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Business of the House

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 10 March 2022

With pleasure. The business for the week commencing 14 March will include:

Monday 14 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Professional Qualifications Bill [Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill.

Tuesday 15 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a general debate on Ukraine.

Wednesday 16 March—Opposition day (16th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party.

Thursday 17 March—General debate on the Irish in Britain, followed by a general debate on protecting and restoring nature at COP15 and beyond. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 18 March—Private Members’ Bills.

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

Monday 21 March—Opposition day (17th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

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

On Tuesday, history was made in this House when Ukraine’s President Zelensky addressed us. It was moving and inspirational. Yesterday, however, we saw new depths of Putin’s depravity with the bombing of innocent women and children in a maternity hospital and the confirmed use of thermobaric bombs—war crimes. We must continue to reinforce our NATO allyship and urgently provide Ukraine with the assistance that it needs. The Government must also take the hardest possible sanctions approach against all those linked to Putin and all the dirty Russian money that has infiltrated our country.

We have worked with the Government to get the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill through this House as quickly as possible, but there are still some significant loopholes to close. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will accept our amendment to reduce the transitional period from six months to 28 days? The Opposition have also tabled an amendment to close the loophole whereby a foreign entity can register a property with an uncontroversial beneficial owner, such as a spouse, change it to a more suspicious individual the following day but does not have to inform the register for 12 months. Can he confirm whether the Government will accept that amendment so that we can clean up that corruption together once and for all?

On this subject, I would also be grateful if the Leader of the House could confirm when part 2 of the economic crime legislation will come before us, including the measures on reforming Companies House that have been referred to. It cannot wait until the next Session. The Opposition will work with him and his colleagues to make sure that any such Bill progresses speedily, as we have done this week, so could he give us more information on that?

Tuesday was International Women’s Day, and the Government’s own survey showed that just 16% of small business employers and only one in three entrepreneurs are women. Women clearly hold the key to our economic recovery. The data on the companies that do have good gender diversity bears that out. As we come out of the pandemic, it is so important, so could the Leader of the House ask the Business Secretary to set out what steps he is taking to increase the number of women in business at all levels?

During the pandemic, social care staff were one of the groups on the frontline of our fight against covid, but vacancies currently being at an all-time high is leading to immense pressures for those already working in the sector. It has been brought to my attention that, this weekend, organisations in Derby—for instance, Disability Direct—are showing appreciation for their hard work and commemorating those who, sadly, lost their lives. Could the Leader of the House join me in praising social care staff in Derby and, of course, social care staff across the country?

As much as this Government try, we cannot ignore the worsening cost of living crisis. At a time of rocketing bills and stagnating wages that predate the Ukraine crisis, the Conservatives are choosing to increase national insurance—not back down—on working people and businesses at the worst possible time, which will hit 27 million workers. It leaves other forms of income, such as the buying and selling of property, and dealing in stocks and shares, untouched. Our Opposition day motion this week scrapping the planned rise was agreed by the House, so could the Leader of the House confirm that the Chancellor will not be pushing ahead with this disastrous Tory tax rise?

It is also time for the Government to look again at Labour’s proposal for a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas. This would cut household energy bills by up to £600, enable the warm home discount scheme to be expanded and help those who need it most, including the nearly 13,000 households in the right hon. Gentleman’s own constituency who would save up to £600 on their bills. Could the Leader of the House explain why his Government are forcing working people, including his own constituents, to pay the price for over a decade of Government dither, delay and incompetence?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for a number of questions. Let us start with Ukraine and sanctions. I think she is right to draw attention not only to the President of Ukraine appearing on Tuesday, which was a momentous occasion, but the barbaric actions of the Putin regime yesterday, which I think struck new depths of barbarity. Attacking a maternity hospital cannot even be comprehended in a civil society. We should be under no illusion: this House is united in opposing Putin and his regime. We will not forget what they are doing and they will be held to account in a war crimes court at some point in the future. All those people acting on behalf of President Putin in conducting these actions should be under no illusion: they will not escape justice either and we are united as a House of Commons in delivering that.

The hon. Lady asked about part 2 of the economic crime legislation. That is of course coming very soon. It will be in the next Session, which is not very far away. Certainly, the next Session will be upon us very soon, and it will be announced in the usual way from this Dispatch Box.

The hon. Gentleman, from a sedentary position, tempts me to speculate, but the new Session will be announced in the usual way. The next economic crime Bill will be a key part of that, and it will be brought forward as rapidly as possible.

It was International Women’s Day on Tuesday, and there will be an opportunity this afternoon to debate that matter. I agree with the hon. Lady that businesses that do not embrace half of the population in their economic output are missing out. Women in the United Kingdom make a huge economic contribution to the United Kingdom, and those businesses that are lacking in promoting that talent are missing out on half the talent available to them. They should reassess what they are doing.

I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in celebrating the work of social care staff not only in Derby, but across the country. I think people working in that industry contribute a great deal to society and they should be praised for the efforts that they are making.

The hon. Lady finished with the cost of living. We recognise that the effect of the Putin invasion of Ukraine is making huge ripples across energy markets and the whole world. That is clearly going to affect the United Kingdom. Luckily we are currently dependent on Russia for only 3% of our gas, but we can isolate ourselves from that moving forward. We need a balanced energy mix in the UK. We need to invest in our future and ensure that we have nuclear on tap as well as renewables. We need to move at a speed that our constituents and taxpayers can afford. The UK Government are committed to doing that.

Crops destroyed, livestock killed, farm equipment stolen: that is the reality of hare coursing for farmers in west Berkshire. One of them recently described it to me as a form of “rural terrorism.” My right hon. Friend knows about this issue probably better than anyone in the House, so will he commit to a debate in Government time to discuss the true misery that those crimes inflict and better ways of tackling them?

My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to this matter. It is an issue that is worthy of debate. My only disappointment is that I would not be able to participate in that debate myself. Hare coursing has been illegal since the passage of the Hunting Act 2004 and it remains a cause of concern in rural areas. During consideration of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill last week, we strengthened the measures on hare coursing, but it is damaging to rural communities where it takes place. I encourage her to seek a Westminster Hall debate on that important issue and I wish her well.

As the darkening situation in Ukraine continues into a third week, it is right that statements, legislation and debates to help with the response continue to take priority in the business of the House. I hope the Leader of the House will assure me that that will continue to be the case. Although there is a general, if rather unusual, consensus across the House, that of course breaks down, as we have just heard, when it comes to the situation of and the support required for refugees. We welcome the belated U-turns, but this is still a Government with an ingrained ideological, if not obsessive determination to keep people out. We will see how it all works out in the days ahead.

Can we have a statement on how this will affect children leaving Ukraine—children who have no documentation and cannot wait a week to get out? Usually, I raise a constituency case at business questions. My constituent, Steve Carr, is the chair of Dnipro Kids Appeal, which supports orphans in that central Ukrainian city—a city in the crosshairs of all the approaches from the Russian advance. Right now, he is crossing the Ukrainian-Polish border with 34 Ukrainian orphans, hoping to get to Scotland. Indeed, he has just sent me a photo of the coach with the 34 Ukrainian orphans in it. Those children are traumatised and exhausted after weeks of seeing their country invaded and bombed. Steve does not anticipate any difficulty in getting across that border, but even after the Home Secretary’s statement, he does not know what happens next and how we get those children to Scotland. There are places for them in Perthshire and they will be supported by the local community there. I have written to the Home Secretary. I have not yet received a response—I know she is busy—but can the Leader of the House assure me that all remaining bureaucracy will now be set aside in the name of doing the right thing for those children to get here?

As you will know, Mr Speaker, the number of covid cases is up again in this House. Given the abandonment of nearly all arrangements in here, that was as inevitable as it was certain to happen. So what is the Leader of the House going to do about it? I suppose he will do what this Government and this House do best when confronted by a rise of cases in this pandemic—next to absolutely nothing.

First, I recognise the support of the SNP in dealing with Putin and his regime, and standing together. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the fact that he slightly disagrees with the Government’s approach to refugees. We have just had an hour questioning the Home Secretary, who responded at the Dispatch Box, setting out how the Government are to open humanitarian routes for people coming from Ukraine, to settle not only in Scotland but across the UK. The UK should be enormously proud that we are open-armed to welcome people from that desperate situation. I wish the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, Steve Carr, all the best. He is clearly doing great work and he is an example of volunteers who are putting themselves in harm’s way to support people in that desperate situation in Ukraine. I applaud him for his efforts. I will follow up the hon. Gentleman’s letter with the Home Secretary and ensure that he gets a speedy response.

On covid, I think we should recognise that the Government have played the pandemic better than most western countries. We were the first to issue the vaccine and the first to start rolling out the booster programme. We now have the fastest growing economy in the G7. It is time to recognise that, fortunately, omicron is not as dangerous as other strains of covid, and it is time to move on, try to get back to a bit of normality and get the economy going again.

Finally, before I sit down, I recognise that yesterday was a significant day for the hon. Gentleman—he had a large-numbered birthday. I know that the SNP has been debating how pensions will be paid in future, and the best way for him to ensure his pension is to remain a member of the United Kingdom. I trust that he will campaign to do that.

The Leader of the House knows my woke credentials, so will he make a statement next week on the need for certain contextual information to be provided under portraits in Speaker’s House?

I recognise my right hon. Friend’s woke credentials. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell), who I cannot see in his place, is Chairman of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, and he has commented that the Committee will reflect on portraits in the House. However, as Leader of the House, I am committed to ensuring that there is no place for bullying or harassment in Parliament and that people can have confidence in the systems and processes that we have put in place. My predecessors, including my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), worked hard to ensure that everyone working in Parliament is treated with dignity and respect.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the growing humanitarian crisis on the Ukrainian border and, in particular, reports that black and Asian people, including students from India and African countries, have been stopped from leaving Ukraine at the border? It would be helpful to hear from a Foreign Office Minister about what engagement the UK is having with our allies in the region to ensure that all refugees who need to leave Ukraine can do so regardless of the colour of their skin.

The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. If that is true, it is shocking, and I will ensure that the Foreign Secretary hears of her comments and investigates the matter. Any form of racism should be called out, and as the United Kingdom we must make every effort to ensure that. I will take the matter up on her behalf with the Foreign Secretary.

Can I have a debate on Soot Hill road in my constituency? It links the villages of Barnton, Comberbach and Anderton to Northwich, and adjacent to it is a busy industrial park. Back in January 2021, during Storm Christoph, there was a landslip and the edge of the road gave way. However, for 13 months, the road has been closed, causing huge upset to local residents, business and visitors, and now rumour has it that Cheshire West and Chester Council is kicking the repairs down the road for another 18 months, which would be absolutely unacceptable.

Local highways authorities have a duty to maintain the highway network in their areas, and Cheshire West and Chester Council has a responsibility for the maintenance of Soot Hill road. As announced at the spending review, we are investing more than £5 billion over the Parliament in local highways maintenance. However, it seems to me that my right hon. Friend has been let down by Labour, and I hope that her council heard her message. It needs to get on with those repairs as rapidly as possible.

Agriculture is extraordinarily important in my constituency. Let me give two examples of the problems that my farmers and crofters face: one is the forthcoming price hike in red diesel; another is that the seed potato growers in my constituency, who are some of the best in the UK, are having extraordinary trouble accessing overseas markets. I know that it is difficult for the Leader of the House to comment on this because of his background, but does he agree that a debate on UK agriculture would be timely and extremely helpful to farmers?

I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. This Government take food security very seriously. The good news is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is across the threat that we face, and there is no prospect of food shortages at any point in the future. DEFRA is working with the Treasury to try to make sure that that continues to be the case, but I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. It is worthy of further debate, and he may want to apply for an Adjournment debate or even a debate in Westminster Hall.

For too many in Stockton South, the dream of moving into their new home has become a nightmare because they bought a new-build house from Avant Homes. Time and again, Avant over-promises and under-delivers, operating a grab-and-run approach. It is happy to take people’s life savings but unwilling to engage with me or my residents on its half-built, half-baked housing developments. Will my right hon. Friend grant a debate on irresponsible housing developers? And may I join the call for a statement on the behaviour of the former Speaker?

I do not know whether hon. Members are allowed two business questions, but my hon. Friend managed to sneak two in there. He is clearly a huge champion for his constituents. Those who are fortunate to be housing developers have a responsibility to their customers to make sure that the properties they build reach the required specifications and are fit for housing. There are authorities out there that hold to account rogue landlords or those who are making products that are not fit for purpose, and I encourage him to engage with them.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency still has significant backlogs. A number of constituents have applications stuck in the system and they are spending hours on the phone. This is not just inconvenient but is impacting on people’s livelihoods. A man who needs to send off medical records yearly has sent in his evidence—he works as a minibus driver—but he is still waiting, and it is often not clear whether people can still drive while they are waiting. Can we have a statement in Government time on the action that they will take on the DVLA backlog?

I, too, have constituents who have suffered from slow responses from the DVLA. The hon. Lady will recognise that, during the pandemic, there was an outbreak of covid in the DVLA at Swansea, which caused a number of problems. However, there was also substantial industrial action from the unions, which caused huge backlogs, and the Secretary of State for Transport has been working hard to resolve them. I encourage her, through her connections, to talk to the unions to make sure that no further industrial action takes place.

Stroud is going through a local plan process now so, sadly, we will not benefit from the Government’s forthcoming transformational planning reforms, yet constituents in Cam, Sharpness, Berkeley, Wisloe and other areas are coming to my surgeries in droves because they are really concerned about the plan consultation, and they are worried that councils are trying to build even more homes than required and about many other issues. Will my right hon. Friend consider asking for a statement from the new Minister for Housing on what can be done to help areas such as mine that are going through the local plan process now, and what other considerations we can act on to help our particularly rural areas?

My hon. Friend is a huge champion for her constituents. Although the planning system is a key enabler of the Government’s wider mission to level up across the country and regenerate left-behind places, I will pass her comments on to the new Housing Minister. The previous Housing Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), who is in his place, made huge strides in the right direction to make sure that we get the right homes built in the right places and that we protect our green and open spaces.

The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone in the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, it is accentuated by our having fuel costs that are 27% higher, and higher transport and haulage costs, which impact on every household. Will the Government address that issue by urgently introducing legislation or taking action to cut fuel costs across the whole United Kingdom immediately? Will they also address the obvious problems that are coming down the tracks fast, which could include food security issues as a result of grain shortages? Will they set aside land across the UK now for next year’s harvest?

Matters of taxation and fuel duty would be addressed at a Budget, and at some point my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make his Spring statement, but the Government recognise the challenge in global oil and gas prices. We are seeking to mitigate it, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will be in his place to question Treasury Ministers when they next appear at the Dispatch Box.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the Standards Committee report on the conduct of the former Speaker John Bercow. The scale of the bullying behaviour that it describes is horrific and it must not happen again. Will my right hon. Friend commit to making a statement in the House on the report and the Government’s response to it? Furthermore, my right hon. Friend will be mindful of records of Mr Bercow’s tenure such as the large portrait that hangs in this building. Further to my point of order on Tuesday, I ask my right hon. Friend to do all he can to ensure that they are set in context, with an explanatory pack alongside such paintings, because the victims of his bullying may see them as they walk around the place.

First and foremost, the safety of those who work on the estate is paramount. There is no place for bullying or harassment in Parliament, and by working across parties, we will ensure that everyone working in Parliament is treated with dignity and respect. The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme aims to improve the working culture within Parliament, and I hope that the report shows that people can have confidence to proceed with any complaint that they have, and that anyone guilty of such crimes will be held to account.

While, understandably, the focus is on Ukraine, it is important that we do not forget other parts of the world, especially where our citizens are being unjustly detained. My constituent Luke Symons has been detained by the Houthis in Sana’a in Yemen since 4 April 2017 simply for possessing a British passport. The Foreign Secretary has still not agreed to meet Luke’s grandfather Bob Cummings, who has been campaigning; and Amnesty International has joined the campaign. May we have a debate about British citizens who are held unjustly overseas? I have applied for one in Westminster Hall; I do not know if I will be lucky. Can we have one in Government time?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the attention of the House to this matter. He is a courageous campaigner on behalf of his constituent. We are working closely with our partners in the region to make sure that Mr Symons is released and reunited with his family as soon as possible, but I will make sure that the Foreign Office is aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and comments.

I wonder if the Leader of the House might sponsor a review of the timetabling of oral parliamentary questions. A number of Departments such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which I am proud to serve, only ever feature on a Thursday, but 40 minutes is not really long enough, and this morning a number of Members were disappointed that they were not called. They had lots to discuss. Will my right hon. Friend please agree to address the imbalance?

That is something that the Procedure Committee may well want to consider at some point in the future. My hon. Friend will understand that extending any question session has a knock-on effect on business later that day or on the rota of which Departments appear at the Dispatch Box. It is worthy of review and perhaps the Procedure Committee would like to look at it at some point in the future.

West Midlands Ambulance Service staff experienced 1,671 incidents of physical and verbal abuse in 2021 compared with 887 in 2016. That is a shocking 88% increase in just five years. Across England, 11,749 ambulance staff were abused last year. Staff have been stabbed, punched, kicked, head-butted, spat at and verbally abused. In response to these abhorrent attacks, the national work without fear campaign has launched to highlight the profound impact of this abuse and encourage respect for our brave and dedicated ambulance staff. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning this heinous abuse and look for a time for a debate so that we can reinforce the message that abusive behaviour of any form is totally unacceptable and must stop?

The hon. Lady is right: it beggars belief that anyone would attack a person who is working in the ambulance service to save a life or make someone better, or would attack members of the fire brigade, who I know are sometimes attacked while they are fighting fires and trying to save property and people’s lives. This is an abhorrent crime, and the House will have noted the hon. Lady’s concern. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will strengthen some of the measures taken against people who commit such crimes, and I hope she will be in the Lobby to support that Bill as it makes its way through Parliament.

Each year we have an emotional debate on Holocaust Memorial Day, and we are indebted to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for all the work that they do, but that debate commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Today is the anniversary of the creation of the first concentration camp in Germany by the Nazis in 1933. May we have a debate in Government time on the history of the holocaust? Only by learning the lessons of what happened will we prevent it from happening again.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter. The holocaust is something that we must never forget, and an awareness of its history is vital to ensuring that such horrors never happen again. My hon. Friend may know that the National Holocaust Centre is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick). It is certainly worth a visit, and many schoolchildren are invited and go there.

I know that my hon. Friend is a member of the Backbench Business Committee. As he says, we hold regular debates in the Chamber to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in January, which are always well subscribed. I would encourage him to apply for a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate to raise the matter to which he has referred today.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House has seen my early-day motion 31.

[That this House notes the work of WAVE Trust and its 70/30 campaign to reduce levels of child abuse, neglect and domestic abuse by 70 per cent by 2030; further notes that over two-thirds of this House have endorsed that campaign, including a majority from all parties; recognises the role that Adverse Childhood Experiences play in the entrenchment of intergenerational health and income inequalities and the loss of over £20 billion per year to the UK economy; welcomes the publication of the Early Years Review; and calls on the Government to adopt a comprehensive early years’ strategy to prevent harm to children before it happens, ensuring that all parents are supported to give children the best possible start in life.]

The early-day motion, entitled “Giving every child the best start in life”, has just become the most signed EDM in this Parliament. I commend the work of the WAVE Trust and its 70/30 campaign to reduce childhood trauma by at least 70% by the year 2030. Given that more than 500 Members on both sides of the House are supporting that campaign, is it not time we had a debate on this vital issue, and gave reducing childhood trauma the attention that it deserves?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her success with the early-day motion. I agree that this is an important issue, and that it is worthy of debate. If 500 of the hon. Lady’s colleagues are supporting her EDM, she should have no problem in securing a Backbench Business debate on the matter, or a Westminster Hall debate if she needs longer.

The long-awaited report on maternity deaths and injuries at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust was due to be published on 22 March, but families in Telford have now been informed that its publication has been delayed. I understand that the delay will be short, but the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), had been due to give a statement to the House following the report’s publication, and I fear that the publication may now be pushed into the Easter recess and Members will not have an opportunity to put questions to the Minister. Please will the Leader of the House urge the Minister to ensure that the publication of this important report takes place before the recess?

My hon. Friend is a tenacious campaigner on this issue. The Department of Health and Social Care is working apace to secure a new date for the report’s publication. It has informed me that it expects that to be days rather than weeks later than the original date, and I understand that the Minister has written to all local MPs to update them on the position. She is also happy to meet local MPs to discuss it with them personally. I will ensure that she hears my hon. Friend’s question today.

I presume that the Lords amendments referred to for Tuesday will be amendments to the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill. The Leader of the House is not nodding yet, but I am sure that that is the case, because it is the only legislation that is waiting. If it is the case, can the Leader of the House explain something to me?

The Foreign Affairs Committee was told earlier this week, both by the Foreign Secretary and by other people, that Foreign Office officials knew as early as 2019 that the sanctions regime we had introduced in 2018 would simply not to be fast enough or easy enough to use in the event of a situation such as the one we have today. Why on earth did the Government not do something about it much earlier? I am delighted that Roman Abramovich and Deripaska have been sanctioned today, but, to be honest, I think that they should have been sanctioned several years ago. Are we going to tackle those who have acted as proxies for these people, such as Greg Barker, Arron Banks and Ben Elliot? Are we going to sanction all those who have acted as proxies? Are we going to sanction Belarusians such as Dmitry Mazepin who have been actively supporting the invasion in Ukraine? I think the whole House wants to take a full and united approach to this, but it worries us that the UK sanctioned seven people today whereas all 27 countries of the European Union sanctioned 160 yesterday.

The hon. Gentleman will note that in the business statement I said that on 15 March, if necessary, there would be consideration of Lords amendments, after which we would move on to a general debate. Returning to sanctions, we are now in a place where we have the most robust sanctions regime in place and where we can take action against some of the individuals that he named. He acknowledges that we are taking action. Today, we have announced sanctions against two individuals—

Two that he named and five others. I do not think it is helpful to have a running commentary on individual names in this Chamber, but he can rest assured that the United Kingdom is taking action and will continue to take action, and that we will be robust in those sanctions.

I hate to think what is happening in Ukraine today. It is almost unbelievable, but it has achieved one thing: in all my time here, I have never seen the House more united or better informed. That is partly due to Mr Speaker granting urgent questions and the address by the President of Ukraine, but it is also due the way in which those on the Opposition Benches have performed, and of course the leadership from the Prime Minister on this has been superb. May I also thank the Leader of the House? I cannot remember a time when Ministers have come to this House so regularly to update it and to answer the questions that they have been asked—

They have answered the questions they have been asked. I just want to ask one other thing. If something dreadful happens in the next few days before Parliament comes back on Monday, would the Leader of the House be willing to recommend recalling Parliament?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about the importance of a united House of Commons in sending the strongest possible message to the Putin regime that we will not tolerate his war crimes and his invasion of Ukraine. My hon. Friend also recognised that a series of Ministers from different Departments have been at this Dispatch Box to ensure that the House is informed and that Members have the opportunity to engage with them to ask their direct questions. I see no reason why that will not continue. We will continue to keep the House updated on a regular basis from this Dispatch Box.

The Leader of the House spoke of the impact of Russia’s dreadful invasion of Ukraine on oil and gas prices, but we are also seeing global food markets being dramatically affected as Ukraine’s agricultural production levels are heavily disrupted. Farmers in Scotland and the UK are seeing seed, feed, fertiliser and transport costs rocketing, and the seasonal window for any ramping up of domestic food production is tightening. Food prices are rising for our constituents and people across the world. Can we have a debate in Government time on the subject of food security at UK level but also, crucially, at global level?

The hon. Lady is right to draw the House’s attention to this matter. I think she will join me in recognising that in the United Kingdom—in Scotland and across the UK—we have some of the greatest farmers in the world. Their efficiency and—[Interruption.] You never know how far away you are from an efficient farmer—they are everywhere! UK farmers have kept this nation fed very well since the second world war. We have had food security in this country for a very long time and I see no reason why that will not continue, but this is a matter of importance and worthy of further debate.

My amazing constituent Sy Hughes, who runs the Fitness Bank in Oswaldtwistle, has taken on the unimaginable by walking from Manchester to the Eiffel Tower in Paris to raise money for the Bleakholt animal sanctuary. He is currently on his last day and is due to arrive tonight. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking and congratulating Sy Hughes, and will he allow a debate in Government time on how the Government support charities such as the one Sy is raising money for?

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating her constituent. She did not make it clear whether the finish line is at the top or the bottom of the Eiffel tower, but I hope her constituent makes it to the very top. Bleakholt animal sanctuary has saved thousands of animals’ lives since Maudie the donkey was saved by its founder, Olive Lomas, back in the 1950s. It is right that people like Mr Hughes help to support the sanctuary’s continuing work, and I wish him all the best in finishing at the top of the Eiffel tower later today.

A large, privately owned building with dodgy scaffolding has stood derelict at the bottom of Lawe Road in South Shields for years. It is an eyesore and it is dangerous. Brian Walker, who lives nearby, asked the Health and Safety Executive to come and assess the building, but the HSE advised that, because people are not working on the building, there is nothing it can do. The council is also completely powerless to act. Can the Leader of the House explain why, under this Government, private developers are allowed to treat local communities in this way?

Clearly there are planning regulations in place, and I do not know whether they apply to long-term scaffolding. Her constituent, Mr Walker, clearly has concerns about the building, and I will pass on the hon. Lady’s comments to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to make sure he is aware of her concerns. She is right to highlight the building today.

The Independent Expert Panel report published on Tuesday shames all of us who were prepared to put up with the behaviour contained in its pages for so long. Does the Leader of the House agree that serial bullying and serial lying have no place in this mother of Parliaments, and that we must have a parliamentary outing at the soonest opportunity so that those who were prepared to eulogise the former Speaker so royally upon his departure have an opportunity to refresh the House on their position?

Of course I agree that bullying and harassment have no place in this House or on the parliamentary estate. The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme report to which he refers makes it clear that, no matter a person’s position—however high their status—they will be held to account by the system we have in place if they are guilty of harassment and bullying. That should give victims huge confidence to come forward and make a complaint.

Fuel duty has remained at around 58p a litre for the last 12 years, but consumers also pay 20% VAT, which is just under 12p a litre. Consumers pay tax on the tax, which means they actually pay almost 70p tax on every litre. That is before the costs of extraction, purchase, shipment and forecourt sales are added. The Treasury is raking in 20% VAT on the total cost at forecourts, with fuel price increases bringing in additional VAT amounting to billions of pounds, which is helping to accelerate inflation.

As the price of a litre of fuel is now reaching £1.80 and is set to rise further, will the Leader of the House make a statement on his support for an immediate reduction in the VAT charged on fuel to help motorists and businesses, and to try to keep inflation in single figures?

The hon. Lady will be aware that she has an opportunity next week to question the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he is at the Dispatch Box for Treasury questions. There has been no increase in fuel duty for 12 years, which is a huge commitment by this Government to support hard-working families who have to fill up their car. It was the right thing to do, but it is worthy of further debate.

May I apologise to Mr Speaker and the Leader of the House for my inability to attend the Chamber in a timely manner for business questions? I am speaking not about today, of course, but about last Thursday when, like millions of other Londoners, I was inconvenienced by a very small number of people from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Transport in Cabinet to designate the London underground as an essential service so that, in future years, we cannot be subjected to these strikes by a very small number of people for no real reason?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the misery caused by that strike action. I recall that the present Mayor of London made a promise when first seeking election to have zero days of strikes—another promise he has failed to deliver, in stark contrast to his predecessor as Mayor. For many people, the tube network is an essential service. By not standing up to union barons, the Mayor of London has shown whose side he is on. The Secretary of State for Transport tweeted:

“Having funded TfL to the tune of £5bn to protect jobs & London’s transport system throughout Covid, it’s a kick in the teeth for Londoners to suffer from @RMTunion strikes.”

As we see the horrors unfolding in Ukraine, people across the United Kingdom have opened their hearts. In my constituency, people have offered their homes, food parcels and clothes parcels, and they have offered to use their light goods vehicles to carry goods across to Poland, but it is not clear what is happening with the humanitarian support scheme. The Home Secretary confirmed earlier that the scheme will be led by Lord Harrington and will be split between the Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Can we have clarity as soon as possible from the Leader of the House, or from a Minister in the Commons, on what is happening with the scheme so that my constituents, and constituents right across the UK, can understand how to access the scheme to provide support to desperate Ukrainians?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the huge compassion and hard work of constituents across the country. As he identifies, Lord Harrington has just taken up his role and is getting to grips with the situation, and he will come forward with his proposals in due course. I will make sure that both the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary are aware of the hon. Gentleman’s comments and respond to him in due course.

Following this week’s damning report on the bullying of hard-working members of House staff, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this important topic?

A number of similar questions have been asked this morning. This is clearly a topic that the House may want to debate, and I encourage my hon. Friend to apply for an Adjournment debate or even a Westminster Hall debate, given the enthusiasm we have seen this morning.

I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). We do not often agree, but I agree with his comments.

Universities are important to our economy, particularly in empowering regional economies. The Higher Education Commission is today launching, “Empowering Innovation: The role of universities in boosting regional economies.” If the Leader of the House joins us in the Attlee Suite at half-past 1, I will be very happy to buy him a glass of orange juice.

If I am honest, I am slightly disappointed with the hon. Gentleman’s question. I thought he would congratulate Nottingham Forest on defeating Huddersfield Town in the FA cup earlier in the week.

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the great work of our education facilities across the UK in helping young people to move from education into careers. University is one option available to the next generation in their pursuit of a great career, and we should be enormously proud of the great education establishments we have in the United Kingdom.

It was positive to learn this morning of a reduction in bureaucracy for Ukrainian refugees. Can we have a debate on how local communities can best welcome and support refugees when they arrive? What resources will the Government provide to help them do that? The spontaneous and significant outpouring of support shows the generosity of the British people.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this, and I am sure the people of Harrogate will be as warm and welcoming as people in other parts of the country. The House will continue to be updated by Ministers on progress as we encourage and embrace people coming to the UK from a very desperate situation. I know the British people will continue with their compassion and support.

Carol and William Dowson emailed me this morning about their problems in accessing GP appointments and the fact that people ended up in hospital because they could not get to see a GP early enough. In my recent survey of constituents, 58% of respondents found it difficult to book an appointment with a GP and a majority waited for more than a week. Hull has the highest number of patients per GP in England. The national average is 2,000 whereas in Hull the average is 2,600. May we have a debate on what the Government are going to do about the “under-doctoring” of Hull and how my constituents can access GPs more easily?

Unfortunately, the right hon. Lady will not have the opportunity to question the Health Secretary until after the Easter recess, but I know that access to GP surgeries is an issue of concern across the House. There is definitely a challenge in a post-covid world in enabling our constituents to access GP surgeries. I know that the Health Secretary takes that very seriously, but I will make sure that he is aware of her comments and responds to her in due course.

The Phillips 66 refinery in my constituency is Europe’s largest producer of high-grade petroleum coke, which is an essential component of batteries. At the moment, that coke is exported to the far east and then re-imported into the UK as the finished article. May we have a statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to clarify our policy and explain how we are going to onshore that production?

The Government have a long-standing and comprehensive programme of support for the UK automotive sector. I understand that the Business Secretary spoke to people from the Phillips 66 refinery this week. As part of our net zero strategy, the Government announced a further £350 million to the automotive transformation fund over the next three years to support the development of an international and comprehensive electric vehicle supply chain here in the UK. That is additional to the £500 million announced as part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan in November 2020.

May we please have an urgent statement on rising fuel and energy costs, and their impact on rural areas? Prices have increased substantially in recent weeks. Some constituents have seen their heating oil bills more than treble this year, and others have simply been told that no deliveries are available to them. We have all now grown accustomed to seeing pump prices increase by some 10p or 20p a litre in a matter of days. Ceredigion is especially vulnerable to such price hikes, as it has areas where more than 80% of homes are off the mains gas grid and, sadly, a lack of public transport infrastructure means that we have a greater dependence on car use for essential journeys. So may we have an urgent statement on the possibility of introducing temporary rebate schemes to help alleviate some of this cost?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the global energy price hikes, which will have an impact here in the UK. I know that the UK taxpayer has benefited and will continue to benefit from the freezing of fuel duty, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been able to keep in place for the whole of this Government’s time in office, but I recognise the challenge that rural areas face. The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to ask the Chancellor about this next week at Treasury questions, should he be in his place.

The independent expert panel findings on Tuesday should be a source of shame, most obviously to Mr John Bercow himself, but also to this House; to its policies and procedures, which we have reformed; and to a number of Members, former and current, who turned a blind eye because it suited them politically to do so. May we please have a statement in which we can raise all of these issues and, furthermore, a general debate on bullying in the workplace?

I know that my hon. Friend will be disappointed with some of that report’s findings, but we should also be enormously proud that the system we have in place holds people to account, and gives confidence to victims to come forward and confidence that their allegations or concerns will be addressed. Clearly, this is a topic that people want to talk about, and I encourage him to apply for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate.

The growing realities of the cost of living crisis are being felt across the UK. I have received lots of communication from constituents who are particularly concerned about the benefit cap, which is making the squeeze even tougher. The cap particularly discriminates against women in single parent families and families from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on the need to remove the benefit cap?

I say to the hon. Lady that the best way out of poverty is through work, and what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been able to do is adjust the taper effect on those who are receiving universal credit so that the harder they work and the more they work, the more of the cash they are able to keep. That is the right approach, so that work pays and people are able to aspire to better careers and more cash in their pocket, which they are able to keep through less taxation.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the serious deficiencies in the postal service? In the past two weeks alone, 64 Chalkwell residents have expressed concerns about Royal Mail, including the late delivery of hospital letters, and businesses finding letters and items going missing. Residents and businesses in my constituency rely on Royal Mail to recover from the pandemic, and its poor service is having an impact on lives and livelihoods.

The Government recognise the importance of a reliable post service to local communities across the UK. Ofcom, as the independent regulator responsible for the delivery of the universal postal service, monitors Royal Mail’s performance and has powers to investigate and take enforcement action if Royal Mail fails to achieve its service delivery targets. I know that Royal Mail pays close attention to Members’ questions in this Chamber, and I encourage it to take inspiration from my hon. Friend’s short time in this House and keep delivering for the people of Southend.

As everyone knows, this week we had International Women’s Day. In my work as chair of the all-party group for international freedom of religion or belief, I repeatedly hear of the double trauma that women and girls face if their religious or belief group suffers persecution—it is rampant across the world. In response to a recent article by Open Doors printed in Christian Today, I wonder whether the Leader of the House will provide time for a statement on what more could be done to better address the needs of vulnerable Christian women left behind in Syria, who could not flee the war and continue to live without full realisation of their human dignity.

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this issue, and I pay tribute to his work; he is a long-standing campaigner on these issues of religious freedom and those who are persecuted around the world. I would give him advice on how to be heard in this Chamber, but he is the master of getting across his message in this Chamber, and I wish him well in continuing to deliver.

As chair of the all-party kidney group, I would also like to wish all the best to people celebrating World Kidney Day and raising awareness. I wish to add my voice to the calls for a discussion on bullying in the workplace, which is an incredibly serious issue regarding the former Speaker of this House. I would like to go away from that uncontrollable explosion of negative energy and move to something a little more positive: clean, cheap, renewable, positive energy. Of course, I refer to the STEP— Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production—fusion project, which we want to bring to Bassetlaw and West Burton A. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the STEP project and, ideally, bringing it to north Nottinghamshire?

Asking three questions is probably testing the patience of the Deputy Speaker. Fusion is potentially a world-changing energy source, which could help to sustain a low-carbon economy of the future. More widely, we are increasing research and development, spending £22 billion by 2026—this is the fastest ever uplift. At the spending review, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced £120 million for advanced nuclear technologies, through the future nuclear enabling fund. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue championing West Burton at every opportunity so that it can benefit from this investment.

The Amazing Graze charity in Blackpool is leading the way in tackling homelessness with an innovative project of converting a double-decker bus into a mobile shelter for those sleeping rough. This Government have a brilliant record of reducing homelessness, but clearly there is more we can do. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can work with charities such as Amazing Graze to tackle homelessness and meet our ambitious target to eradicate it for good?

I congratulate my hon. Friend, his constituents and all those involved in the Amazing Grace project. The Government have a good record in reducing homelessness and the number of those who find themselves sleeping rough. I encourage my hon. Friend to apply for an Adjournment debate so that he can draw the House’s attention to his constituents’ excellent work.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Mr Yoon Suk-yeol on his victory overnight in the presidential elections in the Republic of Korea? Does he agree that from South Korea to Taiwan, India, Ghana, Canada and Japan, free people around the world choose democracy? Will he find time for a debate in the House on the importance of defending democracy around the world?

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating President Yoon. We have great friends in South Korea. The importance of a democratic society has never been more apparent to the House than at this current moment in history. Our friends in South Korea are an important part of democratic society and I congratulate President Yoon on his success.

The issues raised in the independent report on the behaviour of the former Speaker that was published earlier this week risk dragging the reputation of this House into the mud. The continued support of some Members on the Opposition Benches is a source of shame—

It is important that the House sends a message to my constituents in Workington and to everyone throughout the country that it will not tolerate bullying and misogyny like that again. I echo the calls for a debate in Government time or, indeed, a statement from the Leader of the House on those matters.

My hon. Friend is one of several colleagues who have called for such a debate; I encourage him to link up with the others to secure such a debate. We should have pride and confidence in the system we have in place. Those who commit harassment or bullying will be held to account and those who have been victims should have the confidence that the system is in place to hold people to account.

Last week, London was plunged into chaos, with two days of tubes strikes and four days of transport affected, even though the Mayor of London had promised zero days of strikes. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current Mayor of London is failing Londoners, whether it be on transport, policing or building affordable housing, and that my constituents deserve better?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), she is right to draw the House’s attention to the current London Mayor. Tube strikes bring misery to commuters and people trying to work in London. As my hon. Friend highlights, those strikes came on the back of a promise to have zero days of strike. London is being let down by its current Mayor.