It would be a pleasure. The 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.
Tuesday 22 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill.
Wednesday 23 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his spring statement, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Boiler Upgrade Scheme (England And Wales) Regulations 2022.
Thursday 24 March—Debate on a motion on war pensions and armed forces compensation scheme payments, followed by a general debate on the impact of long covid on the UK workforce. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 25 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 28 March will include:
Monday 28 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Well, there are lots of questions there. I start by thanking the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and wishing everybody—all colleagues and beyond—a happy St Patrick’s Day.
I want to pick up comments from colleagues at Transport questions—in topicals, I think—about P&O and what looks like a real situation. I note, Mr Speaker, that you said that there might be a statement. Does the Leader of the House have any update for us on when there might be such a statement? I also echo the point the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) raised in his point of order: where has the COP15 debate gone? I note that the Leader of the House said he would mention it in his response.
It is a happy day in part at least because this morning Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori have come home. They have been reunited with their families after years of unjustified detention in Iran—it is a long time since I have felt able to smile at the Dispatch Box. In particular, I pay to tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) for fighting for their constituents.
However, we continue to see the devastating consequences of Putin’s illegal attack on Ukraine, with war crimes committed daily. The Labour party stands with our allies, including NATO and others. We must strengthen our unity and resolve. We stand in complete solidarity with the Ukrainian people, but there are also implications for our own national security, so can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will not go ahead with the integrated review recommendation to cut 10,000 troops?
The hardest possible sanctions must of course be taken against all those linked to Putin. They must not live a Mayfair lifestyle in Moscow while committing atrocities in Ukraine. The sanctions package so far announced contains good measures, including the most recent on luxury items—pushed, I may say, by the Labour party—but questions remain about enforcement. The body responsible for dealing with this has issued just six fines in six years. I have already asked this but we have not had an answer, so could the Leader of the House again ask the Chancellor, who will be here next week, to tell us what he is doing to ensure sufficient resources are in place so that sanctions on dirty Russian money are properly enforced?
We on this side on the House are not ignoring the worsening cost of living crisis hitting working people up and down this country. We are on their side, but, unfortunately, it seems that the Government are not. Labour market figures published earlier this week revealed the true scale of the crisis engulfing working people: rocketing bills, stagnating wages and a buy now, pay later sort of loan scheme from the Conservative party, which is choosing to increase national insurance at the worst possible time, hitting 27 million workers. As I said, we are on the side of working people, but the Government are not. Instead, the Prime Minister is busy rowing back on his promise to ban second jobs for MPs—something we voted for. Will the Leader of the House confirm that at the spring statement the Chancellor will be scrapping his disastrous Tory national insurance rise?
The Online Safety Bill will, I hope, finally be published today—it may even have been while I have been standing here—although there was no mention of the Second Reading in the business statement. So that is another “Where is it?” question. Last year, the Prime Minister said that it would have completed all stages by last Christmas. With Russian misinformation on social media at an all-time high, threatening democracy, can the Leader of the House finally confirm when the Second Reading of the Online Safety Bill will be?
In a sign of our country’s vulnerability and energy insecurity, the Prime Minister went to Saudi Arabia to seek an increase in oil production, despite the appalling human rights record of that regime. Going cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not a long-term energy plan, so can the Leader of the House confirm when the Government’s energy security statement will be brought forward? As part of that plan, the Government should and could look again at Labour’s proposal for a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producers. That would cut household energy bills by up to £600, helping those who need it most. Why are this Government forcing working people up and down the country, including the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents, to pay the price for over a decade of mistakes made in Downing Street? I look forward to hearing his response and hope to hear more from the Chancellor on this next week.
There are a lot of topics to get through—the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm is spilling over this week—so let us make a start. P&O obviously is a developing situation. Mr Speaker, you indicated that you might take a statement later and I am sure that the Department for Transport would want to keep the House updated. I have not had any confirmation that there will be a statement later, but I know the Department will be looking at this closely and I am sure it will keep colleagues informed as the situation develops.
The hon. Lady moved on to the great news about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and the whole House will want to celebrate her safe return to the United Kingdom. She named a number of colleagues on her side. The right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) raised the matter at business questions on a number of occasions and also needs some recognition. I hope that the hon. Lady would also recognise the contribution of the Foreign Office and a number of Foreign Secretaries who worked very hard to try to expedite the process and get Nazanin home, which they have been successful in doing.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady again for her support and that of the whole House on our response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. We continue to see the most appalling atrocities committed in Ukraine by the desperate regime in Russia. I have to say that these people will be held to account for the crimes that they are committing. This week we saw the bombing of a theatre with more than 1,200 people in it. One cannot even begin to imagine the carnage that such weapons cause. That is why we are right to continue with our sanctions regime. We have now sanctioned more than 1,000 people on the list and we are taking robust action against these individuals. We should be enormously proud of putting those measures in place. Alongside that, we have the largest humanitarian support package that there is and military support, with weapons for Ukrainians to defend themselves. The UK’s response has been exemplary. The Prime Minister has shown extreme leadership on the matter and continues to do so.
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the fact that that conflict is causing huge ripples around the world in terms of energy prices and the impact on the food market. The Government are very much aware of that. That is why we have put in huge packages of support. As she said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be at the Dispatch Box next Wednesday for his spring statement. I am sure that he will update the House on progress in that direction.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Prime Minister’s trip to Saudi Arabia. Surely she recognises that the way to influence our world leaders is to engage with them: to go and sit with them, challenge them face to face and encourage them in a direction of improving human rights. We can do that only by having those face-to-face meetings and being a critical friend of those regimes. That is the right way to conduct world business.
The Goring gap question—the subject of early-day motion 1082, which I raised at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday—requires consideration by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the whole of Government because it runs roughshod over all the planning responsibilities of district councils.
[That this House calls for revocation of the conclusion of the planning inspector in the appeal relating to land north west of Goring Station, Goring-by-Sea, Worthing, the Goring Gap, separating Worthing from Ferring in Arun; notes the letter of the hon. Member for Worthing West to the Prime Minister in October 2019 asking that any inspector nominated to hear an appeal against refusal of a planning proposal should be limited to gross obvious major misjudgment; rejects building over substantial parts of the valued strategic gap between Goring-by-Sea and the village of Ferring; notes the inspector recognised the first two main issues were whether the appeal site offers an acceptable location for development and the effect of the proposed development on the landscape, including in the setting of the adjacent South Downs National Park; recognises that if the inspector’s reasoning were allowed to stand, it wrecks the responsibilities of housing authorities and county councils and attacks declared ministerial policy to maintain strategic separation between towns and villages; notes that every green field and open space between the Downs and the sea is threatened by development; and asks the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to meet potentially affected hon. Members and local authority leaders without delay.]
In a letter to the Prime Minister in October 2019, I said that an inspector should be instructed to overturn a proper decision by a local council only if there has been gross misjudgment by the council.
The issue is that Persimmon is greedily trying to fill in the strategic green gap between Goring and Ferring, in contradiction of the Worthing local plan.
The interim letter from the other planning inspector was clearly going to accept what Worthing was doing. It is wrong for one inspector perversely to grant an application when another is considering the local plan.
Can I meet the Prime Minister, and will the Government make a statement on restoring proper planning powers and revoke this inspector’s decision?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As he indicated, he raised the matter at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. Independent planning inspectors take into account all relevant matters and decide each case on its own merits. However, the planning permission has been issued, so it is final, unless successfully challenged in the courts. As a challenge may be made, it would not be appropriate for Ministers to discuss the specifics of the case at the Dispatch Box, but the Government remain committed to taking forward planning reforms. As the “Levelling Up” White Paper set out:
“Ensuring natural beauty is accessible to all will be central to our planning system.”
I wish all our Celtic cousins a very happy St Patrick’s day and welcome Nazanin home to her family. The Leader of the House is absolutely right to pay tribute to the shadow Leader of the House’s predecessor. As you know, Mr Speaker, no session of business questions was complete without the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) raising the case of Nazanin. I also want to thank the Leader of the House for continuing to ensure we have ample opportunity to debate and consider the ongoing situation in Ukraine. That is what our constituents expect from us and we will continue to be as flexible as possible as we go forward.
Yesterday, we learned from the Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) that the Prime Minister is a “very social” person. I have say that that came as a complete and utter surprise and shock to me. Blow me down with a feather, Mr Speaker! Who would have thought? Apparently, that accounts for his penchant for hanging around with Russian billionaires and oligarchs. Perhaps that description also helps us to understand a little bit more about the sheer number of rule-breaking parties and the heroic hedonism demonstrated by his No. 10 operation. Can we have a debate about prime ministerial sociability, and perhaps an update on the Sue Gray report and the conclusion of the Metropolitan police inquiry so that they can be considered properly by this House? Democracy requires that normal politics and scrutiny continue in this House.
One can only feel sorry for the Scottish Conservatives. Their leader, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), dismissed by the Leader of the House’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), as a political lightweight, has now had to endure the indignity of withdrawing his letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister. Instead, the red carpet will be rolled out at the Scottish Conservative conference to the man that every elected MSP wanted gone only a few weeks ago. So may we have an urgent debate on abject humiliation? [Laughter.]
Lastly, the Dnipro Kids issue remains unresolved this morning. My understanding is that everything is in place at the Ukrainian end and a plane is available to take off on Friday morning. There are places waiting for them in Scotland, with the care and support they need. Can we please get them over here and brought to safety in Scotland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He started by emphasising the united approach of the House on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We should not dismiss that. We should recognise that all political parties are right to condemn the actions of Putin. Having a united House of Commons sends a very strong message and I am grateful for his support.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Scottish Conservative conference, which will be taking place this weekend. There are huge numbers attending that conference, but I am sure there will be a space for him should he wish to cross the Floor of the House. I can arrange for a membership form to be headed his way. He could then pledge allegiance to the Prime Minister, attend the conference and demonstrate his support.
The hon. Gentleman finished on an important matter—his leader raised it at Prime Minister’s questions—of supporting children and getting them out of Ukraine and into a safer place. The Secretary of State for Education has made arrangements for more than 100,000 children to be supported in the UK through UK schools. We are absolutely committed to that. Our response—not only supporting people who are being evacuated out of Ukraine but providing humanitarian and military support—is an example to the rest of the world.
Somerset County Council is about to spend £8 million on a computer system that will ultimately cost about £20 million. IT projects in this country have a pretty shabby history. The problem we have is that there will be unitary elections in May, with the four district councils still there, but the system will be neither one thing nor the other. With counties and districts buying expensive systems that inevitably tend not to work, may we have a debate in this House on IT projects?
My hon. Friend is a tenacious campaigner on local government reform and this is not the first time he has mentioned Somerset councils in the Chamber. I know he will continue with enthusiasm to hold them to account and ensure they deliver for his constituents.
I wish my constituents in Gateshead, who will be celebrating as I speak, a very happy Purim and a very happy St Patrick’s day.
The debate on protecting and restoring nature at COP15 and beyond was withdrawn at the request of the answering Department. The debate’s main sponsor, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), acceded to the request, and we have promised her that we will reschedule the debate immediately after the Easter recess as long as we get the time from the Government.
I am glad that the Leader of the House announced the Backbench Business for 24 March on war pensions and armed forces compensation and on the impact of long covid on the workforce, but I am a little surprised that he has not also announced any time to debate the Chancellor’s spring statement. Possibly there will be nothing of any importance within it, I do not know.
The Backbench Business Committee can gladly report that we now have reinforcements. Two new members, the hon. Members for Bolton West (Chris Green) and for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew), were appointed a couple of days ago, so it will be easier for us to get a quorum for our meetings in the coming weeks.
Lastly, I cannot help but note that we go into the summer recess on 21 July, but as yet we are not coming back. Will the Leader of the House let us know some time soon the date for our return after the summer recess?
It is a pleasure to see the hon. Gentleman back in his place. He was missed last week.
I am grateful for the update on the COP debate, which of course the Backbench Business Committee called for. I hope that he will recognise that so far I have delivered quite well for him on every request he has made. I think we are performing reasonably well on giving him what he asks for. As he identified, the spring statement will be next Wednesday and I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will be very generous in allowing colleagues plenty of time to ask questions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that those were all the questions that the hon. Gentleman had.
The people of Leyland—especially in Moss Side—have contacted me because they are concerned about street crime and antisocial behaviour, which has been an ongoing problem. The local police respond, but they are coming in from Chorley and Preston—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]—which is too far away when your bike is being stolen by somebody with a knife, and gives plenty of time for people to scarper. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is past time to reverse the Labour police and crime commissioner’s cut to the Leyland response team and to get Leyland police station’s response teams open so that the community can feel safe on their streets?
I can understand why people would want to leave Chorley! [Laughter.]
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that everyone should have the security and confidence that comes with having a safe street and a safe home. That is why we are putting 20,000 more police officers on the streets. I know that the new Conservative police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowdon, is already making a difference to community policing across Lancashire. I am confident that the Conservative team, under my hon. Friend’s leadership, will deliver for the people of Leyland.
At the end of February, the Prime Minister announced an immediate full asset freeze for VTB bank. The next day, the Chancellor countermanded that and gave it till the end of March to wind down its transactions. It turns out that an individual who is the head of global markets fixed-income trading at VTB bank has donated £44,000 to the Tory party in the last three years. That indicates a close association between the Tory party and people at VTB bank. He also donated £3,000 to the local Greenwich Tories at the end of December. We are now fighting local elections. Should we be fighting local elections that are funded by Russian money?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the sanctions regime we have introduced and our ability to sanction those individuals associated with the Putin regime, but we should not confuse Russian people or people of Russian descent living in the United Kingdom with those who are supportive of the Putin regime. It is quite important to draw that distinction. He is able to raise that question in the House today because when anybody makes a donation it is logged and registered, and it is transparent for the electorate to view. That is a healthy place to be in a modern democracy.
The shadow Leader of the House raised the important issue of energy resilience and security. On that theme, we need to look at water resilience and security. The east and south-east of England is running out of water, which is a serious and urgent issue that needs to be addressed. We need to build more reservoirs and build our resilience. Can we have an urgent debate in this place to talk about getting more water into the east and south-east?
My hon. Friend is a long-standing campaigner on these issues and I know he will continue to hold the Government to account about them. He is right to draw attention to the fact that resilience within our infrastructure and utilities is vital to our future. For a long time, we have taken our access to good, clean water for granted, but that happens only with investment in our infrastructure. He is right to continue to draw attention to that.
The Prime Minister was in Saudi Arabia this week, days after 81 people were executed by the same regime that has been waging the devasting attacks on Yemen since 2015. The long-established community in Liverpool, Riverside has called on the UK Government to halt arms sales to the Saudis in order to end the humanitarian crisis. Can the Leader of the House make some time for a debate on that humanitarian crisis?
I know the hon. Lady took the opportunity to engage in the urgent question earlier in the week. I emphasise again that the way to influence regimes around the world is to go and engage with them, to sit opposite them, to hold them to account and to challenge them face to face. The purpose of the Prime Minister’s visit was to engage with our colleagues around the world, to try to influence them and to lead them in a direction that is better for human rights.
I was horrified to read some extremely unwelcome news reports this week that the commitment made by the Government in their manifesto and in the Queen’s Speech to ban trophy hunting imports may be scrapped. Every day that we delay, more magnificent and endangered animals—lions, elephants, rhinos and even pangolins, to name just a few—are killed for sport and their corpses brought back into this country. Will the Leader of the House confirm when the animals abroad Bill will be brought forward and reaffirm the Government’s commitment to ending trophy hunting imports?
My hon. Friend has a long-standing record of campaigning on this topic. We have committed to a ban on importing hunting trophies from nearly 7,000 species. That is one of the toughest bans in the world and will go well beyond our manifesto commitments. She will understand that parliamentary time is finite and there has been huge pressure on it, not least because of emergency legislation brought forward in response to covid and to Ukraine, but we will bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows and business will be announced in the usual way.
May I ask for a debate on those who are not pulling their weight in delivering sanctions on Russia over Ukraine? Lots of shops in the UK have now withdrawn products from their shelves, but anyone who wants to buy a £150 bottle of Beluga vodka can go to Selfridges, where it is on the shelves, or Harrods, where they have to ask for it and it is literally underneath the counter. There are also British companies that are still doing business in Russia, like Subway, Pirelli and Baker Tilly, who provide advice on how to hide money. Is it not time that everybody pulled their weight, because that is the only way we can make Putin fail?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the House’s attention to these matters. In asking his question, he has delivered some of the publicity that is required. The only way to send the strongest message to that regime in Russia is to stick together and to hold firm. He is right to ask for that debate and I am sure there will be methods, either through an Adjournment debate or Backbench Business debate, for the House to continue to draw attention to those who are not condemning or issuing those sanctions as they should be.
Some of my constituents live in houses in multiple occupation. By their very nature, those are large houses that can come with council tax bills in bands E to H. Some of those constituents are on low incomes but are not benefiting from the discount for bands A to D—they are being charged the same tax as householders who may be able to afford the bills. May we have a statement on what the Government might do to assist my constituents who find themselves in such a situation?
The Government have announced a package of support worth £9.1 billion for 2022-23 to help households with rising energy bills. Council tax bands provide a targeted means of delivering support quickly to those most in need. The Government recognise that other households that do not automatically qualify for the rebate may require support. That is why every council has been provided with a share of the £144 million fund to provide discretionary support targeted to any household in financial need—including, if they choose, those in higher council tax bands.
I hope that my hon. Friend was able to raise the issue at Treasury questions this week; if not, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be delivering his spring statement next Wednesday, and my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to raise it then.
I am glad it wasn’t me you were referring to, Mr Speaker—I am sure I was here.
On Wednesday at 5 pm, Thames Water began releasing sewage into Colwell brook at Witney, and that release is still ongoing. At 9.15 pm yesterday, Thames Water began releasing sewage into the Thames at Oxford. The Oxfordshire community says that enough is enough, which is why I and local campaigners have been fighting tirelessly to secure bathing water status for the Thames on Port Meadow. We are delighted to hear that a decision is expected in April. However, Surfers Against Sewage are calling on the Government to designate 200 official river bathing waters by 2030. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on how the Government can support communities to apply for bathing water status?
I know that the hon. Lady has secured debates on this issue in the past and that she is passionate about it. She is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to it. There were strong measures in the Environment Bill to clamp down on the illegal release of sewage into our water courses. There are exemptions for water companies to make releases in extreme weather, but I think some of them, frankly, are abusing some of those loopholes. The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to that. That is why the Government are introducing stronger measures in the Environment Bill and will continue to hold water companies to account.
Being asked by a smart Stroud child constituent what MPs do all day, what I am doing to protect owls and orangutangs, and how we can help Ukrainian children is far worse than being grilled on the tellybox.
I give credit to the Parliament team who gave virtual tours of the House during the pandemic and brought me in to speak to local schools such as St Joseph’s, Rodborough, Upton St Leonards and Cashes Green. Given that restrictions have now been lifted here, will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging more Stroud schools and others around the country to engage with the Parliament education teams and come to visit us here in Westminster?
I, too, have been grilled quite recently—by year 6 at Blidworth Oaks Primary School in my constituency. It is absolutely vital that we encourage children to engage in our democratic process and understand how politics works. The parliamentary support mechanisms that engage with schoolchildren are fantastic. I encourage colleagues up and down the country to engage with their primary schools and ask students to come and learn more about Parliament and how it operates.
Many on both sides of the House have in the past asked for a debate or statement on the terrible situation in Nigeria, which has now just about met the United Nations criteria for genocide. Most of the attacks—not all—are against the Christian community, on a widespread scale. I have asked Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Ministers questions about this in the past, but the answers have been a bit less than satisfactory. The last time, the relevant Minister said that some of the attacks might be connected to religious bigotry—the FCDO had clearly been sweating blood on that analysis. May we have a statement or a debate?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the House’s attention to the situation in Nigeria. I know that many Members on both sides of the House are concerned about religious persecution, and call it out on a regular basis. I think that it is worthy of debate, and that such a debate would be popular in the House. The hon. Gentleman will have another opportunity to ask about the issue during Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions on 26 April, but I think that applying for a debate in the meantime is the right thing to do.
I thank you for what you said earlier, Sir, about talking to the Ukrainian Speaker, and for all the efforts you have made to allow the House to engage with the terrible crisis in Europe. I also thank the Leader of the House for what he has done to provide statements to the House. I think there have also been at least three debates on Ukraine in the Chamber and Westminster Hall this week.
May I make a suggestion for next week’s business and for that of future weeks? I suggest that there should be a statement on Ukraine each week after business questions to update the House. Members would know about the statement, and could make the time to come to it. Will the Leader of the House consider that?
As my hon. Friend has said, both you, Mr Speaker, and the Government have provided many opportunities for colleagues to ask about what is happening in Ukraine, and for the House to debate the subject. I see no reason why that should not continue. Indeed, we could probably do better than a regular statement on Thursdays, and update the House on a regular basis when the situation changes.
Let me begin by wishing everyone in my constituency a happy St Patrick’s day.
I know from my experience that this House does not promote equality. In fact, I would say that it is actually exclusionary. The Leader of the House has been helpful and open to discussion, but given that we are currently moving from crisis to crisis, can we, as a matter of urgency, introduce measures enabling all Members to vote and represent their constituents?
May I say what a pleasure it is to see the hon. Lady back in her place? I know that Members on both sides of the House will also be pleased to see her here. I, and others, understand the challenges that she is fighting and overcoming, and I pay tribute to her efforts. She will be aware that the Procedure Committee is about to report on ways in which we can assist Members through proxy voting, or other methods of enabling them to engage in the democratic process. I await the publication of the Committee’s report, but in the meantime my door is open to her, and I suggest that the second we receive the report, she and I meet to work out a plan for how we can help her to continue to exercise her democratic rights.
My constituents have been disgusted to find out about the treatment of child Q by the police, but they are also desperately concerned about the fact that this is not an isolated incident. In Brent North we saw the vile treatment of the dead bodies of two black sisters, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, by the very police officers who were supposed to be safeguarding the crime scene, and I am currently dealing with two other disturbing cases of police racism on behalf of my constituents.
Colleagues on both sides of the House are also desperately concerned about this issue. I am second to none in my admiration for the thousands of police officers who keep us safe on our streets, but something must be done about racism in the Metropolitan police, and I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate on the issue in Government time.
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not want to comment on the individual case that he raised at the beginning of his question. I would say, in general terms, that the use of strip-search powers is an operational matter for the police, but we are clear about the fact that those powers should be used in accordance with the law, and with full regard for the dignity of the individual concerned.
I do not think that anyone could be other than concerned about the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised. It should be fully investigated. There are clearly some challenges within the Met police force, of which both the Mayor of London and the Government are aware, and they need to be addressed. The hon. Gentleman was right to draw this matter to the attention of the House; it is worthy of further debate, and the situation does need significant improvement.
Can I ask my right hon. Friend what business he has in mind to help the House ensure that the process of the restoration and renewal of Parliament is undertaken for the benefit not just of Members of Parliament but of the thousands of staff and visitors who are here every day?
This is a very important issue. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware, but the Commissions of both Houses will be meeting this afternoon to discuss progress and to update this House later on any changes to the regime. The current plan that the House voted on certainly seems to have migrated in terms of its length and its cost, which has raised some concern within the Commission. I can assure my hon. Friend that this House will be kept up to speed with any changes, and will have the opportunity to vote on any changes that are brought forward.
Mr Speaker, I hope that you and the Leader of the House will join me in the great celebration of Nazanin. Who would have thought, when a group of us took bouquets of flowers to the Iranian embassy for Nazanin on Valentine’s day, that we would get this result? So, well done everyone; it is brilliant that she is out. I am going to have a little party next week to celebrate, and you are both invited.
In my constituency, I have a man called Richard Dass. When the war broke out in Ukraine he jumped into his camper van, filled it up with stuff and drove out there. He is still there helping people. He has the languages and the contacts, so he knows what the local hospitals want and what supplies are needed, but I am having great difficulty in sourcing those supplies for him. Could the Leader of the House use his influence with Ministers to get me the relevant information for Richard Dass? He is a brave young man doing a great job.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about Nazanin, and I join him in celebrating her safe return. I also join him in congratulating and paying tribute to his constituent who is assisting with the humanitarian support in Ukraine. I will pass on those comments to the Foreign Office and see if we can assist him in getting the information he requires.
The freezes on fuel duty by Conservative Governments since 2010 have been the right thing to do and have saved motorists and businesses thousands of pounds. However, the cost of petrol and diesel remains disproportionately high compared with other countries because of fuel duty. The Government cannot buck the market, given global events effecting the price, but they can change the level of taxation. Will my right hon. Friend allow for an urgent debate ahead of the spring statement so that Members on both sides of the House can highlight how the high cost of petrol and diesel is affecting motorists and businesses?
We recognise that the global price of crude oil has been increasing in the past year, leading to a rise in petrol prices around the world. That is why we are supporting people by freezing fuel duty for the 12th year in a row. This is the longest sustained freeze in British history, saving drivers money every time they fill up their tank compared with pre-2010 prices. The 2022-23 fuel duty freeze will save consumers almost £8 billion over the next five years. However, the overall impact of energy price spikes on the public finances needs to be considered in the round, and the Office for Budget Responsibility will be setting out the overall fiscal position next week, when the Chancellor will be giving his spring statement.
I have a constituent who had to flee an abusive relationship. That was clearly traumatic enough, but she has now discovered that her ex-partner took out an advance universal credit payment, or loan, of nearly £1,000, which went directly into his bank account. The Department for Work and Pensions is saying she is jointly liable for this money, which she did not see a penny of, and it wants her to pay it back. We know that coercive and financial control can be a problem in domestic abuse, so will the Leader of the House please ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to intervene and show compassion for my constituent?
I am very sorry to hear about the situation in which the hon. Gentleman’s constituent finds herself. People in coercive and controlling relationships should reach out for support to try to escape that situation. I will make sure that the Department for Work and Pensions is aware of his question to see whether anyone can assist his constituent.
Not only is today St Patrick’s day and Purim, but tonight is the start of the Hindu festival of Holi. There are two versions of why Holi exists. The first is that Holika, the evil witch, took the king’s son Prahlad into a burning fire, but she was consumed by fire and he was delivered unharmed. The other is about Lord Krishna, whose face turns blue after being poisoned, and therefore he throws colours around to encourage people not to see that he is blue. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing Hindus across the world “Holi hai!”?
I would like to join my hon. Friend in wishing the Hindu community across the UK a happy Holi, including those in his constituency. It is a joyful occasion. I have not participated in it myself, but splashing colours around looks like great fun, if nothing else. I think it is something I would quite enjoy.
Residents of Lantern Court and Compass Point in my constituency are stuck in limbo with unaffordable insurance premiums and eyewatering repair bills while they are unable to sell their apartments. Can the Leader of the House confirm when the Building Safety Bill will come before us?
Business will be announced in the usual way, and the Government are very keen to get on with the Building Safety Bill. I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Bill will help to support his constituents. It is heading our way very soon, but he will have to be patient and wait for business to be announced in the usual way from the Dispatch Box.
On 28 July 2021, every Labour councillor in Bury voted to destroy large areas of green belt in my constituency. By supporting Andy Burnham’s “Places for Everyone” plan, local Labour politicians ignored the views of thousands of my constituents who wish to preserve areas of countryside at Walshaw, Tottington and Elton reservoir. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on Places for Everyone and the devastating impact it will have on green-belt land in my area?
My hon. Friend is a tenacious campaigner on behalf of his constituents. This is not the first time he has drawn attention to the shortcomings of Mayor Burnham, and I know he will continue to do so by campaigning tirelessly for his constituents. He demonstrates once again today what a great representative he is for his constituents.
I am sure the Leader of the House will be tempted to consider an electric tractor or a hydrogen combine harvester, if he has not done do so already. Consumers across the UK have been switching to electric vehicles. Impressively, plug-ins were 26% of the February car market, and that proportion is growing. However, the charging infrastructure sector and the automotive manufacturers are frustrated by the lack of an integrated strategy. Can we have a debate in Government time on how the Government will ensure these two industries do not stall?
I have been lucky enough to buy an electric car, which has been a revelation. It is a very good product. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that not only cars will have to migrate to a new fuel source in the long term. The good news is that in his part of the world, which is the heart of the car industry, great companies such as JCB are doing a lot of research into hydrogen fuel cells and gigafactories, into which the Government are pouring huge amounts of investment to make sure the United Kingdom is at the heart of the new revolution in energy supply. That is the right thing to do, and the Government are very committed to doing it.
Can we have both an urgent statement and a debate on the draft terms of reference for the covid inquiry? Astonishingly, although there is a small sentence on school restrictions, they do not mention children or the impact on children’s mental health, lost educational attainment and life chances. Children must not be forgotten in this inquiry.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Obviously, that inquiry is about to get started and it will be wide-ranging, and to restrict it to any particular area would be a mistake. He is right to draw attention to the impact that the pandemic had on children, and I am sure that the inquiry will go into all areas of covid and be a wide-ranging inquiry that we will respond to in due course.
This week has been an important one for those infected in and affected by the contaminated blood scandal. Sir Robert Francis has given his review of compensation frameworks to the Cabinet Office, ahead of what we hope will be the conclusion of the infected blood public inquiry later this year, so that the Government are ready to respond to whatever recommendations Sir Brian Langstaff makes. I know that the Paymaster General has already indicated that he will publish Sir Robert’s review, alongside the Government’s response. When that happens, will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made to the House, as Members of Parliament have not had an opportunity to question the Government over the past few years about this issue, with the inquiry ongoing, and it would be a really opportune moment for us to be able to ask questions about the Government’s plans?
I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady, because I know she has campaigned on this issue for a very long time. I also pay tribute to Sir Robert Francis QC, who has conducted the inquiry—an enormous amount of work has gone into it. As she said, the Paymaster General said from the Dispatch Box that he would publish that inquiry. I hear her plea for a statement at that time, and I will pass it on to the Department of Health and Social Care, which I am sure will look upon it favourably.
In 1222—I know the Leader of the House was not there at the time, but his predecessor might have been—our late King Alexander II designated the already ancient Dumbarton a royal burgh. It is actually first mentioned by Ptolemy, on his great historic map of the then Roman empire, where it was known as Alauna, before becoming Alcluith, which even the Speaker of the other place has taken as our designation. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is now time to debate in this House the value and worth of our ancient and historic places, and the wonderful opportunities they speak to in terms of our heritage and history and the communities who have made them their home for centuries?
The hon. Gentleman is a true champion for Dumbarton, and I enjoyed his history lesson. It is a demonstration that lots of places up and down our great British Isles are worthy of visiting and have a great tourism industry. We should celebrate that in this House and continue to draw attention to it, and he has contributed in that way this morning.
There are massive concerns across South Reddish at the proposal to merge GP services in South Reddish with the surgery in Heaton Norris, closing the site at South Reddish in the process. That will massively reduce accessibility. I am opposed to the changes, and a survey conducted by local campaigner Holly McCormack showed massive public opposition too. May we have a debate on GP service cuts and accessibility to GP services, so that these issues can be properly addressed on the Floor of the House?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that accessing GP services is a very important challenge that faces many of our constituents. He will be aware that lots of those policies in that part of the world are under the control of the Mayor of Manchester, who has some responsibility, too. The issue is worthy of debate and it would give the Government an opportunity to celebrate their record and acknowledge the investment that we are putting into the NHS.
The stories we are currently hearing of security being hired to remove P&O crew from vessels is deeply concerning. As I understand it, all P&O sailing staff are to be made redundant with immediate effect and to be replaced with agency staff—but it is okay, apparently, because those staff will be able to apply to the agency for employment. All sides have had an issue with the Government’s inaction on fire and rehire, but today’s events go further still. I heard what the Leader of the House said earlier in response to the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), but will he make recommendations to the Secretary of State for Transport such that he comes back to the House today to make an urgent statement?
I will make sure that the Department for Transport is aware of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. He will understand that the DFT is currently working feverishly behind the scenes to try to assist with the situation. I am sure that, in due course, the DFT will update the House on the progress made, but at the moment we need to leave it to get on with its job in trying to assist those who are in a challenging situation.
After eight years as leader of Hounslow Council, Councillor Steve Curran recently announced that he was standing down as a councillor to focus on his health and medical treatment. Steve and I occasionally disagree on things, but on the big things we do not. Under his leadership, Hounslow has achieved more than 2,000 social rents and council homes and London’s best roads and fewest potholes; it is on track to deliver on net zero; and it was named the 2021 Local Government Chronicle council of the year, particularly—although not exclusively—for its work supporting businesses and vulnerable residents during the covid crisis. Will the Leader of the House join me in sending our best wishes to Councillor Curran? Will he find time for a debate in Government time on the important work of local councils such as Hounslow?
I suspect that Councillor Curran and I would probably disagree politically on a few issues, but I am sure that in his eight years as leader of Hounslow Council he has worked tirelessly on behalf of the hon. Lady’s constituents and many others. She is right to draw attention to the fact that councillors and council leaders of all political persuasions up and down the country put in an enormous amount of effort to try to improve people’s lives. That is worthy of debate and I encourage the hon. Lady to talk to the Backbench Business Committee or apply for an Adjournment debate.
Can we have a statement on covid? In York, the case rate is now 625 cases per 100,000 and shooting up. In York Hospital, the bed occupancy rate for patients with covid is now greater than it has been at any previous point in the pandemic, including during the spike because of the delta variant. We were promised guidance on care home visits and for care home staff and NHS staff, but it has not been brought forward. We urgently need to know how the Government are to manage the rise in the number of covid cases, so may we have a statement?
There will be an opportunity for the hon. Lady to question the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care directly at Health questions on 19 April. A debate on covid is worthy of an application and she could apply to the Backbench Business Committee or for an Adjournment debate. That would provide an opportunity for the Government to set out our fantastic record on covid—how we were the first to deploy the vaccines and the first to get out there with a booster programme, and how we offered tremendous support for those who found themselves laid off.
Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out his support for my Bill on paid bereavement leave for all, which will have its Second Reading tomorrow and has support throughout the House?
Will the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, join me in urging Members from all parties to observe a minute’s silence at midday on 23 March, to commemorate the lives lost during the pandemic and show our support for all those who have been bereaved, as part of a day of national reflection?
The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to that minute’s silence; it is important that we reflect upon the lives of those who have not been as fortunate as we have been to make it through the covid pandemic.
I wish the hon. Lady well with her private Member’s Bill tomorrow. I am sure she will convince the House to support it. The democratic process will take place and I wish her well in it.
May I also say happy Holi, happy Purim, and happy St Patrick’s Day?
On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 15 March the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. I hope the Leader of the House will join me in commending the international community for taking important steps to promote a culture of tolerance based on respect for human rights and for freedom of religion or belief. Given the rampant Islamophobia in the UK, which has devastating consequences on our British Muslim community, will the Leader of the House consider a Backbench Business debate in Government time on Islamophobia?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his good wishes. He is right, again, to draw attention to the fact that all forms of racism, which are often overlooked, should be called out. We have a responsibility as Members of Parliament and also as members of society to call out any form of racism, and 15 March gives us the opportunity to remind people once again that racism is unacceptable in all forms and should be called out by anybody who sees it.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Rutherglen Bankhead Tenants and Residents Association on its 30th anniversary this month, making it one of the longest standing associations in south Lanarkshire? Will he schedule a debate in Government time on the contributions of tenants and residents associations across the UK?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right to draw attention to the thousands of tenants and residents associations up and down the country. There are many very active groups in my own constituency that contribute a great deal not only to the place in which they live, but to the community with which they engage. I join her in congratulating her constituents on their 30th anniversary, and I wish them all the best for the future.
May I wish you, Mr Speaker, and everyone in the House—right hon. and hon. Members—a very happy St Patrick’s Day? It is said that if, on St Patrick’s Day, St Patrick turns the stone over, it means that the sun will shine for 30 days. I am sure that we are all looking forward to 30 days of good weather—certainly, that is my hope.
Just this morning, ISIS-DRC claimed the killing of more than 50 Christians in a raid on villages in Ituri province, in the north-east of Democratic Republic of Congo. This is just the latest in an increase in attacks by ISIS affiliates on religious minorities. The Leader of the House is always very responsive, so will he ensure that there is a statement from the relevant Minister of Her Majesty’s Government on the re-emergence of ISIS and the potential threat to religious minority communities in DRC?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He always brings a little sunshine into this Chamber whenever he contributes. That is why Mr Speaker saves him up to the end to bring that enthusiasm. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon on some of these challenges, which he has called. I am sure that he will be there to lead it. He is right to draw attention to this matter. He is a tenacious campaigner on religious rights around the world, and I pay tribute to him for the work that he is doing in highlighting this terrible crime.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.