The business of the House will include:
Monday 17 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on safe streets for all.
Tuesday 18 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on affordable and safe housing for all.
Wednesday 19 May—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on a rescue plan for the NHS and social care.
Thursday 20 May—General debate on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.
Friday 21 May—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 24 May will include:
Monday 24 May—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Tuesday 25 May—Remaining stages of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill.
Wednesday 26 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Environment Bill (day 2).
Thursday 27 May—General debate on dementia action week, followed by general debate on implementing the 2020 obesity strategy.
Both debates were previously recommended by the Backbench Business Committee.
Hon. and right hon. Members will also wish to be reminded that the House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 27 May and return on Monday 7 June.
I thank the Leader of the House for that, and, in this role, I look forward to working with him and with you, Mr Speaker, especially on making this world heritage site the most accessible it can be, and in particular autism-accessible in tribute to our late colleague, Cheryl Gillan.
The news and images from the middle east this morning are truly horrifying. We join the Government in urging calm. We ask them to do all they can to halt the terrifying attacks and loss of life and to work with allies to help restore a peace process.
My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), has a remarkable work ethic, championing colleagues and staff in this place and showing calmness in a crisis, and I thank her. She is a hard act to follow.
I was also pleased to see in recent elections the high regard that the people of North East Somerset—the Leader of the House’s constituents—have for their previous MP, his predecessor. They voted in large numbers for Labour’s Dan Norris as our metro mayor. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Dan on his successful election as the Mayor of the West of England? Will he support Dan’s call for a better deal for his own constituents from this Government?
I know that the Leader of the House prizes democracy, one of this country’s greatest exports, so will he agree that it does not deserve the treatment it was given in the Queen’s Speech? The Government propose to restrict the right to vote by requiring photo identification, yet a mere 0.000002%—I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for that figure—of the votes cast in 2019 were found to be fraudulent. The reason given for this attack on democracy is one conviction, out of more than 47 million votes. Ministers have said that as we have to ID to pick up a package, we should need it for voting, but 3.5 million people do not have photo ID. In any case, these Ministers are clearly not picking up their own parcels, as they would know that many forms of ID without photos are accepted. Will the Leader of the House please explain to his own constituents why they cannot vote by giving their name to a clerk and being counted by a teller, when that is how their own MP votes in this place—in normal times, at least? Will he join me in saluting the respect the British public have for democracy and reconsider the Government’s reckless, expensive and anti-democratic decision?
The Queen’s Speech was astonishing for the lack of understanding of the problems that we had before the pandemic—problems made worse by it—and for the lack of ambition to tackle them. We need urgency and boldness to create those decent, secure jobs, to halt climate change, to build truly affordable homes and to boost productivity.
We also need to know what has happened to the Prime Minister’s much-hyped plan to fix social care. After a truly terrible year in which the need for this plan could not have been any clearer, there is barely a whisper of it in the Queen’s Speech—a paltry nine words. Meanwhile, there have been £8 billion of cuts from social care budgets by successive Tory Governments since 2010, and we have a welfare state for the 2020s built on the life expectancy of the 1940s. It is 659 days since the Prime Minister promised us a plan, but, nearly 10 years after the Dilnot commission published its recommendations, which could be that plan, older people who made this country what it is have had to spend their own hard-earned money on a care system that is urgently in need of such a plan. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to come to this House and explain this dereliction of duty?
The Government fail to appreciate the strength of feeling across Parliament and the country about the cladding and fire safety crisis, exposed so tragically and cruelly by the Grenfell Tower fire. Members of all parties know the struggles of their own constituents. They have repeatedly tried to get the Government to stick to their promise—oft made—that residents would not be made to pay for dangers they did not cause, so will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to lift the burdens from residents in buildings both above and below 18 metres and place those burdens firmly on the industry that caused them? Will the Leader of the House urge him also not to wait until the Building Safety Bill, but to act now and vote with Her Majesty’s Opposition next week on our building safety motion?
Finally, the Leader of the Opposition has, of course, welcomed on our behalf the Government’s announcement of a public inquiry into covid and the Government response, but the Prime Minister needs to heed the cry of bereaved families, who have been calling for this inquiry for over a year and want lessons to be learned urgently, not next year—they want them in time to inform any further waves, which are still, sadly, a risk because of the variants. Will the Leader of the House ask the Government to publish the lessons learned review urgently and to heed the words of survivors and bereaved people?
The covid memorial wall, with its thousands of red hearts facing us across the Thames, bears witness to the loss and pain of the last year. We owe it to those people who died, to their relatives and to the country to make sure that the Government are openly and speedily transparent. They deserve no less, and we in the Opposition will, on their behalf, hold the Government to that.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. We have been neighbours or near neighbours in Somerset and Bristol for some years. I think we started debating together on “Points West”, and now we face each other across the Dispatch Box, and I am sure it will continue to be as friendly but as forceful a debate as we had all those years ago. The hon. Lady is known across the House for her good nature and kindliness but also her clarity of thinking and forcefulness, so I look forward to these sessions as a source of a bit of heat but also some light too.
I want to pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), who was an absolute pleasure to work with. Mr Speaker, I am sure that you found the same on the Commission, where she was committed to making things work for the whole House in a bipartisan spirit. She raised every week at the Dispatch Box important issues, particularly relating to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other people held improperly by a regime that does not respect the rights of individuals. Her campaigning was forceful, her questions were usually quite tricky and she was a delight to be a counterparty to.
I feel that the poor old right hon. Lady has become the Admiral Byng of the socialist party. As you may remember, Mr Speaker, Admiral Byng was ultimately disposed of because he was sent out with ships that were not good enough. HQ failed and blundered, but it had to look around and find some scapegoat, and the most senior scapegoat of Hartlepool seems to be the right hon. Lady, which seems a little bit harsh. She is the Admiral Byng memorial former shadow Leader of the House of Commons.
I turn to the important questions that the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) asked. Absolutely, trying to restore a peace process is important, and the Government have called on both sides to show restraint; that is of fundamental sense. We hope that peace will be re-established, and we are working with our allies.
Of course I congratulate Dan Norris on being elected as the Mayor of WECA—the West of England Combined Authority—much though I do not think WECA should exist, because I think it is a means of taking money out of North East Somerset and giving it to Bristol, which is not something I have ever been much in favour of, but I wish him well in his new role.
It is important that elections are fair and proper. The hon. Lady mentioned that we do not have to prove who we are when voting in the Division Lobby in normal circumstances, but she is forgetting that we are not allowed to wear overcoats in the Division Lobby, just in case we send somebody through to vote in our place.
Or, indeed, as Mr Speaker helpfully says, hats. Therefore, there are requirements in this place to prevent personation, and surely what is good enough for the House of Commons to prevent personation is right. [Interruption.] Although that was a wonderful heckle, at the moment we are using our identity cards to vote, so the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is not right on this occasion; that is a most unusual lapse in his normal attention to the detail of the procedures of the House.
Having photographic identification ensures that a problem does not arise. This country has an electoral system of which people can be proud and in which people have confidence. We must not allow that confidence to slip. We do not want hanging chads and then to deal with it afterwards. We want to stop hanging chads happening before that becomes an issue and personation becomes at risk. It is only reasonable to ask people to turn up with their photographic identification or get it from their local council, so that they can vote. I fear that it is absolutely classic of the socialists—they do not have any confidence in their own voters. We have confidence in our voters, because we think our voters will not find it unduly onerous or taxing to turn up with an identity document of some kind.
As regards the ambition of the Queen’s Speech, it actually delivers on all the things that the hon. Lady seemed to be asking for—there is major planning reform, there are freeports to help boost the economy and COP26 is coming this year. I thought her comments were rather more in favour of the Queen’s Speech than hostile to it. I am grateful for that; I will take what I can in these circumstances.
Social care has been a long-standing issue. The last Labour Government—happily, a long time ago now—had two Green Papers and one royal commission, and still could not come up with any solution, but this Government are committed to coming forward with our solution by the end of this year. That is absolutely clear, and it was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech—the Gracious Speech. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has been the most assiduous attender in this House, updating this House on every aspect of his responsibility. He is very good at doing that, and he does it more often than almost any other Secretary of State.
As regards cladding, and of course we come to the anniversary of Grenfell in June, that is a serious issue, and the building safety Bill will deal with it. It is proper to deal with these things in the appropriate legislation. That is what Her Majesty’s Government said as the Fire Safety Bill was going through, and it will be dealt with in the building safety Bill, which will be coming forward shortly. The hon. Lady should wait for the exciting announcements that come from this Dispatch Box.
Finally, as regards the inquiry, it is surely better to do it when the pandemic has come to an end. It is still being dealt with. The vaccine roll-out is an enormous achievement, but it is still being rolled out. An enormous administrative effort is still required to make sure that it is taking place effectively. I think that to distract from the good work that is being done with an inquiry now would be a mistake, but the time will come and it will come relatively soon.
Would my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on special educational needs support to not only ensure that we level up equality of opportunity for everyone, but consider the establishment of SEND—special educational needs and disabilities—hubs throughout the country, including in Bury, to provide health, emotional, educational and employment assistance to some of the most vulnerable in our communities?
The Department for Education has launched a major review of the special educational needs system, which is planned to be published before the summer of 2021. Based on discussions with children, young people, families and partners across education and healthcare, it will consult on proposals to deliver a system that is clearly focused on preparing for fulfilled adulthood through every stage, and to identify and address issues earlier within mainstream education. The Government believe these measures will not only improve children’s and young people’s outcomes and put them and their families at the heart of the SEND system, but deliver a SEND system fit for the future, with high-quality support delivered affordably and sustainably for the long term. I am glad to say that my hon. Friend is going to be speaking in the Queen’s Speech debate later, so I hope he will raise this issue further then.
Can I also welcome the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) to her place? I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart)—remember the Perthshire One—will also be very much looking forward to working with her. I would add my own tributes to the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). She was certainly a great support to me as I stood in in this role—and I continue to stand in in this role—over the past weeks. Obviously, my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire is very keen to make a return to this role, but we shall have to hold our anticipation for a little longer until we can see that happening.
I have no doubt that the Leader of the House will want to join me in congratulating the new Scottish Government on a record-breaking election success in last week’s Scottish Parliament elections—more votes than any other party in the history of devolution—and it is certainly great to see them returned in such great numbers. From a personal point of view, I note that the Members for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, Colin Beattie, and for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, Christine Grahame, both returned with an increased vote share and increased majorities.
I share the concerns of other Members about the ongoing situation in Israel and Palestine. I think that is of great concern to us all. Would the Leader of the House perhaps make time available for the Secretary of State for International Trade to give a statement to the House on the impact of arms export licences and how this has such an impact on conflicts around the globe?
Over recent weeks, I have often raised the issues of openness and transparency. We still see these issues ongoing and allegations still do not go away. Investigations are now ongoing, but concern still remains that the Prime Minister can let himself off the hook on any conclusions the adviser on ministerial interests might come to, just as happened with the Home Secretary previously. Surely this is evidence that the enforcement of the ministerial code is not nearly strong enough. In the words of Transparency International, the
“guiding principles alone are not sufficient when it comes to guaranteeing integrity in public office.”
So can we have a statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office on strengthening the code, perhaps even by making it by law?
Yes, of course we miss the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), but the hon. Gentleman is an excellent stand-in and, as I understand it, he is standing in in almost every role within the Scottish National party at the moment; I wonder whether he might have to take over as First Minister in due course and be seconded. Of course I congratulate the First Minister and the SNP on their election success, and Her Majesty’s Government look forward to working very closely with all the devolved Administrations in a spirit of good will and cohesiveness. I am delighted that the First Minister has decided to join the United Kingdom Government in the inquiry into covid, showing the strength of the United Kingdom. I am beginning to hope—although this may be excessive hope—that there is the prospect of one sinner repenting, which would give great joy to the others who do not need to, as the First Minister becomes more Unionist in her outlook.
The hon. Gentleman rightly raises the question of arms export licences. They are extremely carefully controlled and Her Majesty’s Government work closely with our allies to ensure that we sell arms only to those countries with which we have the closest relationship, as of course we do with the state of Israel.
On openness and transparency, the great openness is a majority of 80. The Prime Minister has the mandate from the British people. The ministerial code is the Prime Minister’s code. It would be a ridiculous state of affairs to think that the will of the British people could in some bureaucratic way be superseded. It cannot be; the Prime Minister has the support of the British people, shown again last week in an enormously successful vote. So while I am congratulating the SNP and the Mayor of WECA, let me also congratulate our own Prime Minister on being able to connect with the British people in a way that few other politicians have ever achieved.
The residents of the Carsic estate in Ashfield are fed up with a handful of local idiots who are the source of the vast majority of antisocial behaviour and this is happening all over the country. The majority of these nuisances are social housing tenants who show no respect to the vast majority of decent, hard-working tenants who are being let down by a system that makes it very difficult to evict nuisance tenants. Would my right hon. Friend welcome a debate in this House to discuss how we can give our police, our councils and our courts greater powers to allow decent people, like the decent people of Carsic, the right to a peaceful life?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his question because I think all of us as constituency MPs deal with this issue. Some social landlords, such as Curo, are very good and responsive. Others, and I have found in my experience the Guinness trust, are very much less responsive in helping. Social landlords are required by the Regulator of Social Housing to work in partnership with other agencies to prevent and tackle antisocial behaviour in the neighbourhoods where they own homes. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides the police, local authorities and other local agencies with a range of tools and powers that they can use to respond quickly and effectively to antisocial behaviour, and these include civil injunctions that can impose restrictions or positive requirements on individuals whose behaviour is causing or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this in the Chamber of the House, because sometimes the best way to get action is by putting pressure on, as the Member of Parliament, to get the various agencies to work together.
The planning Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech will ring loud alarm bells for many residents in my constituency of Warwick and Leamington, not least those in Sydenham, Whitnash and Bishop’s Tachbrook, given that it would allow applications to automatically gain approval in certain areas, stripping residents of their right to have a say. For those in Sydenham, the news this week that the council planning committee has recommended approval of the application for 500 homes in east Whitnash will come as a shock, given that it was turned down previously and that the planning inspector recommended that it should not be built due to the limited capacity of the Sydenham road network. The site is, after all, a cul-de-sac at the end of a cul-de-sac on a cul-de-sac on a cul-de-sac; the roads cannot cope. Will the Leader of the House grant me a debate on the proposed development, which is totally unnecessary, as concluded by independent Office for National Statistics data?
The hon. Gentleman’s constituency issue is ideally suited for an Adjournment debate, but the planning Bill is essential. Her Majesty’s Government believe in helping people to own their own home. This is about home ownership and having a planning system that actually makes it easier for people to own their own homes and to build the houses that people need—something that we have been failing to do over many years, based on a system established in the late 1940s that thought that central Government always knew best. Central Government do not always know best. There is a significant demand out there. The supply needs to meet that demand, and we need to strengthen and reinvigorate our home-owning democracy.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the numbers allowed at life events such as weddings and funerals in the road map out of lockdown? While I welcome the Government’s research programme, which saw an audience of 4,000 people at the O2 earlier this week for the Brit awards—I used to be invited when I was younger—many constituents are frustrated that they are having to wait until 21 June to have more than 30 friends and family at their wedding. Following the success of our vaccination programme, I do hope that that guidance can be reviewed.
I am sure they are. My hon. Friend’s words are heard across the nation. They reverberate around the land. They go out from this great hall to be heard in every corner of the United Kingdom.
I am glad to say that this week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed a further easing of restrictions from 17 May, as the latest data confirm the four tests have been met. That includes weddings, receptions and other life events taking place with up to 30 people and, I think importantly—I think this was the right priority—increasing the cap on the numbers attending funerals in line with how many people can be safely accommodated in venues. It is crucial that we push on with our vaccination programme, and that people follow the rules and take advantage of lateral flow tests, so that we can make this road map to freedom a one-way road.
Last month in my constituency, a 17-year-old boy, Levi Ernest-Morrison, was stabbed to death metres from his front door. Despite the Government saying they are committed to a public health approach to youth violence, over the last 10 years, we have seen youth centres and Sure Start centres closed, and education and children’s mental health budgets slashed. Can we please have a debate, in Government time, about tackling youth violence once and for all?
There has clearly been a problem with rising levels of crime in London. The Government are committed to doing everything they can to tackle that, partly through the employment of more police, with over 6,000 more police officers already recruited and a target for 20,000 more, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently before this House. It is really important that, across all parties, we support the efforts that are being made to back up the police and to have more police. I feel so sorry for the families affected. The hon. Lady, I am sure, is giving support to her constituent at this very sad time.
I was delighted to see former Labour leader Tony Blair show that he is concerned, as I am, with the woke left wanting to cancel anyone who disagrees with them. I am delighted that the Government are coming forward with legislation to protect freedom of speech at universities, but Dudley does not have a university, so does my right hon. Friend agree that that legislation should also be applicable to colleges, online, and to other areas of our lives?
My hon. Friend is right to raise his concerns about the charge of the woke brigade, though I seem to remember that the charge of the Light Brigade was ultimately not an enormously successful venture. I think the charge of the woke brigade will be similarly thwarted in the end.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech, will protect the fundamental principle of freedom of speech by strengthening existing freedoms of speech and addressing gaps in the current framework. There must be consequences for breaches of freedom of speech duties, and these legislative changes will ensure the significance and compliance that freedom of speech deserves.
This issue is of fundamental importance. If our places of education are not bastions of freedom of speech, what purpose do they serve? The whole point of a university is the clash of ideas, as we have a clash of ideas back and forth in this House. Freedom of speech in this House is protected by the Bill of Rights. We should protect, encourage and enhance freedom of speech across the land.
The Scottish Parliament has extended the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and most recently to all new Scots with leave to remain and refugee status. Last Thursday saw a record turnout, which was a victory for democracy as well as for the Scottish National party. The Leader of the House says that his voters might be able to afford ID, but many across the country will not, so can we have an urgent statement on exactly why the UK Government are seeking to suppress and restrict electoral participation with their offensive, unevidenced and exclusionary voter ID rules?
The hon. Lady may want to consult Hansard because I pointed out that councils will make ID available for free to people who do not have suitable identification documents, and I believe 98% of people already do. The franchise will be extended in the Bill that we bring forward to ensure that people living overseas do not lose their votes after 15 years, so I hope that she will support that further extension of democracy.
I speak as the chairman of the all-party group on 22q11 syndrome, which is a genetic disorder best described as the most common syndrome not heard of unless you have it, with many children having, among other things, learning difficulties. With that in mind, I believe that for many children who require specialist education support, such as those with 22q, the educational catch-up from covid-19 may not be as straightforward as for those without. Our recovery from covid-19 must be as equal as possible for all, so may we have a debate in Government time to raise awareness of the lesser known but equally prevalent genetic disorders, such as 22q, and the impact that covid-19 has had on learning and educational recovery post-pandemic?
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking over the all-party group that looks at these issues? The point she raises is one of great importance. We must value everybody in our society equally—that must be a fundamental principle of how the society of the United Kingdom works—and, therefore, support those with special educational needs and disabilities and help them to make up for time lost during the pandemic. Sir Kevan Collins has been appointed as the education recovery commissioner and is considering how schools and the system can more effectively target resources and support the pupils in the greatest need. Special schools and alternative provision will be available to access funding to provide summer schools and the national tutoring programme. We have also prioritised children who attend specialist settings by providing additional uplift both in the 2020 catch-up premium and in the 2021 recovery premium. It so happens that today’s Queen’s Speech debate on a brighter future for the next generation is an opportunity to raise this matter further.
I send my congratulations to Pam Duncan-Glancy, the first permanent wheelchair user elected to the Scottish Parliament, but not all wheelchair users in public office have a good story to tell. Harriet Clough, the second wheelchair-using councillor ever elected to Bristol City Council could not stand this time because of the closure of the EnAble fund—a temporary fund designed to cover the cost for reasonable adjustments for candidates with a disability. Does the Leader of the House agree that having a disability should never stand in the way of running for public office, and will he outline when the Government will bring forward a permanent fund as a first step towards removing barriers for candidates with a disability?
I agree with the hon. Lady that it is absolutely right that people with disabilities should face no barrier to engaging in public life. They should be helped, supported and encouraged, but in the selection of candidates, the primary responsibility is with political parties.
A recent report, which included input from the Department for Transport, looked at the rail services in and around Manchester and suggested that one option should be a change in the pattern of services on the Hope Valley line, which includes services between Cleethorpes and Manchester airport, which is regarded as absolutely essential as it provides connections to the rest of the network. Concerns have also been expressed by Sheffield Members. Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Rail Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris)— to come to the House and make a statement to reassure Members and passengers?
My hon. Friend, as always, is a great champion for his constituency. I can assure him that the Government take the matter seriously. We are set to spend £137 million of taxpayers’ money to deliver more capacity and improve connectivity between Sheffield and Manchester. The Hope valley capacity scheme is designed to remove bottlenecks on the line by creating places for fast passenger services to overtake slower-moving freight trains, allowing more trains to run and increasing the reliability of services. When it is finished, I think that the Hope valley line should be renamed the Martin Vickers line, as a proper tribute to my hon. Friend for all he does for his constituents.
Many of my constituents tell me that they are finding it difficult to get face-to-face appointments with GPs. While I appreciate that telephone and video consultations will remain a factor, will my right hon. Friend give a statement to the House to say that face-to-face appointments should be available within a reasonable timeframe if they are needed?
The question is obviously important, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic, and people should be able to receive services in the way that is most suitable for them. The way in which people can get general practice services during covid-19 has changed; practices are offering more triage and remote consultations —video and online—to see as many patients as possible, while protecting staff and patients from the avoidable risk of infection. NHS England and NHS Improvement have issued guidance on the importance of continuing to offer face-to-face appointments, utilising remote triage and making use of online and telephone consultations where suitable.
General practice appointment levels are, I am glad to say, now close to pre-pandemic numbers. In February 2021, an estimated 23.5 million appointments—an average of 1.19 million per working day—were booked in general practice in England, of which 13 million were face-to-face, which is 55.3%. People who need face-to-face appointments ought to be able to get them.
If we are congratulating people, could we congratulate Buffy Williams on winning her seat in the Senedd for the Rhondda last week? At the same time, could we also pay tribute to Leanne Wood? She was a Plaid Cymru Assembly and then Senedd Member for 18 years, which shows phenomenal dedication. We should pay tribute to those who are our opponents, not our enemies.
May I ask the Leader of the House whether he attended the Brit awards the other night, or watched them perhaps—or whether he knows what the Brit awards are? In particular, did he listen to Dua Lipa’s very important contribution about our health workers in this country? She said:
“It’s very good to clap for them, but we need to pay them.”
I say that because it is not just the people who have been doing the vaccinating and those who have kept us safe over the past 15 months, but the people who will have to get the NHS back into shape to deal with all the other conditions that could not be dealt with for the past year. We need to give them a boost in the arm—and that is money, isn’t it? Can we have a debate on it?
May I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Buffy Williams on her victory in the Rhondda? He is most gracious in paying tribute to Leanne Wood; he is right to do so, because 18 years of public service is a long time and losing elections is never fun, even for our political opponents. It is worth recognising that.
Unfortunately, I did not pay much attention to the British awards.
I am not as trendy, fashionable or à la mode as the hon. Gentleman—if only we could all be such models of modernity as he is. To come to his fundamental point, nurses will receive a 1% pay rise and have received some additional funding as well, but we must recognise that the public finances are under great strain after the hundreds of billions—over £400 billion—that have been spent to protect the economy and deal with covid. There are constraints on what can be spent, but there is an independent review. The Government’s proposal has been made, and we will see what the review says.
The Spode works in Stoke-on-Trent Central is a complex and exciting regeneration project where new creative businesses are breathing life back into a much-loved historic site, bringing new cultural recovery to a historically underfunded area. Will my right hon. Friend make parliamentary time to discuss the impact that small businesses in the cultural sector will have on reviving towns and cities post pandemic?
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s concern. It is a top priority that small businesses are the engine of our recovery. They are as much a part of our cultural heritage, especially in industrial cities such as Stoke, as any museum or concert hall. We have to date spent over £1.2 billion in financial support to more than 5,000 individual organisations and sites both large and small across the United Kingdom, including, I am glad to say, the Spode Museum Trust. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer also announced in the 2021 Budget an additional £300 million of taxpayers’ money to support theatres, museums and other cultural organisations in England through the cultural recovery fund, together with other cultural support, such as funding for our national museums. This means that the total tax- payer package for culture during the pandemic is now approaching £2 billion, which is really an unprecedented sum.
Over recent weeks, many constituents have contacted me with huge concern about the removal of hedgerows at the start of a housing development, in what most of us think of as the close season for cutting or removing hedgerows. I have looked into the individual incident, but my constituents and I would like to see further protection of our hedgerows and wildlife in the context of development, so can we have a debate in Government time on how we can strengthen that protection for our hedgerows, birds and wildlife?
I think that the hon. Lady is really calling for the agricultural reforms that are being put forward to ensure support for farmers who support the environment. Certainly, talking to farmers in North East Somerset, I know that they are well aware of their obligations to protect hedgerows, but this is not an obligation that they resent. They feel it is a natural part of their farming duty.
I am afraid that Parliament is not working. It is not properly holding the Government to account. It strikes me that Parliament should lead, so could we have a statement from the Leader of the House telling us when Parliament, and particularly the House of Commons, is going to be restored to its normal process? When will we end virtual proceedings, so that we can have proper voting and not have hundreds of votes in the Deputy Chief Whip’s pocket, and when will we end social distancing in the Chamber? We really need to lead and get Parliament back doing its job properly.
A voice cryeth in the wilderness! I am tempted to say, “Physician, heal thyself.” Where is my hon. Friend? Why is he not in this Chamber holding me to account and leading by the example he wants? I entirely agree with him. I am waiting with joy for that day when we are back to normal, which I hope will be 21 June, when everybody will be back here and it will be safe, and we will not have to wear masks and the Dispatch Box will not be covered in perspex, and we will be back to a full and flourishing Chamber. I agree with my hon. Friend that scrutiny is good for the nation, good for the Government and good for our constituents, but I would encourage him to come to London, come to Westminster, and take his seat.
On this holy day of Eid, a day of salvation for Muslims across the world, many including in my own constituency are watching with horror as an abhorrent humanitarian crisis escalates against the Palestinian people in that region. It may well be an uncomfortable truth for the UK Government that they have fuelled, and continue to fuel, deadly conflicts such as the one we are seeing in Gaza through the reckless sale of arms to right-wing coalition Governments, but it is a truth none the less. Given the continued intransigence of this UK Government and their willingness to turn a blind eye, will the Leader of the House allow a full and frank debate on such matters, and allow us, the Members of this House, the opportunity to work to stop such atrocities being committed at the hands of our perceived allies?
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned Eid, and this is an opportunity to wish people a joyous Eid. It is also, of course, the feast of the Ascension, so it is an important religious day for many communities. I mentioned earlier the issue of the sale of arms, which is covered very carefully by regulations that ensure that arms are sold only to regimes that we have close relationships with, that are our key allies, and that behave in a humane and proper way. The Government have called for restraint on both sides and pointed out that the killing of unarmed civilians is always wrong in the conflict that is currently going on, but Israel is a very important ally to the United Kingdom.
In the past two weeks, in my constituency, there have been four attempted abductions of children. This is causing huge alarm among families, and of course I am shocked by it. The police have increased their patrols in the areas where this has happened, but may I ask my right hon. Friend whether it would be possible for us to have a debate about how we can alert the public and highlight the fact that each one of us should help the police by being their eyes and ears, in order to try to prevent further abductions of children? Thankfully, these people did not succeed, but there is a real worry here and we should highlight this to the general public.
My right hon. Friend is doing so very effectively. It is deeply troubling that what he reports is going on. I reiterate that the Government are recruiting more police, with 6,620 so far. It was Sir Robert Peel who said, “We are the police and the police are us.” In his call for us to support the police, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right; we are a society that is policed with civilians, not by a military, and therefore everything we can do to support the police in their difficult task is worth doing. I am glad to hear that there are more patrols in response to the worrying circumstances that he reports to the House.
The Leader of the House said earlier that he does not think the West of England Combined Authority should exist because it unduly benefits Bristol, but Bristol is not getting the support it needs for Temple Quarter regeneration, for example, or for improving transport infrastructure, such as the A4, which many of his constituents use to drive through my constituency and into Bristol city centre. May we have a statement on what the Government’s levelling up agenda means for the West of England? To me and to many of the people who voted for Dan Norris last week it looks very much as though we have been written off.
There is a socialist Mayor of Bristol and a socialist Mayor of WECA, and they have responsibility for a lot of these development areas. Levelling up is something for the whole country, as I know very well in my own constituency. I am very much looking forward to things such as the introduction of the lifelong learning loan, which will help people who may have been left behind in education previously and who will be able to get a second chance. Levelling up is for everybody, but I fear it is true that money leaks out of North East Somerset into Bristol under WECA, and that is not something I am broadly in favour of.
I believe I represent the largest population from St Vincent and the Grenadines outside the islands. In the aftermath of the eruption of the volcano La Soufrière, I of course share my constituents’ acute concerns for their family, friends and property. May we please have an oral statement on the situation on the islands and the British Government’s response?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituents and is right to bring this important issue to the attention of the House. I assure him that Her Majesty’s Government are monitoring the situation in St Vincent and the Grenadines closely, and our thoughts are very much with those affected by the eruption. The Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord Ahmad, spoke to the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and his high commissioner to the UK on 14 April. They discussed initial and continuing UK support for the recovery following the volcanic eruption. Our resident British commissioner in St Vincent and the Grenadines has also been in contact with the Prime Minister and other officials there. I encourage my hon. Friend, in the first instance, to apply for an Adjournment debate, so that this matter may be aired more fully.
I support the Government’s work to do all they can to stop any variants of the virus coming into the UK, but may I raise an issue with the Leader of the House relating to the support that disabled constituents receive when they have to quarantine? My constituent Mr Davies raised with the hotel staff the fact that he would need additional support, but he received none during his 10-day quarantine. His wife was not able to support him. This situation led to several visits from paramedics to offer additional medical support. He did not receive the right type of food and his care during the 10 days was truly shocking.
I understand that the Health Secretary made a statement on 5 May to qualify the exemption process for constituents with disabilities, but the system is not working. It is almost impossible to gain the exemptions from Ministers in time for constituents who may then not have to quarantine or could quarantine at home. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the relevant Minister of State or the Health Secretary to make a statement to set out how the exemption system works, so that Members can do their jobs in supporting disabled constituents and so that, crucially, if a disabled constituent does have to quarantine, the hotel staff are aware of their needs?
The hon. Gentleman raises a constituency case of great importance, and I am very sorry to hear about what happened to Mr Davies. I will take up the issue with the Secretary of State for Health immediately after this session, because, clearly, disabled people who do need additional support ought to receive it.
One of the recurring themes that emerged when I was back out on the doorsteps in Warrington during the local election campaign was the level of antisocial behaviour being inflicted on some of my constituents. Police often refer to it as “low-level” antisocial behaviour, but people who suffer it experience really high levels of annoyance. Can we have a debate in Government time on the value of community policing and the importance of freeing up police officers from unnecessary paperwork, so that they can get out on the streets and deal with antisocial behaviour?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point, although I was concerned by the fact that he said that antisocial behaviour rose once he got back on the streets—I am sure that the two were not directly connected. None the less, it is remarkable how unpleasant and fretful low-level antisocial behaviour is for constituents, particularly for elderly constituents. I am sure that adding 20,000 police officers will help, but community policing is of fundamental importance. I have often found in my own constituency that a quiet word from a police community support officer can nip this type of antisocial behaviour in the bud. We all have to work with our police forces across the country to encourage them in the right direction and to get back to “Dixon of Dock Green” policing, which I think does stop low-level criminality.
Retail workers have been covid heroes, but this pandemic has exacerbated the already growing levels of violence and abuse that they face at work. This is, of course, unacceptable, and Parliament has an obligation to act in this Session to protect them. Will the Leader of the House facilitate that by giving over Government time for a debate on this crucial matter?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter again. Concern about crime affecting retail workers is shared across the House. He pays tribute to the retail workers who stayed at work throughout the pandemic—the service that they gave to the nation was second to none. Like NHS workers, they made huge sacrifices and took risks—initially, they were unaware of the level of risk that they were taking—to ensure that the rest of us could have access to essential supplies. When it comes to time for debate, it is rather easy for me this week. The Queen’s Speech debate is going on, and that is an opportunity of several days’ length for people to raise any and all issues that they think are important. This is definitely an important issue.
As the MP for North Devon, I am proud to represent some of the best beaches in the country, and I have pledged 10 hours of my time to join volunteers in cleaning them up during Keep Britain Tidy’s great British spring clean. Microplastics and nurdles are too small to be picked up by our wonderful volunteers, but they still cause great harm to nature and are finding their way into our food chain. Will my right hon. Friend consider allocating Government time to discussing how we can fix that problem at source, perhaps with new legislation in the Government’s Environment Bill?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. It is obviously important to protect the marine environment from litter and it is one of the Government’s priorities, which is why we introduced our robust ban on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products in 2018, preventing billions of tiny pieces of harmful plastic from entering the ocean.
My hon. Friend is fantastic in her war against litter. I say to her that we will fight litter on the beaches; we will fight litter on the landing grounds; we will fight litter in the fields and in the hills; we will never surrender to litter.
The loss of a baby at any stage of pregnancy can be an extremely traumatic experience for parents. However, if a baby is stillborn before the end of the 24th week, it is treated as a miscarriage, and, under current rules, bereaved parents receive no formal support or paid leave from their employment. Does the Leader of the House agree that we must do more to support families suffering baby loss, and will he agree to have a debate in Government time on providing paid leave to those who experience miscarriage?
I have the greatest sympathy for the issue that the hon. Lady raises. The loss of a baby is such a terrible and traumatic blow for families who are looking forward to bringing a new life into the world, and they deserve all possible support. I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but there is cross-party support for ensuring that people who suffer in this way receive help and assistance. Her point is very well made. Perhaps an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate would find a lot of support from other Members.
Harrow Council spent £250,000 putting in dangerous cycle lanes and a series of deeply unpopular low-traffic neighbourhoods. It is now spending £85,000 to remove them, after the public outcry. In addition, it proposed to sell off the very popular Belmont community centre to be redeveloped for flats. Then, of course, after the public outcry, it made a screeching U-turn and claimed to have saved the Belmont community centre for the public. Could we have a debate in Government time on the waste of money that takes place in certain places in local government?
The council would seem to be rather remarkable in its skills if it was able to do a screeching U-turn in the midst of all those cycle lanes. The waste of taxpayers’ money is scandalous. We have to hold socialist councils to account when they waste public funds doing things that do not work and waging war on the motorist. We all know that it is only the Conservatives who back the motorist. The socialists and the Liberal Democrats—if there are any left—do not like the motorist and do everything they can to make the motorist’s life more difficult, whereas we aim to make it easier with a huge road-building plan that will make motoring the pleasure that it has always historically been.
The Dunston staiths are a large timber structure on the south bank of the River Tyne in Gateshead that were used to load coal on to ships for transport to London and the south of England. The staiths were extensively renovated for their use in Gateshead’s garden festival in 1990, and they are an important symbol of our industrial heritage and a monument to the coal industry. At over 600 metres long, they are also a feat of engineering and construction in themselves.
Sadly, in recent years the staiths have been subject to several very damaging arson attacks, and the Tyne & Wear Building Preservation Trust simply does not have the resources to repair them properly. Could we have a debate about sustaining our industrial heritage, and would the Leader of the House please assist me in securing a meeting with a Minister from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to explore a solution to our ongoing repair and maintenance problems on one of the country’s most important industrial heritage landmarks?
What the hon. Gentleman asks for is something of importance, because our industrial heritage is important to the nation as a whole. May I commend him on his diffidence? I have brought forward in my name, on behalf of the recommendations made by the Backbench Business Committee, two debates on 27 May, and the hon. Gentleman did not lobby, prod or push to have a debate on his pet subject. I think that shows considerable restraint and honourability—as, of course, all hon. Members show at all times.
The Leader of the House knows that the road map is going along slowly but steadily, and that restrictions are being removed. In fact the nightclubs will be open in the foreseeable future, and I look forward to attending with him.
In the House of Commons we are supposed to be leaders. But we are not leaders—if we look at the House today, we can see how few people are sitting in the Chamber, because they cannot. I am at home today because I had to come home for a personal reason. I have been in the Chamber all week, and I will be there next week. Also, six people can be entertained outside, in the fresh air, in most places in the country, but not in the House of Commons—only two people. Next week, six people will be able to enjoy hospitality inside, but not in the House of Commons—only four people, I understand, in the Dining Room; I do not know how many in the Tea Room or in any other rooms. Why are we so far behind the rest of the country, when it is legal to meet people in groups of six outside this week and inside next week, but we do not do it? When will we be up with the rest of the people of England—when will we be the same?
May I say, to help the Leader of the House, that there is a meeting on Monday? We will be looking at the road map; everything is being reviewed. Now, to say that these things are not going to happen— I would not want to disappoint the hon. Lady, and I think she ought to wait till Monday and let us see what we come up with. We are exactly in line with Public Health England advice and the way the rest of the country is looking.
These are really matters for the Commission and its spokesman to answer. The issues that affect the Leader of the House are the bringing forward of motions, and I can assure my hon. Friend that the motions fall away on 21 June, at which point we will be back to normal. But I would say to her what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone)—that there are seats here, and that if people want to lead by example, the example is on the seats here.