House of Commons
Wednesday 9 November 2022
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Before we start today’s business, I remind Members that there is still an opportunity to plant a remembrance tribute in New Palace Yard to contribute to the constituency garden of remembrance. Stakes will be available in New Palace Yard while the garden is open for planting. Both secular and religious stakes are available. If you are unable to plant your tribute by 4 pm tomorrow, please feel free to contact the Speaker’s Office, which will be able to plant one on your behalf. I am sure that the garden will be filled with tributes as a fitting reminder of the sacrifices made by constituents up and down the country.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the Enniskillen bombing, one of the most horrific losses of life during the troubles. Our thoughts are with the families who lost loved ones that day and others who are immediately affected by what took place. I will be in Enniskillen this Sunday to pay my respects.
My Department and I hold regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues and Departments—including the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, whose Minister I met with yesterday, and the Ministry of Defence—to ensure that veterans can access support, no matter where they live in the United Kingdom.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will provide certainty to those who served in Northern Ireland by ending the cycle of reinvestigations that has burdened too many for too long?
The Bill, which is continuing its parliamentary passage, seeks to deliver better outcomes for all those affected by the troubles. We have consulted widely on this crucial issue, and much of what we have heard is reflected in the legislation. I obviously concur with my hon. Friend’s view.
I spoke to the Secretary of State beforehand, so he will know about this question. Is the Secretary of State aware of the disgraceful treatment of Royal Ulster Constabulary veterans in the form of the disablement pension, which is being administered contrary to legal judgments in place? Will he make contact with the Department of Justice’s permanent secretary to rectify this despicable situation immediately? People have been waiting for 20 or 30 years for this and it is not sorted out yet.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which he raised with me just a few moments ago. I would appreciate it if he would write to me about the subject so that I can take it up further, as he requested.
Benefits of the Union
We believe that the United Kingdom is the most successful political and economic union in history, and the Government are committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland may flourish and prosper as an integral part of it. That is why we are continuing to work tirelessly for Northern Ireland’s people to restore the Executive, support the roll-out of our energy support package and unleash the full potential of the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
I am sure that the Minister’s assessment will have shown that one of the key benefits of the Union for the people of Northern Ireland is the ability to trade with the rest of the UK. Therefore, what progress is he making in fixing the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol, which may hinder that ability?
The Government are engaging in constructive dialogue with the European Union to find solutions to the problems that the protocol is causing. We are also proceeding with the legislation before the House, which aims to fix the problems in the event that we cannot reach a negotiated solution. Of course, it is the Government’s preference to reach a negotiated outcome.
The Social Democratic and Labour party seeks to build a new Ireland by persuasion and consent and with the endorsement of the widest possible number of people in Northern Ireland, but the rational mechanism for constitutional change is set out in the 1998 agreement, in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and in accepted democratic norms. Will the Minister confirm that the Government have no intention of unpicking the principle of consent?
Absolutely. The Government are fully committed to the principle of consent and the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Indeed, our actions are all guided by that full commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and its protection.
I call the shadow Secretary of State, Peter Kyle.
Everyone in the United Kingdom was supposed to get the same support this winter, but two thirds of homes in Northern Ireland are heated by heating oil. So that those families can plan ahead, can the Secretary of State or the Minister tell us precisely when they will get their support?
We look forward to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy making a statement, but I will just take this opportunity to put on record that households in Northern Ireland will benefit from: the energy price guarantee, reducing the per unit cost of electricity and gas, which is in place from November and backdated to October; the energy bill support scheme, a £400 payment to all households; the alternative fuel payment, a £100 payment to households not using gas in Northern Ireland; and, of course, the energy bill relief scheme. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right that people are anxious and I regret that today I cannot give an exact date, but we look forward to BEIS making a statement.
I hope the Minister will encourage his colleagues in BEIS, because it is already winter. Some 60% of homes are being heated by heating oil and they need that support right now. In Britain, heating oil bills have risen from £615 to £1,500, but in Northern Ireland they have risen from £820 to a staggering £1,900. Does he think it is fair that both are getting the same £100 payment?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have taken that up with our counterparts in BEIS. We do so frequently and intensively. My right hon. Friend has just said to me that he met the energy Minister on Thursday. We will continue to press colleagues in BEIS. They are fully aware of the situation and the imperatives, and I think a full answer on the justification for the £100 would meet with Mr Speaker’s disapproval at this moment.
The Minister rightly said that the Union is both a political and an economic union. In the High Court and the Court of Appeal, in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol and its application, the Government’s lawyers argued that the protocol superseded article 6 of the Act of Union itself—the Union with Ireland Act 1800—which is the basis for the economic union. Will the Government and the Minister assure us that, in any negotiations with the European Union, they will strive to restore our full rights under article 6 of the Act of Union and our place in the UK internal market?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to commit that, yes, the Government are determined to restore the constitutional position of Northern Ireland fully within the United Kingdom. That is our intention. I cannot get into the niceties of the legal arguments that were made, but, if I may so, as I understand it, I think they are broadly technical.
Can I also refer to the comments made by the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), and raise the energy support scheme and the £400 that is to be allocated to the electricity accounts of domestic households and non-domestic users—businesses and so on—in Northern Ireland? I have spoken with the Secretary of State for BEIS to urge that the payment is brought forward in good time. Will the Minister assure me that he will continue his efforts with us to ensure that the £400 payment is made to the people of Northern Ireland as soon as possible?
We certainly will continue those efforts together. I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman meeting the Business Secretary. I hope he will not mind my saying, though—I understand the reasons he is not in the Executive and that is why we wish to press forward on the protocol—that matters would be somewhat easier if a functioning Executive were in place.
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill
The Government are united around our shared objective of addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past in a way that delivers for those directly impacted by the troubles and helps society in Northern Ireland to move forward. As the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill continues its parliamentary passage, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my officials and I will continue to work closely with colleagues across Government and across the House to ensure that the legislation is effective and durable.
It was good to see that the Secretary of State visited the WAVE trauma centre; I know that will have focused his mind on the perspective of victims. This is a very complex and difficult piece of legislation to get right, but he will know that, as drafted, the Bill does not have the support of any of the parties in Northern Ireland. Given that we now have a new Prime Minister and a new Secretary of State, does he see an opportunity to progress the Bill in a way that will bring people with the Government?
The answer is, basically, yes. The Government understand how important addressing the legacy of the past is for Northern Ireland. We recognise that the Bill is difficult for many, and we continue to engage with stakeholders such as WAVE and across the piece regarding their concerns and how we can address them as the Bill proceeds through Parliament. I hope that the hon. Member recognises, though, that there is no perfect solution to this issue. We are committed to a way forward that deals with Northern Ireland’s troubled past as comprehensively and fairly as we possibly can.
When might we see the legacy Bill back in this place, and will there be a necessary review of moral equivalence and terminology?
The Government are clear that we will never accept any moral equivalence between those who upheld the law in Northern Ireland and those on all sides who sought to destroy it. The legislation seeks to deliver better outcomes for all those most affected by the troubles. It is important to remember that that includes the families of service personnel, more than 1,000 of whom were killed during the troubles. The Government will continue to engage with those most directly impacted by the legislation about their concerns and how these might be addressed. The Second Reading of the legacy Bill in the House of Lords will take place in a couple of weeks’ time.
Has the Secretary of State accepted the cold, hard fact that to have any legitimacy the final outcome of the legacy Bill needs the support of innocent victims and relatives of those murdered by terrorists, just as in the wider political realm any outcome of the protocol talks needs support across the community or it, too, will be doomed to failure?
Yes, I absolutely understand that point. Everything that we have been doing since I became Secretary of State is about trying to engage and consult more with those who had issues with the legacy Bill. It is never going to be a perfect solution to this particular problem, because no perfect solution exists. However, we will do our best to address all the concerns that people raise with us.
I call the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
The Bill is welcome and, obviously, complex. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will see it through to the end, and will he confirm that this legislative proposal is very much the last-chance saloon? These are very complex, historical issues and this is the one chance that we have to try to resolve them. However, in the spirit of trying to build compromise and consensus, will he and the Government keep an open mind about cross-party amendments in the other place?
I am quite sure that the Bill is the last legislative vehicle with which any Government will try to address this problem, so it is very important, and it is incumbent on me as Secretary of State, to ensure that we use all the time that we have to improve the Bill, in such a way as my hon. Friend suggests. And yes—I am listening to all parties and all the consultees we talk to, and I am going out to visit victims and victims’ groups in Northern Ireland to try to gauge better what sort of amendments will improve the Bill.
I call the shadow Minister, Tonia Antoniazzi.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has declared that the Bill is unlikely to be found compatible with convention rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has called it “fatally flawed”. Does the Secretary of State dispute that, or will he make changes to it?
I am going to make changes to it.
NHS Waiting Times
We are acutely aware of the pressures facing the health service in Northern Ireland. A fully functioning devolved Government is the only way to deliver the necessary reforms to transform healthcare. We have made that point repeatedly to party leaders.
Around one in four people in Northern Ireland are on an NHS waiting list and the role of staff is vital. I understand that the outgoing Health Minister in Northern Ireland wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to implement the summer pay award, as Stormont cannot. Will he take that forward?
The hon. Lady will know that we are deeply concerned about the state of the Northern Ireland Executive’s finances and that officials are working urgently with the Northern Ireland civil service to take things forward. Of course we will keep matters under review, but as health is a devolved matter, I have to say that the best way forward would be the restoration of the Executive.
Two years ago, the Health Minister Robin Swann, who did such a good job, averted industrial action by ensuring comparability between pay for nurses in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales. The Northern Ireland Fiscal Council says that the budget for health will be 2% lower next year than this year. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be money to pay the nurses, without whom there will be no impact on the dreadful waiting lists?
The recommendations of the independent review bodies, which have responsibility for determining pay for health workers, were published in July 2022. The Minister of Health was unable to implement the recommended pay increases because there had not been a wider Executive decision on public sector pay. Pay parity with NHS England was restored after a Northern Ireland-wide strike in 2019-20, but in the Executive’s absence, pay divergence has occurred again.
I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that the UK Government are providing £121 per person for the Executive for every £100 of equivalent UK Government spending over the 2021 spending review period to deliver public services in Northern Ireland. I think his constituents and mine would consider that quite generous funding.
Trade in the UK
The Government are committed to ensuring that businesses can trade freely throughout the United Kingdom, so our approach has two strands. Under the protocol, by the end of the year we will, I am sorry to say, have spent £340 million helping traders to process 2.3 million customs declarations through the trader support service for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That vividly illustrates the problems with the protocol, which is why we are in constructive dialogue to deliver change, as I said earlier, and why we are keeping the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill before Parliament.
Northern Ireland boasts some of the UK’s most innovative businesses. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that Northern Irish businesses are placing environmental, social and governance considerations at the heart of their operations? Does he agree that cementing Northern Ireland’s place as a global leader in ESG will stimulate regional jobs and growth and will turbocharge investment in the Province and across the UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that Northern Ireland boasts some of the UK’s most innovative businesses and is a fantastically attractive place to invest. An increasing number of organisations in Northern Ireland report on environmental, social and governance standards. I regularly visit businesses in Northern Ireland, as does the Secretary of State. We will continue to take an interest in their approach to ESG.
What businesses in Northern Ireland want, alongside political stability, is dual market access. As well as working to ensure that businesses have access to the rest of the UK market, will the Minister ensure that access to the European market will be preserved and that the Government will do nothing to compromise it?
We are committed to maintaining dual market access. We hope to negotiate a position with the European Union in which that is possible, while preserving the east-west strand of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We want to restore the constitutional status of Northern Ireland while ensuring that market access; I very much hope that we will do so by negotiation.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
May I take the opportunity to associate myself and my party with the Secretary of State’s remarks about the 35th anniversary of the bombing in Enniskillen? Our thoughts are with all those who continue, to this day, to be affected by that event.
Maroš Šefčovič has said that
“if there is political will”,
issues around the Northern Ireland protocol could be resolved
“within a couple of weeks.”
Does the Secretary of State understand the political damage that has been caused by the Government’s failure to begin negotiations on the issue earlier in the year? Will he commit to doing all he can to achieve a negotiated settlement before the year is out?
I shall have to answer procedurally, but of course we understand the political implications of where we are. The most significant, if I may say so, is the collapse of the institutions because of the legitimate concerns of Unionism and of the DUP in particular. That is why the Secretary of State and I have been very clear that we recognise the legitimate interests of all parties, including the European Union and Ireland, and it is why we are resolute in the United Kingdom’s own interests. Of course if we completely conceded our interests we would achieve a deal within weeks, but the point is that this country and this Government are humble in accepting the legitimate interests of the EU and resolute in defending our own. I very much hope that we will reach a negotiated settlement.
I engage regularly with the Northern Ireland parties—indeed, I spoke to all the Executive party leaders only this morning—and I will continue to keep my Cabinet colleagues fully apprised of those discussions.
The Secretary of State told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that he would be calling an election
“at one minute past midnight”
on 28 October, but that did not happen, which has left Northern Ireland in limbo. Reports have since emerged that the Secretary of State was directly overruled by the Prime Minister. Is that true, or did he mean to intentionally mislead a parliamentary Committee?
I do not believe that I was overruled by the Prime Minister.
At this week’s session of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly—which you kindly opened, Mr Speaker—we were able to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland relating to the protocol and the talks. Voices were raised from across Europe, and from all parts of the House, encouraging the Government and the European Commission to reach an agreement, because that is the gateway to co-operation on so many other things. I commend the Secretary of State on having the talks, and I say to him, “Let’s get a decision.”
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the work he does in the Assembly. It is a vital new institution, which has deep roots in the European Parliament as well as this Parliament, and it will add great value to our discussions.
Cost of Living
The UK Government are providing vital support to households and businesses across the UK to help with the rising cost of energy. This is an issue that the Secretary of State and I raise frequently with colleagues across Government, including the Business Secretary and the Energy Minister. We seek to provide urgent support for households and businesses across Northern Ireland.
The Minister has been asked several times this morning about the £400 energy support payment. What is the blockage preventing the payment from being made now, and when will this be sorted out?
The hon. Gentleman will of course understand that these schemes need to be delivered by officials, and that effort has been hampered substantially by the absence of a functioning Executive. We should all acknowledge that without an Executive, these things are more difficult to deliver. As I said earlier, we are well aware of the imperatives, and once again I urge all parties to re-form the Executive so that we can give people the prompt help that they deserve.
Peace and Prosperity
Peace and prosperity are intrinsically linked, and the Government are committed to delivering both in order to help Northern Ireland reach its full potential. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his expert contribution to that end when he served in the Department. We are investing £730 million in the new PEACEPLUS programme, which will support economic growth and community cohesion. The Government also provide significant resources to tackle the threat from terrorism, paramilitarism and organised crime.
I saw for myself that growth and city deals offer a huge opportunity in every part of Northern Ireland to improve economic performance and strengthen society, which underpins the peace process. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to maximise the benefits of those deals, we need an Executive in place working hand in hand with the UK Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that our £617 investment in city and growth deals presents an historic opportunity to generate innovation and growth across Northern Ireland. He is also right to say that we need a functioning Executive to drive forward that delivery.
This morning I met members of East Border Region, a cross-party, cross-border local authority-led organisation delivering peace and prosperity across the border. Will the Minister agree to meet them to discuss the work they have done over the past 50 years?
Certainly, I would be glad to meet them. If the hon. Lady will write to me, we will take that up.
Northern Ireland Protocol
The Government are engaging in constructive dialogue with the European Union to find solutions to the issues caused by the protocol. We are also proceeding with legislation that aims to fix the practical problems that the protocol has created in Northern Ireland in the event of our being unable to reach our preferred negotiated solution.
The trader support service has helped thousands of businesses in Northern Ireland to navigate the way in which goods move under the protocol. How will this very important service be funded over the next year?
Both the trader support service and the movement assistance scheme provide support to traders moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. By the end of this year we will have spent £340 million helping traders to process 2.3 million customs declarations through the trader support service for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but we very much hope that we can find a negotiated solution to the protocol issues that will mean we do not have to spend this money in the future.
The Northern Ireland protocol has resulted in the ripping up of the Belfast Agreement and the principle of consent, and the fall of the Assembly. It has also imposed EU law on part of our country, and that law will be imposed by the European Court of Justice. Does the Minister accept that we cannot improve on that and we have to remove it?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Actually, I think there is a negotiated path where we can completely change how we deal with the protocol, which would mean that it dealt with the issues of governance and trade and all the other practical issues that are causing legitimate concerns to the communities he represents.
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 parliamentlive.tv.
The Prime Minister was asked—
With Armistice Day on Friday, I know that colleagues across the House will want to join me in remembering those who have lost their lives in the service of our country. 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 people I serve will of course be commemorating Remembrance Day. Bermondsey was the original home of the poppy factory, providing work for injured veterans of the great war over 100 years ago.
Covid restrictions were a necessary but painful experience, and across the country most people made enormous sacrifices, including Charlotte, my constituent, and local councillor Lorraine, who were unable to see their mums in their final days. Those people were betrayed by the Conservatives, who partied their way through lockdown—[Interruption.] Members might not like it, but they can all go and eat kangaroo testicles, for all I care. Those Conservatives covered Downing Street in suitcases of wine, in vomit and in fixed penalty notices. Can this Prime Minister promise today that he will use his power of veto to ensure that no one who received a fixed penalty notice for breaking covid laws is rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords?
What I can say is that this Government, during covid, ensured that we protected people’s jobs, that we supported the NHS to get through the difficult times and that we rolled out that the fastest vaccine in Europe. That is what we did for this country.
I praise my right hon. Friend for highlighting the incredible potential of floating offshore wind technology to help us move to net zero. He is right about the opportunities in the Celtic sea, and for Wales more generally, and I can confirm that the Crown Estate’s leasing process is expected to deliver more seabed leases for many more projects.
I call the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer.
May I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Remembrance Day? We remember all those who paid the ultimate price, and all those who have served and are serving our country.
The Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) told a civil servant to “slit your throat”. How does the Prime Minister think the victim of that bullying felt when he expressed great sadness at his resignation?
Unequivocally, the behaviour complained of was unacceptable, and it is absolutely right that the right hon. Gentleman has resigned. For the record, I did not know about any of the specific concerns relating to his conduct as Secretary of State or as Chief Whip, which date back some years. I believe that people in public life should treat others with consideration and respect, and those are the principles that this Government will stand by.
The Member for South Staffordshire spent years courting the idea that he could intimidate others, blurring the lines to normalise bullying behaviour—it is precisely why the Prime Minister gave him a job. The truth is simple: he is a pathetic bully, but he would never have got away with it if people like the Prime Minister did not hand him power. Does the Prime Minister regret his decision to make him a Government Minister?
I obviously regret appointing someone who has had to resign in these circumstances, but I think what the British people would like to know is that when situations like this arise, they will be dealt with properly. That is why it is absolutely right that he resigned, and it is why it is absolutely right that there is an investigation to look into these matters properly. I said my Government will be characterised by integrity, professionalism and accountability, and it will.
Everyone in the country knows someone like the Member for South Staffordshire: a sad middle manager getting off on intimidating those beneath him. But everyone in the country also knows someone like the Prime Minister: the boss who is so weak and so worried that the bullies will turn on him that he hides behind them. What message does he think it sends when, rather than take on the bullies, he lines up alongside them and thanks them for their loyalty?
The message that I clearly want to send is that integrity in public life matters. That is why it is right that the right hon. Member has resigned, and why it is right that there is a rigorous process to examine these issues. As well as focusing on this one individual, it is also right and important that we keep delivering for the whole country. That is why this Government will continue to concentrate on stabilising the economy, strengthening the NHS and tackling illegal migration. Those are my priorities and the priorities of the British people, and this Government will deliver on them.
The problem is that the Prime Minister could not stand up to a run-of-the-mill bully, so he has no chance of standing up to vested interests on behalf of working people. Take Shell, which made record profits this year of £26 billion. How much has it paid under his so-called windfall tax?
I was the Chancellor who introduced an extra tax on the oil and gas companies. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about working people, but he voted against legislation to stop strikes disrupting working people, and he voted against legislation to stop extremist protesters disrupting working people, because he is not on the side of working people; that is what the Conservatives are for.
I am against all those causing chaos and damage to our public services and our economy, whether they are gluing themselves to the road or sitting on the Government Benches. There was no answer to the question, because the answer is nothing. Shell has not paid a penny in windfall tax. Why? Because for every £1 it spends on digging for fossil fuels, he hands them a 90p tax break, costing the taxpayer billions. Will he find a backbone and end his absurd oil and gas giveaway?
What the Labour party will never understand is that it is businesses investing that creates jobs in this country. On this side of the House, we understand that and we will support businesses to invest to create jobs, because that is how we create prosperity and how we support strong public services, and that is what you get with a Conservative Government.
There is only one party that crashed the economy and they are all sitting there on the Government Benches. It is a pattern with this Prime Minister: too weak to sack the security threat sitting around the Cabinet table; too weak to take part in a leadership context after he lost the first one; and too weak to stand up for working people. He spent weeks flirting with the climate change deniers in this party and then scuttled off to COP at the last minute. In the Budget next week, he will be too weak to end his oil and gas giveaway, scrap the non-dom tax breaks and end the farce of taxpayers subsidising private schools—that is what Labour would do: a proper plan for working people. If he cannot even stand up to a cartoon bully with a pet spider, if he is too scared to face the public in an election, what chance has he got of running the country? [Interruption.]
Order. We want to try to get through on time and I know that some Members want to catch my eye. They are not doing a good job so far.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about judgment and putting people around the Cabinet table. I gently remind him that he thought the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) was the right person to look after our security. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said a lot today, but it is clear that he is not focused on the serious issues confronting our country. We are strengthening our economy; he is backing the strikers. We are supporting people with energy Bills; he is supporting the protestors. We are tackling illegal migration; he is opposing every measure. The British people want real leadership on the serious global challenges we face, and that is what they will get from this Government.
I thank my hon. Friend for his powerful question and his continued work on this issue. I completely agree that antisemitism has no place in our society, and we are taking a strong lead in tackling it in all forms. We became the first country to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, and the Government’s independent adviser on antisemitism regularly provides advice to Ministers on how best to tackle this issue. May I join my hon. Friend, as I know the whole House will, in praising the work of those survivors who so bravely tell their stories so that we might never forget?
I call the leader of the Scottish National party, Ian Blackford.
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about Armistice Day? We remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who continue to serve. We should also remember the nuclear test veterans, who continue to seek justice.
Last night, the Prime Minister suffered the self-inflicted loss of his first Cabinet Minister. A couple of weeks into the job, it turns out that this Prime Minister’s judgment is every bit as bad as his predecessor’s. Speaking of which, we now know that the Prime Minister’s former friend, the former Prime Minister, plans to hand out seats in the House of Lords to at least four Tory MPs, including the current Secretary of State for Scotland. So here is another test of judgment for the new Prime Minister: does he think it right to keep in the Cabinet a man who is clearly far more interested in getting his hands on an ermine robe than in playing by the rules of Scottish democracy?
I am obviously not going to comment on speculation around such lists. Any list would of course follow the normal procedures and processes that are in place.
I am afraid that it is not speculation. The Prime Minister clearly does not get how corrupt this all looks to people in Scotland. Not only do we have a UK Government who deny democracy; we now have a Secretary of State who is running scared from it. In the middle of a Tory cost of living crisis, the Scotland Office is now to be led by a baron-in-waiting, biding his time until he can cash in on the £300-a-day job for life in the House of Lords. He should be sacked from the Cabinet and the people of Dumfries and Galloway should be given the chance to sack the Tories in a by-election. The Prime Minister’s judgment is already in tatters. If he has any integrity left, will he now put a stop to his two predecessors stuffing the House of Lords with their cronies?
What the Secretary of State and I are jointly focused on is working constructively with the Scottish Government to deliver for the people of Scotland. I am pleased to be meeting the First Minister tomorrow, because that, I think, is what the people of Scotland want to see.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work in raising awareness of this particular issue. He is absolutely right. I am pleased to give him the reassurance that the Online Safety Bill will require platforms to remove and limit the spread of illegal content and activity online. Assisting illegal immigration is listed as a priority offence in the Bill, which we look forward to bringing back to the House in due course.
Diolch, Mr Llefarydd. The Prime Minister is struggling to rebuild the Tories’ ruined economic credibility after his predecessor scorned the Office for Budget Responsibility, but in a Bloomberg interview just last week, his International Trade Secretary disputed OBR forecasts that trade will be 15% lower because of Brexit. Britain’s economic prospects are worsened by being outside the world’s largest trading bloc. That is a fact. Who does he agree with—the OBR or his Tory Minister?
One of the great opportunities of Brexit is our ability to trade more with countries around the world. I know that the right hon. Lady will want to speak to many of the Welsh farmers who are enjoying selling their lamb to the new markets that we have opened up for them. That is what we will get on and deliver.
The Government are committed to making home ownership a reality for a new generation, and we must build homes in the right places, where people want to live and work, but, as my right hon. Friend knows and as I have said, I want those decisions to be taken locally, with greater say for local communities rather than distant bureaucrats. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is happy to meet her to discuss how best to make that a reality.
The absolute best way to ensure that children do not grow up in poverty, which is something that none of us wants to see, is to ensure that they do not grow up in a workless household. The record under these Governments is that 700,000 fewer children are growing up in workless households. That is because Conservative Governments create jobs for people, and that is the best anti-poverty strategy that we have.[Official Report, 14 November 2022, Vol. 722, c. 4MC.]
It is nice to hear from my hon. Friend again this week. I can reassure him that we are completely committed to supporting Afghan refugees into the employment opportunities here in the UK. The Department for Work and Pensions has a full programme in place, and I can also tell him that our Refugee Leads Network brings together refugee organisations and the DWP to connect those refugees with employment opportunities. I look forward to seeing the fruits of that programme with him in the near future.
We did review and indeed end the visa that the right hon. Gentleman is raising. The Home Office is currently considering the right way to replace that visa with something that is more sustainable and protects our security interests. I will be happy to have the Home Secretary write to him with an update on that process.
I am pleased to say that we have announced ambitious new plans to improve the cost, the choice and the availability of childcare to benefit hundreds of thousands of parents across the country. That includes measures to increase the number of children that can be looked after by each staff member and making it easier for people to become childminders. We will respond to all those proposals in very short order.
We have significantly increased funding going into schools over the next two years, but on top of that it was important to this Government to help those children who were left behind in terms of their education opportunities during the pandemic. That is why we invested £5 billion in helping those children to catch up, including unveiling the most comprehensive programme of tutoring this country has ever seen. It is closing the attainment gap and disproportionately benefiting disadvantaged children, and is something that I know all colleagues will get behind.
Let me give my hon. Friend my absolute cast-iron commitment that we want to get to grips with this problem. The best way to resolve it is to stop criminal gangs profiting from an illegal trade in human lives and the unacceptable rise in channel crossings, which is putting unsustainable pressure on our system and local services. She has my reassurance that the Home Secretary and I are working day and night to resolve the problem—not just to end the use of expensive contingency accommodation, but for more fundamental reform, so that we can finally get to grips with the issue, protect our borders and end illegal migration.
Under the Prime Minister’s short premiership, he has had one Minister resign and one who urgently needs to be sacked. Can the Prime Minister clarify to the House and the rest of the country when the scheduled programme of integrity, professionalism and accountability will begin?
It is precisely because I want a Government characterised by integrity, professionalism and accountability that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) was right to resign, and it is right that we have an independent process. That is the type of Government I will lead. When situations like this arise, we will deal with them properly, and that is what we have done.
It is quite amazing that when a Minister has gone from his post, he gets more cheers.
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Watford, and it is a pleasure to join him in thanking the Royal British Legion’s poppy appeal volunteers in Watford and across the country. There is no greater sacrifice than those who lay down their lives in the service of our nation, so I am proud, as many others are, to support the poppy appeal and to honour our veterans.
If the Prime Minister or any member of his many households became unwell, would he start ringing the GP surgery at 8 o’clock each morning to not get an appointment, would he go off to accident and emergency and wait 12 hours to be seen, would he call an ambulance that would not come, or would he use some of his £750 million—unearned wealth—to pay privately and see somebody there and then?
Let me put on record my thanks to the fantastic team at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, who have provided excellent care to my family over the years. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the issue of people waiting unacceptably long for treatment that they need. That is why we have put record funding into the NHS to help with backlogs and waiting times this winter, and it is why the Health Secretary and the Chancellor are discussing how best to deliver the reforms we need. I want to make sure that everyone gets the care they need, and we will continue to invest in more doctors, more nurses and more community scans so that we can deliver exactly that.
May I join with my hon. Friend in recognising the importance of the Blackpool Central regeneration project to the town’s levelling-up ambitions? I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary and the Housing Secretary are in the process of resolving this issue for him and how best we can relocate the court complex. He will not have to wait very long for an update on the plans.
It is a critical time for our steel industry, which is hit by massive energy costs and low demand at a time when we need to support our industry to adapt to build the green technologies we will need. Does the Prime Minister agree that our sovereign capability and our national security are dependent on a strong UK steel industry? If so, will the Government not sit on their hands? What is the Prime Minister’s plan for steel?
I am proud of our track record. Not only were we pleased to support one steel company in south Wales that needed our assistance during coronavirus but we have provided more than £2 billion to support energy-intensive industries, including steel, with high energy bills. Thanks to the work of my colleagues, we have also removed the tariffs on exporting steel to the United States. The hon. Lady has my assurance that we will continue to support steel, because we recognise its importance to our economy and to our communities up and down the country.
As Chancellor, I was pleased to cut fuel duty by 5p a litre—the biggest-ever cut—to help motorists in our country. I recognise the concerns that my hon. Friend raises, which is why we asked the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct an urgent review of the market. There are some actions to be considered coming out of that review, and I look forward to meeting him and to working with the CMA to explore its recommendations in more detail.
Tomorrow, I will be delivering food bank collection crates across my constituency, because our food banks are running out of food once more. Does the Prime Minister understand the despair my constituents feel that he, as one of the richest men in Britain, is doing so little—[Interruption.] Conservative Members do not like the truth, Mr Speaker. Does he understand the despair my constituents feel that he is doing so little for the poorest in Britain by refusing to cancel the £3 billion tax break for non-doms who profit from our country but will not make it their home?
I am proud of my and this Government’s track record in supporting the most vulnerable in our society, and that will always continue. It is a bit rich to hear that from the right hon. Gentleman—the first person to remind us what happens when the economy is crashed by a Labour Government. That is no way to help people. We will build a strong economy. That is what enables us to support the most vulnerable and strong public services.
That sounds like an appealing invitation. I agree with my hon. Friend that levelling up has to deliver for communities in every corner of the United Kingdom, including southern coastal communities. He knows that I am a champion of freeports, and I look forward to working with him to see how we can best realise their benefits in his area.
That completes Prime Minister’s questions. Those who wish to leave, please do so quietly.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Points of order come after statements.
It cannot relate to PMQs, because you did not ask a question. We will deal with it afterwards.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on COP27, which I attended in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday.
When the United Kingdom took on the presidency of COP, just one third of the global economy was committed to net zero. Today, that figure is 90%, and the reduction in global emissions pledged during our presidency is equivalent to the entire annual emissions of America. There is still a long way to go to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°, but the historic Glasgow climate pact kept that goal within reach. I know that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) for his inspirational leadership as COP President.
The question at this summit was whether countries would deliver on their promises. I am pleased to say that our nation will. We have already cut our carbon emissions faster than anyone else in the G7, and we will fulfil our ambitious commitment to reduce emissions by at least 68% by the end of the decade.
I know that some have feared that Putin’s abhorrent war in Ukraine could distract from global efforts to tackle climate change, but I believe it should catalyse them. Climate security and energy security go hand in hand. Putin’s contemptible manipulation of energy prices has only reinforced the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels, so we will make this country a clean energy superpower. We will accelerate our transition to renewables, which have already grown fourfold as a proportion of our electricity supply over the last decade; we will invest in building new nuclear power stations for the first time since the 1990s; and, by committing £30 billion to support our green industrial revolution, we will leverage up to £100 billion of private investment to support almost half a million high-wage, high-skilled green jobs.
There is no solution to climate change without protecting and restoring nature, so at COP27 the UK committed £90 million to the Congo basin as part of £1.5 billion we are investing in protecting the world’s forests, and I co-hosted the first meeting of our forests and climate leaders’ partnership, which will deliver on the historic commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.
Central to all our efforts is keeping our promises on climate finance, so the UK is delivering on our commitment of £11.6 billion. To support the most vulnerable who are experiencing the worst impacts of climate change, we will triple our funding on adaptation to reach £1.5 billion a year in 2025.
In Glasgow, the UK pioneered a new global approach, using aid funding to unlock billions of pounds of private finance for new green infrastructure, so I was delighted to join President Ramaphosa to mark the publication of his investment plan, which delivers on this new model. South Africa will benefit from cheaper, cleaner power, cutting emissions while simultaneously creating new green jobs for his people. We will look to support other international partners in taking a similar approach.
We also made further commitments to support clean power in developing countries. This included investing a further £65 million in commercialising innovative clean technologies and working with the private sector to deliver a raft of green investment projects in Kenya.
The summit also allowed me to meet many of my counterparts for the first time. With the Egyptian President, I raised the case of the British-Egyptian citizen Alaa Abd el-Fattah. I know the whole House will share my deep concern about his case, which grows more urgent by the day. We will continue to press the Egyptian Government to resolve the situation. We want to see Alaa freed and reunited with his family as soon as possible.
President Macron and I discussed our shared determination to crack down on criminal smuggling gangs, and I discussed illegal migration with other European leaders too. We are all facing the same shared challenge, and we agreed to solve it together. I had good meetings with the new Prime Minister of Italy, the German Chancellor, the President of the EU, the President of Israel, and the leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Kenya and Norway, as well as the UN Secretary-General.
In all these discussions, the United Kingdom is acting with our friends to stand up for our values around the world, to deliver stability and security at home. Tackling climate change and securing our energy independence is central to these objectives. Even though we may now have handed over the presidency of COP, the United Kingdom will proudly continue to lead the global effort to deliver net zero, because this is the way to ensure the security and prosperity of our country today and for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance copy of his statement. May I start by raising the case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah? As the Prime Minister knows and has said, he is a British citizen jailed for the crime of posting on social media and has been imprisoned in Egypt for most of the last nine years; he has been on hunger strike for the last six months. The Prime Minister just said that he raised this case with President Sisi; what progress did he make in securing Alaa’s release?
It is right that the Prime Minister eventually went to COP27. Remember the stakes: the world is heading for 2.8°C of warming—that is mass flooding, habitats destroyed, untold damage to lives and livelihoods. We must prevent that, for security, for the public finances and for the next generation. That is why it was inexplicable that he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even get on the plane. Britain should be leading on the world stage, helping the world confront the greatest challenge of our time, but his snub, one of the first decisions of his premiership, was a terrible error of judgment and sent a clear message that if you’re looking for leadership from this Prime Minister, look elsewhere, and that if you want to get this Prime Minister to go somewhere, get the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) first—get him to come along, then the Prime Minister will follow.
And the Prime Minister’s reluctance is so bizarre because climate action is not just a once-in-a-generation responsibility, it is also a once-in-a-generation opportunity: an opportunity to lower energy bills for good; an opportunity to ensure Britain’s security is never again at the mercy of tyrants like Putin; an opportunity to create millions of jobs and break out of the Tory cycle of low growth and high taxes. They are opportunities that he is passing by.
The Prime Minister said in his speech at COP27 that we need to “act faster” on renewables, so why is he the roadblock at home? As he was flying to Egypt, his Minister was reaffirming the ban on onshore wind—the cheapest, cleanest form of power we have.
The Prime Minister also said at COP27 that he realises
“the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels”,
but he inserted a massive oil and gas giveaway when Labour forced him into a windfall tax: taxpayers cash handed over for digging up fossil fuels. Shell has made £26 billion in profits so far this year, but not a penny paid in windfall taxes; he has completely let it off the hook.
And what about the industries of the future? Manufacturers of batteries for cars in Britain: struggling. Green hydrogen producers: struggling. Yet in other countries, these industries are taking off: jobs going abroad because we have no industrial strategy here at home.
The Prime Minister also said at COP27 that it was
“right to honour our promises”
to developing countries. So why is he cutting the aid budget? It is always the same message, “Do as I say, not as I do,” and because of that, it will always fall on deaf ears.
It is time for a fresh start. A Labour Government would make Britain the first major economy to reach 100% clean power by 2030. That would cut bills, strengthen our energy security, create jobs, and make Britain a clean energy superpower. And our green prosperity plan would establish GB Energy, a publicly owned energy company, to invest in the technologies and the jobs of the future here in the UK.
As we attempt this endeavour, we have a fair wind at our back: not just the ingenuity and the brilliance of people and businesses in this country but the natural resources of our island nation. Wealth lies in our seas and in our skies, and it is an act of national self-harm not to prioritise them over expensive gas. That is the choice at the next general election, whenever it comes: more of the same with the Tories or a fairer, greener future with Labour.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman raised the matter of my attendance at COP. I gently point out to him that Labour Prime Ministers failed to attend, I think, 12 of the 13 COPs held during their time in office. As Chancellor, I hosted the finance day on COP last year, where we had landmark agreements to rewire the financial system to unlock the trillions of dollars that we need in private finance to flow to help us with the transition. It is a record that I am proud of and one, by the way, that is recognised around the world.
Let me deal with the right hon. and learned Gentleman‘s brief substantive questions. He asked about renewable power. Forty per cent. of our electricity now comes from renewable power. That is up fourfold since 2010. What did we inherit? A Labour Government who believed there was no economic case for new nuclear power. He talked about oil and gas. Again, he needs to live in the real world. Oil and gas are going to be a part of our energy mix in the transition for several years ahead. It is simply pie in the sky to pretend otherwise. The independent Climate Change Committee has even recognised that. The carbon footprint of homegrown gas is half the footprint of importing gas from abroad, so it is a sensible thing to do.
Our plan is the right plan. It is realistic, it is credible, it is delivering for the British people, as well as delivering on our climate commitments. The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s own shadow Chief Secretary described his climate plan as a “borrowing plan”. We know where that leads us. It is not the right thing for the British people. [Interruption.] I know the British people trust me to manage the economy and they will not trust the Labour party. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might be focused on reparations around the world. We are focused on creating a strong economy here at home and that is what we will do.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I also welcome the continued commitment that he and the Government are showing to net zero by 2050 to tackle climate change. He is absolutely right to talk about the creation of high-skilled, high-wage green jobs as we green our economy, but people need the training, skills and education to be able to take on those jobs. What are the Government’s plans on education and training for green skills?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and I thank her for her warm comments. I point her to our record investment in apprenticeships in particular, but also to the new lifelong learning entitlement, which acknowledges that people will have to retrain at any point during their life to take advantage of the new economic opportunities that are coming our way. I am pleased that we will be rolling out that programme over the coming years.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement. Let me also welcome his last-minute change of heart to attend COP27. But I am afraid that, whether he likes it or not, his initial instinct not to attend will be long remembered, and rightly so. It means that he now has a major job to convince people that he is truly committed to the challenge of climate change.
That commitment starts with our own domestic targets, but it is vital that our collective commitment extends to those in the global south. Nations and peoples are being damaged the most by a climate crisis that they have contributed the least to. These are the poorest people on this planet and they always seem to pay the highest price. That is why it is so right and necessary that loss and damage were on the formal COP agenda for the first time.
I am proud to say that, through the leadership of our First Minister, Scotland has become the first developed nation to pledge finance to address loss and damage. Our country is now committed to a total of £7 million—a small sum on the scale of what is needed, but a powerful message to larger nations that need to follow that lead. We do not need to wait for consensus and a decision at COP. We can start funding loss and damage programmes straightaway.
Will the Prime Minister guarantee that UK overseas aid earmarked for climate finance will be spent within the five-year timeframe, as originally promised? Will he also guarantee that the total aid budget will not be slashed further in the autumn statement next week? Finally, in terms of the new Prime Minister’s domestic targets on climate, will he honour the promises made to the north-east of Scotland on carbon capture and storage? Will he commit to taking the Scottish cluster off the Government’s reserve list and to fund it right now?
I am pleased that it was the UK that established a new Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage to discuss arrangements for funding activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage, and those conversations are ongoing. With regard to our international climate finance pledges, as I say, we remain committed to the £11.6 billion, and it is our intention to deliver it over the timeframe that was originally envisaged. With regard to targets, again, it should be a source of enormous pride for everyone in this House that we have decarbonised in this country faster than any other G7 country. Our targets are among the most ambitious in the world and we have a credible plan to get on and deliver them.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his crystal clear commitment both in Sharm el-Sheikh and in this Chamber here today to delivering net zero Britain. There is no doubt about that under his prime ministership. Now we no longer have the presidency of COP, which has been acting as a forcing mechanism across Government, can he clarify how he intends that his Government will deliver our ambitious nationally determined contribution to reduce emissions across the disparate strands of Government Departments?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I can assure him that, although we are no longer formally the president of COP, our leadership on this issue internationally will not waver, and he has my commitment on that. I personally will drive this through Government—in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and with our climate change Minister—but this is something that pervades all aspects of Government now, and we have to change our thinking on this. It is not the work of any one Department or any one Minister; if we are going to make this commitment work, we are all going to have to play our part.
Given the scale of what is about to happen to our planet, every single one of us must do what we can to alleviate the problems that we are facing, but the richest 1% of people on our planet are responsible for the same amount of global emissions as the poorest 50%. Does the Prime Minister accept that, unless we tackle the issues of social justice, we will not resolve the problems of climate change, and was he comfortable that one of the worst polluters on the planet, Coca-Cola, sponsored the recent meeting of COP?
As we have been discussing, I believe we have a moral obligation to help those countries with the transition to net zero and I am proud to say that we are playing our part in doing that. It was great at COP to sit down with leaders from many of those emerging market countries that are benefiting from the investments from our country to help them with the transition. They recognise the leadership role that we are playing.
We need to create jobs and prosperity as we transition to net zero. In battery technology, we are world leading in the research, but we need to manufacture batteries here. Given the concerning news about Britishvolt, will the Prime Minister and his colleagues commission an urgent review of how we can deliver the gigafactories that are necessary in this country in the short term to make sure that we have a continuing vibrant car manufacturing industry?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. I think it may have been his idea to create the Faraday battery challenge, but I was pleased to support that, as Chancellor, with £200 million of funding. He is right about the importance of building a domestic gigafactory capability. I was pleased with the announcement from Envision and Nissan in Sunderland. There is more in the pipeline, and we have the automotive transformation fund available to support those projects to build the vibrant ecosystem that he and I both want to see.
I welcome what the Prime Minister said at COP—that tackling climate change goes hand in hand with lowering energy bills, improving our energy security and hurting Putin in his illegal war in Ukraine. However, I am alarmed that at home the Prime Minister has banned onshore wind, one of the cheapest and most popular forms of renewable energy. Will he confirm whether his priority is cutting people’s energy bills, improving Britain’s energy security and tackling global climate change, or keeping the dinosaurs on his Back Benches happy? Why will he not get rid of the ban on onshore wind?
It started so well. We are committed to reducing people’s bills and to having more forms of renewable energy. Our track record on this is superb: the amount of renewable energy is four times more than in 2010 and zero carbon energy now accounts for half of our electricity needs. We are poised to do more. Offshore wind is the thing we are focusing on, along with nuclear. We are now a world leader in offshore wind, which is providing cheap forms of electricity and energy for households up and down the country. Alongside nuclear, that is how we will transition to a cleaner grid.
I thank my right hon. Friend for getting our environmental strategies back on track. We clearly have a major issue not simply about carbon, but about the loss of biodiversity both on land and at sea. I welcome what he says about our support for the Congo basin. We have, in a month’s time, another crucial summit in Montreal—the convention on biological diversity summit—where further decisions will be taken about how we tackle the loss of biodiversity internationally. Can I ask him to ensure that the United Kingdom plays the fullest possible part in those discussions and a leadership role in tackling that issue?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There were many moving statements from leaders across the globe at COP on that particular topic, and I can confirm to him that it is something we are widely acknowledged around the world to be a leader on: we put it on the agenda last year in Glasgow. The Secretary of State for the Environment will be attending that COP in Montreal. Our world-leading Environment Act 2021 commits us to reducing the decline in biodiversity and species loss, and I look forward to working with him to deliver on it.
Of course, I welcome any investment for the global south to mitigate the horrific damages of climate change, but is this new money, is it coming out of the existing official development assistance budget and what is being cut if it is coming out of the existing ODA budget? As Chancellor, the right hon. Member made savage cuts to climate mitigation programmes. Is he going to replace those?
As Chancellor, yes, I did make difficult decisions to ensure that our public finances were on a sustainable trajectory. That is not something I am going to shy away from, because I think we have all seen what happens when the Government do not command the confidence of international markets when it comes to borrowing and debt issues. I thought, in that context, it was reasonable to temporarily reduce our ODA budget until our public finances are in a better place, and that is a commitment that I stand by, but we remain committed to the £11.6 billion in international climate finance that we committed at the time. Those announcements have come from that budget. It is very welcome that we are able to continue delivering that, even though we are facing some other difficult decisions on other topics.
The Prime Minister has emphasised the very substantial investment being made in climate-related measures both at home and overseas, but does he share my reservations about the idea of spending trillions more pounds on so-called reparations payments, as advocated by the Opposition, at a time when the public finances are already under strain?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is not the right approach, and it is worrying to hear Members of the Labour party suggesting that it is. What we are doing is fulfilling our obligations to help those emerging markets transition to a cleaner future, and we are doing that in a way that supports them, but also supports British companies that are able to provide those investments and create jobs at home as well.
I am grateful for my continued rent-free tenancy in the Prime Minister’s head, but if in future he could just let me know when he intends to speak about me, that would be helpful. That is the norm in the House.
Could I ask the Prime Minister if he would take this opportunity to welcome the election of President Lula in Brazil, and his commitment to both social justice and environmental justice, and to confirm what the previous Prime Minister told this House, which is that no British bank, financial institution or company will henceforth be allowed to invest in fossil fuel extraction anywhere in the world as part of our contribution to bringing about net zero globally?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. If he could ask the Leader of the Opposition to give me advance sight of his questions, I would be happy to let him know if I need to bring him up on questions of security.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the importance of ending international finance for coal-fired power plants. It was a landmark agreement that the COP President and the UK presidency achieved at COP. Ninety other countries have signed up to it, at a minimum, and I am keen to make sure that we deliver on those commitments and we push them through the international financial system.
My Essex constituents absolutely get the impact of climate change, because they saw it at first hand in those awful fires last summer. Many of them also get that, unless we help other countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change, we will see even more unsustainable migration, and that will impact us at home. So it is great that my right hon. Friend has reconfirmed our commitment to the investment amounts that we promised in Glasgow and that he has reconfirmed our commitment to deliver those on time. Can he confirm that we will continue to work with other countries to make sure those investments are made on time?
I thank my right hon. Friend for all her work in this area, which she is rightly passionate about and where she has made an enormous difference. I look forward to receiving her continued advice on how we can deliver on our commitments. I am pleased to give her that reassurance. Actually, as she knows, the doubling of our international climate finance commitment was a catalyst for many other countries around the world doing the same. We want to ensure that all that money is spent, and spent well. That is what we will do.
The Prime Minister just said how important it is to keep our promises on climate finance, and I agree. Will he explain why he does not seem to agree with himself? His Government have not kept their climate promises. He has not delivered the $300 million that we still owe to the green climate and adaptation funds—when will we see that? Will he ensure that all new climate finance is new and additional and not being raided from an ever diminishing aid budget? Does he recognise that the moral obligation that he talks about must extend beyond mitigation and adaptation to address loss and damage? Will he support the establishment of a finance facility for loss and damage at COP27?
On loss and damage, I have already made the point that we established the Glasgow dialogue to see how best to take forward those discussions. I will not pre-empt the discussions happening at COP, but that is not the same as reparations—I think the hon. Lady understands that—which is not what is on the table. That is clear in the language that is being debated at COP.
At COP26, the Prime Minister was successful in mobilising hundreds of billions in international private capital to support the challenge of net zero, which seems a much better deal than Labour’s plan, which would place a huge burden on British taxpayers. What further steps will my right hon. Friend take to consolidate London’s leadership as a centre for green finance?
My hon. Friend knows this well. Indeed, he was responsible for the retail green sovereign bond that we issued here—we were the first country in the world to do so—and he deserves credit for that. I am pleased that for, I think, the second or third year in a row, London has been named the world’s leading place for green finance. We are taking forward a range of initiatives around disclosures to make that even more of an advantage for us, including more carbon trading. I look forward to getting his advice on how we can make that aspiration a reality.
The Welsh Labour Government are setting up a publicly owned company to accelerate investment in onshore wind and other renewables, thus reducing emissions, increasing energy security and using profit for the public good. Given that onshore wind is the cheapest form of renewable energy, when will the Prime Minister step up to the mark, match the Welsh Government and bring forward an accelerated investment programme for onshore wind across England?
There has been a slightly chequered history of Labour councils and publicly owned energy companies—in Nottingham, from memory—and that is not a model that we want to emulate. However, we are supporting Wales with the transition. We invested in the Holyhead hydrogen hub, which is a potential future opportunity, and we are looking at nuclear sites and, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), at the huge potential of floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea, which will also all be good for Wales.
It is so obvious that we have a Prime Minister who is personally committed to this agenda. My constituents really appreciate that, as does their MP. The Prime Minister knows how important the Solent freeport in his old neck of the woods could be to my constituents and those much further afield. Will he and his Government work with us—not least because part of the freeport is based at and around Southampton airport—on sustainable aviation fuels? This country has a really good lead in this area already, and that could be to our advantage as well as lead to a whole new future of clean air travel.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. He is right about the potential of the freeport, which I am pleased to champion, not least as a Southampton boy, as well as the opportunity for sustainable aviation fuel. It is clear from conversations with industry that we are in a position of world leadership on that. I was pleased to invest about £200 million to help commercialise two sustainable aviation fuel plants and I am encouraged that the private sector is taking that and investing far more to bring it to reality. That is an exciting development for the UK.
The Prime Minister has a challenge in getting money out of the door. The BioYorkshire project, which will bring transformation—it is the biggest green new deal before the Government—needs funding, which has been committed but, two years down the line, not released. When will he bring that funding forward for the transition to the technologies of the future that we need to address climate change?
I agree with the hon. Lady that we need to invest in innovation. That is why we have a £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio, because ultimately it will be the technologies of the future that will help us solve this problem. If she writes to me, I will be happy to look into that specific bid.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s attendance at COP27 and our commitment on climate change, which is the biggest long-term strategic challenge that the globe faces as we test the limits of our fragile planet. With net zero a long way off, we face problems today from extreme weather patterns including floods and increased crop failures. Their scale will further erode global security, with vulnerable states subject to desertification, food shortages and rising sea levels. Will the Prime Minister recognise that the burden in meeting some of those challenges will fall on our armed forces both domestically and internationally and, therefore, this is not the time to cut the defence or international aid budgets?
My right hon. Friend is right about the devastation that climate change is causing, not least in Pakistan where 30 million are impacted as an area the size of the entire United Kingdom is now under water, with disease rife through the water. He knows that I remain committed to supporting our armed forces, and that will always be the case.
The Prime Minister gives oil companies who are already making billions in excess profits 90p in tax breaks for every £1 they invest in oil and gas, literally fuelling the climate change that will bring more flooding to the north-east, destroying our agriculture, lives and livelihoods, prospects and prosperity. Yet he refuses to invest in the north-east’s transport infrastructure, industry, green technologies, people and skills to combat climate change. Why does he treat the oil companies with such largesse and leave the north-east with nothing?
The hon. Lady is simply not right. It is not realistic or practical to think that we do not need to use oil and gas for the foreseeable future as a transition fuel. The choice for Opposition Members is: would they rather have that from here at home or import it at almost double the carbon footprint? It seems to me relatively straightforward that we should support domestic oil and gas production in the short term.
The hon. Lady talks about new investments in renewable energy in the north-east as if they are not happening. She might want to visit Teesside. Whether it is offshore wind, hydrogen or carbon capture and storage, that is where the future is, and it is happening in the north-east.
We have all seen the impact of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine on energy and food security. Will the Prime Minister join me in addressing Russia’s false narrative about the impact of the United Kingdom’s sanctions? I was the United Kingdom’s Minister for sanctions, and it is crucial that we address the false narrative. The United Kingdom’s sanctions against Russia do not target exports or food supplies for developing countries. That is squarely the responsibility of Putin and his Administration.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It was very disappointing to see Russia remove itself from the Black sea grain deal—I am pleased that there is now forward progress on that—because, as he knows, almost two thirds of the wheat that passes through the Black sea is destined for developing countries and emerging markets. It is vital that that food flows and we will do everything we can to put pressure on Russia to ensure that it continues to happen.
At COP27, the Prime Minister boasted about the UK’s investment in renewables, yet a recent report by the Welsh Affairs Committee warned that Wales’s renewable energy potential is
“threatened by a lack of UK Government leadership on improving grid connectivity”.
The Prime Minister mentioned a number of worthwhile, good projects in the pipeline in Wales, but, without that connectivity, many of them are under threat. Will he set out an accelerated timetable for improving grid capacity so that Wales can realise its full potential in energy generation and, in so doing, slash bills for communities throughout Wales?
The right hon. Lady is right that we need to ensure that we invest in our grid to enable the transition. That is an absolutely fair point and I know it is something the National Grid is focused on. I would be happy to get more into it and discuss it with her in the future.
The UK is proof that one can achieve growth and slash emissions at the same time. Does the Prime Minister agree that we have an enduring commitment to go for clean and sustainable growth?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our record on this is a 44% reduction in climate emissions and 76% GDP growth. That shows it is possible and that is what Britain is delivering.
What exactly is the Prime Minister’s problem with onshore wind?
It is right that we bring people with us as we transition to net zero. The worst thing we can do is alienate communities if we want to actually deliver on our climate commitments. As it turns out, we are very lucky to have a very reliable and very affordable form of energy in offshore wind, which is also creating jobs domestically in the UK. It is right that that is our priority.
After two wonderful weeks last November in Glasgow, with the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), what became really clear was how far ahead of Governments industry and businesses are in addressing these issues and challenges. For example, on electric vehicles, range anxiety is an issue for those of us who live in the north-west of England and have to try to get to London. Can I have the Prime Minister’s commitment that we will do everything we can to get government out of the way of private industry, for example in EV charging infrastructure roll-out?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We will not solve this problem without the investment and co-operation of the private sector. Governments simply cannot do it alone. When it comes to electric charging infrastructure, we have helped with seed funding of around £2 billion. We have one of the most developed charging infrastructures in Europe, but she is right that, ultimately, it has to be the private sector that delivers the investment required.
Will the Prime Minister say what view he takes of the role of local authorities in the climate emergency? In 2010, there were some fantastic programmes. Had they continued to 2022, we would have a third of our homes in which people—homeowners or renters-—would be paying a third of the bills they are paying now. What view does he take of local authorities getting stuck in to retrofit, particularly in the private rented sector, which is very draughty and leaky?
I am pleased that, in the spending review I conducted as Chancellor, we put aside almost £5 billion to support energy efficiency, including several programmes that support local authorities to upgrade the energy efficiency of both low-income private rented tenants and those in the social housing sector. Those programmes are up and running. They are well funded and local authorities can benefit from them.
I am delighted that the Government see nuclear power as part of the low-carbon future and that its skills are part of the green economy, but does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that the First Minister of Scotland and her SNP-Green coalition Government continue to block nuclear development in Scotland, depriving constituencies like mine of important potential jobs? Perhaps it is an issue he might raise with her when he meets her tomorrow.
My right hon. Friend is right about the importance of nuclear power. We believe it can provide around a quarter of our energy mix by 2050. It is a zero carbon, secure and baseload source of power. That is why we have enabled more funding for advanced forms of nuclear technology, such as advanced modular reactors and small modular reactors, and it would be good if we could spread the benefits across the whole United Kingdom.
In the relentless and obsessive pursuit of net zero, the Government are now adopting policies that are contradictory and, in some cases, dangerous. We are going to import billions of pounds-worth of natural gas from countries who frack that gas, yet we are turning our back on the natural resources we have in our own country, sacrificing revenue, jobs and energy security. We are going to rely more on wind and solar power, the earth metals for which are in the hands of autocratic regimes, especially China. We are importing wood from America to burn in a power station in the United Kingdom at a cost of billions to electricity consumers. Those policies might be welcomed by the chattering classes, but does the Prime Minister understand the bewilderment, frustration and anger of those who struggle to pay their electricity bills and worry about energy security?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about importing liquified natural gas, which is why I am keen to encourage more exploitation of our domestic oil and gas resources in the North sea. He and I are aligned on that. We have conducted a new North sea licensing round, leading to about 100 new licensing applications. That will increase jobs in the UK and our energy security, and that is the right thing to do.
The intervention and leadership of the Government is of course welcome, as is the focus on helping developing and climate change-vulnerable countries. What initiatives are being considered, or could be considered, for businesses to share their technologies, intellectual property and so on with expertise to help those countries move forward far more quickly than we have been able to do? It is, after all, business that will need the research and development in this field which will solve the global problem we all face.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is the type of leadership and contribution that Britain can make to solving the problem globally. We are fortunate to have some of the world’s best researchers and companies tackling this problem. On Monday, I was pleased to announce about half a dozen investment opportunities in Kenya, which do exactly what he describes: British expertise helping a country with its transition in areas such as solar and geothermal. That is an exciting template for the future.
Why is the Prime Minister banning onshore wind, the best renewable energy?
We are providing four times as much renewable electricity today as we did in 2010. We have plans to go even further as we roll out offshore wind, which is a competitive strength for the UK. We will complement that energy mix with new nuclear, a source of energy that we all recognise we need, but for which the previous Labour Government said there was no economic case at all.
I am trying to get everybody in. I ask Members to start with a question, and then stop. [Laughter.]
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement on COP27 and in particular for highlighting his discussions on migration with other European leaders. Does he agree with me that if we are to sort out the migration crisis, we must all work together to help developing countries with their climate change challenges, so that we can also deal with the migration crisis?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I was pleased to discuss the migration issue with several European leaders in particular, because we cannot solve this problem alone. As she said, it is far better to solve it at source before it arrives on our shores. That is the approach we are going to take.
The Prime Minister said that he and his party are more trusted by the British public on the economy. Well, there is one way of testing that, isn’t there? It is with a general election and we would be happy to have that.
Let me ask the Prime Minister whether he would like to visit the Rhondda to see the problems that climate change is already bringing to one of the poorer constituencies in the land: flooding, run-off from the mountains, housing stock that is very elderly and difficult to insulate, and a local authority that already has £12 million of extra budget next year just to keep the lights on and the schools and leisure facilities running. Will he visit the Rhondda, and try to sort out some of those problems?
One of the things the hon. Gentleman mentioned was energy efficiency. As I said, we have billions of pounds in programmes to support local authorities to improve the energy efficiency of homes, particularly in deprived communities and for those on low incomes. Those adaptations can save them hundreds of pounds on their energy bill. I urge his local authority and others to engage with us to deliver them.
As we have heard today, energy security has never been more vital. The journey to net zero is also our journey to energy sovereignty. It will also mean lower bills and more reliable, less volatile prices for our domestic market. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Cornwall will play a vital role, offering lithium, floating offshore wind and deep geothermal energy? Can I extend an invitation to the Prime Minister to visit my businesses and see the work going on in the south-west?
I would be delighted to do so. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of building resilience in supply chains such as lithium. The Minister for Science and Investment Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) is focused on our critical mineral strategy, which was raised earlier. That is right, and Cornwall can play a key part in improving our resilience and security.
António Guterres said:
“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”.
The Prime Minister’s Government are good at making plans and promises and setting targets, but they are poor at delivery. Will he therefore re-establish the Department of Energy and Climate Change to co-ordinate a whole-Government approach, given that the delivery of net zero is fragmented and not on track?
Actually, we are on track to meet all the climate targets that we have set. Our track record is that we have met them all. They are the most ambitious in the world and I reassure the hon. Lady that this is a whole-Government effort. Every Minister in the Government is committed to doing what they need to do to deliver on our ambitions.