Business Question

– in the House of Commons at 10:29 am on 12th May 2022.

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

The business for the week commencing 16 May will include:

Monday 16 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, on making Britain the best place to grow up and grow old.

Tuesday 17 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, on tackling short-term and long-term cost of living increases.

Wednesday 18 May—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, on achieving economic growth.

Thursday 19 May—General debate on transport, followed by a general debate on NATO and international security.

Friday 20 May—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 23 May will include:

Monday 23 MaySecond Reading of the Public Order Bill.

Tuesday 24 MaySecond Reading of a Bill.

Wednesday 25 May—Remaining stages of the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, followed by a general debate on Ukraine.

Thursday 26 May—My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will propose an Humble Address to celebrate the platinum jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen.

Colleagues will also wish to be reminded that the House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 26 May and return on Monday 6 June.

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

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. If I may start with some parish news: Bristol Rovers 7, Scunthorpe nil. I am sure the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating Gasheads on that win and the resulting promotion to League One.

We were all sad that on Tuesday Her Majesty the Queen was unable to address Parliament. The glaring obviousness of her absence is testament to her unfaltering dedication to our country. We wish Her Majesty well and look forward to celebrating her platinum jubilee.

What a contrast between two constitutional figureheads: one is iconic, capable and the epitome of the high standards that the British public hold dear; the other one is the Prime Minister. Speaking of huge disappointments, I turn to the content of the Queen’s Speech. The Tories promised renters reform in the previous two Queen’s Speeches; in this week’s—the third—there is a mention of a White Paper. The victims Bill has featured in four Queen’s Speeches and three manifestos and is still only in draft form. Gazing into my crystal ball, I see the future: me, months from now, asking, “Where have those Bills gone?”

There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech for women at work, or to close the pay, pensions or housing gaps that hurt women. There is no recognition of the rising child poverty rates that affect children in constituencies of Members from all parties, including those on the Government Benches. Will the Leader of the House please explain why the Government seem to have ignored women and children?

Last week, people from Cumberland to Wandsworth told this Government what they think of 15 Tory tax rises in two years, the cost of living crisis, inflation up, taxes up, debt up and economic growth stagnant. As there is clearly space in the business, will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to come to the House with the emergency Budget that Labour has long called for and that people throughout the country so badly need?

On 29 March, the House passed an Opposition motion that instructed the Government to place all documents, emails and so on about questions relating to the appointment of Lord Lebedev—a subject so ably explored by my right hon. Friend Angela Rayner—before the House by 28 April. I understand from advice given to me from clerkly quarters that because of Prorogation the deadline moved to this Tuesday, but either way it is still behind us.

When we debated that motion, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, Michael Ellis, said in his closing speech that, puzzlingly, the Government would not vote against the Opposition motion because

“the common practice is not to vote on Opposition motions”.—[Official Report, 29 March 2022; Vol. 711, c. 787.]

That must have been a surprise for the Leader of the House who, as Government Chief Whip in the 2019 Parliament, whipped his colleagues to vote down 50 out of 68 Opposition motions on subjects ranging from protecting leaseholders from unsafe cladding and supporting the steel industry to helping small business, and much more. Perhaps he can tell his colleagues—including, perhaps, his Cabinet Office colleague—why he instructed them to vote against those Opposition motions. Importantly, will he tell us exactly when his Government will comply with the motion that this House approved on the documents relating to Lord Lebedev?

The cost of living crisis, 15 Tory tax rises and the Government refusing to comply with the requirements of this House—what a mess. I really missed Big Ben and his friends ringing out across Westminster. Yesterday, we heard them once more, and the resumption of those chiming bells seems particularly apt, because this Government are certainly out of time.

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

It is good to see the hon. Lady back in good form. May I join her in paying tribute to Bristol Rovers? It was an extraordinary result. I cannot help but reflect for a moment on the disappointment that Northampton Town must have felt at getting pipped to the post, but I am sure that we all wish them well in the play-offs to come.

The hon. Lady mentioned Her Majesty the Queen and the jubilee to come. I know that the whole country is excited by the prospect of the jubilee and wishes Her Majesty well for the coming celebrations. The jubilee can certainly unite us not only across this Chamber but across the country as we join in celebrating the incredible achievement of 70 years on the throne.

That, of course, leads us to the Queen’s Speech. Undoubtedly, the hon. Lady is very keen to criticise what she described as, I think, “an empty Queen’s Speech”. We are proposing 33 Bills—33 Bills! This is the biggest legislative agenda that we have had for many, many Sessions. There is a huge amount in the Queen’s Speech to help communities across the country, to boost the economy, to make our streets safer, and to recover from the covid pandemic. We will need a huge amount of time in Parliament to get through that huge agenda. I know that she will want to go further and do more, but, rest assured, the Government are driven and committed to improving the lives of our constituents, and the Queen’s Speech is certainly a huge step in the right direction.

The hon. Lady made reference to the local elections. It is worth reflecting on the fact that a previous Leader of the Opposition, Edward Miliband, had a net gain of more than 800 councillors, so with a gain of circa 100 this time for Labour it is a little bit of a bridge too far to convince us that it is connecting with the electorate. The electorate, I think, see through its fibs and see through its lack of a plan. They acknowledge that the Government have an exciting legislative agenda, are on their side and are doing a very good job.

Finally, the hon. Lady came to the Humble Address motion. She will be aware that we have committed to releasing that information. I think I can share with the House that there are a number of security challenges in that information, which has been gone through in great detail, but it will be released to her and the House very soon. [Interruption.] Very soon. She will not have long to wait.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

My right hon. Friend will be well aware that, despite some difficult elections elsewhere, in the London borough of Harrow we gained eight seats from Labour and took control of the council for the first time since 2006. Will he join me in thanking and congratulating the councillors who were elected across England, Wales and Scotland last Thursday, the activists and all the support people who did the hard work and the hard graft to get them elected and get representation across our councils?

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

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in that. I pay tribute to all those elected, whatever political party they represent, and I wish them well in their careers as local councillors representing their communities. It is no surprise to me that the Conservative party made gains in Harrow, as Harrow has great leadership at its core under my hon. Friend. He is a true ambassador for his community and a great campaigner.

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

To that list, of course, we should add the Prime Minister, who sunk the Conservatives from second place to third place in Scotland, so well done to him.

I thank the Leader of the House for helpfully announcing the business up to the Whit recess. Try as I might, though, I could not find any scheduling of an emergency budget. This must now surely be a priority as we learn today that the UK economy has contracted by 0.1% and that inflation is at a 40-year high. The whole of the UK is suffering from a cost of living crisis, yet the Government’s priority is to give people in England the right to complain about a neighbour’s garden shed.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House is joining his Cabinet colleagues at their bonding session in Stoke-on-Trent this afternoon, but we can only imagine what a joyous occasion that will be. I hear Lee Anderson is in charge of the kitchen arrangements; he is offering cooking lessons to help Secretaries of State ensure that their Cabinet salaries go just that little bit further. Who knows? There might even be cake, and it might even be made from scratch, because they have so much to celebrate. The Prime Minister is still in place—a big hooray from everybody on the Back Benches over there.

We must have a debate on comedy performances, because the Levelling Up Secretary is apparently providing the after-dinner entertainment. Following his rip-roaring, side-splitting success yesterday, he is going to give all his best regional accents in an attempt to upset just about all parts of the United Kingdom. But that is this Government, is it not—laughing while the nation suffers? They fail to take seriously the utter despair and desperate conditions of our constituents. The Tories may still be in power, but any moral authority they might ever have had is now well and truly gone.

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

I am not quite sure what questions or requests for debates the hon. Gentleman made there, but he did draw attention to the state of the economy. It is worth reflecting that, following a global pandemic, the policies of Her Majesty’s Government meant that the UK economy grew fastest of any nation in the G7. That puts us in a robust place to assist with the global challenges of energy and food inflation. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has caused huge challenges around the world, with energy price spikes and the cost of food going up exponentially. That is something the Government take very seriously, and we have already invested £22 billion of support to help people through the cost of living challenges they face.

There is a lot more in the Queen’s Speech that will continue to grow the economy and ensure that we move towards a high-wage, high-skill economy so that people can earn their way out of some of the challenges they face, but there is also support for those who find themselves in difficult circumstances, which the Government wholly understand. There will be more from this Dispatch Box; this is something the Government understand, and we want to try to help mitigate the impact of those global challenges.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

During Prorogation, Mr Speaker, you announced that you would establish a Speaker’s Commission to ensure that the workplace we are privileged to be part of is as secure and as welcoming as it could possibly be. Could the Leader of the House find some Government time in which hon. Members could debate some of the changes they would welcome in this place—including, I hope, a condemnation of the constitutional sexism we find in the other place, where one eighth of the seats are reserved for men only?

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

I know this is something my hon. Friend has long campaigned on, and she has tabled a private Member’s Bill to that effect. Maybe she will be lucky enough in the private Member’s Bill ballot next week to have another crack at that. I join her in welcoming your announcement of the conference you are hoping to pull together, Mr Speaker. We will work across the House, and I know there is cross-party support for trying to improve the way people are treated. There are structures in place and I am sure that, working together, we can solve some of the challenges we face.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

Mr Speaker, I hope that you and the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating Gateshead Football Club, who were last week promoted to the national league from the national league north—a promotion secured, by the way, with a 2-2 away draw at Chorley, Mr Speaker. It is a great success, because the club was rescued by the fans, having been relegated from the national league for financial misdoings by the previous ownership. That is one reason why we need the urgent introduction of the governance provisions on football. I know there will be a White Paper produced, probably in the summer, but we want to see this done as a matter of urgency, because football is not out of the woods by a long way.

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

I realise that in praising Gateshead football club I am going down a rabbit hole of celebrating with all the football clubs who are seeking promotion through the play-offs. I see that Mr Sheerman has been bobbing in his seat. I hope he is not going to encourage me to wish Huddersfield Town well through the play-offs as they compete with Nottingham Forest.

It is worth reflecting on the positive impact that football has up and down this country, not only in drawing communities together but in getting young people out of the house and on to sports fields, and keeping themselves physically, and mentally, fit.

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Conservative, Thornbury and Yate

One of the consequences of the employment Bill not being included in the Queen’s Speech is that the vehicle to introduce neonatal leave and pay for 2023 is no longer available. Nobody wants to see another year where thousands of parents are not able to spend the appropriate amount of time with their premature or sick children. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for meeting me to discuss this and taking it so seriously. What steps will the Government now take to deliver this vital commitment on time?

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

My hon. Friend is undoubtedly an assiduous campaigner on this issue, as he has indicated. I have met him previously to try to assist him in his pursuit and will continue to try to assist him. He will be aware that the ballot for private Members’ Bill will take place next week and I wish him well in that, as he may well be able to pursue the cause in that way. However, there will be other routes whereby we can work together, and I encourage him to continue to engage with Ministers going forward.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I have every confidence that Huddersfield Town will succeed in being promoted to the premiership, but I will leave it there.

I want to ask the Leader of the House about a housekeeping matter. At the time of the last jubilee, some of us fought very hard to get the fountain in the main court—a gift from both Houses of Parliament to the Queen for the silver jubilee—working, and we did that in time. At the moment, it still is not operating—could he do something about that?

Can we soon have a proper debate on those selfish communities, towns and cities that create much, much waste but do not want to dispose of it in their own patch, exporting it to other constituencies and other parts of the country? As the Leader of the House will know, energy from waste in every community could support 20% of our energy needs.

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

I think I am right in saying that there are plans to make sure that the fountain is working for the platinum jubilee, and that extensive work has recently taken place in that area of the Palace of Westminster. There is also the prospect of the unveiling of a new gift to Her Majesty from both Houses in the very near future, and we will all be able to celebrate and enjoy that.

I hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments about waste, and clearly there are challenges in some communities. Disposal of waste is often a very controversial planning challenge for local authorities to overcome. Across Government and local government, we need to find ways to reduce waste and try to improve recycling. The Government are certainly committed to doing that, and I know he will continue to press the issue.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

In response to a business statement last month, my hon. Friend Bob Blackman called for a debate on Labour corruption in local government, and I echo that call. The current leader of Crawley Borough Council, when he was a parliamentary candidate, arranged for a housing contract that did not include Unite the Union. Unite the Union then said that it was going to withhold funding from his parliamentary campaign. That resulted, at a cost of over £150,000 to the taxpayer, in the council having to renegotiate the housing contract to include Unite the Union in it. I will be referring that to the district auditor, but may I again call for a debate on corruption in local government among Labour councils?

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 challenges my hon. Friend faces in Crawley. I know that he will pursue this alleged corruption and will not allow people to get away with that if it is the case. He will have the opportunity to raise the matter directly with the Secretary of State at next week’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions, and I am sure he will be in his place to do so.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the worsening economic and civil rights problems in Sri Lanka, an island of 22 million people? Protests on Monday saw nine people killed and 200 injured, allegedly by supporters of the Rajapaksa Government. Clearly there will be a need for the International Monetary Fund to intervene. Will his Government ensure that any IMF intervention takes heed of the past travesties of justice experienced by the Tamil community in Sri Lanka?

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

The hon. Lady is right to raise that terrible situation, and I am certainly sorry to hear about what is happening in Sri Lanka. I know that she will continue to raise it in the House. There will be an opportunity at Foreign Office questions on 21 June to raise it directly, but should the situation worsen, I am sure Ministers in the Foreign Office will update the House.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

Does the Leader of the House agree that it should be a priority in funding station improvements to ensure that all platforms, and therefore all trains, are accessible by all passengers? A bid to the accessible stations fund for lifts at Sandbach station to facilitate that should be strongly supported, as indeed it is by the local MP.

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

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the campaign she has run. I, too, have campaigned in my constituency, as Mr Speaker has in his, to try to improve access to railway services for those with disabilities. It is certainly something that the Secretary of State for Transport takes very seriously, and he is trying to address it with funding and opportunities for bids for funding. I am sure my hon. Friend will take the opportunity at Transport questions next week to raise the matter directly with the Secretary of State.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The closing of post office services in North East Fife is a blight on our communities. In the past year, we have had, or are shortly due to have, post offices closed in St Andrews, Ladybank, Balmullo, Newport, Wormit and Leuchars, removing vital services. A part-time mobile service is doing its best to make up for those losses, but there is a lack of a dedicated vehicle. When will the Government make time for a debate in this House on the worrying decline in traditional post office services and the support that is not there for badly needed alternatives?

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

I am disappointed to hear that; I am a huge fan of the post office. Personally, I think they do a fantastic job. They play a crucial role in our communities, providing key services; and the Government set out access criteria to ensure that services remain with reach of all citizens. I think 99% of the UK population should be within 3 miles of a post office outlet so that they can access those services. I am sorry to hear about the challenges that the hon. Lady faces, and I will pass on her concerns directly to the Minister, and hopefully she will get some answers.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Given that today is International Nurses Day, can my right hon. Friend advise me on how we can thank nurses across the country and especially in my constituency of Watford, not just today of all days, but throughout the year? Is there a way to do that formally and put my thanks on record?

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

My hon. Friend may well have just done that by raising it here in the Chamber. He is right to raise the great work that nurses do up and down this country, and I know that is supported across the House. We never know when we might need the support of the NHS, and it is good to know that it is there for us in our moments of need.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

In the Leader of the House’s football chat, he forgot to congratulate Manchester United on their victory over Nottingham Forest in the FA youth cup final last night. I am sure he will want to rectify that omission as a matter of urgency.

Moving on to more serious matters, a few weeks ago I met some constituents whose dog sadly died as a result of a fire in their home. The fire service says it was caused by a fault with a Hotpoint tumble dryer, but Hotpoint refuses to accept any responsibility. I am outraged that we have reached this point, forcing the family to look at legal action. Can we please have a debate on what more can be done to hold manufacturers to account for these kinds of faults?

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

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for celebrating Manchester United winning anything, which is a rare event these days. He went on to make a very serious point about tumble dryers and whether they are causing fires in people’s homes. There are clearly a number of safety regulations that products in our homes should meet. It is worthy of further debate, and I am sure that he will be in his place to raise those matters with the relevant Ministers when they are at the Dispatch Box.

Photo of Lucy Allan Lucy Allan Conservative, Telford

Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital is still not doing elective orthopaedic surgery. Many of my constituents, such as Mr Graham Cotton, who is 68, are suffering severe and constant pain, having already waited since before the start of the pandemic for surgery. If a hospital trust decides not to do much-needed surgery, it is answerable to no one—not patients, MPs or Ministers. It has no responsibility or duty to find an alternative provider. May we have a debate on the accountability of the NHS? It is simply wrong that desperately needed care is not provided and that no one is accountable or responsible to the patient.

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

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is truly an assiduous campaigner on health challenges in her constituency and the whole of Shropshire. The Health and Care Act 2022 includes measures designed to improve accountability to enhance public confidence in our NHS. The Government plan to spend £8 billion over the next three years to tackle the elective backlog. Clearly, covid has given a number of challenges to the NHS and has caused those backlogs. The Government are committed to trying to resolve that and to helping health services catch up so that our constituents can get the operations they desperately need.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

With apologies to Sir Winston Churchill, like

“the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone”,

the Northern Ireland protocol continues to plague Northern Ireland politics and affect our economy. There have been many reports in the media about moves by the Government to perhaps legislate directly to lance that boil. Can the Leader of the House give an indication about whether any movement is planned? Will it be brought to the House, and how quickly can we expect action on that matter to ensure that businesses know what is happening?

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 question. As he identifies, the protocol was clearly a huge issue in the Northern Ireland elections. It is something that the Foreign Secretary has been pursuing for a long time by trying to encourage EU colleagues to come to the table to find a way forward. She will continue with those plans. The hon. Gentleman is right to identify, however, that if we cannot find a way forward, the UK Government will clearly have to consider options to overcome the challenges that communities in Northern Ireland are facing. Shoring up and supporting the Good Friday agreement is a fundamental desire of the UK. The Good Friday agreement must be protected, so if the protocol is damaging it, the UK Government will have to take action.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

For the vast majority of our constituents, the largest purchase that they will make in their lifetime is a house for them and their family to live in. For my constituents living in Steinbeck Grange in Warrington, however, the opportunity to purchase a dream home has turned into a living nightmare. The Competition and Markets Authority has launched an investigation into the mis-selling of leasehold. Can the Leader of the House update us on where the CMA is with that investigation? Can we have a debate in the House on the opportunities to retrospectively fix the leasehold scandal that affects many people living in my constituency?

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. That subject would make a good Adjournment debate if he were to apply. We welcome the CMA’s action to tackle potential mis-selling and unfair terms, and the Government certainly want affected homeowners to obtain the justice and redress that they deserve. I know that my hon. Friend will play his part in drawing the House’s attention to the challenges that they face. It is DLUHC questions next Monday, and I am sure that he will be in his place to raise the matter again directly with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

Every 22 minutes, someone is killed or seriously injured on UK roads, and police describe speeding as one of the fatal five. Last week, we learned that Nottinghamshire’s police and crime commissioner, who was elected on a promise to tackle speeding on our roads, has admitted breaking the law five times in 12 weeks, including twice near a Nottingham primary school. What does that say about her commitment to road safety?

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

The hon. Lady will be aware that that case is ongoing, I think, so I am not going to comment on the individual court case. However, I would say that speeding is something that should be condemned. Local authorities, the police and the Government put measures in place to try to reduce speeds, particularly around our schools. As someone who has done an enormous amount of campaigning on speeding, certainly in the villages in my own constituency, I will continue to pursue those who break the law by speeding.

Photo of Robert Largan Robert Largan Conservative, High Peak

Spring brings the familiar sights of daffodils, newborn lambs and, less cheerfully, temporary traffic lights, as councils across the country rush to spend their annual roads budget before financial year end. Due to poor planning and communication between Derbyshire and Tameside councils, residents in Glossop have been subjected over the last few weeks to complete traffic gridlock as major roadworks have been approved on both of the main roads out of the town, which underlines the long-term need finally to build the Mottram bypass. In the meantime, can we have a debate on the way councils’ roads budgets work and the need for long-term strategic planning over several years, rather than the annual chaos we see every spring?

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

I am sorry to hear of the challenges my hon. Friend is facing in High Peak. He will have the opportunity at DLUHC questions on Monday to raise those matters directly with the Secretary of State. I certainly share his frustration at times of sitting at temporary traffic lights, especially when, after finally getting through those traffic lights, it does not appear that anything is happening.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

May is a very important month, and today, as well as being International Nurses Day, is the birthdate of Florence Nightingale. In addition, today is also my birthday—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—a day I share with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although, sadly, I have celebrated 12 more birthdays than he has.

Even more importantly than that, May is Melanoma Awareness Month. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, and protection from ultraviolet rays is key to lowering the risk of this disease. Cancer Research UK has found that skin cancer rates have more than doubled since the 1990s. Will the Leader of the House join me in lobbying the Chancellor to reclassify sun cream as an essential healthcare item, instead of a cosmetic item, thereby exempting it from VAT and making it more affordable for more people to protect themselves from the risk of skin cancer?

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

First, I wish Florence Nightingale, the hon. Member and the Chancellor of the Exchequer a happy birthday.

The hon. Member is absolutely right to raise melanoma as an issue in this House, and I thank her for doing so. The more we talk about it, the more people will be aware of a change in a mole or a growth on a part of their body that needs early detection. I think I am right in saying that the earlier we detect these things, the better the chances of the NHS being able to solve the particular problem. I hear her request to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I shall pass that on directly to him, and I am sure that, at a future Budget, it will be something he will consider.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme this year is loneliness. I would like to take this chance to thank organisations nationally and locally in my constituency, such as Age UK in Gateshead and the MHAMethodist Homes—in the west of the borough for the work they do in tackling loneliness. Can we have a debate in Government time on the issue of loneliness to make sure that we are doing all we can to tackle it?

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

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important matter, and for raising the profile of the challenges that some people face with loneliness. I join her in celebrating the work of the many individuals and charities that do great work in this area. I certainly think it would be worthy of a Westminster Hall debate or an Adjournment debate. It is something on which I am sure she will continue to have support across the House and that she will continue to pursue.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Leaseholders in Cambridge and across the country are continuing to suffer punishing insurance premiums. Their homes are safe, but because of the fallout from the issues around the removal of cladding and the EWS1 fiasco, they are punished. That is quite unfair, so can we have a statement from the Secretary of State—I do not mind whether it is in a scouse accent, an American accent or a Scots accent—to explain to us why my constituents are still suffering in this way?

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

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity at DLUHC questions on Monday when the Secretary of State will be at the Dispatch Box to answer any questions of that nature. The Government recognise the challenges facing people who have suffered from the miscladding, let us say, of their properties and we brought forward the Building Safety Act 2022 and other legislation to try to address those challenges.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

Yesterday at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Professor Lorand Bartels, professor of international trade law at the University of Cambridge, was asked about the ramifications for trade with the European Union if article 16 is invoked. In the afternoon at the Committee, the Minister for Trade Policy spoke passionately about the problems with the current checks in the Irish sea. However, she was unable to give an answer on the legal basis upon which article 16 could be invoked. May we have an urgent question from the Attorney General about the legal basis for the invocation of article 16?

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 question, and should there be any triggering of article 16 he should and would expect a statement from the Dispatch Box from the relevant Minister; I would be amazed if that was not the case. The Government would of course update the House on any changes, but there are currently no plans to trigger article 16. Our discussions with the EU continue over the challenges of the Northern Ireland protocol, but it is a challenge we need to overcome; I encourage the EU to work with us to protect the Good Friday agreement, but that needs to happen on a very rapid timescale because it does need resolving.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Syrian family of 13-year-old Firas were told in 2018 that they would be resettled to the United Kingdom, but they are still waiting and, heartbreakingly, that severely disabled kid died in Beirut with his family struggling to pay for medical care, food and clothes. Some 2,000 refugee families are currently in a similar situation according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The resettlement programme can be transformational but we must not leave families hanging on for so long. May we have an urgent statement on steps to be taken to speed up the resettlement programme and help more families like Firas’s?

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 challenges the hon. Gentleman outlined. If he writes to me on the specific case, I will of course raise that directly with the relevant Minister on his behalf. The Government have a great track record in supporting families coming to the UK and taking refugees not only from Syria but from Afghanistan and now Ukraine, and if I can assist him in his pursuits, I will do everything I can.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

The David Livingstone birthplace museum in Blantyre in my constituency has been nominated for the best permanent exhibition at the museums and heritage awards. The museum documents Livingstone’s life and career, good and bad, and seeks to educate about Scotland’s role in slavery and colonisation. Having visited a number of times, I can attest to the power of the exhibition. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the museum and schedule a debate in Government time on the importance of the arts and culture sector in educating communities?

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

I join the hon. Lady in that celebration; I was not aware of the Livingstone museum but it sounds interesting and I am sure tourists up and down the country will be making their way to her constituency to enjoy the exhibition. I join her, too, in celebrating all tourist attractions and museums; that is worthy of a debate and I am sure that if she were to apply for a Westminster Hall debate, many colleagues would want to participate.

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

I thank the Leader of the House for all the time he gives to answering all our difficult question; they are sometimes more difficult than others, but I hope he will agree with mine. In Ethiopia recent violent clashes between Muslims and Orthodox Christians have left at least 30 people dead and more than 100 injured. Will he join me in condemning the attacks and ask the relevant Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister to make a statement calling on the local authorities in Ethiopia to carry out timely, independent and transparent investigations into the attacks?

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman, whom Mr Speaker always saves till last. I do not know why he does that—it feels a little bit like the good news story at the end of the ITN news. I saw that he was present for the urgent question to the Foreign Office Minister, when he also asked about religious oppression around the world. He is an assiduous campaigner on this topic and, at the end of his career—I think that is a long way away—we will all be able to reflect on the positive impact that he has had around the world on religious freedom. I know that he will continue to pursue those aims.