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Commons Chamber

Volume 741: debated on Thursday 30 November 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 30 November 2023

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Business and Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

CPTPP: Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

1. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership on small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK. (900367)

The CPTPP is one of the major benefits of Brexit. It has the potential to deliver billions of pounds to our economy and benefits small businesses across the UK. The deal delivers lower tariffs, reduced red tape, and cutting-edge digital provisions that directly support small businesses to trade more. It has an SME chapter committing all countries to make the agreement accessible for SMEs. I know that will be welcome news for my hon. Friend ahead of Small Business Saturday.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. It is great news that we are progressing membership of CPTPP and I welcome what she says about SMEs. Many SMEs will be new to exporting and need expert advice. Will she outline what particular plans there are to help small businesses?

We will ensure that our support offer for SMEs will help firms build their capability to import and export under our free trade agreements. We have started preparing for CPTPP entering into force. We will be producing written guidance on to ensure businesses are equipped with the knowledge they need to access those opportunities. Specifically, our export support service, network of international trade advisers, export academy, and in-market support services will also help businesses to access opportunities in CPTPP markets.

In my constituency of Strangford SMEs are an integral, core part of creating jobs, putting wages into pockets, and ensuring that people can progress and learn more trades. We want to be part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland pushing for the CPTPP. What can the Secretary of State do to help me and my businesses in Strangford to be a part of that and to move forward?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we had the Northern Ireland investment summit a few months ago. We met lots of businesses and investors who talked about how they want to take advantage of these markets. In fact, we have had one of the first big investors into a factory in Belfast. What I can do is help him with some of the materials we have around the export academy and the export support service, which he can hand out to businesses in his constituency who want to find out more.

For UK businesses to benefit from agreements like the CPTPP, we must have a clear plan to boost small business exports. Labour has a plan to remove export barriers, with clear information and support. That is in stark contrast to the Government’s approach, which has been a catalogue of failures, including the recent fiasco with the Government’s export website, which was so deficient that firms were forced to seek essential information from foreign Government websites. What immediate steps will the Department take to provide some stability and ensure UK businesses can excel in exporting?

I think the hon. Gentleman might be talking about something that happened three years ago, which we fixed. He talks about the export support service website. Businesses have actually been praising it. [Interruption.] Businesses have been praising it; they very much have been. We have an expert toolkit, which has been developed by business and trade officials. What is interesting is that all he says is that Labour has a plan to remove export barriers. We have actually been removing export barriers. Labour talks about a plan with no detail. No one is taking it seriously at all. The Conservative party is the party that represents business in the House of Commons.

Audit and Corporate Governance Reform

2. What recent progress her Department has made on bringing forward legislative proposals on reform of audit and corporate governance. (900368)

We remain committed to reform. Significant reforms have already been delivered to the Financial Reporting Council to strengthen its capabilities and drive up audit quality.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland has branded the Government’s decision to leave the audit and governance reform Bill out of the King’s Speech as a lost opportunity and a huge blow to the interests of UK businesses and the public. The Government have been promising the Bill since 2021. Will they reconsider that backward step and make the UK’s corporate regulatory framework fit for purpose in the 21st century?

Time and again, Opposition parties seek to wrap businesses up in red tape, whereas Conservatives are keen to cut red tape. Consultation with businesses revealed concerns about imposing additional reporting requirements, while the Government are looking to simplify and streamline existing requirements.

This week, the Business and Trade Committee took evidence from Wilko. Business collapses such as that of Wilko, Carillion, Thomas Cook and Patisserie Valerie have been a consequence of failures in the audit process, costing people their jobs and hurting investors and suppliers. Audit reform was recommended by the then Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in 2019, and the Government offered to bring forward a draft Bill. I know the Minister wants to reduce red tape, but does he agree that some form of action is now pretty urgent?

I was delighted to give the Select Committee evidence on Wilko. The administration report on Wilko is continuing and clearly we need to see the findings, but investigations so far have not shown that director misconduct played an instrumental part in Wilko’s failure, although I think it is clear to all concerned that there were failures in management that led to the company’s demise.

How strange the change from minor to major in that response. Financial transparency and accountability are essential components of economic stability. For three years now, the Government have been promising legislation and improved checks on company finances, but they have repeatedly failed to deliver. How can the Minister justify leaving the audit and governance Bill out of the King’s Speech, when it is supported by businesses, regulators and auditors alike?

We work very closely with the Financial Reporting Council. No one can deny that the FRC has changed its approach completely and is now a much more effective regulator. Sir Jon Thompson did a fantastic job when he was there, and the current chief executive, Richard Moriarty, and chair, Jan du Plessis, are following his work. We are confident that the FRC can make sure that the UK’s corporate regime works effectively, without tying businesses up in red tape.

Fire and Rehire

The Government consulted on a draft statutory code of practice on fire and rehire earlier this year. The Government response and the final version of the code will be published in spring next year. The code sets out employers’ responsibilities when seeking to change contractual terms and conditions of employment, and is designed to ensure that dismissal and re-engagement is used only as the last resort.

The very fact that only last week P&O Cruises felt able to say it would impose new contractual terms on workers through fire and rehire tactics shows that some employers still feel that they can use these tactics with impunity, in spite of the Government’s promise to clamp down on them. I thank the Minister for his answer, but is there any way he could bring in the legislation more urgently, so that we can protect our workers properly?

I agree with the sentiment behind the hon. Lady’s question in terms of bringing legislation forward as quickly as possible. Of course, we have to get this right. I have to say that P&O was not a fire and rehire situation; it was a fire-only situation, which was strongly condemned by this Government and by many other stakeholders, and a civil investigation is ongoing into the matters surrounding that case. But yes, the hon. Lady is right, and we are keen to get the new statutory code of practice in place as soon as possible. We expect that to be in spring next year, and once it is in force, the employment tribunal can increase employees’ compensation by up to 25% when an employer fails unreasonably to comply with the code.

Last week, concerns were raised that the Carnival group was making provision to fire and rehire hundreds of staff working on P&O Cruises and Cunard Line, reviving memories of last year, when P&O Ferries sacked over 800 of its employees and replaced them with agency labour, while the Government sat back and let it happen. Does the Minister agree that the only way to provide workers with the security they deserve is by legislating to outlaw fire and rehire tactics once and for all? If not, it is time the Government came clean with the British public and admitted that they will always side with bad bosses.

That is not the case at all. We take these matters very seriously, but we do not think that completely banning fire and rehire is the right thing to do because there are some situations in which companies need to restructure quickly. We think that employees’ proper consultation rights should be observed. Where they are not observed and where an employer does not follow the statutory code of practice, employment tribunals can impose a significant uplift on redundancy payments. We think that is the best way to deal with this, by striking a balance between companies and their workers.

Fire and rehire is rife in this country. Research published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that, between March 2020 and July 2021, 43,000 employers changed their employees’ contracts through fire and rehire techniques. The Government promised in March 2022 that they would take action following the P&O scandal, and we now learn that it will be a full two years since that time before anything actually changes. Given the propensity for using fire and rehire tactics, can the Minister tell us how many employees he estimates will have had their contract changed through fire and rehire in that two-year period?

I do not have that number to hand. We want to strike a balance between employers and their workforces. We condemn what P&O did. We need to bring in new measures on fire and rehire, and we have committed to do that. A consultation is clearly needed to make sure those provisions are fair on both businesses and workers. That is what we are doing right now, and we intend to bring those provisions before the House next spring.

High Street Outlets

In addition to small business rate relief, under which businesses with a rateable value of less than £12,000 pay no business rates whatsoever, in his autumn statement the Chancellor announced a further business rate support package, worth £4.3 billion over the next five years, to support small businesses and the high street.

My constituents in Flitwick have been dismayed over the past few years as their high street has been gradually hollowed out, losing much-loved businesses and, recently, both their post office and banking facilities. Sadly, that is far too familiar for people in towns and villages across my constituency, where businesses are weighed down by high cost pressures and a business rate system that no longer seems fit for purpose or fair. When will the Government commit to bringing forward the comprehensive business rates reform that my businesses are crying out for, so that we can get back to revitalised, much-loved high streets?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and welcome him to his place in the House.

Of course, we are very concerned about the high street. The pressures on the high street are largely caused by changing consumer habits, but the Government have stepped in to ease pressures, such as through the £20 billion energy bill support scheme and the £17 billion business rate package.

The hon. Gentleman talks about completely scrapping the current business rate system, which Labour has committed to do, but it is incumbent on Labour to set out how it will replace the £25 billion that business rates currently add to the Exchequer. What is the solution? It is not right for him or others simply to say they will scrap that £25 billion without setting out how they will replace it.

The vanishing of Debenhams, Wilko and Paperchase has left huge holes in our town centres— I have lost a Wilko in both Ealing and Acton. Analysis shows that the incentivisation of out-of-town retail is the culprit. Labour has a five-point plan to revive our high streets, putting communities first. What are the Government doing about all this?

I do not accept that, although out- of-town shopping can put pressure on the high street. Local authorities have to be very careful when they give planning consent for out-of-town shopping centres that could put pressure on the high street. That is clearly an important part of the planning process, but it is not the responsibility of central Government, of course. I would be interested to see that five-point plan, but if it includes the scrapping of business rates, which raise £25 billion, I ask the Labour Front Bench team once again—I have yet to receive an answer—where is that money coming from?

Labour-run Leeds City Council has decided that it wants to bring parking charges to my market town of Wetherby—it currently has no parking charges. Does my hon. Friend agree that the investments we are making are all very well, but if local authorities make it harder for shoppers by increasing their costs, that will choke off the high street rather than help it?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and he is absolutely right to say that some local authorities see parking charges as potential revenue raisers, but this is in effect a tax on business. Local authorities can, of course, make charges where appropriate, but they should only cover the cost of maintaining those car parks; they should not be a punitive tax on businesses.

There are streets in the west end of this city, important to our economy, that would certainly benefit from the ability of tourists to reclaim VAT, aren’t there?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point that this Department has looked at carefully. We are concerned about the impact of the withdrawal of that tax concession on businesses, not just for these businesses themselves, but for the other businesses that rely on foreign visitors—I am talking about hoteliers, restauranteurs and so on. We are keen to look at this matter. The Chancellor committed in his autumn statement to review the evidence to see what impact this was having. We will look at that with great interest and make our views known strongly to the Exchequer.

Exports: Small and Medium-sized Businesses

The Government’s export support for SMEs includes the export support service; the export academy; more than 400 export champions; our network of nearly 200 trade advisers; and support provided around the world through the international market service. Just last week, my noble Friend the Minister with responsibility for exports announced that UK Export Finance is introducing more flexible fast-track financing for SMEs, making it easier than ever for UK firms to sell into international markets.

Last week, I welcomed the Duke of Gloucester to my constituency to award local SME GaraDry the King’s award for enterprise for its innovation in international trade. How can such businesses have confidence in the Government’s support for SMEs when Britain’s export growth is among the worst of the G7 economies and is forecast to be falling?

I certainly welcome the royal visit that the hon. Lady had in her constituency; it is always fantastic to see that support, particularly for exporters. However, I think she is a bit off on the data. When we look at export data, we see that we had £877 billion-worth of exports in the 12 months to the end of September 2023. We are heading towards the £1 trillion export target, and that figure is up by almost £200 billion—or 29%—on the figure from five years ago, which was before Brexit.

In 2021, the Government launched a rebranded trade show programme pilot to great fanfare, but between November 2021 and March 2022 only two businesses in the UK were funded under the programme. We now hear that the scheme has been shelved. Will the Minister explain what has happened to that initiative, which has launched a number of household British fashion brands abroad and which served as a vital gateway under the last Labour Government for SMEs to access new markets?

The last Labour Government were, of course, in office rather a long time ago. It is not always incumbent on successive Governments more than a decade later to keep previous Labour Government schemes going. The scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers was a pilot, which did not yield the successes that we might have hoped. However, I will take no criticism from him and the Labour party for the support we are giving to exporters. We are spending £200 million over this spending review period to support SMEs to grow and succeed internationally, and we have a record to be commended.

As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Kenya, may I welcome the fact that this week the Government held the successful global investment summit and are taking steps to help British businesses to export? I recently returned from Nairobi, where I visited some of the UK’s flagship investments, including in infrastructure and clean energy. Will the Minister provide an update on the Africa investment summit next year? I also ask that the UK continues to bang the drum for British businesses to export to Kenya, the gateway to east Africa.

First, let me commend my hon. Friend for winning “Speech of the Year” at last night’s The Spectator parliamentary awards. She has continued her fine form today. She does an amazing job for the country as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Kenya, and her recent visit in September was a big success, particularly on the infrastructure side of things. She has already referred to railways and other infrastructure. She mentioned the UK-Africa investment summit, which will take place in London next year and will further our engagement with Kenya and other African countries, fostering modern partnerships in trade and investment in areas such as resilient infrastructure, clean technologies and renewable energy.

I welcome my right hon. Friend back to his post. I pay tribute to him and to the Secretary of State for the international trade deals that they have struck during their period in office. The UK has strategic relationships with a number of Gulf nations. What progress is being made on a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council? If it is more challenging to strike a deal across all nations, what bilateral trade agreements can we explore in order to exploit the opportunity for those nations to invest significantly in the UK?

I am excited by the prospect of the deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council, with which the Secretary of State is very much engaged, and I am looking forward to being re-engaged with it. It is a huge opportunity for us, as the latest figures show that total trade between the UK and the Gulf is worth more than £60 billion. We are looking forward to moving the negotiation forward and getting a very good deal for the UK.

I welcome the Minister back to the Department for Business and Trade, and I look forward to helping him hopefully to do better this time around. According to the International Monetary Fund, over the past decade British food and drink exports, including from SMEs, rose by just 3%, which was the lowest growth of any G7 country. The US, Canada, Italy and Japan all saw their exports grow by between 30% and 95%. Government Ministers will not negotiate a veterinary agreement with the EU, which would help, they have cut funding for trade missions, and now the Secretary of State has cut funding to go to trade shows too. Why will Ministers not share our ambitions for Britain to have the fastest export growth rate of any G7 country?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman and I have been around in these jobs for a while. He was possibly the last Trade Minister under the last Labour Government, so I will not be taking any lectures from him on how to improve UK exports. We have been financing dozens of global trade missions and we are spending £200 million over the spending review period on exports in general. On the export figures, he neglected to mention services exports, which totalled £463 billion in the 12 months to September 2023. That is a huge increase of 42% on our performance in 2018, before Brexit.

Retail Crime

6. What assessment she has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of retail crime on high street businesses. (900373)

The Government are clear that violent and abusive behaviour towards any public-facing worker is never acceptable, and we recognise the implications that such incidents can have on businesses as well as victims. On 23 October, the Government launched a retail crime action plan, which includes a commitment to prioritise police attendance at the scene where violence has been used towards shop staff, where an offender has been detained by store security or where evidence needs to be secured by police personnel. The Government also launched Project Pegasus, a unique private-public partnership that will radically improve the way retailers are able to share intelligence with the police.

In recent weeks, I, like many colleagues, have visited shops in my constituency as part of USDAW’s—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—Freedom from Fear campaign. I have heard from staff about the daily levels of verbal and sometimes physical abuse they face, and the huge losses from theft. Will the Minister say more about what the Government are doing to stem that tide of lawlessness, particularly for independent retailers who may not be part of the Pegasus Project? Will she also say how much is being lost to theft, because that costs all of us as customers, as well as costing retailers?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This is not a victimless crime; it impacts shops, workers and customers. Credit is due to the hon. Gentleman for visiting the shops in his constituency. Overall crime is down by 54% since 2010, and down by 10% since last year. However, he is right that shoplifting is up, which is why the action plan is so important. The action plan works for our high streets because it is about ensuring that the police are determined to collect evidence and to go after repeat offenders and organised gangs.

Project Pegasus is key because it is a public-private partnership. We have created an extra offence, with a longer sentence, for those who are violent towards a shop worker. With those extra programmes of work and evidence collection, more people will be convicted, so those who are involved in crime against shops will spend some time in prison.

Regulators: Statutory Duties

8. If she will make a comparative assessment of the adequacy of the number of statutory duties of the Competition and Markets Authority and other regulators reporting to her Department. (900376)

The CMA has a primary statutory duty to promote competition both inside and outside the UK for the benefit of consumers, which provides the CMA with a clear, strong focus on delivering for consumers. In our recent steer to the CMA, we did point out how very important it is that it focuses also on economic growth.

Regulators such as the CMA have huge powers, so Parliament must give clear instructions about how those powers should and should not be used. Does the Minister agree that the CMA’s instruction is a model of the kind of clear and strong legal duty that leaves no doubt in regulators’ minds about the job that Parliament has asked them to do. Will he join me in pushing for equally clear and focused duties for other economic regulators where, sadly, the same cannot currently be said?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his very important work in this area. I know that reducing the regulatory burden is a cause that is very close to his heart, and to the hearts of those in the Chamber today who supported his amendment in the recent Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. That view is also shared by myself and by the Secretary of State. We are very keen to make sure that, as well as ensuring that sectors are well regulated, our economic regulators focus on competition and economic growth.

I disagree. The Competition and Markets Authority is not only the dog that does not bark, but the dog that does not bite. We see multinational corporations and investment funds of such a size that they have more power than a sovereign Government. When will the Government give the CMA the powers and authority needed to tackle the corporate monopolies and cartels that have so much sway over our lives?

The hon. Member raises an important matter. That is why the Government are legislating in this space, through the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which gives the CMA huge new powers, particularly over some of our largest online platforms—platforms that have what we describe as strategic market status. This is world-leading legislation that will tackle many of the examples of detriment that he will be aware of and that he raises in his question today.

High Street Postal Services

The Government protect the post office branch network by setting access criteria and minimum service levels to be provided by branches across the country. More post offices have opened this year than have closed. The network is as large today as it has been for five years, with around 11,700 branches open, above the 11,500 target that we set for the Post Office.

The Minister mentioned that more post offices are opening. Actually, they are closing. The Clapham Common post office in my Vauxhall constituency has been earmarked for closure and there are no current plans to replace it. I am fighting this closure, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) and local ward councillors in the Communications Workers Union. This is a pattern that we are seeing across the country. It has been identified that 260 postal shopfronts have closed across the country in the past 10 years. With those closures, we are seeing elderly and vulnerable people—people who need their post offices on the high street—having to travel further. Will the Minister tell me what more he and the Government are doing to protect these vital services?

The hon. Member is absolutely right to raise this issue. The Post Office has launched a public consultation regarding the Clapham Common post office. The Post Office maintains that locals will continue to have good access to services. There is a post office within a mile of the Clapham Road branch, and three further branches within two miles. Nevertheless, the Government support the post office network with a significant amount of financial support—£2.5 billion over the past 10 years—so we do continue to support post offices. We know how important they are to constituents and other colleagues in this House. I am very happy to meet her to discuss this particular case.

CPTPP: Ratification

10. What her planned timetable is for the ratification of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. (900378)

We are working at pace to ratify the CPTPP, which we hope to bring into force next year. We are the first European country to join the CPTPP, and I know how powerful it will be for British businesses and consumers, which is why this Government are progressing legislation as quickly as possible, with Second Reading of the Bill having taken place in the other place on 21 November. We are already playing our part as the second largest economy in the agreement. The Secretary of State met other CPTPP Ministers two weeks ago in San Francisco to discuss the blossoming future of the agreement.

Across the House, over a period of time, Members working with organisations such as the Trade Justice Movement have expressed concern about the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement procedures within treaties, because they restrict our own country’s ability to regulate. I raised that issue in September and suggested that, as the Government have done with Australia and New Zealand, we agree in a separate letter that the settlement procedure will not be included in this treaty. I was then told—rather curtly—that it was too late. Actually, it is not too late. There is the potential to do a side letter, as we have with other countries, to exclude an investor-state dispute settlement procedure. In the light of the Government’s negotiating remit for the free trade agreement with Canada, the Government are specifically seeking to exclude that procedure. I wonder whether the Government might think again.

It is good to be sparring with the right hon. Gentleman again from the Dispatch Box—we have both had a few ups and downs since we last went head to head. CPTPP does not compromise the UK’s right to regulate at all; it expressly preserves the rights of states to regulate proportionately, fairly and in the public interest. It is worth reminding the House that the UK has never lost an ISDS case. Such procedures actually help to protect UK investments abroad. British investments in Canada totalled £40.6 billion in 2020-21, which will be covered for the first time by these protections. As I say, if we cannot trust Canada in international affairs, who can we trust? I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the deal cannot be ratified until the legislation has been approved by Parliament and the deal has completed the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process.

Business Exports

The Government’s published export strategy focuses on addressing the challenges that UK businesses face when exporting. The Government continue to promote exporting, and to support companies through our network of international trade advisers, sector specialists, and the export support service. All our services can be accessed on

In my constituency I have companies such as EyeOL, Lindal Valve, Peli Biothermal, Friction Marketing, Signature Flatbreads and 198 smaller businesses, all of which export globally. The smaller businesses export through Amazon. That is fantastic, as there is evidence that businesses that export can pay their staff more, but what is the best way to get businesses that have not yet realised that the world is their marketplace exporting not just to Europe but around the whole world?

I commend my hon. Friend for being a long-standing champion of his constituency exporters. As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to South Africa and Mauritius, he knows only too well the importance of exports. The Government’s export strategy is clear. We have a clear programme to assist small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly first-time exporters. All of our services can be accessed via, and we have a network of international trade advisers locally for Bedfordshire who are able to help as well.

Business in Essex: Exports

As a fellow Essex MP, I can assure my right hon. Friend that this matter is close to my heart. Businesses can access support through, including our self-serve digital offer, the export support service, international trade advisers and UK Export Finance. My Department is helping Essex companies such as Icon LifeSaver in Colchester to secure potential sales of over £10 million in the US, Colombia and Estonia. Kestrel Liner Agencies, which is headquartered in my constituency and last year received its third Queen’s Award for international trade, has also benefited. We are focused on priority trade barriers in particular, which could boost UK exports by around £20 billion over five years.

The Secretary of State will know inside out what the wonderful county of Essex has to offer when it comes to business exports. We have companies such as Wilkin & Sons and Wicks Manor, and many other producers who will sell the produce that households across the country will enjoy this Christmas, at home and abroad. Will the Secretary of State highlight how she is working across Government with other Departments to reduce the barriers to export that cover, for example, produce, manufacturing costs, energy costs, and even the processing of animals?

Removing barriers to trade is one of this Government’s top priorities. My right hon. Friend will know many of the things that the Government have been doing, including subsidising energy bills, because we recognise the difficulties that manufacturers and processing plants face. At the moment I am particularly focused on resolving trade barriers. We have resolved 178 trade barriers worth more than £6.5 billion to businesses, including those in Essex, over the next five years. Food producers in her constituency specifically will be pleased to know that just last month, when I was in Japan for the G7, we resolved a barrier restricting exports of cooked poultry from the UK to Japan, which I think will provide a festive boost to UK exporters worth an estimated £10 million over five years.

Arms Export Licences: Israel

13. Whether she has made an assessment of the potential merits of revoking arms export licences to Israel. (900381)

Since the barbaric terrorist acts by Hamas against Israel on 7 October and the subsequent conflict in the region, the Government have been monitoring the situation very closely. The UK supports Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and take action against terrorism, provided that that is within the bounds of international humanitarian law. Export licences are kept under careful and continual review as standard, and we are able to amend licences or refuse new licence applications if they are inconsistent with the strategic export licensing criteria.

No one is suggesting that Israel does not have the right to defend itself—but, as the Secretary of State says and we agree, within the bounds of international law. The mass killing of civilians in Gaza should concern us all. Without resorting to platitudes about the relative toughness of the UK’s arms export controls, could she please identify which arms export licences are currently in force, including open licences for end use by the Israeli defence and security forces, and provide details of them to the House?

I do not believe that is something that I am able to do or should do. I can tell the hon. and learned Lady that last year we granted 114 standard individual export licences for military goods valued at £42 million to Israel. If there is a specific issue that she would like to highlight, we are prepared to look at it, but she will know that security and defence exports are not necessarily best discussed on the Floor of the House or in public, for obvious reasons.

A state that supplies military equipment that is used in the commission of violations of international humanitarian law is at risk of complicity in a humanitarian catastrophe. In continuing with those licences and supplying UK arms to Israel, what assessment does the Secretary of State make of the potential for UK Government complicity, if Israel is found to have committed war crimes in Gaza by the ongoing International Criminal Court investigation?

I am quite surprised that there is not a word of condemnation, and the implication that the UK is complicit is really not the sort of thing we would expect from a British Member of Parliament in this House. I completely disagree with the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Government take our defence export responsibilities extremely seriously and operate some of the most robust and transparent export controls in the world.

India Trade Deal

I am pleased to confirm that advanced talks with India are ongoing. We are in round 13, with discussions currently focused on goods, market access, services and investment. We remain clear that we will not sign until we have a free trade agreement that fully benefits the UK people and economy. We are focused on the deal, not the date.

Total trade in goods and services between the UK and India was £36.3 billion in the year to March 2023. An FTA with the fifth-largest economy in the world, and one of the fastest-growing, would be a massive boost to the UK economy and put UK businesses at the front of the queue to supply India’s growing middle class, which is expected to be a quarter of a billion consumers by 2050. This is an important exploitation of Brexit, so will the Minister do all he can to bring this deal over the line as soon as possible for Britain?

My right hon. Friend of course has a lot of experience in complex negotiations and I can say that we, like him, will not be satisfied until we have the right deal. He is right that a deal with India would be a big step forward in the UK’s post-Brexit strategy to refocus UK trade on the Indo-Pacific region, which represents one third of global GDP. My negotiators and I continue to work at pace and we will negotiate until we have secured the right deal. I warmly welcome his interest in doing more trade with India.

Steel Industry

The Government recognise the vital role of the steel sector, and are working with the sector to achieve a sustainable future. We have announced £500 million of support towards a joint £1.25 billion investment with Tata Steel to achieve the transformation of Port Talbot, and we are also in talks with British Steel. We have provided the steel sector with £730 million in energy costs relief since 2013, and announced the British industry supercharger—decisive measures to reduce energy costs for energy-intensive industries.

In communities across the country—particularly in Wales through Port Talbot—steel has created high-paying, productive jobs for generations, but we are the only G7 country with a steel industry in decline. Thousands of jobs are being lost. What we need is a long-term plan that supports steelworkers and their communities to maintain those good jobs into the future and transition to net zero, so why is the Minister making short-term decisions instead of delivering on the long-term industrial strategy that communities such as mine, and our steel industry and workers, desperately need?

That is just not correct, especially the comparisons to the G7. The decisions over Port Talbot have been hanging around for quite some time, and we were able to work with Tata Steel to ensure that jobs were confirmed long into the future. Tata Steel employs more than 8,000 people, and that was under serious threat until the investment was secured. Now consultation is taking place with the unions, and the reality is, as the media have noted, that the unions themselves are not sure how they want to take this forward. We were absolutely sure that we wanted steelmaking in that area and that jobs should be secured. That is why we offered the support that we did.

I have written again to the Secretary of State to seek specific confirmation of the Government’s position on a virgin steelmaking sovereign capability in this country. Will she ensure that that specific question is addressed when I receive a response?

My hon. Friend is first and foremost an advocate for the steelworks and steelworkers in her constituency. Obviously that letter will be on its way, and I thank her so much for raising it.

We are used to this Government flip-flopping all over the place. It would be funny if it were not so serious for business, exports and jobs. So when we heard the Treasury telling everyone who would listen that the Government’s response to the carbon border adjustment mechanism would be in the autumn statement, we were not surprised that it was not. The future of steel investment and growth relies on a clear and certain path from Government. We cannot have our business disadvantaged any more, so what is the decision on the CBAM? If this Government cannot decide, is it not time to make way for one who can?

Decisions have to be taken while responding to the consultations that take place. We have been absolutely determined to ensure that steelmaking will remain competitive in the UK, which is why we have been able to support the steel sector with high energy costs and put over £1 billion in place to deal with decarbonisation technology. When it comes to Tata, the support we have pledged involves an investment of over £1 billion to ensure that jobs remain secure in the future, and negotiations continue with British Steel as well. That is the support that we have provided and will continue to provide for steel in the UK.

Topical Questions

This week, I hosted more than 200 global CEOs and investors at the UK global investment summit, which was an extraordinary success. The Prime Minister set a £9.5 billion target to beat, and we tripled it, securing £29.5 billion of investment and more than 12,000 jobs. The success of the GIS is a vote of confidence in the UK. My Department’s work, supported by the £20 billion business tax cut in the autumn statement, is securing our country as a world-leading business and investment destination.

Many people are aware of the incredible story of the Redcar steelworks site being reborn as Teesworks, creating 20,000 jobs and unlocking £2 billion in private investment. Fewer people are aware that Stockton’s very own freeport business park is being built at the airport. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Teesside, as the home of the UK’s first and biggest freeport, offers a unique opportunity to those investing in the industries of the future?

I do agree, and my hon. Friend is quite right to praise the progress that has been made on delivering Teesside freeport. The freeport has already been successful in securing several landmark investments, including from SeAH Wind, which is investing £650 million in building an offshore wind manufacturing facility. That will create around 750 high-skilled jobs and builds on the measures announced in the autumn statement last week to further strengthen the offer of UK freeports. My Department will continue to work with freeports, in Teesside and elsewhere, on securing high-value investment.

This is the Department in charge of growth, investment and exports. In the latest figures, following the autumn statement, growth has been downgraded. Business investment is still forecast to be the lowest in the G7, and goods exports have declined, both to the EU and to non-EU countries. Given that there are so many amazing businesses and sectors in the UK, how do the Government account for their poor performance?

I will not allow the hon. Gentleman to spin his way out of what is actually a very good news story for the Government. The fact is that the UK has overtaken France to become the world’s eighth-largest manufacturing nation. We are the world’s fifth-largest exporter. We are growing faster than Germany and France, and have received more investment than them combined. We are the top investment destination, certainly for financial services. We are doing well. Perhaps this is the moment for me to tell him what businesses told me at the global investment summit: that they were unimpressed by the Labour shadow Ministers they had met; that their offer was unimaginative; and that they were repetitive, and had no vision for the future of business in the UK.

We follow the Secretary of State’s Twitter feed, and quite simply, we do not believe her.

I want to ask the Secretary of State about late payment. In the nine years that the Government have spent consulting on late payments, 450,000 businesses have gone under while waiting to be paid. Why do the Government’s new plans on late payment apply only to firms contracting with the Government? Why do they not rather follow our proposal to make sure that all public companies disclose their payment practices?

I have been working with the Federation of Small Businesses and others on late payments. The hon. Gentleman will have heard the measures announced in the autumn statement; this is an issue that the Government take very seriously. I disagree that we are implementing our plans in a partial way. We will resolve this issue, but I am afraid that I completely disagree with the Opposition: have done quite a lot on this, and many businesses have praised the measures that we announced in the autumn statement.

T4. On 14 November, the Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the US state of Florida. This is the seventh such agreement that the Government have signed with a state in the US, and I understand that there are ongoing discussions with other states. Obviously, that is welcome. Will the Secretary of State give us an assessment of the effect of this approach, and tell us what the next steps are to getting a more general trade agreement with the United States? (900394)

We are ready to have a free trade agreement with the US, but it is not undertaking free trade agreements with any country. That is, of course, disappointing, but it knows that we stand ready. That is why we have the state MOU programme. The latest figures show that UK-US trade has reached £310 billion. We are the biggest investor in Florida. I was pleased to meet Governor DeSantis earlier this month, and I also met the California Governor, Gavin Newsom, who wanted to be even faster in signing an MOU with the UK. They believe that this country has a lot of opportunity, and they want to do business with us.

Import tariffs on egg products allow us to recognise the higher cost of UK egg production because of safety, welfare and environmental considerations. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that eggs and egg products will be afforded sensitive product status by the UK in future free trade agreement negotiations, and that import tariffs will remain in place on those products?

It is difficult to comment on tariffs in live negotiations, but I would say two things to the hon. Gentleman: first, this country imports very few eggs from abroad, and secondly, anything that happens with imported eggs would not change our standards on food imports, food safety and animal welfare in this country.

T7. In yesterday’s data Bill debate, Ministers gave clear and positive replies about the importance of interoperable data standards, and the need for an investable timetable of which sectors will get smart data and when. However, they were much less clear—one might even call it bashful—about giving a date for when that timetable will be published. Is my hon. Friend the Minister willing to be a little less coy this morning? (900400)

I am not known for my coyness. My hon. Friend has done very important work in this space, and we share his ambition: I chair the Smart Data Council, and we are planning to open up databases right across our economy to allow for more competition in the worlds of energy, telecoms, and buying and selling houses. He has been a great champion of all those measures. I am very keen to bring forward the roadmap that my hon. Friend has referred to, hopefully as early as January next year.

T2. At their busiest time of year, British cheese exporters are warning of damaging losses as the Government continue to fail to reach a deal that ensures access to the Canadian market. Every day that the Government fail, companies such as the Snowdonia Cheese Company in north Wales lose contracts, and they cannot make plans with the looming deadline of 31 December a matter of weeks away. Can the Minister update the House on the negotiations to extend the deadline for cheese tariff quotas between the UK and Canada? (900392)

We are aware of the situation, and are working on it—negotiations to resolve it are actively ongoing. UK cheese is in increasing demand in Canada, and exports of UK cheese benefit businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. The UK has made continued and repeated efforts to find a solution since negotiations began, including by seeking an extension to the current arrangements, and we are clear that the UK is rightly entitled to ongoing access to Canada’s World Trade Organisation cheese tariff quota under our rights and obligations at the WTO.

As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Brazil, I know that the best way of supporting exports from my Dudley businesses is to remove barriers to trade. That is why I was absolutely delighted when both our countries signed a double taxation agreement, in good faith and to the highest possible standards. There appear to be complications in Brazil at the moment with ratifying that agreement through Congress, as we have ratified it through our Parliament. What more can Ministers—the Chancellor of the Exchequer, perhaps—do to try to persuade Brazil that it is indeed a very good deal for itself as well?

First, I praise my hon. Friend for the amazing job he does as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Brazil. Partly due to his efforts, UK-Brazil trade has increased by 33% in the past year alone, so we are doing a very good job there. The UK-Brazil double taxation agreement was passed into UK law in June, and is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the UK. I hope that Brazil ratifies the agreement soon: it is very much in its own interests as well. As my hon. Friend knows, the Chancellor has made very strong representations to that effect, and we look forward to strengthening our trade relationship at the next UK-Brazil joint economic and trade committee next year.

T5. Under current laws, unions are required to use electronic means to communicate with their members about matters relating to work, yet are prevented from using the very same electronic methods when balloting their members for industrial action. Does the Minister accept that it should be possible to ballot trade union members on industrial action electronically? (900395)

The hon. Lady raises an important point. That is something we are looking at; we have been looking at it for some time, and are keen to bring forward the results of our deliberations very shortly.

May I ask the Trade Minister, whom I welcome back to his position, what efforts the Government are making to raise awareness of the developing countries trading scheme, particularly among African countries? What encouragement is he giving those countries to take advantage of that scheme, which would benefit them and us?

Again, we have almost a full turnout of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys in the House this morning, and I commend my hon. Friend for the work he does as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy not just to one country, but to three—Angola, Zambia and Ethiopia. He rightly takes a strong interest in the UK’s forward-leaning and exemplary developing countries trading scheme. The scheme was launched on 19 June by my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), who is now the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and provides duty-free or nearly duty-free access to goods to 37 African countries. The scheme was launched to significant media attention in Ethiopia, and there was a series of events in more than 10 countries.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson): the onus is on all of us in this House to continue to extol the virtues and the benefits of the UK’s developing countries trade scheme. We have taken the EU scheme and gone significantly further, making it more generous for developing countries. We should all be united in extolling the virtues of the UK’s scheme, and of the brilliant job the UK is doing to promote goods access to developing countries.

T6.   Could I revisit my earlier question to the Secretary of State about arms export licences to Israel? I and many others do not agree with her secrecy approach, and I and many others believe that Members of Parliament are entitled to this information, so I will try another approach. Could she detail the classification and description of the goods, the stated end use and the licence type, including direct transfers and those via third countries, and could she place that information in the Library for Members of Parliament? (900396)

I believe there is a quarterly register that may contain some of the information the hon. and learned Member is asking for, but I am not able or going to list every single export decision that has been made by the export control joint unit. I will see what I can do to get her a fuller answer, but she will know that this is a very sensitive issue. I have a quasi-judicial role, and I must be seen to be impartial at all times. I will do what I can to provide the information she wants, but I do not have a list to provide her with this morning, and certainly not on the Floor of the House.

Almost all the G20 countries have operational blast furnaces, and a number of those are transitioning to electric arc furnaces as well. We know the importance of Scunthorpe, which is a key driver of economic growth. British Steel provides a third of all domestic production supplied to the construction and rail industries. We continue to be in negotiations to make sure that we secure the best deal, and one that is good value for taxpayers, when it comes to Scunthorpe.

On Tuesday, we finally had answers from Lisa Wilkinson about the mistakes that led to the collapse of that much-loved firm, but Ms Wilkinson was not able to answer why 70% of the profits in the last four years were paid out in dividends to family trusts while the deficit in the pension fund amounted to now £50 million. Will the Secretary of State ensure that regulators explore every option to claw back those dividends so that Wilko pensioners are not short-changed?

The right hon. Member raises a very important point. He has looked at this matter very carefully, including on the Business and Trade Committee, and I thank him for his work. I was pleased to give evidence to his Committee on Tuesday. Clearly, the Insolvency Service is looking at this. It is looking at the directors’ conduct report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the administrator, which it needs to look at very carefully. It is clear from that report so far that there is no evidence of director misconduct, but further work is ongoing. The Insolvency Service is due to meet the administrator, PwC, in January, and we will look at the situation as it unfolds.

One of the most effective ways we could strengthen both the public sector and the private sector is the creation of an office of the whistleblower, as long championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson). That would strengthen corporate governance, empower those who see wrongdoing to come forward and protect them from intimidation, and strengthen the UK as a place to do business. Given that this week is Whistleblowing Awareness Week, could I encourage Ministers to bring forward proposals to support this important initiative?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his work in this area, in which he has great expertise. I met my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) yesterday to discuss this very matter. She has set out some key proposals in this area. We are currently undertaking a review of whistleblowing, and we hope to report to the House very shortly.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 4 December will include:

Monday 4 December—Remaining stages of the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Tuesday 5 December—Opposition day (1st allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 6 December—Second Reading of the Sentencing Bill.

Thursday 7 December—General debate on tackling Islamophobia, followed by a debate on a motion on the implementation of public registers of beneficial ownership in the UK’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 8 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 December includes:

Monday 11 December—Second Reading of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill.

So it is another week, and another business statement, yet still no emergency legislation on Rwanda as promised. It has been another week of infighting, division and chaos on illegal and managed migration from the Conservative party. Apparently, some in the Cabinet—I do not know whether the Leader of the House is one of them—are holding that legislation back, while others clamour for it, with the Minister for Immigration going rogue. The Prime Minister is stranded between them, too weak to face down either side and too weak to act. Weeks after it was promised in days, when will we finally see the treaty and legislation?

As well as a treaty to negotiate, we have the ongoing situation between Israel and Gaza—I welcome the further extension in the temporary truce this morning—war still raging in Ukraine, a diplomatic row with Greece, visits to Kyiv and the middle east, a NATO summit, COP28 this week and a visit to Brussels next week, yet not a peep from the Foreign Secretary in this House, and no reporting back to Members. When I last raised this issue with the Leader of the House, she said that the House must be able to “hold him to account”. When? I welcome the Procedure Committee looking into the matter, but the Government could and should do more to ensure that we are able to raise issues directly and regularly, now. We have had no Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office statements this week or last, only an urgent question—yet again the Government are being dragged here instead of respecting the House of Commons, and it is just not good enough. The next questions to the Foreign Office will be on Tuesday 12 December. Will the Leader of the House ensure that some progress on holding the Foreign Secretary to account is made before then?

It is not just foreign policy decisions that Members are keen to ask Lord Cameron about. Questions about his dealings with Greensill Capital continue to rumble on. Thanks to diligent work by my deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), the Insolvency Service has been asked whether Lord Cameron could be considered a “shadow director” of Greensill. If that is the case, he could be subject to the same duties and liabilities as a director. His tax affairs from the time are now under scrutiny for failing to provide details of his personal use of planes owned by Greensill Capital. My hon. Friend has written to the Chair of the Treasury Committee to ask her to consider whether Lord Cameron’s failure to declare that information to the Committee is potentially in contempt of the House. Will the Leader of the House encourage the Chair of the Committee to investigate that? Will she also ensure that Lord Cameron does not wriggle out of frequent appearances in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee?

It is not just his lordship who is dodging scrutiny, because that is the Government’s tried and tested tactic on every front. Day by day, they are eroding the conventions of this place with their cavalier approach to scrutiny and good government. On Monday, Members debated minimum service level regulations for rail without the opinion of the Government’s own independent assessors, because they did not give them enough time to look at them. Yesterday we had Report stage of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, and the Government tabled 240 new amendments, some really substantial, at the last minute. It is outrageous.

Even the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg)—not someone I often agree with—thinks that the Government take a dictatorial approach to new legislation. It has also emerged that the Government’s Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill not only will not apply to new flats, but now will not even apply to the sale of new houses. We have a flagship Bill to ban lease- holds that does not even ban leaseholds. What a shambles. This is child’s play and no way to run a Government.

Finally, this week saw some serious questions about what can only be described as the possible bribery of sitting Members. The hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) was recorded revealing that he had been offered a lot of money to join the Reform party. The offer was five years of an MP’s salary as insurance for defecting. These allegations are incredibly serious and tantamount to bribery from a rival political party, potentially in breach of electoral law. It has subsequently emerged that the Government Chief Whip was made aware of these enticements being offered months ago and believed them to be serious and potentially criminal. Have these matters now been passed to the police? If so, when? If not, why not? Why has it taken a secret recording to bring these very serious matters, which go to the heart of our democracy, to the attention of this House?

First, may I wish everyone a happy St Andrew’s day? I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that our thoughts are still with the hostages who are still in Gaza and their families. We hope that situation can be resolved quickly.

First, the hon. Lady raises the issue of the Foreign Secretary being answerable to this House. She will know that a senior Foreign Office Minister is available to lead on matters, and on very serious issues the Prime Minister would speak from this Dispatch Box. The Foreign Secretary has been forward-leaning and suggested a number of things that he thinks would be highly appropriate for how he could be held to account in this place and directly by Members of this House. No decisions have been taken yet, because we are waiting to hear from the Procedure Committee. It is right that matters for this House are dealt with by the Committees of this House.

The Foreign Secretary has been forward-leaning. I know that many Members have been concerned in particular about liaison with Members of this House who have hostage families living in their constituencies, whether they are British nationals or have a connection to Britain. The Foreign Secretary is meeting and has offered to meet all such families, and he is in touch with hon. Members who are in that situation. When the Procedure Committee brings forward measures—it is always sensible in its deliberations—I am sure those measures will be put in place.

The hon. Lady criticises us for not allowing scrutiny of legislation. Her point might have had more traction if in yesterday’s sitting we had not finished an hour early. Part of the reason for that was that only one Opposition Back Bencher spoke in the debate. I think we were having votes when Report should have been concluded.

The hon. Lady talks about the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill. She will know that Bills can be amended during their passage through the House, and we have committed to including a ban on new leasehold houses during the Bill’s passage, despite what has been reported. That commitment has not changed.

The hon. Lady talks about migration and emergency legislation, and I will put that in context. It is slightly ironic that Labour is eagerly awaiting further legislation from us on these matters when Labour Members have opposed all the new powers that we have brought in to protect our border. They fought against us in ending free movement and deporting foreign criminals, they would wish to take an extra 110,000 people every year from Europe, and Labour in Wales is giving asylum seekers £1,600 a month. The legislation will be brought forward shortly, but I am not holding my breath on the Opposition supporting it. Further business will be announced in the usual way.

I welcome the news that the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, which will bring in modern housing terms, will have its Second Reading in a week or so. Through my right hon. Friend, may I say to the Government that even if we have to add things to the Bill as it goes along, that is better than having to wait another year for this overdue opportunity to reform effectively the scandalous abuses within leasehold, which are loaded so much against 6 million home occupiers—the tenants of leasehold homes?

I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the named day question I tabled for the Foreign Office about the acid attack on Shahzad Akbar on Sunday in England. If Ministers think it is appropriate to make an oral statement, will she please encourage them to do so? It is just as shocking to have a Commonwealth country suspected of an acid attack on one of its nationals—a human rights lawyer—in this country as it was to have the Russian attack in Salisbury and the alleged Indian attack in Canada.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to draw to the Home Secretary’s attention the letter he will have received today from the human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, asking whether the police force in the relevant area was right to assess the risk to this man as low when in fact it was high, and whether is it true that the local police had switched off the automatic number plate recognition system for some reason, when that might have helped to detect the culprits of this terrible acid attack?

I thank my hon. Friend for his warm welcome for the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill. I will certainly ensure that the Home Secretary is aware of his concerns with regard to that police force. He will know that the next Foreign Office questions are on 12 December, but I will certainly ensure that both the Foreign Secretary and his lead Minister in the Commons are aware of his concerns about that terrible attack.

I am sure that the hearts of all of us in the House go out to those innocents who have suffered in Gaza and Israel, and who continue to suffer.

I, too, wish the House a very happy St Andrew’s day —to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to us all. On this special day, I have first a word of thanks. The Leader of the House has described me in this Chamber and on social media as “sanctimonious”, “delusional”, “treacherous” and “slopey-shouldered”. I cannot say how much that language from a Tory is a badge of honour for me in Scotland, so I am grateful. Even more, her comments last week about Scotland’s drug policies were literally front-page news. The Daily Record described them as “an odd rant” —one of the more positive responses. One correspondent asked:

“Why does Penny hate Scotland so much—was she scared by the bagpipes as a child?”

We certainly look forward to her reply to that.

I am afraid that that answer from the Leader of the House illustrated comprehensively the attitudes and contempt on the Government side of the House for the people of Scotland. Maybe she needs to refresh her Government’s growing army of scriptwriters in Edinburgh —paid for, of course, by taxpayers’ money. No more fat- free, out-of-date Trumpian rants, please.

The Leader of the House has claimed that she takes an interest in the welfare of Scotland’s children, so obviously she will have seen the remarkable new assessment of the Scottish child payment posted on the London School of Economics website by a number of academics expert in social policy and economics. It says that the Scottish Government’s payments are

“predicted to have a monumental impact on reducing child poverty rates”,

and that they will

“transform Scotland from being one of the most unequal places to live in Europe to being one of the most equal.”

I feel that this House should be given an opportunity to debate it, as child poverty in England rockets. Given her stated interest, will she please confirm that she has read that assessment? If not, would she like me to send her a copy? Or maybe it is really all about clickbait and social media reach, and she does not care at all.

Let me add some more adjectives to what the hon. Lady described. The SNP really has surpassed itself this week in being self-obsessed, self-pitying and self-delusional. I have hit on why it is losing the case for independence: if Scotland were to take the leap, surely it would want its leaders to be the sort of people to step up, take responsibility and work hard to improve their opportunities, but despite the Scottish Government being one of the most powerful devolved Administrations in the world, they cannot accept responsibility for anything.

Given that the SNP has been in power for 16 years and in every single year its budget has been 20% higher than in England, who does the hon. Lady think is responsible for Scotland’s declining A&E performance, increased waiting times, 70% hike in drug-related deaths and 10% increase in the attainment gap? What about the 10 years that the Scottish Government have missed their cancer and housing targets, the rising crime, the soaring violence in schools, the lowest police numbers since 2008 or the 1,700 fewer teachers? Who does she think is responsible for the fact that some police forces do not even investigate certain offences, and are warning that soon they will not be able to attend call-outs?

Who does the hon. Lady think is responsible for plummeting international rankings in maths, literacy and science? Who does she think has snaffled more than half the £1 billion in extra tax that Scottish residents have to pay, which never reaches public services? She talks about Scottish schoolchildren, but who has chosen to pay so much less to Scottish schools per pupil than anywhere else in the UK? The autumn statement has given the Scottish Government an additional £545 million. We are about to hear their budget, and it is a pretty safe bet that it will not be spent wisely. By all means, the hon. Lady can send me what she likes, but there is a trend here. Scottish SNP supporters will soon be outnumbered by the pandas in her local zoo.

I want to raise the brilliance of the Fromehall Mill team and to encourage everyone to look at the Stroud Times article and video as they try to raise share support to buy the mill. It is a multi-business powerhouse with everything from bikes and bakeries to artificial intelligence and social action. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when the next round of community ownership fund bids will be announced? Can we have a debate in the House about smaller companies around the country that are using, selling and teaching AI technology, because they are doing an incredible job?

I thank my hon. Friend for all her work to champion that brilliant local community initiative. We expect to be able to inform applicants to the third round of the community ownership fund by the end of December. She will know that Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions are on Monday, where she may wish to make the case again.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the Backbench Business debates for Thursday 7 December. Let me give her early notice that if we are awarded time on Thursday 14 December, the Committee will intend to schedule debates on knife crime and the potential merger of Vodafone and Three. Is the Leader of the House considering giving the Backbench Business Committee any time in the week beginning Monday 18 December? If she is, we would love to know as soon as possible so that we can allocate debates and let Members know. I am glad to say that the Committee was re-established this week and is up and running, but we already have a backlog of debates, with 13 on our waiting list. It is good that we have plenty of business to come.

The Go North East bus industrial action continues, with very few buses running for weeks and, on many routes, not at all. That is having a huge detrimental impact on our local economy and jobs, and on the learning of students who cannot get to their local further education colleges such as Gateshead College in my constituency. Students who struggled to make up the learning lost during covid are being hit again, since they are unable to attend at all without incurring massive additional expense. Can we have a debate in Government time about introducing a compensation scheme from public transport providers that are singularly failing in their service delivery obligations?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his advert for forthcoming debates. It is good to know that the Backbench Business Committee is busy. I will certainly let him know as soon as possible about the week of 18 December. He will know that we always try to give as much notice as possible.

I am very sorry to hear about his ongoing constituency issue. That is why we believe minimum service standards in vital sectors—transport is one of them—are so important. I will make sure that the Transport Secretary has heard about that ongoing situation. It is very well understood that students from lower socioeconomic groups will be disproportionately affected by such action.

May we have a debate on decisions by probation and prison services to release on licence? Last Friday, my constituent Levi Kent was stabbed to death. The man charged with his murder was sentenced to two years in prison for wounding with intent just in January this year and was released on licence in September. Will my right hon. Friend back my calls for a serious case review into the licensing decision and monitoring, which may have freed someone who should be in prison to murder?

I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say how appalled we are to hear of that situation. Our thoughts are with my hon. Friend’s constituents and all those affected by this appalling tragedy. The Lord Chancellor is aware of this case. I am sure it will need to be subject to a review into what happened in this instance, but I know the Lord Chancellor’s door is always open to her and I think he may have already contacted her. I thank her for all she is doing in her constituency in the aftermath of this appalling event.

Cases of rickets in children, which is associated with malnutrition, have risen by over 700% in the last two years. My Healthy Start Scheme (Take-Up) (No. 2) Bill would have prevented over 157,000 babies, children and pregnant mothers from missing out on essential food and vitamins, but the Government rejected it. Can we please have an urgent debate on why the Government have dragged our children into Victorian levels of poverty?

The hon. Lady will know that there are over 500,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty under this Administration, and that the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) has been doing incredible work, bringing together Government Departments to focus on the early years and to create much more effective pathways at a local level for children who are particularly vulnerable.

Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate in Government time on the effectiveness of the process of calling in? Although the mechanism technically exists to help in planning cases, such as the one I am dealing with in relation to proposals for two drive-through fast food outlets on a busy highways interchange near Risley in my constituency, I fear that in practice the process of calling in does not work as it should and needs urgent reform.

I thank my hon. Friend for all she is doing to make sure that the views of her constituents are heard in such matters. She will know that the next Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions will be on 4 December. I invite her to raise it directly with the Secretary of State. I will also make sure that he has heard what she has said today.

You caught me off guard there, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you very much for bringing me in early.

In every one of our constituencies, across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we have girlguiding groups, which we greatly support as they do wonderful work with girls of all ages. It is therefore with much concern that I ask the Leader of the House, very kindly, whether we may have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the proposed devastating decision by Girlguiding UK to sell off its UK activity centres and to stop direct delivery of girlguiding in British overseas territories and on UK military bases. It will have a catastrophic impact, not just here but across the seas, on young women in the British family, which we all want to preserve and retain.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his early question this week. I think that would be an excellent topic for a Backbench Business debate. Many Members were agreeing with him as he outlined the issues. I know that one of the problems is that the guiding community does not feel that it was properly consulted in advance of the decision being taken, and I know that many right hon. and hon. Members have written to the board to question it. I think an airing on the Floor of the House or in Westminster Hall would be welcomed.

I know my right hon. Friend is as shocked as I am by some of the working practices of SSE in providing power to commercial premises. My constituent Philip Liddell of ACE Liftaway has paid £73,000 on deposit to SSE, but because of SSE’s delays with SSE’s solicitors, it has now asked him for an additional £50,000 to move an electricity substation on his commercial premises—an increase of 69%. Mr Liddell did not cause the delay, but he has no choice but to pay up. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate in this Chamber to discuss SSE’s working practices and how it is holding people to ransom?

That is a shocking case. As I would normally do, I shall write to the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, but I am sure that SSE’s diligent public affairs department is listening to business questions, is terribly shocked to hear about the situation, and will get in touch with my right hon. Friend or her constituent before 3 o’clock, when I put my letters in the postbox. I hope that she will keep me posted on progress.

Reading gaol has been empty for 10 years now, and there has been a strong local campaign to turn the historic prison into an arts and heritage hub. The campaign is supported by me and the right hon. Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma), by our local council and by many others. The Ministry of Justice promised us an update this autumn on this important project, but sadly, none has yet been forthcoming. Will the Leader of the House raise the matter with the Justice Secretary?

I fully understand why the local community wants that heritage building to be brought into use, and it has an arts connection through some of its former inmates. Given that the next MOJ questions is in the new year, I shall certainly raise it with the Lord Chancellor and his team, and ask them to update the hon. Gentleman.

I recently visited the Falkland Islands, at the invitation of the Falkland Islands Government. A subject that arose while we were there is the complete lack of broadband and internet connectivity. I was unable to receive or reply to emails, or look at anything on the web. This is holding back individuals and, in particular, business opportunities in the Falklands. Will the Government arrange a debate to explore how we can improve broadband and internet connectivity in overseas territories?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and many Members who have visited the Falkland Islands will fully understand what she means. In addition to stifling economic opportunities, it is a particular problem for the spouses of our serving personnel out there, whose ability to remain economically active is very limited by this situation. I shall certainly make sure that all the relevant Departments hear what she has said, and we will see what they can do to rectify the situation.

The welfare of animals is hugely important to many of my constituents, and they were pleased to see the announcement of the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill in the King’s Speech, although they would have liked it to go further and cover issues such as puppy smuggling. When can we expect the Bill to be presented to the House and its Second Reading?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s approval of that Bill. He will know that we are still committed to the other measures that were in our manifesto. We will just be doing them in other ways, such as fulfilling our commitment on primates through secondary legislation. He will not be surprised to hear me say that further business will be announced in the usual way, but it is good to know that he will be supporting the Government on these measures.

When can we have a debate on the World Health Organisation’s pandemic preparedness treaty and the associated international health regulations? Does the Leader of the House realise that there is a lot of concern across the country that this treaty will result in a loss of personal liberty and a real challenge to our sovereignty as a Parliament?

I shall certainly make sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard my hon. Friend’s concerns on this matter. I know that many Members have an interest in pandemics, which do not respect borders. International co-operation is needed, but there will be concerns about how the World Health Organisation has responded to particular situations. I know the House will want to scrutinise such measures in detail.

My constituent, Mr Jones, had his car written off by a third-party insurer in December 2022. Due to an insurance loophole, Mr Jones has been forced to settle the car hire costs because his insurer, Admiral, booked the car hire in his name and not through Admiral. Nine months on, Admiral is still refusing to cover the costs and the third-party insurer says it has no liability, so Mr Jones is left thousands of pounds out of pocket because Admiral did not do its job properly. Will the Leader of the House ask Ministers in the Department for Transport or the Department for Business and Trade to try to rectify this loophole, so that nobody else is left short-changed by insurance companies that simply dodge the rules?

I am very sorry to hear about that case. I will raise it with the relevant Departments but, again, I hope the public affairs team at Admiral has heard his question. This is a competitive market, and we have legislated to improve competition on such matters. If it has not already, I hope the public affairs team will be in touch with the hon. Gentleman to discuss what recompense could be made.

The record 1,455 police officers in Bedfordshire are extremely welcome. Can the Home Office reassure the chief constable of Bedfordshire that apprehending illegal and dangerous motorcyclists who terrorise communities is what the Government and, indeed, the people of Bedfordshire want him to do? One young man has already lost his life and another has suffered life-changing injuries as a result of this behaviour. Roads and footpaths need to be kept safe for adults and children.

I thank my hon. Friend for all he is doing in the wake of these tragic incidents. I will make sure the Home Secretary has heard his concerns about the action that his local police may or may not be taking. This kind of antisocial behaviour causes misery for many people, which is why, through our antisocial behaviour action plan, we have committed £160 million to help local authorities make high streets, footpaths and so on much safer for their communities. The police have powers to deal with these situations, and we expect them to be used.

This weekend marks small business Saturday, and I look forward to visiting our wonderful Christmas market in Bath, which brings in £50 million for the local area. Anyone who has not been to Bath at Christmas should please come. It is absolutely magical.

I am pleased that footfall in Bath is above pre-pandemic levels. However, many UK businesses are struggling to recover. This year has seen the most company insolvencies since 2009, and the autumn statement offered no energy support for businesses. Can we have a ministerial statement on what the Government will do to stop businesses closing this winter?

I thank the hon. Lady for the advert for small business Saturday; I am sure that all Members of this House will be involved in it, celebrating the incredible entrepreneurial organisations and individuals in their constituencies. A number of measures were set out in the autumn statement to help our high streets and, in particular, the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors. We recognise that they are the backbone of this economy and they are often the focal point for many other services and social interactions in our communities. They should be treasured and I hope that everyone does that this Saturday.

One reason why the good people of Gedling voted to leave the European Union was to take back control of our borders. There have been several high-profile and complex challenges in doing that, be it dealing with the emergence of criminal gangs or complicated legal proceedings. So may we have a statement to set out the progress the Government have made on this issue since we left the EU?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He will know that progress is being made on this matter: boat crossings are down by 33%; the legacy backlog is down by 42%; asylum decision processing has increased by 250%; returns are up by 29%; and immigrants are 43% less likely to be in receipt of any form of state benefits. Since we left the EU, we have been working to change our systems. In December 2020, we ended free movement—that was opposed by the Labour party—and changed access to benefits. In April last year, we passed the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 to deter entry into the UK and to help us to remove people who have no right to be here. In December last year, we signed the deal with Albania, reducing the number of people coming here by 90%. In May, we introduced measures to reduce the rise in the number of students bringing dependants and to stop students switching out of the student route. In July, the Illegal Migration Act 2023 became law, although, again, it was opposed by the Labour party—70 times. Again that legislation is helping us to remove people who should not be here and to speed up removals. In October, we opened a consultation on capping the numbers that we would take from safe and legal routes. More legislation will come to the Floor of this House imminently, particularly to enable the Rwanda plan to be put into full effect—no doubt, it will be opposed by the Labour party. Now that we have greater control, we should use those controls.

The Government Chief Whip is a Minister but, by convention, does not make statements from the Dispatch Box. So will the Leader of the House please give confirmation on accusations made by the GB News presenter who also has a side hustle as the hon. Member for Ashfield about being effectively offered a bribe in his role as a Member of Parliament? I know this was reported to the Government Chief Whip, but have they reported that allegation to the police for proper investigation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point; this is a serious matter. I am not aware of the situation that he refers to, but if these matters were being investigated by the police, it would probably not be wise to comment on them on the Floor of the House.

Before I ask my question, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me declare an interest, as a Cornish fishwife. The Cornish inshore fleets, particularly the under-10 metre fleet, are alarmed at proposals for a potential ban on the landing of pollock in the next round of negotiations for fisheries quota. The Cornish Fish Producers Organisation and the Cornish fishermen I know tell me that pollock is the staple for much of the inshore fleet, parts of which rely on it entirely. Sadly, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has so far not listened to the suggested compromises that have been tabled, which include keeping the fishery open for just line-caught pollock. Therefore, on behalf of all six Cornish MPs, including myself, may I ask for a debate in Government time on the potential impact that this ban is likely to have on the already precarious livelihoods of our Cornish fishermen?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important point on a subject close to her heart. She will know that since we left the EU there have been good opportunities for our fishing communities. In one instance, a fishing port not far away from her has seen its annual sales go from £40 million to £70 million. This should be a success story and, of course, what benefits the fishing community benefits hospitality, leisure, retail and many other things. She will know that there will be an opportunity to raise this matter with the Secretary of State on 7 December and I urge her to do so.

Today is Fuel Poverty Awareness Day, and I thank National Energy Action for its work ensuring everyone can have a warm, safe and healthy home. I recently met with Friends of the Earth Luton, as part of its United for Warm Homes campaign, who told me that in my constituency there are 36 energy crisis hotspots, representing over 50% of neighbourhoods in Luton South, where below average incomes meet high fuel bills. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate on an emergency home insulation programme to start in neighbourhoods hit hardest by the energy crisis?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I shall ensure her suggestion is heard by the Secretary of State. She will know about the financial support that we have given households, as well as recent measures in the autumn statement, that mean over £100 billion in support has been provided. On average, low- income households have received £2,500 a year to enable them to cope with higher energy bills. Through her auspices, her constituents could make use of a number of insulation schemes, including those in the private and public sectors. I will ask the Department to ensure she is aware of all those schemes.

We often have debates about parliamentary standards for MPs, which I have contributed to, but we rarely debate the standards adopted by political candidates. They are not elected, and most never will be, yet that large group of people has a significant effect on the public perception of our politics and politicians. If we want to improve standards in politics, that begins at the grassroots level of political activism. During my time as an MP, there have been far too many instances of behaviour by my political opponents that have failed any definition of acceptable standards, or even legal ones. Can we have a debate about how we raise the bar throughout our political system, including local party associations and candidates for office?

I hope what my hon. Friend says will be met by agreement from both sides of the House, particularly from party leaders. I happen to know that my hon. Friend has suffered appallingly at the hands of a particular individual and I urge him to raise that matter with the relevant party leader. We should take these things seriously. I know from my own party that our candidates are required to sign up to the Nolan principles of public life, which is matched with training. This week our sitting MPs and parliamentary candidates received training from the Antisemitism Policy Trust. This is an incredibly important point and I hope we will all hold our colleagues, whether they are MPs or prospective parliamentary candidates, to account on this matter. I hope that my hon. Friend’s particular situation is resolved swiftly.

Last Sunday, I was proud to march against antisemitism, standing shoulder to shoulder with British Jews alongside my friends and constituents. I welcome the increase in funding to the Community Security Trust, as laid out in the autumn statement, and thank it for keeping my constituents safe. However, since the pogrom of October 7, we have seen a staggering 1,300% increase in antisemitism, with many Jews no longer feeling safe in Britain. With that in mind, can we have a debate in Government time on tackling antisemitism and hate speech, to ensure people of all communities feel safe?

I thank the hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members who joined that march or showed solidarity to the Jewish community on that day. We must all continue to do that when the headlines disappear when the situation is resolved, as I hope it will be soon. I met with the Jewish Leadership Council yesterday to look at what more we can do. As well as showing support to the Jewish community, we need to show support to other faith communities who want to do the right thing, stand in solidarity together, and continue to work at strengthening ties. We must support individuals who reach out to other faith groups in their communities, and ensure that they do not face intimidation.

As we continue to celebrate Disability History Month, may I raise again the lack of any disabled lift at Chalkwell station in my constituency? It is an absolute disgrace. It is the main station giving access to our beaches, and with 40 steep steps it is completely inaccessible to anyone with a disability or with a pushchair. I have raised this matter in the House five times now. This year I have been promised twice that it will be sorted out. Given that rail companies have a duty under the Equality Act 2010, itself a consolidating Act, to make reasonable adjustments, please may we have a debate in Government time on when the provisions will be enforced in a timely manner?

My hon. Friend is a diligent campaigner on this matter, rightly so, and her campaigning has yielded some results: I understand that the Department for Transport has said that Network Rail expects to award the construction contract early next month for that work. It is a very bad situation that needs to be rectified. In the meantime, disabled passengers, if they cannot use that station, can contact c2c, which will arrange alternative transport at no additional cost, but, of course, that is not optimum. With the hon. Lady’s campaigning, I hope that optimum is not far away.

Last week, I raised with the Leader of the House the case of Teagan Appleby, as did her Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke). We did, as a result, have a meeting with the Minister, so I thank the Leader of the House for that. However, both the hon. Lady and I asked for an emergency intervention by the Department. This is day 37 of seizures and, last night at 7.30, Teagan’s mum, Emma, was told that there is nothing else that can be done. A brain operation would not address Teagan’s seizures. She currently has access to an oil, which her parents must pay for while she is in an NHS hospital. She needs another oil. I passed Emma’s number to the officials on Monday. I have seen the Minister in these corridors, but nothing has happened. I have asked for an emergency intervention. It is now Thursday. We need one and I urge the Leader of the House to make that intervention on my behalf and on behalf of everybody who is supporting Teagan.

I thank the hon. Lady for her ongoing work on what is a very difficult case. I shall ensure, immediately after these questions, that the new Secretary of State has heard what she has said. As she will know, I am not aware of what the healthcare professionals caring for her constituent are saying that she needs, but if it is something that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care can intervene and act on, I am sure that she would want to do so.

Colleagues will be aware of the brilliant Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice in Rother Valley, and the work that it does supporting children and their families through some of the worst times imaginable. I wish to highlight the £25,000 raised for Bluebell Wood by eight of my constituents in Maltby—Conner Wesley, Rob Pryke, Craig Edwards, Matt Whitehead, Corey Mangham, Chris Daley, Danny Bearman and Caleb Wedge—in their coast-to-coast walk across England, raising two and a half times their target and making sure that Bluebell Wood has the resources that it needs to help those who need it the most in their time of need.

May we have a debate, in Government time, to discuss what this Government can do to help our charitable constituents support hospices such as Bluebell Wood?

I thank my hon. Friend for getting the names of his fantastic constituents on record, and I thank them for all the work that they have done to raise such a huge sum for this very important children’s hospice. We all know the incredible work that these organisations do and how valued they are by all who come into contact with them. Were my hon. Friend to apply for a debate on this, I am sure that it would be well attended.

A few short years ago, my brother died by himself, at home and alone, having taken an overdose of drugs following a life of serious, harmful addiction. Last week, the Leader of the House stood at the Dispatch Box and dismissed the pilot in Scotland of drug consumption facilities. She dismissed them as somewhere safe and warm for heroin users—people like my brother—to take their heroin, but they are healthcare facilities designed to help people with addiction problems, and turn their lives around. She did it in the most ignorant and contemptuous way possible, so I invite her to my constituency to meet the families who are thankful that a pilot is finally taking place. Maybe she will then come back and make an apology at the Dispatch Box. Given her love of clicks, if she puts it on Twitter I will even share it.

The hon. Gentleman can go and look at last week’s Hansard, because that is not what I said. I was actually saying that that would be a legacy of the Scottish National party. What I criticised the Scottish National party for was having let down a generation of children by destroying an education system, reducing the number of teachers, starving schools of resources, widening the attainment gap and many other things. I am genuinely sorry for the hon. Gentleman’s loss, and I know a great deal about the particular pilot, which the Government support the Scottish Government’s doing, but his obligations to the children of Scotland are important, and the Scottish Government are failing them. I will not apologise for holding him and his party to account.

Levelling up round 3 resulted in over £1 billion of support for 55 projects around the country, yet not many of them were in the south-east. Gillingham high street in my constituency urgently needs that funding and regeneration. The autumn statement also included funding for town centres, not many of which were in the south-east. Levelling up is about levelling up the north, south, east and west. Will the Leader of the House clarify when we will have a statement regarding round 4 of levelling-up funding? Can we please ensure that that funding goes to all parts of the country, including areas such as Gillingham in the south-east, because we urgently need our fair share of resources, allocated on a merits basis?

My hon. Friend makes a compelling case for projects and funding going to his constituency. He will know that the levelling-up agenda has been at the heart of successive Conservative Administrations. The next Question Time will be on Monday, and I hope that my hon. Friend will attend to put those questions directly to the Secretary of State.

December 9th marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of the genocide convention. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity, and we will mark this time by calling for a strategy. I invite you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, and all Members present to come to a drop-in that we will hold next Wednesday in Portcullis House Room U from 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm, to talk to experts about how, as parliamentarians, when we say, “Never again,” we can really mean that. Will the Leader of the House support a debate on this issue?

I thank the hon. Lady for advertising her event. I shall certainly try to come along, subject to my duties in this House. It is incredibly important that hon. Members know what steps we can take, and what policies we can put forward, to ensure that these things never happen again, and to deepen our knowledge of such things as the international definitions and the appropriate terms to use for different situations. She is providing the House with a timely education session.

At a recent football match in the Sheffield and Hallamshire women’s football league, a young woman was seriously injured following a collision with a male player—a trans woman—on the opposing team. As has been well publicised in the national media, a number of other teams in that local women’s league have withdrawn from fixtures against that particular team out of concern for the safety of their players. Unlike other sporting associations, the FA has not yet acted to ban biological males from playing in women’s football, which is threatening the safety and the fairness of the women’s game at a time when its popularity is rightly rising. Will my right hon. Friend give time for a debate on women’s football, and the role of the FA in ensuring the safety of female players?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. When I was Minister for Women and Equalities, I raised it with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, in part because FIFA’s own rules do not allow biological men and biological women on the same pitch together. The FA has different rules for different levels and categories of the game. I know that there are local teams here who have trans women playing on them and they are very valued, so I think it depends on the level of the game—that is certainly the response that I received at the time from such sporting bodies. The issue is receiving new focus, however, and clearly the constituents she mentions are concerned about it, so I urge her to raise it both with the Equalities Minister and at CMS questions, which are on 11 January.

I am delighted to hear that this is Whistleblowing Awareness Week, because some weeks ago I was given access to 5 million confidential New Zealand Government vaccination records by a whistleblower. The data was anonymised and passed to scientists and data analysts in the UK and other countries. I will share a fraction of that analysis: the mortality rate in New Zealand rose post vaccination for five months, regardless of what time of year the vaccine was taken. That rate of mortality increase rose with every subsequent booster that was taken. From the data, the chances of the excess deaths in New Zealand being random and not due to the experimental vaccines has been calculated at one in 100 billion. It is the vaccines that are causing excess deaths in New Zealand, just as it is the vaccines that are causing excess deaths in the UK and elsewhere. Can we please have a statement now from the Government, suspending these experimental mRNA vaccines before any more death and harm is done to our population?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this question. I think in New Zealand over 11 million doses of the covid-19 vaccine were administered. In England and Wales it was 150 million, and it is estimated that over 120,000 deaths were prevented by covid vaccines in England up to the end of September 2021. I disagree with what he says about the critical issue of vaccinations; I think they are life-saving. The report to which he refers has been debunked around the world, and he fails to mention the part that states that while an adverse event

“can occur after vaccination, that does not mean it was caused by vaccination.”

It is incredibly important that we look at the facts in this matter. We have the covid inquiry going on at the moment and, thanks to the work that our science base did in producing those vaccines, we were able to save millions of lives. It is incredibly important that we combat any misinformation about the vaccine.

The Leader of the House is more than aware that Barry in my constituency has not only the best beach front, but the best coastline in the whole of the country. Barry is to be enhanced even further by a successful levelling-up bid of £20 million to deliver a marina for the town, following a long-standing campaign. May we have a debate in the Chamber on regeneration in general, not only to consider the benefits that a marina will bring but, more importantly, on attracting further investment and using the levelling-up fund successfully to create quality jobs and better facilities in Wales’s largest town?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing that very large sum for his constituency. He is right that, in addition to the immediate facilities that it will enable to be constructed, there will be immense business opportunities for hospitality, leisure, retail and many other things. I think all hon. Members who have heard him will be very interested in visiting and seeing the results.

This Friday is Romania’s national day, a chance to celebrate the contribution of Romania to European efforts to support Ukraine and to acknowledge the huge contribution that the British Romanian community make here. I was pleased last night to host 150 members of Romanian churches in the UK, including some of the most senior figures in the Romanian Christian community. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the contribution of Romania to the efforts to support Ukraine, and take this opportunity to praise the contributions of British Romanians to our country?

I say “Multe mulţumesc” to the hon. Gentleman for his question. Romania has made a huge contribution to our efforts with Ukraine, and I join him wholeheartedly in paying tribute to everything Romanians have done, as well as to the many levels of partnership between our two nations. I thank him very much for the advert, and I am sure that all Members of the House will send their good wishes for Romania’s national day.

Yesterday, the BBC announced that it was reducing the time allocation for the “Newsnight” programme. [Interruption.] The reason given was that it wants to concentrate more on online coverage and have more serious debate. The airwaves are not exactly short of talking heads. Would it be appropriate, notwithstanding the fact that the Media Bill is currently in Committee, to have a debate about the BBC and its role as a national broadcaster?

Hansard may not have picked up that there were mixed views to that news across the Chamber. Obviously, the BBC is operationally and editorially independent—it is up to the BBC to determine how it delivers its services—but it must ensure that it continues to provide the news content required to deliver its remit, as set out in the charter and the agreement. The first purpose of that is:

“To provide impartial news and information to help people to understand and engage with the world around them.”

The Government expect Ofcom, as the BBC’s independent regulator, to ensure that the BBC is robustly held to account in delivering its public services. If there were to be a debate, I am sure that it would be a very lively one.

There has been a 26% reduction in the number of free-to-use ATMs in my constituency since July 2018, alongside a 30% reduction in the number of free-to-use ATMs across the UK over the past five years. An increasing number of ATMs are switching to the pay-to-use model because the interchange fee fails to cover the cost of maintaining the machines. I am sure that the Leader of the House would agree that it is important to halt the decline of free-to-use ATMs, so will she make a statement on the need for interchange fees to rise to a level that properly covers the cost of providing and managing the UK’s free-to-use ATM network, particularly in the light of interest rate increases and the rising cost of labour and distribution?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. Of course, this issue has a disproportionate impact on rural communities, where there is less choice of available ATMs. I shall certainly ensure that the Secretary of State has heard her concerns. If she were to apply for a debate, I am sure that it would be well attended.

For over 10 years, 100 of my constituents at the Mill development in Ipswich have been in limbo, unable to move on with their lives, re-mortgage or sell their properties, because the Mill has deep structural and cladding problems. The previous creditor-freeholder was the National Asset Management Agency—the Irish entity created to recoup losses to the Irish taxpayer after the banking crisis. Some £15 million received from a court case was meant to be spent on cladding remediation, but NAMA, before it washed its hand of the development, took the vast bulk of that money. What has happened to it? We do not know. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is a deeply immoral way for that entity to behave? It has caused immense anxiety and distress to my constituents, who, after 10 years, feel that the situation has moved backwards, not forwards. Will she advise me on what steps I should take and on whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might raise the matter with his counterpart in Ireland?

I am very sorry to hear about the ongoing situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Questions to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be on Monday, and he may wish to raise it directly with the Secretary of State then. Given the international dimension to the matter, I shall certainly ensure that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is briefed. If my hon. Friend would like to give me further information, I will ensure that it is passed to the relevant Minister.

May we have a debate on BBC impartiality? Surely we cannot have BBC presenters using their on-air status to espouse fake news about Israel, or to make scurrilous suggestions about the Prime Minister’s motivations, as has been described in The Daily Telegraph today. It published a well researched piece of journalism on the subject, having trawled through the social media of some BBC journalists and personnel. Anti-Israel bile and bias is there for all to see. What are we going to do about the BBC?

I think we all want our national broadcaster to be the best in the world, and we want its editorial standards and policies, and those who work for it, to be the best in the world. The BBC is operationally independent, but I hope it will reflect on what has happened over the past few weeks. I hope it will look at what it can do, perhaps through training, and at what is happening with its editorial teams and those who work for it in the field, so that the British public can rely on getting impartial, good advice, produced to the highest journalistic standards. The BBC is usually very good at these sorts of things, but there are certainly questions that I, as a licence fee payer, would want answered in this respect.

This is National Tree Week, and it is also 50 years since Conservative MP Sydney Chapman suggested the “Plant a Tree in ’73” campaign. It is even more important now that we preserve our woodland and plant productive forests for sustainable manufacturing and construction. What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with Cabinet colleagues on the deforestation due diligence legislation that we committed to in the Environment Act 2021, and on its progression through the House, and what other steps can I take to assist on this issue?

I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning Sydney Chapman and his campaign; it is nice to know of the legacy that Members of this place can leave. My hon. Friend will know that we are committed to implementing the provisions that she mentioned at the earliest opportunity through secondary legislation. We also recognise that businesses need clarity on their obligations, so that they can prepare to meet them. Questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are on 7 December, next week, so she may wish to raise her point directly with the Secretary of State then.