I thank the Leader of the House for the business, and I join him in his fulsome tributes to Mark Kelly and Robert Foot. Congratulations to both of them on the new stages in their lives. We thank them, of course, for their loyal and dedicated public service.
I am very pleased to see a debate on COP26 after the recess. I have asked for that at previous business questions, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for that.
Today marks the 2,000th day of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in Iran. A demonstration is taking place outside to raise awareness of her case, that of Anoosheh Ashoori, and those of countless others imprisoned there. When will the Government bring them home?
This week, the Government showed us again just how out of touch they are. Last week, I raised the soaring cost of living and I was told to use an Opposition day to debate it, so that is what we did. We raised energy prices, childcare, rents, taxes, fuel, rail fares and food prices, all of which are going up, before we even get to the empty shelves. The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), questioned the Government on that and more, but still no answers.
Last week, the Leader of the House attempted to boast about his Government’s record on child poverty, but they are pushing 200,000 more children into poverty by cutting universal credit. It is not too late to cancel that cut, and it is certainly not something to boast about. The Prime Minister had no trouble being Scrooge last year, so it is no surprise that this cut comes 11 weeks before Christmas this year.
If the Leader of the House wishes to trade numbers, I can remind him that the last Labour Government took nearly 1 million children out of poverty. That is what good Governments do when they choose to prioritise what matters for our children. Instead, this Government are deliberately choosing to make working families bear the brunt of their failures.
The increase to the energy price cap means that from next month, half a million more families will be plunged into fuel poverty. I know that the Leader of the House will say that the current energy crisis is global. That is true, but it is also true that it has been made far worse by choices that this Government have made and continue to make. Ministers are not denying that people will face the impossible non-choice between heating and eating this winter. We already pay the highest energy bills in Europe—something the Prime Minister promised his Brexit deal would fix—but here we are, with bills set to get even bigger.
Just yesterday, over 800,000 customers saw their energy supplier go bust, but this morning the Business Secretary refused to admit the scale and severity of the crisis and the economic hardship facing working people. The shadow Chancellor, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), when she was Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee back in 2019, warned of the fuel crisis we are now in. A Minister replied that
“the UK’s gas system is secure and well placed to respond effectively to unexpected changes in supply and demand”.
Well goodness me, Mr Speaker. I am not sure what the Government consider to be a “secure and well placed” system, but what we have is the opposite.
Government decisions over the last decade have undermined our energy security and resilience, with domestic gas storage capacity eradicated, new nuclear stalling, the Swansea bay tidal lagoon rejected, renewables subsidies scrapped, and no long-term reform of the broken energy market, which Ofgem warned the Government about just months ago. So I ask the Leader of the House: why did the Government choose to ignore those warnings?
Carbon emissions from buildings are now higher than in 2015. Some 14% of carbon emissions come from poorly insulated homes that are too expensive to heat, yet the Government cut £1 billion from the green homes grant before scrapping it altogether, they have a missing heat and buildings strategy, which has been delayed month after month—year after year, actually—and people up and down the country are forced to choose between overpriced heating and overpriced eating. Will the Leader of the House ask the new Housing Secretary to come to the Commons with a proper retrofit plan?
I would like to place on the record my thanks to the Leader of the House and the members of his office, some of whom are in the Under-Gallery, for being incredibly helpful to me and my team over the past few weeks. They have helped us solve a problem that I cannot describe at the moment, but I just wish to place that on the official record, because we are very grateful to him and his team for the trouble they have taken.
Although the Home Secretary finally appeared in the House this week, quite rightly, to update us on the incident in Salisbury and the further charging to come, we still have no update on the delayed Afghanistan resettlement scheme. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could ask the Home Secretary to come back after the recess and explain why there has been such an unacceptable delay, but really to present the scheme and implement it in full as soon as possible.
Before I close, I would like to congratulate Anika Tahrim, who was on your Speaker’s intern scheme, Mr Speaker, and was based in the Leader of the Opposition’s office, and thank her for her hard work. Finally, I would like to thank all the staff in this place who have ensured our safe return after summer. I hope everyone gets to have a peaceful and productive conference season, and I look forward to seeing everyone in October.