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Business of the House

Volume 699: debated on Thursday 15 July 2021

The 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 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.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 September will include:

Monday 6 September—Remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business. Visiting the covid wall of red hearts of remembrance across the Thames is a raw reminder of the pain and loss of the past year, and, of course, we all want to go back to the before times. Sadly, we cannot undo what has happened, but we want to look forward to better times and, to do that, we need our Government to learn lessons fast. I am afraid to say that the House business, as ever, tells its own tale: of a Government who seem to have learned nothing; a Government who decided to scrap all protections at once as if this is over, when they know it is not. If it is over, why is there nothing in the business statement about an announcement of a realtime, urgent public covid inquiry? If it is over, why are regional leaders, including Tory ones, deciding that it is essential to continue the compulsory wearing of masks on public transport? If it is over, why are we seeing a rise in infection rates? On Monday, clinically vulnerable people will experience not freedom, but fear.

Why have we still not got the Prime Minister’s plan for social care? Why are the Government imposing another top-down reorganisation with the Health and Care Bill on already exhausted NHS and care staff, rather than giving them the pay rise they so deserve? Where is the disability strategy promised in the Queen’s Speech in 2019, planned for 2020 and then delayed because of covid—which I understand—to early spring 2021? To spring—it is summer now. Is this strategy so poor that the Government intend to announce it with a whimper rather than a bang and without any debate?

Where is the plan for supporting schools and pupils to catch up on a lost year and to give them clarity about exam requirements for next year? I am afraid to say that the evidence seems to suggest that the Government are driven more by online trolls than socially conscientious British values, yet the Prime Minister said yesterday:

“I do not want to engage in a political culture war of any kind; I want to get on with delivering for the people of this country”.—[Official Report, 14 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 364.]

I have already listed just some of the ways that the Government are failing to get on with delivering for the British people.

On the culture war, we have the Bill on free speech in universities, a classic example of a pointless skirmish in a pointless culture war. Why is the Prime Minister unable to read the mood of this country? Last week, a Tory MP said he boycotted the football because of the players taking the knee—not because he does not like football but because he does not like footballers opposing racism. Another Tory MP criticised Marcus Rashford for campaigning to feed hungry children, a problem that the Government have created and exacerbated. Do the Government not want footballers to be good role models? Marcus Rashford has helped to get the England team to the Euro finals while feeding hungry children. The Tory MPs cannot manage to do their job properly and I know who the British people see as the more worthy role models. Maybe some of them should visit Withington in Manchester, where ugly, racist vandalism on the mural of Marcus Rashford was rapidly restored this week with love and admiration from people far and wide coming to wipe out hate. That is who we are. Racists and their apologists are not living out British values. All the Prime Minister had yesterday was that there will be a ban on racists at football matches. Okay, that is good, but will it be for one match, two matches or for life, as the campaigners want?

The Leader of the House has committed to closing the current loophole in legislation so that constituents of known sexual harassers can decide whether or not they want them to continue as their MP, so I am naturally disappointed not to see any mention of this on the timetable for next week. Does he wish to table the Labour motion for debate next week? While we are on staff safety, can I please encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to continue to wear masks next week in the Chamber and with social distancing, especially given rising rates and that young people in particular are not double-vaccinated?

Finally, guidance has been issued only today on what businesses are supposed to do from Monday on the covid risk. No wonder businesses such as those in the Bristol Food Union are telling me that all this chaos with the rules is putting the hospitality sector under massive strain. With just two working days to go, where is the Business Secretary? And today, we find out that Ministers are going to have a get-out clause and will not have to isolate when they have been pinged. Well, how very convenient for them, when up and down the country, people trying to do the right thing—which is leading to staff shortages from the NHS to cafés, from the public sector to businesses struggling to get going again—find that, once again, it is one rule for them and another for the rest of us.

The hon. Lady made a number of points, so let me try to take them in turn. First, however, let me deal with the very serious issue of racism in football. It is disturbing to the whole country and it is something that unites the whole House. The racist tweets and abuse of a number of our footballers after the match last week were simply wrong, and people who have behaved in that way should be banned from attending football matches, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday. It is a determination of this Government to ensure that the legislative framework is correct, which is why my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary has been in discussions with a number of footballers. The Online Safety Bill, which is going to have pre-legislative scrutiny soon, will be focusing on this. It will give Ofcom the power to fine social media firms up to 10% of their global turnover if they fail to ensure that their spaces, their social media outlets, are free from this type of improper, wicked racist abuse. It is important that the House tries to show a united stance on this, because I think the reality is that the whole House is united.

The admiration that the House feels for the English football team is very widespread. I am no expert in football, nor, I know, is the hon. Lady, but the team did its best and they jolly nearly won. This country does have a history of heroic defeats that lead to great victories. Dunkirk led to victory in the end, as did Corunna, and we can therefore look to great things from this team.

While we are discussing football, may I say how proud I am, as a Somerset man, of Tyrone Mings, who is only the second player from God’s own county to play football for England? My whole county rejoices in that about our fellow county man, and we wish him every success, regardless of any comments he may make about my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Coming on to freedom day, 19 July, let me say that 87% of the population have had one vaccine and two thirds have had two vaccines. Having two doses of the Oxford vaccine reduces the chance of getting an infection by 80%. This is a fundamental change in the risk from the risk that existed prior to the vaccine being rolled out.

We know that the risk of infection among the young, who are the most likely not to have had the vaccine, is much lower than among the elderly, who, by and large, have had it. Therefore, it is right to allow people to make choices. The hon. Lady complains that guidance has not been issued early enough. That is not the point—people will make choices for themselves, because the risk has been lowered.

It is, of course, very easy when the Government say everybody should stop, everybody should go home and nobody is allowed to see anybody. Saying no, as the socialists always want to do, is easy. It is always very easy to say no and to tell people they are not allowed to do anything at all, or to tell them how their life should be run: when to have breakfast, when to get out of bed, when to have lunch and what to eat for lunch. The socialists want to run every detail of our lives—that is what underpins their philosophy. The Conservatives believe in individual responsibility. The risk is much lower because of the success of the vaccine, and this is fundamental.

In this Chamber next week, looking around now, I would say that it would be pretty safe not to be wearing masks; the Chamber is not very full. On the other hand, if we were to have a Budget day special, which I am not announcing as business, Mr Speaker, people might feel that the closeness, proximity, hugger-mugger nature of the House would make a mask sensible. But that is something we can decide for ourselves. After all, we, as legislators, are asked to make decisions for the country at large, so surely we have the mental capacity to work out whether or not it is suitable to wear a mask. On this broad issue, let me reassure the hon. Lady that the rules for Ministers are not different from those for other people. There have been tests, which are being considered, about how the pinging operates, but there are no different rules for Ministers, and nor should there be.

As regards education policies, £3 billion is being provided for catch-up. This is really important. It is crucial that children who have lost so much schooling should have the opportunity to get back some of the lost time. That is why there is an important programme to deal with that. It is fundamental that we help to rebuild the economy, having protected it with £407 billion of taxpayers’ money over the last year, and education will be a key part of that.

The hon. Lady referred to decisions by the Commission. She is aware of the motion that was approved by the Commission. There are discussions continuing. It is very important that the independent expert panel is fully informed as to what is going on. There has been correspondence between Mr Speaker and the chairman of the IEP. I will bring forward a motion as soon as it is reasonable to do so because I think what the position should be is agreed by the Commission, but I will be acting for the Commission and not—I emphasise—as Leader of the House.

On free speech in universities, we on the Conservative Benches believe in freedom. We on this side believe that defending freedom is crucial. As we rebuild from the pandemic, yes, we need money to help students, but the whole point of university is that ideas should be challenged. There should be a great clash of intellects as people discuss what is right and what is wrong and as they put arguments from one side to the other, as we do in this House. A political correctness has been waving over our universities to try to stop this type of debate. We need to ensure that there is genuine freedom of debate and freedom of speech, one of the lynchpins of our constitution, in our finest world-beating educational institutions. It may be sad that we need to do it and it may be a shame that the universities have not been defending free speech themselves, but it is an even greater shame that the Opposition actually wish to limit our freedom of speech and they should be ashamed of themselves.

I welcome the announcement of personal choice and independent health management being restored next week. I pay tribute to the young people who have been very negatively impacted throughout the pandemic. Jobs and opportunity are so important for their future. Does my right hon. Friend agree that opportunity for young people must be at the heart of our covid recovery strategy, and that apprenticeships and our kickstart programme are key to unlocking that growth for their future?

I do indeed agree. We have put young people at the heart of our economic recovery plan. They are absolutely at the centre of the circle. It is the right thing to do. I have the greatest sympathy for young people, who have made great sacrifices over the last year. The kickstart scheme has created over 230,000 jobs across the country and over the past month around 2,000 young people have started a kickstart job each week. This is just one part of the plan to build back better and help young people into good jobs after the pandemic. We are also providing a hire incentive payment of £3,000 for employers in England for each apprentice they hire, at all ages. We are increasing the number of traineeships, backed by £126 million of taxpayers’ money.

I just want to add how successful apprentices can be. I am much looking forward to meeting a former apprentice tomorrow, a gentleman called Steve Pickston, who is the vice-president for support and services at Airbus Helicopters. He started at McAlpine Helicopters as a helicopter airframe and engine apprentice in 1985, which only goes to show that becoming an apprentice can really help your career lift off.

I suppose it is a case of what could have been: if only that shot from Stephen O’Donnell had gone in when England were holding out for a draw, how different it could have been.

What should have been a look back at a successful tournament has descended into dealing with the multiple issues around the appalling racist abuse received by those fine young England players. Will the Leader of the House agree to an urgent debate next week so that can be properly addressed and to hold everybody to account, whether it is the anonymous thug on Twitter or the Prime Minister himself in The Daily Telegraph?

Monday brings the sense of freedom day—as I think we would call it now—as England opens up to allow covid in to do its worst. It also marks the end of our virtual proceedings. Monday could see the start of England heading towards 100,000 cases per day, with the prospect of a Johnson variant 2 emerging anytime from anywhere. Are we seriously going to do away with all these wonderful facilities when we have no clue where we will be when we come back in September? This has been a true parliamentary innovation. It has been led by the Leader of the House. Surely we want to retain some of these wonderful features, particularly if we do not know where this is going to go.

We in the SNP are still celebrating our stunning success in seeing off English votes for English laws on Tuesday evening, but now that we have beaten that anti-Scottish measure, there is still much work to do. Can we now deal with the anti-Scottish provisions in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, the ones that put constraints on our parliamentary democracy and allow the British Government to determine priorities in Scottish devolved areas? Getting rid of EVEL is a good start. Can we now work together to deal with all the other anti-Scottish stuff, and give our nations what they seem to want?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is always nice when he can be here, rather than sending one of his many very able deputies in his place. I reiterate what I said to the shadow Leader of the House: the whole House is united against racism, not just in football, but in the country at large. Racism is a scar upon society and, although it has much declined in recent years, the fact that it still exists remains a scar. That is why the powers that will be in the Online Safety Bill are important. In the most serious cases, Ofcom will have the authority to limit or prevent a company from operating in the United Kingdom. It has always seemed to me obvious that the online and social media companies, which can see what people have searched for and said, and ping them an advert directly linked to that, have the technological sophistication to work out when people are putting racist abuse online. It is important that they follow their responsibilities.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about opening up. He raises the level of infections, but that is not the point; it is hospitalisation and death rates, and that link, that chain, has been broken. There is now a much lower death rate and much lower entry into hospital. There is still an effect of infections, but there is not the direct link that there was prior to the vaccination programme.

Therefore, to allow freedoms to return is the right thing to do. That is the fundamental philosophical difference between the Conservatives and the parties of the left. All parties of the left are always determined that the collective should tell people how to live their lives, whereas we on the right think that mass decisions made by 60 million individuals across this country lead to better outcomes for the country than ordering people about.

As I said in the debate on EVEL, I was strongly against it in 2011, before it had been introduced. I only supported and voted for it, when it came in in 2015, on the basis that, as it was only a Standing Order, it could be abolished. So I was pleased to be the Leader of the House who did abolish it. I am delighted by the conversion of the hon. Gentleman. I think we are all coming to the conclusion that he does really like being here, and therefore he has shown great commitment to a Union Parliament. That is an enormous public service for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

As we speak, the Prime Minister is delivering a crucial speech on levelling up, which for me has been a key motivator since I became an MP. Wherever people are from, be it Bishop Auckland, Bath or Birkenhead, they should have the same opportunities to get on in life. On that note, I am currently working on a key project to bring geothermal energy to Bishop Auckland, making the town cleaner and greener, but also creating good, sustainable jobs and incredible research opportunities to help our locals. Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Business Secretary to meet me in Bishop Auckland, to see the proposed site and talk about that incredible opportunity to truly level up?

I am slightly disappointed that my hon. Friend is extending invitations to Bishop Auckland to other Ministers but is not giving me the opportunity to visit her fantastic constituency. I notice that she mentioned Bath in her list, along with Bishop Auckland, which of course also has geothermal energy, with the most famous spa water, which was much enjoyed by the ancient Romans when the city was called Aquae Sulis—the waters of Sulis, who was the god they worshipped.

Geothermal projects can seek capital funding from the Heat Networks Investment Project from 2018 to 2022. In terms of future support, the Government are currently considering geothermal energy as a low-carbon technology to be within scope of our new £270 million Green Heat Network Fund from 2022 to 2025. The eligibility criteria for the fund were the subject of our consultation, which closed on 29 January, and the response will be published in due course.

So there are things going on. It is really important that we level up across the whole country and have a triangulation across the map of the United Kingdom to ensure that every part of the country benefits from the levelling-up process.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business and for our cordial meeting yesterday. I look forward to the time for Backbench Business debates that will undoubtedly flow when we return from the summer recess.

As Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, may I express my concern at the proposals to cut by a third the number of staff working in the BBC Regional Political Unit, based at Millbank? The unit is the eyes and ears of the BBC English regions in Westminster, co-ordinating political news gathering for the BBC’s early evening regional TV news programmes, as well as the regional breakfast, lunchtime and late evening TV bulletins, the Sunday political programmes and all the local radio output. It is an important resource for our national and local democracy and should not be facing such a threat from BBC management.

The cuts will have a detrimental impact on Back-Bench MPs across the House, who get airtime on their regional BBC TV and radio outlets and regional coverage due to their activities in the House being covered by that unit. Will the Leader of the House and his Cabinet colleagues ask the BBC to rethink that proposal, which is detrimental to our democracy?

It would be wrong of me to tell the BBC how to run its commercial operations, but I will say this. In Somerset, we are lucky enough to have “Points West”, and I remember being told by it that its early evening programme is better watched, proportionally for the region, than “Eastenders”, which I understand is a popular soap opera that some people enjoy watching. It seems to me that if there is a really popular, well-watched programme, it is quite wise and commercially sensible to invest resources in it, but as I say, it is not for me to give the BBC advice on how to run itself.

May I join my right hon. Friend in congratulating Somerset’s son, from the finest county in Britain, on making it to the English football team and doing quite so well?

My right hon. Friend has been very helpful in chasing Ministers about an answer on the local government consultation in Somerset. Unfortunately, the Government still refuse to tell us how many people in their consultation supported One Somerset and how many backed the council plan. I really cannot understand why—it is not secret. We know that 5,000 people filled in the questionnaire, which is somewhat pathetic given that 111,000 took part in the referendum, but surely honesty is the best policy. I am reminded of the English writer Samuel Johnson, who said:

“Where secrecy or mystery begins, vice or roguery is not far off.”

Can we have a debate?

The great Dr Johnson said so many fantastic things. The pages of “The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations” are full of his bon mots. I am not allowed a prop, but I were to bring in to the Chamber my very well-thumbed copy of “The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations”, you would see, Mr Speaker, that the pages around Dr Johnson are particularly well thumbed.

I will always try to facilitate answers being given to Members, but I suggest that if my hon. Friend wants a detailed, specific answer, written questions are a very good way of getting one, because Ministers are obliged to give at least as much information in a written answer as would be given under a freedom of information request, and they are expected to do it faster.

I hope the Leader of the House is planning his holidays, and if next week’s free-for-all does not force him into self-isolation, can I suggest that he makes time this summer to visit the reopened Nottingham castle? If he comes by train, he will understand why his Government must get on with a rolling programme of rail electrification, starting with the midland main line, as they promised six years ago. When he walks past the beautifully restored heritage shopfronts on Carrington Street and confronts the half-demolished eyesore that was the Intu Broadmarsh centre, he will know why his Government need to approve our levelling-up fund bid to support its regeneration. But most importantly, he will understand why, as Labour’s Deputy Chief Whip, I am so very proud to represent the city of rebels.

I was actually in the Chamber when the hon. Lady made her maiden speech and said how proud she was of her constituency, and that has been a constant theme of her contributions in this House. I am very grateful to her for inviting me to her constituency—unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who invited somebody else to hers—to visit Nottingham castle. Had she invited me to Trent Bridge, I might have been even more tempted, but the offer is none the less a very tempting one.

My right hon. Friend is always welcome to Southend-on-Sea, which is hopefully soon to become a city. Will he find time for a debate on the links between human, animal and environmental health? As we look forward to the easing of lockdown restrictions next week, we cannot overlook the fact that 60% of the emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Given that it is likely that the coronavirus pandemic is linked to the trade of wild animals, it is more important than ever to improve our relationship with animals, to prevent a future global health, climate and biodiversity crisis.

As always, my hon. Friend not only gets in a plug for Southend’s request to become a city but raises an important point. We are of course concerned about the origins of coronavirus and links to the trade in wildlife. Mankind and the animal kingdom have had a long and close relationship since the very beginning of our creation, and it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we remain responsible stewards of the Earth. I remember as a child hoping to be given a parrot—Mr Speaker, I believe that you keep a parrot—but my father warned me that there was a danger of psittacosis. Then, I fear, it would have been Polly gone.

Nearly 2,000 people in Luton North, including students at Challney High School for Girls, have contacted me over the past few weeks about the worsening situation in Palestine, where international law has clearly been broken. We have had Westminster Hall debates and urgent questions on this, all of which have been so oversubscribed by MPs that I have been unlucky in the ballot every time. Will the Leader of the House be able to offer Government time so that MPs like myself can put on record the massive strength of feeling on this issue and call for action on the human rights issues facing the Palestinian people?

I know that this is a matter of concern to a large number of Members of Parliament, and indeed to our constituents, who correspond with us regularly about it. The Government have long been committed to a two-state solution and we encourage conversation, diplomacy and moderation in the activities of everyone involved. I am aware of the demand for debates, but I would point the hon. Lady in the direction of the Backbench Business Committee, which I know is aware of the demand and interest in this subject.

This week we debated and voted on the important issue of compulsory vaccination for care home staff. On 22 June, the draft statutory instrument was published, along with the words:

“A full impact assessment of the costs and benefits of this instrument is available from the Department of Health and Social Care, 39 Victoria Street”.

That would have been very useful because, as the Leader of the House will know, an impact assessment helps Members to decide on the merits or otherwise of the Government’s policy, but no such impact assessment was published. During the debate, the Minister for Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), said that

“the impact assessment is being worked on”.—[Official Report, 13 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 271.]

It seems to me that either there was an impact assessment, as the Department said there was on 22 June, or there was not, as the Minister said in the debate. But a third option came along, which was that in fact there was a full impact assessment but it was deliberately withheld from this House. Whichever is the case, this seems to be a very disappointing episode for scrutiny. This is a genuine request: could we have a statement from the Health Minister next week to clear up the situation, please?

Yes, I can assure the House that it was a matter of considerable concern to me that, when an explanatory memorandum said that an impact assessment was being published alongside it, no such impact assessment was published. I did make inquiries and am assured that the impact assessment was, as the Minister said, and as far as I am aware, still not complete. I reiterate the apology to the House given by the Minister for Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), towards the end of the debate that inaccurate information was given to the House. That sort of mistake should not happen and is taken very seriously by the Government. I add only one caveat and that is a general caveat about impact assessments: they tend to try to predict with certainty the fundamentally unpredictable.

Just to add to that, if there was not a statement and someone was to put in for an urgent question, it might be looked upon favourably.

This morning, a contributor on Radio 4 said that it is only ever posh people who say that the less fortunate people in our communities do not want to be told by posh people what to do, but in fact they do, or, at least, they want some responsible guidance. The complete abdication of responsible guidance from this Government is shameful, and I for one, Mr Speaker, will continue to wear a face covering in this Chamber.

I do not need an excuse to talk about Bath’s two excellent universities. I offer my congratulations to the University of Bath, which has recently been named as one of the top 100 universities in the world at which to study maths. Last Friday marked the 80th anniversary of the cracking of the Enigma Code. Alan Turing’s great achievement continues to inspire the next generation of mathematicians, including those studying in Bath. Will the Leader of the House add his support to the Protect Pure Maths campaign and to renaming the Science and Technology Committee to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Committee, so that the value of pure maths is better reflected in Parliament?

First of all, it is amazing how illiberal the Liberals nowadays are. They used to believe in freedom and Mill and all of that, who was closely associated with the Liberal party of old, but the modern version is very dour and controlling. I am happy though to be in absolute agreement with the hon. Lady, my neighbour, on the importance of mathematics. As she knows, Bath University is in her constituency and Bath Spa University is in mine, so we are fortunate to share in our area two very good universities. Mathematics will be at the forefront of how this country competes in future generations. I see that the Protect Pure Maths campaign places a great emphasis on the achievements and legacy of Alan Turing, as the hon. Lady mentioned, so it is good news that he is on the £50 note, which I am sure all of us wish to see more of in our daily lives for all sorts of good reasons. Unfortunately, it is not within my authority to decide the naming of the Committee; it is a matter for the House. I encourage the hon. Lady to have a word with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and see whether he, as Chairman of the Committee, is open to such a suggestion. I am sure that, if he were, the House would facilitate such a move.

Is the Leader of the House aware that 2 million people rely on cash for every transaction that they make and that access to cash is a necessity for countless individuals and small businesses across the UK, particularly for many who are elderly, vulnerable or live in rural areas? Does he accept that people should need to travel only short distances to pay in or take out cash and that cash back without a purchase must be made widely available. On 1 July, the Government published a consultation on plans to protect access to cash. Does he agree that this initiative is not only welcome, but vital?

My right hon. Friend’s question follows perfectly from our previous discussion of £50 notes. The Government indeed recognise that access to cash remains important to millions across the UK, and we are committed to legislating to protect access to cash and ensuring the UK’s cash infrastructure is sustainable in the longer term. Already, as part of the Financial Services Act 2021, legislative changes have been made to support the widespread offering, by shops and other businesses, of cashback without a purchase. On 1 July, the Government published a consultation that sets out proposals for new laws to make sure people only need to travel a reasonable distance to pay in or take out cash. So I think Her Minister’s Government and my right hon. Friend are very much at one on this issue.

I would like to make the House aware that I am going to quote some offensive remarks, and that you, Mr Speaker, have been given advance sight of this question.

On social media, I have been told that I should not be involved in politics because I am not a Brit, but a “Paki”. That is of course wrong on both accounts: I am neither a Brit, nor a “Paki”; I am a proud Scot. On social media, I have also been told to “fuck off home”. That of course does not make sense—I was born in Edinburgh. Scotland is my home. I am not unique, however, in any sense, and we saw this with the horrific racial abuse that black England players have received on social media.

Every day, people are racially abused online because of a false narrative built on prejudice and assumptions—one that Ministers in this Government have encouraged, I am afraid to say. Yesterday, the Prime Minister admitted that there is a systemic issue of racism, particularly on social media. The House may be united against racism, but we need to see real action. What do the Government intend to do about this? I therefore ask: there was an urgent question yesterday, but will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate in this Chamber next week so that MPs of colour can also make their contributions?

May I begin by saying how appalling it is that the hon. Lady has been treated in that way? Anyone who has sent her a message of that kind should, to use the Prime Minister’s words,

“crawl back under the rock”

from which they came. They are people who should not behave in this way.

There is one fundamental thing that we should all know: in this country, there is a fundamental equality in every respect of every single British citizen—whether somebody who received a British passport a minute ago or somebody descended from the Picts. There is a fundamental equality, and this is so important. Every British citizen is equally honourable, justified and placed before the law in the same position as every other one. That must be fundamental to our understanding, and I think it is something the whole House agrees on.

I am sorry that the hon. Lady wishes to make this party political, because I really think it is not. I think the whole House is outraged by the way that she has been treated, and action is being taken. As the Prime Minister set out yesterday, he has had discussions with the social media companies to remind them of their responsibilities and of what will happen under the online safety Bill if they do not live up to their responsibilities. Regrettably, social media is a sewer and some of the most disgusting bits of life get washed through it, but it is a sewer that is in need of cleansing.

The volunteers at the Blackpool station of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution have been particularly busy during the pandemic and their bravery has saved a number of lives. The charity is an incredibly important part of many coastal communities, but it does of course rely on the generosity of the British people to survive. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the incredible volunteers who put their own lives at risk to help others, and does he think it would be in order to have a debate in this place to recognise them and to discuss how their work can best be supported?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and I join him in thanking all the RNLI volunteers across the country, who show great dedication and bravery in the work they do keeping our communities safe at sea. In April last year, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor put forward another £750 million of taxpayers’ money to support such charities through the pandemic.

It is one of the most wonderful things about our country; I went to speak once in Sutton Coldfield, which must be one of most landlocked constituencies in the country, and met a lady in her 90s who had been collecting money for the RNLI for almost her entire life. Over that long life, she had raised the best part of £1 million. The charitable work people do is so remarkable.

I note that there was a Westminster Hall debate entitled “RNLI and Independent Lifeboats: Covid-19” in October last year. If my hon. Friend thinks the time is right for another Adjournment debate, perhaps he will lobby Mr Speaker.

The Leader of the House may know that between 1952 and 1991, an estimated 22,000 men were involved in 45 nuclear weapons tests overseas. Many have reported rare cancers, sterility, miscarriages for their wives, or birth defects in their children. Sadly, the UK is one of the only nuclear powers on earth that has so far denied recognition of any sort to its nuclear test veterans. Will the Leader of the House request that the Prime Minister meets nuclear test veterans, as the Leader of the Opposition has, and subsequently arrange for the Defence Secretary to make a statement to the House outlining the steps he will take to ensure that these veterans and their families finally receive the recognition and support they deserve?

The nation owes a great debt to those who keep us safe, and we have been kept safe by our nuclear deterrent now for many decades; it is a fundamental part of our defence strategy. The 22,000 men involved between 1952 and 1991 are people who deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. I will of course pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence what the hon. Lady has had to say about any proposals or anything that can be done for the people who were involved in these tests.

My right hon. Friend will know, because I have raised the matter with him in the House on a number of occasions, that residents living in Steinbeck Grange in Warrington believe they were mis-sold leasehold properties by David Wilson Homes more than 10 years ago. I welcome the work that the Competition and Markets Authority is undertaking to investigate these complaints, but my constituents and others around the country have an understandable need for the Government to take action to legislate to tackle historical problems.

May we have a debate in Government time on what actions the Government can take to support my constituents, particularly by looking at the use of incentivised solicitor arrangements, where discounts are offered for homebuyers to use friendly law firms that then disappear, leaving homebuyers with no opportunity to challenge their lawyers if they did not disclose the facts at the time of purchase?

The last point that my hon. Friend raised sounds almost like fraud. If somebody is proposing a solicitor who is not a real solicitors company and there is no comeback on the firm, that sounds like an extreme level of malpractice.

I can assure my hon. Friend that Her Majesty’s Government are committed to promoting fairness and transparency for homeowners and ensuring that consumers are protected from abuse and poor service. The Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill is currently making its way through the House of Lords and will end ground rents for new qualifying long residential leasehold properties in England and Wales, which is a major change to property law. It is encouraging that the Competition and Markets Authority is taking enforcement action to tackle certain instances of mis-selling, but I encourage my hon. Friend keep campaigning on this and particularly raising that very troubling issue of vanishing solicitors.

The tireless campaigners of the South East Northumberland Rail User Group say that the recent proposals for changes to the east coast main line timetables will make our national, regional and local journeys more difficult, and that the consultation supposes that the only place we want to travel is London. I can guarantee the Leader of the House that that is not the case. Morpeth station will lose 21 daily services, while Pegswood will add none to its total of three stops. The consultation is fragmented, disjointed and inaccessible. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on the detrimental impact of these proposals, and on how cutting links between northern towns and cities simply to shave 15 minutes off the travel time from Edinburgh to London helps level up our region?

Obviously the only place that people want to travel to is Somerset. The idea that everyone wants to travel to London is, I think, a mistaken one, so I am in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. I think he raises a really important point. These timetabling changes are very difficult, and he is also right that it is important that there are good connections within regions and not just to London, so I will take up his points with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Culvers House Primary School in Hackbridge in my Carshalton and Wallington constituency, after pupils wrote to me to raise concerns about the levels of plastic pollution around the world. They told me more about why this issue is so important to them, so can we have a debate about plastic pollution so that we can discuss and hear more about the UK’s efforts to crack down on it?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his assiduous work in his constituency, which I had the pleasure of visiting not that long ago. The Government have done many things, with some inconvenience to consumers. We have accepted the price to be paid in banning plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, and also in increasing the tax on plastic bags to 10p per bag. The 5p tax has cut usage by 95%, and there will be a new tax coming in from April 2022 for products that do not have at least 30% recycled content, so great steps are being made for unnecessary plastic, but I think he is right to suggest that the subject should be debated, because one should not forget how important it has been to have plastic for personal protective equipment during the course of the pandemic. It is about ensuring that plastic is used for good and essential purposes, and not ones where other materials are available, but I am afraid it will not be a debate in Government time; I think this is another request for the Backbench Business Committee.

Yesterday, this House debated for an hour the horrendous abuse suffered by three young black England players at the hands of, in the main, anonymous, faceless trolls. While I accept the intent—perhaps the good intent—of the Government to bring forward the online harms legislation later this year, does the Leader of the House agree that the main issue pertaining to online abuse is anonymity? Unfortunately, the Bill in its current form does not deal with those who want to hide behind the cloak of anonymity for purely abusive reasons. Does he agree that if this Government really want to get serious about tackling online abuse, the Bill must take anonymity into account?

The hon. Lady raises an important, but complex point. It is right to say that anonymity allows people to behave on social media in a way that they would not behave if they were named, and it is fascinating how many people, when something embarrassing has gone up, insist that their social media account was hacked to try to pretend that it was not them. As soon as people get found out, they immediately try and get away from responsibility for it, so I think anonymity is a problem, but there are occasions when anonymity could be important. It could be important for a whistleblower—somebody exposing corruption or other wrongdoing—so it is right that there should be pre-legislative scrutiny so that we can try to get this balance right and allow for anonymity where it will actually be beneficial. But if people want to say things on social media, they should have the courage of their convictions and put their name to it. As Members of this House, we all know that when we get anonymous letters, they are usually the rudest ones. They are usually the ones where people are ashamed really of what they are saying, which is why they do not dare put their name to it.

Since taking control of North East Lincolnshire Council two years ago, the Conservative administration had made great strides in delivering what was the first town deal and attracting new investments, particularly in the renewable energy sector. A vital part of the area’s levelling up agenda is to improve the education and training of our young people in practical skills and academic performance, and also to overcome losing the scores of pupils who travel a few miles down the road to the county council area, which has retained its grammar schools. With that in mind, the council would like to establish a school based on academic selection. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Education to make a statement explaining the Government’s policy and how it can assist the council in delivering on its ambitions?

May I first congratulate my hon. Friend, who is absolutely tireless? He is very modest in giving all the credit to the local council, because everyone in this House knows that everything that goes right in Cleethorpes is thanks to his campaigning efforts, energy, vim and vigour. He is right to say that existing grammar schools continue but that the law prevents the establishment of new selective schools. Wherever a local authority has identified a need for a new school, it must run a competition to establish a new free school. The local authority publishes a specification for a new school and invites bids from sponsors to run the school. However, he makes a very valuable point that I will of course take up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, although I encourage him to apply for an Adjournment debate to raise this specific issue, on behalf of his council, on the Floor of the House.

Will the Leader of the House ask Ministry of Justice Ministers to make a written statement about what is happening in the probate service? My constituent Mrs Dixon started probate in May 2020. Fourteen months on, she has yet to receive a satisfactory response from the probate service. This is not because of disputes within the family or because of issues with wills; it is because her paperwork has been lost by the probate service and has then been transferred between offices across the United Kingdom so that staff within the service were not able to confirm who was leading on her probate. This is clearly not acceptable in what can only be described as a truly distressing time under normal circumstances, never mind in a pandemic. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could make some inquiries and ensure that this is not a wider problem within the probate service, which is under enormous pressure because of the scale of the number of loved ones lost over the past 18 months.

My deepest sympathies go to Mrs Dixon. It must be terribly difficult when dealing with a death in the family then to find that probate is not working efficiently and that she is being passed from pillar to post. On the assumption that the hon. Gentleman has already been in touch with the Lord Chancellor and his Department, I will take this up with the Department immediately after business questions to try to ensure that at least he gets an answer in relation to Mrs Dixon, although I cannot necessarily promise a statement on the wider issues concerning the probate service.

We now go by video link to James Murray. [Hon. Members: “He’s here!”] Oh, we don’t. It tells me here that you are virtual, Mr Murray, but here you are.

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is a pleasure to be here in person.

We in Ealing North could not be more proud of our local hero Bukayo Saka. He grew up in Greenford, he went to Edward Betham Primary School and Greenford High School, and at the age of 19 he has now shown courage and bravery that is inspiring to us all. In the last few days, local people have rushed to thank him and honour him and to stand united against those who have subjected him and his teammates to online racist abuse. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to come to the House of Commons so that they can finally apologise for not backing the England team when they took the knee to oppose racism?

First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on managing to achieve what Padre Pio used to do, which is bilocation. It is an indication of great sanctity; that he should be both virtual and physical at the same time is a miracle in this very House. To come to his issue, he takes the same pride in Mr Saka from his constituency as I do in Mr Mings being a Somerset man. I think across the country we take pride in the British football team, even those of us like me who normally do not know one bit of the shape of a football from the other. It has united the whole country in an interest in football even for those who have not previously had it. When he was here yesterday, the Prime Minister made absolutely clear not only his support for the team but his condemnation of racism in football, which is likewise something that unites the House.

Even after lockdown release, the events industry will take some time to properly get back on its feet. It was fantastic to see the Great Yorkshire Show taking place in Harrogate this week, but it is operating at 50% capacity. There are other important events and event organisations, such as Harrogate International Festivals, that have been severely impacted. I am aware that we have talked about this sector before, but events and circumstances are evolving, so could we have please a further debate on long-term support for the events industry? It adds so much to the quality of life in the United Kingdom and it may need extra help in the future.

I very much sympathise with my hon. Friend. Business events are vital for the UK economy, directly contributing over £31 billion each year prior to the pandemic. They also support a vast supply chain and stimulate valuable trade opportunities. The events research programme plays an important role in our work fully to reopen the sector, with another business event pilot set to take place at the Harrogate Convention Centre next week. The Government know how badly the sector has been hit by the pandemic and will continue to encourage and engage with people to monitor the situation and try to support a recovery plan. I accept that this will be a longer-term effort, but I think that beginning to get back to normal from Monday will begin to be helpful.

Can we take it from the Leader of the House’s comments in response to the shadow Leader of the House that if this Chamber is indeed a crowded place next Wednesday at Prime Minister’s questions, he will be following his own Government’s advice and wearing a mask?

My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of the campaigners Natasha Rattu and the team at Karma Nirvana, Sara Browne and the team at IKWRO Women’s Rights Organisation, and Natasha Feroze and the team at MEWSO, the Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation, who have been working with me and my team on a private Member’s Bill last year and amendments to the Health and Care Bill in this Session to end so-called virginity testing and hymenoplasty. I pay particular tribute to Naomi Wiseman and Dr Charlotte Proudman, who have been helping me on that. However, along with many other Members, I did not get the chance to speak in yesterday’s Second Reading debate on the Health and Care Bill, so will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on so-called virginity testing and hymenoplasty, along with other issues of violence against women and girls, at the earliest opportunity?

I would point my hon. Friend to the end-of-session Adjournment debate next Thursday, which will be an opportunity to raise any issues that he wishes to. May I commend him for the work that he is doing to bring forward a private Member’s Bill? I am sorry that he did not have the opportunity to speak in the debate yesterday. I am aware of the pressures on time, so I am quite pleased that there will be two days for the Second Reading debate on the Nationality and Borders Bill next week, because supply and demand do not always match in this House.

May we have a debate in Government time on the issues surrounding quad bike use, with a view to exploring the banning of their on-road use? Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing both Castleford Tigers and St Helens the very best of luck this weekend at the rugby league challenge cup final at Wembley, where I am sure we will see the very best of our sporting values at play, both on and off the field?

Yes, indeed, I would love to wish both sides every good fortune at the challenge cup final, and I am sure there will be impeccable behaviour. I hope that the hon. Lady will be in the box, watching and cheering on one of the sides.

As regards quad bike use on roads, I notice in North East Somerset that it is sometimes convenient for farmers to go on roads on their quad bikes, so I would be reluctant to advocate a complete ban, but it is obviously important that all road users are safe.

Millions of people across the United Kingdom depend on the BBC for impartial news being pumped into their living rooms. Indeed, people across the world depend on the BBC and trust it to be truly impartial. I have regularly received complaints about the lack of impartiality, about BBC News and about the bias that seems to be held in particular ways, but there is clear concern about the potential appointment of the ex-Huffington Post editor Jess Brammer as news editor for the BBC. Could the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on the requirement for BBC News to be impartial, and to reflect the news rather than the opinions of those who preside over it?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. I think the message to the BBC is that Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. It is crucial that the BBC is not only impartial but seen to be impartial. The BBC must ask itself, if it is going to make an appointment from the Huffington Post, whether it would make an appointment from the Guido Fawkes website, a similar news outlet, except a rather more accurate one, on the right rather than on the left. I think the BBC would be astonished by my suggestion. Would it make an appointment from Conservative Home or from The Daily Telegraph? It seems unlikely, and therefore it is problematic when the BBC looks at left-wing outlets and thinks that that is impartiality.

I also think that it is more serious than that, because the BBC has a number of dedicated, really good quality journalists, who are genuinely important—the Laura Kuenssbergs, the Martha Kearneys and the James Landales of this world. One has no idea of their political opinions at all, and rightly so. That is the model of the BBC. That is the best of the BBC, and people like that are undermined if Caesar’s wife is seen to be suspect.

The night-time economy is very important for Liverpool, and the Baltic Triangle is hugely important to Liverpool’s cultural offering and nightlife. The agents of change principle was embedded in the national planning policy framework in 2018. It was designed to protect music and cultural spaces from noise complaints and potential closure in the event of new residential properties being developed beside venues. However, it is only advisory and not working in practice, so a well-loved and important music venue in my constituency, 24 Kitchen Street, now faces closure owing to neighbouring property developments. Will the Leader of the House provide a debate in Government time on how to strengthen the protection of pre-existing venues and businesses within the planning system?

I understand the importance of the night-time economy more broadly, and note the hon. Lady’s reference to the Baltic Triangle in her city. My concern may be equal but different. People move into villages and then complain about the church bells and the church clock chiming. I think frankly that is idiotic. If one moves in somewhere, one must put up with what is there already, and one should not be able to stop things that have been going on for hundreds of years, in some cases. Some people move to the countryside and complain about cocks crowing. Why on earth did they move to the countryside? Why did they not stay in a town, or put ear plugs in or something? I am very sympathetic to what the hon. Lady is saying. I cannot promise her a debate in Government time, but I will ensure that her very good point is raised in the right quarter.

On Monday evening, my constituency suffered from extreme flooding, with Portobello Road in effect becoming a river and more than 2,500 reports of flooding being logged. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our drainage and sewerage systems need to be able to cope with thunderstorms, and the water companies need to do everything to achieve that end?

Indeed I do. Flooding causes devastation for communities, homes and businesses. Local flood risk management, including surface water, falls to local flood authorities—county and unitary authorities—which must identify and manage those risks as part of their local flood risk management strategy. I understand that Thames Water is building a huge super sewer around London, which I hope will be better able to cope with flooding or sudden storms when they come, rather than having the marvellous sewer built by Bazalgette in the 19th century overwhelmed. My hon. Friend raises a point that is of great concern to Members across the House. In a country such as ours, with the rainfall that we have, we need to be able to cope with storms.

I will now suspend the House for three minutes in order that arrangements can be made for the next item of business.

Sitting suspended.

Bills presented

Tibet and Xinjiang (Reciprocal Access) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Tim Loughton, supported by Sir Peter Bottomley, Chris Law, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Christine Jardine, Ms Nusrat Ghani, Jim Shannon, Henry Smith, Chris Bryant, Wera Hobhouse, Marion Fellows, and Dame Diana Johnson presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to report annually on restrictions on access by UK nationals to Tibet and Xinjiang in comparison with other regions of China; to make provision to deny persons involved in imposing such restrictions permission to enter the UK; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time Friday 18 March 2022, and to be printed (Bill 148) with explanatory notes (Bill 148-EN).

Children (Access to Treatment) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Bambos Charalambous presented a Bill to make provision about children’s access to medical services; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time Friday 19 November 2021, and to be printed (Bill 149) with explanatory notes (Bill 149-EN).