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Commons Chamber

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2022

House of Commons

Wednesday 2 November 2022

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Before we come to COP26 questions, it might be helpful if I point out that, following ministerial changes made since Members tabled their questions, answers will now be led by the Climate Minister, rather than the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) .

Oral Answers to Questions


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.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. November marks the beginning of Islamophobia Awareness Month, which is a call to tackle this insidious hatred. This time last year, to mark the month, I made a similar point of order, highlighting the then Prime Minister’s failure to respond to my letter urging him to better safeguard British Muslim communities. A year on, we have had another two Prime Ministers, and each has failed to respond to my letters on Islamophobia. That is wholly unacceptable and it is an insult to British Muslims. Is it in order for consecutive Prime Ministers to ignore Members’ correspondence? If not, what action can I now take? Perhaps the Prime Minister could come to this Chamber to make a statement on Islamophobia Awareness Month.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. I can confirm that I have not had a statement from the Government on this matter, although Ministers on the Treasury Bench will have heard his points. I am not responsible for ministerial correspondence, but the right hon. Members he mentioned were written to in a ministerial capacity and I would have expected replies to have been provided. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will continue to pursue the issue that he has raised. If he does not, he should please let me know. If he would like to drop me a line to tell me which Ministers have failed to reply, I will take that up in private.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. ITV has made a drama series about the heinous plan to murder the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), whose permission I have to make this point of order. What advice can you give Members in such a situation, to ensure that the facts are fairly presented, that threats on the lives of our colleagues are not treated as entertainment through the use of the public interest defence, and that such series do not risk re-victimising those of us still living under a significant threat to life?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving notice of her point of order. As the House will know, the safety of Members, our families and our staff, and of this House, is one of my highest priorities. Like all hon. Members, I would hope that any depiction of threats made against parliamentarians is undertaken responsibly, based on the facts and mindful of the impact on those subject to such threats.

I am also very concerned that a friend of mine was subject to those threats. We all stand in awe of the bravery that she has shown and her courage in ensuring that she is still a Member of Parliament, even if she might be going to new pastures.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am appalled at ITV’s recent treatment of the threats to MPs. I have been used as a marketing tool by both Hope not Hate and ITV. What excuse is there for a press release that says, “Who is Rosie Cooper and who wanted to murder her?” There is no defence to that.

Let us test the public interest defence to this despicable behaviour. I call on Hope not Hate and ITV to donate all moneys and profits generated from this TV series, both here and abroad—every single penny should go to the Jo Cox Foundation. We should not tolerate this kind of behaviour.

May I crave the indulgence of the House, Mr Speaker? Obviously, I have not had an opportunity to speak to people about this. If I may, I want to quickly thank some people. I will not spare your blushes, Mr Speaker, in saying that I would not be here today without your support and unfailing kindness. I have had to call on you and your advice many, many times as a result of death threats, all piggy-backing on the original threat; in fact, one case is with the Director of Public Prosecutions right now. How many more will come from this stupid, stupid, stupid series?

I thank you primarily, Mr Speaker, but I also thank Jeremy Corbyn and Karie Murphy, who allowed me the use of a Government car to get me into the Old Bailey during the second trial for the sentencing, simply because ITV’s despicable cameraman chased me up and down the road at the end of the first trial. I thank the then Prime Minister Theresa May for the really kind handwritten letter she sent me; I would have hoped to have said that while she was here, but I have not been able to tell people as I did not know I was going to do this. I thank the Minister Ben Wallace, action man—he was absolutely brilliant—and the former Home Secretary Priti Patel, who was unstinting in her support. Finally, I thank all my colleagues, right across this House from every party, who have been absolutely kind and supported me throughout.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The current situation at Manston asylum processing centre in Kent came to light as a result of the Home Affairs Committee’s oral evidence session with Home Office officials last Wednesday, which is part of the essential work of scrutiny that we undertake. Immediately after that session, we asked the Home Office to facilitate a visit by the Committee to Manston so that we might scrutinise what had happened there since we last visited in June, when the site was fully and properly operating. The Chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Women and Equalities Committee, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and a member of the Justice Committee have all asked to join our visit. As of now, nearly one week later, the Home Office has agreed in principle to our visiting, but has, in spite of repeated requests for a visit this Thursday, refused to agree any date or to enable our visit this week to see what is happening on the ground.

Visits by Ministers and others are being enabled. A visit by the Committee, which this House has charged with scrutinising the Home Office, is not. What action will this House be able to take to remind the Home Secretary and the Home Office that parliamentary oversight of their actions is essential and should be facilitated with all due speed?

First, I thank the right hon. Lady for giving me notice of her intention to make a point of order. I agree with her about the importance of Government Departments being open to parliamentary scrutiny. That is the role of Select Committees. I hope that people are listening and that they recognise that need, because scrutiny is so important. It is also important to recognise that it involves Back Benchers from all parts of the House. This is not about Members from one political persuasion. Why Ministers or anybody would want to block the role of Members, I do not understand.

As I have said, I agree about the importance of this, but scrutiny and enabling it to happen at an appropriate speed is essential. This is a matter for the Home Office rather than the Chair. However, those on the Treasury Bench will have heard what the right hon. Lady has said, and I am sure that she will continue to pursue this cause with vigour. Please keep me informed; I will be having a meeting later with certain Government officials and I will personally raise the issue.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, the energy bill’s support scheme payments are landing in accounts across the UK, yet doubt abounds in Northern Ireland. There was an agreement with the Government to advance lump sum payments to Northern Ireland in November, but the utility regulator said yesterday that that may no longer be the case. Have the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy advised you, Mr Speaker, of an intention to make a statement on this issue? Could you advise me on the avenues I can pursues to get the answers that my hard-pressed constituents so desperately need?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice of her point of order. I can confirm that I have not had any notice of a statement on this matter. However, Ministers will have heard her views on the matter and I know that she will certainly pursue it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not giving you notice of my point of order. I had hoped to raise this yesterday in Health and Social Care questions. Thousands of children worldwide are dying of measles. The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is critical for children’s health in this country. May we have an inquiry into what exactly happened in a recent debate in Westminster Hall, which was, it seems, taken over by anti-vax people? There was much shouting, screaming and carrying on. May we have an investigation into what happened when Westminster Hall was taken over by anti-vaxxers who made a spectacle of this House?

It might be easier if I could try to answer the first point of order. Let me just say that I was not aware of that. If the hon. Member was there, and I am not convinced that he was because that is not the report that I received about the incident—

Mr Speaker, I am glad that I was present in the Chamber when the hon. Gentleman made that ridiculous allegation. He was not present in Westminster Hall for that debate. I was present and there were many people in the Public Gallery, one or two of whom may have been, as he put it, anti-vaxxers, but most of the people present in the Public Gallery were those who were vaccine injured—people who had suffered as a result of having covid-19 vaccines and who are seeking compensation.

Order. I do not think we will carry on the debate. You have certainly got your point across and corrected the position of what happened on the day, so I am not going to continue with it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, you will be aware that Royal Mail workers had intended to undertake strike action. I have the largest delivery office in Scotland in my constituency. That action was postponed, but new dates have been rolled out. Have you been given advance notice of a Government statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the plans for Royal Mail to sack 10,000 staff and the upcoming industrial action?

I have not had notice of a statement on the dispute with Royal Mail. As the Government are a shareholder within the organisation, at some point no doubt they will wish to make a statement to the House as a matter of urgency.

Microplastic Filters (Washing Machines)

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

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require manufacturers to fit microplastic-catching filters to new domestic and commercial washing machines; to make provision about the promotion of the use of microplastic-catching filters in washing machines and raising awareness about the consequences of microplastics from washing machines for pollution in rivers and seas; and for connected purposes.

First, I would like to thank colleagues across the House who have sponsored my Bill and all colleagues for their support on this important way of tackling pollution. We do not often think about plastic pollution when we wash our clothes, but all our clothes and garments, including yours, Mr Speaker, shed what are known as microfibre plastics. I am introducing this Bill to encourage the Government to work with washing machine manufacturers to set standards to ensure that all new domestic and commercial washing machines are fitted with a microfibre plastic-catching filter.

Microfibre plastic pollution is one of the most pervasive and preventable forms of microplastic pollution; 35% of all microplastics released into the environment are shed from clothing. Microfibre plastics are tiny fibres that can be shed from our clothes during the wash cycle. Due to their small size, they are not trapped by existing washing machine filters and can end up in the waste water system, where they may be caught, remain in sewage sludge that is then spread on to our growing crops, or be released from the waste water into rivers and, worse still, the marine environment. Research by the University of Plymouth has found that one wash cycle can release more than 700,000 microfibres into our sewerage system. That means that across the UK, 10 trillion microfibres are released every week. That is a gargantuan amount of plastic pollution.

It is not enough to rely on our waste water treatment centres to filter microplastics from our water; the microplastics are so small that sewage works cannot capture all of them. The result is millions of microplastics being released from the waste water into our rivers and seas, damaging our environment. The microplastics contain chemicals that are then ingested by fish and other small aquatic creatures. Much of the plastic pollution then travels up the food chain so that we humans ingest it through consumption of fish.

Microplastic fibres from clothing are contaminating otherwise pristine natural environments, including in the snow close to the peak of Mount Everest, and have even been found in the depths of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific ocean. They are found in many urban and semi-urban river beds in the UK, in our constituencies. I urge colleagues to think about their own constituency rivers, which are probably contaminated with microplastics.

Recent research has also shown that microplastics are also in the lungs and blood of some human beings. That means that some of us here today already have microfibre plastics in our bodies, possibly even you, Mr Speaker—

I hope not too. It is suspected that they may have an effect on human health. We are still at the embryonic level in terms of research into this matter, but it cannot be good to have microplastic fibres in our lungs and in other parts of our body. More research is clearly needed to determine the health impact.

As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on microplastics, I have been working with the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, which has long campaigned on microfibre plastics that come from laundry through its End Plastic Soup campaign. Many colleagues will remember that it brought that campaign to Parliament a few years ago, which is where I first learned about it. The APPG has also worked with a range of stakeholders, including academics, global washing machine manufacturers and environmental groups.

I would like to emphasise the importance of also tackling this issue at source. We must encourage textile and clothing manufacturers to make garments using sustainable thread with a reduced shedding rate, so that garments do not shed microfibres in the first place. However, adding filters to washing machines is completely achievable in the short to medium term and can be enacted quickly. Numerous studies, including by the University of Plymouth, demonstrate that the use of microplastic fibre filters can dramatically reduce the release of microplastic fibres into the environment—by as much as 78%.

Through my work on the APPG, I am aware of several British companies that make microfibre-catching filters for washing machines. The technology is already available and is fast developing. By taking advantage of that UK innovation, we would be leading the way in preventing microplastic pollution. I propose that the Government work with washing machine manufacturers and British companies that are already designing and making filters, to ensure that all new domestic and commercial washing machines are fitted with filters to capture a high rate of these offending microfibres. This is a low-cost solution to our plastic pollution problem, and I am not proposing something that would be a first. Other countries, such as France and Australia, have already pledged to look at this issue and are working with manufacturers to install industry-leading microfibre-catching filters.

It is incumbent on us all to ensure that the environment is left in a better condition than when we found it. Like many Members, I was inspired by Sir David Attenborough in the BBC’s “Blue Planet II” documentary, which was released in 2017. It opened our eyes to the damage that we are all doing to the marine life and marine environment of our wonderful planet. Microfibre plastic pollution is an enormous problem, and the Government should explore all avenues to tackle the different types of pervasive plastic.

I thank all those who have been involved with the APPG for the excellent work they continue to do to encourage stakeholders such as the Government to take this matter seriously and to enact the necessary legislation. Washing machine manufacturers themselves want that; they want a level playing field, so that they can produce these filters, sell them to consumers and allow consumers to enjoy their existing quality of life—cleaning clothes is an important aspect of maintaining a good quality of life—but in a way that maintains, rather than damages, our natural environment.

I urge my colleagues in the Government to consider my Bill and to work with washing machine manufacturers, who want to achieve a solution that ensures that microfibre plastics do not become an even bigger problem. With such legislation, the United Kingdom, working with allies such as France and Australia, could become a global leader in tackling this microplastic pollution.

Question put and agreed to.


That Alberto Costa, Caroline Lucas, Tim Loughton, Mr Jonathan Lord, Andrew Selous, Mrs Pauline Latham, Philip Dunne, Stuart C. McDonald, Selaine Saxby, Mr Alistair Carmichael and Mrs Flick Drummond present the Bill.

Alberto Costa accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 3 February 2023, and to be printed (Bill 180).

Opposition Day

[6th Allotted Day]

Scottish Independence and the Scottish Economy

Before I call the Member to move the motion, given the subject of this afternoon’s debate I wish to make a short statement about the sub judice resolution and the Supreme Court’s consideration of whether provisions in the draft Scottish Independence Referendum Bill relate to reserved matters under the Scotland Act 1998. As a judgment is anticipated in the coming months, I have exercised discretion to allow reference to the issues concerned in that case, given their national importance, but Members are encouraged not to discuss the detail of the legal proceedings.

12.57 pm

I beg to move,

That this House regrets the economic damage the Government has caused since the mini-budget on 23 September 2022, with the pound hitting a record low against the dollar, mortgage rates at their highest level since the financial crash and inflation at a forty-year high; calls on the Government immediately to reinstate the bankers’ bonus cap, increase benefits in line with inflation and protect the pensions triple lock; considers that Scotland cannot afford to be part of the failing state of the UK and must be independent for economic stability; and welcomes the publication of the Scottish Government’s independence papers series, Building a New Scotland and The Economic Opportunity for Scotland from Renewable and Green Technology by David Skilling.

Mr Speaker—

From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman says, “Too long,” and of course he is right—Scotland has been stuck in this Union for too long. I look forward to the opportunity for my colleagues to leave this House for the last time when Scotland becomes an independent country—it has indeed been too long.

It is fair to say that Westminster has been no stranger to chaos and crisis over the last number of years, but even with that in mind, it has still been hard to take in fully the mayhem and madness in this place in the last few weeks. Another Tory Prime Minister gone. Another Tory Prime Minister imposed in Scotland. The only thing that stays the same is the constant crisis in this place. Even the kangaroo genitalia-eating junket to Australia of the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) passes for a normal affair around here these days.

The core of today’s motion is designed to demonstrate that the permanent political pantomime that Westminster has become is not somehow victimless or benign; it comes with a massive, massive cost. Each and every one of these Westminster crises comes with a consequence, and it is always those who can least afford it who end up paying the price of the failure of Westminster control.

Let us take the example of the last few months. The UK Government have been so consumed by their own political crisis that they have ignored the economic crisis they caused with their mini-Budget on 23 September. Indeed, they are not just ignoring it; they are completely blind to the mess they have made. In the last 10 days, it has been hard not to notice that Tory Members are in a state of excited relief at the fact that they have got rid of a Prime Minister who managed to crash the UK economy in the space of 44 days. In their great relief, they seem to have magically forgotten that they were the ones who put her in place. They were the ones who were cheering on her libertarian joyride—until the very moment that she crashed the economy. They may have gotten rid of the Prime Minister they put in place, but for ordinary people the damage is already done.

I get extremely anxious about my homeland splitting from my now home country, particularly as Scotland has no credible fiscal plan. As I see child poverty increase, the once leading education system trashed and the NHS left to deteriorate, I wonder who is at fault. Does the right hon. Member accept that while the Tory Government have let Scotland down—

Order. This is meant to be an intervention, not a speech about all your issues. I am more than happy to put you on the speaking list.

Mr Speaker, if anybody is letting themselves down, it is the hon. Gentleman, because the Scottish Parliament has done its best to mitigate the effects of Tory austerity, thank goodness. We can applaud what the Scottish Government have done with child payments—introduced at £10, increased to £20 and now up at £25—but we cannot stop the damaging effect of austerity on our country, because the bulk of economic power lies in Westminster. The hon. Gentleman and his Labour colleagues may indeed support the Scottish Parliament—our Parliament—which does its best to protect the people from what happens in this place in Westminster and, of course, from the damaging effects of Brexit that mean our businesses cannot fulfil their potential. The hon. Gentleman ought to look in the mirror.

The reality is that the split in terms of values is between the red Tories and the blue Tories here. The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) should be aware that in Ireland, which became independent, the poorest 5% are 63% richer than the poorest 5% in the UK. If ever there was a lesson about being independent, that is it.

My hon. Friend is quite correct. When we look around the world, we see small countries thriving. Small countries tend to do better than larger ones. There are no economies of scale for large countries, and it is Westminster, the UK, that is holding Scotland back.

Let me return to the economic situation we face today: the pound is still down against the dollar and euro, mortgage rates are at their highest since the financial crash, and inflation is still at a 40-year high. History shows that those in the Tory party always act fast to rid themselves of their own political problems, but they always fail to take responsibility for the crises they create. They are failing to take responsibility for the cost of living crisis they created and the failing UK state they have presided over for the past 12 years.

It would be wrong to believe that the events causing deep damage over the last few weeks are somewhat isolated incidents. It does not take a genius to know that the timeline for every bit of turmoil in this place over the last few years stems from one place and one place only: the utter disaster of Brexit. Six years on, it has been a disaster by every significant measure. Brexit broke Britain.

Only yesterday, Scotland’s The Herald newspaper revealed that the value of Scottish exports has dropped by more than 13% in two years, costing £2.2 billion, with Brexit entirely to blame. That is what Brexit has done to the Scottish economy and Scottish trade. That has been the impact of what the Tories have brought to us. However, faced with these Brexit facts, it is a disgrace that Westminster’s only response is to say one of two things: “Suck it up,” or, “Shut up.” I assure the Brexit fanatics that we intend to do neither.

The reality of Brexit is biting everywhere. Last week I visited the Nevis Bakery in my constituency. The owner, Archie Paterson, explained to me that they currently employ 30 people, and that they could easily double that tomorrow, expanding their production line, expanding their premises and growing the local economy. But just one thing is stopping them, and it is Brexit. Brexit means they have no access to labour. The balance of workers used to be 80% EU skilled bakers, and that has declined to only 20%. They cannot get the staff, so they cannot expand. It is the same story for businesses across the highlands and right across Scotland: denied economic opportunity; denied the opportunity to grow our economy; denied the opportunity to prosper and deliver the taxation receipts. All that has been delivered by the Brexit Scotland never voted for.

I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about the incompetence of the Conservative Government. On Brexit, however, an important fact is being missed. During the referendum, when many of us fought very hard to make sure the UK stayed within the EU, the Scottish National party spent just £91,000 on its campaign—13% of what it could have spent. It spent less on that campaign than on a Shetland by-election. It spent less than 7% of what it spent on trying to take Scotland out of the UK. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who voted remain for the fact that the SNP went missing from the pitch during that campaign?

My goodness, Mr Speaker, I hate to point out to the hon. Gentleman that 62% of those who voted in Scotland voted to stay in the European Union. I am proud to say that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I were up and down Scotland during the Brexit campaign, leading the people of Scotland and making the case for Scotland to stay in Europe.

On that point, will the leader of the SNP please explain to us why his party spent less on the EU referendum than on a Scottish parliamentary by-election on Shetland?

This would be funny if it was not so tragic. It used to be the case—[Interruption.] We have many hours of debate, and if Labour and Liberal Democrat Members calm down, I am sure that they will get the opportunity to speak. Maybe I should point out to the hon. Lady that the Liberal Democrats used to proclaim staying in Europe—

No, you don’t. If the Liberal Democrats wanted to stay in Europe, as the hon. Lady suggests, they would have that in their manifesto. The Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have run away from Europe, just as they have run away from their responsibilities to the people of Scotland.

Is it not the case—just to educate the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins)—that not only did we carry the argument in Scotland, winning 62% of the vote for remain, but we carried that argument successfully in all 32 council areas in Scotland?

My hon. Friend is quite correct that every local authority area in Scotland voted to remain. Not only did people across Scotland vote to remain, but that demand to stay in Europe has increased over the past few years. In fact, recent polling shows as many as 72% of Scots wish to remain in Europe. I say to those watching in our own country that there is a clear way to achieve this. If Scotland has its right to determine its own future, and if our Parliament, which has an independence majority, can enact the referendum that our people voted for, then Scotland’s journey to independence and back into the European union will be complete.

Do you want to go out early for a cup of tea? Because you are on my speaking list. Let me deal with it. Mr Bonnar, I need no help, thank you. If somebody said that, I expect them to withdraw it, because we do not use that term in this Chamber.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I certainly withdraw any implication that the right hon. Gentleman is a liar. I did not say he was a liar, but I did say that what he said was untrue. I withdraw that out of respect to you, Mr Speaker.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he not think that people at home will be looking askance at Labour Members? First, they were apologists for the chaos that the Conservatives have inflicted on Scotland’s economy. Now, they are some kind of supporters of Brexit, which has caused so much harm to Scotland. It is inexplicable how any Opposition Member could take such a position, as we all heard them do.

My hon. Friend is correct. It is 1.10 pm; we have until 7 o’clock to debate the issue. To hon. Members in other parties on both sides of the House, I promise that we will respect the importance of the subject, because this is about Scotland’s future. To friends and colleagues—Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem Members—I say, let us have that debate about Scotland’s future and let us respectfully disagree on what we see the future as. We will put the case for Scotland to be an independent country; they should come and engage with us, and put the case for Scotland to stay in the Union. I have to say that when we have these debates, I do not hear that case for Scotland to stay in the Union.

The evidence of the damage done by Brexit is mounting by the day. From those who forced it on Scotland, however, not one word of contrition or apology has ever been offered for that massive act of economic self-harm. I am tempted to say that when it comes to Brexit and Westminster, there are really none so blind as those who will not see—my goodness, that has been shown today. In many respects, however, the truth is even worse.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman saying that he wants a serious debate about the status of Scotland in the Union and the benefits of Scotland being in it. In his arguments so far, however, he has blamed everything from rising energy costs to global supply chain challenges on Brexit. Does he not recognise that we have been facing a tumultuous global situation? If he acknowledged that, we could at least start to have a sensible debate.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I think he is genuinely trying to be helpful, so I will respond in kind. We are suffering from an enormous increase in energy costs. I applaud the fact that we have the energy cap, but let us remember the harsh reality that for people up and down these islands, energy costs have doubled in the last year. People will face genuine hardship. [Interruption.] I can see him shaking his head, but the harsh reality is that our energy market is determined by the wholesale gas price. For those of us in Scotland, 14% of our electricity consumption comes from gas and we actually produce six times as much gas as we consume. We are being affected largely by the failures of UK energy policy and, yes, by global issues as well, but the fact that energy costs are so high in energy rich Scotland is an absolute disgrace.

On the intervention of the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), of course the last few years have shown how unpredictable the world can be and how many unexpected challenges we can face, but does that not just hammer home how important it is for Scotland in particular to get the Governments it votes for? Given that Scotland has not voted for a Conservative Government since 1955, does my right hon. Friend not agree that by far and away the best way to protect ourselves against the unpredictable is to be independent and in control of our resources?

My hon. Friend is correct. Not since 1955 has Scotland voted for a Conservative Government, yet we face Conservative Government after Conservative Government. The difference between me and the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on the Labour Front Bench is that I would rather have an independent Labour Government in Scotland than a Tory Government in London who demonstrate their contempt for the people of Scotland through their policies. That is the reality. Unfortunately, he would rather have a Tory Government in London than an independent Scottish Government over whom he may have influence.

Again on the intervention of the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), is it not the case that, although there are high global oil and gas prices, Norway has a sovereign wealth fund of $1 trillion—the biggest in the world—that can be used to support its citizens, whereas Westminster has squandered our oil and gas revenues all these years? Even then, the McCrone report from the ’70s, which was buried for 30 years, showed the wealth that would have accumulated to Scotland had it been independent. Both Labour and the Conservatives held that information from the Scottish population.

My hon. Friend is correct. I think the taxation receipts for North sea oil over the period that he is talking about have been north of £350 billion. What a missed opportunity to ensure that we could invest for future generations, eradicate the poverty that has been talked about and deliver hope for future generations. I will come on to the opportunities from green energy. My message to him and other hon. Members on both sides of the House is that a green industrial revolution could come to Scotland, so we need to create the jobs that will drive up productivity and investment and give people hope—but we are not going to do that while we are part of Westminster.

There are plenty of intelligent people in this place—I am especially looking at Labour Members—and we can see the damage that Brexit has done. They see it, but they will not say it. The reason they will not say it is that they are frightened that they will lose votes in the north of England, and to hell with the consequences in Scotland and everywhere else. I am sorry to say that that is one of the most shameful examples of politics replacing principles that this place has ever witnessed—that is really saying something in Westminster.

One of the reasons that the UK voted for Brexit was that the EU stands for ever-closer union, which means joining the euro. The right hon. Gentleman has talked about independence, so will he be joining the euro? Will he not then accede some of the control over the fiscal situation that he wants to deal with?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but let me return to 2014. At the time of the Scottish referendum, we were told that, if we stayed in the United Kingdom, two things would happen: first, we would stay in Europe and secondly, we would lead the UK in a voluntary Union of equals. None of that has happened, however, because of his example of being taken out of the European Union against our will. The key difference is that Europe is a partnership of equals.

Since the hon. Gentleman asked about currency, I will answer head on. When Scotland becomes independent, as it will, we will retain the pound. [Laughter.] It is funny, is it? We are talking about people’s futures and we are trying to deal with a serious matter. We will keep the pound until such time that a number of economic tests are met that will allow us to have a Scottish pound. That is what will happen.

I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman has been clear and direct in saying that Scotland will have the pound. If he joins the EU, however, is the plan not to join the euro? He will have to concede, therefore, that Scotland will have to do that. By what mechanism would he therefore keep the pound, or the Scottish pound, or refute having the euro?

I respectfully say to the hon. Gentleman that he should go away and read the treaties, because they are very clear; we are all aware of what is contained in them. Crucially, to join the euro, countries have to join the exchange rate mechanism for two years, which is voluntary. Countries cannot be forced into the euro. Our position is clear: we will deliver a fiscal programme that will deliver jobs for Scotland, create the circumstances for investment and drive up living standards—that is what we want with independence. We will make sure that we have the answer to the currency situation that delivers for our people.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) is misled by headlines in The Times newspaper and should apprise himself better of what is actually happening in Europe. On 1 July 2013, Croatia joined the European Union and Croatia is not in the euro. There are about six or seven other countries in the European Union that are not in the euro. A country can join the euro if it wants over its own timescale—it can be hundreds of years if it wants—but it does what it wants and what it thinks is sensible for itself, and that is why it has independence.

My hon. Friend is not wrong, if the hon. Member reads the treaties. I have pointed out that joining the ERM is a step that has to be taken before anyone is able to join.

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene because this is a crucial point that people need to understand. The current position of the Scottish National party is to stick with the pound for an undefined period, then to set up her own currency. As Nicola Sturgeon said herself when she launched the economic paper, she will not commit to joining the euro. That does one of two things: it either denies EU membership, or it means an independent Scotland would have a separate currency from both the EU and its bigger trading partner, the rest of the UK. Is that not correct?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I have pointed out that in order to join the euro—[Interruption.] I have already laid out that we will retain the pound sterling immediately on attaining independence, and when the time is right and a number of economic tests are met, we will have the Scottish pound. There are six tests, and I will be—

I have already given way twice to the hon. Member, and I think I have been very gracious with my time.

As I said at the start, all the Westminster-imposed chaos comes with real consequences because the cost of the last six weeks, and the consequences of the last six years of constant crisis mean that the Tories are right back where they originally started—implementing austerity. This week, we have been deliberately bombarded by Treasury briefing about the “difficult decisions” that need to be made in order to fill the economic hole that the Tories dug themselves, but the return of austerity, if it ever truly went away, is not a so-called difficult decision. It is instead what it has always been—a Tory political choice to hit the poorest hardest.

No one should be fooled into thinking that there are not other choices. In the week that BP announced a quarterly profit of £7.1 billion, why not take the easy decision to bring in a proper windfall tax on excess profits? Why not take the easy decision to end non-dom tax avoidance? Why not take the easy decision to reinstate the cap on bankers’ bonuses? With all that new revenue, why not take the easiest decision of all, and protect those most at risk by uprating benefits and pensions in line with inflation? That, after all, was the promise the Prime Minister made when he was Chancellor back in May.

Until each and every one of those easy and essential decisions are taken, the Tories should not dare talk about the difficult decisions they are having to take. I fear, though, that the Tories and their new Prime Minister have already made their choice: they are gearing up to take a wrecking ball to public services and double down on austerity. That is exactly why we are now at such a critical juncture. It is clearer by the day that austerity 2.0 is the future awaiting the Scottish people unless we escape Westminster control for good. That is why independence is not just desirable; it is essential.

There is no better example of that necessity than the energy issue. The motion refers to the detailed and evidenced-based report by David Skilling, who has laid out the facts on the sheer scale of the energy opportunity awaiting an independent Scotland. I encourage hon. Members across the House to read that report. We have the potential to generate around 10% of Europe’s wave power and possess 25% of the potential European offshore wind and tidal resource. Let us not forget that it is Westminster that is holding back our tidal potential with its refusal to fund it to the rate that will be necessary to generate up to 11.5 GW of tidal energy by 2050.

I am not sure if I picked the right hon. Gentleman up right, but is he accusing the UK Government of not funding tidal energy, when in fact £20 million of contracts for difference were committed, as ringfenced, specifically for tidal stream energy?

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman raises that because it takes us back to the discussions we had last year. The Royal Society report published just before COP26—a peer-reviewed report—indicated the potential to get to 11.5 GW of electricity from tidal. Incidentally, that would be 15% of the UK’s electricity production, which is the amount that nuclear contributes today, and by 2030 tidal would be cheaper than nuclear. We do not need nuclear to provide our baseload electricity because tidal does it. The fact remains that that £20 million, welcome as it is, does not go far enough for that industry to develop its potential. When we look at the programmes that are already live around these shores, about 70% of the value added from tidal comes from Scotland and about 80% comes from the UK. It is a domestically grown industry.

We heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) about the contrast with the oil industry in Norway, but one of the key lessons from that is to make sure not just that we have the energy production, but that we control the supply chain. This is exactly an industry where we do control the supply chain. I say to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) that he should join me in pressing the Treasury to make sure we get the £50 million-a-year ringfenced pot—that is what would allow us to fulfil our potential—and at the same time to make sure that we get carbon capture and storage for Peterhead. Those two clear examples are direct demonstrations of how Scotland has been held back—held back on its ability to deliver green energy and on its desire to get to net zero in 2045. That is the cost of Westminster control for Scotland.

I may be corrected, but I fancy I am the only person in this place who has worked in an oil fabrication yard; it was at Nigg. When I worked there, 5,000 people were employed—vital jobs in the highlands. We have the skills still, but they are ageing skills and the skills are going. If we miss the opportunity to build offshore floating wind structures in Scotland, we will be failing the Scottish people. What is the difference between us and Norway? Norway does build; we do not, and we should do something about it.

I thank the hon. Member for that remark. He is right to talk about what happened in Nigg back in the day. But it was not just in Nigg, as he will recall; it also happened in the west of the highlands—in Kishorn in my own constituency and Ardersier. If you would allow, Mr Deputy Speaker, we could sing the song of the Kishorn Commandos, but maybe we will save that for another day.