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Business of the House

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 8 July 2021

Obviously, many Members will want to congratulate the great team last night—England. We look forward to Sunday, and we wish them well. Let us now start business questions. I call Thangam Debbonaire.

The business for the week commencing 12 July will include:

Monday 12 July—Second Reading of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

Tuesday 13 July—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism, followed by a motion relating to English votes for English laws, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of the chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

Wednesday 14 July—Second Reading of the Health and Care Bill.

Thursday 15 July—Debate on a motion relating to the Northern Ireland protocol, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the Peking Winter Olympics and Chinese Government sanctions. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 16 July—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 July will include:

Monday 19 July—Second Reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 20 July—Conclusion of the Second Reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 21 July—Second Reading of the Building Safety Bill.

Thursday 22 July—Debate on a motion relating to the fifth report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee entitled “A public inquiry into the Government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic”, followed by matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee and the Liaison Committee.

At the conclusion of business on Thursday 22 July, the House will rise for the summer recess and return on Monday 6 September.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business and look forward to our debate on ending all EVEL next week.

Gareth Southgate inspires his players to be the best they can be and to do it for their country. He backs them in their campaigning for social and racial justice, even under criticism. He instils relentless focus on hard work. He inspires them to be gracious in victory, as well as to learn from experience. He has rightly identified these values as patriotism. I would love us all to learn from the Gareth Southgate model of patriotic leadership. We all congratulate England on their amazing success last night. We cheer them on for Sunday and, yes, it will probably be just my parents listening to me on “Westminster Hour” on Sunday evening. Caring about the world’s poorest is a British value. People’s support for an England team proud of its belief in social justice shows that that is true, so will the Government honour them and grant a proper debate and a vote on international aid-?

Thank you.

Caring about the NHS is a British value, and people showed that as they marked its birthday this week. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) spoke movingly for so many who have had the pain of not being with a loved at the end of life because of covid rules. Will the Leader of the House ask the Health Secretary to reward the dedicated NHS and care staff, who stepped up for their country to care for people’s loved ones, with a pay rise that we know they deserve?

Building a better world for our children is also a British value. British people care deeply about protecting animals, nature and the planet. Yet despite recent warnings, such as the devastating heatwaves in the Pacific north-west, the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan to deal with climate change, announced seven months ago, appears to be just talk and is nowhere on the Order Paper or in the forthcoming business. He talked of home insulation, so when we will have a replacement for the Government’s failed green homes grant? He talked of his plan creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. How many jobs has it created so far? The Climate Change Committee says:

“This defining year for the UK’s climate credentials has been marred by uncertainty and delay”.

It warns:

“With every month of inaction, it is harder for the UK to get on track.”

The Leader of the House said a few years ago that he would rather his constituents had cheap energy than windmills. Is it possible that his failure to notice the value of wind energy is connected in any way to any investments that his company may or may not have in fossil fuels? Does he understand that an ambitious heat and building strategy, which was due last year, would make his constituents’ homes warmer and cheaper? The committee said:

“Only five of 34 sectors assessed have shown notable progress in the past two years, and no sector is yet scoring highly”,

and that we should be

“learning from the COVID-19 response.”

That Government said to the Environmental Audit Committee that they want to do that, but how can they do it if they refuse even to examine the covid-19 response? When will the British public get our public inquiry?

Shining leadership is another proud British value exemplified by Gareth Southgate. The UK will be in a unique position this year when world leaders come to Glasgow to discuss climate change. We have the chance to shine. If the UK showcases strong policies to cut emissions and improve lives, it could set the standard globally, but if the Government are unable to follow through on their own commitments, they are letting us down and other countries may falter.

Fairness is also a defining British value. There is a motion from Labour on the Order Paper to sort out the unfair loophole that allows the MP found to have sexually harassed staff to avoid recall from his constituents. Everyone knows this needs sorting. I know the news is reporting that he has been warned to stay away, but there is nothing to stop him returning and staff have concerns. Things can be done retrospectively and quickly when the Government want, as they showed this week with the Building Safety Bill and the regulations for late pub licensing, so why should the people of Delyn be denied their right to the value of democracy because of a technicality that we know we will fix?

As I said last week, the Prime Minister consistently does not do his homework. Yesterday, he could not answer vital questions from the Leader of the Opposition and later at the Liaison Committee about critical covid data. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to be frank with the British public and show his working for such life-changing decisions?

In contrast to the Prime Minister, Gareth Southgate and the England team value hard work, discipline and preparation, and the British people seem to appreciate those qualities. For the sake of our country and the wonderful people who live and work here, I hope the Prime Minister spends some time over the next few days studying at the Gareth Southgate school of leadership. The British people will be asking themselves who they want to lead them. Do they want someone who works hard and has a relentless focus on embodying British values, or do they want the current Prime Minister? I know what I think, and I am pretty sure the British people will be telling us that soon.

Everyone, I think, is rejoicing at the football success. I think the line to take is from Mr Barnes:

“You’ve got to hold and give

But do it at the right time

You can be slow or fast

But you must get to the line”.

May I reassure you, Mr Speaker, that

“We ain’t no hooligans

This ain’t a football song

Three lions on my chest

I know we can’t go wrong”?

As another John—John Dryden—put it:

“For they conquer who believe they can.”

I think, for the record, that Dryden was translating Virgil in those comments, but the point is exactly the same: it is indeed the excellent leadership of Mr Southgate that led to such a good triumph yesterday against Denmark. Let us hope for the same on Sunday. I say to right hon. and hon. Members that they can always listen to the “Westminster Hour” on playback, and they can enjoy listening to the hon. Lady’s dulcet tones on that unmissable and particularly well-hosted programme.

Let me come to the hon. Lady’s points. I think everyone was impressed and moved by what the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) said yesterday. It was a very powerful intervention, and it is what the nation has endured for the past 15 months. It is a reminder of why it has been endured: it was to protect lives. Fortunately, the vaccine is now protecting lives, which allows us to reopen, but that does not begin to lift the sorrow from the families who have been affected, and the hon. Gentleman was right to raise that in the House yesterday.

The NHS is recognised across the country, and the award of the George Cross was a symbolic recognition of that. Of course, pay is a difficult issue because we have spent as a nation £407 billion on protecting the economy, so it is about trying to ensure that the recognition is there within the resources that we have as a country and the amount that taxpayers have.

The hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) mentioned the Government’s efforts on the environment. The Environment Bill is still in the House of Lords. The Bill was passed in the Commons and carried over into this Session in the Lords, where every line and detail are now being debated—their lordships were debating it last night, I think, while others were watching the football; carrying on diligently, doing their bit for the nation. The Bill, which will come back to us, is a really important piece of legislation that will have a fundamental effect in helping us to meet our commitment to net zero.

The Government can be very proud of what we have done so far. The hon. Lady quoted me as saying a few years ago that I wanted cheap energy rather than windmills, but now we are getting both, which is much better. That is a huge success for the British people. Since 1990, we have driven down emissions by 44%—the fastest reduction of any G7 country—and grown our economy by 78%. What we want is economic growth and cleaner growth. What we do not want is to trash the economy and live in a cave. We want prosperity for the British people, and that is what we are getting. The hon. Lady says she wants environmentally friendly jobs, and so do I, and we are getting them, from Nissan and Vauxhall, because we are doing it successfully and in an economically intelligent way.

The Prime Minister has set out a 10-point plan on how we achieve net zero, how we ensure that the economy grows and how we become more environmentally friendly. Point 2 of the plan is on the opportunities of hydrogen, to allow clean energy with water the only emission. That is fantastic, because then we can all get back into our motorcars, as what comes out the end will be clean. It will be good for the motorist and good for the environment, and I think that is very exciting.

As regards the inquiry into covid, that has been promised by the end of the Session, as the Prime Minister has made clear. We are actually having a debate on a report produced by one of our most distinguished Select Committees, announced in Backbench Business time, before the summer recess.

As regards fairness and the Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts), I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the motion that she has tabled. The first two thirds of it, of course, are the motion that I asked to be shared with her for discussion at the House of Commons Commission, and of course for discussion with the employees of the House and Sir Stephen Irwin. It is very important that this is done on a consensual basis, and I think that the motion is a helpful contribution to the debate.

Of course, it is open to the Opposition to bring forward their motion on an Opposition day. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady says that they have not had one, but they have actually had three of four Opposition days since this issue arose. They decide to bring forward the motion at the point at which they are waiting for one, but they will get more, as there is a commitment to Opposition days in the Standing Orders. I think it is a helpful contribution to the debate. It is very important to maintain the independence of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, but the motion put forward originated with the Clerks of this House and is a useful contribution to the debate.

As regards the PM and statistics, some of us will recall a former Prime Minister who used to reel off statistics from this great Dispatch Box—it was not then covered with Perspex—so let me model myself on that great lady and remind the hon. Lady of some of the statistics on what has happened over the past year: £407 billion of taxpayers’ money supporting the economy, families and businesses; 14.5 million jobs and people helped through the furlough and self-employment schemes, at a cost of £91.1 billion to the taxpayer; protecting the most vulnerable with £8 billion for the welfare system; protecting thousands of businesses with over £100 billion of support; extending the furlough and self-employment schemes until the end of September; restart grants of up to £18,000 for retain, hospitality, leisure and personal care businesses. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady just sits there chuntering, because she does not want to hear the facts, and the facts are that the figures stack up and the Government have done an amazing amount to keep the economy going.

Is it not wonderful that the entire country is today talking about football, and not about covid or Brexit? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is a great and distinguished democrat, and a stalwart supporter of the rights of this House and of Parliament, so can he explain why, having announced the business today, he is sending the House off for the summer recess without a vote on the 0.7% commitment? For how much longer will he continue to disrespect this House and run away from a vote on the matter, and to disobey your specific injunction, Mr Speaker, at 3.30 pm on Monday 14 June?

Mr Speaker, it is even better than that. We had an opportunity for a vote, which my right hon. Friend passed up. He is a very experienced parliamentarian. He has been here much longer than I have. He is well aware that estimates are in fact the foundation of the power of the House of Commons to approve the expenditure of the Government. Estimates are votable. The failure to pass an estimate would have been a major problem for the Government, who would have had to bring back a new estimate. The fact that my right hon. Friend has not studied Erskine May carefully enough, and has therefore missed his opportunity, is not my problem but his.

It would be churlish not to recognise the great sporting success of the last 24 hours. I am sure the whole House would like to congratulate Surrey for finishing seven not out to deny Hampshire victory—I am sure that is much more up the Leader of the House’s street.

Football may or may not be coming home in the next few days, but I will certainly be going home when business questions concludes. There is one place where there has been a massive defeat, and that is on the Government’s English votes for English laws procedure. We will finally bury that appalling, time-wasting mess next week. I do not know whether it was dividing the membership of this House into two different and distinct classes of Member or the ridiculous attempts to have some sort of quasi-English Parliament squat here in the national Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that convinced the Government to back down, but it is a massive victory for the Scottish National party; our campaign of ridicule and disparagement of the whole nonsense has won. We do not often get victories in this place, but we will be celebrating next Tuesday.

I support the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). The House simply must have the opportunity to vote on this Government’s overseas aid cuts before the recess. All that rubbish about estimates is not good enough. It has to be a dedicated vote. It is not often that Members of Opposition parties say that the Government must uphold their manifesto commitments, but that is what they must do, and we must have that vote before the recess.

We rise in a couple of weeks, and all the provisions for virtual participation and proxy voting will fall. Infections and hospitalisations are rising exponentially with the Johnson variant, and we do not know where we will be in September. What provision will the Leader of the House put in place for if this House needs to review its arrangements and requires some of the facilities that we have come to rely on over the past year?

It is always a pleasure to hear from the hon. Gentleman when he is not feeling churlish. I hate to think what he would sound like when he is feeling churlish.

As regards plans for this House, such plans can always be made swiftly if necessary. On EVEL, I am delighted to suggest it is a victory for the SNP, but is also a victory for people of my way of thinking about our constitution. This is important—within this House, we are the Parliament of the whole of the United Kingdom. That is why on occasions, though not as a general practice of course, laws will be passed without legislative consent motions, as with powers that came back from the European Union—in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, for example—where the Scottish Parliament was not willing to agree legislative consent motions. That is part of an overall package of the restoration of powers to the United Kingdom Parliament from the European Union, and we are the nation’s Parliament. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman recognises that.

As regards the 0.7%, I point out that we remain one of the world’s largest donors at 0.5%. That is an impost on British taxpayers, and it is Her Majesty’s Government being charitable on behalf of British taxpayers. I will go back to my constitutional lecture, because I think people are simply failing to understand the importance of estimates, which are fundamental to the powers of this House. The ability to approve expenditure is what historically gave this House its power over the Executive, and the ability to vote down an estimate is one that is rarely used because of its very profound consequence. What I ask the House and those who support the hon. Gentleman is, if they feel as strongly about the issue as they say, why did they not use the tool available to them?

Let me go into this in a little more detail. Had the estimate been voted down, the Foreign Office and overseas aid would have run out of money after the initial estimate, which was done earlier in the year, had expired. A proportionate amount of money is agreed before the beginning of the financial year and would then run out if the final estimate were not to be approved. In that event, the Government have to come forward with a new estimate and it would have to be an estimate that they thought they could get through the House. As a matter of simple constitutional fact, had the House chosen to vote on the estimates, it would have left the Government in a position where they would have had bring forward a new motion for overseas aid expenditure in the Foreign Office. Otherwise, all our embassies would have run out of money. They would not have been able to pay their water bills. It is a failure of those who stand up and chunter about this not to use the tools to hand. It is really not my fault if they have not studied “Erskine May” carefully enough.

My right hon. Friend recommended reading “Erskine May”. I happen to have the 25th edition of “Erskine May” with me. Of course, what it makes clear is quite how difficult it is to amend an estimate, so much so that the last time that one was successfully amended was one century ago; he may remember—it was 1921. It makes it very clear that the Crown’s prerogative on the monopoly of financial initiative means that the only thing we can do in this House, unless the Crown acts differently, is to cut the bill, not increase it.

My right hon. Friend’s argument to the House is that we should do away with all the aid in order to get more aid. I am not quite sure that the public—or, indeed, the ambassadors, with their redundancy notices—would have quite understood that. It is rather sad that the Government are playing such games with this very, very important issue.

My right hon. Friend is a kindly man and he will know that, unlike most of the debates he is asked for, every day that goes by without this debate means that more people go without aid, particularly in places such as Yemen, where there is a famine right now. In the words of the United Nations Secretary-General, the ex-Prime Minister of Portugal, António Guterres, under famine conditions

“cutting aid is a death sentence.”

Can we please have this debate as soon as possible, so that we can change the Government’s policy for the better?

The problem with pre-prepared questions is that they miss out what has been said before, so I will reiterate it: had the estimate been voted down, not amended—I did not mention amending—the Government would have had to come forward with a new estimate by early August, otherwise the money would run out. It is a very straightforward mechanism that my right hon. Friend failed to use. That is rather surprising, when he is such an experienced parliamentarian. He has been in the House much longer than I have, as has my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell).

Our overseas aid budget must be what we as a nation can afford. We had our largest peacetime deficit in the last financial year because of the covid crisis. We cannot afford to be as generous as we once were, but we must ensure that the money we spend is spent as wisely as possible and on the alleviation of disasters, which is a fundamentally important part of our overseas aid budget.

As always, I am grateful to be called, Mr Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business up to the recess and for protecting the time for the Backbench Business Committee debate this afternoon. I hope that he can ensure that we have some time for Backbench Business debates in the first week back following the summer recess; we would be very grateful if he could facilitate that.

Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport prior to the summer recess about what his Department will be doing to address the huge shortage in heavy goods vehicle drivers in the road haulage industry? I have been contacted by representatives of the road haulage industry in my constituency of Gateshead who have really pressing concerns about the current situation and the implications for the industry and, more importantly, for the reopening of the economy over the next few months.

Mr Speaker, you might know that I chair the all-party parliamentary group for football supporters. Being a Newcastle United fan, I have come to expect nothing, so anything we get is a bonus, but congratulations to England; getting to the final is a great achievement. They are in the final—go on and win it.

I seem to remember that the late Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Hume, was a supporter of Newcastle as well, so I imagine there is some heavenly support for the hon. Gentleman’s team currently.

I hear the hon. Gentleman’s appeal for Backbench Business time. We always do our best, on behalf of the Government, to facilitate that. As regards the HGV driver shortage, the Government are aware of it and steps have been taken to implement several long-term solutions across Government, including the development of a large goods vehicle driver apprenticeship programme by the Department for Transport and the Department for Education aimed at addressing long-term driver skills shortages and improved labour supply. There is consideration of extending delivery hours, but the food industry is very well versed in dealing with delivery requirements and necessities. There is a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport coming up, but I think, Mr Speaker, you may get a bit worried if goes from overseas travel on to—

Returning to the issue of overseas aid and the target, is it not the case that the Government are doing one of two things? Either they are seeking to change that statutory target without parliamentary approval, in which case, although I would be the last person to ask the Government to disclose their own legal advice, they will have to explain why legal opinions that say that is unlawful are wrong, as I for one, do not believe they are; or alternatively, they are making use of provisions in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, which set that target in statute, that allow it to be missed in exceptional circumstances.

Those are two different things and I am not clear, from the pronouncements of various Ministers, which of the two is Government policy. Surely my right hon. Friend accepts that the House is entitled to absolute clarity on which of the two it is. If the Government are really proposing to change primary legislation, is it not incumbent on them to seek parliamentary support for that, rather than expect Parliament to use a device such as estimates in order to discuss it? If, on the other hand, the Government are missing the target but not changing it, then we need a statement to explore how compliance with the target will be restored.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the law that relates to the 0.7% target, which requires that at the end of the financial year where the target is missed a statement should be laid before Parliament. The law will be followed.

The Leader of the House referred to distinguished Select Committees, but when the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee wrote to him about its untimely and premature demise, our plea fell on deaf ears. The same applies to international aid: not only no vote but no Committee. At a time when we have a diminishing percentage of a shrinking pot, surely scrutiny now is needed more than ever. Gaza is in ruins and we have a global pandemic. As a Back Bencher, the right hon. Gentleman was an assiduous Committee member. Can he prove that accountability still matters and that with his new lofty position the power has not just gone to his head?

The overseas aid Committee has been retained, so I am slightly puzzled that the hon. Lady thinks it has been abolished. It was kept, under its very distinguished Chairman. As regards the Brexit Select Committee, Brexit happened and therefore its purpose had come to an end. I am glad to say, however, that there is an excellent Committee that does its role—much better, actually, than the Brexit Committee ever did it—which is the European Scrutiny Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash).

While I am absolutely delighted that football and the summer Adjournment debate are coming home, will my right hon. Friend please find time for a debate on what appears to be the inappropriate application of “do not resuscitate” orders by certain hospitals without the express consent of the patient and their loved ones. I do understand that during the height of the pandemic those orders were made on an individual needs basis, but on such a sensitive subject everyone involved should be consulted.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is quite wrong for “do not attempt CPR” decisions to be applied in a blanket fashion to any group of people. Those decisions should be made only when the person involved and their carers and families have been consulted. We do not want to see efforts to introduce euthanasia by the backdoor by not reviving people who ought to be revived. I will of course pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary.

Our high streets have been struggling for many years now, and covid has accelerated the challenges they face. There was another example of that last week when, sadly, Neston post office closed its doors for the last time. I understand that there is interest from some potential new operators, but experience has shown us that it can take many, many months for those interests to come to fruition. For a town of Neston’s size to have no post office for any period of time is simply unacceptable, so can we have a debate please on what we can do to have more statutory obligations on the Post Office to ensure that vital public services are not left from towns for any length of time?

The Government certainly recognise the difficulties that town centres are facing, hence the towns fund, which is £2 billion of funding offering town deals to 86 places across England, which includes accelerated funding provided to places last year. The towns fund will mainly spend taxpayers’ money of £25 million in each town, although in exceptional circumstances more is available. The ability to go to the post office or to banks and other essential services is of course of great importance. The Post Office has to ensure that it provides as much service as possible within the budget that it has got.

In the east midlands, we have a huge amount of potential but have been consistently at the bottom of the tables for public and private sector investment. I sense your concern about that, Mr Speaker, and I know you wish to see us playing a key part in the Government’s levelling up agenda, so you will be pleased to hear that we have all sorts of plans in place from our freeport development corporation, to plans around HS2, fusion energy and bids to the towns fund and the levelling up fund. Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate these key priorities in the House ahead of the levelling up White Paper and spending review in the autumn?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his determined representation of his county and his constituency. He has raised this issue with a much higher level; he recently met the Prime Minister to discuss the east midlands freeport and HS2 and how it might benefit his area, so his campaigning is proving very effective and his voice is being heard throughout the land, and particularly in Downing Street. The Prime Minister will publish the landmark levelling up White Paper later this year, which will include our plans for strengthening local accountable leadership. In total, we have committed nearly £3.5 billion of taxpayers’ money for councils and businesses in the east midlands, so may I suggest to my hon. Friend that he might want to raise this matter further, either in a Westminster Hall debate or at the end-of-term Adjournment debate?

The Leader of the House may recall that I am my wife’s carer. A year ago, at the height of the pandemic, I found myself in an extremely difficult situation in terms of carrying out my parliamentary duties, voting, making speeches and contributions and so on. I want to go on the record in thanking the Leader of the House and everyone else who managed to sort this out. It has been of great benefit, and me and my family are truly grateful.

May I ask the Leader of the House to cast his eye to September and what may or may not happen in terms of how the House conducts its business? Could I ask him to give earnest consideration to consulting people like me in my situation, disabled people and people who might have a health condition as to how we might enable all of us to participate as much as possible, if the capricious covid virus does something we do not expect in the months ahead?

I am touched by the hon. Gentleman’s thanks. I am not sure I deserve them as fully as he has given them, but I am none the less very grateful. I am always open to listening to hon. and right hon. Members who have suggestions about how the House is operating and what we may or may not need to do in future in relation to covid, as I know are the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) and indeed you, Mr Speaker. We are obviously hoping that everything will be back to normal and that is the basis on which plans are being made, but man proposes and God disposes.

May we have a debate in Government time to discuss the proposed May ’22 train timetable changes, which cut the number of Darlington to London trains by a third? Delaying this timetable change would allow a proper assessment of the impact not only of coronavirus on the trains, but of the massive Government investment going into Teesside with our new freeport and Treasury North. Crucially, a delay would provide more time to develop the business case to introduce a direct Redcar to London service, which I am sure the Leader of the House agrees would be a great addition to the network.

I am sure that having a Redcar service coming straight to London—a fast service—would benefit the nation and lift spirits. As I believe the Prime Minister said, Redcar has become “Bluecar”. That is probably Thomas the Tank Engine, who I seem to remember is the blue train.

I completely understand the difficulties that train timetable alterations create. Obviously, there has been great pressure on the train timetables during the course of the pandemic, and the losses that the railways are making have required some changes, but I will take up my hon. Friend’s point with the Secretary of State for Transport.

I think everyone can see the rank hypocrisy in the UK Government, who seek to deny a future referendum on Scottish independence, simultaneously and unlawfully misdirecting money towards carrying out opinion polling on Scottish attitudes to the Union that was intended to go to the public health efforts against covid. Why, if now is not the time, was that polling activity undertaken? Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to prevail upon his colleagues to place the outcomes and findings of that research in the Library, so that the public might better understand exactly what it was that they got for their money?

When important communications have to be sent to the country at large around something such as covid, it is important to understand how people feel and how they will respond to the messages. The hon. Gentleman raises the question of Governments listening. I recall that the Shetland Islands last September asked whether it could look at ways of having more independence, possibly including becoming a Crown dependency. As Lord President of the Council, I am particularly interested in that question of its becoming a Crown dependency, because that activity would then come through the Privy Council. Of course, the Shetland Islands would be one of the richest sets of islands almost anywhere in the world if it were able to have the oil revenues that would accrue to it. I wonder what the Scottish Government are doing in response to the Shetland Islands. They are so keen always to have votes and so on; perhaps they will have a vote on independence for Shetland.

First, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of whether football is finally coming home? Secondly, does he agree that levelling up and the cities for growth agenda must not be limited to cities alone, and will he visit Melton Mowbray to see where I am campaigning for a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs office to open in the rural capital of food? If DEFRA cannot open an office in a rural town and prove that we care for our rural areas, then what Department will?

I think, as England could win against New Zealand in the 50-over world championship, there is hope for all our sporting heroes, and therefore let us be cautiously optimistic about what will happen on Sunday. But it is possibly unwise of a non-expert in this area to make a forecast—not that we think much of experts as a general rule, but we will leave that to one side.

As regards the levelling up agenda, of course it must not be limited to cities alone. I represent a rural constituency, and I feel it is really important that the whole of our country is levelled up. That is the point of levelling up. As regards DEFRA moving to my hon. Friend’s constituency and improving, therefore, the consumption of pork pies, which I believe are a great delicacy from Melton Mowbray—I am grateful for the opportunity to visit—I think she is right to campaign for that. I encourage her to do so, but I cannot promise what the answer will be from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Another business questions and still no movement on the Government’s plans to eradicate the practice of fire and rehire. Continuing the football theme, it is like Ministers taking the ball into the corner to run down the clock until we get to recess, without actually having to do anything. It is months now since the Government received the ACAS report, so can we have a statement before recess outlining the Government’s position and what they plan to do to stop this scourge and this inhuman practice?

We did have a statement in response to the ACAS report on fire and rehire, the complexities of that report and the way in which it would best be implemented, and the Government’s clear recognition that fire and rehire as a tactic is a bad practice. But there may be circumstances where the best protection of jobs involves an element of it, and therefore the straightforward banning of it altogether would not necessarily improve employment opportunities.

In recent weeks, I have met several of my local parish and town councils, and they have all led on a rise in antisocial behaviours that is affecting their communities and residents. Some residents are living in fear, and more often than not it is a small group of people, sometimes even one family, causing chaos for those around them. I know that I have the full support of the new police and crime commissioner in Derbyshire, but may we have a debate in Government time on the powers that our police, district councils, county councils and, indeed, parish councils have in respect of residents who cause so much trouble for other residents, and their powers to make sure that communities do not suffer the blight of antisocial behaviour?

Yes, and I sympathise with my hon. Friend, because every one of us has, as a constituency MP, come across instances of antisocial behaviour caused by a very small number of people. My experience is that the powers are there and that our role as Members of Parliament is to co-ordinate the local agencies and get them to use the powers that they have. When those powers are used, very often these problems are solved. I remind my hon. Friend that the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides the police, local authorities and other local agencies with a range of tools and powers. Although they can respond quickly and effectively to antisocial behaviour, sometimes it does not register with the relevant authorities early enough, which is why we as MPs play a useful role in bringing the focus of attention to it and encouraging them to use the powers that they have. My hon. Friend may want to raise this issue at Home Office questions on Monday.

The dream of transforming the Northumberland economy and leading the way in the green industrial revolution with 8,000 new local, well-paid, skilled, secure jobs in my constituency of Wansbeck came a step closer this week with the approval of the plans for the Britishvolt gigafactory in Cambois. The plans are to manufacture 300,000 lithium-ion electric car batteries annually. Is it not ironic that my constituency, which was hugely dependent on coal mining, now has this unmissable opportunity to greatly assist the UK in its zero-carbon objectives? As with Ellesmere Port and Nissan, Government assistance will be essential, so can we have a debate in Government time to discuss how and what assistance can be given to ensure that local people are at the front of the queue and will be adequately trained and skilled up and in employment for day one of the planned construction?

The hon. Gentleman is a great parliamentarian. I fear it must have pained him to praise a Conservative Government so much, so I am all the more grateful for the fact that he has done it and for the sincerity with which he did. I am tempted to exceed my remit and simply grant the debate he asked for, because he asked for it so charmingly, but I think I will leave it at a suggestion that it should be a matter for an Adjournment debate. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support and co-operation, which shows that we can work on a cross-party basis to get zero carbon, to improve technology and to improve people’s standard of living. If the two of us can be cross-party, almost anybody can.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend watched the England game yesterday evening and will join me in congratulating the team on their fantastic victory and in wishing them success and luck for the final on Sunday. The team have united the nation and I am sure that our success will spur on a new generation of budding Harry Kanes.

The fan-led review of football governance will consider all parts of our national game. It is important that it also examines how we can continue to nurture young talent. Will my right hon. Friend look to hold a debate in Government time on the review, when it reports its findings?

My hon. Friend is right about the uniting force of success. Football is the most popular game in this country—amazingly, it is more popular than cricket, which always surprises me, but nonetheless it is—and I did indeed watch the game last night, with any number of my children, some of whom were staying up rather later than is perhaps advisable for children of their young years, but never mind.

The fan-led review, an independent review led by our hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), was announced by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on 19 April 2021 and will explore ways of improving the governance, ownership and financial sustainability of clubs in English football, building on the strengths of the football pyramid. May I suggest that, rather than immediately having a debate, my hon. Friend seeks to speak to our hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, because that will be a good way to start the conversation and be involved in the process?

We all want to move safely out of lockdown, but we may now see the emergence of a new vaccine-resistant variant in people who have had one jab who are infected and, indeed, the level of infection from the delta variant may rise to 100,000 cases a day. Will the Government ensure that in the event that Parliament is recalled in the summer, hybrid online facilities for MP participation will continue so that all voters can be safely represented?

Labour spokesmen and Members seem to come on and say that they want the lockdown to end and then they try to stop it ending. There seems to be a great desire not to end the lockdown. I think we want to get on on 19 July and get back to as normal as possible, including in this House. This is really important, but the House has shown in the past that it can act swiftly if necessary.

There is an unprecedented national shortage of building materials, including timber and cement. Across the country, builders are struggling to get the materials they need and the prices are spiralling out of control. Will my right hon. Friend grant a debate on how we ensure that Britain’s builders get the bricks and mortar they need to build back better?

I am aware that there are inflationary pressures in some areas of the economy and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The Government are aware of the current shortage of building materials owing to global demand outstripping supply, and material prices are increasing significantly. This is having a particular impact on small and medium-sized enterprises. The Government are working with the Construction Leadership Council’s product availability group to identify and resolve these challenges, but my hon. Friend could raise this at the end-of-term Adjournment debate if he seeks further discussion of it.

I do not think the Leader of the House has really addressed this adequately. If a Member of the House—if the Leader of the House—tests positive for covid-19 on 5 September and is required by the Government to self-isolate for 10 days, how are their voices, the voices of their constituents and the votes of their constituents to be represented in this House?

The Government speak with one voice, so if I were not able to be here, the Deputy Chief Whip—the Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew)—would appear for me, as he did once before, and, I am sorry to say, he did it extraordinarily well, which rather made me nervous, thinking that he might take this role on a more permanent basis. There are always opportunities for Government Ministers to be replaced by other Ministers, speaking with one voice for the Government.

As for the more general concern, the question is: are we getting to a stage where we live with covid and it is like other diseases, so Members of the House will be affected in the same way as if they had another illness? That is something that we have coped with over hundreds of years. There is a pairing system that works very well. There are means of getting questions raised on one’s behalf, but this has been an exceptional period with exceptional practices because of the widespread, all-encompassing nature of the pandemic. Assuming that that is not going to continue to be the case permanently, we ought to return to normal as soon as possible.

While we all welcome the progress towards getting back to normal, is the Leader of the House aware that the covid emergency did result in some innovations being put in place that were widely welcomed and popular? One in particular was the option given to local councils to hold virtual meetings, which has now lapsed. I know that my right hon. Friend prefers to embrace tradition before innovation, but will he and other Ministers note that there is a widespread desire for this option to be made permanently available? Will the Government therefore respond positively to this suggestion and bring forward legislation on the matter sooner rather than later?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that it would require primary legislation. I am not convinced of the strength of argument for it in ordinary times. I think that meetings are best when held together and there is better democratic accountability when people are together and able to have the informal, as well as the formal, conversations that take place in council meetings. Much the same is true for this House.

On behalf of all the people in Northern Ireland—the vast majority of them anyway—and my constituents in Strangford, I would like to offer my congratulations to the English team. We are very pleased as Northern Ireland supporters, and I am one of those, to let them use our song “Sweet Caroline”, and we rejoice in the singing of it at Wembley or wherever it may be. We will join in singing this anthem on Sunday and look forward to many glorious times if all goes well.

According to Open Doors, Christians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, despite making up more than 95% of the population, are facing soaring violence in that country. In fact, the Democratic Republic of the Congo rose 17 places this year on the Open Doors world watch list of countries where Christians are the most persecuted. The DRC Christian population and churches are said to be at huge risk of violence in the east of the country, where Islamic terrorists groups the Allied Democratic Forces and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda operate. One million people are displaced internally, and Christians have been targeted with killings, kidnappings, forced labour and torture, while Christian women are particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual slavery. It is an absolute tragedy happening as we sit in this Chamber. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or an urgent statement on this matter?

I thank both the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to the attention of the House and Open Doors for the incredible work it does as an organisation. They are both important voices for the rights of persecuted Christians. The UK and Her Majesty’s Government are concerned about violence against all communities, whatever their religion or belief, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The violence is symptomatic of a broader picture of instability in eastern DRC. Her Majesty’s Government continue to urge the DRC Government and the United Nations to work together to protect civilians from continuing violence and to address the root causes of conflict. We are committed to ensuring that the UN peacekeeping mission remains focused on delivering its mandate to protect civilians and that vulnerable communities remain central to the United Nations work in the DRC. The hon. Gentleman is probably more adept at using the House’s procedures than any other Member, so I hardly need remind him that Foreign Office questions are on 20 July, but I will in the meantime pass on his concerns to the Foreign Office.

In September, I will be running the Montane dragon’s back race and attempting to run 230 miles, over twice the ascent of Everest. I am very happy for my right hon. Friend to join me on the world’s toughest mountain race from Conwy castle to Cardiff castle along the spine of Wales. On a serious note, I am doing it for two amazing organisations: for the Wolves Foundation, which does so much work across Wolverhampton, particularly for the most vulnerable; and also for Elysium Memorial, which is raising awareness of veterans suicide—I have personally lost friends I served with. Will my right hon. Friend commit more time in this House to discuss such an important topic?

My hon. Friend is considerably more energetic than I am. I think I would find it hard to do 2.3 miles, let alone 230 miles, and I might need the resuscitation that our hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) raised earlier.

To come to my hon. Friend’s very serious point, I wish him well in his fundraising efforts for both foundations. On the issue of veterans suicide, this is a matter of the greatest responsibility for Government and parliamentarians. We ask people to put their lives on the line for the safety, security and peace of our nation, and we have a duty to them for the rest of their lives for what they have given or have been prepared to sacrifice on behalf of the nation. I am grateful to him for the work he is doing, and I can assure him that it is an issue the Government take with the utmost seriousness.

The proof of the levelling-up pudding is in the eating for a community like Denton and Reddish, my own, which I proudly represent. I have submitted bids to the Government for both the Restoring Your Railway fund to provide important rail links for Reddish South and Denton stations, which are currently served by just one train a week, and the levelling-up fund to restore the old library, fire station and swimming baths complex in Reddish and turn it into a mixed community, leisure and employment growth hub for start-up businesses. As another conduit from Parliament to the Executive, can the Leader of the House please use his good offices to ensure that both these bids get fair consideration from Ministers?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the effort that he is making and for ensuring that all sources available for his community are explored. Again, it shows an element of desire for cross-party working, which I think is beneficial to our public life. I can assure him that all bids will be fairly considered, but I will pass on his comments to the relevant Secretary of State.

Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on Places for Everyone and its relationship to individual councils’ local plans in the Greater Manchester area? Bury Metropolitan Borough Council has not had an updated local plan since 1997 and is ignoring recent Government guidance on the protection of the green belt, which would safeguard precious areas of countryside at Elton reservoir, Tottington and Walshaw in my constituency. Councils such as Bury should be required to have updated local plans before entering into joint development strategies such as Places for Everyone, to ensure a localised planning system that responds to the concerns of local residents.

My hon. Friend makes a really important point about the need to involve residents in the creation of local development plans. I assure him that that principle is at the heart of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is achieving. The national policy is clear:

“The planning system should be genuinely plan-led. Succinct and up-to-date plans should provide a positive vision for the future of each area”.

The planning Bill will create a simpler, faster and more modern planning system, ensuring that homes and infrastructure can be delivered more quickly across England.

I would say that not updating a plan since 1997 seems to me an example of bureaucratic treacle—and the treacle should be baked away.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the huge increase in scammers and fraudsters targeting our constituents. Our constituents are advised by the police to contact Action Fraud; Action Fraud cannot investigate, so it goes back to the police anyway. The end result is too often that constituents do not hear any more. I appreciate that there is a volume problem, but can we have a debate about how we can better protect our constituents from these fraudsters?

This is an issue that every Member of this House will be concerned about and that will have been raised in all our constituency surgeries. Reports submitted to Action Fraud are considered by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and evaluated to assess the information available that could assist an investigation. Data matching allows reports from different parts of the country to be linked through analysis. The hope is that that can lead to trends being identified and to action being taken to address these threats. However, I agree that more needs to be done; one often finds that constituents’ cases are not investigated in the way that they would like.

I am sure that, like me, the Leader of the House will have been contacted during the covid pandemic by many constituents who have asthma. Last year, the all-party parliamentary group for respiratory health produced a report and recommendations on asthma outcomes, but does he know that the House has not had a debate on asthma since 2006—and that that was an Adjournment debate? Can we have a debate in Government time on asthma outcomes in the UK, to discuss the recommendations of the report and how we can support our constituents who suffer from asthma?

The hon. Lady raises an important subject that many in this House will be concerned about. I must confess I am surprised that there has not been a debate on it since 2006, although I think it is more an issue for the Backbench Business Committee or for a Westminster Hall debate than for—as she will have heard when I read out the business—a very full Government programme between now and the recess.

Many residents in Kensington work in financial services and other professional services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that financial services are a vital industry, contributing 11% of our total tax take, and that we need to prioritise services when we negotiate future trade agreements? Would he consider a debate on the importance of financial services not only to London but to Scotland, Leeds, Bristol and many other places?

I am extremely well aware of the importance of financial services, as I spent a number of decades working in the investment management field, and I am well aware of the particular importance of Edinburgh as a financial capital. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue. Financial services are very strong, vibrant and flexible, which is what has led to their success. In reality, their ability to attract business from around the world has had more to do with their efficiency, their competitiveness and the collection of skills that they bring together than with particular agreements with other countries. Although of course we must discuss financial services with foreign nations, actually the City will do best if it is fleet of foot, capable and competitive.

A group of my constituents have reported their employer, Horizon Care Homes Ltd, to the Pensions Regulator for allegedly failing to pay its pension contributions into the Government’s NEST—National Employment Savings Trust—pension scheme. I have contacted the regulator and they have informed me that they are legally unable to give me any information about their investigation, even with my constituent’s consent. This makes it extremely hard for me to assist them. Will the Leader of the House support me in allowing a debate in this Chamber to ensure that MPs can gain appropriate access to the information needed to assist our constituents facing problems with their pensions?

I am going to answer this question slightly tentatively, because I am calling on memory of what I think the law says about giving information to Members. My understanding and memory are that businesses are not obliged to give information to Members, but there is an exemption in the data protection rules that allows them to give information if they choose to do so. So my understanding is that this is a refusal of the organisation to give information under its own procedures, not one by law. Therefore, I would encourage and support the hon. Lady in continuing to put pressure on the organisation not to be obstructive of Members of Parliament doing their job.

I did come across this once on behalf of a constituent of mine, where a particular bank refused to give information, even with the support of the constituent, erroneously quoting data protection rules. If that is the case, I think the hon. Lady is in a strong position with the Pensions Regulator. I think it is their rules, rather than our laws, but I will check this and if I am not correct I will write and put the letter in the Library.

I now suspend the House for two minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

11.31 am

Sitting suspended.