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Business of the House

Volume 750: debated on Thursday 16 May 2024

The business for the week commencing 20 May will include:

Monday 20 May—General debate on Ukraine.

Tuesday 21 May—Consideration of Lords message on the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Increase of Borrowing Limits) Order 2024, followed by a motion relating to the High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill.

Wednesday 22 May—Motion to approve the draft Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Risk of Being Drawn into Terrorism) (Revised Guidance) Regulations 2024, followed by a motion to approve the draft Licensing Act 2003 (UEFA European Football Championship Licensing Hours) Order 2024, followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Holocaust Memorial Bill.

Thursday 23 May—General debate on UK arms exports to Israel, followed by a general debate on potholes and highway maintenance. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

The House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 23 May and return on Monday 3 June.

The provisional business for the week commencing 3 June includes:

Monday 3 June—General debate, subject to be confirmed.

Tuesday 4 June—Remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 5 June—Opposition day (6th allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition —subject to be announced.

Thursday 6 June—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 7 June—Private Members’ Bills.

May I join Mr Speaker in thanking the Speaker’s Chaplain, the Rev. Canon Patricia Hillas, for all her wise counsel and support through some difficult and celebratory moments in her time as Chaplain? We all wish her well on her elevation. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Theo Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) on their cross-party parliamentary inquiry into birth trauma this week. All of us who have gone through childbirth can recognise their stories and findings, although I did have good experiences with mine. I fully support their calls for a national birth strategy.

I also thank all those Members who took part in the debate on risk-based exclusions on Monday. We had a good discussion. The House has now taken the view that a process of risk assessment for Members under arrest for serious sexual and violent offences shall be put in place. Since Monday, I have been struck by how many women, in less privileged or powerful positions than mine, have approached me to say thank you, and how that decision has changed how they feel about working here. It might not always feel like it, but there is a watching audience wanting to see us, as a workplace and as employers, make progress on those issues. This week we did.

Last week, the Leader of the House and I launched a guide for MPs and candidates on tackling conspiracy theories. We agreed that conspiracy theories are a form of radicalisation, and we must all do everything we can to combat them. Is she therefore as disappointed as I am to see the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) sharing in campaign literature a conspiracy theory featured in that guide relating to 15-minute cities, which is closely linked to antisemitism and far-right movements? Just last week, the hon. Lady gave a staunch defence of her actions, showing no contrition for the damage she has caused. Will the Leader of the House send her a copy of the guide, and tell her why she has made a big mistake and why she should quickly and strongly renounce it?

Does the Leader of the House think it is acceptable to Members that on the evening before the first day of the remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill, Members did not know which or what amendments were to be debated? This is an important Bill with a number of significant Back-Bench and Government proposals on issues of wide public concern, such as cuckooing, dangerous cycling, ninja swords, abortion, and one-punch manslaughter. The Bill came out of Committee in January. Why has it taken so long to get to Report? Having taken so long, why were Members left completely in the dark about what would be discussed and when? With more than 180 pages of amendments, including 22 new Government changes published very late the night before, that is no way to run business and it is deeply disrespectful to Members. It is just another symptom of the chaos at the heart of this Government’s operation and the disregard they hold for this House, and that is just day one of our consideration of the Bill. Why is there such a further delay to day two? We should be doing it next week, not in another three.

Extended drinking hours for the Euros are welcome, but that does not need to be considered on the Floor of the House. Is that because the Government have more handling concerns and they are worried about defeats on the Criminal Justice Bill, or is it because, even during the Euros, they could not organise a booze-up in a brewery? Will the Leader of the House assure the House that any further amendments or programming changes for day two will be published in good time?

The future business is yet again so light that it is almost laughable, but it is actually not that funny. The country faces huge headwinds. Families are in a cost of living crisis, millions linger on NHS waiting lists and communities are beset by problems, yet the Government of the day seem to have nothing they want to change, nothing they are in a hurry to sort out and nothing to bring to this House. These could, we hope, be the last few months that the Conservatives are in power for some years. Do they really have nothing they want to do with it? If they have nothing that they want to use their parliamentary majority for, why are they even bothering to hold on to it?

First, may I send my good wishes for a full and speedy recovery to Prime Minister Fico following the horrific attempt on his life? I echo the comments from the hon. Lady regarding the Speaker’s Chaplain and wish her well on her next chapter. I thank Mr Speaker for his statement this morning, which was very helpful. I also thank Anthony Wickins and his colleagues for coming to Parliament this week to promote and help us all understand the importance of dementia support in this important week.

I join the hon. Lady in thanking not just the two lead Members, but all Members who helped to bring forward the important report on birth trauma, which has had a huge response across the country. I know that not just the Prime Minister and Ministers on the Front Bench, but many organisations concerned with the care of mums-to-be and new mums are taking this report seriously. I hope it will do much good on this important matter.

The hon. Lady mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), and I am sorry that she made those comments and implied that my hon. Friend has antisemitic views. That is quite wrong, and I am afraid it is a pattern of behaviour of inciting unpleasant things. We have seen it this week following Monday’s vote, which has led to the statement that Mr Speaker had to make. I am pleased that we brought that motion forward, with the work that the Commission did and that we now have a scheme in place. I am sorry that all Members did not have an opportunity to vote on that final motion, and I am sorry that one result of the debate is that our environment has become less safe for certain Members—ironically, female Members of Parliament —following some of the actions since that debate.

The hon. Lady talks about the Criminal Justice Bill. She will understand that it is normal for the Government to talk to people proposing amendments before a Bill comes back, but that does not mean work is not being done on the Bill. The Bill deals with complex issues, and Members will of course be given a good opportunity to have oversight on any amendments or changes being brought forward.

The hon. Lady talks about business being light. I just remind her that in this short final Session of this Parliament, we have already introduced more Bills than Labour’s last four Sessions in office by a considerable margin. If business collapses, it is not the fault of those on the Government Benches, but those who are here to oppose. We have even had that happen in Opposition day debates. It is our business, and we are getting it through the House. If it takes less time because the Opposition fail to show up, that is not our problem.

Today, we have had the Leader of the Opposition setting out his first steps, but he has already been on quite a journey. He got on at Islington North with a flexible principles ticket. He claims that he is taking his party and us to Dover and Deal, but it is becoming clear that, due to industrial action, fewer trains under a Labour Government and running out of other people’s money, he will have to join a rail replacement bus service terminating at Rayners Lane. I hope for the sake of those at Dover waiting on a promise of a train that will never arrive that there is a compensation scheme in place—perhaps a daily allowance in the other place. I do not think that the public, who have long memories, will fall for the stunt going on in parallel to business questions. They have long memories and can look at what is happening in Labour-run Wales. They will not fall for today’s pledge card.

Economic stability? The author of the “there is no money” note still sits on Labour’s Benches.

Cut waiting lists? The only NHS cuts that Labour has ever made have been not to waiting lists but to its budget; it cut the NHS budget three times.

Border security command? Labour would end the new systems command and legislation that is having an effect on small boats, even when it agrees that that is working.

Public ownership of energy? How is that working out for Nottingham Council?

Tackle antisocial behaviour? Under Labour, crime was twice what it is now. Those in a Labour police and crime commissioner area are 40% more likely to be a victim of crime.

New teachers? There were 30,000 fewer teachers under Labour than there are now. Labour has plans to tax education, destroying a ladder for many children and increasing the burden on the state sector. There is nothing there—no vision, no plan and no principles on which to steer—which is why that pledge card will go the way of all the others.

With apologies to The Beatles, this Leader of the Opposition is a nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody. He doesn’t have a point of view. He’s no good for me or you. Judging by this latest pledge card, he is nowhere near good enough for Britain.

In this Dementia Action Week, will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box and talk about plans to ensure that the NHS is ready to roll out early diagnoses of dementia so that people can benefit from potentially transformative drugs such as lecanemab, which, for the first time, will treat the actual condition rather than just the symptoms?

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising awareness of that important point. We have new opportunities through these fantastic new drugs and therapies that are coming online and it is vital that people have access to them. It is also important that we learn from the huge amount of research into dementia support, which not only can be hugely beneficial to those with dementia and their families and carers but will save the NHS billions.

First, I will take up the Leader of the House on last week’s offer of a deeper briefing with a Minister on what she described as

“some minor issues to resolve”—[Official Report, 9 May 2024; Vol. 749, c. 696.]

in the border operating model. If, as she told me last week, she is paying “great attention” to what is going on and still did not see huge lorries as they wait 20 hours at border posts, perhaps she should take a trip to Barnard Castle. I would like to take the chief executive officer of the Cold Chain Federation, whose members certainly do not agree with her that there are no fundamental issues to sort out, with me to that briefing to deliver a dose of reality.

May we have a debate in Government time on the careful use of words in politics? The Prime Minister has refused to apologise for his offensive outburst on Monday when he quite deliberately associated the Scottish Government with Hamas terrorists, North Korea and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The good folk of Edinburgh North and Leith have elected a dangerous extremist—who knew?—along with the vast majority of MPs from Scotland who also want independence. All along, we thought that we were democratically elected Members of this House, just like the Leader of the House.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you might think that the Conservatives of Brexit Britain would respect a nation’s right to self-determination as a perfectly honourable political position. Is it just Scotland’s that they do not respect? We will always defend our nation’s best interests. Maybe that is what terrifies the PM and the likes of the Scotland Secretary, who wants to force ruinously expensive, untried nuclear reactors on renewables-rich Scotland. Now, he is frightening our bairns with threats of a Unionist regime and Scottish Labour back in power to push through our overlords’ cunning plans—what a Better Together reunion that would be. Would the Leader of the House remind me what happened to that respect agenda?

It would almost be funny if it were not coming from this particular Government: an unknown number of prisoners let loose around England, the Home Office losing thousands of migrants under its watch, and an English courts and justice system on the verge of collapse. But what is on the Prime Minister’s new hate list? What keeps Tories awake at night with fear? People like me, apparently. How laughable. Could the Leader of the House confirm whether she believes that the Prime Minister was right to associate Scottish democrats with Hamas terrorists and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, or will she take the opportunity to distance herself from this laughably desperate baloney?

Let me first reassure the hon. Lady that, first, there is nothing wrong with my eyesight and, secondly, she does not keep me awake at night. Could I draw her attention to the news this week that the eurozone economy is growing half as fast as Britain? Let me repeat that: the eurozone economy is growing half as fast as Britain. The SNP’s time would be better spent not trying to re-fight past referendums of all types but focusing on the issues today, such as the housing emergency that has just been declared in Scotland due to its rent control policy.

The hon. Lady raised the very serious matter of the Prime Minister’s language. I understand that, thanks to the Scottish Government, people can now fill in a hate report form. If she has any concerns, she can just fill in a report and pile more work on to her hard-pushed police officers.

On the plans to put a nuclear power station in Scotland, it is sensible to plan for a Unionist party to be in government in Scotland. Given the timescales involved in nuclear construction, that is a sensible and pragmatic thing to do. It is clear to everyone, except the SNP, that the party is in its final death throes. I predict that at the tragic finale, when the SNP finally completely implodes and meets its end, there will still be no ferry to carry its members across the Styx.

Tourism is a vital component of Bournemouth’s economy, and half of visitors to our fantastic seaside resort come by car. But if Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council gets its way, Bournemouth could soon be subject to a default 20 mph speed limit, which will simply slow everything down. We will all spend more time stuck in traffic, increasing pollution, rather than at our destinations. We already have designated 20 mph zones around schools, for example, but a default limit across the town would not just impact on the visitor experience, but slow down public transport, delivery vans and parents doing the school run. The policy did not work in Wales, and it will not work in Bournemouth. Please may we have a debate on councils imposing unwanted speed limits?

I am sorry to hear that this is happening in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. One would hope that local authorities would learn from mistakes made elsewhere, and stop inflicting policies that do not work and cause huge damage to public services and the local economy. I am sorry to hear that his council is determined to press ahead with this. The experience has been dreadful in Wales, where there have been deep concerns from the emergency services, which have found it difficult to go about their business, and massive costs have been piled on to business.

I thank the Leader of the House for making the business statement, for announcing the Backbench Business debates next Thursday 23 May, and for making Thursday 6 June a Backbench Business Committee day. The Committee has provisionally offered debates for that day on hormone pregnancy tests and the recognition of the Republic of Somaliland. The Committee is still open for business, and we very much welcome applications for debates in Westminster Hall, particularly on Thursdays.

I was also wondering if the Leader of the House would join me in—a pleasant little thing from my perspective—wishing the warmest congratulations to Gateshead football club, who were victorious and lifted the FA trophy at Wembley last Saturday?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very helpful advert for forthcoming Backbench Business debates. I will, of course, join him—I think the whole House will join him—in celebrating this wonderful achievement by his much-loved club, Gateshead. We send our congratulations.

May I first thank both the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their kind cross-party support for our landmark report this week into birth trauma? The all-party parliamentary group on birth trauma published a major report called, “Listen to Mums: Ending the Postcode Lottery on Perinatal Care”. This is the first cross-party report by MPs on the issue, and we received over 1,300 submissions from the public. I am delighted that the Prime Minister announced yesterday that there will now be a comprehensive national maternity strategy, which we asked for in our recommendations. Will my right hon. Friend provide Government time for a debate to discuss the important recommendations made in our national inquiry? May I also ask her to write to the Prime Minister and ask him to confirm that he has now read the report in full, and to ensure that our recommendations are being implemented to improve aftercare for mothers in this country?

I know the whole House would want to extend our thanks to my hon. Friend for this landmark piece of work. I will certainly make sure that the Prime Minister has studied the report in detail. When I last visited my hon. Friend’s constituency, I had the privilege of not just meeting her lovely daughter, but the man who saved my hon. Friend’s life. This is a very important report and I hope its recommendations will be implemented swiftly.

May I lift the mood of the Leader of the House this morning? She seems a bit down. Can we have more of a celebration of the people who work here? They are now going to have greater protection in one part of their lives, but is it not about time we looked around us every day at everyone in this Palace who works here: the people who clean this place, the security people, the Clerks? We have so many people with long-term service in this place. Yes, we could have a debate, but is there a way we could do something to make the lives of these people who give us so much better?

I would be very happy to raise the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion with the House of Commons Commission to see what more we can do. I thank him for giving us the opportunity, which I hope is echoed by all in this Chamber, to put on record our thanks for everyone who works on the estate to enable us to do our jobs and keep British democracy going.

The Seret International Israeli Film Festival runs for a couple of weeks from today. Wonderful independent films will be shown in arthouse cinemas across the world. But of course antisemites are trying to bully and intimidate cinema chains into not showing the films and, in some cases, are sadly succeeding. Would the Curzon or Picturehouse cinema chains decline to show films made by the black community because of a war in Africa? Obviously, the answer is no, and the reason is because that would be racist. So it is with those sick antisemites whose loathing for Jewish people is so extreme that they are now trying to boycott Jewish culture in the UK. Will my right hon. Friend agree to organise a debate in this place to support Jewish art and culture? Perhaps Parliament could even show one of the independent films, which have nothing to do with the conflict in the middle east, here in one of the Committee rooms, for example.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving us a very good example of how antisemitism gets a hold. It starts with things like this, which might seem a reasonable thing for a venue to do but clearly is not. The way he sets it out illustrates why it is not. It is really disturbing and I hope that all Members recognise that this community is really under attack. We need to be absolutely unequivocal and say that we stand with them, and that we will do everything we can to protect them and call out antisemitism wherever it is.

This is Mental Health Awareness Week, and Bath Mind, a wonderful charity in my constituency that supports 6,000 people, is worried about the reform of personal independence payments, which may plunge thousands of families into destitution and homelessness—with the associated mental health impact—and affect the charity’s capacity to deliver services in the face of increased demand. May we have a debate in Government time about the PIP reforms and their impact on mental health?

As the hon. Lady will know, many of the reforms introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions to provide support have massively increased the number of people with a mental health condition or hidden disability who are able to access that support, and that is a good thing. However, I thank her for raising an important matter during an important week, and I will ensure that those in the DWP have heard what she has said.

The Leader of the House may be aware that Cramlington, which is in my constituency and is one of the largest towns in Northumberland, lacks a police station. Its stand-alone police station was closed in 2014. More recently, Northumbria police opened an office in Manor Walks shopping centre, but it is not an adequate replacement for a full station. Despite the critical need, successive Labour police and crime commissioners in Northumbria have not taken action to reverse the closure. Given Cramlington’s population of more than 30,000 and its history of serious crimes including multiple murders, its residents are in desperate need of a dedicated police station to provide reassurance and support for neighbourhood officers. Will the Leader of the House please schedule a debate in Government time so we can consider what can be done to ensure that constituencies nationwide receive the necessary resources to combat crime?

My hon. Friend will know that the Government have confirmed a total police funding settlement of up to £18.5 billion for the coming financial year, an increase of £886 million on the previous year’s settlement, and overall the police funding available to police and crime commissioners is up by 6.3% in cash terms. The resource is there, and we know that with that resource our incredible police forces are halving crime. Except in a few areas notably controlled by Labour, we are making good progress, but of course these community facilities are extremely important to the communities that they serve. I will ensure that the Home Secretary has heard my hon. Friend’s specific point, and I will write to him this afternoon.

Blackpool Rock is under threat from cheap imitation imports from China in particular, and I have joined Stanton & Novelty, a third-generation traditional confectionery manufacturer in my constituency, in leading the charge in safeguarding the status of British-made confectionery. Our seven remaining rock factories are at risk of closure and are experiencing a 40% drop in sales, which is jeopardising the livelihoods of local employees and the viability of historic businesses. Just 50 people in the UK have the skills required to properly “letter” sticks of rock, most of them in Blackpool. These traditional skills will soon be lost without intervention, so may we have a debate in Government time to discuss securing our historic British confectionery, and save Blackpool rock?

For the benefit of Hansard, I should emphasise that the hon. Gentleman’s question was met with roars of approval from Members in all parts of the House, and I thank him for raising an important issue. This is an iconic project: everyone knows what Blackpool rock is, and I shall certainly ensure that the relevant Minister has heard about the hon. Gentleman’s campaign.

Last Thursday, I accompanied the Secretary of State for Business and Trade on her visit to my constituency, and we toured the port of Immingham. Immingham is the largest port in the country, and the Humber ports contribute £75 billion to the national economy. May we have a debate in Government time on our port industry and the benefits it gives to international trade?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. Our ports play a vital role in the long-term growth of the economy, and provide essential access to global markets. I know that this issue is a focus for many Members across the House, even those without a port in their constituency. It would be a very good topic for a debate, and my hon. Friend will know how to apply for one.

It is Mental Health Awareness Week—an opportunity for us all to redouble our efforts to tackle the stigma and call for improved mental health service provision. Unfortunately, thousands of people, including my constituents in Battersea, are paying the price for the Government’s incompetence and failure to deliver their manifesto commitment to update the Mental Health Act 1983. The crisis needs to be addressed. Can we have a Government statement on the actions that will be taken to address this crisis? When will the Government finally bring forward the mental health Bill?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. I know that many hon. Members across the House have spent a great deal of time on the Bill, including those who were directly involved in the pre-legislative scrutiny of it. We will bring forward further business and announce it in the usual way. In the meantime, I will make sure that all the relevant Secretaries of State, not just the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, have heard the hon. Lady’s ask today.

This week Care4Calais, a pro-asylum seeker British charity, contacted me to ask for my support for its legal efforts to prevent the deportation to Rwanda of asylum seekers in Dudley whom the Government have assessed for deportation. I do not think the charity got the memo. As a result, I have written to the Home Secretary, asking him to speed up the deportations. Can we have a debate on how we can stop organisations such as Care4Calais—which, as a charity, either directly or indirectly receives Government funding—actively undermining Government policy to stop illegal migration?

I thank my hon. Friend for making those points, and I will make sure that the Home Secretary has heard them. He will know that the processing that has been going on in the Home Office has speeded up immensely—by close to 300% during the Prime Minister’s tenure. Those cases are being cracked through, but we cannot have a system with finite resource that allows endless appeals. That is why we have brought forward legislation and why those who have exhausted the process, who should not be here and who do not have the right to be here, need to be sent either home or to a third country. That is very clear, and the legislation will enable us to make best use of the finite resource that we have.

I am going to give it one more try. Given that the Prime Minister now thinks that around half of the people in Scotland, who believe that it should be a self-governing, independent country, are extremists, will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out whether she agrees with his assessment? Can she confirm, for the purposes of clarity, whether she believes that those who wish to rejoin the EU are also dangerous extremists in our midst?

The Union of the United Kingdom is critical to our strength. Were it to be torn apart, which is the prime objective of those on the SNP Benches, we would be weaker as a nation and the component parts of the United Kingdom would be weaker. Scotland would be weaker, England would be weaker, Wales would be weaker and Northern Ireland would be weaker. That is certainly a threat to our stability, which is what the Prime Minister said. If the hon. Lady thinks he said something else, she can fill in a hate form.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said that we should celebrate long-serving members of staff in this place, which is exactly what I would like to do. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Terry Wiggins MBE, who joined the House service in September 1974—he will be leaving soon after 50 years of service to us—and Nick Wort, who joined this place shortly afterwards in 1979? Between them, those two gentlemen have 95 years of service to the House of Commons. They are well worth celebrating.

I thank my hon. Friend for doing that. As he heard very clearly, we all send our good wishes, thanks and appreciation to both Terry and Nick for their incredible service to this House.

Neither the Leader of the House nor anybody else in this House needs any reminding of the risks and dangers of political violence, so I am sure she will share the concerns of the whole House following yesterday’s assassination attempt on the Slovakian Prime Minister. This incident is the latest example of political violence across Europe, and it has brought into sharp focus the heightened and growing threat to politicians across the political spectrum.

Given that, does the Leader of the House think it would be timely for a Minister to update the House on the important work being done by the Defending Democracy Taskforce to keep politicians safe in our country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this very important point. He will know that not only the Defending Democracy Taskforce but the House authorities, our security and intelligence agencies, the Home Office and many other bodies are very focused on ensuring that not only us in this place but all elected individuals have the protection they need to go about their business.

The hon. Gentleman will know that some issues cannot be aired on the Floor of the House, but I will make sure that all the Departments involved have heard his request for the House to be updated. Perhaps they could offer more in-depth briefings on matters that should not be aired on the Floor of the House.

Earlier this week, I met guests from Police UK Disability Sport who were hosted by my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson). Police UK Disability Sport provides adaptive sports to the police community regionally and nationally, and will soon do so internationally. It proposes that a portion of the annual proceeds of crime money be made available through a central trust or under a police covenant committee, to which all police charities and not-for-profit organisations can apply, to support all serving and retired police officers through recovery, rehabilitation, treatment, and physical and mental health and wellbeing services.

More than £330 million was seized in 2023, and £1.75 million could protect a five-year project to fund sports events. Police UK Disability Sport is looking to create a police version of the Invictus games called the Intrepid games. May we have a debate on using proceeds of crime funding to help to establish opportunities for these amazing police officers?

What a good idea. I will make sure that the Home Secretary has heard it. It would be a fantastic initiative to have an Invictus games for the fantastic police officers who are disabled, whether in service or through another situation.

Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Scotland seemed to outline an intention to disregard democracy and run roughshod over devolution. The dangerous extremists on the SNP Benches believe that democracy is not a one-time event so, as we mark 25 years of the Scottish Parliament, could we have a debate in Government time to consider how this place can better respect devolution as Scotland advances towards becoming an independent nation?

That is shocking news about the Secretary of State for Scotland. I thought he was a man who respected the result of all referendums, which I think is supporting democracy.

I think that a debate on how devolution is working and the possibilities for the future would be very well attended, and the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is listening. I would just say that, when devolution was envisaged, the plan was set in place by parties and nations working together for the benefit of all, as opposed to working against each other.

Mr Speaker has generously given permission for a reception to be held in Speaker’s House later this afternoon to mark the 50th anniversary of the Spinal Injuries Association, which I am delighted to sponsor. Stoke Mandeville Hospital in my constituency is home to the national spinal injuries centre and is the birthplace of the Paralympics. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the Spinal Injuries Association on half a century of work to support people who have spinal cord injuries and their loved ones, and does she agree that that is a topic worthy of debate in the House?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. A debate on such a topic would be well attended and he knows how to apply for one. I am sure that all hon. Members would join him in thanking the Spinal Injuries Association and everyone who supports it for its incredible work to support people with such injuries.

Yesterday, the Trussell Trust came to Parliament to update hon. Members on the latest figures for the distribution of food parcels. It reported that more than 3.1 million emergency food parcels were provided by food banks in its network last year. In Gateshead alone, 8,464 people needed support, of whom 2,694 were children. I pay tribute to the important work being done by the Trussell Trust, the Gateshead food bank and other charities, such as Feeding Families, in my constituency. Can we have a debate in Government time on how we can end the need for food banks?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important issue. She will know that the Government have put together a cost of living support package, which now stands at £108 billion, and that the household support fund enables local authorities to give grants directly to individuals who might fall through the cracks. We have taken other measures, such as our reform of welfare. The large share of people who were going to food banks under the last Labour Government were being transferred from one benefit to another, which is a situation that we have ended. There are also more sustainable alternatives to food banks in most communities. There is still an issue and there is more work to be done, and I will take what the hon. Lady has said to the relevant Secretary of State’s attention.

May we have a debate in Government time on the Greenway landfill site? I am grateful to Councillor Becky Clarke, Ben Collins, who was The Stig in a former life, and the Sampford Peverell Church of England Primary School for standing up against it. Mid Devon District Council, which is not the ultimate authority for this, has been absolutely useless, as usual. In fact, the former chair of its scrutiny committee, who was supposed to be scrutinising it, has done a runner. I am not surprised: it turns out that, according to locals, she was sacked from the National Farmers Union and the Environment Agency, and then sued it. I have gone on and on about local government not standing up for local people, and I will continue to do so. It is something that we need to talk about, so please can we have time for a debate?

My hon. Friend makes a good case, not necessarily for a debate on that topic but for an entire debate—perhaps an entire afternoon on the Floor of the House—about his council alone. As I do every week, I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard what he said.

The Guernsey cardiologist Dr Dean Patterson has written to the General Medical Council to call for an immediate suspension of the mRNA vaccines after witnessing at first hand in Guernsey the damage that they have done. Guernsey has only 63,000 residents, 93% of whom have had at least two jabs. Dr Patterson stated that he saw only five cases of myocarditis a year until 2021 when the jabs were rolled out. He then saw a 500% increase in cases: there were 25 cases in 2021 and 23 in 2022, but in 2023, when fewer jabs were administered, the number of cases dropped to 11.

Because the Channel Islands are a Crown dependency, they have no representation in this House. Although the residents of the Channel Islands are British passport holders, they have no access to the UK vaccine damage compensation scheme. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on how Dr Patterson and other concerned medical professionals in the Channel Islands can publicise their concerns about these novel treatments and protect their patients, and how the people of the Channel Islands who have been harmed by the vaccines can get the compensation that they deserve?

The hon. Gentleman has found his own answer. Not only has he given an example of a healthcare professional who is writing to healthcare professional bodies, and many other organisations that scrutinise and have oversight of vaccines policy, but Members of Parliament can raise the issue on the Floor of the House. It is very important that we ensure that the public know there are statutory bodies, third sector organisations and democratic organisations with elected representatives that have scrutiny and oversight of all these matters. That is why we have a very safe vaccines regime, and why any concerns about vaccines or ongoing trials are all put in the public domain.

Last week, a constituent who is dyspraxic came to my surgery to raise concerns about the lack of awareness of dyspraxia. That has been exacerbated by the collapse of the Dyspraxia Foundation, so there is now no dedicated dyspraxia organisation in the country. I would love to say that the trouble I had with my voter ID was an ingenious way of raising awareness of dyspraxia, but it was not. Will the Leader of the House support those with dyspraxia by tabling a debate in Government time to raise that awareness? Millions of people across the country have it—a huge number of our constituents—so will the Leader of the House support me?

I am sorry to hear about the closure of the Dyspraxia Foundation. I know that my hon. Friend will be doing all he can to ensure that people have the support and advice they need. I will certainly ensure that the Secretaries of State for Education and for Health and Social Care have heard what he has said. He can raise this with them on 17 June and 4 June respectively. I thank him for his ongoing work, which is incredibly important.

Next Monday, having taken evidence for six years, Sir Brian Langstaff will publish the final report on the contaminated blood scandal. It will be a momentous day for all those who have campaigned for so many decades to get that public inquiry. Does the Leader of the House know how the largest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS—and, I think, the biggest cover-up by the state—will be debated in the House? Will the Prime Minister be making a statement? Will the House have an opportunity for a full debate on Sir Brian’s findings and recommendations?

May I thank the right hon. Lady, her co-chair and the whole of the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood? They have performed important work throughout the process, including through the inquiry we established and through looking at highly technical issues, the compensation study and the work that the Paymaster General is doing to ensure that the scheme is properly established. It is hard to find an example that is more extreme than this appalling scandal and the successive decades of cover-up. There are still issues being uncovered and coming to light. Monday will be an historic day—I wish it had come decades earlier, but it is happening on Monday. Although I cannot give the right hon. Lady exact answers to her questions, she can take it from me—I hope she understands that it is sincerely meant—that the report needs to be given the attention it warrants on the Floor of the House.

As I am sure the Leader of the House is aware, today—the 16 May—is Middlesex Day. Will she join me in commending the Prime Minister for continuing the tradition, started by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, of proudly flying the Middlesex flag from No. 10 Downing Street to recognise the historic county of which London is a part? Will she congratulate Middlesex Heritage, the Association of British Counties and Russell Grant, in particular, for all the work they do to promote the importance of the historic counties and the part they play in the life of our nation?

Will the Leader of the House also bring forward a debate in the House on making statutory provision for the restoration of Middlesex as a ceremonial county, with its own lord lieutenant or deputy lieutenant, and indeed on all our treasured historic counties, ending the many years of confusion and loss of county identity? This is particularly so in towns such as Romford, which takes great pride in being part of the historic county of Essex.

I am very pleased to hear that the Prime Minister is continuing this tradition at Downing Street. It is important that we celebrate our counties and everything about their cultural identity: their food, their amazing landscapes and their heritage. Having heard what my hon. Friend has said today, I think there is no danger of our losing sight of that importance, with him on these Benches.

A significant issue across Oldham, Chadderton and Royton is the rapid increase in the number of houses in multiple occupation. It was previously a big issue for our pub industry, with pubs being converted into HMOs, but it is now increasingly an issue with family homes. Those homes are being taken off the market and sold at inflated prices, because of their potential rental income, which drives the end value. The result in Oldham is 500 children living in temporary accommodation in single hotel rooms, because of the lack of supply of family homes. This issue also brings into question the issue of Serco’s Home Office contracts. Can we have a debate in Government time on the overall impact of housing policy, which includes HMOs, the lack of supply and the Home Office allocation policy?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter. He is speaking to somebody who represents, bar London, the most densely populated city in Europe, so I understand the issues he is talking about. He will know that we have done a number of things nationally to help ensure that, where HMOs are being built, they are of good quality and do not cram people in—for example, the reforms that we have made to the Valuation Office Agency and council tax rebanding. I recommend that he speaks to his local authority, which should have a clear map of where HMOs are and have its own local policy about the density of those HMOs. It has the powers to do that, and that is what it should do, and its planning committee should be making decisions on that basis.

Sadly, we all know that misogyny can lead to acts of violence and sexual attacks, and it is right in those circumstances that we use exclusions to safeguard staff and Members in this place. But we should not forget that misogyny can also be part of everyday culture in workplaces in this country, where women are talked over, their ideas ignored until men put them forward, and inappropriate comments are made—so-called banter culture. All of that can lead to so much more, which we want to prevent. Can the Leader of the House set out what more the Government want to do to attack that culture? Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss how we can protect women in the workplace?

Before the Leader of the House responds, I just wish to say that we still have a statement and a debate to come. To ensure that everybody can get in, brief questions and brief answers would be helpful.

The hon. Lady raises an important matter. I am glad that we have taken measures to protect people who work here, and of course the environment in which people work is incredibly important. Equalities Question Time was yesterday, but I will ensure that the Government Equalities Office has heard what she has said and will raise it with the Secretary of State.

A constituent has contacted me about how he is remortgaging at an increased rate of 5.68%. If he did not have ongoing cladding issues, his mortgage lender would have still given him an increased rate, but it would have been 4.67%. An extra £600 will now be added to his monthly mortgage payments. I am confident that other people up and down our country are experiencing that double jeopardy, due to the Conservative Government’s failings. Will the Leader of the House say what conversations she has had with her Cabinet colleagues on this issue?

The hon. Lady will know that ensuring that our economy is growing, inflation is curbed and interest rates can come down is a priority for the Government, and she will know from the statement put out by the National Audit Office earlier this week that the plan is working.

Merthyr Tydfil’s old town hall, more recently known as the Redhouse, is an iconic building with much historic significance. It was from the balcony of the building that Keir Hardie spoke to the people of Merthyr Tydfil after being elected to this place as the first Labour MP in 1900. This week, the Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust, the current tenant of the building, closed its doors—the latest episode in a catalogue of failure. My Senedd colleague and I have written to the Charity Commission, asking it to investigate the failings of the Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust, but may we have a debate on what more can be done to bring this faceless and seemingly remote organisation to account?

I am sorry to hear about the issue in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He has done his community a service by raising the matter on the Floor of the House and creating pressure for that dialogue to happen, and for heads to be cracked together in his local community to ensure that his constituents are better served.

A few weeks ago, I brought up the case of my constituent who was savagely attacked by a former partner while on holiday in Spain, and saved only by the intervention of five men from Newcastle, whose statements, along with that of another witness, were never taken by the Spanish police. We wrote to the Foreign Secretary to seek his assistance with persuading the Spanish authorities to reopen the case to avoid a miscarriage of justice, but the reply that I received from the Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), was one of the most disappointing ministerial replies I have received in my nine years here. Indeed, the only suggestion for help was a broken hyperlink to a list of lawyers. Will the Leader of the House use her good offices to urge the Foreign Office to do more to assist my constituent?

I am sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s experience. I will certainly ensure that he gets a better service than that.

Before coming to this place, I was a modern foreign languages teacher— I taught in Wigan and south Wales. I absolutely loved it and took so many pupils overseas to give them that fantastic experience. May we have a debate in Government time on what the Government can do to enable young people to travel post Brexit and have those opportunities, which are sadly missing now?

I admire the hon. Lady’s passion and thank her for her previous service. It is an excellent topic for a debate, because it would allow us to get on record the benefits of the Turing scheme, which is now running—the same benefits that have been there before but on a global basis, not just focused on the EU.

I briefly associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker), who talked about Terry Wiggins. They did not mention that he served for 40 years playing on the parliamentary rugby team, and just a few weeks ago helped us to a glorious victory at Twickenham.

As will concern anyone approaching retirement, figures from the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that the number of pensioners using food banks doubled after the Government’s economic mismanagement—up 101% in my constituency. Can we have a debate in Government time on whether the £46 billion blackhole in the plan to axe national insurance will hit pensioners once more?

The hon. Gentleman may like to talk to some more pensioners; he may find out all sorts of things, because they have long memories. Labour may not think that our elders have a good memory, but in fact they do. They remember the 25p rise to their pensions under the last Labour Government. They remember the pension credit maladministration—I think £10 million was owed to pensioners in my constituency alone. Under the last Labour Government, 200,000 more pensioners were living in absolute poverty, and we had the fourth highest pensioner poverty in Europe. Pensioners also remember which party introduced the triple lock, increasing the state pension by £3,700 since 2010: the Conservatives.

In 1900, in this Chamber, a Bill was passed into law to promote Alexandra Palace as the people’s palace for recreation forever—a palace for the people of London. It is now an international venue, but will the Leader of the House and the shadow Leaders of the House congratulate the staff, volunteers and everyone who makes this fantastic venue? Particularly in tough times when people cannot take holidays as much, they can enjoy Alexandra Palace and Park—and while they are at it, they can volunteer with the Friends of Ally Pally Station, to make the entrance to Alexandra Palace all the more beautiful.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving us all an opportunity to thank the staff, friends and volunteers of Ally Pally and Park. She has given a great advert for anyone who is at a loose end and wants to do something for that community.

My constituent Rohanna had hoped to have her indefinite leave to remain application expedited, so that she could fly to the Philippines to attend her father’s funeral. My office put in an urgent inquiry, but got minimal interaction, and unfortunately my constituent had to attend the funeral online. It turns out that had the decision been made in time, the need for a biometric card would have prevented her from travelling anyway. Can the Leader of the House make sure that the urgent ILR application process is just that, and find a way for people to travel without a biometric residence card on compassionate grounds?

I am very sorry to hear that that happened to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, particularly at such an awful time for them and their family. If he will give my office the details of the case, I will raise it with the Department concerned and make sure they do a “lessons learned” exercise. We want to ensure that people are able to travel, especially at such moments.

I was recently contacted by a constituent regarding her 16-year-old son, who has sadly been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. As if that was not enough to deal with, the chemotherapy started at the end of last month and he is taking his GCSEs right now. It is very difficult, and we have found a whole raft of rules regarding when his situation can be taken into account in those GCSEs. Clearly he will miss some of the exams because of treatment or its effects. We have found out that the pathway is not at all clear and straightforward. On some occasions, only a certificate of recognition can be awarded, rather than an actual GCSE. We would really like a debate about what more we can do to make sure that the pathway is made easier for children in very difficult circumstances and their parents.

I am very sorry to hear that, and I am sure I speak for us all when I send our good wishes to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and his family. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education makes a timely appearance; she may have saved me a stamp. However, I will write to her formally and make sure that she has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. He will know how to apply for a debate, and that is an excellent topic for one.

Northumbrian Water repeatedly refused to release information on the scale of raw sewage dumping at Whitburn and into the North sea. An appeal tribunal has ordered that data to be released, thanks to the persistent work of Steve Lavelle and the Whitburn Neighbourhood Forum. The decision found that Northumbrian Water had a desire to

“avoid media or political attention”.

Can we please have a debate on why the Government have enabled water companies to not only dump sewage into our waters, but evade scrutiny?

First of all, what the hon. Lady says about this Government is not true. If she goes to the Water UK website, she will see real-time information about the projects going on across the country with every water company. That is the largest infrastructure investment of its kind in the world, and it will dramatically reduce storm overflows. The reason why we have these releases, as she will well know, is because of legacy sewerage systems that mix storm water and waste water. We have to make the investment to put that right.

When the Conservatives came into office, less than 6% of such overflows were monitored. That figure is now 100%, and that information is in the public domain. Fantastic local activists like Steve—I have many in my constituency—are not only holding water companies to account, but working with them to improve monitoring. This would be an excellent topic for a debate, because we will very shortly eradicate that kind of overflow.

The Leader of the House re-registered her leadership campaign website on polling day, so can her colleagues look forward to more “pints with Penny” over the coming weeks? If not, she is more than welcome to a gin with Gwynne.

I am sure that the House is very keen to hear the story behind this, but I am afraid that what the hon. Gentleman has said is not true. I have done no such thing.

I have recently been contacted by constituents about the imminent closure of the Hall, a small community space in East Village, Stratford—one of very few in the area. As we know, such spaces are absolutely invaluable. Ours hosts loads of events, including meetings of the Brownies and the Girl Guides. I am making representations to Get Living, the developer responsible for that decision. It has, frankly, been responsible for a whole bunch of questionable decisions over recent years, including during the cladding scandal and on exorbitant service charges. Can we have a debate in Government time on how the actions of developers have undermined the Olympic legacy and failed local residents?

I am very sorry to hear of the situation in the hon. Lady’s constituency. She will know how to apply for a debate on the issue, which I think is an excellent topic for discussion. I will also ensure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard her concerns. Clearly, a huge amount of work has been done to enable community asset transfers, and funding is available to facilitate that. I will ask one of the Secretary of State’s officials to contact her office with any advice that they can furnish.

I thank the Leader of the House for this chance to ask an important question—all questions are important, and this one is on an important subject. This week, I would like us to turn our attention to Vietnam. I am troubled by the recent arrest and conviction of Christians belonging to the Montagnard minority ethnic group for their peaceful advocacy of freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam. One Christian, Mr Bya, was targeted and killed, yet the local police have failed to make any arrests in relation to his death. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning such violations of freedom of religion or belief, and will she ask the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to raise the issue with its counterparts in Vietnam?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for shining a spotlight, as he does every week, on atrocities going on all over the world. I am very sorry to hear about the killing of that gentleman, and the response by the local authorities. As I do every week, I will ensure that the FCDO has heard his concerns, and I will raise the matter with the Foreign Secretary.

My constituent Mrs Houria Nicoll is an Algerian-British dual national. She went to Algeria to deal with the estate of her deceased parents, and travelled out on her Algerian passport, as her British passport had expired. She has been denied entry to the UK on her Algerian passport and is now stuck in Algeria. She is unwell and cannot access any care or support from family or friends. The British embassy has denied her help because of her dual status. Time is running out. Will the Leader of the House do everything she can to work with her Foreign Office colleagues to give my constituent some support and get her home?

I am very sorry to hear about that. I will, after this session, ensure that the Home Office and the Foreign Office—particularly consular services—have heard the situation that the hon. Lady describes. If she wants to give my office more details and the record of correspondence that she has had, we will do everything we can to ensure that she is given the right support to get her constituent home.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am very grateful to you for allowing me to raise a point of order from the Front Bench. It relates to comments that the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), made at the start of business questions. She did notify me that she was going to make those comments, but after business questions had started. However, this point of order is more about the content of the comments, which I personally found very difficult.

I did write to my constituents over a year ago about a consultation that is being run by my local council on 15 to 20-minute communities. In that letter, I pointed to some of the rumours about 15-minute cities, because that is something that constituents have raised with me. That consultation is still live on the council’s website—it is on page 45 of its planning and appraisals document—so this is very much a constituency-based issue.

However, I find it very difficult to be accused of being a conspiracy theorist on the back of that, especially as the vaccines Minister. Whenever there is a debate in this place on that subject, the number of death threats and the amount of abuse that I get is overwhelming at times. I realise that colleagues sometimes have valid points to raise, but there is a backlash whenever those debates are held.

More importantly, being linked to antisemitism when my family in London are actually Jewish, and have had a very difficult time over the past few months, was devastating. I kindly ask the shadow Leader of the House to either withdraw those statements, or just to reflect that while we all play politics in this space, sometimes things are very personal.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for her point of order. Can I put on the record that I did not say or imply that she was either a conspiracy theorist or antisemitic? I do not believe that she is either of those things. I was highlighting the dangers of sharing, however inadvertently, campaigns that featured in a guide to conspiracy theories that the Leader of the House and I published last week for MPs. That guide is in the Library, and I would urge the hon. Member for Lewes to read its section on 15-minute cities and the link to organisations.

I thank the hon. Member for Lewes for giving me notice of her point of order. I am glad that the shadow Leader of the House was here to hear and respond to it. There are two important points. The first is on giving advance notice; I did check with the shadow Leader of the House that she had given advance notice. Secondly, I hope that this has led to some clarification of what was said and what was meant. I am not responsible for what Members say in the Chamber, but I remind everybody that good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language. I am sure that everybody in the Chamber would agree with that. I think we will leave it at that.