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Business of the House

Volume 747: debated on Thursday 21 March 2024

The business for the week commencing 25 March will include:

Monday 25 March—Remaining stages of the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion relating to the appointment of an acting parliamentary and health service ombudsman.

Tuesday 26 March—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Pedicabs (London) Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on a motion relating to the national policy statement for national networks.

The House will rise for the Easter recess at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 26 March and return on Monday 15 April.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 April includes:

Monday 15 April—Consideration of a Lords message to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, followed by debate on a motion on hospice funding. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 16 April—Second Reading of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill.

Wednesday 17 April—If necessary, consideration of a Lords message to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, followed by Second Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 18 April—Debate on a motion on access to redress schemes, followed by debate on a motion on the covid-19 pandemic response and trends in excess deaths. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 19 April—Private Members’ Bills.

First, may I congratulate Vaughan Gething on his election as First Minister of Wales? Vaughan has made history as the first black leader of any European country, which is something I am sure the whole House can be proud of—we certainly are.

Following my question last week, it is good to see that the Tobacco and Vapes Bill has now been timetabled, although it looks like the Government will be relying on our votes to pass their flagship Bill. I also welcome the Football Governance Bill finally being published, but when will we get its Second Reading?

This could have been our last business questions before a general election in May, but the Prime Minister bottled it. He may hope that going later increases his chances, but he has quickly found out that he has made things worse. He is being buffeted by events rather than being in control of them, with more division, more chatter and his authority ebbing away day after day. The many resets are not working. The public are just sick to death of Tory chaos. No wonder we are rising early for Easter.

The House of Commons guide to procedure states that the Government should reply to the recommendations in a Select Committee report within two months, so where is the Leader of the House’s response to the Procedure Committee’s report on the accountability of Secretaries of State in the Lords? It was published over two months ago, and she has repeatedly told us that she would reply to it. When will she bring forward the motion? Just this week, the Foreign Office had to be dragged to Parliament again to discuss the horrific situation in Gaza and Rafah. It is not on. She said she wanted the views of the Lords Procedure and Privileges Committee first. However, I understand that she has still not contacted it. Has she?

Let us address the elephant in the room. There is an unusual level of interest in today’s business questions, following the swirling rumours and speculation. Thousands of column inches have been written about the unfolding drama. Will she, won’t she? When will it come to a head? Yet the Leader of the House has remained tight-lipped, ducking the question, but now we have the answer. The Rwanda ping-pong will not take place until after Easter. If it is such an emergency, why has the Leader of the House yet again delayed programming this legislation? She delayed Committee stage over Christmas because of disquiet among Conservative Members, and now she has pushed back further Lords amendments until after Easter.

I know the Leader of the House will want to blame the Lords, but it is her timetable and it keeps getting stretched. Is it because the costs just keep going up and up, and the scheme is unworkable? On top of the £500 million price tag for the 300 people the Home Office intends to send to Rwanda, the National Audit Office’s damning report, published yesterday, adds to the Department’s woes. Not only is the Home Office spending £8 million a day on hotels; it has wasted tens of millions of pounds on new sites to house asylum seekers that will never be used. The truth is that if the Government were ready to implement the scheme, we would see the Bill back here next week. This is their timetable and their delay—no one else’s.

I know the Leader of the House will be quick to herald this week’s inflation figures as some kind of proof that the Government’s plan is working. [Interruption.] I knew that would get a cheer, but she might be less keen to highlight the ever rising housing costs that are not included in those figures. Rents are up 9% in the last year, and mortgage rates are still crippling homeowners. That is why, for the first time on record, living standards have fallen in this Parliament.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), claimed this morning that the cost of living crisis is over. The Government are so out of touch that it is embarrassing, so can I ask about their plans for the economy? They say they want to scrap national insurance altogether, and the Chancellor floated another two-point cut yesterday, but who is going to pay for this £46 billion unfunded promise? Will it be pensioners or the health service? People deserve to know.

The last time the Conservatives embarked on such a huge unfunded tax cut, they crashed the economy and had to get rid of their Prime Minister. I know that many Conservative Members are now actively discussing wielding the sword and a coronation, both of which the Leader of the House is accustomed to, but I have previously heard her in these sessions pay rather fulsome, sometimes slightly over-the-top, personal tribute to the Prime Minister. Given that so many are losing faith, I thought she might want to take this opportunity to give us another gushing homage. Anything less might be misinterpreted. Last time she described him as a “signpost” but, deep down, she knows that the only direction he points towards is crushing defeat.

I have briefly emerged from under the hairdryer and put down my Take a Break magazine, and not only found my way to the Chamber this morning but remembered on which side I am supposed to sit, to be present and correct for business questions, which is quite a feat if media reports are to be believed.

I am buoyed by what the hon. Lady has said. After all, we have seen inflation fall to 3.4% this week. Real wages are rising, we have positive growth, household energy bills will fall by £250 a year in a couple of weeks’ time, average disposable incomes are growing and we have signed the accession treaty to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which will create a huge number of high-wage jobs. It is confirmation that the plan is working when, on Thursdays, the Opposition focus not on these real-world facts but on the Westminster rumour vortex.

I will address the hon. Lady’s points in turn. First, I join her in congratulating Vaughan Gething. I wish him well in his new post.

I am glad that the Opposition welcome the Tobacco and Vapes Bill and the Football Governance Bill, and I look forward to their support and involvement. I am still in time to respond to the Procedure Committee’s report on the Foreign Secretary’s accountability to this House, on which their lordships will deliberate.

The hon. Lady brought up Rwanda, and I wish to clarify that I have no wish to blame their lordships for the delay to that Bill. I make it clear that I wish to blame Labour Lords for the delay. For all Labour’s talk of being tough on borders, it has voted against our plans 111 times, and it has voted against our measures to stop the boats 98 times. Despite its tough talk on crime, Labour has voted against our plans for tougher sentences and new police powers.

This week we have learned that, despite all the armed forces frottage coming from Labour Front Benchers, they are planning an EU defence pact at a time when all efforts should be with NATO, which has standards and clear and agreed principles about what it will do and under what circumstances, and it has been busy—Ukraine, Kosovo, Iraq, support for the African Union, Baltic air policing, Aegean maritime security, Operation Sea Guardian, a standing naval force and, of course, disaster relief. In contrast, since its creation in 2007, the EU battle group, which has no such agreed threshold for deployment, has never got out the door.

There could be no greater metaphor to illustrate the differing approaches between our two parties: Labour is all talk, including 126 minutes on ferrets last week, whereas we offer practical action. It is virtue signalling over there versus results over here. It is unfunded policies over there versus costed proposals over here. It is no plan versus a plan that is working. To borrow from the Opposition’s new-found heroine, Margaret Thatcher: if you want something saying, wait long enough and Labour will say it. If you want something doing, vote Conservative.

Further business will be announced in the usual way.

As the House may be aware, the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is not able to be here because his daughter-in-law is seriously ill in hospital, and it is right that he is by her side at this time. I am sure the whole House will wish her a speedy recovery. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.]

On behalf of the Committee, let me say that our debates in the Chamber are now full until 9 May, provided we are allocated the time by the Leader of the House. Equally, we are full in Westminster Hall until 2 May—obviously, we will have control of that time. So all those who wish to get applications in before the summer recess should do so quickly, as the Committee has been working overtime to process these applications.

The shocking rise in antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred has been well publicised, but what has not been is the anti-Hindu hatred occurring on our campuses and across our country. I have the honour of chairing the all-party group on British Hindus and it has recently published a report on that hatred, on which action is clearly required all round. So will my right hon. Friend allow time in the Chamber for a debate on hatred of British Hindus and enable us to celebrate the contribution they make to this country? Given that it is Holi on Tuesday, will she also join me in wishing all Hindus “Holi hai!”?

First, may I, on behalf of all of us in this place, send our good wishes to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and his family at this time? I thank my hon. Friend for stepping in for him and assisting Members with an advert for future business from the Backbench Business Committee.

On the all-party group’s report on anti-Hindu hatred, I will make sure that the relevant Secretary of State has heard what my hon. Friend has said today. I know that he has been campaigning on this matter for some time and that he will have listened to what the Minister for Equalities said about it at Women and Equalities questions yesterday.

May I associate myself with the remarks about the new Welsh First Minister and pass on my best wishes to former First Minister Mark Drakeford?

Of course, we are grateful to the Leader of the House for making time in her hectic schedule to pop along to the House of Commons today; all that leadership plotting and scheming does not just happen by itself—she has been a busy bee. We can only pray that we are nearing the season finale of this endless Tory soap opera, but her leadership campaign has not stopped her coming here today so that she can ignore our questions in person. Every Thursday, she displays some essential qualities to be the next Tory Prime Minister. For a start, she regards questions as a bit of a nuisance, something to be avoided at all costs. They get in the way of her important work recording all those YouTube videos about Willy Wonka, escaped monkeys or whatever. If Members do not take my word for it, they can check Hansard.

The Leader of the House was right to say last week that I had not sent her through details of my many unanswered questions—there are just so many to compile. However, I am happy to offer a few reminders now. We have had no answer on whether Baroness Michelle Mone is a paid-up member of the Tory party, as she herself claims; we have had no answer on the startling increase in child poverty in England—the Leader of the House is far too busy to deal with those distractions; and we still have no idea how much taxpayers’ money was wasted on her Government’s initial “State of the Union” report to the UK Cabinet, which was written at the height of the pandemic and was still kept firmly under wraps until we got some insights at the covid inquiry. The report is still for strictly for Tory eyes only; even now, Scots are not allowed to know the costs or decisions taken to stifle our democracy.

But with the revelation that 80% of young Scots said that they want independence, it is no surprise that the Cabinet panicked and swung into fervent Union-Jackery action. So will the Leader of the House take a moment from her busy campaign diary to answer these questions— I make no apology for asking them again: how much taxpayers’ money was spent on that “State of the Union” paper? What was the strategy the Cabinet was asked to endorse? And when can we see the paper in full? Perhaps we could have a statement from the relevant Minister, if she does not have those answers to hand.

Before I get to the specifics of what she raises, I have noticed a consistent hostility and unpleasantness in the hon. Lady’s questions to me. This has been going on for some time—weeks, in fact. I am getting the impression that the hon. Lady does not like me, perhaps even hates me; her followers on social media certainly do. There are patronising undertones in what she says. I believe she is saying that I am deficient in my abilities to answer her questions, perhaps because I am a woman. I feel very intimidated, upset and deeply, deeply hurt. As well as noting her questions, I have been sitting on the Front Bench filling in a hate-related report form, which my officials have kindly placed in my folder. I will have one ready for every single SNP colleague who gets to their feet. If I sent the form to the Scottish police they would be obliged to investigate, increasing the growing number of reasons why they are struggling to attend burglaries. I sincerely hope that the SNP’s new hate crime laws do not have a chilling effect on our exchanges.

I am not sure the hon. Lady has understood the purpose of business questions. The questions that she has asked should be directed to Departments, such as the Cabinet Office and the Department for Work and Pensions. She can ask these questions of me and I can write to those Departments for her, but she could also cut out the middleman and write to the Departments herself. I look forward to receiving her list of questions— I think it is now two months overdue. I will farm them out to the relevant Government Departments and ask them to respond to the hon. Lady.

I wish to raise two brief things. First, the Leader of the House will soon see the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report on women’s state pension age and its findings on “injustice” and associated issues. The report is about the WASPI women—Women Against State Pension Inequality. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) who campaigned with me on these issues and saw various Secretaries of State. Will the Leader of the House say how the Government intend the House to respond to the reference to Parliament considering the recommended remedy? It is not a massive remedy, but it is an important one.

Secondly, the Leader of the House may have heard me question the Prime Minister yesterday about planning and building over prime agricultural fields. Yesterday afternoon, Arun District Council planning committee considered an application. All the members of the committee looked as though they were going to turn it down, until the planning officer said the costs of an appeal by the developer were more than the Council could afford. All the members of the committee, except for the Conservatives and one Liberal, then voted to leave it to the council planning officers to make the decision.

Can we have a debate on intimidation on costs by developers that make district and borough councils feel they have to approve something or allow something to go through that should be opposed? Will the Leader of the House join me in recommending the council calls in the proposal and, if it does not, the Secretary of State does?

I thank the Father of the House for his questions. I know the Department for Work and Pensions will want to consider today’s announcement about WASPI women. This is a concern among Members across the House, and I am sure the Minister will want to update the House at the earliest opportunity. They will want time to consider what has been said today, but I hope that an update will be given to colleagues before recess.

On planning, the Father of the House raises a worrying concern. I am sure the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be concerned to hear that people are not shouldering the responsibilities to which they were elected. I will ensure he has heard what my hon. Friend has said.

This week, I was astonished and appalled to find that Moat housing association, in my constituency, is increasing rent and maintenance service charges in affordable accommodation to an exorbitant amount. Something needs to be done about that, because the increase to rent is over 9% and the increase to the maintenance service charge is a whopping 50%. Those rises are due to start in April, so there is a level of urgency. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities looks into this case, so that residents do not fall into in-work poverty and they are not priced out of the area? The housing association must deal with them efficiently and fairly, and keep to the formula initially given to residents to calculate such increases.

I am sorry to hear about that situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency and will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State hears what she has said today. I hope also that the organisation she refers to has heard her words and can come to some accommodation with its residents.

May we have a debate on improving access to GP appointments? In the north-central London area, the number of appointments in GP practices per month is now 680,000—50,000 up on last year—which is a huge improvement, but a debate would give us an opportunity to discuss how Pharmacy First can enable people to get treatment from their pharmacist, freeing up more GP appointments for patients with more complex conditions.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this matter. General practices are now delivering 20% more appointments than they were pre-pandemic, and more than 33 million appointments were carried out in January of this year alone. We have also brought in, as she rightly points out, Pharmacy First. I think that this has been well received in our communities, but of course there is always more we can do to publicise these new services, which are available to everyone in our community. The next Health and Social Care questions are not until after Easter, so I will ensure that the Department has heard what she has said.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the biggest killer of children and young people worldwide is being involved in a crash on a road? Can we have an early debate to talk about how, globally, we do something vigorously to cut this back? I have the privilege of being the chair of the Independent Council for Road Safety International. Car accidents kill so many children worldwide. They are all avoidable deaths. Can we have a debate that focuses on this?

I did know that, because I have heard the hon. Gentleman campaign on the issue many times, and I thank him for it. As well as improvements that we can make in the UK, the UK plays a huge role in helping other nations get better at road safety, and I thank him for highlighting that fact today. He knows how to apply for a debate.

Following the introduction of the very welcome Football Governance Bill, may we have a debate in Government time on the future of rugby union and how we ensure that professional rugby in England is effectively regulated and supported? Clubs such as Worcester Warriors deserve their chance to come back into professional rugby, but with no certainty about the shape of next year’s championship and a clash between the law of administration and the Rugby Football Union’s definition of rugby creditors, it is hard for investors to plan with any certainty. A century on from when rugby was invented in the west midlands, is it not a matter of concern that there might be no top- flight professional club in the west midlands area?

My hon. Friend raises a very important matter. I am glad that he welcomes the Football Governance Bill. He will also know that the Government appointed independent advisers last year to work on the future stability of rugby union. We will continue to work with the rugby authorities, including the Rugby Football Union, premiership rugby and Sport England, to support rugby in all its forms. I shall ensure that the Secretary of State has heard his particular concerns in this regard, and he knows how to apply for a debate.

The UK Government recently awarded councils in England emergency funding of £700 million, much of which was in response to the crisis facing social care. The Scottish Government received consequential funding on top of the normal block grant as a result. However, Scottish councils are still facing budget issues in this area. Yesterday, my own council in Edinburgh had to agree to close two care homes, reduce packages and cut some funding by 10%. May we have a statement from the Treasury, or perhaps the Scotland Office, on how it could be made easier for Scottish councils to apply directly for this emergency funding—[Interruption.]

Perhaps I should borrow one of the Leader of the House’s hate forms.

As I was saying, may we have a statement on how Scottish councils can apply directly when this fund is made available, rather than continue to wait for the Scottish Government to act?

The hon. Lady makes several very good points. The devolved Administrations continue to receive about 20% more funding per head than the UK Government spend on the same things in England, and there are many examples of the Scottish Government hanging on to those funds and not passing them on to councils or passing relief on to businesses, for example, which is very disappointing. She makes an interesting suggestion, and I will ensure that both the Cabinet Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have heard her words.

Just five years ago, the gates of Appledore shipyard closed. It was a picture of dereliction; its workforce dispersed to the four winds. But now it has experienced a glorious revival. It has several hundred employees and 45 apprentices, having been taken over by Harland & Wolff. A similar picture of prosperity and thriving is taking place in Belfast today. May we have a debate on the revival of English shipbuilding and shipbuilding in Northern Ireland, which has been presided over by this Government’s maritime shipbuilding strategy?

I could tell by the sounds of approval running across the whole House that were my right hon. and learned Friend to apply for a debate, it would be very well attended. This is something that I am very passionate about, and I am pleased to have worked with Appledore, and Harland & Wolff in Northern Ireland, and every shipyard around the UK, including the Scottish maritime cluster, to ensure that we can build some new ships and smooth out the fallow periods in those shipyards. This is an excellent topic for a debate, and I encourage him to apply for one.

Could the Leader of the House ask one of her ministerial friends to come to the House before recess to give us a report on the civil service pay negotiations? A recent independent report by Queen Mary University found that civil service pay had fallen by 1.5% every year since 2011. As the permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office admitted before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Government are now becoming a minimum wage employer. That has resulted in the Public and Commercial Services Union balloting after Easter for industrial action. The union is simply asking for a pay award to match inflation and some restoration on lost pay. If we could have a ministerial statement we might be able to avert this decline in industrial relations within the civil service.

I will certainly ensure that the Cabinet Office has heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said, although I do not think it was correct. In Departments that I have been in, where we have encountered low pay, or pay that is not above the national living wage, we have increased it—most notably, in my case, ensuring that no member of our armed forces or civilian who works in defence is earning less than that.

Following a fire in a council-owned property last summer, Barnet Council commissioned an independent investigation to assess whether there were any other similar properties in the borough with the same fire defects. The investigation has identified 153 council-owned properties, seven leasehold properties, and 426 freehold properties that had been sold by the council under right to buy. They are all affected by the same conditions, and 459 of them are in my constituency in the ward of Burnt Oak. They now constitute a category 1 hazard as defined by the Housing Act 2004, and the works to redress the issues are expected to cost £23,000 per house. Can a Minister come to the Dispatch Box and advise the House on what assistance the Government will provide, particularly to leaseholders who purchased their properties when those buildings were compliant with building regulations but now find themselves in an awkward and difficult financial situation?

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that he is doing on behalf of his constituents on this matter. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is aware of the action that Barnet Council is taking, and continues to engage closely with it on the next steps following the fire that he refers to. DLUHC officials are seeking further information from Barnet Council regarding the nature of the risks that have been identified to understand whether its response is proportionate to the risks presented in low-rise stock. The Building Safety Regulator is also aware, keeping the situation under review and ensuring that what is being done is in line with its statutory responsibilities. He will know that unsafe cladding has been a priority for the Government, and we are investing £5.1 billion to fund the cost of remedying it, which is five times what the Opposition promised in their fire safety package at the last election.

Queer theory extremism is having a pernicious impact on equality, rights, education, health and criminal justice. On April fools’ day, the Scottish Government’s illiberal hate crime legislation will come into effect, exerting a chilling effect on political discourse and severely limiting fundamental freedoms in a way that is hardly imaginable. Given that an incoming Labour Administration is likely to replicate the dangerous policies being pursued by the SNP in Scotland and by Labour in Wales, will the Leader of the House bring forward an open debate on the matter?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my earlier comments. He makes a good point. Of course, we have always updated legislation to ensure that particular groups are protected and, where real harm is done to individuals, action can be taken. However, we must also ensure that free speech is protected. That is vital for a functioning society, it is vital for us to make progress as a society, and it is vital for humanity. This is critical stuff, and I thank him for raising it.

The Leader of the House should know that there has been a shocking increase in crime in Greater London. In my own borough of Havering there was recently a stabbing in the Brewery shopping centre. Local people are afraid to go into the town centre, particularly in the evenings. Under Mayor Khan, we have seen a massive increase in crime. We do not get the police cover that we need. Being on the outskirts of Greater London, and traditionally a part of Essex, we are treated very differently. Will she bring forward a debate in Government time to discuss crime across Greater London, particularly in areas such as Romford and Havering, which are being fleeced? We are paying for police cover that we are not getting.

My hon. Friend raises an important matter. Across the country as a whole, the police have done an amazing job on roughly the same resource—if we strip out online fraud, they have halved crime, which is a huge achievement. However, there are parts of the country where that is not happening. He mentions London, but the west midlands is another such area. I know that west midlands Mayor Andy Street is very concerned about this matter. Every time we hear about the Met, the Mayor of London is nowhere to be seen. The budget has been mismanaged—there is an enormous black hole in it—and police officers in London do not feel that they are supported in doing their difficult job. The rise in violent crime in particular—knife and other crime—is shocking. There is an imminent solution so that Londoners can get a better deal: vote the current London Mayor out of office.

Service charges are an industrial-scale scandal, lumbering homeowners with unaffordable bills. Constituents in Battersea have raised concerns about unregulated, uncapped and exponential service charge increases, and they have also been hit by the Tory mortgage bombshell. In 14 years, the Government have failed to take action to tackle this unregulated system. Will they make a statement on the service charge scandal, and what action will they finally take?

I hope that the hon. Lady has raised that matter with the relevant Department. The next DLUHC questions will be on 22 April. I understand from the opening remarks of her question that it relates to particular accommodation suppliers rather than to utility companies and other standing charges, so I encourage her to raise any particular issues with those organisations.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate to allow Shropshire MPs to point out that, contrary to disingenuous Lib Dem leaflets, it is the Conservative Government who are taking action to clean up our rivers, to help consumers buy British produce from our farmers, and to bring down the cost of living by supporting the vulnerable, raising the state pension next month by double the current rate of inflation and cutting taxes for those in work?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In addition to all the progress that has been made on increasing monitoring of storm overflows—which was just 7% when we came to office, and is now 100%—a huge amount of infrastructure work is being done across the country to ensure that we can reduce those storm overflows when they happen, and that sewage is not released into our seas or waterways. On 12 March, Water UK published its storm overflow action plan dash- board for all overflows in England. I encourage people to go online and look at that: they can see the work that has been done, as well as future work, and the date by which it has been done. Massive progress has been made.

I agree with the other points that my right hon. Friend has made. We are supporting farmers across the whole of the UK, particularly the Conservatives in Wales, who are fighting Labour’s plans to make farmers’ lives harder. I thank my right hon. Friend for all he is doing on all fronts; he will know how to secure a debate on all those issues if he so wishes.

May I come back to the question of the ombudsman’s report on WASPI women? I understand what the Leader of the House has said about the Secretary of State’s wanting time to read the report, but he must have known for some time that it was coming, and millions of women have been waiting to hear the Government’s response. The ombudsman itself has said that

“DWP has…failed to offer any apology or explanation for its failings”.

That is why we need the Secretary of State to come before the House. The ombudsman has indicated that it has taken the extraordinary step of bringing the report to Parliament’s attention because it realises its importance and urgency, so will the Leader of the House suggest to the Secretary of State that it might be a good idea for him to come to the Chamber tomorrow and give a statement about what he intends to do about the report?

I hope I gave the impression in my earlier answer that I think the Minister will want to come to the Dispatch Box—this is an important matter. I hope we will be able to do that before recess. The House will not be as well attended tomorrow as it might be next week. I hope that is satisfactory for hon. Members, and I will ensure that the Minister has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Yet again, we have a bank closure in my constituency: Lloyds Bank is closing in the centre of Cleethorpes. We have had some success in Barton-upon-Humber, where we have established a banking hub, but there is always a gap between the initial closure and alternative facilities being provided. Can the Leader of the House find time for a statement or a debate on how to ensure face-to-face contact between customer and provider, not only in banking but in public services?

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend—who has raised this matter many times—on what he has done to secure that banking hub and ensure his constituents have access to those services. I would hope that the banking community in his area would ensure that there is no gap, and that his residents and business customers can have face-to-face access to the banking support they need. My office stands ready to assist him in trying to make that happen.

Lots of us, myself included, have constituents who are worried sick about their friends or family who are caught up in the conflict in Gaza. Can a Minister come to the House urgently for a debate or statement on the need for a more widely drawn family reunion or humanitarian visa process for people who are fleeing the violence in Israel and Gaza?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I hope he is in touch with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s consular services, which are working very hard with other Government Departments to ensure that anyone who needs assistance has it. If the hon. Gentleman has any difficulty in accessing those services, my office will assist.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting my debate on hospices, scheduled for 15 April.

For many years, Darlington suffered from under-investment, but the last four years have seen £23.3 million delivered from the towns fund, £139 million invested in our train station, £35 million invested in our rail heritage quarter, £14 million invested in a vaccine library and £14 million to develop a hydrogen engine, while the Chancellor announced a further £20 million for Darlington under the long-term plan for towns. To add to that, the Darlington economic campus has delivered 750 jobs and is contributing over £80 million per year to our local economy.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is Conservatives, such as me and Ben Houchen, who are delivering for the Tees Valley? Does she share my concern about last week’s report on projects being delayed, and my suspicion that Labour councillors are putting the brakes on projects? Can we have a debate on the massive success that Tees Valley Tories have delivered for Teesside?

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate on hospices, which I am sure will be extremely well attended.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the progress that has been made. I congratulate him on securing so much for his local area, and he is right. I think the employment rate in Teesside is 3% higher than in comparable areas, which is a massive achievement. I do hope that his Labour council will get on with these levelling-up projects. I understand that the planning process is bogged down, and they have not been able to get planning under way yet, which is very disappointing for his constituents. I would urge him to carry on, and ensure that these projects, for which he has secured funding, come to fruition.

World Parkinson’s Day is on 11 April, and this year’s theme—there is not one face of Parkinson’s—reflects the fact that there are 40 symptoms for this disease and every Parkinson’s journey is different. With a postcode lottery for access to the right healthcare and insufficient targeted financial support for people with the condition, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on how the Government can best support each unique Parkinson’s journey?

On behalf of the whole House, I thank the hon. Lady for raising awareness of that upcoming event. I ask all hon. Members to raise awareness not only of the symptoms of the condition but of the support available, so that people have good care and money goes into research. I hope all hon. Members will take part. The hon. Lady knows how to secure a debate on the issue, and I will ensure that the Secretary of State hears of her interest.

May we have a debate in Government time about a company called Decharge, whose rural site at Greenway, Uplowman, will be getting 330,000 cubic metres of rubbish, rubble and so on? What annoys people most is that the local council, run by the Liberal Democrats, will not scrutinise this properly. They have just stuck their heads in the sand like ostriches. The chairman of the scrutiny committee should spend less time working under the leader and a little more time not shedding crocodile tears but actually doing some work. We in this House all know what a privilege it is to represent people—it is a privilege we all hold dear—but it is up to local councils to stand up for local people when lorries are going to be thundering down rural lanes and disrupting the way of life of rural people. Enough is enough: let us have a debate to sort this out.

My hon. Friend is extremely consistent in his criticism of his local authority. I am sorry to hear about the situation, and I shall certainly ensure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up has heard his concerns. I know my hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner, and if anyone can ensure that the impact of the proposal is alleviated for residents, it is he.

Following the catastrophic kamikaze Budget of 16 months ago, the public are extremely concerned about the promise trailed by the Government about cuts to national insurance, with a £46 billion implication. Will the Leader of the House either allow a debate or tell us now whether that will be done by increasing income tax, by further cuts to our public services or by increasing Government debt?

The hon. Gentleman will know that was not a policy announcement in the Budget. The Budget was costed, it is independently audited and there is a clear scorecard of which the House will be aware. In stark contrast, Labour has kept a policy to spend an additional £28 billion without keeping the pledge of having that £28 billion, which is illogical. I am sure an official from the Treasury can sit down with the hon. Gentleman and talk him through all this.

All loss of life in conflict in Israel, Gaza or elsewhere is a tragedy. It is very important that the UK Government are working with the right figures, for aid purposes and many other reasons. On that point, has my right hon. Friend seen that a leading academic statistician from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has calculated that the Hamas casualty figures are statistically impossible and obviously fraudulent? That should not be a surprise, coming from a terrorist organisation, but Government and Opposition Front Benchers seem to be relying on them. Can we have a debate in those circumstances on the accuracy of statistics used by His Majesty’s Government?

My right hon. and learned Friend raises an important point. He should be reassured that those figures from the Ministry of Health in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, are only one data point that we use to assess the scale of the conflict and its implications for civilians. We need to ensure that we have the most accurate data, and we are collecting that from satellite imagery of building damage, information from our humanitarian partners on the ground and robust data on living conditions. Those are all fed into our assessment. It is a tragedy that is unfolding, and that is why we want to see a pause in fighting to get that aid in and to get hostages out.

China is increasing its carbon dioxide emissions by more than the UK’s total emissions every year of this decade. China, Russia, India and others are opening new coal-fired power stations on an almost daily basis. Do they know something we do not? Independent scientists have stated that higher carbon dioxide levels would be beneficial for life on the planet through increased plant growth, so can we have a debate in Government time on the cost-benefit of net zero before trillions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are wasted, which will make the HS2 fiasco look like a warm-up act?

The hon. Gentleman will know how to secure a debate. He has just secured a debate on excess deaths, and if he follows the same procedure, I am sure he will have good luck in securing another debate.

In Harrogate and Knaresborough, we have had more than 12,000 apprenticeship starts since 2010, and this week’s announcement of changes to apprenticeship policy was positive and will help those numbers grow. What I liked particularly was that it will make it easier for SMEs to offer apprenticeships. The main message I hear from businesses is that it is challenging to fill vacancies and bring in new talent. Can we have a debate about SMEs, apprenticeships and skills policy to give them the boost they need to fill the vacancies they are creating?

My hon. Friend will know that on Monday, the Prime Minister set out a package of reforms to support businesses, including £60 million of new investment to enable more apprenticeships to be created. We are also slashing unnecessary regulatory burdens through our Brexit freedoms programme and saving about £150 million a year for thousands of small businesses. I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he is doing in his constituency to ensure that people are benefiting from these initiatives.

The First Reading of the Football Governance Bill last week was welcome, but when will we see Second Reading? There was no mention of it in today’s business statement. We want to get the Bill through in time before the general election so that it becomes law, as it has widespread support.

One thing that was not mentioned at all was the Renters (Reform) Bill. Where has that got to? All we have read about are discussions, debates and arguments between Ministers and Tory Back Benchers over changes that might be made to the Bill. In the meantime, hundreds of people are being evicted through section 21 notices, and families and children are being made homeless. When will the Government bring back this important legislation, which has widespread cross-party support?

May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of us all, for all the work that he has done across the House on the Football Governance Bill, and all the stakeholder engagement that he has overseen? I have attended many of those meetings, and I know that colleagues are grateful for his efforts. These are important community assets as well as businesses. When Portsmouth faced closure, I could not say to my constituents, “Don’t worry: Southampton is just down the road; you can watch your football there.” It would not have worked. I know he is eager for the Renters (Reform) Bill to return, and I am glad that he welcomes that. He knows I will say that further business will be announced in the usual way, but I will ensure that officials in that Department have heard what he said.

I bring good news from Kettering, where Sainsbury’s supermarket has restored free parking during the evenings in its town centre car park. It had planned to introduce charges for out-of-hours parking, but it has listened to local opinion and representations from me, Kettering Civic Society and others, and has amended its plans. That is great news for those in the close vicinity, such as the Salvation Army, the Sikh temple, popular local restaurants, and Kettering Arts Centre, which is based in St Andrew’s church. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House both praising Sainsbury’s for its social responsibility, and encouraging people to visit Kettering town centre?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his successful campaign. In addition to his constituency being the most dog-friendly place in the UK, as we learned last week, people can now park there for free. I join him in praising Sainsbury’s, and everyone locally who has worked to ensure that, and to ensure that Kettering town centre remains vibrant and open to visitors.

If U Care Share is an amazing suicide prevention and postvention charity that supports my constituents in Blaydon and people across the north-east. Sadly, it was not successful in its bid for £10 million in suicide prevention funding, and some of its work is having to come to an end. As the north-east has the highest rate of suicide, its work is vital. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I will be approaching the Minister about this, but may we have a debate in Government time on the impact of short-term funding decisions on charities working on this vital issue?

I am glad that the hon. Lady will take this matter up with the Minister. Where people or organisations have not been able to secure funding from a particular scheme, the Department will work with organisations, or the local authority, to improve the bid, or ensure that the organisation can work with others in the area. Such services are critical, and they also need to be sustainable. I shall ensure that the Department of Health and Social Care has heard what the hon. Lady said.

My constituent Nadeem Anjarwalla, a UK citizen, has been detained in Nigeria since 26 February, with no charges formally brought. His health is suffering, and obstacles have prevented his lawyers and his family from ensuring that he receives proper care. He has also just missed his son’s first birthday. As the safety and security of British nationals is a top priority for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, will my right hon. Friend please allow a debate in Government time on how we can further enhance FCDO’s support for our citizens abroad?

I know my hon. Friend is working hard for this gentleman, and she is in close contact with the FCDO. As she knows, officials are in contact with his family and legal representatives, and the UK’s high commissioner to Nigeria has raised the case with Nigerian authorities. We had a Westminster Hall debate on 5 September last year about British nationals who are detained overseas, and it was well attended. My hon. Friend knows how to apply for a debate, and if she did, I think it would be similarly well attended. As the next questions to the Foreign Office are not until 20 April, I shall ensure that the Foreign Secretary has heard what she has said.

The ombudsman’s report on raising the state pension age has now been published. A key finding is that there has been maladministration by the Department for Work and Pensions, and that the UK Government should do the right thing, apologise, and come up with a mechanism for paying compensation to the women affected. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her support for all in the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, and for a compensation scheme that reflects the financial loss and distress suffered by those in Ayrshire WASPI and Cunninghame WASPI, and all WASPI women across the UK?

Like many hon. Members from across the House, I have cases of this kind in my constituency, and have been working to support the individuals involved. I reiterate the Government’s position, which is that I am sure the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will want to update the House at the earliest occasion. He will clearly have to read the report and reflect on it, but I know that he is keen to do so swiftly.

This week, I had the privilege of meeting the inspirational Hannah Gardner, who has incurable secondary breast cancer at the age of just 37. Recently, Hannah and thousands of other women received the devastating news that the life-extending drug Enhertu, described by oncologists as a game-changer, has been rejected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for use by the NHS in England, despite being approved in Scotland and 45 other countries worldwide. She brought a campaign to Parliament, because it is the only realistic treatment available for her, and time is not on her side. Can we have an urgent debate on getting all parties, including the drug companies, NICE and NHS England, back to the table, and urgently approving Enhertu, so that Hannah can at least realise her modest wish of seeing her three-year-old daughter Lilah attend her new school?

I thank my hon. Friend for all his campaigning in this area, and for all his work with a number of all-party parliamentary groups. I also thank him for arranging for me to meet Hannah when she visited Parliament. She is an inspirational woman, and the fact that she is campaigning so hard, not just for herself but for other people, is testament to that. I also thank the Breast Cancer Now team, who also visited me and are doing tremendous work in campaigning to ensure that not just Enhertu but other life-extending drugs can be approved.

I am sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will have heard about the campaign and will want to set up meetings to discuss it. I think that about 1,000 women a year in England could benefit from the drug, and given that it is widely available and deemed to be clinically and cost-effective elsewhere, I hope that NICE will reflect on that, and that a patient access scheme might be established. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what my hon. Friend said.

In contrast to what the Leader of the House said to my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), at Treasury questions on Tuesday, the Chancellor did not deny that he plans to abolish national insurance, an unfunded commitment costing £46 billion. He also did not deny that he might pay for it by increasing taxes on pensioners. As it is not the Leader of the House but the Chancellor who decides economic policy, will she arrange for the Chancellor to make a statement to the House confirming how he intends to fill the £46 billion black hole in the Government’s finances, and saying whether that will be through tax rises for pensioners, cuts to the national health service, increases in debt and borrowing, or something else?

I suspect that the event that the hon. Gentleman is recalling was a dream, perhaps after eating a large amount of cheese. I do not think the Chancellor would have said that. I understand that the Labour party is trying to establish this line, but I am afraid that it is not working, because the British public understand these things; they understand national insurance contributions, and Labour clearly does not.

Can we have a debate about the application of the Local Government Act 1972? Rob Huntingdon, the chief executive of Rossendale Borough Council, is seeking to use it to prevent the release of a copy of a financial impact report on the empty homes scandal presented to councillors in the council chamber on 9 August 2022, as well as seeking to prevent the release of copies of documents discussed at a closed session of the council under item D1 on 18 August 2022. That is important, because his refusal to release those documents, when added to the fact that legal action has been threatened against councillors who reveal what is in them—a gagging order by any other name—has lost the taxpayers of Rossendale and Darwen £12 million. The 1972 Act, if applicable in this case, was not put in place to stop local authorities, their officers and Labour councillors being embarrassed by their own incompetence.

My right hon. Friend makes his point very well. These individuals are accountable to their residents, and those facts should be exposed. I think he is right in his understanding of the 1972 Act and local authorities’ responsibilities under it, but I will make sure that officials at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities write to him to confirm that. I suggest that his local authority and the councillors in question reflect on the stance they are taking, and consider the rights of the people who are paying their salaries and allowances.

My constituents at Lark Hill rely on the retirement village’s ATM to access cash. While I am delighted that proposals for its removal have been withdrawn, residents will now face a fee. Does the right hon. Lady agree that everyone, especially older and disabled people, should be able to obtain cash safely and securely, and free of charge, in places that they can reach independently? Can we have a debate about Link and community access to cash?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on the success of her campaign. There is a very clear responsibility to ensure that people have free access to cash. Many people rely on it, and it is critical for certain community groups. I will ensure that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard her concerns, and that officials contact her office with advice about the courses of action open to her to insist that ATMs are reasonably dispersed across her constituency.

Crime and antisocial behaviour are a big concern across Carshalton and Wallington, particularly violent crime, burglaries and shoplifting. More police officers are on the street and crime is falling across the UK, but under Sadiq Khan’s watch in London, we have seen crime go up, the Met miss its recruitment targets by nearly 1,000 additional officers, and a complete failure to get to grips with major issues plaguing our local communities. Could we have a debate in Government time about how we can better hold the Mayor of London to account, as he seems to not care about Carshalton and Wallington and the crime levels that it faces?

My hon. Friend is not the first hon. Member to raise concerns about the Mayor of London’s performance on crime and, most disturbingly, increasing violent crime. My hon. Friend asks how we can hold the Mayor to account, and whether we should debate that. I would suggest another course of action: vote him out of office.

The Leader of the House could have announced today that next week, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, the Football Governance Bill or the Renters (Reform) Bill would be before the House, but she did not. We are told that senior Government figures have said that the reason why Conservative MPs are being sent home on a one-line Whip until the middle of April is to placate them and ease tension. This Government have simply ceased to function. Their way of stopping their most important policy is to send Tory MPs home, so that they do not have to vote for it. It is beyond a joke. Can we have a debate most urgently about when we will have the general election that this country needs to get this useless Government out of office?

I do not think the hon. Gentleman could have heard my business statement, and he may not be aware that the Football Governance Bill has been brought forward. I remind the Opposition, who make allegations about Conservative Members phoning it in, that we want our legislation to go through. If business is collapsing, it is because the Opposition are not doing engaging in business; they have not even managed to get speakers for their own Opposition day debates. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reflects on that.

May we have a debate in Government time about the obligations on local planning authorities to plan strategically for the infrastructure required to service their growth aspirations? That is particularly important to me and my constituents in Milton Keynes North since the Labour-led council announced plans for 63,000 new homes across Milton Keynes. We do not have targets in the way that we used to, but back when we did, Milton Keynes City Council was building 3,000 houses against a target of just over 1,700. It is not the Government who are making the council do that, despite what it says. Our infrastructure will suffer. We need a plan for infrastructure before expansion, in particular for doctors’ surgeries. The Cobbs Garden expansion project that I supported has mysteriously been binned by the integrated care board. We need that plan in place before we have any growth.

I thank my hon. Friend for all his work to ensure that his local residents have the services that they need and that, where there is development, those needs are assessed. I know that he has been campaigning for a new GP surgery together with Conservative colleagues. He will know that the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 introduced new powers to create an infrastructure levy, which aims to generate more funding for infrastructure projects. Local planning authorities will be required to prepare infrastructure delivery strategies as they bring forward development. As the next Levelling Up questions are not until after Easter on 22 April, I will make sure that the Department has heard his concerns about his constituency, and ask that officials get in touch to give him advice about what he can do with the ICB.

The Leader of the House knows that this morning, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman did not just publicise its report but laid it before Parliament, which is very rare. It said:

“Given the scale of the impact of DWP’s maladministration, and the urgent need for a remedy, we are taking the rare but necessary step of asking Parliament to intervene.”

I am very disappointed that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is not here today to provide a statement, so will the Leader of the House confirm when that will happen? Secondly and more importantly, when will this Parliament be able to debate and amend a motion on this matter?

Several Members have raised the exact same point this morning. It is reasonable that the Secretary of State reflects on today’s announcement, but I am sure that he will want to update the House before recess.

BT Openreach is installing telegraph poles in areas of Southport where residents oppose them. There has been no extensive consultation, and its actions have resulted in a huge waste of police time. It has paid very little attention to the advice given last week, and there are huge health and safety concerns. May we have a debate so that colleagues and I can raise these issues in the House, because the telegraph poles are unwanted and are being installed unsafely?

I hear my hon. Friend’s request for a debate, but I understand that his actions have already had an impact on Openreach. The Minister responsible raised my hon. Friend’s concerns with the chief executive of Openreach yesterday, who will investigate. I understand that he will also attend a roundtable with the Minister and other MPs on Monday to discuss this ongoing topic. I stand ready to assist my hon. Friend in whatever way I can to get this resolved, but he is doing everything he can and has already secured many things that will get this resolved.

It is getting on for two months since the debate on mining communities was set to take place on 1 February, when it was displaced by the reforming of the Northern Ireland Executive. My constituent Mr Anthony Rock is being treated appalling by the DWP regarding compensation for industrial illness, despite the best efforts of the National Union of Mineworkers. His health is getting worse, and it is not about the money but about dignity for Mr Rock, and recognition of his years of service in the British coal industry. The Minister and other coalfield MPs need to hear this story, so can the Leader of the House advise me when we will find time for this crucial debate?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. He will know, as I have stated it before, that while reorganising the scheduling of such debates is a matter for the Backbench Business Committee, we will be giving additional time to ensure that it happens. I was particularly keen to mention that specific debate, as I know Members from across the House would be very interested in taking part. I will also ensure that we flag his concerns with regard to his constituent with the Department for Work and Pensions, as those departmental questions have just happened.

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will conclude on the point that, I think, four other Members have made, including the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), with whom I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on state pension inequality for women. We have had the ombudsman’s report this morning. It makes grim reading for the DWP in relation to its maladministration over many years. Its findings on recommendations for compensation may disappoint many women, but the main issue coming out of the report is the need to lay the report before Parliament due to the low confidence that the ombudsman has in the Government coming up with a quick solution.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for her assurance that a DWP Minister will make a statement as soon as possible. May I urge her to convey to the Department the need to go much, much further much more quickly to put in place a mechanism, working with Parliament, to ensure that this injustice, which has gone on for many years, is remedied as quickly as possible?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that I will raise this matter with the Department. Indeed, I will be doing so on behalf of all Members who have spoken about it this morning. I thank him for all the work he has done with the all-party parliamentary group and on this issue specifically. As I said in my previous answers, I am sure the Secretary of State will want to update the House at the earliest occasion.

Order. I thank the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their presence throughout what has been a very lengthy session.