Wednesday 24th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The President of COP26 was asked—
Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con)
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What steps he is taking to help ensure that climate action contributes to the post covid-19 economic recovery.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
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What steps he is taking to help ensure that climate action contributes to the post covid-19 economic recovery.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
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What steps the Government are taking to promote (a) climate action and (b) a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic ahead of COP26.

Alok Sharma Portrait The President of COP26 (Alok Sharma)
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We are determined to build back better and greener as we recover from covid-19. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution sets out the Government’s blueprint to grow the sunrise sector, support 250,000 green jobs and level up across the country.

Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies [V]
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The north-west, as you are well aware, Mr Speaker, is the heart of the UK nuclear industry, including Westinghouse nuclear fuels in my constituency. With the world increasingly focused on utilising low carbon energy sources, what steps is my right hon. Friend the President taking ahead of COP26 to promote UK-based nuclear energy production satisfying our future energy needs and supporting countless high-skilled jobs across the north-west?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Nuclear power clearly has a part to play in our clean energy mix, and he will know that in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan we have committed to backing large-scale nuclear advanced modular reactors and small modular reactors—AMRs and SMRs. Of course, the sites such as the ones in my hon. Friend’s constituency are vital in terms of creating jobs and investment in the north-west.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Drummond [V]
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I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new appointment. Does he agree that the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan will not only help places such as Meon Valley to build back better and greener from covid but level up all regions across the country?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The 10-point plan will be a catalyst to unleash innovation and jobs across the country. We are going to have a green industrial revolution, which is going to be powered by wind turbines in Scotland and the north-east, propelled by electric vehicles made in the midlands and, of course, supported by carbon capture clusters across our industrial heartlands.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain [V]
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Public transport is one of the cleanest modes of transport we have, as it helps to get thousands of carbon-emitting vehicles off our roads, but our public transport infrastructure, particularly rail, is woefully outdated in the north of England and simply not fit for purpose. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore back my calls for the northern powerhouse rail scheme to be built in full, including a Bradford city centre station, to prove that we are taking this climate emergency seriously by getting more people on to public transport and more cars off our roads in the north and by providing good, green, sustainable jobs?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I certainly agree that we should be encouraging people to take public transport where that is possible. I come in from Reading to Paddington every day by train myself. The hon. Gentleman has raised a policy issue relating to the Department for Transport and I will ensure that I make representations on his behalf to the Secretary of State.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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Next week, the Government will co-host a summit of the Powering Past Coal Alliance to boost international co-operation on the phasing out of coal, yet at the same time, Ministers are refusing to intervene here at home to prevent the opening of a new deep coal mine in Cumbria. The president knows full well that the proposed mine is not purely a local matter, that it will not help to secure the future of UK steel and that it will not provide the long-term secure jobs that Cumbrians need. However, it will increase emissions, undermine progress to our net zero target and damage our credibility as COP26 host. My question to him, therefore, is a simple one: in this critical year, why on earth are he and his Cabinet colleagues content to see this mine approved?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I note the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Powering Past Coal Alliance, and I am very proud that the UK is part of leading it. Of course, we have made significant progress in reducing coal as part of our energy mix over the last decade. It has come down from 40% to just under 2%, and I set out my detailed views on this issue at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee hearing, as he will know. This is now a local matter; it is a local issue. Cumbria County Council is considering the application and, like him, I wait to see the outcome.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards (West Bromwich East) (Con)
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What discussions he has had with (a) business owners and (b) other stakeholders on the UK’s objectives for COP26.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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What steps he is taking to consult businesses in preparation for COP26.

Alok Sharma Portrait The President of COP26 (Alok Sharma)
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Businesses have a vital role to play in tackling climate change through the COP26 business leaders group and, indeed, through other engagements in the UK and internationally. I have spoken directly with many hundreds of global businesses, and of course we are calling on businesses, investors and other non-state actors to sign up to the Race to Zero campaign and commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards [V]
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We are hugely proud of our diverse communities in West Bromwich East, and many of my constituents place great importance on the role of our allies across the world, especially in India, in working with the UK to tackle these global issues. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on the success of his recent international engagement?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I can tell my hon. Friend and, indeed, the House that, over the past few weeks, I have had productive discussions with Government Ministers on visits to Ethiopia, Gabon, Egypt, Nigeria, Nepal and India. She mentions India, and I met Prime Minister Modi in Delhi. I have also spoken to a range of other Governments, including the US special envoy, John Kerry, and China’s special envoy for climate change, Minister Xie Zhenhua, and I stressed the importance of the three key pillars of the Paris agreement: mitigation, adaptation and finance.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie [V]
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I am delighted that, on 1 July, the Minister responsible for science, research and innovation, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), will be coming to Anglesey to open an innovation jobs fair I am organising alongside the Menai science park. This event will bring together innovative green businesses such as Moorlights and Beacon biocomposites to showcase their work. The event offers a perfect opportunity to put a spotlight on COP26 for the communities and businesses here in my Ynys Môn constituency. Will the COP President ensure that there will be resources available to help me do this?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s excellent work in supporting green jobs in her constituency. Of course, as host of the G7 and COP26, we want to showcase innovative British green businesses, such as those housed by the Menai science park in her constituency. I am delighted that the science Minister is opening her innovation jobs fair, and I know they will work closely together to ensure it is a success.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP) [V]
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In those discussions with interested parties, did they ask why the UK’s objectives are so vague and so unambitious? Did they point out that the UK Government have missed a slew of targets on the climate change emergency and that there appears to be little to no effort being made to catch up? How can the UK Government pretend to any world leadership on this issue when they show such a marked reluctance to act at all?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I respectfully suggest to the hon. Lady that she look at the record of this Government in cutting emissions. We were the first major economy in the world to legislate for net zero and, of course, I hope she is pleased not just with the 10-point plan but with the very ambitious, nationally determined contribution that the Prime Minister set out last year.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s progress on becoming a global leader on tackling climate change in preparation for COP26.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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The UK is leading from the front and has made significant commitments under all three pillars of the Paris agreement, which, as the President set out, are: mitigation, finance and adaptation and resilience. We are continuing to press for ambition internationally, and we are discussing climate action with world leaders. Our nationally determined contribution, of course, sets the highest level of emission reductions by 2030 of any major economy.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss [V]
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Angel Gurría, the outgoing secretary- general of the OECD, has urged countries to attach environmental conditions to bail-outs, to prioritise a green recovery with environmental jobs and to

“put a big fat price on carbon.”

So will the UK Government take his advice?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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We are leading the way in making sure that we do that as part of our building back better and greener. I am co-chairing, with the Department for Education, a green jobs taskforce, to make sure we are able both to upskill and to train all the new skills that are going to be needed for those new industries.

Stephen Morgan Portrait Stephen Morgan (Portsmouth South) (Lab) [V]
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Improving air quality is an essential part of our work to tackle the climate emergency, yet the Government refused to back Labour’s call to make sure that air quality targets meet World Health Organisation guidelines by 2030. What will the Minister do to ensure that we are truly world-leading in our efforts to reduce emissions?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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As President Sharma has set out, we are absolutely world-leading in tackling our carbon dioxide emissions, and part of the work with our landmark Environment Bill will be in getting to grips with this and leading again worldwide, so that others can follow on air quality.

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con)
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If the Government will (a) submit their Paris agreement long-term strategy in preparation for COP26 and (b) meet the UK nationally determined contribution by 2030.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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Ahead of COP26, the Government will publish a comprehensive net zero strategy, which will form the basis of our next long-term strategy. The UK’s NDC commits to an least 68% reduction in emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, consistent with our legally binding commitment to net zero by 2050.

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald [V]
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Nature can be a great ally in tackling climate change; as we restore salt marshes, peat bogs and other natural habitats, we can really make progress. However, at the moment only 3% of global climate finance is invested in nature-based solutions. So will the Minister try to establish, through COP26, a reliable market in carbon credits that have been generated by nature-based activity in restoring habitats?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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We are promoting the restoration and protection of natural ecosystems through several different elements of COP26. Facilitating agreement on article 6, which relates to carbon markets, at COP26 is one of our top negotiating priorities. It can provide a framework for finance to be invested in climate action, including nature-based solutions, through international carbon markets and co-operation. We are indeed world-leading, in the fact that the Prime Minister has set £3 billion to be allocated to nature-based solutions from the UK’s spending.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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What progress the Government have made on raising international ambition to tackle climate change as part of preparations for COP26.

Alok Sharma Portrait The President of COP26 (Alok Sharma)
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We have made progress over the past year, with net zero commitments from countries collectively accounting for 70% of global GDP and 75 world leaders announcing climate commitments at the climate ambition summit that the UK hosted last December with the UN and France. However, as I said at the time, we still have some way to go and 2021 will need to be a critical year for climate action.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish [V]
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I congratulate the President of COP26 on his new role and wish him well.

Stopping deforestation in the tropics is crucial to reducing global carbon emissions, and to protecting biodiversity and the lands of local indigenous communities. However, UK firms, including several high street banks, have been found to be investing heavily in businesses directly causing deforestation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should seek to expose and prevent these funding streams, and encourage our COP26 partners to follow suit?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend knows a great deal about these matters, and he makes a vital point about the incredibly valuable role of tropical forests. He will be aware that the UK is championing a new global taskforce on nature-related financial disclosures to tackle nature-related risks in investments.

Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab) [V]
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With many developing nations further behind in the roll-out of their covid vaccinations, what steps is the COP President taking to ensure that every nation on earth is able to fully participate at COP26 in November?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. We want this to be the most inclusive COP ever and, of course, we are planning for it to be an in-person COP, while taking into account contingencies. The point about vaccines is important, because access to vaccines is not consistent globally. We will work very hard to ensure that we have a safe and inclusive COP for all.

I should point out that, more generally, the UK is supporting the COVAX facility and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the Prime Minister has recently made it clear that we will send the majority of any future surplus of vaccine doses that the UK has to the COVAX scheme to support developing countries.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con)
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What steps he is taking to consult with (a) civil society and (b) youth groups in preparation for COP26.

Alok Sharma Portrait The President of COP26 (Alok Sharma)
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This is the first COP ever for which we have set up an international civil society and youth advisory council—indeed, the next meeting of the group is later today. It is co-chaired by two young climate activists, one from the global north and one from the global south. I have committed to meet civil society groups and youth groups in every country that I visit, because I really want their voices to be front and centre and at the heart of COP26.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan [V]
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I welcome the appointment of my right hon. Friend to his role, which underlines how seriously the Government are taking their efforts to find international agreement on tackling climate change. The scale of the challenge ahead requires us to be innovative and to think outside the box. I pay tribute to the work done by local groups such as Hope Valley Climate Action, Transition Buxton, Sustainable Hayfield, Acclimatise Whaley and Transition New Mills. Is the President prepared to meet me and those groups to hear their ideas on how we can work together to tackle climate change?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend raises an important point, because local groups are vital to the delivery of many initiatives, not just in the UK but around the world. I pay tribute to him for his work in promoting climate action in his constituency and more widely. I will of course ensure that either I or members from the COP unit for civil society and the youth team will meet the organisations in his constituency to which he referred, particularly to hear their views.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
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What steps he has taken to maintain tackling climate change as a Government priority during the covid-19 pandemic.

Alok Sharma Portrait The President of COP26 (Alok Sharma)
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Domestically, the Government have set out their 10-point plan, their energy White Paper and an ambitious nationally determined contribution. Over the past year, the Prime Minister and I, and other Ministers and officials, have regularly engaged with counterparts around the world to raise climate action ambition.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory [V]
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I welcome the President of COP26 to his new position and wish him every success. This year, 2021, is a key year in our battle against climate change, as we host COP26 and the G7 in Cornwall. Climate change is such an important issue for constituents in Truro and Falmouth, so will my right hon. Friend assure me that all areas of the UK, including Cornwall, will benefit from the developments that come from these two significant events, as we recover from the covid shock in a green and sustainable way?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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Absolutely. It is of course very good news that the G7 is to be held in Cornwall, which is, as we know, a powerhouse for green innovation. It is home to pioneering offshore renewables technology, as well as the first geothermal plant in the UK, and I am sure it will play an important role as we seek to build back better and greener throughout the whole of our country.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)
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If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Alok Sharma Portrait The President of COP26 (Alok Sharma)
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Climate change is the biggest challenge faced by humanity. The world is, on average, already 1.2° C warmer than pre-industrial levels, and if we are to deliver on limiting temperature rises to below 2°—indeed, closer to 1.5°—we must collectively act with the utmost urgency. Countries must commit to ambitious near-term emissions reductions and set net zero targets, and donor countries must fulfil their commitments to the most climate-vulnerable nations.

Next month, the UK will host a climate and development international ministerial meeting to make progress on key climate finance-related issues. We want to ensure that the green thread of climate action runs through every international event on the road to COP26.

Liz Saville Roberts Portrait Liz Saville Roberts [V]
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I, too, welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position as President of COP26.

With Wales possessing the oldest housing stock in the UK, what lessons has the right hon. Gentleman learned from Welsh retrofitting schemes about the challenge of reducing residential emissions globally ahead of COP26?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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Retrofitting will play an important role. The right hon. Lady will know that, as part of the 10-point plan, we have also set out plans for greening our buildings and making them more energy efficient. She has raised a very specific point, and I will ensure that the Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and for Housing, Communities and Local Government are made aware of it.

Clive Lewis Portrait Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab) [V]
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The UK’s credibility as COP president rests on demonstratable climate action at home, yet much like the Government’s failed pandemic response, which has left 130,000 people dead, the Government are acting too slowly, prioritising profit over public wellbeing. The Government’s boasts of our road building, and their plans of cutting £1 billion from the public rail infrastructure budget and allowing the Cumbria coalmine to go ahead are simply not compatible with achieving net zero. Will the Minister therefore admit that the Government’s stated ideological beliefs are incompatible with even their own meagre climate goals?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I had always thought that climate action was an area that we could collectively coalesce around without the need for political name calling and fighting, but, unfortunately, that does not seem to be possible for the hon. Gentleman. I just point him to the record of this Government and say that, over the past 30 years across a range of Governments, the UK has managed to grow our economy by 75% and yet cut emissions by 43%. Green growth is possible, and that is what we are pursuing.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow President, Ed Miliband.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab)
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I have never been called that before.

I warmly welcome the President of COP26 to his full- time role. It is in all our interests that he should succeed, and we want to do everything that we can to help. The central judgment of COP26’s success is whether it keeps alive the Paris target of limiting global warming to 1.5°. To make that happen, the UN says that we need to more than halve global greenhouse gas emissions from 52 gigatonnes today to 25 gigatonnes by 2030. Will he assure us that he recognises the scale of this challenge and the need for maximum ambition, and tell the House how close to that target he thinks we can get at COP26?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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The shadow President raises a vitally important point. We did make progress towards the end of last year—70% of global GDP is now covered by the net zero target—but he is absolutely right when he alludes to the fact that what we need is near-term targets to 2030 to cut emissions. We are working very hard on that, and I am very happy to hear his thoughts on how we may be able to go faster.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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A crucial issue for the success of the COP is international finance for developing countries, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and they are facing poverty, the pandemic and climate change. Yet the Government have shamefully chosen this moment to cut £25 billion to £30 billion from overseas aid over the course of this Parliament. They say that they are protecting climate aid, but they have not set out what that means year on year, so will he guarantee today that, in the coming financial year when the COP takes place, there will be no cut to the level of the UK’s climate finance budget or to the climate programmes that we fund?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman is that, like him, I am very proud of the work that successive Governments have done in supporting the most vulnerable around the world. At 0.5% of gross national income, the UK will still remain a leading international aid donor. On the issue of international climate finance, he will know that, over a five-year period, our commitment is £11.6 billion, which is indeed a doubling of the last figure.

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
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Will there be an opportunity in Glasgow to debate so-called energy from waste? In this COP presidency year, surely we should be doing nothing to encourage old-style great incinerators that pump effluent into the great landfill in the sky in places such as Westbury in my constituency. Surely to goodness the waste hierarchy demands better than that.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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I note and support my right hon. Friend’s concern and I will pass it on—particularly in terms of the UK leadership—to the Environment Minister. The work that we have done already in setting resources and waste strategy is leading the way and we as a country are looking to implement all avoidable waste by 2050. With so much of COP, it is about our leadership and proving that we are walking the walk by making these policy changes here at home. I will make sure that the Minister continues to work on that with him.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab) [V]
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Zero Carbon Humber is a partnership that aims to build the world’s first net zero carbon industrial cluster while creating high-quality green jobs. My question simply is: will the COP President look kindly on its submission of interest to be part of COP26?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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Of course, I am very positive about all these initiatives around the country, but the hon. Lady refers to a matter that I think sits under the Business Secretary. I am sure that when submissions come in they will be looked at very carefully.

The Prime Minister was asked—
Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab)
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If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 February.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister (Boris Johnson)
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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.

Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg [V]
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Halton Borough Council ran out of funding for discretionary covid isolation payments despite the strict criteria for eligibility. Just 171 constituents have been helped. The council has applied for further funding, but what the Government have offered will not be enough. Other constituents failed to qualify for help due to the criteria set by the Prime Minister’s Government. Will he look again at this and bring forward a properly funded scheme so that no constituent is in a position where they cannot afford to isolate? We need this to happen if we are to continue to drive down covid-19 infections.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I thank the hon. Gentleman and pay tribute to the work of everybody on Halton Council for everything that they have been doing throughout this pandemic. I know it has been very tough on council officials—and, indeed, on everybody else. Central Government have put in another £4.3 billion to help councils throughout the pandemic. We will continue to support our local authorities and he will be hearing more from the Chancellor next week.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con) [V]
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If the UK is to become the Saudi Arabia of wind power, off my coast of North Norfolk is surely the capital. But the current piecemeal and environmentally damaging connection method to the national grid is holding us back, as was proven by the Vattenfall judicial review just last week. We need legal and regulatory reform now. Prime Minister, could this be a job for the new Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform to help us to implement the much-needed offshore transmission network and meet our net zero targets?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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Yes indeed. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign to make his constituency the Riyadh, or possibly the Jeddah, of offshore wind. I can tell him that we are certainly looking at the issue of the transmission network review and we are developing the necessary regulatory changes.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab)
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The principles behind the Prime Minister’s recovery plan—of caution and it must be irreversible—are plainly right, but one of the biggest threats to that is misinformation about the risks of the deadly virus. For example, there have been people saying that covid statistics

“appear to have been manipulated”

and that Monday’s road map is based on “dodgy assumptions” and “false modelling”. Does the Prime Minister agree that these kinds of comments are irresponsible and undermine our national recovery?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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The road map that we have set out will, I believe, set us on a cautious but irreversible journey to freedom. I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman supports the four steps of 8 March for schools, 12 April for shops, 17 May for hospitality and 21 June for everything. The data supporting all of that has been available to the House since I announced it on Monday.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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I think the Prime Minister dodged that question, no doubt because all those comments came from his own MPs—some of the 60 or so members of the Covid Recovery Group. Perhaps the Prime Minister should have a word with them.

Another big threat to the recovery plan is that around three in 10 people who should be self-isolating are not doing so. That is a huge gap in our defences, and the small changes on Monday will not fix it. That is why Labour has called for the £500 self-isolation payment to be made available to everybody who needs it. Will the Prime Minister just fix this?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well that those who are asked to self-isolate already have the £500 test and trace support payment, and I think he also knows, because he supported the road map on Monday, that the eligibility criteria are being extended to allow parents and guardians who are staying off work also to receive a payment, provided they meet the criteria. I think he is aware of that.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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Three out of 10 people who should be self-isolating are not doing so. That matters to millions of people, and it matters if we are going to get the virus under control. The chair of Test and Trace said that people are “scared” to come forward for a covid test because they cannot afford to isolate. The chair of Test and Trace says they cannot afford it. The Government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre concluded that “unmet financial need” was why some lower-income areas are seeing “stubbornly high” infection rates. Why, after all the billions the Government have thrown around, is it still people in low-paid jobs who are at the bottom of this Government’s priorities?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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Actually, I think that most people looking at what we have done throughout the pandemic and looking at the £280 billion package of support can see that it is the poorest and neediest in society—those on the lowest incomes—who have been at the top of the Government’s priorities, and that is quite right. We will continue to act in that way, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be hearing more about that next week from the Chancellor. That is in addition to the discretionary funding we have given councils to support those who need it most, including those who have to self-isolate.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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Here is the difference. If you need £500 to isolate, you are out of luck. If you have got the Health Secretary’s WhatsApp, you get a £1 million contract.

Turning to next week’s Budget, I do not expect the Prime Minister to pre-empt what is in the Budget—if I want that, I can read it on the front page of The Times —but will he at least agree with me today that now is not the time for tax rises for families and for businesses?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I don’t know about you, Mr Speaker, but the Budget is happening next week, and it is not a date that is concealed from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He knows when it is happening and he knows what to expect, but it is preposterous for him to talk about tax rises when he stood on a manifesto only a little over a year ago to put up taxes by the biggest amount in the history of this country. It is the Labour party—including his Labour council in Camden—that puts up taxes across the country. That is the way Labour behaves, and it is thanks to prudent fiscal management by this Government that we have been able to fight this pandemic in the way that we have.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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The Prime Minister wants to talk about tax rises, and he should, because it matters. Councils up and down the country are being forced to decide now whether to put council tax up. That is a £2 billion rise on families. I am not blaming councils. They have been starved of funding for a decade, and Labour and Conservative councils are in the same position. For example, the Prime Minister might want to concentrate on his own constituency. His own council, Conservative-run Hillingdon, is voting to increase council tax by 4.8%. Does the Prime Minister think that the council is right to do that?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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Hillingdon Council, in common with most Conservative councils, has been running lower council taxes than Labour up and down the country. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is completely wrong, so I will correct him. The top 10 highest council taxing councils in this country are run by the Labour party, and they are all going to put their taxes up, except for one in the top 10, which is Burnley, which is currently in no overall control. He talks about London and my own record on taxes, but he should talk to the current Labour Mayor of London, who is putting up his council tax by 10%. I can tell him that the previous Conservative Mayor of London cut council tax by 20%. That is what Conservative councils do.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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The fact is that £15 billion has been taken out of council budgets over the last 10 years. The Prime Minister should stop blaming others for the damage he has done. He quotes the Mayor. This is the former Mayor who bought water cannon that could not be used, spent millions on a garden bridge that never got built and then more recently gave a pay rise to Dominic Cummings.

This is yet another PMQs with no answers. The truth is this. The Government spent a decade weakening the foundations of our economy and our country. As a result, we have the highest death toll in Europe. We have the worst recession of any major economy. Families are facing council tax rises and millions cannot afford to self-isolate. And all the Prime Minister offers is a return to business as usual. Next week’s Budget is a chance to choose a different path, to build a stronger future, to protect families, to give our key workers the pay rise they deserve and to back British businesses by supporting 100,000 new start-ups. Will the Prime Minister do so?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will only wait until next week, I think he will find that we will do far more than that paltry agenda he has set out. It is quite mystifying to see the way that he weaves hither and yon like some sort of druidical rocking stone. One week he claims that he supports the vaccination roll-out. The next week, he attacks the vaccine taskforce, when it is spending money to try to reach hard-to-reach, vaccine-resistant groups, and says that that kind of spending cannot be justified. He calls for us to go faster with rolling out vaccines, when he would have stayed in the European Medicines Agency, which would have made that roll-out impossible. He vacillates. We vaccinate. We are going to get on with our agenda, cautiously but irreversibly taking this country forward on a one-way road to freedom, and I very much hope that his support, which has been so evanescent in the past, will genuinely prove irreversible this time.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) (Con) [V]
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The Prime Minister’s road map will provide many of my constituents in Morley and Outwood with a vision of hope that life is set to return to a new normal before the end of June, allowing us to celebrate the great British summer. Can he inform the House of the pre-emptive actions that the Government are taking to spot, prevent and limit the damage of any future health emergencies, so that local economies in constituencies such as mine have certainty that this will be their last lockdown?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of local outbreaks and how to tackle them, particularly with the threat of new variants, which she rightly raises. That is why we have a very tough border regime but also a programme as we go forward for surge testing—door-to-door testing—to ensure that, when there is a local outbreak, we keep it local and keep it under control, as we are trying to do at the moment with the South African variant.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP) [V]
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Next week’s Budget gives the opportunity to tackle the financial costs of this pandemic. The UK has suffered its worst recession in 300 years. We now need a Government who understand the scale of this crisis, yet at the very moment that we need maximum investment to recover, the Tories are threatening austerity cuts that will leave lasting scars on all our communities. Families have already seen their incomes slashed under this Government, and now the Tories want to impose a public sector pay freeze and cuts to universal credit. Will the Prime Minister rule out a return to Tory austerity cuts and commit to a major fiscal stimulus of at least 5% of GDP, or will he threaten the recovery and leave millions of people worse off?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I am proud of the massive investments that the UK Treasury has made throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, with £13 billion and more going to Scotland and huge sums going throughout the country. I wish that the Scottish nationalist Government would spend that money better, because it is very sad to see some of the failures in education policy in Scotland and the failures in their criminal justice policy and fighting crime. I think what the people of the whole UK and, I believe, the people of Scotland would like to see is less talk about a referendum, which is the right hon. Gentleman’s agenda, and more talk about the real issues facing our country.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
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The Prime Minister is boasting, but the cold, hard reality is that the United Kingdom has suffered the worst slump of any major economy and 120,000 people have lost their lives. That is under your guidance, Prime Minister. Coronavirus has exposed the deep inequalities under this broken Westminster system. After a decade of Tory cuts, millions of families are in poverty and UK unemployment is soaring.

In contrast, in the United States, President Biden understands what is needed. He has proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package to restart and renew the American economy. Prime Minister, will your Government follow the example of the US and boost the economy like Biden, or is the Tory plan to return to type and impose yet another decade of Tory austerity?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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This Government are investing £640 billion in infrastructure alone throughout the UK—a massive programme to get our country rebuilt and restarted again. I think that is what people would like to focus on, rather than the right hon. Gentleman’s agenda. He has talked about our broken politics, our broken country. All they want to do is break up Britain with another referendum, and I think that is the last thing this country needs at the moment.

Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knows how important the rail link between Southport and Manchester Piccadilly is for my constituents and those living in the wider Lancashire area. All the changes put forward by the Manchester rail recovery taskforce are unacceptable: they would stop this service from happening and take our levelling-up agenda off track. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss changes to these proposals, so that we can keep this service and keep my constituents with the service that they have come to rely on and which is vital for their economy?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign for better local transport, and we are investing massively in rail connectivity in his area and in local bus routes. The particular line that he advocates is, I know, one of great interest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and I will make sure that he has a chance to discuss it personally with my hon. Friend.

Ed Davey Portrait Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD) [V]
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Can I start by thanking the Government for their change of policy, announced today, on the vaccination priority for people with learning disabilities, despite the Prime Minister’s rather more equivocal answer to me on this last Monday?

Today, millions of Uyghur people in China live in fear under a cruel regime. The BBC, international media and human rights non-governmental organisations are all reporting on forced labour camps, women being raped and sterilised, and families being separated. This is a genocide happening in front of our eyes. So does the Prime Minister agree with me that, unless China ends this genocide, Britain and Team GB should boycott the winter Olympics in Beijing next year?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the appalling campaign against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has set out the policies that he has—the package of measures to ensure that no British companies are complicit in or profiting from violations. We are leading international action in the UN to hold China to account, and we will continue to work with the US, friends and partners around the world to do just that.

The right hon. Gentleman raises a point about a sporting boycott. We are not normally in favour of sporting boycotts in this country, and that has been the long-standing position of this Government.

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con) [V]
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Penrith and The Border struggles with poor broadband and phone signal connectivity, with download speeds around 56% of the UK average. Many of my constituents have been quoted large and unfeasible sums for new cables to be installed, which is often their only option to improve coverage. I welcome the potential of the shared rural network, the gigabit voucher scheme and the universal service obligation to help, but what reassurance can my right hon. Friend give my constituents that Government are striving to address these broadband and phone signal notspots in rural Cumbria?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I thank my hon. Friend for all he does to campaign for the hardest-to-reach areas in rural Cumbria. I know that we are doing all we can because I raise it virtually every day, and we are rolling it out as fast as we can. We have committed about £5 billion to connect those areas, £1 billion for the shared rural network agreement and a voucher scheme to target predominantly rural areas, but we are intending to get everything we can possibly done in the next five years.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) [V]
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Is the 40% cut to Transport for the North’s budget part of the Prime Minister’s plans for levelling up the north?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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There has been no such cut, and we intend to invest massively in Northern Powerhouse Rail, and in railways in the north and across the entire country.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
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Although hospitality has had to close its doors, in true black country spirit many of my venues have been entrepreneurial and now offer a great takeaway service. To celebrate that entrepreneurial spirit, today I am launching a “favourite takeaway” competition in my constituency. Will the Prime Minister join me in launching that competition, and will he also join me in a takeaway from the winning entrant when he is next in wonderful Stourbridge? He will receive a very warm welcome, and I would be happy to throw in a trip on the country’s finest shuttle, which I hope to see soon, called the “Stourbridge Dasher.”

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on what she is doing to champion takeaways in Stourbridge. I am not sure it would be environmentally friendly for me to order a takeaway from Stourbridge to Westminster, but I thank her very much for her initiative. I look forward to visiting the hospitality sector in her constituency as soon as possible.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)
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The education and wellbeing recovery of children from the pandemic is one of the biggest challenges facing our country. We went into this pandemic with rising child poverty, a widening attainment gap, and school funding falling in real terms. Given that, does the Prime Minister believe that the 43 pence per pupil per day announced today really cuts it? If he does, would he be happy to see that amount spent on his own children?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I passionately disagree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said about the spending that was going on. Even before the pandemic we were increasing funding for primary schools—up to £4,000 per pupil, and £5,000 for secondary school pupils—and putting up starting salaries for teachers across the board to £30,000. That was a massive investment in education across the board, including in further education.

The catch-up funds now amount to £2 billion—[Interruption.] No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. They amount to £2 billion. Yes, we will have to do more, because this is the biggest challenge our country faces. We will get it done. We are able to do it because we have been running a strong economy. We had the resources to do it, because we had not followed the bankrupt policies of the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party.

Rob Roberts Portrait Rob Roberts (Delyn) (Con)
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Janene Maguire in my constituency, a mother of three, suffered a unusual, unexpected and immediate cardiac arrest that sadly saw her pass away in February 2000. Twenty years later, in August last year, one of her daughters, Cara, strangely suffered the same fate, with an unexpected cardiac arrest. Fortunately, her friend Michael was with her. He was a former soldier and thus trained in first aid and lifesaving, and despite Cara’s heart stopping for 20 minutes, he managed to save her life. In September last year, the UK Government made it mandatory for CPR skills to be taught in secondary schools, but despite a campaign and a letter from all my Welsh Conservative colleagues, the Minister for Education in Wales has declined to do that. Will my right hon. Friend throw the weight of his office behind my campaign to have CPR skills taught in Wales, so that the Maguire family, and those like them, no longer have to suffer such tragic circumstances?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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The sympathies of the whole House will be with my hon. Friend’s constituents and their family and friends, and I agree very much about the importance of learning CPR. That is why we introduced it into the curriculum for all state funded schools in England. It is of course a devolved issue, but I share his urgency that the policy should be adopted in Wales as well.

Rosie Cooper Portrait Rosie Cooper  (West Lancashire) (Lab) [V]
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There has been much focus of late on children returning safely to school. In my constituency, successive cohorts of pupils have had to wade through overflowing drains to get into school, and they are routinely evacuated from flooded classrooms. That takes a huge toll on the quality of their learning. Will the Prime Minister work again with Lancashire County Council and the headteacher of Town Green Primary School to ensure that no child in West Lancashire loses a vital day of education, especially to flooding-related issues?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I sympathise very much with the hon. Lady’s constituents and the pupils who have to put up with disruption caused by flooding. I know that the Environment Agency continues to work very actively with the county council to resolve the issues and that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister has written to her about what more can be done.

Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling  (Clacton) (Con) [V]
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My right hon. Friend will know that pubs have been closing all over Britain for decades now, tearing the hearts out of communities. This terrible pandemic has made things even worse. Part of the problem is undercutting by cheap supermarket booze. Surely, now that we are out of the EU, we can do as we please with beer duty. Differentiation in favour of on-sales could deliver great benefits to pubs in communities such as Clacton, at nil cost to the taxpayer. Will my right hon. Friend commit Ministers to looking at that differentiation proposal?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which I am sure will be heard with great interest around the country. There is just such a review being carried out after consulting pub owners, brewers and others, and I know that the Chancellor is looking very closely at the findings.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab) [V]
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I was disappointed that the Prime Minister did not accept my offer to meet him when he recently visited my constituency’s wonderful Fujifilm vaccine complex in Billingham to celebrate our local success story. I could have taken him to nearby Billingham food bank, where he would have learned that over a third of the children in my constituency live in poverty, yet two in five of those same children are still not entitled to free school meals because the threshold is so low. Will he urgently address that scandal, take long-term action on universal credit and school meals, and help free our children from poverty?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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I certainly am proud of what universal credit is doing. It is odd to be attacked by a Labour Member over universal credit when it is his party’s policy to abolish that benefit, but the best thing we can do for families in Billingham is to ensure that there are very good jobs there.

It was wonderful to see what is happening in Teesside under the leadership of Mayor Ben Houchen—the investment that is going in by Fujifilm and others, which will create long-term jobs. It is the belief of those on the Government side of the House that that is the route out of poverty—fantastic education and top-quality jobs—and that is what this Government aim to deliver.

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con) [V]
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My right hon. Friend will recall from his visit in 2019 that the port of Bristol would make an excellent location for a great western freeport. The West of England Mayor, Tim Bowles, has submitted a bid that could create 50,000 jobs in the region. Will the Prime Minister back our bid, and does he agree that, with house prices in the west of England sitting at nine times average earnings, we need a home building revolution to provide much more affordable housing for our young people as we build back better?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says about home building and the need for housing across the country. We sometimes hear that this is a problem mainly in London and the south-east. It is not at all; it is everywhere in the country, as he rightly says. I thank Tim Bowles, the Mayor of the West of England, for everything that he has done as he stands down. We intend to help build on his legacy with a massive home building programme and home ownership programme across the country.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) [V]
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Before the Budget is finalised, will the Prime Minister ensure that his Chancellor reads the Trussell Trust’s new report, “Dignity or Destitution? The case for keeping the Universal Credit lifeline”? His Government have been incredibly generous to pals with personal protective equipment contracts, so surely, instead of cutting employment-related benefits to the lowest real-terms level in 30 years, he must now afford some basic dignity to 6 million people on universal credit and make the uplift permanent.

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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We will continue to look after people throughout this pandemic and beyond, and the best thing we can do across the whole country is to bounce our economy back as fast as we can and get people into high-quality jobs. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), that is the agenda of this Government.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Con)
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I start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary for his announcement of a new high school for Radcliffe, on the back of my campaign. This new high school will kickstart the regeneration that the town desperately needs. On towns such as Radcliffe and Prestwich, which have not received towns fund or future high streets funding, can my right hon. Friend advise on what assistance this levelling-up Government can provide to make sure these towns are not forgotten?

Boris Johnson Portrait The Prime Minister
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First of all, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his successful campaign to get a new high school; it is absolutely vital. The best place for kids is in school, as I hope we will hear from the Labour party very shortly. We are investing in his area to the tune of £660 million and more through the local growth fund, and £54 million through the getting building fund —and, of course, we are also investing in the transport network. Next week, the whole House will hear even more about what we propose to do to steer a path, cautiously but irreversibly, out of this pandemic, allow this economy to recover, and build back better across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I am suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

12:31
Sitting suspended.