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Commons Chamber

Volume 729: debated on Thursday 9 March 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 9 March 2023

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Football Club Governance: Fans’ Views

1. What steps she is taking to help ensure the views of fans are taken into account in the running of football clubs. (903938)

Fans are absolutely at the heart of football. As we set out in our White Paper, we are introducing an independent regulator for English football clubs, which will put fans back at the centre of how football is run. The regulator will require every club to meet a minimum standard of engagement and will ensure that fans have veto rights on issues such as a change of badge or home shirt colour, and are consulted on any stadium sale. Those are strong protections for fans across the country.

I agree with the Secretary of State. The Blackburn Rovers Supporters Trust is an integral part of Blackburn’s community and is at the heart of everything that happens. The trust was pleased that the White Paper eventually came forward, and welcomed most aspects of it, but it was disappointed that the Government did not make shadow boards or the golden share a requirement of the IREF’s licensing system. It feels that the reforms will not achieve the spirit of the fan-led review if fans do not have a voice. Will the Secretary of State consider, with the participation of supporters trusts, making shadow boards a minimum requirement for the football regulator’s licensing system?

What the hon. Lady says about football clubs being at the heart of their community is the case up and down the country. Our reforms make sure that fans have an integral say in matters that affect them. We are already seeing, and will see, shadow boards at premier league level, but I am confident that the changes that we are bringing in will give fans a greater say in football.

Can the Secretary of State outline to the House how the independent regulator will help with the financial sustainability of clubs, and how it will limit the power of owners, who may wish to gamble with their club’s future to reach the premier league and may fail, as was the case recently with Derby County?

The hon. Member makes an important point. Financial stability is one reason that we have brought in an independent regulator: to ensure that clubs are stable and are not destroyed, which then destroys communities, as I mentioned. The independent regulator will ensure financial stability and there will be owners’ and directors’ tests to ensure that we know who owns clubs and that they have the funds to maintain them.

Charity Sector: Cost of Living

We know that many charities are seeing increased demand for their services from individuals, and they are contending with increased running costs, which is having an impact on their financial situation. With Government support, charities have shown significant resilience over the last few years. I and my Department regularly engage with sector stakeholders and continue to monitor the impact of rising costs.

Research into charities and donation trends has revealed that 36% of consumers will cut their charitable donations in the next three months, which may see charities lose up to £580 million. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the cost of living on the charity sector amid concerns of economic viability? What additional steps can the Government take to support charities through these difficult times?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue; it is one reason that I have made sure that I am continually engaging with the sector to understand exactly what the situation is and how it is dealing with it. There has been significant support in the past and I continue to talk to colleagues across Government about how we can help. I was also pleased that this week, as a result of the dormant assets scheme, a further £76 million has been allocated specifically to address cost of living problems.

Inclusion in Sport

The Government believe that the opportunity to play sport and get physically active should be available to everyone. Sport is central to our national cultural identity, so it must be welcoming to all. We are working closely with Sport England, UK Sport and national governing bodies to improve inclusion across the sector, from the grassroots to the elite level.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I am a patron of Harrogate Gateway FC, which is a football club specifically for people with learning disabilities who just wish to play the sport they love. How does my right hon. Friend work with national and regional sporting bodies to ensure there are clubs and teams in all our communities that enable participation in sport, with all of the benefits that flow from that?

I join my hon. Friend in saying thank you to Harrogate Gateway football club for the work it is doing in helping people with learning disabilities. Sport England recently awarded £1.5 million to Special Olympics GB to help provide innovative opportunities, and inclusion in sport is an integral part of the work we are doing. I am delighted that, yesterday, we ensured equal opportunities for girls and boys at school, announcing over £600 million for school sports. Our forthcoming sport strategy will set out further detail about how we want to make sport more inclusive.

The Government’s failure to include swimming pools and leisure centres in the list of energy-intensive industries that would qualify for support with their energy bills post April is leading to a number of these centres being closed. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the closure of swimming pools and leisure centres, particularly on some of the poorest communities in England? What is he doing to get the Treasury to change its mind?

I have had extensive engagement both with the sector and the all-party parliamentary group on swimming, as well as with the Local Government Association recently, to understand exactly what the situation is, and I have to say that it is different in different parts of the country. We are making an assessment, and I am having further discussions with colleagues across Government about what may be a plan for the future.

Following the Lionesses’ stunning success in the Euros, it is important that we capitalise on the momentum behind women’s football, so we welcome the Government’s commitment to equal access to school sport for boys and girls—we have been calling for that for a long time. How are the Government going to make sure that schools have the facilities to be able to deliver that and how are they going to measure it?

As I said a moment ago, I am delighted that we made the announcement yesterday of over £600 million—it is a significant investment—to ensure that the provision of PE and sport in school is available and that there is equal access for boys and girls. We are also working on a kitemark, so that we will ensure that the quality of the provision is—

Order. Can the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) come back into the Chamber until there have been two full questions? I have one more Member waiting, too. Carry on, Minister.

Think-tanks: Charitable Status

4. Whether she has had recent discussions with the Charity Commission on the potential impact of the charitable status of some think-tanks on the transparency, accountability and effective regulation of those bodies. (903941)

Think-tanks in England and Wales that have charitable status must ensure that they abide by the same rules that apply to all charities under charity law. That includes meeting the Charity Commission’s reporting requirements, and in so doing, demonstrating transparency and accountability to the public.

A number of think-tank charities do exactly what the Minister has suggested, and they gain plaudits from transparency campaigners for their willingness to be open about who funds them. There are others that refuse to give out any meaningful information. They take millions of pounds from American oil companies, and produce so-called research briefings that deny climate change and encourage Governments to ban legitimate protest against oil and gas development, for example. A lot of them are housed at 55 Tufton Street, and pay their rent to a wealthy donor to the Conservative party. They do not ever educate anybody, which for an education charity might be seen to be a wee bit of a problem. What they are in effect doing is laundering money, by taking money from sources that are, by law, prohibited from funding party political activities in the United Kingdom, and using it to promote politically biased research. When are the Government going to get to grips with that, and recognise that a research institution that does not follow the rules of ethics is not a research institution and is not an educational charity, but a political organisation that should be regulated and taxed on that basis?

If the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) has a specific concern about an individual charity or organisation, he needs to raise that with the Charity Commission. It is the regulator, and he must take that up with the commission.

I thank the Minister for meeting me a few weeks ago to talk about Grimsby ice rink. The ice rink is coming up to 50 years old, and it probably has about two years of life left. Places such as Grimsby have not had the kind of investment from Sport England that we would really like, and it could be key to regenerating a new area in Grimsby that is currently very deprived. Can he meet me?

Cultural and Charitable Organisations: Cost of Living

5. What steps she is taking to support (a) cultural and (b) charitable organisations during the cost of living crisis. (903943)

This is a difficult time for DCMS sectors, including our cultural and charitable organisations, given increased running costs. We remain firmly on their side. The Government have taken action to support such organisations with their bills, but my Department is continuing to engage with both cultural and charitable organisations to monitor the impact.

Thanks to the Government’s economic illiteracy and punitive welfare policies, cultural organisations are facing closure and millions are living in poverty. Cultural community groups and food banks almost entirely rely on donations to stay afloat and meet demand. Is it not an abdication of this Government’s duty—and unsustainable—to leave it to charitable donations from the public to fill gaps left by the state?

As someone who spent 16 years of their life working in the charity sector, I would say no. I think that charities have an amazing role to play within our communities, and we have been right behind them. During the covid pandemic, we provided more than £750 million for them, and, as I say, we are continuing to work with them to ensure that they have the support that they need.

The cost of living crisis appears to have caused the BBC to announce that some of the finest musicians in the world will lose their jobs. The BBC’s new strategy for classical music plans to “deliver savings” by axing the world-famous BBC Singers, the only full-time professional choir in the UK, and making 20% redundancies in all BBC orchestras. These plans have been described as

“a dark and shocking day…for the world of choral music”

and “cultural vandalism”.

I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to support the call on the BBC to reconsider the devastating and damaging decision to disband the BBC Singers and make 20% of jobs redundant in all of its orchestras.

As the hon. Lady will know, of course, the BBC is operationally independent, but my colleagues in the Department regularly meet the BBC, and I am sure they will be happy to raise many of the issues that she has just brought to the House.

BBC Mid-term Review

I know that my right hon. Friend has a keen interest in this matter and a great deal of knowledge on it. I was pleased to discuss this matter, and a number of others, with him very recently. The mid-term review is an important milestone in the Government’s road map to BBC reform, and work is well under way. We are currently analysing feedback from a wide range of stakeholders and will set out the detail on the timetable in due course.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the requirement to be politically impartial must cover all those who are presenters on the BBC, including the highest paid? While individual contracts are a matter for the BBC, will she confirm that the mid-term review will cover the issue of enforcement of that rule on freelancers, as well as full-time employees?

As somebody whose grandmother escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I think it is really disappointing and inappropriate to compare Government policy on immigration to events in Germany in the 1930s. It is important for the BBC to maintain impartiality if it is to retain the trust of the public, who pay the licence fee. The BBC is operationally independent, and I am pleased that the BBC will be speaking to Gary Lineker to remind him of his responsibilities in relation to social media.

Further to that, will she meet again with the director-general to ensure that the BBC reviews the contract of well-known multimillionaire lefty Lineker—who presents himself as a sports presenter with very scandalous views about Government policy—to decide whether he is a sports presenter or a political pundit who should be paid about £1.3 million less than he currently is from the public purse?

I think that I have made my views on this subject clear. The BBC has a 10-point plan in relation to impartiality, but it is absolutely important that it maintains impartiality so that the public retain trust in it.

It is now over six weeks since it was revealed that the chairman of the BBC helped the former Prime Minister to secure an £800,000 loan before he was selected for the job. Today he remains in post. What immediate steps has the Secretary of State taken to restore trust in the independence of the BBC, in the appointment system and in the Government?

As the hon. Member will know, there is an investigation by the commissioner for employment. It is ongoing and I am awaiting the outcome.

Musicians: Cost of Living

7. What discussions she has had with music industry representatives on the impact of increases in the cost of living on musicians. (903945)

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Ministers regularly engage with music industry representatives from across the live music and recorded music sectors. I met representatives from Live to hear directly about the challenges facing musicians. I look forward to meeting the Music Venue Trust shortly, to hear more from the grassroots music sector on the cost of living pressures.

I am sure the Minister will want to join me in congratulating Mae Muller on being selected as the UK’s representative at Eurovision in Liverpool.

Surely the Minister acknowledges that the creative sector has probably been the most heavily impacted sector throughout this cost of living crisis, and that musicians have probably been the most impacted within that sector. Earnings for recordings are next to zero, Europe is effectively closed to them, musicians who want to travel to the US face visa problems, and studios and rehearsal spaces are at great risk because of sky-high energy bills. The charity Help Musicians has found that 90% of musicians—the lifeblood of the music sector—are worried about how they are going to pay their next food bill, and half are thinking about leaving the industry. Does the Minister believe that this is the worst possible time to be an aspiring musician, and what is she going to do to rectify the situation and support our musicians?

As a musician himself, the hon. Gentleman is a tremendous champion of the music industry, and I appreciate all the work he does. He has raised a series of points. On an individual level, the Government have put forward a substantial package to help people through the cost of living crisis. That is an extension of the cultural recovery fund. We also have the Arts Council England fund for supporting grassroots live music. He highlighted issues about US visas, which I am very concerned about and on which we are engaging with US counterparts. I encourage him to get the industry to engage with that consultation, and I am happy to engage with him on some of the issues he raises.

Many musicians are self-employed and lose out on cost of living payments, particularly early on in their careers, because of the operation of the minimum income floor. They have variable incomes early on, which was raised on Monday with Department for Work and Pensions Ministers. Will the Minister and her DCMS colleagues give their support to meeting representatives of self-employed musicians, to find a workable way through and to make sure that they are not unfairly penalised by how they build their careers in their early stages?

The Department is very alive to the challenges facing freelancers, and we are looking at this in the creative sector vision. I know that my hon. Friend is passionate about this area, particularly in relation to opera. I assure him that it is something on which we continue to engage with other Departments.

Further to the pertinent question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), industry surveys indicate that half of musicians across the UK are contemplating leaving the industry. Not just individual musicians are affected. Grassroots music venues run at pre-tax profits of barely 0.2%. With the triple whammy of Brexit, covid and the cost of living crisis, many may have to close, destroying the ecosystem that nurtures and sustains emerging talent. What assessment have Ministers made of the potential impact that easing the tax burden on music venues could have on improving the outlook for this important sector of our music industry?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising those important questions, some of which we engage on regularly with the Treasury, particularly energy. As I said in my previous answer, we have schemes to support grassroots venues. The ACE scheme has been extended to March and we will continue to look at what more we can do to support this important sector.

Gambling-related Harms

8. What recent discussions she has had with gambling industry representatives on tackling gambling-related harms. (903946)

I know that the hon. Member, as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm, has a keen interest in this issue. Tackling gambling-related harm is a priority of mine. I have met the Betting and Gaming Council, the British Amusement Catering Trade Association and the Bingo Association, as well as some of those with lived experience of gambling harms, including the Gambling Commission’s lived experience advisory panel and those involved with Gambling with Lives. I also recently discussed with the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust how gambling affects young people. All of that will support our evidence-led gambling review, and we will publish a White Paper setting out our conclusions shortly.

I know this is an important area for the Minister, too. Figures published by Public Health England estimate that the total cost of gambling harm to public health ranges from £754.4 million to £1.475 billion. These costs have been attributed to suicide, depression, homelessness and alcohol dependence among adults, so when will the Secretary of State publish the long-awaited White Paper? Will she commit to including a statutory levy and stringent affordability checks to ensure people are protected and do not gamble more than they can afford?

The hon. Lady rightly highlights the impact gambling can have on some vulnerable people. This is the most thorough review of gambling laws since the Gambling Act 2005 was passed, and we need to get it right so that our regulation is not just fit for the digital age but protects those who are vulnerable. We are looking at the best available evidence, including from the 16,000 submissions to our call for evidence, and we will be publishing our findings very shortly.

Film and Television Production Industry

9. What steps she is taking to help expand the film and television production industry; and if she will make a statement. (903947)

The Government are committed to supporting our world-leading broadcasters and film and television industries. This includes ensuring that public service content is easy to find on a wide range of TV platforms; delivering our UK global screen fund, which is investing £21 million in the international growth of independent screen productions across the UK; and continuing to support the screen sector’s tax reliefs, which provided more than £1 billion in support in the last financial year.

Back in 1982, at the Oscars, Colin Welland said, “The British are coming!” Do you know what? The British have come. I understand that—[Interruption.] You are making me laugh, Mr Speaker. I understand that, by next year, we will have more film stages in the UK than in Hollywood. Will my right hon. and learned Friend continue to support the British film industry, which generates so many US dollars for the British economy?

I will continue to champion this fundamental sector. I am pleased to see that productions supported by the Government’s film and TV production restart scheme and the UK global screen fund were recognised by both BAFTA and Oscar nominations. Indeed, these schemes have supported £3 billion in production spend across the UK and protected more than 100,000 jobs. We are committed to supporting these sectors and to building on our record production spending of more than £6 billion in 2022.

Cornwall is a fantastic setting for TV programmes such as the fantastic “Delicious” with Dawn French, filmed at Pentillie castle, and the new “Beyond Paradise”, filmed in Looe, or big movies such as “Alice in Wonderland”, filmed at Antony House. Those are just three productions that go beside the likes of “Poldark”, “Doc Martin” and even James Bond. What more can be done to promote Cornwall as a filming location?

I agree that Cornwall is a fabulous backdrop for any film, and the UK global screen fund has supported the launch of “Enys Men”, which was also filmed in Cornwall. I was pleased to see Screen Cornwall’s British Film Institute-funded report on how to establish Cornwall as a creative cluster of significance.

I was delighted earlier this week to host a group of female film and television composers in the House of Commons to celebrate their achievements, but our pipeline of writers of music for film and television is under threat if our musicians cannot travel easily to tour in the United States. I am glad the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), expressed concern about this when she answered my recent question, but she said:

“The UK Government cannot interfere in another country’s processes and must respect their systems, just as we expect them to respect the UK’s processes.”

Can the Secretary of State not do a bit better and at least tell the House that the Government are making representations to the US authorities, on behalf of our wonderful musicians and composers, to try to make sure they do not implement these punitive increases in visa costs?

Yes, we are making representations, across Government. Ultimately it is not our decision, but we will be and are making those representations. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about skills and the pipeline, which I am looking carefully at.

York’s XR Stories has opened up new and unique opportunities in the digital creative space and will accelerate the UK’s global digital media offer, which, as the Secretary of State will know, will play a significant role in the future creative economy. So what steps is she taking to invest in the digital creative cluster? Will she meet me to talk about York’s opportunity to accelerate the UK’s place in a global space?

We have a number of creative clusters across the UK and I am absolutely committed to ensuring that they continue to grow, because the creative industries have grown at twice the rate of the wider economy since 2010, generating £116 billion in 2019. The sector is important to me, as I know it is to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.

Topical Questions

It was my pleasure to join schoolgirls and England Lionesses for football training in Downing Street yesterday, as we marked International Women’s Day. The event accompanied a major package of support for school sport. That, alongside our recent plans for an independent regulator for football and the biggest ever investment in grassroots facilities, shows that the Government are committed to protecting the long-term sustainability of the game, and sport in general.

Today, we are announcing that youth clubs, charities and many other organisations will benefit from our £30 million know your neighbourhood fund, which aims to create volunteering opportunities and tackle loneliness in disadvantaged areas.

Although not legislated for, intrusive affordability guidelines from the Gambling Commission are estimated to be costing the British horse-racing levy at least £40 million a year and are driving punters either to the black market or away from the sport altogether. Will my right hon. and learned Friend outline to the House whether the Gambling Commission warned her Department of the impact those decisions would have on the sport?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government remain committed to supporting the horse-racing sector and have committed to review the levy by 2024.

First, let me welcome the new Secretary of State to her promoted position. I have always found her to be a thoughtful and effective Minister, and I look forward to working with her in the future.

Since the gambling review was launched, 10 different gambling Ministers and Culture Secretaries have all failed to publish a White Paper. I know that the Secretary of State is personally committed to gambling reform, but, as she just said a few moments ago, she wants to look fresh at these issues herself. Does she not recognise that this is a massive disappointment for all those concerned —the families who have lost loved ones, those waiting for more research and preventive reports, and even the industry itself, which wants regulatory certainty? So when will she publish the White Paper?

I thank the hon. Lady for what she said, and I look forward to working closely and collaboratively with her on things that matter to our constituents across the country. I recognise that it is important to get the review out as soon as possible, and I assure her that that is what we are doing. I also wish to recognise that while the review has been going on, action has been taken: regulators have banned gambling on credit cards; they have clamped down on VIP schemes; they have strengthened the rules on how online operators prevent harm; they have updated advertising—

Order. I am sorry but I have only 10 minutes to try to get people in. We have to think of other Members; it is not self-indulgent Front-Bench day.

T3. The Theakston crime writing festival launches its 20th anniversary programme later this month, and the festival itself will take place in July. It brings people to Harrogate from across the country and across the world. Has my right hon. and learned Friend made an assessment of the role of arts festivals in driving the visitor economy, including international visitors? (903970)

I thank my hon. Friend for championing a fantastic festival in his constituency and congratulate the organisers on their 20th anniversary. VisitBritain has found that 3% of trips in the UK are made to attend a festival, which equates to more than £1.4 billion a year in spend. That is making a tremendous difference to communities such as the one he represents.

T4. I am sure that the Secretary of State will be aware of the tragic crush during the O2 Brixton Academy concert on 15 December. Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson sadly lost their lives, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in passing on our condolences to their families. Three separate investigations have been launched into the criminal, licensing and security aspects, but there is no single authority looking at what happened. I have written to the Secretary of State and her predecessor. Will she meet me to discuss the Government’s role in getting full answers for the victims’ families and ensuring the safety of similar venues nationally? (903972)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. What happened in her constituency was an absolute tragedy and I pass my condolences on to the people affected. We have received her letter, and I am terribly sorry that it has not yet received a response. I was made aware of that only last week. I am asking for this to be looked into, because I appreciate that she has highlighted things that she sees as gaps in the system, but, as she knows, the Met is also investigating this. I will look very carefully to see whether they highlight issues that the Government themselves need to consider.

It was encouraging to see the news this week that Amazon Prime video is taking steps to adopt the British Board of Film Classification ratings. However, this makes the decision of Disney+ to continue to disregard UK best practice even more disappointing. Do the Government agree that it makes it far harder for parents to properly regulate their children’s viewing when age ratings are unfamiliar?

I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work on supporting parents and children in transparency in this area. Something that we want to do in the media Bill is to regulate video on demand in the same way that we do with broadcast. We continue to view the BBFC age ratings as best practice, and I too welcome the news this week about Amazon taking on those ratings.

T6.   The leisure sector faces severe challenges coming out of covid and seeing energy bills increasing by 300%. Leisure centres in my constituency have contacted me to ask why they are excluded from the Government’s energy and trade intensive industries scheme. Can the Minister tell me why publicly owned pools and centres have been left off the list of sectors eligible for vital support, and does he acknowledge that closures of not-for-profit facilities are inevitable unless something is done? (903974)

As I said earlier, I am acutely aware of the difficulties that are being felt, but they are happening in different parts of the country, which is why we are taking time to have a look at exactly where those specific problems are and what measures we may be able to take to introduce some help and support. The other thing to think about is that some of these buildings are very old and very expensive to run, so we perhaps need to consider a longer-term solution as well.

As my hon. Friend will know, the creative industries have grown at twice the rate of the wider economy since 2010. Does she agree that, by harnessing the power of science and technology, the sector can continue to prosper and grow? Will she meet me to discuss what more we can do to ensure that this is the place in which to create digital content?

I thank my hon. Friend for championing this role and for all the work that he does on science, technology, engineering and maths, which has such an important overlap with what is going on in the creative industries. We have a creative sector vision coming up, and I am also pleased to highlight that his council, Basildon, has put forward a fantastic bid for a creative centre for screen and immersive tech, and we will be announcing soon whether that has been successful.

T7. What plans does the Secretary of State have to undertake a rigorous research project on the positive societal benefits of community boxing clubs, such as those across my constituency? (903975)

The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of community boxing clubs. I was very pleased to visit one in Bradford very recently. These clubs are often run by superb volunteers, and that will be a feature in our sporting strategy.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the coronation is not only a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our culture and history—in Lincolnshire, for instance, we hope that the King’s Champion from Scrivelsby will go on having a role, as he has done for 1,000 years—but an opportunity to bring in new people who have never been before. Will she encourage groups representing the young, in particular, to be represented?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is an opportunity for everybody across all parts of the UK to take part. There will be the Coronation Big Lunch street parties and the Big Help Out, as well as screens out for people to enjoy what is a very important celebration on the day itself.

Will the Sports Minister come to Huddersfield to see what is going at Huddersfield Town AFC and Huddersfield Giants, in the teams and the stadium? Will the Secretary of State support my campaign to keep the National Rugby League Museum in or very close to the George Hotel, where it was founded?

How could I possibly refuse an invitation to come down the road to Huddersfield? I would be more than happy to do that and look at the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. Of course, you would want to ensure, Mr Speaker, that rugby league remains in the heart of the community in which it serves.

I know from a previous answer that Ministers share my concern that high energy costs have led to the closure or reduction in hours in around 350 public swimming pools. Will Ministers join me in urging their Cabinet colleagues to give public pools the support that is available to other sectors to enable them to continue playing their essential role in keeping people healthy?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. I repeat that I am completely aware of the situation faced by many pools and leisure centres. The multiple questions that I have had on that today certainly help my case in my discussions with colleagues across Government.

Which is the greater evidence of political bias: Gary Lineker criticising the Government’s language from his private Twitter account, or the chairman of the BBC giving donations to the Conservative party?

I think that we have dealt with both those questions today. It is important, when people funded by the BBC make comments, that the BBC considers them. I know that the BBC is speaking to Gary Lineker.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter ID: May 2023 Elections

1. Whether the committee has had discussions with the Electoral Commission on whether it plans to make an estimate of the number of voters turned away at polling stations for not having acceptable ID on 4 May 2023. (903956)

4. Whether the committee has had discussions with the Electoral Commission on whether it plans to make an estimate of the number of voters turned away at polling stations for not having acceptable ID on 4 May 2023. (903961)

The Speaker’s Committee has not had discussions with the Electoral Commission on the matter referred to. The commission will publish a full report on how the May elections were delivered. That will cover how voters found taking part and any lessons that can be learned for the future. As part of that process, the commission will examine evidence about how the new voter ID requirement was implemented. It will collect data from every local authority that held elections, including about the number of voters who did not bring an accepted form of ID to the polling station and were therefore unable to vote.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. It is good news that data will be collected on the number of voters who get turned away for not having ID at a polling station, but as we all know, parties often have tellers outside who will remind people about the voter ID requirements, so how can the Electoral Commission collect data on voters who turn away before they even get into the polling station?

My hon. Friend, who is a seasoned campaigner and is familiar with the scenes outside polling stations, has identified the potential gap in the data. Of course, polling station staff will not be able to collect data from people who do not go into the polling station. However, the commission has identified that as a potential issue and will undertake public opinion research on the reasons why people did or did not vote in the elections.

The new voter ID regulations have removed from millions of people across the country the right to vote unobstructed, and local authorities are already reporting a number of problems in implementing them. If we cannot collect accurate data on how many people are turned away, there is a risk that results may be challenged, undermining trust in our democracy. Does the hon. Lady agree that the plans should be halted for the May elections and scrapped altogether?

It is clear that the issue of elections being challenged in electoral courts would be a matter for the courts, not the commission. The commission is doing everything possible to ensure that the polls are delivered as successfully as possible and to the highest standard. There does remain the established petition process to challenge the result of elections in the circumstances that the hon. Lady identifies.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Best Start for Life Policy Paper

2. What steps the Church of England is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) family hubs and (b) the other policies in the Department of Health and Social Care policy paper entitled “Best start for life: a vision for the 1,001 critical days”, published on 25 March 2021. (903958)

My right hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner for families and young children. The Church strongly supports family hubs and their further expansion. The Church is already supporting many of the “Best start for life” recommendations through our messy church and toddler groups, and the Archbishops’ commission on families and households will report next month.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the 75 local authority areas in England that are taking part in the Government’s family hub and best start for life programme are required to work with not just the public sector, but charities, faith groups and volunteers, to roll out the support services to give every baby the best start for life? Can he tell us what connections there are between the Church and those local authority areas to make that a reality?

I am delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend says. I can tell her that the Church works commission chaired by the Bishop of Durham includes 15 major denominations and is working very closely with the National Centre for Family Hubs. Churches are already involved in delivering 18 out of the 24 areas for delivery, and the key to that is good local authority joint working. I am pleased to say that there is lots of momentum—long may that continue.

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in welcoming the new Bishop of Huddersfield, announced yesterday? We will give her a very good welcome in Huddersfield. Those family hubs are something that she is very keen on, because she was part of their creation.

I am delighted to welcome the new Bishop of Huddersfield, and I am equally delighted that she is keen on family hubs. She will have a crucial role to play in making sure they succeed in the hon. Gentleman’s area.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Electoral Law: Political Donations and Donors

3. Whether the committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the strength and transparency of electoral law on political donations and donors. (903959)

The Speaker’s Committee has not held recent discussions on the matters raised. The UK has one of the most transparent political finance regimes in the world. However, the Electoral Commission has highlighted that modernisation and additional safeguards are needed so that voters can have greater confidence in the system. Its recommendations include new duties for parties to conduct risk assessments of donations and “know your donor” checks, and a requirement for companies to have made enough profit in the UK to fund any donations that they make.

I have spoken before about the Tories and unincorporated associations potentially being used as a route for foreign money to influence UK elections, with £1.7 million in registered donations linked to climate sceptics and fossil fuel interests. What is the Electoral Commission doing to bring more transparency to funding that is being channelled through those associations and mitigate the influence of lobbying groups?

The Electoral Commission has highlighted the weaknesses in the transparency requirements for political donations by unincorporated associations. They are not required to ensure that those who donate to them are permissible donors; there are also no transparency requirements in law for unincorporated associations that donate to candidates, rather than political parties or campaigners. The commission will continue to recommend changes to the law to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in political finance in the UK.

Charities acting as Think-tanks: Political Donations

5. Whether the committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the transparency, accountability and effective regulation of political donations to charities that act as think-tanks. (903962)

The Speaker’s Committee has not held recent discussions on the matters raised. The Electoral Commission regulates the spending of organisations campaigning during the regulated period ahead of an election or referendum. It also regulates donations to political parties, candidates and campaigners. Unless a think tank is engaged in regulated campaign activity or itself makes donations, it will fall outside of the commission’s remit. The commission does not have a role in regulating spending on political activity more generally.

According to an audit by openDemocracy and Who Funds You?, the least transparently funded think tanks have raised more than £14 million in the past two years from mystery donors, with the likes of the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and the TaxPayers Alliance refusing to declare all their funders. That is followed with estimates that $6 million is coming in from America. Is the Electoral Commission not concerned about the public influence that those right-wing think tanks have on our politics?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the commission does not have a role in monitoring the political activity of think tanks unless they are engaged in regulated campaigning ahead of an election or a referendum. The charitable activities of think tanks are regulated by the charity regulator for the relevant part of the UK, but the Electoral Commission would be happy to facilitate a meeting with the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to discuss this matter further with the commission.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Family Relationships, Parenting and Marriage

6. What steps the Church of England is taking to help support family relationships, parenting and marriage. (903963)

The Church will always support marriages and family relationships that are committed to mutual flourishing —Jesus’s first miracle was, after all, at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. The Archbishops’ commission to strengthen families and households will report next month.

The 2021 census has shown that people living on their own are more likely to be renting, less financially secure, have lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety. Some 60% of people living alone are men. Marriage is a sacred bond between man and woman. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should promote marriage at every opportunity and bring back tax allowances to suit?

My hon. Friend is right to look at all the measures that can support marriage, given that in the UK 23% of households are lone-parent households, compared with, say, 13% in the Netherlands. He is also correct that there is a lower burden of family taxation in France, Germany and the USA. There will be a range of measures to support marriage in the Archbishop’s proposals next month, which I hope my hon. Friend will support when they are published.

Can I say how very pleased I am to hear that answer from the hon. Gentleman? I am one who believes very much in the sanctity and importance of marriage. I have been married for 35 years to a long-suffering wife, Sandra. My mum and dad were married for 60 years, and Sandra’s mum and dad were married for 60 years, so we believe in marriage and its importance, as do others in this Chamber. What is the hon. Gentleman able to do to ensure that those having difficulties in marriage can have Relate discussions to ensure that their marriage can last for all their lives?

I am grateful to my friend the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. It is certainly my hope that churches across the country will be involved in the best possible marriage preparation, but also marriage support, because all of us get into bad habits, including the hon. Gentleman and me, and need little pointers and reminders from time to time.

I am not sure this is the right place to advertise virtue or claim vice.

Can I put it to my hon. Friend that the Church of England Children’s Society 50 years ago supported the social entrepreneur Bob Holman in establishing family centres? Can we praise the Church and all its parishes for the way they help to support the confidence and competence of parents, who often go through difficult situations?

I am grateful to the Father of the House for reminding us of that important fact and of what the Church has done in the past, and I hope he will be equally supportive of what our right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) is doing with her fantastic initiative on family hubs. That is an important continuation of that early work.

Outreach: Lichfield Diocese

I would be delighted to meet Michael Ipgrave, the new Lord Bishop of Lichfield, and I look forward to doing so very much indeed.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. In fact, I was present in the other place when the now Lord Bishop of Lichfield, Michael Ipgrave, was introduced. We have many outreach projects in Lichfield. There is the St Michael’s church project, which has set up a film club that meets every month, and it offers a meal and a warm space. There is “Burntwood Be A Friend” and so many others. Is there any manner by which different dioceses can learn from each other?

I thank my hon. Friend for his continuous support for not just the cathedral, but the whole diocese of Lichfield. He makes an excellent point about sharing best practice. Dare I say it, but in public life and in government, we often do not do that as well as we could, and it would be good if the Church could show the way and lead as an example in that area. He is absolutely right.

Same-sex Relationships: General Synod Decisions

8. What steps the Church of England is taking to implement the decisions of the General Synod on same-sex relationships; and if he will make a statement. (903966)

At the General Synod last month, it was agreed that the “Prayers of Love and Faith” would be finalised, that pastoral guidance for clergy would be produced, and that a culture of welcome towards LGBTQI+ people would be embedded throughout the Church.

I would be grateful for an assurance that there will not be any backsliding on the timescale on that, and that the pastoral guidance will deal finally with the issue of priests being able to marry and be freed from the current celibacy rules. On a wider issue, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that a number of provinces in the global Anglican communion have in effect made a unilateral declaration of independence from the Church of England. A small number of parishes here have begun to withhold their money from their dioceses in protest at these very small steps forward. Is it not increasingly clear that a small minority in the Church of England will never be reconciled with treating lesbian and gay people equally, and it would be better to let those people go, so that the Church can focus on the majority of Anglicans in this country who support treating lesbian and gay people equally?

The pastoral guidance is being worked on, and the bishops remain committed to implementing their response to Living in Love and Faith, which the General Synod approved last month. The timing may depend on the July Synod’s response to the pastoral guidance and “Prayers of Love and Faith”. The Synod is a democratic body and, like this Parliament, its decisions cannot be guaranteed in advance.

On the second part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question, he is correct that our proposals do not go far enough for some and go too far for others. There have always been disagreements in the Anglican communion, as there have been in the Church of England, and we need to learn to disagree well.

Nigeria: Killing and Abduction of Christians

9. Whether representatives of the Church of England have had recent discussions with the Church of Nigeria on taking steps to help tackle the killing and abduction of Christians in that country. (903967)

The murder and abduction of Christians in Nigeria is distressingly common, totally abhorrent and has gone on for far too long. The Bishop of Guildford was in Nigeria last November to support the Church of Nigeria, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who knows Nigeria well, stays constantly in touch with the situation there.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Clearly, the recent election in Nigeria has led to a complete spike in terms of violence, particularly towards Christians. What attempts are being made by the Church to reach out to Christians in Nigeria to assure them of our support, and to the victors of the election to make sure that they safeguard Christians in that country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that matter before the House. He is right to do so. I know that the Church of England and the Anglican communion will do exactly what he says. It is worth putting on the record that, even before the elections, 21 Christians were killed, and churches, houses and food were destroyed. In November last year, female students at the state university were raped in Bokkos and in January Catholic priest Isaac Achi was burned to death and another priest was shot and injured in Paikoro. Open Doors believes that Nigeria has the highest recorded level of violence against Christians in any country.

Of course, violent Islamist militants are not the only threat to Christians in Nigeria. The so-called motorbike bandits that operate in the border areas are abducting women and causing all kinds of violence. In the middle belt, Christian farmers face mass displacement and murder. It is not just about sending solidarity through the Church of England to Christians in Nigeria. What more can the Church of England do to influence the British Government and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to do more to assist Nigeria in defeating those militants who are persecuting Christians?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in this matter, which needs as much attention as we can give it. The Government are actively implementing the Bishop of Truro’s recommendation that the Church of England checks regularly with the Government that all those implementations are being put into place. He is right to mention that. It is ongoing work, incredibly serious, and we need to keep focusing on it.

Business of the House

On resuming—

The business for the week commencing 13 March will include:

Monday 13 March—Second Reading of the Illegal Migration Bill.

Tuesday 14 March—Debate on a motion on homelessness among Ukrainian refugees in the UK, followed by a debate on a motion on seizure of Russian assets. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 15 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.

Thursday 16 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 17 March—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 20 March will include:

Monday 20 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 21 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

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

The Leader of the House announced the asylum Bill. A week is supposed to be a long time in politics, but when it comes to Tory promises on small boats, in 86 weeks nothing has changed. Six hundred and two days ago, in the very place where the Leader of the House stood just now, her predecessor but one announced the Second Reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Government’s promises on small boats then are the same as we hear now. We want to stop the dangerous crossings—we want to—but it is clear that nothing that comes from the Government Benches is ever going to work. We have been here before, just like last year and the year before. Has the Leader of the House actually undertaken any post-legislative scrutiny of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 before they have another go? Do the Government think they achieved their aims on small boats? Let me help her out. The answer is no.

We were told that that Bill would end illegal migration and stop the people smugglers, but crossings have surged. Last year, arrivals reached a new high of 45,000, up from just 299 people in 2018. We were told the Bill would break the business model of the gangs, yet gangs made a record £180 million over the past 12 months from channel crossings, up more than a hundredfold in the last three years. We were told that asylum claims would be sped up, but less than 1% of them last year have been dealt with. And we were told that the Bill would end the use of hotels, but the number of asylum seekers housed in hotels and contingency accommodation has soared to a record level of over 37,000 people, costing over £5 million a day. The list of broken promises goes on and on.

There is no sign of change. The Home Secretary blames anyone but herself and her predecessors for Tory failure on small boats, but it is clearly on them. They have been here for 13 years. I notice that she is continuing to attack her own civil servants, who, according to her, are part of a so-called “activist blob”. Let me tell those civil servants: we know you have been working hard to deliver the Government’s policies and the next Labour Government will treat you with respect. She is also blaming Labour for blocking Tory policies. How? They have a majority, last time I looked! Is the Prime Minister so weak that he cannot keep his Back Benchers in line? Are we too good at convincing them of the Government’s failure? And it is not just on the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Guardian has recorded 43 announcements the Tories have made that then failed to tackle the channel crossings, from jet ski patrols to social media bans. Recycled rubbish. Rinse and repeat. If the Government had it their way, would they try again in another 602 days?

The Government treat legislation and precious time in this House as nothing more than a feeding frenzy, with Bill after Bill chucking red meat for a noisy minority of Back Benchers. Is that an attempt to whip up support for weak and failing leadership? Is that the best that the Leader of the House’s party has to offer the country? This time, will she at least give us the tools to scrutinise the Bill? Why have the Government, again, failed to publish an impact assessment with figures showing where the money will come from? Is it because it is uncosted? When will they publish an impact assessment? Will it be before Second Reading on Monday, or after? What do the Government have to hide? What about the practicalities?

My caseworkers tell me that the Home Office are having IT problems right now. How will they cope with processing all the other people affected by the Bill? Where will they put them? Under the Bill, will a woman who has been trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation, or an Afghan interpreter who worked with our brave forces, be told, “Your case won’t even be heard.”

The Government’s plan is unworkable and it is time for change. I look forward to swapping places with the right hon. Lady and announcing the day that this House will consider Labour’s credible plan for stopping small boats. [Interruption.] Are they listening? Labour’s plan to crack down on criminal gangs through a new cross-border police unit. Labour’s plan to clear the backlog and end hotel use through fast-tracking asylum decisions. Labour’s plan for agreements with France and other countries on returns and family reunions. Labour’s plan to reform resettlement schemes. Labour’s plan to tackle humanitarian crises at source. Labour has a plan. Is it not time that the British people had the chance to vote for it?

First, let me thank all Members who took part in events to celebrate International Women’s Day, and put on record that our thoughts are with all those women around the world who are standing up for human rights and democracy, particularly schoolgirls in Iran, who are facing the most brutal oppression. I thank everyone for the announcements on International Women’s Day. The Government have made many, and the Opposition too. I was buoyed by the shadow Chancellor’s pledge that Labour will end the “blokey culture” that lets men dominate the top positions—said with a distinct lack of self-awareness, I might add. I can no longer boast that we have had three female Prime Ministers on this side of the House because, happily, female leadership is becoming the norm in all political parties, bar one. For the sake of the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), I hope that changes soon.

Let me turn to the hon. Lady’s point about small boats. On civil servants, she will know that the Home Secretary has distanced herself from that language—she did not say that. We put on record our thanks to all civil servants for the work that they do. Before the debate descends to unfortunate depths, I want to remind the House that in the last two decades 300 people have lost their lives crossing the channel. They have been hit by cars, crushed by lorries, suffocated inside containers, electrocuted and hit by Eurostar trains, and drowned at sea. Many more died en route to the channel. I remind the House that in one night, more people died crossing the Mediterranean than were lost on the Titanic.

Deterring and preventing such horrors is the right thing to do. A good outcome requires some pragmatism and a reality check from everyone in this House. We want to honour our moral obligations to particular people. We want to help those who would otherwise not survive in refugee camps, as we did during the Syria conflict. We want a system that works well and is not overwhelmed. That is pragmatic, moral and compassionate. That is where the country is at and where their Government are at. It is where the Labour party claims to be, but its actions tell a different story. Labour says that it wants to stop the boats, but it is not prepared to help us do it. It is both for and against free movement, strikes, appearing on picket lines and nationalisation.

I say to the confused British public, “Look at what Labour Members do, not what they say. Are they discouraging strikes? Did they vote for minimum service levels to protect your interests? Did they support our measures to protect border security? Did they support tougher sentences for heinous crimes or the deportation of foreign criminals? Will they help us to stop the boats? If they answer no, how can they be on your side?”

Labour is borrowing from the Gary Lineker playbook. It is a party of goal-hangers and the occasional left-wing striker, hanging around the goalmouth, poised to seize any opportunities and take an easy shot—but that only works if the ball is in the right half. This country does not need goal-hangers; it needs centre-forwards. It needs people who put in the hard work, who take tough decisions, who grip a problem and work out how to solve it, and who create those opportunities. That is what we are doing. It needs a team captain who knows his own mind, has a plan and knows what colour his football shirt is. Labour might be up at half-time, but the second half is yet to be played.

I will not follow my right hon. Friend down the centre-forward path, as Tottenham did not succeed yesterday, but may I draw her attention to something in The Daily Telegraph today? Although the Government did not announce it at the Dispatch Box, we now understand, finally, that their position on the Wuhan lab leaks and on China’s involvement is that the location of the outbreak was “coincidental”. That Government policy has never been stated publicly, so will she make time for a Government statement, or preferably a debate, on whether the Government believe that China poses a threat and that the leaks from the labs may well have been the reason why millions died?

May I commiserate with my right hon. Friend on the Spurs result?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House want answers to these important questions, which have huge implications for our national security—as an aside, he will know that the integrated review refresh will appear shortly. I will certainly take up his question with the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, because I know that people are interested not just in the statements that this Government make, but in our assessment of what other Governments have said on this important matter. I undertake to write to him this afternoon on those points.

A few weeks ago, the Leader of the House praised the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), claiming that he spoke for many within Britain. He, of course, has voiced support for capital punishment and has instructed the poor and vulnerable on how they could subsist on a pittance if only they tried harder.

Well, Gary Lineker clearly speaks for many, many more of us, judging from the reactions when he voiced his revulsion at the language around the Government’s latest migration Bill. I am sure that the sight of that lectern emblazoned with its slogan shook him as much as it did me, once I realised that it was not a spoof. Ah, those three-word slogans, so beloved of some political operatives. “Stop the boats,” “Take back control,” “Oven-ready deal,” “Build the wall”—truly Trumptious tag lines, finessed by shady campaigning strategists to deliver grubby psychological jolts to the public’s consciousness that will really drive their ugly, misleading messages home. For a party whose Members are perpetually outraged at supposed threats to their own free speech, the Conservatives’ clamour to clamp down on Mr Lineker’s opinions seems deeply ironic.

Does the Leader of the House agree that it is beyond time we had a debate in this place about the use of populist rhetoric in politics and in public life before it is too late? It could refer specifically to exactly those dark times in the past that provide us with warnings about where a politics that increasingly calls on such language could be heading if we do not have the freedom to call out all such despicable attempts to other our fellow human beings. I note from the FT recently that lack of trust in politics has risen in importance as a concern for the public, so such a debate might help to restore some of that trust.

Or perhaps this might. When can we have a debate—in Government time, of course—about the Prime Minister’s tax affairs? When he was quizzed yesterday about the overdue release of his tax returns, he replied only that he would publish them “very shortly.” Our First Minister has released her tax returns from 2014-15 up to the most recent return, so why not him? Admittedly, hers show only the salary that she has received as First Minister over that time, while I appreciate that his will be rather more complicated, but will the Leader of the House use her good offices to make it happen sooner than “shortly”?

I personally like the hon. Lady very much, so I have decided to go easy on her this week, because she and her party have had a rough old time. [Interruption.] They have: they have had a rough old time. They have been attacked from all sides—of their own party. However, the hon. Lady’s colleagues have risen in my estimation. They have admitted that, in their judgment, their record in government has been poor as we all think it has been. Who would have thought that the path taken by the SNP leadership contest would be the road to Damascus? Of course, given that it is a road managed by the SNP, it is a poorly surfaced single track waiting for a dual carriageway which will never be delivered; but it is welcome nevertheless.

Yes, this week I am going to lavish praise on the SNP. While we, here in Westminster, grapple with complex issues to stop the boats, the SNP’s “stop the boats” policy is highly effective—specifically, stopping boats that would otherwise be servicing the good people of the Clyde and the Hebrides.

The hon. Lady raised important points about building trust and the importance of free speech and moderate language, so let me draw her attention to a speech that I made the other week, entitled “Trust in Britain”. It dealt with these themes, and as Leader of the House of Commons, I think they are very important. Let me draw the hon. Lady’s attention particularly to this section of my speech:

“The value of free speech is not just in your freedom to say something, but also in your ability to listen and learn something. It is also the freedom to change your mind and the freedom to be uncertain.”

I take these matters very seriously, and I hope that the hon. Lady and her party do as well.

On 1 December, when I raised the issue of recognition of the Ukrainian holodomor as a genocide, the Leader of the House advised me to apply for a debate in the usual way, which I did. This Tuesday I led a Westminster Hall debate on the issue during which I and others called for the Government to recognise this awful genocide, and asked whether, if they could not recognise it, Parliament could be given the opportunity to do so. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty, informed me that whether Parliament could vote on the issue was

“a matter for the Leader of the House.” —[Official Report, 7 March 2023; Vol. 729, c. 89WH.]

Will the Leader of the House therefore arrange a debate and a meaningful vote in Government time, so that the House can recognise the holodomor as a genocide and show its strong support for Ukraine?

I thank my hon. Friend for the attention she has given to this issue. It is not just a matter of history, but clearly resonates with what is going in the world today. I also congratulate her on securing that debate in Westminster Hall. We understandably reserve as much Government time as possible to get legislation through, but, as my hon. Friend will know, the route of an early-day motion is available if Members wish to express support for a particular matter. The definition of genocide is a legal one and not something that a Government would determine, but I remind her that the Backbench Business Committee can also grant debates on substantive motions.

I am eternally grateful, Mr Speaker.

Bearing in mind what the Leader of the House has just said, I remind Members that we particularly welcome applications for debates that they had intended to air in Westminster Hall. These debates offer a great opportunity for Members to air issues of concern to themselves and their constituents, to inform Ministers representing relevant Departments of those issues, and to hear from the Ministers how they intend to rectify the problems involved.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House could give the Chancellor of the Exchequer a little nudge to include in his Budget statement next Wednesday a proposal to increase the £500 quarterly allowance for tax-free childcare support. That limit is already entirely inadequate, and the gap is being exacerbated as childcare providers are understandably being forced to increase their daily fees. Parents are already paying more than they can afford to providers who are making losses, cutting costs, and desperately struggling to avoid closures.

It is good to see the hon. Gentleman back in his place, and I thank him for that advert for the work of his Committee. I know the Chancellor and all relevant Ministers will be focused on the issue that he raises, which is timely because of payroll that must be met next month. I will certainly nudge the Chancellor, as the hon. Gentleman asks me to, but I know that that nudge will not be required.

As we marked International Women’s Day yesterday, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Formula 1 on recognising the need for, and launching, the inspirational F1 Academy to develop and nurture female talent in motorsport, and wish Susie Wolff, the newly appointed managing director of that academy and the most recent female driver to get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car at a race weekend, and her whole team the best of luck as they launch this important and necessary initiative? Can we have a debate on what more we can do to encourage more women into the great British success story that is motorsport?

I thank my hon. Friend for allowing us all to celebrate that achievement and for all the work he does in heading up the all-party parliamentary group for motorsport. It is a fantastic sector offering amazing careers, and I encourage all women, whether they want to get behind the wheel of a car or be part of the support team or of the incredible industry surrounding the sector, to go for it.

The inequality of health outcomes for people with learning disabilities was one of the greatest tragedies of the covid pandemic. Public Health England estimated that the death rate for people with learning disabilities was four times higher than for the general population. Given the inequalities those people and their families already face, does the Leader of the House think it is acceptable that the funding for a learning disability centre in Bury North was reported as being considered as a bargaining chip by the former Health and Social Care Secretary, after an adviser suggested it to persuade a Conservative MP to vote with the Government on lockdown measures? Can the Leader of the House raise this issue and ask the Health and Social Care Secretary to investigate and to assure me that resources for people with learning disabilities are planned, as they should be, based on need?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that incredibly serious point. It is a concern to us all in this place, but it would also be a concern to members of the public. We clearly do not have a full picture from the leaked messages, and I think the whole situation is highly regrettable, but she will know that there are very strict rules about how such decisions are arrived at, whether through a funding programme or a particular request from a constituency. Ministers are often not involved in the assessments that go on. The questions I have asked since seeing that report have reassured me, and indeed the Member concerned, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly), has confirmed that he was not spoken to in those terms.

I also remind the House that we have a Select Committee, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and the Chair of that Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), raised concerns about the matter at the time as well. It is not just the checks we have in Whitehall, but the checks and scrutiny we have in this House, that should give Members of this House and the public confidence that such things do not happen.

Today, if someone wanted to travel to or from Grimsby by train, they would find it very difficult. There is one train leaving Grimsby at around 2 pm, and another train back into Grimsby at 8.40 pm. TransPennine Express has offered the unions overtime of £480 a day, but the unions have refused it, and now my constituents cannot get anywhere by train. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is about time the unions stopped playing with people’s lives and the levelling-up agenda and got back to work properly?

I am very sorry to hear of the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency. That is clearly not acceptable. We often say that we want more people to use public transport and leave their cars behind, but for many people the car is their only option. We must ensure those services work, and she is right in her assessment. The next Transport questions is not until 20 April, so I will write this afternoon on her behalf and bring that to the Transport Secretary’s attention.

Many Conservative Members want us to leave the European convention on human rights, but that would make it impossible for European countries to enter into return agreements for people who have failed their asylum applications in the UK and would undermine our ability to extradite people who have committed serious crimes, because they could simply claim that their human rights were at risk because we were no longer signatories to the ECHR. Can we have a debate in Government time to explain that to the fools on the Conservative Back Benches, who want to put the security of this country at risk?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have often commented in business questions on the Labour party being keen on sometimes supporting, or not being seen to criticise, the legislation that the Government are bringing forward. His approach is novel in that he asks about things that we are not going to do, as we have said. He knows full well what our plan is on small boats and I urge him to support it.

Can we have an urgent debate in Government time about the strengths of the civil service? Does the Leader of the House agree that, although there may be a need for challenging discussions between Ministers and officials, the use of generic descriptions such as “snowflake” are unwelcome, inaccurate and entirely inappropriate?

My hon. Friend has been a Minister, and a very good one at that, so he knows that we work with wonderful people in many Government Departments, who are diligent and determined to deliver for the Government of the day. I am pleased to have the opportunity to put on record our gratitude to them. As Ministers, we need to take responsibility for what happens in our areas. We need to explain our policies and motivate the people who we work with, whether they are in the civil service or other organisations that we work with. Where there are obstructions to that happening, clearly there is a civil service code and it needs to be dealt with. I repeat that the Home Secretary has distanced herself from those sorts of comments. The public want us in this place to focus on the matter at hand, which is stopping the dangerous and horrific trade in human beings.

My Liberal Democrat council in Bath has put together a climate and ecological emergency action plan to protect nearly 11,000 hectares of land for nature by 2030. In contrast, the Conservative Government have been happy to let many environmental targets go that would halt nature’s decline by 2030. The Ecology Bill is a private Member’s Bill going through the House of Lords, but there will not be time to debate it in this House, because it will go to the back of the queue. It has significant cross-party support and would set legally binding targets to halt and reverse biodiversity decline by 2030. Will the Leader of the House support a debate in Government time on that important Bill?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, which she can clearly raise at the next Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on 30 March. I gently point out, however, that I do not think any Government have done as much to make their objectives legally binding, whether on biodiversity, water quality or net zero.

After a pandemic that saw considerable excess deaths, we would normally expect a period of less than the expected number of deaths, where those who sadly passed before their time during the pandemic reduce the number of those passing after, but that is not what we are seeing. Referring to the Office for National Statistics figures on deaths registered weekly in England and Wales, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities’ “Excess mortality in England”, and Continuous Mortality Investigation’s mortality monitor, the Office for Statistics Regulation stated last month that

“all three do reflect the trend of a marked increase in excess death”.

Can we therefore have a debate in Government time on excess deaths, an issue that sadly affects every constituency and community in the land?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. It is incredibly important that we analyse and learn from our experiences in the pandemic to ensure that we are as prepared as we can be if, God forbid, such circumstances arise again. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to focus on that, so I encourage him to apply for a debate in the usual way.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Pontypridd and all those involved in their well-deserved champion award at the Let’s Celebrate Towns awards last week here in Parliament? Our local business improvement district is working tirelessly to make Pontypridd the jewel in the south Wales valleys crown, despite bank closures and the impact of the cost of living on our local businesses. Can we please have a debate in Government time on what more we can do to support our local high streets and make them the premier destination for all those wishing to visit?

I am very pleased to join the hon. Lady in congratulating all her constituents who have been involved in that. It is the best thing when local people are given the opportunity to be in the driving seat and shape their communities, and this Government believe in empowering local communities to do that. We have clearly put in place funding to assist that through the future high streets fund and other such funds, but we have also taken a great deal of care to enable good practice to be shared across the country, which will ensure that other parts of the UK can benefit from the wisdom of her constituents.

Ashfield man Andy Jones has worked tirelessly over the past few months with his employer, Unique Positive Solutions, to open their own Spectre Coffee shop in Sutton-in-Ashfield. This a place for veterans, family and friends to come for a free drink and a chat in a warm, safe environment, but it is also being used by Unique Positive Solutions, which is funding the project, as a recruitment hub. I know that the Leader of the House is keen to come to Ashfield, but in the meantime could she please give a special mention to Andy and Unique Positive Solutions, who open their coffee shop this coming Saturday?

What a fantastic project! I will put my order in early—a black Americano, please—and I will come and visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and this amazing project soon. This is very clever because it is providing service and support for a community that we all value and treasure, but also enabling it to have more opportunities. I congratulate everyone involved, and also my hon. Friend, who has supported it.

Order. I was not quite sure whether the hon. Gentleman had actually asked for a debate or a statement. Just a little reminder that this is about the forthcoming business and the Leader of the House’s responsibilities.

Can we have a debate about the quality of the responses of Leaders of the House? I had the great pleasure of being in the shoes of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) for something like eight years, and I saw a variety of Leaders of the House, but I have not seen one who comes prepared with a script that she then proceeds to read out, taking no notice of any question asked of her. Can I perhaps suggest that she has a quiet word with the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) or even the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), and learn how to be Leader of the House?

Too often, new housing estates are left in a poor state. The houses are sold, but the roads are unfinished, drainage defective, play areas incomplete and landscaping poor. I have seen that in a number of developments in my constituency, but I am particularly thinking of the residents of Snapdragon Way and Garten Close, who, among others, have had enough. Can we have a debate about mandating developers, local authorities and utilities to co-operate and finish developments that they have started in a timely manner, because residents simply should not have to live in new houses on streets that look only half put together?

I am very sorry to hear about this situation, and I know that my hon. Friend has been working tirelessly to get people to step up and take their responsibilities. He will know that the next questions on this matter are on 27 March, but I shall write on his behalf to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ask for its advice about what possible remedies it could suggest to my hon. Friend to get people to step up and take responsibility.

Has the Leader of the House talked to any of our wonderful nurses who are struggling to make ends meet? They are absolutely desperate, but the flow of new people coming into nursing is small and many nurses are leaving to go either to the private sector or to places such as Australia. Could we have an urgent statement on this before the Budget?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that. He will know that, clearly, the Budget will seek to address many things, so I do not think that pre-empting it is particularly helpful if he wants answers on these matters.

We know that nurses—and all those working in health- care and our public services, which are so important—work very hard. The hon. Gentleman will also know that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay), is working very hard to discuss a whole raft of matters with nurses and others. The benefits of the system that we have in this place is that all Members of this House, including Government Ministers, speak to their constituents every week.

Earlier this week, once again, commuters in picturesque Leigh-on-Sea faced long queues to buy tickets. One resident reported missing her train to London due to the length of the queues. I am therefore delighted that the Government have announced that they will roll out contactless ticketing to 52 stations along the c2c line—something that I have been calling for ever since I was elected. However, please can we have a statement in Government time to tell us which stations will be in that 52? I very much hope that it will be heavily used stations with ticketing challenges, and that Leigh-on-Sea and Chalkwell will both be in that first tranche of 52 stations.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on the incredible campaign that she has mounted to ensure that Leigh-on-Sea and Chalkwell are prioritised. I cannot disclose when that will be announced, but I hope that it will be soon. If she is successful in that hope, I think it will be in great part thanks to her making an excellent case.

The Financial Times has identified that 90% of vape and vape juice producers in the UK seem to be failing to comply with environmental regulations. That is in the context of all of the disposable single-use vapes sold in the UK containing enough lithium in their batteries for more than 2,500 electric vehicles, and enough copper for more than 370,000 home electric vehicle charging stations, according to its research. But what happens? They are thrown away. They are littered. Even those that are put in the bin cannot be recycled properly. That is before we even get to the question of how they are marketed, which ASH Scotland—Action on Smoking and Health—has rightly raised.

The Scottish Government have commissioned an urgent review into reusable vapes. Can we have a statement or debate, in Government time, on whether this Government will deal with the issue with equal urgency?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important point. Given that Question Time sessions for the two Departments primarily concerned with this issue are a little way off, I shall write on her behalf and ask a Secretary of State to respond.

One of our manifesto commitments was to halve rough sleeping, and then end it by the end of this Parliament. During the pandemic, we actually achieved it under the Everyone In programme. The Government have thrown a lot of money at attempting to halt rough sleeping, but recent figures demonstrate a 26% rise in the number of people rough sleeping, and, indeed, a rise in the number of people threatened with homelessness. Could we have a debate in Government time on what action the Department will take to actually deliver on our manifesto commitment and end rough sleeping for good?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. I know that he is an assiduous campaigner on this matter, not just for his constituents but across the country. Rough sleeping levels are currently 35% lower than they were a few years ago, and we clearly had some opportunities during the pandemic to tackle some of the difficult issues that had been driving people on to the streets. We need to continue that, and we are putting forward £433 million in the rough sleeping accommodation programme, which will deliver 6,000 move- on homes and accompanying support services.

On Saturday I was the guest of a number of WASPI women to watch their play, “Stung”, which was absolutely brilliant. Yesterday I met other 1950s-born women in the pouring rain on Parliament square. The all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women also took evidence from BackTo60 and CEDAWinLAW. These women are not going away.

The Leader of the House knows that the ombudsman has already found maladministration relating to the 1950s women, but why is the Department for Work and Pensions still sending out letters with incorrect information? I have one here from 12 January 2023, saying that the state pension age is 60 for a woman and 65 for a man. May we have a debate in Government time on the incompetence of the Department for Work and Pensions and on how we can get the WASPI women the justice they deserve?

The hon. Gentleman knows that this is a complex situation and that different categories of women in that group are affected in different ways. DWP questions is a little way off. If he could pass that particular example to my office, I will raise this with the Department. Clearly, if incorrect information is going out, that needs to be rectified swiftly. I thank him for raising it.

As I have said many times in this House, we have a lot of people to be proud of in Scunthorpe, and Tony Jacklin is certainly one of them. He held both the US and British Open titles, he revitalised the Ryder cup, and he was the first person to get a hole in one on the telly. Could we have a debate on how we can facilitate recognition for people like Tony who have made real, historic contributions to British sport?

One of the ways in which my hon. Friend can do that is by raising the issue in this House. I am sure that all Members will want to join me and my hon. Friend in praising Tony for his huge achievements. He was recognised with a CBE and remains a very influential person in all aspects of sport. My hon. Friend knows how to apply for a Westminster Hall debate, and she could also use an early-day motion if other Members of the House want to express their support and thanks to him for all he has achieved.

Last night I received a distraught email from a hard-working and dedicated civil servant who lives in my constituency. He described how he and his colleagues are demoralised and tired of being demonised and blamed by Ministers when they are serving the country as best they can, without exception, whatever their personal views of Government policy.

In the light of the Home Secretary’s outrageous email to Conservative party supporters, does the Leader of the House agree that political attacks on the integrity of the civil service are never acceptable, and will she grant a debate in Government time on the importance of Ministers upholding the ministerial code and the work of the civil service?

The fact that this is the third opportunity I have had in this question time to say how much we appreciate the work that civil servants do, and to recognise that they work hard to deliver on the policies of the Government of the day, should give people confidence that that view is shared by Members across the House. That sentiment has been expressed by Members on both sides of the Commons today. I say to the hon. Lady, though, that if we wish to provide reassurance that civil servants are respected and their contribution valued, it is not helpful to attribute the remarks to which she alludes to the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary has very clearly said that those were not her remarks and that she did not approve those remarks, and I know that she would want me to put on the record her thanks to all those in her Department and the agencies that work with them.

May I add my words of support to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) for raising the issue of the appalling—in fact, almost non-existent—services provided by TransPennine Express? Today there is an eight-hour gap between services, but it should be an hourly service. Would it be possible for the Transport Secretary to come to the House to make a statement and assure us that TransPennine’s franchise will not be renewed and that he will give the final approval to restoring the direct train service between Grimsby, Cleethorpes and King’s Cross, which would alleviate many of the problems?

I am very sorry to hear about this situation. Given that Transport Question Time is some way off, as I said, I will write to make sure the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s concerns. We will not have to draft a new letter, just change the date, because he has raised the matter many times in this place. I hope it is swiftly resolved for his constituents.

On 22 March 2018, I said:

“For the past two years, I have been helping a constituent with her ongoing attempts to have her former local government employer rightfully added to the redundancy modification order.”—[Official Report, 22 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 401.]

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities recently sent an email saying

“the Redundancy Modification Order was paused due to resource pressures”

and that the Department is

“currently unable to provide a view as to the timescale for completion of a revised consolidation order.”

Does the Leader of the House agree it is ridiculous that people have been waiting more than 10 years for this to happen? This is a non-contentious issue, so will she please use her good offices to get the Department to pull out its finger and get this done?

That is not a satisfactory situation, and I will be happy to raise it with the Department after this session. The next Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Question Time is on 27 March, and the hon. Lady may be interested to know that my noble Friend Lord True, the Leader of the House of Lords, and I met all the permanent secretaries yesterday to make very clear the level of service we expect from their Departments.

The Black Country was built on metals, and metal engineering, iron founding, surface engineering and heat treatment still play an important part in our local economy, providing well-paid jobs and opportunities to truly level up our communities, but the industry faces acute issues with rising energy prices and recruitment. Can we have a debate in Government time on how we can support the metals industry, particularly in the Black Country? I have raised this with Ministers in the Treasury and the former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but we need a debate on the Floor of the House to ensure the future of this vital industry for my communities in Tipton and Wednesbury.

My hon. Friend is right that this is an incredibly important sector and a real sovereign capability for this country. He will have many opportunities to raise it on the Floor of the House, because it is relevant to so many Departments, but I suggest that Business and Trade Question Time on 23 March might be the nearest opportunity.

My constituent Shireen Gale complained to our local trust as she feels that her now sadly deceased mother was given a delayed cancer diagnosis. The Leader of the House will know that it is standard procedure, after exhausting the complaints processes within an organisation, next to complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, but the PHSO has refused to deal with her complaint, advising her that she should have complained to it at the very outset. This makes no sense, because how on earth would she have known the outcome of her complaint at the outset? Can we please have an urgent debate on the functioning of the PHSO?

We will all be familiar with the process of making a complaint, and that sounds like a very odd set of circumstances. If the hon. Lady wants to pass on the details to my office, I will be very happy to raise it with the Department of Health and Social Care to get its advice.

Will the Leader of the House consider a debate to recognise the real human beings caught up in the Home Secretary’s asylum backlog? My constituent, whose husband was executed by the Iranian regime and who has applied for asylum, has been told that she will have to wait at least six months, despite my representations, just to get an interview and at least another six months before she can expect to get a decision. To use the Leader of the House’s own words, how does that honour our moral obligation to refugees?

The measures we are bringing forward will help us on our moral obligation. This requires some pragmatism. We have particular moral obligations to particular people in particular parts of the world. We have historically wanted to give the finite support we can offer to people who are most vulnerable, with the plight I mentioned earlier of lone or disabled children in Syrian refugee camps being a prime example. If we have finite resource—I understand that the concept of finite resource to the Labour party is a difficult one to manage—we want to direct that to the very people the hon. Gentleman is talking about. This system is overwhelmed by people who do not have a just claim to seek asylum—

I am showing her humanity, because I am going to support measures that will enable us to get these systems under control. I say to the hon. Gentleman that I fully understand why he asks this question—

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to be angry at my answer. I am angry at the situation where we have finite resource that cannot help these people who need assistance. We need to direct that to people whom the system—an asylum system—was set up to protect. That has always been our judgment as a Government. It has always been our action as a Government. If he is serious about helping this situation, he will look at this legislation seriously and actually help us stop the system being overwhelmed, so that we can direct this support to the people who need it most.

I thank the Leader of the House for her business statement. There is not a scintilla in it that is in the interests of the people of Scotland, least of all the Budget, as I am sure we will find out on Wednesday. I know her views on the constitution as regards Scotland, as she articulates them every week at this time, with no small measure of dripping superiority and patronisation. One of her and her colleagues’ favourite tropes is that Scotland is really lucky to be in this Union and we have the most successful devolved assembly anywhere in the world. Will she issue us with a statement or even give us a debate in Government time to show the parallels against which she is judging Scotland’s fortunes? Where are these other devolved Administrations that are not as lucky as Scotland? There are not any, because the right way to exist is independence.