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Commons Chamber

Volume 729: debated on Thursday 16 March 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 16 March 2023

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Sanctions Regimes for Public Procurement: Suppliers

1. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to ensure suppliers follow the UK’s sanctions regimes for public procurement. (904099)

The UK and its international partners stand shoulder to shoulder in implementing sanctions against malignant actors on the international stage. This includes the most severe sanctions ever against Russia, which represents over £18 billion in assets frozen and reported to the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation. Contracting authorities must comply with our sanctions, which have legal force.

On the question of procurement more widely, the British Chamber of Commerce found that, in 2021, small and medium-sized enterprises were receiving a relatively small amount of direct Government procurement money compared with five years ago. Can the Minister explain why SMEs are being increasingly sidelined from access to public procurement under his Government?

Far from sidelining SMEs, the Government are absolutely focused on ensuring that they get a fairer share of the Government procurement pie. I am delighted that the Procurement Bill will put an obligation on contracting authorities to have regard to what their tenders will do for SMEs. That will ensure that, right at the early stages of the process, as well as displaying a long pipeline notice, contracting authorities think through how they can make certain that those tenders are best adaptable to SMEs and their requirements.

In November, it was revealed in The Guardian that the company Infosys was still operating in Russia, eight months after it announced that it would withdraw. Just a month later, that company was awarded a lucrative contract worth £1.7 million of taxpayers’ money. Was the Minister aware of that when that contract was awarded, and do the Government believe that public money should be going to those who are operating in Russia?

We set out in policy procurement note 01/22 our approach to public procurement and links with Russia. That PPN speaks for itself, and I am sure the hon. Lady is familiar with it. It requires contracting authorities to check from whom they are receiving goods and services. It is primarily aimed at those who are Russia or Belarus-based, or who have significant control. I do not know the particulars of the circumstances that she mentions, but the Government’s approach through PPN 01/22 is very clear.

Homelessness Among Veterans

Research shows that only 0.7% of households who were homeless or at risk of homelessness in 2021 and 2022 had support needs as a result of having served in the armed forces, but we will end veteran homelessness this year via Op Fortitude. This new referral scheme will provide a central point for local authorities and charities to identify those in need and refer them to a network of support.

I am aware that the Minister recently visited Forward Assist, where he met veterans from the north-east, including from Blyth and Cramlington in my constituency, and he knows the admirable work that it does helping veterans overcome challenges such as homelessness, mental health difficulties and social isolation. Will he join me in expressing gratitude to everyone at Forward Assist for its commendable efforts in assisting veterans as they transition back to civilian life?

My hon. Friend is a huge champion of the charity Forward Assist, which has done incredible work over a long period. The Government and I are clear that there are two groups of veterans who are under- represented in this space. One is foreign and Commonwealth veterans, and the other is women. We are absolutely determined to correct that. I recognise that there are difficult issues, such as military sexual trauma. We launched the women’s strategy only 10 days ago, and I urge all female veterans to contribute to that so that we can make sure that their needs are met.

I thank the Minister for his response. Can he update the House on what this Government are doing across all nations of the United Kingdom to support veterans who are experiencing homelessness, including in Scotland?

Op Fortitude was something we piloted at Christmas, and it will go live in the next six weeks. It is a single, defined pathway out of homelessness that local authorities will be able to refer into. It is backed up by £8.5 million, and it buys 910 supported housing placements. That is across the United Kingdom. We do not want to see any homeless veterans by the end of this year, and we will strain every sinew to make sure we achieve that goal.

Some 90% of veterans who try to claim personal independence payment for post-traumatic stress disorder have their applications rejected, according to armed forces charities. This is leaving veterans facing homelessness, being reliant on food banks and, in some cases, even considering suicide. Can the Minister explain why it is that veterans are being forced to rely on charities rather than being given the help that they need by this Government?

That question might have been relevant six or seven years ago, but this Government have completely transformed how we deal with veterans, particularly vulnerable veterans, in this country, and recognise that there is a transition between charity and Government responsibility. If there are any individual cases, I am more than happy for the hon. Lady to refer them to me. There has never been better support for armed forces veterans in this country than that given today, and I am determined that all veterans will feel the benefit.

The Royal British Legion estimated in 2020 that there were up to 4,000 homeless veterans in the UK. In Scotland, there is a duty to find permanent accommodation for all unintentionally homeless applicants, including veterans. Will that exemplar be matched in England and an action group set up? What specifically are this Government doing to help eradicate homelessness, particularly with respect to ex-servicemen and women?

I do not recognise those figures at all. There are homeless veterans in this country, including some who are involuntarily sleeping rough because of a lack of provision. We are ending that this year through clear homelessness pathways and through working with Riverside, Stoll and Alabaré and other brilliant service charities to make sure that there are no homeless veterans by the end of this year. Again, if there are any examples, I am more than happy for hon. Members to write to me and I will take up individual cases, but we will end it this year. I remind Members that, if we continue to go around saying that there are lots of homeless veterans when that is not the case, that will be self-defeating as we attempt to make this the best country in which to be a veteran.

Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan: Civilian Life

3. What assessment his Department has made of the impact of the veterans’ strategy action plan on supporting veterans in their civilian lives. (904103)

14. What assessment his Department has made of the impact of the veterans’ strategy action plan on supporting veterans in their civilian lives. (904119)

We have already completed delivery of over 35% of our strategy action plan commitments. Veterans are being supported into employment in the public sector. We are accelerating our investment to end veteran homelessness. The veterans’ survey has been a game changer, and Op Courage is delivering more mental health support than ever before and is on track, despite what the Opposition might say.

We have many fantastic veterans across Keighley and Ilkley, including George Metcalf and Pete Western, whom I have met on numerous occasions to talk about supporting veterans in their civilian lives. Could my right hon. Friend outline the schemes available to help increase veteran employment and to assist their transition into the civilian workplace?

I am clear that having a job—a meaningful job—is the No. 1 factor that will improve the life chances of any veteran and their family. We are putting a great deal of resource and time and effort into that space. On pathways into the public sector, the STEP into Justice programme gets people into the justice system. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs has a veterans employment group. There are some fantastic employment opportunities. We are trying to bring it all together so that it is clearer for people. I commend the work of James Cameron and Mission Automotive in that space. I would like to see those pathways across different sectors, and we are looking to roll that out this year.

I recognise the excellent work that is being done by the Minister and his team. Could he give more detail about Operation Fortitude in respect of homeless veterans? And while he is on his feet, could he give a word of praise to Alex Baxter and his team in Cleethorpes, who do so much for veterans? May I invite him to visit them some time in the near future?

I of course pay tribute to Alex in Cleethorpes, and to everybody who works in this sector. I say to the House again that the nation has a duty to these people. It is not about me, the Government or charities delivering—it is the nation’s commitment and we all need to work together. I pay tribute to the charities that do that work.

Op Fortitude is a referral pathway that will enable anyone who has served and is at risk of homelessness to get into good-quality supported housing, to access wraparound care and treatment for addiction or any comorbidity factors, and ultimately to upskill and get back into civilian life. It is a game-changing programme and I am proud to deliver it.

The Minister and I have worked closely together supporting foreign and Commonwealth soldiers and veterans, so I wonder if he shares my concern about the case of Vilikesa Tubuitamana. He proudly served for 18 years, including two tours of Afghanistan and two tours of Iraq, but sadly his service resulted in severe PTSD. He was honourably discharged on medical grounds and awarded £46,000 to help fund his medical needs and a new life. Shockingly, however, it appears that the Ministry of Defence has used the money awarded for his PTSD to settle an administrative mix-up, leaving him—a father of three—penniless. Will the Minister have a look and see what can be done to support him?

Of course. Clearly, I am not a Minister in the Ministry of Defence, but I raised this formally with the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families earlier this week. I am aware of that case. I totally accept that there are individual cases where the results are not in keeping with making this country the best in the world to be a veteran. That is why I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that case. There is a deficit when it comes to looking after our foreign and Commonwealth personnel, particularly veterans, in this country. He has done great work on this over many years in highlighting their cases, and I hope the sunlight we can bring to this case can bring us to a fair resolution.

After my office intervened on behalf of Sandy, who had been wounded serving in Northern Ireland, by writing to the Secretary of State, we got an inaccurate response that has left Sandy feeling even more frustrated about his treatment and his attempts to get a fairer war pension. Given that the survey by the all-party group on veterans found that 76% of veterans rated their experience of claiming compensation through Veterans UK as poor or very poor, when will there be root-and-branch reform of Veterans UK? Will the Minister promise to take up Sandy’s case and review what has been sent to our office?

I am more than happy for the hon. Gentleman to send me his case. My line on Veterans UK has been the same for four years now. There are good people who work there and they work very hard in delivering that service. Governments of all colours have under-invested in that organisation for many years. When I first became a Minister, they were working on paper records. Jointly with the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families, I have commissioned a review of that service to make sure that it works for people like the individual who has been mentioned. I am clear that the service is not good enough in some areas. We are working on that and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see the results of the review, which we launched last week, in the next three to six months.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs recently commented in the Express:

“for too long veterans services have suffered from under-investment, and been over-reliant on paper records and outdated tech.”

I agree, but I fear that after 13 years in government, despite the rhetoric and his threat to shave off his eyebrows if he does not deliver, there is no serious plan to deliver the standard of services that all our veterans and their families deserve. So will he confirm what specific resources his office will be allocated for the implementation of the recommendations of the cross-departmental veterans’ welfare services review?

I am a huge personal fan of the hon. Lady, but a lot of what she says in this space is simply not the case. I have written to her to correct the record. I think she may have inadvertently misled the House when talking about Op Courage waiting times. There are problems in this sector and I have spent a long time trying to correct them, but the reality is that the things she mentions, such as waiting times for Op Courage, are just factually not correct. There are areas where we need to work. We have launched the quinquennial review of compensation schemes. I have been going down this path for quite a long time. Never before have a UK Government committed to veterans’ services like the Government have today. That is the reality of the situation. Being a veteran now in this country is fundamentally different from how it was when I started, but I look forward to continuing to work with her in the months ahead.

Civil Servants: Relocation

It is always a pleasure to share good news with you, Mr Speaker. Just three years into our 10-year programme, we have already hit 50% of our target to relocate 22,000 roles from London across the UK. Therefore, more than 11,000 roles have been relocated from London, spreading prosperity and opportunities across the whole of our United Kingdom.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Devon is the natural habitat for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and that, if we are keen to ensure our food security, surely we should locate the Department among our farmers, fishermen and the Met Office, not to mention our world-class universities specialising in climate and marine sciences, and where rurality is an immersive experience?

Departments select places for role relocations using workforce and locational analysis, as well as many other factors, which I am sure would include those referred to by my hon. Friend. As she knows, DEFRA already has 550 full-time employees in Devon and nearly 2,000 across the south-west more widely. I know from previous experience as a Minister that she is a fantastic advocate for her constituency and I am certain that she will continue to make her case.

Yesterday, I joined striking PCS workers on their demonstration, some 130,000 of whom were on strike for better pay and conditions. Irrespective of where in the UK civil servants have been relocated to, their pay and conditions are still determined at Westminster, leading to industrial action across all four nations. When will the Government finally deliver a pay uplift reflecting the work of civil servants throughout the UK?

Individual Departments determine the pay and conditions for their civil servants. There are ongoing discussions with officials. I also met members of the PCS in January. We want to get a resolution. We want to get people back to work, but no one is helped by the current range of industrial action that hits some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Infected Blood Victims: Compensation Payments

I thank all those who attended the meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood chaired by the right hon. Lady last week. The Government acted on an interim compensation proposal for those infected in the autumn, paying out more than £450 million, and have accepted that there is a moral case for compensation. I am truly delighted that Sir Brian Langstaff has announced his intention to produce a second interim report, which, as I understand it, will be published before Easter. That will help the Government to meet our objective to be able to respond quickly when the final report is published in the autumn, although I do not wish to understate the complexity of the work involved in addressing the impact of the scandal.

I thank the Paymaster General for attending the meeting with the all-party parliamentary group; we very much appreciated his input. What also came out of that meeting was a desire from those who have been infected and affected to have further information about what the Government are doing in preparation for the reports from Sir Brian—the final report particularly —later this year. I wonder whether the Paymaster General will set out how he feels he can best engage with those infected and affected in the coming months to show that progress is being made and set out a plan for that involvement with those infected and affected.

The right hon. Lady makes a reasonable challenge. She has battled on this issue for many years. I am focused on that interim report from Sir Brian. We have already had the benefits of the Sir Robert Francis study, which I am sure has informed the work of Brian Langstaff and his team. When we see the interim report, it will be incumbent on us to give an immediate reaction—a reaction as soon as is practical—to it, and then to set out what we will be doing to build towards the final report, which, as I say, will be published in the autumn. I know that it has been a long wait for those infected and affected. It is not over yet, I am afraid. There is an awful lot of work to be done, but we are approaching the endgame as these reports come through.

Government Transparency and Co-ordination

6. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on improving Government transparency and co-ordination. (904107)

The Cabinet Office plays a unique role in government, bringing together different Departments across Whitehall to deal with the most complex challenges facing our country. As a founding and current member of the Open Government Partnership, the UK remains committed to improving government transparency. The fifth national action plan for open government sets out the UK’s commitments, and work will start shortly on the sixth plan.

It is several years and, indeed, several Prime Ministers since we had the Union connectivity review. Thankfully, Boris’s bridge has crashed and burned, but, as with the Budget, there were good aspects within it. Sir Peter Hendy, a man who knows about transport, was important in emphasising the vital strategic actions of the east coast main line and the A1 not simply for Scotland, but for the north-east of England. Sadly, questions to the Department for Transport simply result in intimation that there are regular meetings with the Scottish Government, and I have to say that the same obfuscation seems to come from the Scottish Government. We seem to have had no progress whatsoever since Sir Peter Hendy’s Union connectivity review. Can the Government please provide some clarity about what their intentions are on upgrading the east coast main line and the A1?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be happy to provide that, and that he will be able to report to the hon. Gentleman the record levels of investment made across our whole United Kingdom under this Government.

From partygate to VIP fast lanes, the level of sleaze we have seen under this Government amounts to a grotesque abuse of power, so transparency is surely necessary to restore public confidence. On that basis, does the Secretary of State agree with me about the need for a truly independent ethics commission, free from political interference, that brings together the various roles and responsibilities of the various bodies and committees responsible for upholding standards in public life to create a single, powerful entity that can restore public trust and confidence?

We have very high levels of transparency. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that Labour Members like to talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk. If they really want to restore public confidence through transparency, they should release now the details of the meetings that took place between the Labour party and Sue Gray. They continue to refuse to do so but are perfectly able to, consistent with the rules of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

The Fair Tax Foundation revealed that between 2014 and 2019, one in six public contracts were won by businesses connected to tax havens. That means that billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is going towards those who try to avoid paying tax. It is fair that the public have a right to know how their money is spent, so will the Secretary of State support Labour’s measures to increase tax transparency in our procurement system?

We already have high levels of transparency, and the Procurement Bill is going through Parliament. The most important thing is to crack down on tax avoidance through tax havens, which is what we saw in yesterday’s Budget and what we have seen previous ones—for example, by addressing the double Irish issue.

In December, the Committee on Standards in Public Life said it was concerned that 18 months had been lost because of the Government’s failure to respond to its report “Upholding Standards in Public Life”, which recommended stronger rules and a better compliance culture for central Government. When can we expect a formal response from the Government?

We are working through the responses. Clearly, a new Administration came in in November, but we will shortly be in a position to publish all the responses to the report. I am working through it with the Prime Minister and publication will come shortly.

How can we be assured of transparency and integrity in decision making if we do not have a register of Ministers’ interests that has been published any time in the past 10 months?

The Government will publish the latest version of that register shortly. The House has discussed and considered this issue, and the hon. Lady may have heard the comments made by the Leader of the House. We are moving to a situation in which we both produce the transparency returns more rapidly and align them more closely with the parliamentary register, but it is important that we get the systems in place so that that can be done properly.

Government Projects: Cost to Public Purse

8. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the cost to the public purse of Government projects. (904111)

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s standards, tools and training for Government projects help to ensure that projects are set up for success. The IPA’s transforming infrastructure performance programme is helping to reduce the cost of projects.

It came as a shock to one of my constituents recently when I pointed out that more than 9,000 public sector workers are paid more than the Prime Minister, including £620,000 being paid to the chief executive of the continually failing HS2 Ltd. It is all public money, so does the Minister agree that we have to demand value for money from such appointments and cap excessive salaries from the public purse?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is essential that we get value for money from the investments we make in our people. There is a role for well-paid people to deliver important projects for the people of this country, but I assure him that any payments above £150,000—that covers the entire remuneration package, not just the salary—must be not only justified by the relevant Department, but personally signed off by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who takes a very close interest in such matters.

Ministers have lifted the cap on consultancy spending for Government Departments at a time when many members of the public are struggling to pay bills or put food on the table. Uncapping the spend on consultancy fees, rather than investing in building and nurturing internal civil service talent, may be short-sighted. Will the Minister reinstate the cap and instead focus on the internal development of skills?

There is a difference between a cap and a control, and it is up to Departments to ensure that they are getting value for money in what they spend. Cutting bureaucracy and cutting exercises that take up a lot of civil service time but that are not productive is a good thing. There is a role for consultancy, alongside growing and nurturing the resources inside the service. It is important that we always get value for money, but that is best generated by having a Department that is laser-focused on value for money in what it is spending and on why it is spending it.

Rapid Response Unit

The rapid response unit was created in 2018 and disbanded in August 2022. It was formed as a central resource in the Government Communication Service that used publicly available information to improve Government’s ability to identify where certain narratives about our work were gaining traction online and to understand public sentiment about Government policies. On disbandment, the information collected was archived and it will be retained in line with the Cabinet Office information retention policy, which is available online.

But why has my hon. Friend refused to admit in answer to parliamentary questions that the rapid response unit collected and stored information on sitting MPs? As my subject access request has confirmed that I was one of those MPs, can he explain why the unit was using taxpayers’ money to snoop on me, who authorised this and why?

My hon. Friend is welcome to come and have a meeting with me and officials in the Cabinet Office to discuss any concerns that he has about the rapid response unit. I have asked them this morning whether there were any monitoring emails that contained his name. I have been given assurances that there were not, but I am very happy for him to come to the Department and talk through all the possible implications. The truth is that the Government have a number of media monitoring services that check what is going on. They monitor not just what MPs and peers say, but what journalists say and anything that is reported in the mainstream media. As my hon. Friend’s name has appeared in newspaper articles in connection with various stories, it is natural that it would be picked up by those monitoring services.

I do have concerns about what has been mentioned. If there are dossiers on MPs, we need to know. If someone put in for an urgent question to get to the bottom of this, I would be very tempted, because I do think it needs clarification. A Government Department holding records on MPs may be fine, but it may not be, so I do have great worries.

As I said, Mr Speaker, we have media monitoring units so that when people’s names appear in the media, be they MPs, peers or people who are not Members of either House, they will be recorded on those systems. There is nothing untoward about this, I can assure you.

Machinery of Government Changes: Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

10. Which Department is responsible for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill following the machinery of Government changes in February 2023. (904113)

I do not know whether there is precedent for a piece of legislation bouncing around so many Departments in such a short period. Is there not an irony that the Bill is causing more bureaucracy and red tape of the type that Brexit was supposed to do away with? It is costing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds in civil service time, it is causing massive uncertainty across a range of industries, and it is presenting a dangerous cliff edge for so many hard-won rights. Surely, no matter which Minister or Department is in charge of it, the Government should just dump it altogether.

I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation. Through this Bill, we are making the most of our opportunities outside the EU by making sure that we take control and that this place takes control of its own statute book. The hon. Gentleman’s question comes as no surprise to me, because the Scottish National party would be perfectly happy for us to align dynamically with the European Union in perpetuity.

Public Contract Bids: SMEs

15. What steps the Government are taking to support small and medium-sized enterprises bidding for public contracts. (904120)

I am delighted to tell the House that the Government are absolutely committed to supporting SMEs in a variety of ways, from transparently publishing contract pipelines to simplifying bidding processes. The Procurement Bill currently making its way through Parliament will create a simpler and more transparent procurement regime that will open up further business to SMEs.

Analysis by Spend Network found that big corporations were still winning 90% of contracts deemed suitable for smaller businesses. These are worth £30 billion per annum. Will the Minister outline what the Government are doing to ensure that SMEs win procurement contracts that they are suited for?

The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear about the Procurement Bill currently making its way through Parliament. It will come to Report stage after the Easter break. It will help SMEs across the country, including in his constituency and mine, because we have worked hand in glove with the Welsh Government to make sure that the new procurement rules are available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I am pleased to say that that is possible only because we left the EU.

National Resilience

Strengthening our national resilience is one of my personal priorities, and my Department continues to lead on this crucial work across Government. We identified seven immediate priorities through the resilience framework; of those, we have already published four. We will soon publish an updated national risk register. Since I last addressed the House, I have also chaired a dedicated resilience Sub-Committee of the National Security Council.

Our preparedness for national emergencies relies on our local resilience, too. In North Yorkshire, we have a high-functioning local resilience forum. Is my right hon. Friend ensuring that these local forums are all operating at the standards needed, and are integrated into our national resilience plans?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We work closely with all resilience forums, which are essential to our whole-of-society resilience approach to any emergency response. There are well-established processes for Government to liaise with local resilience forums to enable national and local integration. In addition, the 2022 resilience framework commits to strengthening local resilience forums, including through clearer accountability and assurance.

We all know how distressing it was for the relatives of people who died from covid to read the former Health Secretary’s leaked WhatsApp messages. There were some dreadful revelations about life and death decisions that were made, and about how they were made. The outcomes of the covid inquiry will be vital for learning lessons to strengthen national resilience—there could be another covid tomorrow. Will the Secretary of State confirm that all evidence from Ministers and former Ministers held on official channels, private emails and WhatsApps has been provided to the independent covid inquiry so that no more delays are caused by the Government?

I can give the hon. Lady that assurance. There has been total and full transparency from Government, as we are required to do under the terms of the Act and the relevant legislation.

Topical Questions

Our economic security is more important than ever, which is why it was at the heart of this week’s integrated review refresh. As part of that refresh, we announced an ambitious programme to bolster our economic defences, which I am leading from the Cabinet Office. That includes a new body in MI5, the National Protective Security Authority, to give businesses the frontline expert national security advice they require, as well as a new supply chain strategy and improved export controls. Those measures will put us at the front of the pack for economic security and ensure that we remain one of the most attractive places in the world to invest.

The former Prime Minister has declared outside earnings of £4.8 million since he left office in disgrace—all of that, of course, on top of his MP’s salary. Why is the taxpayer now being hit for more than £220,000 in partygate legal fees on his behalf during a cost of living crisis? Is that fair?

As the hon. Gentleman may know, there is a long-standing convention that Ministers of either party—this applies to Ministers of both political parties who have been in government—are entitled to legal support in respect of decisions that they made in government. That is an important constitutional safeguard to ensure that Ministers can act freely in government.

T3. Can my hon. Friend assure me that all branches of the Ministry of Truth, which was exposed in the Big Brother Watch report in January, have now been disbanded, so that we no longer have Government and taxpayer-funded activity discrediting MPs who hold the Government to account? In answer to the earlier point that was made, can my hon. Friend explain why, in answer to parliamentary question 148802, which requested information on whether or not the Government were monitoring MPs, no answer was forthcoming? If it was so innocent, why was no answer forthcoming? (904128)

There is no Ministry of Truth; there is the Cabinet Office. The rapid response unit was disbanded in August last year, and I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about any of his concerns, particularly any parliamentary questions that he feels have not been answered properly.

The Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to restore integrity, accountability and respect in Government. Reports this week suggest that concerns were raised at the highest levels in Government about the Deputy Prime Minister’s intimidatory behaviour, and yet nothing was done. Can the Secretary of State clarify here today, did the Cabinet Office warn the Prime Minister about the conduct of the Deputy Prime Minister before he was reappointed to the Cabinet?

The right hon. Lady will know that we have been through this process many times before. I thought the Labour party believed in due process. The due process is that Adam Tolley, a very senior KC, is investigating all aspects of that, and I am not going to pre-empt his report in any way.

Yet again, the Secretary of State hides behind the so-called independent inquiry and dodges the question. The reality is that he is protecting a corrupt standards regime upheld by the Conservatives for the last 13 years, with the Prime Minister as judge and jury. Can the Secretary of State say today, in no uncertain terms, when Adam Tolley’s fact-finding mission is complete, will the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser be asked to provide a judgment about whether there has been a breach of the ministerial code by the Deputy Prime Minister?

As the right hon. Lady will know, the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser is independent. It will be a matter for him to decide whether he wishes to take further action, in consultation with the Prime Minister. We see this time and again from the Labour party. They call on us to have an independent inquiry. As soon as we announce an independent inquiry, they ask us to pre-empt it. They ask us to have transparency, yet when it comes to transparency from the Labour party, they still have not provided details of the extensive meetings they had with a serving civil servant. It is in the public interest to declare that, and they have still failed to do so.

T5. I have heard from both my local authorities of the challenges that arise when the obligations placed on them by one Government Department may conflict with those from another Department. For example, the Illegal Migration Bill contains provisions regarding modern slavery and education, which may conflict with local authority legal duties under the Children Act 1989 and the Modern Slavery Act 2015. What proposals are there across Government to ensure that joined-up advice is provided, so that such conflicts do not result in difficulties for our public services? (904131)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have a number of structures in Government to ensure that Departments work effectively together. In relation to parliamentary legislation, there is the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Cabinet Committee, which is led by the Leader of the House. There is also the Economic and Domestic Affairs Secretariat, which ensures co-ordination between different Departments, and those are long-established practices.

T2.   Despite the inquiry by Adam Heppinstall KC beginning over a month ago, the Cabinet Office is yet to speak to Richard Sharp regarding his appointment as BBC chairman. He was appointed to the role over two years ago. Will the Secretary of State advise the House when this inquiry intends to speak to its own subject and when we can expect it to report back its findings? This is a matter of national interest and importance. (904126)

First, I should say that I oversaw that appointment process. I have every confidence in its propriety, and I am sure the inquiry will find that that was the case. In order to ensure that it is an independent inquiry, it is independent from the Cabinet Office, so I cannot give commentary on its timings; that is for the person conducting it.

As the country grinds to a halt once again and children are denied education at the hands of militant trade unions, we learn that the Labour party wants to repeal every anti-strike law in the country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the public cannot afford or trust a Labour Government while they remain in the pocket of militant trade unions?

It may not surprise the House to hear that I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I am afraid we have seen more evidence of that in this House this year. When this Government brought forward legislation to protect hard-working people from disruptive strikes, the Opposition failed to support minimum service levels.

T4.   I refer to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a proud supporter of every single civil servant who took strike action yesterday. Civil servants have received correspondence from Government Members saying either that civil service pay should be resolved by speaking to human resources or that these decisions should be left to pay review bodies. Civil service pay is not covered by a pay review body, so will the Minister agree to meet the PCS urgently to resolve the dispute and to help his colleagues better understand how civil service pay actually operates? [R] (904129)

Civil service pay is determined at delegated levels between the Departments concerned. At the senior ranks of the civil service, it is more of a Cabinet Office responsibility. I have met the leadership of the PCS—I did so in January. There are ongoing discussions between officials in the Cabinet Office and the unions. We want to see this resolved, but I do not believe that matters are helped one iota by people going on strike and having an impact on the very people they are employed to serve, and I know do serve with great commitment and dedication.

Can the Minister outline what immediate plans the Government have to relocate civil servants out of London? Does he agree that my Cleethorpes constituency and neighbouring Grimsby, as major centres for the renewable energy sector, would be an ideal location for officials who oversee that sector?

The good news to share with my hon. Friend is that we have already got halfway to our target of 22,000 jobs moved out of London around the UK, and a huge number of those jobs have gone to the north of England. I am sure that my hon. Friend will make his case for his constituency in his normal, incredibly effective way.

T6. We had a local council by-election in my constituency last week, which the Liberal Democrats won of course, but it was a reminder of the challenges we face in encouraging high voter turnout at our elections. A recent survey by the Electoral Commission showed that more than a third of people are still unaware of what they will need to take to the ballot box with them in future to vote. When we add to that the number of people who will not have that, how are the Government going to address that shortage? (904132)

The hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that there is a major communications programme to address just that issue.

I thank the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) for coming to visit the Veterans Charity in Barnstaple earlier this year. Does he agree that such charities run by veterans often play an excellent complementary role to the excellent work his Department is doing?

I of course pay tribute to the Veterans Charity—it was a fantastic visit—but I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s advocacy of it over many years. It has been extraordinary. It provides great services down in the south-west, and I pay tribute to it.

It has recently been revealed that the Crown Commercial Service in the Cabinet Office is planning to replace local buying and distribution agreements for food and catering services with what it calls a single national prime supplier. That will have a profound effect on many local and regional wholesalers in Cambridge and across the country. Can the Minister tell us what assessment he has made of that impact, and will he meet me and representatives of those wholesalers to assess the situation?

The Crown Commercial Service is always looking at ways in which it can save taxpayers’ money, but it is also mindful to protect small and medium-sized enterprises, which remain a priority for this Administration.

The global expansion of cyber-space is changing the way we live and work. Can my right hon. Friend outline what steps he is taking to advance our national cyber-security strategy and to bolster our defences against malign actors around the world?

Clearly the landscape in which we are operating is getting more risky over time, with geopolitical elements, as the House is aware. I am spending more and more of my time ensuring that we reach appropriate levels of cyber-security, working with the National Cyber Security Centre and other agencies.

I echo the earlier question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) about the contaminated blood scandal. The inquiry is coming to an end, and another interim report is due shortly. I just reiterate that it is so incredibly important for those affected, including bereaved parents such as the Smiths in my constituency, that we know that the Government are preparing now and are ready to act quickly on compensation for those people who have waited so long.

The hon. Lady has campaigned vigorously on this on behalf of her constituents. I am aware of her absolute focus on this matter of major concern. There is work ongoing; I think we will be helped a great deal by Brian Langstaff’s second interim report, which I believe will address compensation. That will help us get that underpinning. It is an incredibly complex issue, as I am discovering, but I can assure the hon. Lady that work is being conducted in Government to make certain we are ready for the second interim report, and then the final one.

In 2016, Hinkley Point C was estimated to cost £18 billion. The latest update is that it is going to cost £33 billion. The UK Government want to replicate Hinkley Point C at Sizewell C; why, then, are they still estimating the cost of Sizewell C at £18 billion? When are they going to come clean about the real cost of Sizewell C?

Some of the precision of that would be better answered by my colleagues in the relevant Department, but what I will say to reassure the hon. Gentleman is that the Infrastructure and Projects Authority learns with every single project that we do. I have discussed this with the IPA, and there will be a huge amount of learning from the planning that has already gone on as to how we can make certain that future projects learn from experience and are more cost-effective. That was the case with how we have built schools: right across the Government service, we are finding ways of learning and applying that more regularly.

I am going to have another go. Will the Paymaster General agree to a series of update meetings with those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal in the months leading up to Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report? That is a specific question.

The next point in this process will be the second interim report, and when that is published, I will meet the right hon. Lady and her colleagues from the all-party parliamentary group if that is helpful. That is about two weeks away, in the Easter recess.

Given that Brexit was all about this place taking back control, why are the Government using so many Henry VIII clauses and awarding themselves other delegated powers in the Brexit legislation that they are passing? Is it not about time that we had a proper review of how delegated legislation works, along the lines recently proposed by the Hansard Society?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman would appreciate that, given the sheer volume of European legislation that we accumulated during our membership, we have to move rapidly to establish sovereign control. That is why we have the provisions in that Bill. The provisions of the Bill have been approved by this House and are currently under consideration in the other place, so Members have had ample opportunity to make their views known and to vote on it.

The Veterans’ Minister and I recently met the hero, Ben Parkinson. I was certainly concerned to hear that there was not provision within the system to cover the cost of Ben’s wheelchair. Could the Minister say whether provision was made in yesterday’s Budget to cover those costs, and if so, will he take the opportunity to pay tribute to Ben and his family for their persistence in making the case?

The hon. Gentleman is referring to the veterans mobility fund. He is absolutely right: none of these individuals with these catastrophic injuries should be contributing anything to their specialist mobility equipment. That is why, yesterday, we managed to reinstate the veterans mobility fund, and I pay tribute to Ben and his family for their campaigning on that issue. It is an important piece of work, and we will make sure we see it through.

Figures show that 50% of female spouses of serving personnel aged 30 to 49 experience loneliness, in contrast to 27% of women of the same age in the general population. What steps are Ministers taking to ensure that adequate emotional support services are available to the spouses and families of serving personnel?

That is a question for the Minister for support personnel, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), but I know that he would mention all the work that has gone into groups such as Recruit for Spouses, and all the work that those groups do. There is a massive unmet skillset in that space that we should take advantage of; there are some brilliant skills there, and I know the Ministry of Defence is working hard on that at this time.

Sitting suspended.

Health and Disability White Paper

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on “Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper” published by the Government.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State published “Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper”. This White Paper is a significant milestone, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to ensuring that disabled people and people with health conditions can lead independent lives and fulfil their potential. It sets out an ambitious policy reform package that will transform the health and disability benefits system, and help disabled people and people with health conditions to start, stay in and succeed in work.

We will deliver action in three ways. First, we will transform the future benefits system so that it focuses on what people can do, rather than on what they cannot, including by removing the work capability assessment. In our new system, there will be no need to be found to have limited capability for work or work-related activity in order to receive additional income-related support for a disability or health condition. We will introduce a new universal credit health element that people receiving both personal independence payment and universal credit will be entitled to, which will enable people to try work without the fear of losing their benefits. We will roll this out carefully from 2026-27, and we will ensure that no one currently on universal credit and with limited capability for work or work-related activity will lose out once they move on to the new system.

Secondly, while de-risking work is one side of the coin in supporting disabled people and people with health conditions into work, we know that we also need to provide more employment and health support for this group. The White Paper sets out how we will introduce a new personalised approach to employment support and engagement, with the aim of helping people to reach their potential and live a more independent life. We are investing in additional work coach time and tailored support. The Chancellor also set out yesterday that we will introduce a new programme called universal support, which will provide wraparound support for individuals and employers, as well as additional money to provide more mental health and musculoskeletal treatment for this group.

Finally, we will ensure that people can access the right support at the right time, and have a better overall experience, by testing new initiatives to make it easier to apply for and receive health and disability benefits. I am certain that our White Paper reforms will support more people to reach their full potential and reap the health and wellbeing advantages of work.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.

Although we know that most of the proposals set out in the White Paper will not be implemented until the next Parliament, a significant number of ill and disabled people will be impacted. We see the Government using a carrot-and-stick approach, which will leave many sick and disabled people with the stick and the real threat of the ramping up of sanctions, as indicated by the Chancellor during his Budget statement yesterday. Just this week the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions must release “sensitive” research into its sanctions regime following the Work and Pensions Committee report, which found that there is very little evidence that the sanctions work. Instead, it found that they have a significant impact on the health and finances of those who have been sanctioned. There are real consequences to some of the Government’s actions.

Nobody is arguing that scrapping the work capability assessment is not welcome. However, relying solely on the PIP assessment is not the solution, given the current experiences of PIP assessments, which show that they are deeply flawed; the DWP is losing or conceding in four out of five appeals. Moreover, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said yesterday that up to 1 million people currently on incapacity benefits could lose out as a result of scrapping the work capability assessment and relying on using PIP only. Also under the new proposals disabled people will not automatically be in the “no work-related requirements” conditionality group and will now be subject to the decisions of a work coach.

We also did not hear any additional investment in the Access to Work scheme, so can the Minister say how many people will be impacted and what the cost is of these new proposals? It is estimated that 1 million people will lose out. How are the Government intending to mitigate that? Will the PIP assessment framework change or stay as it currently is? Given the poor decision making on so many PIP assessments, what action is being taken to fix the flawed decision-making process and the assessment itself? How will the DWP ensure that the policy proposals do not remove vital protections against sanctions and risk pushing people further into poverty? Finally, when are the Government intending to publish the sensitive research into the sanctions regime?

I am hugely appreciative of the hon. Lady, who always speaks with great passion on these issues. I welcome the cautious welcome from her about the broad thrust of the reform we are trying to deliver, which is to remove the structural disincentive to work. That manifests itself in the many conversations I have with disabled people and their representative groups, when they tell me that many disabled people would like to try to work, but fear doing so and then losing their entitlement if it does not work out. That is not an acceptable situation, and it is right that we change it. I hope that as a House, as we move forward with these reforms, we can come together and deliver something that achieves that objective, which is plainly the right thing to do.

It was before my time in the House, but I well remember debates in previous years about the work capability assessment. It is welcome that we are scrapping the work capability assessment through these reforms. The reforms also offer an opportunity to focus on quality when it comes to the PIP assessment and on making sure that we get the right decisions first time. The hon. Lady will note, for example, that one of the commitments we have made in the White Paper is trying to match specialist assessors with people’s conditions. That is another thing people have regularly been asking for, and we are determined to test that and see what difference it can make. Again, this is all about being responsive to the feedback we have received.

On the issue of sanctions that the hon. Lady mentioned, I know that the legal case she touched on is under consideration by Ministers elsewhere in the Department at the moment. No doubt we will come forward and say more about that in due course, but I want to be clear that it is not my intention or the Department’s intention to force anyone to do something that is not right for them. We are committed to personalised, tailored support that meets individual needs and aspirations. The Secretary of State will talk about that in more detail during the Budget debate later. A lot of that will be voluntary. I would hope that people will want to engage with universal support and will want to engage with Work Well, because this is about trying to help and support people. For people with health conditions, for example, this is a way in which we can work harder and tirelessly with them to help them get better. Work is of course an important determinant of better health outcomes. The White Paper is explicit in saying that we will move forward with this in a way that is appropriate for individuals. For those where work is not appropriate, they will not be expected to do it.

It is also important to set out for the House that there will be transitional cash protection in place. No one who currently has limited capability for work or work-related activity will lose out as they move to the new system. We are specifically protecting those with pregnancy risk or who are undergoing cancer treatment, and we are also keeping a contributory health and disability benefit. Of course, what I really want to do—this is key to all of the work I do in this role—is to work constructively with the hon. Lady and with disabled people and their representative groups to make sure that we get this reform right. This is the biggest welfare reform for over a decade, and we have to get this absolutely right.

I warmly welcome the announcement of the Government’s new universal support programme. Does my hon. Friend agree that it will help disabled people in my constituency find an appropriate job, backed by £4,000 of resources per person? It will further enhance the exceptional work done by Disability Confident and the Barnstable Jobcentre Plus. Might he come to visit and see for himself?

I commend my hon. Friend for the work she does on the ground in her constituency, working constructively with the jobcentre and employers to help facilitate employment opportunities. I am really excited about the opportunities universal support will bring. We know from existing schemes that where people are supported in taking and then retaining roles, it is hugely powerful and effective in bettering their health and employment outcomes. That is precisely what we are doing through universal support with those 50,000 opportunities. I am excited to work with my hon. Friend on implementing that in her area, and I would of course be delighted to visit and see more of what is going on on the ground.

No one will mourn the passing of the work capability assessment; Labour has been calling for reform of that for a long time. It needed to change, because people’s lives do not fit neatly into a binary system of work or no work. However, disabled people and those with serious health issues want and deserve support and reassurance in work and out of it, and what people fear, understandably, is that under the guise of reform their lives will be made harder and vital financial support might disappear.

The devil is always in the detail, so I have a few questions for the Minister. The PIP assessment is designed for a totally different purpose from the WCA; how will he reconcile those completely different systems? What will happen in future to those people who do not currently receive PIP—those on the limited capability for work and work-related activity element of universal credit, and particularly those with short-term and fluctuating conditions? Unless it is the Minister’s intention that some 750,000 people will lose £350 a year, an alternative needs to be in place; what will that alternative be?

Do the Government believe that it is fair that the hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities that prevent them from even engaging in work-related activity should receive less financial support through UC than people who are entitled to PIP, and if so what is the basis for that justification? If the intention is to allow work coaches to use discretion in all such cases, how will we ensure consistent decision making and decision making that is based on a proper understanding of serious health conditions and their impact on daily life? What provision is made within the Department to ensure that capacity for that is in place?

As transparency and openness are so essential in building confidence, will the Minister now publish the report on the operation and effectiveness of sanctions? By publishing the White Paper, the Government have started this debate; the minimum we need now is openness and clarity about how those ideas are intended to work in practice.

May I first welcome what I think is a cautious welcome from the Opposition for the reforms that we are seeking to advance? I think it reflects some of the utterings that we have heard from Labour Members over recent weeks and months about the direction of travel they want, recognising that there will be people for whom work is not appropriate. I repeat the point that, where that is the case, we will not be expecting people to engage with this support, but it is right that that structural impediment to work is removed from the system, that those who want to work are supported in being able to do so, and that we make sure that we have a system that is responsive to that and that also has health as a focus. I hope we can move forward on a cross-party basis on those terms.

On the specific point about PIP, again it is important to recognise that we will look very carefully at whether those individuals who are not currently in receipt of PIP meet the PIP criteria, and we will act accordingly. Also of course, anybody who thinks they may be eligible for PIP is able to apply for it. I would always encourage people who might be eligible for any given benefit to apply for it.

On the point about the health top-up, I can confirm that the award rate for the new UC health element will be at the same level as is currently awarded to those who have LCWRA. I again make the point about the approach that we intend to take: the reform will be carried out on a staged geographical basis, beginning with new claims in 2026-27. Of course, legislative steps will need to be taken to bring this reform to fruition, but there is much to welcome and I hope we can come together. On the point about the legal case, as I said earlier, colleagues elsewhere in the Department are considering next steps and will come forward in due course.

I welcome the announcement in the Budget. As my hon. Friend will recall, I wanted to introduce the universal support package alongside universal credit. Its purpose was to intervene and help to change people’s lives, which was what was missing for all those years and needs to be there now. It was intended to replace what has been a very difficult benefit, originally introduced by Labour along with the work capability assessment. Throughout that time, I wanted to see universal credit together with universal support to help people get over their difficulties.

According to a recent survey on sickness benefit, 700,000 people want to find work, but the limits to what they can do seem so difficult that they fear losing their benefit. This measure, hopefully, should change that. However, I urge the Government to do the final bit, which is to bring in the other group who are still receiving employment and support allowance and not yet receiving universal credit, so that the interventions can help them and we can have a progressive, positive way of helping people with sickness or disability to fulfil their potential and lead productive lives, because work is a health treatment.

My right hon. Friend speaks with passion and authority on these issues, and he has a wealth of experience of delivering meaningful change in the welfare system that has improved the lives of millions of people. This is the next chapter—the next step in that journey—and one thing I know for sure is that I shall want to draw on my right hon. Friend’s experience and expertise and hear his ideas about how we can get this right. Like him, I am excited about the opportunities that universal support can provide in matching people to roles and supporting retention, with all the wraparound care and support that goes with that. There is a great deal of best practice from which we can learn. I was in Tower Hamlets yesterday, and saw a fantastic example involving NHS talking therapies. I want to ensure that more people are able to engage with that sort of support.

Why do this Government intend to expose more disabled people to the punitive benefits sanction regime? It does not work, and the automation of sanctions will make the position even worse.

Why was there no guidance in the White Paper on statutory timescales for reasonable adjustments to enable more disabled people and those with long-term conditions to work? The SNP and many stakeholders continue to call for urgent improvements to end the payment gap. Why is there no mention of that? Why will the Government not ensure that flexible working is a day one right by default, rather than the onus being on the worker? Why is there no uplift for legacy disability claimants who were missed out during the pandemic? PIP assessments are already failing many disabled people and forcing them into challenging decisions which are ultimately overturned. Why is more being added to PIP assessments?

Will the Minister consider using dignity, fairness and respect as the White Paper proceeds into legislation, as the Scottish Government do?

I would argue that dignity, fairness and respect underpin all the work that I do as Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, all the work of my colleagues in in the Department for Work and Pensions and, of course, all the work of our officials, who approach their responsibilities with real seriousness and want to help and support people in a way that is appropriate for them. That goes to the heart of these reforms.

This is about a tailored approach, whereby people are helped into work when that is appropriate for them. When we can improve people’s health outcomes, we ought to be doing so in a joined-up way. No one will be forced to do anything that is not appropriate for them. As I said earlier, I want people to feel that they would want to engage with the employment support we are offering, and that is reflected in the fact that so many disabled people tell us that they wish to try these opportunities, but fear losing their support if it does not work out.

The PIP journey is now down to 14 weeks, but there is more to do in that regard. I am not complacent about it, and I want to drive forward work on digitalisation. Let me also say that I have a very constructive working relationship with the Scottish Government Minister with responsibilities in this area, and I absolutely commit myself to working with him as we deliver this reform. I know I am set to meet the hon. Lady next week, when we may be able to follow up some of these points.

The Government’s initiative to emphasise the need to improve health outcomes is fundamental to this. May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to today’s edition of the Daily Express and its Justice for Jab Victims crusade? A two- page article describes the problems that thousands of people are experiencing as a result of receiving covid-19 vaccines that have not worked out in the way they had hoped.

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s welcome for our proposed reforms. I have not seen the article to which he refers, but I will certainly have a look at it once I have left the Chamber, and I shall be happy to speak to him separately about it.

There are very welcome measures in the White Paper, although a lot of the detail is still missing. The work capability assessment is to be scrapped, starting in three or four years’ time, and replaced with

“a new personalised health conditionality approach”

to assess entitlement to what the Minister just referred to as the “health top-up” in universal credit. That sounds like a new assessment of some kind. Can he tell us what it means?

I suspect that these issues will come up when I appear before the Select Committee along with my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment in a few weeks’ time. I look forward to that opportunity to delve into these reforms in some detail. The detail of our proposed approach needs to be worked through. I am clear that stakeholder engagement, working with disabled people and hearing views from this House will help to inform that. I want people to feel that they can engage with the programmes announced in the Budget, as well as with the existing provision. That will happen on a voluntary basis, but we need to move the reform forward in a pragmatic way. We will say more about it as we move forward with implementation.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing forward steps to abolish the work capability assessment. Does he agree that that will enable more disabled people in my constituency to take up work without fear of losing financial support?

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head about what we are trying to achieve with these reforms. He is a passionate campaigner for employment opportunities in Workington, and has had considerable success in that regard during his time in this House. I appreciate his welcoming the reforms, which are about helping people to achieve their aspirations. If work is something that people want to do, Government ought not to put barriers in place to prevent that. That is precisely what we are determined to do away with.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) for asking this important urgent question.

The sanctions do not work. Measures to tackle disability employment gaps are way overdue, and I pay tribute to many groups across Vauxhall, including Autism Voice in Clapham, which I recently visited. They do a lot of work to try to help disabled people back into the work market but, sadly, the employment gap is still there. Many employers discriminate and are not prepared to give disabled people an opportunity, because of the widespread perception that disabled people are less capable, regardless of whether they are the best candidate. What are the Government are doing to tackle negative attitudes about disabled people, which are preventing many of them from fulfilling the opportunities that they should be taking?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. We all have a duty and a responsibility to be brilliant advocates and allies of disabled people, promoting opportunities for them at every turn. I expect that we will be in a position to say more about autism specifically over the coming weeks—something that I feel very passionately about as Minister for Disabled People. We are doing work on perceptions, and there is more work to be done over the coming months. We have a campaign that I expect to come to fruition in the not-too-distant future. I want to see more employers sign up to schemes such as Disability Confident. There is more to do, although we have seen real strides forward, with 1 million more disabled people in employment achieved five years early, but we must take the next steps forward. There is so much untapped potential from people who can contribute and offer so much to their workplaces.

I welcome the focus in the White Paper on people with learning disabilities. For many years my constituent Jeremy Child has run the project Community ConneX, formerly Harrow Mencap, which supports adults with learning disabilities to grow their confidence with a view to entering the workplace. Does the Minister agree that such projects are a critical part of the infrastructure that will make this White Paper a success in practice?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the work of Community ConneX, which makes a huge difference in his community. I see that replicated in many of the visits that I undertake in this role. I was in Bristol just before Christmas and it was inspiring to see the work experience placement opportunities that are being provided, often by charitable organisations. I want to work with them to translate those early steps towards employment into roles in other workplaces—full-time work if that is appropriate for someone, or part-time work if that is appropriate in other circumstances.

There is so much that we can do, and I want to place on record my thanks to everyone who works in those initiatives—they are often charitable endeavours, as I say—for everything that they to do help to facilitate this. Working with them will be a key part of how we move this forward.

May I suggest to the Minister that, as part of this, he looks at reforming statutory sick pay? The pandemic laid bare the inadequacies of that system. Millions of people do not qualify at all, and the rate is one of the lowest in Europe. If we are genuine about getting people with long-term health conditions into the workplace, we need a proper safety net for when they fall ill.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts on statutory sick pay. If there are particular ideas or suggestions that he would like me to consider, I would be very happy to do so.

I am really pleased that the Government are dealing with the issue of an ageing population and the difference between good health and poor health. The reality is that many people will live with long-term health conditions. I have seen at first hand that when someone has a heart attack or a stroke, they struggle to get back into the workplace. Is this part of changing the environment to make sure that people have support all the way through, from diagnosis to desk? If so, how will my hon. Friend ensure that the environment is compassionate and supportive all the way through to getting people back into work?

Compassionate and supportive is precisely the approach that I see when I carry out my visits and look at the employment support that is being provided. As I said, I was at the NHS talking therapies service in Tower Hamlets yesterday, and I saw that for myself. It was inspirational to hear the testimony of people who have been through that service about the difference that it has made for them. It has supported those with mental health conditions, in particular, by seeing work as a real determinant of better health outcomes for them and supporting them to work.

My hon. Friend knows more than many Members in this House just how valuable better health is for people. The work that he has done in his professional life means that he has a lot of experience in this area, which I am keen to pick up. I know we are due to meet, and I would be keen to hear his ideas.

Waiting times for Access to Work grants have skyrocketed under the Conservative Government, with the average clearance time now more than two months. Although plans to enhance the Access to Work support offer are welcome, how does the Minister plan to reduce waiting times so that disabled people can access the support that is available before an employer pulls a job offer?

I am not satisfied with where we are in relation to Access to Work, and that is why I am driving a real effort within the Department, which is resulting in more staff being dedicated to it. We are refining our practice, streamlining processes and reflecting feedback, particularly on workplace assessments and travel claims. Those are two areas where some really constructive ideas have come forward and we are now looking to roll them out.

As I said in relation to PIP, digitalisation is key to this. It is about making sure that processes are easy to access and navigate. When we bring those factors together, they will help us to make a meaningful difference in shifting the dial on Access to Work applications.

I welcome this health and disability White Paper, because we know that health issues may mean that people feel unable to carry on working or struggle to continue in the working environment. I thank my hon. Friend for the Government’s new £400 million fund to increase the availability of mental health and musculoskeletal resources. Does he agree that this support will help people across the country, including in Keighley and Ilkley, who need such support to stay in work for longer?

My hon. Friend is a brilliant champion for his constituents, and he is always arguing for improved employment opportunities for residents in his area. The Budget commitments, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will no doubt touch on during today’s debate, amount to more than £500 million of employment support by 2025-26. That very much reflects the best practice that is being delivered out there in the country, building on it and cascading it further. I think it is fair to say that my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine, and those of hon. Members across this House, will feel the benefit of this work in the years ahead.

I thank the Minister for his answers on this important issue. Large numbers of my constituents have disabilities and are on benefits, and have understandable concerns, so I seek some reassurance. Will he outline whether greater financial incentives can be offered to employers to take time to put in place procedures to allow disabled people to be part of the team yet work from home? That would allow more people to overcome their physical restrictions and be a huge asset to a team, and thereby gain confidence and independence through employment.

The hon. Gentleman is right to touch on the fact that disabled people contribute so much to our workplaces, and I want to extend their contribution further so that we can unleash the potential in our society. With the right help and support, we will build on the successes that we have seen in getting people into work. The target of getting 1 million more disabled people into work was met five years early, but that is not the end of the story.

We need to continue to move forward, which is why the hon. Gentleman is right to also touch on the support that we have in place and our work with employers. Access to Work is an important part of that, because it supports the physical things that people need in workplaces to facilitate employment opportunities. Another area that I am passionate about and want to look at closely, and relates to what the Chancellor said yesterday about occupational health, is what more we can do to improve soft skills for employers to ensure that they have good-quality workplace conversations to best support those who are coming to work for them, and those who work for them already.

The report points out that autistic people are the least likely of all disabled people to be in work. It goes on to reference the nine local authorities where there has been a pilot, which is to be extended to a further 28. Does that 28 include the nine? Can the Minister outline the criteria for local authorities to participate?

I am happy to provide further detail for my hon. Friend separately. We recognise that there is real value and opportunity in having locally led and locally initiated employment opportunities and support that are tailored to meet localised needs on the ground and that work closely with the health system. That is reflected in our announcements. We need to take that forward in a joined-up way and work across Government. There is a real determination from not just Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions but the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care—this is a cross-Government effort. I am happy to provide him with more background about the work that we are doing.

It is fantastic that we have seen 2 million more people with disabilities enter the workplace in the last decade and that, as my hon. Friend said earlier, those who want and are able to work are supported to do so. I have spoken before about my support for the Disability Confident and Access to Work schemes. The White Paper builds on all the progress made thus far. Can he outline more about how the Access to Work scheme will evolve with an enhanced package and about the flexibility? Basically, can he update the House? The programme is fantastic, but there needs to be significantly greater awareness.

It is fair to say that the Access to Work scheme is a flagship scheme that has made a big difference over the years in helping to support disabled people into work. As we move forward with the reforms, we want to look at how we can be more ambitious on Access to Work and, as I touched on earlier, what more we can do to support employers to have those soft skills so that they have good-quality workplace conversations with employees about how they can be best supported. We also want to ensure that we deliver digitalisation to bring waiting times down. Frankly, I do not want anyone to have to wait longer than necessary to start work, if that is something that they want to do. We must support people to retain their roles.

Saudi Arabia’s Execution of Hussein Abo al-Kheir

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on Saudi Arabia’s execution of Hussein Abo al-Kheir.

Saudi Arabia, of course, remains a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office human rights priority country, in part because of the continued use of the death penalty. It is long-standing UK policy to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances, in all countries, as a matter of principle. The Saudi Government are well aware of the UK’s opposition to the use of the death penalty. The UK Government have consistently raised the issue of the death penalty, including the case of Jordanian national Mr Hussein Abo al-Kheir, with the Saudi authorities. The Minister for the middle east and north Africa and for human rights, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, has actively raised concerns about the death penalty and the specific case of Mr al-Kheir with the Saudi authorities on multiple occasions, including doing so with the president of the Saudi Human Rights Commission in December 2022 and when he visited the kingdom in February 2023. Lord Ahmad also raised the case with the Saudi ambassador to the UK, including in November 2022 and in January of this year.

On learning about the imminency of the execution, which took place on Saturday 11 March, Lord Ahmad again spoke to the president of the Saudi HRC, the Saudi vice-Foreign Minister and the Saudi ambassador. Saudi Arabia is committed to an ambitious programme of economic and social reform, through “Vision 2030”, which has already delivered significant change, including increased freedoms and economic opportunity for women. However, the human rights situation is likely to remain a key issue in our engagement for the foreseeable future. We will continue to discuss human rights and the death penalty, including individual cases of concern, with the Saudi authorities.

Hussein Abo al-Kheir had been on death row since 2015. He had been tortured into a false confession and always maintained his innocence. When I was told this weekend that his execution was imminent, I urgently wrote to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the junior Minister, Lord Ahmad, the British ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Saudi ambassador to the UK, calling for intervention to prevent Hussein’s execution—I received no formal reply, although I understand that a letter has arrived in my office since I have been in the Chamber. Hussein was subsequently executed. A response given on Tuesday to questions from the Father of the House appeared to suggest that, despite my representations, only low-level attempts were made to talk to the Saudis over the weekend. In 2015, the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor, Philip Hammond, intervened himself, successfully, to prevent the execution of a Saudi youth activist, and he prevented many more executions by so doing; that intervention saved Ali’s life. I firmly believe that a stronger intervention over the weekend could have saved Hussein’s life and perhaps more to come.

Saudi Arabia continues to be one of the most prolific users of the death penalty, killing more than 130 individuals in 2022. Since 1 March this year, the Kingdom has executed 11 people, including for non-violent drug offences. That goes against Saudi Arabia’s informal moratorium on the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences. Being soft with totalitarian states comes back to bite us, as we know from the Russian example. We must make it clear to our ally that it must abide by international standards of civilised behaviour; doing so might just save the lives of those who remain on death row.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for describing the number of letters he has sent and pointing out that a response has been had. I am pleased that that is the case. I assure him that a range of interventions were made, as I described, at the most senior level by Lord Ahmad. That describes the energy with which he has made these representations, so we can be confident that a great deal of energy was expended in that effort. Of course, we cannot speculate as to the particulars of the case. My right hon. Friend mentioned the apparent spike in cases. Again, it might not be useful to speculate, but it might be that a pre-Ramadan surge of cases is adding to the apparent uptick. I understand that the moratorium relates to drug use rather than drug smuggling, and this case pertained to an allegation of and conviction for smuggling rather than use, which I think is relevant. It is not useful to speculate further on the particulars of this case, but we do make clear our continued opposition to the use of the death penalty, and our close working relationship with the Saudi authorities allows us to do just that in a way that allows us to appeal for clemency.

I thank the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for his characteristic defence of these principles in the House and for securing this urgent question.

On behalf of the Labour party, I extend my condolence to the family of Hussein Abo al-Kheir, a Jordanian national who leaves behind eight children. Labour stands unequivocally against the death penalty wherever it is used in the world. The taking of human life as punishment, regardless of the crime, is a gross breach of a person’s human rights.

Mr al-Kheir was arrested in 2014 for alleged drug smuggling; however, because there was no proper trial with a proper defence and he had no legal advice, it is very difficult to know the exact detail of the case. He consistently denied the charges. While he was in custody, he was allegedly so severely beaten and tortured that he lost his eyesight. Moreover, he was denied basic due process and was unable to instruct a lawyer throughout his time in custody. Despite interventions from the Government and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, his execution went ahead on Sunday.

I reiterate the point made earlier: has the UK become less robust on the question of human rights in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 2015? Saudi Arabia is a founding member of the Arab League, which is bound by the Arab charter of human rights; what urgent actions are the Government taking to ensure that our partners comply with the Arab League and its human rights charter?

In the run-up to Ramadan, what extra measures are the Government taking to open dialogue with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so that we can avoid a repeat of last year’s execution of 100 people? In the strategic dialogue with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will the Minister press for the value of the sanctity of human life, a principle that we in this House all agree on?

I join the hon. Lady in vocally opposing the death penalty. That is at the core of all our diplomatic work so we entirely share that view. As she said, we do not know the exact details of this case, so it is not useful to speculate, but we can be sure that we continue to engage through our mission in Riyadh and other multilateral channels.

To answer the hon. Lady’s question directly, we are certainly no less robust than we were previously in our absolute determination to oppose the death penalty around the world, and at bilateral fora as well as multilateral fora. She mentioned the Arab League and the advent of Ramadan; that gives us even more urgency in the representations we make. We will continue to press and engage at the multilateral and bilateral level to oppose this practice.

Will the Government learn from this tragic case the lesson that in dealing with Saudi Arabia an energetic junior Minister is an inadequate substitute for the real thing—either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary? Does the history not show that we have made a big mistake in not putting up our top team?

I think history shows that energetic junior Ministers can make a difference in terms of building relationships, but of course our alliance with Saudi Arabia is of such import that it merits a great deal of senior attention, which is why it gets it.

We on the SNP Benches pass on our condolences to the family of Mr al-Kheir. No matter what alleged crimes may have been committed, the SNP is unequivocally against capital punishment.

Exactly a year ago, the Saudi regime executed 81 men in a single day, and Saudi’s international partners, including this one, issued empty statements about the importance of human rights. Yet again, this morning the Minister has at times sounded like a Saudi Government spokesperson.

Mr al-Kheir was charged with drug offences, but the UN working group on arbitrary detention found that his detention lacked legal basis. For too long the Government have been content to disregard the Saudi regime’s appalling human rights record in the name of £2.8 billion-worth of arms exports since 2019. The Saudi’s UK-made warplanes, bombs and missiles are playing a central role in the Saudi-led coalition’s attacks on Yemen. We have called many times for that to cease. What will it take for that to end?

Finally, Mr al-Kheir’s case was raised in the House of Commons in November, when the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) stated that the Saudi authorities had “clearly” tortured him and described his treatment as “abhorrent”. The following week, the Under-Secretary of State asked for his words to be struck from the record, saying that he had spoken in error. Will the Minister guarantee that everything that is put on the record will stay there and that UK Ministers will not bow down to pressure from the Saudi Government?

I join the hon. Gentleman in his opposition to the death penalty. We are all agreed on that—we are unequivocal. He mentions human rights in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and I can assure him that that is at the core of our sustained and continued bilateral engagement. He mentions the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), on a previous occasion in this House. It is important to note that he did correct the record subsequently.

This barbaric execution was in breach of the Saudi authorities’ commitment to stop using the death penalty in drugs cases. They have also promised to stop executing minors, but Abdullah al-Howaiti was 14 when he was arrested and tortured, and 17 when he was sentenced to death. If his sentence is upheld soon, he could be executed at any time. We have heard from the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) how the Government intervened successfully in the case of another minor. Will the Government now make representations, through the Foreign Secretary, to try to save Abdullah’s life?

The right hon. Gentleman mentions the moratorium. My understanding is that that was for the use of drugs, not the smuggling of drugs. That is important to note, I think. He mentions the individual case of a minor. I am very pleased to give him an assurance that I will ask my ministerial colleague Lord Ahmad to follow that up and write to him with an update on that particularly alarming case.

Forgive me if I am a little irritated, but this feels like human rights for slow learners. Surely it makes no difference whether it is for the smuggling or for the use of drugs—the death penalty should not be tolerated. Since 2015, we have not had a single public condemnation or appeal from a Prime Minister or a Foreign Secretary in relation to a Saudi death penalty case. Is that as a result of a change of policy? I have to say to the Minister that I suspect that the Saudi Arabians actually know that we do not like the use of the death penalty. They are not embarrassed by private representations, but they might be embarrassed by public representations, which have made a difference in the past.

Why did the Foreign Secretary not make representations to stop this execution, given that that approach has succeeded in the past?

I have described the fact that energetic ministerial attention was given to this. I cannot speculate on whether or not the Foreign Secretary was made aware of the particular calls that were being made and the particular level of engagement, but his concern and interest in this is surely undoubted.

Has the Minister considered any human rights or wider implications for diplomacy following the Saudi-Iran deal brokered by China in the past few days?

We watch this with interest and we applaud diplomatic progress in all its forms. I think this points to the crucial role that Saudi Arabia has as a responsible actor and as a nation that wants to maintain peace and stability in the Gulf region. That is why it is a particularly valued partner.

The execution of Mr al-Kheir by the Saudi regime after reports of a forced confession to drug offences is an outrage. Given that this is a regime that publicly flogs, beheads or crucifies those convicted of the so-called crime of homosexuality, we should hardly be surprised by this latest horror. Is the Minister proud that this blood-soaked regime, which has no regard for human rights, is the UK’s biggest arms customer, with £2.8 billion- worth of arms licences approved for sale to the Saudis since 2019 by the UK Government?

We are proud that we continue very energetically to advocate for the advancement of human rights in Saudi Arabia, and our particularly close relationship with the Saudi Arabians allows us to do that. If we did not have a close relationship, we would not be able to help the Saudi Arabians advance human rights in their own country, so it is for the benefit of both sides.

I send my condolences to Mr al-Kheir’s family. Concerns have been raised that Saudi Arabia is using the death penalty to silence dissidents and protesters convicted of non-lethal offences, while claiming publicly to be applying the penalty only to murder. What conversations have Ministers had around the misinformation that is being spread to the international community regarding that?

I do not think that we can usefully speculate about that— the intent of the use of that. It is useless to speculate. But we do continue to engage to argue against the use of the death penalty. That is our long-standing position and we continue to make that point to our interlocutors.

I thank the Minister for his responses to the questions. In 2015, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, publicly called on the Saudi Arabian authorities to prevent the execution of a child defendant called Ali al-Nimr. Ali at that time was spared the death penalty and was released in 2021. Intervention on that occasion worked well and saved a life. Since 2015, the UK Government—I say this very respectfully—have failed to speak out publicly about similar cases. Can the Minister confirm whether there has been a change of policy not to raise these cases publicly?

Our policy is unchanged. We resolutely continue to oppose the death penalty. We make that very clear. That has been our long-standing policy position and that continues to be the case.

It is, Mr Speaker.

I am sure that, inadvertently, the Minister has not quite led the House properly. The agreement on drug offences was on all drug offences, not simply taking drugs.

Business of the House

The 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.

Wednesday 22 March—Debate on a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Stormont brake in the Windsor framework, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Public Order Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill [Lords].

Thursday 23 March—General debate on World Down Syndrome Day, followed by general debate on tackling the energy trilemma; the subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 24 March—Private Members’ Bill.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 March includes:

Monday 27 March—Consideration in Committee of the Illegal Migration Bill (day 1).

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

Yesterday, the Chancellor announced—or should I say re-announced—his Budget proposals because it was not just that policies had been leaked or even briefed to journalists beforehand—this time, the Chancellor had actually tweeted them out himself. Once upon a time, leaking a Budget was a resignation offence. MPs must be given the chance to scrutinise proposals properly on behalf of our constituents in this place first. If I sound like a broken record, Mr Speaker, it is because I keep having to say that. It is a requirement under section 9 of the “Ministerial Code”. Could the Leader remind the Chancellor?

Speaking of swerving scrutiny on major policy, did the Leader approve of her Government sneaking out their announcement on the huge delays to High Speed 2 via a written ministerial statement late last Thursday afternoon—a significant announcement that, again, should have been made in-person to this House first? Tens of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of economic growth are on the line. What was the Transport Secretary thinking? Hang on, is he thinking anything at all? How would we know? We have not seen much of him lately.

The Department for Transport has reportedly launched a leak inquiry after insiders handed my colleague, the shadow Transport Secretary, documents blowing apart the Government’s case for the delay. However, it is not a leak inquiry that the Government need—it is a search party. The Transport Secretary has not uttered a single word publicly. Unlike his colleague the Chancellor, he has not even been tweeting. Nor has he appeared in this place. Instead, he sends—[Interruption.] Oh, I am told from a sedentary position that he was here yesterday. Why could he not come here on Tuesday, instead of sending his junior? He clearly is around. Where is he? Whether it is the No. 47 bus in Bristol or the trans-Pennine non-express in the north, our transport system is broken. Could the Leader track down the Secretary of State and remind him of his duties?

Will the Leader give us a heads up on what they might try to slip out this afternoon? Who knows—perhaps an announcement of another couple of hundred thousand pounds of taxpayer-funded legal fees for the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)? Is that what they are sneaking out today, or is it something else?

Now, I have said it before, and I will have to say it again. Cabinet Ministers disrespecting this House and our constituents is not good enough. I am not sure that the Leader having quiet words in their ears is working. So perhaps she could get them to write out lines—“I must respect Parliament” 100 times. I am afraid to say that she might need to grab a pen herself, because last week I asked her several very reasonable questions on the scrutiny of the asylum Bill and she did not answer a single one. Perhaps she could have a go at just two. One—has she considered any post-legislative scrutiny of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which the Government introduced last year to solve the same problems that they say the asylum Bill will solve now, or will we be back here next year when the Bill fails? I look forward to announcing when the House will finally consider Labour’s plans that I outlined last week. Two—where is the Government’s impact assessment? The Leader previously said that Government impact assessments were very handy. They are more than that. They are an essential tool for MPs to scrutinise legislation, so why have the Government not published one for the asylum Bill? What are they hiding? Could it be that that Bill is simply unworkable, and the Government know it?

The asylum Bill is unworkable, just like their Budget. Under the Tories, a £1 billion tax cut for the richest 1%; Labour will reverse it. Under the Tories, we are the weakest economy in the G7; under Labour, we will have the strongest growth. Under the Tories, the biggest hit to living standards since comparable records began—hon. Members should read the Blue Book. Under Labour, higher living standards built on good jobs and productivity grown across every part of our country. Under Labour, a better Britain.

I will pass it on to the Transport Secretary that the hon. Lady is missing him dreadfully. She will understand that he has a pressing in-tray, and some of that pressure could certainly be alleviated if the Labour party condemned the transport strikes. I will just leave that thought with her.

Ministers have always been entitled to legal representation while they are in office. That is the standard procedure that has served Governments of every political hue. There are no plans to change that.

The hon. Lady will know that I have been to see all permanent secretaries with my right hon. and noble Friend Lord True, the Leader of the House of Lords, to ensure that all Departments understand their obligations to this House. We have been met with some encouraging actions since our meetings with them.

The hon. Lady asked me to cover the asylum Bill—the Illegal Migration Bill, as it is known—and I note that the Opposition, rather than choosing to attack the policies in that Bill, are choosing to attack their presentation, which I always take as an encouraging sign. It is right that we have proper scrutiny of that Bill. She will know that many actions that we have taken before have been thwarted by legal workarounds. Legal cases have informed the additional measures that we are taking in the Bill. The hon. Lady offers Labour’s plans to stop illegal migration; I am afraid that its plan is to only assist those people if they are able to come here illegally. We want to use our resources to help those people to whom we have the most moral obligation, and we are in a position to help them.

I am disappointed that the hon. Lady does not welcome the measures in the Budget. The country is going through tough times. She talks about living standards. I remind her that under Labour the lowest paid in this country had half the personal tax thresholds that they do now, and they would have seen their council tax bills rise by 110%.

This Budget is one that addresses the issues of hard-working families and businesses, with £94 billion in cost of living support, a fuel duty freeze for the 13th consecutive year, unprecedented expansion of free childcare, the ending of the poverty premium on prepayment meters, the abolition of Labour’s work capability assessment, levelling-up and new regeneration partnerships, and funds to keep leisure centres and pools going, which many colleagues have asked for at business questions. I am sorry also that the hon. Lady has not welcomed the extra £5 billion for defence and security and the path to increasing our defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, which Labour has made no commitment to equal. Nor has she welcomed the many measures to modernise our economy and to stimulate growth and investment.

Instead, we have had the unedifying spectacle of His Majesty’s Opposition talking down the country. Earlier this week, the shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), likened the United Kingdom to Putin’s Russia. Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition said our nation was a “sick man”. Ours is a great nation, and the modernisation of our economy that we are bringing in will set the potential of this country free—our science bases, our financial centres, our creative industries, our manufacturing and new technologies, and our social and third sectors.

It is only after a Labour Government that this nation becomes the sick man of Europe. Every time Labour has left office, the country has been worse off than when it inherited it. No Labour Government have ever left office with lower unemployment than when they came to power. When they were last in power, youth unemployment rose by nearly 45%, and their slash-and-burn spending meant there was no money left. Labour’s unfunded spending commitments would cost every household an additional £3,000, and it continues to block measures to support families and businesses and to stop the boats. We will stand up for the people of this country. We will deliver on their priorities and on their values, and we will champion the UK across the world.

As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, may I ask the Leader of the House to kindly tell the House when the statutory instrument relating to the Stormont brake will be laid? Will it be today or tomorrow? On what statutory or other basis, and under what statutory instrument procedure, will it be laid? When will it be referred to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments? When the date of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee sitting is set, will she be good enough as to make such inquiries as are necessary to put me and my Committee in possession of those facts and make them publicly available?

I will certainly write to my hon. Friend to give him all the details related to this. The instrument will be published on Monday, when he will be able to see the legal basis on which it is published. It will be laid before Parliament under normal procedures. I am announcing it today because I want people to have early notice. I will write to my hon. Friend, as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, and to other Members who have a direct interest to spell that out.

The Leader of the House will no doubt be disappointed that despite it containing some welcome news, for instance about prepayment meters—a tribute to the many months of campaigning on this issue by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin)—I will not be opening with fulsome praise for her Chancellor’s Budget. Why? Despite the largest fall in living standards and disposable income for decades being endured by the vast majority of people throughout the UK, instead of holding out a helping hand to those folks, the Chancellor has just rewarded the wealthiest with a hefty leg up the pensions ladder, and instead of the investment that is desperately needed for cheaper, cleaner renewables, we get billions ploughed into nuclear. So instead, I will be asking the Leader of the House for a debate on broken British dreams and sunk hopes—that is not a country and western song, Mr Speaker.

The £20 billion over 20 years that the Chancellor has announced for nuclear and carbon capture projects will not support retrofitting homes to permanently cut energy costs for households, or much cheaper onshore wind developments, tidal energy, green hydrogen, heat pumps, district heating or solar. It will not win the global race for investment into those industries against the US and the EU, among many others.

The Treasury and the Chancellor do not appear capable of thinking outside their outdated energy sources box. Instead, they are giving us the reclassification of nuclear so as to receive the same investment opportunities as renewables—nuclear, Mr Speaker! There is not one successful evolutionary power reactor project in the world, and we still have no real solution for the safe disposal of waste that remains radioactive for centuries. Nuclear plants take years to build, and always run over budget and over time. Why are the Government so thirled to nuclear, when there are cheaper, safer, proven alternatives that will bring us to net zero targets much more quickly?

I must add: why is there no more support for tidal energy, which can provide a clean and reliable baseload and has vast potential in Scotland? We already have the world’s leading wave and tidal energy test centre based in Orkney, while companies such as Nova Innovation in my constituency are pioneers in this technology.

The UK Government’s actions suggest again that they are not taking the climate crisis seriously. The Leader of the House joined forces years ago with director Richard Curtis to champion the UN sustainable development goal targets when she was International Development Secretary. However, when I have asked her about environmental issues in the past, she has avoided the questions altogether. Is she still committed to and leading on these issues within her Government or not?

I knew there would be no mention of the £320 million of extra funding for Scotland, the investment zone and the other measures to benefit households and businesses in Scotland. I welcome those things, even if the SNP does not.

This week, the hon. Member asked me about measures to alleviate the cost of living and help improve living standards. We have a £94 billion package, which was announced in the Budget. She does not like what we have done on pensions for key professions such as doctors and experienced teachers. I am very sorry that is not welcomed, as I think it will be welcomed by many in those professions and will tempt them to stay in the workplace.

On the UN sustainable development goals, this Government have not just left those with Departments; we have put them at the heart of Government. They are in the annual reports of every Department, and we report against them.

The hon. Member talks about carbon capture and tidal energy. I remind her that the Treasury actually had a carve-out for tidal energy. We recognise that these emerging technologies will find it difficult to compete with other renewables with more advanced and developed technology. We have done that because we believe tidal is part of the answer, and we want the technology to develop. On carbon capture, I am sorry that she is not keen on the £41 million we have invested in the Scottish cluster. I gently remind her that the SNP promised to invest £80 million, and I do not think it has invested anything yet, which is very unfortunate. It is exactly from the playbook of “Look at what we say, not what we do” politics.

The hon. Member wants us to listen to her concerns, and her colleagues have this week raised issues about a lack of scrutiny, but she does not want us to look at their attendance record in debates. We have heard her raise her dismay at divisive language, but she does not want us to clock the hate-fuelled bile that comes from many SNP campaigners at anyone who loves the Union or dares to challenge them on any of their policies.

The hon. Member wants to preach about offshore tax havens and offshore schemes, but she wants us to discount the use of such schemes—as we discovered this week—by the Scottish Government, as we have seen in the CalMac tax scandal. She wants us to listen to her party leadership candidates saying they can be trusted on healthcare, that they will turbocharge the economy and that they are brimming with ideas, but she does not want us to recognise that they have crushed health, stifled growth and need to set up commission after commission to find some ideas.

The hon. Member would also like us to see the SNP as a champion of democracy, but not to look at its rejection of the referendum result. Does she not recognise the extraordinary occurrence this week of membership candidates in the leadership contest having to write a letter to guarantee a free and fair election? If the candidates were called Moe, Larry and Curly, it could not get any more slapstick. Given the SNP’s previous form and contempt for democracy, I wonder if it is actually going to adhere to the result of this contest. Will the candidates try to test the result in the courts, cry foul or attempt a rerun of the process on their own and claim it is legitimate? I am afraid we have two more weeks of this, but we know the outcome already: whoever wins, Scotland will lose.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the coverage over the past week or so of the sad loss of properties in Hemsby in Great Yarmouth through the impact of weather on our coastline. Does she agree that huge credit and thanks are due to the independent Hemsby lifeboat crew, Great Yarmouth Borough Council, and the local businesses and residents who have supported people who have suffered from loss of property and tried to keep the area safe? Will she look at the possibility of finding some Government time to have a debate about our collective approach to this rapidly changing and impactful coastal erosion in the east of England?