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Business of the House

Volume 740: debated on Thursday 16 November 2023

The business for the week commencing 20 November will be:

Monday 20 November—Remaining stages of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

Tuesday 21 November—Second Reading of the Media Bill.

Wednesday 22 November—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make his autumn statement, which will be followed by a debate on the autumn statement.

Thursday 23 November—Continuation of a debate on the autumn statement.

Friday 24 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 November will include:

Monday 27 November—Conclusion of a debate on the autumn statement.

Tuesday 28 November—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Wednesday 29 November—Remaining stages of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

Thursday 30 November—General debate. Subject to be confirmed.

Friday 1 December—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.

I thank all those who ensured that Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday constituency events passed off safely.

I want to ask the Leader of the House about two issues. First, before the ink is even dry on the King’s Speech, the Prime Minister has announced emergency legislation—you could not make it up! The Supreme Court ruling against the Government was as damning as it was clear. It concluded that deep and institutional issues in Rwanda make it not a safe country. That should not have come as a surprise to the Government, because they had been warned for months. The Prime Minister bet the house that he would win and he lost. Before his new legislative programme has even got under way, we have more desperate wheezes to salvage his sinking plan: a new treaty, which could take weeks of parliamentary time to ratify; and new laws, which a former Supreme Court judge branded “discreditable”. Why did the Home Secretary not say anything about that to Parliament yesterday? It is yet another announcement to the media and not to this place.

Will the Leader of the House tell us more about how this is all going to work? What legal effect will this emergency legislation have? When will we see it? How much parliamentary time does she think this is all going to take? What will be dropped from the Government’s recently announced Bills to make way for this? If the Government are so confident that this is what it will take, why did they not do it months ago instead of sitting around waiting for this judgment, as though Parliament had not spent weeks and weeks considering these issues and legislating to deal with them? The Government could have amended the Illegal Migration Act 2023 instead, could they not? Or was the former Home Secretary right when she said that the Government

“failed to prepare any…credible plan B”?

Was the new Home Secretary right when he said yesterday that he did not see a case for coming out of international agreements? Or does the Leader of the House agree with the Prime Minister that we could do so? These are desperation tactics to try to make the Government look as though they are doing something, when the truth is that this is a failed, unworkable and costly plan that leaves their pledge to stop the boats stranded.

Secondly, the Prime Minister seemingly could not find a suitable candidate to be Foreign Secretary from among his own MPs and instead appointed David Cameron to the House of Lords. At a time of war in Europe, a horrifying conflict in Israel and Gaza, and threats from China, Iran and elsewhere, elected Members here are now unable to hold the Foreign Secretary to account. I agree entirely with you, Mr Speaker, that this House must be able to scrutinise his work effectively, because, let us be honest, there is a lot to hold him accountable for: his links with China, which the Intelligence and Security Committee said may have been “engineered” by the Chinese state; his policy towards China, famously drinking pints with President Xi and hailing a “golden era”; and his involvement with Greensill Capital, which was described by the Treasury Committee as a “significant lack of judgment”, but none the less made him personally millions of pounds richer. The Government proposal that the Minister for Development and Africa, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), will stand in is entirely insufficient.

The last time the House was in this situation, Conservative Members were furious and demanded that questions must be answered in this place. The then Labour Government were set to bring in the recommendations of the Procedure Committee at the time. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should immediately dust off that report and bring forward a motion to put its recommendations in place quickly? They include regular accountability sessions for the Foreign Secretary in Westminster Hall as a starter. Will she do that before we are next due to hear from the Foreign Secretary?

Finally, can the Leader of the House confirm whether the appointment of David Cameron has been approved by the independent adviser on ministerial interests? If not, when will that be done? Or is this another case of making the wrong call, such as when the Prime Minister appointed his first Deputy Prime Minister, his first Home Secretary and his first Minister without Portfolio, all of whom faced serious allegations that later led to their departures? This is another poor judgment from a weak Prime Minister, drifting to defeat.

I agree with the comments that the hon. Lady made about Armistice Day and Remembrance weekend. I thank all Members who took part in events around the country and overseas to commemorate and thank our servicemen and women, and to remember the fallen. I particularly thank the police, who had an incredibly difficult job on their hands in London at the weekend.

It is a gift that every one of us in this place can raise issues in debates via amendments and other devices. As a Member and as Leader of the House, I will always defend that right, but it does not absolve us from thinking through the consequences of one course of action over another. The debate last night showed the House, including its two main parties and the bulk of Members, united in its support for Israel’s duty to protect her people, an end to suffering for all civilians and a long-term peaceful solution.

Since the vote last night, I know some Members have come under increased stress. No matter which way people voted, it will have been a considered decision. No matter whether people agree with them or not, it is their duty to exercise their own judgment. Today, all Members should think about what they can do to defuse such threats made against our colleagues in this place.

I thank Mr Speaker for his care in ensuring we can go about our business and do our duties. I thank the families of those held hostage by Hamas for their time coming into Parliament this week to talk to parliamentarians. I know I speak for all here when I say that we will do all in our power to bring them home.

Turning to the questions raised by the shadow Leader of the House, her first point was about Rwanda. She will expect me to say that further business will be announced in the usual way, but as she will have heard from the Prime Minister, we want to introduce this legislation swiftly. It is part of a plan of action that he has set out and that has been worked on by the Home Office and other Departments, together with the largest ever small boats deal with France; a new agreement with Albania, which has already returned nearly 5,000 people in the last 10 months and cut Albanian small boat arrivals by more than 90%; an almost 70% increase in the number of illegal working raids; a tripling in the number of asylum decisions since the start of the year; a plan to close the first 50 asylum hotels; and the legislation that we have brought forward.

There are many points of difference, but one key difference is that we believe there must be a deterrent element to our response. The hon. Lady’s party voted 70 times against the legislation that we have brought forward and Opposition Members also supported blocking the deportation of foreign criminals. The people of this country want our borders to be protected and controlled. They want to ensure that we are free and able to help those we wish to and have the greatest obligation to. Under the last Labour Government, the mode of illegal travel here was largely haulage. We ended that. Brexit has also given us many more options to shape who comes here legally.

We must end the scourge of these appalling people-traffickers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), assisted by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and others, have helped us thus far, and I thank them for all the work that they have been doing. It has been difficult work. There is more to do, but we are a step closer to the deterrent that we seek. I urge the shadow Leader of the House to support us in our efforts. We will introduce legislation; it is quite normal, as she knows, to do that even if it is not included in the King’s Speech. There are many potential situations for that to arise on a number of issues facing Parliament in this Session.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of the new Foreign Secretary, a person who has done a tremendous amount on the last topic that she raised—combating illegal migration —through his work with Professor Paul Collier and the work that he has done on conflict states. He was ahead of the curve on that issue, and I think that he will make an excellent Foreign Secretary. She is right that the House must be able to hold him to account. This is not an unusual situation; it has happened before with the noble Lords Mandelson, Adonis, Frost, Morgan and I think others.

The hon. Lady should be reassured that Mr Speaker has taken advice on the matter. My understanding is that the Procedure Committee will be consulted on the best way forward. She alluded to some of the options that may be required of the new Foreign Secretary, who I know will want to be accountable to this House. There are very important matters in front of us. Next year will be an unprecedented year for elections across the world, with significant consequences for this nation and an ever- increasing set of complex issues that I know all hon. Members will want to question the Foreign Secretary on. She has my assurance in that respect. Further business will be announced in the usual way.

The House and my right hon. Friend will know of my personal and political interest in residential leasehold reform. When might the leasehold and freehold reform Bill come to the House, and will she join me in giving more publicity to the consultation, “Modern leasehold: restricting rents on existing leases”, which started a week ago and will last for another five weeks? The ground rent issue affects up to 6 million households. Most people do not know that the Government are considering five alternatives for restricting it. Will she help to publicise that, and say when the Bill might be introduced so that the House can consider the issue?

My hon. Friend, who is very experienced, has already provided a solution to one part of his question by getting that on the record and advertising it to all hon. Members. I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State has heard of his particular interest. He will not be surprised to hear me say that further business will be announced in the usual way, but I shall endeavour to ensure that he is kept informed by the Department of progress on the Bill.

People in Scotland learned something this week: however much we dislike and distrust this Tory Government, it is nothing compared with how much they utterly loathe each other. Those letters, emails and WhatsApp messages show that they spend their time attacking each other, leaving no time to help people struggling with the Tory mortgage and rent bombshell or with rocketing energy bills, and no time to reduce NHS waiting lists in England, now approaching 8 million, or to cap food inflation, which is still running at over 10%. They are way too busy fighting like rats in a sack. Even their squalid, unlawful Rwanda scheme has fallen apart.

However, I bring good news to the Leader of the House to cheer her up—news from a part of the UK where a Government are getting on with the job; where not a single day has been lost in the NHS to industrial disputes; where teachers are the best paid in the UK; where the Scottish child payment is taking tens of thousands out of poverty; where the railways have been taken into public ownership; where there are free school meals for all pupils, P1 to P5; where there are more GPs per head than anywhere in the UK; where those aged 60 and over get free bus travel, along with our under-22-year-olds; and where we offer free university tuition, free prescriptions, free eye tests, and free personal care to our older folk. That is in Scotland under the SNP-led Scottish Government, as the Leader of the House knows, but her Government have a cunning plan to make everything come good: a new Minister for common sense—a wokefinder general, to search out woke thinking and eliminate it. The job is in the safe hands of someone who is allowed to attend Cabinet, but is prohibited from speaking in meetings—and anyone who knows the new Minister knows that a period of silence may be her first and overwhelming challenge. For some light relief in this very bleak week for her Government, could the Leader of the House help many of her baffled colleagues and try to give us her definition of “woke”?

I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, would take a dim view of it if I refused to answer the hon. Lady’s question—if I just stood here in silence because I did not fancy doing it, or objected strongly to the content and tone of the question. Had I done that, you might ask why I showed up this morning if I was not prepared to do my duty in this House and to show respect to the House. It would be a bit like attending at the Cenotaph and not singing the national anthem.

The hon. Lady displays a distinct lack of self-awareness. I grow tired of reading out to her each week statistics on the performance of her own Government, but since she invites me to again, let me give her two statistics that address the issues she raises. In England, the NHS 18-month waiting lists are down by 94% since September 2021; and a doctor or a headteacher in Scotland pays approximately £2,000 more in tax. I will continue to do my duty to this House, and to remind the SNP of their appalling record in government, which is obvious to everyone except them.

Finally, on all sorts of issues that many would perhaps describe as “woke” this Government have a proud record, because we recognise that compassion and care for everyone in our society is very important. That is why we did the largest ever LGBT action plan, from which we wanted practical measures that would make a difference to people’s lives. Conservatism, to me, has always been about the practical impact that we have on people’s lives, and stepping up and taking responsibility, not just for ourselves but for other people. Given her background and life experiences, I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey), who will now sit at the Cabinet Table, will be very good in that role.

Transitioning toward net zero and increasing renewable energy is critical, but we need a just transition. I am conscious that constituents in Suffolk Coastal feel that a lot of the onshore infrastructure is being put in an unsuitable place, when further down the coast, at Bradwell in Essex, there is an ideal brownfield site to accommodate it. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate—perhaps it could be the general debate next Thursday, which is yet to be announced—in which we could discuss the importance of rewiring the national grid?

First, may I place on the record—on behalf of everyone in this place, I am sure—our thanks to my right hon. Friend for all the work she did in her former Department? I know she was incredibly passionate about that work, going right back to when she was a junior Minister in that Department, and she should be very proud of the many things she enabled to happen on her double watch. I thank her for raising this issue in her constituency, which I know she is very concerned about. The Secretary of State has made it a priority and is giving it a lot more attention and focus, and I shall make sure that she is aware of my right hon. Friend’s particular interest.

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. I have had the privilege of being in that role since June 2015, although I have a funny feeling this will be my last term in it, for a whole range of different reasons—[Hon. Members: “No!”] Well, the holder has to be a member of the Opposition. As we speak, the Committee cannot yet meet, but I understand that all political parties have made or are making nominations to the Committee of Selection. As soon as it agrees the nominations, the Backbench Business Committee can get up and running again. I hope that the first meeting can take place as soon as Tuesday 28 November. If it can happen before then, we certainly will try to ensure that it does. I understand from the Clerks that there is already a queue of applications to be presented to the Committee; we will try to get that all together as soon as possible.

Bus drivers and other staff employed by Go North East are on indefinite strike in a pay dispute. They seek pay parity with their company colleagues in the north-west region. The strike leaves constituents almost totally stranded and unable to get to work, places of study, hospitals and shops. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport about his intentions to bring an end to this dire paralysis in my Gateshead constituency and across the wider north-east region? Go North East provides bus services to a large part of the north-east region, and I am afraid to say it is no go at the moment.

I add my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on remaining Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, and thank him for all the work he does in that respect. I come here every week to this Dispatch Box with reasons to vote Conservative, and he has furnished us with another one, because we do not want to lose him as Chairman of that Committee. He has my assurance that we are committed to the swift establishment of the Committee. If that cannot be done before the general debate, subject to be announced, that I announced in the business question, we will take a steer from the topics that his Committee has already looked at.

I am very sorry to hear about the disruption to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents’ ability to travel. He will know that that is a concern to this Government. It is one reason why we have brought forward legislation to guarantee minimum service levels in areas such as transport and emergency services. It is incredibly important that industrial action, particularly when it takes place over long periods of time, does not disrupt people’s lives and cause them, for example, to lose their jobs, as has been happening in other parts of the country. I urge him to reflect on whether he could support those measures, particularly for specific sectors, that we will bring forward in this Session.

About 40 years ago I had an unlikely campaigning role that involved organising counter-demonstrations to certain mass marches, but one area we never had to worry about was the vicinity of Parliament, because no demonstrations were allowed in Parliament Square. The reason given for that was that Members must not be impeded in entering or leaving the Houses of Parliament. Even if demonstrations continue to be allowed in Parliament Square, it should be a common concern to those on both sides of the House that Members find themselves getting advice from their Whips on which exits they cannot use for fear of being mobbed by an unauthorised demonstration that comes right up to the gates of Parliament. This really has gone too far. Sooner or later there will be an incident, unless security on entering and leaving the Houses of Parliament is restored.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important matter. It is quite right that Members of Parliament and their staff should be able to go about their business in safety and security, and should not be disrupted in doing so. Mr Speaker was particularly concerned about this even prior to yesterday’s incidents, and has been working with Palace security and other organisations to ensure the safety of Members of Parliament in particular. Since the Deputy Speaker is in the Chair, I shall make sure that Mr Speaker has heard my right hon. Friend’s concerns, and I will ask that my right hon. Friend be kept informed of progress on such matters.

I am sorry to ask the right hon. Lady about this again, because I know she is one of the angels on this matter, but when I asked her last summer about conversion therapy, she promised a draft Bill on the subject in the last Session. There was no draft Bill, and there is nothing in the King’s Speech. The Government say that is because this is very complicated. It is not complicated. Loads of countries have measures on this, and have had for years. Is the real reason, as I have been told, that the Minister for Women and Equalities herself is blocking this much-needed reform?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that bringing an end to these practices is a manifesto commitment. It remains a manifesto commitment. He will also know that this is a complex situation. A lot of work has already been done, particularly by faith groups, to enable ideas and solutions to be brought forward. I thank all Members who have engaged on this, particularly with the Minister who leads on the issue, to try to make progress. The Secretary of State is still looking at the policy on this, and she is very aware that the House will want her decision brought forward. I know that she is taking great care to ensure that we can protect people who might be vulnerable to these kinds of barbaric practices.

Later today, Councillor Garry Perry from my constituency will be attending the Local Government Information Unit and CCLA councillor awards. Garry has been shortlisted for a lifetime legend award, in recognition of his dedication to building a safer, stronger, greener and more resilient community. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing him all the best in the awards later today?

I do not know whether it was audible to those listening, but there were choruses of approval from around the House. I speak on behalf of all of us when I say to Councillor Garry Perry: thank you for your decades of service to your community. Our councillors are all unsung heroes. They do a tremendous amount of work and good in their communities, and I wish Garry and all other nominees who have been short- listed for these awards good luck; they have our thanks.

Air pollution is an invisible killer. Over 40,000 people in the UK die each year as a consequence of dirty air. The clean air zone introduced in Bath by the Liberal Democrat-run council has reduced nitrogen dioxide by over a quarter, which is an impressive achievement, saving lives. Can we have a debate in Government time about the importance of clean air and what the Government can do to support local councils?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. She will know that this has been a focus for the Government; they have identified zones around the country that need improvement and ensured that local authorities can put measures in place to address these matters. This is an area where we can benefit from sharing best practice across the country. It is important that we do these things while still enabling economic growth to flourish, as we know we can. I am sure that if she were to apply for a debate on the subject, it would be well attended.

Can we have a debate on the failure of the Metropolitan police to investigate an openly terrorist-supporting Socialist Workers party pamphlet, which has been reported on in several newspapers, entitled “Palestine: Resistance, Revolution and the Struggle for Hamas”? It has been on sale during the protest marches every weekend in London, and it includes the line:

“we unconditionally support Hamas when it is engaged in military or non-military struggles against Israel.”

This poison has been on sale for weeks, including, I am told, right outside this House, in Parliament Square. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the police should act under section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000?

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for raising this important matter—it is extremely disturbing to hear that. He will know that the police chiefs have our total backing in using the full extent of the law to crack down on any criminality, and what he describes sounds like it falls into that category. The police have powers to arrest those who belong to or glorify terrorist groups such as Hamas under the Terrorism Act 2000 and anyone who incites racial hatred under the Public Order Act 1986, and we support them in using those powers. I am afraid that the Socialist Workers are rentagobs who show up to all kinds of protests, spouting all kinds of hate, and deserve a closer look.

As the Leader of the House may be aware, I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for access to medical cannabis under prescription. Currently, young Teagan Appleby, who is a constituent of the hon. Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), is in hospital in London and very poorly. The former Minister made every effort in his role to break down the barriers for medicinal cannabis under prescription to children with epilepsy. Will the Leader of the House please urge the new Minister to call a roundtable of all the stakeholders, so that those children can get the medicine they deserve?

I thank the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Dover for the work they have been doing on this issue. I will certainly make sure that the new Secretary of State has heard about the hon. Lady’s comments today and is aware of her interest in this matter.

I bring some sad news to the House this morning: my Conservative predecessor, Sir Thomas Arnold, died on Tuesday. He is known to many on the Conservative Benches for his years of work—a decade or so—as chair of candidates. He was the godson of Ivor Novello, and as well as inheriting the rights to various of his musicals, he also inherited his piano. He was quite a character and was a great support to me, and gave me much wise advice; whether I always followed it is a different matter.

As chair of candidates, Sir Thomas oversaw the 1987 and 1992 elections, and is responsible—or, indeed, culpable—for a number of Members being in this House today. His guiding words were these:

“The Conservative Party…is looking for men and women who have a good working knowledge of contemporary politics and a proven track record of experience…who above all know their own minds.”

With those words in mind, might the Leader of the House be able to facilitate a debate so that we can all learn how parties across the House can attract such candidates to be elected to this place?

I am sure I speak for all Members present when I say how sorry we are at that sad news, and that our thoughts are with Sir Thomas’s friends and family. He achieved the only Conservative gain in the 1974 election, which was the second time he stood for Parliament. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Northern Ireland Office and later in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He was vice-chairman of the party under Peter Brooke in 1983, and I am told that the most enjoyable time he spent in Parliament was when he headed the Commons Treasury Select Committee, which included an investigation into the downfall of Barings bank. He achieved a great deal for this country, and we remember him and his service fondly. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

On 26 October in a point of order, I named Zaher Birawi and Muhammad Qassem Sawalha as Hamas operatives living in London. Since then, further Hamas operatives such as Majed Khalil al-Zeer and Ziad El Aloul have come to light as British nationals with links to Hamas, a terrorist organisation. Given the national security implications, can we have an urgent statement in Government time on what the Home Office is doing about Hamas operatives here in Britain?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter, which I know is a concern for many Members across the House. We have given the police new and updated powers, and we will continue to look at what further support they can be given to tackle this appalling situation. There can be absolutely no tolerance for anyone who facilitates or supports terrorism—that is very clear, and I think that view is shared on all sides of this House, even if some Members sometimes find it hard to articulate it.

As the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) has said, Teagan Appleby, my teenage constituent, is at the moment in intensive care across the road in the Evelina London Children’s Hospital. My right hon. Friend will know from my question and her answer in June, that it was an urgent matter for Teagan to have support from the Government to have funding for and access to her medicinal cannabis, which she needs to manage her epilepsy. That meeting—my right hon. Friend was kind in her support for it and her follow-up with the Department of Health—has still not happened.

Can I ask my right hon. Friend to pass another message to the Health Secretary to say, not that we need another the meeting on this issue, but that we need action and that we need the funding to be available to every single child who needs access to this medicine now? There needs to be, in the autumn statement, a special fund set aside to allow these children to have access to the medicine they need. Teagan’s mother, Emma, could not do any more, and she was heartbroken when she sent me a message overnight—at midnight—that Teagan is now intubated and that she has to be kept in that medical state to manage 19 days of constant seizures.

I am extremely sorry to hear what my hon. Friend has said. I do appreciate that Members across this House will have had experiences in which we are very invested in the wellbeing of our constituents, and I know this will be a very difficult time not just for Teagan and her family, but for my hon. Friend and others who have campaigned on this issue.

I am very disappointed to hear that the Department of Health has not met my hon. Friend. I wish to make it clear, and I do make it clear to Departments, that my requests for meetings between officials or Ministers and Members of this House are not optional. This House can call people to meet it in Select Committees, and Government Departments are funded to provide services to this House, and I am really very disappointed that the Department of Health has not done that.

I know that immediately after this session, even though I will be in the Chamber, my officials will contact the Department of Health and, through my Parliamentary Private Secretary, will contact the Secretary of State for Health to make her aware of this situation. We appreciate that we cannot make clinical decisions on behalf of individual patients, but what we can ensure is that, if a drug or medical device could benefit a patient, the systems are in place to ensure that they get access to it. Even if it is not for a NICE-approved treatment, people in this country still have that right. We will facilitate an immediate meeting with the Department of Health, and I will be kept informed of progress on this matter.

Scotland is energy rich—in the last two months alone, Scotland exported 3.2 million MWh of electricity through the grid to England—yet along with the people of north Wales, Scots pay the highest electricity costs in the UK. Londoners pay £246 a year in standing charges before a switch or a gas hob is turned on, but in the parts of the UK where lighting and heating are turned on far earlier and turned off far later, these standing charges are over one third higher, at £333 a year. Does the Leader of the House really think that is fair, and if not, will she facilitate a debate on these unjust standing charges?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this point. I think standing charges should get scrutiny from this House. I know that many hon. and right hon. Members will have concerns in all parts of the UK about fairness and how some charges are being applied. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am sure that, if he were to apply for a debate, it would be well attended.

As we saw in yesterday’s King’s Speech debate, some views on the Gaza conflict are becoming dangerously oversimplified and binary—someone is either in favour of a ceasefire, or they are in favour of the war continuing. That is not just misleading, it is also provocative. Will the Government utilise a statement or hold a debate to confirm Britain’s position on supporting a humanitarian pause—a position that was adopted by United Nations Security Council resolution 2712 last night?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that issue. He has great experience in this area. He is right, and I think the view was expressed well last night that in calling for a ceasefire, what people have been asking is for Israel to deviate from its duty to protect its citizens and defend itself. If Israel puts down its arms, it ceases to exist. That is the situation now, and only the end of Hamas, or whatever might try to take their place, and a long-term solution that guarantees peace, will enable it to do that. That is very important. We have a proud track record of protecting international humanitarian law and protecting citizens. We monitor closely what goes on not just with this situation but with others, including the attention to detail and care that Israel is taking in ensuring that it is the right side of that line. My right hon. Friend will know that on recent operations, the Israeli Defence Forces will have had humanitarian and medical professionals embedded in its forces to ensure that that happens. I repeat what I said at the start of this question: whatever hon. Members decide to do in this place, based on their conscience, they should be allowed to do it. We can all take care of each other in this place when hon. Members, inevitably and sadly, come under threat for doing so.

November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month, which is a time for everyone committed to equality and anti-racism to reiterate their position on Islamophobia, and their dedication to stamping out that hate. It has now been five years since the all-party group on British Muslims published its definition of Islamophobia, which was backed by community groups, academics, political parties, trade unions, and many councils. It is four years since the Government committed to developing an official definition, and one year since they decided that tackling hatred against Muslims is not important and abandoned that plan. Given that Islamophobia is up by 600% since October, will the Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to come to the House and give a statement on his work on tackling Islamophobia?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point. I will certainly write to the Secretary of State, and to other Secretaries of State who will have an interest, to ensure that they have heard what he said. I recently visited Birmingham to show support to the Jewish community there in the wake of some of the attacks that they were having to endure. I was struck by the fact that the local Muslim community had come over to the Hebrew centre to show support, to condemn Hamas, and to stand with the Jewish community in the wake of those attacks. When I inquired why they had done that, they told me that as well as being the right thing to do, in the wake of 9/11, when the Muslim community had come under attack and been associated— wrongly—with those terrorist atrocities, the Jewish community came and stood between them and an angry mob, to protect them. What is often lost in the recent scenes we have seen is the decades of quiet work between different faith communities who all believe in the same God.

May I ask for a debate in Government time on the scrutiny of financial services regulation? Since we left the European Union, that has been undertaken by a Sub-Committee of the Treasury Committee. We have appointed expert advisers, we regularly take evidence on new consultations from the regulators and we have published reports to keep the House informed about that scrutiny for well over a year now.

I was therefore a bit surprised yesterday to see that the Liaison Committee in the other place has published a recommendation that it set up a financial services regulation scrutiny committee. Paragraphs 10 and 15 of its report suggest that that committee would substantially duplicate and potentially contradict ours, and of course it would cost Parliament a significant sum to set up.

If the Leader of the House is not able to spare Government time to debate this important topic, would she be kind enough to write to her counterpart in the other place to express the concerns of our cross-party membership that the proposed committee would duplicate the work that we are already doing and have thoroughly established in this House?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Madam Deputy Speaker was smiling at me to remind me, I think, of my responsibilities. I cannot ask the other place to change its scrutiny arrangements: it is responsible for those. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point about economy of effort, and I will certainly be able to make sure that the Lords has heard what she has said today. I hope that a way forward can be found that is in the interests of both Chambers.

Despite there being seven constituencies in the great county of Leicestershire, more than half of all the illegal migrants in hotels in the county are located in just one of them. My constituents thank the Government immensely for that enrichment of our lives.

Following the Supreme Court ruling yesterday against the Government’s Rwanda policy, can we have a statement and a debate in Government time on how we can secure this country’s borders and dissuade illegal migrants from travelling to our country? Hopefully, one day, we may get some hotels back for the enjoyment of the local population.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important point. I am sure he has met the Home Secretary about his first point. If he has not to date, I would encourage him to do so. I am sure that if we were to hold a debate on this matter, it would be very well attended. I would like to use Government time to bring forward further legislation that enables us to get the Rwanda scheme working, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman would support that. He will know that the Minister for Immigration has announced the closure of the first wave of asylum hotels. I do not know if any of those are in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but he will know that that is the first tranche of several.

Yesterday, more than 60 Members of this House and the other place met under the auspices of the all-party Britain-Israel parliamentary group and witnessed the video of the true atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October. Rarely have I seen Members of this House and the other place so silent and so horrified.

In contrast, overnight the Israel Defence Forces have facilitated the media to enter the Al-Shifa Hospital, the Rantisi children’s hospital and the Nasser Hospital, all of which have been demonstrated to be command and control centres and weapons centres. At the children’s hospital, there is clear evidence that hostages were kept there by Hamas and have subsequently been moved. That is in direct contrast to what many people have seen in the media across the world from those people who support Hamas.

May we have a statement from the Government, probably from a Foreign Office Minister in this place, on exactly what is happening in terms of progress in liberating Gaza from Hamas and the attempts being made by the IDF to minimise civilian casualties as this terrible war continues?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important point. He is correct that it is now clear that hospitals and other civilian places have been used by Hamas. That is not news: a 2015 report by Amnesty International alleges that the Shifa Hospital has served as a Hamas interrogation and torture centre for some time. To reassure the House, Members will know that the Israel Defence Forces are doing a huge amount and taking great care with regard to civilian lives, as they do the very difficult job of clearing these areas out and trying to destroy Hamas and their network. The IDF transferred incubators, baby food and additional medical supplies to hospital compounds, and on Sunday they opened up additional humanitarian corridors from various hospitals for civilians and patients to evacuate—on foot if they could, or via ambulance—to the south.

The Israeli-operated humanitarian corridors have reportedly been used by approximately a quarter of a million Palestinians. Today, I understand that Israel is facilitating the provision of fuel to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to enable the delivery of aid into Gaza. Its job is made harder by the operations of Hamas—I think that, in terms of getting people out, a third of the names on the list provided by Hamas to Egypt and Israel were known Hamas terrorists, leading to delays in civilians getting the medical attention they require. This is an incredibly difficult situation, and I urge all hon. Members to be kept informed and up to date about what is happening on the ground.

The Leader of the House may be aware that there is a sale in principle that will secure the future of Newport Wafer Fab in my constituency. I had just secured a meeting with the Minister, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), to discuss next steps when he sadly fell victim to the Prime Minister’s reshuffle this week. Can the Leader of the House tell me which Minister is now responsible for the semiconductor industry, and will she help me get a meeting in the diary as a matter of urgency?

I am pleased to hear the good news in the hon. Lady’s constituency. My job is to ensure that batons are not dropped during reshuffles, and I shall be very happy to assist her in ensuring that it is not dropped in this case.

I rise yet again to bring to the Leader of the House another tale of woe, incompetence and financial stupidity from Mid Devon Liberal Democrats. The elected idiots have driven the council to bankruptcy, because they will not make savings, but their useless leaders have given themselves a bung of £50,000, which is obviously ridiculous. I also notice that the head of scrutiny—another incompetent, for God’s sake—is living near luxury houses in Bampton, which are for sale; they are meant to be low-cost housing. Can we please have a debate—again, I ask the Government for this—so that this ridiculous council can be held to account and stop costing the taxpayers of Mid Devon millions because of its absolute incompetence?

This is a familiar refrain that we hear from my hon. Friend about the difficulties that his constituents are having to endure because of his local authority. He has provided his own answer by getting it on the record. I know that he will urge his constituents and others to make a different choice as soon as they can, at the next local elections, about who should be running their local authority.

This is not about Mid Devon. A large amount of electricity is generated from wind power in my constituency in the north of Scotland, and more will be generated in the future. It is necessary to get that electricity to where it is needed—conurbations in England and Wales—and the proposal is to take it south by means of colossal pylons. Those pylons and their proposed route are causing much concern to the communities who will be nearest to them. Constituents and people living in other parts of Scotland—this affects right hon. and hon. Members all over Scotland—have suggested to me that the electricity should be moved by means of subsea cables. This is a strategic decision for the UK for many years to come. I have written to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero requesting a meeting to discuss the matter. May I ask the right hon. Lady what advice she has for me in taking it forward?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for all his work on behalf of his constituents. I thank him for early warning of the topic he would raise. That was very helpful, because I have heard from the Minister that a meeting will be facilitated, and I will ensure that that happens in good order.

Farming communities and rural businesses in my constituency and across the country face many challenges. We have a new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in post, so could we have a debate in Government time so that he can outline how he intends to meet the challenges of the rural community?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter for the often unsung heroes of our country, who are doing a tremendous amount to feed us, build resilience and take care of our precious countryside. I will certainly make sure that the new Secretary of State has heard of his interest in this matter. He will know that the Secretary of State’s predecessor produced an action plan for rural communities, but the farming community will be a tremendous focus of the new Secretary of State. We must support farmers, as large enterprises, to do what we ask of them and to thrive.

We know that Conservative leaders past and present are fond of travel on private jets. In respect of David Cameron, it is a matter of public record that the Treasury Committee referred the question of his travel on the Greensill Capital private jet to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for tax purposes. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the outcome of those inquiries was considered by the House of Lords Appointments Commission before he was made Foreign Secretary?

My understanding is that all the processes for scrutinising and approving appointments to the House of Lords and ministerial office have been followed. I think that all investigations into David Cameron—I think I can still refer to him as that—prior to his elevation to the Lords have closed. However, some things are still open. GFG’s relationship with Greensill Capital is still part of investigations being conducted by the Serious Fraud Office. The SNP gave GFG £586 million to guarantee jobs at a smelting plant that never materialised, and the group also happened to sponsor its 2018 party conference.

Can we have a debate on local funding priorities and the importance of community consultations on them being fairly worded and accessible to all? Labour-led Cheshire East Council is considering imposing unwarranted car parking charges even in residential neighbourhoods, and is mooting closing Holmes Chapel and Middlewich leisure centres—community facilities that are vital to the wellbeing of all ages. The council is also considering stopping maintenance on 80 green sites, risking eyesores and tipping. Of those, 36 are on the lovely Grange Way estate in Sandbach in my constituency, where those amenity lands have been publicly maintained for over 50 years.

My hon. Friend will know that, under the Local Government Act 1999, a council must make arrangements to secure continuous improvement in the way that its functions are exercised, and have regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. It must consult local people about how it should fulfil that duty. There are mountains of good practice on the high street portal, which demonstrate that introducing parking charges where those core principles are not taken into account is often a disaster. I encourage my hon. Friend to look at that to help her in her valiant arguments against what the council is planning to do. The next questions to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are on 4 December, but I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard her concerns and ask Ministers to assist her in her important campaign.

Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), in this place I have repeatedly raised the scandal and injustice of standing charges on energy bills, which continue to rise. Finally, at long last, Ofgem is reviewing those charges and may get to a stage where it takes action to abolish them. Will the Leader of the House make a statement and lend her voice to calls for the abolition of these opaque charges, which hit the very poorest households hardest in my constituency and across the UK?

That is not in my portfolio, but as a constituency MP I have long talked about standing charges and it is good that they are being looked at. The Secretary of State is also keen to ensure that where the charges exist they are fair. It is quite wrong that in some cases people could be paying £30 a month, even if they are not using any energy at all. We are not helping the poorest in our society unless we are focused on ensuring that such charges are fair. The hon. Lady is right to point out that this issue is being looked at. She is not the first Member to mention it today and I shall bring it to the Secretary of State’s attention that she has also raised it.

The most powerful wind turbine in England went up recently in my constituency at Checkley Wood with local support. It can generate 4.1 MW, which is enough to power 2,500 homes. Will the Government ensure that local communities benefit from cheaper power, especially from single or very small cluster high-capacity turbines, which are so much less visually intrusive?

I thank my hon. Friend and his constituents for what they are doing to make our nation resilient. The Government want to ensure that communities that participate in such facilities also benefit from them. We have published a consultation on how the current system of community benefits in England can be improved. That closed in July and the Government will shortly bring forward the results, and no doubt further policies. I thank him for raising this matter.

May we have a debate on the appalling service offered by the Home Office? I have been working for over a year with a constituent who has been trying to get a visa for his family, including a young baby, who are currently in Pakistan as refugees, having fled Afghanistan. Despite jumping through numerous hoops, my constituent’s family still do not have a visa and the Pakistan authorities are seeking to deport refugees back to Afghanistan. I emailed the Home Office urgent inquiries inbox— I emphasise “urgent”—on 25 October, but after three weeks I have had no response. It really does beg the question: what exactly is the Home Office doing?

I am very sorry to hear that situation. If the hon. Gentleman would give my officials the details of that case, I will make sure it is raised immediately this afternoon. The Home Office offers, as I have advertised before, surgeries for colleagues with these sorts of cases, either online or in person in this place. If he has not made use of that to date I encourage him to do so, but given the urgency I shall make sure that the Home Office has heard what he has said this afternoon.

For far too many months now, constituents across Crawley have been subject to substandard services from Royal Mail, with some streets going undelivered for weeks at a time. Disabled constituents are having to go to their local post office to pick up their mail. In one road there was a dog attack at one house, so now the whole road is not being delivered. Unfortunately, the response from Royal Mail has been really inappropriate. If we are to continue with a universal service that people can rely on, we really do need to see improvements. May we please have a statement?

This is not the first case of that service slipping that I have heard about recently. It is not just about people not receiving documents in a timely way; it can also be about people not receiving medicine and other important things, or missing hospital and doctors’ appointments because they are not informed about them. It is an important issue, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard about the case that he has raised in connection with Crawley, but I will emphasise in my letter that I know the matter is of concern to many Members on both sides of the House, and will ask the Secretary of State to ensure that Royal Mail is being held to account for the service standards that it is required to deliver.

Yesterday the deputy chairman of the Conservative party advocated breaking the law in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Government’s inhumane and illegal proposals concerning Rwanda. May I ask the Leader of the House what steps are available to Members to hold senior members of the governing party to account when they make such damaging statements which undermine the rule of law? May I also ask her what she thinks this means for the self-proclaimed party of law and order?

One of the reasons we are testing these matters in the courts and why we are having to proceed at this pace—we want to move faster—is that we want to ensure that what we are proposing is compliant with the law. If it is not compliant with the law, it will not work. That is why we are going through this process, and that is why, if necessary, we will do what we have done before and will continue to do, and make amendments to the statute book to enable us to do this. We are absolutely determined and united in our mission to ensure that we can control and protect the borders of this country. The criminal gangs who wish to bring people here illegally—people who are placed in tremendous jeopardy—will continue to adapt their model of business to try to get around the new measures that we introduce, but we are going to continue, and we are beating them. Boat crossings are down by a third in the last 12 months. We wish to end them completely: that is our mission, and that is what we will do.

The biggest transport hub in my constituency, Barnstaple bus station, has not reopened since the pandemic, which has limited users’ access to shelter and toilets. The Liberal Democrat-run district council is not pursuing options to reopen the space to the public, such as by finding an operator for the café. This is putting users off taking the bus into town, which can have a knock-on effect on businesses in the high street, especially as we enter the crucial pre-Christmas period. Ahead of Small Business Saturday, may we have a debate on the role of councils in supporting our high streets by providing key facilities?

I am sorry to say that the performance of Liberal Democrat-run local authorities has been something of a theme in this session of business questions, and I am very sorry to hear about the situation in North Devon. As my hon. Friend will know, we have made available not only funding but advice and support to enable high streets to thrive, and also to enable community asset transfers to take place. I saw an example of that when I visited a local social enterprise in my hon. Friend’s constituency which is helping town centres and villages to continue as thriving communities. This is so important that any delay in ensuring that people can enjoy these facilities is inexcusable. I thank my hon. Friend for the campaign that she is running on behalf of her constituents, and I will ask the Secretary of State to see whether there is anything further he can advise about what she can do. I will advertise Small Business Saturday on 2 December to all Members, and I thank my hon. Friend again for the work she is doing for her constituency.

May I begin by saying how encouraged I am, and we all are, by the fact that the Leader of the House comes here every week to answer our questions and our requests? It is, hopefully, appreciated by everyone— certainly by most of us. I think it important to put that on record.

In an October attack in Tunisia, a non-functioning synagogue was set on fire and seriously damaged during a protest. Police did not stop the attack. Various attacks in the Russian North Caucasus have left local Jewish communities afraid for their safety. There has been no word, or no response, from the Russian Government on those attacks. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning the rising tide of antisemitism resulting from the Israel-Hamas war, and will she ask the relevant Minister from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to call for proper governmental responses to antisemitism in the regions that I have mentioned?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. The feeling is entirely mutual, as we are all very grateful to him for raising particular cases of appalling things that have happened around the world. They may not be headline news, but they are devastating to those communities, and particularly to faith communities that are being persecuted.

I will make sure that the new Foreign Secretary has heard what the hon. Gentleman says and understands his keen interest in this area. It is incumbent on all of us to recognise and tackle antisemitism, which has been around for a long time but is now on the rise. We need to combat it, and we need to ensure that communities, wherever they are in the UK or around the world, feel able to go about their business in safety and security, and feel able to wear symbols of their faith without fear as they live their daily lives. It is our first duty to ensure that, particularly in the United Kingdom, and I thank him for reminding us of it each week.

Can we have a debate in Government time on rural broadband and mobile connectivity? When I was elected in 2019, superfast broadband connectivity in Hinckley and Bosworth stood at only 0.2%; it is now over 67%. I urge anyone listening to contact my office to help increase that number. There are still hard and stubborn blackspots for mobile and broadband connectivity, so can we have a debate to make sure these vital services are there for my constituents?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter on behalf of his constituents. Basic 5G is now available in about 85% of UK premises and the surrounding areas, five years ahead of schedule, but of course we want people to benefit from this opportunity as soon as possible. We published the UK wireless infrastructure strategy in April, setting out a new ambition for a nationwide network of higher-quality, stand-alone 5G in all populated areas by 2030. It also set out new 6G strategies, alongside an investment of up to £100 million in future telecoms research. I will make sure the responsible Minister has heard that more needs to be done in my hon. Friend’s constituency. This is vital to ensure that we see the economic growth we want in all parts of the UK.