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Commons Chamber

Volume 743: debated on Thursday 11 January 2024

House of Commons

Thursday 11 January 2024

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

New Writs

Ordered,

That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in the present Parliament for the County Constituency of Wellingborough in the room of Peter Bone, against whom, since his election for the said County Constituency, a recall petition has been successful.—(Simon Hart.)

Ordered,

That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough Constituency of Kingswood in the room of Chris Skidmore, who since his election for the said Borough Constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of His Majesty’s Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, in the county of Buckingham.—(Simon Hart.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Grassroots Music Support

1. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of requiring venues to introduce a surcharge on large event tickets to support grassroots music venues. (900887)

11. If she will take steps to require arenas, stadiums and major festivals to charge a ticket levy to help fund grassroots live music. (900899)

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir John Whittingdale) for supporting my maternity leave. The chance to raise a tiny child is fleeting and precious, and his superb stewardship of my portfolio granted me that gift. One of my big worries on standing for election and then becoming a Minister was that it might prove incompatible with starting and now expanding my family. I simply say to other women who want to get involved in public life, “Do not be afraid. There is a lot of talk of barriers, but service and motherhood are compatible privileges.” As my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) said so encouragingly to me, you can do it.

Grassroots live music venues are the talent pipeline of our music industry. We are supporting them with funds and rate relief. We have no plans for a Government-mandated ticket levy, but we encourage industry discussion.

I welcome the Minister back to her place. In Edinburgh, we benefit from a plethora of small venues that depend on the Edinburgh Festival to survive. We also have big events every year. At the moment all the excitement, even in my household, is about Taylor Swift coming to the city in June, but we recognise that small venues—the Music Venue Trust says 10% currently struggle to survive and depend on grants from it—do not get any benefit from big gigs. Will the Government consider a levy to support smaller venues, because without them we will never have the Elton Johns, the Queens and the Taylor Swifts who use them to learn their craft, develop and benefit our economy and culture.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that grassroots venues are the talent incubators of the music industry. She will be aware that the Chancellor gave a substantial amount of money at last year’s Budget—up to £7 million for a new hub for the Edinburgh Fringe because of that talent pipeline—for the Edinburgh Fringe and the Edinburgh Festival. We are doing what we can with various different pots of money, but we also think there is room for the industry to find a solution on ticket levies. We think it is probably best for the industry to do that, rather than mandate it as a Government.

I welcome my hon. Friend back to her place. In 2023, across the country, not just in Edinburgh, live music boomed, with some 22 million people attending gigs, yet 76 small venues closed—more than one a week. I draw the Minister’s attention to an analogy with another hugely successful leisure industry, football, where a small amount of the enormous riches gained by the Premier League is allowed to trickle down to the grassroots so that the future of the sport is preserved. Just as with football, we have hugely profitable large arenas where the superstars of today perform and create huge revenues. A levy on the tickets from those sorts of shows—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr Speaker; I am very passionate about this—would help small venues to produce the superstars of tomorrow, so will the Minister take a positive attitude towards a levy?

My right hon. Friend has made his point well, if not briefly. We agree about the importance of grassroots music, which is why we have given another £5 million to the supporting grassroots music fund, but we are also in close touch with the Music Venue Trust, which has a great initiative called “Own Our Venues”. Arts Council England is helping with the purchase of some of the freeholds of these venues. We support that as well, but we think there is more scope for the industry to lead a solution, and we are backing talks between different parts of the industry.

The music industry is just about the most unequal sector in the whole of society. Those at the bottom—the vast majority—earn an absolute pittance, while those at the very top have unimaginable earnings. Surely we should be doing everything possible to try to change that. It is the sensible option: they do it in France, and the Scottish National party Government are considering doing it in Scotland. Will the Minister support that effort and initiative in Scotland, and if it shows that it can help redistribute some of this money, will she follow that example?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for telling us what the Scottish National party is doing. I had understood that it was cutting a substantial amount from the arts budget. We have been supporting, for instance, the Edinburgh grassroots hub. I think there is a great deal of appetite in this place for a solution; I also think that the best option is for those in the industry to get together, and we are backing discussions of that kind. Indeed, before I went on leave I talked to Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust about the issue.

I, too, warmly welcome the Minister back to her place. She mentioned the £5 million for the supporting grassroots music fund, and that is greatly welcomed, but let us be clear: festivals, rehearsal spaces and independent promoters are also eligible for the fund. That is a lot of mouths to feed. They are all important parts of the ecosystem, and they all need funds. In real terms, this is a tiny amount of money for grassroots music venues. Is my hon. Friend pushing the Treasury to expand that funding to ensure that it can go further?

I thank the hon. Lady for drawing on her expertise in this regard, and for the work that the Select Committee is doing. I am going to provide that dreadful answer: ahead of the Budget, we will be discussing all these matters with the Treasury.

Creative Industries: Tax Relief

2. Whether her Department has made an assessment of the potential impact of tax relief on the growth of the creative industries. (900888)

Let me begin by welcoming the Minister back to her place. Since 2012, the Conservative Government have introduced tax reliefs for the creative industries year on year. That is one of the reasons why the creative industries are growing at twice the rate of the rest of the economy, and why they are world leading. The Labour party opposed every single one of those tax reliefs, and despite its warm words it offers no substantive action.

As my right hon. and learned Friend says, since we came to office we have introduced a number of tax reliefs that have supported children's television, video games, production, galleries, orchestras, theatres and museums. It is for the Chancellor to decide on tax policy, but can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us what more she can do to make this go further, to ensure that we remain one of the world’s leading production venues?

We have indeed introduced many tax reliefs, and since we came to office I have instigated and backed the introduction of tax reliefs and other support for the sector. Independent film making has been supported with more than £60 million of Government and national lottery funding, and I have recently spoken to representatives of the independent sector to establish how we can provide further support. However, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, matters of tax are ultimately matters for the Chancellor.

I have a suggestion for the Minister. When I met several film, television and advertising companies in my constituency recently, they pointed out that Malta and Mauritius have a 40% rebate which also covers commercials, and that Ireland will be following suit with a 40% rebate on reality TV and game shows. These are the bread-and-butter products of the industry, and they have a huge impact on local areas where filming takes place. The UK is falling behind in this respect. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Treasury and other colleagues about the matter?

I assure the hon. Lady that I have regular discussions with the Treasury and the industry about how we can continue to support this vital sector. We are not falling behind. We are world leading, and we need to maintain that competitive edge. Our screen sector tax reliefs are estimated to have delivered over 200,000 new jobs and more than £13 billion in economic output.

Playing Fields: Community Access

The Government are committed to ensuring that every community has the facilities it needs to make sport and physical activity accessible to all, with over £320 million being invested by 2025 to develop thousands of state-of-the-art community football pitches and multi-use sports facilities across the UK.

Udney Park playing fields in Teddington, in my constituency, have gone to rack and ruin over the past decade as successive developers have bought the site and, quite rightly, failed to build on it. The Udney Park Community Fields Foundation, led by Jonathan Dunn, has campaigned tirelessly to bring those fields into community use, because we desperately need more sports fields in my constituency. Now the site is back on the market, will the Minister join me, local sports groups and the local authority in backing the community’s bid for the site? Will he also put in a friendly word with relevant Ministers on the bid to the community ownership fund?

I commend the hon. Lady for her commitment to improving sports facilities in her local area, and I commend all the volunteers, like Jonathan Dunn, who do a tremendous amount of work. Frankly, without them we would not have so many people being physically active. The Football Foundation and Sport England are always ready to discuss potential investments, and I would be happy to provide the hon. Lady with those contacts. Of course, I will raise this issue with my colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The community sports area on Tithe Farm Road in Houghton Regis is about to get an amazing new all-weather facility funded by developer money, town council money, Central Bedfordshire Council money and Government money. Will the Minister come to open the facility? It is much needed and should be celebrated.

How could I possibly resist such an invitation? It is always a great honour to open facilities in this role, and I am delighted that we are so busy that we are opening thousands of them.

Local Journalism

We recognise that local media face serious challenges to their sustainability. Our digital markets legislation will help to rebalance the relationship between publishers and platforms, and the Government have been exploring the role of the BBC in local news through the mid-term charter review. We continue to consider all possible options in the interest of promoting and sustaining local newspapers, because we think they are vital pillars of the community and of a thriving democracy.

Low pay and job insecurity are rife in local journalism. There have recently been big redundancies at my local paper, the Evening Chronicle, which has lost a third of its news reporters and half its sports reporters over a two-year period, meaning that my constituents get less local news, less coverage of emergency incidents and less coverage of their beloved sports teams. What further steps will the Minister take to address the issue of retaining careers in local journalism?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising these issues. I know that sustaining a good, financially beneficial career is a concern for many people working in journalism. Before I went on leave, I met Reach and other local newspaper groups to talk about some of the challenges they face. The Government are doing what we can through our ad spend, and we have looked at various things over the years, including zero rating of VAT, rates relief and so on, to try to help the sustainability of the local newspaper model. Ultimately, sustainability is at the heart of the challenge of giving local journalists places to have good careers. We are encouraging the BBC’s local democracy reporting service, which gives journalists opportunities beyond local newspapers.

I welcome the Minister back to her place. The Government are one of the biggest advertisers in the UK yet, when it comes to placing adverts and campaigns, local papers such as the Barnsley Chronicle can be overlooked in favour of buying ad space online. Many people in this country do not have digital access or still rely on print media as their primary source of news and information, and our local papers are struggling. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the Government’s policy on placing adverts supports the interests of both our press and the public?

I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting this issue, which the Cabinet Office leads on. The DCMS has been in talks with the Cabinet Office about that spend. As I say, I have spoken to groups such as Reach about this previously. I was in the Cabinet Office during the pandemic, when some large adverts were used and some of the issues faced were about regularity; the Government spent a large amount of money with local newspapers because of that audience reach, because of older readership and so on. So the Government do a lot in this area, but I appreciate that there is always more we can look to do and I understand the point she is making about online advertising.

Sports Facilities: Devon and Cornwall

5. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on developing new sports facilities in Devon and Cornwall. (900891)

As I mentioned a moment ago, the Government are investing in facilities up and down the country. I am pleased to say that the multi-sport grassroots facilities programme has invested, through the Football Foundation, more than £766,000 since 2022 across Devon and Cornwall, supporting 79 projects so far with equipment.

Groups such as the Torquay athletics club do great work in coaching and encouraging young people across Torbay to participate in sport, yet there are no synthetic 400-metre track and field athletics facilities suitable for high-level training in our bay. What opportunities does the Minister see for getting such a facility in Torbay to address that need?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. It is vital that communities have access to the right facilities, in order to help us meet our target of having more than 3 million more people being active by 2030. Sport England has provided more than £20 million to support grassroots projects in the region. I would be happy to share a full list of the available funds that are open for him to have a look at. Let me also add my thanks to his constituents for the work they are doing in getting people more active.

Loneliness

Since the tackling loneliness strategy launched in 2018, the Government and their partners have invested more than £80 million in tackling loneliness. The 2023 annual report included 60 new cross-government commitments, and updates on progress on things included in that report are due to be published in March.

Severe cuts have left a £600 million gap in adult social care funding. More than 1 million lonely and isolated elderly people now rely on charities such as Re-engage, which I volunteer with, to plug that gap. I know that the Minister does care about this, but surely he must recognise that those cuts and their leading to that rise in desperate loneliness are because of this Government.

First, let me pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work she does with those charities. The partnership between Government and charities has made the UK one of the world’s leading countries on tackling loneliness. That is why in the Budget in 2023 we announced £100 million of support for charities and community organisations, recognising the challenges they face and paying tribute to them for the work they are doing in tackling this important issue.

When the Government released their national strategy in 2018, we had a far more limited understanding of loneliness, its consequences and the effectiveness of interventions than we do now. However, despite six years of hard work and good initiatives, the problem has got worse; the level of loneliness has risen by half a million since 2020. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) said, the pandemic and now the cost of living crisis have created new pressures, and with charities and local authorities facing higher demand and rising costs, it is increasingly difficult for them to respond. Given all those challenges, what has the Minister done to prepare for a refreshed national strategy to tackle loneliness?

This is a complex area and a lot of the research done since the strategy was launched in 2018 has helped us to understand the issue in a lot more detail. Chronic loneliness has remained at about the same level, but there is still more work to be done. That is why we are now taking very targeted approaches to specific demographics within our society. I am also convening a cross-government meeting of Ministers from across Departments to see what more we can do to make sure we are meeting our strategy ambition.

Protecting Heritage Assets

7. What steps her Department is taking to support local communities and special interest groups in protecting heritage assets. (900894)

DCMS welcomes applications through Historic England for local heritage assets to be considered for designation. We are also committed to supporting communities to care for their local heritage assets, including through Historic England’s repair grants for heritage at risk and the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s grants for heritage.

With both RAF Northolt and the Battle of Britain Bunker in the heart of my constituency, the people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip share incredibly deep ties with the second world war, especially in the context of the Royal Air Force. As the 84th anniversary of the battle of Britain approaches, would my hon. Friend meet me and other local groups dedicated to preserving the important fabric of both of these valuable heritage sites, to ensure all is done for them to continue to stand as testaments to the bravery of the few who preserved our freedoms?

My constituency shares deep ties with my hon. Friend’s, as RAF Hornchurch is in my constituency. Some RAF fighters based there joined in the battle of Britain, protecting London and our nation at a time of deep terror. We have a fantastic local museum at RAF Hornchurch, if I may just give it a plug, that is run by volunteers and is an absolute treasure trove; I recommend it. I understand that my hon. Friend has met with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, who is responsible for arts and heritage, but I understand that we will also have an opportunity to debate the subject in greater detail next week, and I look forward to that.

Hadrian’s Wall runs through the heart of Newcastle’s west end, but it is little celebrated or signposted, and the Hadrian’s Wall national trail does not actually follow the wall’s path through my constituency. What help can the Minister offer to local communities keen to celebrate this history, which is literally in their backyard?

I was not aware of this outrageous oversight on paths and signage, so I will raise it with Lord Parkinson at the next opportunity.

Will the Minister help the heritage of Victoria Tower Gardens and the voluntary organisations London Parks & Gardens Trust and the Thorney Island Society by getting the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation to unredact the minutes of December 2018, so that I can quote them when I appear at the hybrid Bill Committee on Wednesday?

I confess I am not sure about the issue my hon. Friend refers to, so I will do some investigation and we will see what the Department can do to facilitate his request.

I thank the Minister for her positive answers; it is good to see her back in her place.

We have some incredible heritage in Strangford, which goes back long before Ards and North Down Borough Council was brought together. The council has some ideas for promoting first and second world war heritage at the Somme Museum at Conlig. Have any discussions taken place with Ards and North Down Borough Council to ensure that our heritage is retained for everyone, culturally, historically and visually?

I have just been informed that my ministerial colleague had a very positive visit to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—I am sure he always offers a good time in Northern Ireland. I will ask if there have been any discussions with his local authority on that basis.

UK Musicians: European Tours

I am still feeling slightly embarrassed by my answer to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)!

We have engaged with EU member states to clarify guidance and, where possible, improve arrangements when for EU touring. The vast majority of EU member states—23 of the 27—offer visa and permit-free routes to touring. We are always looking at what more we can do, including through the music export growth scheme, which is being tripled to £3.2 million over the next two years.

Glasgow North is home to many talented musicians, some of whom play in Scotland’s world-class orchestras, but the Association of British Orchestras has warned that the removal of tax credits for performances in the European economic area is a direct result of Brexit and could make touring in Europe unviable for orchestras. What is the Minister’s message to my constituents, whose ability to tour in Europe is being sacrificed on the altar of Brexit fundamentalism?

Unlike the SNP, we actually listen to what people say in referenda, so I am afraid we will not be rejoining the EU and therefore we cannot have special tax privileges on that basis. DCMS is aware of the concerns of touring orchestras. We are facilitating discussions with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs so the orchestras know precisely where they stand on some of the issues they have raised.

Film and Television Industry

We have seen significant growth in the film and TV industries. The support that we have taken includes reforms to audiovisual tax reliefs, uplifts for animation and children’s TV, and £28 million of investment in the UK global screen fund. As I have said, the Labour party voted against all our tax reliefs and, as far as I am aware, has offered no funding to those industries.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her answer. She will know that there is now more studio space for feature film production in the home counties than there is in Hollywood. However, there is a vulnerability. We found that out at the time of the American writers and actors’ strikes, when a number of my friends, and many other people who are not my friends, were made redundant temporarily because film production halted. How can we make the British film industry more independent of the American production machine?

I know that my hon. Friend is himself a veteran of the silver screen, appearing in the brilliant British “House of Cards”. Our film industry is world leading. He is right that the strikes caused disruption. We work very closely with our partners in other jurisdictions. One example is the international hit film “Barbie”, which was filmed in the UK, supported 750 jobs, added £80 million to our economy and earned more than £1.1 billion at the global box office. We needed to ensure that the film industry could continue to thrive after the strikes, which is why we are continuing to support the industry with tax incentives, funding pots and, importantly, the development of a skills pipeline to ensure success long into the future.

BBC Current Affairs Coverage: Impartiality

10. Whether she has had recent discussions with the BBC Board on the impartiality of the BBC’s current affairs coverage. (900897)

The BBC has a duty to deliver its impartial and accurate news and current affairs coverage under its royal charter. It is editorially independent, which means that editorial policies are a matter for the BBC, but both the Secretary of State and I regularly meet the BBC’s leadership team. We have discussed the important issue of impartiality on multiple occasions. It is also a key focus of the Government’s mid-term review of the BBC’s governance and regulation.

As a former BBC journalist myself, I completely believe in its editorial independence from the Government, but, just as strongly, I consider it essential that the BBC, across all its programming and from all presenters, should be absolutely and unequivocally impartial. Given the concerns that we have heard about the current coverage of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the reporting of the resignation of the president of Harvard and examples of where Ofcom has found significant editorial failings, does my hon. Friend agree that the BBC needs to work consistently, constantly and visibly to enforce that requirement on impartiality?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right: trust is the BBC’s currency. That is especially important in relation to its international coverage, particularly during conflicts, so it must use its words with care. With regard to the events in Israel and Gaza, the Government have been clear that the BBC should reflect on its coverage and learn lessons for the future, but, of course, we again emphasise impartiality and the highest editorial standards. That is a strategic priority of the BBC’s leadership, and we are talking to them about this in relation to the mid-term review and licensing renewal.

As an ex-BBC reporter, I am in awe of my former colleagues’ bravery and impartiality when they cover world affairs. We have all followed with horror the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Reporters Without Borders says that it appears that Israel is now directly targeting journalists. The Al-Jazeera bureau chief has had three children killed, including his journalist son—what unimaginable pain. Another Palestinian journalist, Ayat Khaddoura, said:

“When will this war end? Who will tell the world what we went through and what we saw?”

I bring her question to the House as she is no longer alive to do so. Can the Minister share with journalists across the world how the Government’s refusal to call for a ceasefire is advancing the cause of journalistic freedom or peace in the region, and can she tell us who the Government’s position has persuaded apart from those on the Labour Front Bench who remain limpet close to the Tory position on Gaza, as on so many other issues?

That question was a long way from the impartiality of the BBC. We must ensure that we stick to the subject of the question. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that topicals would have been a much better place for his question. Minister, can you pick out the part that you need to?

I simply wish to pay tribute to every journalist who puts their life on the line to bring truth to the public’s attention. They play an incredibly important role. We are proud of what the BBC journalists do in particular. They have also done some awesome things in Ukraine. As a Government, we just want to say that we support their work and pay tribute to them.

Access to Sport: Women and Girls

Women and girls should have exactly the same access to sport as boys and men. That is why we supported the recommendations in Karen Carney’s excellent report. It is why we are investing £600 million to boost equal access to sport, and why we recently announced £30 million for the Lionesses Futures Fund to deliver 30 pitches across the country with priority access for women and girls, with further opportunities for 8,000 women and girls.

We have had fantastic success with women’s football, particularly the Lionesses, including Harrogate’s Rachel Daly, who has been a great inspiration locally, but what steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to ensure that sports with a smaller following can sustain a competitive grassroots environment for girls?

I recognise Rachel’s success as the top scorer in the women’s super league last year. We support sport at every level. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, funded by the Government, inspires millions of women and girls to get involved in all sports. The School Games programme, also funded by the Government, encourages children to take up sport and get active.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks there has been a spate of disgusting sexist, misogynistic abuse directed towards sportswomen just for being at the top of their game. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), has been on the receiving end just for standing up to it, which I commend him for. I agree with him that vile, misogynistic comments are dangerous. The reality is that they are putting women and girls off sport. Does the Secretary of State agree that every sporting organisation should have a strategy to eliminate all forms of sexual harassment and abuse?

I agree with the hon. Member: we should not have misogynistic, bullying behaviour in sport, and all governing bodies should be looking at what their sports are doing. We set out in our sports strategy how we should have fair competition and integrity in sport.

The Secretary of State mentioned the Carney review, but I am afraid that the Government seem to be failing women’s football on that, with a complete lack of detail about how the implementation group to put into practice the Carney review recommendations will work. Without senior leadership, that group will not have the teeth that it needs, and all the hard work will be put at risk. Fans, players and clubs deserve urgent action and leadership from the top. If the Secretary of State does not reform the women’s game and give it the same prominence as the men’s, I will. Will she commit to chairing the implementation group, and reporting back to Parliament so that MPs can hold her to account?

I completely dispute what the hon. Member says about our support for women in sport, and women in football. I have had the pleasure of meeting Karen Carney on a number of occasions. Her report is excellent. We endorse all its recommendations, many of which are for the FA, which I have also spoken to on this subject. I will ensure that the recommendations are fulfilled. The implementation board will have all the governing bodies on it. Its first meeting is in March. I will keep a very close eye on the board, and will work very closely with my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on that and every other issue.

Topical Questions

As 2023 drew to a close, official statistics highlighted that under this Government the creative industries continued to thrive. They now employ almost 2.5 million workers, a growth of 4.4%, so we are well on our way to meeting our objectives to grow the creative industries by £50 billion and increase employment by 1 million by 2030.

Local commercial radio, whether in Lancashire or Suffolk, can fill the gap left by the reduction in BBC local radio coverage, but in the Lowestoft and Waveney area it is constrained in doing so, as the local digital audio broadcasting network has not been extended to cover the area. Please can my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for that important infrastructure, which is available throughout most of the UK, to be extended to north-east Suffolk as soon as possible?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of local radio to listeners across the UK, and I know that he is an effective campaigner for his local area. The BBC and commercial radio are responsible for the operation of their respective radio networks, including the DAB radio networks, but I have asked my officials to engage with local DAB multiplex operators and broadcasters to look at whether there is a desire to increase local DAB coverage further.

T2. Does the Secretary of State agree that, in the media world, content is king, and that that is why we must support our world-leading creative talent? Will she take steps to require artificial intelligence developers to provide songwriters and composers with detailed information as to how their works are being used, including when authorisation has been granted for use of those works as training data? (900907)

The right hon. Member is absolutely right about the importance of protecting the original work of the creative industries. I have held a number of roundtables to ensure that we protect that originality. The Intellectual Property Office is working on that very issue, and I have been liaising with it and with the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology.

T3. The Secretary of State will be aware that the Premier League and the English Football League have held meetings, and yet have failed to come up with a solution for a fairer redistribution of funding. Given their inability to come to an agreement, will she get the two sides together round the table—she is probably already doing it—to encourage them to come up with a solution? Failing that, if legislation is necessary, will she consider it, because we do not want to see any clubs going under? (900908)

It is absolutely right that a deal should be done. The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and I have been encouraging all the authorities to come to an arrangement. We have been clear that if no arrangement is reached, there will obviously be a backstop in the legislation for the football regulator that we will bring forward to the House shortly.

T5. As the Secretary of State will be aware, charities are facing an extremely challenging fundraising environment and, at the same time, are trying to respond to increased demands due to the cost of living crisis. Will she explain why the Government continue to impose sales restrictions on charity lottery fundraising, the removal of which would not cost the Treasury a single penny, but would ensure much-needed additional funds for charitable causes? That would hugely benefit communities in my constituency and across the whole UK. (900910)

As probably one of the few Members of this House who have actually set up a charities lottery, I understand the importance of them. It is right to say that we did a significant review of them not so long ago. I know the hon. Member is probably referring to one particular lottery, and I have written to that lottery with suggestions, having consulted with the Gambling Commission, of ways it may be able to expand within the current remit. But, as a Department, we are extremely busy at the moment dealing with the gambling White Paper—that has to take priority. Once we have done that, we will consider what further work may need to be done on society lotteries.

T4. With both Wealdstone and Uxbridge football clubs embedded in my constituency, grassroots football is incredibly important to the people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Clubs like those offer more than just football; they act as vital community hubs and support a significant increase in girls’ football through to special educational provision and much more. For the benefit of the clubs and fans across my constituency, will the Minister give the House an update on the progress being made to protect grassroots football, including how television revenues will be distributed, to ensure that those important community assets do not just survive but flourish? (900909)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of football clubs like Wealdstone and Uxbridge. They are incredibly important in providing opportunities for people to become physically active, but are also integral parts of our communities. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just mentioned, we have been urging the football authorities to come up with a deal, so that that money can flow down and we can ensure that our great football sport that we have in this country continues to flourish.

T6. This year, in Scotland, we will have the chance to see the Scottish football team on terrestrial television. That is a rare opportunity—not just because we have qualified, but because Scottish football, like other sports, is becoming increasingly difficult to view, because it is increasingly behind a paywall. That is damaging its attraction to young people who want to see it. Will the Minister tell us what discussions are taking place to try to alleviate that problem? (900911)

I am glad that people in Scotland will be able to watch their national team. I believe that our current list works well. It is important that we strike the right balance, because we have to ensure that the sport rights holders use the income they get to benefit the whole of that sporting environment. That is something we look at constantly, but I think that at the moment we have the right balance.

Given Ofcom’s comments that it is considering whether its proposals for regulation of local radio are still appropriate in the light of the BBC’s changes to local radio provision, does the Minister agree that the BBC’s mid-term review is a good opportunity to look at how the BBC delivers for older audiences, particularly in its local radio provision?

The mid-term review is a very important point where we can look further, and indeed have looked further, at a number of issues, including competition, complaints and impartiality. We will be publishing the results of the mid-term review very shortly.

The Minister will know that Warwick and Leamington—Leamington being also known as Silicon Spa—enjoys the greatest concentration of games companies in the world. I appreciate what was said in the autumn statement, but there is a skills shortage. Can the Minister update us on what is being done to address that?

The gaming industry in this country is world leading, and I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of gaming companies to see how they are thriving. We have a creative industries skills package, which we committed to in the creative industries sector vision, to ensure a pipeline of talent all the way from primary school right up until someone’s second or third job, and there are measures at every single one of those steps.

Wallington FC is an amazing local football club in Roundshaw, in Carshalton and Wallington, but it is having trouble maintaining its lease with the new owners and its very old sports pavilion needs an overhaul. Can the Minister set out what support is available from the Department or other organisations to help with that?

The volunteers that my hon. Friend mentions are absolutely the lifeblood of community sport and it is vital that they have those facilities, as I mentioned earlier. Again, we are investing more than £320 million, and any team can have discussions with the local authority and the Football Foundation. I am happy to meet him privately to discuss that and perhaps give him some pointers.

Performers in the UK are having their images, voices or likenesses reproduced by others using AI technology, without their consent. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which regulates performers’ intellectual property, does not account for AI. When will this Government act to protect the rights of artists, performers and other creatives in the UK, or are they content to see this continued exploitation and violation of people’s intellectual property rights?

The hon. Member will know that in the UK we have world-leading protections for copyright and intellectual property. We want to make sure that, as we move into a new technological age with generative AI, we continue to protect creative work. I assure her that we are working closely with the industry and the Intellectual Property Office to ensure that we get the best protections we can, and I know that an update on the IPO’s work will be published shortly.

One of the key recommendations of the Carney review into women’s football was the need for an improvement in mental health provision in elite women’s sport. I think the Government have accepted most of the recommendations of the Carney review, so can the Secretary of State give us an update on how she thinks mental health provision needs to be improved in women’s elite sport?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that important piece of work in Karen Carney’s review. I know that football authorities such as the FA, for example, are starting work in this area, but that is precisely why we will be introducing the implementation group, because we want to ensure that pressure is put on to do the work that is needed, and to do it quickly.

Labour has a programme for a new generation of youth hubs, because we know that our young people are struggling with mental health challenges, school, themselves and others, and some are being picked off by criminal gangs. In contrast with our programme, the YMCA has identified a 70% cut in funding since 2010 and a loss of 4,500 frontline youth workers. When will the Government invest in our young people and in a comprehensive youth service?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, because this is something I feel very passionately about. I am very proud that we are investing £500 million in our national youth guarantee, and that we already have in place a programme to build youth clubs—we have already built 87 throughout the country, spending £300 million. We want constructive things for people to do, which is why we are spending £300 million on our sports pitches. I have strengthened the statutory guidance in relation to what local authorities are required to do, and we are working across Departments to ensure that our young people have something to do, somewhere to go and someone to talk to.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Choral Music: Cathedrals

The Church Commissioners provided £1 million to support music in cathedrals during the pandemic. That sum was match funded by the Cathedral Music Trust. The commissioners are extremely grateful to the trust for doing what it did to help ensure that worship in our cathedrals remains of the highest calibre.

My hon. Friend will know that cathedral schools, such as Lichfield Cathedral School, play an important part in providing young choristers for cathedrals, but they are very concerned that if they have to charge 20% on their fees, and possibly lose their charitable status, they may no longer be viable and will go bust. What assessment have the commissioners made of the effects of such a change?

I can tell my hon. Friend that there is a concern that cathedral schools may not be able to afford to pay business rates. If the payment of business rates and the addition of VAT on fees cause choir schools to close, that would be an issue for a number of cathedrals.

Rough Sleeping

2. What steps the Church is taking to support work by local authorities and the Government on reducing rough sleeping. (900768)

Many parish churches provide shelters and support for rough sleepers. The Church of England is working to provide long-term secure housing for those who need it, and piloting projects to build housing on Church land to enable that to happen.

Church buildings and congregations can work well with local councils to reduce rough sleeping by providing not only a bed and a meal, but the opportunity for lasting spiritual and emotional support through membership of the Church family. What further support can the Church of England offer parishes in Torbay that are undertaking such work?

I warmly congratulate all the churches in Torbay on the provision of the night shelter, and I single out in particular Mark Gridley and Gary Mitchell, who I know have been instrumental in leading that work—I am sure that the whole House is grateful for what they are doing. It is also typical of my hon. Friend that, as I understand it, he provides a Sunday evening surgery at the shelter. I am sure that churches across England could learn from that excellent initiative. If any churches would welcome conversation with the Church of England about housing on Church land, I ask them to get in touch with me directly and I will enable that to happen.

In my constituency, unfortunately, at this time of year we are witnessing a number of people who are homeless—we have not seen that for some time. The story of Christmas tells of Mary’s journey before the birth of baby Jesus, when they too were homeless. I am very keen to hear from the Church Commissioners what can be done not just here on the mainland, which I understand is the responsibility of the Church of England, but in Northern Ireland, where the Church of Ireland and other churches also wish to participate.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. In the first instance, I suggest that he and churches in Northern Ireland might want to look at the joint archbishops’ commission on housing, which came out last year. The commission was widely praised for its work, and we are taking that work forward in the Church of England, but I am sure that churches in Northern Ireland could learn from it as well.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Election Finance from Overseas: Transparency

3. Whether the committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the adequacy of the transparency of election finance from overseas. (900769)

The committee has not had any recent discussions with the commission on the matters raised. The commission publishes information about donations to ensure transparency, and has powers to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. However, it has also highlighted that the political finance system is vulnerable to unlawful influence from donations both overseas and in the UK. It has recommended that parties should be required to know where donations come from, and to have policies in place to manage the risk of receiving money from unlawful sources.

Last year, the parliamentary National Security Strategy Committee revealed that the Russian state attempted to interfere with the 2019 general election. This Government have made it easier for overseas donors, including those living in Russia, to donate to UK political parties. Does the Electoral Commission share my party’s concern that this Government are opening up UK democracy to even greater influence by hostile nations?

It would be a matter for the security services, rather than the Electoral Commission, to make a full assessment of whether unlawful foreign money has been used to campaign at UK general elections—in 2019, for example, as the hon. Member has pointed out. However, political parties must report when they are given an unlawful donation and return it to the donor. In addition, the commission carries out permissibility checks on a sample of donations, and has the power to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. The commission will continue to recommend changes to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in the political finance system.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Multimedia Platforms

4. Whether the commissioners are taking steps to improve the use of multimedia platforms to communicate the Church’s mission and ministry. (900770)

I am very pleased to be able to tell the hon. Lady that the Church of England has transformed its use of digital and social media in recent years, including through Instagram and TikTok, and our digital team has won over 30 prestigious awards for its work. That has led to hugely increased online engagement—as the hon. Lady and I were learning about earlier this morning—not least among those who have difficulty attending church.

In a multimedia age, there are 2 million people in the UK who are housebound, and globally many Christians across the persecuted church are unable to gather with others. With good Christian online content such as services and podcasts, and popular series such as “The Chosen” through to the Alpha course, how is the Church equipping people to navigate that content safely and easily, in order to extend its mission with the equipment and skills needed to access it?

I commend the hon. Lady for such an important question, which takes in the housebound in England and people persecuted across the world who cannot attend church safely; she is absolutely right to raise those issues. For those who are not online at all, the Church of England offers DailyHope, which is a free telephone line providing 24/7 worship, prayer and talks. Of course, our digital content can be followed not just around England but across the world, to help make Jesus known.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

General Election: Online Misinformation

5. What recent discussions the committee has had with the Electoral Commission on tackling online misinformation ahead of the next general election. (900771)

The committee has not had any recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the matters raised. The commission’s regulatory remit is focused on ensuring that political finance is transparent and that campaigning materials include an imprint showing voters who has produced the material. The commission does not have a role in regulating the content of election material, but it does encourage all campaigners to undertake their role responsibly and transparently. It has called for changes in the law to improve transparency and safeguard the UK’s electoral system.

I thank the hon. Lady for her answer. The imprints are going to be important, but we have already seen an attack on our system through cyber-attacks at the last general election. At this general election, we face the increased, insidious threat to our democracy from artificial intelligence and fake news circulating false audio from politicians during conference season, so is there anything else that the commission is considering, or that it could do, to attack that sort of insidious approach?

The commission shares the hon. Lady’s concerns about some of the threats that new technologies, deepfakes and AI-generated content could pose, ultimately taking away voter confidence in the electoral system. While the commission does not have a role in the regulation of the content of campaign material, it is working with other organisations to try to support responsible and transparent campaigning. If the hon. Lady would be interested, I would be very happy to arrange an opportunity for her to meet with the Electoral Commission, perhaps to discuss this matter further.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Australian Wine

6. If the Commission will take steps to increase purchases of Australian wine for sale in the House of Commons. (900772)

The wine sold in the House of Commons is reviewed annually, with the next review due in the spring of 2024. The right hon. Gentleman’s question specifically relates to Australian wine; I understand that a Chardonnay and a Shiraz are available, compared with three English wines, so Australian wine is represented on the wine list in the Palace of Westminster.

As part of a dispute over covid, China imposed particularly punishing tariffs on Australian wine, damaging that industry. May I urge the House of Commons Commission to stand with our Australian friends and allies, and prioritise buying Australian wine and encouraging its use in our venues to make it clear that bullying does not pay?

Of course, if colleagues here wish to prioritise the purchase of Australian wine from the wine list, I encourage them to do so, but I also remind them that we have very good English wines on the wine list as well. More generally, I am sure the nation has heard the right hon. Gentleman’s call to arms, so when we are out in the supermarkets stocking our own shelves, perhaps we should all be mindful of buying two or three bottles of Australian wine as well—seriously—to show solidarity with our Australian friends and their growers.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Church Buildings: Security

7. Whether the Commissioners have issued recent guidance to church parishes on securing their buildings against theft. (900773)

Back from wine to God, Mr Speaker. Sadly, vandalism and theft are persistent issues for parish churches, and I was sorry to learn about thefts at churches in Stanmore, Hendon, Edgware and Bushey in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I can tell him that advice from the diocese has been circulated to all parishes in the area. Of course, the best way to deter thieves is to have a high footfall in and around churches, keeping the building open to welcome people. I also know that the police will be providing crime prevention advice to the churches concerned.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He is right that St John’s church in Stanmore was the subject of a burglary just before Christmas, Christ Church in Hendon was the subject of another burglary, and St Andrew’s church in Kingsbury was robbed during the mass itself. Will my hon. Friend use his powers to encourage the police to take extra action, particularly around Christian festivals when it seems that there is more action by burglars and a pattern of behaviour?

I think the whole House is very sorry to learn what has happened to my hon. Friend’s local churches. A theft during the mass is really quite extraordinary. I will make sure that the Church of England nationally gets in touch with the Metropolitan police to pass on his concerns about that case. On general security advice, alarm sensors and attaching safes securely to the building will help, as will making sure that there is an accurate record, and pictures of valuables can help to secure their return. We certainly do not want a repeat of what my hon. Friend has experienced.

Cuba: Support for Christians

I commend the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief for yet again bringing this issue before the House. It is extremely concerning that the Cuban Government continue to control religious activity so tightly by using surveillance, harassment, forced exile, fines and ill-treatment of prisoners. The Church of England works multilaterally through the United Nations, the World Council of Churches and other bodies to advocate vigorously for freedom of religion or belief for everyone in Cuba.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. The Open Doors 2024 world watchlist will be launched in the Palace of Westminster on 17 January, and I urge all colleagues to attend. I anticipate that once again it will, sadly, indicate a deteriorating picture of freedom for Christians around the world as autocratic regimes seek to suppress dissenting voices.

On Cuba, I thank the Church Commissioner for sharing my concerns about reports on the worsening situation, particularly for religious leaders there. As he mentioned, many are subject to harassment, fines, forced exile, detention and ill-treatment in prison. Will he join me in calling for the release of religious prisoner of conscience Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the case of Pastor Lorenzo is all too indicative of a worsening climate of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba. The Church of England calls on the Cuban Government to release Pastor Lorenzo immediately, along with all those others detained in relation to the 11 July protests. The international community must continue to follow this case closely and hold Cuba to account bilaterally and multilaterally. My hon. Friend has put Pastor Lorenzo’s name on the record in this House. I also endorse everything she said about the Open Doors event in the House next Wednesday.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Party Spending Limits: Impact on the Democratic Process

9. Whether the committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the potential impact of increased electoral party spending limits on the democratic process. (900775)

The committee discussed the matters raised at a private meeting with the Electoral Commission in November. The commission has said that the UK Government’s recent increases to spending limits and donation reporting thresholds represent significant changes to the UK’s political finance controls. The commission has published updated guidance to support parties to understand and comply with the new limits; however, it is concerned that increased spending limits risk significantly more scope for higher-spending parties to campaign.

The Daily Mirror reported at the weekend that the Conservative party is already spending more on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page and adverts than Donald Trump is spending on his, so the motivation for doubling the party spending limits is pretty clear already. If this cannot be stopped, can the commission at least do more to increase transparency, so that people can see this shoddy attempt to buy democracy for what it is?

The commission has said that any changes to spending reporting thresholds should be supported by rigorous analysis—which of course is for the Government to publish—including of the likely impact on public confidence and transparency. The commission continues to make the case for changes to the political finance system to further improve public trust and confidence.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Anglican Hospital in Gaza

The House may not be aware that the Anglican Church is one of the largest providers of healthcare and education globally. The al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza is an example of this. Before Christmas, the hospital was severely damaged again and a tank demolished its front wall. Most of the hospital staff were taken away by the Israeli Defence Force and the Church of England has asked the Government here to inquire about their wellbeing and whereabouts and to request that they be released.

Intimidation by hard-line settlers has prompted the Patriarch to say that clergy are fighting for their lives, and that the Armenian quarter faces a violent demise. Is a Christian presence in Jerusalem still viable?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for bringing this issue before the House. He is right: a century ago, a quarter of Jerusalem was Christian; now, just 1% of the population is, and in the Armenian quarter of the old city, the Christian presence has come under intensified threat from intimidation and aggressive property acquisition by settlers. The Church of England is very concerned that the rule of law should prevail in Israel and the status quo be maintained. It is unconscionable that Christians should be driven from the holy land.

I am grateful. When I referred to December 2018, I should have made it clear that that was the date of the freedom of information request by Dorian Gerhold. I shall write to the Minister explaining what information I want.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 15 January will include:

Monday 15 January—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill.

Tuesday 16 January—Committee of the whole House on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill (day one).

Wednesday 17 January—Committee of the whole House on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill (day two).

Thursday 18 January—Debate on a motion on the loan charge, followed by a debate on a motion on HS2 compensation. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 19 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 22 January includes:

Monday 22 January—Second Reading of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill.

Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, to staff, to Members and to those watching. It might be a new year, but I am afraid it is the same old story: a Government who have run out of road and ideas, and who are not fixing the problems we face but making them worse. Many on the Leader of the House’s own side have reached the same conclusion. Yet another MP has resigned having lost trust, another has admitted that over their 13 years things have got worse, and a former Immigration Minister is taking to the airwaves to say that their Rwanda plan will not work—and it is only the first week back.

But some things have changed. The Prime Minister seems to have had a dramatic reversal in strategy. Despite just months ago rather laughably saying that he was the change candidate, his latest reset confirmed what we all know: he is now just offering more of the same—more of the same low growth, more of the same high taxes, more of the same backlogs and broken public services, and more of the same historically low living standards. Only this hapless Prime Minister would set himself targets that were hard to miss and then miss them.

We had further confirmation today, with new figures from the BBC showing every NHS target missed, and not just this past year, when the Government want to blame the strikes, or since the pandemic, which might be a little understandable—no: key NHS targets have been missed in each and every one of the past seven years. That is the second half of their time in office, after all their decisions and policies took effect. That is the record of this Government. Let us have that debate in this election year about the choice the voters will face: more of the same failure from the Conservatives, or change and hope with Labour.

Turning to the sub-postmaster scandal, we welcome the Government’s announcement of emergency legislation to quickly pardon those wrongfully convicted, and we stand ready to work with them. What has now come to wider public attention is the travesty, injustice and two decades of struggle they faced. Will the Leader of the House give us more details today and assure us that as the spotlight inevitably moves on, the Government will not take their foot off the gas in getting urgent justice, redress and accountability?

The issue goes wider. It follows a pattern similar to other injustices in which the state or corporate cover-up has wronged ordinary people, such as Windrush, infected blood, building safety and Grenfell, Hillsborough and more. All those cases, transpiring over decades, came to public awareness after the notable efforts of Back Benchers and dogged journalists working with the victims. Today’s Government should be learning wider lessons.

Recourse and redress proves every time to be incredibly difficult, lengthy and costly, fighting against powerful organisations that employ smoke and mirrors, expensive lawyers and enjoy the protection of the establishment, leaving victims facing years and years of frustrating battle. No amount of money can compensate for a life ruined. How are the Government collectively reviewing these recent scandals to make it easier for group action against vested interests?

Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Government also expedite compensation for the Windrush scheme and victims of infected blood, who are still being frustrated; pay out for the remediation of building safety where innocent leaseholders are still left in limbo; and bring in a legal duty of candour, as demanded by the Hillsborough families. Is justice delayed not justice denied?

Another big learning is for accountability. Time and again, we see those responsible rewarded for failure and not held accountable for their failings, with more Government contracts, bonuses, gongs and peerages and the cost picked up by the taxpayer. I have asked the Leader of the House this before, but will she make it easier for Parliament to strip people of honours and peerages when they are found responsible for serious failings? Will she also condemn the practice, as we saw over the new year, of honours being awarded for failure?

Will the Leader of the House bring forward proposals to go after those responsible to pay financially and face the consequences? Will she put an end to the revolving door of awarding Government contracts? In the case of Fujitsu, the contracts are apparently worth several billion pounds. Is it any wonder that trust in politics has been so eroded when people do not see any accountability and when ordinary people pick up the bill while those responsible get off scot-free?

Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to all colleagues. This week, I was delighted to welcome holocaust survivor Mala Tribich to the Commons, where she viewed the exhibition in Portcullis House. I encourage all Members to see it.

I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that our thoughts remain with the hostages still kept captive in Gaza—next week sees us pass the 100th day since they were taken—just as our thoughts remain with all the innocent people caught up in those events.

May I also give a shout out to the Royal Navy’s rowing team, HMS Oardacious, who are rowing across the Atlantic for mental health support? With just 500 nautical miles to go, they may land before next week’s business questions, and they are currently 100 miles ahead of the next team.

I turn to the substantive issue that the hon. Lady raised: the Post Office scandal. She will know about the existing legislation announced on 29 November, but it is to be welcomed that we are now taking unprecedented steps to quash convictions. That work is well under way, and we want to bring it to the House swiftly. The House will be aware of the risks outlined by the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), but I think we will find them necessary.

While the inquiry will look at some of the issues raised in this place, the hon. Lady is right that we should reflect now on what we could learn, and in particular what we should conclude about the powers given to arm’s length bodies of the state and what operational independence should mean for those organisations. Subsequent Conservative Administrations have been right in gripping and trying to resolve some difficult and long-running issues, from Windrush to the apology given by the noble Lord Cameron to the Hillsborough families, the apology given by the current Prime Minister to former members of our armed forces who had been shamed and driven out of service for being gay, and the 2017 infected blood inquiry and the later compensation study, which will make some amends for the decades of injustice and suffering that those people have endured. I am optimistic that we will reach some justice for those affected this year; I know that the Paymaster General is working hard to do that.

We were right to have a full public inquiry into the Horizon Post Office scandal, and we have rightly heard much about that this week, including in statements and urgent questions. I pay tribute to all right hon. and hon. Members and to the noble Lord Arbuthnot for the work they have done on this issue. I also pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton. In 2021, as a Back Bencher, he was fighting hard for sub-postmasters, and he has diligently pursued this issue in his ministerial role. That is his record on this issue and on much else, too. I remind the House that when he was chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking, he helped people whose businesses had been deliberately and cynically destroyed by their lenders, winning compensation from Lloyds, HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. He is a very good man, and I know that he will bring forward legislation on this issue quickly.

The hon. Lady mentioned NHS performance data. Monthly performance data shows that in November overall waiting lists fell by more than 95,000 from October, down to 7.6 million. There were also 60,000 fewer patients waiting for care in November than in the previous month, and 112,000 fewer than in September. We have some difficult issues to deal with post pandemic, but the Prime Minister’s plan is working, and the new Secretary of State for Health is bringing forward further measures. As the hon. Lady will know, we have stood up an enormous number of new services and new healthcare professionals as well as immense numbers of new diagnostic centres, and we are vastly increasing the number of operations that can take place.

I do not wish to take any lectures from the hon. Lady on performance in the NHS. I point her to what Labour is doing in Wales, where I think the current situation in terms of waiting lists is four times worse than in England. Nor will I take any lessons on tax from a party that is clobbering British citizens where it is in power. It is doubling rates in Wales, and its London Mayor is clobbering hard-working people and charities with the ultra low emission zone. He has just capitulated to the militant trade unions on transport but does not know where to find the money to do that. Labour is soft on crime; the Met’s £70 million black hole in its budget demonstrates that. Time and again, where Labour is in power, it shows that it is not on the side of the British people.

My right hon. Friend rightly mentioned the holocaust exhibition, and you, Mr Speaker, will lead the holocaust service in a few days’ time. Recently, I met holocaust survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who said that the proposed memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens was too small for its purpose and too large for the park.

The hybrid Committee will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. Will my right hon. Friend consider talking to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to see whether they could put up scaffolding on a temporary basis to show the amount of space taken by the box of the so-called learning centre, and perhaps some plywood boards to illustrate the 23 fins that are supposed to be there? Then, we could go round the outside of the park to see whether it is visible, and see from inside how much damage it does to that well-loved park.

I know that my hon. Friend continues to press on this particular project. He will know that I am limited in what I can do to assist him, but I will write to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to make sure that he has heard, again, what my hon. Friend has said.

Bliadhna mhath ùr—happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone in this place and watching.

Some positive news to start our first business questions of 2024: recent data from the Office for National Statistics and the Scottish Parliament Information Centre—the Commons Library equivalent—shows that Scotland’s gender pay gap is at a record low, and almost half that of the UK as a whole. Women’s weekly full-time pay has risen more than 10% in the last year. Any gap is, of course, too high, but I am sure that the Leader of the House would like to acknowledge the Scottish Government’s gender pay gap action plan, the first in the UK, which undoubtedly has helped to achieve those welcome results.

The Leader of the House’s Government could take several steps to help end the gender pay gap and advance equality right across these isles. After repeatedly shelving the employment Bill, they could finally act to make workplaces fairer, particularly in the current cost of living crisis, which we know impacts women more. They could legislate for mandatory gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting. They could finally deliver compensation for WASPI women—Women Against State Pension Inequality —who have waited far too long to receive justice. More broadly, they could tackle the gender pension gap, as yearly incomes among pensioners are on average more than £7,000 lower for women.

While the Leader of the House considers her response to those suggestions, could she also respond to reports in the media that her Government blocked a minority ethnic woman from joining the board of Channel 4 without offering a reason? I am curious to hear what action she took in response to the recent comments by the Home Secretary, and whether she will condemn them now. They do nothing to dispel perceptions that a culture of misogyny in the UK Government is hampering progress on these issues. As she is a former Minister for Women and Equalities, I am sure that these matters are close to her heart, so will she support a debate on them, where perhaps some solutions might finally be agreed?

I also wish the hon. Lady a very happy new year. I do welcome the good news on the gender pay gap in Scotland. It is nice to see the SNP championing some good progress in Scotland and giving credit where it is due.

With regard to the UK Government’s record, we are making good progress: since 2010 we have an additional 2 million women in work. As the author of the women in work road map, which looks at every aspect of a woman’s life and tries to address the reasons why she is financially disadvantaged right through her life, from when she leaves school, through raising a family to the pensions gap, I know that this Government are committed to delivering on those disparities.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of Channel 4. I do not know the answer to that today, but I shall certainly ensure that the relevant Department has heard what she said.

The hon. Lady will know what the Home Secretary has said about the other matter she raised. I hope she also knows that the Home Secretary is a very decent fellow who loves his wife greatly. They have been through a lot in recent years as a couple and the hon. Lady will also know that.

I will conclude by adding some further good news about Scotland, which I hope the hon. Lady will welcome. I am delighted that part of the Stone of Destiny has been recovered from SNP headquarters. I am sure that is a great relief to all Members. It is easy to lose things, I know, like a couple of billion quid from your budget, but I am sorry to hear that the SNP has taken as much care of it as it has taken as the steward of Scotland’s public services. Happily, the Tupperware container it was stored in has protected it during its stay and the police raids on that premises. I join my Scottish colleagues in encouraging the SNP to find a more suitable home for it.

Traditional craft skills provide jobs and sustain businesses. They also emphasise our shared history: everything from wheelwrights to weavers, and from corsetry to carpentry. It was therefore very good news that, after a long campaign by the all-party parliamentary group for craft, which I chair, the Government announced that our country will now join the UNESCO convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. Will the Leader of the House bring a statement to the House saying when we will join, which will allow colleagues across the Chamber to question what further steps the Government might take to promote the expertise and experience that epitomises the best of Britain?

I thank my right hon. Friend both for his question and for the diligent work he and his colleagues have done in raising the profile and shining a spotlight on the incredible heritage of crafts and skills that we ought to celebrate retaining and to educate others about. I shall certainly write to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Given that my right hon. Friend has just missed departmental questions today, I will ask her to inform him about the timetable.

Mr Speaker, I wish you and Members across the House a very happy new year.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the Backbench Business for next Thursday. I give her advance notice that we have a heavily subscribed application for a debate on Holocaust Memorial Day on Thursday 25 January, if we are allocated the time. Holocaust Memorial Day itself is on 27 January.

The Backbench Business Committee would very much welcome applications for debate slots in Westminster Hall. We can secure for Members debate slots on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. While we have a glut of applications for the Chamber, we very much welcome applications for Westminster Hall debates to be submitted as soon as possible. I am also glad to report that application forms for Backbench Business debates can now be attained from the Vote Office, so Members can now just pick up a form, fill it in and submit it.

On a local issue for my constituency, the Tyne bridge between Gateshead and Newcastle has been earmarked for funding from the Department for Transport to give it a much-needed repair job and upgrade. I am afraid, though, that the money has been promised but has not been forthcoming, and the work very much needs to start as soon as possible. Indeed, if we do not get the work done, it will not be sound, solid and pristine for its anniversary in four years’ time. Will the Leader of the House check what is happening with the Department for Transport and see whether the funds can be released so that we can get on with the work?

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for his very helpful advert for future Backbench Business debates. In particular, it is good to hear that the Holocaust Memorial Day debate will be very well attended. It obviously has particular poignancy this year. I congratulate him on his innovation with the Vote Office. That is indeed welcome progress.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned a very important constituency matter. As well as celebrating a landmark anniversary, the bridge is a vital thoroughfare for his constituents. Given that the next session of Transport questions will not be until February, I shall write to the Secretary of State on his behalf.

As a Lancashire MP, Mr Speaker, you will be aware that salmon stocks run on a knife edge in our rivers. [Laughter.] I know that there are many famous salmon rivers near your home, Mr Speaker. May I ask the Leader of the House if we can have an urgent debate on the decline in this iconic species in England? Part of that debate will have to cover the impact that cormorant predation is having on salmon smolts.

Before I sit down, I must draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am a former, very undistinguished, chair of the Angling Trust.

I know that this is a matter of concern for many Members around the country. In my own county a number of rivers are suffering particularly as a result of the issues raised by my hon. Friend. Given that the next relevant questions session will not be until February, I will write to the Secretary of State to make him aware of those issues.

May I wish you and your staff a happy new year, Mr Speaker?

As my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House pointed out, the handling of the Post Office scandal and the delayed justice involved will be familiar to many people, including my constituents, who have been caught up in similar outrageous scandals from Grenfell to Windrush to contaminated blood. In each case Ministers tell them that there is nothing they can do, until they are forced into action by public shame. Will the Leader of the House please allow Government time in which we can make progress for the victims of those scandals?

I know that many Members have constituents who are still waiting for compensation or the resolution of issues on a number of fronts. I shall not repeat what I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, but I will say that I shall ask the Cabinet Office what more the head of the civil service can do to ensure that lessons are learnt from the last few weeks in particular. I know that the Cabinet Office evaluates inquiries to try to improve the quality of subsequent work. That has certainly happened in connection with big public inquiries, when it has looked into what constitutes good practice in respect of everything from looking after witnesses to ensuring that those inquiries take place speedily. However, I will ensure that the relevant people in the Cabinet Office have heard the hon. Lady’s concerns, which I am sure are echoed by many other Members on both sides of the House.

On Friday 23 February my private Member’s Bill, the Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill, is due to be debated, but sadly it is No. 5 on the Order Paper, and I fear that we may not have much time in which to debate it. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could allocate Government time for a debate on the constitutional sexism which means that an eighth of the seats in the other place are reserved for men. Through such a debate we might be able to seek Government support, and also demonstrate the strength of feeling on both sides of the House that this constitutional sexism needs to end.

My hon. Friend will have heard that expression of support for her Bill from Members in all parts of the House. I congratulate her on her diligence: I know that she has been working with the Cabinet Office for several years to ensure that any impediment to her Bill’s progress is dealt with. It is a very narrow Bill, which does not deal with any other issues such as inheritance.

I will certainly ensure that the relevant Minister at the Cabinet Office is aware that the Bill is on the Order Paper. I know that my hon. Friend is having discussions with many Ministers about it, and if I can facilitate any of those conversations, I stand ready to do so.

More than 10 hospitality venues close each day in the UK. Before Christmas, I visited the wonderful Abbey deli in Bath to hear about the challenges that hospitality businesses face in my constituency. I was told that one solution might be a sliding scale of VAT, which could result in both more tax revenue for the Government and higher profits for small businesses. Can we have a statement from the relevant Minister on what the Government will do to support hospitality businesses in 2024?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. She will know that the Treasury, in particular, has been very concerned about this sector, to which it provided particular support through the pandemic years. Since then, it has continued to support the sector through rates relief and so forth. I fully appreciate that VAT thresholds are a particular problem for these types of businesses, and I will make sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has heard what she says. The hon. Lady is a very experienced parliamentarian, and she will know what she can do as we approach the Budget to ensure that these issues are addressed.

My right hon. Friend has referred to arm’s length Government agencies, of which the Post Office is just one. I am sure that Members across the House will have experience of tracking down decision makers within these organisations to hold them to account on behalf of our constituents. Can we have a debate on the accountability of these agencies? It may emerge from that debate how we can make them more accountable.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that suggestion. I think it would be a very timely debate indeed. I have already expressed my views on the subject, and I know that, on Monday, the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), spoke about how accountability is key to ensuring good oversight of arm’s length bodies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) knows how to apply for a debate, and I am sure it would be well attended.

My constituent, Mr Richard Troote, had to wait over 18 months to receive from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs a national insurance refund worth more than £1,300 for the tax year 2021-22. HMRC still has not responded to his complaint, or indeed his request for a complaint, on the refund. Could the Leader of the House ask for a written statement on what Treasury Ministers will do to provide more support to HMRC civil servants to try to deal with these backlogs? In a cost of living crisis, none of our constituents can afford to wait 18 months for these refunds. It is not acceptable.

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. Money owed by HMRC accrues interest, but that arrangement is not reciprocal. As Treasury questions will not be until later next month, I will write to the Treasury if he gives me details of the case. Hopefully we will be able to get this resolved swiftly for his constituent.

Can we have a debate on bus priority measures so that I can express my constituents’ strong opposition to the proposal by Barnet Council and the Mayor of London to introduce bus lanes on the A1000 in High Barnet and Whetstone? They will cause huge congestion, they will damage local businesses and they are not needed or wanted.

My right hon. Friend is right that any such proposal should really be developed with input from the local community, and something has gone wrong if the community is so galvanised against a scheme that is due to come to the area. The next Transport questions are not until 8 February, but I will make sure that the Secretary of State knows about her concerns. I am afraid that the Mayor of London is the decision maker, and I hope he will listen to her and her constituents.

When we ask written questions and when our offices require information from Government Departments, our constituents expect a comprehensive response. However, we are getting standardised responses from UK Visas and Immigration, in particular. We have desperate people who fear for their future, so will the Leader of the House talk to the Home Office about how we can have comprehensive responses so that we can know the timelines, the details and the reasons for the delays in processing cases?

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Lady and perhaps other colleagues are not getting the quality of replies that they need. She will know that we took some measures with the Home Office to try to improve its correspondence services to this House, including getting the permanent secretary to come in to see me. She will also know that Home Office surgeries are available for hon. Members, but I will certainly make sure that the permanent secretary has heard again what she has said. I will also make sure that my teams who work with the parliamentary clerks in those Departments have heard what she has said and will pass that back.

Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s questions, it was a real pleasure to welcome the former Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Sir Chris Tickell, now the Chief Royal Engineer. The Royal Engineers are a key part of community life in the Medway towns and their ranks make up 10% of the British armed forces. The Leader of the House knows from her own experience that the UK has some of the finest armed forces in the world, but there is a real question about recruitment and retention in the British armed forces. May we have an urgent statement from the Ministry of Defence setting out what concrete steps the Government are taking to address that? I declare an interest, in that I used to be a reservist in the British armed forces.

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question and for his previous service. Unfortunately, the date of the next Defence questions has yet to be finalised, so I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard what he has said today and the fact that he has raised this issue.

The strong rationale for HS2 was always about the capacity on the west coast line, rather than speed. The Select Committee has now learned that when HS2 starts to run from London to Birmingham it will actually mean fewer seats on trains further north to Manchester, thus reducing the capacity. Given that the Government created this mess by cancelling HS2 to Manchester, may we have a statement or debate in Government time on how we increase capacity on the west coast main line, so that Manchester is properly served by rail services?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important matter. Given that Transport questions are not until 8 February, I will certainly make sure that the Secretary of State has heard what he has said today. I am sure that this will be about not just rail lines, but rolling stock being purchased and many other issues.

I am sure the whole House will be relieved to hear that the takeover of Southend United football club was finally settled over the festive period. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Conservative leader of Southend City Council, Councillor Tony Cox, on his exceptional efforts in getting that across the line and, of course, Justin Rees, the new owner? Will she also update this House on when the football governance Bill is going to be debated? Many Members want to contribute to that debate, to make sure that we have a more secure future for English football.

I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we are delighted to hear that Southend United is alive and kicking. As a Portsmouth fan, I very much appreciate how much that will mean to the local community. I congratulate everyone on all that they have done to ensure that that happened, particularly Councillor Tony Cox, as I understand he played a major role. I believe that the football governance Bill has support in all parts of the House; we will bring it forward swiftly and further business will be announced in the usual way.

Across the House, I think we all welcome the Government’s action this week on the Horizon scandal, the biggest miscarriage of justice in the UK. Does the Leader of the House think it will take an ITV drama for the Government to act quickly on the infected blood scandal, which is of course the largest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS? As we already have the final recommendations on compensation from Sir Brian Langstaff, why can the Government not bring forward a statement next week setting out that compensation will start to be paid from next week?

I thank the right hon. Lady for raising this issue yet again. I am in regular contact with the Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), and I am confident that it will not take an ITV drama for us to resolve the issue. He is working through what the right hon. Lady will know are some very difficult issues. He has the final shift in this particular story, and I am confident he will deliver on it.

We were all shocked by the layer on layer of injustice that was levelled against those who suffered in the Post Office Horizon scandal. Terrible and shocking as that was, the right hon. Lady and I know that the infected blood inquiry is on another level. We want to ensure people get justice, whether they were infected directly or were affected in some way. We are determined to do that, and I know that the Paymaster General is going to deliver.

I have met with several families in my constituency whose children have education, health and care plans, yet they still experience difficulties finding special educational needs and disabilities support. I have taken up their cases with senior council officers, who tell me that SEND is the No. 1 financial challenge for the council. Can we have a debate on the changes made in the Children and Families Act 2014 and the effect they are having through increased demand for services in local authorities? In North Yorkshire alone, the council believes 1,000 cases last year were attributable to changes made by that Act.

My normal answer would be that my hon. Friend needs to apply for a debate and that I am sure it would be well attended, but that is not required because there is such a debate this afternoon. My hon. Friend is always first out of the blocks, and he has got the points he wishes to raise in Hansard before anyone else, I congratulate him on doing so.

The Leader of the House is always keen to talk about competent government, yet her Government pay £318 million every day in debt interest and national debt is £37,730 for every man, woman and child in the UK. The Government have burned £4.2 billion worth of personal protective equipment and have wasted £66,600 million on HS2, which is now just a rail link from London to Birmingham. In the spirit of her interest in competent government, will the Leader of the House make a statement on which of those achievements she feels most clearly illustrates the competence of her Government?

The hon. Lady is right that we have been through some very difficult challenges; responding to a global pandemic was one of them. Despite all those difficulties, we still manage to have people in England paying lower tax than people in Scotland and we have managed to have a balanced budget, as opposed to the Scottish National party, which is £2 million adrift over the next four years.

St Helier Hospital has been saved, thankfully. Accident and emergency and maternity services are now protected within the London Borough of Sutton, and a second state-of-the-art hospital is being built in our borough as well. Work is already under way to prepare the land and improvement works are happening at the hospital, but can we have a debate in Government time on the progress in delivering the Government’s new hospital programme and the benefits it has for my constituents in Carshalton and Wallington?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all he has done to secure the new facilities—I think he has two new healthcare facilities in his local area. He will know how to apply for a debate; I envisage that it would cover not just capital infrastructure, but the massive uplift in healthcare professionals, as it is no good just having bricks and mortar. He will know that we have smashed our manifesto target of recruiting 50,000 new nurses.

A ceasefire in Gaza is desperately needed—one that begins with humanitarian pauses and becomes sustained, so that the remaining hostages can be got out and, crucially, aid can be got in. Given that UN agencies are critical to getting aid into Gaza but have secured only half the $1.2 billion needed to implement their response plan and support the immediate humanitarian needs in Gaza and the west bank, can we have a debate in Government time on what more Britain can do to galvanise international efforts behind the UN’s flash appeal to support the Palestinians?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter and, in doing so, for providing an advert for that unmet need. He will know that, as well as stepping forward and providing aid to support people both in this particular humanitarian crisis and prior to October, the UK has played a considerable role in not just providing funding but getting others to pledge and deliver finance. I shall make sure that the Foreign Secretary has heard his concerns in that area. I will also write to the international development Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), asking him to contact the hon. Gentleman’s office to update him on what more is being done.

Can we have a debate on the UK Government’s support for Nigeria to defend freedom of religion or belief in light of the appalling atrocity that took place on Christmas eve in Plateau state? At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, a co-ordinated attack by Fulani militants saw 15 villages attacked and approximately 200 people killed, in one of the largest mass attacks in recent years. Christians appeared to be specifically targeted, as militants went from door to door seeking out church pastors to kill. A debate would enable us to join calls for justice, restoration and humanitarian support for the thousands who have been displaced.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that appalling atrocity. It is one of the largest mass attacks that we have seen in recent history and will have brought absolute terror to that community. She will know that the Foreign Office is doing considerable work through the “Strengthening Peace and Resilience in Nigeria” programme. The Department will have been very shocked and disappointed to see this take place. I shall make sure that both the Foreign Secretary and the international development Minister have heard what she has said.

The Leader of the House said that she would take no lessons on the NHS, yet in the past four years alone the number of patients waiting more than four hours in Barnsley A&E has risen by 400%. Why, under this Conservative Government, do my constituents have to wait so long for basic healthcare?

The hon. Lady will know that we are dealing with the unprecedented challenges arising from the pandemic. She will know that we have invested record amounts in the NHS. She will know also that there has been an unprecedented uplift in the number of healthcare professionals. She will know also from the figures out today that those waiting lists are coming down, and we will continue with that work. It has taken a huge amount of investment in diagnostic centres and in providing 2 million more operations to crack through that backlog. Although covid itself is over, we are still dealing with some of the issues that were caused by that pandemic, but we will get through it, and we will return to normal business in the NHS.

The ombudsman concluded that there was official maladministration in relation to those in the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, who were not properly informed about changes to their state pensions. We have been waiting for its further report on whether this caused injustice to the victims. I understand that a provisional version of that report is now written, with a final vision therefore imminent. Given most people expect that there will have been an injustice in many cases and given the scale of redress that will be required where it is found, can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government are aware of these provisional findings and let us know when Ministers will bring forward details of a redress scheme for Parliament to debate and properly approve?

My hon. Friend raises a very important matter. This is a critical piece of work. I will make sure that both the relevant Minister and the ombudsman’s office have heard his concerns today, and I will ask the Minister to give an update on timing.

Schoolchildren in south-east Northumberland have always enjoyed the ability to choose which school they want to attend, but a change in the oversubscription criteria has meant that many kids, mainly in rural areas, are separated from the people they used to go to school with, and their friends and family. They also often have much longer journey times to get to a different school. Can we have a debate in Government time about student allocation in schools in south-east Northumberland, please?

I am sorry to hear about the situation in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. It is really important that we have genuine school choice. That is part of the way that we can drive standards. Of course, we can only have that if there is good local planning on school places and people anticipate the need. I will certainly ensure that what he has said is heard by the Secretary of State for Education. The next Question Time is on 29 January, if he wishes to raise the matter directly, but it is an issue of local planning and decision making.

I am very much looking forward to welcoming the Leader of the House to Bracknell on Saturday. While there are many challenges out there, and sadly some negativity and vitriol on social media, will she reinforce her customary positive narrative by giving a shout-out for all that is good about east Berkshire—notably, our fantastic education and employment opportunities, our superb sense of community, and all those who are doing so much to help others?

I am very much looking forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency. We have been through a rough few years, but the people of this country and his constituency have been absolutely stoic. I know that his local area enjoys nearly full employment and high average wages. I think that all 40 schools in his area are rated good or outstanding, and his business community has attracted unprecedented foreign investment. I know that he is eager to do more for his constituents, but I look forward to learning more about what his community is delivering when I visit shortly.