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Business of the House

Volume 696: debated on Thursday 10 June 2021

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. I join you in your good wishes to Tony.

Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?

Mr Speaker, as you are just leaving the Chair, may I too wish you a happy birthday, before you depart? I do not think we will sing.

The business for the week commencing 14 June will include:

Monday 14 June—Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Tuesday 15 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.

Wednesday 16 June—Second Reading of the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill.

Thursday 17 June—General debate on the Misuse of Drugs Act, followed by a general debate on the UK’s preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative and the G7. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 18 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 21 June will include:

Monday 21 June—Opposition day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Tuesday 22 June—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill.

Wednesday 23 June—Consideration in Committee of the Armed Forces Bill.

Thursday 24 June—General debate on the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, followed by business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 25 June—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business. Can he share with the House the reasons why the business for next week appears to have changed?

This is a great country, full of amazing, inspiring people, and this week is the Government’s opportunity to showcase our great country and its values at the G7 in Cornwall—leading, not just hosting. Yet instead of leadership, what do we have? The UK teetering on the brink of a trade war with our nearest allies, including some G7 guests, over sausages. This is about the meaning of the Northern Ireland protocol, an international agreement that the Prime Minister literally negotiated. I wonder if he actually read it, or maybe he got a classmate to do his homework.

The UK is the only developed economy and the only G7 participant to be cutting aid for life-saving global programmes. We have a Government who do not even dare to put that to a parliamentary vote.

There is no news of when Nazanin and others trapped in foreign jails for crimes that they did not commit will be reunited with their families.

We have a call to get the world vaccinated—but not until the end of next year. The virus is still mutating and none of us is safe until everyone is safe, so I urge the Prime Minister to put party politics aside and take Labour’s plan for global vaccination to the G7.

To demonstrate the extent of his commitment to tackling the climate emergency, the Prime Minister flies to Cornwall by private jet. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) stands ready to advise the Prime Minister on train times for his return. While he is on it, perhaps the Prime Minister could sort out his failed green homes scheme. He should be leading the G7 by example and inspiration, not just putting out the place cards for dinner, so will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to showcase what this country has to offer instead of his own lack of leadership?

I am disappointed that the Government have not taken responsibility for the loophole that means that a Member can be subject to a parliamentary recall petition by their constituents for an expenses charge but not for serious sexual harassment. A Member who has been sexually harassing staff will return to Parliament within weeks and shows no sign of resigning. Staff are worried and constituents have every right to be concerned, so will the Leader of the House confirm that the public can use the parliamentary petitions process to trigger a debate about the matter? Will he tell us why that Member is still, apparently, a member of the Conservative party? Will he bring forward the motions needed so that the people of Delyn can decide whether they want to ditch their MP?

On the domestic agenda, again there is failure. The Secretary of State for Education feels our children’s future is worth just 50 quid per pupil, compared with £2,500 in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Labour has an actual catch-up plan that Parliament voted in favour of yesterday. If the Government will not do the right thing and adopt Labour’s plan, will the Secretary of State for Education explain to the House what it is about breakfast clubs, mental health support and small group tutoring that he objects to?

It is Carers Week, and carers and people who need care in Bristol West want me to ask the Prime Minister where his plan to fix social care is. It was announced 687 days ago; how many more years will they have to wait? The Government have repeatedly ignored crises in health and social care over the past decade, and they failed to act on the 2016 pandemic preparedness report. They continue to ignore disabled people, people with long-term illnesses and those needing mental health support during the pandemic. They have paid no attention to the exhaustion of heroic key workers who just keep on going and need hope that things will get better soon. The Government continue to use the pandemic as their personal cash machine; the least they could do is announce the public inquiry. The Leader of the House said last time that we should not have the inquiry while the virus is still raging. He cannot have it both ways: it is either raging or it is not. If it is, the Government need to learn now the lessons about what is going wrong. There is no excuse for delaying the inquiry.

Successive Tory Governments have run down public services, eroded working people’s ability to pay rent and feed their families, and left productivity stagnant. That is in stark contrast to the Labour Government, who left the country with the brilliant Sure Start scheme for early years; thousands more police, nurses and doctors; the shortest waiting times on record for key treatments; and low crime rates—plus an economy that was recovering well after the global financial crisis. This Government announce a few tutors here or some more nurses there, but it is a drop in the ocean compared with the destruction of the past 11 Tory years. It is not just the pandemic: children need tutors because Tories cut education; crime rates soar because Tories cut police numbers; and rape victims wait years for justice because Tories cut the justice system. And now they expect people to be grateful for the thin gruel they are offering. No wonder the people of North East Somerset are voting Labour.

The hon. Lady may have fallen into the nostalgic trap—I am sometimes accused of falling into one myself—of looking back at a golden age past but forgetting the reality of the misery of the last socialist Government. That socialist Government left us with an annual deficit of £150 billion a year, the worst financial crisis that we had seen in decade after decade and a situation in which, as one of her own Members said, there was simply no money left. Much though I think we should admire, like and revel in our past history, we have to remember the failures of socialism and that every socialist Government that this country has ever had, at the end of their complete term, have left unemployment higher than when they came into office.

As regards police, we now have over 8,000 more police, meeting our promise to recruit more than 20,000. We are ensuring that the police are on the streets so that we are kept safe. We have reformed education with the advent of more academy schools, which are raising standards. The hon. Lady blamed the need for tutoring on the Conservative party, whereas, actually, the need for extra tutoring and the fact that a package of £3 billion in total has been provided to help children is because of the pandemic. That seems to have passed from her mind. It is quite right that the pandemic should have an inquiry, as the Prime Minister has promised, and that will be set up by the end of this parliamentary Session, because it is right to look at it when the decisions have all been taken and we begin to see the proper consequences of it.

The hon. Lady talks about leading in the G7. That is precisely what the Prime Minister is doing; he is showing the clearest possible leadership. The vaccine roll-out in the rest of the world will be helped enormously, and particularly, by the Oxford-AstraZeneca drug. Why? Because of the agreement made with Oxford-AstraZeneca to provide it at cost price. That is the fundamental difference that means that it can be afforded, to allow it to spread across the world, helping millions upon millions of people—leadership by the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister will call upon the G7 leaders to make commitments to vaccinate the entire world against the coronavirus by the end of 2022. He is calling for emissions cuts and is hosting COP26 later in the year. It is an extraordinary degree of leadership that is being shown among the democratic nations that are showing the way, encouraging people to have freedom and democracy.

The hon. Lady seems to want to ban British sausages from Northern Ireland, but let us not fuss too much about sausages. Sausages are important and they may be a nice thing to have for breakfast, but the scandal is that the European Union takes it upon itself to think that life-saving cancer drugs may not go freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is not the act of a friendly organisation. This is an act of an organisation playing games, playing ducks and drakes with the peace process. There is a brilliant article by David Trimble in the newspaper today setting out the risk that the European Union is taking. We should be absolutely clear that the protocol was there to respect the integrity of the United Kingdom, as well as to help the single market. It cannot have one side but not the other.

Then the hon. Lady came to things that can perfectly well be catered for by Opposition days. There are dates that have been announced over the next two weeks. If she wants to debate membership of this House for individual Members, I call upon her to put down a motion; it is up to her to do it. If she wants to have a debate on overseas aid, I call upon her to do it, but no sensible Government would be continuing with overseas aid at its previous levels in the current financial circumstances. It is extremely sensible to cut our coat according to our cloth. That is what Her Majesty’s Government are doing, and that is quite right. It is the proper thing to do and it still means that, as a percentage of GDP, we are one of the most generous donors in the world, and we are giving more than was ever given by that socialist Government of happy memory that I started with. Do we not remember what the hon. Lady was saying at the end—how glorious it was by 2010? They gave away less money then, so they do not have that much to be proud of. We as Conservatives do.

Alongside the Arts Council, I had a really wonderful visit to meet On:song in Stroud. It is a fantastic music organisation that has used the culture recovery grant not only to survive through the pandemic, which caused it an awful lot of difficulties, but to use its skills and diversify to reach and help many more people across the country. That is hugely important Government support, yet other Stroud businesses in the supply chain side of events and culture are really struggling to be heard and understood for grants. I am thinking about Freemans Event Partners and CORE Lighting—fantastic organisations in my patch. The reality is that big events, sporting festivals, exhibitions and weddings cannot go ahead without them. Does my right hon. Friend agree about the importance of supply chain businesses, and will he consider granting a debate on the Floor of the House to explore how we can bring their key expertise into use?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her support of the culture recovery fund, which has so far distributed over £1.2 billion of taxpayers’ money, supporting more than 5,000 individual organisations and sites. There will be a further £300 million in the culture recovery fund this year. She is right to say that the pandemic has had a severe effect on supply chain businesses, including those in my own constituency. I believe that they are eligible to apply for grants from local councils, and I suggest that businesses in her constituency do that. I cannot promise her a debate, though the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), might be about to raise a question, and I am sure that he would like to hear about that issue as an item for debate, because it affects many hon. and right hon. Members. I will obviously raise her concerns with the relevant Department.

I, too, send my best wishes to Mr Speaker on his birthday and to Tony Reay on his impending retirement. It is always sad to see someone moving on, but it is a great opportunity for them all the same.

In previous weeks, I have raised issues about openness and transparency, and, again, I find that it is a case of here we go again. This week, it is the Cabinet Office that has been found guilty of acting unlawfully in handing out lucrative contracts to an ex-colleague. This goes on and on. When can we have a debate in Government time to consider the Government’s processes of openness and transparency so that we can shine a light on a clear way forward now that my Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill is no more, having fallen at the end of the previous parliamentary Session?

This week, we have also had a great deal of debate around the cuts to foreign aid, so I simply ask the Leader of the House: when will this House have a chance to have a substantive vote on that subject?

We are very quickly approaching 21 June, at which point the hybrid virtual covid procedures come to an end. Obviously, we have always said that this House would look to be in step with the public, but as we are still at this stage unclear what that date will mean for the public, can the Leader of the House add anything to give a bit more clarity? Beyond that, even when things do change, what consideration can be given to the particularly unique medical circumstances in which some Members will find themselves which result in their not being able to attend Parliament? What can we do to support them to make sure that the communities they represent are not disenfranchised? It could happen to a number of Members at any time; only last week a Member of this place, who is also a Member of the Scottish Parliament, was tracked and traced and had to isolate at very short notice.

Finally, we have seen protected time for Opposition day debates in the Government’s approach to scheduling statements, but over the past few weeks I have noticed that Back-Bench business time has been quite severely constrained by the number of statements made. Can we consider what can be done to make sure that the most time possible is made available for those important debates?

May I join the hon. Gentleman and Mr Speaker in paying tribute to Tony Reay? More than 40 years’ service in this House is truly terrific; it is a real model of public service. I know that everyone who has worked with him has found pleasure in doing so. It is always important that our security team is as friendly and welcoming as it is. We have a first-class team in the Palace, and to have one of its number retiring after such distinguished service is well worth commemorating.

Let me come to the point on Back-Bench business time. I am not unsympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says. It is purely a balance: Members put in urgent questions, they want to hear statements, and we want to finish at a regular time. There are other ways of proceeding. We could, if Members wanted it, have irregular times of ending, but that has not been mood of the House in recent years. It is about trying to get the balance right. I think it is proper to prioritise Opposition days, because that is fixed time for the Opposition, and it is a long-standing convention that we protect that; we also try to do that when the hon. Gentleman’s party has an Opposition day debate.

That leads me to the hon. Gentleman’s point on foreign aid. We will have four days of business over the next fortnight that is not controlled by the Government, so if there is a mood in the House to debate things, a motion may be put down either through the Backbench Business Committee or for an Opposition day. It is important to remember that although Standing Order No. 14 gives the Government control of the Order Paper, it does not stop other matters being raised in a number of ways of which right hon. and hon. Members are aware. Although 21 June—the longest day—is fast approaching, we will know more next week, so we will have to wait and see what the overall Government policy is then.

The hon. Gentleman refers to openness and transparency. Is it the infamous kimono-wearing fox killer who likes bringing all these cases? I am interested in his case with his builder which we might find out about at one time or another; we keep our eyes open and breath bated for that result to come out. The Government won in two of the three cases—there was no bias—and the courts recognised the need to act quickly. That is my fundamental point: the reason we have the vaccination success is that the Government moved swiftly. We could not wait three to six months to issue contracts in the normal way, and that was a perfectly proper and reasonable approach.

I join other Members in wishing our Speaker a very happy birthday and Mr Reay, after 43 years of service, a long, happy and healthy retirement.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on violent crime, including stabbings and disorderly behaviour? Embarrassingly, as we move towards city status in Southend, the formerly quiet areas of Chalkwell and Leigh-on-Sea have seen crimes involving knives and disorderly behaviour. That has been a result of gangs moving into the areas and drug dealing. Present measures are simply not working.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important and troubling issue. As constituency MPs, we all see the terrible effects of violent crime and we should never be complacent in tackling it. So far, between 2019 and 2022, the Government will have spent more than £105.5 million of taxpayers’ money to develop 18 violence reduction units and over £136.5 million to support an enhanced police response. We have also spent £200 million on early intervention and prevention support initiatives through the youth endowment fund to support children and young people at risk of exploitation and involvement in serious violence, and the Government are taking urgent action to tackle knife crime and keep people safe. We have, according to the latest figures, recruited 8,771 additional police officers as part of our commitment to hiring an extra 20,000 police officers. I understand that, when crime hits, such bald statistics do not necessarily provide immediate comfort, but I hope they give reassurance that this matter is being taken very seriously and is being tackled.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the Backbench business for 17 June. We have just had it confirmed this morning that the second debate on 24 June will be on UK defence spending. We also understand that there are to be two days of Estimates debates in the last week of June, and in order to facilitate that I am afraid to say that applications to the Backbench Business Committee must be made by no later than 6 pm this forthcoming Tuesday, 15 June.

Lastly, as chairman also of the all-party parliamentary group for football supporters, may I express my ongoing sympathy for and solidarity with the bereaved and traumatised families of the 96 Liverpool fans killed at Hillsborough 32 years ago? I hope that the Backbench Business Committee can facilitate a debate in this Chamber as soon as possible, having received an application from my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) just this week.

I echo what the hon. Gentleman said about the 96 deaths at Hillsborough, which were the subject of the urgent question that has just passed; it rightly continues to be remembered in this House. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling us that the debate on 24 June will be on defence spending, which, interestingly, was one of the subjects specifically given to the Backbench Business Committee when it was set up, and for his very clear notice on the Estimates days, which I hope the relevant parties will listen carefully to and take to heart.

I join the House in wishing Mr Speaker a happy birthday and passing on our thanks and best wishes to Mr Tony Reay.

Owing to a £10 million shortfall between the Government’s generous financial support and the cost of maintaining its existing global network, the British Council is in danger of having to close the largest number of overseas offices in its near 90-year history. Before the Government make a bad decision—they are due to announce their decision in the coming week—that runs counter to global Britain and will damage our soft power, will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate so that the House can discuss this important matter, further to my urgent question earlier this week? We want the Government not to fall at the final fence.

The British Council is undoubtedly a crucial part of the UK’s presence overseas and a key soft power asset. As the Minister for Asia said in response to the urgent question on Tuesday, the Government

“value the influence of the British Council. We agreed a 2021-22 spending review settlement totalling £189 million, which is a 26% increase in funding from 2020-21.”—[Official Report, 8 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 832.]

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter again and will reiterate his concerns to the Minister, but in terms of a further debate, the Backbench Business Committee is undoubtedly the right place to apply for one.

I am sure the whole House will join me in offering condolences to Dea-John Reid’s mother, Joan Morris, and the whole family, after he was tragically murdered on 31 May. My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and I are working with the family, the black churches and the authorities to ensure unity. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to come to the Chamber to debate this issue and to provide funding to reduce knife crime? It is not sufficient for the Leader of the House to quote figures about measures that have not worked. I urge him to listen to the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who made the same point, and provide a real debate in the Chamber.

I join the hon. Gentleman in passing condolences to the family of Dea-John Reid. He is right: there is nothing I can say at the Dispatch Box about how policy is developing and the amount of money that has been spent that will bring great comfort to a bereaved family in these most saddening circumstances. It is always a long-term project to increase the safety of our streets and to reduce knife crime. In this context, it is important that there are more police, as the numbers going up will make our streets safer overall, but I absolutely understand from what he says that it is too late in this particular instance. We mourn with the family, and we must make every effort to ensure that fewer families are affected in future, because the loss of a child is the greatest blow a parent ever faces.

On Oxbridge colleges, I was very pleased to see the Prime Minister intervene and object to the appalling news that Magdalen College, Oxford had taken down a portrait of the Queen, but of course, this is not an isolated incident. Today I hear that 150 academics at Oriel College, Oxford are refusing to teach because the Rhodes statue has not been taken down. This week we also heard the disturbing news that Churchill College, Cambridge is considering changing the name of the college, to make it seem more inclusive. I know that, historically, there have been lots of eccentric, left-wing academics at Oxford and Cambridge, but given the sheer frequency with which these events are cropping up, will my right hon. Friend provide time for us to discuss what we can do to prevent the woke-ification of Oxbridge colleges?

As for Magdalen College, it is not exactly 1687-88. It is a few pimply adolescents getting excited and taking down a picture of Her Majesty. It makes Magdalen look pretty wet, but it is not the end of the world. I would not get too excited about that, although it amuses me to speculate as to what would happen if one of Her Majesty’s subjects suggested taking down the stars and stripes in an American university. It might not be enormously well received. As the pimply adolescent in question is, I think, an American citizen, he might like to think about that. He might think that taking down the US flag in an American university was a bridge too far even for the most patriotic Briton.

As regards the academics’ refusing to teach, I am half tempted to say that one should be lucky not to be taught by such a useless bunch. If they are that feeble, what are you missing and what are they doing there? Why do they not have any pride in their country, in our marvellous history and in our success? Rhodes is not a black and white figure. Perhaps they are not learned enough to have bothered to look up the history of Rhodes, which has been written about quite extensively now, in any detail. As I say, he is a figure of importance, interest and enormous generosity to Oxford. Do they want to give the money back to the descendants of Cecil Rhodes, or are they intending to keep it to themselves? We must not allow this wokeness to happen. As for the idea of changing Churchill College, perhaps we should introduce a Bill to rename Cambridge Churchill and call it Churchill University. That would be one in the eye for the lefties.

I prefer the Fen Bog Poly—that might be a better name for it.

In fairness to the Leader of the House, he has always been very good in saying that Ministers should reply to Members’ correspondence. In fact, last July he said:

“Ministers are aware that it is a basic courtesy that replies come from Ministers, not from officials”.—[Official Report, 16 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 1684.]

In May, my latest letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer was replied to by an M. Milgate—I do not know who that is—of the correspondence and inquiry unit at Her Majesty’s Treasury. I have some sympathy for them, because I know that there has been a huge increase in the amount of correspondence, but when, in a parliamentary question, I asked the Treasury to tell us how many letters from Members were answered by Ministers and how many were answered by officials, the answer I got from the Exchequer Secretary was:

“It is not possible to provide the breakdown the Member has requested.”

Not only are they not answering some of our letters—I do not know if they are picking on me in particular, but they are not answering mine, and I do not know if they are answering the Leader of the House’s letters written in a constituency capacity—but they cannot even tell Members of this House how many of the letters from Members of Parliament are being answered by officials and how many by Ministers. Is that acceptable, and why is the Leader of the House impotent in persuading his Ministers that they have to answer our letters?

They do have to answer Members’ letters; it is a basic courtesy. I have received letters from officials rather than Ministers, and I am afraid I send them back saying that is not good enough and that I expect a response from a Minister. I remind hon. Members and right hon. Members that letters ought to come from them. Some hon. Members get their members of staff to send letters and I am afraid that they then receive from my office—

No, I understand that the hon. Gentleman is not in this category. It is just a reminder to the House that the courtesy works both ways. Is it indiscreet of me to say that I receive the most charming hand-written letters from the Deputy Speaker asking me to follow up with individual Departments, which I have done? They seem to get responses quite quickly when we intervene in that way. It really should not happen like that. I make this offer to all right hon. and hon. Members: if they are having problems of this kind, they should please contact my office and I will follow it up. It is our fundamental right to receive redress of grievance for our constituents from individual named Ministers. When I was at school, if a piece of work was not good enough, it got a little tear at the top of the page and was given back to you. I suggest that that is what Members do to letters they get from officials.

Next week, we have the reporting back of the reviews into social distancing and other measures and the plans and guidance for life beyond 21 June. In answer to my question on 12 May, the Prime Minister kindly confirmed that we would get the opportunity to debate this hugely important guidance before it is implemented. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on when that might be?

No decisions have yet been made and the Government will set out the conclusions of the review ahead of step 4 shortly, at which point I am sure that the House will have the opportunity to consider the next steps. The Government have been assiduous in updating the House throughout the pandemic and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has been particularly good at coming to this Chamber in person. That will continue to be the case. Any decision on guidance following the reviews will be based on the latest data and we must allow appropriate time for them to be assessed. We have of course committed—and I reiterate this commitment—to, where possible, make time for votes on regulations of national significance, which may apply to England or UK-wide, if necessary, before they come into force. That commitment remains.

The UK is the leading English language teaching destination, bringing students from over 150 countries to Britain to study English, and there are several excellent schools in Bath. While the students are there, they become part of our local community and they will play an important part in the economic recovery of our city. The sector alone is worth £1.4 billion to the overall economy and plays a vital role in building our relationships with countries across the world. However, in 2020, ELT schools lost over 80% of their business, and it will be one of the last sectors to recover. May we therefore have a debate about the measures needed to support this industry before many of these valuable and viable schools close for good?

The overall support given to the economy, as the hon. Lady will know, is over £400 billion, and businesses in all areas have been able to access specific grants, or there have been discretionary grants from councils to help them. There is inevitably a limit to the support that can be provided, and it is not unending either, but the overall package has been as generous as was conceivably affordable and has therefore helped to maintain many businesses.

May we have a statement on the roll-out of family hubs? There are now well over 150 family hubs across England and Northern Ireland offering a range of services such as reducing parental conflict, walk-in help for young people with mental health concerns, one-stop shops for families with children with special needs, post-separation support, and help to tackle money worries. Does the Leader of the House agree that, as we build back better after the pandemic, supporting families is vital?

I completely agree that, as we build back better, and indeed as we level up, support for families will be absolutely crucial. They are the building blocks of our society. Throughout a year of lockdowns and periodic home schooling, families have been under immense strain, and the Government are determined to champion the family hub model. The Government are establishing a national centre for family hubs that will provide expert advice, guidance and advocacy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education recently announced that the Anna Freud Centre has been awarded the contract to run the national centre. May I join my hon. Friend in commending the work of Dr Samantha Callan, who has worked tirelessly nationwide to promote family hubs over many years?

It is 100 years since Glasgow’s world-famous Barras market was founded by Maggie McIver. The market claimed that you could buy anything from a needle to an anchor, and it is the home of the Barrowland Ballroom. May we have a debate on the future of our markets and the contribution that they make to our culture and society—and, given the number of second-hand goods you can buy, to our net zero ambitions?

I commend the market for its 100th anniversary and its ability to provide everything that you could possibly need to buy, either a needle or an anchor. There is probably more popular demand for needles than anchors, but it is none the less useful to be able to get an anchor. I encourage the hon. Lady to seek an Adjournment debate so that she could specifically praise this admirable market. I think that would inform the House and would be beneficial to Members more widely.

Protecting the glorious English countryside from unsuitable, unplanned and unwelcome development in the wrong places is one of the key functions of our planning system, yet it would appear that, under the Planning Inspectorate’s interpretation of the Human Rights Act 1998, one group of people—Gypsies and Travellers—seem to be exempt from the rules and regulations that apply to everyone else, and they can effectively build whatever they want wherever they like. Can we have action from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to allow local planning authorities to effectively enforce against intentional, unauthorised development in the open countryside by Gypsies and Travellers without being overruled by a warped interpretation of the Human Rights Act?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Local planning authorities already have a wide range of enforcement powers, with strong penalties for non-compliance to tackle such situations. However, as set out in our recent planning White Paper, we intend to strengthen those powers and sanctions, including around intentional unauthorised development. Under planning law, national planning policies and local planning policies to guard against unsuitable development apply equally to all applicants who wish to develop. Planners may also take into account the specific needs of individual groups when making decisions on the development, and every case needs to be treated on its merit.

On the subject at hand, I hope that my hon. Friend is assured by the progress of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will give the police additional powers to remove unauthorised Traveller encampments. We must be careful of spurious human rights claims; otherwise, we will have people in the City of London saying that it is their human right to build 100-storey tower blocks, and that would be ridiculous.

Polls show that a large proportion of the public believes that the Government’s allocation of covid contracts is corrupt. Yesterday, the High Court found that the Minister for the Cabinet Office broke the law in the allocation of one covid contract to a firm run by his former adviser. Given all that, does the Leader of the House not agree that, to restore confidence in this House—confidence that is being undermined day after day by the allocation of covid contracts by his Government—the Minister for the Cabinet Office should be sacked, and the House should take tough action against such contracts?

No, I do not agree with that awful nonsense, as I have set out very clearly before. There was a pandemic—the hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten this—and there was a need to crack on with things. He would have fiddled while Rome burned. It is nice to see him back, incidentally; it is good of him to come to the Chamber. He would have ignored the whole thing while some great bureaucratic process could wander through an endless discussion, and red tape would be tied into pretty little bows before things were done. We needed the vaccine. We needed Test and Trace. We needed to have a system that got messages out to people. The judgment yesterday found that there was no bias, and that it was reasonable to act swiftly. That is really important to understand, so no—I am with good sense and good government, not with the infamous fox killer.

I join others in wishing many happy returns to Mr Speaker. I hope that he is right now consuming a slice of lunchtime cake.

I live in hope that the Government stick to the 21 June road map. More delay would be a disaster for businesses and livelihoods across the country, but if the Government do decide to extend phase 3, my understanding is that no additional parliamentary approval would be required until the current regulations expire on 30 June. Should there be a delay, will my right hon. Friend make time for such a decision to be fully debated in this House, as of course any such restriction of our liberties should be?

The suggestion of cake has reminded me that there is a test match on, so I hope that the “Test Match Special” team may find a spare portion of cake to send to Mr Speaker to wish him well on his birthday. To come to my hon. Friend and neighbour’s very important point, the Health Secretary said on Monday:

“It is still too early to make decisions on step 4… So we will assess the data and announce the outcome a week today, on 14 June.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 670.]

Like my hon. Friend and, I think, all of us in this House, I hope that it will still be possible to open up on the 21st, but we have to be sensible about this.

We will of course continue to involve the House in scrutinising our decisions, with regular statements and debates, and the ability for Members to question the Government and their scientific advisers. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), we have committed that, for significant national measures with effect on the whole of England or UK-wide, we will, wherever possible, consult Parliament and hold votes before such regulations come into force. I hope that that gives my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) the comfort that he requires.

Since 2010, funding from central Government for my local force, Greater Manchester police, has been cut by £215 million, resulting in thousands fewer officers and support staff. In my constituency of Stockport, the impact of the cuts has been drastic. There has been an increase in antisocial behaviour, but we know that increased policing alone is not the answer to rising rates of crime and antisocial behaviour. In a 2016 survey by Unison, 83% of respondents reported increased crime rates and incidents of antisocial behaviour in areas where youth and other relevant services had been cut. Will the Leader of the House allocate Government time for a debate on policing, youth services and mental health provision in Greater Manchester? Does he agree with me that we need to invest in young people in all communities and not strip away vital public services?

I would say that there have been problems with Manchester policing that have absolutely nothing to do with the Government and are more local political matters, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman is fully aware of. Expenditure on policing is increasing, as I have said. Well over 8,000, and heading towards 9,000, extra police officers have already been added. This is a national effort to ensure that our streets are made safer. It is important that we continue to do that, and that we support the police in the very difficult job that they do and give them the support they need to carry out their onerous duties.

In business questions last January, I raised the horrendous experience of my constituent Alison with her ex-partner and the Child Maintenance Service. Following that intervention, the CMS agreed that the rate of repayment was unacceptable and that they would continue recovery action against her ex-partner for significant arrears.

Earlier this year, a repayment plan was agreed without consulting Alison and recovery action will now not proceed, despite previous assurances. My office has contacted the CMS to request a conference call on the issue, but has had no response. Can the Leader of the House use his good offices to request inter-vention from the appropriate Department for Work and Pensions Minister?

I will do that, and I will ask my office to get in touch with the CMS. The CMS ought to be responsive to Members. I have said before that I have found it one of the most difficult organisations to deal with, as a Member of Parliament for my constituents. I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and I am grateful that he has raised this point. The CMS must respond to Members of Parliament; that is the duty of that type of agency.

I am very much in favour of the Government’s policy on reducing overseas aid this year. We will still be giving ten thousand million pounds in aid, which is a higher proportion than France, Italy or, of course, the United States of America. But the House has a right to decide on this issue. Does the Leader of the House agree with me that it is very strange that the Government have given the opportunity, via an Opposition day this week, an Opposition day on 14 June and an Opposition day on 21 June, when that vote could definitely occur?

The Backbench Business Committee has been kind enough to announce the subjects of its debates in advance. Why are the loyal Opposition not telling us today that we are going to have that debate on Monday? Is it because they are pretty sure they are going lose the vote and the House will support the Government?

I must defend Her Majesty’s Opposition, because we changed the date of their Opposition day debate, so it is reasonable for them not to have put the debate forward. My hon. Friend lays down an interesting challenge to them, because they know the policy is hugely supported in the country. Polling indicates that a majority of Labour supporters support the policy, let alone Conservative supporters, who support it overwhelming. So, let us see, as time’s winged chariot passes along, whether or not they are brave enough to put their money where their mouth so often is.

Sitting suspended.