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Business of the House

Volume 745: debated on Thursday 8 February 2024

The business for the week commencing 19 February will include:

Monday 19 February—Second reading of the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 20 February—Remaining stages of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill.

Wednesday 21 February—Opposition day (5th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party, subject to be announced.

Thursday 22 February—A debate on the civil nuclear road map, followed by a general debate on premature deaths from heart and circulatory diseases. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 23 February—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 26 February includes:

Monday 26 February—General debate, subject to be confirmed.

Tuesday 27 February—Remaining stages of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill.

Wednesday 28 February—Second Reading of the Pedicabs (London) Bill [Lords].

Thursday 29 February—A debate on a motion on language in politics on International Women’s Day, followed by a general debate on Welsh affairs. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 1 March—Private Members’ Bills.

I start by offering my best wishes to His Majesty the King and all the royal family at this difficult time. I wish him a speedy recovery.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business, but yet again, there are a few things missing that we have long been promised. I was glad that the motion on risk-based exclusion of Members was laid before the House last week, but when will the Leader of the House schedule a debate and a vote? Once again, there is no motion on the Procedure Committee’s recommendations on holding Secretaries of State in the Lords to account. Report stage of the Renters (Reform) Bill was promised by early February, but it is nowhere to be seen, and the football regulator long promised to clubs and their communities is still not in the upcoming business. The Leader of the House said a few weeks ago that that legislation would be brought forward “very soon”.

Will she also confirm that the Government will make a statement as soon we are back on progress in exonerating victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal, and that it is still the intention of the Government to bring forward legislation to exonerate victims? We are getting a written ministerial statement today on infected blood, yet time and again she has promised oral statements to update the House. The business she has announced is not exactly going to fill all the days, so surely she can find time for these important matters.

This week, we saw the launch of the Popular Conservatives, who apparently have not heard of irony or oxymorons. They are headed by the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), the least popular Prime Minister in the history of British polling. I know the Leader of the House is a fan, but in the six weeks she was in office she managed to totally crash the economy. Who exactly do they think they are popular with: mortgage holders coming out of fixed rates and now paying hundreds of pounds more a month, shoppers seeing the prices of food and essentials soar, or renters seeing massive hikes? Let us be honest: poll after poll shows there is absolutely nothing popular about the current Conservative party, although I did notice that the Leader of the House herself ranks as the most popular Conservative with voters. So maybe she could offer the Popular Conservatives some advice: show some contrition for the economic mess they have caused and stay off the airwaves.

Perhaps more sombrely, the Prime Minister has this week made some serious misjudgments. On Monday, he shook hands on a bet to deport migrants to Rwanda before the next general election. Betting on people’s lives was grim to watch, and the ease with which the Prime Minister agreed to a £1,000 bet when so many are suffering through the Conservative cost of living crisis was a gross spectacle. Does the Leader of the House think betting about the plight of desperate people is a good advert for her Government?

In that interview, the Prime Minister also inferred that the Leader of the Opposition was a terrorist sympathiser. Actually, when he was the Director of Public Prosecutions, my right hon. and learned Friend oversaw the first convictions of senior members of al-Qaeda, the jailing of the airline liquid bomb plotters and the deportation of countless terrorists. All the while, the Prime Minister was making money as a hedge funder in the City during the global financial crisis, as ordinary people paid the price. I know who I would rather have in charge. Only last week, we agreed in here that civility, respect, decency and truth in politics matter, so will the Leader of the House distance herself from such malicious mud-slinging?

This week, in Prime Minister’s Question Time, we hit a new low. In the week of the first anniversary of the murder of Brianna Ghey and while her mother was in the Public Gallery, the Prime Minister tried to score cheap political points at the expense of trans people, which Brianna’s father condemned as “absolutely dehumanising”. Many of us found it deeply offensive and distasteful, including many Government Members. The Prime Minister has been given plenty of opportunity to apologise to Esther Ghey and her family, and has refused, while the Minister for Women and Equalities, whose job it is to stand up for the marginalised, doubled down and dismissed the cries of the family. The Leader of the House has a better record than many in her party on this issue, and I know she will be appalled, too. So will she take this opportunity to apologise on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and call out using minorities as a political punchbag?

We are about to go into recess, and I think it is restorative to spend time with our constituents, and to escape the Westminster and social media bubble.

Since Parliament returned this year, we have witnessed the nation rally behind a group of people mightily wronged, who took on those in powerful positions to fight to get justice for themselves and others. The hon. Lady mentioned the Post Office Horizon scandal. She will know that there is a debate this afternoon, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), will take the opportunity to update the House on progress made towards that legislation. I confirm that that is still our intent. I also know that the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), is working at pace with regard to infected blood. I understand he had a meeting with the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) about that earlier this week.

We have also seen the crew of the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier cancel plans, leave, and time with their loved ones to do their duty. We have learned that thanks to the graft and grit of the British people and businesses, our economy has turned a corner. We have seen our monarch respond to his cancer diagnosis, as many other Brits have, with courage, duty and cheerfulness, and with family rallying around, and I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks and good wishes, as well as all Members and the British public who have sent their best wishes to His Majesty.

We have also seen a mother meeting the brutal murder of her child with the most profound grace and compassion, turning her anguish into positive action to protect other children. And we have seen a father speak about how the love for his child enabled him to overcome his worries about them being trans. Those are the things that our nation is made of: compassion, fairness, tolerance, responsibility, service, and love. We see those things every day in the people who sent us here, and we look on them with pride. Sometimes that pride is reciprocated, as I am sure it was for my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) in what he said yesterday. Sometimes that pride is not reciprocated. Whatever the rough and tumble of this place, and whatever the pressures and mistakes that are made in the heat of political combat, we owe it to the people who sent us here to strive every day to make them proud of us and this place.

The Prime Minister is a good and caring man. I am sure that he has reflected on things, and I understand that he will say something later today or perhaps even during these questions. It is not just about Mr and Mrs Ghey that he should reflect on; I am sure he is also reflecting on people who are trans or who have trans loved ones and family, some of whom sit on these green Benches. I hope the Leader of the Opposition will also reflect on his actions. This Government have been right to protect the safety and dignity of women, and at each stage of doing so they have sought to bring certainty and assurance to trans people. This Government are also right to hold the Opposition to account for their multiple inconsistencies and U-turns on their policy platform.

Today supposition has ended, and reality has landed about the Schrödinger £28 billion—a policy that for months and months has been both alive and dead, and is now confirmed as dead, at least for now. There will be questions over whether the shadow Energy Secretary’s tenure in that role is also alive or dead. “Politically, it’s strategically incompetent” as the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) called this sorry saga, and that description could also apply to Labour’s costings on its insulation programme and its council tax policy and modelling. It is more confirmation that not only does Labour not have a plan, it has no hope of arriving at one either.

The hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) asked me about risk-based exclusion, and we have tabled that motion on future business. She knows that we will bring forward a debate and vote on that after recess, but I want Members of the House to have time to make themselves aware of the issue and to ask me, and other members of the House of Commons Commission, questions about it.

Regarding scrutiny of the Foreign Secretary, I am in touch with the Leader of the House of Lords about that matter and I hope to update the House soon.

Finally, today marks the start of marriage and family week, and it is appropriate that we send a big thank you to all those who support us in this place and who quite often put up with a great deal. Further business will be announced in the usual way.

The Leader of the House knows that I am a member of the programme board on restoration and renewal, and she is the responsible Minister. There is a debate due on the business case, and she might now tell the House when that will happen. It is imminent. We will also have a debate on whether we will have a decant, but not until 2025, and even if we do decant, that will not be until 2031, and I doubt I will personally live to see it, although I wish Members well with that project.

I do not want to get involved with whether we decant, but ask a specific question. This matter has now dragged on since 2015 and could drag on until 2031. Meanwhile, the building is decaying around us. Three options were delivered to the Speaker’s Commission on this matter, and one is planned maintenance around us. We have successfully done good work on parts of the building, and I urge the Leader of the House now—she might make an announcement on this—to press ahead with proper planned maintenance, so that we can repair the building and make it good for future generations.

May I start by thanking my right hon. Friend and other colleagues for all the work they have done on the programme board? The new governance structure—I hope Mr Speaker would concur—has enabled us to make good progress on getting a proper grip of what needs to happen to this building and the activity and costs associated with that. We will bring forward further news to the House shortly on where we are with the plans and the programme, but that should not get in the way of concurrent activity. He will know there are some early projects that we think we can get on with that are perfectly within the boundaries of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019, and we should get on and do them. I hope that the House will welcome a more pragmatic approach to taking care of this important UNESCO heritage site.

May I associate myself with the shadow Leader of the House’s comments about Brianna Ghey and her remarkable parents?

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House about the cost of the Tories’ secret and highly sensitive report to Cabinet on the state of the Union. Hansard records that not one word of her answer reflected my question—not one syllable. Instead, she read out to the Chamber a video script about bingo and made a joke about monkeys. The week before, I asked the Leader of the House about the Electoral Commission’s concerns over Tory voter ID plans. Again, there was not one word in Hansard about Tory voter ID—not a peep. Instead, she read her prepared script attacking the SNP. In fact, Hansard reveals that week after week, not only do my questions go unanswered, but they are completely ignored. Week after week, we get a clickbait video for her personal YouTube channel. Surely that behaviour demeans her office and disrespects this House. She is here to answer questions from Members.

Returning to that state of the Union report to Cabinet in July 2020, it aimed to undermine the Scottish Government and the Scottish independence cause, which were apparently a Tory top priority at the height of the pandemic. It came to light last week, and no wonder the Leader of the House’s Government wanted to keep it under wraps. It contains more grim news for any remaining supporters of the Union. My questions again are: how much did it cost taxpayers, what was its purpose, and what strategy was it asking the Cabinet to endorse? Do the Union strategy and operations committees still exist? While she is at it, I would be pleased to know the details of the “highly professional attack dogs”, as described by one journalist, who were employed around that time in an attempt to counter independence support. Unlike the Prime Minister, I am not a betting woman, but I would wager £1,000 that I will not get answers to those today, either.

I will be writing to the Leader of the House with all the questions she has ignored just this year for starters. My question today, though, just needs a simple yes or no, and I challenge her then to sit back down and resist the video script. Will she at the very least attempt to find answers to my questions when she receives them in writing, as she refuses to do so here? Can we have a debate on the role and function of the Leader of the House?

The hon. Lady can have a debate on the role and function of the Leader of the House every Thursday at approximately 10.30 am. I hope it is colleagues’ experience that when they ask me questions, I either furnish them with answers if it is about the business of the House or I follow up with Departments and write to them. I am afraid that, as Hansard will show, her questions to me and to various Departments are sometimes hard to fathom.

The hon. Lady asked me about a particular piece of polling. I can certainly write to the Cabinet Office, although she indicated that she may kindly save me the trouble; in that case, I will just send her letter to the Cabinet Office for it to respond to her. But it comes in a week when the Scottish Government’s own costs for polling have been exposed.

I hope that hon. Members disagree with the hon. Lady’s assessment that I demean my office, although that is high praise indeed from the Scottish National party—I think my party has some way to go before we reach 22 live police investigations. While it may be true that those who live in Labour areas are 40% more likely to be a victim of crime, I think SNP politicians are probably 40% more likely to be investigated for one.

I do not need to join the new organisation pointed out by the shadow Leader of the House because, as my friends the hon. Members for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) and for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) know, I am already popular and conservative.

Will the Leader of the House organise a statement on pernicious political correctness? Mr Speaker, you will be as surprised as I was to note that the Environment Agency has removed the words “mother” and “father” from all its documents because it believes they should be non-gendered. My dear mother, looking down from a greater place, will be spinning in her grave to have been designated non-gender. Can we have a debate on that? It sounds like nonsense, but it is actually much more sinister. Free speech is at stake.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that important question. While our legislation and the things that arm’s length bodies use need to be legally accurate, it is important that people can use language and words such as “mother” and “father”. Actually, that is not only the right thing to do but what the guidance they operate under says they should do. May I ask him to let my office have the details of that case? In addition to perhaps having a debate—he will know how to apply for one in the usual way—I could follow that up for him with relevant arm’s length body.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing two full weeks’ business. That is welcome.

Last week, we had to pull a debate due to shortage of time. That was understandable, given the importance of the Government business tabled for that day, but the sad point from our perspective is that unless we are allocated time other than on Thursdays for Back-Bench debates, we will probably have no further time to allocate in the Chamber before the Easter recess. Monday 26 February might fit the bill, since a general debate has been announced for that day. We are of course open for applications, particularly for business in Westminster Hall.

I know this has been mentioned, but could the Leader of the House give an indication of the progress made on bringing forward legislation for the appointment of the football regulator? I have a particular interest in that. Television’s impact on travelling football fans is worsening, with Newcastle United fans alone—I am one of them—having had inconvenient and almost unworkable away-game fixtures imposed on them no fewer than eight times this season. We have had away kick-off times of 8 pm on new year’s day, 5.30 pm in Brighton and Bournemouth—this is when travelling from the north-east of England—and Saturday night kick-offs in London at 8 pm on two occasions and 7 pm on one occasion. Those times makes it unworkable for people to get back from those fixtures on public transport, and it is happening on a much more regular basis. The football regulator is much needed, and I am sure that is something that it would like to focus on.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for all his work on the Backbench Business Committee and for welcoming two weeks of business—nothing makes me happier than to come to the House and announce that. He knows that I take very seriously our obligations to provide the Backbench Business Committee with time to have its debates on the Floor of the House. I hope to update him shortly on when we can give him some additional time.

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point about football, and I find it amazing that it has been allowed to endure for some time. It is probably very unfair on not just the players but the travelling public. I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard his concerns, and he will know that the next Culture, Media and Sport questions are on 22 February.

Collecting food waste from domestic properties is an expensive service both to set up and to carry out. Every local authority in west London has had the service for a long time—certainly before March 2023. In west London, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is providing £230,000 in funding for Hounslow, £201,000 for Brent, £406,000 for Ealing and a massive £606,000 for Hillingdon. In my borough of Harrow we have had zero, yet we provide food waste collection to 4,136 flats, and the borough wants to roll out the service to over 18,000 more flats. It is clearly unfair that Harrow has been singled out. It is not getting the funding it deserves, and has not for many years. Could right hon. Friend arrange for the DEFRA Secretary of State or a Minister to make a statement on the Floor of the House on how that funding is allocated, and why Harrow does not receive its fair share?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and for giving me advance notice of it—It is helpful and diligent of Members to do that. I have uncovered an administrative saga that I will not bore the House with, but I will update my hon. Friend. The fact that he has put the situation on record will help it to be resolved. I have received some reassuring news from the Department.

Further to a question at last week’s business questions from a Conservative Member about SSB Law, I have at least 10 constituents affected by this issue. What can only be described as cowboy outfits offered constituents cavity wall insulation, and put it into homes where it should not have been, resulting in mould, damp and damage to properties. Those constituents were then approached by SSB Law, which took on those claims in a no win, no fee basis. When it went under, my constituents received enforcement notices telling them that they owed up to £19,000. It is a scandal on top of the scandal.

I wrote to the Justice Secretary as a matter of urgency back in December, but I have not had a response. Can the Leader of the House help me to find ways in Parliament to co-ordinate all those across the north who have been affected—we expect there are hundreds, if not thousands—and to get a response so that we can look after those people, some of whom are among the most vulnerable and have received extortionate bills telling them that they owe thousands of pounds?

I am very sorry to hear about this ongoing situation. From memory, I wrote to the Department last week about this issue, and I will make sure that the hon. Lady is cited in the reply. I will also raise it again with the Justice Secretary, and chase up the hon. Lady’s correspondence. My office stands ready to assist her in getting this matter resolved for her constituents.

It is both intolerable and heartbreaking that hostages remain in captivity in Gaza after more than 100 days. Who knows what horrors are being inflicted on them as we sit here today? Can a Minister come to the House to make an urgent statement on what the Government are doing to get the hostages home?

I thank my right hon. Friend for what she has just said and for her ongoing work to keep our eyes focused on those individuals. Yesterday marked four months that they have been in captivity.

This week, I met Annabel, who is helping the Sharabi family, who lost multiple members of their family in the 7 October attack. Very sadly, the family recently confirmed that another relative, Yossi, who was taken hostage, has been murdered. Yossi was described as a pillar of their family; he was also a football fan, and a supporter of Manchester United. The family are hoping that Eli Sharabi, who was also taken hostage, will be returned to them, and that eventually Yossi’s body will be returned to them so that they can bury him. Sadly, Eli’s ordeal will not end there, as his wife and two daughters were among those murdered in the attack, which I do not think he will know yet.

I thank all those working to bring the hostages home, and all Members working to keep the spotlight on these individuals and to resolve the tragedy continuing to unfold in Gaza. I will ensure that the Foreign Office has heard what my right hon. Friend has said today and that this House is kept informed.

May I also wish His Majesty the King a speedy recovery? He was brave to share his health news—he has shown his own vulnerability and humanity, and I am sure people across the nation will thank him for that.

The household support fund provides grants to households struggling to make ends meet, but local authorities still do not know whether funding will continue past the end of March. More than 100 organisations have warned that there will be devastating consequences if the fund is not extended. Can we have a statement to clarify the future of the household support fund?

I thank the hon. Lady for her words about His Majesty the King. Many Members will know the merits of the household support fund, which was given to local authorities to provide them with the flexibility to respond to particular situations where people have fallen through the cracks for other types of support. That is why we have provided the fund. It is still in operation, and I know the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Treasury will want to ensure that Members are given good notice about what will follow. I shall ensure that both those Departments have heard what the hon. Lady has said today.

Local plans are the foundation on which planning authorities make their decisions. Despite the fact that they shape our villages and towns across the country, few people take part in the consultations that take place ahead of their production. Can we have a debate in which to exchange ideas about how we might involve more people in the formation of those plans?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter and for all the work he does to empower his community to get more involved with shaping their local plans. He will know that our revised national planning policy framework addresses some of those concerns and the weaknesses in the planning system. The next questions to the Secretary of State will be on 4 March, where my hon. Friend can raise this matter directly with the Minister himself.

The life expectancy for the less well-off in south-east Northumberland barely scrapes 70 years of age, due to the industrial heritage and legacy in my region, like many others. Right-wing think-tanks are mooting the idea of increasing the pension age to 71, which would basically mean that people in my constituency and other constituencies would pay in all our life and get absolutely nothing from the pot. Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss the huge discrepancies in life expectancy and the potential for people to receive no pension for a lifetime of contributions?

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. There are clearly legacy issues in certain parts of the country because of the industries that were there. People in certain professions in the modern workplace, such as shift workers, are also at a disadvantage in terms of their health. All of that needs to be fed in when policy is made, which is why it is important that we have evidence-based policy and a system across Government so that every Department is involved in the formulation of policy. Given that the question session to the relevant Department is not for some time, I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has heard the hon. Gentleman’s point today.

Since being elected, I and many colleagues have spent much time raising issues that affect men and boys. However, this House has barely raised the importance of dads and the challenges they face. They play a vital role in bringing up their children, supporting their family and supporting our country. Too many are blocked unfairly from seeing their children after a divorce and too often their role in bringing up children is not seen as important, yet we all know families need their fathers, daughters need their dads, and lads need their dads. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have a debate on the vital role dads play and the challenges they face?

I thank my hon. Friend for the campaign he has been running on this issue and his diligence in holding all Departments to account for what they are doing to recognise the vital contribution fathers make, not just to their families but to wider society. That would be an excellent topic for debate and he will know how to apply for one. He will also know that he can continue to raise this issue directly with Ministers at Question Time. It is highly appropriate that he has spoken about this issue; as I said in my opening, we are starting a celebration week of the family. We know that when families have strong father figures and role models, they are strengthened.

The Leader of the House promised that she would table a motion on risk-based exclusions for Members. It was published last week, the future business is light and there is plenty of parliamentary time available, so will she tell us why she has not scheduled the debate yet and why there is no sense of urgency in ensuring that Parliament is a safe workplace and its reputation is restored?

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave to the shadow Leader of the House. I think that if she were to ask colleagues about their awareness of the motion and the detail within it, many will not have registered it. What I and other members of the Commission are doing is talking to colleagues about it. I have had meetings with colleagues who still have some concerns about aspects of it. I want to bring it to the House and for it to be understood when the House makes a decision on it. I will do that very shortly after recess, but I do want to allow right hon. and hon. Members the time to study the motion and understand what the scheme is. I think it stands a better chance of gaining maximum support in the House if that is the case. I will keep the hon. Lady updated.

Farmers in my constituency are in uproar and my Welsh Conservative colleagues across Wales tell me that they are hearing the same thing. The source of farmers’ distress is the new proposals from the Welsh Government for a new farming subsidy scheme to be introduced in 2025. An independent economic assessment published with the proposals says that the scheme will result in a 10.8% reduction in livestock and an 11% reduction in labour—a number that the National Farmers Union in Wales says is equivalent to about 5,500 jobs. I know how important farming is where I am, even if the Welsh Government do not seem to appreciate how important it is in Wales. Given the close ties within the farming community across the UK, and given the fact that we enjoy a single UK labour market, will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for a debate on the vital contribution of farming to the UK economy when the House returns?

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he continues to do not just to champion the interests of farming communities in Wales, but to highlight their critical importance to our resilience as a nation. When we study the potential job losses and the potential reduction in livestock numbers, the assessment of the NFU in Wales—that the plans are “catastrophic”—is right on the money. I will certainly make sure that the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s concerns. I encourage him to keep campaigning against the plans. He will know that the next Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions are on 14 March.

I respect the Leader of the House, and I note that there is a written ministerial statement today, but what the House needs is an oral statement from the Cabinet Office Minister so that we can ask questions about what the Government are doing.

I also want to raise a separate issue: the devolution deal that is being consulted on in my area of East Yorkshire and Hull. Apparently, we are to receive an extra £13.3 million a year over 30 years, shared between the two councils in the area. Constituents have pointed out to me that the Government’s economic development deal with Rwanda averages about £54 million a year over five years. They are wondering why the Government are putting that amount of money into Rwanda, given that they were elected in 2019 on the basis of a policy of levelling up, and why my area is receiving so much less.

Let me first thank the right hon. Lady for her kind remarks about me, and say to her that the feeling is entirely mutual. She will know that I keep in close contact with the Paymaster General regarding infected blood, and I will ensure that he has heard what she has said today. I understand that he met her this week, and I know that the whole House will want to be kept informed and updated about the progress that he is making.

I will also ensure that those at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have heard what the right hon. Lady has said about the devolution deal. Such deals are a vital tool, along with the many other sources of funding that we are putting into communities that need it and will do something good with it. However, as she will know, the devolution deal is not the only source of the funds that her constituents will receive: they will be getting many more streams of funding in many other areas and from many other Departments.

However, the Government have a finite amount of money, and it is important that we are directing it to where we want to spend it and alleviating pressures on public services that we do not want to see. Where we have porous borders and people—for example, economic migrants who are not fleeing persecution—are for understandable reasons abusing our asylum system, we need to close those loopholes. The Rwanda scheme is designed to be a deterrent, and if it is stood up and successful it will benefit the right hon. Lady’s constituents.

For some time I have noticed a growing sense of frustration among Members who ask a question and are given an answer that bears no relation to it. It is as if Ministers are applying some sort of Jedi mind trick to suggest that this is not the question they were looking to ask. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made on what steps the Government will take to ensure that Ministers actually answer the questions that they are asked?

I think that when one is presented with a question like that, it is quite hard to answer it. If the hon. Gentleman would like to furnish me with some examples—any examples—of where that is happening, I will of course respond to them. This is business questions, so his question is in order, but I would point out to him that it is actually quite difficult to answer.

I want to pay tribute to my constituent Loyd, who is in the Public Gallery this morning. He is a remarkable young man. Every time the Ellesmere Port Wombles have a litter-pick he is there, come rain or shine. I also want to record my appreciation of another young constituent, Heidi, who is nine years old and who, on Sunday, will complete her cycle ride—the equivalent of London to Paris—to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support. She has already raised nearly £6,000, which is a fantastic achievement.

There are so many other young people in my constituency and, I am sure, every other Member’s constituency who do fantastic things for their communities and for good causes. May we please have a debate to celebrate the great work that our young people do?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for affording me, and the whole House, the opportunity to join him in praising Loyd and Heidi and congratulating them on all that they are doing. Young people in this country sometimes get a bad press, so it would be very good to have time on the Floor of the House or in Westminster Hall to celebrate all that they do.

A recent report by London Councils found that Wandsworth is one of the boroughs worst affected by falling pupil roll numbers, with a 12% drop in demand for reception places. Many parents in Battersea have shared with me their concerns about their children’s education. It is vital that the Government ensure that every local area has excellent, financially viable schools. May we have a statement on how they will address the fall in pupil roll numbers?

I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Education has heard what the hon. Lady says, and I will draw her attention to that report. I think that is how I can best serve the hon. Lady today.

In the midst of a cost of living crisis of his own making, the Prime Minister this week placed a £1,000 bet with a TV presenter. What message does that send to our constituents, many of whom are struggling to pay their bills?

The hon. Lady accuses the Prime Minister of causing a cost of living crisis. She knows that the pandemic had knock-on effects because of the spending we had to do, including on the furlough scheme, which the Prime Minister designed when he was Chancellor. That scheme kept people, families and businesses going throughout that period and enabled us to make a swifter economic recovery than many comparable nations. The Prime Minister is not responsible for the war in Ukraine or any of the other geopolitical and global shocks we have to endure, which are causing financial pressure on the nation and on households. During this time, we felt it right to stand up an enormous package of support for households to alleviate the cost of living. More than £100 billion, and growing, has gone towards supporting people, which shows that this Government understand what they are going through and will do everything we can to support them.

The Leader of the House may not know this, but when I first received my cancer diagnosis just after the last election, I thought it was the end of the world; that I would be unable to carry on my job of representing the people of Huddersfield, and doing all the stuff I love about being an active parliamentarian. May we have a debate in the House on how cancer treatment has changed dramatically because of science, technology and the wonderful care from the NHS, including the wonderful team at Guy’s and St Thomas’s? Whether it is immuno- therapy or robotic surgery, which I had, the world is now much brighter than it had been for people diagnosed with cancer.

In a way, I want to send a message to His Majesty that it is not the end of the world. I have had a very active life since my diagnosis, and I can still make myself a real pain to Mr Speaker and my colleagues in the House of Commons. May we have a debate on how things have changed? Let us give a little good news to His Majesty.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for sending such a positive and thoughtful message not only to His Majesty the King, which I am sure is very welcome, but to all Brits who are living with cancer. There is a huge amount to celebrate, including treatments, our amazing research base and our fantastic third sector organisations. It is not just about the treatments, the drugs and the healthcare professionals; it is also about the financial advice and moral support that are often provided by our fantastic cancer charities. Of course, it is also about the people who work in the NHS and the agencies that support them. I think this would be a wonderful topic for a debate, and the hon. Gentleman will know how to apply.

May we have a debate on the death of Opposition politics and the rise of the uniparty? The tired pantomime of this House is played out in this Chamber by second-rate actors, but behind the scenes there are elite directors and scriptwriters. And we know the script, Mr Speaker: uncontrolled immigration will be seen as inevitable; eye-watering taxes for the many but tax evasion for the few is just a fact of life; the religion of net zero was to be indulged, whatever the cost; the forever wars will be supported, even if we have to hand over our children and our treasure; and there is no appetite for an investigation into the excess deaths around the world, and woe betide anyone who points out the inconvenient truth that the excess deaths are being suffered only by nations that succumbed to the magic juice.

I am tempted to say, in response to that, that it takes one to know one. I say to the hon. Gentleman that our democracy is strong. No matter whether someone agrees or disagrees with people who sit on these Benches, the views they have or the political party they represent, they are here because their constituents have sent them here. In the vast majority of cases, they are good people who are serving their constituents to the best of their ability, and they should not be tarnished with slurs against their character that they are working for some international Illuminati or that they do not care about people in their constituencies. Our democracy is the best in the world and it will remain so, not just because of the people on these Benches, but because of the people who sent them here.

I would like to add my best wishes to His Majesty the King.

This week, the Secretary of State for Education said that she was “confident” that 15 hours of free childcare would be delivered by April, but she then refused to guarantee it would be in place on time. Nurseries in Barnsley have raised their concerns about how they will deliver the policy, and this is creating yet more uncertainty. So may we have a statement on the delivery of the Government’s childcare policy?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question on an important matter. This Government are undertaking the largest expansion of childcare entitlements and support to the people of this country. This matter is of great interest to Members in all parts of the House. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what the hon. Lady has said, and she will know that the next Education questions is on 11 March.

May I add my call for a statement from the Paymaster General about the contaminated blood scandal on the day we get back after the recess? I am delighted that the Leader of the House has announced two weeks of business for when we return the week after next, but we have been promised that the football Bill is imminent and it does not appear in the business for those two weeks, and there is also no sign of the Third Reading of the Renters (Reform) Bill. Will the Leader of the House explain what is going on with those two Bills?

Those Bills are being worked on and are making progress. I fully appreciate that both are eagerly anticipated and I hope they will get support from Members in all parts of this House. The hon. Gentleman will know my particular interest in the football governance Bill, and I know that many Members met stakeholders in the past couple of weeks regarding that Bill. I hope to update the House on it shortly; I hope we will bring forth that legislation shortly, and I will announce future business in the usual way.

In an increasingly cashless society, access to cash from free-to-use ATMs is increasingly scare. That is a particular issue in Old Trafford, in my constituency, where the main shopping parade on Ayres Road has no cash machine at all. May we therefore have a statement from the relevant Minister on how the Government will ensure that, as technology means we are increasingly cashless, people will continue to have access to their hard-earned money for free in their local communities?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point because access to cash is an absolute lifeline for particular people in our communities. He will know that the Government have issued the sector with guidance and expectations about making free-to-access cash machines available. That is monitored and mapped, and I will ensure that the relevant Secretaries of State in both Departments have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Last week, from across the Chamber, we heard unanimous expressions of deep disquiet at the prospect of a foreign state—and not a particularly friendly one—gaining control of The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph. I am unlikely to be a recipient of favourable coverage in either publication, but the Leader of the House just referred to us being the best democracy in the world, so it strikes me that freedom of speech, proper debate and a free press, not controlled by a foreign state, is part and parcel of that. May I respectfully request that we have a debate on the matter?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising awareness of that important point. I know that many Members have grave concerns about this situation. He is absolutely right that a free press and a competitive media sector are vital to our democracy; that should be a concern not just to everyone in the House, but to all our citizens. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has an obligation to intervene in media transactions where there is a public interest to do so. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has put his views on the matter on the record today. There is a statutory judicial process underway, so it would not be right for me to comment further, but I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what he and many other hon. Members have said.

I am sure that the Leader of the House is comforted and heartened to hear that where her party leads, the Labour party is sure to follow in major policy areas, such as the retention of tuition fees, Brexit, retaining the House of Lords and, of course, protecting bankers’ bonuses, while maintaining the two-child cap and rejecting universal free school meals for children. I appreciate that she does not speak for the Labour party—although, in truth, in important policy areas she might as well—but will she make a statement setting out why she believes it is okay to cap support for the poorest and most vulnerable children in our society, but not for bankers?

The hon. Lady does not appear to have got the memo from her party’s First Minister of the Scottish Government, because I think her party and the Labour party are planning to work together, perhaps to try to form a coalition in the not-too-distant future. An organisation that has conducted research into Scottish households with an income of less than £20,000 has said that 53% of those households feel they are not getting value for money from the Scottish Government. I would ask the hon. Lady to reflect on what the Auditor General said this week about the Scottish Government’s performance, what they are doing with their budget and the value for money that the poorest in Scotland are getting.

It is always a privilege to come to the House and ask a question of the Leader of the House because, as she says, this is the mother of Parliaments. I chair the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. This week we have been highlighting the rising persecution of those practising religion in Nicaragua, about which Lord Alton is admirably chairing an inquiry on behalf of the APPG, and working to develop a report on the conditions there, as religious leaders face arrest and religious groups face increased persecution by the Government. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning Nicaragua’s actions against FORB, and ask the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to support Lord Alton’s inquiry into such persecution and ensure that there is a Government response?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for again raising these incredibly important matters, as he does diligently every single week. He will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) does great work in this important area as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, so I will make sure not only that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has heard what he has said today, but that my hon. Friend has as well, given her role. No one should experience discrimination for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) will know that we take the matter very seriously, and we will work through the UN to promote those rights and raise his concerns on every occasion.

I thank the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their participation this morning. Will Members leaving please do so quickly and quietly?