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Business of the House

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

The business for the week commencing 4 September will be:

Monday 4 September—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, followed by Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Bill.

Tuesday 5 September—Remaining stages of the Energy Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 6 September—If necessary, consideration of Lords message to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, followed by an Opposition day (18th allotted day second part) debate in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Thursday 7 September—Debate on a motion on hormone pregnancy tests, followed by a general debate on funding for the prevention of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 8 September—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 September includes:

Monday 11 September—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Online Safety Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, but I am disappointed that two pieces of important House business seem to be missing. First, there was no mention of when MPs will get to debate and vote on the Commission’s proposals to introduce a new process for dealing with MPs accused of violent or sexual offences. The Leader of the House was not able to answer me when I asked about the matter last week, so I would be grateful if she could do so today. She and I have worked hard on this together, as well as with you, Mr Speaker, the commissioners, staff and the trade unions. We cannot lose momentum. I know the Leader of the House agrees with me that the proposed new mechanism is needed to reduce the risk of harm to all those who work on and visit the parliamentary estate, so will she give us some clarity, show all the people listening that we are making progress and tell us when the House will get the chance to vote on it?

I am also concerned that the Leader of the House has still not announced when the House will consider the Standards Committee’s report on the conduct of the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), the findings of which are shocking. Colleagues and staff have been asking when the House will get the opportunity to approve the report and endorse the sanction. He has brought this House into disrepute and frankly should no longer be a Member of it. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether she knows if the Member will be resigning or if he has appealed the Committee’s sanction? Either way, she could table the motion as a remaining order, even without a date attached. When will she bring forward a motion so that the House can vote and move on?

I wish all Members, Members’ staff, House staff and everyone who works on the parliamentary estate a very happy summer recess. As we come to the end of term and head back to work in our own communities, it is worth reflecting on what the Government have achieved—or not—this year. People I have been speaking to up and down the country are simply fed up. Nothing works in this country any more, and the Tories have simply given up doing anything about it. I saw on the Order Paper today that the Leader of the House is due to announce the date of the next King’s Speech in a written ministerial statement—perhaps I could press her to give us an early sighting of that now—but the Government have nowhere near finished with the last set of new laws they said they were going to pass.

The Prime Minister has been caught out, overpromising and massively under-delivering, including on the Renters (Reform) Bill, which was initially promised four years ago and so many Members across the House said they wanted. There is no transport Bill, no schools Bill and no mental health Bill. Why does the Leader of the House think that working people will believe that this Government are going to make people’s lives better this time? On top of all that, prices are still going up at staggering rates, and families are bearing the brunt of the Tory cost of living crisis. That is what the people of Selby and Ainsty, Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and Somerton and Frome will be thinking about when they head to the ballot box today, fed up and wanting change.

Labour is the party of change. We have a proper plan to grow our economy, to bring down Bills, to secure the energy this country needs and to tackle climate change. People will have welcomed the opportunity to vote Labour today in three constituencies, and send the Tories a message, but is it not time that we had a general election, so the whole country gets the chance to have their say?

First, let me put on the record my good wishes to the Lionesses for their first match on Saturday.

Of course, after hearing the tragic news today, our thoughts are with all those caught up in the Auckland shooting.

May I also mention our pride at what our nation has done to speed up new solutions to tackling dementia, following the announcement of a future new drug this week? With the 2013 G8 dementia push by David Cameron, which led to the World Dementia Council, the 2015 joint dementia research platform and the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia, our 2019 funding commitments and the establishment of the Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission, our nation and this Government have done more than any other to tackle this issue, and I think we should all take great pride in that.

Turning to the issues raised by the shadow Leader of the House, regarding the report on the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), she will know that he has a right of appeal. That runs out at the end of today, so we are not able to do anything until the House returns from recess. As she knows, I do not control the timetable for that; it is controlled by the Standards Committee when it publishes its report. That is the process. As a member of the Commission, she knows what work we have been doing, and I am grateful to her for acknowledging on the record my commitment to the scheme to ensure that everyone who works on the estate is properly protected and we have good safeguarding policies in place. As soon as we have a settled scheme, we will bring forward the debate on it.

I, too, thank all colleagues and the staff of the House for the work they have done. We have achieved a tremendous amount. In the last nine months, we have introduced 16 Bills in addition to reintroducing the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill. Ten Government Bills have reached Royal Assent, with more to follow shortly. We have published two draft Bills, which are undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny—the Media Bill and the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill—and 13 private Member’s Bills have reached Royal Assent, with three more to follow shortly.

I thank all colleagues for helping with the legislative agenda to support delivery, including of the Prime Minister’s five priorities—the things that matter the most to the people of this country—as we recover from the pandemic and global shocks. In stark contrast to the picture painted by the shadow Leader of the House, we are delivering. We are tackling debt, halving inflation and growing our economy. We are taking responsible decisions to get debt falling, helping households with the cost of living and addressing inflation through measures including energy bill support, fuel duty cuts and increasing competition.

Yesterday, we had better than expected falling inflation figures; today, we have seen average mortgage rates falling for the first time in many months. We are controlling spending and increasing public sector productivity. The Office for Budget Responsibility said that measures in the Budget caused it to revise its growth forecast up; we have received the largest ever upward forecast of the G7 this year, and our long-term growth forecasts are stronger than those for Germany, France and Italy.

We are also working to cut waiting lists. We are creating 160 new diagnostic centres, 108 of which are already open. We are delivering 4 million additional scans and tests, 100 new operating theatres delivering 2 million more operations by the next financial year, and over 12,000 more nurses than a year ago and 5,000 more doctors—we have smashed our manifesto commitments on recruitment. New digital health checks are preventing strokes and heart attacks. Record funding will deliver 9 million more procedures over the next three years, a 30% increase in elective activity and 5,000 more hospital beds. We are releasing 10 million more doctor’s appointments through our Pharmacy First service.

Finally, we are stopping the boats. We have taken new powers to protect our border, even though the Labour party voted to dismantle the Bill more than 70 times. We have 700 more staff working in immigration enforcement and we have increased the number of caseworkers dealing with the backlog. Since the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 was passed, 653 people have been arrested, leading to convictions totalling over 170 years of jail time. Home Office initial asylum decisions are up 30% on last year, and small boats arrivals are down 10%. Some 11,000 small boat crossings have been thwarted, and illegal working enforcement visits are up 50%.

On top of all that, this week we concluded our accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and launched Great British Nuclear, and after business questions, we will have a statement on £4 billion of investment in a new gigafactory. We continue to work on the things that matter to the people of this country. These are tough times, but we are delivering, and that is what we will be judged on, and in these tough times, I am glad that it is my party at the helm.

I can confirm that the state opening of Parliament will take place on 7 November. I wish everyone a happy recess. Finally: vote Purbrick, Tuckwell and Holmes!

Yesterday, thanks to my right hon. Friend and Team Lewis, I was able to meet Les Wateridge, who, as many will know, spent decades keeping the streets of Westminster clear, especially around Victoria Tower Gardens. The day before, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch came to Parliament. She is 98. She was in the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz, and then survived Bergen-Belsen. May I invite the Government, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the leaders of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation to meet Anita, and hear her views on why the proposed memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens is too large for the gardens, and too small to be a proper memorial to those who died while she was incarcerated?

I know that my hon. Friend cares very deeply about this issue and the memorial, as do all Members of the House, despite their different views. As we are going into recess, there will not be an opportunity for him to question either the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on this matter, so I shall make sure that they hear of his invitation, and I shall write to them on his behalf.

This may be the last time I face the Leader of the House at business questions; if the rumours are true, she is about to be moved again in yet another “deckchairs on the Tory Titanic” reshuffle. It is a shame; she was just getting the hang of business questions, by which I mean that, like other Tory Ministers at the Dispatch Box, she consistently avoids answering the question. If anyone doubts that, last week, when I asked her about the Prime Minister’s inflation and debt pledges, I got a lecture in response about nuclear weapons and afternoon coffee breaks, and then she described me as “delusional”.

There is no hope that the Government will change course; 13 years of austerity and incompetence are baked in. We are talking about a Government who forced Brexit on Scotland, and who refuse to allow the Scots even the right to choose their own future; a Budget that tanked the economy and pushed the pensions sector to the brink of collapse; an inhuman and degrading immigration regime; former Prime Ministers who cannot even remember their phone passwords for a covid inquiry; and a current PM who appears to think that arguing with banks on behalf of an individual is the most important thing to focus on in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and just a day before three by-elections. Doctors, nurses and teachers are all striking in England. According to the Transport Secretary, it is now expected that political parties will pay out for the actions of their donors and associates—a surprising tack to take, as his party can now surely expect a veritable torrent of invoices to wing their way to Conservative HQ in the near future.

The people of Scotland know, of course, that there is a better way than what we have to put up with here. Scotland has hope of a better way than endless Westminster failures and arrogance; it has hope of a future that holds real prospects of a better life for our families and communities. Probably for the last time, in the vain hope of an answer, I ask a question of the Leader of the House: with food inflation still running at an estimated 17.3%, can we have a debate on how the Government got us in such a hopeless mess?

Let me start by saying how much I enjoy our exchange every week, and how disappointed I should be if it were, indeed, to be our last. However, I feel that it is my duty to point out to the hon. Lady the error of what she asserts. She talks about denying the people of Scotland a choice in respect of their future. We are the Government who gave the Scottish people, as well as other residents of the United Kingdom, a vote on their future, in respect of both Scottish independence and Brexit. The difference between the hon. Lady’s party and mine is that we honour the results of referendums.

I know that the hon. Lady and her party have been campaigning hard on the two- child policy this week, so let me illustrate the powers and the opportunities that sit in her party’s hands. It may interest her to know that the projected black hole in the SNP’s budget, identified by the Scottish Fiscal Commission as a huge £1.9 billion in the next four years, is enough money not only to reverse that policy in Scotland, but to reverse it for the whole of the UK. As a Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, I was amazed at the lengths to which the SNP would go not to take control over many aspects of welfare policy that we wished to devolve to it, choosing instead to criticise the UK Government for the decisions that they were making. The hon. Lady’s party is in power in Scotland. It pains me that it is in power, but it is and has been for many years, so it is time that its Members took some responsibility.

Earlier this week, in the Pakistani province of Sindh, two Hindu temples were ransacked and 30 women and children were taken hostage by armed insurgents. They are claiming that until a young Pakistani woman, Seema Haider, who wishes to marry an Indian man, returns to Pakistan, they will not release the women and children. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has condemned the move. May I ask my right hon. Friend to urge the Foreign Secretary to make the strongest possible representations to the Pakistani authorities to ensure that the women and children are freed and returned to their homes and loved ones immediately?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the House’s attention to a very serious situation, as he so often does. He is the second highest attender of business questions, and he always raises important matters. We are deeply concerned about this situation. I will make sure that the Foreign Secretary is fully aware of it, and we urge the Pakistani authorities to investigate any allegations fully, prosecute those responsible, and provide justice for the victims and their families.

Perhaps I am the next most prolific attender.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and, in particular, for announcing the Backbench Business for the week beginning Monday 4 September. If we are awarded the time, we shall have a very interesting topic to debate on Thursday 14 September, namely the relationship between football and early-onset dementia. The application for that debate is well subscribed. I also thank the Leader of the House for writing to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on my behalf following last week’s exchange. That was an important topic as well, and it was referred to earlier this morning during questions to the Secretary of State.

You may remember, Mr Speaker, that 21 April is my birthday—a birthday that I shared with Her late Majesty the Queen. On 21 April this year, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities raising the serious concerns of constituents who continue to be affected by ongoing fire safety concerns following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. I have not had the birthday present of a reply since 21 April. I had sought the Secretary of State’s advice on how leaseholders should proceed when a developer had signed up to the Government’s much-publicised charter but then refused to pay for the cost of any initial surveys to ascertain what works need to be done. Many hundreds of leaseholders in Gateshead are stuck in limbo, unable to sell or pay for remedial works and unable to pay for surveys. Will the Leader of the House please ask the Secretary of State to respond to my request on behalf of my constituents?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his top attendance at business questions and for the helpful advert for future debates and opportunities to secure them.

I am sorry that he has not yet received a response—that is well out of time. Given that we are going into recess and these are issues that all our constituents will be facing, I shall contact the Secretary of State, as the hon. Gentleman requests, and ask him to update colleagues, perhaps by a “Dear colleague” letter, so that we know the best advice to give our constituents on these important matters.

May we have a debate on the importance of local high streets, so that I can express my opposition to ideas floated by BYM Capital to redevelop the Spires shopping centre in Barnet High Street? The plans involve too many flats and buildings that are far too high, and unless they are changed, they must be rejected.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her focus on matters that I am sure are of great concern to her constituents. She will know that successive Conservative Administrations have felt it important to devolve powers down to a local level, to give local residents more control over shaping their local plan and the design guides that accompany it. She raises an important point and I know that she will be campaigning on behalf of her constituents to ensure that the right decision is taken.

Summer holidays should be a time for children to get out and about and enjoy themselves, but almost half of parents say that the cost of living crisis has had a negative impact on the number of opportunities their children have to be physically active and to take part in sport. May we have a debate, in Government time, on the impact of the cost of living crisis on the ability of children, particularly those from low-income families, to participate in the sports they love?

That is an important matter and a timely one, as we are going into the summer recess. The hon. Lady will know that the Government spend about £200 million on holiday activities for families and, through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, we work with many sporting bodies that will be offering particular activities, especially over the summer, that enable people to try new activities and take them up, whatever their resources. I will ask the Secretary of State to update all Members on what those opportunities might be, but I know that many sporting organisations take their outreach work and support for all communities very seriously indeed.

I have another sports question. Our community sports organisations in Wolverhampton do so much for public health, whether it is Wednesfield Aces cycle speedway, Fordhouses cricket club or our two gurdwaras. May we have a debate on support and funding for grassroots sports organisations? Will the Leader of the House also join me in congratulating Henry Searle, the first British tennis player to lift the Wimbledon boys championship title, which he did last Sunday? The whole of Wolverhampton is beaming with pride at Henry’s achievement. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

My hon. Friend will be able to tell by the noises from around the Chamber that we all want to congratulate Henry on that fantastic achievement. She will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way. I know that many colleagues value the support and funding that goes into grassroots sports. She will know that that has been a priority for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has provided additional funds for sporting venues, such as swimming pools, that have very high energy costs, to ensure that access to those important facilities is maintained.

This morning, Viaplay, the broadcaster rights holder for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish men’s football teams, announced that it was trying to sell off all of its UK-based rights. A meeting was promised by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport back in December and despite my continual chasing since then, including bringing up the matter at business questions with the Leader of the House and at Prime Minister’s questions in recent weeks, I have still not been able to secure a meeting with the Secretary of State. Will the Leader of the House give her a nudge so that we can have this urgent meeting?

A few weeks ago, I had the honour and privilege of meeting Miss J, a campaigning survivor who is trying to raise awareness of the toxic culture and sexual misconduct in sport. Importantly, she is trying to get all professional sports teams in Scotland to sign up to and implement a sexual misconduct policy as soon as possible. Will the Leader of the House join me in supporting the important work that Miss J is carrying out and make time for a statement to tell us what the Government are doing on this important issue?

With regard to the first issue, I remember writing to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and her Department to ask her to do that, so I will chase it up. If the hon. Gentleman gives me more information about the policy that his constituent is championing—it sounds very worthwhile—I will raise that with the Secretary of State as well. I wish his constituent good luck in what they are trying to achieve.

Virgin Media recently upgraded some landlines in Cleethorpes, but it advised its customers via text that there would be a short period of disconnection. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to texts, such as the 92-year-old lady in my constituency who brought the matter to my attention. Can we have a debate about how these large organisations exclude many people who do not have broadband or mobile connections?

There were audible groans across the Chamber at that, because we all know of companies that do not enable all their customers to get access to the information they need. It is quite lazy. One thing the Government can do is ensure that we are increasing competition. Work that the Prime Minister commissioned while he was Chancellor is enabling that, and further competition is supported by many of the Bills we brought forward in this Session. I hope that Virgin Media has heard what has been said on the Floor of the House today and will reconsider its approach to communicating with their valuable customers.

The report into the North East Ambulance Service is now in the public domain, and the Department for Health and Social Care has responded with what I understand to be an open letter. Given the seriousness of the matters inquired into, and the fact that the process was initiated by a whistleblower to a national newspaper, will there be an opportunity for the House to debate the report?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising this serious matter, and I shall ensure that the Secretary of State has heard his request. I am sure that the House will want to focus on the matter, particularly those Members whose constituents are directly affected. The right hon. Gentleman obviously knows how to apply for a debate if he wants to, but I will make sure that the Department hears what he has said today.

At the weekend I visited Brumby gymnastics club, where I met Gail and Rick Brady. They have been volunteering at the club for 40 years, making a tremendous contribution to the community in Scunthorpe. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating and thanking them for that work? Will she also support a debate in Government time so that we can recognise and support the people who do such fantastic work in our communities?

I am sure we all join my hon. Friend in thanking Rick and Gail for their incredible work for her constituents over many decades. She is right to praise the contribution that volunteers make to our communities, and the Government also value that, which was one of the driving forces behind the Points of Light award. If my hon. Friend applies for a debate, I am sure that it would be well attended, with lots of pats on backs for the many thousands of volunteers who do such great work in their communities day in, day out.

As we go into recess, I have been struck by the number of right hon. and hon. Members who have told me that they intend to take their summer holidays in Orkney and Shetland this year. I am sure that, like the rest of the world, they are attracted by our breathtaking scenery, our wildlife, our birdlife, our world heritage sites and our quality local food and drink offering. I fear that we are also attractive to MPs because in so many parts of the Northern Isles, they will not be bothered by their mobile phone ringing. It is great for holidaying MPs, but it is a bit of a pain for the rest of us, so when we come back in September, can we have an update from her ministerial colleagues on the shared rural network scheme?

I congratulate the right hon. Member on providing a wonderful advert for any Members who are not planning on holidaying in his constituency and reasons why they should. He raises a serious matter, and I will certainly ensure that the two Departments that are most relevant to this have heard what he said.

Darlington rotary club will be celebrating its centenary this year. The club has contributed significantly to our local community and I praise it for all the work it does. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Darlington rotary club on its centenary and will she find time for us to have a debate on the significant and tangible impact of rotary in our communities across the UK?

My hon. Friend is right about the incredible contribution that rotary clubs make, and not just to work in the UK—if we were to draw up a list of organisations that have helped to eradicate polio around the world, rotary clubs would be at the top of it, having enabled vaccination programmes to take place all over the world. I understand that he is a Rotarian, as is our Prime Minister at the same rotary club as him, so I think the centenary party will be quite something.

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing the fantastic graduation show of Newcastle Theatre Royal’s Project A, which provides intensive, world-class, affordable training for actors in the north-east and Newcastle. I also recently saw the wonderful West End symphony orchestra, which provides intensive one-to-one tuition but is about to lose its funding. Project A is hugely over-subscribed. Can we have a debate in Government time on what the Government are doing to ensure that the arts are accessible to working-class and regional talent? While we are at it, given that Mickey Mouse is probably the most valuable creation to come from an artist’s pen, can the Leader of the House tell me when an arts degree is a Mickey Mouse degree?

I said last week that the nation is not just STEM-powered—the hon. Lady is a great champion for that. It is also STEAM-powered. The arts and cultural and creative industries are incredibly important to this economy. She will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Department for Culture, Media and Sport and her predecessors have done a huge amount of work to ensure that the whole of the UK gets its fair share of funding to support these sectors and that the enjoyment of their products is accessible to all.

I am sure the hon. Lady has raised those specific projects with the Secretary of State. If she has not had an opportunity to do that, I am happy to do so on her behalf. She will soon be able to get a clear map of all the funding that has gone into her local area over many years, and having seen a draft of the map, I think it is considerable.

Although it is welcome to see school budgets increasing again, can we look at the situation whereby schools in my constituency and central Bedfordshire get a lot less per pupil than those just over the border in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire? We are amending the police funding formula to make it fairer. Can we please look at the same issue for school funding? It really is not fair to differentiate in that way.

My hon. Friend raises a very important matter and he is absolutely right. We are increasing per pupil funding. We have introduced additional support for special educational needs, and we have been doing a lot of work in the capital programme to restore school buildings and enable new schools to be established. However, given that we are going into recess, I will write on his behalf to the Secretary of State for Education and the Chancellor to ensure that they consider this matter.

I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that, when a Minister gives an undertaking in the Chamber to meet with an hon. Member, an official in the Box ought to be making a note and following up. That system seems to have broken down, and hon. Members’ staff spend an age trying to chase down those in ministerial private offices. Mr Speaker, I am sure both you and the Leader of the House will be surprised to hear that my office was recently told that the Home Office switchboard had no record of the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), the Minister for Immigration—[Laughter.] It is not really funny. Clearly, from what my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) said earlier, this is a problem affecting all hon. Members. Can we have a debate in Government time on the quality of ministerial responses to requests made on the Floor of this House?

I hope the hon. and learned Lady knows I take this matter very seriously. Being able to get hold of people, particularly during recess, is extremely important. If she would like to give me and my office some details about the specific issue she is trying to get an answer on, I would be happy to follow that up, and I will give the Home Office a nudge to ensure that all hon. Members are able to get hold of Ministers during recess in particular, if something should happen during the break.

As the Government forge ahead with initiatives, policies and trade deals that we were unable to do when we were a member of the EU, would my right hon. Friend allow a debate on Brexit benefits, particularly the support the UK Government are giving to fishing and seafood processing companies and our preparedness as we take back full control of all our fishing quotas in 2026?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; one of the reasons we left the EU was to enable those opportunities across all sectors, but particularly fishing and food producers. We negotiated successfully a significant uplift in our quota shares following our exit from the EU, as she well knows, valued at about £101 million in new fishing opportunities for the UK fleet in this year alone. The UK seafood fund is investing £100 million into the long-term future of the UK fisheries sector, helping to drive innovation, support job creation and boost seafood exports into new markets—[Interruption.] I heard a yell from a sedentary position; I am not sure quite who it came from. Those opportunities could be maximised if the Scottish Government engaged more with their local coastal communities on their plans for protected marine areas.

I hope the Leader of the House will agree that we have a pretty good tradition in this country of open, free, democratic, honest elections. Does she share my concern that there is evidence in the recent past—not just in the UK, but elsewhere—of malign influences on elections from China, from Russia and even, some people have said, from India? Will she ensure that we have an early debate when the House gets back, since an election is imminent, to look at ways of protecting our democracy from foreign influences of all kinds?

This is an extremely important issue and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising it. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Security Minister is leading a taskforce designed to protect and strengthen democracy, primarily in the UK, although it will also have benefits for other nations around the world. Our democracy is precious; we cannot take it for granted and, if people start to lose trust in it, the system will fail. Maintaining that trust is one of the most important jobs that we have in this House and I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman were to apply for a debate, it would be well attended.

Can we have a debate about law enforcement across the United Kingdom? The Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday Scotland’s Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone confirmed that the initial probe into SNP finances, looking at fraud, has been expanded to look at possible embezzlement and misuse of funds. It has already seen the arrest of former First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, along with other senior SNP members. Does the Leader of the House agree that that shows how serious the investigation into the SNP’s murky finances is?

My hon. Friend’s question follows that asked by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), about trust in democracy and our institutions. That is incredibly important. Whatever our differences and whichever side of the House we sit on, we should all be able to agree that trust and confidence in those systems are vital. That is why standards and having strong, democratic institutions matter.

We have had over 22 police investigations into the SNP. The original £600,000-plus that went missing has now been exceeded by the £800,000 in police time that has been spent on those investigations. It is a very sad and sorry state. Whatever shape future investigations take, I hope they are resolved swiftly, because this has been a sorry chapter.

For the first time since 1961, UK Government debt has risen above 100% of GDP, with the Office for National Statistics revealing that net debt reached £2.6 trillion as of the end of May. In that context, the cost of replacing Trident could rise to between £287 million and £639 million. Given the huge pressure on public finances, will the Leader of the House make a statement, which I know my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran will be very interested in, setting out whether she believes a blank cheque for replacing Trident is either acceptable or sustainable?

In reply to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), I have already given the SNP a lesson in balancing the books. I do not think this Government should take any lessons from the SNP Government, who have nearly £2 billion between what they spend and what is in their budget. In addition to understanding the cost and price of everything, it is also important for us, in this place, to understand the value of things. Trident is a nuclear deterrent. There is no blank cheque for that nuclear deterrent, but it is there doing a vital job. If hon. Members cannot see the merits of us having a deterrent at this moment, I do not know that they will ever be able to grasp that.

Any arguments about the defence of this nation relate to our commitment to NATO. The SNP purports to support that commitment, but having a nuclear deterrent is pretty fundamental to being a member of NATO. If all those arguments have failed in the past, let me try a new one: I am sure that among the hon. Lady’s constituents she will have a submariner. She should ask that submariner why they are prepared to spend 10 years of their life underwater, in the service of this country. These are not trivial matters and she needs to grasp the reality of the situation facing us.

Many of my constituents were disappointed to see that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was not taken forward. I know that the Government are still committed to enacting the various provisions within the Bill, but will the Leader of the House provide a timetable for that?

My hon. Friend will know that I will say that further business will be announced in the usual way. He is right that we are committed to the measures in that Bill. We think that we will be able to bring forward some of them faster using other means, such as a statutory instrument, rather than through the passage of the Bill as previously scheduled. I will announce business in the usual way, but I can give him the assurance that we are committed to those important measures, which were manifesto commitments.

Can we please have a debate on the issue of tackling the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation? We know that tackling demand has to be at the heart of any strategy. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has just produced a country report on the UK, which says:

“With regard to prevention, the UK does not appear to be taking substantive steps to tackle the demand that fosters trafficking for sexual exploitation, despite the international legal obligation to do so.”

At the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, the Safe- guarding Minister, the hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), said:

“For sex work, the demand is there; it is unfortunately part of human nature. I would like it to be outlawed.”

The right hon. Lady raises an important matter. I shall certainly make sure that the Home Office has heard her concerns about that report. She will know, though, that it is not just the Home Office that focuses on this issue, but the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and other Departments. We have done more than any previous Government on introducing new laws to protect women and girls. At the FCDO, we have our international strategy on protecting women and girls, with a particular focus on violence against women and girls. She will know that we fund many initiatives around the world through our aid programmes that combat trafficking for these purposes. She will also know that the next questions to the Department are on 18 September. Given that that is some time away, I shall write on her behalf.

My constituent David Corroyer sadly contracted the life-changing disease hepatitis C while donating blood. With Hepatitis Awareness Week starting next week, please can we have a debate on what progress the Government are making to meet their target of eliminating hep C in 2025? Would the Leader of the House join me in praising the Hepatitis C Trust for, hopefully, helping us to get there five years before global targets?

This is an important matter. I will join my hon. Friend in praising the work of the Hepatitis C Trust. Those targets are ambitious, but we are determined to smash them years earlier. She will know that we have been doing a tremendous amount of work globally to combat hep C. As she will not have the opportunity to raise this with the Secretary of State before the recess, I shall also make sure that he has heard her interest in this area.

Since mid-2022, we have been suffering from excess deaths in the UK. So far this year, we have been seeing around 8% excess mortality. On a weekly basis, that means that around 950 more of our constituents are passing away each week than the five-year average. I have been requesting a debate on this matter regularly for the past six months to no avail. I can understand why the Government do not wish to debate this topic, but the silence from the Opposition parties is perplexing. May I ask the Leader of the House when the public will get an opportunity to witness a debate in this House on this issue of life and death that is affecting them, their friends and their families?

I am sorry that the hon. Member has not been able to secure a debate on this matter. He is sat next to the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, who is forever announcing opportunities to secure a debate. Perhaps if he would write to me in more detail about what he has done to secure a debate, I can advise and assist him further.

On 18 May, the Leader of the House told me that she would again take up the matter of redundancy modification orders with the Department and chase up officials for me and perhaps suggest that the Minister meets me. I know that the Leader of the House can carry a great big sword. I do not agree with her on nuclear weapons, but will she use that great big sword and poke the Department, because I have had no response?

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Lady has not had a response. What I will do is contact the Department again on her behalf. In such cases where the Department is just not responding, we will also call in the permanent secretary, and I will do that on this occasion. I will follow up this afternoon, as I know the House is rising today, to urge them to contact the hon. Lady at least to give her an update on the matter.

When my constituent lost power, Scottish Power transferred her on to a prepayment meter as an emergency fix. Three months later, her meter has not been repaired properly, causing major ramifications including her falsely being contacted by debt collectors. My constituent and my team have been in constant communication with ScottishPower, but the situation remains unresolved. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Energy, Security and Net Zero to make a statement on holding large energy companies to account for poor customer service?

I am very sorry to hear about that case, and I will of course ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what the hon. Lady has said. Hopefully someone from ScottishPower’s media or public affairs team will be tuned in to the Chamber, and will have heard our dismay at those poor standards of customer service. We hope that the situation will be rectified.

Small businesses leasing retail space in railway stations have taken a financial hit as a result of industrial action. Train operating companies accept that refunds for rent on strike days should be made available but say that the decision is out of their hands, and that the Department for Transport is blocking the refunds, yet in response to a recent written question the DFT told me that the train operators should be dealing with this matter. Could the Leader of the House please confirm whether she expects a written ministerial statement today from the Transport Secretary clarifying the situation? If not, could she please write to him and ask him to intervene so that officials either unblock the refund requests or empower the train operating companies to take this forward themselves, so that small businesses stop getting stuck in the middle?

The hon. Lady has done us a service by raising this matter. I will get on to the relevant Department this afternoon and ask that it be clarified, which I am sure would be in the interests of all our constituents.

I am incredibly proud that students from around the world choose to come to study in my city of Dundee at one of our two world-class universities; however, the newly published road map for a Scottish green industrial strategy pinpoints the failure of the UK Government to support international students as one of the key impediments to building Scotland’s green economy, with some within the Tory party wanting to go further and limit which universities would be able to take in international students. It looks like the Tory party is more interested in deporting rather than developing and retaining talent, so can we have a statement from the UK Government ruling that out, with a commitment to doing more to offer a welcoming environment for students and graduates?

I would correct the hon. Gentleman. We have a very proud record of accepting international students and we do a huge amount of outreach work to attract international students here. We are one of the most popular places for them to study, and we are doing a huge amount through the British Council and other organisations to promote British education around the world. If he has specifics, I urge him to write to the relevant Departments. He can question the Education Secretary on 23 October and the Home Secretary on 18 September.

The UN protocol on trafficking, which has been ratified by the UK, states that a victim of modern slavery does not need to have been physically transported during the course of their exploitation. The UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, however, requires physical transportation for it to be a human trafficking offence. Under UK law, perpetrators of this heinous crime would receive a far more lenient sentence than if they were charged with trafficking. Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss bringing the UK’s definition of trafficking in line with that of the UN?

I will certainly ensure that the Home Secretary and the Ministry of Justice have heard what the hon. Lady has raised. From my experience as a former Secretary of State for the Department for International Development, I can tell her that we do some incredible things around the world to combat not just crimes taking place in the UK or facilitated from the UK but crimes where the victims are in other parts of the world. What our National Crime Agency does, not just for the UK but for many nations around the world, is incredibly impressive, and we should be very proud of it.

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I say this? Every week I bring to business questions an issue from across the world on behalf of persecuted churchgoers with Christian beliefs, those with no beliefs or those with other beliefs, and every week the Leader of the House consistently, honestly and sincerely takes that matter to the relevant Minister, or secures me a meeting, letter or reply. That does not go unnoticed, and I thank her for it on behalf of people across the world who have no voice.

Earlier this week, ISIS boasted about the increased attacks against Christians in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Kenya. The group claimed that militants had plundered Christian villages and massacred locals, and that the rate of attacks for the first half of 2023 was a 57% increase on the preceding six months. One of those examples was the Lhubiriha secondary school in Uganda, which this House discussed on 20 June; however, as the Leader of the House and others know, that is only the tip of the iceberg, with most attacks receiving little to no attention in the media. Will the Leader of the House join me and others in a statement condemning those attacks and expressing solidarity with the survivors?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very kind words. With the exception of the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), whom I have excluded from my league table, the hon. Gentleman has attended the most business questions sessions of anyone in this House. He does us a great service, because he is always raising matters that should get airtime, and enables us all to send the message that we are focused on the plight of the people he mentions.

We are deeply concerned about the recent increase in attacks against Christians, particularly in Mozambique, the DRC, Nigeria and Kenya—the Foreign Office is following those situations very closely. These attacks are deplorable, and the UK will continue to use its influence in the UN, the Council of Europe and elsewhere to highlight these appalling human rights violations and galvanise action to protect freedom of religion and protect people who are being particularly persecuted, Christians being prime among them.