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Commons Chamber

Volume 748: debated on Thursday 25 April 2024

House of Commons

Thursday 25 April 2024

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Ministerial Code

1. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of compliance with the ministerial code. (902477)

9. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of compliance with the ministerial code. (902495)

The Prime Minister is responsible for the ministerial code, and is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of Ministers, which are set out in that code. All Ministers are expected to uphold the principles of the code, as the Prime Minister has made clear.

On 19 April, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister to report a breach of the rules by the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in relation to a visit to Venezuela to meet President Maduro on behalf of the hedge fund Merlyn Advisors. Was the Cabinet Office aware of the visit in advance, and did the Deputy Prime Minister—the Secretary of State—or officials have a conversation with the Foreign Office about any tax-funded briefings that he may have received?

The Government expect all former Ministers, including Prime Ministers, to abide by their obligations with regard to the business appointment rules set out in the ministerial code. The Cabinet Office is currently considering a letter on this matter from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, and will respond in due course.

In addition to Boris Johnson’s hedge fund lobbying in Venezuela there is his Daily Mail column, as well as his lettuce PM successor’s contravention of the Radcliffe rules in betraying royal confidences in her book. The Minister has said that the Prime Minister is judge and jury in respect of the code. Is it not time for a more independent system, such as Labour’s proposed ethics and integrity commission? If the Government will not do that, can they not just call a general election now?

The seven principles on public life are very clear, and I have set out the Prime Minister’s expectations, but let me draw the hon. Lady’s attention to what was said by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2021, namely, that a single commission would “come with considerable disadvantages” and that

“the concentration of such power to a body…does not sit well in our democratic system”.

It is fascinating to see four times as many Ministers as Conservative Back Benchers in the Chamber today.

Paragraph 1(3)(d) of the ministerial code says:

“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public”,

and paragraph 1(3)(f) says:

“Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise”.

Why, then, are the Government still refusing to publish the details of the financial interests that the Foreign Secretary had before he was appointed to the House of Lords, why are they still refusing—despite numerous requests from newspapers and others—to publish the facts of whether or not the Foreign Secretary has had to recuse himself from certain elements of his job because of his previous involvement with the Chinese state, and why are they point-blank refusing to say which parts of his job he is recused from?

According to the advice of the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, last published on 14 December 2023, following a previous publication on 17 July which updated advice issued on 19 April, the process of ministerial engagement with the register is ongoing, and is updated on an ongoing basis. When Ministers are appointed, they fill in an extensive form which their permanent secretaries then review, and there is a continuous process of updating that as interests evolve.

In a letter to me, the Deputy Prime Minister said of Mr Johnson’s recent trip to Venezuela that he was

“not acting on behalf of the Government, and the trip was not funded by the Government.”

In a written parliamentary answer to me, we were told that Mr Johnson had only made a “courtesy call” to the British residence. Last week, however, the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments made it clear that Mr Johnson was “in breach” of the Government’s British appointment rules. We also know from Mr Johnson himself that he had been “extensively briefed” by the embassy. When will the Government come clean about what has actually gone on with Boris Johnson’s Venezuela visit?

I explained in an earlier answer where we are in terms of the Cabinet Office considering the letter from ACOBA. We do expect all Ministers, civil servants and special advisers to abide by those business appointment rules. They are contractual requirements for civil servants and are drawn to the attention of Ministers by the ministerial code. As was announced in the Government’s response last July to the report from the Committee on Standards on Public Life, Mr Boardman’s review and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, we are continuing to consider methods of strengthening the system and encouraging compliance with those rules. As for the specific case that the right hon. Gentleman has raised, I have said that the Cabinet Office is due to respond to that letter.

Cyber Threats to Public Institutions and Services

3. What steps his Department is taking to protect public institutions and services from cyber threats. (902480)

8. What steps his Department is taking to protect public institutions and services from cyber threats. (902493)

The cyber threat facing the United Kingdom is intensifying. State and non-state actors have targeted our critical national infrastructure, our businesses and even our democratic institutions. The Government have introduced a new national cyber strategy, which takes a whole-of-society approach. We have set out high standards of cyber-protection for our critical industries and, with the help of our world-leading agencies, we are offering advice to institutions, businesses and individuals on protecting themselves online.

Cyber-security is crucial not only to our defence sector but to others, including finance, energy and retail. Sector leaders have raised fears about the future supply of cyber professionals. There is some brilliant work taking place at Ebbw Vale College in my constituency—pioneering stuff is going on around cyber-security—but can the Deputy Prime Minister say what is being done to onshore these critical roles to protect our economy from attacks by hostile actors?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have tremendous strengths in national cyber-security, and there are many relevant institutions around the country. I have visited universities in Wales that are churning out brilliant graduates. We need to do more at secondary school level to encourage more children to get involved in cyber-security, because the demand is only going to increase in the months and years ahead, and I have been engaging with the Education Secretary on precisely this point.

We have all seen in recent weeks how weak cyber-security can compromise elected representatives and lead to the extraction of often compromising information. Could the Minister update the House on what he is doing to provide support and technology specifically to elected representatives to make sure that this does not happen in the future?

This is an important issue, which is why we established the National Cyber Security Centre. It brings together Government Communications Headquarters expertise with that of the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office and others. Through the National Cyber Security Centre, we work with the House authorities and others to make sure that they have sufficient and appropriate advice, but also to advise on equipment and the general security of Members of Parliament. If they have concerns about their cyber-security, I would urge them either to get in contact directly with the National Security Cyber Centre or to do so through the relevant House authorities.

The Secretary of State is right to say that the threat is intensifying. Late last year, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy urged the Government to offer more active support on cyber-security to local authorities. He may be aware that last month my own local authority, Leicester City Council, suffered a hugely sophisticated attack, which disrupted many local authority services and has hugely inconvenienced many of my constituents, who rely on those services. Given that we are seeing more of these ransomware group attacks on public institutions across the world and that he says, rightly, that the threat is intensifying, what urgent support and guidance is he offering local councils, such as mine in Leicester?

Specifically in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s local authority, I have been briefed by the National Cyber Security Centre on that incident. He is totally right to say it is a significant and serious incident, and we are working on remediation through the National Cyber Security Centre. To prevent this type of attack from happening in the first place, we invested £2.6 billion in the national cyber strategy, which is about improving cyber-resilience and reducing legacy technology. I have been quite open with the House in saying that the threat is intensifying because we see hostile states creating environments in which cyber-criminals can flourish, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of those hostile states. We are working through our intelligence agencies and the National Cyber Security Centre to continuously improve our performance.

National Security

Protecting national security is the Government’s first duty. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced a fully funded plan to increase our defence spending by £75 billion over the next six years. As part of this uplift, we will bring forward a national defence and resilience plan, building on the resilience framework and integrated review to respond to the evolving threats we face. We are bringing our defence and civilian preparations together to reflect the interconnectedness of those threats. The Cabinet Office plays a central role in this endeavour, co-ordinating strategy through Cobra, resilience directorates and the National Security Council.

In the past week, three people in Germany have been arrested on suspicion of spying for China and two have been charged in the UK. This comes on the back of the Intelligence and Security Committee report which concluded that the Government have no strategy or whole-system—whole-Government —approach to deal with this serious threat. When is the Minister going to get a grip on this serious threat to our democracy from China?

I totally disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation. We dealt explicitly with this in both the integrated review and the integrated review refresh, which set out a co-ordinated approach and are clear about the threats we face from hostile states—Russia, North Korea, Iran and indeed China. We are very clear about the threats China poses to our economic security and our democratic institutions, and that is why we have taken a range of actions, including for the first time directly attributing attacks to China and imposing sanctions in respect of them.

With local and national elections on the horizon, it is vital that voters can have full confidence in the integrity of our electoral system. With that in mind, what assessment has the Department made of the risks posed by deepfakes and misinformation in the upcoming elections?

I have considerable concerns about deepfakes being used in the upcoming elections. We have seen hack and leak being used as a tactic by hostile states in previous elections, and we have to take into account deepfake capabilities, particularly enhanced by artificial intelligence. That is why we are developing our strategy through the Defending Democracy Taskforce and undertaking exercises right now to enhance our capabilities. It is, however, a challenge to all citizens not necessarily to take images to be true on first sight, because of adversaries’ enhanced capability.

Female Veterans

The Office for Veterans’ Affairs has provided £445,000 for research into the lived experiences of women veterans and for development of further support. With my hon. Friend making valuable contributions, we are developing the Government’s first women’s strategy, which will celebrate the success of women veterans but also look at the specific challenges they face, so as to better address their needs.

I am one of the estimated 250,000 female veterans, and I have spent the last four years raising awareness of this hidden community. I am pleased to have worked with the Minister on establishing the first female veterans strategy. I have been chair of the advisory board; the evidence gathering has ended and the recommendations have been made. Will the Minister let me know whether the term, “female military sexual trauma” will be acknowledged and included, and the date on which the strategy will be published?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been a passionate advocate of this cause. She is the first woman from the ranks to be elected to this place, and she should be incredibly proud of all she has done over her many years of work on this issue. As I have said before from this Dispatch Box, I recognise the unique challenges around sexual trauma in the military—of course I do. The strategy will be published before the summer recess. I know my hon. Friend is waiting for it, and I am determined to get it out before the recess. I am hopeful that it will meet all the demands and all the hurt in that community that has been unmet for too long.

I have had the pleasure of meeting many female veterans in my constituency and of working with fantastic organisations such as Woody’s Lodge, the Royal British Legion, and of course Welsh Veterans Partnership. What is the Minister doing to work with the Welsh Government and local authorities across the whole of the UK to ensure that women veterans get the support that is rightly being asked for?

We meet the devolved authorities regularly to make sure that all our strategies are in sync. Obviously, a lot of these policy areas, whether health, housing or education, are devolved, but we are clear that, both nationally and internationally, we want the Office for Veterans’ Affairs to set the standard. We have great relationships internationally now in terms of setting the pace on that, and I want to make sure it is concomitant with what we are doing with the devolved authorities: we have regular meetings with the Welsh Government and the Scottish, and indeed we are going over to Northern Ireland again in two weeks.

Nominations for Honours: Scrutiny

6. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of his Department’s processes for scrutinising nominations for honours. (902491)

10. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of his Department's processes for scrutinising nominations for honours. (902497)

It looks like the Member who tabled No. 10 is not out of bed.

A validation process is carried out to assess the strength and credibility of each nomination. We protect the integrity of the honours system by carrying out probity checks with a number of Government Departments before the Prime Minister submits names to His Majesty the King for approval.

The Prime Minister previously backed calls for Horizon victim and campaigner Alan Bates to receive an honour, yet his name was absent from the Prime Minister’s surprise honours list last month. However, Russia-linked Mohamed Mansour’s name was on that list. What was it about the multi-millionaire, generous Conservative party donor that attracted the Prime Minister to the idea of giving him a knighthood?

The gentleman whose name has just been mentioned is a very successful businessman and philanthropist, and I am sure those qualities were very much in the Prime Minister’s mind when he was put forward for an honour. Extremely distinguished names from the world of artificial intelligence and the creative industries were also recognised for their contribution to our country.

I advise the hon. Gentleman to go back and check the list because, not for the first time in this House, he is wrong.

The Prime Minister recently announced an extraordinary round of honours, which many described as lacking integrity and bringing the system into disrepute. It included a donor who had donated £5 million to the Conservative party, and four Conservative MPs loyal to the Prime Minister. In the run-up to a general election that he is widely tipped to lose, what could possibly be the justification for the Prime Minister announcing and recommending a round of honours outside of the traditional King’s birthday list?

Order. It would have been easier if you had been here for the beginning of the question. Stretching the question is testing my patience and the patience of the Government Front Bench.

I thank the hon. Member for Slough for turning up. I refer him to the answer I gave a few moments ago.

Veterans: Cost of Living

The Government have successfully reduced inflation by more than half, making the cost of living more affordable for veterans, along with every other resident of the UK. Veterans in employment within six months of leaving service is at an all-time high—89%—and our recently launched Operation Prosper employment pathway will help veterans and their families to secure well-paying jobs in key sectors.

Here are some facts. Veteran homelessness has risen by 14% over the last year. Seventeen per cent of veterans, and their families, are living in food insecure households. Over 80,000 veterans are having to claim universal credit just to get by. Despite the Minister’s claims of making the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran, it isn’t, is it?

The hon. Lady says, “Here are some facts,” before reading out a load of things that are not correct. It does not change the facts of those situations. Last Christmas, under a programme designed by this Government, not a single veteran slept rough because of a lack of provision. The shadow Veterans Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), has not even turned up to ask questions this morning, so I will take no lessons from Labour on veterans.

Going into this election, veterans are deeply nervous about what Labour’s offer might be. Again, these banal quotes about statistics are not correct. This is not a game. These are serious people who deserve the nation’s respect, and I encourage the Labour party to align with that.

Infected Blood Inquiry: Second Interim Report

11. What progress he has made on considering the recommendations of the second interim report of the infected blood inquiry. (902498)

In January, I appointed an expert group to provide technical advice on the inquiry’s recommendations on compensation. The Government will provide an update on next steps regarding those recommendations as soon as possible following the publication of the final report on 20 May.

Justice is long, long overdue on this issue. A constituent affected by this issue told me what they had been through, which included a liver transplant, many antiviral regimes, ongoing health impacts and dealing with the fact that many of their peers—the children they spent time with when they were growing up—are no longer with us. There is simply no financial or political price high enough to cover the stress and impact on their mental wellbeing. This House has shown its will on this issue, so why are we still waiting and, importantly, when will people start to receive the compensation, given that on average one person dies every four days as a result of this scandal?

The hon. Gentleman makes absolutely the right points and I agree with his call for urgency. As I set out in my response to the urgent question a few days ago, my absolute priority is delivering this as quickly as possible. The legislation to set up the infected blood compensation authority is in the other place and will be debated next Tuesday. We announced on 17 April what we are doing on interim payments to the estates of the deceased infected. Further work is going on and I am engaging with the community over the first 10 days of May—so before 20 May, when the report will be published. His representation on urgency is heard by me and I am working on it as quickly as I can.

The amendment that was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and passed by this House at the end of last year was to set up a compensation scheme within a strict time limit of three months. That time limit must remain in the Bill and victims need concrete action. Will the Paymaster General tell us when the Treasury will set out its detailed costings for the scheme? Secondly, and most importantly, when can victims expect their final compensation payments?

The costings will be a responsibility of the Treasury, but a joint team between the Cabinet Office and the Treasury is working to give advice to the Prime Minister so that we can make decisions in a timely way as soon as possible from 20 May. I am conscious of the fact that across all the different communities of infected and affected as much clarity is needed as possible. They have had to wait too long, so I am making sure that, as far as we can, when those final decisions are made there will be not only a headline decision, but clarity on process thereafter. It is those details I am working on now and I hope that a decision can be made as soon as possible from 20 May.

Having a child with a rare condition who continues to get sicker despite treatment is every parent’s worst nightmare. Recent revelations that children as young as three were immorally used as guinea pigs and given infected blood are truly horrific. Without payouts of compensation, how can any parent have faith that the UK Government will ensure accountability and that they will take real responsibility for this scandal?

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. She refers to what has come out in the press in the past few weeks. I am anticipating that on 20 May Sir Brian Langstaff’s final report will reveal in harrowing detail not only the allegations and what happened a long time ago, but the consequences, which have been profound and life-changing for so many people in this country. I listened to her and the advice she gave me after the last oral questions, and I will be visiting Scotland and working with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we have a United Kingdom approach.

Armed Forces Veterans

The Government continue to take unprecedented action to support those who served us: through Operation Fortitude, we are ending veterans’ rough sleeping; through Operation Restore and Operation Courage, we are supporting their health and wellbeing; and Operation Prosper is an employment pathway to help veterans secure high-value jobs. We are also planning to publish the UK’s first draft veterans Bill, representing another step forward in our journey to make this the best country in the world in which to be a veteran.

The Wincanton armed forces breakfast club, held at the Balsam centre in my constituency, offers veterans a place to catch up, where they can have peer support and enjoy a social, hearty breakfast. What efforts is the Minister making to support community-focused initiatives such as that for veterans across the UK?

I pay tribute to the Wincanton armed forces and veterans breakfast club. Like many breakfast clubs, including those in my own constituency, it does an amazing job bringing together veterans and tackling isolation and loneliness, particularly among the older generation. I encourage all Members of the House to visit. The clubs do not just happen, so I pay tribute to the volunteers and those who turn up every week to administrate them. Those people do not just talk a good game on veterans; they get in there, volunteer, spend their time and really care, so I pay tribute to all of them.

Today is Anzac Day, when we remember Australians and New Zealanders who gave so much. In an increasingly dangerous world, will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to veterans in Australia, New Zealand, here in the UK and right across the Commonwealth, to whom we owe so much?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the question. Anzac Day is an incredibly important day. I was in Australia only a few months ago. We are only as strong as our relationships with our allies. They have made an extraordinary contribution to world peace, particularly during the world wars. I pay tribute to veterans across the globe. It is not easy fighting wars, particularly wars of choice that are not global conflicts, and then coming back and reintegrating into society. Veterans can be incredibly proud of their service. People like me and my counterparts in Australia and elsewhere will continue to strive night and day to improve their lot in civil society when they return.

Public Sector Procurement: Digital Goods and Services

13. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of public sector procurement of digital goods and services. (902501)

The Government recognise how vital digital products and services are for delivering public services. The digital, data and technology playbook provides best practice guidance for the procurement of digital products and services. The playbook is updated annually, most recently in June 2023. Departments are responsible for ensuring that public services delivered by the private sector represent value for money.

Digital services procurement should be a win, win, win: the British public get better services, businesses get a good and reliable customer, and public services are reduced in cost. However, that is not the case under this Government. Departments are locked into single-source providers and dependent on legacy systems. The National Audit Office itself said that procurement was not competitive enough. As an example of that, can the Minister say how competitive cloud service provision is across his Government? Will he set out how he is using open source to boost competitiveness in digital services procurement?

We have a highly successful commercial function in Government, which is driving up value for money across all our commercial arrangements. It monitors contracts, before, during and after they have been in place, to ensure that we reduce the chances of issues such as lock-in. I strongly advise the hon. Lady to go and read the commercial function documentation—

I am sure she has not. She should read the commercial function documentation that comes out of the Cabinet Office, because she will see, as has been shown successively, that it saves billions of pounds for the British taxpayer.

Topical Questions

The Cabinet Office continues to play a central co-ordinating role in protecting our national and economic security. Last week, we published the response to the call for evidence on the National Security and Investment Act 2021, and I set out the steps we will take to fine-tune that system, including honing our approach to export controls, outward investment and providing more support to business.

Later, I will be convening a round table of university vice-chancellors to brief them on the security risks in research and academia, and to discuss how we address those. All of that complements our plans for a generational £75 billion uplift in defence spending, including a new national defence and resilience plan, setting out a cross-Government approach to security, preparedness and resilience as a nation.

It is often claimed by critics that the continual stream of ineffective and incompetent legislation we see from Holyrood is evidence of the need for a second, democratically elected Chamber to scrutinise properly. We have such an effective Chamber here and this week we have seen how important it can be in legislation. Would that Chamber’s position not have been strengthened by being a democratically elected second revising Chamber? Does the Secretary of State agree that the time has come when we need to look again at how we reform the House of Lords to make it more relevant to the 21st century and more democratic?

I am afraid that I completely disagree with the hon. Lady about having an elected second Chamber. This is the democratic Chamber for our nation. It is the principal voice of the nation. We do not need a second Chamber in conflict with this one, further burdening and complexing legislative processes.

The very welcome Windsor framework demonstrated a strong commitment to human and animal health by extending Northern Ireland’s access to veterinary medicines until 2025. I welcome the establishment of the veterinary medicines working group by the Cabinet Office and the Northern Ireland Minister of State. I am pleased to be part of that group, which is working hard to find a permanent solution to this matter. Can my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office, reassure the House that the Government will continue to strain every sinew in discussions with the EU to protect both animal health and public health in Northern Ireland and right across the UK with a permanent solution for access to veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland?

Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker, I can so assure my hon. Friend. I am very grateful to him for bringing his professional expertise to bear within the working group. We have met twice and we intend to report at the end of June. We will then have a consistent and coherent position with which we can go forward to blend a combination of adaptation and, I hope, productive negotiations with the EU to deliver a long-lasting, permanent solution to safeguard both animal and human health on the island of Ireland. I am determined that we should do that in a coherent and professional manner, and I look forward to working with him to do so.

May I begin with a moment of unity? The Deputy Prime Minister and I are both pushing for an early general election as soon as possible. I very much welcome his recognition that there is absolutely no point in this Conservative Government carrying on in office a moment longer.

Further to the question a little earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), this week two people were charged in this country, under the Official Secrets Act, with spying for China, one of whom worked for politicians in this House.

Order. I must stop the right hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that he is about to go down a road on a matter that is sub judice, which cannot be discussed here in this Chamber. The Speaker made a statement at the beginning of business earlier this week, asking Members not to refer to this matter, because it is sub judice. Can the right hon. Gentleman ask his general question in a different way, and not refer to that specific issue?

Thank you for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall ask a policy question.

The Government recently awarded a contract for a supercomputer to Lenovo, a China-headquartered firm that has been the subject of enforcement action by the United States on security grounds. This supercomputer will be used by critical Government bodies such as the UK Atomic Energy Authority. How will Ministers safeguard the public against any possible misuse of sensitive Government data as a result of the awarding of the contract?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that he has also written to me regarding that topic. I can assure him that we will be working with the National Cyber Security Centre and the National Security Secretariat to ensure that full checks and measures are put in place to prevent such abuse from occurring.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to his role as general election co-ordinator for the Labour party. I understand that he sits on the quad, which determines Labour policy, so perhaps he could clear up, for the benefit of us all, this question on an issue of national security. Does the Labour party support our £75 billion increase in defence spending? If he cares about these things, the answer should be plainly, “Yes, we do”.

When we announce a policy, we ensure that it is properly costed and funded, which I recommend to the Deputy Prime Minister. One other cyber-threat that modern states are facing is prepositioning: the planting of destructive software in critical infrastructure that can then be activated at a later date. The director of the FBI said that prepositioning of the Volt Typhoon type discovered in American infrastructure was

“the defining threat of our generation”.

America’s cyber-defence agency said that Five Eyes allies were also likely to have been targeted. Have the Government looked for or found Volt-Typhoon-type infiltration of any parts of our critical national IT infrastructure, and if so what action is being taken to remove it?

The right hon. Gentleman has been around this place long enough to know that he is delivering a non-answer on Labour’s support for defence spending. The whole House will have noted that, although he raises an important issue in respect of prepositioning. He will appreciate that there are limits to what I can say from the Dispatch Box given that some of this relates to high-side intelligence, but I assure him that we are working with our Five Eyes allies, in particular the United States, since the US and the UK have exceptional capability in these areas, to ensure that we both have adequate knowledge and understanding of such prepositioning, and take effective steps in respect of it.

Eight weeks ago, on 29 February, at first order questions, I asked the Minister without Portfolio what the Government would do to assist people who are adversely affected by the statute of limitations as a result of having been injured by covid-19 vaccines. My right hon. Friend said in response that she had taken the issue to the permanent secretary. Will she update us on what has happened with the permanent secretary over the past eight weeks?

I thank my hon. Friend for asking that question. He is a tireless campaigner on this matter, on which he has met with me and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. As I said to my hon. Friend, I am dealing with this matter with the permanent secretary; he will know that we have a new permanent secretary in the Department, and we are working at pace to resolve it.

Last year, the UK Government promised to relocate hundreds of civil service posts to the north-east of Scotland. It has now been confirmed that the total number will be 35. Given the billions generated in energy revenues and the unparalleled potential of our area in powering our green future, can the Minister please explain to the people of the north-east of Scotland how hundreds and 35 are now the same thing?

I think the hon. Lady is referring to the second headquarters of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero in Aberdeen, which I visited just before Christmas. I think that there was a misunderstanding about the numbers that were quoted in the paper. Some 18,283 jobs have moved out of London as a consequence of the places for growth programme. I will examine the number that have moved to Scotland, and write to her to clarify the Government’s position.

T2. I recently met with Emma Howard Boyd to discuss the interim findings of the Mayor of London’s climate resilience review, which she has been leading on. It involves the work of many different Government Departments at a national level. Will the Minister update us on whether we are conducting a similar exercise? The review is looking at what the impact would be of a similar heat- wave to the one we had a couple of years ago, flash flooding and all sorts of things. It is not just the responsibility of DESNZ or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; it covers many Departments, so it is a Cabinet Office responsibility. (902504)

It is an important question. We are doing exactly that. Extreme heat is something that we have to increasingly plan against. That is why last year, for the first time, we introduced an alert system for extreme heat that matches the alert system for extreme cold. I disagree, though, with the Mayor of London that the way to deal with this is to start imposing 20 mph speed limits everywhere and an ultra low emission zone. I hope that the people of London will take the opportunity to vote against that next week.

Earlier we heard a number of statements from the Opposition questioning ministerial integrity, but perhaps they should look closer to home—to be precise, at the first Minister of Wales and his links with donations to his leadership campaign and the Development Bank of Wales. Can the Minister tell us when the Welsh Labour party will apply to itself the standards that Labour has called for in the Chamber this morning—[Interruption.]

Order. If you all shout, I cannot hear what the hon. Lady is saying, but I think there is some doubt: the hon. Lady cannot ask the Minister a question about what the Labour party will do. Would she like to rephrase what she is saying?

With reference to the links between the First Minister of Wales, the donations to his campaign and the Development Bank of Wales, would the Minister like to describe why this is such an issue for the people of Wales while the Opposition keep shouting that we are doing the wrong thing?

My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. If a devolved Administration receives a donation as part of a political campaign—if the leader of that Administration receives a £200,000 donation at the same time that the Development Bank of Wales makes a £400,000 loan to a subsidiary of that company—that is surely a matter of public interest. It will be for the First Minister of Wales to determine what is appropriate, but I would have thought some explanation would be the very least that the people of Wales would expect.

T3. Last year the Government pledged to introduce a ministerial deed to legally commit Ministers to keeping to the after-Government business appointment rules. If I were cynical, I could think of a reason why the Government have not brought that commitment forward, but might the Minister give an idea of when he intends to do so? (902505)

The hon. Lady is right: in July, in response to those three reports from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Boardman review and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Government did say they would work up strengthening the rules on business appointments and developing that ministerial deed. I cannot give an update at this point, because it is work the Deputy Prime Minister and his team are leading on, but it is important work and we do need to get it right.

T4. I thank the Paymaster General for all his hard work on the contaminated blood scandal. However, as you would expect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I still urge him to go further and faster to get this situation resolved. If the infected blood compensation authority is to be established upon Royal Assent, can the Minister outline the timescale and process for the appointment of the chair and the other directors, and how those with lived experience will be involved and included among those directors? (902506)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind words and her constructive approach. It is absolutely right that she continues to press me, as she does at every opportunity. Reflecting on our conversations and what she has said to me, the key thing is to ensure that we maintain and reclaim the trust of the infected blood community in all its dimensions. She will know that I am engaging with them in depth over several meetings on 1 and 10 May. Sir Brian Langstaff made clear that the infected blood community and all those accessing the scheme should have a role to play in its delivery, so, consequential to listening to what they say to me, I will be thinking about how we build that in. As she knows, the Government have made provisions for committees and sub-committees to ensure representation of the communities, while also maintaining an independent, arm’s length body. I will need to reconcile those. I am sorry that I cannot give her a timetable, but I am working on it in some detail.

T5. If I may press the Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Office officials have refused to say whether Lord Cameron has recused himself from parts of his role as Foreign Secretary, given his previous well-paid work in promoting the China-backed Port City Colombo. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Foreign Secretary has recused himself from any part of his ministerial duties? (902508)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, shortly before taking office the Foreign Secretary not only had all his interests properly reviewed by the propriety and ethics team in my Department, but went through them with the independent adviser on ministers’ interests. The independent adviser set out all relevant interests, and those have been published, so the information is transparently out there for people to be able to judge for themselves.

T6. Ever since the monster Cyril Smith, formally of this House, but initially mayor of Rochdale, the town has been blighted by scandals of grooming and cover-up. We currently have 64 men on bail on grooming charges in Rochdale. The previous Labour mayor of Rochdale and the next mayor of Rochdale—the King’s representatives—were both investigated on charges of sexual malpractice towards young girls in their employ, with all the power imbalances that that implies. Self-regulation, with no investigation by any outside party—how can this be right? What will the Minister do to help me to clean up Rochdale? (902511)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, any criminal allegations are properly a matter for the courts, and he would not expect a Minister to comment on them from this Dispatch Box. If he wishes to write to me in respect of the further allegations he makes, I will be happy to take them up myself or with ministerial colleagues.

What consideration has been given to the merits of making it illegal for public sector bodies to pay ransoms if they are the victim of a ransomware attack?

That is a good question; it is something the Government continue to keep open and under review. The argument against doing so is that it could discourage companies that are subject to ransomware attacks from reporting them, for example to the National Cyber Security Centre. Those reports help us to gather intelligence on the nature of those threats and to work with victims to resolve them. It is not something I rule out totally, but that is the reason that we have not imposed it so far.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), will know that many councils in Northern Ireland have appointed veterans’ champions. Will he join me in acknowledging the work that many veterans’ champions do? Will he also call on the wide range of political parties on councils in Northern Ireland to offer their unstinting support to those champions to help to deliver services to veterans?

Yes, of course. We have made extraordinary progress on veterans affairs in Northern Ireland. I recognise and have always recognised the unique difficulties of that. Veterans’ services, and ensuring that these people are looked after because of their service, should not be at the whim of different political parties. I am working at pace to establish an outpost of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs in Northern Ireland to create an environment where everyone can work together and pull together all the different services to get veterans’ care in Northern Ireland up to the same level as in England. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman and other elected representatives out there from all parties to make sure that we do the right thing.

With two former Conservative Prime Ministers having recently contravened the ministerial code—twice, in the case of Boris Johnson—and the Radcliffe rules, in the case of his successor, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), is it now Tory party policy to routinely ignore the rules? If not, what sanctions will they face?

The hon. Lady is correct to say that the book by the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), was reviewed under the Radcliffe rules. The Cabinet Office did not clear it. The overwhelming majority of books that are submitted do comply. We will have to keep these matters under review.

This is a very simple question to the Deputy Prime Minister: does the Foreign Secretary stand recused in any aspect of his job by virtue of his financial interests, either now or before he was appointed to his post—yes or no?

The Labour party keep on pushing on this point, but I refer the hon. Gentleman to the latest list of ministerial interests, which was published in December and provides details of Minister’s interests, including those of the Foreign Secretary, that are judged by the independent adviser to be relevant, or could be perceived to be relevant, to their ministerial roles. All of it is there in the public domain.

With reference to the written questions that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office has answered, can he outline what the Government consider to be the difference between a foreign court and an international court?

The Paymaster General told my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) that he could not give a timeline with regard to the infected blood scandal compensation. This subject is raised on an almost daily basis in this House by Members on both sides, because our constituents just cannot understand why it is taking so long. Can he at least give an indication of when he thinks compensation might begin to be paid? It is especially important given that, as I understand it, one victim of the scandal dies every four days.

The answer to this is to be found when we issue the comprehensive response to the inquiry, as soon as possible after 20 May. Legislation is going through the other place to make good on the amendment that was passed in this House by virtue of the advocacy and leadership of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). We have announced that we will make some interim payments to the estates of those deceased infected who have not yet received any money, but the substantive response to translate 18 recommendations into meaningful and actionable responses for a wide community over 40 or 50 years obviously demands a lot of work to quantify and get the process right. We will update the House as quickly as possible after 20 May.

Just now, the Deputy Prime Minister raised the issue of the £75 billion public spending announcement. Would he care to tell the House why, after 14 years in power, it takes an upcoming general election for him and his party to make defence spending policies?

It may have escaped the hon. Gentleman’s attention, but Russia has invaded Ukraine and Iran’s proxies are attacking our allies in the middle east. That demands a response from the Government, and it has been provided by the Prime Minister. It is very notable that the Labour party is failing to match that commitment.

Papers at an employment tribunal last week reported that Rowaa Ahmar, a former civil servant, stated that

“the racism within the Cabinet Office appeared to be unrelenting and systemic”,

and that, despite having a role as head of policy in the Government’s illegal migration taskforce, she was made unwelcome at meetings about the Rwanda plan because of her views on the racist ultra-hostility of the policies. Is Ms Ahmar right that speaking up against racism in the Cabinet Office is a career death sentence?

I do not accept that at all. Of course, Ms Ahmar withdrew her allegations completely on the eve of having them scrutinised at the higher tribunal, so I do not accept that, and it is absolutely right that senior civil servants take action when there are performance issues with the staff under them, without fear of allegations being made against them.

Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) about the infected blood scandal, the Cumberlege report highlighted over three years ago the need for redress for victims of the sodium valproate, vaginal mesh and Primodos scandals. What progress has been made on redress for those victims?

I am sorry; I am not able to give an answer on those other scandals. There was a Backbench Business debate on redress schemes last Thursday, to which the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) replied. I believe that work is ongoing, but I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman to give him a thorough answer on the matter.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that standards may have changed since I was last in this place, but in answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart), rose to the Dispatch Box and said, “We have answered this question on a number of occasions.” Can that possibly be a legitimate ministerial answer? After all, that could be the answer to virtually every question that is ever asked in this House.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I cannot help agreeing with his final point, having sat in the Chair for thousands of hours and heard the same question answered again and again. He makes a very good point: Ministers are responsible, and have a duty to answer the question again and again. However, if the Minister thought—today or at any other time—that the appropriate answer in the circumstances was the one that the hon. Gentleman just quoted, that is not something that I can criticise, or a matter on which I can take action. As Mr Speaker has said many times, and as I am very pleased to repeat, what Ministers say at the Dispatch Box is not a matter for the Chair.

The hon. Gentleman’s point of order has brought us perfectly to just after 10.30 am. We can therefore proceed to the business question.

Business of the House

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.