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Business of the House

Volume 708: debated on Thursday 3 February 2022

The business for the week commencing 7 February will include:

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

Tuesday 8 February—Opposition day (12th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 9 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.

Thursday 10 February—Motion on UK-Taiwan friendship and co-operation, followed by general debate on the dementia research in the UK. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

At the conclusion of business on Thursday 10 February, the House will rise for the February recess and return on Monday 21 February.

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

Monday 21 February—Remaining stages of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 22 February—Remaining stages of the Charities Bill [Lords] followed by remaining stages of the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 23 February—Opposition day (13th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the Official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 24 February—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 25 February—Private Members’ Bills.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.

Tomorrow is World Cancer Day, and this year’s focus is on closing the care gap and recognising global inequities in cancer care. Here in the UK, figures show that one in three people with symptoms are not receiving the life-saving care within two months of an urgent referral from their GP that they need. This is a record, and not the sort to be proud of. Given the vacancies and staff shortages across the NHS, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman what the Government are doing to bring cancer waiting times down? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make a statement on, in particular, increasing early diagnosis for children with cancer?

While the Prime Minister is peddling far-right conspiracy theories in a desperate bid to deflect from his own rule breaking, working families are being hit with steep hikes in energy prices, low wages falling even further and a triple whammy of Tory tax rises. The right hon. Gentleman has previously demonstrated his socialist tendencies and expressed his support for our calls for the scrapping of the national insurance rise that will unfairly hit working families, but the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have not listened. In fact, this Government’s tax hikes for working people and businesses mean that we will have the biggest tax burden in 70 years. I wonder whether the Chancellor will be addressing that shortly.

As if that were not bad enough—this affects Conservative Members’ constituents as well—10 years of the failed Tory energy policy has left us uniquely exposed. Dither, delay and incompetence have created an energy price crisis faced by everyone, and the Government are choosing to leak their policies in the papers rather than coming to this House first; but perhaps it is wise to try and roll the pitch when all their announcements will do is push more costs on to working people further down the line. Labour’s fully funded measures to cut VAT on energy bills would save households £200 a year, and an extra £400 for the families and pensioners who need it most, without stacking up debt lower down the line. The Government have so far chosen not to support that plan, but it is not too late, given that our motion on Tuesday to introduce a windfall tax on oil and gas companies to pay for it was passed unanimously. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Chancellor will be announcing this as part of the forthcoming business?

It has taken the Government two and half years to come up with a 10-year plan to do 12 things. It will now take them until 2030 to deliver things that they first promised back in 2010: that is a gap of 20 years. Can the Leader of the House explain what the Government have been doing for the last 12 years? Whatever it is, it certainly is not levelling up.

While the Government are reaching into people’s pockets for their hard-earned cash with one hand, they are giving it away to fraudsters with the other: £4.3 billion-worth of fraudulent loans have been written off by the Chancellor, £3.5 billion has been spent on crony contracts, £300,000 went from the levelling-up fund to save a Tory peer’s driveway, and half a million pounds went on the Foreign Secretary’s flight to Australia. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that this is an acceptable use of taxpayers’ money? Can he explain when it became Government policy to waste taxpayers’ money on fraudsters, private jets and driveways?

While I am on the subject of the levelling-up fund, let me add that on 24 January the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), said that my constituency of Bristol West and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), the shadow Education Secretary, were among those that had received levelling-up funding. I have checked, and as far as I can see Bristol has received no funding and nor has my hon. Friend’s constituency. Will the Leader of the House please ask the Minister to correct the record?

We have all been horrified and appalled by the report from the police watchdog, published earlier this week, which uncovered the disgraceful conduct of some serving officers at Charing Cross police station: abusive, racist, misogynist and disrespectful messages routinely shared between officers. This is not just an issue in London, so what is the Home Secretary doing to overhaul police training and restore public confidence in our police forces?

This is a Government who have completely lost their grip. Working people are paying the price for a decade or more of dither, delay and incompetence. The Government are out of control, out of touch, out of ideas and soon to be out of office.

What a delight it is to hear from the hon. Lady every week, running through her socialist mantra. She is, of course, right to highlight the importance of cancer and cancer care, particularly the treatment of children. I am glad to say that treatment rates for cancer are now back to their usual levels. Since the pandemic began, over 510,000 people have started treatment for cancer. We have provided record taxpayer spending to tackle the backlog, with £2 billion this year and £8 billion over the next three years, to deliver an extra 9 million checks, scans and operations for patients across the country. I am very pleased that we can be in agreement that the right things are being done after the period in which we have been suffering from covid, which did lead to an increase in the numbers awaiting care.

The hon. Lady then mentioned far-right conspiracy theories, which seemed to be in relation to the Leader of the Opposition, so let me quote his own words. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:

“I accept the conclusions reached by Ms Levitt QC and, in the interests of transparency and accountability I have decided to publish her report in full. In doing so, I would like to take the opportunity to apologise for the shortcomings in the part played by the CPS in these cases.

But I also want to go further. If this report and my apology are to serve their full purpose, then this must be seen as a watershed moment. In my view, these cases do not simply reflect errors of judgment by individual officers or prosecutors on the facts before them. If that were the case, they would, in many respects, be easier to deal with.

These were errors of judgment by experienced and committed police officers and a prosecuting lawyer acting in good faith and attempting to apply the correct principles. That makes the findings of Ms Levitt's report more profound and calls for a more robust response."

This is about the traditional understanding of ministerial responsibility. Somebody who is in charge of a Department—and the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in charge of the Crown Prosecution Service—must follow the Crichel Down principle of taking responsibility for what went on in his organisation and then apologise for failings. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has apologised similarly for mistakes that may have been made in Downing Street. I think that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and that the geese and the ganders should not complain, one or the other. They are perfectly fair and reasonable points of political debate.

The hon. Lady then came on to issues concerning the police, which are deeply concerning and there was an urgent question on this yesterday. We expect the Metropolitan police and the Mayor of London to implement the recommendations of the Independent Office for Police Conduct report as soon as is practically possible. What came out over the past couple of days is deeply shocking and is not what we expect of the police. In this Palace we are so lucky, because we see the police who protect us and we talk to them. They do amazing work for us, but then we discover that there are people in the police force, including ones who have been at this Palace, who let the side down desperately, shockingly and unforgivably. This must be rooted out, and the leadership of the Metropolitan police will have to ask themselves how they can put this right and have culture change, as we in politics have had to adopt culture change. That is fundamentally important, and I encourage the police to do everything they can to deal with that.

The hon. Lady also referred to questions relating to fraud and the bail-outs provided. It has to be said that £400 billion of taxpayers’ money was provided and 12 million jobs supported during the pandemic. The economy has got back to pre-pandemic levels, which is an enormous achievement and success. The policies that were followed were right. But fraud must always be cracked down upon, so the Government have stopped or recovered £743 million in over-claimed furlough grants and prevented £2.2 billion in fraud from our bounce back loan scheme, and the taxpayer protection taskforce is set to recover an additional £1 billion through investigations that are under way. It is really important that fraud is tackled and that, of course, is what Her Majesty’s Government are doing.

The hon. Lady then wanted to talk about matters pertaining to the Chancellor, but may I say that patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace, and Grace is a little girl who would not wash her face? If the hon. Lady reads the magic words on the Annunciator, she will see that all will shortly be revealed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

May we have a debate on the levelling-up fund? We need to have great scrutiny of how these decisions are taken by civil servants and Ministers. My right hon. Friend has stood for Parliament in Shropshire and will know some of the problems we have in that rural shire county. Yet again, Shropshire Council has, unfortunately, failed in its levelling-up bid. May we have a debate on this so that our constituents are more cognisant of how these decisions are taken and so that there is more transparency?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for his distinguished constituency and has been for many years. Levelling up needs to be looked at in the round and regionally. Wolverhampton, which is near Shropshire, is receiving considerable support, which will benefit the whole of the regional economy. What is happening is the transformation of the country’s infrastructure, which will be fundamental to levelling up, with £600 billion. It is also about attracting further investment—private sector investment—into areas, and that will depend on how regions do better together and succeed, looking at it as a rounded picture.

On having a debate, a statement was made earlier this week by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), but levelling up will be a major topic of discussion for this House in the weeks and months to come.

We have missed the Leader of the House’s weekly “Newsnight” performance; after he shattered the relationship with the Scottish Tories and declared the Mogg republic, the Tory press office must have decided he had run out of his usefulness, but we look forward to seeing him back again at some point. Although we are grateful for the statement this week on the Sue Gray report, what the House really requires is a full day’s debate about all the issues contained in it, which should be led by the Prime Minister. We cannot simply leave aside a report that points to

“failures of leadership and judgment”,

excessive drinking and a cultural failure at the heart of government, set against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic. Sixteen events fell within Sue Gray’s remit, 12 of which are being investigated by the Met police. We cannot just leave that behind, perhaps for weeks. Members of the House must have the opportunity to properly consider all these issues, and our constituents would not expect anything else.

We also need an urgent debate about parliamentary discourse and how we hold Members accountable for the veracity and truthfulness of things said in this House. The thing that probably irks and frustrates our constituents most is when a Member says or claims something that is manifestly untrue and there is no way to have it challenged and addressed in this House. If a Member does raise an untruth in this House, he is likely to face your wrath, Mr Speaker. You are right that, according to precedent and to “Erskine May”, you must take action and ask that Member to leave the House, but “Erskine May” was written before the days of the internet, fact checkers and the current Prime Minister. You said that the matter may be reviewed and you suggested the Procedure Committee be involved. Does the Leader of the House not agree that a general debate, like the one we are having on standards this afternoon, could also be useful in addressing this? When untruths go unchallenged and MPs can say anything, regardless of its relationship with the truth, it can only have a corrosive effect on our democracy and on trust in this House. Surely the Leader of the House agrees that that cannot go on.

I think the hon. Gentleman takes the view that anything that is said that he disagrees with is not true. That is not right, which is why we have the forms of debate that we have. When people hold views strongly and somebody else stands up and thinks the other thing, they say, “That is not true”, but it is not a matter of truth; it is a matter of opinion, which is what we discuss in this House. It is not a matter of fact-checking; it is a matter of, “I think X, the hon. Gentleman thinks Y,” and both of them are views that people are entitled to hold. What we get from the Scottish National party constantly is the doubting of the good faith of the people they oppose, and that is quite wrong. That is the corrosive element of public life: the doubting of the faith and honesty of one’s opponents. I disagree with a great deal of what is said by those on the side opposite, but I do not question the honesty and integrity of what they say. I question the effectiveness of what they do, and that is the important difference between the Government and the Opposition sides.

As regards the Sue Gray report, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was here on his feet for two hours, I think, answering questions earlier this week and has said that the full report will be published when it is allowed to be published, after the Metropolitan Police have completed their work. That commitment has already been made—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman heckles—I hope Hansard heard it—that that is weeks away. If the police were not doing it properly, he would be the first to say, “The police aren’t doing it properly!”. He cannot have it both ways. It is being done properly and rigorously and, when it is done, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will ensure the full report is published. He comes to the House regularly.

Can we have a statement on value for money provided by local councils? Harlow’s Conservative council, elected as a majority for only the second time in the town’s history, is cutting council tax for residents by £55 and freezing it until 2025. That is possibly the highest council tax cut in the country. Can the Government send a taskforce to Harlow to learn how to cut the cost of living, as we provide an example that the rest of the nation should follow?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting the success of Harlow Council. It is amazing what good Conservative councils can do: we look at Westminster and Wandsworth, which for decades have been able to keep the council tax down when other socialist councils have kept on putting it up. Harlow should be held in light, not least for having my right hon. Friend to represent it, which he does with such distinction and panache. It is important to recognise that local council spending is the responsibility of local councils, and good, well-run councils—Conservative councils—are able to save taxpayers money.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the Backbench Business debates for next week. I understand there will be some time for the House to spend considering remaining departmental estimates—I believe it will be in early March—so hon. Members will need to be preparing to make applications to the Backbench Business Committee for time in those debating slots on the return from the February recess. I also remind the Leader of the House that we have date-specific applications on the stocks already, for Welsh affairs and St David’s Day for the first week in March, and for International Women’s Day for the second week in March.

Could we have a statement on the increasing use of off-road motorcycles for criminal purposes? We have a scourge of that in my own constituency; unfortunately the local constabulary, Northumbria Police, having been hit by severe cost cutting, does not have any equivalent motorcycles with which to apprehend those individuals. Can we have a statement from the Home Secretary about what can be done by constabularies around the country to cut down on that menace?

I am grateful, as always, to the hon. Gentleman. I have done quite well so far this Session in providing him with the debates he has asked for when he has given me long notice; I cannot promise to be able to do the same, but I always try, if possible, to make time available for the time-sensitive debates. Off-road motorcycling, which has been raised by others in this House, is clearly a problem, but the police must set their own policing priorities. The Government have provided the funding for, I think, an extra 11,000 police officers so far, with a target of 20,000 over the course of the Parliament. I encourage him to put further pressure on his local police force to enforce the law as it is. I do not think it is really for the Government to set policing priorities from the Dispatch Box.

Given that one of the principal benefits of Brexit is that we now have the ability to set our own laws, rules and regulations, may I have a statement from the Leader of the House on the reasoning behind the ending of the Regulatory Reform Committee on 20 May 2021, at the very time when it had the best opportunity to help to shape our regulations to make the UK economy a better place?

It is very straightforward: legislative reform orders, which went to the Regulatory Reform Committee, are going to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee instead, and it seemed more sensible to bring that together with the Select Committee that is in charge of the interests of business, is fighting for business and is economically involved, rather than having a separate and expensive Select Committee. It is a question of efficiency—a legislative reform of our own within this House to save the taxpayer money.

Yesterday afternoon, I chaired a meeting here in Parliament with the Russian ambassador, which was interesting, to put it mildly, and obviously we talked about the crisis in Ukraine. Lots of us in the House want to help the Government to put in place proper sanctions, if necessary, in a timely fashion. Before the Foreign Secretary fell ill with covid—we wish her well—she announced to the House that a statutory instrument will soon come before us that is to be legal by next Thursday. It would be much better were the whole House able to show support for that SI in consideration on the Floor of the House, so that we could make clear our support for the Ukrainian people and our desire to make sure that jaw-jaw is more important than war-war.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for Government policy in relation to Ukraine. Her Majesty’s Government have made it absolutely clear that should a further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen, allies must enact swift retributive responses, including unprecedented sanctions. It is obviously right that any statutory instruments that come to the House are considered fully and I note the hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate.

We have a debate this afternoon on the Standards Committee review and report, which my right hon. Friend will know makes copious reference to the independent complaints and grievance scheme that was established in the House across party lines only a couple of years ago. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to look at the ICGS and non-ICGS complaints systems together, to make sure that our constituents and those who want us to serve them can see what is going on and that there is full transparency?

In particular, my right hon. Friend might be aware that the introduction of the ICGS was really focused on changing the culture of this place, which meant training and proper induction for new Members and staff who come into this place, and it also meant exit interviews to find out why people do not stay. Those things are not happening; what can my right hon. Friend do to make sure that the system is properly in place and that the two different processes are aligned once and for all?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her work to foster culture change in the House of Commons and in the setting up of the ICGS, which would not have happened in the form in which it has without her energy and drive. It has been enormously to the advantage of the House of Commons. I am glad that the Chairman of the Standards Committee, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), is present in the Chamber, because I am sure he will have heard what my right hon. Friend had to say. There will be a debate later and it is important that all views about how things can be done better and differently are sent into the Standards Committee so that it can produce its report. My right hon. Friend’s comments are extremely helpful and her experience makes them particularly valid—[Interruption.] I think the Chairman of the Standards Committee is indicating that he has taken them as a formal representation.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for agreeing to the statement later this afternoon on affairs in Northern Ireland. The Leader of the House will know—I have already spoken to him—that events in Northern Ireland are teetering on the brink: we are not months, weeks or days but moments away from the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive. That is of course very sad, but it is entirely predictable and has been predicted from those on the Democratic Unionist party Benches for the past 13 months.

Will the Leader of the House assure us that good governance and good practices will be put in place to ensure that Northern Ireland does not fall behind in any of its governmental matters; that more time will be set aside in this House to debate issues to do with and pertinent to Northern Ireland; that the daily affairs of Northern Ireland will not be set to the side in any way; that the British Government will take full and proper charge of affairs when and where they have to; that people from the Republic of Ireland and their Government will not be allowed to interfere in the internal mechanisms and affairs of Northern Ireland; and that the frictions that exist between GB trade and Northern Ireland—

It would be wrong of me to predict what is happening in Northern Ireland at the moment. We have to wait upon events, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the British Government take responsibility for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is one single and undivided United Kingdom, and Her Majesty’s Government have a responsibility for the best interests of the whole of our country. We recognise the serious difficulties that are being caused by the Northern Ireland protocol and its implementation, and the effect that it has had on Northern Ireland. Her Majesty’s Government are aware of the issues, but we are a Unionist Government who attach great importance to being part of the United Kingdom.

Last Sunday I marched with thousands of Derby County fans to Pride Park stadium to show support for Derby County football club, one of the football league’s founding members. Derby County football club’s administrators have agreed another month’s extension with the English Football League, temporarily staving off the threat of expulsion and liquidation. Every day is crucial, and I do not want to see us approach that deadline without a sale of the club having been agreed. Could we have a statement next week to update MPs on the issue, and in particular on how fans’ interests are being represented in these important negotiations?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this to the attention of the House again. She has already had an urgent question, and this is a reminder of how effective the procedures of the House can be in highlighting important local issues and what a fantastic champion she is for Derby County. I am not a football expert, as she knows. However, I can tell her that the Minister for Sport, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), and officials in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are in regular contact with the English Football League and the administrators about the club’s future. Ultimately it is for the EFL, the administrators and the club to resolve the issues, to ensure the survival of Derby County football club, but the Government have urged pragmatism from all parties to find a solution for the benefit of the fans and the community that the club serves. It is positive that the EFL has granted Derby County a four-week extension. That is a vital lifeline for the survival of the club, and the opportunity must be utilised to ensure that a suitable outcome is reached with the interests of Derby County’s fans in mind. Offering a debate may be difficult, however, because I have a feeling that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip might not necessarily be a fan of Derby County, as it is a competitor football club to the one he follows. However, there are DCMS questions next week.

I want to thank the Leader of the House—surprisingly—for writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to try to secure a debate on the Government’s unlawful disability strategy. Will he commit to keeping us updated at business questions on the progress he is making on securing this important debate in Government time?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind words. I take very seriously the points raised in business questions and I pass on all points to the relevant Secretaries of State every week after business questions to ensure that other members of the Government are kept informed of the issues of concern to the House. On the disability strategy, the Government are committed to a strategy that supports all areas of life and to taking action to create a society that works for everyone, so that we can build back better and fairer. It is important to note that the recent judgment did not quash the national disability strategy; it was made on technical grounds. The Government are very much committed to the strategy, which is one of the broadest packages of real practical action so far put together. I will, of course, mention further that the hon. Lady has asked for a debate, and it may be that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee has some capacity.

I was shocked last week when the Leader of the House told us that he felt the Government were drifting towards a presidential style of government, rather than a parliamentary one. I draw his attention to the fact that yesterday I published my private Member’s Bill, the Prime Minister (Accountability to House of Commons) Bill. I understand that tomorrow might be oversubscribed, so I have decided not to move it tomorrow, but perhaps the Leader of the House could deal with this particular point. I am requesting that we have Prime Minister’s questions on a Tuesday and Thursday again, so that the Prime Minister is here twice. It will make Thursday a more important day and it will stop his officials sending him on silly photoshoots on days when he should be in this House. Would the Leader of the House like to support my Bill?

I am so sorry to hear that my hon. Friend is not proceeding with his Bill tomorrow, because I was going to be here to respond to it had we reached that stage of the debate. Sadly, the pearls of wisdom that I was looking forward to spewing forth will not be available. None the less, he makes an interesting point about whether PMQs was better on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I think, by and large, that the House likes having the longer time that is available on a Wednesday, but, obviously, the decision on when questions are taken is for the Government, and we listen to hon. and right hon. Members’ views.

There can be few things more valuable to us than the air that we breathe and how clean it is. In my constituency of Edinburgh West, we have a particular problem with two of the worst polluted roads in Scotland. It is why I currently have a private Member’s Bill, which will be heard shortly. Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on how we, across the United Kingdom, reach the World Health Organisation guidelines on clean air and on setting up some mechanism whereby the Government here in Westminster can work with the devolved authorities to ensure that we have a national strategy—or perhaps he would like to support my Bill?

Clean air is very important for the whole of the United Kingdom and it is something that the Government are very committed to improving. As I have said in the House previously, it does seem to me that one of the great scandals of modern politics was the promotion of diesel engines and the nitrous oxides that they spew out, which was done by the last Labour Government in cahoots with the European Union and German car manufacturers, which has had a terrible effect on air quality in our major cities. None the less, the Government are very committed to promoting air quality. As for an immediate debate, I once again point the hon. Lady to the Backbench Business Committee.

My right hon. Friend is a great champion for us Back Benchers in getting information from Government Departments. Can he arrange for the Home Secretary, or a Minister from the Home Office, to come forward and give us a statement about what is happening to immigration correspondence? I received a plethora of emails this week. I shall quote from one of them, but they are all the same.

“Thank you for your emails of 30 November 2020, 8 January 2021, 5 February 2021, 5 March 2021, 7 April 2021,10 May 2021, 7 June 2021, 6 July 2021, 5 August 2021, 3 September 2021, 30 September 2021, 3 November 2021 and 1 December 2021…We apologise for the delay in replying to your correspondence.”

I will not quote all the letter because of time, but it goes on to say that it hopes to resolve this claim, which by the way was submitted in 2019, by September 2022. That is three years and three months for an individual awaiting on an asylum claim. Can we have a statement on what is happening about this, because it is unacceptable behaviour by the Home Office?

It will not surprise my hon. Friend that I will make no attempt to defend that type of delay. Members have a constitutional right to hold the Government to account and to get proper, full and swift answers. To get a recent reply to a letter dated 30 November 2020 is not a proper constitutional service. I assure my hon. Friend that I will take this up with the Home Office immediately after Business questions. None the less, I do think that getting people back to work in their offices will be tremendously important in clearing up this backlog, because working from home has had all sorts of unintended consequences.

The Leader of the House is right: we have our own opinions, but we cannot have our own facts. Facts are facts. One fact is that the victims of Jimmy Savile, through their solicitor, have made it quite clear that the smear against the Leader of the Opposition is groundless and should be withdrawn. This is a new low for the Conservative party. What makes Conservative Members think that they know better than the victims of Jimmy Savile?

With respect to the restoration and renewal of Parliament, I welcome yesterday’s announcement by the Commission, chaired by the Leader of the House, that it will take back control from the sponsor body and that all the figures that come out of the delivery authority and the sponsor body, on which I sit, should be published. Can he confirm that the figures for the delay, length and cost of decant are truly horrendous; that no work would be scheduled to start before 2027, although the building works need to be got on with now; and that we are talking of a decant in excess of 15 years and costs in excess of £14 billion? Will he therefore confirm that some of us have been proved right when we said that we should have got on with it years ago? Can we have an early resolution of the House so that we can resolve the matter, take back control and start the work now?

My right hon. Friend raises some very important points. The Commission has asked that the figures be made available to all Members as soon as possible. The figures now range from £7 billion to £13 billion for the cost and from 12 years to 20 years for the decant. It seems to me that if we were to have a decant of 20 years, we would never come back to this Palace and that £13 billion or possibly even £14 billion of taxpayers’ money is not justifiable.

My right hon. Friend is also right that it has gone on for too long. We have been waiting for years for the perfect scheme instead of getting on with what we ought to do. He says it would be 2027 at the earliest, which is correct in part, but realistically it would probably be 2031, because the northern estate would have to be ready for people to move into it. I am glad to say that, with much thanks to your leadership of the Commission, Mr Speaker, we have been getting on with things before restoration and renewal that have been taken out of the scheme.

The Elizabeth tower is emerging butterfly-like from its chrysalis day by day to reveal an exceptionally beautiful part of the Palace. The fire safety programme has been proceeded with, so there are 4,126 sprinkler heads and 8 miles of pipe that are an important part of protecting life in the event of fire and are some protection for fire suppression that would be beneficial to the building.

By and large, the cast iron roofs have been restored in a very big programme as it is thought to be the largest expanse of cast iron roof in Europe. We are also getting on with the northern estate. It is really important that we get on with things and do them at a proportionate cost. We cannot possibly be out of here for 20 years; I do not think any Member thinks that is reasonable.

I put on record my role as chair of the Threehills Community Supermarket, which will be Scotland’s first community supermarket. It opened its larder last week and the feedback has been positive. People using the service are on low wages or benefits. Will the Leader of the House undertake to place in the Commons Library a copy of the Government’s evidenced review of the systematic drivers of the need for food aid, which was due to be published by the Department for Work and Pensions 18 months ago, so we can facilitate an open and transparent debate on the serious matter of food aid provision?

May I congratulate the Threehills Community Supermarket in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and him on the work that he has clearly done to support it? The issue relates to the cost of living and what we have been doing to help people with their livelihoods, for which the rise in the national living wage to £9.50 in April, which will leave a full-time worker £5,000 a year better off, and the cut to the universal credit taper and the increased work allowance, which will give 2 million families an extra £1,000 a year in their earnings, are of fundamental importance. On the report that he is asking for, I will take that up with the Department.

I am sure that you appreciate, Mr Speaker, that the British Lawnmower Museum in Southport is a real jewel in the nation’s heritage crown—indeed, a cut above the rest. It is under threat, however, from Labour-controlled Sefton Council and Sustrans, which are trying to impose a liveable neighbourhood near the museum that would seriously inhibit access, particularly for elderly people and disabled people. Could we have a debate on accessing our great British heritage sites? If my right hon. Friend or you, Mr Speaker, want to donate a lawnmower to the museum, it would be gratefully received.

It must be a very great place if it has been honoured by a visit from Mr Speaker himself. It is one of the glories of our country that we have museums for almost everything. A lawnmower museum is a reminder of the pride that we take in having finely cut lawns. It is worth bearing in mind that until, I think, the 1860s, the cricket ground at Lord’s—Thomas Lord’s ground—was cut by sheep. It is therefore relatively recently that lawnmowers have been used to assist the tending of Lord’s cricket ground.

Socialist councils are an absolute menace. We know that Sefton Council is a particular menace to all good ideas locally. It is absolutely typical that it is trying to stop something that gives pleasure to people. I am glad to say that £850 million of taxpayer spending was announced in last year’s spending review to support world-class cultural and heritage buildings. We should take pride in and support our local museums, and—dare I say it—we should cut socialist councils down to size.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will be delighted to know that, following a campaign by the women’s parliamentary Labour party, the journalist Rose Stokes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Boots has announced that it is slashing the price of its morning-after pill from £15.99 to £10.99, removing the sexist surcharge that is attached to that medication. It is interesting to note that Superdrug is still charging £13.49, whereas people can get generic emergency contraception for £3.99 on the Chemist4U website. I am raising this because cuts to public health budgets and the fragmentation of the NHS have meant that it is more difficult for women to access contraception advice. May we have a debate about the report of the all-party parliamentary group on sexual and reproductive health in the UK, which made clear recommendations on proper funding and accessibility for women’s contraceptive health services?

Before the Leader of the House answers, may I just say that we are finishing at 11.30? If we want to get people in, we are really going to have to speed up both questions and answers.

The levelling-up White Paper that was launched yesterday will see Stoke-on-Trent become an educational investment area and get multi-million pound funding to bus back better, adding to the £56 million from the levelling-up fund, the £17.6 million Kidsgrove town deal, the £29 million transforming cities fund and the 550 new jobs from the Home Office. There are also the powers to compel rogue and absent landlords of high street shops to fill them and to increase fines when heritage and history is allowed to rot. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Burslem and Tunstall, which he has visited, deserve a future high streets task force?

I did indeed visit. I got to try some of Margaret’s famous vanilla custards at the Tunstall indoor market and she gave me supplies to eat on the train back to London. Stoke-on-Trent already receives support from the Government’s high streets task force, which announced its first tranche of bespoke expert support last year. It is staggering the delivery of its expert support to a total of 152 selected local authorities over the period 2021-24, but my hon. Friend is a brilliant campaigner for any cakes that are available.

Can we have a debate on banning rapists from football? This week, Scottish club Raith Rovers signed David Goodwillie, who was found to be a rapist by one of the most senior judges in Scotland in a civil court. The club has just reversed its decision, but it has caused huge trauma, upset and a devastating impact on the football community that supports Raith Rovers, including the women’s team, now renamed the McDermid Ladies, who will play on Sunday at 2 o’clock. Does the Leader of the House agree that rapists have no place in professional football, or any football, or any role in public life?

Of course I agree with the hon. Lady. She is right to raise a matter of this importance in the House.

I would like to associate myself with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). When it comes to restoration and renewal, we should prioritise taxpayer value for money. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the works could be done more cost-effectively and to a perfectly decent specification, without the bells and whistles currently planned? Does he agree with me and my constituents that we should pursue this path?

Yes. The Commission was told that we could define how to meet lesser requirements at a fraction of the cost of the essential scheme. It has got far too expensive, it is taking far too long and we need to get on with doing what really needs to be done and to prioritise taxpayer value.

Public houses are an essential part of the fabric of the community up and down the country. However, I hear not just from my city of Cambridge but elsewhere that not only did they have a tough pandemic but they face a difficult challenge with food inspections that have become more complicated, with less experienced inspectors and extra costs. Could a Minister please address this issue? Perhaps the Leader of the House will note that it is the socialists who know the problems of business.

Yes; I am delighted. As I have said before, there is more joy in heaven over the one sinner who repenteth than the 99 who are not repenting. The hon. Gentleman is always right to seek redress from over-zealous regulators who do not do their job properly. I will pass on what he has said to the relevant Department.

My constituent David Bosley contacted me last month about his son Alex, who is one of a number of my constituents to have had their Instagram account hacked and used by fraudsters to trick their contacts into giving them money. The fraudsters often walk away with tens of thousands of pounds. May we have a debate on clamping down both on the perpetrators of the frauds and on the lax processes of the social media platforms that inadvertently facilitate fraud?

My hon. Friend is so right to raise this important and concerning issue, which will be of importance to Members across the House. The Online Safety Bill will ensure that big platforms, including Instagram, will have to do a great deal more to take scams seriously and keep people safe. If firms fail to keep people safe, Ofcom will be able to give huge fines of up to multi-billions of pounds for the largest companies, or even block sites. We are carefully considering the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill at the moment and will incorporate them where we feel that the Bill can be strengthened further. I can assure my hon. Friend that work is under way.

I thank the Leader of the House for the work that he does on following up answers to parliamentary questions that are of low quality. May I—surprisingly perhaps—praise one that I have received from the Department of Health and Social Care? I asked different Departments what their policy was on references for recruitment. Not only did the DHSC answer my question but it helpfully included the Cabinet Office round-robin guidance to all the Departments on lines to take in answering my question, including a section explaining my motivation in asking the question, which I thought was very useful as I was wondering what it was myself. Could this novel, but perhaps—to use the word of the week—inadvertent, innovation be adopted in all such cases?

As it happens, I have often thought that the greater the openness the more understanding there is from other sides. This inadvertent mistake sounds to have been rather beneficial.

The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse reported its conclusions this week and made a number of findings about failings of police and local councils to protect vulnerable children. The report describes a horrific culture that forced survivors of child sexual exploitation to fight to be believed. Those who were heard were made to feel as if they had brought the exploitation on themselves. Investigations were hampered by poor data collection on a range of issues, including the ethnicity of perpetrators. Please can we find Government time for a debate on this issue, which affects so many communities across the country, including in Rother Valley?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has been doing on this particularly important issue. The Government are committed to considering carefully the inquiry’s recommendations and will respond fully within the inquiry’s deadline of six months. Obviously, I cannot comment on the recommendations at this stage, but the Government are delivering the action set out in our groundbreaking tackling child sexual abuse strategy, which sets out our whole-system response to tackling sexual abuse, including exploitation. The Government will shortly publish an updated child exploitation disruption toolkit to help the police and local authorities to prevent and disrupt organised exploitation. It is likely that there will be an opportunity for Members to discuss the work of the IICSA when it publishes its final report later this year.

During COP26 the Women’s Institute distributed crocheted bangles like the one I am wearing—a bracelet made by Jean Boyle of Flockton WI—to remind decision makers that there should be no more loopholes in carbon emission reduction targets. May we have a debate on how decisions made at COP26 will be monitored and held to account later this year at COP27?

I congratulate the WI on its terrific work. It makes not only marmalade but items for the hon. Gentleman to wear. Of course there will be regular discussions on COP26, and we will be held to account in this House through Adjournment debates, Backbench Business debates and, indeed, questions to the COP26 President.

Yesterday I met Fran Hall and Lobby Akinnola, representatives of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. They are very angry that the covid inquiry is being delayed, and they want to know when it will be launched so that the evidence is contained and made secure, and so the hearings can go ahead in the spring, as has been promised. If there are more delays, the covid inquiry will be kicked into the summer or later. The inquiry needs to start in the spring. Can we have a statement from the Government on the covid-19 inquiry and when it will start?

I think preliminary work is beginning and, as I understand it, the website was opened yesterday. I will confirm this to the hon. Lady, but it is happening. The inquiry will go ahead, and it is very important that it goes ahead when all the facts are known.

We had the very positive levelling-up statement and White Paper yesterday, but please can we have a debate on one element of levelling up that is urgent and specific enough to merit direct consideration, and that is the role of education, skills and colleges? The lack of skills or access to a skilled workforce is the issue most raised with me by local businesses.

I agree with my hon. Friend that education and skills have a vital role to play in levelling up the country. Like him, I welcome yesterday’s announcement of the White Paper by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Through our multibillion pound plan for jobs, we have seen 120,000 young people starting their kickstart job and more than 160,000 apprentices being supported through the apprenticeship incentive scheme. There is a £3.8 billion increase in skills spending, and we are funding a lifetime guarantee and quadrupling places on skills bootcamps. As announced by the Secretary of State yesterday, the Government’s mission is to target new high-quality skills training at the lowest-skilled areas, with 200,000 more people completing high-quality skills training annually. What my hon. Friend is calling for is in the pipeline.

Will the Leader of the House make time for the Minister for Defence People and Veterans to make even a written statement on the progress he is making on ensuring that the veterans card is issued to former service personnel who served before 2018? I have been asking for an update from the Minister, his predecessor and his predecessor’s predecessor since the card was announced. It would be good to understand what the delays are and why the Government are not willing to issue this much-needed card for veterans.

I commit to the hon. Gentleman that, in my regular correspondence with Ministers after business questions, I will take this up with the Minister for Defence People and Veterans and get an answer.

Unlike the Leader of the House, I will never have enough money to own an Aston Martin, but I have a constituent who is lucky enough to own one. It was repaired after being flood damaged. He drove it safely in Cyprus for four years, he has insurance and he has an MOT showing it is road-worthy, but the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency will not allow him to register the car to be driven on the road because, according to its database, it was written off and due to be scrapped by a previous insurance company. I have tried to assist my constituent, but the DVLA has more or less told me to go away with a capital F. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Transport to have a look at this and see how the DVLA makes decisions and to whom it is accountable?

Sadly, I do not have an Aston Martin, although I think they are particularly beautiful and elegant cars. His constituent therefore has my greatest sympathy as he finds this bureaucratic morass is stopping him registering his car and being able to use it when it is now in working condition and with an MOT.

The DVLA has been a mainstay of problems for Members of Parliament in recent weeks. I was told that the backlog had been sorted, but I am afraid that is not the experience of my constituents. I will definitely take this up for the hon. Gentleman’s constituent with the Secretary of State for Transport.

I am always pleased to listen to the Leader of the House, but I like it better when he seems to be speaking for the House of Commons rather than as a sort of public relations man for the Prime Minister. He said some very thoughtful things when he talked about the Metropolitan police and police behaviour, about how a few rotten apples can make such a difference in an institution’s culture. I hope he will reflect on what he said and apply it to what has been going on in this House of Commons and in this Government. While he is thinking about that, can we have an early debate on the campaign that my great old friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), has been raising in this House with no response: why is it that so much Russian money is swilling around in London? It is in the Conservative party; it is everywhere, to such a level that we are now told we cannot have sanctions against the Russians because there is so much Russian money laundering in this city.

First of all, this Government is made up of a collection of the finest, best apples that has ever been seen anywhere in the world. They are the Beauty of Bath, the Cox’s Orange Pippins—the best and finest that a costermonger could ever have on his stall.

To come to the point about Russian money, as I said earlier, should a further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen, allies must enact swift, retributive responses, including unprecedented sanctions. We have very tough laws against dirty money, and they are enforced.

I know that the Leader of the House places great importance on the honesty and integrity of Members. More than two years ago, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister gave a categoric assurance that members of the mine-workers’ pension scheme would receive the moneys back from that pension scheme, so could we now have a statement to tell us when that is going to happen, given the length of time they have had to wait and the importance of this issue for ex-miners in my constituency?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point on behalf of his constituents. It has been raised before by other Members, and I have been following it up with the relevant Department.