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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2022


The Minister for Climate was asked—

Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use

1. What steps he is taking to help ensure that international partners deliver on the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use commitments. (902028)

14. With reference to the Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, what recent steps he has taken with international partners to conserve forests. (902042)

Through the Glasgow leaders’ declaration, 145 countries, representing 90% of the world’s forests, committed to ending and reversing deforestation this decade, and we secured $20 billion of public and philanthropic finance to help them. We also secured a commitment from the world’s biggest traders to stop buying commodities grown on illegally deforested land. At COP27, the world leaders who made that pledge are gathering again to report back on progress and agree next steps.

The Environment Act 2021 was passed nearly a year ago, but we still do not have the necessary strong secondary legislation to regulate the use of forest-risk commodities in the UK. Ministers are yet to decide which commodities should be regulated, and under every one of their own scenarios the Government will not even manage to halve the UK’s deforestation footprint between now and 2030. With COP27 starting in just a few days, will the Government commit today to bring in regulations within a year that apply across all items that pose a risk to forests?

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. I am new in post as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I spent three years there working on such projects. I assure her that the protection of sustainable forests is key to this Government, which is why we continue to ensure that the £1.5 billion specifically earmarked for forests across the current international climate finance period will be honoured.

A lot of good work was done at COP26 by the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) and others to preserve the world’s forests. The decisions by south-east Asian nations to participate in the declaration were not easy, because livelihoods and the environment are closely allied issues in those countries. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that our Government remain committed to working with the countries of south-east Asia both to deliver on the declarations and to help them with tricky issues, such as palm oil and the sustainability of timber?

My hon. Friend is right to praise my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) for what he and, indeed, the UK Government as a whole did last year, but I also thank my hon. Friend for his steadfast efforts at rallying partners across south-east Asia behind global forest commitments in his capacity as trade envoy. He is right that south-east Asia is critical to this, recognising that it is home to some of the most vibrant forest landscapes on earth, and we will continue to work with partners in the area to protect the critical ecosystems while supporting local livelihoods.

It is disappointing that the COP President has not been allowed to answer questions today. I hope that Lula’s election victory in Brazil at the weekend heralds a new era in protecting the Amazon from deforestation. Globally, however, it seems that little progress has been made on the ground since the COP26 promises last year. We have also just heard that the UK has failed to pay out more than $300 million promised at COP to the green climate fund and the adaptation fund. Was the Prime Minister trying to avoid going to Sharm el-Sheikh because he is embarrassed that the UK has not delivered on all its promises?

I think the hon. Lady is being ungenerous. All our pledges are still in place, and she will recognise this Government’s work to bring partners together. We established the Forest & Climate Leaders’ Partnership to gather high-ambition partners together to accelerate efforts to reach our 2030 target to halt and reverse deforestation.

The COP President worked hard in his role and achieved some worthwhile results at Glasgow’s COP26 on commitments such as the declaration on forest and land use, and I commend him for that. I certainly do not think he deserved to be demoted from Cabinet, along with the Climate Minister, just weeks before his handover and at a time when sensible voices on the climate crisis are needed around the Cabinet table more than ever. Does the Secretary of State agree that the PM’s decision sets a poor example to other countries, let alone to us in the UK? Can she tell us who will be driving forward these important international commitments in the future?

Indeed, the Prime Minister will be taking the lead on this agenda. That is recognised because, as was announced earlier today, he is attending COP. The hon. Lady should be aware that this is about an implementation process. At the same time, I remind her that Government representatives are already attending COP and the Montreal protocol partnership. This leadership on forests and land use is an important recognition of how nature-based solutions are critical to achieving that, which is why many people from Government are making sure that we achieve net zero and are supporting global efforts.

International Energy Self-sufficiency

2. What assessment he has made of the potential contribution of international energy self-sufficiency to meeting climate targets. (902029)

Home-grown renewable and low-carbon energy are fundamental to meeting climate targets for every country and are key components of energy security and independence, as outlined by the International Energy Agency. The alignment of economic, climate and security priorities has already started a movement towards a better outcome for people and the planet.

If my right hon. Friend supports self-sufficiency, why is the United Kingdom still importing such vast quantities of liquefied natural gas from the United States, especially when two thirds of all that gas is produced by fracking?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course, it makes sense to ensure that we maximise the albeit declining production from the North sea to this country. To those who suggest—including, it must be said, the separatist Scottish National party—paying billions of pounds to foreign countries to supply gas that we have to have, rather than producing it in Scotland with Scottish jobs, I say that is frankly absurd, as he will recognise.

In the context of the climate crisis, self-sufficiency cannot simply mean yet more new extraction and burning of fossil fuels. According to the UN, Governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global heating to 1.5°. To help us to assess production against climate targets, will the Minister urge all countries at COP27 to join Germany, France and Tuvalu in giving diplomatic support to the new global registry of fossil fuels that is designed to help us to do precisely that?

I thank the hon. Lady for what she said. Of course, it is important in this country to recognise that, given the Climate Change Act 2008, the fact that production here is from a declining basin, and that our production is expected to fall faster than is required for oil and gas around the world, producing that at home, with lower emissions for our gas than for liquefied natural gas, is a sensible way to go.

I thank the Climate Minister for agreeing to speak at the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly on Monday. Does he agree that there is scope for far more co-operation between European nations to ensure energy security and, in the short term, to meet the challenge of Russia’s war of aggression?

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right, and we are seeing increasing co-operation. This summer, we saw electricity exports from the UK while the French nuclear fleet was down. We saw gas exports from the UK helping to fill storage there. We are also looking to renew our co-operation in the North sea co-operation apparatus and a memorandum of understanding on that is expected to be signed soon.

We are often told by the Government that they follow the science. How safe is fracking? Would the Minister want it happening in or near his constituency?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. As the Prime Minister made clear, the moratorium on fracking has been reinstalled, so that is an effective stop on fracking.

Net Zero Strategy and Carbon Budgets

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet members on the Net Zero Strategy and carbon budgets. (902030)

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet members on the steps they are taking to meet the commitment to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030. (902033)

Delivering net zero is essential to tackling the global challenges facing countries around the world, including the impact of climate change, threats to energy security, the decline of nature and slowing economic growth. Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and from across Government Departments, such as those represented on the Front Bench, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, are committed to that agenda.

I thank the Minister for his answer. A couple of weeks ago, the former BEIS Secretary, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), dropped plans to appeal against a High Court ruling that found the UK Government’s net zero strategy was unlawful after a trio of non-governmental organisations challenged the Department’s strategy on the basis that it failed to show how its policies would cut emissions enough to meet legally binding targets next decade. What recent discussions has the Minister had with Cabinet members to ensure that legally required information on how carbon budgets will be met is available to Parliament and to the public?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and his close interest in these issues. The net zero strategy is Government policy and it has certainly not been quashed. The judge in fact made no criticism about the substance of our plans, which are well on track, but he is right that it was about the information provided, and we will respond in due course. In fact, it is notable that the claimants themselves described our net zero plans as “laudable” during the proceedings.

The Treasury has warned of a £50 billion financial black hole. This has been caused by crisis after crisis—the war in Ukraine, inflation, Brexit and the cost of living crisis—yet oil giants are still making record profits. BP intends to pay around £700 million in windfall taxes on its North sea operations, but more than three times that in the share buyback programme, which puts surplus cash into the hands of their shareholders, rather than renewable investment. Does the Minister think this is ethical, and does he agree that the UK Government should expand the windfall tax for fossil fuel extraction?

Of course, taxation is a matter for His Majesty’s Treasury. The point I would make to the hon. Lady is that a system that encourages those companies to reinvest in the North sea, and produce gas with much lower emissions attached than the liquid natural gas that we import from abroad, is good for Scottish jobs, is good for our energy security and, because of those lower emissions, is good for the environment.

As the Prime Minister will no longer be chairing the Climate Action Strategy Committee, what structures working across Government Departments does the Minister expect the Prime Minister to use to drive delivery of the nationally determined contributions to the COP programme and net zero Britain?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent question. As he will doubtless be aware, we are working across Government—as represented here today; people can see just how cross-Government our efforts are. The Climate Action Implementation Committee, which met only a couple of weeks ago and on which I and multiple Ministers sit, is very much driving forward reviewing our carbon budgets and ensuring that we have the policies to stay on track.

In his discussions with other Cabinet members, did my right hon. Friend reflect on the contribution new nuclear projects, such as Hinkley Point C, can make to the delivery of the net zero strategy and how the objections of some to those types of projects mean we simply end up emitting more carbon?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is bizarre that those who claim to be green oppose the green baseload that is provided from nuclear. Of course, if we take the separatist party over there, with an aspiration of 100% renewables, that is reliant upon the baseload nuclear provides from England. It is not green to oppose nuclear. That is why we have set a 24 GW target and that is why we are committed to it, and the jobs and the technology that are associated with it.

I pay tribute to the work of the COP26 President, and I am sorry he has been removed from the Government. Let me take this first opportunity at the Dispatch Box to congratulate the Minister on bringing down the last Government in the vote on fracking.

Before it fell, that Government pledged to end the onshore wind ban in England, changing the planning rules to bring consent for onshore wind

“in line with other infrastructure.”

But the new Prime Minister spent the summer campaigning for an onshore wind ban because of the “distress and disruption” he says it causes. So can the Minister tell us: is the Government’s policy to change the planning rules as promised by the last Government, or to keep the ban on onshore wind as promised by the new Prime Minister?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I am delighted that, as has been announced today, the Prime Minister is going to be leading our delegation to the COP. We are working to ensure the speedy take-up of a whole range of technologies across the piece to ensure that we can deliver the net zero targets and stay on track.

It is a mad world when the new Government make the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) look like an eco-warrior, and he was in favour of lifting the ban. This is just one example of their failure. We are way off track from meeting our climate targets, the net zero strategy was ruled unlawful, the PM sacks the COP President and all this when the UN is telling us we are heading for 2.8 °C of global warming. Is not the truth that this year began with a Prime Minister who made grand promises that have not been fulfilled, and it ends with one who has to be dragged kicking and screaming even to turn up?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government of which he was part had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the Conservative party to pass the Climate Change Act 2008 in the first place. Since he left office, this country has moved from renewables accounting for less than 7% of electricity to more than 40%, and seen the transformation of the energy efficiency of our housing stock. This Prime Minister will not only lead us at COP, but take us forward. We are on track to meet our net zero targets, and we will meet our carbon budgets. The Conservative party, and this Government, have a track record of action rather than rhetoric—although I have to admit the right hon. Gentleman is increasingly good at that.

Global Temperature Rises

4. What recent assessment he has made of progress towards limiting global temperature rises to (a) well below two degrees and (b) 1.5 degrees. (902031)

Every major report published this year shows progress on bringing down warming projections compared with last year, but we are still far from the 1.5°C pathway. That is why we need more countries, especially the major emitters, to implement their Glasgow commitments. I welcome the fact that 26 countries have new or strengthened nationally determined contributions as part of their response to the Glasgow climate pact.

The global methane pledge that emerged from COP26 committed its signatories, including the UK, to collectively reduce methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by the end of this decade. By how much have the Government reduced UK methane emissions in the year since the COP26 summit, and when will they outline a strategy to meet their 2030 commitment in full?

I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman with a detailed response, but I hope he will welcome the progress being made. For example, we have people at the Montreal protocol agreement right now. We also welcome the US Government ratifying the Kigali amendment. Other measures, including on gases, will help us to achieve, hopefully, that 1.5°C.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned that in the Arctic countries the temperature is rising something like four times faster than in the rest of the world, and in some places six times faster? What more can we do to assist the Arctic countries to resist the worst effects of the rise of the oceans and the rise in temperature?

I know my hon. Friend has long been concerned about this and he is right to be so. That is why we will continue to work with high-level ambition partners, and work towards our 30 by 30 ambitions around the world, which will also preserve the Arctic and Antarctic.

Loss and Damage Settlement at COP27

5. What discussions he has had with his Egyptian counterpart on achieving a loss and damage settlement at COP27. (902032)

Throughout the UK’s presidency, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) has engaged with all parties, including co-operating closely with the upcoming Egyptian presidency on the issue of loss and damage. Addressing loss and damage will continue to be a priority for the UK presidency in the run-up to, and at, COP27.

The Egyptian presidency of COP27 has hailed Scotland as leading the world in taking steps in the right direction regarding loss and damage. Scotland’s First Minister has called it a moral responsibility finally to acknowledge the damage done by developed nations through emissions, and to contribute towards loss and damage funding. What more can this Government do to follow the lead of the Scottish Government in tackling that important issue?

Loss and damage has been, and continues to be, a priority for the UK COP26 presidency. The Glasgow climate pact dealt explicitly with that issue, recognising the urgency of the challenge, and the Santiago Network will enable technical support for countries to understand climate impact, and to plan and carry out actions on account of that.

Topical Questions

Let me take this opportunity to put on record my thanks, and I know that of the whole House, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) for his absolute and unwavering commitment as COP26 President on behalf of the United Kingdom. His team, led by Peter Hill, have worked tirelessly alongside him and deserve great praise. My right hon. Friend has brought the world together, not only raising ambition across the board for net zero strategies, nation by nation, but building trust and confidence that that can be achieved by driving the global change in the private sector’s view of money. In turning investment green, he has been able to drive the commitments of Governments and business to make decisions with net zero at their heart. If Paris set the mitigation goal, Glasgow—under his leadership—turned that into real commitments. He has now challenged the world to put adaptation for resilience at the heart of all we do, and the Egyptians will continue that work.

I welcome the Minister to her new role. As we all know, Shell is making windfall profits—more than double those last year. Despite that, it is not paying a penny of the UK’s windfall tax, because of a get-out clause that obscenely incentivises new oil and gas extraction in the UK. Given that we know that drilling for more fossil fuels is incompatible with the target of 1.5°C to avert climate catastrophe, will the Government now remove that loophole?

All matters of tax are for His Majesty’s Treasury, but it is clear that all our formerly fossil fuel companies are indeed energy companies, and they are investing incredibly heavily across the piece in renewables as well. We will continue to work with them to ensure that they invest their profits wisely.

T4. When Ministers go to the COP27 conference, will they give the cold shoulder to Germany to show our country’s disapproval and disgust at it continuing a massive expansion in its use of lignite, which is the dirtiest way of generating electricity? (901998)

After the COP presidency is handed over to Egypt, we will ensure that we continue to work with all our international partners to find solutions that move to renewables and clean energy.

T2. Will the Secretary of State update us on what steps are being taken to reduce methane gas emissions by 2030, in accordance with the global methane pledge set at COP26? (901996)

As I just said to the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), I will have to get the detail and write to him. I will share the same letter.

T5. This year, I have met pupils at Sayes Court and Manorcroft primary schools who wrote to me about the environment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that alongside the big—the Glasgow pact—the small such as local environmental activism is critical to protecting our environment and join me in being proud of the pupils we have in Runnymede and Weybridge? (901999)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to commend the children at Sayes Court and Manorcroft schools. It is the children who are genuinely the future, and leading by example in what they do is an element in reducing waste. Nature-based solutions are fundamental to tackling climate change and, as we embrace them through programmes such as Eco-Schools, they must be the way forward for his schoolchildren and indeed our country.

T3. What recent discussions has the Minister had with the incoming Administration in Brazil in seeking to tackle deforestation and the clearing of the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the planet? What consideration has she given to an international preservation alliance where richer countries pay for carbon credits to keep rainforests alive? (901997)

If I may, I will write to the hon. Lady with more detailed information, but the work that Lord Goldsmith in the other place has been doing as part of the COP26 team over the last two years, as was set out, has driven work on deforestation and commodities. We continue to do that. I will ensure that she gets a fuller answer.

T6. While it is admirable to assist other countries in meeting their net zero goals, closer to home, the planning laws mean that polluting companies gain planning permission to build waste transfer plants such as the one in Cwmfelinfach in my constituency. Will the Government reform the planning laws to be mindful of net zero as well as granting permission against the wishes of the community? (902000)

I think that planning is devolved to the Welsh Administration, so the hon. Member may wish take that up with the Welsh Government directly. Of course, we will always ensure that our obligations on improving the environment are honoured as we take forward any potential reforms to planning.

T7. Coventry is leading the way in the manufacture of electric cars. Despite that, our Conservative Government continue to flip-flop both on attending the COP27 climate summit and on investing in green technologies. When will the Government step up and sign off the gigafactory for Coventry? (902001)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We are absolutely committed to having zero-emission vehicles and I am pleased to say that we have led on that, with our 2030 and 2035 targets now, I notice, being copied by our European neighbours. We remain committed under the Prime Minister to continuing our leadership. We have reduced our emissions by more than any other major economy and we will continue to do so.

T8. Shell and BP have announced bumper profits while they have also benefited from a loophole put in place by the now Prime Minister which means they secure taxpayer support for drilling oil in our North sea. Does the Minister think that that is a good decision or a bad decision ahead of the COP27 summit? (902002)

I have said repeatedly that it is absurd to suggest that bringing in gas from abroad, for instance, with higher emissions attached to that and paying billions of pounds for it, is sensible when we can produce it at home. That is why we incentivise investment in the North sea. It is declining, it is a managed decline, and it is compatible with net zero. It is about time that the hon. Lady backed the British economy and British jobs, and did not play politics with this issue.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

The Prime Minister promised integrity, professionalism and accountability in Government. His Home Secretary has leaked information, is overseeing chaos in the Home Office and has broken the law. What will she actually have to do to get the sack?

The Home Secretary made an error of judgment, but she recognised her mistake and took accountability for her actions. She has now set out, transparently and in detail, a full sequence of events in a letter to the Labour Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and offered to share relevant documents with the Chair. She is now getting on with the job: cracking down on crime and defending our borders, something that the Labour party has no interest in supporting.

Q4. My 19-year-old constituent Marie, who has been in care for much of her life, has worked long and hard, by childminding and in other ways, to save £3,600 to help support herself at university. Marie now faces her university studies with no savings and no means of recovering them, because they were all stolen in a few seconds by a heartless scammer pretending to be her bank. What assurance can the Prime Minister give that the Government are working hard to help prevent this all too common type of despicable crime and bring the perpetrators to book? (901984)

I am very sorry to hear about Marie’s case. I know how convincing scammers can be, and the upset and hurt they cause. I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government will shortly publish our fraud strategy, which will establish a more unified and co-ordinated response from Government, law enforcement and the private sector, to block more scams and better protect the public.

We can look at the record on migration policy. Let us look at it. What did we on the Conservative side of the House do? We gave the British people a referendum on Brexit. We delivered Brexit. We ended the free movement of people. That is our record on migration policy. It is not something the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported. He opposed it at every turn and that is not what the British people want.

No one on the Labour side of the House wants open borders. It is the Government who have lost control of our borders. Four Prime Ministers in five years and it is the same old, same old. The Prime Minister stands there and tries to pass the blame. If the asylum system is broken and his lot have been in power for 12 years, how can it be anyone’s fault but theirs?

People rightly want to see us getting a grip of migration and our borders, but let us look at the record. The right hon. and learned Gentleman voted against the Nationality and Borders Bill. He said he would scrap the Rwanda partnership. He opposed the ending of the free movement of people. Border control is a serious, complex issue, but not only does the Labour party not have a plan; it has opposed every single measure that we have taken to solve the problem. You cannot attack a plan if you do not have a plan.

We voted against it because we said it would not work, and it has not worked. The Prime Minister says that he is getting a grip and he has a plan, so let us have a look at that plan: the Rwanda deal was launched in April; it has cost the taxpayer £140 million and rising; the number of people deported to Rwanda is zero. Since then, 30,000 people have crossed the channel in small boats. It is not working, is it? He has not got a grip.

We on the Government side of the House are clear that we want to defend our borders. When the shadow Home Secretary was asked this weekend, she could not answer a simple question about whether the Labour party was in favour of higher or lower migration. It is that simple. The Home Secretary and I, when it comes to tackling and reducing migration, are on the same page. The Labour party’s policy is a blank page.

Blame others, deflect, attack on something else—so much for the new age of accountability. Of all the people who arrived in small boats last year, how many asylum claims have been processed?

We do need—[Interruption.] Not enough is the answer, very straightforwardly, and that is what we are going to fix.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises the question of what we are doing. We have increased the number of processing officials by 80%, and we are putting in an extra 500 by next March. If he really was serious about fixing this problem, he would acknowledge that we need to tackle the issue of people putting in spurious claims—spurious, repeated, last-minute claims—to frustrate the process. That is how we will tackle the system, so why, then, did he vote against the Nationality and Borders Act, which deals with it?

The Prime Minister says, “Not enough”. He can say that again. It is 4%—4% of people arriving in small boats last year had their asylum claim processed. According to the bookies, the Home Secretary has a better chance of becoming the next Tory leader than she has of processing an asylum claim in a year. The Prime Minister talks about numbers. They are taking only half the number of asylum decisions that they used to. That is why the system is broken. There are 4,000 people at the Manston air force base, which is massively overcrowded and all sorts of diseases are breaking out, so did the Home Secretary receive legal advice that she should move people out—yes or no?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is very fond of reminding us that he used to be the Director of Public Prosecutions, so he knows the Government’s policy on commenting on legal advice. But what I can say is the significant action that the Home Secretary has taken to fix the issue, providing, since September, 30 more hotels with 4,500 new beds, appointing a senior general to control the situation at Manston and, indeed, increasing the number of staff there by almost a half. These are significant steps to demonstrate that we are getting a grip of this system. This is a serious and escalating problem. We will make sure that we control our borders and we will always do it fairly and compassionately, because that is the right thing.

The Prime Minister talks about my time as Director of Public Prosecutions. I prosecuted people smugglers; he cannot even get an asylum claim processed. I think the answer to the question of whether the Home Secretary received legal advice to move people out of Manston is yes. He just has not got the guts to say it—weak. He did a grubby deal with her, putting her in charge of Britain’s security just so that he could dodge an election. She has broken the ministerial code, lost control of a refugee centre and put our security at risk.

The Home Secretary did get one thing right: she finally admitted that the Tories have broken the asylum system, with criminal gangs running amok, thousands crossing the channel in small boats every week and hardly any claims processed. So why does he not get a proper Home Secretary, scrap the Rwanda gimmick, crack down on smuggling gangs, end the small boat crossings, speed up asylum claims and agree an international deal on refugees? Start governing for once and get a grip.

Order. Can we just calm it down a little? I want to hear the replies. [Interruption.] Covering your mouth is not helpful to me or you.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly raises the topic of national security, because it is important, but this is the person who, in 2019, told the BBC—and I quote—“I do think Jeremy Corbyn would make a great Prime Minister.” Let us remember that national security agenda: abolishing our armed forces, scrapping the nuclear deterrent, withdrawing from NATO, voting against every single anti-terror law we tried, and befriending Hamas and Hezbollah. He may want to forget about it, but we will remind him of it every week, because it is the Conservative Government who will keep this country safe.

Q6. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Right now we are suffering the worst outbreak of avian flu ever recorded. Hundreds of thousands of birds are being destroyed to stem the spread of this terrible disease. The Government have acted quickly to bring forward compensation for live birds culled to 48 hours after confirmation of disease, but even that short delay is causing significant losses to farmers in Broadland as the disease wreaks havoc on flocks. Dead birds are not compensated. Today is Back British Farming Day. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to back British farmers and agree compensation for all affected birds from the date when disease is confirmed? (901986)

As someone who represents a very rural farming community, it is a great pleasure to support Back British Farming Day and to join colleagues on both sides of the House in doing so. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that outbreaks of avian flu this year are on track to be some of the worst on record. That is why we have toughened up biosecurity measures on poultry farms. I can tell him that we have confirmed that we will now pay compensation from the outset of planned culling, rather than at the end—something that I know he and the farming sector will warmly welcome.

In May, the Prime Minister told this Chamber:

“I can reassure the House that next year…benefits will be uprated by this September’s consumer prices index…the triple lock will apply to the state pension.”—[Official Report, 26 May 2022; Vol. 715, c. 452.]

But last week he repeatedly refused to say whether he would keep to a promise that he made only five months ago. People do not need to hear any more spin about compassionate conservatism; they just need a straight answer to a simple question—will he keep his promise and lift benefits and pensions in line with inflation?

We now have an excellent new Chancellor, and I am looking forward to his autumn statement in a couple of weeks. It would not be right to comment on individual policy measures before then, but I think everyone knows that we face a challenging economic outlook and difficult decisions will need to be made. What I would say is that we will always—as my track record as Chancellor demonstrates—have fairness and compassion at the heart of everything we do.

It was a very simple question. I asked the Prime Minister to reiterate what he promised just five months ago. For the second week running, he still will not give a straight answer to the most vulnerable who require support.

The Prime Minister keeps telling us that difficult decisions need to be made, but austerity 2.0 is not a difficult decision; it is what it has always been—a Tory political choice to hit the poorest hardest. In the week that BP saw quarterly profits of £7.1 billion, why not take the easy decision to bring in a proper windfall tax? Why not take the easy decision to reinstate the cap on bankers’ bonuses? Why not take the easy decision to scrap non-dom tax avoidance? And with all that new revenue, why not stand up today and take the easiest decision of all: to protect those most in need and increase benefits and pensions in line with inflation?

The right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of the North sea. This is a point of significant difference between his party and ours. As Chancellor, I introduced a new levy on oil and gas companies because I believed that that was the right thing to do, but this is the point on which the right hon. Gentleman’s party and ours will always differ: we believe that our North sea producers do have an important role to play in our transition to net zero and are an important source of transition fuels, and we will ensure that we support them to enable them to invest in and exploit those resources for the British people.

Q8. Let me first welcome the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation from Madagascar, whose members are in the Public Gallery. More locally, I am delighted that next year Openreach will roll out ultrafast broadband in Wigginton, in my constituency. However, other rural areas of south-west Hertfordshire, such as Dudswell, are still in dire need of better connectivity. Can the Prime Minister update the House on the progress of the £5 billion Project Gigabit? (901988)

My hon. Friend is right to recognise the role of broadband in providing levelling-up opportunities across our economy. We invested £5 billion in Project Gigabit and 71% of UK premises now have access to it, up from just 5% when we came into office. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that we will be launching a procurement process to provide gigabit coverage for his area in the coming weeks.

The Prime Minister will know that it is Scotland’s energy resources that feed corporate profits and keep His Majesty’s Treasury pumped full of cash, to the tune of £8 billion in the last nine months alone. In return, candidates in the summer Tory leadership contest tried to outdo each other in their contempt and hostility towards Scotland's democracy. Without falling back on the “you’ve had your vote” trope, can the Prime Minister tell me this: is Scotland in a voluntary and respectful union of equals, as was claimed in 2014, or are we hostages in a territorial British colony?

What people across Scotland rightly want to see is both their Governments working constructively together to improve their lives, and that is what we will do on this side of the House. Part of that is actually supporting Scottish energy producers, and the hon. Gentleman is right: they have a vital role to play in enabling our transition to net zero and improving our energy security, and those Scottish companies will have our full support.

Q12. Nearly 40,000 illegal immigrants have crossed the channel so far this year, landing taxpayers with a hotel bill of £5.6 million per day to accommodate them. Is it any wonder that millions of people in this country are furious about the situation? During the summer, the Prime Minister set out a comprehensive 10-point plan to tackle the issue, and everyone on this side of the Chamber wants him to succeed in that aim. When can we expect the firm action that the British people are demanding? (901994)

I know that this issue is, rightly, a priority for my hon. Friend and a priority for his constituents, and I can reassure them that it is also a priority for me and for this Government. Whether through the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 or through the further measures that we are planning to take, we will defend our borders, stop the illegal crossings, and ensure that there is fairness and compassion in our system. That is the way to restore trust, and that is what my hon. Friend’s constituents and the British people deserve.

Q2. A constituent of mine is a supermarket worker who is paid four-weekly. Because she receives one double salary payment, there is one month of the year in which she receives no universal credit. Normally that is not an issue, but because universal credit is linked to the cost of living payment, my constituent no longer qualifies for the £320 that could see her through the very worst of a cold, hard winter. What can the Prime Minister do to mend this gap in cost of living support? (901981)

What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that we also provided discretionary funding, which was supplied to the Scottish Government through the Barnett formula, especially to deal with cases like the one that he has raised. If he writes to us with the constituent’s details, we will be happy to look into it, but, as I have said, discretionary funding was made available especially for such cases.

I was visited at one of my surgeries by my constituent, Aaron Horsey. In his arms was his three-week-old newborn baby, Tim. Aaron’s wife Bernadette tragically passed away while giving birth to Tim. Aaron came to see me regarding the disparity that exists over shared parental leave. The current eligibility requirements differ between those for a surviving birthing partner and those for a surviving non-birthing partner. This meant that, in his case, he was not entitled to leave to raise his son. Will the Prime Minister ensure that my constituent and I can meet the relevant Minister to make sure that we move towards a future where parents are not in this position?

I know that the whole House will join me in extending our condolences to Aaron following the tragic loss of his wife, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Employed parents can benefit from statutory support depending on personal circumstances, and I am concerned to hear that that is not happening in this case. I will of course ensure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister as soon as possible to resolve this issue.

Q3. Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning the opaquely funded so-called think-tanks that exert so much influence on gullible politicians that their policies were able to almost crash the UK economy just weeks ago? Open Democracy reports that a former member of the Charity Commission board has called for the Institute of Economic Affairs to be stripped of its charitable status, saying that “the very purpose of the IEA—shrinking the state—is political”.Is it right that this body receives charitable tax status? Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the influence that bodies such as the IEA exert over politicians, including what influence they still have over him? (901982)

Obviously, charitable status is a matter for the Charity Commission, but more generally, we believe in free speech and the vibrant debate of ideas. That is a good thing and we should do absolutely nothing to stamp it out even when we disagree with it.

In the run-up to the autumn statement, will my right hon. Friend do everything he can to persuade the Chancellor to assist those people who took out mortgages in good faith and are now at risk of losing their homes through unaffordable increases?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise mortgage payments. This is why it is absolutely crucial that we put our public finances on a sustainable footing to limit the increase in interest rates, because ultimately that is what puts pressure on people’s mortgage payments, and that is what this Government are determined to do. In the short term, I hope he can direct his constituents to the support available through the welfare system for those with mortgage payments.

Q5. Given the continued Russian invasion and the now illegal annexation of parts of Ukraine, will the Prime Minister recommit his Government to pursuing the full and proper accountability, including through the International Criminal Court, of those who violate international law in territories that they occupy? In particular, will he pursue the rigorous application of the fourth Geneva convention on the treatment of civilian populations in militarily occupied areas? (901985)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which is absolutely right. I can confirm that we will continue with the policy that the previous Government put in place, and we can be proud that we provided, I think, the earliest technical support to gather evidence for future prosecutions at the ICC. We will continue to gather evidence and provide support to the Ukrainians, because the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that what we are hearing is abhorrent and wrong, and those who are conducting these things must be held to account.

My right hon. Friend and I both represent rural constituencies and he will know the difficulty in securing both NHS dentistry and GPs in rural areas. We on this side of the House know that the financial decisions that he and the Chancellor will be taking are going to be tough, but notwithstanding that, may I urge him to ensure that as many initiatives as possible are supported to make GPs and dentists aware that rural areas are attractive places to work and to encourage recruitment and retention?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of healthcare provision in rural areas, which our constituents feel acutely because of the distances they have to travel. He has my assurance that we will continue to prioritise both dentistry and GP recruitment to make sure that everyone in this country has access to the primary healthcare they need and deserve.

Q7. I will not be bullied into silence by anybody in this House.With the highest peacetime tax rates, food inflation running at 11.6%, mortgage rates rising dramatically and a £50 billion hole in the public finances, the Prime Minister knows that Britain is broke. What is it about 12 years of Tory rule and his five years as a Minister that has made such a mess of Britain? (901987)

When it comes to the economy, the hon. Gentleman failed to mention the single biggest causes of the challenges we now face: the aftermath of a global pandemic that has affected supply chains across the world and an illegal war conducted by Putin that is leading to high energy prices. These are the root causes of the challenges we face, which are global in nature. It is wrong to say they are particular to this country, and we will of course do what we always do on this side of the House: deliver a strong economy for the British people.

People across Essex witnessed terrible fires in last summer’s heatwave, and in Ethiopia last month I witnessed the horrific climate change-driven drought that is forcing millions of people across the horn of Africa to the brink of famine. I have discussed climate change with my right hon. Friend, and I know he cares. It is great that he is going to Sharm el-Sheikh. The UK brought the world to Glasgow for COP26, so it is vital that we remain a world leader on climate change. Will he please confirm that this Government will fulfil the promises that the UK made in Glasgow?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her work and the role she has played in championing our fight against climate change. I agree with her that there is no long-term prosperity without action on climate change and no energy security without investment in renewables. That is why I will attend COP27 next week to deliver on Glasgow’s legacy of building a secure, clean and sustainable future.

Q9. The Prime Minister was secretly recorded boasting to friends that he had helped to divert money away from deprived areas such as Coventry towards wealthy areas, but staff at Coventry’s hospital are still paying £600 a year to park at work. When will he stop hammering working people in my community? (901989)

We introduced temporary free car parking during the pandemic, which was the right thing to do, and all NHS trusts that charge for parking have now implemented our free parking manifesto commitment for those in the greatest need, including hard-working NHS staff who work overnight.

On Back British Farming Day, will the Prime Minister join all Members in recognising the important role of farmers, and in recognising that public money for public good means producing food in this country? Will he also recognise the value of our trade deals in allowing us to export our high-quality produce around the world, particularly to Australia, where my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) will be able to enjoy a certain delicate cut in his bushtucker trials?

I agree with my hon. Friend that British farmers are, indeed, the lifeblood of our nation. I join him in celebrating their contribution, and I agree that we need to prioritise food security. He is right to champion free trade deals, which open up new markets and new opportunities for great British produce. We will continue to open up more markets for our farmers everywhere.

Q10. I welcome our first Prime Minister from Yorkshire in a very long time—I am trying to be kind to him. Since he resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer on 5 July, we have had the most turbulent economic and political disaster in our country that any of us can remember. When he reflects on that, will he think about why, when he was Chancellor, he did not help ordinary working people as well as he could? Will he take the opportunity to tax the 70,000 non-doms who are getting away with avoiding tax? And will he bring in a tax on the windfall profits of the gas and oil industries? (901990)

I am very proud of my record as Chancellor in this country. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could talk to the 10 million people who had their jobs saved through furlough. Perhaps he could talk to the millions of those on the lowest incomes who benefited from the changes we made to universal credit. This will always be a fair and compassionate Government who have the most vulnerable at our hearts.

With only two out of 10 autistic adults currently in employment, it is clear that much more needs to be done to realise their potential. Will my right hon. Friend work with me to make sure that business and industry help to close that alarming employment gap?

My right hon. and learned Friend rightly champions this area and knows an enormous amount about it. I look forward to working with him closely to get his recommendations on how we and industry can improve the lives of those who need our help.

Q11. The Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister who broke the asylum system—he dodged the question. The truth is that the backlog is now so great, the decision making so collapsed and the returns so low, at a 10th of what they used to be, that the criminal gangs have a business model to die for. Whose fault is that? (901992)

The reason we are in this situation is the unprecedented number of people arriving here illegally, often from safe third countries. If the Labour party was really serious about this, it would realise that we have to stop illegal migration and stop the exploitation of vulnerable people abroad. But Labour Members have opposed every single measure we have taken. They are not serious about this problem, because they do not think it matters.

Both myself and many of my constituents remember fondly the Prime Minister’s visit to Ipswich when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. We spoke about levelling up and he made it clear to me that levelling up is not just about one part of the country; it is a national mission. Therefore, does he agree that a great way to show that to the people of Ipswich would be by supporting our levelling-up fund bid to get Ipswich active? We are talking about £18 million—£15 million for Gainsborough sports centre, and £3 million for the outdoor lido in Broomhill.

My hon. Friend is right: levelling up is about spreading opportunity in every part of our United Kingdom, ensuring that people have pride in the place they call home. I look forward to seeing his levelling-up fund bid. I know it will be being considered over the course of this year and I wish him every success.