All 26 Parliamentary debates in the Commons on 13th Jun 2023

Tue 13th Jun 2023
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Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee stage & Committee stage & Committee stage
Tue 13th Jun 2023
Tue 13th Jun 2023

House of Commons

Tuesday 13th June 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tuesday 13 June 2023
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 13th June 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 13th June 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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1. What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to help strengthen NATO unity.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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5. What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to help strengthen NATO unity.

James Cleverly Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)
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I regularly engage with our NATO allies. I did so most recently at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting from 31 May to 1 June in Oslo, where the UK demonstrated our continued solidarity with Ukraine and we discussed preparations for the upcoming Vilnius summit for NATO leaders. We continue to hold NATO as the foundation stone of the Euro-Atlantic defence structure.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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NATO’s unity is its strength. It brings countries together to deter aggression and defend freedom—things that would be enhanced by welcoming Sweden into the alliance. When does the Foreign Secretary expect a unanimous decision in NATO to do just that?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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The UK has been a strong supporter of both Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. I was very pleased that Finland joined us at the most recent Foreign Ministers meeting. The UK will continue to push for both Hungary and Türkiye to ratify the accession of Sweden to NATO.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
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I was very pleased to hear the Prime Minister confirm that Ukraine’s rightful place is within NATO. Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps he has taken to build the path towards its membership?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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The commitment that was made at Bucharest many years ago still stands. In the intervening years, Ukraine has demonstrated through its experience on the battlefield an increased acceptance of NATO’s standards and doctrine, which has been driven by the training that the UK and other NATO allies have provided. Inevitably, that will have shortened the time between now and the point it becomes a full member of NATO. Of course, it is impossible for us to speculate when that will be, but I hope that it will be soon.

Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)
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Our ambassadors play a skilful role in NATO and I wish to place on the record my thanks to Fleur Thomas in Luxembourg, which hosted the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, for her excellent briefing. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of Sweden actually joining NATO, which will strengthen its unity, before the Vilnius summit?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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The UK’s position has been clear on this: Sweden should join soon. Our desire, which is shared by all allies with the exception of a couple, is that Sweden should be a full member by the time of the Vilnius summit. We aspire to have a flag-raising ceremony and for Sweden to play a full part in the discussions at Vilnius. That will continue to be the aim towards which we work.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
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When did the Foreign Secretary last engage with Hungary and Türkiye on the matter of Swedish accession, and when will he do so again? How easy is it to stress to them the importance of Sweden being in NATO? What is the blockage?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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My last conversation with Türkiye on this was at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Oslo on 1 June. My most recent engagement with Hungary on this was at the OECD meeting in Paris at the tail end of last week.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
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As the NATO Secretary-General said last month, Ukraine’s “rightful place” is in NATO. Over time, our support will help to make that possible. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that once, with our support, Ukraine has prevailed in its war against Russia’s invasion, there can be no Minsk 3.0, and that Britain should play a leading role in securing Ukraine’s path to join NATO?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with the Government’s position on this, which is that Ukraine’s rightful place is within NATO. We have worked towards that aim. Our support—the training, equipment and advice that we have provided—will have helped to speed up the pathway from now to the point when Ukraine becomes a full member of NATO.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
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We would all agree that NATO is the cornerstone of defence policy, and, like many other colleagues, we support Sweden’s membership. However, the EU defence capacity is evolving at lightspeed because of events in Ukraine and events within the EU. We are seeing with the peace instrument, the strategic compass and procurement policy, that the UK really does risk being left behind in many of the discussions outwith NATO. Is it not time for a comprehensive security treaty between the UK and the EU to regulate these discussions?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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We enjoy a strong series of bilateral relations with EU member states and a strong relationship with the EU at the corporate level. However, I repeat that NATO is the foundation stone for the Euro-Atlantic defence structure. I have had that conversation with many Foreign Ministers from EU countries, and they agree. That is why we are committed to strengthening NATO and why at the Vilnius summit we aspire to have Sweden as a full member. However, we also need to progress the modernisation process for NATO to ensure that it continues to be fit for the future. That will be our aim. NATO is what keeps us safe in the Euro-Atlantic area.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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2. What diplomatic steps he is taking to support the Brazilian Government on protecting environmental activists in that country.

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (David Rutley)
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My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Brazil in May and I visited in March. We both met Brazilian authorities to discuss the risks faced by environmental activists in Brazil and how the UK can support their protection, including through the UK-Brazil partnership on green and inclusive growth, which was signed in May during the Foreign Secretary’s visit.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Dhesi
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Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the brutal murders in Brazil of the environmental activists and journalists Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira. It is vital that those responsible for their murders are brought to justice, but we in the UK must play our part to protect environmental and indigenous activists from violence. What steps is the Minister taking to protect activists, especially British nationals, who are engaged in environmental activism abroad? On Brazil, what assessment has the UK Government made of President Lula’s attempts to halt deforestation of the Amazon rainforest?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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I thank the hon. Member for his question. I offer my sincere condolences and the condolences of all on the Government Front Bench and, I am sure, of the whole House, to the families of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, particularly considering the first anniversary that the hon. Member highlights. I know that the Foreign Secretary had meetings with the police and with Ministers to discuss the case, and I have had similar conversations. We want to make sure that those who committed that heinous crime are called to account and face justice. We continue to have active dialogue with the Brazilian Government to find ways that we can tackle environmental crime and deforestation.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)
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As we have heard, it is one year since the tragic murder of Dom Phillips and the Brazilian activist Bruno Pereira, who were murdered because of their environmental activism. I want to broaden the question slightly, because it seems to me that there is a role for those who take that kind of action to try to stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in particular. As long as it is peaceful and legal activism, not just in Brazil but across Latin America, what else is the Minister doing to protect British nationals and support human rights defenders across the region?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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I recognise the hon. Member’s comments; he has taken a keen interest in the case, along with others on both sides of the House. We are working closely with the Brazilian Government on these matters. We have invested £300 million in the Amazonian biome, a huge amount of which is focused on Brazil. That will provide all kinds of support for indigenous communities and help to tackle environmental crime. We want to work within that framework to help protect environmental activists as well.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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3. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ activities in (a) the middle east and (b) globally.

James Cleverly Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)
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The Government regularly assess the impact of the IRGC’s destabilising activities on the UK’s interests and on British nationals. We work closely with our partners to deter those destabilising activities, including on the interdiction of Iranian weapons in the Gulf and of weapons proliferation in Russia. The UK sanctions the IRGC in its entirety.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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My right hon. Friend will be aware that the regime is boasting that its hypersonic missiles can hit Tel Aviv in 400 seconds, that the joint comprehensive plan of action restrictions end in October and that there are suggestions that British universities have been involved in research that has led to drones that are attacking Ukrainian positions from Russia. Will he therefore commit to ensuring that there is no delisting of any organisations involved in any of those activities, undertake to research the position with UK universities and proscribe the IRGC in its entirety?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I am aware of the reports about research that my hon. Friend mentions and we are, of course, looking into that. We continue to stand firm on our commitment that Iran cannot become a nuclear weapons state, and we will ensure that, as the sunset clauses in the JCPOA arrive, we take evolved measures to ensure that that is the case. He will know that we keep designations consistently under review.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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The Foreign Secretary knows that there are concerns across the House of Commons about the involvement of Iranian state-based actors here in the United Kingdom and their threats towards Iranian activists here who have fled persecution in their homeland. He knows the strength of feeling about proscription as well. What assessment has the Department made of the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and the Iranian regime, and has he spoken to anybody in Saudi Arabia about that?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I have had conversations with both the Saudi ambassador to the Court of St James and the Saudi Foreign Minister on that issue. They are making attempts to permanently bring ceasefires in Yemen to a full peace settlement. If that is the case, we are very happy to support that action. We remain deeply engaged with regard to Iran’s regional behaviour. On the threats to British nationals and people based here in the UK, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office maintains a very close and ongoing working relationship with the Home Office, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, so that we can co-ordinate both our defence and our international actions on that issue.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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4. What his policy is on the proposals for a precautionary pause on deep-sea mining exploration regulations at the International Seabed Authority Council and Assembly in Kingston, Jamaica.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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UK policy is not to sponsor or support the issuing of any exploitation licences for deep-sea mining unless and until there is sufficient scientific evidence about the potential impact on deep-sea ecosystems, and strong, enforceable environmental regulations, standards and guidelines have been developed by the International Seabed Authority and are in place. That is both a precautionary and a conditional principle that we are following.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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The Minister has just read out the written answer that was given fairly recently. As I understand it, that actually means that the Government have rejected calls for a precautionary pause, saying that it is better to be involved in negotiating environmental protections. I have to say that it is a brave politician—or perhaps a foolish one—who takes on Sir David Attenborough, who has said that it is

“beyond reason to consider the destruction of deep sea places”

before we understand them properly. Sir David also says that we should listen to scientists. More than 700 scientists from 44 countries have just supported a precautionary pause, so why won’t the Government?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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The hon. Lady is quite right: David Attenborough’s championing of all things in the natural world gives us as policymakers around the world, and all those in the next generation who are passionate about ensuring that Governments get this right, the enthusiasm and the energy that are required. As I have said, at the moment the policy is not to sponsor or support the issuing of any exploitation licences, precisely because we want to ensure that, using the International Seabed Authority—the organisation that brings all state parties together—we are working together to come up with a policy that will protect and assure the deep seabed.

James Gray Portrait James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)
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One of the seas that may become most vulnerable to deep-sea mining is the Arctic ocean, as the ice retreats and it opens up. We are extremely concerned about what the consequences may be for the environment there, and that is why the Government agreed to a moratorium on fishing in the central Arctic ocean. If they can agree to a moratorium on fishing in the central Arctic ocean, why can they not agree to a temporary “no digging” agreement in respect of deep-sea mining?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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My hon. Friend is, of course, a great champion for and expert on all things to do with the Arctic. If I may, I will ask the Minister, Lord Goldsmith, to get back to my hon. Friend with more detail on that. As I say, the UK continues to take the very firm position that we will engage through the ISA Council to ensure that we get a global position that protects the seabed.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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6. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of artificial intelligence on diplomacy.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)
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8. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of artificial intelligence on diplomacy.

James Duddridge Portrait Sir James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con)
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17. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential impact of artificial intelligence on diplomacy.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
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Artificial intelligence can bring huge economic and social benefits for the UK and our global partners. We are working with key partners to embrace the opportunities of AI, as well as seeking global co-operation on managing the risks. AI will present significant new opportunities to revolutionise how the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office operates, and how it delivers impactful diplomatic and development outcomes across the globe.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Evans
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Since I delivered my speech written by AI in the House in December, we have moved on to the fourth iteration of ChatGPT, which wrote it. Advancements are happening at such pace that we need to build a regulatory framework to prevent a similar situation to the one that we find ourselves in with the internet: 20 years on, we are trying to police it. What is my right hon. Friend doing to pull the world together around a globally agreed framework on AI?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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I did not have the pleasure of hearing my hon. Friend’s ChatGPT-written speech, but I shall definitely look it up and see just how good it was. On 7 June, the Prime Minister, who was in the USA with President Biden, announced plans for the UK to launch the first global AI safety summit, so that we can do exactly what my hon. Friend says: try to tackle the challenge of agreeing safety measures, in order to evaluate and monitor the most significant risks from AI. The FCDO will engage with key international partners to deliver the Prime Minister’s ambition for the summit.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes
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It was good to see the Prime Minister visit Washington last week to continue building our relationship with the United States, so that it is the strongest it can be. Will the Minister outline how we will work with the United States to ensure that the AI summit that was agreed to can be a success under UK leadership?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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The Prime Minister and President Biden agreed that the UK and US would take a co-ordinated approach to the opportunities and challenges of the emerging tech that we see around us, such as AI. The UK welcomes early support from the US on the global summit on AI safety, which we will lead. We will work very closely with the US, and of course other international partners, to ensure that we deliver an important step forward on this issue.

James Duddridge Portrait Sir James Duddridge
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AI represents a massive opportunity across a number of sectors, including in the diplomatic sphere, but we must recognise that there are risks. Specifically, what is the Foreign Office doing to counter the potential efforts in this space of Russia and China, which may use artificial intelligence to undermine British interests overseas?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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Global co-operation will be vital to ensure that AI technologies and the rules governing their use are developed in the right way, and are aligned with our values of openness and freedom. The FCDO is working with departments across the UK’s national security ecosystem, including the National Cyber Security Centre, to ensure that we contribute to and benefit from advances in AI, while making sure that we increase our resilience against, and reduce the risk from, any threats that we face. We hope to have as many leading nations as possible involved in the AI summit.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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The opportunities of AI are global, but so are the threats. It is obvious that significant co-ordination and co-operation in scientific research will be essential. In that context, could the Minister explain how cutting ourselves off from the world’s biggest scientific research programme helps the United Kingdom?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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The hon. Gentleman is right: we absolutely all see the huge potential of AI, but we must not be complacent about the risks. That is why the UK, in leading the AI summit and bringing together all parties from around the world, will ensure that we establish world-leading governance and regulation, so that we can take the opportunities while ensuring public safety and trust.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Talking of AI, I call Jim Shannon. [Laughter.]

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Never! Humour aside, may I thank the Minister very much for her response? It has been quite positive. Given that artificial intelligence will have a significant impact on international relations, will she provide reassurance that all AI advances must and will be scrutinised to a greater extent, for the safety of the people in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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Mr Speaker, I assume that your reference was to the hon. Member’s great intelligence, because that is what artificial intelligence is demonstrating it can be. It is always a joy to support what he says and answer his questions, and he is exactly right: by working through those international relationships, with the UK driving things and holding that really important leadership role, we want to be able to bring countries together through bilateral engagement, using the many multinational fora out there to really ensure that we are tackling and understanding those threats. We need to provide an environment in which, as AI develops, we can maintain oversight while ensuring that we take advantage of opportunities that will bring economic prosperity. I look at the work that we are doing across the world, and I see how it can assist developing countries to safely leapfrog ahead with technologies in so many ways.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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We have all seen how hybrid warfare has been used against this country and our allies in recent years, and of course AI systems could pose new cyber and information threats as well as providing economic and social opportunities. We have already called on the Government to close gaps in the AI White Paper by introducing proper oversight of models such as GPT-4, and I have raised with Ministers the specific issue of whether access is allowed in the FCDO. I was told that access was not permitted on FCDO corporate systems, but that further guidance was being developed. Has that guidance now been issued, and are FCDO staff currently able to access AI systems on personal devices, for example? What safety protocols are in place?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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If I may, I will write to the hon. Gentleman, because I do not have the latest information on that issue.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
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As we have heard, artificial intelligence presents opportunities but also threats, many of which are impossible to quantify at this time. That is as true in AI diplomacy as in anything else, so at the world’s first major AI conference, will the UK Government commit to developing and facilitating AI only with countries that respect human rights and will obey the rules of international law?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
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As we bring the world together at the AI summit in the autumn, we want to have discussions with all our international partners about what the rules of the road need to be. The UK Government are absolutely going to be leading on making sure that the facilitation of AI in every sphere of our lives takes place within a framework that provides safety and gives trust to both our citizens and the rest of the world.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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7. What steps he is taking to help tackle hunger in east Africa.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
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16. What recent steps his Department has taken to respond to hunger in east Africa and the horn of Africa.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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On 24 May, the United Kingdom co-hosted an international pledging conference for the horn of Africa that helped mobilise nearly £2 billion to help nearly 32 million people across the region.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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The east African wet rains and the pledging conference have both come, but the food crisis is worsening. Just three weeks ago, the Government announced a further cut in aid to the region. Local organisations need more funding than most, so will the Minister set targets to increase funding to local organisations for adapting to climate change in the region and to diversify livelihoods to support vulnerable communities?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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The hon. Lady is right about the importance of localism and localisation. I should make it clear to her that Britain’s pledge was £143 million—that will have an enormous effect. She should also bear in mind that we have a degree of flex when it comes to humanitarian budgets, and we have announced for next year that Britain—the British taxpayer—will be spending £1,000 million on humanitarian relief.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
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When the UK co-chaired the UN pledging conference, the Minister described the situation as

“one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in the world”,

yet he has cut funding compared with previous years and pledged less than 20% of the contribution that was given by the UK during the 2017 droughts. With over 70 million people now classed as at threat of starvation, is he not rather ashamed of the UK’s meagre response?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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If I may say so, the hon. Lady’s response to what I said is not fully comprehensive. We have allocated something like £400 million to east and central Africa, and although it is true that the bilateral spend is slightly below last year’s level, as I said, we do have some flexibility. It is the starting point for our spending this year, and of course, we will keep all these matters very much in our minds.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
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Climate change and conflict are causing untold misery across the horn of Africa and forcing millions of people to leave their homes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be spending more of our overseas aid on stabilising lives in such places as east Africa and less on expensive asylum hotels here in the UK?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My right hon. Friend is right, and she can rest assured that those points are made in discussions within Government. The point I would make is that as a result, the Treasury agreed to provide an extra £2,500 million of support to compensate for that spending. I think that was the right decision, and I strongly support it.

Maggie Throup Portrait Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con)
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In February, I visited Kenya with World Vision UK and saw first-hand the impact of climate change on drought and hunger. While the £143 million aid package, which the Minister mentioned and which was announced at the UN pledging conference in May, is welcome, what more can the UK Government do to support this crisis-stricken part of the world at this important time?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what she says. That is why we have announced that we intend to publish a White Paper setting a road map towards achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030 and making greater progress on tackling those climate change problems. We hope to engage the interest, involvement and support of colleagues on both sides of the House in that White Paper endeavour.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
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More than 29 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan are now experiencing catastrophic hunger levels following a fifth failed rainy season in a row. It is also the fourth year in a row that this Government have cut aid to those countries. Oxfam has estimated that one person is likely to die of hunger every 28 seconds between now and July. Can the Minister please explain how he is restoring Britain’s leadership in international development while decimating our support to some of the very poorest people on earth?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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First, let me say that British leadership has been exercised at the two big conferences that took place in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. British expertise and technical know-how is ensuring greater resilience and adaptation spend to drive up the ability to survive these crises when they take place next. If I may say so, the hon. Member must not diminish the extraordinary support and leadership that Britain is giving across the horn of Africa. The figures we have announced are preliminary figures, as I have said. We will react to the crisis—that is one of the things we are able to do—and those figures take no account of the tremendous support that British taxpayers are giving through the multilateral system.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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9. What recent assessment he has made of the potential impact of levels of sovereign debt in African countries on their resilience to climate change.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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The Government recognise the challenging debt situation facing many African countries. The UK is working with international partners to address rising debt vulnerabilities.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
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Every dollar spent by low-income countries on servicing unsustainable debt is a dollar not spent on providing basic services and tackling climate change. I know that the Minister wants to make a difference on this, but the status quo clearly is not working. Given that 90% of developing country debt contracts are governed by English law, why will the Government not agree even to consult on legislative opportunities to compel private creditors to take part in debt restructuring, to make them part of the solution, not the problem?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are looking at that specific issue. We think there is a case for majority voting when it comes to debt settlements, and we are exploring all that. He is right to emphasise that 15% of low-income countries are already in distress and 45% are at high risk of entering debt distress. Next week, at the Macron summit in Paris, Britain will be driving forward the climate-resilient debt clauses, which our export credit agency, UK Export Finance, was the first to start to put into grants. That will make an enormous difference, and we are pressing for all creditors to offer such clauses in their loans.

Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne (Jarrow) (Lab)
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10. What diplomatic steps he is taking to support the Colombian Government to establish peace in that country.

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (David Rutley)
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We share Colombia’s delight for the rescue of the four children in the Amazon. We commend the efforts of all those who took part in the inspiring search and rescue.

During his visit to Colombia last month, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met President Petro and Foreign Minister Leyva and discussed our ongoing support for the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement in Colombia. Through our conflict, stability and security fund, which has now committed £80 million since 2015, we will continue to support the implementation of the peace agreement and improved stability and security in Colombia.

Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne
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Colombia’s Attorney General Barbosa was appointed under the previous Government, who oversaw numerous human rights scandals, including the killing of protesters by police. Barbosa is now harming President Petro’s “total peace” policy by blocking the lifting of arrest warrants that would enable some leaders to come to the negotiating table. As UN Security Council penholder for the Colombian peace agreement, what technical and financial assistance can the Government provide to ensure that all of Colombia’s institutions are supporting peace?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I have said, we are working very closely together at the highest level. The Foreign Secretary has met President Petro and the Foreign Minister to push the cause for peace, and I was fortunate to attend the UN Security Council in January. We want to continue to tackle the challenges in Colombia, working with our Colombian counterparts, and we have put serious investment into that cause to back up our penholder relationship.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11. What recent steps his Department has taken to secure the release of Jagtar Singh Johal.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We remain committed to doing what we can to assist Mr Johal. We have raised concerns about his case with the Government of India on over 100 occasions, including his allegations of torture and his right to a fair trial. The case was raised most recently by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who is the FCDO’s Minister of State for south Asia, with Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar on 29 May.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week, Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf, met Jagtar’s brother Gurpreet and pledged to do everything he can to bring Jaggi home. The First Minister is raising his concerns with the UK and Indian Governments, and the Scottish Government stand ready and eager to work with the FCDO to bring about Jagtar’s safe release. What engagement has the FCDO had with the Scottish Government on this, and will the Minister pledge to work with Scottish Government colleagues to bring Jagtar home to Scotland safely and soon?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for demonstrating the Scottish National party’s support for the work the UK Government continue to do in our discussions with the family and when raising this with the Government of India, and we encourage the SNP to continue to have those conversations with us and to support the work we are doing.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Mr Johal is not the only person detained in India who needs the Government’s attention at the moment. Since 2017, a group of human rights defenders known as the BK 16 have been imprisoned. Their only crime has seemingly been to defend the rights and values of some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the country. Father Stan Swamy, aged 84, died in custody with Parkinson’s only a couple of years ago. May I ask what representations the Foreign Office is making on their behalf?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I say, we engage broadly with India on the whole range of human rights matters both to help build capacity and to share expertise in these areas, and where we have concerns, we always raise them directly with the Government of India. Lord Ahmad last raised these human rights issues with the Indian Minister for External Affairs in New Delhi at the end of May.

Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12. What recent steps he has taken to reach a diplomatic agreement with Mauritius on resettlement and sovereignty of the Chagos islands. [R]

James Cleverly Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK and Mauritius have held four rounds of constructive negotiations on the exercise of sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Chagos archipelago. Negotiations are ongoing, so we cannot speculate on the possible outcomes or pre-empt their conclusions.

Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. I would be grateful if he could assure the House that these negotiations are going on in the spirit of the International Court of Justice advisory opinion and the decision of the UN General Assembly in 2019 on the reunification of the Chagos islands with Mauritius. Can he give us some idea of when he expects these negotiations to come to fruition?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not able to give a date or a projected date of when we will conclude these negotiations. We want to ensure that we conclude them successfully. Our shared objective is to ensure the continued effective operation of the joint UK-US defence facility on Diego Garcia, protecting the vital role it plays in both regional and global security.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is absolutely a moral duty for us to allow resettlement of the Chagos island people on the British Indian Ocean Territory, but in those negotiations what discussions have been had with Mauritius with regard to who will be able to resettle the Chagos archipelago? Will it be only Chagos islanders, Mauritians, or even Chinese?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While the negotiations are between the UK and Mauritius, we are very conscious of the Chagossian communities and will keep them in the forefront of our minds throughout this negotiating process. Our primary objective is to ensure the continued effective operation of our defence facility on Diego Garcia.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13. What assessment he has made of the impact of the US Inflation Reduction Act on the UK’s relationship with the US.

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (David Rutley)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The US and UK Governments do more together than any other two Governments in the world. We have a trading relationship worth £280 billion, and last week the Prime Minister was in Washington when he and President Biden signed the Atlantic declaration, a first-of-its-kind economic partnership.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Inflation Reduction Act is attracting investment from the UK to the US, as industry groups across our economy are saying. Does the Minister agree that the refusal to publish an industrial strategy shows there will be no made in Britain plan in response to President Biden’s made in America agenda while this Conservative Government remain in office?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Well, that is an interesting question, to which I say that we have a very clear economic strategy, and the Atlantic declaration is a very important element in strengthening our partnership with the US. The beginning of the negotiations on critical minerals will make sure UK companies are eligible for tax credits under the US Inflation Reduction Act; this is a hugely important and positive step forward.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our allies in the United States, the European Union, Australia and Germany have all entered the global race to reach net zero and create the jobs of the future with massive public investment, but the Government’s Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero described the United States Inflation Reduction Act as “dangerous” and the Chancellor described it as “distortive” and “not the British way.” Does the Foreign Secretary agree with his colleagues in Cabinet or our allies in the United States? It will be interesting to see whether the Foreign Secretary answers.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are working incredibly closely with the United States. They are taking their steps forward; we do not want to get involved with the subsidy race, because the UK had a head start of over a decade on green investment. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, as we have been at similar meetings, we are working incredibly closely with the United States and it is a very strong relationship. In my recent visit to the US we highlighted that there is $1 trillion invested in each of our economies; we are going to move forward from that very strong space.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP)
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14. What recent discussions he has had with his Ukrainian counterpart on the war in Ukraine.

James Cleverly Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had the pleasure of meeting the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv last week. I reassured him that the UK support for Ukraine and its territorial integrity is unwavering. The Ukrainian Government and people can count on our continued support both in their work on the battlefield and diplomatically, and, through the Ukraine recovery conference, our support in the rebuilding of their country once this war is over.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State will know from his many visits and discussions that Iranian drones continue to terrorise the Ukrainian people, not least in the capital city of Kyiv, so it was worrying last week to learn from the US National Security Council that Iran is helping Russia build a drone facility just outside Moscow that could be operational as early as next year. How is the Secretary of State working here in London but also with partners to suffocate that capability as quickly as possible?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. When we first received credible reports of Iranian support to Russia in its drone attacks on Ukraine we investigated them and subsequently sanctioned entities and individuals involved in that. We are aware of the report he mentioned, and that will of course form part of our thinking on what other action we should take. It is important to remember that the action we have taken thus far is not the limit of our work, and we will continue to choke off the financial supply both to Russia itself and those seeking to arm it in that brutal war against the Ukrainian people.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood (Dewsbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

15. What assessment he has made of the impact of sanctions on (a) Russia and (b) Belarus.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sanctions have isolated Russia and Belarus from western financial markets and services, undermining their long-term growth, starving Russia’s military of key western components and technology and restricting Russia’s ability to fight a modern war. The Government remain committed to increasing pressure on Russia and Belarus and have recently introduced further sanctions targeting Putin and Lukashenko’s regimes.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Dewsbury-based Alunet, a supplier of aluminium doors and windows, is being crippled due to unfair competition and sanction circumvention by its Belarus-based former supplier. To help save a £20 million business in my constituency, may I request that my right hon. Friend urgently looks to impose increased tariffs on aluminium products from both Russia and Belarus?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The import of aluminium originating from Belarus and Russia attracts an additional duty already of 35 percentage points, which we brought in last year. The import of iron and steel products and of some articles of aluminium from Russia is prohibited. The import of iron and steel products from Belarus is also prohibited. Of course, we keep our sanctions under review, as the Foreign Secretary has said. Indeed, following feedback from my hon. Friend and others, on 20 April, we expanded the list of products covered by the import prohibitions on Russian iron and steel. I am happy to discuss with my hon. Friend and his business what more we can think about doing, working with our colleagues at the Department for Business and Trade.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last year, the Russian Government introduced a new law that requires all businesses, including foreign businesses that have any footprint in the Russian Federation, to assist in the war in Ukraine. That means that any British businesses that are still doing business in Russia are complicit in the war crimes that Russia is perpetrating against the Ukrainian people. Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that all British businesses should completely and utterly desist from business in Russia immediately?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the extraordinary things we saw only last year when the war broke out was the positive attitude of British businesses and their willingness to take financial pain immediately. They pulled themselves away, not only where we imposed sanctions and prohibitions but beyond that, from Russian markets and activity. We continue to work with businesses, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and we will continue enforcement using the tools that we have. We work closely with our business sector, as does the Department for Business and Trade on trading questions, to ensure that that is understood. However, I have always found British businesses to be incredibly positive in stepping beyond what is asked of them in support of Ukraine.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood (Dewsbury) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

James Cleverly Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Since the last oral questions, we have concluded our successful evacuation operation in Sudan and of course continued to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom. Ministers from the Department have travelled extensively around the world, including my right hon. Friend the Development Minister, who overnight returned from the G20 in India. I visited Latin America and the Caribbean. I have recently returned from meetings at NATO and visited British servicemen and women stationed in Estonia. I have also recently chaired the Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the OECD—the first time that the UK has done that in decades.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could my right hon. Friend please provide an update on the current political situation in Pakistan?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Pakistan remains a close and important partner. We have a strong bilateral relationship. When we see political instability and sporadic escalations of violence, it is concerning. We continue to work both directly at political level and through our high commission in the country to seek to de-escalate the tension to ensure that future elections are not marred by the violence that, unfortunately, we have seen recently.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On several occasions, Labour colleagues and I have raised our concerns about the safety of Hongkongers here in the UK. There is still a significant fear felt by the Hong Kong community and a sense that the Chinese Government can act with relative impunity here in the UK. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to the House today to work with colleagues across Government to look at this urgently, as he promised me last year?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security conducted a review of the so-called Chinese police stations in the UK. My Department has engaged with the Chinese Government to ensure that those so-called police stations no longer operate. We released a statement on that last week. The security and safety of people here in the UK remains a Government top priority. We will continue to ensure freedom of speech across this country and the protection of individuals.

Adam Holloway Portrait Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T3. Could the Minister give us an update on the Government’s approach to the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We continue to work to prevent Afghanistan becoming a future source of terrorist threats here in the UK. We work with our international partners to limit the flow of illegal drugs and illegal migration. We continue to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance and to work to ensure that our target—that 50% of the beneficiaries are women and girls—is reached. We are on track to reach that, despite the attempt by the Taliban to prevent women and girls from receiving the international support they deserve.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. May I refer the Foreign Secretary to column 289 of the Official Report on 24 May, when I asked the Prime Minister to publish the list of the 1,700 veterinary medicines that will no longer be available in Northern Ireland? He told us all to “take heart” that the extension of the grace period would work that out. However, in correspondence, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has said that the EU has told it that veterinary medicines are not up for discussion with the EU. What heart can we take from that?

Leo Docherty Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Leo Docherty)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think this is an issue for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I will look at the issue and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let us now come to Sir Conor Burns—congratulations.

Conor Burns Portrait Sir Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6. Thank you, Mr Speaker. The casual homophobia that is still, sadly, too prevalent in our society here in the United Kingdom is put into stark contrast when one considers that 67 countries around the world still criminalise private consensual sexual activities between same-sex couples. Thirty-two of them are Commonwealth countries and, of the 67 countries, 11 still have the death penalty for sexual acts between same-sex couples on their statue books. This has been brought into focus by the appalling and barbaric legislation brought forward recently in Uganda. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Government’s language on this issue and urge him to put this—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I have to say this is topical questions and I have to get everybody else in. It is a very important question and I am sure the Minister has got it.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his honour? The UK is appalled by Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, in particular the introduction of the death penalty for so-called aggressive homosexuality. We have expressed our strong opposition to the legislation, at all levels, with the Government of Uganda. The criminalisation of LGBT+ persons threatens minority rights, and risks persecution and discrimination of all people across Uganda.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. Has the Foreign Secretary seen the report in the i newspaper today that a Ukrainian businessman suspected by the FBI of being a Russian FSB asset is living in London and used the Homes for Ukraine scheme to bring his family over to join him? Will there be an official response to that investigation?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have not had a chance to see the detail of the report the hon. Member refers to. I will ensure that my Department looks at that. Whether it is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office or the Home Office, we will investigate that.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome that the UK has been a long-standing champion of the sustainable development goals, so may I ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to commit to publishing another voluntary national review of our progress towards the SDGs, and will he attend the UN high level political forum on SDGs next month?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On my hon. Friend’s last point, I think at least two Ministers will be at that forum to represent our country. She asked about the domestic analysis of the SDGs. There was a voluntary national review in 2019, conducted by our former colleague Rory Stewart. He said that it was a work in progress and we are doing quite well. On the wider SDG point, I hope that the whole House will engage with the White Paper, which can help to inject British leadership to drive it forward.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T5. I recently met a Hongkonger living in Scotland, who told me at first hand about the oppressive surveillance that his community is under by the Chinese state police. He said that, no matter where they are in the world, they are subject to Chinese law. What steps is the FCDO taking to work with the Home Office to provide reassurance to that community, so they can report instances of suppression and oppression directly to UK Government?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said in response to a similar question, we work closely with the Home Office. The Security Minister has conducted a review on this issue, and I have made it very clear to the Chinese Government that any such activities are completely unacceptable in the UK. They have committed that they will not continue.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In its 2030 road map for Israel-UK bilateral relations, the Government committed to working closely with Israel on the threat from Iran. I urge the Secretary of State to do that. Will that include proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have spoken regularly about the process by which proscriptions are made. We do not routinely speculate on future proscriptions. Our relationship with Israel is key. I met the Israeli Foreign Minister and signed a UK-Israeli bilateral road map on 21 March. We continue to hold their safety and security as a priority in our bilateral relationship.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am disappointed. I am sure that next time, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) will put on a tie.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T7. I have a sore neck and shoulder, Mr Speaker, so I have difficulty tying one. The Government rightly acknowledge that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal. When it comes to trade, instead of allowing settlers to benefit from selling goods and products from land that is not theirs, is it not time to make trade with settlers illegal as well?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK’s position on settlements is of long standing. We continue to call on the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to work towards a sustainable two-state solution. We will always endeavour to make that a reality. That remains the foundation stone of the UK’s foreign policy in the region.

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is now six months since the illegal blockade of the Lachin corridor—the vital lifeline between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Since then, the Azerbaijan President has made increasingly bellicose threats towards Armenian people. Can the Under-Secretary of State, who recently returned from Armenia, update us on what we are doing to bring pressure to end that humanitarian disaster?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We support the Euro-Atlantic efforts to bring the two sides together. We have urged our interlocutors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to get back around the table. I look forward to updating my hon. Friend in person.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T8. Following the elections in Türkiye, OSCE observers said that the lack of a level playing field gave an unjustified advantage to Erdoğan. When I was in Turkey, I saw intimidation at the ballot boxes, ballot irregularities and heard of particular security forces targeting the Kurds. Turkey is a key ally. Its beautiful people deserve a functioning democracy. So what steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to raise these issues with our ally, and to ensure that Kurds do not have intimidation in Turkey, here or in Sweden, where they are being used as a bargaining chip for NATO membership?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our bilateral relationship with Türkiye is important. It is a NATO ally and is heavily involved in the facilitation of the Black sea grain initiative, which is helping to feed starving people around the world. I note the hon. Gentleman’s points about the election, which we will look into, but ultimately it is in our bilateral and indeed regional interests to maintain a strong working relationship with Türkiye, and that will continue to be the case.

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Education can make a real difference to the empowerment of women and girls, and a positive difference to communities—something highlighted in a recent impact report from Five Talents, which focuses on setting up savings groups to help communities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those types of groups can play a vital role in strengthening the resilience of communities in a sustainable way?

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T9. Every year, 430 million tonnes of plastic are generated. Thankfully, many of the world’s Governments have committed themselves to creating a global plastics treaty, which could cut production by a huge 80% by 2040. The timeline for that treaty is short. What are the UK Government doing to encourage the big plastic polluters to sign up and meaningfully enact its provisions?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady raises an extremely important matter. She may rest assured that the Government are fully engaged, through multilateral channels, in driving that forward.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In early June, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unveiled Iran’s first hypersonic Mach-15 missile, which was widely celebrated in Tehran. What has my right hon. Friend done to challenge the dangerous and continued militarisation in Iran?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We continue to work closely with our international colleagues, particularly the members of the E3, the United States of America and our partners in the region, to dissuade Iran from its increasingly militaristic presence. We continue to maintain our policy that it should never be a nuclear-weapons state, and we also keep a close eye on other weapons technology development.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Windsor framework is a welcome settlement but may I seek an assurance from the Government that they will work closely with the Northern Ireland business community over the detailed operational guidance, such as with the red and green lanes?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to report that we have issued guidance. We will continue to work with businesses as the green lane rolls out between September this year and September next.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am proud to represent many Pakistani-British dual nationals in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, who are rightly concerned about the human rights violations that are taking place, as well as the threats they fear they will face if they return to see family members in Pakistan. What is the Foreign Office doing to ensure those dual nationals will be protected and prevented from ever being detained?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I say, we have a strong bilateral relationship with Pakistan. We have access at the most senior levels within Government, and we make it absolutely clear that those British nationals are always at the forefront of our minds. Their protection and security is always a priority for the UK Government. That is universally the case, but that is also something that we make clear to our Pakistani friends.

Wayne David Portrait Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are all concerned about Russian attempts to destabilise the western Balkans, but does the Secretary of State agree that what is required now is maximum co-ordination and co-operation between ourselves, the United States and the European Union?

Leo Docherty Portrait Leo Docherty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are urging Kosovo and Serbia to de-escalate and return to dialogue, and I am sure the Foreign Secretary will make that point when he sees the Serbian Prime Minister later today.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The blowing of the Nova Kakhovka dam is the biggest act of ecocide in generations. For the record, will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary confirm again that the UK will leave no stone unturned in holding the Russian regime to account for the damage that has been caused by their war?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is right about the huge environmental damage that has been caused by the breaking of the dam. Although I am sure Members are already conscious of this, it is worth reminding the House that incidents such as this and the damage to other civilian infrastructure across Ukraine is happening only because of Russia’s war and its illegitimate invasion of Ukraine. The best thing that Russia can do to protect the environment and civilian infrastructure, and to end the loss of life, is to withdraw its troops immediately.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UN high seas treaty is a landmark for conservation. Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that the Government will look to adopt and ratify it as quickly as possible?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unless I am advised otherwise, the answer is an emphatic yes.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What assessment and representations have the Government made on the decision by the Arab League to readmit the Assad regime of Syria back into the organisation?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had conversations with my interlocutors, the members of the Arab League, prior to that decision. I expressed the UK’s concerns about the speed with which that happened. We continue to liaise closely with them on the issue. The UK’s position on Syria has not changed.

Nia Griffith Portrait Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Consistency in applying sanctions across Government is crucial to maximise the impact on Russia, and the Secretary of State’s leadership in this respect is vital. Is he aware that the Home Office is considering requisitioning a hotel whose multiple shareholders include those who have invested from an address in Russia? Will he raise this matter with Home Office Ministers, to ensure taxpayers’ money will not be used to pay dividends to Russia?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That question would probably be aimed more accurately at the Home Office, but I will of course raise it with colleagues across Government.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week’s revelation from Canada’s national security adviser that the republic of India was among the most active sources of foreign interference in that country—along with China, Russia and Iran—is deeply concerning. Does the Minister know whether the Department has taken soundings from our treaty ally and fellow Five Eyes member regarding India’s activities abroad, particularly its surveillance of not only Sikh activists but Members of this House in relation to the ongoing detention of my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have met his constituent’s family, and we continue to raise this case with the Indian authorities. I regularly meet my Canadian counterpart, who has not raised directly with me the specific concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last year seven-year-old Ibrahim was abducted by his estranged father from a school in my constituency. His mother is naturally distraught. Will the Foreign Secretary, or another Minister, meet me to discuss this matter and help to move things forward? Ibrahim was taken to Saudi Arabia.

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman has access to either a Minister or the most appropriate officials in the consular department.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is nearly seven years since the people of Glasgow North voted by 78% to remain in the European Union. Can the Foreign Secretary give just one example from that whole period of our United Kingdom’s diplomatic or international reputation being enhanced as a result of Brexit?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I am sure you will tell me off, Mr Speaker, because I have more than one such example and I know that time is short, but I will keep talking until you do tell me off. Our ability to move quickly in respect of vaccines—[Interruption.] SNP Members may not like it, but nevertheless our ability to move quickly at that time meant that we were one of the first countries in the world to come out of lockdown. Our ability—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I think we have got the gist.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Is it relevant to the questions session?

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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Yes, Mr Speaker. You will know that the issue of the Windsor framework falls within the remit of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. It is a joke to be told by an FCDO Minister that he will take this matter up with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because DEFRA has no role in negotiating veterinary medicines. How can I obtain an answer to the question that I posed today, Mr Speaker?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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The Foreign Secretary is raring to go.

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, we will inevitably liaise closely with those in DEFRA on the practicalities of this, because they are the experts on the subject matter. However, ownership of the policy does lie with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We will continue to negotiate with the European Union on all files where there are still outstanding issues, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that this will be one of the matters I will raise during my imminent conversations with Maroš Šefčovič.

Mortgage Market

Tuesday 13th June 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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12:38
Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of developments in the mortgage market in recent days.

Andrew Griffith Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrew Griffith)
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The Government recognise the anxiety that people feel about mortgages, and are using the tools at their disposal to limit the rise in rates. We are not an outlier in this regard: as Opposition Members will know, central banks around the world are raising interest rates to combat high inflation driven by the pandemic and Putin's war.

Given that inflation is the No. 1 enemy, we are focused on delivering the Prime Minister’s pledge to halve it this year. Nevertheless, I know that mortgage rates and the availability of mortgages are a concern right now. Mortgage arrears and repossessions remain below pre-pandemic levels, but if a borrower falls into financial difficulty, guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority requires firms to offer tailored support and to deal with customers fairly. The Government also offer loans to help eligible homeowners to cover the interest on their mortgages through the support for mortgage interest scheme from the Department for Work and Pensions, and make it clear that repossession must be a last resort for lenders through the pre-action protocol.

As long as economic challenges exist, we will continue to stand by families. To date, Government support to help households with rising bills in 2022-23 and 2023-24 totals £94 billion. That is equivalent to an average of £3,300 per household, as well as a record 9.7% increase in the national living wage, which I am sure that the Opposition support. While we are taking action to halve inflation and help families, the Opposition would make it all worse. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has been clear that Labour’s £28 billion a year borrowing plan would risk even higher interest rates and higher inflation, and even the shadow Chancellor has admitted that its position is reckless. This is a Government on the side of the British people and that is why, as we shelter people from rising prices, our task remains getting inflation down and getting the economy growing and debt falling.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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The UK’s homeowners are under increasing financial stress, with two-year fixed rates at 5.86%—up by over 0.5% in just a month—products being withdrawn, and the Resolution Foundation saying that the average mortgage holder is facing an increase in payments of £2,300 this year. This is not just about homeowners; it is about renters too, because the landlords they rent from are also facing increased borrowing costs and that in turn is forcing up rents.

All this pressure was multiplied by the irresponsible decision of the Conservative Government last year to use the country for a giant economic experiment that put booster rockets under mortgage rates. While they enacted their teenage right-wing pamphlet fantasies, using the country like lab rats, homeowners and renters were left to pay the price. Since then, because inflation in the UK has been higher for longer than in many similar economies, the expectation is that interest rates will be higher for longer too, and that is what is driving up mortgage rates and piling on the pressure.

While the Ministers responsible rack up speaking fees around the world, the British public are still paying the price for the economic irresponsibility and recklessness of the Conservative party. Will the Economic Secretary now apologise for the Conservative mini-Budget last September and the lasting effect it has had on homeowners and renters around the country? Will the Government take responsibility for the decisions that they made and the consequences that followed, or is it, as they always claim, someone else’s fault? Now, instead of trying to help hard-pressed homeowners, the Conservatives are fighting like rats in a sack over an honours list and a disgraced Prime Minister. It is clear that they cannot focus on the problems of the country; the only way to do that is to change the Government and let them fight it out in opposition.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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We enjoy, as ever, the hon. Member’s rhetoric, but he did not address what his plan would be. He also did not acknowledge that this has an international factor. Perhaps he or one of his colleagues would like to explain why we have seen similar interest rate increases in the USA, where the 30-year rate—the market is somewhat different there—has increased from 4% at the start of 2022 to more than 6% today.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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In fairness, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) is right honourable. But there we are. I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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The Government have given the Bank of England the task of targeting inflation at 2%, and our Committee has regularly held the Bank of England Governor’s feet to the fire over its performance on that inflation target. Mortgage rates have been increasing because inflation has been higher for longer than expected. In fact, the Governor said in his evidence to our Committee last November that from now on, our grumpy constituents who are having to pay higher mortgage rates should complain to him rather than to the Government. Will the Economic Secretary endorse the Treasury Committee’s campaign to ask the banks why, instead of just raising mortgage rates on the day the Bank of England raises rates, they do not also increase the savings rates that are paid to our constituents?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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The independent Governor of the Bank of England is, of course, right. Today we have seen strong print on wage growth, in part due to the 9.7% increase in the national living wage, on which I hope Members will join me in congratulating the Government. My hon. Friend is, as ever, right to highlight the impact on savers. It is important to me and to this Government that savers get a fair deal, which is one of the reasons why National Savings and Investments continues to offer savers an attractive range of products in the market.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP)
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Millions of households are now struggling as their fixed-rate mortgages end and they are moved to much higher variable rates. We also know that only a third of the households that are expected to move from cheap fixed-rate deals have done so, so there is a great deal of pain to go, with 116,000 households a month coming off fixed-rate deals.

Some in the City are suggesting that what we are seeing is a complete reset of the mortgage market, which would imply that there should be a complete reset of the Government’s approach. Given that changes to mortgage rates are driven by changes to the base rate, and that the base rate is the central bank’s primary tool to meet the 2% inflation target handed to it by the Government, what discussions have the Government had with the Governor of the central bank about the effectiveness, or the appropriateness, of an inflation target being the primary target that the central bank works towards?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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At his spring statement, the Chancellor was very clear about the Bank of England’s continued remit, beyond which it remains operationally independent. It has been a long-standing feature of this House that Treasury Ministers do not tell the Bank of England how to run monetary policy. Three of the Prime Minister’s five priorities are getting the economy growing, reducing debt and halving inflation.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I congratulate the now Sir Simon Clarke.

Simon Clarke Portrait Sir Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con)
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That is very kind, Mr Speaker.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) for the previous question, which was extremely interesting and perceptive. Of course, it should escape nobody’s attention that, today, gilt yields are higher than they were when my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) was forced from office in the autumn. I agree entirely with the Minister that it is important to avoid the inflaming of inflation that the Opposition would do, but does he also agree that ultra-low interest rates cannot be seen as the sole benchmark of economic success and that we ought to aspire to higher trend growth as much as low interest rates?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend, who is right that a stable fiscal environment and the lowest possible interest rates are two ingredients and prerequisites for success, but so, too, is a supply-side economy that works to support growth and having the most competitive fiscal environment, which is one reason why the Chancellor has asked the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to look at public sector productivity, with a view to achieving that.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
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To hear the Minister talk about a stable economic environment after the disaster of the mini-Budget and the catastrophe it caused in the bond markets takes some cheek. I commend his cheek, because it is unbelievably cheeky.

Does the Minister acknowledge that households have shelled out over £1 billion in extra mortgage payments since the Government’s disastrous mini-Budget? Does he also realise it is estimated that, in the next two years, £9 billion will have to be shelled out by those with mortgages because of his party’s economic mismanagement? Is he proud of that record?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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It may cause the hon. Lady some distress, but I am enormously proud of the £94 billion the Government have provided to support households in these difficult times. I am proud, too, of the Government’s response to the covid pandemic and to Ukraine—would it ill behove any Opposition seeking office to mention those things a little more when talking about the economy? Above all else, I am enormously proud that when any Conservative Government leave office they do not leave notes behind saying, “Dear Chief Secretary, I am afraid to tell you that there is no money left.”

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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Inevitably, the level of Government borrowing itself is a determinant of interest rates, isn’t it?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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My right hon. Friend—I congratulate him as well—is right to say that one factor is the level of Government borrowing. This Government have had to borrow unprecedented amounts due to the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and to provide households with that support of about £3,300 over this year and last. That is one reason why one of our key priorities is to reduce the level of debt.

Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
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The Minister likes to point out, as he has done again, that this is about international factors and covid—there are lots of other reasons given. However, the Government fail to mention the mini-Budget fiasco caused by the previous Chancellor and the former Prime Minister, with its direct consequence of mortgage increases, with millions of people suffering. Why does the Economic Secretary not come clean on this, as the former Prime Minister and former Chancellor, who presided over that chaos, have done? It is not time that he stopped whitewashing and faced the reality of what he and his Government are responsible for, which is causing misery to people’s lives?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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The hon. Lady needs to look at the facts and the numbers. Despite moving in alignment with other international markets—and interest rates have increased over time—interest rates even today for mortgage holders are lower than those reached in October last year. So we are dealing with a macroeconomic international trend, which we are seeing across all western economies. We are moving in alignment with them, but this Government will always prioritise support for households, which is one reason why we have come forward with such significant economic packages in the past two years.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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I would love to be able to pass on some good news to my constituents about their households bills. We are seeing wholesale energy costs fall but they are not being translated to the consumer. So how long after inflation falls will we see interest rates come down?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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My hon. Friend is a diligent champion for his constituents in Bracknell and I am sure it will not be too long before he has good news to talk about on prices that consumers face. We have seen the cost of fuel coming down and as we achieve the Prime Minister’s objective of halving inflation this year, so some of the cost of living pressures that his constituents face will abate. In the meantime, he should know that this Government are on the side of households and we have been willing to support them to the tune of about £3,300 every year. I wish his constituents all the best.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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Interest rates are up and mortgage deals are being pulled left, right and centre, yet the Minister has had to be dragged here to answer this urgent question. Will the Government please refocus on this mortgage crisis, rather than on the latest round of Conservative infighting, and give the public the reassurance they desperately need?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I can give the hon. Lady the reassurance that the wellbeing of the nation’s mortgage holders, savers, pensioners and investors is the whole of my focus, as it is of all of my colleagues on the Treasury Bench. As Members on both side of the House will know, it is a feature of the UK mortgage market that from time to time mortgage deals are withdrawn from the market and repriced. As of now, there are more than 5,000 mortgage offers from different suppliers, at different tenures, in the market. It remains my focus to ensure that those who seek to buy a first home or to remortgage their home have the most competitive offers available.

Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
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One of the biggest challenges facing our country is the inability of young people to afford to buy a home because of inflated house prices. Although recent interest rate rises have compounded the problem, is not the real problem that interest rates were far too low for far too long, turning savers away from saving and into property investment instead, and thus pushing up the price of property as an asset? Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not an easy problem to solve, but that one possible answer would be for local authorities to build homes that can be bought at a reduced rate, not by investors, but by local young people?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I thank my hon. Friend who does a wonderful job of advocacy for her constituents, including those who seek to buy their first home. This Government, through a variety of measures to support householders in general, have helped more than 800,000 people, of all types, to purchase a property since 2010. That represents a city of approximately the size of Liverpool, such is the scale of the endeavours. It is of course important that we get the nation building, and part of that is about providing the economic stability whereby people are willing to make investments for the longer term.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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The Government’s economic mismanagement has caused low growth, soaring food bills and record mortgage costs. Millions of hard-working people are being penalised for getting a foot on the housing ladder, in places such as Mid Bedfordshire, the area with the third highest share of mortgage holders in the country. The Minister mentioned the support from the mortgage interest scheme. [Interruption.] In this time of hard-pressed families, will his Government commit to converting that from a loan to a grant?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I did not hear fully what the Member for Richmond Park aligned with Mid Bedfordshire was saying, but I am sure that residents in Mid Bedfordshire have welcomed the stability that we have brought to the economy and the fact that we have supported householders through the past two difficult years, making tough decisions and supporting households to the tune of about £3,300. They will also have welcomed the fact that we have the sort of responsible stewardship of the economy that means that we are not a Government who have historically left power with unemployment higher than when we arrived, leaving notes saying, “There is no money left.”

Louie French Portrait Mr Louie French (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is correct to highlight that we are facing international challenges and that monetary policy is the responsibility of the independent Bank of England. However, does he agree that Labour’s £90 billion-worth of unfunded spending commitments would make inflation and the cost of borrowing even worse?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for wonderful Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French) for that. I recall that last October Opposition Members were never shy of citing the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but they do so much less today, because the IFS has said that Labour’s £28 billion borrowing plan would cause both interest rates and inflation to rise. I do not see how that would help the nation’s mortgage holders.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
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The value of mortgage arrears has risen by a troubling 10% in the past quarter, so what is the Minister’s assessment of the likely level of arrears in the next quarter?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I talked about the focus on the level of mortgage arrears, which are at an historic level. My Treasury colleagues and I are tracking them extremely closely. We have talked to all the lenders and the Chancellor has brought them all in to ensure that they have responsible policies in place so that repossessions are a last resort.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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Does the Minister agree that although the Opposition like to blame the Government for this situation, the real problem lies with covid and the Bank of England? The Bank kept on putting money into the economy when the world had stopped producing everything, which meant that there was more money and fewer goods, and so inflation was obviously going to rise. Does he also agree that even though we are in this situation where the Bank is trying to do what it is doing and the Government are doing everything they can, continually putting up interest rates puts people in a really difficult position? Does he believe that we should see what the interest rate increases have done so far in the economy before the Bank of England keeps putting them up month on month?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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My hon. Friend speaks wisely and regularly on behalf of his constituents. I will not follow him quite so far as to comment on what the Bank of England should do next.

Just in response to the previous question, Mr Speaker, the level of arrears in residential mortgages, as reported by the FCA, was 0.8% compared with 3.3% back in 2009.

Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake (Ceredigion) (PC)
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The Resolution Foundation has estimated that around 1.6 million households will see their fixed-rate deals come to a conclusion before the first quarter of 2024 and, therefore, will obviously feel the impact of increased rates. What is the Treasury’s assessment of the impact that this hit to households’ disposable incomes will have on the wider economy?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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We all want interest rates to fall as rapidly as possible. The Bank of England needs to conduct its monetary policy against the target that the Chancellor has set. The Government need to do everything we can to try to reduce the level of debt by controlling our spending, even when that creates difficult decisions for us to make. We will do that so that the day when interest rates fall comes more quickly. In the meantime, this Government are trying to shield households from the pressures of the cost of living, which is why we have deployed that £94 billion this year and last.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend see any consistency in the Opposition’s analysis that suggests that the primary cause for interest rate rises is unfunded borrowing, while making significant unfunded borrowing pledges themselves? Will he continue his focus on fiscal discipline and ensure that Government support is targeted at those who need it most in this period of astonishing international instability?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the last thing that the economy needs at the moment is any party coming forward with more unfunded spending cuts. It is why the Institute for Fiscal Studies has raised concerns about an increase in interest rates and inflation if Labour were to come to power and spend an additional £28 billion, which I believe even the shadow Chancellor herself has confessed would be reckless.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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When would the Minister say the Tory party gave up being the party of home ownership? Was it when it crashed the economy last autumn, or was it when it scrapped house building targets?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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The hon. Lady is, I am afraid, completely incorrect. The Conservative party is absolutely on the side of home ownership. It is why we have always supported the right to buy, in the face of opposition not just from the Labour party but from Labour-controlled local councils. It is also why we continue to have a wide range of schemes in the market to help first-time buyers.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab)
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Santander is the latest major bank to temporarily pull its mortgage deals for new borrowers, just days after HSBC did the same. The Minister shrugs his shoulders as if to say that there is nothing to see here, but is it not the truth that this degree of turbulence is not normal, that inflation is significantly worse here than in Europe and the United States, and that ordinary people across the country will look at his denials today and wonder what planet he is living on?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I honestly think that contribution from the hon. Member is unworthy. I would not go so far as to ask her to withdraw it, but if she looks at my comments she will see that I absolutely understand the anxiety that people have about their mortgages. It is a very significant part of people’s household finances. That is why we are using all the tools at our disposal: both providing public spending to protect and shield households at this difficult time, and making the tough decisions to get the economy growing again and to keep debt under control, which is the action that will result in interest rates falling sooner.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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People from Luton have moved into Mid Bedfordshire to get on to the housing ladder or to raise their families. [Interruption.] It is true. Due to this Conservative Government’s economic failure, they are now facing soaring mortgage repayments, and we are even seeing banks withdrawing mortgage deals for new borrowers. How can voters trust the Government and the Conservatives to address the mortgage crisis when they are the ones who caused it?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I am deeply intrigued by the concept that the hon. Lady’s constituents have hitherto been moving to the neighbouring Conservative-held seat of Mid Bedfordshire. Perhaps they recognise the better economic potential—the better opportunity to bring down rates as a result of our making the tough choices. Perhaps they welcome the sheer amount of support that we have provided for homebuyers. I wish her constituents well and hope that those who have moved to Mid Bedfordshire enjoy their next Conservative Member of Parliament.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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The Minister claims that the current economic climate is down to the world economic situation, but in the next breath he claims that if, at some unspecified date in the future, things get better, that would be down to the Government. Over the recent period, mortgage borrowers have contributed an extra £1 billion in interest rates. Over the next couple of years, they are predicted to contribute £9 billion. The previous Prime Minister has apologised for her contribution to that, so why will he not do the same?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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In fairness, it is absolutely the case that these are largely international factors. The job of the Government is to control the variables within their control. The primary thing that they can do is not to come forward with greater unfunded spending promises as that would put more pressure on the public purse and would lead to interest rates and inflation being higher for longer. That is what is within our controllable domain and that is what we are focused on. I am not worried about where the credit accrues or otherwise; what I am worried about is trying to reduce interest rates for ordinary people at the earliest opportunity.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
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The Minister talks about Government support and bandies about some big numbers, but does he understand that the effect of that for people is like taking a watering can to the economic bin fire that his Government set alight? Does the Minister have the humility to apologise right now to my constituents who are struggling? The mortgage rate rises might be the straw that breaks their backs—some are already broken—following as they do on the Government’s endeavours in terms of the mini-Budget and Brexit, which have fuelled this economic crisis.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I thank the hon. Member for his question. It must have been quite hard to get through all those points without once mentioning the fact that this has an international dimension. There is a war on European soil in Ukraine, and we have just come through an unprecedented global pandemic. He simply tries to reduce this to whatever is his party’s particular topic of the day. That is not worthy of him when we are trying to have a proper economic debate.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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The Minister claims to be shielding families. He evidently is not going to say sorry. When everybody in this House is supporting their constituents, we need to know what assessment the Department has made of the number of people actually affected by recent increases in mortgage rates.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Like others, the FCA has talked about the number of people in any one year whose mortgages are repriced. We do not know what the price of those will be. It seems that around 1 million to 1.5 million people are affected, so a significant number, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) mentioned. There are also many savers in society. Rather than looking at what is happening, what we are doing to help is making those difficult decisions. We are not unleashing unfunded, uncosted spending plans on the public purse and we are trying to get through this to help people get to a world where inflation is falling, the cost of living pressures on them are reducing and we can get the economy growing again, which will provide good employment opportunities for her constituents.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP)
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I wrote to the Minister earlier this week about the continuing problem of mortgage prisoners, following a comment from the Treasury that it is open to proportionate solutions for those frozen in that position after their mortgage lenders were sold from 2008. Recent reports state that the Government made a profit of £2.4 billion from selling on those mortgages. Will the Minister work with me, and with advocates for the tens of thousands of people trapped in those precarious financial circumstances, to find those proportionate solutions?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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The hon. Lady raises the plight of those who have been unable to access even the mortgages at elevated levels that we have been talking about here. I understand the problem; it is something I have given significant time to with my officials and I have read the recent work conducted by the London School of Economics. I hope that, in that spirit, she will also recognise that it is a complex issue and that within that overall collective there are many different individual fact patterns. While I am open to finding solutions, I hope she will recognise that it is not easy and there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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The Minister says there are 1,100,000 people affected by the mortgage market chaos inspired by the Truss-Kwarteng abracadabra magic last autumn. How many renters are affected? There is a renting crisis in my constituency and people simply cannot afford an overnight 20% increase in their rent.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I do not have any figures for rental, but the rental market is something we look at closely and we will keep an eye on what happens to those buy-to-let renters. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has brought a significant set of reforms before this House to help renters. I come back to the point that, however popular or unpopular it may be with the Opposition, the best way to manage this situation is to be prudent with the nation’s finances, to get the debt burden falling and to give the markets confidence so that interest rates fall as quickly as possible. I ask all colleagues to work with us on that. The last thing we should be doing is putting out the Opposition’s £28 billion a year of unfunded promises, which will spook the markets and lead to the sorts of rates that none of us wishes to see.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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Shockingly, new data this morning reveals that the value of mortgage arrears has risen by 10% on the quarter—the highest and fastest increase in more than a decade. Many of my constituents are struggling to pay their mortgages. Unfortunately, they are paying the price for the Conservative Government’s economic failures, because a typical household’s mortgage payments are now three times greater than they were just two years ago. What conversations and what meetings have the Minister and the Chancellor had with lenders, and what action will they take to provide forbearance for my constituents?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would write to me with those statistics. The statistics I quoted earlier are that the level of mortgage arrears reported by the Financial Conduct Authority for the period up to the end of 2022 was 0.81%. That is a record low in recent memory, significantly lower than before the pandemic and much lower than it was in 2009. I am very happy to engage with him about the level of mortgage arrears. I engage with mortgage lenders all the time, as does the Chancellor, and we want them to have the right degree of forbearance for families who are struggling.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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This Tory mortgage crisis is affecting my constituents. In London, mortgage costs are set to increase by more than £1.8 billion, people face the financial strain of high interest rates and incomes are not keeping up with those costs. When will the Minister finally get real, understand the impact of the crisis that his Government created and apologise to our constituents? What reassurances can he give to my constituents who will be facing remortgage costs?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I can give a number of assurances to the hon. Lady’s constituents. I imagine that Battersea is a very cosmopolitan place, so as people travel around the world they will understand that western economies across the world are facing exactly the same impact on the cost of living and on interest rates. She talked about £1.8 billion as a very large number; indeed it is, and we share the concern of those with mortgages. However, I put it to her that £94 billion is also a very big number, and that is the amount of household support that we are providing during this cost of living crisis.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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Earlier this year we saw the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse. What assessment has the Treasury undertaken of the general resilience of UK financial institutions, especially in a context where rising mortgage costs might lead to a rapid increase in household repossessions?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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My Treasury colleagues and I liaise closely with the Bank of England and the Prudential Regulation Authority, whose job it is to assure us of the soundness and resilience of banks. The Governor has talked about how the UK financial system is safe, secure and soundly capitalised, and that remains my belief.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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York is a low-wage economy, yet we have extortionate house prices. Last year, housing costs went up by 23.1% in York—the highest rise in the country. My constituents are already mortgaged to the hilt and cannot afford more. What protections will the Minister put in place if mortgage rates rise further, as they are predicted to do? My constituents simply cannot afford their mortgages and they cannot afford this Government.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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If York is a low-wage economy, the hon. Lady’s constituents will be benefiting enormously from the unprecedented 9.7% increase in the national living wage. The measures we are putting—[Interruption.] Perhaps she does not like the 9.7% increase in the national living wage that this Government came forward with. We are putting measures in place with lenders, including forbearance, and working with the Department for Work and Pensions on mortgage interest support and to ensure that families have access to the support they need.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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The typical household’s mortgage payments have risen threefold in the last two years, yet in the north-east the typical wage packet is lower than when the Conservatives came to power 13 years ago. The Minister refuses to take any responsibility for the economic misery his Government are inflicting, despite having flagrantly and blatantly crashed the economy less than a year ago. Will he tell my constituents why they should carry on paying the price of Conservatism?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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Once again, we have a contribution from the hon. Lady that completely ignores the fact of the global pandemic, the £400 billion of support we have provided and, although I believe she is highly literate in these matters, the fact that interest rates are rising across the western world.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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In the first three months of this year, repossessions increased by 27% on the same period last year, and the latest estimates show that 2.5 million customers will need to renegotiate their mortgages over the next two years, with their payments increasing by £9 billion. Is the Minister really telling us that he is satisfied and that he has no reservations about the way that his Government have mismanaged the economy, with the consequent economic turbulence and soaring interest rates that are literally pricing people out of their homes?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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This Government are focused—and this is what our constituents want to hear—on halving inflation, growing the economy and reducing the debt burden. From today forwards, that is the action we can take that will see interest rates falling sooner, reduce inflation and get us back to a position of economic growth. I am sure the hon. Lady wants that for her constituents as much as I do.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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The Conservative party once prided itself on being the party of homeowners. The fact that we long ago ran out of Conservatives asking questions makes it clear that Tory MPs realise they have nothing to say to those people. Does the Minister realise that my constituents who are desperately worried about the cost of their mortgages will not have heard a single word from him to suggest that things are going to get better as a result of this Government’s actions?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I can absolutely reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are focused on his constituents, even if his colleagues find it useful to ask the same question again and again. We are focused on not making the sort of unfunded spending commitments—such as the £28 billion that the right hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) herself described as “reckless”—that would really cause difficulties for mortgage holders in Chesterfield and across the United Kingdom.

Neil Coyle Portrait Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)
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Given the jump in mortgage arrears, and to help everyone who is struggling to pay the Tory surcharge on their mortgages since the disastrous mini-Budget, is the Minister considering increasing access to mortgage interest relief?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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There are no plans to change that. Those are matters for fiscal events and for the Chancellor.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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The Tory mortgage crisis is affecting my constituents in Putney, including a group of young sharers I met this week whose landlord has had his mortgage increased and has passed the costs down to them. They have to leave their home and the area because they can no longer afford to live in south-west London. The Minister has blamed global factors again and again, but the cost of borrowing is higher here in the UK than in other developed economies. Does he agree that this is a Tory mortgage penalty—a Truss tax—and that the Government are to blame for the 13 disastrous years of housing policy that have brought us here?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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I do not agree with the hon. Lady, however fine her rhetoric may be. The reality is that, if we want the nation’s householders to pay less for their mortgages, we need responsible Conservative management of the economy. When it comes to her Putney constituency, the best thing that she can do, if she is on the side of those who wish to own their own home, is urge the Labour Mayor to build more homes.

None Portrait Hon. Members
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He is!

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. [Interruption.] No; do not argue with me.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall
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I am responding to—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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No, you are not. That question is finished. There is a danger that the House might not be able to hear the question from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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There is no danger of that when you are in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I thank the Minister for his answers to some very difficult questions. It has been said that 1.5 million households, including some of my Strangford constituents, are set to come off fixed mortgage deals this year and face a sharp rise in their monthly repayments—up to 1.56 percentage points from Tuesday. Has the Minister made an assessment of the impact on those who are considering buying their first house in the next year or so, and will he assure the House that discussions are taking place with local banks on what we can do to support people through the process of buying their first homes amid shocking price increases?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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Let me be clear: the Government understand—I understand—the anxiety of those who have a mortgage, those who have invested in their home and those who wish to do so. That is why we will do everything we can—be it providing financial support to the tune of £94 billion, or making good decisions about our stewardship of the economy and not coming up with unfunded spending commitments—to ensure that we get back, as quickly as possible, to a world of falling interest rates and falling inflation, and support those who wish to buy a home above their head.

Spiking

1st reading
Tuesday 13th June 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Spiking Bill 2022-23 View all Spiking Bill 2022-23 Debates Read Hansard Text

A Ten Minute Rule Bill is a First Reading of a Private Members Bill, but with the sponsor permitted to make a ten minute speech outlining the reasons for the proposed legislation.

There is little chance of the Bill proceeding further unless there is unanimous consent for the Bill or the Government elects to support the Bill directly.

For more information see: Ten Minute Bills

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
13:24
Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the law in relation to administering or attempting to administer drugs, alcohol or any other substance to a person without their consent, whether or not with the intent to cause harm; and for connected purposes.

The clue to the purpose of the ten-minute rule motion is the word “spiking”, which is known and understood by everyone in this Chamber and the vast majority of people in our country. Spiking has been debated before in this House, most recently on 11 January in a Westminster Hall debate in my name. Many Members here today spoke in that debate. Spiking was also the subject of a Home Affairs Committee report published in April 2022.

Almost 5,000 cases of spiking have been reported to police forces across the country. The fact that the police are not obliged formally to collate data on spiking suggests that this is the visible tip of a largely hidden iceberg. That is why spiking was the subject of my earlier ten-minute rule Bill 18 months ago, why the Select Committee focused on the issue, and why it welcomed Ministers at that time looking closely at creating a separate offence of spiking. The Select Committee recommended—rightly, in my view—the creation of a specific offence that would improve reporting of spiking and the gathering of more information about it.

We all recognise that the current legislation on spiking centres on the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and the Sexual Offences Act 2003. One covers the use of noxious substances, the other sexual gratification. However, both Acts are silent on the word “spiking”, which does not exist formally. Indeed, search engines describe it as an informal term meaning to

“add alcohol or a drug to contaminate (drink or food) surreptitiously”.

That is part of it, but it is not all of it.

Some lawyers may argue that existing law covers all aspects of what we term “spiking”—including even spiking by injection, spiking for fun, and spiking without chemical addition—and that we do not need a new informal term in law, a definition of it, or any bringing together of existing laws in modern language and in one place to inform the nightlife sector, the public, colleges and universities, the police and the public at large. I regret to say that the implied message from the Home Office is, “It is all fine as it is.” Yet it is not fine, which is why I am here, like Oliver Twist, seeking more—or rather, seeking action, which is what colleagues from all parties want to see.

When the police do not have to collect the data but have still recorded 5,000 reported cases; when police and crime commissioners want, and the Select Committee recommends, a definition of and a crime described as “spiking”; and when Government Ministers and MPs themselves have been victims of spiking, I believe that it is time for the Government to react and act.

Let me repeat what colleagues have said on previous occasions. One said:

“I know from my inbox that people of all ages and areas will be very pleased that this is being highlighted as it’s awful, can be embarrassing and is often very grim”.

Another wrote that

“speaking to police they find that most cases are young women with an unexpected response to drinks…I really worry about the fear that our young live under, and wonder whether this is another type of control of women.”

The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), highlighted the problem when she said:

“There is not a specific criminal offence. If a drink is spiked or if an injection takes place, it is rolled into a different criminal offence.”

Those things have all helped to build my understanding of this nightmare experience, which was first drawn to my attention by the experience of my constituent, Maisy Farmer. It is no longer possible for an MP to claim credibly that reports of spiking are unproven. However, it is true that it is not easy for a victim to prove spiking by having a hospital examination of her—or sometimes his—body prioritised to identify the drug, or to provide the identity of a spiker from a crowded nightclub.

That raises two key questions: how should the law change, and what would a change of law achieve? No MP has the responses of Government Departments in advance, so whether it is best to amend existing law or to create a new, defined crime of spiking that covers all contexts is surely for the Government—the Home Office and Ministry of Justice together—to decide.

As to what such a change might achieve, there is a clear opportunity to send a simple message in the language of our times to all those who might think spiking is clever or funny about the criminality of spiking, or attempting to spike, those going out to public or private places.

It is surely a legitimate aim of legislation to consolidate and clarify, using modern language; to nudge behaviour; and to oblige the police to do more than Operation Lester—a temporary project—and to record what is happening accurately over time. Legislation would allow us all in this place to focus on making our constituents’ lives, and nights out, safer, and give our businesses full support in driving down spiking crimes.

The overriding reason for pursuing doggedly the issue of spiking is that we have not done enough and should do more. As the former safeguarding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), said in January:

“We need a holistic response to this crime...We need…legislative change…making sure that police forces can gather data and mount prosecutions using forensic capabilities”—[Official Report, 11 January 2023; Vol. 725, c. 270WH.]

She and many colleagues highlighted, as does the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the lack of a clear criminal offence of spiking.

If the Home Office and Ministry of Justice need further encouragement, I urge them to consider the matter as a violence against woman and girls issue, as it so often is. Policing lead Maggie Blyth said: “If you are spiked, you must come forward. If you have taken illegal drugs, still come forward and report it.” That would be much easier if spiking were a crime. So many of my colleagues and constituents, as well as university groups, student unions, and Dawn Dines of Stamp Out Spiking, have made those points time and again. As the Security Minister said in the previous debate,

“no one wants a gap in the law. No one wants to see crimes going unpunished and no one wants to see victims unable to achieve the level of protection that is absolutely essential.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2023; Vol. 725, c. 282WH.]

That is true and fine, but we need to act, for the thousands of people who have been spiked and those who might still be. The House is here to reflect the concerns of our constituents. We should recognise that spiking exists and should be defined. The law should make all the criminal aspects of spiking clear, in one place. It is quite simply time to stop spiking now.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Richard Graham, Vicky Ford, Sally-Ann Hart, Caroline Nokes, Dame Diana Johnson, Valerie Vaz, Joanna Cherry, Wendy Chamberlain, Jim Shannon and David Mundell present the Bill.

Richard Graham accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 323).