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Business of the House

Volume 746: debated on Thursday 29 February 2024

The business for the week commencing 4 March will include:

Monday 4 March—General debate on farming.

Tuesday 5 March—Second Reading of Automotive Vehicles Bill [Lords], followed by motions relating to the shared Parental Leave and Pay (Bereavement) Bill, the British Citizenship (Northern Ireland) Bill and the High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill.

Wednesday 6 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.

Thursday 7 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 8 March—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 March includes:

Monday 11 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 12 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Colleagues should also be aware that Thursday 14 March will be estimates day. At 5 pm on that day the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

I start by paying tribute to Ronnie Campbell and Sir Patrick Cormack. Ronnie was a larger than life character, proudly and staunchly representing his community and his roots. Although Sir Patrick was an MP before my time, I have read the glowing tributes which all describe him as incredibly kind.

I am also incredibly saddened by the news, just announced, that Dave Myers, one of the Hairy Bikers, has died. He was a hugely popular and much loved figure.

I was going to welcome the motion on the risk-based exclusion of Members that we were due to debate on Monday, as the Leader of the House announced last week, but it appears that she has pulled it. This decision will be met with dismay by Members, staff and unions who have worked on it for more than a year. Can she let us know when the motion will return? I note that some on the Conservative Benches had tabled amendments, which reports suggest is why the motion has been withdrawn. Will she confirm that she still supports the motion as agreed by the House of Commons Commission on which we both sit?

I welcome the new funding and protocols that have been announced to enhance MPs’ security and defend our democracy. We have seen a huge rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, hate and the intimidation of elected representatives, especially since Hamas’s barbaric attack on Israel on 7 October. I put on record my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, and the security services for your leadership. I asked last week, as I have before, for a new cross-party taskforce to address these issues. Can the Leader of the House help to make sure that happens?

We have discussed these issues many times, but does the Leader of the House not agree that it is incumbent on all of us to be mindful of our language and conduct? When we see racism, antisemitism or Islamophobia in our own ranks, we must take action, however difficult the consequences, and we must be clear in calling it out. To that end, I hope she will take this opportunity to say what is very clear for all to see, that the comments of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) about the Mayor of London were racist and Islamophobic. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need to uphold the highest standards of conduct towards one another, and that highly personalised and wrong-headed attacks by sections of the media, or by political parties, towards individual Members only fuel hatred, disdain and those who pose security threats? We must strive to do better.

In an age of social media, the spread of misinformation, disinformation and deep fakes will shape the general election in ways that we cannot imagine, so will the Leader of the House update us on regulation and action to tackle it? The Government watered down the Online Safety Act 2023 and took all of this out of scope, just when we needed it most.

Finally, ahead of next week’s Budget, I want to turn to the economy. Last week, it became official: we are in recession. Most people did not need the Office for National Statistics to tell them that, because they had been struggling with its reality for a long time. Sitting beneath the headline figures was a record the Government do not want to admit: we have seen the biggest fall in living standards since records began—let us just let that sink in for a moment. To emphasise that, GDP per capita has fallen for seven quarters in a row—that means families up and down the country have much less money to spend, the pounds in their pockets worth less.

This total crisis of living standards has the Prime Minister’s name written all over it. He was the Chancellor, and now as Prime Minister he has failed. He has failed to meet his own pledge to grow the economy, and he has failed each and every one of us.

To make matters worse, the Government seem unable to show any understanding or humility. They repeat that their plan is working and that they have turned a corner, but we have not. Alternatively, they blame others for their failure. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury seems not to understand the numbers at all. One Conservative Member blamed the weather and another blamed disabled people. When asked about our failing economy at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister blamed Labour’s policies.

It is the Conservatives’ 14 years of decisions that have led us here and left Britain uniquely exposed, with austerity; political and economic instability; energy insecurity; and the kamikaze Budget sending mortgages and interest rates soaring. After 14 years, people are worse off, taxes are higher, costs are higher and growth is stagnant, and there is nothing the Government can announce next week to change any of that.

First, let me add my voice to the many tributes that have been paid both to Lord Cormack and to Ronnie Campbell. They were public servants who were thoughtful and committed, both to Parliament and to many other organisations and institutions. I hope that those many tributes bring comfort to their loved ones. I also join in the tribute the hon. Lady paid to Dave Myers, one half of the Hairy Bikers. He brought so much joy to so many people across our country and elsewhere.

The hon. Lady asks me several questions, first about risk-based exclusion. I do not think she has quite processed the full extent of the consequences of what happened last week. The Government gave time to this debate and we want it debated. I am part of the Commission and I want it debated and resolved in this House. Given the current climate and the concerns that hon. Members have raised since the motion was tabled—there have been some serious questions, in particular from learned colleagues—there will be a better opportunity to debate this in the House, and I hope that will be soon.

I am not expecting the hon. Lady to give us any credit at all, as that is not her job. She did not welcome the figures on irregular migration that are out today, which show that our plan is working. She will know that the Budget, which I announced in the business, will be very soon, and I am sure we can all see the progress that has been made and that the Chancellor will set that out in due course.

As for what the hon. Lady says about intimidation, let me repeat what I said last week: this House will not, has not and must not bow to terrorism or intimidation. We are experiencing a new form of an old story. As well as those colleagues slain since 2016, there are others who were murdered and whose shields are on the walls of this Chamber, above the door. There are Members who sit on these Benches who can recall being issued with mirrors to look under their cars in the morning. We are facing a new form of that old threat. It failed then and it is going to fail now, but while we focus on ending that threat, we must not lose sight of the good in our country and what we can all do to help this situation.

The hon. Lady raises the issue of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson). I know she will want to hear one word from him, but yesterday he provided us with 1,000 words. I read his piece in the Express and it is some distance from the view he expressed in the original interview. I think what he wrote in the Express is his genuine view. We might have to accept that those 1,000 words are the closest we will get to the one-word apology that others seek. The hon. Lady has understandably chosen to scold him; I would rather ask him to consider all the good he could do, whatever political hue he ends up being, in these particular times with the trust and following he has built up. She asks what action the Government have taken to combat these issues; I point her to the work of the defending democracy taskforce, the work I have done in this place on combatting conspiracy theories and the new systems we have set up.

The shadow Leader of the House is right that we also need to reflect on our own behaviour. I would ask her to consider on whose Benches Members sit who have suggested that we lynch a Government Minister, who have called hon. Members “scum” or who have said

“I want to be in a situation where no Tory MP, no Tory MP, no coalition minister, can travel anywhere in the country, or show their face anywhere in public, without being challenged”.

Which party’s actions have made it more likely that an antisemite will be sworn into this House next week? Which party last week trashed the understanding and foundation of trust upon which this place needs to operate? [Interruption.] The hon. Lady rolls her eyes. I would ask her to consider what she could do to rectify that situation. There are many good people in the Labour party; there are many good people who have also been driven from it. Despite best attempts to knock it off the media agenda or pretend it is otherwise, the strong moral compass we want to see from our nation’s political leaders, especially at times like this, is missing from the Labour party. That is sad and it is shameful.

Following the comments made by the shadow Leader of the House about risk-based exclusion, I am glad that motion is not coming forward next week, as there should be more consideration. It is a matter of record that two major newspapers made sex-based accusations against me, but I was not investigated by the police or as a result referred. It is only arrest that makes a difference. It is absurd and naive to think that were someone to be suspended and get a proxy vote, their anonymity could in any sense be guaranteed in this country or not reported in other countries. This is a serious problem. I am not certain we have found exactly the right way of dealing with it.

Will the Government make a statement next week on revisionism and who is the lead designer of the national Holocaust memorial and proposed learning centre? One of the Government’s nominees as chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation was quoted in the Jewish News yesterday saying that Ron Arad is the person responsible. Every Government comment, from 2016 onwards, has acknowledged quite rightly that the main designer is Sir David Adjaye OM—a name that cannot normally be mentioned because of problems I do not want to go into on the Floor of the House. Could Ministers refer Lord Pickles to the press notices that went out in the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s name in 2016, 2018 and every year since, because we must get the facts right and not change them?

I reassure my hon. Friend that we are listening to the House. Risk-based exclusion and other such schemes are a matter for the House and all Members need to have confidence in those processes. He has successfully put on record his concerns about that aspect of the Holocaust memorial. I will ensure the Secretary of State has heard what he has said, and he can raise it directly with him on 4 March.

A lot has happened since the Leader of the House and I last faced each other, and I commend her for her intervention in last week’s events. She acted, as she said, to defend the rights of minority parties. That was the right thing to do, but what a dismal reflection on Westminster that the rights of minority party MPs in this place now need protecting and defending. The whole House knows how we got here. At some point we will get to the bottom of what pressure there was, exactly what dealings were done behind Victorian screens, and what “simply urging the Speaker” actually meant. To be fair, some Labour figures were fessing up at the weekend, or perhaps gloating, about their tactics—all because the SNP wanted to debate an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

People might ask why I am not tackling the Leader of the House today on her Government’s economic policies, Brexit or child poverty. We will return to our normal business questions exchanges of course, but at the core of our work as MPs is that all Members and parties must be treated fairly, and seen to be treated fairly. For as long as Scotland sends MPs here, we will expect and demand that. No one party can be allowed to change the rules by bullying. There is not a great deal that the Leader of the House and I agree on, but I know that on this we do. What use can she make of her offices to ensure that we never find ourselves in that sorry procedural mess again, and can she tell us when the replacement SNP Opposition day will be?

Finally, after the giant lobby of Parliament by campaigners yesterday, I must again raise the Government’s repeated delays in delivering full and fair compensation to those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal. I know that the Leader of the House recognises the fully justified depth of anger about this. Can she tell us what progress has been made ahead of the Budget to set up the structures of the compensation scheme transparently and in consultation with victims and their families, so that it is ready to start allocating funds at the earliest opportunity?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I understand why people will have to wait for normal combat to be resumed between us. I disagree with one thing that she, and other hon. Members, have said: that this Chamber, and Westminster collectively, did not cover itself in glory last week. I think that the issue has been about the actions of particular individuals and what they have done. Many Members of this House did a good thing last week by standing up to protect the rights, the foundation and the rulebook that we operate on. With regard to those who were caught up in something else, many Members have recognised that that was the wrong thing to do, and that we need to address that. The Government will give the SNP more time to have the debates that it ought to have. I understand that you, Mr Speaker, have commissioned the Procedure Committee to look at the particular procedural issues that happened last week. I understand that the scope of that work is narrow, so it should be done swiftly. I hope that it will be concluded before the SNP has its next debate, so that it can have confidence in how that debate will run.

On the hon. Lady’s final, very important point, we have just heard from the Paymaster General, who is leading on the issue of infected blood on behalf of the Government. She is right that I have very strong views about this, but they are shared by the Paymaster General and all those on the Government Benches. That is why we set up the inquiry, and why we set up the compensation study to run concurrently with it, so that we would not have to wait any longer before people got proper redress. I know that the Paymaster General is working on this very swiftly. He updates me on a regular basis, and we will keep the House informed.

On the first anniversary of the coming into force of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022, I am very concerned to learn that child marriages are still taking place, and that those with safeguarding responsibilities are failing to prosecute. It is my understanding that the relevant authorities are failing to interpret the law correctly, particularly in relation to marriages taking place overseas. Can we have a statement on what further education is required as a matter of urgency, so that all those with safeguarding responsibilities have the necessary knowledge and skills to protect children?

I thank my hon. Friend for all her work in this area. She has been an absolute force for good. We would not have brought forward that legislation without her great efforts. She is right that we want to ensure that people—particularly those with safeguarding responsibilities—are taking this issue seriously. She will also know that a private Member’s Bill is looking at the responsibilities of statutory authorities in this regard. I will make sure that the Department has heard the hon. Lady’s concerns on this matter, and I am sure that, given her reputation, they will be listened to.

I thank the Leader of the House for our meeting yesterday and for the business statement confirming the timing of the estimates debates for Thursday 14 March. Let me inform the House that applications for those debates must be with the Clerk of the Committee by lunch time on Monday, so we do not have much time to sort this out—so, that is this coming Monday, 4 March, at lunch time. The applications will be before the Committee on Tuesday afternoon at our normal meeting.

May I let the Leader of the House know that I have now received a letter from the Procedure Committee regarding the proposal to change the timings of debates in Westminster Hall? I am hopeful that she will have that imminently.

May I add my penn’orth in memory of my friend, Ronnie Campbell? I have been a Member of this House for only 14 years, but I knew Ronnie for more than 40 years. I will be at his funeral in Blyth tomorrow and will certainly pass on the best wishes of the Members of this House to his wife, Deirdre, and sons when I see them.

I thank the hon. Member for delivering our messages at Ronnie’s funeral tomorrow. I also thank him for the helpful advert for the work of his Committee. He will know that we are keen to ensure that the new innovation in the sitting hours of Westminster Hall can be brought into effect and he has my commitment to that. I will also ensure that we are giving him good notice on future timings for his Committee. I am very conscious, as we discussed yesterday, that debates have been moved for understandable reasons—for example the debate on coalmining communities was moved because of important matters relating to Northern Ireland—and we want to ensure that there is time for those matters to be heard.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for hosting a dinner for OnSide in your apartments this week. That made me think that it is high time that we had a debate in this House about the contribution that youth zones make to east Lancashire. The centre of that debate, Mr Speaker, will be not the Chorley youth zone, as fine as it is, but the brand-new youth zone that is about to be built in Darwen. The £3.3 million project to help all our young people is supported by this Government as part of our £120 million town deal to transform Darwen.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on another success that he has had with his wish list for his constituents? I congratulate everyone involved in that project. These are vital community facilities, and we all send our congratulations and good wishes for this latest project in this area.

I thank the Leader of the House for an opportunity to raise this question on freedom of religion or belief. The all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, which I chair, visited Tunisia last May to highlight some of the issues that are relevant to our all-party group. On Sunday past, a mob in Tunisia burned a synagogue in the city of Sfax. Thankfully no one was injured. Will the Leader of the House join me and others in denouncing this attack and calling for closer monitoring of the issues relating to freedom of religion or belief?

We again thank the hon. Gentleman for what he does every week, which is to shine a spotlight on the situations that are going on around the world that would not normally get this level of attention. It is good to hear from him slightly earlier in the session this week. As he knows, on each occasion, I follow up with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to ensure that our people in-country realise the importance of these matters to us in this place, and I thank him again on behalf of us all for raising them.

If freedom of the press means anything, it means the freedom to criticise and to oppose. That freedom is in danger if we become the first democracy in the world to allow a foreign Government to buy a national newspaper and media organisation. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may be aware that the noble Baroness Stowell has tabled an amendment to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill with cross-party support in the House of Lords to prevent that from happening. Will the Government support or at least not oppose that amendment in the House of Lords? Were it to come to the Commons, I certainly would support it, and I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to do the same. We must prize freedom of the press in this country, and that amendment is our opportunity to do so.

I agree with my right hon. Friend. Having a free press and a competitive media sector is a vital part of our democracy. 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. As my right hon. Friend will understand—more than many—that is a statutory judicial process, so it would not be right for me to comment. On his general point, however, he is absolutely right, and there was audible support from across this Chamber for the position that he outlined.

On 7 November last year, I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, seeking a meeting with me and a cross-party group of local MPs to discuss an issue of concern expressed by our constituents. Following the reshuffle and having received no reply, in December I wrote again, to the new Secretary of State. We have still not had a response, let alone the meeting that we sought. With the NHS on its knees, I appreciate that the Health Secretary must have a full inbox, but does the Leader of the House agree that it is simply unacceptable that after almost four months, Members of this House are still waiting for a Minister to reply to our correspondence?

Guidelines are clear about the time- frame in which Departments need to respond to Members. As the hon. Lady knows, my office takes that very seriously. We are involved in training the parliamentary clerks in Departments to ensure that they understand the obligations. If she gives me further information, I will follow up on the matter of parliamentary correspondence. I do not know the specifics of the issue that concerns the hon. Lady and her colleagues, but she will know that many decisions are taken locally—I am sure, however, she has already spoken to her board and local commissioners. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what she has said, and she can raise it with her directly in oral questions on 5 March.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust operates the Queen’s Hospital in my constituency. I praise the staff and the chief executive for all the work that they do to look after my constituents. However, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement about the situation in the accident and emergency unit. Thirty per cent of patients are being seen within four hours, and yet the national average is 5%. That is unacceptable. Will she ask the Secretary of State to visit Queen’s Hospital with me to look at solutions and to discuss how we can serve the constituents of Romford better when it comes to the local hospital and NHS services in the London Borough of Havering?

I join my hon. Friend in the praise that he heaps on his healthcare professionals, in particular at the Queen’s Hospital in his constituency. He may be aware that the Secretary of State’s predecessor did a piece of work to ensure that we were able to compare the performance of different trusts and different hospitals across the whole UK, so that we can identify where more assistance is needed or whether there are issues with performance and so forth. I will ensure that the Secretary of State hears what my hon. Friend has said today. Again, he may raise it directly with the Front-Bench team on 5 March at Question Time.

For some time now, I have been in support of a safeguarded assisted dying law for mentally-competent terminally-ill adults with a life expectancy prognosis of six months. I was not always of that opinion—I have had to go on a journey—but have concluded that the evidence is overwhelming that that would be a step in the right direction, and public opinion is now very much in favour of a change in the law. I recognise that there are considerable concerns on the opposite side of the argument, but in the light of the news that the Isle of Man and Jersey are considering a change in the law, is it not time that we in this House have a fresh look at the matter, with a debate in Government time?

I thank the hon. Lady for her work in that area. She will know that if such matters came to the Floor of the House, it would be on a free vote basis—they are matters of conscience. I very much understand the head of steam that is building behind both sides of the argument. It has been a little while since we have had a debate on that matter. She will know what options are open to her to secure a debate, be it an Adjournment debate or one secured through the Backbench Business Committee, but I will ensure that all relevant Departments have heard what she and other hon. Members have said.

My right hon. Friend will, like me, have constituents whose water is supplied by Southern Water. After two weeks of obfuscation, reassurance and denial by the company that there has been any pollution incident at Fullerton wastewater works in my constituency, we heard from the Environment Agency yesterday that there has been a significant pollution incident of a level that would be hazardous to human health. Will she help me by providing Government time for a debate about whether Southern Water remains a fit and proper company to be managing water resources in our region? She will know as well as I do that it is not simply wastewater that it cannot cope with; it is not any good at supplying drinking water either.

I thank my right hon. Friend for leaving the House in no doubt about her frustration and disappointment about the situation with Southern Water. I have experienced similar feelings towards that company. What is particularly disappointing in this episode affecting her constituents is that although massive progress has been made in monitoring storm overflows—we have gone from just 6% being monitored to almost 100%—the quality of that monitoring is critical, and the assurances that she had been given about what was happening and about the type of water being expelled into a river have turned out not to be correct. There are questions for Southern Water and the Environment Agency. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has heard what she has said, and will ask his officials to get in contact with her office.

We need a fresh statement on the infected blood scandal. My constituent Sue Sparkes was in the House yesterday. She was widowed at the age of 31 when her husband, Les, passed away in 1991 having contracted hepatitis C and HIV from infected blood. The Leader of the House mentioned a “moral compass” in her statement. May I remind her that Members from across this House showed their moral compass when, for the only time in this Parliament, they defeated the Government on this issue? That is why the Government have made the statements that they have—but they are still not paying the full and fair compensation that has been called for by Sir Brian Langstaff. When will the Government make a statement on the compensation, and will the Budget indicate that it will happen immediately?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that question, and I thank all the directly affected people, and those supporting them and the various campaign groups, who took the time to visit Parliament yesterday. I think that we have done the right thing in gripping this issue through the inquiries that we have set up and the compensation study. The hon. Gentleman will know of my interest in this area. I assure him that I get regular updates from the Paymaster General, and I do not think it will be too long before he will be able to come to the House to make further announcements—he is making progress. This is the final stage of the process; it is the most difficult. I know that the Paymaster General is determined to deliver the right outcome for all those infected and affected by that appalling scandal.

The emotional aftermath and devastated lives that are left after violent knife crime have been highlighted in a recent, very powerful documentary titled “Grief”, produced locally in the west midlands by the Express and Star. It is a really poignant reminder of the call for action and awareness, and features the brave stories of two grieving families—two sets of parents, including one from my constituency. I know that the Home Secretary takes this issue very seriously, but can my right hon. Friend provide us with an update on when legislation will be brought forward to deliver a ban on machetes and zombie-style knives?

I thank my right hon. Friend for all the work she is doing on this issue. I have witnessed that work at first hand, having visited her constituency and met with one set of those parents she mentions—I praise them for all the work they are doing to turn the tragedy that befell them into some positive action. As she has kindly mentioned, the Home Secretary is committed to this issue, and is continually looking at what more can be done. The particular statutory instrument to which my right hon. Friend refers, which was laid before Parliament on 25 January, is currently on remaining orders and is yet to be debated in both Houses, but I think that will happen extremely soon. As she knows, we are making progress on that.

On 18 January, I raised the case of Pilsworth South landfill in my constituency, which has been giving off an awful smell due to the operator breaching its licence. I asked the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate in Government time about giving the Environment Agency more teeth in relation to matters like this, and I appreciate her writing to the Environment Secretary on my behalf. However, can we have a statement from the Secretary of State on potential prosecutions of operators that breach their licence, so that our constituents no longer suffer from this stench and we can stop the stink?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his continued work in this area—my office stands ready to help him on all fronts. As he knows, he can raise this matter directly with the Secretary of State on 14 March, but given that that date is a little way off, I will make sure that the Secretary of State hears what the hon. Gentleman has said today.

Last week, the Government-funded organisation Tell MAMA published its latest data on anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia incidents. That data showed that there had been 2,000-plus incidents in four months—an increase of over 300%. Between that time and now, there has been no statement from the Government on tackling Islamophobia. Last week, there was a statement from the Government on tackling antisemitism; can the Leader of the House clarify to me when the Government will make a statement on tackling Islamophobia, noting those latest data? I am sure she agrees with me, and with every Member of this House, that we should do everything we can to ensure that all our faith communities are treated fairly and equally.

I agree with my hon. Friend’s comments —that is a duty on us all. He may wish to know that I have also asked for a meeting with the Government’s envoy for freedom of religion or belief, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), and the Minister responsible to look at what more we parliamentarians can do to ensure that all communities and faith groups feel properly supported in these times. I will make sure that the relevant Department hears what my hon. Friend has said today.

I had no intention of coming to ask the Leader of the House a question, but earlier she mentioned the exclusion of Members of Parliament. Just to be clear about the language, what we are talking about is people who have been arrested for sexual crimes being excluded from this estate. She said that we cannot have that debate, and that Members need to trust the process—well, staff also need to trust what happens here. She said that we cannot have the debate because of what happened last week. I have absolutely no idea how what happened last week has anything to do with keeping this building safe; could the Leader of the House elaborate on why what happened last week has got anything to do with something we have been fighting for for five years?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is because this relies on the trust and confidence that Members have in other Members in this place, but also in the House authorities. The hon. Lady will know that I am part of the Commission. We have brought forward and tabled these proposals, but we also have a duty to listen to hon. and right hon. Members in this place, otherwise such motions will fail. I have to say that there is a very small set of circumstances—I cannot actually think of a set—where this would ever be used, because what would happen, if the House authorities were notified of any issues of concern, is that bail conditions would be applied to that individual, and therefore the process would not be triggered. We are talking about a set of circumstances where there would be some other kind of risk.

It is not an immediate emergency. It is important that we debate these things. It is particularly important to Mr Speaker, upon whom the responsibility for these issues currently falls. Clearly, a process is being proposed that would take that responsibility away from him. I am telling all hon. and right hon. Members that we need to debate these matters, taking seriously the concerns of our colleagues. Just coming to this place, and implying that Members on the Government Benches do not care about these issues is not helpful.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) referred to the issue of foreign state ownership and purchase, and the freedom of the press. I have to say that there have been plenty of times when I have certainly not liked what the press has written about me, or, indeed, about my party or other aspects. However, this does matter for the press—unlike for other industries, where I think it is perfectly valid for there to be ownership or part-ownership by foreign states, and in the past we have encouraged that, going both ways. I think it is vital, if the Government do not have the powers they think they need or are relying on some aspect of some other competition authority, that we put something in place to make sure that the freedom of the press is preserved forever. In particular, I am thinking right now of The Telegraph and The Spectator.

My right hon. Friend makes her point very well, and I am pleased that she has got that on record. A free press, whether nationally or at local level, is a fundamental part of our democracy. If we lose that, we will lose a very great thing that our democracy leans upon. It should be protected. I think hon. and right hon. Members will continue to raise their concerns about this matter, and I will make sure that the Government have heard.

My constituent Marie took ill health retiral in 2010, only to later discover that she needed to wait until she was 66 for her state pension. During that time she received no benefit support, after losing employment and support allowance. She was not advised to apply for the personal independence payment, and she lost her home due to affordability issues. She has been let down by the Department for Work and Pensions at every turn, with an increased pension age without notification, incorrect advice on benefits, and no guidance on qualifying years, leaving her with a reduced state pension. What steps have the Government taken to make sure that the DWP gives everyone the correct advice and support they are entitled to, including national insurance contributions towards the state pension?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this question. Given that the Department’s questions are not until 18 March, I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard his particular concerns and asks his officials to contact the hon. Gentleman’s office.

My constituents have raised concerns with me about the number of potholes throughout Tamworth. Some are being filled in, which is positive news, but many remain unfilled, and there is a broader need for resurfacing works on roads with higher volumes of traffic and those impacted by heavy goods vehicles. What assessment have the Government made of the adequacy of the funding that has been provided to county councils to deal with our crumbling roads infrastructure?

The hon. Lady will know that, in part because of the particularly bad weather we have recently had, there has been a considerable uplift in money given to local authorities to tackle precisely the types of issues that she raises. Although that money was not strictly ringfenced, we want to be assured it has been spent on those things correctly, and all local authorities are required to place in the public domain, I think on 15 March, what they have done with that money and what repairs they have carried out. It is extremely important that that work is done. We want to ensure that it is being done and has been done, and I am sure the hon. Lady will be able to find out exactly what has been spent and on what.

The Leader of the House will have heard my challenge to Cabinet Office Ministers earlier about the worrying uncertainty swirling around the inspectorate for migration, immigration and borders after the sacking of David Neal, and it is disappointing that we have both not had a statement from the Home Office given the urgency of the situation and failed to get the urgent question I applied for on behalf of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. The issue is not just the status of the 15 unpublished reports—some unpublished for a very long time—but uncertainty about the status of the inspectorate and whether it can carry on with its current work and reviews, let alone take up its scheduled reviews and address how they will be reported in future, until we have a new inspector, which could take at least six months. Will the Leader of the House urgently get clarification from the Home Office about the working of this very important inspectorate on a very topical issue?

My hon. Friend raises an important matter. The Home Secretary will not be at the Dispatch Box for questions until 15 April. I will raise this matter with the Home Secretary on behalf of my hon. Friend and the Committee on which he serves and ask him to update the Committee and this House.

This weekend the first Romanian weekend school will open in my constituency in St Teresa’s primary school. This will be the first Romanian supplemental school, adding to the weekend schools we have for the wide range of diasporas in and around my constituency. While I am sure my right hon. Friend will welcome this initiative, may we have a debate in Government time on how we can provide more opportunities for supplemental schools for the various diasporas in this country, given the challenges they face in trying to introduce these schools?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the question and all who have enabled this school to be stood up. I know he will want to get on record how important this is to diaspora communities. He is an experienced parliamentarian and will know how to apply for a debate and the various options open to him. I thank him for getting his praise for all involved on the record today.

May we have a debate in Government time on endangered species? Given the party of Disraeli and Churchill is now the mainstream of new-right fanatics and conspiracy theorists, I am particularly concerned about the lesser-spotted one nation Tory. My concern was reinforced last week when the former Prime Minister the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) told CPAC, the conservative political action conference, that her party was full of CINOs, which means Conservatives in name only. Who does the Leader of the House think she meant?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the characteristically amusing way in which he has raised an important question. He knows I have taken the matter of conspiracy theories very seriously as Leader of the House. We have stood up new services in the Library so that hon. Members can swiftly reassure their constituents on not just the facts of a particular matter but the origin of whatever they might have seen on social media, and very shortly, with the Speaker’s help, we will be launching some training for Members on dealing with this issue. Those are the sorts of things we should all be focusing on.

Does the Leader of the House agree that far from being a major cause of climate change, Welsh farmers, such as Richard Jones from Brynsiencyn, are the guardians and protectors of the Welsh countryside? Because of their dedication and hard work, Wales is as beautiful as it is and able to feed us.

May I thank my hon. Friend for getting that on record? The Welsh farming community have conducted themselves brilliantly in these difficult and uncertain times for their community and their futures. We know they do an amazing job, and they should be proud of that. Everyone in this place should be proud of that. The plans of Labour’s Welsh Government are appalling and should be objected to in the strongest terms. The Welsh farming community have been doing just that. They have been standing up and fighting, and they deserve our support in doing so.

Today is Rare Disease Day, which is appropriate, given that it is 29 February. One in 17 people are affected by rare diseases or conditions, and they face common challenges, including delayed diagnosis, lack of treatment and poor co-ordination of care. This afternoon, we will be celebrating with our Rare Disease Day reception. It will be a chance to meet, discuss our concerns and exchange views, as well as to celebrate the work done by patient groups to bring this issue to the forefront. Can we have a debate in Government time on addressing the challenges faced by those with rare diseases?

On behalf of us all, may I thank the hon. Lady for that helpful advert? This issue will affect many of our constituents, and she is right about the particular challenges with research funding, and the ability of patients to access specialist clinicians dealing with these issues is important. I am proud of this Government’s record on our life science reforms, which have enabled experts from around the world, often in different discipline areas, to work together to get faster to solutions in these disease areas. I hope that many Members will be attending the event that the hon. Lady has advertised for us.

According to a whistleblower allegedly within Openreach, the transition to overhead cabling has on too many occasions appeared to be proceeding without sufficient consultation with key stakeholders and, more importantly, local residents. Regrettably, in my constituency of Southport, it would appear that Openreach has sidestepped its own procedures for gaining community agreement, disrespecting the will of local residents. I call on the Leader of the House to request that the relevant Minister make a statement on these practices by Openreach. It is imperative that we ensure Openreach’s strict adherence to its own policies and legal responsibilities, particularly if those were taken into account when it was awarded the contract. I also urge the Leader of the House to urge the Minister to put a pause on all activity by Openreach where it cannot be confirmed that it has adhered to its own policies and procedures.

My hon. Friend has made some precise asks to protect his constituents and their interests. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what he has said. I will write on his behalf and ask that an official from the Department gets in touch with his office swiftly.

The Leader of the House has been helpful on the contaminated blood scandal. Can we have a statement from the Government on the issue that has arisen in the last few days, which is that we are not allowed to know who is in the expert group working with the Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) —at pace, I understand—to set out the compensation that will be payable? The written answer given to one Member of this House was that that was for reasons of their privacy. The Leader of the House will understand that there is a huge amount of distrust because of what has happened over the past 40 or 50 years with the scandal. Why will the Government not tell this House and the population at large who is advising them and giving them that expert advice?

I thank the right hon. Lady for raising this matter and all the work she is doing on behalf of those infected and affected by this terrible scandal. The Paymaster General has just been at the Dispatch Box. I did not hear all the things he said, but I will certainly ensure he is in touch with the right hon. Lady on these specific points. On other recent personnel concerns, I know he wants to ensure that trust and confidence are retained during this process, while being able to move things swiftly forward. One thing he must balance is precisely that. Everyone in this House wants the matter resolved swiftly. This final piece of work, which is the hardest piece in the whole process, needs to be got on with and done. I know that the Paymaster General does not want that slowed down, but the right hon. Lady is right that we need to ensure that people will have confidence in the outcome.

We all know how important town centres are to our local communities and how they have been faced with the challenges of online retail and out-of-town shopping. Rugby town centre continues to have a strong independent sector with much loved retailers, and now the Conservative-led borough council is taking the initiative with an ambitious plan for regeneration including residential units and a food, drink and leisure economy. However, to achieve that goal, with all the benefits that will provide to my constituents, it will need support from both the public and private sectors. May we have a debate about how, working together, we can unlock regeneration schemes such as that in Rugby?

I thank my hon. Friend for all the progress that he and his council are making on that. Members of Parliament can clearly help with creating the shared focus across sectors to enable regeneration to happen. I know that he is well placed to do that, and he knows that he can also raise this matter with the relevant Secretary of State on Monday 4 March.

On Friday, victims of rape and serious sexual assault in Scotland will be the first in the UK to have free access to court transcripts under a new pilot scheme. However, the UK Government are refusing to match that in England and Wales, and are only committing to a one-year pilot scheme in which free copies of sentencing remarks will be made available to victims of serious crime. That is not good enough and fails victims like my constituent Juliana Terlizzi, who was charged more than £7,000 to read the transcript of her rapist’s trial. I tabled an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill that would have required the Government to provide free access to court transcripts in England and Wales, but they have not listened to our concerns. Will the Leader of the House provide a debate in Government time on the implementation of free access to court transcripts to help get victims like Juliana the justice they deserve?

I thank the hon. Lady for asking that important question. It is not just about cost; there is also sometimes difficulty and complexity in knowing how to go about accessing or even requesting particular transcripts. Given that the Lord Chancellor will not be in the House to answer questions until 26 March, I will write on the hon. Lady’s behalf and ask him to update her.

Over the last week, some fairly serious concerns have been raised about the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition and his role in the events leading up to last Wednesday’s deeply disappointing debacle. Might that conduct now form the basis of an investigation by the Committee of Privileges? Will the Leader of the House explain how that that would work?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising concerns, which I know are concerns for him and for other Members. The procedures regarding the Privileges Committee are there for all Members to see. The House must ask the Privileges Committee to carry out any work of this nature. It is incredibly important that any requests to do that follow the rules, and therefore are confidential—that confidentiality is incredibly important to that process—so the first that the House would hear about such work would be from the Office of the Speaker. The rules are there. Clerks of the House can also help hon. Members if they have further questions in this regard. I do hope that the House will be able to move on from what happened, but I do understand fully why people want the facts examined.

Does the Leader of the House share my concern that the long-running industrial action at the Pensions Regulator needs a speedy response? The Public and Commercial Services Union has put forward a set of reasonable proposals, but it is disappointing that the chief executive, Nausicaa Delfas, will not even meet the union to discuss them. PCS members are taking their second day in the latest round of 12 days of strike action as part of a dispute now into its seventh month. I hope the Leader of the House agrees that we need to find time to have a debate on this dispute to ensure that it can be resolved and to prevent further damage to staff welfare and the organisation’s reputation.

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. She will know the options open to her to secure a debate on this matter. She will also be able to raise it directly with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 18 March.

I thank my right hon. Friend for withdrawing the motion scheduled for Monday, in response to the amendments that I tabled. Will she review the whole situation of risk-based exclusion, taking into account last night’s unanimous decision by the House of Lords to ensure that risk-based exclusion from the House of Lords is triggered only by someone having been charged with a sexual criminal offence that would lead to a sentence of imprisonment in excess of two years? We have one parliamentary estate, so would it not be ludicrous to have different exclusion rules for the House of Lords and the House of Commons?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. Although we might operate under different rules at each end of this Parliament, the principles should be the same. The House of Lords is very different from the House of Commons, so I am less concerned about our diverging in that respect. However, the principles and the outcome of the process need to be the same. Many Members—in particular learned Members—have raised concerns about some aspects of the scheme. I want the House of Commons Commission to bring the matter to the Floor of the House, even if it is not amended, when those matters and reassurances have been addressed. That is very important. People need to have trust and confidence in how that process will work.

The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), has been in the US peddling conspiracy theories, claiming that the “deep state” brought her down. She stood silently next to Steve Bannon as he called Tommy Robinson a hero—a man whose followers have repeatedly sent me rape and death threats for calling out his inappropriate behaviour in this House. Will the Leader of the House explain why the right hon. Member still has the Conservative Whip?

I thank the hon. Lady for affording us all the opportunity to condemn Tommy Robinson and all he stands for. She will know from my earlier answer that I take these matters of conspiracy theories, the erosion of trust and the sowing of fear among the general public very seriously. That is why I have given hon. Members new tools to combat these issues through the very good House of Commons Library. I will take it as a ringing endorsement of this Government’s progress and the fact our plan is working that Opposition Members have been so obsessed this week with the former Prime Minister, and not the current one.

New analysis shows that the Scottish Government’s policies will lift 100,000 children out of relative poverty and 70,000 children out of absolute poverty in 2024-25—a direct result of action taken by the Scottish Government to eliminate the scourge in our society. The Child Poverty Action Group described the Scottish child payment as a “game changer” in driving down child poverty. Will the Leader of the House make a statement to recognise the importance of the Scottish child payment to combating child poverty? Would she like such a measure to be rolled out across England, so that the poorest children in England can also benefit from that vital support?

One of the strengths of the Union of the United Kingdom is that we can choose different ways of doing things, often achieving the same outcomes and certainly sharing our objectives. She will know this Government’s record in this area: we have 1 million fewer workless households and, based on recent figures, we have lifted more than 500,000 children out of poverty. We all must work on these things, whatever particular systems cover our nations.[Official Report, 11 March 2024, Vol. 747, c. 1MC.] (Correction)

I would like to follow up on the word salad the Leader of the House gave in response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on why the risk-based exclusion process has been pulled from the Order Paper. The Leader of the House talked about last week’s events being part of the reason. Surely last week told us that, actually, the security and safety of people who work on the estate, not just Members, is really important and should be more of a priority? She also said in response to my hon. Friend’s question that it is important we have a debate, so surely keeping the matter on the Order Paper, having that debate and ventilating the issues in the open would be the best way of reaching a resolution? I remind her that she promised it would be voted on by the end of last year. Is there a date now by which we will get to move on this?

I repeat my commitment to bringing the matter to the Floor of the House. I tabled it and I wanted it to be debated. I would just challenge what the hon. Gentleman said. Last week was not about the security of Members of this House. The hon. Gentleman is under a complete illusion if he thinks that that is the case. What happened last week was that the things we trust in our rule book in this place were upended for political advantage. I do not want to bring forward a debate that requires hon. Members to trust in systems we are putting in place when that trust is fractured. Let us work together to rebuild that trust. Let us address the legitimate concerns that our colleagues have raised and let us bring it back to be debated. I do not think that is a controversial view.

I have always opposed capital punishment on the principle that it is wrong to take a life, so it cannot be right for the state to take a life in revenge. Events have caused me to reconsider my position. May we have a debate on crimes against humanity and the appropriate punishment for those who perpetrate, collude in and cover up atrocities and crimes so severe that the ultimate punishment may be required?

I think the hon. Gentleman’s incredibly subtle question, and where he might be taking it, is not lost on anyone in this House. It is appropriate that the finale of this session, which has featured so heavily conspiracy theories, should fall to the hon. Gentleman. I would just caution him to reflect on his own behaviour and what he does on social media, and on the security measures that have had to be stepped up for hon. Members in the wake of some of his social media tweets and questions in this House. Whatever my disagreements with the hon. Gentleman, I will always stand ready to get answers from Departments and assist him in his work, but I am going to call out, on every occasion, when he does things that I think are a danger to our democracy, and to the safety and security of Members of this House.

Last week’s data showing that the UK economy was in recession, with seven quarters of negative growth, and the fact that we have the worst-performing economy in the G7 are pretty damning. The situation in the west midlands is particularly concerning. Last November, PricewaterhouseCoopers published a report predicting that the west midlands would have the lowest growth of all regions in the UK. That is not a good look for the record of Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands. May we have a debate on this really important driver of the UK economy, the west midlands?

I look forward to the Budget debate and the Chancellor setting the record straight with regard to the west midlands. Mayor Andy Street has performed miracles: he has been an amazing community leader; he has galvanised all sectors; and he is regenerating parts of Birmingham and suburbs around it that have not had the attention and inward investment they need. There are problems in that area in the legacy of Birmingham City Council and its appalling maladministration, and with the Labour police and crime commissioner. I hope Andy Street will be able to have more influence over those areas in the coming months and years.

Normally, points of order come after all the statements, but if the hon. Gentleman’s point of order is pertinent to the business before the House, I will take it.

I am very grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I owe the House an apology: in my earlier advertisement for the wares of the Backbench Business Committee, I suggested that the deadline for applications for estimates day debates was lunch time on Monday, but it is in fact close of play on Monday—when the House rises on Monday evening.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am so pleased when I hear a point of order that is a point of order. [Laughter.]

I will write: “Today I dealt with a point of order that was, in fact, a point of order.” The hon. Gentleman rightly corrected what he had said before, and hopefully that means he will receive even more applications for Backbench Business debates. I thank him.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In my question to the Leader of the House about the announcement of the winning designer of the holocaust memorial project, I referred to the year 2016, but I should have referred to 2017 or 2018. I am sorry to have to correct the record.

Once again, this is getting very exciting. I have taken two genuine points of order, including that one from the Father of the House. I am grateful to him for correcting the record, and I understand the importance of the points that he has made.