The business for the week commencing 15 May will include:
Monday 15 May—Second Reading of the Victims and Prisoners Bill.
Tuesday 16 May—Opposition day (15th allotted day). Debate in the name of the Scottish National party—subject to be announced.
Wednesday 17 May—Second Reading of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.
Thursday 18 May—General debate on public access to nature, followed by a debate on a motion on access to psilocybin treatments. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 19 May—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 22 May includes:
Monday 22 May—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. Before I go any further, it is good to see the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), back in her place.
The Leader of the House did previously describe her resting face as
“that of a bulldog chewing a wasp”—[Official Report, 13 October 2022; Vol. 720, c. 260.]
But can I reassure her royal meme-ness that she looked nothing of the sort at the coronation? She was a symbol of solemnity and the first woman to have ever presented the Jewelled Sword of Offering to a British monarch. Her elegant outfit had nods to tradition, maternity and, as I understand it, her constituency. She diligently carried out her duty with grace and poise. She was a credit to this House as our representative. I wanted to start by making sure that was on the record, but now we will now get back to the jabs.
It was an even bigger achievement given how long the Leader of the House must have been awake the previous night counting all those Tory losses. She must have been worn out, with more than 1,000 Tory councillors gone. It was a clear rejection of the Conservatives and this Prime Minister and his complete failure to focus on what really matters to voters. I am afraid it is time to resume the normal jab, thrust and parrying—a little swordplay thing, there—of business questions, as this Government have a lot to answer for.
One whole year on from the Queen’s Speech, what do the Government have to show for it? People do not have to follow every twist and turn of the Government’s chaotic mishandling of legislation to know that the answer is next to nothing. The Hansard Society, which does detailed, independent research on the workings of Parliament, has said exactly which Bills are lurking down the back of Downing Street’s ever-expanding legislative sofa. Perhaps the Leader of the House could use her new-found swordsmanship to reach down the back of that sofa and hook some of that missing legislation out for us.
Of the 51 Bills that the Hansard Society reminded us have been presented to Parliament this Session, the Tories have so far failed to pass a staggering 29. Only a measly eight from the Queen’s Speech have got through. The Prime Minister has been caught out overpromising and massively under-delivering. He is too busy playing whack-a-mole with the increasing pop-up rebellions from his own Back Benchers, as we just saw in the past half-hour, rather than using the Government’s valuable time in Parliament to address the issues that matter to working people. No wonder they have told the Tories they are a Government with no answers, led by a Prime Minister so out of touch with working people that he is choosing to protect oil and gas profits and non-doms over working people.
Let us take a closer look at the Tories’ legislative logjam, which does not appear in the business statement, but perhaps should have. The Leader of the House could have announced the renters reform Bill that the Government have been promising for more than four years. When I was shadow Housing Secretary—a while ago now— I pushed for it, as well as for ensuring greater protections for tenants during the covid crisis at the time. Labour has long called for particular measures to be included in the Bill, including the banning of no-fault evictions. That is important to people we represent, including those I represent in Bristol West, where renters are paying more for less. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is letting them down. He said the Bill would be finally published this week. Where is it? Is it missing in action? We now hear that it has been delayed for weeks due to “procedural issues”. What does that mean? Is the Housing Secretary about to U-turn again? Is it the Prime Minister about to roll over to his Back Benchers again? Renters deserve better. The next Labour Government will bring in a powerful new renters’ charter to make renting fairer, more secure and more affordable, and that is the difference between Labour and the Tories.
It is not just on housing that the Tories are breaking their promise to voters. They have failed to introduce the transport Bill. They have left the mental health Bill in limbo somewhere, and they have abandoned the Schools Bill altogether. Even their flagship Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is in absolute chaos. Would the Leader of the House like to have a go and tell us what it is about transport, mental health, schools and levelling up that is working so well? Can she tell us which Bills they will get through this Session?
The Tories are out of touch and out of ideas to fix the problems they have created. Where they can be bothered, they are stealing Labour’s plans, but unfortunately watering them down and trying to pass them off as their own. This is no way to run a Government. Last week, Labour gained more than 500 councillors and 22 councils, and we are now the largest party in local government. It is time for a fresh start with a Labour national Government and a new King’s Speech for a new era: a coherent, bold programme of legislation, driven by Labour’s five missions that will make a real difference to people’s lives. That is Labour’s plan.
Can I start by thanking the hon. Lady for her compliments? I very much wanted to be a Pen the king could rely on at the coronation, but I think congratulations should go to all of us across the nation, and huge thanks to all who took part and all who enabled it to be so successful and safe, including many staff of this House. The whole weekend was a celebration of service, duty and love, and the Big Help Out on Monday saw 6 million people volunteering at more than 55,000 events. I hope they had a wonderful day and will continue to volunteer for their community. I am very proud to have played my part alongside everyone else, and I know the whole House would want to send their good wishes to Their Majesties.
Can I reciprocate and congratulate the hon. Lady, as I understand that her band, the Statutory Instruments, has topped a Twitter poll on musical parliamentarians? I have suggested to the Culture Secretary that this might be a back-up plan if Mae and her team are unable to perform at the Eurovision final.
The hon. Lady mentioned our legislative programme. Last week, the Public Order Bill received Royal Assent, taking us to 19 Bills receiving Royal Assent so far in this Session, with 40 Bills introduced so far. The rented homes Bill is not delayed, and I look forward to the Opposition’s support. It will deliver the Government’s commitment to a fairer private rented sector for responsible tenants and good-faith landlords. The Bill will legislate to abolish section 21 no-fault evictions, among many other measures. I hope that all Members of this House will support it when it arrives, which will not be very long or far away.
The hon. Lady spoke about local election statistics, and I have some of my own for Labour’s performance: mid-term and mid-recovery, zero change to vote share since 2019; zero gains in battleground seats; and, it appears, zero principles upon which to base a manifesto. Labour’s leader has flip-flopped 32 times, broken all of his leadership pledges and had to have 12—and counting—relaunch speeches. To borrow from Eurovision legends Bucks Fizz, he will soon find out that there comes a time for “Making Your Mind Up”.
In contrast, we are focused on delivering for the people of this country on the things that matter to them. On healthcare, for example, against the immense challenges stemming from the pandemic, we have reduced waiting lists of people waiting 18 months or more by 90%. General practice is delivering 10% more appointments a month than pre-pandemic levels. We are on track to deliver our manifesto commitment of 50 million more GP appointments, and we have more staff than ever before. Numbers are up by a quarter since 2019. We have increased pharmacy provision, and this week we are transforming how those services can be used, freeing up even more GP appointments.
What does Labour do for healthcare when it is in power in Wales? Some 40,000 people are waiting more than two years for treatment, waiting lists are four times worse than in England and it is the only place in the UK to have had the NHS budget cut. The gap between Labour’s rhetoric and its record is nearly as wide as the gap between its revenue and its spending plans, currently standing at £90 billion.
Further business will be announced in the usual way.
Did my right hon. Friend note that the Secretary of State for Business and Trade has just told the House, in answer to my urgent question, that despite the very serious constitutional implications that I explained—they were endorsed by many others after I asked the question—she will not be able to come to the European Scrutiny Committee because she will be in Switzerland? What this in effect means, according to the current timetable in the House of Lords, is that she will not be able to explain the implications I set out in my question before the Report stage of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill actually takes place. Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to approach her opposite number in the House of Lords, and indeed the appropriate authorities there, to defer the Report stage, which is scheduled for 15 and 17 May? That Report stage will have momentous consequences if it results in changes to this Bill, which was passed by this House by a substantial majority, which would then be being dealt with by the unelected House of Lords.
I do understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. The Secretary of State wants to take a pragmatic approach, but I know that he will also have concerns about sovereignty and other such issues. I will certainly speak to business managers and the Secretary of State to ensure that there can be proper scrutiny of these matters, and I assure my hon. Friend that although there are differences on how we should approach these matters, the Secretary of State shares his aim that we should do this well and not miss the opportunities, having left the EU, to modernise our statute book and make sensible reforms. But I undertake to do as he has asked.
May I add my congratulations to the Leader of the House on her role at the coronation? There was tremendous upper body strength on show there, and with the added strain of having to remain silent virtually all afternoon—so well done, her. Maybe it was a “speak softly and carry a big sword” moment, because it appears that carrying a lethal weapon and wearing an imperial-style outfit now makes her favourite to be the next Tory leader—was it the sword of Damocles she was clutching? I am reminded of that old “Monty Python” skit, though—something about strange women distributing swords being no basis for a system of government.
Did the Leader of the House’s somewhat authoritarian look on Saturday reflect the new and unnerving “Braverman law”, which apparently allows people to be arrested for even thinking about protesting? May we therefore have a debate on the thought police, and on whether guidance for that hastily delivered Act might be tightened up after those recent unfortunate arrests?
Speaking of horrible Bills, I see that Labour, despite the urging of the Archbishop of Canterbury, continues to cleave to this Government’s nasty “hostile environment” policies. Is it any wonder that even after 13 years of perhaps the most incompetent and chaotic series of Tory Governments there has ever been, Labour seemingly still cannot win an outright majority? Yet Labour claims it will not entertain the idea of co-operation agreements with the SNP, despite the fact that we will speak to anyone progressive in order to lock the Tories out of No. 10.
If we had a fair electoral system, parties would often have to work in partnership with each other, as they do in many other grown-up democracies across the world. So may we have a debate on proportional representation and fair voting, so that we can ask why the Tory and Labour parties support the antiquated first-past-the-post system, which prolongs the establishment duopoly we see year after dreary year in this place? Oops, I believe I have answered my own question there.
That is probably just as well, because although we all enjoyed—really—the Leader of the House’s starring role at the weekend, I would once again gently remind her that her day job is to answer for the conduct of her own Government, not simply give her views on the Governments of other countries for use on social media. If she could stick to the day job in this, I would be very grateful.
I thank the hon. Lady for her compliments, and it is good to see her back in her place. I am very aware that my most successful role in my career to date has been when I have been silent. That has not been lost on me.
The hon. Lady raises the issue of protests. I say to all Members of this House that we make the laws in this place, and we have brought in new measures because we felt that the public need protection from particularly disruptive and dangerous protests, as we have seen in recent events and developments. But the police are operationally independent; they need to use their judgment, and sometimes they will make mistakes, and when they do, as we have seen, they apologise for them. I think all of that is incredibly reassuring, and I would like to place on record my thanks to the police for the difficult jobs they have done in recent weeks, particularly those who were standing for a considerably longer period than 51 minutes—I met a police officer involved in the coronation who was on their feet throughout a 13-hour shift. They do a tremendous job and we owe them a huge debt of thanks.
It is no surprise at all that the hon. Lady should take exception to the result of another referendum we had, on voting systems. But I am genuinely delighted that the SNP has found some auditors. With nearly 2,000 accountancy and auditing firms in Scotland, I was interested to know who it would pick to do the job. Perhaps it would be someone from her constituency, given that Edinburgh is Europe’s second-largest financial centre, second only to the City of London. Yet the SNP had to go to Manchester to find someone willing to take on the task. Presumably she would view that as offshoring.
Perhaps the SNP can now turn its attention to its dire mishandling of Scottish finances and the recommendations of Audit Scotland. I remind the House that the SNP has been forced to raise income tax after a £100 million budget overspend despite this year cutting public expenditure by £1.2 billion. The Scottish people deserve better than that. I know that the hon. Lady and her colleagues did not necessarily celebrate the coronation, but they can learn a lesson from it. Nothing can be achieved with division and hate; the only way forward is service, duty and love.
I am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend on her role in the coronation. She is an emblem of dignity, poise and girl power. Her bluey-green coronation dress is a worldwide sensation. King Charles III is revered around the world for his work on the environment, and the UK is a world leader on environmental issues—since 2010, we have cut carbon emissions by more than any other G7 country—so will she make space for a debate in Government time on what we have achieved on the environment and what work is in progress, so that people across the country know that while Conservatives may wear blue rosettes, we also deliver on green?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this matter. She will know that the next questions to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero are on 23 May. We were the first major economy to commit to a legally binding target on achieving net zero by 2050 and we fully stand behind that. We have cut emissions by 48% since 1990, decarbonising faster than any other G7 country while also growing our economy by 65%. In 2022, renewable electricity accounted for nearly 42% of our total generation, which is a fourfold increase since 2011. We will continue to make progress on this matter.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business and the Backbench Business debates for next Thursday. One thing we learned at the weekend is that we should not be easily drawn into literally crossing swords with her.
The Backbench Business Committee is soon to celebrate its 13th birthday. I remind Members across the House that we are open for business. We receive, on average, 3.8 applications for Backbench Business debates per week, but over time we have developed into having five debating slots per week, so 3.8 applications is not enough. We therefore welcome more applications from Back Benchers across the House on a weekly basis.
I am grateful that this week we had a bumper bundle of eight applications, so we exceeded the average. Upcoming Backbench Business debates are on: the cost of living for those with disabilities, which will be in Westminster Hall next Tuesday; reducing plastic pollution in our oceans, also in Westminster Hall, next Thursday; and shortcomings of planning in respect to short-term holiday lets, on Tuesday 23 May. We get a variety of applications, but we always welcome more.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the advertisement for future debates. I remind all Members of the House that this is an incredibly valuable tool that we have now been using for 13 years, and I hope that he will organise some suitable celebrations for that landmark birthday. There are many ways in which we can make change and improve things for our constituents. A lot can be done in business questions, but a lot can also be done in such debates when the will of the House is shown and there is cross-party concern and support for particular campaigns and issues. I encourage all Members to make use of this welcome innovation.
I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on her performance at the coronation. The wait for the renters reform Bill seems never-ending. It is important that we get the Bill right, but we are running out of time in the Session, particularly given the queue of legislation in the House of Lords. The other eagerly awaited legislation is the leasehold reform Bill, which has been pressed for in this House for a long time. Could the Leader of the House give us an update on when that Bill will come before us?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Although I will announce business in the usual way, he will not have long to wait for the renters reform Bill. This is an important issue, as are many of the issues covered by the leasehold reform work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been undertaking.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Recent media reports inform us that Vodafone UK and Three are in advanced talks about a merger, but my trade union, Unite, is campaigning against it on two major grounds. First, it could pose a national security risk by giving a company whose controlling family collaborates with the Chinese state an even more influential role at the heart of our sensitive telecoms infrastructure. Secondly, the merger would fatally undermine competition by reducing the number of major providers in the British telecoms market, resulting in substantially higher prices for British consumers. As such, will the Leader of the House allocate Government time for a debate on the merger, as it will impact people in each and every constituency across the UK?
The next opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise this issue with the Department for Business and Trade will be on 18 May, but I know that it will be a matter of concern to two other Departments, so I will write to all of three on his behalf and ask them to contact his office.
I echo the congratulations to the Leader of the House. We will remember where we were during the coronation, but we will also remember where the Leader of the House was, as she proved herself to be the King’s most reliable Pen.
May we have a debate on parking on yellow lines? Someone who parks around Westminster is charged £65, going up to £130. If they park in Bournemouth, it is capped at £35, going up to £70. We do not have the crane lorries to remove cars, and tourists— who are most welcome—have realised that paying £35 on a sunny day’s visit is worthwhile. That is affecting emergency services getting around and is raising concerns from residents. May we therefore have a debate or a statement on gaining parity so that Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council can raise its fines for parking on yellow lines?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I am sorry to hear about the situation in his constituency. Those fines are not to raise revenue but to ensure that thoroughfares are clear for emergency vehicles, as he points out, or for safety reasons to avoid accidents. I will make sure that the Secretaries of State for Levelling Up and for Transport have heard his concerns. He will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities concluded its consultation on reform of the national planning policy framework on 2 March. While the Government work out what they want to do, there are speculative developments in front of planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate, which now have to interpret a planning system in limbo. Could the Leader of the House set out the Government’s timetable for responding to that consultation and making any changes? Could she confirm whether the Government intend to allow Members of the House to debate those changes?
I completely understand the hon. Lady’s point. I know that the chief planning officer and the team at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are always available to advise individual local authorities on such matters. I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard her concerns and will ask the Department to contact her to set out clarity on the timetable.
I add my warm thanks and congratulations to my right hon. Friend, the Lord President of the Council, not only for her starring performance in Westminster Abbey last Saturday but more particularly for the very modest way in which she sought to deflect the thanks and praise away from herself, and towards the thousands of other people who made the day possible, which was a very noble thing to do. As she rightly says, the 7,500 armed forces personnel who took part in the day did a great job, as did the many hundreds of people behind them, as I witnessed in Knightsbridge and Wellington barracks and elsewhere. Does she not think, therefore, that it is time for the House to reintroduce the six set day debates we always used to have to celebrate the work of our armed forces? The job of allocating such debates has now been delegated to the Backbench Business Committee and, although the Committee does a brilliant job, the net result is that there are extraordinarily few debates on the armed forces in this House. Let us get back to the days when the Government gave us Government debates, in Government time, on our magnificent armed services.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I have been looking at this matter. I know that there are key set dates on this issue, including Armed Forces Day, and on other issues, such as International Women’s Day. Of course we want to have such debates every single year, and yet it requires particular Committees to organise them. There are good reasons why we established the procedures that we have and why we lean heavily on the Backbench Business Committee, but I have been making inquiries on this front and I appreciate my hon. Friend’s suggestion.
Homeowners in my constituency have been conned and defrauded by rogue builders. They have lost thousands of pounds and their homes have been left in ruins. The police say it is a civil matter and trading standards is powerless, so their only option is to incur more costs in court. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on why the new fraud strategy does nothing to tackle this type of fraud?
I am very sorry to hear about the situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency. Will she share some more information with my office? The Home Office may not be the Department that is best placed to help her; it may well be the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which is responsible for some of the new powers that we have introduced to protect homeowners and those in the rented sector with regard to poor landlords. I will be happy to assist the hon. Lady, and I hope we can help her get this matter resolved for her constituents.
I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend for her magnificence at the coronation. I am disappointed that she has not been asked to reprieve her role on the Eurovision stage, or at least read out the votes of the UK jury.
A less welcome guest at the coronation was the vice- president of China. This week, we hear that a British Trade Minister is feting the Chinese in Hong Kong and the Foreign Secretary is looking forward to a visit to China, as if the Chinese genocide were not still continuing, the Chinese Government were not continuing to flout international law and five Members of the House, including me, were not still sanctioned by the Chinese Communist party Government. May we have a debate on exactly what our relationship is with China going forward, and about making sure that every opportunity for meetings is prefaced by our calling out China’s continued abuses? We need a progress report on what is being done to lift the sanctions on five Members of the House, which is an insult to this House.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks regarding myself. He will know that the Foreign Secretary has recently set out his approach on China, and he knows how to apply for a debate on such a matter. I know the issue is of immense concern to Members from all parts of the House. While we know why we need to have that relationship and why it is incredibly important, given the size of the economy and our supply chains, it is important that we raise the ongoing breaches and abuses of human rights, as well as the matter he raises that concerns him directly. Foreign Office questions are a little way off, so I will make sure that the Foreign Secretary has heard what he has said today.
May I put on the record my admiration for the role that the right hon. Lady played during the King’s coronation? She was magnificent and represented us beautifully.
Many of my constituents have written to me with concerns about unsuitable living conditions in properties owned and run by Sanctuary. My casework team has written to Sanctuary many times and I wrote to the chief executive six weeks ago, but there has been no response. I know that many other MPs and councils have raised concerns about the unresponsiveness of that organisation. Can we have a debate about the responsiveness of social housing providers, who do, after all, provide a very important public service?
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks. The moral of the story is that when the chief execs of such social housing providers receive letters from Members of Parliament, they would do well to reply to them in good time, otherwise Members of Parliament will come to the Floor of the House and name the social housing provider, and the Leader of the House of Commons will be forced to write to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to make sure that they have heard Members’ concerns. I wish the hon. Lady well and we stand ready to assist her in getting the matter resolved for her constituents.
May I start by passing on the many messages of congratulations and thanks from Southend residents to my right hon. Friend on her absolutely outstanding contribution to the coronation?
While I am talking about outstanding contributions, the mayor of Southend city, Councillor Kevin Robinson, steps down this afternoon after an exemplary year in which he welcomed the King and city status, bade farewell to our Queen, and raised £26,000 for charity—while all the time working full time as a dementia nurse. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Mayor Robinson for his outstanding service? Will she also thank the 500 Essex police officers who worked behind the scenes at Stansted airport to make sure that the very many foreign dignitaries from all around the world got into and out of our country safely? Perhaps we could have a debate on the important contribution that mayors and other civic leaders make to our communities.
I thank my hon. Friend and the residents of Southend for their very kind remarks about me. As I am sure all Members would, I of course join her in saying thank you, well done and good luck for the next chapter to Mayor Robinson. I thank him for all the work he has done. I also thank my hon. Friend for giving us another example of the many hundreds of people who contributed towards making the weekend such a success, in particular by enabling 95 Heads of State to visit and celebrate such a special moment. We send them all our thanks.
It is shocking that the Government have yet again made an outrageous U-turn by deciding to scrap plans to abolish the feudal leasehold system. We all know that the current system is not fit for purpose and often traps homeowners, including many of my constituents in Battersea. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities agreed with me and said that he would bring forward reforms, so will the Leader of the House let us know the timeline for when we will see a Bill on leaseholder reform?
The next questions to the Secretary of State are on 5 June. Several Members have raised these matters. As I have said, the House will not have long to wait for the introduction of the renters reform Bill, but I shall ask the Secretary of State to contact the offices of the hon. Lady and the other Members who have raised this matter, particularly in respect of leasehold reform, and update them.
I add my congratulations to the Lord President of the Council for her role at the coronation. I have had messages from many friends around the world who were impressed with her performance. She has won friends not only across my constituency but around the globe.
The Government have delivered fantastic policies and new legislation on animal welfare, but it is now 18 months since the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was in Committee in this House. May we have an update on when the Bill might come back to us and pass on to the other place, so that we can continue this Government’s remarkable animal welfare achievements?
I thank my hon. Friend not only for his remarks about me, but for his commitment to this agenda. We in the Government are grateful to him for his work on the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, a private Member’s Bill that we were pleased to support. We, too, are committed to this agenda, as is clear from the many other measures that we have taken to improve animal welfare, including the banning of conventional battery cages for laying hens, the introduction of CCTV in slaughterhouses, the mandatory microchipping of dogs, Finn’s law and Lucy’s law. I can reassure the House that we are still very much hoping to implement our manifesto commitments and the measures in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on myalgic encephalomyelitis, may I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to the fact that tomorrow is World ME Day? ME affects more than a quarter of a million people here in the UK, and many others are living with similar symptoms as a result of long covid. The Department of Health and Social Care has been developing a much-needed and much-anticipated ME delivery plan. May we have a Government statement on both the impact of ME on individuals and the delivery plan?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue and reminding us that tomorrow is World ME Day. Indeed, next week is ME Awareness Week, which will give all Members a good opportunity to discuss ME and the care that sufferers need. This would be an excellent question to ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and, of course, Members can apply for a debate in the usual way if they wish to do so.
Derelict buildings can have a significant impact on communities, both as eyesores and, in areas such as my constituency where there is a lack of affordable housing, as a lost opportunity. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what powers councils have in this regard and how they can be encouraged to use them? May we have a debate in Government time on how to bring these buildings back into use and breathe life into communities by providing affordable housing for local families?
I think that this is an excellent topic for a debate, and my hon. Friend will know how to apply for one. She will be aware that since 2017, local planning authorities in England have been required to maintain and publish brownfield land registers, and they should all be doing that, as well as updating and reviewing the registers at least once a year. They also have compulsory purchase order powers that they can use to acquire empty properties or properties that are eyesores when they can demonstrate that there is a compelling case for such an acquisition to proceed in the public interest.
This week, the news broke that the Government had changed the UK’s policy on animal testing. Despite a 25-year ban, it will now be possible for some make-up ingredients to be tested on animals again. That is a huge step backwards, and it is even more frustrating that the Government failed to update the House on their intentions. Once again, they have U-turned on a policy and it was the media that found out first. Will the Leader of the House please support me by arranging a debate on this important issue in Government time? No animal should suffer to satisfy cosmetic vanity.
I shall ensure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is aware of the hon. Lady’s concern and her request for further information. I can tell her that the next session of questions to the Secretary of State will be on 25 May.
May I, too, congratulate our very own Amphitrite?
Westfield Parish Council has worked very hard to deliver the Westfield parish community fibre project, which is now at the second stage of validation and is on track to deliver the largest community fibre scheme in East Sussex. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the council on this fantastic achievement, and may I ask her for a debate on how its success could be replicated in other rural communities?
Well done, Westfield Parish Council! That is incredibly important progress, and it illustrates the reasons for our determination to level up digital connectivity throughout the UK and end the digital divide between rural, suburban and urban areas. We are investing £5 billion in that important mission. I think that this is an excellent topic for debate, and my hon. Friend will know how to apply for one.
On Friday morning, Stockton Conservatives cheered the election of their candidate Shakeel Hussain, despite his published statement that Israelis were Zionist murderers. The same Mr Hussain joined the Conservatives a few weeks ago, after being rejected by the Labour party for his antisemitic views, and he appears to have conned them. Why is Mr Hussain still a Tory party member and what is the Government advice to Tory leader Tony Riordan who, when offered sight of the evidence well before the election, declined to look because he did not have his spectacles with him?
The hon. Gentleman will know that this is not a matter for the Leader of the House, but it would be a matter for the party chairman. I would suggest that he raises any concerns he has about the conduct of any individual with the party chairman. He will know that we have a proper process to look at all these matters. I do not think that he has done that. He may wish to do so. That is the best advice I can offer him as Leader of the House of Commons.
Tritax Symmetry has formally applied for the Hinckley rail freight interchange and now there is a formal and legal chance for everyone to register their interest and have their say. So I am urging all my constituents and residents, particularly those in Burbage, Barwell, Earl Shilton and Hinckley to do exactly that. I have been working with my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) and neither he nor I have the power to stop this. I know that the process is quasi-judicial so I cannot ask the Leader of the House to comment specifically on that case, but can we have a debate on creating a national strategy for railway freight interchanges to ensure they are joined up in in places such as the midlands, where they can be so problematic?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter. The national networks national policy statement provides developers with a clear statement of Government policy on the development of strategic rail freight interchanges and that statement is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Transport. I would be happy to make sure that the Department is aware of my hon. Friend’s focus on the matter and we stand ready to assist him. I thank him for making sure that all the interested parties who wish to have their say are aware of the pre-examination process that is being advertised.
I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. Each week, I use this opportunity to highlight somewhere in the world where religious persecution has taken place. I am very saddened to bring to the House’s attention the fact that since Monday there have been at least five separate attacks against Christian communities in Nigeria’s Benue state, resulting in 10 deaths, seven towns being abandoned and thousands of people being displaced. Since we returned from the Easter recess, more than 100 people have been killed in that state alone. Violence against Nigeria’s Christians and Shi’as and those from traditional African religions has reached endemic levels in northern and central states, despite interventions from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and our allies. The Leader of the House always responds in a very positive fashion and I thank her for that in advance. Will she join me in condemning the latest attacks and provide advice on any steps His Majesty’s Government could take to protect all those communities in Nigeria?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising these important matters again. They are extremely concerning. I know that further individuals are missing and this is very distressing. He will know that Ministers and our envoy raise these matters and are keeping a close eye on what is going on. I will make sure that the Foreign Secretary, in particular, has heard what he said.
This week, the 10 MPs representing Humber constituencies wrote on a cross-party basis to the director-general of the BBC expressing our opposition to the plans to cut local radio services and the disgraceful way in which local members of radio staff in Humberside have been treated. The director-general, as we all know, is ultimately responsible for the plans and has the power to change them. Last autumn, when Hull MPs wrote and asked to meet him, we were fobbed off with offers of meeting those further down the management chain. I know the Leader of the House has excellent relations with Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. Does she think that helping MPs of all parties to gain access to the BBC director-general could be her next great triumph?
The right hon. Lady raises an important matter. Local radio is not just a vital link that keeps people in touch with what is happening in their community; it is vital for democracy and scrutiny in holding people to account, too. I will make sure the director-general has heard what she said, and I would be grateful if she kept us updated on her progress.
In October 2020, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency awarded a contract worth £1.5 million to Genpact to use artificial intelligence to analyse yellow card adverse event reports associated with covid-19 injections. There is no evidence of any tendering process, and it appears that Genpact was the only supplier considered. Even cursory due diligence shows a huge conflict of interest, with Genpact having massive long-term contracts with AstraZeneca and Pfizer. Can we therefore have an urgent debate on the failings of the MHRA both in its regulation of the experimental covid-19 injections, as detailed in the fantastic Perseus report, and in awarding yellow card oversight to a deeply conflicted company in Genpact?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is probably a question to ask the Department of Health and Social Care, and as a point of information for him the next questions to the Department are on 6 June. He can directly ask Ministers about this and any other matter. He can also apply for a Backbench Business debate, a Westminster Hall debate or an Adjournment debate. He knows that he will be called to speak: anyone can look at Hansard and see that he is regularly called to speak in debates and at questions, as he has been today, by whoever is in the Chair. He can table questions and early-day motions and he is, of course, free to tour media studios, to speak to the press and to put out his views on social media. How he chooses to use these opportunities is up to him.
At the 2022 elections, there was one caution and one prosecution for electoral fraud. In 2021, one conviction and one caution. In 2020, none. In 2019, four convictions and two cautions. That is a total of 10 cases over four years. Despite this, there were countless reports of people being turned away from polling stations last week for not having the correct photo ID. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in parliamentary time on voter ID and how we must review and learn lessons from the local elections?
Kemptown is now a Conservative and Green-free constituency. One of the reasons we managed to win the election is because of our strong pledge on rental reform and changing the broken housing market, which is affecting all people and all demographics. When can we expect this important Bill to be introduced? Can the Leader of the House confirm there will be no more dither and delay?
I am sorely tempted to ask for a debate on the power of dancing, following the success of Renfrew’s Jazzle Dazzle mini and senior teams in Orlando, winning three golds and one silver at the Allstar world championships. For the record, the senior team includes my daughters Emma and Eilidh.
However, proud dad or not, I have pressing, long-delayed Home Office matters, including an EU settled status application that has been awaiting a decision since October 2021 and a family reunification visa application submitted more than a year ago. Can we have a Home Office statement on these delays?
I think the whole House would want to congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s daughters and everyone else in that team on all their dancing achievements.
The hon. Gentleman may know that the Home Office now has surgeries to assist colleagues in getting answers on outstanding matters such as he raises. My office can be in touch with his office to make sure they have all the information, but those surgeries can be virtual, they will be specific to the cases he wishes to raise and can be organised quickly.
Labour is now the largest party in local government and I am pleased that Luton held on to a strong Labour council. Importantly, just like the parliamentary Labour party, Luton now has a majority of Labour women as councillors. Can we have a debate, though, on tackling the barriers that many women and young people from diverse and working-class backgrounds face in trying to serve their communities in local government?
Those are important issues and I know the Local Government Association is focused on ensuring that any barriers that exist are removed, tackled and addressed. I would say, because we often hear about the negatives of serving in elected roles, whether in this place or in local government, that the good far outweighs the bad. If people feel that they want to step up and serve their community, the chances are that they are going to be good at it and we should all encourage them.
The Leader of the House has been generous several times in talking about the problems with leasing. Section 24 allows no-fault evictions. Is it not shameful that since the Government first committed to dealing with this issue 40,000 families have been evicted through no fault of their own, some in my constituency? Some have even been evicted via text, saying, “Get out of this house because we want it for something else.” That is not acceptable. A constituent put it to me this morning that 50 Members on the Government Front Bench are landlords. The best way to reassure people in the country that they are not having an effect on this is for the Leader of the House finally to say when this legislation is coming and whether that loophole will finally be sealed off completely.
Yesterday, it was reported that the Metropolitan police have apologised following the discovery of documents relating to the Daniel Morgan murder in a locked cabinet. The independent inquiry released its report almost two years ago and the Independent Office for Police Conduct found that the former commissioner of the Metropolitan police and others had deliberately delayed the disclosure of documentation in relation to that inquiry. Given that we have had previous statements on this issue, can we have a ministerial statement on what is a completely unacceptable situation?
We have had a couple of questions already, from Members on both sides of the House, on Government proposals on leasehold reform, but we have not had an answer yet. There were newspaper reports overnight that the Government were going to U-turn on some of the plans, particularly the one to abolish leasehold altogether, which is a firm Government commitment. If there is a U-turn on that, it will represent a massive betrayal for the millions of leaseholders up and down the country. We have already had one Secretary of State dragged here today to explain U-turns in Government policy. Can we please have the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities here at the next opportunity to explain what their position is on leasehold reform?
Let me start by congratulating the right hon. Lady on carrying out her role in the coronation at the weekend so elegantly.
Social enterprise Hey Girls has launched the Pads 4 Dads campaign to educate fathers about periods and give them the tools and confidence required to support their children with this. May we have a debate in Government time on the importance of ending the stigma around periods and why menstrual education should be normalised across all demographics in the UK?
That sounds like a very worthwhile initiative and I congratulate those behind it. It is incredibly important that we give people the tools they need to support their children through the changes they will go through. I will certainly make sure that the relevant Department has heard about this scheme and see what else can be done to support it and scale it.
I have raised this issue before with the Leader of the House, but at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions, when confronted with the dubious dealings at Teesworks by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), the Prime Minister said:
“Contracts at the site will be a commercial matter for the companies involved.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2023; Vol. 732, c. 334.]
Could the Leader convey to the Prime Minister that the people of Teesside are extremely angry and, even if he does not, they think that how £350 million of public money has ended up so massively benefiting a few preferred developers is very much a matter for them? The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has agreed to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) to discuss the issue, so I have written to him to ask him to extend that invitation to me. Could I prevail upon her to ask the Chief Secretary to do that and to include my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) as well?
I will certainly make sure that the Chief Secretary has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. He will know that, on the spending and delivery for that site, the Tees Valley Combined Authority has judged that that is on track and the transfer presented value for money. These matters are independently audited and those who are doing that have not raised any concerns about the judgment that South Tees Development Corporation has made or the management of the organisation. These are important matters. They are a concern to the hon. Gentleman and I shall act on his request, but it is also important that those facts are out there. I am sure he would not want to stifle investment in the area; I know that that is not his intention. We must be careful of that.
People in Wirral West are extremely anxious about a series of planning appeals by Leverhulme Estate relating to building on the green belt that will be heard at a public inquiry that starts next week. The outcomes will particularly impact on people in Barnston, Irby and Pensby, and also have implications for those in Greasby. Leverhulme Estate’s plans are not wanted by local people and are contrary to what Wirral Council has set out in the local plan, which is that the borough’s housing needs can be met on brownfield sites and land in urban areas. So may we have a debate in Government time on how a resolution can be found in such cases where there are clear conflicts between what local people and the local council wants, and what developers want? Will such a debate cover considerations of ways in which we can give the green belt the stronger protections it clearly needs?
I thank and congratulate the hon. Lady on raising this matter and advertising it to her constituents and other interested parties, who will want to participate in that process. That subject is often raised in this House by many Members and I am sure that if she were to apply for a debate, it would be well supported.
I, too, congratulate the Leader of the House on the assured way in which she carried out her role as Lord President of the Council during the coronation service. I hope she was as struck as I was by the excellence of the music we heard, and I congratulate the musicians, choirs, conductors and composers involved. However, classical music is under threat from proposed job cuts in the BBC orchestras, the funding cuts already made by the Arts Council to opera companies and orchestras, and the dramatic falls in the provision of music education in state schools. So may we have a debate in Government time on what is needed to protect the future of classical music in this country? We need to ensure that the music at future important events is just as excellent.
I thank the hon. Lady for affording us all the opportunity to say thank you to those many people involved in such amazing music, not only for the celebration, but at other events associated with it—of course, I should not forget the music that would be being enjoyed in every church in the land on the following day. Our choral traditions are unique in this country and are enshrined in the background and pipeline of people who come forward to organisations such as the BBC Singers. I am sure that this is a topic of concern to many and if she were to apply for a debate, it would be well attended.
Next week is Christian Aid Week. This year, the focus of the week is on women farmers in Malawi and the challenges they are facing because of climate change and the consequent impact on the cost of living. Since 1957, Christian Aid has worked with thousands of churches and individuals including in East Renfrewshire, my constituency, which was in the top 10% of areas supporting Christian Aid Week last year. Can we have a debate in Government time on the value of the work that Christian Aid and all its volunteers do in countries across the world where there is such need and on how Government can support that need by acting to make sure that the most vulnerable in the world are properly supported?
I thank the hon. Lady for reminding us all about Christian Aid Week and for highlighting the many good works that the charity does with those donations. She will know that there are initiatives at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office that allow tax breaks for donations, and also initiatives such as Aid Match and others that maximise and incentivise people to donate on these occasions. I thank her for reminding the House of this important week coming up.
The Southwark-based firm, MPE, applied for specialist engineering visas in March, but has had no reply from the Home Office despite those jobs being on the Government’s skilled worker shortage list and despite costs of £15,000 to MPE. Its German office accesses equivalent visas at no cost to the company and in a fraction of the time. Will the Leader of the House use the sword that she wielded so well at the coronation to help slice through and slash the costs that her Government impose on businesses by allowing time to debate how Home Office policy harms UK competitiveness?
If people are paying for a service, they should actually get that service. At the risk of repeating myself, I will advertise to the hon. Gentleman the service that the Home Office is providing for Members of Parliament. If he has had any difficulty in accessing those surgeries, I shall be very happy to assist him in doing so.
I know that I upset the Leader of the House the last time I was here by bringing up her embarrassing belly flop at that daft diving contest that she was a part of, but even I was impressed by her sword-wielding at the coronation. Somebody who can carry a sword and stay mute while advertising Poundland deserves my admiration. But may I say to her that it serves absolutely no one for her to criticise a political party for hate and division, particularly when it is her Government who have brought forward that hateful Illegal Migration Bill and divided the nation with their extreme hard Brexit.
The manner in which the hon. Gentleman has asked his question prompts the exact response that I shall give. I am afraid that he has just provided us with a prime example of why the SNP has no credibility on these matters, why it always stokes division and why, even though there was a slight degree of humour creeping into his question, it was still rather obnoxious.
Earlier, the Leader of the House rightly commended the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill of the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) and the Government’s support for it. That Bill was carried by this House on 17 March, and had its First Reading in the House of Lords on 20 March, but has made no further progress since then, giving rise, I am afraid, to concerns that it is perhaps being delayed and undermined by Tory backwoodsmen down the corridor. Through the usual channels, can she get this welcome and much anticipated Bill moving forward and becoming law?
Thirteen-year-old Robert Hattersley drowned in the River Tyne at Ovingham while playing with his friends in July last year. Robert was a popular and much-loved young man. His parents, Carl and Stella, who live in my constituency, will hold a meeting next week to set up a foundation to raise awareness of water safety among young people to prevent other such tragedies. Will the Leader of the House join me in sending them good wishes in their campaign, and, as we approach the summer, can we have a debate, in Government time, on the importance of water safety?
I am sure the whole House will want to send our thanks and admiration to the hon. Lady’s constituents who have, out of unbearable tragedy, done something so positive to help others. She is also right, particularly as we head towards the warmer weather, that we remind people of the importance of water safety. If she were to apply for a debate, I am sure it would be well-attended.
Tails never fails, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the rocketing food price inflation, which is squeezing living standards across these islands. That includes, I am sad to say, many workers in the food industry itself, with a recent published survey of the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union showing that 40% of workers in the food sector are skipping meals and that one in five are using food banks. Can we have a debate in Government time on how we can pay food workers fairly without price rises for consumers and rampant profiteering of some of the large supermarkets? Can she confirm whether trade union representatives of food workers will be invited to the Government’s national food summit next week?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. He will know that the next relevant questions will be on 25 May, and he may like to raise those matters there, but, given the timeliness of the event next week, I shall ask the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to get in touch with his office to answer his question about delegates.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I do find my concerns about gambling now reinforced.
May I add my congratulations to the Leader of the House on the manner in which she conducted her role in the coronation last weekend? I also welcome the reassurances that she gave earlier on the Government’s commitment to animal welfare. However, the lack of progress of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill has provoked a lot of concern both from my constituents and the Dogs Trust, which was here just this week. I raised the timescale that we now face and this lack of progress in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions back in February. Can the Leader of the House give us any reassurance today that the Bill will come back in time and be heard?
The hon. Lady knows that I will say that I will announce forthcoming business in the usual way, but I can reassure the House that the Government remain committed to those measures. They were in our manifesto and we have every intention of delivering them.
I thank the Leader of the House for responding to questions for well over an hour.
I have been an MP for 31 years, and it is very rare to see such unanimity in the House of Commons. There are normally discordant voices, but none today in paying tribute to the Leader of the House for the role that she played on Saturday. I texted her straight away to say how proud I was of her. When I spoke to her, I said, “I could not even hold an umbrella up for an hour, and you held that sword for two hours.” So Penny let me know that she had been doing some exercises to make sure that she was able to do it. When I told her that I could not hold the umbrella up, she said, “Nigel, if ever you want any furniture moving, just give me a call.” Thank you very much. You did the country proud.