Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 744: debated on Thursday 1 February 2024

11.1 am

The business for the week commencing 5 February will include:

Monday 5 February—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 6 February—Opposition day (4th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 7 February—Motions related to the police grant and local government finance reports.

Thursday 8 February—General debate on National HIV Testing Week, followed by a general debate on the management culture of the Post Office. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

The House will rise for the February recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 8 February and return on Monday 19 February.

May I wish you a very happy birthday as well, Madam Deputy Speaker?

I start by expressing our profound regret that the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has decided to step down due to fears for his safety and that of his family. The recent attack on his office was horrific. That any Member is forced from office due to intimidation, threats and fear is an attack on all of us and what we represent. It is unacceptable and we must do more to protect our freedoms and democracy. We stand together.

Yesterday, Alison Phillips was “banged out” of the newsroom in her last day as editor of the Daily Mirror. Alison broke the mould for female journalists, and she led a number of campaigns that had a direct effect on this place. She leaves a proud legacy.

Last week I asked the Leader of the House about the Procedure Committee report on scrutiny of Lords Secretaries of State. Has she now digested it, and when will she bring forward a motion to make it happen? I will chalk it up as a victory that, after many weeks of asking, Foreign Office Ministers finally came forward with a statement this week on the ongoing conflict in Gaza and Israel. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that happens more often, with the Foreign Secretary himself taking questions? The situation demands it.

The International Court of Justice interim ruling was deeply significant and makes for difficult reading. We are clear that Israel must comply with the orders in the ruling in full, and that Hamas must release all the hostages immediately. International law must be upheld and the independence of international courts respected, with all sides held accountable for their actions. Twenty-five thousand innocent people are dead, including thousands of women and children, and 85% of the population of Gaza have been displaced and millions face the risk of famine. We cannot let innocent Palestinians pay the price. We must redouble our efforts for a sustainable ceasefire and a political process for a two-state solution.

On that, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s willingness to recognise the state of Palestine, which is a policy we have long supported. We hear this morning that Secretary of State Blinken is moving the US in that direction, too. As the Leader of the Opposition said, it is an

“inalienable right of the Palestinian people”.

Can the Leader of the House clarify, as there is some confusion, the Government’s policy on the recognition of Palestine?

Talking of Secretaries of State being accountable, perhaps the Leader of the House can clear up some of the creative use of language by the Home Secretary in his appearance before the Home Affairs Committee yesterday. Apparently, we no longer have a backlog of asylum claims; it is just “a queue” of 94,000 applicants—some queue, but definitely not a backlog. The 33,000 asylum seekers who have gone missing apparently are not missing, but have simply “disengaged”. Does the Leader of the House recognise that the Government have lost control of the asylum system and that smoke and mirrors cannot hide the truth?

The Business Secretary was not exactly forthcoming with the truth this week either. On Monday, she told this House that negotiations with Canada to save British car imports were “ongoing”, but now we learn that she walked out of those discussions and the entire issue is on pause. Does the Leader of the House want to take this opportunity to correct the record?

Finally, I cannot let business questions go by without referring to the Leader of the House’s rather bizarre, unprompted, over the top, glowing tribute to the Prime Minister in last week’s business questions. I feel the lady does protest too much. It was as if she was at “The Traitors” roundtable, desperately wanting everyone to believe she really is a faithful. It seems that the traitors sit among them still, secretly planning their next kill. The evil plotters are trying to avoid banishment so they can win the prize. Can she reveal herself today, because we all want to know? Perhaps some of her colleagues can, too, or perhaps they should do us all a favour, cut straight to the endgame and let the public decide. Quite honestly, much as I love “The Traitors”, this is not a TV show, and their antics have real-life consequences. As much as we are all sick of watching it, unfortunately, there is no off-switch.

From the Government Benches, I say happy birthday to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This week I met Ashley, the cousin of 19-year-old hostage Agam Berger. She is the girl that many Members will have seen in video footage, playing her violin in happier times. She volunteered with special educational needs children, and was actively involved in working towards a peaceful solution in her region. I thank the shadow Leader of the House for her remarks about the hostages and all Members who are working hard to keep the spotlight on these people and their families. I hope that they will all be home soon.

I also thank the hon. Lady for her remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who has said that he is going to stand down because of his safety and the wellbeing of his family. Such attacks on elected Members are attacks on democracy itself. I know that many hon. and right hon. Members and their families are enduring such threats. We condemn such actions and those who encourage, incite and excuse them. I thank the hon. Lady for her cross- party support on that matter.

I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to Alison, who was “banged out” of the newsroom. I also thank her colleagues who posted that on social media. I think it sends a very positive message for women in particular who want to work in that sector.

The hon. Lady asks about the Procedure Committee, and I again thank the Committee for its report on holding to account the Foreign Secretary on a range of issues. She will know that the recommendations in part rely on the consent of their noble Lords, and I am keen to hear the views of their Procedure Committee on some of the recommendations that our Procedure Committee has made. Since the Foreign Secretary was appointed, there have been 41 sitting days, and in that time Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Ministers, including the Foreign Secretary, have made 71 appearances in Parliament, responding to parliamentary questions and in Select Committees.

On Gaza, the hon. Lady raised some serious issues. She will know—the Minister for Armed Forces was just at the Dispatch Box—that the Government take compliance with international humanitarian law extremely seriously. We monitor that with our partners. She will know that, as we can see from previous conflicts, the Israel Defence Forces also produces reports after the event. All of that is subject to a great deal of scrutiny, but I will certainly ensure that the Foreign Secretary has heard her concerns.

The hon. Lady talked about the Home Secretary. She will know—indeed, many Opposition Members have acknowledged—that the plan for ending small boat crossings and ensuring that we are speeding up processing in the Home Office is working. I think the latest figures show that the Home Secretary has sped up processing in his Department by 250%. She will know that crossings are down by substantial amounts—I think now just shy of 40%—and returns are up, which is all to be welcomed. That has been helped in great part by the new legislation that the Government have introduced. I am sorry that right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have not been able to support that.

That brings me to the final topic that the hon. Lady raised. I will make the case that we are faithfuls on the Government side. We have been faithfuls in our obligations to the British public in strengthening our borders. We have brought forward legislation which the Opposition have voted against—over 70 times on one recent Bill.

We have been faithful to the British public in our promises. We have been faithful to them in delivering on their decision to leave the EU, for which we had a landmark anniversary this week. Whatever way people voted in that referendum, we stuck with that democratic result—we did not try to reverse it or campaign for a second referendum—and what the British people want to know is that we are on the right trajectory now. Since we left the EU, we have grown faster than many nations, including Germany, Italy and Japan. Our export services are up at a record high. For goods and services, we are rising through the global rankings—we are up a place since last year. We have overtaken France on manufacturing, and we have simplified tariffs on thousands of goods and removed hundreds of trade barriers.

We have been through tough times, but whether it is our plans to level up communities such as Teesside, which Labour Members seem to be objecting to, or maximising our new-found freedoms to control our destiny and our borders, or opening up more opportunities for the wealth of talent and creativity of our citizens, our plan for Britain is working. Britain is on the right course. We have been faithful to our promises to the British people. Labour has not, and it would turn us back on the EU, union reform, tax hikes and much more.

Further business will be announced in the usual way.

Best wishes on your birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Last week was Neighbourhood Policing Week. I was able to join the local Aldridge and Brownhills neighbourhood teams out in the community. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking our local teams for all they do? Does she agree that central to neighbourhood policing is neighbourhood policing hubs? That is why I continue to campaign against the proposed closure of Aldridge police station—and with only a few months left of the west midlands police and crime commissioner role, there should be a moratorium on any closure.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on getting her concerns on the record. Since 2010, our communities have become safer on roughly the same resources. Taking out online fraud, we have, in effect, halved crime: violent crime is down 51%; neighbourhood crime, including robbery and theft, is down 48%. I shall ensure that the Home Secretary has heard what she has said.

Meal do naidheachd, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We saw a softer side to the Leader of the House last week. “The Prime Minister is a great dad”, she loyally read out from No. 10’s script. “He gives a lot to charity”, she whispered. Then, right on cue, normal service resumed and she was thundering fury at the Scots for not voting Tory. She asked me a question that got quite a response in Scotland: “Why do you think us Tory ‘rotters’”—her word, not mine—“are so desperate to keep Scotland in the Union?” Why, indeed? It is generally though that Conservatives act in their own self-interest. Anyway, Scots have been totting up all the great things about being in the UK: the gift of Brexit making us poorer faster than even the worst forecasts predicted; 14 years of grinding, endless austerity; and a crippling debt burden of more than 100% of GDP, just for starters.

However, the Leader of the House is not alone in her desperation to keep Scotland lashed tight to Westminster. She will remember seeing a secret document presented to the Cabinet in July 2020 by her colleague the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The existence of that document was revealed at the covid inquiry this week. Finalised at the height of the pandemic, it was entitled “The State of the Union” and was a blatant attempt by her Government to politicise the pandemic and undermine the Scottish Government when trust in Government messaging was crucial. It asked the Cabinet to endorse some sort of strategy, most details of which sadly are missing from the inquiry’s version. It required polling, research and data analysis, all at a time when Scotland’s First Minister and Government were focused on and doing their damnedest to protect the people of Scotland.

No. 10 was slithering from one scandal to another. We know that a Union strategy committee and a Union operations committee were set up to mimic the strategy and operations committees that helped create the monster of Brexit. The right hon. Lady will agree that considerable resources were required, diverting cash and personnel from fighting the pandemic. It must be made clear to the public who funded that. Will she ask her colleagues to give a statement on the project, laying out why it was an appropriate use of governmental resources, what it did and what it is felt to have achieved—its key performance indicators, let us say—particularly given the times in which it was conceived? Finally, the Leader of the House will recall that the state of the Union report found, among many things, that 82% of young voters in Scotland want independence. Is she surprised?

The hon. Lady talks about normal service, and we have had normal service from the SNP this morning: the full bingo card of textbook, standard nationalist operating procedure. Failure to take responsibility for the things that it is responsible for: tick. Blame others: tick. Demonise opponents: tick. Distract from the indefensible things that we have found about this week: tick. A complete lack of self-awareness: tick.

Only the hon. Lady could come to this House and raise the issue of the covid inquiry this week. Perhaps she should have spent a little more time watching the evidence delivered by her own First Minister. We are having a covid inquiry and we did a lessons learned exercise because we want to ensure that this nation can be resilient in future and we want to learn the lessons. The hon. Lady’s party has been less than forthcoming on a similar ambition for its performance in Scotland. I would ask her to reflect on that. The only thing missing from the hon. Lady’s question is that she has somehow failed to accuse the UK Government of being responsible for an escaped macaque from the Highland zoo.

I also wish you a happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last week Ram Mandir was consecrated in Ayodhya—the birthplace of Lord Ram—in Uttar Pradesh in India. That caused great joy to Hindus across the world. Sadly, the BBC reported that it was the site of the destruction of a mosque, forgetting that it had been a temple for more than 2,000 years before that, and that the Muslims had been allocated a five-acre site adjacent to the town on which to erect a mosque. Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate in Government time on the impartiality of the BBC and its failure to provide a decent record of what is going on all over the world?

My hon. Friend will know that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport recently reported on the BBC review, which raised very important issues. My hon. Friend knows how to apply for a debate, and he will know that the next questions to the Secretary of State are on 22 February. However, he has, I think, achieved his objective today, which was to get his concerns on the record.

Can I too wish you a very happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker?

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business and the Backbench Business debates next Thursday. If we are allocated time on the first Thursday back following the February recess, we will have two debates: on the civil nuclear road map, and on premature deaths from heart and circulatory diseases.

The Committee is very much open for applications, particularly for Westminster Hall debates. Every week, many Members are unsuccessful in ballots for Westminster Hall debates. Some of those who are unsuccessful might think about coming along and applying to the Backbench Business Committee; it is another route. More time is available in Westminster Hall than in the Chamber, which is heavily subscribed to, but we still very much welcome applications for Chamber debates.

I also note the change of business at short notice today. I fundamentally understand the reasons for that, but hope that the Leader of the House will be kind to the Backbench Business Committee in allocating time in future weeks.

I will raise one last matter, speaking for myself. The former Kwik Save supermarket building in Felling, Gateshead, has been lying empty and in disrepair for more than a decade. The owner is resisting all legal attempts by the council to facilitate its demolition. Unfortunately, it has now become a magnet for antisocial behaviour, and local residents are regularly pelted with debris from the site. The owner has used the courts and legal processes to frustrate the council in expediting this much-needed demolition. Can the Leader of the House guide me on how to get this problem sorted out? The owner is causing a blight on many people’s lives in that locality.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his usual helpful advert for the Backbench Business Committee. He mentioned the opportunities that it affords Members, and the topics that I hope we can debate in the week back after recess. That is much appreciated.

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is focused on precisely the type of situation that the hon. Gentleman describes, and on similar situations in which the landlord, although not an obstacle to development, does not have the capacity to make repairs to the building, and other third-party developers do not wish to buy a building in that condition. He is looking at what bridging finance could be made available to facilitate matters, and has also brought forward the notion of community auctions. I will write to the Secretary of State to ensure that he has heard of the hon. Gentleman’s interest in the issue, and will ask his officials to afford the hon. Gentleman some advice.

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Cedars roundabout on the edge of Barnstaple is subject to 20 weeks of roadworks, which are supposed to help with congestion. The first week saw up to two hours of delays for students and teachers getting to school and businesses losing huge amounts of trade, with staff also arriving late. The scheme has gone ahead with local councillors’ support, but without adequate traffic management or modelling, either on the site or across the rest of Barnstaple, which has been blighted by road delays for decades. While this is clearly a local issue, can the Leader of the House guide me towards any Government assistance or national schemes that could enable someone to come and help with the road traffic modelling? The fear is that given how bad the traffic management has been to date, even when the scheme is completed, it will barely help the congestion in the way that it should.

I am very sorry to hear about what is happening in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that elsewhere in the country such schemes have caused massive disruption, particularly to local businesses, and local authorities have compensated those businesses. My hon. Friend can obtain examples of good practice from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. In my patch, we have taxi drivers who model traffic flow and tell us where there are problems with, for instance, traffic light sequencing. There are many innovative ideas out there, and I would encourage my hon. Friend’s local authority to look at them, but I shall also ensure that the Secretary of State has heard about the situation in her constituency.

On 13 June last year, Nottingham was shaken by the horrific stabbings that took the lives of three precious members of our community, Barnaby Webber, Grace O’Malley-Kumar and Ian Coates. The person responsible had numerous interactions with mental health services and police forces in the months and years preceding the attacks, and the families of his victims rightly want answers about missed opportunities to prevent his crimes. Will a Minister make a statement to the House on the various investigations that are taking place, and tell us whether the Government will convene an independent inquiry?

I am sure I speak for the whole House in saying how appalled we were by this terrible tragedy, involving not just the three individuals who lost their lives, but others who were very seriously injured. The nation has been rocked by it, and I thank the hon. Lady for raising it. She will know that the Government Law Officers have commissioned work on the matter, and I am sure that they will want to keep the House up to date. While that work is ongoing, there is probably not much more that can be said at this Dispatch Box, but I will ensure that both the Secretary of State for Justice and the Attorney General hear what the hon. Lady has said, and I shall ask them to keep her informed of progress.

I am proud that under this Conservative Government, the reading ability of children in the United Kingdom continues to improve. The UK is now 14th in the internationally respected test under the programme for international student assessment, run by the OECD. That is up from 25th under the last Labour Government. Given that this is National Storytelling Week and 7 March is World Book Day, would my right hon. Friend consider a debate in Government time highlighting the importance of reading for pleasure, and celebrating British and Irish literature?

My hon. Friend will have heard the support expressed throughout the House for what she has said. Being able to read is a wonderful gift. It is not just about getting an education; it is about an individual’s whole self, and families should be encouraged to read together. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to our nation’s success in climbing the international literacy tables. We should be very proud of that, and place on record our thanks to everyone who has enabled it to happen, including our incredible teachers.

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

On 12 January last year, I asked the Leader of the House how I could pursue my search for a way of putting bereaved children in touch with charities that want to help them, so that the charities know where the children are and can offer them support. It seemed to me a simple matter to come up with a protocol, but since then we have had two debates, I have met two Ministers, and a petition has been presented to 10 Downing Street by bereaved children who want something to be done for others, so that others do not suffer in the way that they did. Many of us who have been through that kind of grief want to see progress. Both the Ministers with whom I discussed the issue were schools Ministers; they talked about the work being done in schools, which is very supportive, and no one has any criticism of it. At the end of both meetings, however, the Ministers said, “Actually, we think that you need to speak to the Home Office”, which is where everything grinds to a halt. We do not seem to be able to make progress and obtain clarity, although what we want is quite simple. It is not a new law, but merely a change in practice. Can the Leader of the House advise me on how we can get clarity and move forward, and perhaps secure that meeting with the Home Office?

I thank the hon. Lady for her continued work in this area. I know that many Members from across the House have been in the situation she described of losing a parent at a young age, and it is so important that people are properly supported. I will write to all relevant Departments. I know from my own experience of dealing with health and work issues that getting the right people from the right Departments in the right room together, and then locking the door until they arrive at a solution that we can take forward, is sometimes the only way of doing things. I thank her for her diligence, and I will talk to all Ministers in the relevant Departments to ask them to put a plan together and to come and talk to her.

A very happy birthday to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I have been in regular communication with the relevant authorities about the Meriden estate in Watford, and I brought many of them together just last year to look at the issues that residents have raised with me. One pressing issue is the dangerous and illegal parking that is happening outside the new parade of shops. Although work is being done, I am sharing the residents’ concerns, which I also have, that this dangerous parking remains a serious accident waiting to happen. Will my right hon. Friend guide me on how I can press the various authorities for more urgency in finding a solution and remind those parking illegally that they are putting people’s lives at risk on York Way?

I thank my hon. Friend for his campaign. As he knows, illegal parking is classified as antisocial behaviour and it can have devastating consequences, particularly if emergency vehicles are not able to access roads that they need to access. He will know that the next Home Office questions are on 26 February and the next Department for Transport questions are on 8 February, but I will make sure that both Secretaries of State have heard his concerns.

Birthday greetings, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will the Leader of the House endeavour to find Government time for a debate to celebrate sporting excellence in Northern Ireland, given that last night young Conor Bradley scored his first goal for Liverpool football club and that, at the other end of the playing spectrum, we had the announcement by Steven Davis of his retirement from professional football, which I have alluded to in my early-day motion 333?

[That this House notes the announcement of Steven Davis to retire from playing professional football; acknowledges the outstanding achievements of Steven, who at 39 years old holds the UK mens international caps record with 140 appearances for Northern Ireland as well as 742 club appearances for top flight clubs in England and Scotland, having played for his beloved Glasgow Rangers in two separate spells using the term, its such a special football club, in his retirement statement; and wishes him and his family every blessing and good wish as he decides on his post playing career.]

That is an excellent suggestion for a debate, and the hon. Gentleman will know how to apply for one in the usual way. I am sure that the whole House would want to join him in his congratulations to both Conor and Steven on all that they have done to make us all very proud.

A very happy Essex birthday to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Leigh Heath Court is a low-rise block of 42 flats in my constituency that had cladding installed as part of the Government’s green deal policy. However, following the tragic events at Grenfell, the insurance premiums there have gone from £20,000 to more than £100,000. Sadly, because Leigh Heath Court is under 11 metres tall it does not qualify for Government support to remove the cladding, and the Association of British Insurers has repeatedly failed to deliver a long-promised alternative scheme. I have been raising this matter with Ministers for nearly two years now. Please may we have a statement on what the Government are doing to press the ABI to launch this long-promised scheme?

I am sorry to hear about the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I congratulate her on her diligence in trying to find a solution. If she will furnish my office with the correspondence she has had with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on this matter—I imagine it would be with that Department—I will raise it with the Department to see whether there is any more advice and support it can give to help get the situation resolved.

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Yesterday, the Post Office confirmed that the Clapham Common branch in my constituency will be closed permanently next month, despite the serious impact that that will have on elderly and vulnerable residents. Not only did the public consultation receive more than 1,000 responses, but there has also been a high-profile campaign against the closure and a petition was handed into Downing Street just yesterday. The Post Office promised to take that feedback seriously, but, despite community opposition, it has not made a single change to its plans after the consultation. Does the Leader of the House agree that public consultation should never be a meaningless tick-box exercise? May we have a debate in Government time to ensure that communities can influence these really important decisions?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that there is an obligation to consult the public. We want the Post Office to provide services in the way they should be provided, so those consultations should be listened to. As she will know from my business statement, there will be a Backbench Business debate on Thursday 8 February about the management culture of the Post Office. I suggest that that will be her next available opportunity to get some serious time on the Floor of the House to air her concerns. I hope the relevant people in the Post Office will have heard what she has said today and take it into account.

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I have the great honour to represent a large number of fishermen who operate under-10 metre fishing vessels out of the harbours of Mevagissey, Newquay and Fowey. Those vessels play an important role in providing high-quality fish for the UK and for export in the most sustainable way. They are an important part of the local economy and of the social and cultural fabric of their coastal communities. Those fishermen often feel overlooked when the Government are setting fisheries policy, and they are adversely impacted at the moment by the decision to remove quota for pollock. Can we have a ministerial statement on the Government’s policy on the under-10 metre fishing fleet and the steps they are taking to support that fleet to ensure that it has a viable and sustainable future?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we should be supporting our wonderful fishermen. He will know that the under-10 metre fishing fleet plays a vital role and that vessels received around 12,000 tonnes of quota last year—double what the same vessels would have received if we were still a member of the EU. Those vessels have worked hard to seize those opportunities. I know that a port not far from my hon. Friend’s constituency has increased its annual sales from £40 million when it was in the EU to £70 million now. That achievement is huge testament to the hard work at that port, and we will do everything we can to support the UK fleet.

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Families on Campton Fields estate in my constituency, like so many others across the country, have been left exposed to fleecehold by the Government’s failure to act to end the ongoing limbo on estate adoption. The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill contains many good measures, but it does not act on the Competition and Markets Authority’s recommendation to tackle the issue of estate adoption at source. With cross-party representations now being made on the issue, will the Housing Minister make a statement on when the Government will tackle it once and for all?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and his support for the legislation that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is bringing forward. Given that the next questions to the Secretary of State are not until 4 March, I will make sure that the Department and the Housing Minister have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Members will be familiar with the various drop-in sessions held in the House, particularly those organised by campaign groups and charities connected with the health sector. A common theme is early diagnosis, but, disturbingly, statistics sometimes show that treatment is not common across the country and perhaps there may not be the best outcomes in one’s own constituency. May we have a debate in Government time to look at how we can improve treatments across the country?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. Early diagnosis is critical in getting the best patient outcomes, but it is also critical to ensure that people are accessing the healthcare they need in a timely way and not waiting longer than they need to. That is why we have invested so heavily in new diagnostic testing centres across the country—off the top of my head, some 160 have been stood up—and they are helping to bring down waiting lists. It is an excellent topic for a debate. We should be looking across the whole UK, so that the four NHS systems can learn from each other and ensure patients are getting the best care, wherever they are.

Everyone has wished you a happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was nervously thinking of saying, “Pinch, punch, first day of the month,” but, knowing your character, I don’t think I will try it out. I would not try it on the Leader of the House either.

I have a very serious question for the Leader of the House. It is extremely worrying that a Member of Parliament is standing down because of the pressure that is being put on him. There is increasing pressure on Members of Parliament. I raised worries and concerns about my own case recently. It will be a terrible thing if people are afraid to offer themselves for public office and to stand for Parliament. We need not just to have a debate, but to do something in the House about how we give better support. We want people to get up in the morning and be keen to come to work. When I raised my problems, I did not get much help or support from the House, or even from my own party. We need to do better if we are to keep this a healthy parliamentary democracy.

I thank the honourable and wise Member for his question. It is an absolute tragedy that people who come to this place in good faith to represent their constituencies and do a job that they love are hounded out of office, or have to leave office, because of the wellbeing of their family. I know that the children of hon. Members, including very young children, have in some cases been targeted. That should not happen.

Last year, I initiated the largest ever survey of Members to make sure that this House is responding to the concerns that they have for the world as it is now, not as it was 20 years ago. We must continue to do that. I hope that the House authorities will meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his experiences and how we can support hon. Members to ensure that they are able to do their job. We can all help with this, and the public can help with it too. We know that what often encourages people is when they feel that they are given permission by others to demonise and dehumanise Members of Parliament, and quite often that permission to do serious physical harm and the motivation for it start on social media. Whatever we think about a particular person’s political persuasion, their views or their voting record, they are in this place at the service of the people who sent them here. That deserves respect and it deserves our protection, too.

A very happy birthday to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Food waste is bad for the environment and bad for the economy, which is why the work of food redistribution charities, such as FareShare, is essential. At a time when people are struggling with the cost of living, the redistribution network is vital. We should look at how we can improve it and invest in it. Although the Government are making good progress in reducing food waste along the supply chain, there is still much more that can be done. Even in this House, I am always concerned about how much food we throw away. Will my right hon. Friend make parliamentary time available to discuss the issue of food waste in the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that very important matter. I know that many right hon. and hon. Members from across the House are involved in pantry and larder schemes, which not only help people with the cost of living but ensure that food does not go to waste. These national networks are quite often tied in with local provision as well—with local allotments and community groups. I think that is an excellent topic for a debate, and I know that the Backbench Business Committee Chairman will be interested in an application.

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

A very experienced MP once said to me that the letters “MP” stand for “must persist”, so I will persist and ask the Leader of the House whether she will help me to get a statement from the Paymaster General about the infected blood inquiry, in relation to the statement by Sir Brian last month about the delay in the publication of his final report. I know that work has been going on, so will the Paymaster General update the House, and will the Leader of the House reassure me that the House will hear from the Government on 20 May, the day of the publication of Sir Brian’s final report, and not within the 25 sitting days that have been talked about? That would mean that the Government could take until 3 July to respond, which is not acceptable.

On behalf of everyone in this House, I thank the right hon. Lady for her persistence on this incredibly important matter. She is right to be persistent: often MPs, particularly Back-Bench MPs, do not have authority over particular areas. All we are able to do sometimes is nag and persist, but that is what we need to do, and she does it very effectively. I have had some recent updates from the Paymaster General, who is working through this; I know that she is aware of that. I hope that he will update the House before 20 May on the progress that he is making, and when that landmark report is finally concluded, I think the Government will be able to make themselves available to the House on the matter.

A very happy birthday to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Tens of thousands of pounds—that is the bill that has landed at the door of a number of my constituents, and according to a BBC report the constituents of right hon. and hon. Members across the north of England. The bills relate to cavity wall insulation that residents had installed using a Government grant. That cavity wall insulation was defective, and caused damp, mould and damage to property. When no win, no fee lawyers got in touch, residents took up the offer. That proceeded through the courts. They were told that they would not have to pay, but a law firm based in Sheffield, SSB Law, has now collapsed. There was no insurance policy for residents, and they have now been hit with legal costs because of its collapse. I understand that the Solicitors Regulation Authority did a forensic investigation last year and is now investigating again, but can I enlist the help of the Leader of the House to get justice for residents who have no means to pay the tens of thousands of pounds that they are being asked for, when they thought that they were doing the right thing in getting cavity wall insulation, and putting it right after it went wrong?

That is an appalling situation, and I am very sorry to hear about it. I understand that the issue has been reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and that there is an investigation into the matters that my hon. Friend raises. I am sure that he will support his constituents with any complaints that they wish to make to the legal ombudsman and the Solicitors Regulation Authority. He will know that Justice oral questions are scheduled to take place on 20 February, but the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities might also be able to assist, perhaps with some of the schemes that it has in place to help to regenerate communities and tackle some of these issues. I will write to the Department and ask whether it can assist him.

Many happy returns, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that you will not be the only person celebrating today: my constituent Catherine Humphrey was at the Palace yesterday for an investiture. I know that her family are immensely proud of her.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the wonderful gospel singer Harmonie London, who regularly performs on the streets of London, principally on Oxford Street. During a recent performance there, Community Support Officer AW5152 accosted the performer, and said, “You’re not allowed to perform church songs outside of church grounds unless you have a special letter.” The Leader of the House will know that under article 9 our rights to freedom of religious worship are enshrined in law and protected. That officer was simply wrong, but when that was pointed out to her, her response was to stick her tongue out at the performer. That was just wrong. This performer, unfortunately, has been accosted more than once by police officers about her performance. She is entitled to sing gospel songs on the streets of our nation, as many buskers do, and those freedoms should be protected. I hope the police, after apologising, will train their officers to be aware of the rights of all the citizens of this United Kingdom.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter. He will know that the Metropolitan police have said that they got it wrong. I think there were some other issues relating to busking licences and all that, but in terms of what he has described the officer saying and her justification for acting, the Met have said they got that wrong and my understanding is that they have apologised for doing so. He is right to raise that, and I hope it will have reassured the public about their particular rights to do one thing or another. However, we also need to place on record our support for the police. We have policing by consent; sometimes they make poor decisions, but they are held to account for them and, where they have got it wrong, they apologise. I think that is the hallmark of a good police service.

In 2019, I was successful in my campaign to have Mill Hill Broadway train station included in the Department for Transport’s Access for All programme, but I was subsequently advised that the installation would be delayed. Given the importance of this project to local people, can we have a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to provide an update on the progress of the last round of funding applications?

I am sorry to hear that there has been delay to this very important project, which I know my hon. Friend worked incredibly hard to secure. He will know that the next Transport questions is on 8 February. I understand that there is an issue about engaging a particular contractor to be able to start the project in March this year, but the question is best directed to the Secretary of State, and I will make sure that he has heard what my hon. Friend has said.

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Over the last few weeks, this House has seen a rise in absenteeism among senior Ministers. There has been a debate on steel with no Secretary of State and nothing from the Education Secretary on the childcare crisis. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is an unacceptable way for her colleagues to treat this House?

I will certainly make sure that the relevant Departments have heard what the hon. Lady has said, but I disagree with her: whether it is a statement, attendance at questions or making Ministers available for urgent questions, I am not aware of any incident where the relevant Minister has not been present.

Penblwydd hapus, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Ynys Môn is represented by five Members of the Senedd, soon to increase to six, and is merging with another constituency. That could result in not one MS living on Ynys Môn. Conversely, the UK Government have recognised Ynys Môn’s unique island character by granting the island special protected status. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Welsh Labour Government, propped up by Plaid, should prioritise increasing the number of GP and dentist appointments, not increasing the number of MSs by a staggering 60%, from 60 to 96?

I am shocked to hear about this plan to massively increase the number of MSs. The answer to questions of how to get better healthcare and so on is seldom more politicians. It is usually more GPs or more teachers—and we, of course, have a good track record delivering on both those things. To put the plan in context, if the same constituent-to-politician ratio as in the plan being outlined in Wales were transferred to the House of Commons, this Chamber would have to accommodate 2,058 Members of Parliament. That is Labour’s blueprint for governing Britain, I think.

May I suggest a glass of the Talisker to mark your special day, Madam Deputy Speaker? I know it is one of your favourites.

Earlier this week we saw the publication of the long-delayed Teesworks report, which made no fewer than 28 recommendations to address poor practice by the Tees Tory Mayor in everything from governance and transparency to failure to provide his own board with the necessary information to make decisions, to the lack of scrutiny over value for public money. Does the Leader of the House agree that that was sufficient reason to call in the National Audit Office, even before the latest Private Eye revelations that £20 million was paid by the Mayor’s development corporation to the organisation controlled by two local businessmen to move rubble from one part of the site to another, without any contract?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was simply making a suggestion to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or whether he was offering to purchase you a glass of whisky—I hope the latter.

Labour is focused on Teesside—the last few months have been the first time for that, really. For many, many years, when Labour had the opportunity to directly help that part of the country, they ignored it, so the people of Teesside—fed up with Labour inaction—put their trust in Mayor Houchen. He has a plan and he is delivering: he saved the airport; he secured the first and largest freeport, which has already secured billions of pounds of inward investment; the Teesworks site has already been made ready for redevelopment and investment, ahead of schedule and ahead of budget; £650 million of investment is securing thousands of green jobs; the SeAH factory is being built using British steel, which makes me very proud; and the world’s first carbon capture, utilisation and storage facility has secured billions of additional funding into the area.

Mayor Houchen has managed to secure £200 million to invest in local rail, and he has a new bypass on the way; he has increased the employment rate by 3% above the national average; and he has future business rates revenues, which are projected to be about £1.4 billion to date. He gets on and delivers. Labour ought to be taking notes, rather than smearing him and the hard-working people of Teesside who are making this plan happen. That tells me that Labour has learned absolutely nothing; it has not changed and shows every sign of taking the people of Teesside for granted.

Happy birthday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Taxi drivers are essential key workers who get youngsters to school and the elderly to health services and support our night-time economy. But I have spoken to taxi drivers in Stockton South, and they say that they are increasingly victims of assault and fare dodgers, and they feel that no one has their back. Will my right hon. Friend grant me a debate on how we can better protect taxi drivers and ensure that those responsible feel the full force of the law?

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing our attention to the issue. Given the statistics that I cited earlier, he will know that crime is falling. In particular, violent crime against individuals is down substantially—by 52%—and, of course, we have more police officers than ever before. I am sure that the Home Secretary will want to hear about my hon. Friend’s particular concerns; I will certainly make sure that he has heard them, but my hon. Friend can also raise them with him directly in questions on 26 February. I thank my hon. Friend for standing up for the taxi drivers in his part of the world.

Many happy returns, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is nice to share a moment of lightness in what are otherwise quite dark times.

Last week, the International Court of Justice ruled that claims of genocide in Gaza are plausible. Two days later, during a settler conference in Jerusalem alongside 10 other Government Ministers, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Israeli Minister of National Security, stated that encouraging emigration from Gaza is a necessity. I am sure that many colleagues across the House would agree that that sounds dangerously like an advocation of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time so that this House may express its views on whether it is now appropriate to issue targeted sanctions against any individual, organisation or state that is found to have incited or committed war crimes, or incited ethnic cleansing or genocide?

I understand why the hon. Gentleman raises concerns about that issue. All Members of the House are concerned about what is happening in the middle east. We want to see civilians protected and an end to hostilities. Key to that is ensuring that Israel is safe and secure, and that its citizens who have been kidnapped and are being held hostage are returned. The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Foreign Secretary has said on those matters. He has been doing a huge amount of work, particularly over the last week, talking to nations in the region, which can particularly help to secure all those aims.

I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to think about what they say on the Floor of the House and whether it helps or hinders that situation. This Chamber is not an international court; accusations about genocide or ethnic cleansing should not be made. It is about ensuring that the right bodies are overseeing matters. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman asked for a briefing on how the Government are doing that, whether through our partnerships in the Ministry of Defence or at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, he would be very reassured by the oversight that is being provided.

Trust in politics matters. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out the importance of every single Member ensuring that any information they present to the House as fact is accurate, and that, when mistakes are made, as they sometimes will be, Members have a duty to correct the record in early course out of respect for other Members and those we represent? Does she agree that correcting inaccurate information provided in error is a sign not of weakness but of strength and honour—values to which we should all aspire?

I hope that my past actions on that matter speak volumes and do that job. Where I have given the House incorrect information, I have corrected the record. The hon. Lady is quite right: sometimes mistakes happen and they should be corrected. With regard to the motivation for her question, I refer her to what I said yesterday further to a point of order: the figures that she is working off, from a House of Commons Library paper, are from the SNP’s budget in 2022. They are out of date.

I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on 16 October to ask whether the Department would consider reopening the state-of-the-art Rutherford cancer centre in Bomarsund in my constituency, given the lengthy—and lengthening—cancer waiting lists in my area of the north-east. I received a letter from the Department only this week—three months later—suggesting that:

“To operate as NHS cancer centres, the Rutherford sites need to meet NHS specifications and we are advised by NHS England that they do not.”

The reality is that other Rutherford cancer units, in Taunton and in Clatterbridge in Liverpool, have joint partnerships with the NHS. The Rutherford centre in Bomarsund has had referrals from the NHS, so this is absolute humbug. Will the Leader of the House consider a debate in Government time on fairness and equity in the frequency of diagnostics, cancer treatment and so on across the country, not forgetting the north-east of England?

Order. Before I call the Leader of the House, I should say that a significant number of Members wish to participate, and there is some very serious business to follow, so I would be grateful if Members on both sides of the House asked questions and did not make speeches.

As the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) knows, the Department of Health and Social Care oversees the national cancer plan. Although I do not know the background to his constituency issue, I suspect it will be a matter for local commissioners. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard what he has said today, but he may need to direct the issue to local commissioners.

The Office for Budget Responsibility is responsible for giving clear advice to the Government on their fiscal and budgetary strategy. Has the Leader of the House noted that the other day a senior representative of the OBR said that the Government’s figures are a “work of fiction”, because the projections for cuts after the election have never been printed? Will she comment on that? Is it a work of fiction? Can we have a debate on the OBR and its role?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should raise that directly with the Treasury. He will not have long to wait, as the next Treasury questions will be on 6 February. I remind him that we established and continue to support the OBR, which has done a great deal of work to ensure that the kind of mismanagement that happened before 2010 does not happen again.

Recent court documents appear to show that, following an internal Foreign Office review of their legality in the light of what is happening in Gaza, the Foreign Secretary himself recommended that arms sale licences to Israel should be allowed to continue. There are concerns that at a recent Foreign Affairs Committee hearing the Foreign Secretary gave the impression that he had not taken a formal decision. It is important that this is cleared up, so will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on the legality of our current arms exports to Israel and the FCDO’s decision to continue those experts? Will she write to the Foreign Secretary to ask him to place the legal advice he has received on this in the Library?

This may be news to the hon. Gentleman, but there is a Select Committee of this House that scrutinises arms export controls. It is entitled to look at anything, and all the policy will be cited there. Much of the material is available for hon. Members to look at. There are very clear criteria for decision takers, and the process has oversight and a legal framework around it. As he knows, we do not grant arms export licences to countries where we think the arms will be misused or might irresponsibly fall into the hands of a third party. I can only conclude that the fact that those criteria have not been met means that we are right to continue our defence partnerships with Israel.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am currently a major shareholder, and in a few weeks’ time will be the 100% shareholder, in a significant food processing business in North West Leicestershire.

Food is not a luxury: it is essential for human existence. Food price inflation is running at 10%, which is putting pressure on household budgets. Across Europe, farmers are leading protests that have been barely reported in our media. The phrase “No farmers, no food” has been translated and is understood in many languages. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time on UK farming, UK food production and UK food security, before our farmers start taking direct action?

The hon. Gentleman will know how to apply for a debate, and I am sure that a debate on that topic would be very well attended. He will know that many Conservative Members would have to make a similar declaration of interest if they were to speak in such a debate, so we absolutely understand the issues facing our farmers. We value what farmers do as a tremendous service to this nation, and we rely on them for our resilience.

In July 2020, Baroness Cumberlege produced a report called “First Do No Harm”, which looked at the damage being done to women by sodium valproate, Primodos and vaginal mesh. Members from across the House have supported that report, and have especially supported listening to the women who have been harmed and debilitated so badly by the use of that mesh. Can we please have a debate in Government time to update us on the Government’s progress in adhering to some of those important recommendations?

I thank the hon. Lady for keeping this issue in the public eye. It has received cross-party support and this is long overdue—we have not put enough focus on the particular issues that affect women, and on some of the legacy treatments and devices that have caused so much damage. I thank all Members who have worked towards that goal, most notably my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dame Jackie Doyle-Price), who did a huge amount of work on the issue when she was at the Department of Health and Social Care. The hon. Lady will know that the Secretary of State has just published an updated report on our strategy for women’s health, and I will make sure that she has heard what the hon. Lady has said about this particular issue.

Petrol prices in Merthyr Tydfil continue to be approximately 10p per litre higher than in some surrounding areas—even the same retailers are charging more locally than at nearby stores. I have written to petrol retailers that have forecourts locally, and those that have replied have been unable to justify why residents in my constituency are being ripped off. Can we have a debate on what action the Government can take to address this scandalous situation at what continues to be a very difficult time for families?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: households and businesses need to know that they are getting competition at the pump and the best price, and that any savings that are made—due to changes in oil prices, for example—are being passed on to the customer. He will know that we have brought forward work with the Competition and Markets Authority to stand up PumpWatch, and the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero gave an update to Members of Parliament on this issue a couple of weeks ago. That work will ensure competition, but it will also enable consumers to see what different retailers are doing, which will be a big step forward. If the hon. Gentleman wants to give me the details of the retailers that are not treating his constituents fairly, I will make sure that the Secretary of State sees them.

Today is Time to Talk Day, the nation’s biggest mental health conversation. Good-quality youth services can have a positive impact on young people’s mental health: places such as the young persons hub and Tokko Youth Space in Luton, and people such as our outreach workers from Luton Council and Central Bedfordshire Council, are all really important in enabling young people to open up and feel listened to. Will the Leader of the House consider allowing Government time for a debate on the important role of youth organisations and services for young people’s mental wellbeing and personal development?

On behalf of all right hon. and hon. Members, I thank the hon. Lady for raising Time to Talk Day—I know that many colleagues will be involved in raising awareness and making full use of the opportunities to do so. She is right that mental health is a particular issue affecting young people. It always has been, but particularly after the dreadful pandemic years we really need to ensure that our young people have everything they need to thrive and have good mental health. The hon. Lady will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.

The Leader of the House will know that since early last year, if not before, many Opposition Members—particularly the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald)—have been raising the issue of Teesworks. The report released on Monday was scathing in its assessment of the company, stating that Teesworks offered insufficient transparency to provide evidence of value for money. Clearly, we need greater transparency in such projects, so will the Leader of the House please remind the Prime Minister to finally release details of his conversations surrounding Teesworks—as he was asked to do twice last year—and will she agree to a debate on the need for the National Audit Office to investigate Teesworks, given the scale of the project and the public concern?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I should clarify that my remarks were not that the Labour party had neglected to scrutinise the work of the Teesside Mayor: they were that Labour had neglected that area of the country when it was in power and had so long to help it to regenerate and bring in investment. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to what I said earlier about the achievements of the Mayor and what local people have been able to do when bureaucracy is pushed out of the way and good people can get together and get on, helping the area that they love to develop.

In his question, the hon. Gentleman has highlighted the fact that there is an enormous amount of scrutiny—of contracts, of value for money and of everything that has gone on. That is what the report and the other investigations and oversight have achieved. I say to the Labour party that it should stop knocking success, stop knocking this plan that is working, and start taking some notes.

Just before Christmas, the Scottish Government published their budget, which included confirmation that Clyde Gateway—a community urban regeneration company that has invested hugely in my constituency and in nearby Glasgow—would continue to receive £5 million of capital funding. A few days later, the Scottish Government realised that that was a typo: they were actually cutting the entirety of the capital budget to that organisation, although they did not make that public until several weeks later. I am tempted to ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate on the basic competence of the Scottish Government, but instead, I ask her whether there is any mechanism for a further statement on levelling-up funding, or on any other means that we can use to get funding to an essential community regeneration company such as Clyde Gateway.

I am very sorry to hear about that situation: I can tell how disappointing it is to the hon. Gentleman, but it will also be very disappointing to his constituents. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Scotland has heard his concerns and worries. There are not enough hours in Government time, or hours that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee could give this House, to fully examine and debate the level of incompetency that the Scottish Government are so renowned for. I am very sorry to hear about this particular incident, which the hon. Gentleman has now put on the record.

It is always a pleasure to ask the Leader of the House a question. This week, as is mostly the case, my question is focused on the persecution of religious groups across the world. Every week, I bring to her attention the state of freedom of religion or belief; this week, I raise the persecution of Christians in Iraq, a country that I visited some years ago. Chaldean Catholics in Iraq are presently living under impossible oppression and confiscation of ecclesiastical property after the country’s President revoked the state’s recognition that Cardinal Sako is head of their church and sole administrator of its goods. Will the Leader of the House join me in urging that religious expression and property in Iraq be protected, not just for the Chaldean Catholics but for all the ethnic minorities in that country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing the House’s attention to a very important matter that deserves our focus and scrutiny. Again, he has done us a service by raising this question, as he does every single week. Given that Foreign Office questions is not for some time, I will ensure that the Foreign Secretary has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about this particular group, and will ask the relevant Minister to update the hon. Gentleman’s office about what we are doing to raise awareness of the matter and hold people to account.