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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 736: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2023

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Conversion Practices: Legislative Ban

The Government remain committed to publishing a draft Bill on banning conversion practices for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses in this parliamentary Session.

It is now over five years since the Government first made a commitment to legislate on conversion therapy, and more recently there was a promise that legislation would be tabled this spring. Can the Minister elaborate on some of the reasons for the delay, and perhaps be more clear about when the legislation will be brought forward?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to introducing the Bill in its draft stage as soon as possible. It is a complex matter. It is something that I have felt very passionately about over many years, but it is right that we get the legislation right. I hope that we will be able to present it as soon as possible.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and, indeed, with the former Prime Minister that conversion therapy is “abhorrent”? If he does agree, does he think it is abhorrent for everyone?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for her question. I absolutely agree that it is abhorrent; moreover, it does not work—that is a serious point. Yes, I do believe that that is with regard to everyone.

Given that the Minister has agreed that conversion therapy is abhorrent, and given what my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) said about five years having passed since we were first told that it would be banned—we were then told that the Bill had been scrapped, then that it would be coming back, and then that it would come back with a loophole about consent—does the Minister agree that that confusion is causing unacceptable stress, confusion and fear among the LGBT community? Will the Government commit to ending the confusion soon?

I do not want anybody in the LGBT community to feel fear—I have had that experience myself and I would not wish it on anyone. That is why we are making sure that the Bill is a good Bill that delivers good law to ensure that we outlaw those abhorrent practices. I recognise that the delay has caused some issues for the community, but I assure them that we are on their side.

Through my personal dealings with the Minister, I know how much he is committed to making sure that this legislation comes forward. Can he reassure me that, despite what some have said, the Bill is not about stopping parents from having meaningful conversations with their children who may be questioning their sexuality?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is why we need to consider the evidence carefully; those conversations that parents have with their children are really important. I will never forget the conversations I had with my mum and dad, who helped me when I was coming out.

Some 1,835 days have passed since the Government first promised to ban conversion practices. That is longer than it takes to make a good Bill—it is longer than it took to build the Empire State Building and the Shard put together. We were told in January that a Bill would be published “shortly”. Seven months later, can the Minister tell LGBT people how many more days, weeks, months, or even years they must wait?

The answer that the Minister gave a moment ago was that we would see something before the end of this Parliament. I am afraid that is not good enough for those LGBT people who have been waiting for too long.

I will ask the Minister another question. We heard from the Government during their consultation on this ban—even that was almost two years ago now—that they would let some of the worst practitioners off the hook by including a consent loophole. Does the Minister seriously think that LGBT people can consent to abuse and, if not, will he end the charade and remove that loophole so that every LGBT person is protected?

I respectfully say to the hon. Lady that she has not seen the Bill yet, so it is a bit early to make those comments. This is exactly why we are making sure that a Joint Committee of both Houses looks at the Bill; it is a very complex piece of legislation. We want to make sure that it outlaws those awful practices, but also ensures that people—clinicians, parents, teachers and so on—do not feel a chilling effect. It is right that we get stakeholders and people from this House engaged in that process, so that when the Bill is presented to the House for debate, it is in the best possible position.

Pension Credit Uptake

2. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on increasing the uptake of pension credit among older people. (905950)

Since April last year, we have been running a substantial campaign to raise awareness and increase take-up. There are strong indications that this campaign is working. Applications for pension credit were around 75% higher in the year to May 2023 than in the same period the year before.

My retired constituents, from Dennistoun to Ruchazie, from Carntyne to Blackhill, and across the north and east of Glasgow, know that I am a champion for their rights. That is why I set up the all-party parliamentary group on pension credit, and why I and my team have sat with hundreds of older constituents and helped them to apply for pension credit, which is after all their right. I choose to do this as a constituency MP, but it is our role to champion the rights of older people, and the Minister is not telling me anything that is giving me any comfort that she is actually going to champion them. When will she start doing that?

I thank the hon. Lady for the work that she does for her constituents. Many MPs use the Help to Claim service or the benefits calculator to assist constituents. I think she will be keen to know that the Minister responsible for pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott), announced the innovative Invitation to Claim trial, which will be held in 10 local authorities across Great Britain this summer. It will involve the Department for Work and Pensions sending letters to 2,600 pensioner households identified by housing benefit data and most likely to be entitled to pension credit. That is on top of the wide-ranging communications we are already doing.

I thank my hon. Friend for the answers she has given. Clearly, there is a reluctance among people who are entitled to this benefit to actually claim it. What action is she taking to break down that taboo, so that people who are fully entitled to this money and desperately need it actually claim it?

I thank my hon. Friend for that point because some people do not come forward. It is in their make-up. We need to help them to be encouraged that they are absolutely entitled to the benefit. I reassure him that the DWP received around 21,000 claims in the two weeks in the run-up to 19 May, which was 171% up compared with the corresponding weeks in 2022, so the actions we are all taking are working.

Equality Act 2010: Public Bodies

3. What steps she is taking to help ensure that public bodies implement the requirements of the Equality Act 2010. (905951)

The Government have published a range of advice and guidance to help public bodies comply with the Equality Act. The Equality and Human Rights Commission also publishes technical guidance on complying with the public sector equality duty. I will shortly be reissuing my December 2021 update to Ministers on how to comply with the public sector equality duty, especially when it comes to completing equalities impact assessments, and I hope that that is distributed widely.

With the Met police force reluctant to investigate murderous threats towards three sitting MPs for their lawfully protected beliefs and characteristics; a convicted criminal calling for violence against women at Trans Pride incoherently defended as freedom of expression by that same force; and broadcasters, journalists, faith leaders and even the Equalities and Human Rights Commissioner for Scotland all having had their bank accounts closed for what appear to be their lawfully protected characteristics, will the Minister meet me and other affected Members to consider how we tackle this dangerous misinformation, rampant homophobia and misogyny being promoted in our institutions by organisations such as Stonewall?

I take the points that the hon. Gentleman has made very seriously, and I would be very happy to meet him. We are a free and fair society, and we must protect free speech and allow open discussion, as long as it does not break the law.

On bank account closures, banks and other payment services, providers occupy a privileged place in our society, and it would be a serious concern if financial services are being denied to anyone exercising their right to lawful free speech. I need to express this: a notice period of fair and open communication with a customer must apply in those situations that relate to termination on grounds other than suspected or actual criminal offences or when otherwise allowed by law. The Government are currently reviewing evidence on whether the existing payment services and account termination framework is operating effectively, or if further clarification is needed.

We were all delighted that the Government appointed an independent inquiry chaired by Lord Etherton to look into the disgraceful treatment of LGBT soldiers, sailors and air people before 2001 and the fact that those wrongs have not yet been put right. That report was given to the Government some three weeks ago now, and I understand that the Government have said they will produce it before the summer. Will they also answer the report at that time, will they give us a date for it and will there be an oral statement in this House, so we can quiz the Government on the report?

I will speak to my ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Defence who have received the report, and ensure that my hon. Friend receives a response.

Female-led Businesses

4. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help increase the number of female-led businesses. (905952)

I am working with Cabinet colleagues to harness the skills, innovation and talent of UK female entrepreneurs, and widen opportunities for the next generation of women setting up businesses. That is why we launched a women-led high-growth enterprise taskforce. Building on the work of the Rose review, it brings together some of the country’s most successful female entrepreneurs, led by the founder of Starling Bank, Anne Boden.

I thank the Minister for her answer. We have brilliant successful female entrepreneurs across Anglesey, including Laurel Knight at Medic 1, Lynne Farr at the Beaumaris Artisan Market, Helen Evans at the Amlwch Artisan Studio, and Jo Weir at Beau’s Tea Rooms. We also have some fabulous successful male entrepreneurs such as Celfyn and Emrys Furlong. They are supported by organisations such as Alison Cork’s Make It Your Business, the British Library’s Business and IP Centre, the Federation of Small Businesses Wales, and Small Business Saturday UK. How are this Government supporting those organisations to broaden their reach and empower even more fabulous female entrepreneurs?

My hon. Friend rightly mentions some of the highly successful initiatives led by entrepreneurs, male and female, across Anglesey, which we fully support. Those are exactly the sort of organisations that we like to see flourish across the UK. Just last week, I spoke to the women and enterprise all-party group, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey). That was attended by female entrepreneurs from across the country, who talked about how the Government are investing in women, and how the Rose review and the high-growth enterprise taskforce are having an impact on their lives and businesses.

Pathways, a new approach for women and enterprise, was commissioned by the Scottish Government. It has begun to implement, along with key stakeholders, including enterprise agencies, the Scottish National Investment Bank and private investors, ways to include under-represented parts of society in the business system. What steps are the UK Government taking to weave inclusivity through the business support system in a similar fashion to that in Scotland?

We believe that businesses are best placed to do that themselves, and we provide as much advice, guidance and support as possible. For example, the British Business Bank has led many schemes and initiatives to promote inclusivity in the workplace. However, if there is something specific where the hon. Gentleman thinks there is a gap in the market, I would be happy to hear about such an initiative.

Under the Conservatives, just 12% of executive directors of FTSE 250 companies are women—a gap that will not close until 2058 at the current rate. Women who want to go into business cannot wait for the Conservatives to get their act together. They need a new deal for working people, a review of the gender pay gap, and a menopause action plan in the workplace. That is Labour’s pro-business, pro-women plan to smash the glass ceiling and break down the barriers. Does the Minister have a plan?

I am afraid that the shadow Front-Bench spokeswoman is confusing all sorts of different things. FTSE directors are not the ones who need support getting into the workplace. She is talking about a menopause action plan, but we have had one, completed and delivered it, while Labour Members are just talking about bringing one in, which shows that they are not paying attention. We are the only ones who will be doing what is right to promote gender equality in the workplace.

Government Equalities Office: Policy Relating to Men

5. If she will hold discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of including policy relating to men on the list of Government Equalities Office responsibilities. (905954)

The Government are already taking action to improve outcomes for men and boys. For example, through the introduction of shared parental leave, men now have more opportunity to take time away from the workplace to care for their children. We continue to work closely across Government to embed equalities policies for both men and women.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but does she believe that there should be a Minister for Men, as there is a Minister for Women?

I thank my hon. Friend for his hard work in this space as chair of the all-party group on issues affecting men and boys. He knows—this is with my health hat on—of the work that we are doing to improve lung cancer outcomes for men, and about the suicide prevention strategy that will be coming forward; we know that middle-aged men are at particular risk. I reassure him that the Equality Hub has responsibility for both men and women to ensure equality for all, and I will speak to the Minister for Women and Equalities so that we can be clearer about how that work impacts on men.

Current legislation requires all public facilities to have sanitary bins in female and gender-neutral toilets. However, as highlighted by the Boys Need Bins campaign, hygiene bins need to be provided in men’s toilets. What steps is the Minister taking to introduce legislation that addresses that issue?

I reassure the hon. Lady that work is going on in that space. My ministerial colleagues from the Department for Work and Pensions are looking at this, and will be updating the House shortly.[Official Report, 17 July 2023, Vol. 736, c. 9MC.]

Gender and Racial Inequality in the Workplace

6. What steps the Government is taking to help tackle (a) gender and (b) racial inequality in the workplace. (905955)

9. What steps the Government is taking to help tackle (a) gender and (b) racial inequality in the workplace. (905958)

The Government have taken numerous steps to tackle gender and racial inequality in the workplace, as seen with the comprehensive actions outlined in our landmark “Inclusive Britain” strategy, as well as various initiatives to support women in the workplace. As outlined in our “Inclusive Britain” report, we are working towards a new voluntary inclusion confident scheme to support employers on clear, manageable advice on effective diversity and inclusion interventions.

Like most things in this place, this Government’s policy on parental leave is in the dark ages. Research by Pregnant Then Screwed shows that better-paid parental leave for all parents would bring better equality in the labour market, yet this Government seem dogged in their determination to stand still. Why are the Government blocking greater gender equality in the workplace?

I completely disagree with the hon. Lady. This Government have done more than any other to promote gender equality in the workplace, including bringing in policies such as shared parental leave. We have also brought in extended redundancy protection for those on maternity leave and introduced carer’s leave, and we are supporting legislation to strengthen the protections against harassment in the workplace.

A new report from the Fawcett Society shows the motherhood pay penalty and how mothers with two children take home 26% less income than women without children, impacting on a woman’s income and earning power throughout her working life. It compounds the effects of the ethnicity pay gap. Will the UK Government tackle that by making flexible working the default and introducing mandatory gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting?

We have just finished a private Member’s Bill that makes the right to ask for flexible working mandatory. That strikes the right balance for business, rather than making it mandatory for people to demand flexible working. Not every business can provide it, and it is not something that will improve equality in the workplace.

When I asked black and minority ethnic residents in Basingstoke about their experience at work, their responses were concerning. I have been working especially with our big local employers, the local education authority and the NHS to tackle the issues. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that public services are exemplars when it comes to race equality in the workplace?

If my right hon. Friend sees the work that we have put into our “Inclusive Britain” strategy, she will see that almost everything that is in action is about the public sector. There is so much we can do to promote racial equality in the workplace, but we need to do that fairly and transparently, as well as universally. The Equality Act 2010 protects characteristics, not groups. If she would like to work with me on any specific initiative, I would be keen to hear more from her about what she has been working on.

There are growing concerns about new technology such as artificial intelligence and automation software being used in recruitment and employment. Studies show that AI perpetuates bias across gender, race, age and disability, as well as dialect and regional differences of speech. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the equalities impact of AI use in recruitment and the workplace? Has she raised that with Cabinet colleagues?

Yes, I have raised it with Cabinet colleagues. In fact, I had a meeting with the Government chief scientific officer just last week on this issue. It is a concern that AI can embed bias, and that means we need to look at the datasets and large language models that are informing the AI being used. Equality impact assessments apply to the public sector equality duty, and much of AI is being done in the private sector. We will do our part, but I am keen to hear from Members about specific initiatives that they think can help.

Topical Questions

In February this year, we announced the STEM ReCharge pilot to support parents and carers back into science, technology, engineering and mathematics roles. Since then, we have recruited and trained the first cohort of engineering and technology returners in the midlands and the north of England. They have received personalised training and support to help to get them back into the workforce, and we are now recruiting a second cohort, who will use insight and lessons learned from the pilot to develop new guidance, so that STEM employers across the UK can benefit from the full wealth of the returning STEM group.

The summer holidays, which are approaching, see a spike in domestic abuse. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that people know there is help available? Will she lend her support to the campaign I am running in Basingstoke with the police and crime commissioner Donna Jones to help to make sure that victims of domestic abuse in north Hampshire know they are not alone and that there is help there?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is important that people know where to go for help when they have experienced domestic abuse. The Government are providing police and crime commissioners with dedicated ringfenced funding for at least 900 independent sexual violence and domestic abuse advisers and will fund an additional 100, bringing the total to more than 1,000 by 2025.

T2. The cost of living crisis disproportionately affects disabled constituents who are reliant on specialist diets and equipment and now face increased food and energy costs. Will the Minister confirm what cross-governmental action the Government can take to better support disabled constituents with those additional costs? (905975)

The Government recognise the challenges for disabled people and those with health conditions. The £150 disability cost of living payment should be seen as one part of the overall package. The benefits calculators on will help people to claim the wider benefits that are out there—that is just one of the payments.

T3. Last week, I hosted the Institute of Physics and its campaign to increase diversity in physics, which is the second most popular A-level for boys but only the 16th for girls. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to encourage more girls to study physics beyond GCSE? (905976)

Studying STEM A-levels such as physics can boost potential earnings and, with a growing demand for students with STEM qualifications in the jobs market, it is important that girls take that opportunity. We are therefore working with the Department for Education in funding the Inclusion in Schools project, which is designed to increase the uptake of A-level physics among students from under-represented groups, including girls.

T4.   Homelessness is on the rise, and it disproportionately affects young LGBT+ people. The youth LGBT+ homelessness charity Albert Kennedy Trust has reported a 58% increase in new referrals over the past four years. Will the Minister work with Cabinet colleagues to better understand the specific challenges that people in the community face with homelessness and look at what more can be done to support them? (905977)

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I am pleased to report that I have met colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and we have held a roundtable to discuss exactly those issues. One of the key elements, which we really need to do, is to gather the data so that we can better understand some of the causes and what the solutions might be to help those people.

T6. How many discussions has the Secretary of State had with Department for Education colleagues about forthcoming guidance on trans-identifying children? (905979)

I have been working closely with the Education Secretary, because it is important that we get the guidance for schools right. It must show schools how to be compassionate to pupils questioning their gender in a way that is compliant with the Equality Act 2010, including ensuring that single-sex spaces are maintained and the safety and wellbeing of all pupils is not compromised.

T5.   Conversion therapy should be banned entirely, not with a voluntary loophole, as this Government intend, which we know means that conversion therapy will be open to coercion. The loophole is so large that it will leave any Bill meaningless. Will the Minister commit to a full ban on conversion therapy, as supported by organisations such as Stonewall and Time for Inclusive Education in Scotland? (905978)

The hon. Lady raised some important points. That is exactly why we have taken considerable care to engage with a whole range of stakeholders to consider all the issues that need addressing. It is precisely because of those points that we are going for pre-legislative scrunty so that all of those issues can be looked at again, to ensure that we present the very best Bill to help people who are subject to these horrible crimes.

GambleAware figures show that the number of women seeking help for problem gambling doubled between 2015 and 2020, with up to 1 million women deemed to be at risk. Data also shows that women are less likely to participate in sports betting; instead, they are more active in online bingo and casino-style games. What work is my right hon. Friend doing with Cabinet colleagues to highlight the risk of online gambling, to reduce stigma and to help women seek treatment?

My hon. Friend raises a really important point. We recently published the gambling White Paper, in which we address a number of those issues. Stigma is a very important one. We want people to come forward and get the treatment they need. We are also introducing a statutory levy on gambling operators to ensure that we have the prevention and treatment needed to help those suffering with gambling harm.

T7.   Earlier this year, the Government cut almost £6 million of funding for a Save the Children programme providing education and other services to girls in Afghanistan, despite a promise to put women and girls at the heart of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s work. Will the Secretary of State work with colleagues at the Department to deliver on the Government’s commitment and reinstate that funding? (905980)

Educating girls is one of the top priorities under the British Government’s international development strategy—indeed, it is the way to change the world. Over the last five years for which figures are available, the British taxpayer procured a decent education for more than 8 million children in the poor world.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Oil Production and Domestic Energy Prices

Q1. Whether he has made an assessment of the impact of a potential reduction in oil production by Saudi Arabia and Russia on domestic energy prices. (905982)

I have been asked to reply.

Global oil prices have remained largely stable this year. This has not changed following the announcement of additional production cuts by Saudi Arabia and Russia. We expect that the impact of the cuts will be mitigated by the increase in supply from other producers and a decrease in global oil demand, as we have seen previously.

If we want to insulate ourselves from future price rises, we need to invest in a greener future. The United States gets it: it has committed $370 billion to net zero energy. The European Union gets it: it is set to match that figure. In Scotland, we get it. We have the ambition to lead the world on renewable energy. We have the energy but not the power. Why is Westminster trying to block Scotland’s path to a safer, greener future?

We of course will continue to invest in renewables, but I say to the Scottish National party that we should also invest in our energy independence, and that means investing in the North sea. If we fail to invest in the North sea, we will be more reliant on foreign producers and we will have higher carbon emissions as we import from elsewhere.


My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Vilnius, attending the NATO summit. It is an opportunity to build on the work we have done over the past year, strengthening NATO and supporting Ukraine. In addition to my meetings in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

New Labour’s old mantra was “Education, education, education.” Its new one seems to be “Tax education, tax education, tax education.” Does the Deputy Prime Minister share my disgust at Labour’s plans to tax education of choice, which could lead to 40,000 pupils being sent into the state sector, with a cost to the taxpayer? A number of English language schools in my constituency are concerned that this will also apply to them, as well as to out-of-hours tuition and sports training. Does the Deputy Prime Minister object to those measures as strongly as I do?

Once again, we have seen the Labour party putting the politics of envy above the interests of children in this country. As my hon. Friend rightly highlights, recent analysis shows that it could lead to over 40,000 pupils leaving the schools they are in, placing further burdens on existing schools and costing £300 million.

I know you are a keen historian, Mr Speaker, so I looked up the last time a Prime Minister missed two sessions in a row for other engagements. It was March 1996. I am very proud to be filling the boots of Lord John Prescott, but I think it is safe to say that the Deputy Prime Minister is no Heseltine. John Prescott asked, why is it that in Tory Britain, tens of thousands of families are facing repossession, negative equity and homelessness? Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us, 27 years later, why I am having to ask the same question?

Clearly, the right hon. Lady did not listen to my previous comments. The Prime Minister is at NATO. Of course, that would not be a problem if she had had her way. Her old boss wanted to abandon Ukraine, abolish the Army and withdraw from NATO, and he certainly would not be going to any summit. When it comes to house building, I will take no lectures from the Labour party on home ownership. My parents would not have been able to buy their own home if it were not for Margaret Thatcher and the reforms introduced by her Government, and this Government are building on those with record house building.

I think the right hon. Gentleman is taking lessons from the former Prime Minister on telling the facts. The last Labour Government worked hard to dramatically reduce the number of children in temporary accommodation, but under the Tories the number of homeless children has risen by 75%. I am proud of our record on tackling child poverty. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel ashamed of his?

I will tell the right hon. Lady what this Government have done: we have lifted 400,000 children out of child poverty; we have introduced the national living wage, something the Labour party totally failed to do; and we have increased the national living wage by the largest amount ever, meaning £1,800 for working people and cutting their taxes by doubling the personal allowance. That is the surest way to ensure we lift people out of poverty, and it would never have happened under the Labour party.

It is like the ghost of Prime Minister past. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that he should be careful about the stats he uses, because the Children’s Commissioner warned the other Prime Minister about peddling false narratives on child poverty around those figures. The truth is that rising bills, soaring mortgages and plummeting real wages are pushing more and more families to the brink. Those already struggling are being hit hardest by the Tory mortgage bombshell and rising food costs, so can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many primary school children have been pushed into poverty since his Government took power?

I say to the right hon. Lady that it was this Conservative party, not the Labour party, that extended free school meals to all five, six and seven-year-olds—something the Labour party failed to do—and that sits alongside many measures we are taking to help people with the cost of living. We paid half of families’ energy bills last winter, funded by our 75% windfall tax, and we are freezing fuel duty, helping families with childcare and delivering on our pledge to reduce the debt. It may come as a surprise to her, but balancing the books means more than working out how many more millions to take from her union paymasters.

Once again, the right hon. Gentleman talks about balancing the books. His party crashed the economy and he seems to be completely oblivious to what it is like for working people in this country at the moment. New research out today shows that 400,000 more primary school-age children are growing up in poverty since his Government came to office. Why does he think that is?

I will take absolutely no lectures whatsoever from the Labour party about how we help children in the most need. It is record investment from this Government in education—£2 billion more this year, £2 billion next year—which is giving those very children the best possible start in life, ensuring that we have the highest reading standards in the western world. I have to say to the right hon. Lady, her leader says he hates tree huggers, but they seem very keen on hugging that magic money tree.

The right hon. Gentleman does not even acknowledge that child poverty is rising, let alone explain why. What hope has he got of solving it? Let me try a simpler question: how many kids do not have a permanent address today compared with when Labour left office in 2010?

We can exchange all these numbers across the Dispatch Boxes, but these are the numbers that matter. There are 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty under this Government, 400,000 fewer children, 200,000 fewer pensioners and 1 million fewer people of working age, because the single best route out of poverty is a job, and record numbers of people—4 million more under this Government—have got a job. That is the difference between this Conservative party and the Labour party, which always leaves office with unemployment higher.

What matters is what people feel every single day at the moment—going to work yet they cannot afford their mortgage, their rent or their Bills, because of this Conservative Government. There are 55,000 more children without a permanent address today compared with when the Tories took office 13 years ago. We have gone from a Labour Cabinet focused on tackling child poverty to Tory Ministers who will not even admit the problem. Just as in March 1996, they can offer only excuses, not answers. John Prescott asked Michael Heseltine that day:

“How can the right hon. Gentleman be so complacent in the face of the sheer misery created by the Government’s policies?”—[Official Report, 5 March 1996; Vol. 273, c. 147.]

Twenty-seven years on, why are we asking the exact same thing?

I know there is an Opposition reshuffle coming up, but this audition for John Prescott’s old job is getting a little bit hackneyed. It is this Government who have lifted 400,000 children out of poverty. I hear the right hon. Lady claiming that Labour is the party of working people, but under their policies people cannot even get to work. They support Just Stop Oil protesters blocking our roads, they support their union paymasters stopping our trains, and of course they support the hated ultra-low emission zone stopping cars across our capital. While Conservatives get Britain moving, Labour stands in everyone’s way.

Q5. Given that the Mansion House compact does not encourage our pension funds to invest specifically in British companies, what more can the Government do to encourage greater investment in our companies, especially climate technology start-ups, which increasingly are going abroad to find the funding they require, to the benefit of our competitors? (905986)

My hon. Friend raises an important point about both start-up capital and ensuring that we get more money to high-growth companies. The Chancellor’s pension compact is a very important step forward, which will unlock £75 billion of additional investment. I am quite confident that large amounts of that will go to UK companies, and it sits alongside measures such as the Edinburgh reforms to financial services, which will help improve financial services in this country and unlock money for those industries.

Last month, the Deputy Prime Minister dismissed warnings from the SNP Benches that mortgage rates were nearly back to where they were after the disastrous mini-Budget. This week, mortgage rates have surpassed those levels. How high do they need to go before he and his Government take this seriously?

The hon. Lady knows—people around the world know—that the driver of higher mortgage rates is higher inflation, and higher inflation is caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and by the post-covid supply chains. What we have to do is make sure that we halve inflation. It is only by getting inflation under control that we will be able to get mortgage rates down, and that requires discipline—discipline on spending, on public sector pay and on energy supply, all of which are lacking from the SNP.

The Bank of England predicts that mortgage payments will rise by at least £500 for a million households. The Prime Minister says that people need to “hold their nerve”; the Chancellor said just last night that mortgage holders should just “shop around”. Speaking of his own party, the hon. Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter) said:

“If the circus doesn’t stop by Christmas, it’s over”.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister understand that people cannot afford to wait until Christmas and that they need help right now?

The fundamental thing that we have to do is to halve inflation. That is an approach that the International Monetary Fund “strongly endorses”, because higher inflation drives higher mortgage rates. But that is not all we are doing: with the mortgage charter, signed up to by 90% of mortgage providers, we are giving people help to extend their terms, to go interest-only and to reduce their monthly payments. That action is supported by Martin Lewis, a real money-saving expert, unlike the big spenders on the SNP Benches.

Q6.   Last year, I visited Abbeyfield House in Wednesfield and was impressed by the model of assisted living for older people that gave them the independence of a self-contained flat but the ability to eat and socialise together. I was deeply concerned to hear that a consultation is under way to close Abbeyfield House in Wednesfield. I went back there to speak to older people, and they unanimously want to stay there. Abbeyfield is a charity—His Majesty the King has been a patron for 40 years now—and it cannot meet the cost of updating the estate to meet environmental standards. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to see what support the Government can offer to Abbeyfield so that residents do not have to leave the homes they love? (905987)

I am of course very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I note that we have provided £7.5 billion of additional funding for social care and discharge. On energy specifically, we have an energy advice service to support smaller businesses and we have been piloting new audit and grant schemes that may also help.

In January, Emily booked an appointment with her local dentist in Chard, Somerset, for 14 June, only to be told by a neighbour at the end of May that the surgery had closed in April. Emily no longer has a dentist, all the remaining surgeries are not taking on any new patients, and Emily does not know what to do, so will the Deputy Prime Minister tell Emily and millions of people like her when they can get an appointment with a local NHS dentist?

The right hon. Gentleman may have missed it, but our NHS workforce plan is investing an extra £2.4 billion into training and retaining crucial NHS staff, including dentists and GPs. The number of dentists will rise by 40%. I say to people across that constituency that the best way they can ensure better services for their NHS is to vote for Faye Purbrick, the Conservative candidate.

Q12. Will the Deputy Prime Minister let us know when we can expect allocations from round 3 of the levelling-up fund? When it comes, will it be true to the Prime Minister’s pledge that all parts of the country will benefit, including the south-east and, most particularly, the very deserving town of Andover? (905993)

As well as my right hon. Friend having been an excellent Minister, I know how committed he is to the town of Andover. We will shortly announce the new approach to the third round and further details will follow shortly.

Q3. There are things we encounter in political life that are certain to horrify, appal and sicken us, but I do not think I have ever seen anything quite so grotesque as the painting over of a children’s Mickey Mouse mural, as the Home Office did at a detention centre in Kent. No Minister has, so far, roused the necessary compassion or concern to speak out about this. Will the Deputy Prime Minister look into the deeper recesses of his soul and simply condemn it? (905984)

I will tell the hon. Gentleman what real compassion looks like: stopping the vile people-smuggling trade across the channel that is condemning women and children to death. This Government are taking action to deal with it through our “stop the boats” Bill, which the Scottish National party shamefully voted against 18 times last night.

Q13. As the party of aspiration, we know the importance of home ownership. According to a recent estimate by Barclays, it now takes eight years for the average first-time buyer to save for a deposit, and in parts of London and the south-east it can take longer. What are the Deputy Prime Minister and the Government doing to improve the prospects for younger people who want to own their own home? (905994)

I know my hon. Friend is passionate in championing this issue. Almost 850,000 households have been helped to purchase a home since 2010. In 2021, the number of people getting on to the property ladder for the first time was at a 20-year high, thanks to initiatives such as First Homes and the Help to Buy scheme. Of course, that stands in contrast to the Labour party, which oversaw the lowest level of house building since the 1920s.

Q4. With rising ticket prices, many of my constituents find they can get the best-value fare by going to the staffed ticket office at Lancaster station, which is perhaps why so many of them have signed my petition to save staffing at the station. Is the closure of ticket offices just yet another cost of living bombshell hitting my hard-working constituents? (905985)

It is important that the railways continue to reform after the record amount of money we gave them during covid. If the hon. Lady is concerned about her constituents getting anywhere on the railways, I gently say that she should condemn the totally unjustified strikes that close them down week after week.

Q15.   Four summers ago, the unprecedented climate change-driven heatwave caused irreparable damage to Chelmsford’s flyover. Since then, people from across Essex have been getting stuck in Chelmsford’s traffic jams, which are wasting time and hitting our economic growth. We badly need a new junction at the Army and Navy, but the funding decision has been stuck in Whitehall. Will my right hon. Friend use his cross-Cabinet convening power to get the Treasury and the Department for Transport to agree to the money so that we can deliver a new junction, stop the traffic jams and get Chelmsford moving again? (905996)

My right hon. Friend has been making a powerful case for this scheme, and she does so once again. The Chancellor is sitting next to me and will have heard her. I understand that the outline business case submitted by Essex County Council is being considered by Ministers right now, and all relevant Ministers will have heard her injunction.

Q7. Scottish Ambulance Service statistics show a more than 30% increase in hypothermic call-outs across Scotland last winter, including a staggering 84% increase in the north in December. Although fuel prices have fallen slightly, food and other costs have risen exponentially. To end the perversity of energy-rich Scotland seeing a third of Scots freezing in fuel poverty, when will the Government bring in a social tariff to ensure that the poor and vulnerable can get through this winter without calling out the ambulance service because they are freezing? (905988)

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in his autumn statement, we are exploring the best approach to consumer protection from April 2024 as part of wider retail market reforms. I reiterate that we paid half of energy bills in Scotland last winter, thanks to the strength of our Union.

May I remind the Deputy Prime Minister and the House that yesterday was National Remembering Srebrenica Day? May I particularly point out a little-known fact? British soldiers took about 2,000 civilians out of Srebrenica in April 1993. Those British soldiers were from B Squadron 9th/12th Lancers. It is not widely known, but, under my command, they saved a huge number of lives by taking those people out of Srebrenica. They, too, should be remembered for their very gallant actions, because it was very dangerous.

I pay tribute to my right hon. and gallant Friend and to all those whom he commanded in the 1990s. We must honour the memory of those killed, and pay tribute to the extraordinary courage shown by their families, survivors and all those members of our armed forces, who served so gallantly in that situation.

Q8. In the Welsh Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) asked the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about the varying comparability factors for Wales of Crossrail, Thameslink and HS2. His answer began:“you are dragging me into quite complex technical details.”Then, he gave no complex technical details. I am sure that the people of Wales would be delighted to tackle any complex technical details were the Deputy Prime Minister to explain to the House why we are paying £5 billion for a white elephant in HS2,which, by now, comes nowhere near our country. (905989)

It is thanks to the strength of our United Kingdom that record sums are going to Wales under the Barnett consequentials. Indeed, in the spring Budget we increased devolved Administration funding by £630 million, which included £180 million for the Welsh Government. We are ensuring that resources are going to Wales, so that they can enhance their transport infrastructure.

If it were not so serious, it would be comical, but in Horning on the Norfolk broads, a whole area is to be totally cut off from a mobile signal until—wait for it—August, because of nesting seagulls taking up residency in the new telecoms mast. Gulls are protected and the nest cannot be moved, but if a family holidaying on the broads gets into distress this summer, they will not be able to make an emergency call. That could be life-threatening, so will the Deputy Prime Minister please help me by calling on Natural England to be sensible and make sure that, for public safety reasons, we can get a mobile phone mast working in a prime holiday location?

We all love the diversity of wildlife in this country and particularly on the North Norfolk coast, which my hon. Friend represents. He makes a strong point about the balance between that and ensuring that people have access to modern communication facilities, and I shall certainly take that up with Natural England.

Q9. Day in, day out, the public and businesses are hit by endless chaos and confusion across Government Departments—for them, clearly, Britain is not working. Paraphrasing what the Deputy Prime Minister said earlier, we know there is a Government reshuffle coming up. So will he tell us: is this down to obstruction and incompetence in the civil service, or is it, rather, that so many of their Ministers are just not up to the job? (905990)

We can see from the record of this Government, whether on cutting NHS waiting lists, or on providing record funding for our schools and hospitals, that we have an excellent team who will continue to serve.

Last week, we all celebrated the 75th anniversary of the NHS, but hon. Members may not be aware that it is also the 75th anniversary of Newton Aycliffe, a new town in my constituency designed by William Beveridge. Will the Deputy Prime Minister ask the Prime Minister to come and visit me, as his constituency neighbour, and celebrate these 75 years, and indeed the 60 years of the community newspaper provided by the Howarth family?

I cannot speak to the Prime Minister’s diary, although I will make representations. I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency, if he wishes me to attend instead.

Q10. The day I had to phone my bank to tell it that I was having difficulty paying my mortgage was one that has lived with me for years. I found that because my income was so low at the time, ironically, I was not eligible to switch to an interest-only mortgage or get any help. I never want my constituents to feel the terror and abandonment that I felt that day. Can the Deputy Prime Minister understand that? The complete lack of empathy in his responses to the deputy leader of the SNP group suggests not. I welcome the temporary measures, but they are temporary. This mortgage crisis has been two years in the making. Do he and the Prime Minister really think they are going to fix it in 12 months? (905991)

It is deeply disturbing, upsetting and worrying for anyone to contemplate losing their home. That is exactly why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has introduced the mortgage charter, which 90% of the mortgage market has now signed up to and which will provide support to people. In addition, after three months, people on universal credit can apply for further support.

A Government survey has shown that 75% of British businesses support improvements to the UK’s sick pay system. Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) launched a report, alongside WPI Economics and the Centre for Progressive Change, with ideas about how that could be done. Will my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister ensure that we get a meeting with the Chancellor, ahead of the autumn Budget, to see what ideas can be developed? They could provide an economic boost of £4 billion to the UK economy.

As ever, my hon. Friend has made a strong case. The Chancellor is sitting next to me and I am quite sure he would be delighted to meet with him.

Q11. The forced isolation of people in care homes or hospitals from their loved ones from the beginning of the pandemic, and its terrible consequences, as well as the many who died alone, has left a profound trauma. We have learned the hard way that the care of a loved one is not an optional extra; it is an essential part of dignified care. My Care Supporters Bill would guarantee that fundamental right. While the Government recognise that there is a problem, their recently announced consultation relates to visiting and not a legal right to a care supporter at all times. Would the Deputy Prime Minister speak to the Prime Minister about bringing forward legislation in the next King’s Speech? (905992)

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the need for care supporters to be able to have that kind of access. I will take away the points he has raised, and raise them with my ministerial colleagues.

Mr Speaker, you know the value of inter-parliamentary relations and, in particular, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which was founded nearly 135 years ago in this place. We are honoured this week to be joined by the president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Mr Duarte Pacheco. Would my right hon. Friend join his campaign to get the USA to rejoin this important international organisation?

As my right hon. Friend knows, the United Kingdom was a founding member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I would very much like the United States to rejoin and I am happy to help make that case.

Q14. Not a day goes by without serious sexual harassment allegations in organisations up and down the country. My private Member’s Bill on workplace protections from harassment could go a long way to address some of these serious issues. Indeed, the Bill has full Government support. It is currently stuck in the other place, but a compromise is now in sight, so that the Bill can pass through the House of Lords. Our rules require that any amendment made in the House of Lords needs to come back to the House of Commons. Will the Deputy Prime Minister ensure that a small amount of Government time is made available in this place, between now and the end of the parliamentary Session, to ensure that this important Bill will become law? (905995)

As the hon. Lady knows, we have supported the Bill and we are working on it. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the measures further.