Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 12:13 pm on 31st March 2022.

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Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

It is a pleasure to see the hon. Lady back in her place. The business for the week commencing 18 April will include:

Monday 18 AprilThe House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 19 AprilSecond Reading of the Online Safety Bill.

Wednesday 20 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Subsidy Control Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Building Safety Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill.

Thursday 21 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, followed by a general debate on childhood cancer outcomes. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 22 April—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 25 April will include:

Monday 25 April—Consideration of Lords amendments, followed by consideration of a carry-over motion relating to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, followed by consideration of a carry-over motion relating to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, followed by consideration of a carry-over motion relating to the High Speed Rail (Crewe-Manchester) Bill.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business and his kind welcome back; my deputy, my hon. Friend Jessica Morden, for covering for me so skilfully; and hon. Members for their good wishes when I was laid low with covid last week. I will close for the Opposition in today’s debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment, which in my view is a jewel in the crown of democratic processes in this place. I will say more then, but for the benefit of those who will sadly not be joining us—how could they miss it?—let me wish everybody a happy recess.

It occurs to me on looking at the business statement that I do not yet see the COP15 debate that I believe we were promised would be rescheduled to after the recess but before Prorogation, because it has to come before COP15 itself. I may have got that wrong—it may be that my covidness has led to my missing something—but I would be grateful if the Leader of the House addressed that point.

The Government have now published the Arctic strategy. Her Majesty’s Opposition welcome confirmation that Russia and China are growing threats in the high north, but unfortunately there is little commitment to new action. Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has demanded an immediate response, but clearly we are still in the era of fighting big tank battles in Europe. Other European Governments are now reviewing their defence spending. Can the Leader of the House explain why no review of defence spending has been announced? There is no reform of military procurement, no real change to the real cut in day-to-day Ministry of Defence spending, and less money for forces recruitment, training, pay and families. Will he ask the Defence Secretary to come to the House and give a statement?

Yesterday, the Transport Secretary gave us an update on the disgraceful situation with P&O Ferries. The steps announced by the Government are welcome, and we support them, but they are absolutely the bare minimum. The Government must ensure that no public money will be handed out to companies that disregard workers’ rights. They should also go further and introduce legislation as soon as possible to ban fire and rehire completely, once and for all. Can the Leader of the House explain why the Government are refusing to do so and are continuing to let down British workers?

The Conservatives’ flagship tutoring programme has been a disaster. It has failed our children, it has wasted millions of pounds of public money, and last month it had reached just a third of the promised 2 million courses. Today, the Government have sneaked out, in a written statement, the fact that they will be sacking the private provider to which they outsourced the programme. Labour’s ambitious plan for recovery would deliver tutoring, breakfast and after-school clubs and mental health counsellors in every school, supporting every child to learn, play and develop. Could we have an urgent statement in the House from the Education Secretary about why, under this Government, the future of our children’s education seems to be nothing more than an afterthought?

The majority of households in the UK will see a £1,300 average year-on-year increase in their bills by October. Some 6.5 million households across the country face fuel poverty, yet the Government refuse to act. Labour has put forward a proposal for a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producers, which would cut household energy bills by up to £600, helping households that need it most—including constituents of Conservative Members, who might want to listen to them. Can the Leader of the House explain why the Government are happy to keep raising taxes for hard-working families, but refuse to raise them for oil and gas companies?

The Chancellor has handed 15 tax rises to working people. For every £6 that this Tory Government have taken, they are giving only £1 back, right when working families are feeling the pinch the most. British people are facing the worst fall in living standards on record. Prices are rising in supermarkets, at petrol pumps and on our electricity bills. At the worst possible time, the Government are choosing to put up national insurance contributions for millions of working people. Could the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to come to this Chamber and explain to the people of this country why, unlike the Labour party, the Tories are not on their side?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady pointed out that we would be opposite each other again for the pre-Adjournment debate. I am not sure whether the word that she used was “jewel” or “duel”. I look forward to whichever it turns out to be, but it certainly feels like a duel this morning. The hon. Lady is back with a vengeance, and it is good to see her in her place.

The hon. Lady began by asking about a COP15 debate. That is a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. The Chair of the Committee, Ian Mearns, said he wanted to have that debate, and there will be an opportunity to reschedule it at some point in the near future. We will try to work with the Chair of the Committee to deliver it.

The hon. Lady went on to talk about defence, and about defence spending. I hope she will recognise that we are the biggest spenders on defence in Europe. We are the second largest contributor to NATO, after the United States. We are exceeding the 2% GDP target. We have committed ourselves to £24 billion of increased defence spending over the next four years. We are world leaders in defence spending, and our armed forces are recognised around the world as the highest-quality armed forces available to any nation on this earth. That is a record of which to be enormously proud, and it is being demonstrated in Ukraine, whose defence services are making use of UK tech as we speak.

The hon. Lady then raised the subject of P&O. As she will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport was at the Dispatch Box yesterday explaining how he was going to deal with what was no less than a brazen breaking of employment law on the part of the chief executive. The way in which P&O has treated its own staff can only be condemned as despicable, and my right hon. Friend has urged it to reconsider, but yesterday he set out a nine-point plan consisting of a series of commitments to protect seafarers in the future. I should be happy to read it to the House, but it is available in Hansard. My right hon. Friend should be commended for the action that he is going to take.

When it comes to education, I think we should recognise that progress has been made, but there is further progress to come. We should be proud of and support the £5 billion education recovery fund and the schools White Paper, but even the Secretary of State for Education will acknowledge that there is more to be done, and I think that if the hon. Lady keeps an eye on the Dispatch Box she will see, in the near future, the Secretary of State announce action to continue the improvement in our education services.

The hon. Lady finished by talking about the cost of living and the challenges that we face. She will know that, given what is happening in Ukraine and its impact on global energy markets, a huge ripple is taking place in the value of energy across the world. We are well aware of that, which is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer stood here last week and set out his plans to try to help hard-working people and their families. Taking 5p off fuel duty was a big step—it means £5 billion a year less tax—and support is being provided through other mechanisms as well.

However, the best way out of poverty is through work. The fundamental difference between us and the Opposition is that we believe in a hand up while they believe in a handout. The best way for people to escape from poverty is by working and being able to keep more of their income and pay less tax, and the way in which we are making that possible means that those with the broadest shoulders carry the burden of taxation.

The hon. Lady wants us to impose a windfall tax on energy companies. Those companies are already paying 40% tax, which is nearly double what other sectors pay. There are 200,000 people employed in the sector. A windfall tax would disincentivise companies from making investments and push up the cost of energy, and the lowest-paid and most vulnerable people would find themselves picking up the tab. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has ensured that the lowest paid will be taken out of tax altogether or will pay less tax, and I think that that is fair.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I want to raise an issue affecting my local area. It involves the North London Waste Authority and the unwanted building of a huge incinerator in Edmonton. Not a single Member of Parliament in the area, Labour or Conservative, actually wants the incinerator, and we do not need it and the fumes that it will emit.

The key factor is the existence of all the criteria that would normally cause the Government to haul in a project. The cost of this project has doubled from £600 million to £1.2 billion; this is meant to be a competitive bid, but that is not the case because the same organisation is still going to be involved; and, finally even the chief executive of that organisation now says that this is excessive and unnecessary.

Given the latest information that the chief executive of the North London Waste Authority has received a salary increase from £300,000 to more than £600,000, it is clear that the organisation is out of control. It will not tell us what remuneration its officials—who are councillors—are receiving.

Why is it that not a single Government Department is prepared to stand up, haul this project in and call it to account, as would be done in the case of any other such project? People are burning public money, literally, on projects that are not wanted by the public and will pollute the atmosphere. Given the COP26 issues, why is that still happening, and may we have a debate about it now?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. I note that he secured a Westminster Hall debate on it in February. I am sure that local taxpayers will be very concerned about what he has reported to the House, and I shall be happy to take it up with Ministers on his behalf after this session.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

In view of the dramatic return of partygate, may we have a debate on what criminality actually is? I know it seems absurd to have to ask such a question, but I think we need to clear up this confusion. I may be being a bit naive here, but I think most people believe that criminality constitutes receiving a fine for breaking the law of the land after the conclusion of a police investigation. It seems that only No. 10 and the Prime Minister are unsure whether that central principle of law is actually the case. I do not know what it is about the issuing of 20 fines to different people that they find so difficult to understand, but perhaps we could have a debate to discover exactly what is going on. What with the Prime Minister being at odds with the Justice Secretary on this simple issue, the Government are now beginning to look singularly absurd.

Perhaps, on the same day, we could have a debate about the ministerial code and what happens if a Prime Minister breaks it. There seems to be some uncertainty about that as well. In December, the Prime Minister told the House that there were no parties and no rules were broken; now we find that 20 fines were issued to people yesterday. I think we all know that this is closing in on the Prime Minister, but we need to establish the clear principle that if a Minister breaks the ministerial code, that Minister walks.

Today the Government are ending free covid tests, just as infection rates and hospitalisations go through the roof—and God knows how many MPs are suffering from covid this week, although it is good to see Thangam Debbonaire back in her place. I am sure she will testify that it is a bit more than a little cold, despite what Conservative Members like to say.

This is a covid tax on the poor, which will only assist the further spread of the disease. This Government have been simply woeful on COVID, but now they are being just plain negligent. May we have a debate in preparation of what more misery we can now expect?

Finally, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I wish you, the staff of the House and everyone who supports and serves us a good Easter break? I say to you all, “Enjoy yourselves, please make sure you have a covid-free break, and I will see you back, fit and healthy, in a couple of weeks.”

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. It is good to see him back in his place after his brief absence last week. He asks for a debate on the challenges that I think he referred to as “partygate”. I thought he might ask for a debate on mask wearing, because it would appear that the SNP has one rule in Scotland and another rule in London, given that the leader of his party turned up in London to a service at Westminster Abbey and felt it unnecessary to wear a mask in England, although in Scotland, apparently, she does have to wear one. I am not quite sure whether coronavirus is more dangerous in Scotland than it is in England, but I think the question of whether one should wear a mask in one’s own country but not down in London would be worthy of debate.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the ministerial code. The rules around the ministerial code are absolutely clear and laid out, and Ministers should follow the ministerial code. There is no debate on that matter, and that is what happens. He also mentioned covid. It is a tribute to the Government that, although cases of covid are high, hospitalisations from it are much lower. That is because of our exemplary vaccination programme, which means that we are no longer in danger of hospitalisation. The great British public should be given the responsibility to make decisions, and I trust the public to make responsible decisions. If you are ill with covid, you should remain at home and isolate so that you do not inadvertently spread the disease. That is the way we should proceed from now on.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Can we have a debate on the shocking findings of the Ockenden report? Two years ago I wrote to the Health Secretary expressing the concern of a doctor in my constituency that an ideological attachment to so-called natural childbirth was jeopardising safety. I think we need a debate to see how great a role that problem played in the disasters that occurred in Telford.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Secretary of State made a statement yesterday on this matter. I pay tribute not only to my right hon. Friend but to my hon. Friend Lucy Allan and my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne, who have been vociferous in their pursuit of this matter. Some of the report’s findings were frankly shocking. The good news is that things have now moved forward at the Shrewsbury hospital within the trust, and people can have confidence in maternity services across England. That is why we have announced a further £127 million of funding for maternity services, so that people can have confidence in those services.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

I welcome the Financial Conduct Authority’s redress scheme proposed this morning. It goes a fair way towards putting things right for the thousands of British Steel workers who were ripped off by pension sharks in 2017. The average loss was £60,000. However, can we have a Government statement from the Treasury on why it has taken the FCA five years to grip this scandal properly?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for pursuing that issue on behalf of his constituents. There are also Members on the Conservative Benches who have been vociferous in pursuing the rights of employees in the steel industry. I know that he will continue to pursue the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that he gets answers for his constituents, and I shall write to the Chancellor on his behalf to ensure he gets answers to his questions.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset

May I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as chairman of the Abraham Accords Group? Might my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on security in the Gulf and particularly on the role of Iran in destabilising the region? We have seen Iranian-backed Houthis carry out drone attacks on our friends in the UAE and missiles being launched into Saudi Arabia. We must not allow the dreadful events in Ukraine to distract us from the risks being faced by our allies elsewhere from a regime in Tehran with an abhorrent human rights record and a record of trying to destabilise its political and geographical neighbours.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that Ukraine is not the only area in which our armed forces and security services are engaged. The Foreign Office is very much aware of the challenges in the middle east that he makes reference to, and he can rest assured that both the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence will continue to monitor Iran’s activities. We need to send the strongest message to all regimes around the world that they should be as fair and open as they can be, and that we will not tolerate interference in other states.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

As my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire has already said, across the House we are all aware of how huge price increases in energy are impacting our constituents, and I believe the Government could be doing far more to help. However, public services and businesses are also impacted by these significant price rises. Local leisure centres, schools and businesses in my constituency have contacted me about having to make the impossible choice between delivering their services and paying their bills. Can we therefore have a debate in Government time on the impact of energy prices on public services and businesses, and on the Government’s so-far invisible strategy to support them?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is a little misleading—if I can say that—to say that the cost of living support that the Government are delivering is invisible. We have already offered £22 billion-worth of support for this financial year and the next. We are boosting income for the lowest paid and helping families with their household bills, but we are supporting businesses as well. Cutting 5p off fuel duty is a huge support to those businesses that have to transport their goods around. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has also supported businesses through the rates programme, and we are making sure that many small and medium-sized enterprises are taken out of local rateable values completely. That is support being given directly to the small businesses that I recognise are making a huge contribution to the economy and supporting people by employing our constituents.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns, was taken unwell this morning, so on behalf of the Committee I would like to say to Thangam Debbonaire that we are negotiating with the sponsor of the motion and debate on COP26 and we are hoping to arrange a date soon. To my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I should like to say that as the business for the week commencing 25 April looks a bit light, we are ready to supply proposals for debates if requested.

Can I also ask for a debate on efficiencies and effectiveness in local government? I, along with many of my colleagues, spend about 50% of my casework time dealing with the failure of my local council to provide a decent service, but this one tops the bill. I contacted Harrow Council on 15 October 2020 about an urgent disrepair problem in a council property provided to one of my constituents. Being diligent, I followed this up with the council no fewer than 19 times, and I was eventually promised, almost in blood, that I would get a reply by last Monday. I am still waiting. It is quite clear that on 5 May the voters of Harrow will get the opportunity to put in a Conservative-led council, rather than this inefficient and ineffective Labour-run council.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We wish the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee a speedy recovery and hope he will soon be back in his place. We look forward to the COP15 debate, whenever it can be rescheduled.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to his local council. That sounds like a shocking litany of irresponsible—or lack of response, shall we say. I am sure he will continue to hold the council’s feet to the fire, and in raising his question this morning, I am sure he will have contributed to its embarrassment. I look forward to a Conservative council in Harrow in the near future.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Tomorrow our constituents face a 54% increase in their fuel bills as the cap increases, but many of my constituents living in new developments at Kidbrooke are on district heating schemes and the cap does not apply. They are therefore directly exposed to the market cost of fuel. Can we have a statement when we return on the impact on those people, because they are facing huge increases in their fuel bills, way above those where the cap applies? This is creating financial difficulties for them, and they have not been dealt with or given any assistance by the Government.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

To say that there is no assistance is, frankly, wrong, but I acknowledge that there are challenges with local heating systems, which I will raise directly with the relevant Minister on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf. Given the uncertainty and challenges of the global energy market that we currently face not only in the United Kingdom but across the whole of Europe and North America, the Government are stepping in to try to help people who are facing those challenges. That is why we have introduced the £9.1 billion energy rebate scheme, and we are also increasing the value of the warm home discount to £150 in October and providing £1 billion through the household support fund, as well as winter fuel payments. All of that is assistance to his and my constituents in what is a very challenging situation globally, but I will raise the matter that he raised with the relevant Minister.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Conservative, Kensington

The Labour party accepted the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry that it should publish all meetings between the shadow Cabinet and senior media executives and media owners. It has not done so since 2016. The Government publish them on a quarterly basis. May we have a debate on the lack of transparency on the relations between the Labour party and media executives and its trade union paymasters?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to this important issue. It is important to the reputation of our democracy that we in this House are as transparent as possible with regard to those we meet, and when. It is staggering that the Labour party has failed to declare any meetings over the past six years. However, I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and believe that no such meetings have taken place. Perhaps the media have reached the same conclusion about the Labour party as the electorate did in December 2019.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

We are six months into the biggest energy crisis in generations and it is five months since COP26, but reportedly the Prime Minister is still arguing with his Chancellor about what to do about the future of our energy. Businesses and households are calling out for certainty and clarity. Where is the energy strategy? Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to bring forward the energy strategy alongside a statement to the House?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The energy strategy is imminent. It is coming very soon—the hon. Lady will not have to wait very long. I would hope, however, that she recognises that the way to deal with the challenges of a fluctuating global energy market is to have a balanced approach to our energy supply. We should also make use of our own hydrocarbons in the North sea, as we move towards renewable resources, and we should invest in nuclear energy at the same time, to make sure that we have a balanced supply of energy in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

May we have an urgent debate on the further imposition of sanctions on members of the Russian armed forces? Although I am very pleased that Mikhail Mizintsev has been sanctioned this morning—he perfected his barbaric practices in pummelling Aleppo to the ground and is now doing the same to Mariupol—does the Leader of the House share my determination that sanctions must go down the ranks of the Russian military to mid-ranking and junior officers, and even to non-commissioned officers, if necessary, who are engaging in the barbaric practices of shelling residential areas to the ground?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Although I cannot comment on the specific case raised by my hon. Friend, the Deputy Prime Minister visited the International Criminal Court at The Hague earlier this month to offer practical support from the UK for investigating and prosecuting war crimes. As well as extra funding, that includes police and military analysis, specialist IT and legal expertise. The UK is also bringing together a broad coalition of countries to support those war crime investigations. The measures we have taken reflect the horror and the gravity of what Putin and his regime have done, violating the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation with an illegal and unjustified invasion. Anyone participating in that war should be under no illusion that the west will hold them to account for the decisions they make, and those generals and soldiers who are committing crimes will be held to account in the very near future.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

This week I was very proud to join a local group, Coventry City of Languages, in Speaker’s House, where they were awarded the Your UK Parliament award for community campaign of the year. I first met the teachers back in 2020, before the campaign was formed, and have been proud to see them go from strength to strength. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Anna Grainger, Victoria Seaton and the rest of the team, and will he give Government time to discuss the benefits of language learning and the woeful lack of funding for foreign language teaching, especially in our primary schools?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I join the hon. Lady in commending her constituents for the great work they are doing. Speaking a second or third language is a great skill for life and can really assist young people not only in their careers but in travel around the world, and anything that the Government and we as the House of Commons can do to support people in learning a second or third language should be commended.

Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on issues affecting men and boys, I managed to secure a short Westminster Hall debate on the need for a men’s health strategy. With nearly one in five men not making retirement, 13 men committing suicide every day, one man dying of prostate cancer every 49 minutes and 6,000 men dying an alcohol-related death each year, does the Leader of the House agree that this is a serious issue and that the need for a men’s health strategy should be debated in this Chamber as soon as possible?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing his Westminster Hall debate last week. There are important health issues affecting men across the country. We know that some men are less likely than women to seek help or to talk about suicidal feelings, and some can be reluctant to engage with health or other support services. My hon. Friend asks for a debate in the Chamber. He will be aware that Government time for general debates is at a premium and that Government time is primarily used for legislation, but I encourage him to seek an Adjournment debate. He will also have the opportunity to raise the matter at Health questions on 19 April.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

I welcome the Leader of the House’s comments a moment ago on transparency. The Government claim that there is transparency on covid contracts, but this morning, as has happened many times before, serious questions grounded in hard evidence were answered with vague and opaque platitudes. It is time for this Government to truly act in the public interest and arrange a debate in Government time to address the management of PPE contracts, and to properly account for the billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that the National Audit Office reports is still at risk. This House must be allowed to fulfil its responsibility to the public and scrutinise how such vast sums of public money have been spent. Will the Leader of the House consider arranging a debate on such issues?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I shall try not to be vague, which the hon. Gentleman has implied. To be absolutely clear, where fraud has taken place, it should be fully investigated. The Government will fully investigate any fraud that has taken place, and we will make every effort to recover those funds that were lost or that were, in effect, stolen by a fraudulent bid.

In the middle of a global pandemic, PPE supplies were very short globally. It was almost impossible to get supplies of masks, aprons and gloves, as the whole world was scrambling to get them, and at the time Members from across the House were suggesting that they could be sourced from all sorts of bizarre places, so I think it is a little bit tough to sit in the cold light of day and make judgments in hindsight of decisions made, and I think we should give the benefit of the doubt to those officials who were trying very hard to protect us.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the capacity and waiting times at accident and emergency departments? Every week since I was elected, I have been contacted by constituents who have waited for hours in our local A&E to be triaged and treated. The reasons for that are complex and multiple, and that is why I believe a debate in Government time is needed. We can all do our part to help, however. To do my bit, I am taking part in a sponsored abseil down the 154-foot tower of Southend University Hospital to support a cancer ward, and I would be delighted if my right hon. Friend wanted to join me.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing to the attention of the House the gravity of the situation at Southend University Hospital. Indeed, it is for that reason that I am unable to join her in her noble pursuit to abseil down the tower; I fear it would add to the existing A&E pressures at the hospital. She raises an important matter on waiting times at A&E, and the Government are clear that long waits for admission are not acceptable. The NHS is executing a range of actions across urgent primary and community care to better manage emergency care demand and capacity. Last year also saw a significant investment in the upgrade of A&E facilities, including building work to boost capacity and reduce overcrowding, funded by £450 million of investment.

Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

Coventry’s time as city of culture will come to a close this May. It has encouraged thousands of young people to celebrate Coventry’s rich heritage; a whole host of art installations have sprung up across our city from incredible local artists; and inclusive online concerts, films and other events have drawn in more than 260,000 people so far. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking all who have made this a truly wonderful experience? I encourage as many people as possible from across the House to come and visit Coventry this recess, as we are still celebrating our city of culture. Can we have Government time to discuss the importance of continuing this wonderful legacy?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady is a walking advert for Coventry and all that is great about it, and I commend her for drawing the attention of the House to all that Coventry offers. I know that being a city of culture brings huge benefit to the tourism industry. A number of towns are bidding to be the next one, and the winner will be announced very soon. I join her in encouraging people from across the country to consider Coventry as a destination this Easter.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

Across Keighley and Ilkley, we are being inundated with new housing development, and many new housing applications are being made. That is not being helped by Bradford Council’s draft local plan, which will add another 3,000 new homes in my local community. I think of pressures in Long Lee and in Silsden, where our district councillor, Councillor Rebecca Whitaker, is doing a fantastic job of fighting a local planning application that is having a huge impact on local infrastructure in our schools and GP surgeries. Can we have a debate in Government time to explore how we can give local key service providers, particularly our schools and our NHS—our GP surgeries—more say in and influence over housing policy and planning applications?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Along with Rebecca Whitaker, my hon. Friend is a huge advocate for Keighley and on the challenges of green belt development. It is vital that the Government and local authorities get the balance right between supplying enough homes for the next generation to move into and protecting our green spaces. I am sure it is something that is worthy of further debate, and I encourage my hon. Friend to apply for an Adjournment debate to make sure he has another opportunity to highlight the challenges in his area.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Energy prices are going to skyrocket overnight, so today is meter reading day. Martin Lewis and Which? have both been encouraging people to submit meter readings today. It turns out that the websites of E.ON, EDF, Scottish Power, Shell, British Gas, SSE, Octopus Energy, Sainsbury’s Energy and Bulb are crumbling under the pressure of trying to deal with all these meter reading submissions. Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging people who cannot submit their meter readings today to ensure they have an accurate record of their meter reading by taking a photo of it or attempting to email it to their provider, so that when the prices go up tomorrow, they are charged the correct rate up until today?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady should be commended for what is a very good idea. I support her suggestion and I think it is worthy of publicity. I encourage all Members from across the House to highlight it on their social media platforms, and I encourage people in those circumstances to do as she suggests. I think it is a very good idea, and she should be commended for it.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

Last week, I had a very moving meeting with Mark and Tom Pegram, father and brother to Sam Pegram, the humanitarian who was lost in the 737 Max air crash, Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, in March 2019. Their grief is understandable and still raw, but unfortunately it is being compounded by the delay in the UK coroner’s inquest process because the Ethiopian authorities have yet to publish the air crash investigation report. Will the Leader of the House work with his colleagues in Government to give any assistance needed to the Ethiopian authorities to get that report published forthwith, so that Mark and Tom, and other British families, can get the closure of a coroner’s inquest?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that, and I offer my sincere condolences to the families of Sam Pegram and the eight other British nationals who died on board flight ET 302. I appreciate that this continues to be a difficult time, following the third anniversary, as families still await answers over what happened on that day. The Government cannot interfere in the legal matters of another country, but I understand that the families are pursuing this matter through their local lawyer, who will be best placed to advise them. I thank my hon. Friend for drawing this matter to the attention of the House, and I shall write to the Foreign Secretary on her behalf.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Peter Hebblethwaite shows no sign of resigning, despite admitting to Select Committees that he flagrantly broke the law. I know that the Secretary of State for Transport has written to the Insolvency Service seeking the disqualification of Mr Hebblethwaite as a company director, but will the Government consider holding a debate on what further action might be appropriate for company directors who behave with such disregard for workers, and whether we need to set in train other legal routes to ensure that no company director ever behaves in such a way again?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady is right to highlight Peter Hebblethwaite’s actions, and she joins the Secretary of State for Transport in calling for him to go. The way in which he has treated his staff and the employees of P&O is outrageous and, frankly, abhorrent. I think the topic is worthy of debate, and I am sure that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee would give due consideration to that, given the number of Members from across the House who have an interest in debating it further.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the news that six NHS hospitals are set to trial pheasant, partridge and venison on their menus is extremely welcome, and will he join me in congratulating British Game Assurance on its work to help to make that possible? Can we have a debate on the value of game as healthy, nutritious, flavoursome and sustainable meat that more parts of the public sector should seek to procure for menus in schools, hospitals and beyond?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the House’s attention to that fact. British game is, as he says, nutritious and of good value. It also has a very high welfare background, in that all the animals that reach the food chain are wild animals that lived in the natural environment. He is right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that game is now available in our NHS.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I regret to inform the Leader of the House that I have spent four months trying to get answers to two questions from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. I have been asking why the Government insist on using out-of-date population figures to determine housing targets when the targets for St Albans would halve, and those for many other areas of Hertfordshire would be reduced, if up-to-date housing figures were used. On the green belt, I have asked the Government why they have not acted on the statement from the planning inspector that he cannot give any weight to the protection of the green belt because there are no green belt protections in the national planning policy framework. I have held a Westminster Hall debate, I have written to the Government a number of times and I have tabled several written parliamentary questions, but the Government continue to sidestep the issue. Can he give me some advice on how I can get answers to those questions, and will he consider a debate in Government time on how we can make sure up-to-date figures are used and put some green belt protections into the planning framework?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I should make it clear that Departments have a responsibility to respond in a timely manner to questions from MPs. I will assist the hon. Lady in pursuing the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to get answers to her questions and write on her behalf to the Secretary of State.

Photo of James Davies James Davies Conservative, Vale of Clwyd

As we recover from the pandemic, rail services, particularly in north Wales, need to be scaled back up. Transport for Wales services remain less frequent than usual, while direct Avanti West Coast services to London Euston are running just twice per day. That is set to increase to four from May, but it is well below the six per day that there were before the pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the need for services not only to return to normal, but to exceed that in north Wales, to help drive investment in the regional network?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to this matter. These challenges are best served by cross-border co-operation. This subject is worthy of further debate, and I encourage him to apply for an Adjournment debate at his earliest convenience so that he can highlight the challenges his constituents are facing and draw the House’s attention to where cross-border co-operation will assist and solve those challenges.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

For more than 100 years, Shepherd’s Bush market has served the people of west London and beyond. For most of that time, the Horada family have been one of its leading traders. Yesterday, James Horada stepped down as chair of the Shepherd’s Bush Market Tenants Association, after 16 years in which he faced down repeated attempts by developers to destroy the market, winning a public inquiry and finally persuading the Lord Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal to save this unique institution. I am sure that the Leader of the House will wish to join me in congratulating James and his able successor, the vice-chair Peter Wheeler. Will he also find time for a debate on how we can ensure the future of our historic markets, many of which are, sadly, under threat?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the benefit of markets up and down the country; they benefit communities and are a rich resource for those communities to be able to access. I join him in praising James Horada for the work he has done over 16 years—that is a huge innings, and he should be praised for that. I wish him well in his retirement and hope that Peter Wheeler will continue the great work and that that market will remain as a community asset for many people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Labour/Co-operative, Vauxhall

On 29 March 2021, I joined the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice outside St Thomas’ Hospital in my constituency, where it started its campaign to paint hearts on the walls. I met Fran Hall, whose husband Steve Mead sadly died in October 2020, just three weeks after they were married. This Tuesday marked the first anniversary of that wall, and I want to pay tribute, as I hope the Leader of the House will also do, to the many families and volunteers who have continued to maintain it over the year, taking time to repaint those hearts, which mean so much to people and are a remembrance of the family members they have lost. Those hearts represent constituents from all over the country and the family we have lost. Will the Leader of the House guarantee Government time for us to debate how we can make this wall permanent?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. No one could be unmoved by seeing the tributes just across the river at the wall of hearts, and this is worthy of further consideration. In my constituency, I was able to attend the unveiling of a small memorial at Gedling crematorium to the people of Gedling and Nottingham who had lost their lives to covid. As a society, we should not forget the huge losses that we have experienced, and she is right to draw the House’s attention to this. I will make sure I write to the relevant Ministers and pass on her comments.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

One of the most regular causes of complaints that I receive is the failure of services that have been outsourced to private companies, including Capita, which now administers the Royal Mail pension scheme; it seems to do that very badly, if the case of my constituent whose pension should have been paid from September 2021 but still has not been is anything to go by. So may we have a debate in Government time about how the Government are supposed to hold these contractors to account, particularly when the systems are patently not working?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

If the hon. Lady writes to me with the specific details about her constituent, I will make sure—[Interruption.] She says from a sedentary position that she already has. I will make sure that she gets a rapid response. I understand the stress that people undergo when they are concerned about whether they will get their pension, which they have rightly paid into. I will make sure that she gets a speedy answer.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Will the Leader of the House grant time for us to have a debate about the delivery of not only housing but infrastructure, and the timeliness of that delivery? I am sure that in his constituency, as in the constituencies of Members from across the House—we heard about this from Robbie Moore—there is a real problem in this area. In my constituency, we were promised sustainable communities, but what we have is housing with no pedestrian access or egress off estates, no buses serving those estates, insufficient spaces at the local GPs and no spaces in our schools. So will the Leader of the House grant us time for a very welcome debate on this issue?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am sure that such a debate would be a popular one. I am aware that a Westminster Hall debate was held earlier this week—I believe it was on Tuesday—about the provision of GP services connected to new developments. Local authorities have a huge responsibility to make sure that when they grant planning permission for new housing developments the infrastructure is put in place. Not only must there be doctors’ surgeries and dentists, but they must make sure that the schools and road networks are adequate to provide support to those new housing developments. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to apply for either a Backbench Business debate or an Adjournment debate, where he can continue to highlight those challenges.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

You are warmly welcome to attend the Putney boat race this weekend, Madam Deputy Speaker. In Putney, we are delighted that it is returning after two years. It will be going underneath Hammersmith bridge, which has been closed to vehicles since April 2019, causing chaos, pollution and disruption across south-west London; it is a national transport route. Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on funding the restoration of Hammersmith bridge? Hammersmith and Fulham Council has done a lot, and small funding has been provided for stabilisation works, but no funding for the full restoration so that vehicles can go back across the bridge. May we have time for a debate on this subject?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I wish everyone who is participating in the Putney boat race this weekend well. I encourage the hon. Lady to continue to highlight the challenges of Hammersmith bridge and put pressure both on Hammersmith’s council and the Mayor of London to try to help resolve these challenges, and to make sure that the situation her constituents find themselves in is resolved as soon as possible.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

In Algeria, 16 churches have been forced to shut down and a further eight have had legal proceedings started against them in efforts to have them closed. The Leader of the House always responds, but will he arrange for a statement on what assessment Her Majesty’s Government have made of this trend? Will he make representations to counterparts through the office of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in Algeria about protecting the freedom of religion or belief of minority groups in that country, where the situation is very worrying?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am sorry to hear about the situation in Algeria and that those from minority religions there are feeling oppressed and disenfranchised. I will make sure that the Foreign Office is aware of the matters the hon. Gentleman has raised today. He continues to be an advocate for religious freedom around the world on a weekly basis.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

May we have a debate on the dedication of volunteers to local housing associations? My constituent Charlotte Levy, the former chair of Thenue Housing, passed away recently, having dedicated more than 60 years of her life to serving the voluntary groups and committees, particularly in the Calton, where she lived. Does the Leader of the House agree that we all need more selfless community-minded activists like Charlotte?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I join the hon. Lady in not only congratulating Charlotte but highlighting the great work that housing associations do up and down this country. They are a great resource for not only advice but support for tenants and residents throughout the country. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that and I join her in congratulating her constituent.