Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 11:20 am on 26th May 2022.

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

It would be a pleasure.

The business for the week commencing 6 June will include:

Monday 6 JuneSecond Reading of the National Security Bill.

Tuesday 7 JuneOpposition day (1st allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the Official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 8 JuneSecond Reading of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

Thursday 9 June—General debate on social housing and building safety followed by a general debate on the Government’s strategic priorities for OFWAT. The subject for the second debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 10 JuneThe House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 13 June will include:

Monday 13 June—Remaining stages of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

Tuesday 14 June—Second Reading of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill.

Wednesday 15 June—Opposition day (2nd allotted day). Debate on a motion in the name of the Official Opposition, subject to be announced.

Thursday 16 June—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 17 June—The House will not be sitting.

Right hon. and hon. Members might also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the summer recess at the close of business on Thursday 21 July and return on Monday 5 September. The House will rise for the conference recess at the close of business on Thursday 22 September and return on Monday 17 October. The House will rise for the November recess at the close of business on Wednesday 9 November and return on Monday 14 November. The House will rise for the Christmas recess at the close of business on Wednesday 21 December and return on Monday 9 January. The House will rise for the February recess at the close of business on Thursday 9 February and return on Monday 20 February. Sitting Fridays will be announced in due course. I hope that that information is welcome news to right hon. and hon. Members.

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

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us not only the forthcoming business but the recess dates, for which members of staff have been asking me. I am very grateful: he went further even than I asked, so fair do’s—Brucie bonus time!

I start, and I am sure the Leader of the House will join me, by wishing the Queen well on her platinum jubilee. I look forward to the Chamber commemorating that historic milestone later today. She has shown remarkable leadership and dedication to public service over 70 years.

I also invite the Leader of the House to join me in congratulating Labour’s sister party in Australia on its positive campaign in the election down under. I am inspired by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s victory, ousting a stale Conservative Government who were out of touch and out of ideas.

Yesterday, the damning verdict on Downing Street’s law-breaking parties was published. Can the Leader of the House say whether anyone in Government received a copy of Sue Gray’s report in advance of its publication and whether they attempted to change it? Failures of leadership and judgment at the heart of Government are mentioned in the report, and it was particularly sickening to learn of the total lack of respect for and poor treatment of staff, with security staff being mocked and cleaners left to mop up. Will he clarify whether any of those who mocked staff are special advisers? If so, has the Prime Minister sacked them? If not, why not?

The report concludes that those at the top must bear responsibility for a culture that allowed such flagrant disregard for the rules. Yesterday, the Prime Minister seemed too busy focusing on saving his own skin to deal with the Tory cost of living crisis. He also said that all senior leadership in No. 10 has changed, which I found a little odd. Does he not count himself as senior leadership?

On the cost of living crisis, one in eight energy customers is already struggling to pay their bills, and that is before bills are expected to go up by a further £800 in October. We know that the Chancellor will make a statement shortly and we will of course scrutinise his proposals carefully, but why has it taken so long? It really does look as though the Government delayed their support for struggling families so that they could time the announcement as a distraction from the Sue Gray report. Every day, the Government have dragged their feet, as they continue to do, refusing to introduce Labour’s windfall tax on oil and gas producers. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been added to the bills of households across the country.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you and I agree that it is important that Members are able to hold Ministers to account in this place first, yet it has been widely trailed in the media this morning that the Chancellor will be making the inevitable screeching U-turn that we all knew he would have to make eventually. Will the Leader of the House please remind his colleagues that major policy statements should be made by Ministers in this place first, not briefed to the media?

I am sorry to have to bring this up again, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I have cleared it with the Clerk, the Table Office, and the other Madam Deputy Speaker, Dame Eleanor Laing. I want to make that clear. There have been allegations made about the Conservative party’s failure to take proper action following allegations put to it about alleged child abuse by a parliamentary candidate. Will the Leader of the House now attempt to restore victims and survivors’ faith in the Conservative party’s safeguarding processes? He could do that now by committing to an independent inquiry into the party’s handling of such issues.

Months ago, we were promised fresh data on response times to written parliamentary questions and ministerial replies to MPs’ correspondence. I am glad to say that after pressure from those on the Opposition Benches, a written statement on the subject is on the Order Paper today. However, it does not solve the problem of the long wait that Members’ staff are experiencing, not only as regards Parliamentary questions but when calling MPs’ hotlines, such as those in the Home Office. Constituency offices are even starting to receive significantly higher phone bills for the office as a result. Will the Leader of the House urge the Home Secretary, just as an example, to increase capacity for the hotline so that Members and our staff—it is usually our staff—can best support constituents, such as those constituents who cannot get passports not just for a well deserved holiday but for ID for a job or somewhere to live?

With a Government too busy plotting how they will get away with it, as cited in the Sue Gray report, rather than introducing a proper plan to deal with soaring inflation, falling wages and a stagnant economy, it is now time for Tory MPs to act and remove the Prime Minister, who has lost the confidence of the British people.

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

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thought that you would be in Doncaster celebrating its city status, for which I know you have been campaigning for a long time.

I join Thangam Debbonaire in celebrating the Queen’s 70th jubilee. It will be a huge opportunity for the country to celebrate and get together to recognise a huge achievement in public service by Her Majesty. I also join her in congratulating the Australian Government on their success. We look forward to working with them on trade and international matters as we move forward.

We then got into the usual flurry of accusations and snipes. Of course, the hon. Lady started with the Sue Gray report. I am glad that Sue Gray has finally managed to get her report out there. It identifies the ongoing challenges in No. 10 but, as the Prime Ministers made clear, he has addressed the culture in No. 10 and changed the senior management team. I think he was also shocked, as many colleagues would be, by the treatment of security and cleaning staff. That is why yesterday the Prime Minister went around and apologised in person to those security and cleaning teams on behalf of those people who were rude to them. I think that was the right thing to do. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the culture has now changed within No. 10, and he is now focused on what matters to the British people: the global fight against inflation, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and making sure that our constituents’ priorities are the Government’s priorities, as they always have been.

The hon. Lady mentioned the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He will be here at this Dispatch Box very soon, and I will not pre-empt what he is about to say, for no other reason than that I do not know. I look forward to hearing what the Chancellor says. What I do know is that this Chancellor has already announced £22 billion-worth of support. He is a Chancellor who, instead of giving us knee-jerk reactions and political gimmicks, thinks through the economic and fiscal plans that he will bring forward and makes sure that in those plans he gives genuine support to those who need it, while not incentivising people away from making long-term investments to continue to pay the Exchequer the tax from their successful businesses. That is the appropriate thing to do.

The hon. Lady finished by mentioning parliamentary questions. Yesterday, I appeared in front of the Procedure Committee to answer questions. It is a challenge that I recognise; we need to do better. As a constituency MP, I understand that many across the House will certainly be frustrated by the progress or the speed of return of some answers to parliamentary questions. As I have said before from the Dispatch Box, the global pandemic affected the speed with which some Departments answered, because they were focused on dealing with the pandemic. That excuse has now passed. We need to see an improvement in the response from different Departments.

However, I gently say to the hon. Lady—I know she is in her happy place when she is sniping from the sidelines—that this week we have seen the Labour party this week vote against the Public Order Bill, putting it on the side of Extinction Rebellion, not on the side of hard-working people. Extinction Rebellion are the people who seized an oil tanker full of cooking oil. We have seen Labour vote against the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, because it has no interest in addressing the challenges that Northern Ireland faces. The shadow spokesman actually said that

“the rights of victims and veterans are equal to the rights of terrorists”.—[Official Report, 24 May 2022; Vol. 715, c. 193.]

The Labour party put itself in completely the wrong place this week. It will do anything it can to avoid taking responsibility and making the difficult decisions that this Government are having to take in the interests of the country.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the Leader of the House for his kind comments about Doncaster’s city status. We are all absolutely delighted.

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact

I was delighted to welcome the Sports Minister, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston to Staffordshire last week to officially open the mountain biking venue for the upcoming Commonwealth games. It has been announced that our county town of Stafford will be part of the Queen’s baton relay. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right not only to have a debate on the UK’s ties across the Commonwealth, but to ensure that we deliver a positive economic legacy for people and businesses in Stafford?

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

My hon. Friend is a huge champion for Stafford and Staffordshire. I know that she secured the baton coming to Stafford, which will be an opportunity for her community to celebrate the Commonwealth games. There are huge economic opportunities for the country in our hosting the Commonwealth games in the west midlands in the near future. I know that my hon. Friend will make the most of making sure the legacy of those games will be felt around her constituency, and I congratulate her on the work she is doing.

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

I add to the congratulations on Doncaster being named a city. Dunfermline, my hometown in Scotland, was also added to that list. There is only one issue that our constituents want debated, and that is the fallout from the Sue Gray report, the appalling culture at No. 10 and why this Prime Minister is still in his place. The Prime Minister might think that moving on at lightning speed to do something he could and should have done weeks ago on the cost of living crisis will make this go away, but it will not. It simply will not go away.

Our constituents are utterly furious and they are simply not satisfied with the Prime Minister’s mealy-mouthed apologies and his drivel about being humbled. They want us to debate why it was okay for No. 10 to have parties to say goodbye to employees, but no other workplace in the country was offered that facility. They want us to debate why there is one rule for this Government and another rule for everybody else in the country. They want to know why things got so out of hand at those parties that people ended up being sick, fights broke out and walls were stained with wine. They want to be told why it was okay to demean and belittle the staff whose job it was to clean up that mess, and to humiliate the security staff charged with keeping the circus safe.

Mostly, our constituents want their MPs to make sure that the Prime Minister hears, in pristine detail, the sacrifices that they all made in abiding by those rules while he oversaw and was responsible for an organisation that gratuitously partied. This is not going to go away. The people of the United Kingdom want the Prime Minister gone, and in democratic countries the people usually get their way. It is up to Conservative Back Benchers to either get rid of him or go down with him. Let us have a debate led by the Prime Minister and let us hold this rotten delusional Government to account properly.

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

I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Dunfermline on securing city status, but I think that is as far as I can go in agreeing with him. He speaks of what he says is the one topic that everybody wants to debate, but my experience is that people are sick and tired of hearing about it. They want the Government to focus on what actually matters to them—the global fight against inflation and an aggressive Russian state invading Ukraine and causing huge ripples around the world in energy and food prices. The hon. Gentleman says that that is the one topic that people want to debate, but it is the only topic that he wants to talk about. I thought he might have congratulated the First Minister on becoming the longest-serving First Minister in Scotland. After seven years, he might want to accept some responsibility for the disastrous performance of the Scottish Government and what we have seen in Scotland. They have let down schoolchildren; one academic in Scotland has said that

“governing became the servant of campaigning”.

That is why their education system is in tatters and drug deaths are at their highest level, and have been for seven years in a row. That says everything about SNP Members: they are more interested in stoking division and trying to challenge the Union than delivering for their constituents.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am obviously delighted that your campaign paid off, Madam Deputy Speaker, and Doncaster got city status, as I was born and brought up there. Next week, the Government will announce the city of culture 2025. One of the four finalists in that competition is Bradford. Were Bradford to win that accolade, it would build on the strong cultural offer it already has, including the Brontës in the constituency of my hon. Friend Robbie Moore, the world heritage site of Saltaire in my constituency and the fact that Bradford was the first ever UNESCO city of film. Given that the House will not be sitting next week, and that winning would provide a huge boost to the whole district, which has been overlooked for far too long, and to the city, which has been punching below its weight for far too long, will the Leader of the House speak to his Cabinet colleague, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and join me in lobbying her to announce that Bradford is the city of culture 2025?

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

I trust that my hon. Friend was in his place for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions this morning to lobby the Secretary of State directly.

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

Well, I cannot speak for Madam Deputy Speaker in failing to call the hon. Gentleman. We are always pleased to hear from him and I am surprised that he did not get called. Of course, I wish Bradford well and the other three cities that are bidding for city of culture. We await with anticipation the announcement of which city it will be. I am sure that whichever is the winner, it will be a great opportunity to visit and see the culture of that city.

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

Can I, too, add my congratulations to Doncaster? I visit it every week—on the way up and on the way down—albeit briefly.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing two weeks’ business and for the veritable flurry of recess dates. I can give advance notice that the first debate in Backbench time on Thursday 16 June will be a debate to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I again congratulate him on the work his Committee does. I think the Grenfell debate will be a great opportunity to remember what was a terrible and tragic event. I know he will continue to bring such matters to the House, and I congratulate him on his work.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

In November 2020, the Chancellor of the Exchequer approved the creation of another £150 billion of new money by the Bank of England and extended the guarantee against losses on all the bonds the Bank holds, making it a Treasury liability. Can we have an early statement or debate in Government time on how that has worked out, what impact it had on inflation and what impact it might have on the public finances?

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

I can deliver for my right hon. Friend: the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be at this Dispatch Box straight after me, and my right hon. Friend will have an opportunity to challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer directly himself.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

Next week, on 30 May, it will be the 50th anniversary of the Battersea funfair disaster, where five children died and 13 others were injured. I have been supporting the call for a permanent memorial and more support for children suffering trauma. As one survivor told me this week,

“bones are mended, physical injuries fixed but the dreadful damage to our mental health goes untreated.”

So will the Government schedule a debate in their time on improving mental health services and support for children and young people dealing with long-term trauma?

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

I thank the hon. Member for her question, and I join her in expressing sympathy to those who were victims of the Battersea funfair disaster. I wish her well in her campaign to get a permanent memorial. I think what she mentioned about mental health is worthy of debate, and I would encourage her to apply for a Westminster Hall debate or an Adjournment debate where she could pursue that.

Photo of Lucy Allan Lucy Allan Conservative, Telford

Can I thank the Leader of the House for visiting the factory that makes Parliament’s magnificent encaustic tiles in my constituency this week? I am delighted that he enjoyed his visit as much as he did.

In Telford, we are getting ready to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee in style, with many fantastic events being organised by parish councils in every area of our community—bringing people together, and celebrating and giving thanks for the extraordinary service of Her Majesty. I want particularly to highlight the work of Hollinswood and Randlay parish council for its organisation of a platinum jubilee service and thanksgiving in Telford Town park on Saturday 4 June. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Telford’s parish councils and their clerks for their service to Telford, and may we have a debate on the important role that parish councils play in our communities?

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, and can I start by thanking the team at Jackfield for hosting me on Monday? I have turned into a bit of an art geek in that I am now walking around and looking at the tiles in Westminster to see the work they have done. Like many colleagues across the House, I rather take for granted this beautiful Palace in which we work—something that should be protected for future generations—and the art in this building is only here because of the excellent craftsmanship of companies such as those at Jackfield.

I join my hon. Friend in thanking parish councils. I think parish councils up and down the country, especially those in Telford, are doing great work. It is unpaid and it is often unrewarded, but without our parish councils our communities would be a little bit poorer. I cannot not mention Woodlands Primary School, which I also visited on Monday, where I was interrogated by those on the school council. It was a great visit, and their enthusiasm for democracy was refreshing.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

We probably all saw the reports at the beginning of the week on the incarceration and torture of the Uyghur Muslims in China, which prove something we all thought was happening and has been widely previously reported. We had an urgent question the following day, but there was a time when we had regular statements on China and the conduct of the regime there. Could we have a statement again?

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

The hon. Gentleman is right: there was an urgent question this week, when that was considered. The Foreign Secretary will be here on 21 June to answer Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions, which will be another opportunity for him to raise the matter directly with her. I know that this raises concerns with a number of colleagues across the House and I think a Backbench Business or Adjournment debate would be popular.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

We are all looking forward to the jubilee celebrations, but the RMT—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—has called a strike at Green Park and Euston stations for Friday 3 June, it has called out the whole of the underground for Monday 6 June and I understand that strike action is threatened on all rail services throughout the country. At the moment, we do not seem to have had a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport on the action the Government will take to stop the RMT paralysing the jubilee celebrations.

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

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the outrageous RMT threat to destroy jubilee celebrations for thousands of people across the country and their ability to travel to those celebrations. The Secretary of State for Transport has been working closely with rail unions to try to deter them from this action. Strike action should be the absolute last resort rather than the first port of call. I hope they reflect on the misery they are going to inflict on millions of people during the jubilee celebrations.

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)

The energy company obligation, or ECO, is the Government’s cornerstone scheme for supporting fuel for homes with energy-efficient measures. Delays to the next stage of the scheme, ECO4, would have devastating impacts on fuel-poor homes and the energy-efficiency industry. If it is delayed until after the summer recess, an extra 55,000 homes—households and families—could be plunged into fuel poverty. Is the energy Bill, which is necessary legislation for ECO4, going to come to this House before the summer recess? It matters.

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

The hon. Lady is right that the energy Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech and it is of course an important part of our legislative agenda. She is also right to highlight that we need our energy companies to be investing in our long and medium-term future, which we are encouraging them to do. We are making great progress in making sure we have a diverse energy supply. She will have the opportunity to challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer directly as he will be at the Dispatch Box after me. As for the energy Bill and its timing, I am sure that will be announced from the Dispatch Box in the usual way.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Patients in hospitals should be well cared for and safe, so my constituent Mr Walsh was devasted when his 41-year-old son was unlawfully killed in a hospital ward at the hands of security staff personnel who had only been trained to the same level as a person working as a bouncer on the door of the local nightclub or pub. Will my right hon. Friend provide some time for a debate on that to consider the use of restraint in settings where people are vulnerable, such as hospitals and a number of other settings? This issue does need to be addressed in a debate.

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

I am truly sorry to hear about the plight of Mr Walsh. That sounds like a shocking set of circumstances. Health questions are on 14 June and I hope my hon. Friend will be in her place then to ask the Secretary of State what he can do to assist, but I wish her well in her pursuit of the truth of what happened.

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

May I also congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on Doncaster becoming a city? I hope that comes with a lot of investment and innovation, if we really believe in levelling up. I support, too, Bradford’s city of culture bid. We will not mention Huddersfield’s wonderful weekend: we can see Huddersfield twice in brilliant football and rugby league matches.

It is now clear that the Government want to privatise the BBC; it is not just Channel 4. It is very clear from the statement by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that it is the ambition of this Government to abolish the BBC. In the year we are celebrating the Queen’s platinum jubilee, here is the thanks we give her subjects, who value the BBC as one of the other great institutions of our country. Can we have an early debate on that?

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

I seem inadvertently to have started a Doncaster celebration. I wish the Huddersfield Giants well in the rugby league final. We will park that one there.

Perhaps I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is no agenda to privatise the BBC or to abolish the BBC, as he suggested. The BBC is a great institution, but we need to recognise that TV and media viewing is changing. The modern world is different from the 1950s, when the BBC was created. A modern BBC needs to compete in the modern world, and the Government will assist it in doing so.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. There is a big statement after the business question, so I urge colleagues to be very brief in their questions.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

A local vicar in my constituency has applied to take in Ukrainian refugees. The grandparents have been approved to come to my constituency. Unfortunately, their 11-year-old grandson has not been given permission because of red tape, as far as I can see. There is no policy, as yet, for unaccompanied minors to come to this country. He is not unaccompanied, because of his grandparents. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week from the Minister who can cut red tape, so that this Ukrainian family can come to my constituency as soon as possible?

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

If my hon. Friend writes to me with the details, I will raise his question directly with the Home Secretary on his behalf.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth, according to a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights 18 months ago and, prior to giving birth, they are 40% more likely than white women to suffer a miscarriage. That is a shocking inequality. Will the Leader of the House consider a debate in Government time on how to breach those serious inequalities in maternity care between black and white women?

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

I thank the hon. Lady for that question, and I join her in the ambition to close that gap in service that those women feel. Maternity services up and down the country are working hard to help with childbirth. Hopefully she will be in her place on 14 June for Health questions, and I think an Adjournment debate or Backbench Business debate would be widely supported.

Photo of Ruth Edwards Ruth Edwards Conservative, Rushcliffe

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Nottingham Forest on reaching the championship play-off final and wishing them the very best of luck for Sunday? Does he agree that, when they return victorious from Wembley, we should have a debate in Government time on their triumphs—past, present and future?

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

To be honest, I am torn between overenthusiasm and fearing that I will jinx what might be a marvellous day. I say to my hon. Friend, “City Ground, Oh mist rolling in from the Trent, My desire is always to be there, Oh City Ground.” Let’s see what happens on Sunday.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

Last Saturday, my constituent Andrew McLeod was trying to board his 7.20 flight to Alicante. He passed through security and passport control, but even though his passport was valid until 22 December, he was refused access to his flight because the airline was using the metric of date of issue plus 10 years minus three months, which meant his passport was invalid. He is not alone. This is an issue that has now been picked up by the media. Given the enormous pressure on HM Passport Office that we are all aware of, this is a significant problem that people are finding out about only as they attempt to board. Mr McLeod is not worried about his own circumstances—his family were upset but they went on holiday—but he is concerned about those travelling with some urgency or for compassionate reasons. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Office to issue urgent clarification on this rule, so it is well understood not just by Members and the public but, most important, by airlines? Will an urgent statement be brought forward on the matter?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I really do need to emphasise that the questions need to be brief, otherwise we just will not get through everybody.

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 plight of Mr McLeod. I hope his family had a good time while they were away, despite him not being with them. I will, of course, pass on the hon. Member’s comments directly to the Home Secretary. She has been investing in many more staff in the Passport Office to try to get through the backlog. I think we have already seen 700 announced on top of the 500 already recruited, so the Home Office is focused on solving these challenges.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I thank the Leader of the House for visiting Biggleswade in my constituency last week. So he will know that the flight paths for Luton Airport have changed recently, creating air and noise pollution for Potton, Sandy and Biggleswade and, further, that Luton Airport is seeking a substantial expansion in capacity. He may not know that Labour-run Luton Council currently gets tens of millions of pounds from Luton Airport, and there is nothing for surrounding communities. Can we have a debate in Government time on how communities can benefit if airports are allowed to expand?

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 and his hospitality last week in Biggleswade. It is an important issue that is worthy of further debate. Transport questions are on 30 June and I am sure he will be in his place to challenge the Secretary of State directly, but an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate on the benefit of Luton Airport and regional airports would be worthy of further discussion.

Photo of Paulette Hamilton Paulette Hamilton Labour, Birmingham, Erdington

I am campaigning to oppose the latest planning application for a betting shop on Erdington High Street. We already have seven bookies on the High Street and the last thing we need is yet another one. Last year, a multi-million pound bid to transform Erdington High Street was turned down by the Government. We will be submitting another application soon and I hope that Ministers will not let us down this time. So can we have a debate on the vital need to invest in our high streets?

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

There are existing powers for local authorities to stop such applications and I encourage the hon. Lady to press her local authority to take a stand. I wish her well with her campaign. But I will pass her comments on to the planning Minister directly, so he can respond to her.

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

There are some reports in the local press that on 6 June the Government intend to introduce a Northern Ireland protocol amendment Bill. If that is the case, can the Leader of the House confirm that? If it is not, when do they intend to expedite this matter and will it be by accelerated passage?

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

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have announced the coming business for the two weeks after we return from recess, but he is right to highlight the protocol. It is an important issue that needs to be solved. We need to get Stormont back up and running, and we need to solve the challenges facing his community and communities across Northern Ireland. Discussions are ongoing with the EU, but the Government reserve the right to take action if we cannot solve those challenges through negotiation.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Elisha and the rest of the team at Blaen-y-Maes—I look forward to hearing him say that—Drop In centre on producing their new community cookbook? The book is free, funded by the city council, and recognises that what is left on the supermarket shelves at the end of the day and in foodbanks is not necessarily familiar to struggling families. It is a classic example of communities coming together to support each other, especially in the current economic crisis.

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. I am blessed to have my hon. Friend Fay Jones as my Parliamentary Private Secretary, so I have been tutored on how to say Blaen-y-Maes. I wish the hon. Lady’s community well. It is doing great work, and there are lots of suggestions from across the House on how families up and down the country can meet the economic challenge we face and the global battle against inflation.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

“The UK Government’s Strategy for International Development” was published as Command Paper 676 on 16 May, but the Government have not seen fit to schedule either a statement or a debate so that Members can scrutinise this significant change in international development policy, which particularly diminishes the role of tackling climate change, mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary either to come and lead a debate or make a statement on this important policy change as soon as possible?

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

There are Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions on 21 June. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be in his place to put those questions directly to the Foreign Secretary and that she will be able to respond in due course.

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

I have repeatedly raised concerns about unsafe maternity care at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. The Leader of the House will know that the review that was commissioned last year has lost the confidence of families, and of local MPs, and the Secretary of State said that it was not fit for purpose. On 22 April, we were told that the review would have new national oversight from NHS England and NHS Improvement under a new chair. On 4 May, that new chair resigned. Weeks later, we still do not know what is happening. Families have suffered unspeakable pain, and the delay and uncertainty is adding to their trauma. Will he urge the Health Secretary to provide an urgent update and do what everyone knows is obvious, which is to appoint Donna Ockenden to chair the review?

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

I join the hon. Lady in her campaign and I pay tribute to her for the work she has done. There are Health questions on 14 June and I hope that she will raise that with the Health Secretary directly. However, I will assist her in any way I can to improve maternity services in Nottinghamshire and the wider area.

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

My constituency office in Blaydon cannot be the only one to still be inundated with passport queries from distraught residents who are facing a tight deadline and increased charges from travel companies for the rearrangement of dates. Will the Leader of the House ask the Government to make a statement about the very practical steps that they intend to take to ensure that this fiasco is sorted out?

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

I recognise the challenge that the hon. Lady highlights. There are Home Office questions on 20 June and the Home Secretary will be here to answer questions directly. However, she has already introduced 500 staff, with 700 more coming before the summer. That is a commitment to improve the performance of the Passport Office and we are starting to see the results of the extra staff now.

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

In the interests of transparency, I declare that I am a trustee of the wonderful Albany theatre, which is a cornerstone of my city of Coventry. It does such wonderful work with its productions that represent people from all backgrounds, enabling them to enjoy, have access to and participate in the theatre. Recently, it applied for national portfolio organisation status. Will the Leader of the House and his counterpart in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport meet me to discuss what we can do to further strengthen the NPO application and to bring much needed investment into Coventry?

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

I join the hon. Lady in wishing that theatre all the best. I hope that she was in her place for DCMS questions this morning to highlight that cause. Coventry, of course, is a former city of culture. I am sure that people up and down the country will have taken the opportunity to visit Coventry and celebrate all that is cultural in the city.

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

Tomorrow, 27 May, is World Animal Free Research Day. The sentient rights of animals in the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 could, and should, have been strengthened to recognise the rights of sentient animals undergoing horrific scientific testing and those in Ministry of Defence military experiments. Will the Leader of the House set out in a statement his support for all animals in the UK to have their rights as sentient beings enshrined in law, wherever they may be, and for a public scientific hearing on this issue? And will he join me in recognising that the European Union is moving away from cruel experiments on animals and using cutting-edge replacements?

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

The Government have a very good track record on animal welfare. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the fact that we were the first Government to introduce an animal sentience Bill. More Bills on animals were announced in the Queen’s Speech. We have a great track record on welfare and agricultural production in the UK; we are a proud nation of animal lovers, and I see no reason why that will not continue.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

May I return to the issue of written parliamentary questions? I have frustrations not only about the timeliness of responses from the Department of Health and Social Care, but about the standard of those responses when we get them. For example, in relation to the immunocompromised, the clinically extremely vulnerable and the clinically vulnerable, I asked what equalities impact assessment the Department had made in relation to the Government’s living with covid strategy. The reply from the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Maggie Throup, stated that she was

“unable to provide the information requested as it relates to the formulation of Government policy.”

That is why I asked the question! Will the Leader of the House pull his finger out and get Ministers to respond to written parliamentary questions not only in time, but at a much better standard than we are getting from the Department of Health and Social Care?

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

I have committed several times at the Dispatch Box to trying to improve the speed at which answers come from Departments. The hon. Gentleman will understand that the Department of Health and Social Care was smashed with questions when it was fighting a global pandemic; I think we can excuse the speed at which some responses came last year. We are now through that pandemic, thanks to the Department’s hard work, and I am sure we will see an improvement in the speed at which questions are answered. I cannot guarantee that the hon. Gentleman will always like the answers, though: there may be some political differences between us, and his not liking the answers may not be something to which I can deliver a solution.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

When I was elected as one of the youngest MPs two and a half years ago, I had fantastic support from more experienced local councillors and activists in Coventry, and none more so than Councillor John Mutton. Very sadly, John passed away suddenly the weekend before last, leaving behind his wonderful wife Mal, two sons, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and an unrivalled legacy in Coventry. As leader of the council in 2010, John put his anti-austerity principles into practice, defending services from Government cuts. Perhaps his proudest achievement was championing the international children’s games, winning him international respect; he helped to bring the games back to Coventry this August. Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to John? Will he give Government time for hon. Members to thank our dedicated local public servants?

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

I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to John; she has done an excellent job of paying tribute to him. I think that celebrating local government and all the sacrifices of those who work in it is worthy of debate. I hope that such a debate would have cross-party support.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I have dozens of constituents who are desperate to bring family members to this country through legal routes, including a father who has been separated from his wife and son for more than six months. His son is due to celebrate his first birthday in July: he will have spent only three months of his life with his father. The reason for the delay in processing the mother’s visa, we are told, is the pressures on the Home Office from Ukrainian visa processing, but let us not forget that it was Ministers who insisted on all the red tape around bringing Ukrainian refugees over. Will the Leader of the House grant time for a debate to discuss delays across the Home Office?

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

I am glad that the hon. Lady recognises that legal routes are the best routes to get to the United Kingdom. We have a great track record to celebrate. We are a very compassionate country: we have taken refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and now Ukraine, and that will continue. The Home Office is working very hard to expedite the process as quickly as possible.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

In 2016, a court judgment established that joint enterprise had been incorrectly applied for more than 30 years, but research by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies with the campaign group JENGbA—Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association—supports the belief that that judgment has had little to no effect on joint enterprise convictions. Young black men are disproportionately targeted. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on the miscarriages of justice arising from joint enterprise laws and on the legislative solutions, including a private Member’s Bill, that are needed to correct those historical and current injustices?

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

I hope that the hon. Lady will be present for Home Office questions on 20 June to raise those matters directly with the Home Secretary, but let me say now that the Government take the fight against crime very seriously. That is why the Queen’s Speech included an economic crime Bill and a victims Bill, and that is why we have committed ourselves to providing an extra 20,000 police officers, 13,500 of whom have already been recruited. Dealing with crime is at the top of our agenda, and we are delivering on that.

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

There is a catastrophic famine in east Africa. According to a report published by Oxfam and Save the Children, someone is dying every 48 seconds. In the last year alone, the number of people experiencing extreme hunger has increased from 10 million to 23 million. We know from the experience of Band Aid, many years ago, that the British public are very generous, and they will want us to have a debate in Government time on the aid and debt-related response to this crisis. Will the Leader of the House commit himself to that?

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

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office questions will take place on 21 June, but the hon. Lady is right to point out that the UK has a fantastic track record of compassion and support for those who find themselves in difficult circumstances. We are proud of having introduced the aid target of 0.7% of GDP to support the Department for International Development. We take pride in our record, and it will continue.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Defence)

May I ask the Leader of the House again if he will back an independent inquiry into why allegations of child sexual abuse were ignored?

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

I am aware that the case to which the hon. Lady has referred is ongoing, but the Conservative party takes very seriously whom it chooses as candidates and how those candidates behave. There are now systems in the House that support victims, and the House has made a huge amount of cross-party progress in supporting those who come forward. The one thing that we can take from some of the terrible events we have seen is that if someone is a victim of abuse their allegations will be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated, and those who have committed abuse will be held to account.

Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

High streets in my constituency continue to be blighted by gambling venues that prey on some of the most vulnerable in society. I asked the right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor when the review of the Gambling Act 2005 would report, and was met with no answer. The report is now nearly eight months late. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on the damaging effects that these venues are having on vulnerable people, and what action will be taken to ensure that they cannot continue to buy up our high streets with such ease and break up our communities?

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 local authorities can stop betting shops appearing on the high streets if they wish to deploy their powers to do so. She should lobby her local council to make sure that it does not grant permission to too many of them.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

Access to Work provides practical advice and support for disabled people and their employers to help them to overcome work-related obstacles resulting from disability. It can support people in work, and help them to get into work. Support under the scheme can include communication support, support for interviews, help with travel costs and a support worker, British Sign Language interpreters, lipspeakers or note takers, and adaptations to people’s vehicles so that they can get to work. According to Scope, there are more than 4.7 million disabled people in work. In 2020-21, Access to Work provision was approved for about 36,000 people, a relatively small number. Will the Leader of the House allocate Government time for a debate on Access to Work to enable us to consider ways in which the scheme might be better publicised and access to it improved, so that more people might benefit from it?

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

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is present and has heard the hon. Lady’s question, but she will have an opportunity to put it to the Secretary of State directly during Work and Pensions questions on our first day back after the recess.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

It is less than a fortnight until the 10th anniversary of the UK’s signing the Istanbul convention on violence against women and girls. It has been a long-drawn-out process, but I welcome the Government’s statement last week in which they confirmed that they would finally ratify the convention. However, it will be ratified with two reservations, in relation to migrant workers and the prosecution of UK residents for crimes committed overseas. May we have a debate on ratifying without reservation? Surely “all women” means “all women”.

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

I think that the Government have a fantastic track record on tackling violence against women and girls. We have introduced legislation on these matters, and we will continue to push in that direction. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will be present to support the Government when they introduce further measures.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Wales)

After months of late-running, cancelled and woefully inadequate bus services, Stagecoach is in the process of cutting a further 17 services across my constituency, leaving communities more isolated and jeopardising people’s jobs. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on the role of traffic commissioners throughout Great Britain, so that passengers may have an added voice to ensure that private bus companies, and other companies, do not cut services and leave communities at risk?

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

I do not think there has ever been a Prime Minister who is more in favour of buses than the current Prime Minister, but let me gently say to the hon. Gentleman that it is his party that is in charge of transport in Wales. If he feels that he is being let down by Labour Wales, perhaps he should consider crossing the Floor and supporting us.

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

Pupils from St Ninian’s Primary School in Hillhouse Hamilton, in my constituency, made a lovely fair trade curry for local residents last week, using fair trade coconut milk and fair trade Kilombero rice from Malawi to mark World Fair Trade Day. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating those students, and will he schedule a debate in Government time on the importance of fair trade values?

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

I should be delighted to join the hon. Lady in congratulating the school on creating its wonderful curry. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will want to go and share it. Colleagues across the House enjoy a good curry evening. I wish the school well in all that it is doing.

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

This week, the Emir of Qatar visited the UK. The United Nations special rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, recently reported on discrimination facing Bahaʼis in Qatar, including forced deportations, arbitrary arrests, and blacklisting from the labour market. In the run-up to the World cup, will the Leader of the House join me, and others, in urging the Emir to investigate those reports and guarantee Bahaʼis the rights to which they are entitled under the Qatari constitution?

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

May I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for saving the hon. Gentleman up until the end, so that he has an audience worthy of his question? He is a great campaigner on religious rights across the world. I think that the Qatar World cup will provide an opportunity for the world to look at Qatar and all that it does, and I hope we will take that opportunity to improve human rights and religious freedom there.