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Business of the House

Volume 733: debated on Thursday 8 June 2023

The business for the week commencing 12 June will include:

Monday 12 June—Consideration of Lords message to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, followed by a debate on a motion to approve the draft Public Order Act 1986 (Serious Disruption to the Life of the Community) Regulations 2023, followed by a general debate on the risk-based exclusion of Members of Parliament.

Tuesday 13 June—Remaining stages of the Procurement Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 14 June—Opposition day (10th allocated day, second part). Debate in the name of the Scottish National party, subject to be announced, followed by a general debate on defence policy. Hon. Members have been asking for a debate in Government time on both Ukraine and NATO. Both issues will be in scope of this debate.

Thursday 15 June—General debate on Pride Month, followed by a general debate on Government policies on migration. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 16 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 June includes:

Monday 19 June—Remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

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

It was incredibly frustrating to see this worn-out Tory Government shut up shop and clear out of here before 2 o’clock on Tuesday. The House has regularly risen early for months because of thin Government business, at least down this end—in the other place, they seem to be clogged up. How are Tory Ministers spending their time? Clearly not delivering in their Departments. Are they racing home to watch daytime TV instead? Has the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) been watching too much “Escape to the Country”? I hear he is planning a chicken run to a rural so-called “safe” seat in Oxfordshire. Does the Leader of the House fancy her chances against the “Eggheads”? Perhaps she can try to raise some money to cover the extortionate cost to the taxpayer of the former Prime Minister’s legal fees.

The Government ought to be using the precious time they have in this House to pass laws that will make people’s lives better. They have the power, but why are they not using it? Have they just given up? Why did the Leader of the House not use Tuesday to bring forward the much-needed transport or schools Bills? Everyone in this House knows the damage that 13 years of Tory Government have done to our transport and education systems. Will they not at least try to fix them?

The Government could have also brought forward their long-promised Mental Health Bill. The Committee that studied a draft version published its final report way back in January—six months ago—and there is still no sign of a Bill. Has the Health Secretary even read that report? Do Ministers support calls for stronger measures, or not? Will the Health Secretary come to this House and answer MPs’ questions, or not? People are worried sick about the state that this Government have left mental health services in. Could the Leader of the House tell us whether she will announce a Mental Health Bill in this Session, or will the Tories really leave vulnerable people waiting even longer to receive the care they so desperately need?

Every week, it is left to Labour to bring forward a plan. This week, we called for the Government to introduce Labour’s plan to recruit thousands of mental health staff, to provide access to specialist mental health support in every school and to establish open access mental health hubs for children and young people, paid for by closing tax loopholes. What do Government Members have against any of that? Where is their plan? They had one, and they scrapped it.

As well as failing to bring froward new laws to help people with mental health problems, Ministers are failing to put into practice laws already passed. Let us take Seni’s law, set out in a private Member’s Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) five years ago and passed unanimously. It is intended to monitor the disproportionate use of force and to tackle dangerous restraint in mental health settings, but the Government still do not seem to have made it a reality on the ground.

The Government have promised progress for years. Why are they still failing to protect mentally ill people properly? Could the Leader of the House please tell us when she will announce that they will? Could she help the shadow mental health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), to get answers to questions she has put to Ministers about meetings that they have had with mental health trusts where there are reported abuse scandals? She has asked six times. I know the right hon. Lady takes the issue of answers very seriously, but Ministers have failed to give my hon. Friend a decent answer, so could she ask her Health colleagues to respond with an answer that those people who have suffered terrible abuse deserve?

The Government have scrapped their 10-year mental health plan and have talked about a Mental Health Bill that it is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, waiting lists soar and people’s lives are damaged. Ministerial incompetence on mental health is a symbol of their approach in every Department and on every policy. We have a Prime Minister so out of touch, out of ideas and out of steam that he cannot even fill up a parliamentary day, breaking promises and letting people down. Meanwhile, Labour will work flat out on our plan to improve mental health care and to make the lives of people everywhere better.

First, on behalf of the House, I congratulate West Ham on their tremendous triumph yesterday. It is great to see so many happy fans.

The hon. Lady focused some of her remarks on mental health. She knows that this Government have vastly improved and raised the profile and status of mental health, and are delivering an extra £2.3 billion to the annual mental health budget. The Mental Health Bill is not nowhere to been seen; it has had scrutiny in the Joint Committee and that has just completed. She knows that I will announce business in the usual way, but the very serious issues that she raises about the treatment of particular people in inappropriate care settings will be addressed by some of the provisions in the Bill and I hope to update the House about that in the coming weeks.

I take issue with the hon. Lady’s assertion that in every Department we are not using our time well and we are not delivering for the public. On legislation, this week we passed the British Nationality (Regularisation of Past Practice) Bill, and next week we will be debating the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and the Procurement Bill. We have introduced 40 Bills so far, including legislation to tackle illegal migration. We should all thank their cocoa-fuelled lordships for sitting very late last night to get that Bill to make progress.

Outside this Chamber, we are delivering and using our time well. On our mission to stop the boats, we have discovered this week that crossings are down by 20%, some 33,000 crossings have been prevented and Albanian small boat arrivals are down by 90%. We are a whole year ahead of meeting our manifesto commitment to recruit 26,000 more primary care staff, delivering on two of the priorities of the Prime Minister and the people. The hon. Lady mentions education. Statistics out today show that nearly 48,000 full-time equivalent teachers joined English schools in the academic year 2022-23, meaning there are 2,800 more teachers in class- rooms now than last year.

Labour Members are billing their party as some kind of dynamo, standing up for hard-working families, but they have consistently demonstrated their lack of support for hard-working families—not so much up the workers, as stuff the workers. There has been no condemnation of hard-left unions co-ordinating strikes that are bringing misery to millions of British citizens, and no condemnation of the extreme protest tactics of Extinction Rebellion or Just Stop Oil, who get in the way of hard-working people trying to get to work, collecting their kids from school or getting their loved ones to hospital. Labour Members have consistently voted to weaken the Public Order Act 2023 and voted against protecting the public. While we have been strengthening police powers to lock people up, Labour has been promoting the merits of people locking-on. Labour has always got in the way of people going about their business, and it has turned the nanny state into an art form.

Today, where Labour is in power, it is getting in the way again. In Wales, rather than helping people to get a GP appointment, the Labour Government are trying to stop people from buying a meal deal. In London, the Labour Mayor is frustrating businesses and hiking household taxes through the ill-thought out, unravelling ultra-low emission zone scheme. Labour is an obstacle and a blocker—a load of old bollards.

If Members of the shadow Cabinet really want to disprove that and, as the hon. Lady suggests, show they are on the side of hard-grafting people and their families, they should do three things: they should stand up and condemn the process of Just Stop Oil, hand back all Labour’s associated donations, and make their 34th policy U-turn of the year by reversing Labour’s illogical stance on North sea oil and gas that is a barrier to our national security, growth and investment, increasing household incomes and our ability to cut emissions. As I say Mr Speaker, a load of old bollards.

Is the Leader of the House aware that there are more than 16,500 new cases of skin cancer in the UK every year, largely because of unprotected exposure to the sun? Is she further aware that high-factor sun creams are subject to value added tax at the point of sale? Can we have a Government review, followed by a statement, into the desirability of exempting high-protection sun creams from VAT to encourage greater use?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that very good suggestion. One of the advantages of being outside the EU is that we now have complete control of our fiscal policy, and this is a great example of what we could do. I shall certainly ensure that the Secretary of State for Health and the Chancellor have heard his suggestion today, and I encourage him to raise it at the next health questions, which is on 11 July.

It was announced in the Scottish Parliament yesterday that Scotland’s deposit return scheme has had to be delayed until October 2025. That is the latest estimate of how long it will take England to finally catch up with the devolved Governments and introduce its own scheme. Some would call this dithering and delaying, and I know that that is what a great many environmental organisations think.

Keep Britain Tidy estimates that every day of delay leaves an extra 140,000 cans and bottles littering Scotland. This delay, forced on Scotland by the UK Government’s refusal to grant an exemption under the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, means that tens of millions of those items will be littering Scotland’s lands and seas for many months to come. After several years of discussion with Scottish businesses and, indeed, nearly two years of discussion with the UK Government and officials under the common framework set-up, and with no justification offered for the refusal to agree to the exemption, the Secretary of State for Scotland swooped in at the last minute, like some sort of toff Tarzan, to squash the scheme—many examples of which can be seen across the world—and demanded that glass be removed from it, thus forcing Scotland to wait for England’s scheme to become operational. Given that no regulations outlining how England’s scheme will work have yet been laid, the estimated delivery date of 1 October 2025 in England looks optimistic, to put it kindly.

Once upon a time, we supposedly had the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world. Now we are not permitted to run a packaging recycling scheme. Will the Leader of the House perhaps permit a debate on devolution and its future, given that her Government apparently intend to continue to intervene and claw back to the centre powers that the people of Scotland wanted to be devolved to their Parliament? Can devolution now work only if the devolved and Westminster Governments are in complete agreement? Is that really what the people of Scotland voted for in 1997 in their devolution referendum? If the UK Government are prepared to intervene on a packaging recycling scheme, what confidence can we have that any of our Parliament’s policies will not be struck down in a similar way?

I have further questions. Why were so many MSPs and MPs in the right hon. Lady’s party enthusiastic about including glass in deposit return schemes previously —commitments to that were even included in the manifesto on which she stood—and what exactly has changed their minds? Acting on the advice of which bodies or individuals did the Secretary of State intervene, and with which environmental organisations did he discuss this before he intervened? Why has the inclusion of glass apparently been permitted for the scheme in Wales? I would be very grateful for some answers.

I shall be brief. The Secretary of State for Scotland is having these discussions with the Scottish Government first because he is standing up for the interests of Scottish business, which the SNP is not, and secondly because the scheme devised in Scotland will actually reduce recycling rates. As the hon. Lady will know, the delay in the scheme has been caused by the Scottish Government’s not engaging with the UK-wide scheme that would need to be devised because of the UK internal market. She need only go and listen to businesses in her constituency to understand their concerns about the Scottish scheme, and to hear their calls for compensation from the Scottish Government because this issue has been handled so poorly, and because of the investments they have had to make only to have the rug pulled from under their feet.

I also noted this week that the Auditor General for Scotland has revealed that the auditors are unable to account for billions of pounds’ worth of covid-19 business support grants that were handed to the Scottish Government, because of gaps in data. The SNP has made it impossible for the auditors to understand fully how £4.4 billion in grants and business reliefs were distributed between March 2020 and October 2021. I say thank heavens for the Secretary of State for Scotland, because he is standing up for the interests of the businesses and residents of Scotland.

As this is Child Safety Week, will the Leader of the House join me in thanking the Child Accident Prevention Trust for its outstanding work to protect children, and, in particular, the support it has given the Harper-Lee Foundation, which campaigns for button battery safety, by raising awareness of the danger of swallowing button batteries? Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Government to bring forward the product safety review and the vital legislation that is necessary to ensure greater product safety for all button battery-powered products, and will she make parliamentary time available for a debate on issues of product safety in the context of risk to children?

I thank my hon. Friend for her work on this incredibly important issue, and also thank the family of her constituent who was sadly lost because of an accident with button batteries. She will know that the Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business is chairing a cross-discipline working group to bring together all the players who can raise awareness of the risks. The Office for Product Safety and Standards commissioned a fast-track business standard for button batteries that was published in 2021, but there is more to be done, and I shall certainly ensure that the Minister has heard my hon. Friend’s remarks.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week and the Backbench business on 15 June. If the Committee is allocated the time, on 22 June we will have debates on the infected blood inquiry and on funding for the prevention of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP, which is a distressing ailment. On Thursday 29 June, if allocated the time, we will have debates on the UK fishing industry and on artificial intelligence.

The Backbench Business Committee understands that estimates debates are to take place in early July, and the deadline for submitting applications to the Committee will be Monday 19 June. Applications can be submitted online or on old-fashioned paper forms, and staff in the Table Office can provide advice. Applications for estimates debates can be submitted by individual Members, Select Committee Chairs or Select Committee members on topics relating to their Committee.

Through my work on the Education Committee, I have become aware that 92% of the 7,200 or so deaf children under the age of five are not gaining access to auditory verbal therapy, and that the UK has only 27 auditory verbal therapists. Can we have a statement about what the Government intend to do to recruit and train more auditory verbal therapists to rectify this injustice for our young deaf children?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful advert for the forthcoming business, which sounds very good indeed. I am sure many Members will be grateful for the chance to discuss the infected blood inquiry and progress against compensating all those affected and infected.

I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Education has heard his remarks about provision for deaf children. It is a subject close to my heart, and it is incredibly important that we provide opportunities for all sectors to ensure they have appropriately trained people in their workforce.

On Tuesday, a Dunstable GP practice was telling me about patients who missed hospital appointments because their letters did not arrive, but that situation pales into insignificance compared with what is happening in Leighton Buzzard, where some constituents have not had post for six weeks. Despite the excellent efforts of the postmen and women, with whom I have been out on their delivery rounds, the management of Royal Mail in Leighton Buzzard is failing utterly. What can the Government do to ensure that my constituents have a decent hospital service, can get to their medical appointments on time, receive cheques through the post and get a proper postal service?

I am sorry to hear about what has been happening in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I will ensure that both the relevant Ministers hear his worries about the poor service they are getting from Royal Mail. Given that situation, it is critical that healthcare is not relying on letters to notify people of appointments. There is of course the NHS app, which is good progress, but many people, particularly older people, will not have a smartphone, so picking up the good old-fashioned telephone is certainly an option they should consider. I shall make sure that both Ministers have heard his concerns.

Can we have a debate about legal aid for visa and asylum applications? I know that other hon. Members are finding it impossible for constituents to get a solicitor to assist them when they are entitled to that support. Perhaps Ministers could then explain how cutting off support and aid for people who need that advice reduces the backlog we are all struggling with, both in the Home Office and in our constituency offices.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very sensible point, and I would be happy to make sure the Home Secretary has heard his remarks.

May we have a full debate on the World Health Organisation? There are a number of issues about which many of us are concerned: the potential international treaty, the potential regulations and the discussion about international covid passports. The House ought to have an opportunity to express itself on some of these issues.

That is an excellent topic for debate. There are many aspects to this, and of course it plays into the Government’s programmes on patient records and other things. I will make sure the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard my hon. Friend’s suggestion, but he will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way—he has heard a fantastic advert from the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee—and I am sure such a debate would be well attended.

The Government have excluded NHS contractors from the latest pay award given to NHS workers. NHS contractors in my Bath constituency will miss out on £2,000, on average. Can we have a statement from the relevant Minister on why healthcare contractors have been excluded from the pay uplift?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important point. Given that the next Health and Social Care questions are not until 11 July, I will happily write to the Secretary of State on her behalf.

New research shows that the UK’s birth rate is continuing to fall. At the same time, Fertility Network UK suggests that 3.5 million people are struggling with fertility, which is why I have launched my fertility workplace pledge to encourage employers to have a more progressive policy when it comes to fertility. Will my right hon. Friend consider giving Government time for a debate on fertility issues, particularly as we mark World Infertility Awareness Month this month?

Again, I thank my hon. Friend for the work she is doing for her constituents and, more widely, to raise awareness of this important matter. She makes an excellent suggestion for a debate. Of course, it is not just about healthcare; it is also about things like housing policy. One reason why people are delaying having children is because they are trying to get on the property ladder beforehand. I will make sure the relevant Minister has heard her remarks, and I congratulate her on the work she is doing.

Recent figures from the North East Child Poverty Commission show that, over the past nine years, more than 50,000 babies, children and young people have been pulled into poverty by successive Conservative Governments, yet the north-east has fantastic potential. We have great universities, fantastic start-ups, highly productive manufacturing and access to almost unlimited clean energy. Can we have a debate in Government time on an industrial strategy to realise the north-east’s economic potential, for the benefit of our young people and working families?

I will make sure the relevant Minister has heard the hon. Lady’s request. If she were to apply for a debate, I am sure it would be well attended. Indeed, I recently spoke from this Dispatch Box about the investment going into that part of the United Kingdom. She will know that we have the £94 billion cost of living package to alleviate the strains that households are under at the moment, but she will also know that, compared with 2010, we have 1 million fewer workless households, which is the best way to lift people out of poverty.

Tomorrow some of us will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of our first election to this place. Will my right hon. Friend give Government time for a debate on the comparison between the quality of public services in 1983 and the quality of public services today, and on the impact on those public services of the more than 20% increase in population since 1983?

I feel that those in the Press Gallery are now producing statistics for my hon. Friend’s 40 years —on the length of time he has spoken in private Members’ Bill debates and so forth. On behalf of us all, I say happy 40th anniversary to him for this week, as it is a tremendous landmark to have achieved. He makes an excellent suggestion for a debate. On the state of public services and their ability to cope with the population size, I can tell him that every time Labour has left office it has left the country in a worse state and every time a Conservative Government have left office they have left it in a better state.

Labour-run North Lanarkshire Council is moving early years practitioners down from grade 9 to grade 7. They have been given the option either to take a pay cut of up to 30% or move to another job within the council. Not only will that have a detrimental impact on children and families, but it will push many early years practitioners, who are predominantly women, into financial hardship. I have met constituents who are deeply worried about the future. Given those concerns, will the Leader of the House make Government time for a debate on this alarming situation, which is fire and rehire?

Let me say two things on this to the hon. Lady. She will know that local government financing and allocations, and the budgets for that, are a matter for the Scottish Government. But where the UK Government can assist is in having been clear that threats of dismissal and re-engagement should not be used as a negotiation tactic. Dismissal and re-engagement should not be considered in that light and the Government have taken action on it. We have published a code of practice, which is currently going through a consultation, and it sets out employers’ responsibilities when seeking to change contractual terms and conditions. Once it is in force, an employment tribunal will be able to increase an employee’s compensation by up to 25% if the employer has unreasonably failed to comply. Obviously there will be a debate in both Houses of Parliament on that in due course, and I hope she will take part in that. We plan to bring forward a negative statutory instrument to give people confidence that they can stand up to these kinds of tactics.

When will the Government bring forward the single-issue Bills they have promised to replace the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill with, so that we can see an end to live exports for slaughter and have a crackdown on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies?

My right hon. Friend speaks for many Members and many people around the country who care deeply about animal welfare. She will know that we are committed to bringing forward these measures. She knows that I will say that we will announce business in the usual way, but I hope that for some provisions in the Bill, for example those on primates, we will be able to do this more swiftly than would happen through the passage of the Bill.

This week is Carers Week, when we acknowledge and recognise the tremendous work done by unpaid carers, week in, week out. Unfortunately, I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are now unpaid carers, having previously been paid carers until the vaccine mandate. Given that we now know that the mandated medical treatment does not prevent the transmission or contraction of the virus, may we have an apology and a statement from the Government, not only to my constituents, but to the 40,000 other professional carers who have been forced from their jobs on what is obviously a false premise?

I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. The care workforce is under tremendous pressure, with an enormous number of vacancies at the moment. He will know that the Secretary of State is looking not just at what we can do to bolster that workforce, but at the status of that job and the support people have in it.

Yesterday, no fewer than three 24-inch mains water pipes burst in my constituency, causing extensive flooding, traffic chaos and a widespread lack of clean water across my constituency. The good news is that two have been repaired today, but the third repair is still outstanding. That comes on top of the chaos that has been caused by Affinity Water replacing the water mains, supposedly as an improvement. So may we have a statement or a debate in Government time on the action being taken across the country to replace outdated water mains, so that the chaos that ensued in my constituency is not spread across the country?

I am extremely sorry to hear about this ongoing issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I will certainly make sure that the Secretary of State has heard his concerns about this, as the next departmental questions are not until 6 July. I just wish to put on record my thanks to all those who are working in his constituency to make sure that vulnerable people in particular are looked after at this time.

Can we have a debate, please, about the Crown Estate? It took ownership of a canopy by some shops in Little Sutton in my constituency, although it claims that it does not actually own it, because it does not want to repair it. However, it still owns it in the sense that it would charge the council £5,000 to take over responsibility for it. At the moment, no one is taking responsibility for it, and it is dangerous. We are in this silly legal lacuna where no one seems to want to deal with the problem. Given that the Crown Estate gives hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the Treasury, it seems ridiculous that we are in this state, so I wondered whether we could have a debate on how the Crown Estate actually operates.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We could have a debate about that, but I suggest another course of action, which is that I will write to ask the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to give him some advice on how this situation can be resolved. Whether it is the situation that he describes or dilapidated buildings that cannot be redeveloped or sold by the owner, we have to find ways around these tricky, knotty problems, and I would be happy to try to assist him to do that.

In the weeks since the BBC announced cuts to local radio, there have been many events and questions in this House and elsewhere. Sadly, however, that seems to have had little effect. If we are to retain the BBC as a national broadcaster, perhaps it is opportune now to have a debate about the role and the financing of the BBC. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on that in Government time?

I know that this is a matter of huge concern to many Members across the House and their constituents. As I have said previously, local radio is not just a lifeline in communities, but fundamental to scrutiny and therefore the functioning of our democracy, which matters to all of us in this place. I suggest that my hon. Friend raises this matter again at the next Culture, Media and Sport questions, which are on 15 June. Certainly, local radio is one thing that people really look to the BBC to provide for our country.

I commend the House of Commons Commission for the thorough consideration that it has given to the topic of risk-based exclusions and the report that it published this week with recommendations for how we can improve our internal procedures, including better alignment with the criminal process, to ensure that Parliament is a safe working environment, and that safeguarding measures can be put in place around those under investigation while serious allegations are considered. This is not a party political issue but a House issue, so can the Leader of the House explain why Monday’s debate will be a general debate on risk-based exclusions and not a motion on the adoption of these recommendations in her name, and can she tell us how much longer we can be expected to wait for long-overdue progress?

The hon. Lady is right: this is a matter for the House. I thank all members of the Commission and the staff of the House who have worked on the report, which included a consultation with Members, and brought forward these proposals. What is critical is that it is the House that decides. There have been requests, including from three Committees of the House, that we debate these proposals. Certainly, it is the intention of both the Commission and myself to bring forward a motion following that debate. There is time to do that before the summer recess. I am sure that all members of the House want to improve our practices, but it is important that Members of Parliament are allowed a say on that and that we arrive at a scheme that is not just the best it can be, but welcomed by all Members.

First, may I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) for barging in earlier without being aware of who was speaking?

Belper leisure centre in my constituency is under financial pressure, mainly due to increased energy bills. The leisure centre also provides sports facilities and exam spaces for the local school and is a real community hub. May we have a statement about Government support for leisure centres and how the Government are working with local councils and energy companies to keep these crucial community hubs open?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and many activities are supported by buildings such as the one she describes. I would suggest that she raises the matter at the next Energy Security questions on 4 July, but she will know that we are providing the energy bills discount scheme, which provides a baseline discount on energy bills to non-domestic customers, until 31 March next year. We recognise the importance of leisure centres in communities, which is why we have announced more than £60 million of new funding for public pools in England. That will be very welcome to a lot of leisure centres.

You have been very generous to me this morning, Mr Speaker, and I am very thankful. Does the Leader of the House agree that, with the decline of print newspapers in regions and towns, it is vital that the BBC maintains good coverage of local and regional politics and news? Has she seen what has happened in my region around Leeds, with the decline of and cuts to Radio Leeds and television coverage? May we have an early debate on the importance of regional and local coverage to local communities?

The hon. Gentleman echoes the concerns raised by many Members of the House about the decisions the BBC is taking. If he applied for a debate, I am sure it would be well attended, but again I shall make sure that the relevant Secretary of State has heard his concerns.

I very much welcome the work the Department for Education has been doing to improve the situation on special educational needs and disability school places. I have heard a good deal from the headteachers of Sunshine House and the Eden Academy in my constituency, and I have heard the same from many other hon. Members: there is an acute short-term problem affecting the availability of special school places. Is it possible to have a statement from the Government so that Ministers can set out the measures being taken to address that short-term pressure and indicate when the measures consulted upon will feed through into a new system to ensure that every child with SEND has the school place they need?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. It is vital that every child is able to reach their full potential and the Government are committed to that. He will know that every local authority in England will see a minimum per-head increase of 9.8% to their total needs allocations for 2023-24 compared with the previous year. We are also investing £2.6 billion between 2022 and 2025 to create new places to improve existing provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities who require alternative provision. It is an incredibly important matter. On the issue of short-term costs, I shall make sure the Secretary of State for Education has heard my hon. Friend’s comments today.

Can we have a Government statement on the asylum backlog? My constituent is from a prominent Iranian family; one brother is an international referee and another is a former Iranian politician, and both brothers are in exile. My constituent had to flee for her life, literally with the clothes on her back. Her children are still in Iran. There has been no movement on her case and she is in the backlog of asylum seekers, but we urgently need a decision. Will Leader of the House raise the matter with her colleagues in the Home Office, and can we have a statement from Government on the matter?

I am sorry to hear about this case. Following business questions, I will certainly ensure that the Home Secretary is aware of such cases. If the hon. Lady passes me more details and reference numbers, I shall include those in the letter. I remind her and all Members of the House that the Home Office is running bespoke surgeries for such cases. If she has any difficulty in accessing them, please let me know and I will address that. I announced in the business a debate on 15 June in which she might also raise her issue.

I had the pleasure of attending a surprise party for Special Constable Brian Hewlett at the Sub Rooms last week. Brian has undertaken 50 years of public service as a special constable in Stroud—50 years of volunteering alongside his work and family commitments—and thankfully, he will continue. All six Gloucestershire MPs, the police and crime commissioner Chris Nelson, and Chief Constable Rod Hansen are huge champions for special constables. We know what they do locally and around the country. Will my right hon. Friend consider whether Parliament can hold an event or debate to show support for that vital part of our police force?

I am sure that I speak for all Members of this House when I say thank you, Brian, for a life- time of service to your community. What an achievement; what a service. It is an incredibly important role, not just for the knowledge that those individuals build up in their communities, but for the trust and rapport that they build. I think that that would be an excellent subject for a debate. I hope that Brian and all his colleagues will be having a good old knees-up this week.

On the last day before recess, the House was due to debate the important topic of tackling Islamophobia, which we have not had the chance to do in the Chamber since 2019. Unfortunately, following a raft of ministerial statements, including some that did not tell us anything new, the debate had to be cancelled owing to the lack of time. Will the Leader of the House urge her Government to demonstrate their commitment to tackling that insidious form of hate by bringing forward a debate in Government time on tackling Islamophobia?

I shall certainly ensure that the Home Secretary hears the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. We are committed to tackling that scourge. He will know the other options that he has to apply for a debate, including the advert from the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, and I encourage him to do so.

I have received a joint letter from the rail users associations of Merseyside, Cheshire, Shropshire, Wrexham and Flintshire confirming what my constituents and I already knew: Transport for Wales, which is owned by the Welsh Labour Government, operates a north-east cross-rail service that is

“overcrowded, using dirty old rolling stock, and fraught with severe delays, cancellations and poor passenger communication”.

The associations conclude that Transport for Wales has failed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Wrexham deserve better than cattle class?

I am very sorry to hear about this ongoing issue in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Her constituents deserve better. She will know that since 2010, we have spent on average over 25% more in real terms every year on support for the railways than the Labour Government did. I am very sorry to hear that the Labour Administration in Wales are letting people down, but I know that the rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), is planning to have a meeting with the Welsh Deputy Minister for Climate Change, under whose remit this comes, to see what can be done to improve the services. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) for her work to try to rectify this sorry situation.

I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Might we have a debate in Government time, to be answered by a Treasury Minister, on the budget available for future farming support payments? The current settlement runs only until 2024. The Leader of the House will know that agriculture, of all industries, needs long-term certainty, especially as we redesign the systems for delivering that mechanism. The Government talk a very good game about the importance of farmers and crofters in our food security, but we need to hear from the Treasury whether they will put their money where their mouth is.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that important matter. He will have heard the announcement that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made this week with regard to all aspects of rural life. Clearly, in arriving at that plan, she has been speaking frequently with the Treasury. I shall make sure that both she and the Treasury have heard the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks.

In the light of the Prime Minister’s stated ambition that all pupils should study some form of mathematics until the age of 18, can a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to explain the progress on that? May I suggest that the Department for Education looks at working with external providers such as the UK Mathematics Trust and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, which have demonstrable success in promoting mathematics to those at all levels?

This is very important and is clearly a priority for both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education. My hon. Friend will know that they have convened an expert advisory group, and I think that the examples he gave would be of great interest to them. I shall make sure that the Secretary of State has heard of his particular interest, and I encourage him to raise the matter with her on 12 June.

First, let me join the Leader of the House in congratulating my many friends and relations who are supporters of West Ham United, which I note is another successful team with a Scottish manager.

What happened on Tuesday was obscene. The House rose less than three hours after proceedings commenced because the Government could not table enough legislation, yet there are dozens of private Members’ Bills scheduled for debate on 24 November—to name two, the Food Poverty Strategy Bill and the Workers (Rights and Definition) Bill. Will the Leader of the House take it into consideration that if the Government do not have enough legislation to put to the House, there is enough legislation proposed by Members to be debated and discussed in this Chamber?

With regard to West Ham, there are many successful Scottish managers, but, alas, not in the Scottish Government. There are also many good private Members’ Bills and topics for them, and I know that people are looking at the fourth Session as well. As I said in my opening remarks, we have introduced 40 Bills in this Session, and we continue to make progress. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we have also made time for private Members’ Bills, and we have supported and backed many of them passing through this House.

I recently attended an event to celebrate the 80th anniversary of St John Ambulance in Halesowen, where I met young volunteer first aiders, as well as speaking to Judith Morris, who has been an inspiring and long-standing advocate for St John Ambulance in Halesowen. May we have a debate about the important role that St John Ambulance plays in many of our communities across the country?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that incredibly important point. I am sure that all of us across the House value the work that St John Ambulance does for the NHS and elsewhere in our communities. We should not forget its assistance during the vaccine roll-out and in placing volunteers in NHS hospitals to undertake a range of clinical and administrative tasks. It is an incredible organisation and one of the things we think about when we think of the voluntary sector in the United Kingdom. I thank my hon. Friend for enabling us all to say congratulations and thank you to St John Ambulance. I hope that the unit in his constituency will be having an appropriate celebration for its 80th year.

Crown post office branches provide a range of vital services to local communities, but sadly many are at risk of closure, with the House of Commons Library suggesting that nine branches were closed between 2020 and 2022 alone. Thankfully, in Stockport our Crown post office was saved from closure, but elsewhere, closing flagship branches, getting rid of experienced staff and putting counters in the back of other shops is not the plan for growth or innovation that the post office network so desperately needs. The Communication Workers Union’s “Save our Post Office” campaign has rightly called for a halt to the closures and a new strategy for the post office network as a matter of urgency. As such, will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on the future of Crown post office branches and the impact that they have on high streets such as mine in Stockport?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important matter: this is a critical service for many communities. He will know that the Government have brought forward both funding and support to enable local communities to retain such facilities that are not viable on their own. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise this matter with the Secretary of State, but I will also make sure that they have heard his remarks today, to see whether there is any further advice that they can give him in retaining that important facility for his constituents.

Parents in Erewash tell me that while they fully respect the rights of trade unions to campaign on behalf of their members, they want classrooms to remain politically impartial. Can we have a debate in Government time so that we can discuss the increasing politicisation of our children by the NASUWT and other teaching unions through sham campaigns, such as the one I recently received on schools-based counselling?

Yes: those episodes are thankfully rare, but they are very disturbing when they do happen. My hon. Friend will know that we have published clear and comprehensive guidance that should help those working with, and in, schools to better understand their legal obligations. It is not helpful to children’s education if they are distracted from curriculum activities by such forms of protest and indoctrination. I think it is an excellent topic for a debate, but I also encourage my hon. Friend to raise the issue at the next Education Question Time on 12 June.

Tomorrow is 9 June, and that means the Blaydon race. Thousands of runners will be gannin’ alang the Scotswood Road, along the route set out in the famous Geordie Ridley song, “The Blaydon Races”. I wish all the runners the best of luck, and thank the race organisers, the Blaydon Harrier and Athletics Club, for making sure that this great tradition continues. It is important that we keep our local cultural and sporting traditions, so can we have a debate in Government time on how best to do that?

I speak on behalf of everyone in this place in sending our thanks to the organisers and giving our best wishes for a successful race, which is not only a fantastic sporting and fitness event but a tremendous cultural and heritage one in the hon. Lady’s constituency. If she were to apply for an Adjournment debate on the topic, I think that it would be well attended.

My constituent Teagan Appleby is one of nearly 50 children who are reliant on medical cannabis to manage their severe epilepsy, although only three children have had access to medication on the NHS since it was allowed, due to a logjam between the Department of Health and Social Care and local and national NHS services. Time is running out for Teagan, whose private doctor is retiring and consequently she will no longer be able to get that medication through private prescription. May I ask my right hon. Friend for a Government statement setting out what steps will be taken to urgently address this issue, which is of great concern across the House for those who have young constituents like Teagan who rely on access to medical cannabis for severe epilepsy ?

I am sorry to hear about this case. My hon. Friend will know how to apply for a debate, which I am sure that many Members would want to attend, but she is right to say that this is a time-sensitive matter for her constituent. I know that the Department of Health and the Care Quality Commission have been working with private providers to ensure continuity of care for patients affected by the retirement of their current prescriber, so I will write today to the Department and ask that officials immediately contact my hon. Friend’s office to see whether the work they have been doing can assist her constituent, who should have access to the medical care they need.

New figures published this morning show that almost a third of teachers quit within five years of qualifying. The Government miss their own teacher training targets so often that they are not worth the paper they are written on. Our children are being let down as a result, and millions are being taught by teachers who are not qualified in their subjects, particularly in maths and physics. May we have an urgent debate in Government time to discuss the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, so that every child has the opportunity to learn from a great teacher? It is the very least our children deserve.

The hon. Lady is right that every child should have the benefit of excellent teaching, and part of that is ensuring that we have the right number of teachers and in particular that they are teaching their specialist subjects. She will know that teacher numbers are up 2,800 on last year, and the figures out today show a positive trend. It is not just about those numbers but retaining teachers longer, for the wealth of experience they bring to the classroom. Teacher numbers are being increased not just through our moves to address workforce issues but through the reforms that we have brought into schools.

In Blackpool, Windmill House retirement complex residents have seen their weekly service charge rise from £17 to £51—an increase of 200% for the elderly residents, most of whom are on a fixed income. That has caused significant hardship and has left some relying on charity to get by. The Government have promised further reform in this area, but can the Leader of the House indicate when such legislation is likely to come forward? Can she speak to her Cabinet colleagues about the need to incorporate controls on communal service charges as part of any changes?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I will announce further business for this House in the usual way, but he raises an incredibly important point. He may well be aware—perhaps it would be worth his talking to his local authority about discretionary housing payments—that these matters are being looked at by the Secretary of State to see what further protections we can give to such tenants. I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s remarks today. He will know that the next departmental questions will be on 10 July.

Despite strong opposition in South Shields to 5G masts, which are deeply unpopular, local views are being completely ignored due to Government-led permitted development rights. Can we please have a statement from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities explaining why the Government always favour private developers over the voice of local communities?

I do not have the details of the case that the hon. Lady refers to, but I will contact the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to see whether its officials can provide any guidance or advice on what she can do to ensure that she represents her constituents. Far from what she claims, this Government have done a tremendous amount—enabling neighbourhood planning forums to be established and giving them legal weight is just one example—to ensure people can not only have their say on particular developments but get involved in the design and planning of major developments from the off.

The Leader of the House will know of the importance of good broadband connectivity for our constituents and the businesses within our constituencies. The new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology has announced a rural connectivity champion. This House has not been given any updates since the Prime Minister announced the new Department of what the champion will do, or indeed what the Department plans to do with its budget to improve connectivity. My deindustrialised Ogmore constituency is full of valleys and rolling hills and also has poor broadband connectivity. Can the Leader of the House find time for the Secretary of State of the new Department or a Minister to come to the House to set out what they will do to tackle the ongoing problems of poor broadband connectivity?

The hon. Gentleman will know that broadband has been a huge focus, particularly in rural areas and areas that have not historically been well served. It has been very much part of the work that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has done and announced in her plans to support such communities. The next questions to the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology are on 14 June, and I encourage him to raise the matter there. He will know that it is a priority for the Government, and we are investing billions in ensuring that everyone in the UK can access high-speed broadband.

In her last statement, the Leader of the House announced that there would be 10 sitting days in September between the summer and conference recesses. Has she given any consideration to doing something innovative with that time—for example, virtual or hybrid settings, or perhaps meeting outside London—because that would allow restoration and renewal to proceed a little bit more smoothly and it would allow us to pilot some more 21st-century ways of conducting our business?

For this year, we are not able to do that. In future years, we may have an R and R programme that might enable us to remain in this place, which I know is a concern to many people. Because of the new technology, we have many other options at our disposal—for example, if we wanted to extend the time people could work on this Chamber, which is an option that I know all those involved in R and R are considering. This year, there is not the need to do that or the forewarning to be able to do it, but I know the hon. Gentleman will continue to press to ensure that we do R and R in the most sensible and practical way possible.

During my recent visit to West Middlesex University Hospital, I met an amazing group of women working there who between them have experienced the many and varied symptoms of the menopause. They told me that, because of the excellent workplace-based support they get, they no longer feel they have to leave their jobs or go part-time, or in other ways flatline their careers and thus their contribution to the NHS. Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on the menopause and the impact it has on women in work, and therefore the impact it has on the economy and our public services?

I congratulate all those whom the hon. Lady describes on their work to support women in the workplace and to enable them to thrive while continuing to work. She will know that the Government have appointed a menopause champion, and a large part of their role is looking at precisely the interventions that employers can make to support women in work. It is about time that we shone a spotlight on the good work that is going on to encourage other employers to follow suit.

The kidnapping, murder and abuse of Yazidi women and girls carried out by ISIS or Daesh was a genocide. It was brutal, violent and horrible, and some of the stories, photographs and videos are the stuff of nightmares. That was really bad, but I want to share a good story, if I may, because just this week six Yazidi women were rescued from Islamic State captivity in Syria and reunited with their families. That was on 3 June—this Saturday past—in Erbil. Despite this piece of good news, there are still some 2,700 missing Yazidi women and children, who were abducted by Islamic State in 2014. That was nine years ago and they are still missing, so questions must be asked. I genuinely appreciate the efforts of the Leader of the House and others in the House who do things to help. Will she facilitate a meeting with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to discuss recent efforts in finding those 2,700 women and girls and uniting them all with their families once again?

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for raising an incredibly important point. We know, from those who have been rescued, the appalling fate that awaits people who have been kidnapped and held as sex slaves by ISIS, and many have attempted suicide rather than face the ordeal that lay ahead. What the hon. Gentleman has done today—as well as asking me to facilitate that meeting, which I shall undertake to do—is to remind all people that we will never take our eyes off these women until we have managed to get all of them back home. It was also very good of him to share with us that good news, which I also saw this week, of the group of individuals who were rescued and are now back with their families. That is what we want for all of them, and we in this place will not take our eyes off them until that is the case.

I and my office have been supporting the family of my constituent Gary Watson Shearer, who went missing while on holiday in Lanzarote in March. They are at their wits end. Although there has been engagement with the British consulate, the last update was in April and there does not seem to be much in the way of progress at present that Gary’s family have been made aware of. Will the right hon. Lady give her colleagues in the FCDO a nudge on Gary’s case and also make time for a debate in this place on the consular support available to our constituents?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has used the consular services, as have many other Members, and they do an excellent job, as I know from my experience of working with them. They are obviously there in the immediate aftermath of a particular incident, and it is very much down to our staff in-country to ensure that he and others are being updated on such cases. I will make sure that the FCDO has heard his concerns today and hope he will get an update, and we all pray for the family that it is a good update soon.

In 2017 the National Library of Medicine published a paper considering the challenges for radiology in the UK post Brexit, which stated that

“the uncertainty and speculation surrounding Brexit is unlikely to be beneficial to the recruitment and retention of EU doctors, including radiologists and potential radiologists.”

Today, as the Tories and Labour cling to Brexit, we see huge shortages of radiologists, which is severely impeding cancer treatment across the UK and costing lives. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out any concerns she may have about the impact of Brexit on our NHS services across the UK, which is actively preventing us from saving the lives of cancer patients?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this topical matter, because there are some figures and a report out today specifically looking at radiology. She will know that we are increasing the size of the workforce. It is one of our priorities and a manifesto commitment. As I said in my opening remarks, in primary care we have already hit our manifesto commitment of recruiting an additional 26,000 people into the workforce; indeed, we have exceeded it—it is close to 30,000 as of today.

Specifically on radiology, this has long been an ongoing issue and it predates Brexit. It is about people with particular individual qualifications. We can take the workforce from other nations, as the hon. Lady knows. I do not think her linking this specifically to our leaving the trading bloc of the EU is correct, but I know the Secretary of State is very focused on the issue.