The business for the week commencing 24 April will include:
Monday 24 April—Second Reading of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Public Order Bill.
Tuesday 25 April—Opposition day (14th allotted day). Debate in the name of the Leader of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Wednesday 26 April—Remaining stages of the Illegal Migration Bill.
Thursday 27 April—General debate on progress on reforms to NHS dentistry, followed by a general debate on reducing plastic pollution in the oceans. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 28 April—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 1 May includes:
Monday 1 May—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 2 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, followed by a general debate on support for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 3 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the National Security Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill.
The House will rise for the coronation recess at the conclusion of business on Wednesday 3 May and will return on Tuesday 9 May.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.
I do hope everyone had a good recess, but for some it was probably more so than for others. On that note, can I welcome the leader of the SNP’s comments that he, ahem, does “not believe” the SNP is operating criminally—reassuring—when it comes to its “Carry On Campervan” saga? The problem the SNP has is that it does not sound all that convincing, perhaps with good reason.
Seriously, it has emerged that the SNP’s auditors have resigned from doing its Westminster group’s accounts as well as from doing the national party’s. I understand that senior SNP figures failed to inform the authorities here about that. Will the Leader of the House tell us if she knows whether that is correct, because this is serious—it is taxpayers’ money? Can I ask the Leader of the House to intervene to make sure that SNP money that is provided for some of its political staffing here in Parliament has been properly accounted for and used for the purposes for which it is intended? Does she agree with me that, as the police investigation spreads, the First Minister and leader of the SNP should take the basic step of suspending Members of the Scottish Parliament who are the subject of police inquiries? Is it not time that the SNP came clean about who knew what and when? The Scottish people deserve much better than this.
The Government snuck out 17 written ministerial statements on the day Parliament broke up for Easter—Whitehall’s big spring clean! Why, then, did the Leader of the House not dust off the Government’s impact assessment for the Illegal Migration Bill? It has been stuck down the back of Downing Street’s infamous sofa for so long that she cannot be surprised that I am bringing this up. On the 10 separate occasions I have raised it, she has been unable to provide an answer 10 times. Could she have another go today? I was starting to wonder whether it was something personal, but she also could not give an answer to the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), at business questions just before the recess. Who knows how many times the shadow Home Office team have asked? There are now just six days until the remaining stages of the Illegal Migration Bill, as announced this morning. What good is publishing an impact assessment after a Bill has been rushed into law? How is that good law making? Surely the Leader of the House does not want to accept that. What are the Government trying to hide? Is it, by any chance, that the Bill is unworkable and they know it? If not, why does she not prove us wrong and publish the impact assessment?
The Leader of the House has just confirmed that the remaining stages of the Bill are scheduled for next Wednesday, instead of Tuesday, presumably to give the Government more time to table last-minute amendments. Is that because the Prime Minister could not even get his own MPs to line up with him? It does look that way. We are here again, with a weak Prime Minister who is forced to cave in to appease a small minority of right-wing Back Benchers. What a mess. Can the right hon. Lady clear it up? The Government must table any amendments such as we read rumours about in the press this morning as a matter of urgency, because MPs need to see them and scrutinise them as soon as possible.
Finally, will the Leader of the House please consider a debate on the time people have to wait for cancer care? Figures released by Labour this morning show that under the Tories, people are waiting up to six months to see a cancer doctor after an urgent referral from a GP. Some are waiting for more than a year to start treatment—a year! Labour has a plan to bring down NHS waiting times and get patients seen and treated faster. The Government have stolen enough of our policies, so could they please, please pinch our policy on this? We would double the number of medical training places, increase nursing and midwifery clinical placements, and recruit more health visitors, and we would pay for that by ending the non-dom tax loophole so that wealthy individuals—[Interruption.] It is not funny. I do not think any of our constituents find cancer waiting times funny. Will the right hon. Lady consider who the Government are siding with? Is it non-doms, or is it nurses and cancer patients?
Let me start with the hon. Lady’s final point, which is a serious and timely one in a week when the nation is focused on improving bowel cancer diagnosis rates, and we had that wonderful documentary celebrating the work of Bowelbabe and other cancer campaigners. The Health and Social Care Secretary has been doing much more to ensure that we get down the backlog in our NHS, and a large part of that, and one of the main barriers to people being able to come forward for treatment, is a backlog in diagnostics. That is why we have invested so much in setting up new diagnostic centres to crack through that backlog which, as the hon. Lady knows, is due to the pandemic. These are serious matters, and I know all Members of the House are concerned about them. I am sure hon. Members know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.
The hon. Lady raised the matter of the SNP and Short money, and although we all enjoy a joke at the SNP’s expense, these are serious matters. I shall not comment on her suggestion about people being suspended under police investigation—I shall save her blushes as that might have included the Leader of the Opposition, who has been in that camp before. These are not matters for me, but I understand that unless the SNP has audited accounts by 31 May, it will lose its Short money after the April payment. I understand that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority may also have considerations to make. The SNP membership will feel rightly let down by this, which is similar to how the rest of Scotland will feel about the SNP’s poor stewardship of public money. On the upside, I guess it will be easier for them to have a whip-round among the membership, as that number is dwindling to the point where most of them could fit into, well, a luxury camper van.
The hon. Lady raises the issue of an impact assessment. I did say, in my response to the shadow Deputy Leader of the House at the last business questions, that I hope material can be brought forward to assist Members on Report. I understand that that is still the case. I also understand that the majority, if not all, of the amendments will be tabled today.
The hon. Lady is critical of the new amendments. I want a Bill that will work. I ask her to look at them and judge them with an open mind, and urge her party to consider supporting us in obtaining the tools we need to make our systems fit for purpose and protect our borders. As a country, we cannot be soft on these issues. We regret Labour voting 44 times against tougher sentences. We regret Labour blocking the deportation of foreign criminals. We regret that crime levels in Labour-controlled police and crime commissioner areas are on average 34% higher than elsewhere, and that Labour is still against the Bill to stop the small boats.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister exposed the Leader of the Opposition as being Mr Softie, just as his predecessors have done with other Labour leaders. Mrs Thatcher, as you remember Mr Speaker, was an authority on this, having made a study of ice cream so liquid and air-filled it could be poured. Today, the Mr Softie opposite is topped with hundreds and thousands of unfunded spending pledges and one big flake. We know it, Opposition Members know it and the public know it, too.
I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware of the importance of local banking to local communities. With news of the closure of yet another bank in Aldridge in July, we will be left with just one bank for the whole constituency. It really worries me that older residents struggle with access to banking, cash and valuable services, so will she consider providing time for a debate to discuss this really important topic, which I am sure is of interest to Members on both sides of the House?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this very important point. Although these are commercial decisions for banks, it is a matter of concern to us to ensure that people have access to banking services and are able to access cash. As she knows, we have announced more than 50 new shared banking hubs. I will certainly raise the matter with the relevant Minister, as the next departmental questions are not until 9 May, to ensure that she has all the information she needs to look at alternatives. We are progressing legislation in the Financial Services and Markets Bill to ensure that communities are protected.
I suppose I should start by thanking the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) for that remarkable outburst. In many ways we should be grateful, because never before has she shown such an interest in Scotland—that was, indeed, painfully obvious. There is much I would say, but it will suffice if I say that perhaps people in glass houses should not throw stones.
It is a pleasure to be here and come off the subs bench to make my debut at business questions. Members can see that, like all great athletes, I have been weeks in preparation for the big event. There is, however, a chance that more folk will have witnessed this particular substitution than any of the five changes made during Scotland’s famous and magnificent victory over Spain last month. Unlike our free-to-air Parliament TV, no such thing exists as free-to-air live football in Scotland. Scotland’s football fans have to subscribe to all manner of providers if they are to watch domestic or international matches. It is becoming an increasingly expensive hobby. May we therefore have a debate to find a way that will, at the very least, return Scottish international matches to free-to-view telly?
But of course, it is not just our international football that is facing an international blackout. Scotland’s democratically elected politicians are facing one too, as the hyper-insecure Foreign Secretary is now frantically telling foreign Governments that they should not engage with Scottish Ministers without his or his Department’s permission. Quite what has triggered this bizarre bout of ministerial paranoia in the Foreign Secretary is unclear, so perhaps it would be very helpful for all of us if the Government were to make time for a debate about what it is exactly they fear from Members of our democratically elected Parliament speaking to people furth of these islands.
Surely, talking to others, learning from one another’s experiences, sharing new ideas and understanding difference is at the heart of all that we are about. Given that exactly 55 years ago today, on 20 April 1968, Enoch Powell gave his now infamous rivers of blood speech, would it not be great to have a debate in Government time to put on record our overwhelming belief that immigration has been good for this country and has greatly enriched every one of the nations on this island?
Let me start by sending my thoughts and good wishes to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock). I wish her and her family well. I thank the hon. Gentleman for stepping up and standing in, especially as it has been a painful few weeks for his party. For some time now, BBC “Politics Scotland” has resembled an episode of “Taggart”. I thank him for showing up today.
I have great sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says about viewing the considerable recent Scottish sporting victories, and I will ensure that colleagues have heard that.
The hon. Gentleman raises the matter of the Foreign Secretary’s concern that the Scottish National party is spending so much time, effort and money on matters on which it does not have competency, in both senses of the word. He asks why the Foreign Secretary might feel that way; I suggest that it might be the hon. Gentleman’s own views.
The hon. Gentleman raises the small boats Bill, on which he has done a lot of work recently, making his views very clear. Making our asylum system effective is a compassionate thing to do. It is compassionate to break the business model of people smugglers and to enable us to use the finite resources that we have to help those in genuine need. We have to deal with the reality of the situation. The hon. Gentleman’s arguments against the Bill are drawn from fantasy. He says that our motivation is
“a legacy of our colonial past,”
or the fact we wish to profit from supplying “warring factions with weapons”. Is he talking about Ukraine? Ukraine is not a warring faction but a sovereign nation under attack. I am proud of what this country has done to support the Ukrainian people.
Let me enlighten the hon. Gentleman about some other things that we should be proud of in our country, rather than talking down. The Halo Trust, based in Dumfries and Galloway, is one. It has done more to de-mine and strip out weapons than any other organisation in the world. We should be proud of that. He says that the small boats Bill is a legacy of “our CO2 emissions” and the impact they have had on
“many of the world’s poorest nations.”
No industrial nation has done more to cut its carbon emissions, or done it faster than the UK. It has done more than any G20 nation, and Glasgow played a huge part in that. The UK is more than halfway to meeting its net zero target.
I hope that the SNP will stop talking Scotland and the rest of the UK down. We will do what is necessary in the Bill and in other areas to protect the vulnerable and the planet and to promote peace. We do not pass the buck and shirk responsibility—that we will leave to the hon. Gentleman and his party.
Tomorrow I will meet homeowners at Brookside Park in Bromham, one of a number of park home sites in my constituency. They will raise issues such as the 10% commission charged when they sell their home, the fact that their pitch fees increase annually at the rate of the retail price index and not the consumer prices index, the general laxity of regulation for park homes, and the recent difficulties—now largely overcome, happily—with the energy support programmes. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a general debate in the House on the particular needs of homeowners in park home areas?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. He will know that the issue is a focus for this Government, in part because of the energy bill support scheme alternative funding that is available and wanting to make sure that everyone can make use of that. The relevant Department has set up surgeries for Members, particularly because of the issues they have raised about park home owners, and we supported the Mobile Homes (Pitch Fees) Bill. We are focused on the issue and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. He will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.
I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and for announcing the Backbench Business debates on 27 April and 2 May. I am glad to say that the Committee had no fewer than six applications yesterday, which keeps us on track to fill up the appropriate slots. Slots for May are already filling up rapidly, so if Members are looking to access slots for debates in late May or June, I urge them to submit their applications as soon as possible.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Gateshead football club on getting to Wembley to play in the FA trophy final on 21 May? It will be my second visit to Wembley in recent history. I am afraid to say that Newcastle was not as successful against Manchester United as I had hoped, but I am hoping that Gateshead will have greater success against Halifax Town on 21 May.
Finally, may I ask the Leader of the House if we can we have a debate about children being hungry at school? Because of the very low income required to be eligible for free school meals and the sadly increasing cost of school meals for those who have to pay, many more children are being sent to school with totally inadequate, nutritionally deficient packed lunches. That is in addition to the growing number of children who rely on breakfasts provided in school, through the support of Magic Breakfast, Greggs and Kellogg’s. So can we have an urgent debate about the growing number and the dreadful problem of children being hungry in our schools? Hungry children do not learn, and that is bad for everyone.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his update and advert for future debate applications. We all appreciate the work he and his Committee do.
I join him in congratulating Gateshead. I had better wish both teams well, but particularly Gateshead, as the hon. Gentleman has raised the match this morning.
On his substantive question, I will ensure that both the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Secretary of State for Education have heard his concerns today. He will know that we have widened access to free school meals, but obviously in these very difficult times we want to make sure that all children have good nutrition and are able to have a good day at school.
In light of yesterday’s coroner’s court ruling that the death of Dr Stephen Wright was due to
“unintended complications of the vaccine”,
we now have a legal precedent to review all cases of deaths that fell within the first 14 days of receiving these experimental treatments.
Stephen sadly died 10 days after receiving his first dose of AstraZeneca. As previously any death within a fortnight of receiving the vaccine was regarded as an unvaccinated death, his death was originally attributed to natural causes. Will the Government issue a statement and release details of other such cases where people sadly died within 14 days of vaccination?
I will ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to update the House in light of this recent change. These are very serious matters that I know are shared concerns for many Members on all sides of the House.
MPs from across the House have spoken on many occasions about medical licensing and medical device licences, the processes and policies of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, our covid response and compensation for the vaccine injured, which was recently raised on the Floor of the House by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright), the former Attorney General. These are totally legitimate and correct debates to have. Parliamentary scrutiny and debate is one of the many checks and balances that we have in this country to ensure that we are taking the right course of action on these and all other matters. That is what many colleagues do.
What other colleagues are not doing is promoting false propaganda, which is widely known to originate from the Kremlin, abusing and undermining colleagues and the occupant of the Chair, and using the autopsy of a 14-year-old girl as clickbait on their social media feed, all of which the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) has done in the past week. He might like to reflect on that.
Many of my constituents in Battersea have been victims of car theft, a distressing and disruptive ordeal. Last year, on average, one car a day was stolen, but of all those incidents only five led to a charge. Tory cuts to policing in London have had a devastating impact and have led to severe consequences, so can we have a debate in Government time on the desperate need for more neighbourhood policing in London?
I hope that I am always helpful to hon. Members, but I think the hon. Lady needs to direct her questions to the Labour London Mayor. Since 2010, this Government have halved crime on pretty much the same resource. In my opening remarks, I set out the clear fact that Labour-run police and crime commissioner areas are 34% more likely to have a higher crime rate.
Barclays bank has recently closed its branch in Thornaby and now looks set to close its branch in Yarm. That will have a huge impact on many vulnerable and elderly people in my patch, who will lose their access to banking services; it will also reduce footfall for Yarm’s incredible retail and hospitality businesses. Will my right hon. Friend grant a debate on access to banking in our high streets and town centres?
I thank my hon. Friend for asking the second question today on that issue. I urge him to get together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) to secure a debate in the usual way, but of course I will make sure that the Department has heard his concerns. I thank him for being a champion for services in his community.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on her excellent response to the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen). She was absolutely right.
The Prime Minister has boasted that 500 new dentists are practising in the NHS because of Government reforms. In reality, over 500 dentists are doing just one NHS check-up a year. The British Dental Association has described official data on NHS dentistry as a work of pure fiction; it also says that the Government have never attempted to collect data on the workload of NHS dentists or how much time they spend on private and NHS patients. Can we have a statement from the relevant Minister to explain why the Government are not collecting that important data in the middle of an NHS dentistry crisis?
The hon. Lady will know that that is a huge focus for the Department. The Secretary of State is collecting more data and using it in a way we had not done previously. As I announced in the business statement, on Thursday 27 April we will have a general debate, thanks to the Backbench Business Committee, on progress on reforms to NHS dentistry. The hon. Lady will know that we have brought forward new money and that contract reforms and many other things are under way, not just to deal with the immediate situation, which has arisen in part because of treatment backlogs, but to make the right provision and have the right number of dental schools around the country to ensure a pipeline and a strong workforce in future.
I thank the Leader of the House for visiting Hyndburn and Haslingden last Friday to see the Veterans in Communities organisation in Haslingden and speak to volunteers and veterans— I must just plug the open day from 10 to 3 o’clock tomorrow in Accrington town centre, where people can see the amazing work that they do. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such organisations make a huge difference to places like Hyndburn and Haslingden and to veterans in general? Can we have a debate in Government time on the support that these organisations give to veterans in our communities?
It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and see Veterans in Communities, an amazing organisation—I am particularly keen to get updates on the progress of the giant model railway that it is constructing. I thank her for what she has done to champion such organisations and ensure that they have all they need to reach everyone in the community who can benefit from their services.
Yesterday Private Eye revealed truly shocking, industrial-scale corruption on Teesside. A huge site acquired by the public body South Tees Developments Limited for £12 million in 2019 subsequently received hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer investment. Any future sale had to be on market terms, but we now know that private developers exercised their option to purchase for a mere £1 an acre plus inflation, paying £96.79 in December 2022. I have the transfer. The only economic growth that is being delivered is being delivered to the accounts of Ben Houchen’s pals Messrs Musgrave and Corney, who, for a bargain £100, will benefit to the tune of £100 million—and all the while the state remains on the hook for the ongoing environmental costs. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities comes to that Dispatch Box and tells the House what plans the Government have for a full investigation of this industrial-scale corruption?
The relevant questions session will not take place until 5 June, but I will write a letter, on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf, to ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what he has said. I should add that the Mayor has been doing an incredible job in regenerating that part of the country and making it a world leader in clean technology. However, the hon. Gentleman has raised serious issues, so I will, as I say, raise them with the Secretary of State on his behalf, although I assume he has already done so.
I think it fair to say that in the past, communities in Sandwell have felt that there has been a bit of “cut and run”, but in recent times the Government’s £4 million investment in historic high streets such as the one in Wednesbury has come as a sign of hope. That being said, the removal of the Wednesbury market from its Union Street site to the clock tower has caused no end of controversy. The traders did not want it, and nor did the community. May we have a debate in Government time on the broader topic of how we can realise investment in our communities, and how there can be real accountability when we are trying to level up historic market towns such as Wednesbury?
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done to secure new investment, focusing on Wednesbury and other parts of his constituency. His important question illustrates why it is vital for people to consult the local community, including businesses and market traders, when such matters are under consideration. This seems like a good topic for an Adjournment debate, and he will know how to apply for one.
May I return the Leader of the House to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara)? I have held a roundtable with the Scottish Football Association, broadcasters representing both free-to-air and subscription channels, the Scottish Football Supporters Association and an observer from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on securing access to live coverage of both Scotland’s national football teams on free-to-air television, equivalent to the coverage currently afforded to English and Welsh football fans. I have also discussed the issue with various sports Ministers over the years, but I should like to work with the DCMS, or indeed anyone, to find a solution. Will the Leader of the House give the Secretary of State a nudge about arranging a promised meeting, and might she also make time for the debate suggested by my hon. Friend?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important question, and, in particular for the words “work with the DCMS”. I shall do all that I can to assist him. I think that people do want to be able to follow their local and national teams, and I am also aware of the burden on those in charge of pubs and other venues who wish to stream these events. I shall ensure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022, which is now in force, has made it a criminal offence to arrange a child marriage in England and Wales, but unfortunately marriage policy is devolved, so Scotland and Northern Ireland have not yet banned child marriage in their jurisdictions. The sustainable development goals commit the whole UK to banning child marriage entirely by 2030. May we have a statement from the responsible Minister about what steps the UK Government are taking to ensure that the actions of the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive do not cause us to fail in our international obligations?"
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for all the work she has done to make this important step a reality. I can inform her that Lord Bellamy wrote to the Scottish and Northern Ireland Governments in November last year to encourage them to follow suit and meet the sustainable development goal in particular. I understand that the devolved nations are now considering that matter. I personally found it a matter of deep regret that when we introduced the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019, people in Scotland had to wait a further six months to benefit from that legislation. I encourage both Scotland and Northern Ireland to follow suit when able to do so.
May we have a debate about the treatment of refugees from Afghanistan? I recently visited a group who are housed near Cardiff, including consultants, doctors, people who had translated for us in Afghanistan and people who fought alongside our armed forces there. Even after all this time since they were evacuated, they have still not been housed and face great difficulty getting into employment. They also told me that they were beginning to suffer from abuse because of the dog-whistle politics on refugee status that is sadly going on at the moment. Without pivoting to such dog-whistle politics, will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to explain to the public that those refugees helped us in our foreign policy aims in Afghanistan, and tell us what the Government would do in such a debate to explain what will be done to help them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter, which I know many Members will be concerned about. It is a key example of where we want to help not just those in greatest need, but people to whom we have a particular moral responsibility. Afghan refugees, especially those who served alongside us, supported our armed forces, helped us with translation and other services, or worked with some of our aid agencies, are exactly such people. I shall make sure that the relevant Minister has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. If he wishes to pass me details about the particular site in Cardiff, I would be happy to pass those on too.
In Cumbria in the last year, 44% of all people diagnosed with cancer waited more than 62 days to get their first treatment. That is 464 individuals waiting more than two months after a diagnosis to get their first treatment, when we know that every four weeks’ delay in treatment reduces people’s chance of surviving by 10%. May we have a debate on the Government’s current lack of a cancer strategy to tackle that crisis, and will the Leader of the House consider making radiotherapy a key part of that discussion, bearing in mind that 53% of people with cancer should have radiotherapy by international standards but only 27% of British patients do? Will she also consider the impact on rural communities such as mine, in which travelling times to undergo radiotherapy can be three or four-hour round trips every day for weeks on end, and the bid that we are making for a satellite radiotherapy unit at the Westmoreland General Hospital?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue: he is the second Member to raise it today, and I shall certainly make sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard his concerns. As I said before, we are acutely aware of the need to ensure that while we work through the backlog, new cases are dealt with swiftly. It does make a massive difference to outcomes, which is why we have stood up the new diagnostic centres and are bolstering the NHS in the way that we are. As well as the provision of those services, how people are able to access them is critical, and I know that hospital transport and accessibility of those services is very important. I wish him well in his bid.
My office was contacted in March 2022 by a young Albanian national who entered the UK in 2019 and is still, to this day, awaiting a decision on her immigration status. She had a Home Office interview in May 2022, and in October 2022 she received long-awaited confirmation that she is a victim of modern slavery and that sexual exploitation had occurred in the UK between January and April 2019. She has a degree in English from Tirana University and a British interpretation qualification, yet she is unable to seek employment in Britain. Will the Leader of the House advise me on how much longer my constituent will have to wait for a final outcome from the Home Office on her immigration status?
I am sorry to hear about this case. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has used the Home Office’s new surgery. We know it is very difficult to get answers via hotlines and correspondence, so the Home Office has established a new service, both on site and on Teams, so that Members can talk directly to a person dealing with an individual’s case. I am not part of that service, so I cannot give an answer on this case, but I will make sure he is able to access those surgeries. If he has any future problems, please contact my office.
Despite living in a colder climate, consumers in the highlands still face higher energy tariffs than consumers elsewhere in the UK. There is no regulation at all for off-gas-grid supply, there is price discrimination for those with prepayment meters, and companies are raising direct debits while holding on to credit. There are faulty meters, the failure of smart meters, and incorrect and confusing billing. Is it not past time that we had a debate in Government time on the failure of energy regulation for people in the highlands and other rural areas?
After advertising the Home Office surgeries, I now advertise that the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has stood up surgeries in Portcullis House where individual cases and policy issues can be raised. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero has introduced new measures on prepayment meters and other things to ensure that people are not paying a poverty premium and are not disadvantaged by where they live in the UK.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
My constituents are not only fed up with Tory potholes, but frustrated and upset by Conservative-led Warwick District Council’s lack of action on the Gypsy and Traveller sites that, by law, should be provided. The council has talked, but not delivered, for more than 10 years, so communities such as Woodloes, Chase Meadow, Whitnash and Lillington, as well as Central Ajax football club, have suffered illegal encampments. Labour councillors want to bring forward a site urgently to resolve the problem, so can we have a debate, 12 years on from the introduction of the Conservative national planning policy framework, to consider the number of local authorities that have not delivered on these sites? I think it is a widespread problem.
The hon. Gentleman cannot blame us for creating potholes, but he will know that the Chancellor has brought forward a considerable uplift in funding to address potholes, which are extremely concerning for a lot of people. I urge him to make sure his local authority and other agencies are making use of that fund to rectify the situation in his area. I would also be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman’s local authority is making use of the powers we introduced earlier in our administration to ensure that illegal encampments are not set up. I will ask the relevant Minister to get in touch with his office to make sure he has everything he needs to deal with both situations.
A new poll shows that 51% of people think the coronation should not be publicly funded, with just 32% thinking it should. Given today’s report that the King has a personal fortune of £1.8 billion, and given that the monarch already benefits from not paying inheritance tax, it is easy to see why so many people are not happy. Can we have a debate on the level of public money being spent on the coronation, especially given the incredibly difficult economic situation for so many people?
I was waiting for a question of this flavour, and it is no surprise from where it came. It affords me the opportunity to say that I am very grateful that this nation has a monarchy. We benefit hugely from it. Even in the times of tremendous turmoil that we saw last year, it provided stability and a constant Polaris to see this nation through some very difficult times. I urge the hon. Gentleman to go to read the tributes that were paid to Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I think her son will be a similarly great monarch, and that is something to celebrate.
The Financial Services and Markets Bill is setting new parameters for the Financial Conduct Authority, but we are waiting for its Report stage in the other place. When steelworkers were duped by financial sharks, the FCA was far too slow to act. I understand that the FCA is also now renewing the rules on its consumer duties, which is welcome. However, after years of campaigning it is clear that we need proper oversight of the FCA. So, for clarity, may we have a statement on how Parliament will gain better scrutiny of our financial regulator and its duty to protect consumers across our country?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. I know that many Members of this House will have campaigned on behalf of businesses that have endured all kinds of malpractice, by banks and by all sorts of other organisations, including the issue that he raises. The Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), did a huge amount of work on this when he chaired the all-party parliamentary group and takes this matter incredibly seriously. I shall make sure that the relevant Minister has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said today and gets in touch with his office.
It is right that businesses across our country are embracing new technology, but I have genuine concerns that a cashless society could discriminate against some of the most vulnerable in our communities. Some people face significant barriers when opening a bank account or using a card to make payments, and this is exacerbated by high street bank closures. Mencap Cymru is calling for shops and restaurants to have to accept cash payments. Will the Leader of the House support me in securing time for an important debate on this issue?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this incredibly important point. She is right to say that particular groups in society will be worse off and poorly served by the closure of these important local services. She is the third person to raise this issue, which shows the benefit of business questions. She will know that other Members on my side of the House are similarly concerned and I ask them to get together, join forces and secure a debate on these matters.
On Saturday, I spent a lovely afternoon at the 103rd birthday party celebrations of Largs resident Jack Ransom. Jack’s 100th birthday party was cancelled because of covid restrictions. London-born and now an adopted son of Scotland, Jack is believed to be the last living survivor out of those captured in 1942 and held as prisoners of war on the infamous Thai-Burma railway, which was also known as the Burmese railway of death. He survived the harshest of conditions there. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to Jack and wishing him many happy returns? Will she also make a statement setting out the need to ensure that true heroes such as Jack are awarded the appropriate recognition and honour they deserve for the huge service they have done to protect the freedoms we all enjoy?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter and informing the House just a little about Jack’s amazing life. I am sure that all Members would want to pay tribute to him and to send him good wishes. It is absolutely right that we recognise the service of individuals such as Jack. Sometimes that has been difficult to do for people who have been prisoners of war, as there is not an award or medal that people gain from having endured these appalling hardships and, in many cases, abuses. I thank her for getting that on the record and we all send our best wishes to Jack.
In 2017, when Emmerson Mnangagwa took over as Zimbabwean president from Robert Mugabe, he promised a new time for the people of Zimbabwe. In fact, he has done the opposite. He kept on the henchmen and thugs who forced my constituent, Paul Westwood, and his family literally to flee for their lives at midnight, taking with them only the clothes that they could wear. We have seen human rights in Zimbabwe collapsing into the same kind of brutality that we saw under Mugabe. The Westwoods are very concerned to hear that President Mnangagwa is likely to be honoured as a guest at the coronation in a couple of weeks’ time. I understand why the Government cannot comment on individual invitations, but can the House be given an opportunity to look at the criteria that are considered before any Head of State or Head of Government is treated as a guest of our Government, our monarch or our Parliament? Can we have an assurance from the Foreign Office that any attempt by Zimbabwe to come back into the Commonwealth will not be considered until it starts to treat UK citizens and its own people like human beings?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. On a slightly wider point, he will know that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in particular and also other Departments will be running briefings for Members of this House about the coronation and the events surrounding it. I suggest that he raises this specific issue at Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions on 2 May.
Last weekend, I had the great privilege of presenting my constituent, Brandon Grant, with his title of Scottish Elite Flyweight at the Boxing Scotland Elite Championships. It is a big achievement that speaks to his talent and hard work. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Brandon and his club, Priestfield boxing club, in Blantyre and schedule a debate on the achievements of Scottish boxers?
I can tell from the noises from all parts of the Chamber that we would all want to congratulate Brandon Grant on his amazing achievement. I am glad that the hon. Lady was able to celebrate that. I also want to put on record our thanks and gratitude to boxing clubs such as Priestfield that do so much to support and spot amazing talent.
I am not sure if I ever was a boxer, but I am a real good fighter.
Over Easter, the Reverend Dr Hkalam Samson was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in Myanmar. The Reverend Samson is a non-violent Christian pastor and a tireless advocate for justice, human rights, and freedom of religion and belief. I had the privilege, which I remember well, of meeting him when he visited Parliament in 2018. He is a humble and courageous man. This sentence is a clear use of anti-terror legislation to silence a high-profile and vocal critic of a genocidal military regime. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning this imprisonment in the strongest terms and, as our voice in Cabinet, which I am very pleased to have, ask appropriate Ministers to co-ordinate a strong international response to it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for again raising these very important matters and shining a spotlight on particular cases and individuals. We condemn the arbitrary detention of people, whether they be politicians, civil servants or journalists, by the military regime. On 18 April, the UK special envoy on freedom of religion or belief called for the immediate release of the pastor and all those detained arbitrarily by the military regime in Myanmar. The hon. Gentleman will also know that, on 21 September last year, the UK co-ordinated the landmark UN Security Council resolution, which urged immediate action to release all those in detention. We will continue that fight, as I know he will. He may wish to raise this matter with the Foreign Secretary on 2 May.