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Business of the House

Volume 744: debated on Thursday 25 January 2024

The business for next week will include:

Monday 29 January—Second Reading of the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 30 January—Remaining stages of the Media Bill.

Wednesday 31 January—Motion to approve the draft Electoral Commission strategy and policy statement, followed by a motion to approve the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2024, followed by a motion to approve the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2024.

Thursday 1 February—General debate on miners and mining communities, followed by debate on a motion on freedom and democracy in Iran. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 2 February—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 5 February includes:

Monday 5 February—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business.

I begin by paying tribute on the sad loss of Lord John Tomlinson, who served as an MP, MEP and peer for over six decades. He was a formidable force and an effective campaigner. Our thoughts are with his family.

With Holocaust Memorial Day this weekend, and ahead of this afternoon’s debate, more than ever we must never forget the horror of the holocaust and other genocides.

It has now been over a month since the publication of the House of Commons Commission’s proposals on the risk-based exclusion of Members of Parliament. I thank you, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House, the Commission, staff and unions for all their work thus far. When will the Leader of the House table a motion on this important issue? It was first promised before last summer, and then before the end of 2023. The Commission is in agreement, the proposal has wide support across the House, and others are looking to us to take action on the culture in this place.

While we are on the topic of culture in Parliament, I am sure the Leader of the House will join me in welcoming the recommendations of the Jo Cox Foundation’s report on civility in politics. I know that some recent exchanges in this place have caused offence to others, as we did not model the good behaviour that we should. Will she join me in reminding Members of this, and that Parliament should be the exemplar of respectful and cordial debate?

We saw the House and politics at their best this week with the moving, heartfelt, cross-party tributes to Sir Tony Lloyd. He reminds us that we can have strongly held, differing views while remaining dignified and respectful.

The Procedure Committee has now published its report on Commons scrutiny of Secretaries of State in the House of Lords, which I welcome. I commend the Committee for its work, and we will shortly be hearing from its Chair, the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley). The Leader of the House has reassured us many times since Lord Cameron’s appointment that he will be “forward-leaning”, and she promised:

“When the Procedure Committee brings forward measures…those measures will be put in place.”—[Official Report, 30 November 2023; Vol. 741, c. 1061.]

Can she confirm that she will table a motion forthwith to ensure that Lord Cameron comes to the Bar of the House to answer questions and statements, as the Committee recommends? The next Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions are on Wednesday, so the motion should be tabled before then.

Despite war in the middle east, conflict in the Red sea, Russia’s ongoing illegal war in Ukraine and the Venezuelan threat to Guyana, the Foreign Office has failed to meaningfully update Parliament on these international flashpoints. It has offered only two statements since November, with Mr Speaker having to grant 10 urgent questions on these matters instead. It is just not good enough.

We have had three weeks of ad hoc business statements to bring in emergency and urgent legislation. The King’s Speech legislative programme, announced just two months ago, has almost run out. With all the unused parliamentary time, there is no excuse for Ministers not coming to Parliament or getting on with their day job. We have had another week of ministerial failure, with Secretaries of State failing to show up. There was no Secretary of State to speak about steel, either today or during the week, which is insulting to the steelworkers who face redundancy.

The Secretary of State for Education did not show up either. She has had no legislation for months, yet the reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in schools shambles drags on, and now we understand that the much-needed flagship childcare policy is in chaos. Can the Leader of the House shed more light on this? How many parents of two-year-olds who qualify and want to take up the offer of free childcare in April will not be able to access it? And will the roll-out to nine-month-old babies go ahead in September, as promised? Ministers seem unable to give those assurances, and providers are clear that the Government’s flagship roll-out is a sham.

Another week goes by with a failing Government who have run out of road, are out of ideas and are failing to deliver on their basic promises. That is now the verdict of Conservatives as well , with the Prime Minister’s own pollster having concluded that they are not

“providing the bold, decisive action required”

and that

“the Conservatives are heading for the most almighty of defeats.”

Those are his words, not mine, and many agree. So can they just put everyone out of their misery, and get on and call a general election?

I thank all colleagues who will be marking Holocaust Memorial Day this week and, in particular, those taking part in the debate later. Clearly, it has additional significance this year.

I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to Lord John Tomlinson, and I thank her for her tribute. I also send my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Sir Graham Bright, the former Member for Luton East and for Luton South. He served this House and his constituents for 18 years, and this included being John Major’s Parliamentary Private Secretary. He is perhaps best known for his private Member’s Bill that became the Video Recordings Act 1984, which required all commercial video recordings offered for sale or hire within the UK to carry a classification. Legend has it that during the passage of the Bill he had to explain to the Prime Minister of the day what particular acts performed on camera warranted particular ratings. Given that that Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher, that alone would have warranted his knighthood. Many colleagues have spoken very fondly of him over the past few days, and he will be much missed.

Let me also thank two delegations to Parliament this week: the families of Liri Elbag, Eliya Cohen, Idan Shtivi, and Ziv and Gali Berman, who are five of the many hostages still held in Gaza—we must not rest until they are all home—and the Ukrainian delegation, to whom I conveyed our deepest respect and solidarity for all they are doing to protect our freedom. I wish President Zelensky, “Z dnem narodzhennya” and all in the House a happy Burns night.

Let me turn to the hon. Lady’s points. She spoke about the work the House of Commons Commission, on which we both serve, has been doing on the exclusion of Members of Parliament who are considered to be a risk to others on the estate. She will know, because she is on the Commission, that we agree with the proposal that has been brought forward. We were waiting for a motion to be brought to us by the House. That happened late last week, and we will shortly table that motion for Members to see and then bring it forward.

The hon. Lady mentioned the work that the Procedure Committee has done on Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary. I thank its members for their work and the hon. Lady for the evidence she gave to that inquiry. We have received that report this week and will shortly be responding to it. I hear her plea to act before next Wednesday, but she should have said next Tuesday, because that is when the next FCDO questions are.

I join in what the hon. Lady says about the work that the Jo Cox Foundation has done through the Commission. It is very important that we protect democracy. We all know that democracy is under attack, and civility in politics is incredibly important, as was demonstrated, as she said, in the form of the late Sir Tony Lloyd.

In that spirit of the Commission’s recommendations, let me deal with the charges that the hon. Lady has made against our record and that Labour has levelled against our Prime Minister. Our Prime Minister is a man whose migrant parents made sacrifices to ensure that he could have a good start in life. He worked hard to make the best use of every opportunity he was afforded—he studied hard, he pushed himself. He had many career options, but he chose a life in public service representing God’s own country. He protected this nation and livelihoods from the greatest financial and health crisis since the second world war. He has risen through hard work, courage and determination to be this country’s first British-Asian Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister has shown global leadership on many challenges facing this country. He is a wonderful dad. He gives quietly to charities. He runs for his local hospice. He is a cricket fanatic. He still attends home games at the football club he supports, despite being Prime Minister and despite it being Southampton. He is a shareholder in three community pubs and patron of the Leyburn brass band. He does not just get Britain; he represents the best of Great Britain—the greatest things we have to offer the world, including our values of hard work, enterprise, taking personal responsibility and helping others.

He is in no way confused about where his duty lies. People will not find him taxing education or denying others the opportunities he has had; voting against strengthening our borders; siding with militant trade unions against the public; compromising our energy security or nuclear deterrent; opposing the deportation of foreign criminals; scratching his head about the monarchy; ducking difficult issues; or supporting the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). If the Leader of the Opposition is a weathervane, our Prime Minister is a signpost. He knows what he stands for, he knows where the country needs to go, he has a plan to get us there and that plan is working.

Further business will be announced in the usual way.

That brings me to a slightly difficult problem. Bob Blackman is meant to be representing the Backbench Business Committee, to tell us about its business, but unfortunately he is not here, so I now call the spokesperson for the Scottish National party.

I associate myself with the remarks about Holocaust Memorial Day. I ask the House to note that tonight is Burns night, when we celebrate the work of Scotland’s great national bard.

A new year, a new Tory civil war—just what the UK needs—with talk of doom loops, massacres and extinctions. If only Members of the Leader of the House’s party had listened to her the last time she wooed them for leadership. She warned them that if they voted for the former Chancellor as leader it would “murder the party”. I know that the Leader of the House is furiously busy with all her “Minister for clickbait” responsibilities—those anti-Scottish articles and sneering videos do not write themselves—but as her Government grind, punch-drunk and exhausted, to an election, should we not debate some of the key legacies of the last 14 years of Tory rule?

Where should we start? There are still the scandalously unresolved scandals, such as infected blood, the WASPI women—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—and Post Office Horizon, to name a very few, but has the Leader of the House had time to reflect on recent comments from Sir Michael Marmot, professor of public health at University College London? He said that Britain in 2024 is starting to suffer from Victorian diseases again, and that

“Britain has become a poor country with a few rich people…it’s worse to be poor in Britain than in most other European countries…. Poor people in Britain have a lower income than Slovenia.”

Perhaps the Leader of the House will cast her eye over the latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, which says that more than one in five people were in poverty in 2021-22, with about 6 million in “very deep poverty” that same year. Has she not managed to look at that yet? That is unsurprising, as the Tories seem genuinely untroubled by poverty in the UK. My colleagues and I have asked them about it many times, but their eyes just glaze over—comfortable, I guess, with the choices they have made, as the PM has said.

Perhaps we should start our Tory legacy debates with an emerging threat. The Electoral Commission chair warned recently that the Government’s strict new rules on voter ID risk excluding certain voter groups and leave the Conservative party open to the charge of bias. I and many others have thought for some time that this was simply an attempt at voter suppression from the Government, so does the Leader of the House agree with an erstwhile Cabinet colleague that the new Tory rules are simply, as he put it, an attempt at “gerrymandering”? Will she bring a debate on this important issue to the House before the next general election?

What a bunch of rotters we are, with our anti-Scottish articles. It appears that the hon. Lady is planning to follow in the footsteps of many a great antipodean election guru by using a brilliant new strategy of equating criticism of the SNP’s performance with criticism of Scotland itself. The latter is a landmass of approximately 30,000 square miles, populated by brilliant, creative, stoic people; the former is a ramshackle separatist movement, full of people who have turned maladministration into an art form.

There is one tiny flaw in this new political tactic from the SNP: if we Conservatives dislike Scotland so much, for some reason the hon. Lady never gets round to explaining, why on earth would we strive so hard to keep it part of the Union of the United Kingdom? Why would this Conservative Government give Scotland the largest funding settlement it has ever had? Why would we have offered its citizens who were waiting for NHS treatment additional help and options, which the Scottish Government turned down?

If I wanted to do Scotland down, I would join, donate and campaign for the SNP, to whose members I would point out that the trailblazer for bringing back Victorian diseases to Britain is Glasgow. Watching the hon. Lady’s inaction, and that of her party, is like watching your much-loved neighbourhood being clobbered by a bunch of gangsters—let us call them the “hole in the budget” gang—hitting businesses, taking your cash, making your life a misery and keeping the local police force very busy. This new political strategy from the SNP, like everything else that it does, will fail.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to make a statement next week on the instructions to the advocate for his Department at the Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee? Yesterday, on a number of occasions, the lead advocate said that the design had not been awarded to Sir David Adjaye, or that he was not the architect.

I refer the Leader of the House to the press notice on 24 October 2017, in which the Department and the Cabinet Office said that Sir David and his team would design the memorial; the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir Sajid Javid), and the Mayor of London congratulated Sir David; and Sir David was quoted as saying that it was “architecture as emotion”.

I believe that the advocate may have inadvertently told the Committee things that are clearly contradicted by the facts six years ago, and by every other quotation until Sir David Adjaye became a name that could not be mentioned.

Will the Leader of the House please ask the Secretary of State to consider making a statement to correct what was said to the Committee yesterday, and perhaps acknowledge the four holocaust survivors who gave evidence, and look at what they said?

I thank my hon. Friend for again diligently raising this important issue; I understand that the forums in which he can do so are limited, which is why he brings it to the Floor of the House each week. He has put those points on the record, as well as his thanks to those survivors for their important intervention. As the Secretary of State will not take questions until 4 March, I will again ensure that he has heard what my hon. Friend has said.

Stratford market village in my constituency has provided space for more than 60 much-loved independent local businesses to ply their trade since about 1974. They are the kinds of businesses that reflect the entrepreneurship, drive and diversity in Newham, but on 10 January, with no warning at all, the traders received an email telling them that the market village was closed with immediate effect. The company that owns it is going into administration, leaving viable, much-loved businesses in limbo, out of pocket and without a home. I thank our Assembly Member Unmesh Desai and Newham Council for their work on the matter so far, and I hope that it bears fruit, but I know that many similar communities have faced similar problems. May we have a debate in Government time on whether our councils have the resources and powers they need to effectively step in and save much-loved local spaces and businesses when this kind of thing happens?

I thank the hon. Lady for her helpful suggestion of a debate. I am sorry to hear about the situation in her constituency. Such markets are often a stepping stone for many businesses to getting additional premises of their own. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and its high streets team have been collecting good practice about where other people have faced such situations. There are some good examples of what local authorities and other groups can do to ensure that continuity. As the next question time is a little way off, I will ask officials in the Department to contact the hon. Lady to see what more can be done to assist.

May we have a debate on the Government’s massive expansion of free childcare so that we can really scrutinise progress on delivering it, in order to ensure that people can access it, that we tackle workforce shortages, and that the initial stages of implementation go as smoothly as possible in April and September?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question and remind the House that we had an urgent question on that matter on Monday. We are rolling out the single largest expansion in childcare in England’s history, ensuring that working parents receive 30 hours of free childcare a week, starting at nine months and going all the way up to their child starting school. She will know that we have increased hourly funding rates with a £204 million cash boost this year and more than £400 million next year to support the childcare sector to deliver this, but I know that hon. Members will want to follow that progress very carefully.

On 5 January, Bath received a red flood alert warning, the highest alert warning, which means risk to life. Fortunately, thanks to good management by local agencies and the council, no life was lost, but the damage was still substantial. Yet my council was told that it was not eligible for funding through the flood recovery framework, because not enough properties were flooded internally. That is no comfort to flood victims or to the council, because the clean-up operation and the repair to external damage are still very substantial. My council has still not received any information from the Government. May we have a statement on why certain council areas are excluded from the funding through the framework, what the thinking is behind that, how they can be supported, and what else the Government can do to help councils that have been substantially damaged by flooding?

The hon. Lady’s question affords me the opportunity, on behalf of us all, to thank all those emergency services and others who have been working to protect our communities through snow, floods and high winds in the past few weeks. I am sorry to hear that she has not had information through from the relevant Department. I did write last week on a similar matter about eligibility criteria, and I will make sure that she gets a copy of that answer from the Department. As departmental questions are a couple of months away, I will raise the issue with the Secretary of State.

Could we want for any better evidence that the mandate for the covid inquiry is already out of date than hearing that the evidence of serving and former Cabinet Ministers, and of the former Prime Minister, about the origin of the covid virus has been ruled out of order? Let us have a statement from the Government about updating the mandate for the covid inquiry two years on from when it was set up, so that it can properly deal with the origins of the disease, the efficacy of both the vaccines and the lockdowns, and the huge number of NHS excess deaths. This is an inquiry that must serve the people of this country and the victims of this terrible disease, and it is already out of date.

My right hon. Friend raises an extremely important matter. Some of the issues that he raises were not in the original terms of the inquiry. Even if they sit outside the work of that inquiry, the questions that he raises are legitimate, particularly for our national security. Although it may not be possible to change the terms of the current inquiry, which is looking particularly at the Government’s response to that situation, I will certainly alert the Cabinet to the issues that he raises, which are related to national security.

It is Thursday, so we have another question on contaminated blood. As the Government had Sir Brian’s recommendations on what compensation should be paid in April 2023, and we were repeatedly told that the Government were working at pace to be ready for the original November announcement of the final report, can we now please have a statement from the Minister about what progress has been made since last April to update the House, so that we can see that the work at pace is actually happening?

I thank the right hon. Lady for again diligently raising this matter. I met the Paymaster General yesterday to get an update on progress. Progress is being made, and I know that the Paymaster General will want to come to the House to make a statement on that. I know that he will do so as soon as he has something substantial to say, but I can assure the House, which I hope knows my interest in this area, that he is working to ensure that justice is served as swiftly as possible.

Some time ago, the Scottish Government refused an instruction from the Information Commissioner to publish written evidence from the Hamilton inquiry into the conduct of the former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Last month, I attended the Court of Session hearing at which the Scottish Government were humiliated, at great public expense, in their attempt to reject the request. Despite a unanimous ruling against them by the highest civil court in Scotland, the Scottish Government still refuse to release that information. That extraordinary behaviour would appear to be in breach of the ministerial code, the civil service code and, indeed, the rule of law. May I ask the Leader of the House whether the rule of law in Scotland is at risk and whether we can have a debate and a statement on this matter?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this matter and the disturbing issues surrounding it. Although there is a debate about whether the court decision is binding or is binding in a particular way, we consider it to be a matter of accountability to the Scottish Parliament. I am sure that the Scottish Parliament will be asking questions of their Government in relation to those very serious matters, which my right hon. Friend has raised today.

May I inform the Leader of the House that we already have a holocaust memorial centre at the University of Huddersfield at the heart of Huddersfield? All Members hope that the new holocaust memorial centre at the heart of Westminster will happen soon. Am I right in believing that an illustrious ancestor of hers—Raymond Postgate—wrote a book called, “The Common People”? Is she aware that common people in my constituency and up and down the country are being dreadfully exploited via Rachmanite landlords? They are being given a miserable life, with rack-renting or letting every room in the house as a bedroom. What is going on in the rented sector is a scandal. May we have a debate on that?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I learn something new every session. I shall have to investigate the first half of his question, but he is absolutely right to raise the plight of tenants who either are in unsuitable accommodation or are being exploited by their landlords. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has done an enormous amount of work on that issue, both on building quality and ensuring that tenants are protected, and I shall ensure that he has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Energy national policy statements have a significant impact on my constituents. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend’s officials and her Parliamentary Private Secretary for finding some information in advance; I know that the statements were laid before Parliament on 22 November, and it was then declared in a written ministerial statement that they had been approved by Parliament. Although I have returned to the Back Benches after many years, I remember that the Government in the past laid a resolution before the House, and I participated in that debate on 18 July 2011. I do not believe we have had a debate on these particular statements, so I would be grateful, even if we have gone past the legal deadline, if my right hon. Friend found time for one.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that question. The Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero made a written ministerial statement on 22 November presenting the five revised energy national policy statements for parliamentary approval. She deposited copies of all those documents in the Libraries of both Houses, and they were available on She also sent a letter to all hon. Members on 9 January highlighting the scrutiny period of the NPS. Following the expiry period of 21 days, no objections were received, and the Secretary of State designated them on 17 January. I fully appreciate that while all the i’s have been dotted and the t’s crossed, my right hon. Friend and other Members may feel they have not had the chance to discuss or offer their opinions on them. She knows how to apply for a debate, but I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State has heard her concerns.

I was pleased to hear this week that the UK Government have recognised the funding pressure on local councils in England and confirmed that there will be Barnett consequentials. However, we in Scotland can only hope—and as a keen follower of the problems that we have with the Scottish Government, the Leader of the House will be aware that it is probably a forlorn hope—that the Scottish Government will use the consequentials to cover funding gaps in our local councils and speed up repairs to mould and damp in social housing, which is becoming a critical problem. In Edinburgh we have a housing crisis, and even as we speak my council and others across Scotland are trying to figure out how to fill the gaps that the Scottish Government have left. I was, however, disappointed that there was no clear mention in the statement about how the UK Government would enforce measures in Awaab’s law to improve social housing. May we have a statement on the steps the Government are taking to enforce those new rules, if only to provide a template for the Scottish Government on how one can support local councils?

I think the hon. Lady for her question. At the last oral questions, the Levelling Up Secretary highlighted that local authorities have been given the chance to take 100% of the receipts from right to buy and invest them in social housing. We have provided a very good funding settlement to the Scottish Government— at least 20% more funding per head than the UK Government spend on the same things in other parts of the UK—but more often than not the Scottish Government do not pass that funding either to local authorities or, in the case of support for businesses, to those businesses. That is a very sorry state of affairs; if it could be rectified, we would have a much better chance of dealing with the issues she raises.

As T. S. Eliot opined, time present and time past are inseparable, for we are what we remember—who we have known, where we have been, what we have done. When dementia robs people of those precious memories, as it does for 850,000 people, their lives are diminished. That often happens with age, and with age come other conditions such as arthritis, which affects one in six people, or diabetes. Can we have a statement on the Government’s major conditions strategy to ensure that that strategy is holistic and takes account of the fact that many people suffer from multiple conditions?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this very important matter. The Health Secretary will not be answering questions until 5 March, so I shall relay to her his interest in this area. We can combat those particular major conditions partly through research. As he will know, several research missions in dementia care since 2010 have arrived not just at fantastic new drugs but made connections between dementia and those other conditions that he outlines.

I was recently contacted by a constituent who had been unfortunately caught out by an online scam involving Google gift cards. Fortunately, they got their money back, but Action Fraud decided not to investigate. On further investigation, it turns out that, at a time when online fraud is rapidly increasing, the number of fraud cases being investigated has gone down by a third. May we have a debate on what more we can do to make sure that the online world is safe from these scamsters and fraudsters?

I am sorry to hear what the hon. Gentleman’s constituent went through, but very pleased that they managed to get their money back. This morning we had the latest figures from the crime survey of England and Wales, and I am pleased to report to the House that fraud has decreased by 13% with notable reductions of 33% in advance fee fraud and 40% in other fraud. The actions that the police and the other agencies that support them on this matter are taking are having an effect. We have a plan and it is working.

May I, too, send my condolences to the family of Sir Graham Bright, who was incredibly kind to me when I was a candidate and gave great support and advice over many years?

I have been robustly raising the concerns of residents of Kytes Drive in Watford regarding a planning application, including bringing a petition to Parliament about the long-term use of the site, to ensure that it would be suitable and used only for people who were veterans, those with disabilities and older people. I am pleased to say that, by ensuring that the chief executive of Anchor heard residents’ concerns, I have had a small long-term win: Anchor has agreed to pursue a local authority lettings agreement prioritising the housing needs of people with disabilities, veterans and other vulnerable people.

Although I appreciate that my right hon. Friend may not be able to comment on planning specifically, can she advise me on how I can best encourage the council to take up that offer?

That was a lengthy question, Madam Deputy Speaker—I could hear you coughing—but the answer will be short. My hon. Friend has provided his own answer and got it on the record. We all encourage the council to act as he wishes.

The Government’s flagship policy for a generational ban on tobacco sales has many health benefits, of which the Leader of the House will no doubt be aware, but is she alarmed that it will not apply in Northern Ireland, where it will be frustrated by the EU tobacco products directive? Even if a Northern Ireland Assembly were in place, it could not trump that directive. Will she ask for a statement to be made on what is more important: the health of all the people of the United Kingdom or tobacco policy outlined by the EU?

The hon. Gentleman will know that one reason we want to get the Executive re-established is to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland are able to make decisions relating to themselves, and that principle also applies to the point that he raises. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard his concerns. The UK Government have previously stepped in and made interventions in the health space. Although I note that there would be difficulties with regard to that particular EU directive, I think this is something that the UK Government should think long and hard about.

My right hon. Friend will know that we had a debate on steel this week in which Members on both sides of the House raised concerns and questions, particularly in relation to the UK’s ongoing ability to make its own virgin steel. That is an incredibly important issue on which there is much more to say. Will she support a debate in Government time so that we can discuss it further?

I thank my hon. Friend again for her diligent work in speaking up not just for steel producers but for the users of those products. It is incredibly important that we retain those sovereign capabilities. I know that she takes every opportunity in this Chamber to champion those issues. I am sure that she will apply for another debate on the matter, and my office stands ready to assist her.

I draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 204 and my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The industrial dispute in the Pensions Regulator has now reached its 50th day because the regulator is offering a pay rise lower than the UK Government’s pay guidance. May we have a statement or a debate on the Government’s pay review guidance and what actions can be taken against agencies that do not comply with it?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the next chance to question the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on this issue will be on 5 February. I encourage him to attend those questions.

I bring good news from Kettering, where 16 mature street trees have been saved from the chop. Gipsy Lane is one of the older and most attractive roads in Kettering, but there is going to be a 340-house development at the end of it, and under the original planning application, 21 very mature trees were to be chopped down to facilitate access. However, thanks to the proactive engagement of Councillor Jason Smithers, the leader of North Northamptonshire Council, and of the developer Places for People, the good news is that 16 of those trees will be saved. May we have a Government statement on the importance of keeping mature street trees wherever possible—they are attractive and good for the environment—and will my right hon. Friend praise the leader of the council and Places for People for the decision that they have taken?

Good on my hon. Friend, good on Jason, and good on all the residents who supported their campaign. I will certainly make sure that the Secretary of State has heard that my hon. Friend’s work has been triumphant and encourage him to make a statement, as my hon. Friend suggests.

The permanent secretary of the Department for Work and Pensions claims that his Department is “making good progress” in dealing with its staffing crisis. However, the PCS union has obtained figures for the year up to last November showing that while the Department recruited 8,495 new staff, there were also 8,031 leavers in that year—far short of the aspiration to recruit 5,000 staff per quarter. Will the Leader of the House seek clarification as to the true state of the staffing crisis at the Department and what action is being taken to accelerate the recruitment drive?

I am always here to assist the House and hon. Members, but the hon. Lady can raise that matter directly with the Secretary of State on 5 February.

At my most recent constituency surgery, I had the pleasure of meeting Southend’s outgoing Member of the Youth Parliament, the amazing Madi Faulkner-Hatt. Madi raised with me the alarming statistic that the number of eligible pupils claiming free school meals drops by 26 percentage points when those pupils leave primary school, from 77% down to 51%. Given that figures from the House of Commons Library confirm that the number of eligible pupils, of course, remains the same, may we please have a debate in Government time on what more can be done to make sure that every eligible pupil is encouraged to take up their free school meal at all stages of their education?

I thank my hon. Friend for taking the time to meet Madi, and I thank the Youth Parliament, which has made that issue its campaign focus for this year. My hon. Friend will know that around 2 million pupils currently have free school meals, but we are also doing much more outside of term time through our holiday activities and food programme—about £200 million is invested in that every year. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. She will know that the next Education questions are on the 29th.

At the beginning of the month, I had a meeting with a veteran who came to my advice surgery, who was gay. In what was a genuinely upsetting and moving meeting, he described the profound impact on his life of having lived in fear of being convicted and of the genuinely horrifying, homophobic environment at his work. We have had a statement and an apology in the House, which is welcome, but we have not had a debate in which the voices of LGBT veterans can be heard and their compensation scrutinised, so please may we have that debate in Government time? This is a very important issue.

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter. I am sure that many Members would want to attend such a debate—she will know how to secure one. Last week, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) raised the issue of those serving in particular parts of our armed forces or our intelligence agencies who were unable to give evidence to that investigation because of the nature of the work they were doing, so there are still some unresolved matters that need an airing, and I encourage the hon. Lady to apply for that debate.

The Government have rightly given local authorities additional money this year to fix potholes, which are dangerous to cyclists, can cause really expensive bills for motorists and make neighbourhoods look unsightly. Will the Government consider requiring councils to publish information each month about what repairs they have done and on which roads, in an easily accessible format, to aid scrutiny and accountability so that residents can see what is being done with their money?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point and makes a very good suggestion. The waters are often further muddied by the local authority working with contractors: it passes the money to those contractors, and it is then hard to keep tabs on how it is being spent. We know that in certain parts of the country, potholes are not being filled in, despite the local authorities being given money to do so. By 15 March this year, the Government will require local authorities to publish a plan of how that extra money is being spent and, thereafter, quarterly reports summarising which roads have been resurfaced. My hon. Friend reminds us that that plan needs to be in an accessible form, because hon. Members need to be able to see it, and our residents need to see it too.

Residents in the new town of Wixams have been waiting nearly 15 years for a GP surgery. Despite 3,000 families having moved into the town, there is still no sign of one, with many having to drive over 14 miles for routine or emergency appointments. Sadly, they are far from alone across the country in facing this challenge. Will a Health Minister make a statement on how we can do more to get much needed primary care provision into areas of high housing growth and how we can reform the system to make sure that these types of challenges cannot happen again?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter, and I would encourage him to raise it with his local commissioners as well, if he has not already done so. They will be responsible for those capital plans. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard what he has said, given that her next questions are not until 5 March.

This week, the Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital in my constituency opened its new accident and emergency facilities, which will enable patients to get to expert clinicians sooner than they have been able to do until recently. The building was backed by £4.4 million of Government funding. Would the Leader of the House agree to our having a debate on the amount of infrastructure that the NHS has built since the last election to recognise the scale of the investment and the beneficial effect it is having on patients?

I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate her on what she has helped to secure for her constituents. The Government are investing record sums to upgrade and modernise NHS buildings so that staff have the facilities needed to provide world-class care for patients, including over £9 billion in this financial year, and totalling over £25 billion over the spending review period. These are incredibly important investments that often not only increase the capacity in places such as her A&E department, but are designed with the staff who will be working in them so that they are set out in the best way for them to deliver good care. I have to say that—in some cases for the first time—this includes facilities for members of staff to enjoy a break and a sleep when they need it.

In response to my question on 11 January, the Leader of the House told the House about

“people in England paying lower tax than people in Scotland”.—[Official Report, 11 January 2024; Vol. 743, c. 455.]

She also said that her Government had delivered a “balanced budget”. Last week, I asked the Leader of the House to correct the record since both those things are untrue, which she refused to do.

The House of Commons Library has now confirmed that no UK Government have delivered a balanced budget since 2000-01 and that this Government do indeed pay the equivalent of £318 million every day in debt interest, while the Scottish Government must by law deliver a balanced budget every year. It has also confirmed that the majority of people in Scotland—the majority—pay less tax, including council tax, than they would if they lived in England. I can share this information with the Leader of the House if she wishes to see it. So I ask again: will the Leader of the House make a statement correcting the hugely inaccurate information that she gave to this House on 11 January?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I was very careful in the figures that I gave the hon. Lady, and I stand by them. They are completely true and factual. In addition to having the Office for Budget Responsibility, we are very open and do not mark our own homework on this front. Perhaps before next week, the hon. Lady might like to read what Audit Scotland has said about her own Government’s performance.

As many as 2 million grandparents do not have contact with their grandchildren. Conversely, the number of children who do not have contact with their grandparents is even higher. Given those large figures, it is likely that the constituency of every single Member in this House has someone suffering from this condition. Next week, there is an exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall with a quilt of love and hope made by grandparents who are estranged from their grandchildren. Can we have a statement from a Minister on whether the Government will consider amending the Children Act 1989 to give grandchildren the right to a relationship with their grandparents when they are blocked from contact, which mainly happens as a result of breakdowns in parental relationships?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. Not being able to see a grandchild can often be heartbreaking for grandparents and it is also an experience that the child misses out on, as we know the incredible value that grandparents can bring to their lives and upbringing. Although grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to see their grand- children, they can try to secure access through an informal arrangement or via a court order. My hon. Friend might consider raising his questions and helpful suggestion with the Secretary of State for Justice on 20 February.

Last Friday marked a full year since the Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Health Bill published its report, setting out a series of important recommendations to improve the rights of people with mental health problems detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. In that time, there have been 51,312 detentions under the Act, according to NHS statistics published this morning. Despite repeated promises, we have still not had a response from the Government, who will say only that we will get an opportunity to debate any Bill when parliamentary time allows. Will the Leader of the House please allow parliamentary time for that vital legislation as an urgent priority, to protect some of our most vulnerable constituents?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising another important matter. She will know that we have a draft Bill, and although it was not in the King’s Speech, when parliamentary time and the legislative programme allow, we will consider bringing that forward to the House. I shall ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what she has said, and she may be interested to know that I have also been speaking to the legislative team at No.10, and with officials at the Department of Health and Social Care, about measures that the Bill would have helped.

We still have a number of people in inappropriate care settings, and subsequent reviews have been initiated by this Government—starting with Sir Stephen Bubb’s Winterbourne report, to mention just one—about people with mental, learning or behavioural disabilities. Everyone ought to be in the right setting and be looked after, and if we are not able to bring forward legislation, I know that the Secretary of State will be looking at practical ways that we can make that happen.

This Government have done more than any in history to bring jobs and opportunities, especially manufacturing opportunities, to areas such as mine, so much so that unemployment in Rother Valley is now only 2.8%. The Leader of the House will know that South Yorkshire now has the UK’s first investment zone, which will bring 8,000 new jobs—many of them high quality manufacturing jobs—and leverage £1.2 billion of investment to Rother Valley’s doorstep. To celebrate the opportunities and wealth this brings for everyone in the country, and the increase in manufacturing jobs in Rother Valley, may we have a debate in Government time on that massive uptick for local economies?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work and success that he has been having in his constituency—it is very good news indeed—as well as all the employers, the business community and everyone else who has helped to deliver that incredible progress. I am sure he knows how to apply for a debate, and I hope that many other Members across the House would have similar good news stories to tell if such a debate were to take place. g

In the market town of Honiton that I represent, youth sports groups have been struggling because of inadequate sports facilities. That is true of at least three clubs—football, gymnastics and rugby clubs—that I have visited. Ensuring that we have healthy, active children is not just the responsibility of schools, so may we please have a debate to discuss how local authorities can be encouraged to identify space for young people’s sport?

This is a very important matter—it is important for health, for mental health, and often for the economic regeneration of particular areas. The hon. Gentleman will know that the next opportunity to ask questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will be on 22 February. I shall ensure that she has heard his concerns, and ask her to get her officials to contact him to offer some advice.

The Leader of the House will be aware that despite being bailed out with more than £6 billion by the Government, the Mayor of London has continued to plead poverty at every opportunity and seeks to deflect blame to the Government for his many appalling failures to keep Londoners safe and to keep London moving over the past eight years. Given that the Labour Mayor of London has now suddenly found more than £500 million behind his sofa for pre-election giveaways, will the Leader of the House please confirm how Members can have a debate on the powers of the Mayor of London and how we can seek an audit of his financial mismanagement of Government and taxpayers’ money?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and why he raises it. I notice from the BBC London news this morning that the Mayor of London is now going back to the Government to ask them to bail out the black hole that was discovered last week in the Met’s budget. That is despite a £6 billion bail-out being given to the Mayor, plus his increasing the Mayor’s part of council tax by 71% since he came to office.

In that debate, we might like to consider the Mayor’s spending plans, which have seen £30 million given to unions to avoid the 140th strike on the transport network on his watch. A similar amount was spent on increasing staffing costs. There has been a 57% rise in mayoral office costs and a 33% increase in press spending. There was £10 million for the Metropolitan police to determine their personality type, £1 million-worth of free advertising for lingerie and vaginal moisturiser—believe it or not—and £5,000 of taxpayers’ cash for Transport for London’s staff’s junk food, despite the banning of junk food adverts on the tube. That is what Labour do in power, and we all know what we need to do if we do not want it to continue.

Indeed, the shadow Leader of the House also learned to swim there. It is a lovely Edwardian building in the heart of Withington. When the coalition cuts hit Manchester so hard around 10 years ago, the council was forced to transfer ownership to a community group. Under its leadership, the leisure centre has gone from strength to strength, and last week it celebrated the completion of a highly successful heritage refurbish project. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the board and volunteers at Withington leisure centre? Perhaps we could have a debate in the House to recognise the work of volunteers and community groups in running local facilities.

What a fabulous good news story. I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating them all. Members will know that this is a subject close to my heart. I have gone above and beyond to save my local lido, which will this year undergo a huge heritage refurbishment, thanks to the levelling-up fund. These things would not be possible without an army of volunteers, first standing to ensure that the community asset transfer occurs, and then also helping to run the facilities and to engage the community. What a wonderful story. If the hon. Gentleman manages to secure a debate, I will come and listen.

It will shortly be 25 years since the establishment of the Welsh Assembly, so we have had 25 years of 60 Senedd Members stealing a living from the taxpayer while delivering zero identifiable benefits for the people of Wales to explain their existence. At the Welsh Affairs Committee recently, the Secretary of State for Wales was unable to name even three benefits of devolution when I questioned him. In 1997, the Labour Secretary of State for Wales in this place said that devolution was “a process”, “not an event” and should be continuously reviewed—

Order. I think the hon. Gentleman needs to be careful with his language when he uses the word “stealing”. He might want to reconsider that.

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Members of the Senedd may be questionably obtaining a salary for not doing a great deal of work—that may be a better way of putting it.

Will the Leader of the House confirm which Department should be reviewing devolution and when the last review was? Can we have a debate on whether the people of Wales are happy with having devolution at all?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that it is the Minister with responsibility for the constitution whose remit will cover such matters. The problems he raises relate to the performance of the Welsh Labour Government. I think it is the longest period of time that Labour has been in power, and we can really see, given the state of the NHS and the other things that it looks after, what a blueprint for a Labour Government looks like.

It is a pleasure to bring issues to the attention of the Leader of the House, and the House. This time, it is a good news story. In the light of recent progress in Pakistan on religious education, our heartfelt thanks should be given to the Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training for developing the inclusive religious education curriculum for grades 1 to 12 for minority religions in Pakistan. Will the Leader of the House enable the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to monitor the situation as it unfolds?

Unfortunately, not all is good news. I bring the spotlight back to the situation in Tibet, where Chinese repression continues to be applied, with human rights violations committed especially against Buddhists in Tibet. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning China’s repression of Buddhists in Tibet, who have a right to hold their religious views?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for again bringing to the House’s attention these important matters, which would not otherwise get much airtime. It is nice to have some good news, and it shows the difference that particular Ministers can make under difficult circumstances. I am sure the whole House will join him in congratulating that particular gentleman.

I join the hon. Gentleman in condemning China’s repression of Buddhists in Tibet. The Foreign Office will monitor both those situations closely. I thank him again for raising them.

It is sadly impossible for new patients to find an NHS dentist in Blackpool. It is estimated that 40% of my constituents— some 35,000 people—cannot currently access NHS treatment. Every single week, I have constituents attending my surgeries pleading with me to get them the treatment they so badly need. Only last week, a mother attended my surgery who had had to remove the teeth of her six-year-old daughter with pliers because she was in so much pain and could not access the treatment her family needed. As the NHS dentistry recovery plan is long overdue, would it be in order for the House to receive a ministerial statement on when we may finally see some progress on this issue?

I am sorry to hear about the situation in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I happen to know from recent meetings with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), who is responsible for this policy area, that she is doing a lot of work, which she will be keen to bring to the House’s attention in short order.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have given a considerable uplift to local commissioners to ensure that providers are in place. From memory, I think £50 million was given at the start of last year. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is interested in what commissioners have done with that money as it was flexibly given—it was not ringfenced—although it was specifically given for dentist treatment. She is looking into that matter, and I will be interested to see what the answer is in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.