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Business of the House

Volume 748: debated on Thursday 25 April 2024

The business for the week commencing 29 April will include:

Monday 29 April—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill.

Tuesday 30 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

Wednesday 1 May—Remaining stages of the Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords].

Thursday 2 May—Debate on a motion on security in the western Balkans, followed by a general debate on pension schemes. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

The House of Commons will rise for the early May bank holiday at the conclusion of business on Thursday 2 May and return on Tuesday 7 May.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 May will include:

Monday 6 May—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 7 May—General debate on defence.

Wednesday 8 May—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 9 May—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 10 May—The House will not be sitting.

The awful events in Wales yesterday will have been traumatic for students, staff and parents, and our thoughts are with all those affected. I also pay tribute to Frank Field. The words said about Frank in recent days really reflect who he was: principled, determined, relentless, kind, generous and funny. His tireless campaigning against poverty, and for opportunity and education, changed the life of so many children who will never know it. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

As someone well experienced in divided, weak Governments, does the Leader of the House share my concern that the SNP has broken its power-sharing deal, which its leader said only last night was in the best interests of Scotland, leaving the people of Scotland even worse off? Under the SNP Government, one in six Scots is on an NHS waiting list, and people face higher bills and higher taxes. Does she think that is why the Scottish Greens, the SNP’s former partners, accuse the SNP of “selling out future generations”?

It absolutely does; I am asking the Leader of the House for her opinion on these matters.

Another week, another litany of problems for the Government. Last week, there was more scandal and internal positioning, and this week, there is a catalogue of failings. The Government’s flagship childcare plan is in tatters. They spent months in denial, yet this week the Department for Education finally admitted what many parents have been experiencing: that the roll-out targets are “problematic”. Yesterday, the spending watchdog warned that the Government’s plan does not

“achieve its primary aim or demonstrate value for money”.

The report was damning about the DFE’s oversight and planning for new places. Can the right hon. Lady guarantee that full delivery of the plan is on track? This is the reverse-Midas-touch Government. Only they could turn what should be a popular policy into such a vote loser.

Another policy that the Government have turned to dust is their pledge on renters’ rights. Ahead of Report stage of the Bill on that subject yesterday, the Government tabled hundreds of amendments—a poor reflection of the Leader of the House’s oversight of the legislative agenda. The amendments watered down that weak Bill even further, and there is no guarantee that banning section 21 evictions will ever happen. Is it any wonder that the Renters Reform Coalition has pulled its support for the Bill?

Despite the Government finally passing their Rwanda legislation, it has emerged that around 100,000 illegal migrants will languish in hotels at the taxpayers’ expense in perpetuity, unable to be removed or even processed because of the Government’s last piece of legislation. How is stopping the small boats going?

The Government promised levelling up, yet the chair of Middlesbrough football club, a former Ben Houchen superfan, said that the Tees Valley Mayor is

“giving away our children's future”

through his management of the South Tees Development Corporation. He is right, isn’t he?

In perhaps what will become the Conservatives’ most lasting and damaging legacy, there is more worrying evidence today about generation lockdown, among which there is not only massive school drop-out and absenteeism rates, but more drinking, because this Government failed to put in place the catch-up support needed. It is no wonder that this country is crying out for change. How is the Leader of the House feeling about her party’s chances next week? We all want to know. I see that on the day we return after the local elections there is a general debate. Is that in anticipation of something, or to keep Government Members away from Westminster? We are still waiting on a lot of important legislation.

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I will do so now before she comes to her peroration. Earlier in her questioning, she referred to matters in the Scottish Parliament, and asked the Leader of the House her opinion on them. She has just asked the Leader of the House her opinion on a general political matter. This is business questions, and it is about the business of the House. I let the hon. Lady’s questions go very wide. They do not have to be exactly about the business of the House for next week, but they ought to relate to the business of the House of Commons. If, rather than asking the opinion of the Leader of the House, she asked a question about the business before us, that would be perfectly in order.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was about to ask why legislation such as the Criminal Justice Bill and the Sentencing Bill is not coming forward the week after the local elections, as has been demanded by Members on both sides of the House. Many other things could also come before us for debate, yet the day we come back after the local elections is very light. I wonder why that is. Has the Leader of House cleared her diary for that day, too? Is that why we have such light business that week? No matter how much the Government’s Mayors and candidates hide behind their green and purple branding, there is no escaping the fact that they are standing on the woeful record of this Tory Government.

We have a plan—they might not like it, but we do—to bring down waiting lists, to deliver lower energy bills, to build more homes and, as we have set out today, to reform our railways in the interest of the travelling public. It is not more free cash, as some have said. The truth is that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for this chaotic mess to continue. Is it not the case that if people want change, they have to vote Labour next Thursday?

First, may I send my thoughts and sentiments to all those affected by the appalling events in Wales? I hope that the community recovers swiftly. May I also place on record my sadness at the loss of our former colleague Frank Field, who was MP for Birkenhead for more than 40 years? When I was going for candidate selection for the Conservative party, one of the questions I was asked was who in the Labour party I most admired, and my answer was Frank Field. Many knew him for his relentless work combating poverty and its causes, but he had many other interests that he pursued with equal vigour. I was particularly pleased to work with him on trying to secure the building of new ships in the UK, and he was also a fellow Brexit campaigner. The connection he had to the people he served, and the duty that he felt towards them and never wavered from, was profound, and I send my deepest sympathy to all who knew and loved him.

May I also pay tribute to Dame Elizabeth Gardiner DCB KC for her service as first parliamentary counsel? She was the first woman to hold that role in its 150-year history, and she has had a very busy eight years. I place on record my thanks to her for her service and wish her well. I also congratulate Jessica de Mounteney, who succeeds her.

The hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) asks me about the SNP. I am sure that we will come to that shortly, but the Greens leaving the coalition provides the Labour party with an opportunity. I thought a memo had gone out to Labour Front Benchers saying that they should go easy on the SNP, with a view to perhaps forming some sort of coalition or alliance with it north of the border.

The hon. Lady and her party talk a good talk—she just has on childcare, ensuring that people have a warm and secure home, and levelling up the Tees Valley—but it is the Conservatives who are delivering the largest expansion of free childcare. It is the Conservatives who have built 2.5 million new homes and are getting people on the housing ladder, and it is the Conservative Mayor Ben Houchen who has delivered regeneration for the Tees Valley and an employment rate 3% above the national average.

In response to the point about the need for more and better competition, the Conservatives are introducing legislation and schemes to strengthen the arm of the consumer, such as FairFuelUK’s PumpWatch. Labour’s answer reduces competition further and is a return to the British Rail sandwich. The hon. Lady touts the move that was announced today. The shadow Transport Secretary, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), says that the change will be done at zero cost, but we read that it will actually require £10 billion of additional funding and will not deliver any fare decreases or improved services. It is socialist ideology over practicality. Even Lew Adams, ASLEF’s former secretary-general, said:

“in the public sector, all we got were cuts, cuts, cuts. And today there are more members in the trade union, more train drivers, and more trains running. The reality is that it worked, we’ve protected jobs, and we got more jobs.”

The hon. Member for Manchester Central raises the issue of Rwanda. In response to the British Government’s need to control foreign nationals’ access to the UK, the Conservatives have been doing the hard yards of institutional and legal reform. We have introduced legislation establishing the Rwanda scheme, and the Home Secretary is working to modernise the international frameworks that govern it. In contrast, Labour has voted hundreds of times against that legislation, and says that it will scrap the Rwanda scheme even if it is working. Instead, it is pursuing a quota scheme that would see immigration rise. We will never do that.

The hon. Lady talks of change, but the Labour party has not changed at all. While Labour Members have been scoffing prawn cocktail, they have been devising 70 new business burdens that they plan on introducing. While posing next to submarines, Labour Members—several Front-Bench Members—voted to scrap our deterrent and are refusing to match our baseline on defence spending. While Labour Members criticise and sneer at those who celebrate the St George’s flag, they are allowing some of them to occupy the Labour Front Bench. Today’s Labour party is packed with the same old socialists and a few new plastic patriots, and no amount of window dressing—

Order. Before the Leader of the House finishes, I can take a point of order if it relates directly to the matters that we are discussing.

Absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House is misleading the House. [Interruption.] The Leader of the House just said—

Order. Hold on. The hon. Lady cannot accuse the Leader of the House of misleading the House. That would be quite wrong and, if the Leader of the House had done something along those lines, I would have stopped her immediately. If the hon. Lady means that she disagrees with the Leader of the House, that is a different matter.

Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a matter of fact that Labour Members celebrated St George’s day. We all put it on our social media, and the leader of our party has made a point of wrapping himself in the flag. The Leader of the House is completely incorrect in what she just said to the House.

I think the hon. Lady means that anything that the Leader of the House might have said would have been inadvertently misleading.

I wanted to take that point of order while the Leader of the House was still on her feet. I am quite sure that the Leader of the House did not intend to make any misdirection. Would she care to take that point?

I had finished my response to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), but I am happy to add: the truth hurts.

Order. Let us be clear: we will be taking questions that relate to the business of the House. I call the vice-chairman of the Backbench Business Committee.

I bring good news from the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), whose daughter-in-law is recovering. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That is good news, and he hopes to be back next week.

May I add my condolences to those sent to the family of Lord Field? I had the opportunity to meet him when I was a student at Liverpool University. He was a redoubtable campaigner on everything he believed in and one of those people I profoundly respected.

On behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, in addition to the business that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has announced, on Thursday 9 May there will be a debate on miners and mining communities and a debate on the BBC mid-term charter review. If we are given the time for Thursday 16 May, we have offered a debate on the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report on women’s state pension age, which is extremely well subscribed; and if we are given 23 May, there will be a debate on UK arms exports to Israel and inequalities in dementia services.

In further good news, we have filled up the business for Westminster Hall on Tuesdays until the Whitsun recess with debates on: costs associated with illegal immigration; the impact of smartphones on social media; and the introduction of UK-made zero-emission buses in the UK. On Thursday, we have debates on global health agencies and on Global Intergenerational Week. The Backbench Business Committee has been aiming to get as many debates on the agenda as possible, but, as always, if Members have requests, they should please submit them by Friday lunchtime and we will deal with them as appropriate.

Over the weekend, I spoke to a number of women who are frightened of walking home after dark. The fact is that the rise in crime in London has been dramatic, the rise in knife crime has been dramatic, and the Metropolitan police is the only force in the country that has failed to meet its recruitment target. Could we have a statement next week on actions that the Government will take to ensure that we have the police that are needed in London to make women—and men—feel safe when they are travelling home?

I thank my hon. Friend for stepping up and making that very helpful announcement on all Backbench Business in the forthcoming weeks. I am sure the whole House will want to send good wishes to the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and his family. It is very good news that his daughter is making a recovery; we send all our love to him and his family.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the failings of the London Mayor. London has got less safe and crime is on the rise, particularly violent crime, and it is no surprise to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituents are very concerned about that. Unfortunately, many of the areas he mentions are the responsibility of the Mayor of London, but there is something that not just Government Members but the general London public can do in the coming days, and that is vote in a new Mayor of London. I think people will agree that you are indeed “Safer with Susan”.

I associate myself with the comments about the dreadful news from Wales, and of course those about Frank Field.

I make no apology for starting this week where I finished last week. The Leader of the House may recall that I asked for a debate on the new Brexit border controls due to come into effect next week. Answer came there none, but things became clear later on, as the Financial Times reported within hours of my question:

“The UK Government has told the country’s port authorities that it will not ‘turn on’ critical health and safety checks for EU imports…because of the risk of ‘significant disruption’… the new border systems will not be fully ready.”

It is being called a phased implementation approach—very “Yes Minister” speak from some hapless civil servant trying to excuse the sixth such delay. More delay, more confusion for business, but no statement from the Minister.

Scotland’s importers, exporters, agricultural and hospitality sectors and businesses large and small are all at their wits’ end because the Tories insist on imposing their Brexit folly on us. Brexit is estimated to be costing salmon producers—the largest food exporters in the UK—up to £100 million a year. Tourism in the highlands and islands has been devastated, with staff shortages affecting 45% of businesses to date. Brexit was named as the main difficulty for 44% of businesses in Scotland trading overseas.

Before the latest delays were announced, the chair of the Chilled Food Association, which represents 30 trade and professional organisations, said that every time there is a proposal from the UK Government, people invest in paperwork and computer systems and then the Government change the rules again. Since 2021, £200 million will have been spent on just one export health certificate. A recent report found that the UK economy had shrunk by £140 billion, with the average citizen around £2,000 worse off—thanks to good old Brexit that Scotland did not vote for.

Yet this place shuts its eyes to the devastating impact that Brexit has had on people’s lives and businesses. Scots are accustomed to being ignored, overruled and treated with disdain by this Government, but being dragged out of the EU against our will has been an economic and social disaster for us. No party can claim to be the party of business and back Brexit, so I urge the Leader of the House to overcome the vow of silence—an omertà between the Tory and Labour parties—and tell us when we can have an urgent debate on the effect of Brexit, starting with this disastrous delayed Tory trade tax.

Despite what the hon. Lady says, we have now become the fourth largest exporter in the world. I will not annoy the hon. Lady by listing how well the nation is doing on trade, fishing and many of the things that we wanted to see improved to give people new opportunities, because I know it would irritate her. It is no surprise to me that SNP Members do not want to face realities: they do not want to engage with the trader support service that is supporting business very well or with the fact that we are creating an interface directly between the IT systems in businesses and the legacy Government systems such as His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs so that we reduce bureaucracy for those traders and support them in meeting their ambitions. It is no surprise that SNP Members do not want to deal with the reality of the situation given the reality of the situation now for the SNP, a minority Administration with their failings and some very serious issues that we all know are now subject to prosecution as well as investigation. Not even the Greens want anything to do with them.

May I first pay tribute to Lord Field? He was one of my political heroes, and I first met him when I was a 20-year-old student, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). As his constituency Member of Parliament, I am delighted to inform the House that he continued to correspond with me on the issues and campaigns that he cared about until the very end of his life.

As part of our national health strategy, we rightly emphasise the importance of eating healthily and taking physical exercise, but we do not take sleep into account. Today the Sleep Charity published “Dreaming of Change: a Manifesto for Sleep”, which highlights the serious mental and physical health problems that a lack of sleep can cause among both children and adults. Would my right hon. Friend consider a debate in Government time on the vital public health importance of getting more sleep?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that incredibly important issue. We could run a positive public health campaign; rather than just telling people not to drink or smoke, we should also ask them whether they have had enough sleep. We should be proud of the research that has been done in the UK. Professor Russell Foster at Oxford University has done amazing work which is leading to improvements in the general population, but particularly among veterans who have suffered blast injuries and lost their sight. I would be happy to raise what my hon. Friend has said with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, because I think that that would be a very good initiative.

I first associate myself with the comments about our old friend Frank, whom I knew for many years.

It is widely acknowledged, in this Chamber and elsewhere, that Iran is run and controlled by a bunch of clerical fascists and homicidal maniacs who have now taken to attacking people on British soil, which is a bit of a break with what used to happen. However, there is a difference of opinion over how we should respond, especially with regard to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. I know that we have had plenty of statements and urgent questions about Iran, but could we have a statement next week?

The point raised by the hon. Gentleman is a regular theme at business questions, and throughout the week. These are very serious matters, and he is right to point out that this activity is not limited to the strait of Hormuz or other parts of the world but is taking place on British soil. Our citizens are being threatened, and many representatives such as councillors and others who hold public office are having to be protected as a result of the appalling campaigns against them and the death threats. I will ensure that those at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said, and will encourage them to update the House.

The United Kingdom has a vibrant classic car sector, but the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency seems to have taken against it somewhat, forcing cars that have been subject to modest repairs or even heinous crimes such as the fitting of seatbelts to have Q-plates. As I know from attending the Heritage Matters Insight Day event held by the Historic & Classic Vehicles Alliance during the Easter recess, and indeed from my own inbox, the problem seems to be getting worse. I have raised it numerous times in the Transport Committee, but it is not going away. May we have a debate in Government time to iron out these issues and ensure that the Department for Transport gets a grip on the DVLA’s attitude to the classic car sector?

I would be happy to raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with the Transport Secretary, as Transport questions will not take place again until 16 May. This is not just about people’s personal vehicles; it concerns an enormous number of UK businesses. We have a huge export market, and Britain is, of course, very well known for its motor sport and motoring in general. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign on this important matter, and will ensure that all relevant Secretaries of State have heard what he has said.

Frank Field was a great mate. We even forgave him, in the end, for his daft views on Brexit. He was a great guy and a great colleague, and we miss him dearly.

I genuinely seek the guidance of the Leader of the House this morning—I am not trying to make a political point. We have worked very hard to ensure that standards in this House are of the highest order, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) has played a big part in that. This Parliament’s reputation is based on standards here and in the upper House. Is it possible for her to have a conversation with her senior colleagues in the House of Lords? I do not know whether she saw a recent article in The Sunday Times that said the Earl of Oxford and Asquith, a former MI6 chief in Moscow, is a lobbyist for a man in the US who is believed to be involved in Russian gang crime. Everybody knows there is a group in the upper House that is very close to Russia. Could we look into this issue? It will impinge on Parliament if it is not dealt with.

I will answer the hon. Gentleman with the same good faith with which he asked his question. If he has serious concerns about anyone on the parliamentary estate, he needs to raise them formally, and in the appropriate way, with the House authorities. That would be the right course of action if he had genuine concerns about anyone.

I do not quite agree with the last answer given by the Leader of the House. We know who we are talking about, and I agree with those on the Opposition side of the House.

May we have a debate in Government time on the Three Rivers development in Mid Devon—I have mentioned this before—which is now becoming a cover-up and a financial scandal? The chairman of the scrutiny committee has done a runner and slunk off to rented accommodation in Bampton, which is a disgrace. I am afraid this is now becoming a serious issue for local government. Mid Devon Council has no scrutiny, no responsibility, and absolutely no idea what it is doing. In Government time, can we talk about local government that is not taking its financial responsibilities seriously and is covering up major issues?

I am sorry to hear about what sounds like a very concerning issue that is affecting my hon. Friend’s constituents. Given that the next questions to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are not until June, I will ensure that he has heard what my hon. Friend has said today.

May I add my condolences to the family of Lord Field? He was an exceptional man and an outstanding politician, and I had the privilege of knowing him for two years while he was still a Member of Parliament.

Working or studying in other countries has wide-ranging benefits for young people. Perhaps the saddest outcome of Brexit is that the number of young people from the UK working and studying in EU countries, and the number of young people from the EU working and studying here, has dramatically reduced. In order to reverse this worrying trend, last week the EU proposed youth mobility visas, but the Government rejected them outright, even though they would have brought a wide-ranging and welcome boost to our economy—I mean that in good faith. Can we please have a statement from the Government on why that proposal was rejected outright and how they propose to boost youth mobility between EU countries and the UK?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. She will know that our approach has been to widen opportunities for our citizens and give them more choice about where they might want to study abroad. I think that the Secretary of State did put out a statement explaining why the scheme was not deemed to be in our interests, and it was due to the fact that it was not going to be reciprocal.

This is the first time in my 19 years as a Member of Parliament that I have raised this sort of frustration and complaint, so I hope my right hon. Friend realises how serious it is.

Over a month ago, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary about a British citizen whose husband is being held illegally in a foreign country without trial. I have tried repeatedly to ask the Foreign Secretary for a reply and I went to the Deputy Foreign Secretary to chase things up, but still nothing. I find it wholly unacceptable that the Foreign Secretary has not replied to me in over a month of correspondence when I am raising the rights of a British citizen whose husband is being kept in appalling circumstances abroad. It is his duty and responsibility to respond in writing to Members in a timely fashion. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House please take this issue up for me with the Foreign Office?

I am very sorry to hear that. This is clearly an incredibly pressing matter. If my hon. Friend gives me further details after business questions, I shall raise it immediately with the Foreign Office and ensure that he is able to speak to the people he needs to speak to in order to do his duty by his constituents.

Will the Leader of the House advise me on how we can bring Ministers to the House to account for their decisions on arms export licences? As she knows, the Select Committee on Business and Trade assumed responsibility for the oversight of arms export licences in January. At the beginning of April, an important legal judgment was issued by the International Court of Justice. We therefore held our first hearing on licensing arms exports to Israel yesterday. We gave Ministers 20 days’ notice to attend, together with detailed questions in correspondence. I am grateful to the Deputy Foreign Secretary for his apology to me yesterday for the Foreign Office not fielding a Minister. I have had no such correspondence or contact from the Department for Business and Trade.

This is not acceptable. Ministers are politically accountable to Parliament. This is a matter of extreme interest to the House, and it is part of Ministers’ legal responsibility that they are politically accountable. Will the right hon. Lady advise me on what steps she can take next week to ensure that a Minister answers for the judgments the Government have made?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes those new responsibilities very seriously. As he knows, both Departments have made it clear that they are perfectly happy to attend and be scrutinised in respect of those decisions and to answer questions on the Government’s position. Twenty days’ notice sounds like a long time, but he will understand that the Ministers in question may have travel obligations and might therefore have been unable to make the specific date. I know that he knew last Friday that they would not be able to attend the session that took place yesterday. I also know that the Deputy Foreign Secretary spoke to him and, I hope, reassured the right hon. Gentleman of his intention to field a Minister for his Committee. Even though I am not telling the right hon. Gentleman anything he does not already know, I hope that reassures him that Ministers do intend to attend. I am very sure that no stunts such as those that took place yesterday will be required to get them to do so.

May we have a statement on Harlow Council and the success of its Conservative administration? My right hon. Friend will be aware that Conservative-led Harlow Council has cut and frozen council tax for three years and protected vital public services, as well as clearing the housing backlog and securing millions of pounds in Government investment to build an even better Harlow. Harlow’s Conservative council is currently led by the youngest council leader in political history, Mr Dan Swords, who is a former apprentice in my office. Does my right hon. Friend agree that how Harlow Council leads, other councils should follow, and will she encourage everyone in Harlow and across the country to vote Conservative on 2 May?

I thank my right hon. Friend for congratulating Dan and the other councillors who have done so much for their community. Dan is proof that age is not relevant, but political hue is. Elsewhere, in the west midlands, Andy Street has been following Harlow’s example. He has never raised any taxes, and he does not charge an additional precept, yet he has brought billions of pounds of investment into his region, in stark contrast to Sadiq Khan in London, who has increased the mayoral precept by more than 70%, and Labour-run Birmingham, which is increasing council tax by 21% to pay for its errors. It is very clear: if you want better services at lower cost, vote Conservative.

Like many across this House, I was utterly floored to hear the sad news of my friend Lord Field’s passing. His was a life devoted to helping those in poverty, especially children. We worked together on the all-party parliamentary group on hunger, the School Holidays (Meals and Activities) Bill and the Food Insecurity Bill. We then set up Feeding Britain, a national charity that continues to alleviate hunger across the UK, but we both knew that our charity should not have to exist in a country as rich as ours. With over 4 million children in poverty, does the Leader of the House agree that it would be a fitting tribute to our dear friend to hold an urgent debate on ending child poverty?

I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting Frank Field’s legacy, as many other Members have done. The work of the organisations that he helped to found, and that he worked with, will continue. The hon. Lady will know that we brought forward a cost of living package that now exceeds £108 billion. She will also know that there are hundreds of thousands fewer children living in absolute poverty, and over a million fewer workless households. We stand on that record, and we want it to continue.

Wrexham will soon have the largest trading estate in Europe, with more businesses seeking to invest, expand and export. As businesses grow, so do opportunities. I was pleased to visit the newly established centre for international trade support, which helps companies to identify, understand and reach global markets. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Clive Barnard and his team on their new business venture, and consider a debate in Government time on export opportunities?

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the House’s attention to this new venture? I am sure we all want to send our good wishes to Clive and his team on their new business venture. Wrexham’s international profile has grown in recent times, which is providing a strong hook for local businesses to take advantage of global markets and our new trade agreements.

I thank my hon. Friend for all her work to ensure that her constituency is on the map. The investment zone will make Wrexham the absolute leader in the field of advanced manufacturing, as well as in the creative and digital sectors. We expect this to encourage further growth, with up to £160 million of support for the zone, which will help to protect tens of thousands of existing skilled jobs and create many thousands more. I congratulate my hon. Friend on her part in it.

The counter-disinformation unit, now known as the national security online information team, has a remit to tackle the greatest national security risks facing the UK, and misinformation and disinformation cause risks to elections. Disturbingly, a racist letter riddled with misinformation and disinformation was posted to all Hindus in Brent and Harrow. It attacked our current Mayor of London and our Assembly member, Krupesh Hirani, incorrectly stating that Sadiq and Krupesh do not care about Hindus, which is a complete and utter lie. With one week to go until the mayoral election, will the Leader of the House condemn the letter and ensure that the NSOIT investigates it? May we have a debate on the Floor of the House on the NSOIT’s role?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that. She will know that there are ways in which any concerns about things such as election literature can be addressed. Clearly, if she thinks a criminal offence has been committed, she should raise that with the police. I suggest that that is the best course of action for her.

Our sanctions on the Russian Federation are much needed, but they are being undermined by a weak, politically compromised global anti-money laundering system, which means that Russia is not on any domestic money laundering blacklist. May we have a debate on how we can strengthen our anti-money laundering regulations, particularly to make sure that Putin cannot use UK businesses to finance his illegal war in Ukraine, as he is now?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important matter. She is absolutely right. She will know that in March the Treasury launched a consultation on anti-money laundering regulations to further strengthen the effectiveness of that regime, and to ensure that they responding to emerging changes and that the burdens placed on businesses are appropriate. I will make sure that the relevant Minister has heard her interest in this matter and that she is updated.

Unfortunately, this morning many of my constituents find themselves in the same position as the two now former Scottish Green Ministers, in that they have been cut off from government services. In Kirkliston, the post office is going to close, which will deny many of my constituents access to vital government services and to cash, as no banking facility is available within easy reach by public transport. I know that the Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), is very busy dealing with the Horizon scandal, but could he come to the House to give us an update on why so many post offices across the country are closing and leaving constituents in the same position as mine?

I am sorry to hear that that is happening in the hon. Lady’s constituency and I will certainly make sure that the Post Office Minister has heard what she has said today. I will also ask officials at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to get in contact with her office. She will know that where this has happened in communities and people are not able to get access to free cash services, or banks or other bricks-and-mortar premises are closing, there are ways in which to ensure that businesses and individuals have access to those services. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has a good best practice guide on how that can be delivered.

I bring good news from Kettering, where Kettering General Hospital has become the first hospital in the whole of Europe to insert into more than 100 patients the very latest, special, state-of-the-art implantation loop recorders, which diagnose heart rhythm disturbances such as atrial fibrillation; in fact, 178 local patients have now benefited from that innovative diagnostic tool. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House congratulating Kettering General Hospital and its superb cardiac team on that wonderful achievement?

We all look forward in business questions to more good news from Kettering. I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work he has done in supporting the hospital and in securing the £1.2 million-worth of funding that was given to expand and upgrade its facilities. We can all be proud that the hospital is one of the first in Europe to fit those devices, which will make a huge difference to patients, and I am sure that everyone here would want to congratulate Kettering General Hospital and its cardiac team on that landmark achievement.

It is standard practice in schools, universities, the NHS, local government and Government Departments that if somebody is arrested for or charged with a sexual or violent crime, a risk assessment will be carried out, followed potentially, if necessary, by an exclusion or suspension from work, pending further investigations and, if necessary, a trial. The Standards Committee and the House of Commons Commission agreed that we should have something similar for this House, which has been sitting on the stops now for several months.

I understand there are perfectly legitimate questions about exactly how that should operate, but I do not understand why the Leader of the House has not tabled the motion that came straight from the House of Commons Commission, which I would think was her duty as Leader of the House. Secondly, why has she pulled the vote on at least one occasion and still not given us a date to have that vote? We need to burnish the reputation of this House, not tarnish it. Will she please give us a date, as soon as possible, so that we can have a debate and come to a legitimate view on how we can progress this?

I hope to be able to do that at the next business statement I give. The hon. Gentleman will understand that we have had a number of pieces of legislation that we have needed to act on, some of which was not expected, so we have had to find space for that. He will know that as a member of the Commission I take this matter seriously and I would be very happy to bring forward that debate, and I hope it will be announced in my next business statement.

In her opening remarks, my right hon. Friend referred to the rail network and was rightly critical of Labour’s latest proposals to make changes to that. My constituents want improved services on the Brigg to Cleethorpes and Barton to Cleethorpes lines, and on through services from Grimsby and Cleethorpes to London. Could we have a debate about the state of the rail industry and the way forward, and how we can improve services for customers, rather than tinker with the structure?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I thank him for his continuing campaign to ensure that his constituents can get better rail services and we are maintaining good value for money. I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State for Transport has heard his request. He will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.

For years now, victims of the Philips Trust scandal have been trying to get answers to their questions on how they can recover the money building societies, including the Newcastle Building Society, encouraged them to invest in family trusts with unregulated companies. They have been let down at every level, especially by the Financial Conduct Authority. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to meet with me and representatives of the Philips Trust Action Group to address this issue quickly?

I am sorry to hear about the situation and I thank the hon. Lady for her ongoing efforts on behalf of her constituents. I will certainly ensure that the Chancellor and relevant Ministers have heard her plea.

To try to make up for its financial mismanagement, Labour-run Kirklees Council is looking to introduce new car parking charges, punishing hard-working families and destroying our high streets in our towns and villages. In a recent damning report, independent auditors said about Kirklees:

“We have been unable to satisfy ourselves that the Council has made proper arrangements for securing economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources.”

Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on the failings of this shambolic Labour-run council?

I am sorry to hear about the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency. When councils use motorists and people going about their daily business as some sort of cash cow to plug gaps in their budget due to their mismanagement, communities end up in a downward spiral. People cannot go to the shops, they do not use those services and it is a disaster. Whether in Kirklees, Sheffield, Nottingham, Birmingham or London, Labour is waging a war against working people, and motorists in particular. That has grave and dire consequences if we want vibrant communities. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue his campaign against the council and that particular initiative, and I urge everyone who has the opportunity to vote in a Conservative council.

First, may I offer my deepest condolences to Frank Field’s family?

Thames Water has been putting vast amounts of sewage into both the Thames and its tributaries in my area, including the Pang, the Lambourn, the Kennet and Foudry Brook. In addition, we had an incident recently where hundreds of Reading residents had their water cut off for two days and we are still to see any compensation for them. A similar incident happened in Surrey. To make matters worse, the company now has mounting debts and there is a looming financial crisis threatening its very future. Is it possible to have a statement, so that Ministers can explain their actions to tackle these serious problems?

The hon. Member will know that the infrastructure programme to upgrade our water and particularly our wastewater systems is the largest of its kind in the world. He can track progress against those infrastructure plans on the dashboard of the Water UK website. Good progress has been made. Just to give one statistic, when we came into office, less than 7% of overflows were monitored; the figure is now 100%. Those overflows will come down very swiftly in the coming years. But there are particular issues with particular companies, and I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard his particular concerns about these aspects of Thames Water, as the next questions is not until 9 May.

Residents in Lancashire have had an excellent police and crime commissioner since 2021 in Andrew Snowden. He has prioritised community and neighbourhood policing, recognising that visible policing is a key way to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. But that is now under threat: Labour's candidate in the upcoming election is the same person who held the role previously and did so much damage to Lancashire policing. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the importance of community policing and stations?

I know that my hon. Friend will know how to apply for a debate and I would encourage her to do so. I understand that, when the Conservative police and crime commissioner came into office, he found out that his predecessor could balance the books only by shutting police stations, including Accrington, Burnley, Chorley—Mr Speaker would be very disappointed to hear that—Morecambe and many others, and by making redundant a large number of police staff: the precise people we want in touch with their communities daily. In contrast, Andrew Snowden, who has been Lancashire’s PPC, has reopened four police stations and is currently constructing two more. That is the kind of service that people want. They want bobbies on the beat and to be able to call in to local police stations. That is exactly why Andrew Snowden should be re-elected.

In March, I was very glad to get together with the local police and local residents at the Royal British Legion club in Greenford to thank Arthur Gray for 30 years’ service in the Met police. In recent years, Arthur has been a police community support officer for Greenford and Northolt in my constituency. On his retirement, he said that

“the biggest joy has been working with residents. It has been a privilege to support the local community and build up long-lasting relationships.”

Will the Leader of the House join me in sending my sincere and heartfelt thanks to Arthur for all his years of service to the local community?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving not just me, but the whole House the opportunity to say a big thank you to Arthur for his many years of service. It is because of him that our communities are not just safer, but stronger and better places in which to live.

In stark contrast to London, in Essex, our brilliant police, fire and crime commissioner Roger Hirst has cut knife crime by over 11% in just one year and his hotspot policing model to tackle antisocial behaviour is now being rolled out around the country. But education is also key to tackling knife crime, which is why I am working with Roger Hirst and with our city cabinet member, Councillor James Courtenay, who is also up for election next week, to bring the Knife Angel to Southend. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to continue cutting crime, particularly knife crime, is to re-elect Roger Hirst next week and all Conservative councillors on 2 May, and can we have a debate on how we should strengthen the successful PCC model?

Well done on being in order. I saw you nod approvingly, Madam Deputy Speaker. Yes—vote for Roger and James for that positive trend to continue. I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work to get the Knife Angel project to come to her constituency. We should put on record our thanks to that fantastic organisation, which has done so much to strip out knives from communities and educate young people.

Of all the opaque and arcane procedures in this place, the Reasons Committee procedure is perhaps one of the most opaque and arcane, so I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) on seeking to amend and oppose the Government’s reasons for objecting to the Lords amendments to the Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill in the Committees this week. I note that the minutes show that the Labour Members sat on their hands throughout those meetings. I wonder whether we could make the procedure more transparent simply by the Government publishing their reasons alongside the motion to disagree, so that we can debate the context of the Government’s reasons for rejecting the Lords amendments, and perhaps speed things up without additional votes.

Well, there is an offer from the hon. Gentleman. I am always interested in any innovation that hon. Members propose. The House collectively will make the rules of this place, but the reasons the Government have been pursuing the legislation and want it to achieve Royal Assent in a particular form have been well set out on many occasions from this Dispatch Box.

The Leader of the House will know that we have had many debates in this place relating to the Nolan principles and MPs, but in just days residents across Bedfordshire will vote in the police and crime commissioner elections. It has been reported that, back in March, the police and crime sub-panel found that the Conservative candidate and current PCC Festus Akinbusoye has had serious complaints against him upheld. The panel determined that Akinbusoye has used “unreliable statistics”, made “false and malicious accusations” and was “disrespectful to members of the public”, including calling one of them the “enemy”. Surely residents in Bedfordshire deserve better, and deserve to know the panel’s full findings, so will parliamentary time be allocated to the importance of the Nolan principles for those in all elected positions, and the processes that hold them to account?

The Nolan principles, which run across every aspect of public life, are very important. They play a very important role in all our standards and proceedings, both in the House and in Government. I have to say that what the hon. Lady says is in stark contrast to my experience of the gentleman she refers to. He has an amazing track record of serving his community. I have been out on patrol with him in the area that he serves. He is very highly regarded by the people I spoke to on the doorstep.

Order. Do not shout from the Back Benches. I have already said that this is not a time for asking the opinion of the Leader of the House. This is business questions. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady asked her question perfectly well; it is her comments from a sedentary position on which I am commenting. This is not about opinions. She asked a perfectly reasonable question, and it has been answered.

I add my voice to the tributes paid to Frank Field, whose assistance and wisdom was of great help to me as a newly elected constituency MP for a nearby seat. He is held in very high regard by my constituents, and his legacy will live on in Ellesmere Port through Ellesmere Port College and the Frank Field Education Trust.

Can we please have a debate on private parking companies? I have had a number of instances recently where these companies seem to be operating by their own rules. Constituents have put appeals in against fines. There seems to be absolutely no consideration given to technical issues, or wider questions about why tickets have been issued. Frankly, it seems to me to be nowhere close to approaching justice in the sense that Members of this House would understand.

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents have been suffering due to poor practice by those firms. He will know that under the coalition Government, new measures were introduced to crack down on things such as clamping on private land and other practices that came from such firms, and this Government take those issues very seriously. If the situations are not resolved, I think that the hon. Gentleman, when he gets the next opportunity on 16 May at Transport questions, or at other opportunities or other business questions, should name the companies. He can do that, which I find gets people in such companies to focus on resolving these issues more sensibly.

In last week’s Backbench Business debate on the covid-19 pandemic response and trends in excess deaths, I asked whether it is now accepted that it was a mistake to give the respiratory suppressant drug midazolam, as part of National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline NG163, as treatment for those suspected of having covid-19. I also asked, should there be legal cases proving unlawful killing linked to overdoses and toxicity from midazolam, who would be held criminally responsible. Would it be the then Secretary of State for Health, NICE, NHS England or the individual doctors and nurses who administered the drug? Those questions were not answered. Can we have a statement from a Health Minister? The evasion and gaslighting on this issue has got to end.

I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. The hon. Gentleman will know that he can either write to the Department or put in a written question, and that there are timeframes under which those questions have to be answered. He has had many debates on these issues and he has ample opportunity to raise these questions and get answers from Ministers.

I would also caution the hon. Gentleman on some of the things he is saying and, again, some of the things he is putting on social media. I do not think that any healthcare professional or nurse administering a vaccine is doing those things for any other reason than the care of the patient in front of them. If there is an insinuation that they are doing them for other reasons and that they should face consequences for doing their duty in the NHS or other services, people might get the wrong idea, so I urge him, because I know that is not his intention, to be clear in his communications on these matters.

In recent weeks, I have been running a Selby Shoutouts competition, where local people can nominate for recognition small and medium-sized enterprises that make an outstanding difference to our local community. I have been blown away by the responses, with 90 different firms nominated by some 150 local residents. Local people clearly know how crucial SMEs are to our local area, so please can we secure time for a debate on support for SMEs across the wonderful county of North Yorkshire?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on a brilliant initiative, which is not only helping to raise the profile of those fantastic local businesses in his constituency, but demonstrating that business is a force for good in the world and in his local community. He will know how to apply for a debate, but I wish the initiative very well.

Although the House will be debating the Buckland review of autism employment later today, the Government have just axed a £100 million scheme to support people with disabilities into work. Does the Leader of the House agree, therefore, that the Government are merely paying lip service to supporting those in need? Can we have a debate or statement from the Government to outline and explain their confused position?

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) and all Members who have assisted him, on the work they have done to produce this new focus on an important area. I do not think there is any inconsistency with his work or the Government’s work in this area. A million more people with a disability now have the dignity of a pay packet than in 2010, not just because of our welfare reforms, but because of the health and work support. Such disabilities are now viewed with much greater focus than a few years ago. Progress is being made, but as my right hon. and learned Friend has pointed out, more work is needed. I encourage everyone to take part in the debate later today.

I want to add to the tributes to the late Frank Field. He was a graduate of Hull University, of which we are very proud in Hull. I worked with him on ensuring that this House delivered the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and he was one of the first campaigners around the contaminated blood scandal back in the 1980s.

On the forthcoming business of the House, Ministers have told us how important the Criminal Justice Bill is; yesterday, the safeguarding Minister, the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), told the Home Affairs Committee that it would be back before the House imminently. Can the Leader of the House tell us whether the potential Conservative rebellion over the criminalisation of the homeless is one reason that the Bill is not mentioned in the forthcoming business, and whether the Bill will ever come back before the House?

The right hon. Lady has made her points well, and I shall ensure that the Home Office has heard them. As she will know I am going to say, further business will be announced in the usual way, but I will take it that she is keen to see the Bill come back.

I echo the sentiments about Frank Field. Although his seat was elsewhere, he told me on day one that he was a proud Chiswickian.

Week after week, MPs have pushed Ministers to restore UK funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and all the while we have seen lives lost in Gaza. The stock response has been that we await the Colonna report—well, that report was published on Monday, and yet there has not been a peep from the Government. Can we have an urgent statement on this? Now that Canada, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, Japan and, in fact, the EU have all unfrozen funding, when will we?

I will certainly ensure that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has heard what the hon. Lady has said. These matters are taken extremely seriously. She will know that the Deputy Foreign Secretary has been very concerned about ensuring that there is aid and support going in to support people who have been displaced and those who need food, medical attention and many other things in Gaza and elsewhere. There may be other issues beyond the security issues the hon. Lady referred to—UNRWA has for a long time been a very financially fragile organisation. We want to ensure that the people in need, whom we wish to support, are getting aid, and that it is done in a way that does not compromise security.

Can we have a debate on the kindness of charity fundraisers? Next month, the team at Pollokshields early years centre are running the Cancer Research UK Race for Life as “Jamal’s Warriors” in memory of 10-year-old Jamal Aslam, who tragically passed away last year from a soft tissue cancer. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should thank all the researchers who work so hard to ensure that no families have to go through losing a cheeky, funny and incredibly sweet boy like Jamal to cancer?

On behalf of the whole House, I thank the hon. Lady for giving us the opportunity to send our thanks and good wishes to the early years centre, and again to place on record our admiration and thanks to all those working in these important fields of research. We have made dramatic progress in the past few years on many therapy areas—cancer in particular—and we know that survival rates are improving dramatically.

British farmers are operating on ever narrowing margins in a volatile market. It is hugely concerning to farmers in my constituency that red diesel suppliers are encouraging farmers to stock up in case of price rises. Brent crude oil has soared by 16% over the past three months. There are conflicts that may escalate in the middle east, Europe and South America that could make prices rocket even further. I ask the Leader of the House if we can have a debate on the impact of red diesel prices on British farming.

That is an important matter, and I thank the hon. Lady for raising it. She can raise it herself at the next Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on 9 May, and she will know how to apply for a debate, but I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what she has said.

Tonight is the annual awards of the Music Producers Guild. The awards would have been largely a male preserve for a lot of the 23 years that I have been in the House, but tonight, for the first time, over half the nominees are women, thanks to pioneering work by women producers and engineers such as Olga Fitzroy, Catherine Anne Davies and Hannah Peel, which is why we should have a debate on the Government’s decision to reject the recommendations in the Women and Equalities Committee’s “Misogyny in music” report. Naomi Pohl, the general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, has described being shocked at the fact that the Government have rejected the recommendations, and the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), said:

“We have had platitudes and reassurance, but still no action”.

Is the Leader of the House comfortable with what the Government have done? If she is not, will she facilitate a debate to explore it further?

I think the improvements in the statistics that the hon. Gentleman gave at the start of his question are something to be proud of and show that improvements are being made. I will certainly ensure that the relevant Department has heard what he has said. Given that I am a member of the Government, I stand on the Government’s position.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. On Monday, the Official for National Statistics released its reports on alcohol-specific deaths registered in 2022. There were 10,048 deaths related to alcohol, which is a 32.8% increase on pre-pandemic levels and the highest number on record. It has been over a decade since the Government last set out an alcohol strategy. Can we have a statement from the Government on what they are doing to tackle the issue and the stigma of addiction?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important matter. I will ensure that the Department of Health and Social Care has heard what he has said. He will know that, in addition to that strategy, a huge amount of work has been going on in all parts of our healthcare system to ensure that the right interventions are getting to the right people, including, notably, alcohol screening services at hospitals, which for many are now part of the standard processes to go through when people are taken into accident and emergency, helping to identify those who need support, particular interventions, and, of course, an expansion of those services.

Royal Assent

Before we proceed to the next item of business, I must notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that His Majesty has signified his Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Pedicabs (London) Act 2024

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024.

Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Act 2024