Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 10:41 am on 14 March 2024.

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Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The business for the week commencing 18 March will include:

Monday 18 March—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

Tuesday 19 March—Remaining stages of the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 20 MarchSecond Reading of the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill.

Thursday 21 March—General debate on the reports of the Defence Committee and Public Accounts Committee on armed forces readiness and defence equipment, followed by general debate on the reports of the Environmental Audit Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee on food security. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee on the recommendation of the Liaison Committee.

Friday 22 March—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 25 March includes:

Monday 25 March—Remaining stages of the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 26 MarchCommittee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Pedicabs (London) Bill [Lords], followed by debate on a motion relating to the national policy statement for national networks.

The House will rise for the Easter recess at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 26 March and return on Monday 15 April.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

First, I pay tribute to Tommy McAvoy, the former Member for Rutherglen. Tommy was a legend of the Labour Whips Office, and the longest ever serving Government Whip. He was highly respected and revered. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Despite the King’s Speech being only a few months ago, the Government seem to be running scared from their own legislative programme. Where have all their flagship Bills gone? We hear that the Renters (Reform) Bill is being held to ransom, on the brink of collapse because the Government will not stand up to landlords on their own side and end no-fault evictions. Second Reading and Committee stage happened in November, but there has been nothing since. That is a manifesto commitment, so when will we get Report stage? If the Government do not end no-fault evictions, we will.

The Prime Minister’s personal pledge, to much fanfare, of a smokefree generation also seems to have gone up in smoke. Where is the Bill? We have offered the Government Labour’s votes, and they should take them. The Victims and Prisoners Bill is languishing in the Lords. Is that because the Government do not want the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson on infected blood to be agreed to? If that is so, it is pretty shameful. Will the Leader of the House promise Government support for the amended Bill? When will we finally see details of the compensation scheme?

The Sentencing Bill is also stuck in limbo. We have been waiting for weeks for its Committee stage. Is it another victim of this worn-out Government? Apparently, the Justice Secretary and the Prime Minister are at loggerheads over how to proceed, while this week the Government sneaked out further plans to release criminals early because they have lost control of prison places. Is that not exactly what Members should be scrutinising during the passage of the Bill? Will the Leader of the House bring it back?

Much needed and long heralded legislation to regulate English football is still nowhere to be seen. Just this week, the Premier League shelved a new financial settlement for the football pyramid, and the English Football League is responding today. Does the Leader of the House not agree that new powers to impose a fair deal for smaller clubs cannot come soon enough? Fans in Bury, Macclesfield, Derby, Reading, Scunthorpe and, may I add, Portsmouth want their precious clubs saved. If the Conservatives want to make this an election issue in those places, I say bring it on. Let us be really clear: if they do not want to regulate football governance, then we will.

I notice the Leader of the House has not announced any further provision beyond Monday for ping-pong on the emergency Rwanda legislation. Is that because it has now been pushed back to after Easter? Some emergency! To be honest, I do not want to hear “as parliamentary time allows” when there is an abundance of it. Do we really need time on the Floor of the House for so many statutory instruments or Committee stage of the Pedicabs (London) Bill? The Government have the time, but on those issues and more they do not have the support of their own side. It is as if they do not have the numbers. With every week that passes, their majority gets smaller and smaller. This week, it was another defection. But the reasons for their dwindling numbers do not make for pretty reading. In no particular order: tractor porn, drug abuse, a conviction for paedophilia, breaking parliamentary rules on paid lobbying, groping, misleading Parliament, flashing at staff, tantrums because they were not given peerages, and eating camel penis. It might sound ridiculous, but it is actually not funny. It all brings Parliament into disrepute and drags our politics through the gutter.

And now, this week, we have had overt racism from the Conservative party’s biggest donor. I had to check for myself yesterday that the Prime Minister really said that he was “pleased”—he was pleased—that this man, who said a black woman MP should be shot and that Indians should climb on the roof of trains, supported his party. Is the Leader of the House pleased? Will she use his resources in her marginal Portsmouth North constituency? Surely, if he is a racist, which he clearly is, he has no place in the Conservative party and his money should be given back.

The truth is that the Conservatives cannot implement their own legislative programme. They have lost control. As Sir Charles Walker said last night:

“the Conservative party is unleadable and…for the sake of the nation, it’s better to go early than allow this psychodrama to continue.”

He’s right, isn’t he?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

May I start by wishing all who are marking it in the UK and around the world a blessed Ramadan? I join the tribute paid by Lucy Powell to Tommy McAvoy. I am sure many Members will pay tribute to him in the coming days and weeks. I also thank my right hon. Friend Mrs May for her service and friendship over many years. This House may be losing her, but I know she has many more years of public service ahead of her.

The hon. Member for Manchester Central focuses first on the legislative programme. She will know that 26 Bills have already been introduced in this Session and that four have reached Royal Assent. She will know that last Session we did 43 Bills, and broke many records in terms of private Members’ Bills and the amount of legislation we were able to get through. She will know the passage of the Bills that are going through both Houses at the moment, and she will also know that we will shortly bring through a Bill on football governance. This is a programme of work that we initiated following a review that was conducted with the help of many clubs around the country. When we bring legislation to the House, it will need to have the confidence of the English Football League, and, having attended many events with the EFL myself, I know that that is clear and understood.

The hon. Lady claimed that the Conservatives had no energy left for legislation, suggesting that we were not bringing measures forward and that we were a zombie Parliament, but I am afraid that it is the Opposition who are the zombies in this Chamber. The House rises early when the Opposition are not opposing. The Committee stage of the Finance Bill was completed in 30 minutes, and in recent times the Opposition have found it hard even to find speakers for their own debates. It is they who are displaying zombie tendencies. It is often tempting to refer to the Leader of the Opposition as the Knight of the Living Dead, and in stark contrast I commend the always energetic and vibrant stance taken by my hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker; I think the point he was making in that interview was that the plan is working.

Let me now come to the very serious issue that the hon. Lady raised about Mr Hester’s remarks. They were racist and abhorrent, and—I fully appreciate—threatening to Ms Abbott, who I understand has referred the matter to the police.

My party is financed by fundraising and donations—notably money raised from raffles—including donations from private individuals. There might be some who would come to this Dispatch Box today and attempt to argue that such a refund was not practically possible or warranted, but I am not going to attempt to do that. The point that the hon. Lady has made is not concerned with the practicalities of a refund, the consequences to the payroll of Conservative Campaign Headquarters, or the ability of my party to fight a general election. No, no; it is a point of principle, and I respect that. She could not have been clearer in what she has said today. She has stated that it is wrong to take funds from people who say horrible things, no matter when they were said, and that when there is an issue, funds should be returned. She has been clear about that today, and she has said that that is the right thing to do.

If, for example, someone said of Hamas that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, as Dale Vince has said, or said that my colleagues and I should be “taken out and shot”, as the RMT union boss Steve Hedley has said, the hon. Lady would presumably think it wrong to hang on to funds donated to Labour by them—or by an organisation branded “institutionally sexist”. I believe that during Tim Roache’s time as GMB general secretary, when he ran what has been described as a “casting couch culture”—menacing young women in the union—the Labour party took 12 million quid from him.

Those three charmers alone have contributed £15 million to the Labour party, and presumably, immediately following this session, the hon. Lady will demand that it is repaid. To be precise, and to assist her in that matter, let me add that those donations were made directly to the central Labour party, Labour MPs, Members of the Scottish Parliament, councillors, the Mayor of Manchester—she might like to mention that this weekend—the deputy leader of the Labour party, and the Leader of the Opposition.

If Labour is sincere and this it is not a political stunt, it will commit itself to repaying those funds, and there would be some additional upsides to doing so. The scurrilous suggestions that Labour’s pro “Stop Oil” policies were anything to do with Mr Vince’s donations could no longer be deployed, and nor could the charge that Labour Members would not support our legislation to protect the public’s access to the services they pay for because their party was in the pockets of militant trade unions—but I am not holding my breath, because I know that Labour Members say one thing and do another. They have dropped their £28 billion decarbonisation spending pledge, yet they keep the policy. They say that they will not tolerate pro-genocide chants, yet they have restored the whip to Andy McDonald. They say that they back our tax cuts but they will not vote for them, and as a consequence they now cannot say how they would fund NHS appointments, breakfast clubs, NHS equipment, dentistry appointments, home insulation, their own state-owned energy company, and their wealth fund. No amount of confected drama and virtue signalling can disguise the fact that it is the same old Labour party, the same old hypocrisy and the same old games.

This week, in the real world outside the Westminster bubble, which is where we are focused, cancer deaths among middle-aged people are down by a third, revised forecasts show that the economy is growing and, for the eighth month in a row, real wages are rising. The plan is working, unlike Labour’s line of attack, and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne is very excited about it.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

It is good to hear inclusive politics. May I ask the Leader of the House whether, following consultations, there might be a statement before or after Easter on inclusivity in Parliament? We rightly want to embrace and value difference and diversity, whether of a person’s race, gender, other characteristics, background or experience. The word that is missing is “sex”.

Over the last five years, those who are gender critical have raised all sorts of issues, including the constant use of puberty blockers for children and the attack on the LGB Alliance for not swallowing what Stonewall and Mermaids persuaded many Government Departments and agencies to do, which was to disregard sex completely.

While wanting to support trans people and make sure that they can have a life free from bigotry and fear, would it be possible for the House to examine its own policies on inclusiveness and try to ensure that the word “sex” is included along with the other characteristics for which people should not be discriminated against?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, and I know that many members of the House of Commons Commission will have heard what he has said. This is a very important matter. When the Government have put forward measures—for example, to protect single-sex spaces, which are important and valued by many people in this country—we have also been reassuring about what that means for trans people and those living in a different gender. It is perfectly possible to do both, and I think that the House having a further focus on the issue is a very good suggestion.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business)

May I, too, wish everyone a happy Ramadan and pay my respects to the family of Tommy McAvoy?

Well, here we are again: trying to get the answers that the Leader of the House does not want to—and indeed never does—supply to our sticky, inconvenient questions. I will begin with the dream that dare not speak its name here: Brexit. The Resolution Foundation tells us that the UK’s goods exports and imports have contracted by far more than those of any other G7 country, largely due to Brexit. Things are now so dire in Brexitland that even news of a GDP uplift of just 0.2% is fallen upon by Brexiteers like starving pigeons on the crust of the stalest bread. The Conservative party aims to shrink suffering public services even further, as evidenced in last week’s Budget, so should there not be some discussion, or even a debate, about the huge uplift in civil service jobs that Brexit seems to have required since the EU referendum in 2016?

Despite all the glorious promises of strength and environmental protections in this freer, fairer and better-off Britian, we are seeing green policies abandoned right, left and centre by both the Tory and Labour parties. A hapless Minister even tried to tell us yesterday that building new gas-powered plants is good for the environment—a suggestion that seems to be supported by shadow Environment Ministers too. Once again, Labour presents one face down here and entirely another up in Scotland. Frustratingly, all the warning signs of Brexit impacts, across a huge range of sectors, come in bits and pieces. Surely what is needed is for the Government to collate all the impacts and present the results to the British people, so that they can properly judge whether Brexit has been a success. Can the Leader of the House help to facilitate that?

There was a little good news this week: hopefully, there will be some proper Government redress for victims of the shocking Post Office Horizon scandal, although there is still no comfort for the infected blood scandal victims. I met the International Consortium of British Pensioners recently, and I fear that another scandal is about to break in the form of frozen pensions. There are now so many scandals that it is hard to keep track. Something does not work in this place if so many can build up under successive Governments of different political hues.

Unfortunately, the Leader of the House’s party distinguished itself again this week by choosing money over morality in its grubby handling of the racist comments allegedly made about one of our colleagues in this House. At the very least, a debate to re-examine how parties are funded is called for.

The “Seven Up!” series was recently deemed to be the most influential television series of the last 50 years. Well, 14 years is well and truly up for this terrible Government, but apparently we cannot be put out of our Tory misery yet because their junior Members have debts and need the extra months to build up some reserves. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is not much of an excuse?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I welcome the hon. Lady’s welcome of the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, which I hope her party will support. She knows that we will shortly bring forward measures to rectify the situation on infected blood. These scandals did not arise under this Administration, but we have gripped the issues. The infected blood issue had been left for decades, but we have investigated and set up inquiries and are compensating the victims. I hope the House will support us in doing so on both matters.

The hon. Lady insinuates that I dodge questions, but I do not. She said six weeks ago that she would write to me with a list of all the questions I have not answered, but she has not yet done so. The SNP never fails to disappoint.

The hon. Lady asks about sound administration and about money over morality, in a week in which it has been discovered that the Scottish Government have presided over a six-figure sum of Scottish taxpayers’ money being spent on an art installation that promises a

“magical, erotic journey through a distinctly Scottish landscape.”

That is known to the rest of us as a hardcore porn movie.

I am glad that the SNP is interested in good governance and improving administration, particularly with reference to Brexit. Let me see how I can help to improve the Scottish Government’s effectiveness in that regard. There has been criticism this week that the SNP is blowing taxpayers’ cash on copious embassies and lobbying to rejoin the EU. That camper van must be out of the police pound soon, so why not turn it into a mobile embassy that can drive between Brussels and European capitals to lobby for EU membership? If the SNP wants to continue funding innovative film projects, perhaps it could double up and ask Cliff Richard to come along and produce a sequel to “Summer Holiday”, which would have the added bonus of cutting down the SNP’s need to blow more taxpayers’ cash on overseas jollies. I am here to help.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

I have a lot of time for Lucy Powell, but I need to clear my name. I strode across Victoria Tower Gardens yesterday to put my boot into my miserabilist colleagues who are demanding an early general election. I said to Gary Gibbon that, with incomes rising, inflation falling, the economy growing and the plan working, why 2 May? I am rolling up my sleeves to man the ramparts in November.

My question is: can we have an urgent debate on foot in mouth disease?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker is in the Chamber to set the record straight and to request a debate on foot and mouth disease. Because of his energetic question, I will write to the Secretary of State to ask him to consider what my hon. Friend has said. As for the rest of what my hon. Friend said, we thank him for it.

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

I declare an interest, as I am a member of the Tyneside Irish centre, which is handily placed because of its proximity to St James’s Park in Newcastle upon Tyne city centre. With that in mind, I wish all members of the Irish diaspora a very happy St Patrick’s day on Sunday.

The Committee is still open for applications for Westminster Hall debates on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons after the Easter recess, but we are a little disappointed that we have not been allocated a little more Chamber time before the recess.

The cost of childcare is a significant barrier to work for many parents, and the increase in funded places will be welcome but, with the first phase coming into effect in April, many parents are reporting difficulty in obtaining the promised funded places and very significant cost increases for the non-funded element. Can we have a debate in Government time on the impact of the first phase of the scheme; on the accessibility and affordability of the scheme; and on whether the scheme, as it currently stands, will effectively remove the childcare barrier to work and fulfil its promise to parents?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for all the work he is doing for his Committee. I hear his appeal for more time and I will soon be able to give him some information about that.

As for our childcare policy, this is a priority for the Secretary of State for Education and I will make sure that she has heard his concerns today. It is one of the many elements we are bringing forward to enable people to remain economically active and grow their household income. It is a very important service, which is why have done this. It is an unprecedented, generous package for parents and we must ensure that all parents who want to access it can do so.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Yesterday, I hosted my second parliamentary fertility treatment drop-in, where we had the likes of Fertility Matters at Work, LGBT Mummies and Fertility Network UK. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time we looked at access to fertility treatment and ensured that employers provide time off work for people undertaking it? May we have a debate in Government time to discuss this important subject?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

On behalf of all of us, I thank my hon. Friend for all the work she does on this important matter. It is primarily an issue for the Department of Health and Social Care, but some of the issues she raises will fall to the Department for Work and Pensions. I will therefore make sure that both Secretaries of State have heard what she has said today. This is an increasingly a concern and an important matter to many couples, and we must ensure that we are doing all we can to support them.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

May I press the Leader of the House again on the football governance Bill and say how urgent it is? Many of us, on both sides of the House, have clubs in our constituencies that have been on the verge of going under, and that situation is only going to get worse. Will the Government bring the putative Bill to the Floor of the House as soon as possible?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman has my undertaking to do that. It is important that we bring that Bill forward; the football pyramid, at every level, needs to be supported. I know that many hon. Members will have had a great deal of input into the Bill and we must make sure it is perfect when it comes to this House.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

During a recent visit to the Eastwood Academy, an outstanding non-selective secondary school that aims to help every child fulfil their potential, the head told me that a year 10 student had been removed from school mid-term in favour of elective home education. The student was doing incredibly well, having come from a challenging background. The head had only 10 days to try to engage with the parents and they would not even come into the school for a meeting. Please may we have a debate in Government time on the process by which children can suddenly be ripped out of school, and an assurance that when children are being electively home educated, they are getting the education they rightfully deserve?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. She will appreciate that these situations are often incredibly complicated and involve many factors. However, it is important to ensure that we know where children are and what education they are getting. It is particularly important after the pandemic that we ensure that all children are getting access to a good education.

My hon. Friend Mrs Drummond introduced the Children Not in School (Registers, Support and Orders) Bill on 11 December and its Second Reading is scheduled for Friday. I hope we can ensure that the Bill makes progress in this Session. It is important and, of course, it would not impede in any way people who want to home educate their children, as many do in a very good way indeed.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

We had a debate in Westminster Hall on 12 December on arms export licences for sales to Israel. On the same day, the Foreign Secretary decided he was satisfied that there was

“good evidence to support a judgment that Israel is committed to complying with IHL”— international humanitarian law. It is Liberal Democrat policy to have a presumption of denial for arms sales to countries on the most recent Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office list of territories designated as human rights priority countries. May we have a debate in Government time on that list of human rights priority countries, so that we may better interdict Iranian arms supplies to Hamas and Hezbollah, but also look again at UK arms exports to Israel?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I will certainly ensure that the Department for Business and Trade, which has oversight of this matter, is aware of what the hon. Gentleman has said. The House scrutinises the policies and procedures that surround arms export controls. We are very transparent and we have one of the most rigorous regimes in the world. I am sure that we would welcome further scrutiny of it, because I think it is a sound policy.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

Last week, we saw a Budget that delivered lower taxes and high economic growth. It contained measures, such as freezing fuel duty, support for childcare and changes to child benefit, from which areas like Gillingham and Rainham will benefit. However, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to make a statement on how the 20 town centres were chosen for levelling-up investment and regeneration, and how the criteria were applied? Gillingham has not had any funding, despite representations to the Secretary of State, so my constituents, like any other constituents, want to know how the criteria are applied and that decisions are made on a fair, open and transparent basis.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for being a champion for his constituents, in particular by trying to get levelling-up funding. He will know that the processes that assess where funding is directed are independent of Ministers, and that the criteria and grading are transparent. He will also know that where people have not been successful, the Department has quite often worked with local authorities and Members of the House to improve the bids put forward. I encourage my hon. Friend to go and talk to the Secretary of State, and I will ensure he knows that my hon. Friend has raised the issue today.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Oldham is a wonderful place but it is not without challenges. The local community is concerned about the number of young people who have been drawn into gang activity and who are at risk of child criminal exploitation. Figures over the last two years show that 312 young people have been identified as being at risk of exploitation. We have had five section 60 stop and searches in place over the last year because of the number of knife incidents. Can we have a debate in Government time on what is being done in urban areas where criminal exploitation is not being checked?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important matter. I encourage him to raise it with his local police and crime commissioner, as I am sure he has. I will ensure that the Home Secretary has heard what he has said today, but I would encourage him to address the issue with his local constabulary and the police and crime commissioner.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

Education is the bedrock to levelling up in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. I am delighted by the improvement since 2010, with some 92% of schools now rated “good” or “outstanding”. Mill Hill Primary Academy and New Ford Academy in Smallthorne have both recently received “outstanding” status.

Sadly, Labour’s abysmal and dismal record looms large and haunts Stoke-on-Trent. Thanks to Labour, 88 schools are languishing in disastrous private finance initiative deals. Recent hikes to the charges facing those schools could put staff livelihoods at risk, as well as undermining the very fabric of what we are trying to do, which is to turn education around in our great city after Labour’s abysmal failure. Will the Leader of the House assist me in securing an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate so that I can raise these matters directly with the relevant Department, in order to ensure that those 88 schools can and will be protected?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I congratulate my hon. Friend, the teachers, the parents and everyone who has worked in his constituency to improve education standards. That is very good news indeed. But I know, as a founder member of the “no to PFI” campaign, of the legacy issues with which many public organisations are dealing. I know, too, that my hon. Friend has been a doughty campaigner on trying to get these matters resolved, ensuring that the commercial negotiations that need to take place to protect those public services and those working in them are properly under way.

Given that Education questions are not until the end of April, I will make sure that what he has said today has been heard by the Secretary of State, and also by the Treasury, which has done much under our Administration to try to rectify the damage that these contracts have done. He will know how to apply for a debate.

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

Sub-postmasters are rightly being put at the centre of the Government’s response to the Horizon scandal. Last week, the Leader of the House told me that the Paymaster General was going to tour around the United Kingdom to meet all the groups of the infected and affected in the contaminated blood scandal. I have had a letter from the Paymaster General, which does not give me any more information, and all the groups are telling me that they have had no contact with the Paymaster General’s office to organise that tour. It is nine weeks until Sir Brian Langstaff produces his final report on the infected blood inquiry. Can we have a statement from the Paymaster General, so that we can all understand exactly what is happening and what this tour will do? Many people are concerned that it may be a delaying tactic, and we all want to get compensation to those who have been infected and affected by the scandal.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the right hon. Lady for raising this matter again. In doing so, it sends a message to those who have been waiting far too long for redress that they are at the forefront of our minds. I met the Paymaster General again this week. He is making good progress towards getting this resolved. I know that this is frustrating for the right hon. Lady and all those involved with her all-party parliamentary group, but the Paymaster General will come to the House to give an update at the first available opportunity. We are now moving towards the end of this process. What the Paymaster General has discussed with me has given me confidence in that respect, and he feels strongly that he wants to meet people directly. There will be more information coming out on that, but I do understand the right hon. Lady’s impatience.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

The Leader of the House will know that I welcome the support the Government have given to pensioners, with an 8.5% increase in pensions in April and the triple lock remaining firmly in place. However, the tax threshold will consume much of the support that pensioners have been given, and the national insurance reduction has done nothing for them. I ask the Leader of the House to arrange an urgent debate on improving the quality of life for pensioners in the United Kingdom who have worked hard all their lives, contributing to our nation’s success, and deserve a high-quality retirement.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

This Government can be very proud of their record in this respect. I remember when we came to power in 2010 the appalling maladministration of pension and tax credits that left many people trapped in poverty and misery. The triple lock and uprating of the state pension by 8.5% from April this year will protect pensioner incomes, and the state pension has increased by £3,700 since 2010. It is very important to ensure that people are being lifted out of poverty and looked after when the cost of living rises due to heating bills and other demands that are made on their purse as they age. We have lifted 200,000 pensioners out of absolute poverty and improved the lives of many more, and that is a record to be proud of. I will make sure that the issue that my hon. Friend raises is heard by the Secretary of State.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

This week, we mark the start of the 40th anniversary of the miners’ strikes of 1984-85. Tomorrow, I will attempt to bring my Miners’ Strike (Pardons) Bill forward in this place and invite the Leader of the House to join me in supporting it. Beyond that, can we make arrangements for a debate in Government time on the potential merits of a public inquiry into the political interference that took place at that time?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the advert for his Bill; I wish him well with it. The other issue he raises would be a matter for the Cabinet Office. I understand why he makes the point, but I suspect that it will not be on the list of Cabinet Office priorities for a public inquiry.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Can we have a debate on the shocking decision by Labour’s Barnet Council to approve overdevelopment in Victoria Quarter in New Barnet and to concrete over green fields in Whalebones Park in High Barnet? This is a disgraceful decision that demonstrates the ominous situation in the terrible event that Labour were to win power at the general election, because its leader wants to bulldoze the green belt as well.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my right hon. Friend for yet again raising her concerns over particular developments in her area. She will know that we have worked hard to strike the right balance in ensuring that we are building to enable people to have cost-effective housing and achieve their ambitions of home ownership. She will know that the next Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions are not until later in April, so I will ensure that the particular local issue that she is campaigning on is brought to the attention of the Secretary of State.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

I want to raise with the Leader of the House a shocking statistic: research shows that more than 300,000 people died as a result of this Government’s austerity policies. On top of those deaths, austerity has driven down wages, caused the economy to stagnate, and ripped the heart out of so many public services that our communities rely upon. Despite that, the Government plan a further £20 billion of cuts, so can we have an urgent debate on the specific issue of the damage caused by austerity economics, and why it need to be ditched once and for all?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to remind him of the state of the country when we took office in 2010. Youth unemployment was running at 45%, and there were 400,000 more children and 200,000 more pensioners in absolute poverty than there are today. In my constituency, my hospital was in the top five for those with MRSA infections. We had crumbling school buildings. The Labour party’s Building Schools for the Future programme had not done any work, and secondary schools were excluded from it— I could go on.

The hon. Gentleman points to the fact that if Labour got in, it would repeat that exercise. Currently, it is unable in its spending plans to afford NHS appointments, breakfast clubs, NHS equipment, dentistry appointments, home insulation, the job bonus or its plans for wealth funds and a state-owned energy company. We have brought back sound money. The Labour party does not understand that. If he really wants to complain about what we had to do to get this country back on track, he should look to his own party and its behaviour pre 2010.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

While the shambolic Labour leadership at Kirklees Council are busy fighting among themselves, with resignations, sackings, and the jailing of a Labour councillor for perverting the course of justice, can we have a debate on all the millions of pounds of Government investment that is flowing into the Colne and Holme valleys and Lindley: a brand new A&E unit; the multibillion pound trans-Pennine rail upgrade; the West Yorkshire investment zone, boosting the national health innovation campus of the University of Huddersfield; £100 million of levelling-up cash for the indoor market; the Penistone line upgrade; Marsden Mills; a £30 million teaching block at Greenhead College; and much, much more?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate him on listing the considerable achievements that he and his local community have been able to achieve. It is a great track record and one to be proud of. It sits in stark contrast to what has become a distinctive feature of Labour-run councils: in Birmingham, bankruptcy; in Liverpool, police investigations into corruption; Sandwell saved from complete failure by Government intervention; and in Tower Hamlets, Labour’s vote-rigging legacy is still causing havoc for residents.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Farming, Agriculture and Rural Affairs)

The Scottish Government have built more affordable homes than any other country in the United Kingdom: 126,000 over the past 17 years. Meanwhile, there has been a staggering 76% fall in affordable housing alone in London in this financial year. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out her response to a call from the housing charity Crisis, which said that the UK Government’s three-year freeze on local housing allowance is one of the biggest drivers of homelessness?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady asks, I will deliver. I will make a statement now: the Mayor of London’s record on home building, crime, and support for small businesses and charities is a shambles, and he should be voted out of office.

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

When we build thousands of new homes to ensure that people are decently and affordably housed, as we are doing in my constituency, we also put thousands of extra motorists on to the existing road network. The A505 between Leighton Buzzard and Dunstable has seen four fatalities in six years, and 50 accidents, and Bedford Road in Houghton Regis is not safe. What can we do to ensure that we recognise the impact on the existing road network when we build thousands of new homes?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend again for his work to ensure that developments in his constituency are matched by investment in infrastructure and services, whether that is healthcare, which he has campaigned on enormously, or transport, which he has raised again today. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Transport has heard what my hon. Friend has said, and he can raise it with him directly on 21 March. I congratulate my hon. Friend, because this is an important aspect of ensuring that, as developments progress, his community gets the services it needs.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Chair, Business and Trade Committee, Chair, Business and Trade Committee, Chair, Business and Trade Sub-Committee on National Security and Investment, Chair, Business and Trade Sub-Committee on National Security and Investment

The greater the scandal, the greater obligation on us to act with speed and clarity to provide remedies. Notwithstanding yesterday’s welcome news on the Horizon scandal Bill, we have not acted fast enough, and now we are not acting with enough clarity, because the Department for Business and Trade is more than a fortnight late in providing the explanatory memorandum for its supplementary estimate. No other Department has missed the deadline; only the Department for Business and Trade. We cannot see where the budget might lie for remedies and redress for the GLO—group litigation order—litigants, whose heroic tenacity actually allowed us to overturn the convictions that the Bill proposes. Will the Leader of the House join me in urging the Department to provide that explanatory memorandum quickly and, if not, may we have a debate in Government time to get to the bottom of what on earth is going on?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that matter. I will certainly ensure that the Department has heard what he has said and that the House is presented with papers in good time to be able to scrutinise the legislation. He will know the complex issues that surround the Bill and the work that has gone on to ensure that the Bill was brought before the House in the best form possible to make swift passage through the House. There is concurrent activity to ensure that what the Bill enables is ready to be implemented once it leaves this House and gains Royal Assent. He raises an important matter. I will ensure that the Department has heard what he has said.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

Last Friday, on International Women’s Day, I had a fantastic time in my constituency celebrating the “Let Girls Play” campaign’s “Biggest Ever Football Session”. Schools including Castlefort JMI, Pelsall Village, Ryders Hayes, St John’s, St Anne’s, and Manor Primary in Streetly all came together. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking Walsall FC Foundation, including Swifty the mascot, Streetly Academy and everyone who was involved in organising the day and, we hope, in encouraging and inspiring the next generation of Lionesses?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all her work, and join her in thanks and praise for Walsall FC Foundation, Swifty the mascot, and everyone involved. The proof of focus in this area is in the statistics: the BBC recently analysed the uptake in women playing the national game, and there are now twice as many registered female football teams in England than there were just seven years ago. That is a tremendous thing to celebrate.

Photo of Claire Hanna Claire Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party, Belfast South

Members will know that the shared prosperity fund was initially a replacement for EU funds—and a poor imitation in the view of many. Despite Northern Ireland having the highest levels of economic inactivity and the lowest proportional SPF spend, money allocated to that fund has been repurposed into last month’s Stormont deal and effectively raided to fund vital services. Will the Leader of the House allow for a debate in Government time to discuss that fund and how money can be properly returned to levelling up and to supporting employability for carers, the long-term unemployed, vulnerable young people and people living with disabilities in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady raises an important point. The opportunity to speak directly to the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box is not until 24 April, so I will ensure that he has heard her concerns.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Labour demands that a large donation to the Conservatives be returned because of a racist comment made five years ago, but does my right hon. Friend recall that Mark Serwotka, the head of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said six years ago that Israel “created” the antisemitism row in the Labour party? The Board of Deputies said at the time that that was antisemitic, but Serwotka was subsequently elected president of the whole TUC. Applying the same standards, should not Labour return the tens of millions that it has received from trade union donations?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My right hon. and learned Friend has provided yet another example to add to the three that I gave earlier in this session, so it is £15 million and rising. We wait to see what Lucy Powell does.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)

Can we have a debate about Ofcom’s approach to GB News and its alleged breaches—found breaches, in fact—of the broadcasting code, as well as its ownership? Is it not time that we had a proper wide-ranging Ofcom inquiry into whether Sir Paul Marshall, who has endorsed very right-wing and extreme views, is a fit and proper person to hold a broadcasting licence, and whether the editorial policy is in breach of the rules set down by this House?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian and will know how to secure a debate. The Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee is smiling and wiggling his eyebrows at him along the Bench. The work that Ofcom does is incredibly important. It has raised a number of concerns with that channel about particular broadcasters and presenters; it has not raised matters of concern with regard to the channel itself. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to explore those matters further, he knows what he can do.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

In working with Durham Constabulary and Darlington Borough Council civic enforcement, I have been shocked to learn of the widespread sale of illegal vapes and illicit tobacco, sales to children, and the grooming and entry of children into acting as agents for that organised crime, which is akin to county lines. What work are the Government doing across the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to tackle that deeply troubling issue, and will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on it?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend will know how he can secure a debate. Things that could be discussed on that occasion include the £30 million a year of new funding for enforcement agencies—including trading standards, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Border Force—to tackle the illicit market and under-age sales. There is a new joint illicit tobacco strategy and a new illicit tobacco taskforce, which will be backed by £100 million of new funding over the next five years. It is a very important issue for the Government, and I welcome further scrutiny of it.

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

With only four bank branches left in my constituency, I thought my days of moaning about branch closures were over, but on Tuesday, Lloyds informed me that it was closing the Bank of Scotland branches in Renfrew and Bridge of Weir. Renfrew is a growing town with a population of 25,000 that will not have a single branch, and the village of Bridge of Weir—where doing anything without a car is difficult—will also not have a branch. Can we have a debate on local banking? For so many, that is now left to the Post Office, albeit in simple terms, and it is fair to say that the Post Office’s reputation with the public is in the gutter.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Those are important services for any community, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise concerns about what is happening in his constituency. It is fortunate that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up is on the Front Bench—he has saved me the stamp that it would cost to raise this matter with him—because his Department has done a lot of work to ensure that even though banking services might not have bricks-and-mortar locations, services can be retained in local communities, including communities that are very isolated and rural. I will take a belt-and-braces approach: I will write to the Secretary of State and ask his officials, who have put together guidance on best practice in this area, to contact the hon. Gentleman’s office.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

When Mark Murphy was a presenter at BBC Radio Suffolk, it is fair to say that we had a bit of a mixed relationship—he was probably the most robust questioner I have ever encountered. However, last September, he took over as the chief executive officer of Cancer Support Suffolk, and has done an exceptional job with his team. I visited that charity last week, and it has made some changes: people do not need to be referred by the hospital to go in and have a meeting, and it now supports family members, not just those with cancer.

One of the things that Mark raised with me, though, is that he thinks there should be national screening for prostate cancer and a level playing field for all forms of cancer, to make sure we catch it early, and that we should work with some hard-to-reach communities to raise awareness. Will the Leader of the House support me in that campaign, and recognise the work that Mark Murphy has done and how it could save lives in Suffolk?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I add my congratulations and thanks to those of my hon. Friend for those individuals who have done so much to improve services and the patient experience in his area. We have had some good news on cancer outcomes today. That is very welcome, and it is because of those people—their attention to detail and their efforts—that those achievements have been secured.

As my hon. Friend knows, diagnostics are absolutely critical to ensuring that people have good outcomes. That is why we have invested so much in the 160 new diagnostic test centres in a whole raft of therapy areas across the country. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Health has heard about my hon. Friend’s particular interest in this area. We obviously have new opportunities to use data that the Department of Health and Social Care is collecting to ensure we improve patient outcomes everywhere.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Labour, Makerfield

Last week, I visited Zeelandia UK. Besides showing me its range of products, I had a Zoom call with the managing director of that company’s Ukrainian factory, who set up “Bake for Ukraine”, a project that helps bring fresh bread to local people by sending decommissioned commercial bakery equipment from the UK, which is converted and given to small bakeries in local villages. Tesco already contributes to that scheme, but could the Leader of the House suggest how it could be promoted to all colleagues, to encourage more companies to contribute and raise awareness of this wonderful project?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

In addition to asking a question, the hon. Lady has provided her own answer by sharing with the House this very impressive scheme, which shows the power of business as a force for good in the world. It will be in Hansard; I hope that the media will pick it up; and I am sure that everyone in this Chamber will do their best to promote the scheme.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

In recent weeks, I have been working with Sky News on its investigation into the purchase and misuse of catapults—sadly, all too often by children and young people—to kill and maim wildlife and pets. All too often, videos are then shared on social media through channels such as WhatsApp. Can we have a statement from the Home Secretary on introducing criminal sanctions for the irresponsible sale and use of catapults to kill and damage wildlife?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he is continuing to do on matters such as that, and also in other areas of animal welfare. He will know that Home Office questions is not until 15 April, so I will make the Home Secretary aware of what he has said. This is a disturbing and growing phenomenon. In addition to causing animal suffering, it is, as we now know, an indicator of what those perpetrators may go on to do and other crimes they may commit. It is a serious matter, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Can we have a debate in Government time on the urgent need for an employment Bill, particularly to protect those on very precarious app-based contracts? I have had several taxi drivers and delivery drivers off-boarded by Uber and Just Eat, but they do not seem to have any recourse to complaint, despite its affecting their employment prospects and their incomes. The Government need to do an awful lot more to protect people in these circumstances.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I will make sure that the Department for Work and Pensions has heard the hon. Lady’s concerns. We have had labour market statistics out today, and in addition to the good news on wage growth as people progress through work, since 2010 unemployment has halved, absolute poverty has gone down and there are 800 more people in jobs for every single day that we have been in office.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I bring good news from Kettering, because Kettering has made it into the top 10 of the most dog-loving places in the UK. A study by pet insurer Waggel has found that, in Kettering, for every 1,000 people there were 252 of our furry friends. With so many local green spaces and countryside areas where residents can take their dog for a walk, such as the hugely popular Wicksteed park, it is clear that Kettering is a great place to own and love a dog. May we have a statement from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on celebrating Kettering as one of the most dog-friendly places in the whole country?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing us the good news, which we were all hoping for and anticipating, that there are more waggy tails per square mile in Kettering than anywhere else in the UK. I would encourage local authorities and communities to look to the example that has been set by Kettering, and I congratulate everyone who has made it such a dog- friendly place.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Parents from the Northwich part of my constituency are rightly lobbying me about specialist educational provision in the Cheshire West and Chester council area. Could we have a debate in Government time about the sufficiency of resources given to councils and powers to deal with education and health partners in this field of special educational needs?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important matter. He will know that this is not just a priority for the Secretary of State for Education, but something very personal to her that she has a particular personal interest in and focus on. We have increased the funding available for special educational needs and we have also invested in specialist schools, but I will make sure that the Secretary of State is aware of his concerns as the next Education questions is not until the end of April.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South

Would my right hon. Friend make time for an additional debate on farming? Does she agree with me that the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of £220 million to deploy new technology to boost productivity in the farming sector in North Shropshire and the rest of England compares very favourably with Welsh Labour’s policy, which would force farmers in Clwyd South and the rest of Wales to reduce their productive land by 20%? That will result in a 122,200 reduction in Welsh livestock numbers, 5,500 lost jobs and a £199 million loss to Wales’s economy, all of which has led to mass protests by the farming community throughout Wales.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I commend my hon. Friend and the farmers he represents for all the work they are doing to fight against those plans. He is right that they will cost jobs, and they are an appalling use of good agricultural land. That is why just 3% of the farming community trusts the Welsh Government, and 87% of farmers believe that that misguided farming policy would not benefit their work or business or, very importantly, deliver a positive outcome for the environment. I think Labour in Wales needs to start listening to farmers.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Reclaim, North West Leicestershire

Despite consistently delivering some of the highest economic growth in the country, North West Leicestershire remains without access to the rail network, leaving my constituents completely reliant on their own vehicles, taxis or local bus services. Will the Leader of the House join me in commending the 1,000 North West Leicestershire residents who signed a petition calling for the reinstatement of the original routes for the Nos. 16, 29 and 29A bus services, administered by Arriva Midlands East? These bus services are essential for my constituents, so can we have a statement from a Minister on why bus services in the area continue to be curtailed, when North West Leicestershire continues to make such a massive contribution to the UK economy?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank all the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and the businesses in his constituency for what they are doing to grow our economy and strengthen their community. The next questions to the Transport Secretary will be on 21 March, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise this directly with the Secretary of State.

Photo of Holly Mumby-Croft Holly Mumby-Croft Conservative, Scunthorpe

I recently visited our local sea cadets in Scunthorpe to see their new and improved facilities, which have been backed by Government funding. A serving or former cadet can always be recognised by their manners, common sense and can-do approach, and I was incredibly proud to meet three former Scunthorpe cadets who have gone on to serve our country as Royal Marines Commandos. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending our fantastic cadet leaders and our local young cadets, who we are incredibly proud of, and would she support a debate on how we can continue to support cadets in making their genuine, positive contribution to our society?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

As my hon. Friend was asking her question, there were audible noises of support from around the Chamber. I think we all appreciate the work that the Sea Cadet organisation does. As well as being a fantastic escalator of talent and giving young people opportunities and confidence, it does a huge amount for local communities. I am sure that we would all agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiments. We have done a huge amount to expand access to not just sea cadet schemes but other cadet schemes, by supporting schools in setting up their own branches, but there is always more to do, and her question has reminded us of the benefits of doing it.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

All of us across the House appreciate the vital role played by local individuals and volunteer groups in constituencies. One such group in my constituency is the Friends Together Club, based in Coatbridge, which has been running for seven years and makes a real difference to the lives of 150 local people with additional support needs. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the thrilling news that the following individuals are to be recognised by the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta? Liam Hackett will receive the cross of merit and Ena Hamill the silver medal, while Elaine McDermott, Patrick Allan, Yvonne Cawley and Elizabeth Locke will receive a bronze medal. This is a truly outstanding recognition, and richly deserved. May we have a debate in Government time about the importance of community volunteers across the United Kingdom, and the valuable work that they do for us?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

It is a shame that applause is not allowed in the House and would be out of order, because I think we would all want to give those individuals a round of applause. I would say from all of us: congratulations to all in the Friends Together Club, and thank you for your service. I hope the hon. Gentleman will get a copy of today’s Hansard for everybody that he named. We appreciate all of them.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I am sure my right hon. Friend will join me in congratulating Conservative-run Harrow Council on this year exceeding the usual number of apprentices it recruits. More than 50 young people have been given the opportunity to work across different departments, including eight in our schools. That obviously gives them the opportunity to build a career in public service. Will my right hon. Friend find Government time for a debate on apprentices in public services, so that we can congratulate the public services that are recruiting apprentices and shame those that do not?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating his local authority on its achievements. We should all be proud of the fact that over the past few years, we have created 5.7 million such opportunities for young people, but also people at other stages in their life. It is a tremendous way in which people can progress, move career and gain new qualifications without getting into debt. I send my congratulations to him and to Harrow Council.

Photo of Michael Shanks Michael Shanks Shadow Minister (Scotland)

May I begin by joining the tributes of Mr Speaker and those on the Front Benches to Tommy McAvoy? He represented my constituency of Rutherglen for 23 years, and was a committed trade unionist in the community before that. He was very much Rutherglen’s man. During the by-election, I do not know how many people said to me, “You don’t need to worry; I knew Tommy well, all those years ago.” Fourteen years after he stopped being the MP, he was still remembered by so many constituents.

May I ask the Leader of the House about the subsidy scheme that provides support enabling schools to come to this place? It is always wonderful to have schools visit us, and as a former teacher of politics, I think that bringing pupils to this place to see politics in action is incredibly important. Gavin Newlands has already raised the issue of the subsidy. Although it has been increased for April, the support is still not enough to enable many schools to come to this place. Has there been any analysis of how many schools have been prevented from visiting because of that? Will there be a review of the categories? All of Scotland’s schools are in category C, and it is particularly difficult to bring pupils here using the current subsidy.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

As I said, this matter has been looked at by the Finance Committee. It has gone into a lot of detail on who comes here, the barriers to people visiting, and what other options they have to access education resources that they might want. Clearly, coming to this amazing UNESCO heritage site is important to many people. I will make sure that the Chair of the Finance Committee, Mrs Hodgson, has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. A number of House of Commons Commissioners are in the Chamber today, and they will have heard what he said. The policy has recently been changed to be more favourable, but all parties concerned keep it under review.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

Rugby is providing new housing at scale, yet the number of pharmacies in our town is falling. Following closures in recent months, residents have told me about having to queue for more than an hour to get a prescription. I am aware of offers to set up new pharmacies, but they have been turned down by our health and wellbeing board, which unbelievably says that there is sufficient provision in our area. Can we have a debate about how this process is managed?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am sorry to hear about the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which does indeed sound serious. Local commissioners have an obligation to ensure that such services are available. Following initiatives of ours, such as Pharmacy First, that obligation is doubly important, because many of these places now have the authority to prescribe. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care hears his concerns. I will ask the regional managers of NHS England to look at what is going on in his community. That level of service is not acceptable for his constituents.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

A company called Claim My Tax notified my constituents Margaret and Brian Broadley that they were due a £1,200 marriage tax allowance refund from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Having seen the paperwork, my constituents believe that the company obtained their signatures fraudulently, and they notified HMRC accordingly. HMRC insisted that my constituents gave permission, and it will continue to work with the company, rather than directly with them. The Government rightly talked about clamping down on the actions of such claims companies. Why is HMRC allowed to behave like this?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I hope that we can swiftly resolve this situation for the hon. Gentleman. If he gives me the details of the case after this session, I will make sure that he speaks immediately to someone from HMRC who can resolve this. I am sure that he has tried to get it resolved himself, and I am here to assist him in doing so. Hopefully we will be able to sort this out for his constituents.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

One of the driving reasons why I wanted to come to the House was what I saw in the NHS. All too often, those who wanted to create change were told, “You’re too junior,” or “This is the way it has always been done.” That is why I am delighted to see the productivity plan, which £3.4 billion is being put towards. When that plan is brought forward, may we have a debate in Government time on ensuring simple things, such as cross-boundary results being shared, having computers that load quickly, and getting rid of faxes and letter scanning? All that takes 10% to 15% of a clinician’s time—time that could be better spent with patients.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

That is a good suggestion for a debate. I hope that all Members of the House welcome the £6 billion increase in funding for the NHS announced in the Budget. Roughly half of that is going to the new improvement programmes, which we know will not only assist members of staff and clinicians working in the NHS, but improve patient outcomes. To give just one example, when a nurse asks a doctor to attend to a patient, in a large percentage of cases that is not done. However, with tracking by a handheld device, we can ensure that the visit happens—or, for example, that a cannula is changed, which improves patient outcomes. That is vital. We need to do more of that in our NHS, so that the patients that it serves get the treatment and care that they deserve.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

H100 in Methil is making good progress towards delivering the biggest green hydrogen domestic heating network that the world has ever seen. The Government promised that by March 2023, they would have announced the successful applicant, somewhere in the UK, in an even more ambitious project to provide green hydrogen heating to potentially tens of thousands of homes, but a year later, we have heard nothing. Can we have a statement to explain why the Government are dragging their feet, and jeopardising the status of Levenmouth and Scotland as world leaders on this vital green hydrogen heating technology?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The UK is a world leader in this area. I shall ensure that the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero hears what the hon. Gentleman said, given that the next questions to the Department are not until 16 April, but we have a good track record across the UK in this area, and we will want that to continue.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

I feel that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been robbed of its time in this place. Last year, the Leader of the House was kind enough to ensure that we had the full hour for oral questions on our countryside, our fishermen, our farmers and the environment, but we have slid back to 40 minutes. May I please ask that we get the full hour again to discuss those important topics?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is diligent in ensuring that he has enough time and opportunity to scrutinise that Department. I understand why that is a priority for him and the constituency that he represents. He knows that deciding how we divvy up time is a complicated Rubik’s cube problem. I was sympathetic to the case he made last time, and I will raise the matter with business managers.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

Dudley hospital workers contracted by Mitie have been striking because they did not receive a lump-sum covid payment that was given to some staff directly employed by the NHS for doing the same job. Mitie wants the taxpayer to cover those payments, despite being directly responsible for its employees. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Mitie workers for their work during the pandemic, and encourage the Department of Health and Social Care to work with me to resolve this issue?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I join my hon. Friend in thanking those people for all the work that they did during the pandemic. It is important that we value all our health and social care staff, no matter how they are employed and in which sector they sit. The Department of Health and Social Care has decided to provide additional funding on this occasion to help deliver one-off payments to eligible organisations and staff employed by non-NHS businesses. Those organisations can apply for funding. We felt that we ought to be doing our bit. I know that there were discussions ongoing about that, but I will see to it that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is aware of the situation, sees the outstanding issues, and ensures that those people are taken care of, and that there is parity.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

The Leader of the House might have seen in the news this week that Reading football club intends to sell its state-of-the-art Bearwood training ground, in what I hope will not be a precursor to administration. Football fans across Berkshire and beyond are in despair at the state of some of the clubs in our beautiful game. Although the football governance Bill cannot come soon enough, will my right hon. Friend please use all the levers at her disposal to ensure that it has sufficient teeth and powers to prevent owners who are not fit and proper from taking control of clubs, and to ensure that those who slip through the net are properly held to account?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. He is preaching to the choir, as I am a Portsmouth supporter. We must ensure that the legislation is effective. The amount of input that it has had from so many fans of the game across the country is unprecedented. The game would be nothing without its fans, and clubs are treasured community assets. We must take care of everyone in the football pyramid. When the Bill comes to the House, we will ensure that it does exactly that.