It will be a pleasure. The business for the week commencing 25 April will include:
Monday 25 April—Consideration of Lords message on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, followed by consideration of Lords message on the Health and Care Bill, followed by motion relating to the appointment of the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, followed by consideration of a business of the House motion relating to the carry-over of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, followed by consideration of a business of the House motion relating to the carry-over of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, followed by consideration of a carry-over motion relating to the High Speed Rail (Crewe-Manchester) Bill.
Tuesday 26 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, followed by general debate on childhood cancer outcomes. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee. That is followed by a general debate on Ukraine, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords messages.
Wednesday 27 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Elections Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of a Lords message on the Nationality and Borders Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords messages.
Thursday 28 April—If necessary, consideration of Lords messages.
Depending on the progress of business in the coming days, the House will be prorogued on 28 April, subject to Royal Assent being signified to all Acts.
There is a good showing for business questions today, isn’t there, Mr Speaker? I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I am pleased to see, and thank him for, the rapid rescheduling of the debate on childhood cancer.
May I start by wishing a very happy birthday to Her Majesty the Queen on behalf of the official Opposition? Also, although this is not the birthday slot, I could not possibly get through my speech without mentioning the birthday of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
Welcome back, one and all, after Easter. I hope that everyone was able to spend time with loved ones. After two years of separation, people across this country value time together more than ever, and it is because of that feeling that revelations of the Prime Minister’s actions are such a betrayal. We in the Labour party cannot stand by and ignore that, because we know that this shambles is not good enough. Our cross-party motion today appears to me to be a House matter, so on a technical point, will the Leader of the House confirm or deny whether his colleagues have been whipped to block our motion on what appears to be a House matter? If the Prime Minister’s case is referred to the Privileges Committee, will the Committee have access to the information it requires? Will the Conservative party recognise that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has recused himself from any such inquiry, accusations of partisanship are entirely inappropriate now?
This Government’s response to our entirely proper motion is reminiscent of another attempt they made to meddle with proper processes in order to save themselves and their mates. Does the Leader of the House recognise that this looks awfully like Owen Paterson mark 2? On 8 December last year, the Prime Minister said to the House:
“there will be disciplinary action for all those involved”—[Official Report, 8 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 372.]
in the parties, not-parties or whatever they are now called. Will the Leader of the House find out whether that has happened?
The arguments made by Conservative Members for keeping the Prime Minister rather fall apart. They cannot say that they cannot change the leader during wartime—although they do—because, in the last century, so many Prime Ministers changed during wartime. They also know that a change of Prime Minister would not dim support across this House for Ukraine and our NATO allies. Surely in wartime it is even more important that the Prime Minister be beyond reproach. I invite hon. and right hon. Members to reflect on what my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition will say, and to ask themselves what it is about the Prime Minister that they are so willing to defend.
On a practical note, may I ask the Leader of the House to confirm whether or not the card readers in the No Lobby will be working sometime today? None of us wants a repeat of last night, although I salute the Clerks for their valiant attempts with the papers.
On Tuesday, the Home Secretary gave a statement on her shameful proposal to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, an unethical policy that would cost taxpayers billions and make it harder to get fast and fair asylum decisions. As far as I can see, it has no support from specialist organisations, but nevertheless the Home Secretary insists on pushing it forward. At the same time, however, Members from across the House are reporting to me significant delays because of a Home Office backlog across all policy areas, from passport applications—delays to which will affect all our constituents—to visas and everything in between. MPs cannot update constituents. The Home Office seems to be in a state of meltdown. This is not about civil servants; it is about leadership from the top.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to explain how visa applications are being processed by the Department, what she is doing about the unacceptable delays to passports, and how she intends to carry out her unworkable policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda? In fact, does she understand that the term “illegal asylum seekers” does not even make sense, as by international law asylum seekers are allowed to come here to seek asylum, and if they have not been assessed, they cannot be illegal by definition?
While we are on the subject of the Home Secretary, it took me three months to get a response from her last year, but at least I got one. As the Leader of the House will know—I know he is sympathetic to this cause—other Members are not getting timely responses from Ministers, either to parliamentary written questions or to letters. They must be answered in a timely manner. We seek these responses on behalf of our constituents. The right hon. Gentleman will know that that is a reasonable request. As we go into Prorogation, may I have his co-operation on ensuring that Members on both sides of the House have letters and questions to Ministers answered in a timely manner?
Let me make a quick interjection about the Online Safety Bill, a landmark piece of legislation. Time was squeezed and many colleagues were not called to speak on Tuesday. Will the Leader of the House ensure that when we return from any recess, similarly important, big business is not scheduled for the first day back, when urgent questions and statements are inevitable?
The British people deserve leadership, and a Government who hold themselves to the highest possible standards and diligently follow the rules. They deserve better than this.
Before the Leader of the House responds, I might be able to help on the question of the readers last night. The Chair of Ways and Means reported the issue this morning. I have gone to the Clerks, and I am expecting a report back. This will be looked into over the weekend, and I will come back on Monday and share what I learn with both the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House.
Thank you for that update, Mr Speaker. I am sure that this evening, should the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) wish to enter the No Lobby, the readers there will be working.
Let me start by joining the hon. Lady in wishing both Her Majesty and the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) a very happy birthday; I think the hon. Gentleman is slightly younger than Her Majesty. The hon. Lady went on to talk about the Prime Minister and this afternoon’s debate. The good news is that she will have five and a half hours in which to debate whatever she wants, and to make all the party political points she wishes. I think that the Prime Minister has been pretty clear—he came to this Dispatch Box and apologised for the mistake he had made—but he is wholly focused on what matters to the hon. Lady’s constituents and to mine: dealing with the rising energy costs in the world following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. That is what our constituents want him to be focused on, and that is what he is doing.
Moreover, as the hon. Lady has indicated from a sedentary position, the Prime Minister is demonstrating global leadership, working with our international colleagues and promoting the economic welfare of the United Kingdom through our relationship with India. That is what he should be doing, and is doing.
The hon. Lady talked about Rwanda. She will be aware that the Home Secretary was at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday making a statement on that subject. This is a new migration and economic development partnership, the first in the world to tackle head-on the imbalance between legal and illegal migration routes. It is the right thing to do, because it breaks the model set by those who are exploiting very vulnerable people, and endangering them by putting them in vessels that are not seaworthy to cross the English channel. We are developing safe routes for the people who do find themselves in those circumstances, and that is the right thing to do.
I will, however, join the hon. Lady in her comments about timely responses. She is wholly right to hold Ministers to account. They should respond to Members on both sides of the House in a timely fashion, and I will write to Cabinet colleagues to ensure that the situation improves. I hope the hon. Lady will recognise that the global covid pandemic has put a huge amount of strain on a number of Departments and has increased the volume of correspondence that they have received, but Members are nevertheless entitled to receive that timely response.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Online Safety Bill. Tuesday was a busy day, featuring three ministerial statements. The timing of statements is, of course, entirely a matter for you, Mr Speaker; it is for you to decide how much time you allow for them, but it did allow for—
Thank you, Mr Speaker, but I know you would acknowledge that the timing is a matter for you. The issue of online safety is obviously very important, which is why so many colleagues wanted to speak about it, and why the Government are introducing the Bill. I have a number of times heard the hon. Lady ask, at the Dispatch Box, “When is the Online Safety Bill coming?” When we finally deliver it, she is still not happy. I can only deliver what she has asked for. The good news is that there will be plenty of opportunity to debate online safety, and I am sure that the Government will supply time for those debates.
May we please have a debate about raising the quality of our bathing water? So many of my constituents love swimming and doing water sports on the Solent throughout the year, and I thoroughly recommend it, Mr Speaker, if you would like to try it. However, the bathing water regulations specify that testing is necessary only between May and September. May we have a debate on how we can improve the testing of our seas and rivers, so that more people can enjoy them all year round?
My hon. Friend has raised an important matter. Indeed, I have seen the Prime Minister bathing in the sea fairly recently. Of course, we introduced the landmark Environment Act 2021, which is intended to improve our environment, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the issue, and hopefully there will be an opportunity for her to raise it directly with Ministers on Thursday, during questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
I too would like to wish a very happy birthday to Her Majesty, and also to his majesty the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), as we on these Benches always refer to him.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us a full day’s debate on the privilege motion. We cannot wait to see the hordes of Tory Back Benchers getting to their feet to say what a wonderful, truthful and honest character the Prime Minister is. Of course, he is not here; he is in India. I do not know who is advising him, but apparently the first thing they got him to do when he arrived was to spin some yarn. I see that the Government’s amendment is jointly in the Leader of the House’s name, in what must be a supreme effort to kick the can down the road. I say again to colleagues on the Tory Back Benches that they had better be absolutely certain of what is in that can, because I suspect that, when they eventually have to open it, it will be packed full of the most rancid, noxious contents that they will then have to feast upon. This is not going to save the May elections. At some point, they are going to have to decide whether they get rid of him or whether they go down with him.
We are also going to have to have a debate about the type of language we use in this House, because it cannot go on like this. We cannot refer to the Prime Minister with the one word that the public now most closely associate with him. We cannot even refer to a fictitious Disney character who is associated with the word that the public most use about him. The public think we are absolutely mad, and that view will only have been compounded by the activities of last night. We had one hour to debate countless important amendments and two hours to vote on them. Then the card readers broke down, and we were back to pen and paper. Some cartoon classics may indeed be out of bounds in this House, but at some point this Disney wonderland is going to have to enter this century.
Can I just say for clarification—and I think we ought to be a little bit more honest—that we have very good Clerks and that two card readers were still operational? All those in the other Lobby were operational. Please let us not discredit a system that did actually work, and it worked quite well.
I will not comment on the card reader. Occasionally things break, and the House authorities responded rapidly to ensure that the Division could continue. I know it was a little frustrating for colleagues having to queue up, but we should give credit to those individuals who stepped in to help us. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked any other questions at all, to be honest. He made his point about the debate this afternoon, and he has only another 40 minutes to wait until the Paymaster General gets to the Dispatch Box. I am sure he will be interested to hear what the Paymaster General says, and he will be able to make his party political points at that time.
The Leader of the House will recall from his time as Chief Whip that I greatly struggled with the lockdowns, and the legacy of covid has pumped so much poison into this country and into the veins of this place. Can we please try to find a way today not to have a fractious debate and a Division? I believe genuinely that the Prime Minister is a good and decent man, and he can make the case to the Privileges Committee directly without having to divide this House and have yet more poison pumped into public life. Please can the Chief Whip find a way of making that happen?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right to highlight the fact that language matters in this place. It has an impact on people in the outside world and on how they perceive politicians, and getting the tone of this debate right will be absolutely crucial. I know that the Chief Whip will have heard his comments and I am sure he will reflect on them.
I thank the Leader of the House for rescheduling this afternoon’s debate on childhood cancer outcomes for Tuesday. That is an important debate and it will be really good to get it in before the end of the Session. The Backbench Business Committee met for the last time on Tuesday gone; we could not see any point in meeting next week as our business runs out at the end of the Session. We will be writing to the Leader of the House with our legacy list in case there is any time for Backbench Business debates before the Committee is re-established in the new Session of Parliament.
Many of my constituents are reporting extensive delays in receiving passports, and they are also finding it exceedingly difficult even to contact the Passport Office to find out what is happening. Could the Leader of the House use his good offices to try to get the Home Office to do something about this? It is becoming quite serious.
I thank the hon. Gentleman not only for his question but for his work throughout the Session in providing great topics for Back Benchers to debate. There have been some fantastic debates in this Session, and I give credit to him and his Committee for supplying those topics. I will look at his legacy list with interest, and I will certainly liaise with the Chief Whip on what we can do to provide time should there be a gap in parliamentary business before the Backbench Business Committee is re-established as quickly as possible.
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments on passports, and I will pass them on to the Home Secretary. I know this causes enormous frustration to constituents who are planning summer holidays for the first time in a long time. They want to have their passport quickly so that they are able to travel.
I am 100% behind the Prime Minister, but what a wonderful democracy we live in: he had to come here this week to make a statement, and today we have the opportunity to decide whether he should be referred to the Privileges Committee.
One question asked by the shadow Leader of the House that the Leader of the House did not answer is about whipping. In his new role, will the Leader of the House make it absolutely clear that it is a great privilege and honour to be a Member of Parliament and that we exercise our vote not as delegates but as representatives? The Whips’ advice is what it is: advice. Members put their country first, their constituency second and their party third. Most times, for Conservative Members, the three are in line. Can we have a debate next week on the role of the Whips Office? By the way, the Leader of the House was an excellent Chief Whip, and so is the current Chief Whip.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as the Government Chief Whip. I was blessed with former Chief Whips not commenting on whipping, and the current Chief Whip deserves that privilege, too. Whipping is a matter for the Chief Whip.
The Prime Minister has made some comments from India on this afternoon’s debate. The Paymaster General will be here in about 40 minutes, and those messages are being received. Let us enjoy the debate when it comes.
The Leader of the House will remember that there were three questions at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions on hospital rebuild schemes that have been agreed and approved but where the money has not come through from the Treasury. One of those schemes is at Whipps Cross in my constituency. We can all guess what the hold-up is in the Treasury, but can we have a statement from a Treasury Minister at the Dispatch Box to explain exactly what is going on?
I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury. Huge commitments have been made to rebuild a number of hospitals across the country and to get those projects running as quickly as possible. We stand by those strong commitments, and the rebuilding and investment in our NHS over the past five years is unprecedented. We will continue with that investment.
I assume the Leader of the House will be very busy conveying requests from hon. and right hon. Members in relation to the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. May I please add two items to that list, and perhaps we can have a debate before the Queen’s Speech? First, I have previously raised with him the long-promised Bill to ban the import of hunting trophies. Secondly, will he add the recommendations of the fan-led review of football governance, which I understand require primary legislation, so that a situation such as happened at Derby County will never happen again?
As my hon. Friend says, the Queen’s Speech is not far away. We have committed to banning the import of hunting trophies from nearly 7,000 species, and we will shortly publish further information on the response to the fan-led review. I recognise that it is hard for hon. Members to contain their excitement, but I urge her to wait a little longer. All will be revealed.
Will the Leader of the House assist me with an urgent issue relating to the Ukraine family visa scheme? My constituent’s mother has thankfully made it out of Ukraine and to the UK, and she has been granted a visa. However, she is now struggling to get any proof of address, without which it is difficult to register with a general practitioner to receive the cancer care she needs or to open a bank account. Home Office staff have told my office that they are unable to issue a document proving her address without a change of policy from Ministers. Will the Leader of the House ask Home Office Ministers to look into this and to make a statement to the House?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. If she writes to me with details of the individual case she is talking about, I will make sure it is put in front of the Home Office as quickly as possible. I hope she would recognise that the Government have already issued 56,000 visas. It is a huge commitment to getting a number of people in. However, I hear the concern she has about that individual case, which sounds like a challenging one, and I will make sure the Home Office responds to her in a timely way.
If I walked down to the Front Bench and smacked the Leader of the House, I would possibly be done for assault. If I smacked a dog, I would possibly be done for cruelty to that dog. Yet when we talk about smacking children, we say that it is a nanny state if we question that, even though we tell parents that they must put seatbelts in the back of cars for their children’s safety. I am not calling for an outright ban on smacking children, and I recognise that parents bring up children in the best way they can, but I do think that the Children’s Commissioner is courageous and right to raise these matters in The Times as she has done. We need to discuss these matters carefully and have a debate. So can we have a debate after the Queen’s Speech about the smacking of children and whether it should be permitted?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question on something that is worthy of debate. Colleagues from across the House would want to engage with that debate. On a personal level, I do think that parents have the right to chastise their children in a way in which they see fit, but there clearly is a line where that stretches into abuse, and the authorities are robust in making sure that children are safe in the UK. However, this is worthy of debate and I encourage him to apply for an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business debate.
Although established 160 years ago, the Land Registry has been able to establish the ownership of only 83% of the land of England; the ownership of the other 17% is unknown. Unlike Companies House, the Land Registry does not have an open access register and anyone wishing to establish who does own the 83%, by purchasing copies of all the registered titles would have to pay £72 million for the privilege. So can we have a debate on the Land Registry?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We should celebrate the fact that 160 years have passed since the introduction of the Land Registry, which is important. I understand his concerns. I hope he would recognise that there are bits of land everywhere whose ownership is difficult to establish, as often they are not claimed by anybody. We usually find that the local authority will deny ownership if there are costs associated with the land, until there appears to be huge value attached to it and then everybody wants to claim it. However, I think that is worthy of debate and perhaps he ought to apply for a Backbench Business debate.
If it is not too indelicate to raise this today, Mr Speaker, may I ask the Leader of the House whether it would be possible to have a debate on the radical proposals to change the Accession Council? I am sure that we in this House can come up with less radical proposals, touching on the venue rather than the admission.
Last year, Ministers said they would
“reset the dial on women’s health”,
but we still have no date for the hormone replacement therapy prescription changes in England. May we have a statement on HRT changes, to show that the Government are taking women’s health seriously?
This is absolutely an important issue that the Government recognise and that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is currently looking at. It has been debated a number of times in the House, but I certainly recognise the challenges in respect of HRT provision and supply for many ladies up and down the country and the issue is worthy of further debate.
It is about not just the HRT prescription changes but supplies of HRT. Pharmacies in Romsey and Southampton North have completely run out, which leaves women of a certain age—and before my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) makes a comment, yes, I declare an interest—without access to the oestrogen gel that enables us to sleep and to work competently. Please will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in this place, following on from the brilliant debate secured by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), so that we can make sure that pharmacies work hand in glove with the DHSC so that we can get the supplies we need?
Following that question from my right hon. Friend and the one from the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), inspiration has hit me, so I can say that the Department of Health and Social Care is aware of the supply issues that are affecting a limited number of HRT products. Most HRT products, including alternatives to those for which we are experiencing supply issues, are available. The Government are working closely with suppliers and stakeholders to resolve the issues as quickly as possible and to ensure that the NHS is informed on a regular basis. It is an important matter and I will raise it with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on my right hon. Friend’s behalf.
Some of the mighty structures in the North sea were fabricated in yards in the north of Scotland—I myself worked in two of them: Kishorn and Nigg. Offshore wind energy is going to be a vital part of the UK’s future energy mix and we do not want such structures to be built abroad; we want them to be built in the UK. Would it not be a good idea to have a debate in this Chamber about the future of offshore wind and a close look at where in the United Kingdom we can build such structures?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy came to the Dispatch Box on Tuesday to make a statement on our energy supply network. It is important that we have a balanced network of supply, including from offshore wind, which will be a vital way forward. As the hon. Gentleman indicates, there are huge numbers of opportunities for employment in the United Kingdom in respect of not only renewables but other sources of energy, and the Government will continue to push forward on them.
Rugby is a fast-growing town and expects a population of around 135,000 by 2031, but currently 83% of my constituents are more than 15 minutes’ drive away from an accident and emergency department, which is significantly longer than the journey for people in the vast majority of constituencies in England. Recently, I carried out a survey on urgent and emergency care to which 3,000 constituents responded, and 98% of them say they believe that Rugby should have its own full accident and emergency department. May we have a debate to consider how increases in healthcare provision should go hand in hand with the growth of a community?
I am happy to raise that matter with the Department of Health and Social Care on my hon. Friend’s behalf. It is important that our constituents can access urgent care when it is needed. I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have committed to build 40 new hospitals across England by 2030, to transform services for local communities, and that there has been significant investment in the upgrade of existing A&E facilities.
I am sure the whole House has been horrified, as I have been, by the violent scenes in Jerusalem in recent days. Attacks on civilians, including worshippers, have been deeply distressing to see. Will the Leader of the House explain why the Foreign Secretary has not yet come to the House to deliver a statement? Will he confirm what conversations are taking place among the Government to ensure that arms provided by the UK are not used in the conflict in violation of international law? Will he also outline what steps the Government are taking to secure lasting peace in the region, which will include an independent Palestinian state?
These are of course delicate issues that need to be handled in the right way. The Foreign Office engages with the Israeli Government and the interested parties in the area. Violence is never the answer and we should do all we can to promote peace in that area. I am certain that the Foreign Office will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments, but if it has not, I shall make sure it is aware of them.
Earlier this week, I was privileged to attend an event with colleagues about diabetes. At that event, I met sufferers, and, as you will know, Mr Speaker, many people live with type 1 diabetes and cope with that condition. Many more are affected by type 2 diabetes—up to one in four of us I learned at that event. Information and understanding—awareness—are critical. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about the strategy of the Government who I know take this matter seriously? Given that so many of our constituents will be so affected, I think that this would attract widespread interest from across the House. We must do more to help those living with diabetes.
Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend missed Health questions this week and the opportunity to ask the question of the Health Secretary himself, but I am sure that there will be further opportunities to do so. He is right to highlight the plight of those who suffer with diabetes, and also those who may have mild diabetes without realising it. He has contributed today in highlighting that so that more people may think about their health and get checked by a GP if they feel any symptoms.
Liverpool has a long-established Somaliland community and they were devastated when fire destroyed the Waheen market in Hargeisa. Can the Leader of the House explain how the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is supporting Somaliland, and can he call on the Foreign Minister to consider granting diplomatic recognition to bring positive changes to the country?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Somaliland is an important part of Africa. I am sure that the FCDO will continue to engage with the Government there. She will have the opportunity to raise this matter at the next Foreign Office questions, but it may be something that is worthy of an Adjournment debate, so that she can take more time to lay out her concerns.
It is right that the Prime Minister is visiting India at the moment to secure a closer partnership with our friends and allies. In that context, can we consider having a debate on the protection of Asian elephants, as their habitats are being reduced in that country and they are also subject to some cruel practices, particularly with regard to some very questionable “tourism”? I would be grateful if such a debate could be considered.
My hon. Friend is a long-time campaigner on animal welfare issues, and is recognised across the House for his work in that area. He is right to once again draw attention to the plight of elephants in Asia. There may be an opportunity for him to raise that directly with the Minister at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions next Thursday, but I know that, should he secure an Adjournment debate on the matter, a number of colleagues will want to engage with that debate.
This weekend marks the anniversary of the mass trespass of Kinder Scout, which paved the way for the establishment of our precious national parks. Yet 90 years on, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 still only allows the public to access around 8% of the land in England. The evidence of the importance of nature for our health and wellbeing continues to grow, so it is profoundly disappointing to learn today that the Government will not be releasing the results of the Agnew review—the Access to the Outdoors Commission. Can we have an urgent debate on the right to roam and the importance of extending that by amending the CRoW Act as soon as possible?
I join the hon. Lady in recognising the huge contribution that access to the open countryside can have on people’s physical and mental health. We are blessed in this country with hundreds of thousands of miles of public footpath to allow people to access the countryside, but I hope that she also recognises that, as well as a place of leisure, the countryside is also a place of food production and business. At this time of year, there are lambs in the fields, so it is quite important that people keep dogs on leads when accessing the countryside. Food production is a very important part of the UK economy and, as I have said, we must recognise that the countryside is a place not just of leisure, but of business and food production.
The collapse of funeral plan provider Safe Hands has left 46,000 people facing the loss of their funeral prepayment plan. Moneys that should have been safely ring-fenced in a trust have been distributed to directors and shareholders in the form of loans and dividends. That amounts to financial misconduct. Can the Leader of the House ask a Treasury Minister please to work with the funeral plan industry and the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure that Safe Hands plan holders do not lose out, and to make a statement?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question on this important matter. The Treasury continues to monitor the implementation of regulation in the sector closely, to ensure that the transition to regulation is smooth. Dignity, one of the largest funeral plan providers, has committed temporarily to provide funerals to Safe Hands customers until 22 April, which addresses the short-term risk to consumers. The FCA is working closely with the sector to ensure a good outcome for Safe Hands customers over the long term. I will of course pass on her concerns to the Treasury.
Can we have a debate on geography and history lessons? I gather that one Conservative Member has recently stated that we are sending refugees to
“a safe European country, Rwanda”.
Another Conservative MP said that the Church of England was disestablished many years ago, which will come as news to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Her Majesty. Many Government Ministers have also said that we cannot change the Prime Minister during a time of war, despite the fact that we changed Prime Minister four times during the Afghan war, once during the first world war, the second world war and the second Boer war, and twice during the Peninsular war. Can we have a debate on the intelligence of Conservative Members?
I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has asked a question. He will have five and a half hours this afternoon to make the party political points he wants to make. He made a great effort to make them just now. The House of Commons is blessed with a number of very bright MPs, and he should gently reflect on the language he uses sometimes. The level of debate in this place needs to be lifted sometimes, and he can assist us in delivering that.
My hon. Friend will see the Chief Whip in his place. The Prime Minister has indicated that he is keen for the House to decide on the business later today. The vote on the unamended House business will be a free vote to all Conservative MPs and that will be the case this afternoon.
It was remiss of me earlier not to wish Her Majesty a happy birthday and English friends a happy St George’s day on Saturday, but it was even more remiss of the Department for International Trade to glide over and ignore the appalling export trade figures. To remind the House, the UK is down 14% on exports while the rest of the world is up 8.2% in the same period. Can we have a debate on which is failing—Brexit, the Department, or perhaps both?
The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for International Trade at departmental questions. The UK has a great opportunity following Brexit to reach out, and that is what the Prime Minister is doing today in India. Some 11,000 jobs have been created by the trade deal and trade negotiations that he is talking to the Indian Government about today. There is a huge opportunity for the UK Government now that we are outside the EU, and the hon. Gentleman should celebrate and welcome that investment around the world.
Does my right hon. Friend believe, as I do, that a debate would be useful to discuss the actions the Electoral Commission might take in directing all local councils to use simplified postal voting forms, which would be beneficial in ensuring fewer technically spoiled ballot papers and increase turnout figures at local elections across the country?
Such a debate would be very timely, given the upcoming local elections. We hope we will have Lords amendments to the Elections Bill next week, and there may be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise the matter directly with Ministers during that debate.
I have visited the local food bank in Barnsley, which has seen record levels of demand in recent years, with the main reason for referral being low income. As bills and prices rise, can we have a debate in Government time on how this Government are failing working people and failing to tackle the cost of living crisis?
I hope the hon. Lady would recognise that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has caused huge ripples around the world in terms of energy prices and food prices. The Government do take that seriously. That is why we are supplying huge amounts of investment to try to protect those families who are most vulnerable from the cost of living increases. That is why we have changed the tapers on universal credit to allow those people who are in work and who claim universal credit to keep more of their money. That is why we have reduced the tax on fuel so that people can try to afford the increasing cost of petrol. The Government are doing a huge amount to try to support those families who are most vulnerable but also to spread the cost of taxation to those who have the broadest shoulders.
Residents constantly contact me about the state of roads and pavements in the London Borough of Harrow. I put this down to the inefficiency of the Labour-run council. However, on Saturday The Sun published the real reason, with £2 million of council tax payers’ money being given to contractors, contractors not actually doing the work, and then council staff receiving kickbacks. There is an ongoing police investigation on this issue. I understand that every member of the department has now either resigned, retired or been sacked. The council tax payers naturally say, “Are councillors involved? What has been going on?” This has been covered up for eight months. Can we therefore have a debate next week on corruption in local government and transparency? Whether it is Liverpool, Croydon or Harrow, Labour-run councils are corrupt.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. It is an important principle that local government is independent of central Government. I understand that the council is co-operating with the police on this matter. The Government will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that a good record of transparency, probity, scrutiny and accountability is maintained across councils in this country. My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job of shining a light on the woeful track record of the Labour-run council in Harrow. I encourage voters there and across the country to vote Conservative on 5 May.
In keeping with the theme of today being menopause questions, can I highlight that despite promises by the Government to introduce reduced charges for women in England, it still has not happened? My attempts to get answers for these women about costs and shortages have been thwarted by the Department of Health and Social Care. It has taken three weeks to respond to an urgent letter. Responses to named day questions have arrived 10 days late, the answer being nothing that would not have been available at the time of asking. This shows a total disregard for women. We must stop treating women in this way. Will the Leader of the House please help me to help the 13 million menopausal women in this country who deserve our respect?
Yes, I will assist the hon. Lady. I recognise and pay tribute to the work that she has done in this area. She is a huge campaigner on these matters and I recognise her contribution to this debate. I will write on her behalf to the Secretary of State for Health. I recognise that we do need to do better in responding in a timely way to matters raised by colleagues across the House, and I will assist her in that matter.
I have always been a strong supporter of the Scouting movement, both as an MP and prior to that. Indeed, my son achieved the Queen’s Scout Award. However, last week the district commissioner asked me not to attend an event, saying:
“The Scouts is a non-political movement—I would not want this positive message to be muddied by recent controversial incidents and policies.”
Can the Leader of the House advise me on how I go forward in continuing to support the Scouting movement?
I am disappointed to hear that. I think that colleagues across the House will recognise the great contribution that Scouting makes to young people in this country. As a former cub and scout myself, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. It is a non-political organisation that should not get involved, and traditionally has not got involved, in politics. I hope that the leader who wrote to my hon. Friend will reflect on his comments and encourage colleagues across the House to engage with the Scouting movement.
I hope that Chester Zoo’s success in becoming the second most popular tourist attraction in the UK will not overshadow some of its important scientific work and achievements, such as protecting rainforests through its palm oil campaign and the outstanding work in developing a treatment for elephant herpes, which will save thousands of elephants. Can we please have a debate on the work of zoos in promoting science, sustainability and environmentalism?
I think that is something that is very much worthy of debate. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to apply for a Back-Bench business debate or an Adjournment debate on that matter, and I join him in congratulating not only Chester Zoo but zoos up and down the country, which are informing the next generation on such matters and contributing to the debate.
Recently the Egyptian-born hate preacher Omar Abdul Kafi went on a UK tour, giving lectures at Finsbury Park mosque in London and a number of venues in Leeds, Liverpool and Mayfair. Abdul Kafi has previously given sermons about killing Jews and advanced antisemitic conspiracy theories, and he is known to have directly inspired the Stockholm suicide bomber, Taimour Abdulwahab. Given these facts, can we have a debate on how on earth such an individual was allowed to enter the country and how that is compatible with the Government’s wider Prevent strategy?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Antisemitism has absolutely no place in our society. We expect anyone involved in spreading hate to face the full extent of the law, which is why the UK has robust hate crime tools to support the investigation and prosecution of those who incite racial and religious hatred. I am aware that the individual has made shocking remarks in the past, and I will raise my hon. Friend’s concerns with the Home Secretary.
Mariana and her three-year-old son Nestor fled the war in Ukraine to Poland. My constituent is sponsoring them under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. They completed their application on 25 March and are still waiting for a decision. With nowhere to stay in Poland, they have had to return to Ukraine and spend five hours a day sheltering from air raids. The delays in expediting visas are putting innocent civilians at risk and do not match the generosity and compassion of the British public. Can we please have an urgent debate in Government time on this issue?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is right to highlight the generosity of the British people in welcoming refugees from Ukraine. I know that Lord Harrington meets MPs on a regular basis and I am sure he would be available to her, should she request such a meeting to try to expedite the visa application that she mentions. We have issued 56,000 visas already. A number of schemes are up and running, and we continue to keep our borders open to people who find themselves in the most difficult of circumstances.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituents Rory and Cheryl Thorpe, who—with your fantastic support, Mr Speaker—have become the first small gin producers to have their gin, Ruddy Fine gin, stocked here in Parliament under the new guest gin scheme? Can we have a debate in Government time on how we in Parliament and Government can best showcase Britain’s fantastic small food and drink producers to the world?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I am personally committed to showcasing how we can support and sample the many superb food and drink producers across the United Kingdom, but especially those in Nottinghamshire. I had the pleasure of meeting Rory and Cheryl from the Ruddy Fine gin company last night. I can highly recommend the gin, and I pay tribute to them and my hon. Friend for promoting UK food. There is a great opportunity for the UK around the world, and the Ruddy Fine gin company is a great part of that.
The Leader of the House may be aware that tomorrow marks the fourth annual Stephen Lawrence Day, following the tragic racist killing of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. The day was established by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). The Independent Office for Police Conduct recently released a report stating that stop and search was causing trauma and damaging confidence in policing, despite the police’s promise of reform. Correct stop and search works—it helps—but a number of black people still do not have confidence in stop and search and the powers that the police are using. Can we please have an urgent debate on the police’s use of stop and search?
The hon. Lady is right to once again draw the attention of the House to this important matter. The Metropolitan police clearly work as hard as they can to protect all communities across London, but I recognise the concerns of some of those communities about these measures, and that is something that is worthy of debate. I encourage her to apply for a Westminster Hall debate.
My constituents and those in neighbouring constituencies are being greatly inconvenienced by the appalling service provided by TransPennine Express on its south trans-Pennine route. It should be an hourly service, but its website shows that this afternoon there will be four hours between trains. Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Rail Minister to give a statement to the House on how the rail operating companies are meeting their franchise commitments?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. As we enter the summer period, I am sure that a lot of people will want to visit Cleethorpes and experience all it has to offer as a tourist destination, and rail transport will play an important part in getting people there to celebrate all that is Cleethorpes. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Transport is aware of my hon. Friend’s comments and responds to him directly.
On behalf of my constituent Ailsa MacKenzie, the Government placed a remedial order during summer recess to extend the eligibility for widowed parent’s allowance and bereavement support payments, but they now appear to have laid the remedial order again, without any explanation. Will the Leader of the House provide an update on progress made on extending the eligibility for widowed parent’s allowance and bereavement support payments to cohabitees with children, so that people who have waited three years will soon get their payments?
Will the Leader of the House make good a real deficiency? We have just had a recess and there is a war going on in Europe. A democratic country has been cruelly invaded and President Putin has said this week that sanctions are not helping Russia. This House has had very few chances to talk about and be briefed on the war in Ukraine. Can we make that better next week and in the future? We need regular updates.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I am not sure that he is entirely accurate. There will be a debate on Tuesday, of course, where he will be able to raise such matters. We have had 10 oral statements, six urgent questions, three Opposition Day debates, a Backbench Business debate on the UK’s relationship with Russia and China, a general debate on Ukraine, an hour’s debate on Russian sanctions, departmental and oral questions and PMQs. The House has had huge opportunities to debate such matters and, as I have said, there will be another opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to participate again next Tuesday.
Last weekend was a massive weekend for British boxing, because as Stokies were singing “Delilah” to their hearts’ content, Stoke-on-Trent’s incredible sporting talent, Nathan “Hitman” Heaney, retained his IBO middleweight title, despite hitting the canvas for the very first time in his career. But as Nathan says:
“You can’t keep a Stokie down!”
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Nathan on his fantastic achievement and on continuing to make Stoke-on-Trent proud? Can time be found for all of us across this House to debate the sporting heroes and icons in our local communities?
I think that the House realises that you certainly can’t keep this Stokie down! I of course join my hon. Friend in congratulating Nathan “Hitman” Heaney on retaining his title. I am sure that Members across the House would welcome a debate on sporting heroes in our constituencies. It would provide an opportunity for the newly formed all-party parliamentary group on Nottingham Forest to discuss the best team in the country.
Many of my constituents are living in shared ownership flats and are facing the multiple whammy of rising rents and mortgage payments, rising tax bills, and rising service and heating charges over which they have no say. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate after the Queen’s Speech on the cost of living crisis facing those in shared ownership?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and this is of course something the Government take seriously. We are providing a lot of help to people who find themselves in those circumstances by maintaining the uplift of the local housing allowance in cash terms and providing £100 million through discretionary housing payments, on top of almost £1.5 billion in discretionary housing payments to local authorities since 2011. There is an enormous amount of support for people who find themselves in those circumstances. We recognise the challenges driven in markets around the world by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and this is something the Government take very seriously.
In my brilliant local hospital, the Royal United Hospital in Bath, about 100 beds at any point are occupied by patients who should be discharged but cannot be because there is no one to look after them in the community or at home. Can we have a statement on what the Government are doing about the urgent crisis in social care recruitment?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I hope she will recognise that this is actually the first Government genuinely to try to tackle the challenges of adult social care in the country. That is why we have introduced the levy to support the NHS in fighting its backlog, but also to break down the barriers between healthcare and adult social care. It is something the Secretary of State for Health is working on as we speak, and I hope that, as the Health and Care Bill progresses through the House, she will support the Government in delivering on that challenge.
The covid pandemic has led to a revolutionary change in the way we work, with many jobs able to be successfully completed remotely. Could we have a debate in Government time on how the benefits of remote working can increase productivity, especially in areas such as Hull, because it means people do not have to leave the area they love for the job they want?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and this is something very much worthy of debate. I know a number of people have found working from home convenient to them, but we need to get the balance right between productivity in the workplace and delivering for the UK economy. Of course, there may be opportunities for the Government to save taxpayers’ money by reducing the number of desks in Westminster and exporting some of those jobs up and down the country.
The al-Aqsa mosque is one of the holiest sites in Islam, and it is one of the very few places where Palestinians can exercise a degree of sovereignty. Recently, during this holy month of Ramadan, we have seen violence, with over 150 Palestinians injured in clashes with Israeli police. The conflict has the potential to escalate further, so will the Leader of the House make way for a debate in Government time on the rights of the Palestinian people?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I think it should be the right of every human being to live in security and peace. These are of course delicate matters, and I am sure there would be an opportunity at Foreign Office questions for her to ask Ministers directly how they can assist in bringing peace to the area.
I am sure the Leader of the House is as excited as I am about last week’s announcement by WWE that it plans to bring its first UK stadium tour to the Principality stadium in September. This will I hope be a massive boost to the south Wales economy and inspire a new generation of British wrestling superstars and fans. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House commit to a debate in Government time on the benefit of these big cultural and sporting events to the UK?