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Business of the House

Volume 729: debated on Thursday 9 March 2023

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.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have spoken many a time about the benefits of Scotland being in the Union—about the tax dividend to every man, woman and child in Scotland of about £2,000 per head. There are other reasons that do not just appeal to the head; they also appeal to the heart. We are a family of nations. There are families who stretch across these nations. It is one country and four nations. There are tremendous strengths in that approach. I know that we will never agree on that, but I will keep making the case and trying to convince the hon. Gentleman. As I learnt the other day that we share a birthday, I wish him many happy returns on that too.

The state of our railways is deeply concerning, with rising passenger costs set against poor service delivery on the TransPennine Express. In York, our digital and advanced rail cluster is being held back by the delayed Government announcement about the Great British Railways headquarters. Can we have a statement to set out how the Government are going to fix our broken rail network and unlock GBR?

I thank the hon. Lady for that statement. She knows that there may be announcements coming forward on related matters—I do not know, but it might be something that the Chancellor touches on in the Budget statement. Transport questions are a little way off, so I shall write to make sure that the Secretary of State has heard her concerns.

The cost of fuel is a driver of inflation across the economy, and hard-pressed motorists pay tax twice on their fuel: they pay fuel duty and they pay VAT on top of that. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out whether she supports cutting the regressive tax of fuel duty in the upcoming Budget to help support growth across the economy and tackle inflation?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She knows that that has always been this Government’s track record. In stark contrast with the Labour party that raised fuel duty by more than 40%, we have cut fuel duty. I know that she will want to make representations to the Chancellor. I cannot pre-empt the Budget, but I shall make sure that he has heard what she said.

This morning, I hosted an event with Shelter, which was exposing and shining a light on the hundreds and thousands of children and families living in temporary accommodation. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a debate, in Government time, on building a new generation—at scale—of social housing?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have invested heavily in social housing, and we have actually built many more social homes than his own party did when it was in government. This is an incredibly important point. I shall make sure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said today. The hon. Gentleman will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.

Since the establishment of the welfare state, there has been an acceptance of the need for a minimum level of income below which no one should fall, and, more importantly, that it should be set at a level that will maintain decency. Initially, it was supplementary benefit and now, whether in work or on benefits, it is universal credit. Research from the Trussell Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the current levels for a single person are £35 a week below what is essential to maintain basics, and that figure is £66 for a couple. Can we have a debate on the requirement, irrespective of what the Budget brings about on pensions and benefits, for the basic maintenance of a decent standard of living below which nobody in this country should fall, because people are going hungry, people are cold and, sadly, people are dying?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know that we have the Budget coming up and that we also have a particular system and timeframe for uprating benefits. On both benefits and pensions, we have taken the most generous approach to uprating. One thing of which this Government can be proud is reform of the welfare system—that hugely complex tangle of benefits that did not provide work incentives and that left people with nothing as they transferred between different parts of that system. Universal credit, I think, is a huge and positive transformation of that. Since we came to office, we have worked to make sure that people receive the living wage and to raise personal tax thresholds—in fact, we have doubled them. This is a matter of extreme importance to us.

Modern slavery often results in trafficking, exploitation and abuse, yet for nearly a year now the Government have failed to appoint an independent anti-slavery commissioner. Given the changes being introduced in the Illegal Migration Bill, will the Home Secretary make an urgent statement on the progress of this process and when we can expect an appointment? Perhaps the Leader of the House can show some humanity in her answer to me, unlike in her previous answers.

I hope all Members think that I am assiduous in the work that I do, raising the matters that they mention on the Floor of the House with the Departments and, if they are particularly urgent cases, doing so immediately following the session. I shall do the same for the hon. Lady, and raise the issue that she mentions with the Home Secretary.

At least 10 regional building societies are now known to have taken commission to refer their elderly and vulnerable customers to the Will Writing Company. That was ostensibly to give them free advice on writing their wills, but was in fact part of an elaborate scam involving the Philips Trust Corporation and several other companies. Those people were given dishonest and unauthorised financial advice, and were conned into transferring all their money and homes into a trust. Now that the Philips Trust Corporation has gone into administration, they fear losing everything. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time on why Britain’s regulatory framework has utterly failed, yet again, to protect our vulnerable people from organised fraudsters? In particular, can we have a statement from the relevant Minister on how so many building societies seem to have become unwitting accessories to that fraud?

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely disturbing and important case. He will know that both the Treasury and the Department for Business and Trade, as it now is, have been focused on combating fraud—particularly fraud and scams of that nature. If he passes the details to me, I shall certainly ensure that the Chancellor and his team, and the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, have heard what he has raised.

My constituent’s young Afghan wife is finally being granted a visa, but the Home Office is insisting that, to hand in her passport, she travel to a third country for which it will be difficult for her to obtain a short-term visa as they are not granted for Afghans. I have raised this case many times with many Ministers since August 2021. We are working to very tight timescales, but I have not heard back from the Minister for Immigration on my request for a meeting. Can the Leader of the House please help me to facilitate a good outcome for that vulnerable young woman?

I will certainly do that for the hon. Lady. I know she has not mentioned the third country for security reasons, but that will be a major part of the answer. I will speak to the Minister directly on this matter today and ask for an official to contact the hon. Lady’s office to get it resolved.

Yesterday, on International Women’s Day, the BBC released a report highlighting an unprecedented year of restrictions for Afghan women and girls. In the last 12 months, a multitude of restrictions have included mandatory full veiling in public places, a ban on higher education, and being unable to work in a range of sectors. The restrictions disproportionately affect women from religious minorities; members of the Hazara community face atrocities committed by that Government and by Daesh. Will the Leader of the House join me in making a statement of solidarity? We in this House can be a voice for the voiceless Afghan women and girls.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter again, as he does at every opportunity. He is absolutely right: we need to keep eyes on what is going on in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and support those brave individuals—both men and women—who are taking a stand to ensure that women and girls are not oppressed. We hope that their situation will improve swiftly.

I draw the attention of all Members of the House to the Leader of the House of Commons Twitter feed this week, where they will see lists of the Twitter handles of women’s rights campaigners in many countries, including Iran and Afghanistan. I am encouraging people to follow those people, largely women, because this is not just about ensuring that their issues are at the forefront of our minds, but about our ability to amplify their message and to send a message to those who would do them harm that we have our eyes on them.