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Commons Chamber

Volume 721: debated on Thursday 27 October 2022

House of Commons

Thursday 27 October 2022

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

Order. I wish to inform the House that I have received a letter from the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) informing me of his resignation as the Chair of the Education Committee, following his appointment to the Government. I shall announce the arrangements for the election of a new Chair in due course.

Oral Answers to Questions

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Support for Island Communities

Island communities are important to the United Kingdom, which is why the previous Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), chaired the inaugural Islands Forum meeting in Orkney last month. This forum brought together council leaders, chief executives and other island representatives from across the UK to share challenges and best practice on net zero. The forum will continue to meet to work together on shared opportunities and challenges in other areas, and I look forward to seeing the real difference it will make.

Cornwall is not quite an island, but if the River Tamar was a couple of miles longer it would be, and many a proud Cornishman has considered taking their shovel and finishing the job. But being a remote peninsula, we bear many of the hallmarks of island communities. That has shaped our proud, independent identity and culture but also created challenges in our economy and in delivery of public services. What consideration is given to Cornwall’s unique geography when considering funding public services and in levelling up the Duchy?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and declare a bit of an interest in having a grandmother from Devon. Cornwall’s geographical position at the far end of the south-west peninsula is well known, and the challenges are well understood by the Government. The Government have committed £99 million across four Cornish towns through the future high streets fund and stronger towns funding, which will be invested in a range of projects to create community hubs, green transport, affordable housing and commercial flexible workspaces. We have also allocated to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly £132 million from the UK shared prosperity fund so that Cornwall can decide what to invest in locally in order to best target the funding. We are also negotiating a historic devolution deal with Cornwall Council, recognising the distinctive characteristics of Cornwall, and empowering strong local leadership by taking a county deal approach to devolution.

Does my hon. Friend agree that island communities have unique characteristics that are best represented by having a dedicated Member of Parliament, which is why Ynys Môn has been granted special protected status in this Government’s recent boundary changes? Ynys Môn has been deprioritised under the Welsh Labour Government’s plans to increase the size of the Senedd from 60 to 96 Members and Ynys Môn will no longer have an MS with specific responsibility for it.

I agree with and understand what my hon. Friend is saying. She has worked hard to ensure that Ynys Môn is given protected status by the UK Government, and I understand her concerns about the island and that it must not be deprioritised. I understand her point about MSs as well. My Conservative colleagues have done a brilliant job, despite the Welsh Labour Government, which is propped up by Plaid, and I thank her for her hard work.

Last Thursday the main telecommunications cable between Shetland and the mainland was damaged, leaving most of my constituents in Shetland with no access even to landline or broadband services. It was really fortunate that we were able to get services restored much better and more quickly than we expected, but it is surely apparent that the system does not have the necessary resilience. Will the Minister bring together the different stakeholders—the companies involved, the local authorities, the Scottish Government and UK Government Departments —and see what can be done as soon as possible to ensure that any repetition of what happened does not leave us stranded in the way that we were?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I am glad that the situation has been resolved. As I said in relation to the Islands Forum, the Government are committed to ensuring that island communities are fully represented. I am sure that we will be more than happy to continue with the meetings, and I am certainly happy to meet any stakeholders to discuss how we can improve the situation and continue to work together.

Government Responsibility for the Union and Intergovernmental Relations

2. What discussions he has had with representatives from the devolved Administrations on recent changes in Government responsibility for the Union and inter- governmental relations. (901876)

4. What discussions he has had with representatives from the devolved Administrations on recent changes in Government responsibility for the Union and intergovernmental relations. (901880)

The Union is at the heart of the Government’s work, from securing UK-wide growth to establishing freeports and supporting the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Central to that is working closely with colleagues in the devolved Governments. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be continuing that work in his new role.

The previous Prime Minister, in her short tenure, managed to keep only one pledge: to ignore the Leaders of the devolved nations. The new Prime Minister has said that he wants to lead the most active UK-wide Government for decades, and also to respect devolved Governments. Will the Minister explain how this Government can claim to be respectful when the Prime Minister has pledged to circumvent Holyrood and undermine the devolution settlement even more than his predecessors?

I remind the hon. Lady that the previous Prime Minister did meet with First Ministers at events commemorating the Queen. We have also heard that the new Prime Minister has already spoken to the devolved leaders of Wales and Scotland and has made a firm commitment to work with our devolved Governments and to strengthen our precious Union. I am sure that he will continue to do that and, in doing so, will certainly have the support of Conservative Members.

The Prime Minister believes that he is delivering on the mandate that his party won, with a minority of votes and a lower percentage than that won by the SNP in both recent elections as the source of his legitimacy. Does the Minister agree that, as the Prime Minister was not elected, not even by his own party members, the cornerstone of renewed intergovernmental relations must be respect for the mandates won by the actually elected First Ministers of devolved Governments?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As the Prime Minister made clear, we will continue to work with devolved Governments. This Government have a mandate from 2019. We also respect the mandates of the devolved Governments, which we will continue to do, including the mandate in Scotland from the independence referendum to remain part of this precious Union.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome the new team of Ministers to their positions today. I am not alone in being worried about the effect of this Government chaos on the Union, specifically on what they will do in terms of Union activity. The Union has been treated as a departmental tennis ball. It has gone to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, then to the Cabinet Office, and then back to the Department for Levelling Up, and now, we hear, it is potentially staying there. Does that really suggest priority for the Union? The former Prime Minister did not call the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales during the entire time that she was in office. That says a lot. Will the Minister please explain to the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland why this Tory Government treat our Union as a departmental tennis ball, instead of, as Labour would do, defending and building on our strong Union, which is a priority for everyone across our country?

I take the hon. Lady’s point but, of course, as we have said, the Prime Minister telephoned the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh devolved Governments on his very first night in office. If that does not show how much the Union is treated as a priority, I am not really sure what else can be done. On departmental work, it is very important that the Cabinet Office deals with the constitutional elements of that and to use its expertise to make sure that intergovernmental work is as effective as possible.

I, too, welcome the new Secretary of State and his team to their place.

It has been well documented that not once in her 45 days in office did the former Prime Minister pick up the phone to our First Minister. Indeed, such was her antipathy towards the nations of the UK that one of her first actions was to farm out responsibility for the Union and intergovernmental affairs from No. 10 to the Cabinet Office. I am pleased that the new Prime Minister has talked about a good working relationship and that he has called Nicola Sturgeon. Does this mean that responsibility for the Union and intergovernmental affairs will now return to Downing Street, or will it stay with the Cabinet Office? If it does stay with the Cabinet Office, what does it intend to do with it?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister remains in charge of elements relating to the Union. More than 200 intergovernmental ministerial meetings took place between just January and September of this year, and the focus of those engagements was on issues including the Ukrainian conflict, delivering net zero, cost of living pressures, covid-19 recovery, freeports and myriad other matters. Transparency is key, and we will continue to publish quarterly and annual intergovernmental relations reports on to give a snapshot of the activity and to allow the scrutiny that Members wish.

It seems that responsibility for the Union and the intergovernmental relationship has become a hot potato that is passed from Department to Department, because no one knows what it is or quite what to do with it. My suggestion to the new Secretary of State is that he uses his new responsibility to encourage the Prime Minister to respect the mandate the Scottish people gave last year, when they elected a pro-independence majority Government with a commitment to holding a referendum. Does he agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) said: that a Prime Minister who was rejected by his own party members but subsequently put into office, unelected, by the MPs on the Government Benches, denying the wishes of the Scottish people in a free and fair election, is an absolute disgrace?

Talking of free and fair elections is to undermine the tremendous democracy we live in and to show a lack of appreciation of what we have. The Prime Minister has continually referred to the result of the 2019 general election and mentioned his commitment to the 2019 manifesto we were elected on. We respect the devolved Governments; as I have said the Prime Minister spoke to those devolved leaders on his very first day in office and he will continue to do so. However, if we are talking about mandates, there is still the mandate in Scotland from the independence referendum. We are very firm on that, and we will continue to support it and prioritise the Scottish people rather than playing politics and navel gazing at this point in time.

Civil Service Jobs: Relocation

3. How many civil service jobs he plans to relocate from London to the south-west of England in the remainder of this Parliament. (901879)

The Government are committed to relocating roles out of London and to increasing and spreading opportunity, providing an economic boost to cities and towns across the UK. We have already relocated more than 8,000 roles and will relocate 15,000 by 2025. Around 1,200 of those roles will be relocated to the south- west by 2025.

The south-west is a great place to invest, and the Land Registry and the Valuation Office Agency are already prospering in our city. Will the Minister look ahead not only at allocating existing civil service roles, but at those we will develop in the future? Plymouth is building out a world-leading capability in autonomy, which has the potential to create huge numbers of jobs if we can create a cluster of Government and private sector expertise in one place.

We currently have around 43,570 civil servants working in the south-west and, when I checked this morning, around 755 jobs are being advertised there. I can certainly reassure the hon. Gentleman that Plymouth is well represented in the Cabinet Office now.

It is always good to hear that the town of my birth is well represented in any Department. The Minister will be aware that moving civil service jobs into coastal communities, particularly into our town centres, can help to kick-start regeneration. What plans does he have to look at doing that in Torbay?

Of course, my hon. Friend is right: this Government are committed to levelling up not just in the north of England, but across the whole country, ensuring that everybody has opportunity wherever they are. That is why we are ensuring that we create jobs and opportunity everywhere in the country, including in constituencies such as his.

Infected Blood: Support

By the end of this week, all those infected and/or bereaved partners currently registered on UK infected blood support schemes will each receive an interim payment of £100,000. The Government remain committed to meeting in full the interim recommendations made by Sir Brian Langstaff. The payments build on the support already provided by the four United Kingdom schemes.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position, and thank him for reaffirming that support. I am sure that all Members have constituents who have been deeply affected by the infected blood scandal. It is absolutely right for the Government to bring forward compensation payments. The concern is that the deadline is looming in just a few days. Can my right hon. Friend be absolutely sure that every single person affected across the country will receive the interim compensation payment by the end of October?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Like him, in a previous incarnation as a Minister in the Cabinet Office, I met with survivors. All of us, I think, who have met those survivors have been humbled by their courage and dignity. I can of course give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. All four national Health Departments have confirmed that the payments will be made by the end of this week.

I thank the Minister for that very positive response. Some of my constituents, and indeed people across Northern Ireland, will welcome the £100,000, but other families have lost loved ones who were potential recipients of that money. Can the Minister assure us that those families will receive the money, and will do so at a suitable time? In some cases, they have been waiting for 12 to 15 years.

I understand and share the angst felt by those families at the time that this has taken. As the hon. Member will be aware, these are interim payments, and it is the start of a process. It would be wrong for me to prejudge the entire process, but I very much share and sympathise with his concerns, and I will ensure, as the responsible Minister, that those sentiments are represented.

Domestic Cyber-resilience

8. What steps the Government are taking to strengthen domestic cyber-resilience against potential impacts from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (901886)

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal, barbaric and will not stand. My hon. Friend is right that we face a heightened security threat, and the Cabinet Office and the National Cyber Security Centre play a key role in meeting that. Building on the commitments in the national cyber strategy, we are running a campaign of public warnings and guidance, and we have undertaken significant outreach across critical national infrastructure to keep businesses and individuals safe.

At the beginning of this terrible and illegal attack on Ukraine by Russia, a cyber-attack saw many Ukrainian Government websites go down. Has a full analysis been completed of the tactics used, and are we confident that we could now defend against those tactics if they were used against us?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise that. As she will appreciate, work is ongoing literally 24 hours a day by the Cabinet Office and relevant agencies. Before and since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the UK Government and our allies have attributed a number of cyber-attacks on Ukraine to the Russian Government. All that is of course based on expert technical analysis, and that work is tireless and ongoing.

I warmly welcome the Minister and the rest of the team to their posts. I disagree with him, however, about one thing: the invasion did not start this year; it started in 2014. Every time we say that it started recently, we forget that we were not robust enough in 2014, which was one of the things that emboldened Putin. One tactic of Putin and his team is the targeting individual politicians in this country. How safe is it, therefore, for the Home Secretary to have been using a separate and unsecure email address? Does that not need to be addressed?

I will start on a point of agreement with the hon. Gentleman. First, I welcome his kind words. He is entirely right to point out that this whole episode began at least with the invasion of Crimea in 2014. Arguably, it began even before that, in terms of Russian aggression. I am sure that he was in the House yesterday and will have heard the Prime Minister, and indeed my hon. Friend the Paymaster General, addressing exactly this point, but I am happy to reiterate that the Home Secretary accepted that she made errors of judgment in her conduct. She recognised that, accepted her mistake, apologised and resigned. I think that that was an appropriate course of action.

Strengthening the Union

This Government are committed to delivering for citizens across the UK, whether it is protecting households against rising energy prices or stimulating growth through the creation of freeports. When we act as one United Kingdom, we are safer, stronger and more prosperous, and we remain committed to working collaboratively with the devolved Governments on the collective challenges ahead.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, and it is good to see my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the team on the Front Bench. I have been fortunate enough to work in all four corners of this great Union—and Cornwall; my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) is no longer in his place. We have fought shoulder to shoulder for freedom and democracy all over the world, not least at Waterloo and the landing beaches of Normandy. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be foolish to let this great and successful Union fall apart on a whim, with the aid of the likes of Mel Gibson? Should there not be a legislated timeframe—say, 25 years—before another referendum can be held?

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent and, as always, good-humoured point. People across Scotland want both their Governments to be working together and focusing their attention and resources on the issues that matter to them, not talking about yet another independence referendum.

I am delighted to see the Ministers in their places. Cross-border transport links are essential for strengthening the Union and connecting people across the United Kingdom. Yesterday I had a positive and productive meeting with the Ministers at the Scotland Office to see how we can push forward the extension of the Borders railway. Campaigners hope that the UK Government will soon give the green light to the next steps of the plan and consider extending the railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to moving that project forward as soon as possible?

I know that my hon. Friend has been a great champion on this issue. I can confirm that the Department for Transport has been working closely with Transport Scotland and the Borderlands Partnership on development of the evidence behind a possible extension of the Borderlands railway, following commitments made in the Borderlands inclusive growth deal. The DFT will continue to work closely with all parties and is considering the next steps.

I wonder how the Minister thinks the Government’s repeated and increasingly blatant disregard for the Sewel convention helps to strengthen the Union.

Again, I refer the hon. Member to my earlier answers. If he would like to meet me, I am more than happy to discuss the issue with him at greater length.

Civil Service: Apprenticeship Opportunities

As announced in the civil service apprenticeships strategy, we are committed to 5% of total civil service headcount being apprentices by 2025. Some 47,490 apprentices have been recruited since April 2016, with 78% of those being outside London. We will provide entry and progression routes within a range of careers and professions for new and existing staff.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I welcome the fact that hundreds of civil service jobs have moved to the north from London as part of our levelling-up drive. It is important to the north that the maximum potential is released by that move. To achieve that, can the Minister assure me that apprenticeship opportunities will be available alongside the move?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I can give him that assurance. We want civil service apprenticeship levels to grow in line with the local civil service workforce in every region of the UK. As I say, some 78% of our apprentices are outside London. In Yorkshire alone, we have already created 3,800 apprenticeship opportunities since 2016. That is good news for the apprentices, good news for Yorkshire and good news for our public service.

The Government have moved 933 jobs from London to Scotland since March 2020. The Cabinet Office’s Glasgow HQ is set to more than double its presence by 2025. What steps are Ministers taking to ensure that, within this relocation, a proportionate number of high-quality apprenticeships are made available in Glasgow?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I agree that it is great news that the Cabinet Office, among other Government Departments, is relocating jobs to Scotland. We have a hub in Glasgow; the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and many other Departments also have a Scottish hub. That is good news. I have been assured that our UK apprenticeship programmes are available across the UK, and I believe that we are in dialogue with the Scottish Government. Where we can work together to provide good apprenticeship opportunities across the public sector, that must be a good thing.

Reducing Public Sector Fraud

I was so entranced by the brilliant advocate of civil service jobs in Scotland, the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), that I had forgotten my old friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds). I apologise to him and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The Cabinet Office co-hosts the new Public Sector Fraud Authority with His Majesty’s Treasury. It will work with public bodies to better understand and reduce the impact of fraud against the public sector. In its first year, it will deliver £180 million in outcomes and agree targets with other public bodies. I hope that was worth waiting for.

It was well worth waiting for; I warmly welcome the Paymaster General to his place.

There is a lot of commonality between different types of public sector fraud and between public sector fraud and regular consumer fraud. Often, there are the same professional enablers, there can be the same criminal gangs, and of course, there are the same routes out for money laundering. Can he reassure me that he and his Department will continue to seek every possible synergy between what different Departments are doing, and between the Government and law enforcement?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct; I know he speaks from significant experience from his time in the Home Office. Tackling fraud is clearly critical. The Government work closely with the private sector to share threats, tools and practices. As an example, the Public Sector Fraud Authority’s national fraud initiative has developed pilots to use its data to help to find fraud in other sectors. The NFI assists utility companies and car hire and insurance sectors. Between April 2020 and March 2022, its work resulted in savings of £33 million.

Public Spending: Value for Money

I assure the hon. Gentleman that our Treasury colleagues hold us all to account in ensuring that value for money is secured. The Infrastructure and Projects Authority provides advice and assurance specifically on the Government major projects portfolio. It supports robust project cost estimates and builds delivery capacity and capability. Its 2022 annual report sets out the progress made across the GMPP.

Under the Conservatives’ crony approach to public spending, taxpayers’ money has been unforgivably and irresponsibly wasted. During the pandemic, a staggering £9 billion was spent on personal protective equipment that was written off, £2.6 billion was spent on items that were not even suitable for the NHS, and a whole series of contracts just happened to be awarded to friends of Tory donors. Can the Minister explain why the principles of

“public good, value for money, transparency, integrity, fair treatment of suppliers and non-discrimination”

are not in the Procurement Bill as promised in the Government’s Green Paper?

The hon. Gentleman talks about what happened during the pandemic. I remind him what it was like. Opposition Members were constantly saying that we needed PPE in hospitals and we needed it yesterday. They were right to demand it and the Government were right to deliver it. They stretched every sinew and our brilliant civil service did an enormous amount of work and good to get the PPE where it was required during the pandemic.

The hon. Gentleman raises a point about the Procurement Bill, which we will soon be able to scrutinise in this place. He will welcome, as I do, the fact that it will bring greater uniformity in regulations across Government and greater transparency across Government in terms of pipelines, and it will give more opportunities to small and medium-sized enterprises to exploit the many benefits of Government procurement.

What work has been done across Government to look at the temperatures at which public buildings are heated this winter, and in the longer term can more be done to improve the energy performance of these buildings?

I will have to get back to my right hon. Friend on the details of that. I am afraid I do not know whether that specific work has been undertaken, but he raises a good point that, given the costs of energy, we should all be cognisant of that cost and particularly—giving value for taxpayers—ensure that we in government are doing our utmost to be as efficient and effective as we can be in the delivery of high-quality services.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) highlighted the fact that, during the pandemic, we saw the Government ignore qualified companies and use its VIP lane to give their friends enormous contracts. This does all have consequences. Meanwhile, Social Enterprise UK found that, between 2010 and 2020, the UK may have missed out on £700 billion-worth of economic, social and environmental opportunities. This is not value for money. Far too often, small businesses end up at the back of the queue for public contracts behind big corporations that have an army of PR staff and flashy websites. So will the Minister cut the red tape, and create a fairer, more transparent and streamlined procurement process that gives all our small businesses a fighting chance?

Yes, I will. May I welcome the hon. Lady to, I believe, her first Dispatch Box performance? It is good to see her on the Front Bench. If I may say so, where we can we try to work together across the Floor, and I think there is commonality of view that we need to cut red tape, to reduce regulation and to give the maximum opportunity to small businesses across the country to access procurement. I hope that she and her team will be welcoming the Procurement Bill when it arrives in this place. [Interruption.] She is going to wait to see it. That is perfectly reasonable, and she will be very impressed when she does. It will increase transparency, reduce regulation and, I am certain, increase opportunities for smaller companies.

Food Security

14. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to ensure adequate contingency planning for food security in the context of the (a) cost of living crisis and (b) market unpredictability. (901893)

The hon. Lady is right that the disruption to supply chains caused by covid and Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine poses challenges to food security the world over. The UK does have a high degree of food security, and my Department works closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and industry figures to monitor food supply. I can reassure her that we remain well equipped to deal with situations that may cause disruption. Indeed, our food security strategy sets out a plan to transform our food system to ensure it is resilient and fit for the future.

I thank the Minister for that response, although I notice he did not mention the cost of living crisis, which was mentioned in my question. In the past week, both the former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, and Henry Dimbleby, the author of the national food strategy, have called for Cobra to be involved and to look at the extent of food poverty in this country, particularly given rising food prices. Will the Minister support that suggestion and, if not, what will his team do to ensure there is cross-governmental co-operation on tackling this issue?

I hope the hon. Lady heard from the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday his commitment to showing compassion in this area, and it is certainly something that is very important to me as well. Of course, I will take my duties as Cabinet Office co-ordinator and as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to include ensuring that we take a co-ordinated approach to that. The Government have spent many billions of pounds supporting the most vulnerable, such as the over £200 billion through the welfare systems in 2022-23, including £108 billion to people of working age, but I will continue to take action to make sure we help the most vulnerable.

The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that half of adults are buying less food as a result of the cost of living crisis. Earlier this year, farmers slammed the Government for being “blasé” about food security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. One farmer branded governance from Westminster as shambolic, slow to see problems, slower to react and inadequate when it does. It is the Government’s responsibility to plan and be prepared for sudden shocks, and it is essential for us to have a national resilience strategy, but we have been waiting 14 months for that crucial strategy. I am starting to think its existence is an urban myth. At this time of national crisis, can this month’s Minister explain to the public why the national resilience strategy is permanently at the bottom of the Department’s in-tray? Will that change?

First, I would hope that the hon. Lady heard from my previous answer my personal commitment as Chancellor of the Duchy to ensure this is at the top of the Government’s in-tray. Of course one of the consequences of the invasion of Ukraine is greater food insecurity. That is why the Cabinet Office is taking action to co-ordinate to ensure we address that. However, underlying all this is an inflationary problem. At the absolute heart of the Prime Minister’s commitment as an incoming Prime Minister is making sure that we get a grip of inflation and start to see it fall. If we can start to see it fall, all those pressures will be relieved.

My concern, and that of others, is that this summer of chaos has left a black hole in emergency preparedness, beyond just food strategy—in other emergency resilience planning. This morning the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy concluded in its report that

“no Minister is taking responsibility for”

ensuring the resilience of vital power, transport and communications networks. We have long called for a dedicated Minister of resilience as part of Labour’s three-point plan for a more resilient Britain, learning the lessons from covid. So will the Government now follow our lead and adopt the recommendations of the Joint Committee report, but start with a dedicated Minister responsible for resilience?

In essence, the Cabinet Office is the Department of resilience; it is the cornerstone of my duty as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and indeed the duty of the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General. It is absolutely top of our agenda and of course, at a time like this, as we deal with the consequences of the invasion of Ukraine, it is one of the many things we are grappling with and dealing with. So I can give the hon. Lady my complete assurance that that remains at the heart of the Government’s activity. I do not believe we need a specific Minister for resilience, as we are both Ministers for resilience.

Public Services: Reductions

15. Whether the Government plans to make reductions to public services to meet its objective to reduce the number of civil servants by 91,000. (901894)

In recent years the civil service has delivered in the face of unprecedented challenges. This Government are focused on improving efficiency and reducing the cost of public service delivery. The Government are totally committed to delivering high-quality public services and want to do so as effectively and efficiently as possible.

I thank the Minister for his answer. However, such job losses risk even longer backlogs for services such as issuing passports and driving licences—systems that are already in chaos—and they will not even deliver savings to the taxpayer. A new study by economists employed in the Government Department shows that, in addition to the short-term bill for redundancy payments, these plans could drain £3 billion annually from the UK economy and result in the knock-on effect of the loss of 118,000 private sector jobs. With civil servants feeling increasingly overworked and underpaid, should not the Minister drop these reckless proposals?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises that, given what is going on in the world at the moment and the pressures on household incomes, what every person in this country wants is high-quality public services but delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible. He is wrong to assume that just because we have x number of people we need to always keep x number of people. There are innovations we can do, which are common in the private sector, such as the use of digital networks and of AI to support strong delivery of public services. None of these should be ignored or forgotten about as a way of delivering high-quality public services on an efficient and effective basis.

In the summer, there was a number of stories about downgrading the fast-track process for recruiting civil servants. I have always believed we need the best and brightest in the civil service to deliver first-class services. Is that Government policy, or have they had any thoughts about this, because the system has served us very well over many years?

The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that there is always a path into the civil service for people who are high quality; we need really good, high-quality civil servants. That is absolutely our priority. I spoke earlier about apprentices, and my hon. Friend raises an important point regarding fast track. I can assure him we will make certain there are routes into the civil service for the high-quality public servants we all need to deliver high-quality public services.

SMEs: Public Procurement Rules

16. What steps his Department is taking to help improve the (a) transparency and (b) complexity of public procurement rules for small and medium-sized enterprises. (901897)

The Procurement Bill will enable simpler, more flexible procurement processes and increased transparency of planned procurements. These changes will make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to compete for and indeed win public contracts.

When it comes to public procurement, I know that it is administratively easier for the Government to award contracts to bigger companies, as that involves a smaller number of contracts with a smaller number of companies. What happens is that SMEs then become subcontractors of those big national organisations but with reduced margins. It would really help local economies if SMEs could bid directly for Government procurement contracts, because that would raise margins at the local level and be a real boost to the local economy.

Not only that: it would increase competition for the contracts, enabling us to have even better delivery of our services on a cost-effective basis. I have good news for my hon. Friend: the most recent stats, for 2020-21, showed that the Government were spending £9 billion indirectly with SMEs and £10 billion directly with SMEs. We are making a lot of progress in opening up procurement, but I assure him that the Procurement Bill will make the pipeline easier and more transparent—there will be one core set of data already in the system—which will enable SMEs to focus on the bid itself. It will also ensure more uniformity across Government regulations and process. That will help SMEs and help level them up.

FOI Requests

17. How many requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 have been denied by his Department citing an exemption under section 35(1)(a) of that Act in each of the last five years. (901899)

Statistics for the requests made under each subsection of section 35 are not held by the Cabinet Office. However, to assist the House, I will share the number of FOI requests refused under the entirety of section 35 in each of the last five years. In 2021, 150 FOI requests were refused. In 2020, there were 142; in 2019, 67; in 2018, 81; and in 2017, 63. Each of those figures represents between just 4% and 6% of total FOI requests made in that year. FOI requests are considered on a case-by-case basis, with information released where it is not exempt.

It is obviously disappointing that the Department does not collect those statistics given that the paragraph in question specifically relates to Government policy. I do not expect an answer today, but perhaps the Minister can write to me on the number of instances when decisions were subject to challenge at either the first-tier tribunal or upper tribunal and how much the Department spent in legal costs defending each challenge.

I thank the hon. Member for his question. I remind him that responses are handled in line with the legislation, which includes applying the relevant exemptions where applicable. Parliament has agreed that certain sensitive information should be protected from disclosure, including information relating to the formulation and development of Government policy. I am however happy to write to him and will try to provide him with as much information as possible.

Topical Questions

The Cabinet Office sits at the very heart of the British Government, supporting our new Prime Minister to co-ordinate and deliver for the British people. Like the rest of the country, I was deeply moved by public commemorations for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and I am proud of the work undertaken by officials in my Department to co-ordinate those efforts and make them such a success. Of course, planning has already begun for a safe and successful coronation of His Majesty the King in May. I welcome the opportunity to debate with Opposition Members, and indeed Government Members, the issues in my Department.

Constituents involved in the contaminated blood inquiry want to know when the arm’s length body to administer payments will be ready, whether independent legal support will be available for those making claims and, crucially—this is on behalf of the Smiths, whose harrowing evidence was a key part of the inquiry; I ask Ministers to watch it—whether parents who lost children will be included in future compensation schemes. When will we know? These people have waited far too long already.

I totally agree with the hon. Lady on what happened to those people, the suffering they endured and the length of time that they have had to wait. I hope that they can draw some comfort from the fact that interim payments will be made by the end of the week. Of course, that is the beginning of an ongoing process and I do not want to prejudge its outcome, but she raises important points that will be considered as part of the process. I hope to respond positively to all of them.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me welcome the newest Ministers who have made it through the revolving door to the Government Front Bench—and may I say that it feels like the Spice Girls versus the Backstreet Boys? When their latest Prime Minister was campaigning in the leadership election—the one before last, that is—he said that reappointing an independent ethics adviser would be one of the first things he would do, but the first things he did were to bring back a Home Secretary a week after she resigned for breaking the ministerial code and an Immigration Minister who admitted that they had acted unlawfully in office. When will there be someone in place to investigate the new Cabinet?

First of all, I welcome the right hon. Lady’s question and her kind words. In fact, as we were discussing previously, we have more in common than people might think: not only are we both gingers, but we both come from good working-class stock and we both rather enjoy a trip to Glyndebourne to see the opera —just to prove that nothing is too good for the working people.

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the question of the independent adviser. I have discussed it with the Prime Minister. He will make an announcement shortly and a person will be in place.

I absolutely welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s comments. I listened to him earlier with regard to the Home Secretary. I am sure he heard last night that the former Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Sir Jake Berry), revealed that the Home Secretary was involved in multiple breaches of the ministerial code, that these were really serious and that the Cabinet Secretary had expressed concern. Perhaps the new Minister can tell us what they were, how will they now be investigated and what action will be taken over them. If the Government had an ethics adviser, does he really think they would have sanctioned the return of this Home Secretary?

Once again, to restate it to the right hon. Lady, the Home Secretary did accept that she made errors of judgment in her conduct. That is why she resigned. Of course, the Prime Minister, on appointing her, sought assurances to ensure that that would not happen again. In respect of private advice given by the Cabinet Secretary to the Prime Minister on making appointments, it has never been the case, under any Administration, that that advice is made public. I would, however, gently say to the right hon. Lady, and to Opposition Members, that this is the third occasion the House has had the opportunity to discuss an issue of process, and I wonder whether it is because they do not want to discuss the strong record of the Home Secretary, whether in tackling migration—

Order. This is topical questions. We had a good love-in at the beginning, but answers are meant to be short and punchy, not a full debate. Laurence Robertson, show us the example.

T5. On the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s replacement of electronic countermeasures, can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster advise me on whether that process has reached the end? If it has not, will he reconsider the bids that were made by a number of companies, two of which are in my constituency, which do not feel that the process was carried out as thoroughly, in terms of investigations, as it might have been? (901906)

This is a matter for the FCDO, as my hon. Friend will understand, but I am informed that its view is that the correct procedures have been followed and that it determined that both suppliers failed to satisfactorily provide answers and documentation following classification questions. The existing procurement remains in compliance with all procurement regulations and will, I am informed, be concluded within the original timeframe outlined.

T2. Doncaster Sheffield airport is part of our critical national infrastructure, both as a major regional economic asset and as a base to emergency and national security services. Despite the risk to those essential services, it is due to close within days. Will the Minister meet me and other hon. Members to discuss how the Government could step in to save the airport if the owners refuse to sell, including through the use of their powers under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004? (901902)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We are always keen to see thriving regional enterprises. This matter has been discussed frequently in the House, and I refer her back to the debate earlier this week and what the Minister said.

T6. As you know, Mr Speaker, the National Cyber Force is to be located in Lancashire, which is a great boost for local high-skilled jobs. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to level up the country, it is important that young people can gain the skills and qualifications that they need locally to feed into those high-skilled jobs? (901907)

I know what a strong champion my hon. Friend is for the National Cyber Force in Samlesbury. Thanks to the efforts of her and others, 6,000 jobs were created just last year and more than 52,000 people are now employed in cyber-security. Crucially, more than half of them are outside London and the south-east.

T3. Further to the comments on the Home Secretary, we have learned today from reports in the media that she was the subject of an inquiry by the Cabinet Office security group and MI5 in January into security leaks. Given what we have heard about the circumstances of her resignation, this would surely be the time to reopen that inquiry, both to give the security services confidence in her and, actually, for the Home Secretary’s sake. (901904)

The hon. Lady, as a former colleague of mine in Downing Street during the coalition days, will remember that we do not ever comment on issues in relation to the security services. However, in all leak inquiries, as she may recall, everyone is interviewed, so I would not read too much into some of those reports.

Poor mental health costs the economy £118 billion per annum, obesity-related diseases cost the NHS £6.5 billion every year and ill health in England’s most deprived communities costs £30 billion, yet schemes that would improve the nation’s wellbeing and reduce those sums are scattered across Whitehall Departments and buried low down in their priorities. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how his Department can lead a wellbeing strategy to improve the physical, mental and economic health of the nation?

I know my hon. Friend’s passionate commitment to that cause, and I would be delighted to meet her to discuss it.

T7. If a civil servant were to use their private email to send confidential Government business, they would rightly be expected to face the harshest penalties and lose their security clearance. Does the Minister agree, therefore, that reappointing the Home Secretary just six days after she made significant breaches of the ministerial code in that way smacks of having one rule for them and another for our hard-working civil servants? (901908)

The Home Secretary has accepted that her conduct was not acceptable. That is precisely why she resigned and accepted that responsibility. However, I have to say that Labour Members’ obsession with a mistake for which she has apologised stands in stark contrast to their failure to answer questions on crime or immigration. That says it all about their priorities for the British people.

If an election result is declared and challenged, it can ultimately be settled in the High Court. If an election result is declared and a genuine mistake is spotted, even with the agreement of the returning officer and all the candidates, the only option to correct it is through the High Court, causing delay, great expense and distress. Will that anomaly be looked at by Ministers and corrected?

Once again, my hon. Friend demonstrates his in-depth knowledge of electoral issues. He raises a very important point; I will take advice on that and look into whether there is something that we can do.

Will the Minister do a root-and-branch review of the transparency of publications by the Government on ministerial hospitality received? Quite often, those lists are not even an accurate list of Ministers, let alone an accurate list of the hospitality that they have received. Why is it that ordinary Members of Parliament have to register and publish any hospitality that they receive within 28 days, whereas if someone is a Minister, they never have to provide all the details and it does not get published for at least nine or sometimes 12 months?

I am happy to look into the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. The standards of transparency in this country—and indeed, that have been introduced under this Government—are some of the highest in the world, but I will look into that.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to having move civil servants outside London. Leicestershire is a perfect place for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; we have a rural community, with big farming and concern for the environment. I would be surprised—amazed, actually—if Ministers had not heard about the campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) to bring DEFRA right to the heart of England. Is that something the Cabinet Office would support?

I hear a proper call from a Leicestershire MP for Leicestershire’s values to be recognised. It would not be for me to make determinations for DEFRA, but I wish my hon. Friend well in his campaign.

I wonder whether we might give Ministers a second chance and see whether one of them can explain what they understand the principles of the Sewel convention to be, and whether nowadays they are more easily observed in their breach than in their application.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as I am sure he realises, we will not normally legislate on a matter that involves the Scottish Parliament or another devolved Administration without consulting the devolved institution and letting it pass a legislative consent motion. I am sure that will continue. If he has any issues with any particular case, he is welcome to come and speak to us about it.

The inquiry into food security by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has identified a major problem, which is that British farmers who want to produce more food do not have good access to the right amounts of nitrogen fertiliser. As part of the Government’s resilience work, can Ministers look across Government at what more we can do to ensure access to the fertiliser that British farmers need to produce British food for British consumers?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point that I will take away. He is probably more of a farming expert than I am, but I believe we have already loosened some of the requirements in relation to fertilisers. However, it may well be that there is more to do.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill will have impacts that require a dedicated and well resourced workforce like the civil service to deliver its goals and prevent complications. What assessment have Ministers made of headcounts to ensure project deliverability?

We will always make certain that we have the right resources and the right civil service support to ensure that we continue to govern appropriately and that laws passed by this place and the other place are put into effect.

The Financial Conduct Authority has found that 13% of all people in Northern Ireland are finding it difficult to keep up with bills or loan repayments. Can the Minister reaffirm the commitment to maintaining support for the Northern Irish economy during this very difficult period?

Absolutely. There are problems across the UK, and indeed globally, and we are very mindful of supporting our citizens right across our United Kingdom.

Cross-Channel Migrants: Manston Facility

May I remind Members requesting an urgent question that if another Member is involved, they should please notify them with plenty of time so that they can come to the Chamber? This is a very important UQ, but we must always think about the constituencies affected. I call Dame Diana Johnson.

He has requested that I pull the UQ. I am not willing to do that, but he claims that he did not get the message in good time.

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the situation at the Manston facility for cross-channel migrants.

The continued rise in dangerous small boat crossings is placing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system. The Manston processing centre is a single, secure environment that is used to deliver the crucial first stage of the asylum assessment process in a more integrated manner than was possible in the past. It is resourced and equipped to process migrants securely while efforts are made to provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible. The basic needs of arrivals are provided for at the site, including hot food, fresh clothing, toilet facilities, sanitary packs and medical care. There is 24/7 medical provision, and a GP began work on the site on Monday. Families and vulnerable adults are prioritised for separate hotel accommodation. Full border security checks are carried out before anyone leaves the Manston site, and whenever possible those seeking asylum in the UK are also interviewed and their asylum claims registered before they leave.

As of 8 am today, there were 2,636 arrivals at Manston. We have more than 900 people working there, including trained Home Office staff, contractors and military personnel, with support from security staff. More than 170 people left the site for onward accommodation yesterday alone, and that continues today, with 15 having moved on already. This requires us to source appropriate onward accommodation to house asylum seekers for a longer period. We do not want to place them in accommodation that may leave them more vulnerable and without access to appropriate services.

Lieutenant General Stuart Skeates was seconded to the Home Office on 12 October. He will bring a wealth of experience and is now putting in place the necessary command and control structure as we move forward and ensure that the site operates in the manner that we would all expect.

As always, we urge all who are thinking about leaving a safe country and putting their lives and those of their children and loved ones in the hands of vile people smugglers to seriously reconsider. This Government will deliver a fair and effective immigration system that works in the interests of the British people.

Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker. Let me also welcome the Minister to his place, although I am very disappointed that the Home Secretary is not here to answer this important question.

I do not recognise the description that the Minister has given to the House. The situation at the Manston facility for cross-channel migrants constitutes a major incident that is escalating in severity. Only yesterday, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration described it to the Home Affairs Committee as “a really dangerous situation” that had left him “speechless”. The number of individuals currently being detained—about 3,000—is larger than any prison population in the country, and vastly exceeds Manston’s capacity of 1,600. Detainees are being guarded by people described by the chief inspector as not appropriately trained, and he further warned of a risk of fire, infection and disorder spreading within the facility.

The Committee heard that people are being held for well over 24 hours, and some for as long as a month. As of Monday, one Syrian family had been detained for two weeks, while an Afghan family had been held there for 32 days. There is a serious question about the legality of detaining people at the facility for more than 24 hours. Will the Minister tell us how long the Government can legally detain people at a short-term holding facility? This facility was not designed for people to stay there for more than 24 hours.

Families are being housed for weeks on camp beds, with no onsite catering facilities and limited personal and clothes-washing facilities. Several cases of diphtheria and scabies have been detected. Can the Minister tell us what the timeline is for upgrading facilities so that they are safe and fit for purpose? Can he also tell us what action will be taken specifically to safeguard children who are being detained there? What conversations has he had with the Union for Borders, Immigration and Customs about staff safety and wellbeing?

The evidence we heard indicates that the situation unfolding at Manston is not some unforeseeable mishap, but the product of a malfunctioning system. Why were the warning signs of this impending crisis not acted upon earlier, when numbers started to escalate in August with 8,000 people crossing the channel? That would have avoided the current situation. What exactly did the Home Secretary do about the situation at Manston during her previous tenure?

Finally, may I ask the Minister to confirm that the Home Affairs Committee can visit Manston next week?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her kind words about my appointment. I was honoured to be appointed by the Prime Minister 48 hours ago to help my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to lead the Home Office forward, and to tackle issues, such as this, which are of the greatest concern to the British public.

We want to build a fair immigration system that enables people who come to the UK via safe and legal routes to do so, while also being robust in dealing with those who choose to come here illegally. It is not right that people smugglers are enabling people to risk their lives in dangerous channel crossings. Individuals often come from safe countries, and at the expense of people we would want to bring to this country, such as those from Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine.

With regard to the right hon. Lady’s specific questions, I was of course concerned to read the evidence that was presented to her Committee yesterday by David Neal, the independent chief inspector. I will meet Mr Neal next week, and will listen directly to his concerns. I intend to visit Manston as soon as possible—hopefully next week.

We want to ensure that the site is maintained legally, of course. It is absolutely essential that any site that the Home Office operates is managed within the law. Mr Neal raised a number of concerns, and I will refer briefly to as many of them as possible. With regard to the conditions for individuals staying at the site, the site was designed to be temporary. Individuals who enter it are supposed to stay for only a matter of hours—perhaps 24 hours at a maximum—and as a result the facilities are temporary. People are none the less given accommodation that is heated and has air conditioning, food and medical supplies. Families are prioritised for better accommodation and for swift opportunities to leave for hotel accommodation.

I was concerned at Mr Neal’s suggestion that there had been a degree of unrest and of health considerations. I am told that, although there have been some incidents, the site is mainly stable, but I will take that up further and see for myself when I visit. There have been a very small number of cases of diphtheria. Those individuals were isolated and public health guidelines were immediately followed, and a permanent ward, with a doctor, has been created to manage that situation.

Our longer-term plan is clearly to reduce the population at Manston as quickly as is practicable. The numbers that I read out in my opening remarks show that the population of the site is reducing, but that is dependent on the numbers coming across the channel, so our longer-term aim has to be to strongly deter people from making that extremely dangerous crossing of the channel, and to use all means available to us. I hope that that aim can unite us across the House. It cannot be right for individuals to leave a safe country—our closest, safest ally: France—to risk their lives coming to the United Kingdom. In doing so, and by coming to sites such as Manston, they are putting immense pressure on the system, meaning that we are unable to fulfil our obligations to individuals who come safely and legally from Ukraine, Afghanistan and other countries, who must be the first priority of the UK Government.

The evidence that the Home Affairs Committee heard from David Neal yesterday was shocking, and it certainly presented a very different picture of Manston from what the Committee had seen when we visited this summer. I am glad to hear that the Minister is meeting David Neal next week. May I suggest that the Home Secretary sits in on that meeting? Mr Neal has not been able to meet a single Home Secretary since he was appointed, despite several requests.

The other shocking revelation yesterday, which is partly connected to the logjam at Manston, was the fact that of the 28,000 people who came across in small boats in 2021, only 4% have had their claims processed, which means there is an enormous backlog. What will the Minister do, as his highest priority, to get those applications processed much more swiftly, and to remove from this country people who do not have a claim to be here, freeing up space for those who genuinely have a claim?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question and for his long-standing interest in this issue. He is absolutely right that part of a fair and robust asylum system is that individuals who come to the UK have their claims processed as quickly as possible, and that if they are denied, they are removed from the UK at the earliest opportunity. That will be a priority for me and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We will review the backlog of cases to see how we can improve the productivity of the Home Office. I am told that 1,000 individuals are now working through those cases; it must be possible for us to reduce that backlog quickly. Other countries, such as France and Greece, are more productive and faster at processing claims, so I intend to review their processes to see what we can learn and whether we can bring those processes to bear in the UK in order to have a better system.

I welcome the Immigration Minister and congratulate him on his appointment, and I thank the Cahir of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), for securing this urgent question.

The Government’s handling of the dangerous channel crossings has been disastrous. There has been a huge proliferation of criminal gangs operating in the channel and a failure to put the requisite policing and cross-border co-operation in place. We have seen a big increase in dangerous boat crossings, putting thousands of lives at risk, which everyone should be working to stop. And there has been a collapse in asylum decision making, with 14,000 decisions a year compared with 28,000 initial decisions just six years ago.

Reports say it is now taking, on average, 480 days to make an initial decision, which plays into the hands of people traffickers and people smugglers. We have also had reports of hundreds of children going missing, soaring backlogs, huge hotel bills and security and fingerprinting failures, as well as the devastating reports of what is happening at Manston, including the chief inspector saying Manston is dangerous and describing an Afghan family who have been in a marquee for 32 days. This follows damning independent reports on the Government’s handling of this, including their rhetorical and expensive gimmicks that do not actually solve the problem.

The Minister’s response sounded complacent, so can he confirm that the Home Secretary was previously given options to ease the situation at Manston and refused to act? Will he now accept that these expensive gimmick policies, such as spending £140 million on a Rwanda policy that is unworkable and unethical, and that the Home Secretary herself has said is failing, is the wrong approach and that he should instead put that money into boosting the National Crime Agency and tackling the criminal gangs? And when will the backlog be cleared? This is too important for the kind of chaos we have had for the last few years.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for welcoming me to my position and for her questions. I do not detect any plan from the Labour party for how it would tackle this issue. We intend to bear down on illegal immigration and ensure that those who come to the UK illegally on small boats are processed as swiftly as possible and, if their asylum claims are rejected, removed from the United Kingdom. That is what we need to do to have a robust but fair immigration system.

Of course any individual who comes to the UK must be treated compassionately and humanely while they are under our care, which is why I will be making inquiries and visiting Manston to ensure the site is operating appropriately. The backlog is a serious concern, which is why we now have 1,000 members of the Home Office team working on these cases, and I want to ensure it is done as swiftly as possible.

We will also ensure that Border Force continues to robustly police the channel, to ensure we deter people from making the dangerous crossing. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, the new Prime Minister and I are particularly concerned to ensure that we take the opportunity of his premiership to build a productive and constructive relationship with our friends in France to see whether there are further measures we can take together to bear down on the issue.

In particular, we will see how we can tackle the growing issue of Albanians coming to the United Kingdom, which is a priority for the Home Secretary. Up to a quarter of people making the crossing to the UK this year, and at times 80% of them, come from Albania, which is a safe country. Those individuals have crossed through multiple safe countries to come to the UK, which is not acceptable. We need to ensure that we deter these individuals as swiftly as possible.

The fact that we have the Manston processing centre shows the shocking failure of this country to protect our borders, especially the English channel. We are telling people that it is time to tighten our belts, yet we are spending £2 billion a year on housing these illegal immigrants, including 10,000 Albanian men. We talk about the Rwanda scheme, but I am struggling to look my constituents in the eye when they tell me that thousands of young men are coming across every single week. When are we going to sort it out?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern. It is disgraceful that this country is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on accommodating people in hotels, and we need to resolve that. To do that, we have to tackle the issue on multiple fronts: diplomatically, with our friends and neighbours; with robust enforcement in the channel; and by ensuring that those individuals who do come here are processed as swiftly as possible and are returned where they do not meet the standard to be granted asylum. That is exactly the approach that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I will be setting out, building on the statement that the new Prime Minister made in the summer in his 10-point plan for immigration.

The Prison Officers Association’s Andy Baxter has described this as:

“A humanitarian crisis on British soil”.

As we have heard, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Neal, told MPs that he was left “speechless” by what he saw and advised that we are now past the point where we can describe Manston as being a safe facility. This Home Secretary had better start to listen and the Minister needs to listen, rather than reading out briefings that announce the provision of toilet facilities. He needs to understand what people actually need. How on earth have we ended up with people sleeping on cardboard, in tents, and with outbreaks of diphtheria and norovirus? We are constantly debating these conditions here. Why do we keep coming back to this? How many times are we going to be standing here repeating the question: where was the forward thinking? The Home Office is not coping, but instead of spending that £120 million on her “dream” flight to Rwanda had the Home Secretary spent it on caseworkers, perhaps we would not have these disgraceful logjams.

Finally, Manston is supposed to be a short-term holding facility; people are not supposed to be there for more than 48 hours. Surely that means that people are now being detained illegally in these conditions, so will he tell us: how many people have been detained for more than 48 hours? how many claims for unlawful detention is he expecting and at what cost?

We do not want these individuals to make the channel crossing in the first place. They are coming from a safe country and most have travelled through multiple safe countries before making the crossing. They have chosen to make a highly dangerous crossing. When they arrive, we should, of course, treat them humanely. That is exactly what we intend to do, but the Manston site is only meant to be there as a temporary facility to handle people in the instant of their arrival, before they are transferred to other accommodation. We could and will put on more hotel accommodation, but that cannot be our long-term solution. Is the hon. Lady suggesting that we just spend millions of pounds more on hotels and that we build more five-star hotels in which to put people who have crossed the channel? No, that is not the answer. The answer is to try to deter people from crossing the channel, and then to process their claims as quickly as possible and send back those who should not be in the UK.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) has asked me to say that he would have been here but he is at a meeting in Manston as we speak. In order to improve his mood, I am sure he would welcome a telephone call later on from the Minister. My constituents may be extremely concerned about the sheer volume of small boat crossings, but they are also compassionate people and they will welcome the Minister’s comments this morning about improving wellbeing. However, all of this is putting extreme pressure on the resources in Kent, including on the lifeboat crews, the health services and of course Kent police. So will the Minister outline what is being done to support the police and other resources across the country, in dealing both with the landings and with the security at Manston?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that and I will be speaking to her friend and neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale). I know that the Home Secretary is meeting him later today to speak to him as well. I completely understand my hon. Friend’s concern and that of Members of Parliament throughout Kent; this intolerable situation is placing great strain on members of the public and on the emergency services and local authorities within the area. I know that only too well from my previous experience as Local Government Secretary. The Department is determined to support those local authorities as best as we can. Yesterday, I met the leadership of Border Force to discuss the resources we have in the area and I will be visiting Dover next week.

Between 2015 and 2020, the proportion of asylum seekers whose applications were decided by the Home Office within the six-month target plummeted from 80% to 17%, and the consequence is misery and mental health issues for asylum seekers, and pressure on local accommodation and local communities. All I can say to them is, “The Home Office is broken”. When will it work?

There is a range of reasons why the processing of asylum claims is taking longer than we would like, but it is a priority of mine, as the new Minister in the Department. I have already met the relevant officials, and we will be looking at ways in which we can improve their productivity as swiftly as possible. As I said in response to an earlier question, we do now have the right number of staff processing the claims. A thousand people are working on this. That is a good number of individuals tackling the issue so I hope that we can make swift progress.

What is the target date for ending this farce? Will my right hon. Friend explain to us that in Manston the conditions, although far from ideal, are a heck of a sight better than the conditions in squatter camps in Calais or on those overcrowded, dangerous boats crossing the channel? So some of the people at Manston should probably be counting their blessings.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that these individuals have chosen to make an extremely dangerous and perilous crossing. We have greeted them, and we are ensuring that they are treated humanely for a very short period of time while they make their initial asylum claim, if that is what they intend to do, and then they are taken to other and better accommodation. We have given them the food, the medical care and the clothing that they need, as befits a welcoming country, but this is not the long-term solution to the problem. We do not want to be receiving tens of thousands of individuals in small boats across the channel, and that is why we are taking all the steps we can to deter people from making this dangerous crossing in the first place.

On Monday the latest Prime Minister said that he would restore integrity, professionalism and accountability to government. How is the Home Secretary’s failure to come here and answer a very serious question in her area of responsibility for the second day running consistent with that pledge?

Cornwall is a long way from Kent, but almost every day I receive emails from constituents who are concerned and often angry about the sheer number of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers arriving on our shores. As well as the very real concerns about the situation at Manston, is not the real question here that we urgently need to find a way of stopping people crossing the channel? Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the solution is the measures contained in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022? Does he agree that we will take no lessons from the Opposition parties on this, who voted against that very Bill?

Absolutely. Fundamentally, the Opposition parties want to see uncontrolled immigration. We disagree with that and it is entirely out of step with the British public. We want to see those people who wish to come here do so safely and legally, and we want to see the best and the brightest around the world find a home in the United Kingdom. But it must be controlled immigration, and we must have a robust response to those who come here illegally.

The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) is right to remind us that during consideration of the Nationality and Borders Bill we were told repeatedly that the provisions of the Bill, which is now an Act, were necessary to stop the flow of small boats across the channel. The Act was brought into force in June. What has happened to the number of boats making the crossing since then?

The number of people crossing the channel remains unacceptably high, and that is why it needs to be a priority for me and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister to his post. I expect him to be both tough and compassionate in dealing with immigration. Many of my constituents go to France on holiday because it is safe, and a nice place to go, and they are perplexed at these people coming in, who are creating profits for criminal gangs. We need to crack down on this particular area. My right hon. Friend mentioned that he was going down to Kent, and I welcome that. Is he going to go and see his French counterpart soon for further discussions about how we can stop this terrible trade?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, which gets to the nub of the question. These individuals are leaving a safe country, and they are leaving France, of all safe countries. We must do more to deter them from making the dangerous crossing. I will be going to France to meet my opposite number and other elected officials, both in Pas de Calais and in the French Government. An opportunity is afforded to us by the arrival of the new Prime Minister to improve relationships and see what further action we might be able to take together.

As chair of the all-party group on immigration detention, I have heard many stories over the years of inadequate facilities for people who have come from very desperate circumstances, but the circumstances at Manston really do cause great concern. Can the Minister tell me how many children are currently housed at the facility, and what he is doing to ensure that there are no children or families held there, because it seems entirely inappropriate for anybody, least of all children?

A small number of children are held at the facility. As I said in answer to an earlier question, we do prioritise families, so that families are, as swiftly as possible, allowed to leave the facility and taken to more suitable hotel accommodation. The same approach applies to vulnerable adults.

I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to the Chamber this morning to answer the urgent question. The situation at Manston is obviously unsustainable and, according to reports, unacceptable. Can he go into more detail about what we are doing to speed up the application process, so that we can relieve the pressure on Manston?

The Home Secretary and her predecessors have been putting in place a number of measures over the course of the summer, including hiring more individuals to process the claims at the Home Office. As I said earlier, we now have a team of 1,000, which seems to be the right number given the scale of the backlog. We are working through how they can process those claims as quickly as possible. We do process claims in slower order in the UK than some other comparable countries, and there is reason to believe that we can make the process more productive than it is today.

Manston is a disaster for migrants who find themselves there, and it is a black mark against the bureaucratic competence of the Home Office. The processing regime more generally is a disaster for standards of humanity. More broadly, the dynamic that saw the Royal Navy dragged into this space to compensate for failures of Border Force—principally, a lack of resource—is deeply unwelcome for defence. Against all that, can the Minister advise what this information rule-breaking, retread Home Secretary will do to fix the problem?

I welcome the appointment of the Minister to this important and difficult role and everything that he said about making sure that the facilities at Manston are appropriate and legal. Surely, at the heart of this problem, is the sharp increase in illegal immigrants from Albania. Will he say more about whether we have adequate resources in Tirana to look at the validity of asylum claims, which— given that there is not a civil war or general unrest in Albania—may not be very strong anyway, to ensure that we can return as many of them as fast as possible? Is the agreement that is already in place for Albanians to serve prison sentences in Albania working as effectively as he would hope?

That is a very important question and one to which I will be giving a lot of thought in the coming days. As I said earlier, around a quarter of those individuals who have crossed the short strait this year alone have come from Albania. On some boats, 80% of the individuals are coming from Albania. As my hon. Friend said, Albania is quite clearly a safe country, and those individuals have crossed through multiple other safe countries before arriving in the United Kingdom. Some reports suggest that as much as 1% or even 2% of the adult male population of Albania either have attempted to leave the country in this manner, or are contemplating doing so.

This is a serious issue on which we need to get a grip, and there are a number of fronts on which we are doing that. We are considering whether there is a bespoke route for Albanians to have their cases heard quickly and to be removed from the country if they are not found to be successful—returned to Albania. We are also looking diplomatically at how we can work with the Government in Albania and in coalition with like-minded countries such as France to reach an agreement with Albania. I would be happy to update my hon. Friend as soon as we make further progress.

I thank the Minister for his answers and wish him well in his new role; I am sure he will do well with it. With the turmoil of winter about to arrive, my real fear is the loss of life that will take place among those who cross illegally in unfit boats. The need to prevent the crossings before they begin is stronger than ever, and I know he also understands that. What more can we do with our French allies to take more proactive steps at those ports and launching locations? Will he task our allies with taking those enhanced steps that are very much needed?

I intend to have the most constructive approach possible with our friends in France to try to address the issue together. Our progress will always be limited if we cannot have a good relationship across the channel. A number of steps have been taken in recent weeks and months; in fact, the French authorities deter up to half the crossings attempted from French beaches, but clearly that is not enough, because far too many people still make that perilous journey. It will be an early priority for me and the Home Secretary to speak to our counterparts in France and see what further steps we can take.

I too congratulate the Minister on his new role. Does he agree that to stop totally inappropriate facilities such as the Skylark Hotel on the border of my constituency suddenly being considered for housing asylum seekers, we must not only crack down on those evil people-smuggling gangs and dangerous boat crossings, but speed up the application process at the Manston facility?

I agree with everything my hon. Friend says. It is quite wrong that the British taxpayer is paying for hotels to such a degree. We need to reduce our reliance on those hotels as quickly as possible and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I will do exactly that.

In my short time as a parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office, working on illegal and legal immigration, I saw the dedicated work of the staff there. Will my right hon. Friend thank the staff, who are under huge pressure in trying to process visas, immigrants and asylum seekers? More importantly, is not the long-term process about stopping illegal immigration while providing more legal immigration, as we have done through Ukraine, Hong Kong, Syria and Afghanistan? Is that not the solution?

It certainly is. We want the UK to be a home for those in genuine need of refuge. I am proud of the work we have done in recent years: the scheme for Hong Kong nationals to come to the UK, the work we have done with the Ukrainians—I have been honoured to have a Ukrainian family stay with my family this year—and the work we are doing to ensure that those who supported the British armed forces in Afghanistan can come and find safe refuge here in the UK. We are a welcoming country and that should continue, but we must crack down on those who are coming here illegally. It is wrong and it means that our system is overwhelmed and unable to provide the support that those who should be here deserve.

Many of my constituents are concerned about illegal immigration and the Government are right to tackle it. Will the Minister confirm again, however, that by tackling illegal immigration we ensure that the UK Government have the capacity and facilities available to ensure that vulnerable people coming here in need of help from other places in the world have that support?

The real issue we have faced in the past two years is that because of the scale of illegal immigration, including through small boats, we have not been able to provide the kind of welcome that we would have wished for those coming from, for example, Afghanistan or Ukraine, because hotel capacity has been limited and social housing capacity has been extremely tight. We need to bear down on illegal immigration, not only because it is the right thing to do, but so that we can provide a humane and compassionate welcome for those who deserve to be here in the UK.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to you for allowing me to make this point of order. I want to apologise to the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale). My understanding was that the facility at Manston was in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). He was the person I emailed last night, and he thanked me for doing so. I am very sorry for that confusion, and I will of course contact the right hon. Member for North Thanet directly as well.

Thank you for that.

The next business is business questions. The Leader of the House has informed me that she is unable to be present until around 12 noon. Given that there is no Deputy Leader of the House, I have to suspend the House until her return. I will arrange for the Division bell to be rung shortly before the House resumes, and for a message to be placed on the Annunciator.

Sitting suspended.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 31 October will include:

Monday 31 October—Remaining stages of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill.

Tuesday 1 November—Second Reading of the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 2 November—Opposition day (6th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 3 November—Debate on a motion on the independent review of Smokefree 2030 policies, followed by a general debate on the Government’s White Paper “A Fairer Private Rented Sector”. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 4 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 7 November includes:

Monday 7 November—Second Reading of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords].

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. May I congratulate her on being reappointed? There were suggestions that it may not have been the job she was hoping for but we both know that, as Parliament’s representative in Government and the Government’s representative in Parliament, she has an incredibly important role. I know that she takes her responsibilities seriously, and I look forward to continued work with her to ensure that Members can properly hold the Government to account. In that vein, I repeat my regular plea, on behalf of our constituents, for prompt responses from Ministers to MPs.

The Prime Minister’s promise to restore “integrity” and “accountability” lasted barely a few hours. The Home Secretary was reappointed to the job from which she was sacked just six days earlier for breaching the ministerial code and putting our national security at risk. We now hear that there were

“multiple breaches of the ministerial code”,

which even involved “documents relating to cybersecurity”. The first duty of any Government is to keep this country safe. This is exceptionally serious. Does the Leader of the House agree that there must be an urgent investigation?

The Home Secretary said she that “rapidly reported” her mistake

“on official channels, and informed the Cabinet Secretary”,

but we now hear that the evidence was put to her rather than the other way round. Despite that, the Prime Minister said yesterday at the Dispatch Box that the Home Secretary

“raised the matter and…accepted her mistake.”—[Official Report, 26 October 2022; Vol. 721, c. 289.]

This is really important. The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has raised two points of order, asked two urgent questions and sent a letter to the Cabinet Secretary, but we still have no clarity. It is imperative that the Prime Minister sets out a clear timeline of who reported what to whom and when. If he has misled the House on this serious national security matter, will he come to the Chamber, apologise and correct the record?

This is yet another example of why a Government ethics adviser is so badly needed. After months of calling for one, I welcomed yesterday’s announcement that an appointment would be “done shortly”, but it is obvious that one is needed urgently. Can the Leader of the House give us a timeframe?

The new Prime Minister claims a mandate from the 2019 general election, but that was three Prime Ministers and several national crises ago. Meanwhile, the Government are pulling legislation left, right and centre. Which sofa has all the Government’s missing legislation has fallen down the back of? Where is the Energy Bill? Where is the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill? Where is the Online Safety Bill, which was first mooted a decade ago? We have been waiting four years for it. Has the Prime Minister been forced to pull it to appease his new International Trade Secretary?

Since the Conservatives first announced their intention to regulate, seven other jurisdictions have introduced online safety laws. In that time, in the UK, online crime has exploded, child sexual abuse online has become rife and scams have proliferated. Every day that goes by without the Bill, this suffering continues. We hear it has been delayed and not pulled so, yet again, I offer Labour’s willingness to work with the Government to get this Bill over the line as soon as possible. Will the Government accept our offer, and can the Leader of the House tell us when the Bill is coming back?

The Government are dragging their feet on the climate and nature emergency. The Environment Act 2021 legally requires the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to set long-term targets for air quality, water, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction by 31 October, so she has three days left. Will the Leader of the House please wake up the new Environment Secretary from the nightmare of the past few weeks and ask her to get on with the job?

We have a Prime Minister nobody elected and with no mandate, and he is letting down the British people. It is time the Government accepted that the British people deserve a choice between the failed Tory trickle-down economics of the past and a green, clean, sustainable future with a Labour Government.

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions on the themes of democracy and integrity, which are both very important. I reassure her that it is not a disappointment to find myself here, in part because I very much enjoy my exchanges with her across the Dispatch Box. It was important that we tested the proposition of a contest, as we did to destruction, and I think that has been a good outcome.

The Conservative party has one member, one vote and, of course, the Leader of the Opposition tried to end that for Labour. He had to abandon his attempt to return to an electoral college amid accusations of gerrymandering and holding the membership in contempt. Of course, the Labour party has form on this, as it blocked an election when Parliament needed one and its leader campaigned to overturn the result of the European Union referendum, so I will take no lectures from Labour Members on honouring democracy.

On integrity, the ethics adviser is a matter for the Prime Minister, and he intends to bring that decision forward. It is a matter for him, but he has made that commitment. Opposition Members have made allegations about support for jobs. As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, there is support for jobs: he supported 163,000 kickstart jobs; he supported job-entry schemes, benefiting 177,000 unemployed people; and, of course, he paid the wages of 11 million people in this country to protect them and their jobs. I am proud of our record of getting nearly 4 million people back into work with the dignity of a pay packet.

The hon. Lady mentioned prompt responses, and I have met the Home Office permanent secretary. All Members can have a bespoke service in which they attend a surgery to go through their cases, or they can have the usual responses and written replies. Both those options are open. We hope all the backlogs will be cleared by the end of the year, and there are ongoing improvements. I hope hon. Members will have an improved service shortly.

The Online Safety Bill will be back in the House shortly. The Bill remains a priority for this Government. We need to ensure there is time for Members to consider amendments properly, which is why the Bill has not yet returned to the House. I will announce business in the usual way, and we are committed to that Bill.

One thing the hon. Lady did not mention is diversity. All Members of this House can be very proud that we have the first British Asian Prime Minister. He was sworn in this morning, which is why today’s business questions are at an unusual time. I am very proud that my party has had three women Prime Ministers and now the first British Asian Prime Minister. Obviously, many other great British institutions are also enabling talent to thrive. Labour has a little way to go. Even “Doctor Who” has a more successful track record on the diversity of its lead characters.

All other business will be announced in the usual way.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) rightly described the importance and significance of the role of the Leader of the House. My right hon. Friend knows I am glad she is doing it, partly because it is good for the House and partly because it is bad for the Labour party.

After Prime Minister’s questions, this session is one of the more interesting parts of the parliamentary week. I pay tribute to the Labour spokesperson for giving a review of the week, but may we turn to what should be considered in this House?

I ask the Leader of the House whether we may have the Government’s statement, as soon as possible, on changing the fees for park home residents from using the retail price index to using the consumer prices index, which is long overdue. We need to deal with the issue of the 10% commission whenever anyone changes their home.

On residential leasehold, we need to have the Law Commission’s proposals brought to the House and enacted.

Lastly, on 6 July and 7 September, I put questions to the then Prime Ministers about environmental problems, where inspectors can come and overrule a borough, district or unitary authority’s plans for their area. We must no longer have expensive barristers arguing in a small room over something that local voters have voted on—this happens in areas represented by parties on both sides of the House—in order to avoid having green areas that were not intended to be built on being built over by developers who have more money, persistence and expertise than the planners, whose job is to do the planning not to be a judicial committee of lawyers. May we please get this changed? We should be building on brownfield sites, not greenfield, and we should let local authorities make their own decisions.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks regarding me and my post. He will know that the new Secretary of State is no stranger to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and I am sure will grip these issues swiftly. On my hon. Friend’s sentiments on greenfield versus brownfield sites, local consent and putting people in the driving seat, I think all Conservative Members would agree with him.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is good to see the Leader of the House in her place. I am glad to hear that she is not too disappointed to find herself back here again, answering probing questions from the House, such as this one: if the new Prime Minister can claim yesterday a mandate to govern based on the Tory 2019 manifesto, why will he not recognise the even clearer mandate for an independence referendum, as laid out in multiple SNP manifestos and voted for by a clear majority of Scottish voters, as legitimate? I look forward to the Leader of the House’s answer.

Weren’t there waves of relief from those on the Tory Benches yesterday as they joyfully registered that their jobs were possibly safe for a little while longer? However, criticism has already begun about the new Prime Minister’s choices and judgment; it has been described by others far unkinder than me as a Cabinet of retreads. That does not point to a bright new future for this Government. Most questionably, perhaps, we now have a Home Secretary who admitted breaking the ministerial code, apparently multiple times, and resigned over it just days ago, but she has been given a free pass back. Yes, an investigation is needed, but should this place not produce a guide or pamphlet on “How to be a Secretary of State” —or even a “Secretary of State for Dummies”—for those chosen for these positions?

I do not wish to trivialise the Westminster psychodrama, but there is news that makes all that look like the proverbial storm in a teacup: the three main greenhouse gases were at their highest level ever in 2021, and the UK is not even halfway to meeting its climate targets in the 2030s and being net zero by 2050. Yet new licences for oil and gas exploration are being issued; we have a climate Minister who seems to think that that is good news for the environment; and the COP26 President has lost his position and influence at the Cabinet table, although he has since demanded that the Prime Minister explain how increased licensing dovetails with the UK’s legally binding green commitments. I hope that the Leader of the House will not be tempted to refer to the lazy haverings of Scottish branch colleagues and accuse the SNP of not supporting oil and gas workers in the industry. After all, the Scottish Government have committed £500 million to transitioning from a reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy, a commitment the UK Government have still to match.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations warns that we are rapidly approaching the point of no return and that we must prioritise the climate or face catastrophe. Is it not time this Government took seriously the message that scientists, academics, students and ordinary citizens are trying to tell us through their protests and all work together urgently to reach net zero and quite literally save our planet?

The hon. Lady asks me why we do not acknowledge the mandate to have a referendum. As I say every week, it is because we have had one. I long for the day when SNP Members will follow the democratic mandate of the people of Scotland. It was a once-in-a-generation vote. Now is not the time to be trying to have another one. People should be focused on the needs of the Scottish people—on improving educational standards and getting people access to health. However, I know that is what I say to her every week, so let me give her another reason. We learn today that, for there to be an independent Scotland in Europe, Scotland would have to join the euro. If she can tell us how she intends to do that, I will be happy to take her question again.

I welcome my right hon. Friend back to her place. Some weeks ago, I asked her about the urgent matter of the Worcester Warriors, and since then both they and Wasps have gone into administration. With rumours that the rugby organisations want to see a 10-team top league, can we have an urgent debate about the future of rugby union in England and how we keep the benefits it brings to so many constituencies such as mine?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this incredibly important matter again. The date for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions has not yet been announced, but I encourage him to apply for a debate in the usual way and I shall write to that Department about the issue he raises.

I welcome the Leader of the House back to her place and thank her for announcing the Backbench Business debates for Thursday 3 November, a week from today. I am sorry that she could not be with us at 11.10 am. Although she may have been unavoidably engaged in other duties, it means that the time for Backbench Business debates this afternoon has been reduced by almost an hour. I say that on behalf of the Members who have put in to speak in those debates.

As the House is not due to be sitting on Thursday 10 November and the autumn statement is now scheduled for Thursday 17 November, may I ask the Leader of the House whether other time will be made available in those weeks, notwithstanding the planned rail strikes on both 7 and 9 November?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Unfortunately, we were given two choices today: to delay the start of business questions by suspending the House or to take business questions in between the two Backbench Business debates. After consulting colleagues, it was felt that the former was going to cause the least disruption to hon. Members. On his other issue, I shall come back to him.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister used his first outing at the Dispatch Box to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the levelling-up agenda. It is already making a huge difference in towns such as Long Eaton in my constituency, where a £25 million towns fund deal is beginning to become a reality. The levelling-up fund could transform Ilkeston and other towns in my constituency if our £20 million bid is successful. Prior to the latest round of announcements of the successful bids, can we have a debate in Government time so that Members can again put forward the reasons why they should be successful in the levelling-up bids?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. She knows that we will be investing close to £5 billion over the next four years on infrastructure projects and culture, but we will be very much focused on towns and city centres as well. I know that she has been championing her local bid and I encourage her to apply for a Westminster Hall debate on the subject.

In the early hours of Monday morning, three people were shot in my constituency. Two have died and a third is still in intensive care. Since January, eight people have been murdered in my constituency, including Zara Aleena, whom I spoke to the then Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s questions about, and Hina Bashir. Both of them were murdered in psychotic acts of violence against women. Violent crime is now blighting Ilford in a serious way. I am horrified that the place I have lived in most of my life and grew up in is now so badly impacted. All I want to know is whether the Government will provide some decent considered time, in Government time, to talk about how we genuinely combat violence, not just against women, but against the young people who are losing their lives, sadly on an almost weekly basis, in Ilford.

I was very sorry to hear about the several incidents in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I am sure that all hon. Members will want to send their thoughts to the families of the victims. We hope that the person who survived that terrible attack will make a recovery. It is incredibly important that we tackle violent crime. The Government have lifted restrictions on stop and search and removed more than 72,000 knives and dangerous weapons in recent times, but more needs to be done. I am sure that, if the hon. Gentleman wanted to apply for a Backbench Business debate, he would have support across the House for it.

In the past week many of my constituents have been afflicted by flooding from sewerage systems that are completely inadequate. Developments have taken place, but no further improvement of the sewerage system in Harrow has been made. May we have a debate in Government time on what measures we can put in place to ensure that, when developers put in applications for developments, proper consideration is given to sewerage systems so that people are not afflicted with unnecessary flooding?

This is incredibly important. Planning committees need to give due regard to infrastructure not just for developments but, for example, for the astroturfing of pitches and so forth. I will raise this matter with the new Secretary of State. I also encourage my hon. Friend to raise it in questions.

Recognising that children and youngsters quickly outgrow football boots, in 2019 Karl Bradley and his fabulous volunteers Tracy, Nanette and Rhys set up The Boot Room, a swap and donate your boots scheme based at Pure Football in Swansea East. This month it is celebrating its third birthday. It has ensured that more than 1,500 pairs of pre-loved boots have found a new home. It also now offers a limited number of shorts, shirts, socks and shin pads, thus ensuring that there are no barriers to young people enjoying the beautiful game. Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing The Boot Room a happy birthday and congratulating Karl and his team on all their hard work in bringing joy to so many young people?

I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate Karl, Tracy, Nanette and Rhys. What a fabulous project. I thank the hon. Lady for allowing us all to pay tribute to them.

A previous chief constable of Bedfordshire described police IT as “yesterday’s IT tomorrow”. I am hearing alarming stories that it now takes officers up to a day and a half to input case files, when it used to take 40 minutes. May we have an urgent debate in Government time? The public want the police out on the streets catching criminals, not hunched over their computers.

I fully understand why my hon. Friend is so annoyed at this situation. I will certainly write to the Home Office to make it aware of this. One of the benefits of the representation we have in this House is that good practice can be shared. If he were to apply for a debate, we could see what other forces do and how they ensure that the 20,000 new officers that we are putting in to frontline policing are able to serve their communities and are not stuck behind a desk doing admin.