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Commons Chamber

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 2 December 2021

House of Commons

Thursday 2 December 2021

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Israel: Trade Co-operation

1. What progress she has made in discussions with her Israeli counterpart on an agreement for further trade co-operation beyond the trade continuity deal. (904513)

I welcome the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) to his place. It is a pleasure to be working with him, and I look forward to discussing some of the many exciting things that will be going on in the Department for International Trade in the months ahead.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) is aware, on Monday the Prime Minister announced plans to enhance our trade and investment relationship with Israel. Last week, I held productive talks with the Israeli ambassador on the matter, and I look forward to strengthening that important trading relationship.

As the Prime Minister rightly said on Monday, our close co-operation with Israel on security, science and technology benefits not only our two respective nations, but the entire world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new strategic agreement signed between the UK and Israel will further enhance those ties over the next decade, and will she update the House on when we can expect the consultation period for the new bilateral free trade deal to begin?

The strategic agreement signed with Israel is the starting post for a series of activities that will deepen our trading relationship. We will be opening a public consultation on our enhanced bilateral free trade agreement in January, and we look forward to hearing the views of businesses and stakeholders across the UK on their priorities for that deal. We will also be hosting a joint innovation summit with our Israeli friends in March next year, in order to support new technology ideas.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the huge dynamic in Israeli universities? Will she make every effort, including with resources, to encourage partnerships between UK and Israeli universities, in terms of research, development and innovation?

As I said, we will be hosting a joint innovation summit in March with our Israeli friends in those areas of research and development, as mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. How we can work together between our universities is very much on our list of priorities, and I am also working closely with the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that we link in the international relationships that we want to grow with Israel.

Free Trade Agreements

For the first time in 50 years, we are an independent trading nation, able to strike deals around the world. We have already secured trade deals with 70 countries, plus the EU, covering trade worth £766 billion last year, and we are just getting started. We have secured an agreement-in-principle with Australia and New Zealand, and we continue to work on a deal with the US. We are preparing for negotiations with India, Canada, and Mexico, and we have also launched a public consultation on a deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council. As we have heard from the Secretary of State, we are due to begin work early next year on an enhanced and improved free trade agreement with Israel.

Warner’s Distillery, based in the village of Harrington in the Kettering constituency is the largest independent craft-based gin distillery in the country, and it is seeking to export even more of its wonderful product. Is it not the case that businesses that export are more profitable, productive and resilient, and is it not exciting for businesses such as Warner’s Distillery, and other businesses in Kettering, that more free trade agreements are coming down the track?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Across north Northamptonshire, businesses such as Warner’s Distillery are exporting some £1.5 billion of goods around the world, as measured in 2019. I am confident that the trade deals we are signing globally will benefit more businesses just like Warner’s, to create opportunities and support jobs in my hon. Friend’s corner of the country, and beyond.

The Minister will know that the ratio between damage from Brexit and the trade deals is substantial. Indeed, in terms of pounds, there is £490 of Brexit damage for a £1 gain from the New Zealand deal, £2 gain from Australia, £8 gain from the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, and £20 gain from America, if that comes together. If all that happens, it comes to about £31. Where will the Minister find the £459 of Brexit damage that the trade deals cannot make up?

We are working for every corner of our United Kingdom, backing British businesses. We are supporting Scottish jobs as much as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, at a time when the SNP wants to cut itself off from its largest market, the British internal market. The truth is that the SNP is anti-trade. Not only does it want to cut itself off from the United Kingdom, but it does not back any trade deal with anyone.

The point and purpose of trade deals—I hope the Minister will agree—is that they are not static, and the forecasts are just an indication of what will come; they will be able to grow and develop. Can the Minister reassure the House that the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership offers an opportunity for the UK to expand its businesses and its exports across the country?

My hon. Friend is of course right; the TPP offers a great opportunity to access a fast-growing part of the world as part of our Indo-Pacific tilt, as detailed in our integrated review. The opportunity to engage with this part of the world, where there is a growing middle class and increased demand for our products, goods and services, is one that we should seize.

Free trade negotiations with the US are vital to lifting Donald Trump’s tariffs on British steel and aluminium exports, which in turn are crucial to protecting jobs and businesses in communities across our country. Given that the US has already agreed to lift tariffs on many EU steel products, if we are to get a level playing field for our firms and our workers, might it not be time for Lord Frost to be given a little help to stop bungling discussions with the EU so that this vital US-UK trade deal can be sorted?

We will always stand up for the British national interest, and that includes with the European Union. We will make sure that our United Kingdom remains strong and can trade with the world. The truth is that America’s unjustified tariffs on UK steel, aluminium and derivatives are unfair and unnecessary as those imports do not harm US national security, so we will continue to make representations to back British businesses.

British Exports

The Secretary of State announced a refreshed export strategy—Made in Britain, Sold to the World—on 17 November during International Trade Week. This business-centred 12-point plan is designed to transform our support for exporters, encourage them to sell to the world and accelerate our race to £1 trillion-worth of exports per year.

I welcome that new strategy. The port of King’s Lynn handles half a million tonnes of exports of barley and other high-quality agricultural products as well as imports, and it has just had one of its busiest years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the investment that Associated British Ports is making in new facilities to support the growing demand for timber from the construction sector and other supply chains is a vote of confidence in Norfolk and will help our economy to bounce back?

I welcome ABP’s investment in King’s Lynn and was glad to hear of the new Vancouver timber terminal, which I understand will open on Monday, representing £1.4 million of investment. With 95% of the UK’s trade facilitated by the maritime sector, our ports are integral to UK trade and to the success of our Made in Britain, Sold to the World strategy.

I am sure that the Minister, like me, has been incredibly impressed by the small and medium-sized businesses that are looking to export to new markets. What support is available for a business such as N’Genius, which is based in my Warrington South constituency and has patented a new high-strength stainless steel that can revolutionise engineering and construction? How can this Government help it export that UK innovation to the rest of the world?

Our new export strategy is a 12-point plan focused on tackling the barriers to trade faced by SMEs. We are opening markets and supporting companies through the export support service, which provides a single point of entry to DIT support for SMEs. This new service will direct businesses to services such as those provided by UK Export Finance, the UK Export Academy and our pilot UK trade show programme. I am happy to connect N’Genius to one of our international trade advisers for further assistance.

Growing British exports has a key role in our levelling-up agenda. I am particularly proud of some world-class textile, engineering, sheet metal fabricators and food and drink businesses in my Yorkshire constituency. What more can the Minister and his Department do to support my world-class Yorkshire businesses to export to the world?

Our export strategy will ensure that those companies in Yorkshire will be supported through all stages of their exporting journey, whether through the UK Export Academy, the advice of our global network of international trade experts, or the financial support or export credit provided by UK Export Finance. In my recent visit to Leeds, I met our excellent team of international trade advisers there. Again, I am more than happy to put them in contact with my hon. Friend to provide additional support.

Exports from Northern Ireland to Ireland were €2.8 billion in the first nine months of this year, up 60% on the same period in 2020. Does the Minister agree that while Brexit has been an export disaster for GB, it has certainly been a boon for exports from Northern Ireland?

The President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for International Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) took the Board of Trade to a meeting in Ireland. I am sure that that issue was discussed. If the hon. Gentleman would like to know more details of what we are doing to support mutual trade, I am more than happy to have a discussion with him.

When negotiating free trade agreements, the Government must promote and protect the interests of industries across the UK. What steps are the Government taking to protect the interests of Scottish agriculture in future negotiations?

The Department for International Trade is always looking to protect our own industries and sectors, including the agricultural sector, while ensuring that they are able to exploit new markets. In terms of beef and lamb, our teams are working hard to ensure that the new markets we are opening up will be available to Scottish farmers. Again, if the hon. Lady would like to know more about the support we are able to offer, I am very happy to facilitate that discussion.

I thank the Minister for his responses, but bearing in mind the fears of our farmers and farmers’ unions following the New Zealand deal, will he outline what steps have been taken with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs at the Northern Ireland Assembly to promote our British produce exports to global markets affected by the New Zealand deal?

My understanding is that there are regular and frequent conversations between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and DAERA. I am more than happy to ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets details of those discussions if he has any specific concerns he wishes to have addressed.

Labour Shortages: Exports and Imports

4. What recent assessment her Department has made of the impact of labour shortages on UK (a) export and (b) import levels. (904518)

As the global economy has rebounded from the pandemic, we have seen pressures placed on supply chains across sectors and across the world. It is this Government who have taken quick and decisive action across the United Kingdom to ease those pressures where immediate interventions have been required.

The Minister is redefining “quick and decisive”. An Aviva study indicates that more than seven out of 10 businesses are worried about skills shortages and 25% of businesses said their biggest risk is the uncertainty caused by Brexit. The temporary visa scheme for poultry workers has now closed and only nine people applied to join the Government scheme designed to boost the number of fuel tanker drivers, out of an intended 300. Given the failure of those schemes, why will the Government not consider devolving immigration powers, which could deliver the stronger labour market they profess to want but in reality are actively frustrating?

I am afraid that SNP Members have not woken up to the reality of the opportunities that we now have to trade around the world as part of being an independent trading nation. The hon. Gentleman refers to tanker drivers. Some 5,000 visas have been made available for HGV drivers for a three-month period to provide short-term relief. We have gone further. The long-term sustainable solution is to support and develop our domestic workforce, and to improve the pay and conditions in the sector. That is why the Government are working to correct the structural problems in the haulage industry. We are increasing testing availability by 50,000 a year. We are streamlining the process for efficiency and we are committing £17 million in free skills boot camps for HGV drivers.

The problem that the Minister has is that the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK is happening now. It is already causing huge disruption and we are all anxious to ensure that the situation does not get worse in the run-up to Christmas. Will the Minister tell us how many of the 5,000 temporary worker visas that the Government made available to overseas lorry drivers in September have been allocated?

We are not going to provide a running commentary on numbers, but what I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that this is not a problem faced only by the United Kingdom. He is so keen always to talk about our friends across the channel, so he will know that France has a shortage of 40,000 drivers, Germany has a shortage of 60,000 drivers, and Poland has a shortage of 120,000 drivers.

I find it extraordinary that the Minister was unable to tell us how many visas have been allocated to overseas HGV drivers. We were told in October that it was just 20; I wonder what the figure is now. The reality is that the Wine and Spirit Trade Association warns of “delivery chaos”, of

“major delays on wine and spirit delivery times”

up to five times longer than last year and increases in freight costs—no doubt that will not affect parties in Downing Street. Does he want to be responsible for cancelling Christmas celebrations elsewhere, because if not, he needs to give a much better answer than the one he just gave?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not realised that this is not Transport questions, but International Trade questions—I am sure that his new shadow ministerial colleagues will raise questions with Transport Ministers in due course. We continue to see businesses thriving, including in the wine and spirit industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) pointed out.

Eight out of 10 businesses in Scotland say that they need to recruit staff, yet three quarters are reporting skills shortages. Businesses cannot export what they can neither make nor supply, yet the Government’s already tired 12-point plan, which has been mentioned this morning, has nothing to cover workforce shortages or dealing with them. Will the Minister explain why?

Again, this is International Trade questions, but I am happy to provide an answer on behalf of the Government. We are putting significant resources into training people up to develop our domestic workforce. My understanding is that many people are very keen to find a new job potentially in a new industry. This Government will help them to do that.

Clearly, the Government are keen to duck all these issues relating to trade. The Federation of Small Businesses reported to a Committee in this Parliament that a fifth of its members have ceased trading with the UK’s biggest export market—the EU—either temporarily or permanently due to bureaucracy or costs, yet the 12-point plan contains nothing to deal with that issue. The Government’s priorities are clearly elsewhere. Tory cronies are queuing up for a Christmas come early to get contracts and big donors are fairly leaping into the Lords. Why are backbone businesses being short-changed and served only a thin gruel?

I know that the hon. Gentleman’s Twitter followers will be happy with that statement. The truth is that we have secured trade deals with 70 countries around the world, and the EU. The EU deal is the best deal that it has ever secured with anyone. A zero-tariff, zero-quota deal has been done with no one bar the United Kingdom, and we look forward to trading with not only them, but new markets, as I have outlined.

Trade Deals: Animal Welfare and Environmental Standards

6. What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on (a) animal welfare and (b) environmental standards into future trade deals. (904523)

Oh, that question is for me as well—thank you, Mr Speaker. I am delighted with the interest from Opposition Members in trade matters.

Her Majesty’s Government share the British public’s high regard for animal welfare and environmental standards. We have agreed ground-breaking animal welfare provisions with Australia and New Zealand, including stand-alone chapters reflecting the importance of animal welfare in those agreements. We have secured ambitious environmental chapters that preserve our right to regulate to meet net zero, affirm our shared commitment to the Paris agreement and will help us to co-operate on a range of environmental issues.

My residents in Twickenham are deeply concerned about both the ethics and the quality of the food that they eat, and they have written to me in their hundreds about protecting standards in future trade deals. They also want to protect British farmers, yet farmers across the country, from Cumbria to Shropshire to Cornwall, are being let down by trade deals that threaten to undercut them. If the Minister truly backs British farming and high food standards, why will he not give a cast-iron guarantee to protect them in future trade deals?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady has clearly not been at previous Trade questions. Britain has secured agreement in principle on free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, following deals with the European economic area and Japan that will maintain Britain’s high levels of environmental protection and facilitate trade in goods and services for those farmers.

Foreign Investment: South Yorkshire

We are dedicated to facilitating international investment into all regions of the UK, including South Yorkshire, where we work with stakeholders across the region to identify and promote opportunities with high potential, including—my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear—one in Doncaster, focused on the rail sector.

I have spoken to national and international companies about investment in Doncaster, mainly at two sites: DN7 at Thorne and GatewayEast around Doncaster Sheffield airport. I even personally managed to secure a visit to Doncaster from Apple’s UK representative; it was fantastic for him to come up. What steps has the Department taken to encourage international companies to invest in Doncaster?

We have invested heavily and are building close relationships with the Mayor and the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to support investment into the region. Details of capital investment projects such as GatewayEast will soon be added to the investment atlas that was published as part of the global investment summit.

Investment in South Yorkshire is important, but even more important is investment in northern Lincolnshire. Could the Minister give an assurance that he will work closely with me and with businesses in northern Lincolnshire, particularly to develop the renewable energy sector, in which we have great expertise?

I think my hon. Friend was campaigning for a rail line last time we spoke about the area.

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we will continue to give his area access to the export support scheme, the export champions, the Export Academy and our vast network of international trade advisers.

Trade Deals: Environmental Standards

8. What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on environmental standards into future trade deals. (904525)

12. What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on environmental standards into future trade deals. (904531)

The Minister claims that environmental protection is a priority in trade negotiations, but that simply does not resonate with the Department’s actions. In the Government’s desperation for a trade deal with Australia, they agreed to water down limited reference to climate change. Australia’s current commitments are consistent with 4° of global warming, far off the international 1.5° target. How is that at all consistent with the Government’s moral commitment to fight the climate emergency?

I am pleased to reassure the hon. Lady that the environment chapter will break new ground for the United Kingdom. Our agreement in principle includes real commitments to work together more closely on a whole host of areas. The truth is that we are leading the world in the area; we were the first country in the world to legislate for net zero, and we will continue in our endeavours to protect our environment for our children and grandchildren.

We cannot claim to have reached genuine net zero as a country, or even to have a plan to do so, until we take into account the impact of our imports on global carbon emissions. Will the Department for International Trade therefore agree to consider the evidence gathered by the Environmental Audit Committee in its inquiry into carbon border taxes? Better still, will the Department initiate an inquiry of its own?

Her Majesty’s Government welcome input from all parliamentary Committees of this House and will always look closely at all recommendations made, but I would highlight examples of how we are actually delivering on the agenda. We are working with countries such as Brazil and others to support how we reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment, through building new dialogues with agricultural producers and consumers through COP26 and beyond. We aim to support those collaborative actions and ultimately to reduce the impact of agriculture on carbon-rich ecosystems such as rainforests. This is an important area and we will continue to work very hard on it.

The UK-Australia agreement in principle marked the first time that Australia had ever agreed to a specific reference to the Paris agreement in a free trade agreement. Does my hon. Friend agree that trade is an effective way of encouraging other countries to bring their environmental protection standards up to the high levels of our own?

I commend my hon. Friend for his research. He is absolutely right: this is an important part of our wider diplomacy. Economic diplomacy is crucial to making sure that we spread British values around the world, including protections for the environment. As economies develop, they will of course want to seek the technologies that we have in this country to decarbonise and improve the quality of life for their people, too.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am also grateful to the Secretary of State for her welcome. I look forward to our debates on the crucial importance of trade to our national economy and, indeed, to promoting our values around the world.

The objective of the New Zealand-led international agreement on climate change, trade and sustainability is to break down global barriers to trade in green goods and services and eliminate the subsidies that are propping up fossil fuel producers. The Secretary of State announced last week that the UK would not be taking part in this crucial initiative. Can the Minister explain why?

I, too, welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his place. He is right—the United Kingdom is not currently considering joining the negotiations on that agreement—but we will continue to work with partners to establish how such plurilateral initiatives can help to support discussions at the World Trade Organisation. We will also continue to work closely with our partners on wider trade and environment matters, both through bilateral dialogue and through multilateral forums. That is how we believe we can secure the best results for not only the British people but the world.

The Government have not made an inch of progress on green trade in any of the bilateral trade agreements signed since 2019, so why should we put faith in that now? The Board of Trade itself has said:

“There are two main ways that trade can accelerate the green transition: liberalising green trade; and reducing market distortions”.

Does the Minister accept that that is exactly what the New Zealand agreement does, and if so, does he not think that now is the time to show global leadership and not to stay on the sidelines?

We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the environment receives the full attention of Her Majesty’s Government, but we will also seek to end other environmentally wasteful practices that arise from other state actors, such as the subsidising of the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing sectors that exist in some countries, and we will press for the successful conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiation. That demonstrates that we are working across a number of areas, not just the one to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.

Trade with the EU

UK trade in goods with the EU has been increasing this year. According to the latest data available, goods exports in September were up by 5.7% on those in the previous month.

Between 2019 and 2021, the value of exports from Scotland decreased by 24%. In England the figure was 12%, in Wales it was 24%, and in the north of Ireland it was 15%. This follows a period of steady decline since 2018. It is economic vandalism. There is hardly a sector in the country that does not attribute at least some of the blame for its difficulties to Brexit. What agreement that removes all tariff and non-tariff barriers do the Government plan to make with another country that can account for 48% of all UK trade?

Goods exports between Scotland and the European Union were up 4% in quarter 2 compared with the same period last year. We are getting growth back after a period of dealing with the pandemic and other shocks to the global economy, and I ask the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to start focusing on those opportunities. I have had discussions this week with representatives of pretty much every other political party—I have talked to parliamentarians, metro Mayors, local enterprise partnerships and all sorts of bodies around the country in preparing for the further negotiations that we will have in the forthcoming weeks—but I have not heard a peep from his party.

If the members of the Minister’s party had not cold-shouldered the positive and constructive suggestions made by the Scottish Government immediately after the referendum—if they had even bothered to open and read the document—we might not be in the mess that we are in now.

This month, our figure has improved slightly from an all-time low, which is nothing to celebrate. Exports of food and drink from the United Kingdom to Europe have halved. The Food and Drink Federation has described that as a “disaster” and said that there have been only tiny gains in other markets. There was never going to be a Brexit that would be good for British businesses, but why do the Government not finally come clean and admit that their botched handling of Brexit has made the position even worse?

I ask the hon. Gentleman: what possible good could come from plugging every part of the UK economy back into the global economy, including the trading powerhouses of the future in emerging parts of the world? What possible good could come from championing a free trade policy globally that would end trade distortions and lift millions of people out of poverty? What good could come of that? I urge his party to get focused on those opportunities and to work with us and enable us to work with the businesses in his constituency to seize those opportunities. The country has decided that that is the future for the United Kingdom. I do wish that he would get on board.

Is it not interesting that my right hon. Friend highlights the recent increase in exports to the European Union, in stark contrast to the doom and gloom that we heard from our opponents, who are saying that there will be a catastrophe and collapse in trade? Will she focus on the countries in central and eastern Europe and the Three Seas initiative—some of the fastest-growing countries on our continent—and build strong bilateral trade agreements with countries such as Poland and others?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the opportunities that exist there. Clearly, we had good news recently on exports, but we also had fantastic news about inward investment and he is right to be optimistic. I think that our businesses are going to thrive in this new environment. There are some challenges that we have to address, but they are being addressed and we can see from the numbers that this is paying off.

New Zealand Trade Agreement

11. What assessment her Department has made of the potential impact on UK farmers and crofters of the planned UK trade agreement with New Zealand. (904529)

This deal brings new opportunities to agricultural producers, making it easier to trade with New Zealand. It is a gateway to joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—the CPTPP—a high-standard free trade agreement involving 11 Pacific nations. This will create new export opportunities for British farmers to those markets.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have to say to the Minister that her confidence is not shared by hill farmers and crofters, or by the National Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union of Scotland. If the Government are confident in their assessment of the opportunities and threats from this agreement, will they commission an economic and environmental impact assessment, independent of Government, to show that they are correct?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this will be independently scrutinised, and there is obviously the Trade and Agriculture Commission as well. We have ensured that any reports are produced in good time for all the relevant Select Committees of this House to scrutinise them. There are tremendous opportunities. I also work closely with my counterparts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we are dealing with the genuine concerns of that sector, and we will continue to do so as the negotiations and deals progress.

Obviously the concerns of farmers and crofters will have to be addressed as the final agreement comes into place, but does my right hon. Friend agree that counter-seasonality offers a huge opportunity for British farmers to enter into agreements with farmers in New Zealand, so that markets across the world can be supplied all year round?

There are certainly opportunities through that to grow the market further still. I also think that we have to dispel some myths. It is not the case that the market is going to be flooded with New Zealand lamb. New Zealand already has tariff-free access through its WTO quota, of which it uses only half, so it is not the case that those things are going to come to pass. There are some massive opportunities and it is those opportunities that we need to focus on.

Exports: Financial Services

14. What recent steps her Department has taken to increase the export of British financial services. (904533)

15. What recent steps her Department has taken to increase the export of British financial services. (904534)

With colleagues in the Treasury, we are committed to championing export opportunities for our world-class financial services sector. We have done this through targeted export campaigns supporting specific UK financial services, as well as through signing ambitious free trade agreements that are reducing market access barriers and opening new doors for great British businesses to sell their services worldwide.

Financial services are so important to our economy, providing high-paid jobs and earning a substantial amount of revenue. We have done really well on our trade deals and it is vital that financial services are an important factor when we secure them. Will the Minister assure me that that is first and foremost in the Government’s mind?

We share my hon. Friend’s ambition to ensure that the UK remains a global hub for services and digital trade, which is why we are striking a series of advanced, high-standard FTAs with leading nations around the world. We have already made progress: our FTA with Japan provides greater benefits for financial services than the EU-Japan FTA, and includes provisions to ban unjustified data localisation and to support regulatory co-operation. Our recently signed FTA with Australia also includes an ambitious financial services chapter that will enable businesses to build on the £800 million-worth of financial services exported to Australia in 2020. So, Mr Speaker, the answer is yes.

Financial services account for more than 10% of our total tax take and are responsible for more than 1 million jobs throughout the country. Financial services are important not only to my constituents in Kensington but to Scotland, including Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow, and to Newcastle, Leeds, Bristol and Chelmsford. Does my hon. Friend agree that financial services need to be priorities in all future trade agreements to secure best market access?

We are absolutely committed to prioritising British financial services in FTAs. I am sure that my hon. Friend, as the Government’s trade envoy to Iceland and Norway—a role that she fulfils with her usual vigour—will be pleased to see our commitment in practice in the UK’s recently signed FTA with Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, which benefits financial services.

Office for National Statistics data shows that services trade with the European Union is down 28%—the Minister neglected to mention that in his long response. So could he say where we are in terms of negotiations with the EU on equivalence for our financial sector?

I will have to refer the hon. Gentleman to discussions with colleagues. I will write back to him.

Aluminium Extrusions

16. What assessment she has made of the potential effect on UK industry of the Trade Remedies Authority’s investigation into aluminium extrusions. (904535)

It is an ongoing independent investigation by the Trade Remedies Authority. Although the authority indicated last month what it is minded to do, it would not be appropriate for me to try to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation.

It has now been more than eight months since the European Commission imposed anti-dumping duties on aluminium extrusions from China. Will the Minister tell us why, by comparison, our Trade Remedies Authority has been so slow to act on this issue? Will she assure us that the authority will take into account the risk of Chinese imports being diverted into the UK after the EU decision?

I am afraid that, as I alluded to, I cannot comment on the investigation or its potential outcome. The TRA is carrying out its work methodically and thoroughly. I encourage the hon. Lady to ensure that the businesses in her constituency that have an interest in the issue make representations to the TRA. I am sure she is encouraging them to do so, and that evidence is critical in ensuring that we get the right outcome. I will undertake to keep her up to date as things progress.

Topical Questions

Last week my Board of Trade published our “Digital Trade” report, which demonstrates how we can boost exports, turbocharge economic growth for the whole UK and create high-paying jobs across all four of our family of nations using digital tools. Because geography is now history, digital tools ensure that services can be delivered from anywhere.

We export more than £200 billion of digitally delivered services. With investment and the right planning, I want to make sure the UK improves on its already pretty impressive second place in global digital trade to get to the top of that chart. I have negotiated a world-first set of digital trade principles with our G7 partners and will be continuing to deliver these through our trade deals in the months ahead.

Boneham & Turner in Ashfield has been around for more than 100 years and, post Brexit, it is thriving, like many other businesses in Ashfield. Its boss, Charlie Boneham, tells me that the US is a big part of its business. Will my right hon. Friend please advise me on where we are with a possible trade deal with the US?

The US is currently reviewing progress on all the free trade agreement negotiations under the previous Administration. We welcome the opportunity to feed into that review. We have always been clear that a good deal is better than a quick deal, and we are here when the US is ready to continue those discussions.

A deal with the US will benefit not just manufacturers like Boneham & Turner in my hon. Friend’s constituency but the other 30,000 small and medium-sized enterprises that also export goods to the US by removing tariffs, simplifying customs procedures and therefore making it easier to export. We already have £200 billion of bilateral trade with the US, and we continue to encourage those businesses that want to do more to come to the export support service, which the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), discussed earlier, to ensure they have all the tools they need to maximise their trade with the USA.

The emergence of the omicron variant surely underlines that, if we are to protect our citizens from covid, we need to help to accelerate vaccination programmes in developing countries. With Norway the latest country to agree that, in these exceptional circumstances, a temporary waiver on patent rules to help boost vaccine production is needed, why is the Secretary of State so intent on blocking any progress on such a deal?

We have been world leading throughout the pandemic in our negotiations with AstraZeneca on ensuring that vaccines are produced at cost. When I was Secretary of State for International Development, I made sure we invested in COVAX so that we led the way and brought other countries forward to ensure that as much vaccine as can be made gets to those who need it the most. Countries are continuing to work with the smallest and most vulnerable developing countries so they get the vaccines they need. We continue to have discussions on a waiver to the World Trade Organisation agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, although those discussions were postponed this week due to the complexity of omicron and movement. We will pick up those discussions in the new year.

T2. Earlier this year, in partnership with Google, I arranged a digital course to train and upskill service sector businesses across Rother Valley. Will my right hon. Friend set out how our trade deals, including the recently announced New Zealand trade deal, support the service sector, 70% of which is based outside London and some of which is based in Rother Valley? (904506)

I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to improve digital skills in his constituency. In 2019, 40% of service exports to New Zealand were delivered digitally. Under the New Zealand deal, service exporters, particularly those in his constituency and region, will benefit from more opportunities to deliver services through digital trade. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in her topical statement, referred to the Department’s focus on digital trade, which is vital for the future.

T3. National Farmers Union Scotland says the Australian trade deal is“a slow journey to the Australians getting unfettered access to UK markets and with no guarantees that the promises of other safeguards will address the fact that very different production systems are permitted in Australia”.When was the last time the Department involved officials from the Scottish Government and Scottish farming representatives in the negotiation of future free trade deals? (904507)

We engage with officials from the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Government all the time, and we look forward to continuing that.

T4. I was recently fortunate enough to visit the DP World London Gateway container port in my constituency to hear about its exciting plans—its commitment to the construction of a fourth berth, and its ambition to become the largest container port in the UK and to use the opportunities that freeport status brings. Will the Minister update the House on what the Department is doing to support freeports and promote UK exporters? (904510)

Freeports will be national hubs for trade and investment. They will regenerate communities, attract new businesses, and create jobs and opportunities across our country. As they move towards implementation, my Department is working closely with each freeport, including London Gateway, to help pull new investment in and to support exporters to seize the advantages that freeports will bring them.

T5. Last weekend, we saw the release of the Xinjiang papers, highlighting how human rights atrocities go right to the heart of the Chinese Government. As a result, I want to ask what steps is the Minister taking to review our trading relationship with China, because it cannot be business as usual? (904511)

China remains, of course, an important trading partner for Britain, but we have no plans to negotiate a trade deal with China. We will build trade only where it supports British businesses and jobs. We will seek to reduce barriers to accessing the Chinese market, but I can assure the hon. Lady that our approach to China will always be rooted in British values and British interests. We want a positive and constructive relationship with China, but I can assure her that we will not sacrifice our values in doing this.

T6. With the exponential growth in offshore wind, including off the East Anglian coast, where 50% of the UK’s wind farms are located, world-class knowledge and skills have developed and the UK is now a global leader. Will my right hon. Friend outline the steps that are taken in negotiating trade deals to both promote this expertise abroad and attract inward investment into the UK offshore wind sector? (904512)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that trade in itself is a force for good in the world, as well as having environmental chapters in trade deals. One example of that is our free trade agreement with New Zealand, which will include the most comprehensive environmental list of goods with liberalised tariffs in a free trade agreement to date. He is right to point to the technology being developed in the UK, which can provide solutions for nations around the world, whether they are developed or developing nations, to meet net zero.

The Secretary of State has a long history of being a supporter of the creative industries and I know that, like me, she will be concerned about the possibility of Channel 4 being lost to Leeds if it is taken over by a global player and taken away—I hope she is concerned about that. We have the BBC in Salford and Channel 4 in Leeds, so does she agree that levelling up would be deeply damaged if we were to lose Channel 4 from Leeds?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. The points he makes are well understood. We often talk about the BBC and soft power, influence and all it brings, but Channel 4 has also done some incredible things, particularly in the disability space, during the Paralympic games in 2012 and since. His points have been well made. This is a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but I am sure those in that Department will have heard him.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what steps are being taken to establish a free trade agreement with our historical ally Pakistan, and specifically to encourage trade between our country and the Kashmir region?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his consistent interest in this area, and I value the conversations we have had on this matter. In the four quarters to Q2 this year, we have had £2.6 billion-worth of trade with Pakistan, and I am pleased to confirm to him that we already offer Pakistan the enhanced framework in the generalised scheme of preferences, which ensures that it has more generous access to the British market than others do today. He will also know, and the House will want to be aware, that between July and September this year we ran a consultation on our proposed new developing countries trading scheme. This is a statement of our intent: the British Government want to take a more ambitious, more generous, more pro-growth approach to trading with developing nations. Our new scheme will mean more opportunities and less bureaucracy—

I thank the Secretary of State for the support that she has given in the past to the development of tidal stream renewable energy generation. Now that we have the very welcome ring-fenced pot for tidal stream energy, will she charge her Department with the development of a strategy to ensure that we can export that expertise as we move towards commercialisation?

The right hon. Gentleman will be as pleased as I am to see that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury were able to find a way to make sure that the contract for difference, now published, will be able to provide that ring-fenced support for tidal stream. As he knows, I visited earlier in the year to see the work for myself and to talk to those who have been developing this technology. As part of the work that the Department for International Trade will be doing on green trade across the world, we want to ensure that, as that potentially becomes commercially viable, such firms are absolutely at the forefront of the package of tools that other countries will also be able to use to help them to decarbonise their energy sectors. We will work very closely with those firms. The Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green, who is overseeing the export service, will make sure that they are included and supported as they think about where those markets might be.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on trade discussions with India? She will know that any reduction in the punitive tariffs that apply to Scotch whisky would be an enormous boost for the industry.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his endeavours in making sure that Scotch whisky can be enjoyed by more people more reasonably all around the world. Britain wants a deal that slashes barriers to doing business and trading with India’s £2 trillion economy and its 1.4 billion-strong population, and Scotch whisky is at the top of our agenda.

I could never have thought that I was about to be called, Madam Deputy Speaker.

In a few weeks’ time, the United Kingdom will start to apply import controls to goods coming from the European Union. Last year, when the European Union started to apply its controls, a large number of small and medium-sized exporters, particularly in the Scottish food and drink industry, felt that they were simply left to sink or swim. What assurances can the Government give that small import businesses in Scotland will not be hung out to dry next year in the way that small exporters in Scotland were left hung out to dry last year?

I encourage the hon. Gentleman, if he has not already done so, to put businesses in his constituency in touch with our Department. The export support service runs alongside the trader support service—indeed they are joined up organisations—and we are there to provide bespoke support to businesses, to help them work through some of the challenges with new paperwork and so forth, and to give them the information they need to make business planning decisions. I encourage him to put those businesses in touch with us directly, and we will support them.

Alongside Blackpool tower and the pleasure beach, Blackpool rock is just one of the things that makes my constituency world famous. Exports of our most famous edible product, produced locally, are growing year on year. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can boost these exports around the world?

I am more than happy to ensure that my hon. Friend is put in contact with our export support scheme, our international trade advisers, our export champions, and our Export Academy to ensure that the world-famous rock continues to be sold across the world.

Let us try again, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Exports from Ireland to GB soared in the first six months of 2021 after Brexit, as imports sent in the opposite direction declined. I wonder whether the Minister can come to the Dispatch Box and advise the House on this matter. With a post-Brexit imbalance in trade, with Irish imports up 20% in the first six months of 2021 and GB exports to Ireland down by more than £2.5 billion, do they not recognise that, for GB—not Northern Ireland—Brexit is a trade disaster?

From figures that I mentioned earlier, the hon. Member will know that the situation is improving for Scottish businesses. He will also know that the bulk of the disruption and slowdown has been because of the pandemic. We are now coming out of that, and we would love to have a constructive dialogue with his party and its Members of Parliament to ensure that businesses in their constituencies are getting the right support to seize the opportunities that are now opening up. If we provide the right support for businesses, this should be an exciting time when they will be able to thrive. I encourage the Scottish National party to come to terms with the fact that we have left the EU, and that we are determined to make a success of this and to plug the economy of every part of the UK back into the global economy. The sooner that SNP Members come to terms with that and start pulling in the right direction, the better off their constituents will be.

Big landmark trade agreements such as those with Japan, New Zealand and Australia make the headlines, but the excellent work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing to remove trade barriers around the world also creates big new opportunities for businesses in my constituency of Dudley South. What progress is being made on the work to remove the trade barriers that restrict the flow of British goods and services?

Every year, we break down barriers across the world, and this year there has been a 20% increase in the number of barriers that we have broken down, benefiting businesses across the whole of our United Kingdom—in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We look forward to continuing this work to generate more jobs for people across our country in the years ahead.

COP26 was an important step towards meeting our international climate commitments, but that must be carried through into all aspects of Government policy. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the environmental impact of trade, through both imports and exports, is mitigated as far as possible?

UK leadership through COP26 has been world respected and renowned. The Department for International Trade is now able to continue the extraordinary leadership shown by my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) as COP26 President to ensure that the technologies that the UK is developing, has developed and will continue to develop will be at the forefront of all matters environmental in order to help every part of the world meet its decarbonisation challenge.

What discussions have taken place with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Home Office to place Afghan refugees in work in places such as Mash Direct and Willowbrook Foods in my constituency of Strangford, and across the agrifood sector in Northern Ireland, which is in need of migrant workers to fill the vacancies that presently exist?

I would be happy to get those Departments to give the hon. Gentleman some further details. Every Department across Government, including the Department for Education, is focused on ensuring that people who are coming here to restart their lives in safety are given every opportunity, and that their skills can be utilised. We are also thinking about how we can help those who are still left in country. I undertake that the FCDO will write to the hon. Gentleman.

As the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Fairtrade, I have been heartened by how many British people have been looking to support Fairtrade products, including bananas, coffee and chocolate, and to support Fairtrade producers and farmers around the world. Will the Minister continue to put fair trade at the heart of new trade deals so that we can continue to support these Fairtrade producers and farmers around the world?

As the Minister for Trade Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), mentioned earlier, now that we are a sovereign independent nation and can make trade deals in our own right, we want to ensure that we use trade for good and that the UK brings that leadership. Next year, we will be working closely with our African colleagues in particular to think about how we can boost trading relations and the support that we can provide to encourage the value chain to sit with those developing countries, which have the opportunity to grow their trade balance and ensure that they see the benefits of trade too.

I wonder what the Minister makes of the report in the Financial Times that far less than a trade deal, America will lift its steel tariffs if the UK violates article 16. Does she welcome America keeping control?

That story might be true in terms of how some people in the United States feel, but it is a false narrative. These are two entirely separate issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be discussing the issue of steel and other matters next week with her opposite numbers in the United States, but we not do ourselves any favours if we perpetuate these false narratives. They are entirely separate issues. I again encourage the hon. Gentleman and his party to start talking about what the UK has done to protect peace on the island of Ireland, and our reasonable request to the EU. He might also like to talk to his American friends about what the EU has done to disrupt that, including triggering article 16 on the most sensitive of goods—vaccines. We have acted in good faith. We will do more to tell America that we have acted in good faith and are determined to be pragmatic, and Lord Frost is going to do that. The hon. Gentleman has to separate false narratives from how some in the US feel.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 6 December will include:

Monday 6 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Armed Forces Bill, followed by Second Reading of the Dormant Assets Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 7 December—Remaining stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill (day 1).

Wednesday 8 December—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill (half day), followed by Opposition day (7th allotted day—second part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 9 December—Debate on a motion on the contribution of financial services to the UK economy, followed by debate on a motion on consular support for British citizens. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 10 December—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 13 December will include:

Monday 13 December—Remaining stages of the Subsidy Control Bill.

Let me first say how pleasing it was yesterday to see the Leader of the House in a splendid-looking mask in Prime Minister’s questions. It is nice that he has responded to the urgings from Labour Members. I also make a request that neither of us refers to what one may or may not do underneath mistletoe. I thank him for the forthcoming business.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. The Global Fund, with thanks to UK Aid Direct, has made remarkable progress against AIDS, TB and malaria, and that partnership has saved 44 million lives around the world. Unfortunately, however, for the first time in its history, results from its key programmes have declined, which means that fewer people are helped. Department for International Development funding used to be globally renowned and rightly celebrated. The Government chose to abolish DFID. Will the Government instead stop cutting international aid to vital programmes that are protecting lives, providing healthcare and preventing transmission? That is how we end HIV infections and deaths by 2030. That is the global leadership we need, but it seems to be sadly lacking from this Government.

At the start of the week, the Government mentioned changes to mask wearing for students in schools and colleges, but we have not yet had a statement from the Education Secretary on these new measures. The current Education Secretary must surely have learned from the previous one about the chaos that is caused when information is not provided in a timely manner. Will the Leader of the House therefore ask him to come and provide clarity in this place for both parents and children who have already lost out so much during the pandemic?

Back in October, the Prime Minister appeared to confirm that the online safety Bill would have completed all stages by Christmas. Then it was just going to be Second Reading. Then No. 10 seemed to row back even further to some vague commitment that the Bill will be presented at some point during this Session. Yesterday, I think I got a muttered assurance from the Prime Minister that it would be brought forward by that wonderful date “soon”. Could the Leader of the House help us out? Could he tell us what “soon” means? Will he tell us what the timetabling is for that Bill, because the Prime Minister does not seem to know?

On Monday, the Committee on Standards published its proposals for an updated code of conduct for MPs. I am looking forward to hearing the statement on that from my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) after business questions. Given the Prime Minister’s apparent, alleged, new-found respect, so he says, for standards in public life, surely we should have a debate on these proposals in Government time. However, if the Government response is anything like their response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life report, I am not holding my breath. It took them three years to accept that report. Once again, it seems that the Government are saying one thing one day and then the complete opposite the next, and the Leader of the House knows where that leads.

Two weeks ago, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, a Humble Address motion was passed by this House, so the Government must now publish any and all of the minutes from the meeting between Lord Bethell, Owen Paterson and Randox over the award of a contract that involves hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. As the Leader of the House knows, the Government must do that in a timely fashion, otherwise they will be in contempt of Parliament, as I understand it, yet nothing so far has been produced. That is much like the delays to the online safety Bill.

There just seem to be more delays and more delays, with Ministers saying that they cannot possibly make the minutes public for another two months. That leads me to wonder whether those vital minutes actually exist. If they do, will the Leader of the House ask Ministers to come and tell us about them? If they do not, can they admit that now, rather than pretending to spend the next two months looking for them? I have to say that I find it rather odd that this Government think they do not need to keep any receipts for spending half a billion pounds of public money, but then again, if they do not, it is just taxpayers’ money they are wasting, so why would they bother?

In conclusion, we seem to have a Government who fail to plan, who fail to bring forward key legislation and who fail to keep receipts for taxpayers’ money. They are a Government who have lost their grip, and it is working people who are paying the price.

The hon. Lady seems to have missed the fact that the rules on masks changed, which is why people are wearing them more. They are compulsory in public transport and in shops, but they are not compulsory in the Chamber. It is a matter of judgment for people, and people are entitled in this Chamber not to wear them if that is the decision they want to make. That is really important and comes to the point that the hon. Lady was making about schools. There is advice to schools that older students and teachers may want to wear masks in communal areas, but people must make decisions for themselves. We on this side of the House believe in individual responsibility.

I encourage schools to keep up with their activities and with their nativity plays. I hope to be absent from spectating at Prime Minister’s questions next week so that I can watch one of my children—young Alfred—appearing as a donkey in a Christmas play, although from what I hear he will be modelling himself on Balaam’s ass, which of course was a talking donkey, and I understand my son will be a talking donkey at the school nativity play. I encourage all schools to carry on with these very important activities.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for welcoming the work being done by the Government in support of World AIDS Day and the ambition to stop new infections by 2030. An extra £20 million of public funding—the Government using taxpayers’ money—will be devoted to that end, and a written statement was issued yesterday.

As regards the online safety Bill, it is going through pre-legislative scrutiny. That is very important, because we often hear the Opposition say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit of pre-legislative scrutiny? Isn’t that a good way of proceeding?” Then, when we have it, they say, “Well, you are being frightfully slow.” They cannot have it both ways, and then we get into a metaphysical discussion of “What is time?”, “What is soon?” and “What is Christmas’?” We could say that Christmas goes on at least until 2 February, which is Candlemas and the formal end of Christmas, but then we could decide to use the Orthodox calendar, which goes on even later. Such metaphysical discussions of time are not necessarily elucidating for the progress of legislation.

I am much looking forward to the presentation by the Chair of the Committee on Standards, to which the hon. Lady referred, on the important report that the Committee has published. The report asks for a consultation period, which I think will inevitably include a debate in the House. I look in the direction of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), because when the Committee was set up, it was generally considered that Select Committee reports would be debated in Backbench Business time. I hope that we can come to a suitable arrangement, but it is inevitably something that the House will want to discuss.

There is more joy in heaven, as we all know, over one sinner who repented than the 99 who remain unrepented. The hon. Lady has at last eschewed socialism, because she has used the words that we use on the Government side of the House—taxpayers’ money. Normally, the socialists think that it is their money or the state’s money that they allow poor hard-pressed taxpayers to keep a little of out of their benignity, but we on this side know that it is taxpayers money. There is no other money in the system than that taken from people up and down the country.

Conservatives have therefore always held spending taxpayers’ money to the highest standard, while the socialists spent—what was it?—£13 billion on some scheme to make the NHS’s IT system technologically efficient and squandered money on tax credits over and over again, because they have always been incontinent in their use of taxpayers’ money. I am delighted by the hon. Lady’s conversion and move in the direction of Toryism, which is a welcome joy for those of us on the Government Benches. I assure her that we also take the constitution seriously and believe that Humble Addresses must be respected, as they will be.

The Government take the constitution seriously, so I put it to the Leader of the House that although we are about to have the opportunity to question the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) about his report, a debate in Government time would be helpful because of some aspects of the report. For example, the potential extension of the jurisdiction of an official into what happens in the Lobbies and in Select Committees touches on the principle of the Bill of Rights that no proceeding in Parliament be questioned in any place or court other than Parliament itself. Indeed, the principle of democracy is undermined by the proposal that we may be required to subscribe to behaviours to promote certain attitudes. I hope that my constituents never elect a racist or a misogynist, but they have a right to.

My right hon. Friend shows that there is much to debate on the report. As I have said, I think it is important that the House debates those matters. I point out that in terms of the Floor of the House, there is no difference between the standing of a debate in Government time and of one in Backbench Business time. The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is here and will have heard the requests for a debate on the subject loud and clear before his Committee meets, but I am open to a discussion with him to ensure that time is available.

Hip, hip, hooray! Raise the flags—Union Jacks, of course—and let us have a party in Downing Street. The Leader of the House at last had a face mask on his fizzog at Prime Minister’s questions. All he needs to do now is to convince those menaces on the libertarian wing of his Conservative party to do the same. He and I were at the same meeting when Public Health England told us that if everybody on the estate wore a face mask, infections would be cut by 12%, so no more excuses: masks on mushes.

Tuesday was a big day in the House which we will have to debate properly. For probably the first time, the L-word—the one that rhymes with “mire” and “fire”—rang out loud and clear in the Chamber. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, ruled that it could be used in the context of the debate on the conduct of the Prime Minister, possibly because no other word could be found as an appropriate replacement or substitute. The public’s outrage at the conduct of the Prime Minister just goes on, and we have to be able to debate this in the proper context and use the words that are right and appropriate for the behaviour displayed.

Today, of course, it is the Leader of the House who is all over the headlines, as he emerges as the latest Government Minister to be investigated because of his outside interests. Six million quid! I never knew he was so loaded. He could buy two peerages in the House of Lords with that money. We have to debate the Standards Committee’s report. Will he now pledge to recuse himself—

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to be very careful about what he says on any matter being considered by the Standards Committee, whose Chairman is listening carefully, as am I. I am sure the hon. Gentleman can find a way of making the points he wishes to make from a political point of view without straying into matters that should not be brought here to this Chamber at this time.

Absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I cannot wait to hear from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) about his report. It is right that this is debated, but the Leader of the House must recuse himself from participating in that debate.

Lastly, the Conservatives say none of this matters; that is what they told us on Tuesday. They have lost their opinion poll lead to the Labour party—the Labour party, for goodness’ sake—but in Scotland there was an opinion poll showing support for Scottish independence is now back up to 55%. I repeat, 55%. The Scottish people are looking at this corrupt, sleazy cesspit, and they do not like what they see and are quickly determining that it is time to get the hell out of this place.

Order. Before the Leader of the House answers the points made by the hon. Gentleman, I feel it incumbent upon me to clarify that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in what he said about my ruling on what the parliamentary leader of the SNP, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), was permitted to say in this Chamber during the Opposition day debate earlier this week. However, I must make it absolutely clear to the House, because I do not think this has been widely understood, that that was very specifically in the context of the debate being on a censure motion about a particular person, and the use of any word that implies that a Member of this House has not told the truth is allowed only in that very narrow context. This is not to be taken as a general ruling that these words can be used. There are, of course, always polite and moderate ways of making points, and that is how they should be made here in this Chamber.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is so easily pleased. Had I realised that he would become sweetness and light merely by my momentarily wearing a mask, I may have been tempted to do it before the Christmas season or the season of Advent was upon us.

The hon. Gentleman wants to bat back and forth opinion polls, and I note that, as I told him last week, even SNP supporters do not think that having a referendum on independence is very important. I think they want to see the SNP Government in Scotland getting on with running Scotland properly—making the health service work, building the roads and dealing with all the problems that they are singularly failing to deal with. They could not even get the new advice out to vaccination centres so that people could get their vaccines when the advice was changed around the country at large.

The hon. Gentleman wishes me to go to the House of Lords, which is very flattering of him. He is clearly unaware of the 1539 Act about places in Parliament—the House of Lords Precedence Act 1539—which allows the Lord President, when not a peer, to go and sit in the House of Lords. It is not a privilege I have ever taken up, as I am worried that their lordships might be a bit surprised, but the Lord High Chancellor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Treasurer—a position currently in commission—and various others have the right to go and sit in the House of Lords when they are not peers, so I assume that is what the hon. Gentleman was talking about.

I have been campaigning for much-needed improvements to two tube stations in my constituency, South Kensington and Ladbroke Grove, both of which desperately need step-free access. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Transport for London and the Mayor of London are letting down Londoners by mismanaging TfL’s finances, and would my right hon. Friend contemplate a debate on the subject?

We could have a debate on the terrible failures of the Mayor of London and Transport for London. Transport for London seems to have a campaign of hating the motorist and doing everything it can to make driving in London difficult, with ridiculous 20 mph speed limits on straight and wide roads, with road closures and every possible inconvenience to the motorist—and then it cannot run the underground system properly. I agree with my hon. Friend, though she may wish to apply to the Backbench Business Committee in the first instance.

I apologise to hon. Members across the House for my absence from this place last week. I was with the Education Committee on a visit to a prison—somewhere many of my constituents think I should have been for some time. I will just point out to the Leader of the House that when it comes to debates on any given matter that hon. Members want, if we receive a formal application from Members, we will of course consider it, but we have not yet received any sort of application about the subject discussed earlier. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could give us privately an indication of any plans for Backbench time in the first week back in January, as we need to plan for that in advance of the Christmas recess.

I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for football supporters, a group we established a number of years ago. We welcome the publication of the recommendations of the fan-led review of football governance, under the leadership of the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). The recommendations have been warmly welcomed by fan groups and fans of football across the country, so can the Leader of the House give us some insight as to whether they might be brought forward as part of the Government’s legislative programme in the remainder of this parliamentary Session, or be included in the Queen’s Speech for the next session?

I will do my best to give the hon. Gentleman a private indication as soon as I possibly can about when there will be new Backbench Business debates. I note his support for the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), which was very popularly received. I doubt I would be giving away too great a secret if I indicated that the state of business at the other end of this Palace is so crowded that the prospect of new legislation in this Session is probably limited.

The Leader of the House gave us the business until 13 December, but the House rises on 16 December, so we still have three unallocated days. After four years, two general election manifestos and a pledge in a national newspaper hand-signed by the Prime Minister, still we have not introduced the much-delayed legislation to end the cycle of endless investigations against Northern Ireland veterans. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told us we would have it by the summer recess, and he faithfully promised that it would be into Parliament by the end of the autumn. I think we can agree that Christmas means the end of the autumn. In the three-day window that remains, I earnestly ask the Leader of the House to ensure that that legislation appears—#wheresyourbillbrandon.

My right hon. Friend makes appeals that are always heard, and can sometimes be assured of falling on fertile ground. I hope I will be able to reassure him that this matter is at the top of the priority list for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

A constituent of mine recently wrote to me to say that she was concerned, looking at how this House operates, that children do not figure very often. We are approaching a Christmas and a winter when a large number of poorer families with children in this country are facing a really tough time. Can we put the record straight a bit? I know the Leader of the House knows about money—he was telling us he was very conversant with it. We desperately need to give help to the poorer families in this country before Christmas so that they can enjoy Christmas and their children do not go to bed hungry.

Of course it is important to support children, and to support families, which is what the Government have been doing with a number of schemes. Children who live in working families have a much better chance of not being in poverty, and raising the national living wage to £9.50 next year means an extra £1,000 a year for a full-time worker. Two million families will get an extra £1,000 a year through our cut to the universal credit taper and the increase to work allowances. There is £200 million a year to continue the hugely successful holiday activity and food programme. The Government of course take the needs of children into account in what they do, the benefits that are provided, and the welfare given, and that is fundamental to how the welfare state operates.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concern that the consultation on so-called gay conversion therapy, which clearly needs to be stopped, has been extended to include matters of gender, which are considerably more complex, especially as concerns children. The consultation period is too short at six weeks, especially as one version has had to be withdrawn because it contains factual errors. It seems as though the Government are trying to rush through decisions before the Cass review comes out. In those circumstances, will the Leader of the House commit to subjecting the eventual Bill to full prelegislative scrutiny?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As I was saying about the online harms Bill, it is often useful to have prelegislative scrutiny, particularly for Bills that need cross-party support to be effective, and that need to carry the whole nation with them, rather than cause contention and dispute. I note very much what he says, but also what I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, because sometimes we get criticised for delay if we have prelegislative scrutiny, but criticised for rush if we do not have it.

Earlier this week, the third party, the Scottish National party, lost our Opposition half-day debate on the cost of living. Like others, I lost the opportunity to raise directly with the Minister important cases for my constituents, including those of student nurses, WASPI women, frontline healthcare workers and people with disabilities, who are suffering as a result of this Government’s failure to take measures to assist them with the high cost of living. Will the Leader of the House tell us when we will get that time back, so that we can have a debate about the struggles that our constituents are having with the current high cost of living?

I answered that question when I announced the change to business, and said that we looked forward to doing that as soon as is practicable.

May we have a statement from the vaccines Minister about the booster roll-out in Dorset? On the face of it, the roll-out is successful nationally, but my constituents in Dorset go on the national website, put in their postcode, and are referred to all sorts of areas and have to get their atlas out to find where they have to go. I went on the website yesterday and was referred to Newport in Wales. Some have been referred to Exeter or Reading, and all those points are nowhere near Dorset, which has nearly 1 million people. There seems to be a vast deficiency in the ability to put vaccines in people’s arms where my constituents actually live. On occasion, it has even been suggested that people go to Yeovil, and although I suspect that a day out in Yeovil is something most of my constituents would love, an hour’s drive there and back is rather long to get the vaccine in their arm. Will my right hon. Friend please draw to the attention of the vaccines Minister that there is a problem in Dorset?

Yeovil is on the Dorset border, so there are some people in Dorset for whom Yeovil would be extremely convenient. Yeovil is a town in Somerset, and therefore it is beautiful, glorious, and magnificent. I would have thought it would be a joy for anybody to go to Yeovil. But my hon. Friend makes a serious point, and after this statement I will of course take it up with the vaccines Minister. GPs are getting more involved and being paid £15 for every vaccine they are able to inject. That may be part of the process, but people need to be able to get to a vaccine centre that is reasonably close to them.

May we have a debate on what happens to British nationals when they are stuck overseas, for instance when there are changes to the rules on quarantine? There are 42 Welsh rugby players stuck in South Africa at the moment, including one of my constituents. They are in a double bind. Some of them have now had covid, so they might have to do 10 days’ quarantine in South Africa and then, on top of that, another 10 days’ quarantine in the UK. There is obviously a significant cost to that; more importantly, there is a cost to their mental health, too. Is there more we can do to help them to get home?

If there are specific constituency cases, the hon. Gentleman should raise those in the normal manner. If he needs the assistance of my office in doing that, I am always willing to help hon. and right hon. Members. The issue could have been raised in the broad debate on introducing the regulations, which took place when we took away the half day from the SNP. So there was a chance to debate it, but certainly we would be very keen to help with individual constituency cases.

Following Kristallnacht on 9 to 10 November 1938, the then British Government relaxed the rules on Jewish refugee children from Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Sudetenland, and allowed 200 to come here. Today is the 83rd anniversary of the first arrival of the Kindertransport. May we have a debate in Government time on safe routes for refugee children to come to the UK in the time-honoured way that we in this country have always allowed and encouraged refugees from war-torn areas?

My hon. Friend is so right to remind us of the 83rd anniversary of the Kindertransport, which was a wonderful humanitarian approach that crucially ensured there were safe routes for coming to this country. That is what we should work on, as the previous Prime Minister David Cameron did, taking up to 20,000 Syrians from refugee camps around Syria, rather than expecting people to take dangerous journeys. It is really important that people who come to this country to claim asylum do so by legal and safe routes, rather than being in the hands of people-traffickers. That is why the Nationality and Borders Bill, the remaining stages of which we will have next week, will make it easier for people who make legal claims and come here lawfully, and harder for people who come here using illegal routes.

In my constituency, a 91-year-old man was left waiting for an ambulance for seven hours. This crisis includes the Leader of the House’s constituency: in the south-west, ambulance waiting times are sky high. The crisis is also reflected across the country. In north Shropshire, response times to urgent calls are now four hours. May we, urgently, have a debate in Government time on ambulance waiting times?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point because our constituents in North East Somerset and in Bath share health facilities. We have over 4,000 ambulance crews in operation across the country, which is an increase of 500 since 2018. NHS England has given ambulance trusts an extra £55 million to boost staff numbers this winter and there is an extra £5.4 billion for the NHS altogether. Significant amounts of money are being put in, but I accept that when one is waiting seven hours for an ambulance that is not much of a compensation. There is an issue and things do need to improve.

Can the Leader of the House please confirm to my constituents that the UK Government are committed to at least two freeports in Wales? Will he update the House on how discussions on freeports are progressing with the Welsh Government?

Freeports are a really important way of levelling up. They are national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, regenerating communities across the UK, attracting new businesses, and spreading jobs, investment and opportunity to towns and cities across the whole of the United Kingdom. Her Majesty’s Government are committed to establishing the freeports programme in Wales as soon as possible. I suppose there is a difficulty, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether you have heard the news that the socialists have gone into partnership with the separatists in Wales, so we now have to wonder whether the socialists are any longer a Unionist party.

Now that we are into December, families across the country will be sitting down together to stream their favourite festive films. The Prime Minister clearly is not a fan of “Home Alone”, but perhaps the Leader of the House is. Despite the House legislating for minimum levels of subtitles, British sign language signing and audio description for on-demand services in the Digital Economy Act 2017, it has taken four years for Ofcom to make final recommendations to Government on the level of access services to be provided and which broadcasters should be covered. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport before Christmas setting out when she will introduce regulations to make video-streaming services accessible to all our constituents?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising a point that will be important to many of our constituents. Ofcom is an independent statutory body and is therefore not directed by the Government. We cannot say go and it goeth, but the issue is important and I will take it up with the Secretary of State on the hon. Lady’s behalf.

Can we have an urgent debate on the need for an efficient service from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to get our heavy goods vehicle drivers back on the roads? My constituent, Mr Martin Hewitt, has had eight letters from his local hospital or his GP go missing at the DVLA. That has kept him off the road, it means that he cannot earn, and it puts further pressure on our supply chains.

The situation facing Mr Hewitt is clearly a failure, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised it on the Floor of the House. I will send an extract from Hansard to DVLA, so that it is aware of this particular case once Hansard is published. However, there is good news from DVLA that the additional online services and additions to staff have meant extra space in Swansea and Birmingham to house more staff to reduce waiting times. DVLA has been apologetic for the delays that have been created in returning people’s documentation, but with the 32 short, medium and long-term interventions that the Government have taken to help to tackle the global driver shortage, we now have over 90% more testing spaces available for HGV drivers on a weekly basis. So the HGV problem is being tackled, things are beginning to change and I understand that DVLA is beginning to get to grips with its backlog, but that is not very satisfactory for Mr Hewitt.

On Hogmanay, we will commemorate the 92nd anniversary of the Glen cinema disaster, when a smoking film cannister caused a panic, which, due to a blocked exit, led to a crush that killed 71 people, all of them children. Last week, a permanent memorial to those who died was unveiled in the centre of Paisley just yards from the site of the Glen. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking those who organised the memorial—Future Paisley, the Paisley Community Trust and Paisley Rotary club—send best wishes to two living survivors, Emily Brown and Robert Pope, and perhaps find time for a debate to honour those young lives?

How remarkable that there are two survivors from a disaster 92 years ago—they must be shortly due to receive a telegram from Her Majesty to congratulate them on their longevity, if they have not already. I would indeed like to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the organisations that have built and paid for the memorial of this terrible tragedy, killing 71 children—all children. I particularly praise Paisley Rotary, because I am a Rotarian for Midsomer Norton and Radstock rotary. The unsung work that Rotarians do up and down the country is really heroic in so many of our communities. They do things that other people do not necessarily want to do and they just get on with quietly. They do not ask for a lot of thanks, so I particularly thank Paisley Rotary.

I cannot help saying to the Lord President of the Council that my grandfather was a founder member of Paisley Rotary club. The question from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) is really important in Paisley, as was the right hon. Gentleman’s answer.

I call Mr Liddell-Grainger.

I hope I did not point my finger the wrong way just then, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Government did not listen to the referendum in Somerset over unitary, and they did not listen to the districts when they held their own referendum, but I am delighted to say that they have now said that the elections for Somerset will take place next year. My right hon. Friend knows how important democracy is, as we all do. Putting those elections off would have been absolutely appalling, so I am delighted. Could we have a debate in Government time on the wonders of democracy, what it means to all of us and how important it is across the world, including—dare I say it—to the Commonwealth and others?

It is a delight that my hon. Friend is happy. I thought it was quite something when the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) was happy, but if my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) is also happy, it is clearly getting close to Christmas. I would say to him that every sitting we have in this Chamber is a celebration of democracy and the ability to use freedom of speech to express what we want to say, stand up for our constituents and seek redress of grievance. Every day, we do it; we should carry on doing it, and we should celebrate it.

I am very proud to represent Coventry’s NHS workers, who make the NHS an incredible public service. Today, I am wearing University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire’s charity T-shirt, featuring Penguino and friends, to raise money to support staff and patients.

But NHS workers are exhausted, worn down by the pandemic and a decade of underfunding, so will the Leader of the House give his support to the UHCW charity T-shirt and give Government time to debate the needs of the NHS? As a public service, it should not rely on charity; it needs proper Government funding and an end to privatisation. Its staff deserve a proper pay rise, not the pay cut—once inflation is factored in—that is proposed.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her support for Coventry’s NHS workers and for the charitable work that is going on there. I thought that she was going to ask me to wear a T-shirt, to which I am afraid the answer would have been no, but that does not mean that I am not very sympathetic to the cause.

May I just point out what the NHS recovery plan is? In 2018, delivering on the £350 million on the side of the bus, we gave NHS England an historic settlement that will see its budget rise by £34 billion by 2023-24. To help frontline services to tackle the coronavirus, we have made available approximately £97 billion of taxpayers’ money—ninety-seven thousand million pounds. That was sixty-three thousand million in 2020-21 and a further thirty-four thousand million in 2021-22. In September, we announced an additional £36 billion for health and social care over the next three years.

Applications to study nursing and midwifery have risen by 21% this year. If people are applying to join the NHS, that is surely a good sign about the terms and conditions available.

It has occurred to me that I have failed miserably to get the Leader of the House to grant debates in Government time, so I have thought of a wheeze.

Will the Leader of the House kindly come to my constituency of Wellingborough and Rushden in the east midlands? He can whizz up from St Pancras on the newly electrified line. As he gets out at the station, he will see the beginning of the electrification north to Sheffield. We can pick him up and take him over the new railway bridge; through the new development of Stanton Cross, to see the new houses; on to the wonderful double roundabout at Chowns Mill, which will be opened officially this week; along the A45; past the new magnificent Rushden Lakes leisure facility; further along, seeing on our left-hand side the Wellingborough prison that will be open in the new year—

I must get him there, Madam Deputy Speaker. We can go up through Wellingborough; go up where the new Isham bypass will be built; see where the new Boris hospital is to be built; and then meet Jason Smithers, the new leader of the new unitary council. Then might I persuade the Leader of the House to have, in Government time, a debate on what levelling up means?

It would be a joy to go back to Wellingborough. I have been to my hon. Friend’s constituency before; if I come, I hope he will invite me to speak to his local Conservative association and thank it for all the good work that it does.

My hon. Friend is heroic, because he has saved hours of Government time and Backbench Business time. He has managed to advocate the advantages of levelling up in one question, albeit a slightly long one.

It may disappoint you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it will come as no surprise that I am no monarchist. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me today in congratulating the Countess of Dumbarton on the rejection of the appeal by The Mail on Sunday relating to the invasion of privacy, and will therefore set aside Government time to ensure that a judgment that cements the fact that The Mail on Sunday—which is owned by a member of the peerage—has broken the law, and that whether one is the Countess of Dumbarton or a citizen of that ancient, noble borough, the right to privacy and a private life is far more important than the money spent on clickbait in The Mail on Sunday.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am a monarchist. I think that monarchism is essential to our country, and I think that republicanism is a most unpleasant activity. However, I also think that freedom of speech is more important than privacy. I find it concerning that the rich and powerful can use the courts to protect their private lives when others cannot, and I would be deeply concerned about anything that undermined freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is one of the great protectors of our national life and of our constitution.

Five-year-old Willow Jessica Phillips from Ashfield is having her hair cut off on Saturday to raise money and donate her hair to the Little Princess Trust, which is for little girls who have lost their hair through illness. I am sure that a mention from the Leader of the House would go a long way to help her to increase the £600 that she has already raised and help little girls throughout the United Kingdom.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What a wonderful little girl Willow sounds, given what she is doing for the Little Princess Trust. This is a truly moving cause, supporting young children suffering from cancer. I commend the trust for its work and its fundraising, and for committing millions of pounds to supporting children directly and funding research on children’s cancers. Willow’s efforts are particularly impressive: raising £500 is a terrific achievement. I wish her all the luck in the world in her fundraising, and I am sure she will raise as much as she possibly can. It is right that my hon. Friend has brought this to the attention of the House, and I hope that the wider public watching on the BBC Parliament channel will dig deep into their pockets to increase the amount given to Willow.

I have been contacted by constituents employed by the Department for Work and Pensions in my city of Dundee who are deeply concerned about a return to in-office working for all staff—throughout Scotland—from this week. That is contrary to the clear and consistent guidelines from the Scottish Government, which state that working from home should continue to be the norm where possible. Given the timing, may we have an urgent statement, and can the Leader of the House reassure my constituents that he understands that health is a devolved matter, that the DWP will continue to listen to Scottish Government guidance when it comes to the matter of home working, and, finally, that UK Government Departments do not consider themselves exempt from Scottish Government guidance?

I think people do want to get back to the office to work. I think it is a good thing to be doing, and I think it increases productivity. One reason that we have heard all those complaints about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is that people were not in the office to work, and therefore the 60,000 pieces of post that were received were not all being dealt with. Working from home has disadvantages in respect of the services delivered to people, and the DWP deals with some of the most vulnerable people in the country, who need and expect to have an efficient service which is best given in person. I would therefore encourage people to go back to work.

The rise of GB News has been welcomed by many of my constituents who are sick and tired of the stale, politically correct and ideologically biased output of much of the mainstream media. Given the availability of so many other channels, is it just that those on low incomes still have to pay a regressive TV tax in the form of the BBC licence fee? Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on scrapping it?

GB News is marvellous. I went on it with Mr Farage. The programme was called “Have a pint with Nigel” or something, and I took along my own cider, which we both enjoyed. I would encourage people to watch GB News, and to go on it. I think that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) would be a star performer, and I hope he will take people from GB News up to his farm so that they can watch his lambing in the spring, for which we have specially dedicated recess times that are convenient for him. The question of the licence fee is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Digital, Media and Sport, and I urge my hon. Friend to lobby her enthusiastically with his views.

I refer Members to my chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on oral hormone pregnancy tests. The Leader of the House is aware that I have been campaigning for a number of years on behalf of the victims of the drug Primodos. The noble Baroness Cumberlege, a former Conservative Health Minister, produced a review in which she found that there was no excuse for not having withdrawn the drug many years earlier, that harm was caused to the victims and that they should have redress. That report was produced a year and half ago, but to date the Department of Health and Social Care will not engage with us on the matter. Will the Leader of the House please use his endeavours with the Government to ensure that these people get justice after so many years? There was an argument that this was a legal issue, but Baroness Cumberlege was aware of that fact. This is a question of getting redress for those victims.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on the work that she has done on Primodos. I was also a member of her all-party parliamentary group, and I saw at first hand the incredible work that she did tirelessly over many years to bring this issue forward. Without her hard work and effort I do not think that the Cumberlege report would have looked into it. I am very sympathetic to what she says, and I note that she asks for the Department of Health and Social Care to engage with her and discuss the matter. I will certainly do my best through my own office to ensure that there is engagement, because she is arguing for justice and right. The Cumberlege report was an important step in that direction.

Order. I should be drawing proceedings on the business question to a close very soon, but it would be better if everyone had the chance to ask their question. I must ask for brevity, please. Sometimes business questions become mini-speeches, but they do not have to be. If everyone is brief, everyone will get in. If there is not brevity, lots of people will be disappointed.

It is small business Saturday this weekend, and me and my partner will once again be shopping local for our festive gifts for each other. I will also be joining local councillor Adam Gregg and local campaigner David Heathcote in Lindley in supporting local businesses. Can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of supporting local businesses on our high streets, and will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging everybody to shop local in the lead-up to Christmas and of course to wear their masks in shops?

My hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner, and he is quite right to support small businesses. There is often very good service from small businesses, and one can help the local economy by encouraging people to shop locally, in farmers markets and so on. I would encourage people to follow the model that my hon. Friend is, in this regard.

Over the past two weeks, the number of pupils absent from schools has risen by 47% to the equivalent of some 8,300 classrooms-worth of children missing from school. As always, the most disadvantaged are disproportionately impacted, so will the Leader of the House please grant a debate to discuss this pressing issue and ensure that we keep schools open through the winter with maximum attendance? This is vital for our children’s wellbeing and learning.

I am in considerable agreement with the hon. Lady. It is so important that children are in school. This is very often a question of the way we look at the figures. As I understand it, 88% of pupils are in school. I cannot absolutely swear to that figure, but I think I heard it on the wireless this morning. We want as many children as possible in school, and we want schools to get on with the business of teaching. We want to encourage them to carry on with normal activities. The advice from the Government is for teachers and pupils in secondary schools to wear masks in crowded communal spaces. It is so important that children are in school.

The East Lancashire steam railway in my constituency has the oldest continuously-in-use locomotive shed in the world at Buckley Wells. The redevelopment of this truly historic site would create a mechanical engineering hub, but it requires between £10 million and £12 million of additional funding to achieve that transformative vision. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the positive contribution to the wider community of steam and heritage railways throughout the country and their potential to deliver a wide range of economic and social benefits?

My hon. Friend is not the first to raise at business questions the importance of heritage steam to local history and culture. Over the summer I had the pleasure of being shown around the Etruria Industrial Museum in Stoke by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon). It boasts the world’s only functional steam-powered flint mill, which is a great example of how innovation has played a part in our industrial history.

We were obviously, as a nation, a pioneer in the history of railways, from Brunel and Stephenson, to the modern day, with the enormous £96 billion railway programme announced recently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Heritage railways are important and welcome, and I encourage people to enjoy their pleasures, possibly even in Midsomer Norton, which has a very nice heritage railway centre.

We are in the middle of UK Disability History Month, yet two of the three train stations in Luton, including Leagrave station in my constituency, are completely inaccessible to people with mobility issues. Does the Leader of the House agree with me and with campaigners that it is now time not just for a debate but for action on the situation disabled people face when trying to use train stations in this country? It is time for lifts at Leagrave.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because there was a disability access campaign in my constituency. One of the disadvantages of our industrial heritage is that things were built in the 19th century and early 20th century without the type of access we now take for granted, and retrofitting is an expensive business. I commend her for raising the issue, and I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate. In my experience, things happen when one keeps up the pressure.

May I request a statement from the Foreign Secretary on the terrible repeated violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria, with religious minorities being subjected to discrimination, harassment, intimidation, marginalisation and violence? My constituents and I need an assurance that the Government are concerned and appalled by the United States’ decision to remove Nigeria from its list of countries of particular concern, in essence abandoning civilians at a time of escalating terrorist attacks, ignoring the pervasive threat of Boko Haram and shirking its responsibility to the victims of such violence.