All 24 Parliamentary debates on 9th Nov 2023

Thu 9th Nov 2023
Thu 9th Nov 2023
Thu 9th Nov 2023
Thu 9th Nov 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thursday 9 November 2023
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 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.

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[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Metropolitan Police: Operational Independence

Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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

09:34
Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on the operational independence of the Metropolitan police.

Chris Philp Portrait The Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire (Chris Philp)
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About a month ago, Hamas perpetrated a sickening terrorist attack in Israel, murdering 1,400 innocent people, often in horrific circumstances. About 200 people remain held hostage by Hamas, a terrorist organisation, and I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with those hostages today. We have also seen, in the United Kingdom, thousands of people demonstrating in recent weeks. Thanks to the tireless work of the police, those incidents have largely passed without significant incident. However, a number of arrests, now nearly 200, have been made, where people have committed disorder, racially aggravated crimes or assaults on police officers. It is right that police officers have acted robustly in those cases.

It is also right that the police are operationally independent of government. That is a fundamental principle of British policing, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday. The Metropolitan police asked protesters to postpone their planned protest this weekend, but the request was refused. The Prime Minister met the commissioner yesterday to seek reassurances that remembrance events will be protected. Of course, remembrance events play a special part in this nation’s long and proud history, and it would be a grave insult if they were to be disrupted in any way. It is for the Metropolitan police to decide whether to apply to the Home Secretary to ban any march. As of this morning, no such application has been received, but the Home Secretary will, of course, carefully consider one should it be made. I reiterate that the police retain the confidence of the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and myself in using all the powers available to them, under terrorism legislation and public order legislation, to prevent criminality and disorder, and hate speech.

Let me say to the House that I have been contacted this morning repeatedly by members of the Jewish community who are deeply apprehensive about what this weekend may bring, and I want to put on record that we expect the police to protect those members of communities in London, including the Jewish community, who are feeling vulnerable this weekend. There are comprehensive powers in place to do that. Hate has no place on London’s streets and we expect the police to ensure that the laws are upheld. There are powers in place to deal with people spreading hate or deliberately raising tensions through harassment and abusive behaviour. The police can impose conditions on marches, as indeed they have done to prevent pro-Palestine protesters from approaching the Israeli embassy, to give one example. The police have also used section 60AA conditions to require people to remove face coverings, but the use of those powers is, of course, an operational matter for the Metropolitan Police Service.

This weekend should first and foremost be about remembering those who gave their lives in defence of this country. Any disruption to remembrance services would be completely unacceptable and an insult to their memory. I have confidence that the Metropolitan police and other police forces will ensure that this weekend passes off peacefully and without disruption.

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
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Where is the Home Secretary? She has sent the Policing Minister here to refuse to repeat her words. We have seen her words this morning; she has been attempting to rip up the operational independence of the police, attacking their impartiality in the crudest and most partisan of ways, deliberately undermining respect for the police at a sensitive time, when they have an important job to do, and deliberately seeking to create division around remembrance, which the Policing Minister rightly said should be a time for communities to come together and to pay our respects. She is deliberately inflaming community tensions in the most dangerous of ways. She is encouraging extremists on all sides, attacking the police when she should be backing them. It is highly irresponsible and dangerous, and no other Home Secretary would ever have done this.

Remembrance events are really important to all of us. Those events need to be protected. That is the job of the police: to enforce and respect the law, while maintaining public safety, tackling hate crime and extremism and respecting rights in law to peaceful protest. They have to follow the law and the evidence, whatever politicians think, not be the operational arm of the Home Secretary, because whether she likes it or not, that is the British tradition of policing and I, for one, am proud of it.

We know what she is up to—claiming homelessness is a lifestyle choice, picking fights with the police to get headlines—but the job of the Home Secretary is to keep the public safe, not run an endless Tory leadership campaign. Cabinet colleagues refuse to agree with her and former police chiefs are lining up to condemn her, so I have two questions: does this Government still believe in the operational independence of the police and how can they do so while this Home Secretary is in post? And did the Prime Minister and No. 10 agree to the content of the article? Either the Prime Minister has endorsed this or he is too weak to sack her. If he cannot get a grip on her conduct, it means he has given up on serious government, and he and the Home Secretary should both let someone else do the job.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank the shadow Home Secretary for her questions, as always. She asked about where the Home Secretary is. It may have been wise to ask that privately rather than publicly, but she is with a close family member who is having a hospital operation this morning. I have the Home Secretary’s permission to say that to the House in the event that somebody raised it, as the shadow Home Secretary has done, so I am passing that message on to the House.

As we consider this topic, the House should keep in mind the fact that many of our fellow citizens are feeling deeply uneasy about what is going on in the middle east and the domestic repercussions. We have seen a spike in Islamophobic offences—there have been 21 arrests in the last four weeks for Islamophobic offences. We have seen a surge in antisemitic offences—there have been 98 arrests for antisemitic offences in the last four weeks.

I have been contacted this morning by members of the Jewish community who are deeply uneasy about what this weekend will bring. I do not think it is acceptable that our fellow citizens feel scared or uneasy walking about the streets of London. It is reasonable for politicians—the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and others, including, I am sure, some on the Opposition Benches as well—to raise those concerns and make sure that the police are protecting those communities. It is not acceptable to have fear and hatred on our streets. Let that message go out from this House today.

In relation to the question about operational independence, yes, of course the Government resolutely back operational independence, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, after his meeting with the commissioner at No. 10. But the Prime Minister also said after that meeting that he would hold the commissioner to account, as politicians are supposed to do—police and crime commissioners, including the Mayor of London, as London’s PPC, do that, and so do we, as Members of Parliament. That is perfectly proper and perfectly right.

In terms of the approval process with No. 10, I am afraid I do not have any visibility on that at all, but let us keep in mind that we are seeing a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza, there are 200 people being held hostage, some 1,400 people were slaughtered by terrorists and members of our own community are feeling scared this weekend. Let us keep that at the front of our minds, not party political point scoring.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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Of course there is a principle of operational police independence, but I am concerned that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner keeps saying he has no powers to stop the march or arrest people in these marches. He certainly has powers under sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and under sections 1, 12 and 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the commissioner’s predecessors certainly felt that they had the power to ban marches by the English Defence League in 2011 and 2012 under the same legislation that we are talking about now? Does he also agree that the Home Secretary has a power under section 40 of the Police Act 1996? That says that where the Home Secretary feels that the police are failing to exercise their discretion reasonably, she can demand special measures to take action herself.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. His knowledge of the law in this area, as in all areas, is immaculate. The commissioner does have powers under—I think—section I3 of the Public Order Act 1986 to ban marches in certain circumstances. As my right hon. and learned Friend says, it was last used about 11 years ago, so it is quite a rarely used power. It applies when the police think that they are unable to deal with disorder that may break out. That is quite a high threshold. The Metropolitan police have so far not made a request to the Home Secretary under that section, but, if they do so, it will be considered very carefully indeed.

As my right hon. and learned Friend said, the police have a wide range of powers that they have been exercising under anti-terrorism legislation. That legislation makes it an offence to glorify, promote and incite association with proscribed organisations, which of course includes Hamas. Section 18—I think—of the Public Order Act makes it an offence to use threats to incite racial hatred. There is a wide range of offences and they are being used. So far during these protests, 188 people have been arrested for hate crimes in relation to glorifying Hamas, inciting violence, and apparently praising the appalling terrorist atrocities that were committed, and we expect that wide-range of powers to continue to be used.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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Let me make it clear that the evils of antisemitism and Islamophobia should be condemned wherever we find them.

More than 2.5 million Muslims fought for the British Empire in world war two to assert freedom, liberty and an end to fascism in Europe, using war to end all wars and promote peace through armistice. The protest for peace is far from the Cenotaph and starts later that day. The grandson of Winston Churchill, Nicholas Soames, has defended the right of people to march. Does the Minister agree with him? Does he empathise with the contributions of Muslims for peace, then and now?

Armistice Day has turned into Armistice Weekend, and a lot of discussion is focused on the Palestinian ceasefire march, when the police are more concerned about counter-protests from the far right, such as the English Defence League, and football hooligans, such as Football Lads Alliance. Will the Government also be looking to cancel the 10 premier league games scheduled this weekend, or the Lord Mayor’s parade that overlaps the two-minute silence?

Finally, the former Met assistant commissioner said this morning that this is

“the end of operational independence in policing”

after the Government sought to pressure and exert control to ban Saturday’s peace march, saying that they are on the verge of behaving unconstitutionally. Does that not mean that the Home Secretary is unfit for office and should be sacked?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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As I have said very clearly, I do not agree with the suggestion that operational independence is in any way compromised. The Prime Minister made that clear following his meeting with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner yesterday. None the less, I think that politicians on both sides of the House—both Members of Parliament and police and crime commissioners—are entitled to comment on matters of public policy and public order, as they have done over recent years. I do not think that offering comments undermines operational independence, which, as has been quite rightly said, is a sacrosanct principle of our system.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned sentiment in the Muslim community in the United Kingdom. I am sure that, like me, he has met the community in his constituency. We understand, I am sure, that there is huge concern, not just in the Muslim community, but beyond, about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That is why this Government are providing additional aid. That is why they are calling for a humanitarian pause to allow aid to get in. That is why our Prime Minister has worked closely with others, including President Sisi of Egypt, to make sure the Rafah border crossing is open to allow aid in and certain citizens out. It is why our Prime Minister has renewed his public commitment to a durable, two-state solution. Those voices for peace are heard as well.

Let me repeat what I said at the start: operational independence of policing is a sacrosanct principle and this Government will not interfere with it.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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I know that the police are in a really difficult position, and that their powers to ban marches are constrained by law, but I have to say that I am deeply troubled by this march on Saturday. In all the many years that I have known the Jewish community, and in representing them in Chipping Barnet for 18 years, I have never known such fear and anxiety as I have seen over the past few weeks. Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely right that Members of this House and Ministers hold the police to account to insist that they deploy the full force of the law against any offences of hate crime and antisemitism at these protests?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My right hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner for the Jewish community in Barnet and beyond. We of course expect the police to protect the Jewish community across London and across the whole country at a time when they feel deeply uneasy. In fact, describing the sentiment that the Jewish community are feeling as unease understates it; as I said earlier, I have received messages this morning from members of the Jewish community expressing fear about this weekend, and I will raise those fears with senior police officers later today to ensure that the Met are aware of them, and are policing that appropriately. There is no excuse for harassment. There is no excuse for inciting racial hatred. That has no place in a civilised country such as this one, and we will not let it happen.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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The Home Affairs Committee has spent many months scrutinising policing for a report that is due to be published tomorrow. That scrutiny has included the principles of policing by consent and the operational independence of the police, free from political interference, in upholding the rule of law, as set down by Parliament on protests and other matters. Alongside that, the Committee has been briefed on the policing of protests and will be looking to do more shortly. However, given the comments from the Home Secretary, the principles of operational independence of policing dating back to 1285, and the policing protocol, which the Home Secretary agreed in June this year, can the Minister confirm that if there is to be any discussion of these long-standing policy principles of policing, Parliament is the place to do it, possibly including the use of a royal commission? We should certainly not have these matters debated on the front page of newspapers at a time that is very challenging for communities in this nation.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank the right hon. Lady for the work of her Committee. I look forward to reading her report greatly. I will give it close attention, as I always do. Scrutiny of action by the police, or indeed any other public body, is not the same as interference. Scrutiny is healthy and appropriate; interference is a different thing entirely. There is a distinction between scrutiny and interference. The operational independence principle is not one that we plan to revisit, but we look forward to discussing these questions, both with the right hon. Lady’s Committee and in this House.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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On this Home Secretary’s watch, every day 6,000 crimes across England and Wales go unsolved, so does she trust the police to do their job or not? If the purpose of her article was to say that she knows better than the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, she should say so—and she should say so here in this Chamber. If not, what possible motive could she have for seeking to undermine public confidence in the police in this way?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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We do have confidence in the police, but it is perfectly reasonable to scrutinise the police and hold them to account for their actions, as police and crime commissioners do every day, and as Members of this House do every day as well. In terms of confidence in policing more widely, according to the crime survey for England and Wales, on a like-for-like basis crime is now 54% lower than it was under the last Labour Government.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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This morning, a former chief constable of Durham warned that the storm being whipped up by the Home Secretary is diverting resources away from a very serious threat that might arise. Does the Minister not understand that the Home Secretary’s incendiary and inflammatory comments ahead of what will be a really complex and sensitive policing operation for the Met this weekend is making their job even harder? Is this not a deeply irresponsible way for a Home Secretary to behave?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I do not accept the hon. Lady’s characterisation. The Home Secretary and other politicians on both sides of the House are perfectly entitled to hold policing to account, but of course this Government, as the Prime Minister said, accept—indeed, embrace—the principle of operational independence.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)
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We all know that many people will be on the march on Saturday. The organisers and participants have told me that they will be participating in ceremonies of remembrance and that their march has been organised in such a way that it will not impact on that. The truth is that the Government are attempting to draw the police into taking political sides in a very contentious matter in the country. There are millions of people who want a ceasefire. We are on a dangerous slippery slope, because the operational independence of the police to protect the right of assembly —the basic English right of liberty—is being challenged by the Home Secretary. She is not fit to hold that post, is she?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I do not accept that characterisation. I am sure all of us—[Interruption.] Excuse me, Mr Speaker; I have a bit of a cold this morning. We all accept the right to protest, which, as the hon. Gentleman says, long predates the European convention on human rights. There are limits to that right concerning public order, incitement to racial hatred and so on, and it is for the police to police those laws, but it is reasonable for politicians to hold them to account for doing that, as many politicians on both sides quite rightly do.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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The fact that only two Conservative MPs have turned up to defend the Home Secretary shows that she has already lost the support of the House. The Minister is absolutely right when he says that there is no place for hate on our streets, but is not the truth of the matter that there is no place for hate in the Home Office either, and the problem with the present Home Secretary is that she is the person inciting hatred in this country? The Minister is right that it is perfectly fair for us to have scrutiny of the police, but that normally comes after an operational event, not before it. Is it not the case that this Home Secretary is really trying to command the police, which breaches every single understanding we have historically had of the operational independence of the police?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am slightly concerned that the hon. Gentleman said that there are only two Conservative Members in the House, when it is clear there are a great deal more than that—[Interruption.] Given his—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I do not want to get into a tizzy about counts. I will help with a little clarification: there are more Conservative Members here, but only two have spoken. I think that was the point.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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That was not quite how it came across from the hon. Gentleman’s comment, but I will move on—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. We all have a judgment, and I have made mine.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Which of course I accept without hesitation or reservation, as I always do.

I agree that hatred has no place on our streets and I have said that repeatedly, but this is an unfolding event. The hon. Gentleman talked about what happens after the event, but these protests have been going on for four weeks now. The Home Secretary was not commenting entirely before the events; she was also commenting after events that have been unfolding over the last four weeks, which have included 188 arrests and a number of communities, both Muslim and Jewish, but particularly the Jewish community, feeling very uneasy. It is reasonable for the Home Secretary to try to ensure that communities feel safe and protected, and that is what she was trying to do.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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When women were treated brutally and unjustly by the Metropolitan police in this city in the wake of the Sarah Everard murder, Members came, correctly, to criticise the police, inside this House and out, for their failure and for their brutality. I remember people on the Opposition Benches calling on the Government to be more brutal on the police at that point. The hand-wringing hypocrisy and the pant-wetting that we are seeing over someone correctly criticising the police is amazing. I have witnessed Irish nationalists and republicans, who the Home Secretary referred to in her article, running too quickly to the support of Hamas, to Colombian terrorists, to Hezbollah and a whole host of others. The Home Secretary is correct to call that out and to say it as she sees it, and this House is right to back her.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words. He is right to point out those examples where Members of this House, particularly on the Opposition Benches, have in the past criticised the police. No one on those occasions claimed that those criticisms impinged on the operational independence of the police; they were simply holding the police to account, as politicians on both sides are entitled to do. I am grateful to him for reminding the House of those previous occasions when Opposition Members have exercised their prerogative to hold the police to account.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
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I am thinking of the number of times I have spoken to criticise and call out the police for their behaviour in things that they have got wrong, but we are seeing the Home Secretary blatantly interfering with the operational day-to-day decisions of the police. We have to call that out; the police have to be independent. I have lost count of the number of people our Home Secretary has demonised, be they LGBT people, homeless people or minorities. Why? Why is there so much hate spewing from her? The organisers of the march have said that it does not coincide with Remembrance Day. Will the Minister correct that and stop conflating the two issues?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I do not accept the hon. Lady’s characterisation; it is both unfair and unintentionally inaccurate. There are all kinds of risks that the police will have to manage on Saturday if the march goes ahead, including the risk that groups break away, which did in fact happen last Saturday—a group broke away and ended up in Trafalgar Square, where they set off fireworks, and 11 police officers were assaulted. Those are the kinds of risks that will have to be managed by the police on Saturday. That is not an easy job, but I am sure that the police have the House’s full support in doing it.

Samantha Dixon Portrait Samantha Dixon (City of Chester) (Lab)
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The shadow Home Secretary’s question was whether the Minister could confirm that the Home Secretary’s intervention to undermine the operational independence of the police was signed off through the normal No. 10 process and therefore has the support of the Prime Minister. The Minister said that he has no sight of that, so what will he do to furnish the House with an answer to that question?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am afraid that communications between other Members of the Government are not a matter for me. I am responsible for policing, delivering record police numbers and falling crime. That is my job and I am doing it.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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Does the Minister agree with the Home Secretary that

“senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters”?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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It is up to the police to apply the law. It is important that the police apply the law even-handedly, and that is what I am sure all Members of the House want them to do.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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Words matter, so in the Home Secretary’s absence, can the Minister explain in what way protest marches in the UK relating to Israel and Gaza are “disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster”, and does he agree?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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That is not directly germane to the protests on Saturday. We have seen all kinds of protests in Ulster over the years—dissident Republicans among others. What we need to do is ensure that London’s streets are safe, and that we do not have an atmosphere of fear or intimidation, and that is what we expect the police to deliver.

UK Sanctions Regime: Russia and Belarus

Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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

10:02
Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the effectiveness of the implementation of the UK sanctions regime against Russia and Belarus.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Mr Andrew Mitchell)
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The sanctions regime is dealt with by the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), but I shall do my best to answer this most important question posed by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty).

Sanctions are an important tool that we use to weaken Putin’s war effort and to underline our unyielding support for Ukraine. Britain alone has sanctioned more than 1,800 individuals and entities under the Russia sanctions regime, more than 1,600 of which have been sanctioned since Putin’s full-scale invasion. Although I cannot comment on individual cases, we are pleased that the High Court has in recent weeks recognised the Foreign Office’s expertise on deciding which persons should be sanctioned to ensure maximum effect.

We have frozen over £18 billion-worth of Russian assets through designations and over 60% of Russia’s central bank foreign reserves—assets that can no longer be funnelled back to Russia to fund its war machine. Rather than the surplus that the Russian Government predicted for 2022, Russia suffered an annual deficit of £47 billion—the second highest of the post-Soviet era. Its budget remains in deficit in 2023, despite tax increases. We have also targeted those who have enabled sanctioned persons to hide their assets in obscure and complex financial networks, and we are working to crack down on phoenix companies, which continue to operate after sanctions are imposed or which are developing fronts to avoid sanctions.

Just yesterday, we imposed 29 further sanctions targeting individuals and entities operating in and supporting Russia’s gold, oil and strategic sectors—critical sources of revenue for the Russian war machine. Those sanctions include Russia’s largest gold refiner, as well as international networks propping up Russia’s gold, oil and finance industries.

Our co-ordinated sanctions, working in line with our G7 partners, are having an impact. Without our sanctions and those of our partners, we estimate that Russia would have over $400 billion more to fund its war machine. We are starving Putin of the resources he needs to fund his illegal war on Ukraine. Sanctions are thwarting Russian access to western components and technology. Russia’s budget remains in deficit. Our oil price cap has contributed to a fall of 25% in Russian oil revenues between January and September 2023, compared with the same period in 2022, and our export bans have starved Russia of thousands of products needed for the battlefield.

His Majesty’s Government are fully aware, as Members will be, that sanctions are not static. We are constantly monitoring to see where and if they are being circumvented. Alongside our international partners, we are closing loopholes and tackling sanctions evasion, as Putin desperately scrambles to restructure the Russian economy and smuggle goods in through back channels. We will continue to isolate Russia’s financial system and support businesses that are seeking to divest from their links with Russia. We will bring forward further legislation in the coming weeks to deliver on our G7 commitments and further deprive Russia of lucrative remaining revenue sources, including banning imports of Russian diamonds and ending all imports of Russian copper, aluminium and nickel—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I have tried coughing; I have tried different ways of indicating that the Minister is almost a minute over. We need to get speeches better timed in future to three minutes. I am sure he is coming to the end immediately.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Finally, we will continue to combat circumvention and seek to degrade Russia’s military capabilities by coming down hard on sanctions evaders and closing loopholes.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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For the record, I want to say that we had a bit of drift over earlier. We are back in a new Session. The rules are quite clear: the time limit is three minutes for the Minister, and for those who have tabled the question, it is two minutes. Please adhere to it. Do not take advantage of the Chair, because you are taking advantage of the people I represent: they are called Back Benchers.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
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I thank the Minister for his response. He will know that there is unity across the House in standing with Ukraine, but there are serious concerns about the effectiveness of our sanctions regime. Almost two years have passed since Putin began this phase of his illegal and barbaric invasion of Ukraine, but on Monday, it was revealed by The Times that a British company has allegedly continued to ship semiconductors to Russia since Putin’s war began and that these have been identified within at least one Russian tank deployed in the conflict against Ukraine. It also reported that the company only stopped shipping to its Russian distributor after the bank refused to process payments for these exports. There are clearly serious deficiencies in the implementation of our regime that must be addressed. I had these raised with me on my recent visit to Kyiv, and I draw attention to my declaration of interests.

I would like clarity from the Minister on a number of key points. Can he confirm whether there are loopholes within our regime that continue to allow for materials to be exported to Russia and Belarus that could be used in the production of military items? Why do those omissions still exist, and what steps are being taken to deal with them?

Secondly, can he set out what assessment has been made by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Treasury of the existence of alleged loopholes that allow indirect imports into UK markets of Russian or Belarusian origin steel, or indeed Russian origin crude oil that has been refined in third countries? These are very serious allegations.

Thirdly, City AM revealed this week that nearly 130 UK companies have admitted breaching Russia-related sanctions as a result of a freedom of information request by the law firm Pinsent Masons. It is good that those companies have come forward voluntarily, but it shows the scale of the problem.

Finally, according to the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation, only one financial penalty has been issued regarding a sanctions breach within the Russia and Belarus sanctions regimes since February 2022, and only three penalties have been published across all UK sanctions regimes since June 2021. That compares very unfavourably with the United States and other allies, which have been issuing fines and dealing with this issue. Labour stands unshakeably with our allies in providing military, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in the face of Putin’s illegal invasion, but that must include a robust sanctions regime.

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his comments—I know the revelations in the British media to which he referred at the beginning of his remarks. I will write to him today on some of the technical points he has raised, giving him a very specific answer. On the general point he has made, I can tell him that Britain has prohibited the export to Russia of thousands of products, including semiconductors, and our trade with Russia is down over 96% from pre-invasion levels. We are also providing advice to UK businesses on how to identify methods of circumvention and have shared a list of products of particular concern that could end up on the battlefield.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for the update, but he will probably be aware that there are backdoor routes that are leading to technology ending up in Russia. The most prevalent of those is British universities supplying technology to Iran that ends up on drones, which are then used by Russia to attack the brave Ukrainians. Will he undertake to investigate this practice and put a stop to it, and to apply appropriate sanctions accordingly?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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My hon. Friend accurately identifies dangers to the sanctions regimes that can cause them to be circumvented. We are, I think, good at identifying and closing down such dangers, but I should make it clear to him that UK sanctions prohibit a range of activities related to the movement of prohibited items to and from Russia, both directly and indirectly. In that context, I will consider carefully the point that my hon. Friend has made.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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I thank the Minister for his answer. The SNP welcomes the extension of sanctions against the Russian regime, but we still think more needs to be done. For example, are there any plans to extend the sanctions that are currently in place against Hamas and other terrorist organisations operating in the middle east, which we know are forging closer and closer links with Putin and his criminal terrorist networks? In particular, the United States has already sanctioned a number of Hamas representatives and people close to Hamas operating in different countries in the middle east. Do the Minister and the Government have any plans to follow suit and sanction those same individuals?

The Foreign Affairs Committee recently described the UK Government’s efforts to sanction individuals and organisations linked to Russia’s Wagner terrorist group as “underwhelming in the extreme”. What action do the Government intend to take in response to that report, so that organisations such as Wagner and those who run them are effectively sanctioned? We know that Ukraine has imposed sanctions on the former KGB intelligence officer Alexander Lebedev. Do the UK Government have any plans to follow suit?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his comments. We do not give routine updates or a running commentary on sanctions, but he may rest assured that we are looking at Hamas in every respect. He drew attention to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s report; as he will know, we recently announced sanctions—both direct and indirect—against Wagner. While we are careful not to discuss specific cases, we take all potential breaches very seriously, and all businesses that are registered in the UK are bound by law to comply with the Russia sanctions regime.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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The Minister has given us a very informative statement. I am very interested in this business of intellectual knowledge getting to Russia via third parties. Can I take it that His Majesty’s Government have contacted and spoken with the vice-chancellors and principals of our academic institutions the length and breadth of the UK to advise them how this must be stopped?

Andrew Mitchell Portrait Mr Mitchell
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I thank the hon. Member for his comments about my informative—but overlong, Mr Speaker—answer to this urgent question, and I can assure him that we deal with all relevant areas. The point he makes about academic areas is a very good one, and we will make sure that that is fully taken into account.

Business of the House

Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Leader of the House.

10:15
Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Penny Mordaunt)
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The business for the week commencing 13 November will be:

Monday 13 November—Continuation of the debate on the King’s Speech, on building an NHS fit for the future.

Tuesday 14 November—Continuation of the debate on the King’s Speech, on securing high, sustained economic growth in every part of the country.

Wednesday 15 November—Conclusion of the debate on the King’s Speech, on reducing serious violence and violence against women and girls, and raising confidence in policing and the criminal justice system.

Thursday 16 November—Debate on the reports of the Speaker’s Conference on the employment conditions of Members’ staff, followed by a general debate on COP28.

Friday 17 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 20 November will include:

Monday 20 November—Remaining stages of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

Tuesday 21 November—Second Reading of the Media Bill.

Wednesday 22 November—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make his autumn statement, followed by a debate on the autumn statement.

Thursday 23 November—Continuation of the debate on the autumn statement.

Friday 24 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 November will include:

Monday 27 November—Conclusion of the debate on the autumn statement.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
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So there we have it: confirmation that the Government have given up on governing. The Prime Minister’s first and likely only King’s Speech, and what should be his moment of maximum power and authority—yet it was not, because he is too weak, he has no burning agenda, he cannot escape his Government’s own record and he certainly cannot be the change the country is crying out for. The verdict is in: “thin gruel”, “damp squib”, “dull as ditchwater”, “a series of gimmicks”, and a Prime Minister who had

“already checked out, his wheelie was at the door”.

Those are not my words, but those of Conservative Members. The Leader of the House knows it and they know it: yet another failed reset. They are out of ideas and out of road—“drifting to defeat”, as one has put it today.

The programme is so thin it is embarrassing. Of the few Bills announced, five are carry-overs, four are barely longer than a page, three we have seen before and the flagship crime Bill has already been shelved. Despite the big issues facing our country, the Government’s answers are so small. There is nothing to tackle the cost of living crisis, just a Prime Minister deluded that everything is going great, and even getting his own figures wrong. There is nothing on NHS waiting lists or mental health, despite a Bill being promised many times. Education has been consigned to lofty ambitions years away. There is nothing of substance on transport, despite Network North being the Prime Minister’s last big reset—another flunk. However, the Government have found time for the regulation of pedicabs and a Bill to make it easier to sack doctors. Do the Government really think that sacking doctors is the solution to an NHS crisis?

Other Bills are political stunts, not fixing problems. Take North sea gas and oil. Can the Leader of the House confirm that we already have regular North sea licensing and that it has not prevented the worst cost of living crisis in generations? Can she also confirm that, in the midst of that crisis driven by energy bills, the grand offer of this King’s Speech is a Bill that, by the admission of the Energy Secretary, will do absolutely nothing about bills? The only way to bring down bills and get energy security is by going further and faster on cheap renewables. Instead, this Government are retreating and spending billions subsidising gas, the price of which is set globally anyway. It is politics first, country second.

Then there is the so-called flagship crime Bill—a Bill that has had to go back to the drawing board. The Prime Minister is too weak to stand up to his Home Secretary, who wants to criminalise giving homeless people tents because she thinks it is a lifestyle choice—despicable. We all know what she is up to; it is naked. Instead of sacking her, the Prime Minister cowers next to her. He is cowering next to her today, too. She is out of control. She is utterly irresponsible, undermining the police while stoking up division ahead of a difficult and important weekend. She is unhinged. Does the Leader of the House agree with the Home Secretary that police officers are playing favourites in this case? But the Prime Minister is so weak that he cannot rein in the Home Secretary. He is so weak that he could not even get his own ideas into his own King’s Speech—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I do not like the term “unhinged”. I understand that tensions are running very high, but I want us to try to moderate our language.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
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I will withdraw that, Mr Speaker, and I will ask my questions instead.

Nutrient neutrality has been dropped to avoid another embarrassing defeat. Whatever happened to the motorists Bill, briefed several times as the Prime Minister’s big idea? It is nowhere this week. The ban on conversion therapy? Dropped.

One of the Prime Minister’s pet projects did make it into the King’s Speech though: a Bill on autonomous vehicles. But the joke being made on the Tory WhatsApp groups is that it is their own Government that is the driverless car. I can tell the Leader of the House that Labour is revving up. There is much that we would do. We would bring in a fiscal responsibility lock, so that mortgage payers never again pay the price of Conservative failure. We would ban water bosses’ bonuses and clean up our rivers; end non-dom tax breaks and have more doctors and teachers; change planning laws to build more affordable homes; levy a proper windfall tax; and set up GB energy. We would make work pay, legislate for proper leasehold reform and rights for renters, tackle crime and violence against women and girls, introduce a skills and growth levy, and pass real rail and bus reform—the list goes on.

The Prime Minister was right about one thing: this country needs change. But his programme offers more of the same: weakness, failure, political stunts and division. This Government have given up on governing and are preparing for jobs in opposition, but take it from me: Opposition is not all it is cracked up to be. It is a privilege to have the power of Government and a majority in this place. Is not the biggest travesty of all that they do not even want it any more?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, all Members and all staff of this House for making the State Opening and the King’s first Gracious Address to Parliament so successful.

I know that many right hon. and hon. Members will be taking part in remembrance services across the nation and overseas this weekend. Medals proudly worn by our veterans are not just thanks from a grateful nation; they are a message for the rest of us. We should remember their service and sacrifice, but also the lessons that made their service and sacrifice both necessary and possible. This weekend, as we attend services and lay wreaths beside memorials, we should reflect on how best to honour them and the freedoms we enjoy because of them, and protect their precious legacy.

The shadow Leader of the House started by talking about the cost of living. I am sorry that, as she did so, she did not recognise that this week we have paid out £2.2 billion in cost of living payments and that 99% of households eligible for the cost of living payment have already received it from this Government. I disagree with the hon. Lady, because I do not think that our cost of living issues are remotely helped by lessening our energy security, which is why we are bringing forward the Bill and why I ask her party to support it. It is not at all incompatible with investing in renewable energy and clean technology.

The hon. Lady is rather fond of criticising both our record and our plans for this Session, so it might be helpful to get the scores on the doors. She believes that our 43 Bills, 1,000 statutory instruments and record number of private Members’ Bills—24—passed in the third Session of this Parliament is a shabby record. I point out to her that only in two of the 13 parliamentary Sessions between 1997 and 2010 were more Bills put through than we put through in the last Session. In the last Sessions of Labour Administrations, the average number of Bills brought forward was 21. The hon. Lady cannot justify her charge against us about the amount we have got done. She might be relying on the time it took us—it did take us less time than we had allocated to pass a lot of that legislation and to do Government business—but that is not really a problem for those on the Government Benches; it is a more a problem for those on the Opposition Benches, although I have no complaints about that. Those on the Government side of the House have been pulling their weight, even in Opposition day debates—in debates on school safety and animal welfare, for example, there were more Conservative speakers than Opposition speakers.

Let me go into the specific points that the hon. Lady raised. On tents, the Home Secretary has no plans to ban Millets—we are not doing that. The Government have made the largest investment ever in tackling homelessness and rough sleeping, providing £2 billion to accelerate its mitigation and prevention, including preventing 640,000 people from becoming homeless in the last five years.

On conversion therapy, we have a manifesto commitment, and it is still a manifesto commitment. The Secretary of State will keep the House informed on the work she is doing on this important matter.

I was surprised to hear the hon. Lady raise nutrient neutrality. I had hoped she would support our measures, but the Secretary of State will no doubt update the House on the further work he is doing in that area. However, we are bringing forward many measures that will assist more developments to happen, including reforms at the valuation office.

At the heart of the charge the hon. Lady presents are values and the question of who is fit to govern for the people of this country, and I would ask her to undertake just a little self-reflection. She mentioned doctors, but 80% of the medical doctors in the House sit on the Government Benches, while 91% of the veterans in the House sit on these Benches, so I do not think there is a problem with our values, our service or our duty.

Yesterday, outside this place, Just Stop Oil activists held up an ambulance on Waterloo bridge. It was Government legislation, passed in this House, that enabled the police to arrest 40 of those protesters and get the traffic moving—legislation that the hon. Lady blocked, along with reforms to protect the public from strike action.

The hon. Lady supports the regressive tax policies of the London Mayor and the tax and spend policies of the shadow Chancellor, which would saddle every household with an additional £3,000 of tax per annum. The one-time party of “education, education, education” is now the party of “tax education, education, education”—the hon. Lady should think about that for a moment and about the values it represents.

I will take no lectures from a Labour party that puts politics before people. Labour Members talk of change, but I am afraid that the Labour party has not changed at all.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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Yesterday, I hosted the first ever parliamentary reception for Yorkshire Cancer Research—a fantastic charity that has been working for nearly 100 years in the fight against cancer, and not just in Yorkshire. It is a significant funder of research, and we have some very fine research institutions in the north. However, institutions in the north as a whole—the north-east and the north-west, as well as Yorkshire—can do more. Please could we have a debate about research funding and the process by which it is allocated?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for the work he is doing. He raises an important point, and if he were to apply for a debate, I am sure it would be well attended. The Department of Health and Social Care invests about £1 billion a year in research through the National Institute for Health and Care Research, and that institution welcomes funding applications on any aspect of health research. Its expenditure on cancer research in the last financial year was over £100 million. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter, and I shall draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to what he has said.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Before her rapid rise to her current role as the Leader of the House, the right hon. Lady briefly served as Minister for Women and Equalities. There is—believe it or not—still such a role in this Tory Government. I raise that because recently there have been some absolutely shocking insights into the Government’s attitudes to women and equalities that give us an opportunity to assess her Government’s record, and—spoiler alert for her—it is grotesque.

First, we had the stomach-churning misogyny in language and behaviour described by witnesses at the covid inquiry. I imagine that even the Leader of the House would find it hard to defend the routine and disgraceful attacks on women in a Government she served. It told us so much. We then had the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Oliver De Schutter, telling the right hon. Lady’s Government that their record on poverty was “simply not acceptable” and was violating international laws. That surprises no one who sees the effects of her Government’s cruel policies day in and day out. Then a former Tory chair joined the fray by saying that there was “rot at the heart” of the party she was once so proud to be a member of—a rot at the heart of Government.

What we are talking about is the Tory Government’s values, and those values are not Scotland’s values. Their values suggest that the way to help the homeless is to ban charities from supplying tents to rough sleepers—it is a “lifestyle choice” to be homeless, is it not? Those comments were so misjudged that even the Prime Minister was embarrassed. They have the values that say, “We don’t care if we break international laws on poverty and the human rights of the poorest”, and that women can be dismissed in the foulest way imaginable as a part of normal behaviour. Simon Case, the country’s most senior civil servant, said that he had

“never seen a bunch of people less well-equipped to run a country”.

He should know.

Can we have a debate on the Tory Government’s values and what 13 years under this “brutal and useless” Government have done to progress women and equalities and the interests of the most vulnerable among us in this far from United Kingdom?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. The powerful words this week of Susie Flintham of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice should give us all pause for thought. That is why the Government have placed professionalism and care of each other at the heart of what we do. We are the first Government to have set up a ministerial human resources function in Whitehall—it is shameful that previously that did not exist. That is also why we are focused on more training and support for MPs, Ministers and officials, and it is why, in my evidence to the Standards Committee, I said that the only way we will make the nation proud of our conduct here is to recognise the responsibility and duty of care we have to each other across the hundreds of organisations that make up the political landscape—Parliament, political parties and Whitehall. The Government and I as Leader of the House take these matters incredibly seriously.

The hon. Lady talked about values and language. I hope that she will have a word with some of her party’s activists, who have intimidated those who stand against her or stand up for their own principles. I point out that, despite by-election losses, the Government did arrive back here with a new MP who sits on our Benches. A little self-reflection about some of the reasons why that MP made that transition would be appreciated.

The hon. Lady wants to talk about values. On women and equalities issues, it is the SNP that has torn the social fabric of the UK with its plans on gender recognition reforms. It is the SNP and the Labour party, which backed the SNP on that, that have backed the anti-free speech Bill that the Scottish Government have been so keen to push. The parties are in coalition together at a local level. Labour would give the SNP powers on foreign affairs and has indulged the First Minister of Wales’s separatist agenda.

The hon. Lady often comes here to say that the Government do not respect devolution. We do respect devolution; it is part of our values. Since the turn of the century, the UK Government have legislated for Scotland more than 200 times with the Scottish Government’s consent. It is the SNP that does not listen to local voices. The party that does not respect local people and local decision making is the SNP, which overrules 50% of councils on planning appeals, did not consult local authorities regarding its council tax policies, and does not pass on funding from the UK Government that is designed for Scotland’s local authorities. I think that our values are fine. The hon. Lady should look to her own party if she wants some improvement.

Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)
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Some of the Ukrainians housed in Mid Derbyshire under the Homes for Ukraine scheme are worried about their futures, as their visas are starting to expire. They include school pupils who are uncertain about whether they can continue their education here, attend British universities and receive home student fees and funding. Will the Government make a statement outlining the future of the Homes for Ukraine scheme and how students will be affected?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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Many Members are hosting Ukrainian refugees, and we are acutely aware of how difficult it is for them to plan their lives in the situations that they find themselves in. We will give them as much certainty as we can so that they can start to make decisions about studies or where they might go in a year’s time. My understanding is that they must be given a year’s notice, so many will be given information next spring. I will write to both relevant Departments to flag the point that if we can do anything earlier it would be appreciated.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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The word “economy” was mentioned only once in the King’s Speech. Given that the country faces the highest tax burden since the second world war, not to mention the longest squeeze on wages in 200 years, does that not speak volumes about the Government’s lack of a long-term plan for our economy?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Lady will know that the biggest way we can help households is to curb inflation. That is the Chancellor’s priority, and it is why we have exercised restraint on spending. I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not support us in those efforts, but she will not have long to wait for the Chancellor’s autumn statement, which I announced in the business statement.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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Could we have a debate on the volunteers who support the Royal British Legion? I am lucky enough to be the honorary president of the Royal British Legion in Hinckley, 100 years since its formation, and my predecessor but three was also its honorary president. I have seen the work of the likes of Elaine Ward, who has been collecting for the poppy appeal for 50 years. I will be there in Hinckley on Friday. Could we have a debate about how magnificent this charity really is?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sure I speak for all Members of the House by thanking the hon. Gentleman for enabling us all to send our thanks to the Royal British Legion and its army of volunteers who assist all year round, not just during the poppy campaign. If we were to have a debate, it would be well attended and very long, because the work it does is tremendously diverse, helping families as well as veterans and serving members of the armed forces.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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This summer I welcomed to Parliament teachers from Oldfield Park Infant School and Twerton Infant School. They told me how they were struggling with staff shortages, underfunding and an increasingly unmanageable workload. In the south-west, teacher vacancies have risen by 175% in the last five years. So far, the Government have committed only to a fraction of the recommended £15 billion needed for catch-up education. Can we have a debate in Government time to get to the bottom of the considerable underfunding of schools?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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As the hon. Lady knows, we have protected the schools budget and increased the number of teachers substantially—I think we have an additional 30,000 since 2010. Clearly, recruitment is an issue in certain parts of the country. There have been a number of campaigns through local authorities to attract teachers from particular disciplines into areas that do not have enough of them. I will write to the Secretary of State on the hon. Lady’s behalf and ask her whether she and her Department could share some best practice with the hon. Lady and her local authority.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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The Leader of the Opposition recently said that he would bulldoze local protests and opposition in order to build millions more homes, which has folk in my patch worried. Is there some way of finding Government time to have a debate to show that there always needs to be local consent and engagement to build the homes that we need? We need those homes to be affordable, proportionate, sustainable and appropriate.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. It is important to respect local decision making. We know from the neighbourhood planning forums we helped to establish that quite often they are more ambitious about building homes in their area than their own local authorities. We are on track to meet our manifesto commitment of 1 million new homes in this Parliament. Since 2010, we have delivered over 2.2 million homes, with millions moving into home ownership. Through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023, we are also improving the planning process. At the heart of it, I am very happy to say, we still have local people and local decision making.

Ian Mearns Portrait Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab)
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Last Saturday I had the privilege of attending the launch of the north-east Field of Remembrance, run by the Royal British Legion, in Saltwell Park in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking and congratulating the Royal British Legion on an excellent ceremony? Saltwell Park is a massively brilliant venue for our north-east Field of Remembrance. I was also wondering how soon we might get an announcement that will lead to the recommencement of the Backbench Business Committee in this Session of Parliament.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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First of all, I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the Royal British Legion in his constituency on all the work they do all year round, but particularly at this time of year. I have been prodding my colleagues with regard to his request, and I hope to have some news for him this afternoon.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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This weekend, the nation will fall silent to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the great war, the second world war and other conflicts. Next weekend at the Cenotaph, the Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen and Women will conduct its annual march. That will be a really important security operation for the Metropolitan police. Last year, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) became the first ever Minister to lay a wreath at that service. Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate in Government time on the contribution made by Jewish ex-servicemen and women, and will she prevail on the Defence Secretary or a Defence Minister to attend the service and lay a wreath?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that very important point. It is right that we mark the contribution of all ex-servicemen and women. He mentions the—I think 120,000—Jewish servicemen who fought in world wars with our British armed forces. These are incredibly important events, and 19 November coincides with Mitsvah Day, a day when the Jewish community around the country will be supporting local charities and communities—another example of the service they give to their communities and this nation. I am very happy to ensure that there is ministerial attendance at that event. That tradition should continue. I cannot tell him which Minister, but I shall make sure that all relevant Departments remember the request.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
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The Leader of the House has assured the House time and again that it is the intention of the House of Commons Commission and herself to bring forward measures on risk-based exclusions, which we were meant to debate before the summer recess. It is now November. I am sure the right hon. Lady is bored of being asked this question, but not as bored as I am of having to keep asking it. With yet more recent reports alleging serious misconduct while measures to address them appear to be kicked into the long grass, when will time be found to discuss how to ensure Parliament is a safe workplace and to restore our reputation with the public?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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When either the Committees of this House or the Commission bring forward proposals to be debated on the Floor of the House, we find time very swiftly—usually within a week. We did debate the proposals before the summer recess and there were some very legitimate comments from Members. The hon. Lady took part in that debate herself, if I remember correctly. The Commission is considering these things and as soon as it has finalised a proposal we will, just as we always have, bring it back to this House.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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Since my election, I have liaised closely with the Environment Agency and City of Doncaster Council to ensure that we never again see as many flood victims as we saw in 2019. Storm Babet resulted in the flooding of 15 properties; far more were flooded in 2019. While that is an undoubted success and a testament to the hard work of the agency and the council, we in Doncaster are now being penalised for that success. For those 15 households who did suffer flooding, it is still a disaster, so may we hold a debate on my proposal that the Government’s excellent compensation scheme for flood victims should apply to all areas, not just those where a minimum of 25 properties are affected?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am very sorry to hear about those households, and my sympathies go out to all who have been affected. I am pleased to hear that the floods have had less impact than in previous years. That is a very good development, but of course it is of no comfort to those who have suffered. I would encourage my hon. Friend’s local authority to contact the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities if it thinks that it is able to meet the criteria for support. I understand that the Department is open to listening and working with councils so that they receive proper support, and I think they have until late January next year to provide information on those criteria, but I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s advocacy for the 15 flooded households in his constituency.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)
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The overwhelming majority of people in Yorkshire are proud and patriotic, love their families, and work hard. How can it be, then, that families had to approach food banks 75,000 times last year in order to feed their children? That is shameful, and doubtless it was in the UN rapporteur’s mind when he said that our country was in breach of its international treaty obligations under the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. May we have a debate about child poverty in Government time, and will the Leader of the House arrange for a Government Law Officer to be present to tell us what their legal defence is for the position in which the Government have put us?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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This is an important matter, and one that the Government take extremely seriously. That is why we have a package of more than £90 billion to support people through these cost of living strains, and it is why we are working to combat and mitigate the causes. What is happening internationally has placed immense strain on our fuel prices and so forth. I think that we should debate these matters, and I hope that we debate them in all parts of the UK. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman applied for a debate, it would be well attended. He might also like to read the Senedd’s report on the Welsh Labour Government’s track record on child poverty, which is out this week: I think he would find it an eye-opening read.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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Speeding and antisocial driving continue to blight Chalkwell and Leigh-on-Sea, with boy racers using illegal exhausts hurtling down our seafront at all times of the day and night. Even our local legend Linda Catling, who, despite being partially sighted, regularly knits woollen postbox toppers and has now created a speed camera topper, is considering moving out of Marine Parade owing to the dangerous driving. Given that road crime, including speeding, kills more people in Essex than all other crimes put together, may we please have a debate in Government time on speeding and antisocial driving?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for giving a plug to Linda Catling. I will have to google her knitted speed camera post box toppers—they sound very interesting indeed—and we send our best to her. I also thank my hon. Friend for raising such an important point. As she will know, one of the Bills that we announced in the King’s Speech will hopefully lead to much greater road safety in years to come, and I hope she will support that Bill as it makes its way through the House.

Andrew Western Portrait Andrew Western (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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Last weekend, the Home Secretary turned her damaging and divisive rhetoric on the homeless, describing homelessness as a “lifestyle choice” and suggesting that her Government should prioritise stripping homeless people of their tents and fining the charities that provide them with that shelter. Although I am relieved that this disgraceful proposal did not make it into the King’s Speech, could I ask the Leader of the House to take this opportunity to apologise for her colleague’s callous remarks?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have already given some statistics on this Government’s record on tackling homelessness, in terms of finance and how many people we have prevented from becoming homeless. Our Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 has already ensured that more than 6,000 people have been prevented from becoming homeless. I am here to answer for the Government’s record and the Government’s agenda, and I have.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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Mr Speaker, may I, too, thank you and your staff for all the hard work that was done to make the state opening such a magnificent occasion? It was exceptional, as usual.

Since 3 November, I have been inundated with correspondence and calls both from my own constituents and from constituents who should be represented by MPs who unfortunately boycott this place. Cystic fibrosis kills far too many young people across the United Kingdom. According to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance, while Orkambi, Symkevi and Kaftrio are

“clinically effective treatments with important benefits”,

they are too expensive to be recommended for use. Such a decision robs suffering children and their parents of the hope of life. Does the Leader of the House think the four-week consultation is adequate so that representations can be made to see these drugs extended to suffering young people across the whole United Kingdom in order to save lives and give hope to parents?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this question, which will be of concern to everyone who has this condition, their carers and their families. He will know that there is a very clear process to ensure the drugs that are available and approved by NICE are both cost-effective and clinically effective. There are appeal processes, and I am sure he will assist his constituents to make representations. Of course, even if a drug is not approved by NICE, patients can, in certain circumstances, still have access to it if it can be shown that the drug would disproportionately benefit that individual.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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Can we please have a statement from the Paymaster General to explain to the House why the very clear and final recommendations made by Sir Brian Langstaff in his report published in April—seven months ago—setting out the need to extend interim payments and to set up a compensation scheme this year, have effectively been trashed by the Government? Is it not shameful that, after setting up a five-year public inquiry and running a parallel compensation review so that the payment of compensation would not drag on for far too long, and with very clear recommendations from a well-thought-of, esteemed former High Court judge, the Government have decided not to implement any of those key recommendations?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her diligent campaigning on this matter. She rightly notes that the compensation study was set up to run concurrently in order to save time. I know that the Paymaster General is planning some engagement in the coming weeks with the groups that are campaigning. Having raised this at a previous business questions, the right hon. Lady will know that I have also raised it with the Paymaster General. I will make sure that he hears what she has said again today. I can tell her that he is committed to acting as swiftly as possible to ensure that all people, including those who should receive interim payments, do so.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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It has recently been announced that the two islands in my constituency, the Isle of Arran and the Isle of Cumbrae, are each to lose their Bank of Scotland branch. Following hard on the heels of that announcement, Brodick post office on the Isle of Arran is also set for closure. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her support for these vital resources for the viability of our communities, especially rural and island communities? Does she agree that it is time to protect, in legislation, these crucial physical services in island and rural communities?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to hear about the potential situation that some of the hon. Lady’s constituents will be in. She will know that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has made funding available to find solutions to ensure that people have access to banking services or post office services, with those sometimes being run out of other premises. I am not across what might be available in her local area, but I can write to the Secretary of State to ask his officials to contact her office to signpost her to what support is available. Even if stand-alone facilities have to go, that does not mean that the services have to go, and there are some great examples of how those services have been able to continue running across the country.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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May I, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, thank Mr Speaker for facilitating the Constituency Garden of Remembrance, at which many of us have been laying memorials this week? I will be placing my own for constituents in Cardiff South and Penarth who have served and been lost or injured over generations of conflicts and wars. I think in particular of the diverse communities who have served—our diverse Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish communities, and indeed many others, including those from across our Commonwealth. I should also mention our merchant navy, which is specifically remembered on Saturday in Cardiff bay. May we have a debate on the excellent work of not only the Royal British Legion, which has been referred to by a number of Members, but other veterans’ organisations in our constituencies? I think of the work of Woody’s Lodge and the Welsh Veterans Partnership in my constituency, which do so much to support those who have served, often where there have been life-affecting issues. Those organisations do excellent work and it is right that we remember them, as well as all those we have lost.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking the House staff and all Members who have made use of the ways in which we can remember those from our constituencies who have fallen, such as the memorial garden and the service that took place yesterday against the war memorial at the top of the Westminster Hall stairs—it is much appreciated. He has got on the record what I am sure is just a fraction of the incredible organisations in his constituency, and I thank him for doing that. This is one reason why we have set up the Office for Veterans’ Affairs. We want to be able to commission services directly for veterans—something that could not be done as part of the Ministry of Defence. We must ensure that this country is the best place in the world to be a veteran, and I thank all Members who will be taking part in services and saying thank you to their veteran community this weekend.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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A recent ruling by the inner house of the Court of Session in Edinburgh put beyond any doubt that the ill-conceived Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill of the Scottish Government impinges significantly on the Equality Act 2010, the sex-based rights of women and the same-sex rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. We have had a debate in Westminster Hall to discuss redefining and having precision in law about the word “sex”. Will the Leader of the House discuss this matter, and the possibility of bringing in legislation to clarify the definition of “sex” in the 2010 Act in the future, with her Equalities and Justice colleagues?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I know that the Secretary of State is very across this issue, and I think that that judgment was a helpful thing to have taken place. We deeply regret the lack of understanding on these matters about the need—whatever the Governments and Administrations in other parts of the UK wish to do—to bear in mind the social fabric of the UK. Tearing at that social fabric, what it is to be a citizen and the values and norms that we live under is a bad thing. We also need to ensure that we are upholding what is in the 2010 Act. I shall make sure that the Secretary of State has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
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I would welcome the Leader of the House’s advice on how to expedite a response from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for my constituents who are desperate to return home from Kyiv with their newborn son, who was born in September in Ukraine through surrogacy and for whom they are seeking an emergency travel document. I totally understand the importance of completing the passport application process, but my constituents have a vulnerable baby who needs to be cared for at home and a three-year-old back here in the UK who desperately needs her parents back.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to hear about that situation. If the hon. Lady liaises with my office after this session, to give me the details and information about what she has already done, we will give her advice about how we can try to speed the process up for her. As an advert to other Members, the Home Office still offers bespoke surgeries; caseworkers can sit down with them here or online, and go through cases that are stuck in the system.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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Wick harbour in my constituency suffered damage in the recent storms. If that is not dealt with very fast indeed, it could jeopardise the future use of the harbour. In the same storm, a section of sea defence beside the main railway line from Inverness to the far north fell away, so we had no trains, which are a vital transport link, for a length of time. The Leader of the House might say these are matters for the Scottish Government, but I would argue that they are strategic to the United Kingdom. Further to her previous answer, will she encourage officials at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to speak to the Scottish Government, and possibly the Highland Council, about these issues, so we can get them put right as fast as possible?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to hear about that situation. The hon. Gentleman is right that unless these things are taken care of and mitigated, future bad weather will exacerbate the situation. I will make some inquiries on his behalf. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may well be able to assist him more than some other Departments. In times of great crisis, we always ensure that the Scottish Government and local authorities across the UK are able to make a request for military aid to the civil authorities, in order to get assistance from UK armed forces to keep our communities safe. I will make some inquiries on behalf of the hon. Gentleman and contact his office.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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This week, after three years of threatening journalists at The Guardian and elsewhere with legal action, wealthy business tycoons Douglas Barrowman and Michelle Mone finally admitted that they are indeed behind the dodgy covid company PPE Medpro Ltd. The Government have repeatedly promised to outlaw the practice of dodgy lawyers and dodgy clients using the threat of legal action to prevent the freedom of the press from reporting the truth in the public interest. Will the Leader of the House clarify which of the Bills announced in the King’s Speech will fulfil that promise and outlaw the practice once and for all?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. As someone who has been subject to such threats myself, I think these matters are very important. We did work on this in the previous Session. There is ongoing work in the Ministry of Justice and other Departments to ensure that people are able to whistleblow. In other parts of Government, we have moved to protect individuals who find themselves in different but similar sets of circumstances, particularly relating to issues of employment and sexual harassment.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I thank the Leader of the House for answering the business question.

Artificial Intelligence Safety Summit

Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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11:03
Michelle Donelan Portrait The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology (Michelle Donelan)
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With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall make a statement about the Government’s artificial intelligence safety summit.

Today I update the House about a turning point in our history. With 1% of the world’s population, we have built the third largest AI sector. We have rocketed ourselves to a 688% increase in AI companies basing themselves here in less than a decade, and UK AI scale-ups are raising almost double that of France, Germany and the rest of Europe combined. But the sudden and unprecedented growth in the speed and power of artificial intelligence presents unlimited opportunities along with the potential of grave risks, which we cannot ignore.

I truly believe that we stand at a crossroads in human history. To turn the wrong way would be a monumental missed opportunity for mankind, which is why last week presented such a watershed moment. We convened leaders, Ministers, developers, scientists and academics from across the globe to discuss for the first time the risks and opportunities of frontier AI. Although the collection of countries and organisations that came to Bletchley Park was unprecedented, our goal from the start was to leave with tangible outcomes. Let me briefly outline a handful of actions that have resulted from the summit.

First, 28 countries and the European Union, representing the majority of the world’s population, signed up to an unprecedented agreement known as the Bletchley declaration. Despite some claiming that such a declaration would be rejected by many countries in attendance, we agreed that, for the good of all, AI should be designed, developed, deployed and used in a manner that is safe, human-centric, trustworthy and responsible. We agreed on the protection of human rights, transparency and explainability, fairness, accountability, regulation, safety, appropriate human oversight, ethics, bias mitigation, privacy and data protection.

We also agreed to measure, monitor and mitigate potentially harmful capabilities and the associated effects that may emerge—in particular to prevent misuse and issues of control, and the amplification of other risks—and that Turing prize winner Yoshua Bengio, credited as being one of the godfathers of AI, would lead on a state of science report to ensure that, collectively, we stay on top of the risks of frontier AI.

Countries with differing world views and interests, including China, signed the same agreement. Some had said that China would not come to the summit, but it did. They said that, if it does attend, China would never sign an agreement, but it did. Then they said that if China did sign the agreement, it would not agree to continue collaborating in the long term—but it did that as well. That alone would have made the summit a watershed moment in the history of AI safety, but we went further.

We surpassed all expectations by securing an agreement on Government-led testing pre-deployment of the models. This is truly a game changer to help ensure that we can safely harness the benefits of frontier AI while mitigating the risks. To facilitate it, the UK announced that the world-leading frontier taskforce will morph into the world’s first permanent AI safety institute, which will bring together the very best AI minds in the world to research future risks and conduct third-party testing of models.

This is just the start of the journey on AI safety, which is why we have also confirmed funding for the institute for the rest of the decade and secured future AI safety summits to be held in the Republic of Korea in six months’ time and in France in one year’s time, ensuring that the extraordinary pace of international action set by the summit last week is maintained into the future.

None the less, the summit is just one piece in the UK’s overall approach to AI safety. Our White Paper published earlier this year was praised for ensuring that the UK can be agile and responsive as risks emerge. I am sure that Opposition Members will call for a one-size-fits-all “snapshot in time” piece of legislation, but we must ensure that we deepen our understanding of the problem before we rush to produce inadequate legislation.

We also need to ensure that we are quick enough to act, which is why we have taken the steps to ensure that we can keep pace with the development of the technology, with the next set of models being released within six months. AI is the fastest emerging technology that we have ever seen, and we need a system that can identify, evaluate and understand AI to then allow us to mitigate the risks with the right guardrails. That is why it is such an achievement to agree the pre-deployment testing of models; we should not underestimate that achievement.

Companies need to do more too, which is why before the summit we managed to go further than any country ever has. We secured the publication of the main AI companies’ safety policies, along with a catalogue of the possible policies, ensuring transparency and a race to the top, complemented by the recent US executive order. It is also why I have been advocating for responsible capability scaling, which I often refer to as a kind of smoke alarm for AI developers.

The release of ChatGPT not even a year ago was a breakthrough moment for humanity. We were all surprised by the progress. We saw the acceleration of investment into, and adoption of, AI systems at the frontier, making them increasingly powerful and consequential to our lives. These systems could turbocharge our public services, saving lives in the NHS and tailoring education to every child’s needs. They could free people everywhere from tedious work and amplify our creative abilities. They could help our scientists to unlock bold new discoveries, opening the door to a world where one day diseases such as cancer will no longer exist and there will be access to near-limitless clean energy.

But these systems could also further concentrate unaccountable power in the hands of a few, or be maliciously used to undermine societal trust, erode public safety or threaten international security. The British people deserve to know that those who represent them in this place are driving forward the right guardrails and governance for the safe development and deployment of frontier AI systems. I firmly believe that it cannot be left to chance or private actors alone, nor is it an issue for party political squabbling or point scoring.

As we stand here today, what was once considered science fiction is quickly becoming science fact. Just a few years ago, the most advanced AI systems could barely write coherent sentences. Now they can write poetry, help doctors to detect cancer, and generate photo-realistic images in a split second, but with those incredible advances come potentially grave risks, and we refuse to bury our head in the sand. We cannot ignore or dismiss the countless experts who tell us plain and simple that there are risks of humans losing control, that some model outputs could become completely unpredictable, and that the societal impacts of AI advances could seriously disrupt safety and security here at home.

Countries entered the summit with diverse and conflicting views of the world. Some speculated that a deal between the countries invited would be impossible, but what we achieved in just two days at Bletchley Park will be remembered as the moment that the world came together to begin solving an unprecedented global challenge. An international approach is not just preferable, but absolutely essential. Some Members understandably questioned the decision to invite China to the summit, and I do not dismiss the very real concerns and grievances that many on both sides of the House might have had, but a Government who represent the British people must ultimately do what is right for the British people, especially when it comes to keeping them safe. I am firm that it was the right decision for the country in the long term. There simply cannot be a substantive conversation about AI without involving the world’s leading AI nations, and China is currently second in the world in AI.

AI is not some phenomenon that is happening to us; it is a force that we have the power to shape and direct. I believe that we have a responsibility—and, in fact, a duty—to act and to act now. I conclude by taking us back to the beginning: 73 years ago, Alan Turing dared to ask whether computers would one day think. From his vantage point at the dawn of the field, he observed that

“we can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”

For us in this place, there is indeed plenty that needs to be done, but we cannot do it in isolation, so I urge Members across the House to adopt the collaborative, constructive approach that the international community displayed at Bletchley last week. If we in this place put our differences aside on this issue and work pragmatically on behalf of the British people, this new era of artificial intelligence can truly benefit every person and community across the country and beyond. Our summit was a successful step forward, but we are only just getting started. I commend this statement to the House.

09:59
Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. As we have heard, the opportunities of AI are almost endless. It has the potential to transform the world and deliver life-changing benefits for working people. From delivering earlier cancer diagnoses to relieving traffic congestion or providing personalised tuition to children, AI can be a force for good. It is already having a positive impact in the present: in NHS hospitals such as the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, AI is being used to help patients, cut waiting lists and save lives. The Labour party wants that technology to be available in every hospital with our fit for the future fund.

However, to secure those benefits we must get on top of the risks and we must build public trust. We welcome the announcements made last week at Bletchley Park. The future summits in South Korea and France will hopefully lead to more agreement between nations about how we make this new technology work for everyone. The AI safety institute will play an important role in making this new technology safe. Labour supports its creation, but we do have some questions. It would be good to hear the Secretary of State explain why the new institute is not keeping the function of identifying new uses for AI in the public sector. As the institute is taking all the AI expertise from the taskforce, it is also unclear who in her Department will carry out the crucial role of identifying how the public sector can benefit from cutting-edge technology.

There are also questions about UK computer capability. The AI safety institute policy paper states:

“Running evaluations and advancing safety research will also depend on access to compute.”

Yet earlier this year, the Government had less computing power than Finland and Italy. Can the Secretary of State update the House on how much of the AI research resource to which the institute will get priority access is available and operational?

Of course, the main task of the institute is to understand the risks of the most advanced current AI capabilities and any future developments. The Prime Minister told the public two weeks ago that,

“AI could make it easier to build chemical or biological weapons. Terrorist groups could use AI to spread fear and destruction on an even greater scale. Criminals could exploit AI for cyber-attacks, disinformation, fraud, or even child sexual abuse.”

Those are stark warnings and demand urgent action from any Government. Keeping the public safe is the first duty of Government. Yet Ministers have chosen not to bring forward any legislation on the most advanced AI. All the commitments that have been made are voluntary, and that creates problems.

For example, if a new company is established with advanced capabilities, how will it be compelled to join the voluntary scheme? What if a company decides it does not want to co-operate any more? Is there a mechanism to stop that happening? The stakes are too high for those questions to remain open, so I look forward to the Secretary of State’s being able to offer us more detail.

There was a space for a Bill on pedicabs in London in the King’s Speech this year, but not for one on frontier AI. Other countries, such as the US, have moved ahead with mandatory regulation for safety and security. It is confusing for the public to hear a Prime Minister on the one hand tell the country that there are dangers to our way of life from AI, but on the other hand say that his Government are in no rush to regulate.

Labour has called for the introduction of binding regulation on those companies developing the most powerful frontier AI because, for us, the security of the British people will always come first. I hope that the Government will now consider taking action and I look forward to the Secretary of State’s response to these points.

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of building trust among the public, which will also ensure the adoption of AI. In relation to ensuring that we deploy AI throughout our public services, it was this Government who just the other week announced £100 million to accelerate AI in our health missions, and more than £2 million to assist our teachers to spend less time with paperwork and administration and more time in the classroom. We will continue to work hand in hand with the Cabinet Office to ensure that we utilise AI in our public services, but to be able to do that, we must of course grip the risk, which is exactly why we called the summit.

On computing, the hon. Member will be only too aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced earlier this year £900 million for an exascale programme, which we have allocated in Edinburgh. We have also dedicated £300 million—triple the original amount announced—to AI research resource facilities in Cambridge and Bristol, the first of which will come on stream this year.

The hon. Member also referenced the risk document that we published. We were the first Government in the world to be fully transparent with the British public, showcasing the risks that AI could present. That document was produced by scientists and our national security teams.

The hon. Member referenced legislation and regulation. It is not true that we have no regulation; in fact, we have multiple regulators. In the White Paper that we published earlier this year, we set out the principles that they need to work to. We should not minimise what we achieved just last week: that agreement to do testing pre-deployment is monumental. It is—absolutely—the start of a process, not the end. We could have waited and said, “Let’s just do our own piece of legislation,” which would have taken about a year, as he knows, but we do not have a year to wait, because the next set of models will come out with six months. We also need to deepen our understanding of the risks before we rush to legislate, because we believe that we need to better understand the problems before we insert long-term fixed solutions.

We need to concentrate on putting the safety of the British public first, which is what we have done, so that we can seize the limitless opportunities of AI. I hope that the hon. Member will see the foresight that this Government have had in putting that not just on the British agenda but on the agenda of the world.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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May I congratulate the Government on convening the summit and on its success? It is, as the Secretary of State said, a considerable achievement to get the US, the EU and China to agree a communiqué. It was good to have access to the frontier models that the summit agreed. Having future summits, in six months’ time, is also an important step forward.

As the Secretary of State said, the summit focused principally on frontier AI, but it is vital that we can deal with the here-and-now risks of the AI being deployed already. In the White Paper that they published in March, the Government said that they expected to legislate to have regulators pay

“due regard to the principles”

of that White Paper, but such a Bill was missing from the King’s Speech. Meanwhile, in the US, a very extensive executive order has been issued, and the EU is finalising its Artificial Intelligence Act.

Will the Secretary of State think again, in publishing the response to the White Paper, about taking this final opportunity before a general election to ensure that the good intentions and practice of the Government are not inadvertently left behind, with other jurisdictions’ legislation preceding our own and other people setting the rules rather than the United Kingdom setting a framework for the world?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his important question. I think it is right that we do not rush to legislate, because we need to understand properly the risks that we are facing. That is why we have been investing in bringing on board the correct experts, both into Government and into the taskforce that will now morph into the institute. It is why we have also committed not just ourselves but our international partners to producing the “state of the science” reports, so that we can stay up to date with those risks.

Absolutely, we will eventually have to legislate, but as we said in the White Paper that we published earlier this year, we do not need to rush to do that; we need to get the timing right to ensure that we have the right solutions to match those problems. There is a lot that we can do without legislation. We demonstrated that last week by convening the world for collective action to secure pre-model deployment testing, to ensure that we work together to get a better handle on the risks, and to encourage partners such as America to go further, on which we have seen us and them acting in lockstep.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. The Bletchley declaration provides a baseline and is useful as a starting point, but it will be ongoing engagement that counts as we develop our understanding of the opportunities and threats that AI presents.

I was very taken by the Secretary of State saying that this was not an opportunity for party political point scoring. In that vein, on reflection, does she share my disappointment that the UK Government seemed to actively take steps to exclude the involvement of the devolved Administrations from around these islands from participation in the summit? Any claim that the UK might have to global leadership in AI rests in large part on the work that goes on in all parts of these islands, particularly from a legal, ethical, regulatory and technological perspective. It would have been very valuable had the other Governments that exist on these islands had the opportunity to fully participate in the summit.

While the declaration is a useful starting point, it is the future work on this that will count, so may I have an assurance from the Secretary of State that the UK Government will not seek to curtail again the involvement of devolved Administrations around these islands in future national and international discussions on these matters?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I met my counterpart—and my counterpart from Wales—just days before the summit, but as the hon. Member will appreciate, AI is not a devolved matter, and the people of Scotland were represented by the UK Government.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher (South Ribble) (Con)
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I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and the frontier taskforce for all the work it has done to produce an important global moment not dissimilar to the COP process. My question is about the AI safety team. In Lancashire we have the National Cyber Force centre coming in Samlesbury, and there is already a big skills base in the region, with GCHQ in Manchester. Can she update me and my constituents on how AI safety will get fed into our national security and how she will work with the National Cyber Force centre?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate advocate of cyber-security, which is one key area that we delved into at the summit. It is incredibly important that we maintain cyber-security throughout not just our Government and public services but our businesses, which is why we have been prioritising the area in the UK. I continue to talk to my hon. Friend and other Members about this work.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. On her reference to poetry, may I remind her that AI creates nothing? It generates a facsimile of text, but it does not create poetry. On the 400th anniversary of the first folio, that can only be done by this quintessence of dust that we are.

On that point, why were the creative industries excluded from the AI summit, when the Secretary of State knows how bitterly disappointed they were not to be included and how profoundly existential this whole issue is for the creative industries—one of the most successful and fastest growing sectors of our economy? Instead, they have been offered the sop of a side roundtable in the future, which the platforms are not even attending. Will the Secretary of State think again about the importance of including our excellent creative industries in every discussion that the Government have about the future of artificial intelligence?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Because the summit was only two days and was focused on a strategic conversation about frontier and the risks and opportunities, not everybody could be engaged and attend. We had an extensive programme called the road to the summit, where several roundtables were held with the creative industries, and both the Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure and I attended. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport led some roundtables as well. We are currently working on a code of practice, bringing together the creative sector and the AI sector, to identify and come up with some of the solutions in this area.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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It was a great pleasure to join the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister, and business and Government leaders from around the world last week at the AI safety summit. Does the Secretary of State agree that Milton Keynes showcased that it was an excellent place to not only hold global events, but to invest in technologies such as AI and robotics?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I could not have thought of a better place to host this international summit than Bletchley Park. It is not just me who thinks so: all of our delegates remarked on how important it was to host it at such a historically significant venue, one so close to the vibrant tech capital of Milton Keynes.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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The Bletchley Park declaration is indeed to be welcomed. Given the more or less consensual response to the Secretary of State’s statement, it strikes me that taking this issue forward on a cross-party basis is going to be absolutely crucial. There was no mention of legislation in the King’s Speech, and although I partially accept the Secretary of State’s point about the time involved in legislating, Governments of all colours come and go, but this issue transcends those changes. Can we get an undertaking from the Secretary of State that there will be discussions right across the Chamber involving all the parties about where she sees things going and what legislation may have to be looked at in the future, in order to give continuity?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I am more than happy to talk to anybody from around the House, and to convene a meeting with colleagues of all colours to discuss this important area and what the future may hold in terms of responses and action.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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It was in 1993 that the world wide web first became accessible to the public, and 30 years on, the world is still grappling with how to regulate and legislate for this industry. I am pleased that we heard from the summit that we are going to have proactive model checking, but I agree with the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), that much of this AI technology is already out there—that is the problem. How quickly will the safety institute be set up, and most importantly, how quickly will we see tangible results? Can we learn lessons from the vaccine, and from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on how legislation and regulation can run alongside innovation in this sector?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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In fact, we are learning some of those lessons, because the taskforce itself was modelled on our world-leading vaccine taskforce. As to when the institute will be set up, to all intents and purposes it has already been set up, because it is the next chapter—the evolution—of the existing taskforce. That taskforce has already done research on safety, and has demonstrated to delegates at the summit the full potential of the risks that could be apparent. It has already begun testing those models, and I can assure this House that there will be pre-deployment testing of the models that are going to come out within the next six months.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
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The first folio has been quoted. I would like to quote a more recent famous science fiction series: one Commander Adama, who said,

“You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you’ve created.”

I absolutely agree that there are huge opportunities in AI, but we have already heard about the huge risks. The Secretary of State says that we should not rush to legislation, but the truth is that we have often lagged behind in this area—for example, in regulating social media—and we see others moving ahead, including the United States, as we have heard. The EU is also planning legislation by the end of the year. If we are not having legislation, can the Secretary of State at least assure us that an urgent assessment is being made of how hostile states are already weaponising AI for military and other purposes, including information, cyber and hybrid warfare, but also in the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear spheres? Some hugely worrying stuff is happening out there. Are we urgently assessing it, and deciding how we will respond and defend this country?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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Let me pull up the hon. Member on one comment he made, which was about us lagging behind on legislation for social media. We are in fact leading the world with the world’s most comprehensive Bill—now Act—in that area. On the misuse of AI, this is one of the three pillars of risk that we discussed at the summit. The risk documents that we published just before the summit highlighted the fact that AI can amplify existing risks. There are already risks presented by the internet and other technologies in relation to biochemical warfare—they are present today and we are dealing with them. This could potentially amplify that, and we have certainly both talked about that internationally and are working on it domestically. We will be coming back to our White Paper within the year.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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Historically, every revolution at a time of technology leads to threats of job losses—people not having opportunities to work, which is dreadful for people’s lives. However, here we are today with almost full employment in the UK, and there are opportunities for AI to increase that, as well as to make people’s lives easier, improve employment prospects and, indeed, conquer diseases. Will my right hon. Friend set out some of the advantages for the average individual of harnessing artificial intelligence for the benefit of all humankind?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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The opportunities from AI are limitless, and they can transform our public services. In fact, that is already happening. We see our doctors detecting cancer earlier, and we see us utilising the technology to try to tackle things such as climate change more quickly. In relation to jobs, my hon. Friend is quite right that AI, like any technology, will change the labour market. If we look back to 1940, we see that 60% of jobs we have now did not actually exist back then. AI will create new jobs, and jobs we cannot even think of, but it will also complement our jobs now, allowing us more time to do the bits of our jobs we actually train to do—for example, assisting teachers to have more time in the classroom and doctors to have more time with patients.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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During the covid pandemic, one of my greatest concerns was the over-reliance on and the promotion of lateral flow devices as a gold standard, as it were, of testing and surveillance. It was all the more frustrating because, during that time, I was aware of domestic businesses that were developing AI models to surveil not just covid, but other viruses, such as Ebola and dengue fever. I had a recent very constructive meeting with Health, which is now on board with AI and looking at domestic diagnostics. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how these businesses can be brought forward as part of a co-ordinated strategy to develop AI testing and prepare effectively for any future pandemic?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Member.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Sorry, but not only do I not buy the Secretary of State’s excuses for not including devolved Governments in the summit when my constituency alone is bursting with leading fintech, cyber-security and creative organisations, but I do not buy her excuses for not introducing regulation more rapidly. She has said herself that the game-changing ChatGPT was introduced a year or so ago, and the EU is rapidly approaching completion of its first AI Act. Why have her Government once again been caught napping on introducing regulation?

Michelle Donelan Portrait Michelle Donelan
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To repeat the comments I made earlier, AI is not a devolved matter, and the people of Scotland were represented by the UK Government—by me and also by the Prime Minister of the UK. In relation to her urging us to do a copycat of EU legislation, may I point out that it was our White Paper that was praised for its innovation and its agility? It has allowed us to attract some of the leading AI companies to set up their first international offices here in the UK, creating the jobs not only of today, but of tomorrow.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I thank the Secretary of State for her statement.

Debate on the Address

Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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[3rd Day]
Debate resumed (Order, 8 November).
Question again proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

Making Britain a Clean Energy Superpower

Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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11:39
Claire Coutinho Portrait The Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero (Claire Coutinho)
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It is a pleasure to open today’s King’s Speech debate on behalf of His Majesty’s Government. Throughout history, economies have succeeded when they can source enough cheap and secure energy. Now, as we face a new challenge—the global challenge of climate change—it is important that we source enough clean energy too. We have been a coal superpower and an oil superpower; if the Opposition are looking for a clean energy superpower, they should look no further. Britain today is a clean energy superpower, and our plans will enable us to go much further.

While the Labour party never ceases to talk this country down, I am proud that we are leading the world in this great energy challenge. In the first quarter of this year, 48% of our power came from renewables, up from just 7% in 2010. We are a world leader in offshore wind. We have increased our country’s renewable energy capacity fivefold since 2010—more than any other comparable Government. We are building new nuclear for the first time since Margaret Thatcher’s Government, and this brilliant innovation nation is leading the world in new technologies like small modular nuclear reactors and fusion energy. As recently as 2012, coal was generating 40% of UK electricity, but we are now on course to be one of the first major economies with power that is coal-free.

This work led by the Conservatives is dramatically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. We have had the fastest reduction in emissions of any major economy, down almost 50% since 1990. Meanwhile France is down 23%, the US has not changed at all, and China has increased its emissions by 300%. And we are not stopping here. Which is the major economy with the most ambitious target to cut emissions by 2030? Is it the US, at 40%? Is it the EU, at 55%? No, it is the United Kingdom at 68%.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I am very conscious that the net zero targets are set for the United Kingdom, but unfortunately Northern Ireland cannot participate nor can we add our physical support to achieving those targets, because the contracts for difference scheme is not in place in Northern Ireland. I have spoken to our Ministers about this. Will the Secretary of State also look at this on behalf of all the constituents in Northern Ireland who want to contribute to achieving the net zero targets and be part of the contracts for difference scheme?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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I will happily look at that.

The UK was the first major economy to set a legally binding date for net zero. Our ambitions for 2030 are ahead of those of our peers and we have the plans in place to meet them. In fact, we have met every single one of our stretching targets to reduce carbon emissions, thanks in no small part to our clean energy success. Labour seems to have conveniently forgotten about the shameful state of our renewables sector when it left office. Just 7% of our power came from renewables in 2010; today, thanks to the actions of the Conservatives, that figure stands at near 50%. Never forget that it was the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) who described the idea of the UK getting to 40% renewables as “pie in the sky”.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab)
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I had to correct the right hon. Lady’s predecessor on the point she has just repeated. Her mistake is quite basic, confusing electricity and energy. The Guido Fawkes blog—not an institution I often praise—pointed this out when her predecessor made this mistake. What I actually said—it comes from David Laws’ memoirs—was that it was pie in the sky to say we could have 40% of our energy provided by renewables. Currently, the figure is 18%. The Secy of State’s remark is inaccurate and wrong, and I would be grateful if she withdrew it.

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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I will happily go and look at that, and take that point on board, but I will say that it sticks with the trend of the right hon. Gentleman talking our energy and power down.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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I will read from David Laws’ memoirs. During the coalition talks, I said,

“all this stuff about getting 40% of energy production”—

energy production—

“from renewables by 2020 is just pie in the sky.”

Energy production from renewables is currently just 18%. I would be grateful if the right hon. Lady corrected the record.

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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As I said, I will happily look at that, but the right hon. Gentleman has made comments about nuclear—

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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I ask the Secretary of State for the third time. She claims that I said that it was “pie in the sky” that 40% of our electricity could come from renewables. I did not say that, and I have pointed out to her the exact quote, where I talk about 40% of energy coming from renewables. When one has said something inaccurate about another hon. Member in the House, the right thing to do is not to just keep reading the Conservative campaign headquarters lines, but to correct the record.

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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As I said, I am happy to do the right hon. Gentleman the courtesy of withdrawing on this occasion, but I would also suggest that he correct the record himself about the fact that he said we needed no new nuclear in the past.

Now that I am allowed to move on, let me say that energy security means national security, and that means powering Britain from Britain and making sure we never have to worry again about generating enough power to keep the lights on or heat our homes. We saw what happened last year when Putin weaponised energy, and the full impact his illegal war in Ukraine had on energy bills for households around the world. I am proud that the Government stepped in with an unprecedented level of support, paying around half of people’s energy bills. With continued global instability, I know that households are anxious about the coming winter. That is why we have the energy price guarantee until April 2024 and why we will always protect the most vulnerable in society with targeted support such as the winter fuel payment, cost of living payments and the warm home discount.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State is talking about energy bills, and thousands of my constituents are really struggling to pay their energy bills and are petrified about what the winter holds. On the media round on Monday, the Secretary of State said there was nothing in this King’s Speech to help people with their energy bills. What will she to say to those thousands of my constituents and indeed other constituents?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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The Bill we are bringing forward will unlock billions of pounds in tax, which will go towards helping with the programmes I have just talked about—for example, the cost of living payments we are putting in place. It will also unlock billions of pounds of investment, which will go towards a greener transition, and I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that having more renewable energy in the future will contribute to lower bills for her constituents.

Our leadership is bringing wealth to our economy and to British workers. Since 2010, we have secured £200 billion in low-carbon investments, with potentially up to £375 billion on the way. Carbon capture will see 50,000 high-skilled British jobs in places such as Teesside and the Humber. Our world-leading offshore wind farms will see 90,000 jobs from Aberdeen to Cornwall by 2030. That is the difference between a Conservative Government, focused on attracting businesses, investment and jobs and creating livelihoods, and Labour, with its same old plans to borrow, borrow, borrow, intent on racking up billions of pounds of debt and then just leaving hard-working families to pick up the bill.

Let us look at the record and the Government’s plans to go further. We are a leader in offshore wind power. We do not just have the world’s largest offshore wind farm; we have the second, the third and the fourth largest, and we are now home to the fifth largest too. We expect growth in offshore wind to deliver enough energy to power the equivalent of every home in Britain by 2030 and to support 90,000 jobs. And it is not just offshore wind; it is floating offshore wind too.

We will generate enough solar energy to power 10 million electric vehicles by 2030.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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Will the Secretary of State tell us how much the UK’s offshore floating energy capacity will increase by as a result of the licensing round that has just closed?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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I would happily answer that point. The point the hon. Gentleman should understand is that a thriving oil and gas sector unlocks investment in other renewables. There are people interested in floating offshore wind who are part of the oil and gas sector now—the same subsea technology, the same people and the same skills will power our offshore wind and floating offshore wind sectors in the future.

We are also funding eight groundbreaking projects through our £1 billion net zero innovation portfolio to help us harvest the power of the sun from space. Space-based solar could provide clean energy day and night in all weathers and send it wirelessly to the Earth. Madam Deputy Speaker, I think you would agree that that is a superpower in itself.

Meanwhile, hydrogen hubs in places such as Teesside are not only creating the green hydrogen energy of the future, but bringing investment back to areas Labour left behind. By 2030, the sector could support up to 12,000 jobs and unlock up to £11 billion in private investment. However, hydrogen is not the only new technology we are supporting. In the last CfD allocation round, I was delighted to see that we had an unprecedented number of projects supporting emerging technologies such as tidal and, for the first time, geothermal energy.

So our green transition means up to £375 billion of investment and nearly half a million jobs across the UK. Of course, our plans also mean that by 2050 we could see our demand for electricity double, fuelled by our clean energy revolution, so we need to power up our electricity grid. I have made that my priority, and that is why I am ending the first come, first served approach to grid connections by raising the bar to enter the queue and ensuring that those who are ready first will connect first.

We will set out the UK’s first ever spatial plan to give industry certainty and every community a say, and we will speed up planning for the most nationally significant projects coming forward with our response to electricity networks commissioner Nick Winser’s review coming shortly. Those plans alone could unlock £240 billion of investment and support 130,000 jobs.

I turn to carbon capture and storage. We are investing £20 billion to make the most of our natural advantages in skills and geology. We have announced the first eight carbon capture networks that we will take forward, which are in the north-east, the north-west and Wales, and the next two carbon capture clusters, which are in north-east Scotland and Humberside. Those announcements put us on track to achieve between 20 million and 30 million tonnes of captured and stored carbon dioxide a year, which is equivalent to taking 4 million to 6 million cars off the road each year from 2030. Our plans will support 50,000 jobs by 2030 and add £5 billion to the economy by 2050. What is more, with 78 billion tonnes of potential storage in the continental shelf, the UK has the potential to become one of the greatest carbon storage bases in the world, thanks to the geological goldmine we are lucky to have on our doorstep.

Renewables are not always predictable, as they rely on the British weather—and, sadly, we have yet to develop a technology that can harness all of Labour’s hot air. That is why we are ramping up nuclear to help us become a clean energy superpower. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North, who for years sat at Gordon Brown’s side, did nothing to boost British nuclear, and other Labour Front-Bench Members have been naive enough to say that we do not need nuclear. We on the Government Benches are righting their wrongs. Earlier this year, we set up Great British Nuclear to spearhead our nuclear revival. We are building two new large-scale nuclear power stations. In fact, each and every operational nuclear power plant in Britain began its life under a Conservative Government. We are accelerating the development of small modular reactors, we are accelerating advanced modular reactors and we are leading the world in fusion energy. We are backing this vision with £700 million. The House may not realise it, but we have the hottest place in the solar system here in the UK, just under 50 miles away at the Culham Centre.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is making an amazing speech, showing how much the Government have done for our environment. Could she give us an idea of the timetable for the small nuclear reactors and when the first one is likely to be licensed?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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I thank my hon. Friend. We are working at pace to have the fastest competition possible. We have just moved past the first part of the process and will be setting out more details in the new year.

As the Government continue to consider our long-term energy security of the future, it is only right that we support our British oil and gas communities. Even the Climate Change Committee acknowledges that oil and gas will be part of our energy mix when we reach net zero in 2050. So if we will need it, it is common sense that we produce as much of our own of it here.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
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As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on nuclear energy, I hear that one of the biggest barriers to nuclear is not the investment that the Secretary of State talks about but planning and people. What will she do on that? I have not heard anything so far in what has been proposed to stop things such as judicial reviews going in to stop nuclear power stations being built.

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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The hon. Lady is right to raise skills, people and planning. We have been looking at ways to speed all of that up and will be setting out more details by the end of the year.

The King’s Speech included legislation for awarding oil and gas licences each year, giving industry the certainty it needs to invest in jobs here in the UK.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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I will make some progress.

Oil and gas is an industry that supports 200,000 jobs and is expected to provide £50 billion of tax revenue in the next five years. That is the people and the money that the Labour party would send abroad, because it is not against oil and gas jobs, just against British oil and gas jobs—and for what? To increase our reliance on imports from foreign regimes with higher emissions and to send away billions of pounds of investment in carbon capture and hydrogen schemes. Opposition Members support those technologies but would rather the taxpayer footed the bill for them.

With our ambitions on net zero and for our energy security, it is critical that we make the most of our own home-grown advantages, but Labour and the SNP’s policy means jobs abroad, investment lost and energy security sabotaged. You do not have to take my word for it, Madam Deputy Speaker—the unions are sounding the alarm. It has been said that Labour “does not… understand energy”, is self-harming and “naive”, and that its policies would leave our oil and gas communities decimated, turning our oil and gas workers into the “coalminers of our generation”. Those are not my words but those of the GMB and Unite. We want to keep jobs and manufacturing here, but Labour has not understood that we needs natural gas supplies. Those are the words of industry. The important truth is that we know we need to transition to clean energy, but it is the same people, communities and expertise that will unlock the green transition. The skills of those working on oil and gas rigs today are the same skills that we will need for the offshore wind jobs of tomorrow.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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I am losing track of the number of times I have pointed out in this Chamber that just because we extract oil and gas from the North sea does not mean that it gets used here. It gets sold on global markets to the highest bidders, as we have said 100 times.

When it comes to annual licensing rounds, which the Secretary of State is flagging up, is it not the case that the North Sea Transition Authority was already licensing in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019? It only stopped because of the climate compatibility checkpoint. The tests that she sets out are not worth the paper that they are written on; she knows as well as we do that they are impossible not to meet, because they are set so low. Will she stop pretending that the Bill is serious, and just admit that it is nothing more than a gimmick?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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It is not a gimmick to protect 200,000 jobs. It is not a gimmick to protect the investment that will go into the cleaner energies of the future. On the hon. Lady’s first point, 50% for the gas supply that we use here comes from domestic production.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is being generous in allowing interventions. On the GMB leader’s quote about oil and gas jobs becoming the coal jobs of the future, is it not the case that the people with oil and gas skills, who we really need to deliver the energy transition, will not be left on the unemployment line, but will go and do their jobs overseas and deliver other countries’ energy security and energy transition?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are lucky to have the skills, expertise and equipment in this country, which are the same skills that we need for a future in renewable energy. It is vital that we protect them and keep those skills here. To unnecessarily cut off those workers’ livelihoods in this country would wreck our clean energy ambitions. We remain resolutely committed to our ambitious net zero targets. More renewable energy; a nuclear revival; exciting new technologies such as hydrogen, carbon capture and fusion; and, where we need oil and gas, jobs for British workers—that is our vision for the future.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome
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A moment ago the Secretary of State quoted the Climate Change Committee, which also said that expanding fossil fuel production is not in line with net zero. By the Secretary of State’s own admission on Monday, not a single Bill in the King’s Speech will help families struggling with energy bills. How can the Government justify turbocharging new oil and gas, when that does nothing for the cost of living crisis and blows a hole in our climate ambitions?

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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I am afraid the hon. Lady is quite mistaken. The Climate Change Committee’s own data shows that when we reach net zero in 2050, oil and gas will account for about 25% of our energy mix. That is why it is important to ensure that if we need it, it comes from here.

There are two futures here. One is the future I have just described, where we cut our emissions faster than any other major economy in the world; we drive hundreds of billions of pounds of private investment in wind, nuclear and hydrogen; we support UK industry with carbon capture; we create a world-class export opportunity in our continental shelf; we secure nearly half a million jobs, with our young people renowned globally for their expertise; we bring supply chains and manufacturing capability to our industry heartlands such as the Humber and Teesside; our coastal communities are renewed; and we protect our energy security and support families and businesses with the cost of energy. That is the future for Britain as a clean energy superpower.

There is another future: a bleak world. Imagine it is a grey day; the last private investor has just pulled out of the North sea. Those communities without the jobs to support them have disbanded. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North is explaining yet again why the Labour party has laden the country with debt. His mothballing of British oil and gas is seen as the worst handling of our natural resources since his old boss sold the gold. Norway, with its ongoing oil and gas licences, is forging ahead with its greener future. Meanwhile, jobs in Russia are booming. Our energy security has been jeopardised, as imports from unstable regions rise. That is the future we can expect from a party reliant on Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion for ideas. With an awful predictableness, this parallel world has once again proven the law of British politics: every single Labour Government in the past left unemployment higher.

Of course, that future is not a surprise to anyone. The right hon. Gentleman said, after all, that we should sacrifice economic growth to cut emissions. [Interruption.] He would like to borrow £28 billion in his blind ambition for 2030, no matter the cost to ordinary people. Just three days ago he said that protecting the British oil and gas industry, 200,000 jobs and £50 billion of tax revenue was a stunt. But it is not a stunt to want to keep jobs in the UK, it is not a stunt to want to protect billions of pounds of taxes and investment in this country, and it is certainly not a stunt to prioritise domestic security over the threat of dictators such as Putin.

The British people have rejected the right hon. Gentleman’s arguments before, and they will do so again. I am sure that he will today mention Great British Energy, a new Labour entity about which we know only one thing for sure: it will be run badly, funded by the shadow Chancellor who, when she is not borrowing other people’s words, is recklessly borrowing to fund Labour’s policy and leaving the British people to pick up the bill.

What will GB Energy really look like? Will it be like Labour Nottingham Council’s version, Robin Hood Energy, which collapsed in 2020 leaving local taxpayers with £38 million of debt? Will it be like Labour-run Bristol’s version, Bristol Energy, which also collapsed, leaving local people with losses of £43 million? Or will it be like Labour’s 50% stake in Warrington’s Together Energy—people will get the pattern by this point—which also collapsed, with a £37 million bill this time for local residents to pick up? Not content with bankrupting Birmingham and Croydon or skewering local taxpayers in Nottingham, Bristol and Warrington, Labour now wants to bankrupt Britain. One thing is for sure: when Labour is in charge of your energy you will pay the price.

Energy transitions do not happen very often and now we are on the brink of the most important one of all to reverse centuries of global warming and reach net zero and secure energy resilience by powering Britain from Britain. It is only the Conservatives who have the plans to protect this country’s energy security, to deliver the most ambitious 2030 emission cuts of any major economy, to promote jobs and investment in the UK, and to help this country stand tall on the global stage. We will do that all without forcing families to choose between protecting their family finances and protecting the planet.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

12:02
Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab)
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This Gracious Speech takes place against a backdrop of three crises facing our country: the worst cost of living crisis in memory; the long-term failure of our economy to work for working people, with stagnant growth over a decade; and the climate and nature crisis we see all around us. The question at the heart of this debate is whether the Government’s legislative programme unveiled earlier this week in any way meets the scale of those challenges. The resounding answer is no. I am sure the Government think that they are being punished by the voters because the crises this country faces are so big, and that is probably true, but it is also because the politics they offer is so small. The King’s Speech demonstrates that in abundance and nowhere is that more true than on climate and energy.

Here we are, the last King’s Speech before the next general election and the Government release a two-clause political stunt of a Bill. They released it on Monday, during the worst cost of living crisis for generations, with energy bills still double what they were three years ago. Millions of people across our country—all of our constituents—are wondering what the Government are going to offer. On the day of the announcement, the Energy Secretary was asked a simple question by an interviewer: “Will it make a difference to energy bills?” For millions watching, surely the answer had to be yes, because, after all, that is what her job is all about. But this was her answer:

“it wouldn’t necessarily bring energy bills down, that’s not what we are saying”.

I commend the Energy Secretary for her outburst of candour. In a Government of fake news, it is good to have the occasional warrior for the truth.

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Oh, I will, definitely, yes!

Claire Coutinho Portrait Claire Coutinho
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that I said it would also help fund renewable energy? Does he disagree with the view that a future with renewable energy would help to bring bills down?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that that is what we call wriggling.

As I was saying, I commend the Energy Secretary on her outburst of candour. She is right—she is telling it like it is—and, by the way, she is in good company. Let me read this to the House:

“MYTH Extracting more North Sea gas lowers prices. FACT UK production isn't large enough to…impact the global price of gas.”

Who said that? Not somebody on this side of the House. [Interruption.] No, not a former Chancellor. It was the current chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), when he was the Energy Minister.

So here they are, they really are going to the country and saying with a straight face, after all the pain and anguish that the British people have faced, “Here is our grand offer to you: the ‘we won’t cut your bills’ Bill.” That is the offer from the Secretary of State: “Vote Conservative, and we promise we won’t cut your energy bills.” No wonder the Back Benchers are despairing. The Government could have done so much. They could have lifted the onshore wind ban to cut energy bills, but they did not. They could have legislated for a proper programme of energy efficiency to cut bills, but they did not. [Interruption.] I will happily give way to the Energy Secretary’s Parliamentary Private Secretary if he would like to intervene.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Never mind then. Keep quiet.

The Government could have legislated to change planning rules to speed up renewables and cut energy bills, but they did not. They do not seem to realise how tin-eared, how out of touch, how absurd they look.

So how did we end up with this Bill? The hon. Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans), who was not allowed to intervene, thinks it is about energy security, and that is what the Secretary of State said. The truth is, however, that she is trying to peddle an illusion, and I suspect that she knows it. Fossil fuels, with their markets controlled by petro-states and dictators and their price set internationally, cannot give us energy security. That is the obvious basic lesson of the past two years. Whether gas is produced in the North sea or imported from abroad, we pay the same price. How much did we import from Russia at the beginning of the crisis? It was 5% —but we were the worst hit country in western Europe, not because of our imports from Russia but because of the way in which the price is set on the international market.

I cannot put it any better than the National Infrastructure Commission, which said just three weeks ago:

“Reliance on fossil fuels means exposure to geopolitical shocks that impact the price of these internationally traded commodities.”

We have had North sea licensing for the last 40 years in this country. If more of it were the answer, the British people would not have faced the pain that they have. According to Energy UK, new oil and gas licences

“will not lower customer bills or significantly improve the UK’s energy security.”

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid
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The right hon. Gentleman made a very good point earlier about the difference between the percentage of renewables for electricity and the percentage of renewables for energy overall, including heat and transport. Does he acknowledge that the United Kingdom is currently 75% dependent on oil and gas, and does he agree with the members of the Climate Change Committee, who have stated that themselves, and who have predicted that by 2050, when we get to net zero, the proportion will still be about 20%?

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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I think the Climate Change Committee is actually saying that its most ambitious scenario, which we should be aiming for, is for us to cut the use of gas by 90%. Are we going to carry on using North sea oil and gas? The question for the hon. Gentleman, and for the whole House, is this: do we choose, for the future, to carry on drilling every last drop? That is the Government’s policy, in contravention of all the scientific advice, which is that we will end up in a 3° world—needing billions of pounds of taxpayer subsidy to bring about that investment through persuasion, and diverting investment from the private sector. Personally, I do not think that that is the right choice.

The lesson of this crisis is one that the Government should have learnt, and one that other countries around the world have learnt: the only way to get energy security is to sprint for clean power. That is why the Government’s onshore wind ban is such a disaster. That is why their offshore wind auction is such a disaster. That is why their energy efficiency failures are such a disaster. This Bill neither protects us on price nor gives us energy security.

Here is the thing, the Bill is not motivated by millions of people lying awake at night, worrying about the cost of living crisis; it is motivated by a Prime Minister lying awake at night, worrying about the Conservative party crisis. The interesting thing is that this Bill was planned well before the right hon. Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) became Energy Secretary. It is the last desperate throw of the dice by what we might call the No. 10 galaxy brains, to use climate change as what they call a “wedge issue.” They say this to the newspapers all the time. Series 1 of this new strategy was aired in September, when the party of Churchill and Thatcher became the peddlers of wacky conspiracy theories they found on the internet: abolishing the mythical seven bins; ending the imaginary threat of compulsory car sharing; saying no to invented conspiracy theories on 15-minute cities; and fighting the fictional meat tax. And now we have a sequel. No longer a few throw-away conspiracy theories, this is now the central strategy of their legislative programme.

Members should not take my word for it. It is what the Prime Minister’s advisers brief to the papers day after day. One paper I read on Monday reported that the Prime Minister wants to “weaponise climate change” as a wedge issue. Where the British people see an energy crisis forcing up their bills, the Government see a wedge issue. Where the British people ask how they can have liveable towns and cities with good transport, the Government see a wedge issue. Where the British people worry about the effect of the climate crisis on their kids and grandkids, the Government see a wedge issue. The point is that the Government cannot really deny it, because they know this is what they are saying every day. “We think there is a big opportunity for the Conservative party to try to create division on climate change.” That is why the Prime Minister uses words like “eco-zealots.” It is all very transparent. They are locked in the boot of a strategy. Whether they agree with it or not, that is what is happening.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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This is the problem. The right hon. Gentleman calls it a wedge issue but, in his own language, he boils it down to a binary issue. It is not a binary question of whether we have oil and gas or whether we have renewables; it is about an energy mix. Does he realise that, last year, there were 260 days—by my maths, that is getting on for nearly three quarters of the year—when there was not enough wind to generate enough power for this nation’s needs? Whether he likes it or not, we will need to have an energy mix. It is something that he just does not seem to understand.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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I am afraid that all the hon. Gentleman is pointing out is the Government’s failure to go fast enough in driving towards renewables. Of course we need a mix of energy, but this is the question for the House and the country: do we decide that drilling every last drop, which is the Government’s position and which would be a climate disaster, is the right strategy? Or do we decide that the right way to go is home-grown clean power? We say it is home-grown clean power.

The problem is that all the nonsense the Government are coming out with really matters, and it worries me. By the way, I think it will be an electoral disaster for them, and we already see that because the intelligent Conservatives are asking, “Why are we doing all this?” Members on both sides of the House did this together. We built a consensus on climate over the past 20 years, to work across parties and not to weaponise it. People look at America and say. “Well, America has a culture war on climate. Thank goodness we do not have that in Britain.” That was the case until this Prime Minister—not the previous Prime Minister, or the Prime Minister before her—decided to do it.

On the day of the Prime Minister’s climate U-turns, the Home Secretary had a licence to go out and say that the danger of climate action is that it will “bankrupt” the country. The Home Secretary freelances on most issues, but on this issue she is actually speaking for the Prime Minister, because it is echoed by other Cabinet Ministers. This is a massive retreat from the position of both parties for two decades, that leadership on climate is not somehow a danger to our economy but is the way to seize and build our economic future. They have opened the door to the old, discredited idea that we can choose either our economy or the climate, but not both.

It is not just a retreat from the consensus; it is a retreat from reality. The reality is that there is a global race, with countries seeking to go further and faster to create the jobs of the future. No wonder business is horrified. Just last Monday, Amanda Blanc, the chief executive of Aviva, warned about the Government’s commitment to unlimited oil and gas drilling. She said that our climate goals as a country are “under threat”, which

“puts at clear risk the jobs, growth and the additional investment the UK requires”.

The Government try to claim that this is somehow consistent with climate leadership. I mean, come off it!

Seven hundred British climate scientists oppose the changes, and so do the International Energy Agency and the Climate Change Committee, which my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) quoted:

“Expansion of fossil fuel production is not in line with Net Zero.”

The Government’s own net zero tsar, the right hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who is in his place, also opposes them. They appointed him to advise them on climate and energy. They said how brilliant he is, and I agree—sorry to ruin his career even further. He is a very intelligent guy. [Interruption.] He is denying it. He has great ideas, and what did he say?

“There is no such thing as a new net zero oilfield.”

Those are not my words, and they are not the words of eco-zealots or Just Stop Oil; they are the words of the right hon. Gentleman, who sits on the Government Benches. He signed the net zero target into law, for goodness’ sake. We have to grow up.

In contrast to the right hon. Gentleman, we have the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, whom I like —[Interruption.] I do. We have worked together on climate, but I will now say something not so nice about him. This is what he said yesterday:

“There is nothing fundamentally wrong with oil and gas, it’s emissions from oil and gas that are the problem”.

For goodness’ sake—what does that even mean? Here we are: the people who know what they are talking about do not speak for the Conservative party, and the people who speak for the Conservative party do not know what they are talking about.

I can tell the Secretary of State and her colleagues that this strategy is doomed to fail. The British people do not want a Government who say, “We are going to weaponise the climate crisis.” They do not want a Government who say, “We are desperate. We are behind in the polls”—I remember that feeling—“and we therefore have to turn this into a wedge issue.” They want a Government who will cut bills and tackle the climate crisis. All the Government are doing day after day with all this nonsense is proving that they are not the answer.

What would a Labour King’s Speech have done? Today, every family is paying £180 more on their bill as a result of the onshore wind ban that has been in place since 2015. The Government could have lifted the ban but, two months ago, they did not. They offered a weak, half-hearted compromise that will make no difference. As RenewableUK says,

“the planning system is still stacked against onshore wind”.

Why not lift the onshore wind ban? Why is it harder to build an onshore wind farm than an incinerator? The Government had to shell out billions of pounds in subsidies when the energy crisis hit. I think those subsidies would have been something like £5 billion less if we had not had the onshore wind ban. Then we have offshore wind and the disastrous auction, which added £2 billion to bills, according to the industry.

A Labour King’s Speech would legislate to lift the ban on onshore wind, to speed up the planning process and to sort out the grid, so we can decarbonise our power system by 2030. Clean power is the foundation, and next comes energy efficiency. I am afraid that here the Government have utterly failed, and their complacency is extraordinary. This is what the Climate Change Committee said about the whole sector:

“since 2010 progress has stalled, with no further substantive reductions in emissions.”

It has been a shambolic 13 years. We all know the litany: the disaster of the green deal, the green homes grant, David Cameron’s “cut the green crap”. Insulation measures were running at 1.6 million in 2010, and last year—any offers?—they were running at 78,000, which is 20 times lower. A Labour Government would do what the country is crying out for and have a proper plan, funded by public investment, ramping up to £6 billion a year to provide support for home insulation and low-carbon heating.

Next, let us talk about the green economy and building our economic future. The Government are never short of boasting about their record, but we are actually eighth out of eight major countries in Energy UK’s projections for renewable investment up to 2030. And get this: in the seven months after the passage of the US Inflation Reduction Act, which the Government do not like, the US created almost 10 times more green jobs than the UK created in the previous seven years. So in seven months, the US created 10 times more jobs than we did in seven years. What is the Government’s response to the Inflation Reduction Act? They say it is “dangerous”, “distortive” and “protectionist”. This is not some accident; they do believe that this is a role Government. I am afraid to say that that is a recipe for Britain losing the global race.

What would Labour do differently? We would have a national wealth fund, not with one-off, ad-hoc investments, but a proper plan. We would be investing in ports, our steel industry and electric battery factories. We would also have a new publicly owned energy company, GB Energy, which I am glad the Secretary of State mentioned. It would be partnering the private sector in the industries of the future. The Government object to GB Energy, because they say that we do not need public ownership of energy in Britain. I have to say to the House that the Government may not realise it, but we already have public ownership of energy in Britain, with EDF, Vattenfall, Ørsted and Statkraft. They are all companies wholly or partly owned by states—foreign states. They own our industry. In fact, nearly half of our offshore wind industry is owned by foreign states—by state-owned foreign companies. So the Government take the extraordinary position that it is okay for state-run companies to invest in Britain, so long as they are not British state-owned companies; let French, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian citizens get the wealth from our energy industry, just not British citizens. That is the Government’s position.

This makes me a nerd, but let me say that the late Ian Gilmour wrote an autobiography—[Interruption.] It is not that that makes me a nerd. [Laughter.] He wrote an autobiography about his time in Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet, and some here will know that its title was “Dancing with Dogma”. That is what we are seeing here, because the Government are in favour of public ownership of our energy assets, so long as it is by foreign states. That does not sound very Conservative to me.

GB Energy would be investing in the industries of the future, partnering local communities to create jobs and wealth for Britain. A Labour King’s Speech would have contained an energy independence Act to make all of this possible: clean power by 2030 to cut bills; a proper energy efficiency plan; a national wealth fund; and GB Energy. That is an energy Bill equal to the scale of the crises we face.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am going to finish.

The Prime Minister has been in the job for more than a year and he has been rumbled, just as his party has been in power for 13 years and it has been rumbled. For all his talk of change, the public know, as does the House, that he cannot bring the change this country needs. The Government’s pathetic, small legislative programme shows it, and they all know it. They are out of ideas and out of time, and the only solution for our country is for them to be out of office.

12:22
Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I warmly welcome this historic King’s Speech and the “clean energy superpower” theme of today’s debate. As the House will imagine, I will also look at the broader context within which this King’s Speech has to be viewed.

Before I go on to that, I wish to pick up on the comments of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). I did agree with one thing he said: we should not play politics with climate change. I do not think the people we represent want that, but he just gave us a 20-minute masterclass in just that. I hope that he will reflect on his speech, because to be playing such petty politics with such an important issue was not worthy of the work that I know he has done over many years. It is just not credible for him to simply dismiss the past 10 years of achievements, as he did in one fell swoop. I am sure that on reflection he will wish that he had spent more time acknowledging what this Government have done.

Edward Miliband Portrait Edward Miliband
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No, I will not.

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If he does not, people will judge him all the more badly for that.

As I said, I warmly welcome this historic King’s Speech, which comes at a time when the challenges our country faces are starting to crystallise. We have had three major impacts to our economy in the past few years, and the doorstep conversations we were having at the time of the last general election in 2019 were nothing like the ones I am having with my constituents now. Whether we are dealing with the impact of the war in Ukraine, the appalling situation currently in Israel, our leaving the European Union or the impact of the global pandemic, the things that people are talking about now are interest rates and inflation—issues that have not been on the lips of our electorate for a number of years. I am pleased to see that the Government have understood this challenge and are looking at the long-term challenges our country now faces, rather than simply looking at what has happened in the past 10 years. We need to look forward to make sure that we are planning for the very different set of challenges that our economy faces. The King’s Speech will be just the beginning of that process.

When we consider clean energy, it is worth looking first at the track record of this Government. We were the first major economy to legislate for a net zero target, and since 1990 we have cut emissions by 48%. One could be forgiven for not understanding that, given the right hon. Gentleman’s initial contribution. We are aiming to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030. Until we start to agree that there is success we can talk about, the electorate will continue to be confused. When we look at the progress that is being made and applaud it, we can then start to plan properly for the future.

In the first quarter of this year, 48% of our energy came from renewables, which was an increase from just 7% when the Conservatives took power in 2010. Perhaps some of the questions the right hon. Gentleman should be answering are why we were in such a relatively poor situation in 2010 and why more had not been done by the previous Administration. We are now an acknowledged world leader in offshore wind. I will address that later in my speech, because we could be working more with our friends, particularly countries such as Canada, to see how we can make sure that our renewable energy goes from strength to strength.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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One success story of the past few years has been Wrightbus, in Ballymena in North Antrim, and its advancements in hydrogen and renewables. Does the right hon. Lady agree that we do not hear enough about some of the good things? That is one of the good stories and we should hear more about it.

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I heard a great deal about the importance of hydrogen to our future on my recent trip to Canada as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy. There are a lot of complications associated with hydrogen and we need to do more work on it, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that good things, such as those that he mentions, can be eclipsed by the Opposition’s rhetoric if we are not careful. I think also of new nuclear power stations, small modular reactors and fusion energy, for which we have the test bed at Culham, which is being used the world over for the development of that innovative technology. There is also the work being done by the Minister for Industry and Economic Security on critical minerals, which I will come back to later.

Gas and oil will continue to be part of the mix of energy that we use into the future, as they will for most developed countries. Our Bill in this area safeguards those domestic supplies, which is really important, because we cannot leave our country open to not having that safeguard in place, particularly given recent events. The King’s Speech clearly demonstrates a commitment to remaining at the forefront of the world’s transition to net zero, but the Government have also made sure that they have that safeguard in place through gas and oil.

I particularly wish to address the importance of making sure that as we transition to clean energy, the Government, and others, keep a close eye on its impact on our communities. I was reminded of that recently when there was an application for planning consent for an industrial lithium-ion battery plant in a sensitive part of my constituency, right next to a hospital and a river. Industrial lithium-ion batteries are an essential part of our transition to clean energy, because they help iron out the supply of energy, particularly wind energy. As one Member pointed out, the wind does not always blow at the right time and in the right place, so lithium-ion battery storage facilities can help to make sure that energy is available throughout the day, on every day of the year, but they need to be correctly located.

Our planning consents have not been updated to properly recognise the problems that such plants can cause. I am grateful that the Government listened to the arguments I made and have already made changes to planning guidance to introduce mandatory environmental permits soon, which will prevent the granting of planning permissions for those sorts of plants in inappropriate locations. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to make sure that they continue to look for those sorts of issues as they arise.

New technology and a continued drive for clean energy will inevitably mean that further new technologies and processes will emerge. We need to ensure that our existing permitting systems are fit for purpose. Many hundreds of lithium-ion battery plants are planned for this country—I urge right hon. and hon. Members to look in their own constituencies to see if any are planned—and although they are a fire risk and an environmental risk, they are an essential part of the transition. We need to make sure they are safe when they are put in place.

The remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made me think about the importance of rare earth minerals, which are an essential part of our transition to clean energy. I know my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Economic Security has already put together an important strategy in that regard.

When I was in Saskatchewan recently, I met the chief executive officer of the Saskatchewan Research Council, Mike Crabtree, which runs the rare earth processing facility. He described the incredible work that is going on in Canada to make sure we have supplies of rare earth minerals that can help us continue to see the transition to clean energy in the future. Wind turbines need such rare earth minerals, and we need plans and treaties in place with countries like Canada that can safely ensure we have a supply of these minerals into the future, so that we are not held to ransom by countries that may not have such stable and democratic regimes in place.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be using the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to review the supply chains for new technology, such as batteries? We know that modern slavery often takes place in countries producing those materials, such as those in Africa, so can we update the Act?

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point. When I speak to companies in Canada that are developing lithium mines and looking at mining rare earth metals, we talk about the importance of supporting indigenous people and of proper training. We should be doing business with countries that take the issues around modern slavery, which my hon. Friend raises, very seriously. That will be taken into account as we continue to negotiate our free trade agreement with Canada.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also mentioned skilled personnel associated with oil and gas. I reiterate the point she made in response to an intervention, drawing on my experience of a recent visit to Alberta. In that province, I saw how the skills of oil and gas personnel are already being used to develop renewable energy, whether that is expertise in pipelines, hydrogen— as mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—chemicals, engineering or other forms of innovation. There are transferable skills and the Government need to urgently ensure we are not losing those skills to other countries; we must keep that expertise at home. We have made huge progress in greening our energy supplies but there is more to do. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can ensure that we do not lose that expertise to other countries.

At the heart of the King’s Speech is resetting the dial for our country in the light of three enormous economic shocks. The new Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill has enormous potential to expand both our import and export markets, making sure that communities such as mine in Basingstoke continue to have vibrant businesses into the future.

Within the Gracious Speech, I also welcome the leasehold and freehold Bill and the continuation of the Renters (Reform) Bill. In my constituency, almost two thirds of households are owned as opposed to rented, but it is important that those who are in leasehold flats or renting in other ways have better protection. The Government’s commitment to reform the rules around leaseholds, while not entirely in line with clean energy, is an important part of the Bill, as it will make it easier and cheaper for people to extend their leases and stay in the homes they love. That is important for my community and many others across the country.

My constituency of Basingstoke has seen historical overdevelopment, often at the hands of a Labour Government who put in place unrealistic housing targets. I have seen my community respond positively, but we have contributed our fair share. Will the Minister therefore confirm when the new national planning policy framework guidelines will be published? I think they are coming out soon. They will help communities like mine, including by better recognising the overdevelopment of the past, so I hope the Minister can give us a brief update on those guidelines. I know it is not just me on these green Benches who is interested in the timing.

In the Gracious Speech, we also heard the Government’s commitment to the NHS and to seeing an NHS at its very best. I was proud to receive notice from the Government that an incredible £900 million has been ringfenced by the Treasury for a new hospital in my constituency. In the spirit of hoping that these things are above politics, I hope that those on the Opposition Benches can get behind projects like that, which are in the interest of the whole community, and that they do not become political footballs. A new hospital of that magnitude—an exemplar—will be important not just for my constituents, but for many hundreds and thousands of people around the south-east. I hope the Government are able to continue to put out positive messages about their hospital programme.

Finally, the criminal justice Bill mentioned in the Gracious Speech will touch on an issue I have raised many times in this Chamber—intimate image abuse. I was delighted to see that the Bill will include intimate image abuse legislation, building on the legislation that has already been passed as a result of a great deal of good thought by Ministers in the Online Safety Act 2023. I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) for championing the inclusion of more work on intimate image abuse.

In the Online Safety Act 2023, we criminalised the sharing of intimate images without consent. Now we need the rest of the Law Commission’s recommendations —that the making and taking of such images also be criminalised—to be enacted, and the Bill will give us the opportunity to do that. I am not sure that the Minister will be in a position to confirm the details of the Bill today, but if she knows anything about its timing, I would be most grateful to hear that.

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. There are many Bills in the Gracious Speech that will make a real difference to the people I represent and to people across the country. I hope that talk of it not having content will be seen as it is—political rhetoric. There is a great deal in the King’s Speech that will make a real difference to people’s lives. I look forward to debating the Bills in the coming weeks and months, and to making sure that they are as good as they can be.

12:39
Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
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This Gracious Speech serves as a stark reminder that the Westminster Government cannot be trusted to deliver for the people of Scotland—certainly not in terms of energy. It is ludicrous that people living in energy-rich Scotland are having to grapple with unaffordable energy bills. As a solution, we have a King’s Speech that does nothing to address that. The only energy-related Bill that was referred to in the King’s Speech on Tuesday was the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which the Secretary of State herself admitted just a few days ago would not bring energy bills down. It is therefore incorrigible that, at a time when a record number of households are facing fuel poverty, the only concrete proposal mentioned in the King’s Speech is one that, by the Secretary of State’s own admission, will not help cash-strapped households across these islands. It could though, she says, release funds to support households with energy bills—the operative word there being “could”. But even in this vaguest of commitments, the mask slips. Let me reinterpret that comment. It basically means that, in the absence of additionality to the Exchequer, this Government will stand idly by while people freeze.

The speech also included reference to help

“attract record levels of investment into renewable sources”

and

“reform grid connections”,

but no Bills were specifically named that set out how that might be achieved. There were no plans, and no detail or funding, to deliver the transition network that is needed to lower bills and ruthlessly dial out gas from our generation systems, thereby protecting consumers. It is utterly hopeless. It is a blank cheque for new extraction based on maximising extraction in abstract, with very little strategic ambition or joined-up thinking, except that of maximising London’s receipts from Scotland’s hydrocarbon endowments. Old habits, it would appear, do indeed die hard.

This ambition also comes with the worst possible greenwashing nonsense as supposedly qualifying criteria, which are entirely permissive, including the carbon intensity test, which seeks to discern whether gas extracted from the North sea will have a lower carbon footprint than gas processed and shipped from around the world— I am pretty sure that you and I, Madam Deputy Speaker, can guarantee that it will. Then there is test that discerns whether the UK remains a net importer of both oil and gas. It seems that that, too, will be a fairly consistent position. It is not even clever or sly; it is almost an indignity to put criteria like that, which is so simple to meet or exceed, in the legislation.

With the same forked tongue that the Government used when they claimed that revenues could go to supporting household energy bills, they also claimed that tax revenues could go towards supporting renewable energy investment. If they meant that, they would be setting out exactly how that would happen; but they have not, because it will not happen under this Treasury or this Tory Government.

In Scotland, we know what the revenues from our oil and gas will be spent on. It is the same thing that they have been spent on by UK Governments over the past 40 years: infrastructure investment in the south-east of England and stemming the economic collapse of broken Brexit Britain. Scotland will not reap any endowment from this latest round of extraction. The Government claim that this is for energy security and to reduce our reliance on foreign oil and gas, when only last month they explicitly decided to prolong that very reliance on gas: through the rollback of the boiler replacement ambition; through the failure of auction round 5, resulting in even more gas generation, which will have to replace the offshore wind that did not happen as a result of that auction round; and through the rollback of the deadline to phase out internal combustion engine cars.

There is no progress on energy efficiency, home insulation, curtailing demand, protecting bills and keeping people safe in their homes—none of it—in this ambition. And the Government are now congratulating themselves on the gas front, because the gas that we will extract from the North sea is marginally less environmentally damaging than that which would have been shipped in from Asia or the middle east. It is the stuff of nonsense.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid
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The hon. Gentleman says that the gas imported from overseas is only marginally more environmentally damaging. Does he not agree with the likes of the North Sea Transition Authority, Offshore Energies UK and other experts in the field that estimate that it could be anything between twice as much or up to five times as much the carbon footprint to take liquefied natural gas into this country, deliquefy it and then get it into our system?

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I think that we actually agree: the gas that we extract from the North sea is less environmentally damaging than that which would be shipped in from around the world. The point that I am making, and the point that many other observers are making in this space, is that we should be running as far away as we can from yesterday’s hydrocarbon technologies and throwing everything that we have, including the kitchen sink, at getting into a renewable space, protecting bills and saving the environment from further damage. That is where we should be, so mithering over percentages here or there is not the way for us to proceed.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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The hon. Gentleman is making some really important points, many of which are to be applauded. One significant point is how do we make that transition away from hydrocarbons and deplete the carbon that is already being generated and stored in offshore carbon banks? Does he agree that one way to do that is to introduce a wellhead tax on all new oil and gas to fund carbon capture and storage offshore? Secondly, does he support the establishment of a publicly owned energy company in Scotland?

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, I say yes. On his initial point, we would not need to be overly sceptical to take a jaundiced view of the tax regime that operates in the oil and gas sector in the UK. Let me leave it at that.

The only way to achieve long-term energy security, which goes in some way to answering the hon. Gentleman’s question, is through renewable energy produced on and offshore in the North sea and all around these islands. Scotland’s future is at the heart of this green gold rush but we are, as usual in this so-called Union, held back by London doing to Scotland, never with, and talking at us but never for us.

Wind energy is demonstrably and by some margin the cheapest to produce of all the energy in the UK, but despite that, the UK Government managed in auction round 5 to offer a price for wind energy that was so low that not a single offshore wind producer could sign up to it. This is cack-handed arrogance from a Department that thought it knew better than industry—a Department that, rather than working in partnership with industry, deluded itself into thinking that it had the whip hand, that it held all the cards. In this, as with so much else, it was entirely wrong. It tried to call industry’s bluff, but the Westminster Government were forced to blink first—you could not make this up.

The interesting thing about that failure in auction round 5 is that when that generation capacity comes online—now it will come online I assume as a result of auction rounds 6, 7 and so on—the gap will still exist in the supply pipeline. We do not have the energy infrastructure to take that generation from where it is being generating and deliver it to industry and homes across Great Britain. That infrastructure is not there. The Government talk about how good they are on a global scale. They love to trumpet their record—this ridiculous debate heading “clean energy superpower” is specious nonsense—which betrays the fact that we cannot even deliver the energy that is being generated today. This Government are paying generators to switch their wind off, but the demand still exists, so where does this energy come from? Yes, gas. Every way that the consumer turns in this country, they are being let down and circumvented by this Government.

We could augment the grid and network infrastructure by properly supporting community energy ownership and generation. But let me be clear: there is £10 million for England only—perhaps the Minister could clarify whether that will be consequentialised for the devolved nations—which is not properly standing up for community generation. In Scotland, community-owned wind farms average £170,000 a year for community benefit payments per installed megawatt hour—an astonishing leverage of capital into communities, compared with £5,000 from standard community benefit payments.

Not only do communities fund those projects themselves —no public money is used in their construction—they solve the problems of the local community, including fuel poverty, improving home insulation and upgrading heating systems. Local communities know better than the UK Government what their priorities are, and are willing to fix them themselves. I would have thought that that was pretty consistent with Conservative ambitions—the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) may want to intervene—of self-reliance and resilience, but apparently not.

Thankfully, the Scottish Government recognise the huge opportunity of community energy schemes to empower communities, solve those challenges, and reduce the need for vast infrastructure investment projects through the community and renewable energy scheme. In Scotland, the Government have provided more than £58 million. Contrast that with the £10 million from the English Government for England—it is not actually £10 million anyway, because £1 million is for administration; it is really only £9 million—and we can see which Administration are supporting community energy generation, and which are not.

Time and again, we hear from local community groups that there is no support for gaining connection to the grid, and that the Government are utterly apathetic regarding the benefits of community energy generation. Perhaps we can get an answer today on when the Government will launch the much-anticipated consultation on the barriers blocking growth in community energy generation, given their promise to do so back in September.

This debacle has needlessly set back wind production in auction round 5, and we need to see something very substantial in auction round 6. I assume that we will have a realistic strike price for offshore in auction round 6. I hope that it will be around 50% to 60% inflated over what was in auction round 5, in cognisance of supply chain constraints, construction price inflation, and the challenges of capital expenditure and attracting investor confidence in the UK, which of course has taken a real battering after the Prime Minister’s announcements to row back on climate emergency legislation.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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My hon. Friend is making a marvellous speech pointing out the shortcomings of the Government’s approach to accelerating renewables and to the barriers onshore. Does he, as I do, detect the remnants of an anti-growth coalition living on among those on the Conservative Front Bench?

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan
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That would depend on what we want to grow. If we want to invest substantially in renewable energy and the technologies of the future, then yes, I do. If we want to invest in Chinese expertise, French reactors and nuclear power plants, then no, I do not. It is very much horses for courses with this Government, and I wish that my constituents, and everyone else in Scotland, did not have to rely on these misguided ambitions any longer than we absolutely must.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid
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I want to ask a genuine question of the hon. Gentleman, if he does not mind. He mentioned that he was hoping for between 50% and 60% inflation on the strike price for AR6, as and when it comes around. Could he expand on how that is calculated?

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan
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I do not want to go into the calculation elements of it, but it looks at the disconnect between the strike price that was delivered in auction round 4 and the ambition for auction round 5, wraps it up in the inflation environment that we are in—bear in mind that these are 2012 prices, so it is not actually that number—and comes out with a figure within that range. It is an auction, as the hon. Gentleman will know very well, so there is an element of second-guessing to it. However, after this Government’s failure in auction round 5, we cannot allow something similar to happen in auction round 6, which will create a disinvestment in offshore wind that we cannot allow to happen.

Scotland is a well-established net exporter of electricity. In 2020, we created 31.8 TW of renewable electricity in Scotland, equivalent to powering all the houses in Scotland for three and a half years. That was in 2020, and we are now generating even more. Calls in Scotland are growing louder and louder, asking how it is possible that in our country of 5.5 million people, where we produce six times more gas than we consume, a staggering 50% of Scottish people aged 55 to 64 are living in fuel poverty. It is as well that they ask, because the answer lies in being handcuffed to Westminster.

Scotland is currently leading the world on floating wind, but only by a very slim margin. We need strategic ambition and significant investment to leverage our intellectual, engineering and geographic advantage into a systemic lead on this technology on a global scale, certainly for technology and design, and for manufacturing in the European sector. Until three months ago, Scotland had the world’s largest floating offshore wind installation, but that title now belongs to Hywind Tampen in Norway.

We are at a critical juncture for offshore floating wind in Scotland, with the potential to exploit our enormous growth opportunity, and to export our manufacturing expertise across the world, but only if we get the strike price right. It is therefore frustrating in the extreme to see the Tories talk about the need for economic growth while at the same time utterly failing to do anything ambitious to support this burgeoning industry of almost limitless potential for Scottish jobs, UK jobs and global sales. Contrast that investment posture with the rush to welcome Chinese expertise and French technology into England’s nuclear industry.

Floating wind must get an appropriate strike price in AR6 that reflects the enormous growth potential of the industry. The Department needs to stand up to the Treasury and secure an administrative strike price that reflects the rudimentary understanding that, as a new technology, floating wind will have a higher cost per megawatt-hour, but it will reduce over time. The price must reflect the advantage of having a more advantageous strike price that allows the supply chain to fall on these islands, not forcing developers to get their supply chain from abroad.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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My hon. Friend mentioned standing up to the Treasury. The Secretary of State bragged about the Government’s support for tidal, but it is a peedie amount in comparison with their loving support for nuclear. It is very disappointing, when we consider how efficient, steady and reliable—and how much cheaper—that electricity source is. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree. I can only assume that it is due to the Conservatives’ blinkered reliance on nuclear. They cry, “We need baseload!” but we need a mix of energy storage and baseload solutions, just as we need a mix of generation. If they showed half the ambition for pumped storage, battery storage and hydrogen as they do for nuclear, we would be in a far better position and much less reliant on this grossly expensive generation technology.

On the pumped storage issue, I wrote to the Minister earlier this year and was informed that the Government were

“committed to putting in place an appropriate policy framework”,

but we saw nothing in the King’s Speech and we detect no sense of urgency regarding pumped storage. Long-term energy storage is yet another way to ensure energy security that the Government seem more than happy to ignore.

To maximise the efficiency of renewable energy generation while ensuring the lowest possible prices for consumers, we require a properly functioning energy grid, which will necessarily include long-duration energy storage. Industry has been super clear that future expansion of pumped hydro storage is achievable and affordable, and that crucially a number of projects already have planning permission, such as Cruachan in the west of Scotland. However, the UK Government’s current market mechanisms prevent the investment needed to ensure that those vital projects are delivered in a timely manner, consistent with the climate emergency and the ambition to lower consumers’ bills.

A cap and floor mechanism will fix pumped storage, and I would be very interested to hear the views of the Secretary of State on that, but when we take all these issues in the round, it is very clear to me and to the people of Scotland that we need control over our energy future. The only way to do that is with the full powers of independence.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. There is not massive pressure on time, but as colleagues can see, a number of colleagues wish to get in. My advice would be that were everybody to speak for no longer than 12 minutes, everybody would get in and have sufficient time. If people go on for too long, it puts pressure on others.

12:59
Chris Skidmore Portrait Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con)
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I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me in what is my last Gracious Speech debate. My constituency of Kingswood is being formally abolished in the boundary changes and there is nowhere for me to go, but I have had a great time participating in these debates over the past 13 and a half years.

I remember my first Gracious Speech debate. A loyal Back Bencher who knew no better, I was sitting in the Library, and a Whip came around and asked whether I might participate. I said, “Yes, sure, I’m happy to. Would five minutes be okay?” He said, “Yes, come in, but we actually need you to speak for 45 minutes, if that’s all right.” I am delighted that we have far more people in the Chamber now compared with that debate, when I was one of the few Members in the room. That demonstrates, I think, the interest and the enthusiasm on both sides of the House for focusing on the importance of the energy transition not just to tackling the climate crisis, but for the opportunity it presents the UK economy.

I was delighted to hear in the Secretary of State’s speech her enthusiasm for setting out in detail the UK’s progress internationally. We are a clean energy superpower. We can debate among ourselves the finer policy details, but the reality is that over the past 15 years we have decarbonised further than any other G20 nation. We have reduced our emissions by 50%, while at the same time growing our economy by 70% on 1990 levels.

That is a paragon and a model that all other nations look to, but it is important that once we have earned a reputation, we seek to preserve that reputation. Many countries now are following the UK, and we are now in a new global net zero race. We may have gone further and faster initially, which made us able to attract inward investment into this country as a result of our climate leadership, but other countries are following up further and faster in our tracks. I am reminded of the tale of the tortoise and the hare; the tortoises of the world are coming up, and we cannot just sit there pausing, thinking that this is good enough.

We have the United States Inflation Reduction Act, setting out £370 billion of investment in clean technologies, and the EU’s green deal, with the opportunity of up to €1 trillion of investment, but it is not just the investment that is important here—it is the certainty. I chaired the net zero review and published the “Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero” report in January. We were very kindly granted a debate in both Chambers on the recommendations of those reports. Above all, the narrative that that mission zero report set out was that net zero is not a cost but an opportunity and an investment, and that there are two paths ahead of us.

The Secretary of State talked about two paths, and I will come on to that in a moment, but my own analysis is that the net zero path can potentially bring up to £1 trillion of inward investment and up to 480,000 new additional jobs by 2035, if we so wish. However, that path requires commitment from the Government to provide certainty, clarity, continuity and consistency—the four Cs that we identified—and a mission-based approach that provides long-term programmatic certainty. That certainty is almost more important than the money.

If we look at what the States has done, the 45Q and 45X tax credits are guaranteed until 1 January 2033. The Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau programme in Germany and the MaPrimeRénov’ energy efficiency programme in France are guaranteed over a decade. In contrast, in the UK we are still exposed to the tyranny of the spending review, and many of our programmes, whether in energy efficiency or clean energy, are bedevilled by the fact that they only last for three to four years at most and then have to start all over again. That does not provide the certainty to build out supply chains, it does not provide certainty for local authorities or regional Mayors to make investment, and it certainly does not provide the certainty needed for inward private investment to come to this country.

Let us be clear: of course there is a capital cost to energy transition and there is capital investment that needs to be made, but once the capital investment is made, the operational cost is far less than for fossil fuel technologies. However, that money will come above all not from the taxpayer, but overwhelmingly from private investors, who need certainty. Certainty does not come only from Government policy, legislation and regulation, although the net zero review was very clear in setting out 129 recommendations for how Government and Parliament can provide frameworks to ensure that investors have the opportunity to reduce delays and unblock the current problems whereby people cannot get grid connections until 2035. I welcome the progress that is being made on that, but certainty also comes from having cross-party consensus.

What is cross-party consensus? It does not necessarily mean that we will agree on everything. It is right in this democratic nation that we discuss the details of policies and hold each other to account, but let us understand that the consensus we need on climate was fought for by working closely together. The Climate Change Act 2008 was passed by the then Labour Government. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was the Secretary of State at the time, but he had the political courage to accept an amendment from the Conservative party, then in opposition, to raise our ambition from 60% emissions reduction on 1990 levels to 80%.

The legal framework that we had in place, with the carbon budgets process, and on top of that the Climate Change Committee acting as an independent advisory body—it does not make any policy recommendations, and to suggest that it does is deeply flawed, because all it does is to report back and advise on policy decisions, whoever makes them, whether it is the UK, Scottish or Welsh Government or even the Opposition—has been admired across the world as a paradigm of stability. Not only that, but it allowed me, as the Energy Minister back in 2019, to bring net zero into law.

Why was net zero so important for developing a clean energy superpower? Because it meant that there was nowhere to hide. No one could claim to be in that 20% that was too difficult to tackle. Net zero was everyone’s business, and with that came a moment when net zero went viral. If someone had told me back in 2019, I simply would not have believed that 93% of global GDP would have now signed up to a net zero target in some form.

However, for the UK that means that investment is now going elsewhere unless we raise our ambition. The terms of the game have changed in this year alone, partly due, obviously, to what has happened in geopolitics and the cost of oil and gas crisis generated by Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. All countries in Europe have woken up to the fact that the answer to tackling the cost of gas crisis is to build out more renewable power. Even Ukraine has built 18 times more wind turbines than we have built onshore in the UK. There is only a finite amount of labour and investment, and we have a political choice to make whether we want that to come to UK, or whether we want to see it onshored elsewhere. I want to see it come to the UK.

We must set our priorities very clearly. Our priority must be that we want private investment to come to this country. We should retain that consensus and that ability to understand that, whoever becomes the next Administration at the next general election—I am not making a party political point here—we still need to work together. We all live under the same skies. We all operate under the same climate. Carbon dioxide does not care whether you are a Labour, Tory or SNP MP. All that matters is the real-terms emissions reductions we need to see.

When it comes to those emissions reductions, it is not about 2050; we cannot keep on kicking the can down the road. As COP28 will show, the globe will commit to a trebling of renewables and a doubling of energy efficiency measures in order to meet a halving of emissions by 2030. The UK needs to lead on the 68% emissions reduction target that it set in its own nationally determined contributions. The decisions we make today count not just for 27 years’ time, but for seven years’ time. That is what is at stake here.

That brings me, in conclusion, to the question of the future use of fossil fuels in this country. I understand that it is a closely fought debate, and unfortunately it has become politicised. I regret the decision that has been taken, but let us focus again on the evidence at hand. To start with, everyone in this Chamber, as far as I know, understands that we will need to continue using oil and gas. The Committee on Climate Change has set out the so-called balanced pathway, working alongside the North Sea Transition Authority, to recognise that we will still need to use oil and gas into the 2050s, but that we should do it with our existing wells and fields.

In reality, when it comes to looking at the future of oil and gas in this country, I do not belong to Just Stop Oil—I am not some eco-extremist just because I signed net zero into law, which was the bare minimum we could do. I saw net zero as a conservative mission, recognising that one of the priorities of the Conservative party, if anything at all, is to conserve. At the same time, it allowed us to generate economic growth and to ensure that all jobs, no matter the industry, were protected.

I am glad that we have raised the issue of jobs and people in oil and gas communities, because we must think about the individual communities and the people who work in those industries. They are highly talented and highly skilled, and we absolutely need their support to ensure that we can have a successful transition. The net zero review set out that we need an offshore industries passport; we need to make it far easier for individuals to move across into the industries of the future.

Politics is about priorities and deciding where investment goes. The Secretary of State mentioned the coalmines in the 1980, and in a way, I agree with her. Looking at what is left in the North sea, the decisions in the King’s Speech will mean, as Carbon Brief and a number of other environmental organisations have demonstrated, that instead of taking 95% of oil and gas out of the North sea basin, we will take out 97%—the equivalent of two weeks’ worth of oil and gas a year. That is the reality of what this energy security supposedly means.

It is not just me saying that. I have been handed this Conservative campaign headquarters brief, so I assume CCHQ wants me to read from it. It says:

“Even with continued licensing, production from the UK Continental Shelf is projected to decline at 7 per cent annually, this decline is faster than the average global decline”.

I even have the Conservative research department brief agreeing with me that there is not enough oil and gas in the North sea to make a difference; we will still be dependent on foreign oil and gas in future. It will predominantly be oil, and we do not have the refineries to be able to refine it, so it will still have to go the Netherlands and it will still be sold on international markets by foreign companies. Rosebank is operated by Equinor, a Norwegian company. I have nothing against Equinor, but we cannot pin a claim of energy security on the production of future oil and gas.

If we want to deliver effective energy security, we need to turn the debate on its head, because we have not really focused on what we need to achieve, which is a reduction in demand. We have been speaking a lot about supply, and that is fantastic, but if we want to be a clean energy superpower, we need to focus on our ability to reduce demand through energy efficiency measures such as heat pumps, and through understanding that we can reduce our gas demand, which is at the mercy of foreign petrostates and international markets, by up to 40%.

I know that the debate on oil and gas is emotive, and, to be honest, it is not helped by the performative protest of Just Stop Oil, which does not get anyone anywhere. No one in this Chamber supports Just Stop Oil. If we are honest, as democratically elected representatives, it is beneath us to suggest that any of us is in the same camp as Just Stop Oil. We are diametrically opposed, because we come to this Chamber to have democratic debate, across parties, about what is needed for the future, not to oppose for opposition’s sake. In understanding what needs to happen with the net zero transition, we need to ensure that we work together using the existing legislative apparatus—the CCC, the carbon budget process—and that we continue to lead, but that requires political certainty and political stability.

As I said, this is my last Gracious Speech debate, and, although I have so far supported every single such Speech in my parliamentary career, unfortunately this will be the first time that I am unable to vote for the King’s Speech. I apologise to His Majesty in advance— I hope that he does not mind—but I will not be put in a position of supporting new oil and gas licensing when it is not needed, either for environmental reasons, obviously, or for economic reasons.

This year alone, we have seen investment in oil and gas plummet. We have now seen investment in solar rise, to the point that it is at parity with oil and gas. If we continue to suggest that we can produce oil and gas forever, we will let down the communities that we need to transition. That is the point about the coalfields: we will end up being the Arthur Scargills of this world, claiming that we can forever continue mining coal. We cannot continue to drill for oil, because there is no oil left to drill. That is the economic reality that investors already understand. They are moving away from fossil fuels, and in 10 years’ time, people will look back at this debate and recognise that Westminster and Whitehall were behind the curve. The private sector and the markets are moving already. We need to listen now and clearly if we are to protect jobs for the future.

13:15
Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
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I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

It is often said that it is a great pleasure to follow the previous speaker, and it could not be more of a pleasure for me to follow the final speech in a King’s Speech debate by the right hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), because he has been a champion in this House for a sensible way forward. His work on the Skidmore review was exemplary.

I also want to pick up on what the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) said about the need to maintain the cross-party consensus, which has been so vital to the progress that we have made over the past 10 years—and more than that, the past 15 years. Cross-party consensus has enabled us to progress. Yes, the past 10 years have been years of progress; the past 13 years have been years of progress. The foundation was laid very ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), the Government took advantage of that, and we are now in a good place. We are in the lead, but we are not showing leadership. That is the difference: we need to show more leadership now.

Last winter, there were 4,706 excess winter deaths in Britain caused by living in cold, damp homes. That was 1,520 more than in the year before, and last winter was considered mild—let us all pray that this winter too is considered mild. I will examine what the King’s Speech will do for those in fuel poverty and those who will struggle in any winter because their property is simply draughty, damp, cold and un-insulated. How will this King’s Speech prevent even more excess deaths this winter?

It is often said that the first job of Government is to protect their citizens. That does not just mean from external threat or internal crime, but in the basics of life. What could be more basic than the warmth of a decent home? Thankfully, energy prices have fallen since last winter, but they remain 70% higher than in the year before, so what is the Government’s strategy? What demands have they made of the energy supply companies to help customers get through this winter? What measures are there to improve the energy efficiency of buildings? Some 21% of UK emissions—over a fifth of all our emissions—comes from heating leaky and inefficient buildings; 21% of emissions, but 100% misery for those living in those buildings.

The majority of those 4,706 excess deaths were pensioners, who are most vulnerable to the cold. What measures are the Government taking to ensure the uptake of pension credit? The Secretary of State worked at the Centre for Social Justice and at the Housing and Finance Institute, and she has been a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, so she knows the plight of pensioner poverty. Yet this King’s Speech holds no hope that the Government will tackle the problem of 37% of pensioners not getting pension credit.

Where is the Bill to retrofit energy efficiency measures in all our housing stock, to save money and save lives by making sure people can turn their heating down because their property is not losing every therm it pumps out? There is nothing—well, not quite nothing. Ahead of the King’s Speech, the Prime Minister announced that he was dropping the proposal to oblige landlords to ensure that the properties they rent to their tenants are brought up to a minimum energy performance certificate standard of C by 2028. That will ensure that 2.4 million privately rented homes continue to be cold, damp and energy-inefficient. It will ensure that 1.6 million children who we know are currently living in what are officially classed as “non-decent” homes have no relief for another seven years, until the new date set by the Prime Minister of 2035.

Of course, it is not the wealthy landlord who pays the heating bill. That means insulating the properties properly is not something they have an incentive to do, unless it is mandated by Government. It is calculated that the tenants, who do pick up the bill, will end up paying an extra £1 billion in their gas and electric bills because the Prime Minister wants to show that he is not an “eco-zealot”. I would not be proud to wear a badge of moderation on the backs of some of the poorest private sector renters in our country.

I am sure that Government Members will wish to point to the £400 payment from the energy bills support scheme, funded from the windfall tax on oil and gas producers last year. Of course, that still left bills twice as high as they had been previously and provided no relief for off-grid properties or those who had to use prepayment meters. Their alternative scheme for those 900,000 households reached just 2,000 bill payers and returned £440 million to the Treasury. Could the Government not even have the wit to put that money back into the system to provide energy efficiency measures for those properties?

What about the warm home discount? Two years ago, the Government revised the qualifications for it, which means that those 37% of pensioners who are not claiming pension credit do not get the warm home discount either. More than that, not all energy providers are obliged to offer the discount, and even those that are obliged have a limited obligation, which is used on a first come, first served basis.

The job of government is to get the help available to the people who need it. Winter is coming. The Government need to look at this again. They should be introducing a social tariff to protect our most vulnerable, struggling, fuel-poor citizens. They should get rid of the unfair and regressive standing charge and introduce a rising block tariff, so that those using less energy pay less per unit of energy, so that the principle of “polluter pays” applies and so that those who need to heat their swimming pools pay much more per unit to do so.

What we have in this King’s Speech is not the Bill to tackle fuel poverty that we need, but a Bill to shovel yet more public money to the oil and gas sector through the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill. The Government seek to justify the Bill by saying it will “enhance” this country’s energy security. It will not, because companies such as Shell and Siccar Point Energy sell their gas on the international markets and refine their oil abroad. The International Energy Agency has made it clear that we have already identified five times the amount of oil and gas that the world could possibly use if it is to keep within the 1.5° threshold of dangerous climate change.

These licences are part of a scramble to be the last country to sell the last barrel of oil. I gently remind the Secretary of State that the stone age did not end because of a lack of stone, and the oil age will not end because of a lack of oil—oh, but it will end! What my constituents living in cold, inefficient homes do not understand is why, under the tax rules devised by the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor, they are the ones who will end up paying to develop these licences. The taxpayer gives 92p in tax rebate for every £1 those companies spend developing these new fields in the North sea basin—companies such as Shell, whose own chief executive called his company’s profits “obscene”.

The Secretary of State tries to persuade the House and the public that these licences are justified because of the tax revenue they will bring. That might be an argument if the facts did not tell us that any tax revenues will not flow from these licences for the five to eight years that it will take to develop them. That might be an argument if the facts did not tell us that it will divert investment away from the real, cheaper, cleaner renewable energy that will actually reduce bills. It might be an argument if it were not the case that, even with the windfall tax, the tax take from oil and gas producers is less than the global average.

When the windfall tax expires next year, the UK tax take from oil and gas producers will fall back to the lowest tax rate in the world—not 10% less than the global average, and not 20% less, but 38% less than the global average. If we levied tax at the global average, we would get an extra £14 billion into the public purse that could address fuel poverty and retrofit those houses.

How does the Secretary of State explain that to the 4,706 families who lost loved ones to excess deaths, the 37% of pensioners not getting their warm home discount or the 2.4 million families now waiting an extra seven years for their landlord to insulate their homes properly? What will she tell them—that there was no time for a Bill to deal with the scourge of fuel poverty, but there was time to introduce a Bill to deal with the scourge of unlicensed pedicabs? Priorities; priorities.

Let me mention two further Bills in the Gracious Speech. I welcome unreservedly the Holocaust Memorial Bill and urge the Government to introduce it swiftly in the eight months before purdah sets in for the next general election. The significance of this Bill has only been heightened by the hideous terror attack on 7 October. Both sides of the House will give the Bill a speedy passage, so that we can build the memorial and learning centre. If there were ever a time that we needed such a learning centre against hatred, it is now.

Finally, I give a much caveated welcome to the leasehold and freehold Bill. If the Government see this Bill as a vehicle to end the feudal system of leasehold, they are wrong. It extends the right to enfranchise and own the freehold of one’s own home only to leasehold homes, not to the 5 million people who live in the misery of leasehold flats. England and Wales is the last redoubt of this antiquated and unjust property ownership. Every other country in the world has a commonhold or strata title system.

The fundamental problem with leasehold is the inequity of power. The leaseholder pays full market value for their apartment, but they have no power to take any of the key decisions that relate to it. They are told by the managing agent what repairs are required, who will do them and how much they will cost, but the leaseholder has to pay. It is not enough, as the Gracious Speech says, to improve leaseholders’ consumer rights. What we need is an abolition of leasehold. We need to abolish marriage value, and we need to enable enfranchisement, so that all leaseholders—not just leasehold house owners, but leasehold flat owners—are able to enjoy the full rights of property ownership, instead of being exploited as they are now.

11:29
David Duguid Portrait David Duguid (Banff and Buchan) (Con)
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It was my honour to attend the state opening of Parliament this week, representing the people of Banff and Buchan, particularly on this occasion of the first King’s Speech in over 70 years. I join others across the House in thanking His Majesty King Charles III for delivering the Gracious Speech.

In general terms, the King’s Speech shows that this Government are making the necessary long-term decisions to get this country on the right path for the future. One of the criticisms I am sure we all receive across the House is that politicians often focus too much on short-term outcomes, so this long-term approach is to be welcomed. This bright future will be delivered by growing the economy, strengthening society, keeping people safe and promoting our national interests.

The topic of today’s debate is making Britain a clean energy superpower, and it is on growing the economy and particularly the subject of energy security that I would like to focus. That will come as no surprise to most people in this House, as I have spoken at length in this place on the combined subjects of energy security and net zero even before that became the name of the Department headed by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho). The main thrust of my contributions has been, I believe, to reinforce the critical role played by oil and gas companies; their workers with their skills and expertise; the technology, supply chains and service companies; and, yes, the capital that those companies bring in making this country’s energy transition a success. I recognise that this appears counterintuitive to some across the House, but delivering on our energy security objectives and on our energy transition objectives are not mutually exclusive goals.

I therefore welcome the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill that was introduced this week. While this country continues to scale up our domestic, renewable and low-carbon sources of energy, data from the Climate Change Committee tells us that we are currently 75% dependent on oil and gas for our energy needs. As the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—who is no longer in his place—mentioned earlier, that figure is not just for electricity generation, but includes transportation and heat. It was the Climate Change Committee that pushed for the very ambitious target of the UK getting to net zero emissions by 2050. That target was put into law by this Conservative Government—in fact, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore)—making the UK the first major economy anywhere in the world to do so.

That data from the Climate Change Committee also tells us that by 2050, when we reach net zero, this country is predicted to still be at least 20% dependent on oil and gas. As has already been established, we have decarbonised faster than any other G7 country compared with 1990 levels: we have reduced emissions by almost 50%, with a target to reach a 68% reduction by 2030. We have almost completely transitioned away from coal, which provided 70% of our power generation in 1990 but provides less than 2% today, and the deadline for zero unabated coal power has been brought forward to 2024—just next year.

However, we have some way to go if we are to get to net zero. I make no apologies for saying this: we absolutely must continue to develop and install more and more renewable, low-carbon and sustainable sources of energy to generate the electricity and provide the heat and transport that our economy needs. We will continue to deliver more wind, solar, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and other technologies to actively reduce the demand for oil and gas. We have come a long way, but we are not there yet. We need to get from where we are today to where we need to be in the future through the energy transition that we have already embarked upon—an transition that the oil and gas industry has been embarked upon for decades.

To give an example, we need look no further than Peterhead power station in my constituency. That power station came onstream in 1980, and is today the only dispatchable thermal power station north of Leeds. Originally designed to run on fuel oil, which already made it cleaner than coal-powered stations elsewhere in the country, it was operating fully on natural gas by the 1990s. In the 2000s, combined cycle gas turbine technology was installed, which made the station even more efficient. It is now towards the end of its life, and a new power station is planned to be built at the same site. With roughly two thirds of the capacity of the current power station, but linked to the Acorn carbon capture project at the nearby St Fergus terminal just up the coast, that new facility will generate power that is at least 95% emission-free. As many in the House will know, Acorn forms part of the Scottish CCS cluster, which will help decarbonise industrial processes at the Mossmorran liquefied natural gas plant in Fife and the petrochemical complex at Grangemouth in the central belt, among others.

As I have said, the energy transition is already happening, not just within the hydrocarbon production industry but by utilising the skills, technology and supply chains of that industry. I welcome this Government’s recognition of the vital role that oil and gas companies, and their more than 200,000 workers across the UK, will have to play in that energy transition.

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will require the North Sea Transition Authority to run an annual process inviting applications for new production licences in the UK continental shelf. A licensing round would take place only if the UK was projected to import more oil and gas from abroad than it produces domestically—that is, to continue being a net importer. The carbon emissions linked to UK gas production would also need to be lower than the equivalent emissions from imported liquefied natural gas. Those two tests are already included in the Government’s climate tests for new licences, known as the climate compatibility checkpoint. The Bill would make the tests legally binding.

I have heard some Members say, including today—in fact, I think it is the official Opposition’s policy, or at least it has been their policy—that not only should we not award any new production licences, but we should simply keep producing from the wells we have. That shows a staggering lack of understanding of how oil and gas reservoirs work. According to Offshore Energies UK, the trade body for the offshore energies industry,

“There are currently 284 active oil and gas fields in the North Sea and by 2030 around 180 of those will have ceased production due to natural decline.”

OEUK has warned that without fresh investment, by 2030 the UK will be reliant on oil and gas imports not for 50% of its needs, as it is today, but for 80%. As I have said, more than 200,000 jobs depend on the continuity of North sea energy companies. That workforce has developed world-leading specialist skills since oil and gas production from the UKCS began in the 1970s. About 90% of those workers have skills that can be readily transferred to renewable energy production, and in the growing carbon capture, utilisation and storage sector that figure is probably closer to 100%.

To recap, why does the UK need more oil and gas licences? Data from the NSTA shows that the UK replaced only 3% of production with new reserves in 2022, meaning that only one new barrel was invested in for every 33 barrels produced today. The UK is expected to close production from 20 fields this year, while only two new fields will start producing, and for every oil and gas well drilled, around three are closed. Even with an increase in new wells, we will not be producing more oil and gas; even in the most optimistic projections, with new oil and gas, production is predicted to continue to decline by 7% a year. Let me repeat that: new oil and gas does not mean more oil and gas, but we do need to maximise the amount of oil and gas we get from the UKCS for as long as we need it. And need it we will —need it we do!

As I said earlier, as we grow our capacity for renewable, low-carbon and sustainable forms of energy, our demand for oil and gas is set to decline, from 75% today to 20% in 2050. As such, if we need oil and gas, it makes sense at the most basic level of understanding that we should produce it as locally as we can. The carbon footprint of importing liquified natural gas, for example, can be anything between two and five times that of domestically produced gas.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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What about Norway?

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid
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Norway is the two. Actually, it is broadly equivalent, but apart from Norway, any gas coming in from overseas has between two and five times the carbon footprint. New oil and gas capacity will reduce exposure to global instability—the kind of instability that we saw when Russia invaded Ukraine. This Bill means that we can reach net zero without unduly burdening families and businesses. Data from the North Sea Transition Authority and the Climate Change Committee tells us that if we produce as much oil and gas from the new wells as we can, that will still merely slow the decline in production. Even with an optimistic 7% year-on-year decline—I mean optimistic from a producer’s point of view—that decline is faster than the average global decline needed to align with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5°C pathway.

Finally, if we follow the SNP’s presumption against new oil and gas or Labour’s Just Stop Oil approach and shut down this vital industry too soon, we will not see a massive transfer of workers to the renewables sector, as is predicted. We will not even see a bunch of unemployed oil and gas workers; we will see a massive exodus of those oil and gas workers, going where the oil and gas industry is being promoted.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I thank the hon. Member for giving way. In his haste to castigate the SNP for presumptions against oil and gas, will he not at least have the intellectual honesty to recognise that in the climate change compatibility checkpoints, his own Government are introducing a presumption against further development, no matter how weak and feeble that presumption might seem to anyone with a care for the subject?

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid
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I have heard the hon. Gentleman make that remark before, and I am sorry to say that I completely disagree. A presumption against new oil and gas development is a presumption against new oil and gas development; a climate change compatibility checkpoint is part of an assumption of new oil and gas, so it is not a presumption against new oil and gas. [Interruption.] I have just explained it.

Those workers with their skills and expertise, those supply chains and those service companies with their technology will simply go elsewhere—as I have said—and deliver someone else’s energy security and energy transition. I commend the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill for showing this Government’s commitment to not let that happen, and to make the right decisions for this country’s long-term future.

13:39
Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
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I would like to start by saying what I think we can all clearly see: that the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill announced in the Gracious Speech is no more than a cheap and divisive gimmick. It is nothing but a last-ditch attempt to boost the Prime Minister’s ailing poll ratings and simultaneously prop up the dying oil and gas industry. It is a deeply dangerous attempt at that, because undermining the hard-won climate consensus for short-term electoral point scoring is simply reckless and threatens the progress that all of us in this House have worked so hard to achieve.

In reality, the Bill will make no difference at all. It will require the North Sea Transition Authority to run an annual process of inviting applications for new production licences. However, as the Minister well knows, the NSTA was already holding annual licensing rounds—most recently in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. This was only paused in 2020 when it said that it would await the so-called climate compatibility checkpoint before opening further rounds. Now that the checkpoint is in operation, we can expect the NSTA to resume regular licensing rounds, not least because it has the obscene legal duty to “maximise economic recovery” of petroleum from the North sea.

Instead of adding more obsolete and outdated legislation to our statute book, the Government should be bringing our laws up to date and ensuring that they help, rather than hinder, our transition to a zero-carbon society, especially when this embarrassment of a Bill will do absolutely nothing, as so many hon. Members have said, to help those struggling households facing energy bills that are double what they were two years ago, with a staggering 6 million households in fuel poverty as we head into the winter. Indeed, it was the Secretary of State herself who let the cat out of the bag earlier this week by almost immediately contradicting the Prime Minister’s claim that new licences would help to reduce bills by admitting, as we have heard, that

“it wouldn’t necessarily bring energy bills down, that’s not what we’re saying.”

Even the Prime Minister’s closest allies cannot stand by his falsehoods, and it is no wonder. Despite the Prime Minister’s failed attempts to present this legislation as “benefiting families”, the truth is that the only people it will help are the fossil fuel companies that pocket the profits, because any oil and gas that is extracted will be owned by private companies and sold on the global markets to the highest bidder—I really do not understand what is so difficult about getting one’s head around that—and because

“more U.K. production wouldn’t reduce the global price of gas.”

Those are not my words, but those of Tory party chairman and former Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands).

If the Government genuinely cared about reducing households’ costs, they would look to urgently decouple the price of electricity from expensive gas. If they genuinely cared about people’s bills, they would work to get off costly fossil fuels altogether, including by bringing forward a much-needed and long-delayed nationwide, street by street, local authority-led energy efficiency programme to upgrade the UK’s cold and leaky homes. If the consequences were not so dreadful, the Prime Minister’s claim that his party is saving British families money would be frankly laughable, because the Climate Change Committee itself has been crystal clear that the callous decision to scrap the upgrade to the minimum energy efficiency standards for private rented homes

“will lead to higher household energy bills”.

In fact, at current prices, tenants of upgraded homes would stand to save over £300 a year, and would still save about £250 at so-called normal prices. What we have is an energy affordability crisis, not an energy supply crisis, so the Government’s decision to double down on the very thing that is driving high energy bills is not just negligent, but positively absurd.

Let me turn to some of the Government’s other misrepresentations. It is exasperating that, despite being told time and again that new oil and gas extracted from the North sea will not improve the UK’s energy security, Ministers continue to rehearse the same old tired line, with the Prime Minister once again pointing to energy security in Tuesday’s debate. Let me remind the Minister again why new licences will not deliver on that goal. First, 70% of the remaining North sea reserves are oil, not gas, the majority of which will be put in tankers and exported overseas because it is not suitable for UK refineries. Secondly, the hundreds of licences that have been issued already in the 13 years under Conservative Governments have provided the UK with a grand total of 16 days’ worth of gas, half of which was exported to the Netherlands. Thirdly, the NSTA has itself confirmed that new licences would only make a difference to gas production “around the edges”, given the age and geology of the basin. As I have said, the best solution to volatile gas prices is to reduce our dependence on gas altogether, not to redouble it.

When the Prime Minister announced this Bill on Tuesday, he emphasised its importance in

“supporting hundreds of thousands of British jobs.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2023; Vol. 740, c. 20.]

I very much share his concern for workers in the North sea, but the reality is that, while the Government have awarded more than 400 new licences in the last decade, over 200,000 jobs have been lost in the sector over that same time period, because—I say it again—the North sea is a declining basin. So may I urge Ministers to stop playing politics, and instead get on with delivering a proper just transition for workers and communities, alongside unleashing our abundant renewables to create good, well-paid green jobs for the long term?

May I also draw Ministers’ attention to the words of Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, who recently said that those expanding oil and gas production could be

“taking very unhealthy, unwise economic and climate risks”.

While they may profess the economic benefits of new oil and gas, we should not ignore the risk of stranded assets, as Mr Birol suggests, which it is estimated could exceed $1 trillion globally, nor the Office for Budget Responsibility’s warning that continuing to rely on gas at our current levels could cost more than double the public investment required for the transition to net zero.

Finally, it was utterly bizarre to hear the Secretary of State say earlier this week and again today that the tax revenues from future oil and gas production, which may not materialise for decades, could be invested in renewables. Why not just invest in renewables in the first place, and do it now?

None Portrait Hon. Members
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We are!

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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No, you are not. From a sedentary position, Ministers say, “We are”, but I would draw their attention to the last round for offshore wind. Tell us again how much that delivered? It was a big round zero —so let us be a little bit serious about this issue.

Moving to the specifics of the Bill, the Government’s proposed tests are simply not worth the paper they are written on. These tests are meant to ensure that a new licensing round supports the delivery of net zero, if indeed such a thing were possible with a new round. Let us look at the tests. The net importer test is supposed to ensure that the UK remains a net importer of both oil and gas, which clearly does not relate to the impact of oil and gas on our climate at all.

The carbon intensity test is to ensure that the average carbon intensity of domestic gas is lower than the average carbon intensity of imported liquefied natural gas. It is profoundly frustrating that the Government continue to point to LNG, the dirtiest form of gas imports, while ignoring the fact that more than half of our gas imports come via a pipeline from Norway, where gas production is half as polluting as in the UK. Worse, these tests ignore the fact that new oil and gas production can never be compatible with our climate targets.

The Climate Change Committee itself observed earlier this year:

“Expansion of fossil fuel production is not in line with Net Zero.”

Indeed, it went on to spell out:

“The UK will continue to need some oil and gas until it reaches Net Zero, but this does not in itself justify the development of new North Sea fields.”

I know the Minister may say that what they are proposing is not an expansion and that even with continued licensing, as we have heard, production from the UK continental shelf is projected to decline at 7% annually, while not proceeding with new licences increases reliance on imported LNG. Yet that thinking implies that this new production in the UK will replace expansion elsewhere, and we know that that is simply not the case.

However much the Government choose to ignore our climate reality, the truth is that there is already far more coal, oil and gas in existing developments than can be safely burnt if we, our children and our grandchildren are to have any hope of a liveable future. Indeed, I draw their attention the latest UN production gap report, which was published just yesterday. It revealed very plainly, as I say, that Governments already plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than will be consistent with limiting heating to 1.5°C.

I do wish the Government would end the misinformation that they continue to promulgate. Instead, would the Minister confirm if these tests will be replacing the climate compatibility checkpoint, which is marginally more robust despite abysmally failing to take account of scope 3 emissions—in other words, those produced when the oil and gas is actually burnt, rather than just the extraction emissions—and if so, will she admit that this is a further weakening of our climate commitments, and heed the advice of the Climate Change Committee and halt this legislation all together?

Will Ministers also stop Rosebank, which was cynically approved during conference recess, when there was no opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny? The project is no less than a climate crime and would leave the UK’s climate record in tatters. At nearly 500 million barrels of oil and gas, this development is enormous—triple the size of neighbouring Cambo. If its contents were to be burned, they would produce over 200 million tonnes of CO2; that is more than the combined annual CO2 emissions of all 28 low-income countries in the world, which together are home to 700 million people. That is not to mention the fact that the British public would carry almost all the costs of developing Rosebank, thanks to the Government’s generous subsidy regime, which would hand Equinor over £3 billion in tax breaks, all while Equinor pockets the profit. In what world could that ever be justified, let alone in the context of the climate and cost of living crises?

Let us remind ourselves that this Bill has nothing to do with protecting households, and everything to do with populism and division. It is just part of the Government’s cynical attempt to stoke yet another culture war by falsely pitting meeting our climate targets against the cost of living scandal, rather than taking steps to address the very real concerns that families up and down this country face. Instead, we have this pitiful Bill, which will do nothing to help anyone except the fossil fuel companies.

Why are the Government not delivering the future we know is possible by, for example, bringing in a green new deal Bill to kick start the transformation we need: a future in which everyone has a warm and comfortable home to live in and the scourge of fuel poverty is eliminated; a future where everyone has access to good green jobs and a proper just transition has been delivered for workers and communities; a future that is powered by cheap and clean renewables, rather than the fossil fuels which are driving the climate crisis; a future in which the Government have responded to the urgency of the climate and ecological emergency, as we know the public are crying out for them to do? It is entirely possible to deliver this future, yet what has been made painfully clear by this King’s Speech is that this Government are neither capable nor willing to do it. We are out of time for our country and our climate. We need a general election now.

13:52