The business for the week commencing 17 April will include:
Monday 17 April—Second Reading of the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill.
Tuesday 18 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 19 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill (day 2).
Thursday 20 April—General debate on international trade and geopolitics, followed by general debate on human rights protections for Palestinians. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 21 April—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 24 April includes:
Monday 24 April—Second Reading of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill.
Tuesday 25 April—Remaining stages of the Illegal Migration Bill.
Wednesday 26 April—Opposition day (14th allotted day). Debate in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Thursday 27 April—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 28 April—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. It is good to be stepping in for the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), this week. I want to start by wishing everybody across the House a very happy Easter, or Pasg hapus in Welsh, including all our staff who work so hard not just for us but for the people we represent and all those in the House service who help us and allow us to get on with our jobs every day.
I congratulate the Government on making it through a full term with the same Prime Minister. He is just about still standing, seemingly with a full set of Ministers too—what an achievement for the Government! It is a true triumph for the Tories, given their recent track record.
Easter is the perfect time for a spring clean. The Government clearly agree, because today they have dusted off 17 written ministerial statements, but are the Government planning to allow MPs to ask Ministers questions in the House on any of them? I note the Prime Minister’s statement on the machinery of government. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether that includes plans to publish an updated list of ministerial responsibilities? It is essential that MPs’ staff and our constituents have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what and how best to contact them.
I wonder whether the Department of Health and Social Care is also planning a clear-out this recess. Perhaps it could go in search of the NHS workforce plan. After repeatedly calling for it from the Back Benches, the Chancellor finally promised that he would deliver it in the autumn statement. Then he said at the Budget that it would be published “shortly”. Where is it? Do they actually have a plan at all? Can the Leader of the House tell us whether Ministers plan to publish their missing plan in recess, when Parliament is not sitting? Perhaps they think that that way, they will not be held to account.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) highlighted in a point of order this week, the UK Statistics Authority has debunked the claim made by the Minister for Immigration that the asylum backlog when Labour left office was in the hundreds of thousands. It was in fact 18,954. Under the Tories, it is 166,261—eight times higher than in 2010. The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), has called out claims that the Government are recruiting extra police officers. In recent years they have hollowed out neighbourhood policing, as we have all seen. In the spirit of Easter and new beginnings, could the Leader of the House get the appropriate Ministers to correct the record? Will they wipe the slate clean and commit to sticking to accurate figures in future?
The Leader of the House has announced the remaining stages of her Illegal Migration Bill. Perhaps she could learn some lessons from the year 5s at Lliswerry Primary School in my constituency who I met last week, who have been studying the Bill and shared their wise insights on it with me. Of course, we must stop these dangerous boat crossings that are putting lives at risk, but the people of Newport East know that this is not the way to do it. They support Labour’s plan to crack down on criminal gangs instead.
Why is the Leader of the House happy with such a poorly worded Bill? It has a number of inconsistencies, meaning that it will not even work as the Government say it will. It is not just morally wrong; it is impractical too. Can she explain what the Government will do with someone who, after appeal, cannot legally be deported but would still be barred from claiming asylum? They would be in legal limbo, would they not?
Finally, the shadow Leader of the House has tried three times in a row to get the Leader of the House to tell us when the Government’s impact assessment on the Illegal Migration Bill will be published. The Government failed to provide one on Second Reading or in Committee. Will we get it before the remaining stages? What are they hiding? What is the cost of the Bill, and what is the Government’s current detention capacity? The Leader of the House is clearly unwilling to tell the shadow Leader of the House when the impact assessment will be published, so today, can I have a go too?
I start by joining the hon. Lady in wishing everyone in this House and all of our staff a very happy Easter recess. I will pass on her kind words to the Prime Minister—I thank her for mentioning that—and I also place on record my congratulations and thanks to not just our new Clerk of the House, who will be taking over later this year, but all the excellent candidates who put themselves forward for that post.
Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for questions: standard Department Question Times, the ability to ask for urgent questions, and of course Ministers make statements to this House on a regular basis. We always publish the list of ministerial responsibilities. It is an incredibly important tool to enable Members of this House to address any concerns they have to the appropriate Minister, and I will certainly make sure that that is done in a timely way.
Turning to the hon. Lady’s questions about the impact assessment on the Illegal Migration Bill, I am the Government’s representative in Parliament, but I am also Parliament’s representative in Government. Members have made very reasonable requests about impact assessments and having sight of them. I take those responsibilities very seriously, and I have made representations to the Home Office, both to the Home Secretary and through my officials speaking to the permanent secretary. It is very important that we send this Bill to the Lords in a good state, and I have heard what Members of this House have said about the level of scrutiny of the Bill.
We are producing this legislation at pace: it is a priority for the Prime Minister that we get the statute book to give us some powers to tackle this very serious problem. The hon. Lady knows the reason why we are facing increased illegal migration: it is a global phenomenon. That trend will continue, which is why it is really important that we have these new powers to deal with it, and to ensure that the international rules are able to deal with these new challenges. I urge the Opposition to support us in those efforts to modernise the rules and processes, so that we can direct resource to the people who really need that support.
I am very pleased to welcome the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) to her place today, although we miss the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). We understand that she is launching Labour’s local government campaign today. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see the central plank of that campaign being the brilliant idea of saving taxpayers money off their council tax bills by subsidising them with taxpayers’ money. That perfectly illustrates Labour’s approach: since 2010, council tax has risen by 36%. Under Labour in the same time period, it rose by 110%, and what was true then is true now: Labour’s councils deliver poorer services for more of your money. If your council is Labour, on average, you will be paying £80 more for those services. If your police and crime commissioner is Labour, your chances of being burgled double, and you are 44% more likely to be a victim of knife crime.
Labour-run Slough is increasing council tax by 10%, having bankrupted the local authority. Sandwell is raising its council tax by a mere 5%, but is hiking additional waste collection services, and Westminster has decided that in a time of public sector pay restraint, its councillors ought to have a 45% pay increase—10 times what its hard- working staff will get. In contrast, Conservative councils keep tax low while maintaining and increasing services, and some are even reducing council tax bills for vulnerable families: North Lincolnshire is doing so for 7,000 households. That is public service to be proud of.
Further business will be announced in the usual way.
It is high time that we had a debate about parental choice in education. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council is holding a consultation on withdrawing the funding for parents who choose to send their kids to school outside the borough, particularly those whose children attend Walton-le-Dale, Turton or Canon Slade schools. This is deeply distressing for those parents who are having to consider pulling their kids out of school and making alternative plans. Does the Leader of the House agree with me, Councillor Rick Moore, Councillor Lilian Salton and Councillor Jean Rigby that, with the spending power of its budget having gone up by 33% in the past five years, Blackburn council should back local parents who want to make a choice to send their children to faith schools outside the borough?
My right hon. Friend raises a depressing situation. I think sometimes people look at numbers on a spreadsheet and they forget about the impact that cuts to such services have on families. It will affect education and where people go to school, and people really rely on those services. That is why we have committed £3 billion for bus transformation. Why that local authority would target these basic services, particularly against the backdrop of its budget increasing, is beyond me. I urge it to reconsider, and I congratulate him and his council colleagues on what they are doing to try to retain the service.
May I start by congratulating our new SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf? Very movingly, he paid tribute in his victory speech to his grandparents, who emigrated from Punjab 60 years ago. It is such a strong message that neither the colour of someone’s skin nor their faith should be a barrier to reaching the highest office.
Was it not therefore ironic and deeply sad that in the same week, this place was debating the so-called Illegal Migration Bill? We were told that people seeking refuge and asylum were “breaking into Britain”, as if they were thieves. That line no doubt played well with Conservative party focus groups, and it was regurgitated by the Government’s Minister for Immigration. No doubt as the Government rev up their culture wars, we will hear it again.
The Leader of the House describes herself as Parliament’s representative in Government, but this House was not given the opportunity for line-by-line scrutiny of this rushed Bill, as would have occurred in a Committee Room upstairs. It is feast or famine with this lot. It is either weeks of filler debates or frantically pushing through controversial Bills such as this without time for proper scrutiny or debate. Is it not part of the Leader of the House’s job to organise the business of this House? As Parliament’s representative in Government, what is her excuse for this latest boorach?
Shamefully, we still have no real detail on what measures are being put in place to safeguard children and young people, despite so many of them still being missing from existing hotel arrangements. Can we have a debate examining the protections for these minors before the Bill returns to the House?
Lastly, we expect a veritable avalanche of written statements on green issues today, most of which will be, fittingly enough, recycled announcements. It is clear that after decades of Westminster Governments squandering Scotland’s immense energy resources, both Labour and the Tories are once again greedily eyeing up our potential, this time as a clean energy superpower, and even lecturing the Scottish Government for their supposed failure on renewables while visiting a wind farm operated by that very same Government.
We are being told that the UK’s energy revolution is being made in Scotland, powering up Britain with Scotland’s clean, green energy—funny, I thought Scotland was a basket case that was too poor to survive without the UK. Plus ça change. When will there be a debate finally in this place on Scotland’s green energy revolution, so that we can see how the track record and future plans of the different parties truly measure up?
I will start with the hon. Lady’s last point. I am sorry she does not welcome the announcements today on energy security. Our track record over the past decade on increasing renewables, strengthening the diversity of our energy sources and decreasing our reliance on other nations is very important, and I want to see that commitment matched by the Scottish Government. They have still not made the investments they said they would in this area, and I encourage them to do so. I cannot keep up with the changes to the SNP’s energy policy, but I think roughly it is against all forms of energy, except perhaps hot air. It is not Scotland that is the basket case; it is the SNP.
The second point the hon. Lady raises is one I personally take seriously, which is in regard to illegal migration. Like many Members from all parts of the House, I am hosting a Ukrainian refugee. Prior to that, I offered my home for Afghan refugees, and prior to getting into this place, I was an aid worker. I take these matters very seriously. That is why this Bill is needed, because unless safe nations such as the UK can have the powers they need to run effective systems—systems that do not just rely on someone’s ability to get into a country illegally in order to get a chance of help—we will not be able to continue the generous history we have in this nation of being somewhere that people can gain sanctuary. I urge her, in all seriousness, to reflect on that and to engage with the Illegal Migration Bill as it makes its passage through this House.
Finally, I want to welcome the First Minister. It is, as the hon. Lady points out, an historic moment. It will be an inspiration to many and send a strong message that, if people have the skills and the will, high office is open to everyone. I wish him and his new team well. Along with the rest of my Government, I want to work constructively with him. I am sorry to see that, on day one, we had a cancellation of the South Uist ferry service. It is going to be unavailable in April and May, due to the fragility of the service and the lack of substitute vessels. I know the First Minister wanted to build on his predecessor’s record, but I had hoped it would not be quite like that. I hope he will focus on the issues that matter to the people of Scotland and be a First Minister who fights for causes that matter, not just causes fights.
Can we have a debate on the expansion of the ultra low emission zone, so that I can explain how unfair it is for the Mayor to say that public transport is a viable alternative to his £12.50 a day driving charge, when he is doing nothing to restore the routes of the 84 bus and the 384 bus for the people from whom they have recently been removed?
I thank my right hon. Friend for continuing to raise this issue. This tax is having a devastating impact not just on people in London, but on those from the surrounding area and trades from further afield. It is vital that we have actual genuine options for people to make good environmental choices, and that includes public transport, by ensuring that bus services are maintained and that people can rely on public transport because it is not on strike all the time. It also means investing in the technology needed to make that transition. This is not working. The growing volume of dissent about this approach, which is just adding to businesses’ and households’ bills, has to cease and the issue has to be re-evaluated.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the Back-Bench business for the week after the Easter recess. I give her advance notice that we intend to put on two debates on Thursday 27 April—one on NHS dentistry and the second on reducing plastic pollution in our seas and oceans.
Could I remind Members across the House that they can apply for BackBench Business debates? They can pick up a form in the Table Office or email our Backbench Business Committee Clerks. Quite often, Members like to put in applications for commemorative days. If they are interested in any of these subjects, a number of commemorative days are coming up in May and June, such as United Nations Global Road Safety Week, World Bee Day, World No Tobacco Day, World Blood Donor Day and International Asteroid Day. If Members are interested in any of those subjects, I ask them please to pick up a form and send in an application to the Backbench Business Committee.
Speaking as the Chair of the Committee, I do not like to get overtly party political, but having spent 27 years in local government as a councillor prior to coming into this House, I was struck by the Leader of the House’s comments on council tax. I would just point out to her that Labour councils, particularly those in the north of England, on average have a much lower council tax base than the national average, and the band D national median is totally meaningless. Having a low council tax base means that they rely much more heavily on the revenue support grant, and when that revenue support grant is unilaterally withdrawn but nothing is done to compensate for it by reforming council tax, it leaves local authorities in dire straits. My local authority in Gateshead has lost £170 million per year since I was deputy leader of the council in 2010. I am afraid to say that we really do need a debate in Government time about the reform of council tax.
With that, Madam Deputy Speaker, can I wish you a happy Easter? I wish the Leader of the House, Members and staff across the House a happy Easter. I hope they have a very restful recess.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very helpful advertisement for forthcoming Backbench Business debates and for encouraging Members to apply for them. I also have some good news for him with regard to a previous matter he and other Members have raised on the complexity of the many energy support schemes that the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero is overseeing. These are complex schemes, and he has had some casework related to them. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that that Department will commence weekly surgeries for Members and their case- work teams on energy schemes. They will begin from the first week back after recess, either on a Tuesday or a Wednesday to maximise the chance of Members being able to attend. They will be in person in Portcullis House and officials will be on hand to deal with the complex areas of the schemes with which Members need help.
I shall not get into a further fight about local government efficiencies and who I would rather have running my local authority, except to say that those who have a Conservative council are likely to be paying £80 less for the services they receive.
Was the Leader of the House as appalled as I was about the scenes of celebration in the Ugandan Parliament when legislation was passed to further criminalise LGBT members of the community and those who support them? Will she ensure that, when the House returns, the Foreign Secretary makes a statement on what representations this Government are making to the President of Uganda on that legislation, which further undermines human rights, and on what steps we are taking to support those brave people who promote the rights of the LGBT community in Uganda?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this incredibly important matter, which I know many Members will be concerned about. As he knows, there will be Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions on 2 May, but given that that is a little way off, I shall make sure that the Foreign Secretary has heard his concerns today. I know the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers and our network overseas take many opportunities to raise their concerns about these matters and other human rights abuses, which is what this legislation is. We also recognise the impact it has on other areas for that country, including its economic development. It will stifle investment in that nation; companies will not want to invest or set up businesses there under that kind of environment. It is an incredibly serious matter.
I am glad the Leader of the House has pledged to publish the list of Ministers, but there is no point in publishing it if they do not reply to correspondence. I wrote to the Culture Secretary on 7 September last year as chair of the all-party group on music about our report “Let the music move” and never got a reply. After much prompting, I finally tabled a written parliamentary question on 8 February asking when Ministers would reply to my letter. The answer came on 20 February saying that they would reply to the correspondence “as soon as possible.” Does the Leader of the House think there is any chance I might get a substantive answer—even now I still have not had one—some time this decade?
I have no argument with the hon. Gentleman’s point. Correspondence should be timely; sometimes on rare occasions there are reasons why it is slightly delayed—most Members want substantive answers as opposed to just timely ones—but the situation he has described is not appropriate. I will be very happy to follow up on his behalf in getting the answers he needs.
Will the Leader of the House consider providing Government time for a debate on the importance of local crime and antisocial behaviour plans? In the week the Government launched their own action plan for England, I published my own crime and antisocial behaviour plan for the Westminster part of my constituency, with five points including more police on the street and a zero-tolerance approach to drug dealing and drug taking. Thousands of people responded to my survey. It is really important that we debate local crime and antisocial behaviour plans in this place.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work, which is a clear example of her wanting to respond to the concerns of her constituents. The report she published is timely, given that we have just published our antisocial behaviour plan. It will introduce tougher punishments, cracking down in particular on illegal drugs; increase police and uniformed presence; and introduce higher fines and some new tools to enable law enforcement to have a good programme to crack down on antisocial behaviour. She is right that there are additional challenges in London, with crimes rates higher under the Mayor of London’s scheme, but I am certain that her plan will help her constituents.
I, too, wish everybody across the House a happy Easter recess, including those who have local elections in their patch. Happy door-knocking!
Opening a new oilfield at Rosebank would fly in the face of the UK’s climate commitments. It would produce 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and most of the oil will be destined for export, so it would not even contribute to the UK’s energy security. Despite that, The Times reports today that Rosebank will clear a major regulatory hurdle today. Can the Government please be open and transparent about this? Will the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero make a statement to the House about the progress of the application, including how it would sit alongside the UK’s climate commitments?
I encourage the hon. Lady to make use of the next available questions, which are on 18 April. She will know that we have published a new strategy on energy security. We are looking to meet our net zero commitments as well as to ensure that the nation is as resilient as possible. That includes a greater focus on nuclear power. I encourage her to look at that very detailed document, which sets out how we will achieve those twin objectives.
I have been requesting a debate on the World Health Organisation post-pandemic treaty for several months, so I am delighted that we will be having one on 17 April. It was secured only after a successful public petition obtained more than 156,000 signatures. Even more concerning than the treaty itself, which requires a vote of both Houses to be binding, are proposed changes to the WHO international health regulations, which will not require a vote. May we therefore urgently have a Government statement on the proposed changes, which look set to hand over huge powers to an unelected, unaccountable and discredited supranational body, which is hugely funded by the same people who fund big pharma?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. A debate has been secured and he will know how to raise concerns about such matters with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and other Departments. It is incredibly important that we have the facts in the public domain—whether on such treaties or about vaccines and so forth. I would just again caution the hon. Gentleman, who this week has been inviting us to “join the dots”, promoting that Anthony Fauci created covid in the United States and then offshored that operation to Wuhan. Also, in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions prior to this session, he started a new campaign to tell the public that the Government and their international network of World Economic Forum stooges are encouraging everyone to eat insects. Those are outrageous conspiracy theories that the hon. Gentleman is promoting on his social media and, more frequently, on the Floor of the House. I urge him to check his behaviour.
Parkinson’s UK estimates that 5,360 people live with Parkinson’s in the Greater Manchester health and social care partnership area, and 630 people a year are expected to be diagnosed. Shockingly, there is only one nurse supporting people in my constituency with Parkinson’s, and one left some time ago. The post has been advertised several times over the past few months, but has yet to be filled. This is deeply concerning, given the ageing population and the increase in the prevalence of progressive conditions such as Parkinson’s, the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world. We were promised an NHS workforce plan in the autumn statement but it is now long overdue. World Parkinson’s Day is on 11 April this year. As such, will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on how the forthcoming NHS workforce plan will meet the needs of people with complex progressive conditions such as Parkinson's? Will she urge the Health Secretary to finally publish the long-awaited NHS workforce plan?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for shining a spotlight on this important disease. He will know how to secure a debate in the usual way, such as an Adjournment debate, and I am sure that the Backbench Business Committee would be interested in what he has to say, given the forthcoming awareness day. Although I will make sure that the Health Secretary has heard his remarks, I urge him to talk to his local care board about what it is doing to ensure that his constituents have the support and services that they need.
Yesterday, Jennie in my Wellingborough office had a telephone call from a lady whose son, very unfortunately, was killed in a car crash in South Africa on Monday and is being buried tomorrow. Unfortunately, she had a problem with her visa, having applied for indefinite leave to remain. Jennie rang Izzy in my office, and they started to talk to the Home Office. They had me intervene; I spoke to Emily in the Home Office, who found out who I should talk to. We got the duty officer Mark involved, who worked with my office late into the night and arranged the visa so that my constituent could travel this morning. In this House, by nature, we concentrate on things that go wrong with our system. This case clearly shows the benefit of MPs, their staff and the way that government works. Could we, for a change, have a debate in Government time about how our democracy actually works?
I thank my hon. Friend for giving his thanks and for name-checking those officials. Whether it is the officials in the particular services that he spoke about or the consular services that I am sure all Members have used, even in the dead of night, to assist constituents in difficulty, they do a tremendous job, as do our staff in our offices. Although I am not anticipating further examples in business questions, it is nice to hear that occasionally.
After my constituent CarolAnn suffered a stroke, her husband updated the Department for Work and Pensions about her condition, which then issued a letter stating that her benefit was going to migrate to Social Security Scotland in May. Since then, it has done absolutely nothing to try to address her needs given her current condition, trying to palm her off to Social Security Scotland, even though it is the DWP’s responsibility until May. Can the Leader of the House outline what the Government will do to make sure that the DWP treats cases with care and dignity until they migrate to Social Security Scotland?
As always, I will be happy to look at any case that the hon. Gentleman has not been able to resolve by other means. It is true that Scotland will be looking after more welfare services. I am pleased that it is taking up the powers that have been available to it for some time, but if any Member is having difficulty getting their situation resolved, I will be happy to assist them.
I warmly welcome the release of the Government’s action plan to combat antisocial behaviour. In Harrow, more than 5,000 cases of antisocial behaviour have been reported to the council this year alone. It is the second most important crime issue that people experience and suffer. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on what we as MPs and local authorities can do to combat this problem? In Harrow, we have a consultation on a public spaces protection order to cover the whole borough, for instant action against those who commit these crimes, which would reassure people.
While I am on my feet, I remind the House that we are we celebrating not only Easter but Passover, Ramadan, Rama Navami, and Vaisakhi at the end of the recess period. All religions are included in the Easter recess.
I thank my hon. Friend for his final remarks wishing everyone well during this incredibly important period in religious calendars, and I congratulate him on his focus on antisocial behaviour. In the year ending September 2022, there was a 35% increase in police recorded incidents of antisocial behaviour, but we want that number to continue to go down. That is why we have announced the new antisocial behaviour plan. We look forward to working with my hon. Friend to ensure his constituents are safe and feel safe.
In Transport questions on 2 March, I raised a question with the Rail Minister about an issue of great importance to my constituents, who are trapped in homes they urgently need to sell but cannot because they are on or near the current line of route for East West Rail. In response to my question, the Minister offered a meeting. Unfortunately, I have had no response to a request I made the same day by email. As the recess is about to start, I am unlikely to be granted a meeting before mid-April, if I am lucky, which is a month and a half after making my request. Will the Leader of the House advise me how long I am expected to wait to hear back from the Minister, who is ignoring my desperate constituents?
I am sorry to hear that and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. I would be happy to talk to the Department and, unless he needs a physical meeting, I am sure a telephone call or a Teams meeting with the Minister could be arranged in a much shorter space of time. I will certainly make those representations to the Minister.
I start by wishing the House, its staff and, in particular, our hard-working teams a very happy Easter.
As a global maritime power, the UK has a rich and exceptional underwater cultural heritage, including the 17th century flagship the London, which sank this month 358 years ago with the loss of over 300 souls. Our rich cultural hidden heritage has the power to regenerate our coastal towns and cities, generate new jobs and contribute to the local economy. In this 50th year of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, please could we have a debate in Government time on how we can better protect and enhance our rich underwater cultural heritage?
My hon. Friend is speaking to a Member of Parliament for Portsmouth, which is the home to the Mary Rose Museum, so she is preaching to the choir. The subject is incredibly important, and underwater cultural heritage can be an important source of economic regeneration to areas. I would be interested to hear about my hon. Friend’s plans for the London. Many wreck sites are protected and many are grave sites as well, so raising the wrecks is not necessarily the right thing to do. I will make sure the Minister has heard her ambitions in this area; the next Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions will be on 27 April.
Many of us in this place and in my constituency of Edinburgh West get a little tired of Scotland’s economic and other issues always being addressed through the narrow, negative prism of the Scottish National party. We would like to discuss the benefits and the positives of the Union, not just for Scotland but for all four nations of the United Kingdom. Will the Leader of the House consider setting aside Government time to have a debate on the benefits of the Union and how it can be used positively to address the issues of all four constituent nations?
That is a wonderful idea. I think it would be supported by almost all Members of this House, and our constituents would value it greatly. The overwhelming sentiment in the letters that I am sent is how passionately many people from all four nations of the United Kingdom feel about our joint history, our heritage and our family traditions and rivalries across the United Kingdom. It is not just about arguments that appeal to the head, but about arguments that appeal to the heart. It is a very good idea for a debate and would be strongly supported, I am sure.
As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, this year Doncaster celebrates the centenary of the Flying Scotsman. You will also know that it will not be long until our dilapidated hospital reaches the same anniversary. With a brownfield site ready to go, Doncaster could benefit from a new hospital before the Flying Scotsman turns 105. Could we therefore have a debate on hospital infrastructure? I believe that that would be a great use of time in this Chamber, not least for the people of Doncaster.
I thank my hon. Friend for his tireless campaigning on the issue. He will know that we have received many expressions of interest for the next eight new hospitals from trusts across the country; I understand that there is one for Doncaster, his area. Those expressions of interest have now been assessed and the Government will make an announcement in due course. I am not able to give my hon. Friend any further information on that today, but I shall certainly make sure that the Secretary of State hears his championing, yet again, of his constituency.
The register of Ministers’ interests says that the right hon. Lady is the Minister of State at the Department for International Trade, but she is self-evidently the Leader of the House, and has been for 205 days. Indeed, the Department for International Trade was abolished 51 days ago. The register is not even an accurate list of Ministers now. No Department has published transparency returns on anything after the end of September, so it has been 180 days. An ordinary MP would have to register everything within 28 days.
The Leader of the House has been saying for some time that she will get this sorted—she promised the House before Christmas. So far as I can see, we are going in the wrong direction, not the right direction. Why can we not have Ministers’ interests published within a week or a fortnight of their being incurred? Why can we not have it done immediately?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we are moving to a system that will put the ministerial registration of interests, hospitality, gifts and so forth on the same footing as Parliament’s. [Interruption.] I know that because I regularly meet the officials who are doing this work. They are still on schedule to deliver it, as the hon. Gentleman knows, by this summer.
Once those systems are created, they will enable us immediately to link through so that members of the public, our constituents and others who are searching to see what we need to register should find that a lot easier than under the current system. The hon. Gentleman will understand that it requires a system to be built. That is ongoing. The propriety and ethics team are doing this, and I will keep him updated.
Aylesbury has some absolutely fantastic places to visit this Easter. I highlighted some of them during English Tourism Week: we have a historic quarter, some great museums and even a statue of David Bowie that sings on the hour. But we also face some serious challenges, with worrying health and education inequalities and a town centre that urgently needs regeneration. Could my right hon. Friend find Government time for a debate on the need for support—whether that is levelling-up support or another means of support—for Aylesbury and towns like it across the south-east of England?
I thank my hon. Friend for that wonderful advert for so many things in his constituency. I know that his area will benefit from nearly £8 million of the UK’s shared prosperity fund allocation. He makes an excellent suggestion for a debate; he will know how to apply for one in the usual way.
As we head into the Easter recess, prices continue to rise and the Government have still failed to put a decent pay rise on the table for hard-working civil servants. Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union in passport offices around the country will be taking weeks of continuous strike action throughout April. Strikes are also set to take place at the Animal and Plant Health Agency, Ofgem, the British Museum, the British Library and the Government Digital Service, with further national action due at the end of April. May we have a debate in Government time on what the Government are doing to negotiate a settlement to this dispute and end poverty pay in the civil service?
As the hon. Lady will know, Ministers give the House frequent updates about all the pay negotiations and discussions that are taking place across many sectors. For example, the Health Secretary answered an urgent question on the subject this morning. I shall make sure that those in the Cabinet Office have heard what the hon. Lady has said today as their next questions is not until 11 May.
I have already highlighted the record-breaking achievements of my constituents who have raised funds for our excellent North Devon Hospice. May I now ask my right hon. Friend to congratulate both Jade Kingdom, the first person with Down syndrome to complete a sprint triathlon, and Max Woosey, the boy in the tent who has raised the most money ever raised by anyone camping outside? While it is marvellous that so much money is being raised for our wonderful hospice, will my right hon. Friend also help to secure a debate in Government time to ensure that the current increases in hospice energy costs do not undermine their core caring work?
I am sure all Members will want to join in the congratulations and admiration for both Jade and Max and all that they have achieved. They have done a tremendous amount, not just through their personal achievements but in inspiring other people to step up and try things, and raise money to support good causes. As my hon. Friend will know, our energy bill relief schemes are intended to help not just businesses but organisations in the public, voluntary and charitable sectors and other non-domestic energy users, including hospices, but we will keep this under review. Hospices do a tremendous job for everyone in our community. We all appreciate and support their work, and we will do everything we can to see them through what are very difficult times.
As the country looks forward to the coronation, and given the focus on volunteering with the Big Help Out on 8 May, may I ask the Leader of the House to join me in congratulating the team at Treharris Boys & Girls Club, who will celebrate their centenary in a few days’ time? Treharris is reportedly the oldest boys’ and girls’ club in Wales, and the passion and commitment of its volunteers has made it a huge asset to the community for generations. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on volunteering and its contribution to our community life?
I am very pleased to join the hon. Gentleman in sending my congratulations to his local girls’ and boys’ club. Let me also thank him for his advertisement for the tremendous coronation weekend that lies ahead, and, in particular, that day of civic renewal and volunteering. I hope all Members will use it to promote the incredible organisations in their constituencies, to raise money and do some good things for the community, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for speaking about it today.
On Sunday I will be part of the Birkin’s Boys team taking part in the Hunstanton soap box race to raise money for the local RNLI lifeboat station. Will my right hon. Friend wish all the participants good luck, and, as people come to the stunning north Norfolk coast for their Easter holidays, will she find time for a debate about the importance of respecting water and being safe on the beach?
I wish my hon. Friend good luck for the adventure that lies ahead. It sounds slightly dangerous, but I wish him well, along with all the other people who will be raising money for such a good cause. He will know that we have a national water safety forum and work with many partners to ensure that those who are enjoying the tremendous facilities that exist throughout the country, including my hon. Friend’s constituency, are safe, and also know what to do if things go badly wrong. I pay tribute to all those organisations, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which do such fantastic work to keep us all safe.
Despite concerns raised by the Scottish Government, the Budget allocation from Westminster saw a fall in the capital budget of 3% and a miserly 0.6% uplift, based on GDP deflator assumptions of inflation at 3.2%, when of course in reality it is much higher. Will the Leader of the House make a statement to explain in what world this could be called levelling up? What it shows is that the true way to level up Scotland is for Scotland to have full fiscal control as an independent country.
The facts as I understand them are that Scotland has received the largest ever settlement in its history. The dividend to taxpayers in Scotland from being part of the Union is £2,000 per head and, according to Audit Scotland, the Scottish Government have had to raid capital budgets to meet shortfalls in their revenue budget and day-to-day spending, so I think a debate on this subject is a very good idea.
As well as wishing you a happy Easter, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I wish you a happy Cheshire day, on 30 March, when we celebrate the great people, businesses and traditions of a wonderful county in the north-west of England?
More than 6,000 people have signed a petition calling on Warrington Labour councillors to scrap the low-traffic neighbourhood in Latchford and reopen Grange Avenue to through traffic. The council, I am afraid, has dug its heels in and even today has launched another consultation, simply kicking the can down the road. Local residents are clear: the scheme has created longer drive times and increased congestion in Warrington town centre. Will the Leader of House grant a debate in Government time on how councils can encourage local people to be more active, and perhaps walk and cycle more? Instead of spending money on planters in the middle of the road, perhaps councils could spend that money on resurfacing pavements, so that local people can walk safely in their local neighbourhoods.
I think my hon. Friend has achieved his ambition by giving that advice with both barrels to his local authority. The responsibility lies with the local authority, and it is disappointing that it is not able to deal with the things that would really make a difference to people’s lives by helping them to be more active and to walk and cycle more, and to ensure that those local services are protected. I also join him in wishing everyone a very happy Cheshire day. For an even happier Cheshire day next year, I think the conclusion is: vote Conservative.
Feeding Families is a great organisation in my constituency that gives support to families who just do not have enough to get by on. Today I heard that it is moving to much larger and much better premises in Blaydon. While that is great for Feeding Families, the volunteers and their work, it is sad that that is necessary, due to demand increasing by 100% in the last year. Can we have a debate in Government time on the measures we can take to end the need for food banks and organisations such as Feeding Families?
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating and thanking these incredibly important local community groups, which do so much to support our communities, particularly vulnerable and financially fragile families. She will know that we have put in place a £93 billion cost of living package and done many other things, including agreeing the largest ever uplift to the national living wage and modernising our welfare system to support families through this. However, we must also support those organisations that are often best placed to reach those who fall through the cracks, which is why we have always ensured that local authorities have leeway and particular budgets to help those local community groups.
I understand that for the last two years Dementia UK has funded the important work of Admiral nurses across Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. That funding is due to end tomorrow. Although the local integrated care board and the local primary care networks have agreed to fund the service in some areas, I am told that that does not include Charnwood, which has Loughborough within it. Without that funding, the service covering my constituency will close immediately. Given that there are more than 2,500 people living with dementia locally, the loss of the Admiral nurse service will have a huge knock-on impact. I am keen to understand why some parts of an integrated care board area can receive services while others cannot. I would also welcome the Leader of the House’s advice on the best and quickest way to bring this matter to the Government’s attention, to find a solution.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important point. She knows it is the integrated care board’s responsibility to ensure that needs are met, and that the right services are commissioned. Having raised the matter today, she is exhausting all the avenues open to her in this place. She can obviously apply for a debate, too, but the integrated care board needs to change its mind, and I hope it is listening to what she has had to say today.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary has told Channel 4 FactCheck that he intends to correct the record, following his use at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions of an incorrectly low figure for rape convictions. Given the prominence and significance of the error, it would surely be inadequate were this to be done through a written ministerial correction squirrelled away at the back of Hansard. Will the Leader of the House persuade her Cabinet colleague to do the decent thing and come to this House, speedily and in person, to rectify his error?
If a Member needs to correct the record, it is right that they do so in a timely way, and there are established procedures for doing that. The Justice Secretary is a man of his word and, if he has said that he will do something, he will do it. I will leave it up to him how he does that.
Chelsea football club was sold under special exemption in May 2022, and at least £2.3 billion of the proceeds was placed in Roman Abramovich’s frozen UK bank account, with the expectation that the funds will be sent to support Ukrainians. In November, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty), said the funds would soon be on their way. In January, there were news reports that the Government were close to handing over this money to a new foundation for Ukrainians, but earlier this month the Minister said
“Setting up an organisation of this scale rightly takes time.”
We have no update. Given that we are almost a year on from the sale, and given that a third of the UK’s aid budget is being used in the UK to support refugees, including Ukrainians, can we have a ministerial statement to clarify the timescale so that the money can go to those who need it as soon as possible?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important issue. It is clear what needs to happen. Given that the next Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions are not until 2 May, I will make sure the Foreign Secretary has heard what she said. The Treasury will also have an interest, as it needs to make sure everything is done correctly. I will make sure both Departments have heard what she said today.
Many of my most vulnerable and unwell constituents are seeing their personal independence payment renewals turned down after just a telephone interview. The latest case will see a very unwell and isolated woman lose her car tomorrow, while she waits months for her appeal to be heard. Given her condition, I suspect her appeal will be upheld. Can the Leader of the House help?
I am sorry to hear of this case. When hon. and right hon. Members have exhausted all the usual routes, I am happy to intervene to ensure that cases are addressed. I may have saved myself the price of a stamp, as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is here on the Treasury Bench. Having worked in the Department for Work and Pensions, I know its staff are very keen to ensure that such situations are addressed.
Last year, there was a net loss of 14,000 social-rent properties in this country. Locally, the Conservative-led Warwick District Council promised to build a development of 42 social-rent properties, which has never happened. There was also the development of Warwick Place as a site for social-rent housing. Can we therefore have a debate in Government time on the much-needed supply of social-rent housing in this country, given the housing crisis we face?
Annual housing supply is up by 10% on previous years, with more than 232,000 net additional homes delivered in 2021-22. That is the third highest yearly rate for the past 30 years. We have had an unprecedented amount of investment in social housing, but I shall make sure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and will ask him to contact his office.
May I just caution the Leader of the House that the Home Office has form when it comes to impact assessments? It made all the same promises in relation to the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, but no assessment was ever published. The Home Office has now turned down my freedom of information request for the impact assessment on the new Bill, acknowledging that it exists but saying, yet again, that it will be published in due course. When she spoke to the Home Office, was she given a reason why the impact assessment had not been published prior to this week’s Committee proceedings? Was she given a cast-iron assurance that it will be published before we consider the final stages of the Bill later this month?
The hon. Gentleman will perhaps have heard my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister say in Tuesday’s debate that the Home Office’s intention is to publish an impact assessment on the Bill. So it is clear from the Home Office that it intends to do that. I completely accept that it is of more use if that is done earlier rather than later. As I say, we have made representations to Ministers and my officials have spoken to the permanent secretary of that Department.
I am grateful to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for announcing that there is going to be a debate on NHS dentistry, because clearly a lot of Members are concerned about that issue, but may we also please have a statement on children’s access to orthodontic services? In the past couple of weeks, a couple of constituents have contacted me with concerning issues that they have raised regarding their children. One has been told that there is a three-year wait for a referral to an orthodontist, when their dentist has told them that action needs to be taken within 12 months otherwise it will not work. Another has been told that they cannot have the work required because sedation is no longer available for children. So may we have a statement from the relevant Minister on what is going to happen to improve access for children to orthodontic services?
The hon. Gentleman raises a matter that is particularly important after the backlog that has built up in such services during covid and the absence of such services during covid, particularly for children in care and other vulnerable children. Services are improving across the country, and certainly services for those children should be in place. He will know that the Department is looking at what more it can do to bolster the workforce and increase access to provision, and he can raise this issue at the next questions, which will be on 25 April.
The Royal Oak in Isleworth is a popular pub that is run by a family, but it is being put under huge financial pressure because of the high cost of its gas and electricity bills. Having been forced to sign a new energy contract last autumn, they are stuck paying four times what they were paying last year for energy and they cannot afford it. Despite energy prices tumbling since they signed, British Gas has refused even to review their fixed-term contract. They are now facing closure because of the actions of British Gas, which will not get anything if a small business such as this one goes under. Does the Leader of the House agree that the actions of British Gas are unacceptable and harmful to small businesses? Will she find time for a debate about how we can support our pubs and other small businesses that are stuck with these exorbitant new fixed-term contracts?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important case. It does sound extremely unfair that British Gas will not engage with that business, as she describes—it sounds very un-British of British Gas to do that. I hope that British Gas will have heard what she has said, look at this case and see whether it can find a way through to ensure that that business can continue operating. I congratulate her on raising this matter this afternoon.
May I take this opportunity, Madam Deputy Speaker, to wish you and all Members of the House a very happy Easter?
I know that I raise these issues every week, and the Leader of the House always responds in a positive and respectful manner, which I appreciate on behalf of all those people whom we may never meet, but who we think of here every week. I think of the 27 Christians who were killed in northern Nigeria and the hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in arbitrary detention in China.
Today, I wish to focus on a prominent Afghan campaigner for female education, Matiullah Wesa, who was arrested by the Taliban. The denial of education to women and girls in the country is abhorrent to us here and to people across the world and has a devastating effect on everyone, including on Afghanistan’s threatened religious minorities. Will the Leader of the House join me in urging the Taliban to release Matiullah Wesa and fulfil a promise of reopening schools and universities to women and girls?
I thank the hon. Member not just for his kind remarks, but, again, for giving a voice to those people whom many Members of this House will be concerned about—whether they are in China, Nigeria, or Afghanistan or are organisations that are working to support those people. They are very much in our minds, and we will continue to focus on their plight. I will just add that, yesterday, a number of parliamentarians joined me in meeting advocates and organisations that are working to protect democracy and women’s rights around the world, with a particular focus on Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere. We did a workshop together to see what more we can do to provide Members of this House with opportunities to support those organisations in a much more profound way—how we can organise ourselves better here. It is not just about networks globally, but about organisations working in the UK to protect vulnerable women, too. I plan to update the House on some new initiatives later this year, which I hope Members will welcome.