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Business of the House

Volume 732: debated on Thursday 18 May 2023

The business for the week commencing 22 May will include:

Monday 22 May—Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill.

Tuesday 23 May—Opposition day (16th allotted day). Debate in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 24 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

Thursday 25 May—Debate on a motion on recognition of the Ukrainian Holodomor, followed by a general debate on tackling Islamophobia. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

The House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 25 May and return on Monday 5 June.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. May I say how refreshing it is to see a Tory Cabinet Minister speaking at the actual Dispatch Box, rather than at the National Conservatism conference podium?

I assume that the Prime Minister signed off on the announcement by the Leader of the House today, but it would not surprise me if he had not, as we have Cabinet Ministers jockeying for position and coming up with whole new agendas—left, right and, well, even further to the right. Civil war season in the Tory party comes around faster every year, but every time it is working people who suffer. Ministers pass the buck, blame anyone but themselves and act as commentators, as if they have no power. That is reflected in the business.

Perhaps we could find time for a debate on ministerial responsibility; perhaps the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities could lead it. At that conference, he admitted that

“there simply aren’t enough homes. It is increasingly difficult to get on the property ladder.”

I presume he realises that he is the Housing Secretary. Why has he not done anything about it? He is only making the situation worse by prioritising his Back Benchers over Britain’s young people. Is it not time that he came here and answered questions from MPs?

After calling for it last week, I was glad that the Renters (Reform) Bill was announced this week. Can the Leader of the House tell Bristol’s renters when that Bill will receive its Second Reading? I did not notice it in the business. Labour wants to see a four-month notice period, a national register of landlords, and a host of new rights for tenants, including the right to make alterations to their homes, to request speedy repairs and to have pets.

Many Bristolians also want to buy their first home—that is true of people up and down the country—but we need more affordable green homes. If the Government do not have any ideas of their own, perhaps they could introduce a Bill that includes Labour’s plans to fix the housing crisis. We would take on planning reform, bring back local housing targets and remove the veto used by big landowners to stop shovels hitting the ground. We would also prioritise first-time buyers. Where is the Government’s plan for aspiring homeowners? Can the Housing Secretary come and tell us what it is?

Can the Leader of the House clarify whether Tory Ministers are taking full responsibility for their own conduct? Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald)—I have notified them both of my intention to mention them—saying that the Government found no signs of corruption or illegality in the redevelopment of a massive site in the north-east. She did not declare in that letter, however, that she had received thousands of pounds in a donation from a local businessman who has a holding in Teesworks Ltd, the company redeveloping the site. I must stress that she has registered that donation in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, but the ministerial code states that

“Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”,

so can the Leader of the House clarify whether any rules have been broken? If so, what steps will be taken?

To continue the theme of failing to take responsibility, I see that the Home Secretary also enjoyed a day out at the circus. Contradicting her own Prime Minister, she said that she would cut immigration. I wonder whether she realises that she is actually the Home Secretary. Shortly after, the Prime Minister hit back with an announcement of visas for 10,000 more seasonal workers. Who are we to believe? Who holds the authority: the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister? What is the Government’s policy? We need clarity. Instead of answering questions from friends at the Conservatives’ conspiracy comic con—I love a bit of alliteration on a Thursday—perhaps the Home Secretary could get on with her job, come to this House and answer questions from MPs.

Why is the Prime Minister not taking responsibility for the behaviour of his Cabinet colleagues? Is he really so weak that he will let them get away with openly undermining his authority like that? Will the Leader of the House at least try to fill some of the massive leadership black hole that is lingering over the Conservative party right now? Perhaps she will follow the example of an important figure in England’s other great civil war. In Parliament 375 years ago today, Thomas Fairfax, an English politician and parliamentary commander-in-chief—yes, he too had a sword—spoke of the need to suppress the insurrectionists. I am not asking for that, but perhaps the Leader of the House is today prepared to stop her Cabinet colleagues squabbling among themselves and get them to take responsibility and actually start governing.

Finally, I do not normally do weeks or days, but this week is Dementia Action Week. I recently attended the funeral of a family member who lost their life to dementia, and so many colleagues and people up and down the country will have had that experience. Some 40% of people currently with dementia are not diagnosed. I am asking the Leader of the House, as a special personal request and on behalf of everybody who has met people who have dementia, to ask for a progress report from her colleagues on dementia diagnosis, as 91% of people who have one say that it is better to know.

I will take the hon. Lady’s last point first. These awareness weeks afford us an opportunity to put a spotlight on what is happening on care, research, support and the progress made. There is some good news, in that our fantastic scientists have made real breakthroughs in recent years, but of course raising awareness and getting an early diagnosis can make a huge difference to the quality of people’s lives. I shall certainly ensure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard that point and updates the House in one form or another.

This week, we have commemorated the 80th anniversary of the Dambusters raid. We all know in this place that Wing Commander Gibson led that mission, and he later died after completing 170 war operations, aged just 26. What Members and the public may not know is that he was also the prospective parliamentary candidate for Macclesfield. At his death, Churchill wrote:

“I had hoped that he would come into Parliament and make his way there after the stress of the war was over, but he never spared himself nor would allow others to spare him. We have lost in this officer one of the most splendid of all our fighting men. His name will not be forgotten; it will for ever be enshrined in the most wonderful records of our country.”

We should never forget what a privilege it is to serve in this House, nor the price others paid so that we could.

On the very serious point that the hon. Lady raised about the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), this is recent news, but I know that the Department has issued a statement saying that all the reporting that should have been done had been done, and there was not a conflict of interest; it was something that happened before the election. I think she has honoured all her obligations in that respect.

With regard to the Teesside issue, it is a concern for all people, and even the Mayor last night was asking for more scrutiny to demonstrate that all that should have been done had been done. It is important that we focus on the facts. I understand the need and wish to make political capital out of this situation, but it is also about ensuring business confidence in a part of the world that we are keen to level up.

The hon. Lady talks about different policies and division in the Conservative party, which is high praise indeed from a party so qualified in the art, although—credit where credit is due—I think some unity has broken out in the Labour party. The shadow Deputy Prime Minister, the shadow Levelling Up Secretary, the shadow Health Secretary, the shadow Justice Secretary, the shadow Defence Secretary, the shadow Business Secretary, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, the shadow Environment Minister and the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland are all united against the Labour leader’s latest policy U-turn. They are all what he would describe as “blockers” to development. To give them some comfort, most of his policies and pledges have been ditched within a few months, so my advice to them is to hang tight and that is bound to happen.

The hon. Lady is right: people want to own their own homes. It is important to their financial resilience and it provides them and their family with certainty about their future. While I recognise that there is more to do, I am very happy to contrast our record with Labour’s on building homes. Some 2.2 million additional homes have been delivered since 2010. House building starts have increased by over 108% since Labour was in power. There are 15% fewer dwellings failing to meet the decent homes standard. Housing supply was up 10% on last year and last year saw a 20-year high in people taking their first steps on the property ladder. Through Help to Buy, we have assisted 837,000 households to own their own home.

The hon. Lady talks about ministerial responsibility and the focus we have had this week on conservative philosophy. To me, being a Conservative has always meant taking responsibility for yourself and others. The facts of life are conservative, and ours is a party that values the individual and their potential. We are the party that puts people first, and we are the party of the first-person plural, “we”—not us or they, but we. We widen opportunity, responsibility and pride in our nation, and the stake people have in it. It is the Labour party, her party, that narrows and diminishes.

Further business will be announced in the usual way.

Can we have a debate on the widespread need to reduce speed limits on rural roads for safety reasons, and to reduce the protracted procedures that can apply when trying to achieve that, even on one individual road? This is an issue of great concern to my local councillors Patrick Redstone and Liz Wardlaw, who are working hard on the issue, as is the Cheshire police and crime commissioner, John Dwyer.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important question, and for the work that she is doing with her councillors and the police and crime commissioner on that important matter. She will know that the next relevant questions will be on 8 June and I suggest she raises the matter with the Secretary of State.

This week, Britain has been treated to not one, but two, Conservative conferences: the far-right Conservative Democratic Organisation and the extreme far-right National Conservatism conferences. I was rather surprised that the Leader of the House was not there after her recent starring role; nevertheless, the Home Secretary, the Levelling Up Secretary, and lots of up-and-coming Tory Back Benchers all made eye-catching contributions, along with some other rather extraordinary speeches. The holocaust was dismissed as Nazis mucking things up, and we were told that only married straight couples could safely bring up children, that pagans and narcissists are harming western civilisation, and that woke teachers are ruining children’s education—it should make for an interesting Tory manifesto. Many of my constituents are extremely concerned by these latest developments. Can we have a debate to examine the extremist language and attitudes that we have witnessed at those conferences, and can the Leader of the House tell us whether they further signal her Government’s alarming slide into the grip of the far right, or will she reject these ideas out of hand like all decent people?

At Prime Minister’s questions last week, the Prime Minister said that the Scottish Government should ditch plans to introduce highly protected marine areas, apparently unaware that the Scottish Government are only at the very start of a consultation process, with many hundreds of responses to go through yet, and that our First Minister and Ministers have said that no community will have an HPMA forced upon it. I do not know why some of the Prime Minister’s Tory MSPs could not have told him that, although judging from recent behaviour in the Scottish Parliament, perhaps some struggle to use the internet.

However, rather embarrassingly, I see that the PM himself, when touting for Tory membership votes last year, signed a pledge from the Conservative Friends of the Ocean group supporting the creation of HPMAs, and his Government recently announced that three HPMAs will be created in England. What is going on here? I know that the Conservatives are desperate to win back the Scottish coastal communities after their Brexit catastrophe, but those communities will see through this hypocrisy, and my jaw nearly hit the floor when I saw that the lead patron of that same Conservative Friends of the Ocean group was the Leader of the House herself. Perhaps a debate sorting out exactly where the UK Government are on this important issue would be helpful, and can the Leader of the House clarify how she is dealing with the PM’s flip-flopping on HPMAs? Will she be resigning from Government to honour her role as patron, or resigning as patron to uphold Government policy?

First, the hon. Lady asks me about the National Conservatism conference. That is not a conference that has been organised by Government or the Conservative party, and is therefore not within my remit or responsibilities to respond to. I am taking this as a positive, as she is running out of complaints to raise about my Government.

She raises the matter of HPMAs. I am very proud of my Government’s record, both on improving water quality and boosting the economic resilience of coastal communities and the many things that we have done around the world to protect our valuable oceans, including the Blue Charter and others. I am proud to be patron of that Conservative group that looks after our oceans and the industries they support.

I gently say to the hon. Lady that I hope we all share those aims in this place, but how we go about doing things is also rather important. The complaints that not just Conservative MPs and MSPs have about how the Scottish Government have been going about this, and the concerns that have been raised by many coastal communities, are because the Scottish Government do not consult and do not listen to those communities. It is the same story with their disastrous bottle deposit return scheme, which will impact negatively on recycling rates and cause massive problems for businesses.

I was surprised this week that the hon. Lady decided to have an Opposition day debate on the cost of living, given that the SNP is hiking taxes, spending like there is no tomorrow and failing to deliver on decent public services. We have heard this week that it will now cost more to finish those ferries that are so massively overdue than to do a complete new build. We know that Scottish Ministers appreciate the difficulty for and impact on their constituents and the travelling public, because in order for them to visit the island of Rùm, they had to hire their own boat; they were not able to use the ferry services.

I wonder whether the hon. Lady and her colleagues have read any of Audit Scotland’s reports or acted on any of its recommendations. They have no concept of the catalogue we now have of arrests and raids and multiple police investigations into the mismanagement of their party finances, and of how negatively that has reflected on Scottish politics. We also have the poor stewardship of public funds and an increasing question about the ongoing saga of the Scottish National Investment Bank. We are wondering not just how much longer those CalMac ferries will be in the dock, but how many SNP figures will be as well.

The European Scrutiny Committee, with three formal invitations, has been trying to secure the appearance of the Secretary of State for Business and Trade before our Committee on the issue of retained EU law for almost three months. That is not to mention last week’s urgent question and my business question last week to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Over the past few days, I have been trying to secure the attendance of the Secretary of State through No. 10 and otherwise. My Committee understood that she might appear before us today. Despite everything, that has not transpired, and we have received no response from her or her staff. It is not possible to believe that she does not know that we have been making these representations through No. 10. She must clearly know that, given the timing of procedures, the need for her appearance by today was critical. It is now too late, given the proceedings in the Lords. We have heard nothing from her or her team. The Bill has now completed Report in the House of Lords. The failure to appear before our Committee is a grave discourtesy to the Committee and to this House in obstructing our work and the work of the House. Does my right hon. Friend know why the Secretary of State has been so clearly obstructive to my Committee on a matter of such vital national interest?

First, I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he and his Committee have done on this incredibly important issue. He has expressed concerns about the schedule of EU retained law to be revoked, the Government’s policy on that and Brexit opportunities, and the opportunity that his Committee and other Members of this House will have to scrutinise. I go through those concerns, because I emphasise to him that this Government take those concerns extremely seriously. My understanding, and I checked this morning, is that the Secretary of State has agreed to appear before his Committee. After this session, I will make sure that he is updated on that, but that is my understanding as of a few moments ago.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the Backbench Business debates for next Thursday. The Backbench Business Committee already has a very busy schedule for Chamber debates for June, but we do rely on a steady flow of applications for debates in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall. As I have mentioned, we are already quite busy for June, but upcoming commemorative dates in July that Members may wish to consider applying for debates on to recognise them include, among other things, the International Day of Co-operatives, World Youth Skills Day, Nelson Mandela Day and, of course, International Moon Day. We are looking forward to an application for a debate on International Moon Day and I am sure that will be forthcoming.

Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing success to Gateshead football club, my home town team, who are playing in the final of the FA trophy at Wembley on Sunday, where I will be in attendance?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for again giving an advertisement for the work of his Committee. I think I heard him say International Moon Day. I do hope it is in relation to the astronomical interpretation of that word, otherwise it is going to be an extremely interesting debate.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her recent visit with me in Stafford to see for herself the Beaconside campus and the Home Office’s proposed site for a new asylum seeker site in my constituency. I explained to her my very strong objections to that proposal, and shared those of the huge number of constituents who have written to me to complain about it. Can she provide time for a debate on asylum seeker policy and its impact on the west midlands?

I was pleased to respond to my hon. Friend’s invitation for me to visit her constituency, and in particular to see that site. I know she has been speaking to many people in Government to emphasise her concerns and represent the views of her many constituents who are worried about this. She will know that this is one reason why we are bringing forward new legislation to relieve the unsustainable pressure on our asylum system and accommodation services, which are costing this country £3 billion a year. She will note the remarks of the Prime Minister, at the Council of Europe the other day, in calling for other countries to recognise how we need to work together to make sure that the finite resource we have to support people in desperate need is directed to those people who need that care most.

Women’s organisations have warned that the cost of living crisis is having a devastating impact on women, putting them at greater risk of violence and abuse. On my visits to refuges, I have heard stories of women who are considering returning to their abuser because they are living in poverty and the rising cost of living means they cannot see a way out of their situation. Can we please have a debate on mitigating the cost of living crisis for domestic abuse services and victims?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. She will know that the next Home Office questions will be next week, and she can raise that matter then. This is a concern to Government, and it is why we have brought forward new measures to ensure that financial support is in place for anyone fleeing those situations.

Would my right hon. Friend be able to provide time for a debate on the efficiency of some Government Departments in responding to correspondence? I refer particularly to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to which I wrote on behalf of a constituent on 18 December, the five-month anniversary of which occurs today. I reminded it on 13 February and 10 March and I actually took to the airwaves on a certain television programme to remind it on 13 April, and still no answer is forthcoming. May we cover in this debate whether Departments that are incompetent at replying to correspondence are competent at bringing forward legislation?

I am very sorry to hear about that situation. My right hon. Friend is also a Privy Counsellor and it is a courtesy to Privy Counsellors that Secretaries of State should respond to their correspondence. Of course, every Department must be responding to correspondence from Members of this House in a timely way. I would be happy to take up this particular instance and I am sorry that he has had this shoddy treatment.

Can I just say to the Leader of the House that it might be worth while if we were to have a meeting with the Chief Whip? It is becoming more and more apparent that Members—Back Benchers in particular —cannot represent their constituents when Departments do not answer their correspondence in good time. I would say that it is now becoming the way forward not to answer Members. That is not acceptable, we need to get it resolved and I am sure that we can both do that together to represent Back Benchers in the way they should be and, more importantly, their constituents.

One hundred and thirty years ago, Ivor Novello was born in Cowbridge Road East in my Cardiff West constituency. Today, we celebrate the Ivor Novello awards that bear his name, with the wonderful, brilliant song writing and composing community that we have in the UK. May we have a debate about the contribution that is made, both culturally and economically, by our brilliant song writers and composers in the UK, and explore Government policy and the implications of artificial intelligence and so on for the future of our brilliant song writing and composing community?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising awareness of that important anniversary, and for affording us an opportunity to reflect on the recent triumph of the city of Liverpool, which has such an incredible musical heritage, in hosting Eurovision. Music has a huge legacy and tradition in this country, and it is also important to our economy. If he were to apply for a debate, I am sure that it would be well attended.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Vahid Beheshti was carrying out his hunger strike on the opposite side of the road from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for more than 70 days before being taken to hospital. The good news is that he is likely to be allowed to leave hospital today. The bad news is that there are continued threats to his peace camp. May we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary about measures that the Government will take to combat the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the nefarious activities that it has launched in the UK, and about the literal epidemic of executions taking place in Iran right now, involving innocent people whose only crime has been to demonstrate against the current Administration?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point, and I am glad that Vahid Beheshti is recovering and regaining his strength. His protest was not just about what was happening in Iran, important though that is; it was also about the increasing intimidation of and threats to murder individuals who are in the UK. That should concern us. Such threats have been made against Vahid Beheshti and others supporting his protest, and the message we should all send from this place, today and every day, is that our eyes are on those people. We will ensure that they have the right to protest and get across their point of view about what is happening in Iran.

Last night the Environment Secretary chose to say on ITV that there is “misinformation” about sewage being dumped into our rivers, rather than acknowledging the problem. That is really insulting. People have been made sick after swimming in raw sewage. It is a serious and disgusting stain on our country, yet the Environment Secretary blames “misinformation” for the scandal. May we have a debate in Government time, led by the Environment Secretary, on the alleged misinformation of sewage reporting, including why thousands of sewage monitors are broken?

When we came into office, just 6% of storm overflows were monitored. That figure is now 100%. But I know that there are issues, which are different in different areas, with the monitoring systems.[Official Report, 24 May 2023, Vol. 733, c. 4MC.] The hon. Lady will have heard today’s announcement from Water UK about the £10 billion that is being invested by 2030 to stop storm overflows, and it also announced some additional measures to improve monitoring. This is an ongoing situation, and we have a clear, funded plan to end storm overflows. That is incredibly important to our coastal communities, and we need to stick to those facts.

I recently raised concerns about National Grid connection times, as I know have other colleagues. I am concerned that long waiting times may be hampering business and industry, our attractiveness as a place to do businesses, and our environmental credentials. I recently spoke to the British Metals Recycling Association, which raised those concerns on behalf of its members, who potentially face waiting times of years to be connected to the grid. Will the Leader of the House support a debate in Government time so that we can talk about how to prioritise some of those key installations, and do our bit to support business?

That is an excellent topic for a debate, and my hon. Friend will know how to apply for one. The next Energy Security and Net Zero questions are on 23 May. She will know that we are working with Ofgem and the network companies to reform the connection process and bring forward connection dates, and we will set out further action in a connections action plan this summer.

I am amazed that we are not having a statement from the Environment Secretary today, given the announcement from the water companies. They issued an apology for their appalling performance, discharging sewage into our rivers and coastal areas, but alongside that apology they announced that water bill payers will have to fork out £10 billion to put all of that right. Imagine if a garbage disposal company decided that it was cheap and quick to dump rubbish in our town centres, disrupting all of those businesses, or if local authorities chose to dump it in swimming pools because that was cheap for them, disrupting people who want to take their families swimming? That is exactly what the water companies have been doing. They have been wrecking tourism in coastal areas and seaside towns, and stopping people from swimming in our rivers—that is totally intolerable. And now they are telling us that, to put all of it right, they will charge us £10 billion. When will we get a statement on that?

I shall ensure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s request for a statement, but I do not think that what he says is quite correct. The only way to end storm overflows and sewage going into our rivers and around our coast is to invest in and upgrade infrastructure. Work has started now. We have legislated so that every water company needs to have a plan in place and to meet those targets. It is a shared cost, but I will give him some hope. We know from where work has already been done—in London, for example, with Thames Water—that the cost to the bill payer has not been great. We have got to make this investment, which will be shared between bill payers—all of us—and those companies. It needs to be done.

I was delighted to welcome Molton Monthly, the south-west enterprise champions, to this week’s Countryside Alliance rural oscars here in Westminster, celebrating some of the best rural businesses, presented by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In the same week, we have seen the Farm to Fork Summit, with additional support for our fabulous farmers. While warmly welcoming all the work that DEFRA does to support rural communities, does my right hon. Friend agree that rurality should be considered in decisions across Departments such as on decarbonising transport, energy efficiency and equity of health and education outcomes, as work to design such policies in SW1 may need adapting to be effective in our rural communities? Might we secure a debate in Government time to see how practically we can implement a more rural focus?

I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate everyone who took part in the Countryside Alliance rural oscars. I thank them for coming to Westminster. She will know we take this matter seriously. DEFRA has launched the £110 million rural England prosperity fund, and we also have Project Gigabit funding and our multimillion-pound rural mobility fund. Those things are in place precisely because of the issues that she raised.

Can we have a debate about the switchover from copper cables to fibre for our phone networks? Concerns have been raised about vulnerable citizens—particularly the elderly and the disabled—and what might happen were there to be an outage in the fibre network. We now hear that a survey from Citizens Advice says that up to 1 million people have cancelled their broadband subscription because of the cost of living. We need to know the implications of that in terms of the fibre network, so could we have that debate, which would give Members the chance to thrash out the issues and get some concrete answers from the Government?

I am sure that the issue that the hon. Lady raises is a concern to many Members in this House. I have written to several Departments on this matter. If she were to apply for a debate, I am sure it would be extremely well attended. Such issues are very timely, so I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what she has said.

The very encouraging Government White Paper on gambling tackles the destructive impact, especially of online gambling, without damaging legitimate betting, racing or the lottery fund. But just as we consider banning gambling advertising from football, so the industry now turns its focus towards rugby. Although I do not believe that premiership rugby union clubs wish to accept gambling advertising, they may be tempted to do so in a tough financial situation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an opportunity for the Government to influence Premiership Rugby Ltd to reduce the cap on players, and perhaps extend the repayment of Government loans during the pandemic? Does she agree that this is a great opportunity to have a debate on the future of rugby, so that we can proactively tackle these problems before gambling shifts from football to rugby?

I thank my hon. Friend not just for his question, but for proposing a solution for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport so that those clubs do not have to rely on income from particular sources. Given that the relevant questions are not until 15 June, I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard his question and his suggestion.

There have been shocking revelations this week of desperate parents forced to steal in order to feed their infant children. When challenged, the Prime Minister replied that the Healthy Start allowance was the mechanism to support such families, yet it has been frozen in each of the last two years, despite huge food price inflation. When I asked the Leader of the House about this issue three months ago, she told me to raise it with relevant Ministers. I have done so, to no avail, so I have secured a Westminster Hall debate on this issue on Tuesday. Given the seriousness of this matter, could she advise me on what other mechanisms are available to Members who want to ensure that no parent has to make such a decision again?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing his Westminster Hall debate—he has successfully advertised it today and I hope it will be well attended. He will know that, in addition to the Government’s £94 billion support package to assist with the cost of living, we give funding to be distributed nationally as well as ensuring that local authorities have enough flexibility to be able to target households in greater need or that have fallen through the cracks, through the household support fund and others. This is a serious and important matter to us. I will see what is said in his Westminster Hall debate, and I thank him for securing it.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the ongoing situation on the provision of mental health services via Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust, with a rapid review underway into its services. In recent weeks and months we have seen continuing coverage of yet more alarming news about TEWV in The Northern Echo. As we await the publication of the rapid review, can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the performance of TEWV and a potential public inquiry into the trust?

I am extremely sorry to hear about the ongoing situation and the difficulties for my hon. Friend’s constituents. He knows that I am unable to comment on current legal proceedings before his local magistrates court, but I congratulate him on his diligent campaigning on these matters and on ensuring that his constituents will get the services that they are entitled to and deserve. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard his concerns again today.

Why is it that Westminster is always the last to the table to accept state responsibility for the most vulnerable members of society? Between 1949 and 1976, an estimated quarter of a million children across these islands were taken from their mothers and fathers and forcibly adopted. I stand here as possibly one of those children. Despite the Scottish and Welsh Governments issuing a formal apology, the UK Government stopped short and said:

“We are sorry on behalf of society for what happened.”

Adoption is a formal state practice; it is the state that is responsible for setting standards and protecting people. Forced adoption is not simply a historical injustice, but an ongoing injustice. Can we have a statement in which the UK Government will finally issue a formal apology to those mothers, fathers and children who continue to be affected by what was an abhorrent practice?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter. We are grateful to him for sharing his personal experience, which helps us to understand the impact on individuals and others who are affected. I will make sure that Cabinet Office colleagues have heard his concerns today. It will be a matter for several Departments, so I will ask the Cabinet Office to get in touch with his office.

Many of my constituents have written to me saying that they are extremely upset about the state of Heath Town swimming baths, in my constituency. Heath Town swimming baths is a grade II listed art deco building of which many people in Wolverhampton are extremely proud. It has been closed for nearly 20 years and the council has allowed it to get into an absolute state of dereliction. There was a fire there last year. Residents living near the baths have suffered antisocial behaviour and various problems with drug taking and disruption. Can we have a debate about the responsibility of councils towards heritage buildings under their stewardship? It is extremely important to lots of Wulfrunians that we preserve this valuable asset for our city.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter. I fully appreciate the ambitions her constituents will have for this important facility, both as somewhere that teaches life skills and keeps people fit and healthy, and as a building that provides a sense of place to the community and is part of a treasured heritage. Where local authorities drop the ball, this Government have done a considerable amount to facilitate community asset transfers. My local lido has been the beneficiary of that and is currently being refurbished through the levelling-up fund. I would be happy to ensure the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard my hon. Friend’s concerns, so that we can see what we can do to assist her and her community in protecting this important and much-loved asset.

I thank the Leader of the House as her words last week seem to have done the trick. The director general of the BBC has agreed to meet a cross-party group of MPs to talk about the vandalism to BBC local radio. At the same time, published figures show that BBC Radio Humberside’s audience is going up in reach and hours listened, which is positive. Can we have a debate about the Government’s decision this week to scrap regional levelling-up officials and whether that shows that they have given up on their flagship policy of levelling up?

First, may I say “Hooray!”? I thank the right hon. Lady for raising the matter and all Members of the House who put their shoulder behind her to secure that meeting. I hope it goes well. As I said last week, BBC local radio is not only a vital lifeline for people to get information and keep in touch with what is going on in their communities, but also important for democracy and the business of this place. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard her concerns, but I assure her that we are very much committed to the levelling-up agenda and making good progress against it.

Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted are fewer than 15 miles from Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Houghton Regis, and yet petrol has regularly been 10p a litre cheaper in Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted than in my constituency, quite often at the same supermarket. The tanker is literally going up the road and charging 10p a litre more to my constituents. The Competition and Markets Authority is independent—I understand that—but it should be accountable to this House. It is simply not acceptable to have that level of profiteering from my constituents, who are struggling with their bills at the moment. What are the Government going to do about that?

This has been an issue for some time. As my hon. Friend will know, Fair Fuel UK has been monitoring the disparities, and the Competition and Markets Authority has suggested that something additional is going on, over and above the lag between wholesale purchase and the price at the pump. The issue is important to many people, and The Sun has been campaigning on it as well. The message from all Members to the CMA should be that it pulls its finger out and gets to the bottom of this so that we ensure our constituents and businesses are dealt with fairly. Such a huge additional cost is not helping the cost of living. Fuel at the pump is a vital commodity, and people should not be paying pay more for it than they have to.

I know very well that the Leader of the House values Portsmouth lifeboat station every bit as much as my constituents value those at Montrose and Arbroath. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is an august organisation which holds a special place in the heart of communities throughout these islands, especially coastal communities, so it is deeply unfortunate that in Arbroath, in my constituency, it has chosen to downgrade the Mersey-class all-weather lifeboat to an Atlantic 85 rigid inflatable boat rather than a Shannon-class all-weather lifeboat. This goes against the will of the community, it goes against the will of the local crew, it follows a fairly scant—I was going to say “consultation”, but this was more of a monologue—and it goes against three coastal reviews which found that the Shannon-class lifeboat would have the best life-saving effect in Arbroath. May we have a debate about the nature of the RNLI—not just about the outstanding work that it does, but about the need for partnership working?

Members in all parts of the House would want to express support and admiration for the incredible work done by the crews of the RNLI. I greatly value the Portsmouth team, who save lives and prevent all kinds of terrible things from happening, and I know that the downgrading of the hon. Gentleman’s local lifeboat will be of concern to the crews and also to many in the community. The RNLI is an independent organisation which relies on public donations, and I hope that in raising local concern about this matter, we will also encourage people to donate to it.

My constituency has benefited from more than £300 million of additional investment during the current Parliament, including more than £100 million in levelling up moneys. Our final ask in Blackpool is a £30 million package for the redevelopment of the Bond Street area, which is one of the most deprived parts of the country. Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on the impact of the Government’s levelling-up agenda and the positive benefits that it is bringing to communities such as mine?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the funding that he has already managed to secure, and wish him luck in securing the further amount that he wants for the area that he mentioned. We have been investing in communities that have been neglected for a long time. These schemes are not just about the infrastructure, the new buildings and the look and feel of a place, but about bringing people together to have an input in the design and help to shape their communities. This is incredibly important work, and I am sure that if my hon. Friend applied for a debate, it would be well attended.

The UK life sciences sector excelled during the covid crisis, and we applauded it for that, but since then the picture has been less rosy. The number of clinical trials being undertaken has fallen back badly, and we have fallen down the international league table. The Government are aware of this; they have appointed Lord O’Shaughnessy to conduct a review, and his findings are expected soon. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made at that time, so that there can be a proper interrogation about his conclusions?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, this important matter is a priority for the Government. Our future national prosperity depends on it, and we also want to ensure that the people of this country benefit from the life sciences sector and innovations can be taken up quickly. I shall certainly ensure that my noble Friend Lord O’Shaughnessy has heard the hon. Gentleman’s request.

Erewash proudly boasts some of the finest indoor and outdoor bowls facilities in the country, including those at Stanton Clubhouse bowls club and Victoria Park bowls club, both of which will mark their centenary next year. Will my right hon. Friend provide Government time for a debate to discuss the physical and mental health benefits of this popular but often overlooked sport for people of all ages?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter, and I am glad to hear that those facilities are being put to good use in her constituency. We encourage all forms of physical activity through funding that we provide to Sport England. The Bowls Development Alliance, a partner of Sport England, receives just shy of £2 million to support a wide range of provision across the country. My hon. Friend will know how to apply for a debate, and I encourage her to do so.

I thank the Leader of the House for her help with the redundancy modification order. Although I trust her, I also submitted a written question to ask the relevant Secretary of State for his timeline for completing it. I received a response remarkably quickly—in about two weeks—and it said:

“Announcements will be set out in the usual way.”

I have been chasing the matter for eight years, and it was a problem before then. How much longer does the Leader of the House think my constituent will have to wait to get her organisation added to the list?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks. I will take the matter up with the Department again and chase an answer for her, and perhaps suggest that the Minister meets her.

Back in May 2019, Joanne and Andrew Doody lost their much-loved son Peter, who died suddenly from epilepsy aged 21, having been diagnosed at the age of 17. Joanne and Andrew went on to form the Peter Doody Foundation, which has three aims: to raise awareness of epilepsy, to provide much-needed support for young adults with epilepsy, and to reduce the stigma associated with epilepsy. Will the Leader of the House join me in supporting Joanne and Andrew in their endeavours through the Peter Doody Foundation, and provide Government time for a debate on this incredibly important issue?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, which is timely as next week is National Epilepsy Week, when I know many Members will want to shine a spotlight on the work going on in their constituencies. I know that all Members will also want to send our thanks to Joanne and Andrew for doing something so positive to help others out of the immense tragedy that they have suffered.

Tamil Remembrance Day is marked every year on this day, to remember the thousands of predominantly Tamil victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Fourteen years on from the end of the conflict, there is still no international mechanism for holding the perpetrators of war crimes on the island of Sri Lanka, such as extrajudicial killings, torture and rape, to account. Will the Leader of the House be good enough to ask the Foreign Secretary why Britain still will not use Magnitsky sanctions against some of the worst perpetrators, or even consider a referral to the International Criminal Court?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter and advertising the important moment when we can consider and remember all those victims of human rights abuses. He will know that the next Foreign Office questions are on 13 June. That is probably the best way to get an answer from the Secretary of State, but given that it is a little way off, I shall also make sure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s remarks.

I have been struck by the number of pubs and restaurants in my constituency, including the John O’ Gaunt in Hungerford and 137 Eat Drink Distil in Newbury, that have been in touch with me about the severe labour shortages that they are experiencing. May I invite my right hon. Friend to consider a debate in Government time to discuss the acute pressure on hospitality businesses across my constituency and, I think, more widely, and whether hospitality staff could be added to the Home Office’s shortage occupations list?

Such matters are for the Home Secretary, and the next Home Office questions are on 22 May. My hon. Friend will know that labour market participation has become a major challenge. Unemployment is at a near 50-year low, and since the covid-19 pandemic there has been a significant increase in the number of people neither in nor looking for work, resulting in near record levels of labour market tightness. I will make sure that both the Cabinet Office and the Home Secretary have heard her concerns.

The International Development Committee recently released a report recommending that Parliament introduces legislation to ensure that private lenders play their part in cancelling debt when lower-income countries are in crisis. The report describes the current debt distress of developing countries as “bleak” and “catastrophic”. The economic crisis and high interest rates mean that a staggering 54 countries now face a debt crisis, with speculators able to make more than 200% profit on debts. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her support for the International Development Committee’s recommendations to help support the poorest countries on earth?

I thank the International Development Committee for producing this report. The nation has a huge amount to offer on this agenda. A great number of the most innovative finance solutions that are helping people around the world have come from the City of London. Such organisations work very closely with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and other Departments to spot opportunities and to make sure that everyone who can help in a given situation is doing so. I will make sure the FCDO has heard the hon. Lady’s comments, and she will know that the next questions to the Foreign Secretary are on 13 June.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Department for Transport has confirmed that the Ukrainians who have come here from the conflict need to apply for a new driving licence after 12 months of residency, and they need to complete a practical driving test to confirm that new licence. There are huge backlogs in the testing system, and two of my constituents are concerned that they can no longer use their Ukrainian licence, cannot get a test and risk losing their jobs. Their employers have been on to me, begging for Ministers to intervene to ensure that these people, who have faced so much, can get their licences quickly and keep their jobs. Could the Leader of the House raise with Transport Ministers the urgent need to resolve the huge backlog in practical tests to ensure that these people, who have faced so much and who have come here at our invitation, get the support they need to keep their job?

The hon. Gentleman asks a very important and sensible question. The Homes for Ukraine scheme has been a huge success, but clearly, a year on, there will be new issues and new things that those being hosted here will need. We want people to be able to go about their life and take care of their family, and being able to drive is clearly a major part of that. This is an important matter, and I will make sure the Secretary of State for Transport has heard about this issue. I will also make sure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has heard it, as the scheme comes under his responsibilities.

First Steps Nutrition Trust research has found that the cost of first infant formulas has increased by between 17% and 45% in the past two years. Sky News has reported this week on parents stealing, going to food banks, formula foraging on Facebook and watering down formula, which has a dangerous impact on infant health and development. Can we have an urgent statement from the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Prime Minister, given his food summit earlier this week, on the need to cap the cost of infant formula, which remains an essential item for many families? Letting the market set the cost is a big part of this crisis.

We are supporting families through the current cost of living pressures, and supporting families with young children is a priority for this Government. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) has advertised his Westminster Hall debate on this matter, to which a Minister will respond. I will also make sure the Minister has heard the hon. Lady’s comments.

There was a disturbing report earlier this week from the BBC about a reporter who had accessed three private clinics for an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder assessment. They had told him that he had ADHD, but when he went for an NHS assessment he was told that he did not. That raises huge questions about the regulation of these private clinics, but a wider issue is involved: people cannot get access to the NHS for assessments in the first place. I have heard of stories of people waiting up to five years to receive an assessment, and in my area the NHS is refusing to accept new referrals. May we therefore have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about what they are going to do to tackle this growing problem?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter. He will know that the next questions are not until 6 June, so I shall make sure that the Secretary of State has heard his remarks. It is incredibly important that people have access to a diagnosis and access in regard to education, so that what they need, be it care or additional support, can be put in place. We take these things extremely seriously and I shall ensure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.

Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan), I was contacted by a constituent who states:

“I have recently connected to the internet under the Home essential broadband, with BT. I was supposed to be connected on the 4th May, today is the 11th. I have had 2 engineer visits and today I was told I couldn’t get connected unless I upgraded my package by £10 per month, on top of the £15 already agreed”.

The position on the issue of social tariffs has been supported by Ofcom, whose figures have revealed that just 5% of eligible households had taken them up as of the last period. My constituent, who has argued their point, is now connected to the internet, but does the Leader of House agree that it is time we had a statement from the relevant Minister to hold these companies to account and to force them to keep up their end of the broadband bargain?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point, and I am sorry that his constituents have had that experience. He has just missed Business and Trade questions, so I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard his concerns. He is right: it takes a number of players to ensure that we are able to get people the connectivity and broadband speeds that they need, and we expect the private sector to play its part too.

May we have a statement on oral health for children? Last year, there were 26,741 extractions for decay of children’s teeth, involving children who were three and a half times more likely to be from deprived communities. This cost the NHS £50.9 million. Clearly, the situation is completely unacceptable; we know children cannot access NHS dentistry. Now that the responsibility has moved to integrated care boards, can we ensure that they prioritise oral health for children and have an NHS dental service for children up and running within the year?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important matter. Not only are regular exams crucial for ensuring good oral health; they can also detect other health conditions that need to be dealt with early. This problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with children and vulnerable and looked-after children in particular not getting check-ups. She will know that this issue has been a priority for the Minister responsible. In addition, the Health Secretary has created a mechanism so that we can see and compare what care boards are doing. That is an incredibly valuable tool. I have been talking to him about how Members in this place can access that data on a real-time basis and I will make sure that he has heard the hon. Lady’s comments today.

The discussion in this place and in public about the controversial proposals for highly protected marine areas has rightly focused so far on the potential impact on fishing and coastal communities, in Scotland, in particular. I was reminded by the Scottish Government’s policy paper that:

“It is intended that no new renewable energy projects will be allowed in an area designated as a HPMA. This includes exploratory activity or construction of new infrastructure.”

May we have a statement on whether the UK Government are aware of the potential implications in this reserved area and whether any discussions are ongoing with the Scottish Government about it?

The hon. Lady is right that there are concerns about the scheme. Understandably, we tend to focus on the impact on coastal communities and they have been very vocal in their concerns. However, there are other implications, which is why we need to ensure that, when such schemes are proposed, there is proper consultation and engagement with all communities and all parties. Clearly, we would hope that there are ambitions for energy generation; that is certainly what the Scottish Government say. These are matters for them, but I know that the hon. Lady and my Conservative colleagues will do everything they can to make sure that all voices are heard and that this scheme makes sense.

Later this week, we will see the publication of the latest version of the rich list in The Sunday Times. It will show that the rich are getting richer and that the country’s wealth is being concentrated in ever fewer hands. In response, a group called Patriotic Millionaires has been formed, which is campaigning for higher taxes on themselves. Given that millionaires themselves are asking for it, can we have a debate in Government time on the introduction of a supplementary wealth tax, which will allow those who are blessed with extreme good fortune to be able to make a greater contribution to the public good?

That is a very interesting suggestion. I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that the actions of the Scottish Government have been not to raise taxes on those who have the most. Furthermore, low and middle-income earners in Scotland are facing the highest tax burden of anyone else in the UK.

My constituent recently got in touch after her father was in an accident on a short bike ride and suffered a fractured skull. She told me that he always wears a helmet, but on this occasion, he unfortunately was not doing so. I will be supporting the ten-minute rule Bill of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) on 7 June, but will the Leader of the House join me in wishing my constituent a speedy recovery and schedule a debate in Government time on the merits of making bike helmets a legal requirement for cyclists?

I am sure that all Members of this House would want to send our best wishes to the hon. Lady’s constituent for a full and speedy recovery. I am very sorry to hear that that has happened to them. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) on his ten-minute rule Bill and also thank the hon. Lady for raising awareness of the importance of wearing helmets.

That finishes business questions. I thank the Leader of the House for responding to questions for more than an hour.