshore wind causes.
What is causing distress is the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. What is causing disruption is the most extreme weather in our country’s history. Onshore wind is a vital tool in tackling these crises, but the bizarre state of the Tory party means that the former Chancellor panders to the fanatics and sides with the sceptics. Will the President of COP26 now repudiate that position and condemn it for the dangerous nonsense that it is?
I am not really in a position to repudiate anybody else’s proposals—[Interruption.] I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we have a clear plan for expanding offshore wind. There is another 32 GW—[Interruption.] I will come on to that. Another 32 GW is effectively in the pipeline. In solving the energy security strategy, we need to keep everything on the table. There is already 14 GW of onshore installed across the country, and where communities are positively welcoming of onshore in return for reduced bills, that is an issue that we should keep on the table.
The recent Climate Change Committee’s progress report concludes that the UK Government’s net zero strategy contains warm words but little tangible progress, and that it will not be fully credible until the Government develop contingency plans such as encouraging reduced consumer demand for high carbon activities. It also recommends carrying out a net zero tax review to see how that might best support the transition by correcting the distortions that often penalise low-carbon technologies. Do the Government intend to take action on these specific recommendations, and what will the President do to ensure that the next Prime Minister and Chancellor urgently act on all the Committee’s recommendations?
Obviously, the Government are looking at a response to this. Let me make a general point, which is that I believe the current Prime Minister has shown leadership on this issue. These policies work if there is leadership right from the top, so I will certainly want to see from any future Prime Minister a laser-like focus on ensuring that we are delivering on our policies on net zero emissions but at the same time pushing forward on more jobs, more growth and more inward investment, which we have seen coming in.
Finance for Loss and Damage
In June at the Bonn intersessional meeting, the Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage was launched to discuss the funding arrangements for addressing loss and damage. This will continue to be a critical forum to discuss practical ways in which finance can be scaled up and effectively delivered.
This week’s record-breaking temperatures across the UK show that climate change is on our doorstep, but many of the world’s poorest countries have been dealing with this climate crisis for years. The cost of not acting on climate change is spiralling out of control, so can I ask what specific steps the right hon. Gentleman is taking to put Scotland’s world-leading approach to funding loss and damage on the agenda for COP27?
As the hon. Lady knows, at COP26 we agreed a way forward with the Glasgow dialogue, and that took place in Bonn. I am quite sure that the issue of loss and damage will feature highly at COP27, in whichever forum. It is vital that we also support developing nations to make clean energy transitions, and that is something we are doing through the just energy transition partnerships with South Africa and other countries such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Senegal.
COP Presidency: Objectives
The Glasgow climate pact was a historic agreement that the United Kingdom forged among almost 200 countries. Our presidency year has been all about getting nations to deliver on the commitments they made at COP26 across the areas of mitigation, adaptation and finance, and we will continue this work up to COP27.
The heatwave this week shows the need to take serious and immediate action on climate change. The Glasgow call for a phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies is one prompt way in which the Government can swiftly work towards delivering net zero plans. Does the Minister agree that instead of fossil fuel subsidies, the Government should focus on home-grown, cheap, clean energy sources that guarantee our energy security?
The Government are focusing on that, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to the energy security strategy that was published a few weeks ago, and also to the recent contracts for difference auction process for offshore wind, which delivered a price for offshore wind that is almost 70% lower than in 2015 and four times less than the current gas price. The future has to be green energy.
Our schools often set a great example in raising awareness of the climate emergency. On my recent visit to Ysgol Rhyd-y-Grug in my constituency, the pupils told me of their concerns about deforestation in the Amazon and about the 1 million species at risk of extinction. We must urgently halt and reverse this loss, so will the right hon. Gentleman support the call, led by my hon. and right hon. Friends on the shadow Front Bench, for a “net zero with nature” test to align all public spending and infrastructure decisions with our climate and nature commitments?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we got an agreement at COP26 from more than 140 countries, representing more than 90% of the world’s forests, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. We now need to make sure this is delivered, and we are looking at mechanisms to keep this issue on the table so that countries are seen to be delivering on their commitments on an annual basis.
The COP26 President will have been as struck as I was at COP26 by the plight of low-lying island nations, and he will have been moved by how they are doing everything they can to protect themselves through nature-based solutions. Above all, they need the large, developed countries to tackle climate change. Will he redouble his efforts to persuade some of these large, developed countries to do better?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The small island developing states face a very acute climate emergency that is putting many millions of lives and livelihoods at risk. Yes, we need every country to come forward and deliver on its commitments, and particularly the biggest emitters: the G20.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published some excellent new targets for incineration in March. Will the COP26 President follow through on that and make a moratorium on waste incineration one of his objectives for the remainder of his presidency?
Last month the Climate Change Committee issued a scathing annual progress report warning of “major policy failures” and “scant evidence of delivery” on net zero. This week, as we have heard, the Government had to be dragged to court to be told their climate plans are so woefully inadequate that they are unlawful and must be revised.
What kind of leadership does it set if the country holding the COP presidency cannot get its own house in order? I know the COP President will say that the Conservative party’s leadership candidates have paid lip service to net zero, but does he really have any confidence that things will get better?
The Climate Change Committee has described the net zero strategy as “ambitious” and
“the world’s most comprehensive plan to reach net zero”.
I have discussed the legal findings, but the principle is right. We need to do everything we can to make sure we deal with this issue. The last few days have been a real wake-up call for everyone in this country, and it is what many millions of people across the world experience on a regular basis. We have to deal with this issue.
Climate Targets: Energy Efficiency
Buildings are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in our country, accounting for around 22% of total UK emissions. Energy efficiency measures are, indeed, a vital lever to drive down emissions, energy demand and, ultimately, bills.
Increasing the number of energy-efficient homes will help us to meet our climate targets and reduce bills. Around 70% of homes in Luton have an energy performance rating of band D or below, and these homes are more likely to include our town’s most deprived households. What discussions has the COP26 President had with the latest Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about ensuring the green rhetoric on homes is equitable so that everyone can benefit from an energy-efficient home?
The Government are making £6.6 billion available over this Parliament to improve energy efficiency, and nearly half the homes in England are now rated band C or above, compared with 14% in 2010. On the wider point, we need an even bigger focus on energy efficiency in homes and buildings, as it will also help our energy security by driving down demand and bringing down people’s bills.
The Government have had a series of failed programmes on home insulation: the green new deal failed, and the recent green homes grant scheme failed, as the Public Accounts Committee has repeatedly reported. Does the Minister have any confidence that the Government will listen and tackle this major cause of emissions? If it is not tackled, it will put a serious dent in achieving the target of net zero by 2050.
The COP President will know that the bulk of buildings that are around today will still be around in 2030 and 2050. Most of them are grossly inadequately insulated; even new buildings are not being built to an acceptable standard. When are we going to see some action on this crucial agenda?
I have set out the amount of funding the Government are providing over this Parliament—£6.6 billion on energy efficiency. I very much share the view that we need to be doing even more on this, particularly as we face energy security issues and energy prices are so high; more insulation in homes will deliver lower bills for households.
On energy efficiency, decarbonising in-home heating remains one of our biggest challenges in reaching our net zero 2050 target, so will the Minister join me in welcoming plans for a hydrogen village by 2025? Will he also have a chat with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary to encourage him to back our plans for one in Redcar and Cleveland?
As has been pointed out, previous programmes to improve insulation in homes, under either this party or the Labour Party, have not delivered what any of us would have hoped. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if this was targeted effectively at the homes of those who suffer most, many of whom will also be paying unacceptable increases in their energy bills, we could have a very effective way of improving insulation, reducing energy use and improving energy efficiency?
One way we could improve energy efficiency is by ensuring that new homes are energy-efficient. Will my right hon. Friend put pressure on developers to ensure that they are called to follow modern efficiency standards rather than the old ones?
On this day, I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his domestic and international leadership on tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. He has championed both during his time as Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, and he charmed, cajoled and corralled his international counterparts to ensure that more than 90% of the global economy is now covered by net zero targets. Under his premiership, the UK forged the historic Glasgow climate pact, bringing together almost 200 countries, and he has been the driving force to deliver a net zero emissions economy. He has championed the creation of well-paid green jobs, bringing in billions of pounds of private sector investment in the UK. In all these areas, he leaves a legacy to be proud of.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Whitetail project in Teesside, where an Allam cycle electricity generating plant will burn either gas or coal in pure oxygen, with zero carbon emissions? Does he agree that projects such as this ought to be fully compatible with not only our net zero commitments, but improved energy security, and that they could therefore form a long-term and permanent part of our future energy generating needs?
I am indeed aware of that project. My hon. Friend will know that the Government’s innovation funding has supported the development of Allam cycle power generation technology since 2012. Almost £5 million has been provided to fund research and development, and £1.3 million has been provided for technical studies.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Green technologies and innovations will help us to achieve the net zero target He made reference to gene editing, and I would also reference the recent CFD auction, which has delivered record renewables capacity in this country.
As my hon. Friend knows, support is being provided to help households. In particular, the most vulnerable households will receive at least £1,200 pounds of support. Of course, we also need to look at further energy-efficiency measures, and I am sure the new Prime Minister and Chancellor will look at all of that.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his amazing service as COP26 President. Will he make it his objective to ban the sale of Chinese lanterns across the UK? Across our tinder-dry land they are simply acting as unguided flamethrowers.
The recent Carbon Tracker report set out the exposure of each financial sector across the world to stranded assets—over $1 trillion in total. Will the COP President be engaging with each of the heads of the financial sectors—such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the London stock exchange—to ensure that they cope with that problem?
The private sector is very focused on the issue of the move to net zero. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in Glasgow, $130 trillion of assets were signed up to net zero. Anyone investing in assets that might end up being stranded has to be very clear about the financial decisions they are taking.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that establishing a price for carbon would give the free market the signal it needs to invest in low-carbon alternatives across the economy? Does he also agree that a carbon border adjustment mechanism is a necessary first step to achieve that?
I know my hon. Friend has raised this issue previously. Tackling carbon leakage is a vital matter. As he is aware, Her Majesty’s Treasury will be launching a consultation later this year and setting out a range of carbon leakage mitigation options, which includes looking at a carbon border adjustment mechanism.
Am I allowed to say to the COP26 President that many of us on the Labour Benches think that he has done a darned good job? If he survives the present wrangling in the Conservative party, will he make every effort to come back and “grassroot” what we are trying to do about climate change in every town, city and community? Let us have 500 sustainable towns and cities in this country. Does he agree with that?
Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.
I would also like to welcome Lord Mackay, who is retiring today. He served many distinguished years as Lord Chancellor.
Before I call Kim Leadbeater to ask the first question, it is only fitting to note that this is likely to be the final time that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) addresses the House as Prime Minister. I wish him and his family all the best for the future. We have been through many dark times in this House, and none more so than through the pandemic. That will always be remembered because of what this House did and because of the way that you conducted those duties during those dark times, Prime Minister.
I understand that Members will have differing views about the Prime Minister’s performance and legacy, and those views will be sincerely and passionately held, but I remind Members that our constituents and others around the world watch these proceedings. Let us conduct them in a respectful manner, focusing on issues and policies rather than personalities. I take this opportunity to remind Members of the words of Erskine May that
“good temper and moderation are the characteristics of the parliamentary debate.”
I expect to see that reflected today in the proceedings.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the bombings in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park. Tomorrow sees the 50th anniversary of Bloody Friday. Such terror by the Provisional IRA was barbaric and shameful, bringing untold grief to countless families. Our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones during the troubles. We as a Government remain determined to help build a better shared future for all the people of Northern Ireland.
I spoke to the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council last night and this morning about the heroic work of firefighters in recent days. I know the whole House will want to thank them and all our frontline services who have been working hard to keep us safe. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be making an oral statement later.
I know colleagues will wish to join me in wishing England’s Lionesses well in their quarter-final match against Spain in Brighton this evening. I also know the House will want to congratulate Jake Wightman, who produced a stunning run to take gold in the 1,500 metres at the world championships in Oregon.
As you rightly say, Mr Speaker, last week I told the House that last week’s PMQs was possibly my last. This week probably—certainly—will be my last PMQs from this Dispatch Box, or any other Dispatch Box. This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I will have further such meetings later today.
Summer recess gives all parliamentarians an opportunity to reflect on our ability to uphold the seven principles of public life: selflessness, openness, objectivity, honesty, integrity, accountability and leadership. Those are fine principles, but public trust in politicians is at an all-time low. Will the Prime Minister be using the next few weeks to personally consider why that could be? As the unedifying fight for his job continues, if those who are vying to replace him were to draw on his wise counsel—and why wouldn’t they?—what advice would he give to ensure that the people we serve receive far better than they have from this Government?
I am afraid I did not quite catch the last part of the hon. Lady’s question, but I will be using the next few weeks to do what I think the people of this country would expect: to drive forward the agenda on which we were elected in 2019 and on which I think the Labour party particularly fears the Conservative party, and that is the agenda of uniting and levelling up, and making sure that we invest in places that for decades were betrayed by Labour and left behind. That is what the Conservatives are going to do, and that is why we are going to win again.
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question. The accession of both countries will be good for them and make all our allies safer, and I think it will make the whole Euro-Atlantic security area stronger. I am proud of the role the UK has played in that accession.
I start by saying to the Prime Minister that I know that the relationship between a Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition is never easy, and this one has proved no exception to the rule, but I take this opportunity to wish him, his wife and his family the best for the future.
I put on record our gratitude to the fire and rescue services for all their courageous work yesterday in extreme temperatures. All our thoughts are with those affected by the fires, particularly those who have lost their homes. I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the bombing in Hyde Park and the other IRA bombings.
I also join the Prime Minister in his comments about the Lionesses. The coverage starts at 7.30 tonight on BBC One, and I am sure the whole country will be roaring them on. For anyone who does not fancy football, “EastEnders” is on, so if they would rather watch outrageous characters taking lumps out of themselves, they have a choice: Albert Square or the Tory leadership debates on catch-up. On that topic, why does the Prime Minister think those vying to replace him decided to pull out of the Sky News debate last night?
I am not following this thing particularly closely, but my impression is that there has been quite a lot of debate already, and I think the public have ample opportunity to view the talent, any one of which—as I have said before—would, like some household detergent, wipe the floor with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Today happens to be just about the anniversary of the exit from lockdown last year, and do you remember what he said? He said—[Interruption.] No, I am going to remind him. He said it was “reckless”. It was because we were able to take that decision, supported by every single one of those Conservative candidates, opposed by him, that we had the fastest economic growth in the G7 and we are now able to help families up and down the country. If we had listened to him, it would not have been possible, and I do not think they will be listening to him either.
Well, I am impressed the Prime Minister managed to get through that with a straight face, actually. I think the truth is this: they organised a TV debate because they thought it would be a great chance for the public to hear from the candidates first hand, then disaster struck because the public actually heard from the candidates first hand.
But I am interested in what the Prime Minister makes of the battle for his job, so let me start with a simple one. Does he agree with his former Chancellor that plans put forward by the other candidates are nothing more than the “fantasy economics of unfunded” spending “promises”?
Well, Labour know all about fantasy economics, because they have already committed to £94 billion of extra tax and spending, which every household in this country would have to pay for to the tune of about £2,100. It is thanks to the former Chancellor’s management of the economy—thanks to this Government’s management of the economy—that we had growth in May of 0.5%. We have more people in paid employment than at any time in the history of this country. I am proud to be leaving office right now with unemployment at or near a 50-year low. When they left office, it was at 8%. That is the difference between them and us.
Every Labour pledge made under my leadership is fully costed. Those vying to replace him have racked up £330 billion of unfunded spending commitments.
But I do note that the Prime Minister did not agree with his former Chancellor, so what about his Foreign Secretary? She was withering about the Government’s economic record. She said:
“If Rishi has got this great plan for growth, why haven’t we seen it in his last two and a half years at the Treasury?”
That is a fair question, isn’t it, Prime Minister?
I think that everybody would agree that what we saw in the last two and a half years was because of the pandemic, with the biggest fall in output for 300 years, which this Government dealt with and coped with magnificently by distributing vaccines faster than any other European Government—faster than any other major economy—which would not have been possible if we had listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. That is why we have the fiscal firepower that is necessary to help families up and down the country, making tax cuts for virtually everybody paying national insurance contributions. There is a crucial philosophical difference between Labour and the Conservatives: under Labour, families on low incomes get most of their income from benefits; under us, they get most of it from earnings, because we believe in jobs, jobs, jobs. That is the difference.
Inflation is up again this morning and millions are struggling with the cost of living crisis, and the Prime Minister has decided to come down from his gold-wallpapered bunker for one last time to tell us that everything is fine. I am going to miss the delusion.
But his Foreign Secretary did not stop there. She also said that the former Chancellor’s 15 tax rises are leading the country into recession—and the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) was even more scathing. She said that
“our public services are in a desperate state…we cannot continue with what we’ve been doing because that clearly isn’t working.”
Has the Prime Minister told her who has been running our public services for the last 12 years?
Again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing this—it is completely satirical. This is the Government who are investing £650 billion in infrastructure, skills and technology. He talks about public services; what really matters to people in this country right now is getting their appointments and their operations, fixing the covid backlogs—that is what we are doing—and fixing the ambulances. That is what he should be talking about. That is why we voted through and passed the £39 billion health and care levy, which Labour opposed. Every time something needs to be done, Labour Members try to oppose it. He is a great pointless human bollard. That is what he is.
I appreciate that Conservative Members may not want to hear what their future leader thinks of their record in government, but I think the country needs to know. If only it were satirical, Prime Minister; it is what the candidates think of the record. Among the mudslinging, there was one very important point, because the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) claimed that she warned the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) that he was handing taxpayer money directly to fraudsters in covid loans. She says that he dismissed her worries and that as a result, he “cost taxpayers £17 billion”. Does the Prime Minister think she is telling the truth?
This is one of the last blasts from Captain Hindsight, at least to me. They were the party, I remember, that was so desperate for us to be hiring their friends—they wanted a football agent and a theatrical costumier to supply personal protective equipment. Do you remember, Mr Speaker? We had to get that stuff at record speed. We produced £408 billion-worth of support for families and for businesses up and down the country. The only reason we were able to do it at such speed was that we managed the economy in a sensible and moderate way. Every time Labour has left office, unemployment has been higher. The Opposition are economically illiterate, and they would wreck the economy.
I think the message coming out of this leadership contest is pretty clear: they got us into this mess, and they have no idea how to get us out of it. The Foreign Secretary says we cannot go on with our current economic policy. The right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) bemoaned:
“What we’ve been doing is not good enough”,
and the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) probably put it best when she simply asked:
“Why should the public trust us? We haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory”.
Those are their words—their future leader’s words. They have trashed every part of their record in government, from dental care and ambulance response times to having the highest taxes in 70 years. What message does it send when the candidates to be Prime Minister cannot find a single decent thing to say about him, about each other or their record in government?
What does it say about the right hon. and learned Gentleman that no one can name a single policy, after three years, of the Opposition apart from putting up taxes? He is one of those pointless plastic bollards you find around a deserted roadworks on a motorway. We got Brexit done; he voted against it 48 times. We got this country fast out of covid, in spite of everything, when he would have kept us in lockdown. We are fixing social care, when the Opposition have no plan and no ideas of their own. We are now bringing forward measures, in the face of strikes, to outlaw wildcat strikes.
I can tell the House why the Leader of the Opposition does that funny wooden flapping gesture—it is because he has the union barons pulling his strings from beneath. That is the truth—£100 million.
We have restored our democracy and our independence. We have got this country through covid. I am proud to say that when it comes to tackling climate change or sticking up for Ukraine, we have led the world on the international stage. I want to thank my friends and colleagues on these Benches for everything they have done.
Mr Speaker, may I join you in wishing all the best, at his impending retirement, to—James Mackay and Beth, who are here. He has been a friend to many of us across the House, and we congratulate him on his service. I also join the Prime Minister in congratulating Jake Wightman on his success overnight in winning the 1,500 metres at the world athletics championships. What a fantastic achievement.
This week has seen historic records set across the United Kingdom, but let us look at the Prime Minister’s record-breaking efforts in office. His Tory Brexit slashed £31 billion from the economy—the biggest fall in living standards since the 1970s. People’s pay in real terms is falling at the fastest rate on record, and we have the worst economic growth forecast in the G20 outside Russia, and the highest inflation in 40 years.
Personally, I would like to thank the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister for the Union, for driving support for independence to new heights. Westminster is holding Scotland back. The economy is failing, and this Prime Minister has driven us to the brink of a recession. Has not the Prime Minister’s legacy of catastrophic mismanagement paved the way for the end of the Union?
That is not what I observe. The right hon. Gentleman talks about records; I point to the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, the lowest unemployment for at or near 50 years as I have said, the lowest youth unemployment, and the fastest growth in the G7 last year, in spite of everything. As for the Scottish nationalists’ record, look at where they are. I am afraid to say that Scottish school standards are not what they should be, because of the failure of the SNP. It is failing people who are tragically addicted to drugs in Scotland, and the people of Scotland are facing another £900 million in tax because of the mismanagement of the SNP.
The Prime Minister might believe that nonsense, but the people of Scotland do not. They know the reality—that our NHS is the best-performing in the United Kingdom, and education standards under the SNP are moving in the right direction. [Interruption.] That is a good look, to the people of Scotland—the disdain that the Tories show for our country.
I hope that the Prime Minister will, with all his newly gained spare time, reflect on his conduct in office, and I genuinely hope that he finds some peace of mind. The fact is that as a well as being a record-breaker, the Prime Minister is a rule-breaker—illegally shutting down Parliament, partying through the pandemic, handing out PPE contracts to cronies, and unilaterally changing the ministerial code. Let us not forget that the Prime Minister is still under investigation because he cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Shameful, disgraceful, and a complete waste of Scotland’s time—that is how the people of Scotland will remember this Prime Minister. Should not the Prime Minister and his Government have had their last day a long time ago? Quite simply, Downing Street is no place for a law-breaker.
On the personal abuse stuff, I think the right hon. Gentleman is talking a load of tosh, but when he has retired to his croft—which may be all too soon—I hope that he will reflect on his long-running campaign to break up the greatest country in the world. I hope that he will reflect on the pointlessness of what he is trying to do, and think instead about the priorities of the people of Scotland, which are all the issues that he thought were trivial: education, crime, and the burden of taxation that the SNP is unnecessarily placing on the people of Scotland.
As the Prime Minister leaves office, I am sure that the whole House is looking forward to him completing his book on Shakespeare. We wait to read what he really thinks about tragic figures brought down by their vaulting ambition, or scheming politicians who conspire to bring down a tyrannical leader. The candidates now plotting to take his place all profess that they will bring a fresh start—a clean break from his Government—but does the Prime Minister not agree that a fresh start and a clean break would require a new mandate from the British people, and that before they strut and fret their hour upon the stage, there should be a general election?
Polonius—that’s who the right hon. Gentleman is; he needs more matter with less art. The only thing we need to know is that if there were to be a general election, the Liberal Democrats would rightly get thrashed, because that would be the moment when the public looked with horror at what the Liberal Democrats’ policies really are and all those rural voters would discover the massive green taxes that they would like to apply. The only risk is that there could be some kind of crackpot coalition between those guys on the Labour Benches, the Lib Dems and the Scottish nationalists to put that into effect. That is what we must prevent.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work to tackle regional inequality in this country through his levelling-up agenda. As he rightly reflects with pride this summer on the work of both himself and his Government, will he urge all candidates in the leadership election and all colleagues in the House further to drive forward the levelling-up agenda to tackle inequality wherever it is found in the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend rightly paid tribute to our hard-working firefighters, who have been dealing with the fires over the past few days in this unprecedented weather. Will he take action to make sure that more fires can be prevented, by getting rid of disposable barbecues and Chinese sky lanterns?
Actually, we increased the living wage across the whole of the UK by £1,000, we made sure that people on universal credit got their tax bills cut by £1,000, and over the last couple of weeks we have cut national insurance contributions by an average of £330. It was because of the Union that we were able to support families up and down the country, in Scotland, with the furlough and other payments, to the tune of £408 billion.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to Scotland and the entire United Kingdom over his years in Downing Street? I also thank him and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for improving and increasing the visibility and involvement of the UK Government in Scotland over the past three years. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that whoever takes his job, and whatever comes next, the United Kingdom will always be stronger together than it ever would be apart?
Actually, I think more people have got compensation. I renew my apologies to the Windrush generation for what they have suffered, but we have greatly increased the compensation available. We have paid out, I think, more than £51 million. We are working with voluntary groups to ensure that people get what they are entitled to. I may say that Labour has never apologised for its own part in the Windrush scandal.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for all the work he has done for Scunthorpe, but I give particular thanks to him for the work that he has done for steel. He has shown his understanding both of the challenges that steel faces and of its importance to this nation. He has kept every promise he has made to me on steel, and I thank him very much for his work on that. Does he agree with me that the future of steel is always safest under a Conservative Government?
I completely disagree with that. The whole objective of the Northern Ireland (Protocol) Bill that we have passed is to support the balance and symmetry of the Belfast/Good Friday arrangements. I was very pleased that the Bill advanced to the House of Lords with no amendments.
In recalling the situation that the Prime Minister inherited in July 2019, of a Parliament with a majority determined to frustrate the result of the 2016 referendum, led by a Speaker who was just slightly partial—the seemingly impossible situation he found—does my right hon. Friend understand that he has the gratitude of my constituents, who can identify the wood from the trees, and of myself, for his leadership over the last three years?
I think the people of Scotland do not, frankly, want to be talking about constitutional issues and another referendum when the issues before the country—the cost of living, the educational issues we discussed, drugs and crime—are far more pressing.
The Prime Minister spoke earlier about the atrocities carried out by the IRA. For decades, many men and women had the courage to put on the Queen’s uniform and uphold law and order in Northern Ireland on Operation Banner. One of the Prime Minister’s undoubted achievements is that he brought in the Northern Ireland (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, so that those people who served their country can finally sleep safely in their beds. Thank you for that, Prime Minister, if I may be so presumptuous on their behalf. You kept your word to them.
I thank my old friend for everything he did to campaign on that issue for so long. I am glad that this Government were indeed able to fulfil their promise not just to veterans, but to their families as well. I renew my thanks to the security services, who do so much to keep us safe, and to all those who put on the Queen’s uniform.
The UK had the fastest growth in the G7 last year and we will return to the top of the table soon because we came out of covid fastest. We had 0.5% growth in May. Do not forget that the people of Scotland, like the people of the whole of the UK, are supported by the massive fiscal firepower of the UK Treasury, and that is a great advantage.
May I place on the record my thanks particularly to the firefighters of Cornwall, who were also extremely busy and courageous yesterday?
I thank the Prime Minister for his support and enthusiasm for Cornwall and the people of Cornwall over the last few years, and not least for the hosting of the G7 last year. I also thank him for the investment of £132 million from the shared prosperity fund, from which, with the national average at £17 per head, Cornwall receives £233 per head? Does my right hon. Friend agree that his enthusiasm for levelling up every part of the UK needs to carry on in the future?
This is the country that secured furlough and that delivered the vaccine across the whole of the UK, while the SNP gets on with overtaxing to the tune of £900 million—that is how much they are overtaxing in Scotland. And we had a referendum in 2014.
I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the importance of the seafood processing industry to the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area. However, there is one cloud on the horizon: the recently imposed 35% tariff on white fish, which is causing industry leaders considerable concern even though they recognise the importance of maintaining sanctions on Russia. Will my right hon. Friend arrange meetings with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) with the appropriate Ministers, so we can discuss measures to mitigate the impact on the industry?
I will make sure that my hon. Friend gets a meeting as soon as possible with the relevant Minister, but it is very important that we encourage our great fish and chip shops in Grimsby, Cleethorpes and elsewhere to make sure they are not just using Russian fish for their fish and chips.
I thank the Prime Minister for his support for the new city of Southend. Our brilliant hospital turns 90 next Tuesday, but our heroic NHS staff are hampered by the size of the A&E department. Conservative-led capital funding of £8.4 million to expand the A&E department was promised five years ago but has not quite arrived. Will my right hon. Friend encourage the new Health Secretary to give us the best birthday present ever and, in the words of Cuba Gooding Jr, “Show me the money”?
There are 3.7 million people who face 7% interest rates from September, as well as the inflation on heating and eating and rent, when mortgages are at 2%. Will the Prime Minister help those people in need, or will he help the City people—his friends—who are making all this money out of the cost of living crisis?
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what students want. They want to have a system where they do not pay back more than they borrow, and that is what we are putting in. They also want to make sure that they have a jobs market that will take them on with high-wage, high-skill jobs. The difference between Labour Members and us is that we get people into high-wage, high-skill jobs. They are prepared to let them languish on the dole, and that is the difference.
On behalf of the House, may I thank the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] On behalf of the House, may I thank the Prime Minister for his three-year record of service? On behalf of some of the most vulnerable people in the country, can I thank him for his insistence on rolling out the AstraZeneca jab, which has saved thousands of lives around the world? On behalf of the 17.4 million people who voted Brexit, may I thank him for restoring people’s faith in democracy? On behalf of northern towns, may I thank him for his commitment to levelling up? And most of all, on behalf of the people of Ukraine, may I thank him for holding high the torch of freedom and ensuring that that country is not a vassal state? For true grit and determination, keep going and thank you.
I thank my right hon. Friend, and I want to use the last few seconds to give some words of advice to my successor, whoever he or she may be.
No. 1: stay close to the Americans; stick up for the Ukrainians; stick up for freedom and democracy everywhere. Cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can to make this the greatest place to live and invest, which it is. I love the Treasury, but remember that if we had always listened to the Treasury, we would not have built the M25 or the channel tunnel. Focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror. And remember, above all, it is not Twitter that counts; it is the people that sent us here.
And yes, the last few years have been the greatest privilege of my life. It is true that I helped to get the biggest Tory majority for 40 years and a huge realignment in UK politics. We have transformed our democracy and restored our national independence, as my right hon. Friend says. We have helped—I have helped—to get this country through a pandemic and helped save another country from barbarism. Frankly, that is enough to be going on with. Mission largely accomplished—for now.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to thank all the wonderful staff of the House of Commons. I want to thank all my friends and colleagues. I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). I want to thank everybody here. And hasta la vista, baby. [Applause.]