Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 707: debated on Thursday 27 January 2022

House of Commons

Thursday 27 January 2022

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Flash Flooding: London

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and I pay tribute to all those who responded to the flash flooding incidents in London last summer, which took everybody so by surprise. I know that her constituency was particularly affected. We have doubled our flood defence programme to £5.2 billion, with 34% of planned projects aimed at surface water management. That includes £13 million this year for 32 schemes across London, which will better protect 2,300 properties.

In July my constituency experienced devastating flooding, with more than 2,000 homes affected. Many residents are still in temporary accommodation, and many have lost all of their belongings, especially those in basement flats. In 2007 we experienced similar flooding. At that time, a plan was put in place to put in an emergency relief sewer. That never happened; it was not actioned. What can my hon. Friend and the Department do to hold water companies to account and ensure that Ofwat is tough in regulating them?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and my sympathy goes out to those who suffered and indeed are still suffering. We expect water companies to carry out their duties and deliver on their commitments, and we fully support the regulators in holding them to account. In the 2019 price review, Ofwat confirmed that Thames Water had incurred a penalty of £148 million for cancelling the Counter’s Creek project, which I believe is the one she refers to. As Members will know, the Government are now taking strong action on the water companies, through our statement to Ofwat. I have met my hon. Friend before, but I would be particularly happy to discuss this project with her.

As you and the House will know, Mr Speaker, flooding is of course a challenge right around the country. I am grateful for the Minister’s support today, and as she knows, tomorrow we are launching Connected by Water, which is a pioneering regional flooding strategy for South Yorkshire. It is the first of its kind and will protect thousands of businesses and homes, but as the Minister also knows, there is a bit more to do. Will she commit to working with us to secure the additional £76 million that we need to deliver it?

I think that is the worst connected question I’ve ever heard in this House. Perhaps the Minister wants to be generous and say very briefly how it could possibly be connected.

“Cheeky” is the word I would use, Mr Speaker. I am doing a speech for that event tomorrow. I am pleased it is being held, and it is important that everyone works together. I understand the issues the hon. Gentleman is facing, and always, as he knows, my door is open. I think he will agree that we have done a great deal for his area to help sort the flooding out, and more work will continue.


Criminals should have no place to hide when they mindlessly dump waste. Fly-tipping blights lives and neighbourhoods, and wrecks our environment. We are consulting on legislative reforms to the way waste handlers are regulated, and introducing digital waste tracking.

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. In the London Borough of Harrow, dealing with fly-tipping on the public highway costs council tax payers £1.5 million each year just to clear it up. The worst aspect is fly-tipping on privately owned land. What further measures can my hon. Friend take to highlight those people, catch them, put them through the courts, and get justice for people with privately owned land?

We know that fly-tipping incidents have increased. We had 1.13 million of them last year. We are taking that robust action, which we have been enabled to do through the Environment Act, and our recent consultations clearly set out how we will ensure that offenders face the full force of the law. Last year, we launched a grant scheme to provide £350,000 in funding for councils to tackle fly-tipping, but I commend Harrow Council on having made a large investment—£300,000—in its enforcement team. It is taking an area-based approach, it is delivering more fines, and it is using the full fixed penalty of £400. However, I urge my hon. Friend to urge his council to bring more prosecutions forward, as they did not do so last year.

Will the Government ensure that the section 33 offence attracts a fixed penalty of at least £2,000, much more than the price of a skip? At the moment, it is a rational economic decision for people to fly-tip, albeit a horrendously antisocial one. The fixed penalty for the section 34 offence should also rise to £1,000, so that we can kill off the illegal waste industry that is turning parts of our beautiful country into a litter tip.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend: fly-tipping blights our countryside and, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), blights our towns. As I have said, we are taking robust action. We need to ensure that those fixed penalty notices are high enough to act as a deterrent, that more serious offences can be prosecuted, and that courts can hand down fines in excess of the fixed penalty notice should the offence be sufficiently serious. We are producing a new guide on how to present robust prosecutions, which should support tougher sentences, and digital waste tracking—the reform to waste carriers, brokers and dealers—will allow householders to know where their waste is going and that their contractor is legitimate and transparent. We must do more about this offence, which blights all our constituencies.

Since I was elected, constituents have written to me continuously about fly-tipping, both in our towns and particularly on farmers’ land. One of the reasons for the increase has been the ease with which the public can obtain waste removal licences: the checks and balances just do not appear to be sufficient. Will the Minister explain what the Government plan to do to increase the detail in which those checks are undertaken by the local authorities, to stop people providing a cowboy waste service that undercuts legitimate businesses, and stop them from abandoning that waste on the streets and farms of places such as Sadberge, Trimdon, Wheatley Hill and Wingate?

I agree with my hon. Friend: it is not fair that legitimate businesses are undercut by individuals who do not treat waste properly, and who take no care in anything they are doing. The waste carrier registration scheme needs reform urgently: that is why we are acting, and it is why we published our consultation. The measures that we announced will increase the competence and background checks that are needed to operate in the sector, and make it easier for regulators to take enforcement action to make sure we hound the criminals out of this industry and support our legitimate businesses, so that they play by the rules and treat that waste properly. We will make it easier for householders and businesses to act on a level playing field.

Everything that the Minister has just said is music to my ears, because illegal fly-tipping blights all of our communities and shames our country. It destroys our sense of place and our neighbourhoods. As the Minister will know, large-scale fly-tipping more than doubled in England between 2012 and 2019, with councils spending almost £13 million last year cleaning up somebody else’s mess. Of course, part of the problem with enforcement is that the resources available to the Environment Agency and to local government have been cut. What more can she say about ensuring that those enforcement agencies have the tools and the finances they need to get the job done?

We have supported the Environment Agency with additional funding of some £60 million in 2019—I think it was—and by making sure that they have the right regulatory framework in which to go forward. We are also supporting our councils, not only by equipping them with better processes and guidance in order to bring these criminals to account, but by making sure that the system is joined up so we know where the waste has been taken from, where it is going, and that it has arrived. We intend to beat this blight.

Fly-tipping is a blight across the UK, both in rural and in urban areas. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the need for fly-tipping to be treated as organised crime, so that investigations are properly resourced?

I do not think I can say any more than that it was described as similar to the narcotics industry. We need to treat fly-tipping with that much seriousness: we need to crack down and make sure that the people who are earning illegally and blighting others’ lives are hounded out of this industry.

May I first thank the Minister for her enthusiasm in the matter? She clearly means what she says and I thank her for that. The most recent statistics from back home show that in the past two years the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs cleaned up 306 illegal waste sites, costing half a million pounds or the equivalent of 15 nurses’ pay. What discussions has the Minister had with her counterpart in the Northern Ireland Executive to discuss how we can combat these issues together and take the pressure off local councils?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I meet Ministers from the devolved Administrations regularly. I have not had specific conversations on the matter, but I would be happy to because fly-tipping knows no boundaries. We need to sort it out together.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that today is Holocaust Memorial Day. May we never see such hatred and wickedness again.

The Minister will know that many fly-tips consist mainly of household waste. Wales has seen its household recycling rates catapult from just 4.8% in 1999 to more than 65% in 2021. That is the difference a Labour Government makes. Will the Minister join me in acknowledging the success of the Welsh Labour Government and tell the House what lessons she is learning from them?

I associate myself with the hon. Lady’s comments about the holocaust.

Consistent collections, ensuring we can collect the seven strands of waste, will allow all households in this country to make sure they are recycling. Coupled with the deposit return scheme and other measures in the Environment Act 2021, they will ensure that everybody in England can recycle easily and consistently.

I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Minister mentions the deposit return scheme, because including cartons in the scheme is one extra step the Government could take to tackle fly-tipping. Please will she meet Tetra Pak, based in my constituency, to discuss the feasibility of the onward processing of cartons, which I believe would make that inclusion a practical possibility?

As my hon. Friend knows, we will announce more information on the deposit return scheme shortly. I would, of course, be happy to meet his constituent for further discussions. I do not think we should rule anything out, but nor am I making any promises.

Household Budgets: Food Prices

Food prices are influenced by a number of factors, including exchange rates and energy prices, both of which have risen since the coronavirus shock. Last year, we published the “United Kingdom Food Security Report 2021” which included a comprehensive analysis of household level food security. It showed that over the last decade spending among the poorest 20% of households has remained relatively stable at 16%.

Shamefully, this country now has more food banks than branches of McDonald’s. As Jack Monroe, the bootstrap cook, highlighted, inflation at a 30-year high has put many staples out of reach of household food larders, yet at the same time supermarkets have thrown away the equivalent of 190 million meals worth of food. Will the Secretary of State sit down with the big top 10 and charities such as City Harvest in Acton, the Felix Project and the newly launched Ealing Food Cupboard, and work out a way to link the two in a circular economy fashion to eliminate both landfill waste and food insecurity?

The hon. Lady raises an important point that we can reduce food waste. A number of supermarkets are already engaged in programmes to support local food banks. The Government support the FareShare charity, which also helps to redistribute food and tries to prevent food waste in the way she sets out.

Further to that question, many large retailers are keeping their budget lines at a higher price than they need to while not raising the price of higher-priced food, so I think there is an argument that they could do more to lower the price of food. Further to the Secretary of State’s comments on FareShare, can he see the £5 million that I think it is due to get food directly from farms, processors and retailers straight out to the people who need it?

I am aware that my hon. Friend has asked previously whether FareShare could also be engaged in making sure that food from farms does not go to waste, and I have said that I am willing to discuss that with it. On his point about prices, we have a highly competitive retail sector and, generally speaking, it has absorbed some of the price pressures to date.

Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme

5. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of winding down the seasonal agricultural workers scheme on the food and drink sector. (905289)

We are not winding down the seasonal agricultural workers scheme; in fact, we have now extended it until 2024 and it supports both edible and ornamental horticulture. There are 30,000 visas already available, with the potential to increase that to 40,000 if there is demand.

Instead of the 70,000 seasonal agricultural workers needed across the UK, the Government are limiting visas to 30,000, which is less than half of what is required. The National Farmers Union of Scotland has warned that, just like last year, we will again see millions of pounds-worth of crops lying rotting in the fields. Will the Secretary of State explain why the UK Government are not providing enough of the visas required? If they cannot manage an immigration scheme without harming one of Scotland’s key sectors, perhaps the Scottish Government should manage our borders.

As the hon. Lady may know, I worked in the soft fruit industry before coming into politics, so I am very familiar with the soft fruit industry in Scotland. It is one of the reasons why the Government have put in place the seasonal workers scheme, and we have had such a scheme since the second world war. Last year, we had a scheme with 30,000 visas, but only just over 25,000 were required. Many settled EU citizens will also continue to return to do seasonal work and we judge that 30,000 is probably the right number.

Bees: Thiamethoxam

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of his authorisation of the use of the pesticide thiamethoxam in certain circumstances on the bee population. (905290)

The emergency authorisation of thiamethoxam has been granted for sugar beet, which is a non-flowering crop so there is no direct risk to bees. However, due to the risk that thiamethoxam can stay in the soil for a period, we impose strict conditions on authorisation, including a requirement not to sow other flowering crops such as oilseed rape in the same field for at least 32 months.

Residents in the Kettering constituency want to see a larger and healthier bee population, but they do not want the England sugar beet crop destroyed by aphids. Will the Secretary of State outline the economic impact on sugar beet production if that pesticide is not used and what examination he has undertaken of alternative means of controlling aphids?

As part of our assessment of emergency authorisations, we consider the economic impact, and it is considerable. The sugar beet industry is an important crop for this country. As hon. Members will be aware, 12 other EU countries have also granted an emergency authorisation for sugar beet, so it is a common approach across Europe, but we have taken many steps to ensure that there is no risk to pollinators.

Nature Recovery Networks

7. What steps he plans to take to help increase farmer and other land manager engagement with nature recovery networks. (905292)

England’s nature recovery network is backed by the national delivery partnership, which includes partners such as the Country Land and Business Association. Earlier this month, I set out further details of our new farming schemes, including local nature recovery, which will incentivise farmers to make space for nature on their land and contribute to the network.

I do not want to upset the Secretary of State, but I really like this policy and approve of it wholeheartedly. The fact of the matter is that most of our constituents are not Greta Thunberg or Bill Gates, but they want to roll up their sleeves and do something in their local community. That is why I like the schemes. I am involved in one in John Clare country, in the poet’s neighbourhood, and one in Huddersfield. I speak to farmers, charities and people who really want to do that, but there is a blockage relating to how people get the money and a bit of resource to do it and how they open that up. Farmers, in particular, think it is a magical mystery tour. They want to do it but they cannot get on the journey.

It is great that we have cross-party consensus on the importance of nature. We also have the local nature recovery strategies that local authorities are putting together, making space for nature within local communities and new local nature reserves. In terms of schemes for farmers, we have already announced full details of the sustainable farming incentive and there will be many more details to come on things like landscape recovery for them to engage with.

UK-EU Catch Limits

8. What steps he is taking to ensure a greater share of the UK-EU catch limits for the UK fleet in 2023. (905293)

We have seen uplifts in quota share across the UK, with an increase of approximately 15% already. It will continue to increase year on year until 2026. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that there have been some particularly significant uplifts for the pelagic sector.

I look forward to continuing to work with the Minister to deliver the best future for Scottish fishermen as we move forward outside the common fisheries policy. Could she provide an estimate of how much the Scottish fishing industry has benefited in 2021 from being outside the CFP and particularly from negotiating as an independent coastal state for the first time?

My hon. Friend, a great champion for the industry, will know that Scotland has so far been allocated 36,000 of the 60,000 tonnes of additional UK quota. The Scottish industry is also benefiting from additional white fish quota and from the ability to undertake quota swaps.

More data may help in the negotiations, but data is no justification for the much-loathed catch app that the Government are imposing, which requires fishermen to guess the weight of their fish before they land them. When I was with Essex fishers in the estuary earlier in the week, they told me just how difficult that is.

I am not going to slap a dead fish on the Dispatch Box, Mr Speaker, because that would not meet with your approval, but I do have a copy of Tuesday’s Hansard, so I wonder whether the Minister can guess its weight. If she is not within 10%, will that make her a criminal? That is what the new rules will do to England’s fishers from the end of next month.

The hon. Gentleman knows that as a cook I am quite keen on guessing the weight of things, but I confess myself totally unable to guess the weight of Hansard without touching it.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s serious question, we will continue to work with the fishing industry on the best way to make sure we have the data that we need—as I think he would agree—to assess the future sustainability of stocks.

Food Labelling

Now that we have left the EU, we can review food labelling to make sure that consumers have the information that they need to make healthy and sustainable choices. We have already launched a consultation on animal welfare labelling, and we will consider the wider aspects of labelling in the coming months.

We know that our consumers want to buy British and buy Northern Irish to support higher animal welfare standards and our farming community, but sometimes they find food labelling confusing and misleading as to country of origin. What action have the Government taken to clarify the confusion? What steps will the Minister take, particularly with regard to making the technology even better in future?

Country-of-origin labelling must not mislead. If the main ingredient has a different origin—for example if a British pie has French meat inside—the label must say so. I have spoken to my hon. Friend about possible technological solutions to labelling issues, such as using QR codes, which can give consumers much more information about a product. We will continue to work on those solutions.

The Scottish Government—rather sensibly, I think—are awaiting the outcome of the EU review of genome-edited and genetically modified organism products, but the UK Government are pushing rapidly to introduce the production of genetically engineered crops and foodstuffs in England. Through the back-door route in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, they will enter the rest of the UK even if devolved Governments continue to prohibit them. Will any GE or GMO foods introduced in England be labelled as such so that consumers throughout the UK can make informed decisions about the food that they put in their mouth?

As I said, we are undertaking a comprehensive review of labelling; one issue that will be considered is whether a product is produced by GE, which probably will not happen for several years. The hon. Lady will know, although she opposes it, that we have made steps towards bringing in some GE pilots, which I think are going well. I look forward to working with hon. Members across the House on how to label such substances in future.

Coastal Communities

Coastal communities are key to our levelling-up agenda. A positive picture is emerging for our fishing industry, with a quota uplift of £146 million by 2026. In addition, our £100 million UK seafood fund will invest in coastal communities across the UK.

Research has shown that, with rising sea levels, Southport could resemble an island by 2050 if no further action is taken. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commit to visiting Southport to explore what further steps we could take to protect my constituents’ homes from rising water levels and the increased risk of flooding?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have increased spending on flooding to £5.2 billion so that we can better protect 336,000 properties across England. I would, of course, be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and visit his constituency to discuss the particular challenges that Southport faces.

The fishing industry in Shetland is being hammered by Spanish boats engaging in the completely unsustainable practice of gill netting. I have spoken to the fishing Minister about this in the past. What is being done to stop it or to ensure that, if it is to be done, it is to be done safely?

We keep different gear types and fishing practices under constant review. Concerns are sometimes raised about gill netting; that can be a sustainable form of fishing in some inshore waters, but not in all cases. I would be willing to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss his particular concern, although in some areas it will be for Marine Scotland to make the technical decisions.

Topical Questions

Earlier this month, I set out further details of our future agriculture policy. Local nature recovery will support farmers who want to make space for nature on their holdings, and landscape recovery will support land use change. However, ensuring that tenant farmers can access our future policy is going to be very important, so today I can announce that my noble Friend Baroness Rock will be chairing a new working group to investigate how we can ensure that tenant farmers access our schemes.

The consultation on the joint fisheries statement is welcome, and REAF—the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries—will be making a representation. However, there is a concern among East Anglian inshore fishermen as to the bureaucratic burden being imposed with regard to vessel testing stability, inshore vessel monitoring and the under-10-metre catch app. Accurate data is important, but I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that obligations imposed on SMEs and self-employed individuals are proportionate, realistic and underpinned by common sense.

My hon. Friend has been a long-standing champion for fishermen in his area and the inshore sector in particular. We have introduced the under-10-metre catch app to ensure that we have more accurate data, but I should point out to him that in this current year we have also increased the amount of quota in the inshore pool by around 70%, with the additional quota that we had as a result of leaving the European Union.

This week, I convened a roundtable discussion with leading members of our food and drinks sector. To the surprise of many, I am sure, the Prime Minister’s having his cake and eating it and stuffing suitcases full of booze were unfortunately not quite enough to sustain the industry through these difficult times.

What is clear is that the sector is struggling: the impact of inflation, the CO2 crisis, the rocketing of feed, fuel and energy bills, and labour shortages are all increasing costs, reducing profit and ultimately pushing prices up for consumers. Those same businesses will be listening closely today. On behalf of those people, may I ask the Secretary of State what the plan is to control inflation, tackle fuel and energy costs, address labour shortages, solve the CO2 crisis, and finally back British business?

I, too, regularly meet food industry representatives—indeed, yesterday I met the retailers, and I meet manufacturers as well. The food industry is Britain’s largest manufacturer: bigger than aerospace and automotive combined. It employs millions of people and brings prosperity to every part of our United Kingdom. There are some cost pressures at the moment, caused by gas prices, which my ministerial colleagues elsewhere are looking at, but we continue to work closely with the industry to manage its challenges.

Essentially there is no plan, and the lack of a plan is a theme running through the Government.

Let us move on to sewage discharge. Yesterday, when asked what could be done to reduce sewage discharges in the River Wye, the Prime Minister suggested putting on his trunks and going for a swim. While it might be normal for him, most of us do not like being up to our necks in raw sewage. Yet investment is down, water companies are £50 billion in debt, private investment has not followed, and the only things that are up are sewage discharges and shareholder profits. That is hardly surprising when over the past decade the Environment Agency has had its grant cut from £120 million to £40 million, reducing its ability to investigate and enforce. What is the Secretary of State going to do to give everybody the right to clean water? And please, don’t say you’ll join the Prime Minister.

If the hon. Gentleman had followed some of the debate on the Environment Act 2021, he would know that this House has put in place legal obligations to reduce storm overflows in particular. That follows up on the Government’s decision last summer to put that in their policy statement to Ofwat. We have also doubled spending on catchment sensitive farming and have increased the number of Environment Agency inspectors by 50.

T2. Two thirds of my constituency of Aylesbury is rural. Farmers there have told me that they really welcome the Government’s new policies, which recognise the importance of benefiting the environment as well as of producing food, so can my right hon. Friend update me on the roll-out of future farming schemes in Buckinghamshire? (905304)

We have already planned this year to open the sustainable farming incentive. It will be open to all farmers and universally available. We have also increased the payment rates for countryside stewardship. Half of farmers are already in that, and we are encouraging the other half to join, too.

T5. The Secretary of State knows from the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that there are some 6.6 million people in food insecurity, with insufficient daily food of a nutritious standard. He also knows that food prices, energy prices and national insurance are going up, and universal credit is going down. Does he agree, therefore, that that figure will reach 10 million unless something is done, and will he meet me and the co-operative movement to discuss a plan, including to put the right to food into law? (905307)

Our food security review, which was published before Christmas, showed that we have the lowest spending on food as a percentage of household income anywhere in Europe. Overall, food prices in this country are stable and spending on food is low. However, there are challenges for certain individuals. That is why we have things like the holiday funding.

T3. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be financial support to help upgrade fishing vessels and ready them for five and a half years’ time, when the TCA agreement with the EU ends, in particular our inshore commercial fleet, such as those operating from the port of Looe in my constituency? (905305)

Yes, we have a new £100 million fund to support a range of activities, including port infrastructure as well as upgrades to vessels.

T7. When I met Southern Water to discuss sewage discharges, it said, “Oh, it isn’t our fault because we’re not in charge of runoffs and there’s a mixture of companies that do sewage treatment.” Is it not time to follow the model in Wales and have one water board that is publicly controlled by the consumers, so that there is no more finger pointing in other directions? (905310)

The Environment Agency brought a prosecution against Southern Water in respect of its failures, and it received, as the hon. Gentleman will know, a record fine of £90 million.

T4.   Illegal waste sites have been a problem across North Staffordshire, and the number of organisations and agencies involved in regulating waste is allowing unscrupulous actors to go unchecked, so will Ministers look at better regulating waste? (905306)

Yes, I will. As my hon. Friend knows, I have been up to his part of the world and have looked at some of the challenges there. We need to do more, we will do more, and we will keep monitoring until we get it right.

The Government’s recent decision to authorise a neonic, bee-destroying pesticide runs contrary to the advice of both the Health and Safety Executive and the Government’s expert committee on pesticides. How on earth is this decision compatible with the Government’s legal requirement to halt species loss by 2030, and will the Secretary of State look again at this particular decision?

I addressed this issue earlier. The chief scientist gave some analysis, along with others. We took a decision firmly based on the science. Twelve other EU countries have done so, too.

T6. Corbett meadow is a historic piece of land in my constituency and in the draft local plan it has been afforded the same protections as green-belt land. Does my hon. Friend agree that the recommendations should be carried forward into the final plan, not just because the land is our green lungs but for mental health and wellbeing? (905309)

I cannot comment on matters in that specific plan, but I congratulate my hon. Friend on that work, as our wildflower meadows are so precious. There are only 3% left, and we need to get them protected and communities looking after them as much as possible.

The Government promised a White Paper in response to the national food strategy within six months of its publication. That time runs out at the end of this month, so when are we going to see it? Please do not say “shortly” or “soon”.

In this “tree-bilee” year, the Environment Minister knows about Gloucester’s huge new project, Hempsted woods, where I hope every child will have the chance to plant a tree. She herself kindly planted an apple tree there last year. Does she agree that it would be very helpful if the Department could publish a crib sheet about how everybody in the country can access new trees to plant this year, as soon as possible?

It was a pleasure to plant that tree; I hope it is doing well. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his tremendous work with the whole team in Gloucester to plant that huge wood. It will make such a difference to our tree target. It is a great idea of his to send out a list of all the myriad grants that are available for tree planting.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Churches and Cathedrals: Sustainability

1. What assessment the Church of England has made of the steps needed to put the maintenance of churches and cathedrals on a sustainable basis. (905258)

The Church estimates that over the next five years at least £1.14 billion of maintenance and repairs are needed for churches and cathedrals. The Church is very grateful that 550 churches and cathedrals have already benefited from the culture recovery fund, but there remains an urgent need for predictable and sustainable sources of funding, which enable us to keep skilled builders and craft people in work.

Last week, the listed places of worship grant scheme was extended until 2025, which I welcome. It is absolutely crucial for churches such as All Saints in Beighton, in my constituency, and the repair work on its thatched roof. Almost half the grade I listed buildings in this country are church buildings. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that that scheme should be now made permanent?

I am delighted that the thatched roof of All Saints, Beighton, has been fixed and that the listed places of worship grant scheme, which covers the VAT cost, was helpful in achieving that. The Government have extended that scheme for the next three years, but in order for churches and cathedrals to continue contributing some £50 billion a year to national wellbeing, my hon. Friend is right that we will need to put these repairs on a sustainable footing. That is why I will be copying this exchange to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Tackling Racial Inequalities

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have established the racial justice commission, chaired by my good friend Lord Boateng, in order to help the Church of England become more like the nation it serves. The commission is making good progress and will report in 2023. It updates the archbishops every six months on progress.

Last April, the Church’s anti-racism taskforce published its final report that included a series of recommendations, including around participation and representation. However, I am concerned by a report by the Archbishops’ Council on racial justice, published this week, that rejects the recommendation to fund racial justice officers in each diocese and says the recommendations about shortlisting candidates from a black or ethnic minority background are unlikely to be met. That is worrying and unacceptable, as without proper commitment and investment to increase representation, there will be more decades of inaction. Does the Commissioner agree with me that there is role to play to ensure that there are adequate resources to assist the Church in achieving greater representation?

I agree with the hon. Lady that the Church has not done well enough in this area in the past, but I am sure that she will be pleased to learn that, on Tuesday this week, two UK minority ethnic bishops were consecrated at St Paul’s Cathedral. There are plans for more UK minority ethnic clergy to take part in House of Bishops meetings. I am sure that, like me, she will also be encouraged by the work of the Peter Stream in several dioceses, which has had great results in broadening both the ethnic and social diversity of those seeking ordination.

Freedom of Religion or Belief

It gives me very great pleasure, on behalf of the whole of the Church of England, to thank my hon. Friend for her hard work as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, and also to congratulate our mutual friend, David Burrowes, on his appointment as her deputy. The Church looks forward to working with her over the coming months to deliver a successful international ministerial meeting in London in July, which will make a real difference to those who suffer because of their faith or belief.

I thank my hon. Friend for those words and welcome the international opportunities to champion freedom of religion or belief at the ministerial conference in London in July, which I am very proud that the UK is hosting, and at the Lambeth conference. Will my hon. Friend join me in commending the motion of the diocese of Lichfield at the forthcoming General Synod that the Church of England not only prays for the persecuted Church, but that its dioceses offer support to link dioceses in parts of the world where the Church is facing persecution, and that the next Lambeth conference addresses the issues of the persecution of Christians?

I am only sorry that, unusually, our hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) is not in his place to hear my hon. Friend’s praise for his diocese. She is absolutely right that the Church of England’s diocesan links around the globe or Anglican Communion enable that practical help to flow to those who are suffering because of their faith while also developing a greater awareness of this horrendous persecution. I also hope that she will engage directly with the bishops from areas of persecution at the Lambeth conference later this year.

Many of my constituents have written to me to express their concern about the persecution of Christians across the world. In particular, Newcastle boasts a large number of Nigerian diaspora Christians who are concerned following the launch of the Open Doors’ World Watch List. What can local churches do to support the promotion of freedom of religion across the world with the Church of England?

I am particularly grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning Nigeria, because the situation there, in many cases, is extremely challenging for Christians. One practical thing that she could do is to get the Open Doors’ World Watch List—the map—and send it to all the churches in her constituency, so that they can put it in their porch to make sure that everyone is aware of the situation. That will help them hold her to account, and we all need to hold the Government and those other countries to account to make sure that freedom of religion and belief holds.

Parenting and Marriage

11. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church of England is taking to support family relationships, parenting and marriage. (905269)

The Church is deeply committed to marriage and will always be there to support every family and household. It is for that reason that both archbishops have launched a commission on families and households to look at what more the Church can do to provide the very best marriage preparation and enrichment and to strengthen family relationships.

What are the very best examples of preparation and enrichment and classes for parents, and what is the Church doing to spread it about?

My right hon. Friend asks a typically astute question, and, like any national institution, the Church has examples of outstanding practice, which are not as widely shared as they should be. Although there is excellent work in every diocese, I have been particularly impressed by the pre-marriage course, which is also for couples who are not engaged and want to explore marriage, and the marriage course run by the Reverend Nicky Lee and his wife, Sila. These have been run in 127 countries for more than 1.5 million couples and get tremendous feedback.

I hope that my hon. Friend can give me a one-word answer to my question. Will he confirm what I understand was said by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is that the Church of England has no objection in principle to suitably qualified humanist celebrants conducting marriages for those couples who so wish to make their vows to each other in that way?

I think I can make my hon. Friend at least partially happy

by telling him that the Church of England has no principled objection to humanist marriage. However, I know he will be aware that any move from a premises-based system of marriage registration to a celebrant-based one in England and Wales would not be a minor reform and would affect everyone involved in registering marriages. I recognise that Humanists UK have made alternative suggestions recently; while I can understand his frustration about progress, he will know that it is for the Government, not the Church, to make the ultimate judgment on whether and how the current system should be changed.

As a former parliamentary churchwarden at St Margaret’s and a lay canon at Wakefield, I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a vibrant and lively Christians in Parliament group where some of the specific issues he has mentioned this morning could be better discussed. Could he get more involved in that and help us to get more hon. Members involved?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am a former chair of Christians in Parliament, which is ably run by our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter), and I participate in its meetings. I am glad the hon. Gentleman has given it wider publicity in these questions.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response. I am a great believer in marriage, as you are, Mr Speaker. I have 34 years of married life—my wife has stuck me for 34 years, so well done to her. I know the hon. Gentleman is equally committed to helping people stay married and stay in happy relationships. What is the Church doing to ensure that, where there are breakdowns and grievances, it can step in to help to resolve those issues and make the marriage last?

I thank the hon. Gentleman; sadly, some marriages cannot be saved, but he is right that many marriages, with the appropriate help and support, can be saved. All marriages go through difficult times, and he is right to say that that is an important role for the Church of England.

Christians: Middle East

6. What recent assessment the Church of England has made of the level of threats to Christians in the Middle East. (905263)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I know takes issues of religious persecution very seriously indeed. We know from Open Doors and others of the extreme persecution suffered by Christians in, for example, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Qatar and Egypt.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. As the newly elected chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Christianity in the Holy Land, I am grateful for the attention of Members of this House, the media and faith leaders across the world on the challenges that Christians face in the Holy Land and in the middle east more widely, as he expressed. I welcome the public assurances from President Herzog and Interior Minister Shaked that Israel will support the Christians of the Holy Land, but may I ask what efforts the Church of England is making to work with Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that Jerusalem—a home to the three Abrahamic faith communities and, indeed, the religious capital of the world—is a place where Christian individuals and institutions can continue to flourish and thrive?

I know that, like me, my hon. Friend is deeply conscious that this is Holocaust Memorial Day. I can tell her that there are many strong relationships enabling the church to support Christians and churches in Jerusalem, the land where Jesus walked. Last year, the diocese of Southwark signed a covenant agreement with the diocese of Jerusalem, opening new opportunities for pilgrimage, prayer and mutual support. The Bishop of Southwark goes to Jerusalem often and is in regular contact with our consul general and with Ministers in London about what can be done to ensure the peace of Jerusalem so that all faiths can flourish in the Holy Land.

Gay and Lesbian Relationships

7. For what reason the Church of England has not made provision to enable a church blessing of gay and lesbian relationships. (905264)

The Church of England’s doctrine defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and changing doctrine is a serious matter that involves humbly seeking to discern the mind of God. The Church of England is engaging intensively with questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage in ways that have not been done before. That process of learning, listening and discernment among clergy and congregations is enabling a deep engagement with difference and diversity as part of the Church’s discernment of a way forward.

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member said about supporting families and households, because in Wales and Scotland, there are blessings for lesbian and gay marriages, which shows the Churches’ acceptance and understanding of all households and families. It would be good for the Church of England to introduce a Measure on this issue sooner rather than later, as we know that it often moves at a glacial pace, as it did on ordaining women and having women bishops. This would be a welcome change for the Church to make.

I thank the right hon. Lady for the question. What she suggests may be welcome, but the Church needs to discern what it believes the true teachings of the gospels to be. In order to determine where God is leading us, we are engaged in one of the most extensive exercises in consultation, learning and prayer carried out by the Church in recent decades. Both the destination and how we get there are important.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker’s Committee onthe electoral Commission was asked—

Elections Bill: Costs

8. What estimate the Committee has made of the potential cost of implementing the Elections Bill’s proposed changes to the administration and conduct of elections. (905265)

The Electoral Commission estimates that its work connected to the Bill will cost £16 million over the next five years. The estimate is based on its understanding of the Government’s implementation planning. The commission’s annual funding is subject to approval by the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission through the main and supplementary estimates process. The commission has not made its own estimate of the cost to others of the changes set out in the Bill. It has, however, highlighted that it is essential that implementation of the changes be appropriately funded if we are to ensure that the package of measures is realistically deliverable by electoral administrators.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer. Scottish National party Members have raised moral and democratic concerns about the Elections Bill many times, but those concerns are not separate from the financial considerations. For instance, voter identity provisions may carry extra administrative and enforcement costs. Will the commission take those indirect financial implications into account, looking forward?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments. If he has views on the need for increased expenditure, he can raise them with the commission at the next meeting of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission. I remind him and the House, however, that it is not the commission’s responsibility to justify the cost arising from legislation. In this case, it is the Government’s responsibility as the sponsors of the legislation.

The hon. Gentleman is a serious and well informed person. Is the Bill, and the change in funding that is necessary, an opportunity to split the role of the Electoral Commission? It could concentrate on the administration of all elections, and a separate, independent body could deal with enforcement. That way, we would feel there was a separation of powers.

The hon. Gentleman is always looking for the right opportunity to achieve that, and to challenge the position of the Electoral Commission. Obviously, the Government have not taken that decision. They have listened to, for example, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and indeed our Committee on Standards. The Electoral Commission has a new chairperson, and a new chief executive is being appointed. I know the hon. Gentleman has concerns about its activities, but let us give the new leadership team a chance to bed in.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Church Schools

9. What recent assessment the Church of England has made of the contribution of Church schools to education provision (a) in North Devon constituency and (b) across the country. (905267)

The Church of England runs 4,600 schools, including a quarter of all primary schools and two thirds of all small rural schools in the country. We are also a major provider of teacher training, and we work hard to ensure that all our children flourish, whether in our large urban schools, or in small rural ones such as those in North Devon.

Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking the many Church schools in North Devon, and will he say what steps are being taken by the Church to help pupils in these schools to catch up post covid, and to support their mental wellbeing?

I most certainly join my hon. Friend in thanking all the Church schools in North Devon for the fantastic work that they have done throughout the pandemic. We are supporting the leaders of all our schools in helping children to catch up on lost learning, and in promoting the wellbeing and mental health of pupils —through our trauma awareness training, for example.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

House of Commons Catering: British Food

10. What steps the Commission is taking to increase the proportion of British food bought for sale in the House’s catering outlets. (905268)

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the House of Commons food outlets serve 650 Members of Parliament, 420 members of the press lobby, and about another 17,000 passholders. It is the intention of all catering outlets, wherever possible, to buy British, and to serve seasonal vegetables, British meat and dairy, and, of course, the Champagne—or its equivalent—made in Hampshire and other parts of the United Kingdom, as well as local beers. However, those of course were not available during periods of lockdown, when no alcohol was served on the premises.

I thank the hon. Member for that helpful answer. May I urge him to take a proactive role and invite Members of Parliament to put forward local British suppliers so that we can benefit British businesses and British workers? Officials have no longer got the excuse of the EU to hide behind—it was never a real one anyway—so will they get on with that and have an active campaign?

Since we banished the EU from these shores, we have been just delighting in buying British. But there is more to do, and the right hon. Member needs to play an important part in that campaign. In the next few weeks, I expect him to lead a delegation to the Administration Committee of interested Members from across the United Kingdom, including Scotland and Wales—oh, and Jim Shannon—to demand that more is done. We shall try to meet those demands.

Order. Before I come to the business question, I understand that a Member has this morning stated in a media appearance that he has been granted an urgent question today. That is not the case. So, Sky News, please take down the notice that there is a UQ. No UQs have been granted at all.

I remind Members that, to be considered, UQ applications need to be tabled by the deadline. This Member was more than 30 minutes late in putting in a UQ application. All right hon. and hon. Members should take care to be accurate in their comments about business in the Chamber. They certainly should not announce that urgent questions have been granted when that is not the case. I remind Members, too, that Erskine May states:

“Neither the submission of an urgent question nor its subsequent rejection by the Speaker should…be…referred to”—

and certainly not on the media. I would be grateful if all Members followed that guidance. I am sure that the Member concerned will be heading to my office to apologise as a matter of urgency.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 31 January will include:

Monday 31 January—Motion to approve a ways and means resolution relating to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Dormant Assets Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 1 February—Opposition day (11th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the Official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 2 February—Remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 3 February—General debate on the effectiveness of the Government’s education catch-up and mental health recovery programmes, followed by general debate on the Committee on Standards’ review of the code of conduct for Members of Parliament. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 4 February—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 7 February will include:

Monday 7 February—Debate on motions to approve the Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2022 and the Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2022, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and this afternoon’s crucial debate will allow Members across the House to mark the day. I pay tribute to all the survivors for their bravery and generosity in reliving enormously traumatic personal experiences to educate us. I also thank the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for all the work they do to ensure that such atrocities never happen again.

It started with the Prime Minister saying that no rules were broken. Then he said that he did not know about any parties. Then he said that he did not know whether he was there or not. Then he remembered that he was there but did not know that it was a party. Then he said that nobody warned him that the party was against the rules. This week, we were told that he was ambushed by a cake, although on the media earlier this week the Leader of the House said that he needs to wait for an internal inquiry to establish whether the Prime Minister ate the cake or not. Can the Leader of the House explain how we have gone from being told that no rules were broken to the Government being the subject of a police investigation? We do not yet know when the long-awaited internal inquiry into rule-breaking at No. 10 will be published, but can he give assurances that when the report is published, it will be published in full, and that Members will have advance sight of it before any statement is made in the House?

While the Prime Minister is desperately trying to shore up his own position and the Leader of the House is busy threatening Back Benchers with an early general election, working families are hit with steep rises to energy prices, falling low wages and Tory tax rises. Labour’s fully funded measures would save households £200 a year from their energy bills, with an extra £400 for families and pensioners who need it most. The Government chose not to support that plan. Can we have a statement on why the Government are choosing to look the other way and ignore the cost of living crisis faced by millions of people?

An estimated £4.3 billion of fraudulent loans will not be recovered, and yesterday, during an urgent question, a Government Minister refused to commit to bring forward a long-overdue economic crime Bill to tackle fraud and corruption. Given that a different Government Minister resigned on Monday in protest at the Government’s failure on this, can the Leader of the House confirm when it became Government policy to waste billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and hand it to fraudsters?

As the Leader of the House will be aware, four disabled people took the Government to court this week on the national disability strategy consultation process. In a ruling that will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, the High Court found that the strategy is unlawful. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has not made a statement to the House following this ruling, so will the Leader of the House provide Government time to debate this critically important strategy?

Last year, in December, the Prime Minister said that it was “complete nonsense” that he personally intervened in decision making over whether to evacuate Nowzad staff and animals from Afghanistan. However, emails released yesterday appear to suggest that the Prime Minister did intervene and overruled the Defence Secretary, so can the Leader of the House explain what happened?

This Government put their own self-interest above the national interest. They have completely lost any grip, and working people are paying the price.

I welcome the hon. Lady to business questions and give my thanks to the usual shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), for letting me know that she was unable to be here today.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight Holocaust Memorial Day. I thank the Opposition Front-Bench team for not putting in any urgent questions today, and I am glad that there are no statements either so that we can devote the whole time to debating Holocaust Memorial Day, which is, I think, what the whole House wanted.

I am glad to see the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee nodding. It is a truly important day. I agree entirely with the hon. Lady that education is so important. The more people know and understand the horrors that went before, the more likely it is that such horrors will be avoided in future.

The hon. Lady then asked a wide range of questions about Government policy. May I say how pleased I am that she has finally moved off cake? It has seemed to me over the past few weeks that all the Opposition could ever talk about was cake—whether we have had our cake and eaten it, whether there has been no cake, whether there never was any cake, or what cake there may have been; how it was baked, how many eggs there were in it, whether it was made with margarine or butter, or what type of cake it was: did it have sponge or was it chocolate? All these issues about cake have been an obsession of the Opposition, so I am glad that we are now getting on to some more serious subjects.

The hon. Lady referred to the cost-of-living issue, and here the Government have been extremely active in helping people, including families. The national living wage will rise to £9.50 from April, which will mean an extra £1,000 a year for full-time workers. Nearly 2 million families will receive an extra £1,000 a year through our cut in the universal credit taper and increased work allowances. There is also a £140 rebate on the energy bills of 2.2 million low-income households this winter, and there are seasonal cold weather payments of an extra £25 a week for up to 4 million people during sustained colder periods.

However, the key to ensuring that the economy works lies in the steps taken by the Government during the pandemic, when they introduced the furlough scheme and bounce back business loans to ensure that the structures of the economy survived it. That is fundamental to why we now have the highest payroll employment in our history, the lowest recorded youth unemployment in our history, and the economy back to where it was before the pandemic. So the real question on the cost of living is whether the economy is being managed well, and the answer to that is “Yes, it is, because of the decisions that this Government made.”

The hon. Lady then raised the issue of fraud, and the £4.3 billion that has come out of the covid supplies. That is about 1% of the amount of money that British taxpayers provided. However, the Government have already stopped or recovered £743 million in overclaimed furlough grants. We have prevented £2.2 billion in fraud from our bounce back loan scheme, and our Taxpayer Protection Taskforce is set to recover an additional £1 billion; its investigations are under way. The Government take this seriously, but if we want to know who are the real experts in wasting taxpayers’ money, it is the socialists. When they were in opposition, what happened to the NHS computer system? How many billions were frittered away through their irresponsible approach to taxpayers’ money?

The hon. Lady raised the national disability strategy and yesterday’s court judgment. The DWP has sought permission to appeal against that judgment, which is solely about technicalities and the requirements to consult. The DWP has engaged with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, carers and others as part of the national disability strategy, which is one of the broadest packages of real, practical action put together so far to improve the lives of disabled people in relation to jobs, housing, transport, education, shopping, culture, justice, public services, data and evidence. There is a real push to help disabled people.

Then we come on to the Afghanistan animals. The Ministry of Defence got 15,000 people out of Afghanistan in an extraordinary and amazingly successful operation, but again the Opposition are dealing with the fripperies and the trivia, not with the really big picture. All they care about are cake and animals, whereas we are getting on with the important business of government.

Families in west Berkshire have told me about waits of up to two years to receive diagnoses of either autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder for their children, often at a catastrophic cost to their educational and social development. However, I understand that the problem extends much more widely than west Berkshire. May I invite my right hon. Friend to make Government time available for a debate to discuss the provision of child and adolescent mental health services?

I thank my hon. Friend both for her question and for her campaigning on children’s mental health issues, which are of great importance and, I think, recognised as such across the House.

The Government have announced that £17 million of extra spending to build on the existing mental health support will be available in education settings, including £7 million for the wellbeing for education recovery programme and £9.5 million to fund training for mental health leaders in about a third of all state schools and colleges. That is on top of the £79 million to boost mental health support for children and young people that was announced in March. NHS England has consulted on the potential to introduce five new waiting time standards, and a response will be published in due course. I think it is accepted that there is a problem, and steps are being taken to tackle it.

Let me first echo and support the comments of the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) about Holocaust Memorial Day. I think we are all looking forward to this afternoon’s debate.

May we have a debate about the constitution, just to ascertain whether we are on our way to becoming a republic? This view has a rather odd new supporter and champion in the guise of the Leader of the House himself. In another disastrous performance on Newsnight, he claimed that a change of leader requires a general election because the UK is now effectively a “presidential system”. Well, somebody should notify Her Majesty the Queen—but perhaps not the right hon. Gentleman himself, after that disastrous Prorogation business.

Most of us suspect that this was just some sort of clumsy attempt to get recalcitrant Tory Back Benchers on board—the threat of a general election in which large swathes of them would lose their seats—rather than a real attempt to redefine the constitution of the UK, but could we please have a statement from the Leader of the House, just for the comedy value? Last week, he was flattering the precious Union; this week he is reinventing the republic of the UK. He must be President Johnson’s most inept spokesperson when it comes to these matters.

I am beginning to think it would be a matter of duty and mercy for the House services to provide some sort of counselling services for Tory Back Benchers. What they have been through is almost unendurable. There has been Owen Paterson, cash for access, cash for honours, partygate, cakegate, Operation Big Dog and Operation Put Big Dog Down. Now they are biting their nails to the stumps waiting for the report so that they can at least make up their minds about the Prime Minister. It is like some sort of dysfunctional “Waiting for Godot”. But we are here to help: if confessional is required, Tory Members should come and speak to some of us in the Opposition. We are here to help out; we could help them fix some of their woes. Who would be a Tory Back Bencher just now? But help is out there.

I am so grateful that the hon. Gentleman is his normal cheerful self. He raised the interesting constitutional point of the dissolution of Parliament under a new leader. I actually raised that point on Second Reading of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 on 13 September 2010 because, prior to the Act coming in, it was becoming apparent that an election did need to follow from a new leader and that what had happened to Gordon Brown when he was Prime Minister was illustrative of that. Our constitution evolves and moves, not necessarily by legislation but by the way conventions develop, and it was clearly developing before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. I thought at the time that the Act would prevent such an election, but in fact it had the reverse effect—it accelerated it. When we changed Prime Minister in 2016, an election followed within a few months; when we changed Prime Minister in 2019, once again an election followed within a few months. That is important to an understanding of the constitution: norms arise that become accepted and understood, without any need for a formal legislative process. That has been the way that our written but uncodified constitution has developed and evolved.

Then the question is raised as to whether we have become a more presidential system. Being a more presidential system does not override the need—the essential need—for a constitutional monarchy. It means that the power of the monarchy has evolved and been devolved to the Prime Minister, and we have seen this happen over centuries. The exercise of the prerogative, now done on the formal advice of the Prime Minister, shows that most of the powers that would be vested in a President are vested de facto if not de jure in the Prime Minister. So if we are looking at how the constitution has evolved, it is clear that a Prime Minister has a personal mandate much more than a party mandate and that that mandate comes from voters, who would expect to renew it in the event of a change of Prime Minister. That is why I think we have evolved to the situation where a new Prime Minister would want a new election.

I am delighted that the SNP wishes to discuss my favourite pet subject, which is the evolution of the constitution, and it is something we should debate more and more, but I look to the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee for his kindness.

One of the Government’s levelling-up initiatives has been the establishment of freeports. The Humber ports have been granted freeport status, but we really need to get motoring. Could the Leader of the House arrange for a debate or a statement so that we can see how the Government’s initiative is evolving?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend because I agree with him. I think that freeports are going to be one of the real advantages and benefits of having left the European Union. The National Insurance Contributions Bill, which is passing through Parliament at the moment, is the main Act of Parliament that will facilitate an ambitious programme of freeports, so I am glad to say that it is going ahead and legislative action is taking place.

I reassure the Leader of the House that, if at some time in the future he should be on the Back Benches, I would very much welcome an application from him for a debate on the evolution of the constitution—but I am sure that will not be for some time.

Can I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the business managers in the House for helping us by devoting the remainder of today to the important debate on and commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day? It is so important to so many of our constituents, and to mine in particular in the constituency of Gateshead, which has a very large Haredi Jewish community.

On 10 February, we are hoping to put on two debates—on friendship and co-operation with Taiwan, which would be rather timely given the current circumstances, and on dementia research in the United Kingdom, which is also extremely timely given what we have been going through for the last couple of years.

On advance notice of applications already received for particular debates, I have already mentioned an application for a Welsh affairs debate to commemorate St David’s Day on 1 March, which would be on 3 March if we can get the time, and we already have on the stocks an application for a debate on International Women’s Day, which falls on 8 March, so Thursday 10 March would be appropriate if we could get that.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I am glad I am storing up credit for applications for future debates when it is not necessarily as easy as it may be now for me to see what the business of the House is going to be.

I completely understand the importance of the debates the hon. Gentleman raises, especially in relation to Taiwan, St David’s Day, dementia research and International Women’s Day. It is extremely helpful of him to give me advance notice, as it is of course for Members to give him advance notice of particular dates that are coming up. However, I am sorry that nobody, as far as I am aware, has asked for a debate on 30 January to commemorate, of course, the execution—the murder—of Charles, King and Martyr.

On 5 January, former Labour councillor Lord Ahmed of Rotherham was found guilty of serious sexual assault against a young boy and guilty of twice attempting to rape a girl. Although he is no longer a member of the other place, he still maintains and uses his title of peer of the realm, and only an Act of Parliament can strip him of his letters patent. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me, and the 2,000 people from Rother Valley who have signed my petition, that we should have a debate in Government time on a Bill to strip him of his title, and to send a clear message that we will never tolerate any vile monsters who are guilty of such heinous crimes against children? They should never have such prestigious titles.

The last Bill of attainder, as far as I am aware, was in 1798, although there was the Titles Deprivation Act 1917 to strip royal dukes of their titles when they were traitors. My hon. Friend is right to say that it requires legislation to take away a peerage, although I do slightly wonder what satisfaction it will give to the person to whom he refers to be called “My Lord” while he is serving time at Her Majesty’s expense. The disgrace he has felt means that his title has become, I hope, wormwood.

I know the Leader of the House loves patronising Opposition MPs, but to be honest I have been patronised by much more illustrious people than him.

Can we have a debate, because the Leader of the House did not take this question seriously earlier, about the evacuation from Afghanistan? Many of us still have constituents and friends of constituents who are stuck in Afghanistan in very dangerous and frightening situations, and some of us are concerned that the process of deciding the priorities last summer was not as it should have been. In fact, it was so chaotic—perhaps for good reasons, but perhaps for bad reasons as well—that bad decisions were made.

If we had such a debate, we would also have the opportunity to clear up the fact that the Prime Minister has repeatedly said that he took absolutely no role in the decision to evacuate Pen Farthing and Nowzad, whereas the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary wrote a letter in which she made it clear that she was involved as his PPS. We now have in the Foreign Affairs Committee an email from one of Lord Goldsmith’s officials, so a member of the Foreign Office team, saying that the Prime Minister had authorised this. We need to get to the bottom of this. There may be a perfectly innocent explanation. But it may be guilty as charged.

Under Operation Pitting, our armed forces and civil service worked around the clock to evacuate 15,000 people, including around 8,300 British nationals and 5,000 people through the Afghan relocations policy. This was an incredibly successful and pressurised operation, and our armed forces, once again, showed what amazing things they can do when called upon to do them. The hon. Gentleman is fussing about a few animals. I think that shows the level of seriousness that he characteristically brings to today’s debate.

I very much welcome the Government’s excellent vaccination roll-out programme in my constituency, with a vaccination centre in Medway, which all three Medway MPs campaigned for. Linked to that, my constituents very much welcome the £12 billion extra NHS investment year on year. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House about support for hospitals? My hospital in Medway serves half a million people. It needs extra resources in the short term and in the long term in Medway we need a full brand new hospital to serve the needs of our constituents. I know that the Government are committed to supporting the national health service.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and commend him for his brilliant campaigning work locally in his constituency, and for the remarkable work he has done to protect freedom of religion around the world. The Government have used, and are using, taxpayers’ money to support the health service. In September, we announced an additional £36 billion for health and social care over the next three years, which interestingly was opposed by the party opposite. We are doing things to catch up with the backlog that has come through covid. For example, there will be 9 million extra scans and an extra £8 billion to tackle the elective backlog. He lobbies for a new hospital. I will pass on his lobbying to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Given the views that the Leader of the House has just expressed about the need for a snap general election following a change of Prime Minister, can he confirm that the Government are seriously intending to bring forward such a Bill to make that change?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. What I was saying was that the constitution evolves, and the norms and conventions of the constitution are not normally set down in legislation, although some of them are.

It is the rugby league world cup this autumn, and the new Super League season kicks off in a fortnight, with some of the games for the first time on free-to-air television—they will be on Channel 4—which will be great for widening the notoriety of the sport. Such a debate would also give me an opportunity to express my deep disappointment that Labour-run Kirklees has reneged on an agreement to host the National Rugby League Museum in the birthplace of rugby league, the George Hotel in Huddersfield.

I think we should have a special debate every week on the failures of socialist councils, to which Conservative Members would massively subscribed. Labour Members would probably decide to work from home that day, which is something they enjoy. I cannot claim to be an expert on rugby league. The only sport I know anything much about is cricket, which may be rather embarrassing, under current circumstances, to confess to. But I thought I heard—whether the stenographers of Hansard did, I do not know—a modest “Hear, hear” emanate from the Chair during my hon. Friend’s question. Assuming that it did not come from the Clerks, who tend not to comment on our business, I think that an application for an Adjournment debate may be very favourably looked upon.

That is good news. It is Stefan Ratchford’s testimonial on Saturday, when Warrington play Wigan, and I will be there.

Further to Mr Speaker’s announcement that there will be no statements today, that does rather leave unanswered the question that many members of the public want to know the answer to: the whereabouts of Sue Gray’s urgent and very important report into the numerous reported events and parties that No. 10 took part in during lockdown. The Prime Minister has been known to hide in a fridge to avoid questions, so can the Leader of the House confirm that there will be no hiding from the outcome of this report—that it will be published in full, and that we will be granted time in this House to scrutinise its findings in full?

First, it is wrong of Members of this House to pressurise the independent investigator over the speed of her report. It would be wrong for the Government to put pressure on her, and it is wrong of the Opposition to do so. Sue Gray is doing it independently, and she must be given the time that she needs to do it. However, of course, as the Prime Minister has said, when the report is released, he will come to the House and make a statement, and will be open to questions. That is the proper parliamentary procedure.

Several of my constituents have made applications for the protective security grant and were successful, but as a result of the pandemic, some of those works have not been completed and the funding has lapsed. Can a Home Office Minister come before the House to explain to my constituents how they can revive those applications and ensure that their synagogues, churches and other places of worship and religion are adequately protected?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for this question, because it is very important to provide the necessary protections for places of worship that may need some level of protection. Work is continuing to safeguard places of worship, including synagogues and mosques, with £3.5 million allocated for the places of worship security grant this year. Of course, if there are specific issues with grants that have lapsed because of covid, if he will give me the details, I will happily take them up with the Home Secretary.

As the cost of living continues to spiral, it is ever more important that retired miners receive all of the money in their pension scheme, and that the Government stop profiting from 50% of the surplus, which totals £4.4 billion to date. Can I ask the Leader of the House to facilitate a meeting between the scheme’s trustees and the new Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Minister?

As I have said before in this House, I very much view it as my role to facilitate meetings between hon. Members and Ministers, so I will obviously take up the request that the hon. Lady has made.

I am sure the Leader of the House agrees with me and the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) that Parliament should be showcasing the best of British food and drink to the world. In Rushcliffe, we have the brilliant, award-winning Ruddy Fine gin, which uses local ingredients from the village of Ruddington. I want all colleagues to have the opportunity to enjoy a Ruddy Fine gin and tonic, and to have the chance to get their local producers stocked here on the estate, but unfortunately at the moment, the House authorities will only consider guest beers. Will the Leader of the House work with me to find a solution to this issue, and see if we can get Ruddy Fine gin and other best of British producers on the menus here in the weeks ahead? Can we also have a debate in Government time to discuss what more this House can do to promote British producers?

My hon. Friend is on to something here. It is a pity that the House does not have guest gins as well, but why leave it at a gin and tonic? Why not have a gin martini, a gin and it, a pink gin, or a whole variety of gin cocktails? We could even put gin into sweets and have a gin Opal Fruit or something like that, to give people a little taster—a little sampler—of gin. I am all in favour of Ruddy Fine gin: perhaps I should provide a tincture to visitors to my office in future. If it is not in the bars of the House of Commons, perhaps the Leader of the Home Secretary should get a small supply for people who need to see him on important business.

Yesterday, a colliery in south Wales was given permission to mine a further 40 million tonnes of coal. The Government appear to have abdicated responsibility for the decision, although in reply to my written questions I have learned of discussions and correspondence between the Secretary of State and the Welsh Government about the licence. A promised copy of that correspondence has still not found its way into the Library nine days after it was promised. Real climate leaders do not issue new fossil fuel licences, nor do they pass the buck if someone else is trying to do that on their watch. Will the Leader of the House use his best offices to ensure a copy of that correspondence is put into the Library as soon as possible, and can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of leaving new fossil fuels in the ground, as the science demands?

Of course, the Government will follow the normal requirements of business, and if a document has been referred to at the Dispatch Box by a Minister it will be put in the Library in due course—that is routine—but I do not know the status of the document she refers to. Net zero is by 2050. We are not at 2050 yet. We are going to need to have fossil fuels for the interim period and we are going to need coal for things like heritage railways and so on. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable that we take some coal out of the ground. I cannot see why it is better to import it from abroad, rather than to get it from our own green and pleasant land.

Yesterday, British Indians celebrated Republic Day, a very joyous occasion. I am sure my right hon. Friend, as a keen monarchist, would not necessarily celebrate Republic Day. Equally, last week we commemorated a forgotten genocide, namely the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley. People were forced out of what had been their ancestral homes for thousands of years at the point of a gun, with the cry, “Leave, die or convert.” May we have a debate in Government time to commemorate that terrible act, which is now being recognised in India as a genocide?

My hon. Friend is right about my queasiness about celebrating republic days as a general rule. I note how many countries around the world celebrate their annual day when they get out of the grasp of our great country, and there is a certain poignancy to it. However, I wish India well in this its 75th year of independence. It is a crucial and growingly important ally for the United Kingdom. We agreed a comprehensive strategic partnership in May 2021 and a 2030 road map, which will benefit people across both countries and support regional and global security and prosperity. Obviously, Her Majesty’s Government condemn any instances of discrimination or violence because of religion or belief. We continue to encourage dialogue between India and Pakistan to find a lasting diplomatic solution on Kashmir to maintain regional stability, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

High streets in constituencies like mine are being broken up by an ever-increasing number of gambling venues. Yet another bank branch on Hertford Road, which closed only 12 months ago, has now been replaced by a gambling venue. Residents and local councils are powerless to stop this happening. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government’s review of the Gambling Act 2005, which was due in October last year, will be published? Will he allow a debate in Government time on the findings of that review?

The Government are committed to supporting high streets and have provided £2.4 billion of taxpayers’ money for 101 towns deals. It is obviously important that there is a variety of activity going on along high streets to ensure that people wish to go there and that commerce takes place. I am glad to tell the hon. Lady that a key part of the levelling up White Paper will be about how we encourage levelling up, which will inevitably boost high streets. The White Paper will be coming forward in due course.

Approximately three years after submitting the Greater Manchester clean air plan outline business case, the Mayor of Greater Manchester has called for changes to his own plan. However, the only change needed is to scrap the scheme in its entirety. Based on flawed analysis and data, we are in the ludicrous position that the most up-to-date air monitoring data for the borough of Bury show no breaches of legal air quality limits anywhere, yet this draconian scheme is still scheduled to begin in May. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate to allow for much-needed scrutiny of this tax on jobs?

I am very concerned about the Labour Mayor’s tax on jobs, which my hon. Friend raised with me last week. As I said earlier, we could have a session every week discussing how the Labour party attacks local businesses and, particularly, wages war against the motorist. The motorist always seems to be in the crosshairs of the socialist, because they do not like the independence that motoring brings and the freedom and liberty that we get by being able to drive. My hon. Friend raises an important point and the Mayor of Manchester would be well advised to listen to him.

The illegal use of off-road motorbikes is becoming an ever-increasing problem on the streets in my constituency, with more and more constituents contacting me about the matter. Residents tell me that they feel intimidated, threatened and fearful for their safety, while the police say that they face huge difficulties when trying to pursue and identify suspects and seize off-road motorbikes that are being used illegally. Can we therefore have a debate or statement on what steps the Government are taking to tackle this increasing blight on our communities?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing this issue to the attention of the House, because it is clearly a serious problem. The police saying that policing is difficult is not a very satisfactory answer from them. Of course policing is difficult; that is why we have a police force, and we have taken on an extra 11,000 police officers. I encourage her, though I doubt she needs much encouragement, to pressurise her local police force to actually get on and do its job and enforce the law.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we think about some of the groups that continue to be persecuted across the world. Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Cox’s Bazar Rohingya Muslim refugee camp; it was an incredibly emotional experience. I spoke to two child refugees and said to them, “What’s your wish? What’s your dream?” It was very simple—they simply wanted to return home. They did not want to go anywhere else. They just wanted to go home and they wanted to live free from persecution. I know that the Government have taken steps to aid the Bangladeshi Government, but could we have a debate in Government time about what further steps this country can take to aid and facilitate the safe return of Rohingya Muslims to their homeland?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government very much share his view and have great concern about the increasing violence across Burma. As the first anniversary of the coup approaches, Her Majesty’s Government are working with partners to push for an end to violence, unhindered humanitarian access and the importance of respect for human rights and the protection of civilians. In Burma’s Rakhine state, we have provided over £44 million to all communities since 2017, including over £25 million for the Rohingya. Since 2017, we have committed over £320 million and supported about 1 million refugees in Bangladesh. Any Rohingya returns to Rakhine must be voluntary, safe, dignified and in line with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees principles, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are working on this and will continue to do so.

Yesterday, the Leader of the House said that, in his experience,

“very few people do lie in public life”.

Very few people indulge in burglary, but the law is there to deal with them. My party has long-standing proposals to strengthen Parliament’s ability to hold politicians to account when they deliberately lie, so can we have an early debate on lying in politics?

What people say politically is a matter of continual political debate; it is what we do in this Chamber. People have different opinions one way or another and when they disagree, they often make accusations that are more aggressive than the facts bear out.

In recent years, clinical services have been reconfigured across my hospital trust, from Eastbourne and Bexhill to Hastings, but one in four households in Eastbourne do not have a car and public transport options are poor. There is no direct bus service; the journey can mean two buses and take two hours, and funding—financial support for some—is very narrowly defined. I have secured a meeting with the Minister for Health, who has responsibility for hospitals, but may we have a wider debate about access to hospitals? Although I am working with local stakeholders who are engaged in this to improve the situation, the lines of responsibility are not clear.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she says about access to hospitals; the issue of ensuring good hospital services and good transport to them has arisen for many of us in our constituencies. I assure my hon. Friend that the aim of the Government to improve bus services is very strong. More than £5 billion of taxpayers’ money will be spent on buses and cycling during the course of this Parliament. Local authorities have published bus improvement plans, which provide an assessment of existing services in their area, including details of current provision for rural and coastal communities. Action is being taken, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the question about integrating services so that people can get to their hospital appointments.

Family homes are being converted into houses in multiple occupation, and HMOs are increasingly becoming the new homes for many vulnerable people and families. That is a growing concern for my constituents and for other communities across our country. May we have a debate on the issue in Government time?

The hon. Lady raises an issue that will be of importance across the country. It is obviously important that there should be a range of residential accommodation; what is suitable for some individuals will not be so for others, and it is important that there should be a plurality of provision. But HMOs are regulated by law, primarily by local authorities, to ensure that basic standards are maintained. As regards a debate, I point the hon. Lady in the direction of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.

May I ask the Leader of the House a question that is actually about the business of the House? Both sides of the House have regularly said that they want there to be statements in this House before things are debated in the media. I understand that the Government do not control when Sue Gray delivers her report, but if she happens to deliver it today I hope the Government will request a statement tomorrow, so that we can discuss the issue in this House before the weekend press does. It seems to me that if we believe in this House having the first say, that is what should happen. Can the Leader of the House advise that if there is a statement to be made tomorrow, it will be announced today?

First of all, I thank my hon. Friend for the very novel approach of actually asking a question about the business of the House during business questions; it is the first time that has happened in a long time.

My view is that every sitting day is a proper sitting day; there are not greater or lesser days of business in this House. The House of Commons sitting is an important constitutional activity and statements made on a Friday are as valid as those made on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. I do not know when the report will be published or when it will be possible to announce a statement, but I am certainly of the view—and I know that you share this view, Mr Speaker—that this House has the right to know first. We should certainly know before our friend Brendan Carlin at the Mail on Sunday gets the information.

I should add that I expect all Members to know about the statement with very good time in hand.

I think I owe the Leader of the House an apology. Last week, I was critical of the fact that the former Tory MP, the noble Lord McLoughlin, had been appointed to chair Transport for the North. In his first utterances as chair, he has made it clear that he thinks that the Government’s integrated rail plan is not in the best interests of the north. To quote something that the Leader of the House might enjoy,

“there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth”.

May we have a debate about Transport for the North, whether the Government plan to listen to what the new chair says and the cut of a third to Transport for the North’s budget?

I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s charming apology. I refer her back to what I said last week about what a great man my noble Friend Lord McLoughlin is. I think particularly highly of him because—I shall let the House in on a not-particularly-secret secret—it is thanks to the noble Lord that I ever got on to the candidates list for the Conservative party in the first place. He interviewed me during the candidate selection process. When I then arrived in Parliament and kept on voting against the Government while he was Chief Whip, I think he sometimes had reason to doubt his judgment some years earlier.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the use of military planning expertise in civilian settings? Last Friday was the first anniversary of Storm Christoph and the sad destruction of Llanerch bridge in my constituency. This historic, grade 2 listed bridge spanned the River Clwyd, connecting the communities of Tremeirchion and Trefnant. Although Denbighshire County Council is considering options to replace the bridge, the process is complex and time consuming. Meanwhile, local people are left without a key travel route, so military planners could, I am sure, be used to advise on the possibility of a temporary solution.

The provision of defence support to civil authorities in the UK is governed by a robust and well-defined set of principles, set out in a publicly available joint doctrine publication. Those principles ensure that defence assistance is the last rather than first resort when responding to operational challenges. That is essential in order to preserve defence capabilities for defence outputs wherever possible and to reduce the risk of legal challenge from commercial providers, which may otherwise have reasonably expected to tender for contracts from the requesting authority. Defence maintains a standing network of joint regional liaison officers across the country to maintain relationships with civil authorities, provide potential advice on defence assistance, and facilitate requests when they meet the required principles. Any request for defence assistance should be referred to the joint regional liaison office.

I fear that that is not an enormously helpful answer, because the issue is that defence assistance is a last resort. However, I hope that raising the issue in the House will put a little bit of extra pressure on Denbighshire County Council to get on with what it should be doing in relation to the bridge.

Last week I raised with the Leader of the House issues relating to war pensions and the armed forces compensation scheme, and I thank him for his actions in support of the points I made. Since then I have been contacted by dozens of other veterans who find themselves in similar situations. In the past week I have also received from the Ministry of Defence an answer to my written question asking how many veterans are giving up on the process because of the situation in which they find themselves. Unfortunately, the answer was:

“This information is not held in the format requested”,

so the MOD does not even know how many veterans are giving up on the process of trying to get compensation or uplifts to their war pensions as a result of injuries or traumatic experiences from their time serving in the forces. May we have a statement on that and on how we can make sure that the MOD does in fact have accurate records of the situation of all veterans?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. It is important that written answers are as helpful as possible. It is always possible to seek the advice of the Table Office—it is exceptionally good at this—to work out how to rephrase a question in order to get around an initially unhelpful answer so as to get the information requested. If the hon. Gentleman is not able to do that, or is not successful in doing so, my office will be more than happy to seek fuller answers than he has got so far.

On this Holocaust Memorial Day, I would like to pay tribute to my constituent Marika Henriques. Marika was born in Hungary. At the age of nine, she got separated from her family and she became a hidden child during the war. Mercifully, she survived and now she is resident in my constituency. I would like to thank my Front Bench colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and you, Mrusb Speaker, for making so much time available for today’s debate. May I ask that this also happens in subsequent years?

The individual stories of those now in very old age are of the greatest importance and are incredibly moving, whenever Members come across them, and it is so important that they are recorded and restored for posterity. I am glad to say that both last year and this year we were able to avoid any urgent questions or statements on Holocaust Memorial Day. It would be wrong of me to promise that that can be guaranteed in future, but I can assure the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee that as long as I am the Leader of the House, that will certainly be my aim.

This is the first time I have been here on a Thursday for some time, Mr Speaker, and I have not had a chance to speak of a colleague and friend, Jack Dromey. Like so many of us, he was always here on a Thursday, and we miss him dreadfully. I hope you do not mind me mentioning that.

I ask the Leader of the House to secure a debate quite soon about what sort of democracy we live in. I fear that we are steadily moving towards an Administration that would love to have a presidential system of Government based in No. 10, rather than a parliamentary system, where the power and sovereignty lie in this House. What he has said, as reported in the press, is very worrying indeed.

I must also tell the Leader of the House that, with 12 grandchildren, I get a lot of cake, but I have a secret passion for Eton mess. One of the messes I want cleared up is that, while my constituents think they have an inalienable right to breathe fresh, clean air, increasingly what is emitted from the back end of vehicles is poisoning our children, pregnant women and the elderly. When can we get a real step? Will he support and give time to my Bill, which would force every local authority to audit the air cleanliness in its area every year and report back to this Parliament?

On clean air, one of the real problems has been the scandal of diesel engines, promoted by the last socialist Government, in cahoots with the European Union and the German car manufacturers. That is one of the biggest scandals of this political generation, and extraordinarily little commented on. Nitrous oxides were spewed out, rather than the cleaner and less health-damaging emissions from petrol engines. That was a political decision taken by the last socialist Government, as I say, in cahoots with the European Union. I will take the hon. Gentleman’s statement as an apology for the last socialist Government on that.

As regards a debate on the increasing presidential power of the Prime Minister, that is something we can take back to the time of Gladstone, who was accused of riding roughshod over his Cabinet. Certainly, in the period of Lloyd George, it was thought that the centralisation of power was going too far. It is almost a reverse of the debates that took place in the 18th century about the power of the Crown, when this House debated that:

“The power of the Crown has increased, is increasing,”

and should be decreased. We now have much the same discussion going on, but the reality is that the British elector looks to a leader, and is very pleased with the leader they have.

Doncaster Sheffield airport has played a huge part in Doncaster’s history—I am sure my right hon. Friend will know it was once home to our nuclear deterrent, in the form of the Vulcan bomber—but, although it has a distinguished past, I am more interested in its future. The airport is currently working with both the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and a company that produces the Airlander. Both will help hugely towards our net zero goal and employ and train many local people. With support through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, they would truly start the levelling-up agenda. Will my right hon. Friend therefore speak with Government Ministers to help to secure that funding, so that Doncaster’s future is as exciting as its past?