– in the House of Commons at 11:21 am on 16th March 2023.
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.
Yesterday, the Chancellor announced—or should I say re-announced—his Budget proposals because it was not just that policies had been leaked or even briefed to journalists beforehand—this time, the Chancellor had actually tweeted them out himself. Once upon a time, leaking a Budget was a resignation offence. MPs must be given the chance to scrutinise proposals properly on behalf of our constituents in this place first. If I sound like a broken record, Mr Speaker, it is because I keep having to say that. It is a requirement under section 9 of the “Ministerial Code”. Could the Leader remind the Chancellor?
Speaking of swerving scrutiny on major policy, did the Leader approve of her Government sneaking out their announcement on the huge delays to High Speed 2 via a written ministerial statement late last Thursday afternoon—a significant announcement that, again, should have been made in-person to this House first? Tens of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of economic growth are on the line. What was the Transport Secretary thinking? Hang on, is he thinking anything at all? How would we know? We have not seen much of him lately.
The Department for Transport has reportedly launched a leak inquiry after insiders handed my colleague, the shadow Transport Secretary, documents blowing apart the Government’s case for the delay. However, it is not a leak inquiry that the Government need—it is a search party. The Transport Secretary has not uttered a single word publicly. Unlike his colleague the Chancellor, he has not even been tweeting. Nor has he appeared in this place. Instead, he sends—[Interruption.] Oh, I am told from a sedentary position that he was here yesterday. Why could he not come here on Tuesday, instead of sending his junior? He clearly is around. Where is he? Whether it is the No. 47 bus in Bristol or the trans-Pennine non-express in the north, our transport system is broken. Could the Leader track down the Secretary of State and remind him of his duties?
Will the Leader give us a heads up on what they might try to slip out this afternoon? Who knows—perhaps an announcement of another couple of hundred thousand pounds of taxpayer-funded legal fees for Boris Johnson? Is that what they are sneaking out today, or is it something else?
Now, I have said it before, and I will have to say it again. Cabinet Ministers disrespecting this House and our constituents is not good enough. I am not sure that the Leader having quiet words in their ears is working. So perhaps she could get them to write out lines—“I must respect Parliament” 100 times. I am afraid to say that she might need to grab a pen herself, because last week I asked her several very reasonable questions on the scrutiny of the asylum Bill and she did not answer a single one. Perhaps she could have a go at just two. One—has she considered any post-legislative scrutiny of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which the Government introduced last year to solve the same problems that they say the asylum Bill will solve now, or will we be back here next year when the Bill fails? I look forward to announcing when the House will finally consider Labour’s plans that I outlined last week. Two—where is the Government’s impact assessment? The Leader previously said that Government impact assessments were very handy. They are more than that. They are an essential tool for MPs to scrutinise legislation, so why have the Government not published one for the asylum Bill? What are they hiding? Could it be that that Bill is simply unworkable, and the Government know it?
The asylum Bill is unworkable, just like their Budget. Under the Tories, a £1 billion tax cut for the richest 1%; Labour will reverse it. Under the Tories, we are the weakest economy in the G7; under Labour, we will have the strongest growth. Under the Tories, the biggest hit to living standards since comparable records began—hon. Members should read the Blue Book. Under Labour, higher living standards built on good jobs and productivity grown across every part of our country. Under Labour, a better Britain.
I will pass it on to the Transport Secretary that the hon. Lady is missing him dreadfully. She will understand that he has a pressing in-tray, and some of that pressure could certainly be alleviated if the Labour party condemned the transport strikes. I will just leave that thought with her.
Ministers have always been entitled to legal representation while they are in office. That is the standard procedure that has served Governments of every political hue. There are no plans to change that.
The hon. Lady will know that I have been to see all permanent secretaries with my right hon. and noble Friend Lord True, the Leader of the House of Lords, to ensure that all Departments understand their obligations to this House. We have been met with some encouraging actions since our meetings with them.
The hon. Lady asked me to cover the asylum Bill—the Illegal Migration Bill, as it is known—and I note that the Opposition, rather than choosing to attack the policies in that Bill, are choosing to attack their presentation, which I always take as an encouraging sign. It is right that we have proper scrutiny of that Bill. She will know that many actions that we have taken before have been thwarted by legal workarounds. Legal cases have informed the additional measures that we are taking in the Bill. The hon. Lady offers Labour’s plans to stop illegal migration; I am afraid that its plan is to only assist those people if they are able to come here illegally. We want to use our resources to help those people to whom we have the most moral obligation, and we are in a position to help them.
I am disappointed that the hon. Lady does not welcome the measures in the Budget. The country is going through tough times. She talks about living standards. I remind her that under Labour the lowest paid in this country had half the personal tax thresholds that they do now, and they would have seen their council tax bills rise by 110%.
This Budget is one that addresses the issues of hard-working families and businesses, with £94 billion in cost of living support, a fuel duty freeze for the 13th consecutive year, unprecedented expansion of free childcare, the ending of the poverty premium on prepayment meters, the abolition of Labour’s work capability assessment, levelling-up and new regeneration partnerships, and funds to keep leisure centres and pools going, which many colleagues have asked for at business questions. I am sorry also that the hon. Lady has not welcomed the extra £5 billion for defence and security and the path to increasing our defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, which Labour has made no commitment to equal. Nor has she welcomed the many measures to modernise our economy and to stimulate growth and investment.
Instead, we have had the unedifying spectacle of His Majesty’s Opposition talking down the country. Earlier this week, the shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Lucy Powell, likened the United Kingdom to Putin’s Russia. Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition said our nation was a “sick man”. Ours is a great nation, and the modernisation of our economy that we are bringing in will set the potential of this country free—our science bases, our financial centres, our creative industries, our manufacturing and new technologies, and our social and third sectors.
It is only after a Labour Government that this nation becomes the sick man of Europe. Every time Labour has left office, the country has been worse off than when it inherited it. No Labour Government have ever left office with lower unemployment than when they came to power. When they were last in power, youth unemployment rose by nearly 45%, and their slash-and-burn spending meant there was no money left. Labour’s unfunded spending commitments would cost every household an additional £3,000, and it continues to block measures to support families and businesses and to stop the boats. We will stand up for the people of this country. We will deliver on their priorities and on their values, and we will champion the UK across the world.
As Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, may I ask the Leader of the House to kindly tell the House when the statutory instrument relating to the Stormont brake will be laid? Will it be today or tomorrow? On what statutory or other basis, and under what statutory instrument procedure, will it be laid? When will it be referred to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments? When the date of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee sitting is set, will she be good enough as to make such inquiries as are necessary to put me and my Committee in possession of those facts and make them publicly available?
I will certainly write to my hon. Friend to give him all the details related to this. The instrument will be published on Monday, when he will be able to see the legal basis on which it is published. It will be laid before Parliament under normal procedures. I am announcing it today because I want people to have early notice. I will write to my hon. Friend, as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, and to other Members who have a direct interest to spell that out.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
The Leader of the House will no doubt be disappointed that despite it containing some welcome news, for instance about prepayment meters—a tribute to the many months of campaigning on this issue by my hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin—I will not be opening with fulsome praise for her Chancellor’s Budget. Why? Despite the largest fall in living standards and disposable income for decades being endured by the vast majority of people throughout the UK, instead of holding out a helping hand to those folks, the Chancellor has just rewarded the wealthiest with a hefty leg up the pensions ladder, and instead of the investment that is desperately needed for cheaper, cleaner renewables, we get billions ploughed into nuclear. So instead, I will be asking the Leader of the House for a debate on broken British dreams and sunk hopes—that is not a country and western song, Mr Speaker.
The £20 billion over 20 years that the Chancellor has announced for nuclear and carbon capture projects will not support retrofitting homes to permanently cut energy costs for households, or much cheaper onshore wind developments, tidal energy, green hydrogen, heat pumps, district heating or solar. It will not win the global race for investment into those industries against the US and the EU, among many others.
The Treasury and the Chancellor do not appear capable of thinking outside their outdated energy sources box. Instead, they are giving us the reclassification of nuclear so as to receive the same investment opportunities as renewables—nuclear, Mr Speaker! There is not one successful evolutionary power reactor project in the world, and we still have no real solution for the safe disposal of waste that remains radioactive for centuries. Nuclear plants take years to build, and always run over budget and over time. Why are the Government so thirled to nuclear, when there are cheaper, safer, proven alternatives that will bring us to net zero targets much more quickly?
I must add: why is there no more support for tidal energy, which can provide a clean and reliable baseload and has vast potential in Scotland? We already have the world’s leading wave and tidal energy test centre based in Orkney, while companies such as Nova Innovation in my constituency are pioneers in this technology.
The UK Government’s actions suggest again that they are not taking the climate crisis seriously. The Leader of the House joined forces years ago with director Richard Curtis to champion the UN sustainable development goal targets when she was International Development Secretary. However, when I have asked her about environmental issues in the past, she has avoided the questions altogether. Is she still committed to and leading on these issues within her Government or not?
I knew there would be no mention of the £320 million of extra funding for Scotland, the investment zone and the other measures to benefit households and businesses in Scotland. I welcome those things, even if the SNP does not.
This week, the hon. Member asked me about measures to alleviate the cost of living and help improve living standards. We have a £94 billion package, which was announced in the Budget. She does not like what we have done on pensions for key professions such as doctors and experienced teachers. I am very sorry that is not welcomed, as I think it will be welcomed by many in those professions and will tempt them to stay in the workplace.
On the UN sustainable development goals, this Government have not just left those with Departments; we have put them at the heart of Government. They are in the annual reports of every Department, and we report against them.
The hon. Member talks about carbon capture and tidal energy. I remind her that the Treasury actually had a carve-out for tidal energy. We recognise that these emerging technologies will find it difficult to compete with other renewables with more advanced and developed technology. We have done that because we believe tidal is part of the answer, and we want the technology to develop. On carbon capture, I am sorry that she is not keen on the £41 million we have invested in the Scottish cluster. I gently remind her that the SNP promised to invest £80 million, and I do not think it has invested anything yet, which is very unfortunate. It is exactly from the playbook of “Look at what we say, not what we do” politics.
The hon. Member wants us to listen to her concerns, and her colleagues have this week raised issues about a lack of scrutiny, but she does not want us to look at their attendance record in debates. We have heard her raise her dismay at divisive language, but she does not want us to clock the hate-fuelled bile that comes from many SNP campaigners at anyone who loves the Union or dares to challenge them on any of their policies.
The hon. Member wants to preach about offshore tax havens and offshore schemes, but she wants us to discount the use of such schemes—as we discovered this week—by the Scottish Government, as we have seen in the CalMac tax scandal. She wants us to listen to her party leadership candidates saying they can be trusted on healthcare, that they will turbocharge the economy and that they are brimming with ideas, but she does not want us to recognise that they have crushed health, stifled growth and need to set up commission after commission to find some ideas.
The hon. Member would also like us to see the SNP as a champion of democracy, but not to look at its rejection of the referendum result. Does she not recognise the extraordinary occurrence this week of membership candidates in the leadership contest having to write a letter to guarantee a free and fair election? If the candidates were called Moe, Larry and Curly, it could not get any more slapstick. Given the SNP’s previous form and contempt for democracy, I wonder if it is actually going to adhere to the result of this contest. Will the candidates try to test the result in the courts, cry foul or attempt a rerun of the process on their own and claim it is legitimate? I am afraid we have two more weeks of this, but we know the outcome already: whoever wins, Scotland will lose.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the coverage over the past week or so of the sad loss of properties in Hemsby in Great Yarmouth through the impact of weather on our coastline. Does she agree that huge credit and thanks are due to the independent Hemsby lifeboat crew, Great Yarmouth Borough Council, and the local businesses and residents who have supported people who have suffered from loss of property and tried to keep the area safe? Will she look at the possibility of finding some Government time to have a debate about our collective approach to this rapidly changing and impactful coastal erosion in the east of England?
I join my right hon. Friend in putting on record our thanks to all those agencies, including the council and the lifeboat crew, who were instrumental in assisting in the emergency response. As he knows, we have been investing in flood defences and in trying to alleviate coastal erosion, and we will continue to do so. I understand that £40 million has been invested on the flood defence side in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that he has already raised this issue with the Secretary of State, but I will make sure that she has heard my right hon. Friend’s remarks today. I remind my right hon. Friend that the next questions on this topic are on the 30th.
I call the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
Following my little advertisement last week, I am glad to say that we received no fewer than seven applicants at the Committee on Tuesday, so that is working. If Members are unsure about how to apply for Backbench Business debates, staff in the Table Office will help them with advice on how to do so.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business, including our proposed debates on World Down Syndrome Day and tackling the energy trilemma. If we are allocated time on the 30th, we are proposing a debate on public access to nature and a general debate on matters to be raised before the Adjournment, as it will be the last business prior to the Easter recess.
Could we have a statement about changes to the warm home discount payment, which is an issue a number of constituents have contacted me about? I am very glad to say that the payment is going up from £140 to £150, and the number of eligible households is also going to increase, but surprisingly, some households that had previously received that benefit will no longer do so, including some single-person disabled households that are in receipt of disability benefits. There will be about a 36% reduction in the number of people in that category who will receive the benefit, so can we have a statement to clarify the situation and to say how we can rectify what I think is an anomaly that probably was not intended?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for another advert and more encouragement for the work his Committee does. Given that the next questions for the relevant Department are not until
I lose my virginity this morning: in nearly eight years in this place, this is my first question on the business statement, and I hope that the fact that it is a first underscores the seriousness of the issue I wish to raise with the Leader of the House. As a Chairman of a Committee of this House, I know—as I hope does she—the important, independent and cross-party work that all Committees of the House do on behalf of the House, including the Committee of Privileges. My right hon. Friend will know that there has been speculation about its current investigation, which, as she will remember, was approved without amendment or Division in this House. Does she agree that members of that Committee are doing the House a service and that they should be free and unfettered in getting on with their work, and free of interference or intimidation?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has come to the House today to ask his first business question, and he raises a very serious matter. He is right to say that Members serving on the Privileges Committee are doing this House a service, and we should all remember that. They need to be permitted to get on with their work without fear or favour.
I also remind right hon. and hon. Members of the House that this House asked the Committee to do this work. We referred this matter to the Committee for it to consider; we asked it to do this work and to do it well, and it should be left to get on with it. That is the will of this House, and I think a very dim view will be taken of any Member who tries to prevent the Committee from carrying out this serious work, or of anyone from outside the House who interferes. On a personal level, an even dimmer view will be taken of anyone from the other place who attempts to do similar.
Following a gas explosion in my constituency earlier this week, in which one of my constituents, Brian Davies, tragically lost his life, will the Leader of the House join me in offering condolences to the family and friends of Mr Davies? Will she also share my well wishes for those affected, especially the 29 families who are not yet able to return to their homes? Finally, will she join me in offering heartfelt thanks to all the emergency services, the Red Cross, community groups, council leader Rob Stewart, local councillors, the local authority and volunteers, who are all working tirelessly to provide support for the residents of Morriston, where this tragic incident occurred?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter. I know that the whole House will want to send our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of Mr Davies, and our thoughts and good wishes to all, particularly the 29 families who have been so terribly affected. I join her in thanking all the agencies and volunteers who have been working so hard to alleviate the impact and to ensure that everyone can, where possible, get back to life as normal, and I thank the hon. Lady for the work she has done in leading her community through this horrible incident.
Will the Leader of the House look at the desirability of rescheduling some of our parliamentary business? Is she aware that the decision to debate private Members’ Bills on certain Fridays of the year was taken at a time when Thursday sittings ended at 10 pm? Now that Thursdays finish much earlier, most Members use Fridays as a constituency day to deal with increasing casework. Is there therefore not a good case—I would argue there is an overwhelming case—for scheduling private Members’ Bills in future for debate on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, after the moment of interruption?
I am always keen to hear suggestions for innovation from Members, and I shall certainly look at that proposal. I remind Members that these are ultimately matters for the House, but I have heard what my right hon. Friend has said. If he would like to come and talk to me about his ideas, I would be very happy to see him.
May I renew my call for a debate or statement in relation to the operation of the alternative fuel payment scheme? I have heard from no fewer than 126 constituents who use electricity to heat their homes. Almost half of them have received the payment, and half of them have not. The Government have said that they will not claw back payments that have been made incorrectly in these circumstances, so it seems to be utterly random whether someone gets the money or not. At the end of the day, it is also exceptionally unfair.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising this issue again. My office has spoken to the Department about this matter on a number of occasions. I will do so again after this session, and I will also ask that a Minister contact the right hon. Gentleman’s office.
Sexual orientation is not a pathology, and it does not need treating. Conversion therapy is quackery by charlatans, who package it up to try to hide their bigotry. The Leader of the House has been incredibly supportive of my proposed ban on conversion therapy. First, does she share my horror that only one of the three SNP leadership candidates was willing to say that they would ban it? Secondly, following my amendment to the Online Safety Bill, the Government promised to finish pre-legislative scrutiny by the next King’s Speech. Can we please have an update on where we are with getting the Committee set up and the PLS finished?
We want to end this barbaric quackery, as my hon. Friend is right to call it. They are appalling practices, and the Minister will very shortly bring forward measures to do exactly that. She is considering all the consultation responses, but we are on schedule to have pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee in this parliamentary Session, with a view to bringing forward a Bill in due course.
My constituency has been rocked by the deaths last Thursday of Nadja de Jager and her two young sons, Alex and Max, aged 7 and 9, and my thoughts are with the family and friends left behind. The school has been working really hard with the community to provide support and I want to thank the teachers, who have gone over and beyond. Will the Leader of the House grant me a meeting to discuss what further support can be given to the school and what further support can be given to schools going through similar tragedies in the future?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I know the whole House will want to join with the sentiments she has expressed not just for the immediate family affected but all their classmates and the whole community. The Department for Education and the partners it works with have good practice and measures that can be put in place when a community has gone through this type of shocking event, and I will be very happy after this session to facilitate a meeting between the hon. Lady and someone from that Department who can assist her in that respect.
You, Mr Speaker, are of course very familiar with my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019, section 3 of which obliges the Secretary of State to produce a report on pregnancy loss and section 4 of which obliges the Secretary of State for Justice to produce a report on coroners investigations into stillbirths. This Act became law in February 2019, the last meeting of the pregnancy loss review advisory panel was in October 2018 and the consultation on the coroners issue closed on
That is an appalling situation and I am very sorry to hear about it. I will, after this session, raise it with the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary at that Department and ask them to get in touch with my hon. Friend’s office to set up those meetings. It is right that we make progress; this is a matter of law.
I will just add that I support the Leader of the House. Members should be treated with respect, and Ministers are here to answer to Members of Parliament who represent their constituents. I hope this message has gone back pretty clearly: get it sorted quickly. I am sure the Leader of the House will take this up and I will also take it up.
Tomorrow is St Patrick’s day [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Exactly. But it is also the first anniversary of P&O Ferries’ appalling assault on the legal and employment rights of almost 800 UK-based seafarers. RMT, Nautilus and the TUC reminded us all this week that, despite assurances from Ministers, neither P&O nor the parent company DP World has received any punishment or sanctions for their law-breaking and egregious treatment of their loyal workforce, so may we have a debate in Government time on the Government’s Maritime 2050 strategy and on why previous ministerial commitments to hold P&O Ferries to account have apparently sunk without trace?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know that my prime concern in this has been with regard to the Seafarers’ Wages Bill, but I will write to the Department and make sure that the Secretary of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns today and get him an answer.
May I seek the advice of my right hon. Friend on how I can make the Istanbul convention, which deals with the domestic abuse of women and girls, better known in this House? Is that by statement or by debate?
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done internationally on the convention. I know he has been doing some recent work on this. He will have assisted his aim today by raising this important convention on the Floor of the House, but he will know the usual means by which he can direct other Members’ attention to it: by securing a debate either through the Backbench Business Committee or on the Adjournment. I will certainly make sure that the Foreign Secretary has heard about the work that my hon. Friend is doing and his keenness that we do more to promote others signing the convention and ratifying it.
I am pleased that the Leader of the House has announced that there will be a debate on the Stormont brake next Wednesday. It would have been helpful if the statutory instrument could have been published this week for proper consideration. Regardless of that, we welcome the debate. I am sure that she will be aware that in Washington this week, my leader indicated that the Windsor framework still does not address many of the difficulties caused by the Northern Ireland protocol. In particular, the Stormont brake is inadequate because it does not ensure that MLAs in Northern Ireland can stop the application of EU law. There are still 300 areas of EU law that will apply to Northern Ireland, even after the Windsor framework, and the European Court of Justice will still adjudicate on them. Will the Leader of the House ensure that adequate answers are given by the Ministers responsible, explaining the difference between the rhetoric and the reality of the framework document?
My right hon. Friend raises some important points. He will know that in order to implement the Windsor framework, a series of statutory instruments will need to be brought forward, and we need to ensure good time to debate those and areas of concern. This SI, which I have described as a keystone in that Windsor framework, is a section on which the whole framework depends. It will be an important debate. The SI will be published on Monday. That is the earliest I think we can bring that forward, but I wanted to give all hon. and right hon. Members as much notice as possible.
In just a few weeks’ time, we will be celebrating the coronation of King Charles III, and people up and down the country will be planning their celebrations. It therefore would be helpful if we could have a statement from the relevant Minister on the arrangements for communities to celebrate in the time-honoured fashion. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Conservative-run Harrow Council, which has agreed to waive all fees for street parties on such a celebratory day?
That is a good innovation by my hon. Friend’s local authority, and I encourage all Members to make use of this moment to celebrate the country, as well as our new King. There will clearly be opportunities for civic action and some volunteer days, as well. I hope that everyone will make use of that moment and that time.
Last week, the BBC announced appalling proposals to axe the BBC Singers, the UK’s only full-time professional choir, and to cut 20% of the jobs in the BBC Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Concert Orchestra. These proposals have led to an outpouring of disbelief and anger from the classical music sector and the public. Some 120,000 people have signed a petition challenging the cuts, as have global leaders in classical groups, many choir groups and more than 700 composers from the UK and worldwide. Many have criticised the lack of impact assessment, costings or consultation with those musicians affected by the decision. I therefore ask the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on this cultural vandalism by the BBC, which would be so extremely damaging to the future of music in this country.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that. I know it is of concern to many Members, as well as many people outside the House. The hon. Lady mentioned cuts to some of the orchestras, but the BBC Singers is the only orchestral choir involved. The decision is obviously independent from Government, but I understand that an internal consultation is currently taking place with staff. I think that if the hon. Lady were to apply for a debate in the usual way, it would be very well attended.
While there has been much good news for business this week, I am gravely concerned about the unavailability in the current leasing round of the proposed strike price for floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea to international developers who have, up to this point, shown serious interest in developing the sector in the UK and bringing green jobs to our coastal communities. Given the importance of renewable energy—as detailed by the Chancellor only yesterday—can my right hon. Friend advise me on the best way to ensure that the leasing round does not fail, and we do not see this international investment literally float off overseas?
My hon. Friend has done a huge amount to champion the Celtic sea, and, indeed, established the all-party parliamentary group for the Celtic sea. The Government estimate that our ambition of 50 GW of offshore wind, outlined in the British energy security strategy—including 5 GW of innovative floating offshore wind—could support 90,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030. That is incredibly important. The Crown Estate will launch its 4 GW Celtic sea leasing round later this year, and within that, developers will be expected to outline their approach to supply chains. I will ensure that the Chancellor and the Secretary of State have heard what my hon. Friend has said today, and that the spotlight is kept on the Celtic sea.
Yesterday’s 10% increase in spirits duty is a disaster for Scottish whisky and gin producers and will have a significant impact on those in already economically fragile rural communities such as my constituency, whose whisky has bankrolled the UK Treasury for decades while receiving received precious little in return. Could we therefore have a debate in Government time in which the Chancellor can explain exactly why he has chosen a path that could not only destroy a hugely successful Scottish industry but, at the same time, potentially kill the goose that has for so many years laid the Treasury’s golden egg?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have held rates down for whisky, but if he really wants to support the sector, he might like to take a good look at the deposit return scheme that the Government plan to introduce. He might also like to support the Government’s efforts to secure free trade agreements, including our imminent succession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership.
I supported the successful bid for new unitary authorities in Cumbria, which highlighted eminently achievable savings of 11%, or about £30 million, in Cumberland. All seven predecessor councils were able to set balanced budgets, but neither of the new councils has shown any intention of realising those savings, and both have already come cap in hand to the Government asking permission to borrow to fill eye-watering budget gaps before they have even taken control—to the tune of £40 million in Cumberland. On top of that, the new Labour-led Cumberland Council has abused a loophole to impose a devastating 6.7% council tax increase on my constituents.
Will my right hon. Friend join Cumbrian Conservative MPs in calling for the new councils to get round the table and agree a devolution deal for Cumbria so that we can super-charge growth, and can we have a debate in Government time on the true cost of Labour councils?
As my hon. Friend will know, during the previous Labour Government council tax increased by 110%. During the same period in which we have been in government, it has risen by just 36%. The situation that my hon. Friend has described is a shame and it is shameful. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities wants to return to conversations about a devolution deal for that region, and I would encourage my hon. Friend to engage in those conversations, as I know he is doing already. However, it is deeply disappointing that people should be taking such an attitude to taxpayers.
The activities of bailiffs have been closely examined as a result of the prepayment meter scandal of recent weeks, but can we look at their wider activities? My constituent’s life is being made a misery by one such company, Bristow & Sutor, regarding a parking fine that they have paid but about which they are still being harassed and threatened with the vehicle being taken away. The company will not respond to her or to me, and it seems completely unaccountable and unaware of the distress that it is causing. As a House, we should be looking more at what bailiffs are doing.
The hon. Gentleman knows how to apply for a debate, which I am sure would be well attended. With regard to prepayment meters, we should also look at how some of the warrants were issued, sometimes in bulk. Greater transparency on that would be welcomed by all hon. Members.
May we have time to debate Labour-run Nottingham City Council’s handling of the Victoria Centre market in Nottingham city centre? In February last year, my constituent Rajesh Dhingra contacted me about the effect that the uncertainty is having on his business and on other traders. More than a year later, they are no further forward, with the suspicion that the market is being deliberately run down with a view to selling it off. In the words of one trader:
“Nottingham City Council didn’t do a good job of running the market. They’re making an even worse job of closing it down.”
I have not had any response to my recent emails to the council. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the council should not be able to run down the market as a way of trying to avoid paying proper compensation to stallholders?
That is a shocking situation. We very much value markets and want to support them, which is why we made a permanent fixture of the permitted development right that enables markets held by or on behalf of local authorities to be operational for an unlimited number of days. It is shocking that there is a lack of clarity about what is happening for stallholders, who want to be able to plan what they will do next if the market is to be shut down. If that is the case, they should be paid a fair rate.
Making off without paying—common theft, in fact—remains a massive crime across the whole United Kingdom. The British Independent Retailers Association has suffered losses from thefts of that nature to the tune of £700 million a year, which is appalling, as the Leader of the House will agree. Can we have a debate in Government time on what measures can be put in place to deter and reduce that crime, and to increase co-operation across county lines?
The hon. Gentleman will not have long to wait for the next questions, which are on
I rise to add my voice to the issue raised by Barbara Keeley. Last week, the director of two of Southend’s best choirs, the brilliant Rosemary Pennington, wrote to me about the BBC’s decision to disband the BBC Singers. The Leader of the House knows well that the BBC Singers is the only full-time professional choir in the UK. It goes back to 1924 and does an incredible amount of outreach work in schools, as well as performing at all the major UK festivals. Will she find time for a debate on the future of classical music in this country, which is central to our heritage and mental health? Will she join me in calling on the BBC to reconsider that devastating decision? It is not a new strategy for classical music; it sounds more like no strategy.
I feel that there is consensus from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, so I anticipate an Adjournment or Backbench Business debate on the subject soon. On the wider issue, the Chancellor yesterday reaffirmed the Government’s support for classical music, alongside other cultural sectors, by extending the higher rates of theatre tax relief, orchestra tax relief and museums and galleries exhibition tax relief for a further two years. I also put on record my immense pride at the Music Man Project, which is a wonderful choir and orchestra in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It played at the Mountbatten festival of music at the weekend and received a standing ovation from everyone in the Royal Albert Hall, led by His Majesty the King.
Four years ago, my constituent was made homeless following a no-fault eviction. She was placed in temporary accommodation—just one room in a dilapidated hostel—with her two children. Unable to afford soaring rents and with council waiting lists at a record high, four years later she is still there. She is a teacher in a local primary school. Can we please have a debate in Government time about the housing crisis in this country?
I am sorry to hear about the situation that the hon. Lady raises. I would hope that there is more that can be done in this case, and I am sure that she has raised it with the local authority. I will certainly send her some information that might be helpful, to make sure that her local authority is giving her constituent all the assistance that she needs. The hon. Lady will know that the next Question Time for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is on
Fifty people have lost their jobs as administrators begin to rifle through the remnants of the Coventry City of Culture Trust. Not only have the livelihoods of very hard-working constituents disappeared, but a much-loved local gallery, the Reel Store, will have to close its doors very soon. Can we have a debate in Government time on the efficacy of Coventry City of Culture Trust to ensure that there is proper oversight?
The hon. Lady raises an important matter. I think this is probably a topic for an Adjournment debate, given that it is a highly local issue. The next questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport are not until after recess, so I shall make sure that the Department has heard the hon. Lady’s concerns.
My constituent Sameena Begum was misdiagnosed with cataracts in both eyes by Optical Express. A procedure in her left eye resulted in a detached retina and further emergency surgery. While she was recovering from the botched procedure, Optical Express called to ask if she wanted treatment in her right eye, but a second opinion had discovered that there was in fact no cataract in her right eye at all. This experience left Sameena with badly damaged eyesight and little recourse, because the sector is largely unregulated. Can we have a debate on bringing forward such regulations?
That is a shocking case to hear about, and I shall make sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has heard the hon. Member’s concerns about it. If he would like to give my office some more details on the case, and on what complaint and redress have already been sought, I shall do my best to ensure that his constituent is better served.
Can we have a debate in Government time on the delivery of infrastructure in new developments, such as those south of Warwick and Leamington? We have a new school being built there, but thousands of houses have already been delivered and the school will not open until September 2024. It is massively over budget and has been built on the side of a hill on marginal land, rather than in the heart of the community. Now parents have these delays, and they will have to send their children to different schools. Can we have a debate on infrastructure in new developments?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that; he will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way. I shall certainly make sure that his concerns have been heard by the relevant Department.
After yesterday’s Budget, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up sent a letter to the leader of Hull City Council regarding the levelling-up partnerships. The Secretary of State says in the letter,
“we will partner with you to develop a shared understanding of your area’s unique challenges and opportunities”.
I must say that I am very exasperated that after 13 years of a Conservative Government, they have not been able to understand Hull’s challenges and the tremendous opportunities of the Humber estuary. We have renewables, one of the largest port complexes in the UK and an outstanding university. Perhaps that is why we were missed off the list for the 12 investment zones that were announced yesterday. Please can we have a debate so that I can educate the Government about the tremendous opportunities in Hull and the Humber?
I am always happy to assist the right hon. Lady in securing time to talk about her constituency. The Government very much recognise its potential and the opportunities that are there, which is probably why the Secretary of State has written to her local authority.
A little boy, a wee warrior called Adam Watson, from my constituency, will be forever nine years old, having lost his fiercely fought battle with leukaemia just last August. His mum and dad, Sara and David Watson, amid their deep sense of grief, are campaigning to improve wraparound services for children who have been diagnosed with that dread disease, cancer, and their families. One change Sara and David are particularly interested in is having a payment or support package made available to parents because of the need to attend appointments and support their children through their diagnosis. Will the Leader of the House agree to raise this issue with the relevant Department? Will she also encourage the Secretary of State to meet Sara and David, who will be visiting this place in the coming weeks?
I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our deepest sympathies to Sara and David and our admiration to them for turning what must have been this most appalling tragedy into some positive action to benefit other families. The hon. Lady will know that across Government we are very focused on ensuring that people are able to cope not just with their own ill health or fluctuating conditions, but when they are caring for another or their child is ill. I shall certainly raise this matter with several Departments that will have an interest and ask that they make Ministers available to meet the family when they come to Westminster.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend Ellie Reeves a moment ago, the Leader of the House knows that there is an affordable housing crisis in this country, in significant measure because of the catastrophic decline in the number of council houses. Leeds has 26,000 people on the waiting list, more than 5,000 of whom have the very highest priority—they need to be urgently rehoused. Given the lack of support announced in the Budget yesterday, will the Leader of the House encourage the Levelling Up Secretary to come to the House to make a statement about what the Government are going to do to build more homes that our constituents can actually afford to rent?
The right hon. Gentleman touches on an issue that affects both social housing and affordable housing. He will know that more than 2.2 million additional homes have delivered since we came into power, including more than 632,000 affordable homes, and that the annual housing supply is up 10% on the figure for the previous year, with the third-highest yearly rate in the past 30 years. Blockages are occurring to developments that have been planned for and where sites have been identified. There are lots of reasons for that, but one is a lack of capacity in planning departments. I know that the chief planning officer at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is very much looking at this issue to see what we can do to build capacity in local authorities, so that we can get on with these developments and give everyone a warm, safe, secure home.
I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party group on alcohol harm.
No one chooses to be an addict, yet the Equality Act 2010 has a memorandum of exclusion that treats addiction as a personal choice. May have a debate in Government time on addressing this issue, so that addiction is seen for what it is, a mental health illness and not a personal choice?
This is a serious matter and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising it and for all the work that the all-party group is doing. Many Departments will touch on this issue, but primarily it is about healthcare. If the sentiments that sit behind his question are to be fulfilled, it should remain that Department that is in the driving seat on this policy.
Can we have a debate in Government time on the activities of short-selling attack group Viceroy Research and its leader Fraser Perring? I am told that it is working hand in glove with Boatman Capital, which launched the short-selling attack on Babcock International while it was overhauling our nuclear submarines. Mr Perring is a not infrequent visitor to Moscow, and is now targeting Home REIT, which provides homelessness services, including to homeless veterans. We must ensure that short-selling groups are not another weapon in Putin’s arsenal. Where there are links between short-selling attack groups and the Kremlin, we need to know.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question on a very important matter. I will ensure that the Security Minister has heard his concerns. He is overseeing the strengthening of the architecture in government to identify what is going on behind particular deals. I do not have details of the case that the right hon. Gentleman raises, but he will know that in recent years we have strengthened capacity in government to spot what is going on and to ensure that everyone is wide-eyed about it. I will raise this case with the Security Minister.
My constituent Andrew Barbour is a policeman who suffers with dyslexia. The Child Maintenance Service did not implement the reasonable adjustments that he requested, and sent him a letter that he could not comprehend. He telephoned the CMS and was told not to increase his payments. That information was wrong and led to his ex-partner getting a court order for a wage deduction, causing him not only embarrassment but a breakdown in the relationship. He has now lost access to his kids. He got an apology letter from the CMS, but it was in the wrong format and the envelope was addressed to the “blind man”, causing him further embarrassment when a kind-hearted and diligent postman knocked on his door and offered him assistance. When will the Government get a grip of the CMS, and when will my constituent get the support that he deserves from that organisation?
I am always happy to help the hon. Gentleman with individual cases that he raises, as I have done in the past, and I would be happy to help on this issue as well. It is important that people who have a disability and need particular support and accessible information get that. That is good practice and it is what we expect all agencies to do. If he would like to give me the details of that case, I will raise it.
Residents of Bath Crescent in Old Trafford have been without heating and hot water since January due to the inability of their housing provider Your Housing Group to resolve outstanding issues. This is a 59-property sheltered accommodation scheme for the over-55s and is home to many elderly and extremely vulnerable residents. Does the Leader of the House agree that Your Housing Group’s failure to resolve these issues is nothing short of a disgrace? Will she agree to a debate in Government time on what more powers the Government feel they need to hold housing providers to account when they so flagrantly neglect their most vulnerable residents?
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. This would be a bad enough situation for anyone to endure, but given that it is sheltered housing accommodation, it is a scandal if they have been left so long without the basics needed for a warm and secure home. I sincerely hope that, when it has heard what he said, by this afternoon we will have an appropriate response from Your Housing Group.
To give the hon. Gentleman some comfort, he will know that this week we announced how we are strengthening residents’ abilities to hold housing associations or landlords to account for shoddy service and for not doing what they should to keep people safe, secure and healthy in their homes. We take a dim view of that, and I hope that the housing group will leap into action this afternoon.
As life expectancy stalls in England and has actually fallen in Scotland, there is widespread anger and concern at plans to further increase the state pension age, which will disproportionately impact the poorest. Given that the pension injustice perpetrated on women born in the 1950s has gravely undermined confidence in the state pension system, will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out why she believes increasing the state pension age while life expectancy is falling is justifiable?
The question the hon. Lady should be asking is why life expectancy in Scotland is falling. That is what needs to be addressed, and it will be done by a combination of better healthcare, better diagnosis and better opportunities for communities. We very much want people to be able to enjoy their retirement. That is one reason why we introduced and have kept to the triple lock on pensions, and we are always keen to ensure that people are accessing pension credit and all the other assistance that they are entitled to.
You caught me off kilter there, Mr Deputy Speaker—I was going to do my usual bobbing up and sitting down, but thank you for calling me.
Yesterday North Korea fired yet another long-range missile using money that was meant to support the people of North Korea, who really need that money. At the very bottom of the ladder in North Korea are Christians, who face isolation, starvation and, in some cases, arrest and execution in prison camps. North Korea is No. 1 on the world watch list for persecution of Christians—it is the most dangerous place anywhere in the world to be a Christian. Will the Leader of the House join me in making a statement of solidarity with this often forgotten but much supported group?
I will happily join the hon. Gentleman in that, and I sure that every Member of this House would thank him for making sure people know that our eyes are on these individuals, whether they be Christians or others who are being brutalised by particular regimes. We will always remain focused on them and do whatever we can through our envoys and other means to ensure that they are protected.
First, may I pay tribute to the late Baroness Masham of Ilton? Mass was offered for the repose of her soul in the crypt chapel last night, and she was widely respected across both Houses.
Cyclone Freddy has caused devastation across Malawi and Mozambique in recent days, leading to the loss of over 200 lives and compounding many ongoing challenges, including an outbreak of cholera in Malawi. Could the Leader of the House arrange for a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister to come here early next week to update the House on how the Government are responding to this humanitarian situation and how they are tackling the long-term causes and effects of climate change?
I join the hon. Gentleman in the sentiments he expresses about Baroness Masham.
This is a devastating situation. I know that many communities across Scotland will be particularly focused on Malawi because of the strong ties they have. The UK is working closely with the Government of Malawi and international agencies to respond to the cyclone and its aftermath. We are supporting the emergency operations centre that has been established and working closely with partners to identify the needs of all those affected, and we are looking at options for further UK support to help those stranded. I know that many Members are concerned about this, and I will ensure that the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team have heard the asks for an update.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, and a common side effect of treatment is incontinence. One in 25 men over 40 experience urinary incontinence and one in 20 men over 60 experience faecal incontinence generally, but there is no statutory requirement for sanitary bins in men’s toilets, which my constituents have voiced concerns about. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on the need for equal access to hygiene bins in public toilets?
The hon. Lady raises a very interesting and important point. I will certainly raise this with the two prime Departments concerned and discuss good practice guidelines that they may know about. She knows how to apply for a debate, which I think would help to raise awareness about these issues, which will be a concern to half the population.
I thank the Leader of the House for her business statement and for responding to questions for one hour and eight minutes.