House of Commons
Thursday 25 November 2021
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Civil Service Jobs outside London
The Government are committed to relocating 22,000 civil servants out of Greater London by 2030, with up to 15,000 by 2025. We are working with Departments and public bodies to ensure that roles are relocated at pace, and the spending review will enable Departments to now finalise those plans.
According to the “Preparing for the Civil Service Verbal and Numerical tests” section of the Government website, these tests are
“fair and free from bias and discrimination”,
but they are based on algorithms to ensure that a
“person meets the requirements of a particular job level”.
What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the civil service employs individuals from a broad spectrum of political beliefs?
The tests to which my hon. Friend refers do not assess political beliefs; they are focused on reasoning ability in relation to verbal and numerical skills. However, the point she raises is addressed through the Places for Growth programme, which, by recruiting civil servants in larger numbers from across the whole of the United Kingdom, will facilitate far greater diversity through our recruitment.
York has been promised many jobs, including the House of Lords—remember that one?—a northern government hub, a conference centre, and now 600—or is it 200?—new Cabinet Office jobs, but nothing has materialised; it seems like chaos. Will the Minister meet me to talk about the potential of York Central and how this incredible opportunity could best be used to strategically serve the purposes and functions of government as well as my city of York?
I am a little surprised by that, because the Government are committed to York. The hon. Lady has already, along with other colleagues, made the case successfully. Not least, the Cabinet Office itself is committed to increasing its presence from about 400 to 600 in York. We are committed to York through Places for Growth, and I hope she would celebrate that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington, with its skilled workforce, transport links and infrastructure, would be the ideal location for civil service jobs outside London, and that this would be an example of our Government’s determination to level up across the country?
I very much do agree that Bury would be a great location, as indeed would a number of locations across the north-west. It is important that the Places for Growth programme does not solely look at inner-city locations but also looks at the opportunities that places like Bury offer to relocate jobs.
It is on Thursday mornings, Mr Speaker, that those of us who are regulars miss David Amess—those Thursday mornings when he was so lively and showed that he was a true parliamentarian.
When the Minister talks about putting jobs in places around the country, will he lead, with all of us in our constituencies, a campaign for sustainable development in every town, city and community in this country?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his first comments, which are widely shared across the House.
On the hon. Gentleman’s substantive point, I agree. I was recently looking, for example, at the Cabinet Office relocation plans for Peterborough, which were part of a much wider regeneration programme that will make a significant difference there. One of the key learnings from past attempts by previous Governments to relocate civil servants outside London is that one has to do it a way that builds a hub and spoke, so that there is a sustainable career and it sits within a wider regeneration, as in areas such as York. He makes an extremely important point, and it is a key part of the plans we are bringing forward.
I believe that Ministers have previously shown interest in suitable office space in my constituency to house Cabinet Office staff. Will the Minister provide an update on any plans to open civil service offices in Rutherglen and Hamilton West or the surrounding areas? He just mentioned areas of regeneration. That is an area that is being regenerated by Clyde Gateway.
A key component of the Places for Growth programme is that it is UK-wide. That is why, to take my Department, the Cabinet Office, we are having a second headquarters in Glasgow, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is committed to East Kilbride. It is a UK-wide programme, and that shows the values of working together across the United Kingdom.
House of Lords Appointments
The Government do not currently plan to conduct a review. The constitutional position in this country is that the Prime Minister is responsible for advising Her Majesty on appointments to the House of Lords. The House of Lords Appointments Commission offers the Prime Minister probity advice and can make Cross-Bench recommendations concerning these appointments.
About half the peers in the House of Lords have been ennobled since 2010, with most—I am being charitable—not for their sheer luminosity of talent but the generosity of their bank balance. Does the Minister not see that having a Chamber of cheque writers undermines the credibility of not just the House of Lords but the entirety of Parliament? Is it not time that we just got rid of it?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s final point is no. Peerages reflect long-standing contributions to civic life and a willingness to further contribute to public life. In Britain, taxpayers do not have to bankroll political parties’ campaigning. We must be transparent about donations, but those who oppose party fundraising need to explain how many millions they want taxpayers to pay for state funding instead.
The Minister may deny that the House of Lords is crony-stuffed, but 15 of the last 16 Tory treasurers gave £3 million to the Tory party to get a life peerage and 80% of the UK public think that corruption is fairly or very present in our politics. Does he agree that abolishing the House of Lords—this is another chance—would send out a clear anti-corruption message by ensuring that friends of a sitting Government are never again given life power over our democracy in exchange for their donations?
I have a lot of time for the hon. Lady, but we will not be abolishing the House of Lords any time soon. Peerages, as I said, reflect long-standing contributions to civic life and give these people an opportunity to put something back and contribute to public life.
At last week’s Liaison Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) asked the Prime Minister if he would
“stop sending big-value donors to the House of Lords”.
The Prime Minister replied:
“Until you get rid of the system by which the trades union barons fund other parties…we need to continue with the system by which public-spirited people give donations.”
Mr Speaker, I believe that the Prime Minister’s answer comes dangerously close to an admission of selling peerages, in direct contravention of the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, and is worthy of further investigation. Will the Minister undertake that investigation or does he think it is sufficiently serious to involve the Metropolitan police?
Again, the answer is no. One of the most valued aspects of the House of Lords is the experience that Members bring to their work. The idea that successful businesspeople and philanthropists who contribute to political causes should be disqualified from sitting in the legislature is nonsense. There is no link between party donations and nominations to sit in the House of Lords. [Laughter.] The law has been followed at all times. The police have said that there is no evidence that the law has been broken.
I admire the Minister’s ability to say that with a straight face. It is disappointing but not surprising that he appears to believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with the system. Maybe he can take this opportunity to explain why, since 2010, no fewer than 22 of the Tories’ biggest backers, who have donated a total of £54 million to their coffers, have been elevated to the House of Lords. Will he explain why he believes that stuffing the House of Lords full of wealthy donors, cronies, political allies and those unwilling or unable to be elected somehow enhances and improves our democracy?
Again, successful businesspeople should not be disqualified from sitting in the legislature. The hon. Gentleman made a point about the number of people who have been appointed since 2010. I gently point out that there are just over 800 Members of the House of Lords and 408 of them were appointed by the Opposition when they were in power between 1997 and 2010.
It is good to have a bicameral Parliament, but is not the fundamental problem with the House of Lords simply that it is too large and not enough of them turn up? There are 800 peers compared with 650 MPs, and in the Divisions this month, the average turnout was 378, which is 47%. Will the Minister consider reducing the size of the House of Lords?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, but given retirements and other departures, some new Members are essential to keep the expertise and the outlook of the Lords fresh. We continue to support and encourage the policy of Members of the House of Lords retiring. The Government’s 2019 manifesto, of which he will be aware, committed to looking at the role of the Lords, but any reform needs to be considered carefully and not done on a piecemeal basis.
“Track and Trace”: Transparency International Report
The Government recognise the importance of maintaining public confidence in how we manage taxpayers’ money. We are taking steps to improve the processes already in place and to ensure that public spending is fair and transparent. Proposals in our December 2020 Green Paper aim to improve transparency in procurement across the public sector and include specific measures to strengthen transparency through the commercial lifecycle from planning to procurement, contract award, performance and completion. We will publish our response to the consultation shortly.
Test and Trace has been muddled and expensive. Along with personal protective equipment provision, it has been a profiteers’ paradise for some. After inflation, NHS workers got no pay rise, yet Deloitte’s partners got 14%. We need answers: who did what and for how much? Does the Minister agree that the terms of reference for the covid public inquiry should include an analysis of the super-profits and juicy contracts for middlemen that have undoubtedly been made, so that the public can consider what opportunists have enjoyed at all our expense?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the National Audit Office noted that it
“found that the ministers had properly declared their interests, and…found no evidence of their involvement in procurement decisions or contract management.”
No PPE contracts were awarded by reason of who referred them. Clearly, in a national emergency, it is right that we as a nation can procure at speed. That ability has been critical in providing the emergency response that was needed. Those mechanisms predate the pandemic; they were not created for the pandemic. The public are right to demand that we spend our money with car—and, unlike Labour Governments, we do that. Proposals in the Green Paper on reforming public procurement aim to improve transparency, and we will continue to do that.
Transparency International’s report identified 73 covid contracts that raised red flags for corruption. Last week, after 18 months of deflection and secrecy, the list of the companies awarded contracts through the VIP lane was finally revealed. We can see now why it was kept secret.
It is curious that, of the recommendations from politicians to that list, only the recommendations of Conservatives—no other political party—were successful. Of the 47 companies awarded contracts worth £4.7 billion, 18—more than a third—were referred by Tory MPs, Ministers or peers. Can the Minister confirm that anti-fraud and conflict of interest checks really did take place for all the contracts in the VIP lane? If there were another emergency tomorrow, would the system still be jobs for mates, or is a new and better one ready?
Of course, the hon. Lady is conveniently forgetting that Labour Members of Parliament also recommended individuals and companies as far as PPE is concerned, and there is nothing wrong with that. There was a national emergency at the time, and everyone was asked to assist, and if they knew someone who might have been able to assist in supplying personal protective equipment, they were invited to say so. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, but it was a public service to do so. The National Audit Office has already looked at this, and it has said there was no evidence of involvement in procurement decisions or contract management.
I realise there is a political wish on the part of the Labour party to try to make something of this, but actually this is a matter of public service. It is right that proper due diligence is carried out on contracts, and that is why the information is available to the public and to the Opposition to have a look at Government contracts. That has always happened, and it will continue to happen. The Government take these checks extremely seriously, and we are being extremely transparent, but it is also absolutely essential that, in an emergency, we can procure at speed.
Covid-19 Public Inquiry
I am pleased to reiterate that the Prime Minister has already confirmed that bereaved families and others will be consulted on the covid inquiry’s terms of reference before they are finalised and that the inquiry will be established on a statutory basis with full formal powers.
The University of Liverpool this week released a report on the lived experience of those who have lost a loved one to covid-19, in collaboration with Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. The report recommends that the public inquiry be brought forward without delay, stresses the importance of transparency and asks for bereaved families to be an integral part of the inquiry. Is it not about time that the Government listen to the bereaved families of covid-19 victims and adopt the report’s recommendations?
I thank the hon. Member for her question, and may I take this opportunity to express my condolences and sympathy to all of the many bereaved families who have suffered as a result of the pandemic? The Prime Minister announced in Parliament as early as May this year—on 12 May—that the inquiry into the pandemic would be established on a formal statutory basis, with all the requisite powers that go with that, under the Inquiries Act 2005. A chair of the inquiry will be announced by the end of this year, and the Prime Minister told the bereaved families group that in a meeting he had with them on 28 September. It is important that formal powers will be attached to the inquiry, and everything will be done to make sure the relevant material and oral evidence, for example, is given under oath.
The Prime Minister refused to meet bereaved families for nearly 400 days. When he eventually deigned to meet them in September, he promised them they would have a role in setting the terms of reference for the inquiry. Yesterday, these grieving families wrote to the Prime Minister asking why, yet again, they are being ignored. Can the Minister explain to them why they are being ignored?
As I just said, the Prime Minister met Bereaved Families for Justice on 28 September. He welcomed the opportunity to hear directly from them, and of course the areas they would like the inquiry to cover were mentioned. The importance of choosing the right chair was also mentioned. All commitments made to the Bereaved Families for Justice group will be met. The chair of the inquiry will be appointed by Christmas, and bereaved families and others will be consulted on the terms of reference before they are finalised.
This Christmas, many constituents of Members across the House will sit where they normally are, but their loved one will not be with them. Indeed, for some people it is two years, isn’t it? Could I press the Minister on announcing the chair, or having the Prime Minister announce the chair, not on Christmas eve, because that will wreck Christmas? As the end of the year is nearly here, could he speed that up, just for their sake?
I hear the hon. Lady’s question and absolutely recognise the importance of the matter. It is also of course important to go through the proper processes in selecting possible chairs, appointing one and so on. I know this will be given the considerable importance it deserves, and as I said, it will be disclosed before the end of the year.
For the covid-19 bereaved families two things matter above all: that the inquiry begins as soon as possible, with the families at its heart; and that the national covid memorial wall opposite Parliament must be preserved. The Government have indicated that they support a national memorial at St Paul’s cathedral instead, but this is not an either/or choice and the families’ agony must end. Both memorials deserve their place: will the Minister therefore support the bereaved families’ request to preserve the memorial wall, because it is their wall, their memories, their love?
The Government recognise the need for bereaved families to have a location, or locations, where the representation will take place, and of course there is a UK commission on covid commemoration, as the hon. Gentleman knows. It will carefully consider how communities across the country can remember those who have lost their lives due to this appalling pandemic, and recognise those involved in the response as well, in a fitting and permanent way. So there is a specific UK commission on covid commemoration, and we should let it do its job.
We have put in place a number of measures to deal with the extraordinary set of circumstances brought on by the pandemic and the global economy rebounding from the disruption it caused. These include increasing HGV testing capacity by 90% to help get new drivers into the sector quickly, extending cabotage rights, making available boot camps to train up to 5,000 HGV drivers, and making available temporary visas for poultry workers and butchers.
As well as making the best use of our wide and varied natural resources in our energy transition to net zero, it also makes sense to make the best and most effective use of our existing supply chains that serve our maritime nation. Will my right hon. Friend therefore join me and the UK Marine Energy Council in welcoming the announcement yesterday of £20 million of UK funding for the tidal energy sector, and will this Government reinforce supply chains for the wider maritime economy?
I do welcome that announcement. As the Energy Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), said, the backing for tidal steam power is opening up a new chapter for Britain’s coastal communities and advancing the possibilities for Britain’s marine energy sector to play a significant role in delivering the UK’s green energy revolution.
A large number of small and medium-sized enterprises play a crucial role in the UK’s supply chain and many rely on imports from the European Union to keep that supply chain going. Such businesses were let down badly last year when import controls were introduced on the other side of the channel; what guarantees can the Minister give that when the UK starts to impose import controls in January the needs of small businesses will be kept in mind?
We are working in collaboration across the United Kingdom: I joined a call with the First Ministers, including the First Minister of Scotland, to discuss supply chain issues. We have also brought in expertise such as Sir Dave Lewis, former chief executive of Tesco, to work with us. How we maintain the resilience of our supply chains involves shared issues that we are working together on across the UK.
Business Bids for Contracts
Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. We are increasing opportunities for SMEs in a variety of ways, from transparently publishing contract pipelines to simplifying the bidding process.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer. I am always proud to see Stoke-on-Trent’s world-leading ceramics across the parliamentary estate when I am busy plate turning, but sadly, the same cannot be said for every Department. Under current Government and parliamentary procurement rules, purchases of less than £10,000 do not require an open tendering process. That freezes out many local ceramics companies, such as Churchill China and Steelite in my Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke constituency. Can my right hon. Friend advise me how we will improve procurement rules to ensure that Stoke-on-Trent’s world-leading ceramics have a fair crack of the whip and can be spread across Whitehall?
My hon. Friend is right to be proud of those industries, and he is also right to draw a distinction between contracts above £10,000, which need to be published, and those below £10,000, albeit of course that those below £10,000 still need to deliver value for money. We are looking, through the legislation that we are bringing forward on procurement, at how we can allow greater comparability in public contracts—that £300 billion of spend—so that we drive better value for money. We are also supporting SMEs through things such as Help to Grow: Digital and Help to Grow: Management in order that they are better enabled to bid for those important contracts.
There are two aspects to that question. First, there is the investment we are making—for example, the £15 billion, increasing to £20 billion, in research and development so that we can make the most of innovation and technical opportunities, building on our university sector expertise. Secondly, covid has shone a light on the importance of resilience in supply chains and the benefits in certain sectors of onshoring more of our supply chains. I think that is one positive that has come out of the covid process.
The Government are determined to see a gold standard of care and support for our veterans. We are putting more money into bespoke mental health care and the NHS, we are putting more money into our brilliant veteran and armed forces charitable sector—it has doubled this year to more than £25 million—and we are putting in place practical improvements to the lives of veterans, such as railcards, armed forces champions in jobcentres, and tax cuts for those employing veterans.
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in thanking veterans and the Royal British Legion in Atherton and Leigh for raising £4,000, which is a very significant sum. I know from my constituency of Aldershot the hugely important role that the Royal British Legion has in local life and, indeed, in our national life, and I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he does in his constituency to support its efforts.
Covid-19 Departmental Backlogs
As we come out of the crisis phase of the covid response, the Government have put the recovery of public services at the heart of their building back better and levelling-up agenda, and we have already laid the foundation for recovery. Earlier this year, in the 2021-22 spending review, the Government allocated £55 billion to the public sector through key initiatives such as the £1 billion elective recovery fund, the £30 billion plan for jobs, £3 billion in education recovery, the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, and almost half a billion pounds in criminal justice system recovery. This work continues at pace across Government, and the Cabinet Office continues to work closely with Departments as they all build the world-class public services the UK deserves.
I thank the Paymaster General for that excellent answer, and I thank the Government for all they have done for business and for every sector through the pandemic; it is much appreciated.
I want to ask specifically about education. Will the Paymaster General outline whether additional education funding, above the £3 billion that he referred to, has been considered to bring some of our children back to where they should be? I am very concerned, as all in the House are, about the education of children. How, specifically, can we ensure that the children who have lost out can still catch up and have time to do so?
As is so often the case, the hon. Gentleman is so right in his focus on education. Of course, the Government recognise the importance of education for all our young people, at primary, secondary and tertiary level. That recognition manifests itself in the extra funding that the Government have supplied, through the Department for Education, to the education sector. There is the £3 billion education recovery fund, and I will be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with more details about the breakdown of those sums.
Government Agencies: Transparency of Decisions
The Cabinet Office’s tailored review programme ran from 2015 to 2020. The programme considered transparency in its review of over 100 bodies. Further, the public bodies reform programme was launched earlier this year. A key output of the programme is a new series of public body reviews, which will focus on four areas of assessment: governance, accountability, efficacy and efficiency.
I look forward to perhaps participating in those reviews with the Minister, and I thank him for his response.
On a recent trip to Berlin, the Transport Committee heard from German health and transport officials how they had formed the rules on international travel restrictions, the rationale behind them, and how they had explained those rules to the industry, which seemed to be working happily alongside them. In contrast, our own decision makers were, sadly, taken to court in order for those in the UK international travel industry to better understand the rationale. With this new review approach, will it be possible for us to better find a way in which the public and private sector can understand what the rule making and decision making is really about?
I thank my hon. Friend, the Transport Committee Chairman, for his question. I know how important this issue is to him and to the sector. Ministers and officials have engaged extensively with the aviation and travel industries throughout the pandemic, including through our global travel taskforce report, which set the framework for the safe return of international travel. The Cabinet Office continues to be a friend to industry. We will keep on engaging with businesses as we undertake a further review of our international travel policy early in the new year to provide certainty for the spring and summer 2022 seasons.
While calling for transparency from other public bodies, the UK Government need to lead from the front. It is a fact that the VIP lane allowed contracts to be given to Tory friends’ small businesses out of all proportion to their size, turnover and track record. If the UK Government believe in transparency, why did they fight tooth and nail to hide the VIP lane information?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but the National Audit Office did not find as he believes. We are committed to transparency, as per action 24 in the “Declaration on Government Reform”. A key output of the public bodies reform programme is a new series of Department-led public body reviews.
Covid-19: Emergency Procurement Powers
Existing procurement rules, which predate covid-19, rightly allow the Government to procure at speed in times of an emergency. The rules are not new and it is for contracting authorities to make their own determinations on when to use them. At the beginning of the pandemic, we issued guidance to set out the options available to Government Departments to buy at pace, bearing in mind the legal framework for procurement. We have since built on that with further guidance on the commercial risks inherent in direct awards. Our “Transforming Public Procurement” Green Paper sets out proposals to update the rules on procuring in times of extreme emergency or crisis, learning from the experience of the pandemic. We will be publishing our response to that consultation shortly.
The use of emergency procurement powers during the covid-19 pandemic has been a murky mess. The process has delivered multiple contracts to Tory party friends and donors, and hundreds of millions of pounds of public money has been spent on equipment that could not be used. The use of such powers might have been justified at the start of the pandemic, but 20 months on there is really no excuse for the continued use of accelerated procurement powers. It is now eight months since the consultation on the Green Paper closed and the Government still have not published a response. When will they end the use of emergency measures, and when will they clean up public procurement?
I do not accept the characterisation that the hon. Lady puts on the matter, and neither does the National Audit Office—it looked at this and said, as we have rehearsed in the Chamber, that it sees no evidence of the sort of the thing that she refers to. On emergency procurement, it is crucial in any society for the Government to be able to purchase items at emergency speed, for example if lives are to be saved as a consequence, or in other types of emergency. That is nothing new. The public interest was best served by being able to act quickly and decisively.
As for the point that the hon. Lady makes about the situation now, the public sector has reduced its use of regulation 32 powers—the emergency procurement powers. Their use peaked between April and June 2020 at the height of the initial wave of the pandemic. In central Government, the use of these powers has reduced by more than two thirds over the six months from April to September 2021 compared with the same period last year. The use of emergency contracts is rapidly declining.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching, I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the UK’s cyber professionals, who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help to keep us safe online. That is as important as ever, as the economy recovers from the impact of covid-19. Every day, cyber criminals target online retail, from scam texts, impersonating couriers and defrauding shoppers out of their money to damaging the reputations of small businesses by stealing their customer payment details. That trend has only increased during the covid pandemic as more and more trade has moved online. Indeed, since April 2020, more than 4,000 business sites have been identified as being targeted by cyber criminals.
Organisations such as the National Cyber Security Centre and the British Retail Consortium have spearheaded that work, providing tailored advice to businesses and citizens on how they can protect their activity online. Details of further steps to be taken will be set out in the upcoming national cyber strategy, which the Government will launch in December. The strategy recognises the increasing importance of cyber in our day-to-day lives, and it will underpin our democratic values and strategic alliances and ensure that the UK will be more resilient to the future cyber threats that we will no doubt face.
I was delighted to see the Prime Minister unveil plans to establish a new science and technology council—they are great plans. Does the Minister agree that that council will not only help us to realise the possibilities that research and technology have to offer and to tackle the great societal changes and challenges that we need to address, but cement our place in the world as a science superpower?
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. We are committed to being a science superpower and to putting science at the heart of our public policy making. That is why the Prime Minister set up the national science and technology council and why we have established the office for science and technology strategy, which will support those strategic decisions and ensure that the research and development uplift in funding from £15 billion to £20 billion can be targeted in the most effective way.
I welcome the Minister’s comments regarding cyber-security and the measures that will be taken, because it is blight on many of our constituents across the United Kingdom.
Last week, the Government admitted that minutes of a conference call on 9 April 2020 between the former Member for North Shropshire and a Health Minister could not be located. Has this Minister been informed whether or not those minutes have now been located, and can he say when all the relevant documents will be given to the House?
As the right hon. Lady knows, the National Audit Office always has power to access all documents; it has rights of access, as any member of the Public Accounts Committee would know. As we have covered in a series of questions this morning, the National Audit Office noted that
“we found that the ministers had properly declared their interests, and we found no evidence of their involvement in procurement decisions or contract management.”
Simply repeating a point does not make it correct. The National Audit Office has access to the document, and that is the finding that it set out.
I am not sure that I got an answer to the question that I posed to the Minister. As I recall—forgive me if I am wrong—the Prime Minister even said at Prime Minister’s questions that he was “very happy to publish” the documents, and Ministers today have talked about the importance of transparency. What is there to hide? Will Ministers publish all the correspondence, the WhatsApps and the messages so that there is transparency regarding the covid contracts? Will the Minister also accept all the outstanding freedom of information requests about the documents? As we have heard, £3.5 billion in contracts was awarded without tender to companies with links to the Conservative party. By contrast, not one successful bid came from any politician or adviser of any other party. Spending £1 million a week on storage for dud PPE—can the Minister explain that?
Earlier at departmental questions, we were told that the act of referral to the high-priority lane was a bad thing, until hon. Friends pointed out that Opposition Members had made the same referrals. The right hon. Lady has now shifted the attack to Randox and the timing of the contract. I simply remind her that the meeting between Randox and the then Minister for innovation was on 9 April, after the contract was signed with Randox on 30 March. Not only does the National Audit Office have rights of access to Government papers, but there is a legislative framework that applies to papers through the Freedom of Information Act. We will, of course, abide with it in the usual way.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster attended that fantastic event as well. We launched the refreshed GREAT campaign on 9 June, which showcases all four corners of our nation internationally to inspire the world and encourage people to visit, invest, study and live in the UK. The campaign, which is used across 22 Departments and arm’s length bodies, has promoted the best of the United Kingdom in more than 145 countries worldwide.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not recognise quality over quantity. I think he ought to spend a little more time reading House of Lords Hansard; he would see a world-beating range of expertise on myriad issues. The House of Lords is a House of experts and he should spend more time listening to its debates.
Only a few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend was in the Chamber telling me that £4 billion was “a rounding error”. As a fellow former member of the Brexit Secretaries club, let me now welcome him to the value for money club, as that is the subject he seems to have raised in the context of the cost of FOIs and focus groups’ information.
The point of substance is that, with so many lives threatened by the pandemic, it was right that we commissioned insight into a range of factors in order to understand the impact of our messages and that of the Government’s response to the pandemic. I think the commissioning of insight to enable us to understand that was absolutely right and value for money. As for the disclosure, as I said a moment ago to the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), responses to all FOI requests are handled in line with legislation, and that includes applying relevant exemptions where applicable.
I can add to what I said in my earlier answer to the hon. Lady. I agree with her about the importance of York, and I also agree with her wider point. It is not simply a case of one Department moving to York; what is key—and this is one of the lessons that we learnt from previous initiatives of Governments—is the ability to build a career in a location, and that requires a number of opportunities. For example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is also considering placing 190 roles in York.
Now that the spending review has ended, there will be an opportunity to finalise departmental plans and see which other Departments can coalesce in York, but it is not only a question of Departments. I urge the hon. Lady to bear in mind arms’ length bodies that are often responsible for operational delivery across Government and are often located predominantly in London. Both Departments and arms’ length bodies will have the opportunity to consider how they might come together in areas such as York.
I realise that there is a political operation taking place on the Opposition Benches with regard to the House of Lords. It is entirely fair to look at our democratic process systems and propose reform; what is not fair is denigrating people who work incredibly hard to improve our legislation. I am thinking of, for instance, the Environment Bill and the impact it will have on sewage discharge in my constituency, and the help that was given to us by the House of Lords, whose proposals the Government agreed with and our side voted for. Does the ministerial team agree that a little more respect is warranted?
I do indeed agree. The fact is that the Labour party wishes to make cheap political points when in reality the House of Lords provides expert service to the nation, and does so extremely inexpensively compared to the second chambers in most western democracies.
We covered this a moment ago. It is right that, at every stage of the pandemic, insight was commissioned measuring a range of different factors. All insight and evaluation activity is assessed regularly for its appropriateness, impact and fitness for purpose. As I said earlier, responses to all FOI requests are handled in line with legislation, and that includes applying relevant exemptions where applicable.
Veterans in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington must often live with a range of conditions that our brilliant doctors are not used to treating. Does my hon. Friend agree that the £5 million veterans healthcare innovation fund will play a key role in helping our injured veterans to live life to the full once they have returned from active duty?
I do agree that the £5 million innovation fund will help us to allow veterans to benefit from cutting-edge technology to assist their recovery. It is also an important part of the bespoke pathway that we are crafting for veterans through the NHS system, including GP accreditation. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does in his own constituency to support the care of veterans.
Can I press the Veterans Minister a little further on the veterans card? The right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) announced it in 2019, and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), when he was Veterans Minister, said that it would be rolled out in 2020. That has been done for service personnel leaving our armed forces, but it has still not been completed for former personnel. I asked the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) some months ago to resolve this, as it is extremely important for many of our former service personnel to get the veterans card, so may I press him again on when this will be completed? It really does matter to so many veterans and their families.
The Prime Minister has backed a stronger code of conduct for MPs to ensure that an MP’s primary job is, and must be, to serve their constituents, and to represent their interests in Parliament rather than those of private businesses—or trade unions, for that matter. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the changes to the code of conduct suggested by the Prime Minister will create up-to-date, effective and rigorous rules?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is an MP’s primary job to serve their constituents and to represent their interests in Parliament, and indeed, the vast majority of MPs work tirelessly for their constituents. As you have said, Mr Speaker, it is for the House to decide whether MPs should hold second jobs, and that matter will be debated further in the Chamber.
It is completely fair for us in the SNP to raise concerns over Lords in an unelected position who have just happened to give significant sums to the Conservative party. With the entry requirements for the UK’s retirement home for failed Tory MPs or Tories who cannot win elections—otherwise known as the Lords—coming under increasing scrutiny, attention should be paid to the fact that that unelected institution is bigger than the UK’s elected Parliament in the Commons. Does the Minister not agree that having an unelected, crony-stuffed second Chamber undermines the UK’s ability not only to claim to be a functioning democracy but to lecture others on their own democracies?
As we have already discussed in this Chamber, the House of Lords provides expert counsel and excellent value for money. If the hon. Lady wishes to compare the cost of the House of Lords to the public expenditure with other second Chambers in bicameral legislatures, she will find that it is extremely inexpensive and extremely expert, and that it provides excellent value for money. She characterises it in one way, but she forgets that it also provides a service to all sections of our society, including those in the medical profession, the legal profession, the military service and across the range of society, and it will continue to do so.
May I welcome the recent appointment of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to his new role in co-ordinating efforts across the Government to tackle the cross-channel migrant crisis? In that role, will he persuade officials in his own Department, as well as those in the Foreign Office and the Home Department, to come up with constructive solutions that can be effectively deployed, rather than coming up with reasons why something cannot be done?
I, and I am sure all hon. Members, join the Prime Minister in saying how deeply saddened we all are by the terrible tragedy we saw yesterday.
The response to the challenge of small boats is a whole-of-Government endeavour, and it is therefore right that we work across the whole of Government to look at all aspects of that journey: upstream, our processing and our legal framework. My hon. Friend will be aware that progress has been made, and 20,000 crossings have been stopped so far this year. We will continue to work in partnership with the French to ensure we can avert tragedies such as we saw yesterday.
I do not want the Secretary of State to get away with it this morning. What is he doing about the “blob”? If he reads the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph, it says that the blob is stopping the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, getting their policies delivered in every Department. Can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster tell us a little more about what this blob is? If it is stopping the Government delivering their policies, could he do something about blobism?
Thank you for that, Mr Speaker.
On the substantive point raised by the hon. Gentleman, as was recognised in the declaration on Government reform signed by the Prime Minister, by my predecessor as CDL and by the Cabinet Secretary—and indeed by Ministers and permanent secretaries across Whitehall—we are committed to reform and modernisation. Covid has shown the opportunity to do things differently, but we should not lose sight of the fact that we have huge talent and capability within our civil service. I can point to numerous examples, but the furlough scheme was put in place at great pace by officials in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. There is already innovation within our civil service, but it is clear, as covid has shown, that there is opportunity to go further and faster. There is now a commitment from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary to do exactly that.
Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster at least agree that any Member of Parliament whose gross misconduct has led to their being ejected from this place through a recall petition, or anyone who chooses to leave rather than face a recall petition, should not be considered a fit and proper person to be elevated to the Lords?
I have previously written to the Minister for Defence People and Veterans about the delay that one of my constituents has experienced while waiting for a decision on his military pension. Will the Minister please look into this case and ensure that my constituent does not wait any longer than the year that has already elapsed since his application?
Many banks and companies want to do their business online. Indeed, they insist on it. I am contacted daily by constituents who do not have the access or the technical ability to go online. What can Government Departments do to provide the option of a phone call, rather than the online service that is impossible for many people and therefore disadvantages them?
The hon. Gentleman is right that there needs to be a mix of delivery options. By facilitating safe business online, as schemes such as “Help to Grow: Digital” do, we are helping customers. Alongside that, he is right: it is important that there are training opportunities for those who are less familiar. It is also important that those who do not want to go online are not left behind. One of the key objectives of our national cyber-security strategy is to ensure that the many who go online for the first time do so safely by ensuring that we make our defences far more resilient.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have no wish to embarrass the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is an old friend of mine. As he says, we are both ex-Brexit Secretaries, but I am also an ex-Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I know a cost-effectiveness argument when I see it, and I know when it falls down. The questions I cited to him were tabled so as to avoid the Department’s cost restrictions. As a result, the Department has used arguments of policy involvement in the statistics, and those arguments have been written off as bogus by the Information Commissioner. The Department is not obeying the spirit of the law. In the light of that, this cover-up has gone on long enough. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the answers I have been given, I give notice that I intend to raise this matter on the Adjournment.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. In answer to my question, the Minister told the House that the National Audit Office “always has power” to access any documents, but you were here last week when we heard from a Minister who said that those minutes were not available and they did not know where they were. My question was very clear: how can the NAO have access to documents where we do not know whether they exist or not? I was wondering whether we could get clarity on that matter.
Independent Fan-led Review of Football Governance
First, may I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), the advisory panel of experts and the thousands of football fans up and down the country who have contributed to this report? Football clubs are at the heart of our local communities, and fans are at the heart of those clubs, but there were problems in football governance and the voice of fans was not always being heard. That is why we committed to the fan-led review of football governance in our manifesto. The events seen at Bury and at Macclesfield Town, and with the European super league, made it vital that we looked at what reform was needed to protect those fans, and we triggered the review back in April. My hon. Friend has today presented her final report, setting out her recommendations. A copy has been made available in the Library, and of course the Government will formally and fully respond to the independent report in the new year.
The review is a comprehensive examination of English football, founded on more than 100 hours of engagement across the game and the views of more than 20,000 fans. I am grateful to all those who have given evidence, but most importantly to the fans who have had their voice heard. That voice will remain at the heart of our thinking in assessing the recommendations. The final report is a thorough and detailed examination of the challenges faced by English football. It shows the problems in football and is clear that reform is needed to solve them. I will not go through the 10 strategic recommendations and the 47 detailed recommendations here, Mr Speaker, but they are wide-ranging and comprehensive, addressing the need for an independent regulator, improved financial sustainability, better governance and a proper role for fans.
The report shows that fundamental change is needed in our national game, and fans deserve that. We are at a turning point for football in this country. The review is a detailed and worthy piece of work that will require a substantive response and plan of action from across government. However, the primary recommendation of the review—that football requires a strong, independent regulator—is one that I, and the Government, endorse in principle today. The Government will now work at pace to determine the most effective way to deliver an independent regulator, and any powers that might be needed. That is what the fans want, and this Government are on the side of fans.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and her panel on their work, and thank the Football Supporters’ Association and every fan who took part in the review. We have known for a very long time that football is broken—this is not a new thing—and we on this side of the House have called for years for an independent regulator to fix it. We are therefore delighted that that is the report’s key recommendation, and I anticipate there will be a great amount of consensus across the House on that. We would like to see a bit more fan involvement, so just as the Football Association will be allowed observer status on the independent regulator board, we believe the FSA should too.
I was somewhat concerned to see the Secretary of State’s tweet this morning. She said she is
“endorsing in principle the primary recommendation’’
of the review. Will the Minister allay my fears and confirm that the Government accept both the principle and the detail of the review’s recommendations on the independent regulator, and that they will enshrine that in primary legislation? The Secretary of State’s words in that tweet and the Minister’s words just now appear to suggest something less than that.
Does the Minister agree that there is no need to delay further? Will he commit to bring forward a Bill in the new year? If not, when are we going to see the Bill? As the review makes clear, the recommendations should be taken as a package, not as a pick ’n’ mix—anything less could leave us with a botched job—so will the Minister commit to accepting all the recommendations of this very thorough review?
On the golden share and supporters’ shadow boards, does the Minister agree that any proposals for a breakaway league must be discussed with those supporters’ shadow boards, regardless of any confidentiality agreements that might have been signed by the clubs involved?
Finally, have the Government had discussions at any point with the Welsh Government about the reform of football governance in respect of Welsh clubs that also take part in the English club structure?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady and for the cross-party approach to the issue of football governance taken by the Opposition Front-Bench team and, indeed, the whole House. I hope that that tone and co-operation will continue throughout, because our goals and intentions are absolutely aligned.
I am sure the hon. Lady understands the process. This is an independent report and if anybody knows my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford—she is behind me—they will know that she has taken a robust and independent approach. The Government need to respond formally, and I am sure that the hon. Lady and everybody else will understand that I cannot today pre-empt every single element of the Government’s response to the conclusions. I only saw the full report myself just a couple of days ago. We take the recommendations incredibly seriously, and I am well aware of the strength of feeling behind many of the proposals, but I am sure the hon. Lady will appreciate that I cannot commit 100% to all the proposals today.
On how we go forward, I intend to proceed at pace—in fact, I had a meeting this morning with my officials to discuss how we move forward and how fast we can move. The whole House wants us to move quickly; please, watch this space.
Mr Speaker, I recognise that it is quite unique for the chair of a Government review also to be a sitting Member of Parliament and do not intend to abuse that position by—you know—urging the Minister to accept the recommendations as a whole package and advising that, obviously, if he says so in the Chamber, it has to happen. But will he join me in thanking the thousands of fans who took part in the fan-led review? Without the input of the fans who served on the expert panel, the fans of the 130 clubs across the whole of the pyramid who gave oral and written evidence and, of course, the 20,000-plus fans who contributed to the survey, the recommendations would not be as they are in the report.
Absolutely—I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I again offer sincere thanks to her, not only on my behalf but on behalf of the whole Government, for the work she has done at incredible pace. The work done has been extensive: she has travelled up and down the country and been involved in Zoom calls and so many other calls and, of course, 20,000 fans contributed online submissions to the review in an incredibly short period of time. We all need to recognise that we have already moved at pace and that my hon. Friend moved at pace. I respect everything she has done and look forward to continuing to work with her as we formulate the Government’s response. I am hopeful that we will all get a positive outcome, because football needs it.
I am immensely proud to be a supporter of Scotland’s most successful team in the past decade: having waited 130 years for their first major trophy, St Johnstone have won three in the past seven years and are currently the holders of both cups.
I am also proud that the SNP Scottish Government’s recent changes to club-ownership governance have been based on the development of a fan bank to help supporters to take control of their clubs. Fans already have a controlling interest in a quarter of the top flight: the three clubs being Hearts, Motherwell and, of course, the mighty Paisley St Mirren. By contrast, English football is now fully awash with blood money from dictatorships and oligarchs—similar to the Tory party conference, it must be said.
The Scottish Government fan bank will support more fan ownership where the supporters want it. Does the Minister agree that such a move in England would help to freeze out the spivs, gangsters and murderous regimes that are trying to sports-wash their image and are now running and financing many English clubs? What further actions do the Government plan to take to counter investors such as those now at Newcastle United?
The hon. Gentleman knows of course that sport is a devolved matter. I am sure that there are many learnings from the review for English football that the Scottish football ecosystem would perhaps take on board and consider. The clear message that I would like to send to Scotland and to football in the UK is that the report has made many recommendations, some of which may require legislation that we are likely to pursue, but there are many other things in the report that football itself can do anyway, and, as I have said, that applies in both England and Scotland.
I welcome the excellent report that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) has prepared and I welcome as well the fact that the Minister has said that, in principle, the Government accept the creation of the independent regulator. Obviously, it is vital that the independent regulator, when created, has the powers that it needs to do the job. Can he confirm that, in principle, the Government accept that that must include real-time access to financial information about the clubs if we are to prevent more club failures?
I thank my hon. Friend as well for his commitment, interest and insight into football and, indeed, into sport in general over many years and I appreciate what he is saying. Yes, I can say that, of course, we could not have an effective regulator without also having adequate powers, and the elements that he has considered will, of course, be part of that package. When I say that we accept in principle and are therefore considering moving forward with legislation that includes not only the regulator itself, but the powers that the regulator may have.
I thank my honourable football friend, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), for the report that she has produced. We look forward to further discussions with her at the football group meeting next week. Richard Caborn, a previous Sports Minister, convened a group of football parties in Sheffield, and we put forward a submission to the review, promoting the independent regulator, the golden share, and important elements of the review that have now been published and supported by the hon. Lady. That is really welcome. Does the Minister accept that, at the end of the day, the regulator must have real powers to redistribute the funding of football to do away with the cliff edge between the premiership and the championship and the cliff edge within the championship that is caused by parachute payments?
Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman. We have had many discussions about football and I know of his interest. In fact, most people in the House today have shown great passion and enthusiasm for football over many, many years and have all contributed to the review. He is right to point out that the regulator needs adequate powers. That is exactly the kind of thing that we are looking at and he will be well aware as well that, in the report, there are recommendations about flow of finance. I do not believe that we can completely divorce governance from financial flows, so, in our response—and I cannot pre-empt the response today—those will be exactly the kind of things we will be considering.
I welcome this report and pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). As the review states, Bury FC was founded in 1885,
“existed through countless economic cycles, several wars and 26 different Prime Ministers”—
“ceased to exist in 2018-19 with a devastating impact on the local economy and… a devastated fan base”.
So although I fully support the recommendations—they are our vision for the sport going forward—the town of Bury should not be left behind. Does the Minister agree that, as Bury FC is mentioned 15 times in the review, one thing that should come out of this is that all stakeholders should work together to ensure that the community buys Gigg Lane for the people of Bury, allowing football to continue in our historic stadium?
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. We have had many conversations about the situation in Bury. Indeed, I support the goals of trying to get Bury back again in some form, as it is so important. One of the underlying principles and thrusts of this very review is to make sure that another Bury situation never happens again. I agree with what he is saying and I would be happy to provide what support I can to him directly.
The 15th of May 2010 is etched in my memory as the sad day that Ross County was beaten by Dundee United in the cup final. Football is for everyone, particularly in Scotland, as the SNP spokesman, hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), has pointed out. Will the Minister have the closest possible negotiations with Ministers in the Scottish Government, and will he think about consulting the Scottish fan base, because the fans will have a lot to say?
I am sorry that that date 11 years ago is still scarred in the hon. Gentleman’s memory. Indeed, he is right; we have constructive meetings at both ministerial and official level with the Scottish Government. Just last week or the week before, I met Scottish sports Ministers and sports Ministers from across the devolved Administrations precisely to share learnings, experiences and best practice. The fan-led review will be part of future discussions. I understand that fans from Scotland—I am not sure how many—have already contributed to the review through online submissions. We appreciate their involvement.
As my hon. Friend has said, football clubs are at the very heart of local communities, including the mighty Leicester City, which has its training ground in my Loughborough constituency—and I am very proud about it too. Does he agree that the fans are at the centre of the national game, so it was absolutely right that the review was fan-led, and that it is what the fans deserve?
Absolutely. It is always a pleasure to talk all things sport with my hon. Friend, who represents one of the sportiest constituencies in the country, which appropriately has an incredibly sport-loving Member of Parliament. She is right to praise Leicester City and to focus on the fan-led aspect of the review, which is precisely why we had such levels of engagement from fans across the country. The outcomes of the online survey show overwhelming support for many of the measures outlined in the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, and we need to take that very seriously indeed.
I also join the congratulations to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who I call my hon. Friend in this case.
The reports of the report are extremely promising, but if we are going to create the post of a regulator, that regulator must have not simply legal power, but the resource base needed to do the job. The same is true if we are going to give some control to supporters. Will the Minister guarantee that the supporters will have both the resource and the legal capacity to exercise that kind of control? Importantly, will it be clear that the objectives of the regulator will include the fact that football is a sport belonging to the community, not simply a commodity to be bought and sold like my club Manchester United or my other club Rochdale, which recently fought off a malicious takeover?
I recognise that the report is rather hefty at 160 pages, so perhaps not everybody has yet read every single element of it, but the summary reports are broadly accurate. I would not misread my comments; in principle, we support the regulator, but of course the details need to be worked on, including the scope, powers and resources, exactly as the hon. Gentleman has articulated. That is why I cannot come here today and say, “Absolutely, 100%”. We need to work on some elements, including the ways of working. In principle, we absolutely accept the idea of a regulator. It has overwhelming support in the country, and I hope that everybody watching can see that it has overwhelming support in this House.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) on this review.
The English football pyramid includes five Welsh football clubs, including Wrexham football club, which is the fourth-oldest professional side in the world. Therefore, if my hon. Friend is going to take forward the proposals into legislation, will he assure the House that he will be liaising closely with the Welsh Government and obtaining all necessary legislative consent?
Yes, indeed; I can give my right hon. Friend that confirmation. He is absolutely right that we need to consider the clubs in Wales. I was delighted last year to visit Wrexham, which has some interesting and enthusiastic new owners, but we also need to consider the other clubs. Any changes in the English system would have implications for a limited number of clubs in Wales, and that would be taken into account in any forthcoming recommendations.
This is a brilliant report by a colleague of ours that everyone regards as their friend and a brilliant Sports Minister in the past. However, everyone knows that there is something not quite right at the heart of football, and it has to be sorted out. With a team and a club like Huddersfield right at the heart of the community, it is much bigger than just where it comes in the league; it is what it puts into the community. Real fans in Huddersfield and elsewhere will welcome this report. For too long we have had rich Russian oligarchs and rich Americans who do not really care about our communities doing what they will. As a Co-operative Member of Parliament, I would like all the clubs to be co-operatives and mutuals, but I know that is not in the report. This is a good report and I hope the Government will support it.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the pivotal role that our football clubs, and indeed many sports clubs, play in their community on an ongoing basis—and boy, did we see during the covid crisis how pivotal they were to their communities. I thank them for all the work they have done up and down the country in that regard. He is right that there are many elements in the report, some of which will require legislation. However, I repeat the appeal to the football authorities and football clubs: there are many recommendations in the report that make a lot of common sense, and they do not need to wait for legislation in order to move forward with changes on, for example, heritage, financial flows, aspects of governance and other things. In fact, I encourage them to start working and moving now.
I welcome the report from my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). She and I share a passion in that we are both season ticket holders at Tottenham—and you have to be passionate about football if you are a season ticket holder at Tottenham at the moment. Yes, absolutely, the part about the regulator and all the other bits and pieces in the report are important. I agree a little bit with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) with regard to the money. One of the areas that is really critical is that a successful league attracts money. As co-chair of the all-party Magnitsky sanctions group, I want to make sure that in the end, when the Government implement those, at the heart of it is an ability to stop people bringing money into our sport that actually degrades it and comes in very dangerous and dodgy circumstances.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments; he is absolutely right. There are, understandably, recommendations in the report on the owners and directors test, which is also right. There is an inherent instinct for not really liking too much regulation, but in this case, with football being so unique and so special, because it has shown itself to be incapable of reforming itself, we have to move, albeit reluctantly. Ideally we would not have had to take these measures. He is also right about the huge success and the important economic value of football to this country. A report recently came out that said, for example, that inbound tourism of people going to football matches was worth £1.4 billion alone to the UK economy, with 1.5 million people coming to the country just to watch our football matches. We really do appreciate that value and want to make sure that football is even more successful in the future because it is so pivotal to our communities but also our economy.
I thank the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for her work on this. Newport County is a club run by and for the fans and a stellar example of the benefits that supporter ownership can bring on and off the field. As part of the Minister’s response to this much-needed review of football governance, will he look at the Newport County model of community ownership as an example of how the game should be run—from the ground up?
We should be playing a game of football bingo today and see how many clubs we can tick off. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I am sure I speak for the author of the report and everybody else in saying that we do not want to give the impression that all of football is bad. There are many, many examples up and down the country of incredibly well-run clubs and models of engagement with fans that are admirable and that we really need to applaud. Indeed, we would like to see more of these successful co-operative models adopted in other parts of the country. She is absolutely right to point out the positives as well.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) on producing such an excellent report and doing so at pace. Kettering Town football club is a popular local football club with a proud and long heritage and historical footballing success. It has scored more goals in all rounds of the FA cup than any other football club in the country and was the first club in the country to have sponsorship on its shirts. We need to get more money into grassroots football clubs like Kettering Town. Will the Minister therefore look favourably at the recommendations on the levy on transfer fees, which are currently astronomical? More of that money needs to go down to grassroots football.
I thank my hon. Friend for that piece of trivia—we learn something new every day. He is right that the flow of football finance is pivotal and it is important for the ecosystem that the grassroots succeed as well. We have already seen some changes and movement from the top tiers to grassroots and lower tiers, and the message today is that we would like to see more. Through the arm’s length bodies of Government and indeed football itself, we want to see more money flowing through to the all-important grassroots levels.
Some premier league footballers get paid more for a single match than the entire balance sheet value of clubs such as my local constituency team of East Fife. That indicates the gulf in resources. Can I press the Minister on what action he intends to take to prevent entirely unsuitable individuals or organisations from swallowing up more and more football clubs? Does he agree that it is too important to be left purely to self-regulation? Does he agree that it is time for legislation to prevent people who are unfit to be given a licence to run a pub from taking over football clubs in England, Scotland or anywhere else?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the future regulatory environment needs to look at a whole host of things. We will therefore consider the powers, responsibilities and resources of any regulator. He is also right that—I have said this before, and it is clear in the report—we cannot divorce financial flows from governance. The financial flows within sport, including purchasing and acquisition, are an important part, and we will respond in detail in due course.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) on her excellent report. In my constituency I have Worksop Town—the Tigers—who are the fourth oldest club in the world. Worksop Town faced oblivion not too long ago but were saved by the fans and the community all pulling together to raise funds. We also had a generous benefactor as part of that. I am also a very long-suffering supporter of Notts County, who are the oldest professional club in the world, which I admit is hard work. Once upon a time, I was technically an owner of Notts County as I was a member of the supporters’ trust that took over the club. It was very well meaning and seemed to be a great model, but it was a fairly unmitigated disaster: we did not really have any money to invest and that caused problems down the line. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that, as is emphasised in the report, we must concentrate on a partnership between fans and owners and that, unfortunately, one cannot exist without the other?
I agree completely. It is really important that all clubs take their responsibility to their fans incredibly seriously. Unfortunately, as we saw with the European super league proposals, that relationship had broken down with some clubs. However, in the lower leagues in particular, we see much better relationships between owners and fans. Again, one of the important messages is that many owners have a great relationship with the clubs and the fanbase, including some of the international owners. It can work. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that that relationship is pivotal in any future business model.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for her work on the issue and for championing the cause. The Minister has said many times to hon. Members across the House that he and the Secretary of State agree with the principle of the recommendations, and he has talked about legislation possibly next year. May I push him further for the detail of the Department’s formal response to the report as soon as possible? Millions of fans across the UK are waiting to know what the Minister and Secretary of State will do on timescales. It cannot be that, in a year’s time, we are still here debating it through another urgent question.
I absolutely appreciate the sense of urgency, because one basis of the report was to ensure that some of the crises that we have seen in the sport do not happen again, so there is an urgent need for action. On the process, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is an independent report that the Government need to respond to formally. I do not want to pre-empt those conclusions today; we need to do some work. I can tell him, however, that my first meeting to discuss the response to the report happened this morning. I will then need to have some conversations with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is sitting next to me, about the process and where we go forward as well—I am sure that he also heard the comments of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore).
I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for all her work on this excellent report. In my constituency, I have a series of very small clubs, such as Didcot Town, Wantage Town and Wallingford Town, which are often run on a shoestring by volunteers who put in their own money to keep them going. Can my hon. Friend the Minister assure me that, when he considers the report’s recommendations, he will think about how we can protect clubs such as those, not just clubs in the top two divisions? If they go, the community loses something important.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend about the pivotal role that clubs such as his play in their communities, as we have seen particularly in the last two years. It is vital that we put them on a sustainable and sound footing, so financial flows within the football ecosystem were part of the review. There is a lot of money in football, but it is not always in the right place.
The report suggests that the ban on drinking alcohol in the stands could be lifted. Although that may help to bolster club finances, it could have huge consequences for antisocial behaviour, particularly at big games when team rivalries can cause tensions to run high. Have the Government considered the impact that the ban’s removal could have? What measures would they put in place to mitigate that?
The hon. Lady will be aware that one of the recommendations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford is a pilot programme, rather than a full, wholesale removal in one fell swoop. In responding to the report we will consider all the aspects that the hon. Lady and others have mentioned, because there are many stakeholders with views and opinions about that.
Blackpool football club has suffered greatly over much of the past 10 years because of the actions of an irresponsible owner. Thankfully, the club is now in much better hands under its new chairman Simon Sadler and success is following on the pitch. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the new owners and directors test for clubs that the review outlines, which will hopefully help to avoid the situation we saw in Blackpool being widespread among other clubs?
My hon. Friend makes some important points. Without pre-empting our conclusions to the report’s recommendations, everybody is aware that the current owners and directors test has not fulfilled all of its expectations. Many issues and concerns have been raised about it, so my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford has made recommendations in the report that we will seriously consider. I praise the new owners because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) has shown, a change of attitude and ownership can change a club’s position in its community overnight.
Like the hon. Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), I am a Leicester City supporter, which proves that the fanbase for the club transcends not only the Chamber politically, but the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I thank the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for her hard work and endeavours. The Minister is aware that the beautiful game can turn ugly when money becomes the only consideration for clubs. How will the reforms allow a structured approach without removing the ability for club governors to be innovative and make new calls? It is a delicate balance, as he has said, but does he believe that the Government have reached that point?
The hon. Gentleman makes some important points. We always need to ensure that the balance is right. The principle is that we want football to be even more successful and sustainable in future, which means encouraging and supporting innovation and investment. We need to make sure that that signal is out there, but that needs to be done responsibly. It is fantastic that he is a Leicester City fan. It is amazing how many new fans come out in this place when clubs are successful.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 29 November will include:
Monday 29 November—Second Reading of the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords], followed by a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Animals (Penalty Notices) Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill.
Tuesday 30 November—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party, the subject to be announced.
Wednesday 1 December—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.
Thursday 2 December—Debate on a motion on stability and peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by a debate on a motion on economic crime. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 3 December—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 6 December will include:
Monday 6 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Armed Forces Bill, followed by the Second Reading of the Dormant Assets Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 7 December—Remaining stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 8 December—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Nationality and Borders Bill (half day), followed by an Opposition day (7th allotted day— 2nd part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, the subject to be announced.
Thursday 9 December—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 10 December—Private Members’ Bills.
Right hon. and hon. Members may also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will return from the Christmas recess on Wednesday 5 January 2022. The House will rise for the February recess on Thursday 10 February and return on Monday 21 February. The House will rise for the Easter recess on Thursday 31 March and return on Tuesday 19 April. The House will rise for the May Day bank holiday on Thursday 28 April and return on Tuesday 3 May. The House will rise for the Whitsun recess on Thursday 26 May and return on Monday 6 June. Finally, the House will rise for the summer recess on Thursday 21 July.
First, it would be churlish of me not to thank the Leader of the House for letting staff, in particular, know that they can now book their holidays with their families; a lot of them have been waiting a long time to try to get those booked in. I thank the Leader of the House both for the forthcoming business and for the recess dates.
Yesterday, we heard the tragic news that at least 27 people died crossing the English channel, including one young girl and five women, when an inflatable dinghy capsized near Calais. This tragedy reminds us of the risk to life in those perilous waters. My thoughts and I am sure those of all Members are with those who died and with their loved ones. Some of us are already wondering if they are relatives of our constituents who have been trying to be reunited with them, and that is quite hard to take. This is the most poignant of wake-up calls to the UK Government, and I really urge them to act—to take this matter seriously to prevent people from dying in those dangerous waters. Safe and legal routes, tackling the traffickers, reversing the cut on overseas aid and working constructively with our overseas partners are four things the Government could and should be doing today, and I very much hope they will be part of what the Home Secretary speaks about in her remarks later this morning.
On the theme of Home Office failures, yesterday the Home Affairs Committee published yet another report on the Windrush generation compensation scheme. It was a damning indictment, again, of the Home Office’s inability to right a grievous wrong. Four years after the Windrush scandal emerged, just 5% of the people concerned have received their compensation, while 23 individuals, including a constituent of mine, died before they received a penny, still haunted by being wrongly deemed immigration offenders. The Committee recommends that the scheme is passed to an independent organisation and, frankly, we can see why. This is a Government departmental failure, and the Home Secretary should acknowledge that victims of the scandal will understandably have no confidence whatsoever in her Department. Will the Leader of the House urge his colleague to tell us what she will do to rebuild shattered trust in the Home Office?
This week, we learned in a written statement that British Airways was not told of the known danger that the passengers on the 1991 flight BA149 to Kuala Lumpur via Kuwait, who were taken hostage by Saddam Hussein’s forces, were flying into. The UK embassy in Kuwait was aware of that, but as a result of not being notified the passengers on the flight were held hostage by Saddam Hussein’s forces for months. A Government’s first duty is the safety and security of its citizens and a written apology is not good enough. I urge the Leader of the House to ask the Foreign Secretary to do the decent thing and come to this House to apologise and explain to the people of this country how she will ensure that this sort of failure can never happen to British people again.
This Government’s waste of public money is a theme of business questions and this week is no different: I have two examples that the Leader of the House can perhaps help with. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to explain why her Department has, according to a Select Committee report, only attempted to recover 10% of the £8.4 billion lost to fraud and error over the past year? Will he also ask the relevant Minister to come to this House to explain the loss of just shy of half a billion pounds on Randox contracts? That was briefly discussed this morning but this is still a House of Commons motion not yet complied with. Do the minutes even exist? I cannot imagine spending half a billion pounds and not keeping the receipt. Labour will not let this waste of taxpayers’ money go, because that sum would pay for hospitals, perhaps some of the mythical 40 hospitals, or schools, or help for people struggling with fuel bills this winter.
On Monday, the Standards Committee will report on its proposed changes to MPs’ code of conduct. That will be a significant step in untangling the mess that the Tories have forced this House into. I see from the business that the Leader of the House has not yet allocated Government time for a debate on this report; will he do so before the end of the year so that we can properly scrutinise it?
My final request is not to the right hon. Gentleman but to all the men in this place and beyond, because today is White Ribbon Day, the international day to end violence against women and girls, and the White Ribbon Campaign is a challenge for men to take on male violence. I urge all men listening to take this challenge seriously and do everything they can to end violence against women and girls. It is wonderful to imagine a world where that is eliminated, and I urge all men to help us go out and create it.
I endorse what the hon. Lady said at the end of her remarks and will highlight some of the things that the Government are doing to tackle violence against women and girls, which is obviously a top priority for the whole Government. The tackling violence against women and girls strategy is being refreshed, building on the £100 million already spent on tackling this issue since 2016. It includes establishing new police leads for violence against women and girls reporting to the Home Secretary, spending £30 million through the safer streets and women at night funds, a multimillion-pound communications campaign targeting perpetrators and misogynistic attitudes, and plans to commission a new 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline and online support. The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue and I think the whole House agrees that everything possible should be done to stop violence against women and girls, and men must recognise that they have an important responsibility within that.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady will now be able to find bargain holidays for herself for next year and that this pressing issue has now been answered. It has to be said that our dutiful staff so enjoy being in the House of Commons that they never come up to me and ask for the recess dates, but hon. Members do from time to time as they wait to book their flights on easyJet or their private jets, depending on their predilection. But I am delighted to have cheered up the hon. Lady.
The hon. Lady rightly mentioned the terrible situation in the channel yesterday, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box later. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that the Government’s priority must be to take every step possible to prevent deaths. The main way of achieving that is to stop the boats setting off; that must be the priority and it is why the Government have offered to help the French in any way that we can to try to stop those boats launching. Under the Nationality and Borders Bill, which the Opposition opposed, we are trying to make it easier for people to make legal claims for asylum, and harder for people who come into the country illegally to make claims. That must be right, because the evil of what happens is the people traffickers and smugglers who are entirely unconcerned about human life and take large amounts of money to put people on unsafe boats and push them out to sea at the risk of their lives. We must deal with them and make their business model fail, and that way we will save lives. I announced that the borders Bill will be coming back, and I hope that the Opposition will seriously consider supporting those many measures and supporting the Bill’s Third Reading, which will help us to ensure safer borders.
On Windrush, the Government are committed to ensuring that those compensation payments are paid. Everyone recognises that that was a great injustice and that the hostile environment policy did not succeed. Ensuring that those who are now quite elderly of the Windrush generation are properly compensated is the priority of the Government. I think changing the structure now would probably delay things more rather than speeding them up, but they have been sped up in the last few months and over the course of the last year, and that will continue.
As regards BA149, that happened some time before I was Leader of the House. Of course, Governments over many decades learn from the failings of previous Governments, but I do not think what happened in 1991 is immediately topical today.
On the issue of Government expenditure, I have warned the hon. Lady before about people in glass houses throwing stones, and I remind her about the £13 billion spent by the last socialist Government on the NHS supercomputer and the incredible failures with working tax credits, which led to masses of waste of taxpayers’ money. The whole approach to money when the socialists are in power is to be irresponsible and loose with other people’s money. As somebody once said, the problem with being socialist is that eventually you run out of other people’s money. The Government are committed to tackling fraud—to dealing with it and reducing it. That is a major priority, as it is for all sensible Governments.
As regards the purchase of personal protective equipment, this was an emergency. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. The vaccine programme, which was an absolute triumph, was based on shortening purchase arrangements, getting things done quickly, moving ahead swiftly, and spending the money that was necessary then, rather than waiting three to six months and finding that we were as behind as some other places have ended up being. The same was true with PPE, but of course the Humble Address, an important constitutional process, will be dealt with properly.
Finally, the hon. Lady mentioned the Standards Committee report. I think she is being a little previous in asking for something to be debated before it has been published.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] Sorry—Mr Speaker. Apologies. I will be well down the bottom of the list next time.
Elements of the recently opened consultation on conversion therapy deal with how to treat children with gender dysphoria. This is a complex and sensitive area, and proposals risk criminalising clinicians and parents who encourage children to take time before embarking on a potential lifetime of medical treatment. It also cuts right across the Cass review reporting early next year. Will the Leader of the House confirm that, given these complexities, and as is commonly indicated by the words “draft Bill”, it is the Government’s intention to ensure significant prelegislative scrutiny?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was here when you were elected to that role from being Mr Deputy Speaker, on that auspicious occasion in 2019.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting prelegislative scrutiny, which can be extraordinarily effective. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which was passed earlier this year, benefited from it very greatly, and if one thinks back to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, one will see that rushed legislation very often does not work. I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government continue to consult with all interested parties and those who have been involved with conversion therapy, in addition to the public consultation, which is designed to hear the views of the wider public. The consultation follows the Cabinet Office consultation principles of 2018. It is always important in sensitive areas that proper consultation is carried out so that something of this kind can be carried forward with considerable consensus.
I am sure that we are all appalled by the scenes we witnessed from the channel yesterday. I know we have a statement later from the Secretary of State, but can we have a full debate where all the issues around this tragedy can be explored and can we have it urgently? Top of those issues must be securing safe, secure legal routes to the UK, and the UK meeting all its obligations and its fair share of accommodating those fleeing violence and oppression. I think we can all agree that this cannot happen again.
Will the Leader of the House tell us exactly what is wrong with the Prime Minister? The delusional, gibbering stream of consciousness that we got this week—absolutely hilarious—was excruciating in the extreme: from Peppa Pig, to those weird car noises, to quoting Lenin, to his inability to read notes directly in front of him. If aliens had landed in Westminster last week, requested to be taken to our leader and found that dribbling wreck, they would have immediately asked to be transported back to the planet from whence they came. Surely, the days of this unfunny faux buffoonery are coming to an end. The nation is not laughing with him anymore; they are laughing at him. Perhaps it is time for this “Looney Tunes” Government to say, “That’s all, folks!”. [Laughter.] They liked that one, Mr Speaker.
We need a debate about the Metropolitan police. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to them to investigate the recent cash-for-honours scandal, after it was revealed that all recent Tory treasurers had been given places in the House of Lords following £3 million donations to Tory party coffers. It took the Met less than three days to refuse to investigate, giving no reasons why. Along with the Good Law Project, I have written to the Met requesting that they give the reasons why they refused to investigate, or we will ask for that decision to be judicially reviewed. Surely the Leader of the House will agree that every whiff of corruption must be properly investigated? If the Met will not do it, maybe the Prime Minister could get his good friend Inspector Gadget to do it for us?
When anyone is reminded of the Good Law Project, one of course remembers that it is led by an infamous fox murderer who goes out in a kimono and bashes poor harmless foxes to death in a cruel and unusual fashion. I seem to remember that that did not lead to a prosecution—I may be wrong. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should take that to a judicial review to consider more serious sanctions. I am glad to say that the Government are toughening up on laws on animal cruelty, which may be of interest to the Good Law Project leaders.
On the very serious issue the hon. Gentleman raises about the channel crossing disaster, we are having a day and a half of debate on that on Report, which will cover legal routes of entry and toughening up on illegal routes of entry. It is a United Kingdom-wide policy, so I hope we will have the support of the SNP in doing that.
On the mainstay of the hon. Gentleman’s question, this time he got so furious that he started giggling at his own fury. I have found out why he is so upset this week. It is not because he is waiting in eager anticipation for St Andrew’s Day next year, which will of course be a proper celebration for him and his right hon. and hon. Friends. The reason he is so grumpy today is a new opinion poll that shows that the proportion of voters who ranked the constitution in their preference for the Scottish Government’s top three priorities fell by eight points to 13%; and fewer than one third of SNP voters, 28%, ranked independence on their hierarchy of priorities. It is a sad day for him today. I will not tease him for being grumpy. He is justifiably being grumpy, because his sandcastles are gently being washed away by a tide of Unionism.
Given the outrageous information emerging from a Sheffield Hallam University study on the slave labour used in the mining of rare-earth materials that are used here in our solar array supply chains, and the Chinese Government’s terrible record on the Uyghur genocide, Tibetan slave labour, and the threats to Hong Kong and Taiwan, will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on whether this Government—any Government—should boycott the winter Olympics, which should never have been awarded to that despotic regime? May we have an urgent debate, please?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise these issues. The Government have been very clear about the human rights abuses against the Uyghurs, and about what has been going on in Hong Kong and the failure of the communist Government of China to follow the joint declaration that was agreed in the 1980s. The whole issue of religious toleration—so not just the Uyghurs, but what has happened in Tibet—is rightly raised very regularly in this House, and it is right that the communist Government are reminded of their moral obligations. However, the UK Government have long had a policy of thinking that sporting boycotts do not work and that it is a matter for the International Olympic Committee to decide whether the athletes go—[Interruption.] As regards whether Government Ministers would wish to go to the People’s Republic of China, I can tell my right hon. Friend that no tickets have been booked.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Beauty Banks is a fantastic charity dedicated to tackling hygiene poverty. Colleagues across the House, working with the charity, regularly redistribute products to community groups and refuges. This Christmas, it has launched its “Make a Wash” appeal, encouraging the public to pledge a gift of giving. Every pledge enables even more personal care and hygiene products to reach those in need. Will the Leader of the House join me in championing that appeal and in congratulating the amazing Jo Jones and Sali Hughes for their relentless hard work and commitment to tackling hygiene poverty?
May I join you, Mr Speaker, in congratulating the hon. Lady on being campaigner of the year at the Spectator awards? It is a well deserved award because, as I have confessed as Leader of the House, when she asks me questions, she tends to achieve what she wants because she charms everybody across the House into submission. Even the hardest-nosed Government Minister melts when she asks for things in her characteristically charming way, as she has done again today.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting the work of Beauty Banks, an excellent charity, and I pay tribute to Jo Jones and Sali Hughes. Having realised that they could make a real difference by leveraging the kindness and generosity of others in the beauty industry, they have shown their own kindness and generosity in devoting so much time to a cause that they feel strongly about. I also thank the hon. Lady and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House who distribute the packages to refuges, hostels and other locations in their constituencies, and I certainly voice my support for Beauty Banks’ “Make a Wash” campaign. The festive season is almost upon us and there is no better time of year for giving generously so that Beauty Banks can continue to distribute personal care and hygiene products to those who cannot afford them.
As I am sure even you are aware, Mr Speaker, there is much opposition from Southport residents about the proposed liveable neighbourhood scheme that could be imposed despite strong local opposition. I have deep reservations about the way in which Sustrans has led the consultation process and would welcome an opportunity to relay the concerns of Chantelle and the wider community group. Would my right hon. Friend agree to have a debate in Government time to scrutinise this and other such schemes across the country?
I think liveable neighbourhood schemes can easily become “bash the motorist” schemes, which I think are a very bad idea. Motoring is something that gives people very great pleasure and may be essential to their lives. The problem really for my hon. Friend is that Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council is a socialist council and is not run as well as it would be if it had good Conservatives in charge who took the interests of their constituents to heart. But this is a locally determined matter, so I encourage him to keep on campaigning and to stand up for his residents against the red tide.
As chair of the all-party group on White Ribbon UK, I welcome the comments from the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the shadow Leader of the House, on White Ribbon and violence against women and girls. I urge the Leader of the House to make the pledge and, indeed, to join the all-party group.
On Sunday, I attended a fantastic service and highly impressive exhibition at Renfrew Trinity church to mark the centenary of 2nd Renfrew Trinity scout group. The beavers, cubs, scouts and explorers groups were a credit to their leaders and parents. Just a few years ago, I loved my time in the beavers and the cubs and cannot for the life of me remember why I did not graduate through to the scouts—perhaps I was too much of a tearaway. Can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of the scout network and the values and skills for life that scouting seeks to provide?
I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman was ever a tearaway. In this House he is a man of such dignity, and I am sure that that has always been the case.
I absolutely agree that the work of cubs and scouts is so important for children: it gives them a happy and safe environment in which to grow up. I pay tribute to the Trinity cub and scout group for its work. The hon. Gentleman uses business questions to highlight the wonderful work that goes on in his constituency, which is typical of many constituencies across the country; I am grateful to him.
Yesterday, I received a three-page letter from the leader of Dudley Council. A designated Traveller site in Dudley has been occupied by Travellers who have overstayed the terms of their licence. After due process was followed in the courts in co-operation with the police, the police commander refused to support the council to give cover to bailiffs, citing the European convention on human rights, as Travellers may have rights.
Will the Leader of the House agree to look into the matter and arrange a statement from the relevant Minister? This sets a terrible precedent for councils across the country, which may find that they have wasted taxpayers’ money by following legislation set out by this place to invest in designated sites. It can provide indefinite leave to stay illegally, with no protection for landowners. It implies that the police can “woke interpret” and choose to follow laws other than this country’s and its courts’ instructions. Does that not give further credence to the need to repeal the Human Rights Act, as I have been calling for for many months?
My hon. Friend asks an excellent question. It is really important that we are all equal under the law, and it is fundamental that the law is carried out by the police. We police by consent; the police are us, and we are the police. For that to work, people have to have confidence that the law will be enforced. Having said that, I do not know the specific details of the case or the reasons for the police decision, but the Government are taking more action to deal specifically with the issues around illegal campsites and associated criminality. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s comments to the Lord Chancellor, and I note with great interest what he has to say about the Human Rights Act.
More than 2,000 autistic people and people with learning disabilities are being held in inappropriate hospital units, 10 years after the Government promised to close them. Yesterday, we learned that an autistic man with a learning disability, Tony Hickmott, has been detained in care for 21 years, breaking the hearts of his elderly parents Pam and Roy.
That could change if the Government lived up to their promise. Indeed, in our report on the treatment of autistic people and people with learning disabilities, the Health and Social Care Committee has urged the Government to do so. The Government have not responded to that report, although a response was due on 13 September. Will the Leader of the House please take action to press the Secretary of State on the urgency of responding to the report and of acting to make sure that people like Tony Hickmott can live in their home, not in a hospital?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the matter. I think that anyone who has seen the press reports will be as deeply concerned as she is. I point to a lot of cross-party work that has been done to raise the profile of autism, not least by my late right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), who has been very committed in the area.
It is important that the Government respond to Select Committee reports in accordance with the Osmotherly rules. I will take the matter up to ensure that those rules are met.
Last Friday I was joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) and for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) in a “Ready Steady Cook” event in Ashfield. With the help of the local food bank, the college and local top chef Dave Marshall, we were able to produce 175 meals for just 50 quid. This is our fight against food poverty. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need a debate in this place on food poverty, so we can help people to cook on a budget and feed the nation?
I commend my hon. Friend for his amazing achievement and his hard work. I have a friend who teaches people to cook on a budget and runs something called Bags of Taste, which is a very successful way of encouraging people to cook on a budget. My hon. Friend is leading by example.
Over a month ago, my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) tabled a named day question asking about the state of ambulance services. Not until two days ago did she receive a response, which said that all regional ambulance services had been on the highest alert level since 22 October. Recently, however, we have heard from ambulance leaders that, according to their reckoning, 6,000 people a year are dying unnecessarily because of service problems, including ambulances waiting for too long at A&E centres. More recently, West Midlands ambulance service said that for a period 999 calls could not be answered owing to a lack of available ambulances. Will the Leader of the House, out of the goodness of his heart, grant us a debate on the state of the UK’s ambulance services?
The Government are aware of the pressures that occur in many winters but, particularly after covid, have been higher than normal. The NHS will receive an extra £5.4 billion over the rest of this year to support its response, including £2.8 billion to cover related costs such as those of enhanced infection control and £478 million to continue the enhanced hospital discharge programme, which frees up spaces so that when the ambulances arrive, the throughput of the hospital will allow them to be emptied and then get back to work. This builds on work that was done last year. However, I do not think that anyone is underestimating the seriousness of the problem.
I have good news from Kettering. To highlight that, may we have a debate in Government time on private enterprise? So many new businesses have opened in Kettering that this week it was named the UK’s second most entrepreneurial town by the business insurers Superscript. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of firms in Kettering is now 4,475, up from 4,120 last year, and in the past three years there has been an explosion of independent shops opening in the town centre.
Is it not clear that as Britain bounces back from the pandemic, Kettering is leading the way? People are setting up exciting start-up businesses providing new products and services for local customers. Does that not make Kettering a beacon of hope and optimism for the future?
I think that all those people are going to Kettering and setting up businesses because they want to see the local Member of Parliament. That is the great draw for businesses and shops, and all that is going on there.
To go from 4,120 small businesses to 4,475 in a year is a great triumph, and it shows that free enterprise is the way in which we pay the bills for everything else, because without the private sector, the public sector has no money. There is no Government money, only taxpayers’ money.
I know that the Leader of the House is interested in children’s issues. May I press him for an early debate on dialysis, and particularly on how it affects children? Dialysis at home is very important for many children, but there is a real shortage in some parts of the country, including Leeds and Huddersfield.
Obviously the treatment of children is crucially important, and dialysis is a remarkable, successful and now well-established treatment. The specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman sounds very suitable for an Adjournment debate, so I would point him towards you, Mr Speaker.
Tomorrow will see the star-studded extravaganza that is Worksop’s Got Talent, and we even have a member of S Club 7 coming to be one of the judges. Worksop’s Got Talent has raised about £40,000 so far for Retina UK, which helps to support people with inherited progressive sight loss. The organiser, James Clarke, himself has retinitis pigmentosa. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on inherited progressive sight loss, and will he wish Worksop’s Got Talent all the best for tomorrow?
I am delighted to wish Worksop’s Got Talent every success and every good fortune for tomorrow, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will tune in to find out what happens. I hope that everyone involved experiences an enjoyable as well as a successful event. £40,000 is a great deal of money to raise for an extraordinarily worthy cause. I note from what my hon. Friend said that James Clarke, who is organising the event, is affected by retinitis pigmentosa, and therefore has a strong interest in ensuring its success. I think I understand, Mr Speaker: people have to reach for the stars.
Thank you so very much, Mr Speaker. I appreciate the comparison.
The report of the Prime Minister’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, otherwise known as the Sewell report, was published in March to almost universal condemnation because of its shoddy research and contentious conclusions. As well as denying the existence of structural racism, it proposed that the answer to bias in algorithms should be to define fairness mathematically. Having some familiarity with statistical and mathematical methods, I can say that I find that absolutely laughable, but despite having asked numerous questions, I have yet to find out the Government’s view. I was told that there would be a response to the report over the summer, but given that even the most optimistic among us must now agree that the summer is over, could we have a debate in Government time on the Sewell report?