All 32 Parliamentary debates on 9th May 2024

Thu 9th May 2024
Thu 9th May 2024
Thu 9th May 2024
Thu 9th May 2024
Thu 9th May 2024
Thu 9th May 2024
Thu 9th May 2024

House of Commons

Thursday 9th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thursday 9 May 2024
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

Thursday 9th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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A birthday wish to Phil, our Head Doorkeeper, who is 54 today.

Oral Answers to Questions

Thursday 9th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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1. What the locations are of successful applicants to the natural flood management programme.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Steve Barclay)
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Forty projects have been selected to proceed to the development stage of the £25 million natural flood management programme. They include a broad range of locations, from Alnmouth to St Austell.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
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I am working with residents in the Chase Way and Kendal Drive area of Great Sutton, alongside Environment Agency representatives and members of the local authority, to try to find a solution to the flooding problems that we have there. There are lots of different pots of money available at different times, and sometimes it is difficult to understand what the realistic chances are of our succeeding in getting the funding that we need to bridge the gap that we have at the moment to get the works done. Will it be possible for me to meet with either the Secretary of State or some of his team to talk about what realistic funding options we have for the area?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I thank the hon. Member for his engagement, and I will arrange a meeting with the relevant member of the team. The information is on gov.uk. Two projects near his constituency—the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the Mersey Rivers Trust—are involved in the programme. I welcome his engagement. It is a good scheme, and I will ensure that he gets that meeting.

Mike Penning Portrait Sir Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
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I have been working with the Environment Agency to address a small flood problem on the River Gade in my constituency. The Environment Agency has been very helpful, and has met with me. In another part of my constituency, the River Ver has been flooded with sewage yet again. That is unacceptable, and the Environment Agency needs to take it seriously and take action against the water companies, rather than just saying, “We’ll work with you.” Action is what my constituents want.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I agree. That is why we are increasing fourfold the number of inspections, so that water companies are not marking their own homework. It is why we have the plan for water, introduced by the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), and significant additional investment. It is why we are taking tougher enforcement action, with the biggest ever criminal prosecution of water firms by the Environment Agency. It is also why we are taking action on things such as bonuses for companies that commit serious wrongdoing.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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2. What steps he is taking to support farmers.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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5. What steps he is taking to support rural farmers.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Steve Barclay)
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Food security is more important than ever, which is why we need to back British farmers to keep putting food on our tables, while protecting the environment. We are supporting farming with £2.4 billion of annual spending, an average boost of 10% for the sustainable farming incentive payment scheme, and new rules to ensure that farmers get a fair price for their products.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh
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Obviously farmers in low-lying areas of Lincolnshire are suffering from flooding, so any update on the support that they can be given would be very helpful. I have a specific question for the Secretary of State: will the Government update us on when they will announce the long-term funding solution that they promised for internal drainage boards, to address the pressure on local authorities through special levies?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My right hon. Friend is right to focus on the importance of drainage boards, particularly in Lincolnshire. He knows that I have a particular constituency interest in the adjacent area. We have announced £65 million of funding, and the Minister for water, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore), will make further announcements on that shortly. We are looking more widely at the huge pressure on farming from the wet weather, particularly in areas such as Lincolnshire. There has been a 60% increase in rainfall—these have been our second wettest six months—and we are looking at a series of easements, particularly with regard to SFI, to ensure that farmers get their payments.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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On behalf of my party, I too wish Phil, the Head Doorkeeper, a very happy birthday.

As the Government know, we grow the very finest seed potatoes in the far north of Scotland. They are particularly good because, relatively speaking, they are virus free. That is probably because of the northerly latitudes where they are grown. I happen to know that farmers in Europe are crying out to get hold of these seed potatoes. I ask the Government to do everything in their power to ensure that the potatoes go where they are needed and wanted.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Member makes a valid point in terms of both the quality and the desirability of the products to which he refers. The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries is engaging actively with the EU on that specific point, and I am sure that he will update the hon. Member on it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Sir Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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One has only to look over the hedges of eastern England to agree with those who are predicting the worst harvest in living memory. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact that will have on the wider rural economy—in particular, the availability and price of straw, which is vital for the livestock sector, and important commodities such as potatoes, which are likely to be under great pressure in terms of supply and price this autumn?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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As ever, my right hon. Friend is absolutely on the money in terms of the concern regarding straw prices and lower harvests this autumn. We are engaging extensively with the sector. We have the Farm to Fork summit next week, chaired by the Prime Minister. That is an indication of how seriously we are taking this, and how much we are engaging with farmers and farm leaders.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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It is north-east week in the parliamentary canteens, and I hope all Members are taking the opportunity to enjoy great north-eastern produce. However, it is always north-east week in Grainger Market in Newcastle, which tries to champion local farmers and produce. What is the Secretary of State doing to support north-east farmers in the challenges they face to produce sustainable and affordable food for my constituents facing a cost of living crisis?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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As the MP for North East Cambridgeshire, I feel I should extend north-east a little wider, given that we are a big food-producing area. To the hon. Lady’s specific point, the Minister for Farming is engaging with that issue and is travelling up to the north-east this evening as part of that engagement. Our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), is conducting a review of public sector food procurement, so that within our public sector we can better procure domestic produce. We also have a review of labelling so that we can more clearly label that fantastic produce from the north-east, to ensure that purchasers can buy it more easily.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
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What are the Government doing to support farmers? Quite a few people are asking that. When one looks at the evidence of what is going on, the survey this week from the National Farmers Union into farmer confidence revealed that a staggering 65% of farmers are facing declining profits, or their business will not survive at all. Their prospects are worse than most Tory MPs, it suddenly seems. Why is it that farmers do so badly under the Conservatives?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Gentleman seems to have written that question before listening to the various examples that I have just given, but let me give him one. The most successful scheme the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has ever run is the current sustainable farming incentive scheme, with over 20,000 applications—more than any other scheme the Department has run. We have also been flexible in looking at how those schemes are delivered, given the challenges of the wet weather, and I will have more to say on that very shortly.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
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I listened carefully to that answer. While Brexit has been deeply damaging to farmers all across the United Kingdom, the actions taken by the Scottish Government mean that farmers in Scotland have far greater protection than those elsewhere on these islands. The SNP Government have guaranteed Scottish farmers the level of funding that was available pre-Brexit, unlike the Tories here in England or indeed the Labour party in Wales. That is the SNP standing up for farmers in words and deeds, unlike the Westminster parties. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to apologise to farmers in England for his Government’s betrayal of them?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I refer the hon. Gentleman to the £2.4 billion commitment in our manifesto, which has been met in full.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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3. What steps his Department is taking to help increase tree planting.

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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This Government have put in place the most comprehensive regime ever to increase tree planting. Crucially, it is underpinned by legislation in the Environment Act 2021 and legally binding targets to increase our tree cover to 16.5%, and supported and backed up by our £675 million nature for climate fund. To date, 15 million trees have been planted under this Government, more trees than in any other decade.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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Trees must play a crucial role if we are to meet our commitments on nature recovery and net zero, and they are a tremendous source of happiness, well-being and landscape beauty. To meet the ambitious tree-planting goals that the Government have set, can they streamline the permissions process? Some of the red tape seems disproportionate and in need of regulatory reform.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank my right hon. Friend for the work she has done in her constituency to encourage tree planting, but she is right that the process needs to be fast and simple. We have taken that on board, and the Forestry Commission has recently introduced the woodland creation fast track, aiming to help to decide eligible woodland creation offers within just 12 weeks. To inform that scheme, it has developed a low-sensitivity map of the whole country to show people the best places to plant trees, or where they could think about planting trees, that are not on our best available agricultural land, which is important for food.

Dan Jarvis Portrait Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)
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Led by the Woodland Trust, Tree Equity Score UK is a map-based application created to address disparities in urban tree distribution by identifying the areas in greatest need of investment in trees. What is the Department doing to promote increased tree cover in the parts of the country that need it most?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I highlight again the low-sensitivity map, which points out exactly the same things as the map the hon. Gentleman refers to. We have many funds focused in particular on urban areas—some come from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities —to encourage urban tree planting, because it is so important for our health and wellbeing. We have a whole list of funds available, and I urge people to look at them and plant trees.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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I have to say that the Minister’s response suggests that the Government are completely in denial. The Office for Environmental Protection report exposed that the Government are way off target on their legally binding tree-planting target. There has been no trend of improvement on tree planting between 2018 and 2023. It would be bad enough if the problem were lack of money, but her Department is even failing to spend the money that it has been allocated. The environmental land management scheme is underspent by hundreds of millions, and the nature for climate fund that she spoke about has returned £77 million to the Treasury unspent. Is not it clear that, to get the tree cover that our country needs, we do not need a magic money tree; we need a Labour Government?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at his own tree-planting record. This Government have planted more trees than Labour did. We now have the plan in place so, if one looks at the graph, it is ramping up to hit those targets, and the training, skills, the forest apprenticeship and the framework are in place to reach our targets.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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4. What steps his Department is taking to strengthen coastal defences.

Robbie Moore Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Robbie Moore)
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We are investing approximately £1.3 billion of our £5.6 billion flood and coastal risk management investment programme in coastal projects. They will better protect over 100,000 properties, as well as critical infrastructure. The Environment Agency is also running the £36 million Government-funded coastal transition accelerator programme, which is funding coastal authorities so they can explore how to better support their communities.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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The East Anglian coast has taken a real battering in recent months, and projects such as the Lowestoft flood defence scheme have been delayed. Our region is the most vulnerable to climate change, and is a lead player in delivering net zero for the UK, so will my hon. Friend consider a climate change risk assessment on which a regional coast defence strategy can then be prepared to properly protect homes, businesses, ports, farmland and infrastructure, as well as nurture our unique coastal environment?

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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There is no better champion than my hon. Friend on the challenge of coastal erosion. The Environment Agency is developing a new national flood risk assessment and an updated coastal erosion risk map to improve how we access flood risk information and communicate it to our communities. Those new datasets and maps will include the potential impact of climate change on flood risk and coastal erosion, and will help to inform how we better protect homes, businesses, farmland and infrastructure along our coastal communities.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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We learned from the Public Accounts Committee report that 500 flood defence projects have been cancelled, just like the one in Lowestoft. Whether the Minister chooses to use the words “cancelled,” “deferred,” “delayed” or “on a long list” makes no difference, because he is still refusing to tell us where those projects are. Why does he insist on holding residents in contempt by not telling them the fate of their local flood defences?

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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I and my officials have been reviewing the applications that have been put forward, and announcements will be coming very soon. The Government are investing £1.3 billion in flood defences, which is more than ever before, and we will continue to ensure that we are better protecting coastal communities.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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6. How much funding his Department plans to provide for catchment partnerships in the 2024-25 financial year.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Steve Barclay)
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One hundred catchment-based approach partnerships are set out in the plan for water. The catchment-based approach is exactly the right one— I agree with the decision taken by my right hon. Friend on that—and is exactly the approach that we are taking. In the financial year, £15,000 is allocated to each catchment for that.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The plan for water is starting to work in relation to community partnerships: next week, the East Suffolk Catchments Partnership will publish the plan for the River Deben. However, could I encourage my right hon. Friend to try to accelerate some of those partnerships, potentially by increasing the funding from £15,000 per partnership to £50,000, so that every single partnership can have a full-time employee to really drive this action forward?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. What we are doing is twofold. First, we are increasing funding: she will have seen that, yesterday, we announced an uplift of £11.5 million for local community-led projects to improve river catchments. Alongside that, we are looking at some major interventions in catchments, such as on the River Wye, where we allocated £35 million. We are taking a targeted approach to catchment-specific issues; in that catchment, the issue was chicken litter. The phosphate was going into the River Wye, so we are funding anaerobic digesters as a targeted way of taking a catchment approach.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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Sewage has been discharged into our rivers for 3.6 million hours, including the River Thames in my constituency. Funding is only part of cleaning up this mess: the whole water sector is broken and needs to be put into special measures, so what is the Secretary of State’s long-term plan for tackling these issues, or is he content to keep following Labour’s lead and to take up our policies?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The first thing I would mention is the £4.5 billion of investment in the Thames tideway tunnel over the past eight years, which is going to significantly improve the water quality of the River Thames. Alongside that, we are stepping up inspections, with a fourfold increase in inspections; we are tackling bonuses in companies that are guilty of pollution; and we are taking much tougher enforcement action, with the biggest ever prosecution of water firms by the Environment Agency. A whole range of actions, coupled with the plan for water, is bringing additional investment into the sector and taking a catchment by catchment approach.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
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7. What recent progress his Department has made on improving air quality.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
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15. What steps his Department is taking to help reduce air pollution.

Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Sir Mark Spencer)
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We are driving down emissions and concentrations of the most harmful air pollutants, reducing their impact on public health and the environment. Through the Environment Act 2021, we introduced further legal targets for fine particulate matter. We have allocated £883 million to support local authorities, and air pollution has fallen significantly since 2010, with emissions of nitrogen oxide down by 48%, PM2.5 down by 24%, and sulphur dioxide down by 74%.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt
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Given that incinerator capacity far outweighs waste, I welcome the Government’s decision to introduce a short-term pause in the determination of applications for environmental permits for certain types of waste incineration facilities. Will the Minister please now extend that pause beyond its current official end date of 24 May and include existing incinerators that have applied to increase their capacity?

Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
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I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. Our assessment of incineration capacity and needs is ongoing—I do not want to prejudge the outcome of that work or any of the next steps—but the Government are clear that proposed waste incineration facilities must not result in overcapacity or compromise our ambitions to minimise waste and improve recycling.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson
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Last month, my local authority of Richmond upon Thames, along with other councils, was informed by DEFRA that its local air quality grant of £1 million—which had been awarded just two months earlier—was being rescinded. Given the number of areas in Twickenham breaching air quality standards, including areas close to schools, and with World Health Organisation targets becoming ever more stringent, how does the Minister think he is meeting his commitment to “expand the resources available to councils to improve air quality”?

Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
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I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, which gives us the opportunity to highlight the great progress we are making in this area. We want to continue to make progress and support local authorities, but we did have concerns that the local air quality scheme was not delivering the most positive outcomes, and some of the bids that were coming forward were not aimed at improving air quality: we had bids for a robotic chatbot and for a kinetic art project. We want to focus on improving air quality and make sure we are funding local authorities to do just that.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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8. If he will take steps to implement a dog groomers charter mark that includes a register of serious injuries for dogs.

Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Sir Mark Spencer)
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Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, groomers must protect dogs under their control from harm and provide for their welfare needs. Where that Act is breached, offenders face imprisonment or an unlimited fine. As the legislation is already clear, we do not have any plans at the moment to implement a charter.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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A constituent recently brought quite a distressing case to my office. A routine trip to the dog groomer’s turned into a disaster for her beloved pet. The dog was seriously injured due to the groomer using incorrect equipment, resulting in painful lacerations, multiple veterinary visits and permanent scarring. Unfortunately, that is not an isolated case. I am aware that, as the Minister says, the Animal Welfare Act provides some framework in relation to intentional harm, but I am amazed at the lack of regulation in the industry. Will the Minister make an assessment of what further legislative steps can be taken to regulate the dog grooming industry and ensure the safety of all dogs?

Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this case, and obviously I sympathise with his constituent whose pet suffered that poor practice. The Government’s belief in the importance of animal welfare underpins the strong protections included in the Animal Welfare Act, and we will take steps to address widespread welfare issues where they arise.

James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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9. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of (a) operational and (b) consented waste incineration plant capacity.

Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Sir Mark Spencer)
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Officials are currently assessing planned residual waste treatment capacity, including incineration, against expected future residual waste arising in England, so that we can understand our future capacity needs following the implementation of key commitments in the resources and waste strategy. This capacity assessment will be published in due course.

James Wild Portrait James Wild
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My North West Norfolk constituents welcome the moratorium on new waste incinerators and the review, but given that the incinerators already operating and those with consent provide enough capacity as we meet legally binding targets to halve residual waste, may I urge the Minister to make that temporary pause permanent so that we do not have to have an unnecessary and unwanted incinerator in Wisbech?

Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
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DEFRA officials are currently scoping the need for a review of the role of waste incineration facilities, and I do not want to prejudge the conclusions of that exercise. The current pause period will end on 24 May, and the next steps will be announced no later than that date.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
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10. What steps his Department is taking to help improve animal welfare.

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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This Government remain absolutely committed to implementing our action plan for animal welfare. Since the action plan was published in 2021, we have made significant progress on a whole raft of animal welfare measures, such as introducing tougher sentences on animal cruelty and new laws on animal sentience, bringing forward legislation to ban live exports and keeping primates as pets, launching the animal health and welfare pathway, ensuring the microchipping of cats, and backing critical legislation to crack down on puppy smuggling, pet abduction and livestock worrying.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith
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I am grateful for that answer and, indeed, for all the animal welfare measures that this Government have introduced. Recently, pupils in Larch class at Three Bridges Primary School wrote to me very eloquently about their concern for the welfare and protection of endangered species. Can the Minister say a little more about what her Department is doing in that respect?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and indeed for his own work on animal welfare in this place, which has been impressive. I also thank the pupils of Larch class at Three Bridges Primary School. He can go back and tell them that this Government are absolutely committed to tackling this and to helping endangered species. We are actually the first Government to legislate to halt species decline in this country—as far as I know, no other country has done that anywhere in the world—and we have funds to save species. They might also like to hear about otters returning to our rivers, about saving red kites by protecting them from persecution, about saving the chalk hill blue butterfly and more.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
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11. What steps his Department is taking to support local authorities to tackle fly-tipping.

Steve Tuckwell Portrait Steve Tuckwell (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con)
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12. What steps his Department is taking to support local authorities to tackle fly-tipping.

Robbie Moore Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Robbie Moore)
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Nationally, fly-tipping on public land has fallen for the second year in a row, with enforcement actions up by 5%, but we all know the huge detrimental impact that fly-tipping can have on our communities. Fly-tipping fines have more than doubled, and we are now expecting local authorities to reinvest that income in enforcement and cleaning up our streets. We are going further with reforms on how waste carriers are regulated, with the introduction of digital waste tracking to help local authorities continue to crack down on waste crime.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
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I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. What landowners and the public want is for this to stop. I realise that we have doubled the fines—we have massively increased them again—but may I suggest that all cases should be prosecuted and that prosecutions should be publicised widely, both to reassure victims and to deter perpetrators?

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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I could not agree more; promoting the convictions absolutely reassures victims that the Government and local authorities are taking tough action. I know that my hon. Friend has particular concerns about what is happening across the countryside, and DEFRA is funding the national rural crime unit to explore the police’s role in tackling fly-tipping and how that can be optimised, working with local authorities to deal with this crime.

Steve Tuckwell Portrait Steve Tuckwell
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Fly-tipping is a concern for many local residents across Uxbridge and South Ruislip. I would like to pay tribute to Mary in Yiewsley, Bernie in South Ruislip, Wendy in Cowley and Donna from Ruislip Gardens, who all act as community champions in reporting regular fly-tipping. I also need to mention the waste service team at Hillingdon Council, who work tirelessly in responding to regular cases of fly-tipping. However, all of this great work from residents and the council can only go so far, so what further funding and support is available specifically to target fly-tipping hotspots?

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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We have provided nearly £1.2 million to help local authorities combat fly-tipping, and our grants are focused on hotspots where they have funded around 200 CCTV cameras, plus other infrastructure including fencing, signage and mobile tips. A further £1 million is due to be released shortly, which will help further tackle these hotspots. I pay tribute to Mary, Wendy and all my hon. Friend’s constituents who are getting involved in helping him.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Steve Barclay)
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Since last updating the House, we have remained focused on delivering our plan to improve food security, on improving our water quality, and on leading the way, both at home and abroad, in protecting the environment. That is why we are introducing legislation to ban the supply and sale of wet wipes containing plastic. It is why we have launched, as part of our catchment plan, the £35 million scheme on the River Wye, further to our announcement yesterday of £11.5 million in water company fines and penalties to be reinvested in water restoration schemes. We are working on Dartmoor to implement the very good recommendations set out in David Fursdon’s report, and we have seen over 20,000 farmers now sign up to the sustainable farming incentive, making it the most popular scheme ever. Alongside that, we are working at the G7, on bluetongue virus and in many other respects, but I can see, Mr Speaker, that you want me to speed up my reply.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I want to get your colleagues in. I call Thérèse Coffey.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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The Environment Act 2021 was landmark legislation, and we of course need to think not only locally but globally. One element of that legislation was the introduction of forest risk commodity regulations. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend said what more we can do through our global supply chain measures.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My right hon. Friend is right to focus on forest risk commodities: our flagship announcement at COP28 was that we were taking leading action on that. Many who have watched nature documentaries, for example on the orangutans, can see how important that is to particular species. I hope to table legislation on that later this month, but my right hon. Friend is right to focus on its importance.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Steve Reed Portrait Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab/Co-op)
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The environmental regulator has today condemned the disgusting state of our waterways caused by the Conservatives letting water companies pump them full of raw sewage. This has to stop, so will the Government now back Labour’s plan and make water bosses personally criminally liable, so that if they keep illegally dumping sewage, they end up in the dock?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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We already have the biggest ever prosecution by the Environment Agency, which is already live. We have also already banned bonuses for those companies guilty of serious pollution. We are quadrupling the number of inspections as part of that tougher enforcement scheme. We are also bringing record investment into the water industry. The hon. Gentleman never comments on the quality of water in Wales, but perhaps he will want to address that in his follow-up question.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We will try Lincolnshire: I call Sir Edward Leigh.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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T2. In response to my earlier question, the Secretary of State said that food security was of urgent national concern. Has any Agriculture Minister ever met a farmer who has denied that 3b land is just as good for growing arable crops as 3a land?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries is extremely well placed to speak about the quality of land and how it pays, given that he himself farms. We recognise that this is part of a wider debate about the clustering of solar sites on farm- land. We also recognise the importance of food security. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) can see the shift in focus to our environmental schemes that align with food security, because I believe that food security is instrumental to our national security, and that also affects our land use.

Ian Byrne Portrait Ian Byrne (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
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T3. An Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report published last year recommended that we support the request of the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food to undertake a country visit to the UK before the end of 2023. The Government initially indicated that they would facilitate that, but the Minister’s latest correspondence to me states that it will not be feasible to invite the special rapporteur this year. Why is that not feasible before the general election? The UN is ready and waiting.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I am happy to look at the specific issue that the hon. Gentleman raises in relation to the UN, but we are clear about the importance of food production, food security and backing our farmers. It is left-wing councils around the country that are banning meat and acting contrary to the interests of many of our farmers.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt (Loughborough) (Con)
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T5. What can be done to improve compensation payments for cattle farmers following a TB outbreak?

Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Sir Mark Spencer)
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We are constantly working with those farmers facing the misery of a TB outbreak. I am aware of an outbreak in my hon. Friend’s constituency in Leicestershire, which is very painful for the individual farmers concerned. That is why we must throw everything we can at this terrible disease—every tool in the toolbox—to try to stop TB spreading across England.

George Galloway Portrait George Galloway (Rochdale) (WPB)
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T6. I am so old that I grew up in a land without plastic; a better Britain wrapped in brown paper and string. Last year, our households on this small island handled 90,000 million tonnes of plastic. It is indestructible—it cannot be burned and we cannot get rid of it. Will the Minister support the global plastics treaty campaigned for by Greenpeace and others?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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This Government are taking action on plastics. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a specific example: there has been a 93% reduction in the use of plastic bags as a result of measures that this Government have introduced. If he looks at the communiqué from the G7 in Turin, he will see that the Government were supporting action on plastics, building on the work announced from Ottawa last week.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
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Many communities in my constituency face the double whammy of coastal tidal flooding and fluvial river flooding. We have seen significant investment in places such as Par and St Blazey through the StARR project—St Austell Bay Resilient Regeneration—which the Minister has been to see. We have recently completed flood defences at Pentewan, but the village of Mawgan Porth remains vulnerable to both river and coastal flooding, and I cannot get any real progress in developing a scheme to reduce flood risk there. Will the Minister meet me to look at what we can do to protect Mawgan Porth?

Robbie Moore Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Robbie Moore)
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Having been to Cornwall to meet my hon. Friend and see the StARR project for myself, I am more than happy to meet to discuss what more we can do, because I know that he and his colleagues on the local council are championing this scheme as much as they can, and I am more than happy to help.

Samantha Dixon Portrait Samantha Dixon (City of Chester) (Lab)
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The sun may be shining today, but it has been a long, cold, wet spring for our farmers. Given the prediction that 17% of crops will be lost, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the number of farming businesses that will reluctantly stop producing food? How will he ensure that the farmers flood fund reaches all the farmers who desperately need it?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Lady raises an extremely valid point, and it is a shared concern across the House. Everyone can see the impact of the wet weather. That is why we are continually engaging with the sector. We had the farm to fork summit as part of that engagement, and we are looking at what easements can be granted in schemes such as the sustainable farming incentive, but also more widely. I will have more to say on that shortly.

Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con)
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Southport has seen millions of pounds of investment into drainage capacity for water, but unfortunately the villages of Tarleton, Hesketh Bank and Banks have not. These farming communities have been devastated by flooding. The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries met me and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) last year, which was appreciated by farmers, but more needs to be done. A report has been submitted to the Department. We want to set up an internal drainage board. What more can be done to make sure that is done at pace to help these communities?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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As I touched on earlier, I am a huge supporter of the work of our internal drainage boards. They do a superb job, which is why the Minister for Water and Rural Growth, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore), decided to allocate an additional £75 million. We will look constructively at what more can be done in more areas through the focus of drainage boards. My hon. Friend will have seen that we have already flexed our regulations in response to Storm Henk, for example, and we are looking at what further things we can do.

Dave Doogan Portrait Dave Doogan (Angus) (SNP)
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Brexit has been a disaster for farmers across the United Kingdom, but at least in Scotland they have the certainty of funding going out beyond 2027, unlike in Labour-run Wales and Tory-run England. What steps will the Government take to provide the same level of surety for English farmers that the SNP has delivered for Scotland’s farmers?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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As a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I think the suggestion that the way the SNP allocates its Barnett consequentials gives farmers funding certainty is a somewhat bold claim. The point with Brexit is that we can tailor our response to the needs of our farmers, whether through specific legislation such as that on gene editing to develop disease and drought-resistant crops, our procurement legislation so that we better leverage our public sector procurement and our labelling legislation so that we can support British producers, as well as through schemes such as the SFI, which is the most popular ever run by DEFRA, with more than 20,000 farmers now signed up.

Mary Robinson Portrait Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con)
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In the past, flooding from the Lady brook and Micker brook, which run through Bramhall, Cheadle Hulme and Cheadle to join the River Mersey, has caused devastation to homes and families. Does my hon. Friend agree that joint working across the region is part of the solution? Will he continue his support for the upper Mersey catchment partnership working?

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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My hon. Friend has raised that specific case with me before. I am more than happy to meet her to have those conversations at speed, because I know just how valuable projects such as flood alleviation schemes are to her constituents in better protecting more homes.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
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North West Leicestershire has benefited enormously from being the heart of the national forest, with millions of trees planted over the past 40 years, much of which are on degraded former colliery land. As desirable as tree planting is, that must be balanced against food security. Does the Minister agree that good agricultural land must be protected to produce good food?

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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I must first commend the national forest for all that it has achieved. Many farmers are involved in that forest, too. That is why the Forestry Commission’s map showing the best places for tree planting is so important, and that is not on what we call best available land, for which we have specified that the main priority is food production.

The Attorney General was asked—
Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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1. What steps she is taking to help increase prosecution rates for violence against women and girls.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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10. What steps she is taking to increase prosecution rates for cases relating to violence against women and girls.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General (Victoria Prentis)
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Tackling violence against women and girls is a priority for the Government. I recently visited CPS Thames and Chiltern to hear specifically about the work it is doing to combat stalking. I also heard how the domestic abuse joint justice plan will transform how we investigate this all-too-frequent crime.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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Data from the Crown Prosecution Service shows that despite an increase in the number of referrals from the police for domestic abuse, both charging rates and prosecutions have decreased in the last quarter. In Bath, the Southside project, Voices, and Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support all support those affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence, but we cannot rely on charities to do the heavy lifting. Does the Attorney General agree that if we want the public to have confidence in the system, increased reporting should lead to increased numbers of prosecutions?

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General
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Yes. It is always difficult to talk with pleasure about increased numbers of prosecutions, because all the survivors of those acts have gone through a horrible event for a prosecution to take place, but I agree with the hon. Lady that it is generally a good sign that prosecution numbers are going up. I am pleased to say that they are going up in her area for adult rape cases. There is more to do on domestic abuse cases, which is why we are focusing specifically on the domestic abuse joint justice plan. The work of the charities in her region, which I should say are funded by but independent of Government—that is what survivors prefer—will really help us to ensure that those survivors get justice.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore
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The Attorney General will know that the Online Safety Act 2023 was given Royal Assent at the end of last year and that, in that Act, there are various bits of legislation to protect women and girls in relation to cyber-flashing, deepfakes and revenge porn. Will she set out for the House how many prosecutions have taken place under that new, important piece of legislation that is trying to protect more women and girls from those other forms of violence?

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General
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I am afraid that I do not have to hand specific figures for the hon. Gentleman’s constituency under that Act, but I am happy to get them for him. We are confident that it will be possible to bring prosecutions under the Act. These are important and distressing but relatively new crimes, and it is important that we continue to work with the police and the CPS to prosecute novel areas of criminal activity. It is really difficult for survivors of these crimes to deal with them.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Justice Committee.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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The Attorney General rightly refers to the work done in relation to domestic violence. The most serious offences of violence against women and girls are rape and serious sexual offences. As she will know, there are concerns that once victims have come forward, there are delays in their cases being heard, largely because of the difficulty in getting suitably experienced barristers to prosecute them. Does she accept that one of the main drivers of that is the fact that legal aid fees were increased for defence barristers, but prosecution fees have lagged behind? There is a gap of around £500 in the brief fee between prosecuting and defending. Does she agree that we must plug that gap urgently, to get suitable counsel prosecuting as well as defending those cases?

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General
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The Chair of the Select Committee is tempting me to step on the firm territory of the Lord Chancellor, as he well knows. He also knows, because he and I have discussed this many times, that the Lord Chancellor and I speak several times a week about our concerns about the shortage of counsel in the criminal sphere in particular. However, I would say gently to my hon. and learned Friend that I do not think money is the only reason why it is not always attractive to prosecute RASSO case after RASSO case. They are draining cases to be involved in, and they are listed very tightly at the moment because of the pandemic backlogs, as he mentioned. That leads to tensions with listings and with the judiciary, which can make it very difficult to do this area of work relentlessly. I have nothing but praise for the barristers who are engaged in it.

Mary Robinson Portrait Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con)
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3. What recent steps she has taken to increase joint working between the Crown Prosecution Service and police services.

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General (Robert Courts)
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Close and collaborative work across the criminal justice system is key to securing justice for victims, holding offenders to account and keeping the public safe. The police and the CPS have invested heavily in new ways of working, including through the national operating model for rape prosecutions, with the result that the police and the CPS work more closely together at an earlier stage in prosecutions.

Mary Robinson Portrait Mary Robinson
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During a recent visit to Greater Manchester police’s divisional headquarters in Stockport I heard that there can be significant delays between sending a case to the CPS and receiving a charging decision back. To solve that, it was suggested that having CPS staff based inside the station would speed up the process and improve communication. What consideration has my hon. and learned Friend given to a CPS presence in police stations, and will he work with me and Stockport division to facilitate a trial?

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this extremely pertinent point. She is right to emphasise the importance of early co-operation between the police and the CPS. At a visit last month to Charing Cross police station I considered precisely that point. There is a buddy system there, with CPS lawyers working with police officers, which is improving case file quality. We are actively exploring how to ensure closer early working with the CPS and the police, and I will look at Stockport with her.

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)
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The United Kingdom Government are going above and beyond to ensure that British arms are readily available in Israel’s arsenal to bomb Gaza. The Attorney General is refusing to give out the legal advice, based on the long- standing Law Officers’ convention, yet the circumstances for up to 1.6 million people are now between life and death. What steps is she taking to ensure that Britain is not complicit in the destruction of a nation and its people?

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General
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I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Attorney General keeps all these matters under close review, and will ensure that any legal advice is properly obtained and acted upon.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
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4. If she will refer the governance of the Royal Albert Hall to the first-tier tribunal (charity).

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General (Victoria Prentis)
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The Royal Albert Hall is one of our most important cultural institutions. There are long-standing differences between the trustees of the Hall and the charity commissioners over governance matters. I really hope that the parties will work together to resolve their differences without expensive litigation and I stand absolutely ready to facilitate those discussions.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Hodgson
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The Attorney General, in her—I must say excellent—recent letter on the matter, expressed her “disappointment” that the Royal Albert Hall Bill “is not more ambitious” and

“that the constitution of the Corporation of the Hall of Arts and Sciences gives rise to a potential conflict between the private interests of seat-holding trustees and the Corporation’s charitable objects.”

I totally agree. She has said that she will look at this issue but, unlike her predecessors, will she please also consider, if she needs to, referring the matter to the charity tribunal, so it can be settled once and for all? Tickets to attend one of our country’s most famous and treasured venues should not be turning up on notorious ticketing websites like Viagogo, and those who are receiving ill-gotten gains should not be running the charity.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General
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The hon. Lady takes a very close interest in these matters and is, I believe, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse. I really commend her for her work in this important area. Many of us who are great supporters of the Albert Hall are concerned by ticket costs. I am hopeful, as I said, that the two parties can continue to work together. I want to avoid expensive litigation if that can be done. A previous Attorney General was asked permission to refer the matter to the first-tier tribunal. I have not been asked by the Charity Commission to do so. I am very hopeful that this matter can be resolved amicably and I am very happy to remain involved if that is helpful.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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5. What recent steps the Crown Prosecution Service has taken to help keep women and children safe online.

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General (Robert Courts)
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The CPS takes the issue of keeping women and children safe online extremely seriously. I am pleased to report that the CPS has delivered the first conviction for cyber-flashing within weeks of the new offence becoming law. This is an important milestone for protecting women and girls online, and demonstrates how the Government have worked to put perpetrators behind bars.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
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I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. In addition to the good work he is doing to help prevent online bullying, trolling and abuse, keeping safe online includes helping to prevent fraud. Will he detail how the Government, through the online fraud charter, are ensuring that tech companies help women and children?

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General
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My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the online fraud charter—a world first—which sits under the Online Safety Act 2023. Twelve of the biggest tech companies are working together to reduce fraud on their platforms. The signatories are agreeing to undertake certain measures within six months, such as blocking, reporting and take-downs, to ensure that the vulnerable—such as children being exploited as money mules—are protected online.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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6. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in prosecuting people that have committed crimes while protesting.

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General (Robert Courts)
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Non-threatening peaceful protest is fundamental, but those rights are not absolute and they must be balanced with the rights and freedom of others. The CPS works closely with the police to ensure that those who commit offences during protests are brought to justice and our streets are kept safe. Indeed, just last month the CPS successfully prosecuted a protester under the Terrorism Act 2000 after he wore a Hamas headband to a pro-Palestine rally.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Evans
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The Minister rightly points out that there is a clear balance between democratic peaceful protest and the tactics used by the likes of Just Stop Oil to disrupt society. We have seen mass protests, mostly peaceful, on the London streets, but we did see damage, such as that to the Ministry of Defence, which is completely unacceptable. How do the new laws that we have passed in Parliament aid the prosecution of those who are not interested in peaceful protest?

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this extremely pertinent and concerning point. The police already have a full suite of powers under section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986—as well as some relating to criminal damage, the offence to which he referred. To ensure that they act, the Government have, however, reinforced those powers under the Public Order Act 2023. The Crown Prosecution Service is working closely with the police in, for instance, providing round-the-clock charging advice nationally. My hon. Friend is right: it is unacceptable that those who are taking part in legitimate democratic processes commit criminal damage, and it is also utterly unacceptable that, for example, Jewish people feel threatened. The Government expect the full powers available to the police to be used so that offenders can be prosecuted.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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7. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on compliance with international humanitarian law in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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8. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on compliance with international humanitarian law in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General (Victoria Prentis)
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As all Members know, the Law Officers’ convention means that I cannot disclose outside Government whether or not I have provided advice, or the specifics of such advice, but it is no secret that we continue to call for international humanitarian law to be respected and for civilians to be protected.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon
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It is more than three months since the International Court of Justice issued its interim ruling on the Gaza conflict and set out steps that Israel must take in order to protect civilian life. The Netanyahu Government have, as yet, failed to comply with that ruling, but our Government have still not come out publicly and urged them to do so. Will the Attorney General take the opportunity today to call on Israel to take the steps ordered by the Court?

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General
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This Government firmly respect the role and the independence of the ICJ. Its ruling, or order, called for the immediate release of the hostages and referred to the need to get more aid into Gaza, and that is exactly what the Government are also calling for.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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The ICJ ruling also declared that there was a “plausible right” to be protected from genocide, and following the urgent question to the Deputy Foreign Secretary on Tuesday I cited United Nations international law relating to that. When there are concerns about a potential genocide taking place, those are the circumstances in which the sale of arms should be withdrawn. Can the Attorney General tell me, and my constituents—as this is a massive issue for thousands of people across the country—exactly when the Government will come out and recognise both international law and the risks that we take in breaching it?

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General
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This Government believe very firmly in international law. On 9 April, the Foreign Secretary announced that our position on export licences was unchanged. We publish data on our export licensing decisions transparently and on a quarterly basis.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Attorney General.

Emily Thornberry Portrait Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)
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We have heard questions about the International Court of Justice, but I want ask some questions about the International Criminal Court. Its chief prosecutor said last week that

“all attempts to impede, intimidate, or improperly influence”

the Court over its investigations of war crimes in Gaza must “cease immediately”.

He was forced to issue that demand after a letter signed by 12 United States senators warned the ICC:

“Target Israel and we will target you.”

That letter threatened sanctions not just against the ICC’s officials, but against its employees, associates and families.

Will the Attorney General join me in condemning those Republican senators for their outrageous actions? Will she also join the chief prosecutor in agreeing that anyone who threatens the ICC simply for doing its job is undermining the very impartiality and independence on which its international mandate depends?

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General
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I thought that the ICC’s statement was worthy of note, and I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for bringing it to the House’s attention. In his statement, the independent prosecutor was also keen to point out that he welcomed active engagement by Governments and other parties on the work in which he is clearly engaged around the world to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected and war crimes are not committed. He is a British prosecutor, and we in this Government are proud to work with him; we have been very proud to support him in his work in Ukraine, for example. There are ongoing investigations of what is going on in Israel and Gaza by more than one international court at present, and I think it is difficult to speculate on specific outcomes.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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The Attorney General will be aware of the Government’s grounds of defence in the ongoing case of Al-Haq v. the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, in which the FCDO lawyers admitted that the

“inability to come to a clear assessment on Israel’s record of compliance”

with international humanitarian law “poses significant policy risks”. What is the Attorney General’s assessment of that submission? Given the FCDO’s concerns about Israel’s compliance with IHL, what has she said to her Cabinet colleagues who are worried that the issuing of arms export licences could make the UK Government complicit in breaches of international humanitarian law and the arms trade treaty?

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Attorney General
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot give my specific legal advice. I cannot share that with the House—it is for the Government alone—but I can say that the Foreign Secretary has reviewed the most recent advice from the IHL cell. That has informed his decision that there is not a clear risk that the items exported from the UK might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of IHL. It leaves our position on export licences unchanged, but that position is kept under review.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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9. What steps she is taking to prosecute perpetrators of fraud and economic crime.

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General (Robert Courts)
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Last year, the Government published a new fraud strategy to combat fraud and economic crime, and the Corporate Transparency Act 2023 received Royal Assent. Last month, the Serious Fraud Office published its strategy for the next five years, which is focused on tech, intelligence gathering and enforcement. In fact, I am pleased to report to the House that on Friday the SFO secured the conviction of former investment manager David Kennedy for his part in a £100 million investment fraud, in which hundreds of people lost their savings.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine
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Fraud is prevalent. In fact, it accounts for a third of all crimes committed in this country, and increasingly we are seeing online scams. Vulnerable people often get caught up in phishing schemes. Will the Government consider setting up an online crimes agency to clamp down specifically on online crimes, which will become more prevalent with the use of artificial intelligence?

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General
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The hon. Member is absolutely right. This is a particularly pernicious crime. It often targets the vulnerable and, sadly, in an interconnected and digital world, it is likely to increase. We will look very closely at all such matters. A number of joint strategies are shared between agencies in any event, but I am certainly very happy to look at her suggestion.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Karl Turner Portrait Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)
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There were 36 failed personal protective equipment contracts during the pandemic, costing over £1 billion, but only one company, PPE Medpro, has been named. If the Government are serious about tackling fraud, why are they refusing to disclose the details of the other companies? How exactly were those contracts awarded, and can the Solicitor General update the House on how many prosecutions are pending?

Robert Courts Portrait The Solicitor General
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The hon. Member quite rightly raises a matter of particular concern to him, and indeed to the whole House. His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs remains committed to covid-19 scheme compliance, and will continue to prioritise the most serious cases of abuse. Specifically on prevention and recoveries, up to 30 September 2023, HMRC had prevented the payment, or recovered the overpayment, of over £1.6 billion-worth of grants, made up of £430 million that was prevented from being paid out and over £1.2 billion that was recovered from overpayments. By 30 September 2023, HMRC had opened 51 criminal investigations into suspected fraud within the schemes, and made a total of 80 arrests.

Business of the House

Thursday 9th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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10:34
Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Penny Mordaunt)
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The business for next week will include:

Monday 13 May—Motion to approve the draft Procurement Regulations 2024, followed by motion to approve the draft Agriculture (Delinked Payments) (Reductions) (England) Regulations 2024, followed by debate on a motion on the risk-based exclusion of Members of Parliament.

Tuesday 14 May—Motion to approve the draft Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (Amendment of Schedule A2) Order 2024, followed by motion to approve the draft code of practice on fair and transparent distribution of tips, followed by general debate on War Graves Week.

Wednesday 15 May—Remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill (day one).

Thursday 16 May—Debate on a motion on the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report on women’s state pension age. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 17 May—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 20 May includes:

Monday 20 May—General debate. Subject to be confirmed.

Tuesday 21 May—If necessary, consideration of Lords message to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Holocaust Memorial Bill, followed by motion relating to the High Speed Rail (Crewe- Manchester) Bill.

Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell
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I was pleased to join the Leader of the House this week to launch a guide for Members and candidates, co-ordinated by the Antisemitism Policy Trust, on tackling conspiracy theories. Although the existence of conspiracy theories is nothing new, their reach, risk and repercussions are ever increasing. I encourage colleagues to read this important guide.

I welcome my new hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Chris Webb). He is the first person from Blackpool to represent Blackpool in over 60 years. Having campaigned with him for years, I am now proud to call him my hon. Friend. I know that his former boss, and our good friend, Tony Lloyd would be thrilled and proud, too.

I also welcome two more Members to Labour, my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) and for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter). Our reach into previously undiscovered support is much broader and deeper than I ever imagined.

Talking of which, we understand that Conservative Members were all trooped over to No. 10 yesterday for a presentation and briefing on how they did not really lose the local elections after all. Perhaps we could have a debate on what the local election results tell us. It might help to inject a little bit of reality into their thinking, because they cannot cure something if they are in complete denial about it.

Which part of the message that voters expressed did their tin ears not hear this time? The third biggest swing since the second world war in a parliamentary by-election? Losing the York and North Yorkshire mayoral election in the Prime Minister’s own backyard? Labour taking Rushmoor, the home of the British Army? Or losing one of their more successful elected representatives, Andy Street, in the west midlands? If they cannot hear the message now, they will have a stark awakening at the general election.

We might have all had a small laugh when the former Prime Minister forgot his voter ID, yet another of his own rules that he thought did not apply to him, but there is a more serious point. We also saw veterans turned away from the polls because they could not use their veteran ID card. The Government have promised to add the card to the list of acceptable IDs. When will they do so?

I notice that there is nothing in the upcoming business on the Sentencing Bill, which is quite a surprise given that we learned this week, from a leaked email to probation and prison staff, that some prisoners will be freed up to 70 days early. Why are the Government consistently failing to bring back the Sentencing Bill so that these issues can be properly debated? And why are they failing to publish the figures on the number and nature of prisoners who will be released early? It is another part of their plan that is not working, is it not?

Despite serious and fast-moving developments in Israel and Gaza, the Government, again, did not come to the House to make a statement this week. It was only through your granting an urgent question, Mr Speaker, that Members could raise issues. We want an urgent ceasefire and the assault on Rafah stopped. After much delay, the Government rejected the Procedure Committee report on holding Lords Secretaries of State accountable, yet there is clearly widespread support across the House for its recommendations. Rather than the Government simply rejecting them, should the Leader of the House not seek the view of this House and table a motion on the accountability of the Foreign Secretary to this House as soon as possible? Whether on the middle east, China or Ukraine, there are hugely important matters to be raised.

I am pleased that the Leader of the House has finally brought forward the House of Commons Commission’s proposals on risk-based exclusions next week. Staff and those working in this place will be looking carefully at what we say on Monday in the interests of their safeguarding. As we heard last night, Members want proper time to debate these proposals and amendments. Has she considered those calls to extend the debate on the motion beyond two hours?

Despite the Prime Minister’s latest set of disastrous election results, he continues to insist that his plan is working. He has his fingers in his ears and is ploughing on as if everything is fine. It is as if there is no cost of living crisis or waiting lists are not sky high, and that voters just need to see more of the “real Rishi” and listen to him better. The reality is very different: people are crying out for change. But the only thing that does not seem ever to change is that every time he faces the electorate, he loses. That is not going to change, is it?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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First, let me mark the fact that yesterday was VE Day; I know there will be many events going on across our constituencies during the week, giving us a chance to remember the debt we owe our forebears and also to think of those facing conflict today.

May I, too, welcome the hon. Lady’s new colleague, the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Chris Webb), to his place and pay tribute to all candidates who took part in the important elections last week? I also thank her for helping me to launch the publication to which she referred. We commissioned it and I thank all the organisations that worked on it. It is important that we combat the rise of conspiracy theories, as that is part of restoring trust in what we do here and keeping trust in democracy. This publication will be a useful product, not just for Members, but for those who wish to come here too. I shall certainly make sure that the Lord Chancellor has heard what she says about the Sentencing Bill, although he will find her concern odd, given Labour’s voting record on our measures to introduce tougher sentences.

The hon. Lady mentioned her new colleagues, and I do hope the hon. Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) is being made to feel very welcome in her new party. I am buoyed at the news that our odds of retaining Dover have slightly improved since yesterday lunch time—[Laughter.] It is true. But I think this is a personal tragedy for the hon. Member for Dover, as was what happened last week for the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter). It has exposed a pattern of behaviour from the Leader of the Opposition, and it is a shame that we are not due an update to Peter Brookes’ “Nature Notes”, for the decorator crab is a species that covers its surface area with materials to disguise its true form, usually selecting sedentary creatures and seaweed. The Leader of the Opposition is the decorator crab of these Benches, desperate to show that he is not really leading the Labour party at all. He has channelled Margaret Thatcher; his deputy has praised Boris; he has expelled the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) with great fanfare, a man he was campaigning for to be Prime Minister only moments before; and his exterior shell is stuck over with St George’s flags, his Gunners season ticket and several programmes from the “Last Night of the Proms”. What next? Will it be a photo op with a bulldog? Will it be a lecture on how misunderstood Enoch Powell was? Should I ask the Whip on duty on the Front Bench if he has checked in recently with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois)?

This is Operation Radish: the concerted effort to convince the British public that while the Labour party might look red on the outside, at its heart it really is not at all.

Even the defection from the Government Benches of one of Labour’s sternest critics cannot disguise the fact that Operation Radish is not going well. Not everyone has got the memo. The shadow Leader of the House talks about the important election results last week. Has she noticed that the first act of the new Mayor of the West Midlands was to turn his attention not to investment or infrastructure, but to Israel and Gaza? Ditto for the Mayors of West Yorkshire and London, with the latter also stating “equivalence” between the Head of State of Israel and a terrorist organisation.

The anti-nuke shadow Foreign Secretary is currently trying to walk back from calling a candidate for the presidency of the United States a neo-Nazi-sympathising KKK sociopath. The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) sought to smear a decent candidate for Mayor of London as a white supremacist. Object to ULEZ and you are a child killer. If you are a woman advocating for your rights and dignity, you are a bigot. Want to strengthen our borders? You are a racist. If you have made money through hard work, you can’t possibly get Britain. That is today’s Labour party—just as it has always been.

The politics of the PLP is more the politics of the PLO and the JCR: more comfortable in university tented encampments and on picket lines than on the international stage; more interested in thought policing than actual policing. Labour has not changed—not its behaviour or its record. It is still high crime rates, high waiting lists, higher taxes, higher levels of poverty, less pay, less opportunity, less money for the NHS and less freedom. The British people can see what is going on. They like their radishes in salads, not in No. 10.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Father of the House.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend indicates in provisional business for the week after next the remaining stages of the Holocaust Memorial Bill. She is familiar with early-day motion 711.

[That this House notes the First Special Report of the Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee, HC121, on the problems with the current proposal and the restrictions faced by the Committee considering the hybrid Bill; respects the conclusions and recommendations on page 20; agrees with the list of matters related to the current proposals for a Holocaust Memorial and believes these need updated attention on deliverability from the Infrastructure Commission, from the National Audit Office on likely capital costs and recurrent annual costs, from the Chancellor on future funding control, and from the police and security services on maintaining unfettered public access for use of Victoria Tower Gardens while protecting the Memorial; asks His Majestys Government and the Holocaust Memorial Foundation agency to commission the views of the property consultants on a comparison of the current proposal by Sir David Adjaye in Victoria Tower Gardens with viable alternatives, to commission the full appraisal and to hold a public consultation on the selection of site; and further asks His Majestys Government to commit to having this or an amended proposal considered first by the local planning authority before considering whether to call in the application, noting that an open-minded observer could doubt another minister in the Levelling Up department should be asked to make an independent decision on an application by the Secretary of State.]

Will she arrange, at least seven days before the House returns to the Holocaust Memorial Bill, for there to be answers to the questions on recurrent costs, the total capital costs, the amount of money going to education and how much the cost of the project has risen in the last year?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I always do, I shall ensure that the Ministers in charge of the Bill have heard his specific requests and that the business managers take his asks into account.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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First, may I say on behalf of my party and in the spirit of congenial politics, led by our new First Minister and all our independence-minded Ministers, how delighted I am to see the Leader of the House still in her place after her party’s catastrophic results in England? They were not catastrophic enough to mobilise her PM for PM rebels, apparently. With her weekly ill-informed comments about Scotland, she is an extraordinary recruiting sergeant for independence and I am sure she will not disappoint today.

May I warmly welcome the launch by the Leader of the House this week of the guide to recognising conspiracy theories, such as those around 5G masts and 15-minute cities? It will be useful reading for some of the Members on her own Benches, and perhaps those on Labour’s increasingly busy right wing.

Given the Leader of the House’s personal interest, and what is supposed to be a central role of this House in protecting democracy and protecting us, will she be pressing for a wider debate on disinformation and the malign influence of secretive social media groups that perpetuate these damaging myths? I am thinking, for example, of the 36 so-called grassroots Facebook groups that I raised with the Prime Minister last week. They are forums full of vile racism, conspiracy theories and Islamophobic abuse of Sadiq Khan, all with links to Conservative party HQ staff, activists and even politicians. There is reason to suspect similar groups are quietly spreading their poison across the UK, including in Scotland. Does the Leader of the House agree that this needs to be investigated and brought to light, not laughed off as the Prime Minister did?

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House about the chaos of the Tory trade tax—the border checks that Brexit now requires—or, as former Tory Ministers have called it, “that act of self-harm on the UK”.

She swerved that with a boast about Brexit boosting UK financial services. Brexit is doing its damage to Edinburgh’s trade and talent in that sector, too, but services is a sector not affected by the serious issues that I raised of rotting food, crippling import charges, biosecurity risks, and delays and chaos at the ports. The Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House might be content to ignore the exporters and importers, the farmers and the fishers, whose businesses have suffered while she pretends that all is well on the Brexit front, but my party and I are not. So I ask again: when can we put the record straight—after last week’s twaddle—and have a debate in Government time on the ruinous impact of Brexit all across the economy?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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First, may I rejoice at the news that the Scottish Government no longer have a Minister for Independence? I was waiting this morning, Mr Speaker, to discover why that would be my fault, but the hon. Lady did not raise it. I wish to place on record my thanks to the former First Minister for his service. I know that there are many who would kick a man when he is down, but I am not one of them; he has done his best. Some say that he has been the worst SNP leader of all time. I say, no. Not only has he managed not to be arrested, but other SNP leaders make his record look pretty stellar —the new First Minister, for example. I also welcome him to his post.

In all seriousness, I welcome the hon. Lady’s support for the education pamphlet on conspiracy theories. That is very important, as such theories are a real threat not just to democracy, but to the wellbeing of our constituents. They are a form of radicalisation, they are spreading and we must do everything we can to combat them.

The hon. Lady returns to the issue of the border operating model. As she would expect, I have paid great attention to what is actually going on. There remains little sign of disruption to border flows as a result of the changes, and volumes of trade appear to be at the levels expected. The IT systems are working as they should, and although, as I said last week, there have been some minor issues to resolve, there is nothing fundamental. I would be very happy to facilitate a deeper briefing for her or any of her colleagues on that matter if it would be of interest.

Our exports are now at record levels. We have become, as I have said, the fourth largest exporter overall, and we are the largest net exporter of financial and insurance services in the world. I am sorry that the hon. Lady still does not seem to recognise the importance of that to her own constituency. I think that is something to celebrate, so I ask her to focus on the realities of what is going on and the opportunities that sit there for her constituents.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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Today, we have had the excellent news that Harrow has been allocated Government funding for a new special educational needs school—something that has been campaigned for by the Conservative-run council, the officials and the teachers and parents of Harrow for a considerable length of time. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will join me in congratulating all those responsible on obtaining this. Can we have a debate in Government time on the brilliant work that our teachers and support staff do in special educational needs environments, in very challenging circumstances, with a lot of very challenging children?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work that he is doing to ensure that his constituents have the provision that they need. We have had a huge uplift in the general teaching staff; there are now 30,000 more teachers than when we came to office. Obviously, we have also been expanding special educational needs provision, but the need is growing and we are determined to keep pace with that. I think that a debate on the subject would be welcomed by many in the House, and I encourage him to apply for it in the usual way.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.

Ian Mearns Portrait Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab)
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I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the Backbench Business debate for Thursday 16 May. If awarded time on 23 May, we would propose debates on UK arms exports to Israel and on potholes and highway maintenance. Those would be the two debates immediately before the Whitsun recess. Although all Chamber slots until the Whitsun recess are now pre-allocated, we would still welcome applications for Thursday debates in Westminster Hall, where the new time seems to be working quite well.

Can we have a debate in Government time on the vexed question of leasehold reform? In my constituency, developers are selling, or proposing to sell, packages of property freeholds to third-party companies and denying leaseholders themselves the chance to buy the freeholds of the properties that they live in. This is a really complex legal question, but an awful lot of leaseholders do not have the wherewithal to fight the property development companies and third-party companies buying such investment portfolios. Taylor Wimpey is a company with an interest in development in my constituency that is currently doing this. Can we have a debate in Government time to try to sort out this vexed question?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful advert for the Backbench Business Committee. He raises the very important matter of a particular aspect of leasehold. He will know that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is very focused on these issues. If the hon. Gentleman wants to give me specific examples, I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard the detail of his case.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
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The Leader of the House may be aware that Hastings, St Leonards and some surrounding villages suffered the consequences of a burst water main over the bank holiday weekend, depriving tens of thousands of residents and businesses of running water, and impacting Hastings’ famous and amazing Jack in the Green weekend and May day celebrations. While Southern Water acted promptly in finding and fixing the leak—and I thank the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) for their huge support—can we have a debate about investing in water infrastructure, including building new reservoirs and maintaining existing infrastructure, and the impact of ageing infrastructure on water supply reliability?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am very sorry to hear about the situation that affected my hon. Friend’s constituents so adversely. She will know that the infrastructure plan that is under way to modernise our waste water system and other water systems is the largest infrastructure project of its type in the world. She can follow the progress of that infrastructure plan on Water UK’s website. In particular, the plan on combating storm overflows is there for the general public to see. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has heard the particular case that she raises. She will know how to apply for a debate in the usual way.

Neil Coyle Portrait Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)
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Yesterday was the 79th anniversary of VE Day, but the RAF’s photographic reconnaissance unit has never been recognised for its contribution to allied success. The Spitfire AA810 project is seeking a commemoration of the unit’s covert operations, and I am working with Southwark News to try to trace the four Southwark crew: Frederick James, William Fisher, Frederick Legon and Lesley Baker. Can we please have time to debate the ongoing need for formal recognition of the PRU and its courageous crews, especially given that half of them paid the ultimate sacrifice for our victory in world war two?

None Portrait Hon. Members
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Hear, hear!

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman—I am sure I do so on behalf of the whole House, given the response to his question. It is a very important thing that he is doing, and I will certainly use all the communication channels available to me to get the names of the people from the particular crew that he is trying to trace. It is right that we set the record straight on that. I was at the RAF Club earlier this week and got to meet some veterans from Bomber Command, particularly Colin Bell, the Mosquito pilot. We have to ensure that their legacy is understood for generations to come. I am sure that I speak for everyone in the House when I say that anything that we can do to assist the hon. Gentleman in this important campaign shall be done.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
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I am aware that the Leader of the House has been celebrating Portsmouth’s elevation to the championship this season. Last year in Ipswich we celebrated our promotion to the championship, and right now we are celebrating our back-to-back promotion to the premier league. For the first time in over 20 years, the Tractor Boys will be in the premier league, in the big time—arguably the single biggest boost to the town for over 20 years. Will she join me in congratulating Kieran McKenna, our exceptional manager, Mark Ashton, the chief executive of the club, and the whole team at Ipswich Town, who are passionate about not just the club but the town? I wish them all the best for the premier league next season. Who knows? Maybe Portsmouth will be there the year after.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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On behalf of us all, I congratulate Ipswich Town on this huge achievement. It is great for the fans, but it will also be great for the whole of Ipswich, because these achievements bring economic and social progress, and many other things. I think that both our clubs being promoted is an excuse for a pint —I will stand him one. Seriously, congratulations to everyone there. I hope that what he says about Portsmouth comes to pass.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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Requiring voter ID is an additional burden that prevents people from voting and an unnecessary barrier to our democratic process, especially for those in poorer communities, ethnic minorities and young people. In last year’s local elections, 14,000 people were prevented from voting because they did not have the right ID at the time. Can we please have a ministerial statement on the impact of the requirement for voter ID in this year’s local and regional elections?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Lady raises an important question. She knows that this issue is reviewed on a regular basis, and I will make sure the Cabinet Office has heard what she has had. Even people who were against bringing in this particular check to protect people’s votes recognise that, because progress had been made in cracking down on areas where fraud had been particularly prevalent, such as postal voting, it was anticipated that there would be more fraud in other areas. That was one reason why the check was introduced, but I will make sure the Cabinet Office has heard what she has asked.

Mike Penning Portrait Sir Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)
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The Leader of the House will know that I have raised with her before the discrimination against people who are visually impaired, who have to pay VAT on audiobooks when all books are zero rated. That discrimination cannot continue. We have had debates in Westminster Hall, but can we have a debate on the Floor of the House in Government time on stopping this discrimination against visually impaired people?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My right hon. Friend raises an important point and one that I have a great deal of sympathy for. I will make sure that the Chancellor has heard what he says, as the next questions to the Treasury team are not until much later on, and I think that he is doing a great deal of service by continuing his campaign.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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Can we have a debate on ministerial transparency? As the Leader of the House knows, ordinary MPs have to register with the House any hospitality that they receive from other parties within 28 days and in considerable detail. However, under the scheme that she still favours, Ministers have an exemption and they do not have to publish anything for several months or provide details at all. She said repeatedly in this House that she would, by last summer, ensure that there was a parallel system for Ministers so that they were not being treated differently from MPs. That still has not happened, so when will it happen?

Can the Leader of the House also explain the retrograde step we seem to have taken now? For instance, in the past we learned that the then Home Secretary registered through the Department that she had gone to a Bond premiere because Bond exercises “executive function”— I note the right hon. and learned Member for Northampton North (Sir Michael Ellis) laughing, because he was the one who made that point—despite the fact that Bond is obviously a fictional character. Now, ministerial Departments are publishing the barest details. They do not even say what the tickets are for. Could the Leader of the House, for instance, explain to us what her lunch with Saints and Sinners was all about?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who is normally a stickler for detail, has not noticed that I have been reporting my returns monthly since the start of this year. They are not very exciting, but they are reported monthly, and I think other Departments are also able to do that. I did a speech at the Saints and Sinners Club for charity. Two charities benefited from it, and they are in my entry in the parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I know he is keen on this issue and has campaigned on it for a long time. Of course, people do make mistakes—he himself was adrift two years in registering an overseas visit—but I am in favour of parity between ministerial reporting and Parliament—

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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Why aren’t you doing it?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am, and I have been doing that since the start of this year—[Interruption.] I have.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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May we have a debate on potholes? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] In my Chipping Barnet constituency, they seem to be worse than ever. After representations from me and my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), London has been included in the Government’s major boost for potholes funding, so we need a debate to ensure that Barnet Council uses the £736,000 that it is receiving over two years effectively to tackle potholes and get them filled in.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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If there is consensus in this House on any issue, it is that we cannot talk enough about potholes. An additional £8.3 billion has been allocated to councils for road improvements, which are of importance to our constituents. Critically, local authorities must account for what they are spending that money on, and since 15 March, they have had to report against the last tranche of funding. I will ensure that the Secretary of State has heard my right hon. Friend’s keenness to have a debate on the matter, and she will know how to apply for one.

Colleen Fletcher Portrait Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East) (Lab)
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Godiva Calling, a battle of the bands competition, is taking place at venues across Coventry in May and June. The competition will give some of Coventry and Warwickshire’s rising musical talents the opportunity to perform at the city’s now flagship music event, the Godiva Festival. Successful artists win the opportunity to perform their own music on the main stage over the festival weekend in July. Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging local musicians to get involved in the competition, and will she arrange a debate on support for grassroots artists and on the importance of music and its ability to connect people and bring them together?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Lady makes a number of points that are supported by many Members in the Chamber. I join her in wishing everyone taking part in the battle of the bands a very good time, and congratulate them on making a success of what now seems a landmark event in the Coventry calendar. She will know how to apply for a debate, and I encourage her to raise the matter with the Secretary of State on 23 May.

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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While the Prime Minister is today rightly meeting university vice-chancellors to warn them of their duty of care towards Jewish students, the National Union of Students has passed a so-called non-binding motion seeking to expel the Union of Jewish Students. To ban Jews because they are Jewish is pure Nazi ideology, and it gives the lie, frankly, to those who claim that their anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. This issue is a national crisis and it goes to the future of the rule of law in this country, and it is one of the myriad examples of the grotesque antisemitism that we are seeing in national life. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling for cross-party consensus in supporting the Prime Minister in the work that he is rightly doing with universities and others to stop antisemitism on campus?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for raising this very important matter. I am pleased that the meeting between the Prime Minister, the Education Secretary and university vice-chancellors is going on today. We know from recent research that there are universities that do this really well—that treasure all their students and want an environment on campus in which people can learn and live their best life. Sadly, that is not happening on all campuses. The conduct by the NUS, and by particular students in it, is nothing short of grotesque, and I am sure that Members in all parts of the House would agree on that point. It is absolutely vital that we push back against the growing trend of increased antisemitism. I think that I speak for most, if not all, hon. Members when I say that we are supportive of any measures that will do that.

George Galloway Portrait George Galloway (Rochdale) (WPB)
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I have always said that the Conservatives made a mistake in overlooking the right hon. Lady, and she has shown that again today. In that regard, can she help me with what I think is a narrow but important problem? Both Front-Bench teams support the continuation of arms sales to Israel, but the great majority of Back Benchers, even on the Conservative side, would like the opportunity to vote otherwise. That has been stopped—stymied—in the past. I hope that she can find a way for the House to freely express its attitude to this question. The Government, and the Labour Front Benchers, might get a rude awakening and a big surprise.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his concern, but I have not been overlooked—I am Leader of the House of Commons.

The hon. Gentleman has found the answer to his own question: he has just been able to freely express his view on this matter. As he knows, there are strict rules regarding our arms exports, which are also scrutinised by a Select Committee of this House. That is the Government’s policy, and if those lines are breached and there is evidence of that, that policy will kick in.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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Wessex Fields is a large chunk of council-owned land in north Bournemouth. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council is rushing through the sale of that nine acres of real estate for £4 million less than its independent evaluation, claiming it is storage rather than employment land. This is the same council that is cutting our famous annual air festival and selling off car parks, public paddling pools and plant nurseries, all because—it claims—there is no money, yet here it is throwing away £4 million of local taxpayers’ money. I have written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up and to the council’s scrutiny committee calling for that decision to be investigated, but Bournemouth deserves better, so can we please have a debate on poor council decision making?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am extremely sorry to hear about those decisions in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, and I am sure many Members of the House who have visited the air show previously and are very fond of Bournemouth as a consequence will also be disappointed to hear about the choices his council is making. He has done the right thing in asking the Secretary of State and the council’s scrutiny committee to look at this issue; I will also make sure that the Secretary of State understands its urgency, and I hope we can get some common sense.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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In February, after much waiting, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up announced that regulations would be put in place to curb the growth of short-term holiday lets. The summer season is already here; the Secretary of State said that those regulations would be in place before the summer, so when are we going to see the necessary regulation to stop the growth in short-term holiday lets, and to stop landlords coming in and purchasing properties that should be used for family housing in places such as York?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Lady has raised this issue before. As she will know, a careful balance is needed between enabling economic regeneration and ensuring that people can have a good, secure home and get on the property ladder. I will make sure again that the Secretary of State has heard the her request, and will ask him to update her.

Robin Walker Portrait Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con)
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Can we have a debate about flood resilience and sport? I am fortunate to have in my constituency one of the most beautiful and iconic cricket grounds in England: New Road, the home of Worcestershire county cricket club. Previously, when that ground has been flooded, I have been able to reassure colleagues that it will reopen through the fantastic work of the ground staff. This year, however, it has been flooded eight times, and with the increasing risk of flooding as a result of climate change, the board of Worcestershire county cricket club has said that it is going to have to explore other locations and opportunities. Can the Leader of the House therefore support me in urging Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to work together, in order to look at all options to support the future of Worcestershire county cricket club and protect New Road?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My hon. Friend is fighting for a very good cause indeed. I will, of course, do as he asks and write to Secretaries of State at both DCMS and DEFRA, asking them to co-operate and assist my hon. Friend in this very important campaign.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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This afternoon, I will be attending the Art Fund 2019 museum of the year, St Fagans in my constituency, to celebrate the opening of the newest building in its outdoor offer, the recreation of the Vulcan pub from Cardiff city centre. While I am uneasy about attending a pub in a museum when I used to drink in it many years ago—it makes me feel rather old—it is a fantastic addition to that wonderful museum’s offer. It will be set up like a pub from 1913, although unfortunately not with 1913 prices over the bar. Can we have a debate on the wonderful contribution that our museums make to our life in this country, and also to celebrate free entry to such museums—which was, of course, brought in by the Labour Government?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am very jealous of the hon. Gentleman’s planned visit and congratulate the museum on winning museum of the year. I would encourage him to celebrate this with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on 23 May.

Ian Liddell-Grainger Portrait Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con)
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I must say that I have some good news from Mid Devon District Council. My right hon. Friend will no doubt fall off her chair—so long as she does not defect. The main thing is that it has been forced to release the information on 3 Rivers Development—I have mentioned it in this place a couple of times—because it has been acting irresponsibly. If he had a shred of decency, the leader of the council would now resign. This is a scandal worth millions. The chairman of the scrutiny committee has done a runner—literally done a runner—and refused to take part. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) said, local government is not getting it right. We need time in this place to debate incompetence, obfuscation and, in some cases, downright dishonesty by councillors using their position to bamboozle the people who put them there, who are the voters who vote for us and them.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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First, I reassure my hon. Friend that I am not about to defect to the Opposition. They would not be interested in me—I am too left-wing. However, as I do every week, I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up has heard about the ongoing saga in my hon. Friend’s constituency and his concern about the performance of the council.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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I am sure the Leader of the House, as a former Minister for disabled people, is as concerned as I am that it is now two years since the Equality and Human Rights Commission issued a section 23 notice against the Government with regard to their discrimination against disabled people. That was followed by the report from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities investigating a second set of breaches of the convention by this Government, which was published a couple of weeks ago. Can we have a debate in Government time about why there has been this discrimination by the Government against disabled people and what the Government are going to do about it?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I will certainly make sure that both the Minister for Women and Equalities and the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work at the Department for Work and Pensions have heard that the hon. Lady is keen for an update on this matter. I have to say that, in my experience, the criticism of this country by many organisations, particularly international ones including people from nations that provide very little support for disabled people, is quite wrong. I could point to many aspects of the work that has been done in many Departments to support disabled people in every walk of life. This is a matter that should concern everyone because most disability is acquired, whether from the built environment or in relation to work. We have enabled 1 million people with a disability to get into work and have the dignity of a pay packet because of our change of approach on welfare and support. There are many other examples and I think we have a good record over many years. However, there is always more to do and I will make sure that both Ministers have heard the hon. Lady.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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Twelve months ago, the then Housing Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), told the House that the Secretary of State was considering the recommendations of the final report of the regulation of property agents working group, published in July 2019. Can we have a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to advise what progress has been made on creating an independent body to regulate managing agents, so that leaseholders and indeed managing agents might have confidence in a single, fair and transparent system that will protect not only leaseholders, but managing agents alike?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I will make sure that my hon. Friend has an update from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. He will know that we are committed to raising professionalism among property agents. They must already belong to a redress scheme, and both the Government’s Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill and Renters (Reform) Bill will help to drive up overall standards, but I shall make sure that the Department has heard what he said.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)
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Yesterday, only weeks after admitting to the serious side effects from its product, AstraZeneca withdrew its covid-19 vaccine worldwide. Like millions in the UK and over 700 million people worldwide, I took the AstraZeneca jab, based on the Government’s assurance that it was “safe and effective”, and I suffered side effects. I know there is very little appetite in this Chamber to discuss these matters, but I assure the House that there is huge and growing concern among the public about a medical intervention that this House encouraged, coerced and, in some cases, mandated people to inject into their bodies. So can we have a statement from the Health Minister on the withdrawal of the AstraZeneca vaccine and why the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency failed to act to protect the public interest, or is it that AstraZeneca withdrew its own product because it was far too safe and effective?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to see the hon. Gentleman speak like that in this Chamber, especially as three speakers on the Front Bench have raised the issue of conspiracy theories and our combined efforts to push back on them. The vaccine he refers to saved, according to many independent estimates, over 6.5 million lives in the first year of use alone and over 3 billion doses of it were supplied globally. He will know that, as with many other medical products, we do not keep particular vaccines in use permanently. Disease and therapies change and vaccines need to be updated, and he knows it is very clear that this has been withdrawn for commercial reasons. It is no longer needed and there are two particular vaccines that are used now in our NHS with regard to covid.

The hon. Gentleman has had several debates on this matter and on excess deaths. Of course people suffering ill effects from taking vaccines is a serious issue that needs to be addressed and their needs must be served, but that is quite another thing from promoting false information about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. That vaccine and the people behind it saved millions of lives. There is a chapter in the publication we have spoken about that covers this precise point. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to get a copy and read it, to think seriously when he comes to the House, as he does every week, and promotes conspiracy theories and to really think about the consequences of what he is doing.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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I am delighted that Darlington has secured funding for a new 48-place special educational needs school but there is more to do, with excessively long waits for child and adolescent mental health service assessments putting stresses on families. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to see those waits reduced, and can we have a debate on the issue?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for all he is doing to campaign on this very important issue. He knows that we have made increasing special educational needs provision a priority. We have opened 108 special free schools and 51 new alternative provision free schools, but this is a growing need and we want to ensure that every child and young person can have access to the support they need to thrive. He knows how to apply for a debate, and I shall make sure the Secretary of State for Education has heard about his continuing campaign and his interest in doing more for his constituents.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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Today, we are hosting an event called the National Women in Agriculture Awards, celebrating women in farming. It is an absolutely fantastic opportunity for women across Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England to be celebrated. Will the Leader of the House join me in celebrating the hard work and the backbone of British farming—the women?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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On behalf of the whole House, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her involvement in that event, and of course send our thanks and good wishes to everyone attending, but also to everyone across the four nations of the UK who is providing this fundamental service—food production— to our population, and caring for the land and the environment. She is absolutely right: in this sector, as in most, it is women who deserve the greatest praise.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
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The UK shared prosperity fund is an important part of this Government’s levelling-up agenda. It has been very important to us in Cornwall, where it has supported over 100 businesses and community projects, including around £1 million to improve flood resilience at Mevagissey harbour and £350,000 to promote all-year-round tourism in Newquay. The current round of funding expires next year and people in Cornwall are eager to know what the future holds. I know the precise details and the amount will be part of the spending review, but could we have a statement from the Government on how they see the future of the shared prosperity fund?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The UK shared prosperity fund, which is worth £2.6 billion, has played a major part in restoring pride in places and helping people to access opportunity, particularly in places of need such as ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and rural coastal communities. I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has been doing in his local area. I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard that he is keen to have an update on this matter, and my hon. Friend will know how to apply for a debate.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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Derriford Hospital in Plymouth has declared five critical incidents already this year. Despite the heroic work of dedicated NHS staff, it has some of the worst performance on accident and emergency and ambulance handover delays in the country. With social care, primary care and NHS dentistry in a dire state in Plymouth, too, can we have a debate on health in Plymouth and what can be done to support those brilliant NHS staff in rescuing services at Derriford Hospital?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to hear about the particular performance of the hon. Gentleman’s local trust. He will know that we are putting a huge amount of resource into ensuring that we can catch up, particularly since the pandemic. We have 2 million more operations, more than 160 diagnostic centres have been set up and we have the dental recovery plan. The funding is provided by the UK Government, but it will be up to local commissioners how they use those services. The next questions to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care are on 4 June, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise any specific concerns he has with her then.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
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I very much welcome and support the Government ensuring that the UK is in the vanguard of global decarbonisation of aviation. I also welcome and support the sustainable aviation fuels mandate coming in early next year. However, the revenue support mechanism is not planned to be introduced until later in 2026. Can we have consideration of a statement on bringing that forward to ensure that there is certainty in the UK sustainable aviation market, so that domestic manufacture of the fuel ensures that we decarbonise our aviation and are at the forefront of green technology?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We can be proud that the UK is world-leading in this regard—not just our incredible science and business community, but the RAF. That is its second mention in this business questions session. It has been a pioneer on sustainable aviation fuel. The next questions to the Secretary of State for Transport are on 16 May. I encourage my hon. Friend to raise this matter with him there.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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This week marks World Asthma Day, and new analysis from Asthma + Lung UK shows that 12,000 people have died from the condition since the national review of asthma deaths was published in 2014. In fact, asthma deaths have increased by almost 25% in the past 10 years, despite there being major preventable factors in two thirds of those cases. Please can we have a statement from a Health Minister outlining how the Government plan to tackle this crisis and finally act on the recommendations of the national review of asthma deaths?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Lady for raising that important issue, which will be of direct concern to many across the country. As I have said, the next questions to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care are on 4 June. The hon. Lady may wish to raise the issue directly with her then. In the meantime, I will make sure that the Secretary of State has heard her concerns.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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The Leader of the House will no doubt be aware of the ongoing speculation that Royal Mail and its parent company International Distributions Services are subject to a takeover by EP Group. I know she will agree that the Royal Mail plays an important economic, social and cultural role in this country. As well as delivering a universal service obligation to all parts of the UK, Royal Mail is an iconic British brand. It carries His Majesty’s insignia and plays a vital role in all UK elections.

I know how much my constituents value regular and timely postal services. May we have a debate in Government time on what legal safeguards are available to ensure that the important functions of Royal Mail are delivered for all our constituents, and that they continue beyond the obligations in the National Security and Investment Act 2021 in the event that the company is taken over and headquartered outside the UK?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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My hon. Friend raises an important matter. Those services are fundamental, not least because many healthcare services in particular rely on them—other hon. Members have raised concerns about that. Given that the next questions to the Secretary of State for Business and Trade are not until 13 June, I will ensure that she has heard his concerns.

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)
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On behalf of my constituent Glen Coleman, and the many other victims who were discriminated against and dishonourably discharged from the armed services for being gay, can the Leader of the House give any reassurance that the LGBT veterans independent review carried out by Lord Etherton will be brought forward for debate in the near future, or at least before the general election?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that. The review and the apology given by the Prime Minister on behalf of the nation is an incredibly important landmark. There are still outstanding issues with regard to those in services that are not public facing —intelligence agencies and so forth. I will ensure that the relevant Minister has heard what he has said. I encourage him to apply for a debate in the usual way.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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Leigh Lionesses are a newly founded football club aimed at providing a nurturing environment for girls to thrive in football, but according to leading member Gary Jacobs, whose daughter is a brilliant Leigh Lioness, their journey has been marred by a real struggle to find consistent playing venues and suitable facilities because so often they are already booked up by boys’ football clubs. May we have a debate in Government time on the number of pitches, all-weather pitches and facilities available for women’s football up and down the country?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I can feel a bid to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport coming up. My hon. Friend, who is a formidable campaigner, will know that the next questions to the Secretary of State are on 23 May, when I encourage her to raise that directly. The Secretary of State has taken a particular interest in community sport and has given considerable grant funding to local authorities to increase the number of pitches, and in particular those that can be used all year round. My office stands ready to assist my hon. Friend in ensuring that everyone in her constituency—especially the girls’ teams—has somewhere they can play this sport.

Ian Lavery Portrait Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab)
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Yesterday, TSB announced 36 bank closures, including the closure of the branch on Bedlington high street in my constituency. That will be the last bank closing its doors, making Bedlington basically a banking desert. I understand that lots of people now prefer telephone banking or internet banking, but many people—mainly vulnerable people—depend on high street banks. This closure will have a huge impact on Bedlington. Will the Leader of the House join me in demanding that TSB reviews its decision at Bedlington? Can we have a debate in the House to discuss the impact of these actions on towns such as Bedlington?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I am sorry to hear about the situation in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. It is in everyone’s interests, including banks’ interests, that constituents can access those services. Even if a particular bricks and mortar building has to close down, there are ways of retaining those vital services, including cash banking for businesses. As he rightly said, access to banking services, particularly for vulnerable and older people, needs to be continued in our communities. I will ensure that the relevant Department gives him advice about what he can do to help facilitate that. Of course, the bank has an obligation to ensure that its customers can continue to use its services.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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I have stopped the large number of so-called asylum seekers from attending my surgeries, and I have instructed my office not to deal with asylum cases, for two reasons: as MPs we have zero authority, mandate or influence over Home Office decisions; and I want to dedicate my very limited resources to putting Dudley people first. Can we have a debate on the pressure that asylum seekers are putting on our nation’s resources and local services?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Gentleman raises a specific point, which I could generalise on. Our approach to this issue has been to recognise that we have finite resources, and we want to direct them in the most efficient and effective way possible. That is why we must control our borders, which is what the British people want. They want the Government to control access for foreign nationals to the UK. As well as border control, we have been reforming processes at the Home Office. He will know that we have speeded up looking at cases by close to 300%, and we are cracking through that backlog. We will get on top of it. The public can see that progress is being made, including on getting people out of hotels. We are making good progress and we need to continue, to ensure that the systems we have in place are not piling pressure on local services, whether education, healthcare or the services that the hon. Gentleman offers in his office. That is very well understood, and I hope he understands that the Government are doing that.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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Up and down the country, hundreds of thousands of young people are about to take their summer exams. Unfortunately, there will not be a level playing field, because thousands of pupils—including hundreds in my constituency—have been impacted significantly by reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete and asbestos, having lost several months of face-to-face teaching. The Department for Education and the exam boards do not seem interested in providing an uplift to those young people to ensure that they get fair examinations. May we have a debate in Government time on the impact of RAAC and asbestos on the learning and opportunity of young people, and on the need for fair and equal examinations this summer?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He will know that the Secretary of State for Education, in legendary fashion, has been doing something about this matter. If he will furnish me with the details of the schools that he is particularly concerned about, I will ensure that the Department gets that message and responds to his office, so that his constituents do not face disruption this summer when doing their exams.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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On behalf of Hinckley and Bosworth, I congratulate the returning Conservative police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire, Rupert Matthews. His re-election was in no small part thanks to his introduction of a rural crime team, which has recovered £1.3 million worth of stolen goods since its introduction and reduced rural crime by 24%, according to the latest newsletter. Will my right hon. Friend thank the returning PCC, the Leicestershire police force and, most importantly, the offices of the rural crime team for all they do to reduce crime in the likes of Market Bosworth and the surrounding villages?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I happily join my hon. Friend in congratulating Rupert Matthews on his return to office, and I thank him for the leadership he has shown in reducing crime in his local area, as well as the police force on the frontline. In certain parts of the country the police often get a hard time from us in this place, but they do tremendous work. On the same resource since 2010, crime has been halved in this country, leaving aside online fraud and particular hotspots in the west midlands and London. That is a tremendous achievement, and it is thanks to the accountability and direct democracy of police and crime commissioners but also, most of all, the hard work, efforts and effectiveness of our police officers.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I remind Members that it is important to ask the Leader of the House about business connected with the House, as well as congratulating various people.

Andrew Western Portrait Andrew Western (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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My constituent Janice lost her brother in 2020 in a tragic incident caused by a dangerous driver. She has since campaigned tirelessly for those convicted of causing death by dangerous driving to receive lifetime driving bans. As things stand, I understand that the Government are looking at the issue, but they have been doing so for some time. May we have a statement from the relevant Minister setting out the Government’s intentions, and whether they will seek to ensure that those convicted of causing death by dangerous driving cannot again get behind the wheel?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing Janice’s work on this important issue to the attention of the House, and I thank her for what she is doing in the wake of an appalling tragedy to ensure that no one else has to endure what she has been through. I will ensure that both the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport have heard the request for an update on this important matter.

SME Finance

Thursday 9th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Treasury Committee
Select Committee statement
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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We now come to the Select Committee statement. The Chair of the Treasury Committee, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Dame Harriett Baldwin), will speak for up to 10 minutes, during which time no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of her statement, I will call Members to ask questions on the subject of the statement. I emphasise that we want brief questions, not speeches, and that those questions should be directed to the Committee Chair, not the relevant Minister.

11:42
Harriett Baldwin Portrait Dame Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for granting this wonderful opportunity to present the report that the Treasury Committee published yesterday on access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses.

As every Member will know, small and medium-sized enterprises form the backbone of the UK economy. All of us in our constituencies will be aware of amazing small and medium-sized businesses. In fact, 99% of the businesses in this country are small and medium-sized, which gives us an idea of how important they are. Well over half of our constituents who are employed work for SMEs. Access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses, which the Committee has been looking at, is therefore a really important issue. I want to highlight some of the points raised in our report. This is an opportunity not only for Members to hear those points but, I hope, for the Minister to take them on board.

No one can deny that, with the pandemic and the energy price crisis, the past five years have been an absolutely torrid time for everyone. SMEs have often been at the forefront and have experienced the brunt of those crises, but without the huge resources that larger businesses have to be able to cope. Through those crises, the Government took extraordinary steps to provide support in terms of access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses, but we are now in a different environment. In fact, all the evidence and data published this week show that small and medium-sized businesses are beginning to feel much greater confidence—we are seeing some real improvement there. Nevertheless, issues remain from that difficult time and also more structurally following financial regulation measures set up since the banking crash in 2008.



I want to flag up a few of the points that we made in our report. The first concerns the Business Banking Resolution Service, which was set up after the banking crisis and was designed to provide access to resolution, mediation and outcomes for businesses that were too large to access the Financial Ombudsman Service but had nevertheless been treated pretty badly during the financial crisis. I think it fair to say that the Committee formed the view that the Business Banking Resolution Service had not been a success. It is owned and run by the banks, which raises questions about conflicts of interests in the first place, or certainly the perception of a conflict of interests. Moreover, it has spent about £40 million during its lifetime and has awarded only £2 million worth of compensation, because it drew the access criteria so tightly that very few businesses were able to qualify. As a result, there were very unsatisfactory outcomes for businesses that used the resolution service because they could not access the Financial Ombudsman Service, and the Committee agrees that it should close as planned. We look to the Government to come up with a consultation on a new mechanism by the end of this calendar year.

Secondly, there is a Government initiative called the British Business Bank. The Committee thought highly of what it heard in evidence from BBB, and welcomed the announcement in the Budget that the covid recovery loan scheme had been rebranded as the growth guarantee scheme. We expect that to be an important source of credit to help small businesses to grow when they would otherwise have struggled. However,