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Business of the House

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 23 February 2023

The business for the week commencing 27 February will include:

Monday 27 February—Second Reading of the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill.

Tuesday 28 February—Opposition day (13th allotted day). Debate in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to the announced.

Wednesday 1 March—Motion to approve an instruction relating to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords].

Thursday 2 March—General debate on changes of name by registered sex offenders, followed by general debate on Welsh affairs. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 3 March—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 March includes:

Monday 6 March—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Social Security (Additional Payments) (No.2) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill.

Tuesday 7 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Public Order Bill.

Wednesday 8 March—Estimates day. At 7pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Thursday 9 March—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation And Adjustments) Bill, followed by business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 10 March—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.

Tomorrow, we mark one year since Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine. We reflect together on the immense suffering the Ukrainian people have endured, but also on their remarkable courage and resilience. President Zelensky, on his recent inspiring visit to Parliament, made it clearer than ever that Putin must be defeated in Ukraine, and we stand united as a country with him and with all Ukrainians.

Scrutinising legislation is what makes us MPs, and a confident, credible Government would accept that principle and provide MPs with the means to do so. Why, then, did the Government only publish an impact assessment for their sacking nurses Bill weeks after the Bill had been introduced and then forced through all its Commons stages? As well as being published late, its quality is poor; an independent watchdog has branded it “not fit for purpose” and the Government are clearly trying to hide the severe and disproportionate impacts that the law will have on small businesses. Is this why the Government chose to rattle that shoddy, unworkable Bill through Parliament? They are putting an intolerable burden on employers, unions and workers, and what for? To sweeten some of their own Back Benchers. Has the Business Secretary at least read the impact assessment and the subsequent report, and will she publish proper assessments for any future regulations that the Government plan to introduce as a result of the Bill? Could the Leader of the House please ensure that any other assessments for further legislation are published on time, before the Bill? This simply is not good enough.

We have yet another Tory Prime Minister forcing the people of this country and the businesses and people of Northern Ireland to wait while he plucks up the courage to stand up to his own party. Let me tell the Leader of the House what ought already to be clear: this country is sick of waiting for weak Tory leaders to get on and govern. It seems that a deal has been done, but the Prime Minister is too scared to sign it off with his own Back Benchers. So let me repeat Labour’s offer on the Northern Ireland protocol revisions: if the deal stands the test of being in the national interest and in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, we will put the country first and provide the support necessary to get it through Parliament. Will the Government put country before party and accept our offer?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that

“Parliament will express its view”—[Official Report, 22 February 2023; Vol. 728, c. 219.]

but his spokesperson then said that they would “not get into hypotheticals”. Could the Leader of the House clear up the confusion? Will this House get to vote: yes or no?

The Government must start using the time allocated for passing legislation properly. Week in, week out, I ask the Leader of the House whether she will reach down the back of the Government’s bulging sofa and find the legislation that they keep managing to lose. They complain about a lack of time, but they spend it on what amounts to nothing more than red meat for a noisy minority of their Back Benchers.

Take the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, for example. That Bill means ripping up international agreements and breaking international law. That is not the way forward for a modern, outward-looking country, and it is never going to work; it will lead only to uncertainty and unnecessary confrontation with our EU friends and neighbours. Will the Government do what we have called for by scrapping the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill?

Whether they are in my Bristol West constituency, in Swindon, or elsewhere up and down the country, voters know that the Government have broken our country and have no plan to fix it. Labour does have a plan. Today, the Leader of the Opposition has set out Labour’s vision for a decade of national renewal: strong economic growth, clean energy, improving the NHS, reforming the justice system and raising education standards. That is the choice that voters have: five more years of Tory failure—on top of the last 13—or a fresh start with a Labour Government.

I join the hon. Lady in her comments about Ukraine. Tomorrow, we will mark one year since Russia’s illegal war began and, on Monday, we marked nine years since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. In the minute’s silence tomorrow, I know that we will all think about those who have been lost, the huge suffering and hardship that people are enduring, and, most of all, the courage and heroism of the Ukrainian people. I join her in thanking every Briton who is standing with them, who has taken them into their homes, and who is enduring hardship for their sake and for freedom’s sake. I thank in particular all Members of this House; we are all united in our support for Ukraine and that resolve will be unwavering.

The hon. Lady asks about impact assessments. I have been quite vocal about the importance of impact assessments not just to enable scrutiny but to make Ministers give good decisions. She again invites comparisons between the records of our parties. I note that Labour’s 11th relaunch in two years is going on as I speak. I could talk about the fact that the UK has had the strongest growth of any G7 country over the last two years; that we have halved crime with the same number of officers that Labour had; that we have got 4 million more people into work; that we have 10% more “good” or “outstanding” schools; that the Labour-run NHS Wales is outperformed fivefold by NHS England; or that we have had a fourfold increase in renewables since 2011, but that would be churlish of me.

The hon. Lady talks about the very serious situation with the negotiations, and of course, the people of Northern Ireland are at the forefront of our minds in that. I gently suggest to her that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is quite helpful in focusing minds to get the right result. If she really does want a deal, she should not just say she will support the Prime Minister but demonstrate support for him and for the objective that all Members of this House share, which is to alleviate the friction and to address the democratic deficit for the people of Northern Ireland. She and her party should try to stand up for the United Kingdom, as opposed to helping those on the other side of the negotiating table.

I welcome the hon. Lady saying that she will support a deal brought forward by the Prime Minister. As I have previously noted, Labour are very keen to be seen to support all sorts of Conservative policies. They are in favour of fiscal conservatism, “take back control” conservatism and small state, big society and local conservatism. But nobody is fooled by this reinvented Labour party, because what we are seeing is cosplay conservatism. They do not endorse strikes, but they will not condemn them either. They say they support striking workers, but they will not be photographed with them. They centralise and regionalise while talking about localism. They say they are not big spenders while racking up billions in unfunded plans. They say they will stand up for women while undermining and not supporting their own MPs.

The Leader of the Opposition used to promote the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), and now he has cancelled him, along with every single one of the 10 leadership pledges he made when he succeeded him. The Leader of the Opposition is socialism’s sensitivity reader. He is editing out the twits and the Trots, but the British people will not be fooled—they will see through it—because it is not enough to say that socialism does not work; you have to believe it too.

Wellingborough Walks is a delightful avenue of Victorian trees that stretches from the town to the River Nene, and there is a tree preservation order. Unfortunately, at this moment, Bovis Homes—now Vistry Group—is attempting to cut those trees down. In fact, an 84-year-old constituent of mine has been arrested trying to stop it today. Vistry Group is doing it on the basis of an old planning permission that is unclear. I have called for a pause for a month, so that this can be sorted out. Vistry Group refuses to do that. Could the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the Floor of the House entitled “The reputational damage that actions by Bovis Homes/Vistry Group is doing”?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. We know that in these circumstances there are balances to be struck, but it is critical that there is the time and space to ensure that everyone is properly consulted, sometimes with alternatives brought forward. I am always keen to encourage Members to apply for debates, but in this instance, I really hope that the firm involved has heard what he said today and will pause, to allow a little more time to get a good result for the whole community.

I pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who is away on parliamentary business. Mr Speaker, you may have seen last night that the Home Secretary was interviewed by the only outlet she can bear scrutiny from: GB News, or GBeebies, as I call it. She said that the British are too “shy about our greatness”. For starters, I wish she would be a little shyer about her own greatness, but perhaps she has picked up that Britons are all too aware that our international stock has plummeted. As Burns might say to her,

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!”

Perhaps we can debate Britain’s place in the world and just how much it has fallen.

The Leader of the House likes to bring up the subject of ferry procurement, which is bold, considering the antics of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) in awarding ferry contracts to companies without ferry boats—not too dissimilar, in fact, to awarding PPE contracts to mates who do not produce PPE. The Leader of the House is correct that the ferry situation is sub-optimal, but it is being investigated. I can only therefore assume that Westminster has an excellent record in capital and procurement—PPE aside, obviously—but it does not. Thameslink had a budget of £2.8 billion, cost £7.3 billion and was two years late. Crossrail had a budget of £14.8 billion, cost £19 billion and was four years late. The Jubilee line extension had a budget of £2.1 billion, cost £3.5 billion and was a year and a half late. Perhaps we can have a debate on capital projects and procurement, where we can discuss the Stonehenge bypass and Ajax tanks.

Finally, Mr Speaker, we need to debate what constitutes a democratic deficit. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that

“addressing the democratic deficit is an essential part of the negotiations that remain ongoing with the European Union.”—[Official Report, 22 February 2023; Vol. 728, c. 221.]

Perhaps my memory is playing up, but I seem to recall that Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union; in fact, a clear two-to-one majority supports rejoining. There is 20% majority support for the protocol, and perhaps most condemning of all, just 3% of Northern Irish voters trust this Government to manage their interests on the protocol. In contrast, the people of Scotland have not voted Tory since the ’50s, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and voted time and again to be allowed to choose their own future. Now, that is a democratic deficit.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been watching the news, especially GB News—I am very encouraged to hear that. I wonder whether that channel is covering Audit Scotland’s report on the SNP’s handling of the NHS, which is out today. Under those circumstances, I think it is brave of the hon. Gentleman to go on fiscal responsibility. He focused on Brexit, however, so let me address the points he raised.

This might be one of the last exchanges we have about Brexit, because it is going to be very hard for the SNP to come to this Chamber and raise the issue of Brexit ever again. Even the most outrageous claims about the supposed negative impacts of leaving the EU made by the most fanatical rejoiners cannot compare with the damage that will be done to the UK’s internal market, to producers and businesses in Scotland, and to the cost of living for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents by the SNP’s DRS—deposit return scheme. In a few months, the only way in which people will be able to buy Scottish produce—if it is contained in glass or plastic—is to come south of the border. Such items will be as rare in their land of origin as Labour MPs.

In all seriousness, I urge the SNP to listen to communities and producers in Scotland and to produce a smarter scheme. On this, as on all things, the SNP should be driven by what is in the Scottish people’s interest. The party’s leadership contest, which is going on at the moment, is an opportunity for a reset and a fresh start, and to end the slopey-shouldered separatism that has done such a great disservice to such a great nation. I suggest to all candidates in the SNP’s leadership contest that a much better DRS initiative would be to desist ruining Scotland.

Thank you, Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] When they have finished.

The World Health Organisation pandemic treaty is deeply concerning. It seeks to give the discredited WHO huge powers over this country and our people—powers to call pandemics, enforce lockdowns and vaccinations, and decide when any pandemic is over. Can we have an urgent debate on that proposed treaty, which, if passed, will take accountability, democracy and sovereignty from our constituents and hand them over to unelected and discredited bureaucrats? That would be the antithesis of Brexit itself.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. That is an excellent topic for a debate, and I will certainly make his views known, both to the Department of Health and Social Care and to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which looks after many of the international organisations involved. As we know from the pandemic and from other outbreaks such as Ebola, such diseases know no borders. It is only through international co-operation and collaboration that we will arrive at solutions to ensure that we do not have a repeat of the last few years, and that everyone in the world is safe from those terrible diseases.

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. I thank the Leader of the House for her business statement and for announcing the business. I inform Members that the closing date for estimates day debate applications is tomorrow at 1 pm, and—as the Leader of the House announced in her statement—those debates will be aired on Wednesday 8 March, before the House is asked to agree all outstanding estimates. We are still open to other Backbench Business debate applications for the Chamber and Westminster Hall; we welcome such applications.

The plight of children with special educational needs and their parents has long been known, and there is worsening evidence of rationing and queues for assessments; shortages of key staff, such as educational psychologists, to do those assessments; and education, health and care plans increasingly showing signs of being resource-led rather than led by the needs of the individual child, which leads to greater recourse to special educational needs tribunals. The Green Paper, which was overdue but welcome, was published 11 months ago. Can we have a statement on the Government’s intention to legislate on and properly fund provision for children with special educational needs, so that, as the Green Paper highlights, they get the

“right support, in the right place, and at the right time”.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his announcement on Backbench Business debates. We are pleased to be able to give him time on 2 March and 9 March, and we encourage all hon. Members to make use of the Backbench Business Committee.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the important issue of special educational needs. It is critical to enable everyone to reach their full potential and ensure that people are not diagnosed late on in life, so that they can maximise their years in education. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Education has heard his comments and I point him to Education questions on the 27th.

On Monday, working with Kathleen O’Hara and St Philip’s church in Dorridge, I arranged for a coachload of 60 Ukrainian refugees to come to Westminster so that they could see that not only my constituents, but the heart of democracy in our country stands with Ukraine. I could do that only because National Express donated a coach with two drivers to bring them here, which shows that, as Conservative Members believe, business is a force for good in society. Can the Leader of the House arrange a debate to discuss exactly that, so that we can celebrate the best of business, especially companies such as National Express that do great things?

Many hon. Members were grateful for the opportunity to meet those being hosted in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I add to his praise of National Express for its generous donation. I also understand that St Philip’s church has been doing a huge amount to help hosting families and to make everyone feel at home. Many hon. Members are themselves hosting refugees, often the children of parents who are Members of the Ukrainian Parliament. That is a further example of how strong our resolve is and how our solidarity and friendship with Ukraine is growing.

I know that the Leader of the House is interested in the future of football governance, and her concern for the future of her local football team is well documented, so will she be popping along to the Q&A that the Sports Minister is holding tonight, where he is charging people a £500 donation to the Conservative party for a briefing on the White Paper that is about to be published? Will she be paying £500? Is that common with legislation? Can we have a price list of what is charged for a private briefing on other legislation to make money for the Conservative party?

I do not know about the event, so I cannot comment on that, but nobody should need to go because, after I have finished at the Dispatch Box, the Minister will be here to talk about that precise topic. Hon. Members are welcome to ask him all kinds of questions—completely free of charge.

On that point, I am very concerned because everybody on Sky News and every media outlet has had the ability to hear the announcement before the House. I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that it should be in this House first, not all over Sky News.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was absolutely right, spot on and in tune with the vast majority of the British people when he made stopping small boat crossings, tackling the illegal and evil people smugglers, and ending illegal immigration into this country one of his top priorities. We are told that we need legislation for that, yet in today’s announcement, no small boats Bill was forthcoming. Can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House assure me that that additional legislation will come before the House before the Budget? Will it have the same urgency behind it that we used for the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020?

I can reassure my hon. Friend on that point. We have done a huge amount. He will know that we have the new small boats operational command, 700 more staff and the work being done on accommodation by the Home Secretary. However, we do need new legislation to ensure that if people come here illegally, they should not be able to remain, but should be detained and swiftly removed. The Home Secretary has been working extremely hard to make sure that a really good Bill comes to this House. My hon. Friend will know, because we have said that we want Royal Assent before the summer, that that will come to this House very shortly. I know from having spoken to my colleagues on the Government side of the House that we are prepared to sit through the night, if necessary, to get this on the statute book as swiftly as possible. The country needs it and, quite frankly, the vulnerable people being trafficked and smuggled need it. I think it is an issue that other nations ought to be thinking about, too.

Whistleblowers are essential to removing the veil of secrecy surrounding economic crime, corruption, sexual harassment and a host of other illicit activities across all sectors, public and private, yet they are putting their livelihoods and the livelihoods of their families on the line to reveal the truth. Will the Leader of the House work hard to ensure that the Commons gets a debate in Government time on the importance of whistleblowers and why there needs to be greater protection for them, which I hope would concentrate the minds of Ministers?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important point. I will certainly make sure that the Cabinet Office has heard the issues she has raised. I could give countless examples of where we have relied on brave people with moral courage to do the right thing, and we owe them protections. I think all Members of the House would agree with what the hon. Lady has said.

Leave aside sitting through the night, because so far this week—Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday—this House should have been sitting for 24 hours, but in fact seven hours and 47 minutes of that time was lost. I hope my right hon. Friend shares my concern about this, because so often the Government say we cannot debate things because we have not got any time. Will she ask the Procedure Committee to look again at the issue of second Adjournment debates, which used to be commonplace in this Chamber? That would ensure that this time was not wasted, and if the business was going to go short, it would be possible for people to come forward with a second, third or even, sometimes, a fourth Adjournment debate. We would thereby avoid getting a reputation as a part-time Parliament.

I will tackle my hon. Friend on the last point he makes. We have put through a huge amount of useful legislation, and he will know that we have plans to bring forward some really critical Bills to receive Royal Assent, we hope, before the summer recess. I am all in favour of innovation, so I shall certainly look at what my hon. Friend suggests. It is actually a refreshing change to have my hon. Friend complain about there not being enough legislation, as his usual default setting is to try to prevent any from going through at all.

Over 1 million households in England are currently stuck on social housing waiting lists. Thanks to my Liberal Democrat council, Bath is now building the first new council housing in 30 years, but clearly a lot more needs to be done to reduce the unacceptably long social housing waiting lists. Last year, 14,000 social homes were lost nationally, and the Government have failed to set targets to replace them. Can we have a statement from the relevant Minister on how the Government intend to tackle this real crisis in social housing?

The hon. Lady will know that we have been investing in social housing and removing some of the obstacles that have prevented developments going ahead. We have had the largest social housing programmes we have seen in this country in recent years. I congratulate her and her constituency on getting some developments moving, and I shall make sure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard her concerns.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the George & Dragon in Ilfracombe on reaching the national finals of the Community Pub Hero Awards for its charity fundraising? Pubs do vital work in their local communities, especially in rural areas. Will it be possible to have a debate in Government time to highlight that work, the importance of pubs and how we can best support them during the current cost of living pressures?

I thank the hon. Lady for hosting me in her beautiful constituency last week. I join her in congratulating the George & Dragon on its success in the Community Pub Hero Awards. She is right that it is an incredibly important sector, not just for the facilities that pubs provide but for the fact that they are a community hub. She will be reassured to know that we will continue to support that pub and others through the energy bills discount scheme once the energy bill relief scheme comes to an end in March.

Yesterday, my constituents who lost their children in the Manchester arena terror attack met Ministers because they are being refused the right to register their deaths. In that meeting it was revealed that they have been misled by Government. They were then treated with contempt, patronised and insulted. They want to ask the Leader of the House what recourse they have for that treatment, or do they simply have to accept how low standards have sunk for Government Ministers?

I am sorry to hear the distress that the hon. Lady’s constituents are in. She did not pre-warn me of this issue, and I want to do my best to ensure that her constituents’ concerns are addressed. If she gives me more details I will look into it for her, because I am not aware of why there would be that obstacle to grieving parents doing an understandable thing for their lost child.

In my largely rural constituency, the love of animals ties my constituents together, from the oldest to the very youngest. I have had more constituency casework on this matter than almost anything, barring the parlous state of the NHS under Labour in Wales. Could the Leader of the House let us know when the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will come back, please?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. I am afraid that business will be announced in the usual way, but I know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking at that Bill. I remind him that we are supporting the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill; we have introduced laws against hare coursing; and we have passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. We have banned glue traps; we have set up the cross-Government pet taskforce; and we have maximised sentences from animal cruelty from six months to five years. We have passed Finn’s law and Lucy’s law; we have modernised our licensing system; we have banned commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens; and we have introduced mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses. We have introduced many measures to improve the welfare of meat chickens, laying hens, cats, dogs, equines and pigs. We have banned the conventional use of cages for laying hens and we have introduced legislation against horse fly-grazing in England. I could go on, but I would be trying your patience, Mr Speaker. We care deeply about animal welfare and we will bring forward further measures shortly.

Last night in Omagh, County Tyrone, Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell of the Police Service of Northern Ireland was brutally shot by cowardly masked men while he was coaching under-15s football. I am certain that Leader of the House would wish to join me in hoping that the officer recovers—he is critically ill in hospital—and in expressing solidarity with the brave officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and the wider police family, as they uphold the rule of law and protect the wider community in Northern Ireland in the face of the ongoing terrorist attack.

I very much join the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. This has been a shocking attack. I am sure the whole House wants to send their good wishes and hopes that the officer makes a full and swift recovery. His situation is critical but stable. The Prime Minister has issued a statement on this appalling attack. We think about the ripple effect that it will have on members of the community—they and the officer are very much in our thoughts.

There is a parcel of land in Tickhill in my constituency for which a controversial planning application for change of use to a Travellers’ site was refused. An appeal was made to the Planning Inspectorate in October 2021. We are now 16 months on, and no inspector has yet been allocated to the appeal. My constituents are obviously very unhappy at this delay. The inspectorate says that the delay is due to matters owing to the pandemic, and it cannot say when it will be remedied. I ask the Leader of the House if we can have a debate on how we deal with that backlog, because it is becoming intolerable for Tickhill Town Council and my constituents. I am sure that this frustration is mirrored across the country.

I am sorry to hear of the situation my hon. Friend raises. He will know that Planning Inspectorate services are under great pressure at the moment. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is very much focused on improving the planning process and reducing the number of weeks that it takes for decisions to be made. Today the Department has published a cross-Government action plan on significant infrastructure projects, setting out suggestions to streamline and speed up the consenting process. That also matters for smaller projects that are less significant nationally but very significant to communities. I shall ensure that the Department has heard what my hon. Friend has said, and I hope that it is resolved quickly.

I associate myself with the comments demonstrating the absolute unity across this House in support of Ukraine, ahead of the solemn anniversary tomorrow. I ask the Leader of the House for a debate specifically about the organisations that are doing so much to support people seeking sanctuary in the UK, including from Ukraine. That includes organisations in my constituency of Cardiff South and Penarth. For example, at the Ukraine hub in Butetown, Helen and her team of Ukrainian volunteers have done so much to support Ukrainians seeking safety in the UK, as well as to get support out to Ukraine. Andrii and others have been raising funds for generators and other key products in Ukraine. The debate should also include all the organisations that support Afghans, Syrians and others fleeing terror, persecution and oppression around the world.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving all of us in this House the opportunity to thank all those organisations and the individuals behind them who are doing so much. We sometimes forget that those organisations have to adapt services. We all wish that the Ukraine war will be brought to an end swiftly. The needs of people who have been here for coming up to a year are quite different from when they first arrived; those organisations are constantly listening and adapting their service and offer. I am incredibly proud of them and everything our communities are doing to support not just Ukraine but many other places around the world where people are fleeing terror and war.

Today, 23 February, marks 54 days since the beginning of the year. It is the day on which women, on average, will find that they start being paid, because the gender pay gap between women and men currently sits at nearly 15%. A TUC study shows that the gender pay gap widens dramatically after women have children. It identifies that flexible working, including making family and caring leave work more effectively, is key to changing that. Presumably an employment Bill would be really helpful in changing the situation, but the Government are singularly unwilling to go down that road and put the focus on fairer work, as the Scottish Government have done. Can we have a debate in Government time on why fairer work matters, why the gender pay gap matters, and what can be done to ensure that this is changed once and for all?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point. I penned the gender equality road map for this Government, which looks at the impact, at every stage of a woman’s life, of the inequalities women face. We have introduced many measures off the back of that road map. The hon. Lady will know that we have recently been focusing on carers, and ensuring that they have more flexibility in their work. We are also focussed on ensuring people have the right to flexible working. If the hon. Lady wants to improve the situation in Scotland, then Scotland has all the powers it needs to do that.

Does the Leader of the House agree that green skills provide this country with a real opportunity? Many young people who want an apprenticeship cannot get one. There is a crisis in our whole approach to apprenticeships. Will she arrange an early statement or debate on the skills shortage and on the potential to open up new curriculums and new opportunities to be apprentices in the green economy?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I agree with him completely. This is what we should be focusing on to ensure that our nation has the skills it needs to keep pace with emerging technology. He will know that the Secretary of State for Education does not just talk the talk; she walks the walk. As someone who has benefited from being an apprentice, she is absolutely passionate about this agenda, and I am sure he will be very pleased with what she does next.

Today the Lib Dem councillors in Hull will hand a bill to working families for the failures of Trussonomics. They are putting up council tax by the maximum rate possible without having to consult local taxpayers, and there is also an increase in the precept for the police and the fire and rescue service. That means that more than £100 will be added to council tax bills in what is already one of the most deprived and disadvantaged communities in the country. May we please have a debate about council tax and the need for a better, more equitable way of funding local government? It is also worth adding that the Lib Dems are putting up council rents in Hull by £30 a month. At the time of a cost of living crisis, that is not acceptable.

I am sorry to hear about that situation, and I fully understand why the right hon. Lady raises concerns about the Liberal Democrat council in her area. I have a Liberal Democrat council in my area and the themes are similar. We very much understand that it is the responsibly of us all, whether in national or local government, to ensure that people can keep as much of their money as possible. People are better at spending it than any local authority or Government. That is why we have raised thresholds and held down costs. In the time we have been in government, council tax has gone up by 36%. When we had a Labour Government, it went up by 110% over a similar amount of time. We are committed to doing what we can to hold down council tax.

Has the Leader of the House read the Hansard Society’s excellent working paper on proposals for a new system of delegated legislation? It contains excellent proposals that would allow this House to take back control from the Government’s Brexit power grab. If she will not implement all those recommendations immediately, could we at least have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House about how we can improve the scrutiny of delegated legislation?

As I said earlier, I am very sorry that we are unlikely to have many more exchanges on Brexit from the Scottish National party. I say to the hon. Gentleman that Brexit is about taking back control. I hate to repeat a well-known phrase, but it is about empowering all parts of the United Kingdom to be masters of their own destiny. I am very happy to read any suggestions on procedure and on how legislation and discussion can be improved, but I gently say that we now have many more opportunities than we did when we were members of the EU.

The Leader of the House will be aware that Nexperia’s Newport Wafer Fab, which is in my constituency, is at risk of going under because of decisions taken by this Government. I wrote to the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) when he was Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to request a meeting about the situation. He promised to meet me, but despite letters, emails and calls, no meeting took place. Given that the right hon. Gentleman has been reshuffled, will the Leader of the House advise me on who I should speak to now, and will she help me to finally get a meeting in the diary, because more than 500 jobs depend on it?

I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns. That particular Minister is very diligent, so I shall look into why she did not receive a reply. I think she will need to speak to the new Secretary of State. I shall make sure this afternoon that she has heard what the hon. Lady has said, and I hope she will be able to get access to a Minister to assist her.

In six days’ time, NHS Highland will take away the right to give vaccinations from local GPs across the highlands. That will greatly inconvenience people and it is frankly dangerous. If a crofter cuts his or her hand on a piece of barbed wire, a tetanus injection is needed right away. It is unlikely that the two most relevant Members of the Scottish Parliament will do anything about it, because both of them are Ministers, and one of them wants to be the next First Minister. What the devil am I supposed to do in this situation to help my constituents, who are rightly very worried about this?

I am very sorry to hear about that. When we talk about the NHS, we often talk about patient-centred care. We should be thinking about the easiest, swiftest and most effective ways to serve the needs of patients and prospective patients. It sounds as though what the hon. Gentleman has described goes completely against that fundamental principle about what good care looks like.

The hon. Gentleman will know that Audit Scotland has a report out today on the state of the NHS in Scotland. Improvement is needed. There are big opportunities from using data and from innovation that Audit Scotland is urging the Scottish Government to take. I stand absolutely shoulder to shoulder with the hon. Gentleman and other Members of Parliament—Liberal Democrats and Conservatives—in wanting the Scottish Government to focus on those matters, which the people of Scotland need them to do. They are paying for a health service that they are being prevented from accessing.

Cases of melanoma are rising across these isles. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on skin protection from the sun, to raise awareness of skin cancer?

I thank the hon. Lady, who has a track record of raising awareness on a variety of issues, to the benefit of us all. I shall certainly make sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard her keenness to promote these important health messages. She will know how to apply for an Adjournment debate—we might be having more of those if I follow the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope)—or she can apply to the Backbench Business Committee to secure the debate she wants.

Investment in public health matters. In my constituency, we have a 10-year differential in life expectancy. However, the White Paper on health disparities has been scrapped, we do not have the tobacco control plan, there is no follow-on alcohol strategy and the public health workforce has been decimated. Given that the public health grant runs out in 36 days, can we have an urgent statement on what on earth this Government are doing about public health?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important point. She will know that I cannot comment on what is in the Budget, but I shall make sure the Chancellor has heard her concerns, and I am sure she has made representations to him. She will know that we are focused on particular aspects of healthcare at the moment, to ensure that we have the diagnostics we need to reduce waiting lists, but she is right: public health is key to this. It is absolutely key to prevention, which will be a fundamental part of ensuring a thriving NHS into the future, and I shall make sure the Secretary of State has heard her concerns.

The Edinburgh international festival is world renowned, but last year it shrank in size for the first time in seven decades. The King’s theatre in Edinburgh, which is in a neighbouring constituency, is facing a shortfall of £9 million. Its owners have described it as being in “the last chance saloon”, and it failed to get levelling-up funding last time round. The cultural life of Edinburgh is a massive contributor to the health of the Scottish economy and the UK economy. Does the Leader of the House think it would be appropriate to make time for a debate in this House on how the UK and Scottish Governments can contribute to the future stability and wellbeing of this vital industry?

I am very sorry to hear about the plight of that particular venue. The hon. Lady will know that we have Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions on 9 March, and I encourage her to raise the issue with the Secretary of State. The levelling-up scheme was hugely over-subscribed, but officials and Ministers will be meeting colleagues who did not have a bid granted in this round to look at what more can be done for the venues and projects concerned, or to improve the bid so that it is successful in future rounds. However, I understand the time concerns that the hon. Lady has, and I shall make sure that the Secretary of State knows about them.

Last week, as part of the Burnhill Action Group in my constituency, a group of children delivered winter care packages, with supermarket gift cards, a cookbook, an air fryer and more, to help locals with the cost of living crisis. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking those young constituents for their care and hard work, and schedule a debate in Government time on the positive impact of youth volunteering?

I am very happy to pass on my congratulations, which I am sure are echoed by all Members, to the Burnhill Action Group. Youth volunteering is incredibly important; it sets good habits for the rest of our lives, and of course the contribution that those young people are making will teach them new skills and enable them to gain in confidence. I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point.

Following years of campaigning by angry leaseholders and angry MPs such as myself, action on the national cladding scandal is just not going fast or far enough. The Government have made several welcome announcements since the Building Safety Act 2022 received Royal Assent in July. However, on the ground more than half a million people are still living in unsafe homes with unsafe cladding, and people face bankruptcy too. Will the Leader of the House allow time for a Government-sponsored debate—one or two questions at departmental orals just does not cut it, given the number of issues—so that we can work together constructively and end the building safety scandal once and for all?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She will know that the Secretary of State has taken unprecedented action in trying to get what is a very complicated situation resolved. I will just say that Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions are on 27 March—the hon. Lady can choose to utilise those or not, as she sees fit. However, this is an incredibly important topic—people are still in limbo, and we want to make sure that they can move on with their lives and do what they need to do with their homes—and she will know how to apply for a debate.

The decline of post offices in our rural and urban communities, including the loss of the post office on Kilwinning Main Street in my constituency, is truly alarming. Postmasters are struggling desperately to make a living. That is partly down to the fact that the last Labour Government stripped post offices of many of the services that they were able to offer and to this Government’s failure to provide the ongoing energy support that they so desperately need, as well to the banks not paying post offices properly for providing the services that they are no longer interested in providing. What representations will the Leader of the House make in Cabinet about ongoing and necessary support to save our post offices?

Post offices are incredibly important community hubs. Many services are run out of them, but they also provide a focal point. Often, they are not housed in distinct venues, and in some cases they are even in local pubs. They are incredibly important, and communities have been very creative in ensuring that they have that local presence. There will be good practice and advice that the hon. Lady can access to ensure that she does not lose those services for her community. I shall make sure that the relevant Department and the new Secretary of State have heard her concerns, and ask for an official to get in touch to see whether any of the good practice and learning that others have implemented will help with the situation she is in.

May I put on the record my thoughts and prayers, and those of my party, for the police officer shot in Omagh last night? It is a salient reminder that there are still evil and wicked people with murderous intent out there who wish to take us back to the dark days of the past.

This weekend, Nigeria is holding its general election, against a backdrop of violence and intimidation by security forces. Displaced religious minorities have effectively been disenfranchised, as the law requires voters to return to their home village to vote. A statement issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on Monday highlighted the issue of violence but neglected to mention displaced and minority groups, which I have an interest in. As our representative in Cabinet, will the Leader of the House ensure that the right of minorities to vote in Nigeria’s election is on the radar of this Government and thereby on the radar of Nigeria’s Government?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. Our partnership with Nigeria is very deep, but unless we have democracy and security, nothing that we do subsequently will have any meaning or effect. I will contact those at the FCDO on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf and ask them to write to him specifically about the issue of displaced people and ensuring that they can exercise their democratic right to vote.

Let me end by saying that all our thoughts are with the injured police officer. We know that his community and others are incredibly strong and resilient and will never kowtow to those who committed this cowardly act, and I think that they should be full of hope at this moment too.

I thank the Leader of the House for her statement, and ask Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly.

Before we come to the next statement, let me say that Mr Speaker has asked me to tell the House that he is extremely disappointed that once again a Minister from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been briefing the media in detail about the Government’s plans before setting them out to the House. Mr Speaker notes that the news was embargoed until last night, rather than until an announcement had been made in the House, as should be the case. That is extremely discourteous. Mr Speaker has warned the DCMS about this matter before, and the DCMS should regard this as a yellow card. Mr Speaker does not wish to have to reach for a red card. This House must be treated with respect. I know that Mr Speaker looks forward to an early meeting with the Secretary of State.