– in the House of Commons at 11:49 am on 23rd March 2023.
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing
The House will rise for Easter recess at the conclusion of business on
The provisional business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.
In his first speech on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister pledged to lead a Government with “accountability at every level”, requiring Ministers to take responsibility for decisions and actions and submit themselves for scrutiny. Does the Leader of the House think that the Prime Minister has kept his promise? I would answer no. We see a constant passing of the buck: “It wasn’t us”; “It was the lawyers’ fault”; “It was the Opposition’s fault”; “It was the civil servants”; “The anti- growth coalition made me crash the economy”; “The blob stopped me stopping the boats”; “The dog ate my homework”. Increasingly ridiculous excuses from the Government. Will the Leader of the House allow MPs to decide whether the Prime Minister has kept his promise, by having a debate on the principle of accountability?
Will the Government take responsibility for the Tory cost of living crisis? Just yesterday, inflation jumped again to 10.4%. Prices have been soaring for months; food has gone up even faster, at 18%. Families are unable to book a holiday or start work on an extension they have been saving up for, and are struggling to pay the bills. Tories blame anyone and anything rather than take responsibility for their 13 years of failure that has led us here.
Will the Tories take responsibility for the small boats crisis? They blame Labour—a party with an actual plan, though not yet in government, to stop channel crossings that are putting lives at risk. But on their watch, last year arrivals reached a new high of 45,000 people, up from just 299 in 2018. Two weeks in a row, the Leader of the House has refused to say when we will see an impact assessment of their latest asylum Bill, to replace the one last year that did not work. Third time lucky: could we have an impact assessment before Committee on Monday? The Minister for Immigration has said that it will be published in “due course”. Where have I heard that before?
It is no good publishing an impact assessment after a Bill has been rushed into law. How is that good lawmaking? How is it a Government allowing scrutiny of their policies? Thankfully, where they failed, the Refugee Council has stepped up and produced an impact assessment. It says that it will cost £9.6 billion just to detain or accommodate people in the first three years of the Bill’s operation. Is that true? Is that what the Government are hiding? Will Ministers take responsibility and publish the impact assessment?
Will Ministers take responsibility for appearing before Select Committees? Why has it been so difficult for the Minister for Women, Maria Caulfield, to agree to appear before the Women and Equalities Committee? According to the Committee’s website—I checked—the Minister refused its request to give evidence on menopause in the workplace. My hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, a Committee member, pointed out that Ministers must prioritise appearances before Committees. It is not an optional extra as she fancies it, or something to squeeze in if there is time in her diary. Could the Leader of the House please remind the Minister of that?
I am afraid that it got worse. We had another round of the Tory blame game, as the Minister took to Twitter, accusing the Committee of being misleading. Could the Leader of the House ask the Minister to take responsibility and apologise to the hard-working Committee Clerks? Is this mess not indicative of the Government’s disregard for women’s health? The next Labour Government will help businesses to support their employees who are going through the menopause. In our new deal for working people, we will require all large employers to submit menopause action plans annually. That is Labour backing working women. What is the Government’s plan?
The Prime Minister’s promise at the start of his premiership was an empty one. The Government are not interested in taking responsibility, not interested in putting themselves or their policies up for scrutiny and not interested in being accountable. They are at the end of the road. No more excuses. No more passing the buck. It is time for a change to a Labour Government, accountable to Parliament and to the British people, with bold, fully funded policies, standing the test of scrutiny. People want to feel better off. They want to be able to see a doctor when they need to, and they want a Prime Minister they trust to take responsibility. That is what they will get with Labour.
I note that today is the day of reflection marking three years since we first entered lockdown. I know all Members will be reflecting on the experiences of our constituents, as well as those of our own families, during those dark days, and reflecting in particular those who lost their lives and those to whom we owe an immense debt of gratitude for their role in defeating the virus and saving lives.
I wish to associate myself with the many tributes paid to PC Keith Palmer. My thoughts are with his colleagues and his family, and with the families of all those who lost their lives.
I wish to send my good wishes to the dockyard workers hurt in the accident at Leith.
The shadow Leader of the House, Thangam Debbonaire, raises some serious points. First, I turn to the issue she raises about my hon. Friend the Minister for Women. I do not think there is any reason for the Minister for Women to apologise to the House. She has a reputation for cross-party working on issues that she cares passionately about, in particular around women’s health, and she played a major role in work on the menopause, with Carolyn Harris.
My understanding of what happened is that the Minister for Women could not make the date proposed and had offered other dates to the Committee. The reason she could not make the date was that she had given an undertaking to a Labour Member, Ms Brown, to meet a group of women who were suffering from a particularly painful condition. That meeting was here, but it was scheduled for the same time as the planned Committee hearing. The Minister wanted to go ahead with the meeting, as the women had travelled some distance to come here. Ironically, the hon. Member for West Ham was unable to attend the meeting, for perfectly legitimate reasons. However, the Minister did not take to Twitter to denounce her for that or to encourage others to troll her. The Minister was doing her duty and she has offered other dates to the Committee to attend, just as she has attended the Committee many times before.
It is deeply ironic and shocking that people have been so quick to paint an incorrect picture about our female colleagues in this place, especially in the wake of International Women’s Day, when we all used #AskHerToStand and supported working women. After this session, I will take to Twitter to show the Minister support for the brilliant work that she has done. She does not need to apologise to the House in any way.
The shadow Leader of the House mentions the issue of small boats. I have spoken to the Home Office about the impact assessment; it is quite right that we publish it before Committee stage. I think it will be published very shortly.
The hon. Lady focused the bulk of her remarks on the economy. I thank all Members who took part in the Budget debates. Three of the five priorities the Prime Minister set out in order to be accountable to the public —to increase growth, to reduce debt and to halve inflation —focus on the economy. Overall growth, and construction, manufacturing and services growth, are better than forecast. The Office for Budget Responsibility is revising its forecast on GDP in a positive way.
The UK now ranks third globally as a priority investment destination, which is the highest ranking in the history of our nation. We have the lowest rate of unemployment since 1974. The World Bank says we are the best-placed large European nation to do business in. We became the second country in the world to have foreign direct investment worth $2 trillion. Over the last 13 years, we have become the world’s third trillion-dollar tech economy. We have built the largest life science, TV and film sectors in Europe, and we are the second biggest service exporter in the world. I do not know how all that qualifies us to be the sick man of Europe.
The Labour party is either unaware of those facts or blind to them; the hon. Lady certainly does not want to listen to them. Best not do our country down, though, because these achievements are the achievements of our citizens—their entrepreneurship, their graft, their skill, but also their attitude—and we want to give them ever- increased opportunity. That is why we are modernising our economy. That is why we are removing tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade—6,000 tariff lines are being removed—and increasing growth, exports and higher wages. That is good for the whole of society.
The statistics that the hon. Lady did not mention were the poverty statistics that have come out today. The figures show that 1.7 million fewer people are in absolute low income after housing costs now than when we took office: that includes 400,000 fewer children, 1 million fewer working-age adults and 200,000 fewer pensioners. Under Labour, benefits were the largest source of income for the poorest working-age households; it is now their earnings. There are now 1 million fewer workless households and an additional 3.8 million people in work.
We stand for personal responsibility and accountability. We want to help people to get on, earn more and keep more of what they earn, and to reward those who help others. Labour, in contrast, stands for dependency, decline and doing our country down.
I am glad to have heard my right hon. Friend’s response to the party political broadcast from the Opposition.
I want to raise two questions about people overseas. The first is about a constituent who is 32 weeks into a 24-week process to collect in a foreign capital his wife’s passport with the authorised visa because they want to return together to the United Kingdom. While I have been listening to these exchanges, I have had a message saying that the visa has been authorised, but the constituent does not know when they will be able to collect the passport. If I write to my right hon. Friend, will she pass on my question to the Foreign Office’s private office and get this sorted out? It has been going on for far too long.
My second question is about the life-and-death case of a hunted person in Afghanistan. He worked for the regional governor and was associated closely with the United Kingdom. If the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Home Office cannot give him a way out, will I have to ask the Prime Minister next week to sort it out? People who have dedicated their life to helping us should not be left stranded as this person has been.
I thank my hon. Friend for both those important points. If he passes the details of both cases to me, I shall take them up immediately with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Home Office.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
May I associate myself, on this day in particular, with the Leader of the House’s remarks about all those affected by covid, about the family and friends of Keith Palmer and our gratitude to him, and particularly about the dreadful incident yesterday in the Leith dockyard in my constituency? Our thoughts are with all those affected.
In her response, aka “Here’s one I prepared earlier,” the Leader of the House will no doubt ponder the difficulties currently preoccupying my party and swerve those of her own—but hey, that’s politics. Last week, she was a kind of Mystic Meg in reverse: she finally attempted some answers to questions I had posed to her over the last several months. Scotland Office spads really must keep up.
Yesterday was, I suppose, a thrilling day for political anoraks. The current PM finally shared at least a summary of his tax returns, showing very tidy sums indeed. That comes just days after we heard that a majority of UK workers have seen their salaries stagnate over 10 years—a lost decade of earnings. No wonder Downing Street tried to bury the PM’s news! European Research Group rebels and former Tory leaders did not manage to force a governmental U-turn over the Windsor framework, although a number of hon. Members appeared to be missing from the Lobby, so there may be more trouble ahead for the Leader and for her Government’s Whips.
And, of course, there was the former Prime Minister’s evidence session before the Privileges Committee. I will not go into the details of the session itself or the Committee’s activities—that would not be appropriate—but I do want to raise the attacks openly challenging its integrity. Mr Speaker himself has reminded us of the importance of allowing the Committee to complete its work without interference. Frankly, the attacks from some quarters carry the nasty whiff of Trumpian populism again, like “Stop the steal” or “Lock her up.” There is no catchy three-word slogan attached to this situation yet, but perhaps it is just a matter of time.
The Leader of the House served under the former Prime Minister in his Government. As the Cabinet Minister now responsible for this Government’s business, and arguably for defending their reputation, can she tell us what she makes of such attacks on the institutions of this Parliament? These are not internal party problems; they can be seen as an attack on democracy itself. The current Prime Minister pledged that he would lead his Government with
“integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”
Does the Leader of the House agree that these issues highlight again the need for restored trust and faith in parliamentary democracy, and will she allow the debate that I have called for previously on that very trust and integrity in parliamentary matters?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions, and repeat my remarks about the incident in her constituency. All Members will be wishing those who were injured a speedy recovery.
Let me take the hon. Lady’s last point first. She may remember that, during last week’s business questions, I reminded Members that the whole House had asked the Privileges Committee to undertake this task, and that the Committee’s members were doing the House a service in doing so. However, to give her some more comfort, I will make two more points.
First, I refer the hon. Lady to the words of the former Prime Minister himself, my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson, to the Committee yesterday in answer to one of its questions. He said that he was in front of the Committee in recognition of the task that the whole House had set, and because of his respect for Parliament. Those are his words, and those who are trying to say that they are doing the former Prime Minister a favour should heed them.
Secondly, the hon. Lady referred to particular remarks that some Members had made about the Committee. Some of them have built their reputations on being servants of the House, and would never let grubby politics get in the way of true, good, sound argument and also good manners. I would gently point out to those colleagues who mentioned, for example, marsupials that they might have been too full of bounce when they made those remarks. The Committee needs to get on with its work.
The hon. Lady did not mention the poverty statistics that were published today, but she did mention poverty. Let me remind her that our cost of living package is worth £3,300 to every household, that we have uprated pensions and benefits by 10.1%, and that there has been the largest ever cash increase in the national living wage.
The hon. Lady talked about trust, and wanting trust to be restored. That is against the backdrop of her party’s having lost a great deal in the last few weeks. It has lost its leader, it has lost its chief executive, it has lost £600,000, it has lost 30,000 members, it has lost a by-election to us, it has lost collective responsibility, it has lost the will to defend its record and the rose-tinted glasses through which it has viewed its own performance, and this week it has also lost the plot. However, it has the opportunity to find something and to restore something. This could be a fresh start, and the beginning of its actually serving the people of Scotland by focusing on their needs. Whoever is the new leader of the hon. Lady’s party, and the First Minister in Scotland, we stand ready to work constructively with that leader.
My constituent Margaret’s beloved granddaughter died of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy, aged just 22. Every week in the UK at least 21 people die of SUDEP, which particularly affects the young. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate in Government time on doing more to prevent these deaths, many of which are preventable, and will she join me in wearing something purple on Sunday for SUDEP Day, to remember those who have died and also to praise SUDEP Action and the Maisie Tothill Foundation for all that they are doing to tackle this problem?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point, which is obviously timely given the campaign day this weekend. I will very happily wear one of the purple hearts that the charity is handing out, and I join her in paying tribute to all those organisations that are raising awareness and ensuring that people suffering from the condition get the best care and support.
I call the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Committee was disappointed not to be allocated time for Backbench Business debates on Thursday 30th. I am sure it is not personal. We actually had an application for a debate on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, but the Government have taken it into their hands to schedule a debate on that very important subject in Government time. Could the Leader of the House’s office please let us know whether we are to get any time for Backbench Business debates in the first week back after the Easter recess? If we are, we will have to determine the subjects of those debates next week.
A number of Members across the House have asked me if I know whether the Government are planning to allocate additional time in this Session for private Members’ Bills. I am not sure why they asked me—they must think I am some sort of shop steward on behalf of Members across the House—but the Session may have several months to go after tomorrow.
Lastly, the Home Office has told my office in Gateshead that there is now no service standard at all for responses in some categories of immigration casework for constituents my office is dealing with. Surely that cannot be right. There are not even any target timescales to get responses for constituents in particular categories of cases. Has the Home Secretary just given up? Can we have a statement from her about when she is going to do something to improve the situation?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He will know why the business that I have just announced includes a debate, at his Committee’s request, on the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. I hope he knows that I champion the interests of his Committee very much, and I fully appreciate that he will need notice of further time for next week. I undertake to provide that, and to look at what he said with regard to private Members’ Bills.
I invite the hon. Gentleman to give me the specifics of what his office has been told by the Home Office. I get regular updates from the Home Office, because it knows that I and all Members of the House are interested in its performance. I have a letter dated
Madam Deputy Speaker, you and the Leader of the House will know that tomorrow is the 13th and final day scheduled for debate of private Members’ Bills in this Session. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will join me in paying tribute to the Comptroller of His Majesty’s Household, our hon. Friend Rebecca Harris—and, indeed, those on the Opposition Front Bench—for facilitating in this Session the passage of, I think, a record number of Bills to the other place. In the absence of any further sitting Fridays, can my right hon. Friend explain what will happen if any of those Bills that have gone to the other place are amended? How will we be able to deal with those amendments in this place without any further sitting Fridays?
Will my right hon. Friend take into account that there are now two precedents in recent times when the Session went on much longer—in this case we are talking about six months—than was originally scheduled? In one case there were 18 sitting Fridays—in other words, an additional five—and on the other occasion there were an additional four sitting Fridays. Will she ask the Procedure Committee to advise the House on how to take this matter forward?
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me and the whole House the opportunity to put on the record our thanks to my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris and all hon. Members who have worked so hard to put through some very important Bills. Since becoming Leader of the House, I have used the communication channels I have to shine a spotlight on a lot of this work, which does not really get much credit and goes unseen. It is very important; we have done some very good things. I have heard what my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope and other Members have said with regard to time for private Members’ Bills. Whatever happens in the other place, we will always find a way to deal with it.
I was recently contacted by a constituent who had been contacted by their housing provider and told that their energy bills were going up by 800%, a figure that I was most shocked by. I contacted that housing association, and it transpired that not only was that an administrative error, but it affected more than 1,000 residents. It is seriously concerning that, if that constituent had not contacted me, residents could have faced that price rise. The housing association has already been named by the Levelling Up Secretary—a process that the Government promised to drive up standards. Will the Leader of the House urge the Levelling Up Secretary to update the House on the progress made by housing associations that have been named and shamed, and the measures being taken with respect to those that are failing?
I thank and congratulate the hon. Lady on her diligence in spotting the error, alerting her constituents to it and taking it up with the housing provider. She courteously did not name the provider on the Floor of the House; had she done so, I would have repeated it at the Dispatch Box. That is very poor performance on its part. The hon. Lady will know that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has strengthened the powers that people have to hold their landlords to account. If she needs any assistance in rectifying the situation, I will be very happy to act on her behalf if she passes the specific details to me.
The Leader of the House will no doubt recall that we both ran on a manifesto commitment in 2010 to scrap Labour’s plans for identity cards, and we were supported by the electorate on libertarian and privacy grounds. Given that there has been no public consultation on the matter since, can we please have a debate on any Government plans for the introduction of digital IDs, which have recently been trumpeted by Tony Blair, the heir apparent to the World Economic Forum throne and, interestingly, the original proponent of the identity card plans that the electorate rejected at the ballot box?
I will say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, that is our record; it is incredibly important that such matters are debated, but there are no such plans to introduce the measures that he alludes to. Neither, I am afraid, is the mention of the World Economic Forum or some global conspiracy that sits behind all of this remotely accurate or based in fact.
I say to the hon. Gentleman, having seen some of the things that he has put out this week, that—he is very diligent—he might like to do some research as to the origins of some of the things that he has been putting on his Twitter account: for example, that the US Department of Defence is actually responsible for producing covid. The provenance of those falsehoods is Russia and China. If the hon. Gentleman wants to repeat such conspiracy theories and if he believes them, I pity him. If he does not believe them and he is repeating them for another matter, I would ask him to check his behaviour.
The right hon. Lady will be aware of a protest outside the Indian high commission last Sunday that turned violent. Staff working for the high commission were injured, and the high commission itself was vandalised. I am sure the whole House will agree that there should be no place in our country for such behaviour, and that the Indian high commissioner and his staff should be able to go about their diplomatic duties without fear of such events happening. What further steps will the Home Office take, working with the Metropolitan police, to ensure there is no repeat of such behaviour?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that appalling incident. We strongly condemn the vandalism and violent acts that took place outside the Indian high commission in London. It was a completely unacceptable action against the high commission and its staff. There is ongoing work with the Metropolitan police to review the protection measures around the high commission, and any changes will be made to ensure the safety and security of its staff so that they can go about their business, serving both this country and India.
As the House will know, bus services in Rother Valley—especially the No. 27, which goes through Swallownest—have been cut of late, and residents are very upset. Residents are also aware that transport is devolved, so they and I are calling on the Labour South Yorkshire Mayor to use his franchising powers to bring the buses under public control and to introduce a London-style public transport system, so that routes such as the No. 27 to Crystal Peaks can be reintroduced. Can we have a debate on why the franchising process in South Yorkshire has fallen so many years behind Greater Manchester, which also has a Labour Mayor but has a far better transport system?
I am sorry to hear about the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency. He knows that we very much want to support and enable modern and efficient bus services, hence our more than £3 billion investment in bus transformation. I congratulate him on making that call of his Mayor, and he will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Members will recall the large volume of correspondence we all received from constituents last summer relating to backlogs in the Passport Office. We now know that civil servants from the Public and Commercial Services Union will be taking five weeks of continuous industrial action from
The hon. Gentleman will know that many Departments across Whitehall are in negotiations with unions, with some considerable success in recent weeks. We want to ensure that people have fair pay, but that that fair pay does not exacerbate the inflation situation we face. The next Home Office questions are not until
I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cricket. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the future of grassroots cricket? Village cricket is a force not only for sporting excellence but for social cohesion and social good. We have seen an alarming decline in the number of local clubs, especially in disadvantaged parts of the country. We need a debate to discuss how we can work in partnership to ensure that everyone in the country has access to a cricket club.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for all the work he does as chair of the APPG on cricket. I agree entirely with his sentiments. He knows we are working closely with Sport England, UK Sport and national governing bodies to improve access and inclusion, from grassroots level up to elite level. The forthcoming sport strategy will set out further detail on how we can make sport more inclusive. We have a very exciting season ahead of us, and I thank all members of the APPG for the work they do to promote that important sport.
In answer to my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire, the Leader of the House said that we can expect the impact assessment for the Illegal Migration Bill to be published shortly, but the Bill is to be debated at the beginning of next week. The Government assured us that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 would reduce the number of small boat crossings, but we have already seen record levels in January and February 2023. The Government have completely failed. If they have not done proper calculations to produce an impact assessment, how can they make assertions about the effectiveness of the Bill we are debating on Monday and Tuesday?
I have no argument with the hon. Gentleman’s desire to have the impact assessment produced as early as possible. I have made representations to that effect, and I am told that it will be published shortly.
There is clearly a serious crisis in the Metropolitan police. Can we have an urgent debate on how to ensure that the Mayor of London puts in place a plan to deal with the issues raised by the Casey report, and on how to improve the effectiveness of the police in London so that they crack down on street robbery, burglary and car crime?
My right hon. Friend raises a serious matter. We have all been shocked by the findings of the Casey review. The Labour London Mayor’s response is very important. Whereas crime has fallen across the country and, when computer crime is taken out of the statistics, has actually halved since 2010, there is a different picture in London. Although the number of assaults with a sharp object is down by 23% nationally, it has gone up by 11% in London. Homicide is up 16.6%. Londoners deserve better, so I think that would be an excellent topic for a debate, and I encourage her to apply for it.
The BBC is proposing to close BBC Singers and to cut its symphony, philharmonic and concert orchestras. So much for the commitment to inform, educate and entertain. What discussions have the Government had with the BBC to try to save these institutions and the UK’s reputation for high-quality classical music?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter. He is not the first Member to raise the issue, as it has been a common and recurring theme on the Floor of the House since the decision was taken. I understand a consultation is taking place at the moment. The BBC is clearly an independent body, but I note that it has demonstrated great skill at doing pragmatic U-turns in a very short space of time. This might be another opportunity to demonstrate that skill.
Members will be aware that the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill is currently in Committee in the other place. Earlier this week, six companies called Groceries Ltd were set up at six residential addresses on a single residential road in Seaton. The owners of these fake companies are almost certainly not resident in the UK, but the real residents will have to go through bureaucracy and, potentially, a court appearance to prove that these fake companies should not have been registered. Can the Leader of the House let my constituents know what priority will be accorded to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill in the consideration of Lords amendments by this House?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that serious point. That, and other forms of identity theft, can be enormously distressing for individuals. We have introduced the Bill and other legislation to tackle these issues. If he needs any particular support on those individual cases, I would be happy to assist him. We are here to ensure that legislation is scrutinised and, where possible, improved, so it will be business as usual for this Bill. I am glad we are bringing it forward.
The hooliganism of Khalistani hooligans outside the Indian high commission on Sunday is a disgrace to this country. This is the sixth time in as many years that the high commission has been attacked in a similar way. As my constituency neighbour, Gareth Thomas, pointed out, security guards were injured, an attempt was made to remove the tricolour and windows were smashed. Khalistani militants are operating across the world; Canada, the United States and Australia saw similar attacks over the weekend. We are harbouring Khalistani terrorists in this country right now. Can we have a debate in Government time on what action we can take to ensure that these terrorists are held to account and banned in this country?
I thank my hon. Friend for adding his voice to those of others who have condemned this action. We take the security of the Indian high commission extremely seriously and we have been in close contact with the Government of India on this issue. He will know that it will be for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to determine whether action involving warrants and criminal proceedings is needed, and I am not able to comment further on that.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House might be able to help the Select Committee on Home Affairs by publishing in the Library the letter dated
However, my real question is about the recent Care Quality Commission report on the Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, where the overall rating was that it now “Requires improvement”. I am pleased to see that the care the trust provides is rated as “Good”, but I am disappointed overall for my constituents and the extremely hard-working staff who work in the area, which has huge health and social inequalities. May we have a debate about how health inequalities have widened over the past 13 years, how life expectancy for the poorest is now falling and what the Government are going to do to support the NHS in my constituency, which is now facing the reality of 13 years of a Tory Government?
On the right hon. Lady’s first point, she will know that I take the performance of Departments and the quality of the services they provide to all Members of this House very seriously. Lord True, the Leader of the House of Lords, and I have been to visit every permanent secretary to discuss where we think improvements can be made, and I have to say that the Home Office writes to me frequently about progress that it is making against concerns. I would be happy to meet the right hon. Lady if she has any outstanding concerns that have not been raised with me to see what further I can do to improve that performance.
The right hon. Lady will know how to apply for a debate on the issue she raises. My constituency is demographically similar to hers and our life expectancy has been improving and great progress has been made in healthcare. However, there is a mixed picture around the country, which is why we want more transparency on healthcare performance in various parts of the country.
Last week, the Prime Minister agreed the deepening of the Australia, UK and US partnership on defence. That is fantastic news for my constituents, as Rolls-Royce’s nuclear section will provide the reactors for Australia’s very first nuclear-powered submarines and that supports jobs, not just in Rolls-Royce, but throughout the supply chain. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement by the Business Secretary on how the Government’s international agreements, including AUKUS, are leading to huge investments and supporting local jobs up and down the country?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. AUKUS is an incredibly important partnership. It is much more than a submarine deal, but the interoperability for that particular service will be hugely beneficial to all Five Eyes partners. I am delighted that Rolls-Royce, which is such a fantastic company, one that showcases British innovation and skills, will be building the reactors for all of Australia’s submarines.
During covid lockdowns, Vimal Pandya helped hundreds of local people across Rotherhithe with shopping, prescriptions and more. Her late Majesty the Queen recognised and commended his exceptional contribution, but the Home Office refuses to do so, preventing him from regularising his stay in the UK by removing his passport. Will the Leader of the House honour her comments about today being the third anniversary of the first lockdown and the extraordinary sacrifice made by so many by providing time to debate Vimal’s exceptional case? He is a local hero who has the gratitude of thousands of my constituents, including me.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. He knows that I cannot deliberate on such matters, but I will assist him in raising the case if he has had difficulty in getting a response from the Home Office. If he would pass me the details after this session, I would be happy to do that.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has sown death and destruction across the middle east and has oppressed its own citizens simply for calling for basic human rights protections. However, I am afraid that the issue is now coming much closer to home, because there are growing and well-documented concerns that the IRGC is expanding its activities here in the UK, with 15 recent assassinations foiled, extremism promoted in religious centres and the deplorable intimidation of journalists. Will the Leader of the House facilitate a debate in Government time about proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important point. This issue is raised frequently, not only at business questions, but at other times across this House every week. Vahid Beheshti is currently on the 29th day of a hunger strike to highlight the exact issue that my hon. Friend raises. His motivation for this, which was echoed in my hon. Friend’s question, is this organisation’s actions, not just in Iran, but elsewhere in the world, including Ukraine and the United Kingdom. It is hunting down people who criticise the regime, kidnapping them and engaging in other forms of intimidation. I am sure that if my hon. Friend applied for a debate, it would be extremely well attended.
My constituent was diagnosed and treated for spinal cancer, but she has been left with some mobility issues. In her words, she has been fighting the Department for Work and Pensions for four years on her claim for incapacity employment and support allowance. My office made an inquiry to the MPs’ hotline on
I am very sorry to hear about this case. As the hon. Gentleman will know, if he gives me the details, I will assist him in getting his constituent an answer immediately.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the marvellous work being done in London, Brighton, Manchester and Blackpool with opt- out testing, following fantastic campaigns by the Terrence Higgins Trust and my hon. Friend Scott Benton. We are now weeks away from the end of the first year of opt-out testing. In the first 10 months, emergency departments in those areas have diagnosed almost 1,500 people with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. As the anniversary approaches, we will have a full year’s-worth of data to look at. Will she find time for a debate to explore the further roll-out of opt-out testing to all areas of high prevalence?
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to this very important work, and I pay tribute to all the organisations that have assisted, including the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National AIDS Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. My hon. Friend is right, in that the accident and emergency departments involved have diagnosed 268 people with HIV and found a further 139 people who knew that they were HIV positive but were not engaged with services. There are benefits elsewhere, as they found a further 730 people with hepatitis B and 299 people with hepatitis C. I think this is something we should be doing everywhere and I commend all those involved in this initiative and care for making such good progress.
The crisis in NHS dentistry continues to worsen. Only this month, another dental surgery in my constituency, Bell Barn dental surgery, not only stopped new NHS patients from joining, but removed its entire NHS list and became fully private. I have had extensive correspondence with Ministers, tabled written parliamentary questions, and had a debate in this House in January last year on the issue. Could the Leader of the House advise me on what more I could do to encourage her ministerial colleagues to take the issue more seriously?
I am very sorry to hear about the situation in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I know that Ministers take the subject very seriously; I have had many conversations with them about it, because I faced a similar situation in my constituency. He will know about the uplift in funding provided. Quite often, the issue is whether local commissioners are using the flexibility that they have. He asks for my advice. I held a dental summit in my constituency, and brought all the partners round the table. We have new providers and are making good progress. I am happy to offer him any advice and assistance that I can, but as I say, Ministers are taking this seriously. He will know that they are also looking forward to bringing forward reforms.
The hospitality industry has been abandoned by the Government during the cost of living crisis. I invite the Leader of the House to my constituency of Wansbeck to visit Peter and Vicki, of V. Gorman’s Fish and Chips. They have a very popular fish and chip shop—a very successful business that, like many others in our region and indeed nation, is struggling to survive. Sky-high energy costs and increased food prices are crippling their business. Customers are struggling to put food on the table. The challenges facing Peter and Vicki seem insurmountable without Government assistance. Can we have a debate in Government time to assess what support can be given to businesses that are struggling, before it is all too late for far too many?
Madam Deputy Speaker, it is not usual for the occupant of the Chair to get an invitation from those speaking on the Floor of the House—I have never heard of that happening before—but I would welcome you to my constituency to enjoy the fine culinary delights of V. Gorman’s fish and chips.
That is a very kind invitation, which I hope you will take up, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is an incredibly important sector, but I do not see how the hon. Gentleman can say that it has not been a focus of ours, and has not received support. It has had bespoke support, ranging from energy support to very considerable rates relief. We will continue to work with the sector, and to support it as we make a recovery.
Since 2011, the number of teachers of the deaf has dropped by almost 20% nationally. A recent written parliamentary question that I tabled regarding the number of teachers of the deaf in and around my constituency was met with the response,
“Information on the number of qualified teachers of the deaf is not collected by the department.”
Yet the testimony of one of my constituents, whose sixth-month-old daughter is deaf, was that although her teacher was amazing, they were overworked and running on empty, due to recent staff shortages. I am deeply concerned that the Government will not get to grips with this crisis unless the Department for Education has collated the necessary data, so will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on the workload of teachers of the deaf, and on ensuring that the Department has the relevant data?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important point. Anyone who suffers from any kind of disability, be it hearing loss or a special education need, needs proper, qualified teachers to enable them to reach their full potential. Given that Education questions are a little way off, I will write to the Secretary of State for Education, as well as the Minister for Women and Equalities and the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, because I think that this type of data is held in the Cabinet Office, in its equalities section. I will find that out for the hon. Gentleman. I would be very surprised if the data was not held somewhere, but clearly it should be with the Department for Education. I will follow up for him.
My constituents Matt and Liz are hosting two refugees, Anna and Nastya, who fled Ukraine and came to the UK in their car. They have been able to get a maximum of only 12 months of temporary car registration. To avoid some very high and complicated UK and Ukraine registration charges and import taxes, they are planning to drive back to Dnipro next month to leave their car in the war zone. It is a ridiculous situation. There should be a temporary extension to car registration for Ukrainian refugees—perhaps for the length of their visa. I have written to a Minister, but could we have a statement from the Government on how we can make that happen quickly? Or could the Leader of the House perhaps get me a swift response and resolution to the problem?
The situation that the hon. Gentleman describes is crackers. I thank him for raising it. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which is leading on support for Ukrainian refugees for the Government, is looking at precisely these sorts of issues, which are coming up now, nearly a year since those refugees arrived here. They should not have to go back into a war zone to deposit their vehicle. From memory, I think that this issue is being looked at. I will write to DLUHC and the Department for Transport. If the hon. Gentleman gives me a reference number for the case, we will try to get it resolved swiftly for him.
My Rutherglen constituent Azeem Ahmed, aged 21, is seeking to launch a new clothing brand, “Equal Clothing”. Azeem has muscular dystrophy, and will create accessible clothing for people with physical disabilities like him. He is also hoping to further the representation of physical disabilities in the fashion industry, and to inspire others to pursue their creative passions. May we have a debate in Government time on furthering accessibility, diversity and equal opportunities in fashion and other industries?
I very much congratulate the hon. Lady’s constituent on his achievements, and thank her for putting a spotlight on the issue and his work. As part of a Government scheme, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Work and Pensions are working with several disability and access ambassadors on a Cabinet Office initiative that champions this issue across the arts and creative industries. I would be very happy to put the hon. Lady’s office in touch with the relevant parts of Whitehall.
On the substantive issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, he will know that we have done a huge amount to tighten up regulations on dog breeding and the sale of animals. If he has any further ideas, I would encourage him to persist in raising them with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because it is keen to ensure that we have the best animal welfare in the world; its track record in legislating demonstrates that.
We already have done correspondence training sessions with Departments, correspondence teams, and parliamentary Clerk teams. I have done training on this issue personally, as have my staff, and we will continue to do so. We are making a big push on the training that we offer to Whitehall, and we had all the permanent secretaries in Parliament, talking to the Leader of the House of Lords and me about our expectations. I take this very seriously. If the hon. Gentleman needs any further help getting satisfaction from DEFRA, we stand ready to assist.
We are in the run-up to the mayoral elections, in which there will be a requirement for a valid form of voter identification. Constituents in my Liverpool, Riverside, constituency who turn up with their 60-plus local travel pass will be turned away from the polling station, unlike people in other parts of the country that have something similar. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time to discuss these disparities and people being disenfranchised as a result?
The hon. Lady will know that we do not think that will be a consequence of requiring people to prove who they are when going to vote, and there is a great deal of flexibility over what ID can be used. If she thinks that people in her constituency are being treated differently, I will be happy to write to the Minister with responsibility for the constitution to ensure that there is a legitimate reason why the returning officer in her area will not accept that particular form of ID.
My constituent Mujtaba Kheradmand served for nine years with the technical engineer section of the British Army in Afghanistan. Since the withdrawal, his father has been murdered by the Taliban and his mother and younger sister are now wholly dependent on him. However, they have faced insurmountable difficulties with the UK Government’s Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme, which will not consider them as close family members. Can we have a debate in Government time on the situation that he and others face, and the absolutely tiny numbers being processed through the additional family member scheme?
I am sorry to hear about the case that the hon. Gentleman raises and, if there is anything that my office can do to assist in getting that resolved, I would be happy to do that. He will know that since Operation Pitting and the evacuation we have been able to extract a number of people—very many hundreds—from Afghanistan. It is often unhelpful to talk about the routes they take and the means by which that is done in a public forum, for reasons that he will understand, but the fact that we have done that for many hundreds of people should give him comfort. I will be happy to look at the specific case and see if I can assist him.
Yesterday, a joint report from Open Doors, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Middle East Concern and Article18, entitled “Rights Violations Against Christians in Iran”, was launched in this House. The report highlights the double vulnerability of women as religious minorities in Iran. That country’s political crackdown on its citizens has received a lot of attention in the House, but women from religious minorities are often overlooked in the larger picture. The Leader of the House is always very receptive and I appreciate her responses; will she arrange a meeting with the Foreign Secretary so that we can discuss the recommendations of the report?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising an important point that all Members want to keep the spotlight on. I will certainly pursue the meeting he suggests, and perhaps suggest a meeting with the envoys for gender equality and freedom of religion as well—I am sure that he works with those individuals already, but it is important to discuss these latest situations.
With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I wish the hon. Gentleman happy birthday for this weekend. I am sure I speak for the whole House in putting on record our gratitude for the very romantic early-day motion 992 on the 50th anniversary of “I Will Always Love You”.
[That this House celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Dolly Parton’s hit song I Will Always Love You; notes the sentiment behind this song and what it means to so many, including the wife of the hon. Member for Strangford; highlights the contribution this song and her music in general to the industry, especially in the late 1960s, early 1970s and over the last 50 years; further notes the large scale event held at the weekend in Dolly Parton’s multi-million dollar theme park at Pigeon Forge in East Tennessee as part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the song, that was written as a farewell to her business partner and mentor Peter Wagoner; and wishes Dolly continued success as she entertains and encourages so many through her music and inspirational character.]
I say that not “Just Because I’m a Woman”, but because the hon. Gentleman is so diligent, working more than “9 to 5”. Every week without fail at the end of business questions we look at who has the last question and we say, “Here You Come Again” and it is “Gonna Be You”—with apologies to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for breaking protocol. The hon. Gentleman has cheered us all up again, as he always does.
On this occasion, Andy Slaughter is last.
I will grant it as my birthday present to Jim Shannon that I am taking last place behind him.
Afghan refugee children who have already spent 18 months in hotels are being removed out of London—not to settled accommodation, but to other hotels several hundred miles away. That breaks the Home Office’s own guidelines on moving children in the middle of exam periods. Asylum-seeking children are having to travel four hours a day to continue their education, again after compulsory relocation and despite the fact that under guidelines they should be placed no more than an hour’s travel from where they are housed. Will the Leader of the House persuade the Home Secretary either to follow her own rules, or to come to the House to explain why she refuses to do so?
The hon. Gentleman raises very serious matters. The reason that we have those protocols and procedures in place is to ensure that children and young people are given every possible chance to recover from the trauma they have gone through and to get on with their lives, and that they are safe and able to access education. We have put those rules in place for a reason. I am sure the hon. Gentleman has raised the specific examples that he is concerned with, but I urge him please to lean on my office as well. These issues may be widespread, but it does sound as if they are very localised and because of local pressures. The final thing I would say to him is that this is an indication of how under pressure the system is and how inappropriate hotel accommodation is for families. That is why we are bringing forward measures on illegal migration, and I encourage him and all Members to consider that when the Illegal Migration Bill comes to Committee next week.
I thank the Leader of the House for answering the business question and join her in her felicitations to the hon. Member for Strangford.