The business for next week will include:
Monday 28 September—General debate on covid-19.
Tuesday 29 September—Remaining stages of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.
Wednesday 30 September—Second reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No.2) Bill, followed by a motion under the Coronavirus Act 2020 relating to the renewal of the temporary provisions, followed by all stages of the Sentencing Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on motions relating to planning.
Thursday 1 October—Consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by all stages of the Social Security (Up-Rating of Benefits) Bill.
Friday 2 October—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 5 October will include:
Monday 5 October—Second reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill.
Tuesday 6 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill, followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion to approve the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No.2) (England) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2020.
Wednesday 7 October—Second reading of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords].
Thursday 8 October—Debate on a motion on planning reform and house building targets, followed by a general debate on the spending of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on support measures for the DCMS sectors during and after the covid-19 pandemic. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 October—The House will not be sitting.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks.
The Leader of the House did not give me a reply on Anousheh’s diplomatic protection. As he will know, Nazanin has this week had to file a complaint about being harassed by revolutionary guards. We hear that the Iranian Foreign Minister has offered a complete prisoner swap with the United States, and I thought that was the reason why we were being held back. May we have a statement on our British nationals? I know the Foreign Secretary has been abroad. Will he give a statement next week? I hope that we will have something on Luke Symons in the Yemen debate later on today.
May we have a debate on the unjust policy of the child maintenance service? I have two constituents who have been told that they have paid everything, but have then suddenly received a letter, even though they have a letter saying that they have paid everything, that they have to pay more back. I have written to the Minister concerned, but received a response from the officials rather than the Minister. I point out that this is a policy issue. There is a third constituent who has said that parental alienation is being incentivised under this scheme, because, basically, if a child is staying with one parent, that parent gets paid on the basis of how long the child stays with them. Can we have a debate on these apparent injustices in the Child Maintenance Service?
It was great to see the Prime Minister come to the House on Tuesday rather than appearing outside. Ministers are now coming to the House. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster came to the House to confirm that there will be a border in Kent. We will just wait for the announcement on the border in the Irish sea. Sadly, though, the Chancellor decided to speak to the media, and not the House, about scrapping the Budget. The shadow Chancellor has asked him 40 times—it will be 41 later on— about his plans for the ending of the furlough scheme. We are trying to support our folk in these difficult times. They are in this situation through no fault of their own.
Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy? I understand that he is interfering with witnesses on the Select Committee. He intervened and did not authorise a witness to attend. He also issued a ministerial direction to force through a deal. The Leader of the House will know that Erskine May says that
“a select committee has the power to send for persons”
“that power is unqualified”.
Can we have a debate then on the Floor of the House—if the Secretary of State will not allow witnesses to the Select Committee—on the OneWeb deal?
It is a great anniversary of Lady Hale’s judgment today. She has said that Parliament “surrendered” its role over the emergency legislation. I know that there is a debate on covid, but that is not what she was talking about. She was talking about the fact that the Coronavirus Act 2020 gave sweeping powers and that it was not surprising that the police were as confused as the public. We do not all have the luxury of going to the rose garden for our pleas in mitigation.
Mr Speaker, you will have seen the seventh report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which expressed concern about the amount of legislation that is coming into force before it is laid. I know that the Government have had to write to you, Mr Speaker, 25 times since March to explain why legislation has come into force before it was laid. I thought Parliament was sovereign. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that anything that is laid is discussed in Parliament first?
Can we have a debate on the Government’s own report, the McGregor Smith report, which was commissioned by the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid)—he of the “Cummings and goings”. There were 22 recommendations. The noble Baroness said that
“unconscious bias is more pervasive and…more insidious”
than “overt racism”. She recommended free online unconscious bias training. Her Majesty’s Opposition have already done it; I have done it. I got 100%—I may not have got 100%, but I tried nevertheless. Everywhere where sentences are meted out, black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more likely to be affected than anyone else; they are over-represented. I hope that the Leader of the House will encourage his colleagues to undertake this unconscious bias training that the House is putting forward.
We have lost two giants. We have all lived and grown up with the cultural icons of Sir Terence Conran and Sir Harold Evans, who have both died. They are giants of design and investigative journalism.
Finally, I know that the whole House will agree to raise a cup of coffee to Macmillan Cancer Support. Many of our colleagues are going through difficult times. We also know family and friends who are doing so. They will know that tomorrow, as we raise that cup of coffee, they are not forgotten.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right: we should of course have a cup of coffee tomorrow to help Macmillan, which I know is trying to raise a larger amount of money than it raised last year. My coffee of choice is Alta Rica, which I strongly recommend to anybody who enjoys a nice cup of instant coffee. People may also want to have a cake with it.
May I also join the right hon. Lady in her condolences to the families of Sir Harry Evans and Sir Terence Conran? Sir Harry Evans was my father’s opposite number at The Sunday Times for 14 years, while my father was editing The Times. My father thought of him as one of the finest editors of his generation and his campaigns were really very remarkable; he made The Sunday Times a truly great newspaper.
Coming to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri, there will be opportunities to raise issues with the Foreign Secretary in coming weeks. I always pass on to the Foreign Office issues raised by the right hon. Lady. I note her particular inquiry about the diplomatic question for Anousheh Ashouri, and I will take that up specifically to try to get her a direct answer on that.
The right hon. Lady says that responses from officials are not satisfactory. I thought this might come up. It reminds me that when I was at school, if something was handed in that was unsatisfactory, it was given back by the schoolmaster with a little tear at the top of the paper and it was asked that it be redone. I would suggest that if Members have responses from officials that they think are unsatisfactory, they do exactly that and send it back to the Ministry asking for a new response. Responses are expected from Ministers. It was known as a rip. So if you want to let rip, send these letters back, because it is deeply unsatisfactory and has been coming up more and more often at question time.
On unfairness in child maintenance, as a constituency MP I deeply sympathise with this. I have found the various guises of the child maintenance organisations to be one of the hardest issues to deal with on behalf of my constituents. We need to continue to bring to the attention of Ministers the fact that these organisations ought to provide a better service for families. As the right hon Lady mentions, it is desperately unfair when somebody has done the right thing, has made all the payments, and then finds that a further claim is made, usually because of administrative inefficiency.
That is, I am afraid, where the agreement comes to a sad end. Ministers have come to the Dispatch Box with great regularity and have made statement after statement. They have brought things to the House. The Prime Minister has been here. The Chancellor will be here very shortly. The Health Secretary has been here. The Foreign Secretary will be here shortly. The House has been kept up to date. Baroness Hale has now, of course, retired from the Supreme Court, and is as entitled to her opinions as any other Member of the House of Lords. [Interruption.] Of course the noble Lady is, and she can make speeches in the House of Lords that I am sure people will pay great attention to and be interested in. However, I think she is out of date as to what is going on in this House and the level of scrutiny that we have—indeed, that we are having next week, with the general debate on covid-19 but also the debate on the six-month extension of the regulations if that is what the House wishes to do. It will be a decision of this House, as the legislation was in the first place. The idea that the House is not doing its job is absurd. There is regular scrutiny and regular debate, and quite rightly so.
On the question of statutory instruments being made, the point at which they are laid and subject to subsequent debate is a form of this House—a form that this House has used for many years to ensure that swift action can be taken where necessary. The debates that are required will be held. Statutory instruments that are made on that basis have to be approved by the House; otherwise they fall if the House were not to approve them. That is very important.
I note what the right hon. Lady says about BEIS and the Select Committee. The House does have the power to call for persons and papers. That is a power delegated to Select Committees, which can of course use various methods to increase pressure on people to come. I will take up with the Secretary of State the specific issue she raised, but there are sometimes good reasons why officials cannot be present at Select Committees.
Finally, the House has made unconscious bias training available, and if people want to do it, that is a matter for them.
Residents in the Mandale and Victoria area of my constituency are having their lives made a misery by gangs of youths. In the past week, I have been told about cars and buses damaged, house windows smashed, people abused in the street, a pensioner assaulted in his own home, and an 11-year-old held at knifepoint on the way home from school. It cannot go on. The Government are putting more police on the streets, with improved stop-and-search powers, but will my right hon. Friend grant a debate in Government time on strengthening the powers of the courts and the police to deal with antisocial behaviour and youth offending?
My hon. Friend raises an important and troubling point. As constituency MPs all know, there are difficulties that come from antisocial behaviour, and that causes pain and frustration to our law-abiding constituents. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are making serious headway in tackling antisocial behaviour and violent crime. On top of our strong record since 2010, I am pleased to say that we have now recruited over 4,300 new police officers as part of our drive to recruit 20,000 more officers by the end of this Parliament. We have also announced a £200 million youth endowment fund, supporting the children and young people most vulnerable to involvement in crime and violence. This is also often a question of enforcement and using the powers that are already there, and the elections next year for police and crime commissioners will be important, because we want good Conservatives who are in favour of the enforcement of law and order.
May I begin with the debate on coronavirus on Monday, which is welcome and will give Members an opportunity to raise matters of concern to their constituents? However, it would be a missed opportunity if that debate, as well as being general, were unfocused and unstructured. I therefore ask whether the Government can give serious leadership and direction to that debate, and whether Ministers can spend the weekend formulating specific proposals to put to the House on Monday.
In that regard, I would like to raise the matter of four-nation co-operation and co-ordination in response to the pandemic. The Leader of the House may be aware that the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, wrote to the Prime Minister last night asking for urgent talks. She also stated the obvious, which is that even further, more restrictive public health protocols may be necessary to keep the infection rate down in the weeks ahead, and that, if that is to happen, it would be beneficial if there were a co-ordinated four-nation response. That is not to say that things have to be exactly the same in every part of the UK, but there needs to be an integrated and consistent approach. In particular, there needs to be consideration of whether the powers and money available to the devolved Administrations are sufficient to deal with the crisis.
That brings me to the Budget, which the shadow Leader of the House mentioned. I appreciate that the UK’s finances are in such a perilous state that there may be a disinclination to discuss these matters in public, but simply keeping a problem secret will not make it go away. A particular problem that arises as a consequence of the Budget delay is that the devolved Administrations are unable to plan their budgets except in the most provisional of terms. Given the covid-19 crisis and the additional expenditure that has been required, the situation is less than desirable. What alternative do the Government have to the Budget in terms of giving direction to the devolved Administrations as to what their planning horizons might be?
Finally, I want to raise unfinished business from last night’s debate, when we discussed extending the voting arrangements in the House. Several Members asked the Leader of the House what the justification is for Members being able to participate virtually in some business but not in other business. If the public health restrictions are indeed going to intensify, and if we need to show more leadership as a House, should we not extend the virtual arrangements to debates as well as to Question Time, to make sure that Members can participate in all the proceedings of the House safely and securely?
I will deal with the last point first. When we had a completely hybrid House, we found it was deeply unsatisfactory for legislation and debates around legislation. Legislation effects changes and alters people’s lives, and it needs to be done thoroughly and scrutinised effectively by the House. Unfortunately, a series of monologues did not succeed in doing that, subject to very tight time limitations. That was the one bit of the hybrid system that did not work, which is why we have gone back to doing legislative business personally, and we will continue to do that for the foreseeable future.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to members of other parties for their support for Monday’s debate, which is, of course, a change in business from what was previously announced, but I think the House as a whole wanted to have that debate. On the question of its being general, the difficulty is that there are many points that individuals wish to raise on behalf of their constituents. There is always a balance to be struck between the general nature of the debate and the specifics of what is going on, but allowing Members to bring forward individual issues from their constituencies is important.
As regards co-operation between the devolved authorities, devolution inevitably leads to differences, and that is part of its purpose, but the leaders of the devolved authorities have been attending Cobra meetings—they have been invited to some of them, where they have been able to contribute their views. Part of the way of tackling the problem is to have different local options. We have moved away from the one national approach to widespread national advice, followed by very clear but detailed regulations in local areas, and I think that that fits in with the devolved settlement.
The hon. Gentleman also refers to the money issue, and it is worth reminding him that £6.5 billion has gone from the UK taxpayer to Scotland—[Interruption.] I said the UK taxpayer, and that does include Scotland for the time being. We are still a United Kingdom, I am glad to say—[Interruption.] May it remain forever, and I am glad to see some support coming from the Democratic Unionist party for that view. So £6.5 billion and 157,000 people have been helped on the self-employed scheme and 779,500 on the furlough scheme. I am glad to say that money is going where it is needed because of the strength of the United Kingdom. With regard to the Budget, one cannot make decisions on policy until one has the facts available to make those decisions upon, and this is such a rapidly changing situation that it would be premature to give any commitments on the Budget.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the distressing decision by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation to sell the Maltby Miners Welfare Institute, the Stute, which has for years been paid for by subs from miners, is a key part of our area’s history and culture, and is meant to be a community asset. We have seen other welfares sold off with a devastating impact on the community, such as the one in Dinnington. Will he join me in encouraging CISWO to take the Stute off the market and to explore all possible options to keep it open, and encourage them to work with groups such as the Maltby Miners Welfare and Recreation Protection Group and others to find a solution, so that there is a positive mining lasting legacy for future generations for Maltby and across Rother Valley?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant campaigner for his constituency and for the interests of his communities. He is right to draw attention to the importance of the Maltby social club and recreation area. Such places often sit at the heart of the community, drawing together people of all ages and interests, and he serves his constituents so well in his support for the Maltby Miners Welfare Institute. If a community nominates a building or recreation ground as a local asset, the council has an obligation to delay the sale for six months to allow time for funds to be raised to purchase it under the Localism Act 2011. So I urge him to continue his campaign and have an Adjournment debate, and perhaps he should set up a crowdfunding scheme to try to raise some money to help in this really important activity that keeps his excellent community together.
From this morning’s exchanges at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions, it is clear that the announced debate on the spending on support measures for its sectors, including sport, would be well supported and also very timely.
I give the Leader of the House advance notice that we have a time-sensitive application on the impact of covid-19 on those experiencing baby loss, with Baby Loss Awareness Week running from 9 to 15 October. We eagerly anticipate the reopening of Westminster Hall, with many debates awaiting time, such as family support during the covid-19 pandemic crisis, the effect of covid-19 on those living with obesity, and mental health support for frontline staff.
I ask the Leader of the House to avoid mixed messaging and give clarity for the public. When making announcements could Ministers be cognisant of the fact that different rules, guidelines and regulations pertain not only in the devolved nations but in different parts of England, for instance, in the north-east, Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and Durham, for instance. With different regulations in place, if an announcement is made for the whole of the country, people do not know what guidelines or regulations to actually adhere to.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for selecting a debate for next week that has such widespread support. That is, of course, the virtue of the Backbench Business Committee. I note what he says about Baby Loss Awareness Week, although I am nervous of promising to find time for specific weeks, because it has to fit in with other Government business, but his point is a very important one. I, too, am glad that the motion last night to get Westminster Hall back on 5 October was passed by the House, and that will be an opportunity for Members to raise a much wider range of issues for which time on the Floor of the House is not available. On the issue of local differences, it is up to local councils particularly to ensure that the message gets across in their areas—helped by Members of Parliament, as the hon. Gentleman does so effectively.
My right hon. Friend, quite rightly, is a stickler for using clear and correct English. Last week in the House, he mourned—and rightly so—the loss of Somerset’s traditional boundaries, but his words were mischievously and dishonestly misinterpreted by the leader of Somerset County Council. My right hon. Friend has now become a victim of fake news, as he is wrongly accused of favouring Somerset County Council’s ridiculous half-baked scheme to form a unitary authority which does not take in Somerset. This silly plan fails to restore the Somerset of King Alfred to the greatness that we want to see. A much better plan for full-scale reform, which would help to reunite our broken county, has been put forward by the district councils. Could we please have a debate in Government time, or a rip—“could do better”—on fake news and on ensuring that the unitary bit, if it goes ahead, is for the district, not the county?
I am appalled that fake news should come to this House and this country. I thought that it was something left to our friends across the Atlantic. There is nothing more annoying, when one is driving through God’s own county of Somerset, to see signs that say, “Welcome to Somerset”, when one has been in the county for mile upon mile. They are misleading, mischievous and wrongly placed, and that they were put there to celebrate one of our sovereign’s jubilees is extraordinarily irksome. My hon. Friend makes a good point about how we need to listen to all councils and get all their views, and very often we should listen to my hon. Friend.
Teachers and parents in my constituency of Enfield, Southgate say that the covid-19 pandemic is having a devastating effect on the mental health of young people; they feel anxious, isolated, less motivated and are struggling to cope. The charity YoungMinds’ recent survey of 1,000 respondents found that 80% agreed that the pandemic had made their mental health worse, and 31% said that they were no longer able to access support and still needed it. Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss the mental health needs of children and young people?
I have entire sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. This is one of the great concerns about the effects of the pandemic. The Government are doing what they can in terms of financial support by providing £13.3 billion in 2019-20, and at the heart of the NHS long-term plan is the largest expansion of mental health services in a generation. Supporting children is of particular importance, and there is an extra £9.2 million of funding for charities specifically during the crisis. Next week’s general debate will be an opportunity to raise this issue and to receive an answer from the relevant Ministry.
A few weeks ago in the Chamber, I raised my—and my constituents’—concerns about Sunnydale School in Shildon, which has been closed since December after falling into disrepair. We have now learnt that the cost of the most basic repairs to get the school reopened is about £4.8 million, which is a vast sum. The council is obviously quite worried about this. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we really need to get our kids out of portakabins and into classrooms, especially given the school time lost to covid, and that it is vital that kids have a good education and a good school to ensure that the Government are delivering on their levelling-up agenda?
Durham County Council is responsible for Greenfield College’s buildings, supported by annual capital funding. I understand that pupils are being supported to attend the site at Newton Aycliffe due to maintenance issues at the children’s site. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that portakabins are far from ideal. In 2020-21, Durham was allocated £7 million in school condition allocations to spend on maintaining its schools. I understand that Baroness Berridge, the Minister responsible for school capital funding, has written to my hon. Friend with further details. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to campaign on this issue for the interests of the schoolchildren in her constituency, and I hope that she will continue to do so. Mr Speaker, you look as if you are encouraging her to apply for an Adjournment debate so that this issue may be further discussed.
Every year in Barnsley, we lose nearly 700 lives to cancer, and in the UK we are facing a huge backlog in cancer screening tests and treatment after the covid-19 lockdown. Can we have a statement from the Government on their cancer recovery plan to clear the backlog, deal with spiralling waiting lists for diagnostic tests and get cancer services back on track?
I do not think anybody in the House would disagree with the hon. Lady in the objective she is trying to achieve. It is worth pointing out that more than 100,000 people started treatment for cancer during the pandemic. Indeed, in my constituency the Circle Bath Hospital took the cancer patients from Bath’s Royal United Hospital as an exclusive cancer hospital for a period to try to ensure that people got the treatment they needed. I encourage individuals to go to their doctors if they have any concerns. They are entitled to do that and they should not be nervous about going to see their doctor, and urgent referrals are now receiving checks.
It is well known that weak leaders often blame the public in order to divide communities and deflect from their own failings. Another worrying trait of weak leadership is threatening military enforcement. As a member of the Cabinet, can the Leader of the House explain what the military enforcement announced this week by the Prime Minister will exactly entail?
I think that intervention was rather more parti pris than we are accustomed to in business questions. We have incredibly strong and effective leadership—leadership that is prepared to take difficult decisions and is willing to take decisions that go against the grain of the philosophy of the Conservative party. Why is that? It is because in these circumstances they are the decisions necessary to safeguard the nation and to help people to save lives. So I think we have strong and effective leadership. I would point out that more than 4,300 police officers have been taken on to support the police in doing this, and that that proposals for support from the Army relate to back-office roles and back-filling to help the police. This is not a proposal as the hon. Lady seems to be thinking about for any more extreme measures.
I listened intently to the right hon. Gentleman’s earlier response to the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) . However, I wish to draw his attention to other matters relating to the Child Maintenance Service: failures to provide statements in order that parents can carry out a full reconciliation of their own accounts to try to locate other discrepancies, such as the January 2020 double payment; harassment, with people receiving text messages at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning threatening legal action for “non-payment”, where that is emphatically untrue; and non-pursual of working parents who shamelessly avoid their financial responsibilities, thus inexplicably wiping out hundreds and hundreds of pounds owed to children. Will he therefore arrange for a Minister to look into the specific cases that my constituents are facing? May we have a debate on the wider issues, so that a Minister can come to that Dispatch Box to explain why these government agencies are failing these children and their families?
Department for Work and Pensions Ministers regularly appear at the Dispatch Box. It is a fair set of questions to ask, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that if he has any outstanding cases where he has not received answers after a reasonable length of time and he wishes to contact my office, I will do whatever I can to facilitate speedy answers. I reiterate that as a constituency MP dealing with these child maintenance issues, I have rarely found I have received as satisfactory an answer when dealing with a quango as I get when things are directly controlled by Ministers.
This week, the National Trust produced its “Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery”, in which it listed 93 properties for which it is responsible that have links to slavery and colonialism. One of the properties listed is Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s former home, and that has caused great anger to many of my constituents, who see that Winston Churchill was arguably the greatest Briton who ever was. Will my right hon. Friend find Government time for us to debate Churchill’s legacy, the man he was, how we should be proud of him, and how we should push back on the left’s attempts and determination to denigrate his past? Will my right hon. Friend also take into account the concerns that many of us have about many of our once-loved and currently loved national organisations being increasingly influenced and taken over by woke-ist elements?
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. We should be so proud of our great heroes in this nation, like Winston Churchill. An organisation like the National Trust should be honoured that it has Chartwell among its portfolio of properties, and it should remember that its properties were given to it by people who expected it to be a custodian of our history, to be proud of our history and to think well of our great nation, not to shamefacedly, quietly hide away, pretending that it is abashed about the greatness that this country has enjoyed over so many centuries. It is sad that a once great organisation—a membership organisation that owes a duty to its members, many of whom I hear are now resigning in protest—cannot realise how wonderful a man like Churchill was. He is not alone; I could give a list of the great figures of our past, but, Mr Speaker, you want me to be brief.
The Times recently reported that the Prime Minister is “energised” by a “hydrogen-fuelled future”. It is not often, Mr Speaker, that you will hear this Unionist calling for the country to go green, but I am enthused and energised by what the Prime Minister has said. I wonder whether the Leader of the House can tell us if there is going to be a statement by the Prime Minister on this subject. Is there a planned policy announcement coming soon, or even a debate on the horizon? We want to ensure that we build on our hydrogen advantage as a nation and stimulate supply and demand, in parallel with the creation of a hub, hopefully in Northern Ireland, to build buses, heavy goods vehicles and cars, all made in green Ulster, to advantage our workforce.
That the hon. Gentleman has gone green shows that the peace process really has worked. I can assure him that the Government are committed to ensuring that the UK meets its green energy commitments and that hydrogen plays an important role in that. I am in full agreement with the Prime Minister—well, I am always in full agreement with the Prime Minister, but particularly on this subject. I think the opportunity for hydrogen is extremely exciting and interesting, and it may be good enough to overturn this anti-car prejudice that some people have. If we have hydrogen cars, we can go back to enjoying all our motoring.
Thousands of my constituents, mostly young, hard-working people, currently find themselves owning properties that have no value and are unsaleable due to fire safety-related issues. Will the Housing Secretary make a statement on the progress made in ensuring that leaseholders, such as my constituents in Zenith Close, Ridgemont estate, the Pulse development and Millbrook Park estate, do not have to bear the cost of fixing historical safety defects in their buildings and funding interim safety measures such as waking watches? Will he also make funds available to support remediation work in buildings under 18 metres?
My hon. Friend raises an important question. The Government are certainly looking at it and have appointed an adviser, Michael Wade, to accelerate the work on developing financing solutions to ensure that leaseholders are protected from unaffordable remediation costs while also ensuing that costs do not fall unreasonably on the taxpayer. We will provide an update on this work when the building safety Bill is introduced to Parliament.
To tackle historical safety defects, we have provided £1.6 billion in remediation funding, £1 billion of which, through the building safety fund, is specifically to address unsafe non-aluminium composite material forms of cladding systems. The objective of the building safety fund is to make homes safer faster, which is why funding is targeted at remediation costs of high-rise buildings.
We recognise that many leaseholders are anxious about potentially increasing costs from interim measures such as waking watches. We are keen to support leaseholders so that such interim measures are used in the short term and are not a substitute for remediation, and we are urgently investigating what can be done to reduce the costs of waking watches. For information, a waking watch is having people physically walk around the building to see that it is not at risk of catching fire. We are gathering evidence on cost data and will publish this information shortly.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in recognising the specific impact that coronavirus has had on predominantly female-led industries such as the hair and beauty sector. I have heard from many businesses in my constituency, big and small, that are facing financial devastation. Will the Leader of the House please commit to a debate in Government time that will finally allow their voices to be heard?
The UK is rightly proud of its commitment to the world’s poorest through spending 0.7% of our GNI on eliminating poverty, but with a smaller economy, the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is having to make reductions of £2.9 billion in that spending. Will the Foreign Secretary come to the House to update us on how he is making those difficult choices and trade-offs? When will the Leader of the House table a motion to establish a Committee to look at spending on overseas development assistance across all Departments?
On the second part of my hon. Friend’s question, the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that the Government welcome parliamentary scrutiny. I had a meeting last week with the Chair of the relevant Committee, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and I discussed with her what steps she wanted to see taken next. Ultimately, what happens to the International Development Committee is a matter for Parliament. As regards the Foreign Secretary coming to the House, he will, admittedly, be here later on, on a different subject, but he is a regular attender of the House and there will be many opportunities to question him.
Despite the best efforts of our fabulous NHS staff, four out of our seven health boards in Wales are in special measures or under some form of targeted intervention because of the systemic mismanagement of health issues by the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay. It is incumbent on us all to provide assistance where we can. Older persons’ charity Independent Age has estimated that the taxpayer pays more than £4 billion in additional NHS costs because 40% of eligible pensioners do not claim pension credit. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate a debate on the matter so that we can determine how best to raise awareness about claiming this important allowance?
It is indeed an important allowance. The Government have offered pension credit since 2003, when it was introduced by our predecessor Government. Along with our increases to the state pension, it has been of vital assistance to many poorer pensioners. We want to make sure that all eligible pensioners claim the pension credit to which they are entitled, and the Government work with a range of organisations to make sure that those who are eligible know how to claim. If anybody who is watching the Parliament channel is entitled to claim, I hope they will put in a claim. My hon. Friend can help in this effort by supporting the nationwide campaign to raise awareness that has been running in GP surgeries, post offices and on social media to encourage those who are over state pension age to discover whether they are eligible.