The business for the week commencing 7 June will include:
Monday 7 June—Remaining stages of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill.
Tuesday 8 June—Second Reading of the Compensation (London Capital & Finance Plc and Fraud Compensation Fund) Bill, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of external members to the House of Commons Commission, followed by a motion relating to the membership of the Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, followed by a motion relating to the membership of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
Wednesday 9 June—Opposition day (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Thursday 10 June—General debate on support for the aviation, travel and tourism industries, followed by a general debate on world press freedom. The subjects for these debates were previously recommended by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 June—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 14 June will include:
Monday 14 June—Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.
Tuesday 15 June—Second Reading of the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill.
Wednesday 16 June—Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Thursday 17 June—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 18 June—The House will not be sitting.
On Tuesday, the independent expert panel published its report on the conduct of the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts). I thank Sir Stephen Irwin and the panel for their work on this and other cases. The IEP has recommended the sanction of a six-week suspension, and a motion has been tabled so that the House can agree this after business questions today. The House will know that the sanctions determined by the independent expert panel fall outside the scope of the Recall of MPs Act 2015, which provides three conditions for a recall petition process, one of which is a suspension of a period of at least 10 sitting or 14 calendar days. For a recall to be initiated under the Act, the sanction must be applied on the recommendation of the Committee on Standards, or another Committee of the House of Commons concerned with standards of conduct. The independent expert panel is not a Committee of the House of Commons.
It may help if I remind the House of the background to the approach taken. The current arrangement was widely accepted at the time of the creation of the IEP. In particular, staff groups had made representations that recall would be an inappropriate consequence in independent complaints and grievance scheme cases. It was felt that the opening of a recall petition could have implications for the reporter’s confidentiality during the six weeks for which the recall petition is open and during any subsequent by-election campaign, should the 10% signing threshold be reached. In turn, it was felt that that could have an impact on the willingness of future complainants to come forward.
There was also concern about ensuring the independence of the process as far as possible, while recognising that it should, of course, be for the House to order suspension. However, that is not to say that there have not been concerns about the discrepancy between ICGS and non-ICGS cases when it comes to the interplay with the recall Act. I, too, have always been concerned by this matter. Following a case of this severity, in which it would be honourable for a Member to stand down after the withdrawal of the Whip, we need to look at whether the process is striking the right balance between independence, protecting the confidentiality of complainants and ensuring consistent outcomes across different types of conduct case. I can therefore confirm to the House that I have asked the chairman of the independent expert panel for his views on whether changes should be made to the current process to enable recall to be triggered. In my view, any changes in this regard should be made in the most straightforward way possible, and my preference would therefore be for a non-legislative solution.
This is ultimately a matter for the House, and the House of Commons Commission has always been involved in the establishment and running of the ICGS. I will look to work closely with you, Mr Speaker, and other members of the Commission, including of course the shadow Leader of the House—she has helpfully written to me this morning, and that is an important step forward in this process—on this and other matters.
I thank the Leader of the House for that statement and for his words just then, which I will return to shortly, but, first, may I wish you, Mr Speaker, all colleagues and staff a safe and productive recess?
If a Member is suspended from Parliament for 10 or more sitting days by the Standards Committee for a breach of the code of conduct, their constituents can remove that MP and cause a by-election under the Recall of MPs Act, but when the independent expert panel recommends suspension for sexual misconduct under the independent complaints and grievance scheme, they cannot. This is a loophole, and we can work together to fix it. I am encouraged by what the Leader of the House said and the tone in which he said it. I would like to work with him to go further and quicker, and I agree that there are non-legislative solutions.
In what other job could someone who has carried out sexual misconduct not face losing that job? As the House will know, the Member found to have carried out sexual misconduct by the panel this week lost his appeal and will shortly be the subject of the motion on the Order Paper, as the Leader of the House said. Knowing the Leader of the House as I do and from his words, I know we share common cause here. There are workable solutions to what will be a stain on us all if the public see someone who has carried out sexual misconduct keep their job in this place.
According to advice I have had this week from House staff, to whom I am truly grateful, this could be done in various ways, without legislation. Of course, as the Leader of the House said, ideally the Member would do the honourable thing and resign forthwith, but retrospective rule change is possible, permissible and could apply, because this is above party politics. It is about the Government doing the right thing, and it is about maintaining safe working for our staff, because Parliament should be a beacon of good practice. Process should not be a shield for unacceptable behaviour.
If the Member does not resign, he should be subject to recall and, if he is not, we run the risk of appearing as if this House does not take sexual misconduct seriously, which of course we do. As the Leader of the House said, I wrote to him this morning to offer to work with him to close the loophole urgently and seek solutions. I hope he will consider either meeting me today or speaking to me over recess so we can sort this out.
On doing the right thing, if the Prime Minister insists on having cosy chats with anti-democratic purveyors of hate, will he promise to challenge them on their antisemitism, their homophobia and their undermining of the rule of law, starting with Viktor Orbán this week?
By contrast, 51 years ago this week, a Labour Government passed the Equal Pay Act 1970, after women campaigned for equality. This pandemic has set working women back, so will the Government mark the anniversary by reinstating mandatory gender pay gap reporting, and will they publish the long-awaited review into rape prosecutions so survivors in Bristol West and beyond can have hope of justice?
This week, we have had more chaos as people in Bedford, Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley, Hounslow, Kirklees and North Tyneside found out that they had been subject to local lockdowns by stealth, without notice to them or their elected representatives. People trying to do the right thing cancelled events and family get-togethers they have waited so long for. The Government, having failed to act promptly on the surge of covid in India, which will have contributed to the increases in the variant, decided a buddy scheme would help people who were asked to isolate. Can the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how she expects a buddy scheme to pay the rent or feed children? Can he ask her instead to bring in adequate payments for people asked to isolate? Will he also ask the Culture Secretary to sort out guidance for amateur choirs so that people in his constituency and mine can sing together again, as they already can in sports stadiums?
Finally, I ask the Leader of the House and all hon. Members to look at the National Portrait Gallery’s online exhibition, “Hold Still”. These photographs of people in the UK in 2020 tell a painful story of sacrifice, generosity, courage and the love that British people have given each other in this national crisis: children touching a care home window as grandparents touch the other side; a smartly dressed man all alone watching a funeral online; a mother kissing her baby for the first time through a plastic sheet; hands held tightly, tears shed, the anguish of people caring for covid patients who sadly died and of those who love them. They are people who love this country. They deserve the best from their Government: one who prioritise good jobs and a strong economy, fix social care and affordable housing, protect the NHS and education, and halt climate change. I believe they are not getting that from this Government. They deserved a Government who took notice when the Opposition and the scientific experts argued for urgent action—not one who mocked and delayed, costing people dearly, but one who heeded all the recommendations of the pandemic preparedness exercise.
So that the Government can finally learn as quickly as possible the lessons of the past 14 months, and so that people can trust what they do next, will the Leader of the House now ask the Prime Minister to give us the date, scope and timetable of the public inquiry into his Government’s handling of the covid crisis, with survivors and bereaved people at its heart? From the top down, the Government owe the British people that. Thank you, Mr Speaker, and stay safe over recess.
May I join the hon. Lady in wishing everybody an enjoyable and restful recess? It is a much calmer approach to Whitsun this year than it was last year. I thank everybody for all they have done in the period between Easter and now.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her constructive comments in relation to recall. It is not so much a loophole as an active decision that was made in response to the views expressed by staff groups. They were concerned about issues relating to confidentiality if recall were allowed on ICGS cases. They were also worried about the requirement to involve a Committee in the House of Commons. In my opinion, those worries are not proportionate to the need to be clear that this House and all politicians think that sexual misconduct is at the most serious level of misbehaviour. It is frankly ridiculous that we have a higher sanction for somebody who uses a few envelopes incorrectly than for somebody who is involved in sexual misconduct, although I reiterate the point on my feelings about how an hon. Member would behave in these circumstances. But I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s offer of support and I think, Mr Speaker, with the Commission, we can come up with a sensible solution.
On the visit by Viktor Orbán, Hungary is a very important ally of this country. It is crucial that we have sensible relationships with our allies, but that we are clear to our friends where we disagree with them. That is important not just with Hungary but with the whole range of countries we deal with. But Mr Orbán will be a very welcome visitor to this country.
The hon. Lady refers to the pay gap between men and women. Although it has been narrowing recently, the Government have been pushing forward with a considerable number of strategies to continue the equalities work that has been going on in this country for many decades, has seen considerable improvement and is a major part of the Government’s levelling-up objective. We should level up across every part of this country and ensure we have economic prosperity.
The hon. Lady mentioned stealth lockdowns. I think “stealth lockdown” is an odd way—dare I say, an eccentric way—of looking at it. What is changing is that we are moving from a situation of absolute law, like the Ten Commandments—people know what they can do and what they cannot do—to saying that there are guidelines that wise people will follow. We are trusting the people as the lockdown comes to an end. That is the right way to be going: with both guidance and the clarity of law passed by this House.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point about amateur choirs. I remind the House that I am the patron of the Mendip male voice choir. That is something that I take great pride in and I am looking forward to hearing them back in full voice in due course, but that is currently under stage 4 of the lockdown process.
The hon. Lady challenges the record of this Government. I think it is a record of which we can be very proud. That is not to say that no mistakes were made at stages during the pandemic—a pandemic that nobody knew about and nobody predicted, which came upon us like a thief in the night—but none the less, enormous strides were made. The economic provision that was made means that our economy is bounding back as well as almost any economy in the world, with £407 billion of taxpayers’ money ensuring that the structures of the economy were maintained, so that businesses, as demand comes back, have the supply to meet it in a non-inflationary way. There was the roll-out of the vaccine, a decision taken directly by the Prime Minister, with the vaccine tsar reporting directly to the Prime Minister. It is a terrific success and one this nation can be proud of. There is the ability we have had to ensure that the NHS was not overrun—that the NHS was able to cope—and the fantastic work that the NHS has done in supporting this country. There is our ability to send vaccines to some of the poorest countries in the world and to provide funding to help some of the poorest countries in the world. So not only have we done it for ourselves—not only have we got a record of which we can proud in this country—but we are helping globally.
We should recognise that, but, of course, there is a continual learning process about what went right and what went wrong and to do more of what went right and less of what went wrong. That is what is happening and there will, of course, by the end of this Session of Parliament, be an inquiry established to look into it all.
Two police stations in my constituency are under threat of closure—one from the lease expiring and the other is likely to be sold by the Mayor of London. Given this Government’s enormous investment in the police, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to keep a physical police presence in north Kensington, and will he contemplate a debate on police stations generally in central London?
My hon. Friend raises an exceptionally important point. It is vital for MPs to campaign to ensure the safety of their constituents. We are recruiting as a Government—as a nation—20,000 additional police officers, and the latest published figures show that we have recruited 6,620 of them so far. It is worth remembering that the Mayor of London is the police and crime commissioner for London, so I welcome my hon. Friend scrutinising his distinctly poor record in office. The safety of Londoners should be his absolute priority, when it seems that he prefers to spend his time hiring press officers—marvellous though press officers are, I think police officers may be better at keeping the streets of London safe. I would recommend an Adjournment debate in the first instance, but she is right to hold the Mayor of London to account and to hold his feet to the fire.
I welcome the statement from the Leader of the House in regard to the independent expert panel. It is critical that there is confidence that all the processes in place are robust and that there is an equality of outcome. Central to all that is the importance of confidentiality. That is such an important point in all such cases.
Earlier this week, the Government published a number of statutory instruments regarding the space industry. Obviously, we are very keen in Scotland to see space playing a key part in the economy moving forward. However, the industry has been waiting for many months now for the Government’s space strategy. With the new regulations laid before Parliament this week, some clarity about the strategy would go a long way to helping to ensure that we knew where we were going. Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss the space strategy to see where and what that will actually look like?
A constituent got in touch with me regarding their elderly grandfather and his settled status documentation. He does not have biochipped documentation and having been in Scotland for a long time, this is now very unsettling to them. Could the Leader of the House help me to secure assurances from the Home Office that a lack of biochipping will not prevent my constituent’s grandfather from receiving a settled status outcome?
Although I fear I might be taking a long shot here, I wonder whether the Leader of the House might join me in welcoming the findings of the Scottish Government’s Social Justice and Fairness Commission—perhaps not, but I am sure that the proposals will be welcomed by all my constituents, who are keen to see a fairer and more socially just future for Scotland. Can we have a debate in Government time to consider how the UK Government might learn lessons from the Scottish Government’s approach in this regard to help to deliver a fairer society?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the independent expert panel and on confidentiality. It is very encouraging to see how much desire there is to work across the House to come to a sensible solution.
On the space industry, all the world’s a stage, but beyond it there is an even bigger stage for the hon. Gentleman and others to investigate. I hear that there have been reports in the newspapers—I think it was in the Telegraph—that the Americans are getting frightfully excited about people coming from outer space and UFOs, and that even former President Obama is getting interested. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wants a debate on little green men or whatever else may come from outer space, but the Government are developing a strategy. It is an important part of the future that so much space investment is going on and that that will be a United Kingdom-wide activity.
With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, the grandfather who requires settled status: yes, of course if the hon. Gentleman writes to me with the details I will take the matter up with the Home Secretary on his behalf. The system has provided 5.4 million people with settled status—it has worked well, but it is obviously important that it is fair to everybody.
The hon. Gentleman finished by asking whether I would join in the Scottish Government’s social justice and fairness scheme; he thought that probably I would not. What I thought we might have a debate on, perhaps—if he would like to ask me this—is not the policy of the Scottish Government, which they can debate in the Scottish Parliament, but the amazing contribution that the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom taxpayer have made to supporting all parts of the United Kingdom during the pandemic—the £14.5 billion of extra UK taxpayer spending that has gone to Scotland via the Barnett formula, the £1.2 billion for the self-employment scheme for 430,000 claimants, and the nearly 900,000 jobs that have been saved by the furlough scheme. I think we could debate that at considerable length. Should there ever be time for an Opposition day for the SNP, I hope that that is what it will bring forward.
In the absence of the Whitsun Adjournment debate, I, too, wish everyone a very happy recess.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on forced adoptions? On Tuesday, on behalf of the Movement for an Adoption Apology, I handed in a letter to the Prime Minister’s office simply asking for an acknowledgment of the wrongs that have been done, including to a constituent of mine, and an apology on behalf of the Government institutions involved in what went on.
This is a matter that the House has debated previously. The Government have expressed, and let me re-express, our deepest sympathy to all those affected by historical forced adoptions. Successive Governments have amended legislation to ensure that that practice cannot happen again. The Children Act 1989 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002 changed the law so that adoption has to be agreed to by a court. There is a requirement to be certain that any written consent is real. Adoption agencies, now mainly local authorities, are covered by statute and inspected by Ofsted, so the situation that prevailed cannot prevail again. That is quite right and proper, and the distress caused to families is a matter of the gravest concern.
May I inform the House that the Backbench Business Committee has been re-established? It met yesterday and is now open for business for this parliamentary Session. I welcome the announcement of Thursday 17 June as the first day of Backbench Business debates. We anticipate another round of estimates day debates before the summer recess; the Committee will invite applications for slots shortly after the Whitsun recess. If Members wish to submit debate applications for consideration by the Committee at its next meeting, a week on Tuesday, will they please ensure that they submit them no later than 2 pm on Friday 4 June?
I place on record my thanks to the Members who sat as members of the Committee during the last Session but are no longer members of it: the hon. Members for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe), for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). I thank them for their service on behalf of Members of this House. I also welcome to the Committee my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne), who joined the Committee this week.
Now that the UK has left the EU, we are free to change the VAT system and introduce a new sales tax regime, possibly localised, which will put downward pressure on taxation. May we have consideration of a debate on ending VAT and introducing a more flexible sales tax system?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of our new-found freedoms from the EU to set taxes how we please. We are no longer bound in to a complex agreement with the European Union and can therefore have our own competitive tax system. I am certainly intrigued by his idea that we should have local competition in tax systems, which they have in the United States, where some States have high sales taxes and others have lower sales taxes, and so on. It may be more difficult in a relatively small island, but it is worth noting that VAT is a broad-based tax on consumption designed to ensure the fair treatment of both consumers and businesses, and has been adopted not just in the European Union but by, I think, 170 countries. It may be that going away from VAT would not just be a statement of our Brexit independence, but go against a system that actually works quite well globally.
The final criminal trials relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster collapsed yesterday, 32 years after 96 wholly innocent children, women and men were unlawfully killed by the negligence of others, primarily the South Yorkshire police, who should have been protecting them. No one responsible has been held accountable by our criminal justice system for those deadly failures. This catastrophic failure of justice seriously compounded the grief, pain and anger of the families, who yet again yesterday had to endure hearing on national media outlets the very slurs that the police statements at the heart of this prosecution were being changed to promote, namely that the Liverpool fans attending the match caused the disaster, something that has been utterly and comprehensively disproved by the 2016 inquest verdict.
Does the Leader of the House accept that the law now needs to be changed to prevent this utter failure over three decades from ever happening again to any families bereaved by public disasters? There will be more families bereaved by public disasters. Will he arrange a statement from the Lord Chancellor and a debate in this House, so that those of us who have proposals to stop this kind of thing ever happening again, for example in the public advocate Bill and the public authority accountability Bill, can again bring them to the House?
The hon. Lady is so right to raise this matter. It is the greatest scandal of British policing in our lifetimes, and the pain is still with those families. The thought of the number of children who were killed is something that makes the whole House grieve. When nobody is held to account for that, it surely indicates that something has gone wrong in our criminal justice system. The hon. Lady is therefore right to say that we must do things that make sure this never happens in future, because though there may be nothing further that can be done in the criminal justice system now, we cannot allow this ever to happen again and have no accountability not just for the terrible events that happened but for the wickedness of the cover-up. The hon. Lady is so right to highlight the cruelty of blaming the families for the misery that was inflicted upon them.
I will of course take forward any ideas the hon. Lady has to the Lord Chancellor. I will seek to get replies to any questions she may have. I cannot, as she knows, immediately promise Government time, but she knows there are other ways of getting debates going in this House. It is worth remembering the early success of the Backbench Business Committee in having a debate on Hillsborough in about 2010, which helped to at least get some answers, if not necessarily the full legal conclusion that many would have liked and felt would have been just.
The Duffield beacon in Workington was erected and first lit to mark the Beacon Europe celebrations in 1992. Built by British Steel apprentices from Workington Rail, it stands today as a monument to our steel industry. Independent councillors who now run the town council have launched a sham consultation on fictitious health and safety grounds, offering Workington constituents a Hobson’s choice: whether the beacon should remain and never again be lit, or be chopped in half. May we have a debate in Government time on the protection of important local monuments such as the Duffield beacon?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are committed to ensuring that this country’s heritage is appropriately protected. That is why planning rules have been amended to ensure that the removal of unlisted historic monuments requires an application for planning permission. Local planning authorities are responsible for determining such applications, and local people will be able to make their views known through the application process. However, there is nothing worse than pettifogging bureaucracy trying to stop a local monument being lit, used, admired and enjoyed, and he is absolutely right to bash his local council for its silly behaviour.
May I place on the record my thanks to the Leader of the House for the integrity that he has shown this afternoon in setting out his view that if a Member is found to have committed sexual misconduct, it is a curse on all our houses and it is the right and honourable thing for that Member to resign? I pay tribute to him for that. I know that he cares deeply about this House, the Members in it and the purpose for which we are all elected to serve our constituents.
Will the Leader of the House provide a statement from Housing, Communities and Local Government Ministers to update us on what is happening with the Government’s much-celebrated levelling-up fund? There was what can only be described as an embarrassing session of the Welsh Affairs Committee today, where Ministers seemed unable to clarify how the additional streams of funding will work into years 2, 3 and 4; whether funding will be available in the long term beyond the first year; whether Members of Parliament can support one substantive bid, one transport bid and three additional bids, and what happens if a bid fails. There just seems to be continuous confusion, so I would be grateful if he could provide some clarity from Ministers.
I am always happy to take on individual questions and pass them through to Ministers, but the levelling up of the country is a major ambition of this Government. Forty-five new town deals worth £1 billion are already there, the UK community renewal fund has been launched, and the first round of the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund has been announced. I seem to remember from last week that the deadline for applications is Waterloo Day. At least we know when the deadline for applications is, and I suggest that MPs should support lots of applications for their local area. Always support your local area in trying to get money out of central Government; that seems wise advice to Members of Parliament.
May we have a statement on whether churches and other places of worship will be able to operate without any mandatory restrictions from 21 June, or when England moves to step 4 of the Government’s road map? In the meantime, can choirs—I have many wonderful choirs in my constituency—be brought into line with the current guidance for other non-professional music activity indoors, as was the case between August and December last year?
On choirs, the issue is essentially the budget of risk. When people sing—particularly if they sing loudly—there is a greater risk because more droplets are spewed out into the atmosphere. The restriction on choirs is well thought through and proportionate, but the hope, obviously, is that on 21 June, when we get to step 4, choirs will be able to come back and church services will return to normal. Step 3 has seen some improvements in church services getting back to normal, although it has to be said that some of the things that were banned and considered dangerous were some modern excretions into church services that I was not too sorry we did not have for a bit.
I am intrigued that the question I asked the Leader of the House last week has widespread support. I hope that he got his birthday song sung to him, and I wish him happy birthday again in retrospect.
In my constituency, GPs’ practices are under severe pressure. I pay tribute to them for their dedication and commitment during the past 14 months. As we come out of lockdown, GPs are facing a tsunami of cases because so much of routine practice had to be put on hold. The extra pressure will hit a workforce that is already on its knees, so may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care—I realise that he is rather busy at the moment—on what the Government plan to do to support GP practices with extra resources, including for mental health support?
The Government are seriously tackling mental health issues and considerable additional funding is being provided for mental healthcare, which is at the heart of the NHS long-term plan. There will be £2.3 billion extra by 2023-24 to support 380,000 more adults and 345,000 more children. As regards GP practices, things are beginning to get back to normal and people are entitled to face-to-face consultations if they need them. Over the past year there were 56,900 more people working in the NHS, and the Government are recruiting 6,000 more doctors in general practice during the course of this Parliament. Steps are being taken very much in line with what the hon. Lady asks for. She pays tribute to her local GP practices and her local NHS; as we share an NHS area, may I join her in that? We are extraordinarily lucky to have such dedicated and hard-working people. This is an opportunity to thank Ian Orpen, who was the chairman of the clinical commissioning group for the area and did such a sterling job for a long time before retiring recently.
Two weeks ago, nine-year-old Jordan Banks was tragically struck by lightning and died in my constituency while playing a game of football. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will join me in passing on heartfelt condolences to his family and friends and thanking those in Blackpool who are now organising events to celebrate his life. Football has a unique ability to bring communities together and this tragic event, as well as Blackpool playing in the football play-off final on Sunday at Wembley, has brought the whole town together. Will my right hon. Friend look to hold a debate in Government time to celebrate the positive impact that community football clubs such as Jordan’s team, Clifton Rangers, can have in our communities?
I join my hon. Friend in sending condolences to the family and friends of Jordan Banks and praying for the repose of his soul. I know that clubs have played a crucial role in bringing communities together in the pandemic and, of course, bringing communities together when there is sadness. It is such a wonderful thing that football clubs are paying tribute to Jordan. It builds a whole community: young and old come together behind the team they all support and admire, whether it is successful or not. I wish both Blackpool and Lincoln luck in their match on Saturday.
I concur with the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) for a Hillsborough-type law.
Last week, the roof and part of the building of Northwich station in my constituency collapsed. It was a miracle that nobody was killed or seriously injured. I, and other disability campaigners and councillors, have been calling for a considerable number of years for investment in and modernisation of that facility, plus those across the north. Will the Leader of the House find time to debate real investment in the rail infrastructure in the north of England?
The level of investment in the railways is unprecedented since Victorian times—which you may think suits me, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I have always had rather an affection for Victorian times. As regards the roof at Northwich station, I will pass that issue on to the Secretary of State for Transport on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf.
The recent monsoon-like conditions have created flooding in my suburban constituency, particularly in Kenton and parts of Edgware, caused by the flooding of the Kenton brook. Unfortunately, Harrow Council, which is responsible for some of the maintenance of the sewers and the overflow, blames the Environment Agency. We have tried to get the Environment Agency to take prompt action. Because of over-development and front gardens being lost so that people can put in driveways, the normal soakaways are not available. May we have a debate in Government time on flooding in urban and suburban areas, so that we can call on the Environment Agency and other partners to ensure that they carry out their duties in a proper way?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that is a matter of concern across the country, and flooding does have a terrible impact on people’s homes and on families. The Government announced a record £5.2 billion of taxpayers’ money to be spent on flood and coastal defences, which is double the previous spending, to protect 336,000 properties. The Environment Agency’s flood and coastal risk management strategy will prepare us for more extreme weather and build a better prepared and more resilient nation—it is building back better against floods. The responsibility for drainage is really with local authorities, which are meant to clean their drains and deal with surface water, so he is right to highlight the failures of his local council. As regards a debate, I believe he has a certain influence with the Backbench Business Committee, so he may wish to use that to get the debate he seeks.
My constituent Anna Slwinska was enrolled in her company pension scheme with Halliburton. When she was made redundant, she was given six months to transfer her pension pot. She initiated the process within the timescale, but Capita, the administrator, says that it did not receive the second of two forms and has kept all her money. The pensions ombudsman says that there is nothing it can do. So may we have a debate in Government time about the fact that sharp practice in the pensions industry may discourage people such as my constituent Anna from saving for their retirement?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for raising this case in relation to Halliburton, Capita and her constituent Anna. Our job as MPs is to seek redress of grievance individually for our constituents. If there is anything I can do to help achieve that redress of grievance for Anna, I will do it, because sharp practice should not lead to people losing their pension and therefore people being discouraged from preparing for their old age.
First, on behalf of my constituents in Hyndburn and Haslingden, I would like to send my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Dr Ron Hill MBE after his sad passing. He was not only a former Olympic marathon runner, but a true local hero.
One of the biggest concerns that my constituents raise with me is speeding, particularly on roads such as Hud Hey Road, Blackburn Road, Manchester Road and Stanhill Lane. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time so that we are able to discuss what further measures can be taken to stop careless drivers putting at risk the lives of local residents, such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden?
I join my hon. Friend in sending condolences to Mr Hill’s family. I know that he was a very important, well-known local figure. Not only should drivers obey the speed limit, but my hon. Friend was right to highlight careless driving. It is not always speed, but sometimes the carelessness and lack of consideration for the area that they are driving through that leads to the greatest number of accidents. The enforcement, advertising and decision making on speed limits is a local matter, so in her constituency it is a matter for Lancashire County Council, and the local police force has the responsibility for enforcement. However, it is worth pointing out that the Department for Transport launched a call for evidence last autumn as part of a wider roads policing review—an examination of roads policing in England and Wales and its relevance to road safety. The Government will publish their responses in the summer and I hope they will be reassuring to my hon. Friend.
I am sure that the Leader of the House agrees that Lord Hall has very serious questions to answer regarding the re-employment of Mr Martin Bashir at the BBC. Will the Leader of the House let me know whether there is any mechanism that can be deployed, or that has indeed been examined, that would allow for the removal of Lord Hall’s title and privileges here in the other House, because of the alleged serious breaches that he has been engaged in? Is that being examined and is there a process, given the serious nature of his misdemeanour?
Madam Deputy Speaker, I notice a slightly raised eyebrow or slightly furrowed brow, because by convention we would not talk about individual peers in a disobliging way. There is an ancient practice for removing peerages, which is by Bill of attainder, but looking at the Clerk at the Table, I do not think that it has been used in at least the last 200 years, and probably not beyond the early part of the 18th century, so it may be that a Bill of attainder is an unlikely procedure.
There is a procedure for removing the peerages of Lords who go to prison for a certain period, which came in relatively recently. The House of Lords has exclusive cognisance of its own affairs and can, of course, suspend peers in certain circumstances. It was on the cusp of suspending all sorts of peers for not attending the valuing everybody training, but it seemed to step away from that, in the end, when a particularly distinguished noble baroness was one of the people who had not done that training.
There are mechanisms, but they are at the highest end of our constitutional activity for the most serious misdemeanours, and whether it would be right to go into them in a specific circumstance is a matter I cannot go into at the Dispatch Box.
In the last week, two of my constituents—both British citizens—have received letters from the Home Office telling them they will lose their pension unless they apply for EU settled status. Please will my right hon. Friend do his best to extract a statement from the Home Office as to what data sharing is going on across Government that has led to those errors, which have alarmed pensioners in my constituency and, I assume, elsewhere?
May I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend? I remember her being questioned by the Brexit Committee, when I was on it, about the settled status scheme, which has been an absolute triumph. It started with the work of my right hon. Friend, and 5.4 million people have now settled and secured settled status. She has done a service to 5.4 million people, which is an amazing achievement. It has given certainty to all those people.
Mistakes happen. When they happen, they must be put right. The examples that my right hon. Friend mentions sound particularly ridiculous—a British citizen should not have to apply for settled status—and I cannot understand why that would have happened or how that information has been shared, but I will certainly take up those specific cases with the Home Office.
The scandal of fire and rehire continues, and there seems to be no movement at all from the Government to address it. It is three months since the Government received the ACAS report. If we cannot have legislation to ban this outrageous practice, can we have a Government statement responding to the ACAS report, so we understand where the Government are on this scandal?
I am very sympathetic to the issue the hon. Gentleman has raised. We have discussed it in the House before, and there is a considerable degree of agreement that fire and rehire is a disreputable negotiating tactic and gives capitalism, of which I am a great supporter, a bad name. The Department is considering the ACAS report, and I am afraid that my line is the same as before: information will be brought forward soon. Unfortunately, “soon” is rather an elastic concept in the bureaucratic world.
Will my right hon. Friend make parliamentary time available for a debate on markets and how, post-pandemic, they can play a crucial role in the regeneration of town centres throughout the country? Will he join me in welcoming my local council’s levelling-up fund bid to ensure that the world-famous Bury market not only continues to play a crucial role in the economic and social life of my town, but develops as a multipurpose community hub?
I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend has said: local town markets draw people in, and they are a highlight that people go into town to use. They often offer all sorts of attractive things for people to buy, and as we normalise after the pandemic, I think they will be a great attraction. Bury market, as my hon. Friend says, is historic, and I wish him every success with the levelling-up fund bid. I cannot necessarily add my imprimatur to it because I would then be asked endlessly for my support for bids across the country, which might exceed the amount of money available.
Those who have been bereaved or left with long-term illnesses during the pandemic cannot fail to be alarmed by yesterday’s evidence from the Prime Minister’s former close adviser. These matters are now in the public domain: allegations that Government adopted a policy of herd immunity, and that they ignored the scientific facts and delayed lockdowns, leading to tens of thousands of avoidable deaths. The truth needs to be examined in the future—I accept that—but surely people deserve some answers now. If we are not to get an immediate public inquiry, the Prime Minister should make a statement about the decision not to hold an inquiry sooner, so that at least we can represent our constituents and ask him questions based on the evidence to the Select Committees yesterday.
The Prime Minister was asked about the inquiry yesterday. An inquiry will be set up in this Session, and it is right to do that at the point at which events are more under control. It would not be right to do it while the pandemic is still raging. Evidence was given yesterday by somebody who played a very important role within the Government and who was a very active part of the decision-making process, and who now seems to have turned himself into Achithophel. The lines that come to mind are:
“In Friendship False, Implacable in Hate:
Resolv’d to Ruine or to Rule the State.”
Order. I need to finish this session by about 25 past at the latest, because we have two very well-subscribed debates to follow. If I am to get everybody in, I must ask the remaining speakers to ask short questions, and I am sure that the Leader of the House will respond with shorter answers.
Last week was, of course, Dementia Action Week, and when I met with the Alzheimer’s Society, it presented several worrying statistics, one of which showed the rise in the use of anti-psychotic drugs. Based on the stats in Oxfordshire, fewer than one in five of the people who had been prescribed anti-psychotic drugs actually had a diagnosis of psychosis. Will the Leader of the House please get a statement from the Department for Health and Social Care about what lies behind that rise in the use of anti-psychotic drugs in people who do not actually have psychosis?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that deeply concerning issue. NHS England and NHS Improvement continue to monitor the monthly data published by NHS Digital on the prescribing of anti-psychotic medication for people diagnosed with dementia. However, the issue he raises needs a fuller answer, and I will take it up with the Department on his behalf.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate and votes in this House before the hybrid proceedings lapse on 21 June? We cannot just have some return to the status quo ante as if the past year and a bit has not happened. He was once a champion of Back Benchers and the right of this House to decide its procedures for itself, so will he ensure that debate happens in good time so that we can plan the way forward for the House and the estate more generally?
The emergency provisions were brought in on the basis that the status quo ante would be restored, and then the House could decide in an orderly and proper way what, if anything, it wished to keep. It would be cheating Members who supported the temporary measures if they were to be made permanent before they had lapsed and we had gone back to normal.
A few weeks ago, I received a letter from Sammy Steven, who is a customer at the Papworth Trust on Foundation Street in Ipswich. It does fantastic work supporting the disabled community and adults with learning disabilities in Ipswich. When the lockdown started, they were very down and did not know how they were going to cope, but the exceptional work done by the staff and volunteers made it work. They became journalists and created a “Lockdown Journal” to write about their experiences, so that they will remember them for ever more. They also tried out new things, becoming poets and music instructors. Will my right hon. Friend find time for us to debate how we fund and structure services to support adults with learning disabilities, so that we think positively about what they can do and not always about what they cannot?
My hon. Friend puts it absolutely correctly. We should always think about what people can do. We should always be positive as a society. I am so glad to hear about the work of the Papworth Trust. Organisations like that are a lifeline of support for some of the most vulnerable in our communities, and everything that can be done to support them should be done.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if essential local services such as a post office need to close temporarily, there should be measures such as transport links, like a minibus, to nearby post offices or a temporary solution based nearby so that elderly residents are not cut off from this important service? May I request that we have a debate on this subject?
If this is a specific case, I think an Adjournment debate is the most suitable approach. The Government are strongly supportive of ensuring that everyone in the country, especially the vulnerable, has access to essential services via the post office within their local community. As 99% of the population are within three miles of their nearest post office and 90% are within one mile, I do understand that if one is shut for a temporary period, that can be difficult for some local residents.
The headline-hogging antics of Dominic Cummings have meant that the Tory Islamophobia inquiry’s conclusion that this was fuelled by PM’s comments about Muslim women as letterboxes and bank robbers and the 2016 smearing of Sadiq Khan has gone unnoticed here. When public buildings all over the UK were illuminated this week in solidarity one year on from the racist murder of George Floyd, there was not a peep here. Can the Conservatives demonstrate how serious they are about these issues and give Government time and legislation so that levelling up applies everywhere, and to ethnicity, not just to electorally expedient geography?
The Conservative party commissioned the report, has accepted the results of the report, and has accepted all the recommendations, which will be implemented in full. It has recognised, as the report did, that there may be some individuals who have views that are improper and wrong, and are not suitable to be Conservatives if they hold such views, and it has dealt with people and disciplined people who have fallen into that category. I think it is an issue that the Conservative party has shown it takes enormously seriously and has dealt with. I would say to the socialists on the Labour Benches: motes and beams, motes and beams.
The last bank in Knaresborough closed earlier this year, and I have been concerned at the lack of access to cash and financial services in the town, and particularly the impact on business. Conservative councillors Ed Darling and Samantha Mearns are working to bring extra cash machines to the town to replace the ones lost, and the borough council is working with Barclays to bring its mobile services to the town over the months ahead. However, there will clearly be an impact on the local community, and it will not be the only local community facing this challenge. May we have a debate on the impact of the loss of banks and associated financial services within communities to look at the ideas that are available to help people when this happens?
The Government recognise the importance of cash to the daily lives of millions of people across the UK, particularly those in vulnerable groups, and are committed to protecting access to cash for those who need it. Inevitably, decisions on opening and closing bank branches are commercial decisions, but the Government believe that the impact of branch closures should be understood and mitigated where possible. The major high street banks have signed up to the access to banking standard, which commits them to ensure that customers are well informed about branch closures and options for continued access to banking services such as the post office, as 95% of business customers and 99% of personal banking customers can carry out their everyday banking at 11,500 post office branches in the UK. Steps are taken, but I know that the matter concerns many Members across the House and it may well be suitable for a longer Back-Bench business debate.
The Welsh language has been spoken on these islands, indeed on this island, since long before the English language arrived on our shores. In fact, the Welsh epic poem “Y Gododdin” describes a battle in the 6th century between Anglo-Saxon invaders and Welsh-speaking warriors from the south of Scotland. The battle took place in modern-day Yorkshire. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have an early statement from the Culture Secretary to give clarity on the improved funding needed for the Welsh language broadcaster S4C so that it can help to ensure that Welsh, spoken daily by half a million people in the UK, continues to survive and thrive in the digital age?
Welsh is unquestionably a beautiful language of great antiquity in this country. My mother’s father was a Welsh speaker, so this is not the Rees bit of me but the Morris bit of me that very much values Welsh heritage and culture and, of course, its continued use as a daily language. It may be better for the Welsh Government to take up these matters, because it is for them to promote the Welsh language, though I am aware that S4C is in a slightly different category.
I recently met Katie from my constituency to discuss endometriosis. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will recall that we recently recognised Endometriosis Month, yet women still have to wait, on average, eight years for diagnosis, and that has been made worse by increasing backlogs due to covid. Can he allow time for a debate on what can be done to benefit all those unfortunate enough to suffer from endometriosis and to help to ensure that gynaecology theatre times are not the last element to be considered with regard to women’s health and the reopening of the health service?
Endometriosis can be a very debilitating condition that affects around one in 10 women of reproductive age, and it is therefore important that the appropriate care is available to those who need it. I note my hon. Friend’s point that it takes, on average, eight years for a diagnosis. On 8 March, the Department of Health and Social Care launched a call for evidence to inform the development of the first women’s health strategy for England. Consultation closes on 13 June. Within that call for evidence, both the online survey and written submissions seek information on gynaecological conditions, including endometriosis. I encourage women with experience of this issue, and MPs on behalf of their constituents when it has come to their attention, to respond to the call for evidence so that we can identify areas for further work. It has previously been raised on the Floor of the House, and the Government are aware that it is a very serious issue for many women.