Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

House of Commons

Thursday 20 July 2023

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Before we start today’s business I would like to say that, as we are almost at the end of term, I hope all right hon. and hon. Members have a productive summer and enjoy the recess. I know how busy you will be in your constituencies, taking the opportunity to make visits that are difficult to schedule during sitting times, and continuing to pursue all manner of issues on behalf of your constituents, which is incredibly important work.

I know too that all right hon. and hon. Members will wish to join me once again in thanking all the staff of the House, the security staff, the digital service and the catering outlet staff for everything they do to support us. It is much appreciated by Members.

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Outdoor Swimming

Outdoor swimming represents one of the many ways to stay active. Through the together fund, Sport England has provided over £80,000 for outdoor swimming projects. Swimming and water safety forms a mandatory part of the primary PE national curriculum.

The Beccles lido does great work in promoting outdoor swimming in the Waveney area, but it and other lidos have been particularly hard hit by high energy costs and long-term fixed-price contracts, often arranged by rogue energy brokers. The swimming pool fund is extremely welcome, but I urge my right hon. Friend to work with lidos to put in place a long-term plan for their future.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of swimming pools and lidos. We announced the swimming pool fund to help those that have been particularly struggling with high energy costs. Sport England also plays a vital role in working with local authorities on managing sustainable facilities, and we will shortly publish our new sports strategy, which will set continued commitments in this area.

Wild swimming conjures up all sorts of things in my mind—probably more emphasis on the wild.

I thank the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for the question and the Minister for his response. Growing up in Ballywalter in the ’60s—also the age I am right now—there were no swimming pools, and we always used the sea. It is important that water has the quality and cleanliness to allow people to swim, so has the Minister spoken to any of the councils or authorities in Northern Ireland to ensure that our waters, including Strangford lough and the sea off Ballywalter, are of a standard that enables people to swim without any fear?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the quality of outdoor waters, and a lot of work is done to educate children in water safety. I have not had the chance to speak to anybody in Northern Ireland yet, but I understand that I may well be going there during the recess, so I will take the opportunity to do just that.

Charity Regulation

The Charity Commission performs an important and effective function as the independent registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales. The commission’s annual report and accounts for 2022-23 provide a detailed analysis of the its performance and effectiveness. Charity law and regulation is of course devolved in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

My question is about Arts Council England, which is of course a registered charity. A senior employee there recently won a tribunal claim for harassment on account of her gender-critical beliefs. In the course of the hearing, it became evident that there was considerable homophobic bias among some staff at Arts Council England, who did not wish the Arts Council to give grants to projects initiated by LGB groups unless those groups accepted gender identity ideology. There was evidence that an LGB charity had been described by Arts Council employees as a “cancer” and “neo-Nazi”. What is the Minister doing to tackle the climate of prejudice and bias that has been exposed at Arts Council England, a charity that dispenses over £950 million of public money per annum?

I hope the hon. and learned Lady knows that I take all forms of discrimination extremely seriously, and there should be no place for that. She raises an individual case. The Arts Council does not come under my portfolio, but I will happily speak to my ministerial colleagues about that and ensure that we write to her with an answer.

My question is about the regulation of charities, following on from the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). Does my right hon. Friend the Minister read Private Eye? If he does, he will have seen the saga of the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, where it appears that the people who did right have been put out and the people who did wrong, over and over again, have been supported by the Charity Commission. Could he say to the Charity Commission that people in Parliament are watching this with some surprise?

Of course the Charity Commission is an independent body, but I have regular meetings with it. I am not a regular reader of Private Eye, but I will make sure that I seek out that article ahead of my next meeting with the Charity Commission.

Arts and Culture: Brexit

4. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the UK’s departure from the EU on the UK arts and culture sector. (906070)

The UK arts and culture sector has many strong existing positive relationships in Europe, and we are taking a number of steps to deepen ties. The Government have developed bilateral agreements with European countries, and the British Council offers further sector-specific support, including the recently announced spotlight on culture between the UK and France.

The UK Trade and Business Commission found that the Scottish arts and film industry has lost €27 million in EU funding as a consequence of Brexit, so will the Minister’s Government make up for that shortfall and the calamity that Brexit has imposed on the sector?

While the UK decided not to participate in Creative Europe, nevertheless the UK shared prosperity fund, which is a UK-wide funding initiative, has match funded what was originally available from the EU and also gives local authorities, and indeed nations, control over how that money is spent.

BBC Board: Complaints Procedure

The Secretary of State and I meet with the BBC’s leadership regularly to discuss a range of issues. The BBC’s processes for handling audience complaints about its editorial content are an area of focus of the mid-term review and, as required by the terms of reference, the DCMS has been consulting the BBC on the review’s findings. We are seeking to conclude the review at pace and to report on its findings by 2024.

I look forward to the conclusions of the review. The Minister will know my views: the complaints process within the BBC is utterly inadequate, and I think he agrees with me on that. There is no genuine independence in that process and therefore there is a lack of confidence in how that process is working. I hope he will factor those views into making sure that the outcome of the review takes on board the need to have a genuinely independent complaints mechanism, so that the public can have confidence in the broadcasts.

We are aware that research from Ofcom bears out what the hon. Gentleman has said, in that there is considerable dissatisfaction with the existing complaints procedure. That is something about which the BBC is also aware, and we are keen to address it in the mid-term review. So far, we are making good progress in reaching agreement with the BBC on how it can be strengthened in the future.

Over the last 10 days, we have seen the BBC embroiled in a lengthy bout of self-analysis over accusations made about Huw Edwards. For days, the story led every bulletin and I refused all requests for comment; I felt I did not know enough detail. I am glad I took that stance. The BBC has announced an investigation, but the police have now said there was no criminality, as originally claimed by The Sun. What does the Secretary of State think the lessons might be? Perhaps politicians should exercise more caution before issuing condemnations about developing stories; maybe we should remember to treat any story in The Sun with extreme caution. Given this further example of intrusive prurience, we could all remind ourselves of why there was once widespread agreement about having an independent press regulator with teeth, something the Conservatives once supported, before getting frightened off by powerful press barons.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that, first, this was a matter for the BBC. Although the Secretary of State and I did ask to be kept informed by the BBC, it was a matter for the organisation itself and, as he has suggested, it has established an internal inquiry to find out whether there are any lessons to be learned. With regard to The Sun, it is of course a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has a code, and if there have been breaches of the code, then that is a matter for IPSO to adjudicate on.

BBC Local Radio Services

We recognise the strength of feeling about the importance of BBC local services and we remain disappointed that the BBC is planning to reduce parts of its local radio output. This is a matter for the BBC, but Ministers have raised our concerns about the BBC’s plans previously, and we will discuss this issue with the interim chair and the director general at the next opportunity.

I think that we all thought that digital technology was meant to expand choice. However, in recent times, we have seen post office, bank and rail ticket office closures, and the BBC is using the same arguments to justify the managed decline of local radio. I saw today that we have been told by the BBC that it wants to reach 50% of the population with its TV, radio and online services after its digital plan is carried out. But I have seen in the annual report that it says that it is already at 50%, so why is it using that as a justification for the vandalism of local radio?

The BBC obviously needs to take account of the fact that more and more people are accessing content online and digitally, and therefore it has decided to invest more in that area. However, it is one that is already well provided for, particularly in the area of local news. It is important that the BBC does not lose sight of the fact that there are still a significant number of people who rely on traditional broadcasting and value local radio. As I have made clear, the Government are disappointed by the BBC’s decision to reduce local radio output.

As you know, Mr Speaker, local radio is such a lifeline to many of the elderly, vulnerable and isolated people in our communities. I wonder whether the Minister has a view on what the words “public service” in the BBC’s public service remit actually mean. Should that not include reaching everyone with local news and information, not just those who are digitally enabled?

As I said earlier, many people still value local radio and will regret and, indeed, be very concerned about the reduction in local radio output that the BBC has proposed, particularly in the evenings and at weekends. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will take advantage of the opportunity that she has through chairing the extremely important Committee overseeing the BBC to raise that matter with the director-general again, as indeed will we.

I would say that the BBC is very good at showing empty chairs, but there will now be empty studios if we are not careful, and we certainly do not want to see the end of Radio Lancashire.

Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket Report

7. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the report of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket entitled “Holding Up a Mirror To Cricket” published in June 2023. (906073)

Discrimination has no place in sport or wider society. The ICEC report makes for difficult reading. Clearly, the sport needs to reflect carefully on the report’s concerning findings and consider how best to deliver clear and sustained cultural change across cricket. The Government will review the findings of the report, and we welcome the England and Wales Cricket Board’s commitment to bring forward a plan to tackle these serious issues, which must be addressed in full.

After the exposés of whistleblowers such as Azeem Rafiq, the “Holding Up a Mirror to Cricket” report lays bare the extent of racism, sexism and classism in cricket. Over the past couple of years, we have seen scandals in cricket, abuse in gymnastics, a whole plethora of issues unearthed by the fan-led review into football and the sport of rugby union undertaking a review into its governance, and I fear that, sadly, there will be further such examples. Just how confident is the Minister that structures are in place to deal with inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour in sport, and does he now feel that there is a need to look into governance in sport more widely?

I have made that issue a priority in the time that I have been in this role, because it does need addressing. I hold regular meetings with the national governing bodies of all the sports and I have laid down challenges to them. We need to work together, though. That is why this will form an important part of the new sports strategy. I know that it has taken some time, but I have been really clear that I want that issue to be included in it, and to be a central plank of the work that we do when we publish it.

In my constituency we have fantastic grassroots cricket clubs promoting inclusivity in the sport during their cricket weeks. That includes clubs such as Sidcup and national club champions Bexley cricket club. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the clubs for the work that they do to promote cricket in our community, especially to women and girls, and Bexley cricket club for its efforts to raise funds to address cardiac risk in the young?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that not everything is bad. Let us recognise some of the amazing work, particularly of volunteers, who do so much for grassroots sport. He highlights a club in his constituency. It is not just about encouraging more people to take part in sport; clubs also do tremendous work in the community, as he has just highlighted with the fundraising that that club has done.

I wish you a restful recess, Mr Speaker. I put on the record my hopes that the Lionesses do very well in the forthcoming World cup. Congratulations to the women’s English cricket team on a strong performance, and good luck to the men’s cricket team in trying to pull off a great Ashes comeback. I just hope that the Manchester rain holds off.

Despite the teams’ successes on the international stage, the ICEC report showed that there is a lot to do to increase diversity and participation in cricket. It found that English cricket suffers from sexism, elitism and racism. Do the Government understand that they also have a role to play in addressing those serious findings? For example, what discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Education about increasing the take-up of cricket in state schools and ensuring better access to pitches, equipment and coaching? Also, does he agree—I am sure he does—that it is about time that the women’s team had as much access to Lord’s cricket ground as Eton and Harrow?

I join the hon. Lady in wishing the men and women’s England cricket teams all the very best, and thanking them for what they have done so far, as well as the Lionesses. I am very fortunate that I will be off to Australia on Monday to wave the flag in support of them. [Interruption.] It is a very difficult job, but someone has to do it.

On the serious point that the hon. Lady raises, she is absolutely right. On the day of the publication of the report, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met with the England and Wales Cricket Board. We have said that we will be following the development of its plan very carefully. The hon. Lady is right that we need to see more access to facilities for women and girls, not just at Lord’s but right across the country.

Charity Sector: Cost of Living

The Government understand that cost of living pressures are impacting many in the charity sector, which is facing increased demand, reduced income and high running costs. That is why the Government announced a funding package of just over £100 million for community organisations in England.

As the SNP spokesperson, I am more than happy to swallow my principles and join the Minister on that flight to Australia on Monday.

According to the Charities Aid Foundation, more than a third of charities have had to make cuts to their services due to the harm that the Tory cost of living crisis has wrought on their finances. Three in five Scottish charities are worried about struggling to survive. Only this Government have the financial powers to intervene, yet they refuse to do so. Are the Government content to let charities, which all too often ameliorate the failures of the state, fail too?

I simply do not recognise that situation. I have just announced that we have given £100 million, and some of it was Barnetted. I have not heard anything from the Scottish Government about what they are going to do for Scottish charities. Maybe they should follow our example.

The plight of so many charities would be significantly improved if the Secretary of State were to raise the cap on postcode lottery sales, would it not?

I know that my hon. Friend has been campaigning hard on this issue, and we had a Westminster Hall debate on it very recently. I have committed to looking at some of the structures, but we need to see more evidence that the limits already there are not being reached at the moment. I will certainly keep the matter under review.

Creative Industries: Skills and Training

The creative industries sector vision sets out how we will support individuals to get the skills they need to work in the industry. From schools to T-levels, and from apprenticeships to returners, our ambition is to support 1 million more jobs in the creative industries by 2030. Yesterday I co-chaired a roundtable with the Education Secretary to improve flexi-job apprenticeships in the sector. Last week the cultural education plan’s expert advisory panel met for the first time, and procurement for creative skills bootcamps are now live.

I commend my right hon. Friend on the recent creative industries sector vision, which will help to build a pipeline of talent that will underpin the creative industries. Does she agree that it is vital that we invest in building the skills throughout the country, recognising that many of the growth sectors within the industry are outside London?

That is right. We know that creative businesses flourish in geographic clusters, from games in Leamington Spa to fashion in Leeds, and we have already announced that we will invest a further £50 million in at least six new clusters, creating new centres of excellence that will act as magnets for inward investment and talent.

Last night was the summer reception of UK Music, and I was there as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music, along with the shadow Secretary of State and the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. If Ministers had been able to come, they would have heard an appeal for more education in the creative sectors in our schools and for more support for our grassroots venues, which are the research and development of the creative industries, particularly the music industry, and which are suffering from a crisis at the moment. What more are the Government going to do to support education at that level so that skills and training in our creative industries can enable them to keep flourishing into the future?

I hope the hon. Gentleman read the sector vision, which included £5 million in additional funding for grassroots music venues—something we discussed at the Select Committee. We, too, think it is important to have those creative subjects in school; that is why art, design and music are already in the national curriculum and remain compulsory in all maintained schools up to the age of 14. But that is not all we are doing. He mentioned music, which is incredibly important. That is why we have our new joint national plan for music education, including £25 million of funding for musical instruments and equipment for schools, and, as I mentioned, we had our first meeting of the cultural education panel, which is looking at how we can ensure we help young people to get more creativity both in and outside school to ensure we have that creative excellence.

The creative industries are a powerhouse of the UK economy, succeeding despite the Government’s best efforts to attack the institutions that underpin them. With the growth of the creative industries, there are now a huge number of job vacancies, yet it remains one of the least diverse sectors in the economy, dominated by white, middle-class people—even more so than banking, law and media. Under this Government, we have seen a huge drop in creative subjects being taken at GCSE. Will the Secretary of State support Labour’s new policy to increase music, drama and the arts in schools and transform our curriculum to meet the needs of the future economy, which desperately needs creative skills, rather than one that is stuck in the past?

The shadow Secretary of State will know that the Prime Minister has identified the creative industries as one of the five sectors of growth that we are supporting as a Government, because they are really important. She mentions GCSEs, but I do not think we should just have music and arts at GCSE. We need them at T-levels, we need apprenticeships and we need them in primary school. She will know, because I have talked about it incessantly, that that is exactly what we are doing and that is what is in our creative sector vision. I will just point out—because I was reminded of it the other day—that a Labour Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett, slimmed down the statutory curriculum for creative education and told headteachers to teach fewer creative subjects at school.

Sports Strategy

The Government have committed to delivering a refreshed sports strategy that will set the long-term strategic policy direction for sport. The strategy will outline the Government’s future ambitions and how we will support the sector to achieve them, and we intend to publish it as soon as possible.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. With many more people getting into sport, there is also a temptation to get into image and performance-enhancing drugs. We have seen an explosion in that, with estimates of between half a million and 1 million users—and that is an underestimate—from academics, UK Anti-Doping and organisations such as ukactive, which I have met with. Will the Minister look at putting a policy in the sports strategy to gather more data on image and performance-enhancing drugs in sport?

I praise my hon. Friend for being a doughty campaigner on this important issue and thank him for that. He has rightly raised this with me on a number of occasions. The safety and wellbeing of everyone taking part in sport is hugely important. That includes looking at image and performance-enhancing drugs. Since I last met him, I have raised this with UKAD. We must bring about better collaboration across the Department to ensure that we tackle this issue.

Gambling-related Harms

I know that the hon. Member has campaigned on this issue for a number of years, and I thank her for her ongoing engagement. Our White Paper sets out measures to tackle products and practices that can drive gambling-related harm, and they include financial risk checks, stake limits on online slots and the new statutory levy.

Loot boxes in gaming are unquestionably a slippery path to normalising gambling. This week’s announcement on loot boxes nowhere near fulfils the commitment made in the 2019 Conservative party manifesto. With 55,000 young people aged 11 to 16 already classed as problem gamblers, and tens of thousands more considered at risk, why are the Government neglecting future generations by failing to tackle and prevent gambling disorder at its root?

We have gone a long way in the White Paper to do exactly what the hon. Member says, and we have committed to ensuring that video games can be enjoyed safely by everyone. We convened a technical working group to improve protections on loot boxes, and it has published new guidance this week, which we welcome. If that guidance is implemented, it has the potential to meet our objectives, but I assure her that we will closely monitor what the industry does, to ensure that it implements the guidance in full. We will provide an update in 12 months and keep the option of legislating open.

We would be helped in our fight against gambling-related harm if we had better data on the number of people taking their own lives as a result of gambling debts. There is a Bill that has cleared all its stages in the Lords that would get coroners to record this information. It would not cost the Government a penny. Might my right hon. Friend lend his support across Government to those responsible for that Bill, so that we have the data to know what is happening and bear down on this terrible issue?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the tragic consequences for some people. One of the toughest parts of this role has been meeting the families who have been affected in such a way. I will look at the issue he raised, but the new statutory levy enables us to have the funding to do detailed research, which could contribute to that as well.

Affordability checks and stake limits for online gambling are of course welcome, but given that the Government have already spent three years reviewing and consulting on gambling laws, why do we need further consultation on what levels they should be set at? There should be no more unnecessary delays. I ask the Minister, what exactly have the Government been doing all this time?

I am sure that the hon. Lady would not want me to endanger the implementation of the policies in the White Paper if we did not follow due process, which is what we are doing at the moment. We will be starting the consultation very soon, and we are on course to implement everything by the summer of next year, as we promised.

Topical Questions

The whole House has been enjoying this amazing summer of sport, with the Ashes, Wimbledon and the Grand Prix in recent weeks. The Open starts today, and I am sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing the Lionesses well in their first women’s World cup match on Saturday. We believe every community should have access to sports facilities, and since our last oral questions, we have renovated a third of our target of 3,000 tennis courts across Great Britain. That is also why we have delivered improvements to over 3,300 grass- roots football facilities up and down the UK, to improve and upgrade spaces where people can get active and enjoy sport.

Indeed, the football women’s World cup starts today, so we wish the very best of luck to the European champions, the fantastic Lionesses. Last year there was a staggering 83% drop in the number of European schoolchildren and students visiting the UK, hitting our tourism sector and leading to a loss of 14,500 jobs and £875 million. I am aware of the Prime Minister’s vague commitment to increase the number of schoolchildren coming over from France at the very least, but what exactly is the Government’s plan to deal with that shocking decline?

I am pleased that the hon. Member mentioned the discussions that the Prime Minister has had with France. That bilateral arrangement will improve mobility to the UK. It is really important that those young groups come, and I can assure the hon. Member that I am looking at that issue more broadly.

T2. One of my constituents, Wendy Metcalfe, has represented England as part of the England women’s shore angling team. However, she has recently expressed concerns that a trans woman has been selected to join the squad. Beach fishing requires significant upper body strength, strength in which a male-born competitor would have a distinct advantage over a woman. Will the Minister please confirm that she will speak to the Angling Trust to request that it properly considers the Sports Council Equality Group’s guidance on who is eligible for its women’s team? (906099)

These are clearly sensitive issues, and they need careful consideration and respect for those involved. The Government support the Sports Council’s guidance on transgender participation. When it comes to competitive sport, we believe that safety and fairness have to be the primary considerations. I encourage the Angling Trust to engage with the Sports Council’s guidance as it develops its thinking in this area.

Our creative industries are world leading, but they are rightly concerned about the impact of artificial intelligence on their creative endeavours. The Government’s botched AI and intellectual property plans show that our creative industries play second fiddle when we need genuine partnership between the tech sector and those industries. What is the Secretary of State doing to secure, protect and enhance this British success story in the digital age?

The shadow Minister is right to highlight AI, which presents potential opportunities as well as challenges, particularly in the domain of copyright and the creative industries. I am actively engaged with this issue and have held a number of meetings with the sector, including with the Creative Industries Council earlier this week, and with music, press and publishing stakeholders over recent weeks. This afternoon I will again meet with the Minister for AI and Intellectual Property, together with the Intellectual Property Office, to discuss this very issue.

T6. Many of my constituents think that the BBC licence fee is an outdated, regressive tax, and question why they should have to fund a broadcaster that they do not support and do not want to watch. If a formal review of the BBC’s funding model is indeed to take place in the autumn, surely abolishing the licence fee altogether has to be one of the options considered. (906104)

The Government have made it clear that the licence fee will remain in place for the remainder of this charter period, but my hon. Friend is right that there are challenges going forward. He may be aware that the number of people paying the licence fee has fallen by 1.9 million in the past five years, and it is therefore right that we look at possible alternative sources of funding for the BBC in the longer term. That will be the focus of the funding review.

T3. We all wish our women’s team all the best down under in the World cup that starts today—we are all a bit envious of the Minister—but at the same time, our national team is still doing battle with the Football Association over pay. How soon do the Government expect to implement the recommendations of Karen Carney’s review so that the beautiful game raises up standards for women, including Chloe Kelly from Acton, my favourite Lioness? (906100)

The hon. Lady is right to raise this important area. I am extremely grateful, as we all are in the Department, to Karen Carney for such an in-depth review of women’s football. We are obviously looking at the recommendations she made in that report, and that will be a continuous agenda item in my regular discussions with the FA.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the ongoing crisis at Southend United, where staff have gone unpaid for months and the 117-year- old club’s future is on a knife edge, which is absolutely devastating for the 6,000-plus loyal fan base. Please will my right hon. Friend agree to meet the Shrimpers Trust, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Sir James Duddridge) and me, urgently, to see what more can be done to save this vital community asset for the new city of Southend?

Order. Can I just say that nobody else is now going to get in on topicals, because this is the last question. Minister, we do have to think about other people. It is too short a Question Time, but if it is short, we need to help each other to get through it.

Can I praise my hon. Friend for the tremendous amount of work she has been doing on behalf of her constituents and the fans at Southend? I know how hard she is working. Of course, I would be more than happy to meet the fans group, as I have with those of other clubs, but I think this highlights the need for the independent football regulator.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Midlothian, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter ID: National Elections

1. What recent discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on the adequacy of the implementation of voter ID requirements for national elections. (906085)

I thank my hon. Friend for the question. The Committee discussed the commission’s work to support the implementation of voter ID at its public evidence session in March. A transcript of that session is available on the Committee’s website. The commission has also published an initial analysis of voter ID in the May local elections in England, saying that further work is required to ensure voter ID does not become a barrier to voting and that elections remain accessible to everyone. The commission is undertaking further research and will make recommendations for improvement in its full election report to be published in September, and it will continue to run public awareness activities and provide guidance to electoral administrators ahead of future elections where voter ID is required.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The commission’s interim report indicates that 14,000 people were turned away due to voter ID restrictions in England, and it warned of concerning signs that voters with disabilities, those who were unemployed or those from particular ethnic groups were disproportionately affected. Given that it says that 4% of people who did not vote said it was due to lack of voter ID, what steps are being taken to ensure that hundreds of thousands of voters are not turned away at the next general election?

I again thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is too soon to draw conclusions about the impact of voter ID on specific groups of people, but the commission has said that some of the emerging evidence is concerning, with the example that data suggests that disabled people and those who are unemployed were more likely than others to give ID as a reason for not voting. Elections should be accessible to everyone, so the commission is working to build a better understanding of specific experiences. As I say, the commission is undertaking further research and will make recommendations in its full election report to be published in September, and it will work with the Government and the electoral community to ensure that elections remain accessible to all.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—


I am very pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that there are 1,100 clergy in training in 2022-23, and that £10.3 million has been given to 25 dioceses to fund more curacy posts and £4.3 million has been given to 19 dioceses to make sure that clergy leaving training have a post of first responsibility to go to.

In Old Bexley and Sidcup, we are fortunate to have many fantastic churches and faith leaders supporting our community. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking them all and congratulating St Mary the Virgin church and parish in Bexley village, which celebrates an incredible 900th anniversary this year?

I am delighted that St Mary the Virgin in Bexley will be celebrating its 900th anniversary with the Bishop of Rochester in November. I know that it is a church dedicated to serving its local community, with particularly impressive youth work, and I would like to commend the Rev. Renate Tulloh and the Bexley team ministry for all the good work that they do, which is noticed and greatly appreciated.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Midlothian, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Election Guidance

3. Whether the Electoral Commission has issued recent guidance on elections to political parties and candidates. (906087)

The commission regularly publishes guidance for political parties, candidates and non-party campaigners to help them comply with their legal obligations. It recently submitted for ministerial and parliamentary approval draft statutory guidance on digital imprints and a draft code of practice for non-party campaigners. These will support parties and campaigners to understand and prepare for challenges introduced by the Elections Act 2022.

Is the commission preparing any guidance about this new trend we have of Members of this House, who may be candidates at the next election, being given their own TV programmes on some of the new news channels and interviewing members of the Government from their own Benches in the lead-up to a general election? What is the Electoral Commission doing about that?

I thank the hon. Member for his excellent question. The Committee has not discussed those matters with the commission as yet. The Electoral Commission does not have a role in the regulation of political or news programmes. Ofcom is responsible for regulating broadcasters and providing guidance on impartiality, but if the Member wants to take up this issue further with the commission, it would be more than happy to meet him.

Will the commission look closely at the fact that Members of this House have television programmes? I was invited on to a television programme by two Members of this House, and I did not accept that invitation. There is surely something wrong with Members in this House asking questions at the same time as they are running very political campaigns on television. What will the hon. Gentleman do about that?

The point is well made. As I have said, the Committee has not discussed this matter with the commission, but I am sure that the comments made by hon. Members will be heard. As I offered to the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), I am sure that if the hon. Member for Huddersfield wanted to discuss this matter further with the commission, it would be more than happy to meet him.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Community Sponsorship Scheme

4. What recent steps the Church of England has taken to participate in the community sponsorship scheme. (906088)

I am able to reassure my right hon. Friend that the Church remains closely involved with the Ukraine community sponsorship scheme. Many bishops and churchgoers and hundreds of clergy have opened their homes to host Ukrainian evacuees.

That is reassuring, given the wind-up that the bishops raised in the House of Lords over the Illegal Migration Bill. What more can the Church do to encourage people to support and take in Ukrainians?

The Church of England is developing a new strategy for community sponsorship, building on the launch of community sponsorship in 2016 by Amber Rudd, when Home Secretary, and the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace. The Church will continue to use its presence in every community to raise the profile of community sponsorship, as it has been demonstrated to work well for all concerned.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Midlothian, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Political Donations from Overseas

5. Whether the Committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the transparency of political donations from overseas. (906091)

The Committee has not had a recent discussion with the commission on that issue. The commission publishes information about donations to ensure transparency, and it has powers to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. It has highlighted that the political finance system is vulnerable to unlawful influence from donations overseas and in the UK, and it has recommended that parties should be required to know not just who a donor is but where the money for the donation is coming from. It has also recommended that parties have policies in place to manage the risk of receiving money from unlawful sources. The commission has said that parties should not be permitted to accept donations from companies that exceed their profits made in the UK.

The executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, Susan Hawley, says that the Tory UK Government’s “abject failure” to take decisive action on overseas donations is concerning our allies. She also says that elections are at risk of interference from Russia and other hostile states after the Government opposed the move to require political parties to verify and disclose the source of political donations. What steps is the commission taking to prevent overseas donations from hostile states that undermine electoral law? Has the commission asked the security services to undertake a review of political finance?

Speaking as a representative of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, it would be a matter for the security services to make a full assessment of whether unlawful foreign money has been used to campaign in UK elections. However, political parties must report when they are given an unlawful donation and return it to the donor. In addition, the commission carries out checks on permissibility on a sample of donations and has the power to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. The commission has said that it takes all possible steps within the current regulatory framework to prevent unlawful foreign money from entering UK politics, and it publishes information about donations to ensure transparency. It has the powers to sanction, but it cannot take enforcement actions against organisations based outside the UK. The commission will continue to recommend changes to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in political finance in the UK.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Uganda: Anti-Homosexuality Act

6. What discussions the Church of England has had with churches in Uganda following the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 in that country. (906092)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written directly to Archbishop Kaziimba of Uganda reminding him of the commitment made by the Anglican communion to treat every person with the care and respect they deserve as children of God and that the communion opposes the criminalisation of LGBT+ people. The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the Act was a fundamental departure from the commitment to uphold the freedom and dignity of all people; it was not in our resolutions, not in our teachings and not in the Gospel of Jesus we share together.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his response and for the concern shared by the Archbishop of Canterbury. What more can the Church say to Anglicans across the UK who do not in any way, shape or form believe the death penalty for any crime is compatible with Christian teaching, and to those members of the LGBT community who are rightly horrified by events in Uganda?

I very much understand my hon. Friend’s concern on this issue, which is shared by many others. As I am sure he knows, each province of the Anglican communion is autonomous. In 2016, however, the primates in the Anglican communion reaffirmed the rejection of criminal sanctions against same sex-attracted people and committed to respecting the dignity and value of every person. It is hard to see how the position taken by the Church of Uganda aligns with the 2016 agreement.

Ordination of Clergy

7. If the Church of England will make an assessment of the potential merits of refusing to ordain clergy who do not personally recognise the ordination of women as diocesan bishops. (906093)

The Church of England is fully committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all without reference to gender. The Church is also committed to ensuring that those who cannot in good conscience receive the ministry of women priests or bishops are able to flourish; the five guiding principles of the House of Bishops are the basis for this mutual flourishing and all candidates for ordination have to assent to them.

It is now 29 years since we had the first woman priest and nine years since the first female bishop was appointed in our established Church of England. It therefore seems to me that there have been many years to adapt to treating women as equals in the sight of God. Given that, is it really appropriate for the Church of England to continue appointing clergy, as happened recently in Blackburn, who have not accepted and who will never personally accept the ordination of women?

I can tell the right hon. Lady that a new body was established last year to review how the five guiding principles are being understood, implemented and received in the Church and that it has a balanced membership of bishops, clergy and laity who reflect all views on these matters.

I speak as a supporter of WATCH, the Women and the Church group. The Church Commissioners should understand that either the Church of England gets rid of what ought to have been temporary exemptions from the Equality Act 2010 or Parliament will do that for it. Does my hon. Friend understand that other MPs who are interested in full equality for women would like to meet the Church Commissioners before we consider what other action we might take?

I have very clearly heard what my hon. Friend the Father of the House and indeed the very respected Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) have just said. The Church will have heard that as well and we are of course available for meetings at any time.

Freedom of Religion and Belief

8. What recent steps the Church of England has taken to help protect freedom of religion and belief in other countries. (906094)

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend, who serves with distinction as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, that the United Nations Security Council has recently adopted a resolution to produce an annual report on freedom of religion and belief. It was sponsored by the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, and the resolution was based on the Bishop of Truro’s review and incorporates many of his original recommendations.

That is indeed a very positive development. My hon. Friend will have seen another report, produced by former BBC reporter David Campanale and other FORB experts for the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, which I chair, on the ongoing major violence in Manipur, India. It indicates that since early May alone hundreds of churches there have been destroyed, many burnt to the ground; more than 100 people have been killed and over 50,000 displaced; and schools and seminaries have been targeted in what looks like systematic and premeditated attacks with religion a key factor. There has been very little reporting about this. People there are calling out for help; what can the Church do to draw more attention to their cries?

My hon. Friend has done a great service by putting this matter on the record in the House. I am sure that she, like me, would like to see much greater reporting of these issues by the BBC and others. What she has told us is truly shocking, and I know that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who visited India in 2019 to see the challenges at first hand, remains extremely concerned that such attacks have been worsening and spreading to other minority faith communities, so I will bring my hon. Friend’s report on Manipur directly to the Archbishop’s attention.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response to the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who does such fantastic work as the ambassador for not only the Prime Minister but all of us in the House.

In February, I visited Pakistan with the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. Further to what the hon. Gentleman said, will he advise the House on what steps the Church of England is taking to support the Anglican ministry in Pakistan and to defend the rights of Pakistani Christians to practise their faith and express their beliefs without fear of repression?

I talked earlier this week with Dr Sammy Wainaina, the Archbishop’s new adviser on Anglican communion affairs, and he specifically mentioned Pakistan, so I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned it. He is right that the situation there is extremely challenging—priests have been murdered—and the Archbishop visited quite recently. I express particular gratitude to the two hon. Members who have put these matters on the record this morning; they are right to do so and I hope they continue to do so.

Family Relationships, Parenting and Marriage

9. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent steps the Church of England has taken to help support family relationships, parenting and marriage. (906095)

The Archbishop’s recent “Love Matters” commission on family issues made 36 recommendations for the Church of England and 29 for the Government. They included supporting family hubs, developing high-quality marriage preparation, and building relational capability at all life stages and not just for couples who are preparing for marriage. I will place a copy of that report and the previous ones in the Library.

A strong and stable family unit undoubtedly provides the best environment in which to raise children. What steps is the Church of England taking to provide relationship support and guidance to those families who need it to help them to stay together?

That is a really important question. The Children’s Commissioner has pointed out that almost a quarter of UK families are headed by a lone parent; that compares with an average of an eighth of families in Europe. The Bishop of Durham, who co-chaired the commission, wants to see every deanery in the Church of England offering the very best marriage preparation to all couples, and for the Church to support their relationships at every life stage.

Sitting suspended.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 4 September will be:

Monday 4 September—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, followed by Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Bill.

Tuesday 5 September—Remaining stages of the Energy Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 6 September—If necessary, consideration of Lords message to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, followed by an Opposition day (18th allotted day second part) debate in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Thursday 7 September—Debate on a motion on hormone pregnancy tests, followed by a general debate on funding for the prevention of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 8 September—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 September includes:

Monday 11 September—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Online Safety Bill.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, but I am disappointed that two pieces of important House business seem to be missing. First, there was no mention of when MPs will get to debate and vote on the Commission’s proposals to introduce a new process for dealing with MPs accused of violent or sexual offences. The Leader of the House was not able to answer me when I asked about the matter last week, so I would be grateful if she could do so today. She and I have worked hard on this together, as well as with you, Mr Speaker, the commissioners, staff and the trade unions. We cannot lose momentum. I know the Leader of the House agrees with me that the proposed new mechanism is needed to reduce the risk of harm to all those who work on and visit the parliamentary estate, so will she give us some clarity, show all the people listening that we are making progress and tell us when the House will get the chance to vote on it?

I am also concerned that the Leader of the House has still not announced when the House will consider the Standards Committee’s report on the conduct of the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), the findings of which are shocking. Colleagues and staff have been asking when the House will get the opportunity to approve the report and endorse the sanction. He has brought this House into disrepute and frankly should no longer be a Member of it. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether she knows if the Member will be resigning or if he has appealed the Committee’s sanction? Either way, she could table the motion as a remaining order, even without a date attached. When will she bring forward a motion so that the House can vote and move on?

I wish all Members, Members’ staff, House staff and everyone who works on the parliamentary estate a very happy summer recess. As we come to the end of term and head back to work in our own communities, it is worth reflecting on what the Government have achieved—or not—this year. People I have been speaking to up and down the country are simply fed up. Nothing works in this country any more, and the Tories have simply given up doing anything about it. I saw on the Order Paper today that the Leader of the House is due to announce the date of the next King’s Speech in a written ministerial statement—perhaps I could press her to give us an early sighting of that now—but the Government have nowhere near finished with the last set of new laws they said they were going to pass.

The Prime Minister has been caught out, overpromising and massively under-delivering, including on the Renters (Reform) Bill, which was initially promised four years ago and so many Members across the House said they wanted. There is no transport Bill, no schools Bill and no mental health Bill. Why does the Leader of the House think that working people will believe that this Government are going to make people’s lives better this time? On top of all that, prices are still going up at staggering rates, and families are bearing the brunt of the Tory cost of living crisis. That is what the people of Selby and Ainsty, Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and Somerton and Frome will be thinking about when they head to the ballot box today, fed up and wanting change.

Labour is the party of change. We have a proper plan to grow our economy, to bring down Bills, to secure the energy this country needs and to tackle climate change. People will have welcomed the opportunity to vote Labour today in three constituencies, and send the Tories a message, but is it not time that we had a general election, so the whole country gets the chance to have their say?

First, let me put on the record my good wishes to the Lionesses for their first match on Saturday.

Of course, after hearing the tragic news today, our thoughts are with all those caught up in the Auckland shooting.

May I also mention our pride at what our nation has done to speed up new solutions to tackling dementia, following the announcement of a future new drug this week? With the 2013 G8 dementia push by David Cameron, which led to the World Dementia Council, the 2015 joint dementia research platform and the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia, our 2019 funding commitments and the establishment of the Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission, our nation and this Government have done more than any other to tackle this issue, and I think we should all take great pride in that.

Turning to the issues raised by the shadow Leader of the House, regarding the report on the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), she will know that he has a right of appeal. That runs out at the end of today, so we are not able to do anything until the House returns from recess. As she knows, I do not control the timetable for that; it is controlled by the Standards Committee when it publishes its report. That is the process. As a member of the Commission, she knows what work we have been doing, and I am grateful to her for acknowledging on the record my commitment to the scheme to ensure that everyone who works on the estate is properly protected and we have good safeguarding policies in place. As soon as we have a settled scheme, we will bring forward the debate on it.

I, too, thank all colleagues and the staff of the House for the work they have done. We have achieved a tremendous amount. In the last nine months, we have introduced 16 Bills in addition to reintroducing the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill. Ten Government Bills have reached Royal Assent, with more to follow shortly. We have published two draft Bills, which are undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny—the Media Bill and the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill—and 13 private Member’s Bills have reached Royal Assent, with three more to follow shortly.

I thank all colleagues for helping with the legislative agenda to support delivery, including of the Prime Minister’s five priorities—the things that matter the most to the people of this country—as we recover from the pandemic and global shocks. In stark contrast to the picture painted by the shadow Leader of the House, we are delivering. We are tackling debt, halving inflation and growing our economy. We are taking responsible decisions to get debt falling, helping households with the cost of living and addressing inflation through measures including energy bill support, fuel duty cuts and increasing competition.

Yesterday, we had better than expected falling inflation figures; today, we have seen average mortgage rates falling for the first time in many months. We are controlling spending and increasing public sector productivity. The Office for Budget Responsibility said that measures in the Budget caused it to revise its growth forecast up; we have received the largest ever upward forecast of the G7 this year, and our long-term growth forecasts are stronger than those for Germany, France and Italy.

We are also working to cut waiting lists. We are creating 160 new diagnostic centres, 108 of which are already open. We are delivering 4 million additional scans and tests, 100 new operating theatres delivering 2 million more operations by the next financial year, and over 12,000 more nurses than a year ago and 5,000 more doctors—we have smashed our manifesto commitments on recruitment. New digital health checks are preventing strokes and heart attacks. Record funding will deliver 9 million more procedures over the next three years, a 30% increase in elective activity and 5,000 more hospital beds. We are releasing 10 million more doctor’s appointments through our Pharmacy First service.

Finally, we are stopping the boats. We have taken new powers to protect our border, even though the Labour party voted to dismantle the Bill more than 70 times. We have 700 more staff working in immigration enforcement and we have increased the number of caseworkers dealing with the backlog. Since the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 was passed, 653 people have been arrested, leading to convictions totalling over 170 years of jail time. Home Office initial asylum decisions are up 30% on last year, and small boats arrivals are down 10%. Some 11,000 small boat crossings have been thwarted, and illegal working enforcement visits are up 50%.

On top of all that, this week we concluded our accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and launched Great British Nuclear, and after business questions, we will have a statement on £4 billion of investment in a new gigafactory. We continue to work on the things that matter to the people of this country. These are tough times, but we are delivering, and that is what we will be judged on, and in these tough times, I am glad that it is my party at the helm.

I can confirm that the state opening of Parliament will take place on 7 November. I wish everyone a happy recess. Finally: vote Purbrick, Tuckwell and Holmes!

Yesterday, thanks to my right hon. Friend and Team Lewis, I was able to meet Les Wateridge, who, as many will know, spent decades keeping the streets of Westminster clear, especially around Victoria Tower Gardens. The day before, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch came to Parliament. She is 98. She was in the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz, and then survived Bergen-Belsen. May I invite the Government, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the leaders of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation to meet Anita, and hear her views on why the proposed memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens is too large for the gardens, and too small to be a proper memorial to those who died while she was incarcerated?

I know that my hon. Friend cares very deeply about this issue and the memorial, as do all Members of the House, despite their different views. As we are going into recess, there will not be an opportunity for him to question either the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on this matter, so I shall make sure that they hear of his invitation, and I shall write to them on his behalf.

This may be the last time I face the Leader of the House at business questions; if the rumours are true, she is about to be moved again in yet another “deckchairs on the Tory Titanic” reshuffle. It is a shame; she was just getting the hang of business questions, by which I mean that, like other Tory Ministers at the Dispatch Box, she consistently avoids answering the question. If anyone doubts that, last week, when I asked her about the Prime Minister’s inflation and debt pledges, I got a lecture in response about nuclear weapons and afternoon coffee breaks, and then she described me as “delusional”.

There is no hope that the Government will change course; 13 years of austerity and incompetence are baked in. We are talking about a Government who forced Brexit on Scotland, and who refuse to allow the Scots even the right to choose their own future; a Budget that tanked the economy and pushed the pensions sector to the brink of collapse; an inhuman and degrading immigration regime; former Prime Ministers who cannot even remember their phone passwords for a covid inquiry; and a current PM who appears to think that arguing with banks on behalf of an individual is the most important thing to focus on in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and just a day before three by-elections. Doctors, nurses and teachers are all striking in England. According to the Transport Secretary, it is now expected that political parties will pay out for the actions of their donors and associates—a surprising tack to take, as his party can now surely expect a veritable torrent of invoices to wing their way to Conservative HQ in the near future.

The people of Scotland know, of course, that there is a better way than what we have to put up with here. Scotland has hope of a better way than endless Westminster failures and arrogance; it has hope of a future that holds real prospects of a better life for our families and communities. Probably for the last time, in the vain hope of an answer, I ask a question of the Leader of the House: with food inflation still running at an estimated 17.3%, can we have a debate on how the Government got us in such a hopeless mess?

Let me start by saying how much I enjoy our exchange every week, and how disappointed I should be if it were, indeed, to be our last. However, I feel that it is my duty to point out to the hon. Lady the error of what she asserts. She talks about denying the people of Scotland a choice in respect of their future. We are the Government who gave the Scottish people, as well as other residents of the United Kingdom, a vote on their future, in respect of both Scottish independence and Brexit. The difference between the hon. Lady’s party and mine is that we honour the results of referendums.

I know that the hon. Lady and her party have been campaigning hard on the two- child policy this week, so let me illustrate the powers and the opportunities that sit in her party’s hands. It may interest her to know that the projected black hole in the SNP’s budget, identified by the Scottish Fiscal Commission as a huge £1.9 billion in the next four years, is enough money not only to reverse that policy in Scotland, but to reverse it for the whole of the UK. As a Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, I was amazed at the lengths to which the SNP would go not to take control over many aspects of welfare policy that we wished to devolve to it, choosing instead to criticise the UK Government for the decisions that they were making. The hon. Lady’s party is in power in Scotland. It pains me that it is in power, but it is and has been for many years, so it is time that its Members took some responsibility.

Earlier this week, in the Pakistani province of Sindh, two Hindu temples were ransacked and 30 women and children were taken hostage by armed insurgents. They are claiming that until a young Pakistani woman, Seema Haider, who wishes to marry an Indian man, returns to Pakistan, they will not release the women and children. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has condemned the move. May I ask my right hon. Friend to urge the Foreign Secretary to make the strongest possible representations to the Pakistani authorities to ensure that the women and children are freed and returned to their homes and loved ones immediately?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the House’s attention to a very serious situation, as he so often does. He is the second highest attender of business questions, and he always raises important matters. We are deeply concerned about this situation. I will make sure that the Foreign Secretary is fully aware of it, and we urge the Pakistani authorities to investigate any allegations fully, prosecute those responsible, and provide justice for the victims and their families.

Perhaps I am the next most prolific attender.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and, in particular, for announcing the Backbench Business for the week beginning Monday 4 September. If we are awarded the time, we shall have a very interesting topic to debate on Thursday 14 September, namely the relationship between football and early-onset dementia. The application for that debate is well subscribed. I also thank the Leader of the House for writing to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on my behalf following last week’s exchange. That was an important topic as well, and it was referred to earlier this morning during questions to the Secretary of State.

You may remember, Mr Speaker, that 21 April is my birthday—a birthday that I shared with Her late Majesty the Queen. On 21 April this year, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities raising the serious concerns of constituents who continue to be affected by ongoing fire safety concerns following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. I have not had the birthday present of a reply since 21 April. I had sought the Secretary of State’s advice on how leaseholders should proceed when a developer had signed up to the Government’s much-publicised charter but then refused to pay for the cost of any initial surveys to ascertain what works need to be done. Many hundreds of leaseholders in Gateshead are stuck in limbo, unable to sell or pay for remedial works and unable to pay for surveys. Will the Leader of the House please ask the Secretary of State to respond to my request on behalf of my constituents?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his top attendance at business questions and for the helpful advert for future debates and opportunities to secure them.

I am sorry that he has not yet received a response—that is well out of time. Given that we are going into recess and these are issues that all our constituents will be facing, I shall contact the Secretary of State, as the hon. Gentleman requests, and ask him to update colleagues, perhaps by a “Dear colleague” letter, so that we know the best advice to give our constituents on these important matters.

May we have a debate on the importance of local high streets, so that I can express my opposition to ideas floated by BYM Capital to redevelop the Spires shopping centre in Barnet High Street? The plans involve too many flats and buildings that are far too high, and unless they are changed, they must be rejected.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her focus on matters that I am sure are of great concern to her constituents. She will know that successive Conservative Administrations have felt it important to devolve powers down to a local level, to give local residents more control over shaping their local plan and the design guides that accompany it. She raises an important point and I know that she will be campaigning on behalf of her constituents to ensure that the right decision is taken.

Summer holidays should be a time for children to get out and about and enjoy themselves, but almost half of parents say that the cost of living crisis has had a negative impact on the number of opportunities their children have to be physically active and to take part in sport. May we have a debate, in Government time, on the impact of the cost of living crisis on the ability of children, particularly those from low-income families, to participate in the sports they love?

That is an important matter and a timely one, as we are going into the summer recess. The hon. Lady will know that the Government spend about £200 million on holiday activities for families and, through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, we work with many sporting bodies that will be offering particular activities, especially over the summer, that enable people to try new activities and take them up, whatever their resources. I will ask the Secretary of State to update all Members on what those opportunities might be, but I know that many sporting organisations take their outreach work and support for all communities very seriously indeed.

I have another sports question. Our community sports organisations in Wolverhampton do so much for public health, whether it is Wednesfield Aces cycle speedway, Fordhouses cricket club or our two gurdwaras. May we have a debate on support and funding for grassroots sports organisations? Will the Leader of the House also join me in congratulating Henry Searle, the first British tennis player to lift the Wimbledon boys championship title, which he did last Sunday? The whole of Wolverhampton is beaming with pride at Henry’s achievement. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

My hon. Friend will be able to tell by the noises from around the Chamber that we all want to congratulate Henry on that fantastic achievement. She will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way. I know that many colleagues value the support and funding that goes into grassroots sports. She will know that that has been a priority for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has provided additional funds for sporting venues, such as swimming pools, that have very high energy costs, to ensure that access to those important facilities is maintained.

This morning, Viaplay, the broadcaster rights holder for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish men’s football teams, announced that it was trying to sell off all of its UK-based rights. A meeting was promised by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport back in December and despite my continual chasing since then, including bringing up the matter at business questions with the Leader of the House and at Prime Minister’s questions in recent weeks, I have still not been able to secure a meeting with the Secretary of State. Will the Leader of the House give her a nudge so that we can have this urgent meeting?

A few weeks ago, I had the honour and privilege of meeting Miss J, a campaigning survivor who is trying to raise awareness of the toxic culture and sexual misconduct in sport. Importantly, she is trying to get all professional sports teams in Scotland to sign up to and implement a sexual misconduct policy as soon as possible. Will the Leader of the House join me in supporting the important work that Miss J is carrying out and make time for a statement to tell us what the Government are doing on this important issue?

With regard to the first issue, I remember writing to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and her Department to ask her to do that, so I will chase it up. If the hon. Gentleman gives me more information about the policy that his constituent is championing—it sounds very worthwhile—I will raise that with the Secretary of State as well. I wish his constituent good luck in what they are trying to achieve.

Virgin Media recently upgraded some landlines in Cleethorpes, but it advised its customers via text that there would be a short period of disconnection. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to texts, such as the 92-year-old lady in my constituency who brought the matter to my attention. Can we have a debate about how these large organisations exclude many people who do not have broadband or mobile connections?

There were audible groans across the Chamber at that, because we all know of companies that do not enable all their customers to get access to the information they need. It is quite lazy. One thing the Government can do is ensure that we are increasing competition. Work that the Prime Minister commissioned while he was Chancellor is enabling that, and further competition is supported by many of the Bills we brought forward in this Session. I hope that Virgin Media has heard what has been said on the Floor of the House today and will reconsider its approach to communicating with their valuable customers.

The report into the North East Ambulance Service is now in the public domain, and the Department for Health and Social Care has responded with what I understand to be an open letter. Given the seriousness of the matters inquired into, and the fact that the process was initiated by a whistleblower to a national newspaper, will there be an opportunity for the House to debate the report?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising this serious matter, and I shall ensure that the Secretary of State has heard his request. I am sure that the House will want to focus on the matter, particularly those Members whose constituents are directly affected. The right hon. Gentleman obviously knows how to apply for a debate if he wants to, but I will make sure that the Department hears what he has said today.

At the weekend I visited Brumby gymnastics club, where I met Gail and Rick Brady. They have been volunteering at the club for 40 years, making a tremendous contribution to the community in Scunthorpe. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating and thanking them for that work? Will she also support a debate in Government time so that we can recognise and support the people who do such fantastic work in our communities?

I am sure we all join my hon. Friend in thanking Rick and Gail for their incredible work for her constituents over many decades. She is right to praise the contribution that volunteers make to our communities, and the Government also value that, which was one of the driving forces behind the Points of Light award. If my hon. Friend applies for a debate, I am sure that it would be well attended, with lots of pats on backs for the many thousands of volunteers who do such great work in their communities day in, day out.

As we go into recess, I have been struck by the number of right hon. and hon. Members who have told me that they intend to take their summer holidays in Orkney and Shetland this year. I am sure that, like the rest of the world, they are attracted by our breathtaking scenery, our wildlife, our birdlife, our world heritage sites and our quality local food and drink offering. I fear that we are also attractive to MPs because in so many parts of the Northern Isles, they will not be bothered by their mobile phone ringing. It is great for holidaying MPs, but it is a bit of a pain for the rest of us, so when we come back in September, can we have an update from her ministerial colleagues on the shared rural network scheme?

I congratulate the right hon. Member on providing a wonderful advert for any Members who are not planning on holidaying in his constituency and reasons why they should. He raises a serious matter, and I will certainly ensure that the two Departments that are most relevant to this have heard what he said.

Darlington rotary club will be celebrating its centenary this year. The club has contributed significantly to our local community and I praise it for all the work it does. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Darlington rotary club on its centenary and will she find time for us to have a debate on the significant and tangible impact of rotary in our communities across the UK?

My hon. Friend is right about the incredible contribution that rotary clubs make, and not just to work in the UK—if we were to draw up a list of organisations that have helped to eradicate polio around the world, rotary clubs would be at the top of it, having enabled vaccination programmes to take place all over the world. I understand that he is a Rotarian, as is our Prime Minister at the same rotary club as him, so I think the centenary party will be quite something.

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing the fantastic graduation show of Newcastle Theatre Royal’s Project A, which provides intensive, world-class, affordable training for actors in the north-east and Newcastle. I also recently saw the wonderful West End symphony orchestra, which provides intensive one-to-one tuition but is about to lose its funding. Project A is hugely over-subscribed. Can we have a debate in Government time on what the Government are doing to ensure that the arts are accessible to working-class and regional talent? While we are at it, given that Mickey Mouse is probably the most valuable creation to come from an artist’s pen, can the Leader of the House tell me when an arts degree is a Mickey Mouse degree?

I said last week that the nation is not just STEM-powered—the hon. Lady is a great champion for that. It is also STEAM-powered. The arts and cultural and creative industries are incredibly important to this economy. She will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Department for Culture, Media and Sport and her predecessors have done a huge amount of work to ensure that the whole of the UK gets its fair share of funding to support these sectors and that the enjoyment of their products is accessible to all.

I am sure the hon. Lady has raised those specific projects with the Secretary of State. If she has not had an opportunity to do that, I am happy to do so on her behalf. She will soon be able to get a clear map of all the funding that has gone into her local area over many years, and having seen a draft of the map, I think it is considerable.

Although it is welcome to see school budgets increasing again, can we look at the situation whereby schools in my constituency and central Bedfordshire get a lot less per pupil than those just over the border in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire? We are amending the police funding formula to make it fairer. Can we please look at the same issue for school funding? It really is not fair to differentiate in that way.

My hon. Friend raises a very important matter and he is absolutely right. We are increasing per pupil funding. We have introduced additional support for special educational needs, and we have been doing a lot of work in the capital programme to restore school buildings and enable new schools to be established. However, given that we are going into recess, I will write on his behalf to the Secretary of State for Education and the Chancellor to ensure that they consider this matter.

I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that, when a Minister gives an undertaking in the Chamber to meet with an hon. Member, an official in the Box ought to be making a note and following up. That system seems to have broken down, and hon. Members’ staff spend an age trying to chase down those in ministerial private offices. Mr Speaker, I am sure both you and the Leader of the House will be surprised to hear that my office was recently told that the Home Office switchboard had no record of the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), the Minister for Immigration—[Laughter.] It is not really funny. Clearly, from what my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) said earlier, this is a problem affecting all hon. Members. Can we have a debate in Government time on the quality of ministerial responses to requests made on the Floor of this House?

I hope the hon. and learned Lady knows I take this matter very seriously. Being able to get hold of people, particularly during recess, is extremely important. If she would like to give me and my office some details about the specific issue she is trying to get an answer on, I would be happy to follow that up, and I will give the Home Office a nudge to ensure that all hon. Members are able to get hold of Ministers during recess in particular, if something should happen during the break.

As the Government forge ahead with initiatives, policies and trade deals that we were unable to do when we were a member of the EU, would my right hon. Friend allow a debate on Brexit benefits, particularly the support the UK Government are giving to fishing and seafood processing companies and our preparedness as we take back full control of all our fishing quotas in 2026?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; one of the reasons we left the EU was to enable those opportunities across all sectors, but particularly fishing and food producers. We negotiated successfully a significant uplift in our quota shares following our exit from the EU, as she well knows, valued at about £101 million in new fishing opportunities for the UK fleet in this year alone. The UK seafood fund is investing £100 million into the long-term future of the UK fisheries sector, helping to drive innovation, support job creation and boost seafood exports into new markets—[Interruption.] I heard a yell from a sedentary position; I am not sure quite who it came from. Those opportunities could be maximised if the Scottish Government engaged more with their local coastal communities on their plans for protected marine areas.

I hope the Leader of the House will agree that we have a pretty good tradition in this country of open, free, democratic, honest elections. Does she share my concern that there is evidence in the recent past—not just in the UK, but elsewhere—of malign influences on elections from China, from Russia and even, some people have said, from India? Will she ensure that we have an early debate when the House gets back, since an election is imminent, to look at ways of protecting our democracy from foreign influences of all kinds?

This is an extremely important issue and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising it. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Security Minister is leading a taskforce designed to protect and strengthen democracy, primarily in the UK, although it will also have benefits for other nations around the world. Our democracy is precious; we cannot take it for granted and, if people start to lose trust in it, the system will fail. Maintaining that trust is one of the most important jobs that we have in this House and I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman were to apply for a debate, it would be well attended.

Can we have a debate about law enforcement across the United Kingdom? The Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday Scotland’s Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone confirmed that the initial probe into SNP finances, looking at fraud, has been expanded to look at possible embezzlement and misuse of funds. It has already seen the arrest of former First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, along with other senior SNP members. Does the Leader of the House agree that that shows how serious the investigation into the SNP’s murky finances is?

My hon. Friend’s question follows that asked by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), about trust in democracy and our institutions. That is incredibly important. Whatever our differences and whichever side of the House we sit on, we should all be able to agree that trust and confidence in those systems are vital. That is why standards and having strong, democratic institutions matter.

We have had over 22 police investigations into the SNP. The original £600,000-plus that went missing has now been exceeded by the £800,000 in police time that has been spent on those investigations. It is a very sad and sorry state. Whatever shape future investigations take, I hope they are resolved swiftly, because this has been a sorry chapter.

For the first time since 1961, UK Government debt has risen above 100% of GDP, with the Office for National Statistics revealing that net debt reached £2.6 trillion as of the end of May. In that context, the cost of replacing Trident could rise to between £287 million and £639 million. Given the huge pressure on public finances, will the Leader of the House make a statement, which I know my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran will be very interested in, setting out whether she believes a blank cheque for replacing Trident is either acceptable or sustainable?

In reply to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), I have already given the SNP a lesson in balancing the books. I do not think this Government should take any lessons from the SNP Government, who have nearly £2 billion between what they spend and what is in their budget. In addition to understanding the cost and price of everything, it is also important for us, in this place, to understand the value of things. Trident is a nuclear deterrent. There is no blank cheque for that nuclear deterrent, but it is there doing a vital job. If hon. Members cannot see the merits of us having a deterrent at this moment, I do not know that they will ever be able to grasp that.

Any arguments about the defence of this nation relate to our commitment to NATO. The SNP purports to support that commitment, but having a nuclear deterrent is pretty fundamental to being a member of NATO. If all those arguments have failed in the past, let me try a new one: I am sure that among the hon. Lady’s constituents she will have a submariner. She should ask that submariner why they are prepared to spend 10 years of their life underwater, in the service of this country. These are not trivial matters and she needs to grasp the reality of the situation facing us.

Many of my constituents were disappointed to see that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was not taken forward. I know that the Government are still committed to enacting the various provisions within the Bill, but will the Leader of the House provide a timetable for that?

My hon. Friend will know that I will say that further business will be announced in the usual way. He is right that we are committed to the measures in that Bill. We think that we will be able to bring forward some of them faster using other means, such as a statutory instrument, rather than through the passage of the Bill as previously scheduled. I will announce business in the usual way, but I can give him the assurance that we are committed to those important measures, which were manifesto commitments.

Can we please have a debate on the issue of tackling the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation? We know that tackling demand has to be at the heart of any strategy. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has just produced a country report on the UK, which says:

“With regard to prevention, the UK does not appear to be taking substantive steps to tackle the demand that fosters trafficking for sexual exploitation, despite the international legal obligation to do so.”

At the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, the Safe- guarding Minister, the hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), said:

“For sex work, the demand is there; it is unfortunately part of human nature. I would like it to be outlawed.”

The right hon. Lady raises an important matter. I shall certainly make sure that the Home Office has heard her concerns about that report. She will know, though, that it is not just the Home Office that focuses on this issue, but the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and other Departments. We have done more than any previous Government on introducing new laws to protect women and girls. At the FCDO, we have our international strategy on protecting women and girls, with a particular focus on violence against women and girls. She will know that we fund many initiatives around the world through our aid programmes that combat trafficking for these purposes. She will also know that the next questions to the Department are on 18 September. Given that that is some time away, I shall write on her behalf.

My constituent David Corroyer sadly contracted the life-changing disease hepatitis C while donating blood. With Hepatitis Awareness Week starting next week, please can we have a debate on what progress the Government are making to meet their target of eliminating hep C in 2025? Would the Leader of the House join me in praising the Hepatitis C Trust for, hopefully, helping us to get there five years before global targets?

This is an important matter. I will join my hon. Friend in praising the work of the Hepatitis C Trust. Those targets are ambitious, but we are determined to smash them years earlier. She will know that we have been doing a tremendous amount of work globally to combat hep C. As she will not have the opportunity to raise this with the Secretary of State before the recess, I shall also make sure that he has heard her interest in this area.

Since mid-2022, we have been suffering from excess deaths in the UK. So far this year, we have been seeing around 8% excess mortality. On a weekly basis, that means that around 950 more of our constituents are passing away each week than the five-year average. I have been requesting a debate on this matter regularly for the past six months to no avail. I can understand why the Government do not wish to debate this topic, but the silence from the Opposition parties is perplexing. May I ask the Leader of the House when the public will get an opportunity to witness a debate in this House on this issue of life and death that is affecting them, their friends and their families?

I am sorry that the hon. Member has not been able to secure a debate on this matter. He is sat next to the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, who is forever announcing opportunities to secure a debate. Perhaps if he would write to me in more detail about what he has done to secure a debate, I can advise and assist him further.

On 18 May, the Leader of the House told me that she would again take up the matter of redundancy modification orders with the Department and chase up officials for me and perhaps suggest that the Minister meets me. I know that the Leader of the House can carry a great big sword. I do not agree with her on nuclear weapons, but will she use that great big sword and poke the Department, because I have had no response?

I am sorry to hear that the hon. Lady has not had a response. What I will do is contact the Department again on her behalf. In such cases where the Department is just not responding, we will also call in the permanent secretary, and I will do that on this occasion. I will follow up this afternoon, as I know the House is rising today, to urge them to contact the hon. Lady at least to give her an update on the matter.

When my constituent lost power, Scottish Power transferred her on to a prepayment meter as an emergency fix. Three months later, her meter has not been repaired properly, causing major ramifications including her falsely being contacted by debt collectors. My constituent and my team have been in constant communication with ScottishPower, but the situation remains unresolved. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Energy, Security and Net Zero to make a statement on holding large energy companies to account for poor customer service?

I am very sorry to hear about that case, and I will of course ensure that the Secretary of State has heard what the hon. Lady has said. Hopefully someone from ScottishPower’s media or public affairs team will be tuned in to the Chamber, and will have heard our dismay at those poor standards of customer service. We hope that the situation will be rectified.

Small businesses leasing retail space in railway stations have taken a financial hit as a result of industrial action. Train operating companies accept that refunds for rent on strike days should be made available but say that the decision is out of their hands, and that the Department for Transport is blocking the refunds, yet in response to a recent written question the DFT told me that the train operators should be dealing with this matter. Could the Leader of the House please confirm whether she expects a written ministerial statement today from the Transport Secretary clarifying the situation? If not, could she please write to him and ask him to intervene so that officials either unblock the refund requests or empower the train operating companies to take this forward themselves, so that small businesses stop getting stuck in the middle?

The hon. Lady has done us a service by raising this matter. I will get on to the relevant Department this afternoon and ask that it be clarified, which I am sure would be in the interests of all our constituents.

I am incredibly proud that students from around the world choose to come to study in my city of Dundee at one of our two world-class universities; however, the newly published road map for a Scottish green industrial strategy pinpoints the failure of the UK Government to support international students as one of the key impediments to building Scotland’s green economy, with some within the Tory party wanting to go further and limit which universities would be able to take in international students. It looks like the Tory party is more interested in deporting rather than developing and retaining talent, so can we have a statement from the UK Government ruling that out, with a commitment to doing more to offer a welcoming environment for students and graduates?

I would correct the hon. Gentleman. We have a very proud record of accepting international students and we do a huge amount of outreach work to attract international students here. We are one of the most popular places for them to study, and we are doing a huge amount through the British Council and other organisations to promote British education around the world. If he has specifics, I urge him to write to the relevant Departments. He can question the Education Secretary on 23 October and the Home Secretary on 18 September.

The UN protocol on trafficking, which has been ratified by the UK, states that a victim of modern slavery does not need to have been physically transported during the course of their exploitation. The UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, however, requires physical transportation for it to be a human trafficking offence. Under UK law, perpetrators of this heinous crime would receive a far more lenient sentence than if they were charged with trafficking. Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss bringing the UK’s definition of trafficking in line with that of the UN?

I will certainly ensure that the Home Secretary and the Ministry of Justice have heard what the hon. Lady has raised. From my experience as a former Secretary of State for the Department for International Development, I can tell her that we do some incredible things around the world to combat not just crimes taking place in the UK or facilitated from the UK but crimes where the victims are in other parts of the world. What our National Crime Agency does, not just for the UK but for many nations around the world, is incredibly impressive, and we should be very proud of it.

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I say this? Every week I bring to business questions an issue from across the world on behalf of persecuted churchgoers with Christian beliefs, those with no beliefs or those with other beliefs, and every week the Leader of the House consistently, honestly and sincerely takes that matter to the relevant Minister, or secures me a meeting, letter or reply. That does not go unnoticed, and I thank her for it on behalf of people across the world who have no voice.

Earlier this week, ISIS boasted about the increased attacks against Christians in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Kenya. The group claimed that militants had plundered Christian villages and massacred locals, and that the rate of attacks for the first half of 2023 was a 57% increase on the preceding six months. One of those examples was the Lhubiriha secondary school in Uganda, which this House discussed on 20 June; however, as the Leader of the House and others know, that is only the tip of the iceberg, with most attacks receiving little to no attention in the media. Will the Leader of the House join me and others in a statement condemning those attacks and expressing solidarity with the survivors?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very kind words. With the exception of the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), whom I have excluded from my league table, the hon. Gentleman has attended the most business questions sessions of anyone in this House. He does us a great service, because he is always raising matters that should get airtime, and enables us all to send the message that we are focused on the plight of the people he mentions.

We are deeply concerned about the recent increase in attacks against Christians, particularly in Mozambique, the DRC, Nigeria and Kenya—the Foreign Office is following those situations very closely. These attacks are deplorable, and the UK will continue to use its influence in the UN, the Council of Europe and elsewhere to highlight these appalling human rights violations and galvanise action to protect freedom of religion and protect people who are being particularly persecuted, Christians being prime among them.

Tata Group Gigafactory Investment

I am pleased to update the House about the significant investment announced by Tata Group just yesterday. The confirmation that Tata will be investing over £4 billion to build a new gigafactory—the largest in Europe, I believe—in the UK is a historic moment and a major vote of confidence in our automotive sector.

Across Government, we have worked closely with Tata for the past two years to help secure this crucial investment for the UK, and its decision to invest here is a testament to our strong partnership with Tata. Tata’s announcement represents one of the largest investments we have ever seen in the automotive sector, and is part of a new wave of investments—as significant as those made in the 1980s—that are helping to turbocharge our transition to zero-emission vehicles. It will also be the group’s first gigafactory outside India, directly creating up to 4,000 highly skilled new jobs, alongside thousands of further jobs in the wider supply chain for battery materials and critical raw materials.

Tata says that the battery gigafactory will produce high-quality, high-performance, sustainable battery cells and packs for a variety of applications within the mobility and energy sectors. As the anchor customer, the new gigafactory will supply Jaguar Land Rover’s future battery electric models, including in the Range Rover, Defender, Discovery and Jaguar brands. That means we will soon see cars from JLR’s iconic British brands manufactured in the UK, powered by batteries produced in the UK and developed using technology from research and development centres in the UK, before being exported to markets all over the world. Battery production at the new facility will commence in 2026, and we look forward to confirmation of the site’s location once due diligence has been finalised. When operational, Tata expects it to be one of the largest buildings in the UK and plans to maximise its renewable energy mix, with an ambition for 100% clean power.

The investment is also an important reflection of the UK’s position as a key location for European and global automotive manufacturing. With an initial output of 40 GW, the new factory confirmed yesterday will be one of the largest in Europe. As well as being a significant moment for the UK, this investment will play an important part in strengthening economic resilience across Europe in the highly integrated supply chain for the automotive sector and other key sectors. Using the Faraday Institution’s estimates, it will provide almost half of the UK’s required battery production by 2030, boosting the battery manufacturing capacity we need to support the electric vehicle industry in the long term.

The Government are committed to supporting the automotive sector and the electric vehicle supply chain to take full advantage of the move to zero-emission vehicles, and we are putting this commitment into action through the automotive transformation fund, the British industry supercharger and our strong programme of support for research and development. We are working alongside industry to unlock further private investment in our EV supply chain, and we have long-standing and comprehensive programmes of support for the automotive sector, including the ATF, the Advanced Propulsion Centre and, of course, the Faraday battery challenge.

This investment is an important milestone in enabling a UK-made transition to net zero. However, it does not stand in isolation. It builds on other announcements that have been secured with the support of Government, including Nissan and Envision plans to secure £1 billion to create an EV manufacturing hub in Sunderland, Ford committing a total of £380 million to make Halewood the first EV components site in Europe and Stellantis investing £100 million to transition Ellesmere Port to electric van manufacturing.

The transition to zero-emission vehicles gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of manufacturing. Over 166,000 people are directly employed in the automotive sector, and I am delighted that yesterday’s announcement means that thousands of new highly-skilled jobs will be created in the next few years just for this project alone. This fantastic news from Tata shows that the Government are getting behind business to unlock the barriers to growth and secure further investment, and it will be a real boost to the entire sector. I look forward to building on the momentum and continuing our strong relationship with the sector, so that we can move the UK forward in the race to net zero and support the delivery of the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement.

Anyone who cares about and has knowledge of the automotive sector knows how important these battery factories are to the future of the UK. Without batteries being made here, it is unlikely there will be a long-term future for automotive production in this country, and for too long the UK has been far behind where we need to be. Therefore, everyone should welcome this news and breathe a huge sigh of relief that we finally have a positive development. In all the urgent questions, debates and statements we have had, this is what we have been calling for.

However, this relief should also come with the humility to appreciate that there is still a great deal to do. If this factory proceeds as planned, the UK will have 66 GWh of capacity by 2030, but at that point Germany would have over 300 GWh, Hungary over 200 GWh and China over 6,000 GWh. I therefore hope there is resolve in Government to make sure that this is just one of several major announcements of this kind. Of course, to secure this investment a substantial amount of public money has had to be spent. The Minister did not actually reference that. Can she provide some clarity on the media reports we have seen about how much exactly that will amount to?

This approach of using public investment to leverage in a much greater degree of private investment is the approach that we have advocated in Labour’s green prosperity plan. Government Ministers have at times publicly disagreed with this proposal, but we always knew they were in talks that involved the same approach. I therefore put it to the Minister that it would be far better to set out that Government approach openly, transparently and honestly in order to attract more potential partners and be able to negotiate from a stronger position. Some might call this an industrial strategy, because the truth is that the UK was desperate for this announcement. If it had gone to another country, such as Spain, things would have looked very bleak indeed. That is why we are all so relieved, but that is not, if we are frank, the optimum negotiating position to find ourselves in.

Can I also ask the Minister about local content? Crucial to our future success is building up a domestic supply chain for these factories. Will the Government be specifying a minimum percentage of local content required by this factory in order to receive the generous subsidy that has been agreed? In addition, will the Government be encouraging the development of advanced battery chemistries in the UK to aid domestic job creation, but also to limit any risks from geopolitical events that have the potential to disrupt supply chains in future?

We also need to consider this announcement alongside the wider policy environment for automotive in the UK, specifically the rules of origin requirements under the trade and co-operation agreement and the Government’s phase-out of internal combustion engines from 2030. Even with this welcome announcement, these timescales look incredibly tight. I do not believe anyone can seriously countenance a 10% tariff on vehicle exports to the EU, which would be the outcome of failing to meet the rules of origin requirements. Can the Minister update us on progress towards a deal?

Can the Minister also update the House on the Government’s position on the 2030 phase-out timetable? Is she aware of concerns that maintaining that timescale without sufficient domestic production effectively means only Chinese vehicles stand any chance of meeting consumer demand in the short term? Surely we should be thinking holistically about the whole sector. It is not about a different level of ambition, just a query as to the best way to get there.

Finally, can I ask the Minister about industrial energy prices? So much of the transition to net zero requires more competitive industrial prices than the UK currently has. We know that has been and is a material factor in the deal, so can the Minister say whether a precedent has now been set that will have consequences for other sectors, such as steel, if deals are struck for their decarbonisation? In conclusion, I repeat my welcome of this announcement. I welcome the Government’s conversion to Labour’s way of thinking. I hope it is a sign of many more good things to come.

I warmly welcome the Government’s decision and the announcement by Tata, which highlights the UK’s tech potential—

Order. I beg the right hon. Gentleman’s forgiveness. I was being distracted by another right hon. Gentleman, who ought to know better, and I therefore did not call the Minister to answer. I do apologise.

I think maybe we got a bit noisy as we were trying to fully digest the slightly delusional response of the Opposition Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), to this statement. Our job as representatives of the automotive sector is to praise, protect and promote, not to play politics, especially with investment this substantial.

Tata’s investment is so substantial. It is 40% of the gigawatts that we need, and fundamentally we need to have 100% by 2030. With Tata and Envision, we are two thirds of the way there. Obviously we want more, but we are not going to be complacent. We should not compare ourselves with the rest of Europe when their needs will be substantially different from ours, but let us take a moment to reflect on what is happening internationally. This is a global race to achieve net zero. Tata has decided to come here to the UK because it has faith in UK workers, UK technology and UK innovation. It has confidence in the UK supply chain, but fundamentally it has confidence in the UK Government’s policy when it comes to advanced manufacturing and the automotive sector.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the automotive transformation fund, which is a £1 billion fund to support exactly this sort of initiative, but let us just reflect on the bonanza—I am not sure that is the right term—that the Opposition are offering. It is £28 billion in their plan, which is a lot of money for the taxpayer to front up for an un-costed plan that, as far as I am aware, is not endorsed by anyone in the advanced manufacturing sector and what they want to achieve. As we are getting close to our summer holiday, the £28 billion of un-costed promises that the Opposition are making are a bit like lines in the sand. We can look down at them, but the tide of reality will come in.

The Opposition’s proposals mean nothing to industry or to job creation. They are created within the Westminster bubble. [Interruption.] If the Opposition do not believe me, they should listen to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the umbrella organisation for the automotive sector. It has talked about the substance in the UK supply chain, which will be a part of this initiative going forward. Unlike anywhere else in Europe, we have a fantastic supply chain with graphene, silicon carbide wafers—I am learning so much—power electronics, batteries and powertrains. It is a substantial boost to our supply chains in the UK. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am working not only on our critical minerals strategy but on our supply strategy, to make sure we are using UK innovation and UK goods across all our supply chains, and in particular in the automotive sector. I urge him to have some humility and to reverse, and to praise, promote and protect the sector, and definitely not to play politics with it; that is a very weak thing to do.

There are challenges dealing with the rules of origin. As the hon. Gentleman knows, not only the Prime Minister but the Secretary of State are in intensive talks with the European Union. This is an issue not just for the UK; it is also about cars made in the EU being transported into the UK. It is a two-way system. I urge everybody in the House who has contacts with European counterparts to ensure that they make it very clear that this will be damaging for European car manufacturers as well.

Let me turn to the zero-emission vehicle mandate. I have taken many a delegation to the Department for Transport, which is responsible for this bit of policy, and I am keen to back business. The consultation has concluded and results will come through, and we will continue to work with the DFT. My position has always been to back the automotive sector. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde does not seem to appreciate how substantial the investment is. We should be focused on the £4 billion, the 4,000 jobs and the resilience in the supply chain—the 2,500 small firms across most of our constituencies that will be getting some support because of this fantastic confidence in the UK car and automotive sector, and fundamentally in UK policy when it comes to advanced manufacturing.

I warmly welcome the Government’s announcement and Tata’s decision, which highlights the tech potential of the UK. Does the Minister agree that our longer-term strategy, as I think she was setting out, is that we will not be able to engage in a bidding war on subsidies with the US, China and the EU, and that our comparative advantage will be shoring up the supply chain in the context of EV batteries, which means lithium deposits in the south-west and our emerging refinement capacity in Teesside?

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and agree with every single point he made. He mentioned the lithium mine in Cornwall, which will eventually produce enough lithium for 500,000 electric cars and vehicles. There is such success for our supply chain because this Government have a strategy that is embedded in the real-world politics of dealing with the automotive sector, and our critical minerals refresh was exactly the support required for the lithium mine in Cornwall.

It is not just about the financial support; it is also about the ecosystem. Fundamentally, the organisation had faith in initiatives such as the Faraday battery challenge, the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the tech in the UK. All the components that are required are here in the UK, and we have been able to link that ecosystem and supply chain together, which gave Tata the confidence to come and build the biggest gigafactory in Europe here in the UK.

I thank the Minister for her statement and early sight of it. I agree that battery manufacturing capacity is important as part of our move towards EVs, away from petrol and diesel vehicles, and towards all our targets to achieve net zero. It would be remiss of me not to mention that a few years ago, as I am sure the Minister recalls, Dundee was given the “most EV visionary city in Europe” award by the World Electric Vehicle Association in Japan.

Let me turn to the statement itself. A £4 billion or so investment by Tata—that’s good. Substantial investment by Envision in battery production in Sunderland, plus the other investments the Minister mentioned, are of course all welcome. Yet that is broadly a comparable sum—around £6 billion—to the investment in the EV charging network we have been promised by 2030. Does the Minister think we are on track to have the right balance between investment in the supply chain and battery production capacity, and in the EV charging network. That network is where most drivers intersect with the system and it is the largest cause of frustration when it does not work or breaks down.

I do not think it gets any more positive from the SNP on this point. I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed the £4 billion investment and the more than 4,000 jobs, and the confidence we have in the advanced manufacturing sector in the UK; that was such a positive response to what this Government have been able to achieve. I was not aware of the Dundee point, but I will go away and look it up. So many people have been responsible for getting this project over the line and so many have been campaigning for gigafactories. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) has been campaigning for gigafactories for longer than I have been in Parliament, so huge thanks go to him and to everyone else who helped to get this project over the line.

On charging points, as the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) said in last week’s debate on the automotive sector, ChargeUK has committed to investing more than £6 billion in the development and operation of charging infrastructure before 2030. We heard in that debate that some colleagues felt the investment in their constituencies was not substantial enough. We need to make sure that as demand for EV vehicles grows—there has been much more demand and many more sales recently—the charging infrastructure stands up to that. As the Minister responsible for the automotive sector, I know we are doing everything we can to fulfil our part of the bargain, as it were, but we need to make sure that charging infrastructure is rolled out as fast as it can be. Substantial targets are being met and the Transport Minister is keen to take up constituency cases to make sure that the roll-out is fast as it can be.