Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 746: debated on Thursday 29 February 2024

House of Commons

Thursday 29 February 2024

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

Angiolini Inquiry


That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, That he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report, entitled The Angiolini Inquiry Part 1 Report, dated 29 February 2024.—(Mark Fletcher.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Infected Blood Inquiry: Recommendations

1. What progress he has made on considering the recommendations of the second interim report of the infected blood inquiry. (901710)

2. What progress he has made on considering the recommendations of the second interim report of the infected blood inquiry. (901711)

3. What progress he has made on considering the recommendations of the second interim report of the infected blood inquiry. (901712)

4. What progress he has made on responding to the final recommendations on compensation by the infected blood inquiry. (901714)

6. What progress he has made on considering the recommendations of the second interim report of the infected blood inquiry. (901716)

The Government recognise the urgency of the issue and are committed to progressing the work as quickly as we can. For that reason, we have appointed an expert group to advise the Cabinet Office on detailed technical considerations. On Monday in the other place, the Government committed to bring forward an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill on Report, with the intention of speeding up the implementation of the Government’s response to the infected blood inquiry.

My constituent Mark Ward, a haemophiliac, contracted HIV after being given contaminated blood at the Royal Free Hospital. He was 14. He is now 54, and it is four and a half years since he gave evidence at the inquiry and a year since the initial recommendations came out. It is a scandal, is it not, that the Government were forced to give in by a defeat in the other place? Frankly, the Government have been complicit in people’s lives continuing to be lost. How long before compensation will be paid? What date should I give Mr Ward? How many people’s lives will be lost while we wait for the Government to get into action?

There are 54 working days before the report is published on Monday 20 May. The Government have committed to respond to it within 25 sitting days, but I will do everything I can to bring forward as substantive a response as possible as soon as possible after that date.

My constituent Gerald Stone, a victim of the contaminated blood scandal, is 80 years old. He is in and out of hospital and is having to take morphine for the insurmountable pain he suffers. After bravely giving evidence to the public inquiry and the public seeing that story, his lifelong neighbours began to question whether it was safe to live on the same street as him and even went to the police. Victims such as Gerald deal with the physical and mental consequences every day, but one query he has for the Minister is the figure of 30,000 potential claimants, which has been disputed regularly and is one reason for the hold-up in providing justice. Will the Minister provide clarity on that figure?

I am trying to ensure a comprehensive response as soon as possible. That is why we have appointed Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery to head up a team to advise on how to implement the recommendations of the report. I am doing that as quickly as I can. There are issues around eligibility, the severity of disease and its progression, and so on, which I need to be sure on so that I can address the challenges that exist. With respect to the 30,000 figure, I cannot give a number from the Dispatch Box, but I will ensure that the Government response, when it comes, will be as comprehensive as possible, to give some assurance to the hon. Lady’s constituent.

ITV is now set to produce a drama about the contaminated blood scandal, following the success of “Mr Bates vs The Post Office”. As we know, thousands of people have been affected by the scandal, including my constituents, Catherine, who lost her husband in 2005, and Margaret, who lost her husband Bill in 2021. Bill was a local councillor. I knew him very well. He was an absolutely lovely man. He was also a trustee of the Haemophilia Society. Some people, including Bill, have been fighting this battle for 40 years. Why has it taken us this long to get to this point? Will it really take a TV drama to make the Government finally act?

I am aware of the comments about a TV drama, but I am concerned to ensure that we build on the decision of this place on 4 December with respect to the Victims and Prisoners Bill. That Bill is working its way through the other place. Committee will finish on 12 March, so Report stage cannot happen before 15 April. Listening to the testimony of the hon. Lady and of those in the other place, whose nephews and husbands died as a result of contaminated blood, has made me more determined to ensure that the Government’s response is as comprehensive as possible and that it meets the expectations of everyone in this place and of the country at large.

I think the Minister is a good man and is trying to do his best, but this is the biggest treatment scandal in the history of the NHS. We have had six years of a public inquiry. The Government have now had the recommendations on compensation for 12 months. I understand that the Minister has not yet met anyone infected or affected, or taken any soundings from any of the campaign groups. Now, we hear in a written question this week that his expert group were not allowed to know the names of those people or to have the minutes of those meetings or of any of the workings that are taking place. Does he understand that, after decades of cover-up and criminal activity, the lack of transparency with which the infected and affected are being treated is totally unacceptable?

I explained to the right hon. Lady when I met her on 6 February, and again when I spoke to her on 8 February, the context of Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery’s appointment. As she knows, Sir Brian recommends that eligibility for compensation includes those with hepatitis C, HIV and all chronic cases of hepatitis B.

On the right hon. Lady’s question about engagement with the groups, I am very keen to engage when the Report stage happens in the middle of April. I will then work on plans to engage with as many groups as possible across the United Kingdom, building on my conversations with representatives of the devolved Administrations on 6 February.

Since the recommendations of the infected blood inquiry were announced, another 82 victims of the scandal have sadly died. I note what the Minister said about the appointment of Sir Jonathan Montgomery as chair of the experts offering technical advice on the compensation talks, but may I express the anger of one of my constituents, who is a victim of the scandal, about that appointment? He has asked me to ask: what confidence can victims have in the compensation process when an individual who is linked to pharmaceutical firm Bayer—a company that supplied infected blood—and chairs the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which was at the epicentre of the scandal, is advising the Cabinet Office?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The appointment of Sir Jonathan Montgomery was compliant with all the processes, similar to those used for the appointment of Sir Robert Francis and others. I recognise the concern expressed around Jonathan’s involvement with Bayer. That ceased at the end of October last year. He was part of an independent advisory group—not making executive decisions—for the pharmaceutical company. In the other place, the noble Baroness Brinton described Sir Jonathan as a “well-respected ethicist”. He has been asked not for further recommendations, but to advise the Government on the implementation of the recommendations made in the report. I hope that is helpful.

Like other Members, I have constituents and friends who have been profoundly affected by the scandal, through both hepatitis and HIV. I recognise that my right hon. Friend is working extremely hard to come up with a solution to move the conversation forward, but can he update the House on any conversations he has had with the Treasury on delivering compensation as swiftly as possible once it is available?

Conversation about this is taking place all the time across Whitehall. That will continue at pace as we move towards the 20 May publication. My determination is to bring forward as substantive a response as possible on the compensation issue as soon as possible after that. Obviously, those conversations happen over time, but I undertake to update the House at the next opportunity when there is something substantive to say.

In his second interim report, of 5 April 2023, Sir Brian Langstaff set out:

“I recommend that a compensation scheme should be set up now and it should begin work this year.”

Now we are into the next year, 2024, and the scheme has not been set up. We have no timetable from the Government on when work will begin. The Minister does not need to wait until 20 May for the final report. Can the Minister tell the victims’ groups, who have waited for so long, whether he has persuaded the Chancellor to include the funding for the scheme in next week’s Budget, and when will the first substantive payments be made?

I think the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot pre-announce aspects of the Budget, but his general point about urgency is one that I hear, as I said to him when I met him before the February recess. As I also explained, Report stage in this place on 4 December left us with legislation that was not fit for purpose, which is why further changes need to be made. Those changes are being made as urgently as possible.

On Monday of this week, the Government committed that on Report in the other place, we will bring forward the appropriate amendment to enable that arm’s length body to be created with the legal functions and UK-wide remit that is necessary. I have been working closely with Earl Howe, meeting with him as the Bill has gone through the other place. However, I cannot announce aspects of the Budget in any form—I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Veteran ID Cards

To date, we have received over 70,000 applications. We are committed to ensuring that as many veterans as possible know how to apply for a card: we have launched a national promotional campaign to raise awareness of the card’s availability, and over the next few months, we will continue to work with the charity sector and others to ensure as many people as possible know about the card and its benefits.

Veterans in my constituency of Ynys Môn, such as the brilliant Mark Davis who served our country for many years, are now eligible for a veteran card. Can my right hon. Friend confirm how veterans such as Mark Davis are being told about that card and how to get one? Diolch yn fawr.

A significant program of work is going on at the moment to make sure everyone is aware of the card. This has been the No. 1 ask of the major six military charities in this country for some time, and I encourage everybody who is eligible—who has served and is a veteran—to apply for their veteran ID card, which opens up a whole gamut of services. We have completely transformed what it means to be a veteran in this country. Those services are available: you can get help with so many issues. Please do apply for your card, and slowly, we will make this the best country in the world to be a veteran.

As always, I thank the Minister for his very positive response. He will know, of course, that people in Northern Ireland are joining up to serve—whether it be in the Army, the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force—as they have done over the years. Beyond the Battlefield, which I hope the Minister will visit shortly, is one of the organisations that helps veterans. Does the Minister hold any statistics on how many service personnel from Northern Ireland have applied for veteran ID cards?

I do not have those figures to hand, but Northern Ireland traditionally has a higher representation of service personnel. I was in Northern Ireland two weeks ago, and I was impressed with some of the services, but to be honest, Northern Ireland is not where I want it to be in terms of veterans’ affairs. We are looking at all options for how the Office for Veterans’ Affairs can really lean in—while mindful of the fact that health, housing and many other things are devolved—and make sure that the standard that we now see in England for veterans’ care is replicated across the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

I congratulate the Office for Veterans’ Affairs and the Ministry of Defence on its achievements with the roll-out so far, although it is probably fair to acknowledge that there is still some way to go. Is it not quite surprising that the veteran ID card cannot be used for the purpose of ID in a UK election? When does the Minister hope to put that right?

The ID card is the first phase in a multi-phase operation to ensure that that objective can be achieved, alongside a whole load of other objectives. The challenge is digitising 13 million veterans’ records to ensure that we have an accurate picture of veterans. Getting the ID card out was the first phase, but of course, the ambition is to ensure that the card is used for all sorts of purposes, including the one that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

SMEs: Public Sector Procurement

7. What steps his Department is taking to improve access to public sector procurement processes for small and medium-sized businesses. (901717)

12. What steps his Department is taking to improve access to public sector procurement processes for small and medium-sized businesses. (901724)

The landmark Procurement Act 2023, which this Government passed last year, will deliver simpler and more effective public sector procurement and help small and medium-sized enterprises across the country secure a greater share of that expenditure, which totals approximately £300 billion every year. The Act includes a new duty on contracting authorities to have regard for the particular barriers faced by SMEs and consider what can be done to overcome them.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. There are 5.5 million of them in the UK, making up over 99% of all businesses and 61% of private sector employment. However, currently only a fraction of 1% offer their goods and services to the public sector. Could the Minister say a little more about the work that is being done to encourage more of them to enter tender processes?

I would be delighted to, because the Government are entirely committed to ensuring that SMEs get a bigger share of that pie. The latest published SME spend figures show that UK small businesses received £21 billion of work, which was an increase of £1.7 billion on the previous year’s figures. That is the highest since records began, and the fifth consecutive year that Government work won by small businesses has increased. Crucially, that is before the effects of the Procurement Act kick in.

As my hon. Friend has said in his reply, the Procurement Act is I hope the solution to many of these problems, but it is not due to come into force until the beginning of October. Can he confirm that it will definitely come into force then, and that the necessary secondary legislation is in hand?

I am pleased to be able to report that, despite the fact that this is complex legislation that requires workstreams in a number of areas—not just secondary legislation, but learning and development for those working for contracting authorities, and a new online platform that will make procurement much easier and better for both those supplying services and those procuring them—we are on track to meet our targets.

Border Target Operating Model

9. What recent assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of the border target operating model on cross-border flows of goods. (901719)

The Government are delivering a programme of engagement with stakeholders across all sectors in all parts of the country, and with key European Union trading partners, to ensure that goods continue to move across the border. We have not identified any specific risk to the cross-border flow of goods.

The Minister may not have identified risks, but businesses are certainly very worried about potential delays and costs. Alongside the “not for EU” labelling issues, the Food and Drink Federation estimates that there will be an extra £250 million a year in costs. So I challenge him: is he really saying there will be no extra costs for our hard-pressed constituents as a result of all this extra bureaucracy?

We are not saying that, no, but I would say to the hon. Member that appropriate import controls are fundamental to ensure that we can protect the UK’s food supply chain, our food and farming industries, and our natural environment from biosecurity risks. The border target operating model will have very little impact on most of our fruit and vegetable imports, which have been classified as low risk. As he presses me, I would say to him that inflationary impacts on food for consumers will be at most less than 0.2 percentage points over a three-year period, and we have published the methodology online. Of course, no one should ever be cavalier about the cost of food, but I am sure he would agree with me that 0.2 percentage points over three years is a small figure.

I am absolutely astonished—I really am astonished—at the complacency about the impact on UK food bills, because the Government’s own projections say that this border scheme will cost UK businesses some £330 million per year, while the British Chambers of Commerce has highlighted charges for EU goods coming into the UK. What assessment has the Minister made of the full inflationary impact of these measures on UK food bills, and with further checks due to start in April, what preparations are in hand to prevent a repeat of the chaotic scenes at our ports that we have seen before on this Government’s watch?

Alas that there are disease outbreaks in the European Union and alas that food is circulating that does not comply with EU standards. I hope to protect the people of Wycombe and the whole United Kingdom from unsafe pork and chicken, and to ensure that we do not end up vulnerable to things such as the horsemeat scandal. As I understand it, the Labour party wishes to revert to the regime we had when we were an EU member state by aligning with the EU on sanitary and phytosanitary matters. I remember very well the horsemeat scandal that arose, and I do not want to see anything like that occur again.

I would just point out that an outbreak of African swine fever would be a fundamental threat to the viability of our pig industry. Foot and mouth cost British businesses £12.8 billion, at 2022 prices, in 2001. The cost of ash dieback is forecast to be £15 billion to the UK. I think we need to take seriously the need to protect our borders and the need to check these medium to high-risk products, and that is what this Government will responsibly do.

Have the Government made any assessment of the additional cost to SMEs of these changes—the red tape they have had and will have to wrangle with—and how many businesses will go under as a result?

We are not expecting businesses to go under as a result of this, but I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I just gave: it is vital that we protect our borders. The reality is that there are risks to public health from food and we need to make sure that we are not cavalier about these checks. It is vital that we protect our borders and protect the public, and that is what we are going to do. We are continuing to engage with businesses, we expect there to be very few problems, and we will work our way through. There is no question of being cavalier: we have been working very carefully to consult stakeholders and make sure there have not been great problems.

The hon. Lady shakes her head, but I just point out that the 31 January deadline for export health certificates passed by and there were not the problems that were forecast.

Veteran Cards: Devon and Cornwall

10. How many applications have been made for HM armed forces veteran cards by military veterans living in Devon and Cornwall. (901722)

The Office for Veterans’ Affairs and the Ministry of Defence launched a new service in January to allow veterans to apply for their cards. Since then, 1,259 veterans have applied from Cornwall and 2,793 from Devon.

I thank the Minister, my fellow Devon MP, for his answer. It is very encouraging to have had positive feedback from veterans in Torbay about the simplicity of applying online, but one question comes to mind: what work is being done with local authorities that encounter veterans through services such as housing to encourage them to apply online or make an application if they have not done so?

That is a good question and I cannot emphasise this point enough. Obviously, this is my responsibility as the veterans Minister, but it is also the nation’s duty to look after these people. We need local authorities to understand what is available to look after these people. We have armed forces champions in local authorities now and I want to see that role taken seriously. There are multiple pathways specifically for veterans through health, housing, employment and a number of other topics, but clearly it is incumbent on all of us in public life to understand what is available for veterans so that when we find one in need, they get the world-class help they deserve.

Covid-19: Procurement Fraud

13. What recent estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of procurement fraud during the covid-19 pandemic. (901725)

15. What recent estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of procurement fraud during the covid-19 pandemic. (901727)

The Government’s “Cross-Government Fraud Landscape Annual Report 2022” includes data from the first year of the Government’s response to the pandemic. The report suggests that in 2020-21, Government Departments and arm’s length bodies reported a total of £124.6 million of detected procurement fraud. The same report showed that at the end of March 2021, some £88.2 million of fraud and error had been recovered within covid-19 schemes. Since then, crucially, further funds have been recovered and the Government will continue to update the House as fresh data becomes available.

When people think back to the sacrifices they made during the pandemic, the greed associated with the personal protective equipment scandal really jars with them, so will the Minister commit to following the Labour party’s lead and appoint a covid corruption commissioner to chase down and claw back every penny of taxpayers’ money that was wasted?

This Government take PPE fraud extremely seriously. To remind the House of the figures, 1.8% of expenditure on PPE was lost to fraud at a time when there was the most extraordinary public crisis in several generations and we were competing in an extremely overheated international market. To date, we have recovered more than a quarter of that 1.8% and the fight to recover more continues. PPE procurement is subject to ongoing contract management controls, active dispute resolution and recovery action. The law is on our side and we are using it.

The covid procurement scandal upset many people, and rightly so. I spoke with a fantastic local business in Tamworth, Wearwell (UK), which was manufacturing PPE as part of the regional procurement but was cut out of the process during the pandemic. The UK must be prepared in the event of another pandemic, and British manufacturing offers a greater response time and a more stable supply chain. When will we return to regional procurement to ensure that local businesses are prioritised when providing PPE for the nation?

I welcome the hon. Lady to what I think are her first Cabinet Office questions. She is right to draw attention to the fantastic textile manufacturing that exists in the region in which her constituency sits. She will have heard me talk about the Procurement Act 2023, which was passed last year and will make sure that small and medium-sized enterprises, which by their nature are often local enterprises, will have a bigger share of public procurement.

We have not just had the infamous Baroness Mone scandal; at the time, there were reports of a hedge fund in Mauritius that got a £250 million contract for face masks that could not be used and a jeweller in Florida that got a multimillion-pound contract for gowns that could not be used. The Government had to incinerate billions of pounds-worth of faulty personal protective equipment. That is taxpayers’ money literally going up in smoke. In the pandemic the then Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), told me at the Dispatch Box

“where a contract is not delivered against, we do not intend to pay taxpayers’ money”.—[Official Report, 23 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 758.]

But taxpayers’ money was spent, wasn’t it? Why was that promise not met?

I gently refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer I just gave. The fact is that, although problems arose with PPE procurement in this uniquely difficult environment in which officials were working unbelievably hard for the public good, PPE procurement is still subject to ongoing contract management controls, active dispute resolution and recovery action. The fact of the matter is that this Government took it seriously during the pandemic. The Department of Health and Social Care realised the risk of fraud early on, and the Government established a counter-fraud team to counter that threat. We are using all the legal tools at our disposal to get taxpayers’ money back. The House should be in no doubt that the Government’s speed of action during the crisis enabled many lives to be saved and for the country to overcome the covid-19 crisis.

Veterans: Cost of Living

The Government have successfully reduced inflation by more than half, which will make the cost of living more affordable for veterans along with every other resident in the United Kingdom. We are also getting support directly to those who need it with the £104 billion cost of living package, worth an average of £3,700 a household. In addition, the Government are providing £33 million over three years to better support veterans.

My constituents in Gower, and especially my veterans, want to know whether the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs stands by his comments that food bank usage is a personal choice.

It is important in this place that we do not misrepresent what other Members say. I very clearly said that service personnel who receive subsidised accommodation should not be using food banks. There is no requirement for them to do it, and that is not appropriate. That is what I have said. I have obviously never said that food banks are a personal choice. This is a real opportunity to come here and ask me any questions at all about veterans’ affairs. I suggest we try to raise the debate and actually improve their lives.

With tens of thousands of veterans across the UK forced to rely on universal credit to get by, what is the Minister doing to help veterans in Swansea East and right across the country who are in receipt of universal credit to cope with the increased cost of living caused by this Government’s economic failings?

I spend my entire life visiting veterans who consistently raise with me the help that they get. There are plenty of places for them to go to, whether it is the Royal British Legion or others, that have specific grants. On top of that, the Government have put in an enormous package of help for citizens across the United Kingdom of £104 billion. That is £3,700 a household, and that is just for the cost of living. It is an incredibly difficult time for lots of people across the United Kingdom, but I am comfortable that the Government are doing all we can, and we stand ready to do more.

House of Lords Appointments: Diversity

16. What assessment his Department has made of trends in the diversity of appointments to the House of Lords. (901728)

Since 2010, female representation has risen to 29.1% and ethnic minority representation had risen by November 2021—those are the latest verified figures I have—to 6.6%.

That is good progress, but can the Minister explain why her right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss)—Liz of the 50-day reign—was allowed to award her mates for their part in her failure with jobs for life in the legislature? Is she proud of that?

It is a long-standing tradition that anybody who reaches the height of Prime Minister—irrespective of which party that is for—has a resignation list. The former Prime Minister has appointed accomplished people, and I am quite sure that they will contribute significantly to the other House.

Resignation Honours List: Public Trust

17. Whether he has had recent discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact of the publication of the resignation honours list of the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk on public trust in (a) politicians and (b) political institutions. (901729)

It is a long-standing convention under successive Governments that outgoing Prime Ministers can draw up a resignation list. That has been the case under past Governments from across the political spectrum, and any names proposed are subject to the usual propriety checks.

Political polarisation is more prevalent than ever, but polling consistently shows that voters across the political spectrum are united in their opposition to an unelected House of Lords. The trouble the public face is that this place and this Government do not want to know—they merrily carry on stuffing the House of Lords full of loyal stooges. When will the Government finally take their fingers out of their ears, listen to the public and begin to consider long-required reform of the place through those doors?

Many people in the other House are probably somewhat insulted by the hon. Member’s words. Many of them are highly accomplished in a variety of specialisms and bring much insight as they scrutinise the legislation that comes from this House. Effectiveness is among the UK’s most recognised and trusted digital services. It is constantly monitored to assure and improve the service it provides to its users through data analytics, user research and feedback, while the latest strategy prioritises proactively reaching more people in more places.

Government processes need to work if our democratic system is to have the trust of our constituents. We know that many people who use Government IT systems to manage their tax payments, national insurance credits or benefits experience errors in how their accounts of money are handled, which is unacceptable. Will the Minister accept that a cross-departmental review of how those IT systems work needs to be carried out so that constituents can trust that the Government are not losing their hard-earned money?

I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that polling at the end of last year found that 76% of respondents were satisfied with, 78% agreed that they could typically find what they wanted and 74% trusted the information they found. Obviously, we keep all our systems under review, but is a trusted brand and it is getting better every day.

Ministerial Code: Compliance

19. What recent discussions he has had with the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests on trends in the level of compliance with the ministerial code. (901731)

The Prime Minister has been clear that he will lead a Government of

“integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”

He is delivering on that promise. I met Sir Laurie Magnus, the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, in November.

A survey published just this week by the Institute for Government revealed that two thirds of the public do not believe that the Government behave according to high ethical standards. I do not think anyone in the House will be surprised by that, given the behaviour we have seen from some—particularly former—Ministers over the past five years. Even in the last few weeks, questions have been raised about potential breaches of the ministerial code by the Business Secretary, and we have seen failure rewarded constantly with outrageous severance payments. Will the Minister finally fully enshrine the ministerial code into law?

That matter has been discussed. The Committee on Standards in Public Life did not recommend that in 2021, because it would afford significant authority to a body that is outwith accountability to the House.

Veterans: Northern Ireland

We have expanded the Veterans Welfare Service provision in Northern Ireland and allocated £500,000 to a defence medical welfare service pilot to support veterans’ health and wellbeing in Northern Ireland. On legacy, we are committed to working with the Northern Ireland Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery to ensure that veterans are fully engaged and supported.

What support can veterans expect from the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery?

We are doing everything we can to support veterans who are going through that process. It is essential that veterans are engaged as the commission develops its policies and processes. We are working closely with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that legal and welfare provisions are established, to ensure that veterans are supported through that process.

Topical Questions

Later today, I will set out how we are putting more artificial intelligence experts at the heart of Government to drive the adoption of AI right across the public sector. We will not only revolutionise services but increase productivity, cut inefficiencies and save taxpayers millions of pounds. Earlier this month, I launched the Pall Mall Process alongside international allies, which will combat the proliferation of the irresponsible use of cyber-intrusion tools that are commercially available. I am determined that the Cabinet Office will lead the way in seizing the opportunities presented by these new technologies, while guarding against the risks.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his update. Every day this place is combating cyber-security challenges. What action is he taking to ensure that not only this place but the whole of the United Kingdom is safe from Iran, Russia and other hostile elements that want to intrude on our security?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise that risk. We live in a more dangerous and hostile world. I am particularly mindful of the risks posed by hostile foreign states such as Iran. We rely heavily on the National Cyber Security Centre, with which we work closely to ensure the security of Government, this House and the private sector. In addition, I chair a ministerial cyber board, where we constantly challenge Departments to improve their cyber-security—which we are improving, but the risks continue to arise.

As the Minister has seen, many questions have been asked today on the infected blood scandal. Will he confirm that it is no part of the Government’s decision-making process on the timescale of granting compensation payments to create the fiscal headroom needed for the much anticipated pre-election tax cuts in next week’s Budget?

Baroness Mone and her husband made a £60 million profit on a £200 million contract for personal protective equipment, much of which the NHS deemed unusable. The couple, reportedly, have had £75 million of assets frozen, but they also have a horse running in Britain’s favourite horserace, the grand national. That is not racing’s fault, but would it not be a grand national disgrace if the owners were able to walk away with winnings while taxpayers are still waiting to get their money back from being sold a mountain of unusable PPE?

The Government continue to take robust action to recover any misused funds. As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, both criminal and civil proceedings are ongoing, so there are limited things I can say in respect of the allegations that he has made. As the Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office and Deputy Prime Minister, my remit runs to many areas, but unfortunately not to the outcome of the grand national.

T9.   Dedicated people such as Kath Eastment of SSAFA, Piers Beeland from the Royal British Legion and the RAF Valley Padre Mike Hall work tirelessly to support veterans across Ynys Môn. I am delighted that a veterans hub is to open at RAF Valley on Friday 22 March, which will give local veterans a place to meet and access support. Will my right hon. Friend extend his congratulations to the team responsible, and will he come to RAF Valley to visit the hub? (901743)

I would love to come to RAF Valley at some point. I visited my hon. Friend’s constituency before she was a Member; it is a beautiful part of the United Kingdom. I pay tribute to everybody who works in this sector and who steps into the breach and works hard to ensure that those coming out of service with particular needs are supported, and that we look after them in the manner that I want to see.

In response to the question from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), the Minister stressed the importance of Ministers being accountable to this House, particularly for breaches of the ministerial code, but neither the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests nor the Prime Minister are truly accountable to the House when it comes to the ministerial code—and the Foreign Secretary is not accountable to this House at all. Trust is at an all-time low, and breaches of the ministerial code are rife. When will the Government revise the code to include appropriate sanctions, so that Ministers can no longer break the code with impunity?

The Government continue to keep the ministerial code under review. The Prime Minister of the day has to be able to determine who the Ministers will be in the Government that he leads on behalf of His Majesty. That is an important constitutional principle, but the Prime Minister will not hesitate to take action if there have been inappropriate breaches. On the accountability of the Foreign Secretary, discussions continue on the best way to ensure that this House holds him to account, in the same way that he is already accountable to, for example, Select Committees.

In July 2019, the Minister’s Department issued new guidance effectively outlawing gagging clauses across Government Departments. Does the Department have any plans to extend that to local authorities? I am sure that the Minister would, like me, be appalled that Labour-run Rossendale Borough Council has issued a gagging clause against its elected representatives, backed up by a threat of legal proceedings, because it wants to cover up a £12 million fraud, in which Labour councillors may have been complicit, and about which they certainly have questions to answer.

My right hon. Friend rightly raises some very concerning allegations. So-called gagging orders should not be used in that way, and I undertake to look into the matter on his behalf.

T3. I have raised the subject of the pressures facing prison officers on a number of occasions. Prison officers are part of the civil service pension scheme and must work until the age of 68 to retire on a full pension. Does the Minister recognise that that is unrealistic, given the number of assaults on them and the pressures they face? Will he work with me and the Prison Officers Association to seek an exception for prison officers, so that they can retire at 60 after 30 years’ services, as is currently the case for firefighters and the police? (901737)

The hon. Gentleman rightly raises the matter of the enormous contribution of prison officers. They are often under-sung members of our public services, risking their life day in, day out, to protect us all from dangerous and violent criminals. Of course, as Ministers, we have a duty to protect the public purse. We have set out a clear principle on the age of retirement from government roles. We would be reluctant to start varying that for a further group of people, because it is very difficult to draw the line once we start unpicking that principle.

It has been reported in The Daily Telegraph that the Starmerite think-tank Labour Together has had to pay a fine of just over £14,000 for failing to declare hundreds of thousands of donations. The rationale it gave was that it did not want to name some of its donors. Does my right hon. Friend think that simply not wanting to do something is a reasonable basis on which to break the law?

The short answer is clearly no. Indeed, it really worries me that things have come to a state where the Labour party allegedly did not want to declare donations because of concerns about growing antisemitism. That is a very worrying allegation.

T4. The independent review into the Teesworks project found there to be a lack of“transparency and oversight across the system to evidence value for money,” as well as “a persistent theme or culture of excessive confidentiality”.The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities does not seem to be interested in pursuing those matters, and refuses to refer them to the National Audit Office. Can the Minister explain what his Department is doing to make sure that public money is spent properly? (901738)

The Government remain committed to ensuring value for the taxpayer across all projects. As the hon. Gentleman highlights, this is principally a matter for DLUHC.

What is the latest position on a review of the impact of the statute of limitations on the ability of people injured by covid-19 vaccines to bring civil claims? More than 3,000 claims have not yet been dealt with by the Government’s compensation scheme, and people’s ability to begin civil litigation will be prejudiced unless something is done quickly.

My hon. Friend is a champion and a campaigner on behalf of all those people who have suffered covid vaccine damage. We have met, and I have taken the issue to the permanent secretary to see what we can do, whether it would involve extending the timeframe that he was talking about or not starting the clock ticking until a decision had been made.

T5.   Given that Ministers are piloting the use of artificial intelligence in Departments to answer parliamentary questions, which Ministers will the Secretary of State wish to replace first? (901739)

Until this moment I had not thought of drawing up a list, but as the hon. Lady will have heard us say on a number of occasions, artificial intelligence provides a remarkable opportunity to create supplementary capacity and capability for the civil service and the Government. I have been very pleased to pilot a new programme called “red box”, devised by a fantastic young crack AI team, which summarises long documents and makes the work of my private office easier. However, it is enhancing capability, not replacing it.

T6. The Minister talked earlier about protecting our borders. I am sure he will know that Dover Port Health Authority has seized worrying amounts of contaminated meat over the last few months, but in just the last few days, we have learned that the Government are withdrawing the funds that make it possible for the authority to do that. Why are the Government ignoring the advice of experienced public health officials? (901740)

There is absolutely no question of ignoring the advice of experts. Indeed, only yesterday I had relevant meetings to discuss adjacent matters. As I said in an earlier answer, meat is circulating—particularly pork and chicken—that is not fit under either EU or UK rules, and we will continue to take steps to ensure that our borders are protected.

T7. Sir Brian Langstaff recommended in April 2023 that before the publication of his final report, interim payments should be made to parents who had lost children, and to children who had lost parents. Why is this Minister such a “computer says no” man? (901741)

I respectfully reject that characterisation. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have spent £400 million of taxpayers’ money since October 2022. The arrangements for the distribution of further compensation payments are obviously being considered at this point, and, as I said during the extensive exchange that opened this questions session, that work is continuing apace, so that I can produce a comprehensive response from the Government as soon as possible.

T8. How does the Secretary of State expect the civil service to function effectively for the public if the Government go ahead with headcount cuts of up to 70,000, which aim to return civil service numbers to pre-pandemic and pre-Brexit levels, and which will mean a huge loss of expertise and knowledge? What discussions has he had with trade unions about these proposals? (901742)

I met several union leaders a few weeks ago. On 2 October, the Chancellor announced that the civil service would be capped at the levels that were current at that time, which would save up to £1 billion against the trajectory that was then in place. As of September 2023, there were 496,150 civil servants. It is an important Government responsibility to ensure that we have the right number of civil servants performing effectively and efficiently in public service, and we will continue to work on that.[Official Report, 11 March 2024, Vol. 747, c. 2MC.] (Correction)

What discussions has the Minister had with charities back home in Northern Ireland, such as Beyond The Battlefield and SSAFA, about improving mental health support for veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the troubles? I have extended this invitation in the past, and I extend it again now: will the Minister join me in visiting Portavogie to see the wonderful work of Beyond The Battlefield, which is conducting a project there? We really want to see him there.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind invitation. I would love to come, and I was in Northern Ireland a couple of weeks ago. Health is clearly devolved, but I made it very clear that I want the same standard in Northern Ireland that we have achieved with Op Courage in England: a single, dedicated mental healthcare pathway for veterans, with 19,000 referrals in its first year. Where were all these people going before that? It is an incredible story. I want to see that standard achieved in Northern Ireland, and we will keep working at it until we do.

May I ask my hon. Friend what work is being done to ensure that the Government give value for money for the taxpayer when it comes to the Government estate?

I am pleased to say that one of our major Government functions, the Government Property Agency, is constantly looking at how we can refresh the Government estate to make sure not just that our offices are fit for purpose and are wonderful working spaces for our excellent civil servants, but that we are not hanging on to outdated buildings that are expensive to run. We are very mindful of achieving value for money in this area.

Interim payments are, by their very nature, interim; they are paid before final payments. Perhaps the Minister might be able to help me to understand. He just said that works are going on at pace, so when will the interim payments, recommended by Sir Brian Langstaff in April 2023, to parents who lost children and children who lost parents be paid before the final payments are made?

On the efficiency of Government Departments, I am sure that Ministers want report by inspectorates that are the responsibility of their Department to be produced in a timely manner. Is the Minister aware that the now sacked chief inspector of borders and immigration has produced 15 reports, which have been sitting on the Home Secretary’s desk, in some cases for over a year? There is complete confusion about how they can be published in the absence of the inspector and his deputy. Will the Minister look into that, and give reassurances to the House that these reports will be published in a timely fashion?

My hon. Friend raises a very important matter. I will look into it urgently and come back to him as soon as possible.

The experience of the last two years has taught us that energy security is now national security. The more we can generate our own renewables, the less reliant on tyrants we will be. Has the Secretary of State asked the National Security Council to report on the national and energy security implications of the Prime Minister’s decision last year to scale back his Government’s energy transition targets? If he has not, why not?

We continue to monitor energy security, principally through the National Security Council resilience committee, which I chair. I say gently to the hon. Lady that if she is concerned about energy security, why does her party consistently vote against granting new licences for North sea oil and gas, which would enhance our energy security?

Why do this Government think it is right that Church of England bishops in the House of Lords can have greater say on legislation affecting Scotland than the Scottish Parliament, and when will there ever be meaningful reform to the bloated House of Lords?

As the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say in a Westminster Hall debate not so long ago, it remains a great pity that the SNP refuses to play in the House of Lords. The fact is that the people of Scotland rejected the idea of an independent Scotland some time ago, and it would have been to the benefit of his constituents and others around Scotland if his party had had the good sense to ask for people to be put in the upper House.

We have given details of the appointment of Sir Jonathan Montgomery, and a number of other individuals are working on clinical and other matters. It is really important that we get on with this work, and we will report back on their conclusions as soon as we can.

We know that the Cabinet Office is often focused on making sure that procurement contracts go to small and medium-sized enterprises, but can my hon. Friend tell me what work is being done to make sure that female-led businesses get a chance at those contracts?

I think my right hon. Friend is referring to social value, which is obviously an important part of our procurement regime. Social value was discussed extensively during the passage of the Procurement Act 2023, and contracting authorities in local areas must pay regard to it.

Business of the House

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?